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Psychopomp Volume Eight

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h1={color:#365F91;}. PSYCHOPOMP[_* _][*volume 8]

October, 2015

[Elsie, Paul Tristram, Dave Fragments, B.L. Draper, Jeremy Simons, D.J. Tyrer, Matthew Wilson, Lance Manion, Sean P. Chatterton, JA Torres, Matthew J. Barbour, Kate Barrett, J.P. Fitch, Louise M. Hart *]and[ Jack Buxton*]

 

The moral rights of Elsie, Paul Tristram, Dave Fragments, BL Draper, Jeremy Simons, DJ Tyrer, Matthew Wilson, Lance Manion, Sean P. Chatterton, JA Torres, Matthew J. Barbour, Kate Barrett, J.P Fitch, Louise M. Hart and Jack Buxton to be identified as the Authors of this Work have been asserted in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published in 2015 by

Mysteria Press

 

Editor-in-Chief Jason S. Kenney

Cover © Michael Lindquist 2015

Letter from Death & [_Trades _]© Elsie 2014 – 2015

[_Ampire _]© Paul Tristram 2015

[Demigods of the Pacific _]& _Pumpkin Man © Dave Fragments 2015

Fuck E.T. © BL Draper 2015

[_Garmin _]© Jeremy Simons 2015

[_Human Conditions _]© DJ Tyrer 2015

John’[s Frozen Purity _]& _The Uncanny Affection © JA Torres 2015

[_Mrs Medusa _]© Matthew Wilson 2015

[_The Song Between Her Legs _]© Lance Manion 2015

[_Retro Virus _]© Sean P. Chatterton 2015

[_The Ghost of Father Sacristan _]© Matthew J. Barbour 2015

The Window Man © Kate Barret 2015

[No Rest For The Wicked _]©[ _]J.P Fitch

[The Cat With No Eyes _]©[ _]Louise M. Hart

 

Love Amongst Strangers: The Other Side © Jack Buxton 2013-2015

 

 

Ayesha Swanson, Mister Mo and the Love Amongst Strangers setting created by Jacob Milnestein

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used factiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONTENTS

OVERTURE

LETTER FROM DEATH by Elsie

AMPIRE by Paul Tristram

DEMIGODS OF THE PACIFIC by Dave Fragments

FUCK E.T. by BL Draper

GARMIN by Jeremy Simons

[]HUMAN CONDITIONS by DJ Tyrer

JOHN’S FROZEN PURITY by JA Torres

MRS MEDUSA by Matthew Wilson

THE SONG BETWEEN HER LEGS by Lance Manion

PUMPKIN MAN[_ by Dave Fragments_]

RETRO VIRUS by Sean P. Chatterton

THE UNCANNY AFFECTION by JA Torres

The Ghost of Father Sacristan by Matthew J. Barbour

TRADES by Elsie

THE WINDOW MAN by Kate Barrett

NO REST FOR THE WICKED by J.P Fitch

THE CAT WITH NO EYES by Louise M. Hart

[_ _]

 

 

 

OMAKE

 

 

 

 

[]LOVE AMONGST STRANGERS: THE OTHER SIDEexcerpt by Jack Buxton

 

 

[]Psychopomp

 

(from the Greek word ψυχοπομπός – psuchopompos, literally meaning the “guide of souls”[_) _]

[_ _]

Psychopomps are creatures, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly-deceased souls to the afterlife. Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply provide safe passage.

– Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopomp

 

 

 

Waterloo meet City; City meet Waterloo.

There are only two stops on the Waterloo & City Line, the distance so close between them that you could be forgiven for wondering why you’d ever need to traverse that truncated turquoise green curve. Both stops are on the Northern Line, stations on opposing branch lines so close that you could walk the short distance between in less than half-an-hour should there ever be a reason for you to change.

Yet there you stand, behind the glass and plastic and metal of 22.5 tonnes of rolling 1992 stock tube train carriage, catching sight of your reflection; another year older, another day older, another moment older.

You used to move through these tunnels with liberty. Now, neither your legs or the closed circuit television sets will let you jump over the barriers; another year older, another—

Doors open, turquoise green, tunnels empty, distance forgotten. Not just distance, you think sullenly to yourself, maybe something else, something about you maybe, something about that girl again.

You walk up some stairs, and warm air blows over you, pushing against you, lifting up the hair on your head before moving around you, behind you, past you, and at once there are people, the maddening crush of others funnelling in and out of tunnels, ferried between one of two stations, buried forever deep in the dark.

Stride, careful stride, and forward, forward, forward; another year older, another—

At the top of the escalator, a girl, like the ghost of England’s post-punk dreaming, is wearing smeared red lipstick, peroxide blonde hair and a fake leopard print coat.

She looks through you as you rise on an escalator amidst the crowds, blue eyes unseeing, her smeared lips unmoving, and your heart is heavy because it’s not her, not really, just the idea of her, the notion of her, and the fiction of her.

Not the Weird Sisters three—red hair, hooded cloak, tweed and brogues—not the Hecate, not the Andrews Sisters even, but someone else, someone different.

And so this is the story of the girl you will never meet, this is the Land of Do-What-You’re-Told and Don’t-Cause-Problems-For-Others, and there are whispers and vague threats on the tip of every tongue now that you’re another year older, another day older, another moment older, another, another, another.

But you can’t and you won’t and you don’t.

Because what is said is said, and once it’s spoken, it’s no longer about you, just the idea of you, the notion of you, the fiction of you.

So no matter what is said, no matter what is told, you remain spiteful and defiant to the last, the undisputed King of the winding Northern Line, the boy who put the awn in Camden Town.

Another year older, another day older, another moment older, and you’re still pissing all over them.

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from Death

[_*by _][*Elsie]

 

Attention Mr. M. Henderson, esq.,

Solely driven by duty and with neither pleasure nor discomfort, I pen you this letter.

Awash in greed and corruption, embarrassment and entitlement, shortcuts and deception, the role of fate has diminished. Once it played a grand role: an anticipated point, a climax or sometimes a culmination of years of work or years of abuse. But, alas, after centuries of watching ends draw to a close, I tire. I tire of chasing after those who have attempted to alter their destiny and have grown even more tired of those who refuse to accept the point where reason and purpose collide.

Each was supposed to be a life well-lived. And while the definition of that varies, simple-minded individuals who challenge that it needed to mean anything beyond instantaneous satisfaction exhaust me.

Your kind, your type, you are why I have taken leave of my duties. I find I do not want to be there when the last breath escapes your body, and your heart pulses one last time because it will be in vain as your life had no meaning. However, even though you abandoned your potential role in society, I will not abandon my responsibility. I will assign a reaper to your soul to deliver you to your proper destination.

And do not fear. I shall not reveal your final resting place. At this point in my futile existence, the surprise location at which some find themselves occupying eternity offers the only entertainment I am allowed. Your case shall be no exception.

Now, you are quite the clever man, and there is a clear and definite benefit from this notice. If you choose to ignore the value of your warning, you are a larger buffoon and narcissist than I originally suspected.

On November 11th at precisely 10:19 as you travel east on the 795 loop, a driver will fall asleep at the wheel, cross the centre lane and will strike your car head on. The crash will be both spectacular and horrendous. Several news outlets will report on it immediately. You will be trapped inside the wreckage for hours in a comatose condition. No need to rethink that pretentious sports car now, your date has been set. You will be transported via helicopter to the most private and expensive room at Morgan Memorial where you will die seven hours after you arrive.

Over the course of your lifetime, you have made selfish, egregious mistakes. You stole from those you were ever close to, including the five dollars you took from your mother’s purse when she only had five left. You lied almost as often as you inhaled. And, you failed to fulfil a single vow you took. Not bad, if you were hoping for a warmer abode. But for once, you have a chance to defy the self-indulgent nature that has morphed your life into a tragedy as opposed to a triumph.

Most of my clients have only been notified of the date and won’t have time to react or plan. So, you must be wondering why I’ve given you more details. It’s not because you deserve it or because of your wealth, but rather for Sarah.

I don’t like pity. It’s an emotion that derails you, interrupts you and plagues you. But I find that your wife Sarah is worthy of pity for both choosing you all those years ago and for staying with you. Interestingly enough, you have had no impact on her quality of character. She remains a truly selfless person.

And before you try to swindle your way out of this, don’t. It is impossible to avoid the time, event or date I’ve given. But what you can do is this, drop the hooker off before you get on the 795. She lives, you know. Either way, don’t embarrass your wife. Having to admit, publicly, that she married you by choice is embarrassment enough. Also, clean up your accounting before the Henderson legacy resembles a cancer.

I would tell you to enjoy these last few days, but over the years, I’ve noticed that it is already your style, regardless of expense.

And before you question whether your fate can be salvaged, understand that I have neither control nor interest in what happens to you. And at this point, I would be surprised if anyone did.

Regards,

Death

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ampire

by[* Paul Tristram*]

 

“Good morning, this is Daniel Davenport from CNN reporting live from outside this hospital in Budapest.

“Well folks, for those of you not watching the live webcam last night, all I can say is that Calyco Slynes has done the job and made us all proud.

“At the stroke of midnight exactly he slew the beast that has been terrorising several towns and villages on the outskirts of Transylvania and giving us all growing concern globally.

“We’ll be showing you the actual footage in just a moment, so don’t go away. First, we are heading back to the castle where Donna Dynamite has the latest on the clean-up.”

“Yes, thank you, Frank—oh, sorry, Daniel. He looks like a Frank, don’t you think?

“Okay, viewers, as you can see we have around 50 C.S.I. officers searching through the rubble and debris. The police busted two non-vampiric lackeys, a sleazy little midget and a stupid looking ogre of a man, hiding in the castle grounds three hours ago. They’re both now safely in custody.

“Listen, I know I shouldn’t give my opinion, but I’m gonna, I hope they get the gas chamber for this!

“About an hour ago the Animal Welfare Team removed 13 pythons, 500-odd rats, over 8,000 bats and a whole pack of wolves from the area. We will, of course, be keeping you updated on the progress and resettlement of these creatures as news comes in.”

 

“Right, let’s get some background information on the headline story for all of you that have been living in a cave for the last week or so.

“On the late evening of New Year’s Day 2014, the She-Devil Vampire known as ‘Brimstone Augusta’ awoke from a hundred-year sleep. Within three hours, she had attacked two milkmaids walking home from a dance, where she gorged on blood from their throats and armpits. Ew!

“Both milkmaids are still alive but in comas and are being taken care of in a heavily guarded and fortified Army complex at an undisclosed site not too far away.

“After this start to her fresh reign of terror, Brimstone Augusta flew back home to the castle and updated her Facebook status for the whole world to see.

“First, we sent in the Seals and the S.A.S. but bullets and knives simply will not work on a vampire.

“Next, we sent in Ninjas from the Orient and the Welsh with their famous longbows, but to no avail. She was just too fast.

“Just then, at the point of world panic and helplessness, a hero stepped forward.

“Swoon, blush, sigh! Calyco Slynes, lead singer and guitarist with the sleaze rock band Pole-Dancer Slick.

“I must apologise for the involuntary noises that I’m making viewers, but I’m one of Calyco’s biggest fans.

“My name used to be Brittany Williamson until I changed it via deed-poll to Donna Dynamite, which was the name of Calyco’s teenage true love who died tragically in that car wreck on prom night, after I saw him doing a triple backflip whilst playing the intro on a 12 string acoustic guitar of the ballad he wrote and dedicated to her called, I Miss Cradling You Like Your Favourite Pair of Worn Panties, Honeydew.

“Anyway, Calyco called up the president directly and demanded to be flown in immediately, claiming that he had already saved the world of Hard Rock N’ Roll, slaying a vampire and saving the world would simply be a natural progression along the pathway to his impending immortality, besides she was female, and Calyco has never met a girl yet that he couldn’t captivate and hypnotise with his riff-tastic genius.

“So Calyco, four roadies and some groupies were flown in with the equipment, five cases of Jack Daniels and Budweiser and a suspicious-looking crate with a red stamp on the side of it from Peru?

“After a few hours of partying hard and casually flicking his fringe, he stepped away from the campfire and his small band of devotees to climb onto the carefully constructed platform.

“After picking up his favourite Les Paul, he stood back arched against the life-sized model Celtic Cross gravestone, and with the moonlight shining down onto his pale, beautiful god-like face, he took a pull upon the Marlboro Red balancing artistically between his lips and started to play the first few notes to the theme from The Godfather.

“Almost instantly there was an orgasmic shriek of pure evil and a foul smelling swirl of mist and shadows tornado’d itself out from the bowels of the castle’s dungeons and up onto the platform in front of Calyco, transforming itself immediately into a swooning Brimstone Augusta.

“Calyco held her captive with his tantalizing gaze as he slid his guitar tip down to the floor, and with an Olympic gold medal winning gymnastic movement and flourish, he broke the guitar head completely off with his left size 9 foot, spun the amputated instrument back around to waist height like some lightning-fast gunslinger, then lunged the jagged guitar neck up and into her foul black heart, turning her in an anti-clockwise half-circle before impressively impaling her upon his massive stack of Marshall Amps.

“Her body then preceded to crumble to dust and ashes over the next few minutes and were carefully swept up and flown to a secret military base somewhere out in the Southern Portion of the Nevada Desert.

“Our brave hero Calyco is about to be discharged from the hospital in Budapest which our original news team are waiting outside of right now. He has had to undergo Tetanus shots and general inspections and observations but has just been given the all clear.

“We’re all about to finish up here and head on over to stalk—I mean join—our other news team and watch them interview him shortly.

“So that’s it for now, from me, Donna Dynamite, back to Frank—I mean Daniel—outside the hospital in Budapest.”

 

“I don’t look like a Frank do I? Unless Frank is codename for looking like James Bond! Ha!

“So, there you go folks, the panic is over, the world is a beautiful, safe place again.

“Like I said earlier, we’re about to run the actual footage of the slaying as promised; it will also be replayed ten times a day for the next five days.

“All that remains is for me to let you know that Calyco Slynes’s record company, the notorious Sleazeoid Productions & Co will be releasing his new album, Gravest Hits & Lesbian Licks at midnight this Saturday!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Demigods of the Pacific

by[* Dave Fragments*]

 

Estralita Delgado returned from her afternoon meeting to discover a pair of muscular legs in denim shorts sticking out of the hold of her runabout. The legs looked like a mawkish parody of a dying bug.

She giggled nymph-like.

“Ooh! A thief, a scoundrel, is vandalising my launch. Help!” she yelled in mock distress.

“Estralita? Is that you?” Tyrece Leanard, the owner of the legs, asked.

“One wrong move and I blow your cojones into tomorrow,” she barked like a drill sergeant.

She studied the tattoo of Neptune and his trident rippling across his muscular back as he set the screwdriver on the deck. More important to her, a silver resurrection connector glittered at the base of his skull. He couldn’t die.

“Have you forgotten when we played doctors and nurses in your father’s hot tub, and you pledged to marry me?”

He stood, bare-chested, taller, broader, and better hung than she remembered. She squealed like a school girl meeting a rock star. Her breasts bounced as she slipped the gun back in her purse.

“How could I forget? I was nine, and you were eleven; a scrawny kid, just skin and bones. Did you grow all those muscles just for me?” she squealed, rubbing the bulge in his shorts.

Here swims a proper sea serpent. He’ll be a pleasant seduction, she thought.

His eyes followed every move of her nipples as they jiggled under her blouse.

“My naval victories and becoming Captain of the Fleet gave me a new body. Rank has its privileges,” Tyrece bragged, slightly clueless in the romance department.

“Papacito Delgado told me your ship docked,” she said.

“The Escolta De Oro is to provide security for the Fiesta Baja del Azur Agua y Celeste. I hear your runabout needed fixing.” Tyrece swaggered across the deck of the runabout like a bare-chested demigod, showing off. This was a sweet assignment: a low-risk festival, the daughter of a blue blood seduced, made to be his wife. His sky was bluer than blue.

“So you’re his new Petruchio. The Old Man picked a stud this time,” she said.

“Papacito said if I didn’t get my hands on your breasts in the first hour, I was a disgrace to the Navy.”

In the years since the ice caps melted and the rains moved north to Canada, the deserts of the Southwestern United States expanded; north to the Rockies, east of the Mississippi, and south through Mexico to the Isthmus of Panama. The Great Lakes flooded the upper Mississippi-Missouri farmlands, leaving mud flats. Entrepreneurs built cities in the Pacific from the Oregon border down to South America; archipelagos clustered around desalinisation plants, solar collectors, fish farms and cities. Family clans, held together by marriage and greed, ruled these floating cities.

The Delgado clan controlled the largest floating city with five million permanent residents and twenty-thousand trading schooners.

Estralita folded her arms under her breasts and made them jiggle beneath the fabric of her shirt.

“Did Papacito warn you that I have an uncanny ability to stay single?” She opened a bottle of whiskey and poured shots over ice, reclined on a chaise lounge, and laid back, letting Tyrece’s eyes follow the line of her neck down to her breasts.

Tyrece leered.

“He said you weren’t the marrying type. I told him you hadn’t met the right man, yet.”

She smiled.

“If you must know,” she said, demurring, casting her eyes down, “those Petruchios were mouth breathing Dick Deadeyes with Vienna sausages hanging limp between their legs.” She opened the front of her blouse and let him reach inside. He rubbed her nipples with his thumbs.

“I’m never limp. Who could resist these perfect breasts?” he said. She smelled of gardenias and sandalwood. He was hot, musky, his manhood straining—a foot-long submarine looking for her port of entry.

Her hands slipped down his six-pack abs. She straddled his right leg, leaning against him.

“Do you remember Julio?” Estralita asked. She opened his jeans and tickled his pubes. He rolled his hips and let his pants fall while cupping her buttocks in both hands. They embraced.

“Julio of the drool and the unibrow?” he said.

“I kicked his nuts so hard they reached escape velocity. They call him the Julio Positioning System now.”

He ignored her distractions and ran his tongue around one of her aureoles. She let her slacks slide to the deck.

“Then there was Vladimir,” she said. “He wanted me to invest my trust fund in refrigerators with vid-screens in the doors. He had an unfortunate accident with a depilatory wire that left him with a bright red nubbin and two shrivelled raisins.”

Their mouths tasted each other’s flesh, tongues working overtime, their hands exploring, hips grinding, bodies merging in a furious passion.

“The next—” her voice was soft and breathy, filled with seduction, “—had a Davy Jones chest and butt pimples. How could I marry a man with butt pimples? I never, ever told anyone my vagina had teeth. I will swear to God on my knees and let me tell you, wood floors are hard. I was on my knees giving my confession to Padre Esteban when he ran like a frightened rabbit, bleeding. God and Padre Esteban will supply my alibi.”

Her breathing came heavy. She was dripping, steaming hot, ready. Tyrece’s body jerked as her hands positioned his manhood against her underwater cave.

“Padre Esteban… is a horny old goat who fondles boys,” He said, sinking deep inside her red-hot love canal, throbbing hard, moaning in pleasure.

Bad girl! Bad girl! Whatcha gonna do when the bridesmaids come for you?

She drew a sharp breath and pulled him tight, her love muscles swallowing his manhood. Their hips moved in unison. Tyrece dreamed of dolphins leaping through the waves, a shark seeking prey, a whale diving into the depths of her ocean. Estralita was bored and dreamed of a hooked knife.

The air horns from the [_Escolta De Oro _]blew a long, diaphonic wail, someone in peril.

“I hope those morons aren’t taping with a long lens,” Estralita said, slowing her movements and loosening the grip on his manhood.

“I’ll keelhaul the jailbirds,” he said, his hips ploughing her deep ocean with an increasing level of desire. She wrapped her legs around his waist and bucked against his stout pillar of man-meat. Her breath quickened, matching his deep strokes and loud grunts. Her back arched. He kissed her breasts. Both sought the big O, swaying in unison until he stiffened like a humpback whale ready to blow.

Bubbly, splashy noises broke behind them. Shapes of not-men but Augments—men genetically modified into beasts with gills, webbed hands, fin-shaped feet, and scaly bodies—climbed onto the deck.

As his body stiffened, he didn’t see the Augments. He was blind to everything but the waves of orgasmic pleasure that filled his mind while his cannon shot deep into Estralita’s body.

She bucked and rolled him like a crocodile rolls a dead man. His head started thumping the deck. Stars rattled. A heart pounded. He slipped out, gasping, scrambling, bobbing, squirting, hands searching for his gun.

An Augment blocked his gun. Tyrece kicked at the creature and broke its kneecap. It went down. Tyrece didn’t fare much better. The butt of a gun smacked the back of his head, and his world swirled into blackness like water flushing down a toilet.

His mind cleared, and he was hanging in the air with on clawed hand around his neck and another clawed hand around his manhood. An Augment with golden features shook him with ease.

“Be still, Navy boy, or I’ll rip you apart with my bare hands.”

The first Augment rocked back and forth holding his broken kneecap.

“Rip his nuts off. He doesn’t deserve to be a man.”

Estralita decided to give some orders.

“I want him alive,” Estralita barked while stepping into a camouflage-coloured wetsuit. “Drop him on the deck.

The Augment slammed Tyrece onto the deck, knocking the wind out of him. Instinctively, he rolled into a ball, legs and arms protecting his tender parts. Kicks and punches didn’t happen. Instead, the Augment clamped a ball-and-chain to his ankle.

Estralita laughed a snide, raucous, and hateful laugh.

“What a fool you are! It’s a shame that no one will know how I, Estralita Delgado, with one flash of my tits, defeated Captain Tyrece Leanard, the hero of the Pacific Archipelago. What would your seamen think if they saw you helpless and naked at my feet? Should I send them a vid of you in flagrante delicto?” she snarled.

The injured Augment interrupted with a cry of pain.

“I think he broke my knee,” he said. Estralita turned on him, Tyrece’s gun in hand.

“I told you to wait until after we made love. Instead, you played it like a total asshole.” Estralita put a bullet through the Augment’s head. Brains splattered over the deck. She turned to the Augment with the golden features.

“Dispose of that stupid jackass,” she ordered.

As the Augment gathered his companion, he snatched up Tyrece’s cell-phone and hid it on his body. Estralita didn’t notice. Tyrece did.

“Does Papacito Delgado know that you’re trafficking in Augments?” Tyrece asked, holding Estralita’s gaze.

She laughed again.

This time with contempt bordering on hate.

“All the old man cares about is the sluts he takes to his bed and the viagra that keeps him hard. He doesn’t care if I marry, only who. I won’t share power with any man. Not even with an over-muscled jerk-off like you.”

Her viciousness surprised Tyrece.

“The Navy will come looking for me with a vengeance,” he said.

“So what? Your death will be blamed on a rival clan.” She shoved him and he shoved back. The iron ball rolled toward the water. He grabbed it, afraid it would drag him to his cold water. As much as he wanted to kill her, he didn’t want to drown.

“You won’t get away with this,” Tyrece growled, holding onto the rail. She laughed in his face, a spiteful, creepy, devious, and yet, still giving him an erection laugh.

“I already have. You just don’t know it yet.” She opened a cabinet and removed SCUBA gear.

“We have hostiles, Ma’am,” the Augment said.

The flash of the 155 mm guns on the Escolta De Oro came first, and a dull boom arrived a second before the nearest tower exploded.

Tyrece and the Augment jumped, startled.

“That was close, Ma’am,” the Augment said.

“You’re all a bunch of dim-witted fools. I bribed his First Mate, Francesca Delavega-Cassis, with bars of gold. She bought a shadow crew onto the Escolta De Oro. That’s why the guns missed us.”

An inboard pilot-cutter raced toward the runabout. Francesca Delavega-Cassis perched on the bow like Washington Crossing the Delaware. On either side of her, seamen were holding large ‘stand down’ banners.

Estralita pushed Tyrece’s ball overboard. He grabbed the rail. On the pilot-cutter, the seamen dropped the banners. Shoulder-mounted, seeker-rockets blew red fire.

“Damn bitch took my gold and still thinks she can betray me.”

Estralita and the Augment dove into the water so they could escape the blast. Tyrece took a deep breath and let the ball drag him under the runabout. He saw Estralita reach an underwater scooter and dart away.

The runabout exploded in colours of red and black, shockwaves pummelling Tyrece. He grabbed a strut to stop sinking, but bullets left distinct bubble trails. He slipped and sank. He blew the air out of his lungs. This was the end. Dark clouds of oxygen deprivation filled his mind.

Without warning, an Augment shoved a SCUBA mouthpiece between his teeth. He bit hard and breathed oxygen-rich air. They sank to a mobile submersible platform that was, from the lack of colour, easily twenty-five fathoms below the surface. He wasn’t drowning, but he wouldn’t live. The deep currents in the Eastern Pacific flow south from Antarctica. The water was so cold that he knew he’d be dead in minutes.

An Augment wrapped its arms and legs around him, shielding him from the cold. The closeness gave him insight into the physical and genetic alterations of the Augments. Waterproof scales replaced pink skin. Special muscles contracted and relaxed to force water over their gills. Their bodies were smooth and rounded with a layer of insulating fat. Their shoulders hunched, streamlined. Massively muscled legs with fluke-like feet increased their speed. Nothing reversed human augmentation this extensive.

They docked at an underwater dome that appeared large enough to support three platoons. Tyrece’s body was blue and stiff. His captor hauled him to a central chamber and dropped him in a hydrotherapy bath. He realised that this was the same Augment who manhandled him on Estralita’s boat.

“I didn’t want your buddy dead. I’m sorry,” Tyrece said.

“Estralita killed him; you didn’t.”

“Where are we?”

“Home,” the Triton said.

“The Navy won’t ransom me.”

“Don’t need a ransom. Need your mind.”

“Then take me to the surface. I’ll see what I can do.”

“We aren’t that stupid,” the Augment said. He jabbed a hypodermic into Tyrece’s arm.

“What have you done?” was all he could say before his body went limp.

“We call ourselves Tritons after the descendants of Neptune,” the Augment answered. The Augments loaded his limp body into a DNA splicer.

The splicer resembled a torpedo tube except the interior was covered with needles and lasers. It forced unnatural evolution. Tyrece had a few seconds to ponder this before the device glowed to life, and medical lasers cut him open.

Pain-induced endorphins flooded his mind. His bones became hollow, stronger. His internal organs shifted, lungs shrank, gills grew, blood flows altered. His stomach, liver and intestines shifted to accommodate a new spine and stronger torso to enable swimming. His head pulled upward, more streamlined. His neck thickened to support the new gills slits. His hands and feet became webbed. Fins grew on his forearms and back.

When the machine finished, it filled with seawater and blew him out into the ocean. He opened his gills and water flowed, oxygenating his blood.

He was an Augment.

Several Tritons, heavily modified with no legs and a single fluke, waited to show him how to swim and function underwater. He looked down into the dark water to see two finned feet rather than one giant fluke. Nothing visible restrained him. He could swim away, However, seeking help with this monstrous body, even if he proved his identity, seemed like a fast road to nowhere.

He queued up at the airlock with the other Augments. As the water receded, his gill slits clamped tight and recycled air filled his smaller lungs.

The golden-featured Augment waited. He called himself Rocco.

“When I was human, my brothers idolised you. We need a hero,” he said.

“Is this what Estralita wants?” Tyrece said. His voice no longer rumbled in his chest.

“She wants you dead. She wants a war between the clans,” Rocco said. The other Augments nodded.

“How did a crew of Augments figure into her plans?”

“She wants us to place bombs on the keels of warships or floating platforms.”

“Her own private weapons. The Navy couldn’t put enough frogmen in the water to stop you,” Tyrece said, appreciating the audacity of the scheme.

“We’re mercenaries and fight for money, not the atrocities she proposed.”

The events of the day began to make sense as part of Estralita’s goal of creating chaos and taking over. The biggest problem was that the Augments genuinely believed that Tyrece had some magic that would save them. He only had a fresh perspective.

“Why did Estralita abduct me?”

“To sink the Escolta De Oro.”

“Why don’t we all swim away?”

“Estralita, again, we lack a protein. She supplies it, or we die,” Rocco said. This was the Triton’s Phrygian Gordian. He stood at their Punctum Archimedis. He leant his head on his hand and thought about their predicament.

He had a question.

“How many Tritons are there?”

“Forty-eight in total, same as always,” Rocco said.

“I’m plus one, planned. The fellow on the runabout is minus one, unplanned. You have forty-nine pills. Count them.” Tyrece waited for the count.

“Damn!” Rocco said when he reached forty-nine.

“The trick will be getting the Navy to analyse the extra pill while they think I’m dead, looking like this isn’t going to help. Let’s remain incommunicado.” Without waiting for approval, he turned to Rocco. “I saw you take my cell-phone from the deck of the runabout. Do you still have it?”

“I didn’t think you noticed,” Rocco said, leaning back and opening a pouch-like portion of his anatomy that protected his manhood. He handed Tyrece the cell-phone to the hoots and whistles from the other Tritons. Tyrece rolled his eyes and held it between his fingers like it was contaminated.

“I wondered where you hid it.”

“Things stay dry in there,” Rocco said, laughing. Snickers and smirks filled the room.

“Batman invented the utility belt.”

“Estralita banned the utility belt. You want I should disinfect it?” Rocco and his fellow mercenaries laughed.

“It was set on vibrate. Did you enjoy it?” Tyrece said. Rocco blushed and didn’t answer.

Francesca Delavega-Cassis left two messages. The first—a lurid description of him and Estralita having sex, describing everything he was doing wrong, and the second—a by-the-book, emotionless description of his death by drowning. There was no way she could have seen the ball and chain from the pilot-cutter. She was mutinous.

How can I squeeze the mutinous witch? What gives me leverage?

He stood silent for a few seconds and then pinged the Escolta De Oro from the phone in his hands. The ship pinged back. He placed his thumb over the camera and waited again. When the phone rang, he put it on speaker. Delavega-Cassis’s face appeared on his screen, but her screen would be black.

“S-Speak,” Delavega-Cassis stuttered through the proper reply.

“Thirteen, easy, omega,” Tyrece said slowly and distinctly. He waited for her to answer.

“D-Damn you, T-Tyrece!” She was still flustered and disbelieving, “I didn’t know there were codes for talking to dead men.”

“Resurrection can be a bitch. The last one took three days,” Tyrece feigned arrogance. He explained his situation without revealing his transformation. They formulated a plan for Estralita Delgado’s arrest.

 

***

 

A day later, the Navy convened a tribute to Tyrece Leanard, Captain of the Fleet and Hero of the Pacific Wars.

They erected a billboard-sized portrait flanked by flowers in the centre of the plaza. The clans assembled in La Plaza Rosado, the centre of the Delgado floating city. The seamen of the Escolta de Oro sat on either side of the stage, with their weapons hidden. Estralita’s entourage sat in the middle, hiding their weapons. Newly appointed Captain of the Fleet, Francesca Delavega-Cassis, stood at the podium with her new first mate, a young, red-headed woman.

A vid-screen above the stage displayed her face.

“My fellow citizens of the Eastern Pacific Archipelago, I am but an unworthy vessel to speak for the dead. The reputation of a hero should not be left to a single unworthy voice such as mine but joined in praise by many worthy voices.”

Beneath the plaza, Tyrece and the Tritons moved through the darkened passageways to behind his memorial picture. He resembled his picture but with fish-like gills, green scales, and fins. Worse, his reduced lung capacity forced him to use a speech augmenter so his voice would sound resonant and strong. He thought he looked ridiculous, like a fish with a bow tie.

Delavega-Cassis continued reciting the eulogy.

“A hero he was to so many and courageous in so many battles that to name these deeds and to name those of us assembled here who owe our lives to him would be impossible as naming the stars in the sky.” Her words lacked sincerity, even the pause and gesture. Not expecting to see Tyrece creeping behind his giant picture, she gasped and choked back her amazement and made noises like a cat honking a hairball.

Whispers floated through the audience.

“We,” her voice came out weak, pixyish. She put her hands to her face and giggled, playing the Mary Sue. Murmurs floated through the audience. She looked to Tyrece and shrugged. He cursed her under his breath. She read his thoughts.

“This is your damn funeral, Tyrece. You think that you wouldn’t screw it up,” she said, girlish and perky. He didn’t like the way she was manipulating the situation.

The audience sat stupefied, confused.

“I have good news. Captain Tyrece Leanard is alive, and he wants to say a few words.” She stepped aside. Tyrece walked from behind his picture, trying not to look fish-like.

“I’m glad I’m not dead,” he said, regretting the humour. “Estralita Delgado wants a war to break out between the clans. She knew I would stop her, so she arranged my kidnapping and the transformation you see. She is guilty of treason and insurrection.”

Estralita rose and pointed a finger at him.

“How do we know you’re the real Leanard?” she yelled.

Delavega-Cassis pushed him aside.

“Your attempted murder of Captain Leanard is on video. We’ve done the DNA. We have witnesses,” she said, her manner was hard and unconvincing. Tyrece knew his former First Mate lied. It was a stupid tactic.

Estralita wasn’t going to surrender. She called their bluff.

“Trash talk from the mouth of your hand-picked stooge,” she yelled. Her entourage cheered.

Damn these two. One wants power while the other can’t figure out how to use it, Tyrece thought.

“I demand the trial by combat,” Estralita yelled.

Time to take control and gain an advantage, Tyrece thought.

“I choose bare knuckles,” Tyrece answered not wanting Delavega-Cassis to choose his weapons. He was a brawler. He grew up small and had to be good with his fists.

His crew woofed their approval.

“I choose the champions of the Delgado Clan—the Bringers of Doubt, the Angels of Death—Castor and Pollux.” Her entourage cheered again. The challenge was sealed.

Delavega-Cassis pretended anger using her fake girlish demeanour but the using her cutie-pie charm and gushing approval, acceded. It wouldn’t be her death, of course, never hers.

Two Augments marked opposite corners of an imaginary square in front of his picture. Two of Estralita’s men stood at the adjacent corners. Castor entered the imaginary square opposite Tyrece. Castor looked human but bore definite signs of augmentation.

They grappled, and threw each other back. Castor brought a roundhouse left, but Tyrece ducked, having caught his glance to that side. The next punch, Tyrece slid under Castor’s fist and pummelled the man’s abdomen with jabs. Castor backed away and charged him. Again, Tyrece dodged, and Castor swung through empty air. Two quick right jabs from Tyrece bloodied Castor’s face. His crewmen hooted and catcalled. Angered, Castor lunged and stood puzzled. Tyrece was behind him kidney-punching. When Castor turned, he swung a mighty roundhouse punch, and Tyrece landed a jab to his jaw.

Bone shattered. Teeth flew. Castor staggered to one knee. He roared and launched himself like a missile. Tyrece ducked inside his reach and landed a left jab to his throat and a right uppercut to his jaw. Castor’s head flew back and Tyrece, not realising he had claws, ripped Castor’s neck open. Blood gushed from carotid and jugular. Castor thudded to the deck, blood expanding in a brilliant puddle.

Tyrece turned to Pollux and pointed.

“You won’t last any longer,” he yelled.

Pollux ran towards Tyrece and slipped on his brother’s blood. When he caught his balance, Tyrece dropkicked him. Ribs cracked loud enough for the audience to hear. Pollux howled as he landed He braced and charged a second time. Tyrece sidestepped and let Pollux crash into the seconds. They turned Pollux around and shoved him. He charged with his arms outstretched so that he could catch the quicker Tyrece. Instead of dodging, Tyrece vaulted over Pollux’s head and on the way down hooked Pollux’s hips and legs. He rolled Pollux, landing the man on his back.

Pollux kicked out and jumped to his feet, dazed from being rolled. Tyrece’s claws raked deep into Pollux’s torso. He screamed and swung wildly, blood dripping. He tried to catch his tormentor. Tyrece met him face-to-face.

They punched each other, repeatedly. As Pollux tired, he telegraphed his punches. Tyrece jabbed at his face, blackening eyes, breaking his nose. Blind with rage and pain, Pollux lunged. This time, instead of dodging, Tyrece grabbed his ears and pushed Pollux’s head into the metal deck. As Pollux’s face was smeared across its surface, Tyrece stamped on his back and caused him to die from a severed spine.

Tyrece stood with his arms raised in victory.

“Estralita Delgado, you are under arrest for treason, mutiny, murder, and human experimentation,” he bellowed through the speech augmenter.

“Not a chance!” she yelled.

In one movement, she threw a knife. Tyrece twisted but was hit in his right shoulder. Estralita wasn’t going to wait for it to do its job. She had a gun out of her bag, raised, and aimed.

Tyrece yanked the knife from his shoulder and returned it, hitting Estralita in the neck, severing her jugular and embedding the knife point in her cervical vertebrae. Her shot went wide as she fell, her body paralyzed and her neck spouting blood like a fountain. She bled out in less than a minute.

There were no cheers from the crowd, just gasps and whispers.

“Estralita Delgado is dead. The Clans will remain at peace,” Tyrece yelled. The assembled Clans clapped their approval.

Delavega-Cassis tapped the microphone to draw the crowd’s attention.

“The military has control of the situation. Order, commerce, essential services, and the rule of law will be maintained,” she spoke without affectation or her former bubbly girlishness. “My good friends and fellow citizens, we have not lost a heroic captain but gained a champion for peace. These mermen are under the Navy’s protection.”

The Clans sat in silence as Delavega-Cassis waited for those that operated in the La Plaza Rosado.

She preferred to deal with Tyrece alone.

She stalked across the stage and poked a finger into his scaly chest. She kept it there, taking a good feel of his scales and the muscles beneath.

“You should have told me about the transformation. The vid-screens and news-views are filled with pictures of you and your fish-men,” she scolded.

“Telling you would have complicated things. We call ourselves Tritons. Get used to it,” Tyrece said.

“The Admiralty wants you and—,” she looked around, “—the rest of the Tritons under their control.”

“Ain’t going to happen. Disabuse yourself of that idea.”

She didn’t flinch.

“They won’t like it,” she said.

“Cope with it, lady,” was the response of several Tritons. Tyrece convinced Delavega-Cassis of her vulnerabilities and how much trouble they could cause from under the waves. She reluctantly agreed to their terms.

He was at a disadvantage. The sun fully illuminated the stage. He felt the heat dry his skin. He and the other Tritons required water. A maintenance man, who couldn’t have been more than eighteen, appeared with a hose. He stared too hard and too long at Tyrece. He hosed Tyrece, and while he did, he brushed the man’s buttocks with both hands.

Delavega-Cassis didn’t like the maintenance man lingering; she motioned to the guards that she wanted the man thrown out of the plaza. Tyrece stopped her and asked him to continue.

The maintenance man returned with a second hose and began spraying a gentle stream of water over Tyrece and the other Tritons. The water soothed. Once again, hands brushed buttocks.

“Did you enjoy yourself?” Tyrece growled. He took the hose and doused the man.

“You’re my hero. I just wanted to wash the blood away, make you comfortable.”

Delavega-Cassis rolled her eyes.

“Leave us alone. Go and enlist in the Navy if you want to be a hero,” she said.

“I can’t, Ma’am. The Navy don’t want me.”

“That’s not my problem, get a job with your Clan,” she said, harsh and dismissive.

“Got no Clan. I was a foundling, raised by strangers, don’t even know my parents.”

Tyrece didn’t give Delavega-Cassis a chance to abuse the young man. He extended a finned hand.

“We’ll take you, give you a home.”

Rocco wrapped a huge green arm around the kid’s shoulders.

“It’s not an easy life in the ocean, kid.”

“Better to work hard than not belong,” the young man said.

Delavega-Cassis turned her back, cold and uncaring.

“I don’t have time to give pep talks and career advice to hooligans and freeloaders. I’ll never understand this hero-worship thing you inspire. I have to give you credit, even green, scaly and butt-ugly, you still got whatever it is. Good riddance,” she said. Tyrece shrugged her remarks off like a cheap coat or a threadbare cape, but he did wonder what made her so cruel.

“And the Tritons,” he asked.

“Tomorrow, I’ll get the Navy to declare you a Clan. You are commanded to attend the formal signing ceremony,” she provided copies of the draft treaty. “After that, I’ll have the Navy install buoys and pontoons over your dome. You better develop an immigration policy for the stowaways, perps, and misfits like that kid.”

“We can handle that,” Rocco said, Tyrece agreed.

The Tritons left the plaza and returned to the sea.

The new First Mate, a red-headed woman from the Atlantic North Clans, and Delavega-Cassis waited for the Medical Examiner to remove Estralita Delgado’s body and the bodies of Castor and Pollux.

“I think you’re wrong not killing Tyrece Leanard. He has a resurrection port.”

“He can’t resurrect in a human body. The process will force resurrection to an augmented body. His influence is effectively neutered and quite amazingly, he’s created the perfect dumping ground for fools, wannabes, and the rest of the scum we don’t want.”

“I guess that Estralita Delgado is the only loser?” the First Mate said, carelessly.

“The morgue technicians are preserving her. She had a hidden resurrection port.”

“The medics didn’t say anything about a resurrection port.”

“Because I ordered their silence. Now I order yours. Estralita Delgado will remain dead until her father dies. Then, she can resurrect and claim her birthright, by that time we’ll control the rest of the Clans.”

The new Captain and her First Mate kissed, passionately. No one but the closest aides saw or new. When the Fiesta Baja del Azur Agua y Celeste opened, the pair stunned with their grace, esprit de corps, and excellent decision-making skills. Their first steps to world domination were a grand success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fuck E.T.

by[* BL Draper*]

 

Sitting on the veranda, drinking a sundowner and watching the sky turn orange, Earl Wilson felt on top of the world.

He loved his job at the garage, his girlfriend, Tammy, had finally put out, and the movie he’d ordered on the internet had arrived at last. Though tempted to rush inside and stick the DVD in the player immediately, Earl bided his time, enjoying the anticipation.

Earl was a space buff. As a boy, he’d wanted to be an astronaut, but that dream went out the window when he learned how much education you needed to go into space. All he wanted from life was the simple things. And that’s what he had; a veranda, a girlfriend, and a DVD player.

The first movie he ever saw was still his favourite; E.T. He had watched that movie dozens of times, ignoring his brothers poking fun at him. Earl knew that one day he’d meet an alien for real.

An alien of his own.

A true space friend.

He had been building up his collection since then; War of the Worlds, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Tommyknockers, Coneheads. He loved every incarnation of aliens he watched. Though none could compare to his childhood friend, E.T. He was the yardstick that all other aliens were judged against.

He smacked his lips in anticipation of this new movie; Gravity. He wasn’t sure it was an alien movie, but it was set in space, so the chances were good. Besides, it had Sandra Bullock in it. He lost himself in a daydream featuring the delicious Ms. Bullock naked in zero gravity. Could he order a space suit for Tammy to wear sometime? One with a helmet so he could imagine someone else inside it?

A bright flash and a deafening roar brought him back to Earth, and he spilled his beer all over his lap.

What the hell was that? He stared down towards the end of the driveway, where a couple of trees were on fire. Rushing inside to grab his shotgun, he checked it was loaded then followed the flickering of the flames.

Getting closer, he could see some kind of vehicle leaning up against the mailbox. It was a strange shape, without windows or doors. A van? A truck?

Finally reaching it, Earl saw that the object was circular, without wheels or any obvious sign of propulsion equipment, and he knew that this was what he had been preparing for all his life. He was finally about to meet his real life E.T.

Now that the moment was finally here, Earl wasn’t sure what to do. Should he knock on the flying saucer? Maybe he could just call out, so it knew there was somebody outside. Before he could do either, there was a click and a section of the ship opened outwards, just like in the movies.

He swallowed as a shape shuffled down the ramp and stopped in front of him. The alien was no taller than his knee. It had long silky hair that glowed an eerie green in the darkness, and it blinked up at Earl with three huge purple eyes.

Earl felt his heart well up inside him. Finally! The space friend he had always dreamed of. He forgot about his job, his movie and Tammy. At last, Earl Wilson was about to meet his destiny. The shotgun forgotten by his side, he bent down.

As he reached out to pet the shivering little alien, it changed. Rearing up before him, Earl had a terrifying glimpse of fangs, tentacles, claws and barbed suckers. He felt himself being sliced, hammered, pierced and sucked in one long, bloody frenzy.

After the attack was over, and the alien began to absorb his lacerated flesh, Earl had one last coherent thought.

Fuck E.T.

 

Garmin

by Jeremy Simons

 

Craig Robertson sits wistfully in seventh period. It is Friday. Not only is it Friday, but it is also Labor Day weekend. He’s in the last abysmal class before three days of partying and drinking to excess. For him, the next few days were going to be a dream. He was going to mingle with the high school masses. He’d always wanted to be a part of anything that the popular kids were doing. Drinking too much, doing things he will regret, and not remembering a damn second of it; it is every high school nerd’s dream.

And yes, Craig is a bit of a nerd. This explains why he is sitting behind a monitor in the computer lab of an unnecessary business and computer applications course rather than on the football or baseball fields, or on the basketball court, or in the wood shop or the welding shop. These are places where the jocks or cool kids are.

The bell rings monotonously. Kids storm from the room. The hallways are mass pandemonium as teenagers push towards all of the exits; some headed for their buses, some for their parent’s vehicles and others for their own vehicles. All headed home.

Craig bursts through the double doors at the front of the high school, clearly marked exit, which are situated between the principal’s office and the auditorium.

Outside, there is pandemonium.

Craig walks methodically towards his vehicle, a battered F-150 given to him by his father after getting his license. It has had its fair share of problems, but it has been dependable, to say the least.

“So am I gonna see you tonight, Craig?” a voice carries over the wave of other voices.

He doesn’t need to see the body behind the voice to know who it belongs to. Madelyn Steele. She is by far one of the most beautiful girls in all the high school, at least in Craig’s opinion.

In his eyes, she is the complete package: brains, beauty, ambition, potential for greatness. In society’s eyes—society being the rest of the students at Caldwell Parish High School—she is merely another brainiac that’s destined for great things while possessing an average amount of beauty.

“You bet,” Craig says spryly, seeing her emerge from one of the numerous gatherings littering the parking lot of the school.

The sun radiating from her natural blonde hair casts a glow above her head resembling an angel’s halo. The tight low-rise jeans snug against her perfect heart-shaped butt. The red spaghetti-strap shirt that had served her as an undershirt until now riding up, showing the skin on her stomach and the sexy butterfly belly ring in her navel and the skin of her lower back. The straps of her black G-string hoisted upon her hips just above the jeans. The low-cut shirt was showing just enough cleavage to drive boys—like Craig Robertson—wild.
His erection is in full force and fully visible by the time Madelyn makes it over to him. He slides his notebook casually down in front of the bulge in his jeans.
She rubbed her hand over his arm. “That’s great.”
He smiles nervously. His cheeks blush a noticeable red. “You’re definitely going to be there, right?” These are the only words that he can think of to say.
“Of course, dummy,” she says with a giggle. Her hand is down near the top of his jeans. “I wouldn’t have told you to come if I weren’t going to be there. I want you all to myself.” She whips her head briskly to the left, whipping the hair from her face in beautiful waves, only making her that more gorgeous.
The bulge in Craig’s jeans throbs, feeling as if it is about to explode. He has a brief vision of Madelyn’s hand sliding down into his jeans and—
“Craig? Earth to Craig?”
He snaps to abruptly. “No, I guess you wouldn’t. So what time y’all heading out there?”
“Pretty soon actually,” she says modestly. “We have a few things to do in town first, and we’re heading out there. What about you? Did you want to ride with us?”
“I’d love to,” Craig says, “but I can’t. I have a few things to do first at home.”
A small ray of hope disappears from her eyes. Craig can tell she is slightly disappointed.

“Okay.” The disappointment is evident in her voice as well. “It’d better be soon, though. Don’t keep me waiting all night.”
“I won’t.”
The disappointment disappears from her eyes as she rises up on tiptoes to kiss him. Their tongues intertwine. He allows the notebook to fall to the ground as he wraps both arms around her and cups her bottom. She rubs gently against his erection. He knows she can feel it. Her tongue retracts. She falls back flat-footed. Craig expects a slap in the face, but he gets nothing of the sort.

Instead, a smile flashes across her face. More beautiful still, she blushes and giggles. “I hope your friend comes along, too.” Her eyes flash down to his jeans. “I’ll see you tonight then.”
“Definitely.”
Craig watches as she jogs away to rejoin her friends. A group of three other semi-attractive brainiacs. They pile into a sky blue four-door Ford Focus and drive away.
Craig speeds home. His mind wanders, trying to grasp everything that has occurred today at once. He runs upstairs and showers. The day was like a dream. He changes into what he considers his good clothes: a pair of denim South Pole jeans slightly faded throughout the legs and a blue, striped Polo shirt.

Did she really invite me to the party?

He devours a quick bite to eat.

The girl of my dreams.

Then it is off to the most important detail: alcohol.

She kissed me.

He supposes he could have gotten Madelyn to pick him some up, but that doesn’t make him look like much of a man.

She actually fucking kissed me.

He will have to ask his older brother.

She rubbed against my boner.

This means that he has to go into town.

And she liked it.

He hates to ask his obnoxious brother for any kind of favour.

She wants me.

But if he mentions Madelyn, his brother will have no problem supplying the booze.

 

***

 

Craig’s brother does supply him with a case of beer after getting every detail of the happenings with Madelyn. His brother also supplies him with a box of condoms and wishes him the best of luck.

By the time Craig pulls his truck onto Highway 126 West, it is nearing dark. He enters the address into the Garmin navigational system that his mother had gotten him as a Christmas present the year he got his license.
The house, where the party is being held, is in Hebron of all places—Cottonplant as the kids call it. Despite the fact he’s lived in Caldwell Parish his entire life, he isn’t very familiar with this area. It is out in the country near the parish line of Winn. There is nothing but wilderness and a couple of residences. There was once a convenient store, but that closed years ago. It used to be a place where drugs were manufactured, and few police officers travelled to. Now, the high school parties and gatherings seem to get raided every weekend, no matter where the location is.
The address is on Holly Hill Road. Has he heard of it? Yes. Somewhere along the line he has. Has he ever been on it? Yes; maybe. Does he remember it? Vaguely.
Craig follows the Garmin’s directions specifically. It carries him for miles on Highway 126 West. He turns left on to Childress Road. Then right on Busby Road.
The night is darker than usual. The sky is starless. The moon was hidden behind a blanket of dark clouds.
He travels slowly down Busby Road. It is full dark now. He passes the two houses on this stretch of road. A dead end road to the right labelled Eddie Drive. If memory serves him correctly, Holly Hill Road should be about a half mile up on the right.
The Garmin doesn’t see it that way.

“Turn left now,” it barks in its womanly robotic tone.

Craig slams on the brakes. The road to his left is unnamed and unmarked. It looks more like a four-wheeler trail than a road, only slightly larger. He pulls over onto the foot of this unnamed road.
This can’t be right, he thinks.
He snatches the Garmin from its clip on the windshield and checks the address he had keyed in. It matches word for word with what Madelyn had written down for him.

[So now what?
__]There is a distinct possibility that the Garmin had led him too far, past Holly Hill Road, or not far enough; a possibility that his thoughts are precise, and the road is just up on the right. Lord knows it has misled him before. However, in this day in age, it is difficult to distrust technology. So what does that leave?
Madelyn lied to you, a voice bellows inside his head. The voice is vaguely familiar but unknown to him. That is what’s left.
He supposes that it is possible Madelyn could have lied to him. In fact, it had occurred to him the second she invited him to this damned party. He shifts the transmission from park into reverse. To what extent would Madelyn be willing to go to keep up this charade? Inviting him was one thing. Making a point of speaking to him at every possible moment was something else. These things were easy. But making out with him in front of all her friends, rubbing against his erection and liking it: these things were entirely different, in an entirely different league.
He slams the transmission from reverse to drive. [There is no way in hell she lied to me.
__]He begins rolling slowly down the dark, unnamed road. He has a plan. He will drive to the end of this road. If no party, then he will mosey on up the road where he believes Holly Hill actually is and go from there.
The unnamed road dead ends at a house.

House would be a bit of an exaggeration. It is more of a shack. Each window seems to have been busted out. Stained and torn curtains suck in and out of the missing windows as the wind blows. The roof is caved in, in numerous spots. The yard is littered with trash, and there are no vehicles present. No high school party. But there is a light on. Judging by the way the light flickers from bright to dim, dim to bright, and the shadows being thrown around it, he can only presume it is a candle burning.

Craig jams the transmission into park once more.
[You’re not really getting out, are you?
__]But he is. He is hell-bent on finding Madelyn. A burning candle means civilisation. It means someone is either here or has been here recently. He must check it out.

[You’re crazy. You know that, don’t you?
__]Maybe he is, but a voice inside his head telling him so isn’t going to change his mind at all.
Craig walks blindly and cautiously up to the steps branching off the front porch. There are unfamiliar noises sounding off in every direction. He steps onto the first step, ignoring the noises. The CREAK of the aged wood beneath his feet carries briskly through the emptiness surrounding him. Second step. Another CREAK. More noises off in the distance. Third step. [CREAK! CRACK!
__]The step gives way beneath his weight. His ankle slips through, twisting violently in the process. Sprained. He knows it somehow before he even pulls it out.
When it pulls free, he collapses wistfully on to the porch. He is there only seconds before the noises begin again. They are more distinct now. Rustling leaves like something or someone is walking around out there. He glances to his truck. It is not too far away. He can make it even on a bum ankle.
Craig hobbles over to the door and knocks softly. No answer. Then again, he hadn’t really expected one.
“Madelyn?” he says in a soft, hoarse whisper.
No answer. Once more, he hadn’t really expected anyone to answer him. He is alone… or at least the shack is empty. He is sure of this much. This realisation drops a nervous bomb on him. How alone is alone?
“Madelyn?” he says, a little louder now.
There is still no response.
“Madelyn?” Louder still.

Silence.

By now, Craig has shimmied down the front facing wall of the house to the busted out window that had first caught his attention. He peers in cautiously. There is a single flame dancing vicariously atop a candle’s wick on an end table in the corner of the room nearest the window itself. The table appears in the same shape as the shack, ready for its legs to shatter and catch ablaze from the candle and torch the whole house. He cannot see much else. It is just too dark.
“Madelyn?” It is more of a shout now as panic and fear grasp his vocal cords.
Fear and panic is all he has now. Somewhere throughout this day, he has lost his survival instinct. He has broken every survivalist rule that he has culminated over the years through extensive numbers of horror films. He chased a girl that he knew was far out of his league to a scary place per her request. He got out of the truck knowing that she wasn’t here. He pulled the keys from the ignition. Had he locked the doors? This much he cannot remember, but given his knowledge thus far, he would have to say yes he had locked the doors. He had called to Madelyn, numerous times. He had knocked on the front door. Fell and hurt himself. Stuck his head through an open window. What is left?
Nothing, that voice inside screams. There’s nothing left but despair. [You have to get out of here, Craig… before something bad happens. Get to the truck, NOW. Haul ass out of here. Screw Holly Hill. Screw the party. Screw Madelyn, no pun intended. Just go home.
__]That sounds like a plan to Craig. The getting out of here part at least. He will go to Holly Hill, and he will find Madelyn.
Craig pulls his head slowly from the window facing and turns. There is a muffled thud. Craig’s legs wobble. The world wavers in front of him. His vision wavers, blurs, and then fades entirely to black.

He faints.

 

***

 

When Craig comes to, he is groggy, to say the least. His head feels as if it’s been struck by a baseball bat. The coppery taste of blood is in his mouth. His arms and legs are both restrained. A strong odour of cooking meat—frying, if he had to take a guess—fills his nostrils. It’s a smell that he’s never witnessed before. His family have always considered themselves to be connoisseurs of the art of cooking meat.

The aroma is distasteful, one that lingers and unsettles his stomach. There is a taste in this smell, and it is even more horrendous than the odour itself.

Sharp pains explode through his arms and legs. He glances down. He is naked except for his boxer shorts and blood-stained ankle socks. There are gashes in each of his limbs. The flesh is peeled back in thin bacon-like strips.
He screams. The sound that escapes him is morose and minuscule.
He glances around the room. It is empty except for old, rotting furniture. He sees an end table across from him on the far side of the room. A single candle burns dimly, throwing faint shadows and silhouettes to the outside world.

[I’m inside the house. Oh, God, help me! What have I gotten myself into?
__]Tears form in the corners of his eyes and spill profusely down his cheeks, forcing more salty blood into his mouth.
He hears voices, faint and incomprehensible. There is laughter. The noises are coming from the adjoining room. How many? At least three or four.
There has to be a way out, he thought to himself

He started scouring the area, and this helped him come to an immediate conclusion. As a couple of lights were on, that meant that the electricity had to be working. He knows he has to make a move, or things will end badly for him. There are blunt tools and sharpened utensils lying on a table next to him.

He strains to pull free, but the chains wrapped tightly around his hands and feet won’t give. He gives a more valiant effort. Still no give.
Footfalls disrupt the silence. They’re coming back. Three husky men and a fourth—female—appear from beyond the doorway. Their faces are set in discerning scowls, littered with dirt and grime. Their clothes are tattered-and-torn and appear to have not seen the inside of a washing machine for many a year. Their hands are discoloured with dirt and filth, a vague resemblance of a grease-monkey after a long, hard day beneath a hood, but judging by the lack of a vehicle and other material things, Craig would guess that isn’t grease covering them. Their feet are bare and coated with the same dinginess as their hands. “Well, good mornin’, sunshine,” the largest of the men says. He smiles benignly. His mouth bares a nearly toothless grin.
“Who are you people?” Craig’s voice is raspy; his throat dry.
The question sets off a bray of laughter in the four strangers that makes it seem as if Craig has said the most humorous line that any of them has heard before. “We’re the Turners, boy.” This is the woman.
“What do y’all want from me? You people are crazy. What have y’all done to me?” The questions are all indigenous to this situation. The standard, run of the mill garbage that usually turns up no significant answers.
“Hold on there, sport.” This is one of the smaller men. “You’re trespassing on our land. We don’t take too kindly to strangers trespassing on our land, boy.”
“Easy, Jacob,” the largest man bellows serenely. “There’s no reason in stirrin’ up a ruckus, son.” The man turns his attention towards Craig’s haggard face. “We may not look it, boy, but we are civilised people here.”
“Civilised?” Craig mocks. “You people are not civilised. You people are fuckin’ nuts.”
A hand comes swiftly out of Craig’s peripheral and explodes into his lower cheek. A string of blood whips from his mouth. The pain is immediate. He spits and pieces of his teeth click as they strike the rotting hardwood floor.
“Be nice, Junior,” the big man says, never raising his voice or showing disgust.
“C’mon, Pa,” Junior says reluctantly. “There ain’t no reason me and Jacob can’t rough ‘im up a bit.”
“You have to be polite to guests, Junior,” Pa says. “Ain’t that right, Ma?”

Ma brings in a plate of freshly fried meat and sits it in the centre of a table out in the middle of the floor. “That’s right, Pa. A boy ain’t nothing without his manners.”
Junior takes his seat at the table next to Pa and directly across from Jacob. Ma takes hers opposite Pa and to the side of each of her boys. They sit, quietly while Jacob says grace and blesses their food.
“Amen,” they all bellow in unison after Jacob finally wraps it up.
Each family member scrapes a piece of the odd-looking meat onto their plate. “So you got a name, stranger?” Pa asks, almost casually.
“Craig?” he says honestly. He had thought of lying, but what good would it do? These crazies have his jeans. He is sure by now that they have rifled through the pockets and found his wallet. They probably extracted what little money he had in there, and in the process, encountered his driver’s license. Assuming that any member of this family can read was reaching, but he is not exactly in a position to doubt these people. “Craig Robertson.”
“Craig Robertson, huh?” Pa repeats mockingly. “Well, Craig Robertson, not that you have a say in the matter, but we’d love to have you for dinner.”
A nervous smile stretches over Craig’s face. “I’m guessing I’ll be the main course.”
This sets off another bray of uncontrollable laughter like Craig is relaying the punch line to a masterpiece of a joke that he will forever be remembered for.
“You’re purty clever, boy,” Pa says, ripping a piece of meat from the fork. “I’ll give you that much… and you’re sort of right.”
“Sort of?”
“Yeah. You will be the appetisers, main course, and dessert.”
Craig tries to remain tough but cannot. His stomach wheezes, turns over, and up comes his lunch.
“Makin room, huh?” Pa says. “I like that.” He chuckles casually. “See these appetisers right here, Craig.” He holds the fork with a piece of nearly devoured meat on it out towards Craig. “I got to thinkin. I’m a huge fan of pork skins, and well, we were out. So… I’m guessing you noticed the missing flesh from your arms and legs, huh? I figured how much different could it really be, and I gotta tell you, Craig, this is some good shit. You taste right fine, boy. O’course, I don’t really think human flesh will ever replace pork skins on the market.
“For the main course, you’re gonna love it. I heard of these places where you can go in and pick whichever steak you want and them some bitches will cook it right there for you. I like that idea. So I’m gone let my boys pick which piece of meat they want from you, and Ma gone cook it up real good for ‘em. I s’pose you’ll still be alive for that, and that’s fine. Me and my family ain’t greedy by no means. I’m more’n willin to let you feast on the main course with us. Hell, I’ll even let you choose your piece of meat first.”
The Turners share a laugh.
“And for dessert, Craig, I’m gone rip your still-beatin’ heart outta ya chest and quarter it. Figure it can’t be much more different than a chicken heart… excep’ it bigger and juicier. And me and my boys here… we sure do love them chicken hearts, don’t we boys.”
Jacob and Junior agree wholeheartedly.
“I don’t believe you’ll be joinin’ us for dessert, though.”
“You people are sick, you know that don’t you?” Craig says sternly. “You won’t get away with this. People will come looking for me.”
“We have been getting away with this for years, boy.” This is Junior.
“Well, these appetisers sure were delicious, Ma”. This is Pa, as polite as ever.
“Thanks, Pa.”
“But I think it’s time for the main course. What you think, boys?”
Craig attempts to protest, but before he can utter a word, Junior is towering in front of him. He swings a mighty fist. More teeth shatter as the fist connects squarely with Craig’s mouth. The world around him falters and then blurs and then journeys into complete and utter darkness.

When Craig awakes again, the shack is filled with a much stronger, more distinct and more gut-wrenching aroma than before. The smell of burning flesh is captivating. The world surrounding him is a haze, and he realizes that full consciousness may not return to him. His hands and feet itch unbearably. There is pain coursing through his entire body; near the extremities is the worst.

He glances down, afraid of what he is about to see. He fears the worst and gets no less. His hands and feet are gone. The chains that had secured them are now further up on his limbs, digging angrily into his flesh.
A clanking plate grabs his attention. He glances at the table. There are three entrees on each of their plates. Hands and feet are everywhere.

“Welcome back, Craig,” Pa says humbly. “Thought we lost ya for a sec. Yeah, sorry ‘bout the limbs, son, but my boys here got themselves one of dem foot fetishes. My wife was curious about the hand, and well, I guess I was, too. Care for some?” He holds a plate out with a charred and simmering hand lying upon it.

Craig’s stomach wrenches again. He uses every bit of energy left to vomit up yellow-brownish phlegm. He becomes lightheaded and drifts quickly back into unconsciousness thinking only of the beautiful Madelyn Steele.
[This was supposed to be my night. I wonder what she’s doing right now.
__]

***

 

Madelyn Steele sits alone in a lawn chair on the front porch of a house on Holly Hill Road that she has never been to before. She has never felt so out of place… so alone. Sure, her friends are here, but she had hoped for more. She had hoped for Craig Robertson. How she longs for his touch, to kiss him again.

A single tear spills down her cheek as she takes a sip from the Smirnoff Ice and wonders hopelessly why he possibly would have stood her up. She supposes she is foolish for ever having thought that they had some sort of emotional connection.

***

 

When Craig awakes once more, his vision is obscured. The pain in his limbs is child’s play compared to this newfound pain. There is endless chatter out in front of him. He forces his eyes open. The Turners are only silhouettes sitting around the table.

“You’re a tough little shit,” Pa says. Craig cannot make out his expression entirely, but he can hear the smile in this man’s voice. “I’ll give you that. So how you feelin’, sport?”
Silence.
“You’re really in no position to be rude, Craig. I know you’re in a lot of pain.”
Craig glances down. His vision is nearly gone, but that doesn’t stop him from seeing the knives protruding from his chest. He tries to say something but cannot muster the energy.
“That’s okay, Craig,” Pa says. “I’ll do the talkin’ for both of us. It’s just about dessert time. Do you remember what I said was for dessert?” He falls silent and waits for a response. “It doesn’t matter anyway. Those pains in your chest are from the knives that we used to open you up. We ain’t really got any surgical tools round here, so we had to use the next best thing.”
“You… sick… bastard,” Craig stammers out. It is exasperated and barely audible.
Pa laughs, maniacally, as he strolls over to where Craig is imprisoned. “Good night, Craig,” he says soberly with no remorse in his eyes or tone.
Craig expects another punch in the jaw or maybe a blunt object to the head but gets no such thing.
Pa Turner reached into the open chest cavity of Craig Robertson and wrapped his grimy fingers around the still-beating heart. He was careful not to slice himself on the improvised surgical tools as it pulsed, rhythmically. He felt a sense of power when holding another man’s heart in his hands.

There are audible pops as the ventricles and veins and arteries connecting to the heart begin stretching and tearing away. Small jets of blood spray freely from the severed arteries.

Pa pulls the heart from the open chest cavity. It is still beating in a sense, as promised, as the blood trapped inside continues pumping. He holds it triumphantly up for Craig to see. Craig’s eyes are glossy and glazed as though he has been on a three-day high with no intent of slowing down. There is no comprehension behind these eyes, but Pa believes there is understanding still floating freely in the brain. He is aware that Craig knows what he’s looking at.
Pa carries the now slowing heart over to the table and places it on a plate in the centre. He uses a butcher knife to slice it into four equal pieces. He passes the plate politely around, allowing each member to take one piece leaving himself whatever is left. By the time he settles into his seat with dessert slowly throbbing in front of him, Craig Robertson’s eyes are shut once more. They will not reopen this time.
Pa uses a steak knife with the delicacy of a surgeon’s touch to slice a mouthful from the entirety on his plate. He shoves it into his own mouth and bites down. Warm, delicious liquid shoots down his throat, similar to biting into a Gusher fruit snack although Pa Turner doesn’t know that feeling. He savours every morsel like the finest cut of filet mignon. It slides down his throat in waves of brief ecstasy.

“You sure do taste good, boy,” he says, and they all begin laughing hysterically.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Human Conditions

[_*by _][*DJ Tyrer]

[* *]

“The pain reminds us we’re human.”

He had come to Malekant for answers and an answer he had been given. It might have been better had it been the last he was vouchsafed.

Malekant was a small, arid, orange world on the edge of human space. It had no resources of import and was barely habitable. The Anglo-Polish Federation had surveyed and claimed it, but the world was too far away to do anything with. The world ought to have been as obscure as it was unimportant, but it had a certain fame or notoriety, throughout inhabited space.

The reason Malekant was known far and wide was because of the Order of St. Lawrence or the Pain Monks as they were better known. Their masochistic asceticism inspired puerile interest in everyone from anthropologists through the media to the masses. That was the reason he had come.

Lech Davies was an anthropologist and he just had to know what drove the Pain Monks to flagellate and burn themselves in the seclusion of hidden caves or atop natural pillars of rock beneath the merciless heat of the great red sun in emulation of ancient saints.

The Church had always had its masochistic elements, but the Order of St. Lawrence went far beyond what was considered acceptable or even eccentric; the Order was unrecognised by the Papal authorities and unlikely ever to be so. Informally, New Rome was interested in his thoughts as to whether the Order was worthy of consideration.

The journey had been long and arduous, Malekant was far from the regular space lanes and only a small number of pilgrims seeking to bask in the reflected holiness of the monks and an even smaller number wishing to apprentice themselves to the Order went there. Even those with an unhealthy fascination for the tales of bloodletting, self-torture and deviant activities on the edge of known space had no desire to actually travel there when simulations of the world and its inhabitants could be created to sate their need for novelty. Especially as the monks in their piety had no desire to be entertainment for gawping tourists and reporters, nor even subjects for anthropological research.

Lech only had this audience with the Patriarch of the Order thanks to a letter written by Cardinal Mwangi testifying to his good standing with the Church. A secular researcher would have had no chance. As it was, he wondered just how far the co-operation would actually extend. The Order seemed quite secretive.

Lech had spent days in conversation with the Patriarch, mainly discussing generalities of faith and self-denial, establishing his credentials and a common ground. Finally, though, he had asked the question at the heart of his curiosity: “Why is pain at the heart of your faith?”

This question elicited a response that only posed further questions in his mind: “The pain reminds us we’re human.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Out here, far from civilisation, it is difficult to feel connected to the human race.”

The statement was reasonable, but Lech could detect that the man was holding something back.

“Father, forgive me, but you are not telling me the whole story.”

He winced, then smiled a wry smile. “There is, indeed, more to tell, but I am afraid there are some things that cannot be discussed with those outside of the Order.”

Lech sucked his lip. “But, I must know.”

The Patriarch looked up to the ceiling as if seeking divine guidance. Again, there was a wince of pain. Lech wondered if he wore some device to mortify his flesh; he had known others to do so as a constant reminder of the frailties of the flesh and the suffering of their Saviour. He found such expressions of faith quite fascinating.

“I really want to know. I need to know. This is the entire reason for my coming here.”

“If I were to show you…” He winced again. “No, no, He would not like it.”

“God? You believe He speaks to you?”

“In a sense; his representative or avatar, to be exact.”

“Avatar? I don’t understand.”

“If I were to show you, you would be sure to regret it. Recall if you will, the story of Eden: knowledge can be a tantalising temptation, but it can also be one’s downfall. What one has seen cannot be unseen and what has been learnt cannot be unlearnt. To pursue knowledge is to accept whatever consequences might befall you.”

That was practically the anthropologist’s creed: the practical anthropologist; the field researcher had to take risks whether it was travelling to harsh worlds such as this or insinuating themselves amongst inhospitable populations they desired to study. The uncovering of knowledge went hand in hand with danger. He knew and accepted this. He explained this to the Patriarch.

“You will accept whatever fate shall befall you?”

Lech nodded. “Yes. I need to know.”

“In that case…” The Patriarch grimaced and said, “No, He isn’t happy. It isn’t for God’s representative in the Universe to be revealed to just anyone…”

“I shall be circumspect,” he assured him.

The Patriarch nodded; his expression still pained. “Very well, very well.”

Lech sat expectantly as the Patriarch fixed him with his gaze.

A moment later, he recoiled in his chair as the flesh of the Patriarch’s cheeks rippled repulsively.

“What—?”

Before he could say anything further, the flesh split, ragged and bloody, and through the twin gashes exploded two slick, blue-black tendrils that twitched towards him.

“Behold the avatar of God in this plane,” gurgled the Patriarch, his voice thick and phlegmy, “the spirit that dwells within us and tortures our flesh until our souls are pure…”

Then, he hacked like a cat coughing up a furball and a thicker tendril of blue-black, slimy, mucus-coated rubbery flesh erupted from his throat and lunged towards Lech who leapt back into his seat, overbalancing the chair and falling backwards.

The dark ropey mass exploded towards him across the intervening space and, despite what a small, logical part of his brain was telling him, he screamed in terror and disgust. It slithered easily into his open mouth and down inside him, detaching from the main mass that retracted into the Patriarch. The two gashes on the man’s cheeks were empty now of alien flesh, puckering like strange stigmata.

As he lay gasping on the floor gazing up at the impassive, pitiless face of the Patriarch, Lech could feel the thing moving, burrowing, deep within him. Then, his mind exploded with strange images and unutterable truths and understanding. The thing that was within him was one with him: he was one with the alien mind of God. No longer limited, no longer just a man, but a conduit between the fallen and the divine: he understood. Not just the secrets, but the man’s words to him.

“You made your choice. Now, you are in communion with the supernal and shall remain so until it consumes you body and soul.”

Lech felt his mind and identity starting to slip away. He felt detached from himself, only recalled to full sensation when the movements of it within him seared his flesh with agonising pain: reminding him for a brief moment that he was still human.

 

 

 

John’s Frozen Purity

by[* JA Torres*]

 

It was the second day of December; a cold, windy day with dark clouds that seemed ready to pour rain down at any time. This day befell on John’s twenty-second birthday. He was at home watching a comedy about three people waking up after a night of debauchery and not remembering any events that unfolded the night prior. He had forgotten the title of the movie. He had forgotten why exactly he agreed to watch such a film where the plot revolves around finding a friend about to get married whom they lost.

What a waste, what a useless display of stupidity, John thought to himself. He found the television control and was about to turn off the movie until his girlfriend, Ivette, came through the door.

She was the reason. Ivette, a small girl of about five-foot-seven in height with thin features, white skin, and jet black hair was John’s reason for agreeing to watch the film that presented itself on television. She was her only company for the day. His friends were off at different Universities attending to their final exams for the semester. But his friends promised him that they would make it up to him upon their return.

John was tired of Ivette. She had been in his life for two years and one week. Ever since she’d arrived, he had become angrier, depressed, and, alas, more miserable. He had liked her from the moment they met in her parent’s backyard. She had stepped out to do some laundry, and John was immediately taken by her beauty. She was shy at first, but shy girls were his type.

Ivette now held John’s arm. She put her head on his left shoulder and said nothing. Today would be the day he would break it off with her.

“Ivette,” John said while trying to find the control so he could lower the volume.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Thanks for accompanying me tonight.”

Ivette didn’t know what to say.

“I want to break up with you,” John said, finally.

He didn’t want to build any kind of anxiety for him or her.

“What!” Ivette exclaimed. “Are you joking?”

“I know you’ve been good to me. Unfortunately, I feel as if I’ve grown apart.”

“Stop lying, you pathetic coward! You’re a wimp, a bitch, a selfish son of a bitch.”

“Steady on!”

John didn’t get the chance to finish as Ivette was having none of his protestations.

He walked behind her, not trying to bring her back, but affirming that she was truly leaving.

Ivette walked out the front door, through a steel gate and into a vehicle that was parked in front of his home. She opened its trunk and pulled out a large portrait. She threw it at John, and it landed at his feet. She then got into her car and drove away.

John picked up the canvas and saw himself looking back. Ivette had always loved to paint, but he never thought she would do something for him.

He took the picture into his house and leaned it against a muted television. He then sat on his couch and stared at his painted reflection. The image was of an individual, sitting at a wooden table. As usual, she had encouraged him to be as dark and brooding as he wanted.

This was evident in the final product.

He knew that the better part of him had gone.

And only his dark self remained.

 

***

 

December the twenty-fifth came, and John was awoken by the doorbell to his home. His head ached from a voluminous consumption of alcohol the day before. He was thirsty, dried up from his mouth, and slowly stood up straight, to make his way towards the door, kicking beer cans to the side until he unlocked his front door. Two of his friends were standing in the cold weather opposite him. They came in, commented on John’s physical appearance and took a seat on the couch. John went back to his bed that was at the far end corner of the room, opposite of his friends.

“John, Merry Christmas. We’re here to take you out to binge drinking,” one of his friends said.

“Yeah,” another of his friend’s said. “We heard about your break-up, and we have a woman who we think is right for you. Her name is Chelsea. She’s twenty-three years of age, loves country music and is studying to be a psych major. Most of all, though, she likes to drink beer.”

John didn’t know these two men sitting on his cheap couch. He might have known them at one point in his life, but now they were nothing but forgotten memories. They were strangers, and he was regretting letting strangers into his home.

“Go away!”

“John, are you being serious?”

“I have no idea who you are.”

Nothing more was said. His friends didn’t argue. They knew John had made his point. He heard the sound of feet disappearing like an echo, and then a door was open and shut.

I have no friends, John thought to himself.

His sleep didn’t return. He turned and turned trying to find a position in which his sleep may come but to no avail. Instead, he got up and retrieved a beer from his refrigerator. He took a long sip but as quickly as he took it, he spat it right out.

“Disgusting,” John said as he wiped spittle from his mouth. He threw the beer down his sink and hoped for better from the next can. It was just as foul. It had no taste. He checked the expiration date and saw that it was good for another month.

He grabbed a carton of juice in the hope that it would clear his pallet.

It tasted just as bad.

John sighed and returned to bed.

A weird idea possessed his head, and he placed a hot water bottle to his lips. Again, its contents left a foul taste in his mouth.

Were his taste buds damaged?

Am I more than hungover? he asked himself.

 

***

 

The New Year arrived with Auld Lang Syne.

The world was celebrating the acquaintances that should never be forgotten.

John, meanwhile, was sitting on his couch, staring at his portrait.

Where had that version of him gone?

He’d stopped going out, and this had caused him to lose contact with the human race.

A smile appeared on his face.

He was going to die.

Death. How marvellous and clear the word seemed to him. Death would relieve him of this dark world and bring into peace and silence. He had to make this day special, a day he could truly call a remembrance. He decided that he would take a shower and change his clothing since he had been without a shower or change of clothing for a week. He would call his two anonymous acquaintances, and surprise them with the splatter of his blood to their faces.

Within an hour and a half, John was ready. He stepped out into a seemingly warm day, but the clouds in the sky began to pour tiny particles of water into his face. He made his way to the train station and took it to the boulevard of broken dreams in Hollywood.

On the train, no one existed but him.

He was surrounded by people that reeked of dirt and urine. Some were sleeping while the rest were consumed by their desire for money. Tourists were seated next to him and behind him, and across from his seat stood a group of women. John paid careful attention to these women. To him, they had no normal faces, only a cranial. One of the cranial faces approached John.

“Hey John, how are you?” came the words from the ‘thing.’

“Do I know you?”

“It’s me, Ivette.”

In that instant, the face of Ivette came clear to John. No more cranial faces or empty seats. He was not alone. The train was full of people. He stood, his breathing laboured like he’d just been woken from a nightmare.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“I’m not sure that I want to answer your question.”

“What do you mean?”

“My wellbeing is none of your business.”

“Come on… take the olive branch.”

“Why should I?”

“Okay, I’m done with you. No one can say I haven’t tried to bury the hatchet.”

“All right, I’m sorry.”

“That’s better…”

“So, what are you up to?”

“I’m meeting some friends in Hollywood. They’re taking me to a bar that plays nothing but rock music.”

“Sounds great,” John replied.

Despite his anger, he was hoping for an invite.

“I’ve missed you.”

“Well, yeah,” John said. “Me too.”

“You’ve missed yourself?”

“You know what I mean!”

“Yeah, I was just teasing.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled. “Anyway, I just wanted to say… thanks for the painting.”

“You’re welcome. Did you like it? I was hoping you would. I’m thinking of calling it John’s Frozen Purity.”

“Why?”

“Well, at that exact moment you were innocent. You sat eating at my parent’s kitchen table, smiling, and making us laugh. It was a perfect night. So when I painted you, I thought to myself, by painting this exact moment in time, you are pure.”

“I’m not sure how to take what you’ve said,” John said with a hint of bitterness.

His thoughts started to turn dark.

John despised Ivette and all the humans that thought they had a right to live in his world.

He wanted to kill them with the dagger that was going to take his life.

The train stopped, and he disembarked without saying another word.

It took him a few minutes to reach the top of the street surface. People walked the streets, wearing coats and carrying shopping bags. Everyone was smiling while laughing and kissing loved ones. Bright lights illuminated the streets as people flocked towards bars, taverns and the myriad of venues that covered the boulevard.

John heard his name being called.

Two friends, he hadn’t seen in months, were waving at him.

He didn’t recognise them, nor did he want to; John only cared about himself.

All of a sudden, his entire body was thrown into the air.

John’s organs fell apart as he was torn into irretrievable pieces.

The vehicle that ran him over simply carried on as if he had never existed.

 

 

Mrs Medusa

by[* Matthew Wilson*]

 

Tonight was Halloween; a time for monsters.

James stopped walking when he saw the statues.

His mum said the building that housed them would never be sold; not after Mr. Turner’s suicide.

He had finished himself off in such a bloody manner that the residents felt there was more chance of the building being torn down than someone inhabiting his former home.

It was a modern-day house of horrors.

Then, one sunny morning, the for sale sign was taken down by delivery men.

The statues doubled overnight.

Of course, Robert said they were real— it was the job of all big brothers to horrify their siblings.

They were victims of the new tenant; in the old days, they called her Medusa.

If James refused to do as he was told, then he too would be turned to stone—if he didn’t hand over his pocket money, then Robert would tell her where to find him.

The old gorgon would come for him in the night, and the next day, when his mother pulled his sheets back, he’d be gone.

Mrs. Winters was a teacher who liked to give candy to students. Everyone thought she was the personification of sweetness and light. Still, James thought there was something off about her. What was it about the statues that made him pause every time he passed her home? Although he didn’t want to give credence to his brother’s fantasies, by voicing any kind of concern, he was convinced that they were able to move when no one was looking.

James tried to keep his thoughts to himself.

He wanted to be good.

He wanted to keep quiet.

Then, his brother decided to vandalise Mr. Richardson’s statue.

Robert was convinced that he had been the first victim of Medusa’s gaze.

After reading her meter, he said she leaped on him and dragged his poisoned body into her concrete graveyard.

Robert liked making up stories to get attention.

He once told his brother that their dad had died of a heart attack while carrying their uncle’s coffin to a crematorium.

This time, however, Robert was determined to prove that he was telling the truth—he was going to go to Mrs. Medusa’s house and release his spirit by defacing the man’s tomb.

Would there be blood?

Would he feel pain?

When Robert was gone, James decided to seek his mother’s help.

“Is this another one of your brother’s stories?”

He sighed and made an excuse so he could go trick or treating.

James shivered as he stood in front of the statues; they seemed to turn towards him as he knocked on Mrs. Winter’s door.

Please don’t turn me to stone, he thought.

She opened the door, and he felt his guts push against his ribs

“I—I live across the street.”

“Oh, I see,” she said. “Do come in…”

James was eight and already used to doing what adults told him to do.

A large python was lying on her living room table, feasting upon the bones of dead rats.

“Don’t be scared,” Mrs. Medusa said. “Simon’s been my best friend across three towns.”

“I—I’m looking for my brother.”

“A young boy was in my garden a couple of hours ago…”

Mrs. Medusa ate a biscuit and ignored the crumbs that subsequently fell to the floor.

“Do you know where he went?”

Mrs. Medusa’s eyes caught the light of a nearby lamp as she formulated a reply.

“No. Although, when you do find him, I’d like a word with that young scamp.”

James shrank into his seat. “Oh?”

“He damaged one of my statues,” she said as her python started to hiss. “I’m due a bit of compensation, don’t you think?”

James started to wonder if the sound was coming from Simon or an invisible miscreant, hiding beneath Mrs. Medusa’s wild locks.

No! He was too old for stories.

There were no bogeymen beneath his bed.

There were no Gorgons living on his street.

Mrs. Winter was just a lonely woman with a fixation for concrete figures.

James felt dumb for believing in fairytales.

“I—I’d better get going.”

“Stay… won’t you?”

“I’m not sure I…”

Mrs. Medusa was on her feet before James could utter another word. She wasn’t going to let him go. Not after she’d identified him as a kindred spirit. He was going to make an excellent addition to her macabre collection.

There was something poking out from underneath the sofa.

A shoe.

Was it Robert’s?

His mouth stopped producing saliva as he leaned down and gave it a hard rap with his knuckles.

“Is something wrong?” Mrs. Medusa asked.

He tried not to lift his head.

He didn’t want to look into her yellow eyes.

Mrs. Medusa hissed, and James was compelled to look up.

As he did, his heart stopped ticking.

“Young people,”[_ _]Mrs. Winter exclaimed. “Their souls are never pure.”

Sighing, she dragged James into her rockery.

 

 

 

The Song Between Her Legs

by[* Lance Manion*]

 

In Greek mythology, Sirens were beautiful women who lured sailors to their doom with their enchanting songs. Beautiful, they would plop down on their rocky coastlines and sing away, and even the strongest of men would be led to make poor decisions and end up in a watery grave.

Sound familiar?

The Greeks called them Sirens, these days we just call them vaginas. You can dress it up however you like, but the same forces are in play.

While I may not always admire the English language, you do have to give it some respect for grabbing the word siren and making it mean alarm, warning, danger and/or distress. I’m surprised that the police and firemen across the country don’t have their sirens blasting out of giant replicas of vaginas. Men would certainly take more notice, and somehow I think the ranks of any neighbourhood watch and volunteer fire service would swell.

Even though the way Sirens were represented in folklore changed as time went by, the fascinating mix of temptation and charm persists to this day. Beguiling vaginas whose song makes us forget our native lands.

Although I didn’t feel like a sailor at the time, I remember a couple of ball fields where we would play baseball when I was a kid. Because we were kids, we would hit ten times more foul balls than we ever put into the field of play and, because we were kids, we were poor and needed to find every one of them. A task made that much more difficult by the heavy woods that lurked right behind the fields. We would try and follow the flight of the ball and go hurling ourselves into the shrubbery in pursuit of it, but more often than not we were unable to retrieve it.

The funny thing was, the next day I would take a bucket and just poke around behind the fields and find upwards of a dozen balls. Some of them sitting right out in the open.

I guess when you’re not after a particular one it’s easier to find them.

That’s the thing about women. Emotions make them like foul balls… difficult and arbitrary.

Depending on how hot she wants her porridge on a given day, she might choose Aye Papi Bear, Hot Mama Bear or Ooo Baby Bear, and there’s squat we can do about it.

And yet we go plunging into the woods or sailing into the rocks just the same, hypnotised, never sure if we’ll find the ball or[_ a_] ball and even more unsure if, in the long run, makes a bit of difference.

Myself, I’ve found that the act of sex doesn’t help clarify things. I never found a correlation between the physical attractiveness of the woman and my performance, both in and out of the bedroom.

I’ve spent my life assuming that the hotter the girl is, the less adequate my sexual prowess would be when the time came to step up to the plate, but the evidence does not bear this out. In fact, at times it’s almost an inverse relationship. I have been a stallion with beauties and disappointing with very ordinary girls.

Ordinary physically anyway.

And now what fresh horrors await us as this newest Siren, the internet, takes a hold? Our subconscious laid bare to anyone who happens to glance at our browsing history.

I recently had my penis fall asleep for the first time in my life. I must have been sitting very oddly because all of sudden the music stopped. My mind was flooded with fractals, geometric patterns and topographical dimensions, and then I adjusted my leg, and the blood flow started back and all of that melted away.

The singing resumed, and I suddenly remembered this old movie theatre I used to go to. It was small and old-fashioned, but it held a certain place in my heart so I would go there when all of my other friends would go to the big multiplex down the road. Eventually, it closed down and fell into disrepair. I would sneak inside every once in a while and sit in the darkness and quiet and miss the old days.

Then, when it got too much of an eyesore, they tore it down completely and left nothing but a flat piece of pavement. Maybe they meant to rebuild something on the site but never got around to it.

So I would occasionally sit where the theatre used to be and pretend it was still there. In my mind’s eye, I could see the screen and walls and even smell the popcorn. I was there, occupying the same space as always, but it wasn’t.

That’s the thing about foul balls. If just a few things were different, they could have been Homers.

 

 

Taken from Lance Manion’s book The Song Between Her Legs

 

Pumpkin Man

by[* Dave Fragments*]

 

A breeze blew across Maynard’s Metal Salvage yard. The subsequent drop in temperature was just enough to prevent a barrel from boiling over. Emily relit its fuse; the sun was rising, and they had a lot of work to do.

“Have you got the rat guts?” she asked.

Madison threw them into the mixture.

Ashley coughed so she could get their attention. “I have three dried tails from drowned sewer rats and eight pairs of wings that I stripped from flies that had been caught in a spider web.”

“I got the blood of a dead baboon,” Emily said as she poured dark red blood from a test tube into the can. The pot bubbled and expelled a green cloud, pungent and noxious.

“So much better than the slaughtered pig’s blood.”

“It is diseased. How’d you get it?” Madison asked.

“My sister dates Tommy Turner. He cleans the animal poop at the veterinary hospital. I paid him.”

Emily consulted the Book of Spells. By chance, she found it in an old bookstore. It was well used and dog-eared from various attempts to make magic and mischief. This was Halloween, the night of the Blood Moon. The trio of thirteen-year-old girls had decided to summon a demon.

“The spell needs to be consecrated with a hymn to the Dark Lord,” she said. The three girls uttered rhyming sounds on atonal notes. Nature abhorred the hymn and took notice. Lightning struck the far end of the junkyard and a violent gust of cold air whipped through the stacks of crushed and half-dismembered automobiles. A second cloud of green smoke puffed from the pot.

“Now the sacrificial heart of the old fool,” Emily said.

They picked up old car pieces and banged them together. Maynard, who they called old, was thirty-five and a stoner, working his way through life baked, lazy and addicted to video games. Tending a junkyard was his perfect job. Half awake, he stuck his head from inside the concrete block shack that served as his office and apartment and looked around. He caught sight of the girls and their gallon pot. He walked toward them and shivered; the threadbare t-shirt wouldn’t keep him warm this morning. No problemo, he’d make short work of chasing three tweenie girls.

“You girls better get out of here and high-tail it home before I call the police on you.”

“We’re having a private tea party,” Emily whined her words like a spoiled brat. Maynard, scowling, took his phone out of his pocket.

“I know you, Emily Waters. You don’t get going I got your parents on speed-dial. This junkyard ain’t no place for three little girls to have a tea party or to be in a storm. Now go home, girlies, go now!”

“Tonight our dark servant will cross over and open the gates to demons, spectres, incubus, imps, goblins and djinn,” Emily yelled as she stirred the contents of the gallon can with a stick. It was solidifying into orange clay.

“What the hell are you babbling about? Devils? Halloween’s tonight,” Maynard yelled.

“You will be the first sacrifice to our rule,” Ashley said. She jacked the electric shock on her Taser to ten and shot Maynard. He fell to the ground gagging, convulsing, and passed out. Madison and Ashley tied him to the ground with tent stakes and ropes.

Emily took a ladle filled with the orange clay and formed it into a cup. She cut open his t-shirt and placed the cup on his chest. She filled the cup with a mix of rust, thin strips of magnesium, and match heads.

The trio called down the storm.

“Thunder.”

“Lightning.”

“Wind.”

Emily clicked a welding sparker over the cup. Three sparks and the mixture caught fire. Maynard gained consciousness instantly and struggled with the ropes while staring at the sparking mixture. When he felt the heat on his chest, he realised what it was. He hollered and bucked, but the ropes and clay kept the flaming mixture in place. The magnesium burned hot enough to melt the iron from the rust. The freed oxygen melted the iron. Lightning bolts struck at the five corners of the junkyard, silencing Maynard’s death screams as the mass of molten metal burned into his chest, through his heart and spine, then cooled on the ground beneath him.

Madison covered the top of the clay pot with his blood. The book said that the blood of a man sacrificed against his will would give the clay special powers. Ashley and Emily removed the tent stakes and ropes.

“It’s done. The portal must be cast in private. We’ll need a place to work.” Ashley said, holding the Book of Spells close to her breast. She was to be the virgin wife of the demon they summoned.

“Will my basement do?” Madison asked. “No one will disturb us as my folks are out of town on business.”

The location was perfect because it would give them the freedom to construct a pentagram in secret. This meant that they’d be able to trap their demon without anyone seeing what they were up to.

They took the walking paths through the dozen cul-de-sacs that formed Hidden Valley Estates. No one thought three tween girls carrying a barrel over the boundary from Lark to Middling County was strange, not on Halloween.

 

***

 

Two hundred houses and several tree-filled cul-de-sacs across the developing town, the afternoon sun cast long shadows from the marching band gazebo. Three teenage boys loafing inside plotted the last Halloween adventure of their short lives.

Matt the Brilliant, a year younger than the other boys because his parents pushed him ahead one grade, held up a slingshot and a box of cherry bombs. Their booms would announce his manhood when he launched them off the promontory that overlooked Hidden Valley Estates.

Rory the Lucky snickered.

“I filled my backpack with toilet paper for tonight. Mom almost caught me.” His nickname, Lucky, came about because his birthday was a week before Christmas, always celebrated thanks to his father who’s birthday was four days later.

Tommy Turner sighed. Next year they would enter Hidden Valley Senior High and being sophomores at a Senior High meant growing up and forgetting childish pranks and pursuits.

“I got a problem,” he said. “Missus Merryweather cornered me in front of my Mom this morning, and they agreed I check on Madison tonight.”

“Last summer my parents said that she roasted the Hargitay’s cat on their own grill.” They snickered, pointing to Tommy’s junk.

“That girl wants your balls on a platter.”

“Think fried wiener.”

Tommy turned red. He shrugged off their laughter.

“That’s gossip,” he said. For all of his stunts and clowning, he didn’t rag-out other kids for fun. Matt and Rory knew that and teased him for it. They stuck out their tongues and continued.

“I heard her friend cooked the Smith’s poodle in a Mulligatawny and served it to her family.” More giggles and goofy faces.

“Aw, get out of here.”

“My little sister said that they dance naked in the woods. I’d like to see that,” he snorted and laughed. Tommy didn’t appreciate the joke. He stepped forward, fists closed.

“Your sister’s six, and she’s a little snoop. It wasn’t funny when she caught you kissing Big Esther two weeks ago and spread the rumour that you two did the magic mambo was it? I was the one who told her to shut up or suffer my boot in her little ass,” Tommy said, regretting the admission about threatening a little girl. Matt stood up to Tommy; fist raised.

It wasn’t even humorous.

Matt was still a skinny kid, a head shorter than Tommy and gangly. At one-eighty, six foot and broad-shouldered, Tommy stood taller than half the senior class, but he was gentle and hated rough sports. Although, when he got angry, he could be The Enforcer. Wrestling and football never interested him. He was a strange and unusual kid that acted like a clown, but he was always good-natured and only occasionally moody.

Matt pushed Tommy’s shoulder with one finger.

“I’m only joking, dude. Tonight’s Halloween and I wanna make scare not fight,” he said.

“Yeah,” Tommy stepped away. “I’ll tell you what; meet me in the parking lot of the Won-Ton Grand Buffet in thirty minutes. I’ll check on Madison Merryweather real fast. She’s probably out stealing candies from babies or burning dirty diapers, something like that.”

Matt and Rory snorted a laugh. Tommy went to the door, almost left but halfway through turned back.

“Tomorrow, you can spread the rumour that Madison only thought she bought baboon’s blood, but it was hamster blood. She said she needed it for a magic spell. Tell them the magic backfired and turned her V-J green. That will get her goose, real good.”

They cheered him as he left.

 

***

 

The Merryweather house was up a curved driveway, set well back from the road. White stone, big entry, extravagant draperies visible through divided lights and exquisite landscaping. On the front porch, a large carved pumpkin with an ugly, gap-toothed smile and evil eyes rested on a stuffed shirt and pants. Tommy keyed the electronic code to get into the house, picked up the pumpkin head, and snuck into the house.

“Madison, your check-up call is here,” he yelled.

“I’m okay. Go away!” she yelled from the basement.

Tommy moved quietly to the stairs and put the pumpkin over his head. The three girls sat on the floor backs to the stairs, around them was a charcoal pentagram with black candles burning at the points. They were chanting, or some make believe singing that passed for chanting. Tommy didn’t notice. He crept up behind the sofa and waited for the right time.

“Come, great Beelzebub. Come to the vessel prepared for your arrival,” Emily said. “We ring the bell,” she rang a small brass bell once.

“By the darkening of the candle—”

“Come, Lord of Demons, come,” Ashley said. She rang the bell the second time.

“By the closing of the book—”

“Come!” Madison said.

“BOO!” yelled Tommy, jumping out from behind the sofa.

The girls jumped. Madison dropped the bell. It rang for the third time as it hit the floor. The vibrations opened a gateway. A demon flickered into existence and chose the strongest body in the room. Tommy screamed, grabbed the pumpkin that covered his head and neck. It held fast. He saw anew through narrowed eyes.

Their plan had gone bad so the three girls shrieked.

Tommy was not the chosen one.

They began slapping him, kicking his shins. He jerked from side to side and staggered around the basement. The spell, being imperfect, still summoned a demon from the underworld but did so at the wrong time. It started picking apart Tommy’s mind with the riotous glee reserved for women at a free wedding dress extravaganza.

“What’s happening?” Tommy screamed at the girls.

“{Don’t you know?}” the demon answered in his head.

Ashley tased Tommy. The shock didn’t disable him, but it did make the demon angry.

“You dare attack me?” the demon snarled, grabbing the wires of the Taser.

Blue lightning lit up his hand. He sent the electric charge back to where it came from. Batteries exploded. Pieces of flaming lithium and melted plastic embedded themselves into Ashley’s body. Madison swung one of her father’s golf clubs at Tommy’s arm, thinking to break it before he cast lightning again. The demon caught the golf club, reversed its motion and fractured her skull. She fell to the floor, brains oozing.

The demon laughed like a man who was certain of victory.

He had always enjoyed being in the presence of death.

There was always someone around who was willing to accept it.

“I am your master, demon. Obey me,” Emily yelled from behind him. She emptied her father’s Colt Magnum at the demon. The recoil was too much; bullets flew everywhere, blasting holes in the walls and ricocheting off the brick and concrete. One bullet found Tommy’s back, missed his spine, and blew parts of his heart out of his chest through his sternum. He felt the cold air rush through the hole in the middle of his body as it died. But the demon couldn’t die, neither did Tommy.

Emily tried to run, realizing it took more than a bullet to kill a pissed-off demon. The demon raised its hand and blasted fire at her. Emily panicked, ran into the basement powder room and tried to start the shower. The demon blasted fire from both hands and finished her. The furniture in the basement flamed to the ceiling.

[_{“My body, dead as it is, will burn,”} _]Tommy screamed in panic.

[_{“Your lucky day, because of your sinless stupidity, I cannot haul you to hell. If I return without a soul, they’ll punish me.”} _]The demon ran up the stairs while smoke followed him. As he did, he blasted flames into the rooms he passed and started a conflagration inside the house. He burst through the front door without opening it.

[{“For a demon, you sure are stupid about the world. The neighbours will call the fire company in seconds,”} _]Tommy thought.[ _]

[_{“Like you’re a math whiz? They didn’t breed for brains in Hell. I excel in the rack, autoerotic asphyxiation, liver consumption and garrotting.”} _]

[_{“How to win friends and influence people. You left three dead girls, a house on fire, and me with unexplainable wounds. The police will shoot on sight, and they don’t miss. Run away or end our days in a psychiatric hospital,”} _]Tommy said.

[_{“I don’t know where we are. You got any hiding places genius?”} _]

[_{“Restore me and I’ll tell you.”} _]

{“I’m not that stupid,”} the demon retorted.

Tommy felt his legs shake. He leaned against a tree and steadied his body. In this condition, his body wouldn’t see another sunrise.

{“My friends are waiting,”} Tommy thought, putting an image of the roads to the Won Ton Grand Buffet into his mind. The demon stepped on his bike and rode away. The exit wound on his chest remained visible, along with the pumpkin on his head. People thought it was a truly devilish Halloween costume.

 

***

 

Two hours later with the sun setting behind the Merryweather House, the Volunteer Fire Company doused the final embers. The house burnt hot and fast. They used airline foam from a snorkel truck and two companies to put it down. Chief Tate called it suspicious origin and summoned the County Fire Marshall, a crusty semi-retired fireman. He related what he knew of the fire to the Marshall as they walked through the remains.

“Engine One got here so fast that they heard the smoke detectors. A witness told them there were three girls inside, the Merryweather’s daughter and two friends. There is also no way that candles in the basement caused this fire—too intense, too hot. When I got here, the air seemed on fire. Some accelerant I’ve never seen before. I called the third alarm. The foam suffocated the fire and let the firemen get inside.”

“Did the girls die from the fire or suffocate?” the Fire Marshall asked.

“The medical examiner hasn’t seen the bodies yet.”

“Take a deep breath and tell me what you smell,” the Fire Marshall said. Chief Tate did as he asked. He identified burnt wood, burnt belongings, and burnt flesh, nothing else.

“All accelerants leave a smell,” the Fire Marshall said.

“And no accelerant rules out arson.”

“I didn’t say that.” The Fire Marshall pointed to a standing portion of the house. “Look at those walls. See those scorch marks. Something literally blasted fire down the halls, up the stairs. No accidental fire leaves marks like that. No, this was something different. Someone deliberately burnt this house and they did it without gasoline or chemicals.” He looked around.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Chief Tate said.

The Fire Marshall dropped his voice to a whisper.

“Sense? You think this is the first time I’ve ever seen scorch marks like this? This is what flamethrowers do. They use napalm. Although, it’s not been that effective in this case as half the house has been left untouched. The reason an arsonist uses a flamethrower is because they want to achieve total destruction,” the Fire Marshal said.

Chief Tate took him to the back of the house to get access to the basement. He stared through the broken glass door. Vestiges of the pentagram were still visible, and one of the fire-fighters tagged the Colt Magnum.

“We found it under one of the bodies,” the fireman said. The Fire Marshall didn’t give it any weight.

“In my opinion, one person torched this house to cover three murders.”

“You just said that this wasn’t arson,” Chief Tate said, frustrated.

“I’m not done with my examination. Today is a full moon and Halloween. Normally, I get called out on piddly crap—fireworks burning roofs, deep fryers boiling over, blown fingers, people with third-degree sparkler burns. All sorts of piddly crap. Piddly, diddly, diddly… crap. This fire is a puzzle and not the first of the day. I had a dead junkyard owner burn himself to death with thermite this morning.”

“Maynard Keegan?” Chief Tate’s voice was loud, causing heads to turn.

“Ay-yup, that young Fire Marshal over in Media County, Storge, called about lunch time. Full of questions and wanted answers just like you. It seems Keegan ignited some thermite he was handling. Burnt right through him. Storge said he had been giving Keegan warnings about using thermite to weld steel for months. He wanted to know on the spot if it was murder, suicide, or something else. I told him that Maynard, the fool, was probably making fireworks again. You and I both know that Maynard Keegan wasn’t the brightest bulb when it came to safety.”

“How do you ignite Thermite by mistake?” Chief Tate wondered.

“Smoke marijuana while you’re mixing the ingredients.”

Chief Tate waved a fireman out of the basement so they could be alone.

“Keegan aside, there’s too many accidentally’s going on for one Halloween. You do this report tonight without speculating about the cause and deliver it only to me. I want to keep this quiet.”

“Gladly, it will be on your desk by 10 pm.” Tomorrow morning, the Fire Marshall would dump the matter onto the Chief of Detectives and go home. Nobody would be able to force an investigation. He watched as the Fire Marshall examined the scene. He was sloppy, careless. His report would whitewash the arson aspects of the fire.

After the Fire Marshall had left, a fireman discovered the Taser pieces inside Ashley. A second fireman found the half-burnt Book of Spells with its strange cursive lettering. In Chief Tate’s hands, the symbols changed to words—profane, banned and interdicted words that should never see the light of day. He waited for the last firemen to leave and had the police post a guard. He took one final look at Maddie’s basement and spoke not to the living, but for the dead.

“What have you three done?” he whispered. Then he went on patrol. He knew that someone or something killed three girls and burnt the house to hide. If he could find the cause tonight, he had a chance to dispatch it back to Hell.

 

***

 

Shortly before midnight, Zombie Rory and Carnage Matt sat on a stone table destined to become the ten-foot tall stele for Phase 7 of Hidden Valley Estates. Bags of candy waited while they split bars from apples and other treats.

Matt pulled the Carnage mask off his head and wiped the sweat from his face and hair.

“I’ll never wear that again,” he said.

“I told you, just use makeup. It just takes soap and water,” Zombie Rory said.

“Makes my skin break out. Last year, I had zits till Christmas. Boy was Mommy mad.”

Tommy and his pumpkin head were a big hit with the kids, but he was jumpy, nervous. He knew the book hadn’t been destroyed, and someone could use it to track him. He stared in the direction of the Merryweather house. No fire, flashing lights or police cars.

“I don’t think we should set off any firecrackers. I saw three firetrucks, Chief Tate’s big SUV, and the Fire Marshall’s car headed that way. They won’t like fireworks tonight,” Tommy said.

“Some kids said it was arson.”

“Mommy said it was the Merryweather house that burnt. We aren’t going to get in trouble are we?” Rory worried too much that his parents disapproved of everything.

“I told them that it happened after I saw Madison. Remember that. If anyone asks you, I saw Madison hours before the fire,” the demon reinforced the lie. Rory and Matt a buttress to his lie.

The demon felt no shame for lying to anyone, especially not Rory and Matt. He made sure that they told everyone who could hear that he visited the Merryweather house before the fire, that the girls were fine, that they weren’t burning candles or anything else. He covered the lie with the excuse that he needed time to put the fake gunshot on his back and chest.

{“These boys are weak,”} the demon within said to Tommy. It feared death and that puzzled Tommy.

[_{“They won’t snitch. Not while we wear this way-way, too-too cool fake gunshot wound. Tomorrow, we can run.”} _]

{“They are children who will reveal everything. At midnight, Death will come and take the dead. We need to heal and not stink of death. I did not escape Hell for eternal oblivion. I promise not to touch them.”}

This was a deal with a demon. He didn’t understand the consequences and didn’t want to understand. He felt the demon take complete control of his body and scan the horizon for whoever was tracking them.

“Don’t eat my share of the candy,” the demon said to Rory and Matt.

“No way,” Rory picked up Tommy’s bag and tossed it to Tommy’s feet. The demon turned the pumpkin head around, so its eyes faced backwards. He leaned backwards and pretended to find the bag.

Matt and Rory weren’t impressed.

“Eat your candy and quit being a jerk. You got the most because you made a scary costume. Big deal,” Matt said.

“Word dude, you don’t scare us,” Rory said.

“You want me to be really scary?” the demon said.

“Grow up, will ya!”

Tommy, stuck inside his brain realized what the demon was going to do. He tried to warn his friends, but the demon wouldn’t let him. They were alone, no tracking spell, no hidden watcher, an audience of two.

The demon bent forward, hid his face, and removed the pumpkin head followed by the blood-stained t-shirt. When the demon turned to face Rory and Matt, its demonic visage blazed where Tommy’s head should have been.

This, the lowest of all demons, wore the face of despair. It wasn’t the face of a malformed man with horns and reptilian skin, but a face from Hell that caused flesh to burn with boils and allowed diseases to rot the body from inside to out. And its voice, the sound fractured human senses—eyes went blind, ears bled, pain cracked their bones. Frozen with pain, Rory and Matt screamed. The demon reached out its hand and took the life force draining from their bodies. Their flesh was turning to ash, bone crumbling to dust. The bullet wound in Tommy’s chest healed.

As gentle as human-Tommy was, his demon-possessed body swaggered for the first time in its short life, flexed big muscles, felt its strong chest and abs, gloried in being six foot, one-eighty pounds. With this body, he could be the cock of the rock, confident, ruthless.

Inside, though, Tommy broke seeing the death of his friends. He lost the will to go on and sank toward nothingness. The demon was not about to lose his earthly knowledge. He had to bring Tommy back to the world of the living.

[_{“Why do you act so weak willed and uncertain? Your body is magnificent. We will live long, you and I. I would rather enjoy this world than delight in the suffering of the damned in Hell,”} _]it thought to Tommy.

{“We can’t keep killing people. No one can kill every day and get away with it. The police will find us. You can’t stop bullets without attracting an army of cops. They have snipers. They have bombs weapons. We’ll both die.”}

[_{“This boy doesn’t want to kill as much as he doesn’t want to be dead. I must adjust me and not him,”} _]the demon thought to himself, forgetting that Tommy could hear his thoughts. Human be damned. There was much in this world that the other demons never spoke about. The demon was so low on the pecking order that it knew only pain. There was no birth, no death, no friend, nothing of joy in its life until now. The children trick or treating enjoyed the frivolous scares of his pumpkin head and his supposedly fake injury and Tommy, who he believed weak and insignificant, took great joy in their happiness.

This body hungered.

Now was a good time to sit down and let time pass. He let Tommy share control of their body. The gratitude was a new emotional experience for the demon. He blew away the dust of two bodies away from the stone slab and sat next to the candy. They ate, one for the first time in its long life. Two minds shared the pleasures of chocolate and sugar, soft drinks, marshmallow and more chocolate.

[_{“The other demons never spoke of pleasure like this. They only took joy in the pain of the damned. I was to rip flesh and then let Death do his thing. That’s why I took the opportunity to leave. What is this jerking off thing that gives you such pleasure and worry?”} _]the demon thought.

[_{“You’re cute when you’re confused, dude, but beyond bad when you kill,”} _]Tommy thought.

They shared a chuckle.

A foot stepped too loud behind him. They turned, and Chief Tate held a gun to Tommy’s head. Demon and human shared a single thought.

{“Shit!”}

“Tommy Turner, you are under arrest for the murder of the three girls that died in the Merryweather house. I have the book. I know those girls tried to summon something evil. I think you have been possessed by whatever they brought to earth, so, please, don’t give me an excuse to shoot you.”

“Why would I kill three girls?” the demon spoke in Tommy’s voice.

“I don’t know, but you did.”

“Be careful with those accusations. I’m bigger than you.” This was the demonic solution. I’m bigger go away or suffer. Tommy screamed inside their shared head.

{“Don’t kill him. Don’t make me kill again,”} Tommy begged.

{“He reacts with fear and uncertainty. We need only stand and watch.”}

The Demon looked up to the sky and said words and images that neither Tommy nor the Chief understood.

“He comes, sir. Meet him well,” Tommy found himself saying.

Above them, a black shape coalesced. They felt it before they could see it—blacker than the black of night. It came from nothing, was nothing. It made the air writhe and swirl as it took form and substance; a white bone, a hood, a long robe, skeletal hands, and scythe. It spoke with a comforting, angelic voice to Chief Tate:

“Each man’s fate is known to Death. Tearful is the Day of Judgement when men return to the ashes from whence they came.”

Time stopped. Chief Tate saw his past, present, and future. Cold gripped his body. The rhythms of life ceased. The authorities would find him dead of a heart attack.

Tommy did not seek to see Death or know his mind. The demon made him bow low, prostrate before the great black shape hovering before them.

“Great Death, Son of Night and Dark, Leveller of Worlds, Master of all Creation, your visit was presaged in this Book of Spells. It changes fate and is wrong. Take it to the Void where it will not violate your dictates. We give you thanks for this blessing,” the demon said.

The sky cleared, and the stars twinkled once again. A church bell rang the midnight tellers and All Hallow’s Eve became the Feast of All Saints. A day that was sanctified by heaven and earth in the remembrance of souls gone from this life.

Tommy Turner disappeared from Hidden Valley Estates but whispered rumours remained. Rumors of three girls who cast spells, killed a man, freed a demon and made three boys vanish. Perhaps this was nothing but an errant vision, a bad dream, a night mist. It happened, after all, on Halloween.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retrovirus

by[* Sean P. Chatterton*]

 

The ringing phone distracted John from the talk show host on the radio. He pressed the phone answer button on his steering wheel, which automatically muted the radio and put his mobile phone on hands-free.

“John here.”

“John, can you come home, please.” John recognised the voice of his wife, Lynn.

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

“The military police are here. There’s been an incident.”

“On my way.”

John ended the call then called his office, his secretary Victoria answered.

“Vicky, can you cancel all my appointments.”

“You have James Syndon-Smythe MP at two O’clock. It’s a really important budget meeting, are you sure you want to cancel that one?”

“Damn, I’d forgotten about that snob. I’ll get back to you as soon as I find out about the current situation. Anything else I need to worry about?”

“Nope, just the usual.”

“Okay, I’ll call back in an hour or so to confirm my two o’clock.”

 

***

 

John heard the crunch of the gravel under his black BMW’s wheels as he left the road and entered his drive. The short drive back to Surrey to get to his home had taken him a lot less than the hour and a half it had taken him to get to his office. As he approached the house, he could see the military police car parked near the front door. John pulled up behind it.

Exiting his parked car, John grabbed his Nokia mobile phone from the blue tooth hands-free set and put it into silent mode. John didn’t make it to the burgundy door before it was flung open. Lynn stood inside the door, the look on her face confirmed what he feared. Lynn led John to the drawing room, where he saw two uniformed military police officers, one young man, military rigid, and an older man with greying hair with a more relaxed manner. Lynn introduced John to the two officers and went to make some tea.

“Can you confirm that you are John Cartwright, Lieutenant Colonel, retired, now military liaison for the advanced weaponry division?” asked the young man rather formally.

“Yes, I am. Who are you?”

“I am Lance Corporal Nigel Benson, this is Staff Sergeant Paul Ross, sir,” he replied.

“What’s such a problem that you come to my home rather than my office?”

This time the older man, Staff Sergeant Paul Ross, spoke.

“There’s been an incident in Forss underground bunker, section seventeen.”

“Section seventeen?”

“Yes sir, that one.”

Lynn returned with a tray that had a teapot, cups, and biscuits laid out on it.

“Tell me what’s happened up in Bonnie Scotland.”

 

***

 

“Steve, don’t go that close to the bars, mate.”

“Why not? These things have been docile for years. I haven’t even seen them shuffle around in my eighteen months on this god forsaken assignment.”

The two squaddies were dressed in the regular army issue fatigues. Both were armed with SA80’s. The black painted steel bars went from floor to ceiling and behind them, in the shadows, were what looked like rotten corpses. The corpses were all in Second World War German uniforms, which showed all of their seventy plus years of age.

“I still wouldn’t get close to them, you never know if you can catch it.”

“Catch what for fuck’s sake. These things are dead and have been for fucking ages.”

For all his bravado, Steve was only slowly edging towards the bars. The dim lighting didn’t entirely illuminate the cell, and he couldn’t quite make out how many there were in there.

“How many are there?” he asked.

“Dunno mate, Sarge said there are about two dozen of them.”

“There can’t be that many, Graham? They must have started eating each other.”

By now Steve had edged within a foot of the bars, and there was still no movement. He peered through to see if he could count the apparently dead German soldiers standing stationary. He thought he could see something a little further back. He couldn’t quite make it out in this poor light, so he crept forward until he was touching the bars. Yes, there was definitely something…

Graham cried out as he saw the German soldiers move forward as one and grab Steve. Multiple hands grabbed Steve and pulled him tight against the bars. He screamed in panic. The sheer force of the number of hands pulled his head and arms, and then his legs through the bars. The German soldiers started biting into his flesh, ripping chunks of uniform and flesh from him. As they tore at him and ripped him to pieces, he screamed in abject terror until a bite ripped out his throat, and he could scream no more. Then they had pulled his entire bloodied torso through and into the cell, they ate him, noisily…

Graham emptied his magazine into them, and it had no effect, it didn’t even slow them down. In a moment of blind panic, he forgot to press the emergency button before he ran upstairs.

 

***

 

“Ahh, so some stupid prat of a soldier got himself eaten. What’s that got to do with me?” asked John.

Staff Sergeant Paul Ross shook his head, “That prat as you call him was a bloody good soldier. He just got careless that’s all. But the issue is that they have been agitated since they fed. The boss wants to know what we should do now?”

“I told them to fill both the lift shaft and stairwell with concrete when I first became aware of the issue twenty odd years ago. They are a liability. We shouldn’t be studying them; we should be burying them, and burying them bloody deep.”

“The boss wants to know if you can come to an emergency meeting this afternoon?”

“I’m supposed to be meeting James Syndon-Smythe MP at two o’clock to discuss the defence department research budget. I think that’s a tad more important. If you can pick me up from my office after that, I’ll happily come, will that be okay?”

“Sorry, the boss is a bit more insistent than that. We need to leave now.”

 

***

 

Shaking John’s hand as he walked into the office, Julian Hallows greeted John.

“Ah, John, glad you could make it. Did you have a good flight?”

“Don’t soft-soap me, Julian; you didn’t give me much of a choice about coming up to Scotland on a wet Tuesday.”

The two military police officers had escorted John from his home to Biggin Hill airbase where he had boarded an unmarked military helicopter and brought here to the Forss base in Scotland. He was less than impressed but understood the potential severity of the situation clearly.

“Well, this is important. The German soldiers in section seventeen are active again. We’d like an idea of how long it will before they settle down again.” Julian said.

“From memory the last time we fed them a cow they took about six months to go into a dormant state. So given that a squaddie is less than half a cows mass, I’d estimate two to three months. But why on earth fly me up here to ask a question that could have been asked over the phone?” John replied.

“Please sit, John, I have some interesting news for you.”

John sat at the table, and Julian’s valet brought them both a drink of tea, asking if John would like some sugar, which he declined.

“What’s the research team done?” asked John.

“There is a new young, bright spark that thinks he has isolated the ‘virus’ that keeps the dead animated. He thinks…”

John interrupted, “Now stop there. This is bloody dangerous. I read the report from when these things were discovered at the end of the Second World War. They wiped out a battalion of our troops, a battalion for goodness sake. We should be burning their rotten corpses in hell, not studying them.” John waved his arms around in a very animated fashion as he said this.

“We might be able to weaponise this.”

***

 

“Mark, can you come and look at this.”

“Sure, what is it, Peter?”

Dressed in a white lab coat and blue jeans Mark walked over to Peter, who was dressed the same.

Pointing to the electronic microscope Peter said, “The blood from the test subject is alive. I thought you said they were corpses?”

“Ah, yes, corpses, yes,” replied Mark as he looked into the ‘scope.

Mark looked at the puce yellow platelets and saw them move slowly.

“That’s what I am looking for,” he said.

Peter looked at Mark, “Is there something you’re not telling me?”

“Undead German soldiers.”

“What?”

“The scary movie word is zombies.”

What?” exclaimed Peter.

“At the end of World War Two, a group of German soldiers wiped out a huge amount of allied troops, they ate them all.”

“Don’t give me this horror story rubbish, what’s really going on? This is seriously strange stuff, even for this place.”

Mark walked over to his bench and picked up a grey folder. He thrust it out to Peter, “Read this.”

Peter opened the folder and read through it. In it, it detailed about the German panzer division discovered in North Africa. No records of how they were ‘infected’ have been found, but they appeared to be dead, but somehow the corpses were animated, still active, alive even. When they were finally subdued the British secret military division didn’t destroy them by fire, which was apparently the only thing that destroyed the undead, but chose to take them back to a top secret research facility in Scotland.

When they feed on any kind of meat, raw and preferably still living, they became animated and in a state of constant frenzy. When they didn’t feed for a long time, they became dormant until they got the chance to snatch some food. In the seventy-six years since their discovery none shown any signs of decomposing, they remained a constant state of rottenness. This defied explanation, as also what kept them animated and hungry.

Peter couldn’t believe what he had read. When his lab superior, Mark, had asked him to join a new project in the Bio-Weapons Division, he had never suspected anything like this. When he had finished, he said, “This is the stuff of horror stories. What are we supposed to be doing with this?”

Mark put down his cup of coffee. Looking at Peter sincerely.

“The dead Germans have been studied by many, many smart men, but I believe they started from the wrong premise. They were working with the idea that these are the dead, animated or cursed soldiers. I think they are soldiers who have been subjected to an advanced virus or a 1940s bioweapon.”

Peter nodded almost absently. Mark continued.

“I have had one separated and brought here to study, don’t worry he can’t escape. I took this sample by cutting in this flesh. He didn’t bleed, but this yellow substance is, what I think passes for his blood, did ooze a bit.”

Peter went to the coffee machine and got himself a fresh drink, he picked it out of the machine, his hand still shaking, “Okay, what’s next?”

 

***

 

John finished reading the dossier about the discovery in the lab. The German soldiers weren’t dead but infected with a virus, for which there were no records in the German, or British archives.

Julian waited for him to finish before starting to speak.

“The boys back at the lab have isolated the virus that keeps the German’s undead. They have done further research, something that you might be interested in.”

“Such as?” Asked John, leaning forward, clearly interested now.

“Using lab rats with various physical defects, it appears the virus, which we now call the UD virus, short for undead, basically re-wrote the rats DNA and cured the rats of their defects.”

“But made them undead in the process?”

“Well yes, there is that. But the boys back at the lab said they can solve that one.”

“I don’t like this Julian,” said John shaking his head. “What if word gets out? What if it mutates?”

“The top brass want to see if it can be weaponized.”

“How do you weaponize something you can’t control? Good God man, if we infect our enemies’ troops, we can’t just hope they only eat each other. They’ll come after us; they could eat our own troops. It’s the reason that Bio-Warfare is so damn dangerous.”

“The lab boys think they have an answer.”

 

***

 

Peter was scanning through the prep sheets for the day’s experiment with the UD virus. It had taken them several months, but they had finally isolated it in the undead blood and were now retro-making it. The tests with the lab rats had gone well. All the tested on rats were incinerated after the testing. They weren’t allowed to live for more than twenty-four hours, so there was no chance of cross contamination.

“Morning, Peter,” said Mark as he strolled into the lab his usual ten minutes late.

“Morning. I’ve read through the test prep today. The test subject is a human, is that correct?”

“Yes. A retired soldier has volunteered for this.”

“Surely he knows that he won’t survive?”

“He does, but he is willing to give it a go. He has advanced Alzheimer’s and doesn’t want to live in a sick body.”

“I don’t see how…”

“Let me explain,” interrupted Mark. “In the lab rats we see the UD virus re-writing the rats DNA and curing physical issues. I think that the UD virus might well re-write neural pathways. If it does, then we need to know how to re-write the virus to work on the living. Think of the medical benefits if this works.”

“Okay, still not sure if I’m happy with using a man, though.” Peter looked gravely concerned. “Mark, I know you treat anything you experiment on as you would a lab rat, but this is a man for God’s sake.”

Mark ignored him, picked up the desk phone and dialled the number to the west wing. He requested that the test subject to be brought through.

“This man volunteered, that is enough for me.”

“You heartless bastard,” Peter shouted at Mark.

“Someone has to do this work, Peter; I intend to be that someone. I intend to make this work, and in doing so, make a name for myself. You can either be a part of this or leave now.” Mark’s voice was cold, determined. His eyes gave him an utterly focussed look.

Peter stood looking at him, clenching and unclenching his fists. “I’ll do it,” he said finally through gritted teeth.

Ten minutes later an elderly man in a wheelchair was wheeled in. The orderly who brought him in asked Mark to sign the handover form, which he did.

“Private.” He checked his name on the sheet. “Private Miller, before we go any further, I want you to acknowledge that what we do to you today will almost certainly kill you. Even if it doesn’t we won’t be able to let you go, and we may have to give you a lethal injection, do you understand.”

Private Miller nodded and mumbled something not comprehendible. The orderly gave Mark a document; he looked at it and read that it was a legal affidavit signing away the private’s rights.

Confirming the same thing a second time, Private Miller nodded again. Mark was as certain as he could be. He might be heartless as Peter had just called him, but he was a scientist first and foremost. He wheeled him into the isolation room and returned to Peter, who had prepared the syringe with the pale yellow fluid.

Returning to the isolation room, Mark said a quick and quiet prayer over Private Miller, unheard by Peter, then injected the contents of the syringe into the man’s right arm. He moved quickly out of the isolation room and sealed the airtight door, and pressed the large red button, which put the lab on amber alert.

Mark had barely got to the viewing window before the private was thrashing around wildly. Mark watched on while Peter’s face remained ambivalent. A minute later, Private Miller was out of the chair and writhing around on the floor, screaming in agony. He lasted another ten minutes before ceasing all movement.

He lay still for a few moments before standing, turning to stare at Mark and Peter through a six inch thick reinforced plate glass observation window. The two of them could see the privates’ eyes had gone completely yellow. His skin had the grey hue of a corpse, but interestingly, there looked to be intelligence behind the man’s eyes. He stood there and just stared at Peter and Mark before howling and throwing himself at the glass trying to get to them, his teeth bared.

 

***

 

John stirred his third cup of tea slowly, thinking. He was very worried about this latest development. The fact that two very clever chaps in R and D and isolated the UD virus wasn’t in itself frightening. Knowing the military as he did, he wasn’t even surprised about the tests on human test subjects either. But what worried him was the top brass were considering turning this vile abuse of nature into a weapon. He wondered if this was how Einstein had felt when he had helped design the atomic bomb. This was more than a weapon of mass destruction; it was worse, much, much worse.

“A penny for your thoughts John,” asked Julian.

“This is a mistake, Julian. I feel it in my bones; it’s a bloody huge mistake.”

The phone rang, Julian picked up, and he spoke for a few minutes then put it back down again.

“It appears that the presentation is now ready,” he said.

“What presentation?” asked John, surprised.

“Something that might put your mind at rest.”

 

***

 

Julian led John through to another building. As they entered the small room, Julian pressed a concealed button by the door and the entire room started descending. Julian watched his old colleague and wondered if he might come round after seeing the presentation.

When they reached their floor, a chime sounded. Julian opened the door to a brightly lit corridor. Julian led John to another door a hundred feet down the corridor and swiped his security card in the card reader for this door to open. Inside was the lab John had read about in the reports.

Julian introduced John to Peter and Mark. He asked Mark to talk John through the demonstration.

 

***

 

After speaking to Julian, Mark hung up the phone.

“Peter, Julian’s bringing the chap for us to show him the UD anti-virus demonstration. Can you fetch the German soldier and put him in the isolation room, please?”

Peter walked through the isolation room and out the other side to fetch the infected German soldier. Using a motorised trolley, he brought a stainless steel vertical container a little larger than a coffin.

Through the glass front, he could see the dormant soldier strapped to the back of it. He placed him in the middle of the room with the glass front facing the observation glass. Peter then moved a small stainless table with a robotic arm to the front offside of the container and put a vial in the syringe that it already held. Once done, he returned to the second door and sealed it, pressing the blue button to activate the deadlocks, before exiting the room and sealing that door behind him.

The green light flashed above the room’s entrance door, and two men entered. Mark said good afternoon to Julian, who introduced John Cartwright, a retired Lieutenant Colonel.

“What am I here to see?” he asked Mark.

“We have developed a retrovirus, a cure even, which eliminates the UD virus from the host. Julian thought that you might like to see it in action.”

Hesitantly he replied, “Okay, show me.”

Mark went to his console and punched in a command. The glass fronted door on the stainless steel container opened. He punched in another command, and the robotic arm swung around, and the syringe injected the still dormant German soldier. Once the syringe was fully drained, Mark punched a button to make it return to its ready position.

Slowly, the colour returned to the German soldier’s skin. It took several minutes but eventually the German soldier just looked like he was asleep standing up.

Mark watched as the soldier’s eyes snapped open, and he looked in complete terror before shouting, “Bitte lassen. Sie mich sterben.”

He shouted this twice before slumping back, still held by the restraints in the container.

“Shit,” said John, slowly, utterly incredulous at what he had just witnessed.

 

***

 

Back in Julian’s office, John was astounded. He couldn’t quite believe the day that he had.

“What exactly do you need me for Julian? You look like you have this well under control. I still have my doubts, but Peter and Mark have done brilliant work.”

“Now that you have seen the results, I want to explain how the top brass see how this UD virus can be used. Not to infect our enemies. But to infect our soldiers, we drop them behind the enemy lines, and when they have done their job, we give them the retrovirus to make them un-undead. What do you think?”

Shaking his head, John said, “I don’t know what to say, I really don’t. I still feel that this is wrong, so very wrong.”

“Top Brass are keen on this. Another cup of tea?”

“Something stronger please, especially after what I have just seen.”

Julian waved to his valet who fetched a decanter of scotch from the side, with two glasses then brought them over to Julian and Mark.

As the valet poured two glasses, for the first time John looked at him properly, his eyes had a strong yellow tint.

“Oh, I forgot to introduce my valet. John, meet Private Miller.”

 

 

The Uncanny Affection

by[* JA Torres*]

 

It was an old abandoned theatre. It stood in-between coffee shops, clothing stores, and fast food restaurants. The entrance to the theatre was gated by a stainless steel fence. It had a large ‘for lease’ sign in the front that looked as if it was ready to fall to the floor at any moment.

Max remembered this theatre. He used to watch discounted movies there almost every weekend. Now, he stood in front of the theatre and took out a white note card that read:

 

Max, meet me at La Arcadia theatre on Pacific Avenue just after eleven-thirty at night. I need to talk to you about an urgent matter that can’t be settled over the phone.

Sincerely,

[_-A.M. _]

[_ _]

Max had no idea who A.M. was. He wished the individual had left some contact information so he could have gotten the chance to tell her or him that today was no good for him. He was to start work in a few hours at three in the morning. However, a curiosity had swept over him, and he found himself in the location.

“I’m here!” he said quite aloud to an empty entranceway behind the gated fence.

There was no life behind the fence, and he felt an urge of anger rising in him. This was a practical joke, he thought.

Max began to take his leave and walked towards the corner from where he came. At the turn of the corner, he was suddenly struck with nostalgia. He remembered there was an alleyway that served as an emergency exit from the theatre. The price for a movie became expensive as his college education began. He was on a budget, but friends of his found an alternative way to see movies and consequently began sneaking into the movie theatre through the emergency exit since the doors were always slightly ajar. No one ever said anything, nor were they ever caught, but it them question their morals.

“That must be the way in,” Max said to himself in a low voice so no one would see him talk out loud to himself, but no soul seemed to be in sight.

He jumped over a gated fence and made his way up some stairs towards an unlocked door. Max began to think if this was a challenge made by the person who placed the note in his mailbox. He went inside and took in the theatre surroundings. There was dim lighting within the theatre, and some things were visible. The curtains were red and covered the huge movie screen. The seats were covered in dust and spider webs. The floors reeked of urine and were sticky. He noticed someone sitting in the middle seat three rows towards the top of the theatre. It was a woman he discovered once he had gotten closer.

“Take the seat next to me,” she announced as she pointed to the seat to her left looking at Max.

“I guess you’re the one that called for me?” he said as he followed her orders.

“Yes. It’s good to see you, Max.”

“How do you know who I am? Who are you? And what am I doing in this dump?”

“This was your favourite theatre. You told me so yourself years ago when we used to date in our college days. Have you forgotten about me already?” she said as she turned around with a smile.

Max looked closer at her complexion. This woman was beautiful. She had tan skin, black hair, with glasses that looked as if they were a bit too big for her small pupils.

She had a set of straight white teeth that went eloquently with her small red lips that shone in the dim lighting. Her face was small, her nose was short and kind of pointy, and her eyes were a dark brown that wouldn’t leave his eyesight. She wore a dark blue flannel with checker shapes on them. Underneath her flannel shirt, she had a black tank top that bore her medium size breasts.

He had no idea who this woman was. He tried hard to remember, but his mind couldn’t produce any results. Max smiled back at her and admitted that he couldn’t remember who she was.

“That is a tragedy. I remember you, even after all these years. The last words you said to me were, ‘I hope to see you when I get back.’”

“That doesn’t sound like me. If you did play an important part in my life, I would have never left without saying goodbye. We would have kept in touch. Unless, I didn’t want you in my life, and this was the reason I can’t remember you.”

“You had the biggest crush on me. You devoted your love to me on a hot September night. I had left to visit my family. You were alone, without me, for three whole months. Upon my return, I purposely ignored your calls or any sort of message that was directed my way from you.

“Then you found me. I was hoping you would find me since I wouldn’t cave in and look for you. You said you were visiting a friend that day, but I knew you were lying. That’s when we had our talk about us,” she said turning over to look at Max.

He was incredulous. He didn’t turn to look at her. He looked at the red curtains a few feet away and wondered if they were going to open anytime soon so a movie could be shown, and he would be saved from continuing this conversation.

“You’re Atiya,” Max finally said.

“Now do you remember?”

He did. Max remembered everything about Atiya from the beginning of their first meeting in a Thursday evening Oceanography class to his dropping her off at her apartment on the last day their class. He had revealed his love for her but was only returned with an answer of no.

It hurt him. He pretended to let his feelings for her go and agreed that the both of them should remain friends. He tried but with time his feelings would not turn off. He began to sink into his own dark oblivion where his only temporary cures came from voluminous amounts of alcohol, cocaine, cigarettes, and the occasional one-night stand. He was then prescribed anti-depressants, but they were of no use to him since he mixed them with his usual routine of cheap beer.

Max’s only solution, according to his psychologist, was to see that time would erase all thoughts of her. He deleted her number, her pictures, threw away her books, and ultimately decided to leave town. This was four years ago. Now Atiya was back, and Max had no idea how to handle this.

“How did you find me?”

“That is of no importance. What is important is why I brought you here in the first place.”

She stood up and took Max’s hand. Her hand felt warm and welcoming.

She led him down to where the huge red curtains were in place. She pushed through them until she found a small gap to go through. They went in, and Max found an elderly man chained by his neck to the wall. The old man was hitting his forehead against the wooden wall. There was plenty of blood dripping from his forehead and falling on his clothes and down to the floor.

The old man turned around.

“Water. Will you please get me some water?” the old man said with a weak voice.

“I’ll get you your water, just give me another hour,” Atiya said as she approached the old man and slammed his face against the wall.

The old man fell to his knees and did not move.

“What’s wrong with you? What is this?” Max said in a frightened voice.

“I need you to kill him.”

“Why? Are you sure you’re the Atiya I used to love?”

“Max, I really need your help, please. I just need you to put him out of his misery. You’ll be doing him a favour.”

“It looks as if you’ve already put him out of his misery,” Max said looking over at the motionless old man.

“He keeps waking up. I’ve beaten him several times in the past two days only to find him whining, pissing, and shitting himself.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“At times for science, and at other times for fun,” she said, smiling.

“I can’t help you, Atiya. I need to go.”

“I’ll be here tomorrow if you change your mind,” Max heard her say as he opened the emergency door to the cold and darkness of the outside world.

 

***

 

“Where were you, Max?” said a female voice as Max shut the door behind him. He turned on a lamp that was on his desk and took a seat.

“Max. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. I’m sorry I didn’t call you. I didn’t mean to worry you, but I ran into an old lover,” he said while touching the hand of his girlfriend who took a seat next to him.

“An old lover? What are you talking about?”

“Jenny, it isn’t at all like that. I love you. This girl was the reason I choose to move up north, where I met you.”

“Do you want her back?” Max’s girlfriend said.

“No.”

“Your response wasn’t very convincing.”

“I’m sorry, Jenny. I don’t know what to think of her.”

“She obviously hurt you, Max. What else is there to think about?”

“She didn’t hurt me intentionally.”

“You let yourself get hurt. Don’t do it again,” Jenny said as she kissed her boyfriend goodnight.

Within a few hours, Max prepared himself to go to work. He didn’t get any sleep. Atiya was all he had in his mind.

When he had made love to his girlfriend Jenny a few hours previously, he imagined the naked body of his former crush. He had been obsessed with her for so long. It took him four years to forget and now that she was back he knew if he missed this opportunity he would never get another chance to see her again. He didn’t drive to his usual route towards his job.

He drove to the old movie theatre.

 

***

The relationship between the two of them developed over the next month.

Max left his girlfriend. Atiya was all that mattered to him. It was what had always mattered to him but was hidden deep inside of him.

He did as he was told.

Atiya would bring men and women to the theatre and would ask Max to either kill them or take certain organs from their bodies. What first began as something that terrified Max with disgust and regret came to be something that he took pride in. He loved to kill. It was as if she was testing him so as to ascertain how much he truly loved her.

His love for her was so excruciating that the words alone were beyond meaning.

Fall season had come to an end. Max’s relationship with Atiya was uncanny, but he believed an uncanny affection towards someone was better than no affection. Max arrived on a Tuesday evening. He made his usual way through the gated fence and up the stairs to the unlocked emergency door. He gave Atiya a welcome kiss and both converse for a bit until she told him it was time to get to work. They both went through the curtain and to Max’s surprise his friend, Juan, was tied to a wooden table.

“Juan?” Max said in the form of a question. His friend didn’t speak. His mouth was covered with duct tape.

“I want his heart,” she said handing him a knife.

“What did he do?”

“Max, will you please get me your friend’s heart!”

“His heart? For what? No! He is my friend. I can’t do that to him Atiya,” he said throwing the knife and heading to Juan’s table. He took the duct tape off his friend’s mouth then proceeded to untie his arms and legs.

“Oh, thank you, Max. That girl is crazy,” Juan said as soon as his right arm became loose.

“I agree, Juan. I see it all now. I thought she loved me, but she only used me. You used me, Atiya! Why?” Max said untying the legs of his friend.

“If you don’t want to help me, Max, someone else will,” she said as she slowly approached the two men at the far corner of the theatre stage.

Max finished untying Juan’s leg. His friend got off the table and gave his saviour a hug. Juan began to cry while simultaneously laughing menacingly.

“Thank you, Max. I owe you my life. You are my best friend, but alas, if you won’t help Atiya then I will,” Juan said while picking up a knife that he then pushed through Max’s abdomen.

He felt a surge of pain and after the fourth penetration, he couldn’t feel anything.

He fell to the floor, shaken at first but quickly became motionless. He looked at his friend standing over him saying something that was inaudible to Max. He saw Atiya now. She stood next to Juan, and they shared a kiss.

She looked down at Max and spoke, but Max couldn’t make out her words. Max’s life slowly began to drift. He felt it. He felt his heart beating at a slower rate than usual. He was surprised that it was beating at all. He never paid much attention to it until now.

“You want to do it? Or do you want me to do it?” Juan said to Atiya.

“I’ll do it. I’ve always been curious about how it feels like to take a heart out.”
Max died with his eyes open. His last image was that of Atiya. She was a girl he truly loved and cared for, but was not loved and cared for in return.

She took his heart out, and it stopped beating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ghost of Father Sacristan

by[* Matthew J. Barbour*]

 

Sunset drew near as we approached the village of Jemez. Like all the Pueblo villages, it was built of mud-brick. Tiny rooms abutted one another, forming a two-level dwelling for many people surrounding a large plaza. The church loomed. It was a dark building, some distance from the centre of the town. In the nave, we could see a brown-robed figure awaiting our arrival. He was pacing back and forth. Every once in a while, a Native would approach seeming to seek his counsel at which point he would wave them back to a presumed task.

The Natives went about their roles while paying us no heed. To delay was to be whipped or beaten, as evidenced by the scars on their back which suggested such activities were commonplace within the village. However, I did spy them stealing brief glances when they believed no one was watching. I couldn’t blame them. It is likely none had ever seen anything resembling my companion before, outside of the scripture.

He was not a short man when standing, but upon the warhorse he was a giant. The sabre at his hip and a brace of pistols across his chest jingled ever so slightly as he rode. The banner attached to his lance fluttered in the light breeze, and his plate mail armour seemed to sparkle with the day’s fading light hiding the dust of travel. The hawk feathers affixed to his back gave the appearance of an angelic being.

Hussar Piotyr Przemyski stopped before the Franciscan Priest and dismounted. I did the same from my burro.

“I set aside a room in the village for you to stay.” The priest prefaced his statement with no greeting or inquiry. It was apparent that he knew of our coming and why we were here, but I presented the rolled parchment to him regardless.

The Pole grunted and stroked his moustache. His Spanish was poor, and his accent heavily betrayed his foreign origins even if his startling appearance had not already done so. “You are Father Baca, yes?”

“Yes.” The Franciscan was curt. His hands trembled as he unfurled and read the letter from the Governor. None of the order liked outside any intervention, especially from Santa Fe. The fact that the Governor had sent us reflected poorly on the Franciscan’s ability to control his flock and his lands.

“You know why we have come, yes?” Przemyski asked.

Father Baca rolled back up the parchment and gestured for us to follow him. As we walked through the village, he spoke. “Yes. You are here to stop good Father Sacristan. As I voiced in my last letter, Father Sacristan is not the problem. These blasphemers are the problem. He simply takes those who have not yet found the light of God.”

Przemyski interrupted. “Father Sacristan is dead.”

“Yes, no matter, he has done more good in the hereafter than those heathens will ever do.” Father Baca spoke with what might have been barely contained hatred if it hadn’t been belied by his pleasant demeanour. Striding like a monarch through his kingdom, he brushed aside a small child that blocked his path forward. The child, a small girl, fell face forward onto the dirt. Tears appeared in her large eyes though she uttered not a sound, the terror in her eyes barely concealed. The priest stopped impatiently. With a sharp glance at the visitor, he picked the child up and brushed her off.

“I am sorry,” he said this more to the Hussar than the child. “Father Sacristan is indeed dead. He died over 50 years ago. He hung himself in the bell tower of the old mission north of the village. They say he did so out of frustration of having a flock ignorant of his teachings and the word of God. After his failure, our order abandoned this place. The flock informs me that his ghost still haunts the place. Those who stray too near the mission are never seen from again.”

Father Baca waved the girl on her way, oblivious to her wide stare at his words, and began moving down the path again. “Most of those who venture up that way do so to avoid my attention. They continue their heathen practices among the ruins. They think I do not know, but I know. That the ghost of Father Sacristan punishes the non-believers for their lack of faith is of little consequence. This was no reason for you to travel from Santa Fe; Father Sacristan does the Lord’s work even in death.”

“Salinas.”

“What?” Father Baca stopped again. This time, he stood outside a small mud abode. He opened the wooden door aged grey.

“We came from Salinas. We had to go there first. Is this our room?” The Hussar had to bend his head down to peer inside.

“Yes. This is where you will stay.” Father Baca was confused. “Why would you have come from Salinas?”

Piotyr Przemyski ignored the inquiry as he edged his bulk through the small doorway. I followed. “Good night, Father Baca.”

The priest sighed and hesitated, then apparently against his better judgement continued to speak.

“I don’t think you should go up to the old mission. The Father has only killed heathens thus far, but I cannot predict what might transpire if you journey north. It isn’t safe.”

I shut the door on the priest, his concern whispered along the hairs at my nape. The Hussar began the process of removing his armour. He handed me one piece at a time which I wiped clean and wrapped carefully to store for the night. As he did, he rattled off a list of chores that needed my attention before bed. I struggled to catch all his words through the garble of his foreign tongue. Finally, he settled heavily on a pallet by the fire burning in the corner hearth, and I hurried outside to see to my tasks.

 

***

 

We arose before the first light of dawn cut the chill in the air and headed north into the mountains. A cold frost lingered on the brown oak leaves and pine needles covering the ground. We rode among the cottonwoods that grew large along the river. It was early spring, and the leaves were just beginning to bud and take shape.

The journey was long as the mission was roughly five leagues to the north. It was mid-day before the old building appeared on the hillside above the river. Its roof was missing, but the crumbling stone walls still stood several stories high.

Throughout our trek, the Hussar spoke very little other than to inquire about whether I had remembered to bring the bags of salt. I assured him that I had. I still didn’t know why we’d stopped in Salinas, to pick up salt, but the taciturn soldier had not explained any of his actions, so I knew my place was not to question his ways.

“Grab a shovel,” the Pole ordered as he eyed the bell tower. He dismounted his horse and then led both the horse and me over to the stone base where once would have been the altar. “We need to dig. Find the corpse. Sacristan should have been buried,” he eyed the line of the stones and the walls, “here.”

I hesitated, but my obedience overrode my fear of the dead. Quickly, hoping to end the task as fast as possible, I began to dig while Hussar Przemyski unloaded one of the sacks of salt fixed to the burro. He next removed one of the pistols from the brace across the chest. He began to load it with the rock salt. Once the pan was primed, and the flint was cocked, he began on the next pistol.

“That will kill a ghost?” I asked, the question bursting from me without thought.

“No.”

I continued to dig. I caught my tongue on further curiosity. I knew the salt had something to do with it. Why else would we have gone so far out of our way?

When he finished loading his sundry of firearms with rock salt, Przemyski removed a glove from his hand, licked his forefinger and held it out in front of him as if checking the direction of the wind. As he did this I realised that a faint breeze must have been steadily building for some time, I was startled enough to pause in my digging. The breeze might have been logical at this point up the valley wall, if not that we were surrounded by four very tall stone walls. There shouldn’t have been any breeze whatsoever.

The Pole just muttered something in his Slavic tongue and pulled back on his glove. “Dig faster.”

Fear burst into my chest, and I rushed to obey. “Yes, I am.” The shovel cut through the loose soil but revealed nothing.

“I will help.” The Hussar jumped into the hole beside me, took my shovel and began to dig. He did not appear scared, but he moved with an even greater purpose.

The moment offered me a chance to breathe, and I leaned against the side of the hole that was now growing both in width and depth. “It knows we are here?”

“Yes.” Przemyski paused for a moment. He looked at me reassuringly. Then he started digging once again. “It cannot hurt us, not yet. It cannot come during the day. We will find its corpse and pack it in salt. Then it shall not come at all.”

“What about the salt in the guns?” I asked.

“They banish.” He wiped sweat from his brow. “Not a real solution, the salt simply dissolves the spirit. It will take time for it to gather the strength to manifest again. Just ensure you stay beyond its reach lest it touches you.”

I took a turn with the shovel. “What happens if it touches me?”

“You die.”

 

***

 

The sun was beginning to touch the tops of the hills around the old mission. We had dug a considerable hole, both deep and wide, that encompassed the area at the front of the church where the altar should have been. Still we had found no sign of a corpse. Not that of Father Sacristan, nor any other. There was nothing there.

“We need to leave.” The Hussar crawled out of the hole and brushed himself down. “We will come back and continue our search in the morning.”

I hurriedly packed up our tools. We began the long ride back to Jemez. As we did so, I couldn’t help but feel like the odd, unsettling breeze that had fallen upon us in the mission was following us. We continued steadily south along the river with the wind strengthening at our backs.

Despite our hurried riding, it seemed too soon when the sun sank behind the ridge to the west. I thought I could make out a brown-robed figure in the cottonwoods. The blast of the Hussar’s pistol was sudden and unexpected. My senses were briefly overpowered by the sound of the blast, the smell of the powder, and the vision of the smoke.

I goaded my burro forward. We moved even faster now. In the growing darkness, it was increasingly difficult to follow the path. Both I and my burro crashed through the brush as cottonwood branches whipped across my face.

It did not seem to be long before I was startled by another gunshot. Behind me, I heard Przemyski curse and then fire again. This time, the Hussar must have hit what he was aiming at. He appeared on his horse alongside me.

“Move quickly,” he said as he reloaded a pistol. “We must go south. It is tied to the mission. It won’t follow.”

But it did follow. Less than an hour later, as the moon began to rise, I caught my first full view of the apparition as we crossed the river. It was an immaterial thing with no legs but, seemed to become more solid as it floated toward me. Pale arms extended out of a billowing brown robe, the robe worn by all of the Franciscan order. Most disturbing was the ghost head with sightless black pools in place of eyes. It lay limp resting on one its shoulders, a length of rope wrapped around the neck and trailed behind it.

This time, Przemyski hit it with his first shot square in the chest. As the salt made contact with the ghost, the image dissipated into a fine mist and drifted off into the night sky. As he reloaded, he yelled to me to stay focused and continue south.

Blood beating in my ears I felt my pace quicken even as the burro shied at the sounds. With the rush of the wind cold at our backs, the dust rose behind us. No time at all seemed to pass before it came again. This time, the apparition moved more quickly and appeared somehow more solid as it charged from a bush. The Hussar drew down on the vile spirit and fired. Father Sacristan dissipated, but not before one of his pale hands brushed just on the muzzle of the burro. The beast collapsed, and I landed hard on earth and rock. For a moment, the world spun in my head.

Struggling to shake the webs from my brain, I fumbled through the packs on the burro’s side until I found one of the large sacks of salt. Przemyski circled quickly and pulled me up behind him onto his horse. With effort, he spurred the steed into a full gallop. From atop the large animal, I could see the flickering bonfires of Jemez in the distance.

All Poles were skilled horseman, but Przemyski was like none other. He wove through the cottonwoods with effortless grace. We drew nearer to Jemez.

“Why does he follow us?” I screamed over the thunder of hooves.

“I do not know.” The Hussar exclaimed. Sacristan appeared again on the path before us, but Przemyski was ready and let loose a volley at the ghost which caused him vanish. “If he were buried at the mission, he should be tied to the mission.”

“But he wasn’t buried at the church. We found no one buried at the church. There was no one.” My own shouts echoed in my head. It was then that it occurred to me. “Przemyski! Head towards Father Baca’s church!”

 

***

 

The sound of gunfire had drawn the attention of the village’s inhabitants. People scattered as our warhorse thundered down the narrow dirt roads between the small homes. The cold wind at our back howled, and I knew the murderous spirit of Father Sacristan followed closely behind.

Finally, we came to the front of the church. I fell from the height of the great horse while the soldier seemed to fly off his mount. We burst through the door and rushed towards the altar lit by candles from an earlier mass.

Father Baca appeared from the sacristy beyond the main room. “What are you doing?” I think he shouted.

But, there was no time. Sacristan’s ghost seemed to melt into being between the priest and us. Our headlong rush brought us within a breath of it. Just as a hand grasped for Przemyski, he fired, and the shot of salt scattered the ghost back into oblivion. The sudden silence was broken as the Hussar reached for his powder flask and began reloading. “I am almost out.”

We met Father Baca in front of the altar. His skin was pasty, almost the same pale tone of the spirit he had just witnessed. Without heed for his authority, I rushed up to him, “Sacristan was buried here!”

The Franciscan fumbled for words; his eyes were still wide, but he nodded weakly. I didn’t wait for his response but was already moving to tear out the worn wooden floorboards in front of the altar. I didn’t need a response. I knew now why we had failed in our dig earlier in the day. When the Franciscans had left the mission, they had taken everything with them, both the altar and what was beneath it, their dead brothers. As the aged boards gave way one after another, I brushed a thin layer of dirt off nearly half a dozen coffins that were tucked beneath the floorboards.

The wind howled in rage, and the flickering candles on the altar went out in a gust of smoke. The ghost of Sacristan materialized in the darkness above the altar. Przemyski aimed and fired. As if expecting this move, the apparition darted behind the altar screen. The shot hit the wall of the church and without pause the spirit of Father Sacristan drew forward bringing a rush of frozen wind.

There was no more powder. The Hussar dropped the pistol, stepped back, and out of a soldier’s instinct drew his sabre as the spirit moved in for the kill. The ghost reached out to embrace Przemyski only to dissolve into a mist that swirled around the Hussar. The wind died suddenly, and I collapsed with the empty salt sack in my shaking grasp. Before me were the ruins of floorboards and wooden coffin lids. The glistening salt shone even in the semi-dark of the church.

The Hussar sunk to his knees, and he murmured something in his own language. Father Baca was kneeling in wreckage at the front of the altar and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Some of the more adventurous Natives peeked in from the church door.

Przemyski caught his breath before I. “We shall stay here tonight. In the church is as good a place as any. Tomorrow we will take the remains and head back to Salinas where we can bury the bones among the salt…”

He stopped and was silent for a moment. He gestured over the coffins. “How did you know which was Sacristan?”

I smiled. “He was the only one buried with a noose around his neck.”

Przemyski nodded and stroked his moustache. He rose to his feet, and I followed. The Hussar then began the arduous process of removing his armour. As he did, he provided me with a list of chores that needed my attention before bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trades

by[* Elsie*]

 

Desperation had many faces and many uses. Liam never professed to know them all. Didn’t need to. He only needed to know enough to get by. That was all it was about anyway, survival.

He pushed himself back on the splintered bench and stretched his arms to hang over the edge. In the centre of the patio, water drizzled over the tiers in the fountain and plinked into the level below. The setting sun winked at him one last time from the horizon where the swatch of water glowed with an orange cast. Tiny lights hanging from the trees flickered on, and the small area resembled a colony of fireflies. Even he had to admit its perfection. This life was good, for what it was worth.

The ambiance of the oceanfront café lulled Liam. A man dressed in black seated himself to Liam’s left without notice. The sharp odour of rotten eggs wafted over.

“Draco,” Liam said, retracting his relaxed arms and sitting upright. The scent triggered a response that put him on edge. “I didn’t hear you.”

Draco’s laughter rolled forward like tumbling boulders, big and clumsy. He pushed back the errant lock of shiny black hair that had slipped to his temple. “No, you didn’t. You didn’t see me either.”

Liam knew better than to respond. No one saw Draco unless he wanted to be seen.

“You’re not going to make it, you know.” Draco slipped a snub-nosed cigar from his jacket’s tailored pocket and spun the wheel on his gold lighter. The flame blended with the metal until it looked as if Draco held fire in his hand. “I came to accept your surrender.”

Liam turned. An ant crawling on the armrest of the bench caught his eye. He trapped the ant’s back leg and pinched it off. The limb twitched once on his fingertip before stilling. Confused but not defeated by the lost appendage, the ant lumbered forward and found a new gait. Liam flicked the tiny leg onto the ground. “I’m not quitting, sir. I have six hours.”

“You have six hours to collect thirty days. You’ll never make it.” Draco’s smile showed his eagerness to see Liam fail. But Liam’s failure was not special or spectacular. Draco favoured everyone’s failure. He was not prejudiced. “And what a horrible night to be faced with such a challenge.” He nodded toward a couple walking on the beach. “They are filled with resolve tonight because tomorrow is a new start.”

Liam glanced back at the ocean, hoping the serene view would calm him. He could do it; there was too much to lose if he failed. “I think I’ll be fine.”

“You’ll have to promise too much. If you had used your time wisely, you would have found candidates that were worthy of a trade.”

“All my choices are worthy,” Liam protested.

“No, they are not,” Draco said. “And neither are your trades. You inflict pain and devastation on those not needing more punishment. It’s cruel.” Draco sighed. “And while I appreciate suffering, there is a time and place for everything. Now, you can surrender, admit you fell short and then, we can work out a deal. Procrastination is a terrible habit.”

“I don’t need a deal; I have six hours.” Liam turned to catch Draco’s reaction, but he found himself alone on the bench, speaking to no one but himself.

A broad-faced clock hanging on the café wall suggested Liam’s time was running out. He didn’t want to worry about the daunting speed at which his impending deadline and doom approached. Six hours was not nearly enough time to trade thirty days. But he couldn’t give up. His task of delivering souls to Draco early by bartering days had become the bane of his existence. But without this opportunity, he would have become one of the souls Draco tortured.

 

***

 

Liam moved to the fountain’s edge. Time was beyond manipulation. Procrastination had not been the name of what affected him. Three young women walked into the café and Liam fought the urge to join them, to corrupt them, to trade pleasure for no gain. He shook his head and looked away. There was too much to lose now for unbeneficial indulgences. The blonde, with the plunging neckline, slipped through the front door last. What a shame, he thought.

Water fell onto his hand. He faced the monstrous fountain and counted the coins that littered the bottom. A million useless thoughts passed through his head. Copper coins reflected the light. A small fortune covered the bottom of the fountain yet no passer-by would ever stop and take from that amassed collection. It would be unfair to prey on people’s wishes. Liam reached down and fished out a coin. His imagination ignited with ideas, and he flipped the metal disc between his fingers. The plan would work; he just needed to wait.

 

***

 

The first donor showed minutes after the plan was hatched. Liam had yet to flesh out the details, but the opportunity was fickle, and when she presented herself, she was not to be turned away. Procrastination defeated others, but not Liam.

He smiled at the woman, who looked away before establishing substantial eye contact. Liam’s gaze was focused on the coin that the woman was holding between her chubby fingers, gripping it with panic, anxiety and desperation. A smile settled on Liam’s mouth.

“Good evening,” he said and slid closer to where she stood. “You going to make a wish?”

She looked both ways when he spoke and then pointed to herself. Her finger left a divot in her ample flesh.

“Me?” she asked.

Liam laughed gently. “Yes, you. Who else would I be talking to?”

The dark haired woman looked around again, a fragile smile lifting her lips.

“It’s a beautiful night, don’t you think?” he asked, scooting over inches, beaming a smile that suggested a gregarious nature and nothing more. “How can you possibly be alone?”

“Oh, I’m not,” she answered, and her gaze travelled back to the café’s windows to a table filled with seven people, pouring champagne with abandon.

“A celebration? What are you celebrating?” He pointed to the clock. “It’s only nine; you can’t toast the New Year yet.”

She extended her left hand. Liam spotted the sparkling diamond on her third finger. It caused a deep indentation to form on her skin.

“Congratulations.” Liam looked back through the window. “Who’s the lucky guy?”

“Roger. The guy at the end, with the blond hair,” she said, pointing to her mate.

“My, my, isn’t he perfect looking,” Liam commented, watching her face as he spoke. “He must model. Yes, model. I’ve seen him somewhere, haven’t I?”

“No.” She laughed. “But he could.”

“So, what brings you two together?” Liam stressed surprise with those words. “Must be love.”

She wiped her hands on the front of her dress, where the pleats were taut. The stopped being true pleats once she slipped the dress on. Her expression wore a hint of sadness, ill-matched for an evening of celebration. “It’s love, but I wanted to wait. I wanted things…” she cleared her throat and looked at the ocean, which had become a black wall of darkness, minus the twinkling lights, “More under control.”

“Life is never under control. That’s what wishes are for?”

She turned and plopped down on the wall like a dollop of potatoes dumped on a plate. Sitting there, she looked like the same pile. Her fingers traced the laced edge of her black dress. The seams stretched to their limits.

“You should be inside celebrating,” Liam said with a concerned tone.

“I just needed a breath of fresh air.” She rolled the coin back and forth between her fingers.

“And control, huh? You were looking for a little control too, weren’t you?”

She smiled. Her cheeks plumped, and she nodded. “I asked him to wait until spring… until it could be more perfect.”

“Now, why would that make this more perfect?”

She looked back at Roger, sitting at the table, the picture of fitness. Her smile faded and left an expression that said more than meagre words ever could. Liam speculated about her self-doubt, perhaps discontent with her appearance. He would play on her vanity. That was a universal weakness for them.

“I’m Liam, by the way,” he said and slid out one of the four cards he had left in his shirt pocket. The gold embossed letters on the black background glinted in the light. He extended his hand and waited her for to return the gesture. Her pudgy hand slipped into his. He shook briefly before releasing her, depositing his card in her hand.

“Exclusive Miracles,” she read and traced her fingers across the lettering. “What does that mean?”

“I make trades.”

“Oh, so you’re in stocks?”

“No, not that kind of trades. I make arrangements for people who need more than trades. Those who need miracles.”

“Oh,” she said with a distant tone and watched the water rippling in the base of the fountain.

“So, how badly do you need a miracle?” he asked, beaming from the rich opportunity that dropped itself in his lap. Draco would have to find pleasure in someone else’s defeat. “How much is a drastic change worth? What if you could be perfect for him?”

She stepped back, mistrust and worry clouding her vision. She set the card on the edge of the fountain. “Excuse me.”

Liam stifled his wrath as she walked out. How could she have possibly left? Didn’t she understand his offer? Was he wrong in his assumption? This was California, the mecca of vanity, right? He kicked the fountain, not cringing from the impact. The broad-faced clock left him two hours. One hundred and twenty minutes were all he had to make a trade. Traffic on the beach remained constant, as did the groups gathering in the café. He picked up the card. He could not let Draco win. No, more importantly, he could not fail.

***

 

Twenty minutes passed too fast for his taste, for his goal. He watched people filter into the café, noisy and oblivious. They were here to celebrate. Perhaps Draco was right. The end of the year signified not the loss of hope, but the return of optimism. This optimism would not help Liam now; only despair would answer his needs.

He shuffled his remaining cards, feeling the thick edges press against his skin. Four cards for thirty days. That would be the difference between a tolerable eternity and a miserable one. The line that separated the two was often blurred, but Liam knew which he preferred.

Walking his second lap around the fountain, Liam spotted a thin man, smoking a cigarette off to the side. His frantic pace, distant gaze and slouched posture raised Liam’s hopes. He poised one card in his hands and joined the man.

“Bum a cigarette?” Liam asked.

The man tapped the pack on his palm and two unfiltered cigarettes jutted out the torn opening. His hands shook with a nervous tic that crinkled the cellophane surrounding the pack. He offered one to Liam.

“Nice evening for a celebration, huh?” Liam said and put the unlit cigarette to his lips. He pulled it away as he continued to speak. “Was it a good year for you?”

Aggravation crept across the thin man’s face and dropped the sides of his mouth into a frown. He shook his head and took a long draw off his cigarette. The red tip glowed in the night like a beacon.

Smoke oozed from his nose and slithered up his face, masking his eyes.

“Yeah, been a bad year for me too,” Liam offered and watched a group of women walk by. He studied their faces in one pass, evaluating their needs and his chances. Slim to none, he thought. He understood his limited time and didn’t entertain any thoughts that would not help him achieve his goal. He was focused. His best bet was here, with the lanky smoker. “Want to talk about it? Maybe I can help.” Liam didn’t light his cigarette but instead flipped it between his fingers. “I offer help; some even call them miracles.”

The man shook his head quickly, like a bobble-headed doll. He used the nub of one cigarette to light another one.

“I’m a good listener,” Liam said, eyeing the cigarette he flipped between his fingers. He no longer enjoyed the flavour of tobacco. He worried chances with the man diminished by the second. “Perhaps I can help.”

The man’s gaze flitted about as if nothing could help him or draw him in. He was not as desperate as Liam initially perceived. He was nervous and scared. While those were favourable reactions, they were not enough. Not tonight. Only true desperation would help him tonight. He glanced back at the broad-faced clock. Only ninety minutes remained until his deadline. Draco would own his existence if he failed to trade thirty days.

But the lanky man was a lost cause.

Liam patted the man’s back and left him to his solace in the patio corner, smoking his cigarette and dealing with his own demons. He returned to the fountain cantered on the slate patio. Night hung before him like death’s veil, dotted only with tiny stars above. He didn’t deserve peace, not after what he’d one or been, but this was nice. For now.

Two women burst forward from the café’s doors, giggling and talking as if they were the only two in existence. They stumbled to the fountain with a rich aroma of flowers infused with alcohol emanating from their pores. The temptation to indulge rose as Liam watched the two women talk. What did he have to lose at this point? Reality was already starting to temper his interest. He would lose.

Liam inspected their appearance, their vigour, and their vitality. The species had merit, as much as he preferred to avoid that admission. He had seen them triumph during struggles, sacrifice for a greater good and defy their own fears. They were worth preserving, protecting and for once, celebrating. He’d been ruthless in his pursuit; unkind in his dealings.

An eternity under Draco’s direction would be an immeasurable hell. But Liam had earned his hell, hadn’t he? It was fair that he wouldn’t have a choice as to how it would play out. The broad-faced clock now offered thirty minutes of reminiscence. Draco’s return was guaranteed. His fate was sealed.

And accepted.

Liam dropped onto the fountain’s ledge and stretched his legs. He found a comfortable position, one in which he decided he could pass his last minutes of freedom. He tuned out the banter from the drunken women. Their gaiety began to annoy him. The implication of a missed deadline or failing this task resonated in his head.

He dipped his fingers into the fountain. Cool water swirled around his skin. He would miss this.

Before he could add another item to his list that he would miss, someone sat beside him. Liam sighed and prepared himself for Draco’s taunts and punishment. He turned to face his future.

To his surprise, the person seated to his right was not Draco, but the thin man, holding another almost-finished cigarette between his bony fingers.

“Hello again,” Liam offered, reserving the charm and interest he deemed not worth wasting. There was not enough time left to secure a trade.

“It’s been a bad year,” the man said.

Liam nodded. He wanted to spend his final minutes by himself. He had much to acknowledge before departing.

“You don’t really offer miracles, do you?” the man asked.

Liam hesitated. There was much involved with the next decision. His gaze followed the lights hung in the small trees planted on the edge of the café’s patio and out as he contemplated his next move.

He slipped a card from his pocket, rubbing the pad of his thumb across the raised letters. “Yes, I can offer miracles but the cost is dear. Surely you are not willing to accept a risk associated with a trade.”

“What if I am? What if I need a miracle more than whatever it is I have to trade?”

“I’m advising you against it. My trades will yield what you request, but you misunderstand if you think it will be easy.”

“I’ve struggled with demons greater than this. I know what isn’t easy.”

Liam sighed. This man had no idea what real demons were capable of doing and how easy his life was, regardless of its challenges. He glanced into the café, where the celebrations with toasts and laughter continued. “Why risk change?”
“You said you dealt in miracles.”
“I do,” Liam commented, suddenly changing his mind about the species. They were cowards, like him, taking the easy way out of difficult situations. “Do you know what I am?”

“Does it matter?” the man asked. His dark eyes met Liam’s without fear. “What is your deal? What can I trade?”

Liam handed him a card. “I barter for time.” The noise inside the café rose. The broad-faced clock showed fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes before his deadline arrived. He said no more, offered no explanation.

“What do you mean? Time?”

“You tell me exactly what you want, and I will give it to you, but in exchange, I get time from your life. Time you cannot get back. Time you will lose.”

“That doesn’t seem so bad.”

“I suppose it depends on the person and the time.”

“What if I asked to make sure my wife and young son are taken care of for the rest of their lives?”

Liam stared at the man’s eyes until he saw into his mind, his soul. He had a young wife and an infant son. Money darted around his head like a pinball, slamming into every thought and memory. Was he a gambler? Had he incurred debts that threatened to destroy him? Liam created a vision of the man’s wife and son moving into a large house with a new man, a younger, better-looking man than the lanky one beside him chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes.

The vision made Liam smile because the thirty days the man would lose would come at critical times, needy times, times that would push the wife into the arms of another man. Another scenario developed with the man’s wife and child shuffling between half-way houses and shelters, but this desperate life gave him no pleasure. He preferred the trade to have an impact on the individual. He preferred them to experience loss, to learn from their gamble—to understand that the easy way out has a very high price.

“Thirty days,” Liam said. “Take it or leave it.

“Wait. If I give up thirty days of my life, you will ensure my wife and child will be taken care of? They will never be hungry or hurt. They will be happy.”

Liam nodded. “But once you enter into an agreement, there are no exchanges or refunds. The deal is sealed and cannot be retracted.”

“Is there fine print?”

“No. For you to ensure the well-being of your family, you will give me thirty days of your life. That is our deal. No deviations.”

He smiled and nodded. “Okay. I will trade.”

Liam handed him the card he’d been holding. “You cannot undo this once it is done.”

“You’re starting to sound like you’re lecturing me. I know what I want. You can’t back out either, right?”

Liam folded his hands, sandwiching the card between the thin man’s palms. “No, I cannot. Repeat our deal along with the terms.”

While the terms were repeated, Liam smelled Draco. The foul stench drifted through the air. He’d expected his return. Across the patio, Draco waited, leaning against the wall beneath the broad-faced clock.

“I’ll find you when it is time to collect,” Liam said and squeezed the man’s hands, sealing their deal and sealing his fate. He left him alone, knowing the full weight of his decision would not be known for some time.

Draco’s smirk waned as Liam approached. Liam had gotten what he needed before the deadline arrived. Procrastination again had no negative impact on him. He would be above Draco’s lecture and out of Draco’s reach. It was a night worthy of celebration.

“You’re too late,” Liam said with a nod and a toothy grin. “There’s nothing for you to celebrate.”

He opened his palm, a red line branched across his open hand. The mark from the man’s agreement added thirty days to Liam’s tally. “Done and done.”

Draco leaned forward and studied the growing line. “We’ll see.”

“Three, two…one…” The voices cried in unison from the café, beach and patio. All at once they welcomed the New Year.

When Liam turned to speak, Draco was gone. Good timing, Liam thought, as he eyed several candidates exiting through the front doors. A lighter mood returned, offering him reprieve from the duties at hand or his pensive mood. He was now in the mood to celebrate.

And he would, for days.

 

***

 

Something woke Liam from his sleep. He never needed much, but what he took was deep and undisturbed. It was sacred to him. But a sense of panic doused him with beads of sweat that popped up on his forehead, lip and neck all at once. His heart thumped wildly in his chest. His breathing refused to regulate.

He sat up and dropped his legs off the edge of the bed, sorting through the thoughts that brought such worry, such anxiety, but nothing explained his state. He ran his fingers through his thick, dark hair.

“Calm down, Liam,” he said aloud as if his own voice would exert a control his mind had been unable to convey.

Low laughter originating behind him startled him. He turned and found Draco, reclined in the green chair nestled in the corner. His silhouette was barely visible.

“Good morning, Liam,” he said with a lethal smile. “Sleep well?”
“What do you want?”

“I’m here to collect.”

Liam glanced at the calendar taped to his wall, the one that mapped out his traded days. “I have nothing owed. There are thirty days in the bank. It’s only January 7th.”

The laughter returned, this time louder. “Oh, you have nothing in the bank.”

Liam opened his hand and flashed his palm to Draco. “I have thirty days.”

Draco smiled and nodded to Liam’s extended hand. “Check for yourself.”

Liam flipped his hand around and studied his palm. The red line that had branched out several days ago retracted before his eyes. The intricate branches shrank back as if they were crawling to the source. ‘What? This can’t be.”

“Yes, I’m afraid it can,” said Draco, laughing harder this time. “You bartered with a dying man. A dying man, Liam, you fool.”

Liam shook his head. The man was nervous, scared, desperate, but not dying. He would have noticed that. He would have seen that when he looked inside.

He stopped. Or did he? Was that part of what he saw but he was so desperate himself to seal the deal that he ignored the signs?

The right side of Draco’s lips lifted into a devilish smirk, and his eyes flickered. “You know what happens to unpaid debts?”

“No, No. This can’t be.” Desperation gnawed his heart like a ruthless woodpecker. “I haven’t collected any of his days. We can void the agreement, and I’ll find another donor.”

Draco clicked his tongue at Liam. “Tsk, tsk. You know the rules. Once you enter into an agreement, there are no exchanges or refunds. The deal is sealed and cannot be retracted.” He rose from the chair and strode over to Liam’s side. “You have a debt to pay.”

Liam screamed as Draco’s fiery hand passed through his chest and claimed the small portion of his soul that he had been allowed to retain. Pain flooded his mind and body as his essence was ripped from his being. He collapsed on the floor.

***

 

He woke in the dark. Sweltering waves of heat were licking his skin while sweat was dripping down his back and tormenting him. He mopped his forehead with his hand. A heavy shackle on his wrist rattled as he moved. He mopped his forehead with his hand. A heavy shackle on his wrist rattled as he moved.

“Liam.”

His name rang out.

“Yes,” he answered.

“You’ve got work to do.”

Liam rolled onto his knees. More shackles restricted his movement and tethered him in the dark. He was forced to crawl toward the voice.

But he had no choice, a deal was a deal.

All debts must be paid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Window Man

by[* Kate Barrett*]

 

There is a man that grew up with me on the other side of the window. He would appear everywhere I went, and I’d be left looking for a distraction. Not just any kind, but the kind that had me jonesing for a good mystery to solve. Rather than annoying me or creeping me out in any way, the Window Man inspired me to explore my patience for puzzles and constant strive for inflamed heroism. I dabbled as a P.I., joined the fire brigade, but nothing really worked, the whole time there was one question I tried, in secret, to answer: who was the Window Man?

Eventually, the constant searching wore me out, and the only way I saw it was that I was neither brave nor smart enough to conquer the only puzzle that really mattered to me. Finding out the answer meant more than anything else life had to offer. All the therapy in town, all the priests in their churches, and all the shamans in the bush—they taught me that both science and religion can’t answer shit. After a few decades of trying I thought I had it sorted out; I had me a batch of crazy that I could only get rid of through death.

The only problem now was how. I had to be sure that the thrill was big enough that I wouldn’t lose interest half-way through. I couldn’t trust the Window Man, not to appear if I did, and these days it took barely anything to pull him into view. He’d surely try and stop me even if just to keep the game going. There was only one thing I could think of, one thing that satisfied enough of my intrigue and gung-ho arrogance: it had to be a train. Not just any kind either, a big old steam engine like the one that was due to roll through the county fair in a few minutes.

I looked at my pocket watch for the countless time that day, and there, in the small concave glass dome appeared the Window Man. A split moment later an engine whistle sounded in the distance; I looked at my watch again in time to see a slow grin come up towards me before I snapped it shut. I slung my backpack over my shoulder. I couldn’t tell you why I was taking it with me, but I’ve always been the prepared-for-anything type.

The whistle sounded again. I took my cue and climbed onto the rail of the train bridge. That big fat black engine screamed right towards me. I thought of the Window Man’s smile but didn’t have time to question it. Counting down from three… two… one… I opened my eyes and jumped. Colours flew past me in streaks of brown and green and then black, nothing but black; not a sound or smell, not even a feeling.

Nothing.

Then thwack! My body hit something with tremendous force. I should’ve been crushed, but I wasn’t. There wasn’t a single thing that hurt, and everything seemed to be working properly.

Standing up, I saw that I was in a train station, but it didn’t look quite right. For one, it was deserted, and two, as far as I could see, things were a little bit wrong. The structural elements were off somehow, odd angles and confusingly placed signs pointing to directions that if you followed them would wind up leading you in circles. One thing that looked promising was a train. The same one I’d expected to be hit by not a minute earlier.

I ran towards it. On the way, I noticed a great big sign that read ‘Purgory’. Something about it twinged at the back of my mind, but the train was leaving, so I pushed the thought aside and ran faster to catch it up. The bag on my shoulder got heavy, weighing me down. I thought of dumping it, but that’d be dumb. As I hit the end of the platform, the train pulled away. I sprinted. If jumping for a train had saved me once then, maybe it would again. But I couldn’t move fast enough, and the train got out of reach.

I stopped for a second, and my thoughts smacked me with a realisation. The jump hadn’t saved me; it had killed me like I’d planned, and now I was in some kind of labyrinthine afterlife. Fucking great.

I pulled out my watch just to see, and there he was, the Window Man, still smiling. And then, for the first time since I’d known him, he spoke. “You have to make a choice. Find your way to the better side of Death, or I will take you to Hell.”

He disappeared, leaving me on my own.

The train left, a dark nothing eating it as it chugged along. And there I was; smack bang in the empty railway station of Purgatory, the engines whistles disappearing with each second that passed. I sure as shit didn’t relish the idea of waiting around here. I wasn’t even meant to be here anyway. It wasn’t my time. The man in the window had said as much hadn’t he? Maybe I had noticed too much, and now I was being challenged. My curiosity was calling me to confront the endlessness I now faced. There had to be a way out somehow, a way to this “better side of death.” I just had to find the right door.

 

***

Turning around, I saw three obvious courses were situated in the courtyard in front me. I walked towards an old elevator with a dumb waiter to its left. A scratched up gold plate on the front of it read ‘Nirvana’, and hanging from it was a hastily written sign saying ‘Out of Order.’ On the other side of the elevator, there was a tree that was higher than anyone could see. Around head height, someone had crudely scratched ‘Hope’ into the wood.

Sick, and scared by its increasing heaviness, I dumped my backpack on a bench and strolled off to check out these shitty looking options that served as my only choices for exits.

Given that it was the only natural looking thing in this place, it was the tree that I figured I’d check out first. Making a beeline for it seemed fine until I started towards it and found my footsteps stumbling as if it was a thin winding track I was on, rather than the right arm of a large foyer.

I stopped to get my balance and question just what the fuck was going on when the floor buckled, and a huge root ripped up from next to my feet, throwing me sideways. It looked oily and seemed to pulse slightly. Sure I was perturbed, but I kept on anyway.

More eel stems came up and slapped themselves down every which way I went, but the base of the tree wasn’t that far away, and I got there with relative ease. The trunk was even slicker and rotten looking than the roots. No way was I going to be able to climb without slipping in that muck and falling a bunch of times. At least it was an assured ladder, though, one that didn’t rely on mechanics working properly to get me anywhere. It was a task-based purely on physical capability. The only problem was that I didn’t exactly trust myself to do it.

Indeed, I knew I’d fail before getting too far up, even if I managed not to crash down too frequently.

I moved over to the elevator, scrambling over the still gooey but no longer breathing root structure to get there. It was decrepit and orange with rust but seemed to be in decent working order. Not that I’d really be able to tell too much without trying to make it do its job, though. On the inside were two call buttons, both glowing ominously crimson. One was marked with a pentagram and the other a cross. The suggestion of Hell was clear, but it didn’t have the creepy feeling of the tree.

Keeping it as a possibility, but wanting to be sure of all of my choices, I walked to the dumb waiter. A howling wind started and swirled around me but didn’t tug me in any particular direction—it sure sounded squeaky and fierce, though. I trudged on through it with my hair whipping my face like Fabio. About a metre from the dumb waiter, the wind kicked up a notch and carried a foul smell along with it. Beneath my feet something squelched and crunched. I looked down to see a carpet of maggots under my shoes. Deeming it gross but not dangerous I carried on through the larvae to look closely at the service lift.

Immediately I could see that here was the source of both the wind and the maggots. The chain was fragile looking and bent in several places; the walls were thick with food scum. This may have been a good choice at some stage of its existence but it sure as shit wasn’t now. No way was a scungy lift the option I was about to take even if it was the most clearly labelled path to Heaven.

Turning to walk back to where I left my bag, the wind stopped, and the maggots shrunk down to become patterning in the marble. I was able to walk easily enough now but could see that my backpack had vanished. The bench I’d put it on too. Fuck this. I ran then, freaking out and assuming I wasn’t alone even though I knew I was.

As I hit the point where the three lanes to the different doors met, I froze. Literally. Ice scaled my body, encasing me in a second. Struggling was useless. Whenever I tried to move, the tomb got incrementally thicker, crushing me slowly. I stopped trying and calmed my thoughts. My breathing came back to a level resembling composure. My heart stopped pounding in my ears too, just in time for me to hear the quiet roar getting closer and closer.

It was coming from the darkness beyond the station, a crumbling splintering sounding roar like a tidal wave devouring an ocean liner. And then it got closer. The ice melted from in front of my face, and I saw it. The roaring was the station caving in on itself. Starting from where the train disappeared. It wasn’t moving at a terrific speed, but I knew any hope of following the track was gone. So was my bag. No way I had a chance to get it now anyway. Decision time had caught up with me.

 

***

With so many treacherous promises of Heaven and only one suggestion of a trip to Hell, the choice now was easy. The Window Man wanted me to play the game, huh? Fine. I’d play the fucking game. Take me to Hell.

I fought the urge to look again for a train that I knew wouldn’t be there, and took a step towards the elevator instead. As soon as my toes hit concrete the ground cracked. Not small fractures either, these lines spread and deepened, stretching out behind me and snaking all the way back to the beginning-to-crumble platform.

Maybe a cocksure attitude wouldn’t help me here. Maybe it’d be best if I went along with the joke and tried a path to Heaven. I thought of lifting my foot to move it backwards. But as soon as I went to, my whole body stiffened, and I found I was paralysed. But I had to move my foot. Just my foot. That’d be enough to start with. Putting all of my concentration and strength into a slight movement wasn’t something I’d tried before. It was harder than it seemed, but the ground kept cracking, and I had to do something.

Grunting harder than a female European tennis player, and with both hands on one ankle, I pulled, gripping so deeply that my fingers felt bone. Finally, my foot gave way a little and slid just one centimetre backwards. Pain sliced through my foot like a thousand paper cuts. I barely noticed, though, for as soon as my foot moved so did the ground.

The pathway behind me remained relatively the same, but all the marble, concrete and earth in the foyer gave way. Still standing, untouched, was each doorway. The dumb waiter now looked like a roofless, bottomless chimney chute. The root system of the tree stretched out in every which way, suspending it in a lattice of thin, slippery wooden bridges. And there in the middle of them, the marble at my feet stretching out to meet it, was the foreboding and unshaken metal cage.

I could walk the cracked ground behind me that was still leading back up to the platform, but no way was I going to risk it, and there was nowhere to go if I got there anyhow. Confident or not, my first choice was all I had to go with.

Heeding the warning, I started towards the elevator once more. My feet moved easily, and the ground held. Accepting my lot, I swaggered through the rusted frame of the lift.

With clichéd expectancy, the clunking rusted iron gate dragged heavily on its old rollers. I couldn’t coerce it the whole way across. Figuring it was highly doubtful that whatever might happen next would be hampered by a piece of shit security like this I gave up with a shrug. I checked the roof and floor for a hatch of some kind. Finding none, I reached out to my left and held a hand over the buttons. As soon as I hesitated, a crack split the wall behind me. I rolled my eyes and pushed the glowing red button marked with a pentagram.

The elevator lurched in an unexpectedly normal way. I couldn’t tell the direction I was travelling. I assumed it was down, but I couldn’t be sure. There was no lighting in the elevator and none coming in through the grate. The ride carried on for what felt like an hour and then landed with a thump and a ding. The gate slid open as soon as I reached to open it, and I walked out trying not question the change while assuming the worst.

Surely, I was walking into Hell.

 

***

 

As soon as I crossed the threshold, a syrupy feeling spread through my body. I felt golden, light, and effervescent even—and a whole bunch of other adjectives indicating a feeling of goodness like I’d never experienced before.

Residual pain in my foot from my effort to get here abated along with my heated fear of what I assumed was waiting in front of me. All of it went, and I was left with a sweet marshmallowy nothingness. It was eerie. Or it would’ve been if I could’ve accessed an emotion that uncomfortable.

I had no way of knowing whether the rules of the train station applied here, but I didn’t dare risk it. My decisions had to be resolute from here on out. Second guessing could cost me… what… my life? I guess. With that thought, a shadow crept in on the edges of my peripheral vision, and the elevator creaked. Fuck. This was going to be tough.

I thought of my vanished backpack and how comforting its absurd weight would be right now. Something tangible to help me feel solid. No point, though. Whatever happened to it I couldn’t explain and now wasn’t the time for pondering the iniquity of seemingly animated inanimate objects. Even still, holding onto something would’ve been nice while I ventured into this utterly confusing place. I took out my pocket-watch and clicked it open out of habit. The Window Man was still there but wasn’t smiling this time. Concern lined his jaw and fear shaded his brow. I wanted to ask him what the hell he had to be worried about but held my tongue. I closed it again and rubbed it around in my palm. Avoidance was getting me nowhere.

This time, I didn’t bother looking back. I hoped the elevator was still there. I hadn’t heard anything change, so I held on to my need for it to be an option, later on, and walked forward. The ground underfoot was spongy and translucent. It held me though and wasn’t uncomfortable in any way. It was what direction to take that was the problem. There simply wasn’t anything around.

Some kind of Hell this was turning out to be. Between the strange, bubbly joy I was feeling and the vast corridor of creaminess I was now walking, it felt more like… Heaven.

“You reckon Sherlock? Took you fuckin’ long enough.”

I spun around to my right and saw the Window Man, speaking to me from a massive pane of glass.

“You’re not allowed in just yet. It’s all part of the game.”

He started walking towards me then. His stride was confident and sure like he’d been here his whole life and knew where he was meant to step. I didn’t speak; didn’t have anything to say. It didn’t matter for he kept right on going.

“You must’ve figured it out by now. This whole swirling mess is one big puzzle constructed by you, for you, so you can solve your big ultimate mystery. A question that’s so unfathomably grand that you’d die to answer it. Well, here’s your chance: Who am I?”

As soon as the question left his lips the one glass pane cracked and multiplied until it stretched to surround me in a chamber of inwardly directional windows. At one end stood the Window Man, still and silent once more, while directly behind me, not reflected in any of the panels, was the elevator. It looked different now, but I couldn’t quite figure out why.

I turned back to look at him, and he was smiling once more.

“Do you want the answer or not?” I nodded, and he nodded with me. “Good. The puzzle is very simple really. In each pane, surrounding you, an image will form. These pictures, when delivered with a riddle, will help you solve the mystery.

With a flourish of his hands, the panes developed pictures. They were static images of himself at all the different stages that I’d known him. Beginning from when I first noticed him, until now.

One panel, however, remained blank. I went to look at it more closely, but he interrupted my intrigue to speak again. “Pay attention now; I’ll only say this once, and it’s the most important clue you’ll get. Are you ready?”

I closed my eyes for a second, blocking him out. There were strings of thoughts fighting to get my approval, but giving into tangents is what got me into trouble at the station, and I wouldn’t risk it again. I opened my eyes briefly to look at him squarely and nodded. Once again he nodded along with me, then I closed my eyes to listen.

“The riddle you must answer is this: I silently show everything you do.”

Keeping my eyes closed I took in the riddle and allowed the scrambling thoughts to be pushed back. I trusted myself to remember which direction the blank panel was in and approached it with determination. I knew, somehow, that it was in this space the answer laid. Once where I thought I should be I opened my eyes.

In front of me wasn’t the blank pane at all. It was the earliest image of the sequence. The Window Man as a child. He wasn’t still anymore, but blinking and looking at me. He sat down in the creaminess and smiled a little. Not in the vindictive and seductive way of his oldest evolution, this was a kind and acknowledging smile. I stood then and walked to the next panel, which, like I expected it would, showed me the man as a slightly older child. He too was smiling, but a little more mischievously this time.

I walked around the chamber and watched as each panel grew older. When I passed the elevator, I took a quick look inside and saw that it was mostly the same but the crack gone and the buttons disappeared. I didn’t allow it to trouble me, though, and moved on to the second half of the glass circle. It behaved in the same fashion as the first. At each stage of the Window Man, he and I acknowledged each other with a slightly evolved smile and a nod.

I reached the last panel with a bowed head, and with a deep breath I looked up. I expected it to be blank still, but it wasn’t, and I got taken aback. My surprise caught my breath. There in front of me was, once again, the Window Man. But this time his expression was gentle.

He gestured towards me and said, “Do you see now?”

There was something about his voice that I had not been aware of before. It didn’t resonate out of the glass but pushed faintly against it, as if his voice actually came from the space in front of it.

I looked at him squarely then, and we spoke together: “The answer to the riddle is: a mirror.”

I laughed then. Laughed at both of us. Relief and understanding clearing my mind.

“You’re me. This whole time I’ve been chasing my reflection. Too caught up in queries and doubt to recognise my own face. I don’t think I’ve even spoken til now.” Letting out a tired but mirth-filled sigh I reached out to the glass and touched the hand of my mirror self.

There was nothing more for me up here but to get back to the elevator and find my way out at last. The box was glowing a faint gold now, and everything was repaired. Even the buttons had been refurbished. The crimson cross was there again, but beside it the pentagram had been replaced with a solid green button that was marked with an ankh. Without hesitation, I pressed it and closed the gate that now slid easily on its rails. The trip was short this time.

I stepped out into a fully mended train station. There was no sign of damage. In front of me I could see my backpack resting once again where I had dumped it unceremoniously on a bench. I went and picked it up without consequence and found it to be lighter than ever. I looked at it, and there, sitting humbly alone, was a train ticket. A whistle sounded off to my left. I spun to see a shiny and inviting black steam engine rolling into the platform on which I was standing. I took out the ticket, folded it into my pants pocket to rest against the watch and slung the bag over my shoulder. All I had to do now was to wait to board the train that would take me back.

I grabbed a rail as it went past and jumped up. My feet landed on the carriage step and everything went black. Thinking I must’ve closed my eyes I tried to open them but found that I couldn’t. Then I woke up to what was happening just in time to get slammed by the full force of the steam engine that I had thrown myself in front of all that time ago.

 

 

No Rest for the Wicked

By[* J.P Fitch*]

 

The town looked alien to Sheridan’s dead eyes.

The orange glow from countless streetlights cast a hazy light on his cold features. Snow blanketed the slumbering town like an ivory quilt. Sheridan guessed it was winter.

He had no idea how long he had been dead, or how he had died. He only saw a family name on the weathered gravestone that stood above his now excavated resting place and decided the surname it bore – Sheridan – must have been his. Some gravestones had first names, dates and family descriptions on them; others had poems and epithets, a few even had inspiring quotes or funny last words. Sheridan’s headstone had none of these. He tried to remember who he was, what kind of man he’d been, but it was like trying to catch his reflection in a moving river; the eddies and rivulets of his mind distorting and corrupting the image. Memories darted like fish, slippery and nimble. They skated and swam through the dark pool of his mind, sometimes coming to the fore, only to flick off and disappear into the shadows once again. He knew they’d come eventually, but until they did he’d have to occupy himself.

Sheridan pulled his too-big suit jacket across his chest as a sheet of icy wind slapped him like a freezing hand. He felt as cold as the frost-bitten ground on which he stood – a deep, aching cold that pierced his bones and stiffened his joints. From his place, in the still hilltop graveyard, amongst the other dead, the town seemed so vibrant. The streets and roads protruded like varicose veins, marking the pathways of life in the quiet town. He could smell every fast food joint, hear every car horn blare in anger, feel every bedroom mattress rock with animal lust… and how it reviled him now. The graveyard was quiet, just how he liked it.

The ground pulled at him like a magnet. His body wanted the dark and the peace of the dirt. He wanted to climb back down there, pull the soil on top of him and wait for the crawling things that live there to come for him until they, eventually, melted away into nothing, but something had called him back. He had some purpose to fulfil, and he couldn’t rest until that itch had been scratched. Something scuttled from the back of his throat to the front of his mouth and before it could make a break for the cold night air, Sheridan crunched it between his piano-key teeth, its shell back breaking with a crack and its juices smearing onto his tongue.

The dead man looked at the town a minute longer then, with a grunt, began to shuffle.

At the gate, Sheridan was struck by the sense of being watched. He turned stiffly to see a small boy leaning against the bulk of a dead tree. He held a small black book in his hand.

Sheridan tried to speak, to call out to him, but the noise he made was something akin to the wind rattling through bone. He tried again.

“B-b-boy…” he said.

The boy jumped, startled by the noise and sunk backwards into the shadows of the trees. He glared at Sheridan, eyes like saucers, face pale.

“D-don’t be a-afraid, I won’t h-harm you.”

He was roughly 12 or 13 by Sheridan’s guess, skinny and pale in the moonlight, yet tall for a boy his age. He wore the years of neglect on his face like a badge of honour.

“Are you…dead?”

“Does that s-scare you, boy?”

“You don’t look dead. For one thing, you’re moving. Secondly… you’re talking! Thirdly… you’ve got a face like a haunted tree… and, well…you stink.”

Sheridan stared at the boy. Shouldn’t this child be terrified? Wasn’t that the normal reaction of people to dead bodies, especially to dead bodies that got up and walked around? This one seemed confused by his presence, yet entirely unafraid.

The boy kicked at a stone on the ground then moved towards Sheridan and jabbed at him with a dirty finger, testing him, to see if he was real and not some illusion cooked up by an overactive imagination.

“You’re freezing is what you are. You best wrap up, its winter don’t you know?” said the boy.

“W-what’s your name?”

“Josh. It’s short for Joshua. My mum says it’s biblical, but what does she know? She spends all day watching TV and drinking gin.”

Sheridan stared at the boy.

“Fancy some chips?” Josh asked. “They’ll heat you up a bit, come on.” Josh sauntered past Sheridan and out through the cemetery gates. Sheridan watched him for a moment before following. The boy and the dead man walked down the hill towards the town.

 

The streets looked clean from the hilltop graveyard; things often look better from a distance. Sometimes the closer you get to something, the more apparent its flaws become, like wrinkles on the face of a once beautiful woman, or specks of dirt on an old rug.

Grit blasted from the back of a truck like a shotgun, peppering Sheridan’s legs with salt. He stumbled past a few drunken bystanders who were caught up in their bawdy conversations and merriment. They ignored the shambling corpse and his child companion completely. A girl vomited amongst the trash and garbage in an alleyway; her skirt hiked up around her waist, knickers at knee height as a drunk twenty-something man rubbed her bare arse cheeks. He could smell the half-digested pizza and vodka cocktail as it splashed on the cobbled ground.

A roar went up from a nearby pub. Sheridan pressed his cold nose against the window, but could see nothing but a waving wall of bodies, decorated with glasses of beer and wine, laughing and whooping and cheering.

“They’re watching football, “Josh said. “Do you know what football is?”

“I-I can’t r-remember,” said Sheridan.

“It’s okay. It’s a game; two teams battle it out with a ball. The team that scores the most goals wins. Dead simple.”

Sheridan grunted.

Staring at the huddled mass of body’s filled Sheridan with resentment; a bubbling, boiling hatred of the living. He wanted to take their eyes out with his thumbs. He wanted to peel the skin from their backs and chew it in his leathery mouth, tasting their juices with his dry tongue. He would drink their blood and feel the warmth of it spread through him, heating him inside, bringing him back to life. He would do the same to the child, he thought, the poor, trusting child. Then, his hunger satisfied, he’d retire, to the Earth, to rest once again.

The thought filled him with glee.

“Got any cash on you?”

Sheridan was plucked from his reverie. He looked at the boy.

“Course you don’t, what would a corpse want with money?” Josh asked while a mischievous smile spread across his moonlike face.

“I know where we can get some coin…” he said. “You religious?”

The church towered like a silent sentinel above the deserted street; its stain glass windows were dark and ominous. Sheridan looked up at them with contempt.

“My mum always puts money in the collection plate. Everybody does. I bet that place is packed with cash.”

Their footsteps echoed in the empty church. Lonely pews huddled together in the dark. Sheridan stalked amongst them, a spectre, blasphemy personified. He watched the boy ransack the candle stands, taking silver coins and notes with a gleeful giggle. Sheridan walked to the cloth covered alter and looked up. There, high above him, hung a life-sized crucifix with the corpse of Christ nailed into the wood. Christ’s thorn-crowned head lolled to the side, his eyes filled with tears. Sheridan stared at it as it stared at him, their eyes locked in competition.

Then Josh was at his side, tugging on his arm. “Come on, we’ve got enough to get a couple of battered sausages and a jar of pickles!”

Josh ran back down the central aisle. Sheridan kept eye contact with the bastard on the cross, then managed a small smile (which required more effort than he had thought) and turned to follow the lad when he heard a thump and turned to see a blinking man standing in a doorway off to the right of the alter. The man held a torch in his hand and wore tracksuit bottoms and a football shirt.

“Hey! What are you doing in here? The church is closed.”

Sheridan turned towards the man and glared at him. A priest, he thought, how fitting.

“I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you’ve done, but you can’t be in here. Out with you, go on.”

The priest crossed the distance between them in a few steps. When he was close enough, he turned the torch on Sheridan and froze, realising what he was looking at. He tried to speak, to utter some words, to try to comprehend what he was looking at, but his brain wouldn’t work. It was as if being in the presence of something so alien, so utterly arcane stopped the thought processes in his mind. Sheridan said nothing. He simply reached for the large gold cross that stood on the alter. Its weight felt good in his hand. “Tell me, priest, do you really believe in heaven?”

The priest only blinked. “I’ll take that as a no,” said Sheridan and hefted the cross above his head and brought it down on the priest’s face.

There was a dull crunch, and a squelch as the base of the cross shattered the priest’s nose. He began to scream, dropping the torch and bringing his hands up to his head. Sheridan pulled the cross backwards, separating it from the priest’s face, bringing an eye with it; and the priest fell backwards, blinded by pain and blood. Sheridan stepped forward, holding the cross high again. He turned it, holding it like a club, and began raining blows down onto the prone priest.

Eventually the priest stopped screaming and squirming, his thrashing reduced to a few nervous twitches. When Sheridan was finished, the priest’s head was flat and pulpy. He looked at his scarlet hands. For the first time since he’d awoken, he felt something inside this dead shell of a body – he had an idea.

As Sheridan reached the church door, he turned to admire his work. There on the alter, before his God, was a sacrificial offering. The priest mirrored the dying God that watched over them – arms wide to embrace the void. Three dead men in a house of god, an unholy trinity.

“Did you kill that priest?” asked Josh between mouthfuls of steaming hot chips. They both sat on a small bench beside a darkened park watching the detritus of humanity stagger and stumble, drunk on life and booze. Sheridan felt the cold stab of the wind, but somehow Joshua seemed completely un-phased by the elements. The boy’s hand snatched up a clutch of steaming fried potatoes.

Sheridan ignored Joshua’s question and stared at the battered sausage in his hand. It flopped slightly, mushy innards held together by the crispy battered skin.

Josh went silent and looked at his chips. “Have you ever hurt anyone else?”

“I don’t remember…have you?”

“I couldn’t. I don’t think I could stomach it.” said Josh.

“It’s not as bad as you’d think. The priest cried at the end. It made no difference.”

“Would you hurt…someone else…if I asked you to?”

Sheridan looked at the boy. He still stared into his bag of chips. “Tell me where they live.”

It was a nondescript semi-detached house. It had a black iron fence and gate, backed by a small green hedge that ran the length of the garden. The gate was unlatched, and Sheridan let himself in.

“Stay here and keep watch,” he told Joshua before staggering up the red bricked pathway to the door. The house was dark inside; most likely everyone is asleep, thought Sheridan. He tried the front door and wasn’t surprised that it was locked. Only damned fools leave their doors unlocked in this world, _]he thought, [_they know deep down that real monsters exist…[_monsters like _]me.

The back yard was big and dark. A wooden fence ran round the perimeter, crowned with trees and overgrown bushes from the field to the rear and in the centre of the lawn stood an iron swing-set and climbing frame. A black and white tomcat sprang from the roof of a small wooden shed adjacent to the house, startled by Sheridan’s presence. The windows were double glazed and locked. Sheridan looked around for a brick or fallen branch with which to break the glass but found nothing. The shed was padlocked with a big brass lock and bolt. He looked at the back door. Surely they wouldn’t leave it unlocked?

The kitchen was a mess. Cat litter spilled from a box in the corner. The sink held a tower of dirty dishes, flanked by a large pot and several empty glasses. The oven, microwave refrigerator, and washing machine were all cowered under the cupboards and cabinets that boxed out the kitchen. Sheridan opened a drawer and fingered a variety of cutlery before he noticed the block of knives next to the breadbin, arranged in size from small to large. He picked the largest and ran his finger over the blade. The grey skin separated quickly, but no blood bubbled to the surface. I’m dead, he thought, I’m really dead. He’d known he was dead all this time, but the reality of the situation finally hit home in all its glory. I can do anything, and no-one can stop me.

From the kitchen door, the hallway stretched a few feet to the front door. The lounge room stood off to the right and to the left, just before the carpeted stairs, was a small bathroom. Sheridan noted the coats that hung immediately to his right. A large duffel coat snuggled next to a medium sized rain jacket and a smaller, pink fur-lined parka. A heavy leather jacket lay on the floor next to two pairs of small, brightly coloured trainers. Sheridan picked it up and tried it on. It was slightly too big, but the weight felt good on his shoulders.

Footsteps on the stairs, then a naked man staggered into the hall and felt along the wall for the bathroom door. Pushing it open he fingered the light-switch and went in, closing the door behind him. Sheridan heard the splashing of a man evacuating his bladder, which stopped after a while and brought the expected flush.

Sheridan positioned himself directly before the door. A moment later, the handle turned and the man, with his eyes closed, walked straight onto the blade of the knife.

There was a small sound like the pop of a wet paper bag. The blade slipped into the man’s belly all the way to the hilt. His eyes snapped open, and his hands went to the wound. He staggered backwards, but Sheridan pressed forward, keeping the man stuck on the blade, pushing him backwards into the bathroom until his legs hit the toilet bowl and down he sat like a fat, gasping toddler. Sheridan gripped the knife with both his bony hands and pulled sharply up, as the man’s innards became outards, spilling onto the tiled the floor.

The man took in a lungful of air to let out a scream, but Sheridan stuffed a slippery hand into his mouth and grasped his tongue, sinking the points of his finger-bones into the warm muscle and yanked with all his might. The tongue came away from the man’s mouth with a wet slurp. With the man’s neck exposed, Sheridan plunged the carving knife deep into his throat. The man gargled blood which spilling out over his lips and ran down his cheeks onto his chest and the stomach that Sheridan had opened.

Sheridan stepped back and watched the man fumble and flop as his life seeped out of him then, without waiting for the finale of his death performance, turned and silently made his way up the carpeted stairs. On the top landing there were three doors. Two were closed, and one stood open, inviting Sheridan to enter, which he did. The room contained a wardrobe and a chest of drawers, on which stood a large flat-screen television, and assorted jewellery hanging on an ornamental tree, small crystal birds roosted in its branches. In the large double bed was a sleeping woman, her black hair visible on the pillow, her face buried beneath a thick, striped duvet. Sheridan squeezed past the large wooden wardrobe, bumping his shin on the metal frame of the Japanese style bed. The woman snorted and rolled over.

Sheridan sat on the edge of the bed, swung his legs up and lay down, pulling the quilt over his body. The woman reached a hand over and patted his chest.

“Jeez…cold…” she mumbled.

Sheridan rolled on his side, his mangled face close to hers now, close enough to kiss.

“Yes…yes, I am…and so will you be.”

Her eyes fluttered open as Sheridan brought the pillow over her face.

When the woman eventually stopped thrashing and lay still, Sheridan went through the wardrobe and picked himself the best pair of jeans he could find. The man’s boots were far too big for him, so he kept his funeral shoes on and cloaked himself in the leather jacket. He felt something heavy in the inside pocket and fumbled for it. It was a zippo lighter, one like he’d seen in the movies. He flipped the top open and flicked a flame to life with his thumb. He marvelled at it. So beautiful, he thought. The woman was right, he was freezing.

Time to start a fire.

Josh looked up from his book as Sheridan exited the house. There was a light in his eyes now where previously there had been nothing but a dull void. Through the front windows, Josh could see tongues of ochre and yellow flame lick the walls, gobbling the wallpaper and slavering over the plush furniture of the lounge room.

Returning the small book to its place in his back pocket, Josh jumped down off the wall where he was perched.

“Is it done?” Josh asked.

Sheridan nodded. The boy smiled back and fumbled in his pocket. He produced a few coins and quickly counted them. Then he looked up.

“We’ve enough left for some ice-cream. There’s a petrol station just up the road.”

Light was beginning to creep into the night sky. It would be morning soon. The boy seemed oblivious to the fact that Sheridan couldn’t, nor wanted to; eat anything, so he walked on alongside the boy quietly. He ached. The nights work had made him weary, and he hankered for the peaceful dark of the grave. It would be morning soon, and the town would pulse to life again. This street would have people pushing to and fro on their way to their jobs, to deal with this or that world ending crisis. It’s all an illusion, he thought, they don’t even notice life passing them by, or death stalking them from the shadows.

It was time. They walked past the alleyway where the girl had vomited up the night’s excess, where the man roughly pinched her bare arse. Sheridan drew the knife from the inside pocket of the leather coat. He grabbed the boy by the arm and hauled him bodily into the alleyway.

The boy’s angelic face mooned up at him. He didn’t even protest, just smiled a strange half-smile and closed his eyes.

“I’ll make it quick,” said Sheridan. Then he stabbed Josh in the heart , and the boy fell.

Sheridan left Josh in the alley and made his way back up the hill towards the graveyard.

 

Quiet.

There was no sound, there was no light. Sheridan lay still and thought of nothing. Peace.

A sound of gravel, growing louder. The thump of metal on wood. No, he thought, but his protestations were in vain as the coffin lid cracked open and wretched light spilled in like a drunken guest.

“No!” screamed Sheridan.

“Time to wake up, dead man.” Sheridan blinked, his eyes adjusted to the moonlight. He looked up at the boy as he looked down on Sheridan. Impossible!

“Wakey, wakey, sleepy-head,” sang Josh.

Sheridan hauled himself from the dirt with morose effort. Josh sat cross-legged on the cold ground, reading his small black book.

“You’re dead. I killed you,” said Sheridan.

“Actually, that’s three times you’ve killed me. First time I brought you back, you broke my neck and reburied yourself. You were a lumbering imbecile that time. I had to figure out which conjurations I’d mispronounced.”

“Three times?”

“The first time…that hurt. Don’t you remember? The accident?”

Josh pulled up his shirt. A portion of his stomach was caved in, rib bones jutting at acute angles. His hip was crushed, reduced to nothing more than a parcel of blue-black pulp.

“See that? Your tires did that.”

Through the murk of his mind, the projector in his head began to run. Sheridan stumbled from the Dog and Duck pub, dropping his keys in the muck of the car park. He giggled to himself and found them, slid them into the lock and entered. An image solidified of the lurch of a wheel, of a road slipping and sliding in Sheridan’s vision. A small moon face looking up at him, gasping, filled with the light of his headlamps. The boy disappeared beneath the front of the car with a bump.

He’d hidden Josh’s body and burned the car. For weeks, the newspapers and TV carried the boy’s images.

Missing, feared dead.

The guilt was too much.

He couldn’t outrun it, or hide from it. So one day, Sheridan decided to take the coward’s way out – a bottle of scotch and a rope.

Sheridan groped at his throat. His fingers felt the ridges of where the rope had been, where the noose cut into his neck and choked the life from him. The jump from the chair hadn’t been enough to break his neck as he’d hoped, so for a few agonising minutes he’d kicked and dangled, pressure building inside his head until the world seemed fluid, and the darkness swam towards him.

“It’s strange, being dead. For a while, it was dark and quiet. It was kind of nice… ” said Josh, “there wasn’t any more pain, or fear, no more anger…for a while anyway.”

He got up and stood over Sheridan.

“But death isn’t the void you expect it to be, is it? After a while, I realised that I could feel the cold. I could hear the bugs and the worms moving in the earth. I could feel wet things slither over me, down there in the dirt. I could hear my mum crying and my dad beating his fists on the ground, and I got to thinking about how you took my life. I was a little boy, with a life ahead of me. I’ll never grow up; never have jobs or my own family. You took all that away. I wanted payback, so I decided to get up and do something about it.”

Sheridan felt dread rise in his cold chest. “So, all of this, why?”

“You used to have kids, didn’t you…and a wife?” Josh grinned.

“Yes…”

Josh smiled.

“Remember that house you burnt down?”

Sheridan reeled. The colour bled from his vision, and the world turned shades of grey.

“You brother moved in about six months after you died. Your kids had an awful time of it for a while, but he took good care of them. Shame he had to die too, he seemed like a nice man.”

Sheridan covered his face with his hands and let out a whimper.

“Say…what’s this?” Josh held a noose out before him; it dangled in the wind, swaying.

“No. Please no,” gasped Sheridan, but Josh had already draped it over his head like a shroud as the dead man began to bawl. Sheridan looked up at him, eyes dry but filled with horror. Josh tightened the noose, his eyes shining.

“I don’t have all night; we’ve got work to do, morgues to visit. No rest for the wicked.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cat with no Eyes

by[* Louise M. Hart*]

 

It was a chilly January morning. A stranger approached 11 Allan Poe Close. He stared at the house’s boarded windows and wiped away a tear. Mrs Nopperson, who lived nearby, surveyed the man with puzzlement. For the stranger cast an elegant figure. Tall and stylishly dressed, he looked incongruous with the dreary and conventional surroundings.

Mrs Nopperson advanced towards the man; her curiosity aroused like a hormonal teenager. He continued to stare ahead; apparently oblivious to her nearing presence, though she sensed that he had seen her. “Proper eyesore, isn’t it?” She began.

Last summer, the stranger relocated to middle England. A stray from his native northern climes, he was an escapee from reality who favoured isolationism and self-hatred to social interaction and fleshy emotionalism. Like Steppenwolf, he rarely ventured outdoors, choosing rather to make love to the shadows of his own despicable and tempestuous thoughts.

The stranger always concealed his intentions from domestic view. But, the moment he crossed paths with Mrs Nopperson thwarted his secret campaign, his noble brow, usually adorning a practised frown, now smoothened with feigned displays of interest. He even forced a smile.

“Did you want to see where IT happened… all those years ago?” Mrs Nopperson asked. His interest piqued, the stranger suddenly turned his head towards the wretched woman. Perceiving her inauspicious reflection in his mirror glasses, she adjusted her floral blouse and smoothed her hair. He vaguely smiled again, revealing a set of cheekbones that only an aristocrat or a crack addict could possess. Mrs Nopperson’s heart missed a beat and she began to tell a tale, a tale to twist the mind and unsettle the quiescent soul.

 

Built during the post-war boom years, the Blackwood estate formerly represented all that was solid and dependable about British working class life. But, behind the houses’ bricks and mortar, lurked struggle and disquiet, psychical unrest and the doom sated torments of the body, soul and tortured mind. In disingenuous Blackwood, back stabbers and social butterflies existed as symbiotic bedfellows, feeding off each other’s neuroses and bones. Each resident told many stories and every story enunciated lies.

Nanny B moved to 11 Alan Poe Close in the 1960’s. The Mother of a girl and wife of a factory worker, life had never been better. But, in 1974 her daughter bore the child of the friendly, local drugs dealer. Thereafter, she left home pushing a pram and cannabis in order to work on street corners, with the devil on her back. A year later Nanny’s husband died from a massive heart attack. Life had been better.

Nanny never saw her daughter again but in 1992 her grandchild knocked her door. She looked into his eyes and saw not herself, as she had hoped, but the effects of the extra strong cider he had been drinking. He was, though, her kin, and seemed eager to know her.

He visited her for about an hour and promised to return again, soon. Ostensibly a bright and diligent young man, Nanny offered to help him resolve his current financial issues. He left her house smiling and £20 richer.

Nanny no longer enjoyed going out. Groups of troubled youths often congregated outside the corner shop where she bought milk, newspapers and basic groceries. Although the rapacious rabble rarely bothered her, they cast a menacing shadow over the neighbourhood. This particular day was different. As she left the shop, a moon-faced boy deliberately kicked out his foot and tripped her to the ground, ragdoll fashion.

Shocked, she fell, helpless and pitifully vulnerable, an old woman in fraying skin. The braying mob cackled above her, like a pack of hyenas salivating over their defeated prey. Nanny struggled to her feet and fought back tears, as she made her way home.

Nanny B limped through her front door into her modest abode. Collapsing into her favourite armchair, she brushed away the tears that drowned her papery cheeks and searched her mantelpiece for the small piece of paper on which her grandson had written his phone number. She was about to reach for the phone when she felt something rub against her ankles. Startled, she looked down and saw a cat.

How the creature had entered the house, she did not know. But, in appearance, he was a wretchedly poor example of his own kind. Pathetically thin, his fur was coloured black and unhealthily dull apart from a small, white triangle of fur on his chest where his heart should have been.

Nanny reached down and lifted the cat to her slack belly. He fed greedily off the warmth she radiated and purred volubly. She noticed that he possessed no eyes and felt her heart grew heavy with the throb of unshed tears. She pitied the ailing and fragile creature even more than she pitied herself and continued to grasp his bony form, as though validating him would somehow validate her, too. She wondered what cruel and hideous acts had befallen him.

After feeding the cat a tin of tuna he, subsequently, curled up on her lap, falling into a deep and restful sleep. He distracted her from her painful thoughts and feelings. Thus, she decided to postpone the phone call to her grandson and, rather, concentrate on a worthier existent.

The cat spent the rest of the day following Nanny around the house. Had she not known differently, she would swear that he possessed perfect vision. For, never did he stumble or bang into furniture or other items scattered around the house.

When night time arrived, she proceeded to bed, whereupon the cat jumped onto her duvet and lay beside her. United, they were stronger together than alone and slept as peacefully as doves with their heads buried beneath wings of thought.

“Help me!” Nanny B pleaded the following morning.

“What’s the matter…Nan?” Her grandson enquired, down the phone. “Nan,” he had called her, “Nan,” the most beautiful word in the whole, God forsaken world.

Nanny described the previous day’s events. Her cat rubbed her legs. Curtailing the conversation and sounding impatient the young man snapped, “I’ve got a lot on today…but I’ll come round, right away. I’ll see you in about an hour.”

He arrived 2 hours later, wearing a hangover as effortlessly as most people wear their skin and tainting the air with his beery, nicotine breath. “I didn’t know you had a cat,” her grandson said. The cat growled and patrolled the area around his new mistress, like a dog protecting his bone from a predator. “What happened to its eyes?”

“He’s very hungry.” Nanny appealed to the fellow’s kinder instincts and asked him if he could visit the local shop to buy some cat food.

“You mean… I have come all this way to buy cat food.”

“I’m too scared to go… those kids were very frightening… and the one who tripped me up possessed the face of the devil… himself!” She lifted her dress above her knee revealing two enormous purple bruises.

“Okay… then. I suppose, I’ll go.” Her grandson conceded.

“I would like a newspaper, too and some milk…please…if that’s okay?” Nanny began to fumble in her purse.

“I have only got a couple of cigarettes left,” said her grandson, peering into her purse. She pulled out a £10 note and told him to treat himself. Suddenly enthused, he bounced to his feet. The cat arched his back and spat out feline expletives.

“Were the kids there?” Nanny asked. Anxiety gnawed the emotional source of her words with worm-like efficacy.

“No, it was dead quiet.”

As she fed her eyeless cat, Nanny’s innocent nose remained insentient to the smell of blood that now saturated Blackwood’s air and her mind ignorant of the horror of last night’s events. But, when she unfolded the newspaper that her grandson had bought, she gasped in shock. Staring back at her, beneath a headline that read, “Local youth murdered in frenzied attack,” was a photograph of the young man who had so viciously assaulted her the previous day. The moon-faced boy had been murdered, and there was a killer on the loose.

“Justice,” smiled her grandson, distractedly surveying the shabby furnishing around him. Nanny’s consciousness followed his unfurling thought processes, as he fantasised about what hidden riches might exist beneath her cushions and grubby mattress. There was only one solution, “I’ll move in with you, Nan…to look after you.” Blackwood simply was not safe for a frail old lady and her blind cat. And free meals would suit his wallet.

On 7th February 1992, Nanny B’s compassionate and altruistic grandson moved into her home. For the following few weeks, the streets remained eerily quiet and unsullied by kids. The police were never far away and on one occasion, even knocked Nanny’s door to ask whether she had seen anything unusual or knew the murdered boy. Advised by her grandchild, Nanny politely answered, “No,” to both questions and as he had predicted, they did not return.

Rumours abounded on the estate that the circumstances of the boy’s murder were more horrific than even the darkest and most malevolent human imagination could contemplate. Some people claimed that his internal organs had been ripped from his body, like butcher’s meat. Others spoke of his alleged beheading and signs that his flesh had been savagely consumed. Whether by passing animal or human, no one seemed certain.

The cat grew more beautiful, each day. His fur thickened and shone with inky luminosity. He rapidly gained weight, his torso revealing a level of muscularity seldom present in others of his own kind and a facility for athleticism, which even most sighted cats rarely possessed.

Alongside his increasing physical strength developed an expanding mental fortitude. Constantly at Nanny B’s side, his intermittent roars warned her grandson not to come too close.

On a dull day in late February, Nanny’s neighbour summoned her to the door. The cherry-faced man began, “Please don’t let your cat do its business on my garden… it’s killing my plants.”

“My cat is blind and never goes outside.”

“He may be blind, but he still shits,” the neighbour replied.

Nanny’s grandson sniggered.

The following day faeces were posted through Nanny’s letterbox. “That’s not cats!” The lad shouted, squirming at the foul, mahogany lump that lay on the mat. Before Nanny could reason with him, he stormed over next door’s garden gate and banged the neighbouring front door, shouting abusively. Nanny watched helplessly, as her relative grabbed her neighbour’s neck and pushed him against the wall.

“It’s because we are black,” He subsequently claimed.

A mere two days later, the doorbell rang, again. Nanny’s companion had gone to the local social security office to sign-on for his unemployment benefit, or dole. The cat had disappeared. Nanny hoped that he was not defiling her neighbour’s lawn.

People rarely called on Nanny; thus she opened the door with caution, praying that no demons or neighbours lurked outside. Standing at the door, two police officers stared into her faded grey eyes and asked if they could enter.

They wanted to speak to her grandson. When she said that he was not home, they asked where he was, proceeding to enquire about his relationship with their neighbours and the incident that had recently occurred between him and the man who lived next door.

Feeling perplexed and anxious upon the young man’s return, Nanny recounted her conversation with the police. “But…I hardly touched him, Nan.” He said. She added that she felt that the police’s concern about the aforementioned fracas probably constituted a mere diversion from the true nature of the business that really troubled them. The cat appeared at the kitchen window. Relieved, Nanny let him in. How a blind cat could navigate the world so proficiently astounded her, but… “There’s more in heaven than earth,” She thought.

“They mentioned the little boy, who lives next door and asked me if you ever spoke to him.”

“Little boy? I didn’t even know there was a boy living there.”

The next day, Blackwood’s residents spoke in hushed tones about the strange disappearance of 5-year-old Michael Machen. Missing for 5 hours, police discovered him wandering in a park 4 miles from his home. Although physically unharmed, his mental scars were visible to all those who looked into his eyes from that day hence. Replacing his hitherto existing muddy brown pupils were mad and magnificent jewel-like emerald pools that glared at the world with sagacious wonder.

In the space of a few hours, he had become an Apollonian child with eyes of Dionysian discord and a bad attitude. When the police asked him why he had travelled to the park, he replied that he had merely followed the, “most excellent,” cat in the world.

Reluctantly, they decided that there was no evidence to contradict the boy’s story. Thus, when his perturbed Father pointed out that it was not usual for a person’s eye colour to suddenly change, one of the officers sarcastically quipped that an alien had probably substituted him.

Although the police did not approach Nanny B’s grandson, gossip spread and local people now regarded the young man with suspicion. Children ran when he was in sight and adults frequently crossed roads to avoid being near to him. Their neighbour never spoke to him or Nanny again. He now yielded power, like an oligarch in a self-created kingdom, the dictator of rules of domestic disorder. No longer was he merely a grandson; he was now Leon, King of the suburban jungle. In contrast, Nanny became smaller and frailer by the day.

Soon, they had all appeared at 11 Allan Poe Close, the down and outs and drug-addled social rejects, in search of King Leon and a quick fix. Nanny spent most of her days in her bedroom, the cat rhythmically massaging her lap with his protective claws.

Leon had considerately bought her a portable television to watch in her bedroom, enabling her to pass away the days with a semblance of company. He was his Mother’s son alright, she thought, an entrepreneur of the gutter, high on others’ suffering and money.

Feeling obscurely responsible for Leon’s cruel and twisted psyche, she perceived his evilness as a birth right, an inescapable form of madness. If he was evil, then her blood had made him so. Thus, providing a home for the poor, deranged creature was the least she could do.

Although it challenged her patience, she tolerated Leon’s behaviour. Whilst being confined to her bedroom annoyed her, outwardly, she remained calm. Conversely, the cat became increasingly ill-tempered and frequently paced about the room; slinky, independent and artfully assiduous in form and behaviour.

It was a particularly noisy spring day. Nanny bravely ventured into the lounge. She intended to ask Leon to turn down the volume of his music. Relieved to be freed from his restrictive confines, the cat dashed before her.

When Nanny entered the room, Leon was leaning over the coffee table measuring substances, whose nature Nanny could only conjecture. In a sudden flurry of mania, the cat jumped at the table, knocking Leon’s mysterious substances to the ground. He grabbed the cat and threw him into the air like a piece of rag. Looking on in horror, Nanny screamed inside and out.

Miraculously, the cat landed on all four paws. Nanny stumbled over to him, scooping him up in her maternal arms and wailing in torment and shock. “You wicked, wicked boy,” She shouted at Leon. Angrily raising his arm, Leon hissed back. Nanny and the cat escaped to their room.

Nanny’s anger built like a tidal wave of fury. The wave’s roar became Nanny’s own, a shrieking cry of torment that threatened to erode her flimsy sandbanks of thought. She claimed her anger and, in turn, her anger claimed her.

On the night of the 2nd April 1992, the Machen family who lived at 9 Allan Poe Close were woken by horrific and terrifying cries and screams emanating from the house next door. The noise continued for a few minutes, becoming increasingly disturbing and frenzied. Mr Machen duly telephoned the police. His voice shook, as he described the chilling sounds he had heard. The police claimed that they would reach Allan Poe Close in mere minutes.

Upon arrival, they noticed that the light in the back bedroom of 11 Allan Poe Close was turned on. They repeatedly rang the doorbell and banged the front door, but no one replied. Their only option was to break in. The Machen family surveyed the scene from behind their curtains, anxious not to miss a second of the action. Young Michael clung to his Mother’s nightshirt, grinning inconsolably.

Rushing towards the light, the police burst into Nanny’s house. Leon’s final gurgles had already crossed the threshold between earthly existence and mortal death, his body lay splattered across the floor as unidentifiable to the reasoned mind as an abstract painting. His torso severed from chest to gut, brazenly displayed parchments of his hitherto existing bones and flesh.

Positioned beside the body, Nanny looked up at the police. “Can I help you, officers?” She said, spitting scraps of liver and kidney across the room. Purring, the cat washed his whiskers and welcomed the visitors.

Mrs Nopperson shook her head with exaggerated dismay. “Nanny B died within 24 hours of being arrested, she was broken hearted that she had been separated from her cat. The newspapers described her as sick and extremely dangerous, but I have always said that she was okay until she took that cat in.”

“The house…” the stranger continued, “… have there ever been any plans to sell it?” Horrified, Mrs Nopperson stared at him blankly. “If you should hear anything…” He handed her his business card. A fear, as dark as Satan’s heart, gripped her troubled psyche. The card read Michael A. Machen, veterinary surgeon. With a flourish, the stranger took off his glasses. His eyes were mad and magnificent jewel-like emerald pools that glared…

Mrs Nopperson went home and did not leave, again until two weeks later when her bodily remains were removed from her house. Subsequently, the house was sold to a vet, who specialised in treating cats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Omake

(I’d like to see one of those freaks follow me in here.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love Amongst Strangers: The Other Side

Excerpt from “Chapter I”

by[* Jack Buxton*]

  • *

Ayesha Swanson woke up as a stranger in a strange land. Her short-term memory gone and her vision blurred.

“Ayesha, can you hear me?” a deep voice said, distracting her briefly from the pain that began to throb in the back of her head, she heard a voice from behind.

Resting inactive on her back, she stared at a sky full of angry looking clouds blowing to the west.

Lightning struck close by, zigzagging across her vision, but thunder didn’t follow.

“Wake up!” The voice snapped with an impatience of urgency.

She turned her head to the left and saw an endless forest of dark, dying trees; all which arched to one side like injured war veterans. Each branch hung with misery while thick, green moss covered every inch of their damp bark; scattered between them, laid disfigured rocks of varied sizes, their formation reminiscent of traditional graveyards.

A sight that oddly felt pleasing to her.

“You have to get up,” the anonymous voice pleaded.

Ayesha felt unnerved by the presence of whispers from an unseen stranger, but sat up, and scanned her vicinity.

“Where are you?” she finally answered back.

Just then, she submerged her hands underneath the moist dirt as a painful knot tightened within her stomach.

“Jesus. Where am I?” she grunted through gritted teeth.

“Watch out!”

Ayesha turned and noticed beyond a single rock by her foot, lifeless and uninteresting.

But that wasn’t the problem. Beyond its dormant moonlit shadow; a faceless hunched creature with stony features groaned as it rose up to its full height.

It appeared frail in stature, except the creature jerked and twisted like a demented lunatic having its joints electrocuted.

After one initial high-pitched cry, which sounded like a bellowing baby, there was only the deep inaudible grumble of an old man suffering from acute bronchitis.

Ayesha was a magician where she came from, but where she woke up now, she had trouble recalling a spell, any spell that she’d previously known by heart, and default to protect her.

The creature now had grown beyond its original height and towered over seven feet tall.

The sight alone paralysed her stiff and like a cloudless sky in an Indian summer, her mind was clear. She couldn’t recall any spells; she couldn’t feel anything within her.

“Shit!” she moaned. “Where has the magic gone?”

Her bones felt empty, starved of marrow and majesty, and the blood that had once flowed through her virile veins seemed thin and lethargic.

Her heart was thumping ten to the dozen as panic began to settle. She thought waking up drunk on a park bench in Brixton was bad enough, at least then her attackers had been human.

The creature threw out an arm, missing her by mere inches. If it had connected, Ayesha’s lifeless skull would have rolled like a skipping stone into a dark pit littered with bodies too mauled to recognise.

The anonymous voice that first warned her when she awoke then manifested into somebody Ayesha recognised, Mister Mo, her occult bodyguard from London.

He couldn’t just sit back and watch omnisciently as this creature decapitated her and appeared in a smoke form, spirit-like, taking their disfigured foe’s attention.

“Run!” Mo yelled.

Exploding through thickets and dodging hanging vines that twisted and curled like predatory snakes, Ayesha did as her bodyguard said.

Avoiding the snapping bites and eventually tripping over her feet, she landed hard on the moss layered ground, squelching the unsavoury sensation between her fingers.

Achingly raising her head, she stared unbelievably at an army of stone soldiers crawling over the filthy plains of this strange world.

Desperately looking around, she saw a small cave in the not too far distance to her left. It had an old tree lying across its entrance blocking the way, like a homeless drunk sleeping in a shop’s doorway.

Beneath that, a gap that looked just big enough for her petite frame to slip through and escape.

[_I’d like to see one of those freaks follow me in here. _]

 

 

Read the full story in THE OTHER SIDE by Jack Buxton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALSO AVAILABLE

 

THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT EMILY, BY EMILY

 

by JACOB MILNESTEIN

 

 

 

 

 

The first time I saw her, like not in one of those god-awful videos they show endlessly on VH-1, was at my dad’[s house during some big Thanksgiving celebration. My dad sort of came out of nowhere and told us we were going to be celebrating Thanksgiving this year and I was all like, _]what the hell have I got to be thankful for?[ But, as is kind of the case in our family, my questions were conveniently brushed aside._]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

amazon UK & US


Psychopomp Volume Eight

Pirates! Aliens! Cannibals! Brain-squid-things-whatever-the-hell-they-are! Mythological vaginas! Psychopomp brings you a festering sack of seasonal genre fiction in time for Hallowe'en! Your ebook reader will literally putrefy as you load this file, your throat will fill with vomit, your excrement turn to water.* You will find yourself losing the will to live as you thumb through these eighteen tales of pure gonzo oddity and you will not thank us for it. You will wish you had downloaded a haunted Pokemon ROM, you will wish you had thought about Slender Man too much. You will wish you had not downloaded this ebook - and that's a Psychopomp promise. Make yourself miserable this Hallowe'en, download Psychopomp Volume Eight today! * actual reader experience may vary.

  • Author: MysteriaPress
  • Published: 2015-10-28 22:50:17
  • Words: 47346
Psychopomp Volume Eight Psychopomp Volume Eight