Arthur spoke the words over his shoulder as he groped around the table for his glasses. They were hard to miss with their stereotypical thick black frames and even thicker lenses. Cold against his skin, he shivered while fitting them into place. With the heat of his passion fully dissipated, he was quickly reminded of how cold his room could get.
Now able to see, Arthur spotted his clothes strewn on the floor. He threw on the shirt and started working at the buttons. “I hope you had as much fun as I did, wow. That was incredible.”
He was a man of small stature with a voice that followed suit, high and light. The excitement behind his molar-bearing grin nearly pushed that voice to the cracking point.
The young woman lying behind him with frazzled blonde hair, conversely, remained silent.
“I don’t want you thinking this is a normal practice for me. I’m not a serial one-night stand kinda guy. I just felt a connection between us, you know—a genuine spark that demanded exploration.”
He chuckled and turned to face her. “Usually, I try to get to know a woman before, I uh… Well, usually, that doesn’t work either, especially with a beautiful woman like you… and, never as strangers upon the first meeting, like this.”
A near imperceptible sigh escaped her lips.
“Th-that might have come out wrong, what I mean is, now we can take some time to learn more about each other. Would you like that?”
The woman stared blankly at the ceiling, seemingly unconcerned that the sheet was askew, leaving her breast exposed.
Arthur’s smile faltered. He finished dressing—buckling his belt and lacing his shoes—with full attention on her.
“I want to know more about you. I want to learn about the life choices that brought us together. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always believed in natural forces like destiny.”
“Alright. Alright, for example,” he continued, “I couldn’t help but notice the bruises. You’ve clearly had a hard time recently and I really want to know what happened to you that inevitably drove you here, to me.”
The smile, the fuzzy remnants of passion, the patience, all were gone now. Arthur jumped up, bumping into the table as he shouted, “I’m not the one who hurt you, okay? I’m only trying to help you!”
The woman’s head turned away from him.
“Fine, I’ll do this without you.”
He whirled around and grabbed a clipboard off the table behind him. Paging through the information, he read for a few moments, his frustrated breaths the only sounds in the cold room.
“I knew it. An abusive boyfriend did a number on you and left you, hurt and alone.”
Double doors slammed open behind him. Arthur was so startled he nearly dropped the clipboard.
An older man backed into the room pulling a gurney with him.
“You talking to the dead bodies again, Arthur?” He asked, smiling.
“Wha—uh, no. Well, yes. It’s my job to figure out what happened to them, isn’t it?”
“I hate to break it to you, man, but they don’t respond very well.”
“Fuck off, Allan.”
“My pleasure.” He said, laughing as he pushed through the double doors. They swayed in his wake, like half-doors to an old saloon, creating a sound akin to a faint, fading heartbeat.
Arthur pulled the sheet over the blonde’s face and spun around to check out the new arrival. It was a young brunette, with big brown eyes and full lips. He stared for a moment before fishing out her wrist from under the coversheet.
“Well, hello,” he said, kissing the back of her hand. “My name’s Arthur and I couldn’t help but notice a spark between us just now.”
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2014 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
My mask smiles for the camera.
That’s how the world knows me—a chipper façade of dimples and overly-white teeth. Such a bright, appealing shell I wear everyday and it secretly turns my stomach. But I need this job—need the public’s endorsement. So, I wear my mask and perform like a little organ-grinder monkey before the invisible map.
It’s always the same. The same report with only petty variances: sunny and 72º, partly cloudy and 68º, slight chance of showers with a high of 51º. Pure monotony. None of it really matters. Even on the odd occasion when my report is wrong, no one cares and neither do I.
Slowly withering inside, malnourished by a bland life—a cardboard existence—I walk through the motions like a motorized mannequin. The days blur by in a rotating door of meaningless faces and inconsequential small talk. Eat, sleep, report, repeat.
Yet somehow, despite my inner turmoil, they love to watch; love to hear my reports. They trust me, and that’s why I continue to wear this persona of classic Americana: Joe Next-door, Jack Hollywood. I lure them, tugging on the heartstrings of helpless viewers everywhere by exuding handsome warmth and pouring empathy down the camera’s throat. It’s almost too easy.
Can you believe that I get asked to pose for photos and sign autographs? Me—a weatherman, a shell of a human being. What has happened to our society? Why does an ounce of visual familiarity equal respect and adoration? A painted-on smile and gossamer compassion is all that’s needed to cue the public’s allegiance? Pathetic.
Even though I utilize this to my advantage, it still disgusts me. What most call life, disgusts me. This repetitive existence, brings me to the brink of madness.
And yet, once in a long while, I get a rare chance to really live.
When thermals collide and the humidity drops off at just the right time… magic happens. Churning winds of destruction touch down upon humanity, rendering homes to rubble and tossing cars across the county like a giant’s game of back alley dice.
Disaster strikes and I awaken!
Not only with Tornados, but any natural reckoning, from hurricane winds that obliterate beachfront structures, rising waters that wash whole towns into the next state, or earthquakes, tsunamis, and even volcanic eruptions.
Mother Nature’s wrath calls to me, like an ancient language whispering to my soul and lighting the hearth to my corporeal home. I’m compelled to go, to bear witness and experience her intent first hand.
Here, I leverage my job and my “fame” to get exactly what I want.
I visit the tormented scenes all across the nation, showing footage of natural disasters. The sweet music of suffering plays and I dance for them. I report heart-wrenching tales of loss and soul-warming stories of survival. They watch, riveted by my carefully crafted compassion and display of unflappable courage.
The station sees this as devotion to my job. My viewers swoon and can’t get enough, even going as far as to dub me, Disaster Man.
Fools! They’re all slaves to money and fame—clueless to my true calling. But, in falling over themselves to offer me their support, they grant me the one thing I really need: an infallible alibi.
You see, nature’s wrath and I are more than colleagues; we’re kin. The same craving for carnage gnaws on our nerves. The same desire to destroy builds within until it detonates on unsuspecting humanity, without discrimination.
After my reports, when the cameras go dark, I venture out and walk amongst the wreckage again, sometimes even amid the storm’s continuing chaos and I play my part. I spread my wings. I come alive!
Following Nature’s design—blending my work seamlessly with hers—I use the array of tools she provides on those her disaster has missed, those that she left for me.
Oh, how I revel in their torment! Pain and death is a virulent tonic like no other mortal brew, and I drink my fill.
So when you watch my reports of weekly weather and you melt under the charisma of my dazzling smile, just know that I’m eagerly awaiting the chance to live again. Know that when Mother Nature decides to thin the herd that grazes in your town, I’ll be there picking off the weak and doing my real job.
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2014 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
The musty basement hummed with the soft crackle of static. A police band radio purred from a small shelf above the heavily used utility sink. It cast an orange glow across the floor, highlighting an array of long forgotten paint cans and chemical jugs under the rickety wooden stairs.
A middle-aged man, sturdy but pudgy around the middle, stood at the sink listening with a cocked head.
“Quiet day on the scanner, a rare one indeed.”
He tossed a dirty screwdriver into the sink and walked the length of the room. The radio’s orange glow succumbed to darkness as he went, but he didn’t slow or stumble. He knew this room well. Much of his time over the last few years was spent in this basement working the labors of his passion, like he was right now. He approached the edge of the harsh white light pouring down from the fluorescent bulb affixed over his work area. Pausing there, on the fringe—the muddled line between light and dark—he continued speaking.
“Of course,” he said, “It’s probably just the calm before the storm—robberies being planned, atrocities like murder and rape taking place with their victims yet unable to call for help, or witnesses still on their way to their horrific discovery.”
He stepped into the light and over to his tool bench along the wall. With slow, deliberate movements he picked up a pair of slip-joint pliers. He admired them in the glow—their metal edges glinting as they turned between his fingers.
“And that means… no one is coming to save you for quite some time.”
A man bound to a chair before him started to scream again. Like before, the gag and the thick plaster walls absorbed the noise. The captive struggled against his layered binding of duct tape and zip ties, but to no avail. Sweat and blood sprayed out from his flaring nostrils with the hastened rhythm of his breaths.
“Come on now, Robinson. You know that’s a useless waste of energy.”
The captor stepped toward his victim and tapped the man’s metal badge with the pliers. “Speaking of cops wasting energy, shall we discuss what brought us here?”
Officer Robinson ceased fighting and listened.
“Your career was a waste. How many people did you save? How many did you condemn? The scales are tipped too far to the latter, aren’t they? Is that what you call justice?”
No reply came except for the sharp hiss of Robinson’s inhalations.
The man slapped his victim and ripped out the gag. “You might want to join the conversation—you’re on trial here.”
Robinson coughed and filled his lungs. His chest shuttered, his words stumbling free between gasps. “I don’t make the laws. Justice is not always black and white. You know that.”
“Yes. Yes I do. But please, elaborate. Are you claiming that your unjust actions were out of your control?”
“Look, if you let me go now, we’ll work out a deal—forget the whole thing.”
His expression soured from light amusement to rage and he slugged the officer in the jaw. “You didn’t let them go. Those women didn’t get a deal.”
Robinson spat blood and tooth fragments onto the floor. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Did you think I wouldn’t know about them… that I was ignorant? Or, did you just assume I was paid to look the other way like everyone else?”
The cop’s eyes widened. “H-how did you find out?”
He punched Robinson again.
“Lest you forget, I was a cop longer than you. It wasn’t too difficult to follow the fragmented facts of your cover up.”
“Andy. Andy, listen. I was forced to ride along, to help—” Officer Robinson stopped rambling when he noticed his captor moving in with the pliers.
After a few minutes of work, relishing the man’s screams in his ear, William Andrews stepped back and eyed the teeth in his hand. “You really need to brush better… well, at least with the few you’ve got left. And, don’t call me Andy, I hate that.”
Blood dripped from Robinson’s ruined mouth, his chin resting on his chest as he whimpered. While Andrews waited for his captive to regain a talking mood, he walked back to the sink, tossed in the pliers, and washed his hands.
Drying off with a small towel, he leaned against the utility sink.
“Those women didn’t have a choice in what was done to them. You had a choice. More than that, you had a responsibility to serve and protect.”
“They were victims of circumstance,” Robinson said, mumbling, slurring from too much exposed gum and not enough teeth. “Witnesses that had to be silenced.”
“Corruption begets corruption.” Andrews shook his head. “I get it, you guys are the victims, right? You were working within the confines of a corrupt system, trying to build cases, but the money and power decided all. Clean cases got tossed because bribes came down from on high and the political red tape handcuffed you at every turn. You joined the force to make a difference, to help people, but the truth of life was suffocating… the truth that money is power and a great amount of money corrupts greatly. It weighed you down, sucked you in. And, just like quicksand, the more you struggled the deeper you sunk. I get it. I do. It’s exactly why I retired early.”
Robinson lifted his head. Peering through the darkness, he watched his ex-partner with raised brows of hope. They were on common ground—maybe an understanding could be reached.
“But, don’t delude yourself,” Andrews continued. “You always have a choice. I made a choice. I chose to leave the corruption behind and work in my own system. You and your conspirators chose to conform, to alter your sense of morality to fit your environment. You chose to sink.”
The radio’s static hum broke into a flurry of voices trading information.
11-99, Code 3, Citizen reporting officer down at rear of 4217 Oak Valley Road in Glennville.
62 in route, five minutes south.
Severe injuries, no pulse. No witnesses known, body might have been dumped. Medical in route.
Andrews smiled. “Sounds like they just found one of your conspirators. After losing a few teeth himself, Detective Sloan talked quite a bit about you and your adventures together.”
Turning to head back to his project, Andrews noticed something in the orange glow. He walked over to the stairs and picked up a can of Turpentine. Inspecting it, he muttered to himself, “Looks like it was meant to be.”
As Andrews reentered the work area, the tin in his hand flashed under the harsh light. Recognition hit the captive cop as if Andrews slugged him again. He jerked in the chair with wild eyes leaping back and forth between the can and the man holding it.
“Whoa, hang on a minute. Just hear me out, please.”
Andrews gestured with an upturned hand. “Continue.”
“You—You were right.” Robinson said, speaking too fast, his words bumping into each other. “I’m a product of my environment, but I made mistake after mistake, bad choices. But, it began with blackmail. The only choice I had was to play along or lose my job and serve jail time. After the first few incidents, I got numb to right and wrong. Then, taking and covering up became habit. I was wrong. I’m sorry!”
Andrews put down the can. “It takes a real man to admit he’s wrong. I think you’ve made some progress here today.”
In a great shuddering exhale, Robinson sighed.
“But,” Andrews continued. “There’s something you said that’s been bugging me.”
The chair creaked as the bound cop tensed.
“Just a few minutes ago you said those women were simply witnesses that had to be silenced. If that’s true, then why did the real autopsy report show that they were raped and tortured before a sloppy attempt was made to hide their identities through pulling out all their teeth and burning them alive?”
“That’s above and beyond brutality, sadism, a psychopathic lack of compassion. Those are traits bonded to the soul not born of your environment. Of course, there are rare exceptions, such as a crime of passion where emotional trauma trumps morality.”
Andrews produced a utility knife from his pocket and stepped closer to Robinson.
“Here’s a bit of suffocating truth for you: those witnesses you silenced two years ago were my sisters and you’re about to suffer a fate far worse than theirs.”
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2014 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
I blink my eyes, but nothing changes.
A complete, debilitating darkness veils my vision. For several moments, I wait, hoping that my eyes simply need to adjust, but no details emerge from the ink-black void.
I turn, looking for something, anything, and the hair on the back of my head crackles, like coarse sandpaper in motion. Then, my ear makes contact with a cold, hard surface and I realize I’m lying on my back.
Where am I? Is this a dream?
I experience nothing but total darkness in either direction.
Maybe I fell and cracked my skull. That might explain the memory loss and malfunctioning vision.
Though I can feel—feel my chest rise and fall, my eyelids moving, my tongue sticking to the roof of my pasty mouth—I sense no pain; in fact, my entire body tingles as if I’m floating atop ocean waves.
In the process of raising my arm to grope for head wounds, my hand smacks into resistance. I search that surface instead, finding it to be cold and smooth, just like the floor. The overhead barrier resides a mere four or five inches away. I can feel the faint rebound of my rapid breaths, tickling my pores and eyelashes—the exhalations smelling sweet, like fruit, but also a bit stale and skunked.
How long have I been here?
I slide my hands along the overhead plane and it doesn’t take long to reach corners—side walls. I’m enclosed. Trapped. Contained in a box.
Oh, fuck! Is it a coffin?
Maybe I’m dead and this is my purgatory—confined in a world of my own making, crafted by a life riddled with bad choices and ruled by lazy indecision.
I frantically feel for the game-over tattoo, the topographical Y carved into a cadaver’s chest during an autopsy. Yanking up my shirt, I pull through the levels of resistance as buttons pop off. The revealed skin is smooth, uncut.
I’m not dead, but the sigh of relief never comes as my thoughts quickly turn to the next possible explanation:
Oh God, I’m buried alive!
My lungs seize and I can’t breathe, the air suddenly locked away.
The momentary break in exhalation allows a different odor to permeate my senses. It overpowers my olfactory system with the rank properties of sour milk, raw hamburger, and fecal matter drizzled with corn syrup. It’s an unmistakable aroma; one that even an inexperienced person like me can instantly identify… death.
Hot bile surges up my throat and is only held at bay by my desperate need to breathe. In a convulsion, I cough out the old and choke down the new. Gasping, sweating, and on the verge of tears, my frantic hands stumble onto something other than the walls or myself.
The object isn’t exactly solid… or dry. My fingers explore the round surface sitting to my left: brittle fibers, sticky fluid, and a spongy covering that slid around under my inquiring touch.
This time the rising bile is unhindered and I vomit. The warm acidic chow flows over my shoulder—most likely splattering the rotting corpse next to me. The putrid odors swirling around my nose threaten to keep my stomach in a perpetual state of upheaval, a tailspin of sorts in which I’m the pilot watching helplessly as death grows nearer with every rotation. Thankfully, my stomach hits Empty after two retched sessions.
My thoughts begin to swirl again as I battle a few lingering dry heaves. Even the most moronic funeral homes in the country, the ones that mislabel mausoleums or bury coffins before their viewings, couldn’t mistakenly shove two bodies into one casket, especially when one has been dead for quite some time. No, someone put me here… intentional entombment, but, why?
Panic strikes. Casting aside all previous hindrances—the thick stench, a convulsing stomach, seized lungs in terror—my breaths pull hard and fast, surpassing the pace of my lurching heartbeat.
Why would someone do this to me?
“I’m a nobody,” I sob, moaning the words to myself in the dark. “I don’t know anything! Why am I here? WHY?!”
The plea echoed painfully around my head like a vehement swarm of wasps. When the ache subsided with the last reverberations, cold silence poured in, bringing attention to sounds I hadn’t noticed before. I held still, listening.
I could decipher a faint mechanical whirring, a droning that ebbed and flowed in quiet waves. And, there’s another sound, too. It’s intermittent… a faint, single bell like the victory chime of a distant carnival game.
If I can hear these things, whatever they are, then maybe I’m not buried deep.
A surge of confidence urges me to action. I feel the surfaces of my confines again, but this time searching with greater care and determination. If there’s a way in, there’ll be a way out.
Eventually, I have a discovery. The sensitive pads of my fingertips detect a line. Directly above my face, there’s a tight seam in the otherwise smooth metal. I don’t know what type of coffin would feature a center seam running the length of the vessel, but I can’t think of one that would have a flat metal lid, either, and there’s no time to contemplate the limits of my knowledge base.
I finger the center line, trying to find a grip on the edge, but it’s too fine, too smooth. Fumbling and growing frantic, I keep at it. Sweat beads on my face, I can feel the prickling heat tickling my pores. At last, I gain purchase; a sliver of fingernail jammed into the seam. Surprised at the sudden change, I pause, forcing my heavy breathing down to an inadequate hiss like that of an officer disarming a bomb. Slowly, I wedge more fingernails into the tiny crack—eight in all. Then I start to pull.
At first, there was mounting pressure, but that quickly escalated into sharp pain. The resistance is too much. I stop to think, to rest.
Could I do this? Could I pull it open enough to get fingertips in there before…
Something stirred in the darkness.
Ice crystals bloom inside my skull and my eyes bulge, still seeing nothing. My ears twitch and tingle in wait of a sound. Then a sound came.
A muffled string of words calling from the void, too distorted to comprehend despite their utterance so close to my ear. My entire body jerks. Startled and instantly terrified, I start screaming. My shrieks, too loud in the confined space, shoot spikes through my eardrums, but that pain is overshadowed by the agony coming from my fingers as I pull at the seam. I feel my nails tear free as a paper-thin beam of light slices into my eyes.
The gap widens, bathing me in blinding light.
I feel myself shaking.
Something has my shoulders, gripping me.
A sharp slap across my cheek.
My eyes adjust and two elderly faces gaze back at me.
“What the Hell’s a matter with you?” The gruff voice came from a burly old man.
“Yeah, look at his eyes,” the woman mumbled. “They’re dilated.”
“Hey,” the old man said, shaking me again. “You’ve been freaking out in the elevator. Poor Charlene, here, nearly had a heart attack when you started screaming in her face on the way up.”
I look around, blinking hard, and finally begin to comprehend the situation. Mr. Koplouski, my landlord, stood in the hall with 83 year-old Charlene Eldelman at his side. At the end of the hall, behind them, the Sunday morning sun blazed in through the window. Glancing down I see my favorite clubbing clothes, a blue patterned button-down shirt and black leather pants. I also see my undamaged hands, fingernails and all.
That’s the last time I partake in the free sugar-cube handouts.
“Sorry, Sir. It, uh, won’t happen again.”
“It better not, or I’ll rent your apartment to someone else! Now, go home and lay off the goddamn drugs, will ya.”
“Yes, Sir, Mr. Koplouski. Sorry.”
I shuffle past them and down the hall toward my apartment. The floor rippling beneath me with each step and every door started oozing blood from the blinking peep-holes.
Fuck, I gotta get to bed!
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2013 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
Trent closed the door and set his brief case down on the console table. He tossed his keys at the wooden bowl like always, but this time they hit the rim and tumbled to the floor, taking the artisan bowl with them. The Aboriginal keepsake from his honeymoon in Australia cracked against the entryway’s stone flooring.
“God Damnit.” He said, cursing, fanning the fires of his already considerable frustration.
Poor Beth’ll be so disappointed! And, wait until she hears that I have to cancel our family backyard camp out. Worst week ever, he thought, grinding his teeth.
For the last five days, Trent’s boss had chastised him in front of his peers over the most menial issues. Issues that were recently considered required procedures. To make matters worse, deadlines were rapidly approaching and his clients weren’t cooperating—another working weekend away from his kids.
As he bent down to pick up the fallen items, his throbbing headache plumed into a full-blown migraine. With flashing light spotting his vision, he staggered and, losing balance, missed the key ring on his first attempt. He paused on one knee, the pain stabbing through his temples cutting deeper, burning hotter. Trent gritted his teeth and weathered the storm. After the intensity spiked, the pain dropped away just as fast.
He paused, processing a few deep breaths—one of them a big sigh of relief—before moving on. He picked up the bowl and keys and climbed to his feet.
A shriek shattered the air.
Arctic spiders of fear crawled up his spine and nested at the base of his skull. His body moved fluid and fast. He dropped the items onto the table as his legs propelled him down the hall.
Trent burst into the room. He found his wife, Beth, kneeling at the edge of the tub, tears rolling down her flushed cheeks, while their two-year-old daughter floated, pale and lifeless in the bath.
“Ahh—” Trent uttered and lunged forward to pull their girl from the water. He wrapped a hand around the toddler’s neck, checking for a pulse.
“Put her down,” his wife moaned, holding out a trembling hand. Crying had made her look like a tragic clown with smeared mascara lines. Her lips quivered. She opened her mouth to speak again, but the thick emotion bubbling in her throat cut it short, “I—”
Zack, their four-year-old, sat at the other end of the bathtub, wailing. His plump face turning more red with each outcry.
“What happened?” Trent asked. He stared at Beth through a haze of forming tears, his mouth hanging open.
She didn’t respond.
“Beth, what happened?!”
“I… I couldn’t stop myself,” she said, mumbling as if trying to explain it to herself.
“Wha— You did this?” Trent squinted at her. He couldn’t have heard her correctly! No, it had to be an accident.
He looked down at the little girl in his arms, cold, limp, peaceful. The sweet, clean smell of baby shampoo still strong on her wet hair. Anguish swelled in Trent’s sinuses, spreading—gaining ground with hot needled claws—and threatening to burst out of him. He bit hard on his trembling lower lip and managed to keep it all contained, for now.
Gently placing the little corpse on the floor, he swaddled the girl in a towel and kissed her forehead. Then in a green blur, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1.
“I had to do it,” Beth said with a voice made eerie by its sudden serenity.
Trent, already providing details to the operator, turned to look at his wife.
His body went numb and the phone slid from his fingers, hitting the hard tile in a tiny explosion of plastic and glass. It was more the expression on her upturned face than her words that stalled his brain.
Beth was smiling at him. Smiling!
Through her lunatic grin, a litany of prayers spewed forth in an impossible array of voices. Their harsh consonants ricocheted off the walls, adding sharp edges to the bombardment on Trent’s sanity.
His legs buckled and he dropped to his knees.
Eye to eye with his troubled wife, he watched in disbelief as her grin contorted with the rest of her face into a mask of pure rage. Her skin seemed to prune and wither before him, and her eyes clouded over like a steamed mirror. She spat and cursed at him.
“Your blood is cursed,” she shouted. “Your spawn must die!”
“Die! Die! Die!”
“Beth.” Trent, gently holding her head, pleaded with her. “Honey, come back to me. You’re sick, having a…a spell or something. We’ll get you some help.”
The woman’s virulent expression fell away at once, leaving a pale, terrified shell in its place. “I don’t know what’s happening. That wasn’t me. I wasn’t in control.”
“We’ll find the problem and get it treated.”
“Oh, God!” she sobbed. “My little girl is dead. Our baby’s gone!”
“Let’s just take care of Zack, and wait for—”
Beth shrieked and bent over, clutching at her head as if something was gnawing on her brain. She shifted back to the venomous woman ruined by hate-etched lines and the milky eyes of morgue residents.
“Beth!” Trent shouted, shaking her by the shoulders.
She blinked and the demonic change left as quickly as it came.
“Trent, it’s going to happen again,” she said, her posture slumping between his grip. She sat for a moment, victimized and deflated before a realization took over. She jolted forward, clutched at his work shirt.
“You have to stop me!”
“What?” He said, startled. “Help is on the way.”
“No, stop me before I do it again. You’re not safe, Zack’s not safe.”
“The police will—”
Beth twitched, corroding again into an evil form. She jerked away from Trent, grabbed the boy, both of them screaming—one in terror, the other in hate—and forced the child under water.
“No!” Trent cried out. He clutched at her, but an unexpected strength pulsed through her sylphlike body as if she was cemented in place. He pulled and pleaded, but she continued to drown their son.
“Stop! Please!” he begged, tugging feebly at her arms as tears dripped from his stubbled chin.
She laughed—cackling like a fairytale witch.
Unable to pull his child to safety or break his wife’s hold, Trent did the only thing he could. He locked his arms around her neck and started to squeeze.
“Don’t make me do this!” he said, sobbing in her ear.
The monster controlling his true love, his soul mate, only laughed again.
“Beth. You have to stop. You’re killing him!” Trent shouted amid the frothy sounds of thrashing water.
Her expression changed enough for Trent to sense his wife in there. Despite the continued physical struggle, Beth’s voice rang out. “Do it. Stop me. Save our child.”
“Do it!” she screamed in a banshee’s wail that echoed painfully in the small room.
With one quick jerk, he pivoted and snapped her neck. She collapsed to the cold tile floor. Trent moved fast, pulling the boy out of the tub and laying him out on the mat.
Sirens howled in the distance.
The boy wasn’t breathing. There was no heartbeat.
Trent began CPR.
A moment later the Police rushed in the front door and down the hall toward them, guns drawn.
“Back away from the child, now!” The lead officer yelled.
Without stopping, Trent responded. “He’s dying, I’m trying to—”
The gunshot was deafening.
Trent was thrown backward, his head slamming against the hard porcelain tub as he fell. The hole in his shoulder burned with an intense fire that sent rivulets of electric pain throughout his chest.
The cops rushed in and forced his wrists into handcuffs. Trent lifted his head to plead for help in resuscitating his son but paused, noticing Zack was conscious, coughing and crying as an EMT tended to him.
His boy was going to be okay.
A sigh of relief filled his lungs but died there—it clung, burning, unreleased, as the sights Trent now witnessed struck a chord of confusion and utter disruption within.
His son was clothed and dry. How could that be? Was this an illusion? Were his eyes betraying him?
It all seeming like a bad dream, but the pain was real. The cold steel of the handcuffs was real. The carpet, not title, beneath him felt real. Things were suddenly different from what he previously knew. His reality had shifted. Maybe the pain had cleared his head, sharpening his attention like a splash of ice water to the face.
His son was not a child pulled from bath water, dripping and cold. The boy looked flushed in the face and was still wearing his school clothes. And yet, Trent could distinctly remember the feel of his child’s clammy skin when he began CPR.
What’s going on? Trent wondered amid the torrent of confusion. His mind whirled and he struggled against the urge to vomit. Two conflicting streams of memories battled for dominance. As each quivering breath cycled through him, his mind stabilized with one set of memories taking hold as the vivid truth. Trent relived the moments, seeing them for the first time, as they cycled past his mind’s eye.
He hadn’t been working at chest compressions to save Zack’s life a moment ago. He’d worked to take the boy’s life—squeezing it out of him with an unforgiving grip around his little neck. But, why? He couldn’t believe it, but he saw that it happened. He could recall the way his son’s little hands feebly gripped at his as he clenched harder and harder. And the haunting sight of Zack’s bulging eyes looking back at him in terror and confusion and pain. How are these memories possible?
Why would he try to kill his only remaining son after his wife had… Beth! Her body lay on the floor at a distinctly different angle than her head—the bulging skin of her neck already blooming with blotches of purple.
Trent searched for the memory of breaking her neck to save one child after she’d already drowned the other, but the vision that surfaced told a different tale. There was no splashing of bath water. No smells of baby soap and laundered towels. He watched as his wife pleaded with him, begging for him to stop, that they’ll get help, and to please put their daughter down. Trent searched the room with wide, frantic eyes until he found the little bundle on the floor.
The toddler was not swaddled in a towel as he expected. She was fully dressed and completely dry like her brother. Her face flushed in a familiar shade of purple. She lay motionless on the sky blue carpet of the nursery, not the white shag rug of their bathroom.
Realization ripped through him without mercy.
“Oh, God.” Trent mumbled and turned his head. The room spun beneath him. The heavy oak crib loomed over him and his dead family like a massive tombstone. The pain of Trent’s injuries were made imperceptible by his emotional agony.
“Beth wasn’t… it was me. I killed—” Trent’s lamentation was cut off by a violent stomach upheaval as nausea overwhelmed him.
An officer bent down next to Trent and picked up an object encased in pink plastic. He held the undamaged cell phone to his ear. His voice was flat and somber when he spoke. “This is Officer James. The situation is now under control.”
He paused, listening to a voice on the other end. Then, “No, Ma’am. We were too late for the others.”
The policeman looked down at Trent. The cuffed man was now slamming his head on the floor and chanting, “Sick in the head. Sick in the head. Sick in the head.”
Frowning, the officer added, “Looks like he snapped.”
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2013 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
His tears were lost in the pouring rain. The night, clouded over in a thick storm, was almost as pitch as the void in his soul—a mark forged by great loss, eating away at his insides until it defined him.
Rain and sorrow dripped from his face, splashing onto the raw soil below. The astringent odor of earthen mold burned in his sinuses despite the heavy storm. His middle-aged muscles burned, but their complaints fell on ignored synapses as he now ran on a higher octane fuel than human strength alone. Powered by desperation and passion, he worked feverishly, shoveling faster and faster despite the toll on his body.
“You wouldn’t want to help me, would you?” He said panting, swallowing heavy breaths between words.
A smooth voice responded from the hole’s edge above him, somehow making the faint moonlight dim further as it intoned.
“Why would I do that?” The voice crooned, dropping on him with such depth that he flinched at its weight.
“To… to speed things up.”
“Time is of no consequence for me.”
“But, w… what if the effort strains my heart and I go into cardiac arrest?”
“Hmph, that would speed things up, wouldn’t it?”
The man cursed to himself and continued in his labor. He dug the rich, dense soil, carving deeper into the flesh of the earth. It wasn’t long before the frenzy of his passion succumbed to exhaustion. His body wore down, opening the door for all his emotions to flow free.
Slowing to a stop, he dropped to his knees in the saturated mud and sobbed. “I’ve missed her so much. She was everything to me!”
He cried amid the harsh applause of the rain as it pummeled his world.
“I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since she died.”
“Oh, do tell.” Oily, sighing sarcasm.
“I feel empty without her. I’ve lost the desire to eat, food is tasteless now. I have to gag it down just to survive, but I don’t—”
“Do I really have to listen to this? At least dig while you complain, Frank.”
The man did as he was asked, sobering slightly from the hint of anger in the dark voice above.
“She had so much life ahead of her. We, had so much life ahead of us, together. All of it gone in a stupid car accident. Why did she have to die?”
The thing sighed. “Does that really matter at this point?”
“But you’re going to change that.” Frank said, ignoring the question. “You can bring her back! I’ll be able to hold her again, feel her heart beating against mine. It’ll be just like before the crash.”
“Not quite. Do not forget the terms of our agreement.”
Frank shoveled in silence like a scolded child until his spade hit something with a solid thud. His passion returned and he scrambled to uncover the coffin. With a few chops of the shovel blade, Frank disengaged the locks and opened the lid to reveal a young woman dressed in white.
He plunged his hands beneath the corpse and pulled her against him.
“Mandy! Oh, my darling!”
Her lifeless body hung from his arms. Rain pelted her face. The funereal makeup rinsed away, exposing bruises and glued lacerations along her marbled skin. Mud sullied the angelic-white gown. Before Frank could turn to look out of the grave with a ‘What now?’ expression, the dead woman began to stir.
“Mandy, Honey, can you hear me?”
Her eyes fluttered and a groan oozed from her pale lips.
“It’s me,” Frank said, leaning back to look at her. “I’m here, now. You were in an accident, but I’m going to make it all better.”
“No, no, no,” she moaned and flailed her arms in feeble swipes at the air between them.
“I don’t think she wants to come back,” the dark figure added, chuckling with the gritty sound of rattling coal.
“She’s just in shock,” Frank snapped. “Give her a few moments to adjust.”
Mandy’s eyes opened and focused on his face. “Wha— But, I was—”
“It’s okay, Sweetie.”
“No, I don’t want to be here.”
“You’re just scared and confused. It’s—”
“I don’t want to be here!” She screamed and tried to squirm free of his grasp. “Get away from me!”
“Don’t say that, Honey.”
“Why won’t you leave me alone? I had to kill myself to get away from you and I’ll do it again!”
“But, the love we shared, it’s deeper than—”
“No!” Twisting her body, Mandy slid out of his arms and clawed at the mud walls of her grave.
“Please, Honey.” The man pleaded with outstretched arms. “Don’t push me away, I love you! We can be together again, just like before.”
A guttural laugh descended upon them. “It doesn’t seem like your student enjoyed it the first time, Frank.”
“It’s just the resurrection, she’s confused!”
“Really? Well, let’s make sure she understands, then, shall we?” The shadowed figure crouched down and spoke in a casual, sincere tone. “Mandy.”
“What? Who…” She search frantically for the origin of the voice, but couldn’t see past the driving rain with her clouded eyes.
“Your professor, here, is trying to reincarnate your lives together. Is that what you want?”
“N-no.” She sobbed and pointed a decaying finger at the man. “Keep him away! He raped me. He raped me repeatedly and blackmailed me to keep quiet. I’d rather die again!”
“Well, there you have it, Frank. You fucked the life right out of her long before the car crash took it.”
“Hey!” He shouted back, furious passion giving him false confidence. “A deal’s a deal, take my soul and let us go home.”
Everything stopped suddenly. The moonlight vanished, the rain ceased to fall, and the ambient noises fell silent for one long moment. Then, Frank knew why.
Cloaked in darkness, the demon landed in front of him with a teeth jarring explosion. Mud splashed over him like an ocean wave, the wet earth beneath him quaked despite its saturated surface, the rain renewed its heavy assault, and the creature’s voice pounded his eardrums.
“Don’t forget who you’re talking to, Mortal!”
Frank still couldn’t see more than just a shadowed form, but he felt the demon’s presence—hot breath pluming against his face and the pressure behind its voice seemingly added weight to the air.
Frank trembled violently and lost control of his bladder.
“Please,” he said, his voice meek and broken. “I need her!”
The demon reached out, placing a dark tendril on Mandy’s head, and commanded, “SLEEP!”
Her panic-stricken reincarnation came to an end. She collapsed at once and lay in the mud unmoving like the corpse she was and is again.
“No.” Frank croaked, his throat swollen with fear and despair.
The creature’s appendage turned to Frank and wrapped around his neck. It cinched tight and lifted him off the ground.
Now face to face with the demon, he finally saw its eyes. Painful to witness, Frank saw worlds of fire, grotesque creatures and beings of torment, gore and death, and horrors his brain couldn’t comprehend.
“You betrayed a student’s trust, abusing your mortal powers,” the demon said. “You destroyed her soul just to get your rocks off, then you sought to bring her back and live it all over again. Even I find that repulsive. You, Frank, deserve my worst.”
“Let’s take the elevator all the way down, shall we? I want to introduce you to your new bed-mate.”
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2013 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
“Alright, Detective Dickhole, what do you have for me today?”
Pathologist Leonard Kessler’s voice echoed through the cold room. The acoustically prone surfaces usually kept his spoken words to a minimum, but he never missed the opportunity to insult his big brother.
Darren Kessler shivered, folding his arms tighter against his chest. “I still don’t know how you work in here.”
“You get used to it, just like Dad’s cooking.”
“I’m still trying to digest his meatloaf from last Easter and still trying to get warm in here.”
“The trick is to stop tying, just accept it.” Leonard said.
“Screw that. I’ll wait for evolution to give us internal thermostats. Anyway, I pulled some strings to get this case for you,” Darren said, smiling. “I know you like working on the weird ones.”
“Lay it on me!”
“The body,” Darren said, reading from the file folder and pointing to the freshly wheeled-in corpse, “is a 36-year-old Caucasian male, 182 lbs., 5’ 11”. Dr. Patrick Mahoney, a Marine Biologist. He was found dead in his laboratory nearly seven hours ago. The man’s financial backer, Charles Grawner, discovered the body after Mahoney was a no-show for a status meeting. No immediate indications of foul play—the lab was locked from the inside. Mahoney had just returned from a research jaunt through the Pacific.
“Don’t think so. Too messy and bizarre for self-inflicted damage—wait till you see him; strange. Here’s a copy of the file.”
Darren handed him a file folder of crime scene photos and documents. “Run a full report on him. Call me when you have something.”
“Yes, Sir.” Leonard tossed his brother a mock salute.
Detective Kessler sipped the runny tar his co-workers called coffee while sifting through evidence bags in his office. One, marked Bodily Possessions, held a cell phone, ID badge, wallet, and a small portable computer drive. He plugged the USB drive into his laptop while mumbling to himself, “Please, no kiddie porn.”
Sorting through the extensive list of folders and files, he scanned the recent documents. Heading the list was a mpeg video titled ‘URGENT – Watch NOW’. Darren double-clicked the file.
An unshaven man with ruffled hair stared at the camera. His eyes, clearly visible behind small, wire-framed glasses, were red, puffy, and underlined by dark baggage.
As the video began, the man rubbed his face and took a deep breath.
“April 14th, 2013. 10:39pm. My name is Dr. Patrick T. Mahoney. I’m a marine biologist working under an unlisted grant from Grawner Bio-Chem, Inc. through a NOAA privatized research arm, Marine Research Discoveries Division.
“We were researching the waters above the Mariana Trench, dropping probes when a Mitsukurina owstoni (Goblin shark) floated to the surface, deceased. To learn more about the pink Mitsukurina and what happened to it, we hauled it aboard for analysis.
“The shark’s characteristic protruding jaw was dislodged and broken. This particular specimen had abnormally long teeth which was quite odd and seemed the most likely the cause of death… but we were wrong.
“Upon dissection, I discovered foreign tissue residing inside the cartilaginous skull. This tissue was in fact an endoparasitoic creature—still thriving after its host’s death. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
“Two crew members of Māori descent had been very uneasy with its presence on the boat. They referred to it as ‘Wheke Pōtae’, which roughly translates to ‘Head Squid’. An old fable passed down from their tribe elders claimed it was crafty and evil, not to be trifled with or risk bringing death upon the whole village.”
The doctor paused, his eyes shifting back and forth restlessly as if ratcheting his brain toward a decision. After a loud exhale, Dr. Mahoney returned his gaze to the screen and new distress had carved deeper lines on his face, advancing his perceived age.
“Do not misunderstand what you are watching here,” he said. “At this moment, I am of sound mind and body. My actions are taken willingly. What I am doing, and what you are about to witness, is in the name of science. Please learn from this, I beg you; heed my warnings and study my experience, or it will all be in vain.
“In the days between docking and now, I’ve studied the specimen to learn more about the endoparasite. You can find all the documentation on the data drive with this video, including a hypothetical case study of the organism’s method of reproduction.
“But now… theories be damned, I am the case study.”
Raising a hand, Dr. Mahoney showed a puncture wound on the webbing between his thumb and forefinger. Swelling had ballooned the curve of his hand from a concave pink to a greenish convex mound with blue lightning-veins racing down his arm and out of the camera frame.
“It must sense other living beings’ proximity through electrical impulse sensitivity. It projected a reproduction-capable proboscis and injected an embryo of sorts under the dermal layer. I clearly underestimated its capabilities.”
The doctor exhaled a deep, quivering breath.
“I felt it… crawling up my arm, along my jugular, and squeezing into my skull. That was 7 hours ago. Since then, I’ve experienced heightened sensitivity in my jaw and teeth and increased cranial pressure.
“The organism stimulates unprecedented growth in the host’s teeth. After close inspection, I’ve identified a siphon appendage wrapped around the nerve within each tooth’s inner cavity, which extends to a tiny hole in the outer enamel. I believe this is used to increase pressure within the skull in an attempt to replicate the pressure levels of its native ocean environment. The teeth must gr—”
The biologist winced, crying out and clutching his head.
“I think it’s feeding.”
He reached up and stopped the recording.
The screen flashed. The Doctor was now very pale with dried blood around his nostrils and ears. His lips, suffering multiple points of laceration, were split and pushed back in a skull’s grin. The lower jaw jutted out and down in what would have been an open-mouthed posture, but the view was obstructed by teeth—an enamel cage overlapping from a massive under-bite. His harsh breaths hissed through the dental wall, whistling and slapping against the continual production of crimson-tinged drool.
Dr. Mahoney held up a small dry-erase board with a poorly scrawled message stating, “I can no longer speak clearly. I cannot move my jaw, the pain is incredible.”
He lowered the board and wrote a new message. His body was quivering and tears flowed freely as he held up message after message.
“With growing teeth and chewed brain, I’m not sure…
“…how much time I have left, how much more I can take….
“…I feel teeth growing, forcing jaw open further.”
Before displaying the next part of his message he jolted forward and howled as if an invisible hammer struck him in the back of the head. The tortured sound was muffled behind his overlapping wall of teeth. It barely sounded human. He recovered in his chair but his breathing quickened.
Between the man’s hissing breaths, the detective could hear the multifaceted squeal of enamel pushing against enamel.
Mahoney finished the written words and held up the board.
“my experiences and spec It’s moving around, eating again.”
Blood dribbled from his nose. He started writing more but never finished. His rasped, violent breathing stopped cold. The doctor’s eyes widened. He stared into the camera with unwavering intensity for so long that Detective Kessler wondered if the video had paused. Then, the man’s subtle tremors, tight convulsions of the head, became noticeable.
Dr. Mahoney screamed again, but this time he didn’t stop.
Kessler lowered the hand covering his mouth and leaned closer to the computer screen, riveted to the horror unfolding before him.
The doctor pounded fists against his temples and clawed at his scalp. It looked as if he’d gone insane—sanity eroding right in front of the camera.
The man’s right eye twitched and turned in the socket, completely unhinged from the synchrony with his other, which held firm in its gaze at the camera. A moment later, it disappeared, sucked back into his skull with a splash of blood and aqueous fluid, leaving a grotesque void behind.
Despite the screaming, Kessler heard the loud pop of Dr. Mahoney’s jaw finally giving way under the strain. It flopped open, swaying like a bear trap with a broken spring. A pink cocktail of blood and cranial fluids poured from his nose. Choking, the doctor’s shrieks drowned in a long, agonizing gurgle before he collapsed onto the desk.
Darren sat as still as the dead man on the video.
In his eleven years as a homicide detective, he’d never seen anything like that before. He fumbled for his cell phone and dialed.
“Leo, you’re not gonna believe what I just saw.”
“This thing is amazing,” Leonard said, ignoring his brother. “It completely devoured Dr. Mahoney’s brain and grew large enough to crack open the skull.”
“Yeah, it kills the host… not very good for longevity, huh.”
“Darren, I think it’s still alive.”
“Shit! Get away from it, right now!” the detective said, jumping out of his chair. “I’m coming down. Don’t do anything ‘till I get there.”
The detective burst into the autopsy room, shouting. “I told you to get back, goddamn it.”
Leonard sat on a stool with his back to the door, leaning over Mahoney’s body.
Darren rushed over. “It’s not safe, Leo. I told you to—”
His brother was shaking. Still holding the phone in his right hand, he cradled the left.
“It happened so fast.” Leonard said in a hollow, reedy voice.
Darren saw the tell-tale wound on his brother’s wrist and knew exactly what had happened. He pulled Leonard away from the table, ranting, “No. No. No.”
Leonard flexed his fingers and winced. “Man it hurts. I felt the toxin spreading all the way up to my head.”
“Fuck!” Darren paced, pausing occasionally to kick over a tray of tools or punch the cooler doors. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!”
“Hey, we should call 911 or poison control.”
“It’s not a toxin.” Darren scolded him. “There’s no antidote… no way to survive, only the suffering of an agonizing death.”
Darren drew his Glock 17 and fired five rounds into the occupied cavity of Dr. Mahoney’s skull.
“Whoa, we still could’ve—”
Darren pivoted to point the gun at his brother.
“What the fuck, man?”
“It’s the only way to save you.” He said with tears dripping from his chin.
“I love you, Leo.”
“Wait, Darren! Don’t…”
Responding to the initial report of gunfire in the morgue, the uniformed officers were halfway down the hall when the last two shots rang out.
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2013 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
Heed the Tale Weaver: Celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Damned. Through May 7, 2013, upon each new post, a comment you will leave. A package of ghoulish goodies tainted with an offering from every member of the Damned awaits one fated winner – glorious books, personalized stories and eternal suffering at your feet. Now Damn yourself, make your mark below! But remember insolent ones, you must leave a comment, a “like” will not earn you a chance at our collection of depravity. Do not make the Damned hunt you down.
Projected light flickered through the dark; each burst momentarily painting the shadowed surfaces with brilliant light as if a welder was hard at work in the corner. A muscular but overweight man lounged in a reclining chair at the center of the small living room. His callused hands held the remote control and a cold drink with equal care. He had cast aside his dusty work boots and was watching the flat screen between his grimy sock-covered feet.
After taking another swig of beer, he smiled and repeated a line in sync with the movie, copying the actor’s sing-song sarcasm, “Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”
Jeremy Kolski was happy with his life. It was simple, but that’s the way he wanted it—steady contractor’s job, detached house, beautiful wife and daughter, and big ass TV. He’d worked hard to put all the pieces in place, and he believed a strict routine would keep the status-quo-machine running. Facing the unexpected at work was inevitable but at home, things were always in order. He even ate the same meals everyday: medium-rare steak and eggs in the morning, brown-bagged sandwich for lunch, and thick oatmeal with a side of bacon for dinner. His wife Mora had it all down to a science, like that baby bear’s porridge—just right.
A harsh light flooded Mora’s face. She stared blindly into the glow, momentarily unaware of the blood-red mask it gave her, like some masquerade villain from the mind of Edgar Allen Poe. She stared out the port-hole window above the sink, pausing with pan and soap sponge dripping in her hands. In the small, dimly lit kitchen her vibrant sundress looked drab and unflattering despite the youthfulness of her petite frame. Even the golden tresses of her wavy hair seemed flat and frayed, but a quaint smile played at the edges of her lips, defying the depressive scene the room’s lighting had imbued.
The pulsing red beams faded as a police cruiser rolled past their house in the pursuit of evildoers elsewhere. Mora returned to washing the dishes and a thought—appropriate to the moment—found its way to her lips. She recited the line to herself, “For the uninvited, there is much to fear.”
Her life was forged in routine. Her father and his military background made an impression on her family, and living with her husband was much the same. She always found comfort in knowing what needed to be done and what each day would bring. She spent her time tending to Jeremy, raising little Samantha, and keeping up with the household chores. Change used to frighten Mora, but over the last few days the thought of it had begun to look different to her. In small doses, change could be manageable, and over time, big strides could be made through cumulative steps. With that in mind tonight, she didn’t rush to clean up the dinner table.
Jeremy was entranced by the screen. He only tore his eyes away long enough to pour another shot of the amber liquid and toss it back. This time, however, he was forced to look down as sharp pain stabbed through his abdomen causing him to flinch and dribble whiskey onto his twill work shirt.
A few months ago when the discomfort started, Jeremy increased his drinking from occasional to maintenance. Concerned coworkers had asked him about the pain and he’d always replied, “It might be stomach ulcers or goddam colon cancer, who knows.” When he told this to a buddy of his with such indifference, the man’s lunch nearly fell out of his mouth. The inquiry always ended with Jeremy adding, “Na, I ain’t going to see a Doctor. I don’t trust them. They ask too many damn questions and then diagnose you with what’s best to fatten their own wallets. In my house, we’re better off taking the pain and fixing our own problems.”
“Goddamnit,” Jeremy cursed, wiping at the drops that seeped down into the material. Then, setting his eyes back on the TV, he shouted sidelong toward the kitchen. “Mora, get your wide ass moving and bring me a wet rag… and another beer from the garage, but make it quick, he’s about to walk barefoot across the broken glass.” Jeremy poured another shot as he mumbled to himself, “best part of the movie if you ask me.”
The man’s chair was flanked by tray tables burdened with empty cans of Yuengling and a half drunk fifth of Johnnie Walker. He sucked the alcohol from his fingers, unconcerned with the dust caked to his cuticles and knuckle creases. It was a common residual from his job, either by hanging drywall or mixing concrete for sidewalks or patios.
Jeremy cleared his throat and poured another shot.
A diminutive woman entered the room with the requested items. Keeping her head down, she placed them carefully on the nearest tray table, scooped up the empty beer cans and backed away. Passing under the lights in the dining room, Jeremy caught sight of the shine under her eyes. A purple butterfly bruise had spread its wings across the bridge of her newly curved nose. He nodded, agreeing with his punishment for her recent change in the routine. But he stopped abruptly after noticing a dirty bowl still sitting on the supper table.
“Hey, Woman! Better finish cleaning up supper before the movie’s over.”
Mora tossed the empty cans into a recycling bin that sat in the garage amid all his tools and leftover work supplies. She stood there for a moment, calming herself and pulling in deep breaths with her sore eyes closed. Tears squeezed free and trailed down her cheeks, their wet tracks leaving a brighter sheen on her bruise that was looking more and more like some kind of hero mask.
She didn’t feel very super right now. In fact, she hadn’t been in this much pain since falling out of a tree at the age of seven. Her father was helping her learn how to climb. Eventually, he gave up trying to mold her into the son he never received, but not before she broke both wrists when an upper bough gave way. The fractures healed, but the pain from his disappointment would not.
Now, trying to center herself in the garage, she was suffering from not only a bruised face and a broken nose, but also the mental anguish of waking up to a six-year nightmare.
She was locked into a routine, again—chained down by psychological assaults and kept productive with physical punishment. How could she have been blind to it for all these years? ‘Because Jeremy wasn’t always like this, it… progressed,’ she realized. Any change, no matter how appalling, if introduced gradually enough, could be accepted with unanimous approval—just ask Austria.
It took undying love and a cold knuckle connection to her nose for Mora to see the change. Jeremy raised his hand to their daughter for the first time and Mora’s intervention—her deviation from the routine—cost her a fractured face.
His wife wasn’t doing her job. It’s been ten minutes and she still didn’t come back to clean up that bowl. It was his oatmeal dish from dinner and the longer it sits the harder that shit gets.
Jeremy grunted and cursed as another slash of pain dug into his guts, “Ah, fuck!” Hunched over, he clutched at his stomach and waited for the agony to back off. It was getting worse by the hour, now. The wave passed, but the constant ache went up another notch.
He stood up, kicked over one of the tray tables, and sucked down another shot or two straight out of the bottle. It was time his woman learned that she needed to finish her chores and follow the rules.
Mora, bolstered by the need to protect her daughter, was fed up with the routine. Change was inevitable and she welcomed it.
Beads of sweat formed on Jeremy’s forehead as he moved toward the dinning room. His legs felt weak. Each footstep was torture, as if they were pulling the ignition lever on a blowtorch inside his gullet—frying his organs and searing nerves. After four paces, breathing heavy and grinding his teeth, Jeremy reached the table. He picked up the bowl and even that felt heavy. Staggering another few steps, Jeremy crossed into the kitchen and fell to his knees. The bowl slipped from his fingers and hit the floor with a loud thunk.
A pair of white sneakers stepped into Jeremy’s view. His eyes labored their way up Mora’s body to meet her glare.
She stood over her husband, pouring hatred down upon him. “You don’t look so good, dear. You sure I shouldn’t call a doctor?”
Tears welled in his eyes and he grunted out the word, “Call!”
“But you told me not to, they ask too many questions and I better not go against your will, right?” She waited for a reply but he was busy moaning. Then she noticed the bowl next to him on the floor.
“Oh, look at that. I must’ve left a dirty dish on the table.” Mora picked it up and knocked it against the floor. It made a solid cluck.
“You do love your oatmeal thick, huh? I’ve added a new ingredient to make it extra thick for you. The cement dust from the garage takes a while to harden, but I usually get all the dishes cleaned up by then. I only used a little at first, but the last couple nights have called for a hefty helping.”
A siren screamed past the kitchen window, bathing Mora in vibrant red light.
Jeremy managed to rasp two more words before passing out. “You… bitch!”
Mora smiled. “Yes, payback usually is. But I took the pain and now, I fixed the problem.”
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2013 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
The flames are hypnotic.
Fingers of light play against the night in contrast like a calico kitten beneath a massive ball of black nylon thread. Its harmonious colors of red, yellow, and orange blend and battle in a dance that never ceases to lose its novelty.
Fire is damn fascinating—the breath of dragons and gods and other mythical beings bent on destruction. Yet, its beauty is beyond compare. One could lose his soul gazing into its fiery maw. It’s not predictable and monotonous like most would think after a cursory glance; it’s more fluid, impulsive, opportunistic. After all, it is a living thing. It breathes. It consumes. And, at times, it even appears to fear and hate.
The heat warms my prickled skin with the friendly itch of a wool blanket. Despite the outer comfort, it chills my heart—my leadened chest now burdened with an irreparable chunk of ice. I’m not here for recreation. My childhood memories of joyful campfires with toasted treats, spooky yarns, and hickory-smoke aromas are irrelevant tonight and I struggle to keep them at bay. The nature of flames may be intriguing, but I hate this fire.
I hate it and it knows.
When my glare falters and my focus succumbs to the rhythm, easing into a hypnotized gaze, the burning creature stokes my hatred anew with a taunting flare streaked in blue or green like it’s flipping me off.
I try to rationalize the event—must’ve scorched its way to a copper pipe or pocket of propane—but, I’m not buying what I’m shoveling. It knows it’s in control now, too strong to quash. Its hungry fingers claw up past the second floor windows and reach for more.
Those were the kids’ rooms.
When we moved from D.C. to West Chester fifteen months ago, we got more space for less cost and the twins gained their own rooms for the first time. Their playful argument over the larger room nearly killed me… literally. I was choking on inhaled chunks of soft pretzel from an ill-timed bout of laughter. Karen, my loving wife, was too busy to help. She was leaning sideways in her own giggling fit while struggling to keep Caleb and Rachel within the eye of her phone’s camera.
They fired up the competition with a spirited debate. Their deductive reasoning and good-natured mudslinging is what almost got me to perform the self-Heimlich Maneuver and what, ironically, aided in coughing my airways to freedom.
With the debate too close to call a clear winner, they took the next logical step—who could eat their lunch the fastest.
Rachel was chewing her last bite of sandwich when she noticed her mother’s phone held in their direction. “Recording this? Oh, now you’ve done it,” she crowed spitting food particles.
“I don’t know about you, Sis, but I’m still hungry,” Caleb said, grinning at their mother. Rachel matched his smile and added, “Yes, me too and Mom looks awfully tasty!”
They both lunged at Karen, grappled for the phone and pretending to devour her while I moved our drinks to safety.
After catching his breath, Caleb realized the dispute was still unresolved. He stole two tomato slices from his mother’s hoagie and smashed them against the nearest window; the last slice clinging would earn its designated owner the bigger room.
That very window was now engulfed in flames. They’ll never have the chance to play in those rooms again. The house was beyond rescue and repair. Karen’s phone and that memory’s video were now lost forever, along with the rest of our belongings.
I shouldn’t have left without grabbing a few things, but the damned flames spread so fast. With a gasoline drenched carpet, I guess the sprinkling of whiskey was overkill—not to mention a waste of good drinking.
I could barely hear the roar of the blaze over the pulsing blood in my head, droning on like a swarm of salacious cicadas.
The flames taunt, trying to drive me mad with guilt, but I had no choice. Fire was the only recourse—it all had to burn.
They had to burn.
My sweet children, my true love, may they rest in peace and walk through Heaven’s Gates together. Please God take them in!
Reflecting the fire’s light, tears tumble from my eyes like orange diamonds, melting as they slide down my warmed skin.
They didn’t deserve this. This fate of fire was not meant for them. They were so innocent and pure… until tainted by the infection.
Who would’ve guessed that it would originate from something in plain sight, something long thought benign? It didn’t come from an overzealous lab with lax security measures. It was from a fuckin’ museum in eastern Pennsylvania!
God, this house… we moved right next to ground zero.
Some poor sap accidentally broke open a pickled punk or some other fermented mutation at the Mütter Museum a few miles from here. He sliced open his hand trying to clean up the mess and contracted the wrong bacteria.
It spread from person to person faster than this goddamn fire. We didn’t have time to doubt or panic before it struck our community.
One of those things barged onto the twins’ school bus when the driver opened the doors at a railroad crossing. Their terror must have been unbearable as they watched the rancid thing chew its way toward them—the kids never got the emergency door open, they were trapped morsels like sardines in a can.
My children, corrupt and infested, made their way home. By the time I arrived they had torn their mother into three gnawed-open pieces. The twins attacked and Karen’s parts slunk their way toward me with the same vicious intent. I will never forget that sight or what I did next.
Their warm, healthy flesh had putrefied. As I pushed and pulled them away from my body, their skin slid from the meat of their limbs, further amplifying the eye-watering smell of roses and rotting roadkill.
Were they still in there or were they empty corpses? I couldn’t take the chance that they were suffering. I ripped my ornamental sword off the wall, finalized their death march, and set a cleansing fire to work.
Sirens wail in the distance now, and I finally notice the chaos around me. Other homes were in flames too. Cars were left abandoned in the middle of the street. Gun shots echo in the distance and screams stop short every few minutes.
It won’t be long now.
My time is dwindling.
I probably won’t see my loved ones in the hereafter—the crimes of taking their… lives may have stolen that right from me.
Guilt weighs heavily on my will to live, like the crushing stones of a Salem death sentence.
The night is filled with fire. Such a beautiful creature it is, fluttering plumage as it climbs higher and higher.
The flames are hypnotic aren’t they?
One could certainly lose his soul staring at them too long…
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2012 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
Logan maneuvered the Wii controllers in unison, swinging his arms like a seasoned hockey player. The boy’s passion was obvious — rivaling that of the gladiators his game was designed around despite the disparity of size in his preteen frame.
The digital puck soared past a sprawling goaltender and into the net.
Conner, Logan’s competitor, exhibited his own fervor as he chewed out the faux net minder. “What was that? Wake up and face the shooter. Stupid auto-goalie.” Conner was only a few weeks older than Logan, but already had sprouted seven more inches. He thought the added height would leverage him a scoring advantage in their rivalry, but his new friend proved to be resilient.
The boys met a couple of months ago when Conner moved into the neighborhood and over the summer they developed a healthy rivalry. Hockey quickly became their favorite battleground. They logged many afternoon hours carving digital ice, but there was more at stake this time. It was their final match-up before starting the 5th grade tomorrow with different homerooms.
Logan danced around the coffee table, punching the air like Rocky in training to celebrating his miraculous two-goal comeback to tie the game in the waning seconds.
“I hate it when you use the green Whalers jerseys.” Conner said, grumbling while he scratched at the bandage high on his arm.
“I know,” Logan said through a joker’s grin. “Green for good luck. Now, they’re gonna help me win this thing in overtime.”
Movement drew Logan’s eye to the bandage. “Uh, dude. You might want to stop scratching that. You’re making it bleed.”
Conner tugged his shirt sleeve down to hide the area. “That? Oh, I scraped it open on a nail head. My dad’s fixing the cellar steps.”
The boy’s eyes bulged suddenly. “What time is it?”
Glancing up at the wall clock, Logan answered. “Almost 4:40. Why?”
“Damn it! I gotta go.”
“I have to be home before five or my dad’s going to beat my ass raw.”
“But it’s overtime of game 7. You can’t leave now.”
“I really have to go.”
Conner shoved some items into his duffel bag and sprinted out the front door.
Logan threw his controller and flopped onto the couch. “Shit.”
The next day Conner was a no-show at the bus stop. Logan looked for him all morning — peering out the bus windows, searching the halls between classes, staring at the slotted windows in the classroom doors — but his friend remained unseen. He was beginning to worry about why Conner might have missed the first day of school, when, from the cafeteria line, Logan spotted him sitting alone at the back table.
“You make it home in time yesterday?” Logan asked, placing his tray across from the lone dinner.
“Huh?” Conner said, visibly shaken from deep thought. “Oh. Yeah.” Then he returned to biting his cuticles and plowing the mashed potatoes from side to side with halfhearted fork movements.
Logan chewed on a dry hunk of meatloaf and eyed his friend. He didn’t look well.
Conner’s eyes were shadowed and heavy. His complexion was more pale than usual, earning him another notch toward the color of coconut Popsicle like the ones they used to get from the ice cream truck on Friday afternoons. Which he skipped on the last few times. Logan realized. And look, now he’s not eating his lunch.
Conner shrugged and Logan glimpsed the edge of a new bandage just below his shirt collar.
“What’s that one from,” Logan asked pointing to the gauze dressing, “another nail head?”
“It’s nothing,” Conner replied in a distant tone. But, like a sudden May breeze, he warmed to the conversation. A light flickered to life in his eyes, chasing away the darkness of his frown. “Hey, you want to come over and replay Game 7?”
“Is it okay with your Dad?”
“He won’t be home till later.”
“Yeah. I feel bad about cutting out on you yesterday. We need to finish that game.” Conner smiled. “I’m gonna hit my locker before class, so I’ll catch you after school, okay?”
Logan hesitated. “Yeah, sure, but aren’t you going to eat lunch?”
“What, and risk toxic mutation? I’ll hold out for something better.”
Conner dumped the tray into the nearest trash receptacle and walked out of the cafeteria.
A few hours later the boys were immersed in their championship game and amid the chaos of crosschecks and slapshots, taunts and complaints, they did not hear Mr. O’Barr return early from work, nor his calls for Conner’s attention.
The TV suddenly went dark. Conner’s father, an imposing figure, stood before them with the plug dangling from his fist.
“You’re not allowed to have guests over while I’m gone.” He said.
Conner’s complexion moved up another notch. “Dad. I’m… I’m sorry, we just wanted to finish our game from yesterday.”
The man’s frown drooped further with nostrils flaring above his thick mustache. “Sorry doesn’t unbreak the rules. Your play time is over. Go wash up and we’ll discuss this over dinner.”
“Get your ass up there ‘fore I throw your goddamn Wii in the trash,” his father said, pointing up the steps. “And you better come down ready to eat this time. I’m not going to serve another uneaten meal in this house.”
Conner jumped to his feet and scrambled up the stairs.
Logan watched the confrontation from eyes wide with fear. He didn’t know what to do. Would Mr. O’Barr turn on him as well? Should he just leave? Was Conner safe? That was it. Safety. It all made sense now. His behavior. His lack of appetite. The nail-biting. The bandages and scars. Conner was being abused!
Mr. O’Barr rummaged around the living room, cleaning up the video games and controllers.
Logan was close enough to hear the man’s teeth grind as he picked them up.
“I swear to God, I’m…” The man stopped, took a deep breath, and faced Logan. “It’s time for you to go home.”
He pulled Logan to his feet, shoved the boy’s school bag into his arms, and promptly escorted him out of the house. The door slammed shut before Logan could turn around.
What should I do? He thought, hesitating on the stoop. Logan stepped down and started toward the curb when the muffled sounds of broken glass made up his mind for him.
He dug out his for-emergencies-only cell phone and dialed.
Ten minutes later Logan was back on the stoop, but this time he wasn’t alone. A black man dressed all in blue stood next to him. Logan straightened and puffed out his chest. He felt a tingling surge of power run through him at the thought of justice being served to help his friend.
The officer rang the doorbell then cupped his hands around his eyes to peer into the narrow windows along the door frame. After a moment he reached up to knock but the door vanished beneath his knuckles.
“Mr. O’Barr, I’m Officer Emery and I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Conner’s father glared down at Logan then stepped aside to let them in. They followed him down the hall and into the kitchen. Officer Emery surveyed each room along the way. “How many people are present in the home, Sir?”
“Just me and my son, Conner.” Mr. O’Barr picked up a hand towel and started drying dishes. “Can you tell me what this is about?”
“In due time. Where is your son now?”
“Upstairs, washing up for dinner. Why?”
The officer’s eyes paused on shards of broken glass near the man’s feet. “Sir, what can you tell me about your son’s bandages?”
Mr. O’Barr stopped. His hands froze mid-circle in drying a dinner plate.
“Conner told me they were from skateboarding or street hockey or something like that,” he said, splaying his hands.
“He doesn’t like skateboarding!” Logan said, blurting out the words with his pent-up emotion.
“Look, Officer, I work a lot. It’s hard enough scrounging paycheck to paycheck each month, but to keep track of every little thing he likes or dislikes is—”
“Hobbies are one thing Sir, but injuries are your responsibility as a parent. Do you know the health of your child? What’s the story with the glass at your feet?”
“I knocked over my tumblers before you arrived. And, I don’t like your tone, Officer Emery.” Conner’s dad thrust a finger at the cop. “I raise that boy the best I can and you can’t—”
“Sir, I’m going to be frank. There are allegations of child abuse against you. Have you caused harm to your son?”
“What? Are you freaking kidding me? No. No, I haven’t.”
“There are witnesses to an increasing frequency of bandaged wounds.”
“He’s an active boy, for Christ’s sake! You’d worry if he didn’t consistently carry a red badge of courage.”
“Sir, the amount of badges have become excessive. Logan’s outcry for Conner’s well being is not the first. His school had alerted us to a potential problem just yesterday. They spoke to Conner and he was very uneasy about the conversation. He wouldn’t even allow the nurse to check his wounds.”
“Hey, I don’t want some incompetent nurse prodding at my son!” Mr. O’Barr snapped. Veins pulsed in his neck as his frustration swelled.
“Sir, I’m going to ask you again. Did you harm the boy?”
“No, goddammit, I’d never hurt him!” The man shouted and the wet plate slipped from his fingers and crashed to the floor.
The policeman jerked a hand to the Taser on his belt. “Mr. O’Barr. Stay calm or I will be forced to make you calm down.”
“Whoa.” Conner’s father slowly put his hands in the air. “It was an accident. I’m calm.”
“Good.” Officer Emery said and gestured to the kitchen table. “Sit down.”
The policeman, keeping an eye on Conner’s father, turned to Logan.
“Son, please go upstairs and check on Conner. Ask him to join us here, in the kitchen.”
Logan nodded and ran up the steps.
A moment later he screamed.
The policeman’s instincts kicked in and within seconds he cuffed the father to a chair, shouted for him to stay put, pulled the firearm from his holster, and jolted up the stairs.
The second floor came into view one step at a time. Logan was standing in the hall, staring into the opened bathroom.
“Back away from the door.” Officer Emery said as he reached the top.
Logan complied, but moved with slow, clumsy steps like a sleepwalker, never taking his eyes off his discovery.
Officer Emery heard the sobs of a child and they weren’t from Logan. He moved laterally, with his gun raised, until the bathroom interior was visible. Taking in the scene before him, the office gradually lowered his weapon.
Conner sat on the edge of the tub, arms tucked between his knees. Tears dripped from his down turned face. He was only wearing boxer shorts and his wounds were exposed—the bandages had been removed.
Emery sucked in a sharp breath at the sight of them. They weren’t the kind of injuries he expected. Mr. O’Barr’ is one sick fuck! He thought.
The boy’s body looked like some sadistic kind of checkerboard — angular chunks of flesh were missing at varying intervals, but only in areas that could be concealed by summer attire.
Emery’s stomach clenched and churned. His heart literally ached at the sight.
Conner whimpered. A few drops of blood splashed to the tile floor between his feet and that’s when Emery caught sight of the razor blade.
“Conner,” the officer said, speaking in soft and slow negotiator tones. “We’ll get through this. Please, put down the blade. Don’t give up on us, now.”
Conner lifted his head and looked at the cop for the first time. His face was wrinkled with confusion. “Give up?”
“Stay with us. We care about you. Your father can’t hurt you anymore.”
“My father? He never hurt me.”
“I… I can’t stop cutting.” Conner’s tears flowed in thick rivulets. “It hurts so bad, but I need it. I crave it.”
“We’ll get you some help.” Logan said, peering in from behind the officer.
“No, you don’t understand. I’m addicted. I don’t want real food anymore.”
Conner brought a hand to his mouth. An angular piece of flesh dangled between his fingers. He slurped it up and feverishly chewed the bloody morsel.
“The more I eat, the more I want.”
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2012 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.