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The Girl Without a Name – Mark Towse

Mark Towse

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The drive had been long, and her Dad seemed to be taking them into the middle of nowhere. She couldn’t remember the last time they had seen a living soul. Finally, they turned off into the longest driveway she had ever seen, and as they slowly trundled towards the house, the long arms of ivy reached out and menacingly clawed at the roof, and the thick hedges on either side played the part of a car wash that only cleaned your car of paint.

Her Dad told her the place was early nineteenth-century and, to Annie, it certainly looked as though that was the last time anyone had done any gardening. She wound the window down, but the musty smell of overgrowth began to seep through the window, an unpleasant and oppressive odour that made her screw her face up and shut the window so quickly she rapped her knuckles on the door and winced.

“Are you okay, love?” her Mum asked.

“Didn’t hurt,” she replied.

The light had changed since they turned in, the sky blocked out by the sprawling bushes that lined the driveway, and the place had that stereotypical haunted house feel, the only thing missing was thunder and lightning and perhaps a few crows lining up on either side. Annie let out a little shiver of nervous excitement as the house came into view and gave out a little “caw” and giggled to herself.

The car pulled up, and she looked out the window and could see a few pebbles scattered in between all the weeds. She took in the surroundings and imagined it back in its day, how grand it would have been, and turned to face the house and noted the decaying and slightly misshapen windows and eroding brickwork, victims of age and the elements. She felt sad for how neglected it looked but was pleased they were going to breathe new life into it.

“So what do you think, Annie?” her Dad asked.

“I like it, Dad. It’s even older than you eh?” she laughed.

He dropped the suitcase and started to run towards her, and she laughed and set off towards the house and passed an old fountain that looked like it had been there since the beginning of time. She noted how old and green it looked and she caught that damp smell of rotting vegetation again that was starting to make her gag. They arrived at the front door together, and they both pushed it open. The place was huge, high ceilings and a massive hallway leading into the kitchen and living areas and it looked just as sad and neglected inside. “Christ, what have we done Annie?” he asked smiling at her.

He picked up the white envelope on the hallway table next to a bottle of champagne.

Jim and family, welcome.

The envelope gave way, and the keys spilled out, and the subsequent clatter echoed through the hallway. Made of some form of metal, Annie immediately thought how ancient and purposeful they looked.

“It’s okay Annie, I’ve always liked heavy metal,” Jim gleefully joked.

“Dad joke alert,” she replied.

“Liz, champers! Annie, you’ve got a ten-second head start, and I’m coming for you,” Jim said and pretended to claw at her face.

Annie giggled and ran upstairs, her footsteps were thunderous on the wooden floor, and the high ceilings served only to provide the perfect acoustics for noise.

“Liz, we are going to need some more rugs,” Jim commented.

Annie flung open the first few doors of the hallway until she found a room with a large dark brown wardrobe in. As with the fountain it looked as though it had been there for eternity, heavy and old, with a huge ornate metal lock across its front. She tried the door, and it opened. Even more spacious inside than it looked; it was empty and had a strong musty smell that she could only put down to age. She cautiously checked inside for old vampires having a midday snooze but of course, found nothing, and stepped in and closed the door. She shuffled into the storage space to the left of the doors and waited.

Annie had already seen quite a few horror films; unbeknownst to her parents, but they could never get across the smell of the old buildings and the thick taste of history in the air. The wardrobe creaked as she shuffled to try and get comfortable and the feel of the cold wood on her skin was only slightly unpleasant, but the smell was oppressively present, and it was dark, no light got through at all, and she became gradually nervous.

She heard her Dad slowly and noisily coming up the stairs, most likely carrying one of the heavy suitcases, or perhaps it was a monster, making its way up and dragging a huge sledgehammer behind. She scared herself and reached her hands out to open the doors and momentarily forgot she’d shuffled to the left, and when she pushed the wood, nothing happened, just another ominous creak. She felt something under her left palm as she started to panic and flail and finally, she managed to throw the doors open, and was relieved to see her Dad stood at the entrance to the room with her suitcase.

“You’re mine now!” her Dad shouted and grabbed her and swung her around by the arms.

As she spun around, she noticed the mark of the cross on each of the walls, where the previous owners had obviously suspended them, and the surrounding wallpaper had yellowed over time. They gave her an uneasy feeling, as far as she could recall none of the movies she watched that contained crucifixes had a happy ending.

“It’s going to keep us busy this place,” her Dad uttered as he gently put her down and trundled back downstairs.

She poked her head inside the wardrobe to find someone had carved the letter H roughly into the wood, and just as she leaned inside to inspect, something hit the window behind her. She turned quickly in fright and emitted a strange gurgling noise that she would laugh about later, but not right now. Heart thumping, she slowly edged over to the other side of the room and nervously peeked through the window but could see nobody on the sprawling driveway below. When her Dad called out lunch, she didn’t hesitate and ran downstairs.

“So what do you think to your room?” her Mum asked and then finished the glass of champagne.

“That one is mine, is it?”

“Sure is, we gave you the biggest so you can get all your Chinese plastic in there,” said her Dad.

“Funny, Dad, you should do stand up.”

“ Liz, pass the bottle would you please?” asked Jim. “I could get used to this.”

“So how can we afford this, Dad? I mean our last house was tiny in comparison.”

Jim looked across at Liz; Liz shook her head and poured herself another glass.

“We just got lucky with our house Annie, and this came on at a bargain. The right time, the right place really,” he said.

Annie went across to a cupboard in the kitchen and pulled at the heavy oak door to unveil a huge pantry. “This is the size of our old living room,” she commented with glee.

She walked inside and ran her fingers on the shelves, “You could get about a million cans of baked beans in here.”

“Jeez, we would need a million cans of air freshener though, sport!”

Annie and Liz laughed, and Jim asked them to guess what was for lunch. They were both right as he slammed the can on the table and got a loaf out one of the bags.

Annie walked back to the table and started rifling through the rest of the stuff. “Dad, how come there are still lots of their furniture in the house? There are old wardrobes, cupboards, chests of drawers, and some beautiful rugs, like the one I am stood on, and look there is still cutlery in the drawer. Don’t they want their stuff?”

“You are too smart for your own good,” he said and looked across at Liz and shrugged, “the previous owners died, sweetheart. The bank had to sell the house to repay the loan, and it meant we could buy the house as is, with all the furnishings. Our poxy collection on its own wouldn’t come close to filling this place. So there you have it, Sherlock.”

There was no sign of a can opener in the cutlery drawer, everything but, so she went through some of the other drawers and cupboards.

“No good, Dad.”

Jim walked over to the kitchen and looked in the same places she had and then took a knife from the wooden block next to the sink. Annie noticed there was one missing from the set as her Dad started ferociously stabbing the can of beans with the knife. Tomato sauce started spluttering everywhere.

“Dad, you’re killing it, stop!”

He put the knife blade under the lid and eventually forced it enough to get the contents out. They noticed an absence of a toaster, so they put the grill on and waited for what seemed an eternity for it to warm up.

“So how did they die, Dad?”

“Accident,” he replied, and too quickly for her liking.

“Dad, come on, really, how did they die?”

“They asked too many questions,” he replied.

After lunch, she explored more of the house before returning to her room, and to find the cupboard door closed. She was sure she had left it open and tentatively walked towards the door, grabbed the heavy metal handle and pulled it towards her. The heavy door creaked open, and Annie made a note to ask her Dad to oil the hinge. She was happy to find nobody behind it but put her hand in first just in case; she traced the now familiar H but gasped when she felt the other marking next to it.

She looked behind her nervously with a fleeting feeling someone was watching but, of course, there was nobody there. She could hear her parents talking downstairs, and with that comforting sound in the background, she quickly stuck her head around the cupboard door and then immediately back out again. There was a letter e, and she would bet her granny it wasn’t there before.

The cobblestones crunched outside as someone pulled up the driveway and Annie rushed across to the window. The furniture van had arrived.


“Please no, Mum, not again!”

“Get in,” the burly woman shouted, grinding the rosary beads in her hand as though they were coffee beans.

“Mum, I didn’t do anything!”

“Do you want me to get your Dad up here? You know what will happen,” she said menacingly.

The girl without a name stepped into the cupboard, and the heavy doors were shut behind her and locked. She cried for a while but not for long, she had been here many times before, and the crying never helped. She didn’t want to give that asshole Frank a reason.

When they let her out last time, she could hardly walk. God knows how long she was in there for but she had finally come to the conclusion that God didn’t care anyway.

She hoped it wouldn’t be as long this time.

Her life for as long as she could remember, was this normal?

She knew the bible back to front, a perk of God-fearing parents. If she ever did get passages wrong, they would beat her, but there was never anything in the bible about being treated like that or doing those kinds of things to kin. She gripped the handle of the knife and imagined doing things, acts of violence that God would not approve of, and lifted it to the cupboard door and clumsily carved the letter H into the wood.


Annie woke up to the sun pouring through the moth-eaten curtains, and for a moment forgot where she was and then looked around and admired her work from the day before. Her old room had felt so cluttered with stuff, but it didn’t touch the sides in the new one. She spotted the key on the pillow next to her and did a nervous sweep of her room; someone had been in while she was asleep. The thought lingered for a while and gave an uneasy feeling. She knew there was no such thing as ghosts, no good or evil spirits, no God, no Devil. Her Dad said that there is enough evil in the world already, even if there was a Devil he would be holidaying in the Bahamas year-round.

Her attention turned to the key, and the nervous feeling slowly subsided with admiration of its ornate beauty. She picked it up and slowly twisted it around between her fingers, and thought it so beautifully intricate that it must open something incredibly precious.

Who are you? Where are you?

She jumped out of bed and put on her dressing gown. She tried the key in the wardrobe door, but it wasn’t a fit and had no luck in the other rooms. Downstairs, she thought.

“What are you up to chick?” Liz asked as she came out of the bathroom.

“Just playing,” she said, wanting to keep the key her little secret.

“Okay, can you be extra quiet? We are both tired after yesterday and want some more shut-eye.”

Annie slid down the bannister, “Yeehaw!”

She landed gracefully. From now, Mum, sorry.

She looked around downstairs but could only find locks on the front and back doors, and there were several on those, but the key didn’t fit in any of them; she would pause for breakfast and continue the hunt later.

Even with their furniture in place, her footsteps still echoed loudly, so she started to tiptoe, and headed over to the pantry with the intention of filling a bowl with as many Cheerios as would fit. When she opened the door, she found the box already open. Her parents hated sugary cereals. Unless they secretly didn’t, and it was just an act she momentarily thought. It was then that she heard a faint noise that sounded like someone crying, and she immediately took a deep breath and held it and listened intently. When no further noise came, she slowly breathed out and then thought she heard more noises that sounded like movement. They were faint but present, and coming from deep within the pantry.

Probably rats?  

Rats don’t cry,” she whispered to herself.

She moved some of the boxes out the way, some were light, but others had to be shoved aside as they were heavy and full of pots and pans. Finally, she reached the back of the pantry but could no longer hear any noise. She traced her hand around the panels and under the shelving, and then she felt an indent and bent down and saw the unmistakable shape of a keyhole and the outline of the white door, camouflaged against the rest of the plasterboard. There were some scuff marks near the keyhole itself as though someone had tried to get through in a hurry.

“Gotta be,” she whispered.

She heard her Dad running downstairs, and she pushed some of the boxes back and grabbed the Cheerios and rushed back to the table.

“Thanks for being so quiet, Miss Thunderfoot,” he said sarcastically, and reached into the pantry for the muesli and poured some into two bowls.

“What are you going to do today?”

“Probably just explore,” she replied.

“Okay, we are going to pop out later to pick up some paint, and a can opener. Any idea what colour you want for your room?”

“I don’t need a can opener for my room, Dad,” she said smiling, “can I borrow your laptop to get some ideas for paint though please?”

“Sure, make sure you are ready to go soon though.”


Annie picked up the laptop from his room and took it into hers. She typed up their new address into the search bar and found a news report of a murder-suicide from two months ago. The bodies discovered were at least a month old. She read on. Frank, and Melissa, blah blah blah, people never saw them apart from at church, and even then they didn’t speak to anyone, just sat on the back pew. No family, no kids, no friends, and lived an isolated life. Both found upstairs. Frank with multiple stab wounds to the neck, chest, face, and Melissa a single stab wound to the chest.

No wonder they got a good deal on the house!

“You ready, love?” her Mum shouted.

Annie quickly closed the page and deleted the search history. She put on a pair of jeans and her red t-shirt on and ran downstairs, “Red, I want red.”

“Anything but red, Annie,” Liz replied.

They left the house and didn’t get back until dark, the car full of pots of paint, wallpaper, flat pack furniture, and a can opener.

Annie carried the paint to her room and found the cupboard door wide open again. Once again she cautiously poked her head inside and saw another letter, an l. Hel now carved into the inside of the wardrobe.

She started to go through some of the possibilities, Helen, Helga, perhaps not Helga.


As she glanced down, she noticed the hairs on the bottom of the wardrobe and carefully picked some of them up and held them against the light from the window. They weren’t hers, they were a different colour, dark brown and long, and as she rolled the hair between her fingers, she thought how dry it was. She put it in her Jeans pocket and went down for supper and thought only fleetingly about telling her parents. They seemed happy though, and since Mum lost the baby they needed this, and she wouldn’t ruin this new start for them.

She ate her food, said goodnight and ran upstairs.


Frank came into the room; he brought with him some bread and a can of soup and put the tray down at the end of her bed.  He put his hand on her leg just above the chain, and she immediately stiffened.

She had a plan, but he was strong, and he would kill her for sure if she didn’t get it right. Sometimes she wondered if that might be the best thing that could happen.

He moved his hand up her thigh and smiled down at her.

“It’s wrong, Dad, you know that.”

“Child, you don’t exist. Nobody knows you are alive, you are invisible, an accident, and a bug to bear and I will have what’s mine,” he replied.

He knocked the bible off her table. She closed her eyes and bit her lip and fantasised about sticking the blade into his neck, eyes, and chest. She would feel no guilt. She was locked in the chains, though; she would have to wait until they moved her.

No guilt, would that make me evil?

She had seen Melissa looking at her too recently, with envy possibly and perhaps she wanted some of it. Frank had been relentless since she started bleeding, he said it’s because she is bad and she’s bleeding out all the evil inside her.

Next time, she thought.


Annie woke up after hearing a loud creak and saw the wardrobe door wide open. There were rushed footsteps on her floor, but it was too dark to see. She quickly got out of bed and turned on the light.  The bedroom door was ajar, but the hallway was pitch-black, and she was still squinting from the light. She couldn’t make anything or anyone out. She glanced back at the inside of the wardrobe door and when her eyes finally settled she saw the word Hell.


She stepped into the hallway, slid down the stairs and ran into the kitchen and heard a door shut.

“Annie? What’s going on?” her Dad shouted after her.

She stared at the pantry and then said, “Nothing, I think I can hear rats in the house.”

“All I heard was one big rat! You woke us both, go back to bed.”

She thought about telling him but didn’t. She was thirteen now, and she could handle it.

She surprised herself and slept through until late morning, and when she awoke found a scrunched up piece of paper on the side of her pillow. She straightened it out and read the text.

John 3:20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

Above the text in red pen, written very clumsily was HelP, somebody had written Hell first but changed the last l to a P.


They dragged her out of bed, and Frank slapped her across the face.  Before she knew where she was, Frank hit her again, hard, and she fell against the bed. She knew something was coming and quickly grabbed the knife from under the mattress and slid it into the right pocket of the gown and out of sight.

The knife was a small victory.

She had bided her time and waited for the right moment, and as Frank led her out of the pantry one day, she had quickly turned around and grabbed the knife and slid it into her bible.

“Get upstairs now! You have sins to repent!” Frank screamed at her.

She wanted to do it right then and felt her hands tremble at the thought. Hell terrified her though.

If this is normal, what is Hell?

She walked upstairs with Frank closely following, “You are going back in the cupboard, we might leave you there for some time,” he said.

Frank pushed her into the room, and she saw Melissa in the bed, and some relief set in when Frank unlocked the cupboard and shoved her in. She could hear them in bed, and they moaned and groaned. The same noises Frank made when he was on top of her.

“Can you hear us?” Melissa shouted.

“Do you want to join in?” Frank said and laughed.

She heard whispering.

She prayed that if there was a God for it not to happen. She clenched her fists and held her breath. Someone fumbled at the lock with the key, and then the doors were opened.

“Okay, as a treat,” Melissa shouted, “come, join us.”

Frank got back into bed and smiled and beckoned her with his finger.

“If you don’t come here right now, I will slit your throat.”

She edged closer to the bed and put her hand in the right pocket and wrapped her hand around the blade. She eyed the crosses on each wall of the room, the rosary beads hanging from the dresser and the bibles on the tables either side of the bed. Judgement was everywhere, but she could not control the rage that surged through her body. She rushed at Frank and before he could even try and defend himself the blade sank into his neck, driven by years of stale hatred.

He stared at her in disbelief with wide eyes and put his hand to his neck to stem the bleeding. She ripped the blade out, and the fountain of red followed. As she subsequently drove the knife down hard into his chest, she screamed until there was nothing left to exhale and her lungs were empty of all the festering hate. Melissa screamed then too, finally finding her voice, and then Frank’s arms started flailing and almost knocked the knife from her grip. She stabbed him again, this time between the legs and then through the eye.


“Where is God now?” she asked as she turned her attention to Melissa, Frank now a gurgling mess.

Melissa started to beg, “D … Don-”


She pulled the knife out and watched crossed legged as her Mum’s life drained until she finally stopped breathing. Annie then threw herself to the floor and on all fours and wept and heaved as though vomiting out the evil within and seeking redemption for her sins.

Finally, she stopped and looked at the bloodshed around her. They were her parents, yet she felt no remorse, just relief. She guessed she was going to Hell, but questioned how it could be any worse than what she had already experienced.

She spent the next few hours cleaning the blood away. She wiped the blade of the knife and wrapped Frank and Melissa’s fingers around it, and then placed it between them on the bed.

The tears came, a mixture of relief and terror, and she had no idea how long she had been a prisoner or why her parents thought her evil or did those horrible things. They were the only people she had ever known or even remembered setting eyes on, and now she was on her own and wondered how she would survive. She had killed people, broken a commandment, and surely there was no way back from that in the outside world.

Why did God let me suffer through this?

She wandered around the house for a while and tried the windows and doors and, of course, they were all locked. The thought crossed her mind to smash the glass with a chair or some other heavy object but the plan stopped after that, she was a murderer with nowhere to go. Before long she was soon drawn back to the room where she had been held captive for most of her life, harrowing but familiar, sickening but home.

Thanks to her parents zero tolerance for other people, the pantry was full, and after that, she would be in God’s hands.

She grabbed some dried noodles and closed the door behind her and said a prayer.


Lunch was spread out on the table, an assortment of bread, cheeses, and meats. Annie thought they were finally getting their act together. She helped with the dishes and went to put the remaining crackers and bread in the pantry and checked the Cheerios to find nearly half the packet was gone. She put the leftover food on the same shelf next to the box and closed the door behind her.

Liz got out the Monopoly board, and Annie and Jim moaned in unison.

“It always ends in tears,” Jim said.

“Normally yours,” Liz laughed, and he nodded and shrugged.

The game lasted four hours, and in between, they ate pasta, and her Mum and Dad drank lots of wine. Jim won by a mile, and he let them know about it frequently, at one point doing a lap of honour around the living room with his t-shirt over his head and singing the words from Sweetest Victory.

As they packed up, Annie told them she was tired and wanted to go to bed, and they both had looked stunned but gave her a kiss goodnight and said they would be up soon anyway.

Annie went up to her room and grabbed the torch from the hallway cupboard and waited. She played for a while and read a few pages of her book, and when she finally heard her parents coming up the stairs and giggling like children, turned the torch off and ducked under the covers. They both came in and kissed her goodnight, and it was all she could do not to break out into a nervous giggle. A few minutes after they left, she grabbed the torch and stuck her head out the door, and heard more giggling and then the light finally went out, accompanied by more laughter. She took her chance and slid down the bannister to avoid the creaking floorboards.

Annie picked out some leftover cheese and ham from the fridge. She flicked on the torch and opened the pantry door and noted the crackers were gone, and there were crumbs from the bread leading to the back of the room. She closed the door behind her and took the key from her dressing gown pocket and slid it into the keyhole and turned, and heard the mechanism unlock, and she pushed the panel inwards.

She shone the torch into the makeshift doorway, and then slid herself in and closed the door behind her. She was in a new room, one that shouldn’t be there and one with a very unpleasant odour. The torch was shaking in her hand, and she felt she had become the stupid protagonist in one of those silly horror films she had seen, the one that made all the silly decisions.

Get a grip, Annie!

As she started to move the torch from the left side of the room to the right, she stopped mid-sweep and almost dropped it. In the middle of the bleak and very bare room there was a bed, furnished with dirty yellow sheets that were possibly once white, and then her eyes were drawn to the chains.

She moved closer and heard a noise from behind the bed and gasped as a head popped up, a dirty face underneath a flurry of auburn hair, matted in places but erratic in others. Her eyes were just as wild, nervously darting from side to side as if watching for predators from both sides.

“Who are you?” Annie asked.

“I don’t know,” was the answer.

A girl.

“Why are you in our house?”

“This is my house,” the girl replied.

Annie knew she was out of her depth but didn’t feel in danger; she edged over to the girl and held out the food and placed it on top of the mattress. She noticed the bucket underneath the bed and the nasty yellow sheets speckled with dark red spots. The smell was overpowering, but she stood her ground. She saw the empty cans of food and empty packets everywhere and then spotted the elusive can opener.

The girl stood up and grabbed the cheese; she broke huge pieces off and shoved them in her mouth.

“Jeez, you are hungry,” Annie commented.

As the girl slowly stepped from behind the bed and edged toward her, Annie noticed the out of place looking bump for a belly on the otherwise skinny frame.

I guess it might be okay now, the nameless girl thought.

“I’ve stopped bleeding. The evil has left me,” she told Annie.

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Miasma – Daniel L. Naden


Daniel Naden

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I saw it explode from my face in a halo of fine mist as once again Mikey’s fist slammed hard into my jaw.  The skin there and on my cheekbone had already split from swelling and previous punches, the jawbone underneath broken and grating on itself.  Even with all that damage — and the pain Mikey brought me really was exquisite — I couldn’t help but find distracted by the spray of blood.  

It was like a snapshot of a punch in the boxing ring:  the flash of the camera freezing a moment in time; the force of the impact contorting the boxer’s face and atomizing the mixture of sweat and blood there.  For a moment, I had a brief vision as if I was looking at myself from outside my body. As if the trio of thugs orbiting my chair and taking turns beating on me had all been captured in some flashbulb still life that was being scrutinized by someone else.  Someone angry.

Then it was gone and my world resolved itself back into a kind of throbbing, sickening agony.  Another punch landed, this one just below my rib cage — couldn’t have been good for my liver — and I doubled over as far as the binding ropes would allow, throwing up a combination of snot, blood, and bile.

A rough hand grabbed a fistful of my hair and pulled me back straight, an exquisite spasm of pain shot through my battered midsection.

“Pay attention, Raymond,” said a voice from behind me — maybe Carlo, maybe Rich; I couldn’t really tell — and I felt his knuckles rap the backside of my head.  “Mikey’s gonna ask you the question again.”

Slowly, the room swam back into focus.  I was tied to a chair in a space not much bigger than a closet — in fact, it looked like a janitor’s closet.  The shelf along the back wall was stacked with cleaning products and the air carried the unmistakable tang of disinfectant and dry rasp of slowly-moldering mop heads — over the scent of blood and puke, that is.  A single bare bulb overhead lit the whole affair, casting dim shadows of the three brutes jammed in claustrophobically around me.

I’d kinda lost track of time since I woke up in here in my…well…unpleasant situation, but the guys couldn’t have been working on me for much more than a half hour.  Rich and Carlo opened up on me, each taking a few good, hard shots on me. They did a pretty good job of it, truth be told.  But Mikey? Well, Mikey’s always been a true artiste.  

He’d only just started working on me and I was already ready to talk.  Hell, I would’ve ratted out my grandma to keep him from hitting me again.  The guy really knew how to make it hurt. He slapped me again to get my attention.

“So tell me again, Ray,” Mikey said without a hint of threat in his voice of the malice suggested by the blood on his knuckles.  “What happened to Mr. Anthony’s money?”

“I..I don’t know,” I said.  My voice sounded like I was speaking through a mouthful of marbles.  “I didn’t skim any of it!”

Mikey peered at me with exaggerated sadness.

“I’m really sorry to hear you keep saying that.”  

He flexed his fingers before forming a fist.  I could see that the skin over his knuckles was split from the force of his blows on me, but it didn’t seem to bother him.  He cocked his arm back and swung. In slow motion, I saw the punch coming. His face clenched in a grimace, Mikey’s fist raced toward me in a blur.  I tried to brace myself against it, but then Mikey’s shoulder dropped and the looping hook turned down. He hit me hard in the groin, pinning my genitals to the surface of the chair before I could flinch my legs closed.  

I vomited again, the exhalation of the breath I’d just taken in, spewing gore all over myself and Mikey.  Then a wave of agony slammed through me, starting low in my gut and ramming its way up my spinal column. When it hit my brain, I blacked out.  Or at least, I think I blacked out.

Instead, I found myself looking at the setting as if from outside my body.  I saw the janitor’s closet crystal-clear, to the finest detail. I could read the labels on all the cans and bottles on the shelves; I could hear the water gurgling in the drain in the middle of the floor, right below where my fucked-up body was currently tied to a chair; I could smell the after shave that the Mikey was wearing and the conspicuous absence of it from Carlo and Rich.  I could see it all, lit up like someone had just flared up a hundred halogens in the room, just for me. Only I was seeing it from the ceiling, as if I was about five feet overhead.

For a brief moment, I had the feeling that I was dead — that my consciousness was now piggybacked to my soul and together, we were hanging around waiting for whatever afterlife awaited a bum like me.  I found an ethereal kind of peace there: a finality to the struggling, frustrating, rat race of life, the comfort of being able to set it all aside and forget everything. I could have stayed like that forever, balanced at the nexus between my before and my after, in the next instant, everything went red.

I know it sounds weird.  What had been calm turned chaotic, an instant boil of rage.  The tableau below me that I had viewed with relief at leaving behind, now I saw a lens of hatred.  Surging, throbbing anger; roiling thunderclouds of gathering doom. All of the pain and outrage I’d ever felt was collecting to a focal point centered on Mikey and Rich and Carlo and the only way I can describe it is red.  

I fell on them.


Later, how much, I couldn’t tell, but I came awake still seated in the chair in the janitor’s closet.  I was no longer bound and apparently, no longer injured. I sat in a neat circle of relative clean. Around me, every inch of the room was covered in blood.

My senses reeled from the vertigo of it all.  One second I was hovering outside my body, the next…well…it was like a bomb went off, spraying bits of what I assumed was Mikey, Rich, and Carlo all over the janitor’s closet.  At first, I didn’t even remember precisely how it happened, but as I sat there, ragged snippets of memory began to fill in.  

I recalled a glimpse of a terrified Carlo, his mouth closed, one hand pinched over his nose, as if he was submerged, trying to keep water out.  He’d backed himself into the corner formed between the side wall of the closet and the rack of shelves, his legs pistoning even though he couldn’t go any further.  At the same time, Rich was writhing on the ground, his arms flailing wildly at his body, as if putting out flames that only he could see.

With Mikey, I felt the oddest sensation.  My fingers had been implacably working their way between Mikey’s lips, wedging their way through his clenched teeth, prying open his mouth.  Every centimeter I gained, every gap that opened up, I seemed to be pouring into him, filling Mikey with immensity of rage he had spawned in me — then filling him further.

At some point, the rage swept away all awareness.  I don’t really recall what happened next. A quick sensation of stretching, like flexing a beefy bicep in the sleeve of a sausage-casing shirt…then I opened my eyes to this abattoir.

Between me and the door, there was a single square of clean floor.  I tried the knob and was only mildly surprised that the door was no longer locked.  Cocking an ear, I waited, but as far as I could hear, there wasn’t anyone outside. I slipped through the door into a painfully bright world.  It was a hallway, fortunately empty.

My eyes adjusted and I took a look around.  Apparently, I was in an office building. A nice place, as far as offices go:  clean, orderly bays of cubicles branching off on one side or the other. Here and there, a piece of modern artwork on the walls.  The circumference of the building featured a whole bank of floor-to-ceiling glass windows. It was through these windows that an ungodly amount of sunlight was shining in.  Given the angle of the sunlight, I surmised that it must be either just after dawn or just before sunset. As I said, I didn’t really have an accurate guess on how long I’d been out before the guys started in on me.  Maybe it hadn’t been very long, but I didn’t have much way of knowing for sure, at this point

I figured that whatever time it was, there wouldn’t be nosy people hanging about.  I also ventured a guess that the building was one of Theo Anthony’s real estate investments, where he spent a tiny portion of his illegal earnings in some legitimate enterprise, just so he’d portray the veneer of legitimacy.  Such investments also came in handy, it would seem, for…um…addressing problems with former employees in remarkable privacy.

That privacy helped me now.  I strolled to the elevator without seeing anyone and punched the down button.  I was on the fifth floor and the elevator, when it arrived, had a button marked “P1”.  For the parking garage, I presumed. Good ol’ P1. I decided on the spot that I was a big fan of P1.  

It was a short ride, and I took it, half expecting the car to be stopped short by building security.  Evidently, though, no one was home at the security desk watching the monitors. Taking a couple hours off at the behest of Mr. Anthony?  You betcha.

The doors dinged open to a well-lit parking garage.  I stepped out and tried to get my bearings to the nearest exit.  The garage was almost entirely empty. The only cars on the P1 Level were off to one side:  a handful of white Fords, all identical. Fleet cars for the company. I made my way past them with hardly a glance, more interested in getting to the outer edge of the garage, out into the real sunlight and the holy fuck away from this place.  I did not, therefore, see the figure sitting in the shadows behind the wheel of one of the fleet cars. But I heard it when the car started.

Unfortunately for me, I was now standing equidistant from either end of the ramp leading out of P1.  Just as far back to the door as it was to the next level. And probably too many steps away from one of the sides to bail out there.  I was pretty royally screwed. I ran, knowing that I was already too late.

The white Ford rocketed from the parking space and closed the distance between us.  Instead of slowing, it accelerated, weaving slightly in response to my pathetic attempts to zig or zag.  Serpentine running might work in war movies, but it sucks for escaping when a couple thousand pounds of car is bearing down on you.

Still, I almost made it.  In my mind, I visualized the sliding, head-first dive I made at the little wedge of space between my ramp and the one above it.  I was gonna be Willie Wilson, stealing second. Screw the road rash or the drop on the other side. I could visualize myself disappearing into that slot at precisely the instant the Ford crashed into the wall.  I was that sure I was going to make it.

But I didn’t.

The Ford sped up and caught me, just as I tensed to dive.  I was scooped backward onto the hood with a sickening thunk of meat on metal and the twin gunshots of my thighbones snapping like kindling.  I screamed loud enough to hear the echoes bouncing back to me from the concrete walls of P1.

The Ford’s momentum carried it into the wedge of concrete, right where I’d been hoping to end up.  I tumbled, head over heels, giving me a clear view of the windshield. I was approaching it, pronto.  Up close, in the last instant before I splatted on the glass, my eyes locked with those of the driver.  

I recognized him at once.  

Tito Esperante was Theo Anthony’s right hand man.  He served as the boss for all of Mr. Anthony’s crews and had a finger on the pulse of all of his illegal activities.  Word on the street was that Tito would inherit control over Mr. Anthony’s empire.

The same Tito Esperante who was driving the car that was currently rolling me up over the hood.

It made sense.  Tito had tasked three of his best wet work guys to express Mr. Anthony’s displeasure with my…umm…financial integrity.  He’d probably been sitting out here when his thugs dragged me, unconscious, into the P1 elevator.  Imagine, then, his surprise to see me walk out from that elevator some time later, perfectly undamaged, to wander unescorted through the garage.

I saw the surprise in Tito’s eyes, saw his determination to finish the job his thugs didn’t get done.  I saw it all, right before my face impacted the windshield.

He had to have been doing 40 or 50 when I hit the glass and I felt my head split like the proverbial melon.  Part of me winked out — unconscious or dead, it didn’t matter — that part of me rolled limply over the top of the Ford and was landed in a boneless heap on the pavement behind.  I wasn’t there. That part of me didn’t matter.

I was, instead, surrounding the car.  Over it. All around it, all at once. I had a vague awareness this time of being separate from my body, a continuity of my consciousness.  Once again, I was also filled an immense, red rage.

The driver’s side door of the Ford began to open.  I felt it push into me, like a breeze whispering into curtain sheers, an insubstantial, invisible caress.  Tito Esperante was wanting to review his handiwork, I suppose, but I didn’t give him the chance.

I pushed back on the door, a gentle nudge, and it slammed shut, hard.


I don’t know how I was able to physically verbalize the word — after all, my mouth was over in the pile of skin on the pavement — but I’m sure that he heard me.  His eyes became very large, very frightened. He immediately tried for the other door, but I was holding the car now. Holding it very close, indeed.

He kicked madly at the windows, first trying the driver’s side, then the passenger.  He even produced a revolver from inside his jacket and emptied the clip into the windshield.  The windshield, of course, wouldn’t give, so the bullets bounced crazily around the inside with Tito.  It’s a minor miracle that he wasn’t cut to pieces by the ricochets.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?”  His voice, high and cracked with panic.

I held the car lovingly in an ethereal, encompassing hand; felt the rage in me plummet into new icy depths.  What did I want?

I want you, Tito,” I told him.  “I want you.

I closed my fist.


Some time later, I found myself at convenience store.  I’d walked here when I left the parking garage and called a cab to get me home.  I tried to piece together how I got back into my body; how my body had been, once again, healed of its fatal injuries, but that part was blank for me.  I suspected that, if this happened again, I might gain memory of even that part, just as I remembered what I’d done to Tito. And his car. It seemed a logical assumption, at least.

Tito’s car had been completely crushed.  It looked, for all intents and purposes, like a wadded-up Kleenex, squeezed into a ball inside a giant fist.  I could even see contours as if the metal of the car was pushed through fingers. Or what I envisioned as fingers, I guess.  Tito was in there somewhere, but he fared just as badly as his car. And as his hired goons before him.

Standing out in front of the convenience store, waiting for the cab, I’m watching people come and go, and thinking about what happened today.  I think it’s safe to say that my day took a bit of a bizarre turn. I mean, it’s not every day that you come back from getting the shit kicked out of you — beaten to death and pulped by a car — but instead of dying, your soul takes a stroll around, outside your body, to unleash a little vengeance.  It’s not every day that you find you can gather together all your rage and pain and hatred, distilling them down into a burst of pure, naked violence. A miasma of destruction.

Neat trick, huh.  

What does a guy do with a talent like that?  

I suppose I could just ignore it all.  Try my best not to violently die or be killed, and then on with my life like nothing weird ever happened.  

After today, though, I’m probably through with my career as an organized crime flunky.  Bad enough, that I skimmed cash from Mr. Anthony. Worse, that he asked Tito to take care of me and I somehow survived.  Even if I wanted to continue as a criminal, I’m guessing Mr. Anthony wouldn’t write me any references on my resume.

In fact, now that I think about it, I’m guessing Mr. Anthony won’t just let me fade off into the sunset.  Not after leaving such a mess in his office building and parking garage.

So walking away isn’t an option for me.  Not yet, at least.

I decide to pay Mr. Anthony a visit.


It’s almost dark by the time I arrive at the sprawling compound that encompasses Mr. Anthony’s mansion.  The sky held the last shades of pinks and oranges, but on the ground, tucked into the hills, the shadows had grown long.

I stood under the shade of a nearby tree, watching the front gate to the compound.  Mr. Anthony had guards with guns manning the gate and beyond, I could see more guards and dogs patrolling the grounds.  

I wasn’t sure how things would go, but at this point, I didn’t think I cared enough to worry about it.  Either I’d get to Mr. Anthony and finish things, or I wouldn’t. The difference was how many bodies would lie between us.

At the gate, the guards approached me, guns out.  

“Stop there, Mr. Davore.”  

The guard who spoke was tall, broad across the shoulders.  Built like a linebacker. His face was a sneer, dripping with the contempt that size, strength, and guns lent him.  The other guard laid back, his rifle level and steady, pointed at my chest. He was shorter, but no less confident in their advantage.  I paused, hands out.

“You should take me to see Mr. Anthony,” I told them.  

“Mr. Anthony asked us personally to expect a visit from you, Mr. Davore,” the guard replied.  “You’ll see him…but on his terms, not yours.”

I raised my hand.  

“I think…”

That’s all I got out.  The second guard shot me in the head.


I woke up, refreshed, as if I’d had a full, unbroken night of sleep.  At first, I was confused. I felt like I ought to be at home, in my bed, but instead, I was…somewhere else.  I’d been at…at…

It came to me.  I’d been at Mr. Anthony’s compound. The guard at the gate shot me and after that?  That’s the part I couldn’t really remember. I had a few random flashes — mist rising from nowhere, faces twisted in terror as they exploded, walls and stone, crumbling before me or being blown apart by the hurricane blast of my rage — but I couldn’t make sense of them.  I couldn’t put them together into any kind of rational sequence of actions that led me from start to finish.

It was only then I truly noticed the devastation around me.  

I sat at the center of a ring of destruction, radiating out from me as far as I could see.  Everything was knocked flat, as if by a massive explosion with me at ground zero, The guard shack, gate, and fence were kindling.  The only sign of the two men was a couple smears of red on the ground.

I stood up and turned a slow circle.  

Inside the compound, the mansion was leveled and the lawn between was smeared with splotches of red, marking the places where the patrol guards had died.  Whatever had happened — whatever I had done — was thorough. Nothing I could see was alive or intact. A wasteland. A war zone.

But I came here to take care of Mr. Anthony, so I made my way to the mansion.  I had to be sure.

It took me a few minutes to pick a path through the rubble, but I eventually got to the spot where his office had been.  A perimeter of body parts was all that remained of the guards protecting him. Inside the office area was a single body, pierced with a hundreds shards of wood, glass, and metal, so many that I could hardly make out the face.  But I could still tell who it was..

Mr. Anthony.

I had no memory of his death.  No flashes of wispy insight. No red-tinged sense of violence.  I couldn’t recall the act of turning him into a pincushion, but I had no doubt I had killed him.  

I made my way back to the gate as the first wave of emergency vehicles arrived.  Police cars, firetrucks, ambulances, all arriving at the same time.


Policemen from their cars first, guns drawn.  They took up defensive positions in an arc, facing me, guns pointed at me.  Over a bullhorn, a voice said:

“Stay where you are!  Lay down on your stomach with your hands over your head.”

I shook my head.

“I’m not the bad guy, here,” I replied.

“I don’t care,” said the officer.  “Get down first, then we’ll work out who you are.”

Damn.  What a mess.

So far, I’d killed people who represented a direct threat to me.  Guys who were going to kill me, like Tito and his thugs. Guys like Mr. Anthony who sent Tito my way and whose lackeys here at his compound shot me without having to think about it first.

It sucked, the pain I went through, the death (or almost-death) I experienced, but every time I came out of it, I felt better.  I felt great.  



I don’t know how it happened, how I came to acquire this…talent.  Maybe it’s a self-preservation thing, maybe it’s a gift of the gods.  What I know is that up until this point, I’ve not had much choice over any of it.  I was trying to survive. Mr. Anthony and his men were intent on killing me — hell, they had killed me — so what happened to them?  If I was defending myself, well…they had it coming, didn’t they?

Now, these police?  They’re a problem.

They’re just a bunch of guys, doing their jobs.  They don’t know me from Adam, don’t know if I’m responsible for the destruction here.  Even if I explain it, they’re not likely to understand why I’m responsible for the destruction here.  Or on P1. Or in the janitor’s closet.

I can’t imagine what they’d do if they figured out what happens when I’m violently injured or killed.  I don’t know that much about it, myself, for that matter. What I do know is that they’re not likely to let me go.

So I have a choice:  Surrender, or…or…

I feel it coming this time, a thrill of anger rising in me.  The air around me fairly crackles with energy and with it, a sense of outrage, of being wronged, clouds my vision.  For an instant, I have the time to wonder if I’m really in control, of any of it.  Is it really me who rises to avenge my death and, in doing so, revives me?  If it’s not, who decides when, and who, to kill?

Against my will, my hand dips behind my back, a simple motion ingrained in a thousand Hollywood movies:  a guy going for his gun. It didn’t matter that I had no gun. The motion was all it took.

A dozen police guns fired, almost at once.  I feel bullets rip through me, feel pain. From the smoke of their guns, the spray of my blood, I feel the miasma rise once again.  I see it begin to kill.  Police, firefighters, EMT’s.  The miasma uses my rage, my pain and death to murder others.  To fill a bloodlust deeper than anything I could conjure out of my pathetic little life.  The horror of it all grips me.

The miasma kills and kills.  I am just along for the ride.

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The Wheel – Michael Picco

Michael Picco

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The ones who screamed the longest were the first ones to die.

Silvea, the stone mason’s daughter, had been the first to go. Her desperate pleas had changed to cries as the wheel turned. Those cries steadily dissolved into ragged screams as she was lowered down, into the trough. Sebastian could still hear her even after she was plunged under the murky black waters. Even now, days later, he could still hear her gurgling screams as she had thrashed and strained against her lashings. He’d watched her go under that first time. Watched as she had closed her eyes, her tears running down, over her forehead, falling down into the basin. Sebastian remembered that part vividly. He wondered if he would be able to taste her tears when his time came in the trough. Her eyes were clenched like her fists as the wheel dipped ever downward. He remembered the slow methodical clop of the header tank as it filled, spilling the water into the buckets lining the wheel. Driving it forward — inexorably forward and down. Down toward the trough. Toward death.

Clop… splash… groan.

For three days Sebastian had listened and cried and cursed with his peers as one by one they had succumbed to the wheel. He had borne witness to their struggles and had wept when their torment has ceased. Cecil, he had been the last one. Yes, strong-willed Cecil. The older boy had finally surrendered to the wheel as dawn broke over the barren hills on the third day. His death came as no surprise to Sebastian. The talkative butcher’s son had stopped speaking in the dim cold hours just before dawn. Perhaps sleep finally claimed him as he neared the trough. Even as he tipped toward the kill trough, Sebastian had implored him to breathe, to prepare for his submersion. But, Cecil had simply dipped beneath the waters without a struggle and without a sound. Sebastian knew he was dead even before he himself was drawn under. The dead never gasped or coughed.

That’s how you knew.

The wooden panel of the sluice gate gently clopped back into place as the water spilled into the waiting paddle bucket. This was accompanied by a splash, as the water was simultaneously deposited into the basin below. The shift in weight propelled the wheel forward — ever forward. The timbers groaned and creaked as the wheel turned on its ancient iron axle. Clop… splash… groan. The process took about a minute to complete, perhaps a slightly less. Three buckets had to spill into the trough in order for it to propel the each of them through the trough. Lashed to the spokes, their feet bound toward the axle, their heads and necks dangling out beyond the edge of the wheel, all the children passed through the kill trough. That was the terrible genius of their torment: they had been lashed along the outer edge of the wheel in just such a way so that only their heads dipped into the trough. The surface of the water never made it past their shoulders — their tiny upside-down bodies thrashing against their bonds as they struggled to free themselves before they drowned.

Clop… splash… groan.

Before they all had died, the sounds of the wheel were interrupted by the gasps of those who survived their immersion: the gurgling coughs of those who were barely conscious as they finally emerged from beneath the water. And there were the cries and curses from those hanging suspended, facing downward, staring at the water’s surface. Their tangled hair hung down, cascading in sodden rivulets over their faces, merging into the dank turbulent waters, listening to those ahead of them fighting to remain conscious. Now they were all dreadfully still. All the children dipped into the trough without uttering a sound. All but Sebastian.

Of all of them, Sebastian was the last one left alive. But probably not for much longer. Sleep was as much of an enemy now as the fetid waters below. It threatened to pull him into oblivion as the wheel spun. Clop… splash… groan. Clop… splash… groan. The sound was soporific, a deadly lullaby. All that mattered now was the wheel — surviving the trough. That’s all his life had become: Surviving the wheel. Breathing. Waiting. Counting the buckets as they fell. Knowing that twice on the hour, he would be he would be plunged down, inexorably down, into the increasingly rancid waters. His field of vision would be cut off by the rusted edge of the trough. The dank runoff would flood into his sinuses. Even as he emerged, the taste of decomposition would linger in the back of his throat as he spit and coughed and gasped his way back to weary consciousness.

It was to him the taste of death.

He could always hear the first bucket spill into the trough behind him; and maybe even the second. But he never heard the third. By the time the third bucket spilled into the trough, Sebastian’s heart was thundering in his ears. His body involuntarily writhing and twisting against his bonds. The water pitched and splashed wildly around him. All that mattered then was getting to the surface. Fighting against the dull grey darkness that shrouded his vision, forcing all conscious thought from his mind. Twice an hour, for three long days: a battle against death.

There was a storm in the mountains to the west on the night they came. The man things that dwelled in caves. The long pale-limbed things that no one spoke of, but everyone feared. The memory of their unblinking ebon eyes sent a shudder through Sebastian. They had come right after dusk, as the villagers had turned from their labors at last and gone home to sup. They had poured from their dens like a wave of shadows spilling into the hot dry evening. There, at the edges of the village, as heat lightning lit the western skies, they had lain in wait — waiting for the sun to dissolve beneath the blackened clouds and violet hills. With them, they had brought the foul-smelling pitch that boiled out the deep parts of the earth. This they poured onto the doors and beneath the windows of the villagers — coating each and every home. Then, all at once, they ignited it.

As the men emerged from their burning homes, the man things fell on them. The man things struck with such savagery and in such numbers that the men of the village never even had a chance. Limbs were torn from the men’s sockets. Sebastian had watched helplessly as his father’s lifeless body had been pitched headlong into the flames. The women fared worse, though. Far, far worse. Those who were of child bearing age were dragged away — broodmares for the man things and their hateful kin. Those who weren’t raped to death lived to bear their monstrosities, but they never saw the sunlight again. Those children who weren’t killed in the fires were taken here — to the water wheel. One by one they had been lashed to the spokes, tied so that their heads and shoulders would be immersed in the collection trough at its base. An endless cycle of torment around the water wheel.

From the high mountain peaks, the water flowed down into the barrens. The mountain storms had bolstered the stream’s otherwise meager flow. During that first day and night, the children could receive as many as three immersions per hour. Commensurate with the faster cycle, immersion into the basin itself had been relatively brief; although admittedly, Sebastian and the others hardly thought about it that way at the time. But after the rains ceased, the flow of water from beyond the canyons had diminished and the wheel had slowed considerably. Now it took nearly half an hour between for the wheel to spin full circle. And as the wheel slowed, the time submerged increased. Sebastian estimated that it took nearly three minutes now from submersion to immersion from the trough’s deadly waters. But it seemed to take much, much longer. Every time.

Clop… splash… groan.

The wheel lurched forward. Sebastian could no longer feel his feet or hands but only the shift in gravity as his body pivoted around the wheel. His numbed limbs seemed like so much carrion meat. The damp fruiting bodies of his friends had drawn the desert flies down into the canyon. They hateful, biting things swarmed around his face, crawling into his eyes and nose. He thrashed weakly against his bonds, trying to conserve his strength, even as the flies drew fresh blood. Over the course of the last twelve hours, the fiends frenzied buzzing had overwhelmed even the dull groan of the axle. But not the clop as the header emptied. And not the tinkling splash of the buckets as they tumbled into the trough. Sebastian looked toward Silvea. Her clouded eyes stared lifelessly out from beneath a mask of flies. Sebastian felt his stomach turn as they crawled over her face, pouring into her gaping mouth.

Clop… splash… groan.

He was upright, near the header box again and could look out over the valley below. The late afternoon sun burned his sun scorched face and hands, but he was long past caring about such trivial things. He gazed out over the vast rocky hills. Heat waves shimmered over the abandoned derricks — the rusted hulks whose pointed beaks once drew out the pitch from the ground like pus; like corruption; like cancer. As a child, his grandfather had seen the last one of these machines at work — although what purpose the pitch served, nobody was entirely clear. But, they had ceased their pumping long ago. None had moved in a generation or more. Their time had passed. That world had passed. A dust devil stirred over the tangles of rusted wire and pipes. How many times had he gone ‘round? How many times had he been dunked into the kill trough below? How many more could he endure?

Did he see a figure there amongst the striated violet hills? A trick of the light, no doubt… or simply wishful thinking. It wouldn’t be one of the man things. They hated the sunlight. Perhaps it was Death himself finally come to claim him. He would be a welcome companion. A line of carrion crows perched high atop a bent and girdered tower. Their numbers grew day by day. Sebastian wondered why they hadn’t tried to light on the wheel, and then it occurred to him that they already had a ready feast in the village in the canyon below. They had been well fed and had simply come there to roost.

Clop… splash… groan.

Sebastian turned to his right. Araan’s tongue had become black, bloated and protruded from his split and flaking lips. The teen had died coughing and cursing sometime during the second night. The straps that bound him to the wheel gouged deep into his bruised and distended throat. Sebastian could only see one of Araan’s eyes. It hung half open, swollen near closed from a blow he had received before he was bound. Of all the children, Araan had been beaten the worst. But then, it had been Araan who had brought this evil fate down upon them. He deserved far worse than what he had received for his crime.

But instead, they had all paid.

The severed heads of five dogs had appeared on the outskirts of the village the morning of the attack — spiked atop twisted forked pikes. The sort of jagged metal spears that the man things used. It was a grisly notice that the uneasy truce with the man things had been violated. The elders believed that the decapitated animals were simply a warning. But what none of them realized was that this was in fact, a declaration of war.

There had been whispered rumors. Araan liked to brag after all, and his friends had loose tongues. Evidently these rumors had reached the ears of the village elders. They had brought Araan before them for questioning. But, Araan was sly. He told the elders a story that they would believe, not caring that in doing so, he had endangered us all. Murdered us all. In the light of the morning sun, standing before the elders themselves, he spun an elaborate tale: how his arrow had struck one of the giant monitor lizards that dwelled in the wastes beyond the canyons; how he had tracked the wounded creature for miles across the wastes; how the thing had scuttled between the rusted derricks and piles of broken pipe before slipping into one of the man thing’s caves. With tears in his eyes he acknowledged that he should have let the creature go. He told the elders that he should have just let it die in the caves rather than trespass into the dens of the man things. But, Araan explained tearfully, his father would beat him if he returned from hunting empty handed; so he had gone into the caves to retrieve the wounded beast. He was only there for a few moments. He didn’t intend any harm.

When he had finished, false tears had streaked down his cheeks. He shook and begged for the elder’s forgiveness. The elders believed Araan’s clever lies and took mercy upon him. They chastised him for his marksmanship and for his foolhardy behavior and hoped that his trespass into the caves would be forgiven. They bid him to slaughter one of his father’s lambs and take five loaves of his father’s unleavened bread to the entrance of lowlands, to the places where the man thing’s dwelled. These he would leave at the border of their territory, hoping that their offering would placate the man things. Had they known the truth, they would have sacrificed Araan instead. Stripped him and left him bound to a post at the entrance to the lowlands. They would have let the man things take their vengeance on him.

And spared the rest of us our torment.

Those of us who lived into the second night on the wheel, we learned the truth. As the wheel had spun, Araan confessed to those of us who remained that he had done more than simply trespass into the caves that day. He had not been chasing any game. He had ventured down to the lowlands to cultivate the devil weed that grew thick and rich along the stream bed. The weed had matured, you see, turning from pink to green. Araan had been eyeing this harvest all season and hoped to gather enough to smoke all winter. As he pinched the buds away from the weed, he heard a rustle in the caves behind him.

He turned to see a young female — an offspring of the man things — staring at him from within the entrance of the cave. She must have been borne of a village woman, as it retained many humanoid features. Araan’s loins had swelled at the sight of her bare breasts and naked thighs, her wide black eyes and innocent look. He had coaxed her out of the cave then, plying her with sweets and softly spoken words. Savage or not, the female was clearly naive in the ways of the world, unaware of the evil drives of young men like Araan. Once the girl was in reach, his lust overcame him, and he took her there on the banks of the stream bed.

Clop… splash… groan.

He didn’t consider it rape. ‘You can’t rape a beast,’ he’d said.

He had left the girl there, bloodied and curled in the weeds as he drew up his pants. But he said that he had seen something move then in the caves. Something pale gray and lanky. Something with long spindly limbs attached to bloated torso. Like a spider crossed with a man.

And he had fled.

Sebastian felt the blood rush to his head as he was tilted downward. Soon his hair would fall into the dreadful waters below. He could smell the stench coming from the tank, the basin the kill trough below. It smelled like death.

  • • •

Malsumis had emerged from the highland mountains and descended into the desert wastes, barely escaping the heat storm that sent jagged bolts of lightning across the hills. He had followed this road for months, traversing the chill mountain passes, cutting a bloody swath through the packs of wolves and wendigos that hunted weary travelers along the road. The road he had followed had been a great thoroughfare once, but now it laid in ruin. Landslides had scoured it from the mountainsides. And all along the way — everywhere — sat the rusted husks of machines that once used this road, their wheels caked in rust. They lay broken and abandoned like so much debris, clogging the road for miles in every direction. Inside, Malsumis could see the bones of their former occupants, some still strapped to their seats.

He forged eastward, headed for lands rumored to be green and lush, and free from the poison of the eastern world. There was a part of Malsumis that doubted such a place existed. That green world was gone — a relic of a world too rich and abundant for his ancestors to appreciate. He gazed out over the desert flats: a vast expanse of rock shimmering in the sun. He had followed a dry riverbed that meandered through the violet orange hills. There he had found pools of foul tasting and alkaline water. It was drinkable, but only barely. And certainly not palatable; but Malsumis suspected that water would be in short supply before his journey ended. He needed more — and lots of it — if he hoped to survive his journey westward.

For days he had followed the dry riverbed. For a while, it had snaked along the road, that is, until the desert had swallowed the highway entirely. In its place huge rusted hulks of metal dotted the landscape. Malsumis was reminded of the huge insatiable mosquitos that had plagued him when he had first entered the mountains late that spring. Something prismatic and oddly iridescent had spilled from the holes they plied, the blood of the earth glazing the ground around them with strange shimmering shellac. What were these things? What purpose did they serve? Like so many things the old ones made, these artifacts remained a poignant reminder of those who had murdered the world.

The wind carried smoke on the air, and with it, the scent of something else: carrion rot. Curious, Karia followed his nose. The crows had perched high atop a corroded metal tower. A ragged cable stretched down attached to the tower’s fallen companion. It layed collapsed into a deep ravine from which he could hear water flow. Water and something else. Malsumis unclipped his holster. Where there was water, there were people. Or something worse.

He crouched down along the canyon’s edge, staring into the tableau before him. A great wooden water wheel churned slow and methodical in the afternoon sun. Tied to its spokes were the bodies of at least a dozen children. On each side of the ravine the unmistakable mark of the Morlachs: an animal skull perched high atop a twisted metal pike. A clear warning to any who trespassed here. Whatever had occurred, the children were long dead.

Malsumis knew enough about the Morlachs to know that they preferred to keep to themselves… that is, unless they had been provoked. Malsumis had seen whole communities wiped out overnight from Morlach’s attacks. The creatures were subhuman — highly territorial and brutally aggressive. Malsumis thumbed the grips on his pistols. He listened intently to the slow, steady rhythm of the wheel as the water cascaded down into the trough at its base, staring at the lifeless bodies of the children as they descended into the trough. A dragonfly lit on the handle of Malsumis’ silver six-shot revolver, its wings twitching under the late afternoon sun.

The water in the basin would be undrinkable; but, whatever was being drawn out of the well, that would still be viable. Malsumis gazed across the desert waste. Heat waves shimmered over the rocky orange hills. He scanned the nearby cliffs and hills for caves. Despite the dangers of trespassing on Morlach’s ground, he could not afford to pass up this opportunity for fresh water.

He descended into the canyon.

  • • •

Sebastian’s heart pounded in his chest as he struggled to remain conscious. He had cursed and cried as he was lowered toward the waters again, and it had cost him. His vision had started to dim before he heard the second bucket fall, and now inky black spots danced before his eyes. Worse still, he had released his breath too soon, and now his lungs burned for air. He had tried to remain still, even as his body fought for air. He didn’t remember emerging from the kill trough. Only that as he sputtered and coughed, he saw a figure stood staring at him. He wore a hideous odd leather mask and a dusty black trench coat. Two huge pistols hung crossed at the figure’s waist. The thing’s eyes were painted black. Was this Death? Sebastian’s terror must have been apparent, as the figure’s eyes grew wide as Sebastian stirred.

Clop… splash… groan.

“Please… set… set me free,” a whisper was all that Sebastian could muster. The figure regarded him as he slowly pivoted upward. “You must…”

“Must I?” Death responded. His voice sounded oddly muffled beneath the mask. Hoarse and dry. Death didn’t sound very merciful.

“Dead… they’re all dead. All… save me.” Sebastian tried to reason with the figure. Trying to reason with Death! The notion was ludicrous! His brother would have boxed his ears for even considering it. But his brother was dead.

“The Morlachs do not take their revenge lightly,” the masked figure said. “To thwart their vengeance is to spill your own blood.” Death seemed to look around the canyon uneasily. “How long have you been here?”

“Three. Three days. Four… nights.” Sebastian wheezed.

“Have the Morlachs returned?”

Sebastian didn’t recognize the term, but assumed that Death meant the man things.

“No,” he said wearily. “They do not come during the day.”

“And at night?”

“No,” Sebastian coughed. “Only the crows…”

Death shook his head. He seemed to search the ground around the wheel. He watched another bucket spill into the kill trough before crouching down and kicking open a valve at the bottom of the basin. Thick muck belched from the holding bay. Death disappeared from view then, stepping behind the wheel, and leaned on a great rusted lever. The wheel screeched to a halt.

The afternoon sun dazzled Sebastian’s eyes as the masked figure cut him free from the wheel. He collapsed into Death’s arms, unable to hold himself upright. He couldn’t feel the straps being cut from his legs or his arms, but his head swam as Death placed him gently down in the soft reddish sand of the creek bed. The basin guttered and gurgled as the water spilled free from the trough. Sebastian gazed dully up at the gray sky. The canyon walls loomed over him like dreadful red sentinels. He felt as though he was falling. Falling down between the cliffs into lush green pastures. He heard Death say something, but his voice seemed very far away. Distant. Muffled. All that kept spinning through his mind like a wheel was: “Clop… splash… groan.

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Troy Story – Veronica Smith

veronica Smith

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I hate getting gas on the way to work, and I try not to if I can help it. It’s so early in the morning and always still dark out. My husband would take my SUV out to fill it up in the evenings (happy for a reason to pop in at the convenience store and buy himself some smokes), but I have to let him know when that gauge is nearing empty. I had just started out my drive this morning for my long commute when the dreaded fuel light blinks on. I swing into my usual station to fill ‘er up.

Tired, I wish I could have stayed in bed this morning and I lean against the driver’s side door. Setting the gas nozzle to automatic pump, I drearily watch the numbers scroll up as my tank fills up. Usually I look around while it pumps, checking for people who might steal my purse from inside the SUV.

Usually. But not today.

I never even saw it coming. I think it was a taser. It felt like a boulder dropped on me.

When I wake up, I’m tied to a chair; legs to legs, arms to arms. A gag is covering my mouth and I begin breathing fast as I look around in a panic. At least my nose isn’t covered. But I guess I wouldn’t have woken at all if that was the case. It looks as if I’m in a storage warehouse or some windowless room. Something’s causing a small light behind me but I can’t turn my head around that much to see what it is. It casts a low glow on the room in front of me and as my eyes adjust to the darker environment, I want to scream.

There’s a length of thick chain hanging from the ceiling, an open set of thick leather wrist straps dangling from the last link. Below that is a drain and I swear it’s dried blood staining the floor around it. Straining my eyes against the darkness I see the shine of stainless steel on a bench or table beyond the chain, the shine of very sharp blades; a lot of them.

I’m in a fucking torture chamber.

Many minutes later, I hear footsteps coming closer. They’re muffled by a door that is opened only seconds later. Overhead lights blink on in a blinding flash. The sudden light hurts my eyes so I have to squint and look down. I’m shaking so much my earrings are making tiny tinkling sounds in my ears. Besides that, all I hear are footsteps as they continue into the room and stop in front of me. I’m looking down as a pair of cowboy boots and jeans come into view. They turn to face me. Slowly I look up, afraid to close my eyes, even though I don’t really want to see it coming if I’m to die right now. My eyes are quickly adjusting to the bright light better than I want.

Brown cowboy boots, jeans with a leather belt, then a dark T-shirt with something on the front (I’m much too afraid to read or care what it says), then up to his face. I knew it would be a man by stride and weight of his footfalls. I expected to see a monster, but he was just an ordinary looking man, maybe even on the handsome side. His blond hair was short and curly and his blue eyes bore into mine. There isn’t a hint of emotion on his face and I start crying. He takes a step back and tilts his head to both sides, as if inspecting me.

“So you’re into horror? Zombies?” he queries as he pulls over another chair to sit down in front of me.

At first, I’m frozen, but then I slowly nod. What does it matter what he thinks of me?

“I saw all those zombie decals on your back window. That’s why I chose you.”


“I found some business cards in the CD holder on your visor,” he looks at me strangely. “The name on it is the same as on your driver’s license. I followed the link and found a website to horror books. You wrote those? That’s really you?”

Yeah, and I’m probably going to die more horribly than I’d ever killed anyone in my books and stories.

I nod my head vigorously, tears flying from my cheeks. He just stares at me, and then his face breaks out into a huge grin.

“I love horror!”

No shit.

He pulls his chair closer to me and I push back in my chair, as if I could get away from him.

“I never met a real author before!” he beams. “I just downloaded one of your stories and I’m going to read it right now. Do you have to go to the bathroom?”

What the fuck? Was he afraid I’d soil myself while he cut me up? He’s got a damn drain!

He sits expectantly, waiting for my answer so I shake my head. He jumps up and pulls his chair back away from me.

“You sit tight. I’m going to go read it. I’ll bring you something to drink when I’m done.”

He runs out of the room and shuts the door behind him.

Not only am I scared, now I’m very confused. Did my zombie stickers make him want to kill a horror writer or was he going serious fanboy on me? Now that the light is on, I look around more, hoping something in the room can help me escape; that is if I could get off this chair. Without my hands free to wipe my nose, a runner of snot runs down from my right nostril. I can feel it pooling on the top edge of the gag. I want to wipe it so badly. Hell, I just want to have the freedom to do it.

Now that it’s brighter, I can better see what’s on the workbench by the chain. I’m seeing it from an angle since I’m seated, but a hacksaw looks like a hacksaw, no matter what view it’s from. I was right about the blades. One looks like a huge bowie knife and there are a couple others half that size. There’s a jigsaw plugged into the wall and I shudder when I notice it has dried blood on the blade. Hung in brackets on the front are axes of various sizes.

If I don’t get out of here soon, I’m a dead woman.

I wonder why he was reading one of my stories first before coming back to … Oh shit. I’d really hate to die like one of my characters. Is that what he’s doing? Research?

Almost an hour goes by before I hear the sounds of him coming back. His footsteps are rapid, as if he is running.

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!

“Fuck! That was amazing!” He slams the door and runs up to me, pulling his chair under his ass in two quick movements.

He’s smiling, so I take that as a good sign. I hope.

“I read ‘Retribution’,” he went on. “Holy shit. It was so good I downloaded ‘Pie Bingo: Last Man Standing’ right after I finished it. Then I read that one too. Damn! You’ve got a sick ass mind! How did you come up with those ideas?”

I just stare at him, tilting my head, hinting at my snot-encrusted gag.

“Oh yeah, sorry.”

He stands up and walks behind me. I hold my breath, waiting for the sharp pain of a blade across my throat. Instead, he unties the ropes around my arms then unties the gag and removes it. Using the back of my shaking hand, I wipe my nose and lips. Moving my jaw up and down a few times, I lick my dry lips to moisten them. He quickly sits back down in front of me smiling.

I might have a chance here.

“Thank you,” I say to him, forcing a grateful smile on my face.

Suck it up honey and suck up to him.

“Well, usually I come up with ideas when I’m driving to or from work. It takes me about an hour each way and I listen to music but sometimes my mind wanders. ‘Retribution’ was started after seeing a dumpster next to a building. Simple as that. ‘Pie Bingo’ came about after playing bingo at a local pie shop.”

He bows his head and is quiet; too quiet. I hope I didn’t just mess up my chances. Suddenly he looks up and his smile is gone.

I’m fucked.

“I gotta tell you,” he begins, “I was planning to hang you up on that chain.” He angles his head and glances up.

My mouth goes dry again and I think my heart skipped a beat.

“But I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to let you live,” he went on. “I want you to write a story. My story; you’re going to be my personal scribe. I’ll get you a laptop but I have to still keep you on the chair.” He looks apologetic as he says this. “Oh, I forgot your drink. Bottle of water okay? Are you hungry?”

“Just thirsty,” I reply hesitantly, afraid it’s a trick. “And I have to use the bathroom now.”

There was no way I’m eating anything of his. Who knew what he did with the flesh of his previous victims.

After a closely guarded bathroom trip, he lets me walk around for about five minutes. I take this time to check out my surroundings. The bathroom is through the wall behind my chair, and the door out of the room is to my left. There are no other doors or windows. My arms and legs are numb from the tight ropes. I limp around until feeling comes back in my legs, and I shake my arms about. Finally, he sits me back down and this time only ties my legs, looser than before but still impossible to escape. He brings me a cold bottle of water (sealed for my protection – I checked). I drink deeply and immediately get brain freeze. I put my hands up to my temples as he walks out and comes back minutes later with a laptop and a small desk. He sets them up right next to me then walks out the door.

“I’ll be back shortly. If you want to start on my story while I’m gone, that would speed things up. My name is Troy.”

After fifteen minutes I realize he must have left, and not just the room. I use my arms to hold my balance and tried to lift my chair from the floor. It moves a couple of inches then stops. Without my arms tied, I’m now able to twist around and see that he has one of the back legs attached to the floor with cables. Stumped, I sit there for a few minutes until I look over at the laptop.


I’m able to turn the chair to face the desk, the legs scraping the floor in a horrible grinding sound. I open the laptop and turn it on. Immediately I click on the IE icon on the desktop.

Service Unavailable, please check your internet connection and try again.

I click on the Connections icon at the bottom but all the available wifi connections that come up have locks by them.


I guess writing my way out of this is my only option. Who knew I’d have to depend on my writing to save my life. I check to make sure he has Word on the laptop and he does. I start a new document and wait for him to come back and tell me his life story. I began typing out notes: description of the room and what has happened to me up to this point. After that, I’m going to write it out exactly as it is, starting as an interview with him, then whatever he tells me. I’d never done non-fiction before. Every bit of horror I’d written were just ideas I had while driving (what I call car-dreams) and nightmares, either mine or someone else’s. How much more horrific will it be hearing first-hand what he’s done to other people; what he had been planning to do to me? Will it shock me, knowing it’s real? It doesn’t matter. If it gets my ass out of here unscathed, I’ll write anything he wants me to.

Over an hour goes by and I begin to wonder where he’s at. My emotions are torn. I don’t want him to come back and change his mind. But on the other hand, if he doesn’t come back, I’ll die here; a long drawn out death of starvation (well, the dehydration will get me first). I regret chugging the bottle of water and want to save the inch or so that’s left. Like that would do much good.

Another half an hour is gone and I’m squirming uncomfortably on the chair. After finishing the last of the water, now I really have to use the bathroom again. I’m holding it, trying to squeeze my thighs together when I hear a door slam somewhere beyond my door. The footsteps come closer and he opens the door and walks in.

“I’m back!” he calls out. “Oh, I see you’ve already started. That’s great. Look what I have for you!”

Troy steps back through the door and bends over. He comes in backward, pulling something that drags along the floor behind him.

Not something, but someone.

I piss myself right there. I barely feel the warmth as it pools under my ass and runs down my legs into my socks. He’s brought in another victim to replace me. The man is unconscious on his back, his arms limp above his head, knuckles scraping along as Troy drags him by his feet. He drops him on top of the drain then walks to the wall beyond the workbench. Until now, I hadn’t noticed that the chain runs through a large loop bolted into the ceiling. I follow the length of it to the wall where Troy stands. One of the links is set on a steel hook bolted into the wall; the remainder of the chain hangs down the wall to lie on the floor. Troy unhooks the link and lowers the chain until the straps are a few inches from his new victim, before inserting a new link onto the hook. He walks back over to the man and put the straps on his wrists, buckling them tight. Back at the wall, he grasps the chain, taking the link from the hook, and begins pulling the chain down. The links make loud metallic clinking sounds as each passes through the ceiling loop. As the victim began rising from the floor I can see Troy’s muscles bulging through his shirt. He is strong and powerful; he has to be to pull a man on a chain up in the air. Hand over hand he slowly pulls down the chain until the man’s toes barely graze the floor. Troy carefully places a link over the hook and steps away to admire his handiwork. The unconscious man sways just a bit as the tips of his shoes gently brush the floor.

Troy turns to me smiling brightly; then his face turns sour.

“What’s that smell?”

I start crying again; sure he’s going to kill me for pissing myself and staining his crazed image of me.

“Oh I’m so sorry,” he apologizes, coming over to me. “I was gone too long and you drank that whole bottle of water.”

He kneels down and begins to untie my legs, oblivious to the urine drying on them. “I have a pair of sweat pants you can wear. I bet you don’t have to go any more though.” He chuckles and I nod, sniffling, “Go ahead and get cleaned up,” he points to the bathroom door.

While I get up, feeling my pants sticking uncomfortably to my legs, he walks to a box that sits against a wall and digs inside for moment. He holds up a pair of grey sweat pants and eyeballs back and forth from them to me.

“I think these will work but I don’t have any panties. Sorry. You’ll have to go commando.”

He tosses them to me and I back into the backroom, afraid to turn my back on him. He only smiles at me so I take a risk and shut the bathroom door. I wait for a moment to see if he’ll come to the door, demanding I open it, but I’m met with silence. By looking around I know he isn’t worried about me escaping. There are no windows and the only door enters into the torture chamber.

The first thing I do is strip out of my urine soaked panties and pants. I grimace when I realize my shoes and socks are ruined as well. My feet get cold easily so I’ll have to ask him for socks. Using the water from the faucet, I wipe down everything below my waist then dry myself with a towel hanging by the sink. As I slide the pants up my legs, two things occur to me. One, I notice there isn’t a single thing inside this small room I can use to help me escape. And two, I shiver as I snug the waist up, wondering who died so I could wear these pants.

I step back into the room, my bare feet slapping on the concrete floor. Dammit, they were already getting cold. I summon up the courage to ask him for socks. He nods in understanding and goes back into the box, pushing things aside to find some. As he does so, I glance to the door, my door to freedom, and wonder if I could outrun him. No way. I look back at him as he stands up with a pair of white crew socks in his hand.

“These will keep your feet warm and cozy.”

Cozy? A serial killer using the word cozy? That’s creepy.

I realize the only way I’m going to live is to play along. Not only do I have to write as if my life depends on it (because it does), but I’ll have to act as if I’m getting into it. Besides, he’ll have to let me go so I can publish it. That seems important to him, that I tell his story for everyone to read. I’ll have to work my expressions and reactions carefully. If I go ‘all in’ too quickly and easily, I think he’ll see right through it. I’ll have to ease into it.

But how to do it and keep the hanging man alive as well? That’s the real question. If I’m going to play along with Troy, I’ll somehow have to let the man know, without him giving it away.

I sit back down in the chair and pull the white warmth over my feet. I notice he’s wiped the floor under the chair and the smell of cleanser is strong.

I bet he has plenty of cleanser around here.

I’m about to turn the chair toward the desk when he puts his hand on the armrest and stops me. He pulls a fresh new piece of rope from his back pocket. Damn, I had hoped he’d actually forgotten. After tying both my legs to the chair, he turns it for me, the legs again scraping the floor, and adjusts me to a good position right in front of the laptop.


I nod and position my fingers over the keyboard. Then it hits me. Troy hasn’t gagged the man yet. If I get a chance to let him know what I’m doing, I have to keep him from blowing it or we’ll both be dead.

“I had a gag when I woke up,” I say to Troy. “Does he need one too?”

“You don’t want to hear him scream?” he asks me, a serious look on this face.

Oh shit, I said the wrong thing.

“Just kidding,” he grins. “I’m going to put it on before he wakes up. I usually enjoy the screams, but when they go on for a long time, they hurt your ears. Especially women with higher pitched screams. Gotta protect your ears. You only get one pair in life.”

What the fuck do I say to that?

I watch as he reaches to his worktable, plucking up a piece of cloth. He folds it precisely and ties it over the man’s mouth. The man’s head is still hanging down. I realize I don’t know his name and I’m typing ‘the man’ repeatedly.

“What’s his name?” I ask Troy.

“That’s a damn good question,” he replies, reaching into the man’s back pocket and pulling out a wallet. “I usually don’t care, but for the sake of history we have to make this right.”

He flips it open, reading the driver’s license.

“His name is Lester Goodson.”

I add that information to my notes at the top of the page.

“Oh look, he’s got a wife and two kids. How adorable.”

He says this so carefree, as if he doesn’t care that he’s ripping a husband and father away from his family. He holds out a picture for me to see. Lester’s wife is at least eight inches shorter than he is; her skin is smooth and dark, hair long and curly. She is gorgeous. His sons are about five and seven and cute as buttons. They are a beautiful family. My heart grows heavy and I hope like hell I’ll be able to save us.

“Now I want to start this out via interview style,” I tell him. “I’ve noted everything that’s happened up to this point. I want to get some background on you. That will be the first chapter. This might end up being a really long short story or a novella.”

“Or maybe a long novel?” he asks hopefully.

“Maybe,” I concede. “Let’s start with what made you decide to uh make your first kill. Now tell me in detail how you did it.”

I really didn’t want all the gory details. Although any time that he isn’t chopping away at Lester, is more time that he’s been missing, and maybe the police are already looking for him. Or me. Yeah, I’m sure I’m already missed by my husband and work as well, I hope. I’m positive there are security cameras at the gas station. They might be out looking for me already. The longer I could stall the better.

“When I was in the third grade …”

I managed to drag Troy’s background out for almost two hours. I type as slow as I can and make him repeat quite a bit so I can get it all. He isn’t angry in the slightest; happy to spend the time on it, only worried that it won’t be perfect. A few minutes before we are done, Lester wakes up. His head is whipping from side to side and now that he is fully awake, he’s in panic mode. His eyes open even wider when he sees the worktable full of blades next to him. His face registers confusion when he sees Troy and I at the laptop. I want to make a gesture to him, let him know I’m on his side but Troy is facing me so I don’t dare. At the first groan beneath the gag, Troy only glances up at him, dismissing him for the moment while I continue to compose his life story.

“Well, we’re finally up to now,” Troy says joyfully, clapping his hands and standing up.

He turns to look at Lester, that strange joy still on his face. I thought Lester might piss himself like I did and his dark face pales. He looks over at me and I stare down at the laptop, fiddling with a word on the screen.

I don’t know if I can really do this. What if Troy kills Lester right in front of me? Would that make me an accessory? It’s not like I can stop him.

“Well, I’m going to go change in to something a little more protective, if you know what I mean,” he says to me, patting me on the head.

I’m just his little pet scribe now. He walks out the door, whistling. I can hear his footsteps get fainter as he walks further away.

I turn to Lester, keeping an ear out for Troy.

“Lester, I’m a prisoner as well.” I point to my bound legs. “That crazy asshole’s got it in his head that I’m supposed to write his life story. I’m trying to figure a way to get us both out of here. Do you understand?”

He nods.

“I’m going to play along as if I’m getting into it,” I continue. “I don’t want to him to hurt you but I don’t know how to stop him. I tried to drag out writing the story, but he told me all he was going to for now. Now he wants me to write about what he does to you, here and now.”

Lester begins shaking and I look over at the door, listening.

“I’m hoping that you and I have been reported missing and maybe the police are already looking for us. I’ve been stalling but I think I’m running out of time. I don’t know what else to do to stall. So if I act funny, remember it’s just an act. I’ve got to make him believe me. Oh shit, he’s coming. You got it?”

Lester nods again and fear spreads across his face, as Troy’s faint footsteps grow closer.

I realize I haven’t saved the document once since starting, so I quickly name it Troy_Story.doc. I can’t imagine what he will do to me if I lose it all to a computer crash or something. He’ll probably take Lester down and hang me up in his place.

The door opens and Troy steps in. I half expect a white hazmat suit or something more, well more ‘plastic’. Instead, he has on a red sweat suit with elastic covers over his shoes. As he gets closer, I can see faint stains on his clothes.

Red. Blood. This is his killing outfit, probably his favorite. I gulp. I guess I had better write that down.

Lester shakes even more violently, causing his body to swing erratically. Troy calmly puts a hand on his chest to still him. Reaching to the worktable, his other hand hovers a few inches above the top, trying to decide which tool to start with. He picks up a small metal stick that I couldn’t recognize earlier from down in my chair.

I recognize it now. It’s a scalpel.

Moans are audible from beneath Lester’s gag and tears are pouring down his cheeks. I‘m near to crying myself but I hold it in. Troy delicately pulls Lester’s shirt out, plucking the cloth away from his skin. He starts the cut at the shirt’s bottom hem, and then deftly slides the scalpel up the cloth. It makes a whispering sound as it cleanly slices all the way up to Lester’s collar. He pushes the cloth halves to the sides, tucking them in Lester’s waistband, exposing his chest. His nipples become erect as the cool air touches them.

Troy looks over to me and nods as I began typing what I’m seeing. Turning back to Lester, he begins humming as he carefully places the scalpel against Lester’s right breast and shallowly slices down about a foot. Lester screams behind the gag and I quickly wipe a tear that leaks from my right eye before Troy can see.

This shit is real, really real! I want to fucking wake up now!

Blood wells up in the vertical line, pooling into one huge drop before sliding down Lester’s chest.

Troy turns to me, “Isn’t it fascinating how the blood forms like that? Why doesn’t it drip from several places? It’s almost as if the bottom drop is waiting for the others to catch up.”

I tremble as I type that sentence verbatim. He smiles, realizing what I did; happy his original quotes are in the story as well.

“Are you still cold?” he asks me.

He sees me trembling. Shit.

“Yes, actually I am,” I answer and shiver a little more for effect. “Do you have a sweat shirt for me?”

Happily, he puts down the scalpel and goes back to his box, digging for a shirt.

Lester’s tear filled eyes meet mine, and I want to cry.

Troy returns with a bright blue sweatshirt with a dark red stain on the collar. He holds it out, urging me to raise my hands in the air. I close my eyes and do so. He pulls the shirt over my arms and head, carefully pulling my hair out of the collar, then pulls the bottom snug at my waist. I open my eyes and I’m glad I can’t see the stain, sure that it’s blood, from my angle.

With a cheery whistle, Troy picks up the scalpel again and quickly slashes a diagonal cut from above Lester’s right breast down to his lower left abdomen. Lester’s face looks as if has someone punched him in the stomach. This time the blood drips in multiple places, racing down his belly. The many blood rivers that trace downward paths have me memorized. The blood is bright red against Lester’s dark skin. I swallow my saliva, trying to keep down the vomit that threatens to enter my throat.

He was going to do this to me!

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Troy whispers, also entranced by the blood.

Over the next twenty minutes or so, Troy cuts Lester over a dozen times. I realize he is only making shallow cuts and I’m afraid of what the upgrade will be. I type as slow as I can, forcing Troy to wait between each cut, praying that any moment we’ll hear the bullhorn of police announcing their presence.

My prayers are not answered.

Troy sits down in his chair, admiring his work, while I finish typing. I tell him I need to edit what I’ve written as I go. That’s bullshit of course. You don’t worry about editing until you’re done, but he doesn’t know that. It was yet another seemingly useless stall tactic. I just hit ‘Save’ when the screen blinks out and the laptop turns off.

“What happened?” Troy screams.

I pick up the laptop, inspecting it all around even though I don’t have a clue how to fix a laptop. Troy however is freaking out. He jumps up and hurls curses at the ceiling. He picks up a hammer from the table and both Lester and I wince, expecting him to hit one of us. Instead, Troy hammers dents in the walls of the room.

Realizing how long I’d been typing, I suddenly figure out what might have happened.

Loudly I say, “I think the battery just died. Do you have power and extension cords?”

He freezes mid hit and turns to me. Thankfully his anger wasn’t directed at me and slowly relief replaces the rage his face was wearing.

“The battery! I didn’t think of that. It probably wasn’t fully charged,” he smiles, “Remember I didn’t plan on letting you live originally.”

He runs out, presumably to get a power cord, and I look to Lester. The casual way he says that turns my stomach and I almost throw up. Lester’s eyes are sympathetic as he looks at me, although I wouldn’t blame him if he hates me. He’s only up there because Troy decided not to put me there. I don’t know how I’d feel in his position.

Troy runs back in, the power cord and a six-foot long surge strip in his hands. He plugs the surge protector into the wall behind me and inserts the power cord into that. It just barely reaches the laptop. He turns it on, holding his breath like a child. The machine boots up without a problem and he turns to me.

“How much do you think you lost?”

Despite the situation I’m in, I proudly tell him, “I save constantly. I had just saved it before it died.” I scroll the end of the document and show him. “Didn’t lose a thing.”

Troy slaps his thighs, “Well, time to get back to it.”

Lester squeezes his eyes shut, tears dropping from them. I can’t even imagine what he is feeling right now. Troy stands before his workbench and picks up a knife, smaller than the Bowie, but bigger than the scalpel. Muffled screams come from Lester and an idea comes to me.

“What souvenir will you save from him?” I ask him, making my voice as curious as I can. “You do take them, right?”

He halts with his hand on its way to Lester’s arm. “You want to see them?” He becomes excited almost immediately. “I can bring them to you. That would be incredible to have them included in my story!”

He drops the knife back on the table and runs out of the room. Lester’s thankful look just makes me feel worse. I had found another way to stall but would it do us any good?

Troy comes back, so excited he forgets to shut the door behind him. He holds a large sealed Tupperware, and sets it on the desk next to the laptop. While he’s intent on opening it up, I glance past him through the open door.

Dammit, the only thing I can see is a plain white wall.

I glance down at the Tupperware before he notices and stifle my disgust when he opens it. The container is full of small body parts with jewelry attached. There are three fingers, male and female, with rings still snug on them. I see an ear with two stud earrings firmly attached (a diamond and a gold star). Despite my revulsion I look closer at one unidentifiable object with a small steel barbell, finally realizing it’s a pierced tongue. The largest ‘prize’ of all is at the bottom, a dainty woman’s hand with a bracelet encircling the wrist, which ends about two inches from the edge of the palm.

“He has a wedding ring on his finger,” Troy says after looking Lester up and down. “I think that would be perfect. Don’t you think?”

Troy looks to me eagerly, itching for my approval. I notice his eyes go to my earlobes where thin steel gauge hoops hold various silver charms. He looks almost wistful as he looks back into my eyes. Swallowing my loathing, I put on a hesitant smile and nod, intending to look like someone who is curious but can’t believe they really are. He cocks an eyebrow and something gleams in his eyes, as if realizing I’m gaining some interest.

It’s working. I turn back to the laptop.

“Can I put these in the story?” I ask shyly. “I mean, they’ll make it so much better. Did you know their names?”

A huge smile envelopes his face, “I was hoping you’d put them in the story but I don’t care about names. Actions are more important than names. Don’t you think?”

I nod in agreement, as I begin typing out descriptions of the hideous trophies. When I’m done, I look questioningly to him, waiting for those background stories. More stall tactics.

“I pretty much described them to you earlier,” he says, with only mild impatience. “We’ll go back and put them together when we go over the book later.”

He turns back to the workbench and I know I’m out of ideas. He picks up the knife he previously dropped and without a word, slashes Lester’s right arm from bicep to wrist. Lester turns his face up and screams through the gag. This is going to end badly for Lester if I don’t think of something quick.

I gasp softly, as if in pleasure, and then cover my mouth as though embarrassed. Troy turns towards me, pure happiness lights up his face.

“You do like it!” he exclaims. “I knew you would if I gave you a chance. It’s not always easy to admit, but there’s a dark side to everyone and I knew I’d find yours. I saw how you looked at my box.”

He makes a mirrored cut down Lester’s left arm. Both cuts were deeper than the scalpel cuts and blood pours down both arms to drip on the floor. I make myself stare while he does it, opening my mouth just so slightly, breathing hard.

I really want to vomit.

I can see Troy watching me from the corner of his eye and I want it to be good. I’d never done well as a thespian but today I could win an Academy Award.

Suddenly Troy kneels at my feet and cuts the ropes holding my legs.

I’m free.

I look up, asking permission to stand and he nods. I slowly stand, dancing back and forth to get the blood moving in my legs again.

“You’re ready.” He says to me softly.

He leans in and kisses me on the lips, gentle and soft, and I kiss him back. I want to spit or wipe my lips on my sleeve but I suppress it, instead smiling shyly at him. He takes my hand and positions me in front of Lester. Taking the hand he’s holding, he places the knife on my palm, closing my fingers gently around it. I look down reverently at it.

Every expression, sound, and word, make him believe I want this.

I turn to face Lester, looking him in the eyes. Since Troy is to my right, I tilt my head just a fraction, briefly rising then dropping my left eyebrow, Vulcan style. I hope Lester gets the hint. I raise my knife hand to his chest and he turns his face away from me, tears pouring down his cheeks, moaning. I think he’s steeling himself for what he knows I must do. I place the blade on his skin, pushing just a bit then back off, shaking my head, showing nervousness I don’t have to fake. I look back to Troy and he smiles and nods encouraging at me. He knows my first will be hard to do. I also know that my first cut, shallow and short, won’t alert his suspicions; my hesitation is perfectly justified. However, after that, I don’t know what to do. Grimacing slightly, I puncture Lester’s skin and draw the knife down between Troy’s previous cuts. Lester screams again. It’s only a few inches long and jagged. Not very ‘pretty’ by a precise killer’s standards and I turn to Troy for his approval. He smiles even wider. I have done well for my first time. He steps up next to me and takes the knife from my hand.

“Like this.”

He continues my cut further and deeper and Lester’s head wobbles and his eye are fluttering. I’m afraid he’s passed out.

“This knife is too small,” Troy decrees, walking around to my left, and tossing it on the workbench.

He picks up the large Bowie knife and hands it to me. I adjust the handle so it feels good and strong in my hand. Lester opens his eyes and they widen again as I lift the knife.

Troy looks as if he’s in the throes of passion but his face quickly changes as I swing the knife around and bury it in his throat. Lester makes a sound behind the gag that sounds like a cheer. Troy’s hands go to his throat. He tries to grab the handle but as soon as he touches it, he falls to his knees to the floor. I step back, out of his arms’ reach. He wavers for a moment then falls to the side.

I don’t waste any time. I move the laptop to my chair and push the desk under Lester. He gets his feet planted on it and stands up, loosening the chain. I run to the wall and unhook it from the link. Lester somehow musters some strength and pulls down on the chain, the excess links drooping next to him. He sits down on the desk and holds out his wrists so I can undo the straps. Then he pulls down the gag. Carefully he slides off the desk and stands unsteadily, holding my arm for balance. He looks down at me and I’m crying because of what I did to him. He smiles and pulls me into an embrace.

“We need to get out of here,” he says.

It’s the first time I hear his voice.

We take two steps toward the door and hear a noise behind us. As we turn, we see Troy already up on one knee, trying to stand, using the desk to help him up. The knife in his throat has plugged the hole so he isn’t bleeding as fast as I’d hoped. I suddenly wish I’d slashed it instead. With a powerful swing of his fist, he knocks Lester to the ground.

He only has eyes for me. I’m the one who tricked him, betrayed him. He wants me.

Before I can back away, he puts his hands around my neck and squeezes. I close my eyes in pain and my tongue protrudes from my mouth. Now I understand why this happens in the movies; it’s an involuntary reflex. He crushes painfully and I think everything I did was for nothing.

“Hey you!” Lester yells. “How important is this to you?”

Troy turns, lightening up the hold on my neck a bit, and I open my eyes at the same time Troy sees Lester.

He is holding the laptop above his head.

“No!” Troy screams inaudibly.

I guess I really did a number on his throat. Oh well, tit for tat.

Lester laughs manically and slams the laptop edgewise on the concrete. It bursts into a shower of plastic and electronics.

I feel the hands leave my throat completely and I cough harshly as I sink to the ground, trying to suck in as much air as I can. Troy is on his hands and knees, frantically trying to pick up the pieces of the destroyed laptop. Waving my hand, I point wildly to Lester then to the workbench. I still can’t vocalize. He runs to it and picks the largest axe from its bracket and stands over Troy. He looks at me and I nod vigorously. Taking aim, he brings it down on the back of Troy’s head. It lands with a meaty thud and Troy drops to floor amid the rubble. Lester walks back over to me and kneels down. We hold each other again for a moment.

“I’m sorry,” I croak. “I hurt you. I tried not to.”

Lester smiles, “We’re both alive, and trust me, your little cut was nothing compared to what he did to me.”

I smile back, “And what he did to you was nothing compared to what we did to him.”

We get to our feet and hold each other up as we walk out the door. Troy will never torture or kill another human being again.

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Sentenced to Suffer – Feind Gottes

Fiend Gottes

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He should have never have let her into the apartment but when a beautiful woman shows up at your doorstep wearing nothing but a raincoat and a smile, a man can only be so strong. He knew that he still shouldn’t but the rush of blood from head to groin left him helpless, unable to slam the door in her face. A man can only be so strong at such a site, at some point logic and reason go out the window faster than a bullet from a gun. One look at that smile she wore with nothing else made him putty in her very skillful hands. He took a step back to allow her entrance closing the door behind her as the raincoat she wore hit the floor. His clothing soon followed before they ever made it to the bed, any thought of the danger he was in seemed further away than some distant galaxy far, far away as the infamous scroll had always begun.

The next three hours were perhaps the very best of his life. There were moments of pure ecstasy followed by a moment of absolute nirvana by way of intense orgasm. Unless his neighbors were deaf they were either enjoying the noise or being tortured by it. He and his sexy visitor could really have cared less, if the neighbors didn’t like it they could call the cops or leave for a few hours. After his third extremely loud orgasm the couple collapsed exhausted from the effort. She rolled over kissing his neck whispering in his ear that she hoped he had enjoyed her surprise visit. All he could do was smile as she slid out of the bed giving him one last long look at her shapely silhouette before bending over, just like he loved, to retrieve her raincoat. She blew him a kiss slipping out the door leaving him to pass out in his own euphoric bliss.

You just know the day is going to be bad when you wake up with a splitting headache. His eyelids felt so weighted down it was as though they were chained to the floor. It took all the effort he could muster to even open them to tiny slits which he could barely see through. It took his brain no more than a few seconds to realize something was very, very wrong here. He couldn’t move his arms or legs, his head felt like he had been paid a visit from a Louisville Slugger but what really terrified him was that he couldn’t remember anything. He could tell he was tied standing up to something hard and he thought he may be naked though he couldn’t be totally sure. His brain was screaming out, “WHAT IN THE FUCK IS GOING ON!” However, his mouth wouldn’t cooperate in the slightest so that all he could manage were a few muffled grunts barely audible unless someone had been standing maybe an inch away, no one was. Through the tiny slits of his eyelids he saw only black but even in this dazed state he didn’t imagine that he was alone wherever he was.

His struggles hadn’t gone unnoticed at all. While he struggled to open his eyes more than a few millimeters someone turned a single bulb on, hanging over his head, throwing him into a dim spotlight. He wasn’t yet able to see anyone but he knew for sure now that he wasn’t alone wherever in hell here was. From what the faint light and his eyes were showing him this had to be some basement or something. The floor was hard appearing to be concrete or cement covered in a thick layer of dust which only told him that, wherever this was, no one came here very often or possibly ever. His tongue still felt like a fuzzy balloon inside his mouth making anything more than a grunt near impossible so instead he closed his barely open eyes and tried to concentrate on how he could have possibly come to be in such a predicament. What was the last thing he could remember? Where had he been? What in the hell did he do to end up here?

His mind found no answers. The last thing he could remember was being in his rather crappy apartment watching TV or something. This was no help unless some random group took offense to him watching old episodes of Magnum P.I. but he rather doubted it. What had happened after that? He concentrated the best he could with his head pounding away like a gremlin with a jackhammer was trying to break free from the inside but still he could remember nothing. He gave up thinking and just tried to open his eyes once again. That didn’t go any better.

He was still barely able to open his eyes more than a couple of millimeters and the dim bulb swinging over his head did little more than make his head ache worse. He still couldn’t see anyone though knew he wasn’t alone, obviously. His wrists and ankles ached from the rope binding him tightly to some old wooden post whose dry splintered surface pressed into his skin like he was being stabbed with a thousand needles, even in the most sensitive areas. He hadn’t noticed at first but there was also a rope chaffing him at the waist holding him tight to the old splintered post. Every slight movement pushed splinters into him making him feel as though he was on the losing end of a knife fight. His tongue still felt like two pounds of fuzz inside his mouth. He was thinking of all the things he would do for a tiny sip of water when a door at the far end of the room opened. The man silhouetted in the light coming from the outer room appeared to be just an average man but given his current circumstance a chill ran down his spine at the sight. Perhaps the man came with some answers but somehow he didn’t think that was going to happen. What the hell had he done? If he could only remember.

The new entrant just stood in the doorway for a long moment, foreboding and ominous as a lion stalking its prey. He just stood there saying nothing, making no move, merely staring at the piece of meat tied to a wooden post in the center of the room. Finally maintaining his thousand mile stare he took a slight step into the room closing the door behind him. All was dark again on that side of the room then came the whispering. Tied where he was he couldn’t make out any words nor determine how many voices there were but he thought there were at least three though he had no way of knowing. His eyes were slowly beginning to cooperate but they were still less than halfway open and there was really nothing to see. The bulb swinging above his head was bright to him but cast very little light at all as though it were trying to shine through mud.

He heard shuffling feet but he still was unable to determine how many men (he only assumed there were no women down here with him) there were. The footsteps grew slowly closer making him break out in a cold sweat, fear pulsing through his veins. As much as he wanted to know where he was, and how and why he had come to be here it wasn’t too hard to tell that it wasn’t going to be Santa Claus stepping out of the darkness with a bag of goodies for him. No, it was far more likely that pain was shuffling its feet in his direction, agonizingly slow in his direction. He began to think snails might move faster than whoever this was making their way toward him in the dark. There was a pause to the shuffling and he was barely able make out a faint silhouette at the very edge of the bulb’s small reach. Just as when he had entered the room the man paused for a very long moment before taking one methodical step forward just inside the small circle of light.

He didn’t recognize the man from Adam. Almost nothing stood out about him, he was fairly average height around six feet tall with short cropped light brown hair, a couple days of matching stubble and a lean yet muscular frame, the kind of person anyone has seen a million times walking nonchalantly down the street. The only thing that did stand out to him were the man’s eyes. They seemed cold and dead staring at him like a wolf staring down a wounded animal about to become its dinner. It seemed an appropriate analogy to his mind since he felt about as helpless as a jackrabbit with two broken hind legs waiting for a hungry wolf to clamp down on its throat ending the little game. All he could do was wait for the wolf’s next move as he was tied helpless and naked to the old wooden post. The wolf just stood there staring at him, not saying a word, not making any move. He would’ve asked why he was here but his tongue still wasn’t working so all he could do was wait for the wolf.

The wolf with the dead eye stare said not a word standing before him. Then the wolf lowered his gaze and began to circle around the perimeter of light. The wolf traversed the perimeter thrice making him feel even more like some helpless wounded animal. What could these people possibly want with him? What could he have done that was so incredibly atrocious to put him here in this precarious position? He still couldn’t remember anything past sitting in his shitty little apartment watching an old Magnum P.I. episode. What had happened between then and now to put him here? Damn, he had never been a violent person so it wasn’t like he had murdered someone. His brain began to ache as much as his wrists and ankles from the effort of thought then there were the damn splinters from the dry post poking him in the testicles like he was sitting on a cactus. All he wanted was death or answers. He feared he’d only get one of those options.

He could feel a bead of sweat break free at his temple rolling its way down the side of his face as he stood there waiting. Waiting for the wolf to speak, to hit him, to cut him, to kill him or whatever the bastard was going to do. His fear only grew the longer the wolf circled saying nothing until the shuffling footsteps stopped directly behind him. Again there was a long silent pause as more beads of sweat began to drip their way down the side of his face finally sliding off the tip of his chin. He had never really been very patient and this wait was not only killing him but pounding fear through his veins. The wolf’s shuffling feet stopped behind him until he felt the wolf no more than an inch or two behind him. The wolf stood just far enough back as to not brush against him but close enough that he could feel the wolf’s body heat. The wolf simply stood there doing nothing, knowing that it was torturing his helpless prey. Then the wolf leaned in closer until its vicious lips were no more than a few millimeters from his victim’s ear. The wolf’s breath almost tickled while the anticipation grew within. The wolf remained poised at his ear saying nothing though speech was imminent. Would he get any answers or a threat? Cold fear sweat continued to drip down his face as he waited for the answer.
“You never should have let her in pal. I’m afraid it’s not a mistake you’ll be making again.” The wolf’s voice was deep, filled with malice and spoken in a gruff whisper.
His mind raced, who the hell was he talking about? He didn’t have any girlfriend, did he? Who had he let in? Magnum, what had happened after damn Magnum P.I.? Was he involved in some affair with a married woman? His mind raced for the answer. When was the last time he had been with anyone? Oh fuck, what stupid damn thing had he done this time? Hadn’t his crotch gotten him into enough trouble in the past? His mother had been right, he never did learn a fucking thing. He couldn’t remember it but he knew no matter how good it was, the sex wasn’t good enough to be going through this. His mind was frantic searching for a face. Just who in the hell had he let in?

His thought was cut short by his first real dose of pain. Sure the ropes binding him to the post burned and ached and splinters were pressing into him like a million needle injections from his balls to his should blades but that pain was no comparison at all. He had been hit with something small and hard in the center of his back. He had no idea what in the hell it might have been but he knew he had never felt any pain like this before in his life. He had been stabbed once many years ago and that had hurt worse than anything before it but that was surpassed by whatever had just been smacked into his back with force. Then it came again and again. It no longer mattered that his tongue felt like a giant turd sitting in his mouth, he screamed louder than he had ever known he could. The beating continued and so did his screams. He could tell this wasn’t going to stop and no one would be coming to his rescue. Wherever he was, he was alone with the wolf and this pain.

After more whacks with the object than he was able to count the beating came to a stop, at least momentarily. His back felt as though it had been skinned, it burned and throbbed from the pain. The wolf slowly circled around in front of him and he could finally see the object that had been causing him so much pain. The wolf stood before him now tapping the bloody thing in the palm of his hand as though goading him which, of course, he was. The end of the claw hammer was coated in what appeared to be a thick layer of red paint. It wasn’t quite dripping but it was damn close to it. The wolf smiled tapping the hammer gently in the palm of his hand tormenting the subject of his unwanted attention.

“I… I… don’t know wha-what you th-think I’ve done. I swear I haven’t been with any wo-woman! Ppplease!” His pleading did little more than make the wolf’s smile widen.
“Oh, you did, asshole. Have no fear, I’m here to help you remember. You really should have never let her in. The boss didn’t like that, no, he did not like that one little bit. He doesn’t take too kindly to anyone touching her. Speaking of touching I’m afraid it’s time to ensure you’re not able to touch much of anything ever again. I hope you don’t mind sitting down to use the bathroom from here on out because I’m afraid you’re not going to be able to hold your junk very well after this. What’s left of it anyway. I’m afraid the boss gave rather specific instructions. If it makes you feel better you should live through this so chin up, asshole!” The wolf’s feigned sympathy dripped sarcasm as intended.

Again his mind raced at what the wolf had said. Who in the hell had he slept with to bring this on? Did he even know who she was and do it anyway or was it some drunken one night stand? Damn, why in the hell could he not remember it at all? What had they given him? Did they whack him over the head before bringing him here? His head was still pounding but he felt drugged not slugged. He had often worried about something just like this. This wasn’t the first time his little purple headed warrior had done the thinking and gotten him over his head into deep shit.

“Wh… who was she? I… I can’t ‘member bbut can you tttell mme that?”

“The wrong woman, fuckstick. Now you may want to shut the fuck up and take a deep breath.”

The wolf approached the front of the post reaching out to where his hands were bound. He did his best to clench them into tight fists not willing to freely allow them to be smashed to mush. The wolf was none too pleased with the tactic. He said nothing merely raised the claw hammer over his head bringing it down with all the force he could muster square onto the middle knuckle of his right hand. The pain shot like a bolt of lightning up his arm to his shoulder then somehow straight to his splinter pierced testicles. He held his left hand tight, clenched in a fist but the right fell open utterly useless throbbing in agony.

“Sure you wanna keep that fist clenched? Believe me this ain’t gonna get any better but if you fight me I can make it worse. It’s your choice.”

He thought for a moment almost relenting but what was the difference really. The wolf was going to smash his fingers to smithereens with that hammer no matter what he did. Why not make the son of a bitch work for it. That thought hadn’t even fully formed when the hammer crashed down on his left fist just as it had on the right. There were no more fists for the wolf to pry open. Again the pain shot straight up his arm to the shoulder and again somehow right to his balls like he had been kicked by Chuck Norris wearing steel-toed boots. He lifted his head as best he could opening his eyes to find the wolf smiling a giant shit eating grin back at him.

“Hard way, eh? Like I said, it was your choice, asshole.” Still smiling the wolf produced a handful of shining silver steel spikes from his back pocket, “I assume you were thinking, how much worse can it get? Well, now you get to find out. Congratulations! It’s you’re lucky fuckin’ day, fucktard!”

The wolf grabbed the fingers of his worthless right hand pulling them out so his palm laid flat against the post. Using his palm to hold the fingers flat the wolf positioned one of the spikes in the center of the back of his hand. One strike drove the spike straight through his hand producing a scream to be admired by horror movie aficionados putting most Scream Queens to shame. It was a glorious scream that should have been heard for miles if anyone were around to hear it. The wolf seemed to be taking no chances or perhaps just satisfying his sadistic side hammering the spike in as far as it would go. He repeated the procedure on the left hand then proceeded to nail a spike through the cuticle of each finger. His lights went out about half way through the first hand.

He had no idea how long he had been out but he had awaken to intense pain. The rope holding his wrists to the old post had been cut but that was little consolation. His hands were now bound to the post in the worst possible way imaginable, at least to his mind, and the pain told him that it really couldn’t be a whole lot worse. His hands were now held fast by twelve very large steel spikes, one through the back of each hand and one through the cuticle of all ten fingers. He wasn’t walking away from this post right now without amputating both hands which at the moment seemed like a plausible option. The pain traveled in waves up through his arms to the nerve centers at each shoulder. Each pain wave, coming at about one second intervals, seemed to travel in slow motion hitting the brachial plexus with an explosion of white hot pain that never failed to go straight from his shoulder to his now shriveled up, splinter filled man sack.

“Look who’s awake! I was positive you’d be out much longer. I told ya you wouldn’t like the hard way and we ain’t even to the fun part yet, jag off! Lucky you!” The wolf seemed far too happy to see him conscious again. “If you didn’t like the nails you’re really not gonna like this!”

He didn’t think he had ever seen a smile so wickedly evil even in a horror movie. Unfortunately, he was the star of his own personal horror movie now and there was no pause or stop button to end it early. The pain was pulsing from his fingers down to his balls when the next wave began. He longed for that hammer to be wailing away on his back about now. The pain in his back was long forgotten and barely even registering with the overload from being nailed in place but now the wolf was done stalking its prey, done circling the wounded animal that would be its dinner. Now the wolf was merely playing with its meal before devouring it. The hammer slammed down again and again forever ruining the flesh and bone it pounded into. The pain which was off the scales prior to this new pulverizing beating was now just indescribable. He wanted to pass out again but it wasn’t happening this time. He wanted to scream but the sound seemed to be stuck in his throat choking him. Tears rolled down his cheeks while he prayed to god, he had never believed existed, for all this to end or for death. All he really wanted right now was a quick death that wasn’t going to come no matter what deity he decided to pray to and he tried every damn one he had ever heard of.

The wolf continued hammering away for what seemed an eternity. By the time he was done the mess nailed to the post wasn’t even recognizable any more. All that was left was a mass of unrecognizable flesh barely held up by the spikes driven into the post. It looked as though someone had pinned a couple of T-bone steaks to the post and set an M-80 (or a dozen) off inside them. His hands were a bloody mess with fragments of bone sticking out here and there contrasting the bright crimson with flashes of pure white.

The wolf stood back admiring his handiwork. The boss had told him to make sure this piece of filth was never able to touch her or any other woman ever again, he felt he had fulfilled that request completely. There was only one bit left to go then this poor soul was free to go. 

He had no idea how he hadn’t passed out from the pain. His hands no longer just throbbed, the pain was a steady stream of white hot acid pulsing through his veins. There was nothing to compare it too nor any real description for it. He still had absolutely no recollection of what he could have possibly done or who “she” was but apparently “she” was the absolute wrong woman to have done it with. He no longer even cared who she was, he just wanted to die and end this suffering. If the wolf was to be believed that wasn’t going to happen though.

“I gotta give ya credit pal you’re really hangin’ in there like a trooper. There’s only one bit of nastiness to go then you’re free to go. I’m afraid the boss was pretty specific about your punishment so you’re not likely going to enjoy this next bit any more than the last. Do you even remember who you fucked with yet?” The wolf almost sounded genuinely sincere as if he empathy after the hand destruction.

“Nnno. Wh… who?” A little bit of stuttering was all he was able to manage.

“Considering what I have to do next I don’t think it would hurt to tell you now though I would have thought you’d remember by now. I doubt she gave you her real name but you really don’t recall who you’ve been banging the hell out of for the last month?”
Suddenly he could see her face in his mind then her luscious body. He had never known a woman with skin so soft like silk against his lips, hips and fingertips. She had also tasted so very sweet as though she were literally made of vanilla and jasmine infused honey. He had gotten to know every inch of her intimately in the last several weeks. His head had known she was just a mountain of trouble but he had never been known for thinking with the proper head. He had never seen a woman so beautiful. He still couldn’t remember her name but a woman that beautiful had to belong to someone dangerous enough to keep her. Given his current predicament he could only assume she was married to someone very powerful and most likely nefarious as well. For the life of him he still couldn’t remember her name.

“I… I… cccan’t rrremmmember nname… wh… who?”

“She probably didn’t give you her real name and if it makes you feel better she never gave her real name to the others either. I think she just enjoys fresh meat. I think she is also sadistic enough to enjoy knowing that this happens every single one of you. The master is extremely protective and jealous but I’ll let you in on a little secret, I think he enjoys letting her find fresh meat to seduce so he can reduce you to well… this. I hope you know a little bit of history or her name won’t mean anything to you. Her real name is Lilith but the boss just calls her mother.” The wolf’s wicked smile returned with the disclosure as he opened a straight razor to remove the manhood from the piece of meat in front of him.

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Up the Dark Alley – Trev Hill

Trev Hill

Can’t a writer get paid? Give Trev Hill some beer money!



The stairs creaked as the security guard climbed to the upper floor. He hated this part, the stairs were narrow and the whole building made noises. Of course, he told himself, it didn’t help that it was this house. He’d never been in it before but he’d heard enough about it. Everyone knew they were just stories to scare the kids or the girls but it didn’t help now he was here alone, not now he had to sleep here himself. Not that he figured on getting much sleep, especially if She decided to visit.


Paul O’Shea assembled his crew in the local Prince Rupert Hotel. “The Stalwarts”, as he had christened the regular members, were sampling the hostelry’s local delights. A little early, he felt, but they knew their work and their limits. Meantime, he was interviewing some new members from the locale, specialists in their fields, he was told. He sipped his coffee, hoping to god that they weren’t the usual self-important local bumpkins he normally had to deal with. Thankfully, they weren’t too bad, he had to admit, although Dr Bartholomew Bartlett PhD was a trifle annoying. However, as he had the most contacts and some local media status, he was put in charge of the “auxiliaries”. Once O’Shea had his troops, he arranged the first briefing for the following evening in the Prince Rupert.

The conference room was abuzz with excitement as the auxiliaries and local trades-folk assembled and wolfed down the complimentary sandwiches and wine.

“Hark at the Hoovers!” a stalwart technician was heard to comment, “All the same on every job, extras, super-luminaries, local specialists… all the same, all bloody hoovers. Come up to the table and hoover it all away!” His stalwart buddies nodded sagely at his words of wisdom and surveyed the melee whilst hoovering their pints. O’Shea entered the room and the multitudes found their seats.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, “O’Shea began, “you’re probably aware that there is something special planned in the local area,” the multitude chuckled accordingly, “Well, until today I could have told you, but then I’d have had to kill you!” Cue more chuckling. “As you are no doubt aware, myself and my stalwart crew are members of the television production History Hunters, a popular archaeological programme. You’ve also probably worked out that the History Hunters will be filming an episode in your fair town of Severnsbury. WE are very excited about this, as it is a beautiful, well preserved mediaeval site with a lot of history, but again, you probably know that too.” Nods and chuckles and, “get on with it,” sighs.

“Well,” O’Shea continued, “now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for.” The multitude pricked up their collective ears, “A few months ago Sunforques, the well-known national pub and hostelry chain, acquired premises in Severnsbury with the aim of converting the current site into a small mediaeval themed tavern. Naturally, they want to keep the buildings as close as they can to the original state whilst incorporating the structure into the new interior design. However, they have also given permission for archaeological research to be done on the foundations of the building, which is still standing I hasten to add, before proceeding. Of course, we are very excited at this unique chance and also very honoured that History Hunters has been asked to undertake the research. And so, to aid us in our endeavours, we have gathered together a number of locally respected specialists, that is, your good selves!” Laughter and applause.

“ Neal Tobias, Severnsbury Sentinel. Could you tell us, Mr O’Shea, where the archaeological dig is to take place?”

“Well, Mr Tobias, I was just about to do that but let’s say your shrewd, archaeological journalistic technique has unearthed the information,” winked O’Shea, to a roar of merriment. “So, in answer to Mr Tobias’s digging, we’ll reveal that the site is located in the 15th century structures which form the junction between Fish Row and Grope Lane.” Gasps of excitement and astonishment. “This area, as you know, is not only one of the oldest and most picturesque areas of the town but also has a long and rich history of trading and…”

“Oh yes indeed!” piped up Dr Bartholomew Barlett PhD. “A special sort of trading indeed, for instance, did you know that the original name of Grope Lane was Grope…”

“Yes, thank you, Dr Bartlett! I’m sure many people will be aware of the colourful past of the area. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce you to Dr Bartholomew Bartlett PhD, who will be leading our team of local researchers?” Polite applause and Bartlett lovingly waving to all, especially the cameras. “Now,” continued O’Shea, “let’s discuss some technical matters, shall we? Then we can excavated the bar!” Wild applause.


During the post-announcement soiree O’Shea was making the customary introductions between the new members of the team. Accordingly he approached Dr Bartlett accompanied by a woman.

“Dr Bartlett, I’d like to introduce Dr Hayley Mackenzie who’ll be working alongside you.” Dr Mackenzie held out her slender hand whilst Bartlett puffed himself up to the required level of pomposity.

“Ah, DOCTOR Mackenzie!” he declared, holding on to his wine-glass and cigar, “And from which honorable institution do you hold your title?” he asked. Dr Mackenzie smiled slightly, withdrawing her hand,

“The Open University,” she replied unselfconsciously. Bartlett’s eyebrows rose and fell.

“Oh, my apologies, I had assumed it was from a proper institution, like my own,” He sighed.

“Of course, one would have liked to, Mr Bartlett, but having a job and a family does get in the way a little,” Dr Mackenzie replied tartly. The tone was lost on Bartlett, who shrugged in slimy sympathy,

“I wouldn’t know, Dr Mackenzie, having never married. One devotes all to one’s discipline, you see. Ah well, needs must as the devil drives, I suppose, eh, Mr O’Shea?” O’Shea had coloured somewhat at Bartlett’s comment,

“Dr Mackenzie comes highly recommended, Dr Bartlett, something supported by some of my fellow OU graduates.” Bartlett nodded with a self-assumed comprehension and not a hint of embarrassment,

“Of course, Mr O’Shea. I understand completely. Well, I shall look forward to working with you, Dr Mackenzie and feel free to drink from my well of experience.” He raised his glass and turned back to his little group. O’Shea and Dr Mackenzie turned and walked towards the bar.

“Oh god, sorry Hayley!” O’Shea sighed. Hayley shrugged,

“Heard it before but that line was a killer, wasn’t it?”

“What, the ‘never-married’ one?”

“Yeah, probably never found anyone stupid enough, even from the OU!”


The location of the excavation was a narrow lane in the centre of the town. Severnsbury had been a prosperous town in its heyday, a religious and mercantile centre which attracted a number of trades and traders. The centre of the old town still retained the classic black and white houses of the 15th century, with their distinctive timberwork and time-sloped structures. Grope lane led from the more recent renovations of the High Street up to the old mercantile centre and the cobbled street of Fish Row. This would be a particular headache for the excavators because of the need to remove any cobblestones individually and mark them to return in the exact spot from which they came. O’Shea ‘s team loved this kind of work. The overtime was amazing. The local research team stood in the lane surveying the relevant structures.

“Amazing building, isn’t it? Nothing fancy as such, but all the history in its little rafters,” O’Shea smiled, his more romantic side beginning to peep through. Hayley Mackenzie nodded with a slight smile. One or two of the other researchers ran their hands across the wooden beams on the outside of the houses.

“Our job, “ O’Shea began, “is to go down…” Bartlett chortled,

“Very apt, considering what this place was, eh? Did you know, Dr Mackenzie, that the original name was…”

“Yes, thank you, Mr Bartlett, I do know.”

“So, who knows what we’ll find, eh!?” Bartlett droned on. O’Shea continued.

“We’ll be trying to get down to the inner foundations and maybe around the outside. It seems the lane was narrowed at some point, might be interesting to find out why and if it had any connection with Dr Bartlett’s original name,” he smiled, nodding at the appreciative Bartlett.

“So what exactly will we be doing, Mr O’Shea?” asked a young man in the group. O’Shea turned to him.

“Now, John… is that right?” the man nodded, “Yes, sorry, John Frenchman every one, assistant archivist at the county libraries. Well John, you’ll be searching land records etc and finding out about the architectural records and so forth, seeing how the buildings changed over the years. Also, maybe some legal records, court documents etc to see if we can get a few tales of the past, that kind of thing. I’m sure there must be something juicy.”

There were a few knowing smiles from the local historians which set O’Shea’s heart aglow.


The security guard settled down in the  “watchman’s” room. He’d brought blankets and the kettle was on but the portable TV was giving him problems. He’d never liked this building, even as a kid walking past it. Now, just his luck, he’d been lemoned with the night shift and a dodgy telly. He switched it off and picked up a Dan Brown thriller from the table. Better, than nothing, he supposed.

He stiffened as he heard the little steps running up the staircase outside the room and the little giggle. He cursed silently. If it had just been the noise, he could have put it down the the ancient beams cooling down in the night. But that giggle… that changed it all. He tried to ignore it but the sound of footsteps resumed in the room above him; that room.

He slowly rose from the chair and picked up the torch, the heaviest, and made his way out onto the staircase. The wooden boards creaked in a warning fashion as he climbed slowly, tensely, up each step, his breath becoming shorter and his chest tighter.

He paused at the doorway of the room and flashed the torch around. He couldn’t see anything untoward but slowly, almost painfully, he put his hand around the doorframe and fumbled for the light-switch on the other side of the wall. He wasn’t going in their without a bloody light. He held the torch like a club, half expecting his wrist to be seized by an unseen hand.

The light went on. Nothing. The room looked ordinary, boring, even. He breathed a sigh of relief, chuckling to himself at his own stupidty. He wouldn’t tell the lads about it, he decided. Still, he’d just have a quick look. It was just possible, after all, that some local kid had snuck in for a dare. Hadn’t they all done that at one time?

Crossing the threshold, he didn’t notice a difference in temperature. If he had, he’d have put it down to the room simply not being heated during the digging project. That said, the slight breeze around his neck could have come from an open window… somewhere. It was the tingling coldness which enveloped his neck which stopped him in his tracks, followed by the slow, almost caress-like movement of the sensation down his arm and chest.

His torch arm was paralysed, either by fear or the cold sensation, and his chin and neck felt cupped in a light but firm hold. A warmer, softer breeze blew into his face, becoming warmer as it got close to his neck and ear. He realized with an increasing horror that it wasn’t just his arm which had stiffened. The eyes in his petrified face forced themselves to look downwards as the cold sensation turned warmer and moved slowly down towards his rising bulge.

As the sensation touched him there, he heard the giggle once again. Snapping his eyes upwards, he saw her, screamed and found the use of his legs again. Throwing himself backwards he all but rolled down the stairs, followed by the mocking, bell-chimes of the girlish laughter.


The security boss had nodded and left silently, leaving a steadily fuming project manager sitting at his desk.

O’Shea gripped his vape between his teeth and muttered a curse that would have driven the devil away in embarrassment, before throwing his pen at the wall in frustration,

“This is bloody ridiculous! Is it cold or wet there? Do they want wi-fi, porn channel? What?” he cursed.

The door opened and Hayley MacKenzie peeped cautiously into the room.

“Trouble Paul?” she asked. O’Shea nodded sternly.

“F-ing exodus of night-watchmen. Can’t keep them and nobody will say why.”

“What did the security chief say?”

“Nothing, but he knows something, I know he does… He’s holding something back!”


“You don’t survive long in my job if you can’t tell. Sod it! What’s the problem?”

“The problem is…” Mackenzie smiled, “that you need a drink!” O’Shea nodded.

“A big stiff one!”

“Wouldn’t mind a big, stiff one myself, as well as a drink.” The good Doctor smirked. O’Shea recoiled in mock-horror.

“God, you’ve been working with Bartlett to long!”

“Spending any time with him is too long. Look, forget the Prince Rupert, I know just the place, old coaching inn. I think you’ll like it.”

“Sounds good, what’s it called?”

“Errrm, The Coach and Horses, believe it or not.”

“Now who’d have thought it?” he chuckled. “Your local?”

“Not really, but it does a great pint of… Somerset apple juice!”

“And I took you to be a shandy girl!”

“Well, why should a girl have ale on the lips when she can get the tongue in cider!”

“Doctor Mackenzie!”

“And it also happens to be where some of your security team drink.”


The pub was fairly busy but comfortable. The crowd were generally working locals, not a trendy young crowd. Mackenzie and O’Shea found a free table in a corner and O’Shea nipped over to the bar, returning with two bright orange pints of Cheddar cider.

“So,” he asked, sitting down and taking a sip, “How’s it going with the research team?” Mackenzie took a large sip of her own chilled cider and smiled, semi-triumphantly.

“Not bad at all. Perhaps even more than OK.” She smiled knowingly. O’Shea rose to the challenge.

“Looks like somebody has a secret they are dying to tell me,” he opined, staring into Mackenzie’s smirking face. The smirk peaked and she took another sip.

“Oh yeah! You’ll love this…” she began. However, O’Shea’s loving would have to wait as there was a rather loud story being told across the bar which made both O’Shea and Mackenzie down their glasses and listen.

A stout, middle-aged man was standing at the bar, regaling a group of what appeared to be his drinking buddies. He seemed excited or agitated and the audience appeared transfixed. O’Shea nodded towards the orator,

“He’s actually one of the security team. I think he’s a foreman.”

“Could be worth a chat then,” Mackenzie replied.

O’Shea waited until the speaker left the group, heading towards the gents, and casually stood up and strolled to the bar. As the man returned, O’Shea “ stepped alongside him,

“Hello George, fancy meeting you here. Is this your local?” he smiled. George’s eyebrows rose and he nodded at O’Shea.

“Oh, alright Mr O’Shea. Enjoying a night out are yeh?”

“Yes, nice place? I’m here with Dr Mackenzie, would you like to join us?”

“Oh, well, very kind of yeh, but…”

“Nonsense, George! I’m sure your friends won’t mind for a minute, what are you having?” O’Shea pressured the security-man, motioning to the barmaid to bring some fresh pints over. George accepted he was taken and shuffled over to the table with O’Shea. He nodded to Mackenzie and sat down, raising his pint to his lips. O’Shea sat down opposite, took a sip of his cider and smiled across at him.

“Now then, George, Dr Mackenzie and I just caught a little of your show over there with you mates. We were hoping you could do an encore and tell us a bit more about it.”

“Ah, Mr O’Shea…”

“Paul, George, please… we’re not at work now,”

“Oh,,, right, of course, Mr… Paul. Well, really, pay no heed to all that. It was just the beer talking and a bit of bravado for the lads, you know,” George flustered. O’Shea kept eye contact while giving a smile which only reached his cheekbones,

“Sounded a bit more than that, George. From the little I caught, it sounded like some critical information about working conditions and the spreading of rumours which could make it difficult to recruit new staff,” he crooned, sipping his cider without breaking eye contact. George reddened,

“Mr O’Shea!”

“But I can’t imagine a foreman spreading such disinformation. I mean, what would his boss think?”

An awkward silence descended.

“It was noisy though, Paul!” Mackenzie chipped in. Maybe we misheard it, it’s possible.” She smiled warmly at George, who was now a deeper shade of purple and gazing into the depths of his mild. O’Shea held the line for a moment longer before shrugging and grinning,

“Of course we must have misheard. That’s why I asked George over to explain it to us, off the record, didn’t I George? I’m sure we’d be interested in hearing it all properly, don’t you think Dr Mackenzie?”


“Of course, Hayley. Now, why don’t I get us three Scotches and you can give us the full story, eh George?” He left George and Hayley together while he went to get the whisky. Mackenzie gently touched his hand,

“It’ll be OK, George. He just wants to know what’s going on. And it sounds pretty interesting to me, too.” George sighed and shook his head.

O’Shea returned with three double malts. George downed his in one and began.

“I’m not comfortable talking about this, Mr O’Shea, ‘spcially not in-front of a lady… no disrespect, Dr Mackenzie…”


“…Dr Hayley, it’s just not summat I’d usually talk of,” he mumbled.

“It’s OK, George, I’m a big girl!”

“Well, you see,” George continued, “It’s that place, the one we’re lookin’ after. I don’t suppose as yeh both know the history of the place, do yeh?”

“Well, I know a bit,” Mackenzie interrupted, George nodded,

“Of course, Dr Hayley…”

“Just ‘Hayley’!”

“Oh yeah, sorry. Mr Bartlett said you wasn’t a real doctor! Anyway…” he continued, oblivious to Dr Mackenzie’s flushed expression, “ I’m talking more as local history and tales. I mean, you might not know that the old lane was knowed as…”

“Yes, we know! And why.” Dr Mackenzie assured him. He nodded and took another sip of his ale.

“Well, you’ll know as some of the history what went on there but there’s local stories of a Madam Sabrina, who’s supposed to haunt the place.”

“Oh come on!” protested O’Shea, “You’re not telling me that…”

“Wait, Paul!” Mackenzie interjected, “ Tell us more about the story. Who was Madam Sabrina?” George looked towards O’Shea, who nodded.

“Well there’s sum as says she were a well to do lady and them as says she were a “different” kind of lady, if you get my drift.” They nodded to show the drift had indeed been got. “Well legend has it that she murdered a chap, as like her lover or a chap as had slighted her. Course, she were caught an’ ‘anged but her ghost is supposed to haunt the place, waiting for her chap to come back, I suppose.”

“So has this something to do with the lads leaving the job? Are they scared to stay there?” O’Shea asked, only just hiding his incredulity.

“Well that’s the strange thing, Mr O’Shea. That house ‘as been a lot of things over a lot of years but even quite recently there were a couple of rooms at the top which were rarely used, an’ certainly not slept in.”

“Why not?”

“Well, the usual, knocking noises… I mean like somebody tapping, not the other kind! But people getting strange feelings and such.”

“So, was that happening to your guys?” O’Shea asked.

“That’s the interesting thing, Mr O’Shea, we put some of the younger chaps in there to watch the place, as some of the older ones were a bit wary, believe it or not.”

“Are you wary, George?” Mackenzie asked. The watchman blushed a little and nodded sheepishly.

“Must admit, I am, Ms Hayley but I heard tales from my father, who were a glazier there once. He did a late shift there once and never again!”

“So… a few noises are scaring them, is that it?” O’Shea sighed. George shook his head.

“A bit more than that, strange dreams, errm, strange… sensations! Like they was being touched, a lot, and weird thing was that when they woke, their clothes and things were scattered over the room and their change was missing!”

“What?” Mackenzie and O’Shea chorused.

“Loose change. Gone. Wallet and things scattered. Between that and the… sensations, couldn’t get anyone to stay up there.”

“It couldn’t just be they were drinking a bit and…”

“None of my lads drink, Mr O’Shea, not on the job. We ‘ave our professional pride too!” he stated indignantly. O’Shea apologized,

“But it couldn’t just be someone was coming up while they were asleep and…”

“Locked doors, Mr O’Shea. Not saying it was Madam Sabrina but it were enough to spook ‘em, as it were. It’ll take some work to get any of ‘em to stay there again.”

The production team assembled the following morning. O’Shea was puffing at his vape in solemn thought. As the morning chatter declined, he finally spoke.

“Houston, we have a problem!” The team looked serious, “But, it could be a bit of a godsend!” The team looked puzzled. O’Shea looked at them all and began quietly,

“It seems that some of the security team are scared to stay in the building because of some strange disturbances which they blame on an old legend. Does anyone here know about Madam Sabrina?” One or two local team members raised their hands. O’Shea nodded. “Well, for those who don’t, Dr Mackenzie, here will fill you in. Hayley?”

Mackenzie bade everyone a good morning and opened a file.

“OK, as you’re probably all aware, Grope Lane is believed to have been a red light district known, originally as…”

Bartholomew Bartlett opened his mouth to declare but Mackenzie was relentless,


Bartlett sat down in a huff. Some of the team Smiles whilst others tittered quietly.

“Oh titter ye not!” Mackenzie grinned, “It was once a pretty common street name. Anyway, there is a local legend about a ghostly female who is thought to have been one of the local working girls, Madam Sabrina. So the story goes, she killed someone and was executed and now haunts the place.”

Bartlett piped up,

“Oh now, now, is this what passes for historical research in your institution? A few old wives’ tales? There is no evidence for this at all…”

“Well actually, Mr Bartlett, there might be. John Frenchman, here has some interesting documentation which he discovered yesterday and I was about to tell Mr O’Shea last night. John?”

John Frenchman coughed and blushed slightly,

“Thank you Dr Mackenzie, Well, it took some finding but there is a rather damaged piece of parchment from the local court records. It seems to be an extra-ordinary proceeding. It’s a bit hard to read, so we’ve sent it for further analysis, but it mentions a Madame Havren who was found guilty of the murder of a guest in her house. What makes it even more interesting is that she seems to have been hanged from the window of the house itself, rather than the local gallows.”

The room was quiet. Bartholomew Bartlett guffawed,

“Oh what nonsense, why would anyone be hanged from the window of a house. I’VE never heard of such a thing and I…”

“Presumably as a deterrent to other house-owners doing the same thing. Perhaps the client was somebody important.” Frenchman offered. Bartlett huffed.

“But the name is totally different!” he sniped. Frenchman shrugged,

“It appears it could be a Welsh variation of ‘Sabrina’.” At this, Bartlett rose, slamming the table in frustration,

“There is no precedent for such a punishment! It is simply a myth!”

Mackenzie sipped her coffee and savoured her moment,

“Perhaps not a precedent, Dr Bartlett, but in August 1530 an Edinburgh tailor was sentenced to be hung from the doorway of his own house for concealing his wife’s death by plague. You can find it in ‘Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh. AD 1528-1557’, published in Edinburgh by the Scottish Burgh Record Society, 1871, page 35!”

Bartlett choked on his cigar.

“So perhaps not as rare a punishment as you assume, Dr Bartlett,” Mackenzie concluded. Bartlett retired to his chair and smouldered.

“So,” O’Shea announced, “we seem to have some historical basis for the legends. This appears to be a significant discovery and so I have discussed with the production company and the site owners, Sunforques, that we extend the episode on the excavations and include a special edition about the local legends and the new information.”

The team chattered excitedly as Dr Bartlett shook his head and gazed into his tea,

“The noble discipline of historical research is now brought down to a study of fairy tales!” he sighed.

“Perhaps not, Dr Bartlett. In fact the ‘fairy tale’ as you call it might be the seed of some new excavations and important discoveries.” Everybody hushed and looked towards O’Shea.

“You remember, John, what I said early in the project, when I asked you to check architectural records?”

“You said something about the lane having been narrowed at some point, I think.” Frenchman replied.

“Exactly, and we aren’t sure why. Well, I’m just wondering if it was to accommodate something or to help people avoid something.”

“Such as?” Bartlett asked, his curiosity rising in spite of himself.

“What normally happened to hanged felons?” O’Shea asked into the air.

“They were sometimes gibbeted or…” Frenchman froze mid-sentence.

“…buried beneath the gallows!” Mackenzie concluded. “Paul, do you think she’s down there?”

O’Shea shrugged and grinned,

“Which of you would like to find out?”


The evening bells chimed in the local church, a stone’s throw from Grope Lane. Paul O’Shea was unpacking his sleeping bag in the upper room of the old house. Hayley Mackenzie chuckled,

“Is your hotel so bad?”

“Well, somebody has to show these big tough security guys that there’s nothing to fear and someone needs to be here, so it may as well be me.”

“Aw c’mon, we could get some of the diggers to rough it here. They’d be OK with it, I’m sure. Bet they’ve camped down in worse places,” Mackenzie posited. O’Shea shook his head,

“Nope, the buck stops here! Apart from that it means I don’t have to endure Bartlett’s moaning over breakfast!” he grimaced. Mackenzie smirked,

“Ah, now I understand! You might like this,

There once was a doctor called Bart,

Who was such an insufferable fart.

He’d slag off your uni,

And make it sound puny,

To make up for his tiny, wee part.”

O’Shea burst out laughing at the limerick,

“Where’s that from?”

“Ah, some of the archaeologist girls were having a drinking competition last night and making up limericks about him.”

“Why him, especially?”

“Well, apparently he’s been spending a lot of time around the dig, taking photos and such.”

“Nothing weird in that is there?”

“Normally, no. But he seems to be very interested in some of the younger diggers, students, the female ones in shorts and t-shirts. They reckon his camera probably has more necklines and thighs than soil and clay.”

“Oh god! Has he…?”

“No, they say he’s harmless but annoying. They’ve started wearing longer gear if they know he’s around.”

“Well, as long as he doesn’t start trying to recreate the Lane’s history!”

“I’m sure even Madam Sabrina would think twice!” joked Mackenzie as she left the room.

O’Shea made up his bed on a table and lay down on top of the sleeping bag to read himself to sleep.


The two o’clock chimes sounded and O’Shea felt his eyes partly open. He was aware of  the change in room temperature but could not decide if he was awake or not. He tried to move his hand to reach for his phone but seemed to be suffering some form of paralysis. A slight fear began to grow in his mind as he struggled to move.

Then he felt the soft sensation, stroking down his arm.

The feeling moved up his chest and he felt a warmth close to his neck, and gentle touches as if somebody was kissing him. As he tensed his muscles the breathy sigh caressed his ear,


O’Shea rolled his eyes to the side but felt something gently push his head back toward the centre, where he was held as if two hands cupped his chin and jaw. A warm, moist breath lightly blew across his throat and face.

The force holding his face slowly moved down his body, pulsating, massaging his chest and moving lower… lower… He realised he was stiffening, rising,,, and the sensation reached his loins and slipped under the waistband of his shorts.

He felt himself slide out into the open, the warm pulse caressing and massaging his throbbing self.

Suddenly a heavier force seemed to swing over him and pinion him on either side of his ribcage while his arms and chest were stroked and gently pummelled. The weight shifted and his hardened hotness blended with a moist softness as the weight pressed down upon him. He gasped in surprise and ecstasy. The force seemed to close around his lower part and hold it firmly.

O’Shea tried to move his head, to look down his body but once more the “hands” cupped his chin and moved his head backwards before he felt something  narrow snaking around his throat as if something, a cord or a strap, was holding him from behind, and a small shape appeared net to his face in the corner of his eye, giving a little giggle He struggled to breathe as the weight rose and lowered rhythmically upon his body. Unconsciously his hips were moving in time to that of the force upon him, his breath quickening and the muscles of his legs and stomach quivering as he resisted, held back,,, then his hips jerked in a physical crescendo and his being went limp across the table.

Yet the tension around his throat remained. Then it relaxed and he opened his eyes slightly.

Through the crack of his eyelids, he thought he could make out a small, blurred figure rummaging through something, his clothes.  A sound of delight and the tightness around his throat eased, Then the weight seemed to dismount. He could breathe easily once more.

A hand stroked his head and face and a smiling visage came close, its breathy warmth on his cheek.

“Thank ‘ee!”

Darkness overcame him.

The sunlight hit O’Shea in the face and he screwed up his face as he woke. He sat up groggily, surveying the scene. His clothes were lying, scattered across the room and his wallet lay disembowelled under a chair. As he sat up he noticed his own state of undress and his sex-soiled shorts, from which flopped his flaccid member. Cursing, he tried to rise and clean himself up.

“Morning coffee, Sir!” Mackenzie announced as she threw the door open. “Oooops!”


The hastily dressed O’Shea drained the last of his coffee. He still found it difficult to meet Mackenzie’s eyes.

“So, you think Madam Sabrina came to you in the night?” she asked. He shrugged,

“I don’t know! Maybe it’s just all the stress and some crazy wet-dream… Damn! I feel like I’m fourteen again and explaining to my mother why I’m washing my sheets!”

“NO need! I’ve two of my own and I learned never to ask or comment!”

“Wise! But there’s one thing which gets me, my wallet!”

“What about it, is it missing?”

“No, that’s the weird thing, my wallet was on the floor, my cards and banknotes were there too but…”

“Your coins had gone?”


“Maybe Madam Sabrina needed to spend a penny?”

“Or make a phone call?”

“Or maybe paper money and cards didn’t exist in her day but coinage did.”

“I really wish you hadn’t thought of that!”

“Mind you, my real question is…”

“Go on?”

“Was she any good?”

“I really wish you hadn’t asked that!”

The conversation was cut short by a thud outside the door. The thud was followed by a haughty rap at the door, which itself was followed by Bartholomew Bartlett’s head peeping around.  

“Ah, just come to check on our brave leader, but I see you are already tending to him!” Bartlett smirked. “Did you have a nice night, Mr O’Shea?”

O’Shea grimaced slightly.

“Ah, it was a bit restless, Dr Bartlett, but thanks for asking. The bells and such, you know!”

“Ah yes, I’ve heard that things can get a little… hard, sleeping on the table. Especially in this room! Well, I’ll see you at the meeting!” With a chuckle, Bartlett disappeared.

Mackenzie and O’Shea looked at each other,

“How much do you think he heard?” Mackenzie asked. O’Shea shrugged ,

“Probably most of it but he’s likely as not heard the rumours from security too. I wonder what his next move will be?”

“I don’t know, but I think our move is to speed up that dig.”


O’Shea outlined the plan for the extension of the dig and a new schedule for filming, including interviews of local people, ghost-lorists and historians from the team. He mentioned nothing of the previous evening but made it clear that the rooms were not to be used at night and security would now be based nearer to the excavation area on the ground floor.

“Obviously, we’re moving in new equipment and we don’t want some drunken idiots trying to play Bonekickers!” The archaeologists in the team shuddered at the mention of the defunct TV programme. “Right, if there are no questions, let’s get on with it!” The meeting ended.

“Bart Bart was strangely quiet,” Mackenzie mused, “Do you think he’s plotting something?”

“Maybe! But I don’t see he can do anything detrimental to the project. It wouldn’t be in his interests. Now, I’m off to see George and the guys.”


George met O’Shea’s gaze with a surprising amount of concern. Several other members of the security also nodded to him with an air of sympathy and understanding.

“So now you know, Mr O’Shea!”  George said softly. O’Shea nodded,

“Now I know!”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you more earlier on, Mr O’Shea, but…”

“It’s OK George, I understand!”

“A bit embarrassing for the younger lads, as you can imagine.”

“Not that much fun for us older ones, eh gents?”

A few serious nods and coughs went around the room.


The following morning the meeting assembled and John Frenchman rushed into the office, his face aglow.

“We’ve got an update on the court record!” he declared. Everyone jumped up excitedly but O’Shea stopped Frenchman from announcing his news.

“It sounds great, John, and I can’t wait to hear it but I think we should wait until Dr Bartlett arrives. Has anyone seen him?”

Nobody had, although some of the archaeologists commented that Dr Bartlett had been seen the previous evening looking rather excited about something but was last seen leaving the Prince Rupert and heading over to Grope Lane, saying he was going to take some night-time pictures.

O’Shea tried Bartlett’s phone but to no avail. After half an hour he shrugged,

“Sod it, if he can’t be here on time he can find out later. Go on, John, let’s hear it!”

Frenchman regained his excitement as he fumbled in his file,

“OK, well it seems we were right. Madam Sabrina was hanged for killing a client. She was the owner of the house and this guy was some local big-shot.”

“OK, so we have confirmation. Well done guys! That’s fantastic!” O’Shea yelled in glee. Frenchman stopped him with a look,

“There’s more! Let me read you a bit,” he said, taking a sheet of paper from the file, “Don’t worry, we’ve had it translated into Modern!” he chuckled eagerly.

“ And it is hereby decreed by these persons of this court, that the whore and mistress of the said bawdy house is to suffer death by hanging at the hour of noon on this very day. Her accursed corpse having hung from the window of the room wherein she committed her foul deed of murder for one full motion of the sun, shall be laid to rest beneath the steps of that same house as a warning to all who enter and who ply that trade in the locality of Gropekuntelane.”

The room was silent. Frenchman looked overjoyed and then the assembly cheered. Mackenzie hugged O’Shea.

“Oh Paul! We were right! YOU were right! Oh I wish Bartlett were here to see this!”

Before O’Shea could answer, a solemn security man entered the office. The noise died down when the expression on his face became obvious.

“I think you’d better come upstairs to the rooms, Mr O’Shea!”  


O’Shea and Mackenzie reached the top of the stairs, to see another security-man watching the door. He stepped in front of them,

“I think maybe you should look on your own, Mr O’Shea. Sorry Dr Mackenzie but it’s not pretty.”

O’Shea opened the door and entered, Mackenzie pushed past the guard and followed. They both stood stupefied. There, across the table, with fierce red lines around his throat, his trousers at his knees and his spent seed upon his stomach, lay the corpse of Dr Bartholomew Bartlett.


The dig resumed after a tasteful few days break. The police had released the body for burial and stated that whilst there were some unexplained aspects of Dr Bartlett’s demise, they were not looking for anyone else in connection with it. O’Shea was incredulous.

“A man dies in a room, apparently alone but with red marks around his neck, and they don’t think there’s anyone else?” he gasped. His boss shrugged and sipped an espresso,

“Well the autopsy says he died of natural causes, had a heart attack or a stroke, or something.”

“I bet he had a stroke! Question is, who was he stroking!?” O’Shea punned darkly. His boss snorted in amusement.

“Himself, apparently! I think the evidence was pretty clear. Seems the excitement was too much for him!”

“But what about the red marks around his neck?”

“You know, Paul, I can’t work out why you are trying to delay this project any further,” the other man said, shaking his head. “Look, we’re in the clear, we’ve got a great dig, a great subject and now, let’s be honest, GREAT PUBLICITY!” he banged the table in crescendo. “And apart from that, nobody seems to know what red marks you are on about, the pathologist didn’t see any at all.”

O’Shea stared at him.

“You’re joking! Hayley saw them too, and the security guys. Now you’re saying they weren’t there when he was on the slab?”

“Apparently so. IF there were any marks, they must have faded. I don’t know, I’m not a medical doctor, neither are you. You’re a TV producer and you’ve got something to go and produce, so I suggest you get on with it!”


Mackenzie and O’Shea stood watching the archaeologists.

“I think we’re down to a level which corresponds with our time frame,” one of the young women called over. “If she’s here, it shouldn’t be long!”

O’Shea turned and clasped Mackenzie on the shoulder. She looked back at him with a sad smile on a serious face,

“I know, Paul. Let’s hope it’s worth it?”

“It’s just I don’t know how I’ll react, seeing her!”

“I doubt she looks as good as when you saw her last,” she replied drily.

They headed out into the lane and met Frenchman, who was returning from the local Starbucks. O’Shea took his latte and drank deeply.

“Just run me through what we have on Madam Sabrina, John.”

“Well, this chap she killed was a local merchant, pretty rich and powerful. Madam Sabrina considered him her own personal client and took him upstairs to her private room. Apparently it was a common practice to get guys drunk and get a young maid to rifle the clothes and purse while she and the client were on the go. According to what we know, he refused to pay her and had no coinage on him. Probably knew her tricks. She was so incensed that she strangled him then and there. At least that was her testimony. The rest as they say, is history!”

“So just a simple case of a snotty customer not paying?” Mackenzie quipped.

“There’s something more,” Frenchman broke in. “Perhaps a bit more disturbing,” he warned as he produced another page. “I wanted to show you this in private because it might be a bit of a hot one!”

O’Shea stared at him, as he began to read the page,

“So too, shall hang alongside the aforesaid murderess, her daughter of nine years who not only witnessed the said murders but was known to lure the unwary unto their fate and was likewise wont to rifle the pyrses of the slain and was said, on occasion, to choke unfortunate victims whilst her mother gave favours.”

The coffee had suddenly lost its taste.


O’Shea and Mackenzie stood by the barrier, watching the archaeologists scraping down to the final level.

“Paul, do you think Bartlett deliberately went to…?”

“I’m trying not to entertain the idea, Hayley. Even he…”

“Well, that would explain why all the trousers and wallets got rifled, wouldn’t it?”

He didn’t reply and they stood in silence watching as the earth of centuries was gently moved back.

“What you said before, about her not recognising paper money, that’s why she wanted coins.” O’Shea stated flatly.

“Weird, huh?”

“But what would have happened if  me, or the lads, hadn’t had any coins? What then?”

“Doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?”

There was a call from the excavation site. A member of the film crew came running over.

“Mr O’Shea, Dr Mackenzie, we think we’ve found her!”

O’Shea threw his empty coffee cup into a nearby bin and they hurried into the site. They were met at the entrance by the dig leader.

“What have we got?” O’Shea demanded

“We’ve just uncovered parts of a skeleton. Looks like a foot. Seems to be another skeleton next to it.”

“Great! Can we see her?” Mackenzie asked. The archaeologist nodded,

“Well you can come a bit closer and we’ll fix the cameras up to see the rest of the uncovering. We can gauge where the head is and start there, it’ll make it more exciting for the show.”

The work paused while the film unit moved in under the instructions of the diggers. Mackenzie and O’Shea moved closer and watched s the sand and soil was brushed away, slowly, more bone became visible. The digging stopped as the chief archaeologist spoke to the camera,

“It seems to be the skull of a woman, and is intact as far as we can see, At first sight, there seems to be some damage to the vertebrae in the neck. Obviously, we’ll need to analyze it but it could be consistent with a hanging.”

The cameras then moved over to the second grave as the team began to uncover the remains.

The skull was much smaller and the bones of the little neck were also damaged. O’Shea watched expressionless as the bones were uncovered, moving down one side of the body along the arm, towards the hand. Where the archaeologist stopped suddenly. She called over to her colleagues. O’Shea’s stare hardened as the consternation around the grave grew. Suddenly he slipped under the barrier and strode across the dig. The kneeling diggers gazing up at him in bafflement

His eyes grew wider as he stared down at bones before him; the skeletal hand of the long dead little girl firmly clutching between its fingers the plastic credit card of Dr Bartholomew Bartlett.

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Ebook Pirate Bust, Georgia Milk Cops, Ginger Bread Neutrals

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The ebook pirate bust and lawsuit. Will it affect you?
What are milk cop? You need to know
And what the hell is wrong with people? Ginger bread neutrals?

Deadman’s Tome podcast is a variety show covers everything from horror writing, horror movies, filmmaking, youtube drama, and fringe communities. Deadman’s Tome has stong stance on free speech and is open to exploring conspiracy theories and social issues. While the show has a comedic bent to it, some many heartfelt moments have been explored on the program. #horror #writing

Live stream every monday, wednesday, and friday at 9:30pm

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Stephen A. North- Jussie Smollett Obama Connection and Embarrassing Stories

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Stephen A. North
Stephen A. North is a Florida native. He has a BA in English Literature from USF. He served in the Army Reserve as a military policeman from 12/84 to 12/90. His first ‘real’ job was making camera bellows when he was sixteen. From there he worked in the fast food industry, a book store, then three major retailers. He’s also worked in a print shop.

His favorite hobbies are listening to music and reading books. For the moment his writing is in the Science Fiction and Horror genres, and soon will publish a collection of short stories! These stories range from Sci-Fi to Horror and Fantasy.

Dead Tide Rage, the 4th book in the Dead Tide series is now available in the Kindle Store!

Deadman’s Tome podcast is a variety show covers everything from horror writing, horror movies, filmmaking, youtube drama, and fringe communities. Deadman’s Tome has stong stance on free speech and is open to exploring conspiracy theories and social issues. While the show has a comedic bent to it, some many heartfelt moments have been explored on the program. The show was designed to be somewhere between the Joe Rogan Experience and Howard Stern, but with a stronger focus on horror and writing.

Live stream every monday, wednesday, and friday at 9:30pm

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Viking Poetics: the Art of Epic Spoken Word and Norse Magic

Ancient Norse magic and the modern art of spoken word collide in the work of Swanee Astrid, a poet and performer who weaves together Old Norse sagas, runic magical traditions and modern slam poetry techniques

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Brian Meeks, Becky’s Hate Speech on Facebook, Destroy A Man Now Book

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Brian Meeks, Becky’s hate speech on fb, a book on destroying men?

Brian D. Meeks is an author who writes under his name and the pen name Arthur Byrne.

He discovered a knack for weaving tales quite by accident on Jan 2, 2010, and has been writing every day since. Becoming a novelist has changed his life.

As of September, 2015, Brian has written and published eleven novels and one non-fiction title.

His first novels were the books in the Henry Wood Detective series. After that, he wrote a thriller called A Touch to Die For and a YA titled Secret Doors: The Challenge. During this time he also maintained the blog that started it all,

One reader of the blog asked why he hadn’t written anything more snarky, since there were often piles of snark in his blagh posts. Brian didn’t have a good answer and so Arthur Byrne was born.

Arthur Byrne started out as the protagonist in Brian’s first satire, Underwood, Scotch, and Wry. He became a pen name with the release of Killing Hemingway and later wrote the first trilogy in a new science fiction series, The Magellan Apocalypse. Arthur also writes a lot of the snarky newsletters because Brian just can’t be bothered with such things.

Brian lives in a small town in Iowa, plays tennis and golf, and loves gathering data about his books. He’s a data junkie. He is also a huge fan of guinea pigs.

Brian Meeks, Becky’s Hate Speech on Facebook, Destroy All Men Now Book
Deadman’s Tome podcast is a variety show covers everything from horror writing, horror movies, filmmaking, youtube drama, and fringe communities. Deadman’s Tome has stong stance on free speech and is open to exploring conspiracy theories and social issues. While the show has a comedic bent to it, some many heartfelt moments have been explored on the program. The show was designed to be somewhere between the Joe Rogan Experience and Howard Stern, but with a stronger focus on horror and writing.

Live stream every monday, wednesday, and friday at 9:30pm