Countdown

Harry wakes to heat, and to silence.

He opens his eyes to a leak-stained ceiling, but everything feels too bright and he closes them again, trying to push past the cotton-wool thickness in his head to sort out exactly why the quiet is wrong. There’s a small stinging ache at the back of his neck and a sour iron taste in his throat, like he’s held a mouthful of old coins.

There’s no background noise.

That’s it. Harry opens his eyes another fraction. He’s lying on a bed in an unfamiliar room—in the Bonneheure Hotel, if the fleurs-du-lys stamped on the center ceiling tiles are any indication—but there’s no hotel ambiance, no voices or footsteps or air-conditioning hum. No air’s circulating at all: the room has a stifling musty smell that makes his nostrils burn. There’s just the rasp of his own breathing, and the corner of his smartphone digging into his hip inside his pocket.

And the weight of another body on the bed.

Harry turns his head, dizzy, frowning. The woman lying beside him, covered by a sheet pulled above her breasts, is bottle blonde, immaculately made up, her mouth a candyfloss shade of red and her eyelashes crisp with mascara.

Is she a hooker? He’s never seen her before.

Harry doesn’t remember coming here. Or bringing a woman, or anything that can tell him why he’s lying in his clothes on a bed in a silent hotel room with someone he doesn’t recognize; his last memory is of standing in front of his boss’ office door and feeling a sudden cold sting in his neck.

So that’s the pain above his collar; it’s starting to itch. He’s been…drugged? Kidnapped? But why—

This place closed last year, he thinks, and belated understanding brings him fully awake. Harry sits up and his right shoulder is jerked painfully: there’s a cable tie snugged around his wrist, attached to another, and another, a chain of cable ties that leads somewhere under the bed. He shifts on the mattress, heart picking up, sweat breaking out hot on his face; something shifts with him and rolls against his thigh.

The woman hasn’t stirred. Harry glances at her, then at the object, and pulls it into his lap with his left hand. It’s a roll of leather, and he fumbles it open to find a set of steak knives, gleaming blades of various widths, their serrated edges like broken sharks’ smiles.

“I don’t understand,” he says hoarsely. Harry looks back to the woman—his sitting up should have woken her, but she still hasn’t moved. Has she been drugged too? He reaches out with his free hand to shake her, clumsily.

She’s cold.

She’s not breathing.

His phone rings.

Harry shrieks, almost voiceless, and starts to his feet. His cable-tie tether jerks him down, and his knees bang painfully on the worn gray carpet, his head just missing the edge of the bedside table. He shuts his eyes again and exhales a ragged breath, heart stumbling against his ribs, sweat pouring beneath his shirt. The smartphone trills again, breaking a tiny sob from his parched lips, and with effort he wrests enough slack in his plastic restraint to pull the phone loose and thumb the screen. “H-hello.”

“Harry.” He knows the voice. It’s Conrad from work; Conrad, right hand of their boss, Kurtz, though Harry can never remember what the man actually does for the company. “I take it you found our present.”

“Conrad, God, Conrad, you have to help me—” Harry has almost no saliva, and when the words register, even that dries up. “…Present?”

“Do you like her, Harry?” Conrad is smiling, Harry can hear it in his voice. Can picture it, in fact: the perfect teeth, perfect tan, perfectly parted hair. “Lola. You wouldn’t have known her, she was down in HR,” Conrad purrs. “Shame, really, she’s a hell of a looker, but she was convenient.”

He sounds like a cat licking cream from its whiskers. Harry swallows, looking back over his shoulder at…Lola. “Conrad. What’s going on? Why’s this happening?”

“Oh, Harry, honey. You know.”

There’s a hint of laughter in Conrad’s voice, one that becomes more than a hint when Harry whimpers. “Look. Okay, look. If this is about the money, I—”

“Of course it’s about the money.” Conrad’s friendliness gives abrupt way to a hard edge. “You don’t skim off the top, Harry, not with Kurtz. You knew better. You may be swimming in the accounting pool, but you’re not one of the sharks yet.” The laugh comes out, a short sharp bark. “It’s the assumption that hurts, you know? Mr. Kurtz doesn’t appreciate people thinking he’s stupid.”

“I—” Harry’s heart is tapping painful double-time against his sternum. He’d assumed just that thing, had assumed his wide-bodied, pig-eyed boss was the idiot he resembled; it had been a correct assumption before, with some of the others. He works his jaws, trying to think fast as whatever he’d been doped with burns off. “So what happens now? The cops show up, they find me, they find…Lola”—he chokes on her name—”and they assume the worst?”

“That’s a neat convenient package,” Conrad muses. “And Mr. Kurtz wants to make an example of you. Only…not like that.” He sucks his teeth audibly. “Nobody’s going to look for you there, Harry. That hotel’s been closed fifteen months. It’s scheduled for demolition tomorrow.”

Harry’s chest constricts.

“And there’s Lola.” Conrad must be grinning. “Isn’t she a beauty? Kurtz got a clever idea. There’s a bomb in her.”

The blood drains from Harry’s face with a palpable loss of heat. “…What.”

“A bomb, Harry. Goes boom? One of the IT guys rigged it.” Conrad’s friendliness is back. “That’s why you have the knives, Harry. Nice knives. Japanese carbon steel. Got ’em at Sears. You cut her open and find it, you might have a chance. Kurtz believes in fairness, Harry, even if you don’t.”

The façade drops again. “You have five minutes. Goodbye, Harry.”

The call disconnects. Harry stares at his phone, aghast, but slowly gets to his feet, sits on the bed.

Stiffly, he pulls the sheet from Lola’s cold body.

She’s naked, flawless. Aside from a tiny blue pinprick wound on her throat, there’s not a mark on her. How many times had he passed this woman in the hallway and never picked her out from the others?

It’s a joke, right? It’s a sick joke, it has to be, he can’t—

Within the dead woman’s abdomen, something begins to beep.

∼ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

The Veil

“As the moon rose high over the world, creatures scattered to find shadows for shelter. This was the night, and everything in existence could feel what was coming. The night ‘The Veil’ would be raised between the living, and the dead.” Phil said while sprinkling some sparkly dust over the fire. The other four children sat around in a semi-circle, hanging on his every word. “Tradition dictates that we must go into the cemetery and sit until morning lest we be known as cowards!” He enforced. “Now comes the time to end the ‘Trick-or Treating’ and start figuring out what’s real, and what’s make-believe!”

“Dude, you’re ridiculous.” Ethan said while lifting his monster mask.

“Shut up man! Are we men, or are we meese?!” Phil quipped.

“Meese!” Came a chime from the quartet surrounding him.

“Fine! I’ll do it alone then, and I’ll tell everyone you guys punked out.” Phil retorted with his nose high in the air – not that it could get much higher with that plague doctor mask on. He spun on his heel and took off toward the cemetery.

“Aw c’mon bro, you know we’re kidding.” Liam called after him, but he’d already covered too much ground to hear him. The four boys shrugged and let him go off on his own, figuring he would probably chicken out and come find them with an incredibly bogus story to tell.

“More candy for us!” Alex yelled, and three of the boys took off on their bikes in the opposite direction.

***

Phil was panting by the time he reached the cemetery, forget them. If I’m the only one man enough to do this, then so be it. He leaned his bike against the gate and began his trek into the place of rest. Once he reached a particularly damaged looking tree, he sat and waited. For years he’d heard the older boys talk of the ghosts and ghouls that crept out of the crypt on Halloween night, now it was his turn to see the dead rise again! He’d always had a sort of strange fascination with the dead, undead, sorta-almost-kind-of-dead; anything dark and creepy to be honest – he firmly believed all he’d heard.

A rustling came from the far left of the cemetery. “W-h-ho’s there?” He stuttered. The silence was deafening; there were no giggling trick or treaters, no crickets singing their sad song, and no more rustling. “Alex? Alex is that you? I bet it is, you jerk, I’m not scared!” At that moment a figure came into focus, emerging from the bushes near the entrance gates. “Say something, you asshole!” Whatever it was, it moved with such grace that Phil’s heart felt as if it was going to explode at any moment. He looked around and grabbed a rock, the nearest weapon he could find.

The fourth child from the fire appeared before him, dressed as a ghost he was covered in a plain white bed sheet with eye holes cut through. Phil gulped and got a tighter grip on his trusty rock. “Jay?” He asked. He looked the ghost up and down and noticed its feet, or well, lack thereof. “W-w-who – what are you?” He managed to get out, now shaking.

“I’m who you’ve been waiting for, no?” It replied curtly.

“I-I-I- uhh…” Phil trailed off, unsure of how to respond.

“RISE!” It called and the ground began to rumble. Phil tried to stand, but his legs betrayed him and turned to jelly. He looked around and saw hands reaching from beneath the earth toward the dark sky. The moon illuminated his fear-struck face. “Hahahaha, mortals. Were you not ready for this? Are you a man, or are you a ‘meese’?” It mused.

“P-p-please, d-don’t…” Phil tried to beg for mercy.

“Watch.” It told him and turned towards its armada of corpses. “Enjoy your night my ghouls!” He called to them and off they went. Some ran, some walked, others seemed to simply disappear. “It is our night. The veil has lifted, as you so arrogantly proclaimed earlier!”

Phil began to regain feeling in his legs, I have to know. He reached up and grabbed the sheet from the creature before him. His eyes wide with disbelief, he opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out.

“Some things should never be seen, Phillip.” It said before it sliced through his neck with razor-sharp teeth. Phil’s blood trickled down the monster’s cheeks and onto the ground before the dead tree. “You were fun, meese.”

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

To Owe the Devil

Uncle Henry looked at me from his deathbed. Not much in his face was alive. Maybe the tip of his tongue behind his teeth when he told me a story of his youth.

“Growing up in Montana in the 1930s,” he said, “I had a friend named Jacob Hart. The winter we were eighteen, we were hunting in the mountains when the snows came. Couldn’t get out. Built ourselves a snug little cabin. We had food but barely enough. Figured we’d eat our burros if we had to. We never got the chance. Jacob, he got sick. Down with fever. Wanting to get him some fresh meat, I set a few traps. Caught a rabbit. Something got it first. Tore it to shreds. Tore up all the traps. There were no tracks in the snow. None except the rabbit’s. You understand?”

“An owl, maybe,” I said.

Henry nodded. “What I thought. At first. Then something came sniffing around the cabin that night. Something big. I figured it was a bear. Jacob was sound asleep in his fever. Next morning, I found tracks. But they were…wrong. I’d seen bear sign. This wasn’t it. And there was a dead rabbit with a broken neck lying right on our doorstep. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I dressed the rabbit, cooked it in a stew, fed Jacob on it. He ate heartily. Ate almost the whole thing. Started feeling better immediately.

“Two days later Jacob was up and around. I told him about the traps I’d set, about the bear that didn’t leave bear tracks, about finding the rabbit like a gift. Jacob turned ashen. He began to shake. I thought his fever was returning but he told me I’d accepted a gift from the Devil and would have to give something back or the Devil would come take whatever he wanted. And since he’d eaten most of the gift, even without realizing it, his payment would have to be the larger. I laughed at him.”

I shivered. Maybe the bleak January sky outside the hospital had chilled me. Or maybe it was the strangeness of Henry’s story, a kind of tale I’d never heard him recite before. “So?” I asked finally. “Most people would laugh at something like that.”

“Could be,” Henry agreed, then continued. “Jacob told me I needed to leave out a gift for the Devil. Some salt or coffee. My timepiece. He did; I didn’t. One morning when it was still dark, we heard a monstrous racket. We’d built a shed for our burros, backed up against the cabin. The noise came from there. I ran outside with my gun. Jacob too. The shed was smashed in, the burros torn open, their innards spread around like jelly. Their heads were gone. There were the same odd tracks again. I followed ‘em. Jacob refused to. I trailed ‘em for miles. Came to a cave.…”

“And?” I prompted.

“Nothing. The tracks led to the cave’s mouth. But inside, it was empty. No bones of anything that might have been eaten there. No sticks dragged in for a nest. It looked like nothing living had ever touched that place.”

“And no Devil?” I said.

“No,” Henry said. “No Devil.”

“You must have felt pretty foolish.”

“A little. At the time,” Henry said. “Then I went home.”

“What did Jacob say?”

“Nothing. The cabin door hung open. There was a horrible stench. I ran inside to find one of the burros’ heads in the fireplace. The singed hair smelled like…nothing I can describe.”

“What about Jacob?”

“Hanging upside down from the ceiling. So naked that even his skin had been taken off.”

I winced, though by now I doubted the whole story. I figured it was made up, though why Henry would do such a thing on his deathbed, I couldn’t imagine. Maybe he was just losing his mind. “A horrible way to die,” I managed.

“Oh, he wasn’t dead. He lived several more days. Screaming most of the time.”

I wasn’t sure what was expected of me. Humor the dying man, I guessed. I squeezed his wrist gently. The skin was paper thin and felt cold and unreal. “I’m sorry.”

“No reason to be. I put Jacob’s body in the snow. Left him until spring thaw. Then I burned him in the cabin until nothing was left.”

“What about the…whatever it was that had attacked your burros and killed Jacob?”

“It left me alone the rest of the winter.”

“Any idea why?”

A humorless smile twisted Henry’s lips. “I left it an offering. Like Jacob told me too.”

A chill goosebumped my arms despite my disbelief. “What offering?”

“Blood for one,” Henry said. “I cut my arm deep.”

I remembered the scar on my uncle’s forearm. From a motorcycle accident, I’d heard.

“For one?” I asked. “What else?”

“My soul, of course. What does one use to buy off the Devil?”

I shook my head. “Heckuva story, Uncle Henry. But you know I don’t believe a bit of it.”

Henry smiled and patted my arm with long pale fingers. “Didn’t figure you would, Charlie. Never figured you would.”

I checked my phone. “I gotta go, Uncle Henry. Anything I can get you?”

“No,” he said, “but I have something for you.”

“What?”

“Open the drawer on the bedside table there.”

I did so, drew out a small present in pretty wrapping paper.

“What’s this?” I asked.

Henry smiled again, and a little sliver of pink tongue protruded from behind his teeth. “Just a gift, Charlie boy. Just a little gift for you.”

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Pathway to Glory

It is delicious here, watching the 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 is a thick pine forest off the deck where patrons may stroll about the woods and enjoy the brisk air before dark. The mountain 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 decide to take a last walk into the forest before time to return to their hectic lives in the real world, some in pairs, some alone. In a clearing, a brilliant light shines. It is just the sort of place one couple intends to kneel and give thanks to their Lord for this wonderful holiday. Naturally, they plan to engage in a bit of last minute adultery as well. Like a doorway to heaven, it draws them on.

Crouched in the thick undergrowth, 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.

 

The Shadow Blight

The Shadow Blight lived between the bewitched wind and the waning moon, beneath the cold whispers of autumn and the first kiss of winter. He moved as a gossamer ghost, shifting along the seasons when the old year turned new, when the voices of the forest told their stories. He smiled. His tale was foremost, a warning to all and veneration to appease. 

Weave my story with your words and summon me.”

Among the trees the Shadow Blight slithered, listened and lingered, melting into the flickering silhouettes cast by the flames of campfires. The air turned chill and the light dimmed as once more a story unfolded, one told for a thousand years. 

“Beware the Shadow Blight. A cursed spirit of the land, a soul reaper.” An old man stirred the fire, nodding at his compatriots. “Born from the primal night and the eternal fear, the creature comes to us for our light and hope, feeds on our warmth and joy. We must be vigilant and reverent, guard our homes and words, to never invoke its wrath or presence, lest we fall to its power.”

Then another voice scoffed, “A child’s tale, lies meant to scare, nothing more.” The man who spoke snorted, as the others made warding signs. “I’ll not believe in a fool’s story.”

The wind blew suddenly, and the fire snapped with sparking embers.

Do not mock me, unbeliever.” 

The Shadow Blight laid a hand on the man’s shoulder fusing cold despair into his bones that would never vanish. The man shivered and fell silent, staring into the flames. By morning, he would be a hollow shell: afraid, hopeless and slave to a forever misery. 

Remember me, always.”

The Shadow Blight moved on. 

He drifted as an imperceptible phantasm, shifting along the edges of vision and well-worn roads, drawn by the voices of the crackling hearth and their whispered warnings. The settlement lights delighted him, and he slid from village to village. His dark fingers brushed window sills and shutters as he wandered past each house. He rattled door handles and knocked softly on the wood.

Let me in.” 

The people inside shivered with his words, terror bled from hidden depths and spilled against the night. Not a door opened until he came to one neglected, one entrance unlocked to his presence.

I am here.”

The door creaked open, flapped in the wind, and the doomed inhabitants gasped. The candle flames and hearth fires flickered, then died, and frost filled the windows. A happy family of four felt the ice form in their veins as the Shadow Blight’s arms encircled them, as he murmured in their ears. 

“Come to me. You are mine.

Their eyes closed and their breath slowed. One by one they died, their bodies still and frozen, their lives over. But their souls… 

Their souls followed the Shadow Blight home.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2020 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Pain

I follow the men over the trench wall, shells explode around us as the Germans return fire. I see their men—boys really—charging at me. Bullets take out the soldiers around me as I return fire.

A German is repeatedly kicking one of my men, but everyone rushes past the two, absorbed in their own fight to survive. I get to him as his boot strikes the man on the ground again. I fire my rifle at close range, knowing my shot will end his life. My foot slips in the blood-soaked ground and my shot isn’t true. The bullet explodes in his knee, shattering it. He falls to the ground and over the cacophony of battle I hear him scream. Regaining my balance I take the last few strides and swing the butt of my rifle up, catching him in the jaw. He topples over backwards and I stand over him.

I raise my rifle and his gurgled moans fill my ears. He opens his mouth once more. No sound comes out, but instead a smoky black cloud. The world stands still as the cloud takes shape, a dark mass begins to form as I watch, a featureless being that reaches for me. I’m unable to move, waiting for the end to take me, my final day in the trenches. Its hand touches my chest and I feel a jolt surge through me. I look down expecting to see blood, instead I watch as his hand disappears and I feel him begin to fill me.

The world roars back to life and the German looks up at me, his eyes wide. I slam the butt of my rifle into his ribs, hearing them crack. He wails in pain as formless black tendrils of smoke escape his body and enter into mine. A rush unlike anything I have ever felt courses through me. I rear back and hit him again. He cries out louder, more smoke fills me, feeds me.

This time I smash it down into his face. The two of us are engulfed in a black cloud. His last moments are my first.

Pain.

The smoke clears as I stand in front of a Japanese soldier tied to a chair. Sweat is pouring off him from the oppressive heat of Guadalcanal.

“Sir, the Nip won’t speak,” my sergeant says.

“Leave us. He’ll talk.”

The young Marine leaves and I walk behind the soldier tied to the chair. “You will tell me everything I want to know,” I say in perfect Japanese. Before he can move, I slam my fist down into his shoulder, dislocating it.

He grits his teeth, stifling his anguish. His body betrays him as the wisps of smoke snake from his dislocated shoulder and into me. Closing my eyes, I savor the taste of his pain.

“Your kind are so much more fun than the Germans,” I say as I pull his injured arm straight, then snap it at the elbow. “Now start talking.”

Words tumble from him as black smoke envelopes me.

Pain.

Opening my eyes, I see my wife splayed on the floor in a broken heap. I slowly lift my head. My son stands in front of me.

“I knew this day would come,” I say. “I’m no longer strong enough to control the being inside me.” I close my eyes, waiting for the end.

My eyes open, my world shifted.  Now I’m looking at my father tied to the chair. “I’m no longer strong enough to control the being inside me,” he says and closes his eyes.

Slipping the brass knuckles on my hand, I know it is time to take my rightful place. My fist arcs forward connecting with his jaw and I watch teeth fly from his mouth. His head jerks sideways and his body goes slack.

A dark cloudy hand emerges from his mouth as it pushes free of its vessel of over twenty years. I stand rooted in my spot. I feel it watch me even though it has no eyes. Its hand extends to my chest. I feel a spike of electricity fill me.

My father’s eyes open, whiter than I have ever seen them. I begin to pummel him, smoke erupts and covering us.

Pain.

I’m in front of a V.C. soldier, just like my dad stood before his enemies over two decades ago. This is my life, one I learned from him.

He is strapped into what we have dubbed the Electric Chair for its resemblance to its namesake. Turning from him I walk over to the table and pick up a large needle. His eyes are on mine as I step close to him. His body is broken in too many places to count, but I had left his face untouched.

“Now start talking,” I say in perfect Vietnamese.

I slowly push the needle into his eye. He wails, spittle hitting my face. I keep pushing. My heart is pounding. I’ve never tasted anything this visceral before. Thick black smoke covers my body and enters me. In the back of my mind I hear a jumble of words. I step back, the needle still in his eye.

Pain.

I open the door to my dad’s bedroom. The medals from his time in the Marines are displayed proudly on the wall. His stories about our family play in my mind. The framed picture of his men standing around the Electric Chair, the one thing he never spoke of. But now I know the story. A pain so perfect. I look down at him sleeping and raise my baseball bat.

My eyes pop open and I sit up in bed, covered in a cold sweat. I look at my calendar tacked to the wall. Today’s date circled in red—leave for Boot Camp.

I get out of bed and grab my bat. Ready for my legacy to begin.

Pain.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

 

Unknown Filth

Beads of sweat become streaks down my tired face. I approach the home of an ‘afflicted’ child, feeling the evil emanating from within. Always seeing, watching, hahaha! We see, can’t hide – the voice echoes through my skull, reverberating off every open chasm and back into my spinal cord. I shiver, grit my teeth, and knock on the enormous wooden door. It flies open and I’m greeted by a man, his face mirrors the exhaustion of my own, his eyes beg for salvation. A plea for help! A cry, a cry! My thoughts swim in pools of depravity, the voice taunting me – so vile, but yet, its power…

The man walks me past other family members who are just as weary. Their heads bowed and chanting under their breath. The voice laughs loudly in my ears, almost causing me to miss a step; I wonder if anyone else can hear it. We make it to our destination, the scent of rotten meat fills the air. I thank the man and tell him it will be alright soon – he seems to believe me and half smiles as he returns to join the rest of the potential mourners.

I step through a doorway into a ground of unholy fire, though most believe hellfire burns hot, the fact of the matter is, they’re colder than ice. My breath puffs in front of me as I look around the room: baby blue walls spattered with unknown filth, action figures that create a path to the sleeping child. So innocent, so deliciously corruptible, ours – ours! My stomach lurches into my throat and I turn to the dresser to lay out my tools. Turn… Around….

Spinning on my heel, I move too fast and knock the holy water to the ground, “Oh!” I mutter and look at the child. No longer pressed against the bed but upright facing the wall. His head spins toward me, eyes glow red and a toothy grin spreads across his face. I hear a crack and watch as his body contorts backward in the most inhumanely manner.

“Demon, I cast you out in the name of our savior!” I shout and thrust my cross forward. The boy screeches and skitters back. “Out you damned beast!” He hisses as I reach down to grab the holy water, spraying what little is left over him. His flesh sizzles and the monster within growls. I press the cross to his chest and recite several prayers – he writhes in agony. The voice screams; it growls and shouts obscenities – I can’t be sure if I’m hearing it in my mind or out.

At last the chaos ceases, there’s only myself and the boy in complete silence. His breath is shallow and his body relaxes against the cross.

The voice cries out from within me again, I watch as a figure darker than night slides through the room, closing in on me. “Begone foul creature!” I demand, but it’s too late. I’m engulfed in darkness, no longer in control of my body. The holy book in my hand changes, and I stare in awe as an eye peers at me from the cover. It glows.

I stare into the mirror above the dresser and see myself smirking. I hear the voice again, this time it comes from my own mouth, “I win, Father.”

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

The Story of You

How would you live the rest of your life, she had wondered, if you knew you only had a finite number of days left? How would that change things? Would it make the sad, lackluster time sweeter? Would something shine?

Jesus Christ knew the number of days left before his death. So did killers on death row. Did it change things? Make the quality of your final days differ? She wanted to find out.

She gave herself ten days. Ten final days, and what would she make of the rest of her life?

Ten. She quit her job. Not only did she quit, but she quit with joy, with verve. She said, “I quit,” and did a little dance on her boss’ desk. She threw her head back and laughed as she was escorted out by security. She flipped the building off and stopped for a midday ice cream on the way home.

Nine. She slept in. She got out of bed to answer the door and eat the Chinese she ordered. She ordered everything on the menu that she had ever wanted to try. All of the shrimps and the sauces and everything delicious. She laid in bed with her food around her, watching lame reruns on the TV because she could. She ate trash, watched trash, and let the trash of the day pile up around her.

Eight. She spent the day throwing up trash, trash, trash. She wanted to simply forget day eight.

Seven. She showered and shaved and plucked. She powdered and perfumed. She put on that darling dress in the back of her closet that she’d purchased for a special occasion. There had never been a special occasion. Today wasn’t that special occasion, either, but she looked at herself in the mirror with clear eyes and a small smile.

Six. She called her mother. She called her best friend. She called the guy who had given her his number a few months ago. He was surprised to hear from her, but still remembered her.

“I’ve had your number in my wallet ever since the party, just in case I decided to call,” she admitted shyly.

He laughed and it was a beautiful sound. “I’m so glad you did,” he said. “What changed?”

She didn’t answer but asked him if he wanted to go to a play with her later that week. He agreed. She bought tickets and also wondered what she should wear to her funeral. Most likely the special occasion dress.

Five. She bought the grand piano she had always wanted. It was glossy and gorgeous, and they brought it right to her home. The piano tuner tuned it, and then played the most intricate music she had ever heard.

“I think I’m going to cry,” she told him, and when he played the old song her father used to sing to her, she did.

Four. She played the piano.

Three. She played the piano. She slept beneath it that night. There was plenty of room and her dreams were ethereal.

Two. She pulled on her favorite scarf and went to the park. The trees were bare and the wind bit at her, but it tasted fresh. She had always wanted to go to Iceland, or to Finland. She wanted to drink the purest water in the world and watch the aurora borealis. She felt a tight pang in her chest when she realized that would never happen. Was this sorrow? Yes, it was definitely sorrow, but then she saw a fluffy white dog and there was no room in her heart for any type of sadness. It was full of oversized paws and soft fur and a warm puppy tongue and everything inside of her heart fit perfectly.

One. She wore her special occasion dress and met her date at the theater. He was charming and his eyes squinted when he laughed. The actors were talented and she caught her breath during the play several times, but it caught most when this kind man gently took her hand and held it. He held it for the rest of the show and as they walked outside into the moonlight.

“I wish it didn’t have to end,” she said, and the beauty of the world was nearly too much. There were grand pianos and fluffy dogs and delicious food. There was art and plays and friends she didn’t even know existed yet. She wanted to see the Northern Lights. She hadn’t wanted anything in years.

“Who says it has to end?” he asked her, quizzically. “This could just be the beginning to everything.”

The beginning or the end. She would stay up tonight and decide. She blinked at him and her eyes reflected the moon.

∼ Mercedes M. Yardley

© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.

 

Goodies

Stark and black, the oaks rose through the morning’s ghostly fog, Spanish moss dripping from their limbs like the hair of drowned corpses. Beneath the oaks, twelve-year-old Emmy stopped as a sound whispered along the trail before her.

“That you, Mom?”

It was just like her mom to scare her.

“Mom?”

There wasn’t any answer and Emmy doubted it had been her mother anyway. The breeze would have brought Mom’s scent. She hitched her heavy bag higher on one thin shoulder and walked on. Nothing jumped her.

Then she was free of the oaks and stalking through a meadow toward her grandmother’s cabin. It was brighter here, the fog lifting. Her feet swished in thick, wet grass. A spider web fingered her face. She brushed it away as she knocked on Grandmother’s door.

“Come in,” a guttural voice called.

The door creaked open. Night lingered within and Emmy flicked on the flashlight that she carried in one pocket of her red parka.

Grandma’s house was an abattoir.

Emmy’s eyes widened. There were more bodies than last time. Some were alive, or semi-alive.

“Well come on, Dear,” the voice called again, impatiently.

Emmy started forward between two chained rows of drooling forms. Hungry moans roiled the air. She ignored them. Broken fingered hands grasped at her. She ducked them, her feet kicking tibias and ribs from her path, some cracked and bleached white, some…meaty.

Just past the zombies, Grandmother’s door stood open.  Grandma lay on the bed amid quilts and pillows. She was still in wolf form.

“You brought the stuff?” Grandma demanded.

“I brought it,” Emmy said.

She sat her bag on the bed and Grandma jerked it away with taloned hands and ripped it open. Livers and hearts and links of intestines spilled out like a miser’s hoard, but Grandma had eyes for only one thing, a jar of rare delicacies. She grabbed it, tore off the lid and dipped within to pull out a pinkish, cauliflower-sized lump.

“Ah,” she sighed, popping the thing between her teeth. “Melts in your mouth.”  She reached for another.

Emmy frowned. “I thought you liked hearts best, Grandma. Mom only sent four baby brains.”

Grandma chuckled, stroked Emmy’s head with clawed fingers.

“Tastes change,” she said, grabbing another tidbit.

Emmy frowned again, and a sudden gasp spilled from her lips.

Grandma heard the gasp and turned bloodshot eyes accusingly upon her granddaughter. The last brain was chewed mush in her mouth.

“What, child?”

“That bite on your shoulder, Grandma!  Where did you get it?”

Grandma smiled, with teeth that could crush spines.

“Just a scratch, Dearie. Come give Grandma a hug.”

Shaking back her hood, Emmy drew the nickel-plated .357 from her other pocket. She knew where Grandma’s bite had come from. Grandma had gotten careless with a zombie.

With a howl, Grandma leaped from the bed, her eyes screaming, “Brains, brains!”

Emmy pulled the trigger. There was only one cure for what ailed Grandma.

A silver bullet.

Through the head.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Sinner

May the gods forgive me, for I must have sinned.

It began six months ago when I broke out in great welts all over my body. Every pore of my skin was on fire. This wretched condition finally subsided, but then the skin started peeling off my hands and the soles of my feet.

When I go to work in the fields it is like walking on shards of broken glass. I must not think of that. I have my duties. I am expected to finish all before I may rest. Last night, I stole a pair gloves to keep from shredding my own flesh.

The peeling continues all over my body where the rash was. The new layers on my hands and feet are bright and tender. But it is not a normal color – not the color of our people, and that bothers me. I wear the gloves all the time now.

Today a larger strip loosens from my right arm. I pick at it until it lets go. It’s most of the diameter of my arm. I fold it up and put it under my mattress. But first, I notice that the new skin is also dark and mottled like that on my palms and feet. It is as if I’m marked, like a child of an Evil God. Perhaps I am paying for the sins of some relative.

I have been over and over it in my head. What did I do? I just do what I’m told. Taking the prisoners out of their barracks at gunpoint and walking them to the fields where each is made to dig his own grave. When one is finished to my satisfaction, I put a bullet in his temple. I am not even in charge of the women and children, so it’s not that troublesome.

This day, the last of my old skin peeled off. I have stored it under my mattress as well. The only part that hasn’t yet peeled is my face. Still, it is obvious that I am soon to be wholly marked with the same color skin as our sinful enemy. The shame is too great to bear. Come night, I shall gather my old skin into a bundle, for it is indeed the one thing that I truly own and therefore I may dispose of it as I see fit. I shall take the shovel to dig my grave in the fields. I have the pistol. One bullet will suffice.

May the gods forgive me.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.