The old man shifted his weight as he peered out through the tavern’s window settling on three figures standing in the street. Although obscured in shadows cast by the lone lantern, one could easily tell there were two adults and one child.
Over the years he watched many families stand outside in the street exactly where the three were standing now. Although it was a different one each time, the scene always played out the same.
One could say it was tradition.
The old man reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out a silver pocket watch. He pressed the small button releasing the latch and looked at the clock’s face.
Frowning he closed the watch and slid it back into his pocket.
“It is almost time.”
He heard someone grunt behind him and turned to the rest of the people in the tavern who came to witness. None met his gaze. He felt their hatred as easily as he could smell the odor of stale beer.
The old man turned in time to see the two adults kneeling down hugging the child. The father was the first to stand and had to pull the mother away. She began cried as her husband led her toward the bar, away from their child.
The little girl watched her parents, not entirely sure what was happening.
The tavern’s door opened and the mother’s wails filled the room.
“Let go of me,” she cried. “This is your doing!” As she began hitting his back, the old man did not take his eyes off the girl.
A faint mist swirled around her feet.
“Ellie, come on,” the husband said wrestling his wife away. “Screaming at the heartless bastard isn’t going to change anything.”
“How could you…” Ellie spat. “She’s only nine…”
The mist thickened, making everything outside appear in grey scale.
“If you only knew what it was like…”
The words stung, the old man’s throat went dry. I know only too well. He exhaled sharply keeping his attention on the girl.
She was barely visible in the impenetrable mist.
It will be over soon.
A shadow danced in the mist to the little girl’s left and vanished as she spun around to see what it was. Her head darted back and forth looking for it.
The shadow reappeared to her right, only closer. Once again the girl turned to look but the shadow disappeared. Her movements became frantic and she turned her head to toward the tavern.
It rose up through the mist like a scorpion’s tail and struck, knocking the little girl to the ground. The shadow rushed forward engulfing her in a blur of grey and black. She opened her mouth to scream but no sound came out. Her struggling weakened and within seconds she no longer moved as the shadow devoured her.
The mist quickly dissipated revealing an empty street with no trace the girl had even been there. He checked his pocket watch again.
The old man turned, moved away from the window. He kept his head down to avoid the icy stares and shuffled toward the door as fast as his frail frame could take him.
“Just like always, you leave without having the fucking guts to face those of us who have given so much,” the little girl’s mother said.
He slowly turned and raised his head, meeting the hateful stares head on.
“Would it make it any easier if I did?” he asked.
“At the very least you could see the pain… the anguish that this ungodly tradition causes.”
“Yes, it is an ungodly tradition.” He pointed toward the window. “That thing that takes so much from us every year is ungodly.”
“Takes so much from us?” the father asked. “What do you know of it?”
Before he could reply, the bar erupted in profanity laced rants. Globs of saliva struck his face and he dropped to one knee.
“If you would please…” he tried to say but was drowned out.
His breathing quickened as his chest tightened. His hand slid down the shaft of his cane until it reached the bottom. With a deep breath, the old man stood up and in one fluid, powerful motion smashed his cane on the floor. It splintered in the middle and the sudden show of force silenced the bar.
“You all think I haven’t felt the pain this night brings?” he yelled as his lower lip quivered. “Do you all think that I cannot relate to what you are going through?” His eyes scanned the stunned expressions. “When we settled here almost fifty years ago, I had three sons and a daughter who I loved with all my being. We thought we found paradise but little did we know what we’d have to pay for it.”
“Are… are you saying…” the mother began.
“Mine were the first to be given to the ungodly. I know all too well what you are going through. If there were some other way believe me when I say we would’ve found it.” He wiped the spit off of his face. “But there isn’t.”
He hobbled to the door and spoke over his shoulder as he opened it. “You all knew the price you might have to pay when you moved here. Don’t forget that.”
With that he stepped outside and pulled the door shut behind him.
∼ Jon Olson
© Copyright Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.
When will it end?
Struggling to catch my breath, I stop for a moment, hands on my knees. The door to my left is shut, I haven’t been in there yet. Could that be a way out?
It always changes.
“Daadddeee…” My daughter’s voice echoes through the halls, distant and menacing. “Where are you?” She giggles, and my skin crawls. The voice is my daughter’s but the words are not her own.
They belong to the Sinister.
Bursting through the door, it quickly becomes obvious that I’ve misjudged. It’s not the exit but another classroom. Like the others I’ve seen, the desks are overturned, strewn about. The floor’s covered with debris. Even in the dark, I can see the walls are splattered and smeared with gore.
I thought I knew my way around her school after months of dropping her off every morning. For fuck’s sake, the building is essentially one giant corridor with rooms branching off it; how hard could this be?
“Daadddeee… I’m going to find you!”
She’s closer…its closer.
I thought I’d put enough distance between us to buy time. Creeping back to the door I peer out. The corridor is lit only by the flicker of flames burning sporadically within the building. Screams erupt from somewhere mixing with childish laughter.
I dash out into the corridor, avoiding a lick of the flame, continuing my search for the way out.
My daughter said… the Sinister said… there’s a way out, and if I find it, it’ll let us leave.
I slow my pace as the corridor begins to quake.
Oh god, it’s happening again.
Walls crack and splinter while steel beams groan as they rip from their foundation. The ceiling and floor shifts position, altering the layout like a Rubik’s Cube. The horror is indescribable; the confusion maddening.
The Sinister said we can leave; but I doubt it will let us.
I jog toward one of the freshly formed corners and my feet slide out from under me; I slip on the entrails of what looks like one of the school’s administrators. Hitting the floor beside the lifeless torso, I see eyes frozen open in terror, they stare blankly at the ceiling. The lower half is nowhere to be seen.
“Daadddeee… you can’t hide forever!”
Holy fuck she’s…it’s close.
Scrambling back to my feet I continue down the unfamiliar hallway. I don’t know how long it’s been since the nightmare began; the Sinister gave me a head start what seems like ages ago. Here and there I’ve seen other parents as desperate as I am to find their children and make it out.
I’ve also seen some that didn’t make it. What of their kids?
Then all other thoughts are eradicated: I see it.
Barely visible, in the orange dancing glow of the flames, is an Exit sign above a heavy door.
Oh my god, a way out. My heart races.
With a new sense of urgency, I use every ounce of strength to propel myself toward the door.
Almost there…the ceiling shatters above me.
In a deafening crack, ceiling tiles, duct work and dust rain down on me, along with my daughter. I collapse under her and the debris, hitting the floor just a few feet from the exit.
“I found you, Daddy,” she says.
Gripping me with inhuman strength, she flips me onto my back and my heart breaks.
Her arms are gone, ripped out of their sockets and replaced by greyish-pink appendages with six oversize claws protruding from stumpy, inhuman hands. She still has her own legs but has sprouted elongated talons that tear through her tiny Mary Jane’s. Her face is still that of my little girl, but her mouth is permanently etched into an unrelenting grin.
Worst of all; her eyes. Her beautiful blue eyes have been torn out leaving empty sockets.
“Baby girl,” my voice cracks with emotion. “The exit is right here.”
“You almost made it, Daddy,” she says and her voice softens. “…almost…”
“It’s right here, honey. Let’s leave… me and you…” Even I don’t believe my words.
The Sinister creeps back into her voice. “But then the fun would end. You don’t want the fun to end, do you, Daddy?”
“What the hell happened here?”
She giggles, digging her talons deep into my chest. I feel them scrape between my ribs.
“Oh, my dear Daddy,” she squats, pressing her full weight into my chest. “You just answered your own question: Hell happened here.” She twists her talons deeper, nearly piercing one of my lungs. “Besides, how can you leave something that’s already everywhere?”
Tossing her head back, she erupts into a shrieking laugh.
∼ Jon Olson
© Copyright Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.
Stepping out of the car, I look up at Lake Euphoria Inn.
Although they’ve spruced up the three story building with a fresh coat of paint, it’s still the same place where my wife and I spent all our anniversaries.
Including our last.
Turning away from the inn, I have no intentions of reliving those memories in the honeymoon suite. Instead my eyes fall upon the path cut into the trees, which leads to Lake Euphoria itself.
It used to be a dirt path with odd roots protruding through, but now it’s a well-maintained gravel walkway.
As the gravel crunches beneath my feet it does little to ease the churning acid in my gut. Reaching to the small of my back, I make sure the gun is still tucked into the waistband of my pants. My fingers brush against the grip, reassuring me the pain is almost over.
I continue walking a few more steps, coming to the spot where my life was torn apart.
Looking around the small clearing I can still see my wife sprawled on her back, stomach ripped open, absolute terror permanently etched upon her face.
I had gone back to our room to retrieve the camera that I forgot to grab. On my way back I’d heard her screams, raw and terrified.
And then, silence.
Running as fast as possible, I came upon the thing. It stood knee-deep in the water, my wife’s entrails hanging from its mouth. Wet scales glistened on its body in the afternoon light. The amphibious abomination looked at me and smiled before disappearing under the water.
I shake my head, clearing those images from my mind.
The water laps against the large rocks surrounding Lake Euphoria. Perching myself on one of them near the spot where she died, I remove the gun from my waistband. In the weeks leading up to this day I fantasized about how it would feel. Would I be sad? Fearful? Or even relieved?
Even with the gun in hand and the barrel in my mouth, I’m void of emotion. I’m already dead.
Pulling back on the hammer, I steal one final glance to the lake… and there it is! The fucking thing, its head sticking out of the water, watching me.
I open fire until the gun clicks empty, all my shots missing wide.
It dips below the surface.
Diving in the cold water shocks my system. Where are you goddamn it? Although the lake is murky, there is some visibility. I don’t see it right away but I know it’s there.
My lungs begin to burn.
Something glides past me.
I reach out but grab nothing.
I hear a groan muffled by the water.
My lungs scream. I need air…there it is! Only a few feet away, staring at me with golden fish-like eyes…
…I inhale foul water…
…my body thrashes…
…but I can’t look away…
…lungs full of water…
…and swims off.
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.
Earl was two hours into his shift and already pissed off.
It was bad enough that management stuck him out at the East Gate Security Checkpoint but they also put him with the new guy, Geoff. Not only that but his guts rumbled too, threatening to spill out his hind quarters at any moment.
No one really used the East Gate anymore as it had been turned into an exit-only checkpoint. The road was poorly maintained with crumbling asphalt and the gate itself was rusted chain link. Their guard shack was roughly the size of a large recreational vehicle and sat just off the road surrounded by weeds.
Inside was a large desk with two computer monitors, each of them linked to a CCTV camera. Fluorescent lights hummed above, giving the trailer a slight hint of green making Earl think of a hospital. There was a single phone hooked to the wall and even it had seen better days. In Earl’s view, the only good thing about the shack was the air conditioning.
“I’m going to have a smoke,” Earl grunted.
He stepped outside and a lit a cigarette.
It was a humid evening, evident from the sweat already running down his back. The sky was streaked with crimson as the sun slowly dropped toward the horizon. He glanced up at the lone street light standing next to the shack and watched as the moths were drawn to its glow.
A mosquito buzzed by Earl’s ear and he swatted aimlessly at it. Nearing fifty with a gut starting to hang over his belt, Earl had been with Dragon Security for almost fifteen of those years.
Despite that experience, they decide to screw me and stuck me the East Gate.
“No,” Earl said, sighing heavily. “You got yourself stuck here.”
The door opened behind him.
“Did you say something, Earl?” Geoff asked.
Earl shook his head and waved the new guy away.
He didn’t dislike Geoff as a person, but rather disliked him for reminding Earl of what he once was: young, in shape and working the job solely to pay his way through school.
Not earning a living off a security guard’s shitty wages.
The air conditioning felt great, although it also gave him the chills thanks to his sweat. He sat down on one of the hard plastic chairs and looked at the grainy black and white images on the monitors.
“What do you think they do up there?” Geoff asked, sitting down next to him.
“Up where?” Earl asked.
“At the Institute.”
Earl glared at him and said, “It doesn’t fucking matter what they do up there. The less you ask, the better.”
Geoff blinked, not expecting Earl to snap.
Earl sighed. “Look, I’m not trying to be a dick. I made the mistake of asking a similar question and now I’m getting punished.”
Geoff opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it and turned back to the monitors.
About a week ago when Earl was still in Dragon Security’s good graces, he was working at the Main Entrance. He had gotten to know some of the people who actually worked inside the McFarlane Institute, one of whom was Dr. Richards. They shot the shit daily until Earl made the mistake of asking what they were doing up there.
A harmless question.
Dr. Richards didn’t speak to him after that and shortly thereafter he got assigned to the East Gate. It still pissed him off thinking back to it.
The ground shuddered, followed immediately by a deep, heart pounding thud.
The lights flickered twice before going out, along with the monitors and air conditioner.
They had lost power.
“What the hell was that?” Geoff asked as he jumped to his feet, knocking the chair over in the process.
“Relax,” Earl replied. “Just give it a sec. Sometimes there are power bumps.”
While it was true, Earl had never experienced a power bump like that before. He looked out the window toward the institute and saw that the lights were still on.
Why hadn’t they gone out?
The power returned and everything went back to normal.
“You see,” Earl said, rubbing at his stomach. “There’s nothing to it. If you’re here long enough you’ll get used to them.”
“I won’t lie,” Geoff said picking his chair off of the floor. “It gave me a start.”
Earl’s guts rumbled again and he knew better than to tempt fate.
“I’m going to take a shit,” Earl said making his way toward the bathroom. “Are you okay out here?”
“I should be,” Geoff nodded.
“You remember what to do if a car comes?”
“Check their documents of entitlement and identification. If everything looks good let them out.”
As he reached the bathroom, Earl turned around and said, “If you have any issues let me know.”
Earl shut the door, dropped his pants and closed his eyes as he sat down on the toilet, enjoying the relief it brought. For some reason, the trailer’s designer felt it necessary to put in a small window in the bathroom. It was the size of the Kleenex box and up high so they left it alone, usually leaving it open to air out the shitter.
As much as he wanted to believe that it had just been a power bump, Earl couldn’t shake the feeling that it was something else. Every other power bump had knocked out the exterior lights to the McFarlane Institute.
This time it hadn’t.
“Hey Earl,” Geoff called through the door. “There’s a car coming.”
“So handle it!” Earl yelled back.
He heard Geoff open the shack door and step outside. As Earl went ahead with his business, he listened as Geoff’s voice carried in through the open window.
“Good evening,” Geoff said.
There was a pause and then a voice said, “Good… evening… it… is…” Earl recognized the voice as Dr. Richards’. Why did he sound weird?
“I need to see your ID and document of entitlement.” There was the sound of movement, then shuffling of paper. “It’ll just be a quick second while I validate these.”
“Going… home… for… night…”
“What was that?” Geoff asked.
“Going… home… for… night…”
“Quitting time is always a good feeling.”
The phone began ringing out by the desk.
“Fuck sakes,” Earl muttered.
After a quick wipe he walked toward the desk, stealing a glance outside at Dr. Richards’ car. Geoff was handing his paperwork back through the passenger side window. Earl saw the good doctor and stopped, as there was something off about him.
His motions were jerky and delayed as if he were reacting. It reminded Earl of the old ventriloquist puppets when their heads would turn followed by their eyes. That combined with his bizarre speech pattern rubbed Earl the wrong way but he couldn’t figure out why.
The phone continued to ring.
Earl heard the familiar buzzing indicating that the gate was opening and saw Geoff with his hand on the control switch. The gate was almost completely open when Earl picked up the receiver.
“East Gate, Earl speaking.”
The gate creaked to a stop.
“This is McNeil!”
Geoff waved Dr. Richards’s car through.
“Don’t let anyone through the gate! We’ve had a breach! I repeat, we’ve had a breach!”
Earl dropped the receiver and bolted outside just as Geoff hit the switch to close the gate. Dr. Richards’ car was already outside the gate, a few meters beyond the fence where it had stopped.
“That guy sure seemed fucked up,” Geoff said, then looked at Earl. “Hey, who was that on the phone?”
Dr. Richards began convulsing uncontrollably.
“It was McNeil from the institute,” Earl began. “He said there’d been a breach.” His voice trailed off.
Dr. Richards rose from his seat and hung out the passenger side window by what looked like a cross between a snake and tentacle.
“Uh… Earl,” Geoff whispered. “What the hell is that?”
Earl said nothing as a larger shape materialized from the backseat and slithered through the window.
The creature had what looked like five appendages, including the one holding the good doctor. Its moist body glistened in the light of the street lamp now that the sun dropped completely below the horizon. It emitted a sound similar to that of someone smacking their tongue against their lips.
Dropping Dr. Richards’ body onto the ground, it disappeared into the encroaching darkness.
“My God…” Geoff muttered. “Earl… did it… did it use his body like… like…”
“Like a puppet,” Earl managed to say.
© Copyright 2017 John Olson. All Rights Reserved.
The demon stood in the snow.
Fergus saw it standing in the knee-deep powder through the small window of his front door.
“Don’t try to do too much out there,” his wife Nancy called from the kitchen. “Just take your time.”
“I won’t, don’t worry,” he answered distractedly.
“Amber might join you out there in a little bit if that’s okay.”
Fergus could hear his daughter playing upstairs and nodded.
With his winter jacket, boots and gloves already on, Fergus pulled his toque down over his ears and with a deep breath opened the front door.
It wasn’t very cold although the wind packed a sharp bite as Fergus grabbed the shovel leaning against the house. Ignoring the demon, he began tossing snow from the driveway onto his lawn.
Not much time had elapsed when a burning sensation erupted in his chest. Damn acid reflux.
The demon spoke. “It hurts, doesn’t it?”
“What hurts?” Fergus asked, keeping his back to it as he dug into the snow.
Fergus paused, acknowledging the comment. “It’s acid reflux,” he muttered. “That’s all it is. Acid reflux…”
After a few more minutes of shoveling, the pain grew worse. Grimacing, Fergus stopped and rubbed at his chest. “Is this your doing?”
The demon seemed closer yet remained motionless. Only its mouth moved. “Maybe. You don’t see surprised to see me.”
Shaking his head, Fergus said, “No. Somehow I knew you’d be back.”
“I saw you that day,” Fergus said.
“The day my father died.”
The demon’s mouth twitched ever-so-slightly, staring hard at Fergus with its emotionless, black eyes. “What did you see?”
“I was only five but remember watching from the living room window,” Fergus began. “It was similar to today. A storm had just dumped over a foot of snow on us and Dad went out to clear the driveway.”
Fergus dug the shovel into the snow and heaved the pile aside.
“You didn’t look real, almost like a reflection off the snow.” Fergus glanced at the demon who appeared even closer. “I remember him looking at you, like he was listening and then nodding. You reached out, touched his chest for a moment and he collapsed. The doctors said his heart gave out.”
The demon nodded. “They always do.”
Fergus rubbed his own chest again, “I had nightmares about you.”
“Worried that I would come for you?”
Fergus shook his head. “No, what scared me was wondering what you said to him.” He took a step toward the demon. “What did you say?” He glared into the demon’s eyes, noticing that they rippled in the wind.
“I explained your family’s unfortunate legacy. Would you like to hear it?” Not waiting for an answer, the demon continued. “Basically, thanks to a distant and sadistic ancestor of yours who made a deal with my master, your family has to forfeit a male soul to us every generation. We leave it up to you to determine whose soul we take.” In the blink of an eye the demon was face to face with Fergus. “Your father gave us his.”
The front door opened and Amber bounded from the house into the snow, drawing her father’s attention. “Hi Daddy,” she called out playfully.
“Hey there, sweetie,” Fergus replied. Turning his attention back to the demon, he asked, “So why go through all of this? Why not come and take the one you want?”
“As I said, you or a male from your family has to make the decision. That was the deal. Sadly, since you have no brothers, it will end up being you.”
“What if I say no?”
“If I’m the only male and I say no, then are you shit out of luck?”
The demon’s brow creased and its eyes narrowed. “Don’t.”
“Or else what?”
The demon blinked and time stopped, frozen in place. Snowflakes hung motionless in midair. All went deathly still. Fergus found he could turn his head but quickly grew concerned when he realized the demon was no longer in front of him. It was kneeling in front of Amber. Her eyes were wide, full of fear; her mouth open forming an ‘O’ shape. She’d never looked so fragile or terrified.
The demon had the tips of its fingers inside of her chest.
“Get the hell away from my daughter!” Fergus screamed trying to run but his feet would not move.
“This is your only warning,” the demon hissed. “You may hold the initial choice of whose soul we get but when complications arise, the rules change and the choice becomes ours. We can take any soul we want at that point. It would still be better if you made the decision to honor the original deal, but either way, a soul will be coming back with me.”
It twisted its hand slightly deeper into Amber’s chest.
Tears streamed down Fergus’s face. “Get the fuck away from her!”
“Then make the choice.”
Fergus screamed, “Take mine, damn you!”
In a flash the demon was back in front of him. “You made the right call,” the demon grinned.
Time resumed as Amber shook her head, slightly dazed. She looked at her dad and smiled as the demon plunged its hand into Fergus’s chest. The cold, demonic fingers wrapped around his heart, slowly constricting it.
With his legs growing weak, Fergus sat back in the snow. A tingling spread through his body but after a few seconds it began to subside. Fergus then felt nothing as the demon pulled its hand out.
“Are you okay, Daddy?” Amber asked.
The demon disappeared and Fergus’s world went dark as he replied, “I’m fine… sweetie…”
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright 2017 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.
Jenkins sat in his reclining chair, extended the footrest and closed his eyes.
Sleep was something he found hard to come by. Just up the road from his trailer was Old Man Fredericks’s farm. The smells from that place were bad enough; damp hay and tons of shit lingering in the air.
Most of all, it was the noises that drove Jenkins bat shit.
Those fucking pigs were constantly grunting and squealing.
His clothes, skin and hair still smelled of smoke, reminding him of camping trips to the beach with Beth when they still dated.
He grinned, replaying the image of the barn going up, the flames dancing over it, consuming the structure and its occupants.
Jenkins opened his eyes and flicked at his jeans, noting the dry blood soaked into the denim.
It had only taken one swing with the first piglet to kill, smashing it on the asphalt. The second piglet, however, was tougher. After three hard whacks against the road it still squealed, despite blood pouring from its split skull.
When he set the damn thing on the ground to finish off, the piglet tried to dart off. Jenkins snapped all four of its limbs to keep it from running away then stomped the piglets head until it caved in, leaving a mix of skin, bone, brain and snout.
It had been great.
Sleep quickly crept up on him.
My god it’s quiet.
Jenkins couldn’t remember a sleep as relaxing as the one he just had. Stretching, he released a big yawn. His body was relaxed, rejuvenated and-
He was in a bed.
Looking around, he quickly realized that he was no longer in his living room. Where the fuck was he? He threw the covers back and climbed out.
The king size bed dominated most of the bedroom. A white dresser stood against the wall to his right while a simple desk with a lamp on it was the left.
Jenkins headed towards the slightly ajar door, noting the light spilling in through the gap. Pulling it open he could see a spiral staircase in a dark room but at the bottom was another open door which was the source of the light.
Jenkins made his way down the staircase but when he reached the bottom step, he stopped.
There was a sound.
A familiar sound.
A pig was grunting in the next room.
Jenkins stepped off the staircase through the doorway.
He was on a balcony where an adult pig was on all fours, sniffing around the railings. Just to his right was a glass case that said Break In Case Of Fire containing a hose along with an axe.
Beyond the balcony railing was complete darkness.
The pig stopped sniffing when it noticed him and met his gaze.
If Jenkins thought the grunting and squealing was bad, what he heard next was almost too much to bear.
“Hello there,” the pig said.
Even though it spoke words, it was a poor attempt at mimicking a human, as the sound was still pig. Its voice was grotesque and terrifying.
Jenkins could not speak.
“Oh come on now, don’t be shy. Why, we’ve been neighbors for so long we’re practically best friends. My name is Howard.” The sound of the pig’s tongue rolling over its teeth as it pronounced each word made Jenkins cringe. “I’ll save you the trouble of asking. Yes, you are dreaming.”
Jenkins turned to leave but the doorway was gone, replaced by a brick wall. He reached out and tried to push the wall out of the way to no avail.
“It won’t budge,” Howard said. The voice changed, darkening. “You’re in here with us.”
Looking around frantically, Jenkins remembered the glass case. Without hesitating, he punched through the glass, grabbing the axe.
“Oh, come on now, buddy. What are you doing with that?”
Jenkins swung the axe as hard as he could, bringing the blade down on Howard’s head. The blade punched through skin and bone, before coming to a stop in the brain.
It was an awful sound, much worse than the spoken words, resembling a human wail penetrated by pig vocals. Jenkins released his grip on the axe, covering his ears.
Within seconds the screaming stopped, replaced by laughter. Howard stood up on his hind hooves and clutched his belly, gasping for breath as he laughed.
“Oh Jenkins,” Howard exclaimed as blood ran down his face. “Do you really think you can hurt us here in our own domain?”
“It’s just a dream,” Jenkins muttered. “It’s just a fucking dream.”
“Just keep telling yourself that, buddy. We all love a good laugh.” He gestured beyond the balcony railing as light slowly dawned in the darkness like the opening of a Broadway show.
There was movement but as the light grew brighter he saw them.
They were scurrying around back and forth on a carpeted floor that was enclosed by old wood paneled walls. Covering his nose, the air quickly became thick with the smell of pig shit and something else.
It was familiar yet he could not put his finger on it.
“What do you think?” Howard asked, the axe still embedded in his head.
Jenkins clutched his temples and shook his head. “It’s time to wake up. Wake up, Jenkins.”
“One two three WAKE UP!”
Howard’s voice darkened even more. “You’re here for the whole show.” And he laughed.
Reaching up with its hoof, Howard dislodged the axe and tossed it off of the balcony.
Jenkins realized the pigs on the floor were no longer scurrying around. Their movements were more deliberate and less animalistic and then they stopped altogether.
The room went silent.
One by one, the pigs looked up; each of them staring directly into Jenkins’ eyes. The shit smell was dissipating and the other aroma cut through, becoming more distinct. With every set of eyes on him, Jenkins recognized the smell.
All at once, the pigs began screaming.
It was deafening and even more horrific than the lone scream when he had buried the axe in Howard’s head. As he watched, the pigs’ skin began to sizzle and bubble up into blisters, roasted by invisible flames.
Their skin then began to fuse together, absorbing one another.
“Wake up… wake up…” Jenkins cried.
Howard laughed even more and flipped himself over the balcony railing. He landed on the floor below where he began to merge with the other pigs.
“What do you think, Jenkins?” Howard asked, growing in size as he assimilated the others.
Intermixed with the screaming was a wet sucking sound. Although the bodies were absorbing one another, all the pigs’ heads remained.
It was massive.
Standing before him was an ungodly being comprised of burnt and charred pigs. It stood on two legs with Howard acting as the head.
The abomination was tall enough that Howard was at Jenkins’ eye level.
“There is no waking up from this, my friend,” he roared. “You see, we’re Tormentors. We feed on the enjoyment people get out of heinous and cruel acts. By taking the forms of the tortured, we invade the dreams of the torturers exacting revenge. It’s why we exist. Or looking at it another way, it’s how we get our kicks.”
The mass raised its arms.
On the end of each one was a piglet. The one on the left had a split skull while on the right, the piglet had no head; just a gory pulp of pig flesh.
They were the ones he killed on the road.
Jenkins turned away, screaming, looking for a way out.
The mass reached over the balcony, grabbing him by the legs. It yanked hard, tripping Jenkins onto the balcony floor, then lifting him into the air upside down where it held him for a second.
“Ready?” Howard sneered.
Without waiting, the mass whipped Jenkins into the air then swung down as hard as it could.
Jenkins smacked the carpeted floor with a muffled thud. The blow knocked him senseless.
“How about another try?”
Again, Jenkins was raised into the air and struck hard against the floor. This time, pain exploded through his body as he felt his right shoulder and rib cage shatter upon impact.
He cried out, gasping for air, blood filling his mouth.
All of the pigs began to squeal with delight. The mass lifted his broken body up again but this time held him close.
“It’s been a slice, buddy, but we’ve worked up a bit of an appetite.”
The mass pressed Jenkins against its body as the many pig mouths began tearing into his flesh, ripping chunks away.
Jenkins opened his eyes.
He was sitting in his reclining chair in the living room of his trailer.
Just a dream.
Sighing a breath of relief, pain exploded through his body.
The entire right side screamed in agony. He could taste iron as blood filled his mouth. Looking down, his chest and stomach were torn open with his entrails slipping out onto the floor.
As he raised his head, he looked out the living room window to a face looking in at him.
It was Howard.
Grinning, Howard licked his lips and said, “Oh we’re not done yet, buddy boy. We’re called Tormentors for a reason. You don’t get to wake up from this one.”
The squeals of many pigs filled the room as one of the mass’s arms smashed through the front door, reaching toward Jenkins.
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright 2016 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved
“Hello there,” a man’s voice says.
I open my eyes and realize I’m standing on a pier. Snow lies in small, shoveled heaps along the edges and the sky is a cloudless grey. It’s cold yet I feel nothing.
“I bet you’re wondering why you’re naked?”
Looking down I see that the voice is right but feel no need to cover myself up. Turning to my right, I see him.
He’s an older man with thin, white hair combed to the side. Thick rimmed glasses rest upon his nose magnifying his green eyes.
“My name’s Horton,” he says extending his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Herman Trotter.”
“How do you know who I am?”
“There’s no easy way to say it so I’ll just come out with it. You’re dead.”
I blink twice. “Dead?”
“Unfortunately. What’s the last thing you remember?”
Thinking back, I easily find the memory. “I was filling my truck up with gas.”
Horton nods and says, “While you were filling your truck, two rival gangs got into a shootout. A bullet ricocheted off the pavement and penetrated your skull just behind your right ear. You were dead before you hit the ground.”
I take the information in stride, knowing that it’s true. Looking at the pier, snow and the sky, nothing here seems alive, myself included.
“I’m surprised you haven’t asked yet,” Horton says.
“If you’re in Heaven or Hell.”
“I’m an… was an atheist. I’d never given much thought to where I would end up.”
Horton laughs and says, “Some atheists are like that. You may not believe in a god but you still have a soul and when your physical body expires, your soul has to go somewhere.”
“Where exactly is that?”
He places his hand on my back between my shoulder blades and gently ushers me down the pier. “To the Blue.”
For the first time since I arrived, I look out beyond the end of the pier.
Upon first glance it looks like the ocean with waves rolling about, gently lapping against rocks along the shore. I then notice it’s navy blue in color with streaks of aqua green and black cutting through the jelly-like texture at various intervals. Beneath the surface, flashes of white flicker like lightning.
“What is it?” My voice is barely a whisper.
“That, my friend, is the resting place for mankind’s atheist souls. Good or bad, they all come here in the end.”
I have a strong urge to leap off the pier into it.
“What’s your role in this?” I ask.
“I’m the administrator. It’s my job to keep track of who goes into the Blue.”
“How do you do that?”
Horton reaches into his inner coat pocket, pulling out a folded paper and gold pen. “Whenever someone new arrives, they must sign this registration before they go into the Blue.”
Although I don’t want to, I pull my eyes away from the Blue and look at him. “Is that it?”
Horton nods and says, “Alexander the Great asked me the same question before he went in and yes, that’s it.”
My eyes find their way back to the Blue while I reach out for the pen. Gripping it in my hand I barely manage to scribble my name along the dotted line.
“Very good,” Horton says. He folds the paper up and slides it back inside his coat. “Whenever you’re ready, you may jump.”
I’m already in the air falling towards the Blue before he gets the words out.
There is no splash.
The sensation of falling is instantly replaced by bliss. My eyes are open and while I don’t see anyone, I connect with them; with everyone in the Blue. Time stands still as I fully accept the Blue’s embrace.
Below me is a flash.
I don’t think much of it until the searing pain hits me.
We all cry out without making a sound.
Another flash flickers below, but closer.
And I see it.
Swimming amidst the Blue is a translucent eel-like shape with a large mouth. It emits a flash each time its mouth opens, exposing row upon row of teeth.
It’s taking bites out of the Blue.
I begin swimming… struggling towards the surface. When I finally break through, I cry out, “Horton!”
The old man is still standing on the pier and he looks down at me, puzzled.
“Why Mister Trotter,” he says. “Whatever is the matter?”
“What the hell is in here with us?”
I briefly slip below the surface but rise up again.
“We call them the Translucies.”
“They’re eating us!”
Horton laughs and says, “Well of course they are. How else do you expect us to maintain the maximum number of souls allowed in the Blue at one time?”
He begins saying something else, words I don’t hear as I slip below the surface; down into the Blue.
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright 2016 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved
“Alright guys, grab a quick breather and take fifteen!”
I barely hear my foreman’s voice come through the radio clipped to the left side of my safety vest. Lowering my bulldozer’s blade to the ground, I shut the machine down. Almost immediately, I miss the roar of the engine.
A breeze blows a rising dirt cloud away from the cab as I make way down to the ground and remove my cigarettes. I shake one out of the package into my hand.
Looking up, most of the guys are standing around in a circle. Mike, I believe that’s his name, waves for me to join them but I shake my head ‘no thanks’ and light my cigarette.
I don’t want camaraderie doing this fucking job.
The drag is long but exhaled quickly. I don’t even taste these things anymore. I do it for a sense of normalcy in days that are no longer normal.
As I circle around to the front of the dozer, my fingers gently run along the chipped and worn yellow paint until they reach the blade. After almost twenty years of operating a dozer I used to love the sound of the blade scraping along the ground.
It was a sound of power and production.
A few meters away, two excavators sit idly beside a freshly dug pit, roughly the size of the foundation for a small house. The overburden sits on the far side of it as a silent witness.
Actually it’s not a pit.
It’s a mass grave for the enormous pile of bodies in front of my dozer.
They are the bodies of the formerly living dead; bodies that were once living people. Despite various stages of decay, I no longer notice the thick stench of death. I toss my cigarette away, no longer wanting it.
To clear my mind, I glance at a large section of land we finished clear cutting yesterday. A thick tree line remains around the site concealing our actual job from the public eye.
Somewhere within the trees a gunshot rings out, followed by cheers; looks like our armed escorts got another one for the pile. My eyes find their way back to the dead, imagining who they were at one time. Limbs of different sizes stick out of the pile like a grotesque form of art.
The small limbs are the ones that get me the most.
If I stare long and hard at them, I can almost make out which ones belong to—
My legs give out. Slumping to the ground with my back against the blade, I press my face into my palms. I don’t know how much time passes when my radio crackles to life.
“Alright, boys, let’s get back to it. Lucas, whenever you’re ready, go ahead and push those fuckers into the pit.”
My arm is heavy as I reach up to grasp my mic. “You got it, boss.”
I get to my feet, climb back up to the cab and start the engine. Manipulating the controls, I raise the blade a few inches off the ground before inching the bulldozer forward.
The worst part is the blade making contact with the pile. There’s a slight shudder of resistance before the bulldozer pushes through and bodies start to roll toward the pit like a wave approaching a beach.
I feel a few of the smaller bodies slip underneath the blade, getting stuck bellow it.
I’ll have to make another pass.
This isn’t the first pile I’ve had to push into a mass grave.
Nor will it be the last.
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright 2016 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved
For three hours, I’ve been chasing the Swindler through deserted neighborhoods, past charred remains of houses and finally into the ruins of what once was an elementary school.
I’m still pissed at myself for missing my initial shot. If I had made it, I wouldn’t have had to chase it here.
And it wouldn’t have killed my hunting partners, Myers and Dixon.
The Swindler ran into the last classroom at the end of the hall on the right, its claws scurrying along the tiled floors. Crouching at the hallway’s only opening, I radio for some backup, hoping my squad isn’t too far away.
Down the hall, the Swindler begins growling and snarling, daring me to come in after it.
Even with my gun, these fuckers are tough to kill one on one. They have a mental power that acts as a defense mechanism, if you allow yourself to be compromised. Somehow they are able to make you see them as something they are not. In other words, they play a trick on your senses.
And your sanity.
If it compromises you and you’re in a confined space, like one of these classrooms, the odds are not in your favor. I’ve seen too many less experienced hunters lose their lives this way.
Heavy boots climbing the stairs echo throughout the derelict building. Relief washes through me as I hear them. The Swindler hears them too and stops thrashing about.
Fleming rounds the corner, weapon drawn.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
I nod and reply, “There’s only one and it’s in the last classroom on the right.”
“Myers and Dixon?”
I shake my head.
Fleming grinds his teeth. “Let’s get this motherfucker.”
Checking to make sure my weapon is loaded, I make my way down the hall with Fleming close behind.
We enter the room.
Old desks with plastic chairs bolted to rusty bars are strewn about the room. A chalkboard covers the entire front of the room, graffiti covering almost every inch of it. Faded posters still hanging on the walls flutter gently as a slight draft cuts through the room.
In the middle of the floor, the Swindler sits cross legged with its face buried in its three fingered hands. Sporadic patches of hair decorate its scabbed and grey skin.
It looks up at Fleming and he lowers his weapon.
“Jesus…” he says. “It’s just a kid…” His voice trails off.
The Swindler looks over at me with reflective blue eyes.
For a split second, the Swindler’s face disappears, replaced by that of a boy.
I pull the trigger.
The head explodes spraying blood, bone and grey matter onto the nearby desks and chalkboard. Fleming flinches as the body slumps back and then looks over at me, horror dawning on his face.
“Oh my god, Redcliff,” he says, with his lower lip quivering. “It was just a boy… no older than ten.”
Fleming drops to his knees, letting his weapon fall to the floor. I kneel next to him, placing my hand on his shoulder.
“It’ll be alright,” I say to him. “Everything’s going to be fine.”
The rest of the squad arrives and the medic takes over as he begins to assess Fleming. I stand up, nodding to the group that there’s a body to be burned.
My second-in-command, Gilbert, hands me a canteen of water. The water is cool and refreshing.
“What happened in there?” Gilbert asks.
“Fleming got compromised,” I reply.
We leave the classroom and make our way back toward the stairs.
“Even if Fleming is cleared by the medical team,” I say, “his days of hunting are over. He’s too much a liability now.”
“Understood, sir,” Gilbert replies.
Once outside, I take in a deep breath of fresh air and begin to feel better. How many more hunts do I have left in me?
After a few minutes, I watch as the Swindler’s body is dragged outside. It is laid in the middle of the cracked and neglected road. After a few kicks of frustration from my men, the body is lit on fire.
I can still see that brief flash of a boy’s face.
It wasn’t the first time I was almost compromised.
The flames dance and swirl over the corpse.
It probably won’t be the last either.
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright 2016 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved