His abdomen split down the middle and opened wide. But still, he held my eyes without expression. No pain, no surprise, no suffering could be read. I stared back, waiting to see what would happen next.
His sweaty frame shuddered and limbs bent at unnatural angles. I could hear bones snap. Organs began to leave his abdominal cavity of their own volition. They spread around the body, stretching, morphing, becoming more than they were intended by nature. My eyes strained to witness the full detail of the event. Strange to watch a man turn inside-out, even stranger to see him alive and unflinching.
His body stopped seizing and he continued to stare. Something in his eyes I couldn’t explain… I only hoped the restraints would hold against his growing mass.
I began to step back. Tendrils of meaty innards began to emerge from the mess that used to be his healthy insides. They extended, wavered in the air as if reaching for me. His neck bent at an odd angle, but his hard eyes kept a fix on me, followed me if I moved.
Regret began to form in the pit of my bowels. Not due to mercy or guilt, but because I might be its first victim. That wasn’t what I had intended.
One of the grotesque appendages evolved a mouth at its end. It opened and sprayed me with a bodily fluid I could not identify. My gut heaved until its contents expelled—it was the most vile smelling thing I’d ever experienced.
The pain in my stomach grew, at first I thought from vomiting, but muscles contracted so hard it felt as though they’d rip apart. Heat spread through me as though I’d caught fire from the inside. The final pull on my tender muscles tore them free of each other, spreading the outer flesh open with them.
A moment of vicious agony, then one of the most serene nature. No pain, no fear, just content.
I watched with calm as my innards transformed, given life of their own, expanding and changing and becoming more than just parts a biological machine. They had life, as if I gave birth to them. They were with me, and I them. I had to care for them, bring them what they needed.
I left the man who gave me this gift strapped down, his children screaming, as I ventured to do what all life is meant to do—procreate.
∼ Lee Andrew Forman
© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.
The clouds hung the sky in muted grey, settling low to meld with the horizon. The gloom of dusk stole the last burnished rays of sunset and crept up to meet the clouds. The air spread a leaden cast, a hint of dampness clinging to a vigorous wind.
From the old burial ground, with its sunken earth and broken gravestones, came a scratching, rasping, slithering sound. A noise of crawlers and claws, of burrowing and hiss. Dirt bulged and ground erupted, in a spray of grime and worms.
And momentary silence.
To be broken by skittering whispers.
Death is coming…
Scarlett R. Algee
On the street where Death lives, there are no trick-or-treaters.
Not that Death minds. It’s a quiet cul-de-sac these days, populated by single middle-aged professionals and elderly couples whose grandchildren only visit infrequently, where the only indiscretions are the ones left on the lawn by a neighbor’s dog. Around here, he can practically walk to work every day.
No kids, no teenagers, no police calls for meth labs or midnight shouting matches, and no little candy-grubbing costumed visitors on Halloween.
Oh, Halloween. Death sits back in his recliner, watching SportsCenter with the sound off, and smiles his long-toothed skeleton’s grin. Visitors or not, it’s the one day he doesn’t have to wear a mortal-seeming glamour, the one day he can go around in the cowled ‘Grim Reaper’ attire he’s molded from the thoughts and fears of his neighbors, and nobody asks questions. Mr. Reaper is a good neighbor who keeps his leaves raked and his grass trimmed; the other residents on the street will turn a blind eye to the ghoulish appearance, and to the cobwebs and jack o’ lanterns that appear on the front porch. He’s allowed to be eccentric for one day.
(Mr. Reaper. He’s tried telling them all that his first name is McCormick, but no one ever gets the joke.)
At nine PM, Death turns the TV off. He has an appointment with Mrs. Collins next door at eleven, and needs to sharpen his scythe. He admits he’ll miss the tea and cake, and her admiration for his perfectly-cut lawn, but the work has to go on.
At nine-fifteen, there’s a knock on the door.
It gives Death pause. Has someone taken the jack o’ lanterns as an invitation? Did he leave the porch light on? Is there even candy in the house?
(There is, of course. Living among mortals has given him a weakness for chocolate. He goes into the kitchen just in time to hear a second knock, fetches a Snickers bar from the fridge, and slips it into a pocket of his robe. Wonderful mortal invention, pockets.)
Then Death opens the front door and stares down at himself.
The costume’s not an exact likeness. The robe has the slick look of thin polyester, and the blade of the scythe is almost certainly shiny plastic. But the face is arresting: a perfect age-yellowed grinning skull, surrounded by wispy brittle blonde curls that spill out around the black cowl.
A little female Death. He’s slightly taken aback. “Hello,” he says, but she doesn’t answer. Instead she shoves her plastic pumpkin-shaped bucket under his nonexistent nose and shakes it. The contents rattle. Death looks down in the glow of the porch light. The little round pail is full of small, flattish white objects.
Bones. He looks closer. Teeth. Teeth and bones, canines and carpals, premolars and phalanges, some bits with flesh still attached, some twinkling with pockets of silver amalgam. Then she taps the blade of her toy scythe against her wrist; she’s wearing a wristwatch, and the sound of blade touching crystal is the clink of steel on glass. The little scythe has begun to glow.
Abruptly, Death understands. “It’s time.”
She pulls the bucket away and nods vehemently, two hard up-and-down bobs of her head.
Death considers. He’s always known this day would come eventually; even avatars of mortality have their limits. Still, he’s become selfishly attached enough to the trappings of the living that he hedges, fumbling in his pocket. “Would you like a candy bar? I promise it’s not fun-sized.”
Skulls are inflexible, as a rule, but the girl cocks her head and squints, then nods again, the same two firm motions. Death reaches out to ease the Snickers into her bucket. He touches the teeth and bones inside, and two of his distal phalanges fall off into the pile. The dissolution’s already started.
Death pulls away before he loses any more. She sets the bucket down primly, and shifts her grip on the glowing scythe. It’s longer now, taller. So is she.
“Wait,” he says.
She watches, silent, expectant.
He gestures around them, at the other houses. “They’re kind sorts, for mortals. Give them kindness back. And keep the grass neat.”
Another headtilt as she considers. Then she nods again.
“Very well.” Death looks down at his small replacement. She’ll grow into it quickly; he had. “Go ahead.”
The scythe lifts, lazily, and swings, and in its wake there’s only a faint shimmer in empty air.
Death pushes her cowl back, shakes her curls loose, and picks up her bucket. She steps across the threshold into the house. Tomorrow she’ll have a word with the neighbors about their pitiful lack of Halloween decorations. They’ll have to do better next year. But first, there’s that appointment with Mrs. Collins. If she hurries, there’s time to bake a cake.
Miss Reaper’s a good neighbor. It’s the least she can do.
The clouds break and expose a perfect moon. I will myself to hear howls in the distance that don’t exist. It would be far too cliché to meet my maker under a full moon ripped apart by a creature of fantasy. No, my time ends at the hands of the noxious, silent death that has overrun Earth.
Leaning against a tree, my ankle throbs, purple and swollen. Why did I even run? I’m too average to be one of the survivors. Making it this far was more luck than skill, right place right time kind of thing.
The stench of death assaults me before I hear their shuffle through the leaves. My finger slides over the trigger of the pistol I learned to use not long ago.
I see one, then another, and more beyond them. They know I’m here through glazed over eyes. I point my gun at the first one and hear others close in around me. There are far too many, I put my gun down, why fight the thing I will become.
My death will be like my life, another one amongst the masses.
You Can Be Always
Lee Andrew Forman
Hollow pumpkins grinned along the street with flickering eyes. Knocking, knocking, all eve long—the little ghost filled her bag with sugar-treats. Monsters and things long-dead, faces that normally brought fright, didn’t raise her pulse at all. She knew Halloween was the time for horrors that darkness brings.
The street light went out, she found herself alone. At the end of the road, where front stoops had gone cold.
An ebon-skinned fairy came to her side. Smooth, shining, blacker than night, its wings fluttered as it lit on her palm. Fear nearly struck her, but instead, wonder she found. Never had she seen such a beautiful thing.
“Are you a fairy?” Sarah asked.
It nodded its head and blinked its eyes. Then it took flight, waved its hand in the air. It beckoned her to follow in step, led her deep in the woods, toward a house long abandoned.
Sarah pulled at her costume, tried to remove it—the forest so dark, the cloth made it darker. But the fairy tugged back, insisted she keep it.
It is Halloween after all, she thought, everyone should be in costume.
The hovering creature took her hand, urged her to follow. Pumpkins lit the porch of the old wooden cabin, their soft light warm and inviting. She hopped to the door and on its own it opened; beyond it waited things she never imagined—things strange, never seen, not even in dreams.
Masked creatures came to greet her, some stumbling forth. Their scent was of old, long-forgotten. She inhaled the pleasant air, let its flavor remind her of what was.
“You can be always,” they said in unison.
She smiled at the thought of endless autumn nights—cool air and colored leaves.
She allowed them to take her into their place, with willing soul and a walk with grace.
“You shall become as you are,” the voices spoke.
The white linen costume tightened around her. She didn’t fight the transformation, rather welcomed it instead. She wanted to be there, better than dead.
As her feet disappeared and she floated as if normal, she peered through the holes of her ghostly exterior, and looked forward to time with her new family—forever.
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018
White painted cages. One animal for each. Shaved, stripped, washed, re-clothed. They brought us clean into a den of filth. Irony could be willfully cruel. I wondered the reason; why not let us die? But I remembered people had a knack for keeping alive what should be dead.
We would have perished by choice but they made us live. Willful starvation wasn’t an option—refusal would be penetrated by a clear plastic tube.
We dreamed of death, and it of us. It suffered along, wishing to enter, but the walls of this place, too thick for even it to intrude. On occasion a finger slipped in, on long nights when no one was looking. Most hoped to be chosen, at least those of mind.
Those in the shallow, unmarked soil were the luckiest. The field barely visible, we knew it was there. The quiet place, land without screams; absent of cruelty and electric pain. The lack of names on stone was irrelevant, for all here had already been forgotten.
Others lost their souls, bodies still lingered. Where spirit went, I could only imagine. Maybe they occupied dreams, out of focus objects wailing in distortion behind flittering eyes. Most would call that a haunting; for us—absolute communion.
∼ Lee Andrew Forman
© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.
Rugged knees on hallowed soil, I kneel before its mighty stature. Blistered palms meet below my bowed posture—I beg clemency. It extends an ebon finger, the tip sears my flesh. Pain struggles down a swollen throat that cannot utter its cry. Vocal chords are restrained only by conditioning. One must always be faithful. Its form defines beauty and terror as one. Love, hate, fear, and all between exhales with each breath it takes.
As its dark hand retreats, my skin slows its boil. The scent of forbidden meat teases my senses. I’ve been touched by that which brings life and death, that which gifts all and reaps the tortured stalks hidden among this field. I pray that my time is still young.
It speaks to me for the first time. “Your heart is pure.”
My faculties nearly retreat.
Its dark palm covers my face, fingers wrap around my head. All is gone but the void which is the color of its flesh. But within it are terrible things—colors of wrath and fury, fluids of the human body, suffering of unimaginable design. Deep into its grasp, my mind drills forward into unknown places, forced to go on, made to see.
And see I do—things inhuman, vile enough to burn any eyes that witness them. But mine survive. They live to force these sights to memory, where they’ll burn like hellfire until death snuffs them out with cold hands.
When its hold releases my weakened body I collapse. Mutterings from the subconscious echo between my ears. I look to the dark figure. Its mouth emulates an expression of pleasure—but whether it is approval of my soul or the joy of punishment I cannot tell. Time will be short with an answer.
It takes a few steps back, stares with glowing eyes. I remain motionless, penitent. Guilt riddles every drop of blood in my heart. I know I’ve not done its creed wrong, yet I still feel a disgust for my flesh. How repugnant and feeble it is; ugly and without strength. It pities us. It must.
With an arm extended, it points toward the cliff. “You are permitted.”
The words are surreal. Difficult to believe I’ve been accepted. I stand, legs trembling, and walk to the verge. The ocean crashes against the rocks below. In the dark water I see something darker yet—a conical blotch spearing deep beneath the surface.
I look back to it and it nods approval.
I step off the edge to join my brethren.
∼ Lee Andrew Forman
© Copyright Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
“Brett, wake up.”
His voice echoed, came to my ears from great distance.
“Wake up, you worthless slag.”
Cracks of light burned my eyes. Slowly they grew until I saw the familiar boots of Sam Brooks. Those stupid fucking skull buckles… Peculiar how my first thought lent itself to something so unimportant.
He grabbed my collar and pulled me from the floor. “Come on, you shit, we’re going to see the boss.”
My attempts at a response led to no success. Throat dry, lips cracked, desperate for water—I couldn’t even croak. Not that I knew what the fuck I would say. I had no idea where I was and little memory of how I got there. Something about a bar and a yellow neon light; I’m pretty sure it was shaped in the name of some cheap beer.
Sam dragged me down the hall, jeans riding along the splintered wood floor. The dark stains didn’t instill comfort about where I was headed. They spoke of bad things, blood spilled.
His fist against the door thundered in my ears. Three hard knocks and the door opened. Sam dragged me in and dropped me on the floor at the foot of an old metal desk.
“So here he is,” Maxwell said. “Where ya’ been? You know I hate when I have to look for someone. It just gets to me.”
Sam kicked me with his stupid fucking boot. “I found him at the bar on East Main,” he said.
Maxwell laughed. “Figures.”
“He was all liquored up and ready for the taking.”
“So you didn’t give Sam here much trouble then, did ya’ little fella.”
“No, Boss,” Sam said. “No trouble at all.”
“That’s good. That’s very good.” Maxwell shook his head, took a half-smoked cigar from his ash tray, and lit it.
With great effort I managed to cough out a few words. “What am I doing here?”
They laughed at my question.
“I think he’s a bit confused,” Sam said, still chuckling.
“Won’t be for long.” Maxwell pulled deep on his cigar and blew a cloud of smoke in my face. “You took my money from Bobbi. Now why would you go and do something like that?”
I tried to focus, tried to remember who the hell he was talking about. I repeated the name in my head until it lost meaning.
“Come on, Brett,” Sam said. “Just admit what you done.”
“Bobbi?” I asked. “She’s the one with the scar on her cheek, isn’t she?”
“Well look at that. His memory is starting to come back.” Maxwell sat up from his chair and walked around the desk. He grabbed my hair and lifted my head, looked me in the eyes. “Why’d you take my money?”
“I don’t know what you mean. I didn’t take any money.” I couldn’t remember whether I did or not, but it didn’t seem like something I would do.
“Oh, you took it, alright,” Maxwell said. “Bobbi wouldn’t lie to me. Isn’t that right, Sam?”
“Damn right, Boss.”
“Now you gotta pay for what you done. And a few black and blue marks aren’t going to cut it. Are they, Sam?”
“No, sir. Not even close.”
I knew I was a scumbag. Who didn’t? But I was pretty sure I didn’t take any money, not from Maxwell.
“Take him to the cellar,” Maxwell said.
“Jesus, Boss. Isn’t that a little harsh?”
The uncertain tone in Sam’s voice spoke of something more horrible than I could imagine. He had an iron stomach and no conscience. The wavering of his words told me it was something even he wasn’t going to enjoy. And that terrified me.
Sam tied my hands behind my back and lifted me off the floor. He dragged me back through the hallway and outside into the alley. Normally that would be where it ended, with a bullet to the head. But I knew they had something more sinister in mind.
He opened the back door of his old Chevy and threw me in. I heard the engine roar to life and he drove with a heavy foot. I watched familiar streets go by until we ended up in an unfamiliar place. We must have traveled a few miles without seeing a single house.
The car stopped and the engine went silent.
“I’m sorry,” Sam said.
It was that moment reality became apparent. Sam probably never apologized to anyone his entire life, especially not to someone like me. But he did, and by the sound of his voice he meant it. The sadistic bastard was actually sorry for what he was about to do.
I thought back on my life; years flashed by in moments. I saw things I’d done and it put a sour taste in my mouth. I’d been a good for nothing piece of shit since I was able to raise my middle finger. But if Sam felt sorry for me I didn’t deserve what was coming.
He dragged me out of the car and walked me toward an old wood shack surrounded by dark forest. Few stars shined through the canopy above. My guts felt like they were about to come out of my ass.
Sam stopped at the door and stood motionless. He took keys from his pocket and looked at them for a while before undoing the padlock and pulling me inside. We descended stairs that went down into the pit of the Earth. At the bottom a pale yellow light glowed.
I heard something move and Sam jumped. It was then I realized why Sam had an issue with what Maxwell ordered—even he was afraid.
“What’s down there?” I asked, my voice barely able to formulate the words. “What the fuck is it? Just tell me!”
Sam ignored my pleas and took a deep breath as we got to the bottom of the stairs. A wood bar stool sat in the center of the cellar. The yellow light came from a neon sign just like the one at the bar, with that same logo for cheap beer, the one I sat next to most nights of my shitty adult life.
Sam pushed me toward the stool. He kept me at arm’s length, keeping his hand on my back. He forced me to sit and tied my hands and feet to the wooden legs.
Black, stringy appendages shot out from a dark corner of the room and latched onto my skin. Dozens of them stuck all over my body. It was as if they each contained thousands of tiny teeth that chewed through my clothes and bit down on every nerve receptor within their vicinity. Intense pain flooded through me like electricity. Whatever it was could not be seen. It was blacker than the emptiness of space, something that didn’t just absorb light, but pulled it completely out of existence.
A foul looking tube crawled along the floor like a serpent. Its slime-covered surface glistened in the yellow light. It worked its way up my leg, pulsating and releasing a nauseating odor. The intestine-like appendage entered my mouth and forced a slick mucus down my throat. I gagged against it but it flowed like a fucking river. I felt my own vomit forced back into my gut. It was feeding me, feeding me so it could keep me alive for who knows how long while it suckled on my flesh.
“I just wanna let you know something,” Sam said as he backed away toward the stairs.
My eyes rolled in his direction.
“It was me. I took the money.”
∼Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.
The catacomb swallowed him like the throat of a great beast. With kerosene lantern in hand, he crept down long spiral staircases which led deep into the subterranean bowels beneath Hillside Cemetery. Cobwebs clung to his neck and tangled in his hair. He swiped at them with his free hand and shuddered when his fingers brushed against a hairy body. Tiny legs scrambled to escape but it couldn’t move fast enough; he flung the arachnid against the wall. At the bottom of the stairwell, uncovered remnants of the once living slept eternal in their wall crypts. He eyed them as he walked by and wondered how old they might be.
Vastly ancient, he thought. Beyond compare…
A set of piercing eyes appeared in the dark. The lantern revealed a large rat, its fur soaked in filth. It squeaked as it fled his presence and crawled into a crack in the wall.
This place must be crawling with them. I’m probably surrounded. An involuntary shiver shook his body.
The hall led straight as far as the lantern allowed him sight, both walls lined with those laid to rest innumerous centuries ago. He followed its dark stretch with haste, wanting desperately to find the ossuary he’d obsessed over for so long.
He remembered the last thing Horace said before he left. I’m telling you, don’t go down there. That place was forgotten for a reason.
Booker disregarded the warning; it only made his fevered passion burn brighter.
A cold breath of air blew by, ruffling his shirt and swinging his lantern on its handle. He spun on his heels and scanned the dark, heart rattling against his ribs. He took labored breaths and put his hand to his chest.
“Holy shit.” His voice came out weak, stifled, toned down in the ancient stone chamber.
He turned and quickened his steps. The gust of air made him uneasy; he couldn’t fathom where it might have originated and how it reached the depths of isolation he traveled. But he had to continue. So close after years of research, nothing could dissuade him.
He wondered how long it had been since a living being last tread the ground he paced. Difficult to imagine a pre-historic civilization, uncharted and known only to a select few who had extreme enthusiasm about such things. Surprising how they remained absent from art and literature, unclaimed by the scholars of history. But he, Booker Thorn, walked the sacred ground of their forgotten corpses.
An arch stood at the end of the tunnel, behind it, the ossuary he hoped to find.
“I finally found it. It’s real. And here it is right in front of me.”
He made hesitant steps when he heard the scrape of metal against the floor. With no foreknowledge of what the chamber contained, the possibilities both allured and terrified his curious mind. He certainly hadn’t expected movement. But the inconsistent sound of metal dragged against stone told not of treasure and artifacts, but of something possibly much more interesting and rare. Movement indicated life, as impossible as it seemed in the house of death.
He stretched his arm to extend the light by which he could see. It revealed a chain on the floor, but not what it connected to. His eyes followed the links into the ebony shadow that filled the room. The chain moved again, pulled further into the void by an unknown force. The lantern rattled in his hand and he steadied it with effort.
Breath heaved in and out through a raspy throat. Booker listened intently, silencing himself to hear.
Whatever’s in there is alive. But how could that be? How could something live down here for millennia? Did someone beat me to this place?
The breathing quieted and Booker sat still. He waited for the unknown to make a move; he didn’t want to go first.
The chain flew across the chamber with force, scraping the stone blocks on which it rested. The sudden movement sent Booker reeling back. He dropped the lantern and the glass shattered. The light flickered and went out.
Breathing intensified as darkness consumed him. He retrieved a book of matches from his pocket, tore one from the pack and struck it; fire exploded into existence at the tip, lending poor light to the situation. He swallowed hard and crawled along the floor, bringing the flame closer to the coveted chamber.
The chain moved, ran its cold metal over his fingers. He barred his teeth and stifled a cry.
Hot breath descended on his neck, followed by a snort which shot a foul cloud of decay around his head. The contents of his stomach spilled with brutal force.
A strong hand gripped his thigh and lifted him from the floor. He dropped the match, allowing darkness its return. He dangled in the air, trachea closed, unable to scream. No intelligible thought could formulate in his mind—terror decimated reason and ripped primal fear from deep within the psyche.
The unseen hand that held him tightened fingers until bone snapped. Shock spread like fire as he gasped for air involuntarily.
A flare of agony came with a stabbing sensation and ended with the flesh of his leg torn open. Liquid caressed his side, dripped from his head to the floor. The cut ran deep, sliced through fat and muscle, and scraped the broken bone inside.
He heard a crack when the femur was wrenched from his thigh, followed by the wet slap of boneless skin falling against his torso. Eyes opened wide and waves of visceral imagery crashed against his screaming brain.
His twitching body dropped to the floor. He sensed his arm pop from its socket, the flesh torn away, but it felt distant, the pain only a dull throb. His chest hitched in feeble attempts to get air as his ribs snapped one after another.
A sliver of light appeared above, shining down from an opening at the peak of the vaulted chamber.
Light… There’s light…
Skeletal frame extracted, his body sagged into a muddle of human pulp. All thought coalesced. A crunch echoed, crisp and clear. Eyes lolled toward the sound and a glimpse of what occupied the room burned into his final memory.
Long teeth chewed blood soaked bone, shoved into its mouth with thin, curved fingers. Its leathery brown skin pulsed with thick veins and creased in endless folds and wrinkles. Two black discs stared from a misshapen head.
The light dimmed and went out as the opening in the ceiling closed, the underworld of forgotten things again consigned to oblivion.
∼Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.