Diana’s terrified lament sent sharp pricks down my spine, my stomach clenching as if I’d been punched. Leaping from the soft embrace of my easy chair, I ran for the door, spilling the can of beer I’d been holding all over the rug. A sudsy trail marked my progress to the front of the house.
My neighbor was on her porch, screaming incoherently, literally tearing tufts of her curly black hair out at the roots. Her cries had gotten everyone streaming from their houses. I was the closest, and the first to grab her by the shoulders. Her eyes were glassy, overflowing with tears. There was madness in them. Irretrievable madness.
“Diana, what’s wrong?”
Something inside me had an idea as to what had fractured this normally quiet, insular soul. I prayed I was wrong.
Her eyes met mine but there was no recognition. Elsa from across the street sprinted up the stairs. “Can you stay with her?” I said. Elsa nodded, folding Diana into her arms.
Bolting to the back of the house where the bedrooms were, I heard a child crying. Steeling myself as best I could, I stepped into Diana’s children’s room. The door was plastered with pages carefully removed from coloring books. On alternating pages were the names Ben and Cody, the way painters would add their signature to a canvas.
Cody sat up in bed, chest heaving with sobs. He looked across the room to his brother, Ben’s head hanging over the edge of his own bed. There was blood everywhere. It had soaked the mattress, dripping onto the floor with soft, steady plinks.
Everyone who knew the little hemophiliac boys worried about this happening one day. Cody and Ben, frail, tow-headed children who spent most of their days in the safe cocoon of their room, lived with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. I checked Ben’s pulse. His skin was already cold, the blood on my hand room temperature at best.
Covering Ben with the crimson sheet, I swallowed hard, finding it difficult to stand.
“I’m so sorry, Cody,” was all I could muster. I wanted to console the boy, hold him, but my hands were streaked with his twin’s blood.
“The Gray Man cut him,” the boy sputtered between sobs.
“What did you say?”
“He came in our room. I saw him!”
Now my heart thudded wildly. Was there an intruder in the house? Someone debased enough to murder a sick child?
I heard footsteps thundering in the house. More neighbors coming to see what had happened. “In here!” I shouted.
The footsteps stopped when someone else screamed outside. It wasn’t Diana. It was a man.
Phil from down the block halted in the doorway. His face went pale. “Oh my God.”
“What’s happening outside?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I think that was Martin shouting.”
Cody had gone silent, lying on his side, eyes unblinking, staring at the shrouded hump of his brother.
If it was Martin out there, he sounded even worse than Diana. “Watch Cody for me?”
Phil nodded, but I wasn’t sure he heard me. I had to squeeze past him to get out of the room.
Elsa was still with Diana, now surrounded by several women, a couple I didn’t recognize.
It had been Martin. The burly man was in the middle of the street on his knees, weeping. His eight year-old daughter, Katie, was in his arms. I would have thought she was asleep if not for the impossible angle of her head. Her neck had clearly been broken.
“Why?” he cried. “Why would someone take my Katie?”
Fiona and Arnold, my neighbors to the other side of me, let out twin peels of anguish. While people gathered around Martin, I sped toward their house. What the hell was going on?
I found them in the living room, their five-year-old son Tyler on the couch. It looked like every one of his limbs had been snapped in half.
“Call the fucking police!” Fiona wailed. I patted my pockets. My phone was back at the house.
“Did you see the Gray Man?” a small voice said beside me.
I looked down, shocked to see Cody. I didn’t think I’d ever seen him outside the perimeter of his house before. His eyes were blood red.
Arnold’s hands were balled into fists. He looked like he wanted to tear someone apart, if he didn’t fall apart first. “You saw someone come into my house?” he said to the eerily calm little boy.
Cody shook his head. “I saw him in my room. Ben and I dreamed about him and he came.”
I stepped close to Arnold, whispering so Cody couldn’t hear. “He just watched his brother bleed out. He’s in shock.”
“The Gray Man said he needed helpers,” Cody continued. Poor Fiona looked about to faint. “And one day he’d come for us. He liked Ben better than me.”
I wanted to tell the boy to shut up. It wasn’t his fault. More voices cried out. They seemed to be coming from everywhere.
I got down on a knee, locking my eyes with Cody’s. “Can you tell us what the Gray Man looks like?”
There had to be a man, or men, responsible for this. The question, beyond the why, was how did they get into all of our houses in the middle of the day?
“It doesn’t matter,” Cody said. “He’s gone now. I don’t like the Gray Man. He said he’d take me with him. He’s a liar.”
Picking Cody up, I walked out of the house. Now, amidst the heart-rending cries of parents throughout the neighborhood, came the blaring of sirens. It felt and sounded like the end of the world. Men and women carried their broken children in a daze. The sidewalks were slick with tears.
Cody struggled in my arms. “I can help, too!” he blurted as he slipped free. Running to a tree, he scraped his arm against the bark, opening an angry, suppurating wound.
I clamped my hands over the ragged gash, but the blood, thin as water, seeped through my fingers.
“I can help, too,” Cody whispered, then closed his eyes.
Police cars and ambulances swarmed the street. It would be impossible to direct them who to help first.
Cody shuddered, took one deep breath, and passed.
Maybe the Gray Man had come. I didn’t know whether to wish Cody could catch up to him and be with his brother, or flee as far as his spirit could from the monster who stole our innocents.
~ Hunter Shea
© Copyright 2015 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved
“Tag, you’re it!”
“Ow, my mother said no one’s supposed to touch me there!” April rubbed her chest, frowning at Ben.
“Big deal. It’s not like you have boobs or anything.”
Before she could tell him she did so have boobs, Ben ran off, calling her ‘flatso’. He disappeared behind the Mowry’s house.
Probably hiding in their shed, April thought.
“Come on April, you have to start looking for us,” her friend Melody shouted, zipping past her, going across the street into her own backyard.
She smiled, momentarily forgetting the throbbing pain behind her left nipple. “Okay, I’m gonna count to ten!”
Her mother bought her a training bra just last night, right after dinner. It was a special mommy-daughter shopping night at Kohls. They got frozen yogurt afterwards. April wondered if the flimsy thing would have cushioned the blow. It was in her drawer now, waiting for school on Monday.
By the time she reached ten, everyone was gone. She didn’t have to find all five of them. All it took was one. There was no way she was going to make Melody it. That left Ben, Seth and Sean.
Just thirty seconds ago, they were standing around, wondering what to do. All of their parents had taken their iPods and game systems away, forcing them outside. It was a hot September Saturday, still summer according to the calendar. But, the kids all knew summer was long gone. The morning the bell rang to start the new school year, summer had been obliterated, left to memories of sleeping in, swimming and staying up late, watching TV.
Seth was suggesting they get their bikes and head over to the field to see if the Mr. Softee truck was around when Ben hit her in the chest, igniting a game of tag.
April sniffed the air. It still smelled like summer.
She thought she saw Seth’s Converse underneath Mr. Coleman’s pickup. Sean was most likely hiding behind his above ground pool. Either that or his father’s pigeon coop. The little shack stunk to high heaven. No way was she going in there looking for him.
It had to be Ben. Her dad liked to say ‘Payback’s a bitch’ a lot, especially when he watched sports. Her older cousin Tony told her what it meant last summer – that and a whole lot of other dirty phrases, most of them describing when a man put his thing down there in a woman.
“Ready or not, here I come!” April shouted. She made a beeline for the Mowry house. Mr. and Mrs. Mowry were at work now, but they never minded the kids using their yard for games. Sometimes old people could be cool. Most times, not.
The white and green aluminum shed sat in a corner of the yard, underneath a skinny elm tree. The door was partway open.
“Got you,” she whispered.
It was hot in the shed. She’d been inside it plenty of times. If you hid in there, you had to keep the door open a crack to breathe. Otherwise, you’d choke on gas and oil fumes, boiling in the tight space.
April threw the door open and lunged.
Ben was sitting on a big bag of potting soil. He squinted against the harsh shaft of light. “No fair,” he protested.
April’s teeth sunk into the flesh of his soft, exposed throat. She worked at the chewy bits of tendon while blood sluiced down her throat, spattering the pretty pink top she’d gotten at Kohls last night.
Ben’s body went into spasms. He gurgled, his arms flapping at April’s sides. She pulled away, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
While Ben struggled for breath, April pulled up her shirt, revealing two tiny mounds, no bigger than the rounded tops of cupcakes. Her chest was smeared with blood.
“I told you I have boobs now,” she said, giggling.
He slipped off the bag of soil with a wet plop.
“Ben’s it now!” April yelled.
Melody, Sean and Seth bounded into the yard, lured by her call.
“Oh man,” Sean said, pulling up short. Seth bumped into him. “Watch where you’re walking!”
“You’re in my way!” Seth blurted.
“Will you two stop it,” Melody barked.
Sean spun around, slapping Seth hard. As his friend tottered, he closed the gap between them, clamping down on his cheek and tearing his head back, spitting a chunk of flesh on the grass.
Seth covered the wound with his hand.
He dove headfirst into Sean, knocking the wind from him. They landed on the ground, a tangle of flailing limbs. Flecks of blood splattered everywhere like a sprinkler as they clawed the flesh from one another’s bones.
“Dog pile!” April screamed. She and Melody joined the melee. They were a dervish of gnashing teeth and scratching nails. Bones broke. Arteries ruptured. Seth ate Melody’s lower lip. April and Melody tore Sean’s stomach open, heads diving into his bowels like two dogs at a dish of fresh Alpo.
They felt something smash into their backs.
April yelped as Ben pulled a fistful of hair from her head. Bloody skin clung to the ragged ends.
“You’re it again!” he gurgled.
The children laughed, trailing Seth’s intestines all around the yard, wrapping it around the trunk of a cherry tree. Seth let out a series of wet guffaws, jaws snapping at their heels as they danced around him.
The Mowry’s verdant lawn soaked up the crimson manna until the sounds of urgent adult voices cut the revelry, urging the children home.
They slunk out of the yard, gathering the bits of themselves that had been scattered about.
“After dinner, you wanna come over and see my training bra?” April asked Melody, her tongue poking out of a hole in her cheek.
“Yeah,” Melody said, holding her lips in her hands. “See you later!”
“I’m sorry,” Ben said. April could see his windpipe working. “I shouldn’t have hit you in the boob.”
April rolled her remaining eye. “Whatever.”
~ Hunter Shea
© Copyright 2015 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved.
Tearing free of the straps binding it to the table, it slams its muscular body against the one-way mirror and snarls, “What have you done to me?” Its hideously deformed jaw and engorged tongue make the words nearly indecipherable. Saliva drips down the glass, its claws scratch angrily at the slick surface; the creature fights in vain to smash its way through three feet of impenetrable barrier.
From the other side of the glass, the doctor stands dead still, staring at the monstrosity thrashing against the window mere feet away. After an elongated pause, he orders, “Open Room Two.”
Without hesitation the operator does so.
As the door slides smoothly upwards into the wall, the staff can see a young woman crouching in the corner shielding two small children. Filth and vomit stain her T-shirt and jeans; their terror is palpable.
The monstrosity slowly swivels its head toward the open doorway leaving clumps of gelatinous flesh sticking to the glass; lips peel from its gums, a chunk of cheek clings to the surface, one eyelid ripped cleanly from its face. Sniffing the air, it abandons its attack on the window and drops to all fours, senses focusing on the three new beings invading its territory. After judging them no threat, it rises slowly to its full grotesque height.
“Excellent instinctual response. Specimen eighty-seven has locked onto the victims without provocation,” the doctor recites into the digital recorder he is holding. Folding his arms across his chest, he waits with the others in the control room – watching silently.
Still a good ten feet from the open doorway, the young woman clutches the children as she tries to push further back into the wall. Shaking uncontrollably, she can do nothing but shield the children’s eyes and wait.
The creature in the main chamber strides menacingly toward them. One clawed talon on the doorway, it ducks beneath the opening to Room Two.
“Switch to video feed.” Monitors in the control room light up and display varying angles from within the multiple small chambers.
Pausing just inside the doorway, it sniffs again, fuller, stronger this time. Its vicious watery gaze assesses the three huddled forms before it. A slight distraction – pounding on the wall to the right. The young woman glances; the goliath never wavers in its stare. The pounding is frantic; another woman’s voice howling in desperation from what must be a room next door. ‘God, is there another of these things?’ The thought flicks through the young woman’s mind.
Encouraged by her fear, it moves forward quickly, plucking a screeching child from her grasp. The woman in the other room seems to go mad; scratching, shrieking, thrashing beyond the wall.
Dangling the boy before it, the thing draws a long breath from the child’s mouth. It smells the boy’s blood, his vomit; it smells his fear. With one hand still holding the head, the other clawed fist shreds the boy’s body from its neck.
Snorting at the young woman clutching the girl, the monstrosity dangles the boy’s head above its mouth. Still looking her in the eye, it pops the child’s head like an overripe melon with its clenching maw. It chews; it swallows. It then consumes the remainder of the head.
Lowering its own head in challenge, it flicks out a claw and rips the young woman’s T-shirt, sniffing at the putrescence staining it. Frozen in shock and fear, she does nothing. It grins. Reaching down slowly, almost gently, it lifts the remaining child from her numb limbs. The little girl struggles and begs; she tries to grab onto her would-be protector. There is nothing the young woman can do. She watches as it sinks its teeth into the squirming child’s midsection, splattering offal across the entire chamber, covering her in the little girl’s drippings. Chewing with slow delight, it continues to stare at the young woman cowering against the wall. It smells her rank terror; it sees her eyes dim as her mind slips to a distant place. It watches as her body goes limp then spasms uncontrollably.
All the while, the wailing from the room next door grows more incessant.
Awareness dawning, it recognizes the ability to reason, not simply act on impulse. It likes this feeling. Malformed knees bent backwards, it leans down and flicks the young woman’s head to the side.
It has a thought: useless.
It has a feeling: mild agitation.
It hears a sound.
Turning its head, it recognizes the scent that accompanies the untamed agony coming from the other room. Smiling, it abandons the useless mass of jittering flesh on the floor, and draws a gore smeared talon across the wall. The sound calms for a moment… only a moment… before the maniacal pounding and ear-splitting shrieks begin again.
It leaves Room Two, returns to the table in the center of the main chamber and stares with smug satisfaction at the one-way mirror. It believes it has won.
“Seal the chamber. Gas it.” The doctor orders. He then speaks into his digital recorder.
“Eighty-seven has shown marked improvement with cognitive awareness, careless brutality, and its ability to identify its own DNA. But it still does not choose to kill the stranger. Is it showing a degree of compassion?” He clicks off the recorder, tapping it against his chin while glancing up at the monitor showing him a single view of Room One.
Flicking the recorder on once more, he continues, “The reason for the test subject’s failure is still unknown. She should have been able to breach containment by now, saving her offspring. End session eighty-seven.”
Rubbing his exhausted eyes, the doctor turns to the others in the control room. “Let’s clean this up, and get her sedated as quickly as possible. She’s already gestating two new fetuses from number eighty-eight. We don’t want to endanger them anymore than we have to.”
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2013 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
On a brisk December morning
Children dreamt of Holiday delights
A vile storm was brewing
To extinguish 27 lights
Little sisters with their new clothes
Little boys in wintry white
A storm thick was waiting
To extinguish 27 lights
The end of a new day
Who could see the darkest spite
A storm now was ready
To extinguish 27 lights
As the stars are just dawning
Look up high in the night
They are singing others playing
Missed, Precious 27 lights
27 stockings hung…
My empty heart
Joins you on the pyre
Feelings are completely rung
no hope of life’s gift
of your love I am bereft
If I flung
myself before finality did start
into memory’s fire
flames would purify and lift
casting this pain adrift
No presents slung
On Santa’s jolly cart
can satisfy under ache so dire
no happy hugs to sift
this cold pale Christmas
~ Leslie Moon
© Copyright 2012 Leslie Moon. All Rights Reserved.