A small shack in the Ozark Mountains. Through the pines that noose it, a hard wind rushes like frantic horses. It isn’t wind that wakes David Holcomb from a long sleep. A car door slams outside. David slips from bed, hugs himself against the chill air. Candles gutter; the fireplace gleams with coals, but not with warmth.
David peers out a window through dusty glass. The moon hangs like a melted Christmas ornament in the nylon shine of night. No clouds mar the star-seeded sky. A parked station wagon is visible. A shadow strides to the cabin’s front porch.
Hesitantly, David steps onto the porch. Wind plucks at him; the chill needles. The figure’s back is toward him. “Who are you?” David calls loudly. “What do you want?”
The figure turns; a coat with a hood hides the face. “We need to get inside,” a voice says. “It’s coming.”
The voice is female. It can’t be who it sounds like.
“What’s coming?” David asks.
The woman doesn’t answer but walks past him into the cabin. David looks off into the woods for a moment. Blowing leaves kite past. The air whips in circles. Trees bend before it while twigs and dead pine needles rake the cabin. Dragons could be crashing through this wind-torn forest and no one would know.
David hurries into the cabin himself, makes sure the wooden door-bar is engaged. The woman stands by the fireplace. She’s thrown back her hood. She’s young, maybe twenty—a couple years younger than he.
“No,” David says. “No!”
David shakes his head violently. “I’m dreaming. I have to be. You can’t be here.”
“Because you’re dead, Shannon. Dead.”
Shannon smiles, shakes her head so that her short red hair gleams in the candlelight. “Don’t I look alive to you, David?”
“I know you’re dead.”
“Despite your own eyes? How do you know?”
“I killed you, Shannon. Ten years ago. The last time we were in this cabin. I killed you and buried you outside in the forest. Buried you deep.”
Shannon laughs. Her eyes twinkle. “Buried me deep? In the woods where the roots grow thick? What did you use to dig that hole? A bulldozer?”
Again, Shannon shakes her head. “It would take a year to dig deep with a shovel in that soil.”
“I dug it,” David says.
But Shannon isn’t listening. Not to him. She is looking outside, to the woods. “You hear it?” she asks. Her voice drops to a whisper. “It’s getting close.”
Terror stitches itself up David’s back. “What? What’s getting close?”
“No. I don’t.”
“You know. You’ve always known.”
David glances nervously at the locked door—as if it will birth a monster at any moment. He looks back at Shannon. She has…altered. Her face is younger, thinner. She’s grown small and suddenly looks as she might have looked a decade before—like a sickly ten-year-old. Her hair is knotted. Her nose drips.
But she steps forward; her focus is all on David now. “It’s time,” she says in a child’s voice.
David backs away. “Time for what?”
“To put away your sins. To move on.”
He shakes his head. “I can’t!”
“You have to. Or the Darkling will make us pay.”
“Tell me what it is! This Darkling!”
“David….” Then another whisper: “It’s here.”
David spins toward the door. Something is on the porch. It isn’t the wind. David whimpers, then sidles toward the fireplace. Planks creak on the porch as some heavy body treads them. A black ribbon of shadow flickers beneath the crack at the bottom of the door. Through the crack bleeds a smell like mint and kerosene.
David feels near to death as the door-bar bulges inward. He grabs a poker from the fireplace, brandishes it like an axe. “What is it? What is it?” he shouts at Shannon.
“The past,” Shannon says. She drops to her knees.
“Tell me!” David screams.
He raises the poker, as if he will strike Shannon. His arm trembles. But he remembers. That’s not how it happened—ten years ago—when Shannon begged her older brother to kill her. He drops the poker. A forgotten brown paper bag rests on the fireplace mantel. David reaches in, draws out a nickel-plated revolver.
As David turns with the gun, not sure what he will do, Shannon says: “The future.”
That word! David cries out. His eyes flood with tears. He falls to his own knees. The pistol is huge in hands that are suddenly young, small, weak.
“I’m sorry, Shannon,” David says. “I should have been able to stop it sooner.”
Shannon doesn’t hear him. “The now!” she shouts.
The door-bar cracks wide. Splinters sleet the room. The door smashes open. The Darkling comes through.
David suddenly sees the shack as it is. The bed where he slept is rotted. No glass fills the windows. No embers flare in the barren fireplace. A boy and girl kneel on the trash-strewn floor. Twelve, and ten, and ephemeral. They recognize the form that slides into the room like an acid mist.
David makes a different decision than he did ten years before. He empties the gun into the mist. The bullets do no good.
A chuckle echoes off the walls.
“There you are,” their father says. “My loving children.”
He kicks the door closed behind him.
∼ Charles Gramlich
© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.
He supposed that some would consider him a saint. An intelligent, good-looking man, collecting the lonely and tossed and scavenged girls he found on the side of the road. He wore them on a chain around his neck. A chain of conquests. A chain of romances. A chain of broken loves and broken dreams and horrifically broken people.
It isn’t difficult for a lonely girl to love a tender man. He says, “I understand” and her eyes grow starry. Dewy. They light up from the inside like embers. He says, “Why has nobody appreciated you?” and she swoons. He tells her, “Nobody will ever love you like I love you. I belong to you like no man has ever belonged to a woman,” and she will give him everything.
There is so very much a lonely girl can give.
The first girl became his wife. She lasted longer than she should have, perhaps, but not as long as he originally expected. She became tired and tattered, and her eyes lost their shine. The next was a friend who became something more, until she abruptly became something less. The third was a broken little thing, all hair and eyes and fairly begging to be cherished. The fourth was a woman older than time, and perhaps a villain in this life or the next.
The others weren’t even memorable. But their finger joints and molars and locks of hair were treasures. Shiny, golden treasures. He held them, wept into them. Wrapped them in pieces of fabric torn from their dresses and work uniforms and kitchen aprons. He stuffed the fabric into a box and kept it at the foot of his bed.
One of his lonely girls eventually turned these scraps of fabric into a warm quilt. She had bent over her sewing machine, running the scraps under the needle with a tenderness that bound, bound, bound. He wrapped this blanket of trophies around himself at night. He thanked his girl with his mouth and his tongue and his blade. She had been useful and thoughtful until the end, and then she just became used.
He ate them. He ate their souls. He devoured their desires and dreams. He held their wants and their screams and trust in his mouth, in his lungs, and when he breathed out, he breathed out their sorrow. But he wanted more. More and more and more. Hungry boys love lonely girls. Love them to pieces. Love them to bits, and bits, and even smaller bits.
∼ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.
His abdomen split down the middle and opened wide. But still, he held my eyes without expression. No pain, no surprise, no suffering could be read. I stared back, waiting to see what would happen next.
His sweaty frame shuddered and limbs bent at unnatural angles. I could hear bones snap. Organs began to leave his abdominal cavity of their own volition. They spread around the body, stretching, morphing, becoming more than they were intended by nature. My eyes strained to witness the full detail of the event. Strange to watch a man turn inside-out, even stranger to see him alive and unflinching.
His body stopped seizing and he continued to stare. Something in his eyes I couldn’t explain… I only hoped the restraints would hold against his growing mass.
I began to step back. Tendrils of meaty innards began to emerge from the mess that used to be his healthy insides. They extended, wavered in the air as if reaching for me. His neck bent at an odd angle, but his hard eyes kept a fix on me, followed me if I moved.
Regret began to form in the pit of my bowels. Not due to mercy or guilt, but because I might be its first victim. That wasn’t what I had intended.
One of the grotesque appendages evolved a mouth at its end. It opened and sprayed me with a bodily fluid I could not identify. My gut heaved until its contents expelled—it was the most vile smelling thing I’d ever experienced.
The pain in my stomach grew, at first I thought from vomiting, but muscles contracted so hard it felt as though they’d rip apart. Heat spread through me as though I’d caught fire from the inside. The final pull on my tender muscles tore them free of each other, spreading the outer flesh open with them.
A moment of vicious agony, then one of the most serene nature. No pain, no fear, just content.
I watched with calm as my innards transformed, given life of their own, expanding and changing and becoming more than just parts a biological machine. They had life, as if I gave birth to them. They were with me, and I them. I had to care for them, bring them what they needed.
I left the man who gave me this gift strapped down, his children screaming, as I ventured to do what all life is meant to do—procreate.
∼ Lee Andrew Forman
© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.
I wish to say I do not remember clearly, because I am an old man and more than thirty years have passed. But it is sin to lie and I cannot forget, so I will say: I remember, though the memory slay me.
When we saw the flare of light we were in the hills above Bethlehem, Micah and Ishmael and I; it was early autumn, the air just becoming crisp, and the ewes we tended were fat and tempting. Micah had killed a wolf with a stone from his sling; I stood watch while he and Ishmael skinned it.
And the sky caught fire.
I can call it nothing else. A great curtain of green light, bright as the sun, licked up from horizon to zenith in an instant; and in the same instant it coalesced to a single point, sickly and flickering, hovering over the mouth of a cave. We stared, bloody wolf forgotten. Ishmael was young then, and trembled. I trembled; I will not lie.
Then we heard the wings.
There were hundreds of them, perhaps thousands, lanky black things with great tattered bat-like wings that blotted out the stars and the strange green light. They hovered over us, and spoke; and their speech was not the speech of men, but a low evil buzz that twisted up words in my mind.
The one you were promised has come. Come. See. We take you.
One of the creatures snatched me up in thin cold hands; it had claws that pierced my robe and pricked my flesh. Then I was lifted; and if others seized Micah and Ishmael I did not see. I saw the ground rush under me, and closed my eyes against the nausea of movement, against the sight of my bearer’s shallow, featureless face.
Then I was set down.
I opened my eyes. I was at the mouth of the cave. The pale green light streamed down, hanging over the opening like a door, made my skin appear leprous in its wake. Then the creature shoved my shoulder with one clawed freezing hand and pushed me through.
Passing through that green glow was like passing through stagnant water: I gagged and retched at its stinking viscosity, and stumbled beyond feeling coated with contagion. Inside was dark except for a far dimmer light; my eyes took a long moment to adjust to the simple oil lamps. I smelled copper, sweat, decay.
And I saw the woman and her child.
She was a young thing, at a closer look, and panting still; the straw between her feet was clotted with copious blood, as though her labor had been precipitous and difficult. An older man, perhaps her husband or father, stood well back from her and raised wild eyes to me, his chin dripping saliva beneath his slack, working mouth. She had the glazed look of the exhausted unto death, and in the whiteness of her face I saw the clean stark lines of the skull beneath, yet through some strength she held the child to her.
Then the woman took the child and laid it in the manger: but the stone trough was lined with raw meat instead of clean straw, and flies buzzed over a butchered lamb in an empty stall. I saw then that the skin of her breast was flayed into fine strands, showing glistening red flesh underneath, and the liquid that dripped from her suckled nipple was not milk but blood.
She spoke in a croaky, breathless whisper: “Behold the son of God.”
Then the child moved: and for the first time I saw its slick black skin, tiny claw-tipped limbs, thin bat wings beginning to unfurl and fan. It gurgled, and its infant mouth showed needle teeth, ringed with tendrils like the barbels of a catfish. They spread out, twisting, tasting the air, perhaps sensing me, and I knew this was not my promised one.
Someone else came into the cave then, slipping effortlessly through the barrier of sick green light and wearing the shape of a man, if a man could be soot black and spider-thin. He was arrayed in tawny silks and bedecked in gold, his face covered below onyx eyes, and he trailed the fragrance of myrrh from the tips of long writhing fingers. He knelt: and as he knelt, his yellow silk veil slipped, and when I saw what lay beneath I ran from the cave screaming.
I screamed until I reached the top of the hill, and there I fell, breathing the sweet cool air, clutching fistfuls of long wholesome grass. Only when I came to myself did I see that the flock had scattered, and that of Ishmael and Micah and the dead wolf there was no sign, save a few tufts of gray fur and a patch of sticky crimson across the grass.
I left the hill country that night, and have not returned. In the thirty years since I have heard that the peculiar babe grew to manhood of a sort, gathered followers and wandered the countryside, preaching a new kingdom and performing strange miracles: giving the lame to walk on ropy tentacle legs, restoring sight to the blind to show them things no man should bear, raising men from the grave to show them crueler forms of death.
I was glad when I heard he had been crucified in Jerusalem. Such a blasphemy should only be put to death. But then I heard the tomb had been found empty three days later, its Roman guards devoured, and I could not be glad for that.
Those who followed him walk still, and they are much changed from men. One I met yesterday, on the road to Beersheba: he said his master had gone to his kingdom, under stone, under sea, to dream a new world and wait for stars to turn. The madman said his king will return to bring his glory.
May it be a glory I do not live to see.
~ Scarlett R. Algee
© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.
Tilting my head back I undo the clasp of the invisible collar around my neck. I feel two sets of long, sharp nails remove themselves from the skin of my shoulders and upper back. Bringing my arm over my head I clasp the collar shut and hang it on my bedpost as I do every night.
I run my hands along my neck. There are no physical marks on me. Nothing my friends or family would ever see, but I know they’re there. Twenty nail marks etched into my skin that will not heal for another night, and bruises from the weight of the creatures tugging at my collar.
I turn around and face them. They stand side by side, ebony beings who stare down at me. They look emaciated, their rib cages protruding. They have long, sinewy arms and legs; I shudder knowing I will feel the creatures pierce me again when I wake up. Their faces are dominated by sets of razor sharp teeth that drip with inky saliva whenever they open their mouths. I’ve yet to feel their bite, though I often wonder what would happen if I did.
Fear opens his mouth and his pointed tongue snakes out. I shiver but meet his gaze. I know he is Fear by the only color on his body, amber orbs that are his eyes. I’ve stared him down many a night.
I look to Doubt, his gold eyes glow in the darkened room. He brings his hands up and sneers. He dug deep into me all day and is gloating about it.
Neither emit a sound, the silent monsters who haunt me. They have been with me for years. Gnawing at my being every day, growing inside me until they forced themselves out. Everyone has these creatures in them, but mine reign over me. Control me.
I am not alone. There are others whose demons are just as powerful. There are no support groups, no doctors who can heal us. We are broken. What I’ve learned about mine, I’ve learned on my own.
They look down at me, watching. They are weaker at night when I am alone with my door closed to the world. But they know I cannot leave these four walls without them. They grow stronger each day. They rule in the outside world, but in mine, my room, I can stand up to them. Keep them at bay while I sleep. Dreams are my only safe place.
I walk to the side of my bed, their eyes never leaving my body. They turn in unison, standing guard as I slip under the covers. I turn off the lamp and my last vision is of their bedside vigil.
My eyes open to a new day. Fear and Doubt stand exactly as I left them. I push myself out of bed and they flex their taut muscles, their claws extending. I know what must be done. My body trembles inside. Each day I lose more of myself, but I cannot stop it. I reach for my collar and put it around my neck. I turn away, offering myself to them as I clasp it shut.
Closing my eyes I wait to feel them. Ten nails pierce my skin, what little healing happened overnight is erased.
He pushes in deeper, tendrils snaking inside my body. As more of him enters me his body shrinks. He is no longer standing over me but now attached to me. Feeding from me. I inhale sharply, choking, as my collar is pulled to one side from his weight.
Waiting. One breath. Two breaths.
He stabs at me. Ten wounds at once. He is swift. Brutal. Taking hold. I gasp and grab the corner of my dresser so I don’t fall over. His tongue flicks my ear as I straighten myself.
They settle in as I open my bedroom door, ready to face the world.
Shutting the door to my bedroom I lean against it. I can’t face another day of school, the humiliation, the bullying. I’m done. I can’t fight anymore. I realize there is only one thing left for me. I finally understand what to do. No longer doubting myself, I will give in. I smile, it will all be over soon.
Pushing myself away from the door, my heart races. The weight shifts along my neck as my collar pulls against me when Doubt’s feet hit the ground. His body comes free and I feel his presence behind me.
I turn to face him. He is losing substance, shimmering in my vision.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper through clenched teeth, tears streaming down my face. I slide my hand under my shirt, feeling along my shoulder blade. Once again I smile. Just as I thought, his wounds are gone.
He steps forward and gently lays his hands over mine. Our eyes stay locked. He has been a part of me for so long. His tongue slips out and he kisses my tears away. Then he is gone.
My heart thumps against my chest. Unclasping my collar, I pull it around in front of me. I wait. His finger traces my body as he steps in front of me.
My body is shaking but I don’t move. I am no longer crying. My hands quiver, fumbling with the clasp that binds Fear to the collar. Patiently he stands in front of me. I release the clasp and drop the collar to the floor. Fear smiles. It is grotesque and beautiful.
His hands roam over my body, feeling flesh he never has before. He grows as we stand together. Every inch of me is now his. There is only one thing left.
He opens his mouth.
My heart races as I close my eyes. A hundred spikes of pain shoot through me. I scream out in agony and fall to the floor, instinctively curling into the fetal position, rocking.
The door bursts open behind me. I hear my mom yelling asking if I’m all right. I know she is only a few feet from me, but she sounds so far away.
I’ve lost count of days, maybe it’s been years. I hear everything that is being said, but my body never responds. I’m trapped. My only reaction is to sob when they give me medication to relax. No one knows why I cry. They don’t understand they are tears of joy for being free.
Inevitably I feel my body slowly twisting into position as the drugs wear off. My tears stop. Those few hours of peace are gone. Once again I return to the hell in which I reside.
Fear is waiting for me.
My body enters his.
I am home.
~ Mark Steinwachs
© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.
She was cursed with a fairness that strangled her. Expectations woven into her dark hair, an openness and roundness to her eyes that filled her with horror. They were too pale, too pure, too winsome to protect her. Terrors poured in while tears poured out. Hate and bile ran through her veins, but when her white skin tore prettily, nothing oozed out but healthy scarlet.
“What is your name?” they asked. Townspeople. Sweet old women. Starry-eyed men, lads whose bones were made of milk and oatmeal.
Pestilence. Famine. Hatred. Murder, she answered, but the words changed inside of her mouth, left her soft, dewy lips like starlight.
“My name is Orva. It means ‘golden one’,” she said aloud, and blushed demurely.
She grew up with a boy name Jorge. His last name meant ‘meadow’, and he was just like a meadow himself, with soft and gentle hands. He caught animals in his traps, whispering sweetly in their ears as he twisted their necks or slit their throats. He skinned them, his beautiful hands slick and red, and this is how he helped feed their village.
“This is for you,” he told her once, as tender as new teens, and handed her a stole of rabbit fur. He wrapped it carefully around her shoulders.
“Thank you,” she said, and smiled charmingly, then tried to slash her wrists on the knife at his belt. Her eyes merely flicked toward it, instead.
“I’m sorry that I have to use such a thing,” Jorge said. “I hope it doesn’t disgust you.”
She looked him in the eyes and took his hand. For the first and last time in her life, her lips said exactly what was in her heart.
“Jorge, some things need to be. And you’re so tender with them while you do it. I’ve never seen such kindness.”
She saw the light in his eyes, and knew what it meant. Over the years, she never saw it go out.
Orva tried to shriek for help, to scream in rage, but her voice was so dulcet. So small. It tinkled like bells. Charming. Merry. She ran to the elder in town. Told him what she thought of him, of the oppressive ideals and the spin-and-twirl roll that she played. She told him that his mother was a hag and he himself a goat, and she wished he was dead. That they’d die. That the entire village would burn and be pillaged and everybody, including herself, raped and murdered and scattered about in pieces.
The words escaped her cupid bow lips and turned to honey. She heard herself laughing with pure joy. Praising his robe. Musing about the darling shape of the clouds. He patted her cheek and told her to go gather wildflowers in her skirt. To plait them in her hair, like the good girl her Mama had always wished for.
“Wishes sometimes come true,” the elder said knowingly, and something passed across his eyes like clouds. Stardust and magic.
Orva obediently skipped off, and cried the entire way.
Her tears were pearls, and made the town rich. They were sewn into bridal veils and fine dresses that she refused to wear, except that her sweet mouth could make no such refusal.
So fine. So good, the townspeople said as they dressed her. Isn’t she the most magnificent thing? Thoughtful and cheerful and full of beauty.
The flowers made an exquisite crown for an exquisite beauty. She tried to pierce her eyes with the thorns so she wouldn’t see how people looked through her, but she merely fluttered her lashes instead. She took her tender wrist to her mouth, touched it with strong, straight teeth, imaging how it would feel to cut through to the vein, to release herself and let people see what she really looked like inside. Perhaps they could love her for her own kind of beautiful. Perhaps she could be enough.
Her teeth didn’t tear into her skin. She kissed her own wrist, over and over and over. She screamed, and the sound of her joyful singing echoed over the valley.
Starlight. Moonshine. She had girlish love in her eyes, color in her cheeks. Jorge was no longer a boy. He stole soft kisses from her, breathless, far too in love, dangerous. No, Jorge, she said. I don’t want this. You don’t even know who I am. Take that knife on your belt and use it. Place it to my throat. Let me go.
He reached for something at his waist, and her heart filled. Shone. He raised his hands, ran them over her shoulders. Upward. She closed her eyes, white teeth biting at her lips.
“I have something for you,” he said. Slim fingers on her pale neck. Something cold.
She hoped the pain would be swift. She prayed it would be sure.
A necklace. Made of precious stones and metal and time and desire. He fastened it around her neck, nervously. Tears ran down her cheeks, wetting his fingers.
“I’ll take care of you,” he said. “Love you always. I’ll feed you on milk and pray to always see the moon shine in your eyes. Will you have me? Will you love me?”
No, no, I don’t know how to love. I’ll poison you with my kisses. Kill our children in my womb with bitterness. It will be despair, and you deserve so much better.
“I love you,” she whispered, and fingered the necklace she wore. Kissed his lips shyly. Buried her face in his shoulder. He held her so close that she couldn’t breathe.
She glowed. Smiled. Inside, she turned her face to the wall and died.
∼ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.
The clouds hung the sky in muted grey, settling low to meld with the horizon. The gloom of dusk stole the last burnished rays of sunset and crept up to meet the clouds. The air spread a leaden cast, a hint of dampness clinging to a vigorous wind.
From the old burial ground, with its sunken earth and broken gravestones, came a scratching, rasping, slithering sound. A noise of crawlers and claws, of burrowing and hiss. Dirt bulged and ground erupted, in a spray of grime and worms.
And momentary silence.
To be broken by skittering whispers.
Death is coming…
Scarlett R. Algee
On the street where Death lives, there are no trick-or-treaters.
Not that Death minds. It’s a quiet cul-de-sac these days, populated by single middle-aged professionals and elderly couples whose grandchildren only visit infrequently, where the only indiscretions are the ones left on the lawn by a neighbor’s dog. Around here, he can practically walk to work every day.
No kids, no teenagers, no police calls for meth labs or midnight shouting matches, and no little candy-grubbing costumed visitors on Halloween.
Oh, Halloween. Death sits back in his recliner, watching SportsCenter with the sound off, and smiles his long-toothed skeleton’s grin. Visitors or not, it’s the one day he doesn’t have to wear a mortal-seeming glamour, the one day he can go around in the cowled ‘Grim Reaper’ attire he’s molded from the thoughts and fears of his neighbors, and nobody asks questions. Mr. Reaper is a good neighbor who keeps his leaves raked and his grass trimmed; the other residents on the street will turn a blind eye to the ghoulish appearance, and to the cobwebs and jack o’ lanterns that appear on the front porch. He’s allowed to be eccentric for one day.
(Mr. Reaper. He’s tried telling them all that his first name is McCormick, but no one ever gets the joke.)
At nine PM, Death turns the TV off. He has an appointment with Mrs. Collins next door at eleven, and needs to sharpen his scythe. He admits he’ll miss the tea and cake, and her admiration for his perfectly-cut lawn, but the work has to go on.
At nine-fifteen, there’s a knock on the door.
It gives Death pause. Has someone taken the jack o’ lanterns as an invitation? Did he leave the porch light on? Is there even candy in the house?
(There is, of course. Living among mortals has given him a weakness for chocolate. He goes into the kitchen just in time to hear a second knock, fetches a Snickers bar from the fridge, and slips it into a pocket of his robe. Wonderful mortal invention, pockets.)
Then Death opens the front door and stares down at himself.
The costume’s not an exact likeness. The robe has the slick look of thin polyester, and the blade of the scythe is almost certainly shiny plastic. But the face is arresting: a perfect age-yellowed grinning skull, surrounded by wispy brittle blonde curls that spill out around the black cowl.
A little female Death. He’s slightly taken aback. “Hello,” he says, but she doesn’t answer. Instead she shoves her plastic pumpkin-shaped bucket under his nonexistent nose and shakes it. The contents rattle. Death looks down in the glow of the porch light. The little round pail is full of small, flattish white objects.
Bones. He looks closer. Teeth. Teeth and bones, canines and carpals, premolars and phalanges, some bits with flesh still attached, some twinkling with pockets of silver amalgam. Then she taps the blade of her toy scythe against her wrist; she’s wearing a wristwatch, and the sound of blade touching crystal is the clink of steel on glass. The little scythe has begun to glow.
Abruptly, Death understands. “It’s time.”
She pulls the bucket away and nods vehemently, two hard up-and-down bobs of her head.
Death considers. He’s always known this day would come eventually; even avatars of mortality have their limits. Still, he’s become selfishly attached enough to the trappings of the living that he hedges, fumbling in his pocket. “Would you like a candy bar? I promise it’s not fun-sized.”
Skulls are inflexible, as a rule, but the girl cocks her head and squints, then nods again, the same two firm motions. Death reaches out to ease the Snickers into her bucket. He touches the teeth and bones inside, and two of his distal phalanges fall off into the pile. The dissolution’s already started.
Death pulls away before he loses any more. She sets the bucket down primly, and shifts her grip on the glowing scythe. It’s longer now, taller. So is she.
“Wait,” he says.
She watches, silent, expectant.
He gestures around them, at the other houses. “They’re kind sorts, for mortals. Give them kindness back. And keep the grass neat.”
Another headtilt as she considers. Then she nods again.
“Very well.” Death looks down at his small replacement. She’ll grow into it quickly; he had. “Go ahead.”
The scythe lifts, lazily, and swings, and in its wake there’s only a faint shimmer in empty air.
Death pushes her cowl back, shakes her curls loose, and picks up her bucket. She steps across the threshold into the house. Tomorrow she’ll have a word with the neighbors about their pitiful lack of Halloween decorations. They’ll have to do better next year. But first, there’s that appointment with Mrs. Collins. If she hurries, there’s time to bake a cake.
Miss Reaper’s a good neighbor. It’s the least she can do.
The clouds break and expose a perfect moon. I will myself to hear howls in the distance that don’t exist. It would be far too cliché to meet my maker under a full moon ripped apart by a creature of fantasy. No, my time ends at the hands of the noxious, silent death that has overrun Earth.
Leaning against a tree, my ankle throbs, purple and swollen. Why did I even run? I’m too average to be one of the survivors. Making it this far was more luck than skill, right place right time kind of thing.
The stench of death assaults me before I hear their shuffle through the leaves. My finger slides over the trigger of the pistol I learned to use not long ago.
I see one, then another, and more beyond them. They know I’m here through glazed over eyes. I point my gun at the first one and hear others close in around me. There are far too many, I put my gun down, why fight the thing I will become.
My death will be like my life, another one amongst the masses.
You Can Be Always
Lee Andrew Forman
Hollow pumpkins grinned along the street with flickering eyes. Knocking, knocking, all eve long—the little ghost filled her bag with sugar-treats. Monsters and things long-dead, faces that normally brought fright, didn’t raise her pulse at all. She knew Halloween was the time for horrors that darkness brings.
The street light went out, she found herself alone. At the end of the road, where front stoops had gone cold.
An ebon-skinned fairy came to her side. Smooth, shining, blacker than night, its wings fluttered as it lit on her palm. Fear nearly struck her, but instead, wonder she found. Never had she seen such a beautiful thing.
“Are you a fairy?” Sarah asked.
It nodded its head and blinked its eyes. Then it took flight, waved its hand in the air. It beckoned her to follow in step, led her deep in the woods, toward a house long abandoned.
Sarah pulled at her costume, tried to remove it—the forest so dark, the cloth made it darker. But the fairy tugged back, insisted she keep it.
It is Halloween after all, she thought, everyone should be in costume.
The hovering creature took her hand, urged her to follow. Pumpkins lit the porch of the old wooden cabin, their soft light warm and inviting. She hopped to the door and on its own it opened; beyond it waited things she never imagined—things strange, never seen, not even in dreams.
Masked creatures came to greet her, some stumbling forth. Their scent was of old, long-forgotten. She inhaled the pleasant air, let its flavor remind her of what was.
“You can be always,” they said in unison.
She smiled at the thought of endless autumn nights—cool air and colored leaves.
She allowed them to take her into their place, with willing soul and a walk with grace.
“You shall become as you are,” the voices spoke.
The white linen costume tightened around her. She didn’t fight the transformation, rather welcomed it instead. She wanted to be there, better than dead.
As her feet disappeared and she floated as if normal, she peered through the holes of her ghostly exterior, and looked forward to time with her new family—forever.
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and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018
White painted cages. One animal for each. Shaved, stripped, washed, re-clothed. They brought us clean into a den of filth. Irony could be willfully cruel. I wondered the reason; why not let us die? But I remembered people had a knack for keeping alive what should be dead.
We would have perished by choice but they made us live. Willful starvation wasn’t an option—refusal would be penetrated by a clear plastic tube.
We dreamed of death, and it of us. It suffered along, wishing to enter, but the walls of this place, too thick for even it to intrude. On occasion a finger slipped in, on long nights when no one was looking. Most hoped to be chosen, at least those of mind.
Those in the shallow, unmarked soil were the luckiest. The field barely visible, we knew it was there. The quiet place, land without screams; absent of cruelty and electric pain. The lack of names on stone was irrelevant, for all here had already been forgotten.
Others lost their souls, bodies still lingered. Where spirit went, I could only imagine. Maybe they occupied dreams, out of focus objects wailing in distortion behind flittering eyes. Most would call that a haunting; for us—absolute communion.
∼ Lee Andrew Forman
© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.