The End

“They did this to themselves. They brought us back and now is the time for them to feel the consequences.”

I look from Beleth to the house next door and give a friendly wave. Pastor Tom, sitting on his front porch, pretends not to see it and turns his head from our direction.

“That’s not very Christian of him now, is it?” I say.

Beleth continues, ignoring my comment. “Nothing can be in moderation anymore. Everything is to the extreme,” the last bit spoken like a commercial announcer. “So, here we are. And soon it will be time to right the ship.”

A group of children and parents round the corner to our house. Beleth stops talking and waits. The kids gasp as the motion sensors kick on and our yard comes alive. Fog rolls out from the machines tucked behind our bushes, the lights on our porch flicker on and off, and Beleth cackles as eerie music emanates from unseen places. A couple of children approach unaffected while others hesitantly come up holding their parents’ hands.

“Trick or treat!”

Beleth stands up and opens his arms wide. Halloween is the one night he can be most like himself, his feline features muted but not totally hidden. “Wonderful children, just wonderful! Now, before you get a treat, you all must answer a tricky question from me. Are you ready?”

The children nod and some of the parents take pictures. Beleth gets down on one knee. “Who will be brave and step forward to answer my question?”

His grin is like the Cheshire Cat and I can’t help but smile and shake my head, taking one more glance across the yard at Pastor Tom, who is scowling at the scene.

A boy, about ten, dressed as a soldier, steps up to Beleth. “Ah, a brave warrior!” Jeeze, he’s laying it on thick this year. “Now, to get your treat, answer me this: What is … twenty times ten?”

Beleth’s grin never faltered. You write one book on mathematics and you think you are God’s gift. The boy looks around for a second, the question seemingly catching him off guard. “Uhh, two hundred, sir.”

“Very good!” he says, and touches the boy on the shoulder. “You can get your treat from my friend Adra right there.”

I hand out the full-size candy bars, yeah, I’m showing off, what about it? as each child answers their math-related question.

As the last one comes to me, Beleth stands back up. “Gene, is that you? I didn’t even recognize Timmy in his costume! We have enough for the parents too, don’t be shy.” He bares his fangs and his cat eyes light up. Gene comes up and introduces us to the other parents. Beleth shakes each one’s hand. “Thank you so much for bringing your kids and letting them have some fun on this wonderful night.”

I know how his touch marks them and I’m not sure if they will thank him or curse him for it later.

The group heads next door to Pastor Tom’s. He waits on his porch and hands each kid a pamphlet. I’ve read it, and it’s not very good, all about the evils of Halloween and how you should have Jesus as your lord and savior and whatnot. Really not my style. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jesus. He’s a good guy and he’s a big part of the reason for what’s about to happen.

The kids take their “treat” from Pastor Tom and move on to the next house on our block. Beleth’s cackle pulls me back to the task at hand as he gets up from his chair.

“Wonderful, children, just wonderful!” And the scene from moments ago plays out numerous times throughout the next couple of hours.

***

“Adra, it’s ten fifty, you ready to do this?” Beleth asks from the other room.

“You know, it’s been a few minutes since I’ve been myself. I’ve got a bit more to contend with than you do. One minute.” I run my hands down my six-packed torso. It’s been much too long since I was my real self and, damn, I look good. Yeah, still showing off. Deal with it. “Besides, he lives next door. Not like we have far to go.”

Stepping back, I take in the image staring back at me from the full-length mirror. I twist my neck, stretching the muscles. I smile at the sight, but it isn’t as … well, charming as Beleth’s. In my true form I have the head and body of a donkey. I walk upright on hooves, but I need hands, so while they match the rest of my fur, they are still human form. I flick my long tail and unfurl the peacock feathering behind me. Each of the green feathers has a blue eye in it that I can use to see my warriors across the world. I snap the feathers closed and let my tail drag behind me as I walk out of the bedroom.

Beleth is waiting in the living room. “Marvelous,” he says. “Adramelech, you are a sight.” He is in full black cat form, and like me, he still walks upright and chooses to keep his human hands too. “What music shall we dance to? Maybe the Valkyries?” From his body the song begins to play quietly in the room.

I shake my head, rolling my eyes, and walk out the front door. “Now who are we waiting on?”

The street is quiet at this time of night and there is a subtle hint of sulfur in the air. I unfurl my train and before I can open myself to the eyes of my soldiers, I hear Beleth’s, “Mmmmm.” Told you I looked good.

Everyone is in place waiting on our signal.

On the road, the two of us walk next door, ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ playing every step of the way. I look across the street at Gene’s house. They are marked and will be safe, through this round. Beyond that, I’m not sure. All the powers-that-be want is the world to get back to a balance. And once we start, we won’t stop until the bosses are happy with their creation.

We look like two well-costumed humans, as do the rest of us all over the world. If anyone is watching, there’s no cause for alarm. At least not until it’s too late. The motion sensor detects us and Pastor Tom’s porch light pops on as we step up to his door.

This is where it begins, with a horribly misinformed ‘servant’ of God, in charge of a nothing little church in a suburb of St. Louis.

No one could envision it starting this way.

I close my tail, pull my leg up, and am about to kick the door in when…

“Wait a second,” Beleth harshly whispers. “I have it.” ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ turns into one of Beleth’s favorite songs, ‘Superbeast’. The aggressive drums and guitar swell around us and off into the night air.

“Really?” I say. “Little on the nose, don’t you think? And there is no way he is going to know this.”

“Who cares about him? I think it’s great. It’s fucking Rob Zombie, over-the-top rock and roll about monsters and sex and violence. Plus, have you seen his movies? It’s everything they hate. This is the perfect music.” He nods at the door, teeth bared. “Go for it.”

I kick my leg out and the door bursts inward. We rush in, heading up the stairs to Pastor Tom’s room. The growling vocals and crunching guitar fill the house, ‘devil’ music announcing our arrival.

Pastor Tom’s eyes are wide as he scrambles out of bed. “Wha … what are you? What’s going on?”

Beleth steps out from behind me. “We’ve come for your daughter, Chuck.” And he laughs at his own joke.

Pastor Tom screams and pisses himself, then quickly regains some form of composure. “My daughter? I … I don’t have a—”

“Really? It’s from a movie. It’s when—oh hell. Never mind. No respect for the classics.” Beleth glances up at me and is about to say more when he’s interrupted by an outburst from Pastor Tom.

“Get out of here! The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!”

I let my tail free once more, each eye begins moving as I watch through them. Across the world my men are attacking. They fight side by side with the angels. Our time is now, the Vetting has begun.

“The power of Christ compels you! The power of—”

“Give it a rest, man!” Beleth barks at him. “This isn’t The Exorcist or something. And to be fair, Christ is sick of your shit. You and your kind.”

The man of God before us once again tries to control the situation. “Kill me, foul demon, and I will be in heaven with my creator.”

“Care to explain things to him, Adra?”

His eyes widen even more at the mention of my name, as it all sinks in, the whole demons living right next door and whatnot.

“You see, Pastor Tom, the world is about to change. We are going to kill you, but you aren’t going to heaven to be with God. Oh no. People like you are why God sent us back. You have perverted his word. Twisting everything to make it an evil or a sin. That isn’t life. That isn’t the way.”

“No! No, this is a test. This is my test. You are false prophets. Demons meant to tempt me. You…”

I step forward and slap him across his face, shutting him up.

“And it’s not just your religion, so you aren’t even special there. It’s all of them. All the extremists in the world. Things have gotten a little too out of control here for God’s liking. He let you pathetic creatures think for yourselves and you fucked it up. Frankly, I’m surprised he waited this long, but I digress. So, he has sent down the angels from heaven and called the warriors from the underworld to fight together and regain control.”

Pastor Tom stares at me in silence.

Beleth rejoins the conversation. “Look, man, it’s irony.” He turns to me. “Irony, right?”

I shrug my shoulders, and he continues. “Irony. God, the good guy, is going to have demons, the bad guys, work with his warriors to reset this mess of a planet. Those that survive will be a part of his new plan. And all you overzealous, everything bashing, every other religion hating, everything is evil people, are not part of it.”

Beleth lunges forward, cat-like claws slash at Pastor Tom’s neck and blood explodes from it. I see him scream, but hear no sound as music blares forth from my partner, shattering the windows throughout the house.

Beleth quiets the music and Pastor Tom gurgles in the corner struggling to survive. “Where to next?” My partner says.

“Are you kidding me?” I say as I receive our next order. “Topeka, Kansas.”

“I have just the song.” Beleth blinks out of existence and I swear off in the distance I hear, ‘It’s Raining Men.’

“I’ve been wanting a shot at those guys. This is going to be fun.” I say to Pastor Tom, and disappear from the room.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

Advertisements

A Quiet Ravine

Roused from its sleep by the ruckus in the trees, it slunk from its den; head down, teeth bared. It sensed pain and fear on the humid air. Slowly it approached; the stench of contorted metal nearly overwhelmed the scent of iron-rich blood. In a low crouch, it moved toward the mass of debris resting in the stream. Caution barely quelled the hunger it felt, so much so that it shivered with need. Seen from a distance, a bulbous shadow began to move. The shape grew frantic, it hung upside down like an animal in a trap. Quicker, its appetite fully aroused, it sprinted towards its quarry. Screeching sounds now emanated from the pile. It responded by clawing at the crumpled mass, eager for the taste. The movement inside stopped, it paused in unison; both awaited the other. A tentative mewl from within sent it into a mad frenzy. It slammed its body against the teetering hulk, snapped and snarled at its prey, pounded every surface until the vehicle rocked violently.

***

Terror vibrated through her body; her wide eyes peered helplessly as the thing outside ravaged the mangled vehicle. She knew she shouldn’t scream, but hysterics and fear won out. As it backed away a few feet, she could see it contemplating the cracked window. It burst through the passenger side in a cacophony of shattered glass, screams and growls. Trapped upside down in the locked seat belt, she could do nothing but wait. A moment of tense silence hung between them. She began to pray, but no god answered her prayers as stiletto teeth fastened themselves around her midsection. She gurgled red foam as it ripped the engorged bump of her unborn child from her body. She watched as it shook the mound with feral brutality. Her body gushed a moan that matched the sound echoing in her mind. The creature’s head lashed out again; its jaw crushed her ribcage, collapsed her lungs, stilled her heart. Her scream ended in a useless gasp as her body slumped forward in grotesque embrace of that which feasted upon her.

∼ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. 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.

Meat and Leather

The high-pitched screams slowly faded to silence in front of him. Using his paring knife as a tool of inspection, he checked his work, turning the glistening, skinless torso from left to right as he watched for any spots he may have missed. The small body rolled with little effort since no limbs remained to inhibit the motion; they were customarily removed for efficiency in the skinning process.

Satisfied, Jeremy pressed the blade to the creature’s neck with increasing pressure until the head squished away from the torso, completing the total dismemberment. He picked up the head by its youthful tuft of dark hair and held it at eye level.

“I hope you enjoyed the pain,” he said to the lifeless eyes staring back at him. “In the end, we’re all just meat and everyone’s gotta eat.”

Jeremy dropped the head into a trash receptacle. With swift slices akin to a Rhoad Island wharfsman he stripped off the meat—separating it from the inedibles—and tossed the pieces into the pot simmering on a can of blue Sterno at the end of his work bench. He then scraped the remnants from his cutting board into the trash, saving only the creature’s wings.

He took great care to clean the blood from his hands before raising the wings overhead, examining them one after another under the fluorescent light fixture with meticulous slowness and delicate handling, searching for tears, punctures, or deformities. The rubbery smooth sensation of the bat’s wings sent a shiver twitching through Jeremy’s body. He closed his eyes, caressed it against his face.

Jeremy trapped the bats for sustenance, but the pleasure he received from their wings kept him from branching out to larger more sustaining animals. There was something visceral about the sensation of leather, of smooth animal skin whispering along his human flesh—it took him to another plane of experience.

Just as Jeremy put down the wings he heard the muffled thumping upstairs that signaled another victim in his trap. He smiled.

“My stew’s getting heartier by the hour.”

Chuckling, Jeremy reached for his Lite beer. He drained the can, slammed it down next to the crimson-stained cutting board, and wiped the remaining drops from his chin with a clean area of his apron.

He skipped up the basement steps and continued on to the second floor, the old wooden staircases creaking with each shift in weight. At the top, he walked down the narrow hall to the far door.

When his parents still lived in the house, still lived at all, it had been a guest bedroom. But, to young Jeremy, it was like a historic monument—a perfectly arranged room that endured untouched as if from the high security of a museum velvet rope. His mother kept the room pristine just in case a distant relative or lost traveler would drop in and need accommodations, but no one ever came.

His parents didn’t venture out much, on the account of their excessive weight, so the family didn’t really have friends. And no sane person would just drive up a two-mile driveway in the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey to knock on some stranger’s door. So the room remained quarantined—off limits and untouched.

Often, Jeremy would stare at the closed door, knowing that simply touching the knob would warrant the lashings of father’s belt, but when he stood absolutely still some nights after dinner, with the toothpaste dripping from his lips, he could hear the dull thudding of something trapped in the walls and desperately trying to escape.

It was a mystery that never drifted far from his current thoughts. What was it? How was it trapped? What would it be like to thrash about in futility until exhaustion brought Death’s sickle down that much quicker?

His obsession with solving the mystery compelled him to visit the room time and time again, despite the repeated punishments. After a while, the beatings weren’t even a deterrent; in fact, along the way something changed in him and Jeremy began venturing into that prohibited zone more for the leather belt than his intrigue in the room itself.

The same day he put his parents in the ground, he wrenched the knob and shoved his way into the room. Standing there, for what must have been hours, he soaked up the forbidden realm. Staring at the pineapple patterned wallpaper, the tasseled lamp shades, the maroon fluffed carpet, the massive wooden headboard on the four-post bed, but without the promise of leather-bound pain, it was simply a dull, old-fashioned room.

Jeremy shook his head and turned to leave when a sudden flurry of muffled thumping shattered the silence and buried his disappointment. Adrenaline electrified his nervous system like jumper cables bringing a dead car battery back to life. He scurried throughout the room letting his ears guide him to the source of this lifelong mystery. Pressing the side of his head to the walls and sliding in every direction he eventually pinpointed its location—the chimney stack.

Moments later the room was full of plastic lining, heavy tools, and masonry dust. Jeremy hammered his way to the answer he craved.

The demolition revealed an odd bottleneck design to the home’s chimney. It was an unintentional trap for creatures of the night—an ideal resting place during the day, but too narrow for flight on exit. Bats, upon waking at dusk, would feel trapped and bludgeon themselves against the brick structure trying to escape.

Laying on a small ledge in this bottleneck, were several tiny carcasses; one of which was still fresh. Jeremy cradled the corpse in his hands. He could sympathize with the winged mammal’s plight. He too had been trapped by this constricting house. Emotion welled in his eyes.

On the verge of vowing to cement the trap away and close off the entire chimney forever, he stopped abruptly in mid thought. His widening eyes tilted down to look at his hands. Lost in his head, he hadn’t realized his fingers were rubbing the bat’s wings like a child absentmindedly working a worry stone. The sensation brought full understanding to him, not just with what he desired, but the realization that he was now truly free to do as he wished.

Over the next few days he worked hard to enclose the hole in the chimney, but with a new design. He installed a one-way gated trap with an internal door that would allow him access to the captured animal. He tested different baits, from sound frequencies to rotten fruit, luring his winged friends to their doom. It wasn’t long until he was capturing enough of them with regularity to further his own survival and satisfy his unnatural attractions.

Jeremy was on his fourth trip to the chimney that evening. He heard the creature’s thumps from the hall, their frequency diminishing, volume weakening—it was the right time to extract it, to make sure it’d have a bit of life left to feel the blessed pain he would graciously offer. Pain was a gift. He would help his new friend transcend to a better realm.

But before Jeremy could open the door an explosion shook the house, reverberating in the closed room and nearly blowing the door off its hinges. His mind pictured a bolt of lightning striking the old structure and obliterating the chimney. Trembling, he opened the door, pushed past some rubble on the carpet.

Neither the room nor the chimney was as damaged as he’d visualized, but the wall and the chimney stack were bulging into the room with areas of missing brick near the ceiling. Jeremy, inching forward, watched with wide eyes as more bricks fell to the carpet; not as a delayed collapse, but from something moving in the stack. What was a dull thumping before the crash, was now the sounds of confined shifting.

Whatever the fuck it is, it’s much bigger than a bat, Jeremy thought.

He crept onward with an outstretched hand reaching for the trap door. The metal door hung crookedly but was strong enough to stay latched. His fingers danced on the handle until he managed a firm grip. He took a deep breath and pulled.

At first all he saw was darkness. Then he noticed the wet glint of dark eyes just as it started to move again. The shadows spilled out of the opening and Jeremy stumbled backward—his shuffling feet catching on carpet, sending him to the floor.

The dark creature unfolded from the confined space and stood over him.

Jeremy couldn’t comprehend what he saw.

Its two hoofs clumped on the floor as it shifted weight between its furry legs. A forked tail whipped back and forth as the creature eyed him. Two long horns, pronged like antlers nearly scratched the ceiling. An elongated face leaned toward him as its teeth worked up and down. The torn remnants of a bat dripped from the creature’s taloned hand. It snorted and tilted its head.

Then it dropped the bat carcass and screeched at him. The echo was so loud as it sounded through the room that Jeremy’s ears released a trickle of blood.

The large creature stepped toward him and when its massive wings unfurled, Jeremy finally realized the nature of the creature before him.

“Y-you’re real!” The sight of the devil’s wings reaching from wall to wall turned Jeremy’s fear into awe and acceptance. “We’re all just meat, and you need to feed. Take me to a better realm.”

The creature shrieked again and lunged at him.

As teeth tore into his flesh and sharp talons ripped meat from bone, Jeremy clutched to the leathery wings, rubbing them against his face.

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2016 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

Controlled

Letters and symbols vibrated on the screen—C# programming conditions that barely made sense to him anymore. Blinking, he tried to halt their rebellious dance, but each moment of blissful darkness brought Mel that much closer to involuntary shutdown. He’d never gone twenty-two hours straight before, nor beyond a ninety-hour work week, but here he was.

The clock in the lower corner reminded him that this sleep-deprived torture was far from over. 6:58AM. Brad’s Lexus would be parking across two visitor spaces out front by now. His entrance was always a whirlwind of douche-baggery.

Moments later, the boss stormed off the elevator, his briefcase swinging wildly as his heavy footfalls stopped at Sheryl’s desk. She looked up at him with half-squinted eyes, as if anticipating the full force of Brad’s backhand. Sheryl was new, only employed since the second quarter began, but she’d been around long enough to experience the worst. He must have something on her too, Mel thought as he peeked over the low cubical wall, otherwise why would she put up with this?

“Good morning, Sir,” she said.

“Don’t just sit there on your fat ass like you’re at home surfing Pinterest for your recipe wishlist, get me the latest shareholder’s report, the morning paper, and the status report for the Streamline project.”

Brad’s verbal barrage didn’t stop there. His demands and insults continued as he marched down the hall to his office, stopping for a moment as he reached his desk. He flopped the briefcase down, shaking the glass walls surrounding him, and sighed in a dramatic exhale. “For fuck’s sake, Sheryl. Where’s my double-espresso latte? You know I need it ready by 7AM.”

With an expletive of her own, she hurried off to the break room to fulfill his request.

Mel kept his head down, preparing himself for the inevitable summoning.

“Code-monkey,” Brad shouted. “Get in here.”

Mel rubbed his face in a brisk motion—trying to wipe the stress away—before shuffling into his bosses’ office. After squeezing into the chair Brad was crowding from his perch atop the desk, Mel stared down at his hands. Despite feeling cold and numb, as they usually did after long bouts of typing, they were sweating. Mel tucked his hands under his thighs for warmth just as Brad opened the discussion.

“How much farther did you get last night?”

“I scripted most of the control statements and I’m close to completing a prototype shell of the app, but as I said before we have to confirm the core attributes before—”

“We talked about this, Mel,” Brad said, tossing his hands. “Just get it done, we’re on a tight deadline.”

“I understand that, Sir. But, we cannot guarantee anything without—”

“Whoa! What the fuck, Mel? Don’t ever mention guarantees; they lead to lawsuits.” Brad punctuated his command with a sharp slap to the back of Mel’s skull.

The strike froze him for a moment; shoulders raised, eyes squinted, mouth half-agape in mid-syllable.  Then Mel reset his posture with slow resignation—funneling all his frustration into a moment of gritted teeth that his dentist would surely complain about at his next appointment.

Unsheathing his hands, he offered them up in placation, hoping to dampen his boss’s fuse as he explained further. “Sorry, Sir. I hear what you’re saying, but without defining all the client specifics like intended application interaction or even required platform compatibility, we’re setting ourselves up for massive revisions. If I could only have a conversation directly with the client, I think—”

“No!” Brad shouted at him, thrusting a finger in his face. “Leave the thinking to me. I manage the clients. You do the programming. Got it?”

Sheryl bustled into the room and, with great care, placed a large cup of coffee on Brad’s desk behind them.

Brad turned and stared her down, annoyed eyes screaming about her ill-timed entrance. Taking his meaning, Sheryl slunk out of the room, visually cringing from the attention, but not before exchanging a quick glance of understanding with Mel.

Maintaining his ocular assault, Brad picked up the tall cup and sipped.

“Sheryl, dear?” he called after her.

She turned.

“This is liquid-shit and you’re fired.” Despite Brad’s calm, Mel winced at the statement. Sheryl was a nice, intelligent woman. She didn’t deserve to be fired over coffee, let alone catering to mundane requests in the first place. The change of job might benefit her in the end, but it would still hurt. Sheryl had two daughters to care for and this salary was her only means of putting food in their fridge.

Sheryl’s mouth fell open, and before she turned away, Mel saw tears already streaming from her eyes. He clenched his fists. His cold fingers now pulsed with a swollen heat, the same sensation that stoked his gut with a churning energy.

“Mel,” Brad cooed, feigning compassion while he perched on the edge of his desk. “The project scope isn’t going to change until we show the prototype and we don’t have the budget for extensive revisions, so get it done and do it right the first time… am I understood?”

Mel seethed in silence—a furious bouncing of the right leg, white knuckled fists, and longer, deeper breathing.

“I needn’t remind you that my father owns Maven Digital Media. Your poor mother’s position might be eliminated if suggestions are made for leaner operations.”

The sound of Brad’s voice seemed distant behind the maddening rush of blood pulsing through Mel’s body. Accelerated breaths pressured out his nose like a show-prepped bull in Madrid’s main arena.

“Oh, and I talked to the client on the way in this morning.” Brad continued, leaning closer. “Due to competitive market pressures, I had to shorten the deadline by another week to keep them happy.”

Mel’s jaw cried out, threatening to strain muscles or chip teeth. The voice in the room was nearly washed out by the white-hot torrent surging through his mind. A rising growl started to form in his throat.

“…don’t care if you sleep under your desk, you’re going to—”

“Shut up!” Mel screamed, releasing the words at full volume. They reverberated off the office walls as Brad fell silent in their wake.

His boss phased through multiple emotions in a matter of seconds: from clenched anger, to confusion and finally landing on pale disbelief.

Mel watched him. What was he doing? Where was the predictable backlash?

Still emboldened from his rage, Mel prodded. “Well?”

His boss remained silent. Beads of sweat formed across his brow above an expression that Mel had never seen from him before. Still, no reply.

“Say something!” Mel conceded.

“Ghw-wha da fuck did you do to me?” Brad touched his throat and sucked air as if someone had been choking him.

“Huh?”

“I couldn’t talk.” Brad explained, fumbling the words between breaths. “I—I tried but nothing came out. You did something to me. Did you poison my coffee?!”

Mel, more frustrated and confused than anything else, splayed his fingers incredulously.

“What? I didn’t do anything to you. I just told you to shut… up.” As the words fell from his mouth, a crazy, sleep-deprived thought popped into his head. No sane person would ever consider it to be possible, but sanity was a foreign state on days like this, in work environments like this.

Mel needed to know. Brad was still complaining, when Mel spoke again.

“Brad, be quiet please.” He said causally, barely audible over his boss’s ramblings—ramblings that suddenly halted.

Mel’s eyes popped wide. So did Brad’s.

“Grab your index finger in one hand,” Mel said, dishing an order that would irrefutably prove his illogical theory, “…and break it!”

His boss’s eyes somehow opened even wider as his right hand clasped his left index finger. While frantically shaking his head against his own actions, Brad bent his finger backward until there was an audible snap. A muffled cry leaked out of his sealed lips.

Mel shot to his feet—his chair toppling over backward—and clutched his head with both hands, as if to keep his mind contained; to keep it from exploding. “What the fuck?”

Hearing the commotion, Sheryl rushed into the office, still holding a box of her personal effects. Her gaze of confusion shifted back and forth between the men.

Mel turned to her, “Wait there… you gotta hear this.”

She didn’t budge.

“Brad,” Mel said firmly. “Pick up your coffee and pour it on your head.

He did. Again, he cried out a muffled whimper of pain. His soaked shirt steamed.

Sheryl’s mouth fell open.

Mel grinned.

It was a smile that told of much more than humor. It was wider than normal and yet still concealed his teeth. It reeked more of foreshadowed mischief than of satisfaction. It was a smile that would make others uneasy, but Sheryl, in this odd moment in time, found it comforting.

“Brad, apologize to Sheryl. Rescind her termination and offer her a fifty percent raise.”

He did, despite an expression of great struggle—words sloppy from forced syllables. His complexion reddening as veins bulged in his neck and forehead.

She accepted with a nervous laugh.

“It’s okay.” Mel said to her. “It’s true. Go ahead and unpack your things.”

She left the room with a smile on her face.

“Now. Here’s how it’s going to go,” Mel instructed.

“You’re going to forget my mother completely. You’re going to hire at least two more programmers to work under my management. You’re going to give me a fifty percent raise and you’re going to allow me to communicate directly with clients during project planning. Oh, and you’re going to stay out of my business. Got it?”

Brad nodded with such force that he might have earned a mild concussion.

“Oh, and if you deviate from my wishes at any time,” Mel said, narrowing his eyes. “I’ll tell you to slit your own throat.

“And, just so you don’t think I’m bluffing… break another finger.”

Brad did as he was told.

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2016 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

In The Eyes Of A Victim

He waits behind the crowd, swaying in a corner—visible, yet perfectly forgettable. His incoherent mumbling is as much a disguise as the layers of filth he stole from the corpse of a homeless man only a few hours earlier. The corpse, when alive, had spent most of its time begging for change in the very spot this impostor now stood—both shuffling feet and jingling coins in a cup.

The bustle of men and women blindly swarms past, cramming onto the subway platform with a narrow, narcissistic awareness. Hot gusts of air swirl through the tiled alcove as trains rumble along distant rails, pushing and pulling putrid fumes that nearly mask the scent of urine on the man’s clothes.

I watch as he watches.

His eyes flit from face to face, searching for the right one, the right moment.

A train arrives in a whirlwind of garbage and air pressure. The crowd tenses, impatient with unopened doors as the transport slows. When the train finally stops, it releases a horrific screech like the piercing wail of elephants at slaughter. The sound ricochets off the tile walls as the vessel sets free its detained occupants. Squeezing past one another, the new commuters fill the train beyond capacity and abandon a few on the fringe. With a faltering chime, the entourage departs. One of the forsaken hurls obscenities before jogging back up the steps to find another route home.

For the moment, two would-be passengers remain on the platform. The practicing beggar continues his feigned self-involvement while venturing further from the wall. I believe we both sense the moment ripen as a young man scuffles back to a bench, delves into his smartphone—earbuds and all—isolating the final commuter.

A young woman stands alone, gazing down the tunnel that will deliver the next train. Her appearance and demeanor seem average until I glimpse her blue eyes. Beautiful, yes, but they hold the light to which killers flock: fear.

I see him, with such subtle motion, skulk his way to the girl. Her head turns toward the movement, or possibly the smell, just as he makes his move. Those anxious eyes pop open to their fullest, quivering, clamoring—fueling her attacker. With a hand clamped over her mouth and a firm arm locking hers in place, he yanks the girl around the corner and out of sight.

This is it; the moment I’ve been waiting for. Over seven months of surveillance to finally catch him in the act. Today is my day!

My body tingles with cool adrenaline as I leave my perch to follow. Traversing the platform, I search for potential witnesses. None.

He is good.

I hear the next rush of commuters spilling down the steps and into the station behind me as I slip around the corner in pursuit.

Down a ladder at the end of a service ledge, I follow his path along the tunnel. Darkness swarms me after a few paces. The distant percussion serves as a constant reminder of the next train’s inevitable approach. Urging my legs beyond their usual lope but trying to remain cautious in my footing, I hurry toward the intersection ahead. Green utility lights mounted on the tunnel ceiling casts the open crossroad in faint light that seems to accentuate the garbage, filth, and overall disrepair as if it’s the emerald city that time forgot.

There has to be an old storage locker or maintenance room here; it’d be the type of place he would use as his ‘art’ studio—an enclosed space, full of useful items, and near the echoing rumble of subway cars that mask the inevitable screams.

Scanning through the murk, I spot the entrance a few yards away in one of the connecting tunnels. It takes a few moments of stepping over rails, refuse, and even the rotting corpse of a mangled dog to arrive at the door.

I stand there for a moment, staring at the threshold, catching my breath and collecting my thoughts. Two muffled voices float through the barrier, one significantly more than the other.

Gently squeezing the cold metal latch, I confirm my suspicion and set to work with my picking tools. Wincing at each little click, I manage to unlock the door without hearing changes within.

After a deep breath, I draw my weapon and creep inside.

The walls are lined with supplies for both cleaning and electrical repairs; the odor of ammonia is prominent. A breaker box stares me in the face from the far wall before the space takes a ninety-degree turn. I ease the door shut behind me and strafe around the corner with my gun level.

His back is to me as he attends to the victim. She’s restrained; wrists and ankles handcuffed to steel conduits jutting from the wall; an oily rag used tightly as a gag. Her blouse is ripped open; a shallow cut glistens between her breasts. The woman notices me first—her eyes widen in a silent plea. Her shift in expression must have alerted him as his knife stalls in mid-slice along her cheek.

“Freeze!” I shout. “Lower your weapon.”

The man turns slowly, shoulders slumped, hands out in placation; but once he sees me, his demeanor shifts. “Who the fuck are you?”

“The man who’s watched you long enough to know everything, Mr. Barton.”

“You don’t look like a cop, old man. You a detective?”

“Does it matter?”

He eyes me up for a moment. Sweat rolls down his brow. “Are you gonna arrest me or not?”

“Me? No.” I reply, lowering my gun. “But whether you still end up in jail tonight depends on you.”

A raised expression of surprise washes over both captor and victim.

I continue. “My name is Owen Dunning and I’m in the market for a new vendor. I need a man of your interests and abilities—I want something that you can provide.”

“Like what, exactly?”

“Human organs.”

The woman screams into her gag and struggles with the handcuffs, rattling them against the pipes.

Mr. Barton silences her with the back of his hand and her body drops. Motionless, she hangs from her restraints as he returns to the conversation.

“You want me to sell you body parts from my victims?”

“Yes. But don’t worry, my needs won’t interfere with your…art.”

“Why don’t you just buy from the morgue, or something?”

“Come now, Barton. Do I look like a desperate idiot? I’m an aficionado. I demand quality and freshness.”

He stares at me for a moment, a long gaze across the bridge of his nose. “An aficionado, huh? These’re souvenirs…for a collector?”

“No. Rare delicacies for a connoisseur.”

Another stare, but this time his expression has the air of inquiry rather than apprehension.

“In exchange for my requested cuts,” I explain, “I offer you generous payment to fund your operation and my assistance in maintaining your freedom and anonymity. Do we have a deal?”

“Deal.”

I produce an envelope full of cash and hand it to him.

He accepts it with a Cheshire grin. “What’s your first order, Mr. Dunning?”

“I want to taste her soul—taste her fear. Those blue eyes of hers would be divine.”

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

The Game of Life

Beads of sweat emphasized the early night’s chill along his exposed neck and brow. The Policeman stood on their stoop, shifting his weight as much for warmth as from impatience. After a few brisk moments, a man answered the door.

“Oh… hello, Officer,” the homeowner said, greeting him with large, hesitant eyes. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“I’m terribly sorry to bother you, Sir,” the officer replied. “We have a criminal on the run in this neighborhood, so for everyone’s safety, we’re performing house to house searches. Would you mind?”

“No, not at all. Please, come in.” The man stepped back and ushered the policeman into his home.

The house was warm and full of light. Two faces peered at him from an adjoining dinning room. The officer could smell Christmas dinner before he saw the mouthwatering spread.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “We’re just taking precautions.”

Then, turning to the father, he asked in a hushed tone, “Is there anyone else in the house?”

The man shook his head, “No, no one.”

The officer nodded and turned back to the family, “Please carry on with your meal. I won’t be long.”

Wide eyes followed the officer as he stalked down the hall, hand on his pistol, weapon at the ready. Room by room, he searched and after a few moments, he confirmed the house was clear.

Returning to the dining area, Officer Mitcheltree stood for a moment. He watched the holiday scene—the small, happy family sharing home cooked food that clung to their souls, laughing as they created a memory for future cherishment; bad puns spoken over poured gravy and steaming roast turkey nestled snug against blended potatoes and acceptable gluttony.

Watching the interaction, hearing the high-pitched innocence of their young daughter, nearly caused the officer to flinch.

The mother was the first to notice the police officer standing there. “Is… everything alright, Officer?”

A silent moment passed, his non-reply thickening the tension in the air.

“W—would you like to join us for dinner?” the father asked.

Sweat collected along the cop’s chin and dripped to the floor. His gaze lingered on each member of the family, their kind offer drowned out by the hammering of his own heartbeat.

With each passing second, concern and confusion creased their expressions further.

Officer Mitcheltree raised his gun, pointing the weapon point blank at the father’s head. Half-lidded eyes unfurled into wide disbelieving orbs. Before any of them could do more than inhale, the officer pulled the trigger.

Blood, skull fragments, and gray matter splattered the table, desecrating the partially carved turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, holiday linens, and the terrified faces. A scream hurled free from the mother’s throat, but the gun’s second bullet deprived her lament of its longevity, jolting her head backward with such force that it dislocated vertebrae in her neck. Dangling, her head hung at an unnatural angle.

When the young girl’s gaze shifted from her dead mother back to the murderous police officer through the haze of fresh tears and fading gun smoke, she found the weapon pointed at her.

Her eyes climbed the barrel to meet his. Tears streamed down their cheeks in unison. The officer squeezed his eyes shut as he squeezed the trigger for the third time.

His face contorted as the hard-clamped humorless grin broke open under the pressure of raw emotion. A loud, guttural yell seemed to burst from every pore, reverberating throughout his body. He fell to his hands and knees and wept in oxygen-starved fits. Many minutes passed until he managed a semblance of composure.

Electronic music chimed from his waist.

He fished a cell phone from his pocket and looked down at the screen:‘Unknown. No Caller ID’.

Officer Mitcheltree touched the answer prompt and waited.

Neither party spoke. Soft sounds of calm breathing and a distant, continuous rumble came across the line – nothing else.

“It’s done,” the officer said, breaking the stalemate. Then, as he fought back another bought of emotion with gritted teeth, he added, “A life for a life.”

“Hmm… Show me.”

“Fuck you!”

“Now, now, Officer Mitcheltree. Be civil.”

“Civil? I did what you asked, now give me back my family, you son of a bitch!” the officer said, spitting into the phone.

“Of course, but first, I need proof of your efforts.”

The officer opened the camera app on his phone and snapped a photo of the morbid scene, then sent it to the number provided.

“I see,” the voice on the other end said. “A life for a life it shall be. We can finalize our exchange in the bowels of Reformation Chapel.”

The policeman’s eyes shifted back and forth as he dug through his memory.

“The abandoned chapel off Farmstead Road? That’s two hours outside of town!”

“And if you hurry, you’ll arrive just in time.”

“Just in time for what?” the officer shouted, but the call had already ended.

***

Officer Mitcheltree stalked down the steps of the old chapel. With the aid of flashing lights and a wailing siren, he was able to make the trek with six minutes to spare; the use of caution was now an option. Gun raised, he reached the bottom to find a narrow walk-through pantry that opened up to a larger room. He padded across the shelf-lined hallway, his eyes searching for movement.

Entering the main room, the officer stalked to the table at its center while twisting and turning to check for threats. The room was still, silent, hot.

He wiped sweat from his brow with a quick brush of his forearm.

“Where are you?” He shouted. “Where’s my family?”

No answer came except for the echo of his own desperate pleas and the clanking of mason jars as he bumped into the table.

Electronic music chimed from his hip.

Again, the screen read: ‘Unknown. No Caller ID’.

Officer Mitcheltree answered the call, “Where’s my family?”

“I have returned them to you in accordance with our arrangement.”

The cop whirled around, searching for his wife and daughter, but there was still no sign of them. “No more games! Where are they?”

“Your answer is on the table.”

Mitcheltree wiped the sweat from his eyes and inspected the items on the table. At first glance, they seemed nothing more than simple canning supplies left out from when the pantry was in operation many years ago, but focused attention revealed that they weren’t covered in dust. One large Mason jar was sealed and full of a gray powdered substance. The other was significantly smaller, open and empty—unused.

The policeman picked up the large jar, hoping to find a note or some kind of clue, but there was nothing else on the table but the two jars. As he brought the phone back up to his ear, prepared to unleash a flurry of threats, something caught his eye.

A piece of masking tape labeled the far side of the tall jar. He read the name as he turned it in his hands, “Mrs. Mitcheltree & Daughter.”

“What the Fuck is this?” he said, breathing the words into the phone—his chest suddenly feeling hotter than the rest of him, his throat tightening. He put the jar down with a loud thunk and backed away.

“A life for a life, Officer.” the kidnapper stated firmly. “I asked for life. A life to save a life. You misinterpreted and provided death.”

The cop’s head swam, the room began to spin; the heat not helping his focus. He stumbled further away from the table. That’s when he spotted the small metal door in the opposite wall. The source of all the heat—a crematory.

“You misunderstood my request, Officer Mitcheltree. You chose death. You killed your family.”

“Oh, God. No!” the policeman cried out; reeling. He fell backward into the shelves. Glass jars clanked together. He turned on instinct; looked with wavering vision at the objects before him.

“If it makes you feel better, you’re not the only one who’s made that mistake.”

Shelf after shelf carried large ash-filled Mason jars with masking tape labels. He couldn’t quite make out the letters, but he knew they were names. Then, he realized each one was paired with a smaller jar also filled and labeled.

“I have a lovely collection, don’t you think?”

This time, the voice echoed—sounding in both ears.

The policeman turned and the last thing he saw was a smiling face and a descending sledgehammer.

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2015 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.