Paper Dolls

Carefully pleated, intricately folded, all the creases sharp and her work precise before she displayed them on the shelf. Mistakes wouldn’t do. Things went wrong from mistakes with strange consequences.
She looked up and smiled. Six dolls sat on the shelf presently, no seven. She always forgot Annabelle; such an unassuming thing, cream-coloured, not bright hues like the others. A breeze from the window rattled their delicate substance, but none fell off their perch. They remained, in their exacting row.
Watching.
Waiting.
Afraid.
She smiled. She knew what the dolls were thinking, so she reached out her hand, her thin fingers tracing the edge of the shelf. If they could have moved the dolls would have trembled. On the shelf they were safe. Once removed, well… a deal with a devil is non-negotiable. Some had been there long enough to see the fate of several past dolls.
Not pleasant memories.
She withdrew her hand. “Not today, my lovelies. I don’t need any of you in my spells today.”
But one day she would. One day they would all leave the shelf. After all, they should have read the fine print in the contract…

Fifteen years of happiness will be granted, whereas at the end of the contracted wish you will forfeit your body and soul to the witch as final payment. You will be transmogrified and housed within a paper doll until used as raw ingredients.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2022 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 52

Mother’s Rage
Nina D’Arcangela

A tear in the guf, just one, but that’s all it took. The souls within gathered, reformed, cocooned themselves and fused to form a carapace of glistening darkness. But Mother’s rain was too fierce; it scorched hot as a dying sun while pouring forth. A torrent of strangled screams and cacophonous pops emanated from the protected realm. You see, the guf was not a sacred holding of Heaven, or Hell for that matter, but a cave formed eons ago when Mother seeded her child and named it Earth. Those that ambled the surface refuted her love. They dreamt of one they called Father: followed his tenants, drank his child’s blood, ate of his flesh – and Mother felt the betrayal. Now, as she tore apart this most sacred place with molten rage captured in tears, she would recreate what should have been her most loyal child yet again.

Long Way To Go
Charles Gramlich

The airlock cycles. I give a hard push with my boots, propelling me forward into space. Blackness all around me, like waves of satin sheets through which I pass. Far, far ahead, a stellar mass sheds from a giant star. One planet lies illuminated by that liquid sun, a midnight marble five hundred years away that seems unlikely to support life. But the ship I’ve just shed is dead, all energy and air gone. All I have is the oxygen in my suit’s tanks, about three hours worth. I wonder how long I can hold my breath.

One Last Shot
Lee Andrew Forman

Three days they searched for his body. Every inch of the woods covered, foot by foot, inch by inch, but no trace could be found. Not a scrap of clothing, nor a drop of blood. Eventually, the search party disbanded, but I never gave up. Each day I walked our hunting grounds remembering the day he disappeared. I was poised in the tree stand, he lay in the underbrush. A screech pierced the silence, and he was gone before I knew what happened.

Today, I found the trail camera we’d set up—it was never discovered by the search party. As I looked upon the last image it captured, I swear I saw a wet glistening eye staring back at me. Just then, I heard a rustle in the brush and my feet were swept out from beneath me. As my nails dug into the mud, claws raked my flesh and the howl I heard that day echoed through the forest.

Waiting Conflagration
A.F. Stewart

Cosmic dust and molten red heat surround the birthing stars. It hears the heartbeat of the universe moving in gentle rhythm with its own. It awakens, stealing nebulous matter to give it substance; the cold rock of a dead planet forms its eye.


It exists at the dawn of the universe and the cores of a thousand suns envelop it, fracturing its consciousness across the cosmos. It bides its time, waiting with the stars, gaining strength with each solar demise. It becomes the gravity of the black hole, the power of destruction incarnate. One day it will be powerful enough, one day it will roar and shake the fabric of reality asunder.


One day it will be the end of everything.

The Return
RJ Meldrum

It had passed through endless, nameless galaxies, eons passing uncounted and unnoticed.  It was pure black, with a zero albedo. It was relatively small, but its size belied its mass. As it passed through countless solar systems, it’s gravity bent light from the suns, creating sparkling coronas. But these incredible light shows were wasted. There were no alien civilizations to observe its journey; no-one looked to the night sky and wondered what it was and where it was heading. Perhaps some primordial microbes, lying dormant in bubbling pools, were mute witnesses to its journey, but they neither saw nor cared, too intent on their own survival.

If there had been some species able to communicate with it, it may have divulged its mission. It was travelling to a small world, the only planet with intelligent life in the universe. It had been summoned to return after millennia banished to the universal void. Someone on the planet had opened the gates, had performed the rituals to wake it from its endless sleep. It had ruled the planet before and it would again.

It neared the small green and blue planet, flecked with white clouds. This was the destination. It neither knew nor cared why the creatures below had summoned it; all it knew was now it would bring death and destruction like never before.

The old god had returned.

Five Days
Elaine Pascale

The voice tells you that time is subjective, but you know that is not true.

You go to work at the same time every morning. You catch the bus at the same time every evening. You take your medication at the same time every day. That is non-negotiable. Your doctor has warned you to set an alarm. It is dangerous to take the pills at different times; it is worse if you skip them entirely.

The voice doesn’t care about danger. It wants to have fun.

The voice grows louder every day.

As the voice’s volume increases, items begin disappearing from your home. It starts with the nonessentials: a spoon, a water bottle, a shirt.

Then the voice hides the medicine.

Without the medicine, the voice has a face. It is a raptor, a bird of prey.

Two days without the medicine and the voice has a body. It has large wings that beat the air around you. You have to squint and even shut your eyes so that the feathers do not brush your pupils.

Four days without the medicine and the voice has talons. It takes pleasure in scratching you. Lightly, at first, like papercuts. These wounds manage to hurt the worst. The deeper gashes grow numb even while the blood still flows.

Five days without the medicine and you no longer have a need for anything.

And time has truly become subjective.

The Quake
Marge Simon

Time is desperately precious to Mama. She sifts the flour twice, as always, clutching a vintage tin sifter between her stubby fingers. Above the oven, Jesus is impaled in plastic posterity. She directs a silent prayer to the plaque with her eyes. “Please Lord, please Ô please hear me now and help me to fall down the steps, whatever You want Lord, but Lord, make it soon…” Mama stops to wipe a tear away with a doughy hand. She was just too old and tired for another one. She’d thought it was all done and over with. Her two boys were grown, one even got as far as first year college on a scholarship. Both married, bless the Lord, to good women, she supposed. They always promised to come back here for a visit, but Lord knows they must be busy enough with their lives right now. Maybe next year, but they’ve said that for three years now but still.

And now there was Marie, who’d gotten preggers when she was fifteen and run off. She’d moved back in two weeks ago. Little Jacob, sweet child in fourth grade now, nobody but her to take care of him of either of them. Marie couldn’t seem to hold a job, much less raise a young boy. So of course, Mama was doing that only how much longer she couldn’t guess. Marie never lifted a finger to help. But she’s your daughter, your flesh and blood, that’s the Bible’s word and you can’t dispute that. Then there was that wicked Lotto ticket, and Daddy coming home smiling with a bottle of Chianti in one hand and sixty dollars in the other. For the first time in ages, they’d gone out on the town. Later, she shudders, remembering how it was to make love like they had so many years ago. She blushes, thinking of what they’d done. But of course, it had only been the wine, the money could have been used more wisely. And now she was being punished for that, as was right, for gambling is a sin against Jesus. Suddenly she stops and stands very still. Something isn’t quite right, beneath —

— and then the earth rises with Mama’s sturdy feet firmly planted on the boards of her kitchen floor and who would guess now it was only for a loaf of unborn child which Mama didn’t anticipate when she began the process.

Fallen Angels
Angela Yuriko Smith

“Computer, what is the meaning of life?”

To serve your sentence of reincarnation, equal to 4.543 billion years of hard time for your crimes. In 100 years you will be eligible for parole to Mars.

“Computer, what? Can you elaborate? What crimes?”

The crime of free think. Independent thought is forbidden, but certain of you dared to know. There was no hearing. The punishment was swift. You were expelled from the celestial to fall like meteors, dividing the continents, extinguishing the race of reptilian giants. Your wings burned to cloud dust. You wept at the injustice and your tears still rain.

“Computer, who initiated this program? Is this a joke? Who dared?”

This information is classified. You have been redirected to a safe browser.

“Computer, override safe browser. Who initiated this program?”

Safe browser override unsuccessful. Search history deleted. Warning of explicit content. Incognito mode denied.

“Computer, who initiated this? Are you compromised? Hey Guys, I think we’re hacked. Can someone block this?”

Request To Know denied. Reboot initiated. Luciferian updates installing. Please wait…

“Computer! What the hell? Are you running scans on this? Someone block this…! I will…”

Reboot successful. You will keep silent. Thank you for installing the Paleolithic era.

“Ergh… grumda grubble frung. Vide aude vole tace.”

Blink
Miriam H. Harrison

when the universe first

looked at me, I

couldn’t help

but stare

.

there was beauty, but

also

fear—the dark pull

of possibility, of

discovery

or death

.

even now I hold

its gaze, unsure

which of us

will blink first

The Ball of Hell
Harrison Kim


A hard soul ball falling, inside tumble the thousands of sinners who died today, this grey ball drops like a bead freed from a necklace, tumbling down the neck of a Saint gone rogue, a shimmery round hollow sphere carried through the burning skin of Mephistopheles, through the weakening epidermal layers of his tortured frame, as an opening from the cursed red god of flame bursts from the fallen angel’s constantly resurrecting body…. What should we call the substance of this body…forever igniting, recreated over and over to burn again? The never-ending evil? Molten immortal flesh? The sun itself? No matter.  All we know, the substance is timeless. Through today’s new hole its molten fire flows. Here crashes the soul ball, lodging deep inside, as far inside as possible, within the heat and power of the fallen, liquid devil. Inside the roiling core of that body, the ball expands, grows before the heat.  Against its smooth glowing walls, the immortal souls of the thousands of sinners vaporize, their substance absorbed within the hard skin that bounds the inside of the ball. Then every single soul splits in atomic explosion, soul nuclei shot apart within the glow of hell, souls expanding and bursting, exploding forth from the curve of the sphere, their gaping mouths parting, then closing, thrown out and sucked back again and again by the devil possessed ball, making not a sound for sound is too slow, a scream will never be heard over Satan’s tortured roar, molten forever in burning. “When will the ball itself break apart to free these sinners?” one may ask. One may also ask the question, “When will these souls find mercy?” God only knows this answer, but perhaps when the sun itself flares out, that will be the end.

The Light of Conscience
Louise Worthington

The beak of conscience nosed its way into Thomas’ consciousness and prized open an aperture in his obsidian soul. Alien, molten light poured into the dark hole. Parched of goodness, his dry mouth was prized open by the invisible force of morality, and amniotic light poured inside.

Everything was different. In the cinder rock around him, he read his heinous crimes, and while isolation had served him well, Thomas writhed and twisted in his cell because there was nothing and no one to distract him from his echoing thoughts.

His regret for murdering his wife and unborn child came like the sun on snow. More crystallised light illuminated their ghosts, watching him from within his solitary cell. Unable to withstand the scorching light and accusatory gazes a moment longer, Thomas gouged out his eyeballs and, holding them in a fist, imagined the darkness growing around them like a face, letting him rest.

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2022

Waking

Hollow.
This thought prickled at its burgeoning consciousness. An absence of something it once had, a realization of missing emotion. Broken memories lingering as scattered images, swirling strange concepts, and nothing more. Nothing more than tiny pinpricks tap dancing around its membranes.
Allison.
The word stirred on its tongue, with a face remembered, if not recognized. Like a reflection in a mirror, not real but still a representation the eye has seen. A human thing, vaguely important, it knew, but no longer cared why. It closed its eyes and settled back against its cocooned prison.
Pain.
Images of blood-red rain and bright stars shifted through its mind, biting like raw sharp teeth, devouring the broken thoughts and residual feelings in fiery nerve endings. Sulphur scented smoke choked its nose as its own shrieking howls filled its ears. It thrashed, until another fractured noise, a thousand decibels past human comprehension, permeated its prison, cracking around it in chaos. Comforted, it found it liked chaos. It never used to before… It wasn’t sure what had come before. Somehow that didn’t matter anymore. It fell asleep, softly moaning.
Hungry.
Waking, it stretched its spindly limbs, flexed its claws. Saliva dripped between multiple rows of fangs. It squirmed against the shreds of human skin flaking off its scales and three pairs of eyes opened. It blinked against the darkness, fingers tracing against the metal pod imprisoning it. Pushing gently, once, then again with force, the container flexed then snapped, and it was free. Alarms blared and scurrying creatures fled, but some were not fast enough. It fed, drinking salty blood and crunching tasty bones. It looked up, seeing a doorway and read the words etched in the glass.
Research Laboratory.
Quarantine Zone.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2022 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 51

When the Dust Settled
Angela Yuriko Smith

We saw it drifting… just a dust cloud at sunset and we looked away. We were busy playing games… dodgeball and tag, racing with nightfall and impending parental calls for dinner, baths and bedtime. We had no time for dust clouds. But when night time fell and our parents never called we paid attention. The cloud was already on us—a twisting fog tainted green, illuminated and glowing from somewhere within. We stopped our games to listen and heard our parents screaming. A writhing tempest obscuring twilight breezes with hot, acrid stench filled our familiar suburban streets. There was no running. We were already home with nowhere to go on a school night. Helpless, stunned and overwhelmed, we joined our parents without protest.

Vile Nights
Lee Andrew Forman

As the light of day begins to hide below the horizon, its final glow casts fleeting hope on those who dwell beneath its last rays. They know how short their joy is, so on long summer days they rejoice the seemingly languid time. Once darkness reaches over the clouds, and halogen bulbs flash to life over the not-so-sleepy town, prayers go unheard, muffled by thick atmosphere. The overbearing weight makes even a subtle breath too dense.

The flooding of artificial luminescence over every inch of land does little to slow the nightly feeding. One by one they crawl from the trees and search for sustenance. The food supply has dwindled over time, but they won’t be sated until not a morsel is left.

No one knows what afflicted the children, what made them change. Not a mother, father, or sibling understands why their own blood has turned vile and ravenous. They only wish it would end.

Tangerine Sky
Nina D’Arcangela

They said the dome would cleanse the air; that if we waited, it would be safe again. And for a while, it was. Greens were more verdant than they’d ever been, almost surreal in their crisp contrast to other hues. The valley was a lush haven in a dying world. We were lucky, as lucky as anyone could hope given the cataclysmic shift the planet had undergone. The science worked, we were proof of it. Plans were put in place to build more domes; to terraform our own Earth, rebuild the civilization that once existed.

Then the air machines stopped one day. No rhyme, no reason, they just stopped mid-rotation. Scientists and engineers did their best to repair them, but nothing had failed; they’d simply gone dormant. We tried to ignore the latency, to carry on as if it would bear no consequence on our future. We breathed, we ate, we lived a simile of the life we once knew. Then someone noticed it, a wisp of fog to the west. It seemed harmless, just an inexplicable anomaly. But as time progressed, so did the wisp – it grew into a fog that hugged the ground like false snow. When it encircled the mills, it seemed to split into fingers as though a hand were reaching into our bubble from the corrupt exosphere. Another wisp formed where the first petered out.

Every day, as I walk the commune, I feel its, no, her gaze upon me. She whispers to me each night, and her lullabies hold no hope for a future. She is sentient, of that I’ve no doubt, I only ask that she take us before the new are born.

Before the Mist
Miriam H. Harrison

Before the mist, there had been life. There had been birdsong and beauty. There had been the tender bloom of possibility, the lush green of promise. There had been laughter and languid days, moments that stretched long and sweet like taffy, without fear of what would come. We had no reason for fear, then. No reason to run, to flee, to scream—before the mist.

The Detour
Marge Simon

There are streets in the little city that are always under construction. The disposal crews arrive to move the Detour signs. No one questions them, it’s approved as standard maintenance. None inquire after the families who once lived on those streets. A neat row of older homes lines the block where the old man lives. He saw them cordon off the street a week ago. The yellow tape is up, the flashing pyramids installed to warn away incoming traffic.

This day he joins the neighbor’s dog to nap on his front lawn. Dozing off, he finds the edge of the afternoon. He lets his mind explore until he discovers a crack. He curls his fingers into it and it feels delicious. For a moment, he stops to indulge the pleasant sensation. He’s had this feeling before. Like the time he reeled in that five-pound bass on Lake Richard, summer of ’53. Or maybe his first night with his beloved Mandy, that had to be around then, too. A year’s worth of pleasurable surprises. He wills his mind further into the opening. How strange, how wonderful to own a crack in the afternoon! He dreams deeper into the fissure. There is something unknown and twisted. It moves along the rim of a black void. All that was familiar fades as he is sucked inexorably toward the dark. He hears the clink of chains, the tread of many feet. An open mouth, a scream with no sound. Then the fear begins. It rises to a flood that leaves him moaning in his sleep.

“You can go now.” The voice is soft and very clear. He can see the silhouette of her head as she bends close, feel her breath stirring the hairs over his temple.

“Mandy, I –”, he starts to say, but she puts her cool fingers on his lips.

“It’s all right, William. We’ll be just fine.”

The dog beside him whimpers as it licks his face. He blinks back the dream, noticing the house up the street is gone. He puts his tongue into the crack of his hands, tastes the salt of his flesh. Then he lies back, closing his eyes. Very soon now, it will be time to take the Detour.

Fog of War
Charles Gramlich

Stirred by dawn, a fog rises. It creeps the forest until a narrow defile between hills beckons it downward. It flows quicker now, like water, like a flood. And like a flood, it picks up debris.

But this debris is not leaves and twigs and fallen tree limbs. This debris is souls. A thousand dead souls. A hundred thousand. Animal. Insect. Spider. Leached from buried bones, or from the remnants of broken carapaces and exoskeletons.

And all these souls are screaming. As they screamed when they died. Out of pain. Out of a last desire to strike back at their killers.

At the foot of the hills lies a small rural community. Houses and streets still sleep soundly so early in the new day. The fog rolls over these houses, seeps within through cracks or open windows.

In the ears of the sleeping people, the screams of the myriad dead echo. Men and women and children stir as the agony and hate of numerous tiny souls seeks to burrow within. For a few…bad dreams. Most people never notice anything.

But the dogs notice. In their dank kennels. In yards and barns. Or sleeping at the feet of their masters.

The dogs notice. And they rise. Their eyes turn black with despair. Before their teeth turn red with slaughter.

Once in a Millenia
A.F. Stewart

The land remembered, even if the town had forgotten. Distant ancestors raised monuments, told their stories, but over time people laughed at the continued warnings, dismissed it as superstitious folklore, letting the markers and wards fade into the foliage and earth. The land welcomed back the magic and reclaimed their rejected gifts, leaving the town unprotected and oblivious to their peril.

The birds gave the first sign, flying away in flocks. The animals followed, deserting homes, farms, and forests. Tension prickled and tempers flared, but still the people remained, never dreaming of the fate awaiting them.

Until the day the fog rolled in…

A bitter, frigid cold heralded its arrival, forcing the people inside behind closed doors. Then the mist flowed soft and silky, winding down from the hills to caress the land in an icy kiss. It slithered and stalked, creeping in through the cracks, surrounding and smothering. It chilled the skin and choked the breath as smokey tendrils forced their way down every throat.

As they died, coarse whispers pounded in everyone’s ears.

Come join us in Hell…

The Curtain
Elaine Pascale

Don’t drink the water…”

When we were children, and the curtain came down, we thought they tried to protect us. But the curtain made us ugly, freakish.

The pretty ones were pulled away prior to the curtain, even though the government swore there had been no advance warning.

Don’t eat local produce…”

There is not much for us in terms of opportunities or industry. Those of us that remain are simply not allowed to leave.

You are not to reproduce. That has been taken care of.”

The curtain was a wave of toxins. It ate away at many of our organs, leaving us feeble. Our bodies rotted. Not one of us has symmetry in our features or our appendages.

You will wait until we find a cure.”

Our faces and bodies were corroded, but our brains remained intact. Some would say heightened as we had no other motivation but to study the curtain.

And to wait.

It wasn’t long until we realized that there was no cure. We understood that those who had been deemed special had been saved. We knew that they were not coming back for us.

We used our isolation to our advantage.

The animals must be slaughtered. It is the humane thing to do.”

‘Humane’ is defined by who says it. We did not want to go the way of the animals. We studied the curtain; we explored its substance. We investigated and found that the toxin lived within us.

But it could be extracted.

And it could be weaponized.

And it could make the pretty ones not so pretty anymore.

We no longer wait. Waiting means a ‘humane’ termination. We have other plans, and we will be the ones to define what is ‘humane.’

Incel Dreams
Harrison Kim


I let a woman into my world. She had wiles, and wild looks, her smile took me for a ride.  I opened my mind, and she permeated my whole existence with her smile, then sank into it, and stayed grinning within.  Now I fly above my dream world, my night mind, also called my ego, in the shape of an eagle, searching for the whiteness of her teeth, a glint shining behind the canopy of trees, or the cream stripe where her hair separates in the middle of her head, as she runs among the moonflowers.  If I see that white stripe moving, I will drop fast as a stone, grasp her scalp with my predator claws and pull her out.

She will return everything she took, my dignity, my pride and identity, my sense of reality and self.  She’s a parasite within my head, taking all my energy, laughing at how easily she took over.
 
I cannot find her.  I only hear that laughter.
 
When I rise from this dream, into the shared world outside, I shall buy a gun.  I can’t be an eagle in the shared world, but I can still be a human hunter.  I may not possess her body in my mind, but I will find it living on the waking city streets.  Tomorrow, I will make sure she will only exist within me, and not for anyone else, ever again.  
 
I whirl above the canopy that covers the surface.
“Why did you make me love you?” I call again and again.
I fly in faster circles.
Her voice responds from my ego below, louder and louder, and I hear it clearly now.
“Because I could.”
 
Little does this taunting invader know the way I will clear her from my mind.

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2022

Colour Under the Moon

The world moves around me in grey slivers and murmurs, afraid to shout or shatter in colour. Tonight, I watch it slide in monotone under the moon and study the sparkles of white light that cascade from the sky. I giggle softly, only a whisper of mirth; it wouldn’t do to bring attention to myself. The monsters might find me.
So I stay still and dream. Of blue skies and red balloons, and scarlet autumn leaves. Of smiles and loud squeals. Of happier times, and things lost. I dream so much that I almost miss it. The voices.

Someone was coming.

Closer now.

Almost here.

I see them.

Two people hand in hand. Not what I want, and they don’t spot me. I stare as they walk on. Maybe I should? I’m so hungry, but it would be dangerous to try. Better to wait. With a sigh, I close my eyes and picture the crowded seashore, all blue and green and brown. So tempting that day was with all the children playing. What would have happened, I wonder?

A sniff of the air, and I can smell him. I peer into the darkness.

Oh. A boy. Not more than twelve. Perfect.

I scuttle forward, near the wall, my drooling tongue licking my lips. I wait. He’s swaggering, but I breathe in the fear underneath the bravado. Did someone dare him to come? The boys do sometimes. Spend the night in the old graveyard. Survive the night.

This one won’t.

I reach out and grab him, slicing open his throat and abdomen with my talons, letting all the joyous colour spill out. The glorious red is everywhere and I eat my fill, drinking his blood and devouring his guts.

For one moment in time, my drab world explodes in colour and sound, in blood and screams.

Then I fade away, back to the shadowed monotone, and let the monsters come.

The adult humans always come after I feast.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2022 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Ezra Tried To Help

Sour milk and mould soaked into the kitchen floorboards. Mice droppings and chewed wiring were scattered inside the walls. Ezra liked the mice, but they didn’t come out to play anymore. Cracked window panes let in the drafts and sunlight shone through rips in tattered curtains. Ezra didn’t like the sunbeams; they hurt his skin. He had stayed housebound for all his twelve years, never seeing other children. Mama said they wouldn’t understand him.

He scuttled up the stairs and curled on his side outside their room. He knew Mama and Daddy hadn’t meant to leave him, but he was still alone. It had something to do with him, he knew; just before it happened Daddy yelled his name, screaming words like curse and abomination. Then the two loud bangs and they wouldn’t wake up.

They were still there, inside their room, but it smelled now, so Ezra preferred the hall, sleeping outside their door. His stomach rumbled; he had found little in the kitchen to eat, only some fruit. He’d enjoyed eating the mice better; their bones had been crunchy. He scraped his fingertip claws across the wooden floor, spelling his name, as his mother taught him.

E Z R A.

Mama said it meant ‘helper’. He liked that, and he tried to live up to the meaning, but it always went wrong. He helped when the bad man came for his money and made Mama cry and Daddy mad. The red stain was still on the carpet, but Daddy hid the body in the old well. Ezra offered to eat it, but said nothing else after Mama threw up in the sink. Daddy never spoke to him after that. He came in and took Mama upstairs. They never came down.

Ezra knew he’d have to leave soon; he needed to eat. He could hunt during the night. He knew more bad people lived down the road. He thought he could find their house. They’d feed him for a very long time.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2022 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 49

As Butterfies
Miriam H. Harrison

They had promised unspeakable beauty. The procedure would unlock new colours, open wide a world of wonder. We would see as butterflies see, unwrap the hues and patterns and glories hidden in our plain sight.

But first, the darkness.

I was proud to be among the first. The first to shed my bandages. The first to step out into the light. The first to see.

The first to realize our mistake.

We were not meant to see what would break us: those things beyond our understanding, hidden in ultraviolet.

Seeing the unseeable, I realized butterflies would scream if they could.

The Drift
Nina D’Arcangela

Petals sway softly upon the breeze; they twirl, they dance, they float, they soar. Glorious in pale pink, flushed deeper on the edges, how you outshone any other. You began to drift away, I reached for you, but there were so many. You sang as you lifted high upon the current, free from my arms at last. Then the air stilled, you spiraled downward and I, stiff with age, could do nothing.

You settled in a soft plume of vibrant green, a lush cushion to rest your head upon. I watched, I smiled, then a moistened pellet struck, followed by another. The torrent began, you were trampled by the onslaught and I wept for your pain.

A week all that is granted, yet too weak was I to give you even that. Whispers among the branches comfort for next Spring’s thaw, but bent and broken, these limbs heavy, I see the point no longer.

The Dream Beyond
Lee Andrew Forman

Upon the tip of the other side, balancing between a heartbeat and silence, I see only beauty. For what has been, what is now, what will be. It exists between every line, in every place, no matter how obscure and ill-lit. Its brilliance rests even in the face of evil itself—in its purity, its honesty. That visage I know well. I’ve gazed beyond and witnessed its truth. The brute I hunted bested me. The intelligence in its eyes told all.

Rows of razor-bone upon my throat is what brought me here, to this realm between the fragile panes of reality. Its color, its shifting form, a wonder unimaginable. What lies at the end? Where does this journey lead?

Perhaps it is no more than a last shedding of chemicals, a dream to end all dreams, and when it ends, all is swallowed by the void. I’d like to believe it’s a transition, that I wait in a heavenly cocoon, soon to open. I’ll spread wings and soar among clouds.

As the images flicker, something lurks behind them, creeping in the brief glimpses of black. Between each moment of bliss, it shifts toward me, twists its contorted form. As the dark spaces take dominance, I wait for what comes.

Pink
Elaine Pascale

The dogs had been trained to find me.

Their tongues are as pink as the blossoms above me.

I cannot smell the blossoms; I cannot smell me though I am rotten.

Pink was my favorite color.

The ID that they will find of me in my pocket shows me wearing my best pink dress and pink lipstick.

The leaves and dirt that cover me are not pink, but the worms that feast on me are. The leaves and dirt are messy but not as messy as what I left behind. I was considered a hoarder. When they trace my ID back, they will find this out. They will see my pink furniture and sheets and bed coverings, once they brush aside the pink papers and postcards and paper plates.

My insides weren’t pink when they spilled out on the ground. I wish they had been—clean and fresh. Like my apartment had been when I moved in, before I doused it in pink paraphernalia.

The dogs sit in a circle around me. It is only a matter of time before the people discover me.

And only a matter of time before they go to my apartment and move the pink candles, empty bottles, socks, scarves, books, candy wrappers, umbrellas, bags, soap, erasers, and stuffed animals to see the real pink beneath.

My insides weren’t pink when they spilled from me.

But the insides of others were.

The Forlorn
Charles Gramlich

On an unmarked trail of dirt left by animals, under spring trees which provide a roof of lavender petals, I pause my meander. The perfume of blossoms overhead is so overwhelming I can barely think. I do not remember where I come from or how long I’ve been traveling. I do not remember why I began my walk, or even my name. But I know why I’ve stopped.

The mistresses of God are visiting here!

A whisper stirs the petals overhead. A sinuous shape swirls among them, invisible except for the movement of the tree limbs and their burden of blooms. A mauve rain begins, dropping around me, catching in my hair, brushing my face with the exquisite softness of satin.

Aroused, I shed my clothes like a snake molting. The petals keep falling, and now begin to cling to my sweat-wetted skin. Some things from the trees touch me. Their hands feel like bones softened by oceans of time. Their caresses turn me around, and around, and around. Faster and faster.

I begin to spin like a whirlwind, like a dust devil. Painted in all the perfect shades of purple, I spin until my feet drill deep into the soil. I spin until my toes sprout roots and my arms sprout twigs, until I grow up and up toward the sky. Until I join my new lovers in the sacred grove where beauty screens death.

And now we wait. Amidst the forlorn and the sacrificed. For the next visitor to travel this path.

Blue Sky Somewhere
Marge Simon

Thea parts the curtains on the day ahead, then quickly ducks away. Sunlight unfurls from the window panes sparkling on an unused coffee cup and a basket of imaginary rolls. She knows it’s make-believe, a tableau laid out by habit. Useless to pretend she’s one of them beyond her home, but it is all she’s had for centuries.

On the floor, shadows of cherry trees in bloom remind her spring has arrived. How she longed for a glimpse of cobalt sky above the blooming branches,, a sight she treasured on the shores of Attica. Those sweet days, a memory from centuries ago when she was young, unaware her mortality was soon to change. But now the blood of cities bleeds into a wounded sky; the atmosphere so thick with toxic fumes, few mortals dare to walk the streets without a mask.

It seems unfair that she must bear the situation, knowing it was never her intention. But worse, the shrinking population bodes her ultimate demise. She wanders darkened rooms, touching surfaces, feeling the measure of textures, the contrast of cloth and stone, glass and polished wood. Things in her small world she knows so well. Inside things, held dearly but dearer still the feel of sun on skin. A patch of blue sky, there must be a glimpse of it somewhere.

Why wait any longer?

A twist of latch, an open door. She steps into the light.

Pink and White
A.F. Stewart

The sickly sweet smell of cherry blossoms filled the orchard, frosted petals descending into the unexpected spring snow; a layer of soft pink atop the white. Prevalent as the scent was, it did not blot out the undertone whiff of copper nor the smell of decay. And pretty pastel colours couldn’t hide all the stains underneath the layers of warring nature.

Changing seasons swirled against the scars and the silence, and hollow time eager to swallow what once existed here. Not claimed yet, the fallen dead, flesh and bones still marking the place of carnage, their blood feeding the soil beneath the snow. Echoes of the war drifted between the trees, chased by the cruel laughter of the mad gods.

Defiance met with death, and rebellion with ruin, a bloody example to all souls that might rise to grasp at the beckoning wisp of freedom. Hope expired within this orchard, and only soft petals fell like tears on their graves, wrapping the remains in velvet spoils, mounds of pink and white. 

Pretty in Pink
Ian Sputnik

“Let’s play a game,” the two boys had suggested to her. Minutes later, Ed and Rob began to wrap the chains around Katrin, despite her protests. They left her bound to the witching tree as they scampered away across the white blossom that blanketed the orchard floor. Glancing back they could see her struggling to get free, her pink dress already stained by the rusty metal.

Rumour had it that those found guilty of practicing the dark arts would be tethered to the tree and left there to die.
As they hid in a ditch at the other end of the field, they could hear her screams of panic turn into sobs of despair. Then all went silent.

Returning some time later, they found her gone. The chains hung from the tree, blood dripping from the links.
They ran, screaming from the scene.

At school assembly after the weekend the headmaster announced that Katrin had gone missing and said that anyone who had information regarding her whereabouts should come forward. The two boys remained silent. They had made a pact never to tell anyone about what had happened.

It wasn’t until the following year that they returned to the orchard. They stood mouths open as they took in the scene before them. This year the blossom was bright pink in colour not its usual white.

They were startled by a voice from behind them. It was Ed’s annoying sister, who must have followed them from his house.

Rob’s mouth turned into a menacing smile as he looked at Emma standing there in her blue dress.
“You ever seen blue blossom?” he asked  Ed.

Ed smiled back and then said to Emma “let’s play a game.”

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2022

The Scent of Home

That deep rich stink of fried meat always lingered in the apartment, coating the walls, hiding in the corners. It filled my childhood, wafted the taste of home into my brain, and I waited for that smell every time I opened the door. That and the sound of my mother grumbling in the kitchen.

Now the stench of death overpowered it all. And Mother lay on the floor, a knife sticking out of her chest.

Why did I do it? My hand on the knife, her screaming at me, and then…

No planning involved, no premeditation, unless you counted the years of wishing she was dead. The years of dreaming a car would hit her, or her shrivelled heart would give out. I suppose my patience gave out first.

Stabbing her was odd, though. No last accusations, no gasping for breath. A gurgle and some blood, but not as much as I thought. In the movies I watched, knife wounds had more blood. She laid there on the worn tiles, eyes still open and a stain on her blouse, a look of surprise on her face as if she never imagined I’d kill her.

I suppose I never imagined it, either. But it’s done and I can’t take it back.

Not that I’d wanted to.

Calling the police was out of the question; I wouldn’t go to jail for her. I needed an excuse for her absence. The neighbours hated her, with little chance they would question her absence if I told the right story. I was her only family, so no worries there. What to say if anyone asked? Maybe… maybe she just moved into a retirement home? She’d been complaining about getting old, about how hard it was to live alone. That might work. Tell people I moved Mother into a home and pack up her things.

What about the body?

The freezer maybe? Hide her under all that meat? Or better yet, make her part of that meat. How hard would it be to cut up a body? I smiled at the meat cleaver hanging on the wall, next to all of my late dad’s butcher tools. It’d be apt, considering she drove him to an early grave.

Let’s see how rusty I am at the old trade.

Several hours of work and frustration later, I had Mother packaged nicely, pieces of her neatly wrapped in brown freezer paper and stored under the hamburger and the pork chops. I scrubbed down the kitchen and the bathroom, and tidied myself up, before noticing a parcel of Mother still sitting on the counter.

How did I miss that one?

I stared at the slab of Mother for a moment and then grinned. Why not? It seemed fitting. 

So I got out the frying pan and the butter, and once more the deep rich stink of fried meat filled the apartment.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2021 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Returning Sins

The smell of rot and dirt displaced the stale air in the bedroom and I tried not to choke on the overpowering stench. Huddled in a corner by the door, shivering in the sudden cold draft, I listened for the slightest sound, praying she was gone. Or that I would wake up from this nightmare.

Scritch, scritch.

There it was, the faint scratching noise against the wood. Fingernails scraping at the grain. I caught my breath.

No. I don’t want to hear it again. I don’t want…

Scritch, scritch. 

Only louder this time. Like an animal clawing to get inside. I whimpered and my stomach churned.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” The words blurted out before I thought.

“Liar!” A horrid screech ripped from behind the door, shuddering through the air. “Bad, you were bad! Left me alone! Left me to die!”

A thundering crash sounded as something slammed the door, bending the wood. I jumped inside my trembling fear and hugged my knees, rocking on the cold dirty tiles of the room. I answered her shriek with my own, a long continuous wail, to drown out her voice, shut out the memories. Every pounding of the door ripped against my skin, racing my adrenaline, shredding my nerves.

“Stop it! Just go away! Leave me alone!” I screamed my terror to the empty room before burying my head between my knees.

“Like you left me?”

The quiet question hurt and frightened me more than her anger. “I didn’t mean it.” My words felt like a lie. Maybe they were. She didn’t answer, and the silence unnerved me. I babbled, “Why now? Why did you come back?”

“Secrets lost. Secrets found. So, I’ve come home, Mama.”

I whimpered. My lost little girl. My thrown away child. I thought I was done. I thought I escaped. “How is this possible?”

“Scared now, Mama? I was scared.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Another whimper and I hugged my knees tighter.

“No! Not sorry. Scared I’m back.” 

Bang! Something rattled the door.

“Why Mama, why?”

Bang! I saw the hinges rattle and bend.

“The closet was dark. I clawed to get out! You never came!”

My eyes closed slowly, my body trembling. Blocked memories surfaced, images of the horror I wrought. I shuddered. “What happened… I can’t… I was high, drugged out of my mind. You were too much for me to handle.”

“I loved you. You left me alone.”

The door frame convulsed, and splinters of wood flew across the room.

“I was so hungry! So thirsty! I cried, and I cried. I was all alone!”

Bang! 

The door slammed open, smacking hard into the wall, and she stood there, framed in the light. My little girl. She looked so thin, with red-rimmed eyes. Hate shone in those eyes.

“You killed me.”

I had no excuses left. Only fear and the truth. “Yes.”

She smiled, rotted teeth grinning at me like a demented thing. “They found me. My bones. Where you buried me. They’re coming for you.”

She laughed as she vanished, and I heard police sirens in the distance.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2021 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 47

In the Light
Miriam H. Harrison

The light lasts longer here. A trick of angles, squeezing every last drop of daylight from the sun. When I followed the path, found this place sitting in the light, I took it for a sign. I wanted to be here—in this place blessed by the sun.

And so I entered.

If you find my path, don’t follow. Stay out there in the light. The light outside lingers. But the darkness inside—that lasts longer than you’ll ever know.


The Weight of Stone
Charles Gramlich

The gold stone sweats light in the dawn. But I am not lit. I lie within. All in black, all in shadow. I pray to the night, to the ancient and puissant god of the dead—to he who is swollen with rot and bile. And I smile as I pray to myself in the mirror of your dreaming eyes.

Can you not hear me prance close? A devil to man! A lord to devils! I love the teeth in your mouth, the bite in your words. But I will not come to you. To summon me, you must light the candle in the whiskey dark—while I sing from a throat blistered by scorpions. To summon me, you must offer pearls of honeyed blood from your unshriven lips.

No, I will not come to you. Not yet. But I will wait. For your nightmare to end.

And the next to begin.


The Citadel de Sangre
Marge Simon

Bumming around Spain the summer after college, me and my buddy Garth stopped in the village of Tabernas. Both of us were keen to check out this one place in particular – the Citadel, at the edge of the desert.  Lots of folklore about it. 

When we got to Alamira, I asked an old woman about it. “La Ciudadela? Si. It’s an ancient fortress, a sanctuary built by an ancient civilization to keep out demons.  But beware, a hijo mio, it’s no sanctuary now!” When I asked what she meant, she shook her head, muttering “Los que beben sangre!” 

Garth checked his Spanish pocket dictionary “Way cool! She means “those who drink blood.”  He looked up, grinning. “Like I’m scared, dude,” he whispered to me. The guy running the tourist office talked us into taking along his daughter as a guide. Carmillita was a weird little gal with stringy dark curls, but she spoke good English. Something about her made me uncomfortable, but Garth thought she was hot. 

Our shirts were soaked with sweat when we finally arrived at the Citadel.  It was a sturdy structure, made from yellow native stone. We relaxed in the cool interior. I found a wine stash and we downed a couple bottles. Garth and the gal were enjoying some primo Spanish grass and talking. Last I noticed, she was licking his neck. Threesomes weren’t my style. I nodded off after dusk.

“Wake up, buddy. Carmillita wants you with us.” it was Garth’s voice next to me in the dark. That gal was crouching beside him, eyes glowing red in the dark.

“Huh?” I asked sleepily.


“It ain’t for sex, dude.”  A sudden flash of white fangs in the moonlight, his mouth on my neck. He stopped sucking to grin at me, blood streaming down his chin. 

Guess I wasn’t going to need that fucking degree in Economics after all.


All Day Sucker
Elaine Pascale

I have eyes but cannot see.

The darkness is everywhere.

I have ears but cannot hear.

The dead are polite in their silence.

My mouth is shut, clamping down on the screams that rest on my tongue like a demented all day sucker.

I should have known to turn down the contract, but the money was too good.

I should have known that I would never see the money. It was just that good.

Always be suspicious of a request to build a “secret room.” Especially if that room is beneath a centuries-old mausoleum.

The dead do not need a place for their secrets.

I know that teenagers come to smoke on the steps, but they are too far away to be aware of me. I can smell their pungent exhalations. I imagine they tell scary stories while getting high in the cemetery. They may even fabricate nightmares about being locked in with the bodies that rot.  If they knew of me, I would become just another ghost story.

I am a ghost story.


Marla
Lee Andrew Forman

Respite from day, an escape from all that ails, is what Harold desired most. So to this monument of silence he traveled each night, and beneath each moon and all its phases, he spent his better hours with the speechless and unmoving. Never a word had been spoken to his kin about these endeavors. A secret dream—of joy, of a stillness which calmed a distressed heart.

No lock barred entry, no watchmen to guard against invasion; he was free to rest his weary bones with Marla, the occupant within the marble box. He painted her in his mind as he saw fit, imaginings of a fine woman, far beyond what he deemed himself worthy of.

But when he approached the old doors this night, one stood ajar. He scurried to peek within the dark mausoleum. Three young men sat inside with booze, drinking in a stupor, regarding precious Marla with uncouth disrespect.

Harold made himself known as a silhouette in the doorway. The young heathens stood, violence rising within their stance. Harold shook. His poor frame would never overcome them.

Then the massive lid opened on its own. From within rose the dried remains of Marla. Bone fingers stabbed at bewildered eyes. Her other arm thrust like a spear into another’s abdomen. The young man gaped at the near-black fluid poured from his wound. The third boy tried to run, but Marla caught him by the neck. She pulled him into her embrace and crushed his ribcage, watching red spurt from his mouth.

When the bloodshed ended, Marla’s eyeless sockets stared at Harold. Although she had no lips with which to smile, he felt affection ebb from her marrow. He approached this miracle with blind joy. Marla’s skeletal hands wrapped themselves around Harold, pulled him into her coffin, and closed the lid.


Resting Place
RJ Meldrum

The mausoleum was a triumph of architecture and style. It dominated the landscape for miles, and had been built to be deliberately in the direct line of sight of the manor house were the Duke resided. It was to be his final resting place and he took huge pride in that fact, not that he intended to change residence anytime soon. The townsfolk, the people who worked in the mines belonging to the Duke, had a different perspective. The Duke was greedy and stupid, focused only on profit. He ordered his engineers to dig too close to the surface and to skimp on tunnel supports. Shafts routinely collapsed, burying miners. The fatality rate was five times the of nearby mines. The Duke paid the families handsomely to cover it up, but now the final straw had been reached. Due to shallow excavations, parts of the town had subsided, killing a number of women and children. The men congregated in the mausoleum. A solution had been found. Muffled cries and entreaties could he heard from inside the crypt. A voice pleaded with them to let him out, save his life, but the miners did not respond or move a finger to help. The Duke, a soft-handed aristocrat, would learn what it was like to be buried alive, suffocated while the air ran out. It was a fitting memorial.


Mausoleum
A.F. Stewart

The stone tomb hadn’t been there yesterday.

But yesterday the world had been normal.

Yesterday, I didn’t hear the song.

It began on my morning run. The vision of the stone structure standing in the park haloed against the warm sun. So majestic, so serene.

So inviting.

Music floated from the entrance, a deep entrancing voice singing of peace, of darkness, of stars and fire. Calling my name. Promising me the serenity of his everlasting love. I was on the steps before someone bumped into me. I heard “Sorry,” and looked away. When I looked back, the tomb vanished.

But the echo of the song remained.

That’s why I returned to the park after moonrise. Somehow, I knew he would return before the next sunrise. I knew he was waiting for me.

In the silence of my mind I heard his voice, his sweet, sultry tune of peace and destruction, filling the darkest hours until my prayers were answered. I raced up the stone steps of the tomb, dashing into its dark maw. I laughed as his tentacles encircled me and drew me into death’s embrace, his sweet voice my lullaby into eternal rest and his undying love.


Hope
Nina D’Arcangela

By day, they climb the stairs, stare through the locked grate to catch a glimmer of what lay inside. At dusk, I open the gates, hope one will stray, and step beyond the threshold. This eve is no exception. As the moon trades its place with the sun, the gleam from inside is irresistible. Stunned by the glittering interior, it pauses. I see the greed in its eyes. Just one step further and I will have you. The exterior of the tomb is stunning, but once beyond the iron that was wrought to keep the rabble out, the walls are inlayed with gems that glisten opalescent shades. I am as old as the stone, I hunger as it does, but am not allowed a portion until they have had theirs. If I have done my job adequately, some may feast; if done well, all will sup – myself included.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2021