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.

 

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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.

 

A Quiet Ravine

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

***

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

∼ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

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.

Bridge to St. Claire

Black clouds meeting twilight. A picturesque lake reflects the sky above the bridge to St. Claire. A vintage red Corvette speeds along the bridge.  Davis has a room for the night at the Harbor View hotel. He already has a girl waiting there for him. He dips a pinky in his little silver vial of coke.

During the night ahead, he has plans for this one. Something kinky, to be sure. He has a leather case with an impressive amount of sex tools, most of them involving bondage of one sort or another. Before dawn, he would know every inch of her body as he never would know that of his bride. Madeline is much too busy spending his money and divorce is out of the question. His girls are dispensable. Madeline is not.

Davis is a CEO, a businessman. The girl — the one waiting for him in the Harbor View hotel room — had met his requirements: looked twenty something, had no ties. A gal like her could always use three figures for one night, no matter the obligatory kinks. Of course, she doesn’t get to keep the money. After the games are played out, after he’s sated, he’d sneak a little chloral hydrate in her drink of choice. Then a fast ride over the bridge and leave her stoned on a park bench in the city.

Someone appears on the road ahead. He slows to a stop. She looks familiar, but it can’t be Darla — the airhead from last month who wouldn’t stop talking. She’d babbled all the way across this bridge to the same hotel. Talk about bad choices! He should have known she’d be trouble because later, she refused his special drink. He’d slapped her hard. “Game’s over, baby. Drink it!”  She fell back, hitting her head on the edge of a table. Didn’t blink, didn’t move. Struck dumb, Davis stood there a few minutes. Finally, he’d rolled her up in a sheet and took a ride to the bridge. Dumped her over, bye-bye birdbrain.

But WTF, there’s the little bitch Darla again, waving to him by the railing. He guns the engine, roaring straight at her. The Corvette sails through her and crashes, crushing his skull into the steering wheel. A tremendous splash, as the car and its driver hit the water. Then silence as the lake accepts another victim. It begins to rain.

∼ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. 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.

 

Bleed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marlys was a different woman every day.

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

Or

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

He still promised to stay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And over.

And over.

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

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

“Everybody’s alone.”

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

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

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

∼ Mercedes M. Yardley

© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.

 

Damned Words 39

 

Inner Matters
Lee Andrew Forman

The sounds of the world bring peace: crunching gravel, leaves dancing with nature, songs sung by the creations of life. Reality has other sides, some which only a vagabond can see along their journey. The pleasant are never left unappreciated. The darkest sit atop your shoulders, ever apparent in your sight.

A band of three delinquents emerge from the brush to intercept my path, smoke-filled ugliness trailing from their mouths. Their eyes immediately find me: the derelict, the tattered wanderer, the lonely victim. But their eyes only see what their minds can imagine. I sigh in response to their vile introductions.

Before they can hassle me further my front-side expands and splits down the middle. My innards expel themselves and splatter the deviants in carnage. Fluids dissolve their flesh; they scream a futile cry of agony no one will ever hear. Only when my would-be predators are mere remnants of ooze do my organs crawl back and nestle themselves where they belong, happy and well-fed.


Tracks
Charles Gramlich

“Shhhh, I’m here.”

The man shuddered, not quite sure yet what had happened to him. I rested his head in my lap, then pushed sweat-matted hair back from his face to see his terrified eyes.

“Help…me,” he begged.

I shook my head. “Sorry. This could have been avoided, but…” I gestured for him to look at himself.

He turned his head to gaze down his body. I let him scream at what the passing train had done. He tried to struggle, to thrash his arms and legs. He had no arms or legs. Shredded remnants of his severed limbs looked like piles of cooked raspberries strewn along the tracks. And, as I’d read would happen, the train’s weight had cinched the torn veins shut. He wasn’t bleeding out; he’d live a while yet. No one would find him here, though, where I’d tied him to the tracks.

“Please,” he begged again.

I shrugged and rose. “I warned you about those spam calls from your site.” Taking out my cell, I punched a number. The phone in the man’s pocket buzzed obnoxiously. “Press 2 to be placed on my do not call list,” I told him.


Family Honor
Mark Steinwachs

When I pulled the trigger years ago, I knew my turn would come. There is only one of us in the family at any time. My death is their first hit.

Blindfolded and with hands tied behind my back I shuffle along rocky ground. Whoever is behind me helps guide me. He nudges the back of my knee with his foot and I awkwardly let myself fall to my knees. He lays me flat, my face touching cold metal, then pulls the blindfold back enough for me to look down the long track. Not the same track I used of course, but the scene floods my memory. There is only one person who knows the story of my first hit. I never thought he would be the one.

“Thank you,” a male voice says, one I’ve known since he was born. “Your place of honor awaits.”

Those words, the exact ones I spoke when it was my turn, linger in my brain as I hear the click of the safety releasing.


Now You Stand and Wait
Scarlett R. Algee

They’d picked up her clothes along the track, almost too shredded to bother, and the whole time Shep had been grumbling you’re a damn fool, it ain’t the same no more; so when Shep squats by the rail and picks up a tuft of fluffy black fur, Ben hates him a little.

He clutches the ruined clothes, swats away Shep’s offered rifle, stares down the slope to the ground beneath the trestle bridge. Squints. Wonders. “She’s still my girl.”

Shep toes the claw marks along a rusted edge of rail. “You think that now.”

“She’s still Ellie. You just wait here.”

Alone, Ben treks down to the darkness under the bridge, stands at the bottom to a warning growl. He glimpses eyeshine in the black yards away. “Ellie, it’s Daddy.”

He steps closer. Another growl, deeper, but Ben can see the shape of her now, huge and magnificent, tail held out stiff. He clears his throat. “It’s gettin’ late. Your mama’s got supper waitin’.”

Ellie’s snarl is softer this time. Ben decides to take the chance. Sure, maybe he’s a fool, but she is still his girl.

Step by step, he walks into the darkness, toward the waiting wolf.


The Flattened Penny
A.F. Stewart

I can still smell the copper stench.

And hear the way the train’s wheels screeched as it rolled over the penny on the track, squashing it razor thin. I watched Denny pick up the flat coin, after it cooled down, and wave it around laughing.

I didn’t laugh.

Denny never heard the whistle of the other train, the death train. The one I had seen before, that should have been my ride. One penny to the conductor as payment, but that foul creature didn’t care much about who held the coin. Easy enough to cheat him.

Poor Denny.

That’s the smell of copper I remember. His blood.

But better him than me.


Taking the Ride
Nina D’Arcangela

The rumble loosens my gut; thrums through my body. My eyes quake in their jelly as teeth shiver saliva from plump, rouged lips. Searing heat washes over me as the screech assaults my core. I feel the shatter of my sinus cavities as the revolution of iron pressed upon iron crushes my head. Body thrashing in the wash, I Pollock the scree, feed the weeds; slick the rail for the next eager rider.


Definitely Not a God
Lydia Prime

Beneath the rocks and rails there lies a secret that our tiny town holds. We keep quiet and everything stays peaceful, that’s how it’s always been. Mama says it’s God under those tracks, says he protects us even in his sleep. I don’t think Mama knows what God is.

Late at night I sneak down to the tracks and kick the rocks as I walk past the iron ties. I can hear it, sometimes it sounds like snoring, but other times… If Mama could hear the noises I know she’d change her mind.

Just a ways ahead, the rocks shift and I sprint to see who’s there. The air smells of earth and death, my eyes settle on a gnarled looking creature hunching over in the moonlight. All six of its eyes blink then lock on me. I’ve never seen anything more gruesome, it grins and licks its crooked lips.

I turn to run but my foot snags the rusted rail. As I scramble to my feet, four more creatures step into sight. I was right Mama, definitely not a God.


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