In Her Chest

It nested in her chest. It was a scrawny, featherless thing, forever screeching for more. But she had already given it her whole heart. Strip by tattered strip, every valve, vein, artery had gone to its ceaseless appetite. Still it cried from inside, rattling her ribs in its hungry fury.

“Hush,” she told it. “Soon.” But words could not soothe it. Only beating flesh.

And so she went into the night, searching for a fresh supply. Hearts were easy enough to come by in the city.  Here was one ripe for picking—so ready to pluck he almost tumbled into her hand.

“I can feel your heart race,” he murmured as they slipped into the shadows.

She did not have the heart to tell him it was only the beating of wings. He would learn soon enough. And as she fed her pet, she pondered again the readiness with which we give ourselves away, wondering what might yet grow from it all.

∼ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 52

Mother’s Rage
Nina D’Arcangela

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

Long Way To Go
Charles Gramlich

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

One Last Shot
Lee Andrew Forman

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

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

Waiting Conflagration
A.F. Stewart

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


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


One day it will be the end of everything.

The Return
RJ Meldrum

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

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

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

The old god had returned.

Five Days
Elaine Pascale

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

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

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

The voice grows louder every day.

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

Then the voice hides the medicine.

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

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

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

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

And time has truly become subjective.

The Quake
Marge Simon

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

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

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

Fallen Angels
Angela Yuriko Smith

“Computer, what is the meaning of life?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blink
Miriam H. Harrison

when the universe first

looked at me, I

couldn’t help

but stare

.

there was beauty, but

also

fear—the dark pull

of possibility, of

discovery

or death

.

even now I hold

its gaze, unsure

which of us

will blink first

The Ball of Hell
Harrison Kim


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

The Light of Conscience
Louise Worthington

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

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

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

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

Return

It would hurt to return to the stars. It meant leaving everything behind, and for too long, she wasn’t sure that she could.

No need to hurry, the stars said. At your own time.

But would she ever be ready? Could she? In the light of day, she wasn’t sure. But at night, under the spread of stars, her doubts were quieter, her future clearer.

When her last day dawned, she felt her certainty rise with the sun. She knew that, by nightfall, she would be among the stars. That last day was the sweetest of her life, seasoned by finality and peace. Evening neared, and she prepared herself for the sky—for her beginning and her end.

She had chosen the place long before. Quiet, away from the lights and sounds of town life. Here, under the darkening sky, the earliest stars already shone and beckoned.

It is time.

And so, she began to undo herself. First were the outer things—those things she had never mistaken for herself, and yet held so close. Clothing, jewelry, needless ornaments all fell to the ground around her, and she felt lighter without them. 

But then, the harder things to lose. Locks of hair fell away painlessly, but still she felt the cold core of fear within her, knowing that pain must come. 

Sure enough, the pain was intense as she began to shed herself. The skin that had for so long defined her limits began to peel away. Arteries, veins, capillaries unraveled themselves from the tissues that had softened her, the bones that had hardened her, the muscles that had strengthened her. These things she shed, and with each loss there was pain, but also lightness. Lighter and lighter she became, until she was light itself.

When at last all pain, all fear, all thought fell away, she knew she had returned. Looking at the distant Earth, she added her glow to that of the stars, illuminating the scraps of a life already long forgotten.

Damned Words 51

When the Dust Settled
Angela Yuriko Smith

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

Vile Nights
Lee Andrew Forman

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

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

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

Tangerine Sky
Nina D’Arcangela

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

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

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

Before the Mist
Miriam H. Harrison

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

The Detour
Marge Simon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fog of War
Charles Gramlich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once in a Millenia
A.F. Stewart

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

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

Until the day the fog rolled in…

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

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

Come join us in Hell…

The Curtain
Elaine Pascale

Don’t drink the water…”

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

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

Don’t eat local produce…”

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

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

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

You will wait until we find a cure.”

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

And to wait.

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

We used our isolation to our advantage.

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

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

But it could be extracted.

And it could be weaponized.

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

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

Incel Dreams
Harrison Kim


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

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

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

As Long As It Lasts

I know it sounds corny, but I believe life has a purpose. Really, I do. I believe that I—all of us—have a reason for being here, a reason for living. I don’t need to know what mine is. All I know is that one day it will come and it will go, and with it will go my need to live.

I test this every now and then, to see if I’ve outlived my use. The first time was with a pill bottle, but I’ve gotten more creative since. Five times I’ve tested this and five times I’ve survived.

Guess that means I’m still useful.

Hard to believe it as I make my way through the busy streets, just one of many ants in this hill. It’s times like this my philosophy carries me through. Every moment could be my moment—the one that completes me, opens the door, sets me free. All around me is potential. It gives life dimension for as long as it lasts.

As I ride the bus back from yet another eight hours spent by the burger fryer, I can’t help but wonder if today was my day. Maybe I did my part by holding the door for that girl, or by smiling at the gentleman on the corner, or by offering my seat to the grandmotherly woman on my morning bus. Every part counts, and maybe I’ve paid my dues.

I hear the moan of braking bus tires and get up at the all-too-familiar sight of my stop. I wave to the driver, but my mind is elsewhere, thinking of what the test should be. I try to change it up each time. After a while, it becomes an art of sorts, but that’s the kind of detail I pride myself on.

Lost in these thoughts, I barely even notice her until I’m almost past the alley. It’s the click that gets me. I stop in my tracks, expecting someone to come out asking for my wallet or my watch or something, but nothing happens. I glance down the alleyway and see her. It quickly becomes clear that it’s not my money she’s after.

I relax a bit, and see her look at me for the first time. She’s young enough—early twenties, no doubt—and not bad-looking. Mind you, she would probably look even better if she wasn’t holding a gun to her head.

“Guess you’re gonna tell me to back off,” she says after a long moment. I can see her grip tighten, and I almost laugh at the idea.

“Nah, go ahead.” I step back, cross my arms. “I’m kind of curious, actually.”

She snorts. “Morbid son of a bitch, aren’t ya?”

“Guess you could say that. Not every day you get a street-side show. Seems like a strange place for it.”

“Not for me. Thought I’d leave him with something to remember.” She gestures up to a window in the decrepit apartment building beside us. “Maybe I can get his attention while he’s still inside that bitch of his. Give her something to really scream about.”

“That works.”

I wait. I watch her. She watches me.

“You’re really not going to stop me?” she asks at last.

“No point,” I say with a shrug. “I’ve got a theory, of sorts. Call it fate if you like, but it all comes down to a fifty-fifty chance. Either it’ll work or it won’t. Either you’ve got a reason to live or you don’t. Not my call.”

“You really are sick, aren’t you?”

“Maybe, but it keeps me going. Here, how many bullets do you have in there?”

She pauses. “One.”

I stretch out a hand, slowly. “May I?”

I can see she wants to say no, but her curiosity is stronger. She gives me the gun. I unset it and spin the cylinder. Before she can say anything I cock it again, raise it to my head and pull the trigger.

Nothing.

I shrug. “See? Guess that means I keep going.”

The girl is visibly shaken as I hand the gun back to her. She’s lost some of her initial verve, but still cocks the gun and lifts it to her head. She bites her lip as she pulls the trigger.

Nothing.

I give a small smile. “Guess you keep going, too.”

The effort seems to have drained the last of her resolve. She almost drops the gun as she pushes it into my hands. “Thank you,” she says. She’s crying now.

I’m about to reply, but she’s already gone. Running from the alley, the building, the gun. Running to something more. As I watch her go, I wonder what her purpose is. Why she keeps on living. Why any of us keep on living.

The weight of the gun returns me to the present. I look down at it with some surprise. I think of the girl, of all that was and wasn’t.

I smile and lift the gun for one last test.

~ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 50

The House of Heaven’s Doors
Marge Simon

He remembered lying in a hospital bed. An elderly physician was sadly shaking his head. Clutching his hand tightly, his wife wept. All went blank, so he knew he must be dead, but suddenly, awareness returned with the vision of an old house. He willed entry, passing effortlessly through a set of double doors and climbing up a rickety stairway. At the top were three closed doors of different colors. “These must be Heaven’s Doors,” he mused aloud. “How extraordinary! I thought there was but one.”

It was very hot on the Heavenly level. The tiled floor was spotless, the air reeked of disinfectant. He approached the bright red door on his left and tried the knob. As it swung open, he was half blinded by a brilliant light. Agonized shrieks and moans issued from an unknown source. Horrified, he slammed it shut, looking to his right. This door was painted sky blue. Someone had tried to break into it, the wood had been dented as if by the pounding of fists. The knob wouldn’t turn and came away in his hand. Finally, he addressed the remaining middle door, which was a dingy white. It opened slowly to reveal a blackness thick with portent. The music of a cello lured, a daunting challenge he couldn’t ignore. He found himself plunging forward into the core of that Unholy Dark, which was when the voices begin chanting. In a matter of seconds, his identity was shredded as he was sucked into the infinite wailing vortex known as The Hereafter.

Outside, dark clouds gathered above the old house. Quietly it began to rain.

The Old Man Tolls
Lee Andrew Forman

The music of hardship sounded from broken windows—repeated clangs of iron, a monotonous rhythm, mesmerizing in tune. Despite harsh notes, it drew me in. Was this old lot to be restored to its once meaningful design? Was it to be loved and cared for?

Inside, an ancient, gray-skinned man hammered away upon hot metal. He didn’t dare interrupt his focus to acknowledge my entry. I watched him work. His thin frame impressed with its tireless effort. Despite frail and stringy muscles wielding heavy tools, he never lost pace.

He appeared to be crafting shackles. Maybe the old fool intended to raise a farm. Upon my inquiry, he stopped his perfect tolling and looked up. His eyes first went to me, then directed to my back. His yellowed teeth showed themselves. “I have to keep it here.”

I turned around to a wall of flesh, a living tapestry of pulsating skin. It spread from floor to ceiling, reached to corners with grotesque humanoid limbs. It was already tethered to the floor by an arrangement of cuffs and chains. It looked upon me with its many eyes. Arms grew from its surface at will, reached for me as they lengthened. I stepped back and thanked God they could only grasp so far.

Hands pressed upon my back. My breath stopped. In that moment, I realized their intent. Before I could protest, my face was already pushed into the malleable conglomeration of animate skin. It enveloped me in a taut grasp and held firm. Slime covered every inch of me. I soon felt naked, clothes dissolved. My every nerve burned like fire. The world became pain. But the old man’s toll kept me company as by body was slowly digested.

School Days
Charles Gramlich

Grade school in a small town. I remember it fondly. Two rooms for six grades—three in each room with a dining area and big bathrooms in the rear for boys and girls. I lived close enough to walk to classes every weekday morning before 8:00 o’clock. It was always nice to see the bright yellow paint of the building shining as I came through Thompson’s meadow right up to the twin doors.

Of course, I remember that one day. How could I forget. Stepping into school, hanging my coat on the hook in the hallway, turning into Sister Ethlereda’s classroom on the right. That’s where grades 4 through 6 were taught. I remember taking my seat, eager to start a lesson about Ancient Rome and its legions

I remember the sound of backfiring cars in the parking lot out front. But when I looked out the window, it wasn’t a car at all. The two young men coming up the walkway were not in any grade in our school. I didn’t know them. Then.

But I know them now. They’re very sad and we hang out every day together, those two and the thirteen other kids they shot that day before the police shot them. Yes, we hang out every day. And every night.

I don’t go home anymore.

None of us do.

Beneath the Boards
Elaine Pascale

It’s a gold mine!”

It’s a money pit.”

It was both and neither. It was abandoned but not uninhabited. The couple did not live long enough to sink money into it nor to have a return on investment.

It’s so quaint.”

Something lurked beneath the floorboards, eradicating any charm the building may have had. The dwelling stored more than knick-knacks. The woman’s tchotchkes were donated following her death.

This could be my sanctuary.”

It is hard to find peace when the beast beneath the boards growls so loudly. And smells so strongly. And eats so ravenously.

It’s big enough for all of us.”

Not big enough to completely fill the appetite of the beast who appreciated the smorgasbord it was served.

It just needs some TLC.”

The renovations disturbed the beast’s slumber. No one wants to encounter the beast beneath the boards when it is overly tired.

It’s so rustic.”

Far enough away from everyone that cries won’t be heard, and help will not arrive.

It has good bones.”

The beast beneath the boards has gnawed on its share of good bones.

I have heard about this place. Is it cursed?”

And the beast beneath the boards waits.

Unwanted House Guests
A.F. Stewart

The doorknob rattled, a sure sign someone was coming.

“Is it time?” came a whisper.

“Yes.”

“It’s been so long.”

“It has. Years since the last one.”

“Don’t talk about him. He wasn’t a good fit. Not what we needed at all.”

“No, not the right sort. Very… short-lived.”

“He was so promising at first, so carefree… but he didn’t last.”

“No. He had too many… issues. A shame really.”

“Maybe a family will come this time. They always—wait, is that a car?”

“Oh, I believe it is.”

The voices stilled, and they heard an engine shutting off outside. Two shadows shifted and the curtains of a front window parted slightly.

“Oh, look, a couple. They seem very happy, don’t they? In love.”

“Oh yes. Very happy. They’ll feed us for a long time, won’t they?”

“Indeed, I think they will. Whispers here, murmurs there, and we’ll slowly turn their happiness to misery. They’ll hate each other by the end and we’ll gorge on every dismal day. Years if we do it right.”

“Oh, excellent. How do you think we’ll end, though? When they’re all used up?”

“Maybe arrange a murder-suicide. Or hanging from the staircase. Do you remember that teacher? Her body hung in the hall for days before they found her.”
“Yes, I remember. It was glorious.”

Two chuckles echoed in the hall, muffled by the sound of the front door opening.

Birthright
Nina D’Arcangela

Cowering, I crouch in the shadows of the barn. I should not be here, I was asked to stay away yet could not. The unnatural sound of bone snapping, sinew tearing, and skin stretching is a thing so foreign that it rends my soul to shreds. Yet for all the breath left in me, I cannot turn away.

He suffers and my heart weeps. I reach to touch him; he begs me stay away with tortured gaze. Struck by a rising terror I’ve not felt before, my soul screams that he is no longer mine but belongs solely to the night. If only I had not broken my word.

Fully morphed, he turns one final time – feral eyes saying all his misshapen mouth is no longer capable of speaking. A blink; and he’s gone. Rushing forward I listen to his baleful cry carried upon the night’s savage wind as he leaves my world to enter his other.

Returning
Miriam H. Harrison

She was slowly returning to the wild. She could feel civilization’s grasp weaken with every flake of paint that fell away, with every window that shattered and scattered, with every vine that climbed her façade to whisper in her ear about greenery and adventure. Slow and steady, the wild came for her—but not fast enough. She longed to rise from her own dust and debris, chase the sunset shadows into the night. She wondered whether her legs could still run after all these years of roosting. There had been a time to stay, but now her nest was empty—now she was empty. What better way to fill herself than with the shadows of wilderness, the fresh air of midnight, the glow of a new day far from here? She was made for magic and mystery. She would take her magic with her, leave behind the mystery of the missing house, the vacant lot, the trail of chicken tracks returning to the wild.

I’m Talking to You
Guest Author: Harrison Kim

I’m talking to you, giant mutant Daddy Long-Legs eight-legged walking drone. Revolve your bulbous head to scope out the house of delusion. Observe its yellow planks burned by the psychiatric meltdown, seeping out from inside and staining the wood to yellow-brown hallucination level 5006 warped synapses per second. Humans can’t go in without a suit lined with risperidone. For you, my drone, no suit needed, you are fortunate to have all your vertebrae on the outside. The work will be machine precise. Your mission: clean this place of insanity and bring the delusions back to me. Inside, the patient’s bones lie white. Their hallucinations seeped into the cracks, while their bodies died and moldered. How interesting it was, all these past days, via my powerful binoculars, to observe the gradual dispersal of these delusions within the changing colour of the planks.

Daddy LL Drone, stand facing the door and spread all your limby tentacles into the openings. Poke them thru the windows. Can you feel who the patients were, as you tickle your way round the rooms? They couldn’t escape before the meltdown. All locked in. The staff ran, left their psychiatric charges shimmering, glowing in collective insanity. Delusions burst forth, burned into the walls, seeped through the wood in black and grey. This house stands now only because of delusion. You will explore this psychoactive creature with your tentacles, and when the tiny windows are securely gripped and entered, hold fast. Then, split the building in twain, with your longest tentacle lobotomize its manic essence, and suck all the delusions into your maw. After you skitter back to the studio, I’ll unload everything into my computer, and have enough material for another three books of stories.


dw_50Johnny Joo is an internationally accredited artist, most notably recognized for his photography of abandoned architecture. Growing up sandwiched between the urban cityscape of Cleveland and boundless fields of rural Northeast Ohio provided Johnny with a front row ticket to a specialized cycle of abandonment, destruction, and nature’s reclamation of countless structures. His projects have ranged from malls to asylums to simple country homes, all left behind at various points in time. Always a lover of all art mediums, the seeds of a career were planted in Johnny’s mind at the age of 16 when a high school art project landed him in an abandoned farmhouse. Since that time, his art has expanded, including the publication of eight books, music, spoken word poetry, art installations and other digital and photographic works.

Photography © Copyright Johnny Joo. All Rights Reserved.

Visit him on his website – Odd World Photography or find him on Instagram at @scrap_brain


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

The Stones

The stones were restless that night. She could hear them clattering and chattering against rock faces and echoing up from the dormant mineshafts. The town had long ago been built into those rocks, blasting and chipping and burrowing its way into ancient granite and quartzite, slate and chert, greywacke and basalt. 

Yet time moves differently there, in the deep. There, veins of silver were newly bled dry for the wealth of people long since passed. There, the shock of trauma had only just begun to fade. In its place rose an ancient fury, a rage she had long awaited.

When the town shook and crumbled, she did not think of its history, of its centennial celebrations, of its museums and plaques celebrating unwelcome conquest. She smiled, thinking like the stones, feeling the relief of swatting a mosquito who had only just landed.

~ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 49

As Butterfies
Miriam H. Harrison

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

But first, the darkness.

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

The first to realize our mistake.

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

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

The Drift
Nina D’Arcangela

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

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

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

The Dream Beyond
Lee Andrew Forman

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

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

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

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

Pink
Elaine Pascale

The dogs had been trained to find me.

Their tongues are as pink as the blossoms above me.

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

Pink was my favorite color.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the insides of others were.

The Forlorn
Charles Gramlich

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

The mistresses of God are visiting here!

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

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

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

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

Blue Sky Somewhere
Marge Simon

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

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

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

Why wait any longer?

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

Pink and White
A.F. Stewart

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

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

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

Pretty in Pink
Ian Sputnik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beauty Within

I can make you beautiful.

It was an enticing phrase. Ellen saw it in the Chronicle in a small, unassuming advertisement. There were no images, no flourishes, no embellishments. Just that phrase, and beneath it, more words:

For those who dedicate their lives to beauty. Serious inquiries only. Please write with preferred appointment time and place to The Beauty Within at the address below.

 Ellen considered the advertisement for a while. Even after she had put the newspaper aside, those words still followed her throughout her day.

For those who dedicate their lives to beauty.

Surely that was her. She was known throughout London as the most desirable young lady. It was a point of highest pride with her father, who went to great lengths to have her seen in only the finest fabrics, the best jewels. There was no one who would deny her beauty.

Serious inquiries only.

That line seemed almost to beckon her, to challenge her. Did she take her beauty seriously? Oh, yes indeed. Then why had she not already written? What was holding her back? What was there to explain this cold, twisted fear in her stomach?

Silliness, she thought.

She sat at her writing desk and pulled out her quill and paper.

***

“Who are you?”

I am the one you invited—the one to make you beautiful.

Ellen considered him doubtfully. He had no hair to style, no lips to redden, not even skin to powder. He was bones and nothing more.

“What can you know of beauty?”

More than you can even see.

She did not understand.

Look at yourself. What do you see?

She turned to the mirror, paused. “Dark hair, fair skin, powder, jewels.”

Illusions.

“Illusions?”

Illusions—all of them. Not one is true beauty.

She frowned, not certain of his meaning. He had no facial features to decipher. She could not know if he meant to offend.

“Who are you?”

I am Beauty.

She almost laughed. “You are bones.”

I am.

“Then what am I?”

You are flesh. But you could be so much more.

“More?”

Yes. You are flesh, yet you are bones. The beauty within.

“My bones?”

Yes, your beautiful bones. You hide them beneath fat, skin, hair. You must be less to be more.

“How?”

You must rid yourself of your wretched flesh. Be slender. Be thin. Let the sharp, beautiful angles of your bones be seen.

“But I do. I try. I eat like a lady; I lace my stays.”

But less. Tighter.

“I try, I try.”

I can help you.

“You can?”

Yes. Let me lace you. You will be smaller. You will be beautiful.

“But they are so tight already.”

But they can be tighter still, if you only know how.

“You would do that?”

I would. For you. For your beautiful bones.

“Yes. Please.”

You must hold still.

“Oh! Oh, that hurts!”

Hush.

“How are you so strong? Oh!”

I am that which is strongest.

“Ah!”

I am Death.

“Oh! Oh!”

Death is Beauty.

“Ah!”

And soon. . .

“Oh!”

. . .you will be beautiful.

~ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 48

Better Hope
Miriam H. Harrison

Just keep him plugged in—that’s your job. It may not sound like much, but you better hope this thing keeps him alive. We’re not ready for what he might do—not yet. But as long as he’s in his body, we stand a chance. So keep him secure, keep him plugged in. The drugs should quiet him. You might hear him in your head, but ignore him. You understand? No matter what he says, don’t listen. Don’t press that button, don’t pull that cord. And try to stay safe. We really don’t want to hire for this position again.

Feasting
Nina D’Arcangela

Feasting, that’s what it’s doing. Still as it may look, its savoring, consuming, devouring; making a meal of us all with that unrelenting gaze. Wait for the flinch if you will, but it won’t happen.

They say we, as a species, eat with our eyes first. I guess we’re not the only ones.

Expectations
Charles Gramlich

Textures: ripples, curves, lines. Fossilized in verdigris. Mouth and eyes above a silver collar of anodized aluminum. Diseased pustules filled with the rust of oxidation. A copper tongue wishes to speak and cannot.

You are frozen without, terrified within.

A crown of hollows rests upon this brow. Bullet holes torn in the fabric of form. You await. We await. Some in awe, some in glory, all in fear.

Transformation. Transmogrification. Transubstantiation.

Metamorphosis within a chrysalis of glass.

What will you be when you shed this skin?

The Deep
RJ Meldrum

Down here in the depths the creatures lived in the endless darkness. In this dark realm, evolution favored specie who ate little and moved less. She lay in the sediment, an ancient creature, huge and bulbous. She was the top predator in the food chain and if she could conceive of an emotion like fear, she would have felt none. Lesser creatures avoided her, except for the occasional unwary or unwise fish, who would quickly become prey.

A change in pressure told her there was something above her. She opened one glistening eye. She saw a shape. Whatever this was, it was bigger than her. That made it an enemy. She stayed still, waiting. In her primitive brain, she decided not to fight unless she was attacked. It came closer. It emitted something she did not recognize, but it was painful and it blinded her. She used her tentacles to push herself from the sediment, pain coursing through her body. She had to defend herself.

The men in the bathysphere had left the lights off until the very last second. Light was alien down here, at this depth, and would scare away the creatures. The switch was flicked on and light flooded the scene. The cameras recorded everything around them, but they still wanted to see for themselves; like children, they crowded the small observation window. They were briefly aware of a huge shape, surrounded by disturbed sediment, hurtling towards them before oblivion took them.

Aficionados
Lee Andrew Forman

In the hours of day, when families would roam the gallery, it had to be covered; the minds of those unwilling could not be privy to its nature. It had to be presented during selected hours beneath the shroud of night. Only those most dedicated would be allowed to witness its glory, experience its wonder. They never debated its origin or creator, the unknown hand who brushed its oil features remained nameless in history. This canvas held power far beyond any known artist of the time, or before. It revealed great tragedy; its shapes and colors warped and morphed into visions held long ago. Its audience reveled in these savage memories of time. Their sadist hearts fluttered at the gore-soaked images the piece invoked. It spoke of pain and suffering the modern world had never witnessed, but as its kindred aficionados grew in number, it soon would.

Identity Theft
Elaine Pascale

I hid the bracelet in that statue in the old library.  No one went there anymore. There was no need for reading in a world covered with a curtain of darkness.

We were kept blindfolded most of the time. They believe their faces would frighten us to death. Our blood is tastier when we are alive: alive and scared.

The predators recycle our identities. It is a way of dehumanizing us, which is ironic as they aren’t human. They use adjectives for our names: delicious, scrumptious, succulent. My real name had been engraved on the bracelet. I tucked a paper in with it on which I had written the names of those I loved. I wrote them with a sharpened stick that I had burned at the tip. The predators no longer feared stakes as they don’t have hearts to pierce. They are empty, just like the meaningless names they call us.

“Tasty,” they called me over. They didn’t realize I could still see some things despite the blindfold. They underestimate how smart we are.

“Be a good snack and tell us about your creepiest encounter in the before times.”

“Creepiest?” I pretended to think. I was really estimating how long it would take for me to reach the window. “I guess that would be the guy who followed me home from the bar.”

“Mmm,” I could hear the saliva dripping from their mouths. They were anticipating my fear.

I was afraid, afraid I wouldn’t make it to the window.

“He was a stalker, a nightmare.”

I knew their eyes would be glazing over with blood lust. I bolted to the window and ripped down the curtain.

Their skin scorched, quickly producing flames.

Knowing my name was secure, I lifted the blindfold to watch it all burn.

Smile
A.F. Stewart

The crystal in the middle of the carved stone shone with a smudged pink glow, reflecting our lights. 

“Looks like a smile, doesn’t it?” Darren leered and nudged me. “That sweet, after sex kind of smirk, am I right?”

I shuddered. Darren was a pig, always making lewd remarks, trying to hit on me, badly. If someone grinned at me like that, I’d scream. The stone resembled a weird blob monster from an old TV show and gave me the creeps. Part of me wanted to walk away from it, the rest of the relics, and the temple. 

Still, the thing was pre-Columbian, and we came to loot the place. I shoved it in a crate and we loaded it on the truck with the other artifacts before heading to the dinky airport at the edge of town. Soon I’d be on a plane smuggling our score out of this forsaken jungle.

I shot a glance at Darren. He hadn’t stopped smirking since we left the crumbling temple, but was uncharacteristically quiet. He gave me the heebie-jeebies, but I kept my mouth shut. Our plan depended on that.

I glanced at him again and saw the pink glow at the edges of his mouth. I relaxed. Part of me didn’t believe my bosses, but the curse was working. Soon Darren would be dead, and the antiquities would be in the hands of my real employers. People who knew how to use their power for more than a quick buck. The world would be ours soon, and creepy Darren…

Well, he’d die painfully, but with a smile on his face until the end.

Chernobyl Blues
Marge Simon

The door swings open. A slender woman stands framed against the sun. The bartender knows her. He fixes her a shot of his best Scotch on the rocks. She walks over to the piano and plays a few chords. Her face is as velvety smooth as the white of her hair. She’s old enough to be your mother, but that doesn’t matter. When she starts playing, everyone shuts up to listen, even the guy in the booth coughing blood in his beer.

She plays the blues and more. Like more than words and deep and it goes straight inside all the places where you’ve tried to hide your fear, digs them out and tries to make you feel all right about it. It seems like she plays as long as she feels like and then she stops. There is another drink waiting for her but she just leaves it there on the piano. She glances at you on the way out and you grab her hand, pull her to sit down.

“Is that mutant thing still out there?” you ask.  

She nods. “I told him I had to play the blues for you, but never again, after this one.”

“But you can’t just leave. We’re in this together, lady,” you plead. “Everything’s polluted now, even the beer. Stay inside, keep playing – you know it makes dying easier for us.”

She shakes her head sadly.  A thin band of late sunlight falls on her empty seat. Just before she leaves, she tells you that thing outside the door is her son. “I’m so sorry, but I’ve got to let him in, now.”

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