Waking

Hollow.
This thought prickled at its burgeoning consciousness. An absence of something it once had, a realization of missing emotion. Broken memories lingering as scattered images, swirling strange concepts, and nothing more. Nothing more than tiny pinpricks tap dancing around its membranes.
Allison.
The word stirred on its tongue, with a face remembered, if not recognized. Like a reflection in a mirror, not real but still a representation the eye has seen. A human thing, vaguely important, it knew, but no longer cared why. It closed its eyes and settled back against its cocooned prison.
Pain.
Images of blood-red rain and bright stars shifted through its mind, biting like raw sharp teeth, devouring the broken thoughts and residual feelings in fiery nerve endings. Sulphur scented smoke choked its nose as its own shrieking howls filled its ears. It thrashed, until another fractured noise, a thousand decibels past human comprehension, permeated its prison, cracking around it in chaos. Comforted, it found it liked chaos. It never used to before… It wasn’t sure what had come before. Somehow that didn’t matter anymore. It fell asleep, softly moaning.
Hungry.
Waking, it stretched its spindly limbs, flexed its claws. Saliva dripped between multiple rows of fangs. It squirmed against the shreds of human skin flaking off its scales and three pairs of eyes opened. It blinked against the darkness, fingers tracing against the metal pod imprisoning it. Pushing gently, once, then again with force, the container flexed then snapped, and it was free. Alarms blared and scurrying creatures fled, but some were not fast enough. It fed, drinking salty blood and crunching tasty bones. It looked up, seeing a doorway and read the words etched in the glass.
Research Laboratory.
Quarantine Zone.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2022 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Colour Under the Moon

The world moves around me in grey slivers and murmurs, afraid to shout or shatter in colour. Tonight, I watch it slide in monotone under the moon and study the sparkles of white light that cascade from the sky. I giggle softly, only a whisper of mirth; it wouldn’t do to bring attention to myself. The monsters might find me.
So I stay still and dream. Of blue skies and red balloons, and scarlet autumn leaves. Of smiles and loud squeals. Of happier times, and things lost. I dream so much that I almost miss it. The voices.

Someone was coming.

Closer now.

Almost here.

I see them.

Two people hand in hand. Not what I want, and they don’t spot me. I stare as they walk on. Maybe I should? I’m so hungry, but it would be dangerous to try. Better to wait. With a sigh, I close my eyes and picture the crowded seashore, all blue and green and brown. So tempting that day was with all the children playing. What would have happened, I wonder?

A sniff of the air, and I can smell him. I peer into the darkness.

Oh. A boy. Not more than twelve. Perfect.

I scuttle forward, near the wall, my drooling tongue licking my lips. I wait. He’s swaggering, but I breathe in the fear underneath the bravado. Did someone dare him to come? The boys do sometimes. Spend the night in the old graveyard. Survive the night.

This one won’t.

I reach out and grab him, slicing open his throat and abdomen with my talons, letting all the joyous colour spill out. The glorious red is everywhere and I eat my fill, drinking his blood and devouring his guts.

For one moment in time, my drab world explodes in colour and sound, in blood and screams.

Then I fade away, back to the shadowed monotone, and let the monsters come.

The adult humans always come after I feast.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2022 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Ezra Tried To Help

Sour milk and mould soaked into the kitchen floorboards. Mice droppings and chewed wiring were scattered inside the walls. Ezra liked the mice, but they didn’t come out to play anymore. Cracked window panes let in the drafts and sunlight shone through rips in tattered curtains. Ezra didn’t like the sunbeams; they hurt his skin. He had stayed housebound for all his twelve years, never seeing other children. Mama said they wouldn’t understand him.

He scuttled up the stairs and curled on his side outside their room. He knew Mama and Daddy hadn’t meant to leave him, but he was still alone. It had something to do with him, he knew; just before it happened Daddy yelled his name, screaming words like curse and abomination. Then the two loud bangs and they wouldn’t wake up.

They were still there, inside their room, but it smelled now, so Ezra preferred the hall, sleeping outside their door. His stomach rumbled; he had found little in the kitchen to eat, only some fruit. He’d enjoyed eating the mice better; their bones had been crunchy. He scraped his fingertip claws across the wooden floor, spelling his name, as his mother taught him.

E Z R A.

Mama said it meant ‘helper’. He liked that, and he tried to live up to the meaning, but it always went wrong. He helped when the bad man came for his money and made Mama cry and Daddy mad. The red stain was still on the carpet, but Daddy hid the body in the old well. Ezra offered to eat it, but said nothing else after Mama threw up in the sink. Daddy never spoke to him after that. He came in and took Mama upstairs. They never came down.

Ezra knew he’d have to leave soon; he needed to eat. He could hunt during the night. He knew more bad people lived down the road. He thought he could find their house. They’d feed him for a very long time.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2022 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

The Scent of Home

That deep rich stink of fried meat always lingered in the apartment, coating the walls, hiding in the corners. It filled my childhood, wafted the taste of home into my brain, and I waited for that smell every time I opened the door. That and the sound of my mother grumbling in the kitchen.

Now the stench of death overpowered it all. And Mother lay on the floor, a knife sticking out of her chest.

Why did I do it? My hand on the knife, her screaming at me, and then…

No planning involved, no premeditation, unless you counted the years of wishing she was dead. The years of dreaming a car would hit her, or her shrivelled heart would give out. I suppose my patience gave out first.

Stabbing her was odd, though. No last accusations, no gasping for breath. A gurgle and some blood, but not as much as I thought. In the movies I watched, knife wounds had more blood. She laid there on the worn tiles, eyes still open and a stain on her blouse, a look of surprise on her face as if she never imagined I’d kill her.

I suppose I never imagined it, either. But it’s done and I can’t take it back.

Not that I’d wanted to.

Calling the police was out of the question; I wouldn’t go to jail for her. I needed an excuse for her absence. The neighbours hated her, with little chance they would question her absence if I told the right story. I was her only family, so no worries there. What to say if anyone asked? Maybe… maybe she just moved into a retirement home? She’d been complaining about getting old, about how hard it was to live alone. That might work. Tell people I moved Mother into a home and pack up her things.

What about the body?

The freezer maybe? Hide her under all that meat? Or better yet, make her part of that meat. How hard would it be to cut up a body? I smiled at the meat cleaver hanging on the wall, next to all of my late dad’s butcher tools. It’d be apt, considering she drove him to an early grave.

Let’s see how rusty I am at the old trade.

Several hours of work and frustration later, I had Mother packaged nicely, pieces of her neatly wrapped in brown freezer paper and stored under the hamburger and the pork chops. I scrubbed down the kitchen and the bathroom, and tidied myself up, before noticing a parcel of Mother still sitting on the counter.

How did I miss that one?

I stared at the slab of Mother for a moment and then grinned. Why not? It seemed fitting. 

So I got out the frying pan and the butter, and once more the deep rich stink of fried meat filled the apartment.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2021 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Returning Sins

The smell of rot and dirt displaced the stale air in the bedroom and I tried not to choke on the overpowering stench. Huddled in a corner by the door, shivering in the sudden cold draft, I listened for the slightest sound, praying she was gone. Or that I would wake up from this nightmare.

Scritch, scritch.

There it was, the faint scratching noise against the wood. Fingernails scraping at the grain. I caught my breath.

No. I don’t want to hear it again. I don’t want…

Scritch, scritch. 

Only louder this time. Like an animal clawing to get inside. I whimpered and my stomach churned.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” The words blurted out before I thought.

“Liar!” A horrid screech ripped from behind the door, shuddering through the air. “Bad, you were bad! Left me alone! Left me to die!”

A thundering crash sounded as something slammed the door, bending the wood. I jumped inside my trembling fear and hugged my knees, rocking on the cold dirty tiles of the room. I answered her shriek with my own, a long continuous wail, to drown out her voice, shut out the memories. Every pounding of the door ripped against my skin, racing my adrenaline, shredding my nerves.

“Stop it! Just go away! Leave me alone!” I screamed my terror to the empty room before burying my head between my knees.

“Like you left me?”

The quiet question hurt and frightened me more than her anger. “I didn’t mean it.” My words felt like a lie. Maybe they were. She didn’t answer, and the silence unnerved me. I babbled, “Why now? Why did you come back?”

“Secrets lost. Secrets found. So, I’ve come home, Mama.”

I whimpered. My lost little girl. My thrown away child. I thought I was done. I thought I escaped. “How is this possible?”

“Scared now, Mama? I was scared.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Another whimper and I hugged my knees tighter.

“No! Not sorry. Scared I’m back.” 

Bang! Something rattled the door.

“Why Mama, why?”

Bang! I saw the hinges rattle and bend.

“The closet was dark. I clawed to get out! You never came!”

My eyes closed slowly, my body trembling. Blocked memories surfaced, images of the horror I wrought. I shuddered. “What happened… I can’t… I was high, drugged out of my mind. You were too much for me to handle.”

“I loved you. You left me alone.”

The door frame convulsed, and splinters of wood flew across the room.

“I was so hungry! So thirsty! I cried, and I cried. I was all alone!”

Bang! 

The door slammed open, smacking hard into the wall, and she stood there, framed in the light. My little girl. She looked so thin, with red-rimmed eyes. Hate shone in those eyes.

“You killed me.”

I had no excuses left. Only fear and the truth. “Yes.”

She smiled, rotted teeth grinning at me like a demented thing. “They found me. My bones. Where you buried me. They’re coming for you.”

She laughed as she vanished, and I heard police sirens in the distance.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2021 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Immorati

I was born in the strangled breath of blood, in squeals of mayhem and greed, clothed in the skin of murder and deceit. I opened my eyes with the first cry of death’s sweet tune and the first taste on my tongue, the salty tang of tears. My heart beats to the rhythm of chaos, and I wander where I am called. I have many names, whispered in the unspoken anguish of your deepest thoughts. I am the dread, the darkness, the outcast of creation.

I walk among you, the silence against your shadow.

I have been here since the light broke across the horizon and the sharp stone edge cut the flesh of man. I sat among the dying of the city of Ur to celebrate their passing, and witnessed the fall of Troy to the wondrous song of the sword. I laughed as Alexander conquered and empires fell. I stood within the fires that burned Rome and feasted on their terror. I watched the ashes rain upon Pompei and lapped at the misery and despair resounding in their whispers and screams.

All of it filled my hollow soul with shattering delight, yet still I hungered.

I rejoiced as blades became gunpowder’s bullets, and the world roared in carnage. I danced in the streets of Paris as heads fell from the guillotine and blood ran through the gutters. I inhaled the smoke of cannon fire, hummed to the music of groaning soldiers breathing their last upon the battlefields. It was an exquisite age to exist.

I did not believe there could be a better era. I was wrong.

I waited, and you gave me bliss. The thundering boom of artillery fire, the choking stench of mustard gas, and the wondrous shrieking dogfights overhead. So much carnage, so much pain. I engorged myself on your butchery and sung my dark ecstasy to the world.

And still you amaze me, still you feed me such succulent delicacies.

The madness of another world war flowed seamlessly into more conflict, and spilled over into terrorism, plagues and disasters; you find new and delicious ways to inflict death upon each other, new ways to disfigure your own world. I regret you avoided nuclear annihilation, but my hope remains that I may one day taste that luscious banquet of agony.

You are rich in pain and decimation, and I thank you.

You give me continued life, your discordant harmonies flow to me, strengthen me, make me more vibrant. I am symbiote to your host, sponge to your slaughter. With every cycle I grow more robust and you become entrenched in your brutal patterns. I am what you made me, you humans with your careless, violent ways. I will follow you, monsters of death and destruction, and always feast on your ruination. I will increase in vibrance and substance. So one day you may see me. See what you cannot escape. 

You will see the face of the devil you created. 

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2021 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

A Winter’s Night

I whispered, “When the winter snow falls, hide your eyes. When the winter wind blows, stay by the fire.”
The beginning of an ancient warding, one I prayed still held power, but in my heart I knew there would be no stopping her. I knew the moment I heard her roar tremble the trees, the wild winds bellow my name. I ran, chased by the frenzy of her storm.
I sealed my fate that moonlit evening in the forest.
There would be no escape, however long I might pray. I was hers. Even now I could hear her voice shrieking through the frigid squall howling around my hunting lodge.

I am the Bride of Winter. I am the Reaper of Night.
I stand on the edge of insanity, of cruelty, outside the deceptive warmth of the fire.
And I see you, Nikolai. You cannot hide.

I shouted in defiance, “I can try!”
She laughed.

I am the stilled heartbeat of the dead. I feel their remnants, their throbbing fury careening through the veins of the living. They sing to me. They scream to me. I answer with sweet whispers that swirl and fester in your subconscious thoughts.
Shiver in your terror, slumber in your fetid nightmares.
You have lost.

I slumped in my chair. Three nights now, three nights she stalked me inside the never ending storm. I threw the last log on the fire and murmured, “Keep away, oh, Winter Bride, your storm at bay against the fire. Stay away, stay away, Reaper of the Night, or you will burn with the flames.” The windows rattled within a fierce screech and a hail of ice slammed against the panes. Her wailing voice followed.

Fire is fleeting, its warmth an illusion.
It will die. Everything will die. Yet, I remain. Resurrected eternal to swallow the yowling nightmare shame and veniality. I will outlast the fire. I will outlast your words. My ice will steal along the edges of light, slithering frost to pierce your heart.
You will be mine.

I knew her words to be true, even as my mind swelled with inescapable bitterness.
I didn’t mean any of it. There was no thought, only madness. What is one girl’s death, after all? And such a low-born thing, seeking marriage, threatening to ruin me. I had better prospects for a wife than her. Why should I have settled? Who should blame me for acting rashly, violently? The girl should have known her place.
I stared into the wavering flames. “Perhaps I should have burned your bones, Katia, instead of burying them? Perhaps your spirit would have been quiet then and not called to her?”

It would not have mattered. Your fate sealed itself with the act of her death. Wronged bones rest uneasy in the grave. Innocent blood stains the ground in sacred trespass. The act itself calls to me, as restless spirits beg for vengeance. You cannot escape the blood spilled. You cannot run from your own nightmare.

At least I had that solace.
It was the only thing I had as I waited.
The hours passed as the wood burned until only a flicker of flame remained.
I sighed. “There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, if the fire dies.”
As the darkness came, I heard the creak of the door and the cold winter wind blew into my bones. I turned and welcomed my deadly Bride.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2021 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Ask About the Sinners

“Do you believe in angels, Dr. Wells?” The rest of the therapy group rolled their eyes.

“There she goes again, on about those damn angels,” Randy growled. He crossed his arms and kicked at the floor, his metallic chair rattling against the tiled floor. “The girl’s got a fixation and I’m sick of it.”

“No, judgements, Randy. You know the rules.” Dr. Wells frowned at him and then turned to Cindy with a condescending smile. “Tell me about your angels.”

Stretching her toes, Cindy softly hummed in time to the thwap of the ceiling fan. The scent of jasmine floated in the air, stirred from some forgotten corner. In the silence, she gazed at the white walls and watched the shadows dance, while tracing a pattern on the padded arm of her chair.

Finally, she spoke. “You must believe in them to see them. I mean really believe, not just Sunday-go-to-church conviction, forgotten on Monday. If you have true faith, they can help you.”

“Fat lot of good they did you,” Randy laughed. “You’re stuck in this loony bin with the rest of us.”

“Randy,” Dr. Wells stared with another disapproving look. “What did I tell you about that?”

“Not to call this place a ‘loony bin’.” Randy slouched in his chair and scowled.

“They did help.” Cindy’s voice interrupted and everyone turned to gawk. “The angels saved me.” She smiled, but wouldn’t elaborate.

Not until the next session.

The last to arrive, Cindy sat down, easing into her chair. She looked at each person and spoke as if no time had passed. “Not all angels have white wings, you know.” She hummed and gazed upward. “Some have black wings. They’re the ones who punish sins.”

“On about your angels, again?” Randy grunted. “They’re not doing a very good job. Plenty of sinners in the world.”

Cindy glared at him, raising an eyebrow and tilting her chin. “You have to ask them first. They can’t punish anyone, if you don’t ask.”

Dr. Wells cleared his throat. “That’s what you told the police, isn’t it? That you requested angels protect you from your parents? And the angels killed them, not you?”

Cindy turned her attention to the doctor. “Yes. I don’t think they believed me, because I ended up here. But it’s the truth.”

Dr. Wells smiled. “Truth can sometimes be complicated. You’re here so we can sort what really happened that night.”

“I told you. Not believing me doesn’t make it a lie.” Cindy laughed. “I’m not crazy. They’re real, and so beautiful. Ebony feathers, ethereal faces and shining eyes, with a radiant silver aura. And the loveliest things about them are their long blood-stained claws.”

“Claws don’t sound lovely.” Randy grunted into the conversation. “Your angels are just made-up monsters.”

“They are not monsters!” Cindy stared down Randy, and he squirmed.

“Stop looking at me like that. I ain’t done nothing to you. Keep away from me with your angel delusions.”

“You have nothing to fear from my angels. You don’t have many sins, even if you pretend otherwise. Dr. Wells has sins, though,” Cindy tilted her head towards the therapist. “Dark ones.”

“I’m a sinner, am I?” Dr. Wells chuckled.

Cindy nodded. “I know what you’ve done and so do the angels.” She leaned forward. “Time for you to pay.”

“Is that a threat?” Dr. Wells straightened in his chair. As he did, he felt something brush against his shoulder and smelled a hint of jasmine. A black feather fell in his lap. An invisible hand reached into his chest, and Dr. Wells felt the last beat of his heart before a force ripped the organ out of his body in a spray of blood, bone, and flesh. His corpse crumpled to the floor. Everyone but Cindy screamed.

And somewhere in the ether, a blacked winged angel feasted on the heart of a sinner.

∼ A.F. Stewart

© Copyright A.F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Under the Moon

They gather beneath the moonlight, where the silver shaded radiance meets the glowing edge of street lights and gaudy neon. They linger where the shadows settle in the cracks and alley bricks, where stagnant puddles shimmer from the lightly falling rain, and scattered refuse flutters in the wind.

Their claws scritch against the asphalt, a tiny sound against the submerged surface of the city, lost in darkness and the quiet hum of nightlife. They move and shift in scurry motions, shadow to shadow, slithering along the cracks and filth, unseen. Cars pass, doors slam, music drifts down the street. They take no heed, only finding the place they need to be.

Then they wait.

With each shallow breath, what passes for blood races through their veins, melding with the night. Their little tongues dart from their mouths, and shiny teeth knock together. The vibrations of the city hum against their bodies, disturbing the flow and rhythm.

And they wait. Until…

Footsteps echo on the sidewalk, tap, tap, down the pavement.

They hear the noise, and in eager anticipation their clicking claws keep rhythm, merging into a pulsing harmony, into a macabre sort of heartbeat. Thump, click, thump, click until the sounds are indistinguishable from one another.  

Until they are one tempo, one pattern, one in the flow of time…

Until the person who approaches is theirs, is lost to their need, to the swarm of their frenzy.

They are shadows at first, a darkening of light around his movement. Then they are sound; scritches and scratches and auditory fear. Lastly, they are pain; savage, sharp teeth, biting and gouging, devouring flesh. 

They exhale through his coursing blood, their life sliding into his, sucking, squelching, slurping pieces and bone, unmaking existence with screams and crimson splatters until every beat ceases. Until all that remains are red stains in a puddle.

Then they fade back to the cracks in the world, retreating to the lengthening darkness on scuttling claws.

And the hum of the city begins again, masking the faint clacking with the gloom of night. 

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2020 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

The Red Witch

Dalia Habershon sat in her favourite high back chair and surveyed the room. The lights were dimmed, with a few candles to lend the right ambiance. The fireplace roared and the butler had set out tea for the guest. The peeling wallpaper was barely visible, and the cracks in the plaster melded into the gloom.

We haven’t had a visitor in ages. This could be a good day.

She shifted position to ease the twinge in her back. The chair creaked, and the faded upholstery rippled, threatening to tear again. Dalia smoothed the skirt of her best dress, ignoring the old stains and the tattered edges of the fabric. She had done her best to look presentable, fixing her hair, even adding a touch of lipstick.

She cocked her head, listening to the whispers from the shadows. “Shush, he’ll be here soon. Be patient,” she replied. More whispers, Dalia strained to make out the words. “Yes, I’m certain. He’s not the type to miss an opportunity. He’s nothing but a muckraker trying to jumpstart a career, make a name for himself. He jumped at the chance to interview the infamous Red Witch.”

The double doors flung open, and two figures strode into the room. Dalia’s butler announced, “A Mr. Phillip Cobb to see you, ma’am,” before bowing and backing out of the room. He shut the doors behind him with a bang that made Phillip Cobb jump.

He laughed nervously. “This place sure plays up the spooky atmosphere.”

“It’s the way we like it. Come, have a seat on the sofa.” Dalia waved her hand at the ragged piece of furniture, hoping the springs were still holding.

Phillip sat down as instructed and took out his phone. “Do you mind if I record this?”

“Whatever you need.” Dalia beamed, playing the perfect host. “Would you like some tea?”

Phillip shook his head. “Maybe later. I’d Like to start the interview. How did you get this local reputation as the ‘Red Witch’? Rumours have it you make people disappear with your magic.” He smiled, a slight edge of mocking to his grin.

“Did they tell you how I cast spells and feed my hapless victims to my demonic pets? Or perhaps the one about how I collect souls.” Dalia snickered. “Truth is, I’m just an eccentric lady and people like to talk.” She shrugged. “It’s not my fault if people disappear. Probably should have minded their own business.”

“So you’re saying that you’re just a victim of gossip and harassment, that—” Phillip suddenly yelped, pointing at the shadows, “What the hell is that?”

Dalia sighed. Damn the ghosts. They’re so impatient. “Just can’t stay hidden, can you? Well, come out then, since he’s seen you.”

From behind the chair, several ethereal figures floated forward, crowding around the sofa. Eager moans issued from their throats as Phillip shrank away from their outstretched hands. He yelped again as something else slithered across the floor, adding a trail of slime to the layers of dust.

Still shrieking, Phillip leapt to his feet. With her foot, Dalia shoved the coffee table into his shins, upsetting his balance and rattling the tea set. As Phillip tumbled back onto the sofa, Dalia reached between the chair cushions, then vaulted over the table, brandishing a knife.

“You wanted to know if I had anything to do with the disappearances? The answer is yes,” she snarled. “The Red Witch is a killer.” She slit his throat with a laugh.

His blood sprayed against her dress, adding a touch of bright red to the faded crimson cloth. Dalia licked drops of Phillip’s blood from her lips as she watched his moaning spirit rise from his body.

“Come my pets, you have someone new to torture.”

The other ghosts rushed in, moaning eagerly, and hauled Phillip’s spirit away to the darkest shadows. Dalia listened to his phantom screams as her pets played with their newest toy. She chuckled.

It will only hurt for a little while, Phillip. Then you’ll become one of us.

More shadows shifted, and a reddish tentacle reached out towards the sofa. It wrapped around the corpse’s neck and squeezed. Bones snapped and flesh dissolved until the head popped off. The slimy appendage dragged the head into the shadows and they both disappeared into the dim murk of the room. Blood oozed and pooled on the sofa cushions.

Dalia nodded. “That’s it, feast, my pet, but save some meat for me. Winter’s coming and the freezer needs stocking.”

She scooped some blood from the stump of the neck into a cup and poured in some tea. Dalia settled back in her chair, sipping her drink and licking blood from her fingers. She gazed at the body on the sofa and listened to the sweet sounds of screams and crunching bones.

Dalia smiled. “Well, it was a very good day indeed.”

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2020 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.