Eel Soup

So, the time has come. He can’t stand watching her suffer any longer.

He prepares their last meal from scratch. He has procured the vegetables from the neighbor’s garden. The onions are still good, as well, the carrots and potatoes. A can of stewed tomatoes, peppercorns and salt, these are in the cabinet. The most important ingredient of all — the eels, he has obtained at the docks early this morning. He is careful to add them with their blood as the soup cools. They are finely chopped and raw, camouflaged with cabbage leaves. A modified and deadly vichyssoise served in her shining silver tureen.

He wheels her chair to the table. She’s so frail now, her skin almost transparent. The plague that sweeps the world hasn’t touched him as yet. Perhaps he is one of the few that are resistant. He frowns at the irony. His own life isn’t worth bothering with – but hers is another story. Such talents she has, so much to look forward to! Her paintings were selling well. She had begun composing music to accompany the presentations in galleries. She called it “bonding kinetic transitions.” But no more — this strain of the virus knows no prejudice.

He picks up a photograph of them when they were young, remembers the smell of her wool coat, the way her mouth chokes back a laugh in the photo. She’d loved his jokes – even the lame ones. Then came a time when laughter stopped. Like the sound of her voice, a bare whisper now.

Once she’d said his dreams were all smashed up inside. “Gray on gray. Form without substance,” she said. She was the artist. She had dreams for both of them. They are silent during dinner. He offers her another helping. To his surprise, she nods with a lopsided smile. She knows. He turns away to wipe his eyes. After dinner, he helps her out of the wheelchair, lays her gently on the bed. The muscle cramping will begin soon, ending the beating of her heart.

But instead of closing her eyes and lying back, she pushes herself up. “Hand me that novel you were reading to me last night, sweetheart. I am feeling so much better, I should like to find out how it ends myself.” He is stunned. This is the first time she’s said entire sentences in many days. And wanting to read?  How can this be — the eels have cured the virus? Her eyes are bright and her pulse steady. There’s a healthy flush to her cheeks that wasn’t there before dinner.

As he hands her the book, he feels a sharp pain in his stomach as the cramps begin. With a terrible chill, he remembers it was to be their last meal.

~ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

World Without End

The wind blew fallen leaves along the street. Grey, leaden clouds lay low in the sky. Phil walked along the row of terraced houses in the same direction as the leaves, travelling just as aimlessly. It was two p.m., the dead time of the afternoon when people had finished lunch but before the kids arrived home from school. The street he walked on was completely empty.

He reached a junction with the main road and saw there was a park on the opposite side. He might as well waste time in there rather than wandering the empty, depressing roads. Phil could see the local Council had recently tried to make improvements in the park; the railings were all freshly painted, the small tea-shop was actually open, the grass was freshly cut, and the beds and pond well-kept. He felt cheered at the sight. It would have been easy to let the park fall into disrepair and ruin.

Because it was mid-week and off season, there were only a few people in the park; a couple walked a dog, an old lady listlessly threw bread at a bored looking duck, and a barista in the tea-shop leaned on the counter with no customers to serve. A man in overalls worked on a flower-bed, clearing out dead flowers. None of them paid him any mind. He noticed a greenhouse on the other side of the small lake, and headed round to have a look.

He peered through the cloudy glass on the door and saw a magical world of green inside. A notice on the glass said it was closed on Wednesdays. It was Wednesday.

He walked round the building, looking for something else to do. He ended up in a part of the park which hadn’t been as well restored as the other areas. Overhung trees and bushes sprawled untidily over cracked and broken paths. The railings, such as they were, were rusty and damaged. The whole area had an atmosphere of dereliction and decay. He saw an old sign attached to one of the trees. It read ‘Maze’ in antique script. Underneath the words, an arrow pointed him further away from the main park. Phil decided to go for a look.

The path led him through oppressive bushes and trees for a few hundred yards, then ended in a wide grassy area with the maze set in the middle. It wasn’t a particularly big maze, no more than a hundred feet square, but it was tall; about eight feet high. It didn’t look as if it was well maintained; the hedge itself was ragged and unkempt, as was the grass surrounding it.

Phil walked up to the maze, and looked around. There was a small booth at the entrance but it was in a poor state of repair suffering from dry rot and peeling paint. Phil checked his watch, then decided to have a go at the maze. There was no particular reason, it just felt the right thing to do. He walked past the booth and was about to enter when he heard a small voice.

“A penny please, sir.”

Phil gave a visible start, he thought he was on his own. It took him a moment to source the voice and finally realized it had come from the booth. He looked toward it and saw there was a tiny old man sitting in the darkness of the wooden hut.

“A penny please, sir,” repeated the old man.

“Sorry, I didn’t see you there,” stammered Phil.

“That’s alright, sir. Don’t get many visitors down here. I was just taking a nap when I heard you passing me by.”

Phil smiled at what he thought was a joke.

“Don’t like people passing me by, sir. Ain’t right,” the old man said in a dour tone.

“Sorry.” Phil mumbled again. To ease the tension, Phil changed the subject, “I like the renovation they’ve done to the rest of the park.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about. Nothing been done to this whole park nigh on twenty years, not since the Thirties. Alderman Smith did it, well leastways he organized it.”

The Thirties? Twenty years ago? More like eighty. But Phil didn’t bother to argue. The old guy had obviously lost his marbles. He reached inside his pocket and dug out a coin. A twenty pence piece, it was all he had. Phil handed it over.

“Keep the change.”

The old guy smiled. “Thank you, sir. Go right in.” he said motioning to the entrance of the maze.

Initially Phil enjoyed the sensation of getting lost. He tried to make the most of the experience, and intentionally wandered aimlessly. He twisted left and right without thinking, following the paths of the maze as he saw fit. After what he felt was about fifteen minutes he decided he was lost enough and would try to find his way out.

No matter which way he turned he was faced with the same scene; green hedges. The green was vibrant and almost dazzling; it struck a harsh contrast to the grey of the sky. He stopped and sighed, it had looked like a fairly mediocre effort from the outside, but he had to admit the maze had stumped him. Faced with no other choice, he started to walk once again.

The hedges were impenetrable; no light shone through them. He could see nothing but grey when he looked to the sky. To make matters worse it was beginning to get dark. Dark? It was only about three o’clock. He looked at his watch and realized with a jump it was half past five. How the hell did that happen? Time didn’t race when you were unemployed; it dragged. 

With no other choice, he kept up his pace, twisting and turning through the green walls that trapped him. Trapped? His subconscious had thrown the word into his mind; a word he would never have normally used. He didn’t feel trapped; it was only a bloody maze! Don’t you? a sly voice inside his head asked. He checked his watch. Seven o’clock. What? He shook his wrist, not believing his eyes. He looked up at the sky, saw only grey and the darkening of approaching night. He could still make out the hedges in front and beside him, and the ground was still visible, but he wondered how long that would last.

Something twitched at a locked door in his mind, something he tried to get rid of. Panic. He suddenly realized he was really lost, not like earlier when it had seemed merely a game. Why hadn’t the old man tried to find him before the park closed, had he forgotten or had he not cared?

Phil reached a junction – left or right? He went left. After what felt like only a few moments, he checked his watch again. It was nine-thirty. He was cold, hungry and tired. Surely there was a way out of the maze? He took a tissue from his pocket and shredded it into long, thin strips. He put all but one back in his pocket. He twisted the remaining piece round a small twig so its whiteness was visible in the night. He started to walk again, careful to count each step. When he reached fifty he tied another small twist of tissue into the hedge. Fifty steps; a twist. Fifty; twist. His plan was to eventually get back to the first twist so he would know he had covered that portion of the maze. Then, he would be able to find his way out. It was simply a matter of elimination.

He gave up on that idea when his watch read one a.m. and he still hadn’t come across any bits of tissue. He had run out of twists around eleven o’clock but had carried on in vain as he tried to find any sign of the twists he had lain. He couldn’t find one. Crumpling to the ground, he put his head in his hands and began to sob.

***

In a deserted and scruffy part of a forgotten park, in a small hut at the entrance of a neglected maze, an old man waits patiently for the next customer. While he does, he smiles because he is the only one who knows that sometimes, just sometimes, those who enter the maze never find their way back out.

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

Bleed

“Have you ever wanted something so badly that you would do absolutely anything to get it?”

Marlys’ words were breathless. Her eyes shone with a kind of dark hope that turned Wallen’s stomach.

“Maybe some things aren’t meant to be gotten,” Wallen said gently. Marlys reared back and slapped him, hard, her palm making a sound against his flesh that brought him back to childhood, but he didn’t flinch. He didn’t cower or scream or hide. He stood there, a man now, letting a grieving woman beat him with her hands and fists while he stood, resolute.

“I love you and would never hurt you, no matter what you do,” he said, and her rage kicked up a notch before she sank to the ground in tears. Wallen sat beside her until her tears dried.

Marlys didn’t let it go. She couldn’t. She stopped eating, picking at her food and moving it around so it looked like she had a mouthful or two, but Wallen knew better. She stayed up at night, glued to the computer, the screen illuminating her face in the dark. She looked up people and practices and phone numbers and things that took a shadowy turn.

Wallen drove Marlys to her therapist and waited outside in the car. He leaned his chair back in the cool air, watching the leaves as they shook in the breeze. He listened to audiobooks and podcasts and sometimes simply the silence. So much more comfortable than sitting in the beige waiting room with a bunch of vapid magazines. He didn’t want to know how to drive a man crazy in bed or write his congressperson. He just wanted to know how to make his wife better, make her whole, when half of her had been abruptly severed and left to bleed out.

She came back from therapy looking exhausted, or thoughtful, or invigorated, or stripped of all her humanity.

“How was it today?” he would ask each time. He was supportive. He was calm. He was all of the textbook things a perfect husband would be toward a grieving wife.

“My sister is still dead,” Marlys would answer, and Wallen would hold her hand if she wanted to be touched or simply drive, looking straight ahead, if she didn’t.

Marlys was a different woman every day.

“Don’t ever leave me,” she’d say. He promised to stay.

Or

“I’ll never feel normal again. You should just go.”

He still promised to stay.

There were the days when she said nothing at all, but curled up in bed with their cat sleeping on her chest. She didn’t look at Wallen when he took her hand or made the bed around her or drew a bath and gently led her to it. He would wash her hair and pour water over her like she was a small child. Afterward, he would wrap her in a towel and hold her on his lap.

“We will get through this,” he said. He wasn’t certain she really wanted to, but that was okay. Wallen had enough will to live for two of them. That’s the thing you do with someone you love: you take turns leading. It’s when you both break that you have to worry.

It was their birthday. Marlys and Mary. They bought a cake and Wallen drove them to the cemetery. They spread out a cheery blanket and set up a little picnic at the headstones. Marlys carefully served pieces of cake. One for Wallen. One for her. One for dead Mary, one for dead Max, one for dead Zariah, one for dead Jaleel. Mary and her three children shared one big, beautiful headstone, all with the same death date. Mary’s husband, who also shared the same date, was buried far away, all alone, nowhere near his family.

“They’re not his anymore, are they?” Marlys had told Wallen when they were making funeral arrangements. “He lost his right to them when he shot them in their sleep. Instead of a murder/suicide, he should have gone right to the suicide. He didn’t have the right.”

Time passed as it always did, but Marlys became more obsessed. She watched movies and documentaries about zombies, about living vampires, about the undead. Wallen found bird skulls and other strange objects around the house. He’d come home to see strangers with shaded eyes sitting in his living room.

“You’re scaring me,” he told her. Marlys’ hands were always cold whenever he held them, which was less and less often. “They’re gone, my love. You can’t bring them back.”

Oh, but she would try. She tried spells. Voodoo. She beseeched God and gods and goddesses and anything that would listen. She had people pray over the bodies and use crosses and blood and faith and dead cats and urine and everything else anybody told her to do. She desecrated Mary’s grave over and over and over and over.

And over.

And over.

“You asked me not to leave you, but you’re leaving me,” Wallen whispered one night. He wrapped his arms around the husk of his wife. The shine of her eyes told him she was awake.

“Please come back, Marlys. I can’t go through this world alone.”

“Everybody’s alone.”

He thought he heard her voice, but when he looked, the eye shine was put out and she looked asleep. Perhaps he had misheard. He certainly hoped so.

He was afraid he knew how this would end. Marlys would stop believing in ghosts and angels and devils. She wouldn’t be able to bring her sister and the children back. Life wasn’t Pet Semetery or The Monkey’s Paw. The dead stayed dead.

But they’d be reunited in another way, he was sure of it. Family was meant to be with family, and you couldn’t escape the ties that bind. Wallen went to sleep every night listening for the click of a new gun in the house. He knew it would come.

∼ Mercedes M. Yardley

© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.

 

Damned Words 36

 

Gentle Caress
Nina D’Arcangela

Her tears fall in gentle caress; the cacophony within grows. Metal screeches and groans as rivets strain; the contortion as abnormal as the abomination itself. Haunting echoes mimic her pain; the moan of a mother forced to witness a great affront. Torn from her body: distorted, punctured, malformed. Mother’s milk tries to soothe that which can never be unwrought.


Reapers
A.F. Stewart

Rusting steel, exhaust, and the roar of engines. That is the world of ancestors left us. The screams of the hopeless and the lingering smell of blood in our noses. Tonight, I stand sentinel atop this makeshift parapet, above tribal bones bleached by time and weather. Each skeleton nailed to the metal with reverence, a sacrifice to Death and warning to would-be enemies.

I wait for the hunters to ride out. Nomads have camped at the far river, and tonight, their blood runs red into the waters. Save for two. They are young and fresh, in the turning years between child and adult. They are ours.

Seven days the boy will hang from our rack until pain becomes his mistress and he is ready to join our ranks. To serve Death. We will sacrifice the girl, her flesh flayed from her bones and her flowing blood replenishing the soil. I will cherish her screams well after Death claims her. I shall hang her skeleton from the north tower, in homage to our god. I long to hear her bones rattle in the wind.

I smile. This is who we are. This is what we have made of our world.


Gasworks
Mercedes M. Yardley

It was a busy park full of people and picnic blankets patchworked together on the hill. When it was sunny, everyone jammed themselves together like boats crowding the dock. They flew kites. They lapped up the rare sunshine. They watched their little ones playing tag with strangers.

It would be joyful, but Cora could see more than others. She could see a person’s life span, could see the vitality draining from them, could see who had fifty more years or ten more days or five more minutes. The people were bags of would-be rotting flesh, smiles peeling back in decay.

There were so many faces, so many draining hour glasses, that it was impossible to focus on just one. So much better than home where one timeline caught her attention, her stares, her focus. He was a small boy with a gap-toothed smile, one precious second running out each time he called her “Mama.”


Arrogance
Mark Steinwachs

“Let that gorgeous sky be a reminder; Mother Nature never worried about you. Your kind barely blipped on her radar. You brought the end on yourselves. Not through her destruction but through your baseness. Humans,” Michael’s voice booms, dripping with loathing. “You eroded yourselves and your punishment is at hand.”

You look up, frantically searching for an escape. Your mind goes to when God unleashed his minions and within those first few moments you knew how wrong humans were… about everything. You’ve watched angels and demons, heroes, villains, and gods from across time and continents display what it means to kill in His name.

Your attempt to survive ends in this insignificant place. The last thing you’ll see; rust-covered metal. The color of human legacy. Boots on grated stairs announce your fate. You turn. Michael, wings spread in glory, arcs his gleaming sword down.


As Yet, Disquiet
Scarlett R. Algee

For as long as we’ve lived in this valley, contending with the things under the earth that would devour us, we’ve had the Machine, and the Machine produces the Sound.

We talk about it in capitals, the Sound, though we don’t hear it; we’ve known it years, decades, longer. Only if you leave the valley will you become aware of its absence, poking into your senses the way you’d prod at the gap from a missing tooth. And when you return, you’ll actually hear it for an instant: your eardrums vibrating with the great low hum, your teeth set on edge, before the Sound slots back into your brain where it belongs. It’s everything that’s safe, this hum we’ve stopped hearing.

Or it was until fifty-seven seconds ago, when the Machine failed.

And already, we can hear something greater than the Sound: the grinding of earth in great jaws, tremoring below our feet.


Extinction
Charles Gramlich

I listen closely. Raw petroleum, pumped fresh from the ground, rumbles through the great pipe overhead. But that sound is always present. I’m in an oil refinery, after all. This is something else, a hollow, echoing throb. My mind offers a descriptor for the sound, one that makes no sense. The descriptor is…ancient.

I shake my head. It’s been a long day. Lifting the wrench I carry, I tap it hard against the pipe. Metal tings on metal, ringing like a bell in a church for sinners. I don’t expect an answer.

I get one.

The pipe booms. Rust powders down. I leap back convulsively. Metal rivets pop. A spray of yellow-black crude whips me across the face. I smell hydrocarbons, organics. Petroleum comes from once living things, like dinosaurs. Everyone knows that. But it’s all extinct now. No life could survive the pressures under which petroleum forms. No normal life.

More rivets explode. A thick stream of sludge nails me where I stand. Something that’s supposed to be dead slips taloned fingers through the breach in the pipe and begins to peel it open. Looks like extinction isn’t quite what it seems.

I hope that’s true for humanity.


Eye to Socket
Lydia Prime

The metallic taste in my mouth was nothing compared to the aroma that surrounded me. The tacky, filth covered walls offered no help in the darkness as I sloshed and fumbled.  Finally, I remembered the lighter hidden in my hip pocket; its tiny glow flickered amber. The rusted enclosure smothered my senses; russet liquid filled the chamber to mid-thigh. A loud rushing filled my ears as the fluid drained revealing small sepia mounds. I reached for one, brought it closer for inspection—breathless and alone, I stared eye to socket with my future.


All that Is
Lee A. Forman

All that is flows through bleeding steel, weathered like old bones left unburied. The drab shell holds fresh sustenance. Its purpose before, I do not know. Different stories, most untrue. I think it doesn’t matter. Only tomorrow, maybe today.

Over the heads in front I see the Waiters. They serve only the few. The many must leave their plates behind and be all that is.

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

Swept Away

Dwindling twilight; a summer breeze. He hands her a chilled glass of wine. She smiles, thanks him, sips the dry fruity liquid and blushes. He returns the smile, sips from his own glass and looks out over the lapping water of the bay. Taking her hand, he leads her down the steps, across the patio and opens the gate leading to the surf. Slipping off her shoes, she steps through the gate and onto the cooling sand. He follows. Hand in hand they stroll to the water’s edge. Leaning down, he places a chaste kiss upon her forehead, her cheek, her moistened lips. They walk in silence, letting the water caress their ankles.

Rounding the tip of the inlet, the water is much more aggressive, the waves coming ashore with more force. The open ocean lies before them. They’ve always dreamed of sailing away together, escaping the drudgery of day to day life and living as nomads on the sea. They walk for what seems hours, both glasses long since drained, both sets of feet tiring of the sand. She smiles in the moonlight and nods the way they came, indicating they return home. Never one to deny her, he smiles his agreement. They turn, begin the trek back; the tide is coming in. She veers towards the gentler sand; he tightens his grip, holding her in place. She glances up, sure he has misread her cue. His face is shadowed, but seems harder, less indulgent. She tries to pull her hand free; he doesn’t allow it. He draws her further into the water; she tugs back, still believing he is playing. The moonlight slants across his face; she sees no mirth in his smile, but an ugliness she didn’t know existed. She begins to panic; he drags her toward the undertow. Being the stronger swimmer, he doesn’t fear the water at night; he relished the fight of the high tide. She swims only when the sea is calm, terrified of the unseen depths. Waves begin to crash over them; she sputters, he grins. Turning with an iron grip on her wrist, he drags her out into the inky blackness.

Eight days crawl by; he still clutches the swim trunks the police believe he was wearing the night he returned home, unable to find her. The detective sits on the opposing deck chair, tells him there is nothing more they can do. He begs, he weeps; he pleads for them to understand she would never enter the water at night alone. The detective understands, is sympathetic, but must still inform him they are declaring her lost at sea. The only item found thus far is her swimsuit that washed ashore. He identified it himself she reminds him. He is shattered, a broken man, the love of his life lost. The detective apologizes once more and excuses herself. The police presence withdraws from his home, his life, his world. He is the affluent one; there is no reason to suspect foul play. There wasn’t even a life insurance policy to question; she never had one. Playing the part of the grieving widower, he ceremoniously lays her to rest at sea; friends mourn his loss.

Three months later, he sails into port; she waits for him in the lavish bungalow they purchased on the French island of Réunion. They’ve had no contact in the months between. For two estranged lovers, it has been an eternity. They reunite; he pours each a glass of wine; she asks if there was suspicion. He tells her of his hysterics, burying his wife at sea, the long journey to reach the island. She asks again if he was suspected of having a hand in his wife’s death. He laughs as he answers that while he did indeed have exactly that – a hand in his wife’s death – they never suspected a thing. She asks how that could be. He smiles, places his wine on the table and cups her face while reassuring her the plan was flawless. Convincing her older sister to marry him, then gift him her wealth was a stroke of genius; it placed him above reproach and set them up to share a lifetime of extravagance. She’s the one he loves. The wedding; a ruse.

She smiles in return; she’s been swimming these waters for quite a while. She knows which underwater caves have air pockets, and which don’t.

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 35

 

Animals
A.F. Stewart

Always the warm orange glow against the bars. That one cage, when all the rest remain dark. But I don’t get too curious or linger, just dump the slop into the feeding troughs. I don’t know what this place used to be, but these days it’s when the Company keeps the dregs.

The animals.

They used to be human. I know that, but now… Scaly deformed fingers grab at their food, oozing tentacles, and rotting bits I don’t even want to think about. Only the glowing cage seems, well, normal. As normal as those things get, I suppose. Whatever’s in there whispers when I feed it, says thank you, real polite like.

But I’m not fooled. I know what it did to the last guy. He got too curious. First day on the job I put what was left of his remains in the trough. That was warning enough. I’m not ending up as food for the animals.


Mechanism of Question
Lee Andrew Forman

Bare skin and fragile bones—a futile effort at remaining human. The coming flame warms the flesh but not the soul. Dry, cracked layers burn away, allowing soft, pink, infantile cells to feel every degree. The orange glow travels a path of rust and steel, the conductor of its radiant journey. It leads to the blackened seat on which my body rests. Not dead, not alive, but waiting between. Tired eyes roll, reflect the end in their widened centers. The scent of liquified remains speaks for those before me, their agony carried by its rotten, smoldering, odor. It begins against my back. Perhaps my legs as well, but I lost feeling in them long ago. No pain at first, only the restoration of normal body temperature, a euphoric moment of internal balance, a slight release of suffering. That moment flees the rise in energy, replaced by a boiling gut and viscous epidermis running down my rear side. As by body expels its last contents I know the torment will soon be done. Whatever waits, if anything at all, can’t be worse than cruel mortality. Or can it?


Radiance
Scarlett R. Algee

The thump had come from the basement, and so does the heat. You’re sweltering by the time you reach the bottom of the steps, but the vents are all cold except the one in the far corner, the one by the body. It’s the third one this month.

You look up first, to the beam overhead and the snapped cord, then down to bent ligatured neck and shock-splayed limbs. A tiny gash along the jawline draws your attention, making your face sting with recognition. You kneel and grasp the chin–sweat-slick, too warm, slipping in your fingers and making your skin crawl—and turn the head, looking into your own glazed eyes. The corner vent has begun to glow dull red, and the hair, your hair, is starting to singe.

Maybe you should let it. Three times this month, and you keep finding yourself like this. Maybe you should let it burn; maybe that will give you answers. You unbutton your damp collar and run a hand over your razor-nicked face, breathing the acrid stench of crisping hair, and watch your corpse’s fingers twitch and curl.


Husk
Mark Steinwachs

Not looking at the cages doesn’t mean I can’t hear the screams from within, the horrid sound echoes daily amongst the husk of the building they’ve made our home. I’ve never been this close. Death in three cages; slowly eliminating us as our usefulness wanes. One a roaring fire searing the flesh from you, another where the flame laps at you bubbling your skin, the final one a flameless heat made of soot and remains that slowly cooks you. Those sobbing wails are the worst, they’ve haunted my dreams from my first day here.

I don’t need to worry about that anymore. I look at the men watching my comrades in their final moments, their faces pure delight, a reward for a job well done. The butt of the rifle pushes me forward. My last few steps an uncertain certainty.


Critters
Lydia Prime

It aint so bad, sleepin’ under that dang metal roof. Worst part, I hate hearin’ them critters skitter and scratch as they run its length. Pa says it aint nothin’ but ‘coons an squirrels; I ain’t never seen a masked-bandit that big, nor no tree-rat that heavy. Would be less unsettlin’ if they would chitter or growl, but they fight silent in the dark. I woke to heavy scrappin’ that night only to see the side wall pieced by a ragged claw; it was peeling the far side of the roof like a sardine can. Pa said it was my magination, and that I better get my ass back in bed ‘fore I catch a whoopin’ when I ran to him. I’d rather face the monster squirrels than Pa when he’s in one’a his booze moods. So I climbed back inta bed, that’s when I saw the light leaking in further than b’fore. I know I shoulda been good an’ gone to sleep, but for the life a me, I couldn’t shake the feelin’ something was comin’. When I saw that muddy eye lookin’ through the tear, I knew they was here, and no amount a hiddin’ was gonna help.


Misfiring
Nina D’Arcangela

I lay on the ground, the slats above blurring and jittering as he strikes repeatedly. Fists hammering, elbows slamming; a brief glimpse of light appears. He’s relentless. The beating brutal; as brutal as they’ve all been. A crack to the side of the head; I feel wetness. The light glows brighter, warmer, more embracing. I nearly black out, I would black out if it wasn’t for the lines my mind is riding. I count them: one – my jaw crunches under his forearm; two – I realize he isn’t going to stop this time; three – I let myself drift on waves of pain; four – I focus on the glow; five – is someone coming to welcome me home, or are my neurons misfiring from the assault on my skull? Either way, my suffering ends.

 

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

Damned Words 34

 

Taunts and Beckons
Jon Olson

The doctors said I’ve been blind all my life. If that were true I wouldn’t be lying here in restraints. No matter how many times I’ve screamed, nobody listened.  I even clawed my eyes out to erase the image but all they did was tie me down in a padded cell. And I can still see the same sinister flower in full bloom. It’s always moving and not swaying gently in a light breeze. No, the petals curl up like fingers, taunting and beckoning me to come closer. But I cannot move nor look away. My screams and prayers go unanswered as if Death itself has forgotten me. What is it that you want? It just taunts and beckons…


Some Carnivores Have Roots…
Lydia Prime

Agile movements by a tongue so sharp and sleek, blackened teeth stretch wide to distort the mighty jaw. Concealed by delicate beauty, secrets lie inside their florescent warning. A field springs up with no gardener in sight and onlookers are drawn to the mysterious plants. Mobility is unnecessary for the ravenous blossoms the Reaper keeps.

Those misguided admirers lean too near the center for a closer peek, before a second thought is had, flesh and bone are devoured while blood and soul slurp down their immaculate throats. The first crimson droplets soak the yellow petals of the rooted beasts; the golden plot now scarlet after the grotesque feast.

Gurgling sounds echo from the rows of flowery plumage while his grimness emerges from the dark. Satisfied by quick collection, the lemon color returns.


Gifts
Mercedes M. Yardley

You think each one will be memorable. You assume you’ll remember every place, every time, every circumstance. But that isn’t the case at all. After a while, all of your victims begin to blur together.

They become montages of broken smiles, smudged lipstick, and shattered fingernails. You forget which one smelled of jasmine and which one smelled like old library books.

Oh, you especially loved the one that smelled like old library books.

So you go out of your way to remember. Capture their essence. Perhaps you begin by taking pictures. Before the murder, and then after. You build up to pictures during the act, which frightens them the most.

They used to ask “Why?” but now the question is “Are you recording this?” You know what they’re really asking. “This won’t stop, will it? Will you post it on the Internet? Will my father see this? Please don’t let my father see.”

After the deed is done, you dispose of the body and secret the recording away. But you take something, like a small gold ring or the red flower from her hair, and give it to your small daughter, who watched the whole thing. Now you’ll both remember.


Corpse Flowers
Scarlett R. Algee

Two months ago they drove me out of this village, pitchforks at my back, my cottage in flames and my gardens of herbs and flowers torn to tatters, their cries of witch! and devil! and unclean! ringing in my ears.

But now I stand in the village churchyard, my hands full of promise. So hungry, these little seeds I’ve managed to save, squirming in my palms, begging to be buried. Neatly kept graves, a pretty black seed for every one, a precious red flower that will bloom from each charnel patch come daybreak. Someone’s memorial, some widow’s gift, these fools will think it, until the flowers swell under the next new moon and birth each corpse anew in viridian and crimson, in thorns and teeth and mindless ravenous hunger: hunger for bone and flesh and sinew, for heart and blood and brain, for fulfilling my will. The wretches who forced me forth with scarcely the clothes on my back will beg, then scream, then die—and I’ll watch, and I’ll laugh. A beautiful sight, the yearning of the starving dead for the living ones they so outnumber.

Let me see who calls me unclean then.


From the Ashes, Fire
A.F. Stewart

Grey light from a waning sun shed itself across the burnt wasteland that used to be a forest, weaving pale silhouettes and glimmers of faint light. A feeble ray caught the colour of a single blooming flower sprouting from the ash; a flash of garish orange petals surrounding a black center. An anomaly of life springing past the spectre of death.

In the hushed air, over the charred remains and skeletons, hung the stench of smoke and silence, yet you can hear it: the small sizzle, the crackle of simmering embers. Pop, pop, pop from the stamen, born of hellfire and blackened bone, brewing spores, waiting on the fresh wind to blow down from the mountain. Waiting to spew its seed to the breeze, to drift away to new, fertile ground.

Away to different land where more flowers will take root, burrowing malice and annihilation into the ground. Where pristine fire will erupt from the soil and burn its tendrils through all life. Where death, hell, and garish orange petals will flourish in the ashes.


The Contract
Mark Steinwachs

I gambled and lost. My fate delivered in the vibrant photograph before me. Its near perfection only makes the flower’s two off-angle anthers stand out. I knew what I signed up for, quite literally, after our third date. He told me about his others, their flaws and weaknesses. My signature on the contract, my convicted belief. A kid from a second-rate drag show, saved by a wealthy man and shown the world. We all dreamed we’d live that movie. I did—and I looked better in a tight black skirt too.

I sat in the chair he had specially made. My chair, our chair. His hands effortlessly tied the knots as he had countless times before. The moment he mentioned he had something special today, my calm anticipation became jumbled nerves. That’s when he showed me the photograph. Unrivaled beauty, but…

He released the picture, which floated morosely to the floor. I closed my eyes, wanting his voice to fill me. “You were so close, which makes your imperfection all the more glaring.”

I felt the barrel against the back of my skull. The click of the safety my last memory.


Garden of Whispers
Lee Andrew Forman

My eyes close as pedals open, releasing the scent of tender care. One deep breath fills my lungs with delicate flavor; remembrance accompanies the indulgence in flashes of silver and red, visions of eyes screaming, then closing. My hands grab at the soft dirt, fingertips dig in. Ecstasy flows in tandem. I inspect each bloom, check for flaws. They are my life and I am theirs. They whisper more, and more I bring. Ravenous things, they are. But so beautiful; I can’t help but love them. I only bring the finest ingredients to my lovely garden—fresh and still bleeding.


Looming
Nina D’Arcangela

Looming, always staring. It watches no matter where I go, following with its stamen; feeling, tasting with the ever so slight quivering of its bracts. It’s inescapable. The stench nearly as bad, it puffs spore, tiny yet distinguishable. How I loathe its presence. I remember a blue sky, one that brought light to the day before iron tinged the air. Scientist with grand ideas; the ever ravenous desire to get there first.  The human genome was never meant to be spliced with the flora found in earths deepest chasms. But here we are, living under the dome of a relentless beauty that would see us snuffed from existence as easily as a child plucks a flower. But it’s the waiting, really, the looming as it picks us off one by one — that’s the part that’ll drive me insane one of these days.


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and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2018

Every Day Kintsugi: The Glory of Her Broken Parts

Her grandfather told April her first lie.

“There is an ancient Japanese art called Kintsugi,” he said. “It is when you take something broken and repair it with gold. This turns it into a beautiful thing of even more value. Pottery has been fixed this way for many generations. People are fixed this way, too. Take the flaw and turn it into something better. Can you imagine that, April? Taking the worst part of yourself and working it into something admirable?”

This made April’s dark eyes shine. She wanted to be loved in all her imperfections. She wanted to stand in the glory of her broken parts. Her mother, ever so strict and exacting, railed against her because she wasn’t smart enough, wasn’t disciplined enough, didn’t have skin that glowed with the luminance of pearls and a voice that commanded the oceans. At first April shrank in fear, but then she remembered the promise of Kintsugi.

“I will let the damage become something better,” she said aloud, and she drew the horse hair of her bow far too loudly against the violin, and drew her eyeliner on with too heavy a hand. She took off her clothes in front of boys and girls and teachers. She traded her school uniform for something that looked nice on the back of a motorcycle or inside a police car.

Crash crash crash. Break break break. She told lies and stories and pressed false charges and faked miscarried babies. She stole wallets, hearts, social security numbers and government secrets. She knew that the more she broke, the more she would shine. She destroyed documents. She sabotaged marriages. She sold her soul and intel and the diamond necklace that had been her only birthright.

Her mother’s tears were made of gold.

There was a bomb, a terrible thing, that had burned the clothing from her grandfather’s back and seared it to his skin. Now there was a new bomb, the ultimate Kintsugi, that would shatter everything apart so it could be mended with so much gold that the mind dazzled.

“I can save all of us, repair mankind completely,” April said, her eyes fiery. Her hand smashed on the bomb’s button. But this is modern-day America, not 15th century Japan, and when you pulverize something as badly as April had done, there are no more parts to gently piece together. You end up with handfuls of rubble. You end up with dust. There’s nothing left to repair, and even if there was, this is the age of disposability. You take that chipped piece of pottery and you toss it in the other teeming piles of refuse, and never think of it again.

∼ Mercedes M. Yardley

 

© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 33

Damned_Words_33

Scream
Lydia Prime

If walls could scream the world would hear me. The atrocities I’d witnessed within my brick and sheetrock structure were of my own design. Though it may seem odd, those who chose to occupy my space never stayed very long. The locked doors, gas leaks, faulty carpeting on steps, even household devices in precarious locations seem to assist in their, shall we say, departure. However, they seem to keep on coming.

The newest arrivals have been interesting. They were ecstatic to find such a “gem” on the market for “an absolute steal!” I watched as they tried to remodel, tried to alter me, but faltered at every adjustment. Most recently they began touching up my basement. Disgusted at their lack of appreciation for my appearance; it seemed that a water main had broken and wouldn’t you know it, the damn door wouldn’t open again. The murky level rose to their hips before they realized they weren’t getting out. Those defeated looks upon their faces were more marvelous than I’d anticipated.

They may have been nice, you know? But if I’m being honest, I just wanted to see what they’d look like floating face down.


The Risen
A.F. Stewart

Amidst the damp loam, she awakened. Her eyes opened onto black nothingness, but her ears heard the faint rumble of thunder mixed with the sizzle of lightning. She reached upward, and her phantom existence slowly rose from underneath the cold ground. Streaks of muted sunlight fluttered against a building of brick and iron. The air danced thick with the smell of ozone and the hint of coming rain. In-between the beats of thunder she heard voices from inside the building, wafting past an open window. She smiled.

The others will be here soon.

She moved forward, step by airy step, until she passed straight through the front doors of the building, a majestic Music Hall. Into the foyer she slithered, wisps of ethereal essence floating like a translucent gown, to the shock of the party-goers gathered for the building’s grand opening.

She stopped, closed her eyes, and whispered, “Rise my Brethren, rise.”

The ground rumbled, loud enough to rival the thunder, and an unholy howl shook the walls. Screams followed as the long dead were summoned to seek out the living. Then, and only then, did those within the Hall understand the warnings.

Never build on a witches’ graveyard.


Chords
Nina D’Arcangela

A storm, the children forced to play in the musty attic. Mother hears a screech, she runs to the sound; a little one hides behind a door while the other seeks. She leaves them to their childish game. Rounding the wooden staircase, her heel snaps; she falls utterly soundless.

In the great chamber, the Maestro revels in his music. The chords carry him to a refuge their new abode could never offer. The door creaks open, a small one pokes in, followed by the hysterical boy. Father turns a furious eye; they know not to disturb. The girl tells her tale. All color drains from the man’s face, he rushes to the servant’s stairwell. There she lies, neck twisted an odd angle. His moans echo the faded mahogany walls; the sky crackles in tune.

Buried before her time, children without a mother; man without a wife. He appraises the grandeur that surrounds him; she was worth more. He looks skyward; a bolt strikes the lightning rod, a fat drop strikes his eye. He thinks back to another strike, this one a deal. Standing at that crossroads, he never believed he’d be worth so much, yet have so little.


Easy
Mark Steinwachs

“Not everything has to be deep and mystical, who cares what other people stood here?” I say to our bass player and lyricist, Thane, as we step onto the balcony overlooking the front of the Music Hall. The fans gathered below scream before we pass the threshold of the door. “There isn’t meaningful history at venues or in hidden messages in every song. Life is hard and people want their music transparent for a reason. It’s easy. They want easy. Even I want easy. I’m tired of all of this.” My hand motions out to the crowd, which elicits and even louder roar, and stops at Thane.

We step to the spiked railing, waving at the mass below. “What are you trying to say? Are you …done?”

“Yeah, I want to be alone again, where no one cares who I am. I’m done with this life but really I’m done with you.” As Thane turns to look at me I put my hand on his head and slam it down, sharp steel barbs pierce flesh and bone. For the first time in years I smile for real, imagining the solitude of the cell that awaits.


Soprano
Scarlett R. Algee

The building’s aging, crooked signage reads Music Hall; it’s the only place on campus that doesn’t have some donor’s name attached. I’m early for my choral audition, so I just hang at the entrance to kill time, watching storm clouds gather overhead. Weird; the sky was clear five minutes ago. Lightning flickers from the clouds to the music hall’s multiple spires, casting a faint blue glow across the roof. The same thing happened for my roommate Ophelia’s audition last week. She hasn’t said much since. Sings like an angel now, but never talks; like the audition gave her a new voice, but took her old one away.

A huge bolt cracks into existence, forking from spire to spire. The glow from the roof spreads out over the building, engulfing me, and the scream that comes from my throat is a single note pure as a songbird’s warble. Then the door opens and another student stumbles out, pushing past me. Something shifts and writhes in her open mouth, and her voice is the sound of a ringing glass.

The door is open, waiting, lined in blue light. I don’t question. It’s my turn. I want to sing like an angel.


Living with Ghosts
Mercedes M. Yardley

There was a Before and an After. Before Michael’s death, and After the phone call that changed everything. Somehow the most mundane things became something far beyond her comprehension. Breakfast? Too daunting and too many moving parts. Getting her kids off to school? They could say goodbye to her as she hid under her blankets in bed. Fighting to keep her neglected children after she couldn’t pull it together after a year? They were better off elsewhere. It hurt, but deep in her heart she knew it was true.

So now she lived in a large home with ghosts. Dead Michael stood in the corner making coffee. Missing Lucy and Roman sat at the kitchen table, doing nonexistent homework and joking about elementary school. She watched them, her lips cracked from dehydration as she forgot to take a mouthful of food or sips of water, and she smiled-smiled-smiled at the ghosts of her family.


Invention of an Afterlife
Lee Andrew Forman

The machine whirred, gears alive with anticipation. Sparks lit, took flight with vigor, burned away as quickly as they were born. Outside, arcs of electric light spawned from the place between places—where inventors dreamed and dreamers lived; somewhere they could be eternal. The trio of minds clapped in celebration, eyes wide with fulfillment, mouths hung in astonishment of their success.

But the arms of brightness came to take them. They slithered around their bodies, constricted searing heat into flesh. Cries of agony and betrayal disappeared into the closing gap. Hell had come from their envisioned Heaven, and dragged them into its void of white.


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

 

Damned Words 32

Hope for the Chosen
Lee A. Forman

Within the ancient holder of feed, bodies writhe against one another like worms without purpose. We wait, huddled together, watching. Late deciders add to the pile, releasing their last cries before they join the rest in their naked, fleshy nest.

The earth beneath us trembles. It will soon arrive. My senses hum with anticipation. I have never missed a feeding, yet the vigor of my heart always retains its strength.

It comes on two massive legs, its full height towering above us. Cheers erupt from both the crowd and the meal. Its single eye scans the audience; it looks directly at me. I feel its power, a raw energy which blesses my existence. Its arm reaches in and brings living meat into its enormous circular mouth. Screams of joy from the lucky chosen can still be heard even after disappearing into its blood-soaked maw.

The divine being sated, it departs until next feast. I only hope I’ll be chosen.


The Collector
Mercedes M. Yardley

She had always been a collector. As a child, she had collected stickers in pretty notebooks, and cute erasers shaped like ice cream cones. Then it was stray animals she brought home to her parents. Abandoned kittens on desert roads and birds with broken wings. In high school and college she collected boyfriends, holding each one aloft and examining the shiny, beautiful parts. Even the most stony and broken among them shone like tiny suns in her careful hands.

Now she collected refuse and precious things thrown away. Abandoned dolls. Sad souls in tattered blankets. She wandered the city and found lost little girls, shattered boys, and those set aside as trash. After their eyes closed for the last time, she spirited them away to a dilapidated train car where they would be gathered together, and treasured, forever.


Markings
Lydia Prime

I was unsure of how long I’d been walking, nothing looked familiar. The trees had strange markings on them, each increasingly concerning; monstrous creatures eating each other, fighting – some even appeared to be staring. What are these? I questioned and pressed on.

Though alone, I could not escape the feeling of being watched. I quickly moved through the clearing only to happen upon tracks that sat seemingly forgotten. The entire scape was blanketed in dust, as if untouched by the elements. Peering at the rusted train cars, only then did I notice how silent the area had been. The stillness was unnerving to say the least; nevertheless, I was drawn to the enigmatic scene.

I hesitated, but my desire to know forced my feet forward. I stepped into a paint chipped car and immediately felt the gravity of my mistake. A horned creature materialized in front of me, its stench and putrid flesh were utterly repulsive. Every instinct was screaming ‘RUN’, I could not move. As it drove yellowed claws through my chest, my final thought was of the trees. A guttural voice scoffed in my mind, ‘You shouldn’t have dismissed them.’


Did I Even Hear It?
Jon Olson

Come on, hurry up.  Just grab what we need and let’s go. Our luck has held out so far, but I don’t want to push it. It’s deceptively calm up here today. Number Six isn’t the first railcar we’ve come across during our excursions but it is the first one that’s completely intact. What are they doing in there? It shouldn’t be taking this long. I feel naked and exposed out here. It’s almost enough to make one lose it completely. The radio silence makes it worse. I can’t break it but I’ll knock on the door to tell them to hurry it up. They might just be distracted. It happens sometimes. People will get lost in their own minds during these excursions imagining a life not confined to underground bunkers. The metal stairs emit an almost guttural groan. Was that even the stairs? Reaching for the door a burst of static suddenly rings throughout my gas mask. Before it is swallowed up by the white noise I think I hear a single word. Run. The silence returns but I don’t look back. Did I even hear it?


Color
Mark Steinwachs

Death in Color. My award-winning photograph. A true artist leaves his mark without fanfare, talent only recognized after he’s gone. My piece works on many levels, can be analyzed by ‘scholars’ and laypeople alike. Do the worn blue hues invoke childhood toys and the tragedy of growing up? Or maybe it’s about society abandoning the outdated. Or the stark beauty of decay. I’ve heard those theories and more. Not one got it right, though. They didn’t plumb deeper, didn’t see beyond the top layer of paint.

Someone will. I’m certain. Their fingers will touch the cold metal as mine have. They will enter the number six train and find my victims. Six people; dried blood and corroded metal commingling in a perfect color palette. When the detectives begin their search, my masterpiece will be unveiled. Rust and Blood—a series.


Underneath the Rust
A.F. Stewart

I watch the boy climb the ladder and walk inside the old circus train car. His movement stirs a faint metallic odour into the air. He scrunches his face and complains about the rusting metal. I shake my head. I know better. It isn’t rust he smells, but the lingering scent of the blood. I sigh and follow the boy.

He’s kicking debris across the floor and swearing. Shouting he wasn’t afraid of some old ghost story. So I whisper, loud enough so he can hear, “Come out, come out. Time to play.”

The boy whirls, fear in his eyes. He can’t see me, not yet, and he doesn’t see my friend, the clown, materialize at the far end of the car. He’s so sad, my clown. You can hear the misery drip from his words as he speaks.

“Please don’t make me do this again.”

The boy turns toward the sound of my clown’s voice and screams. The sight of a damned soul will do that to a human. Everyone is afraid of my clown. Too bad he’s not the true threat. It’s me the boy should fear. I laugh as I move in for the kill.


Broken and Maimed
Scarlett R. Algee

I pat the bundle tucked into my jacket for reassurance, and shoulder my way into the old train car. It’s mid-afternoon, but the interior’s still dark enough to need my flashlight. I skim my beam over glass shards, scattering cockroaches, twisted bolts from torn-out seats…and him. He’s right where I left him: waterproofing tape across his mouth keeping him quiet, fourteen feet of logging chain keeping him still, especially after I’d wound it around his neck. He squirms and muffles a curse out as I walk up beside him, but a boot to the ribs makes him moan and go breathless, eyes rolling wildly. That’s the look I saw on my sister’s face in the ER after what he’d done to her face and her teeth, but it suits him better. Makes me glad I picked this old rustbucket. Nobody’ll look for him here.

I take the bundle out of my jacket and squat. As he watches me unroll it on the floor, he whimpers. When I shove his head back and sink the first knife into the soft flesh beneath his eye, he starts to scream.


Blue Pride
Nina D’Arcangela

Number six, the envy of all. She carried only refined coke; her insides never having tasted the dust of coal. Years she served faithfully until the day she didn’t. A fluke, many said; not her fault, others blustered. But the engineer… he knew. He’d felt every tick and wheeze, heard every tale told; recognized her deliberate intent. The next cars’ worth, just as poor, and the one after. Her shine began to diminish, the bright blue pride of the forge peeled as she revealed an undercoat of rust and pock marks. A young smelter, brave but unaware of the lore, climbed her rear, leaned in to check the bricks and slipped landing inside the car. Her gaping maw slammed closed. The engineer listened as she slurped and ground bone until the boy was fully consumed. The mill owners turned a blind eye as number six began to glisten in the sun once more, her loads again of the highest quality. Every now and then, a young man failed to return home after his shift; but the coke, it was the purest, and the mills’ steel, the most sought after.


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