Archive by Author | Tyr Kieran

Meat and Leather

The high-pitched screams slowly faded to silence in front of him. Using his paring knife as a tool of inspection, he checked his work, turning the glistening, skinless torso from left to right as he watched for any spots he may have missed. The small body rolled with little effort since no limbs remained to inhibit the motion; they were customarily removed for efficiency in the skinning process.

Satisfied, Jeremy pressed the blade to the creature’s neck with increasing pressure until the head squished away from the torso, completing the total dismemberment. He picked up the head by its youthful tuft of dark hair and held it at eye level.

“I hope you enjoyed the pain,” he said to the lifeless eyes staring back at him. “In the end, we’re all just meat and everyone’s gotta eat.”

Jeremy dropped the head into a trash receptacle. With swift slices akin to a Rhoad Island wharfsman he stripped off the meat—separating it from the inedibles—and tossed the pieces into the pot simmering on a can of blue Sterno at the end of his work bench. He then scraped the remnants from his cutting board into the trash, saving only the creature’s wings.

He took great care to clean the blood from his hands before raising the wings overhead, examining them one after another under the fluorescent light fixture with meticulous slowness and delicate handling, searching for tears, punctures, or deformities. The rubbery smooth sensation of the bat’s wings sent a shiver twitching through Jeremy’s body. He closed his eyes, caressed it against his face.

Jeremy trapped the bats for sustenance, but the pleasure he received from their wings kept him from branching out to larger more sustaining animals. There was something visceral about the sensation of leather, of smooth animal skin whispering along his human flesh—it took him to another plane of experience.

Just as Jeremy put down the wings he heard the muffled thumping upstairs that signaled another victim in his trap. He smiled.

“My stew’s getting heartier by the hour.”

Chuckling, Jeremy reached for his Lite beer. He drained the can, slammed it down next to the crimson-stained cutting board, and wiped the remaining drops from his chin with a clean area of his apron.

He skipped up the basement steps and continued on to the second floor, the old wooden staircases creaking with each shift in weight. At the top, he walked down the narrow hall to the far door.

When his parents still lived in the house, still lived at all, it had been a guest bedroom. But, to young Jeremy, it was like a historic monument—a perfectly arranged room that endured untouched as if from the high security of a museum velvet rope. His mother kept the room pristine just in case a distant relative or lost traveler would drop in and need accommodations, but no one ever came.

His parents didn’t venture out much, on the account of their excessive weight, so the family didn’t really have friends. And no sane person would just drive up a two-mile driveway in the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey to knock on some stranger’s door. So the room remained quarantined—off limits and untouched.

Often, Jeremy would stare at the closed door, knowing that simply touching the knob would warrant the lashings of father’s belt, but when he stood absolutely still some nights after dinner, with the toothpaste dripping from his lips, he could hear the dull thudding of something trapped in the walls and desperately trying to escape.

It was a mystery that never drifted far from his current thoughts. What was it? How was it trapped? What would it be like to thrash about in futility until exhaustion brought Death’s sickle down that much quicker?

His obsession with solving the mystery compelled him to visit the room time and time again, despite the repeated punishments. After a while, the beatings weren’t even a deterrent; in fact, along the way something changed in him and Jeremy began venturing into that prohibited zone more for the leather belt than his intrigue in the room itself.

The same day he put his parents in the ground, he wrenched the knob and shoved his way into the room. Standing there, for what must have been hours, he soaked up the forbidden realm. Staring at the pineapple patterned wallpaper, the tasseled lamp shades, the maroon fluffed carpet, the massive wooden headboard on the four-post bed, but without the promise of leather-bound pain, it was simply a dull, old-fashioned room.

Jeremy shook his head and turned to leave when a sudden flurry of muffled thumping shattered the silence and buried his disappointment. Adrenaline electrified his nervous system like jumper cables bringing a dead car battery back to life. He scurried throughout the room letting his ears guide him to the source of this lifelong mystery. Pressing the side of his head to the walls and sliding in every direction he eventually pinpointed its location—the chimney stack.

Moments later the room was full of plastic lining, heavy tools, and masonry dust. Jeremy hammered his way to the answer he craved.

The demolition revealed an odd bottleneck design to the home’s chimney. It was an unintentional trap for creatures of the night—an ideal resting place during the day, but too narrow for flight on exit. Bats, upon waking at dusk, would feel trapped and bludgeon themselves against the brick structure trying to escape.

Laying on a small ledge in this bottleneck, were several tiny carcasses; one of which was still fresh. Jeremy cradled the corpse in his hands. He could sympathize with the winged mammal’s plight. He too had been trapped by this constricting house. Emotion welled in his eyes.

On the verge of vowing to cement the trap away and close off the entire chimney forever, he stopped abruptly in mid thought. His widening eyes tilted down to look at his hands. Lost in his head, he hadn’t realized his fingers were rubbing the bat’s wings like a child absentmindedly working a worry stone. The sensation brought full understanding to him, not just with what he desired, but the realization that he was now truly free to do as he wished.

Over the next few days he worked hard to enclose the hole in the chimney, but with a new design. He installed a one-way gated trap with an internal door that would allow him access to the captured animal. He tested different baits, from sound frequencies to rotten fruit, luring his winged friends to their doom. It wasn’t long until he was capturing enough of them with regularity to further his own survival and satisfy his unnatural attractions.

Jeremy was on his fourth trip to the chimney that evening. He heard the creature’s thumps from the hall, their frequency diminishing, volume weakening—it was the right time to extract it, to make sure it’d have a bit of life left to feel the blessed pain he would graciously offer. Pain was a gift. He would help his new friend transcend to a better realm.

But before Jeremy could open the door an explosion shook the house, reverberating in the closed room and nearly blowing the door off its hinges. His mind pictured a bolt of lightning striking the old structure and obliterating the chimney. Trembling, he opened the door, pushed past some rubble on the carpet.

Neither the room nor the chimney was as damaged as he’d visualized, but the wall and the chimney stack were bulging into the room with areas of missing brick near the ceiling. Jeremy, inching forward, watched with wide eyes as more bricks fell to the carpet; not as a delayed collapse, but from something moving in the stack. What was a dull thumping before the crash, was now the sounds of confined shifting.

Whatever the fuck it is, it’s much bigger than a bat, Jeremy thought.

He crept onward with an outstretched hand reaching for the trap door. The metal door hung crookedly but was strong enough to stay latched. His fingers danced on the handle until he managed a firm grip. He took a deep breath and pulled.

At first all he saw was darkness. Then he noticed the wet glint of dark eyes just as it started to move again. The shadows spilled out of the opening and Jeremy stumbled backward—his shuffling feet catching on carpet, sending him to the floor.

The dark creature unfolded from the confined space and stood over him.

Jeremy couldn’t comprehend what he saw.

Its two hoofs clumped on the floor as it shifted weight between its furry legs. A forked tail whipped back and forth as the creature eyed him. Two long horns, pronged like antlers nearly scratched the ceiling. An elongated face leaned toward him as its teeth worked up and down. The torn remnants of a bat dripped from the creature’s taloned hand. It snorted and tilted its head.

Then it dropped the bat carcass and screeched at him. The echo was so loud as it sounded through the room that Jeremy’s ears released a trickle of blood.

The large creature stepped toward him and when its massive wings unfurled, Jeremy finally realized the nature of the creature before him.

“Y-you’re real!” The sight of the devil’s wings reaching from wall to wall turned Jeremy’s fear into awe and acceptance. “We’re all just meat, and you need to feed. Take me to a better realm.”

The creature shrieked again and lunged at him.

As teeth tore into his flesh and sharp talons ripped meat from bone, Jeremy clutched to the leathery wings, rubbing them against his face.

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2016 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

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Controlled

Letters and symbols vibrated on the screen—C# programming conditions that barely made sense to him anymore. Blinking, he tried to halt their rebellious dance, but each moment of blissful darkness brought Mel that much closer to involuntary shutdown. He’d never gone twenty-two hours straight before, nor beyond a ninety-hour work week, but here he was.

The clock in the lower corner reminded him that this sleep-deprived torture was far from over. 6:58AM. Brad’s Lexus would be parking across two visitor spaces out front by now. His entrance was always a whirlwind of douche-baggery.

Moments later, the boss stormed off the elevator, his briefcase swinging wildly as his heavy footfalls stopped at Sheryl’s desk. She looked up at him with half-squinted eyes, as if anticipating the full force of Brad’s backhand. Sheryl was new, only employed since the second quarter began, but she’d been around long enough to experience the worst. He must have something on her too, Mel thought as he peeked over the low cubical wall, otherwise why would she put up with this?

“Good morning, Sir,” she said.

“Don’t just sit there on your fat ass like you’re at home surfing Pinterest for your recipe wishlist, get me the latest shareholder’s report, the morning paper, and the status report for the Streamline project.”

Brad’s verbal barrage didn’t stop there. His demands and insults continued as he marched down the hall to his office, stopping for a moment as he reached his desk. He flopped the briefcase down, shaking the glass walls surrounding him, and sighed in a dramatic exhale. “For fuck’s sake, Sheryl. Where’s my double-espresso latte? You know I need it ready by 7AM.”

With an expletive of her own, she hurried off to the break room to fulfill his request.

Mel kept his head down, preparing himself for the inevitable summoning.

“Code-monkey,” Brad shouted. “Get in here.”

Mel rubbed his face in a brisk motion—trying to wipe the stress away—before shuffling into his bosses’ office. After squeezing into the chair Brad was crowding from his perch atop the desk, Mel stared down at his hands. Despite feeling cold and numb, as they usually did after long bouts of typing, they were sweating. Mel tucked his hands under his thighs for warmth just as Brad opened the discussion.

“How much farther did you get last night?”

“I scripted most of the control statements and I’m close to completing a prototype shell of the app, but as I said before we have to confirm the core attributes before—”

“We talked about this, Mel,” Brad said, tossing his hands. “Just get it done, we’re on a tight deadline.”

“I understand that, Sir. But, we cannot guarantee anything without—”

“Whoa! What the fuck, Mel? Don’t ever mention guarantees; they lead to lawsuits.” Brad punctuated his command with a sharp slap to the back of Mel’s skull.

The strike froze him for a moment; shoulders raised, eyes squinted, mouth half-agape in mid-syllable.  Then Mel reset his posture with slow resignation—funneling all his frustration into a moment of gritted teeth that his dentist would surely complain about at his next appointment.

Unsheathing his hands, he offered them up in placation, hoping to dampen his boss’s fuse as he explained further. “Sorry, Sir. I hear what you’re saying, but without defining all the client specifics like intended application interaction or even required platform compatibility, we’re setting ourselves up for massive revisions. If I could only have a conversation directly with the client, I think—”

“No!” Brad shouted at him, thrusting a finger in his face. “Leave the thinking to me. I manage the clients. You do the programming. Got it?”

Sheryl bustled into the room and, with great care, placed a large cup of coffee on Brad’s desk behind them.

Brad turned and stared her down, annoyed eyes screaming about her ill-timed entrance. Taking his meaning, Sheryl slunk out of the room, visually cringing from the attention, but not before exchanging a quick glance of understanding with Mel.

Maintaining his ocular assault, Brad picked up the tall cup and sipped.

“Sheryl, dear?” he called after her.

She turned.

“This is liquid-shit and you’re fired.” Despite Brad’s calm, Mel winced at the statement. Sheryl was a nice, intelligent woman. She didn’t deserve to be fired over coffee, let alone catering to mundane requests in the first place. The change of job might benefit her in the end, but it would still hurt. Sheryl had two daughters to care for and this salary was her only means of putting food in their fridge.

Sheryl’s mouth fell open, and before she turned away, Mel saw tears already streaming from her eyes. He clenched his fists. His cold fingers now pulsed with a swollen heat, the same sensation that stoked his gut with a churning energy.

“Mel,” Brad cooed, feigning compassion while he perched on the edge of his desk. “The project scope isn’t going to change until we show the prototype and we don’t have the budget for extensive revisions, so get it done and do it right the first time… am I understood?”

Mel seethed in silence—a furious bouncing of the right leg, white knuckled fists, and longer, deeper breathing.

“I needn’t remind you that my father owns Maven Digital Media. Your poor mother’s position might be eliminated if suggestions are made for leaner operations.”

The sound of Brad’s voice seemed distant behind the maddening rush of blood pulsing through Mel’s body. Accelerated breaths pressured out his nose like a show-prepped bull in Madrid’s main arena.

“Oh, and I talked to the client on the way in this morning.” Brad continued, leaning closer. “Due to competitive market pressures, I had to shorten the deadline by another week to keep them happy.”

Mel’s jaw cried out, threatening to strain muscles or chip teeth. The voice in the room was nearly washed out by the white-hot torrent surging through his mind. A rising growl started to form in his throat.

“…don’t care if you sleep under your desk, you’re going to—”

“Shut up!” Mel screamed, releasing the words at full volume. They reverberated off the office walls as Brad fell silent in their wake.

His boss phased through multiple emotions in a matter of seconds: from clenched anger, to confusion and finally landing on pale disbelief.

Mel watched him. What was he doing? Where was the predictable backlash?

Still emboldened from his rage, Mel prodded. “Well?”

His boss remained silent. Beads of sweat formed across his brow above an expression that Mel had never seen from him before. Still, no reply.

“Say something!” Mel conceded.

“Ghw-wha da fuck did you do to me?” Brad touched his throat and sucked air as if someone had been choking him.

“Huh?”

“I couldn’t talk.” Brad explained, fumbling the words between breaths. “I—I tried but nothing came out. You did something to me. Did you poison my coffee?!”

Mel, more frustrated and confused than anything else, splayed his fingers incredulously.

“What? I didn’t do anything to you. I just told you to shut… up.” As the words fell from his mouth, a crazy, sleep-deprived thought popped into his head. No sane person would ever consider it to be possible, but sanity was a foreign state on days like this, in work environments like this.

Mel needed to know. Brad was still complaining, when Mel spoke again.

“Brad, be quiet please.” He said causally, barely audible over his boss’s ramblings—ramblings that suddenly halted.

Mel’s eyes popped wide. So did Brad’s.

“Grab your index finger in one hand,” Mel said, dishing an order that would irrefutably prove his illogical theory, “…and break it!”

His boss’s eyes somehow opened even wider as his right hand clasped his left index finger. While frantically shaking his head against his own actions, Brad bent his finger backward until there was an audible snap. A muffled cry leaked out of his sealed lips.

Mel shot to his feet—his chair toppling over backward—and clutched his head with both hands, as if to keep his mind contained; to keep it from exploding. “What the fuck?”

Hearing the commotion, Sheryl rushed into the office, still holding a box of her personal effects. Her gaze of confusion shifted back and forth between the men.

Mel turned to her, “Wait there… you gotta hear this.”

She didn’t budge.

“Brad,” Mel said firmly. “Pick up your coffee and pour it on your head.

He did. Again, he cried out a muffled whimper of pain. His soaked shirt steamed.

Sheryl’s mouth fell open.

Mel grinned.

It was a smile that told of much more than humor. It was wider than normal and yet still concealed his teeth. It reeked more of foreshadowed mischief than of satisfaction. It was a smile that would make others uneasy, but Sheryl, in this odd moment in time, found it comforting.

“Brad, apologize to Sheryl. Rescind her termination and offer her a fifty percent raise.”

He did, despite an expression of great struggle—words sloppy from forced syllables. His complexion reddening as veins bulged in his neck and forehead.

She accepted with a nervous laugh.

“It’s okay.” Mel said to her. “It’s true. Go ahead and unpack your things.”

She left the room with a smile on her face.

“Now. Here’s how it’s going to go,” Mel instructed.

“You’re going to forget my mother completely. You’re going to hire at least two more programmers to work under my management. You’re going to give me a fifty percent raise and you’re going to allow me to communicate directly with clients during project planning. Oh, and you’re going to stay out of my business. Got it?”

Brad nodded with such force that he might have earned a mild concussion.

“Oh, and if you deviate from my wishes at any time,” Mel said, narrowing his eyes. “I’ll tell you to slit your own throat.

“And, just so you don’t think I’m bluffing… break another finger.”

Brad did as he was told.

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2016 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

In The Eyes Of A Victim

He waits behind the crowd, swaying in a corner—visible, yet perfectly forgettable. His incoherent mumbling is as much a disguise as the layers of filth he stole from the corpse of a homeless man only a few hours earlier. The corpse, when alive, had spent most of its time begging for change in the very spot this impostor now stood—both shuffling feet and jingling coins in a cup.

The bustle of men and women blindly swarms past, cramming onto the subway platform with a narrow, narcissistic awareness. Hot gusts of air swirl through the tiled alcove as trains rumble along distant rails, pushing and pulling putrid fumes that nearly mask the scent of urine on the man’s clothes.

I watch as he watches.

His eyes flit from face to face, searching for the right one, the right moment.

A train arrives in a whirlwind of garbage and air pressure. The crowd tenses, impatient with unopened doors as the transport slows. When the train finally stops, it releases a horrific screech like the piercing wail of elephants at slaughter. The sound ricochets off the tile walls as the vessel sets free its detained occupants. Squeezing past one another, the new commuters fill the train beyond capacity and abandon a few on the fringe. With a faltering chime, the entourage departs. One of the forsaken hurls obscenities before jogging back up the steps to find another route home.

For the moment, two would-be passengers remain on the platform. The practicing beggar continues his feigned self-involvement while venturing further from the wall. I believe we both sense the moment ripen as a young man scuffles back to a bench, delves into his smartphone—earbuds and all—isolating the final commuter.

A young woman stands alone, gazing down the tunnel that will deliver the next train. Her appearance and demeanor seem average until I glimpse her blue eyes. Beautiful, yes, but they hold the light to which killers flock: fear.

I see him, with such subtle motion, skulk his way to the girl. Her head turns toward the movement, or possibly the smell, just as he makes his move. Those anxious eyes pop open to their fullest, quivering, clamoring—fueling her attacker. With a hand clamped over her mouth and a firm arm locking hers in place, he yanks the girl around the corner and out of sight.

This is it; the moment I’ve been waiting for. Over seven months of surveillance to finally catch him in the act. Today is my day!

My body tingles with cool adrenaline as I leave my perch to follow. Traversing the platform, I search for potential witnesses. None.

He is good.

I hear the next rush of commuters spilling down the steps and into the station behind me as I slip around the corner in pursuit.

Down a ladder at the end of a service ledge, I follow his path along the tunnel. Darkness swarms me after a few paces. The distant percussion serves as a constant reminder of the next train’s inevitable approach. Urging my legs beyond their usual lope but trying to remain cautious in my footing, I hurry toward the intersection ahead. Green utility lights mounted on the tunnel ceiling casts the open crossroad in faint light that seems to accentuate the garbage, filth, and overall disrepair as if it’s the emerald city that time forgot.

There has to be an old storage locker or maintenance room here; it’d be the type of place he would use as his ‘art’ studio—an enclosed space, full of useful items, and near the echoing rumble of subway cars that mask the inevitable screams.

Scanning through the murk, I spot the entrance a few yards away in one of the connecting tunnels. It takes a few moments of stepping over rails, refuse, and even the rotting corpse of a mangled dog to arrive at the door.

I stand there for a moment, staring at the threshold, catching my breath and collecting my thoughts. Two muffled voices float through the barrier, one significantly more than the other.

Gently squeezing the cold metal latch, I confirm my suspicion and set to work with my picking tools. Wincing at each little click, I manage to unlock the door without hearing changes within.

After a deep breath, I draw my weapon and creep inside.

The walls are lined with supplies for both cleaning and electrical repairs; the odor of ammonia is prominent. A breaker box stares me in the face from the far wall before the space takes a ninety-degree turn. I ease the door shut behind me and strafe around the corner with my gun level.

His back is to me as he attends to the victim. She’s restrained; wrists and ankles handcuffed to steel conduits jutting from the wall; an oily rag used tightly as a gag. Her blouse is ripped open; a shallow cut glistens between her breasts. The woman notices me first—her eyes widen in a silent plea. Her shift in expression must have alerted him as his knife stalls in mid-slice along her cheek.

“Freeze!” I shout. “Lower your weapon.”

The man turns slowly, shoulders slumped, hands out in placation; but once he sees me, his demeanor shifts. “Who the fuck are you?”

“The man who’s watched you long enough to know everything, Mr. Barton.”

“You don’t look like a cop, old man. You a detective?”

“Does it matter?”

He eyes me up for a moment. Sweat rolls down his brow. “Are you gonna arrest me or not?”

“Me? No.” I reply, lowering my gun. “But whether you still end up in jail tonight depends on you.”

A raised expression of surprise washes over both captor and victim.

I continue. “My name is Owen Dunning and I’m in the market for a new vendor. I need a man of your interests and abilities—I want something that you can provide.”

“Like what, exactly?”

“Human organs.”

The woman screams into her gag and struggles with the handcuffs, rattling them against the pipes.

Mr. Barton silences her with the back of his hand and her body drops. Motionless, she hangs from her restraints as he returns to the conversation.

“You want me to sell you body parts from my victims?”

“Yes. But don’t worry, my needs won’t interfere with your…art.”

“Why don’t you just buy from the morgue, or something?”

“Come now, Barton. Do I look like a desperate idiot? I’m an aficionado. I demand quality and freshness.”

He stares at me for a moment, a long gaze across the bridge of his nose. “An aficionado, huh? These’re souvenirs…for a collector?”

“No. Rare delicacies for a connoisseur.”

Another stare, but this time his expression has the air of inquiry rather than apprehension.

“In exchange for my requested cuts,” I explain, “I offer you generous payment to fund your operation and my assistance in maintaining your freedom and anonymity. Do we have a deal?”

“Deal.”

I produce an envelope full of cash and hand it to him.

He accepts it with a Cheshire grin. “What’s your first order, Mr. Dunning?”

“I want to taste her soul—taste her fear. Those blue eyes of hers would be divine.”

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

The Game of Life

Beads of sweat emphasized the early night’s chill along his exposed neck and brow. The Policeman stood on their stoop, shifting his weight as much for warmth as from impatience. After a few brisk moments, a man answered the door.

“Oh… hello, Officer,” the homeowner said, greeting him with large, hesitant eyes. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“I’m terribly sorry to bother you, Sir,” the officer replied. “We have a criminal on the run in this neighborhood, so for everyone’s safety, we’re performing house to house searches. Would you mind?”

“No, not at all. Please, come in.” The man stepped back and ushered the policeman into his home.

The house was warm and full of light. Two faces peered at him from an adjoining dinning room. The officer could smell Christmas dinner before he saw the mouthwatering spread.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “We’re just taking precautions.”

Then, turning to the father, he asked in a hushed tone, “Is there anyone else in the house?”

The man shook his head, “No, no one.”

The officer nodded and turned back to the family, “Please carry on with your meal. I won’t be long.”

Wide eyes followed the officer as he stalked down the hall, hand on his pistol, weapon at the ready. Room by room, he searched and after a few moments, he confirmed the house was clear.

Returning to the dining area, Officer Mitcheltree stood for a moment. He watched the holiday scene—the small, happy family sharing home cooked food that clung to their souls, laughing as they created a memory for future cherishment; bad puns spoken over poured gravy and steaming roast turkey nestled snug against blended potatoes and acceptable gluttony.

Watching the interaction, hearing the high-pitched innocence of their young daughter, nearly caused the officer to flinch.

The mother was the first to notice the police officer standing there. “Is… everything alright, Officer?”

A silent moment passed, his non-reply thickening the tension in the air.

“W—would you like to join us for dinner?” the father asked.

Sweat collected along the cop’s chin and dripped to the floor. His gaze lingered on each member of the family, their kind offer drowned out by the hammering of his own heartbeat.

With each passing second, concern and confusion creased their expressions further.

Officer Mitcheltree raised his gun, pointing the weapon point blank at the father’s head. Half-lidded eyes unfurled into wide disbelieving orbs. Before any of them could do more than inhale, the officer pulled the trigger.

Blood, skull fragments, and gray matter splattered the table, desecrating the partially carved turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, holiday linens, and the terrified faces. A scream hurled free from the mother’s throat, but the gun’s second bullet deprived her lament of its longevity, jolting her head backward with such force that it dislocated vertebrae in her neck. Dangling, her head hung at an unnatural angle.

When the young girl’s gaze shifted from her dead mother back to the murderous police officer through the haze of fresh tears and fading gun smoke, she found the weapon pointed at her.

Her eyes climbed the barrel to meet his. Tears streamed down their cheeks in unison. The officer squeezed his eyes shut as he squeezed the trigger for the third time.

His face contorted as the hard-clamped humorless grin broke open under the pressure of raw emotion. A loud, guttural yell seemed to burst from every pore, reverberating throughout his body. He fell to his hands and knees and wept in oxygen-starved fits. Many minutes passed until he managed a semblance of composure.

Electronic music chimed from his waist.

He fished a cell phone from his pocket and looked down at the screen:‘Unknown. No Caller ID’.

Officer Mitcheltree touched the answer prompt and waited.

Neither party spoke. Soft sounds of calm breathing and a distant, continuous rumble came across the line – nothing else.

“It’s done,” the officer said, breaking the stalemate. Then, as he fought back another bought of emotion with gritted teeth, he added, “A life for a life.”

“Hmm… Show me.”

“Fuck you!”

“Now, now, Officer Mitcheltree. Be civil.”

“Civil? I did what you asked, now give me back my family, you son of a bitch!” the officer said, spitting into the phone.

“Of course, but first, I need proof of your efforts.”

The officer opened the camera app on his phone and snapped a photo of the morbid scene, then sent it to the number provided.

“I see,” the voice on the other end said. “A life for a life it shall be. We can finalize our exchange in the bowels of Reformation Chapel.”

The policeman’s eyes shifted back and forth as he dug through his memory.

“The abandoned chapel off Farmstead Road? That’s two hours outside of town!”

“And if you hurry, you’ll arrive just in time.”

“Just in time for what?” the officer shouted, but the call had already ended.

***

Officer Mitcheltree stalked down the steps of the old chapel. With the aid of flashing lights and a wailing siren, he was able to make the trek with six minutes to spare; the use of caution was now an option. Gun raised, he reached the bottom to find a narrow walk-through pantry that opened up to a larger room. He padded across the shelf-lined hallway, his eyes searching for movement.

Entering the main room, the officer stalked to the table at its center while twisting and turning to check for threats. The room was still, silent, hot.

He wiped sweat from his brow with a quick brush of his forearm.

“Where are you?” He shouted. “Where’s my family?”

No answer came except for the echo of his own desperate pleas and the clanking of mason jars as he bumped into the table.

Electronic music chimed from his hip.

Again, the screen read: ‘Unknown. No Caller ID’.

Officer Mitcheltree answered the call, “Where’s my family?”

“I have returned them to you in accordance with our arrangement.”

The cop whirled around, searching for his wife and daughter, but there was still no sign of them. “No more games! Where are they?”

“Your answer is on the table.”

Mitcheltree wiped the sweat from his eyes and inspected the items on the table. At first glance, they seemed nothing more than simple canning supplies left out from when the pantry was in operation many years ago, but focused attention revealed that they weren’t covered in dust. One large Mason jar was sealed and full of a gray powdered substance. The other was significantly smaller, open and empty—unused.

The policeman picked up the large jar, hoping to find a note or some kind of clue, but there was nothing else on the table but the two jars. As he brought the phone back up to his ear, prepared to unleash a flurry of threats, something caught his eye.

A piece of masking tape labeled the far side of the tall jar. He read the name as he turned it in his hands, “Mrs. Mitcheltree & Daughter.”

“What the Fuck is this?” he said, breathing the words into the phone—his chest suddenly feeling hotter than the rest of him, his throat tightening. He put the jar down with a loud thunk and backed away.

“A life for a life, Officer.” the kidnapper stated firmly. “I asked for life. A life to save a life. You misinterpreted and provided death.”

The cop’s head swam, the room began to spin; the heat not helping his focus. He stumbled further away from the table. That’s when he spotted the small metal door in the opposite wall. The source of all the heat—a crematory.

“You misunderstood my request, Officer Mitcheltree. You chose death. You killed your family.”

“Oh, God. No!” the policeman cried out; reeling. He fell backward into the shelves. Glass jars clanked together. He turned on instinct; looked with wavering vision at the objects before him.

“If it makes you feel better, you’re not the only one who’s made that mistake.”

Shelf after shelf carried large ash-filled Mason jars with masking tape labels. He couldn’t quite make out the letters, but he knew they were names. Then, he realized each one was paired with a smaller jar also filled and labeled.

“I have a lovely collection, don’t you think?”

This time, the voice echoed—sounding in both ears.

The policeman turned and the last thing he saw was a smiling face and a descending sledgehammer.

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

Loose The Gods of War

Private Wilhelm Hausser stood trembling, and for the first time it wasn’t because of the perpetual screams from behind the door of his post or the gruesome state of the bodies he was tasked to drag out and dispose of each day. This time, his body shook under a flood of adrenaline invoked by a different type of scream.

In an echoing torrent, Hausser’s commanding officer scolded him between gasps of air. Lieutenant Altstacht’s frame jerked and twitched with each exclamation, engorged veins pulsing in his neck, but his right hand held firm—the hand holding the loaded 9mm Luger inches from Wilhelm’s face.

“…unacceptable. You will face severe repercussions!”

Both men dripped sweat and struggled to keep their breath as the situation escalated. The other solider, on post opposite Wilhelm, pressed himself against the wall, doing his best to become invisible.

None of them noticed the clopping footsteps approach until they stopped. Private Hausser’s eyes drifted to the waiting group of men. Their identity was unmistakable—black uniforms emblazoned with dual lightning bolt letters and a silver skull glimmering atop their helmets. Wilhelm, in sync with the other Private, jolted into a rigged stance, their complexions more pallid, their right arms raised.

“…either astounding ignorance or an utter lack of—” Alstacht’s existence froze. Then, he lowered the pistol and snapped into a salute.

One man broke from the group and faced the officer with a clack of his heels. “At ease, Lieutenant. What is the disturbance here?”

“M-my Führer, I am honored by your presence. My sincerest apologies for the disruption,” Alstacht said with the lowered gaze of a scolded child.

“Nonsense, I am a man of the people and I wish to help. Please, enlighten me.”

“The… uh, Private here, was being reprimanded for failure to follow orders and repeated offenses of unauthorized attire in disrespect of the uniform.”

“Hmm, yes, this is not good. What is the exact offense?”

The Lieutenant’s posture straightened and his voice now held much of the strength it had prior to the group’s arrival. “Repeated exposure of a necklace promoting unauthorized symbols—the Christian cross and some other nonsensical medallion. The solider had been warned previously of such an offense.”

The Führer walked over to Hausser and lifted the charms in the palm of his hand for a closer inspection. With a swipe of his thumb, he brushed the cross aside to view the medallion—a pewter cast of three interlocking horns. The Führer glanced at the Private before returning to Alstacht’s side.

“And, what was the decided punishment?”

“The official punishment for insubordination is death, my Führer,” the Lieutenant answered and retrained his pistol on Hausser.

“I see,” Hitler said, pursing his lips. “It is a shameful loss, but rules are rules.”

Then, gesturing to Alstacht with an open hand, he inquired, “May I?”

“Of course, my Führer.”

Hitler raised the pistol and locked eyes with Private Hausser. In a calm, swift motion, he turned to the Lieutenant and pulled the trigger.

Alstacht’s body crumpled to the floor.

“Now, let me be clear,” the Führer announced, “ignorance is unforgivable. No situation can be defined by the black and white of a rule book.”  Hitler then gripped Hausser’s shoulder.  “Forgive the misunderstanding. Please, come with me and tell me why you wear Odin’s symbol.”

The two men walked down the long corridor with the SS marching behind them. Hausser had similar features to those in the SS and stood at least eight inches taller than their leader.

“My grandmother raised me on both the pre and post-Christian Norse religion. I wear them to honor her and to honor the Gods.”

“Do not those symbols clash?”

“No, my Führer, I believe that there is a closer connection than currently known. I believe they are both based on an older mythos.”

“Ha,” Hitler laughed aloud, which caused more than a few widened eyes behind them. “Private, you were quite underutilized.”

After a few turns through the complex, they approached a heavily guarded door. The soldiers on post saluted as they crossed the threshold.

The room was massive. Broken into several areas, it looked to contain functions of a library, a science laboratory, a museum, and an odd variation of a church sanctuary. Nazi regalia lined the walls and men were hard at work in all sections.

Hitler led them across the main hall and into the Library’s archive examination room, waiving off salutes as they went. A small team of scholars hovered around a book laid open at the table’s center as they took notes and referenced other texts. They dropped everything and gave salute. One of them, after receiving the return salute, approached the Führer. His complexion reddened and beads of sweat formed across his brow as he waited for Hitler to speak.

“Dr. Bunzel, I have not received Himmler’s report on the new item.”

“My Führer, please forgive the delay. We have translated portions of the manuscripts and are only now able to run some tests on its accuracy and potential.” The doctor gestured to the sanctuary at the far end of the great hall where men looked to be preparing for a ceremony with lighted candles and incense.

“Pnakotic,” Hausser spoke softly, an unintentional word falling from his lips as he peeked over Bunzel’s shoulder to the book in the examination room.

Both men stopped and looked at him.

“Is that the Pnakotic Manuscripts?”

The doctor’s mouth dropped open, his gaze shifting from the young soldier to the Führer and back.

“Dr. Bunzel,” Hitler said with a smirk, “meet Private Wilhelm Hausser.”

“You know of the manuscripts?” the doctor asked.

“I-I never knew if they were real or myth, but, yes. It was said by Norse mystics that the manuscripts held the true origin of the Gods… all the Gods that we now see as different religions. They are all incarnations—representations diluted by the framework of human sanity—of the true supreme beings that rule over our existence.”

“How do you know this?”

“Are the manuscripts penned in Old Norse or the elder language?”

“It’s, uh, Duriac, or, as you say, the elder language,” Dr. Bunzel answered, still slow in finding his words as he stared with a pinched expression. “What else do you know about the manuscripts?”

“I’ve heard there is a Norse version, lost chapters of the Sagas, emblazoned with the tangled image of Jormungandr. But, this creature is not the spawn of Loki as the mythology is told. That serpent of the sea is but an appendage of the true being—a much older, horrific creature of inconceivable context and power—one of the Elder Gods. The manuscripts offer historical reference, but also passages of worship and incantation. Norse mystics included words of warning as well, safeguards so to speak, that were not in the originals texts. I urge you to not—”

Excited voices from across the hall grew loud enough to demand their attention. One of the scholars, clad in a heavy robe, shouted at the altar with his arms outstretched. A breeze swirled through the room, ruffling the large Nazi banners and threatening to extinguish the candle flames. The man slowed, hesitating in his incantation. He searched through the translated documents with a frantic flipping of pages.

A deep rumbling sound emerged as the floor shuddered.

“This can’t be good,” Hausser said and cursed under his breath as he leapt forward, snatched the Pnakotic Manuscripts, and sprinted toward the sanctuary.

“Hey!” the doctor objected.

The group rushed to follow the young Private. When they arrived at the edge of the church, Hausser was there, already paging through the manuscripts.

“You can read them?” Dr. Bunzel asked.

“Not entirely, but I may know enough,” Hausser said without looking up.

The makeshift priest shouted a sequence of ancient words and the tremors stopped; a moment of calm hung heavy in the room with a wide eyed look of confusion on all the faces. Then, booming from all directions, a voice of grinding stone and thunder replied to the incantation.

“Hasyrath r’ylek n’gklul.”

The scholars rifled through their notes arguing in harsh whispers.

With no direct reply, the monstrous voice spoke again.

“R’ylek n’gklul.”

“It’s saying something about, uh, a true gift,” Hausser said, drawing the attention of those around him. He stood squeezing his eyes shut, scouring his memory for a better understanding of the language. “No wait, it’s asking for a worthy offering.”

“Ph’nglui kadishtu ehye fhtagn r’lyehoth, gnaiih mnahn fhtagn.”

“No blood sacrifice was given,” Hausser translated, “so blood he shall take.”

They all stared at the Private, waiting, hoping he’d correct his translation.

Just as Hitler moved to voice an inquiry, the makeshift priest screamed and dropped to his knees. He held his face in his hands as blood oozed out between his fingers. After a moment, his shrieks dwindled until he knelt in near silence, his heaving breaths the only sound in the entire hall.

A lone scientist approached the priest with great caution, each of his footsteps placed with visible hesitance. He knelt down next to the man and, with a craned neck and a gentle hand upon his shoulder as if consoling a lost child, he offered to help.

The priest removed his hands from his face and reached out to the scientist. A gasp flowed through the crowd of onlookers as his empty eye sockets were revealed. The two men rose to their feet and the scientist waved to the soldiers for assistance. The priest, instead of reaching for support on the other man’s shoulders, clutched the scientist’s head and cackled wildly as he squeezed. In a matter of seconds his hands, now covered in blood and grey matter, found each other.

Screams erupted throughout the hall.

The soldiers skidded to a halt a few feet away and immediately readied their rifles. With gore dripping from his outstretched fingers, the priest turned to face them and they opened fire. A series of bullets riddled his chest, their impact jostled his body, but he kept shambling toward them. Then, in a voice like screams amid a buzzing storm of insects, he spoke to them, “R’lyehoth mnahn fhtagn.”

The soldiers crept back again, trying to keep a safe distance, but the priest, with only a sweeping gesture, sent them and all to the floor, clutching their helmets and writhing in agony.

Full panic hit the room. Scientist and scholars ran for cover and shoved past each other to reach the exits. The SS core formed a barrier around the Führer and fired at the possessed priest.

“Found it!” Hausser shouted. Ignoring the gunshots and the urgent questions from Dr. Bunzel, the Private stepped out of the crowd and approached the altar. He grabbed a silver saucer, brushed off the incense ash, and rushed over to the scientist’s corpse. As he fought down the rising bile in his throat, he scooped up brains and blood with his bare hands to load up the offering plate. On the floor at the base of the alter he drew symbols in blood that looked like variations of three interlocked triangles and modified pentagrams with a central eye.

By that time the SS had inflicted enough damage to the priest’s skull, spine, and torso to render him little more than an abstract pile of hot meat. As they sighed their relief and reloaded their weapons, the five victims of the priest, rose to carry out the will of their possessor.

Renewed gunfire thrummed in Hausser’s peripheral attention, but he remained focused. He stood between the blood-drawn symbols, with the offering plate held high, and called to the Ancient Ones.

“Vulgtlagln naep vulgtm shtunggli zhro ee naR’lyeh”

The complex shook violently and the thundering voice replied, “Nilgh’ri sll’ha vulgtm ilyaa li’hee. Ehye fhtagn.”

Hausser’s shoulders slumped. He turned to look at the human chaos behind him. More death bloomed through the hall as people trampled each other and soldiers succumbed to the possessed corpses, while all those screams from the experiment ward echoed through his mind. Should he end this, or was it deserved punishment? No one in the entire complex could be considered innocent, he thought, but this curse, their wrath, would quickly spread beyond these walls if he didn’t abide.

Moral agony twisted his face as he decided his fate and theirs.

Tears slid down his cheeks. With a clenched jaw, he set down the saucer and sought out the closest scholar. A woman, trying to flee the possessed soldiers, ran along the sanctuary’s edge toward the main entrance. Hausser grabbed her lab coat and pulled her over to the altar. Breathing heavy through gritted teeth, he snatch a dagger from the altar, held it against her neck, and shouted, “Vulgtm ehye fhtagn li’hee.”

Then, in one swift movement, he yanked her hair back and slit her throat.

Her blood sprayed him as much as it did the offering plates.

The tremors stopped.

The possessed soldiers, collapsed, returning to their state of death.

An odd calm fell over the hall.

Hitler, with the remaining SS in tow, approached Hausser and shook his hand with vigor, “I knew you were special. Excellent work, young Hausser! You shall be commended and given proper reward.”

“My Führer, I—”

“Never mind that. With the right incantations, might we control the… Gods?”

“My Führer,” Hausser replied with a creased expression of fret, “we are extremely lucky to have contained them for the time being. Control will never be an option.”

“Special Lieutenant Hausser, your responsibility going forward is to contain the powers behind today’s events, and to report directly to me with any variance,” Hitler said, then turned to Dr. Bunzel. “Doctor, you and your team will continue to seek a method of control and experiment toward such. This power, if harnessed, would deliver to us all nations and allow a proper ethnic cleansing for the dawn of the Aryan race! This is of the highest priority. Have I made myself clear?”

“Yes, my Führer. Sieg Heil!”

Wilhelm Hausser watched the survivors march away with smiles on their faces as if a treasure was uncovered. All he could think about, with the day’s violence joining the nightmare menagerie of his memories, was the question: who was the true terror, the malignant Gods, or mankind itself?

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

War Criminal

The calm evening teemed with latent purpose. Warm lights glowed in the windows of surrounding suburban homes as families finished their supper and settled down in front of their televisions for the night’s sitcoms and news casts. Nothing moved outside, but the gentle scraping-tumble of fallen leaves along the curb.

Nothing moved, but much was watching. More than a dozen pairs of eyes peered from the shadows of cold cars and unlatched sheds, all focused on the same house.

Inside, a wrinkled man stood under the yellow light of a bathroom sconce. He selected a couple pills from the medicine cabinet and downed them with an oversized swallow of scotch. With a trembling hand, he wiped the overflow from his chin. Deep creases, darkened by time and things that cannot be unseen, underscored his faded blue eyes. Averting his own gaze, he frowned and tossed the glass into the sink. The etched crystal clamored against the porcelain basin. He slipped his arms into a thick fleece robe before walking out of the room and down the unlit hall.

Outside—a few moments later—dormant purpose awakened.

The tranquility of the neighborhood remained intact despite the sudden flurry of activity. Gear strapped men poured from vehicles, storage sheds, and various points of cover like wasps from a disturbed hive. Within seconds, they traversed the property’s uneven walkways, forsaken lawn, and unkempt flower beds, charging toward the old man’s house in utter stealth. Carbine assault rifles led the way as the men gained entry and navigated to the man’s windowless bedroom.

The entire SWAT team converged on their rendezvous point and fell still, weapons trained on the single location. All attention shifted from the unoccupied bed to Captain Sutherland, who wasted only a brief moment to incredulity before throwing hand signals to each group. As the team scattered—skulking room to room, rechecking the entire house in continued silence—he whispered into his shoulder radio.

“Eyes, the Intel is bad. The target may be aware. Any exterior movement?”

The response came with a soft click, “None, Sir.”

“How could—”

“Sir!” The terse whisper came from an officer behind him. The Captain turned to see the man pointing at the floor next to the room’s only nightstand. He moved closer with slow, deliberate steps. At the wall’s base, a faint seam of light pulsed in the darkness.

Sutherland clicked the recall on his radio three times before approaching the area. With the measured precision of a bomb squad technician, he ran his hand up and down the wall, then the legs of the small, adjacent table. His fingers slid along the surfaces with uninterrupted fluidity until he reached the narrow space between the nightstand and the plaster. He signaled to the arriving team with a fist over his head, pointed at the wall, and then depressed the unseen button.

A portion of the wall pivoted open, oozing more light into the bedroom. Sutherland signaled again, this time wordlessly ordering only four of the men to action. One officer approached the flickering light and peered through the gap with a mirrored wand. Then, pushing open the door with the muzzle of his rifle, he entered the space; the exploratory team and their Captain following close behind.

It was a tapered, unfinished hallway that terminated after a few feet. At the end, a rectangular hole in the floor glowed with faint yellow light; a quick, mirrored view revealed a descending staircase. From somewhere below, a muffled voice spoke in hurried tones—muffled, but distinctly German.

The leading officer reached for a stun grenade, but the Captain stopped his hand as a second voice emerged. After listening for a few moments, Sutherland indicated to move onward with artificial eyes. The stairs took them one story below the home’s basement level. At the bottom, heavy curtains shielded their descent, but also the activities and occupants on the other side.

Though still unintelligible to the team, it was clear the two voices were very different in pitch, yet both spoken in similarly swift and harsh demeanors.

Captain Sutherland peeked through the fabric. After a brief view, he stepped back and faced his team.

“It’s bad,” he whispered, shaking his head.

The officers exchanged wide-eyed glances.

“We take Hausser alive—use restraint. Possibly armed.” Sutherland hissed at his men and clicked his shoulder radio three times. “Take him alive.”

Turning back to the curtains, he brought up his Carbine and took a deep breath. He counted down with his fingers, then burst through the hanging cloth.

The scene was fairly static, but the nature of the in-progress events made it feel like chaos to him. Adrenaline prickled along every nerve as his eyes darted around the room—trying to process it all while remaining focused on safety and containment.

His men were shouting.

He was shouting.

SS General Wilhelm Hausser sat at room’s center, kneeling amid an extensive arrangement of half-melted candles, lines of carefully placed sand, shallow bowls of cloudy liquid, and a variety of chalk-drawn symbols that looked to Sutherland like modified pentagrams, stars, and swastikas. A massive stone sarcophagus, draped with fabric, bordered the main wall. Atop the altar was several silver pans bloodied with corporeal offerings and the human remains of what once was a young woman. Nazi banners lined the walls, flanking the altar.

Hausser held his blood covered hands in the air, one of them still clutching a dripping, ornate dagger.

“No. No, you don’t understand,” he said, the sleeves of his robe shaking as he yelled back at the officers, “Wait. Ju—just wait.”

“Put down the weapon!”

“Drop it!”

The Captain joined the shouting match, while motioning to his team with an open hand that his query took precedence. “Who else is here? Where are they?”

“Please,” the German replied, rising to his feet, “I must be allowed to finish—it has never been left unfinished.”

“Stop! Drop the knife, now!”

Hausser pivoted, moving forward, pleading with the speaking officer, “You don’t understand. We must—”

Deafening shots echoed through the chamber.

Hausser collapsed.

“No!” Sutherland shouted. “Stop firing!”

He dropped to check the German’s pulse.

Amid a bloody coughing fit, the war criminal forced out his last words, “Must finish. Read book out loud. Do… it. Or… or… he’ll…”

“Fuck! We needed him alive, God damn it!”

“But the knife…” the officer argued. “Sir, he was—”

As if in the throes of an earthquake’s seismic wave, the chamber rumbled. A deep, booming voice intoned in an unknown language, “Hasturyar nglui uh’e tharanak li’hee tharod.”

Cracks split across the walls like lighting. Dust sifted down as the house above them groaned. For the first time in his long career, Sutherland didn’t know how to instruct his men. He saw the wild panic in their faces, and was certain his looked the same. Any blind hope he held in regaining control, in helping the team, fell prey to the unthinkable.

The voice spoke again, but this time it had a source. Knocking the offerings—her own flesh and organs—to the floor, the corpse sat up and stepped down from the altar. “Kn’aoth ee grah’nnyth sgn’wahl!”

Her empty eye sockets glared at the officers. She raised a finger to them and one by one, they suffered. They screamed—a high pitched, unnatural scream beyond the agony he’d heard from any wounded soldier in Vietnam. Blood poured from their eyes, filling their goggles, and by the time they brought their hands up to their faces the blood and viscous fluids rained down from under their helmets.

One after another, his men died; none made it more than a few feet.

The corpse stepped close to the Captain, her empty sockets now aimed at him. He tried to speak, but the air grew dense in his throat, constricting his lungs like icy water. A searing light flashed in his eyes and burned through the synapses of his mind—his brain afire with a torrent of whispering voices and ritual scriptures and symbols.

Sutherland felt something wet running from his ears, from the corners of his eyes, down his throat. He could feel the force and vibration of his own screams, but only heard the painful whirlwind of voices as they converged into one. The booming voice consumed his senses. It spoke in the same archaic language, but now, somehow, he understood.

“Rhagyth ekn—but you, I will keep. Go wreak chaos upon the mortals; announce my arrival. Announce extinction.”

A sudden wave of numbness consumed his head and flowed down throughout his body. The burning pain was gone, but something else took residence in its place. Like an itch, it nagged at him—a prickling thought, that told him to act.

It had to be scratched.

Sutherland lifted his rifle and fired a round into the woman’s skull and her corpse dropped to the floor. The itch cooled for a moment, but came back stronger. It dug at his psyche like a necrotic rash eating away his sanity. It pushed him, urged him to do as commanded, and to start with the rest of his team.

He looked down at the rifle in his hand. “No. I—”

“Go!” The voice shook the room, further cracking the foundation, and exacerbating the urge in his mind.

It had to be scratched.

The Captain raised his rifle under his chin, “Do it yourself!”

He pulled the trigger and crumpled to the floor. Blood and pulp trickled out of his helmet. Dead eyes stared at the wall.

His hand twitched.

Then, he pushed himself up off the floor, grabbed the nearest rifle, and slapped a fresh magazine into place.

“Ph’ngu hlrigh”

        — translation: “My pleasure.”

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

Everyone’s A Victim

Smelling salts woke her. Despite the thick fabric covering her head, the ammonia burned strong in her sinuses. It was a smell she knew well; she used it on a regular basis. Her first attempts to move failed. She was bound with her wrists restrained behind her. An overhead light provided little more than a shadowy figure through the hood.

“Welcome back, Ms. Kline.” The voice of a long-time smoker rasped.

The woman struggled against her bonds, nearly capsizing the chair.

“I suggest you settle down a bit,” he said. “Otherwise, I may be forced to do something I wasn’t planning on.”

“What is this?” she shouted back. “Let me go!”

She watched as a thick hand reached out to her and ripped the pillowcase from her head. She winced and turned away from the brighter light. After a moment of blinking, she whirled back around, flinging a verbal assault as she turned, “Fuck you, you so—”

She fell silent.

The sight of him caught her off guard. A middle-aged, obese man stood before her wearing nothing but off-white briefs and rubber boots. The random patchwork of hair on his body and chin glistened with sweat. His mouth rested in a subtle smile, but his eyes glared at her with a palpable intensity.

When she tore her eyes away, she realized she was without clothes as well. Naked and bound, she was sitting in a small space with masonry walls that reminded her of the little coal closet in her grandfather’s basement. This one, however, was lined by a collage of pornography clippings.

“Can you feel how special this place is?” he asked.

She stared at him in silence.

“Here, I can make people see me. Out there, you looked right through me as if I were a ghost. But here, in here, I get all the attention.”

The man stepped closer and caressed her cheek. He let his chubby fingers slide along her skin, all the way down her torso as he watched her. She gave no response, only continued her emotionless stare.

“You know, most women I bring here weep incessantly or pull away from my touch.” He stepped back and gestured to a small table against the wall. Its surface held an array of grimy tools. “That is, until I break them.”

Still no reaction came from the bound woman.

His arrogant smile faded. With all playfulness gone, he snatched up a paring knife and stepped toward her again, this time leaning close; face to face.

“This is the only place on Earth where Heaven and Hell coexists. Your body and your pain will bring me rapture, while no amount of pleading or bargaining will exclude you from this Hell!”

He pressed the blade against her shoulder until it broke the skin with a subtle pop. Blood beaded on the surface. Still, she gave no reaction.

He brought the knife between them, showing it to her, shaking it in front of her face. “Tonight we will share lots of pain. You will not hold silent for long!”

In a swift motion that he only saw as a blur in his periphery, the woman brought her arms around and shoved his knife wielding hand upward. The blade pierced the underside of his chin and he tumbled back against the wall. Before his body settled to the floor she ripped the knife out of him and cut her ankle bonds.

She stood over him, untangling the remaining rope from her wrists while watching him try to figure out what just took place.

“You know, you had me going at first.” She said in a calm tone. “I thought the cops finally caught up to me.”

“How?” he asked with blood gurgling in his throat.

“Learn your knots better… and use thinner rope.” She said, tossing the scraps at him. “As much as it pains me to say this, we’re a lot alike, you and me. Except, I like to play the victim until all the dark desires come out. It’s so much fun to use their interests against them.”

“W-well,” the fat man gurgled, “maybe we could—”

“No, no,” she said laughing. “No amount of pleading or bargaining will get you out of this. Heaven and Hell will still happen, just not the way you had planned.”

She picked up the tiny packet of smelling salts and inhaled deeply.

“Goddamn, that gets me fired up! I’ll save the rest for you, though; you’re going to need it.”

With a smile, she grabbed the utility saw off of the table and went to work.

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

Snipe Hunt

Austin gave a nervous chuckle as he looked back and forth between his fellow Scouts’ faces, searching for a sign that this was just a stupid joke. The two older kids held his stare, unblinking.

“You’re kidding, right?” Austin finally said.

“No way. They’re real,” Eddy replied. “Nasty little things too.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. You never heard the tale about the slaughtered troop in these very woods, thirty years ago? A kid by the name of George or Gerald was the only survivor. They found him covered in blood and ranting about wild animals. His hand was ripped off. They chalked it all up to wolves, but we know better.”

“So… if they’re dangerous, why are we going to hunt for one?”

“It’s a test of courage that all Newbies have to take,” Eddy answered.

Austin’s stomach fluttered. Again, he waited for a punch line.

Eddy shook his head. “The Newbie’s too scared.”

Things haven’t been easy for Austin. His poor eyesight forced him into a comically large set of glasses since the start of grade school. Friends were hard to come by and becoming a welcomed member of any group was a pipe-dream. But here, with the Boy Scouts, he might have a chance. Eddy and Kyle were the alphas of the troop and if he could gain their acceptance, he’d be in. Austin ignored the usual warning signs that flashed in his brain, come on nerd, man up for once.

“No way,” he said firmly. “Count me in.”

“Good.” Eddy’s smile widened to Grinch-like proportions, and then he laid out the plan. “Alright, grab your flashlight and your tent bag. We’re going to head out past the latrine and away from the main trail. Kyle will take lead and I’ll watch our backs. You be ready with the bag. Got it?”

“We’re going to follow the tracks. If we find a Snipe, be quick and quiet. Sneak up behind it and get the bag over ‘em fast.”

Austin nodded, leaning harder on his false front of courage.

“So,” he asked in an overly casual tone. “What are we looking for exactly?”

“Um, they’re… small, up to your waist, maybe.” Kyle said.

“But, if they see you, they turn strong and angry. Watch out for their claws.” Eddy said. “If you see a pair of glowing eyes in the dark, it’s already too late. Got it?”

Austin nodded, worried his voice would betray his fading confidence.

“Good. Go get your gear and meet us behind the shitter.”

***

The forest floor lay hidden beneath three-inches of snowfall. The wet, dense snow made for prime animal tracking conditions, recording any goings-on with the sensitivity of a Richter scale. Solid cloud cover, however—a residual of the morning’s storm—offered little light for searching. Visibility was restricted to the sweep of their Walmart issue flashlights.

They walked for nearly half an hour before Kyle pointed out the first set of prints. He whispered back to the other boys to come look. Austin knelt down, pulled off his mittens, and inspected the imprint, following the shallow indents with his fingers. It was almost avian in shape with two toes and an elongated heel.

They’re real! The alarms blared against his senses again, too loud to ignore this time.

Austin looked over his shoulder, hoping he’d see fear in their faces as well, but Eddy just gave a calm nod. “Keep moving.”

They followed the prints, marching through the forest, weaving around barren trees. The distance between the three boys grew. Austin’s heart pounded; he could feel the thumping in his throat. Each print they passed heightened his desperation; he couldn’t think of a way to end this without seeming like a coward.

Austin clumped along, with no other sound but the soft crunching of snow under their feet. This is stupid! Why did I let them talk me into this?

An unexpected object entered his vision. Austin stared down at a glove resting on the snow. He crouched to pick it up but stopped when he noticed the dark circles. Despite the haze of his weak flashlight, Austin was convinced it was blood.

He jolted to his feet and whipped his light around, searching for the other two Scouts. He saw nothing but the cold skeletal remains of a once lush forest. Listening, he only heard his own panicked breathing.

“Guys?” Austin called out. “Kyle? Eddy?”

No answer.

Fear took over. He jerked the light erratically, searching the surrounding trees for a blood-thirsty creature. He felt eyes on him, watching his every move.

He looked down at the tracks and started to run. His feet churned, cold air burned in his lungs and the cloud of his exhalation puffed in his face. He didn’t get far before something caught his foot and he hit the ground hard.

Austin flailed in the snow, turned quickly expecting to see a Snipe leaping toward his face, but he was alone. A tree root poked up out of the snow near his boot, offering a brief moment of relief, but his sense of danger still urged him onward. He turned back, preparing to push himself up into a run when he noticed a reflection in his periphery. Terrified it was the eyes of a beast, he jerked the flashlight back. The beam illuminated a small pile of torn ketchup packets partially uncovered by his scrambling movements in the snow.

It took a few seconds for Austin to comprehend what they were and only a few seconds more to figure out their significance. His fear burned away to nothing in the growing blaze of his anger.

Austin jumped to his feet, shouting, “It’s not funny, you… you… Assholes! Get out here. Eddy! Kyle!”

The two scouts stepped out from behind their trees, laughing. Kyle held out a gloveless hand with three fingers extended to show how the animal prints were made. “Oh, man, we got you good!”

“You turned whiter than the snow when you saw that glove,” Eddy added.

“I bet you pissed in your tighty-whities, huh?”

The hot pressure of anger and embarrassment exploded from Austin in a loud battle cry. He used the only weapon he had, packed snow. Austin launched snowballs at them as hard and as fast as he could. Eddy and Kyle ducked out of harm’s way, still chuckling.

After several attempts, Austin stopped to catch his breath. All projectiles had sailed uselessly to the ground except for one close call that struck the tree behind Kyle’s head. The boys laughed, pointing at the snowballs in the frost behind them, and slapping the tree where the lone hit still powdered the bark. They reenacted all the missed throws in a dancing mimicry that heightened their humor and sent them gasping for air.

Austin seethed as they made a fool of him. He clenched his fists and shifted his weight to take a run at them, but the sudden appearance of two lights stole his motivation.

They flickered into being like a dying lamp but in reverse. Then Austin realized the lights were too high off the ground and too steady for approaching flashlights in the hands of other Scouts. Austin glanced at Eddy and Kyle to see if this was somehow part of their plan, but the boys were still calming down from their hysterics, completely self-absorbed.

The lights began to move and blink in unison. Austin wanted to run, to choose flight over fight, but fear rooted him to the spot. The glowing orbs moved down the tree like neon sap while the surrounding bark unfurled into wiry limbs. A high-pitched whine, like tree tops rubbing in the breeze, finally caught the older boys’ attention. They turned around, eyes wide, as the creature landed in a puff of snow behind them.

Its back was dark, covered in coarse bark-like skin. The two lights Austin had seen were a pair of glowing eyes set into the shoulder blades of its lissome form. White crystals from the snowball still glistened between those glaring eyes. Four clawed hands flexed as the creature turned to face its attackers.

It stood on two feet that matched their pretend pattern in the snow. The front flesh of the skeletal creature was smooth and stark white, like the scales of an albino snake, but the boys couldn’t see anything beyond the gnarled head. Four more glowing eyes stared up at them from a heavy brow, and below that, a snarling mouth of jagged teeth waited impatiently for something or someone to gnaw. The noise it produced—a growl that clicked more than it rumbled—broke the silence of their held breaths.

Austin’s hands trembled violently, and despite the strobe effect this had on the scene’s illumination, he could see the snow beneath his fellow scouts steam and melt. The creature looked to be sniffing the air with the pink fleshy appendages ringing its snout—quivering, identifying.

The odor of human urine hit the animal’s senses and it reeled back, shaking its head, swatting at the offensive pheromones.

Eddy, trying to make sense of the nightmare he saw before him, could only manage a single, stuttered word. “Sn-sn-ssniiipe.”

With a roar, the creature pounced on him. Kyle, close to the action, fell backward into the snow. He crab crawled a few feet away from the feeding frenzy, before he scrambled to his feet and took off through the woods.

Austin watched in horror as the creature tore his fellow scout apart. Blood, gore, and down feathers splattered the pristine snow like a grotesque angel. Austin’s mind screamed for his body to flee but he couldn’t. The flashlight felt heavy and his hands had gone numb. He thought about what might happen if he let it fall – then he noticed the other lights.

All the surrounding trees were now adorned with their own set of white-glowing eyes. The tree bark all around them began to crawl. The forest came alive with slithering Snipes and clicking growls. Austin squeezed his eyes shut as dozens of creatures sped past him in pursuit of the escaping prey.

Moments passed and distant screams told of more victims. Austin knew they had found the campsite. There were too many screams followed by too much silence. He wondered if he was the only one left.

With no recent sign or sound of them, Austin decided to find a way out. Pivoting on his heel, he turned slowly—his held breath burning cold in his chest and his eyes darting around for movement in the trees.

A soft clicking noise in his ear seized everything. He couldn’t stop trembling. He couldn’t blink. With a blast of warm breath on his neck, the creature exhaled and stepped around him, all the while sniffing the air as it moved into view.

Austin stood face to face with the Snipe. It tilted its head as the star-shaped nose worked to confirm what its ineffective eyes could not comprehend. Then, more appeared—wandering in for a closer view. The first one spoke to the others in a series of shrills and clicks.

It was clear what Austin had to do.

He remembered the story his Uncle Gerard told the kids several years back after too many drinks on Halloween. He claimed his mutilated hand was the only reason he was still alive. He said it was a message. He also rattled on about little demons, and how he was the last one, but it never made sense until now. Uncle Gerard was the messenger and his left hand was the warning. The Snipes had ripped off the index finger and pinky, leaving behind their virtual footprint as a symbol of territory—a warning for others to see and fear.

Austin removed his mittens and held out his left hand.

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

Life In The Pit

I stood among chaos.

Bodies swarmed in all directions, screaming. My heart thumped, pounding erratically as if desperately trying to catch its breath. The mêlée—a whirlwind of life and death—churned around me. My clothes were spattered in mingled sweat and grime. The pit was terrifying.

I fought against the swell of sanity-breaking panic every single time I stepped into the pit and faced the sea of aggressors. It always felt like one against a thousand. It was hell. It was my job.

I enriched or ruined lives on a daily basis, my own included. As a floor trader for the New York Stock Exchange, I battled the greedy horde for a greater share of the same pool of wealth. Think of it as planned chaos brought forth by a den of thieves who were jockeyed by self-made Gods. No good would come from it and failure was never an option.

Life in the pit was intense. It was a constant physical and mental brawl. There were a few times where I felt like I was drowning in the crowd of jostling bodies, but I kept my head above water—for six years now—by moving, staying fluid, and working hard. Any moment not spent in the rough bump-and-grind of the fray, I would frantically scour through reports, analytics, predictions, news; praying for a tip that would offer the upper hand.

I can’t remember a day without barbed wired stress raking through my veins. I fear soon, either the thread clinging to my sanity will snap or a swollen blood vessel in my brain will rupture and drop me like a sack of wet concrete; just one more failed investment, one missed booming trend, or one more raw deal would be enough.

My last backfired barter came from Bryce ‘Midas’ Wentworth. You can guess why people called him that. He’d only worked the floor for eight months and was already the Trader of the Year frontrunner, earning the status through blind luck in cheap investments or twisted facts to saddle other traders with collapsing deals. He sabotaged my success on multiple occasions, each time punctuating the stolen deal with a toothy grin through the throng.

Just this morning, as I stood at the edge of the pit waiting for the bell to ring, he bumped past me, spilling coffee all over my shirt, flashing that grin.

“Pardon me,” he said, smiling. “But, I’m a busy man.”

The sight of him chilled my blood to a slow-moving slush. The hot beverage sizzled against my flesh; my pulse rising like hot mercury.

When the bell rang, it snapped my attention back to the pit.

Traders swarmed the floor, shouting and waiving paper slips at each other, and I relaxed my white-knuckle grip on the pen in my pocket.

Watching the pandemonium for a moment, I enjoyed a deep breath. For the first time, I felt calm and in control—comfortable in the chaos. Who knew that an old method, a simple decision, would set me free. I brandished a smile of my own and joined the dense crowd, weaving my way to the middle.

Wentworth doesn’t know that I served time in lock down before serving time in the pit. On the inside, we handled blatant disrespect a little differently. He’s gonna learn all about it. And, this time, I won’t even have to carve up a perfectly good toothbrush.

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2014 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

Anti-Wish

The flames swayed in the light breeze of the ceiling fan. Still, they burned strong and bright. To Dustin they were scorching eyes glaring at him straight out of Hell, all ten of them. Beads of red wax rolled down the candles and pooled like blood on the iced surface below.

He wanted nothing more than to forget his birthday altogether.

His family would have obliged him, but not this year. It was an even numbered year—a check year. The celebration was more for them than for him.

Dustin was the youngest of three boys in a family bonded tight to their kin. The problem was Dustin wasn’t kin. He was adopted. Orphaned as an infant, he never knew his parents. Supposedly, they were killed in a botched break in, but the details, as told to Dustin, were always watered down or vague.

The Thompsons, neighbors to his parents at the time, offered to take him in. The justice system granted their request since no other relatives were known and there was an existing connection between the families. The court also awarded the Thompsons’ rights to Dustin’s inheritance, doled out in biennial support checks; the same frequency with which they chose to celebrate his birthday.

“Better get them all, Dusty.” Tucker said and punched Dustin in the ribs. Tucker was the younger of his two foster brothers, but still five years his senior. The brothers both displayed the Ginger linage that dominated the Thompson bloodline—fiery red hair, freckles, pale skin, and a lean but strong frame that matched well with their innate aggression.

The unexpected blow sent a dull burning pain through Dustin’s chest, shortening his breath. He winced as much from the nickname as the punch. He hated that name. The foster brothers dubbed him Dusty because his bedroom was nothing more than a mattress tossed in the middle of the dirt floor basement. At least he didn’t have to sleep down there tonight. Every two years, after his birthday dinner, Dustin was allowed to spend the night in his ‘for-show’ bedroom. It was a small room with minimalistic décor for guests, unless Child Services stopped by to check on Dustin, then a few posters, books, and toys were sprinkled around.

“Yeah,” Barney added, giving Dustin a punch of his own. “Blow hard or take the curse.”

Dustin tried to ignore their taunts like usual, but this time their jibes hit a weak spot. He’d been dreading this moment ever since they told him about the curse on Tucker’s birthday.

 ***

— Four Months Earlier (Tucker’s Birthday) —

“What are you waiting for, Tuck? Worried you’ll miss a few?” Barney said, laughing.

“Shut up, asshole. I’m just thinking of what to wish for, is all.”

A moment later, Tucker sucked down a deep breath and exhaled across the cake. The candles went out one by one. The teen’s lungs hit empty as the 15th flame flickered. In that moment, with the lone candle still fighting to stay aflame, his eyes widened. Everyone stared, motionless and silent. It fluttered, clinging to life, but ultimately extinguished in a puff of smoke.

Tucker finally drew a new breath.

“Ha! Nice one.” Barney congratulated his brother with a slap on the back.

Dustin looked at them, his brow creased by confusion, “Why were you so worried about that last candle?”

“I wasn’t worried, you moron.” Tucker shouted.

“What?” Barney turned his attention to Dustin. “You don’t know about the Anti-Wish?”

Mr. Thompson shook his head and smiled as he went about cutting the cake.

Tucker hopped off the chair to join in the fun.

“When the Birthday boy or girl doesn’t blow out all the candles in one breath, they get the Candle-Curse.”

“And the remaining flames act as a doorway from Hell where demons escape to exact their dark deeds upon the failed candle blower,” Barney explained, speaking in a campfire spook-story voice.

“Demons?” Dustin asked incredulously.

“The demons take the wish, twist it into a curse, and make it come true.”

Dustin watched the brothers for a moment, looking for a tell, a punch line.

“Yeah right, whatever.”

Barney lowered his gaze. “We’re serious. What do you think caused Jonnie Schnelling to get hit by a school bus last year? And, what about Mr. Beakman’s science class explosion that melted off half his face? That had to be the Anti-Wish.”

“Jacqueline next door, she blew out her knee just walking down the street.” Tucker added. “I saw her miss some candles at her birthday party the week before. Everyone knows she wished for faster legs. She was tired of losing track trophies to her sister, Tonya.”

“I don’t blame her for being jealous; Tonya’s hot—ripe for the picking. I’d love to have a shot at her cherry. I bet she’s dying to get dirty.” Barney sucked his teeth as he groped himself.

Mrs. Thompson shook her head. “Alright, settle down boys.”

“Don’t talk about her like that.” Dustin said, scowling.

Tucker laughed. “Awe, Dusty’s got a hard-on for her.”

“Shut up!” Dustin shouted back.

Their mother stood up. “Dustin, stop fighting with your brothers. I’m tired of hearing you talk to your older brothers that way.” She handed a piece of cake to everyone but Dustin and made a show of dropping his slice in the trash. “Now wash your mouth out with soap and go to bed.”

Dustin bit his lip and left the table.

“Your birthday’s coming up soon,” Barney called after him. “Better practice blowing out candles or you might get cursed.”

 ***

— The Present (Dustin’s Birthday) —

Dustin watched the flames dance. In the darkness of the dining room, the candles cast a horrid glow on the faces of his foster family, exaggerating their expressions into psychotic masks. They were all grinning as they watched him, but not all for the same reasons. The boys were clearly excited at the chance to see him get the curse, and Dustin knew the mother and father were happy that his birthday meant the arrival of another check.

But as Dustin hesitated in front of the lit cake, some of the smirks fell to impatience and annoyance.

Mr. Thompson sighed and leaned on his elbows.

“Get on with it, will you?” Mrs. Thompson said, rolling her eyes.

Barney tossed his hands over his head. “Geez, just pick something already. Here, let me help you… How about you wish for a pair of balls?”

Everyone laughed.

Dustin closed his eyes and tried to calm the jackhammer in his chest.

“Poor Dusty’s scared.” Tucker hugged him in mock concern.

Dustin ignored him, but he couldn’t push the Candle-Curse lore from his mind. He fought for rational thoughts, to think of a worthwhile wish, but superstition conjured visions of demons and fire.

Tucker slapped Dustin on the neck. “Do it!”

Pushing his fears aside long enough, Dustin chose a wish. I wish I could live in peace.

Then, he opened his eyes and took a deep breath.

Ten. It’s only ten candles. I’ll go from left to right at a steady pace, he thought.

Hands gripping the table, Dustin leaned in and blew hard.

The flames writhed and fluttered until succumbing to the force of his breath sweeping across the field of candles, leaving smoking, lifeless towers in his wake.

Almost there, he thought. Just one more.

With the last candle sputtering under Dustin’s exhalation, Tucker jumped up and shouldered him off the chair. The impact with the floor stole what little oxygen he had left.

All eyes were fixated on the candle that refused to die. It burned bright, flame straightening as if proud of its resilience.

The brothers yelled and laughed, jumping around the room like crazed chimpanzees.

“Curse!” Barney shouted, starting a chant. “Curse, curse.”

Tucker joined him. “Curse, curse, curse.”

Mr. and Mrs. Thompson made a meek attempt at stifling their laughter.

Dustin regained his breath and climbed to his knees.

“No – I can’t be cursed!” He said. “You pushed me!”

“One’s still lit… you lose.” Tucker pointed at the candles.

“That’s not fair!” Dustin yelled. His eyes blurred behind a swell of tears. He balled his hands into fists and started swinging, landing cross-blows to Tucker’s chin and left eye before Barney decked him.

Dustin lay sprawled on the floor; seething and bleeding.

“That’s enough.” Mr. Thompson stood up fast, knocking his chair backward. “Get out of my sight,” he ordered and pulled Dustin by his shirt toward the basement door.

“But, I didn’t get any cake.” Dustin pleaded, the fight sucked out of him.

“You’re done. Go to bed, now.”

Tears spilled down his face. “Can I please still spend the night in my show bedroom?”

“Not anymore. Get your ass in the basement before I throw you down the steps.” Mr. Thompson shoved him at the open doorway.

Sniffling back tears as he went, Dustin didn’t look at the brothers. He knew they were smiling and seeing that would make his punishment all the more difficult to bear.

Tucker yelled after him. “You’re mine tomorrow Dusty. Payback’s coming.”

Dustin shambled down the rickety steps to the dirt floor below. Door locks clicked home as he descended. His limbs felt as heavy as his deprived heart.

He padded over to his unframed mattress, flopped down, and cried.

Tears trailed across his arm and dripped to the ground in little muddy splashes. He wept for hours. Muffled sounds of merriment sifted down from above like dust between the floorboards. Eventually, exhaustion took over and he slept.

Dustin dreamt of fire.

A hot and hungry blaze tore through the house. He was upstairs at the table, watching. He stood motionless, petrified by the sight of demons leaping into his world through the flames. His spine froze and he shivered despite the rising heat around him.

The demons had massive, backward-arching horns and slotted yellow eyes. They danced around the house leaving charred hoof prints along the carpets, furniture, and walls. They ripped the place apart, scorching everything in their path. Nothing was left untouched by their long reptilian fingers as they pranced through the rooms in morbid glee.

Dustin heard cries and pleading from down the hall. The creatures’ hooves clunked loudly as they leapt around, tormenting the family. A man’s voice yelled out unintelligible things, his voice high and frantic from agony. Then, the smell hit Dustin like summer grilling on an August breeze—the father was burning. His foster brothers were screaming and their mother wept. In reply, the demons only snorted and continued their twisted game.

The woman’s unanswered pleas turned to shouts of rage. Dustin heard a flurry of activity and the hysterics stopped abruptly.

Dustin’s pounding heart pulsed in his throat. He stood bolted to the spot, waiting for something to change, something to make sense. Then, a soft voice exhaled the words peace now against his ear. He whirled in both mind and body.

Dustin woke.

He found himself in bed, slick with sweat. The musty smell of the dirt basement wafted over him. Dense curtains of darkness hung close. He must have had a nightmare—that horrible dream of fire and demons, of violence and death. He could still sense an echo of the screams in his waking mind. Drawing in a long breath, he sighed. He nearly smiled. It was strange how cold he felt now after the imaginary flames were gone.

Cloff.

Something landed in the dirt. Dustin jerked his head toward the sound and peered into the inky shadows. Too dark, he couldn’t see more than a few inches beyond his mattress.

Cloff.

He strained and squinted. Something moved. It was coming closer.

Cloff.

His body tingled in anticipation. Fear oozed from his pores as his cold sweat returned.

Cloff.

Dustin watched it emerge from the gloom, but wished he hadn’t.

A large figure strode toward his bed. It was similar to the demons of his dream, but this one was bigger. Its legs began as cloven hoofs, stretching and bending upward, changing from oily fur to wet scales. Its torso bulged with muscle and the tumorous anatomy of an unknown creature. Slotted goat eyes glowed yellow from a face riddled with nodes of protruding cartilage. The horns terrified him—long, backward-curving growths, like reverse tusks with deep ridges.

Dustin lost control of his bladder but couldn’t look away.

Bedside, the creature leaned down and smiled in an unnatural display of needled teeth. It reached out a hand, stopping the upturned fist inches from Dustin’s face. Slowly unraveling its fingers, the demon revealed a single candle, standing straight in the palm of its hand.

The grinning creature cocked its head and, with a snap of its fingers, brought the candle to life. “You missed one, Dusty,” it said in a voice dank and rich like crude oil. Then, the demon blew out the flame and cast them in total darkness.

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2014 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

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