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Waves and the Darkness

Jeremy promised he would never leave me.  He’d be the only person in my life never to do so. I didn’t know whether I believed him or not, not really, but I liked to think he meant it at the time.

Once he told me he was born with a darkness inside him and didn’t know how to make it go away.  He wanted to hurt things.  He wanted to squeeze necks and break legs. Slash at throats. He told me how he watched the pulse in my neck and kept time with its beating. After he mentioned this, I noticed his eyes would wander to my throat and his breathing would change. I knew he was waiting for something, for my heart to stop or my blood to coagulate inside my veins, if it didn’t spill out of them first. He wanted to press his thumb down on my artery to see what would happen.

It wasn’t ill-feeling. Not really. It wasn’t that he hated. He just wanted to make everybody sorry.

“Sorry for what?” I asked him once.  We were just kids, sitting on the rocks and staring into the ocean.  I had my crying doll with me, back before Jeremy pulled off her head to see what kind of sound she made. I was never able to put her back together, but that was all right. I still had Jeremy.

“I don’t know.  Just sorry.”

He wasn’t dark all the time, and that’s what made the difference. The shadow would come in waves, nearly crushing him under the weight of despair, and then it would ebb out.  He’d be charming and funny.  Happy. This was the Jeremy I knew, the one I enjoyed. It didn’t surprise anybody when we grew up and fell in love. Jeremy and Kat. It’s just how it was always meant to be. That, and nobody else on the island would have anything to do with either of us.

We’d sneak up to the old lighthouse some nights, play tricks on the tourists and plan our future.  We picked out a day to get married, not too far off but far enough, and made lists of the songs that we wanted to dance to after our wedding.

“Hey, Kat. You know I’ll never leave you, right?”

I didn’t say anything.

“We’ll be together always. I promise.”

I smiled, and I swear, it almost felt natural. “I believe you, Jeremy. Really.”

He knew better than that, I could see it in his eyes. But he also knew I was trying, and that’s what mattered.

“I’ll prove it to you. Just wait and see.”

His smile was a beautiful thing. It filled me with hope. Sometimes with terror, deep down, but mostly something that I think was happiness.

“Jer? I love you. I do.”

“I know you do. I love you, too.”

And then Jeremy went dark.  It was worse than usual, worse than I’d ever seen.  He wouldn’t talk to me.  Wouldn’t let me touch him.

A little boy went missing from town and I was too terrified to ask him about it.  Jeremy simply stared at the sea.  It lasted for weeks this time.

“Please tell me what’s wrong,” I begged him the last time that I saw him.  “Why won’t you let me help you?”

“Nobody can help me,” he said.  He wouldn’t even look at me.  I pulled my coat closer, the wind grabbing at my hair and trying to push me from the rocks.

“But we’re getting married in eight days,” I said.  “Can’t you at least try to act happy? Pretend it matters to you?”

He didn’t answer. I turned and ran, tripping over rocks and shells. He’d already left me, just like I was afraid he would.

This is what true loneliness is.

The Coast Guard found Jeremy’s body wedged underneath rocks not far from shore.  He was bloated and discolored but I kissed him anyway. We buried him on what was supposed to be our wedding day. I sat in the church, surrounded by people and flowers, and thought this wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

That night, I went dark as well.  The feelings overwhelm me: despair, anger, hatred; and I know they aren’t mine.  I’ll see a couple walking together, looking like they belong with each other, and I want to kill them, rend them apart because they’re happy, and I will never be.

Jeremy won’t let me.  He follows me everywhere now. He’s always prowling for somebody new to hurt.  He smoothes my hair back when I sleep, and threatens everyone around me.  My sister came to visit after his death, and he pushed her from the rocks.  He appeared once in front of my father and caused him to have a heart attack.  I dared to date a man, just once, and my date was killed in a car crash on the way home.  Anybody I talk to becomes his victim.

We’ll be together always. I promise.” Jeremy had said, and I realize now that he truly meant it.  He’s cutting me off from everybody that I know, from everybody that can help me.  He wants me to jump from the same rocks that he did and join him, and I’m afraid that it won’t be much longer before I do. There’s nothing to stay for.

He promised he would never leave me. I should have believed him. For the first time, I truly wish to be left alone.

~ Mercedes M. Yardley

© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.

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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

 

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.


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

 

Damned Words 29



Worthy of Heart
Lee A. Forman

Preserve their milky flesh; make bare soft, pink innards. Harvest remains, cover them in garnish, make beauty of woeful frames. Consume the fetal home—the birthing apparatus—for it is not lasting. But the tiny, wriggling creatures, perfect for trimming. They grow with skill, become things that made them. They pose for desire, malleable to intention. To play with life and death, their brittle models, is to be a god with artful power. Divine imagination is the finest tool. To make rich and vibrant something dull, paint life onto spilled passing.

Beautiful as the collection stands, it is but practice. Want of larger work—a showpiece worthy of burning hearts—fuels stimulus with copious motivation. The hunt must seek substantial result. Perhaps, something less of nature. A fine canvas, tall and supple. The grand puppet of evolution. Two masters of the Earth, to be my servants. They’ll birth the final piece, to be emptied of mortality, and filled with tender love of my pursuit.


Tableau
A.F. Stewart

I loved my secret hobby. Some could call it macabre, this taxidermy, but I saw it as repurposing dead things by turning them into art. My latest project was my best yet:  a ferret and squirrel tea party. I had trouble getting the ferrets at first, but I worked it out. And today I’d just tightened the last screw in the glass case.
“Hey, Jay. How are those ferrets doing?”
I whirled at the voice. Dave from the pet store stood by the open garage door.
“Hey, what’s that?” Dave stepped forward and saw my new tableau. He went ballistic. “What the hell did you do to those ferrets?” He grabbed me. “You little shit! That’s animal cruelty! I’m calling the cops!”
Staring at his angry face, hearing his threats, something just snapped. Panicked, I plunged my screwdriver into Dave’s throat. He grabbed at his neck, gurgled blood and collapsed. I stood trembling, afraid, but…
I kept gawking at Dave’s pooling blood. It stirred new ideas in my brain for a spectacular scene. I glanced over at the bloody screwdriver sticking in Dave’s neck and suddenly smiled.
I just needed a few more people to make it work…

Companions
Mercedes M. Yardley

After one year of living in the box, he let her out into the cellar. After nearly two, he let her have a needle, only under his watch, of course, and she would stitch up the furry little corpses he would bring her. If you take the insides out and replace them with sawdust or small rocks, they won’t smell. It took her a long time to discover this, but after she did, her companions were more enjoyable.

“This one is Mama,” she whispered. “This is Papa. This is June.” Mama, Papa, and June were cherished. Snuggled. Held tight in the dark.

“Why don’t you name one after me?” he asked. His sweat smelled worse than the animal’s decay. His hands were heavy and did unspeakable things.

She refused to name the last toy, calling it Not-Mama or Not-Papa or Not-June. It sat alone by the bowl she used for a toilet. She made sure it was missing its eyes.


How Is the Tea
Jon Olson

Don’t you love tea parties, my dear? I do, although I didn’t like using dolls so I settled on animals. I had Mr. and Mrs. Mouse, Mr. Ferret and the sweet Miss Squirrel. They always bit me or tried to escape. I killed them. With no will of their own, Mr. and Mrs. Mouse could entertain their guests for days on end. How is the tea? Oh, just lovely! They would rot after a while, smelling awful so I’d switch them up with fresh ones. Did you know I tried people once? It was horrible. They screamed and didn’t even want to play. Imagine! Before serving a single cup, I slit their throats. Besides, I missed Mr. Mouse’s gruff laugh and Miss Squirrel’s squeaky coughs. And now they’re with me here in the hospital. I get to visit them every day. Even the lunatics swing by to see them. More tea, old chap? Why certainly, sir!


Daddy’s Little Girl
Nina D’Arcangela

“Daddy!” I turned to see my little girl, her cheeks roughed, a white rat proffered in her outstretched hands; blood dripped from its stilled nose. “Fix it, Daddy, hurry!” I took the slight offering to my workbench. She watched with rapt fascination as I opened, then gutted the animal. Once the hide was cleaned, I applied a preserving agent. Days later, we stuffed the husk; she chose the position, I sewed its remains. Poised on a miniature chair, she whisked the creature away. The following week, a squirrel accompanied the same desperate plea; again I administered, again she observed. After the fourth, she begged a box to house them for afternoon biscuits and tea. I indulged.

She became reclusive soon after, choosing to spend volumes of time in her attic playroom. Concerned, I climbed the stairs to her private sanctum one afternoon. I swung the door wide–the fetid stench nearly overwhelmed me. There, on the floor, sat my little girl amongst a menagerie of mutilated creatures, including her beloved pet cat; a bird crudely stitched into its open maw. She smiled, clapped with sticky fingers, and giggled. “Look, Daddy, I fixed them, just like you.”


Perfection
Mark Steinwachs

Every stitch. Every tuft of fur.

Every. Single. Piece.

It’s perfect. Unlike the world. My views on humanity evolved as my project progressed. My coworkers joked about what I was doing because they didn’t understand. It hurt, but I kept going. They flitted about their lives, unfocused, I continued to center myself. I started crouching over my creation night after night. Soon, all I had left was work… and this. I work so I can create. And now I am done. Alone with perfection.

Every. Single. Piece.

When you truly give all, nothing remains. This is my all. I want nothing more from this world, nothing from the lost people who drift about until they wither away. When they find my art they will understand my patience and attention to detail.

I sit at the reception desk, decisive-sounding clacks filling my ears as I tap the last few keystrokes. Only I could pull this off. Computers are wonderful, if you know how to manipulate them.

Within moments, doors lock, cell phone signals jam, and gas pours from vents. We die as we live. I smile, watching my coworkers’ panicked final seconds. Calm, I take my last breath. Perfection.


Guest or Demon
Christopher A. Liccardi

They looked like fucking rodents. They died how they lived; like a pack of biting, gnashing vermin. Each one poised and refined. But, lift the glass and you’d be gob smacked with the stench of decay and putrescence that will never leave you.

Each had done me a bad turn so they had to pay.

Revenge?

No. Not for a moment could you think this elaborate scene was crafted with such feeble petty intent. That game, I left to the jilted lovers and business partners not savvy enough to see their other half beat them to the punch. My motivation was societal, selfless. Each played a part in my loss of her. Each took something away that I was, so each had to be outsmarted, out-gunned or out maneuvered.

She is gone now and will never return, but I have these four elegant guests over for tea and I will hate them no less as the decades creep past and the lust turns bitter.

At least I have these demons for company as I slowly rot alone.


The Last Tea Party
Scarlett R. Algee

When I see my inheritance, my jaw drops. Four taxidermied animals in a glass display case: three ferrets and a squirrel. They wear scraps of velvet and silk, sitting around a table piled with miniature pastries and a tea set. One ferret wears a top hat at a jaunty angle; another mouths a doll’s pearl necklace. Nana’s sticky note, taped to the glass, reads For Rachel and her sisters, together forever. I swear under my breath. Nana had been sick, but not demented. She knew my sisters were gone, and this is what she left me?

I lift the lid, the stench of mothballs wafting up. Dizzy, fumbling with the glass case, I turn around blindly and smack the wall. My vision blanks out. When it clears, my tail is being squashed against my chairback. I don’t remember having a tail.

I recognize them, those three pointed faces. Sarah teethes her pearls. Lana grins from beneath the top hat. Reilly’s still, but beneath her feathered headband, her eyes gleam. Rachel, each says through a stiff, pointed smile, sister, you made it, you found us.

Me and my sisters, together forever. I want to scream, but I can’t open my mouth.


The Time Out Box
Lydia Prime

They were being mean and I didn’t want to listen anymore. Mommy said that if I invited them over things would change and we could be friends. Mommy’s never been seven years old, obviously. I tried to show them my real friends. The ones who were never mean to me, but those girls said I was weird. One of them even started crying! I didn’t understand! How could they not be immediately drawn in by the tea party my fuzzy little friends were having?

I cried alone for a while, my insides began to burn. I heard them whispering. They were saying awful things about me, the whispering grew louder and my head started to hurt. I just wished I could put them all in time out. Then the voices stopped. I heard four echoing thumps, and walked to my room. They laid seemingly lifeless about the floor. I looked to my fuzzy friends and saw that their eyes had changed, no longer empty. I could see the mean girls reflected back against them, my wish came true. Time out for bad girls.

I set them up exactly like my fuzzy friends, I think I like them better now.


Memorabilia
John Potts Jr

Wrapped in an old sheet was the diorama Grandma made for my graduation. Gary saw only a piece of junk and beelined for the trash but somewhere along the way he stopped, turned to me, and performed this…this un-Gary-like act of love: he asked me if I wanted to hang on to it. I smiled and nodded. He playfully teased back. I could tell that Gary was drunk. So was I. Maybe that’s why I spilled the truth.

“I told you that Grandam loved serial killers, right? Well, that’s because she was one. And she never let anyone bully me. Grandma lured my high school bullies—those fuckers—into her basement and kept them locked there, alive, for days. She tortured them hour after hour until chopping them into bits small enough for the birds to devour. Chloe really did have turquoise eyes, too. I wanted to keep her hair and her lips and her eyes—especially those eyes! Of course Grandma wouldn’t let me so she gave me this diorama instead; something special to remember her by,” I took his hands and smiled. “That’s why I can’t part with it, Gary.”


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

 

Damned Words 28


In the Darkness, Gently
A.F. Stewart

The snow falls silently in the night, drifting softly to the ground against the moonlight. The wind is still, the tree branches unmoving. Not even a rustling mouse or the shadow of an owl overhead to break the spell of quiet peace. I hear nothing but the hushed sound of my own breath. So I wait.

Time passes. The cold seeps in, begins to numb my fingers and toes. It does not matter. Nothing matters but my obedience, my service. They will come. They will deliver judgment. I wait on their inclination, their decision on whether I am worthy.

I glance at the snow by my feet. It has turned red from Richard’s blood. The sight is stark, beautiful, this primal colour against the white. I stare at the blood:  the patches in the snow, where it has congealed around the wound in his skull. Hitting him was easier than I thought. Dragging his unconscious body here from the house was the difficult part.

I hear the whispers now, their sweet voices. They are pleased. They will come. They will accept my sacrifice.


Opening of the Fifth
Lee A. Forman

Reborn as one, those separate in life shall be stitched in undeath. We bring them to our canvas, cold and pure. It’s there we forge reanimation to that which has gone stale. We place their bodies beside one another like angels in the snow. Two souls would be one, flesh woven together by artisan hands. The scent of pine and copper compliments our senses, a perfect blend to accompany the work. Crystal drops rest upon bleak faces with closed eyes. Soon a fifth would open, reveal to them a world of things unseen; a forsaken place where life and death strays from precepts of human understanding—an existence beyond.


The Real Me
Jon Olson

Sprinting, it begins to snow. They’re behind me somewhere, yelling and cursing. No doubt they’ll come in greater numbers. It doesn’t matter now. A few more steps and I’ll be safe. Protected by the darkness, free to change and become my true self. I can still taste the orderly’s blood with fleshy bits of his nose still stuck between my teeth. Licking my lips my stomach growls and the shape-shifting begins. Skin splits, bones pop and snap as my form rearranges. It’s over in seconds. Grinning, I gallop toward the search party. Sniffing the air, I smell their fear. They know the real me is coming and I’m ecstatic to make their acquaintance…


Deceit
Christopher A. Liccardi

Lying under this icy blanket, I smell it approach. The falling flakes mask my scent; it knows not that I wait. It pauses; I hear it feed from the dewy fern, suckling the wet from the branches. With a single thud of its hoof, I know it has begun its advance again. Snuffling the fresh bed before it, I imagine an ear twitch, an eye round further, instinct warning it to fear… Though if it lifts its snout, it will once again smell only the storm scented air, not my stench.

A tentative step, then another. Now it strides with confidence nearing the protected brush. As it ascends the hillock, I strike. Teeth gnash on thrashing limbs, I roll from my bed under the whiteness slamming the creature to its side. I roll again, this time attempting to snap its neck. The leg I’ve seized is too thin, I grasp for a meatier portion of the caribou. I release, I lunge—it lands a kick in my gut, but not before my maw closes around its throat.

Crimson taints the bleached ground; my grunts fill the air as I devour my prey.


Director’s Cut
Mark Steinwachs

I stand on the porch, watching the snow. So silent, so serene, same as it was when I took the picture for her a few days ago. It’s amazing what you can portray to the world, you force people to see what you want, hiding the rest off-screen. We’re all directors of our own movie, only most people don’t realize it, just like they don’t think about the lights and stands and cables surrounding their favorite actor inches outside the shot.

I know, I’m a director. The best. It’s simple, really. Give them what they want to see and they’ll see it. Right up until it’s too late. She loved the country, its beauty, so I showed her, and after a few dates… Well, let’s say she was born for the role. I picked out her spot before I knew who she was.

I smile as my eyes fall to the half-dug hole in front of the tree in the distance. Now to find who deserves to be my sixth. I pull my phone out, one gloveless finger scrolling through profile pictures as the snow continues to fall.


Footprints
Mercedes M. Yardly

She left bloody footprints in the snow.

First they were small droplets, like Snow White’s mother who pricked her finger over her embroidery. Red French knots on linen. Red berries on white stone.

Then they became more. The unsettling slash of lips in a pale face, the slit of split skin, a wound that won’t close.

Ribbons. Swaths. Coils of red. Each step lanced her frozen feet, the crusty ice slicing tender skin. But each step was freedom, closer toward her mother, and the broken chains clinking around her ankles sang, “Let’s go home, let’s go home, let’s go home.”


Sylph Surfer
Nina D’Arcangela

Peaceful, so it seems, a glade shrouded in haze of dusk; sitting calmly in gentle gloam, it awaits full evening’s thrust. A subtle whisper ‘twixt tree and limb, all sway to and fro; snow settles upon thinnest branch, it bends most subservient bough. My siblings and I, we glide on currents lift, licking droplets from the air. The game afoot, as it always is, when wind is true and fair. Below I spy the first; tired, wet and cold. He drags a yelping mutt behind, leaving visage now rutted bold. Fleet as the others be, I am that much quicker, I descend among the flakes, strike the boy from the side–we tumble a mad twister. The white clouds his eyes as he shakes his hooded head, by then it is too late, for I have sunk my teeth, his pet already dead.


Bundled Up
John Potts Jr

Cassie nodded to Gregor and he stood, shifting to a wide stance with his arms raised shoulder level. A sharp ripping echoed through their empty cabin and Cassie thought how much she loathed today—this very moment—as she wrapped thick tape around the wrists and ankles of Gregor’s snowsuit. She stepped back, determined to stay strong. Will my sweet come back to me? Cassie pulled Gregor’s hat over his ears. “Better,” she whispered before kissing her love goodbye. Cassie could never watch him leave; it was too hard on her frayed nerves. And she knew the expedition in the wastes would last days and Gregor always came back to her so Cassie eased herself into bed, turned down the lights, and went to bed.

But there was something Cassie couldn’t shake and when she slipped into slumber that night a horrid image flashed her mind: only one of Gregor’s boots had been tied. Gregor tripped outside the door, falling downhill into an ugly roll that sent his body into the base of a lifeless oak. Both his hat and scarf tore from his face and the falling snow dissolved his exposed flesh to the marrow.


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

 

The Container of Sorrows

There was a girl. She sat at a white desk in a white room with her hands folded neatly in her lap.

Peter stood before her with his pockets turned out.

“I don’t have anything to give you,” he said. He spoke very quietly. Shame does that.

She didn’t move, but he thought she shook her head.

“I don’t need anything like that,” she told him. “I do not desire your buttons or baubles, although I am sure that they are quite lovely.”

He thought she smiled, but she did not actually do that, either.

“I don’t understand,” he confessed. He shifted from foot to foot. She really did smile then, but only in her eyes. He bit his lip and continued. “I thought…that you wanted something from me. In exchange for your help.”

“Oh, but I do.” Her skin was white, and her hair even whiter, but only just. When she smiled—if she smiled—her lips were disconcertingly red. The rest of the time they were only the palest of pink. He had the impression that something parasitic sucked the breath from those lips while she slept, but what could he do about it?

“Please tell me what you desire.”

“I want to be happy.”

“Then I will help you.”

She pulled a ceramic jar out of nowhere. It was the color of sky and looked cool to the touch. He flexed his fingers.

“This is the Container of Sorrows, Peter. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” He didn’t.

Her lips barely twitched but it was as if the snow melted and he tasted spring.

“This is how you will be happy. Tell me one of your sorrows. I will keep it here for you, and the burden from that particular sorrow will be no more.”

He felt stupid and stared at his shoes. They had holes in the toes.

“Do you…not wish happiness?”

Her voice was strangely brittle, as if she were trying not to cry. He was hurting her somehow, he decided, but that didn’t make any sense. He took a deep breath.

“I miss my mother,” he said, and the words fell from his mouth like vapor. The girl opened the jar, and the mist zipped inside. She closed the lid with a satisfying click.

“There,” she said, and her smile was real this time, genuine. “Don’t you feel better?”

He thought about his mother. Her warm brown hair, the apron that she used when she baked cupcakes. He thought about her more aggressively. The police telling his father that they had discovered a broken body. The funeral in a town without rain.

“I don’t feel sad,” he said in wonder, and the girl looked pleased. She kissed him, and he woke up.

Peter’s lips burned where she had touched him, and he kept his fingers pressed there for most of the day. When the boys razzed him about his poorly trimmed hair, he didn’t mind so much. When they taunted him about his mother being a whore who got what was coming to her, he was surprised to find that he didn’t care at all. He ate dinner silently and changed into his worn pajamas without being asked. He brushed his teeth and climbed into bed with an eagerness that would have been pitifully endearing if anyone had seen it.

Sleep came instantly, and there she was. She was wearing white flowers in her hair.

“Did you have those flowers yesterday?” he asked her.

Her cheeks flushed delicately. “No.”

Peter didn’t know what to say. “I had a better day at school than usual. Thank you.”

The girl again produced the smooth blue container out of thin air. “Tell me another sorrow, Peter. Tomorrow will be even better.”

“I’m tired of being called poor.”

The mist of words spiraled into the Container of Sorrows. He nodded his head once, and she nodded back in a very serious manner.

And thus it went. His sorrows disappeared. “I hate seeing dead birds. I wish that I had a friend. My father doesn’t notice me.”

The jar devoured his sorrows with an agreeable hunger. The pale girl’s lips turned up all of the time and her eyes began to sparkle. Peter grew more confident at school. He stood up straight. He looked people in the eye. He made friends.

He was almost happy.

On the last night that he went to her, something in the air had shifted. The atmosphere was holding its breath, and it was undeniable.

“Hey,” Peter said, leaning casually on the white desk. “There’s only one sorrow that I have left.”

“Only one?” asked the girl with something that sounded exquisitely close to hope. Her eyes shone. Her white hair and pink lips were glossed with fragile expectation. She produced the Container of Sorrows and carefully removed its lid. Peter’s sorrows ghosted around inside, smelling of lavender and brokenness.

“Natalia Bench never looks at me at school.”

The vaporous sorrow swirled from his lips and settled into the jar. The girl’s white fingers didn’t move, so Peter put the lid back on for her.

He smiled. “Now I’ll be brave enough to talk to her tomorrow. Thank you very much, Girl of Sorrows. I am happy.”

The girl held the jar very close, and she looked up at Peter. Her lips were pale, strawberries buried under layers of ice. He was reminded of that feeling that he had once, long ago, where he thought that something supped from her lips at night. How frightened she must be. How alone.

How silly.

“Goodbye,” he said, and kissed her cheek. Had her touch once burned? She was ice under his skin. She was a corpse. Peter turned and walked away without looking back.

There was a girl. She sat at a white desk in a white room where she wept, clutching a container full of somebody else’s sorrows.

~ Mercedes M. Yardley

© Copyright 2017 Mercedes M. Yardley. 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.

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