Ghosts of Judgement Bridge
Every October we relive the nightmare. The townsfolk march my three sisters and I to Judgment Bridge. Our hands bound behind our backs, we stand facing the fates of sinners. The angry mob chants, “Suffer the wicked!” Jabbing pitchforks force us to climb onto the rusted railing. Looking down, my sisters and I teeter over roaring river rapids. The hangman places nooses around our necks. Before he reaches Charlotte, she jumps and plunges into the rushing waters. Beside me, Gwen and Sylvie cry. We hold hands as we leap. The ropes snap our necks. We hang forever beside our parents.
Lee A. Forman
Legends spoken in elder tongues told of the barrier. The forbidden land existed beyond. Kell desired secrets, discoveries, things unknown. To touch, feel, see…he’d return a hero. They’d sing of his journey for ages. Knowledge of the world gone would be his to tell. Whatever horrors lied ahead, he’d conquer. He inched with fear over rushing water. But his legs weakened as he reached the midpoint; body thinned, skin withered. The air smelled of death. He tried to withdraw but the barrier obstructed return. A throaty howl escaped unheard, as ravenous beasts of ebon flesh appeared from behind the trees…
I place my hands on the bridge and lay down, nestling my head into the rounded gap of steel.
There’s only one of us in the family each generation and as is tradition, I don’t know who follows me. My time is over and only they choose whether to reveal themselves. I will be their first hit as my uncle was mine.
“Thank you,” says a sweet female voice, one I’ve known since she was born. “Your place of honor awaits.”
In the silent morning the click of the safety sounds as loud as the gunshot that will soon follow.
Christopher A. Liccardi
Rusted girders ached under her weight. Centuries passed since anyone ventured out on that bridge. The deepest spot was nearly the length across to the other side; the free side.
She struggled, just a few hundred feet from where she could be safe from all the torment and ridicule. It wouldn’t be long before she could get away from the prying eyes always staring, the disdain she’d had to endure for years.
As she reached that spot, the one you couldn’t see from the deck, she dropped his mostly dead body in without so much as a single glance down.
Veronica Magenta Nero
Each time I cross cold shivers overcome me. Here you leapt into the brown waters below, your body never found. With toes curling the edge I imagine the impact, the smack against the rippling surface, hard and sharp like plunging into glass. Water is a cruel and hungry force, capable of painfully wringing the very last gasp of air from tired lungs. I strain my ears against the rush and gurgle of the river, listening, waiting, sometimes your voice rises like a dark bubble from the muddy depths. It breaks before I can make out what you want to say.
Where will you go, Josie May?
John Potts Jr
Back in ’63 the widow Josie May lost her two boys to napalm. Her grief was persistent, heavy. One evening Josie plunged head-first to the shallow creek below Mason Bridge. She suffered a death worse than her sons and the locals coined that spot Widow’s Sorrow ever since.
Those who shared Josie’s pain found a similar fate; some took the dive, some didn’t. But the town never mentioned that when they shut the bridge down for good. Old Josie though, she’s clinging on, and the kids nowadays say Widow’s Sorrow isn’t half as scary as it was made to be.
Just Cut Deep
You’re holding that razor, comforting and warm. Everything will be better on the other side. Trust me. The pain and anguish you feel now will be but a memory. Don’t you see? Your life’s journey has brought you here. All that is left now is to cross over, the final hurdle represented by this bridge. There is but a simple toll. Just cut deep. That’s all you have to do. Don’t be alarmed by what’s on the other side. It will look bleak only if you want it to. There’s much more so embrace the razor’s cold bite and cross…
Joseph A. Pinto
From beneath the bridge, I hear the breaths; a horrid rasping, laden with congestion and rage. Warned I was not to cross this way for what awaits, the rumors told, was of no natural origin. The sun slowly withdraws from the land as the breaths rise and fall, everywhere and nowhere at once.
Turtle-like, my head withdraws deep into the hollow of my overcoat, bones rattling within my shell. I should have taken heed, but like all else in my life, it is too late.
Yes, I hear the breaths from a beast awakened, rising and falling with my own.
The deputy stared at the human-shaped soot stain indelibly smeared into the surface of the rusted bridge. Nearby lay a ratty wallet. “Another one, Clem?”
The sheriff snorted. “Of course, Willie. Full moon last night. Another fool got an eternal ticket on our Ghost Train. It’s a spectral menace. Even ripping up the tracks in ’56 didn’t help.” He bent and examined the wallet. “Shit. It’s Darren’s. You’d think he’d know better.”
“Poor Darren.” Willie shook his head, but inwardly smiled.
He got what he deserved. Best sound in the world listening to him scream over that phantom train whistle.
Mother’s milk spills upon all. The transformation– beautiful; horrifically brutal. As she nourishes, she destroys. Silvering, drying, cupping with the wick of her dew. Molecular bonds shift as she bathes all with rage and gentle tears from above. She corrodes, taints; amends. The surface awash in pained agony transforms to a visage her eye finds most appealing. Underneath, sweet symphony of destruction plays to a finely tuned ear. Warping, twisting, undulating; becoming. Corrosion, chaos, lack of conformity brings justice to the wracked and malformed. Her torrent soothes the hardest with passage of time; her gentle stroke cripples that unnaturally wrought.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.
The abomination stirred in its crypt as Mortimer chanted the words he’d learned as a child. It was the only thing his mother had given him before she died. She had a son through some form of sorcery or witchcraft. Mortimer had no father because of it. He hated her for that.
The beast lumbered forward on stalks nearly twenty feet high. Its knuckles were jointed backward and it moved like a bat. The body of his new servant was as short as a halfling dangling like a teat between its legs.
“You serve the one with the chain, do you not?” Mortimer asked quietly. He was terrified of what he’d just awoken and tried to keep it from his voice. The magic was never his focus, never his passion. That was what his mother loved more than anything else in the world.
“FFEEARR!” it shrieked. The sound echoed off the vaulted ceilings.
“You serve the one with the chain, do you not?” He boomed back at the beast. His fingers lay around his mother’s gold chain about his neck. It was hers before she died and it brought this thing to life. He was ready to rip it off and kill this creature if it tried to kill him.
“I ssserveee,” it chittered back.
The thing walked into the light coming from the demon hole in the ceiling. It wanted to be seen, to be felt. It craved the pale glow from above.
Mortimer hadn’t seen it fully until now. The body resembled something almost human with its deformed legs and two muscled little arms. The left limb rotted off over time; shreds of sinew and bone stuck out like a decayed corpse. The right was whole and the little hand gripped a knife made of bone and rotted flesh. Mortimer couldn’t see the face. He thanked the devil himself for at least that small mercy.
“I bid you kill those who oppose me,” Mortimer commanded the creature. The words hung there for a long moment, unanswered. He was about to ask again when the thing lowered itself to the floor. Its legs folded at the knuckles and the little body came to rest on its stunted legs. It began to waddle toward him.
Mortimer’s grip on the chain tightened the slightest bit and the demon stopped.
“Kiiiillllll,” it hissed.
Mortimer could see the melted flesh on its face and body. It was an ancient horror. Its one eye socket was filled with a stinking putrescence of fetid liquid that dripped to the stone floor.
Mortimer watched the hand that held a knife, waiting to see if the demon would attack him. He was scared, but not enough.
The demon’s stench made him gag and he stepped back, trying to find some cleaner air. “Feeedddd!” the thing said in a winging insectile voice and Mortimer stepped back again.
The demon thing waddled closer to him, slowly. Its head lowered. Mortimer knew the terror it inflicted on the living and he smiled at the thought of his victim’s impending demise.
“I have marked those who need to be killed. You can find them if you look. Do you understand?” he asked. The demon lifted its head and stared directly at him.
“Feeeddd,” it said again. It opened its maw revealing three fangs inside a rotting skull. Mortimer could smell its breath and the urge to vomit grew. His gorge climbed in his throat, but he forced himself to choke it back. He would not add to the reek of this place.
“You will feed, demon. You will hunt,” Mortimer said. The demon looked about, swiveling its head from side to side, scenting the air around it. How could it find prey with its own rotting flesh smell pervading everything around it?
“Go and hunt for those who stand in my way and return once you’ve had your fill,” he said. He wanted to turn and walk away but he didn’t think it wise to give this monstrosity such an easy target to start with.
“Dieeeee…” the demon hissed back.
The thing lifted itself back to its full height and waited for a moment, scenting the air again. Mortimer’s hand relaxed from the chain just a bit. He stepped back again, giving the demon space enough to leap away and begin its hunt. He wanted to see it fly off, to be rid of this thing. He had already picked the window he would look out from and listen to the sounds of the creature feeding on its victims.
The beast let out a shriek and began to amble toward him. It lurched forward, leaning its little body into the stride. Mortimer clasped his hands over his ears at the sound, releasing his mother’s chain.
It sprung, landing directly over top of him, and the knife slashed outward in a fury. The first cut took the top of Mortimer’s head off at the scalp, leaving his skull exposed to the moonlight. He began to scream, tasting the blood flowing down his face. The beast returned his scream with another shriek and knocked him onto his back.
The stalk-like legs twisted and its talons drove through his shoulders, pinning him in place. The creature lowered itself once again to the ground and stood on top of Mortimer’s heaving chest. Gouts of blood poured from his skull as the beast settled.
The demon raised the knife again and slashed Mortimer’s throat. It opened veins on both sides of his neck and the screaming stopped. The demon let its rotten tongue lap at the blood welling up in the slit it made. Mortimer’s revulsion hit him again in a wave as he watched the demon lift the knife again and slide the blade under the chain. He tried to move his arms but nothing happened.
The creature lowered itself to a kneeling position, its face dangling inches above Mortimer’s.
“Miineeeee…” it said softly and slashed Mortimer’s head from his body. The gold chain slid down the stump of neck into the pool of blood. The beast dropped the knife and let its little fingers caress the fine gold chain before picking it up.
The demon released Mortimer’s arms, kicking itself free. His body twitched a few times and then stopped. The last of his blood pumped onto the moonlit circle as the creature walked back to the crypt it came from. Tracks of red traced its path back across the cold stone as it righted itself into its resting place and turned to face the light. The mouth in the center of the wrecked face opened and it swallowed the chain. It stuck on one jagged bone tooth for a second, then slipped into the demon’s gut.
“Peaaceee…” it whispered into the tomb.
∼ Christopher A. Liccardi
© Copyright 2017 Christopher A. Liccardi All Rights Reserved.
An ink stained night and a canopy of silver stars welcomed the rumble and clank of trucks and the smoking smell of diesel engines. Headlights slithered through the darkness as the line of ramshackle vehicles lumbered onto the fairgrounds and split the silence with belching exhaust fumes and the whine of old gears.
From the shadows I watched, under an old oak tree. My favourite type of tree. It’s a bit like me, a constant in a strange and evolving world. Much like this parade of carnival trucks. Old souls in a world passing them over.
Remnants clinging to hope against death and obscurity.
Perhaps that’s why I come, why I seek out these bits of forgotten eras. Nostalgic indulgence. So much of this world is loud and frantic, full of stress and panic. While I enjoyed those whispers of fear, sometimes I needed quiet reflection. Time to savour the memories, and contemplate my future.
Movement caught my attention, and dispersed my musing. I inhaled the pungent smell of animals and listened to the chatter as the carnies raised their tents and bolted the amusement booths together. I relished the clanging music of the hammers and the hoarse shouts, waiting for it all to blossom into a garish, colour-filled extravaganza. A wonder, this overnight eruption of nomadic fair, this constructed arena of entertainment. Perhaps a bit faded around the edges, or tattered by too many days on the road, but still such a treat.
I love their camaraderie and tradition. So human. So unmindful of the darkness.
I lifted my hand and let the starlight play against the skin. Fingers trembled slightly, a warning. A battering heartbeat fluttered, thumping erratically inside this chest. I sighed. My time was nearly done with this one. Regret mingled with anticipation. A new life about to begin, built on the death of the old one. I’ve worn many guises over my lifetime, been many people. Male, female, child, elderly.
A shame the hosts don’t last longer. Still, we had a good run, he and I.
I let the memory of our first encounter play out in his mind. Two towns west of here, at a harvest fair. The moonlight bathed the amusement rides the night before and the sun rose on a beautiful fall day. I wore a younger skin then; a restless, awkward teenager that accepted his fate too easily.
I never fit that host. I prefer them with more fight.
Perhaps that caused the difficult time in choosing that year; it took me hours to find a new skin. Searching among the rides and games, lingering, appraising, breathing in the smell of cotton candy and funnel cake. A fruitless hunt until I ventured past the noise and wandered near the edge of the carnival grounds. I knew the moment I spied him, he was the one.
Blond, blue-eyed, rugged. A perfect specimen enjoying a smoke behind a tree.
I left my failing host in a surge of black fire and passion, strangely heedless of chance observation. I swarmed him, possessed him, and the touch of his skin sang of salt and sweat. His soul rose to meet my attack in an agony of desperation as I burned through his defenses, but he fell to me as they all do. My invasion pierced through his thoughts and memories, shredded his control, and bound his mind and spirit into my will. He was a cornucopia of terror and defiance, and I feasted on those emotions.
Oh, how I feasted.
He fought until the end, until I boxed him safe and sound, making each moment I destroyed who he was a savoured delicacy. I hadn’t taken a host with such enjoyment in decades, and his agony, fear, and misery kept me gratifyingly fed this past year. I relished living his life, corrupting all he cherished. Listening to him scream from the prison I made for him inside his own body. Feeling his despair as death crept closer with each passing day.
He was special. I’ll miss this face.
I smiled at the memories, dark excitement rising through his borrowed blood. He served me well, my stimulating skin; a flawless mask to hide behind. An ideal life to steal. Yet, I can feel him dissolving, his flesh decaying. He is dying.
Yes, time to move on. Maybe a woman this year…
~ A. F. Stewart
© Copyright 2017 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.
“Trust in me and I will guide you. I will heal you.”
I feel the words spoken but no one is in the room. Sighing, I put my backpack on the table and walk into the kitchen. Opening the fridge, I groan, marveling at the lack of food. I grab one of the cheap beers, the only kind I can afford, and twist off the top, taking a swig.
“Give yourself to me and I will make it better. I will take the hurt from you.”
The words are a breath in my ear. I stopped looking for the being behind the voice long ago.
My movements are automatic. Grab the small pot from the stove, shake out two packets of ramen noodles, down the first beer as they cook, then crack open the second one while eating the sodium-laced soup straight from the pot.
I finish my dinner in the same place I started it then rinse the pot and fork, setting them back on the stove, ready for tomorrow night. The second beer comes with me to the bedroom. It’s a matter of ten steps between the two rooms.
“I am here. I will take the pain you feel.”
There is nothing to pull my attention away from the voice because I have nothing left. The things I used to own? All sold to try and get by. The cheap build-it-yourself dresser wobbles as I set the beer atop it next to the stack of unpaid bills.
Undressing, I toss my clothes on the pile in the corner. I need to do laundry but there isn’t enough money. I walk into the bathroom and turn the shower on, stepping in after steam curls out from behind the curtain. At least I still have hot water to shower with.
The water stings my skin as it cascades over me. Reaching back, I crank the heat up further. My skin reddens and it stands out more where is it stretched taut from the burns. As I close my eyes, the vision comes back, like it always does. The mortar shells raining down around us, trying to avoid something unavoidable until it happens, a sound like the earth itself opening, then nothing but ringing as chaos ensues.
They said it wasn’t my fault but they didn’t live it. They can’t understand it. They didn’t watch their friends burn, trapped inside an overturned Humvee.
“So many have come before you. I await. Accept my invitation and I will make it better.”
The voice has been there since shortly after I got out of the hospital and back home. It happened the day I returned to my church. There was a hero’s welcome, but I didn’t deserve it. I let my friends down. They got a different hero’s welcome when they got home, and I couldn’t be there for any of them. I’ve done my best to make peace though. Maybe one day I’ll find out if I’ve been forgiven.
That night the voice spoke to me, I freaked out and couldn’t sleep for three days afterward. It didn’t happen much in the beginning—once or twice a week—but it’s become more frequent. It happens at least ten times a day now, it feels like. But I don’t count.
Opening my eyes, I shut the water off and dry myself, then close the bathroom door. I leave the light on; I need a little bit to help me fall asleep—that, plus a few pills. I grab my beer and shuffle to bed, picking up the orange bottle from the floor. I open it and tip three into my hand, gulping them with a shot of beer. My fingers fumble the lid closed and I finish the last dregs of my drink.
I lie down and reach to the floor, picking up the paper I know is there, a poem given to me by our church’s pastor: ‘Footprints.’ He told me that it was written for millions of people before they knew they needed it and that, one day, I would truly accept and understand the words. Only then would my life would be better.
I read the poem as I’ve done every night since I got it, the paper worn and ragged in my hands. I finish and gently set it on the floor, then flip the switch on my lamp. Only a sliver of light streams from the bathroom.
Before I shut my eyes, the voice is there one last time. “Accept me and you will be free. I am your savior.”
I drift as the pills take hold. “Maybe you are,” I mumble. “Maybe you are.”
I dream of those moments, but for the first time it really is a dream, not a nightmare. Their eyes tell me everything. It’s time.
My heart is hammering in my chest when I wake. I know what I must do. I roll out of bed onto my knees. The voice is there immediately. “I am your savior. Accept me and I will guide you from this pain.”
“Yes, yes. Please, yes. You are my savior, I accept.” Answering out loud to the voice only I can hear.
My body shivers as I feel movement behind me. I start to turn but it’s too late. Slender hands grip my head.
“Welcome home,” the all-too-familiar voice whispers. A skeletal finger touches each temple and a searing heat rips through me.
I burn inside the Humvee, my skin sloughing off until there is nothing left… and then the moments repeat. For the rest of eternity, my men will watch me.
It is hell, but it is my hell.
And I am saved.
© Copyright 2017 Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.
The moon stares down at my brittle frame with judgement. A curse suckles upon my flesh, a reflection of the mirrored world I was cast into by no choice of my own. I only follow the deeds of my other half—a witness, a bystander. The exhibitionist shows me her will while forcing my eyes to see. I am no more than myself, and that which binds my flesh together. It isn’t a madness. Else I’d writhe in bed, the horrors in my mind to torture me at their discretion. I’m but a shell, the exosuit of the power which earns the rewards of my actions.
She speaks my name, which is her own. The condescending nature of her tone forbids argument. I’m but a slave with no outer master—the plaything of my own wicked mind.
Grace… Walk dutifully into the night and the blood will flow…
My legs carry an unwilling frame. Decision has never been an option—free will, only a dream which never comes true.
“Why, Grace? Why?” I ask.
Just do as I say. You know there isn’t any other way.
My lips curl into a frown of disdain.
Don’t be so spiteful. If it weren’t for me, you’d be nothing.
“I’d be me.”
You’re already you. But you’re also me.
That’s the problem, always has been. Ever since Mother and Father took their place in eternity, I’ve been nothing more than the hand of another entity. I’ve imagined ways to purge its vile existence, but none that wouldn’t take me with it.
You shouldn’t think such thoughts, Grace. Remember what happened last time?
“How could I forget?” I look down at the scars on my wrists.
I’m glad we have an understanding.
“I wouldn’t call it an understanding. More of a forced arrangement.”
Just keep walking.
She says it as if I have a choice.
“You’re going to hurt him, aren’t you?”
What do you think?
“I don’t know why I bother asking.”
I stare forward, eyes blank and disconnected from reality. The man I plan to meet, so nice, so innocent, undeserving of what awaits him. I don’t want to take his life—nothing disgusts me more. But it’s out of my control. His blood will be spilled and consumed, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
I see him on the corner down the street, both hands in his pockets, foot tapping the sidewalk. His stance gives away his anxiety, his shy nature. I pity his innocence while simultaneously adoring it.
“Always praying on the weak, Grace.”
Their blood tastes better.
“Can’t we just leave him be? Can’t we just find someone else?”
No. I’m starving.
I sigh as his eyes light up and an awkward smile brightens his face. Such a handsome man…
“Hi Grace,” he says. “Nice to meet you again. I know it’s only our second date but I got you these.” He reaches behind his jacket and brings out a bouquet of carnations.
If I could cry, tears would fall from my eyes. But the Grace inside me dried up any show of emotion long ago. “Thank you. They’re wonderful.”
“So what would you like to do?” he asks. “Dinner? A movie?”
“I thought we’d take a walk in the park.”
“After dark? Isn’t that a bit risky?”
“No, it’ll be okay. I do it all the time.”
His face reddens and he scratches the back of his neck. “Okay, let’s go.”
As we walk down a lonely path he reaches out to hold my hand. I allow him. Might as well enjoy the brief moments my dreams speak of each night, if only to experience a few seconds of intimate joy I’ll never fully know.
I look into his eyes, see a warm glow. There’s a connection, a communication without words, a palpable tether which might have bound us as one… But I am not whole.
My head splits down the middle with a crack of bone and tearing of flesh. Tentacles of bloody carnage stretch and reach out from the opening, forming bone-like blades at their ends. A multitude of eyes open on each tendril of the beast within my head; they stare at the man’s petrified expression with nihilistic calm. The sharp ends slice through his flesh and I watch, unable to control them, forced to witness the terrible feeding of my other half. Once his head falls to the ground, they drive into the stump of his neck and gorge on his blood.
Once Grace has her fill, she returns to her inner-sanctum, the place where my mind once rested in solitude. But ever since she took Mother and Father, and burrowed deep inside me, I’ve never been alone…
∼Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2017 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
Earl was two hours into his shift and already pissed off.
It was bad enough that management stuck him out at the East Gate Security Checkpoint but they also put him with the new guy, Geoff. Not only that but his guts rumbled too, threatening to spill out his hind quarters at any moment.
No one really used the East Gate anymore as it had been turned into an exit-only checkpoint. The road was poorly maintained with crumbling asphalt and the gate itself was rusted chain link. Their guard shack was roughly the size of a large recreational vehicle and sat just off the road surrounded by weeds.
Inside was a large desk with two computer monitors, each of them linked to a CCTV camera. Fluorescent lights hummed above, giving the trailer a slight hint of green making Earl think of a hospital. There was a single phone hooked to the wall and even it had seen better days. In Earl’s view, the only good thing about the shack was the air conditioning.
“I’m going to have a smoke,” Earl grunted.
He stepped outside and a lit a cigarette.
It was a humid evening, evident from the sweat already running down his back. The sky was streaked with crimson as the sun slowly dropped toward the horizon. He glanced up at the lone street light standing next to the shack and watched as the moths were drawn to its glow.
A mosquito buzzed by Earl’s ear and he swatted aimlessly at it. Nearing fifty with a gut starting to hang over his belt, Earl had been with Dragon Security for almost fifteen of those years.
Despite that experience, they decide to screw me and stuck me the East Gate.
“No,” Earl said, sighing heavily. “You got yourself stuck here.”
The door opened behind him.
“Did you say something, Earl?” Geoff asked.
Earl shook his head and waved the new guy away.
He didn’t dislike Geoff as a person, but rather disliked him for reminding Earl of what he once was: young, in shape and working the job solely to pay his way through school.
Not earning a living off a security guard’s shitty wages.
The air conditioning felt great, although it also gave him the chills thanks to his sweat. He sat down on one of the hard plastic chairs and looked at the grainy black and white images on the monitors.
“What do you think they do up there?” Geoff asked, sitting down next to him.
“Up where?” Earl asked.
“At the Institute.”
Earl glared at him and said, “It doesn’t fucking matter what they do up there. The less you ask, the better.”
Geoff blinked, not expecting Earl to snap.
Earl sighed. “Look, I’m not trying to be a dick. I made the mistake of asking a similar question and now I’m getting punished.”
Geoff opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it and turned back to the monitors.
About a week ago when Earl was still in Dragon Security’s good graces, he was working at the Main Entrance. He had gotten to know some of the people who actually worked inside the McFarlane Institute, one of whom was Dr. Richards. They shot the shit daily until Earl made the mistake of asking what they were doing up there.
A harmless question.
Dr. Richards didn’t speak to him after that and shortly thereafter he got assigned to the East Gate. It still pissed him off thinking back to it.
The ground shuddered, followed immediately by a deep, heart pounding thud.
The lights flickered twice before going out, along with the monitors and air conditioner.
They had lost power.
“What the hell was that?” Geoff asked as he jumped to his feet, knocking the chair over in the process.
“Relax,” Earl replied. “Just give it a sec. Sometimes there are power bumps.”
While it was true, Earl had never experienced a power bump like that before. He looked out the window toward the institute and saw that the lights were still on.
Why hadn’t they gone out?
The power returned and everything went back to normal.
“You see,” Earl said, rubbing at his stomach. “There’s nothing to it. If you’re here long enough you’ll get used to them.”
“I won’t lie,” Geoff said picking his chair off of the floor. “It gave me a start.”
Earl’s guts rumbled again and he knew better than to tempt fate.
“I’m going to take a shit,” Earl said making his way toward the bathroom. “Are you okay out here?”
“I should be,” Geoff nodded.
“You remember what to do if a car comes?”
“Check their documents of entitlement and identification. If everything looks good let them out.”
As he reached the bathroom, Earl turned around and said, “If you have any issues let me know.”
Earl shut the door, dropped his pants and closed his eyes as he sat down on the toilet, enjoying the relief it brought. For some reason, the trailer’s designer felt it necessary to put in a small window in the bathroom. It was the size of the Kleenex box and up high so they left it alone, usually leaving it open to air out the shitter.
As much as he wanted to believe that it had just been a power bump, Earl couldn’t shake the feeling that it was something else. Every other power bump had knocked out the exterior lights to the McFarlane Institute.
This time it hadn’t.
“Hey Earl,” Geoff called through the door. “There’s a car coming.”
“So handle it!” Earl yelled back.
He heard Geoff open the shack door and step outside. As Earl went ahead with his business, he listened as Geoff’s voice carried in through the open window.
“Good evening,” Geoff said.
There was a pause and then a voice said, “Good… evening… it… is…” Earl recognized the voice as Dr. Richards’. Why did he sound weird?
“I need to see your ID and document of entitlement.” There was the sound of movement, then shuffling of paper. “It’ll just be a quick second while I validate these.”
“Going… home… for… night…”
“What was that?” Geoff asked.
“Going… home… for… night…”
“Quitting time is always a good feeling.”
The phone began ringing out by the desk.
“Fuck sakes,” Earl muttered.
After a quick wipe he walked toward the desk, stealing a glance outside at Dr. Richards’ car. Geoff was handing his paperwork back through the passenger side window. Earl saw the good doctor and stopped, as there was something off about him.
His motions were jerky and delayed as if he were reacting. It reminded Earl of the old ventriloquist puppets when their heads would turn followed by their eyes. That combined with his bizarre speech pattern rubbed Earl the wrong way but he couldn’t figure out why.
The phone continued to ring.
Earl heard the familiar buzzing indicating that the gate was opening and saw Geoff with his hand on the control switch. The gate was almost completely open when Earl picked up the receiver.
“East Gate, Earl speaking.”
The gate creaked to a stop.
“This is McNeil!”
Geoff waved Dr. Richards’s car through.
“Don’t let anyone through the gate! We’ve had a breach! I repeat, we’ve had a breach!”
Earl dropped the receiver and bolted outside just as Geoff hit the switch to close the gate. Dr. Richards’ car was already outside the gate, a few meters beyond the fence where it had stopped.
“That guy sure seemed fucked up,” Geoff said, then looked at Earl. “Hey, who was that on the phone?”
Dr. Richards began convulsing uncontrollably.
“It was McNeil from the institute,” Earl began. “He said there’d been a breach.” His voice trailed off.
Dr. Richards rose from his seat and hung out the passenger side window by what looked like a cross between a snake and tentacle.
“Uh… Earl,” Geoff whispered. “What the hell is that?”
Earl said nothing as a larger shape materialized from the backseat and slithered through the window.
The creature had what looked like five appendages, including the one holding the good doctor. Its moist body glistened in the light of the street lamp now that the sun dropped completely below the horizon. It emitted a sound similar to that of someone smacking their tongue against their lips.
Dropping Dr. Richards’ body onto the ground, it disappeared into the encroaching darkness.
“My God…” Geoff muttered. “Earl… did it… did it use his body like… like…”
“Like a puppet,” Earl managed to say.
© Copyright 2017 John Olson. All Rights Reserved.
“It starts with your first cry,” the white-haired gentleman sitting next to me says. “Moments after you are born your demon is as well, a microscopic creature that grows as you do.” He takes a sip from the tumbler of whiskey he got moments ago and sucks in a breath from the burn.
“Melvin, honey, stop scaring the nice young man,” Barb—I think the bartender said her name was Barb—says from the other end of the bar while cleaning glasses.
I look up from my rum and Coke, realizing the two of them are talking about me. “I’m sorry,” I say, looking around the cramped room again. There are two tables with people who look lost in their own worlds. I’m out of place here, a new person trespassing on the regulars’ sanctuary. “Were you talking to me?”
“Sometimes the truth is scary, Barbara, you know that.” Melvin points a crooked finger at her while still holding his drink. He winces after taking another sip. “He knows it, too. Look at him. You know what his world is.” He’s still facing straight ahead, watching me through the mirror that is the wall behind the bar. “The doctors haven’t helped you, have they, son?”
I shift in my seat, glancing sideways at him. For a moment I let the question sit. Demon, I hear Melvin’s voice in my head. I decide to play along. “No they can’t. They say there’s nothing wrong with me. Not physically, at least.”
Melvin lets out a sharp laugh that turns into a cough. “Physically wrong? Oh, no, I can tell that just by looking at you. You’re what, twenty-five, maybe six? I bet you haven’t been physically sick in years. We both know I’m not talking about that kind of doctor.”
“Melvin!” Barb says. “You stop that right now. Leave that poor boy alone. You’ll run off my new customer.”
He doesn’t move his body but tilts his eyes up to Barb and then returns his gaze to me, waiting. No one reacts to the scene playing out between us.
“You mean psychiatrists? Yeah, I’ve seen my fair share,” I say. “They send me back to a regular doctor, who then sends me to a different psychiatrist. But I gave up on that a while ago.”
He takes a long swig of his drink, finishes it, and swivels his stool to face me. Barb comes over and refills the glass. Melvin brings up his right hand between our chests, palm facing me with his fingers spread. He’s looking at me with his head cocked, like he’s searching for something. “You feel him, son. I know you do. You’ve felt him for years, inside you. He’s become more of you than you are yourself.”
My stomach churns and I put my hand on the edge of the bar to steady myself. Pain isn’t the right word. It’s not painful. It’s anguish. Emptiness. Working from my stomach out in all directions. Pushing through my veins, invading me.
“You’ve seen him,” Melvin says. “Behind your eyes when you look in the mirror. You aren’t crazy, son. You just weren’t meant for this world.”
I grip the edge of the bar. It’s there. I saw it the other night, behind my eyes, a creature made of black ink. A drip fell from it and a burning ache seeped through my body. I had felt that thousands of times and now I finally knew what it was.
Melvin leans in and points his finger at my heart, almost touching my chest. “He’s never been there. You’ve fought him off. No one knows what you’ve gone through. The internal battles you fight every day.”
He’s right. Every word. The old man saw me for who I am. My eyes fill with tears. My body feels heavy. I’m tired, so tired, from fighting, holding the thing at bay as it inches closer.
“There’s much more to this physical world than we know. They are waiting to be learned if you truly open yourself to them. Just because society says something is weak and cowardly doesn’t mean it’s true. Maybe they just don’t understand.”
“I… I… It doesn’t hurt but it never goes away. Everything I do.”
“I know, son,” Melvin says in a quiet voice. “It’s okay. I promise.” His finger touches my chest and the sensation plunges into my heart.
In one moment, years of defenses topple down. My body. My mind. My soul. Exquisite peace.
“Thank you.” I stand up and walk out of the bar.
A minute later the sound of a single gunshot from the alley fills the bar. Barb says to Melvin while washing a glass, “Don’t you dare tell me he’s in a better place.”
“He isn’t,” Melvin says. “But he’s in a place where he can fight. Where he can win, if he is strong enough.”
“I hope so.” Melvin winces as another sip of whiskey sears his throat.
∼ Mark Steinwachs
© Copyright 2017 Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.
Your grave is unmarked to all eyes but mine. The cobbled path is cool, almost sharp and so familiar against my bare feet, a track I am compelled to tread over and over. Harsh stones become damp grass becomes soft dirt the further from the house I walk, into the woods where the tension falls from my body and my gaze lifts, no longer fearful of being condemned.
The world has become my silent jury. When I must go into town, I walk with my head down to avoid the pity and suspicion on faces that watch me pass. The verdict is plain on tight silent lips, and hanging in the air around me—guilty. Let them have their gossip, their macabre fantasies, they will never know the truth of what took place.
The house we once shared is a vast empty space abandoned of meaning. I have packed away all sign of you. I scrub the house clean everyday, the windows sparkle, the floorboards gleam, but still sorrow hangs in the corners like cobwebs. I linger listlessly, roaming from room to room. At times your soft voice can be heard within the walls and I press my palms flat against them, trying to reach through. You sing the tune we often sung together as we sat on the swing in the garden, rocking slowly in afternoon sunshine.
I can no longer sleep, I feel ashamed of the warmth and comfort of my bed while your body lays cold and wet. The swing creaks throughout the night in the breeze, a grating squeak inside my skull. When I glance out the window I hope to see you there, your thin legs swinging up towards the night sky, but that never happens. The swing is as empty as all the other places you used to be.
All night I think of where you are hidden. If I dream it is of digging in ripe soil with a never ceasing rhythm, deep down into the bowels of the earth. Each cold morning, with only hot coffee to ease my clenching stomach, I set out to visit you. I am drawn to your body, searching for a place to belong.
In the forest all death is fair and equal, not divided into right and wrong. In the forest I am not a criminal or a monster.
It was not your life I took away but your pain. I snuffed it out, the malignant burning that was consuming you and turning your insides to ash. No struggle, no resistance, just a moment of tension then nothing, just your blue eyes wide, frightened, drawing you from the lull of disease for one last moment of stark awareness, and then falling back in to that nameless pit as your breath came to a halt.
The pine trees are tall and triangular, long low branches sway and close behind me as I pass, pulling me into thickening shadows. They emit a sharp, clean scent, which gels with the moist decay of the forest floor. The strong trunks are rippled grey bark but in some places amber resin has seeped into stagnant lumps, protecting a wound, fighting an infection that eats at the marrow of the tree. When I touch it the resin gives a little, and I remember your skin, newly dead, growing stiff, the dent of my fingertips remaining after I had pulled my hand away.
I keep walking, checking off the signs that mark the way to you—a tree stump, a large smooth stone, the rotting trunk I climb over. No one else can see the path; it is ours alone.
Far from the trail, in the rich brown dirt, within a large crevice in moss covered rocks, safe from scavenging paws and whiskers, and prying, unworthy eyes, lies my shrine and your tomb. I was reluctant to leave any personal sign of you, no photo or name engraved, no flowers to mark the spot; but in a deep crack in the stones I have tucked away the necklace you always wore, a string of colorful plastic hearts and flowers.
Gently I raise you piece by piece. I stroke your small fingers that once laced my own with pure trust; they are disjointed, white fragments. Your ribs curl out of the earth, a tiny cage not strong enough to hold a beating heart. I choke back inhuman sounds, a whimper, a growl. Your skull I cradle in my palm, precious and delicate as a bubble, the bone fine and translucent, eye sockets too big, too empty. And the curve of your sacrum quivers in my hands like a rare gem. Your remains still hum as if there is something you left unsaid and they are longing for words again. Thick tears squeeze from my eyes, hot and painful; I fear I am crying blood. For a while I nurse your pieces then I must reassemble you like a doll-shaped puzzle in the small pit, reassemble you like a precious and mysterious relic that holds a history yet to be understood. I sweep the earth over again, fill the hole and pat it flat.
Not long after I walk away the buckled growl in my throat escapes and explodes as a roar. The forest swallows my grief as readily as it swallows your bones, reducing us both to dust.
∼Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2017 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
It crept up his neck, colder than the cold.
He knew he should’ve done it sooner—take the Christmas lights down—but he wasn’t one for strenuous labor, especially not in the teeth of winter. He realized the first weekend after the holidays would’ve been a perfect time, but he opted for the couch instead; relaxation, beer, movies on Netflix. But the subsequent weekends bled one into the next; unpacking, painting, the arranging of furniture. Simply no extra time existed during the week, his wife and he being the professional couple they were. They never regretted their move from city to sleepy hamlet. They just didn’t anticipate the zeal with which their town celebrated the holidays.
Deep into winter, and still all lights remained aglow. Every block, every house, either framed in bulbs of classic steady white or pulsing in rhythmic green, blue, red. Residences blazing all at once to life, LED brilliance timed to explode just before the sun bid all farewell. Of course, they hadn’t noticed this, not at first, not since they had moved into their quaint Colonial home a mere week before Christmas.
They were as guilty as the rest of town. Or so he thought. He blamed it on the snow. A storm dumped nearly two feet right after the new year, surely no condition to take lights down from the awnings or trees. The cold never relented; the snow stretched, a seamless glacier across lawns. He lacked the patience, the energy, to dig bulbs out from the mini tundra. So like all the others, their house glowed.
He trudged across the front of his property, top surface of frozen snow cracking beneath his boots. There again he felt that creeping sensation, teasing the exposed flesh below his knit hat. He turned, caught a man next door watching him. Standing outside atop the stoop, no coat, no shoes, no hat, nothing to protect him from the gusting northeast wind; just standing, watching. “Hello there,” he said.
Everything had happened so quickly—the move, his promotion, the holiday rush—that he realized aside from the glitter of lights, he knew nothing of his new neighborhood. Or his neighbors.
The man did not respond.
“My name is Jon. Jon Terra. Just moved in before Christmas with my wife, Alli.” He punched a gloved fist through the snow, grabbing a strand of lights he had strung around the shrubs. “We’ve never had a chance to introduce ourselves.”
“What are yah doin?” The man’s breath escaped his lips in a panicked plume.
Jon smiled, tugged at the lights. “Picking a bad time to bring in these—”
But his neighbor had already launched from the stoop, bare feet plunging across the field of uninterrupted white. In front of Jon he halted, breathless not from the severe cold swallowing his toes, but from an extreme case of fright. “Can’t do that!”
Jon pushed himself upright, eyeing his own window, hoping Alli had witnessed this. Her face was nowhere to be found. The two men shared a pregnant silence. Finally Jon said, “Sir, the holidays ended nearly two months ago.”
Mouth agape, the man stared at the timer box Jon had dug from the snow, now free from the cords that had been plugged into it. He shook his head. Jon swore he could hear the skin along the man’s frosted neck crackle. “We don’t evah turn out these lights.”
Jon sighed, thinking of his couch. “My wife and I appreciate the holidays, sir, we do, but the realtor never told us this was Christmas town.”
“You never saw em? The lights?”
“Honestly, no. We only saw this house online, my wife fell in love immediately and—”
“We don’t evah turn out these lights.”
Jon’s parka suddenly failed against the elements; goosebumps raced along his spine, his arms. His neighbor, however, didn’t appear the least fazed. He lunged, seized Jon by the shoulders, teeth rattling so severely Jon thought they’d pop from his jaws. Again Jon realized this was caused not by cold but sheer terror. “You’re gonna anger the elves.”
It took all he had to stifle his laugh. But he did, partly out of respect for the older man, partly out of respect because he figured his neighbor might not be altogether sane. “Yes, well, my nephew has an elf on the shelf and—”
The old man fled, knobby knees slamming his chest as he bounded from the drift, back to the sanctuary of his stoop. A final glance over his shoulder; disdain, panic all mixed like slush in his eyes. The front door slammed and he disappeared.
“That went well,” Jon muttered.
His wife shook him into a dumbstruck daze.
He took a minute, staring at the television screen, the boxes along the floor. “What happened, what?” Jon rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
Alli said, “I thought you were taking the lights in?”
“Yeah, that. I had a curious afternoon. Where have you been?”
“I told you I’d be in the city all day shopping with Jennifer. You forgot. As usual.” She kissed his forehead.
“Course I did.” He roused finally from the couch. “So earlier I met our neighbor while I was outside.”
“Let me guess. He got in your ear.”
“Something like that. Let’s just say he expressed his displeasure about my lack of Christmas cheer.”
Alli set department store bags upon a table. “It’s February.”
“Well, it seems Christmas lasts forever in our little town. Not only that, it seems we might’ve pissed off some elves.”
From the kitchen came laughter, rustling through drawers. “Come to think of it, my elf was pissed off, too. Where’s that diamond necklace you promised?”
“Funny. I’m being serious. I think our neighbor is mentally ill. He came running out into the snow, nothing on his feet.”
“The poor man! So what happened?”
“He basically told me no one in town turns off their lights because it’ll get the elves cranky.”
Alli returned with two glasses of wine. “It is strange that everyone still has their lights on, but honestly, I thought it was because of the snow. Who wants to go out in the cold?”
“I certainly didn’t.” He scrunched his face in mock defiance. “But you made me.”
“Aww, poor baby.” Lips ripe with Merlot, she kissed him. “If you make love to me now, maybe I’ll help you finish tomorrow.”
Jon took a quick swig of wine, then fumbled with his wife’s blouse.
Either it was the sound or the lights that started him from bed; Jon wasn’t sure which.
Their room bathed in a palette of color as it had been every night since their move, this time the luminescence irritated his eyes. Harsher, more glaring, it filtered through the windows, sharp like diamond dust. He twisted from his tangle of sheets; Alli beside him, her breath gentle waves rolling from her chest. Retrieving his boxers from the heap of clothing on the floor, he slipped them on, moved to the window, lifted their temporary paper blinds. The town lay chilled, bright; alive. Jon caught movement across the twinkling glaciers, what he thought to be the shadow dance of old boughs in the wind.
Scuttling across the roof then…a pitter-patter of tiny claws.
He would have to check on that once winter passed, make a mental note: cut back the tree limbs from the house, prevent the squirrels from tasking unwanted homes inside their—
The pitter-patter turned in an ominous way, like bloated satchels dropped from a height. Jon flinched with every blow atop the roof, half expecting the ceiling to give way, realizing with cold despair that this was now the sound of weighted feet.
“Jon?” Alli mumbled, sheets slipping from her naked back.
The house shuddered around him as he took to the window again; he shielded his eyes. The front of his property blazed as if spotlights had been erected at every corner. Finally, his sight adjusted.
“Jon? What the hell is going on?”
His face flushed with alarm; the old man—his neighbor—stood in the winter wasteland, summoning the sky.
“Stay here, just stay here!” Jon rushed from the bedroom, footfalls above him like clots of hail clubbing the roof. Down the stairs, to the front door, fumbling with the lock. Outside, his breath instantly crystallized, his nipples tweaked by the cold.
The sleepy hamlet his wife and he had chosen shone under the stars—except no stars where to be found. Jon followed the old man’s gaze skyward, up, up until his eyes could go no farther, until his eyes could no longer comprehend what he saw. “You never saw em, did you? The lights?” the old man called out. “But you see em now, don’t you?”
Jon nodded dumbly, cognizance still lost.
“We don’t eva turn out these lights. When we do, they come. And when they come, they come angry. Told you, didn’t I, that you’re gonna have angry elves?”
Glass shattered; his wife screamed from within the house. Jon turned his back to his neighbor, to the cold, to the mad array of lights descending from the sky. He took the steps two at a time, mind numb as the sheets of snow outside. A draft bit his feet; he heard the wind whistling unbridled where his bedroom window had once been. And once he clambered across the still taped moving-boxes in the hall, once he burst into his room, reality hit home.
Jon glimpsed his wife’s perfectly manicured feet pinwheeling in the space the window once sealed, toes a ruby red; perfect for the holidays, she had said. Kicking and kicking till they kicked no more. Sucked into a vacuum, into space; sucked somewhere Jon knew his wife certainly didn’t belong.
He saw the last of her guided by small torsos and long, spindly limbs toward an enormous black moon above his roof. He saw lights, bright lights, some bulbs of classic steady white, some pulsing in rhythmic green, blue, red. Like the sun, they exploded, then disappeared.
Jon was left blinded, alone; alone in a town that never went dark. Alone in a town that knew better than to anger their elves.
~ Joseph A. Pinto
© Copyright 2017 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.
It was a beautiful night for July Fourth fireworks. Frank Manetti drank an ice-cold Bud as he sat with his wife, Kim, on a picnic blanket in the park. All around, over a hundred people had gathered on blanket islands, waiting for the big show in the sky. Giggling kids ran with sparklers. On a stage, the high school band performed ‘Stars and Stripes’.
Frank and Kim’s three-year-old daughter, Emmy, talked to a jar of lightning bugs that Daddy had caught with her earlier. His baby girl looked adorable with face-painted flowers blooming on her cheeks. Frank wished he could bottle up Emmy’s preciousness and keep it forever. His teenage kids had grown out of that stage.
Collin, his fourteen-year-old, sat off by himself under a tree, playing a damned video game on his tablet, oblivious to the festivities. Agitation gnawing his gut, Frank searched the crowd for his sixteen-year-old. Cassandra stood near the softball field bleachers, talking with her girlfriends and some older boys.
“Cass should be with us,” Frank muttered. “I’m going over there.”
“Leave her be,” Kim said. “You’ll just embarrass her and then she’ll hate us for a month.”
It pained Frank’s heart that his kids had grown distant. Whenever his family was all together, Cass was always texting and Collin rarely looked up from a digital screen. At least I have sweet Emmy a few more years. His youngest looked up, smiled at Daddy, then went back to talking to the jar of glowing bugs.
Frank fished out two more beers from the cooler and nuzzled next to his wife, handing her a cold one. He kept one eye on Cass and the boys. He wanted very much to enjoy the school’s orchestra, but a group of sketchy teens nearby were blaring god-damn rap music. Their cigarettes lit up the gloom like fireflies.
“Hey,” Frank shouted. “You wanna turn that down? We’re trying to hear the band.”
A punk in a sleeveless T-shirt and black bandana turned his head and blew out smoke. “Got a problem, dude?”
“Yeah, I got a problem. You’re upsetting the people who came for the show.”
“Here’s your show.” Bandana gave him the finger and turned the music up louder. His friends snickered and raised their beers.
A rash of heat spread across Frank’s face. Squeezing his fist, he started to get up, but Kim grabbed his arm. “Don’t.”
Back in his marine days, Frank would have pounded the shit out of these assholes. With his wife and daughter nearby, he refrained.
The band stopped and Mayor McKee stepped onto the stage. “Is everyone ready for our big fireworks extravaganza?”
Families cheered. The softball team raised their bats and gloves.
The mayor gave the signal and the band started playing ‘Ride of the Valkyries’. The first bottle rocket launched a flare into the air with a whistle. White dots sparkled the night sky, followed by crackles. Emmy clapped and giggled. Next came starbursts of red, white, and blue. The audience gave an applause.
As bright lights lit up everyone’s faces, Frank watched Cass standing too close to some jock. The pungent smell of weed wafted across the Manetti family’s blanket. Frank’s glare shifted to Bandana and his gang of lowlifes. A big guy with a shaved head inhaled smoke from a joint.
Frank was about to confiscate the damned thing, when the gang members pointed toward the sky. Kaleidoscopes of colors flashed over the park. Then a shrieking flare shot down and exploded on the band. The music stopped as shattered instruments cut through the crowd like shrapnel. A piece of trombone speared into the mayor’s chest.
“Jesus!” Frank straightened.
“My God! What’s happening?” Kim asked.
He shook his head, stunned by the carnage of dead and wounded people. The blast had been too big for a poorly-aimed firework. More like a mortar. He’d suffered plenty of them in Iraq. His first thought was terrorist attack.
Two more flares shot from the sky and struck the blankets of the softball team. Kim threw her arms over Emmy as fiery body parts and sports gear flew through the air. A spinning aluminum bat shattered Emmy’s firefly jar.
Frank shielded Kim and Emmy with his body as more explosions erupted across the park. Screams and crying sounded all around. People trampled over one another to find cover.
A dozen flying objects emerged from the smoke. Long, sweeping red lasers burned holes through people all across the field. A man’s head glowed orange before it vaporized.
A running kid in a band uniform burst into red mist.
Kim cried, “Our kids!”
“I’ll find them,” Frank handed his toddler off to Kim and pointed to the woods that bordered the park. “You and Emmy get to safety.”
She hesitated, her eyes pleading.
He pushed Kim. “Go!”
Three small UFOs flew over and barraged the scrambling crowd. A blast hit Bandana’s gang, splattering the shaved-head kid all over the others. A singed arm with tattoos landed on Frank’s blanket.
Covered in blood, Bandana and his friends joined a panicked mob that knocked Frank to the ground. Shoes stepped on his hand and back. Emmy cried. Kim screamed.
He watched helplessly as wife and daughter were caught up in a stampede that carried them away into a cloud of smoke. Two small UFOs zipped after them.
Frank scooped up an aluminum bat and ran into the haze searching for Cass and Collin. Scorched bodies lay scattered across the grass. Dodging blasts and debris, he scoured the ground, terrified of finding his kids among the dead. Bandana reached up, begging for help. Then a laser sliced the prone punk’s skull in half.
Six more UFOs whooshed overhead, shooting at anyone who moved. Frank ducked beneath a tree as lasers torched the branches. The treetop caught fire.
He ran toward the woods, screaming his older children’s names, “Cass! Collin!”
He spotted Cassandra running with a crowd through the forest. “Cass!”
“Daddy!” She made her way back and hugged her father.
Cass shook her head. “Mom and Emmy?”
“In the woods. Safe, I hope.”
Still gripping the metal bat, Frank led Cass along a creek. Their feet splashed through shallow water. Dazed survivors hid behind tree trunks. Others ran and took cover under a bridge. Frank and Cass joined them in the shadows. By the grace of God, he found Kim and Emmy among the crowd. They were badly cut and bruised, but okay. The four hugged, thankful to be alive.
“Collin?” Kim asked.
Frank’s heart sank, learning that his son was still out there. “Take care of the girls. I’ll try to find him.” He stepped out from beneath the bridge.
A metallic whoosh reverberated through the air. Red lights glowed. A small object flew low along the creek. Two robotic arms stretched out of its sides and turned into spinning blades. The UFO charged straight for the survivors under the bridge. Frank stood in front, wielding his bat. Just as the craft reached him, he swung, smacked the thing, and sent it rolling through the creek. Sparks skipped across the water. The spinning blades stopped and the red lights winked out.
Frank picked up the dead machine with both hands. Weighing less than fifty pounds, it looked like some kind of alien spacecraft with multiple weapons. He turned it over. “What the fuck?” Etched into its belly were the words, ‘Made in China’.
Frank returned to the crowd beneath the bridge, more confused than ever, and determined to protect his girls. As he watched several more machines fly off over the treetops, he feared for his son.
* * *
A few blocks away, Collin Manetti jogged down a sidewalk through the neighborhood. He could still hear distant laser blasts and screams as people sought shelter. Several houses had caught fire. A few smoking bodies lay on the road and front lawns.
One of the flying machines careened up the street and hovered straight above Collin. He admired the technology of blinking lights and arsenal of weapons that jutted from its sides like tentacles. The ASSASSYN-X9000 was the coolest drone he’d ever seen. He gave it a salute and typed a few commands on his tablet. The drone zipped away to create havoc somewhere else.
Whistling, Collin entered his best friend’s house. Matt and Toby sat in the living room with VR goggles on their heads. Both teens cheered as they rapidly thumbed their joystick buttons.
“Dude, this new video game is kick ass,” Matt said. “I feel like I’m flying a spacecraft.”
“The screams sound so real,” Toby said.
“That’s because they are, dipshit.” Collin dropped into a beanbag chair and put on a third set of goggles. He switched the controls from his tablet to the joystick console and resumed control of a handful of machines, sending them on a search and destroy mission through the neighborhood and into the woods.
“I gotta get me one of these,” Matt said. “Where’d you get it?”
“Bought it off a gaming website from China.” Collin felt the sensation of sitting in a moving cockpit, as he dive-bombed people running along the ground.
Toby yelled “Score!” when he obliterated another target. “How many drones did you say the game comes with?”
Collin grinned. “A dozen. And the box comes with plenty of fireworks.”
∼ Brian Moreland
© Copyright Brian Moreland. All Rights Reserved.