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Damned Words 35

 

Animals
A.F. Stewart

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

The animals.

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

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


Mechanism of Question
Lee Andrew Forman

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


Radiance
Scarlett R. Algee

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

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

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


Husk
Mark Steinwachs

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

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


Critters
Lydia Prime

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


Misfiring
Nina D’Arcangela

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

 

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

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A Damned Halloween

Twilight Whispers
A.F. Stewart

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

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

And momentary silence.

To be broken by skittering whispers.

Death is coming…


Little Reaper
Scarlett R. Algee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait,” he says.

She watches, silent, expectant.

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

Another headtilt as she considers. Then she nods again.

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

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

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

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


Final Moon
Mark Steinwachs

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

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

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

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

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


You Can Be Always
Lee Andrew Forman

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

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

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

“Are you a fairy?” Sarah asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inhale, Exhale

Over the wind’s howl, you hear yourself breathing.

Your shoulders ache dimly from the strain of your arms pulled behind your back and bound to your stake, but you lost feeling in your hands an hour ago. Your legs are numb up to your knees. The pain in your face has become a mask you wear, dull and stiff; your head is fixed in place, held by your hair, the braid nailed into wood.

You cried when you were lashed here in the twilight, when everyone hurried away, when your mother stroked your hair but wouldn’t look you in the eyes. You stopped crying when you realized the sting down your cheeks was the wind-torn tracks of your tears, freezing to your skin.

There was no fanfare. There never is. Now all you do is blink, and breathe, and wait.

When the first breath of winter skirts across the land, someone has to be sacrificed. It’s the way. Flesh and blood must be traded for a few more weeks of strong sun and clear skies, for a safe end to the late harvest, for a peaceable season bereft of storms. When the gift isn’t given, the crops shatter on the vine, the cattle freeze beneath mounds of snow. It’s always been the way.

You cried at the thought that anyone else could have been chosen. You stopped when you realized there was no reason it shouldn’t be you.

Nothing moves when you try to flex your rope-bound limbs. You drag in a deep breath and something breaks within your nostrils, spilling down your face. You feel nothing, taste nothing; only the slowness of the ooze tells you it’s blood. You open your mouth to breathe out, and there’s merely a muted tingle when your wetted lips rip apart from one another.

Whatever plume your exhalation makes, it’s swallowed by darkness. The gale shifts, tearing at the tatters it’s made of your clothes, curling around and into you like a living thing with breath of its own. The knifing pain frigid air made in your chest at sunset is now only a distant twinge.

You blink. You breathe. It’s becoming difficult. You have the slow cold-glazed thought that you’ll be buried at sunrise, and you’re surprised to find you still have a few tears left.

It had to be you. It always had to be you.

You breathe in.

You breathe out.

You wait.

~ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 34

 

Taunts and Beckons
Jon Olson

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


Some Carnivores Have Roots…
Lydia Prime

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

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

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


Gifts
Mercedes M. Yardley

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

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

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

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

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

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


Corpse Flowers
Scarlett R. Algee

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

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

Let me see who calls me unclean then.


From the Ashes, Fire
A.F. Stewart

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

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

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


The Contract
Mark Steinwachs

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

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

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

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


Garden of Whispers
Lee Andrew Forman

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


Looming
Nina D’Arcangela

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


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

Damned Words 33

Damned_Words_33

Scream
Lydia Prime

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

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

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


The Risen
A.F. Stewart

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

The others will be here soon.

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

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

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

Never build on a witches’ graveyard.


Chords
Nina D’Arcangela

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

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

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


Easy
Mark Steinwachs

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

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

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


Soprano
Scarlett R. Algee

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

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

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


Living with Ghosts
Mercedes M. Yardley

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

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


Invention of an Afterlife
Lee Andrew Forman

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

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


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

 

Bone Deep

For the first time in weeks, I’m alone in the house. Gran’s out talking over the garden wall with one of the neighbors; Mam’s hanging out the wash. Me, I’m sitting on my bed with our best kitchen knife, running the edge over the hard points sticking out beneath my fingernails. It should hurt, but it doesn’t; the skin parts just a bit, bloodlessly, and there’s the grating sound of metal scraping bone.

I press harder.

***

It started six weeks ago last Sunday, the day after I turned fifteen. When I went to bed that night, it was insidious, a little niggling almost-itch behind my kneecaps and in my wrists. But my knees swelled under my skirt when I trudged dutifully to school the next morning, and writing notes in my lectures just made fire blaze down my right hand in waves. The next day, it was both hands. Within a week, I was sneaking aspirin from the kitchen cabinet in handfuls, stuffing them in my skirt pockets, biting down on the bitter discs so I wouldn’t sob from the searing ache twisting me inside out. I did that at home, at night, into my pillow.

It took Mam a full ten days to notice: “Ellie, you’ve shot up like a poplar.”

She didn’t smile. She grimaced instead, and backed me up against the edge of the half-wall between the kitchen and dining room, plopping the family Bible against the top of my head and marking the paint with a pencil before fetching the measuring tape. “Five feet and eight,” she pronounced, wide-eyed, when she pulled the tape away. “Are you taller than me?” Mam demanded, and crowded so close my nose touched between her eyes. “Jesus, you’re taller than me. And since the first of the month, too.” She turned to look over her shoulder at Gran. “Is this normal?”

Gran shrugged, mouth tight around her cigarette. “Some girls get their height early, all at once. I did.” She stood five foot four in bare feet.

It was Gran who sat at my bedside that night, patting my aching hands and balancing ice packs on my oversized knees. “Growing pains,” she said, though her gaze narrowed as she eyed the length of my legs. “Best to get it out of the way now. Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon.”

But in the night I woke screaming, my nightgown spotted with blood. My ribs had expanded and grown sharp-edged, tearing my skin from the inside. Mam yanked the fabric up and stared at me while Gran sponged me off with stinging alcohol, and this time there wasn’t puzzlement in my mother’s eyes. There was fear.

The doctor they took me to the next morning glanced at my knees and hands and ribs, took some measurements and jotted notes, muttered to himself and gave Mam a prescription for something with codeine in it. He never said a word directly to me. Growth spurt, he called it, and mumbled something about long bones and inflammation of the growth plates. It would pass, he said. That was the end of it.

That afternoon the pain in my knees came back, jabbing and twisting so bad I could almost see my shins bowing inward. So I begged Mam for one of the pills, but she only said, “Not yet. Let’s see how you are after school tomorrow.”

I woke up next morning with my mouth throbbing. My cheekbones strained the contours of my face; I could see fissures forming in the skin. My teeth had become longer; my lips stretched when I formed a bite. Mam measured me again. I was another three inches taller. Gran looked up at me and whispered, “Swear to God, her bones are growing out of her.”

I could barely get out of bed that day, despite hanging over it. There was no school. There was no school ever again.

The next week kept me changing, growing. My neck stretched with crackling noises. My jaw and elbows locked and loosened at odd times. Going through the doorways in the house meant bending nearly double, sleeping on my bed took folding myself in half, and the biggest shoes Mam could buy only fit on my feet a few hours. Gran crossed herself and swore and fed me aspirin, codeine, whiskey. None of it touched the pain. I lay on the floor and howled till the neighbors’ dogs barked.

This morning, Mam needed a stepladder to measure me, and her tape wouldn’t reach in one stretch. Six feet. Seven inches. I watched tears roll down her face as I tried to steady my too-long, agonized legs, and felt the ceiling against the top of my head.

***

Now I sit on the end of my bed, legs mostly on the floor, and I draw the knife over my fingertips again. They split entirely, and it’s relief enough to make my eyes water. Tentatively I press the knife point into my thigh, where the outline of my femur is broad and plain, and push in. My skin rips with a noise like tearing tape, and there’s no pain, no blood, only a release of pressure that makes me stuff my bulging knuckles into my too-wide mouth. Only a great glistening white expanse beneath the stretched crepe of my skin.

Gran was right. My bones are growing out of me. I take a few breaths and stick the knife in again.

If they want to escape, I’m setting them free.

~ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

 

Damned Words 32

Hope for the Chosen
Lee A. Forman

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

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

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

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


The Collector
Mercedes M. Yardley

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

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


Markings
Lydia Prime

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

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

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


Did I Even Hear It?
Jon Olson

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


Color
Mark Steinwachs

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

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


Underneath the Rust
A.F. Stewart

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

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

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

“Please don’t make me do this again.”

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


Broken and Maimed
Scarlett R. Algee

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

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


Blue Pride
Nina D’Arcangela

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


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

 

Ashes

I open my eyes.

The floor is icy; that’s the first thing I notice. The flagstones are freezing, a leaching cold, and I can feel the warmth of my body seeping into the granite underneath me, though the temperature of the surface itself doesn’t seem to change.

The quiet encroaches on my mind. My breath rasps in my ears, seconded only by the thud of my heartbeat. I’d performed the summoning ritual perfectly. Whatever I’d called out of the void should still be bound here, waiting my command, breathing, gibbering, something audible. Silence is never a good sign.

I try to push myself up. Can I? The stone under my back is a gravity well pulling at my skin, but I strain, getting my shoulders off the floor. The air smells of ash and smoke from burning flesh, my stomach twists. Pressure rises in my throat. I drop back, turn my head to the side, and open my jaw to let out the flow. I spit when I’m empty and sit up fully at last, weak but moving. A final trickle slides from my lips down my shirtfront.

I spare the liquid staining my shirt a glance. It’s black. I keep my eyes on the blotch for a second before I finally look down at my forearms, at the markings there. The glyphs should have faded before I was awake; they’ve always faded before when I’ve tinkered in the void, but now they cover my skin in neat perfect rows, as if they’ve been painted on. I rub my left thumb over my right forearm, but the marks don’t smear. I’m not imagining them, and the realization makes my gut wrench again. This is new. A message? A warning? I can’t read them this time. The knot tightens, rises toward my throat.

I stand unsteadily, wishing I had someone to prop me up. Nothing happens, yet the thought alone should have been enough to bring the creature I’d called forth to my side. I take a few tottery steps out of the quartered and rune inscribed glyph I’d long ago etched into the basement floor. I turn back to see the smeared summoning circle, the scattered ash and salt, for the first time.

It isn’t just broken; it’s empty. I don’t know what I’ve pulled from the void—I never know until I see it—but it’s gone. It’s loose.

I limp up the basement steps, lay my hand on the knob. It rattles in my grasp, the door bowing outward. On the other side, something growls.

∼ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 29



Worthy of Heart
Lee A. Forman

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

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


Tableau
A.F. Stewart

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

Companions
Mercedes M. Yardley

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

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

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

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


How Is the Tea
Jon Olson

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


Daddy’s Little Girl
Nina D’Arcangela

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

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


Perfection
Mark Steinwachs

Every stitch. Every tuft of fur.

Every. Single. Piece.

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

Every. Single. Piece.

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

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

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


Guest or Demon
Christopher A. Liccardi

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

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

Revenge?

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

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

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


The Last Tea Party
Scarlett R. Algee

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

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

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

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


The Time Out Box
Lydia Prime

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

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

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


Memorabilia
John Potts Jr

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

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


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

 

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