Archive by Author | Christopher A Liccardi

Honored Guest

The light hurt and his head swam. He wanted to cover his eyes.

A hand floated in the corner of his view; it belonged to a woman.

“Nobody ever hears about us, the quiet ones; the little ones. The slight ones.” The owner of the voice caressed his neck. He shivered and tried to crawl back into the darkness that kept all the bright pain away. The voice and the hand moved off to his right.

The blackness crept up, this time without much of a fight. He faded away to the sound of her voice going on about being invisible in society.

***

“Awake again? I’m pleased to see you’re back. Can I get you something, water perhaps?” The voice purred with conviviality that wasn’t quite real.

He heard a sound so distinct that it couldn’t be anything other than what it was; a set of high heels walking across wood. She kept talking to him but it was nothing more than background noise.

“You’re going to be groggy for a bit longer I’m afraid.” The voice was close now. Something cold caressed his lips. She rubbed it around his mouth, and when he opened she slid the ice chip in. Too numb to miss the bitter cold on his tongue, his thirst was as painful as the ache that was developing around his chest and gut.

He was fading again, spittle drooled out of his mouth and into his lap.

“Oops.” She said.

Blackness.

***

“You’re back for a bit longer this time, I think. We’ll see I guess.” She tittered with laughter that wasn’t genuine. His eyes opened slowly, no sharp pain this time. He focused on the woman in red standing to his right. His first thought was ‘tiny’. She was short and thin. Beautiful in an extraordinary way. She touched his head and felt for his pulse.

“Just as it should be. Glad you’re coming around. I’m quite excited to talk to you, Mr. Thorn.” She made her way around a large dining room table until she was across from him. There was food on the plate in front of her.

“Rich,” he blurted out. The word wasn’t meant to be harsh, but she winced as if stung.

“No, Mr. Thorn, not rich, but well off at least.” She smiled awkwardly and scooped a fork from the plate in front of her.

She did not sit down.

Raising it to her mouth, he watched blood drip from the tines of the steel fork. She licked her middle finger from the knuckle straight to the tip of her fingernail. It was seductive, erotic. Thorn noticed movement on her right.

“You’re my honored guest.” She said. Her lips were red like a fresh coat of shiny lipstick you see in porn movies and noir films. He winced and shook his head.

“Still trying to make sense of things? I’d give it another fifteen minutes or so. It took a lot to calm you down. More than most men.” She winked, circling the table slowly; a predator marking her prey.

“What’s happening?” Thorn croaked. His throat felt like sandpaper. His tongue was gritty as if he licked concrete. The other man twitched violently once, then again, and settled. Thorn looked and saw the spasm had dislodged the cap he’d been wearing. It looked like one of those light blue things a doctor puts on before surgery. The other man’s head lulled forward. Thorn couldn’t process what he saw.

He knew what it was in an instant, although he’d never seen the inside of someone’s head before. The cavity that should be holding a brain was mostly empty. Only fragments of gray matter remained.

Thorn vomited down the front of himself. His gut tightened, and his chest screamed with agony.

“That’s okay Mr. Thorn, the girls will clean you up in a moment. For now, just listen. You’re here because you haven’t been very nice.” She didn’t smile this time.

“What, I…” another contraction from his stomach and that rocketing pain in his gut again. Nothing came out but bile and strings of yellowish spit. He was empty.

“Don’t talk, Mr. Thorn. The sight of my previous guest has upset you. I can understand that. Can you just sit and listen? If I get the girls to clean you up, will you listen?” She asked the question but he didn’t dare answer.

“We, the collective of women I help, have decided that a lesson is in order. Not as severe as this young man’s.” She reached over and placed a hand on the brainless man’s shoulder. He jumped again and blood flew from the open cavity. Red droplets splashed on the bone-white china and the rimmed crystal goblets in front of him.

“He didn’t take our advice the first time we had him over to dinner so this time, we’re having him for dinner. We could never resist the opportunity to get together and exchange ideas and empower each other, Mr. Thorn.”

He tried to process what this crazy bitch said to him, but something didn’t click. He tried to focus, to replay it in his head but it slipped away. The pain in his chest was so intense he couldn’t think.

“What’s wrong, Mr. Thorn?”

“Jesse…” he blurted out with no conviction. His stomach flipped, and he tightened his muscles against another round of puking, but nothing came. He panted, his head starting to sag with the weight of his exertions.

“Yes, your name is Jesse Thorn, and you’re an inconsiderate, heartless bastard to most of the women you meet. We believe in what we like to think of as positive reinforcement, and your lesson began several hours ago on a table. It continues now.” She nodded toward the other man, “This unfortunate soul was also bad to a woman. It was clear he hadn’t learned his lesson when she showed up in the morgue last week. It was time to eliminate this particular problem.”

“What did you do to me?” he croaked. Between the acidic taste in his mouth and the dry throat, it sounded inhuman.

“First we need to get you cleaned up. The ladies are already here. I wouldn’t want to embarrass you when they come in.”

The woman in red walked over to a small table on the far side of the room. She picked up an old fashioned telephone receiver and spoke softly into it.

Four women walked into the dining room from that door dressed in scrubs. One of them was rolling a cart full of cleaning supplies while the other three carried clothes, a few leather straps, and a needle.

“They are going to get you undressed and cleaned up before dinner, Mr. Thorn. We will give you something for the pain. It will keep you calm enough through dinner but not so much as you would black out on us again. You’re the honored guest tonight and we can’t have you asleep at your plate.” She smiled and nodded to the women standing near him.

A hand went over his mouth and he felt a needle prick his arm. Within seconds, he lost any urge to move. The pain was dull, but not gone.

He was hoisted out of his chair and stripped down to his skin. His hostess watched them work with avid interest as they cleaned him up. It was then he noticed the wide bandage over his chest and stomach. He was redressed in clean scrubs and placed back in his chair. One of the women cleaned his place at the table. The smell of disinfectant burned his nostrils.

As the girls finished with him they walked around the table to the brainless man. One of them covered his place setting with a red cloth as the other three lifted him from his chair. A sheet covered his limp body. He was thrown onto the center of the table without remorse.

That sound of clacking heels echoed, this time from behind him. The room suddenly filled with chatter and tinkling laughter. Perfume replaced the smell of disinfectant, and the mixture was somehow intoxicating.

A woman filed in behind each chair and grew silent. All eyes weren’t on him, but the man in the center of the table.

“Ladies, it is my pleasure to introduce tonight’s honored guest, Mr. Jesse Thorn.” A wave of applause assaulted his ears as the woman all turned to face him and clap.

“Ladies, once again I call your attention. Tonight is another lesson and another chance to come together as one. For that, I would like to present to you our main course.” She spoke with a flourish to her voice as she pulled the sheet off the man on the table.

No applause this time, just the sounds of oohing and aahing. Without warning, the ladies slid into their chairs and began to prepare to eat. The only woman still standing was the lady in red. She looked directly at Jesse with a sardonic smile.

“Mr. Thorn, it’s time to answer your question. You asked what I had done, but it wasn’t me exactly. It was us.” She smiled and looked around the room.

“We don’t take kindly to being mistreated and we’ve given up on society correcting the problem. We’ve decided to take matters into our own hands.” Applause rolled across the room.

“We’ve been tracking down and teaching men who mistreat women ‘lessons’ for nearly twenty years. While the history of our sisterhood isn’t newsworthy, the results are. As you can see, the price for failing to learn your lesson is this.” She picked up the steel fork again and tossed it, brain and all, unceremoniously toward his plate. Her aim was perfect.

“This failure here,” she pointed to the man on the table, “had several parts removed and became our honored guest a few years ago. He didn’t learn, though. You have been lucky enough to only have the parts of your body removed that you weren’t using to their full potential but you will live and have another chance to make things right if you choose. If not, you’re going to be in the center of our table like this one.” She pointed to the man who was as dead as a Thanksgiving turkey ready for carving.

“We took out your heart, Mr. Thorn, as you seem to be less inclined to use it and we’re serving it as an appetizer tonight. You’ll be returned to your life once you recover and we will watch you—closely. My only hope for you is that you are a much better student than this man was.” She smiled and sat down at the table.

Jesse’s head lolled from side to side, feeling drunk and stupid as he tried to process her words. They were sinking in slowly. When he focused again on the man in the center of the table, he noticed that his brain wasn’t the only thing missing.

He began to scream as the women began to eat.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2017 Christpher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved

Playmate

Oh little playmate, you would not play with me…

The discordant jangle of this long ago childhood nursery rhyme echoed under the bed where he hid. Some things never forgotten, he heard the sound of all that screaming like some fucked up sing-song that gets stuck in your head and never goes away. What did they call it, an ear-mite? He didn’t care. The rhythm soothed him while he waited for her to come home.

I’ll take your life, you see…

Those weren’t the words precisely. He giggled in time with the ringing in his ears.

Eddie, lying on his back, sharpened the knife, not minding the flakes of metal dust that landed in his eyes. He was singing and crying and none of the other shit mattered anymore. She wouldn’t play with him; she didn’t want to climb through his cellar door, as the song went. She would be sorry.

“I asked you to play with me, Kate. I told you I wanted to play…” The voice trailed off, but the song kept right on playing, if only in his head. He worried at the edge of the knife while he waited. He tested the blade, touched the razor-sharp edge to his tongue, tasted blood instantly.

Not sharp enough.

Eddie had been killing his way across the mid-west looking for someone to play with him, anyone. But, each time he showed up in someone’s house or their office late at night, all they did was scream.

Not very friendly, were they?

Not a bit.

Eddie giggled again. The sounds of those desperate cries and shrieks were the things he collected. He could listen to them when riding a bus, say, or walking through a crowded city park. They were his friends and he loved each of them, remembered each of them, knew where each came from.

He spent years of his life terrified of everything before he had taken his first friend. After that, he wasn’t afraid anymore.

A sudden jolt of adrenaline ran through him and the blade of his kitchen knife halted an inch from his right eye. This was the same knife that had taken the head off an old man in Meriville, Tennessee and the arms and legs of a woman in Columbia, South Carolina. The knife he’d driven into the skull of a guy who tried to rough him up outside a bar in Fairfield, Virginia. This friend didn’t run and it didn’t scream.

Had he left the bodies of this woman’s family where she would see them? That was the panic that had stopped his hand, and that nursery rhyme mid-jingle. Where had he stashed Kate’s mother and father?

Kitchen, silly!

A piercing rip of laughter peeled away from under the bed. He didn’t know if she was coming home today or tomorrow, but it didn’t matter. Once Eddie made you his friend it was only a matter of time before you’d try to scream.

Once he picked you as his friend, he didn’t change his mind.

One time he waited outside a trailer house door for four days; waited and listened. Apparently the occupants did nothing more than screw and do drugs. When they ran out, the man of the house, on wheels like a toy car, left to find more narcotics.

He never made it as far as the car, did he? No, ahhh.

That screech of laughter again and the rhyme came back.

Eddie had spotted Kate at a local coffee stop. Luck had brought them together. He had been tossed out of the fast food joint down the street. The kid behind the register called the cops, said he looked suspicious. The cops apparently didn’t think so and he was walking down the street five minutes later.

Kate, he got her name from the coffee cup she had picked up at the counter. She bumped into him and Eddie knew at once she was going to be his next friend. He even thought he might love her. She was pretty and tall, like his mother, and she smiled so big and bright when he stepped in front of her. She recoiled a little when he smiled back, but that was alright. Not many people liked his smile.

Let’s be jolly friends, Kate.

That’s what he said to her, or wanted to say as she stepped back from him uttering something mostly polite. He decided she was the one for him, the next one anyway, and followed her down the street to her office.

Kate hadn’t noticed him, but then again, they never did.

Maybe Kate won’t notice I’m here under the bed until later.

His mind ran wild with thoughts of how he’d pop out from under the bed and scare the hell out of her, or maybe he’d drag her momma in here and drop her on the bed next to Kate after she slept?

So many options for my new playmate, so many choices…

He was getting excited.

It was dark now. Eddie thought about trying to stay awake and sharpen his knife more, but one look at the pointed edge and he could tell it was good. More than good. He closed his eyes, dreaming of all the things he and Kate would talk about and all the screaming she would do. He’d never used anyone’s parents as toys before and he was excited.

She will scream the loudest of any of them.

Sleep took him. It was the sleep of the mentally young and the criminally insane. Eddie chased his playmates through a park in his dream, waving the knife at some and running others down in a car he stole. Somewhere in the distance he heard a new scream, a new playmate was coming.

He opened his eyes to a flood of light pouring in from the hallway. Kate had made it home and wandered into the kitchen while he was asleep. She found her parents at the table where Eddie had found them. Well, he had found two people sitting having lunch but now there were enough pieces to fill every chair.

It’s rude not to fill up the empty seats.

Kate screamed and screamed like nothing he’d heard before. It was marvelous. He cried a little at the thought of all those screams to take with him when he moved on.

Like the scream lottery…

Eddie wriggled himself out from under her bed, his knife in hand and a smile on his face. He started to hum silently trying to find the tune he’d been humming for nearly a year now. The words would come, or most of them.

He started to sing aloud, rough at first but by the time Kate heard him, it was steady, if not out of tune. The words comfortably familiar.

“…come out and play with me, I have this knife you’ll see…”

Eddie walked around the corner into the kitchen. Kate stopped screaming for just a moment and listened. She registered the song and then the face. She hadn’t seen the knife until the very end.

Eddie sang and Kate screamed, and he smiled at her all the while.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2017 Christpher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved

I Hate Clowns

“I hate clowns,” Roy said flatly. Each year, he shelved his irrational fear of those fuckers right up until the end of September. Then, all the clown related stupidity resurfaced and he was forced to stare down his terror.

“C’mon, who hates clowns? You didn’t seem to mind the clown outfit I wore last weekend, as I recall,” Beth said, batting her eyelashes.

“That was a clown?” Roy asked incredulously. He’d thought she was dressed like a character from the super hero movie they’d gone to see a few weeks ago.

She slapped him jokingly and pinched his nipple while she smiled that teasing smile he loved so much. Roy grinned back, though his nipple stung like a bitch.

“Besides,” Roy said, “clown movies are nothing but half-naked women getting chopped up by psychos.”

“Not always. Let’s watch a movie with clowns in it,” she said, still smiling.

She was always a little crazy and a bit ‘out there’, but she must have completely lost her marbles to think she could charm him into this. Nothing she said or did could get him in front of a television with some psychotic asshole wandering around cutting people all to hell.

He turned his head to tell her but she was already up and moving toward the television.

“Wait!” he blurted in a panic. He didn’t want her to realize how afraid he really was. Beth was by far the most beautiful, sexy, sensual, and amazing woman he’d ever met. How would it look if she could sit through a horror film and he couldn’t?

She stopped, arched an eyebrow, and shimmied out of her jeans. Her top followed next as she pulled it over her head and let it drop to the floor. The red and black lace she wore underneath stole his breath. All thought washed away as he pictured the two of them spending the next few hours not watching a clown movie.

He stood up and reached for her but she stepped back, dodging his advance.

“Not yet. I want to slip into something first. Think of this as therapy; I promise you’ll be completely cured when we’re done.” She winked at him.

She eased him back toward the couch, grabbing his ass as she did. The back of his knees struck the cushion as Beth pushed him down into his seat. Leaning over, she kissed him long and slow. When the kiss broke, she told him the movie was already in the player, then strutted out of the room.

“How did you…” he blundered.

“I was going to watch it anyway. Don’t worry, it’ll be fun. Besides, you might be a bit too preoccupied to be afraid,” she remarked with a giggle.

Roy clicked on the television and surfed channels for a moment before picking up the DVD remote and hitting the power button. Sports news was replaced with an image of a terrified woman screaming and covering her face as she ran. Some fat dude, shirtless except for a black rubber apron, was chasing her down with a chainsaw. He wore a red clown wig and white face paint. His features had been drawn in with exaggerated black grease pencil and he his grin was full of sharp teeth.

Roy had second thoughts about watching the movie. Beads of sweat popped up on his temples as he squirmed in his seat. He loosened his necktie and unbuttoned his collar, but it didn’t help.

He reached for the remote, wanting to turn off the movie when he heard Beth giggling; she was coming back into the room. Time to man-up for this beautiful woman and deal, he thought.

“I know this is going to be hard for you,” she said with another tinkling of laughter as she walked up behind him, “but I want you to know how pleased I am that you’re doing this for me.”

Roy began to stand, he wanted to see her, but her hands pressed down on his shoulders. He sat again and tried to crane his neck around to see her. He wanted one more look before they started the damn movie.

“Not yet, lover. Keep your eyes on the screen and if you get scared, think of this.” She flung a black and red lace bra into his lap.

He grabbed for it, feeling the warmth of the material. He wasn’t going to like the movie, but thought he might enjoy movie time nonetheless. He smiled.

Beth turned off the lights and Roy pretended his heart rate went up solely because of her lingerie.

“Hit play, lover,” she said and giggled from behind. She was enjoying this. He did as she instructed and eased back into his seat.

As the movie started, the screaming woman from the promo shot was having what appeared to be a normal day. A few minutes later, her car broke down and she called for the local tow company.

Beth played with his hair and whispered in his ear. He couldn’t understand what she said, but the fear he expected to feel was replaced by slowly building excitement. Maybe the clown movie wasn’t going to be that bad after all.

Predictably, night arrived before the tow truck on-screen – the man in the cab was the same man from the promo sans chainsaw, face paint and pointed teeth.

Beth continued to play with his hair and bite his ear lobe while the movie played on. Roy reached for her several times but she kept slipping away, still giggling.

All at once, the woman on TV was screaming; Roy jumped. She ran down a dark street in the middle of nowhere, one shoe off. The fat fucker from the truck, now dressed in the rubber apron, was tearing after her with the smoke-belching chainsaw. The buzzing sound was so loud it must have startled him awake. Had he dozed off? God, he hoped not.

Beth, who had been doing something behind him, stepped around the couch and in front of the screen.

“Welcome back, lover,” she said as she smiled. She was naked and Roy could see the outline of her breasts in the dim light coming from the TV. He moved to get up, but she quickly straddled him and kissed his lips. Her face felt greasy like she was wearing too much makeup. Maybe she’d donned that sexy costume she’d worn for him the other night…

Roy smiled and kissed her painted lips. She bit his in return and he pulled away sharply.

“Beth, dammit, that hurt.”

She didn’t say anything, but let out another of those purring giggles; it was starting to annoy him. She seemed to laugh at everything that got under his skin.

Roy ran his tongue over his lip and tasted blood.

“My frigging lip is bleeding.” Roy tried to free his hands so he could find out how badly it was split.

“I know,” she said. He could feel the whisper of a smile dance across her lips.

“I’m done with this game, Beth. If you want to mess around, I’m all for it, but that last bite hurt.” He could hear the whine in his own voice; he doubted they’d be having sex tonight. He wanted to get the lights back on and turn off the television.

He reached for the remote but Beth grabbed his hand. She kissed his inner wrist, letting her lips caress the soft flesh of his arm. She stopped at his bicep. Roy’s anger faded as he closed his eyes and drifted on waves of seductive pleasure.

Just as he surrendered completely, searing pain ripped through his muscles. Beth was tearing his arm to shreds with what felt like some sort of garden tool from Hell.

He screamed.

Beth screamed along with him, then lapped up at the blood pouring down his forearm.

Roy struggled to get out from under her but was pinned in place. It felt like a three hundred pound weight rested on his chest.

Roy thrashed around and tried to free his other arm; his leg connected hard with the coffee table.

“What the fuck?” Roy screamed. He glared up at her dimly lit silhouette trying to understand what was happening. Beth just giggled and started on his chest. She held an insanely large knife that she continually nicked him with as she cut the buttons from his shirt one by one. Her smile looked utterly demented.

“You know how in those movies it’s always the man that gets to be the clown and it’s the woman who’s always chopped into little pieces?” She started to stab at his chest, thrusting the blade in about two or three inches, then pulling it back out again. Each time it pierced his skin, Roy screamed louder and her laughter intensified.

“In this movie, it’s the other way around.” She cackled, her face now fully distorted. She stopped long enough to lick blood off the tip of the knife before she began another round.

Roy struggled to breathe. He gasped, feeling like a fish yanked out of water. His face began to turn a deep purple as blood dripped from the corners of his mouth.

“Oh dear. I must have hit a lung… let’s see what kind of damage I did with my little knife,” Beth said, tittering in his face. She shifted her weight down a bit and pulled open the tattered remains of his shirt and tie.

“If you died too fast, nobody would ever watch the movie. We need to make it last a little longer,” she said and produced a scalpel. “I know this hurts, but I have to admit, it excites the hell out of me, if you know what I mean, lover.” She winked at him.

Roy tried to scream as she drew the blade down his chest to his belly button. He was helpless to do anything other than watch as she ripped his chest open.

“I can see your heart, Roy. You said I could have it, right?” She giggled insanely while she tugged at his rib cage.

As the sound of her deranged laughter peeled through his brain, his last thought fired—I fucking hate clowns.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2016 Christpher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved

Therapy

It is the judgement of this court that Franklin King be taken to Steadwell’s Home for the Insane and placed in their custody where he will undergo therapy until such time as a doctor shall declare him cured.

That was ten years ago. A lot had changed in ten years. Those who had condemned him had changed. He was only sorry his mother wasn’t here with them.  Franklin was slow, Franklin was mean, but Franklin was not insane; not then anyway. The court had made his mother put him in that home when he was eleven. They tortured him, called it “therapy” for the first eight years of his extended stay. He was slow, but he learned that fighting to prove he was not insane just made the therapy worse. He learned and he plotted and he grew.

He stood overtop the bodies of the staff at Steadwell’s and smiled. His face was covered in blood but he didn’t mind. He had toyed with them for the last year, making them think he had been ‘cured’ of whatever illness he’d been sent to them with. He hadn’t been sick when he got there. He was now. Now it wasn’t just one voice Franklin heard, but two. That second voice always knew what to do.

One of the orderlies, a particularly vicious bastard named Ron, moaned and started to move.

Not good, Franklin. Not good at all. You can’t let him live. He would have killed you some time ago if he could have.

That voice was always with him now. It kept him company all these years at Steadwell’s. He had come to think of that voice as himself only smarter, more cunning. He welcomed that voice when it showed up.

Franklin fished Ron’s broken body out of the pile and lifted him as if he weighed nothing. Ron screamed wordlessly in his face, pitching spittle and nonsense at him. Franklin had removed Ron’s tongue with a serrated knife he’d found in the maintenance shed out back when he’d started because the voice told him to. It told him Ron would wake the others and then they would stop him from administering ‘therapy’. Franklin always listened to that voice.

“You had a chance to be nice, Ron. You blew it,” Franklin said and jammed his thumbs into Ron’s eyes. Ron screamed again fighting to get free but Franklin was far bigger than Ron was. He placed Ron’s head between his slab-like arms and began to squeeze as hard as he could. Ron’s skull cracked under the pressure, his movements slowing to nothing more than twitches. Franklin tossed his dead body onto the others unceremoniously and wiped his hands on his shirt.

***

The judge passed down his sentence without remorse. He hated that boy and he hated his mother. The boy might have been his, probably was his, and he was a mistake. Franklin’s mother was a mistake too, but she joined the church after Franklin was taken away. The judge couldn’t mess with a woman of the church. Some things were just not acceptable.  The only way to deal with this problem was to make it go away. In the twenty years the judge had been sending people there, Steadwell’s never cured anyone.

***

Franklin walked down the whitewashed hallway trying not to rage against the ghost of all the horrors he’d endured. Each room he passed held someone who used to be alive until Franklin had changed that.

The ones that hadn’t been mean to him were killed outright. Most of them died in their sleep, but those who took joy in administering Franklin’s ‘therapy’, they were handled differently. Franklin had taken great care to ensure they had all the attention they deserved.

The voice wasn’t with him, but it had given him instructions on how to proceed and where to find the red metal can in the maintenance shed.

***

It had been thirty hours and two hundred miles since Ron and the rest of the staffers at Steadwell’s had their own private therapy sessions. Franklin thought he would have found peace in that, but the voice told him he wasn’t done. There was still work to do.

The job is almost done, Franklin. You have a few more hours of work left and then you can rest. We see this through all the way to the end.

All the way to the end, yes,” Franklin said to his audience.

He began to assemble them when he arrived back in town. None of them remembered him at first but recognition returned quickly when they heard his voice.

Franklin stood on the back steps of the house of his final victim. Franklin wanted to come here first, but the voice insisted. It had to be the judge because the voice told him it was to be the judge. He didn’t argue with the voice.

“Good evening, Judge. I was wondering if you remember me, because I remember you.” He trailed off when the dawning horror crept across the old man’s haggard face. Franklin could smell stale beer and old sex on him as he tried to back away from the door.

“You do remember me. The voice in my head said you would.” Franklin laughed, but it wasn’t a good sound. He removed a large hunting knife from his belt and held it up in front of his face. The greasy lights from inside the broken down old house reflected in the steel; the judge saw blood and hair caked on the hilt. He turned to run, but Franklin was too fast.

Cut him deep, Franklin, but don’t cut the bones. You need the bones. Your work here is nearly done.

Franklin did as the voice insisted.

***

Franklin sat on his newly constructed throne, naked to the waist and reeking of gore. The bones that supported his frame bent under the weight of his muscle. He hadn’t needed the voice to tell him what to do with all those people who had sent him for treatment. He knew what to do with them. Each of them had played a part in sending him away; taking his home and his mother away. Now, they were all part of his world and he was their king. But, now he was too tired to move.

Franklin slept in the sticky mess that he’d made when he cut out the bones and muscle. He didn’t bother to clean any of it up, but the voice told him the smell would bring the neighbors to the church where his mother had been buried. The voice hadn’t told him it was a bad idea either. In fact, Franklin, rousing from the deepest sleep he’d had in nearly ten years, hadn’t heard the voice since the killing had stopped.

He listened, but the only sound was the sound of the flies lighting on and off the food he’d provided them.

“Are you there?” Franklin asked. He waited for a long time before deciding that the voice had gone maybe for good. He closed his eyes and felt peace for the first time. He dozed off again.

The sound of the flies grew louder as the day’s heat began to seep into the fabric of the old church; so did the sound of the siren headed his direction. Franklin knew that only one officer ever drove the town police car, and that was the sheriff. He hadn’t been home when Franklin stopped by to visit.

He’s the last one, Franklin. You know what to do.

Franklin stood, stretched his aching muscles and picked up an axe that had been in the shed out behind Steadwell’s. He liked the weight of it in his hands so he’d kept it, and as a car door opened and slammed shut in the old church yard, the voice told him he’d only need to swing it one more time.

Franklin smiled, knowing the voice was right. It was always right.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2016 Christopher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved.

Cera

Rush stood, paralyzed.

All the muscles in his body had gone slack. His gun was drawn, but it was so much useless metal in his hand.

The flashlight had fallen when the old man touched him; it rolled along the floor at his feet in a lazy arcing motion that mocked the fear he was now feeling. The light reflected jaunty shadows in front of his eyes and he wanted to scream, but could not.

“I’ve been waiting for you Detective. I thought you would come back, that you would come to see the exhibit,” the old man said. His accent was heavier now than it had been. “Why are you really here? I have a guess but then again, you don’t get to be my age without learning a thing or two about the predictability of humans.”

Rush tried to remember his training, to remember the things they taught at the academy. All his cop bravado left him. He was at the mercy of the old man lurking in the shadows.

“I could let you talk, but I don’t know how much it would change things. You have questions young man. I can see them on your lips, but the answers don’t matter, not really.” he said.

Rush could hear the gloating satisfaction in his voice. It was the same sardonic sound he heard in court months ago. Rush had wanted to hit him then, too. He tried to tighten the finger that lay on the trigger of his gun, but nothing happened.

“Let me guess a few, shall I? After all, we’re in no great hurry here. Your department doesn’t even know you’ve returned, do they?” he asked. “You want the truth, am I right? You want to know the how and the why.” The old man was moving around behind him; Rush could hear him but still couldn’t see anything more than a shadow.

“Possibly you wanted to come return all the property you took during the trial? You came here to give back my things, my tools, and you happened to wander in to the workshop because you couldn’t find me upstairs with the rest of the old relics.

“I don’t see any of my things here, Detective so you must be here for answers.”

The old man shuffled into the light. He walked the distance between them with the same hunched-over waddle he had before. He stepped in front of Rush and straightened with an effort.

“I am going to let you speak, for now,” the old man said and touched Rush’s throat.

“What the hell did you do to me, old man?” Rush belched out in a roar; every other muscle in his body useless.

The old man tottered a bit, then crumpled back into his hunched posture and stepped back from the detective. He looked frail, battered and too old to be a murderer.

“My family has been doing this for a very long time, Detective, and we’ve gotten exceedingly good at it. In fact, you are the first person to come so close to guessing the truth about what we do in over a century.”

This man was a direct descendant of the exhibits creator, Marie, but to Rush, he looked like any other murderer.

The old man looked up at Rush and smiled.

“What have you done to me, scumbag?” Rush bellowed again. He could think of nothing else to say. All the questions about the victims and the wax statues were gone.

“Come now, Detective! Let’s not resort to the vulgar just yet. I have so much to show you.” He smiled again and Rush tried to cringe back. The old man seemed to have too many teeth.

“What did you do to me?” Rush demanded. He was scared now on some deep and childish level that he didn’t understand.

The man stepped a bit closer and took the gun from his hand. He placed it on a table near the two of them and turned back.

“You can have it back when I am finished. I’m afraid the bullets wouldn’t agree with me,” he said.

“Don’t touch me!” Rush spat out.

“I’d like to say that everything will work out for you when I am done, but that isn’t likely. I doubt anyone will fuss over a police officer gone missing after such an embarrassing moment in the spotlight.” The old man took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves.

Rush watched as the man reached up again. He paused, his finger looming an inch from Rush’s face. He looked like a man contemplating some monumental decision.

He touched Rush on the cheek under his left eye and the color began to drain from his vision. His left eye dimmed and then was gone. He didn’t feel anything but picked up the slow movement on his cheek where the man had touched him. Something dribbled down his face. The old man reached up and plucked it off his cheek.

Rush began to scream when he realized it was his eyeball.

The old man touched his right cheek and laughed as the screaming doubled then morphed into the choking sound of hyperventilation.

“You see, Detective…” he started and then shook his head. “Actually, you can’t see so I’ll describe it to you. I’ve gotten rid of your eyes because we won’t need them. I shall give you new ones when I am done.” The old man stepped up to Rush and plucked the right eye off as it rolled down his stubble covered face, then tossed both orbs onto the floor.

“It’s customary to remove the eyes from the exhibits as the trauma of watching your own death can cause… unexpected changes in skin tone and hair. You still have your ears so you can listen. I think it’s a fair trade for the tools and time you took from me during the investigation and trial,” the old man said, still polite, still smiling.

He reached up to Rush’s mouth and stuck his finger in.

Rush wanted to gag, but couldn’t move more than his throat. His tongue flopped out of his mouth mid scream. Blood and saliva spilled down the front of him.

“Detective Rush, I will be doing something that you may consider rather gruesome, but I assure you it’s necessary. When it begins, you are going to feel nothing, but I promise it won’t end that way. Sometimes I can still hear them screaming a day or two after but not every time,” the man said.

Rush fought his paralysis as hard as he could, forcing his will against every nerve and muscle but his body would not respond. He could smell his own fear now.

“The last thing we need to do before we can continue, Detective, is to remove your clothing and have everything cleaned and pressed. Undoubtedly you will spoil yourself and that won’t do. I assure you though, you will look as professional and well dressed as any officer of the law in this fine city,” the man said with an air of perfectionist pride.

The fear finally shattered his resolve. Rush felt his bladder let go. Bile crept in to his mouth and he vomited. He was going to die at the hands of this monster.

“We’ve come so far since you kicked in the door of my home and the museum. Your meddling almost cost me everything, Detective, and I think it’s only fair to tell you the entire truth as we proceed,” he said.

Rush could hear the sound of something on wheels being moved across the room. It mocked the same waddling gait the old man had when he walked.

“You were so much closer to the truth than you ever realized.” The sound of metal on metal filtered in through Rush’s panic. He could hear things that sounded sharp and painful.

“I used to embalm my exhibits after ending their lives, but I’ve found a way to do it while the subject is still breathing. It’s a bit more painful but in the end, it gives each of you a more life-like feel. Now, I am going to place a needle in your arm. You won’t feel the pinch but the rest, well, you’ll see.”

Rush felt something in his arm where the old man had touched him. It was pressure at first, but the pain that followed was immediate. Rush began to scream again as the old man touched his throat, the scream cut off; Rush passed out.

***

“…and this is our newest and most popular exhibit. The curator calls this ‘New York’s Finest‘ and will feature the men and women in uniform from all over The Big Apple.”

Rush heard the pleasant female voice pass and the sound of feet on a wooden floor. The realization of what happened hit him and he tried to scream and thrash about. Nothing came out of his mouth; he couldn’t move.

The voices faded, as did the footsteps.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2016 Christopher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved.

4320 and the Hard 6

As soon as he landed at McCarran, the heat-baked shimmer of city life was visible, vibrant. He stopped on the jetway to peer through the sooty glass. The reflection was breathtaking even from three miles away. This place really was a treasure trove waiting to be taken by someone brave enough to grab it.

He pushed up the ramp toward his new home and caught the smell of decay as he passed into the open-air walkway. Something must have died on the tarmac; it was faint but undeniable. For an entrepreneur about to open his first hotel in sin city, this might have seemed a bad omen, but not to him; he didn’t believe in that shit.

Two hundred hours: The casino business had been good. His first ten days were coming to a close and he didn’t see anything but the glitter and sex. Fuck if he could remember the names of all the girls he’d screwed or places he’d been.

That smell of decay came and went. He couldn’t quite understand why a city that spent billions on water couldn’t keep the scent of road kill away from the tourists. There were moments he noticed those around him seemed older, more aged and tired, but they were fleeting thoughts drowned by his own youth and vitality.

He sat in a lobby bar some place on the strip and sipped his Old Fashioned. It tasted off, but he was distracted. The waitress who had been serving him, Lina, came over and sat next to him on the leather sofa. She touched his shoulder, asked if he wanted another drink. He didn’t answer until the fingers sliding up the inseam of his expensive slacks reached their intended goal. He winked at her as she stood and walked away. She looked back over the crowded bar with a very suggestive grin.

Five hundred hours: Getting money from this place was easier than getting laid, but that damn smell was everywhere now. He couldn’t go more than a few hours without noticing it. Something was really wrong around here. Nobody else seemed to notice though. He called the city but they found nothing.

He saw Lina last night; the waitress with the suggestive grin and the wandering fingers. It was a good visit. They had camped on the floor of what would be the Casino Manager’s office. Lina had done all kinds of things to him. She seemed tired though. Maybe all the late nights were getting to her. He liked Lina. He promised to take her away once the project was over.

Twelve hundred ninety hours: His vision was coming together. The installation of the new statue of Seduction made it all seem real. The thing was nearly forty feet tall and sat hunched on all fours. It looked like a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn.

The entire thing was cast in gold, which was typical for Vegas. The creature seemed to have flowing hair, like it was caught in a strong breeze. The new hotel manager had called it a Kirin or something. Damn thing looked like it was watching you all the time.

The legend was that the beast brought prosperity and luck, or some shit like that. So far, it seemed to be working. Even the smell of decay had left for a time.

As the staff walked past, they would touch the damn thing whenever they came and went from the project site, but he refused. At first, it was mostly the Asian staffers and construction people, but eventually, everyone was doing it. They joked with him about not offending one of the gods, but he didn’t believe in that shit. He had plenty of women, money and luck.

A few days later, the smell was back and he noticed the statue started to take on a tarnished look.

Lina took him out to dinner that night. She looked older, but said she was fine. Fine enough to make him dessert from under the table in between courses. Certainly finer than the food he sent back. It was rancid. The waiter smiled a tired look and made no complaint.

He looked around the restaurant and it dawned on him that the entire place was filled with older couples trying to look young. Strange thing was, he never noticed it before.

Twenty-one hundred eighty four hours: Just over three months and the new construction was nearly done. The place should’ve looked great, but didn’t.

Everything started to take on the worn-out look. Even the women around him no longer looked appealing.

He had gone out to the Neon museum a few times when he first arrived. The desert had stripped all the luster off those signs at the old bone yard where everything went to die in this town. That’s how this place was starting to feel. What the hell was going on around here?

That night, the statue looked worse than ever. God, were these people pissing all over it? How does gold lose its shine?

He found a security guard in the cash office playing some game on his cell phone. He told him to get off his fat ass and cover that fucking statue before he had to pick his teeth up off the floor; he wasn’t paying him to goof off. He also wasn’t paying someone to come out and buff that statue again.

As the guard waddled away, he remembered the young man who sat here not three weeks ago. This guy couldn’t be him. That kid was young, vibrant; alive.

He needed a drink and to check in on Lina. She hadn’t been feeling well all week and had stayed home from work. Maybe they could spend a little time rolling around on the pile of cash he kept in the apartment.

Three thousand ninety hours: The project was done in record time. He wanted to celebrate by getting royally fucked-up with Lina. Maybe a threesome and some really high-end shit would put things right.

The contractors all looked like they could use twenty years back on their lives instead of the bonus they got.

When he went to see Lina, she wasn’t doing any better. She had invited a few friends over that they had partied with not long after he arrived. After putting away an eighth of an ounce of blow on his own he could hardly remember much, but they had done some pretty kinky shit. He woke up with blood all over the sheets, and what should have been two very pretty ladies playing with each other. But these ladies weren’t the beauties they seemed the night before; they almost had to hold each other up. Everything on them was saggy, tired. The changes around him were so drastic, but had been so subtle in coming. Maybe all the nose candy was getting to him. He didn’t know, but he would worry about it another time.

Forty-two hundred hours: He was just about ready to call it quits. The place smelled of death and old rot. All of Vegas had changed somehow. It seemed to be everywhere.

Lina hadn’t even come over last night.

The grand opening was in five days; one hundred twenty hours and he didn’t think he was going to make it. This place was driving him crazy. Time had sucked the life out of everything here; everything, except him.

What the fuck was going on around him?

Forty Three hundred hours: He woke up that morning with no memory of the last few days. The first thing he needed to do was take a piss. The second thing was a shower; he stunk to high heaven. The smell of decay was now everywhere. It permeated his clothes and his hair.

As he showered, he noticed the water had a bad odor, too. He would need to call the system guys and find out if there was something wrong inside the hotel. No room for screw-ups on opening day.

He went to the entrance of his suite to get his breakfast. It was delivered every morning so he didn’t have to waste time looking for a place to eat. He opened the door and the cart was covered in flies. What the fuck? He lifted the silver plate cover and nearly vomited all over himself. The food had been there for days.

He ran back to the bathroom, trying to contain the bile he was retching, and almost made it.

Once he got himself under control, he picked up the phone in the living room and dialed housekeeping; five rings, no answer. He stormed out of the room. If this staff had gone on strike already, somebody was going to pay. The hotel wasn’t even open yet and already things were falling apart.

He ran through the hotel and found everyone was in their appointed places. They had died there; been mummified in their uniforms and with their assorted props and tools. As soon as he realized he was the last person left alive, he noticed the smell had finally gone. All he inhaled now was dry age and old, worn-out life. That’s when he finally snapped.

He left the Seduction one final time, 180 days after he first arrived. He ran off into the desert and only the Kirin was left to see him off.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2016 Christopher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved.

What’s Inside

“Did you do it, did you open that thing?” William asked. Shelly was sitting on a splintered tree that had fallen during the storm. She didn’t take her eyes off the box. She’d been holding on to it since the storm.

“Not yet, but I want to open it. Don’t you think I should? I want to see what’s inside,” she whimpered.

Shelly found the black box, with its weird writing and odd symbols while they were digging through the debris. What they found was this ancient relic Shelly had inherited from her mother.

From the second she touched the box, she’d been unable to do more than sit, cradling it like an injured child. She hadn’t eaten or slept much in days and wouldn’t leave it long enough to go with William to the shelter.

“Honey, you need to put that damn thing down and get some food. You’re gonna get sick. I can watch it for you so nothing happens to it.” William pleaded with her. He didn’t want to take it away, but he was getting nervous.

After the storm, the plan was to find a shelter that would take them in until they could move what little there was to his sister’s place. Then Shelly found the box and didn’t want to leave.

“I’m not very hungry. You can go without me, Will. I’ll be fine sitting here,” she said, her voice hollow and distant.

William felt the wind pick up but the moving air was no comfort. The temperature had gone up ten degrees and he feared another storm was on its way.

“Shelly, we should get inside somewhere before the weather kicks up again. Look at the clouds. What if we take it with us?”

Shelly answered, but not in words. She began cooing at the box and caressing it. She had her back turned and he couldn’t see the look on her face. William walked around to the front of the tree where she was sitting.  “I want to stay here, Willie. It wants me to stay here,” she finally moaned in an odd, baby doll voice.

Her eyes had a sunken-in look and her skin was gaunt on her diminished frame. Had it only been a few days since she’d eaten?  “Shelly?” He touched her arm, but she was a statue.

The wind picked up and it began to rain. William knew staying any longer was a bad idea. It might already be too late to get far enough away but he hadn’t heard the air raid siren go yet. Maybe the storm would be fast and blow itself out, but they wouldn’t survive without some cover. The debris from the last storm whirled, leaving cuts all over his exposed skin. He barely noticed.

“Baby, we need to get out of here, now!” he shouted. It had grown so dark that even the short space between them was like looking through black ink.

“I can’t leave yet. It’s about to open and show me what it’s been hiding,” she said, in that spooky baby doll voice again.  “You’re going to want to see this, Will.”

Her fingers stopped caressing the lid and began to lift one corner.  The light escaping the box was dim as Shelly wormed her finger deeper, making the space between the lid and the box bigger.

The light brightened and William realized that as the light intensified, so did the storm. Dawning recognition hit him. The storm hadn’t come from the plains; it was that damned box. Shelly was letting it out of the box.

“Shelly, no!” William shouted as he leapt forward. He was going to slam the lid back down on that thing before it killed them both. She might lose a finger, but…

He reached for her, grabbing for the box and trying to push the lid back in place. Shelly turned slightly at the sound of his voice and the box slipped from her lap. She began to shriek.

William tried to ignore the pain he heard and made for the box as it hit the ground. It skidded away in the mud. The lid popped up for a moment and the wind matched her screams. Then, it closed and the storm puffed out instantly.

He looked at Shelly to see if she was alright but she was sliding limply from her seat on to her knees.

“Shelly, are you okay? Oh my god, Shelly,” William cried out, trying to catch her. He didn’t want her to smash her head on any of the fallen debris. Everywhere he looked, he saw sharp gouging death winking up at him.

Shelly crumpled into a ball and collapsed before he could reach her. He screamed at the sound of her head and face slapping the wet earth. She twitched once, violently, then was still.

William lurched forward onto his knees, heedless of the glass cutting in to him. He reached under her wet hair, wanting to see if she was alive, but something bit into his hand.

William pulled his hand away, screaming and holding it to his chest. He had squeezed it shut instinctively, and now he could see blood pooling in the spaces where his last two fingers should have been.

Shelly lay forgotten for a moment as he held his hand to his face. The missing digits hadn’t registered just yet. It felt like hot iron was being poured over the place where his fingers had been. He clapped his other hand over the stumps and searing pain bolted down his arm. He thought he was going to vomit right there, watching the blood rush through his fingers.

When he realized she could have fallen on whatever just cut him, he snapped.

“Shelly!” he yelled. Was something gnawing at his wife while he knelt there nursing his own horrible injury? The shock of being bitten was almost too much.

He pulled his shirt over his head to wrap around his hand. When he looked down, she was no longer lying on the wet ground. It took him a moment to realize that she had moved a few feet away. He shook his head, trying to clear his vision.

She was sitting with the box in her lap again, caressing the lid. Her face had a twisted, horrified look that he had never seen on any human before.

“Shelly,” he asked, trying to keep his feet.

“You shouldn’t have taken it from me, Will. It doesn’t want you to touch it.” She looked up at William with a demented, hateful grin. William’s heart skipped a beat.

“What are you doing Shelly,” William asked.  He moved in closer to her.

“I can’t stop myself, Willie,” she said. He could see the outright terror on her face. The look stopped him in his tracks.

“Baby?”

For a long moment, Shelly sat, staring blankly back at her husband. Her fingers had stopped on one corner of the lid.

Finally, she smiled again. It was part Shelly and part whatever evil had taken hold of her in the last six days.

“I can’t, William…” She trailed off. William relaxed a bit. Then he watched in horror as she ripped the lid off the box all at once.

“SHELLY…” his voice ending in a blood-curdling scream.

Shelly laughed, in that spooky baby doll voice. She stood and stepped blindly into that darkness.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2015 Christopher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved.

Forever

As Mathew entered the storefront, he hung its key from the tooth of a snarling dog. The statue of the hound had been on that table since his childhood and time had seen fit to leave it. His hate for the place flared in each muscle the second he entered the building, but it was a strangely enticing feeling. The old room looked deliberately ramshackle, intended to add to the mystique, no doubt. ‘Shabby chic’ people called it; rundown he called it, but it was his business now.

He knew his father had been into some really terrible things, but he never stuck around long enough to take part in the ‘family business’. He’d left home at eighteen and never looked back. He’d tried to forget all of it and had managed to succeed until a letter arrived by courier last month; it was addressed to the proprietor of The Old West Wax Works. The woman who delivered it was attractive and left not only her number, but the lingering scent of her perfume on the delivery receipt along with his father’s will. They’d begun seeing each other almost every night since. She’d asked about The Old West Wax Works a few weeks into the new romance, but he never explained and she never pushed.

When he told her he needed to take care of family business down south, she hadn’t asked to be included which was a good thing; maybe she was ‘the one’ and his impending bad mood would seem unattractive. They talked about weekend plans and she mentioned heading down the shore to surprise him for a visit, but he barely listened; he’d been preoccupied with his father’s will. The tasks he needed to complete weren’t complicated, but they were going to be messy and time consuming.

Mathew spent that first day cleaning counters and getting rid of the old dust cloths and boxes, and something shifted.

He shifted.

The place didn’t need to be spotless, but it did need to be presentable when his first guest arrived. He felt the cold fingers of anxiety grab hold of him and fought them off. This place was in his blood and always had been. He saw that now and felt – proud.

He thought about the delivery woman, Claire, as he toiled about the place, and wondered if she would like it here. He genuinely liked her and hoped she would. He looked forward to seeing her again as soon as he could.

The bell over the door jangled its discordant tune.

“C’mon in, we’re open for business.” Mathew said.

Mathew caught the scent of a woman’s perfume; it was familiar to him by now. He hesitated, fought the urge to be like them, to turn into the monsters his predecessors had been. He smiled when he saw her, all doubt faded, then he stepped on the button that opened the trap door. The fight was over.

The sound of the heavy door slamming shut cut off the screams from below. He knew she had broken both legs and cracked several ribs when she fell, but that was all fixable. His father’s tools were already sharpened, ready for use after so many years of neglect in the storage boxes.

He liked the delivery woman, Claire. He hoped she liked it here, too.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2015 Christopher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved.

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