Beneath the stars I entered the forest, machete unsheathed. The idea of a gun rejected early in my search. It wasn’t personal enough. I wanted to sever its ability to escape and run my hand over its face—it had no eyes; I wanted to make sure it could see me. I needed it to know it was me who consigned it to death.
I pondered the irony of where the hunt would end. Years I searched to unmask the hidden wretch, my obsession. In that time I encountered many a sinful beast, but none so horrible as the eyeless thing that took my wife. Meryl’s expression held elegance even in shock, as its shiny, coal-dark arm wrapped around her throat and took her forever.
I sought out urban legends, overheard rumors in bar conversations, asked questions no sane person would dare. But none of the things I hunted turned out to be her abductor. I kept notes, made sketches, documented the unknown horrors that live in the wild. Parents tell you monsters aren’t real, but the wisdom of a child knows no suppression.
Would peace come of its destruction? Has it come to the victims of other felled nightmares? Maybe. Either way, I needed my closure.
As I stealthily navigated the woods I felt dreams and nightmares within my grasp, burning cinders of pain and hate. I’d scar my flesh just to be close; die to touch it. My hands trembled, heart pumped excited blood. A grin spread my chapped lips—I was closer than ever before. Every few steps I stopped to listen for movement. It was no ignorant beast I pursued; it was another hunter, just as cunning as myself, if not more.
A rustle to the side caught my breath. It seemed a deliberate tactic; a ruse to draw me in. So I kept still. It was trying to locate me. I waited, and my patience won out. I heard it stalking through the brush and followed silent as the night.
Flashes of Meryl’s terrified eyes drove nails into my heart, but I pulled them out and left them behind. I had to focus on my prey, else I’d become it.
Excitement turned to fear when I felt hot breath against the back of my neck. Somehow it tricked me. Somehow it won. In a last-ditch effort I turned and swung my blade with blind aim, but its slender fingers caught my wrist.
Its black, featureless face moved close to mine. The ebon flesh receded from its skull. From within came rows of pointed teeth. Its entire head snapped like the muzzle of an enraged mongrel. The serrated maw engulfed my skull but the teeth didn’t penetrate, only held firm against my throat. From deep within its gut, a meaty appendage extended and lodged itself in my esophagus. I bit with force, hoping to do whatever damage I could before it killed me. But the flesh was too fibrous; my human teeth did nothing. It shoved itself further into my abdomen, I choked against the thick, sausage-like tube. All I wanted was to scream in pain, to release…anything. But I could only writhe in agony while my chest hitched in a struggle for life.
∼ Lee A. Forman
© Copyright Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
I knelt before his body, the divine man we all once worshiped. He remained exposed; no one bothered preparing a grave in his honor. My hands tightened into fists. The rage of their vile act upon the Master seethed in my blood. How could they betray their faith?
I’d become a stray sheep among wolves.
Looking up at the night, I prayed for answers. The sky returned my grief with thundering tears. I welcomed the sorrow of rain as it drowned my lament and washed the blood from my clothes. I laid my hands upon his rotting flesh, hoping to feel some remnant of warmth. But nothing radiated from his lifeless heart. Death had exhaled its cold breath upon his soul.
I remembered the first thing he said to me. I’d asked him why God allows bad things to happen to good people—the question everyone asks.
“God gave humankind free will,” he told me. “If He intervened in our affairs, that free will would be invalid. It would cease to exist. By giving us the power of choice, He disempowered himself of meddling.”
Those words changed me, molded me into his disciple with the hands of a savant artist. Not long after, we gathered a flock the savior himself would have been proud of. Each Sunday we convened in an old barn at the edge of my property. The handmade pews would be seated by familiar faces, those of friends and family. They awaited his words with great anticipation in desperate eyes. All sought salvation, but all had turned on Master in the end.
I put my head against his chest and remembered his gospel.
“The Lord gave us the gift of suffering so we would know what it means to truly be alive, so we would know light from dark, good from evil. Joy is the antithesis of that endowment, the betrayer of clarity. So I ask you, take hold of your pain, know it, bond with it. For only that can put you in the good grace of our Lord.”
They followed his words, mourned lost loves, loathed their own vices and those of others, reveled in the toil of daily life. But a small town, a peaceful hamlet not prone to crime or violence, has only so much to suffer.
It wasn’t enough.
“Give thy pain to thy neighbor,” he’d said. “Offer up your tribulation so that those with none can truly see what it means to believe. Allow them to feel the love of our Lord’s blessing.”
After that, the town of Angleton became something else.
Those who followed took his message and spread suffering like a plague. Violence became desired, harm welcomed. There were no victims during the time of awakening. Only loyal servants. They gave themselves to the cause, some even came begging. Master gave it willingly. The barn became a house of torment, howls of agony its chorus. They lined up waiting to feel the hand of Master scar their flesh.
They wore those marks with pride. Hung blood-stained clothes on walls, glorified shrines to Master. They honored the Lord, loved Him, more than they loved themselves. But now those offerings burned in a pile of despised memories, still glowing within the remnants of my barn, the church we all once shared. And the wounds for which they pleaded were covered by clean, fresh laundry—an affront to Master’s gifts.
I tried to make them see. But the mob came, torches aflame. I stood between them and our house of worship. The Master never left, didn’t try to run. He welcomed their blasphemous deed, laughed with arms raised as they set the fire. They stood and watched it burn, Master still inside. I wanted to dash into the blaze and die with him. But I couldn’t perish yet. I had to avenge the greatest man who ever lived. My fate was to spread the gospel of Edgar. He told me so himself.
I was then a wolf among sheep, bringer of redemption. Attempts to rekindle their faith futile, pain only closed their eyes. They could not be forgiven. They were not absolved.
∼ Lee A. Forman
© Copyright Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
The moon stares down at my brittle frame with judgement. A curse suckles upon my flesh, a reflection of the mirrored world I was cast into by no choice of my own. I only follow the deeds of my other half—a witness, a bystander. The exhibitionist shows me her will while forcing my eyes to see. I am no more than myself, and that which binds my flesh together. It isn’t a madness. Else I’d writhe in bed, the horrors in my mind to torture me at their discretion. I’m but a shell, the exosuit of the power which earns the rewards of my actions.
She speaks my name, which is her own. The condescending nature of her tone forbids argument. I’m but a slave with no outer master—the plaything of my own wicked mind.
Grace… Walk dutifully into the night and the blood will flow…
My legs carry an unwilling frame. Decision has never been an option—free will, only a dream which never comes true.
“Why, Grace? Why?” I ask.
Just do as I say. You know there isn’t any other way.
My lips curl into a frown of disdain.
Don’t be so spiteful. If it weren’t for me, you’d be nothing.
“I’d be me.”
You’re already you. But you’re also me.
That’s the problem, always has been. Ever since Mother and Father took their place in eternity, I’ve been nothing more than the hand of another entity. I’ve imagined ways to purge its vile existence, but none that wouldn’t take me with it.
You shouldn’t think such thoughts, Grace. Remember what happened last time?
“How could I forget?” I look down at the scars on my wrists.
I’m glad we have an understanding.
“I wouldn’t call it an understanding. More of a forced arrangement.”
Just keep walking.
She says it as if I have a choice.
“You’re going to hurt him, aren’t you?”
What do you think?
“I don’t know why I bother asking.”
I stare forward, eyes blank and disconnected from reality. The man I plan to meet, so nice, so innocent, undeserving of what awaits him. I don’t want to take his life—nothing disgusts me more. But it’s out of my control. His blood will be spilled and consumed, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
I see him on the corner down the street, both hands in his pockets, foot tapping the sidewalk. His stance gives away his anxiety, his shy nature. I pity his innocence while simultaneously adoring it.
“Always praying on the weak, Grace.”
Their blood tastes better.
“Can’t we just leave him be? Can’t we just find someone else?”
No. I’m starving.
I sigh as his eyes light up and an awkward smile brightens his face. Such a handsome man…
“Hi Grace,” he says. “Nice to meet you again. I know it’s only our second date but I got you these.” He reaches behind his jacket and brings out a bouquet of carnations.
If I could cry, tears would fall from my eyes. But the Grace inside me dried up any show of emotion long ago. “Thank you. They’re wonderful.”
“So what would you like to do?” he asks. “Dinner? A movie?”
“I thought we’d take a walk in the park.”
“After dark? Isn’t that a bit risky?”
“No, it’ll be okay. I do it all the time.”
His face reddens and he scratches the back of his neck. “Okay, let’s go.”
As we walk down a lonely path he reaches out to hold my hand. I allow him. Might as well enjoy the brief moments my dreams speak of each night, if only to experience a few seconds of intimate joy I’ll never fully know.
I look into his eyes, see a warm glow. There’s a connection, a communication without words, a palpable tether which might have bound us as one… But I am not whole.
My head splits down the middle with a crack of bone and tearing of flesh. Tentacles of bloody carnage stretch and reach out from the opening, forming bone-like blades at their ends. A multitude of eyes open on each tendril of the beast within my head; they stare at the man’s petrified expression with nihilistic calm. The sharp ends slice through his flesh and I watch, unable to control them, forced to witness the terrible feeding of my other half. Once his head falls to the ground, they drive into the stump of his neck and gorge on his blood.
Once Grace has her fill, she returns to her inner-sanctum, the place where my mind once rested in solitude. But ever since she took Mother and Father, and burrowed deep inside me, I’ve never been alone…
∼Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2017 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
Rebecca’s toes curled in her boots when her feet touched the unholy earth. Ancient trees populated the forest ahead, pale fog twisting between their trunks with serpentine grace. Gnarled limbs formed an impenetrable canopy above, coloring all with a nocturnal hue. Tendrils of mist slithered around her legs, and her knees ached to buckle, but she forced herself on; she knew fear would bring demise.
She thought of Oliver. His shining face cast iron rods into her bones. It kept her from succumbing to the black moss which grabbed at her feet. His smile, the way he always wanted his sandwiches without the crust, his unending questions—memories that powered her will.
Movement in the brush clenched her jaw. But her eyes never averted the path; they stared forward, glazed with determination, intent only on reaching the end. After that it wouldn’t matter.
A clearing opened ahead. Rebecca stopped and stood tall.
A breath of evil wind sung the tune of damned souls; agonized wails filled the air. Her ears begged silence, pained by the despair in each note. But those countless voices didn’t cause her to stray. Ollie meant everything. She’d sacrifice all for him to live again.
“You’ve braved the darkness.” The words came from all directions, faint whispers carried by a quiet breeze. “But you aren’t without fear. How much can you endure?”
Visions of unspeakable torment invaded her mind—mutilated bodies writhing in ebon mud, eyes removed, mouths contorted by ineffable suffering; they sang together like Hell’s choir. She saw their lifeforce seep into the ground, feeding the roots of the forest as they sprouted and entwined themselves within the bare husks left behind. Worms crawled through the ground on which they decomposed; they fed in the tainted soil.
“You’re quite strong. Few have remained on their feet up to this point.”
A slight pride swelled in her gut but she immediately subdued it. She didn’t want them to see. But the quiver in her bowels alluded that it was already too late.
Malicious laughter echoed—the amusement of a thousand vicious creatures, their attention focused on her vulnerable position. Her shoulders twitched, tried to fold inward.
“You really are brave,” the voice said. “We could tear you apart. And keep you alive to endure it. This frightens you. But I see something which frightens you more. What do you desire?”
She wondered if it was a rhetorical question. They just want me to say it, she thought. “My son… I want Ollie back.”
Another laugh came from the woods. But unlike before, it was from a singular entity—a lone bellow among the din of ridicule previously voiced. She balled her fists with moistened palms.
“Don’t be angry. I can offer what you seek. But you must offer something in return.”
An enormous albino worm slithered toward her from the thick layer of mist. It raised its head and weaved in a hypnotic motion. Its repulsive, blank surface was nothing more than pulsating flesh with no discernable features. A suffocating odor wafted from the creature. Its very sight defiled her thoughts. Rebecca stared back at the ghastly being, unaware what resided inside. Its unearthly form negated reason; some things that shouldn’t exist do.
“What do you want?” she asked.
Purple veins bulged from the white worm’s glossy flesh. They pulsed in a sickening rhythm. Countless red eyes flickered in the darkness behind it, like demon stars in a vast and wicked universe.
A boy’s head burst through the soil next to the worm, followed by its limp corpse.
Vines lifted her son’s body from the ground. Her eyes bled salty grief.
“You want him to live?”
“Then he will.”
Her Ollie’s pallid face lightened, eyes twitched. The vines withdrew and he stood on his own, staring with a disquiet gaze.
“He’s alive! Oliver, you’re here!”
The boy stood silent.
The veins on the worm’s body pulsated with vigor. “Now, come to me.”
She stepped forward, tremors shaking every muscle. Hot sweat leaked from her skin, soaked her clothes. She clenched her hands and breathed deep.
The holders of the crimson eyes came out from the shadows, sharp toothed grins spreading below. Remnants of humanity were carved into their knotty faces, eroded by the nefarious mist. Thin bodies crowded around her, skin like the bark of trees. Their clawed hands embraced her, took her into their communion of evil. She knew not what they were, only that she’d wither and become one of them.
As they carried her away, she watched Oliver. And although his stare held a ghostly atmosphere, he was alive.
~ Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2017 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
My body and soul—the feast on which it would satisfy its cold, unbiased nature. It would make me a brittle husk in no less than six months. I contemplated the Kevorkian way, but could never garnish the result with enough good reason to commit suicide. Besides, I didn’t want to die.
I received the news only three weeks ago. Considering the good doctor’s estimate, it was a significant portion of my remaining life. But not enough time to come to terms. Fantasies of futures never to come, crushed repeatedly by the forceful hammer of reality. The dreamer could dream, but ultimately his awakening was inevitable.
I wondered how I’d face the reaper alone. Would I possess the courage? Without Eileen’s warm touch, without her kind words, I was devoid of human nourishment. My inner-self was bad company.
Our marriage had once been a vibrant green leaf on a tree, swaying gently in the breeze, taking in the sun’s light. I played the parts of autumn and winter; the leaf fell, all color disappeared, and its surface became pockmarked with decay.
I was left with a shameful legacy—a divorcee with five hundred bucks in the bank, no offspring, no siblings, and my parents’ ashes on a shelf in my closet. I’d be mourned only for the loss of tips I gave Old Johnny at my preferred watering hole.
I had to get out of my apartment. Out of my head. Just out.
The quiet streets tamed the circling vultures of self-awareness. The city streets can be peaceful if you know when to go for a walk. Summer nights—always the best.
The voice came from an alley.
Shit. Why did I stop? I should have fucking kept going.
“Listen here,” the raspy voice spoke with a lisp. “I can help you out.”
“Sorry man, not looking to cop anything.” I figured he was trying to sell me drugs.
“I’m not selling anything, you fool. I’m making an offer. For trade, I can cure your cancer.”
I stepped back, took my hands out of my pockets. “What?”
“You don’t have to die.”
I squinted, tried to see the man, but darkness hid him well.
My heart told me to run, to hightail it out of there—make myself a ghost. But curiosity, no matter how many animals it killed, kept me standing at the mouth of that dark recess between the two buildings.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I like to make deals, and I have a lot to offer.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Do you want your cancer cured or not?”
The voice wrenched my guts with instinctual warning. But the hook had been set. What did I have to lose? I was going to die anyway.
“Who the fuck wouldn’t? But there is no cure for cancer.”
“That’s what they want you to think.”
“What are you, a conspiracy nut?”
Mock laughter emanated from the inky tunnel. It had the tone of a man, but what disturbed me was that it was trying to sound human. “No. I really can stop your cancer. I know how.”
“I’m not just going to tell you. How do I know you’ll keep your part of the bargain?”
The bargain. I didn’t even think to ask what this mysterious voice wanted in return for the miracle it offered.
“What is it you want? I’m not rich or anything…”
“I don’t want money.”
My legs wanted to run. But the possibility of a cure enticed me to stay. “What is it you want?”
A heavy breath wafted from the shadows—musty, it reminded me of the damp cellar I’d claimed as my playroom in childhood. “I just need a favor.”
“How do I know you’re not some nutcase?”
“How did I know you had cancer, Marcus? And how do I know your name?”
“Well, Christ, that’s a good one…”
“So what’s your answer? You want the cure or not?”
Now he sounded like a drug dealer.
“Fuck it. Got nothing to lose. You gonna come outta that alley or what? Because I’m not going in there.”
“Don’t worry about that, Marcus. All you have to do is say the word and the contract is, how you say, signed.”
I questioned the choice. I never believed in God, but it sounded like striking a deal with the Devil. The thought of Hell seemed much worse than dying of cancer. I was never a church-goer but I’d read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Another laugh echoed in the alley. No attempt to sound human was made; it came out coarse, like sandpaper against concrete.
“Your peers have misled you,” the voice said. “There is no Heaven. No Hell. Things are as they are. There is nothing more. Only things you don’t know.”
“Never mind, boy. Just perform the task I require, and you shall have your cure.”
“What do I have to do?”
“There’s a guy. I want you to deliver this package to him.”
A box wrapped in brown paper skidded from the shadows and stopped at my feet. A name and address were crudely scrawled on the top in black marker.
“You want me to deliver a package? That’s it? This is bullshit.”
“I promise you it’s not. Oh, there’s one more thing. There’s another guy. He hangs out in front of the building you’ll be delivering that to. Bump into him on your way in.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what I said. Just bump into him. Like it was an accident.”
“I don’t get it. What for?”
“I don’t like him.”
Walking nine blocks to reach my destination didn’t feel like a chore, more a respite from the horrors of my diagnosis. A brief lull from the routine of life and the slope of oncoming oblivion, just beyond which lies a bottomless pit. With the hope of a cure, I had to avoid falling in.
I came to the address, and there he was, ‘the guy.’ He stood outside the door, leaning against the railing of the staircase, taking long drags from his cigarette. I watched him from the corner of my eye as I neared. He didn’t pay me any heed. At the last step, I pretended to trip—my shoulder brushed against his arm.
“Sorry, man. Missed that last step there.”
He didn’t say a word. Only took another puff and blew smoke in my face.
As I opened the door and entered the filthy apartment building something tugged at my memory. Synapses fired, but shot blanks. Something irked me about bumping into the guy on the stairs. Something familiar.
I went to the third floor, found the apartment, and knocked.
A muffled voice answered. “Who is it?”
Footsteps came to the door and stopped. Self-conscious discomfort traveled along the back of my neck knowing he could see me through the peephole. The lock clicked and the door opened.
The look on his face told me he wasn’t expecting a delivery.
“What is it?” he asked.
“How the hell should I know? I just deliver them.”
He took the box, looked it over, and slammed the door.
Mission complete. What came next, I was unsure. My throat tightened as I neared the exit, wondering if the smoking man was still outside. Be pretty fucking awkward running into him again. But he wasn’t there.
Relieved, I headed back to the alley where the stranger offered a cure. It was only during my walk back that I questioned the situation. What the hell was I doing? Was some fucking guy in an alley going to cure my cancer? When I thought about it, I couldn’t understand why I went with it in the first place. What compelled me? Was it hope? Desperation? Either way, I was already into it, might as well see it through.
When I got to the alley a hissing came from the darkness. “I see you’ve completed your task.”
“Yeah. Bumped into that guy and everything. Who was he, anyway?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
The slithering monstrosity reached out and wrapped its snake-like tentacles around my body. It drew me toward its gaping, ebon maw filled with rows of fleshy suction cups. The orifice closed behind me as foul smelling enzymes coated my body. As my flesh dissolved, my consciousness drifted from my mind. The creature assimilated my being; I became part of it, and it part of me. All of us. Together. As one.
And soon, I’d get to know the guy I bumped into very well. He would also develop terminal cancer. No doubt he’d take the deal, just as I had, same as the man who bumped into me…
~ Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2017 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved
The black disk spun as the music enthralled its listeners. It spoke a language more beautiful than any human tongue. It sang in sweet tones of joy and cried in wails of sorrow as the symphony progressed. Like a puppet master deftly maneuvering strings, it directed bodies as they danced with grace, ever mindful of the next movement, the next step.
Only when the needle was lifted did they stop. The Victrola was the instrument, Mr. Harold Snyde, the conductor.
His guests had been invited to his home under false pretense of a dinner party; one which could be described as nothing short of an unmitigated success.
After dessert, he invited those gathered into the parlor for a musical interlude. When he placed the recording onto the spinning table and set the needle into the disc’s carved groove, they all began to dance. He knew they would. He’d tested it on his late wife prior to her passing of heart failure. An unfortunate occurrence, for her. But not for Mr. Snyde. He inherited her vast fortune, and the aforementioned record player.
When Mrs. Snyde had still been among the living, he’d found it buried deep in the attic behind old crates and piles of books no one would ever read again. He pulled it out, dusted it off, and brought it downstairs.
“What are you doing with that old thing?” she’d questioned with disdain.
“What do you mean, dear? I’m setting it up so I can listen to my records.”
“Why don’t you just buy a new one? We hardly need to reuse junk from the attic,” she’d clucked, barely disguising her distaste.
He didn’t reply. Instead, he placed a record on the player and turned it on. She began to dance, and dance, and dance; a strange expression painted on her face, as if fear struck her ill.
“I thought you hated my choice of music?” he asked her prancing form.
She didn’t reply.
“Lynn, what has gotten into you?”
Still her mouth uttered no words.
He crossed his arms and watched her sway and whirl around the room without stopping. He let it go on for some time before raising the arm off the record.
She stopped dancing and blinked a few times. “What… What just happened?”
“You were dancing! It was wonderful!”
“I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to dance. I don’t understand.”
“Let’s try it again, shall we?” Harold said, and turned the music back on.
She’d begun to raise a palm, to tell him to wait, but the music took over and sent her twirling about like a ballerina. He sat and watched in fascination from his favorite reading chair, smiling at her frame as it seemed to glide about the room as if weightless.
As she went on and on without end, he wondered how long the player would have an effect. He soon had his answer; she danced until she died several hours later.
Before the police and ambulance arrived, he dredged up old memories to proffer genuine tears. He didn’t want to appear apathetic or distracted. Tissue in hand, he wiped his eyes while the paramedics took her body away and the officers questioned him. It worked perfectly. There was no need for them to know those tears weren’t for his deceased wife, but for his beloved dog, Ralph, who’d passed when he was a boy.
Now, no one suspected a thing; not the police, nor his current guests. He presumed they all believed him in need of company. He was, after all, alone in such a large house, with a wife so recently in the ground and no children to share his grief. It had only been a week since the death of Mrs. Snyde, yet the vultures gathered had jumped at the opportunity to console the wealthy widower; the same gaggle who wouldn’t have bothered to utter his name prior to his wife’s passing.
He reveled in watching the contorted faces of his guests as they moved around the room with more grace than they ever would on their own. He wondered how long they’d last. Would they drop one by one? Would they all die around the same time? He wished he could bet on who would be the first to go, but there wasn’t anyone to take up the offer. It mattered little; he was having the time of his life. Watching those rich bitch-hogs dance uncontrollably gave him pleasure, and watching their lives give out would give him even more. They’d done him wrong and in return, he was going to do them right.
He watched Gerald, his legs bending and swaying, hips moving in sync with Barbara. The two socialite bastards had always talked behind his back. He’d seen them laughing with eyes pointed in his direction at the company Christmas party the previous year. Lynn had stood with them, probably telling them how he’d pissed his money away with a bladder full of drink.
There will be fewer attendees at the party this year, he thought with maniacal glee.
Henna and Charles, the investment dynamic-duo, or so they claimed. They looked to be the first to go. He saw their eyes droop, watched as their mouths hung open, a stream of unbecoming drool leaked freely onto each of their chins. Their arms swung loosely at their sides, propelled only by the movement of their hips, which no longer held any rhythm.
When he looked at their unsteady feet he laughed; the carpet had worn flat from the constant shuffling of their shoes. It had been Lynn’s favorite rug, worth quite a bit of money. I’d trade that floor rag for a bucket of dirt any day, he groused in his mind.
The soon to be deceased couple had lost him money time and again in fruitless endeavors. No more. That rug will be the last of your expenses.
Max still moved at a steady, upbeat pace. Mr. Snyde figured he’d be the last to drop. Max hadn’t done anything in particular to deserve such a merciless fate, he just didn’t like the mook bastard.
He poured himself a glass of whiskey and raised it to his guests. “Thank you all for coming! I’m having a wonderful time!” He laughed and sipped his drink.
By the time he’d gone through five or six pours—he couldn’t remember how many—Max was the only one left standing. The clock read quarter of five. “Damn sun will be rising soon. We’d better call this party quits. Show yourselves out. Oh, wait… That’s right, you can’t!” He chuckled and spilled whiskey with a wavering hand. “Hurry up and die, won’t you, Max. I need rid myself of the lot of you. Can’t have you stinking up the place.”
Max’s eyes pleaded with him. Their sorrowful look begged to be released, ached to be set free.
“Can’t go back now, buddy. Sorry.”
He reached for an iron rod from the fireplace, swung it hard. Max went down like the market crash of ’29.
He lifted the needle from the record for some peace and quiet while he piled the bodies together on the rug. When he attempted to pick Max up, he heard soft grumbles emanating from the man’s throat. The blow to the back of his head hadn’t killed him. “What’s that you say? Speak up, boy!”
Mr. Snyde thought he heard a profane remark as he hoisted Max up by putting his arms under his shoulders, but the young man’s speech was still unintelligible. “What’s that now?”
Max’s hand reached out just far enough to push the needle back onto the vinyl disc and the music started to play.
Releasing his hold on Max, Mr. Harold Snyde began to dance…
~ Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved
“Brett, wake up.”
His voice echoed, came to my ears from great distance.
“Wake up, you worthless slag.”
Cracks of light burned my eyes. Slowly they grew until I saw the familiar boots of Sam Brooks. Those stupid fucking skull buckles… Peculiar how my first thought lent itself to something so unimportant.
He grabbed my collar and pulled me from the floor. “Come on, you shit, we’re going to see the boss.”
My attempts at a response led to no success. Throat dry, lips cracked, desperate for water—I couldn’t even croak. Not that I knew what the fuck I would say. I had no idea where I was and little memory of how I got there. Something about a bar and a yellow neon light; I’m pretty sure it was shaped in the name of some cheap beer.
Sam dragged me down the hall, jeans riding along the splintered wood floor. The dark stains didn’t instill comfort about where I was headed. They spoke of bad things, blood spilled.
His fist against the door thundered in my ears. Three hard knocks and the door opened. Sam dragged me in and dropped me on the floor at the foot of an old metal desk.
“So here he is,” Maxwell said. “Where ya’ been? You know I hate when I have to look for someone. It just gets to me.”
Sam kicked me with his stupid fucking boot. “I found him at the bar on East Main,” he said.
Maxwell laughed. “Figures.”
“He was all liquored up and ready for the taking.”
“So you didn’t give Sam here much trouble then, did ya’ little fella.”
“No, Boss,” Sam said. “No trouble at all.”
“That’s good. That’s very good.” Maxwell shook his head, took a half-smoked cigar from his ash tray, and lit it.
With great effort I managed to cough out a few words. “What am I doing here?”
They laughed at my question.
“I think he’s a bit confused,” Sam said, still chuckling.
“Won’t be for long.” Maxwell pulled deep on his cigar and blew a cloud of smoke in my face. “You took my money from Bobbi. Now why would you go and do something like that?”
I tried to focus, tried to remember who the hell he was talking about. I repeated the name in my head until it lost meaning.
“Come on, Brett,” Sam said. “Just admit what you done.”
“Bobbi?” I asked. “She’s the one with the scar on her cheek, isn’t she?”
“Well look at that. His memory is starting to come back.” Maxwell sat up from his chair and walked around the desk. He grabbed my hair and lifted my head, looked me in the eyes. “Why’d you take my money?”
“I don’t know what you mean. I didn’t take any money.” I couldn’t remember whether I did or not, but it didn’t seem like something I would do.
“Oh, you took it, alright,” Maxwell said. “Bobbi wouldn’t lie to me. Isn’t that right, Sam?”
“Damn right, Boss.”
“Now you gotta pay for what you done. And a few black and blue marks aren’t going to cut it. Are they, Sam?”
“No, sir. Not even close.”
I knew I was a scumbag. Who didn’t? But I was pretty sure I didn’t take any money, not from Maxwell.
“Take him to the cellar,” Maxwell said.
“Jesus, Boss. Isn’t that a little harsh?”
The uncertain tone in Sam’s voice spoke of something more horrible than I could imagine. He had an iron stomach and no conscience. The wavering of his words told me it was something even he wasn’t going to enjoy. And that terrified me.
Sam tied my hands behind my back and lifted me off the floor. He dragged me back through the hallway and outside into the alley. Normally that would be where it ended, with a bullet to the head. But I knew they had something more sinister in mind.
He opened the back door of his old Chevy and threw me in. I heard the engine roar to life and he drove with a heavy foot. I watched familiar streets go by until we ended up in an unfamiliar place. We must have traveled a few miles without seeing a single house.
The car stopped and the engine went silent.
“I’m sorry,” Sam said.
It was that moment reality became apparent. Sam probably never apologized to anyone his entire life, especially not to someone like me. But he did, and by the sound of his voice he meant it. The sadistic bastard was actually sorry for what he was about to do.
I thought back on my life; years flashed by in moments. I saw things I’d done and it put a sour taste in my mouth. I’d been a good for nothing piece of shit since I was able to raise my middle finger. But if Sam felt sorry for me I didn’t deserve what was coming.
He dragged me out of the car and walked me toward an old wood shack surrounded by dark forest. Few stars shined through the canopy above. My guts felt like they were about to come out of my ass.
Sam stopped at the door and stood motionless. He took keys from his pocket and looked at them for a while before undoing the padlock and pulling me inside. We descended stairs that went down into the pit of the Earth. At the bottom a pale yellow light glowed.
I heard something move and Sam jumped. It was then I realized why Sam had an issue with what Maxwell ordered—even he was afraid.
“What’s down there?” I asked, my voice barely able to formulate the words. “What the fuck is it? Just tell me!”
Sam ignored my pleas and took a deep breath as we got to the bottom of the stairs. A wood bar stool sat in the center of the cellar. The yellow light came from a neon sign just like the one at the bar, with that same logo for cheap beer, the one I sat next to most nights of my shitty adult life.
Sam pushed me toward the stool. He kept me at arm’s length, keeping his hand on my back. He forced me to sit and tied my hands and feet to the wooden legs.
Black, stringy appendages shot out from a dark corner of the room and latched onto my skin. Dozens of them stuck all over my body. It was as if they each contained thousands of tiny teeth that chewed through my clothes and bit down on every nerve receptor within their vicinity. Intense pain flooded through me like electricity. Whatever it was could not be seen. It was blacker than the emptiness of space, something that didn’t just absorb light, but pulled it completely out of existence.
A foul looking tube crawled along the floor like a serpent. Its slime-covered surface glistened in the yellow light. It worked its way up my leg, pulsating and releasing a nauseating odor. The intestine-like appendage entered my mouth and forced a slick mucus down my throat. I gagged against it but it flowed like a fucking river. I felt my own vomit forced back into my gut. It was feeding me, feeding me so it could keep me alive for who knows how long while it suckled on my flesh.
“I just wanna let you know something,” Sam said as he backed away toward the stairs.
My eyes rolled in his direction.
“It was me. I took the money.”
∼Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
The catacomb swallowed him like the throat of a great beast. With kerosene lantern in hand, he crept down long spiral staircases which led deep into the subterranean bowels beneath Hillside Cemetery. Cobwebs clung to his neck and tangled in his hair. He swiped at them with his free hand and shuddered when his fingers brushed against a hairy body. Tiny legs scrambled to escape but it couldn’t move fast enough; he flung the arachnid against the wall. At the bottom of the stairwell, uncovered remnants of the once living slept eternal in their wall crypts. He eyed them as he walked by and wondered how old they might be.
Vastly ancient, he thought. Beyond compare…
A set of piercing eyes appeared in the dark. The lantern revealed a large rat, its fur soaked in filth. It squeaked as it fled his presence and crawled into a crack in the wall.
This place must be crawling with them. I’m probably surrounded. An involuntary shiver shook his body.
The hall led straight as far as the lantern allowed him sight, both walls lined with those laid to rest innumerous centuries ago. He followed its dark stretch with haste, wanting desperately to find the ossuary he’d obsessed over for so long.
He remembered the last thing Horace said before he left. I’m telling you, don’t go down there. That place was forgotten for a reason.
Booker disregarded the warning; it only made his fevered passion burn brighter.
A cold breath of air blew by, ruffling his shirt and swinging his lantern on its handle. He spun on his heels and scanned the dark, heart rattling against his ribs. He took labored breaths and put his hand to his chest.
“Holy shit.” His voice came out weak, stifled, toned down in the ancient stone chamber.
He turned and quickened his steps. The gust of air made him uneasy; he couldn’t fathom where it might have originated and how it reached the depths of isolation he traveled. But he had to continue. So close after years of research, nothing could dissuade him.
He wondered how long it had been since a living being last tread the ground he paced. Difficult to imagine a pre-historic civilization, uncharted and known only to a select few who had extreme enthusiasm about such things. Surprising how they remained absent from art and literature, unclaimed by the scholars of history. But he, Booker Thorn, walked the sacred ground of their forgotten corpses.
An arch stood at the end of the tunnel, behind it, the ossuary he hoped to find.
“I finally found it. It’s real. And here it is right in front of me.”
He made hesitant steps when he heard the scrape of metal against the floor. With no foreknowledge of what the chamber contained, the possibilities both allured and terrified his curious mind. He certainly hadn’t expected movement. But the inconsistent sound of metal dragged against stone told not of treasure and artifacts, but of something possibly much more interesting and rare. Movement indicated life, as impossible as it seemed in the house of death.
He stretched his arm to extend the light by which he could see. It revealed a chain on the floor, but not what it connected to. His eyes followed the links into the ebony shadow that filled the room. The chain moved again, pulled further into the void by an unknown force. The lantern rattled in his hand and he steadied it with effort.
Breath heaved in and out through a raspy throat. Booker listened intently, silencing himself to hear.
Whatever’s in there is alive. But how could that be? How could something live down here for millennia? Did someone beat me to this place?
The breathing quieted and Booker sat still. He waited for the unknown to make a move; he didn’t want to go first.
The chain flew across the chamber with force, scraping the stone blocks on which it rested. The sudden movement sent Booker reeling back. He dropped the lantern and the glass shattered. The light flickered and went out.
Breathing intensified as darkness consumed him. He retrieved a book of matches from his pocket, tore one from the pack and struck it; fire exploded into existence at the tip, lending poor light to the situation. He swallowed hard and crawled along the floor, bringing the flame closer to the coveted chamber.
The chain moved, ran its cold metal over his fingers. He barred his teeth and stifled a cry.
Hot breath descended on his neck, followed by a snort which shot a foul cloud of decay around his head. The contents of his stomach spilled with brutal force.
A strong hand gripped his thigh and lifted him from the floor. He dropped the match, allowing darkness its return. He dangled in the air, trachea closed, unable to scream. No intelligible thought could formulate in his mind—terror decimated reason and ripped primal fear from deep within the psyche.
The unseen hand that held him tightened fingers until bone snapped. Shock spread like fire as he gasped for air involuntarily.
A flare of agony came with a stabbing sensation and ended with the flesh of his leg torn open. Liquid caressed his side, dripped from his head to the floor. The cut ran deep, sliced through fat and muscle, and scraped the broken bone inside.
He heard a crack when the femur was wrenched from his thigh, followed by the wet slap of boneless skin falling against his torso. Eyes opened wide and waves of visceral imagery crashed against his screaming brain.
His twitching body dropped to the floor. He sensed his arm pop from its socket, the flesh torn away, but it felt distant, the pain only a dull throb. His chest hitched in feeble attempts to get air as his ribs snapped one after another.
A sliver of light appeared above, shining down from an opening at the peak of the vaulted chamber.
Light… There’s light…
Skeletal frame extracted, his body sagged into a muddle of human pulp. All thought coalesced. A crunch echoed, crisp and clear. Eyes lolled toward the sound and a glimpse of what occupied the room burned into his final memory.
Long teeth chewed blood soaked bone, shoved into its mouth with thin, curved fingers. Its leathery brown skin pulsed with thick veins and creased in endless folds and wrinkles. Two black discs stared from a misshapen head.
The light dimmed and went out as the opening in the ceiling closed, the underworld of forgotten things again consigned to oblivion.
∼Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
Brutality is the form of nature, raw and unrefined, terrible in its awesome power—and these creatures full of it, pecked at her face with ferocious vigor. Alvin watched from behind a tree as splashes of red covered their bony heads. The human bodies that carried them, dressed in black suits and ties, added a surreal quality to the gruesome scene he could scarcely believe.
The five creatures kept at it until the screaming turned to muffled gurgles belching from the twitching body of Alvin’s wife.
Tears streamed from his eyes. Elaine…
A crow squawked atop the limb above, the sound deafening in the quiet woods. He looked up, tried to wish it away, but it screeched again and again as if calling to its brethren, alerting them to his presence.
His lungs halted and he held them as long as possible. He strained against their natural urge to suck air, pursed his lips, and pinned his nose shut with two fingers. For the inevitable, he waited. The group of strange beings would surely converge on him and rip him to shreds as they had poor Ellie.
In a way, he hoped they would. If Heaven existed he’d see her there and they would be together again.
Curiosity forced him to peek around the trunk. They continued to stab her body with knife-like beaks. The whole of their skulls had reddened and dripped with fresh blood. He glimpsed the dark annular sockets where eyes should have been, but no organic matter existed within, only voids which could be seen—but not see.
The crow took flight and passed over the five beasts finishing their meal. It cawed once as it went by.
They all stood at once, rigid and perfectly upright. Rivulets of red ran down their beaks and steadily dripped to the earth at their feet. They raised their arms as if to fly but only stood still. Their beaks opened to expose pointed teeth, and together they lunged downward and finished their feast. A crimson geyser rained down and soaked their pristine suits.
Alvin’s jaw tightened as he stifled cries of guilt. I should have helped her. I should have at least tried.
The orchestra of gorging flesh stopped. The forest went silent, not even nocturnal insects sang. Alvin heard terror pumping though every vein. It pressed at his temples, the pressure building like a vice about to crush his skull.
The pain of brutal death instilled deep terror, willed his survival instinct to preserve his life. If not for that most primal part of mind, he would have walked out from his place of hiding and went willingly into the circle of chimeric beings.
Instead he turned and ran through the brush, forcing his way through bushes of thorns, jumping over fallen branches, dodging trees left and right. He carried himself as he never had before. His shoes grew feathers and the wind whisked his feet forward with every desperate step. Hope rose inside. Hope that he might get away, that the death behind would not catch up, and he’d see the sun again.
A blinding, amber light burst into the sky ahead, but not the sun he’d hoped for. It rained like fire on the forest floor as he covered his eyes against the pain. With it came a terrible heat that threatened to singe the hair from his forearms. He crouched and tried to shield himself.
Footsteps halted inches away from his fetal position. Death had arrived. He looked up to see the uncanny bird-men ablaze in the torrid light. The blood that covered them burned like fire. They’d become as the phoenix, all fury and power.
The brightness blinked out, casting the forest back into the shadow empty space brings to the night. All went quiet except for the breath of the creatures standing over him.
They stabbed repeatedly as he writhed on the ground. His view of the white moon turned to blood and the night darkened. Time slowed, and as his consciousness faded, he saw inside the empty, non-existent eyes of his tormentors. Inside he saw her, curled into a mangled ball that was once her beautiful form. All around her were strangers in similar position.
Elaine… Forgive me. I’ll see you soon.
∼Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.