“Have you ever wanted something so badly that you would do absolutely anything to get it?”
Marlys’ words were breathless. Her eyes shone with a kind of dark hope that turned Wallen’s stomach.
“Maybe some things aren’t meant to be gotten,” Wallen said gently. Marlys reared back and slapped him, hard, her palm making a sound against his flesh that brought him back to childhood, but he didn’t flinch. He didn’t cower or scream or hide. He stood there, a man now, letting a grieving woman beat him with her hands and fists while he stood, resolute.
“I love you and would never hurt you, no matter what you do,” he said, and her rage kicked up a notch before she sank to the ground in tears. Wallen sat beside her until her tears dried.
Marlys didn’t let it go. She couldn’t. She stopped eating, picking at her food and moving it around so it looked like she had a mouthful or two, but Wallen knew better. She stayed up at night, glued to the computer, the screen illuminating her face in the dark. She looked up people and practices and phone numbers and things that took a shadowy turn.
Wallen drove Marlys to her therapist and waited outside in the car. He leaned his chair back in the cool air, watching the leaves as they shook in the breeze. He listened to audiobooks and podcasts and sometimes simply the silence. So much more comfortable than sitting in the beige waiting room with a bunch of vapid magazines. He didn’t want to know how to drive a man crazy in bed or write his congressperson. He just wanted to know how to make his wife better, make her whole, when half of her had been abruptly severed and left to bleed out.
She came back from therapy looking exhausted, or thoughtful, or invigorated, or stripped of all her humanity.
“How was it today?” he would ask each time. He was supportive. He was calm. He was all of the textbook things a perfect husband would be toward a grieving wife.
“My sister is still dead,” Marlys would answer, and Wallen would hold her hand if she wanted to be touched or simply drive, looking straight ahead, if she didn’t.
Marlys was a different woman every day.
“Don’t ever leave me,” she’d say. He promised to stay.
“I’ll never feel normal again. You should just go.”
He still promised to stay.
There were the days when she said nothing at all, but curled up in bed with their cat sleeping on her chest. She didn’t look at Wallen when he took her hand or made the bed around her or drew a bath and gently led her to it. He would wash her hair and pour water over her like she was a small child. Afterward, he would wrap her in a towel and hold her on his lap.
“We will get through this,” he said. He wasn’t certain she really wanted to, but that was okay. Wallen had enough will to live for two of them. That’s the thing you do with someone you love: you take turns leading. It’s when you both break that you have to worry.
It was their birthday. Marlys and Mary. They bought a cake and Wallen drove them to the cemetery. They spread out a cheery blanket and set up a little picnic at the headstones. Marlys carefully served pieces of cake. One for Wallen. One for her. One for dead Mary, one for dead Max, one for dead Zariah, one for dead Jaleel. Mary and her three children shared one big, beautiful headstone, all with the same death date. Mary’s husband, who also shared the same date, was buried far away, all alone, nowhere near his family.
“They’re not his anymore, are they?” Marlys had told Wallen when they were making funeral arrangements. “He lost his right to them when he shot them in their sleep. Instead of a murder/suicide, he should have gone right to the suicide. He didn’t have the right.”
Time passed as it always did, but Marlys became more obsessed. She watched movies and documentaries about zombies, about living vampires, about the undead. Wallen found bird skulls and other strange objects around the house. He’d come home to see strangers with shaded eyes sitting in his living room.
“You’re scaring me,” he told her. Marlys’ hands were always cold whenever he held them, which was less and less often. “They’re gone, my love. You can’t bring them back.”
Oh, but she would try. She tried spells. Voodoo. She beseeched God and gods and goddesses and anything that would listen. She had people pray over the bodies and use crosses and blood and faith and dead cats and urine and everything else anybody told her to do. She desecrated Mary’s grave over and over and over and over.
“You asked me not to leave you, but you’re leaving me,” Wallen whispered one night. He wrapped his arms around the husk of his wife. The shine of her eyes told him she was awake.
“Please come back, Marlys. I can’t go through this world alone.”
He thought he heard her voice, but when he looked, the eye shine was put out and she looked asleep. Perhaps he had misheard. He certainly hoped so.
He was afraid he knew how this would end. Marlys would stop believing in ghosts and angels and devils. She wouldn’t be able to bring her sister and the children back. Life wasn’t Pet Semetery or The Monkey’s Paw. The dead stayed dead.
But they’d be reunited in another way, he was sure of it. Family was meant to be with family, and you couldn’t escape the ties that bind. Wallen went to sleep every night listening for the click of a new gun in the house. He knew it would come.
∼ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.
Lee Andrew Forman
The sounds of the world bring peace: crunching gravel, leaves dancing with nature, songs sung by the creations of life. Reality has other sides, some which only a vagabond can see along their journey. The pleasant are never left unappreciated. The darkest sit atop your shoulders, ever apparent in your sight.
A band of three delinquents emerge from the brush to intercept my path, smoke-filled ugliness trailing from their mouths. Their eyes immediately find me: the derelict, the tattered wanderer, the lonely victim. But their eyes only see what their minds can imagine. I sigh in response to their vile introductions.
Before they can hassle me further my front-side expands and splits down the middle. My innards expel themselves and splatter the deviants in carnage. Fluids dissolve their flesh; they scream a futile cry of agony no one will ever hear. Only when my would-be predators are mere remnants of ooze do my organs crawl back and nestle themselves where they belong, happy and well-fed.
“Shhhh, I’m here.”
The man shuddered, not quite sure yet what had happened to him. I rested his head in my lap, then pushed sweat-matted hair back from his face to see his terrified eyes.
“Help…me,” he begged.
I shook my head. “Sorry. This could have been avoided, but…” I gestured for him to look at himself.
He turned his head to gaze down his body. I let him scream at what the passing train had done. He tried to struggle, to thrash his arms and legs. He had no arms or legs. Shredded remnants of his severed limbs looked like piles of cooked raspberries strewn along the tracks. And, as I’d read would happen, the train’s weight had cinched the torn veins shut. He wasn’t bleeding out; he’d live a while yet. No one would find him here, though, where I’d tied him to the tracks.
“Please,” he begged again.
I shrugged and rose. “I warned you about those spam calls from your site.” Taking out my cell, I punched a number. The phone in the man’s pocket buzzed obnoxiously. “Press 2 to be placed on my do not call list,” I told him.
When I pulled the trigger years ago, I knew my turn would come. There is only one of us in the family at any time. My death is their first hit.
Blindfolded and with hands tied behind my back I shuffle along rocky ground. Whoever is behind me helps guide me. He nudges the back of my knee with his foot and I awkwardly let myself fall to my knees. He lays me flat, my face touching cold metal, then pulls the blindfold back enough for me to look down the long track. Not the same track I used of course, but the scene floods my memory. There is only one person who knows the story of my first hit. I never thought he would be the one.
“Thank you,” a male voice says, one I’ve known since he was born. “Your place of honor awaits.”
Those words, the exact ones I spoke when it was my turn, linger in my brain as I hear the click of the safety releasing.
Now You Stand and Wait
Scarlett R. Algee
They’d picked up her clothes along the track, almost too shredded to bother, and the whole time Shep had been grumbling you’re a damn fool, it ain’t the same no more; so when Shep squats by the rail and picks up a tuft of fluffy black fur, Ben hates him a little.
He clutches the ruined clothes, swats away Shep’s offered rifle, stares down the slope to the ground beneath the trestle bridge. Squints. Wonders. “She’s still my girl.”
Shep toes the claw marks along a rusted edge of rail. “You think that now.”
“She’s still Ellie. You just wait here.”
Alone, Ben treks down to the darkness under the bridge, stands at the bottom to a warning growl. He glimpses eyeshine in the black yards away. “Ellie, it’s Daddy.”
He steps closer. Another growl, deeper, but Ben can see the shape of her now, huge and magnificent, tail held out stiff. He clears his throat. “It’s gettin’ late. Your mama’s got supper waitin’.”
Ellie’s snarl is softer this time. Ben decides to take the chance. Sure, maybe he’s a fool, but she is still his girl.
Step by step, he walks into the darkness, toward the waiting wolf.
The Flattened Penny
I can still smell the copper stench.
And hear the way the train’s wheels screeched as it rolled over the penny on the track, squashing it razor thin. I watched Denny pick up the flat coin, after it cooled down, and wave it around laughing.
I didn’t laugh.
Denny never heard the whistle of the other train, the death train. The one I had seen before, that should have been my ride. One penny to the conductor as payment, but that foul creature didn’t care much about who held the coin. Easy enough to cheat him.
That’s the smell of copper I remember. His blood.
But better him than me.
Taking the Ride
The rumble loosens my gut; thrums through my body. My eyes quake in their jelly as teeth shiver saliva from plump, rouged lips. Searing heat washes over me as the screech assaults my core. I feel the shatter of my sinus cavities as the revolution of iron pressed upon iron crushes my head. Body thrashing in the wash, I Pollock the scree, feed the weeds; slick the rail for the next eager rider.
Definitely Not a God
Beneath the rocks and rails there lies a secret that our tiny town holds. We keep quiet and everything stays peaceful, that’s how it’s always been. Mama says it’s God under those tracks, says he protects us even in his sleep. I don’t think Mama knows what God is.
Late at night I sneak down to the tracks and kick the rocks as I walk past the iron ties. I can hear it, sometimes it sounds like snoring, but other times… If Mama could hear the noises I know she’d change her mind.
Just a ways ahead, the rocks shift and I sprint to see who’s there. The air smells of earth and death, my eyes settle on a gnarled looking creature hunching over in the moonlight. All six of its eyes blink then lock on me. I’ve never seen anything more gruesome, it grins and licks its crooked lips.
I turn to run but my foot snags the rusted rail. As I scramble to my feet, four more creatures step into sight. I was right Mama, definitely not a God.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2019
Within his castle of dark hearts, the Devil seated himself on a rosewood throne. Two rotted angels entered, a Sinner clutched between them. They forced the Sinner to kneel, then stepped back and folded their tattered wings tightly across their faces so that they could neither see nor hear what passed.
Alone with the Sinner, the Devil took a deep breath. “Give me your plea,” he demanded.
“Guilty,” the Sinner replied.
The Devil nodded his head vigorously. “Yes! Guilty! As no one before you has ever been.”
The Sinner showed no movement, made no sound.
“And yet,” the Devil sighed after a long moment. “Perhaps there are circumstances that might explain your actions, that might…justify your sin. Tell me.”
“There are none,” the Sinner said.
The Devil’s teeth ground together. He leaned forward, taloned hands closing on the armrests of his chair, squeezing the wood so hard that it splintered and blood began to run from beneath his nails like black pearls. He spat words like sleet at the Sinner.
“Give me something, some reason to grant you mercy.”
“If there is a reason, it’s already inside of you.”
“I do not wish to punish you,” the Devil said. “Not you!”
For the first time, the Sinner looked up. Her eyes danced with the shine of bullets and sabers.
“What would you have me say?”
“Do you want a lie? Or the truth?”
“Are they any different?”
“Perhaps. Perhaps not.”
“Give me one or the other. I must have something.”
The Sinner nodded. She rose to her feet, and did not look away from the Devil as she spoke.
“I hated you from the first moment I saw you. Your arrogance. And yes, your terrible beauty. But also, I sensed your weakness, your desire for me. I toyed with you. I manipulated you. How I laughed as you danced to my strings. The Devil. Such a grand fool!”
The Sinner shrugged then, before continuing. “But such games become tiring. My last bit of joy from you came when I pushed you away, to milk your confusion and hurt. Though, to see you now, so desperate to find a reason to forgive me, some reason to believe that I felt more than I did…well, that is perhaps worth a final and fatal chuckle.”
The Devil listened, and nodded. He leaned back and made a gesture. The rotted angels lowered their wings, took hold of the Sinner and pulled her from the room. The Devil remained alone in his fortress of broken souls, on a throne wet with blood and tears.
∼ Charles Gramlich
© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.
With a solemn lurch we go on. A fragrance only the dead know hangs over us, vapor over dust. No light of nature, no bright joy, only the motive to keep going. It tethers us, a walking tangle of thoughts and dreams no longer cherished. What lies at the end of the dried land we aren’t sure. We only know we must go there. Souls pull sagging flesh, drawn to whatever is beyond the expanse of lifeless soil. Swollen feet crack; they bleed a trail behind us. But evidence of our journey won’t last long against even the void’s subtle breath.
A violent tone bursts from somewhere beyond the horizon. A low-pitched blast, a beacon the planet itself could feel. Each time it fills the air our feet push a little harder. That nightmarish horn draws us like desperate, stray creatures. We struggle to it like infants in need of milk—weak, fragile, endangered by our own nature. Only we know not whether the milk will be sweet or sour. We don’t know if it will be there at all. We only hear the thunderous horn, the only thing in our world that isn’t us.
Our memories serve empty plates. That which came before the march has been forgotten. None know how long it has been. The only thing to feed on is the horn, the beckoning storm of sound, the not-so-silent savior of emptiness.
I once asked the man next to me where we came from. He only shrugged. When I try to think of how long we’ve been traveling my mind fogs over; words, phrases, meaning, they shadow themselves from insight. I can only focus for so long before my feet begin to slow; I’ve never reached a conclusion.
All I know is to follow the sound. Whether it be life or death holds no importance. To witness something other than all I’ve known would be Heaven.
∼ Lee Andrew Forman
© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.
Upstairs the music plays, a tragic operatic aria of lament and loss. It drowns out the hiss and creak of the steam and wheels, and the crunch of bones. Oblivious laughter—from the latest guests—mingles with the song, their merry voices drifting into a preceding silence of parties long forgotten.
For the dead no longer scream.
Beneath the gaiety, the servants’ footfalls tread along the stair, from back rooms and the kitchens, down to the deepest level. There, they feed the machines stockpiled flesh. Watching the meat grind, the blood and bone pulverize into dripping globs of raw spat out into vats, waiting for dinners to come. In another corner, maids tuck away silks and jewels to sell.
Nothing to be wasted. No remains to be found.
Above it all the people circulate, eating canopies and drinking wine. The host, he smiles and makes the rounds, greeting and exchanging pleasantries. He gives them all the best of times, a fitting end before they become his next feast.
Lee Andrew Forman
Firm structure to fine dust—machines turn in unending drudge. Bleach powder, chalky, light, stirs endless with their rusted labor. Ill fated are the powers which motivate the process; knowing soon they’d become its product. Weakness feeds the goods produced, monsters purchase its favor. With delicate pouf, makeup, attire; they parade around with gratuitous chortles. Their faces worn in layers of death, they grin ever wide with flavor. For a bit of coin, their color reborn, pale as frosted glass. Those suffered the gift of an end, worth only a minute of reception, would be stripped of flesh and ground to pleasure each patron.
Every Last Damnèd Soul
Scarlett R. Algee
It’s a tricky business, distilling souls. Always have to boil the bitterness off first; it gunks up the works if you don’t, and it’s a bitch to clean out, pardon my saying. Take this lot—they’ve been stewing for three days just to get the residual resentment out. Drowners, all of them. We leave the salt water in, though; customers say it adds a little something to the finished product.
Some of the souls scream while they’re rendered. Some of them sing. I’m told it’s quite enticing. I’ve mostly learned to ignore it, myself.
Madam. Madam. What are you doing out here on the floor? No, you may not touch the machines. The experience would be damnably unpleasant for both of us, pardon my saying.
Madam, please—what’s that? Your son? You think you hear your son? You have my condolences, but that’s quite unlikely. They aren’t really identifiable now, so for your safety I must insist—madam! Madam!
Patterson? Yes, idiot, of course we stop the process! We need an extraction here! She’s the third one this month!
But save the blood. Every drop. The customers say it gives a certain ambiance. Besides, she sings prettily already, doesn’t she?
He fled. And the wicked followed. Their boots banged like gunshots as they chased him through the abandoned factory where he’d sought refuge. Down empty corridors, they went, through shattered doors. He knew this world and lost them in a room of silent turbines. The search moved on.
The hunters hooted through the vast spaces, first in glee, then frustration. The sounds faded, but the hunters were cunning. He stepped from his hiding place only to meet a brutal blow to the back. Tricked, he went down in terror, and rolled over to find himself encircled by humans. Snarling, they hefted steel bars torn from the factory’s rusted machines.
He threw up an arm; they hammered through that defense, smashing his limbs, crushing his abdomen, sending pieces of him clanging across the floor. Within moments his body lay in a heap of torn alloy. One eye sparked and sputtered. But with his other eye and the last of his consciousness he watched as they set him afire. His vision bloomed, then blackened. A human curse was the last thing he heard.
“Robot slag! Now let’s get the rest of ‘em.”
I cough as my gnarled hands run over the tarnished machine. “It’s amazing how many people don’t believe it happened. Proof that humans are fools. Wirths, Mengele, Clauberg; they would have been nothing without me. Mere footnotes.” I lead him amongst the tanks, my fingers gently caressing them. I shuffle along as best I can, years of dust getting caught in the sun coming through the windows. The tiny particles remind of …“I killed millions. Let that sink in. Millions. And here I am. I live my life hidden in plain sight, just like her.” I kiss the tank gently. “Now it’s your turn. Go back and make your country great again, and then the world. Go, my lieb enkel, my dear grandson. Finish what I started.”
“I promise,” he whispers and kisses my forehead then walks away from me.
I lay down on the cold floor. The screams of decades ago flood back. Smiling, I close my eyes for the last time. I only wish I would get to hear that sweet anguish again.
Mercedes M. Yardley
He was hungry. He was always hungry, always starving, always ravenous. His face was far too sharp and his cheekbones cut against his skin in the most visceral of ways. Once he had a name and even people who called him by it, and food was a bit easier to come by. Never quite enough, surely, but not too little.
He slept in the abandoned factory, catching rats and spiders when he could. It didn’t matter if they were malformed by radiation, because so was he. He stuffed them in his mouth, piece by piece, bit by bit. If he just held on, if he just stayed alive, all of this would make sense one day. He had to believe it.
After closing the door, the towheaded child turned, “Father, I’ve returned the chalice. Is there anything else you need?”
“No son. Thank you for your service today.”
As the boy turned to go, he hesitated, turned back, “Father, one of the other boys mentioned a puddle in the basement, I thought I should tell you.”
Glancing at the boy, the Father headed toward the door leading down the stairs. “Where is this puddle?” he asked, hands clasped.
“Just to the left, Father, down the hall.” The boy looked shamed, almost embarrassed as though he’d heard the rumors. Could this one be asking? It seemed unlikely, but he couldn’t help himself, he ran his tongue ever so slightly across his lips.
“The generator room?”
“Yes, Father. The generator room,” the flaccid faced boy stood still and expectant.
“After you, my child.” The youth led him into the room, the light dim as always. Confusion took hold of the robed man, there were others there…waiting. The row of young boys tensed with anticipation. “What’s going on here? Did you all find the puddle?” A nervous chuckle.
“No father, we’ve found redemption. The shame isn’t ours.” As each youth smiled, the glint of their sharpened teeth told of a different indiscretion.
Feed the Machine
Bones crush; the mechanism churns, always turns. Spinning, crunching, consuming. The snap of a skull; shrapnel slices the air nicking tympanic membrane. Those that man the machine have no hearing, they are born without; the ear a remnant from long ago. Chattle of the cause, a war not ours, we breed only to feed the machine.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2019
A small shack in the Ozark Mountains. Through the pines that noose it, a hard wind rushes like frantic horses. It isn’t wind that wakes David Holcomb from a long sleep. A car door slams outside. David slips from bed, hugs himself against the chill air. Candles gutter; the fireplace gleams with coals, but not with warmth.
David peers out a window through dusty glass. The moon hangs like a melted Christmas ornament in the nylon shine of night. No clouds mar the star-seeded sky. A parked station wagon is visible. A shadow strides to the cabin’s front porch.
Hesitantly, David steps onto the porch. Wind plucks at him; the chill needles. The figure’s back is toward him. “Who are you?” David calls loudly. “What do you want?”
The figure turns; a coat with a hood hides the face. “We need to get inside,” a voice says. “It’s coming.”
The voice is female. It can’t be who it sounds like.
“What’s coming?” David asks.
The woman doesn’t answer but walks past him into the cabin. David looks off into the woods for a moment. Blowing leaves kite past. The air whips in circles. Trees bend before it while twigs and dead pine needles rake the cabin. Dragons could be crashing through this wind-torn forest and no one would know.
David hurries into the cabin himself, makes sure the wooden door-bar is engaged. The woman stands by the fireplace. She’s thrown back her hood. She’s young, maybe twenty—a couple years younger than he.
“No,” David says. “No!”
David shakes his head violently. “I’m dreaming. I have to be. You can’t be here.”
“Because you’re dead, Shannon. Dead.”
Shannon smiles, shakes her head so that her short red hair gleams in the candlelight. “Don’t I look alive to you, David?”
“I know you’re dead.”
“Despite your own eyes? How do you know?”
“I killed you, Shannon. Ten years ago. The last time we were in this cabin. I killed you and buried you outside in the forest. Buried you deep.”
Shannon laughs. Her eyes twinkle. “Buried me deep? In the woods where the roots grow thick? What did you use to dig that hole? A bulldozer?”
Again, Shannon shakes her head. “It would take a year to dig deep with a shovel in that soil.”
“I dug it,” David says.
But Shannon isn’t listening. Not to him. She is looking outside, to the woods. “You hear it?” she asks. Her voice drops to a whisper. “It’s getting close.”
Terror stitches itself up David’s back. “What? What’s getting close?”
“No. I don’t.”
“You know. You’ve always known.”
David glances nervously at the locked door—as if it will birth a monster at any moment. He looks back at Shannon. She has…altered. Her face is younger, thinner. She’s grown small and suddenly looks as she might have looked a decade before—like a sickly ten-year-old. Her hair is knotted. Her nose drips.
But she steps forward; her focus is all on David now. “It’s time,” she says in a child’s voice.
David backs away. “Time for what?”
“To put away your sins. To move on.”
He shakes his head. “I can’t!”
“You have to. Or the Darkling will make us pay.”
“Tell me what it is! This Darkling!”
“David….” Then another whisper: “It’s here.”
David spins toward the door. Something is on the porch. It isn’t the wind. David whimpers, then sidles toward the fireplace. Planks creak on the porch as some heavy body treads them. A black ribbon of shadow flickers beneath the crack at the bottom of the door. Through the crack bleeds a smell like mint and kerosene.
David feels near to death as the door-bar bulges inward. He grabs a poker from the fireplace, brandishes it like an axe. “What is it? What is it?” he shouts at Shannon.
“The past,” Shannon says. She drops to her knees.
“Tell me!” David screams.
He raises the poker, as if he will strike Shannon. His arm trembles. But he remembers. That’s not how it happened—ten years ago—when Shannon begged her older brother to kill her. He drops the poker. A forgotten brown paper bag rests on the fireplace mantel. David reaches in, draws out a nickel-plated revolver.
As David turns with the gun, not sure what he will do, Shannon says: “The future.”
That word! David cries out. His eyes flood with tears. He falls to his own knees. The pistol is huge in hands that are suddenly young, small, weak.
“I’m sorry, Shannon,” David says. “I should have been able to stop it sooner.”
Shannon doesn’t hear him. “The now!” she shouts.
The door-bar cracks wide. Splinters sleet the room. The door smashes open. The Darkling comes through.
David suddenly sees the shack as it is. The bed where he slept is rotted. No glass fills the windows. No embers flare in the barren fireplace. A boy and girl kneel on the trash-strewn floor. Twelve, and ten, and ephemeral. They recognize the form that slides into the room like an acid mist.
David makes a different decision than he did ten years before. He empties the gun into the mist. The bullets do no good.
A chuckle echoes off the walls.
“There you are,” their father says. “My loving children.”
He kicks the door closed behind him.
∼ Charles Gramlich
© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.