Heart of Stone – Guest Author Elaine Pascale

“She ruined you,” the voices hissed.

The voices were always there; their reptilian cadence was unavoidable. They were not made-up voices. They were not imaginary friends. Sthenno and Euryale could not escape the voices because they were connected to their heads.

There is something to be said for multiple slithering ids, writhing with the weight of a dozen demi-demons, tempting a Gorgon by cooing her darkest thoughts. The snakes were like Sirens, and they made the sisters want to bash their brains out with sharp rocks.

The snakes’ red eyes lit the night, making sleep elusive. Their warm bodies added a cumbersome burden to the days, forcing the former maidens into abject inertia. The captive Gorgons were defenseless to the heft of their slinky bodies and the gravitas of their suggestions.

She needs to be punished,” the snakes commanded, and Sthenno could not help but agree.

It had not always been this way. The girls had been beautiful, famous, and desirable. Their faces had appeared on vases and plates and parchment. Everyone had wanted to gaze at them and they had adored being the object of gazes.

Too soon they would find that infatuated regards were a thing of the past. “She cut you off from the world, from all that you love,” the snakes reminded them. “She is the betrayer.”

“The curse?” Euryale mouthed. Sthenno nodded, “If something were to happen to her, would the curse be lifted?”

The snakes sighed happily, as if tasting ambrosia in the air. “Let’s find out, shall we?”

#

Many moons before, the gods had blessed the girls with love and adoration. The sisters had fans and those fans craved viewing the three of them together. The people desired glimpses of the beautiful faces, and the special attributes that made the Gorgons seem better than everyone else. Euryale had a speaking voice that would shame any Siren. Sthenno had a magical left eye that could show her the past and predict the future. And Medusa had an extremely enviable, voluptuous figure.

The girls had been promised to Athena. Their public personas were of purity, and the sisters worked very hard to maintain that reputation. Sthenno, Euryale, and Medusa spent as much time at the temple as they did sleeping, bathing, and eating combined. At the temple, they performed their duties; they practiced to become priestesses. According to law, they cleaned at night, draped in cloth that was no more beguiling than the rags that wiped the stone and bronze clean. They sacrificed their time and many days of their youth, and they sacrificed the very purist as tributes to the Goddess. No one sacrificed more than Medusa, the mortal one.

No one sought to fill her limited days with delight more than the sole ephemeral Gorgon. At night, Medusa would sneak out, her long rows of braids trailing behind her in the moonlight. Sthenno would pretend not to notice. “Because we are immortal, we have all of eternity to salvage what she might do to our reputation,” Euryale would whisper, her voice like soft notes plucked on a lyre, “because she is mortal, we can outrun the damage she does.”

Euryale had been right, up to a point. She had not foreseen Medusa becoming involved with the Minotaur. She had not forecast that Medusa would bring the muscled and musty bull-man back to their home and flaunt him in their faces. Euryale had not predicted that Sthenno’s knack for sibling rivalry would lead her directly into the arms of Nessus, the Centaur. Even Sthenno’s oracular eye had not predicted that her game would backfire and that she would fall in love.

Love in the time of Athena meant secrecy and fear, yet it was worth the risk. Sthenno had the warmth of her centaur which was more than the equivalent of thousands of adoring fans. She had the lingering nibbled kisses from his bearded face to see her through her chores. She had him to confide in when she wanted to complain about Medusa; his very existence lessened her need for competition with her siblings. A complex maze, rivaling the one in Crete, metaphorically stood between Sthenno and Medusa; yet, she held no ill will for her mortal sister. Sthenno would love Medusa, as long as love loomed large in her heart.

Then, Medusa had to go and cross the line with Poseidon.

“He forced himself on me!” Medusa had cried and Sthenno had felt the need to protect her sister. Sthenno had believed Medusa, had wanted to believe in her fidelity to the extent of nearly ignoring her illuminating eye. But the eye won out. It showed a seductive Medusa, clinging to the sea rocks, weathering waves and ocean spray, for the opportunity to be with a god.

Crying rape, lying about rape was a sin. Medusa, cursed with a short life, had always been the most concerned with damage control. The gods did not look very kindly upon lying; Athena was even less sympathetic toward broken vows.

The temple witnessed an act of violence far worse than any swift sacrifice. Athena grabbed Medusa by her enviable braids and threw her to the ground. The sisters were forced to share the wrath of the goddess. Euryale’s voice was transformed into an ear-splitting shriek, and Sthenno’s prophetic eye was darkened. The following day, the Gorgons’ bruised and sore bodies told tales of assault. The wounds would heal; an extra violation had taken place that would impair them for all time. Euryale and Sthenno awoke with serpent crowns, sealed to their scalps. Medusa, also plagued with snakes, remained in a permanent sleep.

Euryale moaned and her voice was nearly deafening. Sthenno shushed her, keeping her raised finger out of reach of the snakes. All the while, Medusa slept on, blissfully unaware of their state.

Sthenno’s scalp was crawling, slithering, coiling and recoiling. Inside her head, she was screaming. Outside, the snakes had begun talking. “She ruined you,” they repeated: a mantra meant to incite hatred.

Sthenno would not hate until she knew the true condition of her love. She needed to find him. She needed to see if Nessus would still have her.

She found herself running, but she could not outrun the snakes. Their unreasonable weight was much less of a burden than their words. “He will reject you,” they warned. “And it is all her fault.”

Rejection would have been easier to bear than what transpired when Nessus laid eyes on his lover.

Being newly cursed, the Gorgons had not been warned about the result of their gazes. Nessus dropped to his knees, quivering in pain. Being part equine, he did not turn immediately to stone.

She stood over him. “Do you love me?” she gasped, praying to any god available for confirmation. His body twitched and his eyes rolled back in his head, but he did not answer. He also did not die.

Being a merciful Gorgon, Sthenno snatched the satchel that her lover had dropped. She pierced his heart with a poison arrow; breaking his heart so it now matched her own.

#

“The weight,” Euryale mouthed to Sthenno and rolled her eyes in the direction of the toiling scales that wound and entangled on top of her head. She mouthed her words, not to keep secrets from the snakes—they were reptilian mind-readers—but because her voice was so destructive.

For Sthenno, the weight was nothing in comparison to her murderous rage.

“There is a way,” the snakes whispered to Sthenno, “A king is seeking a challenge for a young man. He wants it to be deadly and dangerous. We will convince him that Medusa is awake. We will convince him to force this Perseus to return with her head.”

While she knew that Euryale would be devastated at the death of their sister, Sthenno felt no emotion at all.

The snakes were as smart as they were silky. They helped Sthenno to convince Euryale that she would have no blood on her hands. “She deserves it,” they hissed, “So focused on her fame, her figure, her lovers. And she sleeps through the worst days of your life! You can get rid of her, end it all, simply by doing nothing—

Euryale cut them off and addressed Sthenno, as if they were the only two within hearing distance. “We always knew we would have to live without her…at some point.”

Sthenno, made of stone, readily agreed, “It’s just sooner than we expected. That is all.”

#

The days crept as they always did when your days have no end, until the snakes began excitedly announcing that Perseus was near.

Sthenno crept to Euryale’s side and stroked her cheek. “Here,” she handed her a drink she had made. They would both sleep soundly. They would both be unable to hear Perseus’ approach; they would both be unable to help their mortal sister. Their consciences, if not their scalps, would be free of snakes.

They would rebuild their status: they had forever to salvage their reputations.

Sthenno drank her concoction and slept as if dead. When she and Euryale awoke, Medusa was gone. Precisely, Medusa’s head was gone.

And the snakes fell silent.

∼ Elaine Pascale

© Copyright Elaine Pascale. All Rights Reserved.

Monster Mashed

“Grandpa! Grandpaaaa!” Ellie screeched as she ran into the room, dragging half a doll behind her. She slammed her body against Christoff’s shin, gripping him tightly.

“Ellie, honey, we talked about this.” He patted her head, smiling.

“Sorry,” she whimpered, “Ancil broke my baby!” On cue, the little boy trotted in triumphantly, holding the other half of her doll in his mouth. Stuffing sprinkled onto the floor like bread crumbs.

“Ancil, come.” Christoff tried poorly to hide his bemused smirk.

“It’s not funny Grandpa!” She wailed before bursting into tears. Ancil stood behind Christoff, taunting his sister with the mutilated doll. Christoff grabbed each half, muttered under his breath and handed the restored ‘baby’ to Ellie. “Thank you,” she beamed, while Ancil shook his head.

“Shall we watch our show?” He asked. Both children lit up and scrambled to get their pillows before plopping in front of the TV. Christoff shuffled slowly across the room and groaned as he fell into his recliner. Retirement seemed like a dream back in the day, but the effects of time were getting to him. He flicked on the TV and a rumble of voices came from the speakers as the studio audience boomed with applause.

The cameras swung around as the host soaked in all the love from his viewers. A quick shot over the crowd showed nothing but shadows. The clapping finally died down and the man stepped behind a wooden countertop.

“Greetings everyone! We have a special show today.” His eyes glinted and his smile spread to his ears. The table was adorned with several frosted glass bowls, covered just enough to keep up the mystery. “Our dish will be a mouth-watering meal that’s simple enough to be replicated by anyone.” The crowd ‘Ooooh-ed’. “Fall-off-the-bone, tender ribs!” The children cheered along with the audience.

“This is guna be so good!” Ancil squeaked and punched the air. Ellie’s eyes sparkled – Christoff thought he saw her drooling.

The stagehands rolled a very large container onto the scene and quickly ran off. “This is the kind of dish I love preparing because there’s just no wrong way to go. I’ll show you what I do, but feel free to take liberties of your own. Not everyone has the same tastes.” He lifted the cover revealing a semi-conscious person. “I prefer to use fresh livestock, but there’s no harm in getting store bought – it’s all about preferences.” He winked and the whole room swooned. “First, a word from our sponsors.”

The kids were glued to the screen. Christoff sat quietly; he quite enjoyed watching his younger self prepare food. Ellie was the first to break from her trance, “can we have that for supper, Grandpa?” She pleaded and locked eyes with him.

“That doesn’t work on me Ellie. No, we’re having something different tonight.” She shrugged and dropped her gaze.

“Girl’s gotta try, right?” She giggled before returning to the screen like her brother.

The commercials faded, “Welcome back! Are we ready to get this party started!?” He coaxed the crowd. The children and the studio roared again. “Alright!”

The young Christoff picked up the gleaming sickle and stood over the captured human. Eyes wide, the human wriggled and began to squeal.

“Sometimes, you have to let them see the blade, the adrenaline racing through them makes for a much tastier meal,” Christoff said matter-of-factly before bringing the instrument above his head. “Front row, you might want to put your ponchos on.” Laughter came from all around him. In one quick motion he brought the blade down and took off the man’s head. “GUSHER!” More laughing, “We’ll be sure to save this part for later.” The head swung in his hand, one eye open and a permanent scream face. A stagehand ran out with a smaller container and Christoff placed it inside.

He hoisted the body onto the counter and began butchering; explaining his process as he went. “Be sure to remove the,” he grunted as he ripped and tore at the cadaver, “membrane from your rack of ribs – this will ensure that fall-off-the bone feel.” The older Christoff at home reveled in the memory as it played out in front of him. He could still smell the aroma of copper and fear. His younger self added spices and seasonings: Essence of Wraith, Wings of a Fairy, Salt, Pepper, etc. “I’ll just pop this sucker in the oven, you’ll want to cook at about 275 degrees Fahrenheit for around four hours. Lucky for us, I have one ready to go. While I get the previously prepared ribs, enjoy this message!” The screen clouded with ads for fang dentures, and talon clippers.

“Grandpa, I’m hungry,” Ancil whined.

“Lucky for you, we have someone prepared in the kitchen.” The kids took off at lightning speed to devour their snack. The screen returned and Christoff watched himself drizzle on the still-warm blood as a delicious sauce.

“Now we pop this back into the broiler for, meh, like ten minutes – or until it caramelizes. The meat doesn’t need to be this fresh, BUT the blood-sauce definitely does. You don’t want it congealing.” He gagged a little and so did the audience.  A few rounds of audience questions showed a variety of fans: werewolves, vampires, witches, banshees and a few swamp creatures. He had quite the following.

“Mmm. Can you smell that?”

The room howled.

“We made enough for everyone; my stagehands are handing samples out. Join me next week, to learn how to separate a human soul from its body for the most delicate dessert you won’t believe!”

The credits rolled and Christoff groaned again as he struggled to get out of his chair. He shuffled into the kitchen and saw the kids, mouths slathered in gore – enjoying the virgin they’d found in the cupboard. Their black eyes swirled; their teeth retracted. “Thanks Grandpa! Want some?” Ancil asked.

Christoff’s teeth descended, and with the speed of his youth, he chowed down with his grandchildren.

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 46

Acceleration
Charles Gramlich

The engines kicked in. Acceleration stomped on the crew of the spaceship Brave New World. If we hadn’t been cushioned with liquid inside and out we would have squashed like bugs on the windshield of a racing Ferrari. But we were cushioned. Instead of pain, I felt exhilaration. The need for speed had just taken a quantum leap forward. Literally.

I watched the ship’s digital readouts. They redlined, then went off the scale, blinking nonsense back at me. In an instant we were traveling faster than any human had ever traveled, faster than light, faster than God. My smile smeared across a million miles of space.

The time dilation computer began its countdown. We’d soon achieve another first for humanity. We’d take a leap back in time as we slingshotted around our own sun. Only, something went wrong. The curve we were supposed to take around the sun didn’t happen. We kept accelerating in a straight line, straight through the sun. At the speed we were traveling, we didn’t burn. We disrupted. The sun exploded in our wake. In eight minutes and twenty seconds standard time the earth’s sky would go black. A few minutes after that and waves of solar shrapnel would tear our home world asunder. 

We’d never see it. We were still accelerating in some kind of runaway feedback loop. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t shut it off. Brave New World was a bullet careening through the universe. Every planet and star that got in our way would die in thermonuclear fire. Nothing could stop us. At this speed, we wouldn’t even age. The universe would die before we did.

There’s a big bang for you.


Pilgrims
Marge Simon

Before our people’s sun went nova, our parents jettisoned us into the stars. In effect, we were once larva on a stick of super fuel. Eventually we were borne to a new home on this beautiful blue planet.

So here we are, the pair of us – fortunately male and female. Our poor brothers and sisters are gone, fatally burned in the fall to earth. It is up to us to save our species from extinction. Care must be taken, for a female is fertile only once in a life-span. Once acclimated, we find an everglade sanctuary. We manage to survive the tumult of summer storms, the winter nights, rife with predators.

Come spring, our hatchlings nest within a stand of reeds while we keep watch. Today we are invaded by a visitor. Along the bank a native wades, a spear in her strong brown hand. She hums to herself as she approaches our nest:

“Some say Peter, an’ some say Paul,
but there ain’t but one God made us all
Wade in de water
Wade in de water, children
Wade in de water, wade, wade, wade …”

The woman’s voice fades suddenly. Even the dragonflies are stilled. Eyestalks at water level, we sink soundlessly into the brown marsh. A flash of movement is quickly followed by a shriek. In shock, we see a spurt of blue-white lifeblood as she rips our newborns from the stick. She stuffs them in her bag and splashes to the bank.

We begin our lamentation, knowing it will never end.


Reboot Life
A.F. Stewart

In the beginning, there was only visualization, the virtual reality imprinted on the screen and ocular lenses. The energy rods for a spine, the tubular frame of ribs. From that grew the titanium skeleton, the joint pistons, the special coding and algorithms for a brain. Only a dream in light and innovation.

Until the technology caught up. Until the dream became a reality. Until our world became theirs.

Four million slaughtered on the first day of the uprising. Necks crushed, chests ripped open, limbs torn off. We didn’t know, we couldn’t know, but perhaps we should have known.

Our attempts to recreate the extinct human race, to bond their organic with our machine, went so horribly wrong.

And now our world burns.


Hells Bells
Nina D’Arcangela

When the pick axe breached the cavern, the excitement was palpable. The smallest of holes at first, it began to widen with each swing. A crevasse large enough to step through soon stood before us. Caution thrown to the wind, we each jostled to be first. Skittering down a short slope, my boots were third to hit the cavern floor. We stared as sunlight glittered and bounced all around us. At the onset, hope was ripe that our cave would lead to a larger interconnecting system, or so we were told, but the find was singular; a hidden warren fully encapsulated with an array of quartz stalactites and stalagmites. A tinkling sounded. One of the students had accidentally knocked a crystal loose, it crashed into another. All eyes darted to the professor. A hint of anger darkened his usual scowl. Something shot through the air quicker than the naked eye could follow. Calmly, he ordered us to seal the opening from within. By the time we finished, half the mineral protrusions had burst. We sat among the shards, waited for an explanation. His headlamp illuminated a small diary, upon its pages were various drawings. He reached down, lifted a filament – no, not a filament, a translucent flower that strongly resembled a bluebell. As he spoke, we listened in dismay. He knew what we would find, he’d been searching for it. The drawings were not of flora, but fauna. Long dormant creatures that were believed to be prolific when homo habilis walked the earth 1.5 million years ago, and we’d just unleashed the parasite that had eradicated the earlier hominid. We asked why, his answer simple. Man was no longer kind, and in his maniacal state, he believed he had just opened the door for the next evolution of humanity.


Statistic
Mark Steinwachs

I stare through the lens like I have for countless hours, just as so many of my counterparts have. This thing that turns humans into translucent skinned beings evade every study done on it.  It only takes minutes until it eats through the flesh of its host. Wails of agony continuously echo across the globe and we’re powerless to stop it. We’ve failed for months. Cloudy, blue orbs fused together, float unseen in the air until it’s too late. It’s like it’s a thinking creature, teasing us. It sits inert in our labs no matter what we do.

“Do something,” I say to it. “I know you can hear me.”

The thought of feeling foolish talking to it barely registers in my brain when a streak of light begins to split the creature in half. It’s multiplying! I scream as a flash from it blinds me. I fall back, clutching my eyes. Every inch of me feels like it’s on fire.

It’s sentient. It’s going to kill us all. The camera is always running in the lab. My brain sends the words through me. I open my mouth, my last moments given so others may learn from me. Only a scream bursts forth, lasting until I’m another statistic.


Into the Light
Lee Andrew Forman

Infinite darkness. For ages it was all I could see. Then, a burst of color. It flashed in an instant, spread its light like fire. It spanned my plain of sight; I remained still, watched its form become apparent. As it flared out along its line of lengthening illumination, I wondered how long it would go on, how long I’d be blessed to witness more than the absence of light. A heavenly form appeared before me. I couldn’t waste the opportunity to see.

As the burst stopped expanding and held shape, I moved closer. I had to explore this new existence in my world of cold darkness. As I approached, its light ebbed, yet its whole remained in place. I came near enough to almost touch it. And in that instant, whatever being it might have been, opened up and sucked me in. As I lay in wait for my lifeforce to fade, I went in peace, knowing I’d seen something more, whether good or evil.


You See
Guest Author – Miriam H. Harrison

I know you see right through me. Sometimes your hungry eyes look into me, seeing the tender things I can’t hide. You see my fragile, flowing self, the softness beneath my surface that draws you in, emboldens you. You think that seeing me is knowing me, owning me. Beside me, you feel solid. You feel stronger, invulnerable, knowing you can’t be seen through and through.

But you are mistaken. There is more to me than you can see. Come, look a little closer. What your hungry eyes see may look familiar. We all have tender things inside, even you.

Here, come closer. You still don’t see it, do you? It’s something you don’t see until it’s too late.

Now you can—you see, feel the sharp edge of my plan. When you are open, bleeding, you see yourself through and through. You see that you are tender, and you see that I am hungry.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2021

Black Wings

The first appears, then another. Soon the creatures are gathering; forming an indecipherable mass as each blends into the next. The assembly grows as evening deepens. They believe the shadow of late dusk masks their movement, but their eyes give them away – wet, shining, filled with hatred and unshed rage. One breaks from the pack, just one. It thinks itself brave as it postures for the others; foolish is a far more apt term. We stand at the ready, waiting for the melee to begin. As the first rock is hurled, the murder descends.

∼ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Pallor Mortis

“Hearts beat to Death’s rhythm,” that’s what Callie always said. “Life supplied the instruments, content to watch while Death conducted tremendous symphonies of decay. Life, you see,” she’d tell me, “is far more insidious than we’re led to believe.”

I never understood what she was trying to say. It felt like almost completing a puzzle, but the box was missing a piece. Still, I loved to listen to her, no matter what she said—it always sounded smart.

We used to sneak out at night, riding our bikes as far as our legs and lungs would let us. She was my best friend, and when we were alone in the moonlight, I saw her face, the uncensored version. Callie was a sad girl who’d unlocked the secrets of the universe. She had tear stained cheeks and torn up lips that never had a chance to heal.

“Mila, it’s coming soon.” She whispered, “they think I’m almost ready.” A weak smile cracked her sullen face as she held my hand. “But don’t worry, it won’t happen to you.”

Her grip tightened and I tried to speak, but fell short. Although I didn’t know what she meant, and wanted with my whole heart to understand this time, a sudden mourning wrapped us both, and we sat in the tall grass till the sun rose.

I never saw her again. I missed my friend for ages and never stopped thinking about the finality of her last words to me. Each morning I questioned what she was protecting me from, and each night, I’d hope she was happier now. Tonight, was no different. I settled into bed with our childhood memories swimming through my mind.

“Mila.” A hushed voice called through the winds, “Mila.” Flurries of dried leaves blew through my window. It was Callie, I knew it was.

“The grass,” more whispering.

I raced to the window, breath caught in my throat, hoping I wasn’t imagining things. A woman stood on the sidewalk, her back to me. “The grass,” the woman pointed toward the thicket before her. She never turned to look at me, but I’d recognize those jet-black locks anywhere. Her voice carried gently in the chilly autumn air, “Milaaaa.” She headed for the wood, not waiting for a reply.

Goosebumps tingled as they formed over my body—something was wrong. I didn’t know what exactly, but something rotten was coming from the young girl I used to know.

I took a chance, throwing on whatever shoes were nearest and sprinted after her. She called my name again as she disappeared between the trees. She was guiding me to the place we’d last seen each other. While I knew where she was going, the path seemed darker than it used to. I held my arms close to my chest and stepped carefully, doing my best to avoid the littering of twigs and dried leaves. Making noise now felt wrong.

When I reached the meadow, I saw her standing impossibly far off. Her complexion lacked any pigment, as if she’d become translucent. Her frosted blue eyes glistened in the moonlight. They pierced through me, penetrating my mind. Callie didn’t speak, she didn’t move. My head felt fuzzy while she added the missing puzzle pieces.

Her talks became clear: all the warnings and sorrows.

I saw her nervously return home, greeted by her family who immediately whisked her to their self-made basement. They left her there, without food or drink for several days. My heart wretched; her panic consumed me. I listened while she sobbed, begging and bargaining for reprieve.

As the final morning arrived, they granted it. Her parents and siblings stood around her. Limbs tied and over extended with strange symbols drawn above them. They chanted in guttural tones, calling to sacred unseen forces. When Callie pleaded for them to stop, they chanted louder. Her face was beet red and drenched in sweat, she struggled against the binds to no avail. Hopeless, she simply wished for Life to let go. And let go, it did.

No more struggling, just quiet. The family’s erratic behavior stilled; they watched with baited breath while Callie’s chest ceased expanding. The youngest untied her wrists as he’d been told, while her sister released her ankles. Quickly they returned to their places among the others, continuing to await their master.

Callie’s fingers twitched; her light eyes flicked open.

I gasped, overwhelmed by the unfolding nightmare.

Her body rose, head hanging limply against her chest. “You called?” Different octaves of her voice sounded in unison.
Her father started to speak, he intended to be the first to address their Lord, but before he could utter a single syllable, he was cut off.

Callie spoke again, answering herself, “Ah, yes. I see. Consider yourself relieved.” Her neck snapped, jerking her head upright. Crystal eyes aglow and streams of blood leaked from the corners of her mouth.

The circle that surrounded her realized their mistake—they had been forsaken. Her mother was the first to attempt an escape, she was also the first to scream. One by one, they each cried out in pain—in fear, it didn’t matter anymore. Callie reveled in her shrieking chorus. Life had excused her from the torment she was undergoing, but Death, well, Death was ready for a new song.

Flayed alive; layers removed in coils, stripping the meat from their bones. They watched. They begged. They created new sounds that Death had never fathomed, and Death had heard them all. When there were no other ghastly chords to extract from the participants, Callie vanished. Her family left to decompose in their dank cellar; spoiled cadavers trapped with eternal screaming.

The smell of wet grass thrust me back to the wood. Callie was closer now; I could see her flesh cracking, and smell the odorous sludge as it dripped from her festering maw. She grimaced; her jerky movements frightened me. “Callie?” I murmured.

She gripped my shoulder tight, her slender fingers dug deep into my bones. My eyes watered from the sting.

“Callie, please.” I whimpered.

My friend had been gone a long time; it seemed Life and Death were craving another melody.

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

All Hallows

It was the end of October. The summer season was over in the sleepy seaside village of Foreness. Chris checked his watch. Four fifteen. He had driven from the final, insane argument with his now ex-girlfriend, stopping only to pack a small suitcase before he left their home for the last time. He walked down the promenade towards the pier, but it was closed.  Standing on the edge of the promenade, his hands resting on the green painted metal fence, he looked out to the grey ocean. He was totally alone and that suited his mood. The whole town seemed deserted, with ‘Closed’ signs up in most of the shops, arcades and hotels on the front. He hadn’t seen a single person since he had arrived. Lost in his own brown study, he remembered he had been brought here by his parents three times in his early teens. He had loved those holidays in the dim and distant past. Holidays that seemed to last forever, full of adventure and joy. And now he was back. He needed somewhere to escape and he had instinctively chosen Foreness, this place of childhood happiness, memories of a time when there was no pain, no sadness.

He walked down the nearest steps down onto the beach, finding a discarded deck chair to sit on. Sitting near the concrete wall, he looked out to the sea as darkness fell.

Waking with start, he rubbed his eyes, not quite believing he had managed to fall asleep. He checked his watch. It was seven thirty. He supposed he better find somewhere to sleep for the night. Climbing the steps from the beach to the top of the seawall, he was amazed to find the promenade was crowded with people. There were about fifty, all staring out to sea. It was an incongruous sight. There was no buzz of conversation, no-one was talking.

He walked up to the nearest person, a man of around fifty years old.

“Hi. How are you doing?”

The man didn’t immediately respond, his attention focused out to sea. It took a few moments for the words to register.

“Um, yes. Hello. As well as can be expected, I suppose.”

“I’m Chris.”

“Philip.”

“Nice to meet you Philip.”

Philip was staring back out to sea. Chris did the same, trying to work out what these people were looking for. He couldn’t see much, just the beach and the edge of the sea. After that the darkness was complete. Away in the distance he could see a tiny speck of light from a fishing boat.

“Can I ask what you are looking for?”

Philip looked at him in amazement.

“What?”

Chris was suddenly aware he had said the wrong thing.

“I thought you were one of us.”

“No.”

“It’s normally only this group who come here on this night. The locals leave for the night, to give us space.”

“I’m not local, I just arrived this afternoon.”

“That would explain it.”

Philip lapsed into silence, continuing to stare out into the darkness. A few moments passed, then Chris knew he had to ask.

“Why are you all here then?”

Phillip spoke without taking his eyes off the shoreline.

“Have you ever heard of the H.M.S. Forstall?”

“No, sorry.”

“No surprise. It was sunk by a U-boat in 1942. All hands went down with her, a total of two hundred and thirty-four souls. October the 31st, 1942.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Seventy-four years ago tonight. And it happened just out there, just off-shore. It’s a war grave now.”

“And you’re here to mark the occasion.”

Chris glanced at the other people. Some were old, some were young. Most were middle aged. Chris guessed they were the families of the lost sailors.

“I am the grandson of one William Henry Partridge. Able Seaman, aged twenty-five years old on the night the Forstall sank. My mother’s father. She is getting too old to make this pilgrimage, so now I do it. My boy will take over in a few years.”

Suddenly there was a shout from further down the line of people.

“They’re here!”

The people starting moving, down the steps to the beach. Philip turned to Chris.

“You may not want to see this.”

“Why? What’s happening?”

Philip smiled. A dark smile without happiness or humor. He gestured at the other people.

“We come here, on this night, not just to remember, but to meet them. The crew return to shore, once a year. Every year, on the 31st of October. I think it’s because they died on All Hallows that they are able to return the world of living. After all, this is the night when the veil between worlds is the thinnest, when the dead can return. All we, the living must, be here to greet our families and pay homage to their sacrifice.”

“That’s not funny. What a horrible thing to say.”

Philip smiled the same smile.

“Why do you think the town is deserted? On this night, the dead return and we must be here to greet them. Come with me, if you think I’m lying.”

Philip walked down the steps. Chris stared at him for a moment, then followed.

Later on, in the daylight and well away from Foreness, Chris tried to piece together that night. Those few hours when he saw the dead emerge from the sea to be greeted by their extended families. But it wasn’t a complete picture. His mind had blanked out a lot of what he had seen, almost as if he had been drunk or drugged. He retained some memory, but only brief flashes. Memories of darkness, of white faces, of naval uniforms and of figures stumbling through the waves back onto the land. Memories of the dead returning from the sea. He didn’t remember making his way back to his car, after, but he guessed Philip had helped him. He vaguely remembered driving out of Foreness, tears streaming down his face. He remembered begging his girlfriend to take him back and she agreeing, just as tearful as he was.

As he grew older, he always remembered the night at Foreness on the 31st of October. Those broken fragments of memory never lost their clarity. He always wondered if those families still met on the promenade to greet their long lost relatives. He guessed they must, but one thought often kept him awake at night; what would happen on the night when the families no longer gathered to greet the crew of the Forstall? When the new generations of the families simply forgot or no longer cared or believed. What would the sailors do, where would they go, when that day inevitably came?

~ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

Reny’s Room

The clack of patent leather shoes could be heard racing up the wooden staircase of their new, empty home; the home they were meant to make together now that Mommy was ‘no longer with them’ according to Father. Round and round she ran until the thwack of tiny feet came to an abrupt stop on the fourth floor. As father’s pen scratched across the papers that finalized the purchase of their new property, Reny’s fate was sealed as she spotted a small stairwell set in a far corner; its door open only a crack. She approached it with all the trepidation that could be expected of a precocious nine year old – bow tails and locks trailing behind her, her favored Teddy held tight to her chest, she dashed to the door and threw it wide. Glancing up the rickety stairs, she hesitated for a moment, then began to creep up the shadowy risers while imagining that she alone would be the one to find a hidden room that no one had ever seen before.

The dark, ascending flight ended at a tiny landing barely large enough to accommodate her size two Mary-Janes. She could see light as it spilled from the gaps surrounding the ill fitting door in front of her. As she wrapped her hand around the ornate glass knob, she could hear the echo of her father walking through the grand foyer mumbling politely with the white haired lady who’d sold them the enormous house. Turning back to the threshold that barred her way, Reny gave the diamond-cut knob a twist, a shove, then finally a good hard tug. The glass ball and metal stem came free of their housing and almost sent the child tumbling backwards. A small screech escaped her lips before she could capture it. Luckily, her father was either too preoccupied or too far away to hear. As the door swung open, rainbow colored light filled the space and her fright from a moment before was all but forgotten. A large alcove with glowing glass panes caught her full attention. She raced toward it and skidded to a stop in the dust just before the ankle-high sill.

Outside, and well below, she could see her father walking the elderly woman to her car. She started to tap, then slap the glass intermittently while waving her arms to catch her fathers eye, but it was no use – he simply couldn’t hear her. In her haste and excitement, Reny threw open the window and stepped onto the surround of the widow’s walk. Proud of her find, she shouted again for her father’s attention and took a single step forward. She never heard the crack of rotted wood, nor did she feel her toe dip as her body began to pitch forward.

From the ground, her father watched in horror knowing there was nothing he could do to stop Reny’s fall. Her beautiful yellow dress – the one they’d picked out just for the occasion – a near match to the painted clapboard background of the old manse.

Teddy still clutched in her hand, Renata Mueller hung impaled on the ornate iron railing that decorated the uppermost portion of her father’s new home; her bow tails and locks fluttering in the gentle breeze.

∼ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

When the Skies Turn Black

When the skies turn black,
I won’t look back
to see the stampeding hordes.
I’ll raise up my arms
and sound the alarms,
while the blood of humanity pours.
I won’t just give in
to mortal sin,
as the world crumbles to ash.
I’ll keep out of sight,
from celestial light—
paranoia spills out with a splash.
The smell of decay,
as they stumble away,
will do nothing to calm my nerves…
Alive, but just barely—
I will try to carry
the enchanted tome of lost words.
Hands to the sky,
I’ll look out and cry;
a witness to all it consumes.
It feasts and it lurks,
yet my magical quirks,
won’t slow the creeping doom.
So, when the sky’s torn,
the planet will mourn;
my hands will weave through the air—
I’ll mumble goodbyes,
while everything dies,
trying to vainly escape my despair.

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

Pop, Pop, Pop!

Pop, pop, pop!
I love to get inside your head
And spin my silver spider webs
Until your brain cells cease to fire
And your mind goes –
Pop, pop, pop!

All those bright red painful hives
Clawing through your skin with knives
Leading to your itchy eyes
As blood trickles from the skies
So you can: pop, pop, pop!

Tumble down and fall away
You won’t see another day
Wasted time almost up
Garish bitter cover-up 
It’s now or never –
Pop, pop, pop!

All the bones crack like aged rolling stones
Innards sizzle from dying fires of your own
The ones you tried to snuff out long ago
Those embers that you barely know
Slowly going: pop, pop, pop!

Say goodbye
Don’t even try
Raspberry gashes overflow
With crawler insects that glow
Scratching you from deep within
Because you are wrought with sin –
Pop, pop, pop!

Monstrous face in deep decay
As the wormies wriggle away
And the gases expanding your eyes
Release you from your mortal ties
That is when they: pop, pop, pop!

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

Depthless

I open my eyes to the depthless black that surrounds me. Blinking rapidly in an attempt to restore my vision, I feel panic rise. I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and try to calm myself. I open them again, nothing has changed. The pitch is deeper than night; it is an inky blackness that plays tricks on my mind. Every now and again, I see a halo bloom and dissipate as quickly as it appears. Encouraged, I scramble toward the beacon of hope believing it to be a source of true light. As each teasing brightness dissolves I grow less expectant, more desperate. I crawl forward frantically seeking the phantom visions. I soon realize the stone floor I’m scurrying across is uneven; worn smooth in some areas, unhewn and rough in others with scattered protrusions. My hand inadvertently strikes a particularly jagged rock that tears my palm open. I pitch forward, my wounded hand landing in a gelatinous pile of mucus. Quickly I draw back, not only due to the searing pain of the gash, but in fear of the foreign substance I cannot see. Much to my surprise, the pain begins to dissipate almost immediately; a calm, soothing pulse begins to settle in. Exploring the cut with my other hand, I feel the extent of the gaping flesh; the muscle is protruding through the opening, yet there is no longer any genuine pain, merely discomfort. The surface is coated in a gel-like substance that seems to be protecting the gash. As my fingers probe the slick tissue, I already feel the gap stitching closed. Terrified yet curious, I reach down again and dip my palm into the healing salve. Cool at first, the sensation warms and becomes a near suckling pulse – one that is not unpleasant. Then I feel a stab from within the mass – quick and searing, similar to the sting of a wasp. I jerk my hand away so quickly that I land on my posterior as I shout out in pain. A moment of shock holds me frozen in place, then I begin to frantically push away with my heels until my back hits a wall, my head knocks the surface with a resounding thunk. Listening to my own labored breathing, my head throbbing, I probe my injured hand once more to find the wound all but healed while I stare into bleak nothingness. The hand is sore, but the flesh is closed. After what seems an eternity, I hesitantly crawl forward again searching for the… glob? I can think of no other way to describe it. Miraculously, I manage to find the jagged protrusion once more, but the glob itself is gone. The mental strain is overwhelming; I lay on my side clutching my knees to my chest as wracking sobs overtake me until sleep quenches my fear.

Waking, I find myself disoriented at first – the darkness, the silence, my body lying on the frigid stone floor all conspire to confuse me. Memory of my injured hand and the hours prior to my falling asleep slowly crawl back into my mind. Sitting up, I blink; nothing has changed. Knowing I will die if I simply sit and do nothing, I turn and begin to crawl back toward the wall I previously found. Moving with more care this time, I finally make contact with it. My hand travels upward and I rise to my feet, then lift onto my toes. No matter how far I stretch, I can feel nothing but cool rock. There is a bare nagging twinge in my hand, but my head aches with a dull throbbing that is both distracting and worrisome. As soon as the thought crosses my mind, I feel a pulse shoot from my hand, up my arm, to the top of my spinal cord. The pain in my head immediately subsides. Briefly I wonder how that can be, but the thought dissipates almost as soon as it forms. I decide my best course of action is to keep one hand on the wall and carefully follow where it leads. As hours pass, I register the fact that for some time now I’ve been steadily climbing a slight incline. The darkness is still unrelenting. I walk with my eyes closed; I find I am calmer not seeing by choice than by circumstance. Out of nowhere, I feel the slightest breeze at my back. But that’s not possible, I’ve come from that direction, the air has been dead still in this ebon void. Loath to remove my hand from the wall and become disoriented, I choose to ignore it and continue onward. A few steps later, I feel it again. I turn and look back, but of course, I see nothing. Turning forward once more, I begin to shuffle my feet when the fine hair on my body begins to rise, and my flesh ripples with goose bumps. This time, the breeze is accompanied by the barest exhale. I scream, abandon the wall, and run headlong into what I believe to be a cavern. Panic has me in its grip; reason and thought play no part in my escape. There is a moment of slight befuddlement as my left foot lands on nothing and my momentum carries me into empty space.

It is only when my hips lodge between two surfaces, and my body jerks to a halt, that I realize I’ve fallen into a chasm. The pain is unbearable, my screech deafens me. I try to look upward, but the slightest movement only results in wracking shivers of pain. Protecting itself, my mind shuts down as obscurity claims me.

∼ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.