Loving the Lonely Girls

He supposed that some would consider him a saint. An intelligent, good-looking man, collecting the lonely and tossed and scavenged girls he found on the side of the road. He wore them on a chain around his neck. A chain of conquests. A chain of romances. A chain of broken loves and broken dreams and horrifically broken people.

It isn’t difficult for a lonely girl to love a tender man. He says, “I understand” and her eyes grow starry. Dewy. They light up from the inside like embers. He says, “Why has nobody appreciated you?” and she swoons. He tells her, “Nobody will ever love you like I love you. I belong to you like no man has ever belonged to a woman,” and she will give him everything.

There is so very much a lonely girl can give.

The first girl became his wife. She lasted longer than she should have, perhaps, but not as long as he originally expected. She became tired and tattered, and her eyes lost their shine. The next was a friend who became something more, until she abruptly became something less. The third was a broken little thing, all hair and eyes and fairly begging to be cherished. The fourth was a woman older than time, and perhaps a villain in this life or the next.

The others weren’t even memorable. But their finger joints and molars and locks of hair were treasures. Shiny, golden treasures. He held them, wept into them. Wrapped them in pieces of fabric torn from their dresses and work uniforms and kitchen aprons. He stuffed the fabric into a box and kept it at the foot of his bed.

One of his lonely girls eventually turned these scraps of fabric into a warm quilt. She had bent over her sewing machine, running the scraps under the needle with a tenderness that bound, bound, bound. He wrapped this blanket of trophies around himself at night. He thanked his girl with his mouth and his tongue and his blade. She had been useful and thoughtful until the end, and then she just became used.

He ate them. He ate their souls. He devoured their desires and dreams. He held their wants and their screams and trust in his mouth, in his lungs, and when he breathed out, he breathed out their sorrow. But he wanted more. More and more and more. Hungry boys love lonely girls. Love them to pieces. Love them to bits, and bits, and even smaller bits.

 Mercedes M. Yardley

© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Boxed

“The numbers tick, you know. When it is time.” Russell giggled and stared at the strangely carved box on the table. “Rows of numbers etched on nameless faces. All tucked away in the box.” He ran a finger along an edge of the container. “They are always there, standing on the edges of my dreams. Until…” Russell shivered and withdrew his hand, sliding it into his lap. “Then comes the ticking. Like a pocket watch or a clock. Counting down the minutes, the seconds. Waiting for me.” He giggled again, a manic sound, giving his hysteria voice.

“Don’t say things like that!” Across the room, Robert, Russell’s brother, could no longer contain his emotion. He fumbled for a cigarette in his pocket, adding, “Such talk is insanity. You must stop this odd obsession of yours. Rid yourself of the box and be done with it.”

Finding a cigarette, Russell lit it, the match lending a soft glow to his face before he blew out the flame. Smoke encircled his head as he puffed and continued. “The assertion is preposterous, there aren’t even numbers on the damned box.”

Russell sighed. “The numbers aren’t on the box. Haven’t you been listening? They’re in my mind.” He tapped his forehead.” And I can’t simply stop. Or rid myself of the box. I’ve come too far already. It’s too much a part of me.” Russell frowned and then shivered again. “Fear drives me now.”

He watched his brother’s reaction. Robert took a drag of his cigarette, pity flitting across his face. Russell placed his hand back on the tabletop, drumming his fingers lightly. “Perhaps that is true madness. Too much fear.”

Robert grunted. “Fear can be conquered. You always did lack a spine.” He sighed. “I’m only trying to help before Father makes good on his promise and commits you to an asylum.”

Russell suddenly scowled, his fingers curling into a fist. “Father? You put him up to that. You know you did.” Russell laughed at the surprised look on his brother’s face. “Yes, I knew it was you. You are not as clever as you think.” Then he smiled. “But I forgive you. Come and sit. Look at the box. Let me show you. If you still feel I need to rid myself of it after I explain, then I’ll agree.”

Robert shrugged, but joined Russell at the table, settling into a chair. “What do you want to show me?”

“That there’s a demon in the box.” Russell laughed again at Robert incredulous expression. “I know it sounds mad, but it’s true.”

“You need help, brother. Let me help you.” The smoke of Robert’s cigarette wafted between them. Russell smiled. He moved his hand to the lid of the box and carefully stroked part of the carving, a small horned figure. Then he withdrew his fingers.

“Yes, you can help me. I didn’t want it to come to this, and I could just let it end, let the demon take me. But I’m afraid to die. Afraid of what’s inside the box.” Russell took a breath, his eyes focusing on his brother’s glowing cigarette. “I’m so sorry, but it needs a name.” He paused, for a heartbeat.

“Robert.”

Inside Russell’s head the ticking stopped and the lid of the box opened wide on its own. Russell kept his eyes on Robert’s glowing cigarette as it fell, scorching a burn mark into the table. He ignored his brother’s screams until the lid of the box clicked shut.

Then he stared at the empty chair across from him. He reached over and stubbed the cigarette out on the wood tabletop. “It was you or me, brother. I chose me.” Russell rose and picked up the box.

“I’ll see you in my dreams.”

 

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2018 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

A Walk with Grace

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

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

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

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

“Why, Grace? Why?” I ask.

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

My lips curl into a frown of disdain.

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

“I’d be me.”

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

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

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

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

I’m glad we have an understanding.

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

Just keep walking.

She says it as if I have a choice.

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

What do you think?

“I don’t know why I bother asking.”

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

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

“Always praying on the weak, Grace.”

Their blood tastes better.

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

No. I’m starving.

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

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

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

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

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

“After dark? Isn’t that a bit risky?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

∼Lee A. Forman

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

Crying

The house was silent.

James’ wife Kate was in bed, no longer nagging him while his son slept quietly in his room. His cries had a way of penetrating deep into James’ head.

Sitting on the shitty brown couch his in-laws had given them as a wedding present, James enjoyed the silence.

Then his father spoke.

“Is that kid of yours going to cry tonight?”

James talked to his father every night, whether he wanted to or not; he always told James how to live his life.

The old man was more overbearing now than when he was alive.

“No, he’s not,” James replied.

“Yes, he will.”

Ignoring his father, he tried to find something decent to watch until Kate called from their bedroom.

“Honey, the air conditioner cut out again! Can you come take a look at it?”

“Tell her to suck it up,” the old man spat. His lifeless eyes blinked at his son as his crooked lips spread into a grin. “Or are you going to give in to her again?”

“Butt out,” James muttered. “She knows better now.”

He pushed off the couch, and made his way down the hallway. As James passed his son’s bedroom, he made sure to tread lightly so he wouldn’t wake the baby.

James did not want to go into that room again.

His own bedroom was dark when he stuck his head in. The air conditioner had indeed shut off and James could see his wife lying in their bed. To him, the temperature wasn’t too bad.

“You’ll just have to make do,” James whispered. “And keep your damn voice down so Garrett won’t wake up.”

James shut the door as he turned back to the living room. He veered off to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Squinting in the fridge’s light, he took a bottle of beer from the top shelf.

“He’s going to cry.”

James twisted the cap off of his beer, took a gulp and then said, “Don’t go there.” He bumped the fridge door closed with his hip.

“Don’t go where? I never tolerated you or your sister crying for no damn reason so you shouldn’t either.”

“How many times do I have to tell you to butt the fuck out?” James spun around to face him but the living room was empty.

He sighed, letting his shoulders slump, and took another drink.

That was always the problem. His father would show up every night, spit out his nonsense and then scram before James could argue back.

James walked back into the living room.  Just as he sat down on the couch, a high-pitched wail erupted from Garrett’s room.

“See? I told you he would.”

“Kate!” James yelled down the hallway. “See to the baby, will you?”

He grabbed the remote and thumbed through the channels.

Garrett continued to cry.

James found a football game on and took another drink.

“Did you not listen to me last night?” his father asked, sitting at the other end of the couch.

“Shut up,” James replied.

“I told you how to deal with it.”

“And I did as you said.”

“Doesn’t sound like it.”

The quarterback dropped back into the pocket and threw a completion to his receiver in double coverage. It was an amazing play that warranted replays in slow motion.

Garrett’s crying intensified, sounding raspy.

“You have much to learn.”

“Fuck off you dead prick,” James said, grimacing. He leaned over the armrest of the couch and yelled, “Kate, for fuck sakes, the game is on! Go check on Garrett!”

James tried to enjoy the replays but the announcers were overpowered by Garrett’s seemingly endless wails.

“I may be dead but at least I knew how to run my family.”

“Goddamn it!” James threw the bottle toward his father but the old man was no longer there. The bottle bounced off of the cushion, spilling beer as it fell onto the carpeted floor.

He jumped off the couch and stormed down the hallway. Slamming his bedroom door open, he could see Kate still lying where she was earlier.

“Are you fucking kidding me? You’re still in bed?”

His father laughed from the hallway and added, “Great wife you got there.”

“Get the fuck up!” James screamed, grabbing Kate by her arm. “Now!”

He hauled her out of their bed and into the hallway. James kicked his son’s door open and dragged Kate inside.

Releasing his grip on her arm, James grabbed a handful of her wet and sticky hair, holding her face toward the crib.

“I’m at my wit’s end, Kate!” James cried. “I tried feeding him, rocking him and even singing to him. Despite all of that, he cries! Hell, I even shook him!” He let go of her hair and she dropped to the floor. “When none of that worked, I did what my old man told me to do. I caved his head in with my hammer!”

The one good eye Kate had left that hadn’t been mangled by James’ hammer stared lifeless at the crib.

There wasn’t much left of Garrett’s pulverized head. Blood, skull fragments and brain matter were splattered on the wall and ceiling. His blue Superman jumpsuit was now purple, having soaked up the blood.

James backed against the wall and slowly slid down.

Resting his face in his blood caked hands, he sobbed.

James felt his father’s hand rest on his shoulder.

“He wouldn’t stop crying…”

“You did alright, Son. How do you think I got your sister to stop?”

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2017 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.

Cera

Rush stood, paralyzed.

All the muscles in his body had gone slack. His gun was drawn, but it was so much useless metal in his hand.

The flashlight had fallen when the old man touched him; it rolled along the floor at his feet in a lazy arcing motion that mocked the fear he was now feeling. The light reflected jaunty shadows in front of his eyes and he wanted to scream, but could not.

“I’ve been waiting for you Detective. I thought you would come back, that you would come to see the exhibit,” the old man said. His accent was heavier now than it had been. “Why are you really here? I have a guess but then again, you don’t get to be my age without learning a thing or two about the predictability of humans.”

Rush tried to remember his training, to remember the things they taught at the academy. All his cop bravado left him. He was at the mercy of the old man lurking in the shadows.

“I could let you talk, but I don’t know how much it would change things. You have questions young man. I can see them on your lips, but the answers don’t matter, not really.” he said.

Rush could hear the gloating satisfaction in his voice. It was the same sardonic sound he heard in court months ago. Rush had wanted to hit him then, too. He tried to tighten the finger that lay on the trigger of his gun, but nothing happened.

“Let me guess a few, shall I? After all, we’re in no great hurry here. Your department doesn’t even know you’ve returned, do they?” he asked. “You want the truth, am I right? You want to know the how and the why.” The old man was moving around behind him; Rush could hear him but still couldn’t see anything more than a shadow.

“Possibly you wanted to come return all the property you took during the trial? You came here to give back my things, my tools, and you happened to wander in to the workshop because you couldn’t find me upstairs with the rest of the old relics.

“I don’t see any of my things here, Detective so you must be here for answers.”

The old man shuffled into the light. He walked the distance between them with the same hunched-over waddle he had before. He stepped in front of Rush and straightened with an effort.

“I am going to let you speak, for now,” the old man said and touched Rush’s throat.

“What the hell did you do to me, old man?” Rush belched out in a roar; every other muscle in his body useless.

The old man tottered a bit, then crumpled back into his hunched posture and stepped back from the detective. He looked frail, battered and too old to be a murderer.

“My family has been doing this for a very long time, Detective, and we’ve gotten exceedingly good at it. In fact, you are the first person to come so close to guessing the truth about what we do in over a century.”

This man was a direct descendant of the exhibits creator, Marie, but to Rush, he looked like any other murderer.

The old man looked up at Rush and smiled.

“What have you done to me, scumbag?” Rush bellowed again. He could think of nothing else to say. All the questions about the victims and the wax statues were gone.

“Come now, Detective! Let’s not resort to the vulgar just yet. I have so much to show you.” He smiled again and Rush tried to cringe back. The old man seemed to have too many teeth.

“What did you do to me?” Rush demanded. He was scared now on some deep and childish level that he didn’t understand.

The man stepped a bit closer and took the gun from his hand. He placed it on a table near the two of them and turned back.

“You can have it back when I am finished. I’m afraid the bullets wouldn’t agree with me,” he said.

“Don’t touch me!” Rush spat out.

“I’d like to say that everything will work out for you when I am done, but that isn’t likely. I doubt anyone will fuss over a police officer gone missing after such an embarrassing moment in the spotlight.” The old man took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves.

Rush watched as the man reached up again. He paused, his finger looming an inch from Rush’s face. He looked like a man contemplating some monumental decision.

He touched Rush on the cheek under his left eye and the color began to drain from his vision. His left eye dimmed and then was gone. He didn’t feel anything but picked up the slow movement on his cheek where the man had touched him. Something dribbled down his face. The old man reached up and plucked it off his cheek.

Rush began to scream when he realized it was his eyeball.

The old man touched his right cheek and laughed as the screaming doubled then morphed into the choking sound of hyperventilation.

“You see, Detective…” he started and then shook his head. “Actually, you can’t see so I’ll describe it to you. I’ve gotten rid of your eyes because we won’t need them. I shall give you new ones when I am done.” The old man stepped up to Rush and plucked the right eye off as it rolled down his stubble covered face, then tossed both orbs onto the floor.

“It’s customary to remove the eyes from the exhibits as the trauma of watching your own death can cause… unexpected changes in skin tone and hair. You still have your ears so you can listen. I think it’s a fair trade for the tools and time you took from me during the investigation and trial,” the old man said, still polite, still smiling.

He reached up to Rush’s mouth and stuck his finger in.

Rush wanted to gag, but couldn’t move more than his throat. His tongue flopped out of his mouth mid scream. Blood and saliva spilled down the front of him.

“Detective Rush, I will be doing something that you may consider rather gruesome, but I assure you it’s necessary. When it begins, you are going to feel nothing, but I promise it won’t end that way. Sometimes I can still hear them screaming a day or two after but not every time,” the man said.

Rush fought his paralysis as hard as he could, forcing his will against every nerve and muscle but his body would not respond. He could smell his own fear now.

“The last thing we need to do before we can continue, Detective, is to remove your clothing and have everything cleaned and pressed. Undoubtedly you will spoil yourself and that won’t do. I assure you though, you will look as professional and well dressed as any officer of the law in this fine city,” the man said with an air of perfectionist pride.

The fear finally shattered his resolve. Rush felt his bladder let go. Bile crept in to his mouth and he vomited. He was going to die at the hands of this monster.

“We’ve come so far since you kicked in the door of my home and the museum. Your meddling almost cost me everything, Detective, and I think it’s only fair to tell you the entire truth as we proceed,” he said.

Rush could hear the sound of something on wheels being moved across the room. It mocked the same waddling gait the old man had when he walked.

“You were so much closer to the truth than you ever realized.” The sound of metal on metal filtered in through Rush’s panic. He could hear things that sounded sharp and painful.

“I used to embalm my exhibits after ending their lives, but I’ve found a way to do it while the subject is still breathing. It’s a bit more painful but in the end, it gives each of you a more life-like feel. Now, I am going to place a needle in your arm. You won’t feel the pinch but the rest, well, you’ll see.”

Rush felt something in his arm where the old man had touched him. It was pressure at first, but the pain that followed was immediate. Rush began to scream again as the old man touched his throat, the scream cut off; Rush passed out.

***

“…and this is our newest and most popular exhibit. The curator calls this ‘New York’s Finest‘ and will feature the men and women in uniform from all over The Big Apple.”

Rush heard the pleasant female voice pass and the sound of feet on a wooden floor. The realization of what happened hit him and he tried to scream and thrash about. Nothing came out of his mouth; he couldn’t move.

The voices faded, as did the footsteps.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2016 Christopher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved.

Annual Hunt

Ed Rutledge hugged his rifle under his right arm as he adjusted his toque with his left. The early morning hours were always cold this time of year and the fact that it was the Annual Hunt just made it that much worse.

He was glad that he wasn’t facing the task alone, though. John Glasgow and Christian Stevenson were on either side of him as they made their way through the empty streets of Emmettsville.

“What time is it?”

John looked at his watch. “It’s almost four. We still have three and a half hours to go before dawn.”

“Good,” Christian said. “Three and a half hours to kill this fucker.”

Ed nodded.

It was his eighth time participating in the hunt and the forty-nine year old welder had become something of a legend around Emmettsville when just five years earlier he had successfully killed the first werewolf, Terry Indigo. He should’ve felt proud of the accomplishment, but he knew the feeling would be short lived as there would be a new werewolf to hunt the following year.

“There’s something that never ceases to amaze me,” Ed said. “Even though everyone in town is told to go to the church hall to wait out the hunt, the werewolf always manages to kill a few every year.”

“I wish a lot more people would leave their lights on,” John said. “These old street lamps create more shadows than they cut through.”

“There are two things I hate about the hunt,” Christian said. “The fact we’re not allowed to shoot the werewolf in human form or while it’s changing and that the werewolf has to bite someone every year.”

“The bite guarantees that there will be a hunt the following year if the hunters are successful,” Ed said. “Plus you never know what can happen between hunts. You two are aware that Brendon Jenkins has been the wolf for the last five years, correct?”

Both men nodded.

“Shortly after the hunt last year, Brendon got diagnosed with cancer and they only gave him six to eight months to live. He’s lasted twelve. I would say either way that this will be his last hunt.”

“Who was it last year?” John asked. “I mean, who got bit?”

“Carly Fortner,” Ed replied. “She was only fourteen.”

Christian shook his head in disgust. “I can’t believe he chose to bite a fourteen year old girl.”

The three hunters walked in silence as they remembered how Carly had been found crying with a large bite in her shoulder, knowing her fate had been sealed.

“That doesn’t mean that she’ll be the next one though,” John said. “Remember, Todd Charleston had been bitten in the second year of the hunt. He still hasn’t assumed his role. Strange how the disease or whatever it is only allows one person to change in a given area at one time. Why do you think that is?”

Christian shrugged and was about to say something when Ed held his arms out, stopping them. All three immediately brought their rifles up to the shoulders and looked about.

“What is it?” John whispered.

“There’s blood on the road.”

Ed walked up to the small accumulation of blood, knelt down and stuck two fingers into it. As he turned his hand over to look at his fingertips, he cringed. Even though he had seen his fair share of bodies over the years during the hunt, feeling someone else’s blood on his skin never got easy.

“It’s still warm,” he said, wiping his fingers on his pants.

“Is it a trail?” John asked.

“No. It’s a small pool but, it was left here deliberately. He’s close so keep your eyes open.”

Christian let his rifle drift down from his shoulder a bit as he looked at Ed. “Did you say it was deliberate?”

Ed nodded.

“Why would it…”

The attack happened incredibly fast. It leapt out of the shadows with a snarl and tackled Christian onto the pavement. Even in the shitty streetlight, the werewolf was an impressive and horrifying sight. Underneath the dark brown coat of fur was a six and a half foot muscular frame built to hunt man.

It easily bit through Christian’s shirt into his flesh.

John fired off a shot but not surprisingly missed. The werewolf howled as it sprung off Christian and disappeared into the shadows on the other side of the street. Within seconds, they heard it crash through branches into the woods.

Christian screamed, clutching his torn shoulder. “It fucking bit me!”

Ed and John both knelt down beside their injured friend but he turned away their assistance.

“I know how to take care of myself. Go kill that fucking thing!”

Without hesitating, Ed was on his feet and running. On the way by, he grabbed John by the back of his shirt, yanking him along towards the dark tree line.

***

Somewhere in the distance, the werewolf howled.

It felt like they had been going in circles for a couple of hours. John was breathing heavy and Ed knew that his friend was tired. The adrenalin from the attack had worn off long ago, and now they were barely able to keep on the werewolf’s trail.

“Ed,” John said between breaths. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said earlier… about Brendon being sick.”

“What about it?”

“Well, what do you think a disease such as that would do to a werewolf?”

Another howl pierced the night.

“Have you been listening to the howls?” John asked, looking around. “They don’t sound as strong or vocal as they did earlier in the night.” The werewolf cried out again. “Ed, to me the howls sound weak… almost as if the werewolf is sick.”

Ed thought for a moment. What his friend was saying sounded plausible – if the cancer did transfer over, how would it affect it?

“You might be on to something. What do you say we end this one?”

John sighed, nodded and pushed off from the tree.

They pressed on but had only walked another twenty minutes when they heard another howl that was quickly cut off by a high-pitched whine intertwined with pain.

The sounds were close by.

John looked over at Ed, clearly unnerved.

“What the hell is that?” John asked.

“I don’t know,” Ed replied.

The whining continued as they moved forward with their rifles repositioned for firing at a moment’s notice. Within a few minutes, the trees thinned out as they approached the area where the sound originated. They stepped into a small clearing and stopped with their mouths agape.

It was lying on its side.

The beast was convulsing as if it were suffering a seizure, it wasn’t completely transformed. Its lower extremities resembled a wolf’s hind haunches but the fur on its torso had started to rip, human skin pushing its way through. Partially formed hands twitched uncontrollably at the end of human arms.

“Oh my god, look at its face,” John managed to say before he threw up.

The head was a misshapen mess that reminded Ed of the bizarre animal fetuses he had seen in the freak show of last summer’s carnival – half Brendon, half wolf. Inside its malformed mouth, a tongue rolled and lapped up against its snout.

He cautiously approached and the beast tried to squirm away, but the tremors had eliminated any ability to control its movement. One golden wolf eye, along with Brendon’s own blue eye, stared back as he tried to come to grips with what he was looking at.

With a deep breath, Ed raised his rifle and fired twice into its head. Within seconds, the body lay still.

“Ed, what happened to it?” John asked. He stared long and hard at the misshapen corpse.

“It couldn’t change.”

John looked up to the sky and then at his watch. “It’s still not sunrise, so why would it be changing?”

Ed took his hat off and ran his hand over his balding head. “Maybe it was sick like you said.”

“Do you really think the cancer could interfere with a werewolf changing?”

Ed shrugged. “It’s possible.”

“This is fucked up,” John bent at the waist and placed his hands on his knees preparing for another round of vomiting. “Did you see its eyes?”

“Yes I did.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget those.”

“Neither will I,” Ed said as he watched John look over at the body and then back at him. “The wolf eye wanted me dead but its human eye…” Ed swallowed. “Brendon’s eye was pleading… pleading for me to kill him.”

“Oh my god…” John trailed off.

“You know, when I shot and killed the werewolf a few years ago, I had killed in the course of the hunt. I felt justified and like a hero.” Ed placed his hat back on his head and looked at the body. “This time, I feel like a murderer.”

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2015 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved

Paratrooper

I hit the ground just like they taught us and immediately go to work separating from the parachute. Echoes of machine gun fire and distant explosions rattle my nerves.

I hope to God they dropped us in the right place. Scanning my surroundings, nothing looks familiar.

Shit.

Waist-high grass provides me with enough cover as long as I remain crouched. I wish I hadn’t lost my equipment satchel during the jump; all I have is my combat knife.

Although it is dark, I see a tree line not too far from my location and bolt for it. Running, while trying to remain as low as I can, I fully expect machine gun fire to open up on me but thankfully it doesn’t.

As soon as I’m in the cover of the tree line, I get down on one knee and try to get my bearings as well as my breath.

Through thick branches on the other side, I see lights.

Edging closer, I see that it is a small German outpost. A small descending trench system leads into a wider dugout with a camouflage canopy over top. Voices are murmuring to one another and I think there are at least two German soldiers in there. I bet I could…

“What are you doing here?” a man asks in German.

I slowly turn my head and make out the distinctive black uniform of an SS officer.

Without hesitating, I pull out my knife and leap onto him, my blade finding its mark in his throat. Blood comes gurgling out from the wound as I cover his mouth with my other hand; he quickly dies.

I hide his body in some bushes along the tree line and begin searching him, removing his Luger P08 pistol. Feeling a little more confident clutching the firearm, I creep toward the outpost.

I slip into the mouth of the trench and slide behind a couple of stacked wooden crates, so close to the enemy that I hear them talking. There are at least two of them.

“When did you see him last?” an SS officer asks.

“Maybe an hour ago,” a woman’s voice replies.

“What was he wearing?” the officer asks.

I raise the Luger, taking aim.

A young soldier suddenly steps in front of me.

“Grandpa’s right here!”

I fire twice into his chest.

“No!” the woman screams.

The SS officer slams into me, taking us both to the ground. He knocks the gun from my hand and forces me onto my stomach, handcuffing me.

“Hang on, Jeffery!” the woman yells. “Hang on!”

The outpost dissolves and suddenly we’re in my kitchen. The woman is my daughter, Trish, and the SS officer with his knee in my back, a police officer.

Trish looks over at me with anger, fear and sadness screaming from her eyes. Another police officer rushes into the kitchen.

“I found Officer Gardiner,” he says. “His throat slashed and hidden in the trees along the property line.”

To my right is my World War Two combat knife, the blade streaked with blood, lying next to Officer Gardiner’s sidearm.

I look back at the young soldier that I just shot.

It’s my grandson Jeffery.

He’s lying on his back, his chest soaked in crimson.

Oh Jesus, I shot my grandson!

Trish is now talking to a third police officer in the living room, crying heavily but coherent enough to speak.

“He hasn’t been the same since he developed Alzheimer’s. It’s been causing all of his war memories to resurface, causing bad flashbacks. We thought we had hidden all of his weapons but we must’ve missed… oh my God… Jeffery!”

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2014 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.

Phantom Pain

Every part of my body hurts.

I open my bottle of Percodan and shake three pills out.

Damn. Only three left after these. I wish this stuff would actually take the pain away.

I’ve been frequenting this bar, the Rusty Dagger Pub according to the flashing sign out front, for the last five years. I’d like to say that I don’t know why I keep coming back here. The service is lackluster, the beer is almost room temperature and even the women, although plentiful, are nothing to write home about.

No, the reason I keep coming back here is to fight. The Rusty Dagger Pub has the reputation of being one of the toughest bars in Eastern Canada. At one point during the biker gang war between the Hell Haunts and the Desecrators in the mid-nineties the bar was averaging one murder every two weeks.

I’ve been in a lot of fights and brawls and in that time I guess I’ve built up quite a reputation as someone who can take a beating and walk away from it.

I can’t be killed.

No, let me rephrase that.

The truth is I can be killed, but for some reason I keep coming back.

I’ll get to that in a bit.

I’ve been watching these two bikers for the last hour and there’s no doubt in my mind that they’re talking about me.

The heavier set one seems to be the one who’s going to lead the charge. He’s getting very animated and has that look in his eye. That dark sparkle when someone gets the idea… the urge, to kill another human being. I’ve seen it many times over the years and it has usually been directed at me.

Tonight, I know he’s going to do it.

He’s going to kill me.

***

“There’s something I have to tell you,” Michael Canning said gulping the remainder of his beer and placing the empty bottle on the sticky table. “Actually, it’s something I have to do.”

He was sitting with his friend Garrett Anderson at their usual spot inside the Rusty Dagger Pub. Michael had just finished his fourth beer of the night while Garrett was nursing his second rum and Coke.

“Do? Do what?” Garrett asked.

“You see that guy in the corner?”

Garrett turned and looked into the corner where Michael was pointing. Through the dim lighting and thick clouds of cigarette smoke, he could make out a lone figure sitting at a table in the far corner of the bar. The man had a shaved head and although he had a large frame, he didn’t seem to be anything special.

“What about him?” Garrett asked.

“His name is Erwin Sterben and he’s been coming here for the last couple of years. I was talking to one of my buddies in the Hell Haunts and apparently that guy in the corner has been on the receiving end of many ass kickings.”

“So?”

“Not just any regular beat downs,” Michael said leaning in towards Garrett. “I’m talking about four and five guys stomping his head into the pavement. He should’ve died by now yet he always seems to show up back in the bar.” Michael looked over Garrett’s shoulder at Erwin and then back to his friend. “There’s something about that guy that isn’t right.”

“So he has a reputation for being able to take an ass kicking and keep on ticking. Leave it alone, Mike, and enjoy your night.”

The two sat without speaking for a few minutes listening to heavy blues guitar riffs blaring through the bar’s old speakers. Both were dressed in typical black-leather biker attire, with Michael wearing a leather vest that one day he hoped would proudly display the Hell Haunts logo.

“The Hell Haunts want him dead,” Michael said. “And they want me to do it.”

“Why?” Garret asked.

“I don’t know and I don’t care. I want my patch.”

***

I’ve seen him in the bar many times and usually he’s hanging out with the Hell Haunts biker gang. He’s not a full patched member though, probably just a ‘hang around’ or a prospect. I bet he thinks killing me will elevate him in the Hell Haunts to a full patched member.

Who knows, it might.

It looks like all he needs is the opportunity to get me alone. He won’t use a gun as it will arouse too much attention. I’m guessing he’s carrying a knife of some sort.

I have to piss.

I guess there’s no time like the present to set things in motion.

Let’s see if I’m right.

I’ll walk right by his table on my way to the bathroom. I’m guessing he’ll follow and if walking by isn’t enough, I’ll eyeball him.

***

“He’s getting up,” Michael said quietly.

“Is he leaving?” Garrett asked.

Michael shook his head but remained quiet as Erwin walked up to their table. Their eyes locked briefly and Erwin brushed him off. Seething, Michael watched as he made his way to the back and into the bathroom.

“That motherfucker,” Michael said. “He has the nerve to eyeball me? Let’s go and end this fucking guy.”

“No,” Garrett said.

“What do you mean ‘no’? I need you to watch the door to make sure no one comes in. Come on, once I’m a full patched member I can put a good word in for you and get you fast tracked to your patch.”

Garrett looked at him. “You mean that?”

“Man, you know when I say something I mean it. Now get the fuck up and follow me.”

Nodding, Garrett stood up and the two men walked towards the back. When they reached the bathroom door, they both looked around the bar to see if anyone was watching.

It wasn’t a busy night with only four other patrons inside. Michael nodded to Garrett and headed inside.

As he stepped through the door, Michael’s heart raced in excitement. Inside, the bathroom was small consisting of two seldom washed urinals and two stalls, one of which was missing a door. A single sink with a rusty drain sat on the wall with a cracked mirror above it.

Michael listened and heard the sound of urine hitting water. He crouched down peering underneath the stalls and saw that Erwin was in the stall with the door still attached. Reaching into his left pant pocket, Michael pulled out a knife and stood just to the side of the stall, waiting for Erwin to come out.

Almost immediately Michael wished he had had another drink to calm his nerves as he fidgeted with the knife.

The toilet flushed and the door opened up.

Michael’s body tensed up and time seemed to slow down as he waited for Erwin to exit the stall. He saw one foot step out and as soon as he saw Erwin’s body, he lunged.

He grabbed Erwin’s face, covering his mouth and began stabbing into his side with the knife. Michael felt Erwin’s hot and panicked breath on his hand trying to yell out. With each stab of the knife, Michael felt more and more powerful.

Killing Erwin for the Hell Haunts was an honor he wanted to remember every second of. He could feel Erwin weakening in his grasp so he slipped behind him.

“Let’s see you live through this, asshole,” Michael whispered in the Erwin’s ear.

With that he tilted Erwin’s head back and cut deep into his neck.

Erwin gurgled and blood gushed out. Michael held him for a few minutes, enjoying the feeling of taking another man’s life until Erwin went limp. The gurgling slowed and then went silent.

Working quickly but carefully, Michael positioned Erwin so that he appeared to be seated on the toilet. After a final look, he closed the stall door and walked over to the sink.

Michael quickly washed his hands and then wrapped the knife in paper towel. He tossed it into the garbage and headed back into the bar to join Garrett.

***

Gasping for that initial first breath and the shock the body feels when it is revived are terrible. I suppose it could be similar to how the body reacts to a defibrillator with everything being jolted to life again.

My fingers trace where not too long ago my throat had been slit. It kind of itches but the stab wounds on my side still sting.

How long has it been since that fucker killed me?

According to my watch it’s only been ten minutes.

You see, I can be killed and believe me it sucks every time.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve died; how many times I seen the light, reached out to accept its embrace only to be pulled back into this fucking existence so that I may die again.

I have felt the pain that the body goes through as each internal organ shuts down. I have felt my heart stop more times than I want to remember. My body has been stabbed, crushed, and shot many times yet somehow it always heals itself.

Not completely though.

The pain remains.

Phantom pain I think they call it.

Reaching into my jacket pocket, I pull out a small bottle of Percodan and pop the remaining three pills into my mouth. In an effort to deal with pain I’ve tried many drugs and as a result I’ve become addicted to painkillers. The shitty part is I have yet to find one that completely dulls the pain.

A year ago I shot myself in the head and I came back.

I can’t even kill myself.

I’ve been called a freak and a vampire. Hell, there have been times I’ve even been called a zombie. The thing is though I don’t really know what I am.

One of the worst things, besides the pain and resurrection of course, is the fact that I don’t really know who I am anymore. I just can’t remember. My long term memories have faded with each death.

I don’t even remember my parents. I know I had them but that memory, that part of my life, seems to be gone.

I stand up and take a few unsteady steps towards the bathroom door. Opening it a crack, I peer out and see that those two guys are still here. The one who stabbed me seems to be celebrating.

I think I’ll go join them for a drink.

And like the many before who tried to kill me, I’ll return the favor.

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2014 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.

Confessional

“Bless me father, for I have sinned. It’s been…ah, about twenty years since my last confession.”

Father Antonio leaned forward, his face close to the screen that separated him from the man opposite him. In the darkness, he couldn’t make out the man’s features. It was better that way. There were some parishes where penitents had to face the priest head on, without the anonymity of the screen. He’d served in one for a year back when he was fresh from the seminary. He always felt that people guarded their sins more when they had to look a priest in the eye and spill their darkest secrets.

Dark secrets were made for dark places.

“We are very glad to have you back,” he said. “God’s home and heart is always open to you.”

“Thank you, father.”

A long silence followed. Father Antonio heard the whistle of the man’s breath through his nose.

He was well aware that sometimes, especially when there had been a long absence in the confessional, you had to give them space to collect their thoughts. It had been a while since he’d had a prodigal son walk through his confessional door. Most weeks, he heard the same confessions from the same blue hairs who attended mass seven days a week. He’d often been tempted to tell them to ‘go forth and seek fun’. Come back to him with some real sins to be forgiven. The thought made him suppress a chuckle.

After the silence went beyond the typical summoning of courage period, he said, “Do you have any sins you’d like to confess?”

The wood seat groaned as the man shifted his weight.

“I…I did something terrible when I was younger. I thought I could live with it. When I realized I couldn’t, I knew I had to confess but I was too afraid to speak it. I even changed religions. I was an Episcopalian for years. You see, with them, you confess your sins straight to God in your head. And I confessed, every Sunday, kneeling before the cross.”

Father Antonio said, “And did you find forgiveness?”

The man sniffled. It sounded as if he was crying. He ran a finger down the screen.

“No.” He said it with a breathless desperation.

“Have you forgiven yourself?”

Father knew the answer but sensed the man needed to give voice to his sins and perceived shortcomings in order to find the path to healing. He felt a burning tension in his own core, waiting to hear the man’s confession. What must it be like for him, to have a sin so great he’s spent years finding a way to unburden his soul?

“No. I need your help father.”

“You need to tell God your sin. You’ll be amazed how lighter you’ll feel. No sin is without forgiveness. All you need to do is ask for it.”

“Should…should I just say it, then?”

“That would be best. Look at it like jumping into a cool lake. The moment you hit the refreshing water, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t jumped in sooner.”

He listened as the man took several deep breaths, expelling them through his mouth.

“Will God forgive me for taking another life?”

Father Antonio’s heart kicked into a stuttering gallop. He’d spoken to other priests who had been on the receiving end of confessions of murder. What lay people didn’t know, and shouldn’t know, was the weight of those sins that simply shifted from sinner to confessor. Priests were still human. To know that there was potentially a murderer in his parish, to wonder who it could be, and to somehow let it go, to be the conduit of forgiveness, was far from easy.

The man continued. “I was a kid when it happened, still in college. I’d been at a party, had a little too much to drink, too much to smoke, and I’d taken a few pills. At some point, I wandered off, left the club to get some air, I think. After that, I blacked out for a while. Next thing I knew, I was ringing someone’s bell. A pretty woman answered. I asked her if I could use her phone so I could call someone to pick me up and take me to my dorm.

“I must have woken her up. She was wearing a robe and it kinda fell open at one point. I saw that she’d been sleeping nude. She was beautiful. I forgot about the phone. I couldn’t help myself. Before she could scream, I put my hand over her mouth and forced her onto a table. I…I can’t remember exactly what I did, but when it was over, she wasn’t breathing any more. I’d crushed her windpipe. Like a coward, I ran. For weeks I watched the story on the news from the safety of my dorm. The police never even thought to look into the students at my college. My prints weren’t on file. I was free.”

Father Antonio’s mouth went dry.

“But I wasn’t,” the man said. “Please, forgive me Father. I can’t go on like this.”

It was difficult for Father Antonio to speak. He didn’t hear his own words as he doled out the man’s penance. Something about saying the rosary and asking Mary for forgiveness.

The man thanked him profusely, praising him and Jesus for their kindness. As he left, Father Antonio cracked the door open just enough to see the man as he shuffled down the aisle.

It was Gene Fenton. He always sat in the center pews so he could bring up the gifts during mass.

Gene Fenton.

Father Antonio fumbled within his cassock for his cell phone. He thumbed his brother-in-law’s phone number.

“I know who killed our Laurie,” he whispered.

“How?”

“God brought him to me. His name is Gene Fenton. I’ll get you his address when I return to the rectory.”

“You know what this will mean, don’t you?”

It was impossible to see through his tears. “Please, don’t tell me.”

But he knew. His wife’s murder was why he became a priest, to put as much distance as possible from the man he’d been to who he was now. In both incarnations, he was wholly imperfect.

He disconnected the call.

Stumbling from the confessional, he opened an adjacent door. Father Murphy sat on the other side, unprepared for what was about to come.

“Bless me father, for I have sinned.”

~ Hunter Shea

© Copyright 2013 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved.

Wretched Harvest

A stale wind blew through the Appalachian woods, sending the branches of the trees into a frenzied dance and driving a flock of birds from their nighttime perch.

As they took flight, she coughed. And when she did, she coughed up blood.

Bitter warmth streamed into her mouth, pooling thick at the back of her throat, choking her struggling breath.

Behind teeth that ached with the pain from gums swollen by repeated blows to the skull, her bloated tongue tried desperately to form a sound. Willing her vocal cords to act — to speak, to scream, to do anything — all she could muster was a small whimper as her body ignored her pleas.

She was naked, bathed in fear. The threads of rope that secured her hands over her head burned, turning her wrists to pulp. A fallen tree branch stabbed into her side as the humid tongue of autumn licked at her exposed flesh and wet, blood-soaked soil sucked her backside and buttocks into its hungry mouth.

Amid the renewed hammering of her heart and the gurgle of blood and saliva bubbling over her lips, she thought about how her pathetic existence had brought her to this moment. She had despised her life in this small, North Georgia town. It had been one consumed with brutal drudgery and unbearable insignificance. But, somehow, it never seemed more precious to her than now as she lay on the ground dying.

Her body ached; bruises welling up on her legs. On her back. And on her arms. A swollen cheek squeezed closed her right eye, and a broken jawbone obscured what little view she had left of the world from which she’d spent so much time planning escape.

Through dwindling sight, she looked up into the face of her killer.

And he stared back.

His striking features no longer embodied the big-city charm and grace that had drawn her to him in the bar and later successfully encouraged her to his side as they left arm-in-arm. This man that she, for a moment, had thought could be her savior from small-town agony was now little more than a fluid silhouette fumbling in the shadows above, the faint glow of moonlight creating a shimmering halo around his dark frame.

His eyes gleamed from deep sockets, and gore-smeared lips smiled at her as he did little more than grunt, assessing her with as much significance as would a butcher to a hog.

Repulsed by the sight of her own fluids coating his face, she looked helplessly into the night sky. As a child she’d been fascinated by the stars – always a source of hope and the promise of far-off places. And there as usual, the bears – major and minor — glimmered in the dark expanse. Crouching nearby was Orion the Hunter, leading his rag-tag band of gods into battle with lesser creatures.

Her murderer breathed into her face, stealing away any thought of rescue from above. His was little more than a cruel wheeze, accompanied by the falling leaves that glided silently through the air, intermittently obscuring her view of the heavens. Several of them clung to his bare torso; her own blood serving as the glue that kept them in place.

Through tear-filled eyes, she noticed pieces of her self clinging to his chin. She thought he must have bathed in her, smearing her essence in great swathes across his body. Bloody handprints, like those of a child artist with bedroom wall as canvas, crisscrossed his chest and shoulders.

Squatting over her, his weight was immense. His powerful thighs rested on her own. He said nothing. Oddly observing. Burning menacing holes into her brain. Her would-be knight, was no longer the man he had appeared to be. He was, instead, an animal wearing the skin of her Lancelot.

Perhaps it was shock, or impending death playing a dirty trick on her mind, but behind him the darkness seemed to part; as the curtain of night was silently drawn back. A void appeared where there had once been only shadows, and through it stepped a small boy. His skin was smooth with youth, surely no more than 10 years old, and dark, unruly hair poked playfully from beneath the brim of a ragged baseball cap. The child’s shocking blue eyes glimmered from behind his caramel-colored features.

She felt an odd sense of calm in the young boy’s face.

In his right hand he carried a large coin, flipping it over and over, its silver guilding glinting in the moonlight.

First heads, then tails.

He let the coin fall to the ground. It landed with a dull thud that silenced the voices of the forest.

Tails.

Once again his eyes met her’s, and he calmly said, “Last call… Looks like this time you’ve won.”

With the boy’s words, her killer plunged his hands into her body. The horror in her midsection was like a brush fire through dead wood. Flames of pain spread through her as his sharpness sunk deep inside her bowels. His was a penetration that was never deeper, a violation never more extreme. Oily pieces of her slipped through his fingers, and she shuddered as his rough hands snapped a rib.

She fought the urge to look down at her abdomen. Instinct told her to grab at the coils that now burst from her stomach like meat from an over-ripe melon and shove them back into her vented cavity. But the rope held her instincts in check.

An audible smack accompanied her intestines as they sloshed onto the soggy ground beside her. From the exposed mass, he retrieved an unrecognizable piece of her, something that vaguely resembled a photo she’d once seen in a schoolbook.

Vomit urged her throat open while the bears looked down from the sky. They snarled, ravenously. All of nature, it seemed, had turned against her.

He shoved the bile-coated organ into his mouth. And just before her eyes closed forever, she saw him flash a set of perilous razors as he bit off a section of raw meat, her juices spilling over his lips and dripping onto his chest as he chewed.

The boy standing beside her looked on quietly as the Liberator completed his task.

And somewhere in the distance, from the grainy speaker of a jukebox in a roadside bar, Charlie Daniels played a vicious, dueling fiddle.

~ Daemonwulf

© Copyright 2012 DaemonwulfTM. All Rights Reserved.