Tag Archive | Mark Steinwachs

Hell

“Hell. You think you have it all figured out. Fire and brimstone, sinners writhing in agony, cries of the forsaken. You think that’s it, but you’re wrong. You cursed me there when you drove the knife into me because I was different. You cursed me there when you watched me bleed out. You cursed me there in the name of God. I didn’t belong there. Not until your knife pierced my skin. And then I knew hatred. You taught me. As my life slipped away on the grass, as you spit on me, you taught me hate. In that moment, you sent me to Hell.”

My smile melts into a sneer. They lie in their bed, both paralyzed by my touch. His wife screams, but no sound comes out. His eyes are wide, mouth closed. Ten years have taken a toll on him, though my body is the same.

I yank him by his worn collar. “Does she even know?” I toss him into the chair beside the bed. His limp body slouches. “She doesn’t, does she? You never told her.” Roughly I arrange him into a proper sitting position and scoot the chair closer, twisting it so he faces his wife.

I sit on the edge of his bed, our knees almost touching. “Hell is filled with two types of people. Some are like you—they’re the ones writhing in eternal fire.” I lean forward, my lips at his ear. “Physical and mental anguish worse than you can fathom.”

His response is to void his bladder. An acrid smell fills the room.

“Are you scared? Truly scared, maybe for the first time in your life? Now you know how I felt.” I recline back so I can watch the effect my words have on him. His eyes dart around the room, then back to his wife, then to me. “Then there are people like me. You sparked hate in me, more powerful than anything I’d ever felt. When I took my last breath, I didn’t wake up in a fiery pit. No, I landed in a little gray room. That’s where my training began. Where I nearly died again. You made me hate so deeply that I was chosen to thrive in Hell. To live eternally with my hatred, become one with it, use it how I see fit.”

His eyes flicker with false understanding. I laugh. I tip his wife’s chin up. “He thinks he gets it. He doesn’t, but you are beginning to, aren’t you?” I snap my fingers and her terrified shriek fills the room. I let her body spasm on the bed, assaulted by raw emotions, the first real ones she’s ever felt. I snap my fingers again. She stills. Silent screams return.

I turn back to him. “You don’t know real hate, real anger. You are a fool, duped by those you follow. Your life is a lie and now you will bear the fruit of that lie.” I rip open his shirt.

Closing my eyes, I’m back in the little gray room. My teacher tried to break me. Bombarded my body and mind. Intense pain as my skin melted from an atomic blast, slow agony as ebola bled me out, despair as a child breathed her last in my arms. I know them all, and thousands more.

My finger touches his chest, freeing his body enough to tremble. He vibrates through me. I trace the edge of my fingernail down the center of his ribcage. The stench of burnt flesh hits me. I open my eyes and am met with his silent wail. Beautiful agony. A razor-thin line of scorched flesh flares then disappears.

I walk behind him. “This is where he stabbed me first,” I say to his wife as I push my nail next to his left shoulder blade. His body jerks in the chair and I release his scream, a guttural cry of animalistic pain. Flesh drips off him. I growl, “From behind. He’s a coward and he’s going to pay.”

I shove him to the floor and tear his shirt the rest of the way off. With precision I inflict every wound he gave me ten years ago, every cut etched into my being. White heat erodes his skin.

His wife’s eyes, once wide, narrow as he sobs and drools on the bed. I haul him up and reposition him in the chair. “Five in the back,” I say to her. “Seven more in the chest.”

Each cut elicits raspy gasps. His knife drove deep but I barely pierce his flesh. Ten years worth of hate doesn’t need much of an opening to do damage.

I silence him again and sit back on the bed. “And then he did two more things,” I say quietly, my head low. “He spit on me as blood poured from my body. All of that wasn’t enough, though. He bent down and ran the blade across my neck.”

My hands on my knees, I push myself up and glide to the far side of the bed, close to her. “I won’t spit on him, though. I’m not a base creature. Unlike your husband, the murdering coward.”

I look at her and see myself. I place my palm over her heart and press. The physical act mirrors what is already done. I let her husband hear her final breath before I no longer need to keep her bound.

We both know what comes next.

***

She gulps for air, bucking and slamming against the wall of the little gray room. Her head swivels as she takes in her surroundings. A furious yell fills the small space.

I smile. It’s time to begin her training.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

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Damned Words 30


Step Settle
Mark Steinwachs

Step. Settle. Step. Settle. The corn sways in the mid-day breeze, its subtle vibrations through the soft ground giving me cover. The hard-packed road would signal my presence and must be avoided. I close in on the barn, and much needed rest. She’s killing us off like we tried to do to her. Mother Nature’s a tough old bitch. Her method is brutal, releasing a previously unknown toxin from the ground that eats through anything. Your last few minutes spent as a writhing, chemical-burned mess, just like we’ve made her for centuries. We learned quickly. The rich live in the sky, the rest of us…. Step. Settle. Step. Settle. I get to the edge of the field, plotting my course. I should be able to make it before she realizes I’m here. Preparing to push off, my foot slips on the soft earth sending shockwaves below. I take off, sprinting toward the barn. Throwing myself toward the stairs, I thud against them. I rip off my shoes, praying I got it in time. Skin melts from my foot as blistering pain lances up my leg. I close my eyes then scream.


Murmurs of the Corn
A.F. Stewart

Angelique heard the whispering voices since childhood. When the wind rustled the corn stalks, when it blew past the woods, the faint words followed.

Tribute for the Harvest. For the Harvest.

She always shivered and then smiled. She knew. She knew she had been chosen. She knew what to do. In the woods, past the far field, there was a spot, the raised flat rock. She brought the offerings: small animals at first, squirrels, rabbits, strays. And then later, she sometimes brought the voices children from school. The neglected ones, ones people didn’t care about. She was careful though, never too many of those. She didn’t want to draw attention.

But always once a year, every harvest season, some kind of tribute. And this year would be no different.

Angelique looked down at her three-year-old son, Jacob. “Mommy wants to show you a special place. Wants you to meet her friends.”

She took him by the hand and led him into the woods.


A Growing Boy
Lee A. Forman

Hunger never left his distended paunch. No matter how much she brought, his gut could not be sated. Spindly arms pulled rotten meat into a foul orifice. Brown saliva and undigested chunks ran down his stained frontside into a puddle of filth. Familiarity still rested in his eyes. They followed her with affection, resting deep behind puss-filled lumps which grew around them. She wondered if he still had legs beneath the mass of pulsating skin at his bottom. But it wouldn’t have mattered. His proportions already filled most of the barn.

She took the sandwich bag of teeth from her pocket and remembered his smile. How sweet and simple he once was.

A low groan erupted from his belly. Tremors of a wanting stomach rumbled under her boots. The fly-infested supply of food nearly depleted, she’d have to find a way to feed her growing boy.


The Food of Screams
Jon Olson

Home, sweet home. Years back when we first moved into the barn, it didn’t have electricity. That would have made everything much easier. You see, peeling someone’s skin off is—oh no you don’t! Don’t do that again! Now where was I? Oh yes, peeling someone’s skin off in candlelight is rather hard on the eyes. You’d think evolution would give my kind better vision in the dark. But then again, evolution probably wants to forget about us monsters. There are six of us altogether before you ask. I provide for the younger ones as – hey, remember what I said about running off? The younger ones have teeth but they aren’t large enough to cut completely through human skin. That’s why I remove it first. You’ll see what I mean when I show them to – OW! Get back here you little bitch! No use hiding in the cornstalks as… there you are!  GOTCHA! For that little escapade, there will be no skinning for you! Go ahead and cry. Oh hell, scream if you’d like. The little ones just love it when their food screams.


Sowing Season
Lydia Prime

Xipe would be pleased; from blood sacrifice the harvest should be safe from seasonal plight. Three friends closely line up behind me, playing follow the leader into the field. They could never have known what I’d planned for their last night. After all this time, my needed action had become enjoyment; a fine pleasure to dismember those who’d come. My sickle, hidden by stalks of corn, caught them off guard by its reveal.

They screamed and cried—even bargained for life. Grinning while their wishes fell on deaf ears, I knew not one would leave this field breathing. Quick slashes scattered their precious pieces, now coated in metallic red. The corn glistened in the moonlight, the blood drenched crop dripped upon the ground. The roots drank ravenously, shattering the night’s silence with a deafening suck. The harvest would be promised. My eyes twinkled while I examined the torn carcasses knowing Xipe’s power was devotedly harnessed.


Whispers
Scarlet R. Algee

It’s midnight, and I can hear the corn talking.

It’s not clear right away. But when I listen like Mama taught me, the voices come out, words in the whisper of silky tassels against my bedroom windows. Words like soon and feed us and hungry, beating in the rhythm of my heart.

I heard it first when I was four, when my dog Buddy disappeared into the fields one night and Mama, urged out to look for him by my tearful pleas, came back in the house after dark and said, “Buddy’s gone, Katrina. He’s gone to help feed the corn.” I didn’t understand how a dog could help, but Mama tucked me into bed beside her that night and the tall stalks thumped the windows, and in their rhythm I thought I heard thank you.

After that, others went away. Chickens. My bunny Nico, my fatherless little brother Billy. The corn grew, flourished, murmured. By then, I understood why.

Now I watch Mama lift my son William from his crib, one more fatherless boy, and I stand ready with the knife in my hand. We need another good harvest.

Hungry, the tassels mutter.

It’s time to feed the corn.


Ribbons
Mercedes M. Yardly

She spent her life in cotton dresses with her hair pulled back by ribbons. There was an ease in her childhood that followed her when she was all knobby knees and laugher, but that ease stopped when she reached adulthood. She began to hear things in the corn, felt things in the barn. Shadows would ooze out and hiss her name, lick her ear, and pull her ribbons out with sharp teeth. She let her hair fall down her back, let her cotton dresses become old and full of holes and fragility. It was easier that way.


Dawning
Christopher A. Liccardi

The corn whispered his name. It was serene, almost fooling him into thinking he’d be okay.

Lying face to the sun, he was fighting off the urge to vomit but the pain wouldn’t take him. It wasn’t enough. The thing he uncovered was ravenous but it let him go. He was sure of that.

A flash of memory from the night before – bone blades slicing, rending flesh; the tongue that lapped at the blood burned like acid. This thing was toying with its dinner. He broke free at first light, dragging his bloody chest through the spider-like corn roots, willing himself not to die in the dooryard of this cursed shit-hole. The thing inside didn’t follow.

Was sunlight the key? Would it matter if he bled out right here in this field? Come fall, the harvester would churn his decayed corpse up and he’d be feeding cows by winter. If he could only make it to the road, maybe he’d have a chance.

A screech pierced the beautiful day, sending terror and piss down his legs. The corn drank it up greedily. He saw the thing braving the sunlight and wept.


It Comes
Nina D’Arcangela

There is an echo far distant but always too near. I look up; multiple bright hues encompass the fathoms I crawl. The between is an inky void; a darkness in which a different symphony calls to me – my blood stirs. I’ve seen others outside the colony. My time to hunt will come, it is promised me; the next cycle is mine. Mother mourns. Her rheumy eyes shift, they will not explain. I spin my vestigial hammock in the dwindling gloom. Uneasy to rest, I drift to her gentle vibrations as they shiver me to slumber under the brightening canopy.

I wake. My mind screams from the cacophony, small hairs vibrate in waves of cruel harmony. Chomping, gnashing teeth approach. They spin and whir, the screech jars me from my gummy cocoon. As I hit the mud, the creature looms over me; my siblings scatter frantically. Mother curls; her legs draw in, the teeth careen past her – she burrows. I feel the crushing blow of its maw. My body yields with a slow pop; red and yellow mar the reaper. As it strips my carcass bare, a final glance beyond shows the world in ruin.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

 

Damned Words 29



Worthy of Heart
Lee A. Forman

Preserve their milky flesh; make bare soft, pink innards. Harvest remains, cover them in garnish, make beauty of woeful frames. Consume the fetal home—the birthing apparatus—for it is not lasting. But the tiny, wriggling creatures, perfect for trimming. They grow with skill, become things that made them. They pose for desire, malleable to intention. To play with life and death, their brittle models, is to be a god with artful power. Divine imagination is the finest tool. To make rich and vibrant something dull, paint life onto spilled passing.

Beautiful as the collection stands, it is but practice. Want of larger work—a showpiece worthy of burning hearts—fuels stimulus with copious motivation. The hunt must seek substantial result. Perhaps, something less of nature. A fine canvas, tall and supple. The grand puppet of evolution. Two masters of the Earth, to be my servants. They’ll birth the final piece, to be emptied of mortality, and filled with tender love of my pursuit.


Tableau
A.F. Stewart

I loved my secret hobby. Some could call it macabre, this taxidermy, but I saw it as repurposing dead things by turning them into art. My latest project was my best yet:  a ferret and squirrel tea party. I had trouble getting the ferrets at first, but I worked it out. And today I’d just tightened the last screw in the glass case.
“Hey, Jay. How are those ferrets doing?”
I whirled at the voice. Dave from the pet store stood by the open garage door.
“Hey, what’s that?” Dave stepped forward and saw my new tableau. He went ballistic. “What the hell did you do to those ferrets?” He grabbed me. “You little shit! That’s animal cruelty! I’m calling the cops!”
Staring at his angry face, hearing his threats, something just snapped. Panicked, I plunged my screwdriver into Dave’s throat. He grabbed at his neck, gurgled blood and collapsed. I stood trembling, afraid, but…
I kept gawking at Dave’s pooling blood. It stirred new ideas in my brain for a spectacular scene. I glanced over at the bloody screwdriver sticking in Dave’s neck and suddenly smiled.
I just needed a few more people to make it work…

Companions
Mercedes M. Yardley

After one year of living in the box, he let her out into the cellar. After nearly two, he let her have a needle, only under his watch, of course, and she would stitch up the furry little corpses he would bring her. If you take the insides out and replace them with sawdust or small rocks, they won’t smell. It took her a long time to discover this, but after she did, her companions were more enjoyable.

“This one is Mama,” she whispered. “This is Papa. This is June.” Mama, Papa, and June were cherished. Snuggled. Held tight in the dark.

“Why don’t you name one after me?” he asked. His sweat smelled worse than the animal’s decay. His hands were heavy and did unspeakable things.

She refused to name the last toy, calling it Not-Mama or Not-Papa or Not-June. It sat alone by the bowl she used for a toilet. She made sure it was missing its eyes.


How Is the Tea
Jon Olson

Don’t you love tea parties, my dear? I do, although I didn’t like using dolls so I settled on animals. I had Mr. and Mrs. Mouse, Mr. Ferret and the sweet Miss Squirrel. They always bit me or tried to escape. I killed them. With no will of their own, Mr. and Mrs. Mouse could entertain their guests for days on end. How is the tea? Oh, just lovely! They would rot after a while, smelling awful so I’d switch them up with fresh ones. Did you know I tried people once? It was horrible. They screamed and didn’t even want to play. Imagine! Before serving a single cup, I slit their throats. Besides, I missed Mr. Mouse’s gruff laugh and Miss Squirrel’s squeaky coughs. And now they’re with me here in the hospital. I get to visit them every day. Even the lunatics swing by to see them. More tea, old chap? Why certainly, sir!


Daddy’s Little Girl
Nina D’Arcangela

“Daddy!” I turned to see my little girl, her cheeks roughed, a white rat proffered in her outstretched hands; blood dripped from its stilled nose. “Fix it, Daddy, hurry!” I took the slight offering to my workbench. She watched with rapt fascination as I opened, then gutted the animal. Once the hide was cleaned, I applied a preserving agent. Days later, we stuffed the husk; she chose the position, I sewed its remains. Poised on a miniature chair, she whisked the creature away. The following week, a squirrel accompanied the same desperate plea; again I administered, again she observed. After the fourth, she begged a box to house them for afternoon biscuits and tea. I indulged.

She became reclusive soon after, choosing to spend volumes of time in her attic playroom. Concerned, I climbed the stairs to her private sanctum one afternoon. I swung the door wide–the fetid stench nearly overwhelmed me. There, on the floor, sat my little girl amongst a menagerie of mutilated creatures, including her beloved pet cat; a bird crudely stitched into its open maw. She smiled, clapped with sticky fingers, and giggled. “Look, Daddy, I fixed them, just like you.”


Perfection
Mark Steinwachs

Every stitch. Every tuft of fur.

Every. Single. Piece.

It’s perfect. Unlike the world. My views on humanity evolved as my project progressed. My coworkers joked about what I was doing because they didn’t understand. It hurt, but I kept going. They flitted about their lives, unfocused, I continued to center myself. I started crouching over my creation night after night. Soon, all I had left was work… and this. I work so I can create. And now I am done. Alone with perfection.

Every. Single. Piece.

When you truly give all, nothing remains. This is my all. I want nothing more from this world, nothing from the lost people who drift about until they wither away. When they find my art they will understand my patience and attention to detail.

I sit at the reception desk, decisive-sounding clacks filling my ears as I tap the last few keystrokes. Only I could pull this off. Computers are wonderful, if you know how to manipulate them.

Within moments, doors lock, cell phone signals jam, and gas pours from vents. We die as we live. I smile, watching my coworkers’ panicked final seconds. Calm, I take my last breath. Perfection.


Guest or Demon
Christopher A. Liccardi

They looked like fucking rodents. They died how they lived; like a pack of biting, gnashing vermin. Each one poised and refined. But, lift the glass and you’d be gob smacked with the stench of decay and putrescence that will never leave you.

Each had done me a bad turn so they had to pay.

Revenge?

No. Not for a moment could you think this elaborate scene was crafted with such feeble petty intent. That game, I left to the jilted lovers and business partners not savvy enough to see their other half beat them to the punch. My motivation was societal, selfless. Each played a part in my loss of her. Each took something away that I was, so each had to be outsmarted, out-gunned or out maneuvered.

She is gone now and will never return, but I have these four elegant guests over for tea and I will hate them no less as the decades creep past and the lust turns bitter.

At least I have these demons for company as I slowly rot alone.


The Last Tea Party
Scarlett R. Algee

When I see my inheritance, my jaw drops. Four taxidermied animals in a glass display case: three ferrets and a squirrel. They wear scraps of velvet and silk, sitting around a table piled with miniature pastries and a tea set. One ferret wears a top hat at a jaunty angle; another mouths a doll’s pearl necklace. Nana’s sticky note, taped to the glass, reads For Rachel and her sisters, together forever. I swear under my breath. Nana had been sick, but not demented. She knew my sisters were gone, and this is what she left me?

I lift the lid, the stench of mothballs wafting up. Dizzy, fumbling with the glass case, I turn around blindly and smack the wall. My vision blanks out. When it clears, my tail is being squashed against my chairback. I don’t remember having a tail.

I recognize them, those three pointed faces. Sarah teethes her pearls. Lana grins from beneath the top hat. Reilly’s still, but beneath her feathered headband, her eyes gleam. Rachel, each says through a stiff, pointed smile, sister, you made it, you found us.

Me and my sisters, together forever. I want to scream, but I can’t open my mouth.


The Time Out Box
Lydia Prime

They were being mean and I didn’t want to listen anymore. Mommy said that if I invited them over things would change and we could be friends. Mommy’s never been seven years old, obviously. I tried to show them my real friends. The ones who were never mean to me, but those girls said I was weird. One of them even started crying! I didn’t understand! How could they not be immediately drawn in by the tea party my fuzzy little friends were having?

I cried alone for a while, my insides began to burn. I heard them whispering. They were saying awful things about me, the whispering grew louder and my head started to hurt. I just wished I could put them all in time out. Then the voices stopped. I heard four echoing thumps, and walked to my room. They laid seemingly lifeless about the floor. I looked to my fuzzy friends and saw that their eyes had changed, no longer empty. I could see the mean girls reflected back against them, my wish came true. Time out for bad girls.

I set them up exactly like my fuzzy friends, I think I like them better now.


Memorabilia
John Potts Jr

Wrapped in an old sheet was the diorama Grandma made for my graduation. Gary saw only a piece of junk and beelined for the trash but somewhere along the way he stopped, turned to me, and performed this…this un-Gary-like act of love: he asked me if I wanted to hang on to it. I smiled and nodded. He playfully teased back. I could tell that Gary was drunk. So was I. Maybe that’s why I spilled the truth.

“I told you that Grandam loved serial killers, right? Well, that’s because she was one. And she never let anyone bully me. Grandma lured my high school bullies—those fuckers—into her basement and kept them locked there, alive, for days. She tortured them hour after hour until chopping them into bits small enough for the birds to devour. Chloe really did have turquoise eyes, too. I wanted to keep her hair and her lips and her eyes—especially those eyes! Of course Grandma wouldn’t let me so she gave me this diorama instead; something special to remember her by,” I took his hands and smiled. “That’s why I can’t part with it, Gary.”


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

 

Damned Words 28


In the Darkness, Gently
A.F. Stewart

The snow falls silently in the night, drifting softly to the ground against the moonlight. The wind is still, the tree branches unmoving. Not even a rustling mouse or the shadow of an owl overhead to break the spell of quiet peace. I hear nothing but the hushed sound of my own breath. So I wait.

Time passes. The cold seeps in, begins to numb my fingers and toes. It does not matter. Nothing matters but my obedience, my service. They will come. They will deliver judgment. I wait on their inclination, their decision on whether I am worthy.

I glance at the snow by my feet. It has turned red from Richard’s blood. The sight is stark, beautiful, this primal colour against the white. I stare at the blood:  the patches in the snow, where it has congealed around the wound in his skull. Hitting him was easier than I thought. Dragging his unconscious body here from the house was the difficult part.

I hear the whispers now, their sweet voices. They are pleased. They will come. They will accept my sacrifice.


Opening of the Fifth
Lee A. Forman

Reborn as one, those separate in life shall be stitched in undeath. We bring them to our canvas, cold and pure. It’s there we forge reanimation to that which has gone stale. We place their bodies beside one another like angels in the snow. Two souls would be one, flesh woven together by artisan hands. The scent of pine and copper compliments our senses, a perfect blend to accompany the work. Crystal drops rest upon bleak faces with closed eyes. Soon a fifth would open, reveal to them a world of things unseen; a forsaken place where life and death strays from precepts of human understanding—an existence beyond.


The Real Me
Jon Olson

Sprinting, it begins to snow. They’re behind me somewhere, yelling and cursing. No doubt they’ll come in greater numbers. It doesn’t matter now. A few more steps and I’ll be safe. Protected by the darkness, free to change and become my true self. I can still taste the orderly’s blood with fleshy bits of his nose still stuck between my teeth. Licking my lips my stomach growls and the shape-shifting begins. Skin splits, bones pop and snap as my form rearranges. It’s over in seconds. Grinning, I gallop toward the search party. Sniffing the air, I smell their fear. They know the real me is coming and I’m ecstatic to make their acquaintance…


Deceit
Christopher A. Liccardi

Lying under this icy blanket, I smell it approach. The falling flakes mask my scent; it knows not that I wait. It pauses; I hear it feed from the dewy fern, suckling the wet from the branches. With a single thud of its hoof, I know it has begun its advance again. Snuffling the fresh bed before it, I imagine an ear twitch, an eye round further, instinct warning it to fear… Though if it lifts its snout, it will once again smell only the storm scented air, not my stench.

A tentative step, then another. Now it strides with confidence nearing the protected brush. As it ascends the hillock, I strike. Teeth gnash on thrashing limbs, I roll from my bed under the whiteness slamming the creature to its side. I roll again, this time attempting to snap its neck. The leg I’ve seized is too thin, I grasp for a meatier portion of the caribou. I release, I lunge—it lands a kick in my gut, but not before my maw closes around its throat.

Crimson taints the bleached ground; my grunts fill the air as I devour my prey.


Director’s Cut
Mark Steinwachs

I stand on the porch, watching the snow. So silent, so serene, same as it was when I took the picture for her a few days ago. It’s amazing what you can portray to the world, you force people to see what you want, hiding the rest off-screen. We’re all directors of our own movie, only most people don’t realize it, just like they don’t think about the lights and stands and cables surrounding their favorite actor inches outside the shot.

I know, I’m a director. The best. It’s simple, really. Give them what they want to see and they’ll see it. Right up until it’s too late. She loved the country, its beauty, so I showed her, and after a few dates… Well, let’s say she was born for the role. I picked out her spot before I knew who she was.

I smile as my eyes fall to the half-dug hole in front of the tree in the distance. Now to find who deserves to be my sixth. I pull my phone out, one gloveless finger scrolling through profile pictures as the snow continues to fall.


Footprints
Mercedes M. Yardly

She left bloody footprints in the snow.

First they were small droplets, like Snow White’s mother who pricked her finger over her embroidery. Red French knots on linen. Red berries on white stone.

Then they became more. The unsettling slash of lips in a pale face, the slit of split skin, a wound that won’t close.

Ribbons. Swaths. Coils of red. Each step lanced her frozen feet, the crusty ice slicing tender skin. But each step was freedom, closer toward her mother, and the broken chains clinking around her ankles sang, “Let’s go home, let’s go home, let’s go home.”


Sylph Surfer
Nina D’Arcangela

Peaceful, so it seems, a glade shrouded in haze of dusk; sitting calmly in gentle gloam, it awaits full evening’s thrust. A subtle whisper ‘twixt tree and limb, all sway to and fro; snow settles upon thinnest branch, it bends most subservient bough. My siblings and I, we glide on currents lift, licking droplets from the air. The game afoot, as it always is, when wind is true and fair. Below I spy the first; tired, wet and cold. He drags a yelping mutt behind, leaving visage now rutted bold. Fleet as the others be, I am that much quicker, I descend among the flakes, strike the boy from the side–we tumble a mad twister. The white clouds his eyes as he shakes his hooded head, by then it is too late, for I have sunk my teeth, his pet already dead.


Bundled Up
John Potts Jr

Cassie nodded to Gregor and he stood, shifting to a wide stance with his arms raised shoulder level. A sharp ripping echoed through their empty cabin and Cassie thought how much she loathed today—this very moment—as she wrapped thick tape around the wrists and ankles of Gregor’s snowsuit. She stepped back, determined to stay strong. Will my sweet come back to me? Cassie pulled Gregor’s hat over his ears. “Better,” she whispered before kissing her love goodbye. Cassie could never watch him leave; it was too hard on her frayed nerves. And she knew the expedition in the wastes would last days and Gregor always came back to her so Cassie eased herself into bed, turned down the lights, and went to bed.

But there was something Cassie couldn’t shake and when she slipped into slumber that night a horrid image flashed her mind: only one of Gregor’s boots had been tied. Gregor tripped outside the door, falling downhill into an ugly roll that sent his body into the base of a lifeless oak. Both his hat and scarf tore from his face and the falling snow dissolved his exposed flesh to the marrow.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

 

Damned Words 27


Lady of Sorrow
A.F. Stewart

She hides her face from me and weeps tears of stone, clutching the wreath she laid on my grave. A monument to her false grief and lingering guilt, forever enshrined in granite effigy. I stare at her from the shadows of the trees and laugh.

She thought to kill me.

Me, a thousand years her better in occult magic and deviltry. A poor attempt at murder and in the end she is the one entombed. Locked in her stone prison atop my empty grave.

She should have never come to the cemetery to gloat, to lay her wreath in two-faced mourning. But then, I have always laid the best traps. I savoured the priceless look on her face when she turned and saw me standing behind her, alive, and not a corpse mouldering in my grave.

That was the last thing she ever saw.


Feeding on Forever
Lee A. Forman

The sky joins my solemn carriage as it casts a shadowed brow and sheds tears in honor. But musing her smile dampens the storm. Alluring and scented with life, it led me to flavorful experiences. Never before had the inevitable deed ushered such hesitation. Despite any mourning that might follow, I drained her of animation and confined her soul to a lifeless body. Ages passed since her corpse was set beneath stone. Yet memories retain their piquancy. Every life a different taste, I savor hers the most—the rest I keep only to feed the void. As I leave for another year, my longing for her toothsome spirit has already begun.


Please Just Let Me…
Jon Olson

Chewing my lip draws blood as I stand before her grave. I fucked up. I brought the damn baby, killed it and sliced the belly open just as she prefers. Why didn’t I stay to ensure she got the nourishment? There’s no point in running or hiding. Better to stand up and take it like a man. If I show her I’m in this for the long haul, maybe she’ll… there’s no way. My quivering lip and churning stomach would betray me. Hell, I’m on the verge of tears. If only I could… oh god… she’s awake… please… please just let me…


They Don’t Visit
Christopher A. Liccardi
They had so many questions. It was incessant to the point of pissing me off. I put a stop to them. Each time, a new face and new questions. The same old shit, really.

Keeping them in the closest started to cause issues with the lady next door. She started asking questions. No good. I found a forgotten stone and a forgotten family that never visited their dead. Made sense, right?

Fill the dead places with the dead—the living don’t bother to visit often. I’ll need to find a new place soon. Because, people never stop asking questions and questions never stop getting on my fucking nerves.

This place is big though and there are a lot of people who never visit their dead. There are a lot of places to store all those questions.


A Mother’s Lament
Nina D’Arcangela

Look at them. They stand there, dullards staring upward, not an original thought in their skulls. They’re sheep, cattle, suckling piglets awaiting the slaughter. They’ve grown soft, ineffectual, flaccid – just as he did. Can you imagine allowing yourself to be dragged naked through the streets, strung upon wooden posts, stabbed without uttering a single plea? No wonder those who follow do so with vacant stare and limp aptitude. It sickens me to look upon them, reminds me of my own crushing disappointment – the mother of one so weak willed. Yet they erect this edifice, this monument to a girl named Mary and pray before her shroud covered head. That girl is long gone of this earth, as is her passive nature. Millennia now I have endured his shame, but no more. I shall quake the very ground they stand upon as they cry out to me, beg that I beseech my child forgive them.  My child died, do they not remember? They are the ilk that killed him long before he was crucified.


The Contest
Mark Steinwachs

All my work crescendos to this moment, this chilly morning. I snap three photos, his remorse seeping through the lens. The color of his skin and cloak blends into the stone he’s perched on. The wreath in his hand, one flower for each of his victims, matches too. His spidery fingers entice me through the lens, but even the most delicate fingers can pull a trigger. His fate sealed of his own volition, he spoke to none of us but followed every order we gave. I take one more photo. It’s the one. Because of him, we will both be immortalized. After ten years, I will win Death Day. My picture alongside past winners. I turn and walk toward the idling police van. Behind me, four gunshots ring out in quick succession.


Her Children
John Potts Jr

September 22nd, 1917.

The professor stopped again before sunrise. He beckoned that I come at once, that something was amiss by the gate. I held my lantern high above the fog and led the way as he followed with his cart in tow.

“There,” he said with a tremble, pointing to the Lady of the Cemetery. “She will not let me pass. Pray you can help, good sir. Pray you can persuade her to let me and mine pass.”

I lifted the cloth and recoiled with detest, with loathing, at what lie beneath. He paid for the dead, that was certain, but not for her children. I walked away, back to my home, and when the sun was high in the afternoon I found the Lady of the Cemetery mourning her young once more.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

 

Damned Words 26



An Opulent End
Lee A. Forman

The warm glow of her eyes, once so soft and bright, darkened with atrocious intent. For months, evidence of such vile nature appeared like clues to be followed, but my nose failed to pick up the scent. Like a mongrel dog, I strayed into the briar patch of her love. The end near, I thought of such things—the life that was, the human way… But her rise brought it crashing down, and on the last night of the year, in my final hours as man, I submitted to assimilation.

The ballroom adornments dripped crimson death—a result of her furious rebirth. My stomach emptied itself in revulsion until all I could do was sweat pure terror from hot flesh. Only those who willingly allowed themselves to be subjugated survived the carnage. Those few meek souls trembled in blood-soaked garments until her wrath finished grinding unwanted meat to pulp.

Black tendrils spread from her torso in all directions, injecting inky fluid into those left alive. She spared me, forced my eyes to see the change unfold. Was some part of our endearment real? Or did the evil only wish me to suffer apocalyptic sights?

Their bodies struggled at first, but soon gave in and became things not human. Those infected shed their skin and emerged in hideous forms. Deviant, sable appendages sprouted from the birthed ebon creatures. Stone-like eyes peered from soulless shells. The hellish beings gathered and left to spread her unholy replication.

She took me in her arms and we danced. Perhaps it was a final nod to humanity, acknowledgement of what would no longer be. But her cruelty swayed my faith in that notion, knowing I’d remain her sole witness.


Eight Minutes Of
Nina D’Arcangela

Eight minutes of, the gala was in full swing. Women adorned in their finest gowns, men in their spats and tails. All twirled the dance floor with inebriated glee.
Seven minutes of, the lights dimmed, the glass baubles above took on an amber glow as heads lifted in wonder and delight.
Six minutes of, the largest crystal began to gleam, none could draw their eye from it; they froze entranced.
Five minutes of, the bloom grew blinding: the skin around each reveler’s eyes began to darken and crack; to ooze brown rivulets as they gazed beyond the light. Slack of jaw, their lips began to curl exposing desiccated gums. Teeth clattered to the floor as sockets shrunk and tongues retreated to withered husks.
Four minutes of, the first horn emerged from the starburst, followed languidly by the enormous beast – it struck the marble with a resounding crack as it landed upon cloven hooves and bent claws.
Three minutes of, the aberration stalked among the paralytic ensemble. The men it had no use for – it sought only breeders.  It sniffed, it tasted; it rent the unworthy to pieces. Gold and silver damask rippled through the air as it discarded one female after another.
Two minutes of, it chose a single sheep, a prize in grand finery festooned with shimmering gems.
One minute of, the creature stepped back through the starburst having seeded its offspring. The assembly of revelers fell to the polished slab; their flesh dusted the air upon impact, what clothes remained lay poised in an eternal waltz.
At the stroke of midnight, the brilliant glimmer of the seven pointed star diminished to the chandelier’s natural glow as a single scream ushered in the new year.


Another New Year’s Eve
Jon Olson

Here we are again, dear. We’ve made it to another New Year’s Eve. How many has it been since the bombs fell? Since civilization crumbled, leaving it a dog eat dog world? I’ve lost count. It may as well be just another notch on the bomb shelter’s wall. I know someone who would’ve known. She always kept track of the date. Yes, you know who I’m talking about. Don’t you even dare try saying you can’t remember! Her name was Marie… our daughter! Or at least she was until you saw it fit to kill her… and then eat her… without even sharing! Miserable prick. You want to know something else? Killing you wasn’t nearly as much fun as I thought it would be. There’s no one to share the moment with. Shit, you don’t even taste very good. This isn’t all bad though. At least I took the time to hang up that chandelier we found in the old dance hall. Happy fucking New Year…


Resolution
Mark Steinwachs

She sits cross-legged on the floor of the vacant living room. Somber, ethereal music plays in the darkness; it’s what he likes best. She etches the N and admires the droplets of blood on her arm.

Resolution

Tonight’s the night. Millions of people will swear by this word. But he has shown her the true meaning of it.

It started years ago. His teachings. They were hard to comprehend at first, but he was relentless. She wanted to give up so many times in high school, but he wouldn’t let her. She needed to grow to truly perceive—that’s what he told her.

She began to understand in college. And then she joined the real world and saw people for what they were. He showed her. He guided her, slowly building her up.

Her left arm was scarred white from hundreds of cuts, the R being the deepest.

Resolution

She is now complete. Droplets of blood trickle down her arm, a few splattering on the floor. She rises to her feet and walks to the dimly lit bedroom, ready for her final lesson. Stripping, she kneels on the white bedspread.

He’s taught her, and because of her, he will teach the rest of the world. Wet crimson catches her eye, beautiful against the white. She presses the blade into her wrist, drawing it back toward her body.

Resolution

Her eyes get heavy. His teachings are nearly complete. Growing from her, deep red hues shift subtly as his lithe form takes shape. A beautiful terror. After all these years, her teacher is before her. She smiles at him with the little strength she has left. “Thank you,” she says, and turns her arm to look one final time.

Resolution


Indulgence
A.F. Stewart

The glow of the chandelier reflected off its own crystal embellishments, sparkling like stars over the ballroom. Below the twinkle, masked and costumed party guests mingled, sipping champagne or red wine and sampling exquisite hors d’oeuvres.

Each guest wore a grotesque mask, an expression of their darker selves, of secret sins. Demons danced with ghouls, imps socialized with succubae, and deranged killers smiled plastic grins. Apart from the crowd, their host stood watching them, a glass of wine in his hand. He wore a black suit, a hooded red cape, and the face of the devil. He cleared his throat and a hush fell over the gathering. When he spoke, his words fell like drops of honey and darkness.

“Welcome, my illustrious guests. Over the years we have been through much. I have granted favours to each of you, kept your misdeeds tucked away from prying eyes.” He chuckled and pulled back his hood. The crowd abruptly realized their host wasn’t wearing a mask.

His demonic face was real.

“Surprise. You’ve all made deals with the devil.” He smiled. “And while I have enjoyed your pleasingly wicked lives, the devil must take what he is due. I’m sorry, my friends, but your lives are over and you all belong to me!” He raised his glass of wine in a salute. “It is time to move this party to Hell!”

The twinkling lights winked out and the room went black.

Moments later, all the guests screamed.


Transiton
Joseph A. Pinto

The very door itself trembled upon its hinges, the pulse of urgency behind it echoing throughout the foyer like the grand heart of some approaching leviathan.  My eyes slipped shut, and I listened.  Boom.  Boom boom.  Something foreign crinkled my lips.  A smile.  Absently I traced it with calloused fingers, then snatched my hand away before I became too enamored with the sensation.

A long time before, all I once found joyous fled me.  Now I wished only for an abrupt and jarring end.  Tired of the guise I had been forced to wear, the need for release intoxicated what remained of my mind.

Boom boom.  Boom.

“It’s not locked.”

The thunderous resonation halted.  I opened my eyes, spotted the subtle shift of grey shadow from beneath the door.  Slowly, the brass knob twisted, and the hinges did creak.  Inch by glorious inch, death squeezed through my threshold.

Slobbering from each side of its mouth, the infant waddled across the foyer, its soft, pink toes leaving a glistening trail.  “It’s about time,” my tone much harsher than I had intended.  “Sorry.  It’s been a long year.  I’ve lost too much.  I’m just…done.”

Unapologetically, it launched itself airborne, slammed me backwards, then perched atop my chest.  Hardly a leviathan, this blushed, flaccid thing studied me, cocking its oblong head as I laughed a zealless laugh.  “Ring in the new year, baby.  It’s time to still my old, clackity bones.”

High above in the dangling chandelier prisms, my reflection turned a thousand ways to red, and finally, breath by breath, I exhaled all the pain that had clotted me.


Secret Games
Brian Moreland

Ava Thornhill sipped her tea, as servants polished the crystal chandelier until the cut glass sparkled. Ava smiled. The Rococo light fixture had been a family heirloom passed down for generations. In 1910, her great-great-great grandparents, Helena and Victor, had used the chandelier in occult ceremonies. The esoteric couple had passed rituals of black magic on to their children. As Ava went through a gray cloth book, memorizing incantations written in Victor’s handwriting, she felt eyes watching from above. The doorbell chimed. Her butler led Luther Chastain into the room, then the servants left them alone. Luther gazed at Ava with a wolfish grin. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

Seeing him again made her skin prickle. She pointed to a chair across the table. “Sit.” As Luther sat down, she said angrily, “Remember what you did to me in your basement?” He cocked his head and shrugged.

“We were just playing games. Besides, that was years ago.”

She rubbed her fingers along her spell book. “Yes, but I’ve never forgotten.” Ava gazed up at the chandelier. Each teardrop crystal held the trapped soul of her family’s enemies. Bejeweled glass prisons. She looked at Luther and began to chant.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017

 

Damned Words 25




Misapprehension
Lee A. Forman

The past withered, faded, much like the photograph Benny held. Time consumed memory, leaving only a reflection of their faces behind his eyes. He couldn’t see beyond the scowl his wife expressed. Often, he mused it was the sun in her eyes—mere speculation, as the gray expanse that once thrived with the living, now decayed with the dead. The end wiped clean all sins, but all good deeds as well; as if a switch had been flipped, those who survived born anew.

He had to relearn who he was, as did everyone else. But he never accepted the new world. The picture tethered him to what was before. It held part of him in a forgotten place of warmth and hope. But the source of those feelings remained unknown. His head ached, torn between realities, one of which he couldn’t be sure existed. For all he knew, it was a dream within a nightmare, some faculty of human survival he’d never been aware of—something to keep the soul going. He could easily have found that picture in the endless, trash-filled wasteland, and simply forgotten he never knew any of those people.


Bizarre Killings
Brian Moreland

Miami Herald, July 22, 1948: BIZARRE KILLINGS IN THE EVERGLADES

Five members of a family vacationing near Palmdale, Florida were found dead yesterday at their summer cottage. “The killings were the strangest I’ve ever seen,” reported Sheriff Nash of Glades County. “We found the parents, Thomas and Linda Copper, in their bed, buried under fifty deadly snakes. We had a helluva time getting to the bodies. Eldest son, Joshua’s corpse was in the den, lying face down in two inches of swamp water. Bites riddled his body and he was missing an arm. His brother, Will, had been dragged into the glades behind the house and partially eaten by gators. We found teenage daughter, Janine, in her wheelchair, parked at the edge of the dock. Frogs covered her body and nested in her open mouth.” Shaking his head, Sheriff Nash added, “We’re still trying to figure out why so many swamp creatures had preyed upon the Copper Family.”

The only survivor was youngest daughter, Katie Copper. Sheriff Nash found the nine-year-old girl sitting on the back porch humming to herself and petting a large python in her lap. When later asked what happened to her family, Katie looked toward the saw-grass marsh and said, “My family lives in the glades.”


I Just Don’t Know…
Jon Olson

They look so happy in the photo. Each member with different experiences, yet together they’re something more. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each member is a piece connecting to the others to create something greater than the piece itself. Is this what a family is supposed to look like? They’re with me now but no longer alive. I have them arranged in the same poses as the photo yet it is not the same. I tried to keep the cuts in their neck as small as I could. Can you call a group of corpses a family? I just don’t know…


Cute Kid
John Potts Jr

He looked to the girl outside on the swing, and then to the one in the frame. There is just no way, he thought. A chill fell upon him when he glanced once more to the two girls, like the child who witnessed the boogeyman willingly. They both wore white and had hair the color of obsidian and even twenty feet away, he noticed an eerie resemblance.

But this is at least a century old, he thought, and returned the frame back to its spot atop the dusty television stand.

The cable technician bent, grabbed his tool belt and turned, now standing eye level with a portrait hanging on a wall adjacent to the room’s exit. This one had color, mid-seventies. A nuclear family with strawberry blonde hair sprawled across a massive redwood. The little girl was there too, off to the side and never too far away.

And again, this time at a Princess Resort. She stalked the two parents with their single child, her predator-eyes fixated on prey, not family.


A Moment
Mark Steinwachs

I thrust the picture that I’ve been carrying for the last twenty years in front of me. “This. This is what humanity is supposed to be.” My voice catches as the two young men standing just inside the door of my cabin click the safeties off their rifles pointing them at me. “The world wasn’t always this way. You must believe me. The blinding light etched into this picture marked their arrival. I am the little girl in this. They tried to wipe us out. All but the ones too young to remember. You. They raised and trained you.” Tears stream down my face, my hand shaking. They fight for the enslavers. They are homo-sapiens but I do not call them human. I don’t know how many of us are still alive. I step toward them holding my picture like a priest holding a cross but this isn’t a demon I can banish. “Please. This picture. This. This is Earth. This is humanity.”

The flash from the gun reminds me of twenty years ago.


The Photo
A.F. Stewart

I remember them.

Holding the faded photo, looking at the smiling faces posing for the camera, I recalled the day. Such a close-knit family. Father and eldest son running the family business, mother and daughter running the home, the second son soon off to college.

And the little girl. Twelve, I think, in the photo. Or thirteen.

I’m not quite sure anymore.

They seem so happy, the photo makes them look happy. So ordinary.

They weren’t though. There were strange secrets. Buried secrets

Like the bodies buried under their rose garden.

The bodies of my family. Those people in the photo.

It was a late summer evening, when the Hunters came. Die witches, they yelled as they shot their guns. They screamed, foul witches, as they cut the heads off their lifeless bodies, laughed as they dragged me away shrieking. I saw, though, saw from the car where they held me, where they made me keep quiet. Saw the holes they dug and the bodies covered with dirt.

Then they took me away, tried to re-educate me.

Make me a Hunter.

They didn’t succeed.

I’m still a witch.

And I avenged my family.


Etched
Christoper A. Liccardi

Etched in eternity, the family posed in the backyard pretending nothing was wrong. With such a handsome family, what could be wrong?

Their faces belied a truth that smelled like rotting meat on a sun-beaten highway; all but one face.

The little girl sat ‘injun’ style they called it in school. All thoughts of political correctness sixty-years away.

“Wasn’t there another child, sir?” The photographer asked.

The little girl replied, choking back a smirk, “He didn’t make it.”

“Oh.” The photographer shuffled awkwardly for a moment. Death was uncommon for this city dweller.

The sitting took an hour and everyone was as still as statues the entire time, except the girl. She squirmed and fidgeted like she’d sat on an ant hill.

Afterward, she got up and walked over to the man with the fancy camera and tugged on his pant leg.

The little girl smiled up at him, sinister and dark; he was instantly terrified.

“Wanna stay for dinner?” The little girl asked, forcing a sweetness that was a pure lie on her lips.

Before the man could reply, father had driven a stake through his left eye. The little girl cheered and began to giggle.


The Fruits
Joseph A. Pinto

I’d heard of her talent. But I’d been a skeptic, a trait stuck like glue on me throughout life. Someone told me a long time ago, though, that even the most jaded of trees need time bearing the fruit.

She felt my presence, acknowledged it with a choked clearing of her throat. She pulled out an old camera. The bright pop of the flash bar momentarily stunned my sight.

One liver spotted hand tap-tapped the doily littered table before her. The other? It offered an instant film sheet to the ghosts in the air.

And the ghosts, they did appear.

In muted sepia outlines at first, solidifying slowly before my eyes. My mouth parted, astounded. “You killed all of them.” She did not pose it as a question.

“Yes.”

The seer chuckled, dry as rainless dirt. “You got a helluva lot more souls in that black heart of yours.”

I admired the family trapped within the film sheet. “Yes.” I knew my own soul had been weighed heavy of late. I knew I simply needed some releasing, some clearing of space. “Take my picture again,” I instructed the seer and watched as the fruits ripened before me.


The Suckling
Nina D’Arcangela

Taken in as a foster child; I knew nothing of my lineage. The family found me, told me I was one of them. When I was introduced to the way, I bucked; I didn’t want to believe. They showed me older images; the five of them in each, my mother the sixth—our resemblance undeniable. I could live as long as I had the strength to perform the act, thereby resetting the clock to the age of my inception.

They were jovial at first; each abided the stricture of the cycle. Soon enough, cracks in the veneer began to show. The men grew impatient, my aunties more so. They engaged in the suckling with a frequency that reset days not decades. An ugliness grew; a desire to perform the ritual without the gain of youth. It began in dark alleyways where illicit abortions took place. Once the clinics opened, there was no stopping them. Regeneration required one thing: consumption of a fetal sack with its embryo still intact within the host body. At the age of seventy-nine, the choice was once again mine; to feed and live despite the grotesque nature of the deed, or allow death its claim.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017

 

Damned Words 24



Unhallowed Mastication
Lee A. Forman

Succulent is the flesh, with the right tongue to sample its flavor. Lapping at pools of blood, my palate invokes pleasure beyond understanding. How beautiful its color…blackened under moonlight. Soon to gorge upon a fleshless back, I arch and look to the sky. Always watching, my Luna, the light by which I dine. But never judging, its face ever set in nihilistic expression. With love I feed, and regret I swallow, for I’ve broken the forever promise. But in my prime, with such tender meat, resistance would be futile.

My heartbeat quickens as life departs him. And a sad smile curves my lips. A reflective glow catches my eye, from the ring around his finger. What was once a black suit and white dress, now a skinless corpse and naked body. Bells ring in my ears and flower petals dance for dreams of the past.

Those things are gone. Things demeaning to my newfound nature. A lifetime of hunger now sated, fruitless ventures of decency vacated. I loved him, still do… But I played the part, never committing. I must move forward, despite any sorrow. And so I take him in, raw, fresh, and unhallowed.


The Night Prisoner
Brian Moreland

On Halloween, the moon watched as humans walked the earth wearing strange costumes. Children went from house to house, collecting treats. Adults gathered at parties and drank spirits. The lonely moon yearned to be a part of these rituals, but she was imprisoned in the night sky. Then, a miracle happened. A girl in a fairy costume held up a candy pumpkin into a moonbeam. “Would you like a treat, Moon?” The kind offering opened a hole in the night’s veil. Delighted, Moon appeared as a goddess beside the girl and ate the candy. The sky went black. The girl shrunk to a pixie. Giggling, she flew around Moon and landed on her shoulder. Moon walked through a neighborhood. Every disguised human became their costume. Masks molded into flesh. Plastic teeth formed into fangs. Vampires, clowns, witches, and creatures of all kinds began attacking one another. “Please stop them!” the fairy pleaded. Moon remembered why she had isolated herself high above their world. I’m too much for humans. Saddened, she thanked Fairy Girl for the candy, then Moon returned to her prison in the void. Below, the creatures turned back into humans; although too often, they still attacked one another.


It Is Finished
Jon Olson

My eyes find the moon, glowing amidst the dissipating storm while the clouds swirl around the lunar gem for one last caress. I hear the Feasters of Death gathering in the trees, watching and waiting with ravenous anticipation for my body to exhale its final breath. Looking at the deep slash across my abdomen, they won’t have to wait long. My fingers probe the fatal wound, touching and prodding my entrails about to spill out onto the already bloodied earth. Around me are a mix of my fallen brothers and former enemies, with eyes permanently stuck open, staring lifelessly at their final battleground. Each expression a mix of death and hope; hope that they fought valiantly enough for the gods to have taken notice. My crimson stained fingers drop to the ground, finding the hilt of my sword, assuring me I have died a warrior’s death. A final chill stabs through my body as the Feasters creep out of their hiding places and I know it is finished.


Children of Frost
John Potts Jr

The woman heard a whimper. She turned and peered to her rear. Nothing, not a soul. Her pace quickened.

There it was again, only closer. This time the sound was a wail. Must be an animal, she thought, maybe a stray cat. Dense brush lined the walkway on her right and to her left, leafless oak and red maple stood guard above a sharp embankment. Her breath listed upward, fogging her glasses. She wiped the moisture off her lenses and noticed a small boy crouching near a tree ahead.

“You poor thing,” the woman gasped.

She rushed to him, knelt and took off her jacket, wrapping the boy snug. His skin was the color of bone. The boy hugged into her and the woman smelt something vile, something rotten. She hushed the boy, told him that everything would be alright and that she would take care of him.

The boy replied, “I know.” Jagged teeth ripped through the woman’s sweater, and into her stomach. She twisted away but the boy sunk his bite in deeper.

Then the children crawled from the embankment. They pounced, tearing and gnashing and feasting on her life under the moon above.


Final Moon
Mark Steinwachs

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.


Moonlight Sacrifices
A.F. Stewart

My fellow initiates—my sisters—smile at me, but I hear their whispers.

“The moon rising ceremony is tonight. They’ll come for her.”

They avoid looking at me, but I know the pity in their eyes. Mine reflected such emotions once. For the previous girl chosen in the sacrificial rites.

It is the risk, coming to the temple, the unspoken fear. The first night after they marked me, I wept myself into sleep. Then the Goddess came to me in my fitful dreams. She granted me strength, showed me the path. Tonight I walk it willingly.

After midnight I am escorted to the woodland dais by the priests. I am nervous, but I know my duty. As I kneel before the altar, I slip the knife from beneath my robes. For my duty is not to their God. I do the bidding of my Goddess.

They never see their deaths coming.

I look down on the last priest, bloodied knife raised. “The goddess is coming, defiler. She will no longer tolerate her daughters’ blood spilled in the name of your Death God. She is coming and you will all die.”

I bring down the knife and paint the moonlight red.


Cold, So Cold
Joseph A. Pinto

I knew what they were.  Recognized them beyond all deception.

No one listened.  Madman, they labeled me, and spat upon my shoes.  Still, I had grown used to such treatment, outcast that I had become.  Driven away from my family, my community, from the very fabric of lives I believed once to be an intricate part.  Such a sad, sad unravelling of threads.

When they perished, I shed no tears.  I carried no guilt upon my shoulders.

The cities have long since fallen.  Crystallized, one and all; come upon by translucent mercenaries of death.  Humanity had its chance.  All that was required, a simple heed of my warning.

The eternal frost is here.  Forever reaching with bitter fingers; the brooks, the rivers, the vast oceans, all set upon in hibernal oneness.  Now the mountains, the woods.  Yes, I see them for what they are.  Alive in gleaming beads of ice.  Maturing rapidly, these denizens of glacier delirium.

From white flakes they first fluttered, but no one believed.

Whoever remains huddled and void of warmth beneath this moon surely cannot deny it now…


Night’s Scape
Nina D’Arcangela

Lying in the wet grass, blood sputters from my chilling lips; my left arm is without feeling. I turn my head in fevered panic looking for the creature that attacked me. I hear its harsh breathing, but can see nothing of it. My right hand scours the earth; a fistful of entrails the only reward. My eyes drift shut.

The snort of its rotting breath on my forehead jolts me awake; terror rips through my body. I know death is near, but I struggle to flee nonetheless. Its maw clamps around my skull, the moon-lit field roughs against my back as it drags me towards the tree-shadowed edge; I see my lower half lying still upon the green expanse. My mind screams, my eyes turn upward of their own volition. Above me, the naked grey abomination releases its grip on my head; a glob of putrescent gelatinous spittle rains from its cracked lip. It snorts once more before ripping my chest open with a single swipe. Delicately, with a surgeon’s precision, it sniffs and picks among my organs. As I expel a scream that sounds of a whimper, I hear it snuffling and lapping as it gorges upon my innards.


Mother Knows Best
Christopher A. Liccardi

As she drove the knife in, Stephanie thought it was enough moonlight to see by; enough for this sacrifice. She felt the resistance give way.

A dull knife is a fool’s mistake, her mother had lectured. These were her mother’s tools and she had always kept them sharpened. God, the woman never stopped talking about the craft. If it wasn’t about the tools, it was the chanting or the posture. Stephanie stopped listening long ago, but some things had stuck, like this spell.

It’s not a spell dear, it’s a ritual. How she hated to be corrected all the time.

The figure lying on the alter twitched when she opened the skull. Stephanie stopped to check the restraints. It wouldn’t do to have her flailing in the middle. Her mother would have scowled at that too.

Stephanie recalled the chant her mother taught her; the rhythm and the words came effortlessly. Stephanie plunged the knife in to each eye socket and flicked out the globes. This time, the woman did more than twitch. She guessed what ritual it was.

 Soon enough I’ll be the witch, this will be my coven to rule, Stephanie thought as she kissed her mother’s forehead.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017

 

Damned Words 23

Ghosts of Judgement Bridge
Brian Moreland

Every October we relive the nightmare. The townsfolk march my three sisters and I to Judgment Bridge. Our hands bound behind our backs, we stand facing the fates of sinners. The angry mob chants, “Suffer the wicked!” Jabbing pitchforks force us to climb onto the rusted railing. Looking down, my sisters and I teeter over roaring river rapids. The hangman places nooses around our necks. Before he reaches Charlotte, she jumps and plunges into the rushing waters. Beside me, Gwen and Sylvie cry. We hold hands as we leap. The ropes snap our necks. We hang forever beside our parents.


Departing Obstruction
Lee A. Forman

Legends spoken in elder tongues told of the barrier. The forbidden land existed beyond. Kell desired secrets, discoveries, things unknown. To touch, feel, see…he’d return a hero. They’d sing of his journey for ages. Knowledge of the world gone would be his to tell. Whatever horrors lied ahead, he’d conquer. He inched with fear over rushing water. But his legs weakened as he reached the midpoint; body thinned, skin withered. The air smelled of death. He tried to withdraw but the barrier obstructed return. A throaty howl escaped unheard, as ravenous beasts of ebon flesh appeared from behind the trees…


Honor
Mark Steinwachs

I place my hands on the bridge and lay down, nestling my head into the rounded gap of steel.

There’s only one of us in the family each generation and as is tradition, I don’t know who follows me. My time is over and only they choose whether to reveal themselves. I will be their first hit as my uncle was mine.

“Thank you,” says a sweet female voice, one I’ve known since she was born. “Your place of honor awaits.”

In the silent morning the click of the safety sounds as loud as the gunshot that will soon follow.


Safe
Christopher A. Liccardi

Rusted girders ached under her weight. Centuries passed since anyone ventured out on that bridge. The deepest spot was nearly the length across to the other side; the free side.

She struggled, just a few hundred feet from where she could be safe from all the torment and ridicule. It wouldn’t be long before she could get away from the prying eyes always staring, the disdain she’d had to endure for years.

As she reached that spot, the one you couldn’t see from the deck, she dropped his mostly dead body in without so much as a single glance down.


Crossing
Veronica Magenta Nero

Each time I cross cold shivers overcome me. Here you leapt into the brown waters below, your body never found. With toes curling the edge I imagine the impact, the smack against the rippling surface, hard and sharp like plunging into glass. Water is a cruel and hungry force, capable of painfully wringing the very last gasp of air from tired lungs. I strain my ears against the rush and gurgle of the river, listening, waiting, sometimes your voice rises like a dark bubble from the muddy depths. It breaks before I can make out what you want to say.


Where will you go, Josie May?
John Potts Jr

Back in ’63 the widow Josie May lost her two boys to napalm. Her grief was persistent, heavy. One evening Josie plunged head-first to the shallow creek below Mason Bridge. She suffered a death worse than her sons and the locals coined that spot Widow’s Sorrow ever since.

Those who shared Josie’s pain found a similar fate; some took the dive, some didn’t. But the town never mentioned that when they shut the bridge down for good. Old Josie though, she’s clinging on, and the kids nowadays say Widow’s Sorrow isn’t half as scary as it was made to be.


Just Cut Deep
Jon Olson

You’re holding that razor, comforting and warm. Everything will be better on the other side. Trust me. The pain and anguish you feel now will be but a memory. Don’t you see? Your life’s journey has brought you here. All that is left now is to cross over, the final hurdle represented by this bridge. There is but a simple toll. Just cut deep. That’s all you have to do. Don’t be alarmed by what’s on the other side. It will look bleak only if you want it to. There’s much more so embrace the razor’s cold bite and cross…


Awakened
Joseph A. Pinto

From beneath the bridge, I hear the breaths; a horrid rasping, laden with congestion and rage. Warned I was not to cross this way for what awaits, the rumors told, was of no natural origin.  The sun slowly withdraws from the land as the breaths rise and fall, everywhere and nowhere at once.

Turtle-like, my head withdraws deep into the hollow of my overcoat, bones rattling within my shell.  I should have taken heed, but like all else in my life, it is too late.

Yes, I hear the breaths from a beast awakened, rising and falling with my own.


Ghost Train
A.F. Stewart

The deputy stared at the human-shaped soot stain indelibly smeared into the surface of the rusted bridge. Nearby lay a ratty wallet. “Another one, Clem?”

The sheriff snorted. “Of course, Willie. Full moon last night. Another fool got an eternal ticket on our Ghost Train. It’s a spectral menace. Even ripping up the tracks in ’56 didn’t help.” He bent and examined the wallet. “Shit. It’s Darren’s. You’d think he’d know better.”

“Poor Darren.” Willie shook his head, but inwardly smiled.

He got what he deserved. Best sound in the world listening to him scream over that phantom train whistle.


Mother’s Rage
Nina D’Arcangela

Mother’s milk spills upon all. The transformation– beautiful; horrifically brutal. As she nourishes, she destroys. Silvering, drying, cupping with the wick of her dew.  Molecular bonds shift as she bathes all with rage and gentle tears from above. She corrodes, taints; amends. The surface awash in pained agony transforms to a visage her eye finds most appealing. Underneath, sweet symphony of destruction plays to a finely tuned ear. Warping, twisting, undulating; becoming. Corrosion, chaos, lack of conformity brings justice to the wracked and malformed. Her torrent soothes the hardest with passage of time; her gentle stroke cripples that unnaturally wrought.


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.

Footprints

Trust in me and I will guide you. I will heal you.”

I feel the words spoken but no one is in the room. Sighing, I put my backpack on the table and walk into the kitchen. Opening the fridge, I groan, marveling at the lack of food. I grab one of the cheap beers, the only kind I can afford, and twist off the top, taking a swig.

“Give yourself to me and I will make it better. I will take the hurt from you.”

The words are a breath in my ear. I stopped looking for the being behind the voice long ago.

My movements are automatic. Grab the small pot from the stove, shake out two packets of ramen noodles, down the first beer as they cook, then crack open the second one while eating the sodium-laced soup straight from the pot.

I finish my dinner in the same place I started it then rinse the pot and fork, setting them back on the stove, ready for tomorrow night. The second beer comes with me to the bedroom. It’s a matter of ten steps between the two rooms.

“I am here. I will take the pain you feel.”

There is nothing to pull my attention away from the voice because I have nothing left. The things I used to own? All sold to try and get by. The cheap build-it-yourself dresser wobbles as I set the beer atop it next to the stack of unpaid bills.

Undressing, I toss my clothes on the pile in the corner. I need to do laundry but there isn’t enough money.  I walk into the bathroom and turn the shower on, stepping in after steam curls out from behind the curtain. At least I still have hot water to shower with.

The water stings my skin as it cascades over me. Reaching back, I crank the heat up further. My skin reddens and it stands out more where is it stretched taut from the burns. As I close my eyes, the vision comes back, like it always does. The mortar shells raining down around us, trying to avoid something unavoidable until it happens, a sound like the earth itself opening, then nothing but ringing as chaos ensues.

They said it wasn’t my fault but they didn’t live it. They can’t understand it. They didn’t watch their friends burn, trapped inside an overturned Humvee.

“So many have come before you. I await. Accept my invitation and I will make it better.”

The voice has been there since shortly after I got out of the hospital and back home. It happened the day I returned to my church. There was a hero’s welcome, but I didn’t deserve it. I let my friends down. They got a different hero’s welcome when they got home, and I couldn’t be there for any of them. I’ve done my best to make peace though. Maybe one day I’ll find out if I’ve been forgiven.

That night the voice spoke to me, I freaked out and couldn’t sleep for three days afterward. It didn’t happen much in the beginning—once or twice a week—but it’s become more frequent. It happens at least ten times a day now, it feels like. But I don’t count.

Opening my eyes, I shut the water off and dry myself, then close the bathroom door. I leave the light on; I need a little bit to help me fall asleep—that, plus a few pills. I grab my beer and shuffle to bed, picking up the orange bottle from the floor. I open it and tip three into my hand, gulping them with a shot of beer. My fingers fumble the lid closed and I finish the last dregs of my drink.

I lie down and reach to the floor, picking up the paper I know is there, a poem given to me by our church’s pastor: ‘Footprints.’ He told me that it was written for millions of people before they knew they needed it and that, one day, I would truly accept and understand the words. Only then would my life would be better.

I read the poem as I’ve done every night since I got it, the paper worn and ragged in my hands. I finish and gently set it on the floor, then flip the switch on my lamp. Only a sliver of light streams from the bathroom.

Before I shut my eyes, the voice is there one last time. “Accept me and you will be free. I am your savior.”

I drift as the pills take hold. “Maybe you are,” I mumble. “Maybe you are.”

I dream of those moments, but for the first time it really is a dream, not a nightmare. Their eyes tell me everything. It’s time.

My heart is hammering in my chest when I wake. I know what I must do. I roll out of bed onto my knees. The voice is there immediately. “I am your savior. Accept me and I will guide you from this pain.”

“Yes, yes. Please, yes. You are my savior, I accept.” Answering out loud to the voice only I can hear.

My body shivers as I feel movement behind me. I start to turn but it’s too late. Slender hands grip my head.

“Welcome home,” the all-too-familiar voice whispers. A skeletal finger touches each temple and a searing heat rips through me.

***

I burn inside the Humvee, my skin sloughing off until there is nothing left… and then the moments repeat. For the rest of eternity, my men will watch me.

It is hell, but it is my hell.

And I am saved.

∼Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright 2017 Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

 

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