The Forever Burden
Lee A. Forman
Only at night could the tower be seen—a spectral fortress alive in darkness. Under the sun the site was an open field, but when the moon rose from its resting place, the stone went up as far as any lantern could illuminate. It seemed to touch the stars. They gathered there each midnight to offer their sorrows to the Lord. He who would cast vengeful death upon them from above. One living soul for one living day. The bargain had been set for as long as any could remember. An unending deal with an unseen God. Their forever burden…
Veronica Magenta Nero
I silence my jagged breath and press myself flat against the cold stones. They chant my name as they jostle flaming torches in the night, boots stomping, their malicious song churns in my stomach. When I close my eyes I see your throat, split open and seeping black red, your fingers trembling at the wound as your life leaked away and soaked into the earth.
They are close, they will soon capture me, a mad woman unwed, a murderous whore. I will gladly confess my crime, without guilt or regret, and for that they will torture me all the more.
A Letter from Captain William Brumley, 47th Border Guard
A new enemy has invaded our territory. Each night campfires appear outside our post. Growls echo from the woods. Twelve of my recon soldiers failed to return. During the day, all we’ve found is an abandoned camp with bloody bones, skulls on pikes. Last night, I ventured close enough to see our tormentors are feral savages cloaked in fur. Formidable beasts with snouts and tusks, archaic weapons. They greatly outnumber us. We are down to four men. We fear for our lives. Please send an army to Fort Danebury, before the Boar People eat the rest of us.
Something has changed. It is not time. My metamorphosis is not yet complete. So what has awoken me? My dark world is no longer silent or still. Echoes bounce off the ancient walls as the sounds of the living harass the dead. My joints are stiff as I emerge from my cocoon, creeping along brick foundations built by those from long ago. Up ahead I see a tiny flicker of flame dancing seductively within the confines of a lantern. Pausing, I lick the air and immediately become ravenous for the sweet yet bitter taste of humans. Let the feast begin…
The Mob Laments
John Potts Jr
“What have we done?”
The farmer collapsed. His splintered pitchfork drops and he whimpered a dull, throaty wallop. The priest lowered with lantern and blood-stained cross. “It needed to be done, for it was the will of the—”
“Damn you,” a gargantuan sort of man reached down and snatched the priest off the ground with ease. “No God would demand the death of children.”
A wiry woman pressed forward. Her eyes burned like the woeful flames set before.
“The only monster here is you,” she spat.
Her dagger glistened by moonlight above and the mob circled, still hungry for more.
Chained against the wall, the moonlight bathed me. I watched them set up camp then closed my eyes. There was nothing I could have done for my son. His neck was ripped open before I could knock the beast from him. My silver combat knife sunk in, but its teeth and claws inflicted irreversible damage to me. We all knew my final outcome. My eyes popped open and I cried out. It had begun. Vomit spewed from me as I watched my body begin to change. They’re going to sacrifice me for my meat and fur. Penance for my failure.
Offerings in the Dark
A scattering of flower petals covered the ground outside the entrance and etched symbols of protection decorated its stone archway. The people of the town considered the edifice a shrine.
A place of the dead.
Others considered it a pilgrimage.
A few steps inside, tucked in an alcove, the lanterns burned, their flickering light a monument. The faithful came each year; the fortunate said prayers and left. The rest, well…
A few more feet into the shadows and you’d find their bones. The strewn remnants of pilgrims sacrificed to the dark.
You’d also find the creature that ate those fools.
Joseph A. Pinto
Spade kisses earth; it begins.
No rites, no rituals. That privilege is lost, stripped like the clothes from your back. No box, no shroud. Nothing but a crude, dank hole.
The melody of cloven earth lulls you; your muscles grow slack against your binds. The chasm claims you; dirt now cast, one with your skin. No use in struggling, you retreat within your mind; you are a master at escape. Ignorant, they are, to the knowledge you have buried yourself within yourself so many, many times before.
How little they know you were born only to die, to rise again.
I stood beside the crypt, quivering. The crisp autumn air numbed my toes.
“See, I told you,” Rebecca hissed.
I clamped a hand over her mouth.
The procession of glowing orbs marched in front of us, making nary a sound. These were not fairies. Fairies didn’t smell of fruiting bodies. Pain and rancor emanated from the flickering lights, not magic and wonder.
I wanted to run home, but I daren’t alert them to our presence.
The burning dead went on and on, seemingly without end.
Rebecca sniffled heavily against my wet palm.
The cortege stopped.
Turned our way.
Light flickers in darkest woods, twelve flames do bob and weave. Silent as bare breath trees stand, necropolis whispers her fury. Hidden thou must remain, dangers warned ye did not heed. Voices lift on autumn breeze, and to vain ears do carry. They sing of love, they sing of life, they croon of lust and need. A rustle sounds behind squirreled niche, flesh quivers with fear profound. Claws rasp along age’ed stone, all stills on stroke of three. Ritual fulfilled as hot blood flows, twelve chalices drench in greed. Of this night I do profess, birthed to no other deed.
Christopher A. Liccardi
The merlin radiated the heat with spite. It was this place, these people it resented. The land passed that hatred on to the stone. It wanted nothing more than to drink, soak up the liquid that would flow like wine.
The revelers were dancing around the fire, as was their custom. The guests were tied to the ground by the necks, as was theirs. The axes sharpened with the bones of the previous gathering.
It was time to do what they came here for. Feed the land on the blood of the unwilling, unwitting and refresh the spirit once again.
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Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.
The blinds were shut, and that meant it was Thursday.
It was the only day of the week when Brent would remove himself from the floor. He’d lock his door, turn off the fluorescent lights, and play seventies rock; usually Zeppelin or Sabbath. This was his office time, the time he dedicated to monotonous managerial duties that ate away at him, bit by bit, and Brent would eventually get to them before he went home. But he’d first lean back in his chair, close his eyes, and spend hours daydreaming. He never cast lustful strings of fantasies nor did he muse over troves of impossible wealth. What Brent wanted was simple, and at the very least, fair.
In his haze was Jimmy Nelson, tall and amiable, complimenting the residents of his sober living home while he passed their medication, and he’d notice Selma Ashton, who finally forced a smile, playing checkers or interacting with the residents with anything but her nasty, resentful glare. Even Marco pitched in. Instead of sneaking off to the bathroom to rail stimulants, Marco was cooking dinner and preaching the steps of sobriety like the recovering addict he claimed to be.
“Not like it used to be. I remember when it was okay to send someone home for loafing around more than a few minutes. Shit, I can’t even have a stern conversation to the lazy pricks without H.R.’s approval, you know that?”
He’d tell himself this once a week, and when his morale cowered like a tail-tucked beast, Brent would fold and vent to his subordinates.
“Sorry you’re stressed, Brent. Anything else you need?”
Crystal would try her best not to shift in the dilapidated office chair that occupied the corner of Brent’s cluttered office; close to squalor, distant from orderly. She was promoted months back under the guise of a confident go-getter at Corner Stone Sober Community. “I’ll get the job down, trust me Brent,” she claimed.
Since then, Crystal’s proven to be as useless as the rest, and this morning, he caught her stealing from the petty cash. He tried to fire her on the spot, and it appeared a small victory, but a phone call from human resources squashed his morale like a kid crunching a beetle underfoot, and he knew just what to do.
“Well if we have to investigate the situation, let me at least put her to work and demote. Okay, good. Tell her dress to scrub,” he stated to the H.R. director over the phone. She scoffed and allowed Brent to explain. “She’ll do some deep-cleaning and I’ll cover the floor, okay? I can at least do that, right? Okay, great, thank you. What’s that? No, I haven’t seen her cellphone.”
He opened the blinds and cracked the door, waiting for her while watching his oblivious staff with a seething eye. The three of them sat on the couch, lost into an electronic paradise emitting from their phones.
Someone shooting-up right in front of them, and they’d never know.
A pronounced thud grew slowly. It was Crystal’s nervous footfalls as she approached, and Brent wasn’t surprised or shocked to see that no one cared to look and see who or what it was.
“Come in, close the door,” he said. “Thanks for coming back and I am glad H.R. is going to sort this out with us.”
Crystal stood with her back between a scratched filing cabinet and the door. Her face was pale and her stomach quivered when her chest heaved. Brent could smell the trepidation oozing from her pores like rotted fruit-bits squeezed from a rank sponge.
“I can explain everything Brent—I want to make this right, I do,” she stammered.
He kept his eyes on the box of cleaning supplies at his feet. “Sorry, I just had to make sure everything we need is here. Now like I said, we will get to the bottom of it, but right now we have bigger tasks at hand. I brought on some Agency Staffers for the day to do the AA and NA runs later this afternoon, and I want you to take these,” he pushed the box across the floor to her feet, “and everyone else sitting out there to clean room twelve. We have a new admission coming tomorrow and I want to start getting ready.”
Crystal squatted and hoisted the box up, resting it on her stomach as she nudged the door open with her thick hips, and Brent leaned forward.
“Hey, all of you: get that room clean and take off for the day; my treat, you deserve it,” he yelled behind her and chuckled when they hopped from the couch, finally motivated. “And Crystal, please make sure you use the stuff in the spray bottles first. It’s a mix I made for the new admission. She has allergies and we can only use a thick-alcohol solution; no fragrances type deal.”
“Yes sir,” she huffed.
Brent waited until the creaks of the backstairs quieted to a dull hum before he opened the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. In the darkness, two white jugs of industrial-strength bleach waited alongside a plastic bag containing metal hardware and a touch-screen phone that he slid into his shirt pocket. Brent then left his office, a hitch in his step as he followed.
“Why so happy, boss?” asked a thick European accent as Brent sauntered by.
“It’s going to be a great day, Mr. Rimski, a great day indeed.”
“If you say so, boss.”
He heard them, his staff. How he soured to refer to them as such. It was an echo of insufferable bickering and boisterous disdain from atop the stairwell.
“Man, I hate this job,” Marco bleated. “I can’t wait to get out of here ya know? And that lazy douche put something like vinegar in this… it reeks.”
“Aren’t you going to do anything more than dick around on your phone, Jimmy?” Selma scorned.
“You’re not my boss, Selma, so shut the hell up.”
Brent appreciated Jimmy’s uncontrollable inflection today, and the fact that they left the mop buckets outside the hall. He unscrewed the caps, and began to pour the bleach in.
“Will you guys just stop it already?” Crystal barked. “Let’s get this done so we can get out of here.”
Isopropyl alcohol and vinegar streamed from room twelve as he pushed the door open. The scent was concentrated, enough to make a buffalo sway, and he knew to be quick. He aimed for the bucket and flung bleach in an awful arch, showering his workers. He kicked the empty bottles inside, dropped the bucket, and pulled the door shut. He made sure to install brackets on the lock this morning. Brent had even pondered at painting them brown, but he knew deep down, it was irrelevant. The thick iron slipped through the plate and the iron bar clicked.
Can’t forget to give this back, he thought to himself as he loaded the playlist on Crystal’s phone. He set it outside the door of room twelve, and sifted beyond the toxin and lyrics to the wet coughs and gasping moans within.
“Seasons don’t fear the reaper. Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain, we can be like they are,”
Mr. Rimski hollered from below, “Is that Blue Oyster Cult?”
Brent returned, “Yeah, it is. A little rock-n-roll to help them clean.”
“Sounds good, boss.”
He stuffed the plastic bag down his pocket and grasped the railing, bracing himself down the stairs. Mr. Rimski complained of a foul odor and Brent advised that he may want to close his door or open a window, probably both.
“Actually, how about you and I get some fresh air? Maybe go out for lunch, how does that sound?”
“Really? Let me find my wallet.”
“It’s on me, least I can do.”
Brent daydreamed one last time while they walked to his car. Bodies crumbled, asphyxiating on the floor of room twelve. Lungs drowned by fluids with suffocating viscosity, cruel like sharp molasses. Eyes simmered, rendered to goop. Kidneys shut down for good, brain cells snuffed-out, and nerve fibers disintegrated like petrified bones on a scorched dessert. Skin blistered, stained in deep granite, and all life, absent. He could explain the lock easy enough; cast blame on a temp staff who thought the door needed to be closed while exploiting the extinction of commonsense in today’s workforce, and maybe, he’d even be able to shed a tear to feign sincerity.
He smiled, and cherished the fact that his staff suffered much in room twelve.
“This is real treat, boss. Usually the help doesn’t give us much mind. But not you, boss.”
“Well, I think things are going to change quite a bit around here. Hey, how does barbecue sound? I’m famished.”
~ John Potts Jr
© Copyright 2017 John Potts Jr. All Rights Reserved.