“The numbers tick, you know. When it is time.” Russell giggled and stared at the strangely carved box on the table. “Rows of numbers etched on nameless faces. All tucked away in the box.” He ran a finger along an edge of the container. “They are always there, standing on the edges of my dreams. Until…” Russell shivered and withdrew his hand, sliding it into his lap. “Then comes the ticking. Like a pocket watch or a clock. Counting down the minutes, the seconds. Waiting for me.” He giggled again, a manic sound, giving his hysteria voice.
“Don’t say things like that!” Across the room, Robert, Russell’s brother, could no longer contain his emotion. He fumbled for a cigarette in his pocket, adding, “Such talk is insanity. You must stop this odd obsession of yours. Rid yourself of the box and be done with it.”
Finding a cigarette, Russell lit it, the match lending a soft glow to his face before he blew out the flame. Smoke encircled his head as he puffed and continued. “The assertion is preposterous, there aren’t even numbers on the damned box.”
Russell sighed. “The numbers aren’t on the box. Haven’t you been listening? They’re in my mind.” He tapped his forehead.” And I can’t simply stop. Or rid myself of the box. I’ve come too far already. It’s too much a part of me.” Russell frowned and then shivered again. “Fear drives me now.”
He watched his brother’s reaction. Robert took a drag of his cigarette, pity flitting across his face. Russell placed his hand back on the tabletop, drumming his fingers lightly. “Perhaps that is true madness. Too much fear.”
Robert grunted. “Fear can be conquered. You always did lack a spine.” He sighed. “I’m only trying to help before Father makes good on his promise and commits you to an asylum.”
Russell suddenly scowled, his fingers curling into a fist. “Father? You put him up to that. You know you did.” Russell laughed at the surprised look on his brother’s face. “Yes, I knew it was you. You are not as clever as you think.” Then he smiled. “But I forgive you. Come and sit. Look at the box. Let me show you. If you still feel I need to rid myself of it after I explain, then I’ll agree.”
Robert shrugged, but joined Russell at the table, settling into a chair. “What do you want to show me?”
“That there’s a demon in the box.” Russell laughed again at Robert incredulous expression. “I know it sounds mad, but it’s true.”
“You need help, brother. Let me help you.” The smoke of Robert’s cigarette wafted between them. Russell smiled. He moved his hand to the lid of the box and carefully stroked part of the carving, a small horned figure. Then he withdrew his fingers.
“Yes, you can help me. I didn’t want it to come to this, and I could just let it end, let the demon take me. But I’m afraid to die. Afraid of what’s inside the box.” Russell took a breath, his eyes focusing on his brother’s glowing cigarette. “I’m so sorry, but it needs a name.” He paused, for a heartbeat.
Inside Russell’s head the ticking stopped and the lid of the box opened wide on its own. Russell kept his eyes on Robert’s glowing cigarette as it fell, scorching a burn mark into the table. He ignored his brother’s screams until the lid of the box clicked shut.
Then he stared at the empty chair across from him. He reached over and stubbed the cigarette out on the wood tabletop. “It was you or me, brother. I chose me.” Russell rose and picked up the box.
“I’ll see you in my dreams.”
~ A. F. Stewart
© Copyright 2018 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.
For the first time in weeks, I’m alone in the house. Gran’s out talking over the garden wall with one of the neighbors; Mam’s hanging out the wash. Me, I’m sitting on my bed with our best kitchen knife, running the edge over the hard points sticking out beneath my fingernails. It should hurt, but it doesn’t; the skin parts just a bit, bloodlessly, and there’s the grating sound of metal scraping bone.
I press harder.
It started six weeks ago last Sunday, the day after I turned fifteen. When I went to bed that night, it was insidious, a little niggling almost-itch behind my kneecaps and in my wrists. But my knees swelled under my skirt when I trudged dutifully to school the next morning, and writing notes in my lectures just made fire blaze down my right hand in waves. The next day, it was both hands. Within a week, I was sneaking aspirin from the kitchen cabinet in handfuls, stuffing them in my skirt pockets, biting down on the bitter discs so I wouldn’t sob from the searing ache twisting me inside out. I did that at home, at night, into my pillow.
It took Mam a full ten days to notice: “Ellie, you’ve shot up like a poplar.”
She didn’t smile. She grimaced instead, and backed me up against the edge of the half-wall between the kitchen and dining room, plopping the family Bible against the top of my head and marking the paint with a pencil before fetching the measuring tape. “Five feet and eight,” she pronounced, wide-eyed, when she pulled the tape away. “Are you taller than me?” Mam demanded, and crowded so close my nose touched between her eyes. “Jesus, you’re taller than me. And since the first of the month, too.” She turned to look over her shoulder at Gran. “Is this normal?”
Gran shrugged, mouth tight around her cigarette. “Some girls get their height early, all at once. I did.” She stood five foot four in bare feet.
It was Gran who sat at my bedside that night, patting my aching hands and balancing ice packs on my oversized knees. “Growing pains,” she said, though her gaze narrowed as she eyed the length of my legs. “Best to get it out of the way now. Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon.”
But in the night I woke screaming, my nightgown spotted with blood. My ribs had expanded and grown sharp-edged, tearing my skin from the inside. Mam yanked the fabric up and stared at me while Gran sponged me off with stinging alcohol, and this time there wasn’t puzzlement in my mother’s eyes. There was fear.
The doctor they took me to the next morning glanced at my knees and hands and ribs, took some measurements and jotted notes, muttered to himself and gave Mam a prescription for something with codeine in it. He never said a word directly to me. Growth spurt, he called it, and mumbled something about long bones and inflammation of the growth plates. It would pass, he said. That was the end of it.
That afternoon the pain in my knees came back, jabbing and twisting so bad I could almost see my shins bowing inward. So I begged Mam for one of the pills, but she only said, “Not yet. Let’s see how you are after school tomorrow.”
I woke up next morning with my mouth throbbing. My cheekbones strained the contours of my face; I could see fissures forming in the skin. My teeth had become longer; my lips stretched when I formed a bite. Mam measured me again. I was another three inches taller. Gran looked up at me and whispered, “Swear to God, her bones are growing out of her.”
I could barely get out of bed that day, despite hanging over it. There was no school. There was no school ever again.
The next week kept me changing, growing. My neck stretched with crackling noises. My jaw and elbows locked and loosened at odd times. Going through the doorways in the house meant bending nearly double, sleeping on my bed took folding myself in half, and the biggest shoes Mam could buy only fit on my feet a few hours. Gran crossed herself and swore and fed me aspirin, codeine, whiskey. None of it touched the pain. I lay on the floor and howled till the neighbors’ dogs barked.
This morning, Mam needed a stepladder to measure me, and her tape wouldn’t reach in one stretch. Six feet. Seven inches. I watched tears roll down her face as I tried to steady my too-long, agonized legs, and felt the ceiling against the top of my head.
Now I sit on the end of my bed, legs mostly on the floor, and I draw the knife over my fingertips again. They split entirely, and it’s relief enough to make my eyes water. Tentatively I press the knife point into my thigh, where the outline of my femur is broad and plain, and push in. My skin rips with a noise like tearing tape, and there’s no pain, no blood, only a release of pressure that makes me stuff my bulging knuckles into my too-wide mouth. Only a great glistening white expanse beneath the stretched crepe of my skin.
Gran was right. My bones are growing out of me. I take a few breaths and stick the knife in again.
If they want to escape, I’m setting them free.
~ Scarlett R. Algee
© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.
I slam the shovel into the mound of dirt. Sweat drips into the hole I’ve spent the last few hours digging. There’s no turning back. I’m not filling it in like before.
The chill of autumn cascades over my exposed shoulders. While I was digging the breeze did nothing to cool me, so off came my shirt. How many times had I worked shirtless in the yard while Claudia was home next door? That doesn’t matter anymore.
She had talked me out of this plan so many times, told me to give it time, that they would figure out how to stop them. But they can’t; their creation is out of control, the disease mutated, spread too fast. I’ve never been one to delude myself.
Her body hangs out the bedroom window. My shot was true, but instead of knocking her back into her room, it spun her and she flopped forward. Her dripping blood called to them, speeding up the inevitable. The creatures drank all that spilled from her and now circle my fence, drawn by my scent. They would have ended up here anyway. It just happened sooner than expected. I spared Claudia the agonizing pain of the end of days, just like I did…
I shiver once more, but not from the cold. Guttural groans, a cross between human and canine, surround me. Scratching sounds reverberate like gunshots as their sharp claws work on the barricade.
Shick. Shick. Shick.
“Fuck you!” I yell to no one. It’s all I have left in me, nothing grandiose, only four-letter expletives. The world is coming to an end, and mine… mine’s already gone.
I grab my rifle and march to the stepladder, climbing to peer over the fence at the half-human monstrosities. Clawed hands scrape relentlessly. Then one of the things looks up at me with glazed eyes and bloodied teeth. I pull the trigger. Its face explodes in red mist. Others dive over to feed. The rest jostle for the meal.
“Fuck you!” I spit.
I throw the gun over the side, not that they can use it. I don’t need it anymore. It was just a distraction to buy me enough time to finish the task at hand. After climbing down the ladder, I walk to my patio. I wipe my face, pretending it’s sweat and not tears.
But by the time I reach the table, I can no longer lie to myself. Tears stream down my face. I slide my hands under the sheet and gently lift him, the last time I ever will. Three years, three years is all I got. It’s not remotely fair. My vision blurs as I cross my back yard. I lay the sheet in the hole and slide in next.
Shick. Shick. Shick.
The sound of clawing replaces the sound of their fighting. Not long now.
I sweep my arms wide and beckon a cascade of dirt into the hole. I start by covering my legs and soon am up to my hips. I keep pulling dirt over me. Covering myself.
I lay my head back, reaching up like I’ve practiced. I take a deep breath as the dirt falls over my face, but this time I won’t stop. They won’t take us. I won’t let them. I swore to protect him forever and I will.
I can’t hold my breath any longer and pull my hands down. I gasp and dirt fills me, takes me to him.
∼ Mark Steinwachs
© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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
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.
Number six, the envy of all. She carried only refined coke; her insides never having tasted the dust of coal. Years she served faithfully until the day she didn’t. A fluke, many said; not her fault, others blustered. But the engineer… he knew. He’d felt every tick and wheeze, heard every tale told; recognized her deliberate intent. The next cars’ worth, just as poor, and the one after. Her shine began to diminish, the bright blue pride of the forge peeled as she revealed an undercoat of rust and pock marks. A young smelter, brave but unaware of the lore, climbed her rear, leaned in to check the bricks and slipped landing inside the car. Her gaping maw slammed closed. The engineer listened as she slurped and ground bone until the boy was fully consumed. The mill owners turned a blind eye as number six began to glisten in the sun once more, her loads again of the highest quality. Every now and then, a young man failed to return home after his shift; but the coke, it was the purest, and the mills’ steel, the most sought after.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018
I crouch cowering in the shadows of the barn. I should not be here, I was asked to stay away yet I could not.
The unnatural sound of bone snapping, sinew tearing, and skin stretching is a thing so foreign that it rends my soul to shreds. Yet for all the breath left in me, I cannot turn away from this creature I see.
I should have respected his wishes and not intruded upon his privacy – one so warily guarded till this day. Trust is what I offered blindly for so long; now I see that my trust was both justly placed and unspeakably abused.
The depth of sorrow that emanates from eyes I have so often peered into is more than one should have to bear. I now know why he asked to own this anguish in solitude, I now know why he felt a need to protect me from the torture of his full nature; I now know the extent to which he wished to guard my innocence.
He suffers in pain; my heart weeps. I reach out to touch him, he begs me stay away with his gaze; so longing, so loving, so final.
Struck by a rising terror I’ve not felt before, my soul screams that he is no longer mine but belongs solely to the night. If only I had not violated our trust, we would have been as one forever.
Fully morphed, yet still I see him. He turns one final time – his eyes saying all his misshapen mouth is no longer capable of speaking. A blink; he is gone.
Rushing forward I see all that remains, rough hair twisted upon a nail, while I listen to his baleful cry carried upon the night’s savage wind.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
Desperate for the pinch that would bring her escape, she sought refuge in a dilapidated house slightly hidden by an overgrown yard. Squeezing through a paint-chipped opening, she entered a once loved home; now a desolate shell. She tiptoed through the crumbling building; fitting, however ironic it may have been, to have found a location almost as decayed as her. A few rodents scurried past and a disillusioned smirk crossed her chapped lips. A wave of cold sweat coated her from head to toe and the cramps in her muscles became too strong to ignore. Illness coursed through her brittle body; the remedy within her grasp.
Empty glassines scatter amongst the debris; almost instantly her vacant eyes glazed over. Collapsing into her surroundings, her back slid against exposed drywall. She stared through the broken window before her. The skewed view of an unkempt backyard swirled with gray matter. A memory washed through sullen eyes as salty tears trickled down battle-scarred cheeks. The enormous oak tree cast shade upon the little ones as they giggled in the grass; a time almost entirely forgotten. In that second she could feel the sun’s gentle warming on her skin. Pigtails and lemonade seemed so far away, droplets of melted mascara and misery spilled onto her tattered shirt faster than they could be caught. A swift jolt of pain deep beneath the flesh followed by a surge of pure bliss wrenched her into the present.
Despondent and motionless, she slumped over, barely propped up against the wall. Truths that could never have been told, let alone forgiven, silenced without warning. If she called out, would anyone even care? The gruesome truth beneath the surface of burned bridges and voluntary exile were all around her. The only company to be expected now were the rats to clean up her mess.
That haunting memory grew stronger; a skinned knee and the scent of antibiotic ointment permeated the air. Her pain was gone, then and now. Ghosts of her past pranced through her brain and banged against her skull. The sun beamed upon her face a final time as she welcomed its familiar burn. Her deep inhales grew shorter and more shallow until a stillness resonated through not just the decrepit shelter, but her ever wasting body. The withered land she’d hidden in would swallow her whole before she could be found. Iced coffee and nicotine lingered in her mouth — the last flavor of a life willingly let go. An accepting smile rested on the corpse who had no other home. Her once beautiful pale face now a brilliant blue.
Tranquility filled the darkness as hours passed, followed by weeks, until the months began to pile on. A skeleton picked clean by vermin, intertwined for eternity with an abandoned home. The idea of redemption dissolved; though her tomb was secret more would surely come. They’d follow in her footsteps and dwell on their misguided past; lives just as lonely and hearts concealed by frost.
∼ Lydia Prime
© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.
Jeremy promised he would never leave me. He’d be the only person in my life never to do so. I didn’t know whether I believed him or not, not really, but I liked to think he meant it at the time.
Once he told me he was born with a darkness inside him and didn’t know how to make it go away. He wanted to hurt things. He wanted to squeeze necks and break legs. Slash at throats. He told me how he watched the pulse in my neck and kept time with its beating. After he mentioned this, I noticed his eyes would wander to my throat and his breathing would change. I knew he was waiting for something, for my heart to stop or my blood to coagulate inside my veins, if it didn’t spill out of them first. He wanted to press his thumb down on my artery to see what would happen.
It wasn’t ill-feeling. Not really. It wasn’t that he hated. He just wanted to make everybody sorry.
“Sorry for what?” I asked him once. We were just kids, sitting on the rocks and staring into the ocean. I had my crying doll with me, back before Jeremy pulled off her head to see what kind of sound she made. I was never able to put her back together, but that was all right. I still had Jeremy.
“I don’t know. Just sorry.”
He wasn’t dark all the time, and that’s what made the difference. The shadow would come in waves, nearly crushing him under the weight of despair, and then it would ebb out. He’d be charming and funny. Happy. This was the Jeremy I knew, the one I enjoyed. It didn’t surprise anybody when we grew up and fell in love. Jeremy and Kat. It’s just how it was always meant to be. That, and nobody else on the island would have anything to do with either of us.
We’d sneak up to the old lighthouse some nights, play tricks on the tourists and plan our future. We picked out a day to get married, not too far off but far enough, and made lists of the songs that we wanted to dance to after our wedding.
“Hey, Kat. You know I’ll never leave you, right?”
I didn’t say anything.
“We’ll be together always. I promise.”
I smiled, and I swear, it almost felt natural. “I believe you, Jeremy. Really.”
He knew better than that, I could see it in his eyes. But he also knew I was trying, and that’s what mattered.
“I’ll prove it to you. Just wait and see.”
His smile was a beautiful thing. It filled me with hope. Sometimes with terror, deep down, but mostly something that I think was happiness.
“Jer? I love you. I do.”
“I know you do. I love you, too.”
And then Jeremy went dark. It was worse than usual, worse than I’d ever seen. He wouldn’t talk to me. Wouldn’t let me touch him.
A little boy went missing from town and I was too terrified to ask him about it. Jeremy simply stared at the sea. It lasted for weeks this time.
“Please tell me what’s wrong,” I begged him the last time that I saw him. “Why won’t you let me help you?”
“Nobody can help me,” he said. He wouldn’t even look at me. I pulled my coat closer, the wind grabbing at my hair and trying to push me from the rocks.
“But we’re getting married in eight days,” I said. “Can’t you at least try to act happy? Pretend it matters to you?”
He didn’t answer. I turned and ran, tripping over rocks and shells. He’d already left me, just like I was afraid he would.
This is what true loneliness is.
The Coast Guard found Jeremy’s body wedged underneath rocks not far from shore. He was bloated and discolored but I kissed him anyway. We buried him on what was supposed to be our wedding day. I sat in the church, surrounded by people and flowers, and thought this wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
That night, I went dark as well. The feelings overwhelm me: despair, anger, hatred; and I know they aren’t mine. I’ll see a couple walking together, looking like they belong with each other, and I want to kill them, rend them apart because they’re happy, and I will never be.
Jeremy won’t let me. He follows me everywhere now. He’s always prowling for somebody new to hurt. He smoothes my hair back when I sleep, and threatens everyone around me. My sister came to visit after his death, and he pushed her from the rocks. He appeared once in front of my father and caused him to have a heart attack. I dared to date a man, just once, and my date was killed in a car crash on the way home. Anybody I talk to becomes his victim.
“We’ll be together always. I promise.” Jeremy had said, and I realize now that he truly meant it. He’s cutting me off from everybody that I know, from everybody that can help me. He wants me to jump from the same rocks that he did and join him, and I’m afraid that it won’t be much longer before I do. There’s nothing to stay for.
He promised he would never leave me. I should have believed him. For the first time, I truly wish to be left alone.
~ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.
Wishes Do Come True
All I wanted was the shiny new tricycle with the ribbons on the handlebars. Just like the one Bobby next door had. So I wished it. At the scary place in woods where I’m not supposed to go. Where the growls and the bad words came out of the ground. Where the trees whispered about blood and mean things. I shouldn’t have done it, but I did.
I wished for that tricycle. Just like the one Bobby had. And they answered me. Said they’d get me that trike if I did something for them. So I brought them Bobby like they asked. I didn’t know what would happen. He just—just—there was a lot of blood and laughter. Then I ran.
But I swear I didn’t know.
I got my tricycle, though. Bobby’s parents gave me his, after the funeral.
A Little More Red
Isn’t it magnificent? This is the tricycle I had as a child. Sadly it didn’t always look this good. Much like me it was beaten up… passed around… misused. Unlike me though, this was fixable; a chance to restore my lost childhood. Once all the dents were fixed and rust sanded down, I knew a fresh coat of red would do it wonders. But as I held the brush it didn’t feel right. I couldn’t restore innocence with paint… it needed something else… something special to bring it back. The first one was difficult, not going as smoothly as I had hoped. I was too emotional. Fear, excitement and inexperience will do that. Regardless, with the first brushstroke, the tricycle came alive like never before. The blood breathed new life into it. Too quickly though, my initial supply ran out. I went out, visiting different playgrounds, killing my catch as fast as I could. My remorse faded each time, replaced by building passion to bring back what I had lost. I mean, just look at it… isn’t it magnificent? A little more red and it’ll be done.
I sit here alone waiting, luring them with the glimmer of carnelian shine and faded tassels. I was a boy once; it was a gift given to celebrate my birth – but why celebrate the unwanted Papa reminded me with strap and fist. When it spoke to me, offering escape for a mere favor, how could I resist? The last to feel my pull was a young girl; her screams still echo my mind. It drank with wanton lust, this keeper of my soul; I wept knowing my part.
A glance upward tells me the tenement is mostly asleep, but I see them, eyes that barely clear the sill as they gaze down; a man’s voice in the background slurred and harsh. I pray the child does not come, but they always do. They seek the same escape I once did; they feed the beast which masks its evil in the plaything that keeps me captive. A crescent of light seeps through the darkness as the back door cracks open. The young one stares at me, eyes full of wonder. I cringe knowing the lie I keep; the falsehood of joy I represent.
I set him down, releasing his torso when he reestablishes balance in his tiny gray sneakers. He accepts the rag from me and wipes down his tricycle: seat, frame, spokes, basket, tassels, like I instructed. A boy and his tricycle, innocence personified. Smiling, I rub my eye to dam the tear threatening to form. Not long ago, he could barely pedal. Now he’s outgrown it.
Outgrown his innocence.
How cruel of us, bringing him into this world. We never meant to, of course, but we did. He’s far too aware now. Voicing questions no child should ask.
His mother hopes things will go back to how they were before The Night.
He hugs my leg and scampers toward his mother in the house. Gravel crunches under those tiny sneakers, the last time I’ll ever hear it. I can’t stop the tears now, cursing the god who allowed this. We’ve decided. He won’t live in this hell. We won’t abide it. The wind gives a final lethargic sigh. The tassels hang motionless from the handlebars, fitting for what’s coming.
Here Comes the Sun
Heavy pattering of rain against the plastic roof stopped. Emerging from her pink and yellow playhouse ready to run, her shadow hesitated but quickly raced after her. As she lurked along the edge of the verdure, gleeful squeals and light splashing caught her ear. Her shadow swiftly moved through the tall grass, leading her closer.
A small boy sat on his tiny red tricycle, his feet stomping through puddles as he giggled. Her shadow appeared in front of him, unphased, he continued. The five-year-old girl nodded and crept silently behind him. Her loose curls and pastel colored dress crusty with brown stains; her petite pale face coated in flakey red blotches. The boy shivered and looked back; a wide smile parted her lips revealing a mouth full of pointed teeth. He cried and screeched for his mother. Without missing a beat she clamped her shark-like jaws tightly around his neck while her shadow held him down. Devouring his tender meat, she left nothing but bones.
His copper infused juice swirled into murky puddles. Her shadow guided her back into the field. Before disappearing into the weedy cover she licked her lips and whispered, “More.”
Mercedes M. Yardly
Jasper was allergic to peanuts and lies and cruelty. As a baby, he waved fat, starfish hands. His mom would dress him in blue and white striped overalls like a tiny conductor.
He had a teddy bear hand puppet with a fireman’s hat. I thought he loved the thing, but he would scream and shake his fists at it, yelling and biting until the fur came off and threads came loose.
“He loved it to death,” his mom exclaimed.
“Yes,” I said, but really I knew that it was the only thing he hated. Whenever I came to babysit, I tucked my long hair behind my ear and hid the puppet.
“All gone?” I’d say, and Jasper would smile.
He played on the driveway between our houses. I always made sure to walk behind my truck before pulling out, except for one time.
He lived, if you could call it that. There’s no laughter or hate or anything at all. I dance that puppet in front of his face hoping he’ll scream at it, at me, just one time, because we all know one time is all it takes.
Scarlet R. Algee
The Patient Guise
Lee A. Forman
Alone, it waited. Silent, still, it swallowed patience one lingering moment after another. With each passerby its senses hummed with anticipation—a growing hunger still unsated. Each gave a curious look, but none were tempted. Uncertainty lingered along the paths of its ancient mind as it questioned how well it understood its prey. The form it chose proved effective in the past. Eager younglings once rushed into its deceptive grasp. They’d pedal away from their elders and satisfy its appetite. But the scarcity of its preferred fare imposed a decision—its old hunting ground had to be abandoned. With a tired squeak, its wheels turned in search of a fresh source to nourish its everlasting appetite.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018
When will it end?
Struggling to catch my breath, I stop for a moment, hands on my knees. The door to my left is shut, I haven’t been in there yet. Could that be a way out?
It always changes.
“Daadddeee…” My daughter’s voice echoes through the halls, distant and menacing. “Where are you?” She giggles, and my skin crawls. The voice is my daughter’s but the words are not her own.
They belong to the Sinister.
Bursting through the door, it quickly becomes obvious that I’ve misjudged. It’s not the exit but another classroom. Like the others I’ve seen, the desks are overturned, strewn about. The floor’s covered with debris. Even in the dark, I can see the walls are splattered and smeared with gore.
I thought I knew my way around her school after months of dropping her off every morning. For fuck’s sake, the building is essentially one giant corridor with rooms branching off it; how hard could this be?
“Daadddeee… I’m going to find you!”
She’s closer…its closer.
I thought I’d put enough distance between us to buy time. Creeping back to the door I peer out. The corridor is lit only by the flicker of flames burning sporadically within the building. Screams erupt from somewhere mixing with childish laughter.
I dash out into the corridor, avoiding a lick of the flame, continuing my search for the way out.
My daughter said… the Sinister said… there’s a way out, and if I find it, it’ll let us leave.
I slow my pace as the corridor begins to quake.
Oh god, it’s happening again.
Walls crack and splinter while steel beams groan as they rip from their foundation. The ceiling and floor shifts position, altering the layout like a Rubik’s Cube. The horror is indescribable; the confusion maddening.
The Sinister said we can leave; but I doubt it will let us.
I jog toward one of the freshly formed corners and my feet slide out from under me; I slip on the entrails of what looks like one of the school’s administrators. Hitting the floor beside the lifeless torso, I see eyes frozen open in terror, they stare blankly at the ceiling. The lower half is nowhere to be seen.
“Daadddeee… you can’t hide forever!”
Holy fuck she’s…it’s close.
Scrambling back to my feet I continue down the unfamiliar hallway. I don’t know how long it’s been since the nightmare began; the Sinister gave me a head start what seems like ages ago. Here and there I’ve seen other parents as desperate as I am to find their children and make it out.
I’ve also seen some that didn’t make it. What of their kids?
Then all other thoughts are eradicated: I see it.
Barely visible, in the orange dancing glow of the flames, is an Exit sign above a heavy door.
Oh my god, a way out. My heart races.
With a new sense of urgency, I use every ounce of strength to propel myself toward the door.
Almost there…the ceiling shatters above me.
In a deafening crack, ceiling tiles, duct work and dust rain down on me, along with my daughter. I collapse under her and the debris, hitting the floor just a few feet from the exit.
“I found you, Daddy,” she says.
Gripping me with inhuman strength, she flips me onto my back and my heart breaks.
Her arms are gone, ripped out of their sockets and replaced by greyish-pink appendages with six oversize claws protruding from stumpy, inhuman hands. She still has her own legs but has sprouted elongated talons that tear through her tiny Mary Jane’s. Her face is still that of my little girl, but her mouth is permanently etched into an unrelenting grin.
Worst of all; her eyes. Her beautiful blue eyes have been torn out leaving empty sockets.
“Baby girl,” my voice cracks with emotion. “The exit is right here.”
“You almost made it, Daddy,” she says and her voice softens. “…almost…”
“It’s right here, honey. Let’s leave… me and you…” Even I don’t believe my words.
The Sinister creeps back into her voice. “But then the fun would end. You don’t want the fun to end, do you, Daddy?”
“What the hell happened here?”
She giggles, digging her talons deep into my chest. I feel them scrape between my ribs.
“Oh, my dear Daddy,” she squats, pressing her full weight into my chest. “You just answered your own question: Hell happened here.” She twists her talons deeper, nearly piercing one of my lungs. “Besides, how can you leave something that’s already everywhere?”
Tossing her head back, she erupts into a shrieking laugh.
∼ Jon Olson
© Copyright Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.
Beneath the stars I entered the forest, machete unsheathed. The idea of a gun rejected early in my search. It wasn’t personal enough. I wanted to sever its ability to escape and run my hand over its face—it had no eyes; I wanted to make sure it could see me. I needed it to know it was me who consigned it to death.
I pondered the irony of where the hunt would end. Years I searched to unmask the hidden wretch, my obsession. In that time I encountered many a sinful beast, but none so horrible as the eyeless thing that took my wife. Meryl’s expression held elegance even in shock, as its shiny, coal-dark arm wrapped around her throat and took her forever.
I sought out urban legends, overheard rumors in bar conversations, asked questions no sane person would dare. But none of the things I hunted turned out to be her abductor. I kept notes, made sketches, documented the unknown horrors that live in the wild. Parents tell you monsters aren’t real, but the wisdom of a child knows no suppression.
Would peace come of its destruction? Has it come to the victims of other felled nightmares? Maybe. Either way, I needed my closure.
As I stealthily navigated the woods I felt dreams and nightmares within my grasp, burning cinders of pain and hate. I’d scar my flesh just to be close; die to touch it. My hands trembled, heart pumped excited blood. A grin spread my chapped lips—I was closer than ever before. Every few steps I stopped to listen for movement. It was no ignorant beast I pursued; it was another hunter, just as cunning as myself, if not more.
A rustle to the side caught my breath. It seemed a deliberate tactic; a ruse to draw me in. So I kept still. It was trying to locate me. I waited, and my patience won out. I heard it stalking through the brush and followed silent as the night.
Flashes of Meryl’s terrified eyes drove nails into my heart, but I pulled them out and left them behind. I had to focus on my prey, else I’d become it.
Excitement turned to fear when I felt hot breath against the back of my neck. Somehow it tricked me. Somehow it won. In a last-ditch effort I turned and swung my blade with blind aim, but its slender fingers caught my wrist.
Its black, featureless face moved close to mine. The ebon flesh receded from its skull. From within came rows of pointed teeth. Its entire head snapped like the muzzle of an enraged mongrel. The serrated maw engulfed my skull but the teeth didn’t penetrate, only held firm against my throat. From deep within its gut, a meaty appendage extended and lodged itself in my esophagus. I bit with force, hoping to do whatever damage I could before it killed me. But the flesh was too fibrous; my human teeth did nothing. It shoved itself further into my abdomen, I choked against the thick, sausage-like tube. All I wanted was to scream in pain, to release…anything. But I could only writhe in agony while my chest hitched in a struggle for life.
∼ Lee A. Forman
© Copyright Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.