I crouch cowering in the shadows of the barn. I should not be here, I was asked to stay away yet I could not.
The unnatural sound of bone snapping, sinew tearing, and skin stretching is a thing so foreign that it rends my soul to shreds. Yet for all the breath left in me, I cannot turn away from this creature I see.
I should have respected his wishes and not intruded upon his privacy – one so warily guarded till this day. Trust is what I offered blindly for so long; now I see that my trust was both justly placed and unspeakably abused.
The depth of sorrow that emanates from eyes I have so often peered into is more than one should have to bear. I now know why he asked to own this anguish in solitude, I now know why he felt a need to protect me from the torture of his full nature; I now know the extent to which he wished to guard my innocence.
He suffers in pain; my heart weeps. I reach out to touch him, he begs me stay away with his gaze; so longing, so loving, so final.
Struck by a rising terror I’ve not felt before, my soul screams that he is no longer mine but belongs solely to the night. If only I had not violated our trust, we would have been as one forever.
Fully morphed, yet still I see him. He turns one final time – his eyes saying all his misshapen mouth is no longer capable of speaking. A blink; he is gone.
Rushing forward I see all that remains, rough hair twisted upon a nail, while I listen to his baleful cry carried upon the night’s savage wind.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
Jeremy promised he would never leave me. He’d be the only person in my life never to do so. I didn’t know whether I believed him or not, not really, but I liked to think he meant it at the time.
Once he told me he was born with a darkness inside him and didn’t know how to make it go away. He wanted to hurt things. He wanted to squeeze necks and break legs. Slash at throats. He told me how he watched the pulse in my neck and kept time with its beating. After he mentioned this, I noticed his eyes would wander to my throat and his breathing would change. I knew he was waiting for something, for my heart to stop or my blood to coagulate inside my veins, if it didn’t spill out of them first. He wanted to press his thumb down on my artery to see what would happen.
It wasn’t ill-feeling. Not really. It wasn’t that he hated. He just wanted to make everybody sorry.
“Sorry for what?” I asked him once. We were just kids, sitting on the rocks and staring into the ocean. I had my crying doll with me, back before Jeremy pulled off her head to see what kind of sound she made. I was never able to put her back together, but that was all right. I still had Jeremy.
“I don’t know. Just sorry.”
He wasn’t dark all the time, and that’s what made the difference. The shadow would come in waves, nearly crushing him under the weight of despair, and then it would ebb out. He’d be charming and funny. Happy. This was the Jeremy I knew, the one I enjoyed. It didn’t surprise anybody when we grew up and fell in love. Jeremy and Kat. It’s just how it was always meant to be. That, and nobody else on the island would have anything to do with either of us.
We’d sneak up to the old lighthouse some nights, play tricks on the tourists and plan our future. We picked out a day to get married, not too far off but far enough, and made lists of the songs that we wanted to dance to after our wedding.
“Hey, Kat. You know I’ll never leave you, right?”
I didn’t say anything.
“We’ll be together always. I promise.”
I smiled, and I swear, it almost felt natural. “I believe you, Jeremy. Really.”
He knew better than that, I could see it in his eyes. But he also knew I was trying, and that’s what mattered.
“I’ll prove it to you. Just wait and see.”
His smile was a beautiful thing. It filled me with hope. Sometimes with terror, deep down, but mostly something that I think was happiness.
“Jer? I love you. I do.”
“I know you do. I love you, too.”
And then Jeremy went dark. It was worse than usual, worse than I’d ever seen. He wouldn’t talk to me. Wouldn’t let me touch him.
A little boy went missing from town and I was too terrified to ask him about it. Jeremy simply stared at the sea. It lasted for weeks this time.
“Please tell me what’s wrong,” I begged him the last time that I saw him. “Why won’t you let me help you?”
“Nobody can help me,” he said. He wouldn’t even look at me. I pulled my coat closer, the wind grabbing at my hair and trying to push me from the rocks.
“But we’re getting married in eight days,” I said. “Can’t you at least try to act happy? Pretend it matters to you?”
He didn’t answer. I turned and ran, tripping over rocks and shells. He’d already left me, just like I was afraid he would.
This is what true loneliness is.
The Coast Guard found Jeremy’s body wedged underneath rocks not far from shore. He was bloated and discolored but I kissed him anyway. We buried him on what was supposed to be our wedding day. I sat in the church, surrounded by people and flowers, and thought this wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
That night, I went dark as well. The feelings overwhelm me: despair, anger, hatred; and I know they aren’t mine. I’ll see a couple walking together, looking like they belong with each other, and I want to kill them, rend them apart because they’re happy, and I will never be.
Jeremy won’t let me. He follows me everywhere now. He’s always prowling for somebody new to hurt. He smoothes my hair back when I sleep, and threatens everyone around me. My sister came to visit after his death, and he pushed her from the rocks. He appeared once in front of my father and caused him to have a heart attack. I dared to date a man, just once, and my date was killed in a car crash on the way home. Anybody I talk to becomes his victim.
“We’ll be together always. I promise.” Jeremy had said, and I realize now that he truly meant it. He’s cutting me off from everybody that I know, from everybody that can help me. He wants me to jump from the same rocks that he did and join him, and I’m afraid that it won’t be much longer before I do. There’s nothing to stay for.
He promised he would never leave me. I should have believed him. For the first time, I truly wish to be left alone.
~ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.
Soft granules shift with each step as I walk the sandy strip. They ease between my toes, slide over my sandaled feet; leave a rim of grit around each nail-bed. A favored place, this swing. During the day, it basks in the full cast of sun’s light; at night, it hides in the coolness of evening’s deepest shadow. A place to laugh, to steal a kiss, perhaps a first touch… Hallowed ground made sacred by whispered promises broken only by those foolish enough to make them.
I sit. The ropes stretch taut, the plank groans beneath me as the swing gently begins to sway. My mind wanders, time passes; my thoughts fill with remembrance of you. The shade of the tree swallows me as day turns to dusk and dusk quickly flees before night. The image of you with another beneath our swing flashes by; my rage no less tempered with time. I kick my sandals aside, dig my toes deep into the soft sand. I reach for you. I know you’re there, you promised you always would be, a promise I saw kept with pickax and spade. The only blight on our perfect evening… the cunt that lies dead beside you, but I can look past that and enjoy our time together, if only in my mind.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
Trapped within this bubble, I feel nothing of the arid landscape that surrounds me. I sit in subjugation, offered scraps to feed upon; amuse-bouche for the soul, or so I imagine. Apportioned morsels to sustain me, but never more than your callous ego will allow. Yes, I have licked the plate and the tang has seared my tongue, left a residue of shame that will forever taint my palate. I once soared with as much grace and majesty as the prey that circles overhead – a dangerous companion to adopt, folly perhaps, as I know what it awaits.
Freedom, such a simple thing, stolen from me by destiny’s choice; a truth mourned beyond measure. I was vibrant once, as vibrant as the now desiccated tree before me. I see its brittle limbs, its exposed bones; the crack that foretells of the next fractured moment. I live that moment with every breath, forever caught just before the fall, perpetually suspended in a state of flux. With bowed back, I am forced to genuflect, to stare into a shallow pool that lacks reflection; a me without identity, stripped of all dignity. With broken wings, I stagnate in this cage never to glide on lighter waves of air again.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.
Her eyes speak volumes, assuring him it will be as it was; it will be alright. He knows it won’t be—it can’t be.
Nothing escapes the scrutiny of the incandescent lighting above their heads. No dark space exists for him in which to hide. He scrubs the stubble along his chin. “It’s coming out amazing, honey.”
He watches the artist deliver life to his daughter with thoughtful strokes, imbuing pallid skin with a fresh blush. He pushes a smile to his lips, watching his little girl watch him. She knows his nuances; the flutter of his lashes gives him away every time. She is his blood, after all.
Statuesque, she sits quietly for her portrait. It crushes his heart. Her beautiful lips, once so full like those of her mother, stretch like crinkled strips of weathered jerky now, the music silenced from her dancing eyes. She is tired, so tired, draining slowly from the inside. He scrubs his chin, weary as well, weary and broken witnessing the erosion of his child.
The artist half speaks, half clears this throat. “Sir… Sir?”
“Yes, I’m sorry,” he croaks.
The artist nods politely, aware he has trespassed across guarded domain. Brush hovering atop the canvas, he motions to a specific area of the portrait, then repositions himself atop his stool, respectfully waiting.
“What is it, Daddy?” his little girl inquires; the harsh lighting does nothing to conceal the flutter of his lashes. Quickly, realization dawns; she is his blood, after all. “Daddy, he can paint me as I was that day, it’s okay.”
The artist reaches forward, pats her knee, resumes painting once again. Before long, the canvas depicts wavy locks where no hair has existed for some time. It flows in luxurious strokes; the toe of the artist’s brush a mere whisper in the sea of her chestnut mane. At long last, the final touch—soft pinpricks of white to lend the gleam back into her eyes. The artist lowers his arm. “I believe I am done, sir.”
His vision blurs; he cannot quite make out the deft details of the artist’s conception, not yet. He wipes at his tears. “Baby, you look…”
He wishes to say beautiful, but the word fails to find his lips. Instead, her portrait seizes his attention, unwelcome details pulling his eye. Flustered, he swings his gaze toward the artist.
The man has already packed his tools, cleaned his brush. With a dispassionate tone, the artist states, “The devil is in the details, sir.”
Open mouthed he stares, beyond the depiction of her soft countenance, beyond the eternal capture of her cherubic innocence, he gapes at the jarring angle of her neck; the angry bruises that ring it, marring what should be a masterpiece. “She was terminal,” he barely mutters. “The disease, it was taking her.”
The painter turns to him. “Yes it was, and had you left well enough alone, I would have no need to take you, too.”
His hands flutter about his neck. The incandescent lighting above reveals long slits along his forearms; nothing escapes its scrutiny. “This isn’t… It was a mercy, she was suffering,” he pleads.
“Daddy, no one understands it was an act of love,” her gentle, childish voice intones. By the time he faces her, she is gone. A ghost of her ghost.
He lunges for the painting, but the artist seizes him by the neck. “Take a long, last look at her. She finds her peace in the form I have painted. As for you, peace will be but a memory where we are going.”
Slowly, the painter drags him away, until the incandescent glow no longer reveals a thing, and the pitch is all he will ever know.
~ Joseph A. Pinto
© Copyright 2017 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.
There was a girl. She sat at a white desk in a white room with her hands folded neatly in her lap.
Peter stood before her with his pockets turned out.
“I don’t have anything to give you,” he said. He spoke very quietly. Shame does that.
She didn’t move, but he thought she shook her head.
“I don’t need anything like that,” she told him. “I do not desire your buttons or baubles, although I am sure that they are quite lovely.”
He thought she smiled, but she did not actually do that, either.
“I don’t understand,” he confessed. He shifted from foot to foot. She really did smile then, but only in her eyes. He bit his lip and continued. “I thought…that you wanted something from me. In exchange for your help.”
“Oh, but I do.” Her skin was white, and her hair even whiter, but only just. When she smiled—if she smiled—her lips were disconcertingly red. The rest of the time they were only the palest of pink. He had the impression that something parasitic sucked the breath from those lips while she slept, but what could he do about it?
“Please tell me what you desire.”
“I want to be happy.”
“Then I will help you.”
She pulled a ceramic jar out of nowhere. It was the color of sky and looked cool to the touch. He flexed his fingers.
“This is the Container of Sorrows, Peter. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” He didn’t.
Her lips barely twitched but it was as if the snow melted and he tasted spring.
“This is how you will be happy. Tell me one of your sorrows. I will keep it here for you, and the burden from that particular sorrow will be no more.”
He felt stupid and stared at his shoes. They had holes in the toes.
“Do you…not wish happiness?”
Her voice was strangely brittle, as if she were trying not to cry. He was hurting her somehow, he decided, but that didn’t make any sense. He took a deep breath.
“I miss my mother,” he said, and the words fell from his mouth like vapor. The girl opened the jar, and the mist zipped inside. She closed the lid with a satisfying click.
“There,” she said, and her smile was real this time, genuine. “Don’t you feel better?”
He thought about his mother. Her warm brown hair, the apron that she used when she baked cupcakes. He thought about her more aggressively. The police telling his father that they had discovered a broken body. The funeral in a town without rain.
“I don’t feel sad,” he said in wonder, and the girl looked pleased. She kissed him, and he woke up.
Peter’s lips burned where she had touched him, and he kept his fingers pressed there for most of the day. When the boys razzed him about his poorly trimmed hair, he didn’t mind so much. When they taunted him about his mother being a whore who got what was coming to her, he was surprised to find that he didn’t care at all. He ate dinner silently and changed into his worn pajamas without being asked. He brushed his teeth and climbed into bed with an eagerness that would have been pitifully endearing if anyone had seen it.
Sleep came instantly, and there she was. She was wearing white flowers in her hair.
“Did you have those flowers yesterday?” he asked her.
Her cheeks flushed delicately. “No.”
Peter didn’t know what to say. “I had a better day at school than usual. Thank you.”
The girl again produced the smooth blue container out of thin air. “Tell me another sorrow, Peter. Tomorrow will be even better.”
“I’m tired of being called poor.”
The mist of words spiraled into the Container of Sorrows. He nodded his head once, and she nodded back in a very serious manner.
And thus it went. His sorrows disappeared. “I hate seeing dead birds. I wish that I had a friend. My father doesn’t notice me.”
The jar devoured his sorrows with an agreeable hunger. The pale girl’s lips turned up all of the time and her eyes began to sparkle. Peter grew more confident at school. He stood up straight. He looked people in the eye. He made friends.
He was almost happy.
On the last night that he went to her, something in the air had shifted. The atmosphere was holding its breath, and it was undeniable.
“Hey,” Peter said, leaning casually on the white desk. “There’s only one sorrow that I have left.”
“Only one?” asked the girl with something that sounded exquisitely close to hope. Her eyes shone. Her white hair and pink lips were glossed with fragile expectation. She produced the Container of Sorrows and carefully removed its lid. Peter’s sorrows ghosted around inside, smelling of lavender and brokenness.
“Natalia Bench never looks at me at school.”
The vaporous sorrow swirled from his lips and settled into the jar. The girl’s white fingers didn’t move, so Peter put the lid back on for her.
He smiled. “Now I’ll be brave enough to talk to her tomorrow. Thank you very much, Girl of Sorrows. I am happy.”
The girl held the jar very close, and she looked up at Peter. Her lips were pale, strawberries buried under layers of ice. He was reminded of that feeling that he had once, long ago, where he thought that something supped from her lips at night. How frightened she must be. How alone.
“Goodbye,” he said, and kissed her cheek. Had her touch once burned? She was ice under his skin. She was a corpse. Peter turned and walked away without looking back.
There was a girl. She sat at a white desk in a white room where she wept, clutching a container full of somebody else’s sorrows.
~ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright 2017 Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.
I watched as he dragged his torso through the smoldering debris toward me, and thought, another. Unlike most, he hadn’t surrendered. I wondered if he knew where he was headed, or of the puss-ridden trail he left behind. No matter, it would soon be ended. I didn’t choose who suffered the searing heat; I only quenched the burning once they arrived. Fate appraised his soul, meted out its judgment.
“Have you your papers, then? There’s ta’be no entry without them.” I lilted. He stared back through hollowed sockets. I sighed. They all think the pearly gates so easy to attain.
The Thirty Second Burn
Lee A. Forman
The massive door opens on screeching hinges. My legs tremble, reluctant to carry me into the mouth of the iron beast. I know what waits in The Box.
Thirty seconds a day. Every day. Only the strong endure. But they are cursed to face the flame again and again.
The weak are lucky. To die is beautiful.
The guards guide me inside.
As the air itself boils, I know not pain or suffering but a great joy. I revel in the satisfaction of knowing I won’t last—I’ll expire quickly; my torment will end nearly as soon as it began…
Joseph A. Pinto
You call me deranged in my volatile state, yet you remain void of oxygen, void of all to sustain a fire. You know only of cleaning my ashes from the hearth, while I have schooled myself, keeper of this flame. Within my charred cage once an inferno raged; rose and fell, with hope, absolution. Dearly did I wish for us to go down in a state of combustion. Now, the landscape has changed. I am left to smolder—a cruel fate, this blessing; my curse. So perhaps you are right. Perhaps I am all you label me. Blistered. Branded. Blackened.
The Other White Meat
“It smells like barbecue.”
“You try putting sauce on that and I’ll kick your balls inside out.”
Jett turns the knob as far as it will go, the flames sharpening, going from sunburst orange to a cold, vicious blue.
“Jeez that’s gotta hurt,” Peter says, leaning closer. Jett sees the trickle of saliva at the corner of his mouth. He wants to drive his fist into his stupid, leering face.
“It would if the devil wasn’t in her.”
Clarissa’s flesh blackens and crackles. She doesn’t flinch.
Jett struggles to hold her down.
“Sometimes, you got to fight fire with fire.”
Christopher A. Liccardi
The whomp sound of the flames dashed up from under the element. The metal box was large enough to fit inside, but no room to turn.
He woke to the stench of rotten eggs and sudden heat on naked skin.
The thought never made it through his mind. He glanced up and saw that wretch of a wife staring, upside down into his face.
She’d dared him to see who could hold out longer and he laughed in her face proclaiming he’d been waiting twelve years already.
She smiled prettily, knowing who was going to win this one.
Let It Die
My god, it’s here! We never thought we’d see it again. In this cold world, this dark existence, it remains. Many years have gone by since it’s been seen. We’re all drawn to it, attracted by the warmth and hope it represents. The flames flicker and dance, a performance for the ages. We feel the cold and dark encroaching on the light. Evil is here. Around the flames I see the faces of the others. We are afraid as death awaits us, yet we’re determined. Now that it’s been found, it cannot perish. We can’t… we won’t let it die.
“Roasting chestnuts by the fire.”
I sung a few bars of the song as I watched the searing flames. Beautiful blue flames bending, beckoning to my soul. Perfect for chestnuts. Maybe marinated on a skewer with some juicy fingers.
Or possibly eyeballs. I like the smell of roasting eyeballs.
I glanced at the salesman I had trussed up on the floor. I watched him squirm, trying to scream through his gag and break the zip ties.
I smiled and picked up my butcher knife.
Nope, definitely fingers. He has nice fat ones. Stew the eyeballs for dessert… with chocolate sauce.
Broken Boy Blue
Mercedes M. Yardley
The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn. While Adam was sleeping in the hay, breathing starlight and pharmaceuticals, the Catchers took his father behind the barn. They broke his teeth and fed him like livestock on gun metal and bullets. They torched the house and his withered mother was the most beautiful of candles. His sisters took longer, but even the rosiest things ignite with enough tenacity.
They overlooked Adam, but he would always see the Catchers in his technicolor dreams. They played a starring role, laughing and cheering his family on as they danced, danced, danced.
The Chant, The Charm
Veronica Magenta Nero
Born in me it was, the chant, the charm, bile sitting in the pit of my belly. Until it began to creep, the chant, the charm, to lodge in the crook of my throat, a constant niggle I couldn’t clear. Soon it was on the tip of my tongue. Like an insult or a lie. Must keep it in, keep it down. Thick stitches popped one by one, so I took the torch, searing a heavy smooth line for lips. But now from the corners of my eyes it seeps, the chant, the charm, no voice to stop the magic.
The Hell train’s engine runs on flames and meat. The Railwayman rides in the locomotive. Dressed in blood-stained overalls and cap, he enters the tender car to a mound of body parts. In a black cloud of flies, he shovels severed limbs, heads, and ribcages―tosses them into the firebox. The smoke smells like barbecue. The train makes its rounds along America’s tracks. Hapless passengers climb aboard. The conductor punches tickets. As the train shrieks down the railway, skull-faced cleavers roam from car to car, doing their chop work. They refill the tender. The Railwayman shovels meat, feeding the blue-flamed beast.
Black smoky tendrils snake around my body, languid movements that if made by human hands would have been sensual. I sit in the chair, unable to move. A single blue flame bridges the gap; a moment passes where my thoughts and actions are untrue to each other. The Zoroastrians say nothing, my fate sealed. I offer myself to be judged, to join them. Only the righteous become one with the perfect element, the rest are destroyed by it. The creature pierces me, my body ignites from inside. I open my mouth to scream but there is no sound, only fire
Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017
Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.
I sit curled up next to the fireplace, my head resting against the surround. A goblet of heavy Merlot in my hand; heavy for its body or heavy for my longing, I cannot say. As I stare into the crackling blaze, my mind wanders. So many memories from years gone by, so much love shared here, in this very room. My soul shrieks with grief as I collapse into a ball, no longer able to hold myself upright; no longer able to stem the wracking sobs.
The fire now a blur through swollen wet eyes, my head lolls and I glance toward the tree with its twinkling lights, glittering ornaments and brightly wrapped packages tucked neatly below. You always were such a perfectionist. My eyes flutter shut as the day you dressed the tree forces itself upon my mind. You were so happy, so excited to pick the largest pine available. I recall joking that one of us would have to move out so the tree could move in. You kissed me with icy cold lips and a bright red nose. Little did I know how soon I would long to feel that frigid touch once more. Your enthusiasm knowing no bounds, you spent the entire day arranging everything just so; making sure the colorful glass baubles were placed with precision, everything to an exacting measure. I’d playfully moved a strand of tinsel while you weren’t watching, only to reenter the room moments later to find it placed back in its original position.
The gifts. Oh, how you tortured me over the gifts long before the season began. A sad smile steals across my lips as I think of the hours you spent fretting over the perfect surprise for each of our friends. As I sip from my glass, a slight chuckle escapes me only to end in a bleat of pain as I recall how you stressed over wrapping each gift in the perfect color foil. God, how you loved this day.
I think back upon the last evening I saw you. I was standing at the island between this room and the kitchen preparing dinner; you remembered one final detail you couldn’t do without. I kissed you as you bounded past me, told you not to be long and that I loved you. You grabbed your coat from the hook, turned to me with purse in hand, golden locks bouncing, and smiled before replying as you always did – not nearly the way I love you. I smiled back; you left. Two hours later, a knock sounded. I wasn’t worried, you often became infatuated with something or other and lost track of time or misplaced your keys. As I moved to open the front door, I noticed the bare flicker of red and blue light drifting in from the balcony. Seeing the officers standing at the threshold, I turned and walked to the glass, placed my forehead to it, and knew in that moment… you were gone. I woke lying upon the couch. The officers explained there’d been an accident at the corner – our corner; a young woman had been hit by a car that ran the red light. You were that young woman.
My eyes crack open seeking a red light on the tree, your tree – our tree. But instead, my sight finds the red fairy lights you used to decorate the balcony. Barely able to stand, I stumble to the sliding doors. As I fumble to open them through my tears, the Merlot in my glass pours onto the white carpet. My addled mind tells me how angry you’ll be if I don’t clean the deep burgundy spill right away; my breath hitches, another sob escapes me. Finally managing the lock, I step through onto the bitterly cold veranda. Standing at the rail, I exist in a halo of red light, my long chestnut mane whipping in the wind; the flush on my cheeks all but gone in a tinted haze. Another balcony, the one next to ours, is adorned in blue twinkling lights. I wonder why I’d not noticed it before. The blue and red lights blur together as my inebriated mind struggles to adjust. Five stories below, more lights glitter, cars rush past; the ground wears a fresh blanket of snow. I’m so tired, and the blanket seems so inviting. Please, don’t go without me – words I should have spoken that night. Letting myself lean forward, the world pitches as my mind screams for release from this sorrow, begs me to join you. I grasp the railing, sink to my knees and crawl back inside. Too much a coward to follow you; too devoted to allow your memory to die.
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright 2014 Nina D’Arcangela. Revised 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Damnlings, welcome yet again to our lair of insanity where our depraved souls leak their nectar for your consumption…
In the collection of prose set forth before you, you will find each of the authors has been constrained to a measure between one hundred and one hundred fifty words; two of which must be borrowed from the nether’s uttering. But fear not, for the Damned wear our shackles well and true – we shrink from no challenge. Sit, read, perhaps ponder… which two of the five words on offer would you chose for a story worthy of the ink that drips from the Pen of the Damned?
Not His Own
The Dark One will be happy with this offering. It lies at my feet, struggling for breath – this man of valor. Sadly for him, no one will remember his name; only his actions. His hands, which under my power killed so many, now claw uselessly at the blood soaked earth. Staring into the sky, his eyes begin to glaze over. It is always closest to death that I can be seen. There is a hint of fear in his dulling orbs as he spots me, then a dawning realization that his actions were not wholly his own. In one quick swoop, I reach into his chest, tear out his soul. This will do nicely. Moving on, I look around the battlefield for the next of His children to inhabit.
Amshu and Nerezza
Lee A. Forman
“Why don’t you leave?”
“Why should I?”
“To inhabit a body for too long is dangerous.”
“Don’t you think I’m aware of that?”
“So why do you stay?”
“Why do you?”
Silence grew, both between life and something that wasn’t quite death—an eternal state of non-corporeal existence.
Nerezza grunted and folded both arms across a bare chest. “I came here first.”
“So shouldn’t you be the first to leave?” Amshu raised an eyebrow.
A smile split the coal expression on Nerezza’s face. “No.”
“Why is that?”
“Darkness is absolute. Light fades.”
“So stay here forever.”
“Maybe I will.”
“Quiet! The child awakens!”
With a groan it rubbed its eyes and sat up. It turned its head left and right, looking for the things born in its nightmares.
“Shall we flip a coin?”
“Don’t we always?” Amshu lowered both eyelids with boredom.
“Heads he lives, tails he dies.”
Joseph A. Pinto
They dug in, their bones, their charred, brittle bones, hacking the dirt with their spades.
Private McDermott watched as the cadaver platoon fortified their position within the trench. His Sergeant had notified him help would be arriving, but this…? A shell exploded nearby, and his sense of valor nearly fled. He buckled his helmet beneath his chin and dropped into the ditch.
The cadavers worked without sound, just earth and burnt stone grinding within their joints. Flesh, like tattered curtains, hung from their frames. Foul, heinous things, McDermott had to remind himself these devil-spawns fought on their side now.
A cadaver leered, each socket a hellish foxhole in its own right. McDermott recognized its prominent jaw line—Jimmy James. Together they had seen basic training through.
Now McDermott wondered what was worse—the screaming Nazi mortars or the chattering of hungry teeth inside those damned Allied skulls?
Veronica Magenta Nero
The air that seeps in from outside is foul, it is tainted with hope, with sentiments of love. Outside there is a world of false promises and pretty lies. The truth is here, in this dark tomb we inhabit. We were sealed in here long ago. The passing of time has become meaningless, I don’t know how old I am anymore. I remember my mothers’ screams as she punched and clawed at the heavy doors. Those sobs and screams, they still echo within these walls. Perhaps my mother is dead but yet she moves. She passes through the walls at night and she returns to feed me in the morning. Warm blood pours from her mouth into mine. Her eyes glitter, they are the only light I ever see. Soon, her eyes seem to say, soon it will be time to leave.
A ripe smell washed over the docks; the sickly aroma of decay. For two hours Mark patrolled the boards, the scattered stores, the shipyard and the steel skeleton of RMS Bravery, chained to the ceilings and the walls. The smell was stronger here; he ducked beneath vast iron ribs, inspected rows of sheet metal, kicked at the crabs who had come to inhabit the dank spaces between these things: nothing.
It was almost midnight when the ship parted the mists. She moved silently, her savage plow cutting clean through the waves. She brought with her the smell. Sitting at his desk, Mark gagged, dropped his pen, did a double-take when her name slid into view: RMS Valor, one year lost to the ocean bed, still wreathed in slime, deck crawling with the lobster-limbs of her new monster crew.
Dust motes floated through the stale air like pallid balloons on a lifeless breeze. Everything had been undisturbed for far too long. How could one such as he, born of noble blood and ancient valor, stoop to inhabit such a foul and loathsome place? Dmitri bowed his head and pressed forward. His father should have reposed in the Vvedenskoye crypt in Moscow with the rest of his kin.
Dmitri passed through the room without disturbing the dust-covered floors. The cement lid to the tomb lie broken on the floor. He was too late. He smelled the wood of the steak before he saw it. The undead wither and become undone rather than die, and what had been his father lie within the tomb. Dmitri picked up the steak, smelled it, and knew where to take his revenge.
Those That Make The Rules
Surrounded by blood and spoiled dreams, I surveyed the land. The ground squirmed with the dying youth—drafted teenagers ripped apart by merciless gears of the war machine. I watched as they clutched at their gore and twitched in agony. The world’s future facing a painful lack thereof simply because they were told to by those that make the rules. What a fucking joke! Foul logic cooked up and served in heaping mouthfuls to kids too blinded by their own testosterone and sense of rebellion to see the truth of it all. Their blood dripped from my fingers. Their last cries echoed in my ears. I survived. I killed under orders in what they deemed efforts of valor. Slaughter, something that would be utterly horrific at home on the suburban cul-de-sacs, was called valiant. Now, I see the cogs in the machine and I will kill for them no more.
Christopher A. Liccardi
“Valor above all else,” he repeated to himself. The knife plunged deep into his gut was unnoticed. Those who inhabit the dark places often find comfort in such noble monikers but this one was different. He perverted the valorous, the brave, with his hate. The last hero lay at his feet, panting as much from fear as exhaustion. He wore the triumphant grin of those who think that killing a single person can thwart evil.
“That blade was dipped in poison, you bastard,” the hero panted. Blood and spittle flew from the corners of his mouth. “Tonight, you die with us.”
Named after his father for more than his looks, Samael’s grin widened as he collapsed to the ground knowing two more would take his place. Two more would pick up where he left off and valor would die along with the last hero.
A Few Steps
The ripe stench sickens; the fetid odor enough to raise the bile of the staunchest bastard, yet here is the place I was born – brought into this world of evils and misdeeds. This cracked, filthy slab of concrete served as both my crib and cradle. Did I ask for this life? No. But granted to me, or shall I say more accurately, thrust upon me, it certainly was. I’ve not shied from the mantle presented; I’ve embraced it and its repugnance with the whole of my being. The squalor within which I exist, the distance from this darkened stoop to the brilliance just beyond has never been a burden for my soul to bear. Though when the gates swing wide, and the light blinds these most dim of eyes, I cannot but wonder if another destiny may have awaited me had she held her birthing fluids a few steps farther…
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Image © Copyright Dark Angel Photography. All Rights Reserved.
“I’ve heard it said that the first time is always the best, but that’s bullshit. It gets better with every experience. Pain, loathing, hatred and excitement, all rolled up into one moment of indulgence and release. These urges are altogether unique and exquisite.
“I was about ten years old when I first tasted this fruit. Mom babysat a noisy pack of snot-nosed shit factories that invaded my space daily. I couldn’t help but make a few cry at least once a day. At first I told myself it was for the attention, but I knew better. The real answer was far more sinister – I enjoyed their pain.
“It was never quite enough, though. I could feel the thrill build each time, but it didn’t increase, it always remained the same, until things changed. One day mom was asked to tend an infant. Go ahead, look at me with those horrified eyes, it only adds to the pleasure.
“At first I didn’t mean for anything to happen. Babies are innocent, right? I went into the house and saw mom holding a little girl. I guess you would say she was cute. I didn’t feel an urge to hurt her at first, and it filled me with hope that maybe I had some good inside me.
“I walked up to her sweet as can be and held out my hand. She looked at me and her cherubic smile was instantly sucked up by her fat little cheeks, and the ugliest scream I’ve ever heard tumbled from her quivering lips. Did you know that hope getting dashed to pieces has a sound? It’s abrasive, piercing, and throttles everything.
“I didn’t have any good in me. Rage seethed from my core and swelled like it never had before. Nothing was exempt from my hate.
“‘Oh, cute little Erica,’ I cooed as sweetly as I could while I positioned myself behind my mother where she couldn’t see what I was doing. I patted the babe softly on the back where my mom could see while my other hand pinched and squeezed as hard as I dared without leaving a mark. I looked into her wide eyes, locked in terror with mine own, and brought every ounce of hate to the surface. I pushed that torrent of violent emotions through my eyes and willed her to feel it.
“It was intoxicating, although you would never understand. But that’s enough about my past. Unfortunately for you, I’ve found over the years that an adult’s torment and screams are infinitely more satisfying than those of a child.”
The man stood up and stretched before speaking again.
“If you don’t mind, I’m going to go use the bathroom. Don’t go anywhere.”
Eric listened as Mark’s feet padded across the cement floor. The stairs creaked as he left the basement. When he was sure Mark was gone, he relaxed the stranglehold he had on his emotions and sobbed.
Eric had been in the basement for a few days now, secured to a metal chair with leather straps. He had screamed, begged, yelled and cried on his first day here, but quickly learned that any show of emotion sent his captor into a crazed fit of violence.
His heart raced wildly as the casual whistling upstairs approached the basement door again. Anxiety fogged Eric’s mind with its chaos and kept him from thinking straight. He hated himself for not being able to control his fear. He did his best to quiet himself as the door opened. By the time Eric could see Mark’s bare feet step around the corner, he had almost calmed himself completely.
Mark placed two boxes on a table and stood in front of Eric. “Have you been crying?”
Mark hit Eric in the face and looked down at him with a grin. “You say you weren’t crying, but I call bullshit. If you can make it through the next twenty minutes without crying hysterically, I’ll let you go.”
Eric knew better than to let hope sprout its worthless seeds in his heart, but desperation took over. “Yes,” he pleaded.
Mark pulled forceps out of his back pocket and gripped the sides of Eric’s face. “Open up buttercup,” he said. Eric’s eyes widened with horror when he noticed the forceps ended in sharp hooks.
Mark shoved the forceps into Eric’s mouth. Sharp pain shot through his tongue as the forceps bit into the soft tissue. Mark yanked on his tongue and pulled it halfway out of his mouth.
“I don’t want to do anything that will stop your screaming,” Mark said as he pulled something else out of his back pocket, “but I hate all of the pleading and whining. Besides, I have a surprise for you.”
Mark grabbed a large, sharpened tube and flashed it in front of Eric’s face.
“This needle is a 0000 gauge, which means the hole in your tongue is going to be nearly half an inch wide. It’s going to hurt like a bitch.”
Eric bucked against the chair and cried out as Mark pressed the tip of the needle against his tender flesh and pushed. He could feel the needle as it sliced through the meat, cleaving a hole the size of the tube into his tongue. Mark shoved a thick metal rod into the end of the needle, and retracted the tube leaving the rod in its place. Before he released the forceps, Mark screwed a nostril sized ball onto the end of the metal shaft. The rod was long enough that he couldn’t pull his tongue back into his mouth.
“There,” Mark said. “Now let’s get down to the fun stuff.”
Mark walked over to the boxes on the table. He picked up the first box and brought it closer to Eric. He shook the box fiercely and caused whatever was inside to react violently. Mark laughed as he put the box on the floor and brought the second box over and showed it to Eric.
“This box has only one opening. The inside is lined with mirrors, and there is an LED light in there. I’m going to put this box on your head because I want you to be able to see what’s going on.”
He placed the box in Eric’s lap and turned on the light. Mark walked back to the other box and carried it, with its living contents, back to him. He shook the box one more time and chuckled wickedly.
“It’s been a few days since these guys have eaten,” Mark stated as he opened the top of the second box. “If you ask nicely, I won’t introduce you to them.”
Mark flipped the second box over so its contents fell into the mirrored box. Eric tried to beg, but the metal rod through his tongue kept him from speaking.
“No? Okay, here we go!”
Mark flipped the mirrored box over and placed it over Eric’s head before the things inside could jump out. The light inside the box made everything horribly clear. Eric was looking into the beady black eyes of several rats.
The large rodents sat in corners and looked at him with a mix of curiosity and hunger. Eric tried to calm himself, but wasn’t able to as he watched them inch forward bit by bit, their noses sniffing madly at the air. They smelled his blood.
One of them darted forward and bit Eric’s bloody tongue. He screamed and tried to move, but he was secured too tightly to the chair. When he didn’t defend himself, the other rats dove into the fray. Raging pain tore through Eric as the rats began to take bites out of his tongue.
They quickly ate his tongue down to the rod that had forced Eric to keep his mouth open. He pulled what was left of his ravaged organ back inside of his mouth. One of the rats tried to follow it and stuck its head inside of Eric’s mouth to get the rest of its meal. Eric bit down on the rat’s head until he felt a crunch and spit the dead rat out as the remaining rodents started tearing at the soft flesh of his cheeks.
Eric knew Mark wanted to hear his screams and cries. The only thing he could think of was to rob his captor of that joy. He steeled himself against what was going to be an awful death and opened his mouth. One of the rats scurried around the other two and darted into his mouth. He fought against his instincts and let the rat climb inside. The rodent quickly cut off his breathing as it started to eat. Eric’s body demanded air, but his mind and heart demanded a quick death.
Eric’s vision started to grow dark around the edges, a welcome thing as he continued to struggle between wanting air and wanting to end the torment. He bit down on the tail and trapped the rat inside his mouth. The rodent squirmed for a few seconds before finally finding the only exit; downward. Eric’s throat bulged as the rat stuck halfway down his esophagus and started clawing to find a way out.
He couldn’t scream, even if he wanted to. He would die quietly, and that thought filled him with comfort. Death came slowly, but the last noise that came from Eric was muffled and haunting. It wasn’t a death rattle, or a cry, but the laughter of the dead.
~ Zack Kullis
© Copyright 2016 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved.