Live While You Can

Sarah sat at the reception desk. She was on night duty and was alone. The night was hot, stuffy and the air conditioning was barely functioning. The breeze from the open window was very welcome.

The area was called ‘the one-way ward’ by some of the staff. It was the wing of the oncology department where the hopeless cases received palliative care to ease their last days. The name wasn’t meant to be cruel; it was an attempt to inject some gallows humor, to lift the somber atmosphere.

There were eight private and semi-private rooms in the area, all within easy access of the main desk. It was an easy job. The patients were drugged to the eyeballs, heavily sedated. They slept away their last few hours.

Sarah’s eyes closed without her even being aware she was falling asleep. The book she was reading slipped from her fingers and landed with a soft bump on the desk.

She woke with a start. Glancing at the computer on the desk, she realized fifteen minutes had passed. She checked the monitor. No alerts.

A man walked out of one of the semi-private rooms. Sarah knew there were two teenage girls in that room. Her hand flashed to the security call button.

“Don’t,” he said.

Her hand froze. All she could do was stare at the man.

“Come with me.”

She rose and walked towards him. Her mind was screaming; this was insanity, he was going to kill her and do terrible, unspeakable things to the helpless patients. She couldn’t stop herself, some external force was driving her legs. She stood beside him, unwillingly compliant.

“Walk with me.”

He headed into the next room. She followed, still trying to force her legs to move towards the reception desk and safety.

The two patients were both men in their forties. Yellow skin was stretched over cadaverous faces. They lay, eyes closed, on their death beds, surrounded by technology that was unable to save them. The drugs kept them pain free, that was all. The chemotherapy, the radiotherapy hadn’t worked for them. Modern medicine was making huge inroads into treating cancer, but there were still people for whom no treatment had worked.

The man walked up to the nearest bed. He stroked the forehead of the patient.

“Dream, my brother.”

The man in the bed, still unconscious, suddenly smiled. His eyelids flickered and his mouth twitched.

The man moved to the next patient and did the same. The patient responded in the same way.

“Follow me.”

Sarah followed.

Her companion moved from room to room, touching each patient on the forehead speaking the same words. Each time the patient responded in the same way.

They returned to the reception area. Sarah felt herself released from whatever hold he’d had over her. She felt weak, her muscles ached.

“You are now free to call security.”

Sarah didn’t.

“Who are you? What did you do to those patients?”

“Gave them life.”

“Life? They’re dying.”

“The life they would have lived, had they not been here. In their minds, they are living, falling in love, having children…working, travelling, laughing, crying. Everything they are going to miss.”

Sarah believed him. She had seen the patients’ faces.

“Who are you?”

“I’m cursed. I’m blessed. This is my life, my part to play.”

Sarah, a believer, whispered.

“Are you an angel?”

The man smiled.

“Angel or demon, it does not matter. I am here. That is all that matters.”

He walked out the doors of the ward.

“See to your patients.”

Sarah did as she was told, moving between the rooms, checking each patient carefully. They were still now, but it wasn’t the stillness of sedation. It was the stillness of death. Each one, every single one had died. Sarah supposed in their dream state they had lived full, rich lives and died, surrounded by family and friends. Her unknown visitor had given them quite a gift, but he’d also given her quite the problem. How was she going to explain how the entire ward of patients had died all at exactly the same time?

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

Parting Shot

He’d brought her to visit his home town. Since this was her first time visiting, he decided to show her his childhood haunts. First was the ruined cottage, sitting by itself on a rural road.

“This place used to scare the crap out of me.”

“Why?”

“It was haunted.”

“You really believed that?”

“I did. It had a creepy vibe. Maybe I should see if it still does.”

He walked through the front door.

“I can’t feel anything. Whatever haunted this place has gone.”

He walked further into the ruin.

“There’s an entrance to a cellar in the floor here. Never noticed that before.”

The wood was rotten and it splintered. He fell through into the darkness, stopping only when his belly jammed in the entrance.

“Give me a hand to get back out.”

“I don’t know if I’m strong enough.”

“I’ll push. You pull.”

His face changed.

“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

“Something’s touching me.”

“What?”

“Something’s stroking my legs.”

“You mean a rat?”

“No, I can feel fingers.”

She knew he wasn’t joking.

“GET ME OUT!”

She grabbed his arm and pulled as hard as she could. Nothing.

“PULL!”

She gave a heave. He popped out of the hole like a cork from a bottle. He lay in the dirt, panting.

“What was it?”

“I don’t know, but it felt like a human hand.”

“It couldn’t be. Nobody’s down there.”

“I know, but let’s get the hell out of here.”

Before they could move, a voice spoke from the darkness of the cellar.

You kids come back real soon…

They ran away from the thing that still haunted the cottage.

.

~ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

The Store at the Center of Hell

You probably don’t know this, but Hell isn’t all burning pits and brimstone. Hell is cleverer than that. Hell is personal. It picks apart your psyche like the layers of an onion, exposing the torments that are perfect for you. Then, those torments are inflicted on you…forever.

Damn clever, wish I’d thought of it. I really wish I wasn’t part of it.

Every morning I wake in the same small back room. I open the door and head into my store. It isn’t really my store, I woke up here, presumably just after I died. The layout is reminiscent of those old-fashioned general stores you used to find in every small town. Wooden counters and shelves. Tin cans, dry goods. Brands you’d never heard of before. Newspapers for the men, magazines for the ladies, candy and ice cream for the kids. Cigarettes, some booze. Lightbulbs, rubber bands, tin openers; items secreted in dark cupboards, stuff you may only ever need once in your life. Cocktail umbrellas, apple corers.

This is my hell.

It’s not as if I was a storekeeper when I was alive. I was a firefighter. A pretty damn exciting, cool job. The ladies loved me; all I had to do was tell them I was a fireman and…well, I’m sure you can guess. Good times. All I remember of my death was smoke, flames and a collapsing roof. Then, I woke up here.

I don’t know how long I’ve been here. I suppose it doesn’t matter.

At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering where the torment comes in. Running a wee store in hell doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Well, let me enlighten you. You see, I’m not just playing the role of storekeeper. I am the storekeeper, that’s my whole world. I spend my days dusting and rearranging, fussing over what prices to lower, where to stack my tins. Making sure my newspapers line up with ninety-degree angles. I dream about stock-taking. I am the ultimate, totally consumed, archetypal storekeeper. And who is the natural enemy of all storekeepers? You don’t know? Guess. Correct; shoplifters. Little, shitty thieves, stealing from good, honest, honorable people. To steal, to shoplift, is a crime, it’s a sin, it’s an outrage.

Sorry, got a bit carried away there. I’ll get back to my point. You see, I only have one customer. It’s Old Hob himself. Every day at four o’clock he comes into my store. I’m where I usually am, standing behind my counter. I watch the old bugger wander in, casual as anything. Every day I ask the same question.

“Can I help you with anything, sir?”

The answer is always the same.

“Just browsing.”

I watch him as he wanders around, between the shelves. I watch him as he takes items, examines them and then carefully drops them into the pockets of his long, black coat. I stand, unable to move, unable to speak, while I watch him defile my beautiful store. My blood boils, I feel my blood pressure skyrocket. It feels as if I’m having a stroke. I want to scream, I want to stop him, hurt him, kill him, but I can’t do anything. My soul, my storekeeper’s soul, is rent asunder watching this travesty.

And then, his pockets full of my wonderful goods, he smiles and heads to the door.

“See you tomorrow, storekeeper!”

The door closes behind him and I can finally move. I spend the rest of the day, every day, restocking my shelves, mourning for the lost items. Grieving for the money lost, despairing that I allow this to happen, dreading the next day. My head hurts, my heart aches.

I told you, Hell is clever.

~ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

The Price of Revenge

“Mr. Roger DeMontfort-Jones?”

The voice startled DeMontfort-Jones out of his reverie. He had been engrossed in the latest share index prices. He looked up to see two men standing at the entrance to his office. One was tall, the other small, bent and twisted.

“How can I help you, gentlemen?”

“It is we who have come to help you. We are here to offer you an unusual and highly unique service.”

Salesmen. DeMontfort-Jones waved his hand dismissively.

“Just leave your brochure with my assistant down the corridor.”

“Our service is not one that has any accompanying literature. It can only be offered to those who have been specially selected. It requires an ability to provide adequate recompense.”

“You mean, whatever you’re selling is expensive.”

“Quite. You see, very few people are ever allowed to join our club. The service we offer has certain expenses. Therefore, the membership fee must reflect that.”

“Okay, gentlemen. Let’s hear what you’ve got to offer.”

“Reflect on the words I am about to say. Reflect carefully. These words describe our unique service. The words are ‘unpunished crimes’.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Think about it. Think about all those times when a driver has hogged the road, refusing to pull over. Remember when somebody’s dog defecated on your lawn and they refused to pick it up. Think of all those rude shop assistants and bank-tellers, the sloppy waiters who can’t be bothered to be polite. These are all unpunished crimes. Not recognized in law, but enough to drive any normal man to desperation. Remember the annoyance you felt, the unrequited fury. But there was nothing you could do about it.”

“Until now,” said the other man, then continued.

“You have been selected to join our club. For a very reasonable fee you’ll have the satisfaction of seeing these crimes punished. We will eliminate five of these unpunished criminals for you. You choose which ones. All you do is make one phone call and then leave the rest to us. Imagine the satisfaction, knowing that the moron behind the counter will never bother a decent citizen like yourself again. Or the driver who lifts his middle finger to you will never sit behind the wheel again. Imagine the pleasure you will get from knowing that.”

DeMontfort-Jones understood exactly what they were saying. He had spent years getting to the top, crushing careers and swinging massive deals. He was the most respected and feared financial broker in the city, but he was still affected by such annoyances. He felt the pleasure of revenge already. It was a wonderful feeling.

“I’ll buy it, gentlemen. I’ll buy your service.”

“Excellent, welcome to our club. Now, all you have to do is provide us with one million pounds. A banker’s draft, if you please. And please consider, the quicker we get the money the quicker you can start choosing.”

DeMontfort-Jones practically ran out the office. It only took him thirty minutes to get the money. His private bank asked no questions. The two men were waiting patiently in his office when he got back. Both were still standing. After the money had been exchanged, the small man handed him a piece of paper.

“That is the number you call. You only have five. Use them wisely. You will never see us again. Good hunting.”

The two men left. DeMontfort-Jones slumped into his seat. He began to convince himself that he had been ripped-off, that it was a con. Had he just pissed away a million pounds? He was tempted to call the number to see what happened, but a voice in the back of his mind reminded him ‘only five calls’. He didn’t call. Instead he smiled. Imagine if it wasn’t a con. That doorman would be first. The one at his apartment building. The stuck-up little sod. Then it would be the guy next door. That prick insisted on playing movies at three a.m. with the volume turned up. He could easily think of at least a dozen people who deserved to be ‘punished’. His paranoia vanished and he decided he might have to renew his subscription to this club.

He sat for half an hour, debating who, out of his list of candidates, to choose. There was a knock at his door.

“Come in.”

The tall man and the small man walked in again.

“Mr. DeMontfort-Jones?”

“What the hell? I thought you said I would never see you again.”

The two men looked at each other. The small one spoke.

“Ah. I see you are one of our members. It’s always a pity to have to make a visit to one of our own, but business is business.”

DeMontfort-Jones stared at the pair, noticing slight variations between them and his first visitors. These two weren’t the same pair. Close, but not the same. They were probably chosen that way. The tall man spoke.

“I’m afraid you have been selected by one of your fellow members for punishment.”

“What did I do?” he squeaked, realizing the implications of the tall man’s words.

“I’m afraid to say you carried out an unspeakable crime. Not more than one hour ago you cut in front of our member and stole his parking space. Our member was most annoyed, but luckily not so distracted that he omitted to note your car registration.”

“But I was in a rush. I was rushing to get my membership fee. I was rushing to get your damn money!”

“I’m sorry. No excuse is accepted. We do have our rules you know.”

DeMontfort-Jones saw the gun in the same instant the small man fired. He died with the small consolation it definitely hadn’t been a con.

~ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. 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

Tiny Freezer

The delivery man dropped off the new freezer. Part of the store’s deal was to take the old one away. As he loaded it onto the truck, he asked. “How did it die?”

“Pardon?” asked Melissa.

“The freezer. How did it die? It isn’t very old.”

Weird, she thought. Might be something to do with store’s return policy. “The storm last week. The power went off. When it came back on, the freezer was bust.”

“Good to know.”

He loaded it onto his hand-truck.

“R.I.P. tiny freezer.”

He stroked its white surface, as he gently placed it into the delivery truck.

That was really creepy, Melissa thought, but decided not to say anything. He was a big guy and she was on her own. She quietly closed the front door and watched as he drove away.

A couple of days later she decided it was time to fill the new freezer with food. She went shopping and returned with a car full of groceries destined for the freezer. As she climbed the stairs from the basement, after filling it with her purchases, she noticed the front door of the house was open. She closed it, disquieted.

She entered the lounge and saw the delivery driver sitting on the sofa.

“I checked it. The condenser had blown. The manual clearly says to unplug it in case of a surge after a power cut. You didn’t.”

“What?”

“You could have had the condenser replaced you know, you could have fixed it, but no, you went ahead and had it destroyed. Euthanized. You killed it. You murdered that tiny freezer. It was only a baby. There can be only one punishment for that.”

He rose from the sofa.

Brian came home from work at six, to find the house dark and empty. Shrugging, he guessed Melissa must be out for a walk. There was no note and she didn’t answer her phone. He decided to get a head start on dinner. In the basement the floor was covered in thawing packs of food. Melissa had obviously forgotten to load the new freezer. He opened the lid and recoiled. His wife lay, curled in a foetal position, in the frozen compartment.

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 47

In the Light
Miriam H. Harrison

The light lasts longer here. A trick of angles, squeezing every last drop of daylight from the sun. When I followed the path, found this place sitting in the light, I took it for a sign. I wanted to be here—in this place blessed by the sun.

And so I entered.

If you find my path, don’t follow. Stay out there in the light. The light outside lingers. But the darkness inside—that lasts longer than you’ll ever know.


The Weight of Stone
Charles Gramlich

The gold stone sweats light in the dawn. But I am not lit. I lie within. All in black, all in shadow. I pray to the night, to the ancient and puissant god of the dead—to he who is swollen with rot and bile. And I smile as I pray to myself in the mirror of your dreaming eyes.

Can you not hear me prance close? A devil to man! A lord to devils! I love the teeth in your mouth, the bite in your words. But I will not come to you. To summon me, you must light the candle in the whiskey dark—while I sing from a throat blistered by scorpions. To summon me, you must offer pearls of honeyed blood from your unshriven lips.

No, I will not come to you. Not yet. But I will wait. For your nightmare to end.

And the next to begin.


The Citadel de Sangre
Marge Simon

Bumming around Spain the summer after college, me and my buddy Garth stopped in the village of Tabernas. Both of us were keen to check out this one place in particular – the Citadel, at the edge of the desert.  Lots of folklore about it. 

When we got to Alamira, I asked an old woman about it. “La Ciudadela? Si. It’s an ancient fortress, a sanctuary built by an ancient civilization to keep out demons.  But beware, a hijo mio, it’s no sanctuary now!” When I asked what she meant, she shook her head, muttering “Los que beben sangre!” 

Garth checked his Spanish pocket dictionary “Way cool! She means “those who drink blood.”  He looked up, grinning. “Like I’m scared, dude,” he whispered to me. The guy running the tourist office talked us into taking along his daughter as a guide. Carmillita was a weird little gal with stringy dark curls, but she spoke good English. Something about her made me uncomfortable, but Garth thought she was hot. 

Our shirts were soaked with sweat when we finally arrived at the Citadel.  It was a sturdy structure, made from yellow native stone. We relaxed in the cool interior. I found a wine stash and we downed a couple bottles. Garth and the gal were enjoying some primo Spanish grass and talking. Last I noticed, she was licking his neck. Threesomes weren’t my style. I nodded off after dusk.

“Wake up, buddy. Carmillita wants you with us.” it was Garth’s voice next to me in the dark. That gal was crouching beside him, eyes glowing red in the dark.

“Huh?” I asked sleepily.


“It ain’t for sex, dude.”  A sudden flash of white fangs in the moonlight, his mouth on my neck. He stopped sucking to grin at me, blood streaming down his chin. 

Guess I wasn’t going to need that fucking degree in Economics after all.


All Day Sucker
Elaine Pascale

I have eyes but cannot see.

The darkness is everywhere.

I have ears but cannot hear.

The dead are polite in their silence.

My mouth is shut, clamping down on the screams that rest on my tongue like a demented all day sucker.

I should have known to turn down the contract, but the money was too good.

I should have known that I would never see the money. It was just that good.

Always be suspicious of a request to build a “secret room.” Especially if that room is beneath a centuries-old mausoleum.

The dead do not need a place for their secrets.

I know that teenagers come to smoke on the steps, but they are too far away to be aware of me. I can smell their pungent exhalations. I imagine they tell scary stories while getting high in the cemetery. They may even fabricate nightmares about being locked in with the bodies that rot.  If they knew of me, I would become just another ghost story.

I am a ghost story.


Marla
Lee Andrew Forman

Respite from day, an escape from all that ails, is what Harold desired most. So to this monument of silence he traveled each night, and beneath each moon and all its phases, he spent his better hours with the speechless and unmoving. Never a word had been spoken to his kin about these endeavors. A secret dream—of joy, of a stillness which calmed a distressed heart.

No lock barred entry, no watchmen to guard against invasion; he was free to rest his weary bones with Marla, the occupant within the marble box. He painted her in his mind as he saw fit, imaginings of a fine woman, far beyond what he deemed himself worthy of.

But when he approached the old doors this night, one stood ajar. He scurried to peek within the dark mausoleum. Three young men sat inside with booze, drinking in a stupor, regarding precious Marla with uncouth disrespect.

Harold made himself known as a silhouette in the doorway. The young heathens stood, violence rising within their stance. Harold shook. His poor frame would never overcome them.

Then the massive lid opened on its own. From within rose the dried remains of Marla. Bone fingers stabbed at bewildered eyes. Her other arm thrust like a spear into another’s abdomen. The young man gaped at the near-black fluid poured from his wound. The third boy tried to run, but Marla caught him by the neck. She pulled him into her embrace and crushed his ribcage, watching red spurt from his mouth.

When the bloodshed ended, Marla’s eyeless sockets stared at Harold. Although she had no lips with which to smile, he felt affection ebb from her marrow. He approached this miracle with blind joy. Marla’s skeletal hands wrapped themselves around Harold, pulled him into her coffin, and closed the lid.


Resting Place
RJ Meldrum

The mausoleum was a triumph of architecture and style. It dominated the landscape for miles, and had been built to be deliberately in the direct line of sight of the manor house were the Duke resided. It was to be his final resting place and he took huge pride in that fact, not that he intended to change residence anytime soon. The townsfolk, the people who worked in the mines belonging to the Duke, had a different perspective. The Duke was greedy and stupid, focused only on profit. He ordered his engineers to dig too close to the surface and to skimp on tunnel supports. Shafts routinely collapsed, burying miners. The fatality rate was five times the of nearby mines. The Duke paid the families handsomely to cover it up, but now the final straw had been reached. Due to shallow excavations, parts of the town had subsided, killing a number of women and children. The men congregated in the mausoleum. A solution had been found. Muffled cries and entreaties could he heard from inside the crypt. A voice pleaded with them to let him out, save his life, but the miners did not respond or move a finger to help. The Duke, a soft-handed aristocrat, would learn what it was like to be buried alive, suffocated while the air ran out. It was a fitting memorial.


Mausoleum
A.F. Stewart

The stone tomb hadn’t been there yesterday.

But yesterday the world had been normal.

Yesterday, I didn’t hear the song.

It began on my morning run. The vision of the stone structure standing in the park haloed against the warm sun. So majestic, so serene.

So inviting.

Music floated from the entrance, a deep entrancing voice singing of peace, of darkness, of stars and fire. Calling my name. Promising me the serenity of his everlasting love. I was on the steps before someone bumped into me. I heard “Sorry,” and looked away. When I looked back, the tomb vanished.

But the echo of the song remained.

That’s why I returned to the park after moonrise. Somehow, I knew he would return before the next sunrise. I knew he was waiting for me.

In the silence of my mind I heard his voice, his sweet, sultry tune of peace and destruction, filling the darkest hours until my prayers were answered. I raced up the stone steps of the tomb, dashing into its dark maw. I laughed as his tentacles encircled me and drew me into death’s embrace, his sweet voice my lullaby into eternal rest and his undying love.


Hope
Nina D’Arcangela

By day, they climb the stairs, stare through the locked grate to catch a glimmer of what lay inside. At dusk, I open the gates, hope one will stray, and step beyond the threshold. This eve is no exception. As the moon trades its place with the sun, the gleam from inside is irresistible. Stunned by the glittering interior, it pauses. I see the greed in its eyes. Just one step further and I will have you. The exterior of the tomb is stunning, but once beyond the iron that was wrought to keep the rabble out, the walls are inlayed with gems that glisten opalescent shades. I am as old as the stone, I hunger as it does, but am not allowed a portion until they have had theirs. If I have done my job adequately, some may feast; if done well, all will sup – myself included.


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

The Last Door

I know I’m lying in a hospital bed. I know I have been here for a long time and I am unlikely to recover. I have heard the nurses whisper about me. I lie on the uncomfortable mattress, my flesh penetrated by needles and tubes. I am surrounded by machines that click and beep. I am unconscious and yet, somehow aware. I dream, or at least I think it’s a dream. I find myself walking in a dark corridor. I come to a door. It is painted yellow, decorated with rainbow stickers and smiley faces. I enter and find myself in a green park, the sun shining and the sky blue. Small children are running around, playing. Adults stand close by, monitoring. I recognize my mother first, then myself, deep in a scrum of children. I look to be about five or six. My mother looks so young. Her clothes are incredibly dated; her youth, my age and the fashion dates this time to the early 70s. I have somehow travelled back in time. I try to speak to my mother, reach out to her, but it’s clear that this is a vision, a memory. I cannot interact with the people around me. My heart aches to see her so young, so healthy. If my calculation of the date is correct, she has another thirty years to live before the cancer takes her. I see the cigarette in her hand and hate it. If only I could tell her to stop, to save her own life. My heart breaks when I realize I cannot change the future.

A force compels me to move, I walk through this idyllic scene, headed to an unknown destination.

The next door is black, skull & crossbones stickers plastered across it. Yellow police line tape crisscrosses the wooden panels. I recognize this door, I decorated it this way when I was fifteen. A snotty little goth, trying to be cool. I open the door and smile with embarrassment at the scene in front of me. The teenage me, dyed black hair, black skull t-shirt and a poor attempt at mascara sitting on the bed with my friends, all dressed exactly the same. Some dreary music plays in the background. There’s a girl on the bed too, the girlfriend of my best friend. It takes me a mere second to realize she’s looking at the younger version of me, not him. My teenage version is too interested in showing off his new leather trousers to notice. Her eyes tell the story, she likes me, she wants me to like her. To notice her. I fail to do so, I’m too focused on showing off. I curse my younger self. What a fool I was, she could have been the love of my life.

A push from behind impels me to move again. I come to another door.

This door is pastel blue, a soothing color. Inside the room is a nursery, decorated in gentle colors, with toys scattered around. The room is clean, bright and sunny. A tiny baby lies in a crib. I’m standing over it with a woman I don’t recognize. I look to be about thirty. This is an interesting scene. Not only is the woman a stranger, but I also never had any children. I had a wife, but she isn’t here. I never lived in this house. I wonder why I’m being shown this scene. I never regretted not having children, never really thought about it. Is this an untravelled road, a path my life could have taken, or is it just a dream? Wish fulfillment, from some unspoken subconscious desire? I wish I had the answer.

I’m pushed again, there is no time to ponder.

The third door is a rich burgundy, a solid color that speaks to me of success, money and complacency. I recognize this one, it is achingly familiar. I know what to expect. Inside I see myself. I am sitting in a wood-lined study, surrounded by leather bound books. This is my home, the place I worked my whole life to afford. The books are the ones I spent a lifetime collecting. I am old, with a wrinkle-lined face and grey hair. I’m reading a book, an anthology of Victorian ghost stories. My dog sits at my feet, warming herself in front of the log fire. I pause, this is last month, the day before I tripped and fell down the stairs, ending up in this hospital bed. This was the last day I spent in my beloved house, the last time I saw my dog.

The force insists I continue on. I have no choice but to obey. I reach another door.

This door is grey, almost hazy. I have the sense that this is it, the end of the line. It wasn’t a dream after all. I have really seen my life, my lives, the real and the possible. The branches I could have taken; the ones I chose to take. My life in high definition. I reach out to touch the handle, to pass through this door. I know it’s the last one, that whatever follows will be infinite. Was my life good? I ask myself. Did it fulfil me? Did I leave a good legacy? Did I ever act foolishly, selfishly? Do I have regrets? I answer yes to all those questions, but that is life. It must be painted in blacks, as well as whites. I feel a huge sense of sorrow, but I’m grateful I had the chance to reflect on my life, to see some reminder of my bygone days. I don’t want to leave yet, but I know I cannot stay. The sorrow diminishes to be replaced with hope. Perhaps there really is something on the other side of this door. I draw a breath, realizing that, in the real world of my hospital bed, this may well be my last. I exhale, then turn the doorknob and pull the grey door open. I enter.

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

Signal to Noise

He regained consciousness in the hospital corridor, finding himself standing in the middle of a stream of people flickering past without pause.  He was dimly aware he couldn’t be seen.  The world he had emerged into was grey, faded and separated from the world he had just left.  It was also silent.  He reached out to touch a nearby nurse, but his hand, insubstantial, entered her arm and passed through without making contact.

As soon as the time of death was recorded most of the staff cleared the emergency room, moving onto the next crisis.  She stood over his shell, stunned, ignoring the nurses who fussed around him, tidying up the detritus of the failed attempt to save him.  She thought back to the accident; they had been walking across the road, moving from pub to pub, then boom, the taxi had hit him.  The next few minutes were a blur; a scream, bystanders arriving, the police, the wail of the ambulance, the emergency room and the medical staff.  Then this, the unnatural quiet.

He found himself floating down the corridor towards an unknown destination.  The world around him was moving faster and faster, the people mere blurs.  He was slowing down, fading from the mortal realm as his life energy dissipated.  He was moving between worlds.

She left him and stepped out of the triage room.  The policeman, who had diplomatically waited outside, agreed to meet her the following day to take a statement.  She signed the required documents and received unwanted, rushed condolences from the harassed admin staff.  It was the week before Christmas, the busiest time of the year for the emergency department.  Falls, fights, drunks and car accidents overwhelmed the staff.  With nowhere else to go she went home, getting back at about ten o’clock.  She left the house in darkness and slumped onto the sofa in the lounge.  An involuntary shudder shook her thin frame, memories returning.  The worst thing was she hadn’t had the chance to say farewell to him, he hadn’t regained consciousness and she knew her whispered goodbye as he lay dying hadn’t been heard.  That, above all, was unbearable.

He started to notice other shapes around him.  Diaphanous, smoke-like figures floated next to him.  The real world, the world of living people could still be seen, but it was blurred, as if observed through a film of ice.  His mortal energy was almost gone, but one thing kept him focussed on the world he had just left.  Her.  He didn’t know if he could, but he knew he had to try.  Concentrating, he steered himself towards his goal.

She tried to sleep, but found it impossible.  She rose and made some tea, watching the darkness out of the kitchen window.  She hadn’t cried yet, the emptiness she felt had driven out every other possible emotion.  She knew with the coming of the dawn she would have to start phoning.  It was then the emotion of the truth would overwhelm her.

He reached for the pay-phone praying he was still able to lift the receiver.  Around him, the shapes of his new companions whirled and danced, some grieving and some celebrating.  His companions were fading away, just as he was, but he had to do one last thing before he left the mortal world.  His fingers, through sheer willpower, made contact with the receiver and he managed to find the strength to lift it.  He had to reach her, had to say goodbye.  The shapes around him scattered in confusion at this merging of the two worlds. 

She finished her tea and rinsed the mug.  The early morning sun was streaking the eastern sky with reds and yellows.  She knew she would have to reach for the phone soon, to start the task of letting friends and family know the news.  Suddenly, shockingly the phone rang.  She lifted the receiver and placed it to her ear.  A crackle of white noise made her wince, but some hidden emotion kept her from hanging up.  She strained to listen.  A voice spoke, faint beneath the crackling.  The voice was achingly familiar and she gasped when she recognised it.  The voice spoke a simple message, over and over again.  All too soon it faded to nothing amongst the overwhelming white noise, but it had been enough.  He had said goodbye.  Tears flowed down her face.

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 45

DW_45

Drops
Nina D’Arcangela

With each tear that fell from her cheek, another drop of laudanum fell from the pipette. Chewing her lower lip, she wondered if the choice she’d made was a just one. Closing her eyes, she drew forth a fond memory of her once vital son laughing as he played – a sound she’s not heard in some time. Her knees buckled as her resolve strengthened. A few more drops and his pain would be ended. Climbing the stairs, the glass of apple juice trembling in her hand, she choked back her own wail of agony.


Elixer
RJ Meldrum

The last tank was empty. The desalination plants were redundant, there was no seawater left. The humidity collectors had been scrapped, the air was too dry. It was over.

The vial was found in a storage room in an abandoned hospital. Five milliliters of distilled water. It wasn’t enough to share; it was too much to waste. It was a token; it wouldn’t prolong anyone’s life, but before the end came, it was decided to allow one lucky person to have it. A lottery was held.

It was a public event. The winner was paraded on the stage; they were to drink the contents in front of everyone else. It was partly because the elders wanted to share the moment with the community, partly because they wanted to make it clear that it was over, that their world would soon end. They wanted to calm the population, force them to accept their fate calmly. It failed.

As the winner ascended the stairs to the platform, the crown surged and stormed the stage. The vial, the last water on Earth, was knocked out of the winner’s hand, the fragile glass smashing. As the contents drained away, the crowd, the last remnant of humanity, destroyed each other.


Just One Drop
Marge Simon

Dr. Wang Yin Ho, MD, MS, HPLC

11287 47th St. N.E.

Ste. 334

Laurel Canyon Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90046

Dear Dr. Ho:

We are pleased to inform you that your Agent DK-45 has passed rigorous testing and is fit for distribution. to the masses. Just as promised, no other drug has proven so effective and easy to administer. Moreover, only one drop mixed with extender has proven sufficient for hundreds of inoculations. With support from Senators Epstein and Bortz, the FDA has approved it to be processed and sold by a pharma company of the Party’s choice. 

Congratulations for formulating a cure for all viruses, even if they mutate. Equally important, the side effects are crucial to preserving the interests of the Party; after immunization, citizens will believe whatever is told them by the current Party President. As specified, injections shall be given directly into the brainstem.

It is regrettable you were unable to come forth with an antidote, “just in case”. In compliance with the fine print in your contract, you are to be manually terminated within the next twelve hours. Kindly use that time to settle your affairs.

Your heroic service is much appreciated.

Vladimir Naronkov

Nikolas Obanovitch

Polymorph Analysis Specialists


Treatments
A.F. Stewart

He moaned as the syringe plunged into his arm, as the chemicals pumped into his veins. Pain cycled through his body again and his muscles spasmed. The murmur of the doctors drifted against the whir of machines monitoring his vital signs. Part of him wanted to laugh hysterically. ‘Treatments’ they called these daily sessions, essential to his rehabilitation.

Torture, he called it. Brainwashing.

As the drugs coursed into his blood, into his brain, he tried to hold on to his memories, to his resolve. To the brief, bittersweet liberty he had known. For a few weeks, he had been free to view the world as he saw fit, not how the world government dictated. Before they discovered his secret and dragged him here.

That autonomy was over now. It was only a matter of time. The drug regimen would erase his thoughts, his memories, his will. Soon he would be a good citizen once more, the perfect slave to society.

He moaned as another needle slid into his arm.


Miracle
Mark Steinwachs

A miracle drug. Aren’t they all? Science is wonderful but it doesn’t mean shit in here. Or at least it didn’t until the scientists figured out that this magic potion determined if you were a good or bad person as it sent you to your death. They told us about it, not like we understood all the fancy doctor speak. They wanted it to go over our heads. We don’t matter in their eyes. Anyway, it was something about brainwaves and happiness or terror as the person died. Our days were numbered at that point. If we died happy then we were better off than wasting away here. If we died in terror then we didn’t deserve what little we had.

My cell slides open, an officer and a death dealer walk in. None of us resist, it’s pointless. I lay on my bunk. I know what I am, and where I’m going.


Reflections Within
Charles Gramlich

In the slow drip of heavy water, the eye of God reflects the face of the demon in my mouth.

All gangrenous lips and bright teeth, he shreds throats to the arteries. He melts bone to fluid.

In the vacuum, from the absence, I call to the light that screams for release, that begs to fall.

Only in the slow drip of blood am I alive.


Banishing Monsters
Scarlett R. Algee

I should be off work—it’s two days before Christmas—but instead I’m dosing inmates. It’s better this way, the warden says. It gets “the unpleasantness,” as he calls it, out of the way.

The door separating my office space from the infirmary is steel, but the prisoner screaming in that next room may as well be in here for how loud she is, the weighty metal chair she’s strapped to scraping the concrete floor despite the sedative I’d administered before the serum. Turns out even propofol won’t stop the howls or the thrashing; I can practically hear her vocal cords tearing, her bones breaking and shifting as the serum makes them reform themselves. I don’t have to look through my door’s observation window to know that by the time her transformation’s exhausted her, she’ll be a limp, gaunt, nearly lifeless thing: four-inch talons projecting from her toes and fingers, two-inch fangs breaking through her upper lip to overlap the bottom.

I don’t have to see it in this one, because I’ve seen it in the others. Eyes with newly-slitted pupils glazed over by agony. Hungry mouths spilling saliva, but too weak to feed. Easy to deal with, this unpleasantness: easy to drag them outside. Even in the weakest winter sun, it’s over in five minutes. The warden has, at least, justified it to himself: we’re banishing monsters. Nobody can call it murder if we’re not killing humans.

My office is older than the infirmary itself: the staff door opens directly outside. I unlock it and shove it ajar. This vial of serum yields one last dose into a syringe, and on the threshold, I shove the needle into my neck and plunge the liquid home.

Then I stumble out into the sunlight, and wait for the pain to come.


Drink, Drip, Dibble
Lydia Prime

‘If you violate the deal in anyway, he’ll have never known, nor loved you.’ Niustafa’s words echoed inside Kevin’s skull.

Kevin sipped the clear liquid; it didn’t take as long as he’d expected. Seamlessly, he was standing over himself, watching while the alternating shades of blue danced across his features. His mouth leaking acidic foam. Well, that’s attractive… he thought; his right arm dangling out of the porcelain bath, barely clutching that freeing glass vial.


God Bless Us Everyone
Ian Sputnik

I tapped on the bedroom door, used my back to push it open, and entered carrying the tray. I wished Mum good morning, and she wished me a merry Christmas. As she sat up, I put the platter on her lap and bent to kiss her forehead. She asked when Gemma, my sister, would arrive. I told her soon. She smiled and took a sip of tea before tucking into her marmalade-on-toast breakfast.

“Time for your medication, Mum,” I said as I counted the drops from the pipette onto her tongue. She complained of being tired and wanted a few more minutes rest, but demanded I didn’t let her oversleep, as there was so much to be done in preparation for Christmas. I tucked her back in and kissed her head again, knowing Gemma would not be coming.

Her and her husband had been killed by a drunk driver seven months prior. I’d tried to explain it to Mum, but each day it grew more difficult. Every morning was Christmas to Mum. Every morning she awoke excited with the expectation of seeing Gemma.

I wasn’t sure if it was her I was releasing from the ongoing nightmare, or myself. But I couldn’t break the news to her yet again.


Vial Pleasure
Lee Andrew Forman

I cherish these drops of pain and sorrow. True pleasure lies within, deep inside the elixir — a fine-tuned concoction of select donors that appease my taste. Each was extracted with care, distilled with precise cruelty; a cruelty that sweetens the flow. A not-so-gentle stab of the heart, harsh words rasped on whispered breath, a length of hemp knotted and coarse. Extreme cases demand shivs of metal, a sharpened tool; whatever it takes to enrich the aquiline ecstasy. My tongue grows hungry for more, slaps the roof of my mouth with greed as the next is harnessed to satiate the damp organ that roams my mouth.



Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2020