As Long As It Lasts

I know it sounds corny, but I believe life has a purpose. Really, I do. I believe that I—all of us—have a reason for being here, a reason for living. I don’t need to know what mine is. All I know is that one day it will come and it will go, and with it will go my need to live.

I test this every now and then, to see if I’ve outlived my use. The first time was with a pill bottle, but I’ve gotten more creative since. Five times I’ve tested this and five times I’ve survived.

Guess that means I’m still useful.

Hard to believe it as I make my way through the busy streets, just one of many ants in this hill. It’s times like this my philosophy carries me through. Every moment could be my moment—the one that completes me, opens the door, sets me free. All around me is potential. It gives life dimension for as long as it lasts.

As I ride the bus back from yet another eight hours spent by the burger fryer, I can’t help but wonder if today was my day. Maybe I did my part by holding the door for that girl, or by smiling at the gentleman on the corner, or by offering my seat to the grandmotherly woman on my morning bus. Every part counts, and maybe I’ve paid my dues.

I hear the moan of braking bus tires and get up at the all-too-familiar sight of my stop. I wave to the driver, but my mind is elsewhere, thinking of what the test should be. I try to change it up each time. After a while, it becomes an art of sorts, but that’s the kind of detail I pride myself on.

Lost in these thoughts, I barely even notice her until I’m almost past the alley. It’s the click that gets me. I stop in my tracks, expecting someone to come out asking for my wallet or my watch or something, but nothing happens. I glance down the alleyway and see her. It quickly becomes clear that it’s not my money she’s after.

I relax a bit, and see her look at me for the first time. She’s young enough—early twenties, no doubt—and not bad-looking. Mind you, she would probably look even better if she wasn’t holding a gun to her head.

“Guess you’re gonna tell me to back off,” she says after a long moment. I can see her grip tighten, and I almost laugh at the idea.

“Nah, go ahead.” I step back, cross my arms. “I’m kind of curious, actually.”

She snorts. “Morbid son of a bitch, aren’t ya?”

“Guess you could say that. Not every day you get a street-side show. Seems like a strange place for it.”

“Not for me. Thought I’d leave him with something to remember.” She gestures up to a window in the decrepit apartment building beside us. “Maybe I can get his attention while he’s still inside that bitch of his. Give her something to really scream about.”

“That works.”

I wait. I watch her. She watches me.

“You’re really not going to stop me?” she asks at last.

“No point,” I say with a shrug. “I’ve got a theory, of sorts. Call it fate if you like, but it all comes down to a fifty-fifty chance. Either it’ll work or it won’t. Either you’ve got a reason to live or you don’t. Not my call.”

“You really are sick, aren’t you?”

“Maybe, but it keeps me going. Here, how many bullets do you have in there?”

She pauses. “One.”

I stretch out a hand, slowly. “May I?”

I can see she wants to say no, but her curiosity is stronger. She gives me the gun. I unset it and spin the cylinder. Before she can say anything I cock it again, raise it to my head and pull the trigger.

Nothing.

I shrug. “See? Guess that means I keep going.”

The girl is visibly shaken as I hand the gun back to her. She’s lost some of her initial verve, but still cocks the gun and lifts it to her head. She bites her lip as she pulls the trigger.

Nothing.

I give a small smile. “Guess you keep going, too.”

The effort seems to have drained the last of her resolve. She almost drops the gun as she pushes it into my hands. “Thank you,” she says. She’s crying now.

I’m about to reply, but she’s already gone. Running from the alley, the building, the gun. Running to something more. As I watch her go, I wonder what her purpose is. Why she keeps on living. Why any of us keep on living.

The weight of the gun returns me to the present. I look down at it with some surprise. I think of the girl, of all that was and wasn’t.

I smile and lift the gun for one last test.

~ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

Parting Shot

He’d brought her to visit his home town. Since this was her first time visiting, he decided to show her his childhood haunts. First was the ruined cottage, sitting by itself on a rural road.

“This place used to scare the crap out of me.”

“Why?”

“It was haunted.”

“You really believed that?”

“I did. It had a creepy vibe. Maybe I should see if it still does.”

He walked through the front door.

“I can’t feel anything. Whatever haunted this place has gone.”

He walked further into the ruin.

“There’s an entrance to a cellar in the floor here. Never noticed that before.”

The wood was rotten and it splintered. He fell through into the darkness, stopping only when his belly jammed in the entrance.

“Give me a hand to get back out.”

“I don’t know if I’m strong enough.”

“I’ll push. You pull.”

His face changed.

“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

“Something’s touching me.”

“What?”

“Something’s stroking my legs.”

“You mean a rat?”

“No, I can feel fingers.”

She knew he wasn’t joking.

“GET ME OUT!”

She grabbed his arm and pulled as hard as she could. Nothing.

“PULL!”

She gave a heave. He popped out of the hole like a cork from a bottle. He lay in the dirt, panting.

“What was it?”

“I don’t know, but it felt like a human hand.”

“It couldn’t be. Nobody’s down there.”

“I know, but let’s get the hell out of here.”

Before they could move, a voice spoke from the darkness of the cellar.

You kids come back real soon…

They ran away from the thing that still haunted the cottage.

.

~ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

A Rash of Karens

“You should have your nametag in clear view where we can see it. “

Captain Rick untucked his nametag knowingly. He understood that this type of passenger liked to collect names for complaints. The fan on the airboat was not quite loud enough to cover the women’s conversation, which was an obnoxious combination of denigration of the local culture and denigration of him.

To drown them out—and the idea of drowning them was appealing—Captain Rick began his speech. As he discussed his native Florida, the women continued to speak to each other, acting as if his words did not matter. As if he did not matter.

These two were absolutely perfect.

As he knew his speech by rote, he was able to observe the invasive species in front of him. Both women were wearing dresses and shoes that were impractical and incompatible with an airboat ride. Their arms were laden with bracelets, their hands heavy with rings. But he was not interested in robbing them; he was interested in them for another purpose.

Captain Rick knew how to get their attention. He was confident he would be able to get them to say the things that would confirm his choice with the warden. The women did not know about the cameras that recorded each trip. They did not know that certain passengers were selected for a higher purpose.

They would never know.

Captain Rick began to cover the topic of the negative impact that humans have on the Everglades, especially relating to the introduction of invasive species.

Some invasive species are better than others, he thought. He knew that the foreign reptiles still had something to offer in the way of tourism and trading. Soon, these women would also have something to offer.

He continued, “Some of the alien species include Burmese pythons, several types of boas, and Nile crocodiles.”

“Aliens?” The woman on the left, who he heard the other call “Brenda,” asked.

“No, ma’am, alien species.”

Brenda’s friend leaned toward her but spoke loudly enough that the leaning was unnecessary. “Like that man we saw fishing at the marina. You know right away if someone is alien.”

“He definitely did not belong,” Brenda agreed.

“And boat slips are for boats, not fishing.” The friend turned to Captain Rick, suddenly wanting to include him. “How do we report that? Can you reach the sheriff or constable or whatever you call them down here? You have one of those.” She pointed to his belt. “Walkies.”

“These are for official communication and emergencies only, ma’am.” And for other types of communication that these women did not need to be privy to.

“You don’t think this should be escalated up the ranks to ‘official’?” She turned to Brenda. “He is disregarding my right as a concerned citizen.”

Brenda pulled herself up, looking like a hen stretching. “Citizenship confers power, sir.” The word “sir” was venom-soaked. “We are citizens.” She wiggled her hand back and forth between her friend and herself. “Those…men…the ones we saw fishing on the boat slip, obviously are not. If they were to ask for the walkies, then it would only make sense that those types are denied.”

He nodded. Not because he agreed with the sentiment, but because these two were so perfect. The last few tourist groups had not taken the bait. Thus, they had not been treated as bait. He peered over his shoulder to make sure that the camouflaged camera was capturing this exchange.

“You know, my husband—” the friend began, but Captain Rick cut her off by pointing toward the water.

“If we are quiet, we might be able to get up close to those crocs,” he instructed.

“Why would we want to do that?” Brenda asked, wrinkling her nose as if confronting a bad scent.

“So, you can tell your friends back home,” Captain Rick suggested.

The ladies laughed. “This was more of a…lark,” the friend explained, “we would never tell anyone that we climbed onto this…old boat to skim along some smelly water. We didn’t even tell our husbands.”

Brenda laughed louder. “Our friends think we are in Turks and Caicos. I mean, Florida? Who vacations here?”

“Rednecks.” her friend told her. “It’s the redneck Riviera or something.” She turned her attention back to Captain Rick. “We only came because our husbands had business.”

“I understand. But since you are on the boat anyway, you might want to see some of these species up close.”

“Not really.” Brenda sniffed. “We can go back. We had our fun…I guess.” She rolled her eyes dramatically. Captain Rick was thrilled; she was looking directly toward the camera. The warden would love this.

“I shouldn’t mention this…” If only the women had known that Captain Rick had been trained in the theater long before he retired and dedicated his time and energy to protecting wildlife and helping the state of Florida. “I guess…no…it wouldn’t be right…”

The women were only half-interested. He continued regardless.

“I had a group of ladies on this same boat earlier this morning. When we got to this same spot, this very spot…”

Brenda scratched her shoulder where a mosquito had been snacking earlier. The thought of her being snacked on made Captain Rick smile. He lowered his smile when she asked, “What is it?”

“The one lady leaned right there.” He pointed to a sand bank a few feet to the left of where they were currently idling. “She wanted to see the wildlife.”
Brenda rolled her eyes again. “So?”

“Well, she…it really is the funniest thing, but she didn’t find it funny, of course…”

“Listen, either you tell us what happened, or you turn this boat around right now—” He was no longer sure which one was speaking as they both whined at the same frequency and his mind was already a few steps ahead.

“She had been wearing a bracelet. A real pretty one, and fancy too…it had all these diamonds on it. Her friend said it was a…Carter?”

The women gasped in unison. “Cartier?”

“That’s it. That’s the one. By gum if it didn’t come loose right when she was leaning and plop into the water below us. We tried to find it with no luck.” He winked at the ladies. “I was hoping to come back and find it without her. You know, a secret.” He winked again.

“That’s disgusting,” the friend chastised him. “You are basically robbing the woman.” She looked around the boat while Brenda’s eyes tried to bore beneath the surface of the murky water. “I will be using that net.” She pointed to the implements behind him. He had nets and hooks and many other useful items.

He feigned surprise. He was delighted that all was going according to plan. “You want to find it?”

“Of course. You wouldn’t even know what to do with something like that. But I—” She glanced at Brenda. “I mean, we…we know what to do with that sort of thing.”

Brenda nodded. “Of course, we will look at your passenger log and see if we can track her down.”

“Of course,” the friend agreed, and Captain Rick did not have to know them well to know they were both lying. But their lies only solidified how the rest of this cruise would go.

He handed the friend the net and watched as they both leaned over the side, scooping the water uselessly. As the women teetered precariously, Captain Rick could see the water parting on both sides of the boat. The crocs were used to this by now. They knew what to do, which absolved Captain Rick of having to lift a finger.

He remembered the camera and raised his hands behind the ladies’ backs, gesturing wordlessly, as if he were warning them away from the end of the boat. The women did not notice the snouts breaking the surface, but he did.

The first few times, he had needed to chum the water to get the crocs in a frenzy. They were now conditioned, and they knew exactly how to grab the women and pull them into the water. As if they had been trained.

The women screamed for help but there was nothing Captain Rick could do, not once they were being subjected to the death rolls. And the camera captured it all in case anyone came with questions.

But no one would.

Captain Rick had been right, the warden happily watched the film and agreed with the decision that had been made on the water. The warden slapped Captain Rick on the back and said, “That’s what tourists are good for, making our reptilian visitors feel at home.”

∼ Elaine Pascale

© Copyright Elaine Pascale. All Rights Reserved.

Wish You Were Here


Attempting to put his key into the door of his apartment block, he had to give it some force. It went in with effort due to the wear and tear of both key and lock. He gave the door a final nudge with his shoulder to prise it open, the old wooden frame was swollen by the damp weather and constant steam emanating from the drain off the sidewalk right outside of the flea pit where he lived. Before he slumped into bed he looked out the window to take in the view. Dark streets lined with decrepit buildings. At the far end of the road two men were beating the hell out of a guy. In the distance a police siren wailed. But they were not coming to the aid of this man. Looking back down, the two thugs had gone but the victim’s body remained, lifeless and bloody on the crud-covered pavement.


He awoke next day, his head thumping. After making a couple of pieces of toast out of the stale bread that he had left in his cupboard he made his way to work.


On his way back home that night, he was confronted by three leather-clad delinquents. He waited for the normal demands, wallet, watch, etc. In way of a reply he just laughed. Even as the ensuing kicks and punches rained down upon him, he never cried out for help nor begged for mercy.


Hobbling back to his apartment, he turned the light on and stumbled into the bathroom. He stared at his reflection in the mirror.  His eyes were swollen, his lips the same, but bloodied. He chuckled again. A giggle at first, then a real belly laugh. He wiped the blood from his face and then punched the mirror with all his might. Shards of glass sprayed out across the room and into his face, piercing the skin and cutting through to the bone. He put his hands up to his cheeks and began pulling the flesh away. His apartment melted into darkness and then ignited into fire.


He turned and walked along a molten corridor. At the end of it was a large solid metal door. It swung open upon his approach.


In front of him sat a deformed, crippled, grotesque, monstrosity of a being. It looked at him enquiringly and asked, “So?”

The fleshless being that once bore the face of a dishwashing, downtrodden, worthless man looked back at his master and, with a smile replied, “It’s all going to shit up there.”


Lucifer smiled through bloodied teeth and replied, “Well, we’ll just leave them to their own devices then. It doesn’t appear we need influence them at all these days. Let human nature take its course, so to speak.”

Ian Sputnik

© Copyright Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

Fractured

Sun bright.

Autumn cool.

Cul-de-sac road.

Two story colonial home.

White.

Pine forest all around.

.

Pickup truck in driveway.

Driver’s door open.

Engine running.

Cell phone on seat.

One text message.

“He’s with her now!”

.

House’s front door thrown wide.

Entrance foyer.

Pine wood floor.

Shotgun shell.

Empty.

Dining room to the right.

Chair shattered.

Tabletop scored by lead pellets.

.

Doorway into kitchen.

Droplet of red on tile floor.

Granite counter tops.

Neat and tidy.

Wood block knife holder.

One slot empty.

.

Through the house toward the back.

Crimson petals the floor.

Bottom of stairs.

A woman’s house shoe.

Empty shotgun shell.

Stairway railing shattered.

.

Top of stairs.

Bedroom on right.

Door open.

Room empty.

.

Hallway.

Photos on the wall.

Blond man, blond woman, blond children.

.

Bathroom on right.

Broken door hanging on frame.

Shotgun shell.

Still smoking.

Shower curtain shredded.

Red splatters everything.

Man face down in tub.

Dark hair.

Partially dressed.

Not asleep.

.

Empty hallway.

Master bedroom on left.

Door open.

Floor carpeted in brown.

Dropped shotgun.

Shell jammed in the breech.

.

Dead woman on bed.

Blond.

Eyes staring.

Neck and face, purple and bloated.

Satin sleeping robe in disarray.

Blood drenches it.

Not the woman.

.

Master bathroom.

Gouts of scarlet.

Blond man on floor.

Breathing in rasps.

Wedding ring on finger.

Woman’s wedding ring in hand.

Steak knife between shoulders.

Other knife wounds dribble red.

Rasping stops.

.

Through the window.

Sun bright.

Autumn cool.

Dark haired woman by truck.

Gloved hands pick up cell phone.

Message erased.

Trees swallow her.

.

Along nearest highway.

School bus sighs to a stop.

Two blond children disembark.

Laughing.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Pathway to Glory

It is delicious experience to be guests at this exclusive retreat. Within its walls, a haven is provided for the wealthy and ostensibly pious. The staff in pristine white uniforms is ever present. Their services are available for every possible request, from a bible or a copy of the Torah, to a prayer rug. Even needs of a sexual nature are provided, assuredly discrete.  Afternoon tea with delectable scones and clotted cream is served at four. After tea, there are a number of gorgeous walkways lined with arching redbuds off the deck where patrons may stretch their legs. The foothill setting is always a refreshing change for them. Each and all feel assured that the myriad paths would always take them back to the resort.         

But now, their vacation is ending. A few guests will take a last stroll through the bowers before time to return to their hectic lives in the real world , some in pairs, some alone. The budding branches form an archway suffused in heavenly light. It is just the sort of place one couple intends to kneel and give thanks to their lord by having a bit of illicit hot sex. Like an archway to heaven, it draws them on. Crouched behind one of the trees, the beautiful angel known as Glory awaits their arrival. Wings folded, she flexes her claws and licks her lips.

~ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

Sweet Youth

From within my gut it was born, its birthing chamber no more than a stew of endless glutton and rot. I felt life within, a tumor suckling my innards with indifference to a father’s suffering. This child would feel no mother’s loving embrace, for none existed. I alone would be its burden, and it, mine. Pain thumped in tune with its gestation. Bile coated my throat. As it thrust its way up my gullet, a worm-like head peeked out from between my lips. It heaved its way further into the world, inch by inch, until it hit the floor with a wet slap of carnage. I took in a long-awaited breath and gazed upon my newborn. It wiggled its tail and screeched, calling out against the agony of existence, the horror of birth. I lifted it with both hands and cradled it against my chest. Its black eyes stared into mine. I knew then it would grow up fast, and that I’d be wise to cherish the sweet youth while it lasted.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.03

Ezra Tried To Help

Sour milk and mould soaked into the kitchen floorboards. Mice droppings and chewed wiring were scattered inside the walls. Ezra liked the mice, but they didn’t come out to play anymore. Cracked window panes let in the drafts and sunlight shone through rips in tattered curtains. Ezra didn’t like the sunbeams; they hurt his skin. He had stayed housebound for all his twelve years, never seeing other children. Mama said they wouldn’t understand him.

He scuttled up the stairs and curled on his side outside their room. He knew Mama and Daddy hadn’t meant to leave him, but he was still alone. It had something to do with him, he knew; just before it happened Daddy yelled his name, screaming words like curse and abomination. Then the two loud bangs and they wouldn’t wake up.

They were still there, inside their room, but it smelled now, so Ezra preferred the hall, sleeping outside their door. His stomach rumbled; he had found little in the kitchen to eat, only some fruit. He’d enjoyed eating the mice better; their bones had been crunchy. He scraped his fingertip claws across the wooden floor, spelling his name, as his mother taught him.

E Z R A.

Mama said it meant ‘helper’. He liked that, and he tried to live up to the meaning, but it always went wrong. He helped when the bad man came for his money and made Mama cry and Daddy mad. The red stain was still on the carpet, but Daddy hid the body in the old well. Ezra offered to eat it, but said nothing else after Mama threw up in the sink. Daddy never spoke to him after that. He came in and took Mama upstairs. They never came down.

Ezra knew he’d have to leave soon; he needed to eat. He could hunt during the night. He knew more bad people lived down the road. He thought he could find their house. They’d feed him for a very long time.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2022 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

The Stones

The stones were restless that night. She could hear them clattering and chattering against rock faces and echoing up from the dormant mineshafts. The town had long ago been built into those rocks, blasting and chipping and burrowing its way into ancient granite and quartzite, slate and chert, greywacke and basalt. 

Yet time moves differently there, in the deep. There, veins of silver were newly bled dry for the wealth of people long since passed. There, the shock of trauma had only just begun to fade. In its place rose an ancient fury, a rage she had long awaited.

When the town shook and crumbled, she did not think of its history, of its centennial celebrations, of its museums and plaques celebrating unwelcome conquest. She smiled, thinking like the stones, feeling the relief of swatting a mosquito who had only just landed.

~ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

The Store at the Center of Hell

You probably don’t know this, but Hell isn’t all burning pits and brimstone. Hell is cleverer than that. Hell is personal. It picks apart your psyche like the layers of an onion, exposing the torments that are perfect for you. Then, those torments are inflicted on you…forever.

Damn clever, wish I’d thought of it. I really wish I wasn’t part of it.

Every morning I wake in the same small back room. I open the door and head into my store. It isn’t really my store, I woke up here, presumably just after I died. The layout is reminiscent of those old-fashioned general stores you used to find in every small town. Wooden counters and shelves. Tin cans, dry goods. Brands you’d never heard of before. Newspapers for the men, magazines for the ladies, candy and ice cream for the kids. Cigarettes, some booze. Lightbulbs, rubber bands, tin openers; items secreted in dark cupboards, stuff you may only ever need once in your life. Cocktail umbrellas, apple corers.

This is my hell.

It’s not as if I was a storekeeper when I was alive. I was a firefighter. A pretty damn exciting, cool job. The ladies loved me; all I had to do was tell them I was a fireman and…well, I’m sure you can guess. Good times. All I remember of my death was smoke, flames and a collapsing roof. Then, I woke up here.

I don’t know how long I’ve been here. I suppose it doesn’t matter.

At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering where the torment comes in. Running a wee store in hell doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Well, let me enlighten you. You see, I’m not just playing the role of storekeeper. I am the storekeeper, that’s my whole world. I spend my days dusting and rearranging, fussing over what prices to lower, where to stack my tins. Making sure my newspapers line up with ninety-degree angles. I dream about stock-taking. I am the ultimate, totally consumed, archetypal storekeeper. And who is the natural enemy of all storekeepers? You don’t know? Guess. Correct; shoplifters. Little, shitty thieves, stealing from good, honest, honorable people. To steal, to shoplift, is a crime, it’s a sin, it’s an outrage.

Sorry, got a bit carried away there. I’ll get back to my point. You see, I only have one customer. It’s Old Hob himself. Every day at four o’clock he comes into my store. I’m where I usually am, standing behind my counter. I watch the old bugger wander in, casual as anything. Every day I ask the same question.

“Can I help you with anything, sir?”

The answer is always the same.

“Just browsing.”

I watch him as he wanders around, between the shelves. I watch him as he takes items, examines them and then carefully drops them into the pockets of his long, black coat. I stand, unable to move, unable to speak, while I watch him defile my beautiful store. My blood boils, I feel my blood pressure skyrocket. It feels as if I’m having a stroke. I want to scream, I want to stop him, hurt him, kill him, but I can’t do anything. My soul, my storekeeper’s soul, is rent asunder watching this travesty.

And then, his pockets full of my wonderful goods, he smiles and heads to the door.

“See you tomorrow, storekeeper!”

The door closes behind him and I can finally move. I spend the rest of the day, every day, restocking my shelves, mourning for the lost items. Grieving for the money lost, despairing that I allow this to happen, dreading the next day. My head hurts, my heart aches.

I told you, Hell is clever.

~ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.