Tag Archive | Pen of the Damned

Damned Words 29



Worthy of Heart
Lee A. Forman

Preserve their milky flesh; make bare soft, pink innards. Harvest remains, cover them in garnish, make beauty of woeful frames. Consume the fetal home—the birthing apparatus—for it is not lasting. But the tiny, wriggling creatures, perfect for trimming. They grow with skill, become things that made them. They pose for desire, malleable to intention. To play with life and death, their brittle models, is to be a god with artful power. Divine imagination is the finest tool. To make rich and vibrant something dull, paint life onto spilled passing.

Beautiful as the collection stands, it is but practice. Want of larger work—a showpiece worthy of burning hearts—fuels stimulus with copious motivation. The hunt must seek substantial result. Perhaps, something less of nature. A fine canvas, tall and supple. The grand puppet of evolution. Two masters of the Earth, to be my servants. They’ll birth the final piece, to be emptied of mortality, and filled with tender love of my pursuit.


Tableau
A.F. Stewart

I loved my secret hobby. Some could call it macabre, this taxidermy, but I saw it as repurposing dead things by turning them into art. My latest project was my best yet:  a ferret and squirrel tea party. I had trouble getting the ferrets at first, but I worked it out. And today I’d just tightened the last screw in the glass case.
“Hey, Jay. How are those ferrets doing?”
I whirled at the voice. Dave from the pet store stood by the open garage door.
“Hey, what’s that?” Dave stepped forward and saw my new tableau. He went ballistic. “What the hell did you do to those ferrets?” He grabbed me. “You little shit! That’s animal cruelty! I’m calling the cops!”
Staring at his angry face, hearing his threats, something just snapped. Panicked, I plunged my screwdriver into Dave’s throat. He grabbed at his neck, gurgled blood and collapsed. I stood trembling, afraid, but…
I kept gawking at Dave’s pooling blood. It stirred new ideas in my brain for a spectacular scene. I glanced over at the bloody screwdriver sticking in Dave’s neck and suddenly smiled.
I just needed a few more people to make it work…

Companions
Mercedes M. Yardley

After one year of living in the box, he let her out into the cellar. After nearly two, he let her have a needle, only under his watch, of course, and she would stitch up the furry little corpses he would bring her. If you take the insides out and replace them with sawdust or small rocks, they won’t smell. It took her a long time to discover this, but after she did, her companions were more enjoyable.

“This one is Mama,” she whispered. “This is Papa. This is June.” Mama, Papa, and June were cherished. Snuggled. Held tight in the dark.

“Why don’t you name one after me?” he asked. His sweat smelled worse than the animal’s decay. His hands were heavy and did unspeakable things.

She refused to name the last toy, calling it Not-Mama or Not-Papa or Not-June. It sat alone by the bowl she used for a toilet. She made sure it was missing its eyes.


How Is the Tea
Jon Olson

Don’t you love tea parties, my dear? I do, although I didn’t like using dolls so I settled on animals. I had Mr. and Mrs. Mouse, Mr. Ferret and the sweet Miss Squirrel. They always bit me or tried to escape. I killed them. With no will of their own, Mr. and Mrs. Mouse could entertain their guests for days on end. How is the tea? Oh, just lovely! They would rot after a while, smelling awful so I’d switch them up with fresh ones. Did you know I tried people once? It was horrible. They screamed and didn’t even want to play. Imagine! Before serving a single cup, I slit their throats. Besides, I missed Mr. Mouse’s gruff laugh and Miss Squirrel’s squeaky coughs. And now they’re with me here in the hospital. I get to visit them every day. Even the lunatics swing by to see them. More tea, old chap? Why certainly, sir!


Daddy’s Little Girl
Nina D’Arcangela

“Daddy!” I turned to see my little girl, her cheeks roughed, a white rat proffered in her outstretched hands; blood dripped from its stilled nose. “Fix it, Daddy, hurry!” I took the slight offering to my workbench. She watched with rapt fascination as I opened, then gutted the animal. Once the hide was cleaned, I applied a preserving agent. Days later, we stuffed the husk; she chose the position, I sewed its remains. Poised on a miniature chair, she whisked the creature away. The following week, a squirrel accompanied the same desperate plea; again I administered, again she observed. After the fourth, she begged a box to house them for afternoon biscuits and tea. I indulged.

She became reclusive soon after, choosing to spend volumes of time in her attic playroom. Concerned, I climbed the stairs to her private sanctum one afternoon. I swung the door wide–the fetid stench nearly overwhelmed me. There, on the floor, sat my little girl amongst a menagerie of mutilated creatures, including her beloved pet cat; a bird crudely stitched into its open maw. She smiled, clapped with sticky fingers, and giggled. “Look, Daddy, I fixed them, just like you.”


Perfection
Mark Steinwachs

Every stitch. Every tuft of fur.

Every. Single. Piece.

It’s perfect. Unlike the world. My views on humanity evolved as my project progressed. My coworkers joked about what I was doing because they didn’t understand. It hurt, but I kept going. They flitted about their lives, unfocused, I continued to center myself. I started crouching over my creation night after night. Soon, all I had left was work… and this. I work so I can create. And now I am done. Alone with perfection.

Every. Single. Piece.

When you truly give all, nothing remains. This is my all. I want nothing more from this world, nothing from the lost people who drift about until they wither away. When they find my art they will understand my patience and attention to detail.

I sit at the reception desk, decisive-sounding clacks filling my ears as I tap the last few keystrokes. Only I could pull this off. Computers are wonderful, if you know how to manipulate them.

Within moments, doors lock, cell phone signals jam, and gas pours from vents. We die as we live. I smile, watching my coworkers’ panicked final seconds. Calm, I take my last breath. Perfection.


Guest or Demon
Christopher A. Liccardi

They looked like fucking rodents. They died how they lived; like a pack of biting, gnashing vermin. Each one poised and refined. But, lift the glass and you’d be gob smacked with the stench of decay and putrescence that will never leave you.

Each had done me a bad turn so they had to pay.

Revenge?

No. Not for a moment could you think this elaborate scene was crafted with such feeble petty intent. That game, I left to the jilted lovers and business partners not savvy enough to see their other half beat them to the punch. My motivation was societal, selfless. Each played a part in my loss of her. Each took something away that I was, so each had to be outsmarted, out-gunned or out maneuvered.

She is gone now and will never return, but I have these four elegant guests over for tea and I will hate them no less as the decades creep past and the lust turns bitter.

At least I have these demons for company as I slowly rot alone.


The Last Tea Party
Scarlett R. Algee

When I see my inheritance, my jaw drops. Four taxidermied animals in a glass display case: three ferrets and a squirrel. They wear scraps of velvet and silk, sitting around a table piled with miniature pastries and a tea set. One ferret wears a top hat at a jaunty angle; another mouths a doll’s pearl necklace. Nana’s sticky note, taped to the glass, reads For Rachel and her sisters, together forever. I swear under my breath. Nana had been sick, but not demented. She knew my sisters were gone, and this is what she left me?

I lift the lid, the stench of mothballs wafting up. Dizzy, fumbling with the glass case, I turn around blindly and smack the wall. My vision blanks out. When it clears, my tail is being squashed against my chairback. I don’t remember having a tail.

I recognize them, those three pointed faces. Sarah teethes her pearls. Lana grins from beneath the top hat. Reilly’s still, but beneath her feathered headband, her eyes gleam. Rachel, each says through a stiff, pointed smile, sister, you made it, you found us.

Me and my sisters, together forever. I want to scream, but I can’t open my mouth.


The Time Out Box
Lydia Prime

They were being mean and I didn’t want to listen anymore. Mommy said that if I invited them over things would change and we could be friends. Mommy’s never been seven years old, obviously. I tried to show them my real friends. The ones who were never mean to me, but those girls said I was weird. One of them even started crying! I didn’t understand! How could they not be immediately drawn in by the tea party my fuzzy little friends were having?

I cried alone for a while, my insides began to burn. I heard them whispering. They were saying awful things about me, the whispering grew louder and my head started to hurt. I just wished I could put them all in time out. Then the voices stopped. I heard four echoing thumps, and walked to my room. They laid seemingly lifeless about the floor. I looked to my fuzzy friends and saw that their eyes had changed, no longer empty. I could see the mean girls reflected back against them, my wish came true. Time out for bad girls.

I set them up exactly like my fuzzy friends, I think I like them better now.


Memorabilia
John Potts Jr

Wrapped in an old sheet was the diorama Grandma made for my graduation. Gary saw only a piece of junk and beelined for the trash but somewhere along the way he stopped, turned to me, and performed this…this un-Gary-like act of love: he asked me if I wanted to hang on to it. I smiled and nodded. He playfully teased back. I could tell that Gary was drunk. So was I. Maybe that’s why I spilled the truth.

“I told you that Grandam loved serial killers, right? Well, that’s because she was one. And she never let anyone bully me. Grandma lured my high school bullies—those fuckers—into her basement and kept them locked there, alive, for days. She tortured them hour after hour until chopping them into bits small enough for the birds to devour. Chloe really did have turquoise eyes, too. I wanted to keep her hair and her lips and her eyes—especially those eyes! Of course Grandma wouldn’t let me so she gave me this diorama instead; something special to remember her by,” I took his hands and smiled. “That’s why I can’t part with it, Gary.”


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

 

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Damned Words 28


In the Darkness, Gently
A.F. Stewart

The snow falls silently in the night, drifting softly to the ground against the moonlight. The wind is still, the tree branches unmoving. Not even a rustling mouse or the shadow of an owl overhead to break the spell of quiet peace. I hear nothing but the hushed sound of my own breath. So I wait.

Time passes. The cold seeps in, begins to numb my fingers and toes. It does not matter. Nothing matters but my obedience, my service. They will come. They will deliver judgment. I wait on their inclination, their decision on whether I am worthy.

I glance at the snow by my feet. It has turned red from Richard’s blood. The sight is stark, beautiful, this primal colour against the white. I stare at the blood:  the patches in the snow, where it has congealed around the wound in his skull. Hitting him was easier than I thought. Dragging his unconscious body here from the house was the difficult part.

I hear the whispers now, their sweet voices. They are pleased. They will come. They will accept my sacrifice.


Opening of the Fifth
Lee A. Forman

Reborn as one, those separate in life shall be stitched in undeath. We bring them to our canvas, cold and pure. It’s there we forge reanimation to that which has gone stale. We place their bodies beside one another like angels in the snow. Two souls would be one, flesh woven together by artisan hands. The scent of pine and copper compliments our senses, a perfect blend to accompany the work. Crystal drops rest upon bleak faces with closed eyes. Soon a fifth would open, reveal to them a world of things unseen; a forsaken place where life and death strays from precepts of human understanding—an existence beyond.


The Real Me
Jon Olson

Sprinting, it begins to snow. They’re behind me somewhere, yelling and cursing. No doubt they’ll come in greater numbers. It doesn’t matter now. A few more steps and I’ll be safe. Protected by the darkness, free to change and become my true self. I can still taste the orderly’s blood with fleshy bits of his nose still stuck between my teeth. Licking my lips my stomach growls and the shape-shifting begins. Skin splits, bones pop and snap as my form rearranges. It’s over in seconds. Grinning, I gallop toward the search party. Sniffing the air, I smell their fear. They know the real me is coming and I’m ecstatic to make their acquaintance…


Deceit
Christopher A. Liccardi

Lying under this icy blanket, I smell it approach. The falling flakes mask my scent; it knows not that I wait. It pauses; I hear it feed from the dewy fern, suckling the wet from the branches. With a single thud of its hoof, I know it has begun its advance again. Snuffling the fresh bed before it, I imagine an ear twitch, an eye round further, instinct warning it to fear… Though if it lifts its snout, it will once again smell only the storm scented air, not my stench.

A tentative step, then another. Now it strides with confidence nearing the protected brush. As it ascends the hillock, I strike. Teeth gnash on thrashing limbs, I roll from my bed under the whiteness slamming the creature to its side. I roll again, this time attempting to snap its neck. The leg I’ve seized is too thin, I grasp for a meatier portion of the caribou. I release, I lunge—it lands a kick in my gut, but not before my maw closes around its throat.

Crimson taints the bleached ground; my grunts fill the air as I devour my prey.


Director’s Cut
Mark Steinwachs

I stand on the porch, watching the snow. So silent, so serene, same as it was when I took the picture for her a few days ago. It’s amazing what you can portray to the world, you force people to see what you want, hiding the rest off-screen. We’re all directors of our own movie, only most people don’t realize it, just like they don’t think about the lights and stands and cables surrounding their favorite actor inches outside the shot.

I know, I’m a director. The best. It’s simple, really. Give them what they want to see and they’ll see it. Right up until it’s too late. She loved the country, its beauty, so I showed her, and after a few dates… Well, let’s say she was born for the role. I picked out her spot before I knew who she was.

I smile as my eyes fall to the half-dug hole in front of the tree in the distance. Now to find who deserves to be my sixth. I pull my phone out, one gloveless finger scrolling through profile pictures as the snow continues to fall.


Footprints
Mercedes M. Yardly

She left bloody footprints in the snow.

First they were small droplets, like Snow White’s mother who pricked her finger over her embroidery. Red French knots on linen. Red berries on white stone.

Then they became more. The unsettling slash of lips in a pale face, the slit of split skin, a wound that won’t close.

Ribbons. Swaths. Coils of red. Each step lanced her frozen feet, the crusty ice slicing tender skin. But each step was freedom, closer toward her mother, and the broken chains clinking around her ankles sang, “Let’s go home, let’s go home, let’s go home.”


Sylph Surfer
Nina D’Arcangela

Peaceful, so it seems, a glade shrouded in haze of dusk; sitting calmly in gentle gloam, it awaits full evening’s thrust. A subtle whisper ‘twixt tree and limb, all sway to and fro; snow settles upon thinnest branch, it bends most subservient bough. My siblings and I, we glide on currents lift, licking droplets from the air. The game afoot, as it always is, when wind is true and fair. Below I spy the first; tired, wet and cold. He drags a yelping mutt behind, leaving visage now rutted bold. Fleet as the others be, I am that much quicker, I descend among the flakes, strike the boy from the side–we tumble a mad twister. The white clouds his eyes as he shakes his hooded head, by then it is too late, for I have sunk my teeth, his pet already dead.


Bundled Up
John Potts Jr

Cassie nodded to Gregor and he stood, shifting to a wide stance with his arms raised shoulder level. A sharp ripping echoed through their empty cabin and Cassie thought how much she loathed today—this very moment—as she wrapped thick tape around the wrists and ankles of Gregor’s snowsuit. She stepped back, determined to stay strong. Will my sweet come back to me? Cassie pulled Gregor’s hat over his ears. “Better,” she whispered before kissing her love goodbye. Cassie could never watch him leave; it was too hard on her frayed nerves. And she knew the expedition in the wastes would last days and Gregor always came back to her so Cassie eased herself into bed, turned down the lights, and went to bed.

But there was something Cassie couldn’t shake and when she slipped into slumber that night a horrid image flashed her mind: only one of Gregor’s boots had been tied. Gregor tripped outside the door, falling downhill into an ugly roll that sent his body into the base of a lifeless oak. Both his hat and scarf tore from his face and the falling snow dissolved his exposed flesh to the marrow.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

 

Damned Words 27


Lady of Sorrow
A.F. Stewart

She hides her face from me and weeps tears of stone, clutching the wreath she laid on my grave. A monument to her false grief and lingering guilt, forever enshrined in granite effigy. I stare at her from the shadows of the trees and laugh.

She thought to kill me.

Me, a thousand years her better in occult magic and deviltry. A poor attempt at murder and in the end she is the one entombed. Locked in her stone prison atop my empty grave.

She should have never come to the cemetery to gloat, to lay her wreath in two-faced mourning. But then, I have always laid the best traps. I savoured the priceless look on her face when she turned and saw me standing behind her, alive, and not a corpse mouldering in my grave.

That was the last thing she ever saw.


Feeding on Forever
Lee A. Forman

The sky joins my solemn carriage as it casts a shadowed brow and sheds tears in honor. But musing her smile dampens the storm. Alluring and scented with life, it led me to flavorful experiences. Never before had the inevitable deed ushered such hesitation. Despite any mourning that might follow, I drained her of animation and confined her soul to a lifeless body. Ages passed since her corpse was set beneath stone. Yet memories retain their piquancy. Every life a different taste, I savor hers the most—the rest I keep only to feed the void. As I leave for another year, my longing for her toothsome spirit has already begun.


Please Just Let Me…
Jon Olson

Chewing my lip draws blood as I stand before her grave. I fucked up. I brought the damn baby, killed it and sliced the belly open just as she prefers. Why didn’t I stay to ensure she got the nourishment? There’s no point in running or hiding. Better to stand up and take it like a man. If I show her I’m in this for the long haul, maybe she’ll… there’s no way. My quivering lip and churning stomach would betray me. Hell, I’m on the verge of tears. If only I could… oh god… she’s awake… please… please just let me…


They Don’t Visit
Christopher A. Liccardi
They had so many questions. It was incessant to the point of pissing me off. I put a stop to them. Each time, a new face and new questions. The same old shit, really.

Keeping them in the closest started to cause issues with the lady next door. She started asking questions. No good. I found a forgotten stone and a forgotten family that never visited their dead. Made sense, right?

Fill the dead places with the dead—the living don’t bother to visit often. I’ll need to find a new place soon. Because, people never stop asking questions and questions never stop getting on my fucking nerves.

This place is big though and there are a lot of people who never visit their dead. There are a lot of places to store all those questions.


A Mother’s Lament
Nina D’Arcangela

Look at them. They stand there, dullards staring upward, not an original thought in their skulls. They’re sheep, cattle, suckling piglets awaiting the slaughter. They’ve grown soft, ineffectual, flaccid – just as he did. Can you imagine allowing yourself to be dragged naked through the streets, strung upon wooden posts, stabbed without uttering a single plea? No wonder those who follow do so with vacant stare and limp aptitude. It sickens me to look upon them, reminds me of my own crushing disappointment – the mother of one so weak willed. Yet they erect this edifice, this monument to a girl named Mary and pray before her shroud covered head. That girl is long gone of this earth, as is her passive nature. Millennia now I have endured his shame, but no more. I shall quake the very ground they stand upon as they cry out to me, beg that I beseech my child forgive them.  My child died, do they not remember? They are the ilk that killed him long before he was crucified.


The Contest
Mark Steinwachs

All my work crescendos to this moment, this chilly morning. I snap three photos, his remorse seeping through the lens. The color of his skin and cloak blends into the stone he’s perched on. The wreath in his hand, one flower for each of his victims, matches too. His spidery fingers entice me through the lens, but even the most delicate fingers can pull a trigger. His fate sealed of his own volition, he spoke to none of us but followed every order we gave. I take one more photo. It’s the one. Because of him, we will both be immortalized. After ten years, I will win Death Day. My picture alongside past winners. I turn and walk toward the idling police van. Behind me, four gunshots ring out in quick succession.


Her Children
John Potts Jr

September 22nd, 1917.

The professor stopped again before sunrise. He beckoned that I come at once, that something was amiss by the gate. I held my lantern high above the fog and led the way as he followed with his cart in tow.

“There,” he said with a tremble, pointing to the Lady of the Cemetery. “She will not let me pass. Pray you can help, good sir. Pray you can persuade her to let me and mine pass.”

I lifted the cloth and recoiled with detest, with loathing, at what lie beneath. He paid for the dead, that was certain, but not for her children. I walked away, back to my home, and when the sun was high in the afternoon I found the Lady of the Cemetery mourning her young once more.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

 

Damned Words 26



An Opulent End
Lee A. Forman

The warm glow of her eyes, once so soft and bright, darkened with atrocious intent. For months, evidence of such vile nature appeared like clues to be followed, but my nose failed to pick up the scent. Like a mongrel dog, I strayed into the briar patch of her love. The end near, I thought of such things—the life that was, the human way… But her rise brought it crashing down, and on the last night of the year, in my final hours as man, I submitted to assimilation.

The ballroom adornments dripped crimson death—a result of her furious rebirth. My stomach emptied itself in revulsion until all I could do was sweat pure terror from hot flesh. Only those who willingly allowed themselves to be subjugated survived the carnage. Those few meek souls trembled in blood-soaked garments until her wrath finished grinding unwanted meat to pulp.

Black tendrils spread from her torso in all directions, injecting inky fluid into those left alive. She spared me, forced my eyes to see the change unfold. Was some part of our endearment real? Or did the evil only wish me to suffer apocalyptic sights?

Their bodies struggled at first, but soon gave in and became things not human. Those infected shed their skin and emerged in hideous forms. Deviant, sable appendages sprouted from the birthed ebon creatures. Stone-like eyes peered from soulless shells. The hellish beings gathered and left to spread her unholy replication.

She took me in her arms and we danced. Perhaps it was a final nod to humanity, acknowledgement of what would no longer be. But her cruelty swayed my faith in that notion, knowing I’d remain her sole witness.


Eight Minutes Of
Nina D’Arcangela

Eight minutes of, the gala was in full swing. Women adorned in their finest gowns, men in their spats and tails. All twirled the dance floor with inebriated glee.
Seven minutes of, the lights dimmed, the glass baubles above took on an amber glow as heads lifted in wonder and delight.
Six minutes of, the largest crystal began to gleam, none could draw their eye from it; they froze entranced.
Five minutes of, the bloom grew blinding: the skin around each reveler’s eyes began to darken and crack; to ooze brown rivulets as they gazed beyond the light. Slack of jaw, their lips began to curl exposing desiccated gums. Teeth clattered to the floor as sockets shrunk and tongues retreated to withered husks.
Four minutes of, the first horn emerged from the starburst, followed languidly by the enormous beast – it struck the marble with a resounding crack as it landed upon cloven hooves and bent claws.
Three minutes of, the aberration stalked among the paralytic ensemble. The men it had no use for – it sought only breeders.  It sniffed, it tasted; it rent the unworthy to pieces. Gold and silver damask rippled through the air as it discarded one female after another.
Two minutes of, it chose a single sheep, a prize in grand finery festooned with shimmering gems.
One minute of, the creature stepped back through the starburst having seeded its offspring. The assembly of revelers fell to the polished slab; their flesh dusted the air upon impact, what clothes remained lay poised in an eternal waltz.
At the stroke of midnight, the brilliant glimmer of the seven pointed star diminished to the chandelier’s natural glow as a single scream ushered in the new year.


Another New Year’s Eve
Jon Olson

Here we are again, dear. We’ve made it to another New Year’s Eve. How many has it been since the bombs fell? Since civilization crumbled, leaving it a dog eat dog world? I’ve lost count. It may as well be just another notch on the bomb shelter’s wall. I know someone who would’ve known. She always kept track of the date. Yes, you know who I’m talking about. Don’t you even dare try saying you can’t remember! Her name was Marie… our daughter! Or at least she was until you saw it fit to kill her… and then eat her… without even sharing! Miserable prick. You want to know something else? Killing you wasn’t nearly as much fun as I thought it would be. There’s no one to share the moment with. Shit, you don’t even taste very good. This isn’t all bad though. At least I took the time to hang up that chandelier we found in the old dance hall. Happy fucking New Year…


Resolution
Mark Steinwachs

She sits cross-legged on the floor of the vacant living room. Somber, ethereal music plays in the darkness; it’s what he likes best. She etches the N and admires the droplets of blood on her arm.

Resolution

Tonight’s the night. Millions of people will swear by this word. But he has shown her the true meaning of it.

It started years ago. His teachings. They were hard to comprehend at first, but he was relentless. She wanted to give up so many times in high school, but he wouldn’t let her. She needed to grow to truly perceive—that’s what he told her.

She began to understand in college. And then she joined the real world and saw people for what they were. He showed her. He guided her, slowly building her up.

Her left arm was scarred white from hundreds of cuts, the R being the deepest.

Resolution

She is now complete. Droplets of blood trickle down her arm, a few splattering on the floor. She rises to her feet and walks to the dimly lit bedroom, ready for her final lesson. Stripping, she kneels on the white bedspread.

He’s taught her, and because of her, he will teach the rest of the world. Wet crimson catches her eye, beautiful against the white. She presses the blade into her wrist, drawing it back toward her body.

Resolution

Her eyes get heavy. His teachings are nearly complete. Growing from her, deep red hues shift subtly as his lithe form takes shape. A beautiful terror. After all these years, her teacher is before her. She smiles at him with the little strength she has left. “Thank you,” she says, and turns her arm to look one final time.

Resolution


Indulgence
A.F. Stewart

The glow of the chandelier reflected off its own crystal embellishments, sparkling like stars over the ballroom. Below the twinkle, masked and costumed party guests mingled, sipping champagne or red wine and sampling exquisite hors d’oeuvres.

Each guest wore a grotesque mask, an expression of their darker selves, of secret sins. Demons danced with ghouls, imps socialized with succubae, and deranged killers smiled plastic grins. Apart from the crowd, their host stood watching them, a glass of wine in his hand. He wore a black suit, a hooded red cape, and the face of the devil. He cleared his throat and a hush fell over the gathering. When he spoke, his words fell like drops of honey and darkness.

“Welcome, my illustrious guests. Over the years we have been through much. I have granted favours to each of you, kept your misdeeds tucked away from prying eyes.” He chuckled and pulled back his hood. The crowd abruptly realized their host wasn’t wearing a mask.

His demonic face was real.

“Surprise. You’ve all made deals with the devil.” He smiled. “And while I have enjoyed your pleasingly wicked lives, the devil must take what he is due. I’m sorry, my friends, but your lives are over and you all belong to me!” He raised his glass of wine in a salute. “It is time to move this party to Hell!”

The twinkling lights winked out and the room went black.

Moments later, all the guests screamed.


Transiton
Joseph A. Pinto

The very door itself trembled upon its hinges, the pulse of urgency behind it echoing throughout the foyer like the grand heart of some approaching leviathan.  My eyes slipped shut, and I listened.  Boom.  Boom boom.  Something foreign crinkled my lips.  A smile.  Absently I traced it with calloused fingers, then snatched my hand away before I became too enamored with the sensation.

A long time before, all I once found joyous fled me.  Now I wished only for an abrupt and jarring end.  Tired of the guise I had been forced to wear, the need for release intoxicated what remained of my mind.

Boom boom.  Boom.

“It’s not locked.”

The thunderous resonation halted.  I opened my eyes, spotted the subtle shift of grey shadow from beneath the door.  Slowly, the brass knob twisted, and the hinges did creak.  Inch by glorious inch, death squeezed through my threshold.

Slobbering from each side of its mouth, the infant waddled across the foyer, its soft, pink toes leaving a glistening trail.  “It’s about time,” my tone much harsher than I had intended.  “Sorry.  It’s been a long year.  I’ve lost too much.  I’m just…done.”

Unapologetically, it launched itself airborne, slammed me backwards, then perched atop my chest.  Hardly a leviathan, this blushed, flaccid thing studied me, cocking its oblong head as I laughed a zealless laugh.  “Ring in the new year, baby.  It’s time to still my old, clackity bones.”

High above in the dangling chandelier prisms, my reflection turned a thousand ways to red, and finally, breath by breath, I exhaled all the pain that had clotted me.


Secret Games
Brian Moreland

Ava Thornhill sipped her tea, as servants polished the crystal chandelier until the cut glass sparkled. Ava smiled. The Rococo light fixture had been a family heirloom passed down for generations. In 1910, her great-great-great grandparents, Helena and Victor, had used the chandelier in occult ceremonies. The esoteric couple had passed rituals of black magic on to their children. As Ava went through a gray cloth book, memorizing incantations written in Victor’s handwriting, she felt eyes watching from above. The doorbell chimed. Her butler led Luther Chastain into the room, then the servants left them alone. Luther gazed at Ava with a wolfish grin. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

Seeing him again made her skin prickle. She pointed to a chair across the table. “Sit.” As Luther sat down, she said angrily, “Remember what you did to me in your basement?” He cocked his head and shrugged.

“We were just playing games. Besides, that was years ago.”

She rubbed her fingers along her spell book. “Yes, but I’ve never forgotten.” Ava gazed up at the chandelier. Each teardrop crystal held the trapped soul of her family’s enemies. Bejeweled glass prisons. She looked at Luther and began to chant.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017

 

Damned Words 25




Misapprehension
Lee A. Forman

The past withered, faded, much like the photograph Benny held. Time consumed memory, leaving only a reflection of their faces behind his eyes. He couldn’t see beyond the scowl his wife expressed. Often, he mused it was the sun in her eyes—mere speculation, as the gray expanse that once thrived with the living, now decayed with the dead. The end wiped clean all sins, but all good deeds as well; as if a switch had been flipped, those who survived born anew.

He had to relearn who he was, as did everyone else. But he never accepted the new world. The picture tethered him to what was before. It held part of him in a forgotten place of warmth and hope. But the source of those feelings remained unknown. His head ached, torn between realities, one of which he couldn’t be sure existed. For all he knew, it was a dream within a nightmare, some faculty of human survival he’d never been aware of—something to keep the soul going. He could easily have found that picture in the endless, trash-filled wasteland, and simply forgotten he never knew any of those people.


Bizarre Killings
Brian Moreland

Miami Herald, July 22, 1948: BIZARRE KILLINGS IN THE EVERGLADES

Five members of a family vacationing near Palmdale, Florida were found dead yesterday at their summer cottage. “The killings were the strangest I’ve ever seen,” reported Sheriff Nash of Glades County. “We found the parents, Thomas and Linda Copper, in their bed, buried under fifty deadly snakes. We had a helluva time getting to the bodies. Eldest son, Joshua’s corpse was in the den, lying face down in two inches of swamp water. Bites riddled his body and he was missing an arm. His brother, Will, had been dragged into the glades behind the house and partially eaten by gators. We found teenage daughter, Janine, in her wheelchair, parked at the edge of the dock. Frogs covered her body and nested in her open mouth.” Shaking his head, Sheriff Nash added, “We’re still trying to figure out why so many swamp creatures had preyed upon the Copper Family.”

The only survivor was youngest daughter, Katie Copper. Sheriff Nash found the nine-year-old girl sitting on the back porch humming to herself and petting a large python in her lap. When later asked what happened to her family, Katie looked toward the saw-grass marsh and said, “My family lives in the glades.”


I Just Don’t Know…
Jon Olson

They look so happy in the photo. Each member with different experiences, yet together they’re something more. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each member is a piece connecting to the others to create something greater than the piece itself. Is this what a family is supposed to look like? They’re with me now but no longer alive. I have them arranged in the same poses as the photo yet it is not the same. I tried to keep the cuts in their neck as small as I could. Can you call a group of corpses a family? I just don’t know…


Cute Kid
John Potts Jr

He looked to the girl outside on the swing, and then to the one in the frame. There is just no way, he thought. A chill fell upon him when he glanced once more to the two girls, like the child who witnessed the boogeyman willingly. They both wore white and had hair the color of obsidian and even twenty feet away, he noticed an eerie resemblance.

But this is at least a century old, he thought, and returned the frame back to its spot atop the dusty television stand.

The cable technician bent, grabbed his tool belt and turned, now standing eye level with a portrait hanging on a wall adjacent to the room’s exit. This one had color, mid-seventies. A nuclear family with strawberry blonde hair sprawled across a massive redwood. The little girl was there too, off to the side and never too far away.

And again, this time at a Princess Resort. She stalked the two parents with their single child, her predator-eyes fixated on prey, not family.


A Moment
Mark Steinwachs

I thrust the picture that I’ve been carrying for the last twenty years in front of me. “This. This is what humanity is supposed to be.” My voice catches as the two young men standing just inside the door of my cabin click the safeties off their rifles pointing them at me. “The world wasn’t always this way. You must believe me. The blinding light etched into this picture marked their arrival. I am the little girl in this. They tried to wipe us out. All but the ones too young to remember. You. They raised and trained you.” Tears stream down my face, my hand shaking. They fight for the enslavers. They are homo-sapiens but I do not call them human. I don’t know how many of us are still alive. I step toward them holding my picture like a priest holding a cross but this isn’t a demon I can banish. “Please. This picture. This. This is Earth. This is humanity.”

The flash from the gun reminds me of twenty years ago.


The Photo
A.F. Stewart

I remember them.

Holding the faded photo, looking at the smiling faces posing for the camera, I recalled the day. Such a close-knit family. Father and eldest son running the family business, mother and daughter running the home, the second son soon off to college.

And the little girl. Twelve, I think, in the photo. Or thirteen.

I’m not quite sure anymore.

They seem so happy, the photo makes them look happy. So ordinary.

They weren’t though. There were strange secrets. Buried secrets

Like the bodies buried under their rose garden.

The bodies of my family. Those people in the photo.

It was a late summer evening, when the Hunters came. Die witches, they yelled as they shot their guns. They screamed, foul witches, as they cut the heads off their lifeless bodies, laughed as they dragged me away shrieking. I saw, though, saw from the car where they held me, where they made me keep quiet. Saw the holes they dug and the bodies covered with dirt.

Then they took me away, tried to re-educate me.

Make me a Hunter.

They didn’t succeed.

I’m still a witch.

And I avenged my family.


Etched
Christoper A. Liccardi

Etched in eternity, the family posed in the backyard pretending nothing was wrong. With such a handsome family, what could be wrong?

Their faces belied a truth that smelled like rotting meat on a sun-beaten highway; all but one face.

The little girl sat ‘injun’ style they called it in school. All thoughts of political correctness sixty-years away.

“Wasn’t there another child, sir?” The photographer asked.

The little girl replied, choking back a smirk, “He didn’t make it.”

“Oh.” The photographer shuffled awkwardly for a moment. Death was uncommon for this city dweller.

The sitting took an hour and everyone was as still as statues the entire time, except the girl. She squirmed and fidgeted like she’d sat on an ant hill.

Afterward, she got up and walked over to the man with the fancy camera and tugged on his pant leg.

The little girl smiled up at him, sinister and dark; he was instantly terrified.

“Wanna stay for dinner?” The little girl asked, forcing a sweetness that was a pure lie on her lips.

Before the man could reply, father had driven a stake through his left eye. The little girl cheered and began to giggle.


The Fruits
Joseph A. Pinto

I’d heard of her talent. But I’d been a skeptic, a trait stuck like glue on me throughout life. Someone told me a long time ago, though, that even the most jaded of trees need time bearing the fruit.

She felt my presence, acknowledged it with a choked clearing of her throat. She pulled out an old camera. The bright pop of the flash bar momentarily stunned my sight.

One liver spotted hand tap-tapped the doily littered table before her. The other? It offered an instant film sheet to the ghosts in the air.

And the ghosts, they did appear.

In muted sepia outlines at first, solidifying slowly before my eyes. My mouth parted, astounded. “You killed all of them.” She did not pose it as a question.

“Yes.”

The seer chuckled, dry as rainless dirt. “You got a helluva lot more souls in that black heart of yours.”

I admired the family trapped within the film sheet. “Yes.” I knew my own soul had been weighed heavy of late. I knew I simply needed some releasing, some clearing of space. “Take my picture again,” I instructed the seer and watched as the fruits ripened before me.


The Suckling
Nina D’Arcangela

Taken in as a foster child; I knew nothing of my lineage. The family found me, told me I was one of them. When I was introduced to the way, I bucked; I didn’t want to believe. They showed me older images; the five of them in each, my mother the sixth—our resemblance undeniable. I could live as long as I had the strength to perform the act, thereby resetting the clock to the age of my inception.

They were jovial at first; each abided the stricture of the cycle. Soon enough, cracks in the veneer began to show. The men grew impatient, my aunties more so. They engaged in the suckling with a frequency that reset days not decades. An ugliness grew; a desire to perform the ritual without the gain of youth. It began in dark alleyways where illicit abortions took place. Once the clinics opened, there was no stopping them. Regeneration required one thing: consumption of a fetal sack with its embryo still intact within the host body. At the age of seventy-nine, the choice was once again mine; to feed and live despite the grotesque nature of the deed, or allow death its claim.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017

 

Damned Words 24



Unhallowed Mastication
Lee A. Forman

Succulent is the flesh, with the right tongue to sample its flavor. Lapping at pools of blood, my palate invokes pleasure beyond understanding. How beautiful its color…blackened under moonlight. Soon to gorge upon a fleshless back, I arch and look to the sky. Always watching, my Luna, the light by which I dine. But never judging, its face ever set in nihilistic expression. With love I feed, and regret I swallow, for I’ve broken the forever promise. But in my prime, with such tender meat, resistance would be futile.

My heartbeat quickens as life departs him. And a sad smile curves my lips. A reflective glow catches my eye, from the ring around his finger. What was once a black suit and white dress, now a skinless corpse and naked body. Bells ring in my ears and flower petals dance for dreams of the past.

Those things are gone. Things demeaning to my newfound nature. A lifetime of hunger now sated, fruitless ventures of decency vacated. I loved him, still do… But I played the part, never committing. I must move forward, despite any sorrow. And so I take him in, raw, fresh, and unhallowed.


The Night Prisoner
Brian Moreland

On Halloween, the moon watched as humans walked the earth wearing strange costumes. Children went from house to house, collecting treats. Adults gathered at parties and drank spirits. The lonely moon yearned to be a part of these rituals, but she was imprisoned in the night sky. Then, a miracle happened. A girl in a fairy costume held up a candy pumpkin into a moonbeam. “Would you like a treat, Moon?” The kind offering opened a hole in the night’s veil. Delighted, Moon appeared as a goddess beside the girl and ate the candy. The sky went black. The girl shrunk to a pixie. Giggling, she flew around Moon and landed on her shoulder. Moon walked through a neighborhood. Every disguised human became their costume. Masks molded into flesh. Plastic teeth formed into fangs. Vampires, clowns, witches, and creatures of all kinds began attacking one another. “Please stop them!” the fairy pleaded. Moon remembered why she had isolated herself high above their world. I’m too much for humans. Saddened, she thanked Fairy Girl for the candy, then Moon returned to her prison in the void. Below, the creatures turned back into humans; although too often, they still attacked one another.


It Is Finished
Jon Olson

My eyes find the moon, glowing amidst the dissipating storm while the clouds swirl around the lunar gem for one last caress. I hear the Feasters of Death gathering in the trees, watching and waiting with ravenous anticipation for my body to exhale its final breath. Looking at the deep slash across my abdomen, they won’t have to wait long. My fingers probe the fatal wound, touching and prodding my entrails about to spill out onto the already bloodied earth. Around me are a mix of my fallen brothers and former enemies, with eyes permanently stuck open, staring lifelessly at their final battleground. Each expression a mix of death and hope; hope that they fought valiantly enough for the gods to have taken notice. My crimson stained fingers drop to the ground, finding the hilt of my sword, assuring me I have died a warrior’s death. A final chill stabs through my body as the Feasters creep out of their hiding places and I know it is finished.


Children of Frost
John Potts Jr

The woman heard a whimper. She turned and peered to her rear. Nothing, not a soul. Her pace quickened.

There it was again, only closer. This time the sound was a wail. Must be an animal, she thought, maybe a stray cat. Dense brush lined the walkway on her right and to her left, leafless oak and red maple stood guard above a sharp embankment. Her breath listed upward, fogging her glasses. She wiped the moisture off her lenses and noticed a small boy crouching near a tree ahead.

“You poor thing,” the woman gasped.

She rushed to him, knelt and took off her jacket, wrapping the boy snug. His skin was the color of bone. The boy hugged into her and the woman smelt something vile, something rotten. She hushed the boy, told him that everything would be alright and that she would take care of him.

The boy replied, “I know.” Jagged teeth ripped through the woman’s sweater, and into her stomach. She twisted away but the boy sunk his bite in deeper.

Then the children crawled from the embankment. They pounced, tearing and gnashing and feasting on her life under the moon above.


Final Moon
Mark Steinwachs

The clouds break and expose a perfect moon. I will myself to hear howls in the distance that don’t exist. It would be far too cliché to meet my maker under a full moon ripped apart by a creature of fantasy. No, my time ends at the hands of the noxious, silent death that has overrun Earth.

Leaning against a tree, my ankle throbs, purple and swollen. Why did I even run? I’m too average to be one of the survivors. Making it this far was more luck than skill, right place right time kind of thing.

The stench of death assaults me before I hear their shuffle through the leaves. My finger slides over the trigger of the pistol I learned to use not long ago.

I see one, then another, and more beyond them. They know I’m here through glazed over eyes. I point my gun at the first one and hear others close in around me. There are far too many, I put my gun down, why fight the thing I will become.

My death will be like my life, another one amongst the masses.


Moonlight Sacrifices
A.F. Stewart

My fellow initiates—my sisters—smile at me, but I hear their whispers.

“The moon rising ceremony is tonight. They’ll come for her.”

They avoid looking at me, but I know the pity in their eyes. Mine reflected such emotions once. For the previous girl chosen in the sacrificial rites.

It is the risk, coming to the temple, the unspoken fear. The first night after they marked me, I wept myself into sleep. Then the Goddess came to me in my fitful dreams. She granted me strength, showed me the path. Tonight I walk it willingly.

After midnight I am escorted to the woodland dais by the priests. I am nervous, but I know my duty. As I kneel before the altar, I slip the knife from beneath my robes. For my duty is not to their God. I do the bidding of my Goddess.

They never see their deaths coming.

I look down on the last priest, bloodied knife raised. “The goddess is coming, defiler. She will no longer tolerate her daughters’ blood spilled in the name of your Death God. She is coming and you will all die.”

I bring down the knife and paint the moonlight red.


Cold, So Cold
Joseph A. Pinto

I knew what they were.  Recognized them beyond all deception.

No one listened.  Madman, they labeled me, and spat upon my shoes.  Still, I had grown used to such treatment, outcast that I had become.  Driven away from my family, my community, from the very fabric of lives I believed once to be an intricate part.  Such a sad, sad unravelling of threads.

When they perished, I shed no tears.  I carried no guilt upon my shoulders.

The cities have long since fallen.  Crystallized, one and all; come upon by translucent mercenaries of death.  Humanity had its chance.  All that was required, a simple heed of my warning.

The eternal frost is here.  Forever reaching with bitter fingers; the brooks, the rivers, the vast oceans, all set upon in hibernal oneness.  Now the mountains, the woods.  Yes, I see them for what they are.  Alive in gleaming beads of ice.  Maturing rapidly, these denizens of glacier delirium.

From white flakes they first fluttered, but no one believed.

Whoever remains huddled and void of warmth beneath this moon surely cannot deny it now…


Night’s Scape
Nina D’Arcangela

Lying in the wet grass, blood sputters from my chilling lips; my left arm is without feeling. I turn my head in fevered panic looking for the creature that attacked me. I hear its harsh breathing, but can see nothing of it. My right hand scours the earth; a fistful of entrails the only reward. My eyes drift shut.

The snort of its rotting breath on my forehead jolts me awake; terror rips through my body. I know death is near, but I struggle to flee nonetheless. Its maw clamps around my skull, the moon-lit field roughs against my back as it drags me towards the tree-shadowed edge; I see my lower half lying still upon the green expanse. My mind screams, my eyes turn upward of their own volition. Above me, the naked grey abomination releases its grip on my head; a glob of putrescent gelatinous spittle rains from its cracked lip. It snorts once more before ripping my chest open with a single swipe. Delicately, with a surgeon’s precision, it sniffs and picks among my organs. As I expel a scream that sounds of a whimper, I hear it snuffling and lapping as it gorges upon my innards.


Mother Knows Best
Christopher A. Liccardi

As she drove the knife in, Stephanie thought it was enough moonlight to see by; enough for this sacrifice. She felt the resistance give way.

A dull knife is a fool’s mistake, her mother had lectured. These were her mother’s tools and she had always kept them sharpened. God, the woman never stopped talking about the craft. If it wasn’t about the tools, it was the chanting or the posture. Stephanie stopped listening long ago, but some things had stuck, like this spell.

It’s not a spell dear, it’s a ritual. How she hated to be corrected all the time.

The figure lying on the alter twitched when she opened the skull. Stephanie stopped to check the restraints. It wouldn’t do to have her flailing in the middle. Her mother would have scowled at that too.

Stephanie recalled the chant her mother taught her; the rhythm and the words came effortlessly. Stephanie plunged the knife in to each eye socket and flicked out the globes. This time, the woman did more than twitch. She guessed what ritual it was.

 Soon enough I’ll be the witch, this will be my coven to rule, Stephanie thought as she kissed her mother’s forehead.


Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author
and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2017

 

Lament for Master

I knelt before his body, the divine man we all once worshiped. He remained exposed; no one bothered preparing a grave in his honor. My hands tightened into fists. The rage of their vile act upon the Master seethed in my blood. How could they betray their faith?

I’d become a stray sheep among wolves.

Looking up at the night, I prayed for answers. The sky returned my grief with thundering tears. I welcomed the sorrow of rain as it drowned my lament and washed the blood from my clothes. I laid my hands upon his rotting flesh, hoping to feel some remnant of warmth. But nothing radiated from his lifeless heart. Death had exhaled its cold breath upon his soul.

I remembered the first thing he said to me. I’d asked him why God allows bad things to happen to good people—the question everyone asks.

“God gave humankind free will,” he told me. “If He intervened in our affairs, that free will would be invalid. It would cease to exist. By giving us the power of choice, He disempowered himself of meddling.”

Those words changed me, molded me into his disciple with the hands of a savant artist. Not long after, we gathered a flock the savior himself would have been proud of. Each Sunday we convened in an old barn at the edge of my property. The handmade pews would be seated by familiar faces, those of friends and family. They awaited his words with great anticipation in desperate eyes. All sought salvation, but all had turned on Master in the end.

I put my head against his chest and remembered his gospel.

“The Lord gave us the gift of suffering so we would know what it means to truly be alive, so we would know light from dark, good from evil. Joy is the antithesis of that endowment, the betrayer of clarity. So I ask you, take hold of your pain, know it, bond with it. For only that can put you in the good grace of our Lord.”

They followed his words. They mourned lost loves, loathed their own vices and those of others, reveled in the toil of daily life. But a small town, a peaceful hamlet not prone to crime or violence, has only so much to suffer.

It wasn’t enough.

“Give thy pain to thy neighbor,” he’d said. “Offer up your tribulation so that those with none can truly see what it means to believe. Allow them to feel the love of our Lord’s blessing.”

After that, the town of Angleton became something else.

Those who followed took his message and spread suffering like a plague. Violence became desired, harm welcomed. There were no victims during the time of awakening. Only loyal servants. They gave themselves to the cause, some even came begging. Master gave it willingly. The barn became a house of torment, howls of agony its chorus. They lined up waiting to feel the hand of Master scar their flesh.

They wore those marks with pride. Hung blood-stained clothes on walls, glorified shrines to Master. They honored the Lord, loved Him, more than they loved themselves. But now those offerings burned in a pile of despised memories, still glowing within the remnants of my barn, the church we all once shared. And the wounds for which they pleaded were covered by clean, fresh laundry—an affront to Master’s gifts.

I tried to make them see. But the mob came, torches aflame. I stood between them and our house of worship. The Master never left, didn’t try to run. He welcomed their blasphemous deed, laughed with arms raised as they set the fire. They stood and watched it burn, Master still inside. I wanted to dash into the blaze and die with him. But I couldn’t perish yet. I had to avenge the greatest man who ever lived. My fate was to spread the gospel of Edgar. He told me so himself.

I was then a wolf among sheep, bringer of redemption. Attempts to rekindle their faith futile, pain only closed their eyes. They could not be forgiven. They were not absolved.

∼ Lee A. Forman

© Copyright Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.

Anniversary

Stepping out of the car, I look up at Lake Euphoria Inn.

Although they’ve spruced up the three story building with a fresh coat of paint, it’s still the same place where my wife and I spent all our anniversaries.

Including our last.

Turning away from the inn, I have no intentions of reliving those memories in the honeymoon suite. Instead my eyes fall upon the path cut into the trees, which leads to Lake Euphoria itself.

It used to be a dirt path with odd roots protruding through, but now it’s a well-maintained gravel walkway.

As the gravel crunches beneath my feet it does little to ease the churning acid in my gut. Reaching to the small of my back, I make sure the gun is still tucked into the waistband of my pants. My fingers brush against the grip, reassuring me the pain is almost over.

I continue walking a few more steps, coming to the spot where my life was torn apart.

Looking around the small clearing I can still see my wife sprawled on her back, stomach ripped open, absolute terror permanently etched upon her face.

I had gone back to our room to retrieve the camera that I forgot to grab. On my way back I’d heard her screams, raw and terrified.

And then, silence.

Running as fast as possible, I came upon the thing. It stood knee-deep in the water, my wife’s entrails hanging from its mouth. Wet scales glistened on its body in the afternoon light. The amphibious abomination looked at me and smiled before disappearing under the water.

I shake my head, clearing those images from my mind.

The water laps against the large rocks surrounding Lake Euphoria. Perching myself on one of them near the spot where she died, I remove the gun from my waistband. In the weeks leading up to this day I fantasized about how it would feel. Would I be sad? Fearful? Or even relieved?

No.

Nothing.

Even with the gun in hand and the barrel in my mouth, I’m void of emotion. I’m already dead.

Pulling back on the hammer, I steal one final glance to the lake… and there it is! The fucking thing, its head sticking out of the water, watching me.

I open fire until the gun clicks empty, all my shots missing wide.

It dips below the surface.

Diving in the cold water shocks my system. Where are you goddamn it? Although the lake is murky, there is some visibility. I don’t see it right away but I know it’s there.

My lungs begin to burn.

Something glides past me.

I reach out but grab nothing.

I hear a groan muffled by the water.

My lungs scream. I need air…there it is! Only a few feet away, staring at me with golden fish-like eyes…

…I inhale foul water…

…my body thrashes…

…choking…

…but I can’t look away…

…strength fading…

…lungs full of water…

…drowning…

…it smiles…

…and swims off.

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved.

Granules

Soft granules shift with each step as I walk the sandy strip. They ease between my toes, slide over my sandaled feet; leave a rim of grit around each nail-bed. A favored place, this swing. During the day, it basks in the full cast of sun’s light; at night, it hides in the coolness of evening’s deepest shadow. A place to laugh, to steal a kiss, perhaps a first touch… Hallowed ground made sacred by whispered promises broken only by those foolish enough to make them.

I sit. The ropes stretch taut, the plank groans beneath me as the swing gently begins to sway. My mind wanders, time passes; my thoughts fill with remembrance of you. The shade of the tree swallows me as day turns to dusk and dusk quickly flees before night. The image of you with another beneath our swing flashes by; my rage no less tempered with time. I kick my sandals aside, dig my toes deep into the soft sand. I reach for you. I know you’re there, you promised you always would be, a promise I saw kept with pickax and spade. The only blight on our perfect evening… the cunt that lies dead beside you, but I can look past that and enjoy our time together, if only in my mind.

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

What Love Will Do

The Beast wanted me to bring the bodies in through the front door. On a subconscious level, I always knew why, but my mind wouldn’t wrap itself around the thought. I knew my wife didn’t want to see it; she wanted nothing to do with the Beast.

“Can’t help it,” the body inside the contractor bag quivered as I dragged it across the carpet. “Just part of the gig, babe.”

Julia’s routine had become as systematic as mine: an immediate retreat to whatever room was closest while my stupid jokes fell on deaf ears. I guess I couldn’t blame her.

Over the years, the bodies thudded down into the Beast’s lair step-by-step as our marriage devolved into a nightmare. We bickered, spat at one another, even when the Beast wasn’t around.

She waited for me on the porch one night. I could tell she was pissed without even getting out of the truck.

I rolled down the passenger window, told her that I loved her and that she looked pretty in the moonlight.

She shut me right down. “Yeah, you know you messed up,” she sneered while walking to the door.

“Baby, we’ve been over this a hundred times—”

“We haven’t been over shit. Here’s the new rule, my rule: you bring them poor souls down through the bulkhead from now on or you and that Beast will have to shack up elsewhere.”

Before I could reply, she slammed the door, threw the locks, and turned out the lights.

To my left, the darkness growled.

I opened the cab door and stepped out; the Beast slunk near me, nearly on top of me.

I turned toward the Beast just as the creeping shadows enveloped me. It was a sudden weight of pure evil that suffocated my very existence. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t feel, couldn’t think. For a moment, I was nothing.

Then I was alone again, standing outside my basement, stunned by the Beast’s unimaginable power. I thought to myself, after all these years, the Beast finally offered me a glimpse of its true nature. I suppose it was good timing. The drifter—the one I picked up that night outside Pittsburgh—put up a hell of a fight and my knee was aching like all hell.

But in the end, just like the rest, he folded. Not without offering the usual pathetic promises; he swore to tell no one if I let him go, begged for safe release, chortled on about having children at home. Then he pissed himself. Now that was a surprise. That level of terror was usually reserved for the Beast.

I swung the metal doors of the bulkhead open, walked back to the truck and dragged the asshole out. That oh-so-familiar thrum buzzed deep inside me; the pain in my leg and fists dissipated. I felt strong, strong and young again when I tossed the squirming body down the concrete steps.

Sometimes they cried out for their mother or father, or even their god. Sometimes they sniveled incoherently. Other times, they just shut up and died. This one hollered like a banshee. The Beast pulsed with excitement and a brilliant fervor rushed through my body.

There’s never a sensation of pain as the Beast rips from my core. I have yet to experience any awareness of my false-skin being shredded to ribbons. That’s when I’m my true self; the one Julia calls the Beast. She’s seen it only once or twice, but has never talked about it.

I’ve tried to pry it out of her. I pushed so hard one time that she took off for her sister’s place in Maine. Before she left, she told me that if I wanted to know what the Beast looked like, I should look in the mirror.

Once I was down in the basement with my latest capture, the Beast took center stage as I watched from behind dulled curtains. Quite the performance. I only remember bits and pieces of the brutal acts. It’s the mess after the standing ovation that sticks with me.

I’m damn sure my steel-toed boots busted every inch of the man’s body. That’s how the Beast likes his meals: tenderized to a pulp.

Once the ruckus ended, Julia came down and offered to mop up; she told me to go upstairs and take a shower. I slunk past, covered in blood and guts, exhausted and naked.

“You still mad?” I muttered.

“I’ll get over it. And so will you.” She shook her head, “Almost forty years of being stuck with you and that Beast. I didn’t think it would take me this long to figure it out, but I have.”

“Figure what out?” I asked.

She glanced at me and stretched her muscles like a feral cat before nodding toward the stairs.

As I was standing in the steaming water, it dawned on me.

The Beast wanted me to bring the bodies through the front door, right through the middle of my life, not to shame me, but to show me.

I am the Beast.

And the Beast is all of us.

~ John Potts Jr

© Copyright John Potts Jr. All Rights Reserved.

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