The Visionary

I stare at the first four words of the letter I’m writing.

I am a Visionary.

I put pen back to paper and continue.

The majority of my life has been spent watching others’ lives end. My body used as a signal to Death when it is time for someone to leave our world. The night of my eighteenth birthday I watched my two best friends die in a car accident. I didn’t know what I was then.

 I thought the tragedy with my friends was nothing more than a case of really fucked up deja vu until not long after it happened again. I was at my mother’s house when she said, “Honey, what’s wrong with your eyes? Go look in the mirror.”

An image of my mother on the kitchen floor clutching her chest flashed inside my head.

“Hey, are you okay?” she asked.

My vision of her blinked away. “Yeah, I’m fine, Mom. Let me go look.” Had I known then what was about to happen … not that I could’ve done anything about it.

My reflection in the bedroom mirror stared back, my pupils no longer round, but shaped like the ace of spades. The sound of my mother dropping a pot in the kitchen reverberated in the house. A moment later I stood transfixed as my eyes returned to normal. She was dead before I walked back in the kitchen, a massive heart attack the doctor told me later.

I knew I was different and began to piece it all together after a few more visions. My ace of spade eyes showed me a person in their last moments, then returning to normal when the deed is done. Sometimes Death doesn’t come for a couple of hours so I started carrying sunglasses to hide my spades. I learned to read the subtle changes in my body to know when my eyes were normal and my wait for the next person began.

I’ve never met another person like me, but there must be more of us. Right? I can’t be the only one of my kind, can I?

I lean back in the dining room chair, looking over the words I had written. The last two lines hanging there. Years of being alone living with this curse…the final part of the thought slips away from me. There is still so much more I want to say and explain, but I don’t think it’s going to be possible. I run my fingers through my hair, breathing deep. A sharp pain shoots through my still-raw throat, reminding me of the acidic bile that had filled the toilet in the airport bathroom. I couldn’t handle the visions, it was too much for me, too many people. Men, women, children, I watched them all boarding. My body was shaking as I tried to calmly walk out of the airport when all I wanted to do was run. I couldn’t speak to warn anyone, and even if I could, no one would have believed me.

When I got home I didn’t need to turn on the television to learn what happened. I felt the all-telling subtle shift within me. All of them are gone, and now …

I can barely keep my eyes open. Pushing the chair back, I get up from the table, leaving the letter sitting next to the empty pill bottle. I waver and put my hand on the wall to steady myself. My eye lids are heavy and it takes all my effort to make it the last few feet to the bathroom. Something about this feels very familiar. I slowly look up and see myself in the mirror.

The ace of spades stares back at me.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

Cambion

“It started with your first cry,” the white-haired gentleman sitting next to me says.

“Moments after you were born your demon was as well, a microscopic creature that grew as you did.” He takes a sip from the glass of whiskey he got moments ago and sucks in a breath from the burn as it goes down.

“Melvin, honey, stop scaring the nice young man,” Barb, I think she said her name was Barb, says from the other end of the bar while cleaning glasses.

I look up from my rum and coke, realizing that the two of them are talking about me. “I’m sorry,” I say, looking around the small bar again. There are two tables with people at them but they are lost in their own worlds. I’m out of place here, a new person invading the regular’s sanctuary. “Were you talking to me?”

“Sometimes the truth is scary, Barbara. You know that.” Melvin points a crooked finger at her while still holding his drink. He winces after taking another sip. “He knows it too. Look at him, you know what his world is.” He’s still facing straight ahead, watching me through the mirror that is the wall behind the bar. “The doctors haven’t helped you, have they, son?”

I shift in my seat, glancing sideways at him. For a moment I let the question sit. Demon; I hear Melvin’s voice in my head. I decide to play along, “No they can’t. They say there’s nothing wrong with me. Not physically, at least.”

Melvin lets out a sharp laugh that turns into a cough. “Physically wrong with you? Oh, no, I can tell that just by looking at you. You are what, twenty-five, maybe six, I bet you haven’t been physically sick in years. We both know I’m not talking about those kind of doctors.”

“Melvin!” Barb says. “You stop that right now. Leave that poor boy alone, you’ll run off one of my new customers.”

He doesn’t move his body but he tilts his eyes up to Barb and then returns his gaze to me, waiting. No one in the room shows any reaction to the scene playing out between us.

“You mean psychiatrists? Yeah, I’ve seen my fair share,” I say. “Then they send me back to a regular doctor who then sends me to a different psychiatrist. But I gave up on that a while ago.”

He takes a long swig of his drink, finishing it, then swivels in his stool to face me. Barb comes over and refills the glass, standing next to him on the other side of the bar. Melvin brings up his hand and tilts his head. He’s looking at me but it’s like he’s looking for something. “You feel him, son. I know you do. You’ve felt him for years, inside you. He’s become more of you than you are of yourself.”

My stomach starts to churn and I put my hand on the edge of the bar to steady myself. Pain isn’t the right word. It’s not painful. It’s anguished emptiness. Working from my stomach out in all directions. Pushing through my veins, invading me.

“You’ve seen him,” Melvin says. “Behind your eyes when you look in the mirror. You aren’t crazy, son. You just weren’t meant for this world.”

I grip the edge of the bar tight. It’s there, I saw it the other night, behind my eyes, a creature made of black ink. A drip fell from it and a burning ache seeped through my body. I felt that thousands of times and I finally knew what it was. A hand forms and from the tips of its fingers come little vines slowly piercing my brain. I don’t need to see him to know he’s there, though. I’ve felt him for years. For as long as I can remember.

Melvin leans in and points his finger at my heart, almost touching my chest. “He’s never been there. You’ve fought him off. No one knows what you’ve gone through. The battles you fight everyday inside you.”

He’s right. Every word. In minutes, the old man saw me for who I am. My eyes start to fill with tears. My body feels heavy. I’m tired, so tired, from fighting. Holding the thing at bay as it inches closer.

“There’s much more to our world than where we live. There are millions of things that remain undiscovered to a person until they truly open themselves to them. Just because society says something is weak and cowardly doesn’t mean it’s true. Maybe it just means that they don’t understand.”

“I …I. It doesn’t hurt but it never goes away. Everything I do.”

“I know, son,” Melvin says in a quiet voice. “It’s okay. I promise.” His finger touches my chest and I feel it in my heart.

In one moment, years of defenses come down. My body. My mind. My soul. Exquisite peace.

“Thank you,” I say, as I stand up and walk out of the bar.

A minute later the sound of a single gunshot from the alley fills the bar. Barb walks to Melvin. “Don’t you dare tell me he’s in a better place.”

“He isn’t,” Melvin says. “But he’s in a place where he can fight. Where he can win, if he is strong enough.”

“Is he?”

“I hope so,” Melvin winces as another sip of whiskey burns his throat.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

Savior

            I sip the mint flavored mocha that Maryanne set down in front of me moments ago. As always, the drink was exquisite. She has been a part of this earth almost as long as myself, and I’ve only been outlived by the man sitting next to me. No matter what certain books say, I was number two around these parts.

            Drizzle patters the window in front of us, typical for a Portland morning. Relatively few people are out on Saturday compared to the bustle of a weekday. None of that matters in here though, most people walk by without giving a second glance, just another tiny, local coffee shop.

            “It’s coming,” I say. “Each day I feel subtle ripples rooting deeper amongst them.”

            The man next to me looks exhausted. His eyes sink in slightly to his gaunt-skinned face. Even his close cropped white hair and beard seem ragged.

            He takes a sip of his half-empty cup of black coffee, an odd choice for him, and stares out the window. I wonder if he heard what I said.

            “It’s here,” he replies. “You were right.”

            I savor the mint-chocolate, a favorite combination of mine for ages. You were right …his words reverberate inside me. If this were a game he would’ve just conceded. I wasn’t right though, not fully. He had to see that. Didn’t he? He looks awful. Defeated. Broken. He can look like anyone or anything, just like I can. But neither of us can look strong when we aren’t. For century upon century the struggle for power has ebbed and flowed between us. Neither one giving up the ghost, as they say. He’s baiting me, that must be it. But why? What’s his angle?

            I bite, “I’m not right, and you know it. There’s far more good left out there.” I motion to the window giving me time to enjoy more of my drink. “Let me rephrase. I’m not right, yet. It’s coming but there’s still time for change. As much as I feel the swells of power taking hold there are branches of light. And they are powerful.”

            “They aren’t light. It just seems so amongst the darkness. I’ve never seen you as vibrant as you are now. You wear it well.”

              He’s right about that part, I’m practically radiating energy these days. Power surges through me and I can wreck havoc with the flick of a finger. And my suit, well, I do look good in that. Perfectly tailored to match my current flawless body.

            “Amongst the darkness?” I say. “That’s always been the case. What gives? What’s wrong with you?”

            God finishes his coffee and looks at me, “Moderation is dead. Extremism has taken hold and will never let go. Even those in the middle believe they are totally right in whatever topic is at hand.”

            “Extremes always take the lead. Without them nothing would ever change,” I say, somehow finding myself trying to defend the humans like God’s done so often. I open my mouth to continue but nothing comes out, my mind drawing a blank.

            “It’s time,” he says and stands up. “Your reign begins now. But, you cannot rule alone. You need to find someone to stand at your side as you did with me. I almost feel bad for them with what I can imagine you’re going to unleash.”

            I finish my drink and stand as God did. He looks at the matronly owner of the coffee shop, “Maryanne, thank you for everything. Keep an eye on Luce for me.”

            Maryanne nods with a soft smile on her face and God walks past me, opening the door. The sky is clouded, the street damp. God brings his foot up to take a step outside. I grab his head, twisting it violently. A crack of bone sounds like a gunshot to me but is probably barely audible to Maryanne. I push God out the door as his lifeless body falls in a heap. He looks like a homeless man asleep in front of the door and a moment later a person walks by, paying him no notice.

            “What are you going to do first?” Maryanne asks.

            “Have another drink, of course,” I say still looking outside. I turn and face her, “But that’s not what you mean. The first thing I’m going to do is …nothing. I’m going to watch the humans suffer until they realize what they’ve done. Then I’ll show them what real hatred and evil is. And I will laugh as they call out for the savior they murdered.”

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

God of Dreams

A milk-pale rain fell from a blurred black sky. It tingled softly on my exposed arms. Behind me stood a lake of shimmer. My birthplace, perhaps. I could not remember how I’d gotten here.

I walked, not looking at the path my feet trod. Instead, I stared into the sky, which gradually cleared until I could see a myriad of stars, an entire alien milky way in the shape of a blunt-winged moth. In the aftermath of the rain, peacefulness steamed like humidity on my skin.

I came to an arch so old that plants grew from the soil accumulated in the cracks of the stone. I passed beneath it into an abandoned field grown wild. “I am disembodied,” I said. “I am dreaming.” And I knew what that meant; the rules of normal physics no longer applied to me.

Flight is a blessing for lucid dreamers. I lifted my arms—and though sometimes in such dreams I struggle to get off the ground—there was no struggle tonight. I soared with ease into the air, let myself spin slowly with my arms out and my fingers scratching trails of light from the darkness.

A forest of new growth surrounded me. I ducked and wove through the trees, dodging black branches that grasped for me. My laughter bubbled as I came out above the woods and saw the moon grown full and bright and red as a molten coin. Beneath the moon flitted dozens of dragonflies with white and black bodies and spiderweb wings. I joined them, and they were not afraid.

Now, Luna magnetized my gaze again. I spoke to myself: “I don’t have time to fly to the moon.” But something inside me wondered if I did. I reached my hands, prepared myself for the leap to space.

Flight faltered; I fell. I grabbed for a tree limb but it broke beneath my weight and I plummeted down, away from the light and toward the deep, still, forever night below. And yet, I smiled. For this was a dream and nothing could harm me.

Or so I thought until I landed: and flesh gave way, and bones shattered, and punctured lungs spasmed as blood painted an abstract scream across the darkness. And so I lay, while dragonflies came to hover, while they fitted their bodies together and became a deity with a thousand eyes and a thousand wings and limbs as numerous as the skulls of the dead.

With a tongue long and coiled black as a snake, the dragonfly god whispered in my bleeding ears: “I am the architect of dreams. And in time, all who sleep become my prey.”

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

I Love Every Part of You

It begins, on a rainy Sunday two days after Olivia’s  funeral, with her left ring finger.

Melanie wakes to a weird little pressure under her ribs and sits up and there it is: nestled into a fold of the sheet, its magenta acrylic nail lying discarded to one side. Melanie picks it up with bile hiking acidly up the back of her throat, sees the smoothness at the base, and can’t help noticing that the rings are still snug. The gap between her fingers is silky and flawless, the skin above the barren knuckle dimples and is only slightly paler than the rest.

She should worry. A part of her knows it. But Melanie is still too numb from Olivia’s sudden passing—you should be grateful, her aunt had said at the graveside, that the cancer worked so fast and she wasn’t in too much pain—to regard it as anything more than a bodily quirk, a curiosity, so she gets dressed and wraps the finger in black crepe and drives to the cemetery, and buries that part of herself in the shallow hole she’s able to dig in the loose earth with two hands.

On Monday it’s half her blonde hair, loose on the pillow; on Tuesday she brushes the rest and it all just tugs loose with a painless not-quite-pop. No obvious flaws, no stubble, no bloody roots; she sits on the bed and vacantly runs her fingers through the strands, the way Olivia had done. I love every part of you, Olivia had said so many times, even at the end; so the hair gets bundled into a neat rubber-banded braid and buried beside the finger.

On Wednesday Melanie wakes minus three bloodless teeth, and her lower lip—the one Olivia had liked to bite when they were in a certain mood—feels oddly loose, so this time she wraps the teeth in a square of paper towel and goes to her doctor.

She gets stared at. Prodded—with the end of a pen, not with fingers. There are scribblings and murmurs: are you eating? do you feel well? are you sure you haven’t hurt yourself?—to which Melanie just bows her bare head and holds out her gapped hand and says, “Do you see wounds? do you see scars?”

Stress, is the uncertain verdict, and a prescription changes hands. Melanie’s staring at it in the car when the rest of her teeth shed in a rattling cascade that bounces off her knees, scattering into the floorboard below.

It takes her half an hour to collect them all, to account for every one. By then, she almost thinks she knows what’s going on.

I love every part of you.

The soil mounded over Olivia’s grave is rain-damp and fragrant. Melanie scoops out a hollow and deposits the teeth and says, “You know, you didn’t have to be so literal.”

Then her lower lip drops, jelly-like, into the hole.

It’s okay; Melanie hasn’t felt like eating in days. She just shrugs and smoothes it over, and goes home to see what will happen next.

What happens is Thursday.

Her left arm and hand below the elbow. Four toes across both feet. Her left eye too, the one Olivia had sworn held so much more sparkle than the other. She just gropes a plastic bag from the container in the kitchen, never before so grateful to be right-handed, and clumsily scoops everything inside except her eyelashes, which are fine enough to get lost in the high pile of the carpet.

Melanie waits until after dark. She has to, for this. The eye had been just a little much.

You always were a drama queen, Liv.

This time digging a proper hole is out of the question, so Melanie attacks the side of the heaped, drying soil with hand and feet, unsteadily carving out a place for herself. By the time she’s made a space to burrow into, by the time she’s clawing her earthen blanket down, the sky is growing light again, and she’s left two more fingers and an ear in the dirt.

The loosened earth crumbles over her, but Melanie just huddles in the hollow she’s made, curled into the fetal position and breathing hard. She coughs out a sudden blockage in her mouth and realizes it’s her tongue.

Her skin parts and opens. One by one, her drawn limbs begin to loosen and disarticulate. Something detaches inside her chest. Melanie sighs with what’s left of her breath, sagging wearily into the damp and dark. 

If she focuses, if she concentrates, she can almost feel Olivia reaching up for her, reaching for every beloved part.

~Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. 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.

Drop Off

Janice turned the wheel hard. Tires squealed over Freddy Mercury’s soaring vocals from the car stereo as the vehicle shuddered down a two-lane road leading into suburbia.

“I’m on Crescent. There’s a small horde behind me, but I should be safely back to you guys before they catch up,” Janice said.

Her voice, mixed with Queen, sounded in Tim’s earbuds. Tim stood on the balcony of their apartment with their fifteen-year-old son, Steven. Both of them scanned the area for zombies as the summer sun beat down, intensifying the stench of rotted flesh. “You’re clear all the way to the drop-off. Then we’ll cover you the rest of the way to us. Can you turn off that music? It’s not—”

“It’s the only time I get to listen to anything,” Janice interrupted her husband. “Do you really think it’s any more likely to draw out our friends than a car engine?” Janice pushed on the gas pedal and cranked up the volume, drowning out her husband.

The rev of the engine echoed in the air. Tim spared a glance at his son as he surveyed their surroundings. “Your mother can be dangerous sometimes. It’s unnecessary. That’s the sort of stuff that will get you killed.”

“Dad, give her a break. We’ve been doing this a while now and it’s fine. I’m heading down.” Steven set his rifle on the table and grabbed the pistol lying there.

“Be careful, Son.”

“Love you too, Dad.”

The door clicked shut after he slipped out.

“Steven’s standing by. You’re both clear.” They’d been doing this for over a year. The school parking lot a block away was littered with vehicles they had discarded. Survival of the fittest, that was what Tim had been telling his wife and son since the outbreak occurred.

Tim went on the first couple of supply runs but as a strong, able-bodied male, he was given a wide berth. Janice was petite and cute with eyes that sucked you in. People were drawn to help her. But the minute they got close, she would shoot them and put their bodies in the backseat of whatever car she had grabbed that day. Then take any supplies and head back. The fresh corpses left in the cars kept the zombies from sniffing the family out in their apartment. The fetid scent of death was like a drop of blood in water to a shark.

Janice had cried after her first time. Tim kept reminding her—and Steven—it was  survival of the fittest. It became his mantra. Kill or be killed. That was what their life would be from now on.

The white Azera Janice had acquired for this run crested the little hill on Crescent. It caught a split second of air before slamming back to the road. Janice gave a delighted whoop.

A commotion in the trees lining the road to the right of Crescent drew Tim’s gaze. Five zombies rushed from the wooded area and stopped in the middle of the lane. A couple looked left toward the noise of the engine. The other three looked straight at Tim and Steven. The smell. Damn it.

“Janice!”

“Shiiitttttt.”

Tires screeched. The Azera slammed into the first zombie, sending it into the windshield then up over the car. Janice gunned it and plowed through another one. This time the zombie managed to latch onto the vehicle; it snarled at Janice through the cracked windshield.

Janice pumped the brakes and turned the wheel left, trying to throw the zombie free. She started to lose control and turned back to the right, flooring the gas pedal. Another slurping thud resonated and rotted zombie organs sprayed up the passenger side of the car.

Thump thump thump thump. The front passenger tire exploded, jolting the zombie from the vehicle. Janice’s vision cleared just in time to see the drop-off at the side of the road past her turn to the apartment. Once more she slammed the brakes and jerked the wheel to the left, but she stood no chance. The car swung sideways and slid down a couple of feet before wedging itself against a tree. The impact rattled Janice’s insides and sent a shock of pain from her right ankle up her leg.

“Janice!” Tim said, bringing his rifle up.

Two of the five zombies remained standing. One bolted toward the apartment, but Steven was already on his way back up, or at least he was supposed to be. The second zombie started toward the car.

“I’m here, Tim,” Janice said over a Brian May guitar riff. “I think I’m okay.”

Tim lined up the shot and pulled the trigger. A single retort scattered the few birds perched on the roof. The zombie’s chest opened wide as the bullet hit home, knocking the creature to the ground.

“Go, Janice. You’re clear.”

Janice grabbed the pistol that had managed to stay in the seat next to her and opened the door, swinging out. She stood up and promptly crumpled to the ground, pain exploding in her right ankle. She pushed herself up and limp-ran two more steps before faceplanting in the middle of the road.

Tim watched his wife fall to the ground. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” He looked down for the zombie that had made for the apartment but couldn’t find it. And where the hell was Steven? A pistol shot sounded below. Followed by another. And another.

Tim took aim at the zombie he’d shot in the chest. It was struggling to right itself. He fired one more round and got a clean head shot, dropping it.

The apartment door opened. “Dad, where’s Mom?” Steven kicked the door closed behind him then beelined for the balcony. “Oh, shit,” he said when he saw the chaos below.

Janice stood and got another few steps before she hit the pavement again. Gritting her teeth, she got to her hands and knees and started crawling in the direction of the apartment.

A half dozen zombies burst through the same trees as the others had, then came to a stop as their brains processed the information around them.

Tim fired and missed his target. “Run, Janice! Go!”

The shot snapped the zombies to attention. They ran toward both Janice and the two men on the balcony. Tim couldn’t tell which was heading where and he pulled the trigger again and again. One shot spun a zombie down but not out. Steven joined in and took three quick shots, two of them taking down one more of the six.

Blood dripped from various scrapes and cuts on Janice’s body and her ankle throbbed, but she ignored the pain and got herself up, running as fast as she could, crying out each time her right foot hit the ground.

Two more zombies emerged from across the street, followed by another three from the trees. A couple lunged at the car with the corpse in the backseat, but most were heading for Janice.

Tim fired as fast as he could, barely aiming now. “Janice, you can do it, honey. Keep going. You’re almost there.”

Steven took aim and pulled the trigger.

“Janice!” Tim screamed.

Her head snapped back. Her body dropped for the final time.

Tim dropped his rifle and wailed, “What did you do?” He wheeled on his son, grabbing him. “What did you do? Fuck, fuck. She was going to make it. What…”

More zombies crashed through the trees, a horde forming. “Dad, we have to g—” Steven didn’t finish the last word as Tim punched him in the jaw. The boy staggered to his knees. More punches rained down. “Dad! Stop! Please, we need to go.”

Tim missed a punch and instead hit the table on the balcony, knocking the pistol to the floor. Steven grabbed it and pulled the trigger. The bullet ripped through his dad’s thigh.

Tim yelped in pain and grabbed the balcony railing. The pain reset the synapses firing in his body. Sobbing, he said, “I’m so sorry. Fucking hell. We need to get out of here.”

Zombies littered the ground, most of them distracted by Janice’s body. The two men didn’t have long. The blood dripping from Tim’s leg would slip through the slots in the balcony floor and draw their attention.

“We need to go, Son. Right now. You’ll need to drive.”

Steven looked at his dad and the scene behind him. We’ll never make it, Steven thought. For a moment the world stopped except for Freddy singing about that “crazy little thing.” Steven swung his fist out as hard as he could and caught his dad in the temple. The butt of the pistol struck his dad first. Tim groaned and flopped over the railing. Out cold.

They were never going to make it, but Steven could. His dad taught him well. Survival of the fittest. He put the gun to the back of his father’s head and pulled the trigger, then shoved the corpse over the balcony.

That should give him enough time to get to the car and get away.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

 

Red Book

Only moonlight lit the old barn. But I could see. My eyes were sharp as a wolf’s. Every crack in the walls bled electric blue. The night had texture; it had intensity. It smelled sour. It smelled like rust.

Why was I here?

The bottom floor of the barn was empty: no hay covering the dirt, no troughs for pigs or stalls for horses. It was quiet ground, waiting, gestating. A ladder to the loft stood to one side. I climbed, stepped off onto a board floor that creaked under my boots.

What had drawn me here?

The smell changed, grew wet, like paint. The light held a black shine. Two wooden sawhorses rested near the wall with a plank lying across them. A row of small clay vessels stood upon the plank; a set of artist’s paintbrushes waited in one.

Waited for what?

I stuck a finger in one of the clay pots, as if into the smooth, rounded interior of a skull. The bottom was coated with a residue, both sticky and gritty at the same time. I lifted my hand, sniffed the finger. I couldn’t quite identify the scent or the feel.

The light dimmed as a cloud swallowed the moon. I’d come prepared. Taking a votive candle from my pocket, I lit it and held it up. The glow was too bright, like tacks stabbing into my eyes. I pushed the candle out to arm’s length—and saw writing on the wall.

Wild words, sentence fragments, snatches of poetry. Some phrases scrawled; some ran as straight as razors. They extended to my left and right, reached from the top of the wall to the floor. The individual letters were baroque, almost runic, written in crimson-black and adorned with loops and swirls.

Had I been led here to read this message?

Was it meant for me?

With the candle as guide, I edged my way to the beginning. The message began at the top of the wall on the far left. It read:

“I dream in heat, on cracked roads whose fissures you would have smoothed before me. I dream the river where dirty flesh is laundered, where saints wallow in the bile of love, where the flow is dark with the froth from wounds. I am the mire into which the froth flows; I am bittersoul turned amber in the trees. Why hast thou forsaken me? How may I turn your ear once more my way?”

There was more, densely more. It sang, writhed, shrieked, tore, bruised, begged, licked. I followed it line by line by line. The ink with which it was written grew thinner, as if the scribe were running out and striving to make it last to the finish. But when I came to the end, there was no finish. The words just stopped.

“Enslaved to aff…”

Enslaved to what? Affection? Affirmation? Affliction?

Snarling, I kicked the wall. Dust tumbled into the air, danced in the candlelight with Brownian motion. There was meaning here. Such meaning. But who was it for? Why wasn’t it finished?

Whispering!

I turned to look. Dots of black whirled curlicues in the air. Flies.Their wings buzzed. There weren’t many of them. Then I saw the bodies—three—six—nine. They were pale as wax in the candlelight, except for the ruby necklaces that each wore. I understood. Their pallor was partly a coating of lye to keep away the flies and the smell. The necklaces were not made of gems.

I looked back at the wall, knew suddenly what ink this unfinished manuscript had been written in. Three—six—nine….

Three more bodies would provide enough blood to finish this red book.

I knew why I was here.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Sleep Tight

You wake beneath the glow of a urine-yellow nightlight shaped like a crescent moon. From the hall outside your bedroom comes a susurration of sound, a crippled shuffle, like rotted feet dragging themselves to bone on a sandpaper carpet.

Your heartbeat speeds. Sticky mouth dries. You sit up in vomit-clotted sheets. You’ve been sick, but you’re better now. Much, much better. Thanks to Momma.

But that sound. It’s almost midnight, the dregs of the day. Who is coming? Who is coming to your room in the hollow of the dark?

Something wet slaps against the old porcelain doorknob. It turns, scritches open on hinges that are more rust than iron. A bulk leans its head within, dressed in a pale wrapper of cloth under which odd shapes pulse and squirm. You’re reminded of a grubworm you once dug up in the garden—when there was still a garden. It’s just Momma.

A sigh possesses you as, from the doorway, your mother says, “Sorry I’m late tonight, Sweety. I fell asleep. Are you OK? Do you need anything?”

You’d begun to think she wasn’t coming this night. That maybe…. But you don’t complete that thought. It’s not a kind one and Momma does not like unkind thoughts. You only say, as mother’s clothes twitch and rustle, “I’m fine, Momma. Just fine. Thank you.”

She smiles. Her mouth is black because she’s forgotten her teeth again. But that’s all right. Her teeth are big and broad and so white they sometimes make you uncomfortable. She whispers that she loves you and turns to go.

You wait. She’ll turn back again. As she always does. She has one last piece of sweet advice to offer her only son. She gives it with a catch of emotion in her throat: “Good night. Sleep tight. Let the bed bugs bite.”

“I will, Momma,” you hear yourself say.

The door snicks shut. Momma’s feet move away. She sounds light as a thistle now. As if she’s able to dance on limbs shed of heavy flesh.

Quickly, you lie back on your bed again and let the wet pillow fold up around your face. You press it down tight over your eyes and mouth. From the door where Momma was standing, a swift flow of movement passes like a ripple over the floor. It climbs the bed posts, the trailing sheets. Like a wave of goosebumps it flows onto the bed to nestle all around you. They, nestle all around you.

You bite your teeth together and pull the pillow more tightly across your face. It’s not the right thing to do to deny them a part of your body. But you hate the way they slip beneath your lids and scrape at your eyes. And if they crawl up your nose and down your throat, you know the vomit will come again. It’s so unpleasant to lie in when it’s still liquid and hot.

The bedbugs—that’s what Momma calls them anyway—have tiny mandibles that catch at flesh and hold. It feels like ten thousand staples being tucked into your skin as they begin to suckle. But it’s a good thing. Momma has told you: they draw the illness out of you with your fluids. That’s why you’re feeling so much better, why you’ll soon be able to leave your room again. She has promised.

In the morning, of course, the bugs will return to Momma and clothe her anew. They’ll give her all the sickness they’ve drawn out of you. It’s a powerful display of the mother-child bond. How she takes your disease unto herself. You know she loves you very, very much.

“I love you, too,” you whimper into the pillow. As the bugs burrow in and the pain becomes like fireworks exploding through your body. “I love you, Momma. Love you, Momma! MOMMA!”

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

 

Snuff Film Relic

“Sweetie, I’ve been into film production since I was a boy,” he said. Julian was his name and I was crazy about him. I couldn’t believe such a man of his looks and caliber would ever speak to me, much less invite me into his spacious home. But here I was, sitting in his living room.

He lit my cigarette and kissed my fingers. While I was taking it all in, he placed a snifter of brandy in my hand, his silky baritone like a lullaby. He showed me his father’s Kodak. “This model was made in 1965. Just look at this my dear!” Unrolling some film, he held it up to the light so I could see how each frame had clearly captured a part of the action. Then he loaded the projector and started it.

By that time, I was getting a weird buzz from the brandy. I say ‘weird’ because I was feeling very odd. It was like everything was slowing down. When I looked at the filmstrip, it seemed a great distance away. And I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

A lovely woman was sitting in the same chair as mine in the film. Julian held her in his arms. He began kissing her from her breasts down to her toes. A close-up of her eyelids fluttering. A line of drool escaped her lips. In the next set of frames, he was stabbing her with a screwdriver. He’d even added sound somehow — McCartney’s “Let It Be” full volume in the background.

Then he started in on me with a warm embrace, his lips on mine, sweet as that tainted brandy. Oh, yes, I was very much there, eyes wide open, unable to move, watching him remove the used film. He reloaded the Kodak, mounted it on a tripod, and aimed the lens straight at me.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.