Damned Words 34

 

Taunts and Beckons
Jon Olson

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


Some Carnivores Have Roots…
Lydia Prime

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

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

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


Gifts
Mercedes M. Yardley

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

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

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

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

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

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


Corpse Flowers
Scarlett R. Algee

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

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

Let me see who calls me unclean then.


From the Ashes, Fire
A.F. Stewart

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

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

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


The Contract
Mark Steinwachs

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

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

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

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


Garden of Whispers
Lee Andrew Forman

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


Looming
Nina D’Arcangela

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


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

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Blink

I cower in the corner trying not to hear the scuttling sounds from above. The scratching of tiny claws, the beating of minuscule feet, the giggling of inhuman laughter – it’s maddening! Frozen in terror, I’m not sure I have the will to force my body to move. I shift slightly as my left calf begins to cramp. Silence – the noise from the attic ceases. Did they hear me? I should run; this may be my only chance.

Gathering my wits about me, I lean forward placing one hand on the floor. Still nothing from above. Bolder now, I place the other hand on the floor and shift my weight. The damn wood betrays me as the old boards squeal. I freeze mid crouch listening for signs of movement; all remains quiet.

My crawl from the corner is agonizingly slow. What in reality takes only seconds, feels like an eternity to my pounding heart. I’ve made it to the center of the room. Pausing for a moment, I glance up toward the hatch that separates the attic from the bedroom.

My lungs suck for breath, my body shakes uncontrollably – I’m ashamed to admit it, but I wet myself. The corner of the hatch is ajar; two sets of blinking eyes stare down at me in silence. Then a fifth eye blinks open, quickly followed by its accompanying sixth. As I watch, a multitude of tiny gleaming orbs struggle to see through the slight gap. I stare in horror as the hatch lifts further to allow more of the beings a view of what’s below.

The small creatures stare at me from every available space. I begin to wonder if they’re harmful or not – they look kinda cute… One of them speaks, I can’t discern if it is meant for me or not, so I continue to stare upward in mute silence.  A muffled reply sounds from farther back in the dark space. The first, turning its head, speaks again. This seems to excite those gathered around the hatch. They began to fidget; bouncing and bumping into one another. The one that was speaking turns and looks directly at me. This time, it makes no pretense of hiding its wickedly-long, slender teeth – teeth clearly intended to rend meat from bone.

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Kids Will Be Kids

As I stepped outside my office building, I was greeted with the sight of my lonely car in the black and white sea of asphalt. I’d parked further away than usual not intending to stay later than the sun’s curfew; I was beginning to regret my decision. I checked my watch and saw it was just passed nine. My eyes scanned the surroundings, most of the sodium vapor lights were out. Sighing I began the trudge towards my tiny coupe.

My heels clicked loudly, the echo severed the night air. Step by step I skillfully evaded the cracks in the worn ground. I couldn’t shake the feeling of eyes upon me. A quick glance over my shoulder revealed I wasn’t alone; two children in hoodies stood where I was only seconds before. Odd, why would kids be anywhere near here this late at night? I sped up and heard the methodical patter of feet behind me. Don’t panic. Keep moving, don’t look back, I told myself. My car never felt further. For each of my strides there were two of theirs. Just a few more feet, a few more steps and I’ll be safe.

As I reached my junkyard reject, my mind screamed they were right on top of me. A tear ran down my cheek, They’re just kids! What am I so afraid of? My heart drummed against my ribs, I looked at the reflection in the car window, no one was there. Quickly rummaging through my bag trying to find the keys, adrenaline infused dread coursed through my veins from head to toe as I finally yanked them free. Struggling to jam the right one in the door, my shaking fingers slipped and they fell clattering to the ground.

As I bent to grab the keys, my eye glimpsed ratty Chucks standing near the passenger door. Bolting upright, I shoved the key into the lock.  A quick glance over the roof, no one was there; my breath quickened. What the shit? How’s that possible? I just saw their fucking shoes… The lock clicked loudly as the door gave way. I tumbled inside and frantically reached for the lock. Petrified, I stared wide-eyed out the passenger window as I shoved the key into the ignition.

“Excuse me,” came a faint voice from the glass next to me, I jumped out of my skin. How did they get there? The engine ticked but wouldn’t turn over. Come on, come on, start you piece of shit!

“Excuse me miss, we need a ride home. Can you help us please?” I could feel my heart pounding in my throat, I didn’t want to look, but I had to.

“I-I-I’m s-sorry, I n-need to get h-home.” I stuttered as breath came ragged and my vision swam. Warmth and salt swelled in my eyes as I tried to look him in the eye. Hood covering his face, he put his hand on my window; I couldn’t see the other one.

“Please miss, we’re just kids. Won’t you help us?” He said, more stern this time. I tried starting the car again, at last the engine roared to life. Somehow he felt even more dangerous now.

He growled and banged his palm against the tempered glass, “Let us in. Our parents will be worried.” Shaking, I gripped the steering wheel tighter. I peered into the rearview mirror, his friend was running around to the other side. By the time he reached my passenger window, his hood had fallen off. I stared into a pale face with eyes black as coal. No iris or sclera, pure darkness where there should have been light. A toothy grin parted his lips as liquid fear poured down my cheeks. In unison they began chanting, “Listen lady, let us in. You have to let us in!”

Grabbing the shifter, I slammed the transmission into the first gear available – reverse. Even as I felt the car thump over the body I was too terrified to stop. Shifting into drive, I looked back for the last time. Both boys stood where my car had been, black eyes gleaming, teeth still bared in dual snarls.

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

 

Every Day Kintsugi: The Glory of Her Broken Parts

Her grandfather told April her first lie.

“There is an ancient Japanese art called Kintsugi,” he said. “It is when you take something broken and repair it with gold. This turns it into a beautiful thing of even more value. Pottery has been fixed this way for many generations. People are fixed this way, too. Take the flaw and turn it into something better. Can you imagine that, April? Taking the worst part of yourself and working it into something admirable?”

This made April’s dark eyes shine. She wanted to be loved in all her imperfections. She wanted to stand in the glory of her broken parts. Her mother, ever so strict and exacting, railed against her because she wasn’t smart enough, wasn’t disciplined enough, didn’t have skin that glowed with the luminance of pearls and a voice that commanded the oceans. At first April shrank in fear, but then she remembered the promise of Kintsugi.

“I will let the damage become something better,” she said aloud, and she drew the horse hair of her bow far too loudly against the violin, and drew her eyeliner on with too heavy a hand. She took off her clothes in front of boys and girls and teachers. She traded her school uniform for something that looked nice on the back of a motorcycle or inside a police car.

Crash crash crash. Break break break. She told lies and stories and pressed false charges and faked miscarried babies. She stole wallets, hearts, social security numbers and government secrets. She knew that the more she broke, the more she would shine. She destroyed documents. She sabotaged marriages. She sold her soul and intel and the diamond necklace that had been her only birthright.

Her mother’s tears were made of gold.

There was a bomb, a terrible thing, that had burned the clothing from her grandfather’s back and seared it to his skin. Now there was a new bomb, the ultimate Kintsugi, that would shatter everything apart so it could be mended with so much gold that the mind dazzled.

“I can save all of us, repair mankind completely,” April said, her eyes fiery. Her hand smashed on the bomb’s button. But this is modern-day America, not 15th century Japan, and when you pulverize something as badly as April had done, there are no more parts to gently piece together. You end up with handfuls of rubble. You end up with dust. There’s nothing left to repair, and even if there was, this is the age of disposability. You take that chipped piece of pottery and you toss it in the other teeming piles of refuse, and never think of it again.

∼ Mercedes M. Yardley

 

© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 33

Damned_Words_33

Scream
Lydia Prime

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

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

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


The Risen
A.F. Stewart

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

The others will be here soon.

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

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

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

Never build on a witches’ graveyard.


Chords
Nina D’Arcangela

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

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

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


Easy
Mark Steinwachs

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

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

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


Soprano
Scarlett R. Algee

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

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

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


Living with Ghosts
Mercedes M. Yardley

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

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


Invention of an Afterlife
Lee Andrew Forman

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

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


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

 

Know Only Too Well

The old man shifted his weight as he peered out through the tavern’s window settling on three figures standing in the street. Although obscured in shadows cast by the lone lantern, one could easily tell there were two adults and one child.

A family.

Over the years he watched many families stand outside in the street exactly where the three were standing now. Although it was a different one each time, the scene always played out the same.

One could say it was tradition.

The old man reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out a silver pocket watch. He pressed the small button releasing the latch and looked at the clock’s face.

9:57.

Frowning he closed the watch and slid it back into his pocket.

“It is almost time.”

He heard someone grunt behind him and turned to the rest of the people in the tavern who came to witness. None met his gaze. He felt their hatred as easily as he could smell the odor of stale beer.

The old man turned in time to see the two adults kneeling down hugging the child. The father was the first to stand and had to pull the mother away. She began cried as her husband led her toward the bar, away from their child.

The little girl watched her parents, not entirely sure what was happening.

The tavern’s door opened and the mother’s wails filled the room.

“Let go of me,” she cried. “This is your doing!” As she began hitting his back, the old man did not take his eyes off the girl.

A faint mist swirled around her feet.

“Ellie, come on,” the husband said wrestling his wife away. “Screaming at the heartless bastard isn’t going to change anything.”

“How could you…” Ellie spat. “She’s only nine…”

The mist thickened, making everything outside appear in grey scale.

“If you only knew what it was like…”

The words stung, the old man’s throat went dry. I know only too well. He exhaled sharply keeping his attention on the girl.

She was barely visible in the impenetrable mist.

It will be over soon.

A shadow danced in the mist to the little girl’s left and vanished as she spun around to see what it was. Her head darted back and forth looking for it.

The shadow reappeared to her right, only closer. Once again the girl turned to look but the shadow disappeared. Her movements became frantic and she turned her head to toward the tavern.

It rose up through the mist like a scorpion’s tail and struck, knocking the little girl to the ground. The shadow rushed forward engulfing her in a blur of grey and black. She opened her mouth to scream but no sound came out. Her struggling weakened and within seconds she no longer moved as the shadow devoured her.

The mist quickly dissipated revealing an empty street with no trace the girl had even been there. He checked his pocket watch again.

10:02.

The old man turned, moved away from the window. He kept his head down to avoid the icy stares and shuffled toward the door as fast as his frail frame could take him.

“Just like always, you leave without having the fucking guts to face those of us who have given so much,” the little girl’s mother said.

He slowly turned and raised his head, meeting the hateful stares head on.

“Would it make it any easier if I did?” he asked.

“At the very least you could see the pain… the anguish that this ungodly tradition causes.”

“Yes, it is an ungodly tradition.” He pointed toward the window. “That thing that takes so much from us every year is ungodly.”

“Takes so much from us?” the father asked. “What do you know of it?”

Before he could reply, the bar erupted in profanity laced rants. Globs of saliva struck his face and he dropped to one knee.

“If you would please…” he tried to say but was drowned out.

His breathing quickened as his chest tightened. His hand slid down the shaft of his cane until it reached the bottom. With a deep breath, the old man stood up and in one fluid, powerful motion smashed his cane on the floor. It splintered in the middle and the sudden show of force silenced the bar.

“You all think I haven’t felt the pain this night brings?” he yelled as his lower lip quivered. “Do you all think that I cannot relate to what you are going through?” His eyes scanned the stunned expressions. “When we settled here almost fifty years ago, I had three sons and a daughter who I loved with all my being. We thought we found paradise but little did we know what we’d have to pay for it.”

“Are… are you saying…” the mother began.

“Mine were the first to be given to the ungodly. I know all too well what you are going through. If there were some other way believe me when I say we would’ve found it.” He wiped the spit off of his face. “But there isn’t.”

He hobbled to the door and spoke over his shoulder as he opened it. “You all knew the price you might have to pay when you moved here. Don’t forget that.”

With that he stepped outside and pulled the door shut behind him.

∼ Jon Olson

© Copyright Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Hand of Credence

Rugged knees on hallowed soil, I kneel before its mighty stature. Blistered palms meet below my bowed posture—I beg clemency. It extends an ebon finger, the tip sears my flesh. Pain struggles down a swollen throat that cannot utter its cry. Vocal chords are restrained only by conditioning. One must always be faithful. Its form defines beauty and terror as one. Love, hate, fear, and all between exhales with each breath it takes.

As its dark hand retreats, my skin slows its boil. The scent of forbidden meat teases my senses. I’ve been touched by that which brings life and death, that which gifts all and reaps the tortured stalks hidden among this field. I pray that my time is still young.

It speaks to me for the first time. “Your heart is pure.”

My faculties nearly retreat.

Its dark palm covers my face, fingers wrap around my head. All is gone but the void which is the color of its flesh. But within it are terrible things—colors of wrath and fury, fluids of the human body, suffering of unimaginable design. Deep into its grasp, my mind drills forward into unknown places, forced to go on, made to see.

And see I do—things inhuman, vile enough to burn any eyes that witness them. But mine survive. They live to force these sights to memory, where they’ll burn like hellfire until death snuffs them out with cold hands.

When its hold releases my weakened body I collapse. Mutterings from the subconscious echo between my ears. I look to the dark figure. Its mouth emulates an expression of pleasure—but whether it is approval of my soul or the joy of punishment I cannot tell. Time will be short with an answer.

It takes a few steps back, stares with glowing eyes. I remain motionless, penitent. Guilt riddles every drop of blood in my heart. I know I’ve not done its creed wrong, yet I still feel a disgust for my flesh. How repugnant and feeble it is; ugly and without strength. It pities us. It must.

With an arm extended, it points toward the cliff. “You are permitted.”

The words are surreal. Difficult to believe I’ve been accepted. I stand, legs trembling, and walk to the verge. The ocean crashes against the rocks below. In the dark water I see something darker yet—a conical blotch spearing deep beneath the surface.

I look back to it and it nods approval.

I step off the edge to join my brethren.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.

 

Boxed

“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.

“Robert.”

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.

Bone Deep

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

I press harder.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

~ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

 

Dirt

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.

Covering us.

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.

 

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