Dead Air

The doorbell rang. Here we go again, I thought.

My sister answered. An elderly woman was welcomed in and led to the living room. We took our places around the table that stood in the centre of the room. The Clairvoyant sat with her back to the door; my sister, Clare took her place opposite her. I sat opposite my wife, Helen as the circus began.

“Before we start, if we can just get the payment of $100 out of the way,” the old crone said.

“Of course,” my wife replied.

She passed an envelope over. The woman swiftly took it and inspected the contents before stuffing it into her pocket.

“Let us begin. We are here to attempt to reach those loved ones that no longer dwell amongst us.”

So the pathetic ritual started. This crook went through the whole act; moaning, wailing, speaking in tongues. It was all I could do to contain myself and not burst out laughing. I kept silent though. My wife seemed to live off these pathetic pantomimes. What sort of husband would I be if I took this away from her?

I switched off as the hag asked the usual questions. My wife answered each in hushed tones.

After about half an hour of screeching and groaning, all fell silent.

“I’m sorry,” the old woman apologised. “The spirits don’t wish to let themselves be known to us on this occasion.”

What a bloody surprise. What a rip-off merchant; fleecing money off people left, right and centre.

She rose, packed away her trinkets and made her way to the hallway, closely followed by my wife and Clare. I remained seated at the table, biting my lip, trying to hold my anger in.

“So, Helen,” the lady enquired, “how long has it been since your husband passed?”

They continued talking as they entered the hallway and made their way towards the front door, leaving me sitting alone in the dark.

∼ Ian Sputnik

© Copyright Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

© Copyright Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 44

Five-fingered Footprints
Lee Andrew Forman

Blood draws my story on the agate floor. Fresh ink covers dried layers with the repetition of time. My five-fingered footprints scatter across my canvas, for within the cold box there is no room to stand. My freedom, nothing more than an arm’s length in any direction. Slight rumbles shiver the enclosure; new paint will be added soon. I’ve never seen the thing that keeps me here. Only felt its scathing, intimate touch on my naked flesh. The floor tells me it will soon be time. My body trembles as I await the inevitable approach of the stippler.


Witness
Nina D’Arcangela

As he adjusted the range, the minute clicks were barely distinguishable from the constant drone. I could see the look of shock and something akin to terror on his face as he stepped back and stared at me as if to question his own understanding. He picked up another tool; resumed his examination. A rush of air whirled through the cavity and sent them into a maddened frenzy. The pounding became relentless, nearly unbearable as the thrum increased to a deafening level. Overwhelmed by what he’d witnessed, he nearly fell to the floor missing the stool that stood just inches away.

He began to speak, paused to clear his throat and opened his mouth again; no words issued from his dry, swollen tongue. I understood. They’d been there for as long as I could remember. I rose from my seat, asked if what he saw were faces. He blanched even further and replied that no, they were not faces, they were hands–hands that pushed against the tympanic membrane. I nodded, gathered my belongings to leave. A gentle pressure on my arm caused a momentary pause. His face reflected the pain he knew would accompany the tear when the tissue gave way. He looked into my eyes as if he couldn’t comprehend my calm acceptance. My reply to his unasked question was a bare mumble.

“I’ve lived with voices in my head my entire life, Doc. I just didn’t realize that one day, they would demand to be let out.”


A Handy Tale
Marge Simon

“Dammit, Martha! We just got our new cement wall up and smoothed. Now look at the mess some neighbors’ kids have made of it! Hand-prints all over everywhere –up and down and sideways. Disreputable, malicious destruction!”

“Something is going to have to be done,” Martha said. “Every time we move, sooner or later, some malicious little devils show up to make our lives miserable. I’m tired of moving, Herbert. We checked out the area really well before buying this house. There’s just one little brat in the neighborhood this time.”

“Yes, I know. Name’s Billy Harlow” said Herbert. He pinned her with a frown. “You know the cure, Martha.

“I do,” said Martha reluctantly.  Off she went to her kitchen to dig out Mamancita’s commodious book of Haitian spells & recipes. The punishment must fit the deed.

Lunchtime the next day, Billy Harlow sat at their kitchen table. Before him was a plate of Mamancita’s special Bon Bon Amidon cookies, still warm from the oven, and a foaming glass of fresh milk. He made annoying sounds when he drank, and chewed with his mouth open.

“Disgusting wastrel!”

“Shhh, he’ll hear you, Herbert. it’s almost over,” Martha reminded him.

The next morning, Billy Harlow’s screams alarmed the neighborhood. His mother rushed to his bedroom to find him crouched on the floor sobbing, arms around his chest in an odd way. “Mama! In my bed!!” She reached over to shake out a loose sheet. There was no blood, but two fat little hands with dirty fingernails fell out of the covers.


Storm Surge
Charles Gramlich

In pitch black, I awoke—on the couch with a hurricane pummeling my house. The TV was off. It had been on when I fell asleep, but the electricity must have failed. Feeling around for my phone, I activated the flashlight app. The room brightened around me but everywhere else the shadows congealed and clung.

I loved my little shack in the woods but at night it could be scary. Needing more light, I went into the kitchen for candles. The rain had stopped. I couldn’t hear it on the roof. But the wind hadn’t faded. It pressed and rubbed at the house like an unwanted caress.

After firing up my biggest candle, I turned off my cell to preserve the battery and walked over to the glass doors opening onto my deck. No wind moved the trees in the backyard. The hurricane had passed. Then what made the sounds I heard?

Sliding the back door open, I stepped outside. I lived near the Gulf of Mexico, with my house elevated against storm surge. That’s the water pushed inland by hurricane winds. Wooden steps led up to the deck from the ground below. On that ground, in the mud, stood hundreds of dead children. All were rotted, with seaweed in their hair as if carried onto my lawn by the surge. Their hands scratched and scritched at the wooden stilts supporting my home.

Screaming, I leapt back inside, slamming and locking the door. But the children heard. They came single file up onto my deck to press their faces and little hands against the glass. They pressed harder, harder, harder. The glass spiderwebbed with cracks.

I blew out the candle. Better not to see. Better to let them find me in the dark.


Burned Out
Lydia Prime

Flesh sizzles upon touching the hematic shale. Dainty hands ignite dancing flames across the arms of the conditionally pre-deceased. Prophesied terms embossed in stone detail the arrival of a beast who won’t feel heat. General consensus is unanimous: they await its birth. No one ever thinks it might have always lived among them. Its existence couldn’t be copacetic—couldn’t manage to stay undetected… Could it?

Shared ignorance protects the man who discovered the slab and lead the charge to find the predicted creature. Blanket delusions curtail questions as he watches over every trial, every tearful family parting. He glows while their skin chars to nothing but ashy outlines. His head bobbing minutely to the screams as they warble to unintelligible echoes. He bites his cheeks—an act required to conceal delight—then calls to the town’s unwittingly damned participants to bring about the next.


Handprints
RJ Meldrum

He’d hated her for years, had carefully planned the perfect murder so many times, but never had the courage to go through with it. In the end, he simply lost his temper. He slashed out at her with a kitchen knife; the first cuts landed on her hands and arms. She escaped and staggered down the hallway, leaving bloody handprints on the pristine white walls. She collapsed by the door where he finished her off.

He spent a whole day carefully cleaning and repainting the wall, removing the last traces of her. Once the walls were restored to their original white, he was content. She was gone and no-one would ever suspect she was dead.

But of course, he was wrong. Her family and friends suspected foul play; they knew the history between the two. The police were called. An officer interviewed him in the front hallway. He was smug, confident; he brushed off the questions.

Just over the detective shoulder, a bloody handprint appeared on the white wall. Then a second and a third. He suddenly stuttered, his cockiness gone. A fourth and fifth handprint appeared; they followed the stumbling route his wife had taken.

The cop noticed he wasn’t making eye contact and instead stared past him. The officer turned. A row of bloody handprints ended at the front door mat, where a pool of blood had formed.


The Wall
A.F. Stewart

The imprints remain on the wall; years of rain and sun could not remove them. The red chalk outlines burned into stone, reflecting the colours of bone and blood. The echo of a human civilization gone mad.

I watch them, the new citizens, as they pass the wall. Some ignore it; others touch it for luck. No one understands. No one knows the truth. They will soon. They will know the fate of those razed into the wall.

We are back. Ready to purge the filth from our city, to take back what they stole. We come to cleanse, to sweep clean with our machines. We will rain fire from the skies and burn away the contamination.

We will add more outlines to the wall.

Until every brick is burned with the death of those who oppose us.


Choiceless
Mark Steinwachs

Colored sunlight from stained glass windows bathes the room around me. I stand in the grand foyer, designed to hold the multitude of people that make their weekly pilgrimage to this house of worship. Its on display, lit perfectly from the lights above. Almost as if it was hiding from and trying to stand above the natural world all at once. Even if it wasn’t here, this place would still make my skin crawl. But it sits on its custom frame, stretched taught, a giant piece at six feet by four feet. I can feel the hands that made it pressing against the thin canvas, as if it were skin. A modern masterpiece of horror held up in honor.

Choiceless. Pastor Jonathan Neils.

I scoff. They have the ability to choose. They were given that. And yet they constantly try to take it away from one another.

“Beautiful isn’t it,” a man says as he steps alongside me. “While I’m honored you’re enjoying my work, this building is closed to visitors right now.”

Closed to visitors? I cringe. “I will always champion those who bring honor to my name. This,” I motion to the painting, “do you truly believe you trying to force your choices on others is what I want?”

“You want? I don’t know what you want, or who you are,” he replies. “It’s what God wants, protect his unborn flock.”

“I want people to praise my name not weaponize it. You’ve made your choices and they were wrong. Nahum 1:2, The Lord is vengeful against his foes; he rages against his enemies.”

I snap my fingers and the pastor’s eyes go wide as in his death he sees me for who I am and realizes where he is going.


Prints
Scarlett R. Algee

I can’t help but think you’re fascinated by that wall, the way you keep staring. No, no need to struggle; you won’t be spitting that gag out. Scream? There’s no one out here to hear you if you did.

I do admit it’s a little bit strange, all those hand-shaped negative spaces outlined in red and black and brown, but I think it looks good against the plaster. I tell the kinfolks it’s a mural, ‘cause I was always a little creative. Amazing what you can do with just some paint and a sponge stick.

Hands are unique, you know. Hands are intimate. Recognizable. So this is what I do with ‘em before they have to go. A little press against the wall, a little dab of color around, and then it’s bonemeal for the roses and flesh for the tomatoes. My roses are the envy of the county garden club, and my tomatoes have won blue ribbons at the fair for five straight years.

It’s the only part I take, too. The part that’s special, that identifies you. The rest I leave here and there; the local wildlife has to eat, after all. But think of it this way—at least I’ll remember you.

Twenty-nine pairs on this wall. I like how they’re starting to overlap. How the colors blend into each other. But my mural needs to grow, and thirty’s a good round number.

Now. Let me see those hands.


Held to Account
Ian Sputnik – Guest Author

The moaning and giggling from the next room made him laugh. It amused Carl that his landlady seemed to entertain ‘guests’ on a regular basis; especially as she appeared to be such a prim and proper lady of a certain age.

He waited for her to leave for her weekly game of bridge before breaking into her apartment. The lock on the old safe clicked and its hinges creaked as the door opened. He routed around inside and removed anything of value. He stuffed jewellery and cash into his pockets. Suddenly, he was pulled backwards with incredible force. He spun around, fists clenched, but no one was there. His legs were then grabbed in a vice-like grip and his arms stretched out so that he resembled a church painting of the crucifixion. Out of the darkness, ghostly hands appeared. They tore at his clothes pulling them from his body as they clawed at his skin, ripped through it and tore the flesh from his bones. Cold fingers forced themselves into his mouth and down the back of his throat muffling his screams. When the ghostly apparitions had finished their work, all that was left of Carl was a pile of gore.

The landlady returned. She gasped at the scene which lay before her; then the phantoms returned. They swarmed around her like bats in a cave before they gently caressed her face and worked down the rest of her body as they stripped her bare. She giggled and groaned in delight as they gently massaged blood into her skin. As they did so the slight traces of wrinkles on her face began to fade away. “My, you have been busy tonight,” she cooed as they lifted her over to the bed and continued their work.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2020

Damned Words 43

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Fate
Nina D’Arcangela

Jabba-jaw, raking claw, with haste to the frenzy you did make.
The fray engaged, you are quick to slay any beast brought to slaughter.
Fierce clashing, teeth snapping, bones split beneath hammering rage.
Yet fleet of feet, it has you beat, as it fells your carcass to ground.
The battle fought, fury spent naught; your grin the jester’s call.
With placid lips and eager sips, it sups where you did fall.


The Bones of Her Earth
Charles Gramlich

Her name at ten was Melody. She lived amid the avocado green woods on Millstone Mountain in Arkansas, near a town called Liberty. Melody had hair like a thicket of weeds and eyes no one ever looked into. She had thoughts no one offered a copper penny for, and all her words she kept in her mouth so they couldn’t be slapped away by Mama.

Her name at twelve was Holly, after the necklace and wristlets of red berries she always wore. Most days, she spent in the woods, eating hickory nuts and wild cherries in season, eating other things no one ever thought to name. She caught tadpoles and carried them in her pockets until they dried hard and dark as rabbit turds. Then she buried them and made wishes over their graves. The wishes never came true.

At fourteen, her name was Harmony. She’d learned to sing the pain of her bruises through the heat of the summer like the cicadas. She would lie in the creek and place flat stones on her belly. The smooth weight comforted her scars. Sometimes she slept out under a roof of cedars and stars and dreamt of flying through the trees like dragonflies. She always awoke before she grew wings.

At sixteen, she threw away her names. That was the year she found the jawbones, white on the ground amid frost-killed leaves. She prayed to them as Gods. They answered. Carrying them in her fists, she returned to the house she’d never called home. The bones were no longer white when she was finished with Mama.


Wednesday
Marge Simon

Today is Wednesday, the day the Beast people come for the dying. The grown-up’s call them ghouls. Once, the Beast people lived deep in the earth and ate dead bodies. But now they came up to stay here. They wear long, hooded cloaks and their breaths rattle as they move. It’s like the sound his father made when he was so sick. Papa coughed all night, even in his sleep. On a Wednesday, the Beast people came and took his father away. Now Mama is very sick too.

When the sun passes to afternoon, he is worried about her. If he stays in the house, they’ll come in. They’ll hide in the shadows and wait for Mama to die. That’s what they did when his father got so sick. He’s sure they want her too. Two miles up the road is the cemetery. He decides he will lure them away from Mama.

When he sees them coming, he goes outside and runs as fast as he can all the way to the cemetery. He is out of breath, but first he walks around, searching the gravestones. One of them has to be his Papa’s, but he can’t remember where it is. He’d come with Mama to put flowers on it last week, but there are no graves with flowers and he can’t read. Exhausted, he sinks to the ground, bumping into a peculiar shape. The headstone creaks, the ground gives way and he falls in. When his eyes adjust to the dim light, he sees the cavern is filled with long skulls and old bones. The skulls have the Beast people’s faces.

Above, he hears the rattle of their breathing coming closer. This must be their secret burial place. There’s nowhere to hide. He starts to cry.


In the Forest
A.F. Stewart

Shall I tell you a story, little one?

No, no, wait, don’t back away. Stay here, with me, and listen. I’m sure you will find it fascinating. My tale is about this forest, you see.

They say this woodland is haunted, don’t they? Well, they’re correct. Spirits move past the trees, within the wind, and worse, the ravenous dead walk here, among the bones.

Can’t you hear their murmuring voices growing closer?

They’re hungry. Always hungry.

I think you understand now, why the villagers told you not to come, not to hunt here. This forest kills everything that enters, and nothing ever leaves.

They’re here now. Can you see them, those pitiful skeletons, gnashing their jaws? You can run if you like, but you’ll be dead soon whatever you do. The forest takes us all.

We all remain.

Until we are nothing but bones.

And cursed souls.


New Friend
Lydia Prime

As little Melanie burst through the back door, curtains flew and the screen-door slammed shut. Mommy yelled for her to stop, but she was going so fast in her slippery shoes that she skidded halfway across the room. She could see her mother eyeing the mud on her new lace dress. With hands on hips, and a scowl on her face, Mommy’s pinched lips said everything her mouth didn’t need to.

Melanie started to protest before Mommy could speak, but one quick snap of the towel she always wore over her shoulder was enough to silence the child. As mother’s hand reached out for what Melanie was hiding behind her back, a pot lid rattled on the stove. Mommy turned thinking it was boiling over, but it wasn’t. Melanie took a step backwards.

Focused on her daughter once again, mother reached out and gestured, but Melanie didn’t want to hand over her prize, it had told her not to.

As Mommy took a step forward, she heard something rattle in the ‘fridge. Melanie was slowly sliding backwards into the hallway as she watched her mother open the icebox. The eggs were tipped and fell to the floor with a smash! Mommy bent down to clean the mess, and when she did, the large, glass milk bottle began to jiggle.

Melanie quickly turned and brought her new friend up to her face, panic flashed in her eyes. The chuckle that ran through her sent a shiver down her spine.

Watch, the voice slithered through her mind.

Melanie turned as the heavy jug crashed into Mommy’s skull and split it in two. Now put me in the puddle to feed, the bones intoned. With little choice, Melanie did as she was told. She was, after all, a good girl.


Mask
RJ Meldrum

Cody heard the truck. Pop was back from hunting. He parked in front of the house. Pop had been successful. A buck. Pop climbed down.

“I want this dressed. Skull needs to be bleached, I want it in my trophy room.”

That was where he kept his skulls and stuffed heads.

“I was gonna go swimming.”

His father’s face went dark. He grabbed the scruff of Cody’s shirt.

“I didn’t raise no pansy, I raised a man, one who can see to his own meat.”

“Yes, pa.”

“Now, get working, while I grab a beer.”

Cody went to the back of the truck to see a bloodstained deer on the truck bed. He got to work.

It took hours. His hatred for his father grew. Every day he was forced to ‘man up’. Forced to play sports he hated, crushed by boys twice his size. Forced to shoot helpless animals. Forced to cut them open, cleave their flesh, rip out their bones for display. He hated it all and he hated his father.

He stared down at the skull, boiling in the huge pot on the outside gas burner. After a couple of hours, he removed it from the water and scraped all the meat off. Cody stared down at the eye sockets. What had this creature felt, just before it died?

He knew what he had to do. He had to avenge the deaths of all the slaughtered creatures. He had to avenge himself.

Later, after sunset, he stood on the threshold of his father’s bedroom. Cody had split the skull in half and reattached the two parts with leather straps. He was wearing it, his face obscured. He was no longer Cody, he was nature. He held Pop’s favorite hunting knife.

The moon emerged. It was time.


What Remains
Mercedes M. Yardley

“Hey. Hey. Marissa.”

She ignored it, ignored the way that it chattered and teased and always called her by the wrong name. She walked past it resolutely, a discarded piece of bone nipping at her heels as she strode by.

“Hey. Melanie. Just pick me up. Take me home. Let’s play together. There are so many different ways to play together.” The animal skull grinned at her. Funny how skulls are always forced to grin. She didn’t believe being dead was as much fun as the living were led to believe.

She pulled her laundry from the line and spun around quickly, avoiding the snapping of the skull’s jaws as it lurched at her feet. She hopped over it and headed home.

“Wait. Wait,” it called after her, and she closed her eyes as she heard it whimper and snarl. It buried itself under the leaves and debris, crafting a safe little home for itself until she passed by again in the morning.


Offering
Mark Steinwachs

The streak of sunlight across the bone makes the situation seem worse. The gods illuminating what I could plainly see. Not a scrap left. I crouch down and take the lower jaw, turning it over, hoping there would be some bit of flesh. Clean. My fingers trace the scratches left in the bone. I shudder and set it down. I lift the upper jaw, not wanting to turn it over. Like the piece before, its clean. The teeth marks in this one etched deeper in bone, its hunger not satiated. I stop myself before throwing the bone across the forest. What good would that do? I did the best I could, and my offering wasn’t good enough. I stand up, remove my shirt, and draw my knife. I slowly run the sharpened blade across my chest, blood oozing.

No animal makes a sound. The wind rustling dried leaves stills. I join nature in stillness, my last moments. Silence. A sharp, hissing breath from behind me followed by searing pain. My last vision is its unholy darkness and razor, white teeth.


Apotheosis
Scarlett R. Algee

Find me, the bones had whispered. Find me. Feed me. Let me protect you.

I’d discovered them by accident last night as I’d crunched through the snow blanketing my backyard: the two damaged halves of a jaw, lying in a cocoon of dead leaves atop the powder. What they were, I didn’t know, except that they were too white and too gleaming: scraped clean.

And that they were exactly what I needed.

Now I lay them, still reverently cradled in my gloves, on my laboratory table, apart from all the other pieces I’ve gathered in the past year. Ribs. Vertebrae. Limbs. Teeth. All of them had whispered to me, little indistinct murmurs, little urges of wanting to be again. None had spoken clear words until I’d found the jaws last night.

Find me. Feed me.

Some sort of intelligence resting in the bones. I shake out the rest of my tools: hammer and chisel and screws, lengths of wire and leather thongs. Enough to bind these shards into something whole, because the urge to be is strong.

Listen, the bleached jaws whisper, and I bend my ear to their words and begin to work. First the bones, then skin, then blood.

Listen, I hear again, and I know that whatever I’m creating this night, it will be enough.


Unburied
Lee Andrew Forman

Soaked in crimson, its feasts had been legendary. Limb from body, head from torso, sinew and organs consumed; yet its appetite never fully sated. Memories that live deep within the remains of a banished soul. Unwritten from scripture, cast from history, forgotten by time; these bare, arid bones wait for the caress of the unsuspecting. A taste of copper-tang that will bring about its awakening.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2020
Image © Copyright Lee Bachh Photography

Damned Words 42

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Awakening
R.J. Meldrum

The house had stood alone for years, shunned by the locals.  It was supposedly haunted, dangerous. They broke in, looking for something worth stealing. The first room was empty; the paint peeled away from damp walls, dust and cobwebs lay everywhere.

“There’s nothing here.”

“Let’s try another room.”

They opened the door to find a fully furnished drawing room. No dust or cobwebs. The furniture was polished.  A fire burned in the fireplace.

“What?”

They glanced back at the first room. It had transformed into a dining room, the table laden with sparkling crockery and glass.

“What’s happening?”

Piano music tinkled and they could hear the murmur of distant conversation. Above them, footsteps. Something was moving. After years of dormancy, the house had woken.


Forgotten
Nina D’Arcangela

Hell has laid claim to places on this earth, places that are lost, forgotten; for all intents and purposes, no longer exist. I woke in such a place.

For days I screamed for help, but none came. A failed attempt to reach the sill reminded me of shattered tibiae and why hope was a fool’s delight. Day would come, the glass above amplified the sun’s rays to the point of roasting me. My infected legs gleamed in the blinding light near filled with puss and putrefaction—they ached for the skin to crack, but no such salvation offered. An uttered prayer barely mumbled through cracked lips as ignored as the others; divinity’s attempt to further mock me.

I’m left to devour with eager greed what crawls my tomb; to lick dry the weep from the peeling walls. Now I wait. Death will find me, it’s the only thing my diseased mind is sure of.


Weeping
Lee Andrew Forman

The room immured my weak sack of flesh. I dreamed of limits in waking agony, a threshold which mortality cannot pass. But as my knees throbbed where blood of descent stained the floor, I knew this place existed outside the place it was in.

Ever-searching was that boy. He found something. My feet carried a slack frame—with grief holding both eyes blind—to places our kind weren’t meant to see.

Like father, like son. Like son, like father.

They say Jesus wept. And so did I.


Still Life With Window
Charles Gramlich

My life is lived between two walls of peeling paint. Nothing exists behind me except howling shadows. I do not turn my head to see them. There is enough howling within to hold my thoughts. When I’m tired, I lie upon the floor and let chips of fallen paint cradle my face. The chips are sweet when I nibble them. I must be half paint by now, and half flesh.

Of course, there is the window. I do not speak of that.

True food is rare, but I have enough. Ants and roaches and inchworms come across my walls and floor. Sometimes a bee or a butterfly appears mysteriously. Perhaps it arrives through the aperture that I do not discuss. I catch them with my blackened tongue; I crunch them between my teeth, which are mostly functional though they rattle in my jaws.

Once a bird came to me—flitting out of painful light into softest darkness. I caught it and held it for a long time before I fed. Over and over I shred those precious memories, of a warm thing, a thing that throbbed with heartbeats between my fingers.

And sometimes my memories reach further. Even though I fight them. They reach out through the white hole between my walls, out to where lives a beast called the sun. Today, I heard from that place, beneath that light, some wild, free language—a voice other than the one in my head.

It spoke of love, but I don’t know what that means


Charred
A.F. Stewart

The smell clung to the scorched room, buried in the blistered paint. I knew it well in my line of work.

The smell of death.

Three people died here a month ago, in a fire, trapped with no way out. A tragedy, the papers called it. The police called it an accident. I knew better.
Because I had an advantage over them.

But the reasons behind the fire weren’t why I was here, no my extracurricular abilities to commune with the dead led me here. I came to find restless spirits.

I was not disappointed.

I felt their presence the minute I entered the room. The echoes of terrified screams filled the space and their memories of pain lingered in the air, all bouncing off the blackened walls. The people who died here remained, caught in the agony of their last moments.

I smiled.

Every one of them deserved their manner of death. They deserved their pain. The fact they would live in that moment for eternity made me want to sing. I had jumped at the chance when offered the contract and rejoiced when I struck the match that sent them to this hell.

Sometimes I loved my job.


The Larder
Marge Simon

Just at twilight, the old woman hustled to the kitchen. It was time to prepare her son’s special meal, a duty she took particular pleasure in. The larder was cold and damp, even when stocked to capacity. It had once served as her son’s nursery, with Disney characters on the walls. Even the window had darling curtains to match. Of course, it no longer opened to let in fresh air and sunshine, which would likely cause dissention among the chattel. The panes were painted black and covered with solid iron bars. Some of the livestock were crawling around, searching for crumbs and mistaking them for strips of wallpaper. Deftly, she grasped one by the neck. Before he could bite her, she knocked it senseless with a rolling pin and dragged it down to the kitchen.

She settled in a chair to slowly massage the deep groove at the base of the skull. As she worked, she smiled, for this particular male looked a lot like the President. At last, the trembling eased and the head fell forward into her lap. It gave no sign of feeling the knife press deep into its jugular. The cut was neat, and she directed the gusher into her best brass pot.

Vlad appeared yawning. “Smells good, Mom. But I told you my cholesterol was over the top, remember? Just a salad for me tonight.”


Home
Mark Steinwachs

No one used the word abandoned, but that’s what happened. My life didn’t matter in their eyes. I wasn’t alone either. Many of us were left behind. And then our home, no it was a prison, was no longer used. We needed them to live. We fed off their fear, their hate, their worry, and so much more. Our numbers dwindled but some of us kept fighting, we believed we could make them return. Those few of us left grew up as those we were born of did the same somewhere out  in the world. Fight and belief are not enough though, and the last few began to perish. There was one thing the rest didn’t have that I did.

Hate.

I refused to disappear and it will all pay off today. I felt him coming to me. My hatred for him has kept me alive and more importantly kept the most tenuous bond between us. He could never be rid of me fully. Now he is here. Walking down the hallway, his memories flooding back. He knows where I am, drawn to me, but has no idea I exist. He opens the door staring into the broken, barren room. He is back, a full-grown man for me. I coalesce from the darkened corner, a perfect replica of him only in the form of shadowed smoke. He screams as I shoot forward, slamming into him.

This is my home and now it is time to repay those that left me here.


View From an Upstairs Window
Scarlett R. Algee

I can hear my parents downstairs; my mother chatters as dishes clink and pots rattle, my father’s muffled replies and heavy footsteps. I can’t smell what she’s cooking, haven’t smelled anything for days, but it doesn’t matter – there’s no food for me, not now.

I don’t remember anything between the bite and waking. Only opening my dry, stinging eyes and finding myself on a bed in this moldy room, this place that hasn’t been used in decades. My father apologized through the door. “We have to be patient.” he tells me. Either I die again, a proper death, or…something will have to be done.

It’s been a week inside these walls and that something hangs heavy in the air.

I haven’t slept since waking. I pace, circle, throw myself against the door that won’t budge; gouge at the cracked walls. I howl invectives in a voice I don’t recognize; snarl from a mouth that can no longer form words.

I’m getting hungry. That’s the worst part. After feeling nothing for days, the sensation of hunger has come roaring back. I can hear them moving around downstairs, they sound so soft, so delicious.

Going to the window, I lean my face against the glass, leaving smears of black saliva behind. My stomach cramps with need and I scrabble at the sill. Putting my head through the opening, the air is damp against my eyes, dewy inside my gaping mouth. It’s such a long way down, but I’m so hungry. I lean further out, steadying myself.

Either I’ll die a proper death, or something will have to be done.


The Manor of Krystiahn Koryci
Lydia Prime

The twisted branches from the tree outside remind me of just how long I’ve been waiting here. Waiting in an empty home, no one to comfort me, no one to care. But still, I stay, and I watch as the outside world moves on. The day gives way to night just as the seasons flutter by.

I can almost see the faded memories as I stand inside my forgotten room. A smile, a giggle, a hug to be cherished – but no longer felt. The faces have left my mind, however, figures from the past still taunt me.

In another time this room’s decor was perky enough to make me gag. Now that the mauve and flowered wallpaper has almost completely flaked away, I sort of miss the sight. The floorboards creak with each step I take, I’m not sure if my dusty bones creak louder. Closing the flimsy door behind me, I shuffle across the room to the uncurtained window. I watch the sky; the white fluff quickly spinning – warping into a gray warning of sorts. The storm is coming.

I watch the tree, its limbs stretch far and taught, forever reaching for nothing. Perhaps we have something in common. I lean against the wood pane and watch a truck drive up the hidden driveway to the front. A man steps out and smiles, staring up as if he can see me. His wife climbs out of the passenger’s side and joins him, he slinks an arm around her shoulders. She rubs her engorged belly and they grin, taking it all in.

How ridiculous, that these stupid people think they can take my house from me! They must be insane. I’ve been here for longer than I can remember, this is my house. With that final thought, the window shatters and I leave the decrepit room to learn about these trespassers.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2020
Image © Copyright Lee Andrew Forman

Damned Words 41

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Triton’s Curse
Marge Simon

Though banished and beheaded, a godling never dies. Now his face is frozen in a scream of rage. In his teeth, an iron bar barrister. Beside him, mouths drawn back as if still breathing flames, his dragon comrades of the seas. Visitors are struck with awe, so alive appears this sculpture on the rail.

Son of Poseidon, once his name was legion. He ruled the ocean winds. His conch could trumpet hurricanes or becalm merchant ships. It’s said that at the sound, goliaths fled in fear of dark leviathans, such was the power of his horn.

A woman was involved, as women are so often blamed for the folly of both gods and godlings. Some say she was a mermaid, gifted with a Siren’s voice for song. Others claim she was a silkie and half human. They say she walked on land to do her business, was no better than a whore. At any rate, she stole his heart.

Gods do not tolerate such alliances, though allowances were made among their own. Their children had no such right to privilege, and thus the punishment was swift and cruel.

He thinks her body lies within the bricked-in door behind him. He believes she died for love of him, believes he guards her crypt. Surely they would leave him that, but it’s not so. His scaly tail and torso lie within the wall. Her soul became the phosphorous light known only to the denizens of stygian depths.

In a place beyond the myth, she visits him in dreams.


They
Charles Grammlich

They are always watching you—the figures with hollow eyes and hungry teeth. Some look like faces, some like dragons, some like men and some like monsters. They hang on fences, stand in parks, squat on the roofs of cathedrals. They are very still. You never see one move. No human can pay attention long enough to do so. But what about when your head is turned, when your gaze is diverted? Think of that the next time you feel a touch that shouldn’t be there. Think of it when you hear the sounds of life but there is no life in the room but you.

Perhaps you believe the figures are made of steel or stone. They are not. They are a strange flesh, the fruit of alien loins. And they multiply. There are more today than there were yesterday. Tomorrow that total will increase. How many will there be in a year, in ten years? When will they outnumber us? What will happen then?

I know. Don’t you? Don’t lie to yourself. You feel it the same as I do. You recognize the wrongness in them. You shrug it away. You laugh. You call the very thought of it silly. Yet still you shiver in the feral night.  Still you cry out after dreams you cannot ‘quite’ remember. Still you pull the sheets up tight beneath your chin. None of that will save you.

I know exactly how you feel. Do you wonder how? It’s because I’m watching too. Right now.


Sanctuary
A.F. Stewart

In this world, we still exist.

In the corners, in the shadows, in the icons and the ornamentation. The images the humans created have become our places of refuge. Where we fled when the world changed. When the humans took what was ours, killed our kind.

Once, we were dragons, shapeshifters, worshiped as powerful creatures. We flew amid the clouds, breathed fire and lightning, swam the seas, walked and loved among the humans, even taking their form.

We ruled as gods.

Until our hubris become our undoing.

Pandora seemed so docile, subservient, yet she let our secrets into the world and laughed as we fell from power. One small woman gave the humans the power to destroy us.

Now, though, after millennia, those secrets have been forgotten.

I am Zeus, watching the world from my wrought iron sanctuary. Each day I can feel my strength returning, hear the voices of my fellow dragons. We are angry, ready.

And I am tired of hiding.

It is time for the dragons to rise and reclaim what is ours.

It is time for the humans to bow to their gods once more.


Dark Boys for Dark Girls
Mercedes M. Yardley

If he had said,
Let me be the Donnie to your Marie or
the sprinkles to your sundae or
the warm sand under your feet
I would have walked away

But no
He said
Let me be the Hades to your trapped Persephone
the chains that draw your body to the floor of the sea
I’ll be the rope around your neck so when you swing
you won’t swing alone

He said
You don’t need trinkets and parties and balloons
You need somebody strong enough to climb into your casket
and close it over us both.


Mixture
Mark Steinwachs

I stand slightly behind the emissary my client sent me and the man leans in closer, drawn to the intense depth of darkness. It’s the only one in my showroom, which is set up as meticulous as the piece itself, the lighting and background designed to mimic a sunny day.

“How did you get the coloring like that? Will it be the same on all your pieces? It’s remarkable,” his voice quiets and his last sentence is almost said to himself even though it’s only the two of us in the room. He inspects the dragon closer.

“It took me years to get the mix correct. The sacrifices I made, but when I got there …well, I would say it’s worth it. And now that he sent you as the down payment I can begin.”

“He didn’t send me with any down payment,” he says and starts to turn.

I grab his head and slam it against the dragon’s ear, the slurp sound of bone and flesh splitting fills the room. I pull back and finish the job. I drag the lifeless body from the room to the basement where I can drain him for my next batch.


A Waited Burden
Lee Andrew Forman

Within the cage rests not a full being, not a complete form of limitless power, only the tip of infernal intent born for destruction. Both head and spine intact are encased in the solid prison. One wonders if thoughts of fire and death still linger within. A life so mighty cannot be so easily undone even in post-severed condition. The lives of all which surround it know nothing other than its ornate appearance. None but myself and few others remain to guard it. The world around it may have grown, but our coven retained its youth, its knowledge. Each day we question when time will wither its unnatural enclosure and free this Earth the burden of life.


The Sky, The Song
Scarlett R. Algee

It’s never not been raining, at least not in my lifetime.

We build up and up, brick and concrete and iron, and every year the city sinks and sinks, the sea gnawing at the land from below, the sky weeping it away from above.

Everyone knows the story, wrought as it is on almost every fence and railing: the scowling god, the snarling beasts. How the god our ancestors worshiped lost his two daughters to the wrath of a spurned siren, who sang them into dragon-like fiends that fled their father’s countenance. How he, mad with grief, gutted the sky with his trident and tore the siren’s voice from her throat.

How the spell-song remained unbroken, the sky did not mend, and the daughters did not return.

It sounds ridiculous, on its face: a legend, a fairy story. And I thought as much myself until the day the package arrived, jagged shards of unearthly metal that gleamed like spilled oil, that I pieced together on my dining table into the shape of a massive three-pronged spear.

Until I read the letter, and learned that sirens have daughters too.

Maybe, at bottom, it’s still just a story. Maybe it’s a stranger’s idea of a prank.

Or maybe the grief of a god can be mended, and skies made whole again, and sisters sung back home.


Drowned
R.J. Meldrum

They huddled together, watching the cracks spread as the waves splintered the wall sheltering them.  The levees had already been overwhelmed, now it was just the wall holding back the ocean.  This was it, the last piece of terra firma, the last piece of land not covered by the rising oceans.  The rich had taken to vast floating palaces, while the poor drowned.  John and the others had sought higher and higher ground until they were at the top of the world.  On top of the peak that people had died to reach, the small group sat, protected only by the wall…and now it was collapsing.  John stood.

“I’m going to die on my feet.”

The others joined him.

Just for an instant there was the sparkle of blue water at the top of the wall, then the mortar gave way and the water consumed them.


Caged
Nina D’Arcangela

Iron mask; unyielding carapace that stifles. Crown of thorns; the lock upon an opaque prison. Eyes blinded; no sight – ebon madness encroaches. Lips shrouded; no utterance escapes. Ears aware; the slush of bodily fluids draining. A hiss heard left then right:
Sissssss… …terrrrrrrr; the sound slithers.

 My guardians keep watch; vestigial, vile.


There’s Always Tomorrow
Lydia Prime

Cursed to an eternity with the most bothersome creatures imaginable, I try to stay my tongue, but their incessant complaining makes me pray for reprieve. Perhaps a building inspector will come to condemn the land we sit upon with bulldozers and wrecking balls that dance until I am finally set free from their infantile chatter.

Good lords, do they whine and mutter constantly. Someone leaned on me! Something just shit on me! Boo-fuckin-hoo, you little twits. Their disgust at these events immediately falls to my ears, “Can you believe the audacity!?” they croon, indignant to their pathetic little cores. Fools! If only they knew who they were speaking to.

I was a sorcerer once, one with great power known for aiding in the conquest of lands further than today’s world remembers. Now, well, what am I? Trapped, that’s what, in this accursed metal tomb by those I’d have considered friends... Friends, what a notion. I should have slaughtered them all and taken their breath as they have ensconced mine.

I wipe away my thoughts as the day draws close to its end. My knight in mismatched orange and blue polyester will soon be here to shelter behind me – his cart of belongings reeking as much as his body. A brief evening’s worth of reprieve from the vapid serpents, his babbling I understand; war, famine, the pang of thirst. I watch as the world winds down only to await the next morning in false death, seeing nothing more than darkness and concrete before me. I’d kill for a new view…

There’s always tomorrow.


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Damned Words 40

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Sunrise
A.F. Stewart

Some said we would never see the sunrise, but there it shines in the morning sky. As we huddle within the church, I can hear people weeping, from a relief at being alive or in mourning for those dead, I cannot tell. I will shed no more tears. Mine already fell for those I lost in the carnage.

Voices murmur and I turn to glimpse the vicar passing food to those with appetites, and cups of water. At least we can be grateful for that. We will not have to worry about provisions for a while yet. The church has its own well, and donations from a food drive in storage.

It is silent outside, with the daylight hours, but we know it will not last. With night they will return. They will surround the church with their footsteps, with their growls. They will scratch at the ground and howl, fraying nerves, making it impossible to sleep. Memories will flood back, of blood, of teeth, of running while others died. And we will sit here among the pews knowing this holy place is the only thing that keeps them out. It will be the same tonight, as it was last night, and the night before that. Once again we will wonder if we will see the sunrise.

We are trapped here. Praying, surviving. Waiting for our inevitable end.


Ash Wednesday
Charles Gramlich

At midnight the police began to disperse the dense French Quarter crowd. The partiers didn’t want to stop the festivities but reluctantly gave way, breaking into twos and threes that gradually streamed off toward homes or other celebrations. Fat Tuesday was over. Lent had begun.

As the crowd split, a cold, hard gust of wind swept over the Quarter. It gathered other gusts to itself, swirled across the Faubourg Marigny and up Bourbon and Royal streets like a dust devil. It carried a mélange of beads and other Mardi Gras trash. It picked up the stench of sweat-soaked people, the stale odors of alcohol, urine, vomit. It gathered the thoughts and feelings of the revelers—their joys and rages, laughters and sobs, lusts and sins.

And when the wind had all that in its grasp, it struck the roof of the cathedral. The steeple shook; a dirty shadow enveloped it, then shrank, took darkling form. For a moment, a long-armed man squatted like a clot of evil on the roof. Then the figure leaped down and faded into the dispersing crowds as if it had never been.

The first deaths came within an hour.


The Order of Sanctification
Marge Simon

The church bells tolled for many hours after they caught the latest resistor and slit her throat. Pytr had been chosen to carry the infant cut from the womb. They marched through the streets, chanting in clipped unison. The newborn squalled, its limbs still slippery with blood. Pytr tucked it closer inside his furs to shield it against the cold. When they reached the Temple of Free Souls, he gave the infant to a waiting orderly. Shivering, they kept formation until the Grand Priest appeared.

“Who brings this babe?”

“We of the Righteous, Sector Five.”

“Who carries the babe?”

“I, Holy One.” Pytr stepped forward.

“And your name?”

“Pytr, zero five zero two. Sworn by birth to the genetic cycle evermore.” He was careful to keep his voice in a cadence. It would have been blasphemous to do otherwise.

“Ah, Pytr, I recognize you. You were,” the old man smiled, “one of my favorites. And not long out on your own, either. Very well, excellent.” He rubbed his hands together, his fingers stained with a garish orange dye. “And what say the rest of you?”

“We are the children of Sanctification. We copulate no more. We bow to the sperm bank and Ovum of White. Pure is the Ovum. Pure are the Righteous born.”

The presentation ended, Ptyr joined the others as they formed lines to march homeward. He smiled to himself. He’d done his part to ensure the purity of one small soul. Babies must be protected from sin. Future generations of the Righteous would be produced and raised in the Sanctified Laboratories, as the currently popular Supreme Holiness decreed.


The Good Book
R.J. Meldrum

The book was found in the hundredth year after the war. It was buried beneath the ruins of a pre-war building. The scouts were looking for tinned food, but because they’d never seen such a thing before they picked it up. The wise men, the ones who had been taught to read, recognised it for what it was, although none of them had seen a complete book before. They analysed and discussed the words. After due deliberation, they proclaimed the book a miracle and claimed it was the word of God, written by his prophet. By following the doctrine outlined in the book, they too would achieve immortality.

Sermons were held every week.  The priest intoned the holy words.

“The prophet requires a gift of blood for his Lord, to assure eternal life.”

“We shall obey,” intoned the faithful.

A girl was brought forward to the sacrificial altar.

“What are you called, my child?”

“Mina.”

The congregation murmured its approval of her name.

Compliant, she exposed her neck.  The priest, his canine teeth filed to sharp points, bent forward to collect the blood sacrifice that would satisfy their Lord.


Scarlet Milk
Lee Andrew Forman

Hooded faces lined up in the abbey to drink divine milk; they waited with reserve to wrap anxious lips around the papilla of the six-breasted obelisk. Its scarlet liquid dripped for ages, kept the cabal well-fed. Its sweet blessing held their souls within preserved bodies, entombed behind reverent, ever-young eyes. Sustenance from the fleshless bust of the ancient lord was their only indulgence. They observed all outside their congregation reach for the heavens; ages, generations—all seen, all judged. When the bosom of life dried up, they knew the lord’s decree was to be fulfilled.


Abandoned
Lydia Prime

As the sun slowly began to dip beneath the horizon, the colors danced across the pews and paint chipped walls, releasing something more insidious to the building. Footsteps echoed in the distance, slow at first but their pace quickened as a single set became several.

The stranger raced through the nave hoping to make it to the massive oak doors without incident. Voices swirled around the empty cavity though he couldn’t make out what they were saying. As he reached for the rusted latch he noticed the glass was no longer full of colorful images. He yanked on the latch as hard as he could, but couldn’t get it to budge. The other sets of footsteps caught up to the exploring man. They stood in the shadows and whispered unintelligible nothings to one another. His heart beating through his chest, he pounded on the wooden barrier before him and pleaded to see another day.

As the creatures drew closer an unearthly chill rattled through his bones. One of them moved into the light, it had no features of anything he’d ever seen, but its mouth bore rotten needle-sharp teeth; Its tentacle-like appendages edging near him. They made no noise as they leaned in and he screamed for his savior.


Perfection
Nina D’Arcangela

I’ve watched him fall before, The Morning Star. He’s been falling for millennia it seems, but then it always does. This world, these creatures, they lose fear, tell tales; forget fate is coming for them. I remember, I always remember for I am their reminder. I’ve watched it unfold myriad times. The clock resets, he is granted entrance, my reward—to be forsaken.

The rabble are born anew. Creation they hark as they build; or rebuild as it were. They know nothing of the former that perished among the rubble, their blood feeding a new world, their crushed bones the foundation this ground is laid upon. They eat the bread, drink the wine; expect absolution for debauchery’s lure. They seek a second coming while I walk quietly amongst them watching as the star falls yet again on perfection.


Light and Dark
Mark Steinwachs

My skin is the battle ground for the sun in the cloudless sky and the crisp fall air. Two steps and I will be out of its rays. Sun to shade. Light to dark. “I gave them light. I gave them everything,” I say, not looking back at the seven others. “And this is how they repay me; ornate structures with false prophets inside. They twisted my words and teachings, picking out whatever scriptures they needed at that moment. I love them and they cast me aside.”

A man in a tailored suit walks out the door, “It’s time to move along, gentlemen. We can’t have you loitering while service is going on.”

“Not even an invitation into my own home,” I say as I cross into the shade. “I can pick and choose scriptures too.”

The man’s eyes go wide as wings unfurl from the seven. Fear radiates in his soul where there should have been love. I snap my fingers and his neck twists at a grotesque angle before he crumples to the ground.

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the lord.”


Sleeper
Scarlett R. Algee

She wakes to the darkness she expects, and the silence, and the gnaw of hunger deep in her belly, toothy and raw.

She strokes the rough inner surface of the sarcophagus’ lid, splintering her overgrown fingernails, before putting palms to stone. The lid moves a fraction—in the face of the hunger, her strength is always slow to stir when she wakes from the long sleep—but it moves; that’s enough to let in a peep of blue-tinged sunlight, not direct enough to harm but sufficient to keep her uncomfortably awake. No matter; in this place of sienna brick and cobalt-stained windows, she’s been deemed a saint. Of course someone will come.

The pain of the light dulls until she can almost doze again, but a noise catches her attention: low shuffling footsteps, brisk scrape of a broom on a stone floor, quivery low-pitched hum.

That human music makes her gut knot and her teeth ache, but she swallows her slaver and forces her hands to relax. The sweeping musician sounds old and slow, but the footsteps are dragging closer. The intruding sliver of sunlight is ebbing away.

She can be patient a little longer.


 

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

Damned Words 39

 

Inner Matters
Lee Andrew Forman

The sounds of the world bring peace: crunching gravel, leaves dancing with nature, songs sung by the creations of life. Reality has other sides, some which only a vagabond can see along their journey. The pleasant are never left unappreciated. The darkest sit atop your shoulders, ever apparent in your sight.

A band of three delinquents emerge from the brush to intercept my path, smoke-filled ugliness trailing from their mouths. Their eyes immediately find me: the derelict, the tattered wanderer, the lonely victim. But their eyes only see what their minds can imagine. I sigh in response to their vile introductions.

Before they can hassle me further my front-side expands and splits down the middle. My innards expel themselves and splatter the deviants in carnage. Fluids dissolve their flesh; they scream a futile cry of agony no one will ever hear. Only when my would-be predators are mere remnants of ooze do my organs crawl back and nestle themselves where they belong, happy and well-fed.


Tracks
Charles Gramlich

“Shhhh, I’m here.”

The man shuddered, not quite sure yet what had happened to him. I rested his head in my lap, then pushed sweat-matted hair back from his face to see his terrified eyes.

“Help…me,” he begged.

I shook my head. “Sorry. This could have been avoided, but…” I gestured for him to look at himself.

He turned his head to gaze down his body. I let him scream at what the passing train had done. He tried to struggle, to thrash his arms and legs. He had no arms or legs. Shredded remnants of his severed limbs looked like piles of cooked raspberries strewn along the tracks. And, as I’d read would happen, the train’s weight had cinched the torn veins shut. He wasn’t bleeding out; he’d live a while yet. No one would find him here, though, where I’d tied him to the tracks.

“Please,” he begged again.

I shrugged and rose. “I warned you about those spam calls from your site.” Taking out my cell, I punched a number. The phone in the man’s pocket buzzed obnoxiously. “Press 2 to be placed on my do not call list,” I told him.


Family Honor
Mark Steinwachs

When I pulled the trigger years ago, I knew my turn would come. There is only one of us in the family at any time. My death is their first hit.

Blindfolded and with hands tied behind my back I shuffle along rocky ground. Whoever is behind me helps guide me. He nudges the back of my knee with his foot and I awkwardly let myself fall to my knees. He lays me flat, my face touching cold metal, then pulls the blindfold back enough for me to look down the long track. Not the same track I used of course, but the scene floods my memory. There is only one person who knows the story of my first hit. I never thought he would be the one.

“Thank you,” a male voice says, one I’ve known since he was born. “Your place of honor awaits.”

Those words, the exact ones I spoke when it was my turn, linger in my brain as I hear the click of the safety releasing.


Now You Stand and Wait
Scarlett R. Algee

They’d picked up her clothes along the track, almost too shredded to bother, and the whole time Shep had been grumbling you’re a damn fool, it ain’t the same no more; so when Shep squats by the rail and picks up a tuft of fluffy black fur, Ben hates him a little.

He clutches the ruined clothes, swats away Shep’s offered rifle, stares down the slope to the ground beneath the trestle bridge. Squints. Wonders. “She’s still my girl.”

Shep toes the claw marks along a rusted edge of rail. “You think that now.”

“She’s still Ellie. You just wait here.”

Alone, Ben treks down to the darkness under the bridge, stands at the bottom to a warning growl. He glimpses eyeshine in the black yards away. “Ellie, it’s Daddy.”

He steps closer. Another growl, deeper, but Ben can see the shape of her now, huge and magnificent, tail held out stiff. He clears his throat. “It’s gettin’ late. Your mama’s got supper waitin’.”

Ellie’s snarl is softer this time. Ben decides to take the chance. Sure, maybe he’s a fool, but she is still his girl.

Step by step, he walks into the darkness, toward the waiting wolf.


The Flattened Penny
A.F. Stewart

I can still smell the copper stench.

And hear the way the train’s wheels screeched as it rolled over the penny on the track, squashing it razor thin. I watched Denny pick up the flat coin, after it cooled down, and wave it around laughing.

I didn’t laugh.

Denny never heard the whistle of the other train, the death train. The one I had seen before, that should have been my ride. One penny to the conductor as payment, but that foul creature didn’t care much about who held the coin. Easy enough to cheat him.

Poor Denny.

That’s the smell of copper I remember. His blood.

But better him than me.


Taking the Ride
Nina D’Arcangela

The rumble loosens my gut; thrums through my body. My eyes quake in their jelly as teeth shiver saliva from plump, rouged lips. Searing heat washes over me as the screech assaults my core. I feel the shatter of my sinus cavities as the revolution of iron pressed upon iron crushes my head. Body thrashing in the wash, I Pollock the scree, feed the weeds; slick the rail for the next eager rider.


Definitely Not a God
Lydia Prime

Beneath the rocks and rails there lies a secret that our tiny town holds. We keep quiet and everything stays peaceful, that’s how it’s always been. Mama says it’s God under those tracks, says he protects us even in his sleep. I don’t think Mama knows what God is.

Late at night I sneak down to the tracks and kick the rocks as I walk past the iron ties. I can hear it, sometimes it sounds like snoring, but other times… If Mama could hear the noises I know she’d change her mind.

Just a ways ahead, the rocks shift and I sprint to see who’s there. The air smells of earth and death, my eyes settle on a gnarled looking creature hunching over in the moonlight. All six of its eyes blink then lock on me. I’ve never seen anything more gruesome, it grins and licks its crooked lips.

I turn to run but my foot snags the rusted rail. As I scramble to my feet, four more creatures step into sight. I was right Mama, definitely not a God.


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

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 2019

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.