Death and Taxes

Kristin sat at his desk in the sparsely decorated government office. He was busily reading through the correspondence of the day. The letters were usually the same-old-same. People would query their latest tax demand. They would invent reasons as to why their annual calculation should be lower than what they were billed. He mused over the fact that the initial communication from each person would be cordial, sometimes even fawning in their appreciation of the department taking the time to consider their applications for tax relief. With the exception of a few legitimate claims, most were just pleas to lessen the burden of the annual charge or to extend the payment due date. A second letter from the same member of the public, when reading closely between the lines, would usually show a hint of desperation. The third would stink of desperation (usually after they had received a dreaded ‘red notice’ or final demand, as it was officially called.) If anyone sent a fourth, then that would usually be at the end of the process and, more often than not, would be hostile to the extent of a profanity riddled rant. These would come from people whose cases had been heard and judged upon with a negative outcome. By negative, it meant business foreclosures or asset and property repossessions.

Although not many had the stomach for his career choice, Kristin was happy in his work. If he dared admit the truth to himself, he even found himself rather enjoying the process of punishing those who did not pay their dues. He always paid his taxes in a timely manner, he rationalised, so why shouldn’t everyone else. If unforeseen hardship had fallen upon those businesses who were now struggling to make ends meet, a death of a business partner, a downturn in the market, then they obviously hadn’t put safety measures in place to ensure they didn’t fall into the debt trap. FYI, not his problem.


He lightly perused the last letter in his in-tray and stamped it ‘Claim Rejected’ with a bit more enthusiasm than was called for. He then sat back, looked upon his day’s toil, and stood to leave for the day. After putting on his coat and scarf, he collected the two piles of paperwork from his desk. On his way out he stopped at his secretary’s desk and put each pile in the correct tray. The one for rejected claims, he deposited the large wad of letters. The one for accepted claims, he put in a single letter which he begrudgingly had to admit held merit for tax exemptions. His secretary (he could never remember her name, nor took the time to even try and make the effort to) smiled sweetly at him.

“Good night, Mr Holland. Have a nice weekend,” she said as he turned to leave.

“You too,” he insincerely said in way of reply.


The next morning, he got out of bed at the usual time of 6.30am. Whether it be a workday, a weekend or even Christmas Day for that matter, his morning routine never wavered.


On descending the stairs down to the kitchen, the only thing wavering seemed to be his balance. He felt very unsteady on his feet and felt the need to grasp the banister to get to the hallway below. He walked through to the Kitchen with some difficulty. Each step was akin to traversing a deep sponge.


On looking down at the ground, he unintentionally let out a shriek of horror. He wasn’t walking on the floor; he was walking in it. The soles of his feet were at least an inch lower than the laminate flooring, and they were sinking further with every passing moment. He heard a rattle of keys by his front door and with effort managed to turn to face it. In desperation he called out and tried to make his way to his long-time partner who was returning home after getting the morning papers. He had never got round to making their relationship more official. He had thought about it, as he had to admit the tax breaks that he would receive on getting married made the idea rather appealing.
Now sunk up to his knees within the floor, each step was like wading through a river of treacle. He sank further and further until the ground passed his mouth, making it impossible for him to make any audible sound whatsoever. Then, within a second, there was no sign of Kristin nor any sign that he had been there at any time that morning. The kitchen floor was as hard and unyielding as it ought to be.

Kristin slid silently through the foundations of his house. He then passed through thick wet mud, which oozed into his nose, ears and mouth, running down his throat and making him gag. His face was pushed against the remains of a body which must have been buried on the plot of land his house now stood many years before it was built. The smell of death filled him with nausea and still he continued his downward journey. Despite the physical relationship between himself and the matter around him being broken, he could still see, smell, taste, and worst of all, feel.

As his body was sucked downwards through mud, chalk and eventually stone he could feel his skin being continuously torn from its body. The pain was agonising and unrelenting, as his flesh was abraded by granite and flint. His skin still it seemed to remain attached to his skeleton. Each layer that was sliced or wrenched from his body was immediately replaced by new growth. Although he could not breathe, the unconsciousness of death eluded him. It refused to clutch him to its bosom for that final relief of oblivion. Instead, he had no choice but to endure the relentless torture of having every nerve ending in his body scraped against the innards of Mother Earth.

Each passing hour seemed like a lifetime of pain. And with each hour a different texture and therefore a different kind of pain. Granite felt different as Kimberlite, as did Obsidian, Basalt and Pumice.

The deeper he travelled the colder he became. As well as the searing pain of friction he now also had to bear the mind shattering freezing temperature.

After what seemed like an age he began to feel, at first, warmth, and then searing heat. It started on the soles of his feet, but slowly worked his way up his body. He could see clumps of flesh singe and burn away from his bones. As each slice of meat barbequed into ash, another piece of fresh flesh grew in its place, and so the burning process would begin anew.

He knew that his final destination would be the furnace of the Earth’s core.

Kristin wondered if his fate was the result of him relishing in other people’s misery and his selfish attitude in both his business and personal life.

Or was it in fact true, that all tax collectors deserved to burn in Hell.

∼ Ian Sputnik

© Copyright Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

Forest Full of Mirrors

The forest is full of mirrors that reflect the thirteen angels of the land. It is the only safe way to gaze upon them. To see their glory directly would hammer one to silence. It would chain a throat with despair.

The first angel is the angel of moss. She has long hair that drips gray from the limbs of oaks. Her wings are invisible but you can feel them in the breeze as they stroke your sweat to coolness. On hot days I sit beneath her perch, though I dare not sit too long. She might notice.

The angel of leaves wears many colors, changing them with every season. Green is her favorite but sometimes her silks flame red and yellow. At other times they are threadbare, showing the branching of her veins. In the cold, damp winter they are rotted black.

The angel of stone has pitted eyes that glitter like mica. Those orbs watch the little creatures wandering past. They study those who squirm and crawl and hop the forest floor. They decide who to sacrifice and who to spare.

There is another angel who lives in the hives of bees. Striped in black and yellow, she has feelers upon her head. It is said that her coat of pollen is an aphrodisiac. I believe that is true though I have never chanced a taste.

The angel of owls sweeps in silence through the tangled woods. Nothing hears him in flight, but everything flees when he calls. I have heard this piping on eldritch nights—and remain haunted.

The misted angel wears a diaphanous gown. She is cool to the touch. Through the darkest hours, she pants wetly with want. But in the dawn she floats in innocence to heaven. Do not bother to wave. In return she will offer naught.

The river angel’s wings are white in the rapids, deep and green in the pools. Like a child, he chuckles and laughs as he plays. But do not make him angry. He thrashes against his banks then. He turns the world to shambles.

The angel of light glitters like a hoard of gems. She dances with the mirrors, preening for the trees. I suspect she is vain. But why shouldn’t she be? She is more lovely than the sweet face of the moon.

The wings of the ninth angel make a gate. It opens and closes like a bellows. Sometimes things come through. Awful things. Monstrous things. They hide in the light; they stalk the night. Even though they may know your name, do not make them your friend.

The angel of wicked dreams leaves his feathers scattered on the forest floor. Never seek them. Their promise is honeyed; their taste is foul. They often resemble  mushrooms and toadstools. Sometimes they follow you home and beg to come inside and bleed.

Even the worms have an angel. He is small and ugly and his pinions are lost. He crawls on his belly in the soil. He has no throat with which to scream. But listen close and you still may hear him. Pray that you don’t.

I once knew the angel with the dirty wings. We were lovers in a snake’s embrace. She left me a gift when we parted, half of one of her fangs broken off in my heart. The thirteenth angel is the worst. Or the best. If you should look right at him, you’d only see yourself. He is a mirror all his own. He would laugh when you laugh, cry when you cry. But in the end he’d eat your soul with a wink.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Futurity’s Shoelaces

I stare out the window of my cottage, a refuge from a marriage lost. Even the trees are dying. I hear the click of my pen, knowing it must have its way.

“On a sand-scaped shore where life squirmed out from its beginnings, a mother is suspended just above her shadow which grows longer as the sun recedes.  The children rise from her shadow …”

Yes, it is another story, I have it in my head. My novels sold well, once. Now, there is no market for novels, no words, no stories. Libraries are a thing of the past, but writing has become a habit.

 Yesterday the internet began shutting down. Communications are failing around the globe. I never thought it would come to this.

I make a fresh pot of tea. It is the last of the package. The last of all packages. Richard worked for NASA. He expected sons, or even girls to carry on his dream. I failed.

Esher’s multiples on a plane, pleasing, confounding, petrifying, Stravinsky’s complex compositions, Hegel’s theories, Einstein’s gifts merge into a helix of variables, where past and present play tricks; the child called Futurity ties his shoelaces, draws the bow taut.. I add to my former lines,

“The children know forever. The children never tell, they owe no explanations. Listen, say the children, there’s music everywhere.”

I lay down my pen. Before me is a blank screen. It is past time for the broadcast, the one that will tell us what we need to do.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

Utopia

I beg to have this morsel of bread, my knees on cold stone. The clean hand which gives does so with apathy. This weary skeleton is not worthy. It shakes and rattles as it moves away in contorted gestures. Shame used to have meaning, now it is only the infinite permanency of a worn soul.

They know what’s best for me. They always have.

I’ve no coin or cloth; blood is the only currency I have to give. And so my debt is paid by suffering. The countless ways in which they thrill their hearts baffles the mind. No imaginings of one man could conjure how many ways there are to inflict pain. Never has it been said that they lacked creativity.

I once viewed a piece of art. I suppose this is theirs.

Feeble, frail, am I. No longer do I recoil at the thought of the black hood coming to take me. I’ve eaten my share and lived long years. Time is precious, gifted by the keepers of this world by keeping us unworthy alive. And greed has never been my vice.

I’ll see the reaper soon. And gladly give my head to his axe.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

The Drifting Snow

The wind blew the dry snow across the road, reducing the visibility to about five feet. Don was forced to slow the car to a crawl.

“We’ll never get home at this rate.”

“Better late than never.”

It wasn’t a good night to be traveling, but they had no choice. They were on their way back from the crematorium. Grandma had died on Christmas Eve, her heart finally giving out as she took the garbage to the roadside at minus twenty.

“I’ll miss her. I loved her so much,” said Linda.

“You were her favorite. She always went the extra mile for you. Remember when she punched that kid who was bullying you?”

She smiled at the memory, looking out the car window at the snow-covered fields.

“She always loved this weather. I thought she was crazy, but it was her favorite time of year. She was such a tough old lady.”

“She had to be, living by herself on the farm.”

“She was so stubborn. Didn’t want to sell up after Grandpa died. She might have lived a bit longer if she hadn’t had to drag those bags to the end of the driveway every week.”

“Well, she’s at peace now.”

Linda glanced out into the darkness. The wind blew across the open landscape, lifting the snow into huge whirling clouds. She saw something moving in the drifting snow, a figure.

“What was that?”

“What?”

“I saw a shape in the snow.”

“A deer?”

“It looked like a person.”

“In this weather? No way.  It’s minus thirty out there.”

“We should stop.”

“I guess, it could be a stranded driver.”

He pulled over and Linda got out.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

There was no response. The snow was blowing into her face, the flakes sharp against her skin. Her face started to freeze. She knew she wouldn’t be able to stay outside for much longer.

“Hello?”

A figure appeared, standing about ten feet away. It was human.

“Grandma?”

She spoke without thinking. The figure danced and twisted in the wind. It whispered to her.

Go no further…”

The wind stole the rest of the sentence.

Linda’s nerve failed and she bolted for the safety of the car. Don looked up as she climbed back in.

“Anything?”

“No.”

She thought back to the words she’d heard.

“Just be careful. Drive real slow.”

“Slower than I have been?”

“Yes, I have a feeling.”

“Okay.”

Don crawled along at a snail’s pace. A pick-up truck roared past them, horn blaring. Its taillights disappeared into the snow. Suddenly Don braked. Hard. Even at such a slow speed, the car skidded for a few feet before crunching to a halt on the icy road.

“Look!”

He pointed in front of them. The road crossed a narrow bridge. It had collapsed. The taillights of the pick-up truck were visible in the water below. If they hadn’t been going so slowly, they would’ve had no chance of stopping in time. Linda, suddenly aware of what had happened, looked out at the drifting snow and silently thanked Grandma for looking out for her, one last time.

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.

The Suit

She had always feared this day would come.

The dark musings had been anxiety provoking and had included the suit being handed over ceremoniously. But that could only happen in a world where her identity was known. Where the true identity of her husband was known.

Instead, a man had stumbled out of a nondescript car and handed her a box sealed with tape. Not the nice kind of tape, either. Not the smooth type, but the brand with the biting string embedded in it.

The cheap kind.

She had looked at the box and looked at the man. His eyes had been hidden behind large sunglasses. He had been as generic as the box. He had turned and left without so much as a nod.

The box, when opened, had given off a smell that she recognized. Even superheroes had favored brands of soap and deodorant.

The suit itself was harder to recognize; it looked different without her husband in it.

God, she missed him.

She wondered if she would miss him less if they had been able to recover his body; if she had had something to say goodbye to.

Without the suit, her husband was just a man. Without the suit, he blended in. Recovering the body would have required someone knowing who to look for.

She needed to have the smell of the suit around her. In their years together, she had barely touched it. It had been his: his responsibility, his power. She had respected that. But he was gone, and she was grieving, and the only thing she knew to do was to put the suit on. It slipped over her skin as his hands once had. It didn’t snag, it didn’t require awkward tugging. Despite their differences in size and shape, the suit fit perfectly.

The suit was made of latex and some charmed materials and had been secretly manufactured in a hidden lab. The suit maker was no longer alive. No one who knew the identity of the suit’s owner was alive, except her.

She wrapped her arms around herself, capturing the first hug she had felt in weeks. Still holding her arms tightly, she moved to the mirror, wanting to see something of him, anything of him. The suit had looked blue on him; it was a deep purple on her.

Inside the suit, his scent grew stronger. The feel of him, his essence enveloped her. She closed her eyes, to catch her breath, to ground herself. She whispered, “I wish I could see him.”

The mirror granted her wish in the worst possible way. The perspective was startling. It appeared as if she were on her back, looking up at the sky. She could not move: her hands and feet were bound. A cold wind blew over her and she shivered. The air bit at her skin, giving her the impression that she was naked. The sound of breathing filled her ears. It was breathing she would recognize anywhere. It belonged to her husband.

She was not seeing him; she was him. She was him in his last moments. But why was he on the ground? Why was he naked?

The vision of the sky was blocked by a face she has seen on the news. It was the Disposer. He had been terrorizing the tri-state area for months. The Disposer smiled at the shivering body, he smiled at the gasping breath. He was more menacing in person than he was in his mug shots. The Disposer’s eyes were like black holes: they absorbed everything and gave off nothing.

The Disposer pursed his lips as if blowing out a candle. Instead of spewing air, dirt poured out, filling her husband’s eyes and nose and mouth. The dirt smelled of rot.

The Disposer, watching her husband die, said, “I get to teach you something today, professor. You get to research death first-hand.”

She understood. Without the suit, the Disposer had no idea who her husband was. He only knew the alter-ego. Feeling her husband die did not provide closure. In fact, it provided the opposite: a thirst for answers.

She felt raw and battered as the mirror switched perspective to reveal a bit of distinguishable scenery. That glimpse could help her find her husband. Or it could help her find the Disposer. She did not know which outcome she wanted more.

The suit had always been an image of trust, of safety. So why had her husband taken it off when a known villain had been near? She had been accustomed to her husband’s strange hours and secretive behavior. The months leading up to his death had been filled with greater absences and a larger gulf between them. He had not been confiding in her as he had before. Had he been confiding in someone else?

The suit was now the cause of mystery and confusion. What had once been a source of pride was now a source of uncertainty. The only thing she was sure of was that someone knew her identity. The person who returned the suit was either someone close to her husband or an enemy inciting a new foe.

Strangely, she hoped it was the latter.

∼ Elaine Pascale

© Copyright Elaine Pascale. All Rights Reserved.

Sea Burial

The priest-like movement of the waves did not soothe Edith. The darkness is an honest friend, the black sea, too. It did not soothe her though the waters are calm and ripples are an echo of itself. The urn in her hands was not only shaken by the movement of the boat. Guilt made her hands tremble. It had come to this.

The moon and torchlight shed the darkness on the lids of the night; it was just her and the boat they’d once rowed together, fishing, swimming naked, living—a singular task, a secret ministry to scatter his ashes at his request. She received a short letter a month ago asking for this one thing. Before that, he wrote all the time. In one long letter, he said at long last that Geoffrey’s mother had forgiven him, and he felt something close to joy after atoning for ‘their sin’ for the first time since his crime. She didn’t reply, not once. ‘Their sin?’ Then she couldn’t bring herself to read his desperate and demented letters saying he would starve himself to death unless she wrote or visited. Her patience had run out. It made no sense to her why he raked over what happened years ago. It was a broken sternum healed to a misshapen cage.

All those years Herman had served in prison, Alice had been in exile too. The local people of Bicton said she was a heartless witch who put a curse on men. Herman’s jealous rage turned his handsome face into a rapid mask. He bit and tore, punched and kicked another man to death. Poor Geoffrey, a gentle lover, she thought blithely. Could love make men mad?

She hadn’t loved him well, nor deep like the ocean. He was a strong man with a big heart. She had not loved him these years, for she only knew his absence and her own changed, quiet life, keeping out of sight of fingers and whispers. Watched by the sleepless stars, it was right to admit this now. There was no peace here, either. Out at sea, she was no more and no less isolated than she was in her humble cottage.

Tomorrow, she thought, the church bells would ring in the morning, the vicar would come and go, and families would send their children to school. And Edith would be alone again. The smoking blueness of the sky and the bitter-sweet smell of the infinite ocean reminded her of this.

Was she selfish to contemplate her suffering? She clutches the urn, rocked by the cradle of the boat. If only she had a child for company. No man would come near her—the chance of a slippered quiet or contented happiness again was snuffed out forever. Yes, she was an inmate, too, and her sentence was not over. Her twin is in the waters. She thinks that solitude has withered her like a prisoner as she touches her beautiful hair. Day and night were all one. Yes, her furnished cottage was quite comfortable with a fire lit and simple stew to eat, but who would act on her dying wishes?

“Herman was spared. Blessed to die in prison,” she said, peering into the waking black waves, though he died just before he had almost served his sentence.

She resolved then there was no need to pray, having not prepared anything, and nothing came to mind amidst so much blackness; just her and the sea, inhaling and exhaling—a sea which never sleeps.

Then there was a slight movement in the air, a strengthening of the wind, a sound like the crumpling of paper. The ocean swelled ominously, and the wind whistled sharply around her neck as it lifted her long dark locks off her back and shoulders before dropping them down again. She clutched the urn to her chest as she lost her balance in the swaying boat. Herman used to say to peer into the depths of the sea is to peer into a mirror, into one’s conscience. Vapours rose from the waters and a door opened in the waves. She studied the perilous gloom illuminated by the unquiet moon. Glass bottles containing a handwritten letter bobbed to the surface—one after the other.

“What?” she stammered. “Is this —?’

Not hesitating a moment later, Edith shuffled to the edge of the boat, clutching the urn with one hand to her chest while using the other hand to hold onto the wooden seat to inch forward, gazing fixedly at the open door. Situated at the most northern part of the boat, she removed the lid from the urn and slowly rose to her feet, wobbling as the waves became restless and ever boisterous. The door in the waves was still open—a trapdoor, Alice thought, where the evil mortals go. So, in her outstretched hand, she turned the urn upside down.

Nothing came out.

Not a speck.

From the gloom came a satanic cry, and a black power appeared like a thunderbolt. An enormous bird with blinking plutonium eyes perched on the boat and burned its eyes into Alice’s lovely face.

“Oh! Help!” she called, “take it!” she said, offering the urn out to the evil-looking bird.

But the eager creature—a giant cormorant—winked, then began pecking and tearing at Edith’s pretty face with persistent rapture. Her arms waved, the urn fell into the boat, rolling under the seat, and with every cry and scream, another black bird appeared from the ominous sky, dressing every inch of her in black plumes. A cacophony of fluttering wings and restless waves made demented music damp with her tears and spit-soaked shrieks in the air. The boat ceased to rock violently. One satisfied bird carried the urn away to its nest to nestle beside ink-spotted eggs. In the wind, the sounds of sobbing and grieving rained into her ear. Herman’s voice twisted the sinews in her shrunken heart, cleaving her like another hungry bird. At last, she listened and heard.

“Edith.Edith.Edith.”

Into the shadowy water she fell, down and down deep below the waves so deep nobody knows.

~ Louise Worthington, Guest Author

© Copyright Loiuse Worthington All Rights Reserved.

Friend of Mine

Andy could never stand being indoors. He could walk for miles. He was the explorer of his family. His father worked for the local bank, a career that his dad hoped he would follow. His mother worked part-time in the local dentist as a receptionist. His older sister was just finishing high school, she dreamed of being a model. Her parents worried about this; Andy was just bemused by it. He thought her an ugly pig.

Andy, well Andy just liked to explore. He was never happier than when he was on his own, in his own adventure.

It was a particularly balmy day. The sun beamed down on the fields and trees causing the early morning dew to evaporate. It hung in the air like the kind of mist one would usually only see when running a hot shower. His neck was hot and sweaty so he decided to seek shelter from the solar onslaught by walking through the woods. It was the path less traveled by even the most ardent rambler and therefore the going was slow. He edged his way forward over fallen branches whilst trying to avoid the patches of brambles and nettles.

He mused to himself that this was the farthest he’d ventured into this part of the woods in all of his thirteen years. As he marveled at his surroundings there was a creaking sound beneath his feet and the floor open up below him. Then all went dark.

He groaned and shook his head to try and wake his senses. He found himself laying at the bottom of a long shaft. Way above him was a small spot of light, no doubt the opening that he had fallen through. He slowly got to his feet, evidently nothing broken except his pride which was as bruised as his backside.

There was a long tunnel that disappeared into darkness in one direction. In the other was a slight glimmer of light. That was the direction he decided to go. Eventually, the tunnel opened out into a large chamber. He sat on a large stone in its center and took in his surroundings. It was quite bright here as there were many flaming torches lining the walls. On the ground lay discarded clothes. He reached down and lifted one such item to closer inspect it. It looks like one of those old redcoats that he had seen in movies. It was dirty but other than that it was in remarkable condition. He tried it on and as he did so he heard a jingling sound from its pockets. Reaching into one he pulled out a handful of coins. They appeared to be gold and this made him smile broadly.

“So, is that what you desire?” the gravelly voice from a dark side recess enquired.

Andy stood bolt upright. His legs began to tremble as a large bulky shape came into view. It dragged itself along the ground with two very large forearms. The sounds of its movements were accompanied by the metallic clanging of large chains which were attached to a metal collar around its neck. As it entered the chamber the torchlight illuminated the hulk of the creature. Its head was wide, like a bullfrog. But as it continued talking, he could see that its mouth was full of dark, broken, and decaying teeth; each one the size of two house bricks. Its skin was slimy, pale green and covered in warts the size of acorns. “Is it you wish to be rich Beyond your wildest dreams?”

He could do nothing more than slowly shake his head in pure terror. He heard the coins slip from his hand onto the stony surface of the floor.

“Well?” The creature asked again. “Cat got your tongue? You know it is considered rude not to reply when being spoken to.”

Andy couldn’t comprehend what was speaking to him. It was the size of a small RV. It pulled itself closer to him on muscly arms. Its hind legs, if it had any, were not visible. As it approached it continued speaking. With each syllable, the stench of decay invaded Andy’s nostrils. It was all he could do to not vomit.

“Who am I addressing?” It asked.

“I’m An-An-Andy,” he stuttered in way of reply.

“Pleased to meet you, Andy. Please, sit back down and make yourself comfortable. We have much to discuss, so you’ll no doubt be here for a while.”

It smiled as Andy sat back down. A movement that went against every instinct in his body which screamed ‘run’. But he was too enthralled by the ‘thing’ which now sat only a couple of feet from him.

“Sadly, I have no name,” it continued. “If I ever had one, I’ve long since forgotten it.”

“What are you?” Andy blurted out. His mother had warned that his inquisitive nature would be the death of him. But he has so many questions. “Who put those chains on you? How long have you been down here?”

In way of reply it gave out a belly laugh, then added “One question at a time. I was imprisoned down here so very long ago. By who? I cannot remember. Why? I guess my dashing good looks made them jealous,” he burst into laughter again. “Or maybe they just wanted to keep me to myself for my special gift”, he teased.

Andy found himself starting to relax in the company of his new friend. He was intrigued by this strange creature. He wanted to know more.

“What do you eat down here?” he inquired. As he did so, his eyes were once more drawn to the cavern floor. As well as the red coat that he was now wearing, there were clothes of many different styles and eras strewn about the place. He made an audible gasp and turned to his companion.

“Ah, yes well, I must admit my diet does tend to lean towards fresh meat. Never been much of a salad kind of guy. But don’t worry. I rarely need sustenance and I’m not feeling hungry at the moment. You have my word on that, and for all my faults I never lie.”

“Is that what you told ‘them’?” Andy retorted, pointing to the piles of clothing.

“Oh, them. Well, you see they sought me out seeking a deal. Riches for their lives. They didn’t die of greed, they died of stupidity. I gave them what they wanted and took from them what they promised. The deal was fair. I kept my word. They just didn’t think about the finer details of the deal they made. They never really thought it through.”

“I want gold,” he demanded. “If you can grant wishes, then I want gold and lots of it.”

“And in return, I want something,” it said in reply. “I’m going to need a good meal at some stage.”

“OK then,” agreed Andy. “I want as much gold as I can carry, and then you can eat me. But only when I’ve had time to enjoy my riches. On my word, I will return,” he promised.

“Then we have a deal,” the creature said with a smile.

“When I am 100,” Andy added.

“WHAT?” it bellowed. “When you’re how old?”

“Yes, when I am 100. If you truly have gifts, you’ll give me until the age of 100 to fulfill the bargain. And that’s 100 years of good health. Then, when my time has come, you can feast on me. I think it’s only fair that I have time to enjoy being rich. I’m not going to make the mistake the others made.”

The smile disappeared from the fat face of the monster that sat just a few feet from Andy. It grumbled to itself.

“You possess guile beyond your years,” it complained. If shifted its weight from one side to the other and mulled this new caveat to their contract. “OK then. It’s a deal,” it conceded. “I can wait.”

This time it was Andy who bore a smug grin. As he sat, he felt a glow of self-satisfaction flow through his body. He had outsmarted the overconfident blob. It had underestimated his negotiation skills. The creature slid off and returned with a chest of gold and jewels. Small enough for Andy to carry, but large enough to keep him and his family in comfort for the rest of their lives.

Andy moved to collect his prize.

“Not so fast,” the beast commanded. “You think you have the strength to lift that box?”

Andy shrugged off its comments and reached for the handle. He was stronger than he looked. As he tried to claim what was rightfully his, his back gave out with a crunching sound. He sat back down in agony. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead and he wiped them away with his hands. His palms felt rough and his fingers hurt from that simple movement. He stared at them through the gloom of his failing eyesight. Through the dust, flickering firelight and poor vision, he could still see his hands looked bony and the skin wrinkly.

“What have you done to me?” he asked in a panicked, croaky voice.

“Me? Nothing. Mother nature has done that to you, not I. You see time doesn’t pass the same in my company as it does elsewhere. That is one of my special gifts. I’d say that you’ve been here for 80 or 90 years. Which…” he chortled, “would make you at least 100 by now, maybe a bit more. But you can have those extra few on me.”

It moved towards him with a greater speed than his bulk seemed capable of.

“Now for your end of the bargain, my dear friend,” it said in a sinister tone.

Its mouth opened wide. The smell of decay from its mouth once again assaulted Andy’s senses.

As it lifted Andy high into the air and down towards its cavernous orifice, it stopped briefly to add, “I’m afraid my teeth aren’t what they used to be. Not as sharp as they once were. I may have to chomp and chew on your body for quite a while before I can ingest you. So, this is going to hurt. This is going to hurt a lot.”

∼ Ian Sputnik

© Copyright Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

Soul Unturned

Entwined beneath an afternoon sun, two lovers work in a tiny graveyard in an orchard gone to seed. Sweat pearls their limbs and beads their hair. Their voices moan and echo. The moment passes. As evening shadows begin to sing, they kiss and sigh.

“You sure you want this?” Dean asks. “No changing minds later.”
“I want to be young and in love forever.” Leandra replies

Dean nods, kisses the hollow of her throat. Her blue veins shed warmth. Her life beats there. He can drink it when the time comes. Already they’ve been drawing each other’s blood with needles and sharing it to deepen their bond.

Dean lies back on a grave, drawing Leandra down beside him. They wait, holding hands as their last sunset comes creeping. Shadows stretch. On the horizon, earth colors of red and yellow give way to metallic purples and pulsing blacks. Darkness caresses daylight into oblivion.

Leandra sits up. “You hear it?”
Dean joins her. “Yes. They’re coming!”

A humming seeps from the air. The night sky blossoms, as if god has set off fireworks meant only for them. Brilliant scarlets and muted maroons build a backdrop against which gold and white droplets spray. An image of a great raptor appears, striking from ebony space.

Dean closes his eyes against the glory. “The Angel!” he shouts.
Leandra says nothing. Her eyes are open; they bleed crystal tears with razor edges.

The angel lands with a snap of crimson pinions. It is legion; its eyes are moonlets.

“No,” Dean pleads.
“We seek forever,” Leandra counters.

The angel wraps its wings around the lovers, containing them within its umbra. From a spider’s mouth of chelicerae, the being extrudes a single fang upon which gleams a venom-pearl. Leandra licks the pearl. It bursts on her tongue into oily rivulets of purple, blue and green. Dean will not open his eyes but she shares the venom through a kiss. Spasms strike them both. They jerk and writhe, convulse and scream. Limbs twist; bones snap. From human, they are reborn. Into nothing human.

Leandra recovers first. Her eyes are wider now. They see the electromagnetic spectrum in infinite shades. Her ears are opened. They hear the beat of hearts across miles, the scurry of beetles under her feet, the twisting of worms beneath the earth.

“Thank you,” she says.

The angel holds out a tentacle and pulls her to her feet. She feels a weight at her shoulders, the fast-growing wings that will give her the sky. Laughing, she turns to her lover. Dean lies still, as if with exhaustion. She calls his name. He opens his eyes; they are ruins of rot. She cries out and drops to her knees, touching his face. He mewls from a mouth of blackened tongues and the stumps of broken teeth.

With tears, Leandra looks up at the angel. “What happened?” she pleads. “Help him!”

“The venom did not take,” the angel replies. “This is as far as he goes. We’ll have to leave him for the beast.”

“No!” Leandra protests. “It was supposed to be both of us. Together. Forever.”

No mercy in the angel’s voice as it speaks again. “You’ll find better lovers where we’re going. Come. Or stay. Your choice.”

Leandra glances at Dean. He doesn’t seem to recognize her. He grunts like a toad as his broken limbs scratch in the soil as if to burrow. Leandra stands. Her tears are of sorrow, and of joy, as the angel and the once-a-woman rise and arrow toward the portals of heaven. Behind them in the dirt, Dean digs his slow way to Hell.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Ripper’s Street

Softly settles East End fog, thick with industry’s residue. It leaves an oily coat on the skin,

plays games with the vision. Forms appear and vanish in the mist, the stink of piss and rotten meat, slimy creatures of dark alleyways. These streets, the Ripper’s playground.

Me being young, and with no binding ties, I once went slumming with the lads. Begging favors of Miss Mary, we taking turns with her to satisfy our bursting loins. And that she did with competence, such was her service for our coins. When we were done, we bade good night and off she went into that dense Whitechapel fog.

Years passed, and I’m a doctor now, with a different take on whores. They’re still corrupting honest men, giving them most dreadful maladies. I should know, being one among them on that certain night. Now I walk these midnight streets alone, carrying my own assorted tools. There’s many a strumpet up ahead, for a trained man skillful with the blade.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.