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Damned Words 23

Ghosts of Judgement Bridge
Brian Moreland

Every October we relive the nightmare. The townsfolk march my three sisters and I to Judgment Bridge. Our hands bound behind our backs, we stand facing the fates of sinners. The angry mob chants, “Suffer the wicked!” Jabbing pitchforks force us to climb onto the rusted railing. Looking down, my sisters and I teeter over roaring river rapids. The hangman places nooses around our necks. Before he reaches Charlotte, she jumps and plunges into the rushing waters. Beside me, Gwen and Sylvie cry. We hold hands as we leap. The ropes snap our necks. We hang forever beside our parents.


Departing Obstruction
Lee A. Forman

Legends spoken in elder tongues told of the barrier. The forbidden land existed beyond. Kell desired secrets, discoveries, things unknown. To touch, feel, see…he’d return a hero. They’d sing of his journey for ages. Knowledge of the world gone would be his to tell. Whatever horrors lied ahead, he’d conquer. He inched with fear over rushing water. But his legs weakened as he reached the midpoint; body thinned, skin withered. The air smelled of death. He tried to withdraw but the barrier obstructed return. A throaty howl escaped unheard, as ravenous beasts of ebon flesh appeared from behind the trees…


Honor
Mark Steinwachs

I place my hands on the bridge and lay down, nestling my head into the rounded gap of steel.

There’s only one of us in the family each generation and as is tradition, I don’t know who follows me. My time is over and only they choose whether to reveal themselves. I will be their first hit as my uncle was mine.

“Thank you,” says a sweet female voice, one I’ve known since she was born. “Your place of honor awaits.”

In the silent morning the click of the safety sounds as loud as the gunshot that will soon follow.


Safe
Christopher A. Liccardi

Rusted girders ached under her weight. Centuries passed since anyone ventured out on that bridge. The deepest spot was nearly the length across to the other side; the free side.

She struggled, just a few hundred feet from where she could be safe from all the torment and ridicule. It wouldn’t be long before she could get away from the prying eyes always staring, the disdain she’d had to endure for years.

As she reached that spot, the one you couldn’t see from the deck, she dropped his mostly dead body in without so much as a single glance down.


Crossing
Veronica Magenta Nero

Each time I cross cold shivers overcome me. Here you leapt into the brown waters below, your body never found. With toes curling the edge I imagine the impact, the smack against the rippling surface, hard and sharp like plunging into glass. Water is a cruel and hungry force, capable of painfully wringing the very last gasp of air from tired lungs. I strain my ears against the rush and gurgle of the river, listening, waiting, sometimes your voice rises like a dark bubble from the muddy depths. It breaks before I can make out what you want to say.


Where will you go, Josie May?
John Potts Jr

Back in ’63 the widow Josie May lost her two boys to napalm. Her grief was persistent, heavy. One evening Josie plunged head-first to the shallow creek below Mason Bridge. She suffered a death worse than her sons and the locals coined that spot Widow’s Sorrow ever since.

Those who shared Josie’s pain found a similar fate; some took the dive, some didn’t. But the town never mentioned that when they shut the bridge down for good. Old Josie though, she’s clinging on, and the kids nowadays say Widow’s Sorrow isn’t half as scary as it was made to be.


Just Cut Deep
Jon Olson

You’re holding that razor, comforting and warm. Everything will be better on the other side. Trust me. The pain and anguish you feel now will be but a memory. Don’t you see? Your life’s journey has brought you here. All that is left now is to cross over, the final hurdle represented by this bridge. There is but a simple toll. Just cut deep. That’s all you have to do. Don’t be alarmed by what’s on the other side. It will look bleak only if you want it to. There’s much more so embrace the razor’s cold bite and cross…


Awakened
Joseph A. Pinto

From beneath the bridge, I hear the breaths; a horrid rasping, laden with congestion and rage. Warned I was not to cross this way for what awaits, the rumors told, was of no natural origin.  The sun slowly withdraws from the land as the breaths rise and fall, everywhere and nowhere at once.

Turtle-like, my head withdraws deep into the hollow of my overcoat, bones rattling within my shell.  I should have taken heed, but like all else in my life, it is too late.

Yes, I hear the breaths from a beast awakened, rising and falling with my own.


Ghost Train
A.F. Stewart

The deputy stared at the human-shaped soot stain indelibly smeared into the surface of the rusted bridge. Nearby lay a ratty wallet. “Another one, Clem?”

The sheriff snorted. “Of course, Willie. Full moon last night. Another fool got an eternal ticket on our Ghost Train. It’s a spectral menace. Even ripping up the tracks in ’56 didn’t help.” He bent and examined the wallet. “Shit. It’s Darren’s. You’d think he’d know better.”

“Poor Darren.” Willie shook his head, but inwardly smiled.

He got what he deserved. Best sound in the world listening to him scream over that phantom train whistle.


Mother’s Rage
Nina D’Arcangela

Mother’s milk spills upon all. The transformation– beautiful; horrifically brutal. As she nourishes, she destroys. Silvering, drying, cupping with the wick of her dew.  Molecular bonds shift as she bathes all with rage and gentle tears from above. She corrodes, taints; amends. The surface awash in pained agony transforms to a visage her eye finds most appealing. Underneath, sweet symphony of destruction plays to a finely tuned ear. Warping, twisting, undulating; becoming. Corrosion, chaos, lack of conformity brings justice to the wracked and malformed. Her torrent soothes the hardest with passage of time; her gentle stroke cripples that unnaturally wrought.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.

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Tiny Cages

Your grave is unmarked to all eyes but mine. The cobbled path is cool, almost sharp and so familiar against my bare feet, a track I am compelled to tread over and over. Harsh stones become damp grass becomes soft dirt the further from the house I walk, into the woods where the tension falls from my body and my gaze lifts, no longer fearful of being condemned.

The world has become my silent jury. When I must go into town, I walk with my head down to avoid the pity and suspicion on faces that watch me pass. The verdict is plain on tight silent lips, and hanging in the air around me—guilty. Let them have their gossip, their macabre fantasies, they will never know the truth of what took place.

The house we once shared is a vast empty space abandoned of meaning. I have packed away all sign of you. I scrub the house clean everyday, the windows sparkle, the floorboards gleam, but still sorrow hangs in the corners like cobwebs. I linger listlessly, roaming from room to room. At times your soft voice can be heard within the walls and I press my palms flat against them, trying to reach through. You sing the tune we often sung together as we sat on the swing in the garden, rocking slowly in afternoon sunshine.

I can no longer sleep, I feel ashamed of the warmth and comfort of my bed while your body lays cold and wet. The swing creaks throughout the night in the breeze, a grating squeak inside my skull. When I glance out the window I hope to see you there, your thin legs swinging up towards the night sky, but that never happens. The swing is as empty as all the other places you used to be.

All night I think of where you are hidden. If I dream it is of digging in ripe soil with a never ceasing rhythm, deep down into the bowels of the earth. Each cold morning, with only hot coffee to ease my clenching stomach, I set out to visit you. I am drawn to your body, searching for a place to belong.

In the forest all death is fair and equal, not divided into right and wrong. In the forest I am not a criminal or a monster.

It was not your life I took away but your pain. I snuffed it out, the malignant burning that was consuming you and turning your insides to ash. No struggle, no resistance, just a moment of tension then nothing, just your blue eyes wide, frightened, drawing you from the lull of disease for one last moment of stark awareness, and then falling back in to that nameless pit as your breath came to a halt.

The pine trees are tall and triangular, long low branches sway and close behind me as I pass, pulling me into thickening shadows. They emit a sharp, clean scent, which gels with the moist decay of the forest floor. The strong trunks are rippled grey bark but in some places amber resin has seeped into stagnant lumps, protecting a wound, fighting an infection that eats at the marrow of the tree. When I touch it the resin gives a little, and I remember your skin, newly dead, growing stiff, the dent of my fingertips remaining after I had pulled my hand away.

I keep walking, checking off the signs that mark the way to you—a tree stump, a large smooth stone, the rotting trunk I climb over. No one else can see the path; it is ours alone.

Far from the trail, in the rich brown dirt, within a large crevice in moss covered rocks, safe from scavenging paws and whiskers, and prying, unworthy eyes, lies my shrine and your tomb. I was reluctant to leave any personal sign of you, no photo or name engraved, no flowers to mark the spot; but in a deep crack in the stones I have tucked away the necklace you always wore, a string of colorful plastic hearts and flowers.

Gently I raise you piece by piece. I stroke your small fingers that once laced my own with pure trust; they are disjointed, white fragments. Your ribs curl out of the earth, a tiny cage not strong enough to hold a beating heart. I choke back inhuman sounds, a whimper, a growl. Your skull I cradle in my palm, precious and delicate as a bubble, the bone fine and translucent, eye sockets too big, too empty. And the curve of your sacrum quivers in my hands like a rare gem. Your remains still hum as if there is something you left unsaid and they are longing for words again. Thick tears squeeze from my eyes, hot and painful; I fear I am crying blood. For a while I nurse your pieces then I must reassemble you like a doll-shaped puzzle in the small pit, reassemble you like a precious and mysterious relic that holds a history yet to be understood. I sweep the earth over again, fill the hole and pat it flat.

Not long after I walk away the buckled growl in my throat escapes and explodes as a roar. The forest swallows my grief as readily as it swallows your bones, reducing us both to dust.

∼Veronica Magenta Nero

© Copyright 2017 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 22

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…


Torches
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
Brian Moreland

General McHenry,

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.


Awoken Me
Jon Olson

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.


Penance
Mark Steinwachs

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.F. Stewart

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.


Vivisepulture
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.


Cortege
Hunter Shea

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.
God, no!


Twelve Chalices
Nina D’Arcangela

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.


Custom
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.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 21

Three
Hunter Shea

An unfettered caress. A sigh against your breast. I burn inside when I’m in your presence, the flame of my lust pressed against your cold indifference. Does it bother you when I touch you there? Oh no, you always liked that. Ah, but the sweet, supple beauty entangled in your arms, that is where our joined path diverged.

I still hear your pained refusals, wild jealousy and bleating about love lost. You never understood my love had grown twofold. If only you had said yes, you would feel my hardness. Now who is harder? Are you quivering in your encasement?


Wrath
Brian Moreland

For thousands of years, the lovers had stood frozen in their last embrace. A resting post for countless birds. An enigma to Greeks and tourists who passed through Athens’s ruins. When the Gorgon’s curse finally lifted, the statues’ stone flesh cracked and crumbled, freeing the punished immortals. Euryale and Belen hugged tighter and kissed. The longing in their hearts burned hotter, turned to fury. Euryale’s head erupted into a mane of writhing snakes. Belen’s eyes filled with fire. Seeking vengeance, the Gorgon and demon left the ruins in search of Euryale’s sister, Stheno. The bitch would suffer for cursing them.


Marble
Joseph A. Pinto

Lover yearns, yet the passion remains frozen. Lover craves, yet the need goes unfulfilled. Blind for so long, lover ignores the fragments of self left abandoned atop the floor. It serves lover right.

Now lover searches for truth where all flows smooth and cold. And the eyes that hold lover gaze like still, distant moons. How slick the irony under lover’s needy fingers. For all lover has sought now captured by the deft hand of another. An ache left to harden as lover grows old with time. A masterpiece by love’s standard, yet for all appearances left to stand unwhole.


A Work of Endearment
Lee A. Forman

Her beauty embellishes all my eyes can witness; the world glimmers even in the dark of a moonless night. With a voice that put songbirds to shame, she’d captivated me with only words. I could never let her go. Not in life—or death. As I stare into her eyes, layer after layer crafts the perfection we’ll share once we depart. A tear rolls down her cheek and rests where the white plaster has already dried. Soon the artist I hired will finish his work, encasing us in eternity. We’ll be cast together, molded into forever, never to be apart.


A Toast to Finality
John Potts Jr.

“My sweet,” Elizabeth gazed to Lawrence, swooning with eyes pitted in aged decay. “This starry night witnessed our enemies anguish; to bathe in those screams fluttered my undead heart like our love’s first kiss so long, long ago. Blood rained from our horde, soaking earth with entrails so crimson that the Sun itself will only find jealousy on the coming morn. And the fires! We danced as one, consuming with restless hunger that rose to the hymn of our retribution.”

Life embraced death and chalice drained to the backdrop of scorched lands, warming from afar the finality of reaped vindication.


Eternal
A.F. Stewart

Without end, I gaze upon the face of my death. That perfect face of alabaster marble. How did she taint the spell? How did she curse me? It should have worked, I should have won my immortality. She tricked me. Locked us forever in this embrace of stone.

I tried to warn him. Tried to take back what he stole. The urn was never to be opened, never to leave the temple. Why did he betray me? Why? He destroyed everything. Now I must spend eternity staring at the man who condemned our world to the Fate of Living Stone.


Human
Jon Olson

What is this thing? This monstrosity latching onto my arm and shoulder. It is so vile, wretched, and pathetic. Eyes embedded in a completely formed face stare at me; full of life and emotion. The warm flesh against my skin makes me shudder. Whoever would have expected to come across such a creature? Surely not me or my forebears. Although, I recall something mentioned by the Old Ones. Once there was a creation… no, an abomination. Left to their own free will, they destroyed themselves. This thing gazing at me cannot be one of them. It cannot be a human…


Fire Stone
Nina D’Arcangela

In your eyes, I watch a universe ignite, I see the molten glow; I feel its blaze encompass all. I watch the birth of a new awareness, the awakening of cruel indulgence; one in which brutality, suffering, and eventual indifference will serve far better than kind gentility. Your veneer smooth, your tone unblemished; your surface nearly opalescent, yet I know the fierceness that rages below rends innumerable fractures that will reveal fissures of choice not circumstance. A tragedy that will split the world in two.

Guttering now, the light surrenders. I stare into a vast emptiness as your eyes cool.


Immortal Love
Mark Steinwachs

They wanted to be together, their love for the ages. Athanasios promised he could help. By the time the couple realized what was going on, it was too late. The elixir to help them relax rendered their limbs useless, allowing the artist to move them into position. “Gaze upon each other, this pose is for eternity,” Athanasios said as he painted them with his unique blend of alabaster, making sure to cover every inch of them.

***

“This statue is called Immortal Love, by master Greek sculptor Athanasios,” the museum guide said. “He is well known for his incredibly life-like carvings.”


Pact
Veronica Magenta Nero

She placed the intricate glass bottle in my hands, her cool fingers curling over my own. Her head tipped back, offering a mouth to kiss, seducing me into complacency. A kiss to seal the deal. That’s when I poured it in. The elixir slipped down her pearly throat, poisoning her with her own magic.

We had made a pact but I backed out. I never wanted to be like her – perfect in every visible way, of timeless beauty, immortal. I want to age and die. Each hard earned wrinkle building in number and depth, until my body resembles a nest.


A Whole New Meaning
Christopher A. Liccardi

The rule was simple; unbreakable. These two, the latest two, had broken that rule. Something else was simple, the punishment. Here, stoning had a whole new meaning. The couple was washed, cleaned of all their sins. They were posed for the village to see and they were cast in stone; alive. The offending parts were snapped or chiseled off, mechanical castration for both parties. Then, the crowd watched until the moaning stopped. Sometimes, that took days. Most of them thought death was caused by starvation. I know better; I swung the hammer.

They have one rule here and its unbreakable…


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.

The Final Arrow

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.

Damned Words 20

damnedwords_20

Judgment
Nina D’Arcangela

I watched as he dragged his torso through the smoldering debris toward me, and thought, another. Unlike most, he hadn’t surrendered. I wondered if he knew where he was headed, or of the puss-ridden trail he left behind. No matter, it would soon be ended. I didn’t choose who suffered the searing heat; I only quenched the burning once they arrived. Fate appraised his soul, meted out its judgment.

“Have you your papers, then? There’s ta’be no entry without them.” I lilted. He stared back through hollowed sockets. I sighed. They all think the pearly gates so easy to attain.


The Thirty Second Burn
Lee A. Forman

The massive door opens on screeching hinges. My legs tremble, reluctant to carry me into the mouth of the iron beast. I know what waits in The Box.

Thirty seconds a day. Every day. Only the strong endure. But they are cursed to face the flame again and again.

The weak are lucky. To die is beautiful.

The guards guide me inside.

As the air itself boils, I know not pain or suffering but a great joy. I revel in the satisfaction of knowing I won’t last—I’ll expire quickly; my torment will end nearly as soon as it began…


Volatile State
Joseph A. Pinto

You call me deranged in my volatile state, yet you remain void of oxygen, void of all to sustain a fire. You know only of cleaning my ashes from the hearth, while I have schooled myself, keeper of this flame. Within my charred cage once an inferno raged; rose and fell, with hope, absolution. Dearly did I wish for us to go down in a state of combustion. Now, the landscape has changed. I am left to smolder—a cruel fate, this blessing; my curse. So perhaps you are right. Perhaps I am all you label me. Blistered. Branded. Blackened.


The Other White Meat
Hunter Shea

“It smells like barbecue.”

“You try putting sauce on that and I’ll kick your balls inside out.”

Jett turns the knob as far as it will go, the flames sharpening, going from sunburst orange to a cold, vicious blue.

“Jeez that’s gotta hurt,” Peter says, leaning closer. Jett sees the trickle of saliva at the corner of his mouth. He wants to drive his fist into his stupid, leering face.

“It would if the devil wasn’t in her.”

Clarissa’s flesh blackens and crackles. She doesn’t flinch.

Jett struggles to hold her down.

“Sometimes, you got to fight fire with fire.”


Holdout
Christopher A. Liccardi

The whomp sound of the flames dashed up from under the element. The metal box was large enough to fit inside, but no room to turn.

He woke to the stench of rotten eggs and sudden heat on naked skin.

What the…

The thought never made it through his mind. He glanced up and saw that wretch of a wife staring, upside down into his face.

She’d dared him to see who could hold out longer and he laughed in her face proclaiming he’d been waiting twelve years already.

She smiled prettily, knowing who was going to win this one.


Let It Die
Jon Olson

My god, it’s here! We never thought we’d see it again. In this cold world, this dark existence, it remains. Many years have gone by since it’s been seen. We’re all drawn to it, attracted by the warmth and hope it represents. The flames flicker and dance, a performance for the ages. We feel the cold and dark encroaching on the light. Evil is here. Around the flames I see the faces of the others. We are afraid as death awaits us, yet we’re determined. Now that it’s been found, it cannot perish. We can’t… we won’t let it die.


Exotic Cuisine
A.F. Stewart

“Roasting chestnuts by the fire.”

I sung a few bars of the song as I watched the searing flames. Beautiful blue flames bending, beckoning to my soul. Perfect for chestnuts. Maybe marinated on a skewer with some juicy fingers.

Or possibly eyeballs. I like the smell of roasting eyeballs.

I glanced at the salesman I had trussed up on the floor. I watched him squirm, trying to scream through his gag and break the zip ties.

I smiled and picked up my butcher knife.

Nope, definitely fingers. He has nice fat ones. Stew the eyeballs for dessert… with chocolate sauce.


Broken Boy Blue
Mercedes M. Yardley

The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn. While Adam was sleeping in the hay, breathing starlight and pharmaceuticals, the Catchers took his father behind the barn. They broke his teeth and fed him like livestock on gun metal and bullets. They torched the house and his withered mother was the most beautiful of candles. His sisters took longer, but even the rosiest things ignite with enough tenacity.

They overlooked Adam, but he would always see the Catchers in his technicolor dreams. They played a starring role, laughing and cheering his family on as they danced, danced, danced.


The Chant, The Charm
Veronica Magenta Nero

Born in me it was, the chant, the charm, bile sitting in the pit of my belly. Until it began to creep, the chant, the charm, to lodge in the crook of my throat, a constant niggle I couldn’t clear. Soon it was on the tip of my tongue. Like an insult or a lie. Must keep it in, keep it down. Thick stitches popped one by one, so I took the torch, searing a heavy smooth line for lips. But now from the corners of my eyes it seeps, the chant, the charm, no voice to stop the magic.


Human Coal
Brian Moreland

The Hell train’s engine runs on flames and meat. The Railwayman rides in the locomotive. Dressed in blood-stained overalls and cap, he enters the tender car to a mound of body parts. In a black cloud of flies, he shovels severed limbs, heads, and ribcages―tosses them into the firebox. The smoke smells like barbecue. The train makes its rounds along America’s tracks. Hapless passengers climb aboard. The conductor punches tickets. As the train shrieks down the railway, skull-faced cleavers roam from car to car, doing their chop work. They refill the tender. The Railwayman shovels meat, feeding the blue-flamed beast.


The Bridge
Mark Steinwachs

Black smoky tendrils snake around my body, languid movements that if made by human hands would have been sensual. I sit in the chair, unable to move. A single blue flame bridges the gap; a moment passes where my thoughts and actions are untrue to each other. The Zoroastrians say nothing, my fate sealed. I offer myself to be judged, to join them. Only the righteous become one with the perfect element, the rest are destroyed by it. The creature pierces me, my body ignites from inside. I open my mouth to scream but there is no sound, only fire


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Necropolis

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.

Damned Echoes 4

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The Island
Brian Moreland

The luxury yacht traversed between the Philippine islands. Derek found the perfect beach in a hidden lagoon. Tom dropped anchor. The girls, in bikinis, packed sandwiches and beer. The jungle watched as two couples disembarked and waded through crystal water to the beach. They picnicked, swam, napped in the sun. Tom and Jasmine hiked into the jungle “to be alone.” Their screams woke Derek and Amy. They searched the island for their missing friends. Found them tied to trees, skinned to red sinews. Tom’s eyes had been eaten out. Jasmine, bleeding from head to toe, begged for help. Derek tried to untie her. The vines tightened, snapped her ribcage. Green tentacles shot out, wrapped around Derek. He yelled as thorny vines peeled off his skin. Amy, crying, backed into a stone idol. Ivy snaked up her legs. After feeding, the jungle placed bloody bones at the feet of their god.


Thirty-seven Days
Joseph A. Pinto

Sunlight clings to life; a sliver across his eyes. He draws the blinds, killing it for good. Adjusts to the gloom, the shadow. It covers the room; a sheet uninterrupted in its totality. No furniture, no menial things to disrupt its reach.

Thirty-seven days; he is quite used to the black. Seen no more, still he can hear them, their ruinous limbs dragging across curbs. Teeth clack, clack, clacking inside misshapen heads. Human once, ravaged now by pestilence, disease.

Thirty-seven days since he has stepped foot outside. Nevertheless, his years of extravagant living, an overindulgent craving for the finest delicacies, has afforded him a luxury few can claim.

Thirty-seven days. He can survive thirty-seven more. Knife against his stomach, he slices flesh razor thin; he will sustain himself. Water from toilet, meat across tongue; he will sustain himself until the world turns sane once more.


A Passing Discomfort
Lee A. Forman

When two hands touch something is always felt. It might be an awkward pang, or something more uncomfortable—revulsion, a burning disgust for the feel of another human being.

Sometimes it’s more.

The heart races. Every tiny hair on my skin rises. And I know they feel the same thing.

A glance into their eyes and it’s over. The mask of terror forms, carved by my curse. I traverse an incalculable distance, one that can’t be measured in numbers; something greater than infinity but more tangible. You could hold it in your hands or it could encompass all time and space.

I know exactly when they’re going to die. And so do they, but only for that moment of discomfort when brushing against a stranger. In the blink of an eye they forget. But I remember. Even after they’re gone.


Food Chain
Veronica Magenta Nero

I used to feed on insects and vermin that I trapped in my black and blistered hands. I lived in slim alleys where brick walls caked with despair met in dead ends. Bags of garbage piled high like fat split bodies, thin skins leaking toxic waste, under the dark loom of sky scrapers. Towers so high you can’t see the top, they block the sun.

But I found the way out, took a chance when I saw it. I groomed myself in a new image. I stepped on the heads of those less hungry, less able, ripped them down as I pulled myself up, to the top of the food chain. Elite meat is sautéed in sweet tears and sweat, the luxury of human flesh free of disease, a menu of privileged taste.


Human Luxury
Craig McGray

There once was no greater luxury than being human. Unfortunately, that is rare in the days that follow the uprising. The very technology that we developed turned out to be our downfall and now there are far more of them than there are of us. Artificial intelligence suddenly became not so artificial and before we had a chance to react, they had control of everything in our world, including our population. Humans were rounded up and slaughtered in unimaginable numbers. Packed stadiums were obliterated, cities were all but wiped from the map, and countries crumbled as world leaders were targeted and disposed of. I’m not sure why, but they kept a small amount of us around and though we felt like the lucky few at the time, I don’t feel so lucky now. In fact, I’d gladly trade this luxury for the swift death that took my family from me.


Human Papers
Jon Olson

Just keep your head down, no need to draw any unnecessary attention. Two are wearing black suits. They’re Internal Registry Agents. Don’t make eye contact with them. Act normal, go about your business… shit! They’re following, asking me for them. Damn. They want to see my Human Registration Papers. Fuck. It’s almost impossible to register when you’re not of this earth. Keep walking. Head for the subway, you can lose them down there. They order me to stop and something about opening fire. Don’t stop, keep moving, you’re almost there! I hear a familiar click behind my head. Move feet, damn it, move! Just a few more-


Bloater
Nina D’Arcangela

Menthol, that’s all I smelled. The bloated mass before me waited patiently. I picked up the scalpel, the fluorescent light humming above glinted off its metallic surface. The Y incision made, I peeled back the outer layer of skin exposing globules of fatty residue and further decomposed tissue. Thick yellow fluid oozed from the gangrenous edges of the incised flesh. The second stroke sliced through muscle, invaded the stomach cavity; the gaseous release hissed in competition with the fixture overhead. The half-digested, half-rotted contents within were easily discernible. Next, I moved to the throat and began a vertical slit in the esophagus. The small, elongated objects lodged in the upper esophageal sphincter left no doubt; they were human fingers. Removing my mask, I glanced at the chart, confirmed the preliminary findings.

Cause of Death: suffocation due to blockage of the systema respiratorium.


Echoes of a Chorus
Christopher A. Liccardi

The violins started, cellos chased their pulse as the last of his heart’s blood pumped out of him, unaware the journey was one way. His life spilled over the papers that recorded his greatest masterpiece and his death song.

I waived my hands in the air, conducting as I was taught by him. The yellow afterglow of his banker’s lamp on the piano winked in time to the throb of the aural perfection he’d finished not an hour ago. People would remember him for it; and me for killing him.

The orchestration had finally taken on a life of its own; his life, in fact but that’s how it should be, right? He always spoke about dying for his art. All I did was help him with that last bit.

The blade I now used as a baton, directing invisible musicians to symphonic perfection, and it was his greatest work.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016

Damned Words 19

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Chlorophyll
Joseph A. Pinto

Yes, your prize, your trophy, your prop for the world to behold. Framed by unflinching eyes, supported by hands unshaken. So vivid, your portrayal. Like the seasons, your dichotomy appreciated only by a clear lens and a distorted view. Yet the approaching tempest goes unnoticed; still the limbs go ravaged. Revel in the fall, revel in the winds that blow. Landscapes resculpted, reimagined by the inevitable. Yes, revel in the lie, for beneath the illusion, the splendor, remains a truth you cannot speak: you have broken the chlorophyll down. Life you present, while around you death rejoices all the while.


The Autumn Quietus
Lee A. Forman

The fresh, healthy colors turned, became the tones of decay. Dillon breathed deep the scent of rot with a complacent grin. He looked up at the trees, watched quietus sway in the cool breeze. He reveled in his hedonistic ritual; a yearly affair passed down through generations. Nothing gave him more pleasure. Harvesting the heads was a task he relished, but watching the skin turn from its once healthy pigment to greenish-blue—that gave him true joy. He sat and watched as leaves fell, waiting for the heads to follow. Human hair only held for so long after death’s claim.


These Eyes
Nina D’Arcangela

I stand in place riddled with unbridled terror; it quakes my bones as I gaze out upon this gentle glade. Think me a fool for my fear? I imagine you do. Through my shutter you are gifted a calm that races my blood, hear the soothing lap at water’s edge that I am deaf to, see beauty trapped in hues I cannot allow to blind these eyes. The serenity of yawning fall holds no sway over me, for though we view the same painted landscape, you see only what is captured, whereas I hear what rustles the brush behind me.


Long Gone
Craig McGray

It’s been so long since the rains poured down. My memory struggles to recall images from the past that are long gone from reality. The vivid bursts of color that once covered the landscape have become nothing more than bland blacks and grays. The lakes are now dried and shriveled like an old man’s face. We did this to ourselves but were too fucking stupid to do anything about it. Politicians gave us only twisted lies and half-truths and before we knew it, it was too late. May God help us all, at least the few of us that remain.


The Lake
Veronica Magenta Nero

Many have given their lives to cleanse the lake. Our children, our elderly mothers and fathers, their faces frozen with fear and sorrow, never looking back as they walk into the oil slick swamp. They waddled in knee deep, then waist deep, then they were whisked away underneath, the foul water bubbling over them. We had stripped all life from the earth and now we pay with our blood and bone. The lake turns golden, an expanse of light, the water fresh and clean, sustaining us for a while until it begins to darken and fester once more, demanding another.


Don’t You See?
Jon Olson

You must be out of your minds! We left our home because of drought. This place is no different! How do you expect us to survive? Farm it? The ground lacks nutrients, nothing grows. Eat from the trees? They are bare. Fish from the lake? It’s lifeless. Yet you want to settle here? Trying to make this work is a death sentence. No, I have not lost my senses. It’s you who are crazy for believing him! We must keep moving on… then follow him, you blind fools, follow him to your death. Don’t you see? We won’t survive here.


Autumnal Hunger
Zack Kullis

Biting wind stirred the sweet scent of autumn’s decay and ruffled its time-worn cloak. The old post creaked with his surprising heft as his black eyes, hidden underneath the straw-like hair, watched the approaching couple.

He dropped from his perch and knocked them both to the ground. The ancient being grabbed each by an ankle and started towards the hills. Their shrill cries were musical; a symphony of dread that pleased him. He would eat them both, every bit, and sleep until next autumn’s equinox brought the sound of falling leaves and bid his eternal hunger be sated yet again.


‘Squatch
Thomas Brown

This is his country: acres of primordial forest spanning the hilltops. Time has no meaning here, marked by nothing except the changing seasons and, sometimes, the intruders who cross his invisible border. It is autumn now. He smells it in the air: rich, rank. Feels it under the pads of his feet: slippery, cold. Deadwood cracks. The camp is up ahead. Mud finds the underside of his fingernails, mixes with the blood that sometimes matts his fur and clots between his teeth. He moves heavily, hunts quickly, leaves no survivors. This is his country and here his appetite is law.


The Painter
Christopher A. Liccardi

They saw the golds and reds and smelled the season in all its glory. I saw crimson and grey matter and smelled the gore; a photo negative of what everyone else witnessed.

Paint in blood; that is what I do. I painted the scene in the blood of those who came to ask me about my work. It wasn’t a needless act, no. Never think it. It was one of serenity. I took the canvas around me and colored it with the life’s blood of those who came to meet me. My next victim approached with a smile, unknowing, unsuspecting.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Bird Song

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.

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