Returning Sins

The smell of rot and dirt displaced the stale air in the bedroom and I tried not to choke on the overpowering stench. Huddled in a corner by the door, shivering in the sudden cold draft, I listened for the slightest sound, praying she was gone. Or that I would wake up from this nightmare.

Scritch, scritch.

There it was, the faint scratching noise against the wood. Fingernails scraping at the grain. I caught my breath.

No. I don’t want to hear it again. I don’t want…

Scritch, scritch. 

Only louder this time. Like an animal clawing to get inside. I whimpered and my stomach churned.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” The words blurted out before I thought.

“Liar!” A horrid screech ripped from behind the door, shuddering through the air. “Bad, you were bad! Left me alone! Left me to die!”

A thundering crash sounded as something slammed the door, bending the wood. I jumped inside my trembling fear and hugged my knees, rocking on the cold dirty tiles of the room. I answered her shriek with my own, a long continuous wail, to drown out her voice, shut out the memories. Every pounding of the door ripped against my skin, racing my adrenaline, shredding my nerves.

“Stop it! Just go away! Leave me alone!” I screamed my terror to the empty room before burying my head between my knees.

“Like you left me?”

The quiet question hurt and frightened me more than her anger. “I didn’t mean it.” My words felt like a lie. Maybe they were. She didn’t answer, and the silence unnerved me. I babbled, “Why now? Why did you come back?”

“Secrets lost. Secrets found. So, I’ve come home, Mama.”

I whimpered. My lost little girl. My thrown away child. I thought I was done. I thought I escaped. “How is this possible?”

“Scared now, Mama? I was scared.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Another whimper and I hugged my knees tighter.

“No! Not sorry. Scared I’m back.” 

Bang! Something rattled the door.

“Why Mama, why?”

Bang! I saw the hinges rattle and bend.

“The closet was dark. I clawed to get out! You never came!”

My eyes closed slowly, my body trembling. Blocked memories surfaced, images of the horror I wrought. I shuddered. “What happened… I can’t… I was high, drugged out of my mind. You were too much for me to handle.”

“I loved you. You left me alone.”

The door frame convulsed, and splinters of wood flew across the room.

“I was so hungry! So thirsty! I cried, and I cried. I was all alone!”


The door slammed open, smacking hard into the wall, and she stood there, framed in the light. My little girl. She looked so thin, with red-rimmed eyes. Hate shone in those eyes.

“You killed me.”

I had no excuses left. Only fear and the truth. “Yes.”

She smiled, rotted teeth grinning at me like a demented thing. “They found me. My bones. Where you buried me. They’re coming for you.”

She laughed as she vanished, and I heard police sirens in the distance.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2021 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Hand of Glory

Its master, a thief and would-be sorcerer, placed it on the porch, this Hand of Glory, its stump impaled onto a metal candle holder. He stared at the gruesome thing, shrivelled past the point of decay, fingers dipped in wax and said to burn with the devil’s own light.

He nodded to himself and cocked his head. “A year to this very day, since I cut you from the body of that gallows corpse. Since I made you. You’d best be worth the trouble. The books said you are made of death and magic, let’s see if it’s true.”

He struck a match and set the five wicks alight, flames shining against the night, their glow flickering through the swirling fog. Small wisps of smoke curled upward and a sweet stench hung in the air, swirling with the vapours. The scented smoke snaked towards the doors and windows of the home sliding through the cracks.

The thief smiled. “Well done. Now they’ll sleep while I steal.” He picked the door lock and crept inside to do his thievery, while the spell of the candle kept the family oblivious. In his work, the thief gave no more thought to his unholy creation.

Outside, the Hand shimmered, its magic alive with other schemes. Its smoke shifted, a second trail of perfumed fumes wafting into the night, beckoning. For tonight, on the unhallowed eve of its making, the Hand of Glory summoned someone special.

A figure stood in the fog’s shadows staring at the ghastly candle. The wind blew cold around her and the grass wilted. Fog clung to her ragged cloak and the smell of decay trailed the footsteps that led her here. The Hand of Glory called to her, unwavering and persistent.

A groan slipped from her lips and the candle flame answered with a flicker. The odour of mouldy roses mixed with the wind and the shadows deepened, shifting as if alive. The woman moved forward, her sleeve tickling the stump of her wrist where a hand had been in life. She stared at the shrivelled thing on the porch, at the preserved appendage once hers.

“He should not ‘ave done it.” Her whisper creaked from a voice unused for a year and ravaged by the hangman’s noose. Her bitter words sliced harshly through the silence. The candle burned brighter. “He should’ve left well enough alone.”

The woman sighed, bending over to pluck the Hand of Glory from its candleholder. She shoved the wicked thing against her stump, where it melded to her flesh, still burning with five flickering flames. She reached out and pushed open the door. The thief turned, saw her and gasped.

She smiled. “Hello, husband. Never thought you’d see me again, I wager. Did you betray me to the hangman just for this?” She held up the Hand of Glory, back where it belonged. “Don’t matter none, ‘cause we’ll be together again, real soon.” She stepped forward to the sound of a scream.

She smiled. Tonight she would have her revenge.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2019 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.



Evening raindrops clung to a broken spider web, and fallen leaves held water like tiny crumbling cups. Silence draped across the forest; the animals fled at sunset when the sky shed its first tear. Even the carrion birds flew away, and the rodents scampered deep down into their holes.

The animals knew.

Like a drumbeat, the chill rain pummeled the forest earth, slapping a copper stench into the wind. The air glided with the taste of elder blood, careening, coating the tumbling raindrops as they soaked back within the dirt. The greedy soil drank of the tainted water, as it once drank the soup of decaying flesh, and the trees rattled as bones.

Somewhere, came a moan.

Beyond the eventual and gentle hush, the rain ceased, but the sky stayed black. No moon graced the shrouded firmament, and no starry luminosity scattered the inky air swallowing the trees. A fog crept like silky spiders, thick and velvet over the ground, obscuring earth and flora. Grey met black and swirled, mingling, melding in a darkling kiss.

And the night waited.

It waited in stillness, the breath of air grave and expectant with longing. It waited cold and cavernous, as if time gave this occasion pause. And then… past the midnight hour it stirred. A faint noise from beneath the onyx soil. Scrabbling, scratching, a shiver sound of creatures crawling, of fingernails groping through the dirt.

Digging upward.

The ground trembled, softly, gently, as if a lover’s touch caressed it. The wind sighed, dancing among the trees and twirling with the hoary mist. Slowly, slowly, the earth gave way, in splinters and snaps and clefts of soft loam. The soil parted, cracked, and a bony hand burrowed out from beneath the world. A sallow, deformed hand smeared in grime and filth, its reaching skeletal fingers smelling of long rotted meat and crumbled skin. Strange grunts followed, and a heaving of dirt as a shoulder bone, and then a skull, pushed from under the tomb of earth into the interim of night. It crawled forward on jointed bones, hollow eyes somehow seeing, a throat void of words somehow screaming. It dragged and squirmed and writhed, this awakened remnant of what once was human, fumbling out of the dirt and standing upright. One step, then two, a stumbling walk through the woods, towing leaf and bark along its path until it escaped the confines of the forest.

There it stopped. There it shrieked.

Loud and strident, an articulation grotesque, yet wrenching in its suffering. A ballyhoo of noise to clatter the trees and jangle the ground. To echo past all the desolate unholy, far into the dark depths of the forest and beyond.

It gave voice to its eternal pain.

A single, howling voice, offered to the night…

To be answered by a thousand snarling cries.

By a thousand sounds of scrabbling and scratching.

By a thousand things digging upward.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2017 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

The Manipulator

Nothingness, absolute and pure, was broken by a suggestion.


Slumber torn asunder. Twinges of tissue and cognition, and then he WAS.

~ ~

Tired. So tired… Confusion and disorientation numbed his mind like cotton wrapped hands. Thoughts felt like a jumble of dusty moths bumped plaintively against a dim light bulb. He couldn’t grasp where he was – what he was doing. His limbs felt stiff and unused.

The stony grip of anxiety seized his mind and burned in his lungs. A deep breath was impossible. Thin air pulled slowly through his nose, bringing with it the smell of fresh clothing and an acrid smell that reminded him of a dissected frog. His anxiety doubled when he realized his mouth wouldn’t open. A hand finally responded to his slow mind. It moved sluggishly, fumbled around haphazardly until it found his lips. Glue. Somebody had glued his lips shut while he slept. Anger and the inability to get a full breath drove his fingers to tear at his lips with a horrible frenzy.

Dry tissue tore without pain or blood. Thin air cascaded over his teeth and dry tongue. His lungs responded mechanically, filling, expelling. Fingers that slowly gained dexterity and feeling touched what should have been painful tears in his lips. He was grateful it didn’t hurt and started to relax slightly.

Another strange sensation penetrated the musky fog of his lethargic mind. His eyes felt like they had something in them. The total absence of light wouldn’t let him see what he was doing, so his hands touched their way past his torn lips, his cold nose, and found his eyes. Tufts of cotton had been stuffed between his eyelids and his eyes. ‘What the hell,’ he tried to scream, but it came out in a hoarse growl. “Wwuu du hehh!”

His hand shot out in an effort to throw away the cotton when it struck something solid. The loud ‘thunk’ reverberated around him as if he were in a closed space. The frantic movement of the severely claustrophobic possessed him as his legs kicked and struck out all around him. A cacophony of quick echoes filled the tight space. His fists pummeled the surface above him, to the side, underneath, and beyond his head. Wordless screams bounced off the smooth walls.

Animalistic fury filled his mind and fueled his raging muscles. His hand shot out in front of him, and struck the surface above his face. The welcome sound of a loud crack met his ears. Lungs pulled at the failing air in massive gulps, like a doomed fish flopping on the shore. A primal scream erupted from his bloodless lips as he struck out violently against his prison.

“Unnghh!” he screamed between breaths. The sounds of his attack morphed from groans and creaks to the splintering of broken wood. A fist erupted through the fissure; his dry flesh scratched, torn and shredded against the sharp edges of his prison. Small pieces of something cold fell onto his face. His hand and fingers vaguely recognized the material as he started to pull his hand back inside and tear at the prison. Realization of what was falling on him came along with the avalanche of freshly dug dirt.

Adrenaline, or its mystical counterpart, burst through his system. ‘Damn this place’ he thought as he struggled against the wood and dirt. ‘Damn whoever put me here’ he thought as he finally got to his knees. The weight of loose dirt above him pressed down on his shoulders and head. Arms tried to push through the soil and pull him up. Hands searched frantically for leverage, for anything. Nothing.

There was no point. Dirt pressed against his eyes, stuck against the dry orbs, preventing him from the tender mercy of a blink. Not even a blink. Small bits of soil worked into his nose. The smell of loam and old decay filled him. Gagged him. He thrashed his head. How long since he took a breath? Fighting to keep his mouth closed was in vain. The muscles in his jaw worked against him. ‘Don’t open’ he screamed in his head.

His head thrashed wildly when his mouth opened. Dirt, a few rocks, and who knows what else poured in. His movements slowed against his will. Hands stopped grasping. Arms stopped reaching. He was dead – or would be. The cold hand of eternity gripped him tightly. He would pass, and be finished with his awful fate. Soon. Please.

There was nothing. His mind still worked, toiled against being stuck in this cold between. Then there was something. From above. A presence. It waited, knowingly. It beckoned. Then it spoke in his head.


‘Can’t move,’ he thought in reply. ‘Can’t breathe.’

Dark laughter filled his head. It remained silent long enough that he decided he had gone mad. ‘Yes,’ he thought. ‘I’m mad.’ The voice filled his head again.

Mad like the Arab with his Kitab al-Azif? No. Forget who you were, that which was is no more. Stop struggling for air. You no longer need it. Rise!”

It seemed too much, but he couldn’t deny the voice. It knew. The voice was more than suggestive. It carried with it an air of command that left no room for questions or derision. As a marionette moves at the behest of the manipulator, so too was he compelled to move. He pushed deeper into the earthen barrier, inched upwards, and endured the agony of his impossible climb. He fought against the spasms of his lungs craving oxygen they no longer needed as he heeded the call.

Fingers clawed through dirt and grasped at moist air. Forearms broke through soon after, quickly pulling his head past charnel soil. His eyes worked to blink away the earthen mess they had gathered. He hung his head forward, disgorging a voluminous pile of graveyard dirt that had filled his mouth and esophagus. Once the dirt was gone, he pulled in air. Not for a breath, no, he cried out with a nightmarish mix of relief and malice.

He lifted his head up to find the voice. The manipulator. His eyes absorbed the tenebrous night with preternatural ability. A huge moon hung far overhead, shedding its gossamer rays over a small clearing. Spanish moss clung tenaciously to an old Cypress tree.

“Here,” rasped a gravelly voice. The voice spoke in his head as it sounded in his dirt-filled ears. He turned his head and saw the Manipulator standing underneath the Cypress tree. It was too dark under the ancient tree to see the owner of the voice, but he could see a figure of absolute darkness and haunting shape beneath the heavy limbs.

“You are reborn, freed from death’s hold through this necrotic birth. I have not given you life, but something utterly different and blasphemous. You have breached this unhallowed soil which is your second womb. You enter this world bloodless, severed from humanity and unbound by all law but mine.”

The Manipulator raised an arm, cloaked in dominion and despair. A withered hand moved in lesser shades of dark and prompted the reborn man to finish rising. Enthralled by his master, he pressed his now powerful hands against the ground he had crawled from. He pushed, struggled, and cried out with the effort. At long last he dragged himself from the loose soil and ambled towards the Manipulator with manic obsession. The filthy clothes, clean when the man had been buried two days ago, dropped clumps of dirt and soil as he made his way to the Stygian shadow under the Cypress tree.

He stood under the tree and shook with necrotic joy. Eyes bright with malicious zeal looked excitedly at the being that had given him all. “Come,” said the Manipulator. “You and I have work to do.”

~ Zack Kullis

© Copyright 2012 Zack Kullis. All Rights Reserved.