I stare at my wrist, watching life push through my veins. I know I’m imagining the ripples of cells straining their thin walls, but it’s become real to me. It is me.
The small, sharpened knife grows warm in my other hand. “Blood for freedom,” I breathe out.
Perched on the chair in my living room, with nothing to look at save the eggshell walls, I feel a far-too-familiar pressure beginning its assault. “Blood for freedom” echoes in the room. Maybe it’s only in my head.
Thin scars, both fresh and faded, wrap around my arm. I touch the knife to my skin. The merest pressure opens a red line beside a previous wound. Dark liquid seeps from the new stripe. I stare. Waiting. Hoping.
Blood for freedom.
“Fuck you,” I hiss and draw the knife deeper, longer. There is no fear, no pain. Nothing. Blood comes faster, but I don’t bother to hope.
Blood for freedom.
I’ve avoided this as long as I could, but it is inevitable. If people knew what I did to those poor creatures, they would call me a sadist. My lovers thought I was kinky. In the end it wasn’t enough.
Standing, I grab my keys and head into the spring night, knife in hand. My car revs to life, the engine purring like a big cat. I roll down the window and pop on some music for the short drive downtown. Crunching guitar riffs and the sound of rushing wind fill the sleek car but, like in my plain apartment, the call finds me.
Blood for freedom.
“I’m going!” I snap. I slice my arm again, hoping for a moment of peace. “I’m not a fucking miracle worker. I can’t just magically be there. Fuck fuck fuck!” I stab the knife into the passenger seat and turn the music up louder.
When I reach the parking lot of the abandoned office building, I flip off the music and drive around back like always. It took awhile, but once I found this place, I knew it would happen here. There could only ever be one outcome. I turn off the car and leave the knife in my seat. I’ll be using the one in my pocket instead.
Blood for freedom!
I gasp as the air is knocked from me and black dots dance across my vision. I steady myself before opening the car door and slide out.
“You win,” I say.
I slip past the broken door and into the dark corridor. I wait, my senses adjusting. It slips into the background to give me space to work. Light flickers from under a couple of the closed doors. Creaks and groans of a building in disrepair mix with murmured voices as I start down the hall. I don’t bother checking the doors; those people have lived on the streets the longest. They’ve learned to survive. In this world they have far more power than I do.
A handful of living areas, denoted by old sleeping bags and cardboard boxes with meager possessions, are in the lobby. A couple people are asleep, a few bags are empty. One kid, maybe twenty years old, gives me a long look. I smile and nod.
Blood for freedom!
If I weren’t already taking a step to the left to enter the bathroom, my stumble would have been far more noticeable. My bloody palm hits the wall to steady myself as my other hand presses open the door and I go in. I pull out my battery night-light and tap it on, sliding it onto the counter, and weird shadows pop up in the room. It doesn’t take long for the kid to join me.
“I was wondering if I would ever get a turn,” he says. “Twenty bucks, right?”
I produce the bill from my pocket, palming my switchblade at the same time.
BLOOD FOR FREEDOM!
I choke out a breath that I play off as a cough as I stagger back. I grab the counter and double over. It feels like fire inside my veins. I close my hand tighter on my knife, hoping it gets the idea.
“You okay, man?” The kid’s voice wavers.
“Yeah,” is all I can manage. I take a deep breath, and the burning retreats enough to let me refocus. I let the twenty slip from my hand and fall to the floor. “Sorry about that.”
“No worries. I need to be down there anyway.”
He kneels as I straighten. He’s looking at the floor when I press the button and the blade shoots out. He looks up, unwittingly exposing his neck. My arm is already coming down. My knife pierces his soft flesh and sinks down to the hilt. Blood spurts around the edges. I let the weight of my body topple onto him. His screams are muffled against me. I slide the knife side to side as best I can, widening the wound. Warm liquid soaks through my clothes.
Blood for freedom.
The words calm me now.
Blood for freedom.
Fading to silence.
Blood for freedom.
As the light fades in the kid’s eyes.
I stand, my clothes sodden with blood. I pick up the twenty and leave it on the counter, tucking my knife and light back in my pocket. I look back at the kid sprawled on the floor. I did the rest of them here a favor, one less person to compete with.
This is my life now. I only wonder how long it will be until I have to kill again.
∼ Mark Steinwachs
© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.
“Have you ever wanted something so badly that you would do absolutely anything to get it?”
Marlys’ words were breathless. Her eyes shone with a kind of dark hope that turned Wallen’s stomach.
“Maybe some things aren’t meant to be gotten,” Wallen said gently. Marlys reared back and slapped him, hard, her palm making a sound against his flesh that brought him back to childhood, but he didn’t flinch. He didn’t cower or scream or hide. He stood there, a man now, letting a grieving woman beat him with her hands and fists while he stood, resolute.
“I love you and would never hurt you, no matter what you do,” he said, and her rage kicked up a notch before she sank to the ground in tears. Wallen sat beside her until her tears dried.
Marlys didn’t let it go. She couldn’t. She stopped eating, picking at her food and moving it around so it looked like she had a mouthful or two, but Wallen knew better. She stayed up at night, glued to the computer, the screen illuminating her face in the dark. She looked up people and practices and phone numbers and things that took a shadowy turn.
Wallen drove Marlys to her therapist and waited outside in the car. He leaned his chair back in the cool air, watching the leaves as they shook in the breeze. He listened to audiobooks and podcasts and sometimes simply the silence. So much more comfortable than sitting in the beige waiting room with a bunch of vapid magazines. He didn’t want to know how to drive a man crazy in bed or write his congressperson. He just wanted to know how to make his wife better, make her whole, when half of her had been abruptly severed and left to bleed out.
She came back from therapy looking exhausted, or thoughtful, or invigorated, or stripped of all her humanity.
“How was it today?” he would ask each time. He was supportive. He was calm. He was all of the textbook things a perfect husband would be toward a grieving wife.
“My sister is still dead,” Marlys would answer, and Wallen would hold her hand if she wanted to be touched or simply drive, looking straight ahead, if she didn’t.
Marlys was a different woman every day.
“Don’t ever leave me,” she’d say. He promised to stay.
“I’ll never feel normal again. You should just go.”
He still promised to stay.
There were the days when she said nothing at all, but curled up in bed with their cat sleeping on her chest. She didn’t look at Wallen when he took her hand or made the bed around her or drew a bath and gently led her to it. He would wash her hair and pour water over her like she was a small child. Afterward, he would wrap her in a towel and hold her on his lap.
“We will get through this,” he said. He wasn’t certain she really wanted to, but that was okay. Wallen had enough will to live for two of them. That’s the thing you do with someone you love: you take turns leading. It’s when you both break that you have to worry.
It was their birthday. Marlys and Mary. They bought a cake and Wallen drove them to the cemetery. They spread out a cheery blanket and set up a little picnic at the headstones. Marlys carefully served pieces of cake. One for Wallen. One for her. One for dead Mary, one for dead Max, one for dead Zariah, one for dead Jaleel. Mary and her three children shared one big, beautiful headstone, all with the same death date. Mary’s husband, who also shared the same date, was buried far away, all alone, nowhere near his family.
“They’re not his anymore, are they?” Marlys had told Wallen when they were making funeral arrangements. “He lost his right to them when he shot them in their sleep. Instead of a murder/suicide, he should have gone right to the suicide. He didn’t have the right.”
Time passed as it always did, but Marlys became more obsessed. She watched movies and documentaries about zombies, about living vampires, about the undead. Wallen found bird skulls and other strange objects around the house. He’d come home to see strangers with shaded eyes sitting in his living room.
“You’re scaring me,” he told her. Marlys’ hands were always cold whenever he held them, which was less and less often. “They’re gone, my love. You can’t bring them back.”
Oh, but she would try. She tried spells. Voodoo. She beseeched God and gods and goddesses and anything that would listen. She had people pray over the bodies and use crosses and blood and faith and dead cats and urine and everything else anybody told her to do. She desecrated Mary’s grave over and over and over and over.
“You asked me not to leave you, but you’re leaving me,” Wallen whispered one night. He wrapped his arms around the husk of his wife. The shine of her eyes told him she was awake.
“Please come back, Marlys. I can’t go through this world alone.”
He thought he heard her voice, but when he looked, the eye shine was put out and she looked asleep. Perhaps he had misheard. He certainly hoped so.
He was afraid he knew how this would end. Marlys would stop believing in ghosts and angels and devils. She wouldn’t be able to bring her sister and the children back. Life wasn’t Pet Semetery or The Monkey’s Paw. The dead stayed dead.
But they’d be reunited in another way, he was sure of it. Family was meant to be with family, and you couldn’t escape the ties that bind. Wallen went to sleep every night listening for the click of a new gun in the house. He knew it would come.
∼ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.
Lee Andrew Forman
The sounds of the world bring peace: crunching gravel, leaves dancing with nature, songs sung by the creations of life. Reality has other sides, some which only a vagabond can see along their journey. The pleasant are never left unappreciated. The darkest sit atop your shoulders, ever apparent in your sight.
A band of three delinquents emerge from the brush to intercept my path, smoke-filled ugliness trailing from their mouths. Their eyes immediately find me: the derelict, the tattered wanderer, the lonely victim. But their eyes only see what their minds can imagine. I sigh in response to their vile introductions.
Before they can hassle me further my front-side expands and splits down the middle. My innards expel themselves and splatter the deviants in carnage. Fluids dissolve their flesh; they scream a futile cry of agony no one will ever hear. Only when my would-be predators are mere remnants of ooze do my organs crawl back and nestle themselves where they belong, happy and well-fed.
“Shhhh, I’m here.”
The man shuddered, not quite sure yet what had happened to him. I rested his head in my lap, then pushed sweat-matted hair back from his face to see his terrified eyes.
“Help…me,” he begged.
I shook my head. “Sorry. This could have been avoided, but…” I gestured for him to look at himself.
He turned his head to gaze down his body. I let him scream at what the passing train had done. He tried to struggle, to thrash his arms and legs. He had no arms or legs. Shredded remnants of his severed limbs looked like piles of cooked raspberries strewn along the tracks. And, as I’d read would happen, the train’s weight had cinched the torn veins shut. He wasn’t bleeding out; he’d live a while yet. No one would find him here, though, where I’d tied him to the tracks.
“Please,” he begged again.
I shrugged and rose. “I warned you about those spam calls from your site.” Taking out my cell, I punched a number. The phone in the man’s pocket buzzed obnoxiously. “Press 2 to be placed on my do not call list,” I told him.
When I pulled the trigger years ago, I knew my turn would come. There is only one of us in the family at any time. My death is their first hit.
Blindfolded and with hands tied behind my back I shuffle along rocky ground. Whoever is behind me helps guide me. He nudges the back of my knee with his foot and I awkwardly let myself fall to my knees. He lays me flat, my face touching cold metal, then pulls the blindfold back enough for me to look down the long track. Not the same track I used of course, but the scene floods my memory. There is only one person who knows the story of my first hit. I never thought he would be the one.
“Thank you,” a male voice says, one I’ve known since he was born. “Your place of honor awaits.”
Those words, the exact ones I spoke when it was my turn, linger in my brain as I hear the click of the safety releasing.
Now You Stand and Wait
Scarlett R. Algee
They’d picked up her clothes along the track, almost too shredded to bother, and the whole time Shep had been grumbling you’re a damn fool, it ain’t the same no more; so when Shep squats by the rail and picks up a tuft of fluffy black fur, Ben hates him a little.
He clutches the ruined clothes, swats away Shep’s offered rifle, stares down the slope to the ground beneath the trestle bridge. Squints. Wonders. “She’s still my girl.”
Shep toes the claw marks along a rusted edge of rail. “You think that now.”
“She’s still Ellie. You just wait here.”
Alone, Ben treks down to the darkness under the bridge, stands at the bottom to a warning growl. He glimpses eyeshine in the black yards away. “Ellie, it’s Daddy.”
He steps closer. Another growl, deeper, but Ben can see the shape of her now, huge and magnificent, tail held out stiff. He clears his throat. “It’s gettin’ late. Your mama’s got supper waitin’.”
Ellie’s snarl is softer this time. Ben decides to take the chance. Sure, maybe he’s a fool, but she is still his girl.
Step by step, he walks into the darkness, toward the waiting wolf.
The Flattened Penny
I can still smell the copper stench.
And hear the way the train’s wheels screeched as it rolled over the penny on the track, squashing it razor thin. I watched Denny pick up the flat coin, after it cooled down, and wave it around laughing.
I didn’t laugh.
Denny never heard the whistle of the other train, the death train. The one I had seen before, that should have been my ride. One penny to the conductor as payment, but that foul creature didn’t care much about who held the coin. Easy enough to cheat him.
That’s the smell of copper I remember. His blood.
But better him than me.
Taking the Ride
The rumble loosens my gut; thrums through my body. My eyes quake in their jelly as teeth shiver saliva from plump, rouged lips. Searing heat washes over me as the screech assaults my core. I feel the shatter of my sinus cavities as the revolution of iron pressed upon iron crushes my head. Body thrashing in the wash, I Pollock the scree, feed the weeds; slick the rail for the next eager rider.
Definitely Not a God
Beneath the rocks and rails there lies a secret that our tiny town holds. We keep quiet and everything stays peaceful, that’s how it’s always been. Mama says it’s God under those tracks, says he protects us even in his sleep. I don’t think Mama knows what God is.
Late at night I sneak down to the tracks and kick the rocks as I walk past the iron ties. I can hear it, sometimes it sounds like snoring, but other times… If Mama could hear the noises I know she’d change her mind.
Just a ways ahead, the rocks shift and I sprint to see who’s there. The air smells of earth and death, my eyes settle on a gnarled looking creature hunching over in the moonlight. All six of its eyes blink then lock on me. I’ve never seen anything more gruesome, it grins and licks its crooked lips.
I turn to run but my foot snags the rusted rail. As I scramble to my feet, four more creatures step into sight. I was right Mama, definitely not a God.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2019
Within his castle of dark hearts, the Devil seated himself on a rosewood throne. Two rotted angels entered, a Sinner clutched between them. They forced the Sinner to kneel, then stepped back and folded their tattered wings tightly across their faces so that they could neither see nor hear what passed.
Alone with the Sinner, the Devil took a deep breath. “Give me your plea,” he demanded.
“Guilty,” the Sinner replied.
The Devil nodded his head vigorously. “Yes! Guilty! As no one before you has ever been.”
The Sinner showed no movement, made no sound.
“And yet,” the Devil sighed after a long moment. “Perhaps there are circumstances that might explain your actions, that might…justify your sin. Tell me.”
“There are none,” the Sinner said.
The Devil’s teeth ground together. He leaned forward, taloned hands closing on the armrests of his chair, squeezing the wood so hard that it splintered and blood began to run from beneath his nails like black pearls. He spat words like sleet at the Sinner.
“Give me something, some reason to grant you mercy.”
“If there is a reason, it’s already inside of you.”
“I do not wish to punish you,” the Devil said. “Not you!”
For the first time, the Sinner looked up. Her eyes danced with the shine of bullets and sabers.
“What would you have me say?”
“Do you want a lie? Or the truth?”
“Are they any different?”
“Perhaps. Perhaps not.”
“Give me one or the other. I must have something.”
The Sinner nodded. She rose to her feet, and did not look away from the Devil as she spoke.
“I hated you from the first moment I saw you. Your arrogance. And yes, your terrible beauty. But also, I sensed your weakness, your desire for me. I toyed with you. I manipulated you. How I laughed as you danced to my strings. The Devil. Such a grand fool!”
The Sinner shrugged then, before continuing. “But such games become tiring. My last bit of joy from you came when I pushed you away, to milk your confusion and hurt. Though, to see you now, so desperate to find a reason to forgive me, some reason to believe that I felt more than I did…well, that is perhaps worth a final and fatal chuckle.”
The Devil listened, and nodded. He leaned back and made a gesture. The rotted angels lowered their wings, took hold of the Sinner and pulled her from the room. The Devil remained alone in his fortress of broken souls, on a throne wet with blood and tears.
∼ Charles Gramlich
© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.
With a solemn lurch we go on. A fragrance only the dead know hangs over us, vapor over dust. No light of nature, no bright joy, only the motive to keep going. It tethers us, a walking tangle of thoughts and dreams no longer cherished. What lies at the end of the dried land we aren’t sure. We only know we must go there. Souls pull sagging flesh, drawn to whatever is beyond the expanse of lifeless soil. Swollen feet crack; they bleed a trail behind us. But evidence of our journey won’t last long against even the void’s subtle breath.
A violent tone bursts from somewhere beyond the horizon. A low-pitched blast, a beacon the planet itself could feel. Each time it fills the air our feet push a little harder. That nightmarish horn draws us like desperate, stray creatures. We struggle to it like infants in need of milk—weak, fragile, endangered by our own nature. Only we know not whether the milk will be sweet or sour. We don’t know if it will be there at all. We only hear the thunderous horn, the only thing in our world that isn’t us.
Our memories serve empty plates. That which came before the march has been forgotten. None know how long it has been. The only thing to feed on is the horn, the beckoning storm of sound, the not-so-silent savior of emptiness.
I once asked the man next to me where we came from. He only shrugged. When I try to think of how long we’ve been traveling my mind fogs over; words, phrases, meaning, they shadow themselves from insight. I can only focus for so long before my feet begin to slow; I’ve never reached a conclusion.
All I know is to follow the sound. Whether it be life or death holds no importance. To witness something other than all I’ve known would be Heaven.
∼ Lee Andrew Forman
© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.
She heard sound, an echoing thunder. She felt a hard damp surface beneath her. She saw dim shapes.
“Where am I?” The sound of her new voice startled her.
You are in a place called a cave, by a vast planetary body of water. Something named an ocean.
The voice echoed in the confines of the craggy tidal cave. Or possibly in her head. Either way, it didn’t matter. She felt safer. “You’re here. Good.”
Of course I am here.
She smiled. Then frowned. “The eternal darkness is gone.” She shivered. She’d miss it, the inky black chasm of home. A tear trickled down her cheek. another followed. She touched her hand to the moisture. “Oh. I’m leaking. Strange.”
They are called tears. An emotional reaction.
Her lip quivered and a teardrop trickled on its skin. She tasted the wet with her tongue. Salty. Food tasted that way sometimes. A breeze drifted along her skin and she shivered.
“I don’t like it here. This place is so different. Not like home. The Void is comforting, dark and cold. Silent.”
It is not your home anymore. Remember your task.
She closed her eyes, anger surging, and insisted, “The Void is home. I was born there. The real me. Not this fleshy thing I am now. I don’t like it. I want to leave. Why did you send me here?”
Because it is your time.
She sighed, fists clenched. She knew this. She mustn’t hesitate. She looked up, her new eyes blinded by a shaft of light flickering into the cave. She blinked and raised her hand to shield her vision. That surprised her.
“I have limbs. Odd.” She shook her arms, and then her legs. “Only four. A pity. You told me Father grew ten when he left the Void.”
A different place, a different world. Another dawning.
“True, but I would have liked more.”
We adapt to the species. These humans have four.
“Humans? An odd name. What are they like?”
They are violent; an admirable trait. Yet, they are soft and weak as well. They have strange beliefs such as compassion and mercy.
“Mercy.” She shuddered at the thought. “Truly, an inferior creature.”
Indeed. But they will serve the Void. As will you while you remain here.
“How long? How long must I stay?” Her voice betrayed her impatience and wistful longing.
As long as it takes. Do not be weak.
Disapproval echoed in the voice.
She sighed, well rebuked. “Of course.”
Go now. Walk this world. Do what you were born to do. Feed us, child, nourish us. The Elders have blessed you. Make us proud. Fulfill your purpose.
“Yes.” She straightened her new spine and smiled. “I will make you all proud.”
She stood on wobbly legs and walked slowly out of the cave. As she stumbled into the sunlight, water pools turned black and putrid and seaweed shrivelled to dust. She heard the voice instructing her.
Spread the Void. Char the ground in your wake, poison the waters, choke the air with our taint, pile this planet high with the corpses of humans so we may devour them.
She smiled, a dark glow in the soulless hollow of her essence. Ahead of her stretched a pristine beach waiting to be laid to ruin. In every footstep she heard the echo of the voice.
Leave only death and ash, child. Be the Destroyer.
~ A. F. Stewart
© Copyright 2019 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.
I’ve just reached for the bleach bottle, my fingers tight on the cap, when she closes her hand around my wrist.
“Hold up, baby girl. What’s this here?”
She shifts her grip to under my arms and pulls me upright. I’m myopic enough from my time bent over the half-butchered corpse in the bathtub that the blot on the floor wobbles in my vision for a second before it resolves, and I feel the press of her covered boots against the outsides of my own.
A single spot of blood between my feet, between hers. She takes the back of my neck and squeezes hard, forces my head down and holds me there. “Now, baby girl, we’ve talked about this.”
And we have, but never about the things I’ve done right: how small-caliber rounds rattle around in the skull and don’t come out; how to accommodate the way the carotids can hide when the head’s pulled back; how to unfold plastic sheeting so it doesn’t even crinkle. For Christ’s sake, I’m wearing three pairs of nitrile gloves right now.
No, it’s always the other things: the cut that isn’t deep enough, the noise that isn’t muffled properly, this single drop of blood on a bathroom floor.
I reach blindly for the bleach. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Honey, I don’t think you realize how serious this is.” She presses on my neck. “We don’t leave traces. You know what I say about mistakes.”
“Mistakes get you caught,” I mumble.
“Damn right. And how many is this?”
She shakes me like a dog shakes a stuffed toy. I can feel my own carotids pulsing as I try to think. “Two…no…three.”
“And one I can forgive. Maybe two. You’ve been learning,” she says. “But not this one, missy, oh no.”
She lets go of my neck and grabs my hair, plastic cap and all, and yanks me to full height, spinning me around. The movement is dizzying. My vision swims.
When it clears, I’m looking out the open bathroom doorway down the hall, toward the kitchen. Two drops. Three. Dozens. Maybe hundreds.
I’ve left a blood trail.
She rips the surgical mask from my face. The elastic snaps. I whimper.
“You do the crime, chickadee, you’re damn sure gonna do the cleanup. And this time, you’re doing it the hard way.”
When she shoves me, I fold, topple straight down on my knees. She plants the toe of one boot in my side. “I warned you how it would be. Now get started.”
Knees burning, eyes watering into my safety goggles, I bend my face to the floor and start to lick.
~Scarlett R. Algee
© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.
Sitting on the floor, with my back against the counter of Pauline’s Coffee Co., I look over my left shoulder at Emily’s body crumpled on the floor. The last frappe that she’d ever make spills over her, mixing with blood from the bullet wound just below her left shoulder and the gash in her head from where it slammed into the counter before she dropped.
Her coworker, Austin, has his legs pulled up to his chest, rocking, unharmed, while tucked in the corner where the wall and the register area meet.
“Sit tight,” I half yell to him. “It’s going to be okay.”
“It’s not going to be okay!” Jacob responds to my comment. Austin just trembles and whimpers. I’m not sure who Jacob has the gun pointed at since I can’t see him. I really hope it isn’t himself.
“Jacob, this isn’t you,” my partner says. “I know what’s going on. There’s a creature inside you telling you what to do. My name is Teris, and I have the power to help you.”
Teris has taken cover behind an overturned table off to my right and his attention is on a mother crouched in the corner shielding her crying toddler with her body.
For a brief second, the child hushes, and the only sound heard is the soft sobbing from a woman lying on the floor in front of the register.
I reposition myself so I’m on my knees and poke my head out enough to see Jacob and reassess the situation. Blood flows from the chest of the man who Jacob shot first. He slid down the condiment bar leaving a dark red trail of blood and I can’t tell if he is still breathing or not. His second shot took down Emily, and then his third left a lady sprawled over a table up against the front window of the shop.
There is a middle-aged man behind two tables flipped on their side forming a barricade, texting someone, probably telling his wife to call the cops, which is the last thing we need right now.
Jacob stands rock still, ready to fire, his gun pointed at the table Teris is behind. Over the course of the last few minutes he has gone from shaking with a quiver in his voice to strong and confident. Teris is spot on, Jacob isn’t in control of himself anymore, the Scourge has almost consumed him.
“Jacob, listen to me,” Teris starts talking again. “We can help you, I promise. There’s a monster inside you. It’s been tormenting you your whole life. I’ll bet it told you everything would be better if you did this.”
Jacob takes a step closer to Teris. “Shut up! Just shut up! What do you know?” Jacob’s words erupt in the room. I’m not sure if they’re meant for Teris or the entity inside him.
Teris continues, “I know quite a lot actually.” His steady, soothing voice breathes a calm in the air. “My partner, Nikias and I are two of thousands of angels on Earth fighting against the hordes of the underworld. One of their demons has infected you.”
As Jacob lowers his gun slightly and relaxes his body, I tense mine. If he would drop the weapon a little more, it would be safe to go for him.
The man Jacob left for dead at the condiment counter wheezes, shattering the calm. Jacob straightens up, points his gun at him, then fires without breaking eye contact with Teris. The bullet rips into the man’s face, shattering his cheek and eye socket before lodging in his brain, bits of flesh smatter the table shielding the texting man.
The woman by the register screams and pushes herself up, knocking over the coffee display as she bolts for the door. Jacob spins on his heel and fires off two quick shots. The deafening retorts linger in the air mixed with the crash of display shelves as the woman is propelled into them. She falls to the ground as bags of coffee tumble down around her dead body.
I catch Teris’ eye. With a flick of my head, I motion behind the counter and he nods in return. We not only have to get the gun away from Jacob so he can’t kill any more innocent people, but also so he can’t turn it on himself. Then get him out of here before …
“The police are on the way,” the texting man announces as if on cue.
Jacob takes a measured step beyond the table barrier, his eyes give away that he is gone, the Scourge has dominion over him. Jacob sneers, firing off another round at close range.
The bullet explodes the texting man’s chest, pushing his body tight to the table. His phone clatters across the tile floor. Jacob smiles, blood christening his body. He puts the barrel of the gun near the man’s temple and pulls the trigger. Bone and mucus-like bits of brain cover the area, resembling a demented Jackson Pollock painting.
Austin starts crying and Jacob snaps his head around, focused on the sound. Before he can move, I rise and take a step, giving myself a clear path to him.
“Jacob, enough of this,” I command, in an attempt to draw his attention.
Teris follows my lead and stands. “Jacob, I know you’re still in there,” he says, as sirens call out in the distance.
We stand a few body lengths apart facing Jacob. He points the gun at Teris, then at me, his attention focused on us. His eyes are inky black and wild. If there’s any chance that he’s still in there, we have to do something fast. We’re losing him.
The sirens get louder.
“Jacob, come back to me,” coaxes Teris as he steps from behind the table. “I can see you, a sliver of you. Put the gun down. We can help. The beast is inside you and it’s going to get out. We know how to cure you.”
Jacob tilts his head. “What? What’s inside?” he questions.
Teris inches closer. “A Scourge. A creature that lives in a human, feeding off the pain of life until it grows too powerful. It needs to destroy your body to reproduce.”
Jacob shudders and blinks, a bit of white appears at the edge of his sclera, and his eyes are tame. The sirens wail and I see flashing lights in the street.
“Put the gun down and come with us,” Teris says.
The police cars screech to a halt in the parking lot. Jacob glances over his shoulder, his body going taut.
“Shit,” I bark, and lunge toward him.
He turns and looks at us, his eyes midnight ebony. Bringing the gun up to his mouth, he pulls the trigger. His head snaps back as I tackle him, droplets of warm, sticky blood splatter my face and an explosion of blood gray mist that was once Jacob fills the air. We tumble to the ground and his body goes slack.
Two lithe humanoid footlong creatures with taloned hands and feet burst from his chest leaving otherworldy wounds only Teris and I can see. They sink their clawed feet into me and I scream feeling an acidic burn before they push off.
Visible only to us, we watch as they pass through the window in search of new hosts. I wince, looking down at the claw marks through my torn shirt. It doesn’t take long for the poison to react to my angelic blood, the edges of the wounds are already an ugly shade of green and thick puss begins to drip from them.
“We need to get you to Michael,” Teris says, and hooks his arm around me. I close my eyes and my body lurches inside as Teris shifts us from the mortal world where our presence will be dismissed as trauma-induced hallucinations.
∼ Mark Steinwachs
© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.
Upstairs the music plays, a tragic operatic aria of lament and loss. It drowns out the hiss and creak of the steam and wheels, and the crunch of bones. Oblivious laughter—from the latest guests—mingles with the song, their merry voices drifting into a preceding silence of parties long forgotten.
For the dead no longer scream.
Beneath the gaiety, the servants’ footfalls tread along the stair, from back rooms and the kitchens, down to the deepest level. There, they feed the machines stockpiled flesh. Watching the meat grind, the blood and bone pulverize into dripping globs of raw spat out into vats, waiting for dinners to come. In another corner, maids tuck away silks and jewels to sell.
Nothing to be wasted. No remains to be found.
Above it all the people circulate, eating canopies and drinking wine. The host, he smiles and makes the rounds, greeting and exchanging pleasantries. He gives them all the best of times, a fitting end before they become his next feast.
Lee Andrew Forman
Firm structure to fine dust—machines turn in unending drudge. Bleach powder, chalky, light, stirs endless with their rusted labor. Ill fated are the powers which motivate the process; knowing soon they’d become its product. Weakness feeds the goods produced, monsters purchase its favor. With delicate pouf, makeup, attire; they parade around with gratuitous chortles. Their faces worn in layers of death, they grin ever wide with flavor. For a bit of coin, their color reborn, pale as frosted glass. Those suffered the gift of an end, worth only a minute of reception, would be stripped of flesh and ground to pleasure each patron.
Every Last Damnèd Soul
Scarlett R. Algee
It’s a tricky business, distilling souls. Always have to boil the bitterness off first; it gunks up the works if you don’t, and it’s a bitch to clean out, pardon my saying. Take this lot—they’ve been stewing for three days just to get the residual resentment out. Drowners, all of them. We leave the salt water in, though; customers say it adds a little something to the finished product.
Some of the souls scream while they’re rendered. Some of them sing. I’m told it’s quite enticing. I’ve mostly learned to ignore it, myself.
Madam. Madam. What are you doing out here on the floor? No, you may not touch the machines. The experience would be damnably unpleasant for both of us, pardon my saying.
Madam, please—what’s that? Your son? You think you hear your son? You have my condolences, but that’s quite unlikely. They aren’t really identifiable now, so for your safety I must insist—madam! Madam!
Patterson? Yes, idiot, of course we stop the process! We need an extraction here! She’s the third one this month!
But save the blood. Every drop. The customers say it gives a certain ambiance. Besides, she sings prettily already, doesn’t she?
He fled. And the wicked followed. Their boots banged like gunshots as they chased him through the abandoned factory where he’d sought refuge. Down empty corridors, they went, through shattered doors. He knew this world and lost them in a room of silent turbines. The search moved on.
The hunters hooted through the vast spaces, first in glee, then frustration. The sounds faded, but the hunters were cunning. He stepped from his hiding place only to meet a brutal blow to the back. Tricked, he went down in terror, and rolled over to find himself encircled by humans. Snarling, they hefted steel bars torn from the factory’s rusted machines.
He threw up an arm; they hammered through that defense, smashing his limbs, crushing his abdomen, sending pieces of him clanging across the floor. Within moments his body lay in a heap of torn alloy. One eye sparked and sputtered. But with his other eye and the last of his consciousness he watched as they set him afire. His vision bloomed, then blackened. A human curse was the last thing he heard.
“Robot slag! Now let’s get the rest of ‘em.”
I cough as my gnarled hands run over the tarnished machine. “It’s amazing how many people don’t believe it happened. Proof that humans are fools. Wirths, Mengele, Clauberg; they would have been nothing without me. Mere footnotes.” I lead him amongst the tanks, my fingers gently caressing them. I shuffle along as best I can, years of dust getting caught in the sun coming through the windows. The tiny particles remind of …“I killed millions. Let that sink in. Millions. And here I am. I live my life hidden in plain sight, just like her.” I kiss the tank gently. “Now it’s your turn. Go back and make your country great again, and then the world. Go, my lieb enkel, my dear grandson. Finish what I started.”
“I promise,” he whispers and kisses my forehead then walks away from me.
I lay down on the cold floor. The screams of decades ago flood back. Smiling, I close my eyes for the last time. I only wish I would get to hear that sweet anguish again.
Mercedes M. Yardley
He was hungry. He was always hungry, always starving, always ravenous. His face was far too sharp and his cheekbones cut against his skin in the most visceral of ways. Once he had a name and even people who called him by it, and food was a bit easier to come by. Never quite enough, surely, but not too little.
He slept in the abandoned factory, catching rats and spiders when he could. It didn’t matter if they were malformed by radiation, because so was he. He stuffed them in his mouth, piece by piece, bit by bit. If he just held on, if he just stayed alive, all of this would make sense one day. He had to believe it.
After closing the door, the towheaded child turned, “Father, I’ve returned the chalice. Is there anything else you need?”
“No son. Thank you for your service today.”
As the boy turned to go, he hesitated, turned back, “Father, one of the other boys mentioned a puddle in the basement, I thought I should tell you.”
Glancing at the boy, the Father headed toward the door leading down the stairs. “Where is this puddle?” he asked, hands clasped.
“Just to the left, Father, down the hall.” The boy looked shamed, almost embarrassed as though he’d heard the rumors. Could this one be asking? It seemed unlikely, but he couldn’t help himself, he ran his tongue ever so slightly across his lips.
“The generator room?”
“Yes, Father. The generator room,” the flaccid faced boy stood still and expectant.
“After you, my child.” The youth led him into the room, the light dim as always. Confusion took hold of the robed man, there were others there…waiting. The row of young boys tensed with anticipation. “What’s going on here? Did you all find the puddle?” A nervous chuckle.
“No father, we’ve found redemption. The shame isn’t ours.” As each youth smiled, the glint of their sharpened teeth told of a different indiscretion.
Feed the Machine
Bones crush; the mechanism churns, always turns. Spinning, crunching, consuming. The snap of a skull; shrapnel slices the air nicking tympanic membrane. Those that man the machine have no hearing, they are born without; the ear a remnant from long ago. Chattle of the cause, a war not ours, we breed only to feed the machine.
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