Damned Words 40

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Sunrise
A.F. Stewart

Some said we would never see the sunrise, but there it shines in the morning sky. As we huddle within the church, I can hear people weeping, from a relief at being alive or in mourning for those dead, I cannot tell. I will shed no more tears. Mine already fell for those I lost in the carnage.

Voices murmur and I turn to glimpse the vicar passing food to those with appetites, and cups of water. At least we can be grateful for that. We will not have to worry about provisions for a while yet. The church has its own well, and donations from a food drive in storage.

It is silent outside, with the daylight hours, but we know it will not last. With night they will return. They will surround the church with their footsteps, with their growls. They will scratch at the ground and howl, fraying nerves, making it impossible to sleep. Memories will flood back, of blood, of teeth, of running while others died. And we will sit here among the pews knowing this holy place is the only thing that keeps them out. It will be the same tonight, as it was last night, and the night before that. Once again we will wonder if we will see the sunrise.

We are trapped here. Praying, surviving. Waiting for our inevitable end.


Ash Wednesday
Charles Gramlich

At midnight the police began to disperse the dense French Quarter crowd. The partiers didn’t want to stop the festivities but reluctantly gave way, breaking into twos and threes that gradually streamed off toward homes or other celebrations. Fat Tuesday was over. Lent had begun.

As the crowd split, a cold, hard gust of wind swept over the Quarter. It gathered other gusts to itself, swirled across the Faubourg Marigny and up Bourbon and Royal streets like a dust devil. It carried a mélange of beads and other Mardi Gras trash. It picked up the stench of sweat-soaked people, the stale odors of alcohol, urine, vomit. It gathered the thoughts and feelings of the revelers—their joys and rages, laughters and sobs, lusts and sins.

And when the wind had all that in its grasp, it struck the roof of the cathedral. The steeple shook; a dirty shadow enveloped it, then shrank, took darkling form. For a moment, a long-armed man squatted like a clot of evil on the roof. Then the figure leaped down and faded into the dispersing crowds as if it had never been.

The first deaths came within an hour.


The Order of Sanctification
Marge Simon

The church bells tolled for many hours after they caught the latest resistor and slit her throat. Pytr had been chosen to carry the infant cut from the womb. They marched through the streets, chanting in clipped unison. The newborn squalled, its limbs still slippery with blood. Pytr tucked it closer inside his furs to shield it against the cold. When they reached the Temple of Free Souls, he gave the infant to a waiting orderly. Shivering, they kept formation until the Grand Priest appeared.

“Who brings this babe?”

“We of the Righteous, Sector Five.”

“Who carries the babe?”

“I, Holy One.” Pytr stepped forward.

“And your name?”

“Pytr, zero five zero two. Sworn by birth to the genetic cycle evermore.” He was careful to keep his voice in a cadence. It would have been blasphemous to do otherwise.

“Ah, Pytr, I recognize you. You were,” the old man smiled, “one of my favorites. And not long out on your own, either. Very well, excellent.” He rubbed his hands together, his fingers stained with a garish orange dye. “And what say the rest of you?”

“We are the children of Sanctification. We copulate no more. We bow to the sperm bank and Ovum of White. Pure is the Ovum. Pure are the Righteous born.”

The presentation ended, Ptyr joined the others as they formed lines to march homeward. He smiled to himself. He’d done his part to ensure the purity of one small soul. Babies must be protected from sin. Future generations of the Righteous would be produced and raised in the Sanctified Laboratories, as the currently popular Supreme Holiness decreed.


The Good Book
R.J. Meldrum

The book was found in the hundredth year after the war. It was buried beneath the ruins of a pre-war building. The scouts were looking for tinned food, but because they’d never seen such a thing before they picked it up. The wise men, the ones who had been taught to read, recognised it for what it was, although none of them had seen a complete book before. They analysed and discussed the words. After due deliberation, they proclaimed the book a miracle and claimed it was the word of God, written by his prophet. By following the doctrine outlined in the book, they too would achieve immortality.

Sermons were held every week.  The priest intoned the holy words.

“The prophet requires a gift of blood for his Lord, to assure eternal life.”

“We shall obey,” intoned the faithful.

A girl was brought forward to the sacrificial altar.

“What are you called, my child?”

“Mina.”

The congregation murmured its approval of her name.

Compliant, she exposed her neck.  The priest, his canine teeth filed to sharp points, bent forward to collect the blood sacrifice that would satisfy their Lord.


Scarlet Milk
Lee Andrew Forman

Hooded faces lined up in the abbey to drink divine milk; they waited with reserve to wrap anxious lips around the papilla of the six-breasted obelisk. Its scarlet liquid dripped for ages, kept the cabal well-fed. Its sweet blessing held their souls within preserved bodies, entombed behind reverent, ever-young eyes. Sustenance from the fleshless bust of the ancient lord was their only indulgence. They observed all outside their congregation reach for the heavens; ages, generations—all seen, all judged. When the bosom of life dried up, they knew the lord’s decree was to be fulfilled.


Abandoned
Lydia Prime

As the sun slowly began to dip beneath the horizon, the colors danced across the pews and paint chipped walls, releasing something more insidious to the building. Footsteps echoed in the distance, slow at first but their pace quickened as a single set became several.

The stranger raced through the nave hoping to make it to the massive oak doors without incident. Voices swirled around the empty cavity though he couldn’t make out what they were saying. As he reached for the rusted latch he noticed the glass was no longer full of colorful images. He yanked on the latch as hard as he could, but couldn’t get it to budge. The other sets of footsteps caught up to the exploring man. They stood in the shadows and whispered unintelligible nothings to one another. His heart beating through his chest, he pounded on the wooden barrier before him and pleaded to see another day.

As the creatures drew closer an unearthly chill rattled through his bones. One of them moved into the light, it had no features of anything he’d ever seen, but its mouth bore rotten needle-sharp teeth; Its tentacle-like appendages edging near him. They made no noise as they leaned in and he screamed for his savior.


Perfection
Nina D’Arcangela

I’ve watched him fall before, The Morning Star. He’s been falling for millennia it seems, but then it always does. This world, these creatures, they lose fear, tell tales; forget fate is coming for them. I remember, I always remember for I am their reminder. I’ve watched it unfold myriad times. The clock resets, he is granted entrance, my reward—to be forsaken.

The rabble are born anew. Creation they hark as they build; or rebuild as it were. They know nothing of the former that perished among the rubble, their blood feeding a new world, their crushed bones the foundation this ground is laid upon. They eat the bread, drink the wine; expect absolution for debauchery’s lure. They seek a second coming while I walk quietly amongst them watching as the star falls yet again on perfection.


Light and Dark
Mark Steinwachs

My skin is the battle ground for the sun in the cloudless sky and the crisp fall air. Two steps and I will be out of its rays. Sun to shade. Light to dark. “I gave them light. I gave them everything,” I say, not looking back at the seven others. “And this is how they repay me; ornate structures with false prophets inside. They twisted my words and teachings, picking out whatever scriptures they needed at that moment. I love them and they cast me aside.”

A man in a tailored suit walks out the door, “It’s time to move along, gentlemen. We can’t have you loitering while service is going on.”

“Not even an invitation into my own home,” I say as I cross into the shade. “I can pick and choose scriptures too.”

The man’s eyes go wide as wings unfurl from the seven. Fear radiates in his soul where there should have been love. I snap my fingers and his neck twists at a grotesque angle before he crumples to the ground.

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the lord.”


Sleeper
Scarlett R. Algee

She wakes to the darkness she expects, and the silence, and the gnaw of hunger deep in her belly, toothy and raw.

She strokes the rough inner surface of the sarcophagus’ lid, splintering her overgrown fingernails, before putting palms to stone. The lid moves a fraction—in the face of the hunger, her strength is always slow to stir when she wakes from the long sleep—but it moves; that’s enough to let in a peep of blue-tinged sunlight, not direct enough to harm but sufficient to keep her uncomfortably awake. No matter; in this place of sienna brick and cobalt-stained windows, she’s been deemed a saint. Of course someone will come.

The pain of the light dulls until she can almost doze again, but a noise catches her attention: low shuffling footsteps, brisk scrape of a broom on a stone floor, quivery low-pitched hum.

That human music makes her gut knot and her teeth ache, but she swallows her slaver and forces her hands to relax. The sweeping musician sounds old and slow, but the footsteps are dragging closer. The intruding sliver of sunlight is ebbing away.

She can be patient a little longer.


 

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2019

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Bridge to St. Claire

Black clouds meeting twilight. A picturesque lake reflects the sky above the bridge to St. Claire. A vintage red Corvette speeds along the bridge.  Davis has a room for the night at the Harbor View hotel. He already has a girl waiting there for him. He dips a pinky in his little silver vial of coke.

During the night ahead, he has plans for this one. Something kinky, to be sure. He has a leather case with an impressive amount of sex tools, most of them involving bondage of one sort or another. Before dawn, he would know every inch of her body as he never would know that of his bride. Madeline is much too busy spending his money and divorce is out of the question. His girls are dispensable. Madeline is not.

Davis is a CEO, a businessman. The girl — the one waiting for him in the Harbor View hotel room — had met his requirements: looked twenty something, had no ties. A gal like her could always use three figures for one night, no matter the obligatory kinks. Of course, she doesn’t get to keep the money. After the games are played out, after he’s sated, he’d sneak a little chloral hydrate in her drink of choice. Then a fast ride over the bridge and leave her stoned on a park bench in the city.

Someone appears on the road ahead. He slows to a stop. She looks familiar, but it can’t be Darla — the airhead from last month who wouldn’t stop talking. She’d babbled all the way across this bridge to the same hotel. Talk about bad choices! He should have known she’d be trouble because later, she refused his special drink. He’d slapped her hard. “Game’s over, baby. Drink it!”  She fell back, hitting her head on the edge of a table. Didn’t blink, didn’t move. Struck dumb, Davis stood there a few minutes. Finally, he’d rolled her up in a sheet and took a ride to the bridge. Dumped her over, bye-bye birdbrain.

But WTF, there’s the little bitch Darla again, waving to him by the railing. He guns the engine, roaring straight at her. The Corvette sails through her and crashes, crushing his skull into the steering wheel. A tremendous splash, as the car and its driver hit the water. Then silence as the lake accepts another victim. It begins to rain.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

Hand of Glory

Its master, a thief and would-be sorcerer, placed it on the porch, this Hand of Glory, its stump impaled onto a metal candle holder. He stared at the gruesome thing, shrivelled past the point of decay, fingers dipped in wax and said to burn with the devil’s own light.

He nodded to himself and cocked his head. “A year to this very day, since I cut you from the body of that gallows corpse. Since I made you. You’d best be worth the trouble. The books said you are made of death and magic, let’s see if it’s true.”

He struck a match and set the five wicks alight, flames shining against the night, their glow flickering through the swirling fog. Small wisps of smoke curled upward and a sweet stench hung in the air, swirling with the vapours. The scented smoke snaked towards the doors and windows of the home sliding through the cracks.

The thief smiled. “Well done. Now they’ll sleep while I steal.” He picked the door lock and crept inside to do his thievery, while the spell of the candle kept the family oblivious. In his work, the thief gave no more thought to his unholy creation.

Outside, the Hand shimmered, its magic alive with other schemes. Its smoke shifted, a second trail of perfumed fumes wafting into the night, beckoning. For tonight, on the unhallowed eve of its making, the Hand of Glory summoned someone special.

A figure stood in the fog’s shadows staring at the ghastly candle. The wind blew cold around her and the grass wilted. Fog clung to her ragged cloak and the smell of decay trailed the footsteps that led her here. The Hand of Glory called to her, unwavering and persistent.

A groan slipped from her lips and the candle flame answered with a flicker. The odour of mouldy roses mixed with the wind and the shadows deepened, shifting as if alive. The woman moved forward, her sleeve tickling the stump of her wrist where a hand had been in life. She stared at the shrivelled thing on the porch, at the preserved appendage once hers.

“He should not ‘ave done it.” Her whisper creaked from a voice unused for a year and ravaged by the hangman’s noose. Her bitter words sliced harshly through the silence. The candle burned brighter. “He should’ve left well enough alone.”

The woman sighed, bending over to pluck the Hand of Glory from its candleholder. She shoved the wicked thing against her stump, where it melded to her flesh, still burning with five flickering flames. She reached out and pushed open the door. The thief turned, saw her and gasped.

She smiled. “Hello, husband. Never thought you’d see me again, I wager. Did you betray me to the hangman just for this?” She held up the Hand of Glory, back where it belonged. “Don’t matter none, ‘cause we’ll be together again, real soon.” She stepped forward to the sound of a scream.

She smiled. Tonight she would have her revenge.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2019 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

 

Damned Words 39

 

Inner Matters
Lee Andrew Forman

The sounds of the world bring peace: crunching gravel, leaves dancing with nature, songs sung by the creations of life. Reality has other sides, some which only a vagabond can see along their journey. The pleasant are never left unappreciated. The darkest sit atop your shoulders, ever apparent in your sight.

A band of three delinquents emerge from the brush to intercept my path, smoke-filled ugliness trailing from their mouths. Their eyes immediately find me: the derelict, the tattered wanderer, the lonely victim. But their eyes only see what their minds can imagine. I sigh in response to their vile introductions.

Before they can hassle me further my front-side expands and splits down the middle. My innards expel themselves and splatter the deviants in carnage. Fluids dissolve their flesh; they scream a futile cry of agony no one will ever hear. Only when my would-be predators are mere remnants of ooze do my organs crawl back and nestle themselves where they belong, happy and well-fed.


Tracks
Charles Gramlich

“Shhhh, I’m here.”

The man shuddered, not quite sure yet what had happened to him. I rested his head in my lap, then pushed sweat-matted hair back from his face to see his terrified eyes.

“Help…me,” he begged.

I shook my head. “Sorry. This could have been avoided, but…” I gestured for him to look at himself.

He turned his head to gaze down his body. I let him scream at what the passing train had done. He tried to struggle, to thrash his arms and legs. He had no arms or legs. Shredded remnants of his severed limbs looked like piles of cooked raspberries strewn along the tracks. And, as I’d read would happen, the train’s weight had cinched the torn veins shut. He wasn’t bleeding out; he’d live a while yet. No one would find him here, though, where I’d tied him to the tracks.

“Please,” he begged again.

I shrugged and rose. “I warned you about those spam calls from your site.” Taking out my cell, I punched a number. The phone in the man’s pocket buzzed obnoxiously. “Press 2 to be placed on my do not call list,” I told him.


Family Honor
Mark Steinwachs

When I pulled the trigger years ago, I knew my turn would come. There is only one of us in the family at any time. My death is their first hit.

Blindfolded and with hands tied behind my back I shuffle along rocky ground. Whoever is behind me helps guide me. He nudges the back of my knee with his foot and I awkwardly let myself fall to my knees. He lays me flat, my face touching cold metal, then pulls the blindfold back enough for me to look down the long track. Not the same track I used of course, but the scene floods my memory. There is only one person who knows the story of my first hit. I never thought he would be the one.

“Thank you,” a male voice says, one I’ve known since he was born. “Your place of honor awaits.”

Those words, the exact ones I spoke when it was my turn, linger in my brain as I hear the click of the safety releasing.


Now You Stand and Wait
Scarlett R. Algee

They’d picked up her clothes along the track, almost too shredded to bother, and the whole time Shep had been grumbling you’re a damn fool, it ain’t the same no more; so when Shep squats by the rail and picks up a tuft of fluffy black fur, Ben hates him a little.

He clutches the ruined clothes, swats away Shep’s offered rifle, stares down the slope to the ground beneath the trestle bridge. Squints. Wonders. “She’s still my girl.”

Shep toes the claw marks along a rusted edge of rail. “You think that now.”

“She’s still Ellie. You just wait here.”

Alone, Ben treks down to the darkness under the bridge, stands at the bottom to a warning growl. He glimpses eyeshine in the black yards away. “Ellie, it’s Daddy.”

He steps closer. Another growl, deeper, but Ben can see the shape of her now, huge and magnificent, tail held out stiff. He clears his throat. “It’s gettin’ late. Your mama’s got supper waitin’.”

Ellie’s snarl is softer this time. Ben decides to take the chance. Sure, maybe he’s a fool, but she is still his girl.

Step by step, he walks into the darkness, toward the waiting wolf.


The Flattened Penny
A.F. Stewart

I can still smell the copper stench.

And hear the way the train’s wheels screeched as it rolled over the penny on the track, squashing it razor thin. I watched Denny pick up the flat coin, after it cooled down, and wave it around laughing.

I didn’t laugh.

Denny never heard the whistle of the other train, the death train. The one I had seen before, that should have been my ride. One penny to the conductor as payment, but that foul creature didn’t care much about who held the coin. Easy enough to cheat him.

Poor Denny.

That’s the smell of copper I remember. His blood.

But better him than me.


Taking the Ride
Nina D’Arcangela

The rumble loosens my gut; thrums through my body. My eyes quake in their jelly as teeth shiver saliva from plump, rouged lips. Searing heat washes over me as the screech assaults my core. I feel the shatter of my sinus cavities as the revolution of iron pressed upon iron crushes my head. Body thrashing in the wash, I Pollock the scree, feed the weeds; slick the rail for the next eager rider.


Definitely Not a God
Lydia Prime

Beneath the rocks and rails there lies a secret that our tiny town holds. We keep quiet and everything stays peaceful, that’s how it’s always been. Mama says it’s God under those tracks, says he protects us even in his sleep. I don’t think Mama knows what God is.

Late at night I sneak down to the tracks and kick the rocks as I walk past the iron ties. I can hear it, sometimes it sounds like snoring, but other times… If Mama could hear the noises I know she’d change her mind.

Just a ways ahead, the rocks shift and I sprint to see who’s there. The air smells of earth and death, my eyes settle on a gnarled looking creature hunching over in the moonlight. All six of its eyes blink then lock on me. I’ve never seen anything more gruesome, it grins and licks its crooked lips.

I turn to run but my foot snags the rusted rail. As I scramble to my feet, four more creatures step into sight. I was right Mama, definitely not a God.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2019

Damned Words 38

Below Stairs
A.F. Stewart

Upstairs the music plays, a tragic operatic aria of lament and loss. It drowns out the hiss and creak of the steam and wheels, and the crunch of bones. Oblivious laughter—from the latest guests—mingles with the song, their merry voices drifting into a preceding silence of parties long forgotten.

For the dead no longer scream.

Beneath the gaiety, the servants’ footfalls tread along the stair, from back rooms and the kitchens, down to the deepest level. There, they feed the machines stockpiled flesh. Watching the meat grind, the blood and bone pulverize into dripping globs of raw spat out into vats, waiting for dinners to come. In another corner, maids tuck away silks and jewels to sell.

Nothing to be wasted. No remains to be found.

Above it all the people circulate, eating canopies and drinking wine. The host, he smiles and makes the rounds, greeting and exchanging pleasantries. He gives them all the best of times, a fitting end before they become his next feast.


Bones
Lee Andrew Forman

Firm structure to fine dust—machines turn in unending drudge. Bleach powder, chalky, light, stirs endless with their rusted labor. Ill fated are the powers which motivate the process; knowing soon they’d become its product. Weakness feeds the goods produced, monsters purchase its favor. With delicate pouf, makeup, attire; they parade around with gratuitous chortles. Their faces worn in layers of death, they grin ever wide with flavor. For a bit of coin, their color reborn, pale as frosted glass. Those suffered the gift of an end, worth only a minute of reception, would be stripped of flesh and ground to pleasure each patron.


Every Last Damnèd Soul
Scarlett R. Algee

It’s a tricky business, distilling souls. Always have to boil the bitterness off first; it gunks up the works if you don’t, and it’s a bitch to clean out, pardon my saying. Take this lot—they’ve been stewing for three days just to get the residual resentment out. Drowners, all of them. We leave the salt water in, though; customers say it adds a little something to the finished product.

Some of the souls scream while they’re rendered. Some of them sing. I’m told it’s quite enticing. I’ve mostly learned to ignore it, myself.

Madam. Madam. What are you doing out here on the floor? No, you may not touch the machines. The experience would be damnably unpleasant for both of us, pardon my saying.

Madam, please—what’s that? Your son? You think you hear your son? You have my condolences, but that’s quite unlikely. They aren’t really identifiable now, so for your safety I must insist—madam! Madam!

Oh…not again.

Patterson? Yes, idiot, of course we stop the process! We need an extraction here! She’s the third one this month!

But save the blood. Every drop. The customers say it gives a certain ambiance. Besides, she sings prettily already, doesn’t she?


Rust
Charles Gramlich

He fled. And the wicked followed. Their boots banged like gunshots as they chased him through the abandoned factory where he’d sought refuge. Down empty corridors, they went, through shattered doors. He knew this world and lost them in a room of silent turbines. The search moved on.

The hunters hooted through the vast spaces, first in glee, then frustration. The sounds faded, but the hunters were cunning. He stepped from his hiding place only to meet a brutal blow to the back. Tricked, he went down in terror, and rolled over to find himself encircled by humans. Snarling, they hefted steel bars torn from the factory’s rusted machines.

He threw up an arm; they hammered through that defense, smashing his limbs, crushing his abdomen, sending pieces of him clanging across the floor. Within moments his body lay in a heap of torn alloy. One eye sparked and sputtered. But with his other eye and the last of his consciousness he watched as they set him afire. His vision bloomed, then blackened. A human curse was the last thing he heard.

“Robot slag! Now let’s get the rest of ‘em.”


The Machine
Mark Steinwachs

I cough as my gnarled hands run over the tarnished machine. “It’s amazing how many people don’t believe it happened. Proof that humans are fools. Wirths, Mengele, Clauberg; they would have been nothing without me. Mere footnotes.” I lead him amongst the tanks, my fingers gently caressing them. I shuffle along as best I can, years of dust getting caught in the sun coming through the windows. The tiny particles remind of …“I killed millions. Let that sink in. Millions. And here I am. I live my life hidden in plain sight, just like her.” I kiss the tank gently. “Now it’s your turn. Go back and make your country great again, and then the world. Go, my lieb enkel, my dear grandson. Finish what I started.”

“I promise,” he whispers and kisses my forehead then walks away from me.

I lay down on the cold floor. The screams of decades ago flood back. Smiling, I close my eyes for the last time. I only wish I would get to hear that sweet anguish again.


Once
Mercedes M. Yardley

He was hungry. He was always hungry, always starving, always ravenous. His face was far too sharp and his cheekbones cut against his skin in the most visceral of ways. Once he had a name and even people who called him by it, and food was a bit easier to come by. Never quite enough, surely, but not too little.

He slept in the abandoned factory, catching rats and spiders when he could. It didn’t matter if they were malformed by radiation, because so was he. He stuffed them in his mouth, piece by piece, bit by bit. If he just held on, if he just stayed alive, all of this would make sense one day. He had to believe it.


Yes, Father
Lydia Prime

After closing the door, the towheaded child turned, “Father, I’ve returned the chalice. Is there anything else you need?”

“No son. Thank you for your service today.”

As the boy turned to go, he hesitated, turned back, “Father, one of the other boys mentioned a puddle in the basement, I thought I should tell you.”

Glancing at the boy, the Father headed toward the door leading down the stairs. “Where is this puddle?” he asked, hands clasped.

“Just to the left, Father, down the hall.” The boy looked shamed, almost embarrassed as though he’d heard the rumors. Could this one be asking? It seemed unlikely, but he couldn’t help himself, he ran his tongue ever so slightly across his lips.

“The generator room?”

“Yes, Father. The generator room,” the flaccid faced boy stood still and expectant.

“After you, my child.” The youth led him into the room, the light dim as always. Confusion took hold of the robed man, there were others there…waiting. The row of young boys tensed with anticipation. “What’s going on here? Did you all find the puddle?” A nervous chuckle.

“No father, we’ve found redemption. The shame isn’t ours.” As each youth smiled, the glint of their sharpened teeth told of a different indiscretion.


Feed the Machine
Nina D’Arcangela

Bones crush; the mechanism churns, always turns. Spinning, crunching, consuming. The snap of a skull; shrapnel slices the air nicking tympanic membrane. Those that man the machine have no hearing, they are born without; the ear a remnant from long ago. Chattle of the cause, a war not ours, we breed only to feed the machine.


 

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2019

Damned Words 37

 

Fey
Charles Gramlich

Beneath an icicle sky on a wormwood day of wither, I glimpse her winged form nested in the branches of a tree. A nimbus plays around her hollowed cheeks while the wind spiders in her hair. A saber would be jealous of those desolation eyes. I am smitten.

Day after day I return to her barren temple, to confess my holy secrets, to reveal all my sacred mysteries. No one has ever listened to me the way she does—even to the words I don’t speak. No one else understands. I am besotted.

Late one evening, in a seizure of longing, I beg her to marry me. She unfolds from the tree’s branches like animated origami. Down the trunk she slithers, until she stands before me, sky-clad, shadow-feathered. I swear to be hers forever. She smiles at me with a mouth like a scream. I don’t think she’s an angel.

But neither am I.


Blood Oak
Scarlett R. Algee

There were two humans, once.

There were more, of course. Beneath my canopy I sheltered lovers, threw shadows over children at play, spread my branches for curious climbers. But one night when there was no moon, there were these two beneath me. Male, female, I could never tell. They argued, shouted, shoved. There was a noise and one fell, not rising, and leaked.

The soil around my roots caught the liquid. In it I tasted the richness of the earth: iron, copper, salt. My branches heaved and shivered, breaking out in buds and small, new red leaves. My bark cracked around sudden growth. My creeping, ponderous thoughts grew quick, and in the darkness I felt a warmth like the sun.

I crave that liquid, but no humans have approached me since. They turn away as if my soil has been cursed, as if my leaves bear some blight.

But tonight, there are two again.

They laugh, sway, stare at each other. Anticipation stirs my sap as they sit in the spread of my roots, and my rootlets twitch, reaching up for the surface.

It has been so long, and I am so hungry.


Dead
A.F. Stewart

They buried me here, under the tree. Dug a hole and shoved my body between the roots, stuffed me down like garbage and covered me with soil. I was dead, but I watched every clump of dirt they threw on my corpse. I heard their grunts, panicked whispers and jokes. I watched three boys I had known all my life bury me and prayed it was a nightmare. It wasn’t. I knew then I would make them pay.

I started with Johnny, the ringleader. His smirk was the last thing I saw before I died. The last thing he saw was the rotary blade before it sliced into his face. All it took was a good ghostly shove.

Blake and Ronnie came next, with Blake taking a tumble down some stairs thanks to me. Broke his neck. And one night Ronnie missed Dead Man’s Curve when I yanked the steering wheel nice and hard. They found his corpse in the twisted wreckage of his car two days later.

And the best thing? Those three boys are here with me by the tree for eternity. I can hear their souls screaming from my grave.


The Hunt
Roger Ley

She tried to move quickly through the winter wood but brambles tore at her clothes and legs, her bare feet sank into the wet, black mud, branches clawed down to entangle her. The excited yelping of the hounds spurred her on but the softening ground sucked at every footstep. She fought for breath and tried to muffle the sound of her gasps. Crossing a clearing, she sank calf deep, and could run no further. Looking back, she could see the dim light from the swinging lanterns of the huntsmen, soon they would release the dogs.

She raised her arms above her head in supplication and called to the sky. There was no answer, but her arms and splayed fingers began to stretch and lengthen. Her toes grew, reached into the dark wetness, and gripped the roots and rocks they found down there. She felt her limbs and body stiffen, skin ridged and cracked, thorns sprouted. Sight fading, she heard the dogs as they panted past, their masters slogging after them. Slowly sleep enfolded her, a deep sleep that would last until the spring, and bud burst on the blackthorn she had become.


Rebirth
Mark Steinwachs

The gray sky feels oddly fitting. I try to move again, any part of my body, but I fail, not even a twitch. I’m not sure what drug he injected into my veins but I’m thankful for it now. I think I yelled and begged for release. It’s hard to get a handle on reality.

“You must die to be reborn. Like this tree is born anew each year, you will flourish again,” he says from behind me.

I sense movement and feel a slight pressure against my neck. Warm water? It’s soothing and I start to get tired. My eyes close and I drift off.


When You Are Dead
Mercedes M. Yardley

When you are dead, everything is different.

You don’t cry so much, or perhaps not at all. When you speak, your words are swallowed into the ether without making a sound. When you are dead, the wind lifts you and you billow. Your feet are always at least three feet above the earth.

When you are dead, you are equal with everyone else. All spirits are stripped to their nakedness and their skins shine like stars. You are dead, simply dead, and no death is grander than any other. It does not matter if you were murdered, or slipped in the shower, or took too many pills, or there was a power surge and the machine keeping you alive malfunctioned. Your hands are empty. You don’t keep a hold of the knife or the baby blanket or the noose that hung around your neck. You let these things go.


Stifled
Lee A. Forman

All warned against it, but I could stall curiosity no longer. When I put my palm against its dry flesh the hum of life coursed through me. The air thickened. Not a bird sang in the sky, nor would one land upon the outstretched embrace of its bony fingers. Mystery took its dark form and raced my heart. Regret soaked my clothes.

I briefed understanding—something vile thrived there.

A cream-white vine rose from the soil. The slender, pulsating serpent wrapped itself around me. It squeezed with each sickening pulse of its veiny body. A warm sensation covered my groin. It tightened its hold. Others sprouted around the first and held my limbs. They brought me to the ground, pressing my back against the dirt; the soft earth gave easily. My eyes strained to witness the overcast sky one last time before darkness stifled my existence.


Vena Cava
Nina D’Arcangela

The suck and pull from below is brutal, yet he stands majestic while enduring imminent demise. The alveoli fail to deliver, the lesser bronchioles shed into the spongy gray that surrounds. A greedy bitch, she demands more; a humble supplicant, he offers all. The pulse dwindles: slower this minute than the last, more sluggish than the beat before. She grants no quarter regardless of age or stature. She will exsanguinate until pulmonary collapse, at which point the superior will no longer sustain, taking the inferior with it as a single fused husk.


Judgement
Lydia Prime

“Don’t judge me,” I scream in my drunken stupor. “You don’t know what I’ve been through!” I reach for my bottle of bourbon and start to dig again. Each place I plunge the spade, the ground resists.

“He hurt me in ways you can never know.” I slur my words as I nearly fall, stumbling from the booze and pain. Another swig and I hurl the bottle at the tree. “I left a mark on your trunk, like the marks he left on me!”

The earth below starts to shift, the dirt softening. “Now you understand.”

I finish the plot in no time, dragging his body into the hole. I look around knowing I have to retrieve the bottle before I go – it has my fingerprints on it. I find it near the base of the tree, bending to pick it up. As I do, I notice the ground is softer here, unsteady. I’ve drunk too much and am imagining the dirt moving. Shaking my head, I turn to leave and trip over a tangle of roots. I don’t remember seeing those before… then more sprout.

As I’m dragged under, I swear the tree stands satisfied and smug.

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2019

 

Damned Words 36

 

Gentle Caress
Nina D’Arcangela

Her tears fall in gentle caress; the cacophony within grows. Metal screeches and groans as rivets strain; the contortion as abnormal as the abomination itself. Haunting echoes mimic her pain; the moan of a mother forced to witness a great affront. Torn from her body: distorted, punctured, malformed. Mother’s milk tries to soothe that which can never be unwrought.


Reapers
A.F. Stewart

Rusting steel, exhaust, and the roar of engines. That is the world of ancestors left us. The screams of the hopeless and the lingering smell of blood in our noses. Tonight, I stand sentinel atop this makeshift parapet, above tribal bones bleached by time and weather. Each skeleton nailed to the metal with reverence, a sacrifice to Death and warning to would-be enemies.

I wait for the hunters to ride out. Nomads have camped at the far river, and tonight, their blood runs red into the waters. Save for two. They are young and fresh, in the turning years between child and adult. They are ours.

Seven days the boy will hang from our rack until pain becomes his mistress and he is ready to join our ranks. To serve Death. We will sacrifice the girl, her flesh flayed from her bones and her flowing blood replenishing the soil. I will cherish her screams well after Death claims her. I shall hang her skeleton from the north tower, in homage to our god. I long to hear her bones rattle in the wind.

I smile. This is who we are. This is what we have made of our world.


Gasworks
Mercedes M. Yardley

It was a busy park full of people and picnic blankets patchworked together on the hill. When it was sunny, everyone jammed themselves together like boats crowding the dock. They flew kites. They lapped up the rare sunshine. They watched their little ones playing tag with strangers.

It would be joyful, but Cora could see more than others. She could see a person’s life span, could see the vitality draining from them, could see who had fifty more years or ten more days or five more minutes. The people were bags of would-be rotting flesh, smiles peeling back in decay.

There were so many faces, so many draining hour glasses, that it was impossible to focus on just one. So much better than home where one timeline caught her attention, her stares, her focus. He was a small boy with a gap-toothed smile, one precious second running out each time he called her “Mama.”


Arrogance
Mark Steinwachs

“Let that gorgeous sky be a reminder; Mother Nature never worried about you. Your kind barely blipped on her radar. You brought the end on yourselves. Not through her destruction but through your baseness. Humans,” Michael’s voice booms, dripping with loathing. “You eroded yourselves and your punishment is at hand.”

You look up, frantically searching for an escape. Your mind goes to when God unleashed his minions and within those first few moments you knew how wrong humans were… about everything. You’ve watched angels and demons, heroes, villains, and gods from across time and continents display what it means to kill in His name.

Your attempt to survive ends in this insignificant place. The last thing you’ll see; rust-covered metal. The color of human legacy. Boots on grated stairs announce your fate. You turn. Michael, wings spread in glory, arcs his gleaming sword down.


As Yet, Disquiet
Scarlett R. Algee

For as long as we’ve lived in this valley, contending with the things under the earth that would devour us, we’ve had the Machine, and the Machine produces the Sound.

We talk about it in capitals, the Sound, though we don’t hear it; we’ve known it years, decades, longer. Only if you leave the valley will you become aware of its absence, poking into your senses the way you’d prod at the gap from a missing tooth. And when you return, you’ll actually hear it for an instant: your eardrums vibrating with the great low hum, your teeth set on edge, before the Sound slots back into your brain where it belongs. It’s everything that’s safe, this hum we’ve stopped hearing.

Or it was until fifty-seven seconds ago, when the Machine failed.

And already, we can hear something greater than the Sound: the grinding of earth in great jaws, tremoring below our feet.


Extinction
Charles Gramlich

I listen closely. Raw petroleum, pumped fresh from the ground, rumbles through the great pipe overhead. But that sound is always present. I’m in an oil refinery, after all. This is something else, a hollow, echoing throb. My mind offers a descriptor for the sound, one that makes no sense. The descriptor is…ancient.

I shake my head. It’s been a long day. Lifting the wrench I carry, I tap it hard against the pipe. Metal tings on metal, ringing like a bell in a church for sinners. I don’t expect an answer.

I get one.

The pipe booms. Rust powders down. I leap back convulsively. Metal rivets pop. A spray of yellow-black crude whips me across the face. I smell hydrocarbons, organics. Petroleum comes from once living things, like dinosaurs. Everyone knows that. But it’s all extinct now. No life could survive the pressures under which petroleum forms. No normal life.

More rivets explode. A thick stream of sludge nails me where I stand. Something that’s supposed to be dead slips taloned fingers through the breach in the pipe and begins to peel it open. Looks like extinction isn’t quite what it seems.

I hope that’s true for humanity.


Eye to Socket
Lydia Prime

The metallic taste in my mouth was nothing compared to the aroma that surrounded me. The tacky, filth covered walls offered no help in the darkness as I sloshed and fumbled.  Finally, I remembered the lighter hidden in my hip pocket; its tiny glow flickered amber. The rusted enclosure smothered my senses; russet liquid filled the chamber to mid-thigh. A loud rushing filled my ears as the fluid drained revealing small sepia mounds. I reached for one, brought it closer for inspection—breathless and alone, I stared eye to socket with my future.


All that Is
Lee A. Forman

All that is flows through bleeding steel, weathered like old bones left unburied. The drab shell holds fresh sustenance. Its purpose before, I do not know. Different stories, most untrue. I think it doesn’t matter. Only tomorrow, maybe today.

Over the heads in front I see the Waiters. They serve only the few. The many must leave their plates behind and be all that is.

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

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

 

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.


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