Only

It took seven men to exhume the body of the second Mrs. Chapman, while from a distance, he watched. From his high study window, Mr. Chapman saw as they arrived at the cemetery, raised a wall of fabric against the eyes of the town. From above, he could see their busy digging and knew that it would not be long before the coffin was raised from its slumber, his beloved with it.

His heart broke, but it was a beautiful breaking. He thought of how she had looked, laid out at the funeral. She had wished to be buried in her wedding dress, with her golden hair fastened back as it had been on that precious day. They had even arranged for a bouquet: carnations, in a range of blushing colours. She held them to her silent bosom when he saw her last, her face calmly waiting. He had wanted nothing more than to give his I do, lean forward, kiss her. But he knew he must be patient.

That had been only two days ago, but already it had been too long. The house was much too empty, his bed much too cold. He had turned to the police—a perfect facsimile of the grieving widower turned paranoid. He had said that he could not rest, could not believe that the body beneath the earth belonged to his young wife. Thankfully, he was also a wealthy widower. In time, he had been able to arrange that the body be exhumed, and then identified by him alone. It would not be long now before he would drive to the cemetery, bring his smallest buggy into the curtained space, and look upon his beloved.

Alone, he would arrange for her return.

He counted on the morbid stench to dampen the curiosity of the others. He was certain that once he left, there would be no need for them to reopen the coffin or for them to think the deathly weight was in fact the carefully prepared sandbags, ready to be returned to their earthly mother. And he would be free to return to his home, no longer alone.

Oh, he was eager to hold her, to bring her body back over their threshold. Already he missed the touch of her hand, the caress of her body. There would need to be changes, of course. Just enough to escape the gossip of the townspeople. Perhaps a wider face, a rounded nose, a sprinkling of freckles. Brown hair: he was sure she would like that. He could already imagine her prancing before a mirror, enjoying the newness of her body, the newness of her life. But her eyes, those would stay—as they always had, as they always would. Those were the eyes that had first drawn him in, captured his attention, his heart. Those were the eyes that inspired his work.

In time, there would be yet another opulent wedding. To the world, she would be a newcomer: the third Mrs. Chapman. But to her—to him—she was his only.

∼ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

The Last Door

I know I’m lying in a hospital bed. I know I have been here for a long time and I am unlikely to recover. I have heard the nurses whisper about me. I lie on the uncomfortable mattress, my flesh penetrated by needles and tubes. I am surrounded by machines that click and beep. I am unconscious and yet, somehow aware. I dream, or at least I think it’s a dream. I find myself walking in a dark corridor. I come to a door. It is painted yellow, decorated with rainbow stickers and smiley faces. I enter and find myself in a green park, the sun shining and the sky blue. Small children are running around, playing. Adults stand close by, monitoring. I recognize my mother first, then myself, deep in a scrum of children. I look to be about five or six. My mother looks so young. Her clothes are incredibly dated; her youth, my age and the fashion dates this time to the early 70s. I have somehow travelled back in time. I try to speak to my mother, reach out to her, but it’s clear that this is a vision, a memory. I cannot interact with the people around me. My heart aches to see her so young, so healthy. If my calculation of the date is correct, she has another thirty years to live before the cancer takes her. I see the cigarette in her hand and hate it. If only I could tell her to stop, to save her own life. My heart breaks when I realize I cannot change the future.

A force compels me to move, I walk through this idyllic scene, headed to an unknown destination.

The next door is black, skull & crossbones stickers plastered across it. Yellow police line tape crisscrosses the wooden panels. I recognize this door, I decorated it this way when I was fifteen. A snotty little goth, trying to be cool. I open the door and smile with embarrassment at the scene in front of me. The teenage me, dyed black hair, black skull t-shirt and a poor attempt at mascara sitting on the bed with my friends, all dressed exactly the same. Some dreary music plays in the background. There’s a girl on the bed too, the girlfriend of my best friend. It takes me a mere second to realize she’s looking at the younger version of me, not him. My teenage version is too interested in showing off his new leather trousers to notice. Her eyes tell the story, she likes me, she wants me to like her. To notice her. I fail to do so, I’m too focused on showing off. I curse my younger self. What a fool I was, she could have been the love of my life.

A push from behind impels me to move again. I come to another door.

This door is pastel blue, a soothing color. Inside the room is a nursery, decorated in gentle colors, with toys scattered around. The room is clean, bright and sunny. A tiny baby lies in a crib. I’m standing over it with a woman I don’t recognize. I look to be about thirty. This is an interesting scene. Not only is the woman a stranger, but I also never had any children. I had a wife, but she isn’t here. I never lived in this house. I wonder why I’m being shown this scene. I never regretted not having children, never really thought about it. Is this an untravelled road, a path my life could have taken, or is it just a dream? Wish fulfillment, from some unspoken subconscious desire? I wish I had the answer.

I’m pushed again, there is no time to ponder.

The third door is a rich burgundy, a solid color that speaks to me of success, money and complacency. I recognize this one, it is achingly familiar. I know what to expect. Inside I see myself. I am sitting in a wood-lined study, surrounded by leather bound books. This is my home, the place I worked my whole life to afford. The books are the ones I spent a lifetime collecting. I am old, with a wrinkle-lined face and grey hair. I’m reading a book, an anthology of Victorian ghost stories. My dog sits at my feet, warming herself in front of the log fire. I pause, this is last month, the day before I tripped and fell down the stairs, ending up in this hospital bed. This was the last day I spent in my beloved house, the last time I saw my dog.

The force insists I continue on. I have no choice but to obey. I reach another door.

This door is grey, almost hazy. I have the sense that this is it, the end of the line. It wasn’t a dream after all. I have really seen my life, my lives, the real and the possible. The branches I could have taken; the ones I chose to take. My life in high definition. I reach out to touch the handle, to pass through this door. I know it’s the last one, that whatever follows will be infinite. Was my life good? I ask myself. Did it fulfil me? Did I leave a good legacy? Did I ever act foolishly, selfishly? Do I have regrets? I answer yes to all those questions, but that is life. It must be painted in blacks, as well as whites. I feel a huge sense of sorrow, but I’m grateful I had the chance to reflect on my life, to see some reminder of my bygone days. I don’t want to leave yet, but I know I cannot stay. The sorrow diminishes to be replaced with hope. Perhaps there really is something on the other side of this door. I draw a breath, realizing that, in the real world of my hospital bed, this may well be my last. I exhale, then turn the doorknob and pull the grey door open. I enter.

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

The Drop Ceiling

“Someone took my ceiling.”

He said this sincerely despite how ludicrous it sounded.

“Someone…took…your…ceiling?” My cautious approach was attributed to his prior periods of paranoia and psychosis. My brother is schizophrenic and, at times, has a tenuous relationship with reality.

“Yes.”

“There is a hole in the top of your house?” I suggested.

He rolled his eyes. “They didn’t steal my roof, only my ceiling. In my living room.”

I had been hinting around for a visit lately, but our Facetime calls always ended before I could get him to agree. Seeing the state of his house helped to clue me into the state of his mind and I always felt better after I had stocked his freezer with casseroles and stews. “Could I see it?”

He nodded. “It’s not bad, actually. I think I like it. Opens the room up a bit.”

***

He had been describing the truth; his ceiling appeared to be gone.

Standing in his living room, I had a view into the attic above, but it was a distorted one, as if I were looking through a window streaked with rain drops.

“How long has it been like this, Leon?”

He scratched his head, a nervous tick he had developed in childhood. “Since yesterday. I saw it right before I told you about it. I saw it, and then I told you.”

“I am glad you did,” I said. My heart was pounding, but I put on a brave face for him. I went to retrieve a step ladder from his garage. Back in the living room, I climbed it and reached up. My hand sunk into a gelatinous plasma. It was warm, like the inside of a mouth or other orifice. When I withdrew my hand, my fingers appeared webbed with a translucent substance. It pulsed and I was repulsed. I ran to the bathroom to disinfect my hands.

“You need to leave.” I insisted when my fingers finally felt like my own again.

He shook his head. “But they are watching me.”

“Who?”

“The ones who caused the accident.”

Two decades prior, we had been involved in a car accident with our family. A light, maybe oncoming headlights, had temporarily blinded our dad. Next thing I knew, I was in the hospital. My parents were fine, but my brother’s head had been shaved and he had a long scar above his left ear that ran from the end of his eyebrow to the back of his head.

The accident had gifted me with a matching scar on my pelvic region. We called ourselves “the twins of the lesions of power” and we made up fantastical stories about the origin of the scars and their supernatural gifts. Leon mostly told the same story, about a spaceship that had been in the area where we were driving. At times, he claimed having seen it right before the crash, and of seeing beings who took his brain to better understand earth. He used to tell me that the beings had left him with the brain of someone else.

Because of this story, he had shown no surprise when he had been diagnosed with mental health issues years later.

He insisted that because he had witnessed the exchange of his brain, he was able to remember it. He complained that the new brain was problematic. He would also tell me that my scar was related to a reproductive study. He would tease me and tell me that when the beings returned, they might insert a tenant into my vacant womb.

I was having a difficult time gathering my thoughts and I was concerned that I had just touched some contaminant. “You need to come home with me.”

“I am fine,” he assured me.

“Leon, there is something…very wrong here. I am scared and I want you with me.” I rolled down the top of my sweatpants to where my scar had faded to a faint pale line. “I need the twin powers to help me deal with this.”

This had no effect on him. He tapped his skull and said, “I have been dealing with this alone for a long time.”

***

The next day, I called my lawyer friend to see if I could legally force my brother to live with me. I could not leave him in that house with whatever was throbbing on the ceiling.

“It may be possible with a mental health power of attorney. Has he been incapacitated?”

I was not sure how to answer that. I would sound as if my mental health were in jeopardy if I reported what I had seen or felt.

After gathering some sage advice and doing a little research, I went to Leon’s. I was thinking I could maybe convince him to come for a night and then we would move forward from there.

He seemed unsure about letting me in.

“Can I see your ceiling again?” I asked, trying to keep my tone natural.

“I don’t think you need to.” He looked over his shoulder, as if there were someone else in the house.

I also peered over his shoulder and saw that the ceiling was now covered with short, red, swaying stalks that looked like seaweed being swept about by waves.

“Leon—”

“Let’s go to the park.” He shut the door behind him and took my elbow, directing me away from his door.

In the park, I tried to reason with him. “There is something really wrong with your house, Leon.”

“There is always something wrong.” He scratched his head, his fingers lingering in the mass of hair covering his scar.

“Not with you, Leon, there is nothing wrong with you, but I am worried about what I am seeing.” I took his chin in my hand and forced him to make eye contact. “I see it too, Leon. It is very real, and I am very scared. If you come to my house, maybe we can have someone come look at it. Maybe it is some kind of mold or something—”

He leaned away from me. “You know exactly what it is, and it isn’t mold. If you just tried, you would remember, too. You would remember what they did to us…they’re back.”

I went along with this reasoning, hoping to get him to see that I was on his side. “Why would they be back?”

“To collect more data. I was only a child then, so my brain told them childish things. I have an adult brain now…and you…you have adult…”

I rubbed my temples. My fear was turning into frustration. I felt a loss over how to help him and I was the only one left who could help him. “Can you just come to my house for one night? Tonight?”

He considered this. “I will come tomorrow night. There is a show on Encounter Plus I want to watch but I forgot your login information. I will watch it at your place.”

I was relieved. I would go home and see what paperwork I could draw up. I told him I would pick him up the next morning.

***

After I had spent some minutes knocking, he answered the door and looked at me blankly. His head had been shaved. The scar from childhood boasted a fresh crimson line.

“Leon?”


He shook his head. “I think you have the wrong house.” He scratched his scar and winced.

“No. Leon. It’s me. I want to come in.”

He looked at me sadly. “I don’t know you, lady. I am sorry.”

I peeked over his shoulder to see that his living room now had a ceiling. It was as if it had never been gone.

“Leon. I am your sister. You had promised you would come home with me today.”

His face grew cold. “My sister died twenty years ago in a car accident.” He slammed the door shut.

I rubbed my lower abdomen absentmindedly. I was blinking back tears and forcing myself to remain calm. I wanted to beat down his door; I also wanted to run away and never look at this door again. I was sure that I was about to lose my mind. This was his most extreme episode yet. Even at the most extreme, he always recognized me.

I decided to take some space and determine a plan. I went home and flung myself on my bed. Before I could entertain any rational thought, I dissolved into tears, crying until I fell asleep from exhaustion.

***

When I woke, I felt something was different about my room. I expected to see my ceiling fan in motion when I opened my eyes. Instead, I was able to see directly into the crawlspace that used to inhabit the other side of my now absent bedroom ceiling.

While stifling a scream, I realized that it did open up the room a bit.

∼ Elaine Pascale

© Copyright Elaine Pascale. All Rights Reserved.

Forest of Sticks

In a forest of sticks, three await while the fourth summons. Eleven cycles have passed since the calling was last performed. The youngest breaks the silence; patience not yet a virtue she can claim. Eager to know what will come, she inquires. The eldest cautions a quiet tongue while the chant continues. As the moon crests to its zenith, the mantra ends and an eerie stillness falls. Even the young one stands in awe of the thrumming current that churns the air. The caller turns, beckons the last of the three to stand with her sisters. As the kaiju rises, the winds cease. The girls tilt their heads upward in reverent worship. A snort stirs their hair, a tinge of fear sets in. The youngest is not the only child to begin squirming. Their familiar halts their retreat with a slash of glittering eyes before leaping to the ground below. Perched on the brittle limb, the children unknowingly offer the blood of the innocent. The Rule of Three now satisfied, the feline begins to sup then preen as it erases all evidence of the offal left behind.

∼ Nina D’arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Cold Hours

In the cold hours, among low fog, something walks. Despite image obscured by shadow, intent is clear with each stride. Unclear to low eyes over flicker of flame, it passes unnoticed in malice form. It stops short before what it seeks, its coat of shade swims in the wind. The thin skeleton of life before it raises both eyes—a meek figure in comparison. A picture shows not what it is, not what it could be, but all it allows itself to be witnessed as. This moving image of something unknown can’t be defined by the meager puppet it seeks. Eyes lock. Flesh knows death, no matter the form. Before a cry of desperation can be released, the dark figure penetrates a soft, defenseless body. Red fills the cracks of the stone street. The fresh corpse falls limp. That which cannot be understood moves on to find the next.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

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.