I scrambled through the woods at break-neck speed. I had no idea which direction I ran, I only knew I had to escape the beast that attacked me. A clearing in the trees ahead revealed the flicker of a fire’s glow. As I stumbled into the mudded tract, I realized I’d come upon a gypsy encampment. Two men immediately rose in defense, but a hunched old woman shushed them away. She guided me to a rough-hewn bench. I sat in the brisk night air, chest heaving, lungs still gasping for breath as the crone examined my scratched torso, the gouges left upon my arm by the beast’s maw.
Heavy drapes at the rear of a nearby caravan parted. Concealed behind a voile sheath loomed a tourmaline eyed creature of exquisite beauty. She held my gaze for but a moment before her eyes crept down toward my bare chest and further still to the ruined forearm. The old gypsy woman tending my torn flesh immediately bowed her head and began to back away.
As the black veil unfurled, I saw the illusion for what it was; the alluring countenance of the creature’s face belied the grotesque malformation of its body. A withered arm snaked its way forward, grasping the rail along the stairs in its elongated hand. The exposed flesh covering it resembled nothing more than flaking mica. The body that followed was near indescribable. Multiple legs, in varying size and stage of abortion, dangled beneath the tattered rag it wore around its distorted midsection. One hip jutted upward and away from its body while its engorged abdomen bucked in sway with something yet unseen. I tried to avert my eyes, to look away from this aberration, but fear and revulsion would not allow it.
Moving in awkward jerks, it approached. Terror demanded I flee, but a wave of authority emanating from those rapturous eyes locked me in place. It lowered itself to the muddy earth at my feet. Its stare burned through me as it brought its mouth to my savaged arm. Crimson lips whispered an incantation that danced with the feather-light touch of its breath over my aching skin. It then clutched my arm in its claw-like grip, threw back its head and began to screech a banshee’s wail.
As its legs tore open, a gush of fluid sluiced from between them. The screech morphed to a guttural moan as something passed from its body and darted into the woods. The echoes of torment silenced; the only sounds left were labored breathing and what scurried in the dark underbrush.
The creature before me spasmed, struggled to right itself, to regain its knees in the slick afterbirth. Composed once more, it stared at me with fierce brutality. Once again, it grasped my wounded arm in its roughened talon and spoke a single command as it seared its mark into my flesh. I saw depths of rage, hate, regret, pain and sorrow in its release as the eyes dimmed and the body fell backward to lie unmoving.
The old gypsy woman approached. She looked upon the corpse from the caravan, the wound and brand on my arm. Compassion and terror colored her countenance as she dipped her fingers into the mingle of blood and amniotic fluid. While making a sign of sanctity to ward herself from evil, she spoke these words.
“The pup is born, the mantle passed. Protect it, and you may yet find your own salvation.”
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2017 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
My body and soul—the feast on which it would satisfy its cold, unbiased nature. It would make me a brittle husk in no less than six months. I contemplated the Kevorkian way, but could never garnish the result with enough good reason to commit suicide. Besides, I didn’t want to die.
I received the news only three weeks ago. Considering the good doctor’s estimate, it was a significant portion of my remaining life. But not enough time to come to terms. Fantasies of futures never to come, crushed repeatedly by the forceful hammer of reality. The dreamer could dream, but ultimately his awakening was inevitable.
I wondered how I’d face the reaper alone. Would I possess the courage? Without Eileen’s warm touch, without her kind words, I was devoid of human nourishment. My inner-self was bad company.
Our marriage had once been a vibrant green leaf on a tree, swaying gently in the breeze, taking in the sun’s light. I played the parts of autumn and winter; the leaf fell, all color disappeared, and its surface became pockmarked with decay.
I was left with a shameful legacy—a divorcee with five hundred bucks in the bank, no offspring, no siblings, and my parents’ ashes on a shelf in my closet. I’d be mourned only for the loss of tips I gave Old Johnny at my preferred watering hole.
I had to get out of my apartment. Out of my head. Just out.
The quiet streets tamed the circling vultures of self-awareness. The city streets can be peaceful if you know when to go for a walk. Summer nights—always the best.
The voice came from an alley.
Shit. Why did I stop? I should have fucking kept going.
“Listen here,” the raspy voice spoke with a lisp. “I can help you out.”
“Sorry man, not looking to cop anything.” I figured he was trying to sell me drugs.
“I’m not selling anything, you fool. I’m making an offer. For trade, I can cure your cancer.”
I stepped back, took my hands out of my pockets. “What?”
“You don’t have to die.”
I squinted, tried to see the man, but darkness hid him well.
My heart told me to run, to hightail it out of there—make myself a ghost. But curiosity, no matter how many animals it killed, kept me standing at the mouth of that dark recess between the two buildings.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I like to make deals, and I have a lot to offer.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Do you want your cancer cured or not?”
The voice wrenched my guts with instinctual warning. But the hook had been set. What did I have to lose? I was going to die anyway.
“Who the fuck wouldn’t? But there is no cure for cancer.”
“That’s what they want you to think.”
“What are you, a conspiracy nut?”
Mock laughter emanated from the inky tunnel. It had the tone of a man, but what disturbed me was that it was trying to sound human. “No. I really can stop your cancer. I know how.”
“I’m not just going to tell you. How do I know you’ll keep your part of the bargain?”
The bargain. I didn’t even think to ask what this mysterious voice wanted in return for the miracle it offered.
“What is it you want? I’m not rich or anything…”
“I don’t want money.”
My legs wanted to run. But the possibility of a cure enticed me to stay. “What is it you want?”
A heavy breath wafted from the shadows—musty, it reminded me of the damp cellar I’d claimed as my playroom in childhood. “I just need a favor.”
“How do I know you’re not some nutcase?”
“How did I know you had cancer, Marcus? And how do I know your name?”
“Well, Christ, that’s a good one…”
“So what’s your answer? You want the cure or not?”
Now he sounded like a drug dealer.
“Fuck it. Got nothing to lose. You gonna come outta that alley or what? Because I’m not going in there.”
“Don’t worry about that, Marcus. All you have to do is say the word and the contract is, how you say, signed.”
I questioned the choice. I never believed in God, but it sounded like striking a deal with the Devil. The thought of Hell seemed much worse than dying of cancer. I was never a church-goer but I’d read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Another laugh echoed in the alley. No attempt to sound human was made; it came out coarse, like sandpaper against concrete.
“Your peers have misled you,” the voice said. “There is no Heaven. No Hell. Things are as they are. There is nothing more. Only things you don’t know.”
“Never mind, boy. Just perform the task I require, and you shall have your cure.”
“What do I have to do?”
“There’s a guy. I want you to deliver this package to him.”
A box wrapped in brown paper skidded from the shadows and stopped at my feet. A name and address were crudely scrawled on the top in black marker.
“You want me to deliver a package? That’s it? This is bullshit.”
“I promise you it’s not. Oh, there’s one more thing. There’s another guy. He hangs out in front of the building you’ll be delivering that to. Bump into him on your way in.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what I said. Just bump into him. Like it was an accident.”
“I don’t get it. What for?”
“I don’t like him.”
Walking nine blocks to reach my destination didn’t feel like a chore, more a respite from the horrors of my diagnosis. A brief lull from the routine of life and the slope of oncoming oblivion, just beyond which lies a bottomless pit. With the hope of a cure, I had to avoid falling in.
I came to the address, and there he was, ‘the guy.’ He stood outside the door, leaning against the railing of the staircase, taking long drags from his cigarette. I watched him from the corner of my eye as I neared. He didn’t pay me any heed. At the last step, I pretended to trip—my shoulder brushed against his arm.
“Sorry, man. Missed that last step there.”
He didn’t say a word. Only took another puff and blew smoke in my face.
As I opened the door and entered the filthy apartment building something tugged at my memory. Synapses fired, but shot blanks. Something irked me about bumping into the guy on the stairs. Something familiar.
I went to the third floor, found the apartment, and knocked.
A muffled voice answered. “Who is it?”
Footsteps came to the door and stopped. Self-conscious discomfort traveled along the back of my neck knowing he could see me through the peephole. The lock clicked and the door opened.
The look on his face told me he wasn’t expecting a delivery.
“What is it?” he asked.
“How the hell should I know? I just deliver them.”
He took the box, looked it over, and slammed the door.
Mission complete. What came next, I was unsure. My throat tightened as I neared the exit, wondering if the smoking man was still outside. Be pretty fucking awkward running into him again. But he wasn’t there.
Relieved, I headed back to the alley where the stranger offered a cure. It was only during my walk back that I questioned the situation. What the hell was I doing? Was some fucking guy in an alley going to cure my cancer? When I thought about it, I couldn’t understand why I went with it in the first place. What compelled me? Was it hope? Desperation? Either way, I was already into it, might as well see it through.
When I got to the alley a hissing came from the darkness. “I see you’ve completed your task.”
“Yeah. Bumped into that guy and everything. Who was he, anyway?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
The slithering monstrosity reached out and wrapped its snake-like tentacles around my body. It drew me toward its gaping, ebon maw filled with rows of fleshy suction cups. The orifice closed behind me as foul smelling enzymes coated my body. As my flesh dissolved, my consciousness drifted from my mind. The creature assimilated my being; I became part of it, and it part of me. All of us. Together. As one.
And soon, I’d get to know the guy I bumped into very well. He would also develop terminal cancer. No doubt he’d take the deal, just as I had, same as the man who bumped into me…
~ Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2017 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved
Park benches are the domain of lovers. They sit cuddled together, giggling as they etch their names in the wood, their pride palpable as if no one else has ever vandalised public property before. I’ve lost count of the number of times a park bench has been the site for my aim. It is apt that I found him there, a new kind of saviour for these loveless days.
I had one arrow left.
I clutched it with both hands and pointed it at my own chest. The shaft was dull and rusted but the tip was razor sharp, imbued with magic, ready to transform the flesh it pierces.
It is not that I longed for love, not that I wanted to be blinded to the reality around me by romance. Rather, I hoped the arrow would kill me and put an end to this game I have been sentenced to play since time immemorial.
I realised I had done this world a great disservice, leading them astray into the folds of daydreams. If they had gained any wisdom it was not because of my arrows but through the pain of surviving them. My arrows had not been able to hold at bay the rising deluge of suffering in this world.
By a large fountain in the remains of a city park, I readied myself for the plunge of the arrow’s tip. The early morning was clear and quiet. A cool stinging mist from the splashing water was in the air, like blessings from heaven. But the blessings were bitter and twisted, the water green and acidic.
I glanced around, hoping I would soon be free of this wretched place. That’s when I spotted the man, through dead tree trunks, asleep on a park bench, swathed in grimy rags, his bare feet blue and swollen with cold.
An idea occurred to me, a better idea. The arrow lowered, my grasp softened. I would not use it on myself.
Once more I resolved do what was expected of me, one final arrow fired to spark and flame hope.
It has been said that love conquers all and indeed over millennia there has been nothing I could not infiltrate, no darkness or terror that could stop my arrow. When Vesuvius erupted I was there, piercing the hearts of those destined to fall in love even as they tried to outrun rivers of lava, huddling together in dark corners, their eyes meeting in sudden realisation, my arrow melting their hearts as liquid fire melted their flesh. Amidst the blistered pus of the sick and the rotting corpses abandoned by the Plague, my arrows did not hesitate on their course, bringing lovers together despite poverty and disease. During world wars and terrorist bombings, in small overflowing boats of refugees that rocked and sank on high seas, through chemical spills that wiped out species of birds and fish, I was there, eternal and invincible in the face of life’s horrors. Giving them hope, giving them joy, always driving them forward, with the focus and strength of Love’s arrow.
I have kept the final arrow for months, uncertain of how or when to use it. They stopped appearing in my quiver a long while ago. They replenished themselves in the past; my holder was always full with golden arrows, clean and freshly forged. My prayers and pleas to the gods for guidance went unanswered, smothered and silenced by the grey layer of pollution and debris that now surrounds this world. I have not had any contact with the other immortals for years, I don’t know if they have perished or escaped.
Left to my own devices I may have become a little too careless in the last few years. I was shooting arrows like an addict, without any dignity at all.
Love has always been reckless and impulsive, the oddest of couples have been drawn together by my work. Divorced from divine inspiration I lost focus and direction. Perhaps that is why the arrows dried up. But I am simply a messenger, delivering Love where it wishes to go. Love, it seemed, was almost completely extinct in this world, like so many other living things.
So I was down to one. One single arrow. One last shot. The weight of my task seemed unbearable. I wondered who would be worthy of this final arrow. I had to find a heart noble and righteous enough to receive it, to do it justice. It would be a final strike of life in a dying world, a catalyst for revival and change.
I roamed the rubble of cities around the globe searching for such a heart. I searched everywhere from shifting plains of ice to encroaching deserts to tumbledown ghetto towns. Nothing but terrified hearts bolted shut against any more intrusion and burden; not one single heart emitted a tiny spark, necessary to deserve the arrow.
When I saw the man on the bench I realised a different kind of Love was needed in this world. The Earth is blistered, once great cities are piles of smoking black rocks, the oceans are oily sludge. The Love that thrived before has no place here anymore. This final arrow would need a new magic. So I dipped the arrow in lakes of toxic waste, I sharpened it on bones in mass open graves, I rolled it in the shit and vomit of flooding gutters, I laced it with the culture of super viruses bred in clandestine labs, I bathed it in pools of blood from human abattoirs.
I returned to the park after many days and nights preparing my arrow and found the man was still there, sitting in his disease, a large empty paper cup in his hand.
I cradled the cursed arrow; it throbbed with a deadly romance.
I could hear his weak beating heart from across the park, slow and sluggish, weary and broken. He was nothing special, no great man. He was a human shell, already emptied out, a perfect receptacle for a new strain of love.
He raised his blackened eyes to me, glaring, unflinching, as I approached him. His face was coated with grey dust, his mouth a dry purple line.
I aimed the arrow at him, he gave no response. I didn’t hesitate, as is my way, I didn’t think twice. I drove it through his frail chest, deep into the cavity, and the tip touched the beating organ. Still his expression didn’t change, he felt nothing.
I drove it deeper, sliding it through until the tip popped out the other side, his heart pierced and committed. I saw it flash in his eyes, the recognition and desire. Was it love at first sight? No. It was something else. The beast within awakened and it wanted to survive.
~ Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2017 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
“So, you’re saying there’s no such thing as writer’s block?”
I tamped out my pipe, refilled it with Dunhill Nightcap, touched the lit match to the aromatic leaf and took a few deep puffs. We were only fifteen minutes into the interview and my mind was already drifting to other things. Then my eyes wandered to the bottle of Macallan 25 the young man had brought, a gift from his publisher, and resigned myself to my fate. There were far worse ways to spend a cold, dreary afternoon.
“Would you like a glass?” I said.
He smiled and shook his head. “Thank you, but no. I’m more of a beer man myself.”
I poured my second shot of the amber ambrosia, savoring the aroma a moment before tilting the glass back oh-so-gently.
“I love a cold beer as well, but it’s a poor substitute for fine scotch.”
A gust of wind shook the windowpane, rain pelting it like ball bearings.
I couldn’t tell if the phone on the table between us was still recording, as the face had gone dark. The interviewer, I had forgotten his name, took no notes; his complete reliance on technology baffled me. Then again, most of the workings of today’s world left me scratching my head.
Waving a cloud of smoke away, I said, “I’m sorry, I’ve completely forgotten your question.”
He shifted forward in his seat, tapping on the stack of books, my books, that he’d brought to the interview.
“We were talking about the staggering volume of work you’ve produced in your thirty-five year career. I counted forty-three novels, seventeen novellas, two-hundred and eleven short stories and at least a hundred articles. I’m not alone in being wowed by your output. I asked if you ever had a moment when a story just wouldn’t come to you and you said there is no such thing as writer’s block. I find that intriguing because I’ve yet to find a writer who hasn’t experienced it at least once in their career.”
“You’re not talking to the right authors,” I said, grinning.
“I’ve interviewed a considerable number.”
I noticed the creeping strands of gray hair at his temples, the very beginnings of crow’s feet when he smiled. Perhaps he wasn’t as young as I’d thought.
I drew on my pipe and said, “A real writer is never blocked. He or she may be lazy, tired, scared, or in the grip of some addiction or flight of fancy, but they’re not writing because they’re unfocused, distracted, not blocked.”
The interviewer crossed his left leg over his right and rested his forearm on his knee. I wondered if it was too late to ask him his name.
“In all these years, you’ve never been too distracted to write?”
“Not once. On the day I had surgery to remove my appendix, I wrote a story on the back of my chart an hour after the anesthesia had worn off.”
“That’s incredible dedication.”
“I prefer to call it necessity.”
“To feed your compulsion?”
“Yes and no.”
“Can you remember the last time you took a day off from writing?”
It took me a moment to think. Ancient history gets harder for me to recall.
“It was the day I received my very first acceptance letter for my book, The Forbidden Forest. There was much celebration that night. A little too much.”
He settled back into his chair. “I’m going to be honest, I’m envious. I hope to be a novelist some day, but I can’t seem to get the first one across the finish line.”
I downed a third glass of scotch.
“You just don’t have the right muse,” I said.
“Maybe I can borrow yours,” he said affably, with just a hint of a nervous chuckle.
“Oh, you wouldn’t want that. I assure you.”
“If I could have one tenth of your career, I’d die a happy man.”
I set my pipe down and locked eyes with him.
“A muse isn’t just a mystical force from which ideas spring. Some muses can be strict taskmasters. Happiness has nothing to do with it.”
He looked at me with incredulity. “Wait. So you believe that a muse is a real thing?”
“I don’t believe, I know.”
Perhaps it was the scotch. No matter. I’d said it and let it hang heavily in the air between us.
Now he checked to make sure his phone was still recording, hot to have the scoop that America’s bestselling author had lost his mind.
“Do…do you see your muse? Can you talk to her? Or him?”
There was no going back now.
“Yes and yes, and my muse has no gender. At least not in the sense as we would define it.”
He ran his hands through his hair. No doubt his palms were sweaty with anticipation of how much publicity his interview was going to garner.
I drank more Macallan, enough to make me lightheaded, but not too much to hinder the work that needed to be done later. Oh no, that could not happen.
“Can I ask how often you talk to your muse?” His smile looked like a shark’s, circling for the kill.
“Your muse has given you a constant stream of ideas and inspiration since when?”
I shook my head, relighting my pipe.
“Truth be told, it’s not very big on ideas.”
This rocked him, wiping the shark grin from his face.
“Then…then what does it do?”
I leaned forward, the leather chair creaking, and touched his knobby knee.
“It makes me write.”
“It makes you write?”
“And what if you don’t?”
Now it was my turn to beam like a sly Great White.
“Terrible, terrible things happen.”
There was a ripple in the darkness behind the eager interviewer’s chair.
“You say you’re working on your own novel?” I asked.
His face blanched. “Yes, in fits and starts.”
I sucked on my teeth, releasing trapped scotch from my gums.
“That simply will not do. Not if you were to ‘borrow’ my muse.”
“I don’t understand.”
I filled the void between us with sweet, aromatic smoke.
“And you never will.”
The gray beast sprang from the ether, tearing the man’s jugular with a single swipe. I ducked to avoid the spray of blood – blood I knew my muse would slurp like a starving cat, leaving no trace of the young man behind.
I looked away, unable to watch the ravenous mastication. I grabbed the bottle of scotch and staggered to my study where my typewriter awaited.
It had been a long while since I had written a horror story.
I guess it was fair to say that today, my muse had given me inspiration. Putting a fresh sheet of paper into the Royal typewriter, I began the day’s tale.
“So, you’re saying there’s no such thing as writer’s block?”
I tamped out my pipe, refilled it with Dunhill Nightcap, touched the lit match to the aromatic leaf and took a few deep puffs.
~ Hunter Shea
© Copyright 2017 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved
I watched as he dragged his torso through the smoldering debris toward me, and thought, another. Unlike most, he hadn’t surrendered. I wondered if he knew where he was headed, or of the puss-ridden trail he left behind. No matter, it would soon be ended. I didn’t choose who suffered the searing heat; I only quenched the burning once they arrived. Fate appraised his soul, meted out its judgment.
“Have you your papers, then? There’s ta’be no entry without them.” I lilted. He stared back through hollowed sockets. I sighed. They all think the pearly gates so easy to attain.
The Thirty Second Burn
Lee A. Forman
The massive door opens on screeching hinges. My legs tremble, reluctant to carry me into the mouth of the iron beast. I know what waits in The Box.
Thirty seconds a day. Every day. Only the strong endure. But they are cursed to face the flame again and again.
The weak are lucky. To die is beautiful.
The guards guide me inside.
As the air itself boils, I know not pain or suffering but a great joy. I revel in the satisfaction of knowing I won’t last—I’ll expire quickly; my torment will end nearly as soon as it began…
Joseph A. Pinto
You call me deranged in my volatile state, yet you remain void of oxygen, void of all to sustain a fire. You know only of cleaning my ashes from the hearth, while I have schooled myself, keeper of this flame. Within my charred cage once an inferno raged; rose and fell, with hope, absolution. Dearly did I wish for us to go down in a state of combustion. Now, the landscape has changed. I am left to smolder—a cruel fate, this blessing; my curse. So perhaps you are right. Perhaps I am all you label me. Blistered. Branded. Blackened.
The Other White Meat
“It smells like barbecue.”
“You try putting sauce on that and I’ll kick your balls inside out.”
Jett turns the knob as far as it will go, the flames sharpening, going from sunburst orange to a cold, vicious blue.
“Jeez that’s gotta hurt,” Peter says, leaning closer. Jett sees the trickle of saliva at the corner of his mouth. He wants to drive his fist into his stupid, leering face.
“It would if the devil wasn’t in her.”
Clarissa’s flesh blackens and crackles. She doesn’t flinch.
Jett struggles to hold her down.
“Sometimes, you got to fight fire with fire.”
Christopher A. Liccardi
The whomp sound of the flames dashed up from under the element. The metal box was large enough to fit inside, but no room to turn.
He woke to the stench of rotten eggs and sudden heat on naked skin.
The thought never made it through his mind. He glanced up and saw that wretch of a wife staring, upside down into his face.
She’d dared him to see who could hold out longer and he laughed in her face proclaiming he’d been waiting twelve years already.
She smiled prettily, knowing who was going to win this one.
Let It Die
My god, it’s here! We never thought we’d see it again. In this cold world, this dark existence, it remains. Many years have gone by since it’s been seen. We’re all drawn to it, attracted by the warmth and hope it represents. The flames flicker and dance, a performance for the ages. We feel the cold and dark encroaching on the light. Evil is here. Around the flames I see the faces of the others. We are afraid as death awaits us, yet we’re determined. Now that it’s been found, it cannot perish. We can’t… we won’t let it die.
“Roasting chestnuts by the fire.”
I sung a few bars of the song as I watched the searing flames. Beautiful blue flames bending, beckoning to my soul. Perfect for chestnuts. Maybe marinated on a skewer with some juicy fingers.
Or possibly eyeballs. I like the smell of roasting eyeballs.
I glanced at the salesman I had trussed up on the floor. I watched him squirm, trying to scream through his gag and break the zip ties.
I smiled and picked up my butcher knife.
Nope, definitely fingers. He has nice fat ones. Stew the eyeballs for dessert… with chocolate sauce.
Broken Boy Blue
Mercedes M. Yardley
The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn. While Adam was sleeping in the hay, breathing starlight and pharmaceuticals, the Catchers took his father behind the barn. They broke his teeth and fed him like livestock on gun metal and bullets. They torched the house and his withered mother was the most beautiful of candles. His sisters took longer, but even the rosiest things ignite with enough tenacity.
They overlooked Adam, but he would always see the Catchers in his technicolor dreams. They played a starring role, laughing and cheering his family on as they danced, danced, danced.
The Chant, The Charm
Veronica Magenta Nero
Born in me it was, the chant, the charm, bile sitting in the pit of my belly. Until it began to creep, the chant, the charm, to lodge in the crook of my throat, a constant niggle I couldn’t clear. Soon it was on the tip of my tongue. Like an insult or a lie. Must keep it in, keep it down. Thick stitches popped one by one, so I took the torch, searing a heavy smooth line for lips. But now from the corners of my eyes it seeps, the chant, the charm, no voice to stop the magic.
The Hell train’s engine runs on flames and meat. The Railwayman rides in the locomotive. Dressed in blood-stained overalls and cap, he enters the tender car to a mound of body parts. In a black cloud of flies, he shovels severed limbs, heads, and ribcages―tosses them into the firebox. The smoke smells like barbecue. The train makes its rounds along America’s tracks. Hapless passengers climb aboard. The conductor punches tickets. As the train shrieks down the railway, skull-faced cleavers roam from car to car, doing their chop work. They refill the tender. The Railwayman shovels meat, feeding the blue-flamed beast.
Black smoky tendrils snake around my body, languid movements that if made by human hands would have been sensual. I sit in the chair, unable to move. A single blue flame bridges the gap; a moment passes where my thoughts and actions are untrue to each other. The Zoroastrians say nothing, my fate sealed. I offer myself to be judged, to join them. Only the righteous become one with the perfect element, the rest are destroyed by it. The creature pierces me, my body ignites from inside. I open my mouth to scream but there is no sound, only fire
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.
Oh little playmate, you would not play with me…
The discordant jangle of this long ago childhood nursery rhyme echoed under the bed where he hid. Some things never forgotten, he heard the sound of all that screaming like some fucked up sing-song that gets stuck in your head and never goes away. What did they call it, an ear-mite? He didn’t care. The rhythm soothed him while he waited for her to come home.
I’ll take your life, you see…
Those weren’t the words precisely. He giggled in time with the ringing in his ears.
Eddie, lying on his back, sharpened the knife, not minding the flakes of metal dust that landed in his eyes. He was singing and crying and none of the other shit mattered anymore. She wouldn’t play with him; she didn’t want to climb through his cellar door, as the song went. She would be sorry.
“I asked you to play with me, Kate. I told you I wanted to play…” The voice trailed off, but the song kept right on playing, if only in his head. He worried at the edge of the knife while he waited. He tested the blade, touched the razor-sharp edge to his tongue, tasted blood instantly.
Not sharp enough.
Eddie had been killing his way across the mid-west looking for someone to play with him, anyone. But, each time he showed up in someone’s house or their office late at night, all they did was scream.
Not very friendly, were they?
Not a bit.
Eddie giggled again. The sounds of those desperate cries and shrieks were the things he collected. He could listen to them when riding a bus, say, or walking through a crowded city park. They were his friends and he loved each of them, remembered each of them, knew where each came from.
He spent years of his life terrified of everything before he had taken his first friend. After that, he wasn’t afraid anymore.
A sudden jolt of adrenaline ran through him and the blade of his kitchen knife halted an inch from his right eye. This was the same knife that had taken the head off an old man in Meriville, Tennessee and the arms and legs of a woman in Columbia, South Carolina. The knife he’d driven into the skull of a guy who tried to rough him up outside a bar in Fairfield, Virginia. This friend didn’t run and it didn’t scream.
Had he left the bodies of this woman’s family where she would see them? That was the panic that had stopped his hand, and that nursery rhyme mid-jingle. Where had he stashed Kate’s mother and father?
A piercing rip of laughter peeled away from under the bed. He didn’t know if she was coming home today or tomorrow, but it didn’t matter. Once Eddie made you his friend it was only a matter of time before you’d try to scream.
Once he picked you as his friend, he didn’t change his mind.
One time he waited outside a trailer house door for four days; waited and listened. Apparently the occupants did nothing more than screw and do drugs. When they ran out, the man of the house, on wheels like a toy car, left to find more narcotics.
He never made it as far as the car, did he? No, ahhh.
That screech of laughter again and the rhyme came back.
Eddie had spotted Kate at a local coffee stop. Luck had brought them together. He had been tossed out of the fast food joint down the street. The kid behind the register called the cops, said he looked suspicious. The cops apparently didn’t think so and he was walking down the street five minutes later.
Kate, he got her name from the coffee cup she had picked up at the counter. She bumped into him and Eddie knew at once she was going to be his next friend. He even thought he might love her. She was pretty and tall, like his mother, and she smiled so big and bright when he stepped in front of her. She recoiled a little when he smiled back, but that was alright. Not many people liked his smile.
Let’s be jolly friends, Kate.
That’s what he said to her, or wanted to say as she stepped back from him uttering something mostly polite. He decided she was the one for him, the next one anyway, and followed her down the street to her office.
Kate hadn’t noticed him, but then again, they never did.
Maybe Kate won’t notice I’m here under the bed until later.
His mind ran wild with thoughts of how he’d pop out from under the bed and scare the hell out of her, or maybe he’d drag her momma in here and drop her on the bed next to Kate after she slept?
So many options for my new playmate, so many choices…
He was getting excited.
It was dark now. Eddie thought about trying to stay awake and sharpen his knife more, but one look at the pointed edge and he could tell it was good. More than good. He closed his eyes, dreaming of all the things he and Kate would talk about and all the screaming she would do. He’d never used anyone’s parents as toys before and he was excited.
She will scream the loudest of any of them.
Sleep took him. It was the sleep of the mentally young and the criminally insane. Eddie chased his playmates through a park in his dream, waving the knife at some and running others down in a car he stole. Somewhere in the distance he heard a new scream, a new playmate was coming.
He opened his eyes to a flood of light pouring in from the hallway. Kate had made it home and wandered into the kitchen while he was asleep. She found her parents at the table where Eddie had found them. Well, he had found two people sitting having lunch but now there were enough pieces to fill every chair.
It’s rude not to fill up the empty seats.
Kate screamed and screamed like nothing he’d heard before. It was marvelous. He cried a little at the thought of all those screams to take with him when he moved on.
Like the scream lottery…
Eddie wriggled himself out from under her bed, his knife in hand and a smile on his face. He started to hum silently trying to find the tune he’d been humming for nearly a year now. The words would come, or most of them.
He started to sing aloud, rough at first but by the time Kate heard him, it was steady, if not out of tune. The words comfortably familiar.
“…come out and play with me, I have this knife you’ll see…”
Eddie walked around the corner into the kitchen. Kate stopped screaming for just a moment and listened. She registered the song and then the face. She hadn’t seen the knife until the very end.
Eddie sang and Kate screamed, and he smiled at her all the while.
~ Christopher A. Liccardi
© Copyright 2017 Christpher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved
Evening raindrops clung to a broken spider web, and fallen leaves held water like tiny crumbling cups. Silence draped across the forest; the animals fled at sunset when the sky shed its first tear. Even the carrion birds flew away, and the rodents scampered deep down into their holes.
The animals knew.
Like a drumbeat, the chill rain pummeled the forest earth, slapping a copper stench into the wind. The air glided with the taste of elder blood, careening, coating the tumbling raindrops as they soaked back within the dirt. The greedy soil drank of the tainted water, as it once drank the soup of decaying flesh, and the trees rattled as bones.
Somewhere, came a moan.
Beyond the eventual and gentle hush, the rain ceased, but the sky stayed black. No moon graced the shrouded firmament, and no starry luminosity scattered the inky air swallowing the trees. A fog crept like silky spiders, thick and velvet over the ground, obscuring earth and flora. Grey met black and swirled, mingling, melding in a darkling kiss.
And the night waited.
It waited in stillness, the breath of air grave and expectant with longing. It waited cold and cavernous, as if time gave this occasion pause. And then… past the midnight hour it stirred. A faint noise from beneath the onyx soil. Scrabbling, scratching, a shiver sound of creatures crawling, of fingernails groping through the dirt.
The ground trembled, softly, gently, as if a lover’s touch caressed it. The wind sighed, dancing among the trees and twirling with the hoary mist. Slowly, slowly, the earth gave way, in splinters and snaps and clefts of soft loam. The soil parted, cracked, and a bony hand burrowed out from beneath the world. A sallow, deformed hand smeared in grime and filth, its reaching skeletal fingers smelling of long rotted meat and crumbled skin. Strange grunts followed, and a heaving of dirt as a shoulder bone, and then a skull, pushed from under the tomb of earth into the interim of night. It crawled forward on jointed bones, hollow eyes somehow seeing, a throat void of words somehow screaming. It dragged and squirmed and writhed, this awakened remnant of what once was human, fumbling out of the dirt and standing upright. One step, then two, a stumbling walk through the woods, towing leaf and bark along its path until it escaped the confines of the forest.
There it stopped. There it shrieked.
Loud and strident, an articulation grotesque, yet wrenching in its suffering. A ballyhoo of noise to clatter the trees and jangle the ground. To echo past all the desolate unholy, far into the dark depths of the forest and beyond.
It gave voice to its eternal pain.
A single, howling voice, offered to the night…
To be answered by a thousand snarling cries.
By a thousand sounds of scrabbling and scratching.
By a thousand things digging upward.
~ A. F. Stewart
© Copyright 2017 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.
The black disk spun as the music enthralled its listeners. It spoke a language more beautiful than any human tongue. It sang in sweet tones of joy and cried in wails of sorrow as the symphony progressed. Like a puppet master deftly maneuvering strings, it directed bodies as they danced with grace, ever mindful of the next movement, the next step.
Only when the needle was lifted did they stop. The Victrola was the instrument, Mr. Harold Snyde, the conductor.
His guests had been invited to his home under false pretense of a dinner party; one which could be described as nothing short of an unmitigated success.
After dessert, he invited those gathered into the parlor for a musical interlude. When he placed the recording onto the spinning table and set the needle into the disc’s carved groove, they all began to dance. He knew they would. He’d tested it on his late wife prior to her passing of heart failure. An unfortunate occurrence, for her. But not for Mr. Snyde. He inherited her vast fortune, and the aforementioned record player.
When Mrs. Snyde had still been among the living, he’d found it buried deep in the attic behind old crates and piles of books no one would ever read again. He pulled it out, dusted it off, and brought it downstairs.
“What are you doing with that old thing?” she’d questioned with disdain.
“What do you mean, dear? I’m setting it up so I can listen to my records.”
“Why don’t you just buy a new one? We hardly need to reuse junk from the attic,” she’d clucked, barely disguising her distaste.
He didn’t reply. Instead, he placed a record on the player and turned it on. She began to dance, and dance, and dance; a strange expression painted on her face, as if fear struck her ill.
“I thought you hated my choice of music?” he asked her prancing form.
She didn’t reply.
“Lynn, what has gotten into you?”
Still her mouth uttered no words.
He crossed his arms and watched her sway and whirl around the room without stopping. He let it go on for some time before raising the arm off the record.
She stopped dancing and blinked a few times. “What… What just happened?”
“You were dancing! It was wonderful!”
“I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to dance. I don’t understand.”
“Let’s try it again, shall we?” Harold said, and turned the music back on.
She’d begun to raise a palm, to tell him to wait, but the music took over and sent her twirling about like a ballerina. He sat and watched in fascination from his favorite reading chair, smiling at her frame as it seemed to glide about the room as if weightless.
As she went on and on without end, he wondered how long the player would have an effect. He soon had his answer; she danced until she died several hours later.
Before the police and ambulance arrived, he dredged up old memories to proffer genuine tears. He didn’t want to appear apathetic or distracted. Tissue in hand, he wiped his eyes while the paramedics took her body away and the officers questioned him. It worked perfectly. There was no need for them to know those tears weren’t for his deceased wife, but for his beloved dog, Ralph, who’d passed when he was a boy.
Now, no one suspected a thing; not the police, nor his current guests. He presumed they all believed him in need of company. He was, after all, alone in such a large house, with a wife so recently in the ground and no children to share his grief. It had only been a week since the death of Mrs. Snyde, yet the vultures gathered had jumped at the opportunity to console the wealthy widower; the same gaggle who wouldn’t have bothered to utter his name prior to his wife’s passing.
He reveled in watching the contorted faces of his guests as they moved around the room with more grace than they ever would on their own. He wondered how long they’d last. Would they drop one by one? Would they all die around the same time? He wished he could bet on who would be the first to go, but there wasn’t anyone to take up the offer. It mattered little; he was having the time of his life. Watching those rich bitch-hogs dance uncontrollably gave him pleasure, and watching their lives give out would give him even more. They’d done him wrong and in return, he was going to do them right.
He watched Gerald, his legs bending and swaying, hips moving in sync with Barbara. The two socialite bastards had always talked behind his back. He’d seen them laughing with eyes pointed in his direction at the company Christmas party the previous year. Lynn had stood with them, probably telling them how he’d pissed his money away with a bladder full of drink.
There will be fewer attendees at the party this year, he thought with maniacal glee.
Henna and Charles, the investment dynamic-duo, or so they claimed. They looked to be the first to go. He saw their eyes droop, watched as their mouths hung open, a stream of unbecoming drool leaked freely onto each of their chins. Their arms swung loosely at their sides, propelled only by the movement of their hips, which no longer held any rhythm.
When he looked at their unsteady feet he laughed; the carpet had worn flat from the constant shuffling of their shoes. It had been Lynn’s favorite rug, worth quite a bit of money. I’d trade that floor rag for a bucket of dirt any day, he groused in his mind.
The soon to be deceased couple had lost him money time and again in fruitless endeavors. No more. That rug will be the last of your expenses.
Max still moved at a steady, upbeat pace. Mr. Snyde figured he’d be the last to drop. Max hadn’t done anything in particular to deserve such a merciless fate, he just didn’t like the mook bastard.
He poured himself a glass of whiskey and raised it to his guests. “Thank you all for coming! I’m having a wonderful time!” He laughed and sipped his drink.
By the time he’d gone through five or six pours—he couldn’t remember how many—Max was the only one left standing. The clock read quarter of five. “Damn sun will be rising soon. We’d better call this party quits. Show yourselves out. Oh, wait… That’s right, you can’t!” He chuckled and spilled whiskey with a wavering hand. “Hurry up and die, won’t you, Max. I need rid myself of the lot of you. Can’t have you stinking up the place.”
Max’s eyes pleaded with him. Their sorrowful look begged to be released, ached to be set free.
“Can’t go back now, buddy. Sorry.”
He reached for an iron rod from the fireplace, swung it hard. Max went down like the market crash of ’29.
He lifted the needle from the record for some peace and quiet while he piled the bodies together on the rug. When he attempted to pick Max up, he heard soft grumbles emanating from the man’s throat. The blow to the back of his head hadn’t killed him. “What’s that you say? Speak up, boy!”
Mr. Snyde thought he heard a profane remark as he hoisted Max up by putting his arms under his shoulders, but the young man’s speech was still unintelligible. “What’s that now?”
Max’s hand reached out just far enough to push the needle back onto the vinyl disc and the music started to play.
Releasing his hold on Max, Mr. Harold Snyde began to dance…
~ Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved
MacPhersonville cemetery surrounded the town and was populated by the bones of early settlers. No one wanted to be buried there anymore, the modern crematorium had become the trend, but it was Frank Charles MacPherson the Third’s wish that he be buried alongside his ancestors. The MacPherson line had founded MacPhersonville; they were practically royalty.
Rumours that the cemetery was unhallowed ground were common. Many strange incidents had taken place there.
“Nonsense!” snapped Mrs. Emma Anne MacPherson, the matriarch, when family members whispered in her ear that the cemetery was cursed.
“My dear old Frank wants to be buried there and I shan’t hear another word to the contrary.”
On the morning of the service guests deliberated whether or not they should attend. They fingered neckties, fiddled with black veils, they smoothed creases on black trousers and skirts, but they knew they had to put in an appearance. It wasn’t any old corpse being laid to rest, it was the corpse of MacPherson the Third. Nobody wanted to be ostracised by the MacPhersons.
The large ornate gates of the cemetery creaked shut and slammed as the catch fell into place. Two ironwork angels faced each other, their trumpets held high. They were rusted orange, the white paint long gone. Mrs Barbara De Laverio, the town baker and the last of the funeral party to shuffle in, shivered as the gates shut behind her. She stared at the angels suspiciously, but she took a deep breath and held her tongue.
The coffin was covered by an arrangement of lilies and white roses, proud courtesy of Mrs. Edith Birkingham, the town florist. It was carried slowly by the bearers; followed by the Reverend James Peter, Reverend Jacob and Reverend Nathaniel. The small town had a high number of clergy posted there. No one wanted to ask why all three priests were present that day. They led the procession, their hands clasped within bell sleeves.
Sigmund, the groundskeeper, lurked out of view as the funeral party entered. He realised in despair that the entire town had shown up for the service.
Sigmund squeezed his eyes shut. It had been a long time since he had received an order to dig. The previous night, it had come again, accompanied by the heaviness on his chest, skin burning, ringing in his ears.
“Wake up boy and get to work! It’s time to dig!” roared the voice.
It rattled inside his head, a delighted cackle. There was nothing Sigmund could do to resist. He had been bound to the Guardian of the cemetery many years ago and was not able to venture beyond the gates. He had watched everyone he knew meet their inevitable end. Camped in squalor in the tiny caretaker’s cottage, he was the only living thing that wandered the rows of crumbling headstones. The other occupants of the cemetery were the souls of the dead.
The funeral party made their way along the gravel road, up the hill to the open plot. The congregation gathered around quietly. Reverend James Peter began the sermon.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to lay to rest a great man, great great grandson of our founding father, Frank Charles MacPherson. He was the pinnacle of our good community, a respected businessman, a loving father and husband….”
As the Reverend spoke the coffin began to tremble. From within came a long muffled groan. Mrs. Emma Anne Macpherson sat stunned in the front row, an embroidered handkerchief pressed to her nose.
Reverend James Peter paused and the three priests exchanged anxious looks. The young Reverend Nathaniel took a few steps back, frightened already. Reverend Jacob nodded seriously to Reverend James Peter. Best to cut the babble and get to the important stuff. Reverend James Peter began making the sign of the cross over the coffin and continued.
“Rest in peace Frank Charles Macpherson the Third, in the name of the Father and of the…”
The coffin rocked again, this time more violently.
“Fucking hell!” swore Reverend Nathaniel.
The coffin exploded with a loud crack. Sharp chunks of wood flew at the priests, red blotches quickly staining their white robes.
Old man MacPherson sat upright on his cushioned satin, staring ahead with milky eyes. His mouth dropped open as if in surprise, then he turned to face his family.
Mrs. MacPherson broke into hysterical squeals and the man who was once her husband chuckled.
The crowd began to disperse, screams erupting.
Sigmund had crept closer to watch, peering from behind a tree.
The Guardian had come. The Guardian would claim everyone.
“You can’t run, you can’t run.” He muttered, a yellow puddle growing at his feet.
The sun eclipsed; the sky darkened. People were lifted into the air as they fled, they spun slowly like flies caught in a web.
Frank Charles Macpherson the Third climbed out; he dusted off his grey suit and straightened his blue silk tie.
“What a special day!” he said “All of us together again!”
His wife sobbed into her handkerchief; the MacPherson clan cowered around her.
“Our Father who art in heaven…”
Reverend Jacob rambled as he sprinkled holy water, shards of wood embedded in his chest and thigh.
“Shut up, fool!” roared Frank and sent the priest flying with a wave of his arm. “Neither God nor the Devil himself cares about this hole of a town! I am Guardian and Reaper, the only afterlife that awaits you is within my gates!”
The MacPhersons screamed and huddled closer. They watched in terror as Frank Charles MacPherson the Third was torn apart from the inside. His arms popped out of their sockets. His torso split, rib cage stretching, stomach bursting, entrails gushing. The old man’s face cracked in half, blood seeping before his skull exploded. The jelly of dead brains wobbled through the air. The demon emerged from the carnage, a huge reptilian creature with moist black wings.
“The city of the damned comes alive once more! Come forth my minions! Feast! Frolic!” He stretched his wings to their full length and rose to the darkened heavens.
A cacophony of groans began as souls rose from their graves. They could be seen in the eerie unnatural light, grey wraiths that reeled through the air. Ancient skeletons began to push and crawl their way out of the earth. They dangled and swayed, dressed in dirty tatters.
The bodies pinned in the air rained from the sky and plummeted to the ground. The wraiths howled in excitement as they flew towards them, diving and taking possession. The mangled bodies rose, arms and legs twisted, necks broken.
The dead feasted on the living and the living began to feast on each other. Latent passions were sparked and grudges were fuelled. The butcher’s wife turned on her husband’s mistress, wrestling her to the ground, grinning as she strangled and pounded her head to pulp. The postman and the librarian tumbled onto the nearest slab of marble. Foaming at the mouth, they tore at more than clothes, ripping chunks of hair, gouging eyes.
The demon streaked through the blackened sky, his laughter a deep rumble that rattled the earth.
The skeletons of Frank Charles MacPherson the First and Second lurched towards the MacPhersons who remained huddled together by the desecrated grave. They pointed at them, growing agitated, their jawless skulls bobbing wordlessly. They would not be able to protect their family from the horde that was advancing.
A macabre flock of bedevilled bodies stumbled up the hill towards them. They fell upon the screaming MacPhersons, gnawing at flesh and drinking the bloodline of their founding fathers. The most perverse of hatred was reserved for the dying bodies of the priests.
Night clung to the cemetery; it became a timeless realm. The possessed tormented and molested each other, revelling in arousal and repulsion. Sigmund watched in fascination, and soon abandoned himself to the frenzy of sex and violence.
Freshly murdered souls drifted earthbound, gazing upon their own slaughtered remains. Their agony echoed on the wind, drifting through the empty town and across the mountains.
Eventually stillness fell, the dark skies cleared and a weak sun emerged, shining dimly upon the cemetery.
“Keep digging my boy!” laughed the demon as he whipped Sigmund with his tail. Sigmund was beyond all inkling of humanity by then, grunting and drooling in the mud as he dug furiously with both hands, naked but for the dry blood that coated his body. It was the biggest pit he ever had to dig, a massive open grave into which he dragged the mutilated corpses that lay scattered about.
MacPhersonville still stands today, a derelict town in the middle of nowhere, subject of many a ghost story.
No one is certain how the town people all strangely vanished. Their homes and stores were found abandoned yet orderly. A long trail of cars remains parked outside the cemetery, an empty funeral hearse at the front. It appears as if the whole town entered the cemetery and disappeared. It is said that if you visit MacPhersonville Cemetery at certain times of year, at the equinoxes or a rare blue moon, it becomes a buzzing necropolis, alive with the debauchery of the dead, but none who dare venture beyond the gates ever return to tell their tale.
~ Veronica Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2016 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.
The luxury yacht traversed between the Philippine islands. Derek found the perfect beach in a hidden lagoon. Tom dropped anchor. The girls, in bikinis, packed sandwiches and beer. The jungle watched as two couples disembarked and waded through crystal water to the beach. They picnicked, swam, napped in the sun. Tom and Jasmine hiked into the jungle “to be alone.” Their screams woke Derek and Amy. They searched the island for their missing friends. Found them tied to trees, skinned to red sinews. Tom’s eyes had been eaten out. Jasmine, bleeding from head to toe, begged for help. Derek tried to untie her. The vines tightened, snapped her ribcage. Green tentacles shot out, wrapped around Derek. He yelled as thorny vines peeled off his skin. Amy, crying, backed into a stone idol. Ivy snaked up her legs. After feeding, the jungle placed bloody bones at the feet of their god.
Joseph A. Pinto
Sunlight clings to life; a sliver across his eyes. He draws the blinds, killing it for good. Adjusts to the gloom, the shadow. It covers the room; a sheet uninterrupted in its totality. No furniture, no menial things to disrupt its reach.
Thirty-seven days; he is quite used to the black. Seen no more, still he can hear them, their ruinous limbs dragging across curbs. Teeth clack, clack, clacking inside misshapen heads. Human once, ravaged now by pestilence, disease.
Thirty-seven days since he has stepped foot outside. Nevertheless, his years of extravagant living, an overindulgent craving for the finest delicacies, has afforded him a luxury few can claim.
Thirty-seven days. He can survive thirty-seven more. Knife against his stomach, he slices flesh razor thin; he will sustain himself. Water from toilet, meat across tongue; he will sustain himself until the world turns sane once more.
A Passing Discomfort
Lee A. Forman
When two hands touch something is always felt. It might be an awkward pang, or something more uncomfortable—revulsion, a burning disgust for the feel of another human being.
Sometimes it’s more.
The heart races. Every tiny hair on my skin rises. And I know they feel the same thing.
A glance into their eyes and it’s over. The mask of terror forms, carved by my curse. I traverse an incalculable distance, one that can’t be measured in numbers; something greater than infinity but more tangible. You could hold it in your hands or it could encompass all time and space.
I know exactly when they’re going to die. And so do they, but only for that moment of discomfort when brushing against a stranger. In the blink of an eye they forget. But I remember. Even after they’re gone.
Veronica Magenta Nero
I used to feed on insects and vermin that I trapped in my black and blistered hands. I lived in slim alleys where brick walls caked with despair met in dead ends. Bags of garbage piled high like fat split bodies, thin skins leaking toxic waste, under the dark loom of sky scrapers. Towers so high you can’t see the top, they block the sun.
But I found the way out, took a chance when I saw it. I groomed myself in a new image. I stepped on the heads of those less hungry, less able, ripped them down as I pulled myself up, to the top of the food chain. Elite meat is sautéed in sweet tears and sweat, the luxury of human flesh free of disease, a menu of privileged taste.
There once was no greater luxury than being human. Unfortunately, that is rare in the days that follow the uprising. The very technology that we developed turned out to be our downfall and now there are far more of them than there are of us. Artificial intelligence suddenly became not so artificial and before we had a chance to react, they had control of everything in our world, including our population. Humans were rounded up and slaughtered in unimaginable numbers. Packed stadiums were obliterated, cities were all but wiped from the map, and countries crumbled as world leaders were targeted and disposed of. I’m not sure why, but they kept a small amount of us around and though we felt like the lucky few at the time, I don’t feel so lucky now. In fact, I’d gladly trade this luxury for the swift death that took my family from me.
Just keep your head down, no need to draw any unnecessary attention. Two are wearing black suits. They’re Internal Registry Agents. Don’t make eye contact with them. Act normal, go about your business… shit! They’re following, asking me for them. Damn. They want to see my Human Registration Papers. Fuck. It’s almost impossible to register when you’re not of this earth. Keep walking. Head for the subway, you can lose them down there. They order me to stop and something about opening fire. Don’t stop, keep moving, you’re almost there! I hear a familiar click behind my head. Move feet, damn it, move! Just a few more-
Menthol, that’s all I smelled. The bloated mass before me waited patiently. I picked up the scalpel, the fluorescent light humming above glinted off its metallic surface. The Y incision made, I peeled back the outer layer of skin exposing globules of fatty residue and further decomposed tissue. Thick yellow fluid oozed from the gangrenous edges of the incised flesh. The second stroke sliced through muscle, invaded the stomach cavity; the gaseous release hissed in competition with the fixture overhead. The half-digested, half-rotted contents within were easily discernible. Next, I moved to the throat and began a vertical slit in the esophagus. The small, elongated objects lodged in the upper esophageal sphincter left no doubt; they were human fingers. Removing my mask, I glanced at the chart, confirmed the preliminary findings.
Cause of Death: suffocation due to blockage of the systema respiratorium.
Echoes of a Chorus
Christopher A. Liccardi
The violins started, cellos chased their pulse as the last of his heart’s blood pumped out of him, unaware the journey was one way. His life spilled over the papers that recorded his greatest masterpiece and his death song.
I waived my hands in the air, conducting as I was taught by him. The yellow afterglow of his banker’s lamp on the piano winked in time to the throb of the aural perfection he’d finished not an hour ago. People would remember him for it; and me for killing him.
The orchestration had finally taken on a life of its own; his life, in fact but that’s how it should be, right? He always spoke about dying for his art. All I did was help him with that last bit.
The blade I now used as a baton, directing invisible musicians to symphonic perfection, and it was his greatest work.
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and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2016