Park benches are the domain of lovers. They sit cuddled together, giggling as they etch their names in the wood, their pride palpable as if no one else has ever vandalised public property before. I’ve lost count of the number of times a park bench has been the site for my aim. It is apt that I found him there, a new kind of saviour for these loveless days.
I had one arrow left.
I clutched it with both hands and pointed it at my own chest. The shaft was dull and rusted but the tip was razor sharp, imbued with magic, ready to transform the flesh it pierces.
It is not that I longed for love, not that I wanted to be blinded to the reality around me by romance. Rather, I hoped the arrow would kill me and put an end to this game I have been sentenced to play since time immemorial.
I realised I had done this world a great disservice, leading them astray into the folds of daydreams. If they had gained any wisdom it was not because of my arrows but through the pain of surviving them. My arrows had not been able to hold at bay the rising deluge of suffering in this world.
By a large fountain in the remains of a city park, I readied myself for the plunge of the arrow’s tip. The early morning was clear and quiet. A cool stinging mist from the splashing water was in the air, like blessings from heaven. But the blessings were bitter and twisted, the water green and acidic.
I glanced around, hoping I would soon be free of this wretched place. That’s when I spotted the man, through dead tree trunks, asleep on a park bench, swathed in grimy rags, his bare feet blue and swollen with cold.
An idea occurred to me, a better idea. The arrow lowered, my grasp softened. I would not use it on myself.
Once more I resolved do what was expected of me, one final arrow fired to spark and flame hope.
It has been said that love conquers all and indeed over millennia there has been nothing I could not infiltrate, no darkness or terror that could stop my arrow. When Vesuvius erupted I was there, piercing the hearts of those destined to fall in love even as they tried to outrun rivers of lava, huddling together in dark corners, their eyes meeting in sudden realisation, my arrow melting their hearts as liquid fire melted their flesh. Amidst the blistered pus of the sick and the rotting corpses abandoned by the Plague, my arrows did not hesitate on their course, bringing lovers together despite poverty and disease. During world wars and terrorist bombings, in small overflowing boats of refugees that rocked and sank on high seas, through chemical spills that wiped out species of birds and fish, I was there, eternal and invincible in the face of life’s horrors. Giving them hope, giving them joy, always driving them forward, with the focus and strength of Love’s arrow.
I have kept the final arrow for months, uncertain of how or when to use it. They stopped appearing in my quiver a long while ago. They replenished themselves in the past; my holder was always full with golden arrows, clean and freshly forged. My prayers and pleas to the gods for guidance went unanswered, smothered and silenced by the grey layer of pollution and debris that now surrounds this world. I have not had any contact with the other immortals for years, I don’t know if they have perished or escaped.
Left to my own devices I may have become a little too careless in the last few years. I was shooting arrows like an addict, without any dignity at all.
Love has always been reckless and impulsive, the oddest of couples have been drawn together by my work. Divorced from divine inspiration I lost focus and direction. Perhaps that is why the arrows dried up. But I am simply a messenger, delivering Love where it wishes to go. Love, it seemed, was almost completely extinct in this world, like so many other living things.
So I was down to one. One single arrow. One last shot. The weight of my task seemed unbearable. I wondered who would be worthy of this final arrow. I had to find a heart noble and righteous enough to receive it, to do it justice. It would be a final strike of life in a dying world, a catalyst for revival and change.
I roamed the rubble of cities around the globe searching for such a heart. I searched everywhere from shifting plains of ice to encroaching deserts to tumbledown ghetto towns. Nothing but terrified hearts bolted shut against any more intrusion and burden; not one single heart emitted a tiny spark, necessary to deserve the arrow.
When I saw the man on the bench I realised a different kind of Love was needed in this world. The Earth is blistered, once great cities are piles of smoking black rocks, the oceans are oily sludge. The Love that thrived before has no place here anymore. This final arrow would need a new magic. So I dipped the arrow in lakes of toxic waste, I sharpened it on bones in mass open graves, I rolled it in the shit and vomit of flooding gutters, I laced it with the culture of super viruses bred in clandestine labs, I bathed it in pools of blood from human abattoirs.
I returned to the park after many days and nights preparing my arrow and found the man was still there, sitting in his disease, a large empty paper cup in his hand.
I cradled the cursed arrow; it throbbed with a deadly romance.
I could hear his weak beating heart from across the park, slow and sluggish, weary and broken. He was nothing special, no great man. He was a human shell, already emptied out, a perfect receptacle for a new strain of love.
He raised his blackened eyes to me, glaring, unflinching, as I approached him. His face was coated with grey dust, his mouth a dry purple line.
I aimed the arrow at him, he gave no response. I didn’t hesitate, as is my way, I didn’t think twice. I drove it through his frail chest, deep into the cavity, and the tip touched the beating organ. Still his expression didn’t change, he felt nothing.
I drove it deeper, sliding it through until the tip popped out the other side, his heart pierced and committed. I saw it flash in his eyes, the recognition and desire. Was it love at first sight? No. It was something else. The beast within awakened and it wanted to survive.
~ Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2017 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
Muttering to himself as he always does, ole Gus shuffled to the basement door, pulled it open, and carefully descended the barely lit stairs. Once in the subterranean cavern – as he liked to imagine it – he began searching the dusty shelves for boxes marked ‘Halloween’ in Ester’s neat, tidy handwriting. God rest her soul. Given what a pain in the ass his wife had been in life, he’d never thought he would miss her nagging so much now that she was gone. Oh well, done is done, can’t dwell on the past. That’s the way he’d always lived his life, no reason to go changing things now. If he could just get that damned Priest from their church to stop ‘dropping in’, he could finally catch up on his shows. That old coot would do just about anything to get a little extra change on the Sunday plate. Gus couldn’t see any other reason why the man kept coming by to console him; always bringing casseroles, and baked this or homemade that, from strange women he’d never even met. Yup, it had to be that Sunday Salvation savings account he kept making deposits into. No other reason for it. She’d been dead for, Christ – what was it, three, four weeks now; it was time to stop treating him like a lost mute-child found wandering the streets! These people just didn’t know how to keep to themselves and quit meddling in his affairs. Well, at least he was eating well. Ester, God rest her soul, was a fair looking woman with many fine qualities, but cooking wasn’t one of them. Nope. She must have been looking the other way when that train went whistling by. Oh well, done is done.
Rooting around the musty shelves in the dim light, Gus finally came across what looked like the right boxes. ‘Course, they were behind the ‘X-Mass’ boxes; now he’d have to move those first. Speaking of ‘X-Mass,’ that was something he’d always wondered… why spell it with two S’s on the end? Christmas was spelled with one S, and he couldn’t see the Arch Diocese endorsing X-Priests, like X-Men, so X-Masses were probably out of the question. Now that would be a service he wouldn’t mind donating to – hell, they could charge admission. Those money grubbing, wafer toting, alcohol peddling Men of the Cloth zipping around with special powers… that would be a show! What, no change for the plate? Father Laser Eye, incinerate that cheap son-of-a-bitch. Zap! Ha! Ahhh, well, it would probably be more like Father Lazy Eye with those clowns. Anyway, speaking of clowns, if he didn’t stop imagining The Flying Priest-capades in his head, he’d never get the lawn set up for tomorrow night. And Ester, God rest her soul, wouldn’t have that at her home. Nope. Better get back to gettin’ to it if he was finally going to get back at those little shits for the years of fucking with her lawn.
A few hours later, he’d managed to drag all the boxes and loose pieces of seasonal ornamentation up from the basement and out onto the porch. Looking around at the leaves cluttering the front yard, Gus figured there was no sense in raking them; they added to the ambiance. Plus his back was way too sore for that kind of manual labor, especially considering what was still to come. Yup. Ester, God rest her soul, was going to be proud of his efforts this year; and whether she was too kind-hearted or lady-like to admit it, she’d enjoy the vengeance he had planned for those crap-faced teenagers. Ha! Well, time to break out the cob-webbing, and get the decorating over with.
Gus worked long into the night, waving to passers-by as they called out a hello, taking a break only to sit and eat the latest dish of whatever-you-call-that-stuff the Priest brought by. To any and all watching, it seemed the kindly old widower was going about making his home as inviting as he could for the pip-squeaks who would come mooching for candy tomorrow night. Sometime around 10:30 pm, he placed the final prop in its honored and very conspicuous place. It was the most realistic, most expensive severed head he and Ester, God rest her soul, had collected. It was really a bit too pricey for them, but from the moment she saw it, there was no talking sense to her – she simply wouldn’t leave the store without it. He’d spent the last several years sitting up awake on All Hallows’ Eve just to protect that one piece from the neighborhood vandals. They’re just kids having fun, Ester, God rest her soul, would always say. Kids, my ass, he always thought. Lighting his last cigarette before heading inside to wash up and sleep for a few hours, Gus wondered just how much fun they’d be having this year. After a few drags, he flicked the butt onto his neighbor’s lawn, picked up the prized latex head, and trudged inside to catch a little shut-eye.
At 2:00 am, his alarm clock sounded. After splashing cold water on his face and shaking off the sandman, Gus got down to the real business of this year’s decorating. Collecting his shovel and pickax from the shed out back, he shambled his way around to the front lawn. He might be an old geezer, but years of working in the mill had hardened him into something much different than most people thought. He was a smart man, one who knew how to foster good will and empathy, but one who also knew when it was time to use his strengths to his advantage. Making his way to the spot where the prized head would sit later that evening, he tossed down the shovel and began breaking up the dirt on his front lawn.
Back inside, he made his way to the shower, cleaned himself up, then cooked a hearty breakfast of poached eggs, instant grits, bacon, maple sausage links, and six slices of toast. Just like Ester, God rest her soul, used to make… well, maybe a little better, but don’t tell her that.
Sitting on his front porch that afternoon and evening, Gus dutifully rewarded all the little children with their hands held out begging for candy. As the night wore on, he was sure to keep an eye on that ghoulish head, and all the little bastards who had their eye on it, too. He knew that one of them would come back and make a play for it well after everyone was asleep. With all the wee ones home by 9:00 pm, it was just a matter of waiting the right amount of time. By 11:30 pm, Gus had been alone on his porch for an hour and a half without seeing another soul. Giggling to himself and saying a silent prayer that Ester, God rest her soul, was watching, he began his own Halloween fun! Tucking the latex head inside the house, he slid the board covering the hole he’d made in the early hours of the morning out of the way and tossed it under the porch, hiding the evidence of his deceit among the other debris stored there. Sitting down on the lawn, Gus dangled his legs over the opening for just a moment before he shimmied his way into the ground. Having left one arm free, he scooped the loose dirt and leaves that had concealed the board onto his broad shoulders, then worked his arm into the dirt as well. Buried up to his neck, Gus stood in the tight confines of the vertical grave he’d dug earlier and waited. It didn’t take long.
Judging it to be about half past midnight, he heard a rustling sound, and the drunken whispers of the aforementioned idiots approaching. Holding dead still, eyes closed, he waited and listened.
“Damn man, it looks so real!”
“Of course it looks real, dick-head, that’s why it’s such a great grab for this year’s scavenger hunt. Plus that pain-in-the-ass isn’t sitting on the porch guarding it like he usually is.”
“Show some respect, man. The dude just lost his wife. My dad comes by here with food and shit from the church cronies like every night.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he does it out of respect. He’s just hoping the old fuck leaves his money to the parish.”
“Whatever, asshole. Just grab it so we can get the hell out of here before someone sees us.”
The sound of footsteps grew closer as the leaves crunched in his ears. Gus felt the warmth of the little bastard’s hands nearly touching him.
“You sure the coast is clear?”
“Yeah, man. Just hurry the fuck up and grab it!”
Sensing the impending hands closing around his head, Gus’s eyes shot open as quickly as his jaw. He’d taken the time to file his teeth to razor sharp points while he’d waited inside. In one fluid motion, he turned and snapped his mouth closed on the arm of the fuck-wad trying to steal his head. His teeth sliced clean through the connective muscle and sinew at the boys elbow; as soon as the kid yanked backward, his forearm detached with a sickening squelch. They all started to scream like the little piss-ants they were. Blood spurted everywhere, making Gus’s head really look like the latex gem. As the teens ran screaming for their lives, Gus spit the arm out toward the bushes. Cackling with maniacal laughter, shreds of fabric and gristle still clinging to his teeth, Gus shouted, “See Ester, God rest your ever lovin’ soul, I found the perfect prop to finish our display!”
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved
There was a scratching on the glass that roused her from light sleep. At this stage she was so uncomfortable and so preoccupied with thoughts of the birth that she rarely got much real sleep at all. It was her first baby.
Again there came a peculiar scratching noise. Sam sighed and slowly rolled herself into a sitting position. Her extended belly, taught and round, nestled between her thighs. She looked around the dim room, disorientated for a moment. It was late at night and she could hear the rumble of the television downstairs, her husband was probably watching a movie. She rubbed her temples; she had a headache.
There was another sound at the window. This time it was a soft tap, tap, tap. She frowned. Pushing herself up carefully, she waddled to the window and pulled the curtain back, peering into the quiet suburban night. At first all seemed perfectly normal but then she noticed it, nestled amongst the bare branches of a nearby tree, a bird. A monstrously huge bird. She stared at it confused, her mind was heavy and foggy. The bird turned to face her, large yellow eyes stared back. It had a long beak and large wings folded around its body. The bird unfurled its wings, stretching them wide. The sound of their flapping was a dense vibration in the night. The creature had the body of a woman, with small pointed breasts and long pale legs, large clawed feet curled the thick branch.
Sam watched the strange bird woman for a while, emotionless, wondering if she was actually dreaming, until a sudden stabbing pain in her lower belly made her groan and clutch herself in fear. When she looked up the bird woman had disappeared but the sharp pangs continued. She began shouting her husband’s name.
Nothing was left to chance, they had planned everything to the last detail. The best doctor, the best hospital, but chance was not the only force at play.
Sam squeezed and pushed and panted, her face swollen red.
The nurse patted her arm, her husband talked into her ear.
“‘You’re doing really well!” he said cheerfully.
In between contractions that blinded and winded her, Sam fell back onto the pillows gasping. She heard that sound again, tap tap tap on glass. Hovering close, outside at the large window, a dark form, wide yellow eyes pinned on her. Sam watched as the creature stretched her black wings and paced, she seemed excited or perhaps anxious. Nobody else seemed to notice. Sam tried to say something about the birdwoman but then she launched into another contraction.
The birth went without complications. After a few days she returned home, her tiny joy bundled in white. It was a little girl, they named her Amy. The memory of the birdwoman and her piercing gaze haunted her, but Sam was relieved the birth was over with and just wanted to get some sleep.
Her daughter had different ideas. She refused to be put down. The moment she was laid in her plush pink and white crib she began to wail and no amount of rocking or cooing would make her stop until she was picked up again. For a week Sam’s husband and mother were around to help and tend to Amy while Sam got some rest. Then they both had to return to work and Sam spent the days alone, jiggling and patting and pacing with her baby attached. She slumped in the armchair in front of the television, with Amy on her chest, still suckling. Sometimes she managed to put Amy down for a brief moment and make a cup of tea or have a shower before the baby began to cry again. She loaded the pram with all the essentials and went for walks around the neighbourhood. Amy seemed to like the pram on some days. Other days she didn’t like the pram at all and Sam pushed her along as she cried, pausing now and then to plug her mouth with a dummy. Sam avoided stopping for small talk with neighbours who lost all composure at the sight of her newborn baby. They gushed and swooned and giggled. It made her feel guilty. Sam always politely excused herself and hurried off, anxious. Something was wrong. Something was wrong with her. She was not a good mother.
The birdwoman was always there. And every night, while her husband patiently tried to put Amy to sleep, Sam sat in bed with the covers tucked under her chin, listening for sounds of her. She always came at the same hour, scratching against glass, tap tap tap. It was a little frightening but Sam was certain she couldn’t enter the house and in the morning she would be gone. Maybe the birdwoman was there to help her, or to give her a message, she wondered, and then she was surprised by such odd thoughts. Sometimes she spied through the lace curtains, trying to stand out of view, and watched the birdwoman perched in the large tree outside. The birdwoman sat silently, her head tucked under one of her wings, her feathers ruffled against the cold night air. But when she turned to stare at Sam, her yellow eyes like mirrors in the night, Sam’s heart would begin to pound. She would pull the curtains closed and rush away into bed. She looked over at her husband, snoring lightly beside her, and wondered if she should tell him about the birdwoman. He looked so pale and exhausted himself, with dark circles around his eyes and rough stubble on his face. Sam felt anger bubble inside her and she glared at the crib, which for a short while remained silent.
The truth is Sam had known something was wrong on the way home from the hospital. Why wasn’t she overjoyed, beaming with happiness and pride over her perfect newborn daughter? Why did she look at her baby and feel only that sinking dread, a dread that seemed to fall deeper and deeper into nothingness as the days passed? Those tiny little curled fists, ten miniature toes, the soft creases of delicate eyelids, the dusty creaminess of newborn skin; these things should make her giddy with wonder and joy but they evoked nothing in her.
She remembered how happy she and her husband were when she was first pregnant, but soon after a coldness had settled over her. It was a thick sheet that muted the world, only the vague suggestion of things remained. The coldness had taken root, just like the foetus in her womb, growing day by day. Maybe they were one and the same, she didn’t know, she couldn’t tell. She carried life and death at the same time. She struggled through the pregnancy. When she mentioned her doubts and fears people nodded sympathetically. It’s all very normal, they said, with all those hormones going up and down.
After the birth the coldness was not purged as she hoped it would be. Amy was born in gushes of hot blood and mucous but the coldness remained embedded inside. The birdwoman knew, and she understood. Whenever Sam was caught in her gaze she felt ashamed. The birdwoman could read her most private, unspeakable thoughts.
One night, when Amy was less than a month old, Sam woke to find herself sprawled on the couch. She didn’t remember falling asleep. The television was on, with the volume turned down. The house was very quiet, a heavy and peculiar silence. Sam remembered that she was home alone as her husband was working out of town for a few days. She hurried upstairs to check on Amy.
At the bedroom door she froze, startled by what she saw. The birdwoman was standing by the crib, singing softly to Amy. She sang in the language of birds, her voice rising and falling. Amy was awake, both her little hands reached up for the strange woman. Tiny pink fingers curled around old withered skin tipped with long talons.
Sam stepped into the room, not frightened anymore but excited to be so close to this creature. She was very tall. Her powerful wings were folded behind her and swept the floor.
Sam tried to speak but when the birdwoman turned, those yellow eyes gleaming, her sharp beak poised open, all words dropped away.
A choir of bird song erupted in the room.
“It is time. I have come for her. She is mine.”
Sam walked over to the crib and looked down at her daughter. The baby gazed up at them both, content and peaceful.
Sam picked up her baby and began rocking her slowly in her arms, for the first time she genuinely smiled at her. At last she realized the intimate and profound bond she shared with her child.
Huge black wings, of coarse and ancient feathers, opened and stretched across her vision, filling the room, wrapping Sam and her daughter in a shroud of darkness. For a moment they were hidden from all the worlds as the pact was made.
~ Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
Joseph A. Pinto
An impressive room, had it not been for the blood splattering the wall.
Usually Callie spoke nothing but shit, but this time she told no lies—the casino had hooked her up with a suite straight from Roman times; marbled floors and columns kissing the vaulted ceiling. Several baths bigger than her apartment at home.
Lee arrived in Vegas soon after her poker tourney had ended; just before the dead had claimed the strip. He found Callie sitting on the couch, cork opener dripping in her hand.
Fuck. He hadn’t even unpacked yet.
“Took a couple of tries,” she said, “till I drove it through his head.”
Lee looked over the remains of the bellman.
“At least I got the wine,” Callie exhaled. “2004 Ghost Horse Cabernet Fantome.”
“You’re doing well for yourself.”
Callie shrugged. “I get by. Drink now. Kill later.”
He could never argue with her logic.
Lee A. Forman
Ebony clouds accumulated over his sweet Lyla. With a flash of lightning her face illuminated with life, if only for a moment. Thunder and rain followed and washed the blood from her flesh. Nature cleansed his bride no longer to be. Eugene ground his hands in the wet soil and let his body fall against her green dress.
I saw the darkness in her, he thought. Those soulful orbs had to be removed; I had no choice. I had to release the nefarious glow peering behind her once beautiful eyes.
As Lyla’s body sank into the soft earth Eugene stared into her orbital cavities one last time. He then took his blade in hand and gouged out his own gelatinous keepers of evil.
Emitting a huff more feral than the land had ever known, the beast took to the field with vigorous delight; the cover of forest fell quickly behind. A pack no fewer than twenty stood stunned at its approach. The signal given a heartbeat too late, they turned as one to flee, but their fate was sealed – the unholy creature was upon them. Teeth shone with a flash as claws raked delicate nubile flesh. The air stank of sweat and fear. Shrieks of terror ripped through the calm of the clearing; the once green meadow now bubbled with iron rich stain.
Why Did I Wait So Long To Leave?
Goddamn curiosity got the better of me. The images I saw flash on my television didn’t do it justice. I had to see it for myself. As I crossed the street to reach the beach, people were already fleeing. The cars packed with families and personal belongings. If I had been smart I would’ve been one of them. I stood in the sand, gazing out at the ocean. Initially there was nothing, only rolling waves. Then I saw it. The peak of its head broke through the surface. Green and grey scales covered the massive cranium; two yellow eyes stared back at me. A low, guttural growl erupted from its belly, spilled out of its mouth; the sound loud, deafening and horrifying. As the beast rose out of the water, the thought of running quickly dissipated. Why did I wait so long to leave?
She goes by many names – Ghost Jessie, Indian Stick… her favourite? Pink Orchid: rare, a stunning beauty, suggestive of the way she unfurls for the right price, under the right touch.
She works everywhere. Tonight they are meeting at her’s. This one found her on a website, The Elitist Suite; “Had to call, had to meet Pink Orchid in the flesh.” They are all the same.
He arrives on the dot. Sometimes she sees them waiting outside, smoking in their cars, drumming fingers across the dash. She knows the feeling. Come in, get it over with, please.
They do not fuck for long. He comes quickly, and she is ravenous. He is still thrusting when she starts to change; she watches him through myriad eyes as ecstasy turns into terror. He screams but she has him pinned. Soft, weak, this sorry man, this meat. Pink Orchid always starts head-first.
Veronica Magenta Nero
The Inquisitor places the goblet under dangling feet, it collects the steady drip as blood streams down the taught torso and limbs.
“It is not your confession I want.” says the Inquisitor calmly. The Inquisitor is a black cloaked figure in a cold stone room of darker shadows. The hood comes down low over the face, only lips are visible. Full red lips that turn slightly up at the corners at the trembling suffering on display, the man is suspended from a thick wooden beam in the ceiling.
The Inquisitor bends down to collect the cup. It is overflowing. Her hood falls back revealing emerald green eyes, an ungodly light shines in them.
“For my sisters, I present the wine of the persecutors.”
She toasts the priest then she drinks deeply.
Rhett stepped soundlessly into the penthouse. The fact that he was the second best contract killer on the east coast guaranteed this would be an easy kill. But he wanted to be the top dog.
He slipped through the immaculate residence like a ghost and stopped by a wine cellar. Rhett turned up his hearing enhancer to make sure the target was still sleeping, and then turned to the wine. He wasn’t an elitist like his mark, but he loved the expensive stuff.
Rhett stopped to caress the Musigny Grand Cru. How long had the snoring stopped? He had been careless. There was a little noise, but it was too cautious. It wasn’t the stumbling of the half-asleep…
The arm slipped around his neck as the blade opened his neck like a Pez dispenser. Rhett heard his target’s voice behind him as his blood sprayed.
“I’m still the best.”
Christopher A. Liccardi
The blood was like wine, mixing with the light pouring in the windows. The drapes moved in huge arcing waves, carrying with it the smells of ocean and decay.
He moaned; he was so close that she could have reached out and finished him off, but she wouldn’t lower herself to that. She was after all, an elitist. Such creatures as these were beneath her. No, she would leave him for the crows and the wolves to finish. They were not picky when it came to their next meal.
She rose up, nearly seven feet tall and glided to the window to look out. She wouldn’t allow herself this guilty pleasure; this tasty morsel. She would abstain, just this once.
The chime rang for the front door. She turned and her eyes flashed an electric blue. She could smell her food… and the take-out Chinese she ordered with it.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
The metamorphosis begins with the lick of first dew. As Mother’s milk rains down, do we not feel the fracture, the impending breach; do we not begin to break under her ever present gaze? To hold fast we strive, yet a fool’s errand that. Mother will have her way, with rod or lash; we will obey. Extruded beyond time, a limit reached, one gives way with a whispered screech of banshees yet unheard. For as the coil rips asunder, so does the edge tip; the ferry no longer granting safe passage, we no longer the guardians in Mother’s good grace.
And It Swings
Joseph A. Pinto
And it swings and it swings and it swings o’er your head, the links like your memory eroding with time. And you pray for the drop, do you not? And you pray for the final fall. And you have never been stronger than your weakest. And you refuse to look Death in the face. And all that you have lost still pains you. And all that you live is a lie. And you wonder how the gaps became so wide now. And you wonder who is really holding on at all.
And it swings and it swings and it swings.
Veronica Magenta Nero
For months he watched her. The daily pattern of her life was his obsession. He studied her like a jigsaw puzzle, carefully fitting every piece in perfect place until the picture of who she was formed clearly in his mind. The time had finally come. To make his move. When he stepped out from the shadows onto her path he couldn’t have predicted her response. His plan was flawless, meticulous, he thought to himself as he choked and clutched his wet throat. She was the broken link. More twisted than he. She smiled as she drove the knife deeper in.
Will They Follow?
Crows caw as my encased body sways above the ground. Weakly, I open my eyes, greeted by a familiar and featureless landscape. For four days now, this has been my view. The rusty chain holding my support post creaks, weakening in the bleak sun, threatening to break at any moment. Around me the crows circle impatiently; their caws urging me to die. Soon, once the chain breaks, I will do as they wish. Below is the large pit, the bottom of which I cannot see; where those who came before me now lie. Will the crows follow me down there?
Lee A. Forman
Does it know? Can it even see?
The absence of eyes leads her to think not.
She watches as the humanoid form scuttles close to the wall, its black featureless head tilting at odd angles. Insectile clicks echo in the dank cellar as it moves fingerless hands along the wall.
It makes her think of Grandpa—and how the cancer ate him alive. He always said it was the creature that gave it to him.
She watches the broken link as it pulls the chain tight. Her hands begin to shake.
How long did he think that chain would last?
Christopher A. Liccardi
Hanging, literally by a thread, my doom awaited. It swung, like luck, over me without remorse. I smiled at it.
My existence had been this fragile before and I’d survived. Would it be so again? Would the fates conceded the point and let me live? It was nothing to dwell upon. I would either make the trip across the rusted steel or I would plummet to my well-deserved end. Either way, forward was my direction. My prize wait on the other side and all I needed to do was make it past that final rusted link, the weakest link.
A Lunch to Remember
He had endured years of brutal teasing at the construction site. His coworkers were a bunch of knuckle dragging bastards, grownup versions of the little bastards that had taunted him throughout school. He looked down at the crew eating lunch directly below him.
He stood at the edge of the I-beam, tightened the rope around his neck, and stepped off. The ground rushed up. He knew his full bowels would let loose, his speed would pop his head off, and the last thing they would get from him would be his laughter, following by his shit, blood, and eternal hatred.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.
Brutality is the form of nature, raw and unrefined, terrible in its awesome power—and these creatures full of it, pecked at her face with ferocious vigor. Alvin watched from behind a tree as splashes of red covered their bony heads. The human bodies that carried them, dressed in black suits and ties, added a surreal quality to the gruesome scene he could scarcely believe.
The five creatures kept at it until the screaming turned to muffled gurgles belching from the twitching body of Alvin’s wife.
Tears streamed from his eyes. Elaine…
A crow squawked atop the limb above, the sound deafening in the quiet woods. He looked up, tried to wish it away, but it screeched again and again as if calling to its brethren, alerting them to his presence.
His lungs halted and he held them as long as possible. He strained against their natural urge to suck air, pursed his lips, and pinned his nose shut with two fingers. For the inevitable, he waited. The group of strange beings would surely converge on him and rip him to shreds as they had poor Ellie.
In a way, he hoped they would. If Heaven existed he’d see her there and they would be together again.
Curiosity forced him to peek around the trunk. They continued to stab her body with knife-like beaks. The whole of their skulls had reddened and dripped with fresh blood. He glimpsed the dark annular sockets where eyes should have been, but no organic matter existed within, only voids which could be seen—but not see.
The crow took flight and passed over the five beasts finishing their meal. It cawed once as it went by.
They all stood at once, rigid and perfectly upright. Rivulets of red ran down their beaks and steadily dripped to the earth at their feet. They raised their arms as if to fly but only stood still. Their beaks opened to expose pointed teeth, and together they lunged downward and finished their feast. A crimson geyser rained down and soaked their pristine suits.
Alvin’s jaw tightened as he stifled cries of guilt. I should have helped her. I should have at least tried.
The orchestra of gorging flesh stopped. The forest went silent, not even nocturnal insects sang. Alvin heard terror pumping though every vein. It pressed at his temples, the pressure building like a vice about to crush his skull.
The pain of brutal death instilled deep terror, willed his survival instinct to preserve his life. If not for that most primal part of mind, he would have walked out from his place of hiding and went willingly into the circle of chimeric beings.
Instead he turned and ran through the brush, forcing his way through bushes of thorns, jumping over fallen branches, dodging trees left and right. He carried himself as he never had before. His shoes grew feathers and the wind whisked his feet forward with every desperate step. Hope rose inside. Hope that he might get away, that the death behind would not catch up, and he’d see the sun again.
A blinding, amber light burst into the sky ahead, but not the sun he’d hoped for. It rained like fire on the forest floor as he covered his eyes against the pain. With it came a terrible heat that threatened to singe the hair from his forearms. He crouched and tried to shield himself.
Footsteps halted inches away from his fetal position. Death had arrived. He looked up to see the uncanny bird-men ablaze in the torrid light. The blood that covered them burned like fire. They’d become as the phoenix, all fury and power.
The brightness blinked out, casting the forest back into the shadow empty space brings to the night. All went quiet except for the breath of the creatures standing over him.
They stabbed repeatedly as he writhed on the ground. His view of the white moon turned to blood and the night darkened. Time slowed, and as his consciousness faded, he saw inside the empty, non-existent eyes of his tormentors. Inside he saw her, curled into a mangled ball that was once her beautiful form. All around her were strangers in similar position.
Elaine… Forgive me. I’ll see you soon.
∼Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
The child I loved hung me on the wall and didn’t look back. Doors slammed and the house settled into endless night. Then one day the handle twisted and rattled, and the door slowly creaked open. Footsteps crept on the dusty floorboards. A dark shadow moved around the room. We were terrified at first; was it a ghost? The house had been deserted for one week or maybe one hundred years; I never understood human time. In any case, it felt like an eternity since we had seen a child, an eternity of loneliness and silence and never being touched.
The dark shadow moved to the window and pulled back the tattered curtains. A burst of sunlight flooded the room.
It was a pretty thing with long blonde braids dressed in strange boyish attire. She stared around the room, amazed by the collection of old toys in the attic. I know how precious the first few moments between a toy and a child are. I had to be the first one to catch her eye if I had any chance of getting out of there, any chance of ever dancing again.
I focused all of my energy on her. She looked up and saw me, hanging gracelessly, head flopped to the side, my pretty dress brown with age. I sent her a vision of my lace skirts twirling as I danced in a beam of light. I was a professional once, working the stage before adoring crowds. Agile and masterful hands directed my strings, maneuvered me perfectly. Those hands understood me and filled me with life although they also filled me with dread.
I made the little girl imagine she held my strings as I dipped and hopped. She smiled up at me. To bring her closer, to make her reach up and touch me…
The girl took a step forward before a harsh voice echoed from downstairs.
“Amelia! Amelia, where are you?”
She froze in fear then quickly left the room closing the door carefully behind her.
The commotion downstairs went on for days as the new family moved in. The toys in the attic grew restless and excited. We would be discovered again. Maybe some of us would be taken into a colourful playroom, we thought. Maybe we would have picnics in the garden or be taken down to the seashore once more. I waited patiently and a strange sensation grew in me. I realised it was hope. I kept calling her name and I knew Amelia would return.
I love the sea. The circling gulls, the fierce wind, the crash of the waves. The sea is nearby the house and the little girl who owned me before used to take me there all the time. I should have used her when I had the chance; after all her sweet talk and tea parties she left me to rot when she moved away.
She would sit me in the sand and I would stare unblinking into the sun as she built sandcastles. I longed to walk and explore, not manipulated by strings but by my own free will.
I remember my master, he who made me, but I try not to think of him. He was a possessive and neurotic man who made me work for hours on end until I grew dizzy and faint. The curtains would finally draw closed, the cheering of children ringing in my ears as I collapsed in an exhausted heap. Day after day, often twice a day, I danced. I was locked up in a velvet-lined box and taken out only for performances. But it is thanks to him that I have the power I do; when he passed away I inherited his magic. On his deathbed, he clutched me in fear and sadness; coarse fingers traced the cold curves of my porcelain face, tears in his blind eyes. Then with shaking hands, he pushed me back into my box. I heard the lock click and I was terrified, believing I would never be taken out again.
Eventually, after lifetimes of darkness, the box was opened. The little girl who carefully lifted me out had my master’s eyes. His blood flowed through her veins, I could tell. Her little fingers had the same talent and she knew how to work my strings beautifully. I danced again but not without bitterness in my heart. Then she too betrayed me, left me hanging in the attic and disappeared, and I felt my plush stuffing turn to cruel cold stone.
Amelia crept into the attic late one night, not long after our first meeting. Balancing on an old chair, she carefully unhooked me from the wall. She carried me down to her bedroom where she sat me proudly on her dresser.
She got back under her covers and gazed at me in wonder. My dainty red painted lips smiled at her, my black glass eyes twinkled in the night. I blinked at her with long stiff lashes. I was so elated she had come to collect me. The magic was working. We gazed at each other until her eyes slowly closed and she drifted off to sleep.
I met her in her dreams. It was snowing there, perfect snowflakes drifted around us. We held hands and giggled as we spun in circles. For a moment, we couldn’t tell which one of us was the doll and which was the little girl. That made us laugh hysterically and we spun faster and faster until we tumbled in the snow.
After that, we spent every day together; she took me everywhere. She carried me around carefully so as not to tangle my strings, and she never put me in a box. Her feelings for me grew, forming that mysterious bond between child and toy. And so did my power, for it was the bond that fueled my magic. Nothing is more powerful than the genuine and pure love of a child, and she gave it to me willingly.
I always had pride of place on her dresser, glaring down at the plain and ugly toys that littered her bedroom floor. Dreadful tawdry things. I am one of a kind, handcrafted with a ceramic head, hands and feet; my soft torso is made of quality cotton, my features beautifully painted.
For weeks, I sat and watched her sleep, entering her dream world where we played together for hours. Nothing separated us. Little by little, her energy was becoming mine.
In her dreams, I showed her what to do, how to become limp and lifeless; empty. Soon it was I who danced, free and exhilarated, while she slumped in a dark corner, her eyes wide and blank. In the morning, she woke terrified, feeling drained without knowing why.
All night long, I chanted the spell that lulled her spirit into my form. I was coming to life. I began to feel a tingle in my toes and fingertips, a whirling in my belly.
Amelia grew more weak and frail. She dozed in bed most of the time so I could enter her mind and dance there during the day as well. But her parents were getting worried and began to interfere. They took her to visit the doctor; they took her out to do things, leaving me behind. They kept stuffing her with food hoping it would regain her strength. I had to work faster; they were getting too meddlesome.
I put one final image in Amelia’s mind – a gentle ocean, the sky an innocent baby blue, a stretch of golden sand. The next morning she told her mother she felt much better and was going for a walk down to the beach.
Amelia propped me in the hot sand. It was a perfect sunny day. I watched as she applied greasy sunscreen to her thin legs. To be honest, and to my surprise, I felt a little sad. A pang of bitterness and loneliness overcame me. Will anyone ever love me and take care of me forever, never to leave me behind, used and forgotten? The bright glare of the sun was hurting my eyes and the sand tickled my skin; my senses had awakened, and it was too late to turn back.
Amelia hummed to herself; she seemed almost content but I could sense her anxiety. The past few weeks had confused and frightened her; she knew something was happening but she didn’t understand what.
For a few moments, we sat together and stared at the rolling ocean and the bright horizon. Then she rose and walked slowly towards the waves.
I began to utter my spell for the last time. If I could manifest tears, a single drop may have run down my face.
The waves grew higher as I chanted, the ocean responding to my malevolent intent. Amelia hovered at the edge, the tide rolled in quickly, flooding around her ankles. I felt her little heart begin to race, her mind clouded with confusion. She walked further in.
Waves crashed over her head, pulling her under. She called out, a faint cry smothered by the roar of the sea. I watched her rise on the waves then sink again, her arms waving helplessly, her voice silenced by mouthfuls of water.
It took a few minutes as she struggled. Hungrily I sucked in her energy, my desire to live greater than hers. Her life force flowed to me as it drained from her, our bond complete. I felt myself truly come to life. I could feel my arms and legs. I touched my body, a strange sensation. My lips opened and a giggle escaped.
Ecstatic, I tore off my strings. It hurt as they ripped from my limbs.
I stood up carefully. In the distance, I could see Amelia’s floating body, another child lost to the magic of the toy kingdom. The waves had calmed; all was quiet except for a single gull that shrieked in the sky.
I began to walk, one foot in front of the other, just as I had been taught to do but this time nobody was controlling me and nobody ever would again.
I marveled at the tiny prints my ceramic feet made, proof that I exist.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
Ahhh Damnlings, into our realm of darkness you have wandered once more. A realm where words twist on the wind, and morals gain no purchase…
In the collection of prose set forth before you, you will find each of the authors has been constrained to a measure of one hundred to one hundred fifty words; two of which must be borrowed from the nether’s uttering. But fear not, for the Damned wear our shackles well and true – we shrink from no challenge. Sit, read, perhaps ponder… which two of the five words on offer would you chose to sacrifice for a story worthy of the ink that drips from the Pen of the Damned?
Why a sacrifice? You will never hear them Echoed again!
My Mind Screams
My old fishing boat, the Extant, rocks unsteady beneath my feet. I struggle to catch my breath — difficult after stealing something else’s last. Blood runs down the wrench in my hand, dropping off onto the floor already wet from the carcass curled against the wall. Even in the dim cabin light, I am repulsed by this abomination of nature; the unnatural pulled up from the depths in my fishing net. Its skin glistens, almost amphibious, but completely alien. Somewhere in the mass of flesh, bone and gore are its eyes; black, unemotional and lifeless. My mind screams, unable to comprehend the events that transpired. Grabbing a spare gas can, I douse the body. With a flick of my lighter, the ungodly is engulfed – burning its existence from my mind.
Lee A. Forman
Bound to a chair in the center of a dark room I sit. Countless eyes stare, their yellow glow peering through thin slits in the ebony veil which encircles me. Hope of escape—fleeting, lost; I try to focus on the steady drip of rainwater from the ceiling, the only thing keeping me extant.
They blink in the hushed air, each subtle movement accompanied by a soft squish—a sound not human. I don’t know what beasts hide in the shadowy corners of this strange and unfamiliar chamber. I have yet to see them. Even their shape is a mystery.
Only thing I am aware of is their hunger. They reek of it. I don’t know how long it will be until they tear into me and begin to feast. But from the stench of their breath, I know it will be soon.
“….. no interim procedure for eradicating ……”
Dr. Livingston’s eyes glided numbly over the words. She liked simplicity, and this pretentious document could have been reduced to a few sentences. The cell-repairing microbes they created to combat the aging process mutated shortly after they were introduced to the general population. The Guardian Strain became a pandemic.
She looked at her bloody hands. As with millions of other infected, the cellular walls of her organs bloated with the infection, swelling with puss and blood before splitting open like roadkill in the heat.
Dr. Livingston touched the package her colleague sent, her sausage-like fingers leaving a trail of smelly ichor across the box. The blood-stained note was written in shaky handwriting.
Her trembling hand reached up and placed the only cure into her mouth. Ironically, the treatment did in fact come from a shot, she thought as she squeezed the trigger.
“There. You see it, now? You see?”
Indeed, I did. One of only two extant copies known to man. There it lay beneath the glass. “How did you gain such a—”
He waved me off. “Does it matter?” sucking on his Gurkha Black Dragon, appreciating the white tendrils curling round the cigar’s tip. “What matters is that I have it. What matters is that it can be yours…if you’ve acquired its cost.”
“I have.” I knew my associate’s fondness for cigars. I knew his affinity for a virgin’s eyes even more. I handed over my satchel, his fee exquisitely stored inside. He parted his mouth; the peppery finish of his cigar wafted, tickling my nose. Then he pitched forward, the strain I had swabbed along his cigar’s head seizing his heart.
I took my priceless manuscript. I took back the sightless eyes.
I left him to his cigar.
I noticed the church while driving through drab countryside. I pulled over to look around. I was surprised by the age of the building, the yellow sandstone was coated with moss, crumbling grey headstones littered the churchyard. The wooden doors were locked but I managed to wrench them open. Dim light shone through the small stained glass windows, the air was thick with dust. Slowly I walked the aisle, glancing around as my eyes adjusted. I froze suddenly, spotting the draped figure that stood before the altar. It wore a long dress with a tattered train of ghostly lace. I heard the sound of faint sobbing. It turned towards me. With hands of blackened skin it lifted its veil and fixed me with a rotten stare. The wailing began and I fell to my knees, struck by the bitter heartbreak only the dead can know.
I tried to tell him. My words started in a hasty shout, the syllables tripping over themselves as I shoved them past my chapped lips. It sounded all wrong. I couldn’t even recognize the words myself. Lack of water in these scorched days has left my mouth and throat so damned dry. With precious little time at hand, I strain, trying again, forcing my tacky tongue to dislodge and shape the sounds, yet it only rolls and twitches like a dying slug. The cold lightening of panic surges through me, lifting my heavy eyelids, raising my outstretched hands, but nothing can stop the downward arc of his weapon. The massive wrench is the last thing I see—stealing my sight on the first catastrophic blow. Warm blood wets my throat just enough for my plea to gain sound as everything fades to eternal darkness, “Not a Zombie”.
On the last day of summer, the dead rose from their rest in the earth. He watched from his treehouse while they emerged. Thin bone. Domed skulls. Clenched hands unfurling like flowers in the morning.
There was nothing hurried about their efforts. They staggered to their feet, stretched, shed old skin and loose soil. When his Action Man fell to the floorboards, he imagined he could hear the creak of their necks as they stared skyward.
It took them hours to climb the tree. Fingers without tips wrenched slugs of grey bark. He watched them until he couldn’t bear to watch them anymore then dragged himself and a blanket into the corner.
It was dark when they finally reached him. She had on a veil; black, backlit with luminescent eyes. Even as she crawled closer, he wondered where his parents were, and when they were going to rescue him.
Christopher A. Liccardi
In its extant, this was nothing new. It was strong though. It hadn’t been seen in ages not because it was weak, but because it was fast. This strain moved quicker than anything else they had ever seen.
“What are we going to do, Doctor Lee?”
Lee, an experienced viral biologist crushed what would probably be his final cigarette and stared though the haze of blue smoke. A pause…
“First, we die Janine. Then, we come back.”
“I don’t want to come back.”
“Actually, it’s as perfect as you could ever be. Complete harmony between the living and the dead. You’d be not alive, and yet mortally perfect. Besides, you don’t have much of a choice.”
“Do we have to drop it on the city?” Her voice quavered the slightest bit.
“We do but it won’t matter where you are in a few hours.”
Like the maelstrom that swept in her tide, she swirled with a tempest of fate. Those before her attempted to flee; begged forgiveness for their evils. Misunderstood lives, unappreciated deeds, this lot unaware the veil had thinned solely to allow their pardon. Gleaming ebony skin that smoldered of embers left to flame, she bore down upon them with brutality unknown to these worthy heathens. Necks twisted most unnatural, bodies rent of their companion cog and spokes, these children of misdirection now granted reward for actions unprovoked yet savored by that which waits. As claws struck and teeth ripped, screams wailed the song of souls unburdened. Mother to the immoral, sister of the dishonest, beacon for the misguided, she stilled as the slop of her task struck a final note. More would come, born of those who kneel in perverse fealty. In the interim, the void of silence stirred her home.
Each piece of fiction is the sole copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
John stooped down and picked up a handful of the warm red dirt and let the fine material fall through his fingers as he hiked. The land had always reminded him of blood. It wasn’t the color – that would have been a cheap and easy connection. No, it was much more profound than that.
Blood was life. Blood also meant death. It joined the two in an unbreakable companionship of opposites that few truly understood. This land was the same way. It was both life and death, and he appreciated the connection. More importantly, he understood and contributed to that connection.
His boots moved silently across the terrain, disturbing very little, but the damned pack animal wasn’t quite as respectful. It scattered rocks and dirt as it plodded along behind him. John stopped pulling the bridle and turned around.
“I don’t know why in the hell I picked you up,” he cursed as he pulled his water bottle off the pack. “There were plenty of other animals I could have picked…. I don’t know why I bother talking to you either, you sure as shit can’t answer me.”
John took a mouthful of sweet water and watched the flies land on the beast’s head and face. The damn thing was worn out. At one point in his life, before he decided to break away from the civilized world and reach back to his natural self, he would have felt sorry for the animal. But now that he had been out here for a few years, John realized that life was no different from death, it was just a different way of being a part of the land.
He put the water bottle back in the heavy pack and coaxed the tired creature onward with a stiff pull of the rope and bridle. They were almost back at camp. Spastic breathing and grunts behind him caught his attention. John turned to see his animal lose its footing in the rocks and nearly dump the heavy pack. He dropped the rope and grabbed the bit sandwiched between the animal’s broken teeth and made sure it didn’t fall. The thing’s eyes were wide with fear, red from exhaustion, and full of an almost human pleading.
“Fine,” he said as he grabbed the bridle and continued to hike. “This is your last trip. I’ll cut you loose at camp and see about getting a replacement.”
John was surprised to see the animal managed the rest of the trip without any issues. It even seemed to hurry a bit, as if it understood what he told it. But that was silliness. He really needed to stop attributing human emotions and comprehension to simple creatures.
Camp was inside a cave at the end of a hidden canyon. It offered simple relief from the heat of the day and the cool of the desert night, as well as the isolation that John wanted. The animal stopped at its spot and let him shackle its legs in place. Proper training and more than a few beatings had taught it to follow this routine. He pulled the pack off the sweaty beast and placed it against the back of the cave. John whistled a nameless tune as he poured some water into a bucket for the creature. He untied the bit from behind the animal’s head and let the thing drink its fill.
The thirsty slurping came to a stop and the animal pulled its head out of the bucket. Its eyes watched him with renewed energy as John started the fire. The thing made mewling noises and groans that probably meant something, but he paid no attention. Animals that have been properly dealt with didn’t speak. He had made sure of that personally.
“But if you could talk, would you ask for me to let you go?” he asked as he stood up. “Would you ask to be released into the wild? You might, but that would be a bad idea. Why? Because you are tame. The land would kill you. That’s how you and I are different. I’ve become an integral part of the land, and as such, I live. You are tame, like so many of your kind, and as such, you die in this land. It’s your natural place. Tonight I’ll set you free, but not as you might wish.”
The groan and guttural cry from the creature was perhaps the most pathetic thing he’d ever heard.
Tears welled in the things eyes and fell in heavy drops to the red dirt at its feet. John reached behind his back and pulled out his knife. The animal kicked and pulled against the restraints, heedless of the damage it was inflicting on itself, apparently aware of what was about to come.
“Shut up,” John growled, furious at the weakness displayed by this thing. Why couldn’t it simply understand its place? He swung his blade carefully and smashed the thick butt of his knife into the side of the creature’s head, sending it crashing against the rock wall of the cave.
Large drops of blood began to patter slowly to the red dirt that turned a deep crimson with the addition of the offering. The land accepted the blood and drank it thirstily. It was indeed time.
John knew there should be nothing to impede the flow of blood, so he grabbed the leather strap that secured the cloth to the beast. He had found it best to keep them covered while they hauled his gear for them. They seemed to last a little longer.
He grabbed the leather and cut through it with his knife while the animal was still dazed from the blow. John pulled the belt through the straps, dropped it to the floor, and quickly sliced through the flimsy material. The dirty shirt fell in a heap on the ground. John could see the thing was starting to come to its senses so he quickly cut away the Levis.
“All right, let’s get this done,” he said and slapped it across the face. John wanted the animal to be lucid as he offered its blood to the land. The creature recoiled, fear shining bright in its eyes, and it tried to speak again.
“Preeeezz… U wanna nee!”
A crucifix swung on its necklace, the tarnished metal bounced across its filthy skin. Chest hairs shook with the silent sob that overwhelmed the creature. Cold air whispered through the cave and caused it to shiver, accentuating the miserable thing’s shaking. Its hands, bloodied and useless, had been handcuffed behind its back since the day John picked it up. A pair of emaciated legs wobbled as they tried to keep from collapsing.
Maybe it had been a man at some time, John wondered, but that would have been a long time ago. Most of what he saw walking around the rest stop near the highway didn’t qualify as human. Sure, they had their vehicles, their fancy clothes and families, but they had stopped being human the moment their lives became measured by likes and comments, and their self-centric view of everything around them guided their narcissistic interactions. In a few days he would hike down to the rest stop and pick up a new beast. They were nothing short of animals. Every one of them.
He pushed its head against the cave wall and pressed until the artery in its neck was easy to find. The creature tried talking again, this time definitely sounding like a please, but it was hard to enunciate when your tongue had been cut out. John remembered that moment very well, not because it quieted the shouting and pleading, but because it was the last time he had eaten meat. It had been a small meal. That would all change in just a minute.
John placed the tip of the sharp knife against the skin that pulsated from the nearby artery and looked into its eyes one more time. He couldn’t tell if the creature was pleading for the blade or pleading for freedom. To John it was all the same. To the land, it was all the same.
The blade cut deep and the warm blood sprayed. The first slice of meat sizzled in the heat of the fire before the blood stopped flowing out of the deep wound. John ate the meat, the land soaked up the blood, and the sweet companionship of life and death continued under the desert moon.
~ Zack Kullis
© Copyright 2016 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved.
Mitchell sits on its broken foam seat, feeling the pain diminish. Blood loss pulls him from his cares and worries. He can feel his hands slipping from the sides of the chair. His choice was made by another, but not the one holding the blade. It was the demon in the chair that made the choice. It spoke to him and told him what it needed; more blood. He closed his eyes and the voice faded until it was a whisper. The last thought on Mitchell’s mind wasn’t death, but the chair. Who would feed it once he was gone?
Nothing like this had ever been found before; the diggers unsure of their discovery. What is it? Excitement, confusion and terror glisten in their eyes. Months spent sifting through rubble, burrowing into the past with little to show for it; very few indications or evidence to reward our labor. Today, we find this: elegance crafted by the barbaric. Its craftsmen, the humans, all but erased from history; consumed by extinction. Is it safe? There’s nothing to fear, yet reassurance is met with hesitation. Like the others, it will be cataloged and destroyed; recorded and wiped from existence like its makers.
There was nothing quite as perfect as the spoiled beauty of the fetid and rancid. Everything his eyes touched was painted with the distinct colors of decomposition’s palette. It took him years to fill his sub-basement with thoughtfully selected detritus that would breed the corruption and blight he so loved.
Nearly a decade of carefully chosen carcasses littered the floor, blessing this place with their funk and ghastly splendor. It was perfect but for one thing – himself. He clamped his eyes open and shackled his hands to the chair. Death would not keep him from watching his own loathsome metamorphosis.
Death has long since swallowed him whole but he believes himself to be living. His face is shrunken, folded upon itself, closed like a flower at dusk. His eyes are ringed with grey. Pain wrestles with his body as he lies in bed. Each morning he rises, dragging his disease ridden leg behind him.
Born of clay, with the pride of kings, he judges all and pardons nothing. He survives alone. One by one he has severed all ties with the living, unable to forgive or forget. All that remains is the vision of a throne, righteous amongst the clouds.
No Work, All Play
Joseph A. Pinto
Interment had delayed my work.
Comprised only of broken rock and lost time, my resting place had been disturbed in dubious fashion. Ignorant thrill seekers they were, tipping bottles to mouth. One stumbled callously into my chair.
Stepping from decades of grit, my straight razor I drew. I had forgotten the power of my blade. But it had not forgotten the power mine.
Throat utilized as strop to steel, his blood made me whole to the world again. Within the deep gloss finish of the blade, I admired my reflection.
“Handsome devil,” I crooned and busied myself in his lather.
Delusion of Freewill
This is the place I was born. Not brought into the world, but given life; purpose. Society could no longer sustain the delusion of freewill. It had become a blight; a poison that corroded the beast from within. No, this world was not intended for choice, it needed structure, guidance; a singular hand to rein it. I succumbed to that hand. Strapped to the chair, current charred my flesh, molded my mind until I became a drone; re-purposed for the greater good.
Born again as a bone man I had but one task – pick amongst the piles of the dead.
Under The Knife
He came here last year for Botox. Funny how they find their way back. Rotten cats, retracing old steps. Stumbling onto the chair, she flails, snatching a scalpel from the steel tray.
Decay has done terrible things to the man’s features but she remembers him. His Tie Dye shirt, green Crocks, the way he’d smiled when she’d fixed his forehead.
He is still smiling now. A shovel has seen to that; his lips red and wet. They all look happy, dead and indifferent. He looms over her, hands outstretched. Smiling back at him, she takes the scalpel to her throat.
Home, Sweet Broken Home
I smile at the chair, despite its imperfections—rusted metal, cracked leather, speckles of dried blood—it’s the only thing that feels like home. Sitting on its cool leather so many years ago, I had my first conflicted taste of solid food. From diapers to teenage acne, this chair held me for many forced meals and brutal punishments. I only tasted freedom for a few moments annually, on my birthday—the only gift my mother ever granted. Eventually, I outgrew the chair and captivity. Now, to help celebrate my birthday, Mother is the one temporarily freed of the chair’s confines.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.