Countdown

Harry wakes to heat, and to silence.

He opens his eyes to a leak-stained ceiling, but everything feels too bright and he closes them again, trying to push past the cotton-wool thickness in his head to sort out exactly why the quiet is wrong. There’s a small stinging ache at the back of his neck and a sour iron taste in his throat, like he’s held a mouthful of old coins.

There’s no background noise.

That’s it. Harry opens his eyes another fraction. He’s lying on a bed in an unfamiliar room—in the Bonneheure Hotel, if the fleurs-du-lys stamped on the center ceiling tiles are any indication—but there’s no hotel ambiance, no voices or footsteps or air-conditioning hum. No air’s circulating at all: the room has a stifling musty smell that makes his nostrils burn. There’s just the rasp of his own breathing, and the corner of his smartphone digging into his hip inside his pocket.

And the weight of another body on the bed.

Harry turns his head, dizzy, frowning. The woman lying beside him, covered by a sheet pulled above her breasts, is bottle blonde, immaculately made up, her mouth a candyfloss shade of red and her eyelashes crisp with mascara.

Is she a hooker? He’s never seen her before.

Harry doesn’t remember coming here. Or bringing a woman, or anything that can tell him why he’s lying in his clothes on a bed in a silent hotel room with someone he doesn’t recognize; his last memory is of standing in front of his boss’ office door and feeling a sudden cold sting in his neck.

So that’s the pain above his collar; it’s starting to itch. He’s been…drugged? Kidnapped? But why—

This place closed last year, he thinks, and belated understanding brings him fully awake. Harry sits up and his right shoulder is jerked painfully: there’s a cable tie snugged around his wrist, attached to another, and another, a chain of cable ties that leads somewhere under the bed. He shifts on the mattress, heart picking up, sweat breaking out hot on his face; something shifts with him and rolls against his thigh.

The woman hasn’t stirred. Harry glances at her, then at the object, and pulls it into his lap with his left hand. It’s a roll of leather, and he fumbles it open to find a set of steak knives, gleaming blades of various widths, their serrated edges like broken sharks’ smiles.

“I don’t understand,” he says hoarsely. Harry looks back to the woman—his sitting up should have woken her, but she still hasn’t moved. Has she been drugged too? He reaches out with his free hand to shake her, clumsily.

She’s cold.

She’s not breathing.

His phone rings.

Harry shrieks, almost voiceless, and starts to his feet. His cable-tie tether jerks him down, and his knees bang painfully on the worn gray carpet, his head just missing the edge of the bedside table. He shuts his eyes again and exhales a ragged breath, heart stumbling against his ribs, sweat pouring beneath his shirt. The smartphone trills again, breaking a tiny sob from his parched lips, and with effort he wrests enough slack in his plastic restraint to pull the phone loose and thumb the screen. “H-hello.”

“Harry.” He knows the voice. It’s Conrad from work; Conrad, right hand of their boss, Kurtz, though Harry can never remember what the man actually does for the company. “I take it you found our present.”

“Conrad, God, Conrad, you have to help me—” Harry has almost no saliva, and when the words register, even that dries up. “…Present?”

“Do you like her, Harry?” Conrad is smiling, Harry can hear it in his voice. Can picture it, in fact: the perfect teeth, perfect tan, perfectly parted hair. “Lola. You wouldn’t have known her, she was down in HR,” Conrad purrs. “Shame, really, she’s a hell of a looker, but she was convenient.”

He sounds like a cat licking cream from its whiskers. Harry swallows, looking back over his shoulder at…Lola. “Conrad. What’s going on? Why’s this happening?”

“Oh, Harry, honey. You know.”

There’s a hint of laughter in Conrad’s voice, one that becomes more than a hint when Harry whimpers. “Look. Okay, look. If this is about the money, I—”

“Of course it’s about the money.” Conrad’s friendliness gives abrupt way to a hard edge. “You don’t skim off the top, Harry, not with Kurtz. You knew better. You may be swimming in the accounting pool, but you’re not one of the sharks yet.” The laugh comes out, a short sharp bark. “It’s the assumption that hurts, you know? Mr. Kurtz doesn’t appreciate people thinking he’s stupid.”

“I—” Harry’s heart is tapping painful double-time against his sternum. He’d assumed just that thing, had assumed his wide-bodied, pig-eyed boss was the idiot he resembled; it had been a correct assumption before, with some of the others. He works his jaws, trying to think fast as whatever he’d been doped with burns off. “So what happens now? The cops show up, they find me, they find…Lola”—he chokes on her name—”and they assume the worst?”

“That’s a neat convenient package,” Conrad muses. “And Mr. Kurtz wants to make an example of you. Only…not like that.” He sucks his teeth audibly. “Nobody’s going to look for you there, Harry. That hotel’s been closed fifteen months. It’s scheduled for demolition tomorrow.”

Harry’s chest constricts.

“And there’s Lola.” Conrad must be grinning. “Isn’t she a beauty? Kurtz got a clever idea. There’s a bomb in her.”

The blood drains from Harry’s face with a palpable loss of heat. “…What.”

“A bomb, Harry. Goes boom? One of the IT guys rigged it.” Conrad’s friendliness is back. “That’s why you have the knives, Harry. Nice knives. Japanese carbon steel. Got ’em at Sears. You cut her open and find it, you might have a chance. Kurtz believes in fairness, Harry, even if you don’t.”

The façade drops again. “You have five minutes. Goodbye, Harry.”

The call disconnects. Harry stares at his phone, aghast, but slowly gets to his feet, sits on the bed.

Stiffly, he pulls the sheet from Lola’s cold body.

She’s naked, flawless. Aside from a tiny blue pinprick wound on her throat, there’s not a mark on her. How many times had he passed this woman in the hallway and never picked her out from the others?

It’s a joke, right? It’s a sick joke, it has to be, he can’t—

Within the dead woman’s abdomen, something begins to beep.

∼ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

Revealed

Tears run in rivulets between the ashen layers – they carve their own landscape in the hardening cushion of falling powder. Fathers, mothers, small children, they reach for one another; some huddle close with barely a moment to spare, others remain a hands-width apart – all held fast in anguish as death sets upon them. This thriving valley swiftly transforms into a diorama of human terror and suffering.

Many years go by, a window into the past is unearthed; horrors the likes of which mankind has never seen before are revealed. A visage of haunting forms preserved in their final moments of agony – life pocketed in a cocoon of time; tragedy locked in the layers of its vice-like grip. Coincidence that this stroke of Mother Nature’s brush was encapsulated with such precision, or warning that another is coming?

∼ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

The Veil

“As the moon rose high over the world, creatures scattered to find shadows for shelter. This was the night, and everything in existence could feel what was coming. The night ‘The Veil’ would be raised between the living, and the dead.” Phil said while sprinkling some sparkly dust over the fire. The other four children sat around in a semi-circle, hanging on his every word. “Tradition dictates that we must go into the cemetery and sit until morning lest we be known as cowards!” He enforced. “Now comes the time to end the ‘Trick-or Treating’ and start figuring out what’s real, and what’s make-believe!”

“Dude, you’re ridiculous.” Ethan said while lifting his monster mask.

“Shut up man! Are we men, or are we meese?!” Phil quipped.

“Meese!” Came a chime from the quartet surrounding him.

“Fine! I’ll do it alone then, and I’ll tell everyone you guys punked out.” Phil retorted with his nose high in the air – not that it could get much higher with that plague doctor mask on. He spun on his heel and took off toward the cemetery.

“Aw c’mon bro, you know we’re kidding.” Liam called after him, but he’d already covered too much ground to hear him. The four boys shrugged and let him go off on his own, figuring he would probably chicken out and come find them with an incredibly bogus story to tell.

“More candy for us!” Alex yelled, and three of the boys took off on their bikes in the opposite direction.

***

Phil was panting by the time he reached the cemetery, forget them. If I’m the only one man enough to do this, then so be it. He leaned his bike against the gate and began his trek into the place of rest. Once he reached a particularly damaged looking tree, he sat and waited. For years he’d heard the older boys talk of the ghosts and ghouls that crept out of the crypt on Halloween night, now it was his turn to see the dead rise again! He’d always had a sort of strange fascination with the dead, undead, sorta-almost-kind-of-dead; anything dark and creepy to be honest – he firmly believed all he’d heard.

A rustling came from the far left of the cemetery. “W-h-ho’s there?” He stuttered. The silence was deafening; there were no giggling trick or treaters, no crickets singing their sad song, and no more rustling. “Alex? Alex is that you? I bet it is, you jerk, I’m not scared!” At that moment a figure came into focus, emerging from the bushes near the entrance gates. “Say something, you asshole!” Whatever it was, it moved with such grace that Phil’s heart felt as if it was going to explode at any moment. He looked around and grabbed a rock, the nearest weapon he could find.

The fourth child from the fire appeared before him, dressed as a ghost he was covered in a plain white bed sheet with eye holes cut through. Phil gulped and got a tighter grip on his trusty rock. “Jay?” He asked. He looked the ghost up and down and noticed its feet, or well, lack thereof. “W-w-who – what are you?” He managed to get out, now shaking.

“I’m who you’ve been waiting for, no?” It replied curtly.

“I-I-I- uhh…” Phil trailed off, unsure of how to respond.

“RISE!” It called and the ground began to rumble. Phil tried to stand, but his legs betrayed him and turned to jelly. He looked around and saw hands reaching from beneath the earth toward the dark sky. The moon illuminated his fear-struck face. “Hahahaha, mortals. Were you not ready for this? Are you a man, or are you a ‘meese’?” It mused.

“P-p-please, d-don’t…” Phil tried to beg for mercy.

“Watch.” It told him and turned towards its armada of corpses. “Enjoy your night my ghouls!” He called to them and off they went. Some ran, some walked, others seemed to simply disappear. “It is our night. The veil has lifted, as you so arrogantly proclaimed earlier!”

Phil began to regain feeling in his legs, I have to know. He reached up and grabbed the sheet from the creature before him. His eyes wide with disbelief, he opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out.

“Some things should never be seen, Phillip.” It said before it sliced through his neck with razor-sharp teeth. Phil’s blood trickled down the monster’s cheeks and onto the ground before the dead tree. “You were fun, meese.”

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

The Shadow Blight

The Shadow Blight lived between the bewitched wind and the waning moon, beneath the cold whispers of autumn and the first kiss of winter. He moved as a gossamer ghost, shifting along the seasons when the old year turned new, when the voices of the forest told their stories. He smiled. His tale was foremost, a warning to all and veneration to appease. 

Weave my story with your words and summon me.”

Among the trees the Shadow Blight slithered, listened and lingered, melting into the flickering silhouettes cast by the flames of campfires. The air turned chill and the light dimmed as once more a story unfolded, one told for a thousand years. 

“Beware the Shadow Blight. A cursed spirit of the land, a soul reaper.” An old man stirred the fire, nodding at his compatriots. “Born from the primal night and the eternal fear, the creature comes to us for our light and hope, feeds on our warmth and joy. We must be vigilant and reverent, guard our homes and words, to never invoke its wrath or presence, lest we fall to its power.”

Then another voice scoffed, “A child’s tale, lies meant to scare, nothing more.” The man who spoke snorted, as the others made warding signs. “I’ll not believe in a fool’s story.”

The wind blew suddenly, and the fire snapped with sparking embers.

Do not mock me, unbeliever.” 

The Shadow Blight laid a hand on the man’s shoulder fusing cold despair into his bones that would never vanish. The man shivered and fell silent, staring into the flames. By morning, he would be a hollow shell: afraid, hopeless and slave to a forever misery. 

Remember me, always.”

The Shadow Blight moved on. 

He drifted as an imperceptible phantasm, shifting along the edges of vision and well-worn roads, drawn by the voices of the crackling hearth and their whispered warnings. The settlement lights delighted him, and he slid from village to village. His dark fingers brushed window sills and shutters as he wandered past each house. He rattled door handles and knocked softly on the wood.

Let me in.” 

The people inside shivered with his words, terror bled from hidden depths and spilled against the night. Not a door opened until he came to one neglected, one entrance unlocked to his presence.

I am here.”

The door creaked open, flapped in the wind, and the doomed inhabitants gasped. The candle flames and hearth fires flickered, then died, and frost filled the windows. A happy family of four felt the ice form in their veins as the Shadow Blight’s arms encircled them, as he murmured in their ears. 

“Come to me. You are mine.

Their eyes closed and their breath slowed. One by one they died, their bodies still and frozen, their lives over. But their souls… 

Their souls followed the Shadow Blight home.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2020 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Unknown Filth

Beads of sweat become streaks down my tired face. I approach the home of an ‘afflicted’ child, feeling the evil emanating from within. Always seeing, watching, hahaha! We see, can’t hide – the voice echoes through my skull, reverberating off every open chasm and back into my spinal cord. I shiver, grit my teeth, and knock on the enormous wooden door. It flies open and I’m greeted by a man, his face mirrors the exhaustion of my own, his eyes beg for salvation. A plea for help! A cry, a cry! My thoughts swim in pools of depravity, the voice taunting me – so vile, but yet, its power…

The man walks me past other family members who are just as weary. Their heads bowed and chanting under their breath. The voice laughs loudly in my ears, almost causing me to miss a step; I wonder if anyone else can hear it. We make it to our destination, the scent of rotten meat fills the air. I thank the man and tell him it will be alright soon – he seems to believe me and half smiles as he returns to join the rest of the potential mourners.

I step through a doorway into a ground of unholy fire, though most believe hellfire burns hot, the fact of the matter is, they’re colder than ice. My breath puffs in front of me as I look around the room: baby blue walls spattered with unknown filth, action figures that create a path to the sleeping child. So innocent, so deliciously corruptible, ours – ours! My stomach lurches into my throat and I turn to the dresser to lay out my tools. Turn… Around….

Spinning on my heel, I move too fast and knock the holy water to the ground, “Oh!” I mutter and look at the child. No longer pressed against the bed but upright facing the wall. His head spins toward me, eyes glow red and a toothy grin spreads across his face. I hear a crack and watch as his body contorts backward in the most inhumanely manner.

“Demon, I cast you out in the name of our savior!” I shout and thrust my cross forward. The boy screeches and skitters back. “Out you damned beast!” He hisses as I reach down to grab the holy water, spraying what little is left over him. His flesh sizzles and the monster within growls. I press the cross to his chest and recite several prayers – he writhes in agony. The voice screams; it growls and shouts obscenities – I can’t be sure if I’m hearing it in my mind or out.

At last the chaos ceases, there’s only myself and the boy in complete silence. His breath is shallow and his body relaxes against the cross.

The voice cries out from within me again, I watch as a figure darker than night slides through the room, closing in on me. “Begone foul creature!” I demand, but it’s too late. I’m engulfed in darkness, no longer in control of my body. The holy book in my hand changes, and I stare in awe as an eye peers at me from the cover. It glows.

I stare into the mirror above the dresser and see myself smirking. I hear the voice again, this time it comes from my own mouth, “I win, Father.”

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

Final Harvest

Wind chased the moonlight with a touch of frost and whispers from the grave. The fallen leaves swirled over the cold ground and crackled into the silence. From deep within the soil, blood seeped to the surface and screams reverberated in the air; the echoing pain from forgotten spirits of the dead. Tendrils of mist, grey and damp, drifted from the ground and the forest throbbed with a faint rhythm, a hint of an ancient heartbeat.

From the dark bowels of hellfire and damnation, a figure arose; a crone dressed in ebony robes and wielding a skull-topped staff made of bone. She thumped the cane three times; the skull trembled, and the wind swirled in angry gusts. The earth cracked open and a green miasma hissed forth, carrying a siren’s song that played underneath the edge of the world. The mist snaked along the trail leading to the village, searching.

The old witch smiled, placing both hands on top of her staff. Around her ghosts drifted from the trees, compelled to bear witness. Above the forest came the hoot of an owl. Then the night cloaked itself in silence and the moon hid behind the clouds.

The witch and her spirits waited.

***

“Come on, Sandra! I don’t want to go hiking in the woods this late. You said you wanted to go to my place. That’s why we left the party.”

“I heard something.” Sandra waved vaguely at her boyfriend, Harry. “Something… I don’t know.” She moved closer to the trees. 

“Sandra, come on! What the hell are you doing?”

She ignored him, walking faster, her ears filled with a sweet strain of music. She smiled, a strange euphoria dancing in her head and she broke out in a run. She never heard Harry’s shouts or the sound of him chasing her. She only followed the song into the trees.

The green mist greeted her and wrapped itself around her body, pulling her deeper and deeper into the forest, to where the old witch waited. 

As the tree cover thickened, Harry’s screams finally penetrated her perception, and she turned her head. She smiled at his thrashing body and happily watched the mist drag him along the forest floor. Her feet scuffled through the leaves and dirt and an errant breeze ruffled her hair, but her glassy-eyed stare barely saw her surroundings.

At last they arrived, stopping a foot away from the witch, and the mist loosed its grip, retreating into the earth. 

Harry scrambled to his feet, bleeding from dozens of scrapes. “What the hell is going on? Let’s get out of here.” He grabbed Sandra’s arm, but she pulled away, moving closer to the old witch, a contented smile on her face.

“She’s mine now.” The crone cackled. “You weren’t part of the deal, but I never reject a gift.” From beneath the folds of her robe, she pulled out a knife and handed it to Sandra. “Kill him, my dear.”

Sandra rushed forward and slashed a shocked Harry across the throat with the knife. He gurgled, clutching at the gushing wound in his throat, stumbled and fell. His blood flowed into the soil as he bled out and died.

Sandra turned back to the witch, the knife slipping from her fingers.

The old woman smiled at Sandra. “Now it’s your turn.”

The witch stamped her staff three times on the ground. Thousands of ghosts swarmed from the trees, the air, the soil, surrounding Sandra. The ghosts snatched at her hair and clothes, beat her with fists, kicked at her, each touch burning, searing into her skin and soul.   

She welcomed them with a shriek of joy, throwing her arms out wide as the ghosts surged closer. More hands tore at her, scorching her skin until it blistered and peeled away, until her blood flowed, until her body collapsed to the ground, still and cold. 

Then the spirits parted, leaving a path for the old woman, who walked forward. She lifted her staff and tapped it three times on Sandra’s body, and then on Harry’s. Two spirits rose from the corpses and joined the host of other phantoms. 

The old witch stepped over the bodies. “It’s time.”

This time she drove her staff into the soil. The earth quivered, vibrations racing across the woodland to the tops of the trees, and the air shattered with the howls of the damned. Red blood bubbled from the ground and flowed up the cane, twisting lines coursing into the skull, filling its hollow insides and spilling out past the bony rims of its eyes. The staff glowed in crimson energy and the horde of ghosts moaned. 

With a whispered word from the old crone, coils of energy lashed out from the staff, seeking the captive spirits, each soul pierced and drawn back into the witch’s talisman. When the last ghost vanished within the skull, the trail glowed red, following a winding path towards the village. 

The old witch took a breath and moved forward, walking down the trail and past the edge of the woods for the first time in two hundred years. She hummed a faint tune and wondered who she would kill first.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2019 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

 

Patient Zero

The first thing you do when you wake up is peel your eyelids open with your fingers.

Your lashes are gummy, and almost stick together again when you squint against the too-bright light. Your tongue feels parched and furry, clinging to the roof of your mouth. When you work your jaws there’s the distinct sting of flesh parting. You taste something metallic, like blood, but thick and rancid. Sweat slicks your forehead, oily and cold.

Cold. You fumble the back of your hand across your forehead and yes, your skin is cool. Your fever must have broken.

Annalise had been sick at the office party last night, or at least she’d complained of feeling unwell. So had Brian and Tamsin, separately; Brian had said his kids had come home from school aching. Some sort of crud, you’d all agreed, something going around. They’d decided to go home early. You’d felt fine at the time, but talking to them had left a psychosomatic scratchiness in your throat.

Or at least you’d thought it was psychosomatic. By the time you’d pulled into your own driveway, you could feel the swell of your tonsils every time you swallowed, and your skin had felt like parchment paper left in an oven too long; brittle and scorched around the edges. You’d choked down water and ibuprofen in the kitchen, then stumbled out of your stilettos and staggered to the bedroom where, vision blurring and hands beginning to shake, you’d read your temperature on the digital thermometer as a hundred and four.

I’ll go to the ER, you’d told yourself dizzily. Right after I just lie here a few minutes.

But that had been last night, or so you think. You’re still in the cocktail dress you’d worn to the party, and as you struggle upright, limbs heavy and joints crackling in protest, you catch sight of the bruises in the creases of both your elbows, large and slate-blue. The skin around them is grey, and panic twists heavily in your chest as you scrabble the thermometer from the bedside table and shove it beneath your stiff tongue. In a few seconds the thermometer’s alarm shrills, and you pull it free, squinting harder; the skin of your forehead creases and splits with the effort.

Eighty-five degrees.

You can’t feel your heartbeat.

Something is very, very wrong.

Standing is difficult; your knees have locked almost completely, nearly pitching you straight forward onto the floor. But you catch yourself against the nightstand and totter into the bathroom, holding onto the fixtures, the furniture, the walls. You grip the edges of the sink and haul yourself in front of the mirror and scream, except you don’t. The noise that comes out as you stare at yourself is airless and soft.

The skin of your face is ash grey. Your eyes are sunken and semi-opaque, surrounded by deep purple lids. You pull back your lips and see blackened gums shriveling away from your teeth. Shuddering, you hug yourself and rub your icy forearms, and a flap of skin drops away from one limb like a discarded glove.

Whatever this is, you don’t think the ER can help you now.

~ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright 2019 Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

Dare

It was simple, if they wanted to join the sorority they had to complete a dare. The most popular girls got the easy ones; kiss a nerd, steal a chalk duster from a lecture theater. The girls on the bottom of the pledge list got the hard ones. Sarah, dead last in popularity with her potential sorority sisters, got the hardest. But she was determined to start her college life as a member of the most popular sorority, so she willingly accepted the challenge.

She had to take a selfie in the Murder House.

The Adams House was its official name, but to the students and faculty, it’d always been the Murder House. After all, it was where Professor Adams killed his family before turning the gun on himself. It happened in 1972. Afterwards, anyone who moved in didn’t stay long and every one of them told the same story. It was haunted by the ghosts of the dead family. In 1989 the university sealed up the house and left it to rot.

Sarah decided to go in the daytime. Logic supposed the ghosts would only be active after dark. The house was surrounded by a metal fence, topped with vicious looking spikes. Sarah opened the gate and walked up the path to the house. The windows and doors were covered with wood panels, but the wood used to block the front door was rotted and loose. She pushed through and was surprised to find the front door ajar.

She stood in the hall, looking around. Through open doorways she could see empty rooms to her left and right. In front was a curved, open staircase. She’d been told she had to take the photograph in the upstairs bedroom, where the murders had taken place.

She stepped forward and placed her foot on the first stair. With an explosion of noise, the front door slammed shut. She screamed. The two open doorways on the first floor banged shut as well. She ran up the stairs, with the sound of slamming doors echoing through the house. As she reached the top, all doors were closed except one. She had no choice, she had to escape.

The room she entered was as empty as the others. French doors led out onto a balcony. The door slammed behind her. There was only one way out. She opened the french doors and stepped onto the balcony. The doors closed behind her. She glanced over the low railing of the balcony to the garden. The railing that surrounded the house was directly below. She could see spikes pointing upwards. She’d have to be careful, but it was just possible she could drop from the balcony without hitting the railing. It was the only option, she wasn’t going to go back into that house; the legends were true, the place was haunted.

She stepped over the railing, grabbed hold of the metal and started to lower herself. She maneuvered into position, her feet dangling in midair, her grip on the metal railing holding her entire weight. She quickly realized her plan wouldn’t work; if she dropped, she’d hit the spikes. She’d have to climb back onto the balcony, but she found she couldn’t do it. Her feet could find no purchase and she wasn’t strong enough to pull herself back up using her arms alone. She was stuck.

She screamed, her throat raw and burning. She could see figures running along the road. A huge sense of relief swept over her; she was saved. She no longer minded the pain in her shoulder and arm muscles. She could grip the balcony railing for as long as it took for someone to prop a ladder under her. It was then she felt it, a soft fluttering sensation on her hands, as if a butterfly had landed on her skin. Slowly, one-by-one, she felt her fingers being lifted from the rail. Below her the spikes glinted in the sunlight. Just before she fell, she heard the sweet laughter of a child.

∼ R.J. Meldrum

© Copyright 2019 R.J. Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

 

The End

“They did this to themselves. They brought us back and now is the time for them to feel the consequences.”

I look from Beleth to the house next door and give a friendly wave. Pastor Tom, sitting on his front porch, pretends not to see it and turns his head from our direction.

“That’s not very Christian of him now, is it?” I say.

Beleth continues, ignoring my comment. “Nothing can be in moderation anymore. Everything is to the extreme,” the last bit spoken like a commercial announcer. “So, here we are. And soon it will be time to right the ship.”

A group of children and parents round the corner to our house. Beleth stops talking and waits. The kids gasp as the motion sensors kick on and our yard comes alive. Fog rolls out from the machines tucked behind our bushes, the lights on our porch flicker on and off, and Beleth cackles as eerie music emanates from unseen places. A couple of children approach unaffected while others hesitantly come up holding their parents’ hands.

“Trick or treat!”

Beleth stands up and opens his arms wide. Halloween is the one night he can be most like himself, his feline features muted but not totally hidden. “Wonderful children, just wonderful! Now, before you get a treat, you all must answer a tricky question from me. Are you ready?”

The children nod and some of the parents take pictures. Beleth gets down on one knee. “Who will be brave and step forward to answer my question?”

His grin is like the Cheshire Cat and I can’t help but smile and shake my head, taking one more glance across the yard at Pastor Tom, who is scowling at the scene.

A boy, about ten, dressed as a soldier, steps up to Beleth. “Ah, a brave warrior!” Jeeze, he’s laying it on thick this year. “Now, to get your treat, answer me this: What is … twenty times ten?”

Beleth’s grin never faltered. You write one book on mathematics and you think you are God’s gift. The boy looks around for a second, the question seemingly catching him off guard. “Uhh, two hundred, sir.”

“Very good!” he says, and touches the boy on the shoulder. “You can get your treat from my friend Adra right there.”

I hand out the full-size candy bars, yeah, I’m showing off, what about it? as each child answers their math-related question.

As the last one comes to me, Beleth stands back up. “Gene, is that you? I didn’t even recognize Timmy in his costume! We have enough for the parents too, don’t be shy.” He bares his fangs and his cat eyes light up. Gene comes up and introduces us to the other parents. Beleth shakes each one’s hand. “Thank you so much for bringing your kids and letting them have some fun on this wonderful night.”

I know how his touch marks them and I’m not sure if they will thank him or curse him for it later.

The group heads next door to Pastor Tom’s. He waits on his porch and hands each kid a pamphlet. I’ve read it, and it’s not very good, all about the evils of Halloween and how you should have Jesus as your lord and savior and whatnot. Really not my style. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jesus. He’s a good guy and he’s a big part of the reason for what’s about to happen.

The kids take their “treat” from Pastor Tom and move on to the next house on our block. Beleth’s cackle pulls me back to the task at hand as he gets up from his chair.

“Wonderful, children, just wonderful!” And the scene from moments ago plays out numerous times throughout the next couple of hours.

***

“Adra, it’s ten fifty, you ready to do this?” Beleth asks from the other room.

“You know, it’s been a few minutes since I’ve been myself. I’ve got a bit more to contend with than you do. One minute.” I run my hands down my six-packed torso. It’s been much too long since I was my real self and, damn, I look good. Yeah, still showing off. Deal with it. “Besides, he lives next door. Not like we have far to go.”

Stepping back, I take in the image staring back at me from the full-length mirror. I twist my neck, stretching the muscles. I smile at the sight, but it isn’t as … well, charming as Beleth’s. In my true form I have the head and body of a donkey. I walk upright on hooves, but I need hands, so while they match the rest of my fur, they are still human form. I flick my long tail and unfurl the peacock feathering behind me. Each of the green feathers has a blue eye in it that I can use to see my warriors across the world. I snap the feathers closed and let my tail drag behind me as I walk out of the bedroom.

Beleth is waiting in the living room. “Marvelous,” he says. “Adramelech, you are a sight.” He is in full black cat form, and like me, he still walks upright and chooses to keep his human hands too. “What music shall we dance to? Maybe the Valkyries?” From his body the song begins to play quietly in the room.

I shake my head, rolling my eyes, and walk out the front door. “Now who are we waiting on?”

The street is quiet at this time of night and there is a subtle hint of sulfur in the air. I unfurl my train and before I can open myself to the eyes of my soldiers, I hear Beleth’s, “Mmmmm.” Told you I looked good.

Everyone is in place waiting on our signal.

On the road, the two of us walk next door, ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ playing every step of the way. I look across the street at Gene’s house. They are marked and will be safe, through this round. Beyond that, I’m not sure. All the powers-that-be want is the world to get back to a balance. And once we start, we won’t stop until the bosses are happy with their creation.

We look like two well-costumed humans, as do the rest of us all over the world. If anyone is watching, there’s no cause for alarm. At least not until it’s too late. The motion sensor detects us and Pastor Tom’s porch light pops on as we step up to his door.

This is where it begins, with a horribly misinformed ‘servant’ of God, in charge of a nothing little church in a suburb of St. Louis.

No one could envision it starting this way.

I close my tail, pull my leg up, and am about to kick the door in when…

“Wait a second,” Beleth harshly whispers. “I have it.” ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ turns into one of Beleth’s favorite songs, ‘Superbeast’. The aggressive drums and guitar swell around us and off into the night air.

“Really?” I say. “Little on the nose, don’t you think? And there is no way he is going to know this.”

“Who cares about him? I think it’s great. It’s fucking Rob Zombie, over-the-top rock and roll about monsters and sex and violence. Plus, have you seen his movies? It’s everything they hate. This is the perfect music.” He nods at the door, teeth bared. “Go for it.”

I kick my leg out and the door bursts inward. We rush in, heading up the stairs to Pastor Tom’s room. The growling vocals and crunching guitar fill the house, ‘devil’ music announcing our arrival.

Pastor Tom’s eyes are wide as he scrambles out of bed. “Wha … what are you? What’s going on?”

Beleth steps out from behind me. “We’ve come for your daughter, Chuck.” And he laughs at his own joke.

Pastor Tom screams and pisses himself, then quickly regains some form of composure. “My daughter? I … I don’t have a—”

“Really? It’s from a movie. It’s when—oh hell. Never mind. No respect for the classics.” Beleth glances up at me and is about to say more when he’s interrupted by an outburst from Pastor Tom.

“Get out of here! The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!”

I let my tail free once more, each eye begins moving as I watch through them. Across the world my men are attacking. They fight side by side with the angels. Our time is now, the Vetting has begun.

“The power of Christ compels you! The power of—”

“Give it a rest, man!” Beleth barks at him. “This isn’t The Exorcist or something. And to be fair, Christ is sick of your shit. You and your kind.”

The man of God before us once again tries to control the situation. “Kill me, foul demon, and I will be in heaven with my creator.”

“Care to explain things to him, Adra?”

His eyes widen even more at the mention of my name, as it all sinks in, the whole demons living right next door and whatnot.

“You see, Pastor Tom, the world is about to change. We are going to kill you, but you aren’t going to heaven to be with God. Oh no. People like you are why God sent us back. You have perverted his word. Twisting everything to make it an evil or a sin. That isn’t life. That isn’t the way.”

“No! No, this is a test. This is my test. You are false prophets. Demons meant to tempt me. You…”

I step forward and slap him across his face, shutting him up.

“And it’s not just your religion, so you aren’t even special there. It’s all of them. All the extremists in the world. Things have gotten a little too out of control here for God’s liking. He let you pathetic creatures think for yourselves and you fucked it up. Frankly, I’m surprised he waited this long, but I digress. So, he has sent down the angels from heaven and called the warriors from the underworld to fight together and regain control.”

Pastor Tom stares at me in silence.

Beleth rejoins the conversation. “Look, man, it’s irony.” He turns to me. “Irony, right?”

I shrug my shoulders, and he continues. “Irony. God, the good guy, is going to have demons, the bad guys, work with his warriors to reset this mess of a planet. Those that survive will be a part of his new plan. And all you overzealous, everything bashing, every other religion hating, everything is evil people, are not part of it.”

Beleth lunges forward, cat-like claws slash at Pastor Tom’s neck and blood explodes from it. I see him scream, but hear no sound as music blares forth from my partner, shattering the windows throughout the house.

Beleth quiets the music and Pastor Tom gurgles in the corner struggling to survive. “Where to next?” My partner says.

“Are you kidding me?” I say as I receive our next order. “Topeka, Kansas.”

“I have just the song.” Beleth blinks out of existence and I swear off in the distance I hear, ‘It’s Raining Men.’

“I’ve been wanting a shot at those guys. This is going to be fun.” I say to Pastor Tom, and disappear from the room.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

Decision

He stands before us, judged not by a jury of his peers but by that of the high council. We watch as the screen displays the heinous act he’s accused of perpetrating. I hear the ticking of the ever-present metronome of my mechanical mind; I know it’s almost time.

I’ve seen everything: past, present, and future – this wouldn’t have been his final atrocity. On his knees, he cries and pleads for mercy. The council members listen, though his sniveling and empty promise of ‘never doing it again’ falls on deaf ears.

We resign and leave him sitting in his home-made puddle of regret. I watch the others
deliberate, unable to ignore the constant noise of the mechanism in my mind. The ticking finally stops, the others stand and I follow. Upon entering the courtroom once more, we see the accused no longer crying, he now sits cross armed and smirking; his true nature on display.

The screen of static the judge wears as a head swivels in the defendant’s direction, “Mr. Habert,” he intones, “we have made our decision.” The man stands and shuffles toward the council, he looks at each of us with abhorrent malice in his eyes.

“Mr. Habert, it is our opinion that to simply punish you for this…” interjects our celestial member with disgust clearly etched on his face, “would not be lawful recompense for your horrors.” The galaxy that floats around him quivers as he delivers the last of his statement in a booming voice.

“You will be forgotten, your name stripped, and you sir,” I say in time with the pendulum swinging in my head, “will be eradicated.” I watch the man’s lips curl; he begins to laugh. He shouts obscenities and vows that we’ll regret this action.

The final magistrate, a female made entirely of timber, reaches toward him. She begins to peel away layers of bark from her own limbs and splays them out carefully, each rung containing part of a story; a retelling of his life. Restrained as he is, he tries to snatch at them in futility.

I twist knobs attached to my clockwork head, he painfully ages as we watch. Bones shift, wrinkles mar his once smooth skin, his skeleton cripples inward, demeaning his stature that much more. The guards let him drop to the floor weak and brittle. He peers up at the council, eyes riddled with sickness and remorse; he cries out for mercy – this time his plea is genuine.

“Any last words?” Asks the judge through ever changing displays on a fuzzy screen. The man can barely shake his head, all fight lost; his strength and will to live sapped from him. The wooden maven peels the strips of bark back unto herself and begins to consume them.

“So be it,” chimes the arbiter whose galaxy is now thrust into overdrive; every star and planet zipping around him as though they might explode. “Your atoms will be spread across the universe.” He smiles. Terror builds in the now elderly defendant’s bulging eyes as the wooden maven breathes a cloud of particles into the maelstrom.

The elderly convict’s flesh and sinew strips away inch by agonizing inch, only to emerge as shimmering dust thrown to the cosmos. He screams in agony; we grin in satisfaction as the show on the judge’s face has just begun.

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.