Under the Moon

They gather beneath the moonlight, where the silver shaded radiance meets the glowing edge of street lights and gaudy neon. They linger where the shadows settle in the cracks and alley bricks, where stagnant puddles shimmer from the lightly falling rain, and scattered refuse flutters in the wind.

Their claws scritch against the asphalt, a tiny sound against the submerged surface of the city, lost in darkness and the quiet hum of nightlife. They move and shift in scurry motions, shadow to shadow, slithering along the cracks and filth, unseen. Cars pass, doors slam, music drifts down the street. They take no heed, only finding the place they need to be.

Then they wait.

With each shallow breath, what passes for blood races through their veins, melding with the night. Their little tongues dart from their mouths, and shiny teeth knock together. The vibrations of the city hum against their bodies, disturbing the flow and rhythm.

And they wait. Until…

Footsteps echo on the sidewalk, tap, tap, down the pavement.

They hear the noise, and in eager anticipation their clicking claws keep rhythm, merging into a pulsing harmony, into a macabre sort of heartbeat. Thump, click, thump, click until the sounds are indistinguishable from one another.  

Until they are one tempo, one pattern, one in the flow of time…

Until the person who approaches is theirs, is lost to their need, to the swarm of their frenzy.

They are shadows at first, a darkening of light around his movement. Then they are sound; scritches and scratches and auditory fear. Lastly, they are pain; savage, sharp teeth, biting and gouging, devouring flesh. 

They exhale through his coursing blood, their life sliding into his, sucking, squelching, slurping pieces and bone, unmaking existence with screams and crimson splatters until every beat ceases. Until all that remains are red stains in a puddle.

Then they fade back to the cracks in the world, retreating to the lengthening darkness on scuttling claws.

And the hum of the city begins again, masking the faint clacking with the gloom of night. 

~ A. F. Stewart

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

The Red Witch

Dalia Habershon sat in her favourite high back chair and surveyed the room. The lights were dimmed, with a few candles to lend the right ambiance. The fireplace roared and the butler had set out tea for the guest. The peeling wallpaper was barely visible, and the cracks in the plaster melded into the gloom.

We haven’t had a visitor in ages. This could be a good day.

She shifted position to ease the twinge in her back. The chair creaked, and the faded upholstery rippled, threatening to tear again. Dalia smoothed the skirt of her best dress, ignoring the old stains and the tattered edges of the fabric. She had done her best to look presentable, fixing her hair, even adding a touch of lipstick.

She cocked her head, listening to the whispers from the shadows. “Shush, he’ll be here soon. Be patient,” she replied. More whispers, Dalia strained to make out the words. “Yes, I’m certain. He’s not the type to miss an opportunity. He’s nothing but a muckraker trying to jumpstart a career, make a name for himself. He jumped at the chance to interview the infamous Red Witch.”

The double doors flung open, and two figures strode into the room. Dalia’s butler announced, “A Mr. Phillip Cobb to see you, ma’am,” before bowing and backing out of the room. He shut the doors behind him with a bang that made Phillip Cobb jump.

He laughed nervously. “This place sure plays up the spooky atmosphere.”

“It’s the way we like it. Come, have a seat on the sofa.” Dalia waved her hand at the ragged piece of furniture, hoping the springs were still holding.

Phillip sat down as instructed and took out his phone. “Do you mind if I record this?”

“Whatever you need.” Dalia beamed, playing the perfect host. “Would you like some tea?”

Phillip shook his head. “Maybe later. I’d Like to start the interview. How did you get this local reputation as the ‘Red Witch’? Rumours have it you make people disappear with your magic.” He smiled, a slight edge of mocking to his grin.

“Did they tell you how I cast spells and feed my hapless victims to my demonic pets? Or perhaps the one about how I collect souls.” Dalia snickered. “Truth is, I’m just an eccentric lady and people like to talk.” She shrugged. “It’s not my fault if people disappear. Probably should have minded their own business.”

“So you’re saying that you’re just a victim of gossip and harassment, that—” Phillip suddenly yelped, pointing at the shadows, “What the hell is that?”

Dalia sighed. Damn the ghosts. They’re so impatient. “Just can’t stay hidden, can you? Well, come out then, since he’s seen you.”

From behind the chair, several ethereal figures floated forward, crowding around the sofa. Eager moans issued from their throats as Phillip shrank away from their outstretched hands. He yelped again as something else slithered across the floor, adding a trail of slime to the layers of dust.

Still shrieking, Phillip leapt to his feet. With her foot, Dalia shoved the coffee table into his shins, upsetting his balance and rattling the tea set. As Phillip tumbled back onto the sofa, Dalia reached between the chair cushions, then vaulted over the table, brandishing a knife.

“You wanted to know if I had anything to do with the disappearances? The answer is yes,” she snarled. “The Red Witch is a killer.” She slit his throat with a laugh.

His blood sprayed against her dress, adding a touch of bright red to the faded crimson cloth. Dalia licked drops of Phillip’s blood from her lips as she watched his moaning spirit rise from his body.

“Come my pets, you have someone new to torture.”

The other ghosts rushed in, moaning eagerly, and hauled Phillip’s spirit away to the darkest shadows. Dalia listened to his phantom screams as her pets played with their newest toy. She chuckled.

It will only hurt for a little while, Phillip. Then you’ll become one of us.

More shadows shifted, and a reddish tentacle reached out towards the sofa. It wrapped around the corpse’s neck and squeezed. Bones snapped and flesh dissolved until the head popped off. The slimy appendage dragged the head into the shadows and they both disappeared into the dim murk of the room. Blood oozed and pooled on the sofa cushions.

Dalia nodded. “That’s it, feast, my pet, but save some meat for me. Winter’s coming and the freezer needs stocking.”

She scooped some blood from the stump of the neck into a cup and poured in some tea. Dalia settled back in her chair, sipping her drink and licking blood from her fingers. She gazed at the body on the sofa and listened to the sweet sounds of screams and crunching bones.

Dalia smiled. “Well, it was a very good day indeed.”

~ A. F. Stewart

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

4:09

The elevator lurches to a stop on the fifth floor and the orderly leads me out as the doors swish open. It’s always quiet up here. The carpeted floors, potted plants and framed paintings on the walls almost make you forget that you’re in a mental institution.

Dr. Quill’s office is the last door on the left at the far end of the hall. Harold guides me down; his hand gently gripping my elbow. In the five-plus years I’ve been here, the orderly has always been decent to me.

We stop in front of Dr. Quill’s door.

There are nice, stained-wood doors up here, while we’re stuck with steel ones painted a sterilizing grey.

Harold checks his watch and at precisely 4:00pm, he knocks.

“Come in, please.” Dr. Quill’s voice is faint and gentle.

Harold turns the knob and pushes the door open.

Dr. Quill’s windowless office appears smaller than it actually is thanks to four large book shelves that dominate the far wall. Each shelf is lined with expensive looking medical encyclopedias and I wonder if he’s even read one of them. There are two fake potted plants in the corners to my left and right.

The good doctor is standing behind his desk, smiling.

“Good afternoon, Xavier,” he says.

“Hello.”

Dr. Quill nods to Harold who turns and leaves, shutting the door behind him.

“Have a seat,” Dr. Quill says, gesturing to the single chair in front of his desk.

I take him up on his offer and sit. The chair has always been surprisingly comfortable.

“How are you feeling today, Xavier?” he asks, pulling his chair closer by the arm rests. A yellow pad of lined paper sits on his desk with his expensive pens. He takes the cap off one of them and holds the pen in his hand, ready to write.

I smile. “Fantastic.”

“And why is that?”

“Today is the day that all of this ends.”

He begins scrawling his notes on the pad. “All of what ends, Xavier? Our sessions?”

“Everything.”

More scrawls. “What time will this occur?”

“4:09.”

Dr. Quill stops writing and looks at his watch, then back up at me. His glasses are resting on the end of his nose and he has to tilt his head down  to look over them at me. “That’s a precise time… and so soon.”

“He’s waited long enough and sees no point in delaying his arrival any longer.”

“You are referring to…”

Sredna.”

“So Sredna is coming at 4:09?”

I nod. “I’ve told you all about him week in and week out for the last five years. I’ve been his conduit and you still don’t believe that he exists, do you?”

“He’s real to you.”

I giggle. “Very soon he will be real to you too, Doc.”

“What will happen when he gets here?”

“He will eat our reality.”

“You say it so matter-of-fact.”

“It’s what he does.”

Dr. Quill writes some more in his notes and is about to speak when he hears it.

A low hum that’s very faint but we both register it. My fillings begin to tingle and my heart beats faster.

He is coming.

A high-pitched shriek cuts through the air and all of the light bulbs explode in a shower of sparks. Dr. Quill jumps back, letting out a cry of surprise as the entire room is thrown into blackness.

It’s 4:09.

“Don’t worry, Xavier. The emergency lights will kick in any minute.”

His voice is muffled and seems far away. I cannot see him anymore in this blackness.

The blackness is moving, almost wriggling with no distinct shape.

Sredna.

I notice my skin is burning. The pain is excruciating yet I don’t scream as Sredna fills my mouth, rendering it useless. My skin dissolves, exposing muscle tissue and it too is quickly eaten away.

In what I can only guess to be a matter of seconds, the burning subsides and then…

…there is nothing.

Just Sredna.

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2015 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved

In the Clearing

George Sutherland followed Francine McKenna farther into the forest. His interest in Sasquatch had led him to join the Nova Scotia Bigfoot Hunters Society. When he met the group’s leader Francine, however, his priority instantly became to get into her pants. When she asked him to go with her on a short overnight expedition, he saw it as good a chance as any.

Only one tent for the two of them.

“Come on,” Francine said, looking over her shoulder. “Pick up the pace back there.”

Her red hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail and although her cheeks were red from the excursion through the woods, George could still see her freckles. He couldn’t help but smile.

“Easy for you to say,” George said adjusting his backpack straps. “I’m the one carrying all of the heavy shit.”

“I can give you the lighter one if that one is too heavy for you. I bet the rest of the group would love to hear about that.”

George made a face but increased his speed, trying to catch up to her.

Clouds were slowly overtaking the blue sky that had been present earlier in the morning when they parked on the side of the logging road and ventured into the woods. Some blue jays chirping in the trees suddenly darted out, catching George’s attention. He didn’t see his boot catch the exposed root and fell forward with the weight of the backpack forcing him to the ground.

Francine laughed. “Are you okay?”

“Fuck sakes,” George said, pushing himself off the ground. “Where is the rest of the team anyways?”

“Matt and Ryder had to work and Beverly’s out of town visiting family. They’re going to regret not coming out on this one.”

“So exactly why are we out here? Why this particular area?”

Francine looked at him. “You mean besides living up to the NSBHS’s name?” She took out her cellphone, opened some files and handed it to George. “An old friend of mine, Bryan who works as a harvester for Triple L Lumber, sent me these photographs.”

The first few photos George flipped through consisted of large footprints in the ground and at the end were shots of reddish-brown fur snagged on tree branches.

“Those pictures were taken by different employees all within this eighty hectare plot,” Francine said. “They all reported experiencing a strong, foul odor like a combination of a skunk and wet dog as well as hearing loud grunts and sticks banging against trees. All classic evidence of Bigfoot.”

George frowned. “I know that I’m still relatively new to the group but we get dozens of emails from people with pictures like this, claiming to have seen Bigfoot. What makes these more special or significant?”

“There’s also been some other strange things going on up here. If you scroll to the end of the photos, you’ll see one that’s not related to Sasquatch at all.”

George found the photo she was referring to and looked at it.

There were four impressions in all, with two distinct prints. The first set was the smaller of the two with what looked like three knuckles side by side. The larger ones also had three knuckles and were further out to the sides. They also had small indentations that resembled bear claws.

“It kind of looks like whatever made these was running,” George said. He handed the phone back to Francine. “The way they are laid out reminds me of the way a gorilla runs.”

“Show me.”

George undid his backpack straps and slid them off his shoulders.

“Like this.”

He squatted down and then pushed off with his knuckles, landing on his feet and repeated for a few feet so Francine could see what he meant. She looked at the pictures, then at the slight impressions George had made in the ground and back to her phone.

“I can see it,” she said. “If we can find more evidence of this we may have something new for the cryptozoology books.”

***

It was sore from the struggle its previous prey had put up.

Unable to see, it relied on its sharp sense of smell that was still filled with the skunk-like smell of its previous meal. It was about to move on when it picked up on something else.

The smell was faint but recognizable.

Humans.

***

They trudged on, venturing deeper into the forest. The air was cool, yet humid, as summer was refusing to hand its reigns over to autumn.

“I’ve always enjoyed the smells of the woods,” Francine said. “It smells alive.”

“The bugs have always kept me away from walking amongst the trees,” George said. “Fucking things.”

“They don’t seem to be too bad now.”

George realized that he hadn’t heard the high-pitched buzzing in his ear for a while. He also noticed that the birds didn’t seem to be chirping either.

“Why is it so quiet?” George asked.

Francine looked at him, listened and shrugged with little concern for the silence.

They walked on and in the pit of his stomach, George thought it felt wrong. He opened his mouth to mention it but didn’t want to ruin his chances.

The trees started to thin out, which George was thankful for as it made walking easier. Eventually, they entered a clearing and were immediately hit by a strong stink.

“Holy shit, what the hell is that…?” George said covering his nose with his hand.

Francine gagged.

“It kind of smells like a skunk,” George said.

He looked at Francine and even though the smell was bothering her, she seemed to get excited.

“Sasquatch is reported to have a skunk-like smell,” she said.

“Or it could just be a skunk.”

“No, this is different. It’s really thick and… it does seem to have a wet dog scent to it.”

Although he smelled it too, George shook his head. “To me it still smells like a skunk, possibly a dead one, but a skunk nonetheless.”

“Let’s go find the source,” Francine said.

The clearing was roughly the size of a football field. An assortment of bushes had sprung up sporadically with a few small spruce trees here and there amongst the tall grass.

George started after her and immediately felt his body break out in goose bumps. He stopped and looked around. Something about the clearing made him feel very uneasy.

“Maybe we should…”

He was cut off by Francine yelling with excitement in her voice.

“Oh my God! George, get your ass over here! Hurry!”

She was standing near the far tree line, waving her arms frantically.

“Did you find the skunk?” George asked as he got closer.

Near the edge of the clearing was a body lying on its back, its arms jutting straight out to the side. It was covered in reddish-brown fur that fluttered in a gentle breeze except for the face, which was clean shaven. The eyelids were open slightly but the eyes had rolled back into its head with a wide, flat nose sitting just below them. Its mouth was slightly agape, showing yellowed teeth.

The body of a Sasquatch.

***

It could tell it was getting closer; the human scent was everywhere.  Very faintly, it could hear their voices.

Its pace quickened.

***

“I don’t fucking believe it,” George said.

“Do you know what this means?” Francine asked. “Get the camera out.”

“I still don’t believe what I’m seeing.”

“You can don’t believe all you want later.” Francine slipped the backpack off her shoulders. “Get the camera out and start shooting!”

George’s eyes, and brain, were still trying to comprehend exactly what they had stumbled across. He removed his backpack and let it fall to the ground hard.

“Hey, come on. Pay attention to what you’re doing.” She took her cellphone out of her backpack and began dialing.

“I’m going to give the rest of the team a call.”

George squatted down and began unzipping his backpack, but didn’t take his eyes off of the body. It was well over nine feet and the beast’s frame looked powerful.

His hands found the camera and he pulled it out. He turned it on, shifted his eyes from the body to the LCD screen and began taking pictures.

“Damn it,” Francine said. “I can’t get a signal out here.”

As he walked closer to the body, George zoomed in on the Sasquatch’s arms and noticed a puncture wound on each one. The fur and skin seemed to have been pushed to the sides. A hole, roughly the diameter of a pencil, penetrated through the tissue underneath.

“I really can’t believe that this is lying right in front of us,” Francine said. She knelt down beside the Sasquatch and held her hand out, hesitating to touch it. “This is incredible.”

As he took a few more pictures, George noticed the ground around the body was beaten down. A lot of the tall grass had been broken, as if it buckled underneath something heavy. Scattered around the ground were clumps of the Sasquatch’s fur.

To him, it looked like a fight had taken place.

George lowered the camera and looked at her. “It doesn’t look like it died from natural causes.”

Francine met his gaze for a moment then looked around at the surroundings. “I think you might be right.”

“So what killed it?”

***

It could tell it was near the clearing due to the trees’ smells fading into nothing more than background scents. The other odor was still there.

There were two human scents, a male and female, both of them nearby.

Despite its previous meal not too long ago, it was ravenous.

It entered the clearing.

***

George frowned.

“Does Bigfoot have any natural predators?”

“I’m not really sure,” Francine replied. “But, if I had to give an answer, I would say no.”

“So, I’ll ask again. What killed it?”

They both thought back to the strange tracks in the picture on Francine’s phone.

“Do you think those tracks are part of it?” Francine asked.

George opened his mouth to answer but saw Francine’s eyes open wide in fear.

Something slammed into him and tackled him to the ground, landing on his stomach. George struggled to turn over but he felt a sting in his back; within seconds a toxin entered his bloodstream, paralyzing him.  Although he could not move, George’s head remained facing Francine’s direction.

The thing that tackled him was already making its way towards her. It was hairless and running just as he had acted out earlier: running on its knuckles with its fingers curled underneath, like a gorilla.

Francine screamed and ran. The creature, however, was too fast and tackled her to the ground. Two stingers shot out of its palms into her back, just beneath her shoulder blades.

When she stopped moving, it turned its head to George.

There were no eyes; only nostrils constantly flaring and a mouth running vertically up its face. A large plate-like feature jutted out along its back, protecting most of the torso.

The creature began dragging her back to where George was lying. It released her and using the claws on its hands, cut into her forearm. George watched as it dug its hook-like teeth into her flesh and then the mouth opened, tearing tissue away from the bone. A penetrating sheath shot out of its mouth into the bone and it began to ingest Francine’s marrow.

George could only watch and wait, knowing that once it finished with her it would come for him.

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2015 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved

Sightseers

Becky Dunsworth could not believe her eyes when she and her boyfriend, Thomas Woods, emerged through the thick wall of spruce trees. Just as news agencies around the world had broadcast, Becky saw for herself that the town of Hume, Nova Scotia was dead. Some buildings remained intact; some were just shells surrounded by piles of rubble, and others had been completely demolished. She looked down at her feet and saw the paved street that they now stood on was badly damaged and showed years of neglect.

“I told you it was still here,” Thomas said, smiling.

“So that means their explanation all those years ago was just…” she trailed away.

“It was just a cover story to hide the truth.”

Thomas slid his backpack down off his shoulder, unzipped it and began rummaging around until he found what he was looking for – a digital camera. He took the lens cap off and turned it on, the LCD screen illuminating his face. It was only three o’clock in the afternoon but the sky was so overcast and grey that it made it seem closer to dusk.

“This is going to be great, Becky. We can finally prove that what’s his name, that Douglas guy, wasn’t off his rockers when he submitted his manuscript about what really happened here.”

Becky grinned, feeling excitement brewing inside of her but at the same time feeling a sense of dread. It was a small feeling and she quickly put it on the backburner so they could get down to business.

They started walking down what was once the main street in Hume – Williams Avenue. Every few steps, Thomas stopped and snapped off some pictures of the buildings. There were a few burnt-out cars scattered along the street but other than that, there was nothing obstructing their path. A Canada Post mailbox lay face down on the street, its slot wide open; a few yellow and weathered envelopes stuck out.

“Thomas, do you think what Michael Douglas wrote about was true?” Becky asked.

He lowered the camera and looked at her. “What, that strange creatures came out of doorways in our so-called reality that were made by flying discs?” He raised the camera again and took a picture of her. “I can tell you that I don’t believe that this place was destroyed by a tsunami, like the official reports said.”

“I suppose.”

They continued to walking with their footsteps echoing throughout the ruins. They soon came to the only junction on Williams Avenue and knew that they had reached the center of the town. Hume only had a population of three hundred when it was suddenly wiped off the map.

Only it wasn’t wiped off, Becky thought. Something had happened that the government felt the need to cover up.

A rustling of paper caught her attention and she looked toward the origin of the noise. In another fallen mailbox to her left, an old newspaper lay inside. She walked over to it, reached inside and pulled it out.

It was an issue of the Hume Daily News, dated July 3rd, 1990. The main headline was about Hume’s mayor stepping down, but the bottom right of the paper displayed a small story about reported UFO sightings.

“Hey Thomas, check this out.” She walked over to him. “It’s a paper from the day Hume was destroyed! I can’t believe it survived over twenty years inside that mailbox.”

Excitedly, Thomas took it from her and pulled a file folder from his backpack. “We have to keep this and put it somewhere in our book exposing the cover up.”

The wind had picked up and as they were about to continue on, a loud flapping noise made them both look around.

It sounded like heavy curtains molested by a strong wind through an open window. Puzzled, they started looking around for the source of the flapping.

“Up there,” Thomas said. He pointed up a street from the junction. He could barely make out the words Ferguson Road on the street sign. “Come on, let’s go check it out.”

Becky’s feeling of dread returned, stronger than before, but she again dismissed it as the excitement in Thomas’ eyes was infectious. They started up Ferguson Road but then stopped, mouths agape.

The sound originated from the edges of a large tear flapping in the wind. A fence encircled the tear, the base of which was roughly eight feet tall and made of solid concrete. Large steel rods poked straight out, reaching the top of the tear. Chain-linked fencing, as well razor and barbed wire, were strung up from pole to pole, coming together at the very top like a roof. The fence looked well maintained, which worried Becky.

“Holy shit, can you believe it?” Thomas said. “It’s just like he said it was.” A grin was starting to poke at the corners of his mouth. “The tears were… are real.” He raised the camera and started taking pictures. “Help me find something that I can climb to actually get a look inside that hole.”

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Thomas,” Becky said.

“Not a good idea? Are you crazy? I need to photograph it to get the evidence we need.” He looked around and saw a bench a few yards away. “Help me move that over.”

Before she could protest, Thomas was already sprinting over to the bench. She sighed and followed. The bench, at one time, had been bolted into the sidewalk but the bolts had long since rusted out. They each grabbed an end and began to carry it towards the fence. Becky glanced down and saw the initials “I.R. + L.E” carved into one of the boards, wondering who they were and what had happened to them.

“Set it here,” Thomas said. The bench was placed against the concrete base. “Pass me the camera once I climb up there.”

Becky nodded but her eyes protested. “I don’t like this.”

“I’m just going to snap a few pictures and then we can be on our way out of here. Okay?”

She nodded again.

Thomas stood on top of the bench and with a grunt, pulled himself up onto the top of the concrete base, careful not to cut himself on the barb or razor wire. He found a section of chain-link fencing and grabbed a hold, peering through it. His face gave an expression of utter disbelief.

“What is it?” Becky asked.

“Just like he had written in the manuscript,” Thomas replied. “It’s making my fillings tingle! There’s a bluish-grey light coming through this rip. I can almost make out some features on the other side!”

“Here, just take the camera and hurry up!” Becky thrust the camera towards Thomas and he squatted down to reach it. His fingers clasped around the camera’s body and pulled it up. Using one hand to keep his balance, Thomas stood, raising the camera to his face.

He got off two pictures before it happened.

A creature jumped up through the tear onto the fence. It was the size of a large dog and had what Becky could only describe as four spidery legs. Its head was level with Thomas’ and before he could react, a stinger shot from the creature’s face, piercing his eyeball. The stinger retracted quickly and the creature jumped down.

Thomas screamed and fell back to the ground, just missing the bench.

His face already started to swell; the pressure pushed the remainder of his eye from its socket. Becky put her hands to her mouth and was about to scream when three gunshots rang out. Thomas’ body jerked three times as bullets penetrated his chest, putting him out of his misery.

Becky realized that there were masked men on either side of her.

One held a flamethrower and shot a thick stream of flame onto Thomas’ body. There was a sickening crackling, like logs burning in a campfire, as the flames engulfed his corpse. The swelling along his face burst open and smaller versions of the creature that stung Thomas’ eye came crawling out; in high-pitched squeals, they met their death within the flames.

“Holy shit that was close,” one of the soldiers said.

Becky turned to look at them, counting six soldiers in all. They were all wearing some sort of metal body armor that she had not seen before. The armor completely covered their bodies, appearing bulky yet light enough as to not impede the soldier’s speed or agility. Their helmets connected to the shoulders, the lenses covering their eyes giving off a faint green glow, and their breathing sounded like it was going through a respirator.

All were heavily armed.

Three of them, including the one with the flamethrower, moved towards Thomas’ body to dispose of it while the rest remained with her.

One moved to lift his helmet. There was a hiss of air escaping as he did so.

“Is there anyone else here besides the two of you?” he asked. He had a handsome yet hard stereotypical soldier face.

Sobbing, Becky shook her head no.

He raised a finger to his ear, activating a radio.

“General, the situation has been neutralized,” he said. “Only two of them, one casualty.”

Becky could not hear the reply but she could tell by his expression that he was being told something.

“Understood, sir.” He switched the radio off.

“My name is Corporal Bollea. We’re going to escort you to a safe location and make sure you’re alright before we get you out of here.”

He pulled the helmet back down and started walking. Two soldiers, on either side of her, gave a gentle push to encourage her to follow their presumed leader.

They didn’t walk very far before they stopped in front of one of the buildings that was still intact. A faded and partially burnt sign read Jerome’s Bakery. Corporal Bollea pushed through a boarded up door. Becky stepped through and stopped when she saw what was in front of her.

In the middle of the room was a giant pit and in the bottom were piles of bodies. There were human and animal corpses, and even some that she couldn’t identify. Horror dawned on her as she realized it was a mass grave.

She heard a click behind her as Corporal Bollea held a pistol up to the back of her head and fired a single shot. Her body fell forward and landed on top of the heap of bodies with a heavy thud.

“That’s a shame,” one of the soldiers said in a deep voice. “She was a pretty girl.”

“The general wants us to make alterations to the perimeter so that we won’t be having any more visitors,” Corporal Bollea said. “These fucking kids. Why do they think this town is a playground?”

“They don’t believe the bullshit cover story they were given so they want to find out for themselves,” another soldier said. “Hell, I didn’t believe it when they told me.”

Corporal Bollea ushered the two soldiers out of the way and stepped from the building, pulling the door closed.

“The general wants us from this moment on to neutralize any intruder the minute they step foot in Hume. Is that understood? No more sightseers.”

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2014 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved

Pollywogs

There were so many dead, the fire pits had been decommissioned. Now they just loaded the bodies on commandeered cruise ships and dumped them in the ocean. I heard that hordes of seagulls, bloated and flying erratically from the never-ending feast, would descend on the floating corpses like flies. If you vomited on deck, they’d eat that, too.

I wasn’t sure if I preferred to be one of the living or the dead on those ships that stank like an open grave in the summer sun. On account of my asthma, it was a good bet I’d never get assigned corpse duty.

“Jeremy, where did you go to now?”

Destiny snapped her black lace-gloved fingers in my face.

“Sorry. I spaced.”

“I figured.” She smiled with purple tinted lips, the corners of her eyes crinkling. Her hot pink hair caught the last filaments of the moon before it tucked itself behind a black, roiling cloud. I remembered when the skies were black with smoke for months on end, until the government realized they had destroyed an entire growing season and had to scale back the fires.

“You want to tell me why we’re here again?” I said. I did a three-sixty scan of the graveyard. A majority of the tombstones were crooked, many of them shattered by vandals. The vegetation had been left to go feral, the grass coming up to our hips. Critters large and small skulked in the weeds.

“So I can be with you forever,” she said, pouting for added effect. I was a geek, she was the hottest girl in my school, at least back when there was a school. Who was I to say no? Plus, there were less and less fish in the sea to choose from for us both.

Well, the sea was teeming with fish because of all the human nutrients we’d been dumping in it, but you get my point.

No one, except the Crazies, ate fish anymore, by the way. The rest of us would rather starve – and many have.

I sighed, taking off my glasses to clean them with the end of my shirt. Destiny gingerly put them back on for me and lit a kiss on my thin, dry lips.

“There’s no proof that it will work,” I said. “You ever hear of an urban legend? I’m pretty sure this qualifies.”

She shook her head. “You’re wrong. I’ve been reading a lot about it. Couples in eastern Europe have been doing it and surviving.”

A blood curdling shriek echoed over the untended cemetery hills. Destiny pressed herself to my back. I could feel the heat of her breath on my neck.

“The internet is practically dead. Whatever’s on there is just Crazies talking crazy shit,” I said.

“But what if they’re right? I mean, it’s not like it can hurt.”

The shriek was met by an angry growl, this time from the other end of the cemetery. We wouldn’t be going home tonight.

“Come on, I picked out a safe one the other day.” Destiny grabbed my hand, leading me to a small, marble mausoleum. She bent by the iron and glass door, taking a pin and paperclip from her pocket. The lock clicked open and she rushed us inside.

Another cry, this one human, made my blood run cold.

There was little room to move Inside the crypt. There was a folding chair, a vase with dried flowers attached to the back wall underneath a stained glass window, and a plastic bag on the floor.

The most glaring aspect of the tiny death house was that the wall had been chipped away. Bits of grit and marble were everywhere.

“Did you do this?” I asked.

She averted her eyes, a clear admission.

Shit, she’s becoming one of the Crazies.

I clicked on my pen light, saw the coffin that had been wedged into the wall space.

“Destiny,” I sighed. “No.”

“But you have to!” she cried, balling my shirt in her fists. “It’s all easy for you because you know they’ll never touch you! Don’t you want the same for me?”

It was true, but she never understood that I wasn’t too keen on being the last of a dying race.

When the Pollywogs first started pouring out of Mt. Saint Helens, our nation’s embryonic inertia of fear was counteracted by a bloody show of extreme violence. We hit them with everything our military could stuff into a gun or rocket launcher. The Pollywogs, gray skinned creatures twice the size of a man with tapering tails and sperm-like heads with button black eyes, were faster and more resilient than anyone could predict. They were also regenerative. Blow off their legs, and they grew back within hours. Set them on fire and they would secrete a flame-dousing jelly from their pores. Hack them into pieces, and each piece is reborn into a hungry Pollywog.

You absolutely did not want to do that.

While the west coast became a food source for the beasts, the earthquake under Manhattan split the fault line wide enough for the east coast Pollywogs to run free. The hordes met in the center of the country, devouring people like they were Tic Tacs. The same scene happened in every country around the transforming world. I guess the center of the earth wanted some time in the sun.

I shouldn’t say they ate people. Actually, they only preferred their lungs. Healthy lungs. Not lungs like mine. Rapidly, mankind was being whittled down to the weak and the lame.

Destiny tugged at the coffin handle. “Help me get this down and fuck me inside.”

Her eyes were manic, desperate. I knew she didn’t want to be with me forever. She just didn’t want to die. Even now, being asked to have sex with her amidst the rot and ruin of a years old corpse, I couldn’t simply say no.

The coffin crashed onto its side, the latch springing open. The jerkeyed body smelled surprisingly like moldering apples. Shrugging out of her skirt, Destiny wedged herself inside the askew coffin, laying atop its resident. The cries of the Pollywogs were a chorus of hunger.

“Please, Jeremey, please fuck me.”

The legend had it that if you fucked a Craplung, someone like me, atop a corpse, and became impregnated, the Pollywogs would do everything in their power to avoid you. Something about the scent of death and growing a Craplung in your womb. It made no sense and I wondered what Crazy invented it.

Desperate times were fertile ground for insane conjectures.

Seeing Destiny spread her stockinged legs, revealing the brown matchstick legs of the corpse beneath her. I decided it was no use fighting.

Becoming a Crazy or having your lungs devoured by a Pollywog, they were both death in different clothes.

~ Hunter Shea

© Copyright 2013 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved.

FILTHY

Randy was a portrait of self-control. He typed furiously to keep his mind off of his bursting bladder. His left leg quaked and sweat beaded on his brow. He brushed a damp clump of hair back into place and looked nervously out of his cubicle. He typed some more.

It wasn’t a deadline he feared. It wasn’t a tyrannical boss with plans to keep him late or work him over the weekend. It wasn’t even a woman he’d slept with from another department, one who might swing by to make his life miserable. He swabbed the counter with a wet wipe and tossed it in the trash.

“You okay, buddy?”

It was a co-worker. Randy looked into a joke rear-view mirror that was taped to the top of his monitor to see to who it was. People in the mirror may be more annoying than they seem, was printed along the bottom. He recognized the face as Sam. They’d worked together for several years.

“Fine, just busy.”

“You sure? You’re sweating, dude.”

Randy checked his face in the little mirror and wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. The pain in his full bladder twinged again.

“Fine. Lots to do is all.”

Sam shrugged and left him there. He said, “Lunch at twelve, don’t be late,” as he walked away. “Yeah,” Randy muttered under his breath.

He looked at the clock to see lunch was still two hours away. Then he looked at his coffee mug and regretted the second cup. He couldn’t stand it anymore. His chair rocked up on two wheels, almost falling over as he shot from his cube. Stray papers slid off the desk and floated, like autumn leaves, to the floor.

Randy cringed, focusing all of his energy on the ice pick in his crotch. He felt the moisture on his temples start to drip down the sides of his face. The noise of the office, droning on as usual with phone calls and clacking keys and Xerox machines, seemed to grow in volume.

“Morning, Randy,” a chipper voice said.

He didn’t compute who it belonged to, but nodded. He could feel the eyes on his back, the concerned looks on the faces as he passed by, sweating, walking in a stilted, gotta-go manner. Then he reached the break room, feeling like he might explode, wetting himself in a moment of embarrassment he would never live down. His feet drug the carpeted floor with a scrubbing sound, and then he stamped them as if they were asleep. It helped briefly with the pressure before making it worse.

“Shit, shit, shit,” he whispered with each subsequent step until he reached the bathroom door. His hand wouldn’t reach for the handle. He stood staring at it, biting his lower lip and without realizing grabbing his penis with his other hand. The flow had released from his bladder and was only damned up by a finger-and-thumb tourniquet.

His eyes lingered on that brass knob, sparkling in the fluorescent light. He gritted his teeth. The knob pulsed along with the capillaries in his eyes. He could see things swimming on the handle, tiny things with legs. Globular things with cilia or flagella that slid across the metal as if they were taunting him. Randy increased the grip on himself. His stomach turned at the thought of touching the handle, boiling bile at the top of his esophagus. He was going to vomit or he was going to piss himself.

Voices from around the corner distracted him from the handle. They were walking toward him; they would see him holding himself and perspiring like some schoolyard pervert. The footsteps tapped on the linoleum of the break room floor. In a moment, they would hit the carpet and it would be too late. Randy grabbed the handle with a grunt, bursting into the bathroom and rushing to one of the three stalls. The door swung mostly shut behind him.

“Thank God,” he whispered.

The bathroom was empty, but he didn’t notice. He was busy unzipping his fly around his gripping fingers, rolling his boxers down to reveal himself to the porcelain receptacle.

“Thank God,” he repeated.

Then he let loose, spraying urine on the wall and the toilet seat before gaining control and letting the painful relief consume him. His sweat-covered body shuddered in the air conditioning. When he was finished, finally empty, he leaned against the wall of the stall, from one cubicle to another, and closed his eyes.

Someone else came in. The creak of the self-closing arm on the door caught Randy’s ear. There were two voices, some he didn’t recognize.

“Catch the game?” one said.

Randy relaxed at the dull banter. They weren’t checking on him and that was all that mattered. He would be able to plan his exit. How not to touch anything before getting back. His mind cranked out ideas, but all of them stopped at the bathroom door. He could get out of the stall and wash his hands in the sink, even leave the water running, but then what? He had to touch the door handle. It was crawling with bugs… just like everything else.

He could wait until one of the others—the bacteria infested—came in and the door would be open long enough to escape.

He waited for the other two men to leave. They laughed and washed their hands without a care, but Randy knew better. When the door closer creaked again, he let the stall open, and pulled the door in with his shoe.

He scanned the room, even bent down to look under the other two stalls. They were empty, but his face was only a foot from the floor and he caught a whiff of stale urine. He straightened slowly, watching the floor crawl with life. Cold shot up his spine causing goose bumps on his arms. Randy rushed to the sink, seeing the same things swirling and rolling across the hot and cold handles. He scowled at the soapy fingerprints on the mirror, the mysterious, brownish drip marks in the sink, the wadded up paper towels on the counter and on the floor. He twisted the handle for the hot water and waited to put his hands underneath it.

The water wasn’t pure. Randy could sense it. The soap dispenser had a button to push, but it was caked with liquid soap, crawling with life—demonic, microscopic death that was just waiting to engulf him and eat him molecule by molecule. Waiting to get inside his body and rot him from the inside.

He detected a hint of color to the water and his paranoid eyes grew wider as he stooped for a closer look. They were there, little monsters, swimming in the stream amongst the aerated bubbles. Then Randy lost his balance.

His shoe slid, just a bit, on the wet ceramic tile and a purely involuntary action sent him into fits. His hand touched the floor to keep him from falling. He mouthed a scream, but nothing came out. His body jerked to stand, rigid as a piece of dehydrated spaghetti. Holding his hand up in dramatic fashion, he stared in horror. Millions of crushed organisms coated the skin of his palm; millions of others swarmed the tiny carcasses and began to devour them. It was only a matter of time before they would multiply and start eating him.

He looked at the water. Swimming. The soap, completely engulfed. The mirror, covered in spatters of miscellaneous liquid and fingerprints of the uneducated. Back to his hand. Had they doubled already?

Tripled?

He backed into the corner praying the door would open. He could rush to his desk and sanitize his hands, then go home to his pristine shower. No one came in.

The creatures ate, growing larger, then dividing. So many he could feel them dancing across his skin, moving up his wrist to the flesh of his forearm, headed for center mass.

“No,” Randy whispered.

He started to shake, rubbing one hand over the other in an attempt to slough them off like an old skin. They just grabbed his other hand, splitting and multiplying, covering both hands.

“No,” he said, his voice wavering like a goat.

He dug his fingernails into his palms, trying to scrape them off. Then into his forearms, digging curls of skin loose. The scratch marks filled slowly with blood, then dripped onto the floor. He watched the floor bubble with microbial excitement, closing in on the red drops. Then, like tiny vampiric ants, the mass crawled toward him, covering his shoes, then up under his pant legs to his socks and onto the skin of his shins and calves. Randy screamed.

“Get them off of me!”

He clawed at the flesh of his arms, then his legs, pulling his pant legs up and scraping meat loose from his lower legs. He shrieked with fear, oblivious to the damage he had caused to his own body, blind to the blood and chunks of himself that he held in his own hands. He pulled at his cheeks, clawing at his eyeballs and penetrating one. One fingernail came off in a vicious yank. Terror was his anesthetic.

Sam entered the room in a rush just as Randy’s shrieks were dying down. His skin was pale, bluish. He glared at Sam with the eye that still worked.

“Jesus, Randy, what happened? What’s going on?”

Randy continued to dig hunks from his body.

“Don’t touch me,” he said, croaking the words out like a bullfrog. “They’ll get on you. Don’t touch me.”

Sam shouted for help, bringing others to the office restroom. He dialed his phone, calling for help.

“Don’t touch me,” Randy said again. “Filthy.”

He kept repeating the word, filthy, as the blood drained.

~ Dan Dillard

© Copyright 2013 Dan Dillard. All Rights Reserved.

Eternal Incineration

Everything I once had is gone. It wasn’t a lone thief who’d snuck in during the middle of a single night to clean me out. It was instead a series of small burglaries, committed by an efficient team over more years than I recall. Their robberies began when I was just a boy and when, like most children suffering from few friends and social isolation, I spent most of my time alone — hidden away in my room, surrounded by the few possessions that made life bearable. I didn’t realize it then, but it was this solitary life that offered the opportunity for the shadows to begin slipping into the world of walls that I’d built…

————

When I awoke this morning, my sheets were wet with sweat. It may have been due to the nightmares that had returned with renewed fervor, or maybe it was only my body signaling the return of the heat. The mercury in the thermometer was rapidly approaching the 90-degree mark; and it was only 9:00 am.

Outside, the Sun burned through a cloudless, blue sky. A single step onto the porch allowed the Michigan heat to wrap its humid fingers around my throat, squeezing the breath back into my lungs. Down the block, amid joyful screams and shouts much too raucous for early morning, a group of overheated kids cooled off in the gallons of water that gushed into the street from an open hydrant. Their shrieks turned urgent as a sad-eyed, pony-tailed lookout alerted her comrades to the approaching police cruiser. As the children scattered, I stepped back inside to begin what looked to be a long, hot and profitable day.

————

Even as a child I knew the shadows that haunted my nights were the manifestation of something very bad. They gained access to my room by flattening themselves as thin as pieces of paper and sliding silently beneath the door. As I cowered in my bed, with my sheets bundled tightly under my chin, I watched their darkness stream across my threshold. Once inside, they’d pick themselves up off the floor, some of them growing so tall that their jagged heads bounced off the ceiling. Then they’d creep slowly around the walls, slipping into the corners of my room where they’d wait, sitting quietly until my body was forced to accept the sleep that my will denied it. All the while, the shadows flashed gashes revealing stained teeth, and their yellow eyes glowed at me from the dark… 

————

The years haven’t been kind to Detroit. The loss of jobs, home foreclosures and increased suicides as savings accounts vanished have made life hard and finances tight for those left behind in this dying city — myself included. While I rarely credit my painful experience growing up on the farm for much of anything, I do attribute that life to my enduring work ethic and the reliance on self that’s led to my having survived in the city all these years.

While I work hard when I have the work to do, my job itself is seasonal. As such, it’s important I take advantage of the warm months when fresh food is more plentiful and less expensive. Falling back on farm tradition, I still spend much of my time preparing foods to carry me through and earn extra money during this off-season, when I’ll sell some of the canned preserves, cured meats and pickled sundries I store in my pantry. It’s curious, but the demand for life’s basics never seems to dry up in the city.

————

Thinking back, I remember so many nights spent lying in bed in the farmhouse, the fear paralyzing my body, as I stared out at the monsters through squinted eyes. With my heart beating so fast I thought it would jump from my chest, I’d sometimes work up the nerve and risk a peek at the shadows that now shared my room. I’d look on as they tore themselves from the darkness, only to have some of them crawl onto my bed and stick sharp fingers in my ears or rub greasy palms across my skin, all while their slithering tongues dribbled hot spittle into my face. Others would go to work searching my room. They’d rifle through my belongings, snatching from me whatever they chose to make their own…

————

I can’t really complain about the work I do. Growing up without much of an education, I’m become quite satisfied with my how life has turned out. I’m my own boss. I control my destiny. I’m able to provide for myself well enough; and I still find the time  to help so many.

While not very social, it’s rare that I get the chance to discuss my humanitarian passions with others. But when I do, people are rarely impressed. Nobody much cares about the needy anymore. So, when the topic is raised, I’ve learned to just say I work in heating and cooling. This keeps the pain of conversation short.

————

It wasn’t until sometime during my teenage years that I allowed my intruders to know I was aware of their break-ins. That’s when all Hell broke loose. Once the shadows realized I knew they were there, they began pilfering at an alarming rate. I suppose after so many years of my acceptance it was only logical their thefts would become more purposeful. And, unfortunately, I didn’t realize the extent of the damage being done…

————

Beyond the obvious wrinkles on my face, not a whole lot has changed in my life. I still spend most of my time alone, giving me plenty of time to think. I don’t much enjoy looking backwards. There are too many memories I’d rather forget. But I learned long ago that such is the way with life. It often has its own plans for us.

During spring and summer, I drive seven days a week, sometimes for up to 12 hours a day, and with only thoughts and music for company. The truck is old and the tunes play through bad speakers, often repeating the same few songs in what seems an endless loop. While not everyone’s cup of tea, my music has become the soundtrack for my repetitive life; and it does help drown out the many voices from the past that scream inside my head.

————

I realized several years ago that I had advanced well beyond any normal state of self-denial, choosing to believe I’d simply misplaced the things that, in reality, the shadows had stolen from me. With each incident of their private looting, I became more willing to overlook the evil taking place, choosing instead to leave them to their thievery in peace…

————

My best customers live among the idyllic, tree-lined avenues in places far outside the city. The streets here flow with enthusiasm as the residents embrace the hope that money and possessions instill. It’s in these bedroom communities where the financially fit make their lives meaningful, choosing to seclude themselves behind groomed hedgerows and manicured lawns where the darkest of life’s shadows often hide unseen.

I sometimes feel like a modern-day Pied Piper, stealing them away from the false pleasantries of pool parties, baseball games, family picnics and lives spent replacing nighttime fears with the daytime horrors of video games. They chase me down with sweat-soaked dollars gripped in eager fists and clamor at my window while the music explains how ‘Weasels’ sometimes go ‘Pop.’ Their voices bark orders, but instead I hear a cacophony of pain crying out for something they don’t realize exists. Sadly, my inventory of fudge bars, frozen treats and waffle cones offer only a momentary chill from the fires I know burn within them. But always among every group of smiling faces seeking sweet salvation from the ice cream man, there’s at least one child whose eyes melt from the heat of the same sadness I know all too well.

————

I suppose if I’d been a more capable person, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to be consumed by the shadows that have waged war on my world. Because of them I now live in a place of secrets filled with sorrow, lies and the searing  pain they’ve brought. I no longer care that the darkness inside me has free reign. After all, it was I who allowed the shadows entrance in the first place. And it was I who let them rip me apart, slowly chewing me into pieces over the years, permitting them to ultimately take everything from me and leave only fire in their wake…

————

With the children long gone, their fires temporarily extinguished, I pull away from the curb as ‘It’s a Small World’ blares from the loudspeaker. Glancing into my rear view mirror, a pair of sad, fearful eyes stare back at me. The delicate gaze of the brown-eyed boy who’s wedged himself between the coolers in the back of the truck may fool some; but he doesn’t fool me. I’m all too familiar with the shadows that visit him as he lies paralyzed in his comfortable bed at night. I know how he yearns to be free of their thievery. And oh how he wants to beg me to extinguish the pain that burns inside him; but the bandana tied around his mouth doesn’t permit it.

Even through the mirror, I can see the dark faces of the demons reflected in his tear-filled eyes. The monsters don’t yet know it, but they’ll soon be evicted from their new home. Won’t they be surprised when I pluck his eyes from his skull and secret them away with the others inside the pickling jars that line the shelves of my pantry. I smell the flesh on his bones. It’s laced with fear, making it by far the best cut of meat for curing. And most importantly, the innocent little heart beating in his chest needs protection from the evil that seeks to steal it from him. It’s this delicacy that I’ll remove with utmost precision and all the tenderness that such an important possession demands. It’ll be stored away safely inside my airtight freezer, where its virtue will be forever preserved from the shadows that seek to cook it on a spit over the flames of Hell.

It is I, alone, who must save these innocents from the demons that intend to steal their souls, leaving them hollowed out and eternally incinerated on the inside. I just can’t allow the shadows to turn another child into the monster like the one they made out of me.

~ Daemonwulf

© Copyright 2012 DaemonwulfTM. All Rights Reserved.