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Damned Words 35

 

Animals
A.F. Stewart

Always the warm orange glow against the bars. That one cage, when all the rest remain dark. But I don’t get too curious or linger, just dump the slop into the feeding troughs. I don’t know what this place used to be, but these days it’s when the Company keeps the dregs.

The animals.

They used to be human. I know that, but now… Scaly deformed fingers grab at their food, oozing tentacles, and rotting bits I don’t even want to think about. Only the glowing cage seems, well, normal. As normal as those things get, I suppose. Whatever’s in there whispers when I feed it, says thank you, real polite like.

But I’m not fooled. I know what it did to the last guy. He got too curious. First day on the job I put what was left of his remains in the trough. That was warning enough. I’m not ending up as food for the animals.


Mechanism of Question
Lee Andrew Forman

Bare skin and fragile bones—a futile effort at remaining human. The coming flame warms the flesh but not the soul. Dry, cracked layers burn away, allowing soft, pink, infantile cells to feel every degree. The orange glow travels a path of rust and steel, the conductor of its radiant journey. It leads to the blackened seat on which my body rests. Not dead, not alive, but waiting between. Tired eyes roll, reflect the end in their widened centers. The scent of liquified remains speaks for those before me, their agony carried by its rotten, smoldering, odor. It begins against my back. Perhaps my legs as well, but I lost feeling in them long ago. No pain at first, only the restoration of normal body temperature, a euphoric moment of internal balance, a slight release of suffering. That moment flees the rise in energy, replaced by a boiling gut and viscous epidermis running down my rear side. As by body expels its last contents I know the torment will soon be done. Whatever waits, if anything at all, can’t be worse than cruel mortality. Or can it?


Radiance
Scarlett R. Algee

The thump had come from the basement, and so does the heat. You’re sweltering by the time you reach the bottom of the steps, but the vents are all cold except the one in the far corner, the one by the body. It’s the third one this month.

You look up first, to the beam overhead and the snapped cord, then down to bent ligatured neck and shock-splayed limbs. A tiny gash along the jawline draws your attention, making your face sting with recognition. You kneel and grasp the chin–sweat-slick, too warm, slipping in your fingers and making your skin crawl—and turn the head, looking into your own glazed eyes. The corner vent has begun to glow dull red, and the hair, your hair, is starting to singe.

Maybe you should let it. Three times this month, and you keep finding yourself like this. Maybe you should let it burn; maybe that will give you answers. You unbutton your damp collar and run a hand over your razor-nicked face, breathing the acrid stench of crisping hair, and watch your corpse’s fingers twitch and curl.


Husk
Mark Steinwachs

Not looking at the cages doesn’t mean I can’t hear the screams from within, the horrid sound echoes daily amongst the husk of the building they’ve made our home. I’ve never been this close. Death in three cages; slowly eliminating us as our usefulness wanes. One a roaring fire searing the flesh from you, another where the flame laps at you bubbling your skin, the final one a flameless heat made of soot and remains that slowly cooks you. Those sobbing wails are the worst, they’ve haunted my dreams from my first day here.

I don’t need to worry about that anymore. I look at the men watching my comrades in their final moments, their faces pure delight, a reward for a job well done. The butt of the rifle pushes me forward. My last few steps an uncertain certainty.


Critters
Lydia Prime

It aint so bad, sleepin’ under that dang metal roof. Worst part, I hate hearin’ them critters skitter and scratch as they run its length. Pa says it aint nothin’ but ‘coons an squirrels; I ain’t never seen a masked-bandit that big, nor no tree-rat that heavy. Would be less unsettlin’ if they would chitter or growl, but they fight silent in the dark. I woke to heavy scrappin’ that night only to see the side wall pieced by a ragged claw; it was peeling the far side of the roof like a sardine can. Pa said it was my magination, and that I better get my ass back in bed ‘fore I catch a whoopin’ when I ran to him. I’d rather face the monster squirrels than Pa when he’s in one’a his booze moods. So I climbed back inta bed, that’s when I saw the light leaking in further than b’fore. I know I shoulda been good an’ gone to sleep, but for the life a me, I couldn’t shake the feelin’ something was comin’. When I saw that muddy eye lookin’ through the tear, I knew they was here, and no amount a hiddin’ was gonna help.


Misfiring
Nina D’Arcangela

I lay on the ground, the slats above blurring and jittering as he strikes repeatedly. Fists hammering, elbows slamming; a brief glimpse of light appears. He’s relentless. The beating brutal; as brutal as they’ve all been. A crack to the side of the head; I feel wetness. The light glows brighter, warmer, more embracing. I nearly black out, I would black out if it wasn’t for the lines my mind is riding. I count them: one – my jaw crunches under his forearm; two – I realize he isn’t going to stop this time; three – I let myself drift on waves of pain; four – I focus on the glow; five – is someone coming to welcome me home, or are my neurons misfiring from the assault on my skull? Either way, my suffering ends.

 

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

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A Damned Halloween

Twilight Whispers
A.F. Stewart

The clouds hung the sky in muted grey, settling low to meld with the horizon. The gloom of dusk stole the last burnished rays of sunset and crept up to meet the clouds. The air spread a leaden cast, a hint of dampness clinging to a vigorous wind.

From the old burial ground, with its sunken earth and broken gravestones, came a scratching, rasping, slithering sound. A noise of crawlers and claws, of burrowing and hiss. Dirt bulged and ground erupted, in a spray of grime and worms.

And momentary silence.

To be broken by skittering whispers.

Death is coming…


Little Reaper
Scarlett R. Algee

On the street where Death lives, there are no trick-or-treaters.

Not that Death minds. It’s a quiet cul-de-sac these days, populated by single middle-aged professionals and elderly couples whose grandchildren only visit infrequently, where the only indiscretions are the ones left on the lawn by a neighbor’s dog. Around here, he can practically walk to work every day.

No kids, no teenagers, no police calls for meth labs or midnight shouting matches, and no little candy-grubbing costumed visitors on Halloween.

Oh, Halloween. Death sits back in his recliner, watching SportsCenter with the sound off, and smiles his long-toothed skeleton’s grin. Visitors or not, it’s the one day he doesn’t have to wear a mortal-seeming glamour, the one day he can go around in the cowled ‘Grim Reaper’ attire he’s molded from the thoughts and fears of his neighbors, and nobody asks questions. Mr. Reaper is a good neighbor who keeps his leaves raked and his grass trimmed; the other residents on the street will turn a blind eye to the ghoulish appearance, and to the cobwebs and jack o’ lanterns that appear on the front porch. He’s allowed to be eccentric for one day.

(Mr. Reaper. He’s tried telling them all that his first name is McCormick, but no one ever gets the joke.)

At nine PM, Death turns the TV off. He has an appointment with Mrs. Collins next door at eleven, and needs to sharpen his scythe. He admits he’ll miss the tea and cake, and her admiration for his perfectly-cut lawn, but the work has to go on.

At nine-fifteen, there’s a knock on the door.

It gives Death pause. Has someone taken the jack o’ lanterns as an invitation? Did he leave the porch light on? Is there even candy in the house?

(There is, of course. Living among mortals has given him a weakness for chocolate. He goes into the kitchen just in time to hear a second knock, fetches a Snickers bar from the fridge, and slips it into a pocket of his robe. Wonderful mortal invention, pockets.)

Then Death opens the front door and stares down at himself.

The costume’s not an exact likeness. The robe has the slick look of thin polyester, and the blade of the scythe is almost certainly shiny plastic. But the face is arresting: a perfect age-yellowed grinning skull, surrounded by wispy brittle blonde curls that spill out around the black cowl.

A little female Death. He’s slightly taken aback. “Hello,” he says, but she doesn’t answer. Instead she shoves her plastic pumpkin-shaped bucket under his nonexistent nose and shakes it. The contents rattle. Death looks down in the glow of the porch light. The little round pail is full of small, flattish white objects.

Bones. He looks closer. Teeth. Teeth and bones, canines and carpals, premolars and phalanges, some bits with flesh still attached, some twinkling with pockets of silver amalgam. Then she taps the blade of her toy scythe against her wrist; she’s wearing a wristwatch, and the sound of blade touching crystal is the clink of steel on glass. The little scythe has begun to glow.

Abruptly, Death understands. “It’s time.”

She pulls the bucket away and nods vehemently, two hard up-and-down bobs of her head.

Death considers. He’s always known this day would come eventually; even avatars of mortality have their limits. Still, he’s become selfishly attached enough to the trappings of the living that he hedges, fumbling in his pocket. “Would you like a candy bar? I promise it’s not fun-sized.”

Skulls are inflexible, as a rule, but the girl cocks her head and squints, then nods again, the same two firm motions. Death reaches out to ease the Snickers into her bucket. He touches the teeth and bones inside, and two of his distal phalanges fall off into the pile. The dissolution’s already started.

Death pulls away before he loses any more. She sets the bucket down primly, and shifts her grip on the glowing scythe. It’s longer now, taller. So is she.

“Wait,” he says.

She watches, silent, expectant.

He gestures around them, at the other houses. “They’re kind sorts, for mortals. Give them kindness back. And keep the grass neat.”

Another headtilt as she considers. Then she nods again.

“Very well.” Death looks down at his small replacement. She’ll grow into it quickly; he had. “Go ahead.”

The scythe lifts, lazily, and swings, and in its wake there’s only a faint shimmer in empty air.

Death pushes her cowl back, shakes her curls loose, and picks up her bucket. She steps across the threshold into the house. Tomorrow she’ll have a word with the neighbors about their pitiful lack of Halloween decorations. They’ll have to do better next year. But first, there’s that appointment with Mrs. Collins. If she hurries, there’s time to bake a cake.

Miss Reaper’s a good neighbor. It’s the least she can do.


Final Moon
Mark Steinwachs

The clouds break and expose a perfect moon. I will myself to hear howls in the distance that don’t exist. It would be far too cliché to meet my maker under a full moon ripped apart by a creature of fantasy. No, my time ends at the hands of the noxious, silent death that has overrun Earth.

Leaning against a tree, my ankle throbs, purple and swollen. Why did I even run? I’m too average to be one of the survivors. Making it this far was more luck than skill, right place right time kind of thing.

The stench of death assaults me before I hear their shuffle through the leaves. My finger slides over the trigger of the pistol I learned to use not long ago.

I see one, then another, and more beyond them. They know I’m here through glazed over eyes. I point my gun at the first one and hear others close in around me. There are far too many, I put my gun down, why fight the thing I will become.

My death will be like my life, another one amongst the masses.


You Can Be Always
Lee Andrew Forman

Hollow pumpkins grinned along the street with flickering eyes. Knocking, knocking, all eve long—the little ghost filled her bag with sugar-treats. Monsters and things long-dead, faces that normally brought fright, didn’t raise her pulse at all. She knew Halloween was the time for horrors that darkness brings.

The street light went out, she found herself alone. At the end of the road, where front stoops had gone cold.

An ebon-skinned fairy came to her side. Smooth, shining, blacker than night, its wings fluttered as it lit on her palm. Fear nearly struck her, but instead, wonder she found. Never had she seen such a beautiful thing.

“Are you a fairy?” Sarah asked.

It nodded its head and blinked its eyes. Then it took flight, waved its hand in the air. It beckoned her to follow in step, led her deep in the woods, toward a house long abandoned.

Sarah pulled at her costume, tried to remove it—the forest so dark, the cloth made it darker. But the fairy tugged back, insisted she keep it.

It is Halloween after all, she thought, everyone should be in costume.

The hovering creature took her hand, urged her to follow. Pumpkins lit the porch of the old wooden cabin, their soft light warm and inviting. She hopped to the door and on its own it opened; beyond it waited things she never imagined—things strange, never seen, not even in dreams.

Masked creatures came to greet her, some stumbling forth.  Their scent was of old, long-forgotten. She inhaled the pleasant air, let its flavor remind her of what was.

“You can be always,” they said in unison.

She smiled at the thought of endless autumn nights—cool air and colored leaves.

She allowed them to take her into their place, with willing soul and a walk with grace.

“You shall become as you are,” the voices spoke.

The white linen costume tightened around her. She didn’t fight the transformation, rather welcomed it instead. She wanted to be there, better than dead.

As her feet disappeared and she floated as if normal, she peered through the holes of her ghostly exterior, and looked forward to time with her new family—forever.

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

Suffering

The chittering awakens me and I open my eyes. My body is prone on the comfortable bed, one of few luxuries I am afforded. I wince when the first set of tiny hands touch me, sharp claws testing the flesh of my legs. Laying here, waiting for it to begin.

Each of us live this, session after session. It’s not the physical anguish that will break us, it’s the emotional torment. Feeling the tingling in our bodies as the connection builds. The unseen part of us that stretches through the chasm to them as our gift begins to merge with theirs—knowing we will soon be back for another round. There is nothing we can do to stop it. It is our life. Our life to complete theirs.

We are the Muse.

A sharp burst of pain shoots through me, my body arching as synapses explode inside. I slam back on the bed, the room disappears and a glowing white screen surrounds me. A cursor blinks, then it begins. Letters becoming words becoming sentences. Tiny nails dig into my flesh. More words flow as blood trickles down my legs. My face twitches with each pin prick from the small claws. The letters in black, forming on the screen in front of me. Every muscle fights the slow grinding ache as viscous red seeps from me. I give myself to him, so he may become great.

The creatures move up my legs, nipping my torso and arms. I don’t need to see the sightless ones, the Deliverers, as dark as the night itself with pointed teeth that click and tick as they speak to each other in a language only they and Oizys know. She controls them and they feed her from our sessions. We are pawns, Muse and Deliverers, in the games the gods play.

A flash of golden light blinds me, pulling me from my thoughts. I wince but never close my eyes. If I look away, or even blink, the connection will break. I can’t read the words but I know they are perfect. Only perfection can be this intense and with it brings … I bite my bottom lip as a talon slashes my calf, reopening my barely healed wound from last night. A moan escapes me, tears stream down my face. I want it to be over. With each word he types my eyes are assaulted. That, mixed with the physical attacks, overwhelms me. I begin to blink but I can’t let myself, I won’t. He is on fire and I am his victim.

The words flow from him. I don’t know how long it lasts, my time and his never mix. I am becoming weaker as blood continues to seep from the cuts all over me. My body is begging me to end the session, to close my eyes and rest before there is no coming back. I groan through clenched teeth, spasms wrack my body. I feel a Deliverer on my chest. Suddenly all the others stop but the words continue. My body involuntarily tenses, unknowing, the pause in their attack confusing me. Agonizing seconds tick by until another sentence crosses my vision.

Vivid colors erupt in front of my eyes, unlike anything I have ever seen before. A sharp claw pierces my flesh and bores into me. Its talon extends deep inside me and punctures my heart, filling itself straight from me. I scream in anguish and close my eyes. The colors vanish and my world is an abyss.

My breath is shallow and ragged. The claw in my heart retracts and the Deliverers start to slip away. My body struggles to repair itself, starting with the most serious injuries. After those, the hundreds of little nicks mark my flesh, scars of another round of torment. The room is quiet and I am at peace. I made it through once more. I begin to drift off to sleep, my last thoughts always the same.

I am a Muse. I must suffer for my artist.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 34

 

Taunts and Beckons
Jon Olson

The doctors said I’ve been blind all my life. If that were true I wouldn’t be lying here in restraints. No matter how many times I’ve screamed, nobody listened.  I even clawed my eyes out to erase the image but all they did was tie me down in a padded cell. And I can still see the same sinister flower in full bloom. It’s always moving and not swaying gently in a light breeze. No, the petals curl up like fingers, taunting and beckoning me to come closer. But I cannot move nor look away. My screams and prayers go unanswered as if Death itself has forgotten me. What is it that you want? It just taunts and beckons…


Some Carnivores Have Roots…
Lydia Prime

Agile movements by a tongue so sharp and sleek, blackened teeth stretch wide to distort the mighty jaw. Concealed by delicate beauty, secrets lie inside their florescent warning. A field springs up with no gardener in sight and onlookers are drawn to the mysterious plants. Mobility is unnecessary for the ravenous blossoms the Reaper keeps.

Those misguided admirers lean too near the center for a closer peek, before a second thought is had, flesh and bone are devoured while blood and soul slurp down their immaculate throats. The first crimson droplets soak the yellow petals of the rooted beasts; the golden plot now scarlet after the grotesque feast.

Gurgling sounds echo from the rows of flowery plumage while his grimness emerges from the dark. Satisfied by quick collection, the lemon color returns.


Gifts
Mercedes M. Yardley

You think each one will be memorable. You assume you’ll remember every place, every time, every circumstance. But that isn’t the case at all. After a while, all of your victims begin to blur together.

They become montages of broken smiles, smudged lipstick, and shattered fingernails. You forget which one smelled of jasmine and which one smelled like old library books.

Oh, you especially loved the one that smelled like old library books.

So you go out of your way to remember. Capture their essence. Perhaps you begin by taking pictures. Before the murder, and then after. You build up to pictures during the act, which frightens them the most.

They used to ask “Why?” but now the question is “Are you recording this?” You know what they’re really asking. “This won’t stop, will it? Will you post it on the Internet? Will my father see this? Please don’t let my father see.”

After the deed is done, you dispose of the body and secret the recording away. But you take something, like a small gold ring or the red flower from her hair, and give it to your small daughter, who watched the whole thing. Now you’ll both remember.


Corpse Flowers
Scarlett R. Algee

Two months ago they drove me out of this village, pitchforks at my back, my cottage in flames and my gardens of herbs and flowers torn to tatters, their cries of witch! and devil! and unclean! ringing in my ears.

But now I stand in the village churchyard, my hands full of promise. So hungry, these little seeds I’ve managed to save, squirming in my palms, begging to be buried. Neatly kept graves, a pretty black seed for every one, a precious red flower that will bloom from each charnel patch come daybreak. Someone’s memorial, some widow’s gift, these fools will think it, until the flowers swell under the next new moon and birth each corpse anew in viridian and crimson, in thorns and teeth and mindless ravenous hunger: hunger for bone and flesh and sinew, for heart and blood and brain, for fulfilling my will. The wretches who forced me forth with scarcely the clothes on my back will beg, then scream, then die—and I’ll watch, and I’ll laugh. A beautiful sight, the yearning of the starving dead for the living ones they so outnumber.

Let me see who calls me unclean then.


From the Ashes, Fire
A.F. Stewart

Grey light from a waning sun shed itself across the burnt wasteland that used to be a forest, weaving pale silhouettes and glimmers of faint light. A feeble ray caught the colour of a single blooming flower sprouting from the ash; a flash of garish orange petals surrounding a black center. An anomaly of life springing past the spectre of death.

In the hushed air, over the charred remains and skeletons, hung the stench of smoke and silence, yet you can hear it: the small sizzle, the crackle of simmering embers. Pop, pop, pop from the stamen, born of hellfire and blackened bone, brewing spores, waiting on the fresh wind to blow down from the mountain. Waiting to spew its seed to the breeze, to drift away to new, fertile ground.

Away to different land where more flowers will take root, burrowing malice and annihilation into the ground. Where pristine fire will erupt from the soil and burn its tendrils through all life. Where death, hell, and garish orange petals will flourish in the ashes.


The Contract
Mark Steinwachs

I gambled and lost. My fate delivered in the vibrant photograph before me. Its near perfection only makes the flower’s two off-angle anthers stand out. I knew what I signed up for, quite literally, after our third date. He told me about his others, their flaws and weaknesses. My signature on the contract, my convicted belief. A kid from a second-rate drag show, saved by a wealthy man and shown the world. We all dreamed we’d live that movie. I did—and I looked better in a tight black skirt too.

I sat in the chair he had specially made. My chair, our chair. His hands effortlessly tied the knots as he had countless times before. The moment he mentioned he had something special today, my calm anticipation became jumbled nerves. That’s when he showed me the photograph. Unrivaled beauty, but…

He released the picture, which floated morosely to the floor. I closed my eyes, wanting his voice to fill me. “You were so close, which makes your imperfection all the more glaring.”

I felt the barrel against the back of my skull. The click of the safety my last memory.


Garden of Whispers
Lee Andrew Forman

My eyes close as pedals open, releasing the scent of tender care. One deep breath fills my lungs with delicate flavor; remembrance accompanies the indulgence in flashes of silver and red, visions of eyes screaming, then closing. My hands grab at the soft dirt, fingertips dig in. Ecstasy flows in tandem. I inspect each bloom, check for flaws. They are my life and I am theirs. They whisper more, and more I bring. Ravenous things, they are. But so beautiful; I can’t help but love them. I only bring the finest ingredients to my lovely garden—fresh and still bleeding.


Looming
Nina D’Arcangela

Looming, always staring. It watches no matter where I go, following with its stamen; feeling, tasting with the ever so slight quivering of its bracts. It’s inescapable. The stench nearly as bad, it puffs spore, tiny yet distinguishable. How I loathe its presence. I remember a blue sky, one that brought light to the day before iron tinged the air. Scientist with grand ideas; the ever ravenous desire to get there first.  The human genome was never meant to be spliced with the flora found in earths deepest chasms. But here we are, living under the dome of a relentless beauty that would see us snuffed from existence as easily as a child plucks a flower. But it’s the waiting, really, the looming as it picks us off one by one — that’s the part that’ll drive me insane one of these days.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

Damned Words 33

Damned_Words_33

Scream
Lydia Prime

If walls could scream the world would hear me. The atrocities I’d witnessed within my brick and sheetrock structure were of my own design. Though it may seem odd, those who chose to occupy my space never stayed very long. The locked doors, gas leaks, faulty carpeting on steps, even household devices in precarious locations seem to assist in their, shall we say, departure. However, they seem to keep on coming.

The newest arrivals have been interesting. They were ecstatic to find such a “gem” on the market for “an absolute steal!” I watched as they tried to remodel, tried to alter me, but faltered at every adjustment. Most recently they began touching up my basement. Disgusted at their lack of appreciation for my appearance; it seemed that a water main had broken and wouldn’t you know it, the damn door wouldn’t open again. The murky level rose to their hips before they realized they weren’t getting out. Those defeated looks upon their faces were more marvelous than I’d anticipated.

They may have been nice, you know? But if I’m being honest, I just wanted to see what they’d look like floating face down.


The Risen
A.F. Stewart

Amidst the damp loam, she awakened. Her eyes opened onto black nothingness, but her ears heard the faint rumble of thunder mixed with the sizzle of lightning. She reached upward, and her phantom existence slowly rose from underneath the cold ground. Streaks of muted sunlight fluttered against a building of brick and iron. The air danced thick with the smell of ozone and the hint of coming rain. In-between the beats of thunder she heard voices from inside the building, wafting past an open window. She smiled.

The others will be here soon.

She moved forward, step by airy step, until she passed straight through the front doors of the building, a majestic Music Hall. Into the foyer she slithered, wisps of ethereal essence floating like a translucent gown, to the shock of the party-goers gathered for the building’s grand opening.

She stopped, closed her eyes, and whispered, “Rise my Brethren, rise.”

The ground rumbled, loud enough to rival the thunder, and an unholy howl shook the walls. Screams followed as the long dead were summoned to seek out the living. Then, and only then, did those within the Hall understand the warnings.

Never build on a witches’ graveyard.


Chords
Nina D’Arcangela

A storm, the children forced to play in the musty attic. Mother hears a screech, she runs to the sound; a little one hides behind a door while the other seeks. She leaves them to their childish game. Rounding the wooden staircase, her heel snaps; she falls utterly soundless.

In the great chamber, the Maestro revels in his music. The chords carry him to a refuge their new abode could never offer. The door creaks open, a small one pokes in, followed by the hysterical boy. Father turns a furious eye; they know not to disturb. The girl tells her tale. All color drains from the man’s face, he rushes to the servant’s stairwell. There she lies, neck twisted an odd angle. His moans echo the faded mahogany walls; the sky crackles in tune.

Buried before her time, children without a mother; man without a wife. He appraises the grandeur that surrounds him; she was worth more. He looks skyward; a bolt strikes the lightning rod, a fat drop strikes his eye. He thinks back to another strike, this one a deal. Standing at that crossroads, he never believed he’d be worth so much, yet have so little.


Easy
Mark Steinwachs

“Not everything has to be deep and mystical, who cares what other people stood here?” I say to our bass player and lyricist, Thane, as we step onto the balcony overlooking the front of the Music Hall. The fans gathered below scream before we pass the threshold of the door. “There isn’t meaningful history at venues or in hidden messages in every song. Life is hard and people want their music transparent for a reason. It’s easy. They want easy. Even I want easy. I’m tired of all of this.” My hand motions out to the crowd, which elicits and even louder roar, and stops at Thane.

We step to the spiked railing, waving at the mass below. “What are you trying to say? Are you …done?”

“Yeah, I want to be alone again, where no one cares who I am. I’m done with this life but really I’m done with you.” As Thane turns to look at me I put my hand on his head and slam it down, sharp steel barbs pierce flesh and bone. For the first time in years I smile for real, imagining the solitude of the cell that awaits.


Soprano
Scarlett R. Algee

The building’s aging, crooked signage reads Music Hall; it’s the only place on campus that doesn’t have some donor’s name attached. I’m early for my choral audition, so I just hang at the entrance to kill time, watching storm clouds gather overhead. Weird; the sky was clear five minutes ago. Lightning flickers from the clouds to the music hall’s multiple spires, casting a faint blue glow across the roof. The same thing happened for my roommate Ophelia’s audition last week. She hasn’t said much since. Sings like an angel now, but never talks; like the audition gave her a new voice, but took her old one away.

A huge bolt cracks into existence, forking from spire to spire. The glow from the roof spreads out over the building, engulfing me, and the scream that comes from my throat is a single note pure as a songbird’s warble. Then the door opens and another student stumbles out, pushing past me. Something shifts and writhes in her open mouth, and her voice is the sound of a ringing glass.

The door is open, waiting, lined in blue light. I don’t question. It’s my turn. I want to sing like an angel.


Living with Ghosts
Mercedes M. Yardley

There was a Before and an After. Before Michael’s death, and After the phone call that changed everything. Somehow the most mundane things became something far beyond her comprehension. Breakfast? Too daunting and too many moving parts. Getting her kids off to school? They could say goodbye to her as she hid under her blankets in bed. Fighting to keep her neglected children after she couldn’t pull it together after a year? They were better off elsewhere. It hurt, but deep in her heart she knew it was true.

So now she lived in a large home with ghosts. Dead Michael stood in the corner making coffee. Missing Lucy and Roman sat at the kitchen table, doing nonexistent homework and joking about elementary school. She watched them, her lips cracked from dehydration as she forgot to take a mouthful of food or sips of water, and she smiled-smiled-smiled at the ghosts of her family.


Invention of an Afterlife
Lee Andrew Forman

The machine whirred, gears alive with anticipation. Sparks lit, took flight with vigor, burned away as quickly as they were born. Outside, arcs of electric light spawned from the place between places—where inventors dreamed and dreamers lived; somewhere they could be eternal. The trio of minds clapped in celebration, eyes wide with fulfillment, mouths hung in astonishment of their success.

But the arms of brightness came to take them. They slithered around their bodies, constricted searing heat into flesh. Cries of agony and betrayal disappeared into the closing gap. Hell had come from their envisioned Heaven, and dragged them into its void of white.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

 

Dirt

I slam the shovel into the mound of dirt. Sweat drips into the hole I’ve spent the last few hours digging. There’s no turning back. I’m not filling it in like before.

The chill of autumn cascades over my exposed shoulders. While I was digging the breeze did nothing to cool me, so off came my shirt. How many times had I worked shirtless in the yard while Claudia was home next door? That doesn’t matter anymore.

She had talked me out of this plan so many times, told me to give it time, that they would figure out how to stop them. But they can’t; their creation is out of control, the disease mutated, spread too fast. I’ve never been one to delude myself.

Her body hangs out the bedroom window. My shot was true, but instead of knocking her back into her room, it spun her and she flopped forward. Her dripping blood called to them, speeding up the inevitable. The creatures drank all that spilled from her and now circle my fence, drawn by my scent. They would have ended up here anyway. It just happened sooner than expected. I spared Claudia the agonizing pain of the end of days, just like I did…
I shiver once more, but not from the cold. Guttural groans, a cross between human and canine, surround me. Scratching sounds reverberate like gunshots as their sharp claws work on the barricade.

Shick. Shick. Shick.

“Fuck you!” I yell to no one. It’s all I have left in me, nothing grandiose, only four-letter expletives. The world is coming to an end, and mine… mine’s already gone.

I grab my rifle and march to the stepladder, climbing to peer over the fence at the half-human monstrosities. Clawed hands scrape relentlessly. Then one of the things looks up at me with glazed eyes and bloodied teeth. I pull the trigger. Its face explodes in red mist. Others dive over to feed. The rest jostle for the meal.

“Fuck you!” I spit.

I throw the gun over the side, not that they can use it. I don’t need it anymore. It was just a distraction to buy me enough time to finish the task at hand. After climbing down the ladder, I walk to my patio. I wipe my face, pretending it’s sweat and not tears.

But by the time I reach the table, I can no longer lie to myself. Tears stream down my face. I slide my hands under the sheet and gently lift him, the last time I ever will. Three years, three years is all I got. It’s not remotely fair. My vision blurs as I cross my back yard. I lay the sheet in the hole and slide in next.

Shick. Shick. Shick.

The sound of clawing replaces the sound of their fighting. Not long now.
I sweep my arms wide and beckon a cascade of dirt into the hole. I start by covering my legs and soon am up to my hips. I keep pulling dirt over me. Covering myself.

Covering us.

I lay my head back, reaching up like I’ve practiced. I take a deep breath as the dirt falls over my face, but this time I won’t stop. They won’t take us. I won’t let them. I swore to protect him forever and I will.
I can’t hold my breath any longer and pull my hands down. I gasp and dirt fills me, takes me to him.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

 

Damned Words 32

Hope for the Chosen
Lee A. Forman

Within the ancient holder of feed, bodies writhe against one another like worms without purpose. We wait, huddled together, watching. Late deciders add to the pile, releasing their last cries before they join the rest in their naked, fleshy nest.

The earth beneath us trembles. It will soon arrive. My senses hum with anticipation. I have never missed a feeding, yet the vigor of my heart always retains its strength.

It comes on two massive legs, its full height towering above us. Cheers erupt from both the crowd and the meal. Its single eye scans the audience; it looks directly at me. I feel its power, a raw energy which blesses my existence. Its arm reaches in and brings living meat into its enormous circular mouth. Screams of joy from the lucky chosen can still be heard even after disappearing into its blood-soaked maw.

The divine being sated, it departs until next feast. I only hope I’ll be chosen.


The Collector
Mercedes M. Yardley

She had always been a collector. As a child, she had collected stickers in pretty notebooks, and cute erasers shaped like ice cream cones. Then it was stray animals she brought home to her parents. Abandoned kittens on desert roads and birds with broken wings. In high school and college she collected boyfriends, holding each one aloft and examining the shiny, beautiful parts. Even the most stony and broken among them shone like tiny suns in her careful hands.

Now she collected refuse and precious things thrown away. Abandoned dolls. Sad souls in tattered blankets. She wandered the city and found lost little girls, shattered boys, and those set aside as trash. After their eyes closed for the last time, she spirited them away to a dilapidated train car where they would be gathered together, and treasured, forever.


Markings
Lydia Prime

I was unsure of how long I’d been walking, nothing looked familiar. The trees had strange markings on them, each increasingly concerning; monstrous creatures eating each other, fighting – some even appeared to be staring. What are these? I questioned and pressed on.

Though alone, I could not escape the feeling of being watched. I quickly moved through the clearing only to happen upon tracks that sat seemingly forgotten. The entire scape was blanketed in dust, as if untouched by the elements. Peering at the rusted train cars, only then did I notice how silent the area had been. The stillness was unnerving to say the least; nevertheless, I was drawn to the enigmatic scene.

I hesitated, but my desire to know forced my feet forward. I stepped into a paint chipped car and immediately felt the gravity of my mistake. A horned creature materialized in front of me, its stench and putrid flesh were utterly repulsive. Every instinct was screaming ‘RUN’, I could not move. As it drove yellowed claws through my chest, my final thought was of the trees. A guttural voice scoffed in my mind, ‘You shouldn’t have dismissed them.’


Did I Even Hear It?
Jon Olson

Come on, hurry up.  Just grab what we need and let’s go. Our luck has held out so far, but I don’t want to push it. It’s deceptively calm up here today. Number Six isn’t the first railcar we’ve come across during our excursions but it is the first one that’s completely intact. What are they doing in there? It shouldn’t be taking this long. I feel naked and exposed out here. It’s almost enough to make one lose it completely. The radio silence makes it worse. I can’t break it but I’ll knock on the door to tell them to hurry it up. They might just be distracted. It happens sometimes. People will get lost in their own minds during these excursions imagining a life not confined to underground bunkers. The metal stairs emit an almost guttural groan. Was that even the stairs? Reaching for the door a burst of static suddenly rings throughout my gas mask. Before it is swallowed up by the white noise I think I hear a single word. Run. The silence returns but I don’t look back. Did I even hear it?


Color
Mark Steinwachs

Death in Color. My award-winning photograph. A true artist leaves his mark without fanfare, talent only recognized after he’s gone. My piece works on many levels, can be analyzed by ‘scholars’ and laypeople alike. Do the worn blue hues invoke childhood toys and the tragedy of growing up? Or maybe it’s about society abandoning the outdated. Or the stark beauty of decay. I’ve heard those theories and more. Not one got it right, though. They didn’t plumb deeper, didn’t see beyond the top layer of paint.

Someone will. I’m certain. Their fingers will touch the cold metal as mine have. They will enter the number six train and find my victims. Six people; dried blood and corroded metal commingling in a perfect color palette. When the detectives begin their search, my masterpiece will be unveiled. Rust and Blood—a series.


Underneath the Rust
A.F. Stewart

I watch the boy climb the ladder and walk inside the old circus train car. His movement stirs a faint metallic odour into the air. He scrunches his face and complains about the rusting metal. I shake my head. I know better. It isn’t rust he smells, but the lingering scent of the blood. I sigh and follow the boy.

He’s kicking debris across the floor and swearing. Shouting he wasn’t afraid of some old ghost story. So I whisper, loud enough so he can hear, “Come out, come out. Time to play.”

The boy whirls, fear in his eyes. He can’t see me, not yet, and he doesn’t see my friend, the clown, materialize at the far end of the car. He’s so sad, my clown. You can hear the misery drip from his words as he speaks.

“Please don’t make me do this again.”

The boy turns toward the sound of my clown’s voice and screams. The sight of a damned soul will do that to a human. Everyone is afraid of my clown. Too bad he’s not the true threat. It’s me the boy should fear. I laugh as I move in for the kill.


Broken and Maimed
Scarlett R. Algee

I pat the bundle tucked into my jacket for reassurance, and shoulder my way into the old train car. It’s mid-afternoon, but the interior’s still dark enough to need my flashlight. I skim my beam over glass shards, scattering cockroaches, twisted bolts from torn-out seats…and him. He’s right where I left him: waterproofing tape across his mouth keeping him quiet, fourteen feet of logging chain keeping him still, especially after I’d wound it around his neck. He squirms and muffles a curse out as I walk up beside him, but a boot to the ribs makes him moan and go breathless, eyes rolling wildly. That’s the look I saw on my sister’s face in the ER after what he’d done to her face and her teeth, but it suits him better. Makes me glad I picked this old rustbucket. Nobody’ll look for him here.

I take the bundle out of my jacket and squat. As he watches me unroll it on the floor, he whimpers. When I shove his head back and sink the first knife into the soft flesh beneath his eye, he starts to scream.


Blue Pride
Nina D’Arcangela

Number six, the envy of all. She carried only refined coke; her insides never having tasted the dust of coal. Years she served faithfully until the day she didn’t. A fluke, many said; not her fault, others blustered. But the engineer… he knew. He’d felt every tick and wheeze, heard every tale told; recognized her deliberate intent. The next cars’ worth, just as poor, and the one after. Her shine began to diminish, the bright blue pride of the forge peeled as she revealed an undercoat of rust and pock marks. A young smelter, brave but unaware of the lore, climbed her rear, leaned in to check the bricks and slipped landing inside the car. Her gaping maw slammed closed. The engineer listened as she slurped and ground bone until the boy was fully consumed. The mill owners turned a blind eye as number six began to glisten in the sun once more, her loads again of the highest quality. Every now and then, a young man failed to return home after his shift; but the coke, it was the purest, and the mills’ steel, the most sought after.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

 

Damned Words 31



Wishes Do Come True
A.F. Stewart

All I wanted was the shiny new tricycle with the ribbons on the handlebars. Just like the one Bobby next door had. So I wished it. At the scary place in woods where I’m not supposed to go. Where the growls and the bad words came out of the ground. Where the trees whispered about blood and mean things. I shouldn’t have done it, but I did.

I wished for that tricycle. Just like the one Bobby had. And they answered me. Said they’d get me that trike if I did something for them. So I brought them Bobby like they asked. I didn’t know what would happen. He just—just—there was a lot of blood and laughter. Then I ran.

But I swear I didn’t know.

I got my tricycle, though. Bobby’s parents gave me his, after the funeral.


A Little More Red
Jon Olson

Isn’t it magnificent? This is the tricycle I had as a child. Sadly it didn’t always look this good. Much like me it was beaten up… passed around… misused. Unlike me though, this was fixable; a chance to restore my lost childhood. Once all the dents were fixed and rust sanded down, I knew a fresh coat of red would do it wonders. But as I held the brush it didn’t feel right. I couldn’t restore innocence with paint… it needed something else… something special to bring it back. The first one was difficult, not going as smoothly as I had hoped. I was too emotional. Fear, excitement and inexperience will do that. Regardless, with the first brushstroke, the tricycle came alive like never before. The blood breathed new life into it. Too quickly though, my initial supply ran out. I went out, visiting different playgrounds, killing my catch as fast as I could. My remorse faded each time, replaced by building passion to bring back what I had lost. I mean, just look at it… isn’t it magnificent? A little more red and it’ll be done.


Joy
Nina D’Arcangela

I sit here alone waiting, luring them with the glimmer of carnelian shine and faded tassels. I was a boy once; it was a gift given to celebrate my birth – but why celebrate the unwanted Papa reminded me with strap and fist. When it spoke to me, offering escape for a mere favor, how could I resist? The last to feel my pull was a young girl; her screams still echo my mind. It drank with wanton lust, this keeper of my soul; I wept knowing my part.

A glance upward tells me the tenement is mostly asleep, but I see them, eyes that barely clear the sill as they gaze down; a man’s voice in the background slurred and harsh. I pray the child does not come, but they always do. They seek the same escape I once did; they feed the beast which masks its evil in the plaything that keeps me captive. A crescent of light seeps through the darkness as the back door cracks open. The young one stares at me, eyes full of wonder. I cringe knowing the lie I keep; the falsehood of joy I represent.


Innocence
Mark Steinwachs

I set him down, releasing his torso when he reestablishes balance in his tiny gray sneakers. He accepts the rag from me and wipes down his tricycle: seat, frame, spokes, basket, tassels, like I instructed. A boy and his tricycle, innocence personified. Smiling, I rub my eye to dam the tear threatening to form. Not long ago, he could barely pedal. Now he’s outgrown it.

Outgrown his innocence.

How cruel of us, bringing him into this world. We never meant to, of course, but we did. He’s far too aware now. Voicing questions no child should ask.

His mother hopes things will go back to how they were before The Night.

That’s impossible.

He hugs my leg and scampers toward his mother in the house. Gravel crunches under those tiny sneakers, the last time I’ll ever hear it. I can’t stop the tears now, cursing the god who allowed this. We’ve decided. He won’t live in this hell. We won’t abide it. The wind gives a final lethargic sigh. The tassels hang motionless from the handlebars, fitting for what’s coming.


Here Comes the Sun
Lydia Prime

Heavy pattering of rain against the plastic roof stopped. Emerging from her pink and yellow playhouse ready to run, her shadow hesitated but quickly raced after her. As she lurked along the edge of the verdure, gleeful squeals and light splashing caught her ear. Her shadow swiftly moved through the tall grass, leading her closer.

A small boy sat on his tiny red tricycle, his feet stomping through puddles as he giggled. Her shadow appeared in front of him, unphased, he continued. The five-year-old girl nodded and crept silently behind him. Her loose curls and pastel colored dress crusty with brown stains; her petite pale face coated in flakey red blotches. The boy shivered and looked back; a wide smile parted her lips revealing a mouth full of pointed teeth. He cried and screeched for his mother. Without missing a beat she clamped her shark-like jaws tightly around his neck while her shadow held him down. Devouring his tender meat, she left nothing but bones.

His copper infused juice swirled into murky puddles. Her shadow guided her back into the field. Before disappearing into the weedy cover she licked her lips and whispered, “More.”


Once
Mercedes M. Yardly

Jasper was allergic to peanuts and lies and cruelty. As a baby, he waved fat, starfish hands. His mom would dress him in blue and white striped overalls like a tiny conductor.

He had a teddy bear hand puppet with a fireman’s hat. I thought he loved the thing, but he would scream and shake his fists at it, yelling and biting until the fur came off and threads came loose.

“He loved it to death,” his mom exclaimed.

“Yes,” I said, but really I knew that it was the only thing he hated. Whenever I came to babysit, I tucked my long hair behind my ear and hid the puppet.

“All gone?” I’d say, and Jasper would smile.

He played on the driveway between our houses. I always made sure to walk behind my truck before pulling out, except for one time.

He lived, if you could call it that. There’s no laughter or hate or anything at all. I dance that puppet in front of his face hoping he’ll scream at it, at me, just one time, because we all know one time is all it takes.


Mine
Scarlet R. Algee

I killed my little brother when I was seven years old.
Ryan had just turned three, and had dogged my steps for days, trying to walk in my shadows, ignoring my scowls. He just loves you, Mom had said, but he’d stolen my old pink tricycle while she just smiled.
I protested. It was pink, with ribboned handlebars and jingling beaded spokes: a trike for a girl, not a boy. But Mom had just said you don’t need it now, you can share, and Ryan had declared it’s mine now and stuck out his tongue.
My throat clogged. My heart tightened. I pushed him down, pink trike and all, onto the train tracks behind our house.
He shrieked when his knees broke open on the gravel, but the long downshifting howl of the oncoming train swallowed his noise. The Norfolk Southern coal-hauler became a huge black blur, its brakes screaming far too late.
I looked away, but something thudded out of the blur and cartwheeled past my legs. The tricycle had crumpled and twisted, beads clinking as one wheel still rotated slowly.
Ryan was right: it wasn’t mine anymore.
My trike had been pink, and this one was red.

The Patient Guise
Lee A. Forman

Alone, it waited. Silent, still, it swallowed patience one lingering moment after another. With each passerby its senses hummed with anticipation—a growing hunger still unsated. Each gave a curious look, but none were tempted. Uncertainty lingered along the paths of its ancient mind as it questioned how well it understood its prey. The form it chose proved effective in the past. Eager younglings once rushed into its deceptive grasp. They’d pedal away from their elders and satisfy its appetite. But the scarcity of its preferred fare imposed a decision—its old hunting ground had to be abandoned. With a tired squeak, its wheels turned in search of a fresh source to nourish its everlasting appetite.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

 

Hell

“Hell. You think you have it all figured out. Fire and brimstone, sinners writhing in agony, cries of the forsaken. You think that’s it, but you’re wrong. You cursed me there when you drove the knife into me because I was different. You cursed me there when you watched me bleed out. You cursed me there in the name of God. I didn’t belong there. Not until your knife pierced my skin. And then I knew hatred. You taught me. As my life slipped away on the grass, as you spit on me, you taught me hate. In that moment, you sent me to Hell.”

My smile melts into a sneer. They lie in their bed, both paralyzed by my touch. His wife screams, but no sound comes out. His eyes are wide, mouth closed. Ten years have taken a toll on him, though my body is the same.

I yank him by his worn collar. “Does she even know?” I toss him into the chair beside the bed. His limp body slouches. “She doesn’t, does she? You never told her.” Roughly I arrange him into a proper sitting position and scoot the chair closer, twisting it so he faces his wife.

I sit on the edge of his bed, our knees almost touching. “Hell is filled with two types of people. Some are like you—they’re the ones writhing in eternal fire.” I lean forward, my lips at his ear. “Physical and mental anguish worse than you can fathom.”

His response is to void his bladder. An acrid smell fills the room.

“Are you scared? Truly scared, maybe for the first time in your life? Now you know how I felt.” I recline back so I can watch the effect my words have on him. His eyes dart around the room, then back to his wife, then to me. “Then there are people like me. You sparked hate in me, more powerful than anything I’d ever felt. When I took my last breath, I didn’t wake up in a fiery pit. No, I landed in a little gray room. That’s where my training began. Where I nearly died again. You made me hate so deeply that I was chosen to thrive in Hell. To live eternally with my hatred, become one with it, use it how I see fit.”

His eyes flicker with false understanding. I laugh. I tip his wife’s chin up. “He thinks he gets it. He doesn’t, but you are beginning to, aren’t you?” I snap my fingers and her terrified shriek fills the room. I let her body spasm on the bed, assaulted by raw emotions, the first real ones she’s ever felt. I snap my fingers again. She stills. Silent screams return.

I turn back to him. “You don’t know real hate, real anger. You are a fool, duped by those you follow. Your life is a lie and now you will bear the fruit of that lie.” I rip open his shirt.

Closing my eyes, I’m back in the little gray room. My teacher tried to break me. Bombarded my body and mind. Intense pain as my skin melted from an atomic blast, slow agony as ebola bled me out, despair as a child breathed her last in my arms. I know them all, and thousands more.

My finger touches his chest, freeing his body enough to tremble. He vibrates through me. I trace the edge of my fingernail down the center of his ribcage. The stench of burnt flesh hits me. I open my eyes and am met with his silent wail. Beautiful agony. A razor-thin line of scorched flesh flares then disappears.

I walk behind him. “This is where he stabbed me first,” I say to his wife as I push my nail next to his left shoulder blade. His body jerks in the chair and I release his scream, a guttural cry of animalistic pain. Flesh drips off him. I growl, “From behind. He’s a coward and he’s going to pay.”

I shove him to the floor and tear his shirt the rest of the way off. With precision I inflict every wound he gave me ten years ago, every cut etched into my being. White heat erodes his skin.

His wife’s eyes, once wide, narrow as he sobs and drools on the bed. I haul him up and reposition him in the chair. “Five in the back,” I say to her. “Seven more in the chest.”

Each cut elicits raspy gasps. His knife drove deep but I barely pierce his flesh. Ten years worth of hate doesn’t need much of an opening to do damage.

I silence him again and sit back on the bed. “And then he did two more things,” I say quietly, my head low. “He spit on me as blood poured from my body. All of that wasn’t enough, though. He bent down and ran the blade across my neck.”

My hands on my knees, I push myself up and glide to the far side of the bed, close to her. “I won’t spit on him, though. I’m not a base creature. Unlike your husband, the murdering coward.”

I look at her and see myself. I place my palm over her heart and press. The physical act mirrors what is already done. I let her husband hear her final breath before I no longer need to keep her bound.

We both know what comes next.

***

She gulps for air, bucking and slamming against the wall of the little gray room. Her head swivels as she takes in her surroundings. A furious yell fills the small space.

I smile. It’s time to begin her training.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 30


Step Settle
Mark Steinwachs

Step. Settle. Step. Settle. The corn sways in the mid-day breeze, its subtle vibrations through the soft ground giving me cover. The hard-packed road would signal my presence and must be avoided. I close in on the barn, and much needed rest. She’s killing us off like we tried to do to her. Mother Nature’s a tough old bitch. Her method is brutal, releasing a previously unknown toxin from the ground that eats through anything. Your last few minutes spent as a writhing, chemical-burned mess, just like we’ve made her for centuries. We learned quickly. The rich live in the sky, the rest of us…. Step. Settle. Step. Settle. I get to the edge of the field, plotting my course. I should be able to make it before she realizes I’m here. Preparing to push off, my foot slips on the soft earth sending shockwaves below. I take off, sprinting toward the barn. Throwing myself toward the stairs, I thud against them. I rip off my shoes, praying I got it in time. Skin melts from my foot as blistering pain lances up my leg. I close my eyes then scream.


Murmurs of the Corn
A.F. Stewart

Angelique heard the whispering voices since childhood. When the wind rustled the corn stalks, when it blew past the woods, the faint words followed.

Tribute for the Harvest. For the Harvest.

She always shivered and then smiled. She knew. She knew she had been chosen. She knew what to do. In the woods, past the far field, there was a spot, the raised flat rock. She brought the offerings: small animals at first, squirrels, rabbits, strays. And then later, she sometimes brought the voices children from school. The neglected ones, ones people didn’t care about. She was careful though, never too many of those. She didn’t want to draw attention.

But always once a year, every harvest season, some kind of tribute. And this year would be no different.

Angelique looked down at her three-year-old son, Jacob. “Mommy wants to show you a special place. Wants you to meet her friends.”

She took him by the hand and led him into the woods.


A Growing Boy
Lee A. Forman

Hunger never left his distended paunch. No matter how much she brought, his gut could not be sated. Spindly arms pulled rotten meat into a foul orifice. Brown saliva and undigested chunks ran down his stained frontside into a puddle of filth. Familiarity still rested in his eyes. They followed her with affection, resting deep behind puss-filled lumps which grew around them. She wondered if he still had legs beneath the mass of pulsating skin at his bottom. But it wouldn’t have mattered. His proportions already filled most of the barn.

She took the sandwich bag of teeth from her pocket and remembered his smile. How sweet and simple he once was.

A low groan erupted from his belly. Tremors of a wanting stomach rumbled under her boots. The fly-infested supply of food nearly depleted, she’d have to find a way to feed her growing boy.


The Food of Screams
Jon Olson

Home, sweet home. Years back when we first moved into the barn, it didn’t have electricity. That would have made everything much easier. You see, peeling someone’s skin off is—oh no you don’t! Don’t do that again! Now where was I? Oh yes, peeling someone’s skin off in candlelight is rather hard on the eyes. You’d think evolution would give my kind better vision in the dark. But then again, evolution probably wants to forget about us monsters. There are six of us altogether before you ask. I provide for the younger ones as – hey, remember what I said about running off? The younger ones have teeth but they aren’t large enough to cut completely through human skin. That’s why I remove it first. You’ll see what I mean when I show them to – OW! Get back here you little bitch! No use hiding in the cornstalks as… there you are!  GOTCHA! For that little escapade, there will be no skinning for you! Go ahead and cry. Oh hell, scream if you’d like. The little ones just love it when their food screams.


Sowing Season
Lydia Prime

Xipe would be pleased; from blood sacrifice the harvest should be safe from seasonal plight. Three friends closely line up behind me, playing follow the leader into the field. They could never have known what I’d planned for their last night. After all this time, my needed action had become enjoyment; a fine pleasure to dismember those who’d come. My sickle, hidden by stalks of corn, caught them off guard by its reveal.

They screamed and cried—even bargained for life. Grinning while their wishes fell on deaf ears, I knew not one would leave this field breathing. Quick slashes scattered their precious pieces, now coated in metallic red. The corn glistened in the moonlight, the blood drenched crop dripped upon the ground. The roots drank ravenously, shattering the night’s silence with a deafening suck. The harvest would be promised. My eyes twinkled while I examined the torn carcasses knowing Xipe’s power was devotedly harnessed.


Whispers
Scarlet R. Algee

It’s midnight, and I can hear the corn talking.

It’s not clear right away. But when I listen like Mama taught me, the voices come out, words in the whisper of silky tassels against my bedroom windows. Words like soon and feed us and hungry, beating in the rhythm of my heart.

I heard it first when I was four, when my dog Buddy disappeared into the fields one night and Mama, urged out to look for him by my tearful pleas, came back in the house after dark and said, “Buddy’s gone, Katrina. He’s gone to help feed the corn.” I didn’t understand how a dog could help, but Mama tucked me into bed beside her that night and the tall stalks thumped the windows, and in their rhythm I thought I heard thank you.

After that, others went away. Chickens. My bunny Nico, my fatherless little brother Billy. The corn grew, flourished, murmured. By then, I understood why.

Now I watch Mama lift my son William from his crib, one more fatherless boy, and I stand ready with the knife in my hand. We need another good harvest.

Hungry, the tassels mutter.

It’s time to feed the corn.


Ribbons
Mercedes M. Yardly

She spent her life in cotton dresses with her hair pulled back by ribbons. There was an ease in her childhood that followed her when she was all knobby knees and laugher, but that ease stopped when she reached adulthood. She began to hear things in the corn, felt things in the barn. Shadows would ooze out and hiss her name, lick her ear, and pull her ribbons out with sharp teeth. She let her hair fall down her back, let her cotton dresses become old and full of holes and fragility. It was easier that way.


Dawning
Christopher A. Liccardi

The corn whispered his name. It was serene, almost fooling him into thinking he’d be okay.

Lying face to the sun, he was fighting off the urge to vomit but the pain wouldn’t take him. It wasn’t enough. The thing he uncovered was ravenous but it let him go. He was sure of that.

A flash of memory from the night before – bone blades slicing, rending flesh; the tongue that lapped at the blood burned like acid. This thing was toying with its dinner. He broke free at first light, dragging his bloody chest through the spider-like corn roots, willing himself not to die in the dooryard of this cursed shit-hole. The thing inside didn’t follow.

Was sunlight the key? Would it matter if he bled out right here in this field? Come fall, the harvester would churn his decayed corpse up and he’d be feeding cows by winter. If he could only make it to the road, maybe he’d have a chance.

A screech pierced the beautiful day, sending terror and piss down his legs. The corn drank it up greedily. He saw the thing braving the sunlight and wept.


It Comes
Nina D’Arcangela

There is an echo far distant but always too near. I look up; multiple bright hues encompass the fathoms I crawl. The between is an inky void; a darkness in which a different symphony calls to me – my blood stirs. I’ve seen others outside the colony. My time to hunt will come, it is promised me; the next cycle is mine. Mother mourns. Her rheumy eyes shift, they will not explain. I spin my vestigial hammock in the dwindling gloom. Uneasy to rest, I drift to her gentle vibrations as they shiver me to slumber under the brightening canopy.

I wake. My mind screams from the cacophony, small hairs vibrate in waves of cruel harmony. Chomping, gnashing teeth approach. They spin and whir, the screech jars me from my gummy cocoon. As I hit the mud, the creature looms over me; my siblings scatter frantically. Mother curls; her legs draw in, the teeth careen past her – she burrows. I feel the crushing blow of its maw. My body yields with a slow pop; red and yellow mar the reaper. As it strips my carcass bare, a final glance beyond shows the world in ruin.


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