Tag Archive | horror

A Walk with Grace

The moon stares down at my brittle frame with judgement. A curse suckles upon my flesh, a reflection of the mirrored world I was cast into by no choice of my own. I only follow the deeds of my other half—a witness, a bystander. The exhibitionist shows me her will while forcing my eyes to see. I am no more than myself, and that which binds my flesh together. It isn’t a madness. Else I’d writhe in bed, the horrors in my mind to torture me at their discretion. I’m but a shell, the exosuit of the power which earns the rewards of my actions.

She speaks my name, which is her own. The condescending nature of her tone forbids argument. I’m but a slave with no outer master—the plaything of my own wicked mind.

Grace… Walk dutifully into the night and the blood will flow…

My legs carry an unwilling frame. Decision has never been an option—free will, only a dream which never comes true.

“Why, Grace? Why?” I ask.

Just do as I say. You know there isn’t any other way.

My lips curl into a frown of disdain.

Don’t be so spiteful. If it weren’t for me, you’d be nothing.

“I’d be me.”

You’re already you. But you’re also me.

That’s the problem, always has been. Ever since Mother and Father took their place in eternity, I’ve been nothing more than the hand of another entity. I’ve imagined ways to purge its vile existence, but none that wouldn’t take me with it.

You shouldn’t think such thoughts, Grace. Remember what happened last time?

“How could I forget?” I look down at the scars on my wrists.

I’m glad we have an understanding.

“I wouldn’t call it an understanding. More of a forced arrangement.”

Just keep walking.

She says it as if I have a choice.

“You’re going to hurt him, aren’t you?”

What do you think?

“I don’t know why I bother asking.”

I stare forward, eyes blank and disconnected from reality. The man I plan to meet, so nice, so innocent, undeserving of what awaits him. I don’t want to take his life—nothing disgusts me more. But it’s out of my control. His blood will be spilled and consumed, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

I see him on the corner down the street, both hands in his pockets, foot tapping the sidewalk. His stance gives away his anxiety, his shy nature. I pity his innocence while simultaneously adoring it.

“Always praying on the weak, Grace.”

Their blood tastes better.

“Can’t we just leave him be? Can’t we just find someone else?”

No. I’m starving.

I sigh as his eyes light up and an awkward smile brightens his face. Such a handsome man…

“Hi Grace,” he says. “Nice to meet you again. I know it’s only our second date but I got you these.” He reaches behind his jacket and brings out a bouquet of carnations.

If I could cry, tears would fall from my eyes. But the Grace inside me dried up any show of emotion long ago. “Thank you. They’re wonderful.”

“So what would you like to do?” he asks. “Dinner? A movie?”

“I thought we’d take a walk in the park.”

“After dark? Isn’t that a bit risky?”

“No, it’ll be okay. I do it all the time.”

His face reddens and he scratches the back of his neck. “Okay, let’s go.”

As we walk down a lonely path he reaches out to hold my hand. I allow him. Might as well enjoy the brief moments my dreams speak of each night, if only to experience a few seconds of intimate joy I’ll never fully know.

I look into his eyes, see a warm glow. There’s a connection, a communication without words, a palpable tether which might have bound us as one… But I am not whole.

My head splits down the middle with a crack of bone and tearing of flesh. Tentacles of bloody carnage stretch and reach out from the opening, forming bone-like blades at their ends. A multitude of eyes open on each tendril of the beast within my head; they stare at the man’s petrified expression with nihilistic calm. The sharp ends slice through his flesh and I watch, unable to control them, forced to witness the terrible feeding of my other half. Once his head falls to the ground, they drive into the stump of his neck and gorge on his blood.

Once Grace has her fill, she returns to her inner-sanctum, the place where my mind once rested in solitude. But ever since she took Mother and Father, and burrowed deep inside me, I’ve never been alone…

∼Lee A. Forman

© Copyright 2017 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.

Tiny Cages

Your grave is unmarked to all eyes but mine. The cobbled path is cool, almost sharp and so familiar against my bare feet, a track I am compelled to tread over and over. Harsh stones become damp grass becomes soft dirt the further from the house I walk, into the woods where the tension falls from my body and my gaze lifts, no longer fearful of being condemned.

The world has become my silent jury. When I must go into town, I walk with my head down to avoid the pity and suspicion on faces that watch me pass. The verdict is plain on tight silent lips, and hanging in the air around me—guilty. Let them have their gossip, their macabre fantasies, they will never know the truth of what took place.

The house we once shared is a vast empty space abandoned of meaning. I have packed away all sign of you. I scrub the house clean everyday, the windows sparkle, the floorboards gleam, but still sorrow hangs in the corners like cobwebs. I linger listlessly, roaming from room to room. At times your soft voice can be heard within the walls and I press my palms flat against them, trying to reach through. You sing the tune we often sung together as we sat on the swing in the garden, rocking slowly in afternoon sunshine.

I can no longer sleep, I feel ashamed of the warmth and comfort of my bed while your body lays cold and wet. The swing creaks throughout the night in the breeze, a grating squeak inside my skull. When I glance out the window I hope to see you there, your thin legs swinging up towards the night sky, but that never happens. The swing is as empty as all the other places you used to be.

All night I think of where you are hidden. If I dream it is of digging in ripe soil with a never ceasing rhythm, deep down into the bowels of the earth. Each cold morning, with only hot coffee to ease my clenching stomach, I set out to visit you. I am drawn to your body, searching for a place to belong.

In the forest all death is fair and equal, not divided into right and wrong. In the forest I am not a criminal or a monster.

It was not your life I took away but your pain. I snuffed it out, the malignant burning that was consuming you and turning your insides to ash. No struggle, no resistance, just a moment of tension then nothing, just your blue eyes wide, frightened, drawing you from the lull of disease for one last moment of stark awareness, and then falling back in to that nameless pit as your breath came to a halt.

The pine trees are tall and triangular, long low branches sway and close behind me as I pass, pulling me into thickening shadows. They emit a sharp, clean scent, which gels with the moist decay of the forest floor. The strong trunks are rippled grey bark but in some places amber resin has seeped into stagnant lumps, protecting a wound, fighting an infection that eats at the marrow of the tree. When I touch it the resin gives a little, and I remember your skin, newly dead, growing stiff, the dent of my fingertips remaining after I had pulled my hand away.

I keep walking, checking off the signs that mark the way to you—a tree stump, a large smooth stone, the rotting trunk I climb over. No one else can see the path; it is ours alone.

Far from the trail, in the rich brown dirt, within a large crevice in moss covered rocks, safe from scavenging paws and whiskers, and prying, unworthy eyes, lies my shrine and your tomb. I was reluctant to leave any personal sign of you, no photo or name engraved, no flowers to mark the spot; but in a deep crack in the stones I have tucked away the necklace you always wore, a string of colorful plastic hearts and flowers.

Gently I raise you piece by piece. I stroke your small fingers that once laced my own with pure trust; they are disjointed, white fragments. Your ribs curl out of the earth, a tiny cage not strong enough to hold a beating heart. I choke back inhuman sounds, a whimper, a growl. Your skull I cradle in my palm, precious and delicate as a bubble, the bone fine and translucent, eye sockets too big, too empty. And the curve of your sacrum quivers in my hands like a rare gem. Your remains still hum as if there is something you left unsaid and they are longing for words again. Thick tears squeeze from my eyes, hot and painful; I fear I am crying blood. For a while I nurse your pieces then I must reassemble you like a doll-shaped puzzle in the small pit, reassemble you like a precious and mysterious relic that holds a history yet to be understood. I sweep the earth over again, fill the hole and pat it flat.

Not long after I walk away the buckled growl in my throat escapes and explodes as a roar. The forest swallows my grief as readily as it swallows your bones, reducing us both to dust.

∼Veronica Magenta Nero

© Copyright 2017 Veronica Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 22

The Forever Burden
Lee A. Forman

Only at night could the tower be seen—a spectral fortress alive in darkness. Under the sun the site was an open field, but when the moon rose from its resting place, the stone went up as far as any lantern could illuminate. It seemed to touch the stars. They gathered there each midnight to offer their sorrows to the Lord. He who would cast vengeful death upon them from above. One living soul for one living day. The bargain had been set for as long as any could remember. An unending deal with an unseen God. Their forever burden…


Torches
Veronica Magenta Nero

I silence my jagged breath and press myself flat against the cold stones. They chant my name as they jostle flaming torches in the night, boots stomping, their malicious song churns in my stomach. When I close my eyes I see your throat, split open and seeping black red, your fingers trembling at the wound as your life leaked away and soaked into the earth.

They are close, they will soon capture me, a mad woman unwed, a murderous whore. I will gladly confess my crime, without guilt or regret, and for that they will torture me all the more.


A Letter from Captain William Brumley, 47th Border Guard
Brian Moreland

General McHenry,

A new enemy has invaded our territory. Each night campfires appear outside our post. Growls echo from the woods. Twelve of my recon soldiers failed to return. During the day, all we’ve found is an abandoned camp with bloody bones, skulls on pikes. Last night, I ventured close enough to see our tormentors are feral savages cloaked in fur. Formidable beasts with snouts and tusks, archaic weapons. They greatly outnumber us. We are down to four men. We fear for our lives. Please send an army to Fort Danebury, before the Boar People eat the rest of us.


Awoken Me
Jon Olson

Something has changed. It is not time. My metamorphosis is not yet complete. So what has awoken me? My dark world is no longer silent or still. Echoes bounce off the ancient walls as the sounds of the living harass the dead. My joints are stiff as I emerge from my cocoon, creeping along brick foundations built by those from long ago. Up ahead I see a tiny flicker of flame dancing seductively within the confines of a lantern. Pausing, I lick the air and immediately become ravenous for the sweet yet bitter taste of humans. Let the feast begin…


The Mob Laments
John Potts Jr

“What have we done?”

The farmer collapsed. His splintered pitchfork drops and he whimpered a dull, throaty wallop. The priest lowered with lantern and blood-stained cross. “It needed to be done, for it was the will of the—”

“Damn you,” a gargantuan sort of man reached down and snatched the priest off the ground with ease. “No God would demand the death of children.”

A wiry woman pressed forward. Her eyes burned like the woeful flames set before.

“The only monster here is you,” she spat.

Her dagger glistened by moonlight above and the mob circled, still hungry for more.


Penance
Mark Steinwachs

Chained against the wall, the moonlight bathed me. I watched them set up camp then closed my eyes. There was nothing I could have done for my son. His neck was ripped open before I could knock the beast from him. My silver combat knife sunk in, but its teeth and claws inflicted irreversible damage to me. We all knew my final outcome. My eyes popped open and I cried out. It had begun. Vomit spewed from me as I watched my body begin to change. They’re going to sacrifice me for my meat and fur. Penance for my failure.


Offerings in the Dark
A.F. Stewart

A scattering of flower petals covered the ground outside the entrance and etched symbols of protection decorated its stone archway. The people of the town considered the edifice a shrine.
A place of the dead.
Others considered it a pilgrimage.
A few steps inside, tucked in an alcove, the lanterns burned, their flickering light a monument. The faithful came each year; the fortunate said prayers and left. The rest, well…
A few more feet into the shadows and you’d find their bones. The strewn remnants of pilgrims sacrificed to the dark.
You’d also find the creature that ate those fools.


Vivisepulture
Joseph A. Pinto

Spade kisses earth; it begins.

No rites, no rituals. That privilege is lost, stripped like the clothes from your back. No box, no shroud. Nothing but a crude, dank hole.

The melody of cloven earth lulls you; your muscles grow slack against your binds. The chasm claims you; dirt now cast, one with your skin. No use in struggling, you retreat within your mind; you are a master at escape. Ignorant, they are, to the knowledge you have buried yourself within yourself so many, many times before.

How little they know you were born only to die, to rise again.


Cortege
Hunter Shea

I stood beside the crypt, quivering. The crisp autumn air numbed my toes.
“See, I told you,” Rebecca hissed.
I clamped a hand over her mouth.
The procession of glowing orbs marched in front of us, making nary a sound. These were not fairies. Fairies didn’t smell of fruiting bodies. Pain and rancor emanated from the flickering lights, not magic and wonder.
I wanted to run home, but I daren’t alert them to our presence.
The burning dead went on and on, seemingly without end.
Rebecca sniffled heavily against my wet palm.
The cortege stopped.
Turned our way.
God, no!


Twelve Chalices
Nina D’Arcangela

Light flickers in darkest woods, twelve flames do bob and weave. Silent as bare breath trees stand, necropolis whispers her fury. Hidden thou must remain, dangers warned ye did not heed. Voices lift on autumn breeze, and to vain ears do carry. They sing of love, they sing of life, they croon of lust and need. A rustle sounds behind squirreled niche, flesh quivers with fear profound. Claws rasp along age’ed stone, all stills on stroke of three. Ritual fulfilled as hot blood flows, twelve chalices drench in greed. Of this night I do profess, birthed to no other deed.


Custom
Christopher A. Liccardi

The merlin radiated the heat with spite. It was this place, these people it resented. The land passed that hatred on to the stone. It wanted nothing more than to drink, soak up the liquid that would flow like wine.

The revelers were dancing around the fire, as was their custom. The guests were tied to the ground by the necks, as was theirs. The axes sharpened with the bones of the previous gathering.

It was time to do what they came here for. Feed the land on the blood of the unwilling, unwitting and refresh the spirit once again.


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.

The Box

The buzzing invades your brain. Why is the alarm clock going off? You begin to open your eyes and realize it’s not the alarm, but the doorbell. Who the hell is at my door at— rolling over, the clock finishes your thought by flashing 3:10 a.m.

You slide out of bed. As your feet touch the floor, the buzzing stops. You get up anyway and walk through the empty house to the front door to see if someone is there. There’s no one on the porch when you look through the peephole. You unlock the door, open it. On the ground in front of you is a small cardboard box. Stepping over it, you look around the front yard and glance up and down the street. Everything is quiet. You scoop the package up and walk into the house, kicking the door shut behind you.

Something solid moves inside the box as you walk to the couch and set it on the coffee table. It’s a perfect square about a foot tall, and meticulously taped. You pick it up again. Whatever is inside shifts slightly, like there’s not quite enough packing material holding it in place. Turning the box over in your hands, you see no markings of any kind.

You set the box down not sure which side is up.

Well, the box will be there in the morning.

Getting up from the couch, you head to your bedroom for a few more hours of sleep. But it doesn’t come. Lying there with your eyes closed, the image of the box fills your thoughts. Your eyes open, and once again, you turn to the clock.

3:50 a.m.

This is ridiculous. It’s a box. And it’s probably not even meant for me.

At this point there’s no falling asleep, so you get out of bed and return to the couch. You slide forward to the edge of the seat and lean over the box; your fingers reach for the tape. Using your nail, you pry up a tiny corner and pull it back. The tape comes off without effort and the two flaps open slightly.

You lift the box intent on opening it further to look inside, but instead, stop, and set it back down on the table. A moment’s hesitation, then you reach for the box again. Your left hand holds it as you cautiously reach in with your right. Your fingers grip the edges of something solid. There’s no packing material, and whatever it is, is almost the exact size of the box. The cardboard bulges and the back of your fingers scrape the inside of the box as you pull the contents free.

It’s a black leather-bound book and it feels light in your hands. Upon closer inspection, you realize it’s more than a book. There’s a latch, not holding the book itself closed, but a box held within it. The book consists of a few pages, then the box. Your eyes move back to the cover where you see your name etched in gold.

As your finger traces the letters, the hairs on your arm stand up. Opening the book to the first page you begin to read.

Your time on Earth is about to end; there is nothing you can do to stop it.
At 4:10 a.m. you will perish. This is the only definite you have left in the last few minutes of life.

You instinctively look up at the clock.

3:56 a.m.

Then back to the book.

You have two choices. You can choose not to open the box. If you so choose, you will be trapped for eternity in an abyss, unable to escape, in which your body will slowly waste away until you no longer have the strength to move. Your mind, however, will remain intact; you will experience emptiness forever.

Turning the page, your hands tremble, and you continue on.

Your second choice is to open the box. In it you will find your afterlife. If you were a good person, then it will be everything you could ever want. If you were not a good person, then it will be filled with every fear you ever had.
The choice is yours, as was the life you led.

You turn the last page to find the box, with your name engraved on it. You run your fingers around the edge, stopping at the clasp that holds it shut. You look around the room, looking for something or someone—anything—to appear and announce that this is all a joke. A really fucked-up joke. Your eyes move to the clock.

4:00 a.m.

Physically, you feel fine, but on edge.

This isn’t real. There’s no way this could be real, but…

You lean back on the couch, the book-box in your lap. Closing your eyes, you see flashes of your life’s moments and fragments of memories. Some are good, some are bad; some last a split second, others linger.

The clarity of these memories fade as you drill down deeper into your mind. There are no images here, but colors; soft hues that entwine with each other. When you focus on certain colors, your body feels lighter, while other colors make you feel heavier. They all weave in and out amongst each other, mixing and blending, then splitting away, then coming together once again.

You open your eyes as you start to quiver. The book-box shakes in your hands. You look up at the clock.

4:08 a.m.

You feel like you’re moving in slow motion. Images begin to flood your mind, overload your brain. You cry out in pain.

4:09 a.m.

Now your whole body is trembling. Your fingers go for the latch, but they slip off, your life crashing down around you.

You try again, this time your fingers grasp the latch. The box bursts open, releasing a brilliant flash of searing light as you take your last breath.

~ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright 2017 Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

Holomorphs

Eager with excitement, I downloaded the new app. It asked to connect with my friends and followers on social media, and I accepted. I filled out the detailed profile, answered a questionnaire that recorded my voice, and linked my Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Within minutes of completing my profile, my first holomorph friend appeared! I stood speechless in my living room as light beamed from the ceiling. Swirling particles formed into my best friend, Dane, from Seattle. Not the real him, but a vivid, life-sized hologram. He was partially transparent, like a Technicolor ghost, but somehow the illusion felt real.

“Oh, my God, this is incredible!” I said.

“I know, right? Like the Starship Enterprise beamed me here.”

We half-embraced, bro-style. There was actually a supple texture to his three-dimensional form, like hugging someone made of thin rubber. Dane was shorter than expected. I’d never actually seen him in person. We’d met on Facebook and became instant friends in a group that discussed sci-fi horror movies. For years, I’d only known Dane through typed-word conversations on a screen, along with his stagnant profile photo—a plump face with a beard.

“The hologram you looks different from your photo,” I said.

“I kinda lied about my weight on my profile,” he chuckled. “I like the holo-me better.”

I didn’t care. I had a 3D friend to cure my loneliness. Dane hung out with me all weekend. We watched a marathon of Netflix horror movies, played video games, and had the best time getting to know each other. Sometimes Dane’s responses were off. It didn’t take long to realize I wasn’t talking to a live version of him, but a software recreation based on his profile. Eventually, we ran out of things to talk about. So I downloaded three more holomorph friends—Raquel from Chicago, Jon from Tallahassee, and Niles, transported all the way from London.

Our eclectic group played poker at the dinner table and chatted about our favorite books, music, and politics. Raquel and Jon debated over whether Democrats or Republicans should be running the country. They were such extreme opposites that trying to convince one another to switch viewpoints was futile. Pretty soon the poker chips started flying. Niles ducked to stay out of the line of fire. “This is better than watching Hulu!” he said and we all busted up laughing.

We played cards for hours. I was the only one eating and drinking, since my holomorph friends didn’t require food or drinks. Cheap entertainment.

My first week using the new social media was a whirlwind of crazy fun. I downloaded friends from all over the world. I threw holomorph parties. Holograms of people filled my den, kitchen, and backyard.

I’ll never be lonely again, I’d thought.

Some of the parties got rowdy. A few friends started fights and trashed the place, so I unfriended them. The friends I wanted to keep, like Dane, Raquel, Jon, and Niles, I couldn’t figure out how to get them to leave without unfriending them. The app’s settings seemed to be missing a ‘go home’ button, so I let my favorite friends stay and hang out. I couldn’t bear the alternative of living in an empty house again.

One evening my friends became glitchy—their bodies flickered and their voices cut in and out.

I contacted the app’s tech support and a holographic man in a blue repairman’s jumpsuit and ball cap appeared in my living room. “Hi, I’m Felix the Fixer. What seems to be the problem, Mr. Bradley?”

“My holomorph friends aren’t projecting fully.”

“That’s due to a technical issue with our satellite. We’re fixing the problem.” Felix winked. “Until then, enjoy some of our premium packages for free.” He gave me the codes and disappeared.

On my iPad, I scanned through all the app’s newest features. Hundreds of choices boggled my mind. I could hang out with holomorphs of famous celebrities, dead historical figures, or adopt a holodog or holocat. I could project scenes from my favorite movies right into my home. There seemed no end to the pleasurable escapes I could experience.

Curious, I ordered from the app’s most popular feature—holoporn! My bedroom filled with a harem of horny holowomen. It took a while, but eventually I grew tired of shallow sex. I felt ready to settle down with a holomorph girlfriend.

I swiped through countless screens of profiles until I found my ideal match. When I downloaded Simone, it was love at first sight. Long auburn hair, cute face, a girl-next-door personality, she matched every trait that turned me on. We had loads in common too. The only downside was she looked like she’d been molded into glowing Jell-O, but the sex was good.

The first three weeks with Simone were heavenly. She made me feel whole again. After a month, I reached the limit of her varied responses and she began to sound repetitive. I longed to touch and hold and have meaningful conversations with the real Simone. Her profile said she lived in Boston. I messaged her on Facebook and asked if she’d like to visit me in Dallas. A strange thing, though. The real Simone had no idea who I was. I told her we met on HoloMatch and I was her holomorph boyfriend. She wrote back that she already had a boyfriend. A real one. She threatened to call the police if I ever bothered her again.

I continued to date the holoSimone until I came home from work one day and found her in bed with Dane. Furious, I ran to my iPad and unfriended them both. Their holograms vaporized.

Raquel and Jon yelled at me for sending their friends away, so I obliterated them too. Niles and my other holofriends kept their distance from me. I began to resent them all. None of them had anything new to say. They talked about the weather, TV shows, current events, but it was all surface stuff. When I probed deeper, I kept hitting the limits of their programming. I longed to connect on a soul-to-soul level. I felt alone in a house full of ghosts.

When each holomorph became boring or got on my nerves, I ended the friendship with a push of a button. I had millions more friends I could download. I went through dozens of them. I learned that not all friends match their profiles. Their photos looked friendly, but their holograms projected their true natures. At my birthday party, one weirdo said he saw everything as a video game. Then he went bat-shit and started stabbing my other friends with a kitchen knife. I grabbed my tablet and vaporized him just before he stabbed me.

While my friends moved through the house around me, their names and faces blurring together, I sat on the couch and sifted through the app’s unlimited features on my TV. In bed, I swiped through profile after profile, seeking a woman to be my soul mate. At work, I mostly stared at my computer screen. Around me, in a maze of lonely cubicles, a mix of real people and holoworkers interfaced with their computers and tablets. Wherever I went out in public, I kept my eyes glued to my cell phone. I kept delving deeper and deeper into the app, searching for happiness.

Today I noticed my body turning transparent. My bathroom mirror reflected a ghostly version of myself that flickered.

I summoned Felix again. “What’s happening to me?”

“You’re very popular, Mr. Bradley,” Felix said with a grin. “You’ve had multiple friends download your holomorph into their homes. On HoloMatch, you are currently boyfriend to over twelve hundred women. That’s a lot of downloads, my friend. The drawback is you’re beginning to atomize.”

My body flickered faster. “What do you mean . . . atomize?”

“After awhile the holomorph versions of you begin to disintegrate your body into thousands, and eventually millions, of atoms that live in co-existing realities. It’s a limitation when combining our software with human biology.”

“Why didn’t you warn me before I downloaded the app?” I yelled.

“It’s all there in the fine print of our contract. Once you agreed to Holomorph Corp’s terms, you gave them the right to download your atoms to their millions of subscribers.”

My skin began to pixilate and lose cohesion. Tiny holes speckled my arms. I grabbed his shoulders. “You have to fix me.”

“I’m afraid atomization is a permanent glitch for lower grade subscribers.”

My hands disintegrated. My pixilated flesh and bones flew up toward the ceiling like a swarm of insects. Holding up the stumps of my eroding arms, I howled and began to cry.

Felix tapped his iPad. “Not to worry, Mr. Bradley. We still have time to save you. Now that you’ve surpassed five thousand friends, you’re eligible to upgrade to our Holosphere.”

“Wha-what’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s our most exciting new feature. As the Holomorphs founder predicted, people no longer need the physical world. So our engineers developed the next evolution in reality.” He pushed a button on his tablet and a neon red door opened in the center of my living room.

“Follow me. I’ll take you to a place where you’ll always be happy and have plenty of friends.”

Desperate to feel whole again, I followed Felix through the holodoor.

~ Brian Moreland

© Copyright 2017 Brian Moreland. All Rights Reserved

Double Feature

The moment he stepped through the door, Diana’s guts went sub-zero. His hair was matted down and wet and he smelled like pencil lead laced with a badly wiped ass.

Today he wore his stupidest grin, the one where he looked mentally challenged (though Diana knew full well he wasn’t), along with dirty jeans that could probably stand up on their own and a Texas Chainsaw Massacre T-shirt.

“Big night tonight,” he said, breathing heavily. Something was wrong with his lungs. He always sounded as if he’d run a mile, even if he’d just been sitting around for hours staring at the TV. She kept hoping it was something fatal, yet here he still was, labored breath expelling tuna and gingivitis in her face.

Diana eyed him coolly.

He lifted a plastic yellow shopping bag.

“It’s double feature night,” he said, chest puffing up.

God, he loved double feature nights.

“I even got popcorn and Mild Duds.”

Diana stared hard into his stupid, anxious face, wishing she could be like one of those people in that movie he loved. She thought it was called Scanners. The one where they could blow your fucking head up with just a thought. Now that was a super power she’d give both legs for. She might even thrown in one of her arms just to know she could splatter his greasy, bowling ball head all over the wall.

His shoulders sagged, the bag dropping onto the coffee table that had more rings than twenty Saturns.

“Don’t you even want to know what they are?”

Diana took a deep breath. “Not particularly.”

“Come on, take a guess.”

“Is it Howard the Cum Stain Kills Himself?”

The smile faltered and his right hand balled into a fist. He hated when she said his name. That she called him a cum stain, not so much. She guessed he was pretty comfortable with his pathetic station in life.

He rushed her, ripping off her panties. She tried to squirm away when he stuck his rough finger inside her, but the duct tape held her down like Satan’s flypaper.

First, he brought his finger close to his eyes, and then he sniffed it, finally popping it in his mouth.

“No, you’re not getting a visit from Aunt Flow,” he said. “So why are you so mean today?”

“Go to hell…Howard.”

Spinning on his heels, he walked to the steel plated door and smashed it with his fists, the new dents pounding over the old. Grunting with each punch, he wore himself out after a spell, collapsing on the ratty couch.

“Milk Duds are your favorite,” he said, huffing and puffing, his face red as a monkey’s ass.

“My favorite is not being tied to this chair and being forced to watch sick movies with you.”

He reached into the bag, took out the box of Milk Duds and tossed them on her lap. His knuckles were bloody and swollen.

“I can’t help that we were made for each other,” he said, looking down at the floor. “I…I found you for a reason.”

Found was stretching things. It was more like stalked and kidnapped. Diana was in no mood to resurrect that argument.

“And since you grew up in the ’80s, I ordered these movies just for you. They came in the mail today.”

Recovering from his anger, Howard took the movies out to show her. They were battered VHS copies of Pieces and The Funhouse.

Diana shivered.

Not Pieces. No, of all the goddamn movies.

“I even got a kind of waterbed,” he said, running outside like a kid heading under the Christmas tree.

He came back with a red kiddie pool, cute animals shapes plastered all over it.

“I’ll just fill it with some water and throw some plastic bags over it. I know it’s not a real waterbed, but it’ll do just fine.”

Diana was too sick, too tired to speak.

Pieces was the first movie Howard had made her watch. She didn’t know how truly sick his needs were then. They’d only gotten worse over the year she’d been held captive.

He loved the scene with the waterbed.

Diana stared at the pool, barely registering Howard bringing in jugs of water. He’d donned a black trench coat, leather gloves and a fedora.

Howard didn’t just like to watch horror movies.

No, for Howard, they weren’t complete unless he could act out his favorite parts.

Act them out on her.

She’d given up willing herself to die. Her body was in perpetual pain thanks to Howard’s ministrations. All she was to him was a meat puppet, a means to exorcising the twisted compulsions that overtook him when he watched horror movies.

We were made for each other.

If that were true, Diana wanted to meet the bastard that had made her and show him or her a thing or two she learned from Howard and his movies.

He popped the movie into the VCR, the auto tracker working hard against the static image. The tape was in real bad shape. She hoped it was too bad for Howard to see. If he couldn’t see it, he couldn’t replicate it.

“I paid thirty dollars for this piece of shit,” he said, more to himself. The music warbled and the horrible dialogue was hard to make out. Howard got on his knees before the TV and fiddled with the tracking buttons. Unfortunately, he managed to get things better.

“There,” he said, proud of himself. “Milk Dud?”

When she didn’t reply, he popped one in his mouth, along with a heaping handful of popcorn. He chewed with his mouth open, dripping chocolate and popcorn shards on his lap and floor.

“Did you see this in the theater when it came out?” he asked, eyes never leaving the screen. He practically bounced in his chair as the gory movie played on.

She knew what was coming. The cells in her body cried out, a billion tears of anguish.

And there was nothing she could do about it.

The waterbed scene. It was coming.

Her heart raced. It was so hard to swallow. Her vision wavered.

“Almost time,” Howard said.

He grabbed her roughly, cutting the duct tape from around her wrists and ankles. It would be the perfect moment to escape or hit him with something heavy, but her feet and hands were completely numb. He had to hold her up before securing her face down onto the makeshift waterbed.

“You don’t have to do this,” she whispered, mad at herself for letting him see fear.

He patted the back of her head. “You know I do.”

She watched in horror as the woman on the screen was chased by a man wielding a butcher knife. He threw her onto a waterbed and began stabbing. Howard straddled her. She could smell the funk coming off him, hear his wheezing breaths.

The knife felt hot as a poker as it slid into her back.

Diana snapped her jaw shut, refusing to show pain. The scream boiled in her throat.

She braced herself, because she knew what was about to happen.

Howard silently grabbed her hair and jammed the knife in the back of her skull. Diana’s world went white, her ears buzzing as if filled with a thousand bees.

The sharp blade pushed through her mouth, bisecting her tongue, scraping her teeth as it exited her mouth.

Howard grunted and groaned, his hardness grinding against her back. Her blood spilled into the crimson pool. Her mouth was jammed wide open as she choked on the blade.

Die, you bitch, die!

Her body was just like Howard the cum stain. It never listened to her.

“Oh, sorry,” Howard said.

She heard as much as felt the knife slide out of her mouth, squishing as it exited her skull.

Her body went limp, her skewered brain seeking retreat.

So much blood.

The pain was excruciating.

Still, she hadn’t made a sound.

She’d tell him to fuck himself if her mouth hadn’t been split in half. The hinges of her jaw had splintered. She saw chips of her teeth in the pool’s soupy mess.

Diana’s view shifted as Harold lifted her back into the chair and taped her back down.

“You’ll like The Funhouse,” he said, balling the bloody trench coat. “The monster looks really cool. You ever go to a funhouse? I did, once, with my friend Kal. It was kind of corny.”

He blathered on and on until Pieces ended. Twenty minutes into The Funhouse, he fell asleep, snoring loud enough to rattle her bones.

Diana wept only when she knew he couldn’t see her tears.

She could already feel her tongue stitching itself back together. Her head throbbed, tickling as bone started to grow back.

By the morning, she’d be as good as new, only the pain never quite went away. It was just another layer of torment.

Howard would leave her alone for a week. This ‘kill’ always wore him out.

But he’d be back. Maybe with a knife. Or a chainsaw. Or a branding iron. Or just plain gas and fire.

Whatever death scene thrilled him the most, he’d bring it to her.

Diana would suffer it, and be there for the next time.

Because they were made for each other.

~ Hunter Shea

© Copyright 2017 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 21

Three
Hunter Shea

An unfettered caress. A sigh against your breast. I burn inside when I’m in your presence, the flame of my lust pressed against your cold indifference. Does it bother you when I touch you there? Oh no, you always liked that. Ah, but the sweet, supple beauty entangled in your arms, that is where our joined path diverged.

I still hear your pained refusals, wild jealousy and bleating about love lost. You never understood my love had grown twofold. If only you had said yes, you would feel my hardness. Now who is harder? Are you quivering in your encasement?


Wrath
Brian Moreland

For thousands of years, the lovers had stood frozen in their last embrace. A resting post for countless birds. An enigma to Greeks and tourists who passed through Athens’s ruins. When the Gorgon’s curse finally lifted, the statues’ stone flesh cracked and crumbled, freeing the punished immortals. Euryale and Belen hugged tighter and kissed. The longing in their hearts burned hotter, turned to fury. Euryale’s head erupted into a mane of writhing snakes. Belen’s eyes filled with fire. Seeking vengeance, the Gorgon and demon left the ruins in search of Euryale’s sister, Stheno. The bitch would suffer for cursing them.


Marble
Joseph A. Pinto

Lover yearns, yet the passion remains frozen. Lover craves, yet the need goes unfulfilled. Blind for so long, lover ignores the fragments of self left abandoned atop the floor. It serves lover right.

Now lover searches for truth where all flows smooth and cold. And the eyes that hold lover gaze like still, distant moons. How slick the irony under lover’s needy fingers. For all lover has sought now captured by the deft hand of another. An ache left to harden as lover grows old with time. A masterpiece by love’s standard, yet for all appearances left to stand unwhole.


A Work of Endearment
Lee A. Forman

Her beauty embellishes all my eyes can witness; the world glimmers even in the dark of a moonless night. With a voice that put songbirds to shame, she’d captivated me with only words. I could never let her go. Not in life—or death. As I stare into her eyes, layer after layer crafts the perfection we’ll share once we depart. A tear rolls down her cheek and rests where the white plaster has already dried. Soon the artist I hired will finish his work, encasing us in eternity. We’ll be cast together, molded into forever, never to be apart.


A Toast to Finality
John Potts Jr.

“My sweet,” Elizabeth gazed to Lawrence, swooning with eyes pitted in aged decay. “This starry night witnessed our enemies anguish; to bathe in those screams fluttered my undead heart like our love’s first kiss so long, long ago. Blood rained from our horde, soaking earth with entrails so crimson that the Sun itself will only find jealousy on the coming morn. And the fires! We danced as one, consuming with restless hunger that rose to the hymn of our retribution.”

Life embraced death and chalice drained to the backdrop of scorched lands, warming from afar the finality of reaped vindication.


Eternal
A.F. Stewart

Without end, I gaze upon the face of my death. That perfect face of alabaster marble. How did she taint the spell? How did she curse me? It should have worked, I should have won my immortality. She tricked me. Locked us forever in this embrace of stone.

I tried to warn him. Tried to take back what he stole. The urn was never to be opened, never to leave the temple. Why did he betray me? Why? He destroyed everything. Now I must spend eternity staring at the man who condemned our world to the Fate of Living Stone.


Human
Jon Olson

What is this thing? This monstrosity latching onto my arm and shoulder. It is so vile, wretched, and pathetic. Eyes embedded in a completely formed face stare at me; full of life and emotion. The warm flesh against my skin makes me shudder. Whoever would have expected to come across such a creature? Surely not me or my forebears. Although, I recall something mentioned by the Old Ones. Once there was a creation… no, an abomination. Left to their own free will, they destroyed themselves. This thing gazing at me cannot be one of them. It cannot be a human…


Fire Stone
Nina D’Arcangela

In your eyes, I watch a universe ignite, I see the molten glow; I feel its blaze encompass all. I watch the birth of a new awareness, the awakening of cruel indulgence; one in which brutality, suffering, and eventual indifference will serve far better than kind gentility. Your veneer smooth, your tone unblemished; your surface nearly opalescent, yet I know the fierceness that rages below rends innumerable fractures that will reveal fissures of choice not circumstance. A tragedy that will split the world in two.

Guttering now, the light surrenders. I stare into a vast emptiness as your eyes cool.


Immortal Love
Mark Steinwachs

They wanted to be together, their love for the ages. Athanasios promised he could help. By the time the couple realized what was going on, it was too late. The elixir to help them relax rendered their limbs useless, allowing the artist to move them into position. “Gaze upon each other, this pose is for eternity,” Athanasios said as he painted them with his unique blend of alabaster, making sure to cover every inch of them.

***

“This statue is called Immortal Love, by master Greek sculptor Athanasios,” the museum guide said. “He is well known for his incredibly life-like carvings.”


Pact
Veronica Magenta Nero

She placed the intricate glass bottle in my hands, her cool fingers curling over my own. Her head tipped back, offering a mouth to kiss, seducing me into complacency. A kiss to seal the deal. That’s when I poured it in. The elixir slipped down her pearly throat, poisoning her with her own magic.

We had made a pact but I backed out. I never wanted to be like her – perfect in every visible way, of timeless beauty, immortal. I want to age and die. Each hard earned wrinkle building in number and depth, until my body resembles a nest.


A Whole New Meaning
Christopher A. Liccardi

The rule was simple; unbreakable. These two, the latest two, had broken that rule. Something else was simple, the punishment. Here, stoning had a whole new meaning. The couple was washed, cleaned of all their sins. They were posed for the village to see and they were cast in stone; alive. The offending parts were snapped or chiseled off, mechanical castration for both parties. Then, the crowd watched until the moaning stopped. Sometimes, that took days. Most of them thought death was caused by starvation. I know better; I swung the hammer.

They have one rule here and its unbreakable…


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.

Honored Guest

The light hurt and his head swam. He wanted to cover his eyes.

A hand floated in the corner of his view; it belonged to a woman.

“Nobody ever hears about us, the quiet ones; the little ones. The slight ones.” The owner of the voice caressed his neck. He shivered and tried to crawl back into the darkness that kept all the bright pain away. The voice and the hand moved off to his right.

The blackness crept up, this time without much of a fight. He faded away to the sound of her voice going on about being invisible in society.

***

“Awake again? I’m pleased to see you’re back. Can I get you something, water perhaps?” The voice purred with conviviality that wasn’t quite real.

He heard a sound so distinct that it couldn’t be anything other than what it was; a set of high heels walking across wood. She kept talking to him but it was nothing more than background noise.

“You’re going to be groggy for a bit longer I’m afraid.” The voice was close now. Something cold caressed his lips. She rubbed it around his mouth, and when he opened she slid the ice chip in. Too numb to miss the bitter cold on his tongue, his thirst was as painful as the ache that was developing around his chest and gut.

He was fading again, spittle drooled out of his mouth and into his lap.

“Oops.” She said.

Blackness.

***

“You’re back for a bit longer this time, I think. We’ll see I guess.” She tittered with laughter that wasn’t genuine. His eyes opened slowly, no sharp pain this time. He focused on the woman in red standing to his right. His first thought was ‘tiny’. She was short and thin. Beautiful in an extraordinary way. She touched his head and felt for his pulse.

“Just as it should be. Glad you’re coming around. I’m quite excited to talk to you, Mr. Thorn.” She made her way around a large dining room table until she was across from him. There was food on the plate in front of her.

“Rich,” he blurted out. The word wasn’t meant to be harsh, but she winced as if stung.

“No, Mr. Thorn, not rich, but well off at least.” She smiled awkwardly and scooped a fork from the plate in front of her.

She did not sit down.

Raising it to her mouth, he watched blood drip from the tines of the steel fork. She licked her middle finger from the knuckle straight to the tip of her fingernail. It was seductive, erotic. Thorn noticed movement on her right.

“You’re my honored guest.” She said. Her lips were red like a fresh coat of shiny lipstick you see in porn movies and noir films. He winced and shook his head.

“Still trying to make sense of things? I’d give it another fifteen minutes or so. It took a lot to calm you down. More than most men.” She winked, circling the table slowly; a predator marking her prey.

“What’s happening?” Thorn croaked. His throat felt like sandpaper. His tongue was gritty as if he licked concrete. The other man twitched violently once, then again, and settled. Thorn looked and saw the spasm had dislodged the cap he’d been wearing. It looked like one of those light blue things a doctor puts on before surgery. The other man’s head lulled forward. Thorn couldn’t process what he saw.

He knew what it was in an instant, although he’d never seen the inside of someone’s head before. The cavity that should be holding a brain was mostly empty. Only fragments of gray matter remained.

Thorn vomited down the front of himself. His gut tightened, and his chest screamed with agony.

“That’s okay Mr. Thorn, the girls will clean you up in a moment. For now, just listen. You’re here because you haven’t been very nice.” She didn’t smile this time.

“What, I…” another contraction from his stomach and that rocketing pain in his gut again. Nothing came out but bile and strings of yellowish spit. He was empty.

“Don’t talk, Mr. Thorn. The sight of my previous guest has upset you. I can understand that. Can you just sit and listen? If I get the girls to clean you up, will you listen?” She asked the question but he didn’t dare answer.

“We, the collective of women I help, have decided that a lesson is in order. Not as severe as this young man’s.” She reached over and placed a hand on the brainless man’s shoulder. He jumped again and blood flew from the open cavity. Red droplets splashed on the bone-white china and the rimmed crystal goblets in front of him.

“He didn’t take our advice the first time we had him over to dinner so this time, we’re having him for dinner. We could never resist the opportunity to get together and exchange ideas and empower each other, Mr. Thorn.”

He tried to process what this crazy bitch said to him, but something didn’t click. He tried to focus, to replay it in his head but it slipped away. The pain in his chest was so intense he couldn’t think.

“What’s wrong, Mr. Thorn?”

“Jesse…” he blurted out with no conviction. His stomach flipped, and he tightened his muscles against another round of puking, but nothing came. He panted, his head starting to sag with the weight of his exertions.

“Yes, your name is Jesse Thorn, and you’re an inconsiderate, heartless bastard to most of the women you meet. We believe in what we like to think of as positive reinforcement, and your lesson began several hours ago on a table. It continues now.” She nodded toward the other man, “This unfortunate soul was also bad to a woman. It was clear he hadn’t learned his lesson when she showed up in the morgue last week. It was time to eliminate this particular problem.”

“What did you do to me?” he croaked. Between the acidic taste in his mouth and the dry throat, it sounded inhuman.

“First we need to get you cleaned up. The ladies are already here. I wouldn’t want to embarrass you when they come in.”

The woman in red walked over to a small table on the far side of the room. She picked up an old fashioned telephone receiver and spoke softly into it.

Four women walked into the dining room from that door dressed in scrubs. One of them was rolling a cart full of cleaning supplies while the other three carried clothes, a few leather straps, and a needle.

“They are going to get you undressed and cleaned up before dinner, Mr. Thorn. We will give you something for the pain. It will keep you calm enough through dinner but not so much as you would black out on us again. You’re the honored guest tonight and we can’t have you asleep at your plate.” She smiled and nodded to the women standing near him.

A hand went over his mouth and he felt a needle prick his arm. Within seconds, he lost any urge to move. The pain was dull, but not gone.

He was hoisted out of his chair and stripped down to his skin. His hostess watched them work with avid interest as they cleaned him up. It was then he noticed the wide bandage over his chest and stomach. He was redressed in clean scrubs and placed back in his chair. One of the women cleaned his place at the table. The smell of disinfectant burned his nostrils.

As the girls finished with him they walked around the table to the brainless man. One of them covered his place setting with a red cloth as the other three lifted him from his chair. A sheet covered his limp body. He was thrown onto the center of the table without remorse.

That sound of clacking heels echoed, this time from behind him. The room suddenly filled with chatter and tinkling laughter. Perfume replaced the smell of disinfectant, and the mixture was somehow intoxicating.

A woman filed in behind each chair and grew silent. All eyes weren’t on him, but the man in the center of the table.

“Ladies, it is my pleasure to introduce tonight’s honored guest, Mr. Jesse Thorn.” A wave of applause assaulted his ears as the woman all turned to face him and clap.

“Ladies, once again I call your attention. Tonight is another lesson and another chance to come together as one. For that, I would like to present to you our main course.” She spoke with a flourish to her voice as she pulled the sheet off the man on the table.

No applause this time, just the sounds of oohing and aahing. Without warning, the ladies slid into their chairs and began to prepare to eat. The only woman still standing was the lady in red. She looked directly at Jesse with a sardonic smile.

“Mr. Thorn, it’s time to answer your question. You asked what I had done, but it wasn’t me exactly. It was us.” She smiled and looked around the room.

“We don’t take kindly to being mistreated and we’ve given up on society correcting the problem. We’ve decided to take matters into our own hands.” Applause rolled across the room.

“We’ve been tracking down and teaching men who mistreat women ‘lessons’ for nearly twenty years. While the history of our sisterhood isn’t newsworthy, the results are. As you can see, the price for failing to learn your lesson is this.” She picked up the steel fork again and tossed it, brain and all, unceremoniously toward his plate. Her aim was perfect.

“This failure here,” she pointed to the man on the table, “had several parts removed and became our honored guest a few years ago. He didn’t learn, though. You have been lucky enough to only have the parts of your body removed that you weren’t using to their full potential but you will live and have another chance to make things right if you choose. If not, you’re going to be in the center of our table like this one.” She pointed to the man who was as dead as a Thanksgiving turkey ready for carving.

“We took out your heart, Mr. Thorn, as you seem to be less inclined to use it and we’re serving it as an appetizer tonight. You’ll be returned to your life once you recover and we will watch you—closely. My only hope for you is that you are a much better student than this man was.” She smiled and sat down at the table.

Jesse’s head lolled from side to side, feeling drunk and stupid as he tried to process her words. They were sinking in slowly. When he focused again on the man in the center of the table, he noticed that his brain wasn’t the only thing missing.

He began to scream as the women began to eat.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2017 Christpher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved

Pup

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.

A Slithering Offer

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.

“Hey guy.”

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.”

“How, then?”

“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.”

“What things?”

“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.”

“Whatever, man.”

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?”

“Package delivery.”

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

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