Park benches are the domain of lovers. They sit cuddled together, giggling as they etch their names in the wood, their pride palpable as if no one else has ever vandalised public property before. I’ve lost count of the number of times a park bench has been the site for my aim. It is apt that I found him there, a new kind of saviour for these loveless days.
I had one arrow left.
I clutched it with both hands and pointed it at my own chest. The shaft was dull and rusted but the tip was razor sharp, imbued with magic, ready to transform the flesh it pierces.
It is not that I longed for love, not that I wanted to be blinded to the reality around me by romance. Rather, I hoped the arrow would kill me and put an end to this game I have been sentenced to play since time immemorial.
I realised I had done this world a great disservice, leading them astray into the folds of daydreams. If they had gained any wisdom it was not because of my arrows but through the pain of surviving them. My arrows had not been able to hold at bay the rising deluge of suffering in this world.
By a large fountain in the remains of a city park, I readied myself for the plunge of the arrow’s tip. The early morning was clear and quiet. A cool stinging mist from the splashing water was in the air, like blessings from heaven. But the blessings were bitter and twisted, the water green and acidic.
I glanced around, hoping I would soon be free of this wretched place. That’s when I spotted the man, through dead tree trunks, asleep on a park bench, swathed in grimy rags, his bare feet blue and swollen with cold.
An idea occurred to me, a better idea. The arrow lowered, my grasp softened. I would not use it on myself.
Once more I resolved do what was expected of me, one final arrow fired to spark and flame hope.
It has been said that love conquers all and indeed over millennia there has been nothing I could not infiltrate, no darkness or terror that could stop my arrow. When Vesuvius erupted I was there, piercing the hearts of those destined to fall in love even as they tried to outrun rivers of lava, huddling together in dark corners, their eyes meeting in sudden realisation, my arrow melting their hearts as liquid fire melted their flesh. Amidst the blistered pus of the sick and the rotting corpses abandoned by the Plague, my arrows did not hesitate on their course, bringing lovers together despite poverty and disease. During world wars and terrorist bombings, in small overflowing boats of refugees that rocked and sank on high seas, through chemical spills that wiped out species of birds and fish, I was there, eternal and invincible in the face of life’s horrors. Giving them hope, giving them joy, always driving them forward, with the focus and strength of Love’s arrow.
I have kept the final arrow for months, uncertain of how or when to use it. They stopped appearing in my quiver a long while ago. They replenished themselves in the past; my holder was always full with golden arrows, clean and freshly forged. My prayers and pleas to the gods for guidance went unanswered, smothered and silenced by the grey layer of pollution and debris that now surrounds this world. I have not had any contact with the other immortals for years, I don’t know if they have perished or escaped.
Left to my own devices I may have become a little too careless in the last few years. I was shooting arrows like an addict, without any dignity at all.
Love has always been reckless and impulsive, the oddest of couples have been drawn together by my work. Divorced from divine inspiration I lost focus and direction. Perhaps that is why the arrows dried up. But I am simply a messenger, delivering Love where it wishes to go. Love, it seemed, was almost completely extinct in this world, like so many other living things.
So I was down to one. One single arrow. One last shot. The weight of my task seemed unbearable. I wondered who would be worthy of this final arrow. I had to find a heart noble and righteous enough to receive it, to do it justice. It would be a final strike of life in a dying world, a catalyst for revival and change.
I roamed the rubble of cities around the globe searching for such a heart. I searched everywhere from shifting plains of ice to encroaching deserts to tumbledown ghetto towns. Nothing but terrified hearts bolted shut against any more intrusion and burden; not one single heart emitted a tiny spark, necessary to deserve the arrow.
When I saw the man on the bench I realised a different kind of Love was needed in this world. The Earth is blistered, once great cities are piles of smoking black rocks, the oceans are oily sludge. The Love that thrived before has no place here anymore. This final arrow would need a new magic. So I dipped the arrow in lakes of toxic waste, I sharpened it on bones in mass open graves, I rolled it in the shit and vomit of flooding gutters, I laced it with the culture of super viruses bred in clandestine labs, I bathed it in pools of blood from human abattoirs.
I returned to the park after many days and nights preparing my arrow and found the man was still there, sitting in his disease, a large empty paper cup in his hand.
I cradled the cursed arrow; it throbbed with a deadly romance.
I could hear his weak beating heart from across the park, slow and sluggish, weary and broken. He was nothing special, no great man. He was a human shell, already emptied out, a perfect receptacle for a new strain of love.
He raised his blackened eyes to me, glaring, unflinching, as I approached him. His face was coated with grey dust, his mouth a dry purple line.
I aimed the arrow at him, he gave no response. I didn’t hesitate, as is my way, I didn’t think twice. I drove it through his frail chest, deep into the cavity, and the tip touched the beating organ. Still his expression didn’t change, he felt nothing.
I drove it deeper, sliding it through until the tip popped out the other side, his heart pierced and committed. I saw it flash in his eyes, the recognition and desire. Was it love at first sight? No. It was something else. The beast within awakened and it wanted to survive.
~ Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2017 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
MacPhersonville cemetery surrounded the town and was populated by the bones of early settlers. No one wanted to be buried there anymore, the modern crematorium had become the trend, but it was Frank Charles MacPherson the Third’s wish that he be buried alongside his ancestors. The MacPherson line had founded MacPhersonville; they were practically royalty.
Rumours that the cemetery was unhallowed ground were common. Many strange incidents had taken place there.
“Nonsense!” snapped Mrs. Emma Anne MacPherson, the matriarch, when family members whispered in her ear that the cemetery was cursed.
“My dear old Frank wants to be buried there and I shan’t hear another word to the contrary.”
On the morning of the service guests deliberated whether or not they should attend. They fingered neckties, fiddled with black veils, they smoothed creases on black trousers and skirts, but they knew they had to put in an appearance. It wasn’t any old corpse being laid to rest, it was the corpse of MacPherson the Third. Nobody wanted to be ostracised by the MacPhersons.
The large ornate gates of the cemetery creaked shut and slammed as the catch fell into place. Two ironwork angels faced each other, their trumpets held high. They were rusted orange, the white paint long gone. Mrs Barbara De Laverio, the town baker and the last of the funeral party to shuffle in, shivered as the gates shut behind her. She stared at the angels suspiciously, but she took a deep breath and held her tongue.
The coffin was covered by an arrangement of lilies and white roses, proud courtesy of Mrs. Edith Birkingham, the town florist. It was carried slowly by the bearers; followed by the Reverend James Peter, Reverend Jacob and Reverend Nathaniel. The small town had a high number of clergy posted there. No one wanted to ask why all three priests were present that day. They led the procession, their hands clasped within bell sleeves.
Sigmund, the groundskeeper, lurked out of view as the funeral party entered. He realised in despair that the entire town had shown up for the service.
Sigmund squeezed his eyes shut. It had been a long time since he had received an order to dig. The previous night, it had come again, accompanied by the heaviness on his chest, skin burning, ringing in his ears.
“Wake up boy and get to work! It’s time to dig!” roared the voice.
It rattled inside his head, a delighted cackle. There was nothing Sigmund could do to resist. He had been bound to the Guardian of the cemetery many years ago and was not able to venture beyond the gates. He had watched everyone he knew meet their inevitable end. Camped in squalor in the tiny caretaker’s cottage, he was the only living thing that wandered the rows of crumbling headstones. The other occupants of the cemetery were the souls of the dead.
The funeral party made their way along the gravel road, up the hill to the open plot. The congregation gathered around quietly. Reverend James Peter began the sermon.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to lay to rest a great man, great great grandson of our founding father, Frank Charles MacPherson. He was the pinnacle of our good community, a respected businessman, a loving father and husband….”
As the Reverend spoke the coffin began to tremble. From within came a long muffled groan. Mrs. Emma Anne Macpherson sat stunned in the front row, an embroidered handkerchief pressed to her nose.
Reverend James Peter paused and the three priests exchanged anxious looks. The young Reverend Nathaniel took a few steps back, frightened already. Reverend Jacob nodded seriously to Reverend James Peter. Best to cut the babble and get to the important stuff. Reverend James Peter began making the sign of the cross over the coffin and continued.
“Rest in peace Frank Charles Macpherson the Third, in the name of the Father and of the…”
The coffin rocked again, this time more violently.
“Fucking hell!” swore Reverend Nathaniel.
The coffin exploded with a loud crack. Sharp chunks of wood flew at the priests, red blotches quickly staining their white robes.
Old man MacPherson sat upright on his cushioned satin, staring ahead with milky eyes. His mouth dropped open as if in surprise, then he turned to face his family.
Mrs. MacPherson broke into hysterical squeals and the man who was once her husband chuckled.
The crowd began to disperse, screams erupting.
Sigmund had crept closer to watch, peering from behind a tree.
The Guardian had come. The Guardian would claim everyone.
“You can’t run, you can’t run.” He muttered, a yellow puddle growing at his feet.
The sun eclipsed; the sky darkened. People were lifted into the air as they fled, they spun slowly like flies caught in a web.
Frank Charles Macpherson the Third climbed out; he dusted off his grey suit and straightened his blue silk tie.
“What a special day!” he said “All of us together again!”
His wife sobbed into her handkerchief; the MacPherson clan cowered around her.
“Our Father who art in heaven…”
Reverend Jacob rambled as he sprinkled holy water, shards of wood embedded in his chest and thigh.
“Shut up, fool!” roared Frank and sent the priest flying with a wave of his arm. “Neither God nor the Devil himself cares about this hole of a town! I am Guardian and Reaper, the only afterlife that awaits you is within my gates!”
The MacPhersons screamed and huddled closer. They watched in terror as Frank Charles MacPherson the Third was torn apart from the inside. His arms popped out of their sockets. His torso split, rib cage stretching, stomach bursting, entrails gushing. The old man’s face cracked in half, blood seeping before his skull exploded. The jelly of dead brains wobbled through the air. The demon emerged from the carnage, a huge reptilian creature with moist black wings.
“The city of the damned comes alive once more! Come forth my minions! Feast! Frolic!” He stretched his wings to their full length and rose to the darkened heavens.
A cacophony of groans began as souls rose from their graves. They could be seen in the eerie unnatural light, grey wraiths that reeled through the air. Ancient skeletons began to push and crawl their way out of the earth. They dangled and swayed, dressed in dirty tatters.
The bodies pinned in the air rained from the sky and plummeted to the ground. The wraiths howled in excitement as they flew towards them, diving and taking possession. The mangled bodies rose, arms and legs twisted, necks broken.
The dead feasted on the living and the living began to feast on each other. Latent passions were sparked and grudges were fuelled. The butcher’s wife turned on her husband’s mistress, wrestling her to the ground, grinning as she strangled and pounded her head to pulp. The postman and the librarian tumbled onto the nearest slab of marble. Foaming at the mouth, they tore at more than clothes, ripping chunks of hair, gouging eyes.
The demon streaked through the blackened sky, his laughter a deep rumble that rattled the earth.
The skeletons of Frank Charles MacPherson the First and Second lurched towards the MacPhersons who remained huddled together by the desecrated grave. They pointed at them, growing agitated, their jawless skulls bobbing wordlessly. They would not be able to protect their family from the horde that was advancing.
A macabre flock of bedevilled bodies stumbled up the hill towards them. They fell upon the screaming MacPhersons, gnawing at flesh and drinking the bloodline of their founding fathers. The most perverse of hatred was reserved for the dying bodies of the priests.
Night clung to the cemetery; it became a timeless realm. The possessed tormented and molested each other, revelling in arousal and repulsion. Sigmund watched in fascination, and soon abandoned himself to the frenzy of sex and violence.
Freshly murdered souls drifted earthbound, gazing upon their own slaughtered remains. Their agony echoed on the wind, drifting through the empty town and across the mountains.
Eventually stillness fell, the dark skies cleared and a weak sun emerged, shining dimly upon the cemetery.
“Keep digging my boy!” laughed the demon as he whipped Sigmund with his tail. Sigmund was beyond all inkling of humanity by then, grunting and drooling in the mud as he dug furiously with both hands, naked but for the dry blood that coated his body. It was the biggest pit he ever had to dig, a massive open grave into which he dragged the mutilated corpses that lay scattered about.
MacPhersonville still stands today, a derelict town in the middle of nowhere, subject of many a ghost story.
No one is certain how the town people all strangely vanished. Their homes and stores were found abandoned yet orderly. A long trail of cars remains parked outside the cemetery, an empty funeral hearse at the front. It appears as if the whole town entered the cemetery and disappeared. It is said that if you visit MacPhersonville Cemetery at certain times of year, at the equinoxes or a rare blue moon, it becomes a buzzing necropolis, alive with the debauchery of the dead, but none who dare venture beyond the gates ever return to tell their tale.
~ Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
There was a scratching on the glass that roused her from light sleep. At this stage she was so uncomfortable and so preoccupied with thoughts of the birth that she rarely got much real sleep at all. It was her first baby.
Again there came a peculiar scratching noise. Sam sighed and slowly rolled herself into a sitting position. Her extended belly, taught and round, nestled between her thighs. She looked around the dim room, disorientated for a moment. It was late at night and she could hear the rumble of the television downstairs, her husband was probably watching a movie. She rubbed her temples; she had a headache.
There was another sound at the window. This time it was a soft tap, tap, tap. She frowned. Pushing herself up carefully, she waddled to the window and pulled the curtain back, peering into the quiet suburban night. At first all seemed perfectly normal but then she noticed it, nestled amongst the bare branches of a nearby tree, a bird. A monstrously huge bird. She stared at it confused, her mind was heavy and foggy. The bird turned to face her, large yellow eyes stared back. It had a long beak and large wings folded around its body. The bird unfurled its wings, stretching them wide. The sound of their flapping was a dense vibration in the night. The creature had the body of a woman, with small pointed breasts and long pale legs, large clawed feet curled the thick branch.
Sam watched the strange bird woman for a while, emotionless, wondering if she was actually dreaming, until a sudden stabbing pain in her lower belly made her groan and clutch herself in fear. When she looked up the bird woman had disappeared but the sharp pangs continued. She began shouting her husband’s name.
Nothing was left to chance, they had planned everything to the last detail. The best doctor, the best hospital, but chance was not the only force at play.
Sam squeezed and pushed and panted, her face swollen red.
The nurse patted her arm, her husband talked into her ear.
“‘You’re doing really well!” he said cheerfully.
In between contractions that blinded and winded her, Sam fell back onto the pillows gasping. She heard that sound again, tap tap tap on glass. Hovering close, outside at the large window, a dark form, wide yellow eyes pinned on her. Sam watched as the creature stretched her black wings and paced, she seemed excited or perhaps anxious. Nobody else seemed to notice. Sam tried to say something about the birdwoman but then she launched into another contraction.
The birth went without complications. After a few days she returned home, her tiny joy bundled in white. It was a little girl, they named her Amy. The memory of the birdwoman and her piercing gaze haunted her, but Sam was relieved the birth was over with and just wanted to get some sleep.
Her daughter had different ideas. She refused to be put down. The moment she was laid in her plush pink and white crib she began to wail and no amount of rocking or cooing would make her stop until she was picked up again. For a week Sam’s husband and mother were around to help and tend to Amy while Sam got some rest. Then they both had to return to work and Sam spent the days alone, jiggling and patting and pacing with her baby attached. She slumped in the armchair in front of the television, with Amy on her chest, still suckling. Sometimes she managed to put Amy down for a brief moment and make a cup of tea or have a shower before the baby began to cry again. She loaded the pram with all the essentials and went for walks around the neighbourhood. Amy seemed to like the pram on some days. Other days she didn’t like the pram at all and Sam pushed her along as she cried, pausing now and then to plug her mouth with a dummy. Sam avoided stopping for small talk with neighbours who lost all composure at the sight of her newborn baby. They gushed and swooned and giggled. It made her feel guilty. Sam always politely excused herself and hurried off, anxious. Something was wrong. Something was wrong with her. She was not a good mother.
The birdwoman was always there. And every night, while her husband patiently tried to put Amy to sleep, Sam sat in bed with the covers tucked under her chin, listening for sounds of her. She always came at the same hour, scratching against glass, tap tap tap. It was a little frightening but Sam was certain she couldn’t enter the house and in the morning she would be gone. Maybe the birdwoman was there to help her, or to give her a message, she wondered, and then she was surprised by such odd thoughts. Sometimes she spied through the lace curtains, trying to stand out of view, and watched the birdwoman perched in the large tree outside. The birdwoman sat silently, her head tucked under one of her wings, her feathers ruffled against the cold night air. But when she turned to stare at Sam, her yellow eyes like mirrors in the night, Sam’s heart would begin to pound. She would pull the curtains closed and rush away into bed. She looked over at her husband, snoring lightly beside her, and wondered if she should tell him about the birdwoman. He looked so pale and exhausted himself, with dark circles around his eyes and rough stubble on his face. Sam felt anger bubble inside her and she glared at the crib, which for a short while remained silent.
The truth is Sam had known something was wrong on the way home from the hospital. Why wasn’t she overjoyed, beaming with happiness and pride over her perfect newborn daughter? Why did she look at her baby and feel only that sinking dread, a dread that seemed to fall deeper and deeper into nothingness as the days passed? Those tiny little curled fists, ten miniature toes, the soft creases of delicate eyelids, the dusty creaminess of newborn skin; these things should make her giddy with wonder and joy but they evoked nothing in her.
She remembered how happy she and her husband were when she was first pregnant, but soon after a coldness had settled over her. It was a thick sheet that muted the world, only the vague suggestion of things remained. The coldness had taken root, just like the foetus in her womb, growing day by day. Maybe they were one and the same, she didn’t know, she couldn’t tell. She carried life and death at the same time. She struggled through the pregnancy. When she mentioned her doubts and fears people nodded sympathetically. It’s all very normal, they said, with all those hormones going up and down.
After the birth the coldness was not purged as she hoped it would be. Amy was born in gushes of hot blood and mucous but the coldness remained embedded inside. The birdwoman knew, and she understood. Whenever Sam was caught in her gaze she felt ashamed. The birdwoman could read her most private, unspeakable thoughts.
One night, when Amy was less than a month old, Sam woke to find herself sprawled on the couch. She didn’t remember falling asleep. The television was on, with the volume turned down. The house was very quiet, a heavy and peculiar silence. Sam remembered that she was home alone as her husband was working out of town for a few days. She hurried upstairs to check on Amy.
At the bedroom door she froze, startled by what she saw. The birdwoman was standing by the crib, singing softly to Amy. She sang in the language of birds, her voice rising and falling. Amy was awake, both her little hands reached up for the strange woman. Tiny pink fingers curled around old withered skin tipped with long talons.
Sam stepped into the room, not frightened anymore but excited to be so close to this creature. She was very tall. Her powerful wings were folded behind her and swept the floor.
Sam tried to speak but when the birdwoman turned, those yellow eyes gleaming, her sharp beak poised open, all words dropped away.
A choir of bird song erupted in the room.
“It is time. I have come for her. She is mine.”
Sam walked over to the crib and looked down at her daughter. The baby gazed up at them both, content and peaceful.
Sam picked up her baby and began rocking her slowly in her arms, for the first time she genuinely smiled at her. At last she realized the intimate and profound bond she shared with her child.
Huge black wings, of coarse and ancient feathers, opened and stretched across her vision, filling the room, wrapping Sam and her daughter in a shroud of darkness. For a moment they were hidden from all the worlds as the pact was made.
~ Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
I have been known by many names, I prefer Nemesis. Like all deities, my origin and true purpose have been forgotten, denied and sanctified by folklore. I was the dispenser of Justice before justice became a blindfolded woman in the courts of men. I see into the hidden depths of your soul and make manifest your most despised fears, I deliver what you truly deserve. It is not karma, it is not an eye for an eye, it is pure punishment. I will take both eyes and every other organ as well.
I take pride in my work; the dead squabble at the gates of my kingdom as if vying for entrance to an exclusive club. Only the very top skimming of filth, those responsible for the most extraordinary cruelty may proceed. There are many realms of Hell. The common evil doers toss and tumble in pits of flame for eternity, a monotonous suffering fit for the feeble minded. Liars, thieves, adulterers, blasphemers, you will wish you had the balls to really follow your dark urges when you are sentenced to those seething pits of tedious torment. Those pathetic souls are not fit to be in Hell but, of course, the gatekeepers of Heaven will not take them so here they remain: moaning, bitching, squirming; just as they did in life.
Every moment fresh hoards are ushered through the screaming fields where they first witness the horrors they will be subjected to. Row upon row, as far as can be seen, the damned are staked and raked, enduring visions of torture I project upon them.
Among my elite charge are infamous mass murderers, pedophiles, tyrants and politicians, and my favorites, men of the cloth. I have them to thank for the more creative implements of torture at my disposal. I don’t often get my own hands dirty, I have gimps to perform the menial tasks, but sometimes a particular soul will beg for my personal attention.
I have created my world to beautiful perfection. The Infernal Lord respects my artistry and allows me to proceed as I wish. I stroll through the black smoking fields, the rolling hills of ash and debris, piled high with torn limbs, rotting organs, shattered bones. My vulturous familiars flock and feed on the remains, their red eyes glistening like jewels in the fog. The shrieks of the damned are a blissful, primeval hum; the stench of decay is always flourishing. I walk along the rivers of semen and bile that trickle into a thick sea of blood, and I find peace in my work. For a thousand years I have been content in my kingdom. And then you, my beloved, appeared at my gates.
I, of all beings, should appreciate the irony of Universal Law, but I was stunned, you took my breath away. Never did it occur to me that I would see you again, how could I have been so naive? One of my favorite tasks is to torture soul mates, making one watch the other suffer, squeezing them empty of the precious love they believed so rare. And then you, my beloved, were delivered to me.
I was working in the fields happily, the spread-eagled sod before me began a pleasant, pathetic wail at the mere sight of the rake I held. I raised the tool to begin but suddenly paused, shocked to feel your presence. The distinctive energy of you was close. A flock of dead, shrouded in black clouds of hate, were being ushered through the gates and you were amongst them, shuffling along, your head hung low.
Your body bore the marks and lashes of other kingdoms, you had been in Hell a long time but it was apparent you were not yet truly broken. In sheer audacity you clung to the shreds of your royal attire, wrapping them around yourself as if still a noble man. I stared as you walked past, then I returned to my work. Distracted, I tore the fellow before me into thin strips with one quick movement.
I left you strung up for days in the fields, uncertain of how I was going to approach you. Never before had I experienced this doubt in my own realm. Was this a test? Was I, Nemesis, being ridiculed? It baffled and insulted me. My prayers to the Infernal Lord were met with silence.
My gimps became nervous as they watched me grow withdrawn and silent. “What task today Mistress? What wonders may we do today Mistress?” they sniffled and groveled at my feet and I kicked them away, impatient and angry.
“Hang them by their balls! Hook them up by their holes,” I shouted and paced. “Dip them in boiling fat then set them on fire! I don’t care, think of something! Do as you please and leave me alone!”
Brooding, I locked myself away, turning my back on my exquisite realm, until I could avoid you no longer.
I lifted your head with the tip of my pitchfork. My great and powerful king, slayer of children, defiler of men, strung up like a corpse waiting to be gutted. I can still see that steady look on your face as you swung your jeweled sword and sliced off my head. You didn’t pause, you didn’t hesitate. Do you see me now? I have evolved; I have become something other, something more, while you have remained a wretch, stubbornly clinging to ideas that no longer serve you. Your royal birth, your blood line, is of no significance here.
Your eyes were glazed and gray, your once handsome face nothing but stretched skin over bone. In your mad delirium you mumbled the ancient hymns of your powerless pagan god. I stuck the spears of the pitchfork deep into your throat to get your attention. You lifted your eyes to meet my own. What traveled between us, in our gaze, horrified me and I let the pitchfork fall. A black putrid liquid seeped from the holes in your neck and trickled, streaking you with slime. We stared at each other. I thought it impossible, but it was there, tangible, the remnants of our love.
You recognized me and the mask of your face changed. Something in my long dead and hardened chest began to swell. Your eyes watered. Your tears were of black slime too and the thick drops sat on your cheeks like little bugs. A sound gurgled in your throat as you struggled for a voice. I heard you whisper my name, the name I had in life, and your whisper rattled my kingdom.
“My darling, my darling, is it really you?” you croaked. “Save me.”
A feeble plea dripping with sweet humiliation. Yet my sight blurred, a strange haze surrounded me. My rotten, phantom heart beat louder. Tears, my own tears, that I thought I would never need cry again, began rolling down my cheeks. I cried the blood of devils. I dropped to my knees and wept.
The ravaged earth below me laughed. It was the cruel laughter of the Infernal Lord, pleased to see me, the great Demoness Nemesis, broken. And then I looked up to see you too were chuckling, spluttering your black venom.
My tears stopped. A rage infused me, more glorious than I’ve ever felt before and I shrieked triumphantly at the pleasure of it. Without another moment’s hesitation I stood and rammed the pitchfork through your chest, then jacked it open. Your withered heart was a stone. I yanked it out and swallowed it.
Then I set to work, with renewed delight and focus. Once we reigned as king and queen in a fertile and noble land. Now I reign alone over my own dominion. Your rule was cruel and villainous but my reign is without limitation.
I administered the tortures that you had enjoyed watching as king. I cut your tongue into thin slices, a slice for every lie and bribe you had spoken. A long stake through your anus and out your mouth, for the rapes of young men, women and children. I lost myself in a frenzy of dismemberment, plucking your ribs and vertebrae, savoring each diseased organ, weaving a lace of bondage with your own intestines.
My Lord appeared to me, breaking my reverie, so pleased was He with my work. I prostrated in obedience and we fornicated on your remains. Your gouged eyeballs watched, hanging out of the sockets of your severed head. Your twisted and scalded penis twitched, aroused. Your hands crawled away like bleeding spiders. My gimps came to scrape you up and put you back together again. Your torment will never end; it is a nightmare you will dream for eternity.
I will always be your Nemesis and you will be mine.
~ Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
The child I loved hung me on the wall and didn’t look back. Doors slammed and the house settled into endless night. Then one day the handle twisted and rattled, and the door slowly creaked open. Footsteps crept on the dusty floorboards. A dark shadow moved around the room. We were terrified at first; was it a ghost? The house had been deserted for one week or maybe one hundred years; I never understood human time. In any case, it felt like an eternity since we had seen a child, an eternity of loneliness and silence and never being touched.
The dark shadow moved to the window and pulled back the tattered curtains. A burst of sunlight flooded the room.
It was a pretty thing with long blonde braids dressed in strange boyish attire. She stared around the room, amazed by the collection of old toys in the attic. I know how precious the first few moments between a toy and a child are. I had to be the first one to catch her eye if I had any chance of getting out of there, any chance of ever dancing again.
I focused all of my energy on her. She looked up and saw me, hanging gracelessly, head flopped to the side, my pretty dress brown with age. I sent her a vision of my lace skirts twirling as I danced in a beam of light. I was a professional once, working the stage before adoring crowds. Agile and masterful hands directed my strings, maneuvered me perfectly. Those hands understood me and filled me with life although they also filled me with dread.
I made the little girl imagine she held my strings as I dipped and hopped. She smiled up at me. To bring her closer, to make her reach up and touch me…
The girl took a step forward before a harsh voice echoed from downstairs.
“Amelia! Amelia, where are you?”
She froze in fear then quickly left the room closing the door carefully behind her.
The commotion downstairs went on for days as the new family moved in. The toys in the attic grew restless and excited. We would be discovered again. Maybe some of us would be taken into a colourful playroom, we thought. Maybe we would have picnics in the garden or be taken down to the seashore once more. I waited patiently and a strange sensation grew in me. I realised it was hope. I kept calling her name and I knew Amelia would return.
I love the sea. The circling gulls, the fierce wind, the crash of the waves. The sea is nearby the house and the little girl who owned me before used to take me there all the time. I should have used her when I had the chance; after all her sweet talk and tea parties she left me to rot when she moved away.
She would sit me in the sand and I would stare unblinking into the sun as she built sandcastles. I longed to walk and explore, not manipulated by strings but by my own free will.
I remember my master, he who made me, but I try not to think of him. He was a possessive and neurotic man who made me work for hours on end until I grew dizzy and faint. The curtains would finally draw closed, the cheering of children ringing in my ears as I collapsed in an exhausted heap. Day after day, often twice a day, I danced. I was locked up in a velvet-lined box and taken out only for performances. But it is thanks to him that I have the power I do; when he passed away I inherited his magic. On his deathbed, he clutched me in fear and sadness; coarse fingers traced the cold curves of my porcelain face, tears in his blind eyes. Then with shaking hands, he pushed me back into my box. I heard the lock click and I was terrified, believing I would never be taken out again.
Eventually, after lifetimes of darkness, the box was opened. The little girl who carefully lifted me out had my master’s eyes. His blood flowed through her veins, I could tell. Her little fingers had the same talent and she knew how to work my strings beautifully. I danced again but not without bitterness in my heart. Then she too betrayed me, left me hanging in the attic and disappeared, and I felt my plush stuffing turn to cruel cold stone.
Amelia crept into the attic late one night, not long after our first meeting. Balancing on an old chair, she carefully unhooked me from the wall. She carried me down to her bedroom where she sat me proudly on her dresser.
She got back under her covers and gazed at me in wonder. My dainty red painted lips smiled at her, my black glass eyes twinkled in the night. I blinked at her with long stiff lashes. I was so elated she had come to collect me. The magic was working. We gazed at each other until her eyes slowly closed and she drifted off to sleep.
I met her in her dreams. It was snowing there, perfect snowflakes drifted around us. We held hands and giggled as we spun in circles. For a moment, we couldn’t tell which one of us was the doll and which was the little girl. That made us laugh hysterically and we spun faster and faster until we tumbled in the snow.
After that, we spent every day together; she took me everywhere. She carried me around carefully so as not to tangle my strings, and she never put me in a box. Her feelings for me grew, forming that mysterious bond between child and toy. And so did my power, for it was the bond that fueled my magic. Nothing is more powerful than the genuine and pure love of a child, and she gave it to me willingly.
I always had pride of place on her dresser, glaring down at the plain and ugly toys that littered her bedroom floor. Dreadful tawdry things. I am one of a kind, handcrafted with a ceramic head, hands and feet; my soft torso is made of quality cotton, my features beautifully painted.
For weeks, I sat and watched her sleep, entering her dream world where we played together for hours. Nothing separated us. Little by little, her energy was becoming mine.
In her dreams, I showed her what to do, how to become limp and lifeless; empty. Soon it was I who danced, free and exhilarated, while she slumped in a dark corner, her eyes wide and blank. In the morning, she woke terrified, feeling drained without knowing why.
All night long, I chanted the spell that lulled her spirit into my form. I was coming to life. I began to feel a tingle in my toes and fingertips, a whirling in my belly.
Amelia grew more weak and frail. She dozed in bed most of the time so I could enter her mind and dance there during the day as well. But her parents were getting worried and began to interfere. They took her to visit the doctor; they took her out to do things, leaving me behind. They kept stuffing her with food hoping it would regain her strength. I had to work faster; they were getting too meddlesome.
I put one final image in Amelia’s mind – a gentle ocean, the sky an innocent baby blue, a stretch of golden sand. The next morning she told her mother she felt much better and was going for a walk down to the beach.
Amelia propped me in the hot sand. It was a perfect sunny day. I watched as she applied greasy sunscreen to her thin legs. To be honest, and to my surprise, I felt a little sad. A pang of bitterness and loneliness overcame me. Will anyone ever love me and take care of me forever, never to leave me behind, used and forgotten? The bright glare of the sun was hurting my eyes and the sand tickled my skin; my senses had awakened, and it was too late to turn back.
Amelia hummed to herself; she seemed almost content but I could sense her anxiety. The past few weeks had confused and frightened her; she knew something was happening but she didn’t understand what.
For a few moments, we sat together and stared at the rolling ocean and the bright horizon. Then she rose and walked slowly towards the waves.
I began to utter my spell for the last time. If I could manifest tears, a single drop may have run down my face.
The waves grew higher as I chanted, the ocean responding to my malevolent intent. Amelia hovered at the edge, the tide rolled in quickly, flooding around her ankles. I felt her little heart begin to race, her mind clouded with confusion. She walked further in.
Waves crashed over her head, pulling her under. She called out, a faint cry smothered by the roar of the sea. I watched her rise on the waves then sink again, her arms waving helplessly, her voice silenced by mouthfuls of water.
It took a few minutes as she struggled. Hungrily I sucked in her energy, my desire to live greater than hers. Her life force flowed to me as it drained from her, our bond complete. I felt myself truly come to life. I could feel my arms and legs. I touched my body, a strange sensation. My lips opened and a giggle escaped.
Ecstatic, I tore off my strings. It hurt as they ripped from my limbs.
I stood up carefully. In the distance, I could see Amelia’s floating body, another child lost to the magic of the toy kingdom. The waves had calmed; all was quiet except for a single gull that shrieked in the sky.
I began to walk, one foot in front of the other, just as I had been taught to do but this time nobody was controlling me and nobody ever would again.
I marveled at the tiny prints my ceramic feet made, proof that I exist.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
The front gates of your fortress are tall, ornate and heavily guarded, much like I imagine the gates of Heaven to be. I easily make it through security when they realize who I am. Your protégé has returned at last. I walk slowly up the long winding road admiring the impeccable and wonderful gardens that surround your mansion.
On the marble steps of the entrance I stand like a crucified god, both arms outstretched as your bodyguards search me, and I smile at the irony. I step into the great hall where a devotee bows to me then requests that I remove my shoes. I am given a white robe and led into a change room. I have not worn the robe for so long that I feel and look like another person. I glance at my reflection for a long time, the memories swell and churn. I lived many years in your ashram. I let the memories come and go. I feel nothing.
When I emerge from the change room the devotee bows to me again.
“The Guru is expecting you. He is most pleased that you have come,” purrs the man with a polite smile. He gestures, inviting me to proceed.
I walk deeper into the large entrance hall, marveling at the decadence. The floor is fine, white granite. It is cold and smooth under my feet. A beautiful fountain is in the centre of the hall. Its crystal clear water fills the air with a fine, refreshing mist. Light streams in from the domed glass ceiling. A huge winding staircase of glistening mahogany stands ahead. The staircase is laid with plush red carpet. The carpet seems to melt beneath my feet; warm and soft, a striking contrast to the granite floor. With careful slow steps I begin the ascent.
I walk the pristine white halls, passing the silent sentinels who stare ahead although they observe me carefully. Within large rooms the elite of your followers are seated softly chanting your mantra. Fresh bouquets of extravagant blooms line the walls. The altars are large and overflowing with more flowers, adorning huge portraits of you. Streaming brass bowls thicken the air with the intoxicating scent of sandalwood. I keep climbing, to the very pinnacle of your mansion, to a small room lined with windows that offer exhilarating views of the coast.
I stand before the white raw silk curtains that line the doorway, the veil between you and I. In this room you live, rarely leaving; you no longer travel to teach anymore. From the peak of your ivory tower you look down at the world you have left behind. In this room you receive the most select and gifted of your followers. Very few are granted entrance. I sat in this room with you often, the two of us on orange cushions gazing down at the ocean.
The silk brushes my face as I pass through; there is no turning back. I have not returned to embrace you my beloved Guru, I have come to say goodbye. You were a kind and generous Guru, you gave me everything. Except the key. Except what I wanted.
I find you as I remember you, seated on your cushion, gazing out of the window, as if you have not moved in all these years. The sharp morning light that pours in is overpowering, it seems as if we are standing amongst clouds.
I wait silently. After a few moments you finally rise and turn to me. Your skin glistens like polished bronze, your eyes are orbs of bottomless black. You are an enigma, oozing mystique. I approach you and our eyes meet. A sensation sweeps over me, is it love? It is nothing but a distraction; I will not be deterred. I know I must act instantly. With a swift and powerful motion I plunge my fist deep into your belly. You do not struggle, you do not make a sound. You hold my gaze, expressionless, but deep down I can see the surprise, the shock. Your protégé has surpassed you in skill. The pain must be excruciating as I push my hand in deeper; you drool from the mouth, tears seep from your eyes. I withdraw and blood gushes from the wound. You drop to your knees and I follow, diving my hand in deeper again. I need it while you are still alive. You begin to convulse as I scoop out your intestines. I can feel it with the very tip of my fingers, smooth and hard, deep within you. A small curved thing, the most sacred of bones. The seat of the soul, the seat of power, the sacrum. I have come to collect yours, my Guru.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
I was born twice. Once in my own world, of which I recall very little, and once again by a human vessel. My consciousness was merged with human seed and implanted in a hot womb of thriving tissue. Perhaps those months spent within my human host are the most enjoyable in my memory. No one could reach me there. I was happy, alone, protected and silent; safe from the Fathers and not yet privy to the horrors of this Earth. Nourishment was instant. I desired nothing, much like the state I once enjoyed in my homeland. Then came the time to be expelled and no matter how much I refused, the imperative of the human body was unstoppable. I was squeezed in the most undignified way through a narrow canal, my skull and limbs crushed by straining muscles.
Deformed and coated in human slime, I arrived on this planet. I screeched in terror, in outrage. The humans smiled, their faces glazed with ignorance. They were so proud of themselves and so smitten with me, as if I really was their very own creation.
I once met another like myself. This never occurs, it was no coincidence. It was a warning, to teach me a lesson.
He appeared to be a well dressed business man. We passed each other on the street, then we both stopped and turned back to stare at one another. He looked around anxiously. He dropped his briefcase and grabbed my arms.
“Free yourself!” he hissed. “Use the humanity to mask yourself!”
He revealed his true eyes to me, the pupils stretched to long slits, the colour of the iris drained away. I looked at him helplessly and recognised the burden cast upon us, this human suffering we are made to bear. I felt his fingers morph as they clutched me, stretching and curling into long grey digits.
There was so much I wanted to ask him but I couldn’t utter a sound and our meeting was swiftly ended. He coughed, buckled and seized, his skin began to smoke and burn, the smell of it revolting. I felt his excruciating pain and together we screamed. Still clutching me he melted like wax, his body folding upon itself, bones and organs exposed for a moment before disintegrating. I stared as his sizzling remains, my clothes stained with his dripping flesh.
I was on a busy street; humans rushed past me, unaware as usual. Blind, deaf and dumb to the reality around them. I couldn’t make sense of the emotions coursing through me. Is this madness? I wondered, Can I succumb to the weaknesses of the human mind?
I have been sent here as many before me were sent and many more will follow. We live among you while your governments shoot their toy rocket ships into space. We are here beside you as you stare into the night sky pondering extraterrestrials. You are infantile, primitive creatures. My Fathers recognise your wealth even if you do not. The rich earth you live upon and the unique consciousness and bodies you possess, there is much on your planet for them to reap and therefore they sow. Each generation is a little less human as we assimilate your genes.
Their grand design and agenda, that I can’t disclose for I don’t know myself. I serve as countless others serve. I receive my instructions one at a time and everything that occurs in this human life I inhabit is preordained, I have no free will to gamble with.
I have jumped through all the hoops; school, work, family. I have upheld an identity, a personality. All these things I have endured, as well as any real human, for the sake of the Fathers. Every day I wonder, is my service finally complete? Will I soon be able to vacate this form? Perhaps tomorrow a car will crush me or I will be shot in the street or better still, I will be given the directive to do it myself. I would gladly poison this body, laughing as it twitched and jerked to its demise. I daydream about slashing wrists and broken necks. I would revel in the torture of this soft, sensual jail. I have never become fully accustomed to it. It accomplishes things in such slow, inefficient ways, victim to the savage torment of time as it gradually breaks down like a tired machine. The chewing and digestion of food, defecating and urinating, the putrid mess of sexual intercourse; it is perverse.
My swelling womb stretched my stomach to obscene proportions. I was smooth, round and ripe, ready to burst; pregnant. For the first time I felt fear, what more will the Fathers demand of me?
The man who is my husband was happy in the simple manner of humans. He served me tea, stuffing more pillows around me, propping me up like the doll I am. He rattled on about possible names for the offspring and how we should decorate the nursery.
Bloated like a rotting thing, I was more disgusted by this body than ever before. A grim depression overcame me. It was then I realized there is no higher purpose for me to fulfill. I am simply here to propagate for the Fathers.
My human husband said, “Cheer up darling, everything will be fine!”
I wobbled to the window and looked up at the night sky. Beyond those faint twinkling stars, an inconceivable distance away in human time, is my home. I close my eyes and try to remember the serene cities of my planet, free of all artifice and decoration, cold, simple, perfect; the identical faces of my clan – nothing was random in my world, nothing was superfluous, life thrived in geometric precision; and I remember the wars, thousands slaughtered in one breath by intergalactic beings more powerful and merciless than us.
The bone stretching contractions, the violent spasms cracking this body open. A spine buckling possession. No amount of screaming alleviated the torment, it was a grueling marathon to the brink of human endurance.
“Don’t give it to me!” I shrieked when they handed me the writhing little monster.
It looked so perfectly human; its skin pink, its eyes blue. But I can feel its ancient power. It is one of my kind, much older and stronger than I have ever known.
At first I tried to kill it. Surely its fragile body would be easy to kill? I bashed its little skull on the floor. I tried to smother it, to drown it. But it survived unscathed while I was struck down with pain.
It doesn’t stop howling until I bring it to my breast. It latches on and sucks greedily, the little leech. I cry the strange salt of human tears as I realize it is not over for me, it has only just begun. I am a mother of the new breed. I will grow old and wrinkled and die a tedious human death while this hybrid creature will flourish and conquer, favored by evolution. My baby stares up at me and gurgles innocently, drooling from its perfect rosebud lips.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2015 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
“Fulfill your divine potential. Connect with your higher self and spirit guides. Manifest the life you want,” read the brochure.
It sounded like a good idea at the time, but sitting there, in a circle of misfits, Jess regretted going along and wondered how she could politely excuse herself.
A woman with long white hair rang a little bell to announce the meditation was about to begin. People hushed their soft chatter. They nestled on their cushions, getting comfortable.
“Okay. Let’s begin. My name is Isadora. I will be leading the guided meditation with you tonight.”
Isadora glanced around the room, smiling warmly. She wore long flowing clothes in shades of pink and white. Her neck and fingers were adorned with gemstones. Jess hated her immediately.
“Let’s close our eyes. Begin by taking a deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth. And another deep breath in…and out. Allow all the thoughts and worries of the day to slip away. Become fully aware of your body. We’re going to count backwards from ten and you will gradually feel more and more relaxed. Ten…”
Reluctantly Jess closed her eyes. She would just have to sit through this and leave as soon as she could. She peeped through squinted eyes at the others in the room. They were a random group from all walks of life: a well groomed business man fresh out of the office, a twenty something Goth girl, a middle aged woman in gym gear, a plump woman in a brightly printed kaftan and matching head scarf.
Without dropping her smile Isadora gave Jess a stern look. Jess quickly squeezed her eyes shut.
“You are standing in a beautiful forest; a lush, green, beautiful forest. It is a warm sunny day. You are walking through the forest and soon you reach a clearing. Standing in the middle of the clearing is someone waiting for you. It is your spirit guide. Feel the rays of love coming from your guide, they are so happy to meet you.”
Jess was standing in a beautiful forest. A lush, green, beautiful forest. A short way ahead there was a clearing. She walked towards the clearing as she was instructed. There was something there. It was so bright that her eyes began to sting; she couldn’t look at it directly. Jess didn’t feel joy, she felt a heavy sinking dread – an immobilizing terror. The being was menacing. It appeared to be made of flames, flickering and lashing. Jess looked around, frightened. The lush, green, beautiful forest had become dense and dark, stretching upwards, closing in on her. She couldn’t escape this imagined landscape; there was no way back.
“When you feel ready you may approach your guide. You may hug them if you wish, do what feels right for you. Ask them if they have a name.”
Isadora’s calm steady voice continued to drone on in her head, but Jess could no longer focus on the words.
The temperature was rising quickly, the atmosphere had become a blistering haze. Jess was sweating; she felt faint. The strange being approached her. It came close, dancing and twirling in front of her. The waves of heat were scalding; she could smell her hair smouldering. Tiny shooting sparks flicked at her, each one inflicting a painful burn. Jess opened her mouth to scream and the being leapt in. It slid down her throat and zapped around furiously in her belly. Her stomach began to sizzle. The sensation of being burned from the inside out was excruciating. She dropped to the ground screaming. She rolled around clutching her stomach, but the fire was within her and she couldn’t extinguish it. The looming dark forest exploded in flames.
“…And when you are ready, open your eyes. You are now fully back in your body and safely grounded.”
Isadora’s voice cut through her vision and Jess found herself sitting on the cushion again.
Around her, the others had begun to stretch and move. A few people were shedding quiet tears of happiness and awe. The kaftan wearing woman was chanting ‘Om’. Isadora rang her tiny bell again to bring attention back to the circle.
“Okay. I hope you all enjoyed that visualization. Would anyone like to share their experience?”
“My guide was a Native American warrior,” blurted the businessman. “He gave me a large white feather.”
“A white feather!” said Isadora, impressed. “Wonderful. Very powerful.”
A lively discussion began as people exchanged details of their spirit guide experiences, comparing mysterious details and imagery.
Jess sat quietly, feeling very shaken. Her experience had seemed so real, so awful. She remembered the smell of her hair burning and the sensation of burning up inside. She hoped no one would ask her about it. She looked around the room, growing more anxious. It was starting to get so hot and stuffy. Thick smoke streamed from an incense burner, forming a mist in the room. The sweet scent was nauseating. Candles burned around the circle. Jessica watched the flames rise and flash brightly. She wriggled uncomfortably as panic began to set in. She must be imagining things, she thought, she had to get out.
“Are you okay, dear? Do you want to share your experience? Sometimes our guides challenge us because they know we are ready to grow.”
Isadora was speaking to her. She was still smiling that infuriating smile, that feigned wisdom and compassion.
The others in the circle turned to stare at Jess. Jess felt a strange force stir within her and she struggled to speak.
“My guide…my guide is…my guide is fire!”
The smile on Isadora’s face didn’t falter, she stared at Jess, not understanding.
Jess began to shake, a blind rage rose within her, building momentum. A deafening screech erupted from her as she lunged at Isadora, bowling her over. Her hands gripped her neck and squeezed. Jess watched in shock and delight as flesh melted and oozed in her hands. Muscle dripped away from jawbone, revealing rows of long teeth; the tongue was sizzling sludge. Isadora’s eyeballs blistered then popped. Foul grey smoke streamed out of ears and nostrils as her brain boiled. Soon, all that remained of Isadora’s head was a charred skull with a mocking smile.
The room had erupted into screams. Jess stood and faced the others, her eyes glowed like burning coals. Candles flashed, alighting curtains and furnishings as people tried to escape. The sacred circle was now a ring of flame.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2015 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
Emily was woken by the sound of chopping wood. Jimmy was swinging his axe early that morning. Thick logs cracked, split in two and fell with a dull thud. It was a familiar and comforting sound.
She didn’t have the energy to move around much anymore, even the slightest movement left her gasping with pain. Emily gazed at the large glass of water on the bedside table, wishing she could reach for it. Her throat was scorched and her mouth was sour. She coughed and her chest felt like a rattling heap of bones. Her breath was a loud, tender wheeze.
Jimmy would be in soon. He would stroke her hair and smile down at her. She closed her eyes and pictured him out there in the cold, preparing for their evening fire. She began to recall all the fires they had shared together. It was an exercise she liked to do often. It comforted her and kept her mind occupied, which helped to alleviate the pain. She wondered how long before the fire would be hers alone. Flames flickered in her vision, in shades of orange and yellow, stretching into long, howling faces that mocked her. She didn’t open her eyes again.
The first time Jimmy and Emily started a fire they were fifteen years old. They lived in the outer suburbs, a sprawl of dilapidated houses, trashy chain stores and franchise family restaurants, cut through the centre by a highway.
Surrounded as they were by drugs, alcohol and violence, fire became the one vice they couldn’t resist. Fire opened up a secret space, theirs alone, to reside in for a while, as the cold brutal world faded from view. Fire was the secret they protected and which, in turn, protected them.
One day they had climbed a high wire fence into an abandoned car yard. The yard was scattered with the hulls of stripped cars and an assortment of discarded junk. They rummaged through the remains. They sat on a red vinyl back seat perched on top of a pile of old tyres. Jimmy pulled out a couple of bent cigarettes he had stolen from his father.
Jimmy played with the lighter as they smoked, flicking the flame repeatedly. He was feeling agitated and restless. That morning his father, already drunk for the day, had flown into a rage over the electricity bill. Jimmy and his brothers had scattered from the house like insects.
He touched the flame to the seat and the vinyl began to melt instantly, oozing like an open wound, the smell of burning plastic a toxic high. Emily stared at the tiny flame licking the plastic seat.
Jimmy’s face changed as he watched, becoming thoughtful and calm.
“Wanna start a fire with me?” he asked suddenly.
Emily exhaled a grey plume; she shrugged and nodded casually but she was excited by the idea. They jumped down from the seat and searched the car yard for things to burn. There were scraps of foam and rubber around and lots of scattered rubbish. They shredded old newspapers into a big empty drum.
“Do the honours?” said Jimmy and handed Emily the lighter. She lit a wad of paper then tossed it in.
They stood back and stared at the flames that flashed and grew quickly; a stream of black smoke began to curl skywards.
Jimmy reached for Emily’s hand and she took it without glancing at him. A sense of wonder enfolded them, a strange relief and elation.
They both felt it. They knew they both felt it because they squeezed hands, communicating something that couldn’t be spoken.
They were jostled out of their thoughts when someone began shouting.
An elderly man dressed in overalls had appeared and was shuffling towards them from across the yard.
“Hey you kids, what the hell are you doing?”
Jimmy yanked Emily by the arm and they bolted. They easily scrambled over the fence and ran. A few streets away they stopped, out of breath, and doubled up with laughter.
They looked at each other in amazement. They kissed then dissolved into giggles again. That was the beginning of a lifelong love affair between the three of them, Jimmy, Emily and fire.
Jimmy swung his axe slowly to the ground. He looked up at the bedroom window and an acute fear swept over him. He rubbed his tired eyes. He couldn’t bare this anymore. It happened often now. He would find himself running to the house and up the stairs in a panic, rushing into the bedroom, to find Emily sitting in bed reading.
“Do you need anything?” he’d say, relieved and embarrassed, and she would shake her head no.
It had been a year since Emily was diagnosed. Jimmy watched her whittle away; the disease ate her from the inside out. He watched her endure hostile treatment and medication until there remained nothing left to resort.
During their life together fire had come and gone. There were years when they didn’t light fires at all. And there were times when everything caved in, like when Jimmy’s dad died or when Emily suffered a miscarriage, and their need for fire returned. They would find a good location, start a small fire and watch as it burnt away their pain, consuming the anger and despair until they could take a deep breath again. They were careful and they were never caught.
Years ago, they had moved to a property in the country. When they saw the large fireplace in the house, they grinned at each other.
As Emily’s condition deteriorated, they lit fires every night. It was the only thing that made Emily feel better for a while. The fire cast a glow of life back onto her face; she nestled in comfortable silence to watch it and a soft rising euphoria dulled the pain.
When Emily was still able to, they went for walks together in the surrounding bushland, collecting kindling and large branches.
It was on one of these walks that Emily told Jimmy what she wanted to do. He hated the idea; it scared him, and he didn’t know how to respond. They had walked home in silence.
Jimmy looked up at the bedroom window and fear gave way to something far more bottomless and dreadful.
He climbed the stairs slowly. The door of the bedroom seemed to swing open by itself as he touched it. From where he stood in the doorway, he could see that Emily was gone.
He smoothed out the wisps of hair that framed her face. Tears swelled in his eyes and a painful lump lodged in his throat. He sat beside her for a long time in disbelief, holding her lifeless hand. Pale and frail, it was impossible to tell whether it was life or death that had eaten her away. He could feel every bone and joint in her fingers; he squeezed her forearms and the bones were sharp and thin. Useless bones that no longer animated her. She began to appear like a macabre puppet – a revolting thought – and he had to pull away.
After a while, he walked over to the window and threw it open. A cold gust of winter air rushed in. He looked down at the pile of wood gathered in the yard. He needed to get started as soon as possible.
He began to pace the room, staring at Emily’s body. Panic set in. Suddenly it all seemed like such a bad idea. How could he possibly go through with it? What kind of person would do such a thing? His mind scrambled desperately with thoughts. He didn’t want to do it. It was cruel of her to have asked him. They had talked about the plan a lot and she had made it sound so natural. It was her dying wish.
“I can’t do it!” he shouted then burst into tears, but it was too late. He had to keep his promise.
He scooped her up, gathering her carefully. She was like a bag of sand slipping from his grasp as he walked. He had to stop several times to heave her back up. Slowly he carried her down the stairs, through the house and out into the yard.
The staggered walk to the pyre was a ludicrous funeral march. His heart was thumping and his mind was numb. He had been building the pyre for days now, arranging the logs just right. He had a feeling the time was near.
Relieved to relinquish her body to the pyre, he placed her upon it as gracefully as possible. The body flopped over the logs, the head rolling back at an awkward angle, the limbs sprawled indecently. He rearranged the body until it looked right.
He tried not to look at her as he picked up the heavy jerry can and began to splash kerosene over the wood and body.
Finally the can was empty. He stood there for a while, lost in thought. His eyes and nose were streaming with silent tears.
He wiped his nose on his sleeve then fumbled in his pockets for the matches. He struck one and held it until it burnt out. He did this many times, burnt matches collected at his feet.
Her voice echoed in his head: “I want to burn, Jimmy.”
A flash of anger arose. She was always the more reckless between them. Many times Jimmy had to persuade her against lighting a fire that was too dangerous, too public. He felt cheated and manipulated now by her final act of defiance.
Then the anger disappeared as quickly as it had come and he took a deep breath. With trembling lips, he struck another match. He closed his eyes as he threw it at the pyre and then it was done. It was done and it couldn’t be undone. He stepped back in surprise as instantly the wood went up in huge, crackling flames. The box of matches dropped from his hands.
Flames engulfed and rolled around the body, quickly beginning to scorch the skin. He stared at the horrific vision unfolding before him, unable to move. The flames were mesmerising and in the centre of them was Emily, like a broken discarded doll.
The heat assaulted him in nauseating waves. A terrible thought occurred to him; he should walk into the fire and join her, if only he had the courage.
Before long, the smell began to assault him, a stench of cooking meat, sweet and peculiar. He had not considered what his wife would smell like as she burnt. He covered his mouth, tears streaming down his cheeks.
The smell became a gut retching stink. He ran inside and slammed the door. He leaned against it, sliding to the floor. He held himself tightly and began to weep.
The fire burnt all day. He was furious he had agreed to do this and incoherent with grief. He paced and stormed inside the house, on the brink of madness, unable to escape the smell that hung in the air.
And the ordeal was far from over. There was one more thing he had to do.
All through the night, the fire continued to smoke while he sat awake in the dark. He was thankful when the morning came, hoping the fire had done its job. It took him a while to gather the courage to go outside. He carried with him a small wooden chest.
Emily’s remains were at the bottom of the burnt out pyre. A piled of charred bones, cracked and crumbling. Her skull and hips were still intact; her skeletal form visible. Jimmy wore heavy plastic gloves. He couldn’t bear the thought of her dust on his hands.
Trembling, he picked her up piece by piece and put her into the chest. There was so much ash and there was no way to tell what was Emily and what was not.
He scooped up most of the ashes, added them to the chest and slammed it shut.
The wooden chest sits in Emily’s armchair by the fireplace. It makes Jimmy uncomfortable but he can’t decide what else to do with it. It feels like she is still there beside him, watching the fire every evening. The fire throws dancing shadows over the chest. Its brass rim and fittings shine brightly, as if there is a treasure inside waiting to be released.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2015 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved
The fruits of our labour will not ripen in our lifetime. The Father teaches that we do not pray and work for ourselves but for our grandchildren. They will reap what we sow.
I am one of many assigned to work in the orchard, spending long pleasant days among rows of trees. It is more enjoyable work than the stables or the kitchen.
Every season the harvest is full, I pick buckets of rosy apples, sharp green pears, plump apricots. The garden beds grow abundant vegetables and our livestock provides us with meat, eggs, milk and wool.
I watch as the men load the boxes into the truck. They leave very early in the morning for markets in nearby towns to sell our produce. I stare after the truck nervously as it departs down the dusty road. Sometimes they are gone for days at a time. It is dangerous for them to travel amongst the Dead but I know they are strong. They will not be seduced by the evil that lurks beyond the gates of our home.
The first time I glimpsed the Father, I knew that he was what I had been searching for all my life. If you have not known real love I cannot explain it to you. Not emotional sentimentality, but love that nurtures and sustains.
The Father teaches that in a world of lies, we are keepers of the truth. The Father teaches that our faith is a jewel we must guard fiercely against corruption. The Father teaches that this sacred land has been passed down through the lineage since the very beginning. To protect the earth is to protect our faith. We have been drawn here because we are the chosen.
Far beyond the rolling hills of the valley lie the cities of the Dead, seething wastelands of decay and pollution. We call them the Dead because they are deaf to the truth and blind to the spark that governs all creation. With their incessant breeding they are constantly creeping forward, slowly taking more and more, encroaching on our sacred land. We must stand firm against the plague of greed that threatens our way of life. We will not throw the first stone but when the war begins we will fight. I haven’t seen the bunkers myself but the Father assures us we are armed and prepared. We know that one day they will come and we know that we will triumph for we are the chosen.
It began when I was folding the laundry with Catherine.
“Do you ever think of returning?” she asked casually.
A bed sheet floated between us as we held the ends. It rippled like a sail, thin and translucent. I remembered standing beneath a bed sheet as a little girl; my mother and father floated it above me like a parachute. Thin fabric drifted slowly down around me as I crouched, draping me gently, the world cloaked in white haze. I laughed as it was lifted again with a soft rush, ballooning around me. The memory sent a shiver through me. I frowned at Catherine.
“To your home.”
I was stunned. I couldn’t believe she was saying such things.
“This is my home Catherine. This is your home.”
“Well yes, it is now, of course,” she said quickly. “But I mean don’t you ever miss your old home?”
I couldn’t fathom what she meant. I ignored her and quickly finished the folding.
I stormed away in anger but as I glanced out over the beautiful valley I could see, far off in the distance, a dark shadow looming, and I was overcome by terrible fear. It was the army of the Dead, rows and rows of faceless men and women, waiting for the order to march.
I am stranded in the suburb of my childhood. Everything looks the same. Decades have passed but nothing has changed. Anxiety sets in and I begin running past endless identical houses, turning street after street, running deeper into a maze of grey. I am out of breath, I can’t run anymore, I pause to rest.
I jump in surprise and turn around. I have stopped before my parent’s house and there at the front gate stand my mother and father.
My father has his arm around my mother protectively, holding her up as she gazes at me, her eyes pleading with tears.
I woke up in a cold sweat. It was early morning, just before sunrise. I was worried I may have attracted attention but no one else was awake. Across from me lay Catherine, sleeping peacefully in her bed, a picture of innocence.
I got dressed and went for a walk to clear my mind. I walked to the orchard, my favourite place to steal a few minutes alone.
The ground was wet with dew, the air crisp with a thin mist. I stood beneath a large apple tree and looked out over the hills. Glancing down I noticed many apples had fallen from the tree. Over ripe and bruised, wrinkled and turning brown, worm ridden. The sight of it troubled me. We never let anything go to waste.
An orange glow began to fill the valley, a picturesque view, almost too beautiful to be true. On the periphery I caught a glimpse of the creeping shadow, growing stronger with each passing moment.
The bell rang suddenly and I fled in panic. Everyone would be rising and getting ready for breakfast. I hoped no one had noticed I slipped out.
All day I watched Catherine, going about her duties as usual, pretending nothing was wrong. The Father teaches that the signs are there for those who have eyes to see. Walking through the courtyard, I notice weeds had pushed their way through the stones. They were not there the day before. In the library I sat with a closed book in my hands, disturbed by the thick layer of dust that lined the windowsills.
During dinner Catherine ate her soup quietly and avoided meeting my eye.
After the meal I saw her talking to Rebecca, one of the youngest Daughters. They chatted and laughed casually but I read Rebecca’s face when Catherine walked away. The blush of confusion, a fine line of doubt on her forehead; she was preoccupied as she stacked plates away on the shelf.
I understood completely then and knew what I had to do. Catherine could not be permitted to spread her toxic thoughts any longer. They were poisoning our community, creeping like a vine, slowly encompassing and choking everything.
Later that evening I approached the Mother. I found her sitting quietly on the porch. I told her I needed to speak to the Father. She told me that was not possible. I insisted, stressing that it was very important.
“You may discuss your concern with me Daughter,” she said without looking up from her knitting.
I told her everything. It all came tumbling out. She didn’t respond or seem at all interested. Her eyes were on a small group of men as they sat, chanting hymns by the fire. Then she got up and walked into her bedroom, closing the door gently behind her.
That night I couldn’t sleep, tossing and turning as I went over every detail. I was worried. Would the Mother accuse me of gossip?
When they came for her it was still dark outside, several hours before sunrise. I heard them enter the dormitory and I gasped under my sheets, curling up in terror. They walked toward my bed but they turned toward Catherine.
They scooped her up and began to drag her out. She mumbled in her sleep and then she began to shout. Her screams were muffled as they took her away.
Breakfast was had in silence. We knew Catherine was with the Father. We heard the bells that called us to gather. Calmly we tidied things away then filed into the courtyard.
We circled the platform, staring up in fear and awe. The Mother and the Father stood either side of Catherine, her head hung low in shame.
The Father’s face was creased with sadness, the burden of his task apparent, but a beautiful aura of light always surrounds him. I could see the bright blue of his gentle eyes.
“My children,” he began, his voice calm and strong. “Today I grieve. I grieve for the weakness of humankind that has led so many astray. We will be tested but our faith cannot be destroyed. Let your resolve be strengthened. By their own hand the weak and treacherous will perish.”
The Father stepped backward and bowed his head. The Mother was expressionless as she placed the heavy rope around Catherine’s neck. Catherine began to sob quietly, her shoulders shaking.
“This is my home!” a voice shouted, as it cut the tension in the air. A hand clamped my mouth and my brothers and sisters huddled around me. The voice was mine, I realised, and I began to cry, too.
I turned away as it was done, my face buried in my hands. I heard the shocked intake of breath that rippled through the gathering. I heard the creak of wood as Catherine’s body dropped, suspended by the strong beam above.
When I looked back, Catherine’s body hung limp and empty. I watched her feet twitch, then stop.
A perfect stillness permeated everything. The angry tears that rolled down my cheeks become tears of relief. I looked out towards the horizon, saw no sign of the shadow. Everything was as it should be. The shadow had been vanquished and we were safe again, at least for a while longer. Another beautiful day lay ahead, I walked to the orchard to begin my work.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2015 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.