Immorati

I was born in the strangled breath of blood, in squeals of mayhem and greed, clothed in the skin of murder and deceit. I opened my eyes with the first cry of death’s sweet tune and the first taste on my tongue, the salty tang of tears. My heart beats to the rhythm of chaos, and I wander where I am called. I have many names, whispered in the unspoken anguish of your deepest thoughts. I am the dread, the darkness, the outcast of creation.

I walk among you, the silence against your shadow.

I have been here since the light broke across the horizon and the sharp stone edge cut the flesh of man. I sat among the dying of the city of Ur to celebrate their passing, and witnessed the fall of Troy to the wondrous song of the sword. I laughed as Alexander conquered and empires fell. I stood within the fires that burned Rome and feasted on their terror. I watched the ashes rain upon Pompei and lapped at the misery and despair resounding in their whispers and screams.

All of it filled my hollow soul with shattering delight, yet still I hungered.

I rejoiced as blades became gunpowder’s bullets, and the world roared in carnage. I danced in the streets of Paris as heads fell from the guillotine and blood ran through the gutters. I inhaled the smoke of cannon fire, hummed to the music of groaning soldiers breathing their last upon the battlefields. It was an exquisite age to exist.

I did not believe there could be a better era. I was wrong.

I waited, and you gave me bliss. The thundering boom of artillery fire, the choking stench of mustard gas, and the wondrous shrieking dogfights overhead. So much carnage, so much pain. I engorged myself on your butchery and sung my dark ecstasy to the world.

And still you amaze me, still you feed me such succulent delicacies.

The madness of another world war flowed seamlessly into more conflict, and spilled over into terrorism, plagues and disasters; you find new and delicious ways to inflict death upon each other, new ways to disfigure your own world. I regret you avoided nuclear annihilation, but my hope remains that I may one day taste that luscious banquet of agony.

You are rich in pain and decimation, and I thank you.

You give me continued life, your discordant harmonies flow to me, strengthen me, make me more vibrant. I am symbiote to your host, sponge to your slaughter. With every cycle I grow more robust and you become entrenched in your brutal patterns. I am what you made me, you humans with your careless, violent ways. I will follow you, monsters of death and destruction, and always feast on your ruination. I will increase in vibrance and substance. So one day you may see me. See what you cannot escape. 

You will see the face of the devil you created. 

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2021 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Cold Hours

In the cold hours, among low fog, something walks. Despite image obscured by shadow, intent is clear with each stride. Unclear to low eyes over flicker of flame, it passes unnoticed in malice form. It stops short before what it seeks, its coat of shade swims in the wind. The thin skeleton of life before it raises both eyes—a meek figure in comparison. A picture shows not what it is, not what it could be, but all it allows itself to be witnessed as. This moving image of something unknown can’t be defined by the meager puppet it seeks. Eyes lock. Flesh knows death, no matter the form. Before a cry of desperation can be released, the dark figure penetrates a soft, defenseless body. Red fills the cracks of the stone street. The fresh corpse falls limp. That which cannot be understood moves on to find the next.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

Signal to Noise

He regained consciousness in the hospital corridor, finding himself standing in the middle of a stream of people flickering past without pause.  He was dimly aware he couldn’t be seen.  The world he had emerged into was grey, faded and separated from the world he had just left.  It was also silent.  He reached out to touch a nearby nurse, but his hand, insubstantial, entered her arm and passed through without making contact.

As soon as the time of death was recorded most of the staff cleared the emergency room, moving onto the next crisis.  She stood over his shell, stunned, ignoring the nurses who fussed around him, tidying up the detritus of the failed attempt to save him.  She thought back to the accident; they had been walking across the road, moving from pub to pub, then boom, the taxi had hit him.  The next few minutes were a blur; a scream, bystanders arriving, the police, the wail of the ambulance, the emergency room and the medical staff.  Then this, the unnatural quiet.

He found himself floating down the corridor towards an unknown destination.  The world around him was moving faster and faster, the people mere blurs.  He was slowing down, fading from the mortal realm as his life energy dissipated.  He was moving between worlds.

She left him and stepped out of the triage room.  The policeman, who had diplomatically waited outside, agreed to meet her the following day to take a statement.  She signed the required documents and received unwanted, rushed condolences from the harassed admin staff.  It was the week before Christmas, the busiest time of the year for the emergency department.  Falls, fights, drunks and car accidents overwhelmed the staff.  With nowhere else to go she went home, getting back at about ten o’clock.  She left the house in darkness and slumped onto the sofa in the lounge.  An involuntary shudder shook her thin frame, memories returning.  The worst thing was she hadn’t had the chance to say farewell to him, he hadn’t regained consciousness and she knew her whispered goodbye as he lay dying hadn’t been heard.  That, above all, was unbearable.

He started to notice other shapes around him.  Diaphanous, smoke-like figures floated next to him.  The real world, the world of living people could still be seen, but it was blurred, as if observed through a film of ice.  His mortal energy was almost gone, but one thing kept him focussed on the world he had just left.  Her.  He didn’t know if he could, but he knew he had to try.  Concentrating, he steered himself towards his goal.

She tried to sleep, but found it impossible.  She rose and made some tea, watching the darkness out of the kitchen window.  She hadn’t cried yet, the emptiness she felt had driven out every other possible emotion.  She knew with the coming of the dawn she would have to start phoning.  It was then the emotion of the truth would overwhelm her.

He reached for the pay-phone praying he was still able to lift the receiver.  Around him, the shapes of his new companions whirled and danced, some grieving and some celebrating.  His companions were fading away, just as he was, but he had to do one last thing before he left the mortal world.  His fingers, through sheer willpower, made contact with the receiver and he managed to find the strength to lift it.  He had to reach her, had to say goodbye.  The shapes around him scattered in confusion at this merging of the two worlds. 

She finished her tea and rinsed the mug.  The early morning sun was streaking the eastern sky with reds and yellows.  She knew she would have to reach for the phone soon, to start the task of letting friends and family know the news.  Suddenly, shockingly the phone rang.  She lifted the receiver and placed it to her ear.  A crackle of white noise made her wince, but some hidden emotion kept her from hanging up.  She strained to listen.  A voice spoke, faint beneath the crackling.  The voice was achingly familiar and she gasped when she recognised it.  The voice spoke a simple message, over and over again.  All too soon it faded to nothing amongst the overwhelming white noise, but it had been enough.  He had said goodbye.  Tears flowed down her face.

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

Ask About the Sinners

“Do you believe in angels, Dr. Wells?” The rest of the therapy group rolled their eyes.

“There she goes again, on about those damn angels,” Randy growled. He crossed his arms and kicked at the floor, his metallic chair rattling against the tiled floor. “The girl’s got a fixation and I’m sick of it.”

“No, judgements, Randy. You know the rules.” Dr. Wells frowned at him and then turned to Cindy with a condescending smile. “Tell me about your angels.”

Stretching her toes, Cindy softly hummed in time to the thwap of the ceiling fan. The scent of jasmine floated in the air, stirred from some forgotten corner. In the silence, she gazed at the white walls and watched the shadows dance, while tracing a pattern on the padded arm of her chair.

Finally, she spoke. “You must believe in them to see them. I mean really believe, not just Sunday-go-to-church conviction, forgotten on Monday. If you have true faith, they can help you.”

“Fat lot of good they did you,” Randy laughed. “You’re stuck in this loony bin with the rest of us.”

“Randy,” Dr. Wells stared with another disapproving look. “What did I tell you about that?”

“Not to call this place a ‘loony bin’.” Randy slouched in his chair and scowled.

“They did help.” Cindy’s voice interrupted and everyone turned to gawk. “The angels saved me.” She smiled, but wouldn’t elaborate.

Not until the next session.

The last to arrive, Cindy sat down, easing into her chair. She looked at each person and spoke as if no time had passed. “Not all angels have white wings, you know.” She hummed and gazed upward. “Some have black wings. They’re the ones who punish sins.”

“On about your angels, again?” Randy grunted. “They’re not doing a very good job. Plenty of sinners in the world.”

Cindy glared at him, raising an eyebrow and tilting her chin. “You have to ask them first. They can’t punish anyone, if you don’t ask.”

Dr. Wells cleared his throat. “That’s what you told the police, isn’t it? That you requested angels protect you from your parents? And the angels killed them, not you?”

Cindy turned her attention to the doctor. “Yes. I don’t think they believed me, because I ended up here. But it’s the truth.”

Dr. Wells smiled. “Truth can sometimes be complicated. You’re here so we can sort what really happened that night.”

“I told you. Not believing me doesn’t make it a lie.” Cindy laughed. “I’m not crazy. They’re real, and so beautiful. Ebony feathers, ethereal faces and shining eyes, with a radiant silver aura. And the loveliest things about them are their long blood-stained claws.”

“Claws don’t sound lovely.” Randy grunted into the conversation. “Your angels are just made-up monsters.”

“They are not monsters!” Cindy stared down Randy, and he squirmed.

“Stop looking at me like that. I ain’t done nothing to you. Keep away from me with your angel delusions.”

“You have nothing to fear from my angels. You don’t have many sins, even if you pretend otherwise. Dr. Wells has sins, though,” Cindy tilted her head towards the therapist. “Dark ones.”

“I’m a sinner, am I?” Dr. Wells chuckled.

Cindy nodded. “I know what you’ve done and so do the angels.” She leaned forward. “Time for you to pay.”

“Is that a threat?” Dr. Wells straightened in his chair. As he did, he felt something brush against his shoulder and smelled a hint of jasmine. A black feather fell in his lap. An invisible hand reached into his chest, and Dr. Wells felt the last beat of his heart before a force ripped the organ out of his body in a spray of blood, bone, and flesh. His corpse crumpled to the floor. Everyone but Cindy screamed.

And somewhere in the ether, a blacked winged angel feasted on the heart of a sinner.

∼ A.F. Stewart

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

God of Dreams

A milk-pale rain fell from a blurred black sky. It tingled softly on my exposed arms. Behind me stood a lake of shimmer. My birthplace, perhaps. I could not remember how I’d gotten here.

I walked, not looking at the path my feet trod. Instead, I stared into the sky, which gradually cleared until I could see a myriad of stars, an entire alien milky way in the shape of a blunt-winged moth. In the aftermath of the rain, peacefulness steamed like humidity on my skin.

I came to an arch so old that plants grew from the soil accumulated in the cracks of the stone. I passed beneath it into an abandoned field grown wild. “I am disembodied,” I said. “I am dreaming.” And I knew what that meant; the rules of normal physics no longer applied to me.

Flight is a blessing for lucid dreamers. I lifted my arms—and though sometimes in such dreams I struggle to get off the ground—there was no struggle tonight. I soared with ease into the air, let myself spin slowly with my arms out and my fingers scratching trails of light from the darkness.

A forest of new growth surrounded me. I ducked and wove through the trees, dodging black branches that grasped for me. My laughter bubbled as I came out above the woods and saw the moon grown full and bright and red as a molten coin. Beneath the moon flitted dozens of dragonflies with white and black bodies and spiderweb wings. I joined them, and they were not afraid.

Now, Luna magnetized my gaze again. I spoke to myself: “I don’t have time to fly to the moon.” But something inside me wondered if I did. I reached my hands, prepared myself for the leap to space.

Flight faltered; I fell. I grabbed for a tree limb but it broke beneath my weight and I plummeted down, away from the light and toward the deep, still, forever night below. And yet, I smiled. For this was a dream and nothing could harm me.

Or so I thought until I landed: and flesh gave way, and bones shattered, and punctured lungs spasmed as blood painted an abstract scream across the darkness. And so I lay, while dragonflies came to hover, while they fitted their bodies together and became a deity with a thousand eyes and a thousand wings and limbs as numerous as the skulls of the dead.

With a tongue long and coiled black as a snake, the dragonfly god whispered in my bleeding ears: “I am the architect of dreams. And in time, all who sleep become my prey.”

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

The Crows

“The crows can see you. They are waiting.”

I didn’t look at my sister—still in disbelief she returned to the city—but I felt her shift beside me on the bench. I replied, “There are no crows in the city, Isabella. There haven’t been for years.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw her shake her head. “They’re still here.”

“No. You’re wrong. They left us.” I stood and walked away, leaving her alone on the bench. 

Her voice followed me, “They see you, Anna.”

I walked home through the empty streets. The city wasn’t crowded since the plagues. Many left, followed the crows, but a stubborn few remained. As I climbed the stairs to my apartment, I wondered why I stayed. Fear maybe, of what was beyond the city, or perhaps habit. Lately, none of my reasons mattered. I entered my apartment with Isabella’s words ringing in my ears.

“The crows can see you.” 

I hadn’t thought of them for a long time. Memories shifted in my mind, and I recalled the last days of the final plague. When the world understood. When we finally saw the crows: black-winged angels, guiding the souls of the dead away. In those end days, the sky was black with them and the air strident with the sound of their wings and caws. Yet, they vanished after the plagues. Abandoned those that remained.

“No. They never abandoned you.” 

I glanced towards the door. Isabella stood there.

Damn, she followed me home. Why? Why did she come back?

Isabella looked at me and said, “It’s time to go. Time to stop pretending. This isn’t life, Anna. You need to remember you’re dead.”

I snorted and looked at my sister with contempt. “Do you think I’m that stupid? I’m not one of the delusional ones. I know I died. I know you’re dead too.”

Isabella sighed. “Then why do you stay?”

I hesitated, then replied, “I don’t know. Fear, perhaps. The city is familiar, comforting, even if it is a city of ghosts. It was home.” I turned away, staring at a dusty picture of my deceased husband. “Maybe we’re only echoes, afraid to move on, but it’s something to cling to.” 

“Is it enough?” Isabella held out a hand.

I turned away. “Why have you come back? Why now? You crossed over years ago. You didn’t stay. Not like me.”

Isabella moved to my side, putting a hand on my shoulder. I glanced at her and she smiled.

“I’m a harbinger. The crows sent me, and others, to guide the last souls to their final rest.”

I shook my head. “The crows abandoned us.”

“No. They only waited. No soul can move on until they’re ready. Now they sent me to bring you home.”

“After all this time?” I trembled and jerked away. I walked to the window and stared at the city.

What’s beyond this? Is it good? Am I ready?

If I could have cried, I would have. I blurted, “What if I don’t want to go?”

“We both know you want this, Anna.” Isabella came over to stand at the window with me. “Leave this place. Your family is waiting for you.”

I gasped, staring at her. “They are? Mother and Father will be there? Josh?”

She nodded. “They’re eager to see you again.” 

I looked back out at the city and I knew I wanted to see my family again. “How long before…?”

Isabella took my hand and led me out of the building. As we stood on the street she whispered, “The crows are coming.”

I glanced around and saw the sky full of black wings and heard the echo of the empty metropolis. I felt a whoosh of air and the sound of beating wings.

Then I embraced the crows and let them take me away from the city of the dead.

~ A. F. Stewart

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

 

Shadows

The blast stripped his skin away, charring the flesh underneath and turning his bones to dust. His eyelids were sealed by the heat, the fluid orbs boiling and bursting in their sockets. He felt a brief moment of pain, then nothing, as his limbs were ripped from his body, his guts torn open and his head shattered. After the explosion, there was nothing left except for a few misshapen lumps of gristle and burnt meat.

He woke. He was in the boiler room as usual. He stood, dusting himself down. He quickly realised the room had changed. There was a hole in the roof and the room was full of smoke and debris. The furnace was ripped open, sheared metal hanging from the frame. He looked down and saw the charred, rendered remains of his body. He remembered the explosion. He was dead.

He’d often thought about death, not morbidly, but in a detached way. What did it feel like, what did you see, experience? Now he could find out.

There were sirens in the distance, but they didn’t concern him. He was well past the point of being saved. No defibrillator was going to bring him back; they’d have to take his body out in a bucket.

He walked upstairs to the factory floor, amused to see the panic and fear on his colleagues’ faces. They had practised drills for this type of occurrence, but none of them seemed to remember. They ran for the doors in a panicked mob. No-one was checking for colleagues, no-one was counting heads, no-one was grabbing fire extinguishers. He laughed to see them, but reflected he would probably be doing the same. He wondered how long it would be before his absence was noticed, who would discover him, the memory of the sight no doubt being burned into their memory forever.

He walked out the factory, intrigued to find he wasn’t floating or drifting. His body felt as solid as always. Nobody noticed him, so it was clear he was invisible. He walked towards a stack of pallets with the intention of seeing if he could walk through objects. The bump on his nose suggested he couldn’t.

He wandered away from the site, keen to get home. He had a sense that his time was limited, and he wanted to see his family for the last time. He wanted to say goodbye.

His car wasn’t an option, so he decided to walk.

The factory was situated in the working-class part of town. It was a Victorian red-brick edifice, originally a flour mill, but converted into a small timber yard in the late 1970s. He walked down streets full of red brick terraced houses, originally built to house the flour mill workers and their families. The homes were modest, two-up and two-down, with a front door that opened straight onto the street and a small yard behind. An alleyway at the back allowed access to the yards.

As he walked down the quiet street he became aware of curtains being twitched in almost every house. Was he visible? Could they see his injuries? It didn’t take him long to realise he was being watched by the dead. Pale faces with sunken black eyes started at him from behind glass. These were the dead of past ages, condemned to the house where they died, condemned to move unseen amongst the living. He saw the sadness in their faces, the despair.

As he walked, getting closer to his home and family with every step, the world around him changed. The real world, the one he had occupied until twenty minutes ago, was starting to change, starting to become unfocused and misty. The figures in the houses were becoming more distinct, more solid, while the bricks and mortar became more and more transparent. His feet started to sink into the tarmac of the pavement. The world darkened. The street, the one that belonged to the real world, faded away. He realised the houses, the pavement, the entire mortal realm had passed from his view.

He found himself on a wide open plain, full of darkness and shadows. The dead were all around him.  Most were heading to an unseen point in the distance, some were simply wandering around, lost. He joined the throng, walking to the unknown destination.

An endless time later, travelling through this dark, shadowed land, he arrived at his destination. Standing there, with countless others, he looked across the river into the darkness. Boats arrived on the bank every few minutes, the dead boarded and the boats headed back out into the darkness. Some of his new companions shuffled around, unsure, but he knew he had to make a decision. To go across the river meant the end. He wouldn’t see his family again.  To stay on this side was to become a wraith, a spirit that haunted the mortal world, being able to see but not being seen. The sadness was overwhelming.

He stood on the river bank and made his decision. He remembered the misery and despair on the faces staring out at him from the houses in the street. He didn’t want to suffer that fate. Instead, he would move on. He stepped onto the next boat.

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. 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.

The End

“They did this to themselves. They brought us back and now is the time for them to feel the consequences.”

I look from Beleth to the house next door and give a friendly wave. Pastor Tom, sitting on his front porch, pretends not to see it and turns his head from our direction.

“That’s not very Christian of him now, is it?” I say.

Beleth continues, ignoring my comment. “Nothing can be in moderation anymore. Everything is to the extreme,” the last bit spoken like a commercial announcer. “So, here we are. And soon it will be time to right the ship.”

A group of children and parents round the corner to our house. Beleth stops talking and waits. The kids gasp as the motion sensors kick on and our yard comes alive. Fog rolls out from the machines tucked behind our bushes, the lights on our porch flicker on and off, and Beleth cackles as eerie music emanates from unseen places. A couple of children approach unaffected while others hesitantly come up holding their parents’ hands.

“Trick or treat!”

Beleth stands up and opens his arms wide. Halloween is the one night he can be most like himself, his feline features muted but not totally hidden. “Wonderful children, just wonderful! Now, before you get a treat, you all must answer a tricky question from me. Are you ready?”

The children nod and some of the parents take pictures. Beleth gets down on one knee. “Who will be brave and step forward to answer my question?”

His grin is like the Cheshire Cat and I can’t help but smile and shake my head, taking one more glance across the yard at Pastor Tom, who is scowling at the scene.

A boy, about ten, dressed as a soldier, steps up to Beleth. “Ah, a brave warrior!” Jeeze, he’s laying it on thick this year. “Now, to get your treat, answer me this: What is … twenty times ten?”

Beleth’s grin never faltered. You write one book on mathematics and you think you are God’s gift. The boy looks around for a second, the question seemingly catching him off guard. “Uhh, two hundred, sir.”

“Very good!” he says, and touches the boy on the shoulder. “You can get your treat from my friend Adra right there.”

I hand out the full-size candy bars, yeah, I’m showing off, what about it? as each child answers their math-related question.

As the last one comes to me, Beleth stands back up. “Gene, is that you? I didn’t even recognize Timmy in his costume! We have enough for the parents too, don’t be shy.” He bares his fangs and his cat eyes light up. Gene comes up and introduces us to the other parents. Beleth shakes each one’s hand. “Thank you so much for bringing your kids and letting them have some fun on this wonderful night.”

I know how his touch marks them and I’m not sure if they will thank him or curse him for it later.

The group heads next door to Pastor Tom’s. He waits on his porch and hands each kid a pamphlet. I’ve read it, and it’s not very good, all about the evils of Halloween and how you should have Jesus as your lord and savior and whatnot. Really not my style. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jesus. He’s a good guy and he’s a big part of the reason for what’s about to happen.

The kids take their “treat” from Pastor Tom and move on to the next house on our block. Beleth’s cackle pulls me back to the task at hand as he gets up from his chair.

“Wonderful, children, just wonderful!” And the scene from moments ago plays out numerous times throughout the next couple of hours.

***

“Adra, it’s ten fifty, you ready to do this?” Beleth asks from the other room.

“You know, it’s been a few minutes since I’ve been myself. I’ve got a bit more to contend with than you do. One minute.” I run my hands down my six-packed torso. It’s been much too long since I was my real self and, damn, I look good. Yeah, still showing off. Deal with it. “Besides, he lives next door. Not like we have far to go.”

Stepping back, I take in the image staring back at me from the full-length mirror. I twist my neck, stretching the muscles. I smile at the sight, but it isn’t as … well, charming as Beleth’s. In my true form I have the head and body of a donkey. I walk upright on hooves, but I need hands, so while they match the rest of my fur, they are still human form. I flick my long tail and unfurl the peacock feathering behind me. Each of the green feathers has a blue eye in it that I can use to see my warriors across the world. I snap the feathers closed and let my tail drag behind me as I walk out of the bedroom.

Beleth is waiting in the living room. “Marvelous,” he says. “Adramelech, you are a sight.” He is in full black cat form, and like me, he still walks upright and chooses to keep his human hands too. “What music shall we dance to? Maybe the Valkyries?” From his body the song begins to play quietly in the room.

I shake my head, rolling my eyes, and walk out the front door. “Now who are we waiting on?”

The street is quiet at this time of night and there is a subtle hint of sulfur in the air. I unfurl my train and before I can open myself to the eyes of my soldiers, I hear Beleth’s, “Mmmmm.” Told you I looked good.

Everyone is in place waiting on our signal.

On the road, the two of us walk next door, ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ playing every step of the way. I look across the street at Gene’s house. They are marked and will be safe, through this round. Beyond that, I’m not sure. All the powers-that-be want is the world to get back to a balance. And once we start, we won’t stop until the bosses are happy with their creation.

We look like two well-costumed humans, as do the rest of us all over the world. If anyone is watching, there’s no cause for alarm. At least not until it’s too late. The motion sensor detects us and Pastor Tom’s porch light pops on as we step up to his door.

This is where it begins, with a horribly misinformed ‘servant’ of God, in charge of a nothing little church in a suburb of St. Louis.

No one could envision it starting this way.

I close my tail, pull my leg up, and am about to kick the door in when…

“Wait a second,” Beleth harshly whispers. “I have it.” ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ turns into one of Beleth’s favorite songs, ‘Superbeast’. The aggressive drums and guitar swell around us and off into the night air.

“Really?” I say. “Little on the nose, don’t you think? And there is no way he is going to know this.”

“Who cares about him? I think it’s great. It’s fucking Rob Zombie, over-the-top rock and roll about monsters and sex and violence. Plus, have you seen his movies? It’s everything they hate. This is the perfect music.” He nods at the door, teeth bared. “Go for it.”

I kick my leg out and the door bursts inward. We rush in, heading up the stairs to Pastor Tom’s room. The growling vocals and crunching guitar fill the house, ‘devil’ music announcing our arrival.

Pastor Tom’s eyes are wide as he scrambles out of bed. “Wha … what are you? What’s going on?”

Beleth steps out from behind me. “We’ve come for your daughter, Chuck.” And he laughs at his own joke.

Pastor Tom screams and pisses himself, then quickly regains some form of composure. “My daughter? I … I don’t have a—”

“Really? It’s from a movie. It’s when—oh hell. Never mind. No respect for the classics.” Beleth glances up at me and is about to say more when he’s interrupted by an outburst from Pastor Tom.

“Get out of here! The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!”

I let my tail free once more, each eye begins moving as I watch through them. Across the world my men are attacking. They fight side by side with the angels. Our time is now, the Vetting has begun.

“The power of Christ compels you! The power of—”

“Give it a rest, man!” Beleth barks at him. “This isn’t The Exorcist or something. And to be fair, Christ is sick of your shit. You and your kind.”

The man of God before us once again tries to control the situation. “Kill me, foul demon, and I will be in heaven with my creator.”

“Care to explain things to him, Adra?”

His eyes widen even more at the mention of my name, as it all sinks in, the whole demons living right next door and whatnot.

“You see, Pastor Tom, the world is about to change. We are going to kill you, but you aren’t going to heaven to be with God. Oh no. People like you are why God sent us back. You have perverted his word. Twisting everything to make it an evil or a sin. That isn’t life. That isn’t the way.”

“No! No, this is a test. This is my test. You are false prophets. Demons meant to tempt me. You…”

I step forward and slap him across his face, shutting him up.

“And it’s not just your religion, so you aren’t even special there. It’s all of them. All the extremists in the world. Things have gotten a little too out of control here for God’s liking. He let you pathetic creatures think for yourselves and you fucked it up. Frankly, I’m surprised he waited this long, but I digress. So, he has sent down the angels from heaven and called the warriors from the underworld to fight together and regain control.”

Pastor Tom stares at me in silence.

Beleth rejoins the conversation. “Look, man, it’s irony.” He turns to me. “Irony, right?”

I shrug my shoulders, and he continues. “Irony. God, the good guy, is going to have demons, the bad guys, work with his warriors to reset this mess of a planet. Those that survive will be a part of his new plan. And all you overzealous, everything bashing, every other religion hating, everything is evil people, are not part of it.”

Beleth lunges forward, cat-like claws slash at Pastor Tom’s neck and blood explodes from it. I see him scream, but hear no sound as music blares forth from my partner, shattering the windows throughout the house.

Beleth quiets the music and Pastor Tom gurgles in the corner struggling to survive. “Where to next?” My partner says.

“Are you kidding me?” I say as I receive our next order. “Topeka, Kansas.”

“I have just the song.” Beleth blinks out of existence and I swear off in the distance I hear, ‘It’s Raining Men.’

“I’ve been wanting a shot at those guys. This is going to be fun.” I say to Pastor Tom, and disappear from the room.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

Hairpin

Please, oh please, oh please, was all she could think as she raced to the hospital. The call had come nearly thirteen minutes ago; thirteen minutes of unadulterated hell. She’d dropped everything in a frantic rush and flew from the house. It was such a beautiful summer day; he’d asked if he could ride his bike with the neighborhood kids. It was such a big deal for him – they’d never asked him to hang out before, there was no reason to say no. She was so proud to see her little man growing up.

Oh, God! He just learned to ride last month. I should have said no, why didn’t I just say no? Her own thoughts tugged at her as she narrowly missed being crushed by a semi hauling lumber as she darted around a slow-moving car in her lane. She’d panicked the moment she’d heard the woman from the hospital say his name, she didn’t listen to the rest of what the nurse had said, she’d just bolted for the car. All that mattered was getting to Robbie.

BWWAAHHH! A blaring horn interrupted her thoughts. She was rounding a hairpin turn in the outside lane passing yet another car when she looked over at the driver. He was trying to signal her; swinging his arms wildly as he screamed from inside his own vehicle. She glanced forward just in time to see a cement truck bearing down on her full speed. Slamming the brakes and yanking the wheel hard to the left, she saw a flash of metal just before her tires skidded off the road.

The car tumbled down the wooded mountainside. As it careened off trees and rocks, the sound of shattering glass and screeching metal was a symphony of destruction in the cramped interior. Mouth stretched open; the violent downward motion choked back her scream. Time seemed to slow to a crawl, what took mere seconds turned into infinity as she stared in terror through the cracked windshield. The car eventually came to rest in the ravine. Inside, all was silent as the shattered safety glass tinged sienna; her crushed and mutilated form hung from the seat-belt above it.

∼ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.