Tilting my head back I undo the clasp of the invisible collar around my neck. I feel two sets of long, sharp nails remove themselves from the skin of my shoulders and upper back. Bringing my arm over my head I clasp the collar shut and hang it on my bedpost as I do every night.
I run my hands along my neck. There are no physical marks on me. Nothing my friends or family would ever see, but I know they’re there. Twenty nail marks etched into my skin that will not heal for another night, and bruises from the weight of the creatures tugging at my collar.
I turn around and face them. They stand side by side, ebony beings who stare down at me. They look emaciated, their rib cages protruding. They have long, sinewy arms and legs; I shudder knowing I will feel the creatures pierce me again when I wake up. Their faces are dominated by sets of razor sharp teeth that drip with inky saliva whenever they open their mouths. I’ve yet to feel their bite, though I often wonder what would happen if I did.
Fear opens his mouth and his pointed tongue snakes out. I shiver but meet his gaze. I know he is Fear by the only color on his body, amber orbs that are his eyes. I’ve stared him down many a night.
I look to Doubt, his gold eyes glow in the darkened room. He brings his hands up and sneers. He dug deep into me all day and is gloating about it.
Neither emit a sound, the silent monsters who haunt me. They have been with me for years. Gnawing at my being every day, growing inside me until they forced themselves out. Everyone has these creatures in them, but mine reign over me. Control me.
I am not alone. There are others whose demons are just as powerful. There are no support groups, no doctors who can heal us. We are broken. What I’ve learned about mine, I’ve learned on my own.
They look down at me, watching. They are weaker at night when I am alone with my door closed to the world. But they know I cannot leave these four walls without them. They grow stronger each day. They rule in the outside world, but in mine, my room, I can stand up to them. Keep them at bay while I sleep. Dreams are my only safe place.
I walk to the side of my bed, their eyes never leaving my body. They turn in unison, standing guard as I slip under the covers. I turn off the lamp and my last vision is of their bedside vigil.
My eyes open to a new day. Fear and Doubt stand exactly as I left them. I push myself out of bed and they flex their taut muscles, their claws extending. I know what must be done. My body trembles inside. Each day I lose more of myself, but I cannot stop it. I reach for my collar and put it around my neck. I turn away, offering myself to them as I clasp it shut.
Closing my eyes I wait to feel them. Ten nails pierce my skin, what little healing happened overnight is erased.
He pushes in deeper, tendrils snaking inside my body. As more of him enters me his body shrinks. He is no longer standing over me but now attached to me. Feeding from me. I inhale sharply, choking, as my collar is pulled to one side from his weight.
Waiting. One breath. Two breaths.
He stabs at me. Ten wounds at once. He is swift. Brutal. Taking hold. I gasp and grab the corner of my dresser so I don’t fall over. His tongue flicks my ear as I straighten myself.
They settle in as I open my bedroom door, ready to face the world.
Shutting the door to my bedroom I lean against it. I can’t face another day of school, the humiliation, the bullying. I’m done. I can’t fight anymore. I realize there is only one thing left for me. I finally understand what to do. No longer doubting myself, I will give in. I smile, it will all be over soon.
Pushing myself away from the door, my heart races. The weight shifts along my neck as my collar pulls against me when Doubt’s feet hit the ground. His body comes free and I feel his presence behind me.
I turn to face him. He is losing substance, shimmering in my vision.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper through clenched teeth, tears streaming down my face. I slide my hand under my shirt, feeling along my shoulder blade. Once again I smile. Just as I thought, his wounds are gone.
He steps forward and gently lays his hands over mine. Our eyes stay locked. He has been a part of me for so long. His tongue slips out and he kisses my tears away. Then he is gone.
My heart thumps against my chest. Unclasping my collar, I pull it around in front of me. I wait. His finger traces my body as he steps in front of me.
My body is shaking but I don’t move. I am no longer crying. My hands quiver, fumbling with the clasp that binds Fear to the collar. Patiently he stands in front of me. I release the clasp and drop the collar to the floor. Fear smiles. It is grotesque and beautiful.
His hands roam over my body, feeling flesh he never has before. He grows as we stand together. Every inch of me is now his. There is only one thing left.
He opens his mouth.
My heart races as I close my eyes. A hundred spikes of pain shoot through me. I scream out in agony and fall to the floor, instinctively curling into the fetal position, rocking.
The door bursts open behind me. I hear my mom yelling asking if I’m all right. I know she is only a few feet from me, but she sounds so far away.
I’ve lost count of days, maybe it’s been years. I hear everything that is being said, but my body never responds. I’m trapped. My only reaction is to sob when they give me medication to relax. No one knows why I cry. They don’t understand they are tears of joy for being free.
Inevitably I feel my body slowly twisting into position as the drugs wear off. My tears stop. Those few hours of peace are gone. Once again I return to the hell in which I reside.
Fear is waiting for me.
My body enters his.
I am home.
~ Mark Steinwachs
© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.
“The numbers tick, you know. When it is time.” Russell giggled and stared at the strangely carved box on the table. “Rows of numbers etched on nameless faces. All tucked away in the box.” He ran a finger along an edge of the container. “They are always there, standing on the edges of my dreams. Until…” Russell shivered and withdrew his hand, sliding it into his lap. “Then comes the ticking. Like a pocket watch or a clock. Counting down the minutes, the seconds. Waiting for me.” He giggled again, a manic sound, giving his hysteria voice.
“Don’t say things like that!” Across the room, Robert, Russell’s brother, could no longer contain his emotion. He fumbled for a cigarette in his pocket, adding, “Such talk is insanity. You must stop this odd obsession of yours. Rid yourself of the box and be done with it.”
Finding a cigarette, Russell lit it, the match lending a soft glow to his face before he blew out the flame. Smoke encircled his head as he puffed and continued. “The assertion is preposterous, there aren’t even numbers on the damned box.”
Russell sighed. “The numbers aren’t on the box. Haven’t you been listening? They’re in my mind.” He tapped his forehead.” And I can’t simply stop. Or rid myself of the box. I’ve come too far already. It’s too much a part of me.” Russell frowned and then shivered again. “Fear drives me now.”
He watched his brother’s reaction. Robert took a drag of his cigarette, pity flitting across his face. Russell placed his hand back on the tabletop, drumming his fingers lightly. “Perhaps that is true madness. Too much fear.”
Robert grunted. “Fear can be conquered. You always did lack a spine.” He sighed. “I’m only trying to help before Father makes good on his promise and commits you to an asylum.”
Russell suddenly scowled, his fingers curling into a fist. “Father? You put him up to that. You know you did.” Russell laughed at the surprised look on his brother’s face. “Yes, I knew it was you. You are not as clever as you think.” Then he smiled. “But I forgive you. Come and sit. Look at the box. Let me show you. If you still feel I need to rid myself of it after I explain, then I’ll agree.”
Robert shrugged, but joined Russell at the table, settling into a chair. “What do you want to show me?”
“That there’s a demon in the box.” Russell laughed again at Robert incredulous expression. “I know it sounds mad, but it’s true.”
“You need help, brother. Let me help you.” The smoke of Robert’s cigarette wafted between them. Russell smiled. He moved his hand to the lid of the box and carefully stroked part of the carving, a small horned figure. Then he withdrew his fingers.
“Yes, you can help me. I didn’t want it to come to this, and I could just let it end, let the demon take me. But I’m afraid to die. Afraid of what’s inside the box.” Russell took a breath, his eyes focusing on his brother’s glowing cigarette. “I’m so sorry, but it needs a name.” He paused, for a heartbeat.
Inside Russell’s head the ticking stopped and the lid of the box opened wide on its own. Russell kept his eyes on Robert’s glowing cigarette as it fell, scorching a burn mark into the table. He ignored his brother’s screams until the lid of the box clicked shut.
Then he stared at the empty chair across from him. He reached over and stubbed the cigarette out on the wood tabletop. “It was you or me, brother. I chose me.” Russell rose and picked up the box.
“I’ll see you in my dreams.”
~ A. F. Stewart
© Copyright 2018 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.
An ink stained night and a canopy of silver stars welcomed the rumble and clank of trucks and the smoking smell of diesel engines. Headlights slithered through the darkness as the line of ramshackle vehicles lumbered onto the fairgrounds and split the silence with belching exhaust fumes and the whine of old gears.
From the shadows I watched, under an old oak tree. My favourite type of tree. It’s a bit like me, a constant in a strange and evolving world. Much like this parade of carnival trucks. Old souls in a world passing them over.
Remnants clinging to hope against death and obscurity.
Perhaps that’s why I come, why I seek out these bits of forgotten eras. Nostalgic indulgence. So much of this world is loud and frantic, full of stress and panic. While I enjoyed those whispers of fear, sometimes I needed quiet reflection. Time to savour the memories, and contemplate my future.
Movement caught my attention, and dispersed my musing. I inhaled the pungent smell of animals and listened to the chatter as the carnies raised their tents and bolted the amusement booths together. I relished the clanging music of the hammers and the hoarse shouts, waiting for it all to blossom into a garish, colour-filled extravaganza. A wonder, this overnight eruption of nomadic fair, this constructed arena of entertainment. Perhaps a bit faded around the edges, or tattered by too many days on the road, but still such a treat.
I love their camaraderie and tradition. So human. So unmindful of the darkness.
I lifted my hand and let the starlight play against the skin. Fingers trembled slightly, a warning. A battering heartbeat fluttered, thumping erratically inside this chest. I sighed. My time was nearly done with this one. Regret mingled with anticipation. A new life about to begin, built on the death of the old one. I’ve worn many guises over my lifetime, been many people. Male, female, child, elderly.
A shame the hosts don’t last longer. Still, we had a good run, he and I.
I let the memory of our first encounter play out in his mind. Two towns west of here, at a harvest fair. The moonlight bathed the amusement rides the night before and the sun rose on a beautiful fall day. I wore a younger skin then; a restless, awkward teenager that accepted his fate too easily.
I never fit that host. I prefer them with more fight.
Perhaps that caused the difficult time in choosing that year; it took me hours to find a new skin. Searching among the rides and games, lingering, appraising, breathing in the smell of cotton candy and funnel cake. A fruitless hunt until I ventured past the noise and wandered near the edge of the carnival grounds. I knew the moment I spied him, he was the one.
Blond, blue-eyed, rugged. A perfect specimen enjoying a smoke behind a tree.
I left my failing host in a surge of black fire and passion, strangely heedless of chance observation. I swarmed him, possessed him, and the touch of his skin sang of salt and sweat. His soul rose to meet my attack in an agony of desperation as I burned through his defenses, but he fell to me as they all do. My invasion pierced through his thoughts and memories, shredded his control, and bound his mind and spirit into my will. He was a cornucopia of terror and defiance, and I feasted on those emotions.
Oh, how I feasted.
He fought until the end, until I boxed him safe and sound, making each moment I destroyed who he was a savoured delicacy. I hadn’t taken a host with such enjoyment in decades, and his agony, fear, and misery kept me gratifyingly fed this past year. I relished living his life, corrupting all he cherished. Listening to him scream from the prison I made for him inside his own body. Feeling his despair as death crept closer with each passing day.
He was special. I’ll miss this face.
I smiled at the memories, dark excitement rising through his borrowed blood. He served me well, my stimulating skin; a flawless mask to hide behind. An ideal life to steal. Yet, I can feel him dissolving, his flesh decaying. He is dying.
Yes, time to move on. Maybe a woman this year…
~ A. F. Stewart
© Copyright 2017 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.
Slashed open in a fit of uncontrolled rage, my gouged and bleeding thigh is nothing but ravaged flesh; it is the thrill of his attention upon me that is beyond compare. As my blood races, he hears it pulse; as my body quivers, he feels it vibrate; as my mind screams, he hears it echo through his own damaged being. He is ever present – this beast, this creature, this untamed demon that stalks me. Believing me no match for the power his darkness wields, he has been gentle with me till now, wishing not to frighten me with what he truly believes himself to be.
Clawed arm raised to strike again, his breathing is heavy, as labored as my own; his from restraint, mine from fear and desperate longing. He pauses, his hard stare boring into that of my own, gauging if I go willingly or as that of a cowering fool who knows nothing of what she asks of this dark madness. In his eyes I see a confusion of longing coupled with the enamored glee of wanting, an unsure knowledge that he has finally found what he has been seeking; acceptance.
This shatters the final piece of me.
My choice made, I bare my soul with complete submission in the hope of receiving his mark and my eternal salvation; the death of one dim existence, the birth of yet another. I sense still the indecision with which he watches me, unsure if this is to be allowed, or yet another cruel joke in a life fraught with pain, agony, and harsh deception. Do I genuinely offer what I promise? His eyes beg to know. This most gentle of beasts that shall rend me to pieces in a glory of blinding insanity.
His choice yet to be made, my only option to nurture it. I see what lurks behind his mask, I shall not shy from it. I will forever choose to embrace it, though the beast believes it still hides itself behind his reflection.
For now, I shade the glistening pools that reflect all I see at the expense of my own damnation. I wish only to belong to this coupling; though my wish is of little consequence, he’ll take what he will and leave the rest to rot in its own undignified remains.
© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
I’d seen it before – glimpsed it from the corner of my eye as I walked past the open doorway – but never had it revealed itself to me so openly. Today, as I glanced back into the guest room certain that I would see nothing, there it was, looming before me. It stared back, eyes the color of onyx, seething with anger and intent. Its clawed hands clenched into fists, its interlocking teeth bared in a snarl, its lips quivered with menace, and its chest heaved with hostility and rage. Foulest of all was the opalescent skin, skin that dripped putrescent globules of mucus onto the wooden floor. It conveyed a hatred beyond belief.
Frozen in the moment, I stood stock-still. The crash of the laundry basket hitting the floor yanked me back to the here-and-now. I turned in a vain attempt to escape but the thing spit and leapt into the air. I tried to scream; a near silent whimper was all I could manage. Just as I made my way through my own bedroom door, its full weight landed upon my back. It tore at my hair, ripped apart my clothes, and shredded my flesh as it dug into my left shoulder blade to pull the scapula free of the muscle and sinew holding it in place. I fell to the floor taking it with me.
Having found my voice, I screamed at full volume with every ounce of breath I could manage. It screeched in return, and tore at my face, rending my lip in two, and slashed bits of flesh from my cheeks. All the while, I dragged my body forward, desperately trying to escape. Then it bit into the base of my skull – the sensation of its teeth sinking in seared through my brain and halted my forward motion. I lay there waiting to die; it sat upon me, savoring my anguish.
Then another sound reached my ears; a venomous hiss. In a single fluid motion, the thing retracted its teeth, whipped around, saw the cat hiding under the bed, and used its clawed feet to leap into the air; further gouging my back as it fled. I lay there terrified to move; terrified not to try. It was no use, my body would not respond. The cat crawled out from under the bed, sniffed me and mewled deep in his chest as if asking forgiveness before he ran off, abandoning me to my fate.
I lay there alone, unable to move, panting for breath.
From somewhere in the room, the sound of a glob hitting the floor echoed off the wood.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
There is a cruelty unfolding in me I didn’t know existed. The click of my heels on the pavement echoes down the street, turning heads. I wear higher heels now, shorter skirts. I no longer stick to the safety of busy streets. I tempt fate and wander into the gloom of alleyways where the losers of the city huddle and sleep. The drunken, the homeless, the pickpockets. Petty criminals with petty ambitions. I stroll through their lairs of garbage. Bleary, poisoned eyes watch me pass, staring at me in disbelief.
“Stupid bitch,” they growl at me and they lift their bottles to dying lips. I tread holes in their cardboard beds with my stilettos and kick over their little cups of change. There is nothing they can do, they can barely climb to their feet. I hear the breaking of glass and the retching cough of sickness as I walk away. You see, there is nothing in the darkness I fear because I know you’ve got your eye on me. And you won’t let anybody hurt me, will you?
How long has it been now? I can’t remember my life without you. The purring of your engine wakes me at night as you cruise by my house. You wait until I come to the window before driving away. The sound of your breath, barely audible, on the other end of the phone. I can’t say a word. Sometimes you whisper my name in a muffled voice. It has been awhile since you last called. I saw you standing by the curb looking up at my office window. I saw you getting off the bus as I got on. I saw you sitting in the coffee shop. You are a formless shadow, your face a blur. Each time you move like lightning, when I look twice you are gone.
I roam the streets until I sense you, falling into step far behind me. I have something special to show you this evening. It is a short walk away. I will lead you there. Down to the harbour and the old warehouses along the docks. Follow me through the city park. Your footsteps are a numb, hollow thud in my chest. I stop and you stop. I walk and you walk. These winding paths lead into dark patches of trees and to the brim of a still, murky lake. I wonder how many have met their end here and if I will be one of them tonight? Of course I emerge from the trees unscathed, I know when you snare me it will be by your design not mine.
I received your letter today. Each letter you send is more intimate than the last. Our time is coming isn’t it? At work I lock my office door and lay out all your letters on my desk. Smeared black ink and putrid stains. I marvel at the details you manage to detect. You know when I wear a new perfume or lipstick, you know when I’m menstruating. And the portrait you drew is beautiful. The careful way you have rendered each fine stroke of my eyelashes and hair. My eyes are large dark orbs, the light in them extinguished. The drawing stares back at me from the page, frail and petrified. It is as if I was really there before you as you drew me. You have captured it well, that is how I feel. But there are a few things about me you are yet to glimpse.
I have left it for you here, this is where we part for now. By the time you enter the warehouse I will be gone, slipping away into the dark maze of the city, far from you.
You will sense it, as soon as you set foot in the building, something is not quite right. Keep walking, up dusty flights of stairs, searching the empty floors. You will be drawn to it, like a magnet, trust yourself. This is what you do best. And then you will finally find her, over by the wall, bound to a chair with heavy tape. Will a scream, sharp as a razor, catch in your throat? Will you crumple with silent impotent tears? I thought it was best to take care of her sooner rather than later. She was distracting you. And she was beginning to get too suspicious, asking too many questions. I heard her last night nagging you through dinner. She called your office three times today just to check your whereabouts. There were a few small changes I had to make. Her eyes were the wrong colour, her nose too big, her chin was the wrong shape. And that tacky bleached hair had to go. With a face lift and a short dark wig she looks just like me, don’t you think? My scent on her body now. I dressed her in the lingerie and dress I wore when you first saw me. I thought you would like that. The first time you singled me out from the crowd, the first time I felt the suffocating weight of your gaze. Yes, our time is coming soon. We are destined to meet, as both you and I know. But not tonight.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2014 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved
I sit here listening to the rain tinkling off the darkened glass of my window. Like so many nights before, I peer into an eternity of nothingness that shows only my blurred face in its shadows. Shadows that dance around in the ambient light as the wind whips and sways the tree limbs, keeping pace with the rain as it shifts from a patter to a pounding, to a more gentle touch on the pane.
I begin to turn away and see just the merest suggestion of movement from the corner of my eye, I turn back… But nothing has changed, nothing is different, no one is there. My blurred view is as it was before. Rivulets of rain running down the glass; impressions of shapes I know so well that exist beyond the safety of my window; my face looking back at me lost in the dreary visage of the existence in which I suffer. A face distorted by the passage of the rain running over the glass… a face twisted in pain.
I wander to the door, drawn by a force both within me and beyond these protective walls. What an exquisitely beautiful night to breath in the smell of the wet grass, the saturated earth, the dampness all around me. What a sumptuous night to twirl circles in my tattered gown, soaked and clinging to my body like a lover that has been released but wishes not to go. What a glorious night to stroll under the rows of the ever reaching Maple trees, listening as their limbs sing a song of agony as they rub against one another. I let the rain wash me clean under the hidden moon before wandering farther into the shadows of this night.
The beast, he wakes; I can feel him watching, waiting, growing from the pangs within me. Will he come to me, this creature of anguish? The rain is slowing, a mere drizzle now, barely even falling – floating on the breeze like his warm breath upon my bare neck. Will he stalk me in the lingering mist? I live knowing he terrifies me, even as I long for his touch; the touch of a soul as dark and tortured as my own.
The moon tries to protect me with its light, but I hide in the shadows as does he – this monster of beauty and destruction; this primal creature that will destroy me; this half-man half-beast that will ultimately consume me. How long can I resist his not-so gentle pull into the dark of the woods that now surround me? Do I even wish to try? Or would I willingly rush to him if only he would beckon?
I stand on the brink of the deeper shadows trembling with fear; fearing the need to take that final step. I feel his want calling out to me – yes, he wants me to enter his world, but he does not guarantee that my journey there will be a sane one. I move out of the shadows and fall to my knees weeping, begging him to emerge from the dim recesses and enter my world of glowing moonlight. But he fears the light, no – not fear – hate. He hates the light. This light that shines upon my upturned face and tangled hair has been his undoing. He was not always this beast, he was once a creature so different, so full of life, that he has no choice but to loathe the fact that I have not become what he is. His presence near demands that I enter his domain; his mind delves into mine impaling me with his desire. But I know his lust is insatiable, and once he has touched my darkness, I will never return to the light again.
Frightened, I cannot move; he is enraged – so angered that he nearly allows himself to reach out and grab hold of me, dragging me to him. I will not fight, I will let him take what he will, yet I cannot offer my submission even under his heated gaze. But no, he will not take me, I must come to him; my damaged companion, my kindred tortured soul who seeks nothing more than I – a release from this distant embrace of hellish pain we are destined to exist within.
With a snarl of anger and disgust, he leaves me yet again to weep at the edge of the darkness, screaming silently to be where he’d have me go.
I hear him howl into the night; he screams his rage while crying out his longing for that which may someday leave what meager light the moon sheds to walk in the dark at his side – owned by him for all eternity.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2012 Nina D’Arcangela. 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.