Tag Archive | Pen of the Damned

Serpentine Willow

Rebecca’s toes curled in her boots when her feet touched the unholy earth. Ancient trees populated the forest ahead, pale fog twisting between their trunks with serpentine grace. Gnarled limbs formed an impenetrable canopy above, coloring all with a nocturnal hue. Tendrils of mist slithered around her legs, and her knees ached to buckle, but she forced herself on; she knew fear would bring demise.

She thought of Oliver. His shining face cast iron rods into her bones. It kept her from succumbing to the black moss which grabbed at her feet. His smile, the way he always wanted his sandwiches without the crust, his unending questions—memories that powered her will.

Movement in the brush clenched her jaw. But her eyes never averted the path; they stared forward, glazed with determination, intent only on reaching the end. After that it wouldn’t matter.

A clearing opened ahead. Rebecca stopped and stood tall.

A breath of evil wind sung the tune of damned souls; agonized wails filled the air. Her ears begged silence, pained by the despair in each note. But those countless voices didn’t cause her to stray. Ollie meant everything. She’d sacrifice all for him to live again.

“You’ve braved the darkness.” The words came from all directions, faint whispers carried by a quiet breeze. “But you aren’t without fear. How much can you endure?”

Visions of unspeakable torment invaded her mind—mutilated bodies writhing in ebon mud, eyes removed, mouths contorted by ineffable suffering; they sang together like Hell’s choir. She saw their lifeforce seep into the ground, feeding the roots of the forest as they sprouted and entwined themselves within the bare husks left behind. Worms crawled through the ground on which they decomposed; they fed in the tainted soil.

“You’re quite strong. Few have remained on their feet up to this point.”

A slight pride swelled in her gut but she immediately subdued it. She didn’t want them to see. But the quiver in her bowels alluded that it was already too late.

Malicious laughter echoed—the amusement of a thousand vicious creatures, their attention focused on her vulnerable position. Her shoulders twitched, tried to fold inward.

“You really are brave,” the voice said. “We could tear you apart. And keep you alive to endure it. This frightens you. But I see something which frightens you more. What do you desire?”

She wondered if it was a rhetorical question. They just want me to say it, she thought. “My son… I want Ollie back.”

Another laugh came from the woods. But unlike before, it was from a singular entity—a lone bellow among the din of ridicule previously voiced. She balled her fists with moistened palms.

“Don’t be angry. I can offer what you seek. But you must offer something in return.”

An enormous albino worm slithered toward her from the thick layer of mist. It raised its head and weaved in a hypnotic motion. Its repulsive, blank surface was nothing more than pulsating flesh with no discernable features. A suffocating odor wafted from the creature. Its very sight defiled her thoughts. Rebecca stared back at the ghastly being, unaware what resided inside. Its unearthly form negated reason; some things that shouldn’t exist do.

“What do you want?” she asked.

Purple veins bulged from the white worm’s glossy flesh. They pulsed in a sickening rhythm. Countless red eyes flickered in the darkness behind it, like demon stars in a vast and wicked universe.

A boy’s head burst through the soil next to the worm, followed by its limp corpse.

“Oliver!”

Vines lifted her son’s body from the ground. Her eyes bled salty grief.

“You want him to live?”

“Yes.”

“Then he will.”

Her Ollie’s pallid face lightened, eyes twitched. The vines withdrew and he stood on his own, staring with a disquiet gaze.

“He’s alive! Oliver, you’re here!”

The boy stood silent.

The veins on the worm’s body pulsated with vigor. “Now, come to me.”

She stepped forward, tremors shaking every muscle. Hot sweat leaked from her skin, soaked her clothes. She clenched her hands and breathed deep.

The holders of the crimson eyes came out from the shadows, sharp toothed grins spreading below. Remnants of humanity were carved into their knotty faces, eroded by the nefarious mist. Thin bodies crowded around her, skin like the bark of trees. Their clawed hands embraced her, took her into their communion of evil. She knew not what they were, only that she’d wither and become one of them.

As they carried her away, she watched Oliver. And although his stare held a ghostly atmosphere, he was alive.

~ 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.

The Box

The buzzing invades your brain. Why is the alarm clock going off? You begin to open your eyes and realize it’s not the alarm, but the doorbell. Who the hell is at my door at— rolling over, the clock finishes your thought by flashing 3:10 a.m.

You slide out of bed. As your feet touch the floor, the buzzing stops. You get up anyway and walk through the empty house to the front door to see if someone is there. There’s no one on the porch when you look through the peephole. You unlock the door, open it. On the ground in front of you is a small cardboard box. Stepping over it, you look around the front yard and glance up and down the street. Everything is quiet. You scoop the package up and walk into the house, kicking the door shut behind you.

Something solid moves inside the box as you walk to the couch and set it on the coffee table. It’s a perfect square about a foot tall, and meticulously taped. You pick it up again. Whatever is inside shifts slightly, like there’s not quite enough packing material holding it in place. Turning the box over in your hands, you see no markings of any kind.

You set the box down not sure which side is up.

Well, the box will be there in the morning.

Getting up from the couch, you head to your bedroom for a few more hours of sleep. But it doesn’t come. Lying there with your eyes closed, the image of the box fills your thoughts. Your eyes open, and once again, you turn to the clock.

3:50 a.m.

This is ridiculous. It’s a box. And it’s probably not even meant for me.

At this point there’s no falling asleep, so you get out of bed and return to the couch. You slide forward to the edge of the seat and lean over the box; your fingers reach for the tape. Using your nail, you pry up a tiny corner and pull it back. The tape comes off without effort and the two flaps open slightly.

You lift the box intent on opening it further to look inside, but instead, stop, and set it back down on the table. A moment’s hesitation, then you reach for the box again. Your left hand holds it as you cautiously reach in with your right. Your fingers grip the edges of something solid. There’s no packing material, and whatever it is, is almost the exact size of the box. The cardboard bulges and the back of your fingers scrape the inside of the box as you pull the contents free.

It’s a black leather-bound book and it feels light in your hands. Upon closer inspection, you realize it’s more than a book. There’s a latch, not holding the book itself closed, but a box held within it. The book consists of a few pages, then the box. Your eyes move back to the cover where you see your name etched in gold.

As your finger traces the letters, the hairs on your arm stand up. Opening the book to the first page you begin to read.

Your time on Earth is about to end; there is nothing you can do to stop it.
At 4:10 a.m. you will perish. This is the only definite you have left in the last few minutes of life.

You instinctively look up at the clock.

3:56 a.m.

Then back to the book.

You have two choices. You can choose not to open the box. If you so choose, you will be trapped for eternity in an abyss, unable to escape, in which your body will slowly waste away until you no longer have the strength to move. Your mind, however, will remain intact; you will experience emptiness forever.

Turning the page, your hands tremble, and you continue on.

Your second choice is to open the box. In it you will find your afterlife. If you were a good person, then it will be everything you could ever want. If you were not a good person, then it will be filled with every fear you ever had.
The choice is yours, as was the life you led.

You turn the last page to find the box, with your name engraved on it. You run your fingers around the edge, stopping at the clasp that holds it shut. You look around the room, looking for something or someone—anything—to appear and announce that this is all a joke. A really fucked-up joke. Your eyes move to the clock.

4:00 a.m.

Physically, you feel fine, but on edge.

This isn’t real. There’s no way this could be real, but…

You lean back on the couch, the book-box in your lap. Closing your eyes, you see flashes of your life’s moments and fragments of memories. Some are good, some are bad; some last a split second, others linger.

The clarity of these memories fade as you drill down deeper into your mind. There are no images here, but colors; soft hues that entwine with each other. When you focus on certain colors, your body feels lighter, while other colors make you feel heavier. They all weave in and out amongst each other, mixing and blending, then splitting away, then coming together once again.

You open your eyes as you start to quiver. The book-box shakes in your hands. You look up at the clock.

4:08 a.m.

You feel like you’re moving in slow motion. Images begin to flood your mind, overload your brain. You cry out in pain.

4:09 a.m.

Now your whole body is trembling. Your fingers go for the latch, but they slip off, your life crashing down around you.

You try again, this time your fingers grasp the latch. The box bursts open, releasing a brilliant flash of searing light as you take your last breath.

~ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright 2017 Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

Cleaning House

The blinds were shut, and that meant it was Thursday.

It was the only day of the week when Brent would remove himself from the floor. He’d lock his door, turn off the fluorescent lights, and play seventies rock; usually Zeppelin or Sabbath. This was his office time, the time he dedicated to monotonous managerial duties that ate away at him, bit by bit, and Brent would eventually get to them before he went home. But he’d first lean back in his chair, close his eyes, and spend hours daydreaming. He never cast lustful strings of fantasies nor did he muse over troves of impossible wealth. What Brent wanted was simple, and at the very least, fair.

In his haze was Jimmy Nelson, tall and amiable, complimenting the residents of his sober living home while he passed their medication, and he’d notice Selma Ashton, who finally forced a smile, playing checkers or interacting with the residents with anything but her nasty, resentful glare. Even Marco pitched in. Instead of sneaking off to the bathroom to rail stimulants, Marco was cooking dinner and preaching the steps of sobriety like the recovering addict he claimed to be.

“Not like it used to be. I remember when it was okay to send someone home for loafing around more than a few minutes. Shit, I can’t even have a stern conversation to the lazy pricks without H.R.’s approval, you know that?”

He’d tell himself this once a week, and when his morale cowered like a tail-tucked beast, Brent would fold and vent to his subordinates.

“Sorry you’re stressed, Brent. Anything else you need?”

Crystal would try her best not to shift in the dilapidated office chair that occupied the corner of Brent’s cluttered office; close to squalor, distant from orderly. She was promoted months back under the guise of a confident go-getter at Corner Stone Sober Community. “I’ll get the job down, trust me Brent,” she claimed.

Since then, Crystal’s proven to be as useless as the rest, and this morning, he caught her stealing from the petty cash. He tried to fire her on the spot, and it appeared a small victory, but a phone call from human resources squashed his morale like a kid crunching a beetle underfoot, and he knew just what to do.

“Well if we have to investigate the situation, let me at least put her to work and demote. Okay, good. Tell her dress to scrub,” he stated to the H.R. director over the phone. She scoffed and allowed Brent to explain. “She’ll do some deep-cleaning and I’ll cover the floor, okay? I can at least do that, right? Okay, great, thank you. What’s that? No, I haven’t seen her cellphone.”

He opened the blinds and cracked the door, waiting for her while watching his oblivious staff with a seething eye. The three of them sat on the couch, lost into an electronic paradise emitting from their phones.

Someone shooting-up right in front of them, and they’d never know.

A pronounced thud grew slowly. It was Crystal’s nervous footfalls as she approached, and Brent wasn’t surprised or shocked to see that no one cared to look and see who or what it was.

“Come in, close the door,” he said. “Thanks for coming back and I am glad H.R. is going to sort this out with us.”

Crystal stood with her back between a scratched filing cabinet and the door. Her face was pale and her stomach quivered when her chest heaved. Brent could smell the trepidation oozing from her pores like rotted fruit-bits squeezed from a rank sponge.

“I can explain everything Brent—I want to make this right, I do,” she stammered.

He kept his eyes on the box of cleaning supplies at his feet. “Sorry, I just had to make sure everything we need is here. Now like I said, we will get to the bottom of it, but right now we have bigger tasks at hand. I brought on some Agency Staffers for the day to do the AA and NA runs later this afternoon, and I want you to take these,” he pushed the box across the floor to her feet, “and everyone else sitting out there to clean room twelve. We have a new admission coming tomorrow and I want to start getting ready.”

Crystal squatted and hoisted the box up, resting it on her stomach as she nudged the door open with her thick hips, and Brent leaned forward.

“Hey, all of you: get that room clean and take off for the day; my treat, you deserve it,” he yelled behind her and chuckled when they hopped from the couch, finally motivated. “And Crystal, please make sure you use the stuff in the spray bottles first. It’s a mix I made for the new admission. She has allergies and we can only use a thick-alcohol solution; no fragrances type deal.”

“Yes sir,” she huffed.

Brent waited until the creaks of the backstairs quieted to a dull hum before he opened the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. In the darkness, two white jugs of industrial-strength bleach waited alongside a plastic bag containing metal hardware and a touch-screen phone that he slid into his shirt pocket. Brent then left his office, a hitch in his step as he followed.

“Why so happy, boss?” asked a thick European accent as Brent sauntered by.

“It’s going to be a great day, Mr. Rimski, a great day indeed.”

“If you say so, boss.”

He heard them, his staff. How he soured to refer to them as such. It was an echo of insufferable bickering and boisterous disdain from atop the stairwell.

“Man, I hate this job,” Marco bleated. “I can’t wait to get out of here ya know? And that lazy douche put something like vinegar in this… it reeks.”

“Aren’t you going to do anything more than dick around on your phone, Jimmy?” Selma scorned.

“You’re not my boss, Selma, so shut the hell up.”

Brent appreciated Jimmy’s uncontrollable inflection today, and the fact that they left the mop buckets outside the hall. He unscrewed the caps, and began to pour the bleach in.

“Will you guys just stop it already?” Crystal barked. “Let’s get this done so we can get out of here.”

Isopropyl alcohol and vinegar streamed from room twelve as he pushed the door open. The scent was concentrated, enough to make a buffalo sway, and he knew to be quick. He aimed for the bucket and flung bleach in an awful arch, showering his workers. He kicked the empty bottles inside, dropped the bucket, and pulled the door shut. He made sure to install brackets on the lock this morning. Brent had even pondered at painting them brown, but he knew deep down, it was irrelevant. The thick iron slipped through the plate and the iron bar clicked.

Can’t forget to give this back, he thought to himself as he loaded the playlist on Crystal’s phone. He set it outside the door of room twelve, and sifted beyond the toxin and lyrics to the wet coughs and gasping moans within.

Seasons don’t fear the reaper. Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain, we can be like they are,”

Mr. Rimski hollered from below, “Is that Blue Oyster Cult?”

Brent returned, “Yeah, it is. A little rock-n-roll to help them clean.”

“Sounds good, boss.”

He stuffed the plastic bag down his pocket and grasped the railing, bracing himself down the stairs. Mr. Rimski complained of a foul odor and Brent advised that he may want to close his door or open a window, probably both.

“Actually, how about you and I get some fresh air? Maybe go out for lunch, how does that sound?”

“Really? Let me find my wallet.”

“It’s on me, least I can do.”

Brent daydreamed one last time while they walked to his car. Bodies crumbled, asphyxiating on the floor of room twelve. Lungs drowned by fluids with suffocating viscosity, cruel like sharp molasses. Eyes simmered, rendered to goop. Kidneys shut down for good, brain cells snuffed-out, and nerve fibers disintegrated like petrified bones on a scorched dessert. Skin blistered, stained in deep granite, and all life, absent. He could explain the lock easy enough; cast blame on a temp staff who thought the door needed to be closed while exploiting the extinction of commonsense in today’s workforce, and maybe, he’d even be able to shed a tear to feign sincerity.

He smiled, and cherished the fact that his staff suffered much in room twelve.

“This is real treat, boss. Usually the help doesn’t give us much mind. But not you, boss.”

“Well, I think things are going to change quite a bit around here. Hey, how does barbecue sound? I’m famished.”

~ John Potts Jr

© Copyright 2017 John Potts Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Devil Is In The Details

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…”

“Yes, Daddy?”

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.

wolf_rule_full_sat

Holomorphs

Eager with excitement, I downloaded the new app. It asked to connect with my friends and followers on social media, and I accepted. I filled out the detailed profile, answered a questionnaire that recorded my voice, and linked my Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Within minutes of completing my profile, my first holomorph friend appeared! I stood speechless in my living room as light beamed from the ceiling. Swirling particles formed into my best friend, Dane, from Seattle. Not the real him, but a vivid, life-sized hologram. He was partially transparent, like a Technicolor ghost, but somehow the illusion felt real.

“Oh, my God, this is incredible!” I said.

“I know, right? Like the Starship Enterprise beamed me here.”

We half-embraced, bro-style. There was actually a supple texture to his three-dimensional form, like hugging someone made of thin rubber. Dane was shorter than expected. I’d never actually seen him in person. We’d met on Facebook and became instant friends in a group that discussed sci-fi horror movies. For years, I’d only known Dane through typed-word conversations on a screen, along with his stagnant profile photo—a plump face with a beard.

“The hologram you looks different from your photo,” I said.

“I kinda lied about my weight on my profile,” he chuckled. “I like the holo-me better.”

I didn’t care. I had a 3D friend to cure my loneliness. Dane hung out with me all weekend. We watched a marathon of Netflix horror movies, played video games, and had the best time getting to know each other. Sometimes Dane’s responses were off. It didn’t take long to realize I wasn’t talking to a live version of him, but a software recreation based on his profile. Eventually, we ran out of things to talk about. So I downloaded three more holomorph friends—Raquel from Chicago, Jon from Tallahassee, and Niles, transported all the way from London.

Our eclectic group played poker at the dinner table and chatted about our favorite books, music, and politics. Raquel and Jon debated over whether Democrats or Republicans should be running the country. They were such extreme opposites that trying to convince one another to switch viewpoints was futile. Pretty soon the poker chips started flying. Niles ducked to stay out of the line of fire. “This is better than watching Hulu!” he said and we all busted up laughing.

We played cards for hours. I was the only one eating and drinking, since my holomorph friends didn’t require food or drinks. Cheap entertainment.

My first week using the new social media was a whirlwind of crazy fun. I downloaded friends from all over the world. I threw holomorph parties. Holograms of people filled my den, kitchen, and backyard.

I’ll never be lonely again, I’d thought.

Some of the parties got rowdy. A few friends started fights and trashed the place, so I unfriended them. The friends I wanted to keep, like Dane, Raquel, Jon, and Niles, I couldn’t figure out how to get them to leave without unfriending them. The app’s settings seemed to be missing a ‘go home’ button, so I let my favorite friends stay and hang out. I couldn’t bear the alternative of living in an empty house again.

One evening my friends became glitchy—their bodies flickered and their voices cut in and out.

I contacted the app’s tech support and a holographic man in a blue repairman’s jumpsuit and ball cap appeared in my living room. “Hi, I’m Felix the Fixer. What seems to be the problem, Mr. Bradley?”

“My holomorph friends aren’t projecting fully.”

“That’s due to a technical issue with our satellite. We’re fixing the problem.” Felix winked. “Until then, enjoy some of our premium packages for free.” He gave me the codes and disappeared.

On my iPad, I scanned through all the app’s newest features. Hundreds of choices boggled my mind. I could hang out with holomorphs of famous celebrities, dead historical figures, or adopt a holodog or holocat. I could project scenes from my favorite movies right into my home. There seemed no end to the pleasurable escapes I could experience.

Curious, I ordered from the app’s most popular feature—holoporn! My bedroom filled with a harem of horny holowomen. It took a while, but eventually I grew tired of shallow sex. I felt ready to settle down with a holomorph girlfriend.

I swiped through countless screens of profiles until I found my ideal match. When I downloaded Simone, it was love at first sight. Long auburn hair, cute face, a girl-next-door personality, she matched every trait that turned me on. We had loads in common too. The only downside was she looked like she’d been molded into glowing Jell-O, but the sex was good.

The first three weeks with Simone were heavenly. She made me feel whole again. After a month, I reached the limit of her varied responses and she began to sound repetitive. I longed to touch and hold and have meaningful conversations with the real Simone. Her profile said she lived in Boston. I messaged her on Facebook and asked if she’d like to visit me in Dallas. A strange thing, though. The real Simone had no idea who I was. I told her we met on HoloMatch and I was her holomorph boyfriend. She wrote back that she already had a boyfriend. A real one. She threatened to call the police if I ever bothered her again.

I continued to date the holoSimone until I came home from work one day and found her in bed with Dane. Furious, I ran to my iPad and unfriended them both. Their holograms vaporized.

Raquel and Jon yelled at me for sending their friends away, so I obliterated them too. Niles and my other holofriends kept their distance from me. I began to resent them all. None of them had anything new to say. They talked about the weather, TV shows, current events, but it was all surface stuff. When I probed deeper, I kept hitting the limits of their programming. I longed to connect on a soul-to-soul level. I felt alone in a house full of ghosts.

When each holomorph became boring or got on my nerves, I ended the friendship with a push of a button. I had millions more friends I could download. I went through dozens of them. I learned that not all friends match their profiles. Their photos looked friendly, but their holograms projected their true natures. At my birthday party, one weirdo said he saw everything as a video game. Then he went bat-shit and started stabbing my other friends with a kitchen knife. I grabbed my tablet and vaporized him just before he stabbed me.

While my friends moved through the house around me, their names and faces blurring together, I sat on the couch and sifted through the app’s unlimited features on my TV. In bed, I swiped through profile after profile, seeking a woman to be my soul mate. At work, I mostly stared at my computer screen. Around me, in a maze of lonely cubicles, a mix of real people and holoworkers interfaced with their computers and tablets. Wherever I went out in public, I kept my eyes glued to my cell phone. I kept delving deeper and deeper into the app, searching for happiness.

Today I noticed my body turning transparent. My bathroom mirror reflected a ghostly version of myself that flickered.

I summoned Felix again. “What’s happening to me?”

“You’re very popular, Mr. Bradley,” Felix said with a grin. “You’ve had multiple friends download your holomorph into their homes. On HoloMatch, you are currently boyfriend to over twelve hundred women. That’s a lot of downloads, my friend. The drawback is you’re beginning to atomize.”

My body flickered faster. “What do you mean . . . atomize?”

“After awhile the holomorph versions of you begin to disintegrate your body into thousands, and eventually millions, of atoms that live in co-existing realities. It’s a limitation when combining our software with human biology.”

“Why didn’t you warn me before I downloaded the app?” I yelled.

“It’s all there in the fine print of our contract. Once you agreed to Holomorph Corp’s terms, you gave them the right to download your atoms to their millions of subscribers.”

My skin began to pixilate and lose cohesion. Tiny holes speckled my arms. I grabbed his shoulders. “You have to fix me.”

“I’m afraid atomization is a permanent glitch for lower grade subscribers.”

My hands disintegrated. My pixilated flesh and bones flew up toward the ceiling like a swarm of insects. Holding up the stumps of my eroding arms, I howled and began to cry.

Felix tapped his iPad. “Not to worry, Mr. Bradley. We still have time to save you. Now that you’ve surpassed five thousand friends, you’re eligible to upgrade to our Holosphere.”

“Wha-what’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s our most exciting new feature. As the Holomorphs founder predicted, people no longer need the physical world. So our engineers developed the next evolution in reality.” He pushed a button on his tablet and a neon red door opened in the center of my living room.

“Follow me. I’ll take you to a place where you’ll always be happy and have plenty of friends.”

Desperate to feel whole again, I followed Felix through the holodoor.

~ Brian Moreland

© Copyright 2017 Brian Moreland. All Rights Reserved

Double Feature

The moment he stepped through the door, Diana’s guts went sub-zero. His hair was matted down and wet and he smelled like pencil lead laced with a badly wiped ass.

Today he wore his stupidest grin, the one where he looked mentally challenged (though Diana knew full well he wasn’t), along with dirty jeans that could probably stand up on their own and a Texas Chainsaw Massacre T-shirt.

“Big night tonight,” he said, breathing heavily. Something was wrong with his lungs. He always sounded as if he’d run a mile, even if he’d just been sitting around for hours staring at the TV. She kept hoping it was something fatal, yet here he still was, labored breath expelling tuna and gingivitis in her face.

Diana eyed him coolly.

He lifted a plastic yellow shopping bag.

“It’s double feature night,” he said, chest puffing up.

God, he loved double feature nights.

“I even got popcorn and Mild Duds.”

Diana stared hard into his stupid, anxious face, wishing she could be like one of those people in that movie he loved. She thought it was called Scanners. The one where they could blow your fucking head up with just a thought. Now that was a super power she’d give both legs for. She might even thrown in one of her arms just to know she could splatter his greasy, bowling ball head all over the wall.

His shoulders sagged, the bag dropping onto the coffee table that had more rings than twenty Saturns.

“Don’t you even want to know what they are?”

Diana took a deep breath. “Not particularly.”

“Come on, take a guess.”

“Is it Howard the Cum Stain Kills Himself?”

The smile faltered and his right hand balled into a fist. He hated when she said his name. That she called him a cum stain, not so much. She guessed he was pretty comfortable with his pathetic station in life.

He rushed her, ripping off her panties. She tried to squirm away when he stuck his rough finger inside her, but the duct tape held her down like Satan’s flypaper.

First, he brought his finger close to his eyes, and then he sniffed it, finally popping it in his mouth.

“No, you’re not getting a visit from Aunt Flow,” he said. “So why are you so mean today?”

“Go to hell…Howard.”

Spinning on his heels, he walked to the steel plated door and smashed it with his fists, the new dents pounding over the old. Grunting with each punch, he wore himself out after a spell, collapsing on the ratty couch.

“Milk Duds are your favorite,” he said, huffing and puffing, his face red as a monkey’s ass.

“My favorite is not being tied to this chair and being forced to watch sick movies with you.”

He reached into the bag, took out the box of Milk Duds and tossed them on her lap. His knuckles were bloody and swollen.

“I can’t help that we were made for each other,” he said, looking down at the floor. “I…I found you for a reason.”

Found was stretching things. It was more like stalked and kidnapped. Diana was in no mood to resurrect that argument.

“And since you grew up in the ’80s, I ordered these movies just for you. They came in the mail today.”

Recovering from his anger, Howard took the movies out to show her. They were battered VHS copies of Pieces and The Funhouse.

Diana shivered.

Not Pieces. No, of all the goddamn movies.

“I even got a kind of waterbed,” he said, running outside like a kid heading under the Christmas tree.

He came back with a red kiddie pool, cute animals shapes plastered all over it.

“I’ll just fill it with some water and throw some plastic bags over it. I know it’s not a real waterbed, but it’ll do just fine.”

Diana was too sick, too tired to speak.

Pieces was the first movie Howard had made her watch. She didn’t know how truly sick his needs were then. They’d only gotten worse over the year she’d been held captive.

He loved the scene with the waterbed.

Diana stared at the pool, barely registering Howard bringing in jugs of water. He’d donned a black trench coat, leather gloves and a fedora.

Howard didn’t just like to watch horror movies.

No, for Howard, they weren’t complete unless he could act out his favorite parts.

Act them out on her.

She’d given up willing herself to die. Her body was in perpetual pain thanks to Howard’s ministrations. All she was to him was a meat puppet, a means to exorcising the twisted compulsions that overtook him when he watched horror movies.

We were made for each other.

If that were true, Diana wanted to meet the bastard that had made her and show him or her a thing or two she learned from Howard and his movies.

He popped the movie into the VCR, the auto tracker working hard against the static image. The tape was in real bad shape. She hoped it was too bad for Howard to see. If he couldn’t see it, he couldn’t replicate it.

“I paid thirty dollars for this piece of shit,” he said, more to himself. The music warbled and the horrible dialogue was hard to make out. Howard got on his knees before the TV and fiddled with the tracking buttons. Unfortunately, he managed to get things better.

“There,” he said, proud of himself. “Milk Dud?”

When she didn’t reply, he popped one in his mouth, along with a heaping handful of popcorn. He chewed with his mouth open, dripping chocolate and popcorn shards on his lap and floor.

“Did you see this in the theater when it came out?” he asked, eyes never leaving the screen. He practically bounced in his chair as the gory movie played on.

She knew what was coming. The cells in her body cried out, a billion tears of anguish.

And there was nothing she could do about it.

The waterbed scene. It was coming.

Her heart raced. It was so hard to swallow. Her vision wavered.

“Almost time,” Howard said.

He grabbed her roughly, cutting the duct tape from around her wrists and ankles. It would be the perfect moment to escape or hit him with something heavy, but her feet and hands were completely numb. He had to hold her up before securing her face down onto the makeshift waterbed.

“You don’t have to do this,” she whispered, mad at herself for letting him see fear.

He patted the back of her head. “You know I do.”

She watched in horror as the woman on the screen was chased by a man wielding a butcher knife. He threw her onto a waterbed and began stabbing. Howard straddled her. She could smell the funk coming off him, hear his wheezing breaths.

The knife felt hot as a poker as it slid into her back.

Diana snapped her jaw shut, refusing to show pain. The scream boiled in her throat.

She braced herself, because she knew what was about to happen.

Howard silently grabbed her hair and jammed the knife in the back of her skull. Diana’s world went white, her ears buzzing as if filled with a thousand bees.

The sharp blade pushed through her mouth, bisecting her tongue, scraping her teeth as it exited her mouth.

Howard grunted and groaned, his hardness grinding against her back. Her blood spilled into the crimson pool. Her mouth was jammed wide open as she choked on the blade.

Die, you bitch, die!

Her body was just like Howard the cum stain. It never listened to her.

“Oh, sorry,” Howard said.

She heard as much as felt the knife slide out of her mouth, squishing as it exited her skull.

Her body went limp, her skewered brain seeking retreat.

So much blood.

The pain was excruciating.

Still, she hadn’t made a sound.

She’d tell him to fuck himself if her mouth hadn’t been split in half. The hinges of her jaw had splintered. She saw chips of her teeth in the pool’s soupy mess.

Diana’s view shifted as Harold lifted her back into the chair and taped her back down.

“You’ll like The Funhouse,” he said, balling the bloody trench coat. “The monster looks really cool. You ever go to a funhouse? I did, once, with my friend Kal. It was kind of corny.”

He blathered on and on until Pieces ended. Twenty minutes into The Funhouse, he fell asleep, snoring loud enough to rattle her bones.

Diana wept only when she knew he couldn’t see her tears.

She could already feel her tongue stitching itself back together. Her head throbbed, tickling as bone started to grow back.

By the morning, she’d be as good as new, only the pain never quite went away. It was just another layer of torment.

Howard would leave her alone for a week. This ‘kill’ always wore him out.

But he’d be back. Maybe with a knife. Or a chainsaw. Or a branding iron. Or just plain gas and fire.

Whatever death scene thrilled him the most, he’d bring it to her.

Diana would suffer it, and be there for the next time.

Because they were made for each other.

~ Hunter Shea

© Copyright 2017 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 21

Three
Hunter Shea

An unfettered caress. A sigh against your breast. I burn inside when I’m in your presence, the flame of my lust pressed against your cold indifference. Does it bother you when I touch you there? Oh no, you always liked that. Ah, but the sweet, supple beauty entangled in your arms, that is where our joined path diverged.

I still hear your pained refusals, wild jealousy and bleating about love lost. You never understood my love had grown twofold. If only you had said yes, you would feel my hardness. Now who is harder? Are you quivering in your encasement?


Wrath
Brian Moreland

For thousands of years, the lovers had stood frozen in their last embrace. A resting post for countless birds. An enigma to Greeks and tourists who passed through Athens’s ruins. When the Gorgon’s curse finally lifted, the statues’ stone flesh cracked and crumbled, freeing the punished immortals. Euryale and Belen hugged tighter and kissed. The longing in their hearts burned hotter, turned to fury. Euryale’s head erupted into a mane of writhing snakes. Belen’s eyes filled with fire. Seeking vengeance, the Gorgon and demon left the ruins in search of Euryale’s sister, Stheno. The bitch would suffer for cursing them.


Marble
Joseph A. Pinto

Lover yearns, yet the passion remains frozen. Lover craves, yet the need goes unfulfilled. Blind for so long, lover ignores the fragments of self left abandoned atop the floor. It serves lover right.

Now lover searches for truth where all flows smooth and cold. And the eyes that hold lover gaze like still, distant moons. How slick the irony under lover’s needy fingers. For all lover has sought now captured by the deft hand of another. An ache left to harden as lover grows old with time. A masterpiece by love’s standard, yet for all appearances left to stand unwhole.


A Work of Endearment
Lee A. Forman

Her beauty embellishes all my eyes can witness; the world glimmers even in the dark of a moonless night. With a voice that put songbirds to shame, she’d captivated me with only words. I could never let her go. Not in life—or death. As I stare into her eyes, layer after layer crafts the perfection we’ll share once we depart. A tear rolls down her cheek and rests where the white plaster has already dried. Soon the artist I hired will finish his work, encasing us in eternity. We’ll be cast together, molded into forever, never to be apart.


A Toast to Finality
John Potts Jr.

“My sweet,” Elizabeth gazed to Lawrence, swooning with eyes pitted in aged decay. “This starry night witnessed our enemies anguish; to bathe in those screams fluttered my undead heart like our love’s first kiss so long, long ago. Blood rained from our horde, soaking earth with entrails so crimson that the Sun itself will only find jealousy on the coming morn. And the fires! We danced as one, consuming with restless hunger that rose to the hymn of our retribution.”

Life embraced death and chalice drained to the backdrop of scorched lands, warming from afar the finality of reaped vindication.


Eternal
A.F. Stewart

Without end, I gaze upon the face of my death. That perfect face of alabaster marble. How did she taint the spell? How did she curse me? It should have worked, I should have won my immortality. She tricked me. Locked us forever in this embrace of stone.

I tried to warn him. Tried to take back what he stole. The urn was never to be opened, never to leave the temple. Why did he betray me? Why? He destroyed everything. Now I must spend eternity staring at the man who condemned our world to the Fate of Living Stone.


Human
Jon Olson

What is this thing? This monstrosity latching onto my arm and shoulder. It is so vile, wretched, and pathetic. Eyes embedded in a completely formed face stare at me; full of life and emotion. The warm flesh against my skin makes me shudder. Whoever would have expected to come across such a creature? Surely not me or my forebears. Although, I recall something mentioned by the Old Ones. Once there was a creation… no, an abomination. Left to their own free will, they destroyed themselves. This thing gazing at me cannot be one of them. It cannot be a human…


Fire Stone
Nina D’Arcangela

In your eyes, I watch a universe ignite, I see the molten glow; I feel its blaze encompass all. I watch the birth of a new awareness, the awakening of cruel indulgence; one in which brutality, suffering, and eventual indifference will serve far better than kind gentility. Your veneer smooth, your tone unblemished; your surface nearly opalescent, yet I know the fierceness that rages below rends innumerable fractures that will reveal fissures of choice not circumstance. A tragedy that will split the world in two.

Guttering now, the light surrenders. I stare into a vast emptiness as your eyes cool.


Immortal Love
Mark Steinwachs

They wanted to be together, their love for the ages. Athanasios promised he could help. By the time the couple realized what was going on, it was too late. The elixir to help them relax rendered their limbs useless, allowing the artist to move them into position. “Gaze upon each other, this pose is for eternity,” Athanasios said as he painted them with his unique blend of alabaster, making sure to cover every inch of them.

***

“This statue is called Immortal Love, by master Greek sculptor Athanasios,” the museum guide said. “He is well known for his incredibly life-like carvings.”


Pact
Veronica Magenta Nero

She placed the intricate glass bottle in my hands, her cool fingers curling over my own. Her head tipped back, offering a mouth to kiss, seducing me into complacency. A kiss to seal the deal. That’s when I poured it in. The elixir slipped down her pearly throat, poisoning her with her own magic.

We had made a pact but I backed out. I never wanted to be like her – perfect in every visible way, of timeless beauty, immortal. I want to age and die. Each hard earned wrinkle building in number and depth, until my body resembles a nest.


A Whole New Meaning
Christopher A. Liccardi

The rule was simple; unbreakable. These two, the latest two, had broken that rule. Something else was simple, the punishment. Here, stoning had a whole new meaning. The couple was washed, cleaned of all their sins. They were posed for the village to see and they were cast in stone; alive. The offending parts were snapped or chiseled off, mechanical castration for both parties. Then, the crowd watched until the moaning stopped. Sometimes, that took days. Most of them thought death was caused by starvation. I know better; I swung the hammer.

They have one rule here and its unbreakable…


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.

Honored Guest

The light hurt and his head swam. He wanted to cover his eyes.

A hand floated in the corner of his view; it belonged to a woman.

“Nobody ever hears about us, the quiet ones; the little ones. The slight ones.” The owner of the voice caressed his neck. He shivered and tried to crawl back into the darkness that kept all the bright pain away. The voice and the hand moved off to his right.

The blackness crept up, this time without much of a fight. He faded away to the sound of her voice going on about being invisible in society.

***

“Awake again? I’m pleased to see you’re back. Can I get you something, water perhaps?” The voice purred with conviviality that wasn’t quite real.

He heard a sound so distinct that it couldn’t be anything other than what it was; a set of high heels walking across wood. She kept talking to him but it was nothing more than background noise.

“You’re going to be groggy for a bit longer I’m afraid.” The voice was close now. Something cold caressed his lips. She rubbed it around his mouth, and when he opened she slid the ice chip in. Too numb to miss the bitter cold on his tongue, his thirst was as painful as the ache that was developing around his chest and gut.

He was fading again, spittle drooled out of his mouth and into his lap.

“Oops.” She said.

Blackness.

***

“You’re back for a bit longer this time, I think. We’ll see I guess.” She tittered with laughter that wasn’t genuine. His eyes opened slowly, no sharp pain this time. He focused on the woman in red standing to his right. His first thought was ‘tiny’. She was short and thin. Beautiful in an extraordinary way. She touched his head and felt for his pulse.

“Just as it should be. Glad you’re coming around. I’m quite excited to talk to you, Mr. Thorn.” She made her way around a large dining room table until she was across from him. There was food on the plate in front of her.

“Rich,” he blurted out. The word wasn’t meant to be harsh, but she winced as if stung.

“No, Mr. Thorn, not rich, but well off at least.” She smiled awkwardly and scooped a fork from the plate in front of her.

She did not sit down.

Raising it to her mouth, he watched blood drip from the tines of the steel fork. She licked her middle finger from the knuckle straight to the tip of her fingernail. It was seductive, erotic. Thorn noticed movement on her right.

“You’re my honored guest.” She said. Her lips were red like a fresh coat of shiny lipstick you see in porn movies and noir films. He winced and shook his head.

“Still trying to make sense of things? I’d give it another fifteen minutes or so. It took a lot to calm you down. More than most men.” She winked, circling the table slowly; a predator marking her prey.

“What’s happening?” Thorn croaked. His throat felt like sandpaper. His tongue was gritty as if he licked concrete. The other man twitched violently once, then again, and settled. Thorn looked and saw the spasm had dislodged the cap he’d been wearing. It looked like one of those light blue things a doctor puts on before surgery. The other man’s head lulled forward. Thorn couldn’t process what he saw.

He knew what it was in an instant, although he’d never seen the inside of someone’s head before. The cavity that should be holding a brain was mostly empty. Only fragments of gray matter remained.

Thorn vomited down the front of himself. His gut tightened, and his chest screamed with agony.

“That’s okay Mr. Thorn, the girls will clean you up in a moment. For now, just listen. You’re here because you haven’t been very nice.” She didn’t smile this time.

“What, I…” another contraction from his stomach and that rocketing pain in his gut again. Nothing came out but bile and strings of yellowish spit. He was empty.

“Don’t talk, Mr. Thorn. The sight of my previous guest has upset you. I can understand that. Can you just sit and listen? If I get the girls to clean you up, will you listen?” She asked the question but he didn’t dare answer.

“We, the collective of women I help, have decided that a lesson is in order. Not as severe as this young man’s.” She reached over and placed a hand on the brainless man’s shoulder. He jumped again and blood flew from the open cavity. Red droplets splashed on the bone-white china and the rimmed crystal goblets in front of him.

“He didn’t take our advice the first time we had him over to dinner so this time, we’re having him for dinner. We could never resist the opportunity to get together and exchange ideas and empower each other, Mr. Thorn.”

He tried to process what this crazy bitch said to him, but something didn’t click. He tried to focus, to replay it in his head but it slipped away. The pain in his chest was so intense he couldn’t think.

“What’s wrong, Mr. Thorn?”

“Jesse…” he blurted out with no conviction. His stomach flipped, and he tightened his muscles against another round of puking, but nothing came. He panted, his head starting to sag with the weight of his exertions.

“Yes, your name is Jesse Thorn, and you’re an inconsiderate, heartless bastard to most of the women you meet. We believe in what we like to think of as positive reinforcement, and your lesson began several hours ago on a table. It continues now.” She nodded toward the other man, “This unfortunate soul was also bad to a woman. It was clear he hadn’t learned his lesson when she showed up in the morgue last week. It was time to eliminate this particular problem.”

“What did you do to me?” he croaked. Between the acidic taste in his mouth and the dry throat, it sounded inhuman.

“First we need to get you cleaned up. The ladies are already here. I wouldn’t want to embarrass you when they come in.”

The woman in red walked over to a small table on the far side of the room. She picked up an old fashioned telephone receiver and spoke softly into it.

Four women walked into the dining room from that door dressed in scrubs. One of them was rolling a cart full of cleaning supplies while the other three carried clothes, a few leather straps, and a needle.

“They are going to get you undressed and cleaned up before dinner, Mr. Thorn. We will give you something for the pain. It will keep you calm enough through dinner but not so much as you would black out on us again. You’re the honored guest tonight and we can’t have you asleep at your plate.” She smiled and nodded to the women standing near him.

A hand went over his mouth and he felt a needle prick his arm. Within seconds, he lost any urge to move. The pain was dull, but not gone.

He was hoisted out of his chair and stripped down to his skin. His hostess watched them work with avid interest as they cleaned him up. It was then he noticed the wide bandage over his chest and stomach. He was redressed in clean scrubs and placed back in his chair. One of the women cleaned his place at the table. The smell of disinfectant burned his nostrils.

As the girls finished with him they walked around the table to the brainless man. One of them covered his place setting with a red cloth as the other three lifted him from his chair. A sheet covered his limp body. He was thrown onto the center of the table without remorse.

That sound of clacking heels echoed, this time from behind him. The room suddenly filled with chatter and tinkling laughter. Perfume replaced the smell of disinfectant, and the mixture was somehow intoxicating.

A woman filed in behind each chair and grew silent. All eyes weren’t on him, but the man in the center of the table.

“Ladies, it is my pleasure to introduce tonight’s honored guest, Mr. Jesse Thorn.” A wave of applause assaulted his ears as the woman all turned to face him and clap.

“Ladies, once again I call your attention. Tonight is another lesson and another chance to come together as one. For that, I would like to present to you our main course.” She spoke with a flourish to her voice as she pulled the sheet off the man on the table.

No applause this time, just the sounds of oohing and aahing. Without warning, the ladies slid into their chairs and began to prepare to eat. The only woman still standing was the lady in red. She looked directly at Jesse with a sardonic smile.

“Mr. Thorn, it’s time to answer your question. You asked what I had done, but it wasn’t me exactly. It was us.” She smiled and looked around the room.

“We don’t take kindly to being mistreated and we’ve given up on society correcting the problem. We’ve decided to take matters into our own hands.” Applause rolled across the room.

“We’ve been tracking down and teaching men who mistreat women ‘lessons’ for nearly twenty years. While the history of our sisterhood isn’t newsworthy, the results are. As you can see, the price for failing to learn your lesson is this.” She picked up the steel fork again and tossed it, brain and all, unceremoniously toward his plate. Her aim was perfect.

“This failure here,” she pointed to the man on the table, “had several parts removed and became our honored guest a few years ago. He didn’t learn, though. You have been lucky enough to only have the parts of your body removed that you weren’t using to their full potential but you will live and have another chance to make things right if you choose. If not, you’re going to be in the center of our table like this one.” She pointed to the man who was as dead as a Thanksgiving turkey ready for carving.

“We took out your heart, Mr. Thorn, as you seem to be less inclined to use it and we’re serving it as an appetizer tonight. You’ll be returned to your life once you recover and we will watch you—closely. My only hope for you is that you are a much better student than this man was.” She smiled and sat down at the table.

Jesse’s head lolled from side to side, feeling drunk and stupid as he tried to process her words. They were sinking in slowly. When he focused again on the man in the center of the table, he noticed that his brain wasn’t the only thing missing.

He began to scream as the women began to eat.

~ Christopher A. Liccardi

© Copyright 2017 Christpher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved

Death Should Be Remembered

When I arrived, the gate to the graveyard was open, wrought iron swinging on its hinges. I hesitated. I didn’t like company when I visited. I preferred to be alone, to stand at the headstones in the silence.

Should I go in?

I looked over my shoulder, back down the road.

I could go home. Come back another day.

No. I needed this. Needed to remember death, relive what happened, hear the screams again. It would help ease the pressure until…

Yeah. Take a chance. Could be someone just forgot to fasten the latch properly. You can always lie if you meet someone.

I passed through the gate, shutting it behind me. I decided to visit Patricia today. Her family buried her in a secluded spot on the east side of the graveyard.

Less chance of being seen.

A silence settled on the place, and the crunch of my feet on the gravel roadway sound like the crack of bone. A familiar sound, but I shivered. It unnerved me for some reason and I was glad when I turned off onto the dirt path. Nothing but the crunch of the occasional leaf there. Not even the chirping of the birds, or the swish of the wind.

I made it to Patricia’s headstone without seeing a soul. I noticed fresh flowers on the grave, a bouquet of carnations.

Patricia’s favourite. I guess her mother made her weekly visit.

I bent over and plucked a posy from the bunch. “Here’s to you Patricia.” I twirled the flower. “I enjoyed our time together, however brief. Though I doubt you found it as pleasurable.” I smiled, the sweet blood-spattered memories making me tingle. I stood a while, reminiscing, then tossed the flower and walked back down the lane.

Halfway along, I spotted a figure. Someone on the path. I pulled up short.

Must have been behind me. Shit.

I took a deep breath.

Just act cool.

I kept walking, until I got close. Then I stopped again. I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t every day you saw a woman sitting on a moss-covered rock, dressed like a southern belle in mourning complete with a parasol.

She twirled that lace covered sunshade and giggled. “I’ve been waiting for you, mon cher.”

“Have you now?” Her voice stirred things in me. I smiled, and gave her the once over.

Despite the strange, old-fashioned attire, I liked her look. A pretty blonde with a slight French accent. I enjoyed blondes. Blondes always screamed the best. I stared at her, that familiar itch creeping through me. I never planned on indulging so soon, but when opportunity knocks…

I licked my lips. I never killed a French lady before.

Oh yeah, this one will do.

I reached for my knife.

“That won’t do you no good, chéri. Little pig sticker like that won’t kill me.”

My hand froze. How did she know?

“Oh, I know all about you. You put too many women in this graveyard, mon chéri. Time to stop. Past time.”

I laughed. “Not going to happen. But you’re welcome to try. A little slip like you, could be fun.”

“Thank you, for the invitation.”

“Invitation, what—” I stumbled, suddenly dizzy, and… she vanished. Nothing left but her parasol.

No way! She was there. It’s not— Where did she go?

“Behind you, chéri.”

A whispered breath tickled my neck. I whirled.

No. No, it can’t be!

“Time to die.” Her rotting, maggoty face flashed me a smile, and pain sliced through my gut.

The smell, I know that smell.

I looked down. Her bloody, clawed hand ripped out part of my intestines. Same place where I sliced my victims.

No! No, No, No!

I tried to scream, but only a sad, dreadful gurgling noise slipped past my lips. I grabbed my abdomen, stuffing my torn organs back inside as blood gushed through my fingers. Agony shuddered through my body.

I’m going to die.

I fell to my knees and let it all go, watched my entrails slosh about on the ground. I clawed at her skirts, my blood leaking onto her shoes, her voice echoing in my ears.

“Don’t worry, mon ami. I’ll be sure to visit your grave. To always remember this moment.”

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2017 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

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