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Damned Words 38

Below Stairs
A.F. Stewart

Upstairs the music plays, a tragic operatic aria of lament and loss. It drowns out the hiss and creak of the steam and wheels, and the crunch of bones. Oblivious laughter—from the latest guests—mingles with the song, their merry voices drifting into a preceding silence of parties long forgotten.

For the dead no longer scream.

Beneath the gaiety, the servants’ footfalls tread along the stair, from back rooms and the kitchens, down to the deepest level. There, they feed the machines stockpiled flesh. Watching the meat grind, the blood and bone pulverize into dripping globs of raw spat out into vats, waiting for dinners to come. In another corner, maids tuck away silks and jewels to sell.

Nothing to be wasted. No remains to be found.

Above it all the people circulate, eating canopies and drinking wine. The host, he smiles and makes the rounds, greeting and exchanging pleasantries. He gives them all the best of times, a fitting end before they become his next feast.


Bones
Lee Andrew Forman

Firm structure to fine dust—machines turn in unending drudge. Bleach powder, chalky, light, stirs endless with their rusted labor. Ill fated are the powers which motivate the process; knowing soon they’d become its product. Weakness feeds the goods produced, monsters purchase its favor. With delicate pouf, makeup, attire; they parade around with gratuitous chortles. Their faces worn in layers of death, they grin ever wide with flavor. For a bit of coin, their color reborn, pale as frosted glass. Those suffered the gift of an end, worth only a minute of reception, would be stripped of flesh and ground to pleasure each patron.


Every Last Damnèd Soul
Scarlett R. Algee

It’s a tricky business, distilling souls. Always have to boil the bitterness off first; it gunks up the works if you don’t, and it’s a bitch to clean out, pardon my saying. Take this lot—they’ve been stewing for three days just to get the residual resentment out. Drowners, all of them. We leave the salt water in, though; customers say it adds a little something to the finished product.

Some of the souls scream while they’re rendered. Some of them sing. I’m told it’s quite enticing. I’ve mostly learned to ignore it, myself.

Madam. Madam. What are you doing out here on the floor? No, you may not touch the machines. The experience would be damnably unpleasant for both of us, pardon my saying.

Madam, please—what’s that? Your son? You think you hear your son? You have my condolences, but that’s quite unlikely. They aren’t really identifiable now, so for your safety I must insist—madam! Madam!

Oh…not again.

Patterson? Yes, idiot, of course we stop the process! We need an extraction here! She’s the third one this month!

But save the blood. Every drop. The customers say it gives a certain ambiance. Besides, she sings prettily already, doesn’t she?


Rust
Charles Gramlich

He fled. And the wicked followed. Their boots banged like gunshots as they chased him through the abandoned factory where he’d sought refuge. Down empty corridors, they went, through shattered doors. He knew this world and lost them in a room of silent turbines. The search moved on.

The hunters hooted through the vast spaces, first in glee, then frustration. The sounds faded, but the hunters were cunning. He stepped from his hiding place only to meet a brutal blow to the back. Tricked, he went down in terror, and rolled over to find himself encircled by humans. Snarling, they hefted steel bars torn from the factory’s rusted machines.

He threw up an arm; they hammered through that defense, smashing his limbs, crushing his abdomen, sending pieces of him clanging across the floor. Within moments his body lay in a heap of torn alloy. One eye sparked and sputtered. But with his other eye and the last of his consciousness he watched as they set him afire. His vision bloomed, then blackened. A human curse was the last thing he heard.

“Robot slag! Now let’s get the rest of ‘em.”


The Machine
Mark Steinwachs

I cough as my gnarled hands run over the tarnished machine. “It’s amazing how many people don’t believe it happened. Proof that humans are fools. Wirths, Mengele, Clauberg; they would have been nothing without me. Mere footnotes.” I lead him amongst the tanks, my fingers gently caressing them. I shuffle along as best I can, years of dust getting caught in the sun coming through the windows. The tiny particles remind of …“I killed millions. Let that sink in. Millions. And here I am. I live my life hidden in plain sight, just like her.” I kiss the tank gently. “Now it’s your turn. Go back and make your country great again, and then the world. Go, my lieb enkel, my dear grandson. Finish what I started.”

“I promise,” he whispers and kisses my forehead then walks away from me.

I lay down on the cold floor. The screams of decades ago flood back. Smiling, I close my eyes for the last time. I only wish I would get to hear that sweet anguish again.


Once
Mercedes M. Yardley

He was hungry. He was always hungry, always starving, always ravenous. His face was far too sharp and his cheekbones cut against his skin in the most visceral of ways. Once he had a name and even people who called him by it, and food was a bit easier to come by. Never quite enough, surely, but not too little.

He slept in the abandoned factory, catching rats and spiders when he could. It didn’t matter if they were malformed by radiation, because so was he. He stuffed them in his mouth, piece by piece, bit by bit. If he just held on, if he just stayed alive, all of this would make sense one day. He had to believe it.


Yes, Father
Lydia Prime

After closing the door, the towheaded child turned, “Father, I’ve returned the chalice. Is there anything else you need?”

“No son. Thank you for your service today.”

As the boy turned to go, he hesitated, turned back, “Father, one of the other boys mentioned a puddle in the basement, I thought I should tell you.”

Glancing at the boy, the Father headed toward the door leading down the stairs. “Where is this puddle?” he asked, hands clasped.

“Just to the left, Father, down the hall.” The boy looked shamed, almost embarrassed as though he’d heard the rumors. Could this one be asking? It seemed unlikely, but he couldn’t help himself, he ran his tongue ever so slightly across his lips.

“The generator room?”

“Yes, Father. The generator room,” the flaccid faced boy stood still and expectant.

“After you, my child.” The youth led him into the room, the light dim as always. Confusion took hold of the robed man, there were others there…waiting. The row of young boys tensed with anticipation. “What’s going on here? Did you all find the puddle?” A nervous chuckle.

“No father, we’ve found redemption. The shame isn’t ours.” As each youth smiled, the glint of their sharpened teeth told of a different indiscretion.


Feed the Machine
Nina D’Arcangela

Bones crush; the mechanism churns, always turns. Spinning, crunching, consuming. The snap of a skull; shrapnel slices the air nicking tympanic membrane. Those that man the machine have no hearing, they are born without; the ear a remnant from long ago. Chattle of the cause, a war not ours, we breed only to feed the machine.


 

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

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Reunion

A small shack in the Ozark Mountains. Through the pines that noose it, a hard wind rushes like frantic horses. It isn’t wind that wakes David Holcomb from a long sleep. A car door slams outside. David slips from bed, hugs himself against the chill air. Candles gutter; the fireplace gleams with coals, but not with warmth.

David peers out a window through dusty glass. The moon hangs like a melted Christmas ornament in the nylon shine of night. No clouds mar the star-seeded sky. A parked station wagon is visible. A shadow strides to the cabin’s front porch.

Hesitantly, David steps onto the porch. Wind plucks at him; the chill needles. The figure’s back is toward him. “Who are you?” David calls loudly. “What do you want?”

The figure turns; a coat with a hood hides the face. “We need to get inside,” a voice says. “It’s coming.”

The voice is female. It can’t be who it sounds like.

“What’s coming?” David asks.

The woman doesn’t answer but walks past him into the cabin. David looks off into the woods for a moment. Blowing leaves kite past. The air whips in circles. Trees bend before it while twigs and dead pine needles rake the cabin. Dragons could be crashing through this wind-torn forest and no one would know.

David hurries into the cabin himself, makes sure the wooden door-bar is engaged. The woman stands by the fireplace. She’s thrown back her hood. She’s young, maybe twenty—a couple years younger than he.

“No,” David says. “No!”

“Yes, David.”

David shakes his head violently. “I’m dreaming. I have to be. You can’t be here.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re dead, Shannon. Dead.”

Shannon smiles, shakes her head so that her short red hair gleams in the candlelight. “Don’t I look alive to you, David?”

“I know you’re dead.”

“Despite your own eyes? How do you know?”

“I killed you, Shannon. Ten years ago. The last time we were in this cabin. I killed you and buried you outside in the forest. Buried you deep.”

Shannon laughs. Her eyes twinkle. “Buried me deep? In the woods where the roots grow thick? What did you use to dig that hole? A bulldozer?”

“A shovel.”

Again, Shannon shakes her head. “It would take a year to dig deep with a shovel in that soil.”

“I dug it,” David says.

But Shannon isn’t listening. Not to him. She is looking outside, to the woods. “You hear it?” she asks. Her voice drops to a whisper. “It’s getting close.”

Terror stitches itself up David’s back. “What? What’s getting close?”

“You know.”

“No. I don’t.”

“The Darkling.”

“What’s that?”

“You know. You’ve always known.”

David glances nervously at the locked door—as if it will birth a monster at any moment. He looks back at Shannon. She has…altered. Her face is younger, thinner. She’s grown small and suddenly looks as she might have looked a decade before—like a sickly ten-year-old. Her hair is knotted. Her nose drips.

But she steps forward; her focus is all on David now. “It’s time,” she says in a child’s voice.

David backs away. “Time for what?”

“To put away your sins. To move on.”

He shakes his head. “I can’t!”

“You have to. Or the Darkling will make us pay.”

“Tell me what it is! This Darkling!”

“David….” Then another whisper: “It’s here.”

David spins toward the door. Something is on the porch. It isn’t the wind. David whimpers, then sidles toward the fireplace. Planks creak on the porch as some heavy body treads them. A black ribbon of shadow flickers beneath the crack at the bottom of the door. Through the crack bleeds a smell like mint and kerosene.

David feels near to death as the door-bar bulges inward. He grabs a poker from the fireplace, brandishes it like an axe. “What is it? What is it?” he shouts at Shannon.

“The past,” Shannon says. She drops to her knees.

“Tell me!” David screams.

He raises the poker, as if he will strike Shannon. His arm trembles. But he remembers. That’s not how it happened—ten years ago—when Shannon begged her older brother to kill her. He drops the poker. A forgotten brown paper bag rests on the fireplace mantel. David reaches in, draws out a nickel-plated revolver.

As David turns with the gun, not sure what he will do, Shannon says: “The future.”

That word! David cries out. His eyes flood with tears. He falls to his own knees. The pistol is huge in hands that are suddenly young, small, weak.

“I’m sorry, Shannon,” David says. “I should have been able to stop it sooner.”

Shannon doesn’t hear him. “The now!” she shouts.

The door-bar cracks wide. Splinters sleet the room. The door smashes open. The Darkling comes through.

David suddenly sees the shack as it is. The bed where he slept is rotted. No glass fills the windows. No embers flare in the barren fireplace. A boy and girl kneel on the trash-strewn floor. Twelve, and ten, and ephemeral. They recognize the form that slides into the room like an acid mist.

David makes a different decision than he did ten years before. He empties the gun into the mist. The bullets do no good.

A chuckle echoes off the walls.

“There you are,” their father says. “My loving children.”

He kicks the door closed behind him.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 37

 

Fey
Charles Gramlich

Beneath an icicle sky on a wormwood day of wither, I glimpse her winged form nested in the branches of a tree. A nimbus plays around her hollowed cheeks while the wind spiders in her hair. A saber would be jealous of those desolation eyes. I am smitten.

Day after day I return to her barren temple, to confess my holy secrets, to reveal all my sacred mysteries. No one has ever listened to me the way she does—even to the words I don’t speak. No one else understands. I am besotted.

Late one evening, in a seizure of longing, I beg her to marry me. She unfolds from the tree’s branches like animated origami. Down the trunk she slithers, until she stands before me, sky-clad, shadow-feathered. I swear to be hers forever. She smiles at me with a mouth like a scream. I don’t think she’s an angel.

But neither am I.


Blood Oak
Scarlett R. Algee

There were two humans, once.

There were more, of course. Beneath my canopy I sheltered lovers, threw shadows over children at play, spread my branches for curious climbers. But one night when there was no moon, there were these two beneath me. Male, female, I could never tell. They argued, shouted, shoved. There was a noise and one fell, not rising, and leaked.

The soil around my roots caught the liquid. In it I tasted the richness of the earth: iron, copper, salt. My branches heaved and shivered, breaking out in buds and small, new red leaves. My bark cracked around sudden growth. My creeping, ponderous thoughts grew quick, and in the darkness I felt a warmth like the sun.

I crave that liquid, but no humans have approached me since. They turn away as if my soil has been cursed, as if my leaves bear some blight.

But tonight, there are two again.

They laugh, sway, stare at each other. Anticipation stirs my sap as they sit in the spread of my roots, and my rootlets twitch, reaching up for the surface.

It has been so long, and I am so hungry.


Dead
A.F. Stewart

They buried me here, under the tree. Dug a hole and shoved my body between the roots, stuffed me down like garbage and covered me with soil. I was dead, but I watched every clump of dirt they threw on my corpse. I heard their grunts, panicked whispers and jokes. I watched three boys I had known all my life bury me and prayed it was a nightmare. It wasn’t. I knew then I would make them pay.

I started with Johnny, the ringleader. His smirk was the last thing I saw before I died. The last thing he saw was the rotary blade before it sliced into his face. All it took was a good ghostly shove.

Blake and Ronnie came next, with Blake taking a tumble down some stairs thanks to me. Broke his neck. And one night Ronnie missed Dead Man’s Curve when I yanked the steering wheel nice and hard. They found his corpse in the twisted wreckage of his car two days later.

And the best thing? Those three boys are here with me by the tree for eternity. I can hear their souls screaming from my grave.


The Hunt
Roger Ley

She tried to move quickly through the winter wood but brambles tore at her clothes and legs, her bare feet sank into the wet, black mud, branches clawed down to entangle her. The excited yelping of the hounds spurred her on but the softening ground sucked at every footstep. She fought for breath and tried to muffle the sound of her gasps. Crossing a clearing, she sank calf deep, and could run no further. Looking back, she could see the dim light from the swinging lanterns of the huntsmen, soon they would release the dogs.

She raised her arms above her head in supplication and called to the sky. There was no answer, but her arms and splayed fingers began to stretch and lengthen. Her toes grew, reached into the dark wetness, and gripped the roots and rocks they found down there. She felt her limbs and body stiffen, skin ridged and cracked, thorns sprouted. Sight fading, she heard the dogs as they panted past, their masters slogging after them. Slowly sleep enfolded her, a deep sleep that would last until the spring, and bud burst on the blackthorn she had become.


Rebirth
Mark Steinwachs

The gray sky feels oddly fitting. I try to move again, any part of my body, but I fail, not even a twitch. I’m not sure what drug he injected into my veins but I’m thankful for it now. I think I yelled and begged for release. It’s hard to get a handle on reality.

“You must die to be reborn. Like this tree is born anew each year, you will flourish again,” he says from behind me.

I sense movement and feel a slight pressure against my neck. Warm water? It’s soothing and I start to get tired. My eyes close and I drift off.


When You Are Dead
Mercedes M. Yardley

When you are dead, everything is different.

You don’t cry so much, or perhaps not at all. When you speak, your words are swallowed into the ether without making a sound. When you are dead, the wind lifts you and you billow. Your feet are always at least three feet above the earth.

When you are dead, you are equal with everyone else. All spirits are stripped to their nakedness and their skins shine like stars. You are dead, simply dead, and no death is grander than any other. It does not matter if you were murdered, or slipped in the shower, or took too many pills, or there was a power surge and the machine keeping you alive malfunctioned. Your hands are empty. You don’t keep a hold of the knife or the baby blanket or the noose that hung around your neck. You let these things go.


Stifled
Lee A. Forman

All warned against it, but I could stall curiosity no longer. When I put my palm against its dry flesh the hum of life coursed through me. The air thickened. Not a bird sang in the sky, nor would one land upon the outstretched embrace of its bony fingers. Mystery took its dark form and raced my heart. Regret soaked my clothes.

I briefed understanding—something vile thrived there.

A cream-white vine rose from the soil. The slender, pulsating serpent wrapped itself around me. It squeezed with each sickening pulse of its veiny body. A warm sensation covered my groin. It tightened its hold. Others sprouted around the first and held my limbs. They brought me to the ground, pressing my back against the dirt; the soft earth gave easily. My eyes strained to witness the overcast sky one last time before darkness stifled my existence.


Vena Cava
Nina D’Arcangela

The suck and pull from below is brutal, yet he stands majestic while enduring imminent demise. The alveoli fail to deliver, the lesser bronchioles shed into the spongy gray that surrounds. A greedy bitch, she demands more; a humble supplicant, he offers all. The pulse dwindles: slower this minute than the last, more sluggish than the beat before. She grants no quarter regardless of age or stature. She will exsanguinate until pulmonary collapse, at which point the superior will no longer sustain, taking the inferior with it as a single fused husk.


Judgement
Lydia Prime

“Don’t judge me,” I scream in my drunken stupor. “You don’t know what I’ve been through!” I reach for my bottle of bourbon and start to dig again. Each place I plunge the spade, the ground resists.

“He hurt me in ways you can never know.” I slur my words as I nearly fall, stumbling from the booze and pain. Another swig and I hurl the bottle at the tree. “I left a mark on your trunk, like the marks he left on me!”

The earth below starts to shift, the dirt softening. “Now you understand.”

I finish the plot in no time, dragging his body into the hole. I look around knowing I have to retrieve the bottle before I go – it has my fingerprints on it. I find it near the base of the tree, bending to pick it up. As I do, I notice the ground is softer here, unsteady. I’ve drunk too much and am imagining the dirt moving. Shaking my head, I turn to leave and trip over a tangle of roots. I don’t remember seeing those before… then more sprout.

As I’m dragged under, I swear the tree stands satisfied and smug.

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2019

 

Present Problems

It was the night before Christmas and all was still as he crunched through the thin snowfall on his way home from the bus stop. It was so cold that all the moisture seemed to have been frozen out of the atmosphere, the night was so clear that the bright stars seemed three dimensional. He hoped it wasn’t too cold for the occupant of the small box he was carrying.

He was no good at choosing presents. Mildred would always say that she liked them, and then, if it was an item of clothing or jewelry, she wouldn’t wear it. If it was a kitchen gadget, she wouldn’t use it. Pictures he’d chosen had never been hung. He’d found an ornamental bottle opener at the back of a drawer six months after he’d bought it for her birthday, and the incident of the cuckoo clock in the dustbin didn’t bear remembering.

This time he’d tried extra hard. He’d decided to buy her a pet, but as they both worked full-time a dog or a cat was out of the question. The man at the pet shop had told him that rats were very clean and intelligent, but he thought it a risky choice.

“What about a snake?” he’d asked. “They’re not at all slimy as most people think.”

And sure enough the small constrictor had been dry and smooth and well behaved. It seemed quite friendly and hadn’t tried to wrap itself around his neck and strangle him or anything, but he didn’t think it was quite the thing for Mildred. Mice and lizards were too small, and guinea pigs just too boring. No, the tarantula was the obvious choice. Quiet, clean, easy to feed, not too big, not too small, just the thing. He’d bought a plastic box, some sawdust and a pack of unfortunate mealworms to feed to it. He’d hidden them all in the garage. Tonight was Christmas Eve, and he’d picked up the spider at the pet shop as arranged. Did he have a moment of doubt as he looked into the cage and saw the strange array of unblinking eyes, tiny jewels of polished jet looking back at him? No, she’d love it, he was sure she would.

He arrived home, hung up his coat and left the arachnid in its box on the hall stand. Mildred came out of the kitchen and greeted him with a kiss. He knew she loved Christmas. They had a cheery meal of supermarket Moussaka, a generous helping of microwaved sticky toffee pudding, all enhanced by a nice bottle of sweet white wine. Then it was time for the exchange of presents.

“Me first, George, I can’t wait to give you yours.”

He tore open the wrapping paper, a lovely pair of string and leather driving gloves.

“Just the thing,” he said, “we’ve been talking about buying a car. Now it’s your turn.” He went out to the hall and brought in the box. “Close your eyes, put your hands together and hold them out.”

Very gently he tipped the new pet onto her outstretched palms.

“Alright,” he said, “you can open them now.”

Mildred opened her eyes, it took her a moment to focus on the hairy bundle as it slowly began to walk onto her right wrist and up her arm. Her eyes widened, she seemed frozen, speechless. Suddenly she found her voice.

“Oh, George, a Golden Knee Tarantula. How did you know? It’s just what I’ve always wanted.”

∼ Roger Ley

© Copyright Roger Ley. All Rights Reserved.

 

Damned Words 36

 

Gentle Caress
Nina D’Arcangela

Her tears fall in gentle caress; the cacophony within grows. Metal screeches and groans as rivets strain; the contortion as abnormal as the abomination itself. Haunting echoes mimic her pain; the moan of a mother forced to witness a great affront. Torn from her body: distorted, punctured, malformed. Mother’s milk tries to soothe that which can never be unwrought.


Reapers
A.F. Stewart

Rusting steel, exhaust, and the roar of engines. That is the world of ancestors left us. The screams of the hopeless and the lingering smell of blood in our noses. Tonight, I stand sentinel atop this makeshift parapet, above tribal bones bleached by time and weather. Each skeleton nailed to the metal with reverence, a sacrifice to Death and warning to would-be enemies.

I wait for the hunters to ride out. Nomads have camped at the far river, and tonight, their blood runs red into the waters. Save for two. They are young and fresh, in the turning years between child and adult. They are ours.

Seven days the boy will hang from our rack until pain becomes his mistress and he is ready to join our ranks. To serve Death. We will sacrifice the girl, her flesh flayed from her bones and her flowing blood replenishing the soil. I will cherish her screams well after Death claims her. I shall hang her skeleton from the north tower, in homage to our god. I long to hear her bones rattle in the wind.

I smile. This is who we are. This is what we have made of our world.


Gasworks
Mercedes M. Yardley

It was a busy park full of people and picnic blankets patchworked together on the hill. When it was sunny, everyone jammed themselves together like boats crowding the dock. They flew kites. They lapped up the rare sunshine. They watched their little ones playing tag with strangers.

It would be joyful, but Cora could see more than others. She could see a person’s life span, could see the vitality draining from them, could see who had fifty more years or ten more days or five more minutes. The people were bags of would-be rotting flesh, smiles peeling back in decay.

There were so many faces, so many draining hour glasses, that it was impossible to focus on just one. So much better than home where one timeline caught her attention, her stares, her focus. He was a small boy with a gap-toothed smile, one precious second running out each time he called her “Mama.”


Arrogance
Mark Steinwachs

“Let that gorgeous sky be a reminder; Mother Nature never worried about you. Your kind barely blipped on her radar. You brought the end on yourselves. Not through her destruction but through your baseness. Humans,” Michael’s voice booms, dripping with loathing. “You eroded yourselves and your punishment is at hand.”

You look up, frantically searching for an escape. Your mind goes to when God unleashed his minions and within those first few moments you knew how wrong humans were… about everything. You’ve watched angels and demons, heroes, villains, and gods from across time and continents display what it means to kill in His name.

Your attempt to survive ends in this insignificant place. The last thing you’ll see; rust-covered metal. The color of human legacy. Boots on grated stairs announce your fate. You turn. Michael, wings spread in glory, arcs his gleaming sword down.


As Yet, Disquiet
Scarlett R. Algee

For as long as we’ve lived in this valley, contending with the things under the earth that would devour us, we’ve had the Machine, and the Machine produces the Sound.

We talk about it in capitals, the Sound, though we don’t hear it; we’ve known it years, decades, longer. Only if you leave the valley will you become aware of its absence, poking into your senses the way you’d prod at the gap from a missing tooth. And when you return, you’ll actually hear it for an instant: your eardrums vibrating with the great low hum, your teeth set on edge, before the Sound slots back into your brain where it belongs. It’s everything that’s safe, this hum we’ve stopped hearing.

Or it was until fifty-seven seconds ago, when the Machine failed.

And already, we can hear something greater than the Sound: the grinding of earth in great jaws, tremoring below our feet.


Extinction
Charles Gramlich

I listen closely. Raw petroleum, pumped fresh from the ground, rumbles through the great pipe overhead. But that sound is always present. I’m in an oil refinery, after all. This is something else, a hollow, echoing throb. My mind offers a descriptor for the sound, one that makes no sense. The descriptor is…ancient.

I shake my head. It’s been a long day. Lifting the wrench I carry, I tap it hard against the pipe. Metal tings on metal, ringing like a bell in a church for sinners. I don’t expect an answer.

I get one.

The pipe booms. Rust powders down. I leap back convulsively. Metal rivets pop. A spray of yellow-black crude whips me across the face. I smell hydrocarbons, organics. Petroleum comes from once living things, like dinosaurs. Everyone knows that. But it’s all extinct now. No life could survive the pressures under which petroleum forms. No normal life.

More rivets explode. A thick stream of sludge nails me where I stand. Something that’s supposed to be dead slips taloned fingers through the breach in the pipe and begins to peel it open. Looks like extinction isn’t quite what it seems.

I hope that’s true for humanity.


Eye to Socket
Lydia Prime

The metallic taste in my mouth was nothing compared to the aroma that surrounded me. The tacky, filth covered walls offered no help in the darkness as I sloshed and fumbled.  Finally, I remembered the lighter hidden in my hip pocket; its tiny glow flickered amber. The rusted enclosure smothered my senses; russet liquid filled the chamber to mid-thigh. A loud rushing filled my ears as the fluid drained revealing small sepia mounds. I reached for one, brought it closer for inspection—breathless and alone, I stared eye to socket with my future.


All that Is
Lee A. Forman

All that is flows through bleeding steel, weathered like old bones left unburied. The drab shell holds fresh sustenance. Its purpose before, I do not know. Different stories, most untrue. I think it doesn’t matter. Only tomorrow, maybe today.

Over the heads in front I see the Waiters. They serve only the few. The many must leave their plates behind and be all that is.

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

When You’re Howling

I watched the crazy bastard staggering across the shit-colored wasteland like some post-apocalyptic bindlestiff. He gestured wildly at Heaven and Hell, screaming in some dead language. But a bandana-wrapped poke dangled from the cane over his shoulder. Maybe it held food; I was starving.

A big boulder hid me. The dude walked past. I rose up behind him, cleared my throat. He spun around, and if he’d had a gun he would have shucked it. I had one—a cheap piece of blue-steel crap from before the world went to rot. But I didn’t shoot. The man was ugly as sin. On one side. The left side of his face…squirmed. I didn’t want to look too closely. But the right side was beautiful—uncomfortably beautiful. I looked away.

“I’ll take those goodies,” I told him, gesturing at his poke.

Suddenly calm, he pulled the cane off his shoulder and tapped the bandana-wrapped bindle. “You really don’t want to see inside this,” he said. “Let me offer a cigarette instead.”

I dealt him the nastiest smile in my set. “I’ll have the cigarettes too. But first the bag.”

He shook his head. “You’ve got no reason to believe me. But I’m not here by chance. I came seeking you. To make an end. I see now, though, you deserve more time. That heart’s not quite dead yet. In this bag, there isn’t anything to eat or sell. There’s only destruction.”

I hefted my pistol. “This is real destruction. Brought the world low. Give me the fuckin’ bag.”

“Please,” he said. “For your sake.”

Something about the guy creeped me out. My skin started jumping from more than just the fleas that made my rags their ghetto. But dammit! I was hungry, so hungry. I pressed the gun barrel against his forehead and cocked the hammer. The Devil laughed. Or maybe it was me.

The man sighed, dropped his cane, backed away. I knelt, pulled the knot loose on his bindle. For a moment, I looked in, then began to blubber like a baby. I put the gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger.

Click.

Nothing.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

Sympathetic fingers stroked my greasy hair. He didn’t say, “I told you so,” but it was in his gaze when I looked up. That beauty! And that ugliness. I saw now why the left side of his face writhed; maggots crawled there, with human faces.

“Maybe just a little more time?” I asked.

“Sorry. Not now.”

He took my shoulders in his hands, folded and folded me until he dropped me into his bindle and retied the knot. I heard him groan through the walls as he lifted the immense burden on his back and staggered onward.

It wasn’t dark inside the bundle; I so wished it was dark. All the beauty of the world lay defiled before me. All the Love trashed by Hate. Hate looked at me and smiled.

I wanted to run but there was nowhere to go.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

 

Damned Words 35

 

Animals
A.F. Stewart

Always the warm orange glow against the bars. That one cage, when all the rest remain dark. But I don’t get too curious or linger, just dump the slop into the feeding troughs. I don’t know what this place used to be, but these days it’s when the Company keeps the dregs.

The animals.

They used to be human. I know that, but now… Scaly deformed fingers grab at their food, oozing tentacles, and rotting bits I don’t even want to think about. Only the glowing cage seems, well, normal. As normal as those things get, I suppose. Whatever’s in there whispers when I feed it, says thank you, real polite like.

But I’m not fooled. I know what it did to the last guy. He got too curious. First day on the job I put what was left of his remains in the trough. That was warning enough. I’m not ending up as food for the animals.


Mechanism of Question
Lee Andrew Forman

Bare skin and fragile bones—a futile effort at remaining human. The coming flame warms the flesh but not the soul. Dry, cracked layers burn away, allowing soft, pink, infantile cells to feel every degree. The orange glow travels a path of rust and steel, the conductor of its radiant journey. It leads to the blackened seat on which my body rests. Not dead, not alive, but waiting between. Tired eyes roll, reflect the end in their widened centers. The scent of liquified remains speaks for those before me, their agony carried by its rotten, smoldering, odor. It begins against my back. Perhaps my legs as well, but I lost feeling in them long ago. No pain at first, only the restoration of normal body temperature, a euphoric moment of internal balance, a slight release of suffering. That moment flees the rise in energy, replaced by a boiling gut and viscous epidermis running down my rear side. As by body expels its last contents I know the torment will soon be done. Whatever waits, if anything at all, can’t be worse than cruel mortality. Or can it?


Radiance
Scarlett R. Algee

The thump had come from the basement, and so does the heat. You’re sweltering by the time you reach the bottom of the steps, but the vents are all cold except the one in the far corner, the one by the body. It’s the third one this month.

You look up first, to the beam overhead and the snapped cord, then down to bent ligatured neck and shock-splayed limbs. A tiny gash along the jawline draws your attention, making your face sting with recognition. You kneel and grasp the chin–sweat-slick, too warm, slipping in your fingers and making your skin crawl—and turn the head, looking into your own glazed eyes. The corner vent has begun to glow dull red, and the hair, your hair, is starting to singe.

Maybe you should let it. Three times this month, and you keep finding yourself like this. Maybe you should let it burn; maybe that will give you answers. You unbutton your damp collar and run a hand over your razor-nicked face, breathing the acrid stench of crisping hair, and watch your corpse’s fingers twitch and curl.


Husk
Mark Steinwachs

Not looking at the cages doesn’t mean I can’t hear the screams from within, the horrid sound echoes daily amongst the husk of the building they’ve made our home. I’ve never been this close. Death in three cages; slowly eliminating us as our usefulness wanes. One a roaring fire searing the flesh from you, another where the flame laps at you bubbling your skin, the final one a flameless heat made of soot and remains that slowly cooks you. Those sobbing wails are the worst, they’ve haunted my dreams from my first day here.

I don’t need to worry about that anymore. I look at the men watching my comrades in their final moments, their faces pure delight, a reward for a job well done. The butt of the rifle pushes me forward. My last few steps an uncertain certainty.


Critters
Lydia Prime

It aint so bad, sleepin’ under that dang metal roof. Worst part, I hate hearin’ them critters skitter and scratch as they run its length. Pa says it aint nothin’ but ‘coons an squirrels; I ain’t never seen a masked-bandit that big, nor no tree-rat that heavy. Would be less unsettlin’ if they would chitter or growl, but they fight silent in the dark. I woke to heavy scrappin’ that night only to see the side wall pieced by a ragged claw; it was peeling the far side of the roof like a sardine can. Pa said it was my magination, and that I better get my ass back in bed ‘fore I catch a whoopin’ when I ran to him. I’d rather face the monster squirrels than Pa when he’s in one’a his booze moods. So I climbed back inta bed, that’s when I saw the light leaking in further than b’fore. I know I shoulda been good an’ gone to sleep, but for the life a me, I couldn’t shake the feelin’ something was comin’. When I saw that muddy eye lookin’ through the tear, I knew they was here, and no amount a hiddin’ was gonna help.


Misfiring
Nina D’Arcangela

I lay on the ground, the slats above blurring and jittering as he strikes repeatedly. Fists hammering, elbows slamming; a brief glimpse of light appears. He’s relentless. The beating brutal; as brutal as they’ve all been. A crack to the side of the head; I feel wetness. The light glows brighter, warmer, more embracing. I nearly black out, I would black out if it wasn’t for the lines my mind is riding. I count them: one – my jaw crunches under his forearm; two – I realize he isn’t going to stop this time; three – I let myself drift on waves of pain; four – I focus on the glow; five – is someone coming to welcome me home, or are my neurons misfiring from the assault on my skull? Either way, my suffering ends.

 

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

A Damned Halloween

Twilight Whispers
A.F. Stewart

The clouds hung the sky in muted grey, settling low to meld with the horizon. The gloom of dusk stole the last burnished rays of sunset and crept up to meet the clouds. The air spread a leaden cast, a hint of dampness clinging to a vigorous wind.

From the old burial ground, with its sunken earth and broken gravestones, came a scratching, rasping, slithering sound. A noise of crawlers and claws, of burrowing and hiss. Dirt bulged and ground erupted, in a spray of grime and worms.

And momentary silence.

To be broken by skittering whispers.

Death is coming…


Little Reaper
Scarlett R. Algee

On the street where Death lives, there are no trick-or-treaters.

Not that Death minds. It’s a quiet cul-de-sac these days, populated by single middle-aged professionals and elderly couples whose grandchildren only visit infrequently, where the only indiscretions are the ones left on the lawn by a neighbor’s dog. Around here, he can practically walk to work every day.

No kids, no teenagers, no police calls for meth labs or midnight shouting matches, and no little candy-grubbing costumed visitors on Halloween.

Oh, Halloween. Death sits back in his recliner, watching SportsCenter with the sound off, and smiles his long-toothed skeleton’s grin. Visitors or not, it’s the one day he doesn’t have to wear a mortal-seeming glamour, the one day he can go around in the cowled ‘Grim Reaper’ attire he’s molded from the thoughts and fears of his neighbors, and nobody asks questions. Mr. Reaper is a good neighbor who keeps his leaves raked and his grass trimmed; the other residents on the street will turn a blind eye to the ghoulish appearance, and to the cobwebs and jack o’ lanterns that appear on the front porch. He’s allowed to be eccentric for one day.

(Mr. Reaper. He’s tried telling them all that his first name is McCormick, but no one ever gets the joke.)

At nine PM, Death turns the TV off. He has an appointment with Mrs. Collins next door at eleven, and needs to sharpen his scythe. He admits he’ll miss the tea and cake, and her admiration for his perfectly-cut lawn, but the work has to go on.

At nine-fifteen, there’s a knock on the door.

It gives Death pause. Has someone taken the jack o’ lanterns as an invitation? Did he leave the porch light on? Is there even candy in the house?

(There is, of course. Living among mortals has given him a weakness for chocolate. He goes into the kitchen just in time to hear a second knock, fetches a Snickers bar from the fridge, and slips it into a pocket of his robe. Wonderful mortal invention, pockets.)

Then Death opens the front door and stares down at himself.

The costume’s not an exact likeness. The robe has the slick look of thin polyester, and the blade of the scythe is almost certainly shiny plastic. But the face is arresting: a perfect age-yellowed grinning skull, surrounded by wispy brittle blonde curls that spill out around the black cowl.

A little female Death. He’s slightly taken aback. “Hello,” he says, but she doesn’t answer. Instead she shoves her plastic pumpkin-shaped bucket under his nonexistent nose and shakes it. The contents rattle. Death looks down in the glow of the porch light. The little round pail is full of small, flattish white objects.

Bones. He looks closer. Teeth. Teeth and bones, canines and carpals, premolars and phalanges, some bits with flesh still attached, some twinkling with pockets of silver amalgam. Then she taps the blade of her toy scythe against her wrist; she’s wearing a wristwatch, and the sound of blade touching crystal is the clink of steel on glass. The little scythe has begun to glow.

Abruptly, Death understands. “It’s time.”

She pulls the bucket away and nods vehemently, two hard up-and-down bobs of her head.

Death considers. He’s always known this day would come eventually; even avatars of mortality have their limits. Still, he’s become selfishly attached enough to the trappings of the living that he hedges, fumbling in his pocket. “Would you like a candy bar? I promise it’s not fun-sized.”

Skulls are inflexible, as a rule, but the girl cocks her head and squints, then nods again, the same two firm motions. Death reaches out to ease the Snickers into her bucket. He touches the teeth and bones inside, and two of his distal phalanges fall off into the pile. The dissolution’s already started.

Death pulls away before he loses any more. She sets the bucket down primly, and shifts her grip on the glowing scythe. It’s longer now, taller. So is she.

“Wait,” he says.

She watches, silent, expectant.

He gestures around them, at the other houses. “They’re kind sorts, for mortals. Give them kindness back. And keep the grass neat.”

Another headtilt as she considers. Then she nods again.

“Very well.” Death looks down at his small replacement. She’ll grow into it quickly; he had. “Go ahead.”

The scythe lifts, lazily, and swings, and in its wake there’s only a faint shimmer in empty air.

Death pushes her cowl back, shakes her curls loose, and picks up her bucket. She steps across the threshold into the house. Tomorrow she’ll have a word with the neighbors about their pitiful lack of Halloween decorations. They’ll have to do better next year. But first, there’s that appointment with Mrs. Collins. If she hurries, there’s time to bake a cake.

Miss Reaper’s a good neighbor. It’s the least she can do.


Final Moon
Mark Steinwachs

The clouds break and expose a perfect moon. I will myself to hear howls in the distance that don’t exist. It would be far too cliché to meet my maker under a full moon ripped apart by a creature of fantasy. No, my time ends at the hands of the noxious, silent death that has overrun Earth.

Leaning against a tree, my ankle throbs, purple and swollen. Why did I even run? I’m too average to be one of the survivors. Making it this far was more luck than skill, right place right time kind of thing.

The stench of death assaults me before I hear their shuffle through the leaves. My finger slides over the trigger of the pistol I learned to use not long ago.

I see one, then another, and more beyond them. They know I’m here through glazed over eyes. I point my gun at the first one and hear others close in around me. There are far too many, I put my gun down, why fight the thing I will become.

My death will be like my life, another one amongst the masses.


You Can Be Always
Lee Andrew Forman

Hollow pumpkins grinned along the street with flickering eyes. Knocking, knocking, all eve long—the little ghost filled her bag with sugar-treats. Monsters and things long-dead, faces that normally brought fright, didn’t raise her pulse at all. She knew Halloween was the time for horrors that darkness brings.

The street light went out, she found herself alone. At the end of the road, where front stoops had gone cold.

An ebon-skinned fairy came to her side. Smooth, shining, blacker than night, its wings fluttered as it lit on her palm. Fear nearly struck her, but instead, wonder she found. Never had she seen such a beautiful thing.

“Are you a fairy?” Sarah asked.

It nodded its head and blinked its eyes. Then it took flight, waved its hand in the air. It beckoned her to follow in step, led her deep in the woods, toward a house long abandoned.

Sarah pulled at her costume, tried to remove it—the forest so dark, the cloth made it darker. But the fairy tugged back, insisted she keep it.

It is Halloween after all, she thought, everyone should be in costume.

The hovering creature took her hand, urged her to follow. Pumpkins lit the porch of the old wooden cabin, their soft light warm and inviting. She hopped to the door and on its own it opened; beyond it waited things she never imagined—things strange, never seen, not even in dreams.

Masked creatures came to greet her, some stumbling forth.  Their scent was of old, long-forgotten. She inhaled the pleasant air, let its flavor remind her of what was.

“You can be always,” they said in unison.

She smiled at the thought of endless autumn nights—cool air and colored leaves.

She allowed them to take her into their place, with willing soul and a walk with grace.

“You shall become as you are,” the voices spoke.

The white linen costume tightened around her. She didn’t fight the transformation, rather welcomed it instead. She wanted to be there, better than dead.

As her feet disappeared and she floated as if normal, she peered through the holes of her ghostly exterior, and looked forward to time with her new family—forever.

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

Damned Words 34

 

Taunts and Beckons
Jon Olson

The doctors said I’ve been blind all my life. If that were true I wouldn’t be lying here in restraints. No matter how many times I’ve screamed, nobody listened.  I even clawed my eyes out to erase the image but all they did was tie me down in a padded cell. And I can still see the same sinister flower in full bloom. It’s always moving and not swaying gently in a light breeze. No, the petals curl up like fingers, taunting and beckoning me to come closer. But I cannot move nor look away. My screams and prayers go unanswered as if Death itself has forgotten me. What is it that you want? It just taunts and beckons…


Some Carnivores Have Roots…
Lydia Prime

Agile movements by a tongue so sharp and sleek, blackened teeth stretch wide to distort the mighty jaw. Concealed by delicate beauty, secrets lie inside their florescent warning. A field springs up with no gardener in sight and onlookers are drawn to the mysterious plants. Mobility is unnecessary for the ravenous blossoms the Reaper keeps.

Those misguided admirers lean too near the center for a closer peek, before a second thought is had, flesh and bone are devoured while blood and soul slurp down their immaculate throats. The first crimson droplets soak the yellow petals of the rooted beasts; the golden plot now scarlet after the grotesque feast.

Gurgling sounds echo from the rows of flowery plumage while his grimness emerges from the dark. Satisfied by quick collection, the lemon color returns.


Gifts
Mercedes M. Yardley

You think each one will be memorable. You assume you’ll remember every place, every time, every circumstance. But that isn’t the case at all. After a while, all of your victims begin to blur together.

They become montages of broken smiles, smudged lipstick, and shattered fingernails. You forget which one smelled of jasmine and which one smelled like old library books.

Oh, you especially loved the one that smelled like old library books.

So you go out of your way to remember. Capture their essence. Perhaps you begin by taking pictures. Before the murder, and then after. You build up to pictures during the act, which frightens them the most.

They used to ask “Why?” but now the question is “Are you recording this?” You know what they’re really asking. “This won’t stop, will it? Will you post it on the Internet? Will my father see this? Please don’t let my father see.”

After the deed is done, you dispose of the body and secret the recording away. But you take something, like a small gold ring or the red flower from her hair, and give it to your small daughter, who watched the whole thing. Now you’ll both remember.


Corpse Flowers
Scarlett R. Algee

Two months ago they drove me out of this village, pitchforks at my back, my cottage in flames and my gardens of herbs and flowers torn to tatters, their cries of witch! and devil! and unclean! ringing in my ears.

But now I stand in the village churchyard, my hands full of promise. So hungry, these little seeds I’ve managed to save, squirming in my palms, begging to be buried. Neatly kept graves, a pretty black seed for every one, a precious red flower that will bloom from each charnel patch come daybreak. Someone’s memorial, some widow’s gift, these fools will think it, until the flowers swell under the next new moon and birth each corpse anew in viridian and crimson, in thorns and teeth and mindless ravenous hunger: hunger for bone and flesh and sinew, for heart and blood and brain, for fulfilling my will. The wretches who forced me forth with scarcely the clothes on my back will beg, then scream, then die—and I’ll watch, and I’ll laugh. A beautiful sight, the yearning of the starving dead for the living ones they so outnumber.

Let me see who calls me unclean then.


From the Ashes, Fire
A.F. Stewart

Grey light from a waning sun shed itself across the burnt wasteland that used to be a forest, weaving pale silhouettes and glimmers of faint light. A feeble ray caught the colour of a single blooming flower sprouting from the ash; a flash of garish orange petals surrounding a black center. An anomaly of life springing past the spectre of death.

In the hushed air, over the charred remains and skeletons, hung the stench of smoke and silence, yet you can hear it: the small sizzle, the crackle of simmering embers. Pop, pop, pop from the stamen, born of hellfire and blackened bone, brewing spores, waiting on the fresh wind to blow down from the mountain. Waiting to spew its seed to the breeze, to drift away to new, fertile ground.

Away to different land where more flowers will take root, burrowing malice and annihilation into the ground. Where pristine fire will erupt from the soil and burn its tendrils through all life. Where death, hell, and garish orange petals will flourish in the ashes.


The Contract
Mark Steinwachs

I gambled and lost. My fate delivered in the vibrant photograph before me. Its near perfection only makes the flower’s two off-angle anthers stand out. I knew what I signed up for, quite literally, after our third date. He told me about his others, their flaws and weaknesses. My signature on the contract, my convicted belief. A kid from a second-rate drag show, saved by a wealthy man and shown the world. We all dreamed we’d live that movie. I did—and I looked better in a tight black skirt too.

I sat in the chair he had specially made. My chair, our chair. His hands effortlessly tied the knots as he had countless times before. The moment he mentioned he had something special today, my calm anticipation became jumbled nerves. That’s when he showed me the photograph. Unrivaled beauty, but…

He released the picture, which floated morosely to the floor. I closed my eyes, wanting his voice to fill me. “You were so close, which makes your imperfection all the more glaring.”

I felt the barrel against the back of my skull. The click of the safety my last memory.


Garden of Whispers
Lee Andrew Forman

My eyes close as pedals open, releasing the scent of tender care. One deep breath fills my lungs with delicate flavor; remembrance accompanies the indulgence in flashes of silver and red, visions of eyes screaming, then closing. My hands grab at the soft dirt, fingertips dig in. Ecstasy flows in tandem. I inspect each bloom, check for flaws. They are my life and I am theirs. They whisper more, and more I bring. Ravenous things, they are. But so beautiful; I can’t help but love them. I only bring the finest ingredients to my lovely garden—fresh and still bleeding.


Looming
Nina D’Arcangela

Looming, always staring. It watches no matter where I go, following with its stamen; feeling, tasting with the ever so slight quivering of its bracts. It’s inescapable. The stench nearly as bad, it puffs spore, tiny yet distinguishable. How I loathe its presence. I remember a blue sky, one that brought light to the day before iron tinged the air. Scientist with grand ideas; the ever ravenous desire to get there first.  The human genome was never meant to be spliced with the flora found in earths deepest chasms. But here we are, living under the dome of a relentless beauty that would see us snuffed from existence as easily as a child plucks a flower. But it’s the waiting, really, the looming as it picks us off one by one — that’s the part that’ll drive me insane one of these days.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

Damned Words 33

Damned_Words_33

Scream
Lydia Prime

If walls could scream the world would hear me. The atrocities I’d witnessed within my brick and sheetrock structure were of my own design. Though it may seem odd, those who chose to occupy my space never stayed very long. The locked doors, gas leaks, faulty carpeting on steps, even household devices in precarious locations seem to assist in their, shall we say, departure. However, they seem to keep on coming.

The newest arrivals have been interesting. They were ecstatic to find such a “gem” on the market for “an absolute steal!” I watched as they tried to remodel, tried to alter me, but faltered at every adjustment. Most recently they began touching up my basement. Disgusted at their lack of appreciation for my appearance; it seemed that a water main had broken and wouldn’t you know it, the damn door wouldn’t open again. The murky level rose to their hips before they realized they weren’t getting out. Those defeated looks upon their faces were more marvelous than I’d anticipated.

They may have been nice, you know? But if I’m being honest, I just wanted to see what they’d look like floating face down.


The Risen
A.F. Stewart

Amidst the damp loam, she awakened. Her eyes opened onto black nothingness, but her ears heard the faint rumble of thunder mixed with the sizzle of lightning. She reached upward, and her phantom existence slowly rose from underneath the cold ground. Streaks of muted sunlight fluttered against a building of brick and iron. The air danced thick with the smell of ozone and the hint of coming rain. In-between the beats of thunder she heard voices from inside the building, wafting past an open window. She smiled.

The others will be here soon.

She moved forward, step by airy step, until she passed straight through the front doors of the building, a majestic Music Hall. Into the foyer she slithered, wisps of ethereal essence floating like a translucent gown, to the shock of the party-goers gathered for the building’s grand opening.

She stopped, closed her eyes, and whispered, “Rise my Brethren, rise.”

The ground rumbled, loud enough to rival the thunder, and an unholy howl shook the walls. Screams followed as the long dead were summoned to seek out the living. Then, and only then, did those within the Hall understand the warnings.

Never build on a witches’ graveyard.


Chords
Nina D’Arcangela

A storm, the children forced to play in the musty attic. Mother hears a screech, she runs to the sound; a little one hides behind a door while the other seeks. She leaves them to their childish game. Rounding the wooden staircase, her heel snaps; she falls utterly soundless.

In the great chamber, the Maestro revels in his music. The chords carry him to a refuge their new abode could never offer. The door creaks open, a small one pokes in, followed by the hysterical boy. Father turns a furious eye; they know not to disturb. The girl tells her tale. All color drains from the man’s face, he rushes to the servant’s stairwell. There she lies, neck twisted an odd angle. His moans echo the faded mahogany walls; the sky crackles in tune.

Buried before her time, children without a mother; man without a wife. He appraises the grandeur that surrounds him; she was worth more. He looks skyward; a bolt strikes the lightning rod, a fat drop strikes his eye. He thinks back to another strike, this one a deal. Standing at that crossroads, he never believed he’d be worth so much, yet have so little.


Easy
Mark Steinwachs

“Not everything has to be deep and mystical, who cares what other people stood here?” I say to our bass player and lyricist, Thane, as we step onto the balcony overlooking the front of the Music Hall. The fans gathered below scream before we pass the threshold of the door. “There isn’t meaningful history at venues or in hidden messages in every song. Life is hard and people want their music transparent for a reason. It’s easy. They want easy. Even I want easy. I’m tired of all of this.” My hand motions out to the crowd, which elicits and even louder roar, and stops at Thane.

We step to the spiked railing, waving at the mass below. “What are you trying to say? Are you …done?”

“Yeah, I want to be alone again, where no one cares who I am. I’m done with this life but really I’m done with you.” As Thane turns to look at me I put my hand on his head and slam it down, sharp steel barbs pierce flesh and bone. For the first time in years I smile for real, imagining the solitude of the cell that awaits.


Soprano
Scarlett R. Algee

The building’s aging, crooked signage reads Music Hall; it’s the only place on campus that doesn’t have some donor’s name attached. I’m early for my choral audition, so I just hang at the entrance to kill time, watching storm clouds gather overhead. Weird; the sky was clear five minutes ago. Lightning flickers from the clouds to the music hall’s multiple spires, casting a faint blue glow across the roof. The same thing happened for my roommate Ophelia’s audition last week. She hasn’t said much since. Sings like an angel now, but never talks; like the audition gave her a new voice, but took her old one away.

A huge bolt cracks into existence, forking from spire to spire. The glow from the roof spreads out over the building, engulfing me, and the scream that comes from my throat is a single note pure as a songbird’s warble. Then the door opens and another student stumbles out, pushing past me. Something shifts and writhes in her open mouth, and her voice is the sound of a ringing glass.

The door is open, waiting, lined in blue light. I don’t question. It’s my turn. I want to sing like an angel.


Living with Ghosts
Mercedes M. Yardley

There was a Before and an After. Before Michael’s death, and After the phone call that changed everything. Somehow the most mundane things became something far beyond her comprehension. Breakfast? Too daunting and too many moving parts. Getting her kids off to school? They could say goodbye to her as she hid under her blankets in bed. Fighting to keep her neglected children after she couldn’t pull it together after a year? They were better off elsewhere. It hurt, but deep in her heart she knew it was true.

So now she lived in a large home with ghosts. Dead Michael stood in the corner making coffee. Missing Lucy and Roman sat at the kitchen table, doing nonexistent homework and joking about elementary school. She watched them, her lips cracked from dehydration as she forgot to take a mouthful of food or sips of water, and she smiled-smiled-smiled at the ghosts of her family.


Invention of an Afterlife
Lee Andrew Forman

The machine whirred, gears alive with anticipation. Sparks lit, took flight with vigor, burned away as quickly as they were born. Outside, arcs of electric light spawned from the place between places—where inventors dreamed and dreamers lived; somewhere they could be eternal. The trio of minds clapped in celebration, eyes wide with fulfillment, mouths hung in astonishment of their success.

But the arms of brightness came to take them. They slithered around their bodies, constricted searing heat into flesh. Cries of agony and betrayal disappeared into the closing gap. Hell had come from their envisioned Heaven, and dragged them into its void of white.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

 

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