With Eyes Like Fangs

In the holy forest, they hunt their prey by the scent of weakness that bleeds from its pores. With icicle eyes, prism eyes, eyes like cicatrixes, they find the cavern where the weakness lies. Scaled hands and furred ones work spasmodically on weapons. Claws click on steel while in the wet mouths fangs ache with hatred. In a darkling mist, they gather for the kill.

***

In the cavern, the prey stirs awake and lifts her head. A sudden light burns inside her. Through her skin, she sees, and weakness she sheds like a husk. Her mind centers on the forces arrayed against her outside. Her mouth begins a smile; the smile widens until the lips split at the corners and black blood runs.

“Let it begin,” she murmurs.

***

The hunters in the woods see the light flare within the cavern. They stir, restless in rage. And when the prey strides free of its hiding place into the rain, they fall upon her with taloned feet and leathery wings, their throats filled with howls and shrieks.

But the prey is not what they thought. They have been tricked.  Instead of weakness, strength meets their strengths.  Their bodies shatter upon it.  In moments, the clearing before the cave writhes with the dead and the dying.

“Mother!” the bloody ones cry. “Mother!  Do not forsake us!”

***

The ‘she’ looks upon her dying children, and starts to feed while they are fresh. Out in the distant forest, the males begin to call. She hears them even over the crunch of bones. In a moment she will release her own mating cry, will invite the males to join with her at this feast.

Perhaps her next brood will be stronger.

Advertisements

A Room of Frozen Dust

I meet you in Scarborough. The station is packed with passengers waiting for the next train south. Day by day, the ice is creeping over the earth, unimpeded by the swollen sea. It has obliterated whole cities. Across the channel, it encroaches on the highest peaks. Soon it will join glaciers.

I’ve booked the last room in the hotel still open to visitors. In the hallway two maids are finishing their work. One ducks her head as we pass. The other stares. “She’s rude,” I whisper, putting my arm around your shoulders.

Your eyes walk straight though me, avoiding the part that hurts. My hands tremble and the key is difficult. Someone has stripped the room. The telephone has been disconnected. At least the sheets are  clean. We cover the window with my leather coat. We do not talk about the advancing wall of ice.

There is a candle on the dresser. You light the long wick so the flame burns high. It’s hottest at the top you say and hold my  hand over it, laughing when I pull away.

You tell me how your dreams are mashed up inside. Fix me, say your fingers when they come to free my belt. Your hair is pale moonlight. I touch it with a whisper, “Nothing is irrevocable.”

When you feel my fingers on your thigh, you close your eyes.

I wake to a room of frozen dust, a blurred note by the telephone. It is a long way back to the station. I walk past the docks, where all is a shifting curtain of mist. The boats are ghosts on an anthracite sea. Ice spiders come with the fog. They spin pale webs over the street lamps, lambent rainbows on frosted glass.

I wonder if you fear the cold. If you feel it.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

Flycatcher

Jolene can’t stop staring at Sissy’s scars.

At least, she assumes they’re scars: four pink half-circle indents in the middle of Sissy’s forehead, like the marks left by dug-in fingernails. And Jolene knows she’s being rude, that it’s horrible of her, but she can’t stop, no matter how bad she feels or how much she tells herself to look away.

When she’d come back to town yesterday, ten years after high school, Jolene had expected something different for her one-time friend. A little house with a neat yard and a white picket fence, maybe. A job as a teacher, or editor of the town paper; Sissy had always been smart that way. A husband somewhere at the very least, since Sissy had easily been the most reserved girl in school, the one who blushed brick-red at the dirty jokes told in the lunch line. But not this. Not a seat in a beat-up rocking chair in a saggy rusting trailer on the outskirts of town, with grimy windows and pressboard walls, sweltering under a lazy ceiling fan. Not Sissy herself, now thin and wan and blushless as if she’s been bled. And certainly not Sissy’s one-year-old son Jimmy, crab-creeping strangely across the dirty floor on all fours, who’s been the subject of Jolene’s gaze almost as much as his mother’s marred forehead.

And if Sissy notices the stare, she doesn’t let on. Just drones on about her ex Tyler, Jimmy’s daddy, whom Jolene barely remembers except as a skinny wispy-bearded boy who’d sucked at playing baseball. About Tyler’s meth habit and how she thinks it’s the cause of Jimmy’s condition, and how the doctors at Vanderbilt think so too, though Sissy’s granny always claims it’s from that brown recluse that bit Sissy in her second trimester, and really, Tyler could’ve been a good daddy if he hadn’t blown himself to hell shake-and-baking crank in his mama’s toolshed, and—

Jolene’s broken out of her daze by little limbs clamping around her neck; Jimmy is so light she hadn’t even noticed him clambering into her lap. But his laugh is gurgling and bright, and it makes Sissy stop talking and smile, the first real emotion that’s touched her bloodless face in an hour.

“How ‘bout that,” she says, pulling up out of her worn recliner and clapping her hands. “He’s awful shy of strangers, but I shoulda known he’d take to you, Jo. You just hold him an’ let me find my phone.”

Jimmy crows as Sissy leaves the room, and nuzzles wetly into Jolene’s neck. His little body is stiff and Jolene embraces him awkwardly, dragging her fingers over his thick blond hair. He smells of sour milk and rot, and Jolene finds herself wondering if this trailer had been Tyler’s meth lab. If he’d worn some kind of rings that would account for Sissy’s scars.

Then Jimmy sinks his teeth into her neck.

Jolene’s shout is strangled. The baby’s grip is strong, and she can feel her skin parting for his teeth, for the deep burn of the bite. Then the pain passes, and she realizes something’s leaking into her from his mouth, something that stings and leaves numbness behind. Spots waver in her vision, but she can’t blink them away. She can’t blink at all.

“That’s enough, now.” Sissy lifts Jimmy from Jolene’s lap and sets him back on the floor. Jolene tries to look up at her, tries to speak, but her eyes won’t move and words won’t come, not even when Sissy puts too many hands under her chin and jerks her head up hard enough to make her neck crack.

“I’m sorry it’s you, Jo.” The curved lines on Sissy’s forehead flare more deeply red and then blink open, staring back, one after the other. “But I am glad you came by. We ain’t had a visitor in a while, an’ Jimmy was gettin’ awful hungry.”

∼ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

Waiver

Matt parked the car near the front entrance.

“Well, we’re here.”

Chelsea nodded.

“The famous haunted hotel.”

“Yup, the fake haunted hotel. A fraud about to be exposed.”

“Are you sure about this? You could be destroying peoples’ livelihoods.”

“Won’t be the first time.”

He spoke with a sense of pride.

They headed into the reception and were greeted by a young woman. She confirmed their booking. After she’d taken Matt’s credit card details, she reached below the desk and placed a piece of paper in front of them. This was the famous waiver. It wasn’t terribly impressive. Aside from the gothic header, which added a certain flair, Matt saw it was nothing more than just standard liability boiler-plate. Guests could not hold the hotel responsible for any harm that befell them. Guests had to verify they weren’t suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure or a shopping list of other ailments. Blah, blah, blah.

The receptionist was making a show of getting them to read and sign it. This was the first part of the ‘experience’ promised by the hotel’s owners.

“So, is it true then?” asked Chelsea.

“Oh yes. The Charlotte Springs Hotel is the most haunted hotel in the U.S. That’s been verified. We introduced the waiver five years ago when an elderly gentleman suffered a heart attack after seeing a supernatural vision. He tried to sue us.”

“That’s why we’ve come to stay.”

“We’ve had visitors from as far away as Australia.”

“Do you think we’ll see some ghosts?”

“I hope you won’t be disappointed. The dearly departed don’t come every night, but you might be lucky.”

“Well, I wasn’t expecting a guarantee, but it would be nice if they appeared.”

Matt signed the waiver, then passed it to Chelsea who signed. They weren’t a couple, but they pretended to be. It made things easier.

“Your room is number five. The Blue Room. It’s one of the hotspots; lots of guests have had sleepless nights in that room. Lots of sightings.”

Matt picked up the key. It was an old-fashioned iron key; there were no swipe cards in this century-old house, it wouldn’t have suited the ambience. They climbed the creaking wooden stairs to the first floor. The décor was faded, with some of the wallpaper peeling away. The whole place felt worn and unloved. Perhaps this was deliberate, the public didn’t expect to see ghosts in well-maintained, modern establishments.

The Blue Room was actually blue. Pale blue wallpaper, royal blue bedding and a baby blue carpet. It was hideous.

“A bit overdone on the theme,” said Chelsea.

“I think everything is overdone here.”

“I guess they have to make money somehow.”

“Not for much longer.”

The room overlooked the front of the hotel. Matt glanced out the window. It wasn’t as if the town was horrible or rundown. It was just an ordinary small town in an area not renowned for tourist attractions. The hotel was the only place worth visiting. Although Matt considered it a scam, it was clear that a lot of people didn’t. They came to speak to the dead, to find proof of the afterlife or simply for the thrill. They came, spent their money and left.

He fired up his laptop.

“At least they have free Wi-Fi.”

He loaded some bookmarked pages. He read some of the reviews out loud.

“The Charlotte Springs Hotel. So haunted they make you sign a waiver before you can stay. So terrifying you must be crazy to sleep over. A night of creepy noises and supernatural visions. A must-see attraction for anyone interested in the afterlife. Nonsense, all of it.”

“Well, we are here to debunk it.”

“And we will.”

He loaded the hotel’s website.

“Okay, so according to this, there are six rooms. Each room has its own ghost. Very neat, who would have thought the dead were so organized. For example, the White Room has the woman in white. The Red Room has the headless soldier. The Green Room doesn’t have a ghost as such, but apparently guests can look forward to a night of supernatural sobbing and wailing. I won’t recite the whole dreary list, you get the idea.”

“And the Blue Room?”

“The ghost of a child. Reports speak of a small figure, toys moving across the floor. All super-easy to fake.”

“What do you want to do first?”

“Nothing yet. The phenomena only ever appear after dark.”

He checked his watch.

“Three hours to kill. Might as well get some food.”

The hotel restaurant was busy. It was late August, the height of the tourist season. Labor Day would see the number of guests decline. Matt and Chelsea had timed their visit carefully. Matt’s theory was the ‘ghosts’ were more likely to appear when the hotel was full.

Matt glanced around the dining room. Some were normal tourists, but the majority clearly had a spiritual leaning. After ten years of debunking the paranormal he could easily recognize them. These were the people who believed without question in the afterlife, spending their lives crouched over Ouija boards, attending séances and attempting automatic writing.

“I feel sorry for them.”

“Who?”

“The ones who believe. The ones who claim to have found the truth about the afterlife.”

“They seem happy enough.”

“They’re deluded. In all my years of investigating supernatural occurrences, I’m yet to find a single genuine example.”

“What about this hotel? You’re convinced it’s fake. What if it’s not?”

“There’s no life after death.”

“You seem so sure.”

“After ten years investigating, I am.”

“How you do think they do it?”

“Smoke and mirrors. Hidden microphones. Nothing unique.”

“Why do you think they’ve got such a reputation, with such cheap tricks?”

“A proprietor who is a good showman. Look at the waiver, that builds expectations before the guests even get to the room.”

“We’re being manipulated?”

“I’d say so. Guests arrive expecting to see a ghost. They’re told there are ghosts in every room and are made to sign a waiver, implying the visions are so terrifying they might die. That sets up a high probability the guests will see what they want to see. A dummy dressed in a white dress and wig suddenly becomes the ghost of woman abandoned on her wedding night. It’s clever what they’ve done here; I’m guessing it’s twenty percent props and eighty percent the power of suggestion.”

He checked his watch.

“Time to retire. It’ll be dark soon.”

They lay in bed listening to the sounds of the hotel as the guests settled for the night. No doubt some would be having all-night vigils with incense and sage burning. Others, no doubt, had gone to bed, full of trepidation and excitement. Matt, tired after a long drive, fell asleep almost immediately.

He woke when Chelsea grabbed his arm under the blankets. He checked his watch. Two a.m. She was staring at the corner of the room. He looked into the darkness, unable to see anything but shadows. He switched on the bedside light. The figure standing in the corner was so obviously fake Matt had to stifle a laugh. It was the classic kid’s version of a ghost; a figure covered by a sheet with cut-out eyeholes. Matt rolled out of bed.

“I was right, look at that. If we were believers, we would see a terrifying vision of a dead child and not just someone with a sheet over their head.”

A toy car trundled across the wooden floor.

“Radio-controlled.”

He walked over to the figure. It didn’t move. There was a sudden tension in the room.

“Don’t, Matt. It feels wrong.”

Matt ignored her and instead spoke to the figure.

“You’re joking, aren’t you? Is this what I signed the waiver for? Is this what we drove six hours for? Wait until I publish my article. The first sentence will include your name.”

The figure didn’t move. Matt bent forward and stared into the eye holes.

“Well, who do we have here?”

He whipped the sheet away. Underneath there was nothing except a deep, fluid inky blackness. A darkness that almost had the shape of a person. Matt felt coldness emanating from the figure. He stared into the face of the ghost. It giggled, the high sweet laugh of a child. Reality hit Matt, it was real; it had always been real. He felt a crushing pain in his chest and fell to the carpet. The dark shape moved towards Chelsea. Matt’s last coherent thought was that he wished he hadn’t signed the waiver.

 

∼ R.J. Meldrum

© Copyright R.J. Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

 

Terror

Ephialte materializes.

Standing at the foot of the bed, the elongated, alabaster-skinned creature with dilated black eyes licks his lips. The young man sleeps soundly, a rosary laced between his fingers. A timeworn Bible rests on the nightstand, highlighters and pens arranged next to it. If anyone else stood here they would see a man surrounded by peace granted by the faith in his god. Ephialte savors the misperceived sight, one he has seen thousands of times over the centuries.

He slowly walks to the side of the bed and opens the book to Psalm 91:5. The highlighted, circled passage written because of him, “You will not fear the terror of the night…” Ephialte silently laughs. Words are just pretty things unless you truly believe…

Years, which feel like a single day to Ephialte, culminate in this moment. His hand traces a quilt square, lingers on a loose thread, closes, and pulls. Slow. Deliberate. The comforter slides to the floor. The man, dressed only in boxers, shivers but remains on his back. Ephialte crawls onto the bed. His weight is no more than that of an insect. His fingers trail along the human flesh as he positions his knees astride the man’s waist. His hands move from the stomach to the hollows below his ribs, deft fingers finding the invisible holes created over time.

The man groans.

Ephialte presses hard, pierces skin. The man’s eyes pop open and he shrieks. Ephialte sneers, long sharp teeth sprout from his gums. He burrows for the last bit of his victim. The man’s body locks up. Ephialte probes deeper until… There it is.

A microscopic battle rages inside the man. One he can’t win. Behind his heart resides the last vestige of his soul. His screams melt into wracked sobs. Ephialte’s tendrils encase the frantically beating muscle. The hammering against his hands sloughs off the final shreds of humanity. The man is now nothing more than flesh and bone.

Ephialte makes no sound as he withdraws, his work finished. He keeps at least one digit touching the man as he slips to the floor and Ephialte tucks the man back in. The man makes no sound beyond a sob. The Terror removes his finger. The man sits up. A hoarse scream fills the room. Ephialte slips into the shadows, disappearing from human eyes. The man climbs out of bed, looking directly at Ephialte but not seeing him. He urgently searches the room for a minute, then sits on the edge of the bed, head low. He grabs the Bible and hurls it across the room then opens the nightstand drawer. The safety clicks off as he removes the pistol. Putting it to his mouth, he pulls the trigger.

Ephialte vanishes.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

 

Voyeur

My mentor had done this procedure countless times but he was getting on in years, it was now my turn. As we entered the room, I turned to be sure he’d noticed. The subtle scent of overly ripe fruit in a room with no such dressings;  the aroma of an expiration past due.

I walked over to the patient and examined her pale clammy skin. Her pulse weakened, her breath shallow. No wonder Death visited this room. I gulped and returned to my mentor’s side.

Our patient let out a faint whimper that neither of us could decipher. At the word of my aged tutor, I began administering treatment. An injection of morphine to calm her, ease her into bliss, followed by several well placed leeches to suck out the monster who held her soul captive.

***

“Quickly, quickly now!” His harsh whisper scratched through my ears.

“But… she just… and…” I managed to stammer.

“Yes, yes. A horrible tragedy all that, a grievous state.” His head hung low for the briefest of moments until his hands found their way back to tidying up. I couldn’t move, just watched while he placed the tools back into his bag. “Don’t just stand there boy!” His raspy voice coached me. I grabbed up the blood-soaked sheets and tossed them into my own bag…

“Get the leeches boy, the leeches!” His voice rang in my head. I turned, knocking my bag to the floor. The leeches had grown fat, too fat, as they continued their suckling while the patient withered. Plucking the engorged creatures off her tore sheets of wallpaper flesh from the desiccated carcass. I glanced at my guardian through terrified eyes; he himself shook at the horror before us. This wasn’t the way it was meant to be.

I ran to the wooden basin and flung them in, foolishly assuming I’d have time to dissect them later. Before I could blink, they swirled through the cracks, found each chink to slither through. No! No! No!  With bare hands, I tried pulling them back but they were already gone.

Exhausted from the struggle, I turned from the useless pail only to find a figure standing behind my mentor. I tried to warn him but my voice escaped as quickly as the leeches had. I watched as it sliced through his torso, dropping meat haphazardly to the wooden floor. I wept as it devoured our patient one glutinous gulp at a time. I howled with fear as the figure turned its attentions toward me.

Perhaps Death wasn’t only a visitor but a voyeur…

∼ Lydia Prime

© Copyright Lydia Prime. All Rights Reserved.

Naughty Or Nice

Lydi’s heart beat as fast as a hummingbird’s wings as she crept down the stairs from her room. She wasn’t supposed to be up this late, but just before bedtime she’d seen Mawmaw come out of Pawpaw’s study and forget to lock the door. Pawpaw’s snow globes were in there, collected from all over the world on his frequent trips. She wasn’t supposed to mess with them but they were the most beautiful things she’d ever seen. And Pawpaw was gone, as he often was during Christmas week.

Lydi had feared—but almost hoped—that Mawmaw would have remembered and come back to lock the study door. She hadn’t. Lydi’s hand trembled as she pushed down on the latch and slipped secretively into the big room.

The study’s lights were off but Pawpaw’s personal Christmas tree was up. Its gold and silver sheen lit the room enough for her to see. Snow globes rested everywhere, hundreds of them, with tiny colorful scenes and tiny people inside. They turned the whole room into a treasure chest. She hardly knew where to look first.

One particular globe over the mantle caught her attention and held it rapt. She dragged over a stool and clambered up for a closer look. Resting her elbows on the mantle, she dropped her head into her small hands and stared. This globe was larger than any of the others, with three miniature, old-timey, cottages built inside. In front of one home stood a horse-drawn carriage with a laughing family aboard. A gang of young carolers held up hymn books in front of another home. Lydi sighed. She’d always wanted to go caroling but she’d lived with her grandparents since she was very small and their place was a long way away from other people.

Lydi hadn’t intended to touch any of the globes but the snow inside this one was so delicate and fluffy, and it glistened so beautifully. It was nothing like the cold, wet, heavy stuff she saw so often in real life.

Would it hurt to watch it snow inside the globe? Just once!

She reached out. The globe was heavier than she’d expected. It slipped from her grip, tumbled free, spinning and winking like a gemstone with reflected light. Lydi’s stomach threatened to come out of her mouth as the globe hit the floor. But the glittering object bounced on the carpet, then careened wildly around the room.

Lydi leaped from her stool, raced to the globe, dropped to her knees.

“Please, please, please! Don’t be broken!”

Her plea was answered. Sort of. The glass sphere of the globe was intact. But inside? Inside, the carriage and horses were smashed, the laughing family and the singing carolers scattered and broken like matchstick toys. Inside, the snow was no longer white; blood had smeared everywhere.

A sound rose from around the room. It commanded Lydi’s attention. She looked up, her whole body quivering. Inside every other snow globe, tiny faces pressed against glass. She saw eyes that were blackly evil, and mouths formed into “O’s” as they hissed her.

A scream started to build in Lydi. Before it could erupt, a soft whoosh from behind froze it in her throat. She spun. Pawpaw stood in front of the fireplace in his black boots and red traveling suit. He could see what she’d done. His bearded face was angry, disappointed, full of immense sadness.

“Lydi, Lydi, Lydi,” he whispered. “I never thought I’d have to put my own granddaughter on the naughty list.”

Reluctantly, he opened the big bag over his shoulder and took out a new snow globe. It was empty.

So far.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Hunter’s Glade

An elevated howl echoed against the night, its origin huffed the air with heated fervor. The cry for blood reached the ears of its singular meal—two-legged hairless indulgence. The scent of fleeing feast invigorated Hunter; he stood tall and sniffed, the scent was prime. Prey’s hot sweat danced in the air, motes of terror in an otherwise serene glade. Hunter waited, restrained, veins engorged with anticipation. His maw of blades drooled with tasteful senses. Each hair upon his body stood with electric hunger.

Hunter reared and ran across the damp grass. Each step pounded against soft earth. Each lent pleasure to the game. Prey dared not look back as Hunter reached the end of his chase and pummeled Prey to the ground. Prey screamed and cried out in mortal reply. Hunter begged the sound with elated ears.

The moon watched in silence as he fed, the meal no longer able to utter a cry to the indifferent nature of Hunter’s ground.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

 

Say

Say something.

Say I’m dreaming. Say I’m hallucinating. Say this isn’t really happening.

Say it’s not really you splayed here on the kitchen floor, limbs curled loose like a broken spider’s, your hair powdered white from its pillow of flour spilling from the bag tipped half off the counter. You always make a mess in here, always such a goddamn mess. What were you thinking? Say it. Say what you were thinking.

Say the drop of blood on the linoleum didn’t leak from the crook of your elbow. Say the tourniquet’s not still on your arm, the needle’s not still in the vein. Say your skin isn’t ashen and your lips aren’t gaping blue beneath the foam. Say your eyes aren’t open, aren’t fixed, aren’t glazed.

Say you’ll wake up if I jostle your shoulder or tug my fingers through your hair just so, like always. Say you’ll wake up, or I will. Say it’s just another of my nightmares and you’re fine. We’re both fine. Warm. Pink. Breathing.

Say you’re breathing. Please say you’re breathing. Say the pulse I feel when I press my fingertips to your carotid isn’t just my own. Say, as I kiss your cheek and stroke your hair back and snag a few strands on your earring, that it’s me who’s feverish and not you who’s cold.

Say I don’t have to do what I know comes next. 911. Ambulance. Sirens. You, carried away. Me, left behind. Say my last sight of you won’t be with a shroud over your face.

Say it was a mistake. Say it was an accident. Say you didn’t choose this.

Say it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Say it’s nothing I did. Say it’s not my fault. Say that loudest of all.

But say something, damn you.

Say something.

Anything.

Please.

∼ Scarlett R. Algee

© Copyright Scarlett R. Algee. All Rights Reserved.

Freedom

I stare at my wrist, watching life push through my veins. I know I’m imagining the ripples of cells straining their thin walls, but it’s become real to me. It is me.

The small, sharpened knife grows warm in my other hand. “Blood for freedom,” I breathe out.

Perched on the chair in my living room, with nothing to look at save the eggshell walls, I feel a far-too-familiar pressure beginning its assault. “Blood for freedom” echoes in the room. Maybe it’s only in my head.

Thin scars, both fresh and faded, wrap around my arm. I touch the knife to my skin. The merest pressure opens a red line beside a previous wound. Dark liquid seeps from the new stripe. I stare. Waiting. Hoping.

Blood for freedom.

“Fuck you,” I hiss and draw the knife deeper, longer. There is no fear, no pain. Nothing. Blood comes faster, but I don’t bother to hope.

Blood for freedom.

I’ve avoided this as long as I could, but it is inevitable. If people knew what I did to those poor creatures, they would call me a sadist. My lovers thought I was kinky. In the end it wasn’t enough.

Standing, I grab my keys and head into the spring night, knife in hand. My car revs to life, the engine purring like a big cat. I roll down the window and pop on some music for the short drive downtown. Crunching guitar riffs and the sound of rushing wind fill the sleek car but, like in my plain apartment, the call finds me.

Blood for freedom.

“I’m going!” I snap. I slice my arm again, hoping for a moment of peace. “I’m not a fucking miracle worker. I can’t just magically be there. Fuck fuck fuck!” I stab the knife into the passenger seat and turn the music up louder.

When I reach the parking lot of the abandoned office building, I flip off the music and drive around back like always. It took awhile, but once I found this place, I knew it would happen here. There could only ever be one outcome. I turn off the car and leave the knife in my seat. I’ll be using the one in my pocket instead.

Blood for freedom!

I gasp as the air is knocked from me and black dots dance across my vision. I steady myself before opening the car door and slide out.

“You win,” I say.

I slip past the broken door and into the dark corridor. I wait, my senses adjusting. It slips into the background to give me space to work. Light flickers from under a couple of the closed doors. Creaks and groans of a building in disrepair mix with murmured voices as I start down the hall. I don’t bother checking the doors; those people have lived on the streets the longest. They’ve learned to survive. In this world they have far more power than I do.

A handful of living areas, denoted by old sleeping bags and cardboard boxes with meager possessions, are in the lobby. A couple people are asleep, a few bags are empty. One kid, maybe twenty years old, gives me a long look. I smile and nod.

Blood for freedom!

If I weren’t already taking a step to the left to enter the bathroom, my stumble would have been far more noticeable. My bloody palm hits the wall to steady myself as my other hand presses open the door and I go in. I pull out my battery night-light and tap it on, sliding it onto the counter, and weird shadows pop up in the room. It doesn’t take long for the kid to join me.

“I was wondering if I would ever get a turn,” he says. “Twenty bucks, right?”

I produce the bill from my pocket, palming my switchblade at the same time.

BLOOD FOR FREEDOM!

I choke out a breath that I play off as a cough as I stagger back. I grab the counter and double over. It feels like fire inside my veins. I close my hand tighter on my knife, hoping it gets the idea.

“You okay, man?” The kid’s voice wavers.

“Yeah,” is all I can manage. I take a deep breath, and the burning retreats enough to let me refocus. I let the twenty slip from my hand and fall to the floor. “Sorry about that.”

“No worries. I need to be down there anyway.”

He kneels as I straighten. He’s looking at the floor when I press the button and the blade shoots out. He looks up, unwittingly exposing his neck. My arm is already coming down. My knife pierces his soft flesh and sinks down to the hilt. Blood spurts around the edges. I let the weight of my body topple onto him. His screams are muffled against me. I slide the knife side to side as best I can, widening the wound. Warm liquid soaks through my clothes.

Blood for freedom.

The words calm me now.

Blood for freedom.

Fading to silence.

Blood for freedom.

As the light fades in the kid’s eyes.

I stand, my clothes sodden with blood. I pick up the twenty and leave it on the counter, tucking my knife and light back in my pocket. I look back at the kid sprawled on the floor. I did the rest of them here a favor, one less person to compete with.

This is my life now. I only wonder how long it will be until I have to kill again.

∼ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.