Creeping Woman

My neighbor killed his girlfriend. I’m sure. For three weeks she was a regular visitor to his house. Then she came over one night and didn’t go home in the morning. She never went home.

For days I watched closely, phone set to record, in case I saw him carrying wrapped up body parts to the trash. I saw nothing, and his trash remained the usual junk any young man living alone throws out—beer cans, pizza boxes, dirty mags. She must have still been in the house, maybe buried under the floorboards like Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart,” or probably stuck in a freezer in the basement. I’d have called the police but I couldn’t prove anything. Besides, I’d been warned about making “false accusations.”

An idea finally hit me, something to shake my neighbor up and make him crack so everyone could see his crazy. I still had mannequins around from my days in retail, and various clothing and wigs. I dressed a mannequin in a blonde wig, stockings, and heels. I didn’t have the short, white silk dress the girlfriend had been wearing on her last visit so I ordered one from Amazon. It arrived two days later and my plan was ready.

My neighbor worked. He kept his house locked up tight, with a security alarm set, but while he was out I snuck across and put the dressed-up mannequin on his porch by the door. Then I waited. I had a directional mike to record with at a distance so I set up a stakeout in my front room where I could look directly at his porch. He came home. Man, it was a surprise. But not the kind I expected.

“Leslie!” he shouted when he saw the mannequin. “Leslie! My God! I thought you’d left me. I thought I’d never see you again.” He took her in his arms, hugged her tight. “I’m so glad you’ve come home to me. You’ll never have to leave again.” He picked her up like a bride and carried her across the threshold into his house.

For the next few days, whenever my neighbor was gone, I’d see “Leslie” standing in the kitchen, or maybe reclining on the couch with a glass of wine nearby, or perhaps leaning hipshot next to the open blinds in the upstairs bedroom as she stared down toward my place. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t think of a thing to do. My neighbor was clearly insane, and I wasn’t feeling too good myself.

Two days later, my doorbell rang. I assumed it was Amazon delivering packages so I threw open the door. Leslie stood there in her white dress, which was uncomfortably stained by now. “What do you want?” I blurted, without thinking.

She answered. She answered! “I wanted to make an omelet for my hunny when he gets home but I only have one egg. Can I borrow a couple from you?”

My heart pounded. Something had to give in this insane situation. I strove to sound normal as I said, “Of course. Come on in the kitchen.”

She followed as I went, her feet clunking on the floor the way real human feet do not. I took a dozen eggs out of the fridge and opened them on the counter. “Take whatever you need.”

She smiled, and I grabbed a butcher knife from the block on the counter and stabbed her through the chest. She didn’t scream as she crumpled to the floor, only wheezed as if air were escaping her hollow form. I taped her up in two black trash bags and threw her out back by the garbage bins.

The next day she was gone, and I was more worried than ever. Because I’d left the knife in her chest when I threw her out. I don’t know where she’s at. And now she’s got a weapon.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

His Darkness is My Light

Born out of wedlock, a child of the streets, the sisters took me in to nurture and bequeath their divine formula. I was a willing novice, grateful for their care. Oh, I believed in the Word, the Truth, committed my life to selflessness, counting my rosaries on stone floors, a paper doll in a cardboard room.

Why can’t I see the light in all this gloom? A key turns in the lock. I hear the creak of floorboards, — a shadow moves suddenly from the wall and joins my own. He materializes whispering my name. Ever so gently he folds me in his cloak as his lips find my neck.

I hear them talking on the street, “Look at her face, see how she changed?  Yes! Her brown eyes, bright with innocence have turned dark as pitch.  And see, where there once were tears are fresh tattoos — emblems of her Master, inked into her flesh. Scandalous, the way she flaunts her body!” Let them talk, let them wonder! I don’t care.

I know the truth now, the truth that the sisters would never condone –his darkness is my light; I fly close beside him. We search out the sidewalk junkies, the castaways, the homeless victims, too proud for Salvation. We offer them comfort, freedom from this mortal life of hunger and pain in exchange for their souls, an offer they seldom refuse.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

Hush Now

The quiet things are the most dangerous, the ones that live between the moments when the night stills and the breath slows. They’re the ones you don’t see coming. If you pause, sometimes you can sense them. When you are alone. When midnight swallows the noise. When your heartbeat and the darkness meld. That shadow out of place, off rhythm, a small shift underneath the world.
Just a shiver on your skin as the clock ticks, ticks, down. But they’re watching you, in the folds beyond the shadows, eyes bright and silent. They are patient and still, hidden by the bustle of days, enfolded into the hush we never hear. A slithering river of the things we fear, shunned and shunted out of sight, out of mind, but never quite forgotten. The cracks in the veneer of civility, the bogeymen, the striga; the looming unknown we pretend isn’t there.
But they exist, skulking below reality.
They are the breath of night winding past midnight in every terror we’ve been told as children, the tales that crawled down our minds, crowded out by responsibility and maturity. They hide in our ignorance and disbelief, while we disregard their presence.
Until one day we turn around and see them.
The quiet monsters.
That’s when it’s too late.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2023 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Worthwhile

It was not an easy path. The old mines were swallowed up by the forest at the edge of town. There were fences to climb, warning signs to ignore, hazards to bypass. The old mineshaft pond was further away than most, abandoned back in the early days of prospecting. No one said why, but Jessica had no need to ask.

The pond itself was small—a black puddle in the craggy forest, but deeper than anyone dared to question. Rusty bars crisscrossed the dark waters to further dissuade the curious. Still, Jessica made her way through the forest trees, over the fences and signs, around the mining hazards, just to sit at those rusty bars. The way was difficult, the waters were dark, and the knife’s edge stung as she slid it across her finger. But watching her blood drops fall to the water below, Jessica knew it would all be worth it to watch Her feed.

The blood beckoned Her like a familiar voice, Her face appearing like a darkly beautiful reflection beneath the water. She came hungry, Her too-sharp teeth eager for the scraps of squirrel, of raccoon, of uncertain roadkill that Jessica might bring. But Her greatest delights were human: the collected digits, limbs, cuts of flesh that Jessica pushed through the bars.

Jessica didn’t know where She had come from, or how She had acquired her dark appetite. But neither did She question how Jessica gathered such offerings. Both came for these moments together, and both left with their secrets intact. It was not much, but it was enough to make the work worthwhile.

∼ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

Good Intentions

I hunkered down near to the rail track. I was just outside town; I’d spent the day there, panhandling without much success, but I didn’t want to spend the night in an alleyway or doorway. Small town folk, especially cops, didn’t like hobos, so I’d walked a mile or so out of town and found myself near a small rail shed, obviously used for storing equipment. I planned to move on the next day. There wasn’t much shelter, but the weather was warm and the sky was cloudless. It wasn’t the worse place I’d slept. I’d lost my job as a meat packer in Chicago in January 1933; I’d drifted west hoping for salvation. Six months and no luck later, I found myself in Colorado, still hungry, still poor.

I was about to drift off to sleep when I saw a figure standing over me. I tensed, it was normal for railroad cops to hassle us drifters, moving us on if we were lucky, beating the crap out of us if we weren’t, but I hadn’t expected to encounter any so far from town. My eyes focused and I realized it was an old guy, maybe seventy.

“Please, I mean you no harm. I live in the house on the other side of the gorge. I know what it’s like to be poor, to be homeless in these hard times. I’d like to offer you a hot meal and a warm bed for the night.”

The rail line ran alongside a steep gorge before turning south into town. I looked across the gorge to the warm yellow lights of a mansion. This guy was obviously loaded, probably ran a charity or something. I didn’t normally accept such generosity, but I was starving. The offer of food was too tempting.

“Okay, thanks.”

“Excellent, now just follow me.”

The old guy headed across a bridge that extended across the gorge. He reached about halfway, stopped, turned and motioned me to follow. I stepped onto the bridge.

“Come on, young man. Keep up!” called my new friend.

I took another step and found myself falling. I felt a crunch, then nothing.

I woke in a hospital bed. A nurse stared down at me.

“You’re awake. Good.”

“What happened?”

“You fell, luckily for you a tree broke your fall. It also broke your ankle, your femur, your arm and four ribs, but if it hadn’t been for those branches, you’d probably be dead. The others are.”

“The others?”

“You aren’t the first to fall. Didn’t you notice the bridge is out?”

“I guess I didn’t.”

“You guys never do, just straight across the bridge without looking, then boom, you walk right over the edge.”

“Isn’t there a barrier, to stop people falling?”

“There was, but the town can’t afford maintenance men anymore, so when it fell into the gorge last winter, it was never replaced. There have been five deaths since then, all drifters.”

“What about the old guy? I saw him reach the middle of the bridge.”

She smiled.

“He’s Henry Lansing. The millionaire owner of the Lansing House, the big mansion you can see on the other side of the gorge. He built the house in 1860, built the bridge over the gorge in 1863. He died in 1892.”

“Huh?”

“By all accounts he was a very decent person. He got upset after the war by the sight of dozens of ex-soldiers wandering through town, moving from railyard to railyard. But instead of getting the police to move them on or arrest them, he’d come over the bridge into town and invite them back to his place for food and a place to sleep for a couple of nights. Converted one of his stables in a barracks.”

“I don’t understand.”

“His ghost still walks, comes over the bridge and invites people back to his place. He’s still trying to do good, all these years after his death. You guys hunker down at the rail shed, he appears, invites you over. The mansion is still lived in and looks welcoming, but there’s one problem. He can walk across the bridge. You can’t.”

“So…”

“Exactly, he doesn’t know the bridge is out. You follow him, watch as he walks over the bridge. It’s dark, you can’t see the planks, but you can see him, so you follow. When he steps off onto the missing part of the bridge he stays where he is. When you do it, you fall.”

“So, it isn’t malicious? Evil?”

“No, but the outcome is the same. After all, they do say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I guess he still sees the bridge as it was, doesn’t realise he’s killing you.”

I wasn’t sure whether or not to believe her.

“One thing always makes me wonder though.”

“What?”

“What he thinks when he arrives on the other side with no one following him. I wonder if he gets upset?”

There was no answer to that.

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

Back Seat Driver

“The road was a ribbon of moonlight…”

Like Noyes’ highwayman, Laurie came “riding—riding—riding” but the road she traveled more closely resembled the steel bars of a prison than a ribbon. She knew she could not go home. There was no escape beyond this road.

Words had been said.

Pieces of the past had been resurrected, memories acting as an unwanted Lazarus now squatting in their shared space.

Her necklace had found its way into the garbage disposal. There had been no explanation—a mystery. That the necklace had been a gift from a former lover lessened the mystery, but it wasn’t the necklace that had led her to take the seat behind the wheel.

It was the words. Words that could not be repossessed. Words that assured she could not go home.

Susan had stayed home after the fight. Susan always did what she was supposed to and right now women were told to stay home.

There was no official curfew, but nighttime was considered the most dangerous. Two women had disappeared, their bodies later found. Smiles had been carved into their throats, screams escaping directly from their voice boxes with no use for the mouths that had been sewn shut.

Two bodies had been found: one short of labelling the murderer a serial killer.

Little more had been disclosed. Secrets were necessary for matching the random confessions to the actual criminal. And secrets, along with swallowed truths, had been necessary for keeping Laurie’s relationship afloat.

Only there was no floating on this road. Only driving and more driving.

Laurie knew that Susan had seen the belongings that had been piled on her backseat. The pile had been there long enough to become partially disclosed beneath wrappers and coffee cups and the jacket that had been too warm to wear this early in the season. Laurie had wanted to instill doubt in her partner. She no longer wanted to be taken for granted. She had also wanted to convince herself that freedom was but a choice, hers for the taking. All she had to do was get in the car and drive.

They were both too mature to be playing these games, but whenever they tried to talk through a problem, the words formed into a monster, a threat.

There were no businesses, no homes, no signs of life on this empty road. Laurie again remembered the poem she had been forced to read in school so many years before:

For the road lay bare in the moonlight;

Blank and bare in the moonlight;

And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.

When had her heart last throbbed for Susan? Their relationship had been incredibly passionate in the beginning. Then it had devolved into the beige existence that Susan seemed to prefer. Laurie needed more. Maybe that was why she was on the empty road despite the cautions. Maybe she wanted to worry Susan into a frenzy that would result in a rekindled passion. Maybe she could go back home after some time had passed and there was space between them and the words. Susan, who was so orderly, would manage to sweep those words away. Susan would make things tidy again and Laurie would swallow truths just as if her mouth had been sewn shut by an insane killer.

But the words they had said were heavy enough to require two people to vanquish them. Susan would not be able to tidy them alone and Laurie wasn’t sure she would ever be ready to face the words. She considered that she might never go home.


That thought did not bring freedom. It brought sadness, desolation. She was growing tired of relationships dying over things unsaid. She would make this right. She would own her part of the fight; she would expose the secrets she had been keeping hidden. She would take the pile of possessions from the back seat and put them in a permanent place in the space she and Susan shared.

Laurie sniffed, plump tears crawling down her cheeks.

“Here,” a man’s voice said from the darkness of the backseat. A hand with bloodied fingernails handed her a tissue.

∼ Elaine Pascale

© Copyright Elaine Pascale. All Rights Reserved.

Death and Taxes

Kristin sat at his desk in the sparsely decorated government office. He was busily reading through the correspondence of the day. The letters were usually the same-old-same. People would query their latest tax demand. They would invent reasons as to why their annual calculation should be lower than what they were billed. He mused over the fact that the initial communication from each person would be cordial, sometimes even fawning in their appreciation of the department taking the time to consider their applications for tax relief. With the exception of a few legitimate claims, most were just pleas to lessen the burden of the annual charge or to extend the payment due date. A second letter from the same member of the public, when reading closely between the lines, would usually show a hint of desperation. The third would stink of desperation (usually after they had received a dreaded ‘red notice’ or final demand, as it was officially called.) If anyone sent a fourth, then that would usually be at the end of the process and, more often than not, would be hostile to the extent of a profanity riddled rant. These would come from people whose cases had been heard and judged upon with a negative outcome. By negative, it meant business foreclosures or asset and property repossessions.

Although not many had the stomach for his career choice, Kristin was happy in his work. If he dared admit the truth to himself, he even found himself rather enjoying the process of punishing those who did not pay their dues. He always paid his taxes in a timely manner, he rationalised, so why shouldn’t everyone else. If unforeseen hardship had fallen upon those businesses who were now struggling to make ends meet, a death of a business partner, a downturn in the market, then they obviously hadn’t put safety measures in place to ensure they didn’t fall into the debt trap. FYI, not his problem.


He lightly perused the last letter in his in-tray and stamped it ‘Claim Rejected’ with a bit more enthusiasm than was called for. He then sat back, looked upon his day’s toil, and stood to leave for the day. After putting on his coat and scarf, he collected the two piles of paperwork from his desk. On his way out he stopped at his secretary’s desk and put each pile in the correct tray. The one for rejected claims, he deposited the large wad of letters. The one for accepted claims, he put in a single letter which he begrudgingly had to admit held merit for tax exemptions. His secretary (he could never remember her name, nor took the time to even try and make the effort to) smiled sweetly at him.

“Good night, Mr Holland. Have a nice weekend,” she said as he turned to leave.

“You too,” he insincerely said in way of reply.


The next morning, he got out of bed at the usual time of 6.30am. Whether it be a workday, a weekend or even Christmas Day for that matter, his morning routine never wavered.


On descending the stairs down to the kitchen, the only thing wavering seemed to be his balance. He felt very unsteady on his feet and felt the need to grasp the banister to get to the hallway below. He walked through to the Kitchen with some difficulty. Each step was akin to traversing a deep sponge.


On looking down at the ground, he unintentionally let out a shriek of horror. He wasn’t walking on the floor; he was walking in it. The soles of his feet were at least an inch lower than the laminate flooring, and they were sinking further with every passing moment. He heard a rattle of keys by his front door and with effort managed to turn to face it. In desperation he called out and tried to make his way to his long-time partner who was returning home after getting the morning papers. He had never got round to making their relationship more official. He had thought about it, as he had to admit the tax breaks that he would receive on getting married made the idea rather appealing.
Now sunk up to his knees within the floor, each step was like wading through a river of treacle. He sank further and further until the ground passed his mouth, making it impossible for him to make any audible sound whatsoever. Then, within a second, there was no sign of Kristin nor any sign that he had been there at any time that morning. The kitchen floor was as hard and unyielding as it ought to be.

Kristin slid silently through the foundations of his house. He then passed through thick wet mud, which oozed into his nose, ears and mouth, running down his throat and making him gag. His face was pushed against the remains of a body which must have been buried on the plot of land his house now stood many years before it was built. The smell of death filled him with nausea and still he continued his downward journey. Despite the physical relationship between himself and the matter around him being broken, he could still see, smell, taste, and worst of all, feel.

As his body was sucked downwards through mud, chalk and eventually stone he could feel his skin being continuously torn from its body. The pain was agonising and unrelenting, as his flesh was abraded by granite and flint. His skin still it seemed to remain attached to his skeleton. Each layer that was sliced or wrenched from his body was immediately replaced by new growth. Although he could not breathe, the unconsciousness of death eluded him. It refused to clutch him to its bosom for that final relief of oblivion. Instead, he had no choice but to endure the relentless torture of having every nerve ending in his body scraped against the innards of Mother Earth.

Each passing hour seemed like a lifetime of pain. And with each hour a different texture and therefore a different kind of pain. Granite felt different as Kimberlite, as did Obsidian, Basalt and Pumice.

The deeper he travelled the colder he became. As well as the searing pain of friction he now also had to bear the mind shattering freezing temperature.

After what seemed like an age he began to feel, at first, warmth, and then searing heat. It started on the soles of his feet, but slowly worked his way up his body. He could see clumps of flesh singe and burn away from his bones. As each slice of meat barbequed into ash, another piece of fresh flesh grew in its place, and so the burning process would begin anew.

He knew that his final destination would be the furnace of the Earth’s core.

Kristin wondered if his fate was the result of him relishing in other people’s misery and his selfish attitude in both his business and personal life.

Or was it in fact true, that all tax collectors deserved to burn in Hell.

∼ Ian Sputnik

© Copyright Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

Reliquary

Tiny bones arranged on a bed of cotton. A single daffodil snuggled in golden glory and lavender sprigs – an offering of love and fidelity. A stone from the garden to keep her beloved grounded; Lucy’s favorite toy sacrificed so she’d never be alone. To say her tears could fill a sea would be an understatement, though today they flowed with intent as each drop was captured in a small heart-shaped vial. Once stoppered, this too was placed with care. A final relic, the band she wore the day she came home. A watershed moment in a life yet unlived. With broken heart, the young one spoke the words only an eight year old’s grief could conjure before the lid was sealed and the small box buried at the base of Great-grans favorite tree.

As they turned to walk back to the house, the ground rumbled, the clouds darkened, and the tree began to shake. Brilliant fingers of light spread below them; enchanted, the child ran back to the tree. She hugged the bark and called out to her beloved Lucy, and Lucy answered in vibrant hues of orange yellow and red. As the phoenix burst through the canopy, the young girl began to scream. Flesh melted from bone. Blood ran free to quench the earth. Flaxen strands crisped in the heat.

∼ Nina D’arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Forest Full of Mirrors

The forest is full of mirrors that reflect the thirteen angels of the land. It is the only safe way to gaze upon them. To see their glory directly would hammer one to silence. It would chain a throat with despair.

The first angel is the angel of moss. She has long hair that drips gray from the limbs of oaks. Her wings are invisible but you can feel them in the breeze as they stroke your sweat to coolness. On hot days I sit beneath her perch, though I dare not sit too long. She might notice.

The angel of leaves wears many colors, changing them with every season. Green is her favorite but sometimes her silks flame red and yellow. At other times they are threadbare, showing the branching of her veins. In the cold, damp winter they are rotted black.

The angel of stone has pitted eyes that glitter like mica. Those orbs watch the little creatures wandering past. They study those who squirm and crawl and hop the forest floor. They decide who to sacrifice and who to spare.

There is another angel who lives in the hives of bees. Striped in black and yellow, she has feelers upon her head. It is said that her coat of pollen is an aphrodisiac. I believe that is true though I have never chanced a taste.

The angel of owls sweeps in silence through the tangled woods. Nothing hears him in flight, but everything flees when he calls. I have heard this piping on eldritch nights—and remain haunted.

The misted angel wears a diaphanous gown. She is cool to the touch. Through the darkest hours, she pants wetly with want. But in the dawn she floats in innocence to heaven. Do not bother to wave. In return she will offer naught.

The river angel’s wings are white in the rapids, deep and green in the pools. Like a child, he chuckles and laughs as he plays. But do not make him angry. He thrashes against his banks then. He turns the world to shambles.

The angel of light glitters like a hoard of gems. She dances with the mirrors, preening for the trees. I suspect she is vain. But why shouldn’t she be? She is more lovely than the sweet face of the moon.

The wings of the ninth angel make a gate. It opens and closes like a bellows. Sometimes things come through. Awful things. Monstrous things. They hide in the light; they stalk the night. Even though they may know your name, do not make them your friend.

The angel of wicked dreams leaves his feathers scattered on the forest floor. Never seek them. Their promise is honeyed; their taste is foul. They often resemble  mushrooms and toadstools. Sometimes they follow you home and beg to come inside and bleed.

Even the worms have an angel. He is small and ugly and his pinions are lost. He crawls on his belly in the soil. He has no throat with which to scream. But listen close and you still may hear him. Pray that you don’t.

I once knew the angel with the dirty wings. We were lovers in a snake’s embrace. She left me a gift when we parted, half of one of her fangs broken off in my heart. The thirteenth angel is the worst. Or the best. If you should look right at him, you’d only see yourself. He is a mirror all his own. He would laugh when you laugh, cry when you cry. But in the end he’d eat your soul with a wink.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Futurity’s Shoelaces

I stare out the window of my cottage, a refuge from a marriage lost. Even the trees are dying. I hear the click of my pen, knowing it must have its way.

“On a sand-scaped shore where life squirmed out from its beginnings, a mother is suspended just above her shadow which grows longer as the sun recedes.  The children rise from her shadow …”

Yes, it is another story, I have it in my head. My novels sold well, once. Now, there is no market for novels, no words, no stories. Libraries are a thing of the past, but writing has become a habit.

 Yesterday the internet began shutting down. Communications are failing around the globe. I never thought it would come to this.

I make a fresh pot of tea. It is the last of the package. The last of all packages. Richard worked for NASA. He expected sons, or even girls to carry on his dream. I failed.

Esher’s multiples on a plane, pleasing, confounding, petrifying, Stravinsky’s complex compositions, Hegel’s theories, Einstein’s gifts merge into a helix of variables, where past and present play tricks; the child called Futurity ties his shoelaces, draws the bow taut.. I add to my former lines,

“The children know forever. The children never tell, they owe no explanations. Listen, say the children, there’s music everywhere.”

I lay down my pen. Before me is a blank screen. It is past time for the broadcast, the one that will tell us what we need to do.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.