Stepping out of the car, I look up at Lake Euphoria Inn.
Although they’ve spruced up the three story building with a fresh coat of paint, it’s still the same place where my wife and I spent all our anniversaries.
Including our last.
Turning away from the inn, I have no intentions of reliving those memories in the honeymoon suite. Instead my eyes fall upon the path cut into the trees, which leads to Lake Euphoria itself.
It used to be a dirt path with odd roots protruding through, but now it’s a well-maintained gravel walkway.
As the gravel crunches beneath my feet it does little to ease the churning acid in my gut. Reaching to the small of my back, I make sure the gun is still tucked into the waistband of my pants. My fingers brush against the grip, reassuring me the pain is almost over.
I continue walking a few more steps, coming to the spot where my life was torn apart.
Looking around the small clearing I can still see my wife sprawled on her back, stomach ripped open, absolute terror permanently etched upon her face.
I had gone back to our room to retrieve the camera that I forgot to grab. On my way back I’d heard her screams, raw and terrified.
And then, silence.
Running as fast as possible, I came upon the thing. It stood knee-deep in the water, my wife’s entrails hanging from its mouth. Wet scales glistened on its body in the afternoon light. The amphibious abomination looked at me and smiled before disappearing under the water.
I shake my head, clearing those images from my mind.
The water laps against the large rocks surrounding Lake Euphoria. Perching myself on one of them near the spot where she died, I remove the gun from my waistband. In the weeks leading up to this day I fantasized about how it would feel. Would I be sad? Fearful? Or even relieved?
Even with the gun in hand and the barrel in my mouth, I’m void of emotion. I’m already dead.
Pulling back on the hammer, I steal one final glance to the lake… and there it is! The fucking thing, its head sticking out of the water, watching me.
I open fire until the gun clicks empty, all my shots missing wide.
It dips below the surface.
Diving in the cold water shocks my system. Where are you goddamn it? Although the lake is murky, there is some visibility. I don’t see it right away but I know it’s there.
My lungs begin to burn.
Something glides past me.
I reach out but grab nothing.
I hear a groan muffled by the water.
My lungs scream. I need air…there it is! Only a few feet away, staring at me with golden fish-like eyes…
…I inhale foul water…
…my body thrashes…
…but I can’t look away…
…lungs full of water…
…and swims off.
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.
It was a beautiful night for July Fourth fireworks. Frank Manetti drank an ice-cold Bud as he sat with his wife, Kim, on a picnic blanket in the park. All around, over a hundred people had gathered on blanket islands, waiting for the big show in the sky. Giggling kids ran with sparklers. On a stage, the high school band performed ‘Stars and Stripes’.
Frank and Kim’s three-year-old daughter, Emmy, talked to a jar of lightning bugs that Daddy had caught with her earlier. His baby girl looked adorable with face-painted flowers blooming on her cheeks. Frank wished he could bottle up Emmy’s preciousness and keep it forever. His teenage kids had grown out of that stage.
Collin, his fourteen-year-old, sat off by himself under a tree, playing a damned video game on his tablet, oblivious to the festivities. Agitation gnawing his gut, Frank searched the crowd for his sixteen-year-old. Cassandra stood near the softball field bleachers, talking with her girlfriends and some older boys.
“Cass should be with us,” Frank muttered. “I’m going over there.”
“Leave her be,” Kim said. “You’ll just embarrass her and then she’ll hate us for a month.”
It pained Frank’s heart that his kids had grown distant. Whenever his family was all together, Cass was always texting and Collin rarely looked up from a digital screen. At least I have sweet Emmy a few more years. His youngest looked up, smiled at Daddy, then went back to talking to the jar of glowing bugs.
Frank fished out two more beers from the cooler and nuzzled next to his wife, handing her a cold one. He kept one eye on Cass and the boys. He wanted very much to enjoy the school’s orchestra, but a group of sketchy teens nearby were blaring god-damn rap music. Their cigarettes lit up the gloom like fireflies.
“Hey,” Frank shouted. “You wanna turn that down? We’re trying to hear the band.”
A punk in a sleeveless T-shirt and black bandana turned his head and blew out smoke. “Got a problem, dude?”
“Yeah, I got a problem. You’re upsetting the people who came for the show.”
“Here’s your show.” Bandana gave him the finger and turned the music up louder. His friends snickered and raised their beers.
A rash of heat spread across Frank’s face. Squeezing his fist, he started to get up, but Kim grabbed his arm. “Don’t.”
Back in his marine days, Frank would have pounded the shit out of these assholes. With his wife and daughter nearby, he refrained.
The band stopped and Mayor McKee stepped onto the stage. “Is everyone ready for our big fireworks extravaganza?”
Families cheered. The softball team raised their bats and gloves.
The mayor gave the signal and the band started playing ‘Ride of the Valkyries’. The first bottle rocket launched a flare into the air with a whistle. White dots sparkled the night sky, followed by crackles. Emmy clapped and giggled. Next came starbursts of red, white, and blue. The audience gave an applause.
As bright lights lit up everyone’s faces, Frank watched Cass standing too close to some jock. The pungent smell of weed wafted across the Manetti family’s blanket. Frank’s glare shifted to Bandana and his gang of lowlifes. A big guy with a shaved head inhaled smoke from a joint.
Frank was about to confiscate the damned thing, when the gang members pointed toward the sky. Kaleidoscopes of colors flashed over the park. Then a shrieking flare shot down and exploded on the band. The music stopped as shattered instruments cut through the crowd like shrapnel. A piece of trombone speared into the mayor’s chest.
“Jesus!” Frank straightened.
“My God! What’s happening?” Kim asked.
He shook his head, stunned by the carnage of dead and wounded people. The blast had been too big for a poorly-aimed firework. More like a mortar. He’d suffered plenty of them in Iraq. His first thought was terrorist attack.
Two more flares shot from the sky and struck the blankets of the softball team. Kim threw her arms over Emmy as fiery body parts and sports gear flew through the air. A spinning aluminum bat shattered Emmy’s firefly jar.
Frank shielded Kim and Emmy with his body as more explosions erupted across the park. Screams and crying sounded all around. People trampled over one another to find cover.
A dozen flying objects emerged from the smoke. Long, sweeping red lasers burned holes through people all across the field. A man’s head glowed orange before it vaporized.
A running kid in a band uniform burst into red mist.
Kim cried, “Our kids!”
“I’ll find them,” Frank handed his toddler off to Kim and pointed to the woods that bordered the park. “You and Emmy get to safety.”
She hesitated, her eyes pleading.
He pushed Kim. “Go!”
Three small UFOs flew over and barraged the scrambling crowd. A blast hit Bandana’s gang, splattering the shaved-head kid all over the others. A singed arm with tattoos landed on Frank’s blanket.
Covered in blood, Bandana and his friends joined a panicked mob that knocked Frank to the ground. Shoes stepped on his hand and back. Emmy cried. Kim screamed.
He watched helplessly as wife and daughter were caught up in a stampede that carried them away into a cloud of smoke. Two small UFOs zipped after them.
Frank scooped up an aluminum bat and ran into the haze searching for Cass and Collin. Scorched bodies lay scattered across the grass. Dodging blasts and debris, he scoured the ground, terrified of finding his kids among the dead. Bandana reached up, begging for help. Then a laser sliced the prone punk’s skull in half.
Six more UFOs whooshed overhead, shooting at anyone who moved. Frank ducked beneath a tree as lasers torched the branches. The treetop caught fire.
He ran toward the woods, screaming his older children’s names, “Cass! Collin!”
He spotted Cassandra running with a crowd through the forest. “Cass!”
“Daddy!” She made her way back and hugged her father.
Cass shook her head. “Mom and Emmy?”
“In the woods. Safe, I hope.”
Still gripping the metal bat, Frank led Cass along a creek. Their feet splashed through shallow water. Dazed survivors hid behind tree trunks. Others ran and took cover under a bridge. Frank and Cass joined them in the shadows. By the grace of God, he found Kim and Emmy among the crowd. They were badly cut and bruised, but okay. The four hugged, thankful to be alive.
“Collin?” Kim asked.
Frank’s heart sank, learning that his son was still out there. “Take care of the girls. I’ll try to find him.” He stepped out from beneath the bridge.
A metallic whoosh reverberated through the air. Red lights glowed. A small object flew low along the creek. Two robotic arms stretched out of its sides and turned into spinning blades. The UFO charged straight for the survivors under the bridge. Frank stood in front, wielding his bat. Just as the craft reached him, he swung, smacked the thing, and sent it rolling through the creek. Sparks skipped across the water. The spinning blades stopped and the red lights winked out.
Frank picked up the dead machine with both hands. Weighing less than fifty pounds, it looked like some kind of alien spacecraft with multiple weapons. He turned it over. “What the fuck?” Etched into its belly were the words, ‘Made in China’.
Frank returned to the crowd beneath the bridge, more confused than ever, and determined to protect his girls. As he watched several more machines fly off over the treetops, he feared for his son.
* * *
A few blocks away, Collin Manetti jogged down a sidewalk through the neighborhood. He could still hear distant laser blasts and screams as people sought shelter. Several houses had caught fire. A few smoking bodies lay on the road and front lawns.
One of the flying machines careened up the street and hovered straight above Collin. He admired the technology of blinking lights and arsenal of weapons that jutted from its sides like tentacles. The ASSASSYN-X9000 was the coolest drone he’d ever seen. He gave it a salute and typed a few commands on his tablet. The drone zipped away to create havoc somewhere else.
Whistling, Collin entered his best friend’s house. Matt and Toby sat in the living room with VR goggles on their heads. Both teens cheered as they rapidly thumbed their joystick buttons.
“Dude, this new video game is kick ass,” Matt said. “I feel like I’m flying a spacecraft.”
“The screams sound so real,” Toby said.
“That’s because they are, dipshit.” Collin dropped into a beanbag chair and put on a third set of goggles. He switched the controls from his tablet to the joystick console and resumed control of a handful of machines, sending them on a search and destroy mission through the neighborhood and into the woods.
“I gotta get me one of these,” Matt said. “Where’d you get it?”
“Bought it off a gaming website from China.” Collin felt the sensation of sitting in a moving cockpit, as he dive-bombed people running along the ground.
Toby yelled “Score!” when he obliterated another target. “How many drones did you say the game comes with?”
Collin grinned. “A dozen. And the box comes with plenty of fireworks.”
∼ Brian Moreland
© Copyright Brian Moreland. All Rights Reserved.
MacPhersonville cemetery surrounded the town and was populated by the bones of early settlers. No one wanted to be buried there anymore, the modern crematorium had become the trend, but it was Frank Charles MacPherson the Third’s wish that he be buried alongside his ancestors. The MacPherson line had founded MacPhersonville; they were practically royalty.
Rumours that the cemetery was unhallowed ground were common. Many strange incidents had taken place there.
“Nonsense!” snapped Mrs. Emma Anne MacPherson, the matriarch, when family members whispered in her ear that the cemetery was cursed.
“My dear old Frank wants to be buried there and I shan’t hear another word to the contrary.”
On the morning of the service guests deliberated whether or not they should attend. They fingered neckties, fiddled with black veils, they smoothed creases on black trousers and skirts, but they knew they had to put in an appearance. It wasn’t any old corpse being laid to rest, it was the corpse of MacPherson the Third. Nobody wanted to be ostracised by the MacPhersons.
The large ornate gates of the cemetery creaked shut and slammed as the catch fell into place. Two ironwork angels faced each other, their trumpets held high. They were rusted orange, the white paint long gone. Mrs Barbara De Laverio, the town baker and the last of the funeral party to shuffle in, shivered as the gates shut behind her. She stared at the angels suspiciously, but she took a deep breath and held her tongue.
The coffin was covered by an arrangement of lilies and white roses, proud courtesy of Mrs. Edith Birkingham, the town florist. It was carried slowly by the bearers; followed by the Reverend James Peter, Reverend Jacob and Reverend Nathaniel. The small town had a high number of clergy posted there. No one wanted to ask why all three priests were present that day. They led the procession, their hands clasped within bell sleeves.
Sigmund, the groundskeeper, lurked out of view as the funeral party entered. He realised in despair that the entire town had shown up for the service.
Sigmund squeezed his eyes shut. It had been a long time since he had received an order to dig. The previous night, it had come again, accompanied by the heaviness on his chest, skin burning, ringing in his ears.
“Wake up boy and get to work! It’s time to dig!” roared the voice.
It rattled inside his head, a delighted cackle. There was nothing Sigmund could do to resist. He had been bound to the Guardian of the cemetery many years ago and was not able to venture beyond the gates. He had watched everyone he knew meet their inevitable end. Camped in squalor in the tiny caretaker’s cottage, he was the only living thing that wandered the rows of crumbling headstones. The other occupants of the cemetery were the souls of the dead.
The funeral party made their way along the gravel road, up the hill to the open plot. The congregation gathered around quietly. Reverend James Peter began the sermon.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to lay to rest a great man, great great grandson of our founding father, Frank Charles MacPherson. He was the pinnacle of our good community, a respected businessman, a loving father and husband….”
As the Reverend spoke the coffin began to tremble. From within came a long muffled groan. Mrs. Emma Anne Macpherson sat stunned in the front row, an embroidered handkerchief pressed to her nose.
Reverend James Peter paused and the three priests exchanged anxious looks. The young Reverend Nathaniel took a few steps back, frightened already. Reverend Jacob nodded seriously to Reverend James Peter. Best to cut the babble and get to the important stuff. Reverend James Peter began making the sign of the cross over the coffin and continued.
“Rest in peace Frank Charles Macpherson the Third, in the name of the Father and of the…”
The coffin rocked again, this time more violently.
“Fucking hell!” swore Reverend Nathaniel.
The coffin exploded with a loud crack. Sharp chunks of wood flew at the priests, red blotches quickly staining their white robes.
Old man MacPherson sat upright on his cushioned satin, staring ahead with milky eyes. His mouth dropped open as if in surprise, then he turned to face his family.
Mrs. MacPherson broke into hysterical squeals and the man who was once her husband chuckled.
The crowd began to disperse, screams erupting.
Sigmund had crept closer to watch, peering from behind a tree.
The Guardian had come. The Guardian would claim everyone.
“You can’t run, you can’t run.” He muttered, a yellow puddle growing at his feet.
The sun eclipsed; the sky darkened. People were lifted into the air as they fled, they spun slowly like flies caught in a web.
Frank Charles Macpherson the Third climbed out; he dusted off his grey suit and straightened his blue silk tie.
“What a special day!” he said “All of us together again!”
His wife sobbed into her handkerchief; the MacPherson clan cowered around her.
“Our Father who art in heaven…”
Reverend Jacob rambled as he sprinkled holy water, shards of wood embedded in his chest and thigh.
“Shut up, fool!” roared Frank and sent the priest flying with a wave of his arm. “Neither God nor the Devil himself cares about this hole of a town! I am Guardian and Reaper, the only afterlife that awaits you is within my gates!”
The MacPhersons screamed and huddled closer. They watched in terror as Frank Charles MacPherson the Third was torn apart from the inside. His arms popped out of their sockets. His torso split, rib cage stretching, stomach bursting, entrails gushing. The old man’s face cracked in half, blood seeping before his skull exploded. The jelly of dead brains wobbled through the air. The demon emerged from the carnage, a huge reptilian creature with moist black wings.
“The city of the damned comes alive once more! Come forth my minions! Feast! Frolic!” He stretched his wings to their full length and rose to the darkened heavens.
A cacophony of groans began as souls rose from their graves. They could be seen in the eerie unnatural light, grey wraiths that reeled through the air. Ancient skeletons began to push and crawl their way out of the earth. They dangled and swayed, dressed in dirty tatters.
The bodies pinned in the air rained from the sky and plummeted to the ground. The wraiths howled in excitement as they flew towards them, diving and taking possession. The mangled bodies rose, arms and legs twisted, necks broken.
The dead feasted on the living and the living began to feast on each other. Latent passions were sparked and grudges were fuelled. The butcher’s wife turned on her husband’s mistress, wrestling her to the ground, grinning as she strangled and pounded her head to pulp. The postman and the librarian tumbled onto the nearest slab of marble. Foaming at the mouth, they tore at more than clothes, ripping chunks of hair, gouging eyes.
The demon streaked through the blackened sky, his laughter a deep rumble that rattled the earth.
The skeletons of Frank Charles MacPherson the First and Second lurched towards the MacPhersons who remained huddled together by the desecrated grave. They pointed at them, growing agitated, their jawless skulls bobbing wordlessly. They would not be able to protect their family from the horde that was advancing.
A macabre flock of bedevilled bodies stumbled up the hill towards them. They fell upon the screaming MacPhersons, gnawing at flesh and drinking the bloodline of their founding fathers. The most perverse of hatred was reserved for the dying bodies of the priests.
Night clung to the cemetery; it became a timeless realm. The possessed tormented and molested each other, revelling in arousal and repulsion. Sigmund watched in fascination, and soon abandoned himself to the frenzy of sex and violence.
Freshly murdered souls drifted earthbound, gazing upon their own slaughtered remains. Their agony echoed on the wind, drifting through the empty town and across the mountains.
Eventually stillness fell, the dark skies cleared and a weak sun emerged, shining dimly upon the cemetery.
“Keep digging my boy!” laughed the demon as he whipped Sigmund with his tail. Sigmund was beyond all inkling of humanity by then, grunting and drooling in the mud as he dug furiously with both hands, naked but for the dry blood that coated his body. It was the biggest pit he ever had to dig, a massive open grave into which he dragged the mutilated corpses that lay scattered about.
MacPhersonville still stands today, a derelict town in the middle of nowhere, subject of many a ghost story.
No one is certain how the town people all strangely vanished. Their homes and stores were found abandoned yet orderly. A long trail of cars remains parked outside the cemetery, an empty funeral hearse at the front. It appears as if the whole town entered the cemetery and disappeared. It is said that if you visit MacPhersonville Cemetery at certain times of year, at the equinoxes or a rare blue moon, it becomes a buzzing necropolis, alive with the debauchery of the dead, but none who dare venture beyond the gates ever return to tell their tale.
~ Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
I have been known by many names, I prefer Nemesis. Like all deities, my origin and true purpose have been forgotten, denied and sanctified by folklore. I was the dispenser of Justice before justice became a blindfolded woman in the courts of men. I see into the hidden depths of your soul and make manifest your most despised fears, I deliver what you truly deserve. It is not karma, it is not an eye for an eye, it is pure punishment. I will take both eyes and every other organ as well.
I take pride in my work; the dead squabble at the gates of my kingdom as if vying for entrance to an exclusive club. Only the very top skimming of filth, those responsible for the most extraordinary cruelty may proceed. There are many realms of Hell. The common evil doers toss and tumble in pits of flame for eternity, a monotonous suffering fit for the feeble minded. Liars, thieves, adulterers, blasphemers, you will wish you had the balls to really follow your dark urges when you are sentenced to those seething pits of tedious torment. Those pathetic souls are not fit to be in Hell but, of course, the gatekeepers of Heaven will not take them so here they remain: moaning, bitching, squirming; just as they did in life.
Every moment fresh hoards are ushered through the screaming fields where they first witness the horrors they will be subjected to. Row upon row, as far as can be seen, the damned are staked and raked, enduring visions of torture I project upon them.
Among my elite charge are infamous mass murderers, pedophiles, tyrants and politicians, and my favorites, men of the cloth. I have them to thank for the more creative implements of torture at my disposal. I don’t often get my own hands dirty, I have gimps to perform the menial tasks, but sometimes a particular soul will beg for my personal attention.
I have created my world to beautiful perfection. The Infernal Lord respects my artistry and allows me to proceed as I wish. I stroll through the black smoking fields, the rolling hills of ash and debris, piled high with torn limbs, rotting organs, shattered bones. My vulturous familiars flock and feed on the remains, their red eyes glistening like jewels in the fog. The shrieks of the damned are a blissful, primeval hum; the stench of decay is always flourishing. I walk along the rivers of semen and bile that trickle into a thick sea of blood, and I find peace in my work. For a thousand years I have been content in my kingdom. And then you, my beloved, appeared at my gates.
I, of all beings, should appreciate the irony of Universal Law, but I was stunned, you took my breath away. Never did it occur to me that I would see you again, how could I have been so naive? One of my favorite tasks is to torture soul mates, making one watch the other suffer, squeezing them empty of the precious love they believed so rare. And then you, my beloved, were delivered to me.
I was working in the fields happily, the spread-eagled sod before me began a pleasant, pathetic wail at the mere sight of the rake I held. I raised the tool to begin but suddenly paused, shocked to feel your presence. The distinctive energy of you was close. A flock of dead, shrouded in black clouds of hate, were being ushered through the gates and you were amongst them, shuffling along, your head hung low.
Your body bore the marks and lashes of other kingdoms, you had been in Hell a long time but it was apparent you were not yet truly broken. In sheer audacity you clung to the shreds of your royal attire, wrapping them around yourself as if still a noble man. I stared as you walked past, then I returned to my work. Distracted, I tore the fellow before me into thin strips with one quick movement.
I left you strung up for days in the fields, uncertain of how I was going to approach you. Never before had I experienced this doubt in my own realm. Was this a test? Was I, Nemesis, being ridiculed? It baffled and insulted me. My prayers to the Infernal Lord were met with silence.
My gimps became nervous as they watched me grow withdrawn and silent. “What task today Mistress? What wonders may we do today Mistress?” they sniffled and groveled at my feet and I kicked them away, impatient and angry.
“Hang them by their balls! Hook them up by their holes,” I shouted and paced. “Dip them in boiling fat then set them on fire! I don’t care, think of something! Do as you please and leave me alone!”
Brooding, I locked myself away, turning my back on my exquisite realm, until I could avoid you no longer.
I lifted your head with the tip of my pitchfork. My great and powerful king, slayer of children, defiler of men, strung up like a corpse waiting to be gutted. I can still see that steady look on your face as you swung your jeweled sword and sliced off my head. You didn’t pause, you didn’t hesitate. Do you see me now? I have evolved; I have become something other, something more, while you have remained a wretch, stubbornly clinging to ideas that no longer serve you. Your royal birth, your blood line, is of no significance here.
Your eyes were glazed and gray, your once handsome face nothing but stretched skin over bone. In your mad delirium you mumbled the ancient hymns of your powerless pagan god. I stuck the spears of the pitchfork deep into your throat to get your attention. You lifted your eyes to meet my own. What traveled between us, in our gaze, horrified me and I let the pitchfork fall. A black putrid liquid seeped from the holes in your neck and trickled, streaking you with slime. We stared at each other. I thought it impossible, but it was there, tangible, the remnants of our love.
You recognized me and the mask of your face changed. Something in my long dead and hardened chest began to swell. Your eyes watered. Your tears were of black slime too and the thick drops sat on your cheeks like little bugs. A sound gurgled in your throat as you struggled for a voice. I heard you whisper my name, the name I had in life, and your whisper rattled my kingdom.
“My darling, my darling, is it really you?” you croaked. “Save me.”
A feeble plea dripping with sweet humiliation. Yet my sight blurred, a strange haze surrounded me. My rotten, phantom heart beat louder. Tears, my own tears, that I thought I would never need cry again, began rolling down my cheeks. I cried the blood of devils. I dropped to my knees and wept.
The ravaged earth below me laughed. It was the cruel laughter of the Infernal Lord, pleased to see me, the great Demoness Nemesis, broken. And then I looked up to see you too were chuckling, spluttering your black venom.
My tears stopped. A rage infused me, more glorious than I’ve ever felt before and I shrieked triumphantly at the pleasure of it. Without another moment’s hesitation I stood and rammed the pitchfork through your chest, then jacked it open. Your withered heart was a stone. I yanked it out and swallowed it.
Then I set to work, with renewed delight and focus. Once we reigned as king and queen in a fertile and noble land. Now I reign alone over my own dominion. Your rule was cruel and villainous but my reign is without limitation.
I administered the tortures that you had enjoyed watching as king. I cut your tongue into thin slices, a slice for every lie and bribe you had spoken. A long stake through your anus and out your mouth, for the rapes of young men, women and children. I lost myself in a frenzy of dismemberment, plucking your ribs and vertebrae, savoring each diseased organ, weaving a lace of bondage with your own intestines.
My Lord appeared to me, breaking my reverie, so pleased was He with my work. I prostrated in obedience and we fornicated on your remains. Your gouged eyeballs watched, hanging out of the sockets of your severed head. Your twisted and scalded penis twitched, aroused. Your hands crawled away like bleeding spiders. My gimps came to scrape you up and put you back together again. Your torment will never end; it is a nightmare you will dream for eternity.
I will always be your Nemesis and you will be mine.
~ Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
I was born twice. Once in my own world, of which I recall very little, and once again by a human vessel. My consciousness was merged with human seed and implanted in a hot womb of thriving tissue. Perhaps those months spent within my human host are the most enjoyable in my memory. No one could reach me there. I was happy, alone, protected and silent; safe from the Fathers and not yet privy to the horrors of this Earth. Nourishment was instant. I desired nothing, much like the state I once enjoyed in my homeland. Then came the time to be expelled and no matter how much I refused, the imperative of the human body was unstoppable. I was squeezed in the most undignified way through a narrow canal, my skull and limbs crushed by straining muscles.
Deformed and coated in human slime, I arrived on this planet. I screeched in terror, in outrage. The humans smiled, their faces glazed with ignorance. They were so proud of themselves and so smitten with me, as if I really was their very own creation.
I once met another like myself. This never occurs, it was no coincidence. It was a warning, to teach me a lesson.
He appeared to be a well dressed business man. We passed each other on the street, then we both stopped and turned back to stare at one another. He looked around anxiously. He dropped his briefcase and grabbed my arms.
“Free yourself!” he hissed. “Use the humanity to mask yourself!”
He revealed his true eyes to me, the pupils stretched to long slits, the colour of the iris drained away. I looked at him helplessly and recognised the burden cast upon us, this human suffering we are made to bear. I felt his fingers morph as they clutched me, stretching and curling into long grey digits.
There was so much I wanted to ask him but I couldn’t utter a sound and our meeting was swiftly ended. He coughed, buckled and seized, his skin began to smoke and burn, the smell of it revolting. I felt his excruciating pain and together we screamed. Still clutching me he melted like wax, his body folding upon itself, bones and organs exposed for a moment before disintegrating. I stared as his sizzling remains, my clothes stained with his dripping flesh.
I was on a busy street; humans rushed past me, unaware as usual. Blind, deaf and dumb to the reality around them. I couldn’t make sense of the emotions coursing through me. Is this madness? I wondered, Can I succumb to the weaknesses of the human mind?
I have been sent here as many before me were sent and many more will follow. We live among you while your governments shoot their toy rocket ships into space. We are here beside you as you stare into the night sky pondering extraterrestrials. You are infantile, primitive creatures. My Fathers recognise your wealth even if you do not. The rich earth you live upon and the unique consciousness and bodies you possess, there is much on your planet for them to reap and therefore they sow. Each generation is a little less human as we assimilate your genes.
Their grand design and agenda, that I can’t disclose for I don’t know myself. I serve as countless others serve. I receive my instructions one at a time and everything that occurs in this human life I inhabit is preordained, I have no free will to gamble with.
I have jumped through all the hoops; school, work, family. I have upheld an identity, a personality. All these things I have endured, as well as any real human, for the sake of the Fathers. Every day I wonder, is my service finally complete? Will I soon be able to vacate this form? Perhaps tomorrow a car will crush me or I will be shot in the street or better still, I will be given the directive to do it myself. I would gladly poison this body, laughing as it twitched and jerked to its demise. I daydream about slashing wrists and broken necks. I would revel in the torture of this soft, sensual jail. I have never become fully accustomed to it. It accomplishes things in such slow, inefficient ways, victim to the savage torment of time as it gradually breaks down like a tired machine. The chewing and digestion of food, defecating and urinating, the putrid mess of sexual intercourse; it is perverse.
My swelling womb stretched my stomach to obscene proportions. I was smooth, round and ripe, ready to burst; pregnant. For the first time I felt fear, what more will the Fathers demand of me?
The man who is my husband was happy in the simple manner of humans. He served me tea, stuffing more pillows around me, propping me up like the doll I am. He rattled on about possible names for the offspring and how we should decorate the nursery.
Bloated like a rotting thing, I was more disgusted by this body than ever before. A grim depression overcame me. It was then I realized there is no higher purpose for me to fulfill. I am simply here to propagate for the Fathers.
My human husband said, “Cheer up darling, everything will be fine!”
I wobbled to the window and looked up at the night sky. Beyond those faint twinkling stars, an inconceivable distance away in human time, is my home. I close my eyes and try to remember the serene cities of my planet, free of all artifice and decoration, cold, simple, perfect; the identical faces of my clan – nothing was random in my world, nothing was superfluous, life thrived in geometric precision; and I remember the wars, thousands slaughtered in one breath by intergalactic beings more powerful and merciless than us.
The bone stretching contractions, the violent spasms cracking this body open. A spine buckling possession. No amount of screaming alleviated the torment, it was a grueling marathon to the brink of human endurance.
“Don’t give it to me!” I shrieked when they handed me the writhing little monster.
It looked so perfectly human; its skin pink, its eyes blue. But I can feel its ancient power. It is one of my kind, much older and stronger than I have ever known.
At first I tried to kill it. Surely its fragile body would be easy to kill? I bashed its little skull on the floor. I tried to smother it, to drown it. But it survived unscathed while I was struck down with pain.
It doesn’t stop howling until I bring it to my breast. It latches on and sucks greedily, the little leech. I cry the strange salt of human tears as I realize it is not over for me, it has only just begun. I am a mother of the new breed. I will grow old and wrinkled and die a tedious human death while this hybrid creature will flourish and conquer, favored by evolution. My baby stares up at me and gurgles innocently, drooling from its perfect rosebud lips.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2015 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
George Sutherland followed Francine McKenna farther into the forest. His interest in Sasquatch had led him to join the Nova Scotia Bigfoot Hunters Society. When he met the group’s leader Francine, however, his priority instantly became to get into her pants. When she asked him to go with her on a short overnight expedition, he saw it as good a chance as any.
Only one tent for the two of them.
“Come on,” Francine said, looking over her shoulder. “Pick up the pace back there.”
Her red hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail and although her cheeks were red from the excursion through the woods, George could still see her freckles. He couldn’t help but smile.
“Easy for you to say,” George said adjusting his backpack straps. “I’m the one carrying all of the heavy shit.”
“I can give you the lighter one if that one is too heavy for you. I bet the rest of the group would love to hear about that.”
George made a face but increased his speed, trying to catch up to her.
Clouds were slowly overtaking the blue sky that had been present earlier in the morning when they parked on the side of the logging road and ventured into the woods. Some blue jays chirping in the trees suddenly darted out, catching George’s attention. He didn’t see his boot catch the exposed root and fell forward with the weight of the backpack forcing him to the ground.
Francine laughed. “Are you okay?”
“Fuck sakes,” George said, pushing himself off the ground. “Where is the rest of the team anyways?”
“Matt and Ryder had to work and Beverly’s out of town visiting family. They’re going to regret not coming out on this one.”
“So exactly why are we out here? Why this particular area?”
Francine looked at him. “You mean besides living up to the NSBHS’s name?” She took out her cellphone, opened some files and handed it to George. “An old friend of mine, Bryan who works as a harvester for Triple L Lumber, sent me these photographs.”
The first few photos George flipped through consisted of large footprints in the ground and at the end were shots of reddish-brown fur snagged on tree branches.
“Those pictures were taken by different employees all within this eighty hectare plot,” Francine said. “They all reported experiencing a strong, foul odor like a combination of a skunk and wet dog as well as hearing loud grunts and sticks banging against trees. All classic evidence of Bigfoot.”
George frowned. “I know that I’m still relatively new to the group but we get dozens of emails from people with pictures like this, claiming to have seen Bigfoot. What makes these more special or significant?”
“There’s also been some other strange things going on up here. If you scroll to the end of the photos, you’ll see one that’s not related to Sasquatch at all.”
George found the photo she was referring to and looked at it.
There were four impressions in all, with two distinct prints. The first set was the smaller of the two with what looked like three knuckles side by side. The larger ones also had three knuckles and were further out to the sides. They also had small indentations that resembled bear claws.
“It kind of looks like whatever made these was running,” George said. He handed the phone back to Francine. “The way they are laid out reminds me of the way a gorilla runs.”
George undid his backpack straps and slid them off his shoulders.
He squatted down and then pushed off with his knuckles, landing on his feet and repeated for a few feet so Francine could see what he meant. She looked at the pictures, then at the slight impressions George had made in the ground and back to her phone.
“I can see it,” she said. “If we can find more evidence of this we may have something new for the cryptozoology books.”
It was sore from the struggle its previous prey had put up.
Unable to see, it relied on its sharp sense of smell that was still filled with the skunk-like smell of its previous meal. It was about to move on when it picked up on something else.
The smell was faint but recognizable.
They trudged on, venturing deeper into the forest. The air was cool, yet humid, as summer was refusing to hand its reigns over to autumn.
“I’ve always enjoyed the smells of the woods,” Francine said. “It smells alive.”
“The bugs have always kept me away from walking amongst the trees,” George said. “Fucking things.”
“They don’t seem to be too bad now.”
George realized that he hadn’t heard the high-pitched buzzing in his ear for a while. He also noticed that the birds didn’t seem to be chirping either.
“Why is it so quiet?” George asked.
Francine looked at him, listened and shrugged with little concern for the silence.
They walked on and in the pit of his stomach, George thought it felt wrong. He opened his mouth to mention it but didn’t want to ruin his chances.
The trees started to thin out, which George was thankful for as it made walking easier. Eventually, they entered a clearing and were immediately hit by a strong stink.
“Holy shit, what the hell is that…?” George said covering his nose with his hand.
“It kind of smells like a skunk,” George said.
He looked at Francine and even though the smell was bothering her, she seemed to get excited.
“Sasquatch is reported to have a skunk-like smell,” she said.
“Or it could just be a skunk.”
“No, this is different. It’s really thick and… it does seem to have a wet dog scent to it.”
Although he smelled it too, George shook his head. “To me it still smells like a skunk, possibly a dead one, but a skunk nonetheless.”
“Let’s go find the source,” Francine said.
The clearing was roughly the size of a football field. An assortment of bushes had sprung up sporadically with a few small spruce trees here and there amongst the tall grass.
George started after her and immediately felt his body break out in goose bumps. He stopped and looked around. Something about the clearing made him feel very uneasy.
“Maybe we should…”
He was cut off by Francine yelling with excitement in her voice.
“Oh my God! George, get your ass over here! Hurry!”
She was standing near the far tree line, waving her arms frantically.
“Did you find the skunk?” George asked as he got closer.
Near the edge of the clearing was a body lying on its back, its arms jutting straight out to the side. It was covered in reddish-brown fur that fluttered in a gentle breeze except for the face, which was clean shaven. The eyelids were open slightly but the eyes had rolled back into its head with a wide, flat nose sitting just below them. Its mouth was slightly agape, showing yellowed teeth.
The body of a Sasquatch.
It could tell it was getting closer; the human scent was everywhere. Very faintly, it could hear their voices.
Its pace quickened.
“I don’t fucking believe it,” George said.
“Do you know what this means?” Francine asked. “Get the camera out.”
“I still don’t believe what I’m seeing.”
“You can don’t believe all you want later.” Francine slipped the backpack off her shoulders. “Get the camera out and start shooting!”
George’s eyes, and brain, were still trying to comprehend exactly what they had stumbled across. He removed his backpack and let it fall to the ground hard.
“Hey, come on. Pay attention to what you’re doing.” She took her cellphone out of her backpack and began dialing.
“I’m going to give the rest of the team a call.”
George squatted down and began unzipping his backpack, but didn’t take his eyes off of the body. It was well over nine feet and the beast’s frame looked powerful.
His hands found the camera and he pulled it out. He turned it on, shifted his eyes from the body to the LCD screen and began taking pictures.
“Damn it,” Francine said. “I can’t get a signal out here.”
As he walked closer to the body, George zoomed in on the Sasquatch’s arms and noticed a puncture wound on each one. The fur and skin seemed to have been pushed to the sides. A hole, roughly the diameter of a pencil, penetrated through the tissue underneath.
“I really can’t believe that this is lying right in front of us,” Francine said. She knelt down beside the Sasquatch and held her hand out, hesitating to touch it. “This is incredible.”
As he took a few more pictures, George noticed the ground around the body was beaten down. A lot of the tall grass had been broken, as if it buckled underneath something heavy. Scattered around the ground were clumps of the Sasquatch’s fur.
To him, it looked like a fight had taken place.
George lowered the camera and looked at her. “It doesn’t look like it died from natural causes.”
Francine met his gaze for a moment then looked around at the surroundings. “I think you might be right.”
“So what killed it?”
It could tell it was near the clearing due to the trees’ smells fading into nothing more than background scents. The other odor was still there.
There were two human scents, a male and female, both of them nearby.
Despite its previous meal not too long ago, it was ravenous.
It entered the clearing.
“Does Bigfoot have any natural predators?”
“I’m not really sure,” Francine replied. “But, if I had to give an answer, I would say no.”
“So, I’ll ask again. What killed it?”
They both thought back to the strange tracks in the picture on Francine’s phone.
“Do you think those tracks are part of it?” Francine asked.
George opened his mouth to answer but saw Francine’s eyes open wide in fear.
Something slammed into him and tackled him to the ground, landing on his stomach. George struggled to turn over but he felt a sting in his back; within seconds a toxin entered his bloodstream, paralyzing him. Although he could not move, George’s head remained facing Francine’s direction.
The thing that tackled him was already making its way towards her. It was hairless and running just as he had acted out earlier: running on its knuckles with its fingers curled underneath, like a gorilla.
Francine screamed and ran. The creature, however, was too fast and tackled her to the ground. Two stingers shot out of its palms into her back, just beneath her shoulder blades.
When she stopped moving, it turned its head to George.
There were no eyes; only nostrils constantly flaring and a mouth running vertically up its face. A large plate-like feature jutted out along its back, protecting most of the torso.
The creature began dragging her back to where George was lying. It released her and using the claws on its hands, cut into her forearm. George watched as it dug its hook-like teeth into her flesh and then the mouth opened, tearing tissue away from the bone. A penetrating sheath shot out of its mouth into the bone and it began to ingest Francine’s marrow.
George could only watch and wait, knowing that once it finished with her it would come for him.
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright 2015 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved
“Fulfill your divine potential. Connect with your higher self and spirit guides. Manifest the life you want,” read the brochure.
It sounded like a good idea at the time, but sitting there, in a circle of misfits, Jess regretted going along and wondered how she could politely excuse herself.
A woman with long white hair rang a little bell to announce the meditation was about to begin. People hushed their soft chatter. They nestled on their cushions, getting comfortable.
“Okay. Let’s begin. My name is Isadora. I will be leading the guided meditation with you tonight.”
Isadora glanced around the room, smiling warmly. She wore long flowing clothes in shades of pink and white. Her neck and fingers were adorned with gemstones. Jess hated her immediately.
“Let’s close our eyes. Begin by taking a deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth. And another deep breath in…and out. Allow all the thoughts and worries of the day to slip away. Become fully aware of your body. We’re going to count backwards from ten and you will gradually feel more and more relaxed. Ten…”
Reluctantly Jess closed her eyes. She would just have to sit through this and leave as soon as she could. She peeped through squinted eyes at the others in the room. They were a random group from all walks of life: a well groomed business man fresh out of the office, a twenty something Goth girl, a middle aged woman in gym gear, a plump woman in a brightly printed kaftan and matching head scarf.
Without dropping her smile Isadora gave Jess a stern look. Jess quickly squeezed her eyes shut.
“You are standing in a beautiful forest; a lush, green, beautiful forest. It is a warm sunny day. You are walking through the forest and soon you reach a clearing. Standing in the middle of the clearing is someone waiting for you. It is your spirit guide. Feel the rays of love coming from your guide, they are so happy to meet you.”
Jess was standing in a beautiful forest. A lush, green, beautiful forest. A short way ahead there was a clearing. She walked towards the clearing as she was instructed. There was something there. It was so bright that her eyes began to sting; she couldn’t look at it directly. Jess didn’t feel joy, she felt a heavy sinking dread – an immobilizing terror. The being was menacing. It appeared to be made of flames, flickering and lashing. Jess looked around, frightened. The lush, green, beautiful forest had become dense and dark, stretching upwards, closing in on her. She couldn’t escape this imagined landscape; there was no way back.
“When you feel ready you may approach your guide. You may hug them if you wish, do what feels right for you. Ask them if they have a name.”
Isadora’s calm steady voice continued to drone on in her head, but Jess could no longer focus on the words.
The temperature was rising quickly, the atmosphere had become a blistering haze. Jess was sweating; she felt faint. The strange being approached her. It came close, dancing and twirling in front of her. The waves of heat were scalding; she could smell her hair smouldering. Tiny shooting sparks flicked at her, each one inflicting a painful burn. Jess opened her mouth to scream and the being leapt in. It slid down her throat and zapped around furiously in her belly. Her stomach began to sizzle. The sensation of being burned from the inside out was excruciating. She dropped to the ground screaming. She rolled around clutching her stomach, but the fire was within her and she couldn’t extinguish it. The looming dark forest exploded in flames.
“…And when you are ready, open your eyes. You are now fully back in your body and safely grounded.”
Isadora’s voice cut through her vision and Jess found herself sitting on the cushion again.
Around her, the others had begun to stretch and move. A few people were shedding quiet tears of happiness and awe. The kaftan wearing woman was chanting ‘Om’. Isadora rang her tiny bell again to bring attention back to the circle.
“Okay. I hope you all enjoyed that visualization. Would anyone like to share their experience?”
“My guide was a Native American warrior,” blurted the businessman. “He gave me a large white feather.”
“A white feather!” said Isadora, impressed. “Wonderful. Very powerful.”
A lively discussion began as people exchanged details of their spirit guide experiences, comparing mysterious details and imagery.
Jess sat quietly, feeling very shaken. Her experience had seemed so real, so awful. She remembered the smell of her hair burning and the sensation of burning up inside. She hoped no one would ask her about it. She looked around the room, growing more anxious. It was starting to get so hot and stuffy. Thick smoke streamed from an incense burner, forming a mist in the room. The sweet scent was nauseating. Candles burned around the circle. Jessica watched the flames rise and flash brightly. She wriggled uncomfortably as panic began to set in. She must be imagining things, she thought, she had to get out.
“Are you okay, dear? Do you want to share your experience? Sometimes our guides challenge us because they know we are ready to grow.”
Isadora was speaking to her. She was still smiling that infuriating smile, that feigned wisdom and compassion.
The others in the circle turned to stare at Jess. Jess felt a strange force stir within her and she struggled to speak.
“My guide…my guide is…my guide is fire!”
The smile on Isadora’s face didn’t falter, she stared at Jess, not understanding.
Jess began to shake, a blind rage rose within her, building momentum. A deafening screech erupted from her as she lunged at Isadora, bowling her over. Her hands gripped her neck and squeezed. Jess watched in shock and delight as flesh melted and oozed in her hands. Muscle dripped away from jawbone, revealing rows of long teeth; the tongue was sizzling sludge. Isadora’s eyeballs blistered then popped. Foul grey smoke streamed out of ears and nostrils as her brain boiled. Soon, all that remained of Isadora’s head was a charred skull with a mocking smile.
The room had erupted into screams. Jess stood and faced the others, her eyes glowed like burning coals. Candles flashed, alighting curtains and furnishings as people tried to escape. The sacred circle was now a ring of flame.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2015 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
I’m fourteen days, three hours and twenty seconds into the mission. So far the spacecraft has performed flawlessly, surpassing all expectations. It’s been rather comfortable as the capsule was designed with more room for the occupant than previous spacecraft.
When I was selected to be the commander of this mission, my wife got the biggest kick out of watching me jump around our little apartment with a big shit eating grin on my face. She said that…
…she said… why am I even bothering to mention her?
So is everybody else.
I should never have taken this assignment. Prior to the launch, the administrators had told me to say a proper goodbye to her as tensions were high with our rivals across the pond. The risk of nuclear exchange was at its greatest, even more so than during the Cuban crisis.
I didn’t take it seriously.
The officials were still going ahead with the launch and I treated it as business as usual. I cringe remembering my last words to her.
“Keep the steaks warm.”
I watched helplessly above it all as hundreds of nuclear missiles launched from their silos. Had it been a simulation, I would have described the mushroom clouds sprouting up from the impacts as mesmerizing; however, knowing each one signaled the eradication of civilization, I felt numb. My radio had gone silent after a partial scream was obliterated in a roar of static.
That all happened on the second day of the mission.
Through each window, I can see the planetoid carcass that was once Earth. It used to be a beautiful sight with shades of white, blue, green and brown; a source of wonder and full of life. Now it’s an inhospitable cancer, smothered with the unnatural, burning clouds.
I left my radio on over those twelve days but only empty static and the ghosts of my memories kept me company. I would have loved to hear another human voice – even if it had been the enemy.
I’ve just initiated my reentry procedure. Within minutes, my ship will fire its rockets one final time, propelling me back towards the nuclear polluted earth. When the moment comes to deploy the parachutes, I will simply sit back and enjoy the ride. I’d rather die in an impact crater on the earth’s surface than orbiting above it.
They fire right on cue and I feel the ship slowly descending into the atmosphere.
“Can anybody… me?” The voice crackles through my headset. “My name is…” A burst of static hisses then fades. “If anyone can hear me, please acknowledge…”
I lean forward to reply then stop. There’s no way I can interrupt the reentry procedure. Even if I could, what would be the point? As the flames begin to engulf the outside of my ship, I turn the radio off and lean back into my seat. There’s no reason to give him a false sense of hope.
Sorry buddy. You’re on your own.
~ Jon Olson
© Copyright 2015 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved
Emily was woken by the sound of chopping wood. Jimmy was swinging his axe early that morning. Thick logs cracked, split in two and fell with a dull thud. It was a familiar and comforting sound.
She didn’t have the energy to move around much anymore, even the slightest movement left her gasping with pain. Emily gazed at the large glass of water on the bedside table, wishing she could reach for it. Her throat was scorched and her mouth was sour. She coughed and her chest felt like a rattling heap of bones. Her breath was a loud, tender wheeze.
Jimmy would be in soon. He would stroke her hair and smile down at her. She closed her eyes and pictured him out there in the cold, preparing for their evening fire. She began to recall all the fires they had shared together. It was an exercise she liked to do often. It comforted her and kept her mind occupied, which helped to alleviate the pain. She wondered how long before the fire would be hers alone. Flames flickered in her vision, in shades of orange and yellow, stretching into long, howling faces that mocked her. She didn’t open her eyes again.
The first time Jimmy and Emily started a fire they were fifteen years old. They lived in the outer suburbs, a sprawl of dilapidated houses, trashy chain stores and franchise family restaurants, cut through the centre by a highway.
Surrounded as they were by drugs, alcohol and violence, fire became the one vice they couldn’t resist. Fire opened up a secret space, theirs alone, to reside in for a while, as the cold brutal world faded from view. Fire was the secret they protected and which, in turn, protected them.
One day they had climbed a high wire fence into an abandoned car yard. The yard was scattered with the hulls of stripped cars and an assortment of discarded junk. They rummaged through the remains. They sat on a red vinyl back seat perched on top of a pile of old tyres. Jimmy pulled out a couple of bent cigarettes he had stolen from his father.
Jimmy played with the lighter as they smoked, flicking the flame repeatedly. He was feeling agitated and restless. That morning his father, already drunk for the day, had flown into a rage over the electricity bill. Jimmy and his brothers had scattered from the house like insects.
He touched the flame to the seat and the vinyl began to melt instantly, oozing like an open wound, the smell of burning plastic a toxic high. Emily stared at the tiny flame licking the plastic seat.
Jimmy’s face changed as he watched, becoming thoughtful and calm.
“Wanna start a fire with me?” he asked suddenly.
Emily exhaled a grey plume; she shrugged and nodded casually but she was excited by the idea. They jumped down from the seat and searched the car yard for things to burn. There were scraps of foam and rubber around and lots of scattered rubbish. They shredded old newspapers into a big empty drum.
“Do the honours?” said Jimmy and handed Emily the lighter. She lit a wad of paper then tossed it in.
They stood back and stared at the flames that flashed and grew quickly; a stream of black smoke began to curl skywards.
Jimmy reached for Emily’s hand and she took it without glancing at him. A sense of wonder enfolded them, a strange relief and elation.
They both felt it. They knew they both felt it because they squeezed hands, communicating something that couldn’t be spoken.
They were jostled out of their thoughts when someone began shouting.
An elderly man dressed in overalls had appeared and was shuffling towards them from across the yard.
“Hey you kids, what the hell are you doing?”
Jimmy yanked Emily by the arm and they bolted. They easily scrambled over the fence and ran. A few streets away they stopped, out of breath, and doubled up with laughter.
They looked at each other in amazement. They kissed then dissolved into giggles again. That was the beginning of a lifelong love affair between the three of them, Jimmy, Emily and fire.
Jimmy swung his axe slowly to the ground. He looked up at the bedroom window and an acute fear swept over him. He rubbed his tired eyes. He couldn’t bare this anymore. It happened often now. He would find himself running to the house and up the stairs in a panic, rushing into the bedroom, to find Emily sitting in bed reading.
“Do you need anything?” he’d say, relieved and embarrassed, and she would shake her head no.
It had been a year since Emily was diagnosed. Jimmy watched her whittle away; the disease ate her from the inside out. He watched her endure hostile treatment and medication until there remained nothing left to resort.
During their life together fire had come and gone. There were years when they didn’t light fires at all. And there were times when everything caved in, like when Jimmy’s dad died or when Emily suffered a miscarriage, and their need for fire returned. They would find a good location, start a small fire and watch as it burnt away their pain, consuming the anger and despair until they could take a deep breath again. They were careful and they were never caught.
Years ago, they had moved to a property in the country. When they saw the large fireplace in the house, they grinned at each other.
As Emily’s condition deteriorated, they lit fires every night. It was the only thing that made Emily feel better for a while. The fire cast a glow of life back onto her face; she nestled in comfortable silence to watch it and a soft rising euphoria dulled the pain.
When Emily was still able to, they went for walks together in the surrounding bushland, collecting kindling and large branches.
It was on one of these walks that Emily told Jimmy what she wanted to do. He hated the idea; it scared him, and he didn’t know how to respond. They had walked home in silence.
Jimmy looked up at the bedroom window and fear gave way to something far more bottomless and dreadful.
He climbed the stairs slowly. The door of the bedroom seemed to swing open by itself as he touched it. From where he stood in the doorway, he could see that Emily was gone.
He smoothed out the wisps of hair that framed her face. Tears swelled in his eyes and a painful lump lodged in his throat. He sat beside her for a long time in disbelief, holding her lifeless hand. Pale and frail, it was impossible to tell whether it was life or death that had eaten her away. He could feel every bone and joint in her fingers; he squeezed her forearms and the bones were sharp and thin. Useless bones that no longer animated her. She began to appear like a macabre puppet – a revolting thought – and he had to pull away.
After a while, he walked over to the window and threw it open. A cold gust of winter air rushed in. He looked down at the pile of wood gathered in the yard. He needed to get started as soon as possible.
He began to pace the room, staring at Emily’s body. Panic set in. Suddenly it all seemed like such a bad idea. How could he possibly go through with it? What kind of person would do such a thing? His mind scrambled desperately with thoughts. He didn’t want to do it. It was cruel of her to have asked him. They had talked about the plan a lot and she had made it sound so natural. It was her dying wish.
“I can’t do it!” he shouted then burst into tears, but it was too late. He had to keep his promise.
He scooped her up, gathering her carefully. She was like a bag of sand slipping from his grasp as he walked. He had to stop several times to heave her back up. Slowly he carried her down the stairs, through the house and out into the yard.
The staggered walk to the pyre was a ludicrous funeral march. His heart was thumping and his mind was numb. He had been building the pyre for days now, arranging the logs just right. He had a feeling the time was near.
Relieved to relinquish her body to the pyre, he placed her upon it as gracefully as possible. The body flopped over the logs, the head rolling back at an awkward angle, the limbs sprawled indecently. He rearranged the body until it looked right.
He tried not to look at her as he picked up the heavy jerry can and began to splash kerosene over the wood and body.
Finally the can was empty. He stood there for a while, lost in thought. His eyes and nose were streaming with silent tears.
He wiped his nose on his sleeve then fumbled in his pockets for the matches. He struck one and held it until it burnt out. He did this many times, burnt matches collected at his feet.
Her voice echoed in his head: “I want to burn, Jimmy.”
A flash of anger arose. She was always the more reckless between them. Many times Jimmy had to persuade her against lighting a fire that was too dangerous, too public. He felt cheated and manipulated now by her final act of defiance.
Then the anger disappeared as quickly as it had come and he took a deep breath. With trembling lips, he struck another match. He closed his eyes as he threw it at the pyre and then it was done. It was done and it couldn’t be undone. He stepped back in surprise as instantly the wood went up in huge, crackling flames. The box of matches dropped from his hands.
Flames engulfed and rolled around the body, quickly beginning to scorch the skin. He stared at the horrific vision unfolding before him, unable to move. The flames were mesmerising and in the centre of them was Emily, like a broken discarded doll.
The heat assaulted him in nauseating waves. A terrible thought occurred to him; he should walk into the fire and join her, if only he had the courage.
Before long, the smell began to assault him, a stench of cooking meat, sweet and peculiar. He had not considered what his wife would smell like as she burnt. He covered his mouth, tears streaming down his cheeks.
The smell became a gut retching stink. He ran inside and slammed the door. He leaned against it, sliding to the floor. He held himself tightly and began to weep.
The fire burnt all day. He was furious he had agreed to do this and incoherent with grief. He paced and stormed inside the house, on the brink of madness, unable to escape the smell that hung in the air.
And the ordeal was far from over. There was one more thing he had to do.
All through the night, the fire continued to smoke while he sat awake in the dark. He was thankful when the morning came, hoping the fire had done its job. It took him a while to gather the courage to go outside. He carried with him a small wooden chest.
Emily’s remains were at the bottom of the burnt out pyre. A piled of charred bones, cracked and crumbling. Her skull and hips were still intact; her skeletal form visible. Jimmy wore heavy plastic gloves. He couldn’t bear the thought of her dust on his hands.
Trembling, he picked her up piece by piece and put her into the chest. There was so much ash and there was no way to tell what was Emily and what was not.
He scooped up most of the ashes, added them to the chest and slammed it shut.
The wooden chest sits in Emily’s armchair by the fireplace. It makes Jimmy uncomfortable but he can’t decide what else to do with it. It feels like she is still there beside him, watching the fire every evening. The fire throws dancing shadows over the chest. Its brass rim and fittings shine brightly, as if there is a treasure inside waiting to be released.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2015 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved