Am I mad? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe. I should write that down. In crayon? Felt tip marker? A quill pen? No, not a quill pen. I’ll use the pen in my hand. There’s a clean spot on the wall over there.
I scribble my thoughts on the white painted wall, next to yesterday’s thoughts. I step back and smile. I like the pretty squiggles, all blue and curly. I wonder what they mean? I think what I write is language. I know it comes from inside my head. From the voices. It pours out, sometimes English, sometimes other languages, sometimes a strange script I’ve never seen before. No one has seen that writing in a long, long time. I’m not sure how I know that, but I do. My scribbles are all over the house now. On the walls, the floor, the furniture. I even managed to get some on the ceiling in the upstairs bathroom. I don’t remember that, but it is there. Everything has been redecorated in ink: black, blue, green… red.
No, don’t think about the red. Don’t ever think about the red. You might go mad if you think about the red. Must remember. Keep the door closed. Always keep the door closed.
I shut my eyes. When I open them I’m in the hall outside the door. The smell is worse today, but I’m getting used to it. It doesn’t make me gag anymore. My hand trembles. I know what’s going to happen. I start writing on the door. Again.
But it’s not red. The red is on the inside. Always on the inside. I scribble, though, in blue. Blue, blue. Blue like the sky. I haven’t seen the sky in a long time. Is it still blue? Or did it die, like… No, stay away from bad thoughts. Scribble, must scribble. What is it today? Runes I think. Warnings. That’s good. Must never open the door.
I lower the pen. I can hear the scraping now. And the angry whispers. The voices want out. I don’t think they like what I wrote. Too bad. They’re grounded. Locked in the room. While I write. Write everywhere. Wards. Runes. Spells. To keep them here. To keep them with me. Forever. They tried to get in my head. But it didn’t work. I got into theirs instead. I saw. Yes, I did. Now they’re mine.
To replace the red. Or make them pay. I don’t know. Maybe both. I want them back… No, don’t go there. Don’t go into the red. Shells, they’re just shells of what they were. The voices are inside them now.
I stare at the door. At the tattered teddy bear decal on the wood. I remember who used to live there, for a moment. Their little faces, their smiles, their laughs. Before the voices… before the red.
No, no, don’t go into the red. The voices will get out. Mustn’t let them out. Can’t give in. Always keep the door closed. Keep writing, keep warding. Remember, the voices want out. They must, never, ever get out.
~ A. F. Stewart
© Copyright 2018 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.
The deafening volume in the hallway was cut short by yet another scene of ruthlessness.
Terri was pulling a math book out of the bottom of his locker when something heavy crashed into him, driving his head into the corner of the metal enclosure. The pain ringing in his ears briefly consumed him as he collapsed to the tile floor. Not again, he pleaded inwardly as he pressed a shaky hand against his forehead to stem the flow of blood.
Regardless of the countless times something similar had happened, he was yet again flooded with humiliation, anger, and a desire to disappear; it was overwhelming. He bowed his head and turned to the side as he bit his lip in a useless attempt to hold back tears that only served to incite his tormentor.
Nothing halted the insane volume of background noise that filled a school like the promise of violence. But the silence never lasted, and his latest tormentor, one of his regulars, filled the empty space with ugly taunts.
“Hey Fairy,” Eric yelled. “How many times do I have to tell you to stay out of my way?”
He pulled his hand away from his forehead and a stream of blood poured down his face as he glanced at the onlookers. The sight was familiar – a hungry crowd wielding phones that recorded the show in high definition. Undoubtedly, many were already thinking about the comments they would upload along with the footage.
Most people in his position would at least look at their attacker, but there was no need. It wasn’t because there was only one possible aggressor; the list of bullies was long. It was because this asshole was one of only three that called him a fairy, and Eric’s oddly high-pitched voice betrayed him immediately.
“Look at me, you sack of shit!”
Eric slammed a meaty fist into the side of Terri’s face, rocking his head side to side. Jeers and taunts erupted from the crowd as Eric’s football buddies cried out for more. Waves of darkness edged their way into the periphery of his vision, but he kept his eyes on the crowd. It was easy to gauge how bad the beating was going to be by the behavior of the audience.
The crowd was quickly getting bored; it was obvious he wasn’t going to fight back and the excitement ebbed away. The other students started to wander off. He closed his eyes, tried to stop the tears, fought the urge to pass out. He found himself wondering for the millionth time why none of the others cared, why none of them stood up for him. Even the local Emo kids shunned him. What was left of his ravaged heart ached.
“You got off easy,” Eric said as he rubbed his sore fist. “Keep quiet about this or I’ll take it to a whole other level of ugly.” The jocks walked away with their chests puffed out, almost as far as their egos, each boasting about how much they had lifted in gym class, somehow sure this equated to dick size.
He sat for a minute and waited for the hallway to clear before he slowly picked up his backpack. He would have given anything for a sympathetic ear, or a caring shoulder, but he knew reality was nothing like the Lifetime Channel. It would be a mistake to think he would get support or comfort anywhere, not even at home.
His father always insisted the beatings were his own fault for being a pansy that didn’t understand how the system worked. Dad frequently told him that his life would be punctuated by failure and misery, and the rotten bastard was right so far.
He started to walk, unsure of where he was headed, knowing it didn’t really matter. For too many years he planted hopes, wishes, and dreams in his conscious mind like a starving farmer plants the last of his seeds. He watered them with desperation, fertilized them with as much bullshit as he could muster, but the field of his soul was still a desolate, ugly place. Why? The truth was simple. Hope was snake oil. Wishes? Wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which fills up first. Dreams? Those were the equivalent of a carrot on a stick held in front of a mule headed to the glue factory.
There was no such thing as good in this world. It was as mythological as a unicorn, just more useless. Since there was no good, there could be no evil. There were only varying levels of pain and anguish that were blissfully interrupted by the oblivion of sleep. He frequently dreamt of sleeping eternally, wishing for nothingness to absorb his worthless existence.
In the end, it all came back to the same question. Would he be perceived as selfish? Perhaps, but nobody cared enough to notice, much less think about him if he were gone. It was time.
He reached into his backpack and pulled out the knife. His throat felt tight, and as his resolve strengthened, tears of a different kind slipped from his eyes and mixed with the drying blood on his cheek. He knew better than to think this was a form of happiness, that shit didn’t exist. This was relief. Yes, it was time indeed.
He dropped the pack and made his way to the auditorium. The assembly was probably under way by now. He had wanted to do this in private, but something deep inside urged him to do it in front of a crowd.
“I’ll give them something to post,” he whispered as he opened the back door to the stage. The darkness calmed him. He took off his shirt, then his shoes. He parted the closed curtain with the knife, and stepped into the blinding light on stage.
At first, all he heard was a booming voice echoing through the speaker system, but then came the hushed whisper from hundreds of students. His eyes had begun to adjust to the light when he heard Eric’s telltale voice shout out.
“Look! It’s Terri the Fairy!”
Laughter filled the vast space. One last tear fell; it went unnoticed by the crowd. The laughter continued until a cheerleader in the front row screamed something about him having a knife. Her scream was followed by a few more, but the hushed awe from most of the students was enough to encourage him.
Terri pressed the sharp edge of the knife deep into his left wrist and slowly drew it upward until it reached the inner part of his elbow. Bright blood flowed from the gaping wound; his bright eyes stared out over the sea of confused faces. He took the blade and pushed it into his shoulder until it hit bone, then cut downward through his chest until the blade was sunk deep into his abdomen. Blood started to pool around him, its darkness reached outward.
The spectators, usually keen on gore, were at a loss for words. Some screamed, some retched, but all remained in their place as a new reality debuted before their eyes. Terri started to feel weak as his heart quickly pumped blood from his body, he also felt peace deep within. Peace and something else–something less kind.
Terri sensed movement at his core. It was growing at an incredible rate, but it felt neither foreign nor strange. The growth pressed against organs and caused him to purge the contents of his stomach, as well as his bowels and bladder. He dropped the knife as the change touched his consciousness.
The continued growth started to bulge against his skin, press against his extremities; it fed on him internally. Eldritch bones and musculature sprouted painfully as Terri grew. Tentacles dug their way out the sides of his face; they tore at his flesh to birth the otherworldly being within.
Students woke from their stupor and fled; they trampled one another in blind terror. Terri’s conscious melded with that of the Other, and he gloried in his becoming. He also hungered. Nearly ten feet tall and growing quickly, he reached out for the nourishment that floundered nearby.
Clawed hands covered in a new and loathsome skin plucked the writhing teens from the floor, piled them within reach of the tentacles. He smelled their fear and knew true ecstasy. The tentacles grabbed the students and stuffed them into his now colossal maw; one, two, three at a time. Their screams mixed with the sound of crunching bone. It was musical perfection.
His growth had just started, fed by dozens of the two-legged cattle he’d already consumed, but he found it difficult to move within the confines of the auditorium. He emerged from the remains of the building as it seemingly shrunk beneath his reckless growth.
Terri gave corrupt birth to the profane, was one in heinous thought with the abyss, and demanded eternal retribution. Words poured from his mouth with blasphemous splendor and filled the air with dread.
Arcane incantations of power echoed across the doomed city as he opened the way for many more of his kind. Yog-Sothoth and Nyarlathotep moved through monstrous dimensions beyond time and entered a world that would soon know despair. Oblivion was not his to experience, but his to create.
~ Zack Kullis
© Copyright 2016 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved.
It was a dark night, full of clouds and shadows. Whispers carried on the wind, racing through the forest and brushing the trees. The monotonous chanting of a hundred voices lingered on the air.
A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood. . .
A figure hurried along the winding forest path. Overhead, the clouds shifted so that the moon emerged just as the figure did from the tree line. The forest was illuminated, a picture of viridian mist and boughs. Even the lake glittered under its glare.
A heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief. . .
The figure ran on, its hands slipping from beneath its sleeves and revealed for a moment in the moonlight. They were slick with wetness and black as the figure’s habit, which fluttered furiously as it ran.
A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren. . .
A long shadow stretched across the lake. Offset by the moon, an abbey rose into the night, its bell-tower cutting into the sky.
“I must not tell lies,” muttered the figure. Reaching the lakeside, he started across a walkway.
“I must not tell lies.” The raps of the knocker, when he reached the doors, rang leaden into the night. It was several minutes before they opened a crack, the wind rushing instantly inside.
“Please, let me in.”
“We do not take to strangers in these parts.”
“Please, some charity.” The words seemed to have a strange effect on the doorman, the sliver of his face illuminated in a flash of lightning. “I am a man of God, like you.”
“There are no men of God. Not here, not anywhere.”
The door widened nevertheless and the tiny figure slipped inside.
The dining hall was empty. An air of reverence hung about the room, thick like incense or a guilty conscience. Dust coated the armaments and windows, visible as tiny motes in the flashes of lightning. Sin burst into unholy life with every jagged crack, their monstrous forms depicted in the stained glass of the windows
“I was caught unawares, travelling from Glastonbury. The weather fell foul, but we thought we could endure it. We took shelter, set up camp. . . We were wrong.”
“You were caught abroad?”
“By more than God’s rain. It was no ordinary storm but a Sin, come to claim us. Wrath, in all her vitriolic glory. We died. I ran. And now I am here.”
A startled gasp. “They chase your heels? You brought them here?”
“I lost them. I fled into the woods while they stayed to tear at the corpses. . .” The monk began to shake again, his hands rattling against the sturdy wooden table top. Cutlery clattered, the quiet sound reverberating within the heights of the dining hall. “My God, I still have their blood under my nails. . .”
“Robin,” said the newcomer. “Brother Robin.”
“You will be safe here, Brother. I am Brother William and, for tonight, all that we have is yours.”
The room might have been magnificent, once. Figures decorated the ceiling with beautiful intricacy; depictions from The Book of Sin brought to life in vivid brush-stroke. Above the flickering candlelight, the painting seemed almost to move, a trick of light and Robin’s own heightened imagination, as if the Sins were in the very act of being banished from the world by God and His children. Except, of course, no such thing had ever happened, nor ever would, not so long as men were men.
Both men tucked into their food. Robin ate voraciously, as though afraid his plate might be taken unfinished from before him. The chanting continued; a hallowed, reverential hymn hanging like the dust in the air, and something else. The patter of claws, or tiny feet, skittering through the walls.
“Rats,” muttered William.
“You said earlier that there are no men of God? These do not sound like the words of a man in His service.” Robin peered across at the monk, who twitched but made no move to reply, raising instead a skewered sliver of meat to his mouth. It glistened, pink and bloody, reminding Robin of his own hands. He lowered them self-consciously beneath the table.
“Come,” said William suddenly. Spittle and ham flew from his lips.
“Where are we going?”
“You may be alone, but here we’re many. You must meet the others, before you retire. The Abbot is leading them in prayer.”
The two figures slipped noiselessly through the passages of the abbey. All about them, the hymn hung heavy on the air. They passed through great halls, their footsteps echoing on the cracked flagstone floors. Archways towered over them, engraved with signs of the cross, and every corridor was dimly lit with tiny candles. They wavered and danced, like the dying light in a man’s eyes, as the two monks ghosted past.
“I’ve never seen such architecture. I must admit, I’m somewhat in awe.” The two passed a statue, the edifice staring down at them righteously from its pedestal. An engraving beneath said St. George, who Robin remembered well as being the military saint responsible for casting back one of the Seven.
Outside, black clouds amassed in the night sky. Robin could see them as William and he strode through the cloisters towards the church, the monastic heart of the abbey. The church reared up before them. Windows watched them, more Sins staring monstrously at their approach. Then they were passing through the church’s doors and into the building proper.
Reverent song prickled at the back of Robin’s neck. It was holy, sanctimonious, resonating within his bones as if he’d been struck by one of the very bolts that danced through the night sky. Goosebumps ran the length of his robed arms.
“The hymn. . .”
From beside him, William nodded. “I know. I know.”
The church was humbler than the rest of the abbey but no less beautiful. Rows of benches led up to a dais at the front, atop which three small altars could be found. The place was old, as old as anything of the abbey Robin had already seen, but lacked the dust and decay that he had so far grown accustomed to. The church looked attended to. Cared for. Perfect, in every way.
At each row of benches stood a dozen monks, their backs turned, hoods covering their heads so that only their voices could be heard. More stood at the front on the raised platform, and at the pulpit a lonely figure: the Abbot himself, leading his congregation in solemn song.
“I recognise the hymn,” whispered Robin.
“They sing for God and to ward off evil. To ward off the Sins, in all their guises.”
“Such a thing is not possible, you realise.”
“We do our best, given the times.”
Robin’s eyes flashed with the lightning. ‘There are no men of God. Not here, not anywhere.”
William hung his head. He looked tired, suddenly. A hundred years old. “Perhaps I spoke rashly, before. Certainly I regret those sentiments. There are many on God’s earth who would. . . well, who would kill to be so close to Him, if you will excuse the expression.”
“You’d say they envy you?”
“And in doing so, they would sin.”
William glanced back at Robin, a stranger, at the heart of their abbey. His hair was still drenched, although it had been well over an hour since he’d been admitted past their walls. The blood of his comrades was no less slick about his hands. Surely it should have dried by now? Surely he should have wanted to wash?
“Forgive me, Brother, I forget; to which order did you say you belonged?”
“I did not, merely that I was travelling from Glastonbury.”
“Ah, I assumed. . .”
“Indeed. You know, it really is an abbey above all others that you have here. Beautiful. God would be proud.”
“Pride, Brother, is a sin like all others.”
“Envious of you, then, to live in such luxury.”
Something was happening to Robin. His waterlogged hair was lengthening before William’s eyes. A pallor overcame his flesh, such that he looked more like a statue or – God forbid – a corpse, than a living, breathing man. The blood began running like dirty water from his hands, two puddles growing around the monk’s habit .
“What’s happening? What trickery is this?”
“I have enjoyed your company, Brother, so much so in fact that I’ve decided I would quite like to be you.”
Time slowed, everything illuminated in a single flash of lightning. Robin span on his heel, habit fluttering like the wings of a bat as he descended on William. Hands closed around the monk’s neck, even as William plunged a knife into Robin’s shoulder. The iron blade slid smoothly and without resistance into skin and bone alike, and Robin shrieked obscenely. Bladeless, his weapon buried to the hilt, William dropped to the floor. Bloody handprints circled his bruised throat.
“Sin!” he screamed. “Brothers, Sin! See how the iron burns its flesh!”
The assembled monks did not rise to his aid. They did not fly in defence of their abbey. They did not move but continued to sing, their monotonous moans carrying far into the night.
“It is always dark, where I come from. There is no light. No warmth. We have no birdsong, save the screams of the crows. The screaming. They do not stop screaming.”
Scrabbling away, William backed against a statue. He felt alone. Trapped. But the statue brought him comfort. It was another of St. George; tall, defiant, clutching an ancient sword in its hands.
“You will always find screaming. This abbey is no different. Can you not hear the wind, Beast, as it races through the woods? It screams to feel, to touch. The dying, they scream as their lives are extinguished. The living scream when theirs are not. God’s earth is a chorus of cries.”
“Poetic,” hissed Robin, haggard, the knife still steaming in his shoulder. “I like you even more.”
William wrenched the sword from the statue. It came free with a lurch, sent him spinning, the blade careering towards Robin’s twisted face. He swung it with all his might, a prayer to the Lord on his lips.
A stony hand grabbed his chest from behind. It held him still even as another punched into his back. His vision failing, William had just enough time to look down, to see his bloody heart in its fingers, before he slumped to the church floor.
Giggling obscenely, St. George sprang into the air. Two glassy wings burst from its back as it took flight, twitching and euphoric into the rafters. Its skin rippled like liquid shadow.
Robin watched his child as it flew. “Silly monk,” he shrieked, casting off his own glamour. Slick hair cascaded from her head, clinging to the infantile body beneath. Pale flesh glinted wetly in the candlelight and two shards of broken emerald shone where there should have been eyes.
Envy plucked the steaming dagger from her shoulder. Black blood spat from the wound, not unlike that of the congregation’s, murdered earlier by her hands. Not that it had stopped them singing, of course. She did so enjoy their singing.
“Silly, silly monk.”
Movement, in the shadows. Shapes ghosted in and out of the darkness, flitting between this world and another. Faint shrieks and triumphant barks joined the unending hymn. Envy watched the unholy procession with a wicked grin; the flutter of crow wings, the clicking of bones, screams of malediction and joy alike filling the despoiled church. Scuttling down the aisle like a spidery spinster, she sprang atop the central altar.
“And now, Lesson One,” she crooned, her voice cracked, sing-song. “Lesson One. Lesson One. . . We must not tell lies.”
~ Thomas Brown
© Copyright 2016 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved.
Her feet made no sound as they padded across the cold stone floor. She knew he was busy, but she had waited for such a long time. Besides, what father could resist his only daughter? He put down the tome as she approached and turned to face her.
“Father,” she said, “it’s time for a new book.”
He turned to his daughter and smiled. Their library was one of the biggest around, and as such, adding new material was not a simple task. She was too young to do it properly on her own, but he did enjoy helping her with it. Besides, it had been far too long since their last acquisition.
“Of course. Let me finish something here and I will be there shortly.”
Leila turned and hurried out of her father’s study. She ran down the central hallway, slowing only as she approached the large doors that led to the library. Her eyes drifted upwards to the ageless brick in the barrel-vaulted ceiling, arched in ways that seemed to defy the laws of gravity. The walls were lined with bright sconces and perfectly carved busts of the ancient ones.
She stopped in front of the large doors and waited, letting her mind wander to the joy of what lay ahead. Leila felt his approach long before her father spoke.
“I trust you are ready to do this,” he questioned before attempting to open the door. “The story will not unfold the way you would like if everything has not been prepared correctly.”
Leila turned to her father and smiled lovingly. “Yes. Everything is ready.”
Without saying another word, Seth placed his hand on the heavy door and opened the library for his daughter. She stepped inside and walked down the aisle, her eyes lingered hungrily on dozens upon dozens of books. The outer edge of the library held the oldest books – ancient things that smelled of parchment, strange leather and age.
She reached her hand out and ran her fingers across the tomes as they walked through her part of the library. Leila had devoured every book in here, many of them multiple times. Simply touching one of these was enough to tease her mind with the emotions and characters captured within the pages. A particularly strong wave of feelings shot through her as she touched one of her favorite books. Leila stopped and ran a finger down the spine.
Seth stopped behind her and sighed audibly, knowing exactly how she felt.
“I remember helping you with that one. It was the first story for your portion of the library. I don’t think my first book was nearly that good.”
Leila closed her eyes and saw everything within those pages. The faces were crystal clear, the emotions every bit as raw and savage as they were when it was penned, if not more so, and she almost decided to stop and simply enjoy it. Almost.
Her hand fell from the book and she turned her face to the center of the library where the books were created. A series of shapes and patterns had been laid into the floor, each with corresponding glyphs and symbols handed down from the ancient ones. She stepped into the center of a group of markings and turned to her father.
Seth retrieved the book she had prepared and flipped through the pages, ensuring they were empty. He nodded his head to his daughter and recited the unholy incantation as she waved her hand over the glyphs around her and initiated the ceremony. The floor shimmered, the room darkened, and the realm of mankind opened before them.
She spoke the ancient command and the two worlds merged. Leila looked at the room where a lone man was bent over geometric patterns of his own and was busily drawing lines upon the ground.
“Eric,” Leila said, “I have come for you.”
The man jumped with fright, smearing the lines. He looked down, checked to be sure he was standing within his circle, then turned to face the demon he had been summoning for months. “How… But I…” he stammered as he tried to comprehend what happened. “But I didn’t summon you yet, I never game you my name!”
Seth grinned wickedly as symbols around his daughter began to glow and one-by-one drift off the floor as vapors to etch themselves onto the pages of the book he held.
“Stupid little man,” Leila smirked as she watched the mortal squirm. “Did you really think your preparations, chalk and lines of salt, could contain me?”
Leila stepped completely into the mortal world and stood within the man’s triangle of conjuring. The last of the glyphs from the library floor etched itself into the new book. The remainder would have to be done from the mortal realm.
The man faltered, knocking down his altar and candles as he pulled backward. Composure regained, Eric stood up with the ceremonial dagger in his hand and faced his demon. “Yes, I followed all of the steps. You are mine to command, mine to summon, and mine to banish!”
Eric moved cautiously to the edge of the triangle where Leila stood, his confidence growing with each step. He lifted the dagger and spoke with as much authority as he could muster.
“Through Alpha and Omega, and with Michael’s gate, I cast you to darkness where eternally you will wait.”
Leila waited for Eric’s hand to cross the line and grabbed him by the throat. She caught the dagger as it fell from his hand and took him to the floor. Eric watched in horror as the demon sat over him and pressed his own dagger to his neck. He started to scream but she waved a hand and his mouth clamped shut.
“I know you are confused,” Leila said as the sharp blade easily cut through the soft flesh of Eric’s throat, “so let me explain. The rites and rituals were never yours to command. We fed them to your kind ages ago so that we may do as we please. The words, the symbols, the incantations… all provided by us. The only thing humanity offered was enough self-important cockiness to think they could control something immortal.”
Blood ran freely across the floor, flowed over the symbols, and opened a portal back to the demonic realm. The ablated symbols etched themselves into the book still held by Seth. With each mark that was transferred to the pages, Eric’s spirit became further embedded in the book, ensuring his damned soul would be eternally bound within.
Leila laughed as Eric released his last breath. “You never even questioned what use a dagger would have when dealing with immortal beings. Silly man,” Leila said as she patted his cooling cheeks. “The dagger was always meant for you.”
~ Zack Kullis
© Copyright 2015 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved.
Aislinn crawls under her covers, which feel cold against her skin, like her mother’s lips on wintry mornings when she kisses her goodbye for school. Goosebumps prickle her arms but she is not uncomfortable; she is in bed, the place of dreams and sleep and snug familiarity, and there is no discomfort in these things. Besides, the bed will grow warm quickly. It does so every night. At least, it has done every night beforehand.
Small fingers in the darkness find her bedcovers. Dragging the cotton sheets up her body to beneath her chin, she glances one last time across her room. This is her bedroom. Her private place, where she can host tea parties, entertain her dolls and read eagerly from glossy teen magazines, secreted beneath her mattress, without fear of being judged or, worse, disarmed.
The curtains flutter. Her rocking-horse creaks. From across the room, her Gameboy console flickers briefly into life. For one moment its blue light illuminates her shelf of smiling dolls – she sees Molly, Blossom, Lady Honeypaw, clutching tight the jar of her namesake – then it cuts out again. The room falls still.
She is half-asleep now. Her eyes are closing and she is drifting off. Her legs slip either side of her bedcovers, relishing the feel of them, the coolness against her skin, and in this half-sleep state she wishes for a bedtime story. Her thumb finds her mouth, as it always does when she is in bed and it is dark. Her thumb precludes dreams and sleep and a snug familiarity.
She wishes for a bedtime story. She wishes so very hard.
Her mother hasn’t read to her this evening. She can hear her some nights, through the floor, laughing with her father; the sounds of glasses clinking, of shrieks and the murmur of the television. Her mother reads less and less of late. Aislinn isn’t sure why. She sucks harder on her thumb, coats the digit in a glistening layer of saliva, and wishes her mother would read to her again, like she used to, like before.
The flutter of the curtains. The creak of the rocking horse. And another sound, like a crying dog, from somewhere nearby. She leans forward, peers over her crumpled covers, searching for its source. Her eyes scan her bedroom: the wardrobe, the night stand, the shelf where her dolls sit, glassy eyed, their lips stitched into beatific smiles. She knows those smiles. They are ‘supposed-to’ smiles. She wears them often enough.
And then she sees them. Three figures, no taller than Aislinn herself, standing quite still next to her mirror, beside the chest of drawers. She isn’t sure how long they have been standing there, hidden in plain sight by the dark. She doesn’t suppose it matters. Clutching her covers, her heart begins to race inside her chest.
Stepping through the darkness, they approach her silently. Perhaps they have come from the mirror, she thinks, or birthed from the shadows, or the fluffy insides of the dolls. The shadows cling to them like veils. Shrouded in blackness, they seem inscrutable, except for their whimpers, like Toby when he would trap his tail in the kitchen door. They smell like Toby too; wet fur, hot breath, rotten scents ill-fitting with their spirited movements.
They all three sweep towards her, limping across the bedroom floor, and she shrinks hurriedly into her covers, warmer now, infused with that sleepy smell. She takes a deep breath and, for one moment, the figures are forgotten for that smell.
Then they are around her bed.
They lean over the sheets, their chipped nails dragging delicately across the covers. Swathes of lace – or it might be lank hair – hang from their pencil-thin arms, and it is only when the first leans down, into Aislinn’s face, that she notices they wear veils, like those princesses from the animated films she loves to watch on Saturday mornings. Except they are like no princesses she has ever seen, and certainly no prince would ever march to save them, or slay a writhing serpent in their honour. She is a tight ball of trembling limbs beneath the covers.
Something thick and bulbous presses against the veil of the first; a tongue, long and swollen like a pale leech, and she wonders if these three are not the serpents themselves, in wicked disguise, come to claim her with their scaly claws. Her mouth opens, to shout, to cry, except no sound escapes her lips –
The curtains flutter, the rocking horse creaks and the three crones shudder to a stop. For a moment they seem to stare at each other through the murkiness of their veils. Then they spin slowly on their heels.
Something is happening to the rocking horse. It sways forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards, steadily at first but with increasing pace, just like it does when she mounts it. The dolls are twitching too, their legs swinging, button eyes blinking. Then, with deliberate slowness, the horse’s broad, white neck curves round. It whinnies, snorts a steamy breath, and its pearly black eyes fix themselves onto the Harridans.
They all three whine in unison. A long, twisting horn winds its way from out of the rocking-horse’s forehead, and then it is no longer a rocking-horse but a proud stallion, thickly-muscled and fierce. His solitary horn shines silvery and hard in the moonlight and even from across the room she can count the age-rings, smooth and marbled, on its surface.
He paws her bedroom carpet, strikes the fabric with his hooves, and snorts steamily again until he has the crones’ attention. He is her defender, she realises, wiping away the tears from her eyes. Even though she has not ridden him for a long time now, he remembers her hands on his neck. He remembers her weight on his back, her legs pressed tight to his sides, and he will fight for her.
The crones stagger with horrid purpose towards him. Shadows bleed from beneath their arms and the long strips of lace that hang there, and with every step closer to the horse their lamenting wails intensify.
Aislinn shrinks further beneath her covers as, with a dreadful lurch, the first crone reaches the stallion. He whinnies and rears up as she draws near, shining hooves pedalling beside the toy-box. The crone cowers on the floor before him and for a moment it looks as though the stallion might triumph, his eyes two glistening marbles in the dark.
Then the other two reach his sides. Their lamenting cries made all the more horrible for what they are about to do, they claw him, their fingers shearing long, thin rashers from his flanks. Cackling and weeping they bury their fingers deeper into his pale coat, drawing blackness from within, only this blackness is wet and drips from their hands to stain the carpet below. He throws back his head, his eyes rolling. Giddy sounds erupt from his throat.
One by one her dolls drop from the shelf. The room fills with soft sounds as they hit the carpet, then the patter of their boots as they rush across the floor. Reaching up they tug at the crones, grasping the strands of lace and hair, pulling them back from the horse with Lilliputian might. She sees Molly and Blossom, their stitched lips pursed tight, and feels hope again.
With a voiceless heave, they bring one crone to the ground. She screams as she topples into the sea of smiling faces, her grey dress floating around her. They grab the dress and pin her down, Lady Honeypaw climbing triumphant onto her chest. She upends her pot of honey over the veiled face.
The last crone scatters her assailants. She snatches them up, tears them in two and tosses them away. Stuffing spills from their broken bodies, buttons plink across the room, then she returns her hands to the steed.
He stumbles. Aislinn feels him fall and she trembles. Screams judder from his throat and he sinks down to his knees, the toy-box shattering beneath his bulk. Its contents scatter across the carpet. Sheared flesh covers the broken dolls, blood splashes their button eyes and then the stallion’s mane darkens, until it might have been one of the scouring pads her mother uses to scratch out dirt from the sink. The stallion lies still amid her toys.
The crones regroup and turn, together, to her bed. She trembles harder beneath her sheets. Her eyes brim with tears again, although she is otherwise motionless, frozen by a mixture of fear and something else, something strange, a feeling of familiarity. Downstairs, all is silent. Her mother and father must have gone to bed. She has no brothers or sisters. Toby is long gone now, ‘to be with the angels in the sky,’ though she knows he really occupies a shallow hole in the back garden, behind the roses. She remembers dank soil, his short fur and cold flesh.
As she drags her covers over her, so that only her eyes are visible, she realises she knows these crones. They are her long-dead dog, her slain steed, every bedtime without stories; fears made half-physical in the dark and the night. She sees something of herself in the crones’ withered forms; and her mother and her grandmother, and realises they are not just crones but brides, manifestations of age and motherhood, come to claim her at last, as they must claim all growing girls –
The three rise up once more around her bed. They lean in close, and even through her covers, their salty breaths catching in her throat. It seems like everything warm, everything nice, everything she knows is good and right, is swallowed up by the black void of their veils. Their fingers rise to their veils, clasping them even as their other hands brush Aislinn’s covers. For a moment their hands hover there. Then, with one quick motion, they tear the delicate net cloth from their faces.
A scream fills Aislinn’s mouth. It fills her bedroom too, piercing even the blackest shadows as she looks upon the faces of the brides. Then the brides are gone and she is sitting up in the darkness, her mother rushing to her side, concern and sleep in equal measures in her eyes.
Slowly Aislinn calms down. Her mother switches on lights and reads to her. After a while, her breathing steadies. Her eyes regain a languid glaze. Guided by her mother’s words, she sinks back into her bed; that place of dreams and sleep and snug familiarity, except not so familiar any more.
Unable to place what has changed, in a room that has not, she drifts uncertainly back to sleep and dreams of riding down the aisle atop a snorting stallion, delicate lace trailing after her, a thin net veil before her face.
~ Thomas Brown
© Copyright 2015 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved
Have you ever tried to get dried blood out from under your fingernails? Not just a little, but a good soaking of it. It’s a real bitch, trust me. No matter how many times I find myself standing over the sink scraping the dried up flecks from my nail beds, it never gets any easier, but the itching just won’t stop.
At some point, you just scrape too much until fresh blood starts to mix in with the old shit and it becomes even more of a mess. At least I know I’m still alive, because I bleed. If it weren’t for that, I’m not sure I would know if I was alive, dead, or something in between. Even with the bleeding, I guess I’m still not totally sure what the hell I am. I haven’t felt pain, love, happiness or sadness since the day that bitch Liza took everything from me.
She knew what she was doing the whole time. She had me doing shit I’d never thought I’d be into. I should have known something was wrong with the whole situation. No woman that hot had ever given me the time of the day, and here comes this exotic beauty that gives me the best sex of my life after an hour of bullshit conversation; no strings attached. Though, if I’m to be honest, I never was good with the ladies and I don’t have a whole hell of a lot of sexual experience to compare it to. In fact, aside from the awkward hand job from Becky under the bleachers during the homecoming pep rally senior year of high school, and the drunken, pity lay from Mary-Sue when I was a freshman in law school, I had never been with anyone but…well, myself. Geez, I’m pretty fucking pathetic.
Look at me. I’m a goddamn train wreck. I can barely look at myself in the mirror. How’d I let myself get like this? I went from a high-profile attorney to living in this pay-by-the-hour motel on meth row, waiting for my next government check. Each time I black out, it’s the same ol’ shit. I wake up in this shit-hole room with blood caked under my nails and the worst fucking headache of my life.
A knock at the door causes an odd churning in the pit of my stomach. I walk over to the door and catch a fish-eye view of a stranger on the other side of the peephole, their features hidden beneath a black hoodie.
“Who is it?”
I scratch at my neck.
The person says nothing and raises their head, leaning closer to the door.
“You’ve got the wrong room, junkie. Get outta here.”
A bit hypocritical of me to call someone a junkie but I can stop whenever I want. Those pathetic losers are hooked. Goddamn, why does my skin itch so bad?
After another look, the person remains outside and slowly removes the hood; I take a step back and nearly fall backward. The face isn’t that of a stranger. No, it’s familiar, too familiar. I run over to the nightstand and grab a switchblade I found in a dumpster a few nights ago. Crouching beside the bed, my pulse hammers in my ears. My forearms continue to itch and I fight the urge to dig into them with the knife. A pounding on the door drags my attention from my arms. I stare at the door.
The banging intensifies and I try to cover my ears, rocking back and forth on the floor like a mental patient. Closing my eyes, I wish myself away to anyplace else. Though I’m not sure what’s going on, something tells me it’s not going to be pleasant.
The door explodes from its hinges, but I refuse to look up. If I don’t see him, he won’t see me. Well, I tell myself that at least. I’m sure he can see me, because I can see him with my eyes closed. I’ve seen him too often lately, and so have others. The blow to my head comes just as I’d expected. Unfortunately, I know the routine all too well. I’ve delivered several ass-kickings the last few months and a good punch to the temple is always an attention grabber. After I shake the cobwebs from my mind, I open my eyes and see him standing in front of me, a malevolent smile etched onto his face; my face.
The room swirls around me and I feel as though I’m on one of those tiny boats circling the bathtub drain that I played with as a kid. My mind spins, looking for traction, trying to make sense of the situation. I begin to piece things together when I see a boot flying toward my face. Brilliant flashes of white light explode in my vision, blinding me. Pain blossoms at the base of my skull.
When my eyes open again, I find myself on the floor in the corner, my angry self standing over me wearing a disgusted snarl. I sit up and push back against the wall. How can it be? How can I be cowering on the floor and towering over myself at the same time. Fuck! My arms itch so bad. My hand finds the handle of the knife and I tuck it behind my back. I hold one arm in front of me and attempt to stand while still gripping the concealed knife. He steps toward me.
“Wait a minute. Hold on.”
“What’s going on? Who are you? I mean, you’re me, but that can’t be.”
I take a couple of steps forward, holding the empty hand up like I’m surrendering. He smiles at me; my teeth are rotted to hell from sucking on the glass meth pipe the last few years. Once he gets close enough, I lunge forward with the blade, sinking it in the soft fleshy part of his belly. It’s warm, kind of sticky as he bleeds and I withdraw the blade. He continues to smile and I stick him again. And again. And again. In fact, I’ve stuck him so many times that my arm is getting tired, yet he continues to stand, mocking me with his repulsive smile.
My arm feels like its made of concrete and I hear myself breathing heavily, nearly panting as I continue to strike my attacker. Jesus Christ it’s cold in here. I squeeze my eyes shut and try to focus, but when I open them, I’m alone lying on the bathroom floor. The room is quiet; still freezing. I try to sit up, but pain rips at my abdomen. I reach for my stomach and pause when I feel something unusual. Looking down, my heart races. I see the handle of the knife jutting out from my blood soaked shirt. I put my hand on the floor to try and sit up again, but my hand slips in a puddle of congealed liquid and I land on my ass.
Panic stricken, I search the room for something to help slow the flow of blood, but find nothing except remnants of last night’s party. Party is a bit of an overstatement since the ‘party’ consisted only of me, day-old Taco Bell, and the little bit of crystal I could bum from one of my junkie buddies.
My vision fades in and out until I eventually lay back on the floor and concede my fate. It’s a bit surreal. I’m dying yet thoughts continue to race around my mind. I’ve thought about death quite a few times, even tried to bring it about myself, unsuccessfully of course. The itching continues and I labor to bring my arm up to scratch the side of my neck. I dig at the skin there, but nothing relieves the sensation.
My body goes slack. I wait for death to come. I never pictured it like this, it’s quite peaceful actually. Well, at least I’m not suffering like that one guy I saw OD in the alley a few weeks back. That poor bastard seized up in front of all of us, shaking and shitting all over himself. We all just bolted and left him there on the ground, after we went through his pockets, of course.
I close my eyes and realize that it’s the most relaxed I’ve felt in a long time. I’ll just lie here until it’s all over. My skin stopped itching. This dying shit isn’t so bad after all.
I feel light, almost like I’m floating with no pain or burden. And, dare I say, I feel happy.
Wait a minute. What’s that?
I force my eyes open to find tiny shadows surrounding the room. Whispers drift around me, coming from nowhere in particular, but everywhere at the same time. My skin crawls and an itch with an intensity like I’ve never felt before bites at my neck. I try to move, but it’s no use.
The shadow things scamper around, moving closer to me. My body won’t move no matter how hard I try. One of the things hops onto my chest and leans in close, its ebony eyes overflowing with malicious intent. Before I can react, it slashes a miniscule hand at my neck. It burns with white-hot intensity. I scream, but nothing comes out and the others work into frenzy, howling and jumping around the room, crawling on the walls and ceiling. My skin itches more than it ever has before.
Another strike from the creature brings an even more brutal pain, this time across the side of my face. The other creatures move in and join the one atop my paralyzed body, each in turn swiping their razor-sharp paws across my flesh, every wound more intense than the others. I’m helpless. I can only hope that it’s over soon, because the pain is unbearable. I force a look at my arms and notice that each time the flesh is torn open, it heals only to be ripped open again by the savage little beasts. Continuing to scream within my own mind, realization settles in that this isn’t going to be peaceful, nor will it be quick. The itch will never go away, and neither will these rotten little bastards that are enjoying ripping me to shreds.
~ Craig McGray
© Copyright 2015 Craig McGray. All Rights Reserved.
“Demosthenes, bring my drink.”
His voice was a command. His words an edict. This was how he ruled his business, and business was pretty damned good. Beleth relaxed in his large chair and held out his hand expectantly. The drink had better be in his hand before he grew tired of waiting or there would be hell to pay.
The telltale sound of his servant approaching was music to his ears. Demosthenes was exceptional and would have been hard to replace. Wiry fingers carefully placed the cup in Beleth’s hand. He took a sip of the scalding liquid. It was perfect.
Demosthenes waited for his master to savor the drink before he spoke. “Sire, your next appointment is in 30 minutes.”
Beleth relished the time he had to relax, but understood that some mergers and acquisitions required his presence. Not everybody was okay with dealing with his underlings. Some were pompous enough to demand a visit with the big dog himself. What those idiots didn’t understand was the extra cost incurred when dealing with the person at the top.
Demosthenes was nearly out of the office when he stopped abruptly. He turned apprehensively and spoke in a tone riddled with fear. “Master, your appointment has arrived early and requests your presence.”
Beleth almost spilled the rest of his drink with sudden fury. “What? Early!”
He stood quickly, his tall form moving with a predator’s agility. This new acquisition was not going to go well for somebody. Beleth strode over to Demosthenes and handed him the drink.
“I will finish this later,” Beleth growled. He started to walk towards the door when he stopped and turned. A sinister smile curled the sides of his lips. “Domesthenes, I will call for my drink in a few minutes. I will have need of you in the appointment.”
Domesthenes bowed excitedly – he knew what this meant.
A long, dark corridor lead from Beleth’s office to the place where the meetings were held. There was no light between here and there. Only darkness. It made it possible for Beleth to approach his next acquisition unnoticed and see what the man was going to try to use as leverage in the negotiation.
Beleth stood at the end of the meeting place, concealed in the thick shadows, and watched the man who was waiting. This one was perhaps forty-five. He kept himself in good shape, was obviously wealthy, and appeared to be extremely confident in himself. Beleth looked around to see what the man had brought for the negotiation and soon found what he was looking for. There were papers, offerings both symbolic and literal, but the man seemed most dependent upon what he had in his hand. This was going to be easy.
Beleth stepped out into the dim light and stood motionless in front of the surprised man. An oddly cold wind played around the above ground graves and ‘oven’ vaults, moaning as it whipped at Beleth’s pants and buffeted his silk suit jacket. The man stumbled backwards a few steps as the Louisiana night strangled the air. Beleth looked into the mind of his newest acquisition. His name was Steven.
“Steven. You look shocked. Is my appearance not what you were expecting?”
The man tried unsuccessfully to regain some composure. “Maybe this will help.” Beleth twitched his hand and the expensive suit he had been wearing drifted away like smoke. He stood before Steven with clawed hands, a large horn growing out of either side of his head, and wings folded behind his back.
“Is this what you wanted to see? I think it’s a little cliché. My form is what I want it to be and I don’t give a shit about your expectations. Let’s get to it and talk about the deal you want to make with me.”
Steven quickly shoved his left hand forward and displayed the silver ring he had purchased at great expense. He stuttered hopelessly for a few seconds before he regained enough composure to speak.
“Beleth, I have summoned you. You are compelled to make a deal.”
Beleth raised his left hand and showed an identical silver ring. “You are a fool. I was already willing to make a deal. But you insult me when you bring such feeble talismans and spells. You are treating with a prince of Hell, not a simple imp or lesser demon.”
Steven looked down at his hand and toyed with the ring that had done nothing for him. He opened his mouth to speak but only swallowed his words when Beleth approached him.
“You had the balls to start this early because you thought you held all of the cards.” Beleth stood tall over the doomed business mogul and spoke in gritty tones. “This is my business deal.”
His voice boomed and tombs shook as Beleth called over his back. “Demosthenes, bring my drink.” There was a stirring in the shadows deep within a large tomb and Demosthenes emerged from the depths of the vault. The old man carried the cup and slowly walked towards his master, but his eyes were bright with vicious hunger as they locked onto Steven.
Beleth took the cup and drank deeply. Steven’s eyes shined with horror-derived lunacy. With the cup empty, Beleth gave it back to Demosthenes and looked at Steven.
“You are wealthy and powerful, yet here you are, ready to ask for more. This is what will happen instead. You will destroy this precious life you have made for yourself. Once you are done, you will be mine.”
Steven’s face twisted with the warring emotions of fear and fury. “Never!” he screamed.
Beleth stepped to the side as he spoke, allowing Demosthenes to get closer to Steven. “You can either die now, or you allow Demosthenes to manage this deal for me. You will answer to him. What do you say?”
The prince of Hell held out his left hand for Steven. Steven looked at it, then looked at the seemingly fragile Demosthenes. The business mogul shook the infernal hand in front of him. Beleth smiled as he pulled away, taking Steven’s ring along with him.
“Smart man,” said Beleth. The demon turned to his elderly servant. “Demosthenes, it is time for you to walk in this world again. Are you ready for the merger?”
Demosthenes chuckled with malicious delight and slowly approached Steven. “Yes,” he croaked, “I am. It has been far too long.” He stopped in front of Steven and reached for the businessman’s chest. Steven tried to knock Demosthenes to the side but was stopped with a simple command from the old man.
Steven’s hand stopped. Demosthenes lifted frail fingers and slipped them inside of Steven’s hand. The business mogul shrieked like a scolded child, then howled with horror when he realized the old man was inside of him.
Demosthenes sighed and his eyes fluttered with nearly orgasmic pleasure. He hobbled to Steven’s side and slipped his entire right arm into Steven’s right arm. The hand started to jerk as if in the middle of a seizure, but soon relaxed and began to flex and turn. Steven watched his right hand in horror, his eyes wide and unblinking with the realization that he was no longer in control of that hand.
The old man began to whisper into Steven’s ear. “Your body is mine. You will sit in the back of your mind, aware of everything around you, helpless to do or say anything. I will ravage your family, your wife, and will do all of those things that hell has kept from me. I will ruin the dynasty you have so carefully built, and I will use and consume your body with unbridled passion and lust. When all is done, all is gone, and you have witnessed the shame of it all, you will die a horrible death and I will drag you down to see your master.”
Screams of profanity turned into unintelligible shouts and verbal fits that bounced off the cemetery vaults. Beleth watched with demonic glee, tasting Steven’s torment and drinking in his frenzied terror. Demosthenes slowly shuffled behind Steven and began to merge into his new body. Steven’s shouting began to diminish; the screams of dread slowly turned to moans, and then faded to pleasant laughter. It was done. Demosthenes smiled with his new lips, displayed his perfect teeth, and laughed as Steven wailed from deep within.
Beleth walked up to the businessman who calmly dusted off his clothing. “You look good, Demosthenes. Have some fun.” Beleth grinned as his new acquisition walked back towards the city.
Business was good.
~ Zack Kullis
© Copyright 2014 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved
Staring out at the city of death, an exhausted Hannah sat sucking into her lungs the humidity that drifted in through the empty windowpane. On a side table, her dinner plate of raw meat was brimming with life as a cadre of beetles enjoyed her ignored meal.
With an appetite for only one thing, Hannah remembered her hunger. Sipping from a goblet of wine, she watched the fire burn in the distance.
Without anyone in the city concerned about extinguishing the blaze, the fire made an easy feast of the abandoned building. Its shuttered windows and splintered timbers providing the right fuel for the eager flames.
Smoke billowed up into the night sky as a series of new explosions rocketed skyward, sending fingers of death boiling through the surrounding streets. The silhouettes of a hundred riderless horses stood before the blaze, their black shapes stomping at the ground as if they themselves were enraged.
Raising her glass, Hannah finished with a long swallow as the entire city block was consumed in red hatred.
Standing, she removed her stained blouse and soiled leather pants, dropping them on the floor beside the bed. Her clothing made the room smell of smoke.
The girl labored among the rubbish, moving across the mounds of filth with the deftness of an accomplished thief rather than that of the young child she actually was. Her ability to scamper nimbly up and over the detritus spoke to her eternity of slavery.
No more than nine years old, she had the gait of a woman whose body had seen far more years of labor than it otherwise should have. A dull haze coated once-bright blue eyes revealing her truth — that of having been broken long ago.
Working among the acres of rot, her bared legs and shoeless feet were sucked deep into the mouth of death with each step she took. Navigating the piles of dismembered bodies, the child retrieved one bone after another, scraping into a gore-soaked bucket the remaining meat that clung to each discarded limb.
Paying little attention to the itching on her arms, she continued about her tasks, ignoring the hordes of maggots that swarmed her flesh, turning it into a writhing mass. Such was the nature of her work for the Prince’s harvest in the killing fields.
Hannah walked into the bathroom and flicked on the light switch. The dim bulb set the floor into motion as cockroaches scattered.
Stepping into the shower, the cold stones lining the compartment providing the slightest hint of relief to her aching feet, she turned the faucet with a rusty creak, and a baptismal spray of rank water stung her skin.
Subconsciously, she scratched at the droplets as they beat against her body. As broken fingernails rubbed her arms raw, all she could think of was maggots.
“GIRL!” The deep voice boomed across the field as two sharp cracks from a whip opened red gashes on the child’s bare shoulders.
Cowering, the pain like a slice of ragged glass across flesh, she fell to her knees in the abattoir.
Again, the voice.
“Are you not listening, you insolent little bitch?” More statement than question.
The blade of the dressing knife in her left hand dribbled unknown fluids onto the ground as a swarm of flies buzzed the cage of small human ribs she held in her grime-caked right hand. Hesitantly, she looked up to meet the gaze of her attacker.
Xaphan, the harvest commander and one of the Prince’s recent conscripts stared down at her with serpentine eyes that were the color of jade. He sat atop an armor-clad steed that belched cold mist from its nostrils and kicked at the ground, snapping human remains under its feet.
“Why is it you ignore me, you filthy abomination? Do you somehow think yourself of far more importance than to listen when the Commander of the Harvest addresses you?” Xaphan snarled.
“Forgive me, but I was simply busying myself with the tasks that have been selected for me,” the young Hannah responded, her voice tentative, a single tear clearing a path through the human grime that smeared her face.
Xaphan studied the girl, an air of superiority evident on his face. For an instant, he thought he noticed the familiar spark of hatred in her otherwise darkened eyes. Sure he was correct, he flashed a gratified smile.
“Come here, you little gutter pig,” he ordered, the whip snapping again, striking Hannah’s bare legs where they poked out beneath a tattered dress. “I’ve been instructed to find you among this filth and deliver you to the Great Hall. By the death of me I don’t know what the Prince wants with shit such as you. But you must come. And somehow find some way to clean yourself up!”
Hannah dropped the carcass of the human child from which she’d been scavenging. It landed atop the pile of cleaned bones with a hollow clatter. Retrieving the bucket of harvested meat, she cautiously edged her way toward Xaphan and his steed. Both of the monsters stared down at her – two pairs of matching green eyes.
“But, it’s not for me to question His motives, only to do as He asks. Follow me, girl!”
With that, Xaphan jerked the reins of the great beast, steering him through the human debris. Hannah fell in behind, following them from the killing fields. It would become her last time working Satan’s Harvest.
Running wet fingers through her filthy blonde hair, Hannah massaged her scalp under the blood-tinged spray. The water sluiced off her bare skin, sweeping away the coating of death that was her normal state of being. Hell worked its way into each and every of her pores until she, now, had almost become one with it.
Almost, Hannah thought as she watched the drain at her feet swallow the shit of her existence.
Rubbing the muscles of her arms, Hannah thought about how much she hated the Prince; and how much she despised even more his disciple, Xaphan.
Even freedom following an eternity of torture is incapable of removing the pain inflicted during captivity. Nor does it absolve the actions of one’s tormentors. By now, Hannah knew this all too well, which is why she had spent an age searching Hell for the soul of the murderous human known as the Hunter. She ultimately found him in the last place she wanted to look – the killing fields.
Himself having suffered at the hand of Xaphan when he’d foolishly bargained with his own soul in the human world, the Hunter had spent far more years trolling the boneyard than even Hannah herself. If there was a single one of Hell’s denizens that would be able to get her what she needed, she knew it was him.
Confident in the knowledge that the Hunter was unaware that the shadows following him contained anything more than darkness, Hannah was able to hide within the murk with ease. After years of practiced invisibility living within the Prince’s dominion, she had become highly skilled at navigating the streets of Hell unseen. She now watched as the Hunter, a bag slung over his shoulder, entered the abandoned structure. And, as expected, a few moments later, a dark figure flashing green eyes slipped from the shadows, following him inside.
The time has come, Hannah thought, as she followed them into the building.
From deep within the gloom of the warehouse, Hannah saw the flash of those familiar serpentine eyes. And then she heard the booming voice of Xaphan for the first time in uncounted ages.
“Why you ungrateful murderous deviant, we had a deal,” Xaphan spat the words into the Hunter’s face. “Don’t you remember? In that special spot of yours where you realized so many desires of the flesh?”
“That was then. This is now. And this time, Xaphan, I hold the cards.” The Hunter responded, shaking the sack in front of him, the wound that Xaphan had long-ago sliced into his bare chest visible in the dim light.
“But that’s where you’re wrong, fool. As long as your soul exists, you’re mine. I carry the collateral within me always,” the demon said, patting his stomach.
“But, as we know Xaphan, deals made between liars are likely to be broken. It just depends on which liar strikes first.”
“Give me what’s rightfully mine,” Xaphan ordered, reaching a taloned hand towards the bag.
“Not this time, oh great commander of the Harvest,” said Hannah, stepping from her hiding place.
“Ah, do my ears and eyes deceive, or is it my little scavenging pig?” Xaphan asked, turning in Hannah’s direction.
As planned, the Hunter turned the bag upside down, spilling the contents onto the floor with a clatter. Inside the bag was a pile of bones. Each one meticulously stripped clean, the flesh long ago having been harvested, consumed and then shat out by the denizens of Hell.
Reaching into the deepest pocket of her overcoat, Hannah removed a flare, striking the end and lighting the flame. Sparks flew through the air and bounced along the floor where they landed. For the first time that she could remember, she saw fear in Xaphan’s eyes.
“Go, Hunter. Your work is done,” Hannah ordered.
Having maintained his end of the bargain to locate the demon’s human remains in Hell’s boneyard, the Hunter ran from the building, his footfalls echoing through the void.
Once again alone and facing her demon torturer, Hannah spoke evenly, sure of her every word.
“Funny it is that how an eternity in Hell can change everything, and yet nothing at all…”
The flare in her hand illuminated all that remained of the human man who’d become the demon Xaphan after his own millennia of torture.
Refusing to beg, the demon explained, “Oh Hannah, even with all your years, what you still do not yet know about the ways of existence. It never actually ever ends. Once one is over, the next begins and so we experience yet another in a series of painful paths.”
“Well, if that’s the case, commander of lies, it appears it’s now time for your soul to find that new path. As it’s said: ashes to ashes…”
With those words, Hannah dropped the flare onto the pile of Xaphan’s brittle bones. At first they hissed and then burst into blue flame.
The demon let loose his last blasphemous cry. It was a scream that echoed throughout the city of death. As the last vestiges of his humanity burned, Xaphan’s demonic soul began to melt, pieces of it slapping onto the floor at his feet.
Hannah took a few steps backward as flame consumed the human bones, bringing an end to the demon. Fire licked upward, sparking the rafters and spreading through the building. Hannah turned, walking out the doorway and out into the perpetual darkness.
Far off in the distance, from the direction of Pandemonium, she heard the sound of a hundred sets of hooves as the horses thundered through Hell. The Prince’s dark forces were on their way.
Hannah merged into the shadows and walked away unseen by the lost souls who now gathered on the street to watch the death of one of Abbadon’s greatest angels.
Refreshed from her shower of blood, Hannah poured herself another glass of wine. Surveying her handiwork, she watched as Hell burned. The landscape of decay, bathed in the blood of tortured souls, spread as far as she could see until it melted into the eastern horizon.
Somewhere outside, within the city of death, she knew that a Hunter was running for his life. Perhaps he would find a place to hide. Or maybe he would simply return to the familiarity of the killing fields. To Hannah, it didn’t matter either way. She knew that the angels of death would pursue him far beyond the fields and for time without end, sure that it was he who had been responsible for bringing about the destruction of one of the Prince’s own.
Confident with her plan now in motion, Hannah sat and consumed her victory. One glorious day, she would take her rightful place. It would be the day she re-entered the Great Hall of Castle Pandemonium and claimed the throne of Hell after finally defeating Prince Abbadon himself.
This post is dedicated to Hannah Sears, our own Angel of Death and Damnation and winner of the Pen of the Damned anniversary sweepstakes
© Copyright 2013 DaemonwulfTM. All Rights Reserved.
“So, am I correct in assuming that you only go for our white women?” Richard asked, spearing the slice of grilled pork with his fork and jabbing the meat into his eager mouth.
Here it was. The moment of truth that Nathan had been dreading since before he arrived. The question, delivered with such revulsion that his many hours of mental gymnastics had proven inadequate preparation for the sting once the words finally sliced through the tenuous air.
He shot a sly glance across the table at his host.
“Richard, it’s obvious you and I come from different worlds, but we’re not all that different,” Nathan responded, the frozen eyes from the faces of so many dead animal heads mounted on the walls staring down at him, urging him to continue. “In Philly, questions like that don’t get asked. It doesn’t matter how others live their lives. My guess is that if you look deeper into the well, you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
“You got that liberal north in you…boy,” Richard spat the last word.
Inside, Nathan’s stomach churned.
“It’s a simple question, with an equally simple answer,” the older man continued. “Let me show you how easy it is, Nathan.” Pausing. “Without a shadow of a doubt, I’ve never had any interest in any woman that wasn’t a white woman. My crayon box has no colors. So, I guess I can understand your particular…shall we say…fetish?” He finished, chewing on his words as much as the food in his mouth.
It had probably been a mistake to visit Christine’s father. Not to mention taking the 800-mile trip to southern Indiana without her knowledge. But, against his better judgment, Nathan had done just that. And he now found himself sitting at the dining room table with the man from whom Christine had spent so many of her own years running away from.
“For the most part, Christine and I feel it’s not what’s on the outside that makes us different. We also don’t necessarily agree about what’s on the inside,” Nathan said, thinking about the girlfriend he’d lied to about a last-minute business trip to L.A.
“That Christine… Always a bit of a wild hare. Gotta give ‘er that one! No matter how we tried, her mother and I never could seem to get her to understand the importance of tradition. Ever since she was little she went her own way. Even becoming a vegetarian; can you imagine?” Richard said, popping another bite of meat into his mouth. The trophy heads hanging on the walls of the room listened in silence. “Never raised her that way. Just up and changed — was the darndest thing. I blame the liberal colleges she attended.”
Nathan remained silent, non-committal.
“So, I take it you’re a hunter, Nathan. How does that square with Christine?” Richard asked, changing the subject.
Christine had shared many tales of her father’s exploits. Had explained how he prided his ability to track down and kill any type of game — the wilder or more exotic the better. The mounted heads of antelope, buffalo, kangaroo, and boar, along with the more mundane deer and moose that lined the walls of the dining room were testaments to her tales. From just above his own head, Richard’s pride and joy, a massive grizzly bear, growled down at Nathan.
“Why else would I be here, Richard?” Nathan responded, rhetorically.
“One time…many years ago, Christine brought home a Chinese boy she’d been dating. Again…back in college…the root of all her problems, I’m convinced. Didn’t raise her to associate with the others, but the free-willed person she was, she went on and did it anyway,” he finished, pointing his empty fork at Nathan, punctuating his words.
“I believe Jon was Vietnamese,” Nathan corrected him, remembering Christine’s account of her first boyfriend meeting her father. According to her, it hadn’t gone well. Nathan now understood why.
“Is there any difference? All Orientals…” Richard stated, matter-of-factly. “Did you see my oriental rug?” Pointing at the floor beneath the table. “It came from Japan. In the Orient.
“Anyway, that one, he didn’t last very long. Didn’t have the right stuff, I guess,” he continued. “Too much of the same color in his crayon box. Yellow, ya might say. That’s when I started questioning my daughter’s choices. So what makes you think you’ll fare better than he did?” He asked, sucking the meat from a rib, his lips smacking obscenely.
“Growing up in eastern P.A., I spent a great deal of time in the Poconos,” Nathan explained. “I know a thing or two about the hunt. I’d like to think I’m pretty capable with a gun…or a knife… Or anything else, for that matter,” he said, throwing a smirk at the older man, who refused the bait.
“That so…?” Richard stated, more than asked. “Guess we find out tomorrow. I believe maybe you think you’re gonna show me a thing or two. I can smell it on ya. Just a warning though, sometimes I don’t play fair…” Richard said, his voice all sincerity. “So, wake-up call’s 4:00am. We’ll see what you’ve got, City Boy. And, remember, winner takes all.”
“Winner takes all,” Nathan agreed.
They had driven to a location about 50 miles outside of town to a spot Richard claimed offered the best hunting around. Most importantly, it was far enough from the prying eyes of the law, he had explained on the trip into the country.
With the morning sun bleeding into the sky, the two men walked as quietly as possible through the dense forest. Each armed with their own Browning auto-loader, more than a few field dressing knives and enough ammunition to take down a whole herd if need be. Their meandering path through the woods kept them off the well-worn trails but close enough to see any movement on them. Speaking very little during the hour or so hike, they left all the talking to their footfalls — an ominous reminder to each why the other was there.
Richard broke the silence, his hand shooting into the air to halt Nathan who followed a few steps behind. Whispering, he pointed. “There, ‘bout 20 yards to the east, just beyond that copse of trees.”
In the distance, Nathan saw movement behind the brush — flashes of white, brown and tan among a sea of green.
“Looks like we got us a couple,” Richard said. “See there, a beautiful white-tailed doe out for an early morning stroll, with her magnificent buck in tow. No inter-species mingling goin’ on there,” he chided, almost chuckling at his own bad joke.
“Indeed, she’s a beauty. And what’s he, about a 4- or 5-pointer?”
Richard ignored the question.
Raising his rifle to peer through the scope, Nathan watched the magnificent creatures step from behind a stand of trees. He thought he noticed a slight twitch in the buck’s head, potentially signaling the hunters’ undoing. The moment passed, and they trotted on.
“We’re ‘bout to see what you’re made of, Mr. City Boy,” Richard said. “You got one shot. And remember, all or nuthin’.” The look in his eyes almost a gleam.
Nathan could almost hear the smirk in the old man’s voice.
“Gotta do this together, if we aim to bag ‘em both.”
“I’m with ya, old man,” Nathan said, aware that the shots, if not almost simultaneous, would spook one of the animals into bolting. And, considering he’d come this far, he wasn’t about to make a mistake, knowing full well the repercussions.
“You take the female. I’ll get the male. Okay?”
“Just as I’d prefer,” Nathan said.
“On three,” Richard’s voice barely above a whisper.
Nathan steadied the butt of the rifle against his shoulder and peered through the scope, positioning his magnified crosshairs on the animal’s chest.
Richard stared into the face of the buck whose brown eye blinked once before turning his head directly into the hunter’s sights, inadvertently lining up the shot on his own forehead.
The bullets flew from their chambers.
An explosion of red burst from the doe’s chest as Nathan’s shot entered just above her heart. The buck’s skull splintered as Richard’s bullet drove its way home. The female wobbled on unsure legs before bouncing into a tree and falling to the ground. The male collapsed where he stood, Richard’s aim point blank.
“Looks like you ain’t half bad with that rifle after all,” Richard said, almost congratulatory.
The hunters shambled to where their kill now lay on the ground. The male had died instantly. Richard grabbed his legs, flopping him unceremoniously onto his back. His head, lolling awkwardly from a lifeless neck, was a shattered mass where the exit wound had blown out the back of his skull. Nothing that taxidermy couldn’t fix.
Nathan’s female was drowning in a pool of blood, struggling for life. A few labored breaths bubbled red out of her nostrils and from between her lips. Unsheathing his dressing blade, he mercifully jabbed the sharpened steel into her stomach. With a motion more precarious than planned, he slid the blade through her rib cage and up to her gullet, splaying open her chest cavity and emptying its contents onto the ground. With the blood-stained point of his blade, he flipped aside her jogging bra, sending a spray of red into her blonde hair. Her porcelain flesh now exposed, Nathan sliced a large section of flesh from her breast and popped it into his greedy mouth, the areola bouncing between his teeth.
“Well, Nathan, even if you do look a bit like a raisin in the sun,” Richard said, “seems like we’ve got more in common than I thought. Guess it’s true what they say about a daddy’s girl. No matter what, she always finds someone who’s just like her dear old pa.”
For the first time that weekend, Richard Morgan smiled.
© Copyright 2013 DaemonwulfTM. All Rights Reserved.
Heed the Tale Weaver: Celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Damned. Through May 7, 2013, upon each new post, a comment you will leave. A package of ghoulish goodies tainted with an offering from every member of the Damned awaits one fated winner – glorious books, personalized stories and eternal suffering at your feet. Now Damn yourself, make your mark below! But remember insolent ones, you must leave a comment, a “like” will not earn you a chance at our collection of depravity. Do not make the Damned hunt you down.
So the moment comes, when redemption fades away.
It slowly curls like ashes beneath the light of day.
Darkness shreds my soul as I sink into the deep,
And somewhere high above me, the angels gently weep.
I rise, but I am Fallen; blackness taints my wings.
Cursed love, take my light and the agony it brings.
Don’t speak to me of lonely; I live upon its shore.
Bereft of all but anger, I ache for something more.
A loner among many, I crave the absent sun,
Chained beneath the burden of all that I have done.
Love is but a memory, a secret that I keep.
And somewhere high above me, the angels gently weep.
Humans dwell in darkness and bind it to their soul,
Unaware that greed and suffering are what will make us whole.
Their world falls to ruin, the consequences steep,
And somewhere high above me, the angels gently weep.
The Fallen dance and revel; their golden eyes do shine,
While they trace the scars that brand me—wings that once were mine.
Putrid demons rule, but my heart no longer cares,
My empathy has withered with vacant human stares.
Compassion is a gift, and once it’s thrown away
Nothing’s left to cage the Beast, and keep the dark at bay.
The Evil Prince of Lies awakes from his banished sleep.
And somewhere high above me, the angels gently weep.
So give into tragic fate, and let your heart grow sour.
Mourn the years that passed you by, and waste this very hour.
These are the things that please my kind and make them grow strong–
You’ll dance like puppets to the beat of their siren’s song.
My brothers I’ve abandoned to a deadly fate,
The hour is upon us, I fear it is too late.
Though the Light here has died, your memories they will keep.
And somewhere high above me the angels gently weep.
And somewhere high above me, the angels gently weep . . .
~ Adriana Noir
© Copyright 2012 Adriana Noir. All Rights Reserved.