They thought they’d found it. The miracle ‘cure’. The final solution! I don’t know who’ll get this, but I think it should be sent… Maybe if this makes it further than myself, the next ones – they can be ready.
On March fourteenth the news reported an intergalactic breech. Something, or perhaps even someone, had crash landed somewhere in the vast Atlantic Ocean. They reported that both Americas, Europe, Africa, and even Asia were dispatching search teams. There was so much coverage, everyone was glued to TV’s, phones, watches, holographic sets; whatever could give us updates. Suddenly, on March nineteenth, everything stopped. The teams were no longer mentioned, and all we heard about were celebrity scandals and their bizarre baby naming habits. The world had ignorantly forgotten the events of the days before, just let them go. Conspiracy articles popped up here and there, but nothing concrete. Nothing that seemed to come from anyone who didn’t wear tinfoil as a hat on the regular.
Almost eight months later, Big Pharma came out with a new brand of ‘medicine’. Something none of us had ever seen before. Initially this product was advertised to help alleviate common illnesses; but soon, it did more – much more. The illnesses and diseases Big Pharma made the most money on were being cured, you know, cancer, MS, HIV/AIDs; you name it, the mystery drug stopped it. Inevitably the truth was revealed. Back in March, when all those teams went to find the unidentified fallen object, they found something astounding.
Specifically, we were told that a ‘nonliving organic matter’ had been discovered. Through tests done in labs across the globe, Earth’s top scientists had discovered that when combining the foreign matter with small mammal DNA, it showed incredible healing properties. The only logical next step was to move onto the human populace, so they did. Three months of testing, a little bippity-boppity-boop, and a trademarked-patented-miracle-cure-all was born. Finally, stem cell research results without a stigma, taboo, or debate. We – the human race. Ate. That. Shit. Up.
About a year passed before things got… messy. More than three quarters of the population began to have side effects of pandemic proportions. They would lose memory – most just became unreactive shells of who they used to be. What was happening? Why? Language barriers be damned, the evidence was before us, and unfortunately there was nothing we could do, it was too late.
A final broadcast went out over anything that could receive a transmission: “We are Croatoan. You filthy beings have been deemed to be of lower intelligence through out the galaxy. With permission from the Galactic Order, we sent down our Bio-Weaponry. If left untouched, it would have devastated your puny society over a century in your time. Thank you, from all of us, for making this so very, very easy.”
Here I am, staring into the swirling vortex the Croatoans have opened to take us with them. We don’t have enough left to even try to fight. I hope this message makes it out into the galaxy somehow.
B e w a r e . C r o a t o a n .
∼ Lydia Prime
© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.
I crouch cowering in the shadows of the barn. I should not be here, I was asked to stay away yet I could not.
The unnatural sound of bone snapping, sinew tearing, and skin stretching is a thing so foreign that it rends my soul to shreds. Yet for all the breath left in me, I cannot turn away from this creature I see.
I should have respected his wishes and not intruded upon his privacy – one so warily guarded till this day. Trust is what I offered blindly for so long; now I see that my trust was both justly placed and unspeakably abused.
The depth of sorrow that emanates from eyes I have so often peered into is more than one should have to bear. I now know why he asked to own this anguish in solitude, I now know why he felt a need to protect me from the torture of his full nature; I now know the extent to which he wished to guard my innocence.
He suffers in pain; my heart weeps. I reach out to touch him, he begs me stay away with his gaze; so longing, so loving, so final.
Struck by a rising terror I’ve not felt before, my soul screams that he is no longer mine but belongs solely to the night. If only I had not violated our trust, we would have been as one forever.
Fully morphed, yet still I see him. He turns one final time – his eyes saying all his misshapen mouth is no longer capable of speaking. A blink; he is gone.
Rushing forward I see all that remains, rough hair twisted upon a nail, while I listen to his baleful cry carried upon the night’s savage wind.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
The moon stares down at my brittle frame with judgement. A curse suckles upon my flesh, a reflection of the mirrored world I was cast into by no choice of my own. I only follow the deeds of my other half—a witness, a bystander. The exhibitionist shows me her will while forcing my eyes to see. I am no more than myself, and that which binds my flesh together. It isn’t a madness. Else I’d writhe in bed, the horrors in my mind to torture me at their discretion. I’m but a shell, the exosuit of the power which earns the rewards of my actions.
She speaks my name, which is her own. The condescending nature of her tone forbids argument. I’m but a slave with no outer master—the plaything of my own wicked mind.
Grace… Walk dutifully into the night and the blood will flow…
My legs carry an unwilling frame. Decision has never been an option—free will, only a dream which never comes true.
“Why, Grace? Why?” I ask.
Just do as I say. You know there isn’t any other way.
My lips curl into a frown of disdain.
Don’t be so spiteful. If it weren’t for me, you’d be nothing.
“I’d be me.”
You’re already you. But you’re also me.
That’s the problem, always has been. Ever since Mother and Father took their place in eternity, I’ve been nothing more than the hand of another entity. I’ve imagined ways to purge its vile existence, but none that wouldn’t take me with it.
You shouldn’t think such thoughts, Grace. Remember what happened last time?
“How could I forget?” I look down at the scars on my wrists.
I’m glad we have an understanding.
“I wouldn’t call it an understanding. More of a forced arrangement.”
Just keep walking.
She says it as if I have a choice.
“You’re going to hurt him, aren’t you?”
What do you think?
“I don’t know why I bother asking.”
I stare forward, eyes blank and disconnected from reality. The man I plan to meet, so nice, so innocent, undeserving of what awaits him. I don’t want to take his life—nothing disgusts me more. But it’s out of my control. His blood will be spilled and consumed, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
I see him on the corner down the street, both hands in his pockets, foot tapping the sidewalk. His stance gives away his anxiety, his shy nature. I pity his innocence while simultaneously adoring it.
“Always praying on the weak, Grace.”
Their blood tastes better.
“Can’t we just leave him be? Can’t we just find someone else?”
No. I’m starving.
I sigh as his eyes light up and an awkward smile brightens his face. Such a handsome man…
“Hi Grace,” he says. “Nice to meet you again. I know it’s only our second date but I got you these.” He reaches behind his jacket and brings out a bouquet of carnations.
If I could cry, tears would fall from my eyes. But the Grace inside me dried up any show of emotion long ago. “Thank you. They’re wonderful.”
“So what would you like to do?” he asks. “Dinner? A movie?”
“I thought we’d take a walk in the park.”
“After dark? Isn’t that a bit risky?”
“No, it’ll be okay. I do it all the time.”
His face reddens and he scratches the back of his neck. “Okay, let’s go.”
As we walk down a lonely path he reaches out to hold my hand. I allow him. Might as well enjoy the brief moments my dreams speak of each night, if only to experience a few seconds of intimate joy I’ll never fully know.
I look into his eyes, see a warm glow. There’s a connection, a communication without words, a palpable tether which might have bound us as one… But I am not whole.
My head splits down the middle with a crack of bone and tearing of flesh. Tentacles of bloody carnage stretch and reach out from the opening, forming bone-like blades at their ends. A multitude of eyes open on each tendril of the beast within my head; they stare at the man’s petrified expression with nihilistic calm. The sharp ends slice through his flesh and I watch, unable to control them, forced to witness the terrible feeding of my other half. Once his head falls to the ground, they drive into the stump of his neck and gorge on his blood.
Once Grace has her fill, she returns to her inner-sanctum, the place where my mind once rested in solitude. But ever since she took Mother and Father, and burrowed deep inside me, I’ve never been alone…
∼Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2017 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
The light hurt and his head swam. He wanted to cover his eyes.
A hand floated in the corner of his view; it belonged to a woman.
“Nobody ever hears about us, the quiet ones; the little ones. The slight ones.” The owner of the voice caressed his neck. He shivered and tried to crawl back into the darkness that kept all the bright pain away. The voice and the hand moved off to his right.
The blackness crept up, this time without much of a fight. He faded away to the sound of her voice going on about being invisible in society.
“Awake again? I’m pleased to see you’re back. Can I get you something, water perhaps?” The voice purred with conviviality that wasn’t quite real.
He heard a sound so distinct that it couldn’t be anything other than what it was; a set of high heels walking across wood. She kept talking to him but it was nothing more than background noise.
“You’re going to be groggy for a bit longer I’m afraid.” The voice was close now. Something cold caressed his lips. She rubbed it around his mouth, and when he opened she slid the ice chip in. Too numb to miss the bitter cold on his tongue, his thirst was as painful as the ache that was developing around his chest and gut.
He was fading again, spittle drooled out of his mouth and into his lap.
“Oops.” She said.
“You’re back for a bit longer this time, I think. We’ll see I guess.” She tittered with laughter that wasn’t genuine. His eyes opened slowly, no sharp pain this time. He focused on the woman in red standing to his right. His first thought was ‘tiny’. She was short and thin. Beautiful in an extraordinary way. She touched his head and felt for his pulse.
“Just as it should be. Glad you’re coming around. I’m quite excited to talk to you, Mr. Thorn.” She made her way around a large dining room table until she was across from him. There was food on the plate in front of her.
“Rich,” he blurted out. The word wasn’t meant to be harsh, but she winced as if stung.
“No, Mr. Thorn, not rich, but well off at least.” She smiled awkwardly and scooped a fork from the plate in front of her.
She did not sit down.
Raising it to her mouth, he watched blood drip from the tines of the steel fork. She licked her middle finger from the knuckle straight to the tip of her fingernail. It was seductive, erotic. Thorn noticed movement on her right.
“You’re my honored guest.” She said. Her lips were red like a fresh coat of shiny lipstick you see in porn movies and noir films. He winced and shook his head.
“Still trying to make sense of things? I’d give it another fifteen minutes or so. It took a lot to calm you down. More than most men.” She winked, circling the table slowly; a predator marking her prey.
“What’s happening?” Thorn croaked. His throat felt like sandpaper. His tongue was gritty as if he licked concrete. The other man twitched violently once, then again, and settled. Thorn looked and saw the spasm had dislodged the cap he’d been wearing. It looked like one of those light blue things a doctor puts on before surgery. The other man’s head lulled forward. Thorn couldn’t process what he saw.
He knew what it was in an instant, although he’d never seen the inside of someone’s head before. The cavity that should be holding a brain was mostly empty. Only fragments of gray matter remained.
Thorn vomited down the front of himself. His gut tightened, and his chest screamed with agony.
“That’s okay Mr. Thorn, the girls will clean you up in a moment. For now, just listen. You’re here because you haven’t been very nice.” She didn’t smile this time.
“What, I…” another contraction from his stomach and that rocketing pain in his gut again. Nothing came out but bile and strings of yellowish spit. He was empty.
“Don’t talk, Mr. Thorn. The sight of my previous guest has upset you. I can understand that. Can you just sit and listen? If I get the girls to clean you up, will you listen?” She asked the question but he didn’t dare answer.
“We, the collective of women I help, have decided that a lesson is in order. Not as severe as this young man’s.” She reached over and placed a hand on the brainless man’s shoulder. He jumped again and blood flew from the open cavity. Red droplets splashed on the bone-white china and the rimmed crystal goblets in front of him.
“He didn’t take our advice the first time we had him over to dinner so this time, we’re having him for dinner. We could never resist the opportunity to get together and exchange ideas and empower each other, Mr. Thorn.”
He tried to process what this crazy bitch said to him, but something didn’t click. He tried to focus, to replay it in his head but it slipped away. The pain in his chest was so intense he couldn’t think.
“What’s wrong, Mr. Thorn?”
“Jesse…” he blurted out with no conviction. His stomach flipped, and he tightened his muscles against another round of puking, but nothing came. He panted, his head starting to sag with the weight of his exertions.
“Yes, your name is Jesse Thorn, and you’re an inconsiderate, heartless bastard to most of the women you meet. We believe in what we like to think of as positive reinforcement, and your lesson began several hours ago on a table. It continues now.” She nodded toward the other man, “This unfortunate soul was also bad to a woman. It was clear he hadn’t learned his lesson when she showed up in the morgue last week. It was time to eliminate this particular problem.”
“What did you do to me?” he croaked. Between the acidic taste in his mouth and the dry throat, it sounded inhuman.
“First we need to get you cleaned up. The ladies are already here. I wouldn’t want to embarrass you when they come in.”
The woman in red walked over to a small table on the far side of the room. She picked up an old fashioned telephone receiver and spoke softly into it.
Four women walked into the dining room from that door dressed in scrubs. One of them was rolling a cart full of cleaning supplies while the other three carried clothes, a few leather straps, and a needle.
“They are going to get you undressed and cleaned up before dinner, Mr. Thorn. We will give you something for the pain. It will keep you calm enough through dinner but not so much as you would black out on us again. You’re the honored guest tonight and we can’t have you asleep at your plate.” She smiled and nodded to the women standing near him.
A hand went over his mouth and he felt a needle prick his arm. Within seconds, he lost any urge to move. The pain was dull, but not gone.
He was hoisted out of his chair and stripped down to his skin. His hostess watched them work with avid interest as they cleaned him up. It was then he noticed the wide bandage over his chest and stomach. He was redressed in clean scrubs and placed back in his chair. One of the women cleaned his place at the table. The smell of disinfectant burned his nostrils.
As the girls finished with him they walked around the table to the brainless man. One of them covered his place setting with a red cloth as the other three lifted him from his chair. A sheet covered his limp body. He was thrown onto the center of the table without remorse.
That sound of clacking heels echoed, this time from behind him. The room suddenly filled with chatter and tinkling laughter. Perfume replaced the smell of disinfectant, and the mixture was somehow intoxicating.
A woman filed in behind each chair and grew silent. All eyes weren’t on him, but the man in the center of the table.
“Ladies, it is my pleasure to introduce tonight’s honored guest, Mr. Jesse Thorn.” A wave of applause assaulted his ears as the woman all turned to face him and clap.
“Ladies, once again I call your attention. Tonight is another lesson and another chance to come together as one. For that, I would like to present to you our main course.” She spoke with a flourish to her voice as she pulled the sheet off the man on the table.
No applause this time, just the sounds of oohing and aahing. Without warning, the ladies slid into their chairs and began to prepare to eat. The only woman still standing was the lady in red. She looked directly at Jesse with a sardonic smile.
“Mr. Thorn, it’s time to answer your question. You asked what I had done, but it wasn’t me exactly. It was us.” She smiled and looked around the room.
“We don’t take kindly to being mistreated and we’ve given up on society correcting the problem. We’ve decided to take matters into our own hands.” Applause rolled across the room.
“We’ve been tracking down and teaching men who mistreat women ‘lessons’ for nearly twenty years. While the history of our sisterhood isn’t newsworthy, the results are. As you can see, the price for failing to learn your lesson is this.” She picked up the steel fork again and tossed it, brain and all, unceremoniously toward his plate. Her aim was perfect.
“This failure here,” she pointed to the man on the table, “had several parts removed and became our honored guest a few years ago. He didn’t learn, though. You have been lucky enough to only have the parts of your body removed that you weren’t using to their full potential but you will live and have another chance to make things right if you choose. If not, you’re going to be in the center of our table like this one.” She pointed to the man who was as dead as a Thanksgiving turkey ready for carving.
“We took out your heart, Mr. Thorn, as you seem to be less inclined to use it and we’re serving it as an appetizer tonight. You’ll be returned to your life once you recover and we will watch you—closely. My only hope for you is that you are a much better student than this man was.” She smiled and sat down at the table.
Jesse’s head lolled from side to side, feeling drunk and stupid as he tried to process her words. They were sinking in slowly. When he focused again on the man in the center of the table, he noticed that his brain wasn’t the only thing missing.
He began to scream as the women began to eat.
~ Christopher A. Liccardi
© Copyright 2017 Christpher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved
I scrambled through the woods at break-neck speed. I had no idea which direction I ran, I only knew I had to escape the beast that attacked me. A clearing in the trees ahead revealed the flicker of a fire’s glow. As I stumbled into the mudded tract, I realized I’d come upon a gypsy encampment. Two men immediately rose in defense, but a hunched old woman shushed them away. She guided me to a rough-hewn bench. I sat in the brisk night air, chest heaving, lungs still gasping for breath as the crone examined my scratched torso, the gouges left upon my arm by the beast’s maw.
Heavy drapes at the rear of a nearby caravan parted. Concealed behind a voile sheath loomed a tourmaline eyed creature of exquisite beauty. She held my gaze for but a moment before her eyes crept down toward my bare chest and further still to the ruined forearm. The old gypsy woman tending my torn flesh immediately bowed her head and began to back away.
As the black veil unfurled, I saw the illusion for what it was; the alluring countenance of the creature’s face belied the grotesque malformation of its body. A withered arm snaked its way forward, grasping the rail along the stairs in its elongated hand. The exposed flesh covering it resembled nothing more than flaking mica. The body that followed was near indescribable. Multiple legs, in varying size and stage of abortion, dangled beneath the tattered rag it wore around its distorted midsection. One hip jutted upward and away from its body while its engorged abdomen bucked in sway with something yet unseen. I tried to avert my eyes, to look away from this aberration, but fear and revulsion would not allow it.
Moving in awkward jerks, it approached. Terror demanded I flee, but a wave of authority emanating from those rapturous eyes locked me in place. It lowered itself to the muddy earth at my feet. Its stare burned through me as it brought its mouth to my savaged arm. Crimson lips whispered an incantation that danced with the feather-light touch of its breath over my aching skin. It then clutched my arm in its claw-like grip, threw back its head and began to screech a banshee’s wail.
As its legs tore open, a gush of fluid sluiced from between them. The screech morphed to a guttural moan as something passed from its body and darted into the woods. The echoes of torment silenced; the only sounds left were labored breathing and what scurried in the dark underbrush.
The creature before me spasmed, struggled to right itself, to regain its knees in the slick afterbirth. Composed once more, it stared at me with fierce brutality. Once again, it grasped my wounded arm in its roughened talon and spoke a single command as it seared its mark into my flesh. I saw depths of rage, hate, regret, pain and sorrow in its release as the eyes dimmed and the body fell backward to lie unmoving.
The old gypsy woman approached. She looked upon the corpse from the caravan, the wound and brand on my arm. Compassion and terror colored her countenance as she dipped her fingers into the mingle of blood and amniotic fluid. While making a sign of sanctity to ward herself from evil, she spoke these words.
“The pup is born, the mantle passed. Protect it, and you may yet find your own salvation.”
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2017 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
“So, you’re saying there’s no such thing as writer’s block?”
I tamped out my pipe, refilled it with Dunhill Nightcap, touched the lit match to the aromatic leaf and took a few deep puffs. We were only fifteen minutes into the interview and my mind was already drifting to other things. Then my eyes wandered to the bottle of Macallan 25 the young man had brought, a gift from his publisher, and resigned myself to my fate. There were far worse ways to spend a cold, dreary afternoon.
“Would you like a glass?” I said.
He smiled and shook his head. “Thank you, but no. I’m more of a beer man myself.”
I poured my second shot of the amber ambrosia, savoring the aroma a moment before tilting the glass back oh-so-gently.
“I love a cold beer as well, but it’s a poor substitute for fine scotch.”
A gust of wind shook the windowpane, rain pelting it like ball bearings.
I couldn’t tell if the phone on the table between us was still recording, as the face had gone dark. The interviewer, I had forgotten his name, took no notes; his complete reliance on technology baffled me. Then again, most of the workings of today’s world left me scratching my head.
Waving a cloud of smoke away, I said, “I’m sorry, I’ve completely forgotten your question.”
He shifted forward in his seat, tapping on the stack of books, my books, that he’d brought to the interview.
“We were talking about the staggering volume of work you’ve produced in your thirty-five year career. I counted forty-three novels, seventeen novellas, two-hundred and eleven short stories and at least a hundred articles. I’m not alone in being wowed by your output. I asked if you ever had a moment when a story just wouldn’t come to you and you said there is no such thing as writer’s block. I find that intriguing because I’ve yet to find a writer who hasn’t experienced it at least once in their career.”
“You’re not talking to the right authors,” I said, grinning.
“I’ve interviewed a considerable number.”
I noticed the creeping strands of gray hair at his temples, the very beginnings of crow’s feet when he smiled. Perhaps he wasn’t as young as I’d thought.
I drew on my pipe and said, “A real writer is never blocked. He or she may be lazy, tired, scared, or in the grip of some addiction or flight of fancy, but they’re not writing because they’re unfocused, distracted, not blocked.”
The interviewer crossed his left leg over his right and rested his forearm on his knee. I wondered if it was too late to ask him his name.
“In all these years, you’ve never been too distracted to write?”
“Not once. On the day I had surgery to remove my appendix, I wrote a story on the back of my chart an hour after the anesthesia had worn off.”
“That’s incredible dedication.”
“I prefer to call it necessity.”
“To feed your compulsion?”
“Yes and no.”
“Can you remember the last time you took a day off from writing?”
It took me a moment to think. Ancient history gets harder for me to recall.
“It was the day I received my very first acceptance letter for my book, The Forbidden Forest. There was much celebration that night. A little too much.”
He settled back into his chair. “I’m going to be honest, I’m envious. I hope to be a novelist some day, but I can’t seem to get the first one across the finish line.”
I downed a third glass of scotch.
“You just don’t have the right muse,” I said.
“Maybe I can borrow yours,” he said affably, with just a hint of a nervous chuckle.
“Oh, you wouldn’t want that. I assure you.”
“If I could have one tenth of your career, I’d die a happy man.”
I set my pipe down and locked eyes with him.
“A muse isn’t just a mystical force from which ideas spring. Some muses can be strict taskmasters. Happiness has nothing to do with it.”
He looked at me with incredulity. “Wait. So you believe that a muse is a real thing?”
“I don’t believe, I know.”
Perhaps it was the scotch. No matter. I’d said it and let it hang heavily in the air between us.
Now he checked to make sure his phone was still recording, hot to have the scoop that America’s bestselling author had lost his mind.
“Do…do you see your muse? Can you talk to her? Or him?”
There was no going back now.
“Yes and yes, and my muse has no gender. At least not in the sense as we would define it.”
He ran his hands through his hair. No doubt his palms were sweaty with anticipation of how much publicity his interview was going to garner.
I drank more Macallan, enough to make me lightheaded, but not too much to hinder the work that needed to be done later. Oh no, that could not happen.
“Can I ask how often you talk to your muse?” His smile looked like a shark’s, circling for the kill.
“Your muse has given you a constant stream of ideas and inspiration since when?”
I shook my head, relighting my pipe.
“Truth be told, it’s not very big on ideas.”
This rocked him, wiping the shark grin from his face.
“Then…then what does it do?”
I leaned forward, the leather chair creaking, and touched his knobby knee.
“It makes me write.”
“It makes you write?”
“And what if you don’t?”
Now it was my turn to beam like a sly Great White.
“Terrible, terrible things happen.”
There was a ripple in the darkness behind the eager interviewer’s chair.
“You say you’re working on your own novel?” I asked.
His face blanched. “Yes, in fits and starts.”
I sucked on my teeth, releasing trapped scotch from my gums.
“That simply will not do. Not if you were to ‘borrow’ my muse.”
“I don’t understand.”
I filled the void between us with sweet, aromatic smoke.
“And you never will.”
The gray beast sprang from the ether, tearing the man’s jugular with a single swipe. I ducked to avoid the spray of blood – blood I knew my muse would slurp like a starving cat, leaving no trace of the young man behind.
I looked away, unable to watch the ravenous mastication. I grabbed the bottle of scotch and staggered to my study where my typewriter awaited.
It had been a long while since I had written a horror story.
I guess it was fair to say that today, my muse had given me inspiration. Putting a fresh sheet of paper into the Royal typewriter, I began the day’s tale.
“So, you’re saying there’s no such thing as writer’s block?”
I tamped out my pipe, refilled it with Dunhill Nightcap, touched the lit match to the aromatic leaf and took a few deep puffs.
~ Hunter Shea
© Copyright 2017 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved
Evening raindrops clung to a broken spider web, and fallen leaves held water like tiny crumbling cups. Silence draped across the forest; the animals fled at sunset when the sky shed its first tear. Even the carrion birds flew away, and the rodents scampered deep down into their holes.
The animals knew.
Like a drumbeat, the chill rain pummeled the forest earth, slapping a copper stench into the wind. The air glided with the taste of elder blood, careening, coating the tumbling raindrops as they soaked back within the dirt. The greedy soil drank of the tainted water, as it once drank the soup of decaying flesh, and the trees rattled as bones.
Somewhere, came a moan.
Beyond the eventual and gentle hush, the rain ceased, but the sky stayed black. No moon graced the shrouded firmament, and no starry luminosity scattered the inky air swallowing the trees. A fog crept like silky spiders, thick and velvet over the ground, obscuring earth and flora. Grey met black and swirled, mingling, melding in a darkling kiss.
And the night waited.
It waited in stillness, the breath of air grave and expectant with longing. It waited cold and cavernous, as if time gave this occasion pause. And then… past the midnight hour it stirred. A faint noise from beneath the onyx soil. Scrabbling, scratching, a shiver sound of creatures crawling, of fingernails groping through the dirt.
The ground trembled, softly, gently, as if a lover’s touch caressed it. The wind sighed, dancing among the trees and twirling with the hoary mist. Slowly, slowly, the earth gave way, in splinters and snaps and clefts of soft loam. The soil parted, cracked, and a bony hand burrowed out from beneath the world. A sallow, deformed hand smeared in grime and filth, its reaching skeletal fingers smelling of long rotted meat and crumbled skin. Strange grunts followed, and a heaving of dirt as a shoulder bone, and then a skull, pushed from under the tomb of earth into the interim of night. It crawled forward on jointed bones, hollow eyes somehow seeing, a throat void of words somehow screaming. It dragged and squirmed and writhed, this awakened remnant of what once was human, fumbling out of the dirt and standing upright. One step, then two, a stumbling walk through the woods, towing leaf and bark along its path until it escaped the confines of the forest.
There it stopped. There it shrieked.
Loud and strident, an articulation grotesque, yet wrenching in its suffering. A ballyhoo of noise to clatter the trees and jangle the ground. To echo past all the desolate unholy, far into the dark depths of the forest and beyond.
It gave voice to its eternal pain.
A single, howling voice, offered to the night…
To be answered by a thousand snarling cries.
By a thousand sounds of scrabbling and scratching.
By a thousand things digging upward.
~ A. F. Stewart
© Copyright 2017 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.
I sit curled up next to the fireplace, my head resting against the surround. A goblet of heavy Merlot in my hand; heavy for its body or heavy for my longing, I cannot say. As I stare into the crackling blaze, my mind wanders. So many memories from years gone by, so much love shared here, in this very room. My soul shrieks with grief as I collapse into a ball, no longer able to hold myself upright; no longer able to stem the wracking sobs.
The fire now a blur through swollen wet eyes, my head lolls and I glance toward the tree with its twinkling lights, glittering ornaments and brightly wrapped packages tucked neatly below. You always were such a perfectionist. My eyes flutter shut as the day you dressed the tree forces itself upon my mind. You were so happy, so excited to pick the largest pine available. I recall joking that one of us would have to move out so the tree could move in. You kissed me with icy cold lips and a bright red nose. Little did I know how soon I would long to feel that frigid touch once more. Your enthusiasm knowing no bounds, you spent the entire day arranging everything just so; making sure the colorful glass baubles were placed with precision, everything to an exacting measure. I’d playfully moved a strand of tinsel while you weren’t watching, only to reenter the room moments later to find it placed back in its original position.
The gifts. Oh, how you tortured me over the gifts long before the season began. A sad smile steals across my lips as I think of the hours you spent fretting over the perfect surprise for each of our friends. As I sip from my glass, a slight chuckle escapes me only to end in a bleat of pain as I recall how you stressed over wrapping each gift in the perfect color foil. God, how you loved this day.
I think back upon the last evening I saw you. I was standing at the island between this room and the kitchen preparing dinner; you remembered one final detail you couldn’t do without. I kissed you as you bounded past me, told you not to be long and that I loved you. You grabbed your coat from the hook, turned to me with purse in hand, golden locks bouncing, and smiled before replying as you always did – not nearly the way I love you. I smiled back; you left. Two hours later, a knock sounded. I wasn’t worried, you often became infatuated with something or other and lost track of time or misplaced your keys. As I moved to open the front door, I noticed the bare flicker of red and blue light drifting in from the balcony. Seeing the officers standing at the threshold, I turned and walked to the glass, placed my forehead to it, and knew in that moment… you were gone. I woke lying upon the couch. The officers explained there’d been an accident at the corner – our corner; a young woman had been hit by a car that ran the red light. You were that young woman.
My eyes crack open seeking a red light on the tree, your tree – our tree. But instead, my sight finds the red fairy lights you used to decorate the balcony. Barely able to stand, I stumble to the sliding doors. As I fumble to open them through my tears, the Merlot in my glass pours onto the white carpet. My addled mind tells me how angry you’ll be if I don’t clean the deep burgundy spill right away; my breath hitches, another sob escapes me. Finally managing the lock, I step through onto the bitterly cold veranda. Standing at the rail, I exist in a halo of red light, my long chestnut mane whipping in the wind; the flush on my cheeks all but gone in a tinted haze. Another balcony, the one next to ours, is adorned in blue twinkling lights. I wonder why I’d not noticed it before. The blue and red lights blur together as my inebriated mind struggles to adjust. Five stories below, more lights glitter, cars rush past; the ground wears a fresh blanket of snow. I’m so tired, and the blanket seems so inviting. Please, don’t go without me – words I should have spoken that night. Letting myself lean forward, the world pitches as my mind screams for release from this sorrow, begs me to join you. I grasp the railing, sink to my knees and crawl back inside. Too much a coward to follow you; too devoted to allow your memory to die.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2014 Nina D’Arcangela. Revised 2016. All Rights Reserved.
The luxury yacht traversed between the Philippine islands. Derek found the perfect beach in a hidden lagoon. Tom dropped anchor. The girls, in bikinis, packed sandwiches and beer. The jungle watched as two couples disembarked and waded through crystal water to the beach. They picnicked, swam, napped in the sun. Tom and Jasmine hiked into the jungle “to be alone.” Their screams woke Derek and Amy. They searched the island for their missing friends. Found them tied to trees, skinned to red sinews. Tom’s eyes had been eaten out. Jasmine, bleeding from head to toe, begged for help. Derek tried to untie her. The vines tightened, snapped her ribcage. Green tentacles shot out, wrapped around Derek. He yelled as thorny vines peeled off his skin. Amy, crying, backed into a stone idol. Ivy snaked up her legs. After feeding, the jungle placed bloody bones at the feet of their god.
Joseph A. Pinto
Sunlight clings to life; a sliver across his eyes. He draws the blinds, killing it for good. Adjusts to the gloom, the shadow. It covers the room; a sheet uninterrupted in its totality. No furniture, no menial things to disrupt its reach.
Thirty-seven days; he is quite used to the black. Seen no more, still he can hear them, their ruinous limbs dragging across curbs. Teeth clack, clack, clacking inside misshapen heads. Human once, ravaged now by pestilence, disease.
Thirty-seven days since he has stepped foot outside. Nevertheless, his years of extravagant living, an overindulgent craving for the finest delicacies, has afforded him a luxury few can claim.
Thirty-seven days. He can survive thirty-seven more. Knife against his stomach, he slices flesh razor thin; he will sustain himself. Water from toilet, meat across tongue; he will sustain himself until the world turns sane once more.
A Passing Discomfort
Lee A. Forman
When two hands touch something is always felt. It might be an awkward pang, or something more uncomfortable—revulsion, a burning disgust for the feel of another human being.
Sometimes it’s more.
The heart races. Every tiny hair on my skin rises. And I know they feel the same thing.
A glance into their eyes and it’s over. The mask of terror forms, carved by my curse. I traverse an incalculable distance, one that can’t be measured in numbers; something greater than infinity but more tangible. You could hold it in your hands or it could encompass all time and space.
I know exactly when they’re going to die. And so do they, but only for that moment of discomfort when brushing against a stranger. In the blink of an eye they forget. But I remember. Even after they’re gone.
Veronica Magenta Nero
I used to feed on insects and vermin that I trapped in my black and blistered hands. I lived in slim alleys where brick walls caked with despair met in dead ends. Bags of garbage piled high like fat split bodies, thin skins leaking toxic waste, under the dark loom of sky scrapers. Towers so high you can’t see the top, they block the sun.
But I found the way out, took a chance when I saw it. I groomed myself in a new image. I stepped on the heads of those less hungry, less able, ripped them down as I pulled myself up, to the top of the food chain. Elite meat is sautéed in sweet tears and sweat, the luxury of human flesh free of disease, a menu of privileged taste.
There once was no greater luxury than being human. Unfortunately, that is rare in the days that follow the uprising. The very technology that we developed turned out to be our downfall and now there are far more of them than there are of us. Artificial intelligence suddenly became not so artificial and before we had a chance to react, they had control of everything in our world, including our population. Humans were rounded up and slaughtered in unimaginable numbers. Packed stadiums were obliterated, cities were all but wiped from the map, and countries crumbled as world leaders were targeted and disposed of. I’m not sure why, but they kept a small amount of us around and though we felt like the lucky few at the time, I don’t feel so lucky now. In fact, I’d gladly trade this luxury for the swift death that took my family from me.
Just keep your head down, no need to draw any unnecessary attention. Two are wearing black suits. They’re Internal Registry Agents. Don’t make eye contact with them. Act normal, go about your business… shit! They’re following, asking me for them. Damn. They want to see my Human Registration Papers. Fuck. It’s almost impossible to register when you’re not of this earth. Keep walking. Head for the subway, you can lose them down there. They order me to stop and something about opening fire. Don’t stop, keep moving, you’re almost there! I hear a familiar click behind my head. Move feet, damn it, move! Just a few more-
Menthol, that’s all I smelled. The bloated mass before me waited patiently. I picked up the scalpel, the fluorescent light humming above glinted off its metallic surface. The Y incision made, I peeled back the outer layer of skin exposing globules of fatty residue and further decomposed tissue. Thick yellow fluid oozed from the gangrenous edges of the incised flesh. The second stroke sliced through muscle, invaded the stomach cavity; the gaseous release hissed in competition with the fixture overhead. The half-digested, half-rotted contents within were easily discernible. Next, I moved to the throat and began a vertical slit in the esophagus. The small, elongated objects lodged in the upper esophageal sphincter left no doubt; they were human fingers. Removing my mask, I glanced at the chart, confirmed the preliminary findings.
Cause of Death: suffocation due to blockage of the systema respiratorium.
Echoes of a Chorus
Christopher A. Liccardi
The violins started, cellos chased their pulse as the last of his heart’s blood pumped out of him, unaware the journey was one way. His life spilled over the papers that recorded his greatest masterpiece and his death song.
I waived my hands in the air, conducting as I was taught by him. The yellow afterglow of his banker’s lamp on the piano winked in time to the throb of the aural perfection he’d finished not an hour ago. People would remember him for it; and me for killing him.
The orchestration had finally taken on a life of its own; his life, in fact but that’s how it should be, right? He always spoke about dying for his art. All I did was help him with that last bit.
The blade I now used as a baton, directing invisible musicians to symphonic perfection, and it was his greatest work.
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