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.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
Joseph A. Pinto
Yes, your prize, your trophy, your prop for the world to behold. Framed by unflinching eyes, supported by hands unshaken. So vivid, your portrayal. Like the seasons, your dichotomy appreciated only by a clear lens and a distorted view. Yet the approaching tempest goes unnoticed; still the limbs go ravaged. Revel in the fall, revel in the winds that blow. Landscapes resculpted, reimagined by the inevitable. Yes, revel in the lie, for beneath the illusion, the splendor, remains a truth you cannot speak: you have broken the chlorophyll down. Life you present, while around you death rejoices all the while.
The Autumn Quietus
Lee A. Forman
The fresh, healthy colors turned, became the tones of decay. Dillon breathed deep the scent of rot with a complacent grin. He looked up at the trees, watched quietus sway in the cool breeze. He reveled in his hedonistic ritual; a yearly affair passed down through generations. Nothing gave him more pleasure. Harvesting the heads was a task he relished, but watching the skin turn from its once healthy pigment to greenish-blue—that gave him true joy. He sat and watched as leaves fell, waiting for the heads to follow. Human hair only held for so long after death’s claim.
I stand in place riddled with unbridled terror; it quakes my bones as I gaze out upon this gentle glade. Think me a fool for my fear? I imagine you do. Through my shutter you are gifted a calm that races my blood, hear the soothing lap at water’s edge that I am deaf to, see beauty trapped in hues I cannot allow to blind these eyes. The serenity of yawning fall holds no sway over me, for though we view the same painted landscape, you see only what is captured, whereas I hear what rustles the brush behind me.
It’s been so long since the rains poured down. My memory struggles to recall images from the past that are long gone from reality. The vivid bursts of color that once covered the landscape have become nothing more than bland blacks and grays. The lakes are now dried and shriveled like an old man’s face. We did this to ourselves but were too fucking stupid to do anything about it. Politicians gave us only twisted lies and half-truths and before we knew it, it was too late. May God help us all, at least the few of us that remain.
Veronica Magenta Nero
Many have given their lives to cleanse the lake. Our children, our elderly mothers and fathers, their faces frozen with fear and sorrow, never looking back as they walk into the oil slick swamp. They waddled in knee deep, then waist deep, then they were whisked away underneath, the foul water bubbling over them. We had stripped all life from the earth and now we pay with our blood and bone. The lake turns golden, an expanse of light, the water fresh and clean, sustaining us for a while until it begins to darken and fester once more, demanding another.
Don’t You See?
You must be out of your minds! We left our home because of drought. This place is no different! How do you expect us to survive? Farm it? The ground lacks nutrients, nothing grows. Eat from the trees? They are bare. Fish from the lake? It’s lifeless. Yet you want to settle here? Trying to make this work is a death sentence. No, I have not lost my senses. It’s you who are crazy for believing him! We must keep moving on… then follow him, you blind fools, follow him to your death. Don’t you see? We won’t survive here.
Biting wind stirred the sweet scent of autumn’s decay and ruffled its time-worn cloak. The old post creaked with his surprising heft as his black eyes, hidden underneath the straw-like hair, watched the approaching couple.
He dropped from his perch and knocked them both to the ground. The ancient being grabbed each by an ankle and started towards the hills. Their shrill cries were musical; a symphony of dread that pleased him. He would eat them both, every bit, and sleep until next autumn’s equinox brought the sound of falling leaves and bid his eternal hunger be sated yet again.
This is his country: acres of primordial forest spanning the hilltops. Time has no meaning here, marked by nothing except the changing seasons and, sometimes, the intruders who cross his invisible border. It is autumn now. He smells it in the air: rich, rank. Feels it under the pads of his feet: slippery, cold. Deadwood cracks. The camp is up ahead. Mud finds the underside of his fingernails, mixes with the blood that sometimes matts his fur and clots between his teeth. He moves heavily, hunts quickly, leaves no survivors. This is his country and here his appetite is law.
Christopher A. Liccardi
They saw the golds and reds and smelled the season in all its glory. I saw crimson and grey matter and smelled the gore; a photo negative of what everyone else witnessed.
Paint in blood; that is what I do. I painted the scene in the blood of those who came to ask me about my work. It wasn’t a needless act, no. Never think it. It was one of serenity. I took the canvas around me and colored it with the life’s blood of those who came to meet me. My next victim approached with a smile, unknowing, unsuspecting.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.
“I hate clowns,” Roy said flatly. Each year, he shelved his irrational fear of those fuckers right up until the end of September. Then, all the clown related stupidity resurfaced and he was forced to stare down his terror.
“C’mon, who hates clowns? You didn’t seem to mind the clown outfit I wore last weekend, as I recall,” Beth said, batting her eyelashes.
“That was a clown?” Roy asked incredulously. He’d thought she was dressed like a character from the super hero movie they’d gone to see a few weeks ago.
She slapped him jokingly and pinched his nipple while she smiled that teasing smile he loved so much. Roy grinned back, though his nipple stung like a bitch.
“Besides,” Roy said, “clown movies are nothing but half-naked women getting chopped up by psychos.”
“Not always. Let’s watch a movie with clowns in it,” she said, still smiling.
She was always a little crazy and a bit ‘out there’, but she must have completely lost her marbles to think she could charm him into this. Nothing she said or did could get him in front of a television with some psychotic asshole wandering around cutting people all to hell.
He turned his head to tell her but she was already up and moving toward the television.
“Wait!” he blurted in a panic. He didn’t want her to realize how afraid he really was. Beth was by far the most beautiful, sexy, sensual, and amazing woman he’d ever met. How would it look if she could sit through a horror film and he couldn’t?
She stopped, arched an eyebrow, and shimmied out of her jeans. Her top followed next as she pulled it over her head and let it drop to the floor. The red and black lace she wore underneath stole his breath. All thought washed away as he pictured the two of them spending the next few hours not watching a clown movie.
He stood up and reached for her but she stepped back, dodging his advance.
“Not yet. I want to slip into something first. Think of this as therapy; I promise you’ll be completely cured when we’re done.” She winked at him.
She eased him back toward the couch, grabbing his ass as she did. The back of his knees struck the cushion as Beth pushed him down into his seat. Leaning over, she kissed him long and slow. When the kiss broke, she told him the movie was already in the player, then strutted out of the room.
“How did you…” he blundered.
“I was going to watch it anyway. Don’t worry, it’ll be fun. Besides, you might be a bit too preoccupied to be afraid,” she remarked with a giggle.
Roy clicked on the television and surfed channels for a moment before picking up the DVD remote and hitting the power button. Sports news was replaced with an image of a terrified woman screaming and covering her face as she ran. Some fat dude, shirtless except for a black rubber apron, was chasing her down with a chainsaw. He wore a red clown wig and white face paint. His features had been drawn in with exaggerated black grease pencil and he his grin was full of sharp teeth.
Roy had second thoughts about watching the movie. Beads of sweat popped up on his temples as he squirmed in his seat. He loosened his necktie and unbuttoned his collar, but it didn’t help.
He reached for the remote, wanting to turn off the movie when he heard Beth giggling; she was coming back into the room. Time to man-up for this beautiful woman and deal, he thought.
“I know this is going to be hard for you,” she said with another tinkling of laughter as she walked up behind him, “but I want you to know how pleased I am that you’re doing this for me.”
Roy began to stand, he wanted to see her, but her hands pressed down on his shoulders. He sat again and tried to crane his neck around to see her. He wanted one more look before they started the damn movie.
“Not yet, lover. Keep your eyes on the screen and if you get scared, think of this.” She flung a black and red lace bra into his lap.
He grabbed for it, feeling the warmth of the material. He wasn’t going to like the movie, but thought he might enjoy movie time nonetheless. He smiled.
Beth turned off the lights and Roy pretended his heart rate went up solely because of her lingerie.
“Hit play, lover,” she said and giggled from behind. She was enjoying this. He did as she instructed and eased back into his seat.
As the movie started, the screaming woman from the promo shot was having what appeared to be a normal day. A few minutes later, her car broke down and she called for the local tow company.
Beth played with his hair and whispered in his ear. He couldn’t understand what she said, but the fear he expected to feel was replaced by slowly building excitement. Maybe the clown movie wasn’t going to be that bad after all.
Predictably, night arrived before the tow truck on-screen – the man in the cab was the same man from the promo sans chainsaw, face paint and pointed teeth.
Beth continued to play with his hair and bite his ear lobe while the movie played on. Roy reached for her several times but she kept slipping away, still giggling.
All at once, the woman on TV was screaming; Roy jumped. She ran down a dark street in the middle of nowhere, one shoe off. The fat fucker from the truck, now dressed in the rubber apron, was tearing after her with the smoke-belching chainsaw. The buzzing sound was so loud it must have startled him awake. Had he dozed off? God, he hoped not.
Beth, who had been doing something behind him, stepped around the couch and in front of the screen.
“Welcome back, lover,” she said as she smiled. She was naked and Roy could see the outline of her breasts in the dim light coming from the TV. He moved to get up, but she quickly straddled him and kissed his lips. Her face felt greasy like she was wearing too much makeup. Maybe she’d donned that sexy costume she’d worn for him the other night…
Roy smiled and kissed her painted lips. She bit his in return and he pulled away sharply.
“Beth, dammit, that hurt.”
She didn’t say anything, but let out another of those purring giggles; it was starting to annoy him. She seemed to laugh at everything that got under his skin.
Roy ran his tongue over his lip and tasted blood.
“My frigging lip is bleeding.” Roy tried to free his hands so he could find out how badly it was split.
“I know,” she said. He could feel the whisper of a smile dance across her lips.
“I’m done with this game, Beth. If you want to mess around, I’m all for it, but that last bite hurt.” He could hear the whine in his own voice; he doubted they’d be having sex tonight. He wanted to get the lights back on and turn off the television.
He reached for the remote but Beth grabbed his hand. She kissed his inner wrist, letting her lips caress the soft flesh of his arm. She stopped at his bicep. Roy’s anger faded as he closed his eyes and drifted on waves of seductive pleasure.
Just as he surrendered completely, searing pain ripped through his muscles. Beth was tearing his arm to shreds with what felt like some sort of garden tool from Hell.
Beth screamed along with him, then lapped up at the blood pouring down his forearm.
Roy struggled to get out from under her but was pinned in place. It felt like a three hundred pound weight rested on his chest.
Roy thrashed around and tried to free his other arm; his leg connected hard with the coffee table.
“What the fuck?” Roy screamed. He glared up at her dimly lit silhouette trying to understand what was happening. Beth just giggled and started on his chest. She held an insanely large knife that she continually nicked him with as she cut the buttons from his shirt one by one. Her smile looked utterly demented.
“You know how in those movies it’s always the man that gets to be the clown and it’s the woman who’s always chopped into little pieces?” She started to stab at his chest, thrusting the blade in about two or three inches, then pulling it back out again. Each time it pierced his skin, Roy screamed louder and her laughter intensified.
“In this movie, it’s the other way around.” She cackled, her face now fully distorted. She stopped long enough to lick blood off the tip of the knife before she began another round.
Roy struggled to breathe. He gasped, feeling like a fish yanked out of water. His face began to turn a deep purple as blood dripped from the corners of his mouth.
“Oh dear. I must have hit a lung… let’s see what kind of damage I did with my little knife,” Beth said, tittering in his face. She shifted her weight down a bit and pulled open the tattered remains of his shirt and tie.
“If you died too fast, nobody would ever watch the movie. We need to make it last a little longer,” she said and produced a scalpel. “I know this hurts, but I have to admit, it excites the hell out of me, if you know what I mean, lover.” She winked at him.
Roy tried to scream as she drew the blade down his chest to his belly button. He was helpless to do anything other than watch as she ripped his chest open.
“I can see your heart, Roy. You said I could have it, right?” She giggled insanely while she tugged at his rib cage.
As the sound of her deranged laughter peeled through his brain, his last thought fired—I fucking hate clowns.
~ Christopher A. Liccardi
© Copyright 2016 Christpher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved
Plunging the blade deep into the abdominal cavity, I drive it upward until I hit the xiphoid process. Twisting slightly to my right, I skirt the sternum and slice through the costal cartilage attaching the ribs to the breastplate. Careful not to puncture the internal organs, I stop my upward motion at the manubrium. Drawing the sharpened metal along the topside of the upper-most rib, I listen to the harsh breathing. Returning to the original point of entry, I pause, then again thrust into and through the abdominal wall, swiftly separating the flesh and muscle from the body’s left side.
Laying the knife on the tray, I reach down and peel the cavity open with a great deal of force. A slight groan escapes amongst the pops and rending sounds as the connective tissue still in place rips away to reveal the fluttering heart. A marvelous thing the human body, a machine designed by the hand of a master; a fragile balance struck with a sadistic keeper.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
An Ensemble of Worms
Barbara reveled in the music of suffering—the most classical of symphonies. The limbless, mutilated houses for the soul writhed in their own excreta as they sang agonized tunes. Such instruments, she thought, my delightful chorus of worms.
She walked through the field of screaming torsos wrapped in barbed wire. She inspected each one to see that it contributed to the melody her beautiful creatures conducted together. If they became too weak to vocalize their pain, only then would she cut the chords from their throats. Tired and dried up notes had to be snuffed out to maintain quality; anything less would be unacceptable to her listeners.
She wondered what played in their heads, if they remembered her face before the eyes were removed. She liked to think so; it spawned a warm satisfaction between her thighs to think of all those minds imagining her at once.
Innumerable red eyes blinked in the darkness of the tree line. They’re watching, she thought, bemused by her audience. They always watch.
At the edge of the field she came across a straggler who’d rolled himself away from the rest of the group. She tied a rope around his neck as he gummed her arm with a toothless mouth.
“You silly thing,” she said with a laugh. “Why do you think everyone has their teeth removed?”
She dragged the body to reunite it with the rest. After undoing the rope, she pressed her foot against his chest. Razor sharp barbs sunk deeper into his flesh and got him singing again.
Pleased with her work, she sat on the damp grass and stared into the forest. The glowing eyes blinked out one by one, her congregation of shadows lulled to sleep with the musical wailing of her ensemble of worms.
~ Lee A. Forman
Granny always told me to eat.
She looked after me, Granny did, the only real family I knew. I had one, a family that was, but Poppa never paid me no heed, caught up in better things the way he always was. And Momma, she wanted herself a pretty boy she could preen after, but I never wanted no part of that. So Momma turned her back on me, except when it came time to bring the belt down. She gave me the whippings cause Poppa couldn’t be bothered, so busy the way he was. I honestly can’t remember when they disowned me, when they kicked me out.
Granny took me in. She looked after me, became my family, my everything. She did me right, so I made sure to do her proud. Good woman, my Granny, doing the little things, the big things. One thing she loved to do for me, and that was cook.
Eat. Eat, she always told me.
So I did.
My Granny, I learned a few things from her. Wise, wise lady, she was. Don’t know where she got it from. She talked to Grandpa more times than not, asking for strength. I never did meet my Grandpa. He came home from the great war in a box. Pieces of him, anyhow. Still, I guess he listened, cause she’d ask for that strength, then I’d see her, eyes wider than the muffin tops she’d bake me. She’d move round the house fast, like she’d been plugged into an outlet. Granny, always doing little things, the big things for me. What else could I do but make her proud?
Granny always told me to eat.
I was a big kid. Then I became a bigger kid. Granny, she told me pay no mind to those jokes, those catcalls from the other kids. They don’t know nothin from nothin, she’d say to me. They make fun cause you big? Pfft. They should wait and see, wait and see. One thing about my Granny, she taught me to take the high road. Taught me there’s no use in messing with the low.
Something else I learned about my Granny, she had a nasty streak about her. Never put it on me, mind you, but I could see it, right there, crossing her face like a storm in late July. She’d get still, real still, like a stray cat when it knows you seen it walking through your yard. She’d only get that way when I’d ask if she thought my folks were ever going to come back for me. If Momma and Poppa were ever going to take me back home.
You are home, she’d spit from her lips, then get to her cooking, mixing and blending, talking to Grandpa all the while.
Eat. Eat, she always told me, so I did.
I came in from school one day. Took awhile. Walk wasn’t far but I couldn’t move my legs all that fast. Thunder thighs, the kids all called me, but Granny, she just said I got legs of the gods. Came in, found Granny waiting, her face real long, those eyes of hers still wide as muffin tops but black as if they’d been baked too long. Baked until burnt. You hungry, boy, she said to me, you hungry, cause I know you study hard and them books you carry weigh a ton.
Granny moved to a big old pot on the stove, started stirring and stirring. Stirring through something thick. Real thick. The counter, her apron, all covered in sauce.
Been thinkin on this, she said to me, been thinkin on this a lot. Me and your Grandpa agree. We ain’t got no right, ain’t got no right keepin you from your folks. I ain’t gonna do that no more. No more. You can have your folks.
You can have your folks.
I looked at my Granny’s face. That late July storm rolled over her, then like that it was gone. I didn’t know what to say.
Granny motioned to that big old pot.
Eat. Eat, she always told me.
So I did.
~ Joseph A. Pinto
Of Course I Agreed
I peeled back the nail on my thumb because he told me to. Tears streamed down my cheeks and pain like I’d never felt before coursed up my arm. I wanted to scream, but he told me I couldn’t. So I didn’t.
When the fingernail was off, I handed it to him. He licked it, then placed it in his mouth with a smile.
Next, he told me to take off my glasses and move my face closer to his. I wanted to squirm away, but couldn’t find the willpower. I removed my glasses and did as he asked. I extended my neck as far as it would go. He licked first one eye then the other.
He said he liked brown eyes.
He turned his head slightly and began sucking on my left eye. At first the pressure was slight but then it intensified and I could feel my eye starting to move in the socket. Again, ripping pain flashed through me, but all I could do was leak tears. The sucking sound from his mouth got louder, then ‘pop’.
He said he liked my heart and asked if he could have it. Of course I agreed. I couldn’t disagree if I wanted to.
The creature lifted a single clawed finger and ran it down my chest. The sensation was cold at first, then the burning started. In an instant, I thought I was on fire.
He put his hands on my chest and began to pull it apart. Anguish like nothing I’d ever felt before wracked my body. I wanted to die. He asked me if I wanted to see it, my hear that was. Of course I agreed.
Death came much slower than I hoped it would.
~ Christopher A. Liccardi
One Bullet Left
Jake’s family lay quietly in the corner of the room, piled in a heap like unfolded laundry. The house hadn’t been this quiet in years. The .45 in his trembling hand felt heavier than the guilt he knew he would carry for the rest of his life. No matter.
You can’t undo what’s been done, he thought.
With only one bullet left, his choice was clear. Raising the .45 in his right hand and the nearly empty bottle of Jack Daniels in his left, he winced and swallowed the last gulp until the burning subsided in his throat. Click.
The gun fell to the floor, closely followed by the empty bottle which shattered when it struck the tile.
Jake stumbled his way out of the room, his bare feet crunching in the shards of glass.
“I never liked that dog.”
~ Craig McGray
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016
There was a scratching on the glass that roused her from light sleep. At this stage she was so uncomfortable and so preoccupied with thoughts of the birth that she rarely got much real sleep at all. It was her first baby.
Again there came a peculiar scratching noise. Sam sighed and slowly rolled herself into a sitting position. Her extended belly, taught and round, nestled between her thighs. She looked around the dim room, disorientated for a moment. It was late at night and she could hear the rumble of the television downstairs, her husband was probably watching a movie. She rubbed her temples; she had a headache.
There was another sound at the window. This time it was a soft tap, tap, tap. She frowned. Pushing herself up carefully, she waddled to the window and pulled the curtain back, peering into the quiet suburban night. At first all seemed perfectly normal but then she noticed it, nestled amongst the bare branches of a nearby tree, a bird. A monstrously huge bird. She stared at it confused, her mind was heavy and foggy. The bird turned to face her, large yellow eyes stared back. It had a long beak and large wings folded around its body. The bird unfurled its wings, stretching them wide. The sound of their flapping was a dense vibration in the night. The creature had the body of a woman, with small pointed breasts and long pale legs, large clawed feet curled the thick branch.
Sam watched the strange bird woman for a while, emotionless, wondering if she was actually dreaming, until a sudden stabbing pain in her lower belly made her groan and clutch herself in fear. When she looked up the bird woman had disappeared but the sharp pangs continued. She began shouting her husband’s name.
Nothing was left to chance, they had planned everything to the last detail. The best doctor, the best hospital, but chance was not the only force at play.
Sam squeezed and pushed and panted, her face swollen red.
The nurse patted her arm, her husband talked into her ear.
“‘You’re doing really well!” he said cheerfully.
In between contractions that blinded and winded her, Sam fell back onto the pillows gasping. She heard that sound again, tap tap tap on glass. Hovering close, outside at the large window, a dark form, wide yellow eyes pinned on her. Sam watched as the creature stretched her black wings and paced, she seemed excited or perhaps anxious. Nobody else seemed to notice. Sam tried to say something about the birdwoman but then she launched into another contraction.
The birth went without complications. After a few days she returned home, her tiny joy bundled in white. It was a little girl, they named her Amy. The memory of the birdwoman and her piercing gaze haunted her, but Sam was relieved the birth was over with and just wanted to get some sleep.
Her daughter had different ideas. She refused to be put down. The moment she was laid in her plush pink and white crib she began to wail and no amount of rocking or cooing would make her stop until she was picked up again. For a week Sam’s husband and mother were around to help and tend to Amy while Sam got some rest. Then they both had to return to work and Sam spent the days alone, jiggling and patting and pacing with her baby attached. She slumped in the armchair in front of the television, with Amy on her chest, still suckling. Sometimes she managed to put Amy down for a brief moment and make a cup of tea or have a shower before the baby began to cry again. She loaded the pram with all the essentials and went for walks around the neighbourhood. Amy seemed to like the pram on some days. Other days she didn’t like the pram at all and Sam pushed her along as she cried, pausing now and then to plug her mouth with a dummy. Sam avoided stopping for small talk with neighbours who lost all composure at the sight of her newborn baby. They gushed and swooned and giggled. It made her feel guilty. Sam always politely excused herself and hurried off, anxious. Something was wrong. Something was wrong with her. She was not a good mother.
The birdwoman was always there. And every night, while her husband patiently tried to put Amy to sleep, Sam sat in bed with the covers tucked under her chin, listening for sounds of her. She always came at the same hour, scratching against glass, tap tap tap. It was a little frightening but Sam was certain she couldn’t enter the house and in the morning she would be gone. Maybe the birdwoman was there to help her, or to give her a message, she wondered, and then she was surprised by such odd thoughts. Sometimes she spied through the lace curtains, trying to stand out of view, and watched the birdwoman perched in the large tree outside. The birdwoman sat silently, her head tucked under one of her wings, her feathers ruffled against the cold night air. But when she turned to stare at Sam, her yellow eyes like mirrors in the night, Sam’s heart would begin to pound. She would pull the curtains closed and rush away into bed. She looked over at her husband, snoring lightly beside her, and wondered if she should tell him about the birdwoman. He looked so pale and exhausted himself, with dark circles around his eyes and rough stubble on his face. Sam felt anger bubble inside her and she glared at the crib, which for a short while remained silent.
The truth is Sam had known something was wrong on the way home from the hospital. Why wasn’t she overjoyed, beaming with happiness and pride over her perfect newborn daughter? Why did she look at her baby and feel only that sinking dread, a dread that seemed to fall deeper and deeper into nothingness as the days passed? Those tiny little curled fists, ten miniature toes, the soft creases of delicate eyelids, the dusty creaminess of newborn skin; these things should make her giddy with wonder and joy but they evoked nothing in her.
She remembered how happy she and her husband were when she was first pregnant, but soon after a coldness had settled over her. It was a thick sheet that muted the world, only the vague suggestion of things remained. The coldness had taken root, just like the foetus in her womb, growing day by day. Maybe they were one and the same, she didn’t know, she couldn’t tell. She carried life and death at the same time. She struggled through the pregnancy. When she mentioned her doubts and fears people nodded sympathetically. It’s all very normal, they said, with all those hormones going up and down.
After the birth the coldness was not purged as she hoped it would be. Amy was born in gushes of hot blood and mucous but the coldness remained embedded inside. The birdwoman knew, and she understood. Whenever Sam was caught in her gaze she felt ashamed. The birdwoman could read her most private, unspeakable thoughts.
One night, when Amy was less than a month old, Sam woke to find herself sprawled on the couch. She didn’t remember falling asleep. The television was on, with the volume turned down. The house was very quiet, a heavy and peculiar silence. Sam remembered that she was home alone as her husband was working out of town for a few days. She hurried upstairs to check on Amy.
At the bedroom door she froze, startled by what she saw. The birdwoman was standing by the crib, singing softly to Amy. She sang in the language of birds, her voice rising and falling. Amy was awake, both her little hands reached up for the strange woman. Tiny pink fingers curled around old withered skin tipped with long talons.
Sam stepped into the room, not frightened anymore but excited to be so close to this creature. She was very tall. Her powerful wings were folded behind her and swept the floor.
Sam tried to speak but when the birdwoman turned, those yellow eyes gleaming, her sharp beak poised open, all words dropped away.
A choir of bird song erupted in the room.
“It is time. I have come for her. She is mine.”
Sam walked over to the crib and looked down at her daughter. The baby gazed up at them both, content and peaceful.
Sam picked up her baby and began rocking her slowly in her arms, for the first time she genuinely smiled at her. At last she realized the intimate and profound bond she shared with her child.
Huge black wings, of coarse and ancient feathers, opened and stretched across her vision, filling the room, wrapping Sam and her daughter in a shroud of darkness. For a moment they were hidden from all the worlds as the pact was made.
~ Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.