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Downward God – S. E. Casey

Douglas woke in the middle of the night to find his wife missing again.  Dinah had taken to doing yoga alone, long sessions at odd times of the day and, most recently, night. 

Sure enough, the door to the in-home studio was closed.  Douglas tried the handle—locked.  He resented the fact that after thirty-five years of marriage she refused to let him join her, the excuse always the same:

These are complex positions.  They take many years to master.   

He should have understood.  Dinah had taught him a few basic moves over the years, but he lacked the patience and discipline for anything advanced.

He took out the duplicate key he secretly had made.  He felt guilty, but nonetheless, he unlocked the door and entered. 

Lit by moonlight, the room was infernally hot.  Dinah taught Bikram yoga classes and had installed a radiant heater.  The soundproofed walls shook with whale calls—low moans with that distinct underwater echo.  However, neither distracted him from the tangle of humanity in the room’s center.

He barely recognized his wife; her contorted frame supported by one foot, an elbow, and three fingers.  Her left knee somehow bent the other way.  Her right arm was obviously popped out of its socket, an alien limb pinned underneath her torso at an odd angle.  However, it looked healthier than her other arm that hinged in two places, another joint added to the forearm.  While she laid chest-down, her neck rotated an impossible full-turn to face the ceiling.  She was tranquil despite the grotesque pose, eyes rolled back to the whites.   

Suffocated by the noise and heat, Douglas swooned on the verge of blacking out.  He realized he hadn’t taken a breath since he entered as if underwater.  Instinctually, he assumed Downward Dog.  Dinah always started him there—the key to all positions.  Head ducked under the arch of the body, he found an air pocket and greedily filled his lungs.

Vision restored, Douglas opened his eyes to a massive stone tower rising from an unknown shore.  Covering the spire in slippery green, seaweed snaked up the ancient edifice like ivy.  Through the nighttime doom, he spied himself in one of the lofty windows.  Douglas’s mind swam, but he realized the window was a mirror.  However, his reflection turned as if someone inside the fortress called to him.  With a lingering look off to the horizon, his image retreated from sight.

Douglas pivoted to follow his double’s pointed gaze.  However, he slipped on the rocks that surrounded him, the slimy seaweed spreading over everything here.  Unable to even shuffle his feet, he twisted hard at the waist to look behind.  In the mirror glass of another tower’s window, he again found his reflection.  His likeness stared to his left before stepping out of sight.

Despite his lack of flexibility, he violently swung an arm to torque himself in the new direction.  His dislocated shoulder burning, he spied another of his reflections.  Again, it pointed to a different site.

Knotting himself over the slimy rocks in a series of excruciating maneuvers, he assumed the same pose as his wife.  Less flexible and practiced, he endured the pain of his torn ligaments and broken bones.

These are complex positions…

Suddenly, he appeared in every window, hundreds of eyes gazing upwards to the moonless heavens.  Positioned facedown, he rotated his neck a full turn to the night sky.  His novice tendons snapped, muscles tore, and a splinter from his shattered spine punctured his jugular.

Bleeding out, he stared into the endless void of the night, that unblinking eye of a Dreaming God.  He despaired that it didn’t look back, smothering him with the lonely madness of indifference.

Author Bio:  Vacated scarecrow poles.  Smoking factories without doors. An hourglass filled with ants.  Clinging to the coast of New England, S.E. Casey writes of the darkly wondrous, strange, and grotesque.  His short stories and poetry have appeared in many magazines and anthologies which can be found at secaseyauthor.wordpress.com.

 

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All the Time, the Screaming – Austin Malone

 

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All the Time, the Screaming – Austin Malone

 

The Angler rises, opens his cupboard. He gathers the biscuits and jerky, wraps them in a scrap of pale leather, places the bundle in his creel, and retrieves his rod from beside the door. Rod and creel in hand, he emerges into the perpetual twilight of the fishing grounds.

He looks neither left nor right, does not acknowledge his fellow fishermen, ignores the row of identical huts that dot the riverbank. In silence, with single-minded purpose, he strides to his designated place. The black waters suck at the bank, their hushed susurrations inaudible beneath the tormented shrieks that rend the thick air. All the time, the screaming.

A low mutter rumbles his stomach. He retrieves a strip of jerky, chewing as he unspools his reel. The flavor is bland, the texture fibrous. It brings him no joy. He is hungry. It is food. His teeth grind away at it as his hands secure the hook. It is an ugly thing, heavy, multi-pronged, bristling with barbed spikes. It is perfect. It feeds him and clothes him, and he is fond of it. He is not fond of the next piece of equipment. None of the fishermen are.

The Angler swallows as he withdraws the lure, and his face contorts with disgust.  He squeezes his eyelids shut, guides the bauble onto the hook, and the thing explodes with radiance. Even with his eyes closed, the light pulses blood-red behind his eyelids, searing his flesh. Whimpering, he pulls his arm back and whips it forward. The plop of the hook landing in the water is followed by the cool relief of the lure sinking into the depths.

He sighs, eases his eyes open, and waits. He does not wait long. He never waits long. The rod bucks in his hands. He counts silently to ten. Then he reels the line in, slowly, steadily.

Black water runs in rivulets down the fishing line as it emerges. The top of the hook appears first, followed by the lure, its glow muted now. Then, like pale, wriggling worms, his catch begins to rise into view, skewered by the bottommost row of hooks.

He hauls on the line, dragging the thing up out of the river. The wriggling appendages resolve into fingers, the attached hand pierced by the barbed spikes. More emerges. A thick arm, muscles corded. Heavy shoulders, a broad chest, meaty thighs. Then, the thing’s head lolls forward, and its scream joins the cacophony. It dangles above the riverbank, thrashing, water-slick hair plastered to its scalp above too-wide eyes and an even wider mouth. And all the time, the screaming.

The Angler holds the line aloft with one hand, and reaches for the knife at his belt. The noise will cease soon. Then there will be fresh meat to prepare. Bone meal to grind.

The knife goes in, tugs down. The thing’s final cry fades to a burbling whimper. It falls silent. And all around him, the screaming continues.

All the time, the screaming.

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The Boy in the Trunk – Nicola Lombardi

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 The Boy in the Trunk – Nicola Lombardi

Paolo was sitting on the stool, slightly bent over, right opposite the trunk. A ray of milky-white light filtered through the skylight’s murky glass, exposing the swarms of dust, otherwise invisible, drifting thickly through the attic. Around Paolo’s heavy breathing everything was dead quiet, a quiet that resided there above and was now lingering in the dim shadows, waiting for the voice from inside the trunk to be heard again.

When it returned, the spider webs abandoned among the beams above vibrated as if trembling.

“Are you still out there?”

Paolo was startled, almost as if he hadn’t expected to hear his brother once more.

“Yeah, Marino,” he replied anxiously, “I’m still here. And you . . . do you really want to get out?”

The tiny voice of the boy imprisoned inside seemed to originate from another room, as if the trunk were bottomless, as if it had been sunk deep into the floor and been lost in a dimension that extended well beyond the old house.

“I can’t do it by myself, you know. You left me shut up inside here, and you have to get me out. If you really want to . . . .

Paolo drew his hand through his hair. “I . . . I want to let you let out, Marino, believe me. It’s just that . . . “

“It’s just that what?”

“I’m afraid of what you could do to me.”

Still more silence, for a moment or two. The leaden beating, in fits and starts, of Paolo’s heart made his head ache.

When Marino spoke again, Paolo could not hold back his tears any more.

“You knew I was hiding inside here, you knew it very well. But you didn’t tell anyone about it. You always cheated when we were playing hide-and-seek. You spied on me when I was climbing up into the attic, you knew I’d shut myself up inside here. . . . And you didn’t tell Mom and Dad. Why didn’t you?”

Paolo could not manage a reply. The tight knot clotting his throat prevented him from uttering a sound, while his mind was already casting backwards, fumbling through his memories, to the day when Marino’s disappearance from the great vacation house had imposed a drastic turn to their family’s well-being. He could still hear his mother’s wailing, and behind his eyes that image of his father persisted even then, with that gaze of his lost in emptiness and his finger intent on endlessly scouring an unshaven cheek. He saw himself, over and over again, as he closed and locked the attic door and carefully replaced that key in the spot where they had always kept it, in the small bottom drawer in the cupboard, in the hallway. They were playing hide-and-seek he had told his Mom, his Dad, and all the other persons who had questioned him. Marino had wandered off toward the brushwood, a hundred meters or so from the house, going back up along the beach, hiding who knows where. So he had said, and they had believed him. He knew that Marino would not have yelled or called out, suffering as he was from asthma. And after days of searching, days steeped in tears and grief, they finally got away from there, returned to the city, and from then on, they never set foot again into that quiet, solitary, mournful house, the home of their summer vacations. What he had always wanted, he had at last obtained. He was back to being the only son, he had recaptured all that love and attention his brother, four years younger than he, had taken from him. Mom and Dad were once again his.

“Come on, Paolo. Let me out of here.”

Marino’s voice was now just a whisper, the gray wing of a moth that snatched Paolo from a spider web of memories.

“Yeah, I’ll do it, Marino. . . . That’s what I’ve come back for.”

Having said that, Paolo grabbed the heavy metal hinge that, having fallen in place, had made it impossible to re-open the trunk from the inside. After a life spent consumed by remorse, he was now finally ready to take the step he had never ceased dreaming about.

The metal began to creak, for the first time since that accursed day sixty years before. When the lock was released, Paolo’s spine experienced an agonizing rasp as he straightened his back.

“There,” he whispered. “Now you’re free once again.”

Then he lowered his head, burying his face in his hands. He knew he would not have the courage to look.

Barely a handful of seconds elapsed, and then the groan of the trunk’s lid rising cut through the quiet like the chalky grinding of a dull razor, raising shadows among the frenzied thoughts thrashing about in Paolo’s head. The old man prayed for his heart to spare him, to stop right then and there. But that didn’t happen.

A terrible odor spewed forth into the attic, and whatever remained of Marino began slowly to emerge.

 

(END)

translated by J. Weintraub

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Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes horror short stories and horror flash fiction. The online magazine publishes dark and gritty content from professional horror writers, Bram Stoker award nominated horror authors, along with talented newcomers of the horror writing craft. Deadman’s Tome features chilling, terrifying horror shorts ranging from ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, monster horror, and even horror erotica. Deadman’s Tome is one of the best online horror zines to publish horror short stories, horror flash fiction, and dark flash fiction. The darker the tale the better. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the horror authors.

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Last Meal of Adonis -S. E. Casey

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DISCLAIMER: Deadman’s Tome is a dark and gritty horror zine that publishes content not suitable for children. The horror zine proudly supports the freedom of dark creative works and stands against censorship. Hardly any subject matter is too taboo for this horror zine. As a result, Deadman’s Tome may feature content your mother would not approve of. But she doesn’t control your life, right?

Last Meal of Adonis – S.E. Casey

 

It’s too bad she’s dead.

But the breathtaking landscape below strips away any guilt.  A rushing kaleidoscope of color and life, the vivid greens of the trees, the blue swirls of the lakes, and the turbulent whites of the river rapids balance and contrast to paint the perfect picture.  The crisp mountain air madly whistling past welcomes me in its breezy embrace.  The scents and sounds rising from the unspoiled forest seduces and tempts.  I wish that I had come sooner.  She was right: this could be the most beautiful place on Earth.

Again, it’s hard to feel regret surrounded by such splendor, but still…

It’s too bad she’s dead.

She had begged me to take her here to see her ancestral lands off the mountaintop one last time, but she was too sick.  The doctors warned of the complications such an arduous trip could have on her treatment.  I convinced her to wait until she felt better or at least for a break in the chemo cycle.

Despite the efforts of the hospital, the best doctors, and the doting nurse with the sparkling blue eyes, she never got better—straight downhill all the way.  The sicker she became the more she insisted on the trip, rationalizing that the aesthetics of the stunning vistas would be therapy for her wasting.  As tenacious as she was beautiful, she persuasively argued that it would be a holistic treatment, a nourishing of the five senses to enliven the well-being of the whole.

However, her rationalizations were for naught, the risks outweighing the potential benefit.  The doctors stood firm— it simply wasn’t prudent, no proven science backing her assertions.  The last time she asked she was in such grave state that even the most ethically neglectful hospital wouldn’t have allowed it.  She anticipated this privately divulging an elaborate escape plan to me.  She knew this to be her final opportunity.  However, her health was too important to indulge in this destructive whim.  I denied her pleas with the repeated pledge that as soon as she got a little better we would go.

My words rang hollow as if the acoustics in the room had quit so offended by the deceit.  I knew that she knew that I knew: she wouldn’t get any better—that day would never come.

She became angry, violently so, a flame burning its brightest before the end.  She demanded the blue-eyed nurse reassigned from her care and sloppily ripped out her IVs.  However, she was too weak to stand without help.  I calmed her as only I could by forcing her to look deep into my eyes.  The fires in her own faded as they always did.  She couldn’t help but to stoke my jawline in admiration of its squared symmetry.  She mumbled incoherently, but I knew her well enough to translate.

My God you are a beautiful man.

She made me promise that if she didn’t make it, I would go to her mountaintop and savor the view for the both of us.  And that was all.  She never mentioned it again, resigned to a world of four white walls and a chemical haze.

The funeral was two years ago to today.  I delayed coming long enough, always with an excuse: commitments and maintenance from the job, family, various girlfriends, and various breakups…  Never was there a convenient time for the long flight and subsequent drive into the remote forest.

But, true to my word, I am finally here.

Driving up the mountain as far as the rutted dirt road allows, I leave the rented jeep at the village sliced into the severe grade of the land.  The huts here are simple, no modern amenities, every door opened wide.  An uninviting blackness lurks behind each of these thrown doorways like a curse.  It is as if the surrounding nature was so insulted by the walls built to shelter it out that it punished them with this ugly darkness.

The native women busying themselves around the close-cropped homes remind me of her with their striking good looks.  There are no men around, and no sign they even exist.  Perhaps in this old world place they are simply away on a hunt.  However, this mystery is of little concern, the unrivaled beauty of every one of the exceptional women dominating my attention.  And the best part, I get a few appreciative looks in return.

Something to look forward to on the way back down.

From the splendor that abounds in this unsullied corner of the globe, I wonder if some essence of beauty had been infused into these indigenous people.  Could a beauty gene have evolved over the many generations who had lived in this verdant place?  I remember her lusty eyes and sensuous hands tracing the muscle definition in the tone of my body.  It’s not difficult to image her having had a genetic predilection, some hard-wired infatuation of beauty.

As she wanted, I pretend she is with me during the climb up the mountain.  She pushes me every step up the rocky switchback trail impatient to see the resplendent sights from on top of the ivory cliffs.  All those hours in the gym have me in good enough shape that there is no need to stop and rest.  It’s a fortunate thing too, she having had to wait for so long.  

The air is thin at the peak, but there is no time to catch my breath.  She pushes me to the ledge and its wondrous view, eager to digest this beauty one last time.  The scenery doesn’t disappoint, the landscape stretching below the overhang in all directions demanding to be savored.  

And so we do.

And she pushes me.

I hear the forest over the rush of air.  The wonderful percussion of the creaking trees, the melodic birdcalls, and the drone of the waterfall grows louder and louder.  The lush canopy of the towering dark wood is an artistic marvel in both its whole and its detail, the veiny patterns of the mahogany big leaves coming into focus.  Striking the top, I am rewarded with the distinctive leather-like scent released from the clean breaks of the blood-red branches.  The larger limbs don’t snap caressing my body in bruise colored kisses instead.  

The graceful animals below scatter across the forest floor.  They race through the complex pathways visible from my perspective, worn trails cut into the flora from centuries of hunting in this unspoiled preserve.  Many of the tracks lead to the conspicuous cropping of red stained rocks directly below.  The boulders draw the eye, the rust colored splatter art sprayed across the alabaster stones telling a story.  Like any master picture, it opens a window beyond me ripping Vanity’s mirrored hands from my eyes.  And for the first time I see a glimmer of meaning and purpose.

In her forest, under branch and above root, amongst the birds of fine plumage and the mammals of keen pelt: an altar of stone where the beautiful feed.

 

END

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The Sorrowful Mysteries – Jon James

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Click

“Hail Mary, full of grace…” I prayed my rosary. I had done it many times already; I had lost count. My fingertips were tender and cracked from their contact with the beads. My hands were cramped from clutching the string.

It was becoming so rote that my mind was beginning to wander. I could not allow my mind to wander. I changed my inflection as I continued my prayer to the Holy Mother, focusing on each word, on my breath as it formed the words, on the buzzing in my throat as my larynx vibrated to create the words, on anything… but… that.

Click

“Glory be to the Father…” The prayers poured from my lips. Somewhere in the forced monotony, the walls and dressers melted away. I was no longer on my knees in my bedroom, no longer surrounded by the aroma of frankincense. Instead, I gradually became aware of the darkness and dampness that permeated my senses.

Click

“O my Jesus, forgive us our sins…” My heart was already flagellating before I fully realized where I was: the basement, the very place I wished my mind to avoid. I stood up in the dusty light eeking in through the windows, clutching my beads like the lifeline I had to believe they were.

I tried to move to where the stairs should have been but they were not there. No matter how fast I ran I moved no closer to the walls.

Click

“The third sorrowful mystery, our Lord is crowned with thorns,” whispered my lips to the dank room. I nearly stumbled as my feet collided with an unknown form, lost to the shadows.

I bent down to investigate. As my eyes adjusted to the even lower light, I knew what I was seeing. I wanted to back away, to run, but instead my free hand moved to the figure’s mouth. With one thumb I pulled down the chin, opening the mouth.

Click

“Our Father, who art in heaven…” I choked. Inside the mouth was some mass of shapes, squirming and writing. Familiar shapes. I leaned in closer to see what. The head turned and spilled its contents.

The floor of the basement crawled with strings of beads. The smell of decay permeated the moist air.

Click

“Hail Mary, full of grace…” I backed away from the squirming pile, not wanting any of the white orbs to touch my feet. As I gazed at the corpse before me, I saw more movement. The eyelids quivered as when sleeping.

Then a bulge at the bottom of the eyelids started to force its way out, a silver speck that slowly grew and extruded itself from the hole where the body’s eyes should have been, would have been if I hadn’t…

Click

“The Lord is with thee…” A crucifix squeezed itself through the slack eyelids, dangling from a chain as the moving beads wrestled with each other, slowly dislodging themselves from the orifice as well.

Where the flayed form of my Lord should have been, instead two small worms were nailed to the cross, intersecting each other in the center.

Click

“Blessed art thou among women…” I said, my throat tightening to resist the impending bile. More movement in the naked corpse before me.

Under the skin of its breasts, the outline of more beads. Holes chewed into the rotting skin showed white beads, burrowing themselves deeper at the threat of my heavy breath.

Click

“And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus…” My eyes forced themselves further down. Indeed, the full, round stomach was also crawling with small chaplets. I fell back to my knees upon seeing the shape of her belly, broken in the midst of creating life, now host to a new kind of life, these garlands of carrion grub.

Click

“Holy Mary, mother of God…” My eyes continued to scan, down to her familiar pubis, her labia that I had touched and entered so many times. Now they were slack, fully rotten, seeping with putrescent juices and crawling with wriggling rosaries like the one I compulsively continued to finger.

Click

“Pray for us sinners, now…” And just slightly further down, deep gashes down her thighs, caked with dried, dead blood, masses of the beads fighting each other to consume her flesh before the smaller, invisible things could. A film of more dried blood surrounded her, the liquids soaked into the concrete, or evaporated, leaving only a crackling layer of desiccated clot.

Beside that lay a knife, its hilt inlaid with the enflamed image of the Sacred Heart. The organ was pierced and blood flowed from the hole. It was encircled with a crown of thorns, and a cross was jammed into the vein on its top.

Click

“Now, and at the hour of our death.”

I had killed her with that knife. The bastard inside of her wasn’t mine.

As I shuffled away from my crime, rosaries crawled beneath my feet, tickling the arches as I moved my weight around, not wanting to touch the holy parasites, unable to avoid it. I missed my footing and fell, the squirming, groveling chains sickening me. My true rosary flew from my hands, landing amidst the disgusting counterfeits.

My hand flailed for purchase, but found only strings of beads and the knife handle. It closed around the knife.

Click

“Amen.” I lifted the knife. I pressed the blade to my throat. Its tip was sharp against the tender skin.

I clenched the handle tight, the carving of the Sacred Heart piercing the skin of my palm. I placed the heel of my other hand against the butt, and forced my hands to push.

The knife slid into my skin. It slowed as it hit the stronger material of my larynx and trachea, but I pushed until the crossguard coldly touched my throat. Then I pulled it out, and let the blood flow around me.

The white and silver beads around me quivered with anticipation at the impending meal, my body and my blood, their Eucharist.

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Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes horror short stories and horror flash fiction. The online magazine publishes dark and gritty content from professional horror writers, Bram Stoker award nominated horror authors, along with talented newcomers of the horror writing craft. Deadman’s Tome features chilling, terrifying horror shorts ranging from ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, monster horror, and even horror erotica. Deadman’s Tome is one of the best online horror zines to publish horror short stories, horror flash fiction, and dark flash fiction. The darker the tale the better. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the horror authors.

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Death & Cosmos – C. C. Parker

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Death & Cosmos – C. C. Parker 

 

 

An overcast sky evaporates before a brooding sunrise.  Yet my mind’s as clear as it’s been.  Black Prism that has thrived in me for centuries, dies.  Temples fade inside a kingdom built with second-sight: visions of conquering . . .

 

As a man I’m weak, sucking-off platitudes from a withered tit.  Laying low drunk in some ramshackle district with the whore who was going to bring me out of retirement.  Wandering into a nearby cemetery, I fuck her good – Last chance to be a man!  Twisting beneath me with the dullness of an animal.  I am reminded of the dutiful Earth.

There’s always been this conflict in me.   While I hold her near.  Scent of pink flesh, throb of forgiveness.  Yet underneath there’s an abyss, twisting inside her stomach’s pit.  Only death to make her realize life’s preciousness.

Breaking her neck my strength returns, rip-free her skull & drink from the neck-hole.  My cock still lingering inside, conduit of pain, memories & strange pleasures.  Drawn to the threshold of her mind, searing-truth reduces nerves to white-hot embers.  Drowning in a swirl of semen-blood, intoxicating moments of childhood.  A courageous spirit crawls toward some form of heaven.

I pull out in disgust & vomit in a distant corner.  There is a breeze coming over the mountains, but I can’t feel it on my skin.  All I experience is a distant communion with nearby galaxies burning around my soul: the raw sensation of immolation, consecration followed by death.

They only see my crawling flesh, but not the thing inside.  I return without remorse into ancient catacombs.  Blood dripping from a ceiling as sickness passes by.  Larval entities blind & groveling. I walk across their soft backs – Children Of Baal. Cultus decomposing.  Feeding on the filth of ages . . .

Beyond death comes a soft-pink glow.  An eye & flower opening, sex of the goddess of my new birth.  If she has her choice she’ll send me away, to grovel in the purple-haunted dark.  Shadows to instruct me there in ways of diabolical transfusions & agonized delirium.

Walking through streets grafted-on, empty-narcotic swoon of my nerve center.  In search of a victim to prolong my search.  Following death’s odor into mephitic tenements.  Laminae pulse in dark holding sway over a séance. Spirits to issue from porous souls, mangled & insane.

All extensions of my mind – What it is to be free!  I look beauty in the eye where solace has miscarried.  Bloody forms twist from the Black Prism.  Fills the sky & burns my eyes, forcing me to act out once more in desperation.  Sick for some time, with savage cravings to eat my insides.  Vacant lust.  My cock cries into my stomach, blood stored there for centuries where I dug my grave; burns around me, sealing it in.  Rupturing destiny with a downward stroke.

How to re-enter the world when there are worlds abound?  Darkness fills the space of resuming dreams.  Weakness fades & I lose my way.  Constantly in need of prolonged sleep, yet having the strength of numbers when I wake – Idle gods to conjure the ferocity of daemons.  Rend apart the flesh of mortals who do not walk alone.  Entire histories flow through their veins.  A sacrifice in blood to the kingly cast steals my sickness in this brooding hour.

I’ve had the power to do this all along, but never enough strength to see it through.  Even though I can tear a man from limb to limb & eat is soul, I struggle with the fact that I’m not human.  Although born from a human family, poisoned by its veins, I’ve risen above its curse to know my true lineage.

I look at them in sorrow, yet they fear what’s incarnate in me: a beast who has traversed oily kingdoms to crucify kings.  Lords over matter which dissolve the moment it touches the earth.  I rise above the landscape to see it for what it is, a tiny seed in the smallest corner of a greater-beast like me.

Time rests & I am eternal.  Buried inside the plasma of living beings.  I go to them in the night & rip their throats out.  Temples living inside the cavernous dark to go on like that for centuries.  Blood of strangers & they are free.  To climb false halos into strangled reservoirs.  If they make it out they’ll find truth, but if not they’re lost forever.  Blind inside the Cathedral, unaware of the construct as it’s formed . . . Pity us who are damned forever!

I know what it’s like to be human.  Enough to imagine I’m one & blindly groping for years . . . Increments of illusion.  I begin to form gods of my own.  In nightmares & dreams where Saturn looms above a Red Sun –

Torn by it’s rings.  Sunset bleeds.  I watch circumspectly the death & re-creation of stars. Violence puts things in perspective.  Reality wilt the moment it is known.  Revealed is the nature of consciousness & power I speak of.  Another sphere of forgiveness where there’s only strength to be gained . . .

Night falls & I’m awake again.  Another day for strange visions.  I go into the kitchen & drink a beer in a swallow.  Stumble to the sink & vomit a torrent of red.  Holding my stomach in.  The rage I feel for being back in this realm & living among the dead.  Complications reflected in a visage of dread.  How to get back there permanently? Save for plasma which lets me see, stretched against horizons to lead me back.  I never awaken there!  I can only roam dirty streets in search of a fix that will help me remember a power I once had.

There’s a child outside my door trembling in the rain.  His body is the numb benefactor to his waning spirit.  With vague ideas of ways to survive with no human family to guide him.  They’ve all died & gone their separate ways.  He has learned to do the same.  In his faraway gaze:

A brutal life filled with brutal promises.  I cling to an idea that the earthly plane doesn’t have to be like this.  In a more primitive age we’re alive to suggest formlessness.  Floating to higher states, our flesh separate from the wilds of consciousness.  Supplanting fear with logic.  Giving life to take it.  Drawing all of rage from a pulsing seed within.  Giving this boy courage to rise above loneliness in order to defeat the riot within.  Rage, boy, rage!

Inviting him inside to warm next to the fire.  I smell his skin relax & forget itself.  Bones stretch & bend in his tiny frame, popping like old tinder.

He’s older than he seems.  A child out-of-time.  Forbidden to wield power that is granted to him.  A shell of unreason brims over, delusions to rectify chaos & the ugly truths within.  Restraining beautiful visions . . . Taking him under an arm.  He strokes my cock & sucks my finger.  Blood flows smoothly from the cut there. A glassy look in his eyes, he slips to his knees & bites down on the swollen head.  More blood flows . . . In another life I’d kill him.  Shatter his spine & drink the fluid down.  Giving me a painful-erect cock.  To fuck holes ripped open with my teeth as bilious fragments wash down.  My tongue in search of fresh geysers or gently bleeding dams.  Yes, I would open him up.

Only I do not see this in him.  He’s been a victim too long.  The discipline of martyrs has forced him outside . . . Too much!  I pull his head aside.  His eyes rolled back where my reflection resides.   The same world that taunts me.  In his  tears roiling free.  Gateway of illusions leads to true memory.

A god awakens in time for the Feast Of Tyrants.  Sky breaks & lets loose it’s celestial screaming.  Howls of His mind in even-tempered repetitions.  The same tones that lulled Him aeons ago.  Rippling through spheres connected by  blood-lines, torment of histories & future contusions.

It keeps me alive though I’m dead.  I sacrifice everything to see it for what it is.  In my veins when I feed it consumes me.  Looking up in a veil-less sky with nothing between me, & the voice.  While He lies stretched on a bed of herculean maggots, translating frequencies into words I understand –

Destroy the mask you’re wearing.  Lie naked in the sand.  Feel the course of spirits who prolong death.  Cast off shackles of your demise & let it’s carcass decompose.  Blaze of a sun bleeds out pores as the desert drinks it’s fill.  Storing ghosts in an after-life of dreams.  Death piles-up around you.  Shadows walking proud through nightmare realms.  Watch the Earth vomit it’s guts, spilling seed into bottomless caverns.  What lingers in the dark with only a trace of humanity, a plague of denizens older than time itself . . . I am the First Plasma, & the Last.  I open & close the circle sealing off benign faith.  Storm of casualty & unrelenting suicide where savagery reigns.  They die many times, yet grow more sick.  Most don’t know what’s happening & suffer in vain.  In a community of shadow, Idle Lords with foetid breath rubbing cocks in the dark unable to grasp what they’re aspiring to.  No longer attached to the symbol that is their name.  Sagging flesh & impulses.  Observing no restraint.  Absolute satiety . . .

I follow Him to Innards Of the Earth.  A temple rests among catacombs of a deadly science.  The brightest of a degenerate race forming a semi-circle.  Robes hanging to the ground to soak-up His ooze.  Minds grown heavy with visions of bloody war.  Followers, not unlike me, sacrificed to the Angry Planet.

Out in the darkness there’s a presence beyond, & these foul beasts are my protection.  When mortal  I remember them asleep in graveyards fat on pleasures no mortal has known.  Roaming streets night after night in search of the wound that would function as a door.  I would go to them in my confusion, desperate to  understand the purpose of man.  To burn easily like a moth that gets too close to the flame.  Why must it be . . ?  So much weakness & worry for such a brief tour, eyes opened & closed in an instant.

No truth found at the base of a mountain.  Corpses piled in vast-chasms, aeons-old.  Blindly climbing to absorb knowledge as they go.  A journey through death before the summit.  They stop to rest in elaborate bone structures.  Before the world was alive a second time, but after the storm . . .

Peripheral views to grant me wisdom.  Laying me down in the vulgar soil to fondle my dripping cock.  Old stench . . !  No longer burns my nostrils.

Quivering around me.  Shapes risen out of my unconscious.  Steaming out my pores, a burning evanescence.  Drains me of my life-force.  No longer in exile I abandon it’s temporal claw. Risen to shaking knees & gore soaked feet, wounds leak profuse dreams all around me.  A bacchanal of the cruelest kind.  Some kids from a nearby city ripped apart, but still alive.  I look in their eyes & the mewling sounds that seem to come from them.

What hope exists in a world ashamed of you?  You’ll not die as heroically in your time, but at least you’ll witness some truth before you go.  Back into the eternal flux which takes you down into it’s belly.  A gross-beast with sprawling testicles, & giver of worlds . . . In need of sacrifice before it speaks, bathes in your blood to remember you.  Indifferently.  Your thoughts meandering on the tips of their tongues.  In a language I can understand.  Inhuman . . .

Man has yet to witness the catastrophe of his spirit.  I re-awaken at the tail end of his Last Dark Age.  Symbols burned into my skin.  Nerve quenching fire &  the smoldering ruins of my useless heart.  Replaced by the cold steel of cosmos as they’ve misplaced it.  Memory shrouded by seeds of immortality, flourishes from the worm laden soil.  Plague attached to flesh infused virally, & the plasma which is connected to all things . . . I must face facts.  As an alien haunting ghosts afraid to leave the world.  I slash them free & ruminate.  What’s it like to die & not have to look back?  And as a messenger of light His voice speaks through me.  Chosen to step across divides grown fat on the dreams of men, reducing their wisdom to a bloodied corner.  Nothing lives here anymore.  In a language I understand well, He tells me to move on – The universe is your feeding ground!

 

 

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They Shall Rise by Rebecca Dempsey

 

Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again

Though lovers be lost love shall not

Dylan Thomas

 

When late stern Neptune points the shaft with death:

To the dark grave retiring as to rest,

Thy people blessing, by thy people bless’d!

The Odyssey

 

August 1833. I’d never considered writing. I surfed Bells. Wrote up lab work. However, this is something different, because I am someone different. Likewise, I was never a reader. That was Issy, the English teacher, but her stained copy of Ulysses, rescued from the wreckage, remains my touchstone, despite needing its precious pages for my letters.

Issy, through that book, taught me that one person’s story is worth telling. That and my circumstances compel me to attempt this because I, like Ulysses, long for home.

There are no gods to rely upon for my return, but I hope there’ll be a reader.

Having made it thus far through this vague introduction, you’re owed an explanation. Furthermore, should you be reading in the appropriate circumstances, you will find it commensurate to your own understanding. Should you find this, and deem this fanciful, then overlook its crudities and paradoxes as whimsy. Then, I beg you, come to it with older eyes. Or leave it to your heirs.

From where I am, this is as complicated to explain as I’m finding difficult to experience. There is time and distance between us. Nethertheless, my name will be Rod and my wife will be Issy. This will be, and yet it also has come to pass, when I was Rodrigo and she was Isabel.

I apologise for the tenses and language. Your understanding will be proportionate to the age in which you live. To wit, to you, I might have not been born yet, so, should remind you once more, I am not the writer of my family.

In another life, I was a scientist; then a Portuguese ship’s doctor, wrecked in time, with a tale taller than those told by the sailors in the tavern of a winter’s night. In 1833 I am an apothecary in this whaling outpost. Without my skills I would be a pariah, even amongst this coarse assortment. And here, my means are few: this unnamed settlement is famed only for the Antarctic winds that whip up the stench of carcasses from the bay, beyond which lies the treacherous ocean that extends to the Pole.

Despite understanding logic and hypothesis, I say treachery with cause. Science is indifferent, but since my entrapment in someone else’s experiment, there’s only suspicion and superstition. The sailors jeered as I wept over their whales. Either their beatings inured me to their ways, or I’m losing what formerly defined me. Writing by the light of whale oil, all are infected with death. Thus, I can describe what happened to me and trace the changes in me through the scars left.

It will begin in October 2011. Rightly, I should be in 2016, but for this curse, I’m writing this in Portuguese, English and in the benighted settler patois of 1833. This is the seventh letter in English, and I keep going, in small script, using as little paper as possible. I cast my precious jars from the wharf as the ships come in, trailing carcasses in bloody wakes. My letters bob up and down in the red water. When conditions are right, I bribe sailors to take the bottles beyond the breakers.

In 2011, Issy was tricked. Perhaps, like others before her. Soothsayer, Isabel was told, psychic. Fortune teller. No. Our medium wasn’t a card reader or palmist. She was a thief.

It was the last day of my life. I remember it clearly:   

I didn’t know what I expected of her shopfront or whatever such people call their workplaces. But this was like a small town general store after a big supermarket opened: a study in shabby anachronism. Dusty glass bottles lined shelves and I couldn’t tell if their contents had decayed. Towers of hard covers in foreign scripts formed walls, while a fringed curtain hid closed doors. I was examining the ornate cash register when Issy closed the door, the bell jingling behind her. She said we had to sit at the dining table. She smiled and beckoned me over; I pulled up a chair, crossed my arms and waited.

I remarked about how hard they’d worked to make it authentic. With a shake of her head Issy shushed me. She knew the ways of these places.                  

‘Fact is,’ whispered Issy ‘it’s not like movies; they don’t dress like Gypsies and call themselves Madame. Mediums don’t need to, they’re just people.’ Isabel was nodding, head tilted. I didn’t respond. Issy forgives the depth of my scorn, and yet encourages me to follow her – even here – when I’d rather be surfing. Gritting my teeth, I squeezed her hand.

Issy’s medium pads in, pulling her brown cardigan tight, nods at her assistant, and steps bow legged around a circle of salt. Incense is burning. Arranged around the circle is stereotypical gear: a dagger, a large flat stone, an undressed branch, lichen still green, and a candle, with its plumed glow reflected in metallic surfaces. The assistant closes the curtains. I cringe at the crassness of the affair but am careful Isabel doesn’t see my expression.

Isabel and the assistant are each caught up in the magic. Always a believer, Isabel’s fallen for angels and UFOs. Everything New Age is sacred to her. This was her idea to distract me after mum’s round of chemo. I struggle to understand how we work sometimes – we’re opposites – but we do. She readies her phone to record. I smile; I’d told Issy I was here in a professional capacity as a control sceptic.

Eventually, Isabel, the medium and the helper are ready. And nothing happens, Issy fiddles with her blouse button and winks at me. The lights dim. There’s sulphur as the matches spark to light yet another candle.

As she stares, it seems the mouselike qualities of the medium gradually become less evident, she takes several deep breaths and seems to pale or perhaps it is the candle flickering in a draft. Her long, black hair moves like a separate entity, crackling with static electricity. Her parlour tricks don’t fool me; her fingers tense and tap: nervous? Or, communicating to her assistant? But then she sinks and loosens up. Issy relaxes with her. In the gloom the woman’s skin is translucent, tinged blue around her lips and eyelids. Breathing exercises – a yogi trick. She can’t keep at it, and her breathing evens.

Without warning, the sinews in the medium’s neck and hands go taut, her mouth gapes and water gushes from her throat as if from a dam breach. We recoil, but remain stunned into silence. The flood stops like a tap is turned off, and the medium, rigid no longer, slumps to the floor in convulsions.

There’s screaming. In my periphery vision Isabel is shaking, camera in hand. The assistant lunges forward, while motioning us to keep back, like we’re disturbing her.

A briny odour fills the room and I retch. The assistant props the medium against a chair. Her eyes are closed, but her hands float fish-like through the air.

The medium’s voice, once quick, quiet and staccato is throaty and low: ‘Shafts of moonlight sheaved our bodies in silver as we sank, heavy with terror, down and down. I grasped through the silence while I watched the last globes of life rise from my mouth and break the surface above. I locked into his eyes as my lungs burst. I gulped down salty death, eyes seeing no more.’ The medium shudders and a soft gurgling sound comes from her throat. ‘Now I am summoned from the deep to answer your demands?’

Abruptly, the medium sits up, opens her eyes and stares at each of us without recognition. Were her eyes a different colour? They’re silver-grey I’d thought they were green. ‘You who want to fathom the secrets of my grave: treasures, minerals and rare beasts. I am dumb with saltwater and seaweed. The ship went down. No one heard my silent screams.’ Her eyes glitter as she speaks. ‘My spirit drifted the cold wastes.’

The medium shivers as this new voice continues: ‘I search for my Rodrigo, my lost Rodrigo.’ She pauses, eyes closed, and her hands clench into white fists. ‘You summon me, but I am here to raise him. Rodrigo, where are you?’ The medium sways. She points at me. ‘Rodrigo is you.’ I can’t move. She floats toward me; her damp hands seize my shirt. In one motion she pulls me up and forward out of my chair. She kisses me with her bitter blue lips. As a reflex I push her away, but the life has gone out of me. I trip over my chair, hitting my head. The medium swings around and I hear her arm knock Issy’s phone. The assistant pulls the medium back. Isabel looks from me to the medium: shaking her head. I sit up, winded. ‘Rodrigo?’ Isabel mouths.

The medium shrinks to the floor, whimpering, ‘Rodrigo,’ before she snatches the dagger from the circle and draws the blade over her the palm of her left hand. I wince at the droplets clinging to the knife’s edge. She clenches her fist and blood oozes between her fingers. It trails down her white arm, and mingles with the pool of salt water, which begins to bubble. A white mist rises. Amid the incense and smoke, I’m dazed.

Issy is shaking her head. The assistant flaps and whispers around the medium. But the mist grows thicker and the spirit is not leaving. She shrieks and raises the knife once more. She pushes her assistant back and crawls out of the mist towards me. She yanks my right hand and draws the dagger across my palm. The wound stings of salt water. She smiles with pale blue lips and presses her palm to mine. She chants: ‘I bring Rodrigo forth.’ My hand throbs, but her grip doesn’t lesson. I see grey waves in her eyes. My hand and heart ache in time to the rhythm of her words, as our blood runs together. All fades with her smile: Issy scuffling with the assistant, the incense, the room, everything but grey waves. The candle flickers, and a gust from somewhere blows it out.

 

That was my life. It was the last time I saw Issy. We are candle flames, we flicker and die out – sometimes the flame is passed on. The medium passed me on. It wasn’t my choice, but I made it. But nothing is linear.

Every night, I relive the arrival, a water birth into full awareness. I’m at the edge of somewhere familiar. Waves lap with kitten tongues at a shelf of black rock that runs in broken leaps to the ocean. Waves leave white salt traces of their kisses upon this rock, only to return to wipe them away. Further up, shallow depressions capture circlets of sky staring unblinkingly. Occasionally, there’s a splash, and then tears in runnels make their way down the face of the black rock. Each time the language is the same.

In my dream, despite the shrieking wind there’s no air. Clouds hunch brooding over the tide. The shelf’s sand hillocks are blasted apart by crashing waves. With seagulls fled inland, the shelf was alone, until successive waves heaved broken timbers of my foundered ship up onto the rock.  

Coins in shallow pools adding glint to the scene as dark materials dripped in shreds from splinters and nails. Broken barrels spilled over the stone, only to be washed clean. Canvas, iron and wood were thrown up to decay. Waves rolled a form in. Edges of her dress trailed with the tide. And then, from above I watched him – me – head bloodied, hair and beard matted, facing the sky, a shoe missing. I see me and I knew my wife drowned, as the medium said.

I’m in my body and a metallic tang taints the beach. I touch my head and my hand is bloody. My lips crack with each breath battling in my chest. I crawl to her, pushing back a veil of matted hair. Her face is blue and her pale eyes are open, vacant.

It’s too late.

Though lovers be lost.

This Isabel is dead. But she’ll wait; we’ll meet. Our lives and deaths are entwined, they ebb and flow and encircle our world like the ocean. Therefore, I hope, even at the limits of the world.

On quiet afternoons I go to the cemetery. There, by your stone, this sceptic prays. I pray to my one and future Issy: come find me, my wife yet to be born, so we can rise again. And I pray, thief of all my lives: uncurse me, enchantress of the changing eyes. Or, fatal Siren, whenever you are, curse this marooned madman further to forget the pain of a future foregone because though lovers be lost, love shall not.

Many mornings I wake choking, prayers unanswered to return to the vain toils of letter writing. Then I comprehend. Reader, perhaps it is not up to you, because of Isabel. I opened the book to the pages I needed. Luckily I had not used them.

It took weeks to beg, trade, buy and steal everything required, and month before I found the location. It was remote, where the sand dunes petered into black earth. The sailors shunned it, refusing to say why. I suspected blood was spilled. I waited for the full moon and using the book. I dug a trench, poured in milk, rank tavern wine, and spring water, just like the instruction. Then, I sprinkled flour I compelled the dour travelling priest to bless.

The difficult part was not overcoming my fear it wouldn’t work, or fear of the unnumbered dead I was about to invite, but the sacrifice. I’d stolen the old cutlass from the tavern, sharpened the blade and bought an old ewe from a squatter. It was huddled in a rough pen I’d built a few days earlier, doped on one of my preparations. I grimaced, imagining the drunken taunts of those ill-favoured whalers. Or would they string me up for witchcraft?

With a swig of rum, I take the sheep by its halter, and with the short sword, slit its throat over the trench. The sheep struggled and was still as the blood pooled, glinting in the moonlight. I dragged the poor creature back up, after some time, and heaved its body on branches I’d built into a pyre. The old me would not recognise this version of myself. I dare not consider if the dead will.

Sweating, and faint, I returned to the trench, where something disturbed the air. Even then, after everything, I trembled as I drew the bloodied cutlass. My voice nothing more than a croak, I held back spectres of the long dead, until the one I needed came forward.

As my eyes adjusted, the dead made themselves known. I saw my mother, Andrea. I wept, yet for all my grief, I suffered her not to draw near to the blood. Then I saw Issy and cried out. But she shook her head. My heart broke and she died another death in silence.

The witch appeared. I drew up my sword. Through her bloody smile she said: ‘thou art asking of thy returning, and through many troubles ye may come home, if thou take a ship to find Helios at night. Yet, I foreshow ruin for thy ship and its men. Though thou shalt thyself escape, late shalt thou return in evil plight, and thou shalt find sorrows. The sea again shall end thee. This is sooth.’

Before I could question her, she disappeared, and my mother took some blood. I tried to hold her but she shook her head. ‘You were lost. My heart couldn’t endure the cancer treatment.’ I fell to my knees.

I looked up as Isabel approached again. The light of the moon shone through her blue eyes, and there was the faintest odour of salt water. She smiled as I attempted to brush her cheek. She said we will be together. I dropped to my knees but believed her, whoever we were and will be.

Others came forward, but I had not the heart to hear them. Benumbed, I filled in the trench, lit the pyre, gagging at the odour of seared wool and eucalypt. Spirits disappeared into the smoke. Once the fire was spent, burying the remains took up the rest of the night.

With a hint of daylight making my steps easier, returning home was a dream. I startled at my own hollow laugh – home. Even here, I was changing: time’s flotsam, apothecary, raiser of the dead, and villager.

The fog burned off as I neared the bay. The whalers would head out. The scar on my hand throbbed as I made for the jetty.

I was going out with the dark-prowed ship as my witch instructed. The captain rubbed his brow, accepting my coins. With that I had the freedom of the deck, as long as I didn’t interfere.

The ship headed east, as my witch predicted. Despite low clouds on the horizon, we kept on, towards a pod the captain seemed sure about from the helm. The wind increased, and I grabbed some rope. The swell whipped up and the ship’s tempo changed. Harpoons were abandoned for rigging. The coast disappeared, and all our ways darkened, yet by my reckoning it was midday. I lashed myself to the mast as clouds and sea merged. Rain pelted into the canvas as the vessel pitched beyond control. Visibility was nothing as cresting waves ripped timbers apart. Thunder cracked and at a higher pitch, so did the mast.

I was again in the nightmare I fell into. I cackled at the storm in this genial hour. I would survive this shipwreck. I will rise.

With what’s left of her book against my heart, I see her, us together. Hand in hand, sun darkening the freckles sprinkled across her nose and haloing Issy’s yellow braids, as we head up from the surf.

I screamed her name.

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Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors Anthology

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Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes short stories and flash fiction whether it’s ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, slasher sprees, bizarre fiction, classic horror literature or erotica. The darker the tale the better. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the authors.

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Life Cycle by Adam Phillips

 

    Mica wedged himself through the huddle of children, stepping on feet and shoving, craning to see what everyone else was looking at.  At the center of the throng was a leaf, and undulating on the leaf was a turgid, shiny brown caterpillar. Mica pushed to the front of the group, bending closer, squinting.  

    On the caterpillar’s rear end, waving in the air, was a cluster of vivid markings creating a perfectly rendered clown’s face, replete with blue eyes, bright red nose, and an arc of pink lips.  The face bobbed and swayed as if greeting them to a party.   

    “I bet nobody’s ever seen one like that,” said a girl, ogling in wonder.  

     “No one ever has,” said a boy.  “I’ve got a bug book, at home?  And that thing’s sure as hell not in there.”  

    An argument broke out as to who was going to trap it, in what, to whom they would take it to verify their discovery, and who had seen it first thus earning the right to name it-

    The children flinched as Mica lunged forward, skewering the evanescent creature on his pocket knife.  A few of the kids, groaning, crying out, began to say something, but stopped themselves.  They moved away as the boy produced a lighter from his pocket and, holding the knife to his face began to burn the writhing insect, deeply inhaling the smoke.  

 

    From the end of the long dirt driveway, Mica saw his dad sitting just inside the open doorway, slouched in a kitchen chair.  The boy stopped uneasily, struck with the disconcerting impression that the house and the man were deteriorating commensurately.  The moldy shingles slid off the roof leaving wet rotten-looking spots and clusters of ruptured blood vessels appeared in his father’s cheeks.  The foundation cracked and the old man limped back and forth between his chair and the refrigerator.           

    Things hadn’t always been like this.  They’d moved to Priest River for a fresh start.  His father had found work painting houses, and Mica…much to his incredulity, the other kids had liked him.  He was the novelty, the new game in town, the only city kid in the entire school.  And if he seemed to be a little different, well then it was only because they did things a little differently in Seattle.  

    He remembered, that first spring, watching a butterfly in the backyard squirm its way, wet and awkward, out of its chrysalis and thinking That’s us.  Me and dad.  

    But, within a year, all of that erumpent opportunity had been squandered.

    Both father and son had fallen back upon their customary antisocial habits.  The old man had started fighting in bars, following women home, spending nights in jail, and the boy…

    The boy had been unable to keep his true nature swallowed up, and before long his new classmates had recognized something far more unsavory than the eccentricities of the urbanite.         

    Sweating onto the dusty driveway, watching the house and the slumping man, the boy encountered another unpleasant thought.  In many ways, Mica was just like his father.  Everyone said so.  The same big ears and high forehead.  The same short arms and large hands.  The same tendency to grit his teeth and clench his fists when he got frustrated.  The same lack of self-control…

    And there sits my future, thought the boy, watching the mashed shape in the doorway.       

    Against his will, Mica incorporated himself into the vision of the decaying, collapsing house. He felt his body coming apart as beams and slabs of sheetrock crashed down all around him, the parts of the boy and the house and the parts of the father contracting into one vast festering heap.   

    Shaking the image from his mind, Mica stepped off the driveway into the woods, creeping around the side of the house.  

     

    Phil kept sneaking glances at his wife as she sat looking out the car window wanly, until Katy, without turning towards him, said “I see you looking at me.  Stop it.  I’m fine.  Just watch the road.”  

    “Sorry, I just…”  He leaned forward, concentrating on the endless strip of wet blacktop.  

    “I know you’re just trying to help, and I’m being difficult, but I sort of just need to let myself feel however I’m going to feel.  Okay?”

    “Okay.”

    She gave him a strained smile, and returned to the window.    

    This three thousand mile pilgrimage, Boston to northern Idaho, had been conceived a year earlier, after Phil had proposed, and Katy, shockingly, had said no.  During the aftermath, the fallout, Katy had come to realize, after counseling and much self-reflection, that she’d refused out of a reluctance to move into adulthood.  Because, in her experience of the world, adults failed at everything they attempted.  Adults lied, and beat each other up, and abused drugs.  Adults allowed their children to live in squalor until the state interceded, taking those children, shipping them hundreds of miles away to live in one negligent foster home after another…

    As soon as she had recognized the source of this anxiety, she’d begun to appreciate the pernicious toll it had exacted on her life.  Over the years she had refused promotions, continued cohabitating with shitty roommates, and most recently, nearly driven away the man she loved, all out of a subconscious fear of adulthood.  

    So she and her therapist had devised a plan.  In order to confront and conquer the demons of her childhood, the specifics of which she had suppressed and could recall only vaguely, she would spend the summer revisiting all the places she’d lived.  

    The trip would culminate with the house in the woods outside Priest River, Idaho, where she had spent the longest, and most difficult, period of her childhood.  Then, with her catharsis complete, she could return to Boston and marry Phil, begin her new job, buy a house…

    So far, the plan had been a success.  They’d visited the Minneapolis neighborhood where she’d last lived with her parents, as a six-year-old.  Stepping out of the car, facing the dilapidated apartment building, all the memories had come flooding back: the neglect, the terror of living amongst erratic  strangers, the filth and darkness…After a night spent cursing her parents and crying, she’d awoken purged, and returned to the freeway, traveling west.  

    On to a well-meaning but abusive-for-Christ aunt and uncle in Mason City, from whom she’d been taken after the school nurse had pulled up her shirt to hear a cough and gasped at the purple and yellow thatching created by her aunt’s belt.  On to a drunken grandmother in Norman, Oklahoma, who had burned down the house cooking, a foster family in Denver who, called to change the world, had taken in a half-dozen kids all at once and given them all back two weeks later…

    At every stop, Katy had broken down, vented anger, and left lighter, relieved of another burden.    

    Now, with no further stops before Priest River, no lesser emotional hurdles to focus on, she was beginning to wish they had never come.  

 

    Standing in the backyard, with the events of the afternoon spreading out before him, Mica felt better.  Grass twitched with the movements of insects and small animals, and the air crackled with the warm buzzing of tiny wings.  After he had memorized each detail, a living picture in his brain, he went quietly into the house, retrieving a sack of sugar from the kitchen cupboard.  His father yelled something as Mica slipped back outside.  

    He dumped the sugar into a bucket and filled the bucket with water.  Slowly, carefully, he poured the sugarwater in an arc around the back of the house, and returned to the stoop.  

    It didn’t take them long to come.  

    Mica watched the vanguard of scouts tentatively tapping at the wet grass with their antennae, freezing in disbelief before scrabbling back to their hills bearing word of the miraculous manna.  As the ants accumulated, Mica rose from the stoop, carefully hopping over the living stripe, en route to the shed.  

    He returned with a red plastic gas can and leaning close to the ground delicately poured a thin stream just inside the crawling parabola.  Then he retraced his steps, trailing gas on the other side of the roiling ants.  With the same lighter he’d used to fire up the rare caterpillar an hour earlier, he lit the twin trails.  Flames sprung, clashing and mingling like saw teeth.  He heard the small bodies popping and smelled the peppery smoke and saw the minute beads of liquid boiling up through the exoskeletons and he thought he sensed, on some sub-audible level, a chorus of high-pitched keening shrieks.  

    Tracking the frantic survivors to their hill, he widened the arterial tunnel with a stick, filled it with gas, and lit it.  Flame regurgitated in a hissing blue-white jet, singeing his eyebrows and eyelashes and bangs, chapping the skin of his face.  Looking over the scorched earth, Mica felt the poisonous cloud of anxiety that had plagued him all day at school abating, replaced by a blossom of demulcent calm blooming within his chest, radiating outward.  Returning to the shed, he traded the gas for a pair of aerosol cans he kept stashed behind his father’s painting tarps, and set off into the forest.  

    Creeping to the wasps’ nest, he fired the hair spray over the lighter’s flame to produce a blow torch, then as the crepe paper of the nest caught flame, he dropped the hair spray, switching cans to shoot pesticide at the fleeing insects so that they dropped, convulsing, their wings aflame and nervous systems burnt out, shutting down…

    Hurling themselves at the source of their pain two dozen wasps stung him, but Mica felt only a crackling of nerve endings, a surge of exhilaration within his general sense of vivacity and well-being.  

    With the nest fallen, burnt to sheets of disintegrating ash, he began to hunt piecemeal, picking through the smoldering, apocalyptic scene, stomping, crushing the frangible bodies with his hands.  

    At dusk, chapped and singed, his red flesh pocked with weeping white lumps pinching the stingers, Mica went up to his room, exhausted.  

    Healthy and happy.       

 

    Basking in the triumphant afterglow of the day’s work, Mica pulled the shoebox out from under the bed, and arranged his trophies on the windowsill.  

     Reverently, hands trembling with pride and excitement, he placed the praying mantis skewered with the sewing needle, its head thrown back and arms flung up in shock and agony; the carpenter ant with its head spattered in a spray and the rest of its body perfectly intact; pregnant spiders and rearing centipedes and vicious termites perpetually frozen in lacquer…

    Mica looked at this world he had created and his mind cleared peacefully.  

    If only, he had frequently thought, there were a way to make this feeling last.  To take it outside of this room, into the real world.  

    But every morning, the moment Mica stepped out the door for school, the congenital dread and shame would return, heavy and hobbling, until he made it back home to his sugar water and aerosol cans…

    Recently, Mica had experimented with raising the stakes in the hope of producing a more enduring ameliorant for his affliction.  One evening, waiting until his father had weaved upstairs to bed, Mica had taken the old man’s twenty-two out of the coat closet and waited on the back stoop until a squirrel had come chattering into the yard.  Mica shot and the squirrel’s head exploded.  Standing over the carcass…Mica had felt nothing.  Maybe a mild twinge of disgust.           

    The next day, it had occurred to Mica that perhaps the lack of satisfaction had been due to the impersonal method with which he’d gone about his business.  So he’d sat in the woods, still as a stone, for over an hour until a squirrel had come sniffing right up to the peanuts in his hand, and his other hand had descended with a fishing net.  This time, Mica had intended to get as personally, intimately involved as possible.  

    Donning a pair of heavy leather work gloves he’d squeezed the creature until things had popped inside of it and a disproportionately voluminous quantity of blood had spewed from its orifices.  Looking at the ruined ragged thing at his feet, smelling it, Mica had felt vague annoyance at its weakness, nothing else.    

    He’d been just about to abandon the experiment when that evening it had occurred to him that perhaps a more significant target would be more likely to enact the desired effect.  Squirrels, after all, were so ubiquitous that their lives didn’t have much value, and it was impossible to tell one from another.  

    Mica had taken a handful of hamburger from the fridge and gone out walking.  

    An hour later he’d returned with the black lab from the farmhouse at the edge of town.  Leading it into the shed he’d fired his father’s nailgun into the top of its skull.  Instead of dying the dog had begun to spin, staggering in a seemingly endless circle, upsetting coffee cans full of nails.  Mica had leapt onto the dog’s back and beat it to death with a shovel.  

    He’d stood over the dog, breathing heavily, pitching aside the bloody tool, waiting.  

    Waiting…

    That night, burying the dog in the woods, Mica had officially declared animal-killing of no use to him.    

    He appreciated the wry humor in this.  How this act, the putative precursor to serial killing, the provenance of the Satan-worshipper, struck him as bland and petulant.  An impotent idiot’s childish revenge on a cruel world.  Too obvious to mean anything.  Too brutal to be evil.  

     But with the fields of insects dying at his feet…  

    That was what made Mica feel like a world maker.  World breaker.  That felt like communion with the submerged, dark elements of the universe.   After all, he thought, Satan is Lord of the Flies, not Lord of the Dogs.     

    And whereas killing a cat might get him evaluated and institutionalized, slaughtering bugs had simply made him an outcast.  The boys, realizing he was too big to bully, had ostracized him.  And the the girls…

    Mica had never gotten along with girls.  With one partial exception.  

     Getting into bed, pleasantly sated from the afternoon’s events, his thoughts turned to Skylar Garcia.

     Skylar, Mica’s desk mate due to alphabetical proximity during grades one through six, had been the ultimate champion of the underdog.  She had routinely saved scabrous stray animals and vanquished bullies, and she had befriended Mica.  

    As Mica’s fascination with dismembering insects on the schoolyard had grown more pronounced and disconcerting, while the other kids had simply forced him away, she had made it her full time business to try and stop him.  If he picked a worm out of the mud she would try to knock it from his hands.  If his lighter and aerosol can went missing, she would confess to throwing them into the canal…

    Following an incident when Mica, overwhelmed with the need to destroy, had shoved her on the ground to get at a patch of dirt crawling with doodlebugs, ashamed at his own aggression, he had screamed at her “Why do you care so much about these stupid bugs!”   

    “I don’t even care about the bugs,” she’d said, crying softly.  “I care about you.”  

    “What?  You think I want you following me around, bothering me all the time?”

    “No.  I know you don’t now.

    “So…What?”

    “It’s called karma.  Everything you do, whether it’s good or bad, is going to happen to you too.”

    This had struck him silent.  

    “You have to stop,” she’d whispered.  “Everything you do, comes back to you.  The earth, the universe, protects itself.”

    He had helped her up, walked her home.  

    And while her words that day hadn’t necessarily saved the life of a single insect or annelid or arachnid, he’d continued to hear her voice, throughout the years.  

    He heard it now, drifting off to sleep.  

 

    As the wheels of the car came off the cracked blacktop, crunching onto the long dirt driveway Katy suddenly grabbed Phil’s arm, looking wildly out the window as if she expected someone or something to come bursting out of the forest.  “Nope nope, turn around, not tonight.  We’ll come back tomorrow, in the daylight.”

 

    

    Mica snapped awake and sat up with the feeling that someone else was in the room with him.    “Dad…” he said softly.  It wasn’t uncommon for the old man to miss a turn en route to his own room after a long day and night of drinking beer in the doorway.  In the past, Mica had been awakened by the sound of a body hitting the floor or a cracked voice soliloquizing, or both.  He’d gotten up to piss in the night and bumped into the old man standing in the center of the room breathing heavily, staring off into God knows what.  

    But this was not his father.  In the pitch black room Mica had the impression of vast occupied space, as if the darkness had turned solid.  And as he concentrated into the silence, he could feel…not breathing, exactly, but voluminous respiration, as if all of the air in the room was being rhythmically consumed and expelled.  

    Then Mica’s eyes adjusted.  

    Millions of unctuous, vitreous glints appeared, filling the darkness.

    He heard the rustling of course hairs, the clicking of chitin.  

    And then they were upon him.

    Ants, spiders, wasps, centipedes, a roiling mass heaped floor to ceiling, breaking like a wave…

    As the flood flattened him against the bed Mica crushed them in his hands until his fingers, riddled with stingers, bitten, turgid with poison, swelled to soft fleshy appendages unable even to offer that token resistance.  They chewed away his eyelids and lips, pushed open his jaw and packed his throat so dense that the rising vomit struck their barrier and stopped, and the boy convulsed, realizing with the plucking of his flesh that he would feel himself reduced to bone before completely dying.  

    His father began to shriek downstairs.

    The window above his bed shattered, and he heard the beams above him creaking, the ceiling cracking, sheets of plaster crashing down.  

    The sky opened, with a shriek of metal and splintering wood as if the world was caving in on itself, and then he was falling.  

    Lying amongst the rubble, Mica saw that his ravaged body had broken into segments.  Everything he’d glimpsed in the nightmare daydream was coming true.

    He heard termites chewing the wood.  He heard beetles digging, and the appliances and furniture tumbling into the holes.    

    And the last thing the boy ever saw, lidless eyes pointed at the night sky, were the clouds of flies draining down to pick the flesh, and the microscopic gnats, dense in their billions, come to eat the bones.

     

 

    Phil glanced over at his wife and set his hand on her leg.  “We’re not in any hurry, you know.  There’s always tomorrow.”   

    She nodded, sighed through her nose.  “I’m doing alright.  I guess, now that we’re actually here…”  Her eyes drifted away from him, out the window to the morning sun breaking through the trees.

    She shut her eyes, willing both peaceful calm and steel resolve.  She felt the gravel of the driveway, the car slowing, stopping.  She took a final deep breath and opened her eyes…    

    Her brain floundered to grasp the impossible reality of what she saw.  

    Or rather didn’t see.  It was utterly gone.  The house, the shed.  All that remained to indicate that anyone had ever occupied this space was a clearing of dark tilled earth.  

    Phil watched his wife closely.  His hand rose to touch her, and retreated.  He opened his mouth to speak but remained silent.  Katy’s eyes stretched wide, as if by doing so she might find the missing buildings.  Deliberately, stiffly, as if moving underwater, she let herself out of the car and walked to the center of the clearing, Phil following at a slight distance.  

    Katy walked the perimeter, looking into the trees, looking at the ground.  When she turned to face him, there were tears dangling from her jawline.  “Whoever…The demolition…Look at this.  There isn’t a fucking splinter or a nail left behind…”

    “We can find out who…I know they usually take pictures before, at least…”

    “This is…”  Katy shook her head.  Her face fell apart.  “…this is so much better.”  She took Phil’s hand.  “Oh, God.”  She dug the tears away with her fingertips.  “It’s gone.  All of it’s gone.  I’m done with it.”  She laughed through the residual sobbing.  “Let’s go get married.”  

    Phil laughed, crying a little, too.  As they stood looking over the clearing, heads pressed together, several birds that had been flushed by their arrival returned to the clearing.  As they watched the birds waddling, staggering, pushing their beaks into the loam, it struck both of them that these were the fattest birds they had ever seen, nearly headless with their swollen bulk, walking with difficulty.  And the birds continued to eat well, snatching ants and centipedes up out of the mud.  

    There was something unsettling about the spectacle of the gorging birds, antithetical to the moment they’d been having, and with a light frown Katy had just turned to Phil, intending to say “Let’s get out of here, go back into town to celebrate,” when a huge rust-colored barn cat jumped from the weeds pinning a bird beneath her claws and biting into its midsection, rearing up with the bird’s intestines dangling from her jaws.  

    “…Christ…”  They backed to the car as the cat tore the bird to pieces, then leapt upon another that had been too immobile to flee the slaughter.  

    Pale, silent, they backed down the driveway, flipping onto the asphalt just as the fox slid from the weeds like liquid, ripping out the cat’s throat while the cat continued chewing.  

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Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes short stories and flash fiction whether it’s ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, slasher sprees, bizarre fiction, classic horror literature or erotica. The darker the tale the better. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the authors.

 

    

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Schrodinger’s Dilemma by Dan Lee

 

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I’d been staring at the box for nearly an hour contemplating the consequences of opening it before the time was right. The beer in my hand was half empty, warmer now from being held so long and hardly as satisfying as it had been when I started drinking it. The whole world had gone mad but here I was, sitting in the living room of my little apartment staring at Pandora’s Box and wondering what madness still could be waiting inside. The floor was covered in fresh mud and dirt, streaked brown and green from where I’d drug it inside. I’d vomited twice at the memory of burying it, at the smell that came crawling up through the earth as I disinterred it. It might have been easier to move if I’d had some help and who better to help than my brother? He’d been more than happy to bury it with me two months ago but he never would have agreed if he’d known what was coming, of the questions I’d have. Once it had been done he refused to ever speak about it again so I was left no choice but to dig it up and drag it back here by myself. Even so, I knew I’d be seeing him soon. I was certain of that much.

I had sent him a picture of the box an hour ago, fresh from where I’d dug it up.

As if cued by my thoughts on the matter there came a desperate banging on my door. I gave a wry smile and took another sip of my beer. It was somehow less bitter now.

“It’s open,” I called to him from my recliner.

My brother Roger barged into my living room, his face flushed red, hands trembling as he glared at me. He was twenty eight, the baby of the family with those generic good looks that had always driven the girls wild in school. He’d gotten by on those looks for a long time but now, shaking in my doorway, his charm was useless. He would have leapt into the chair with me, those quaking arms swinging fists towards my head except that his eyes caught the box and froze him dead in his tracks. Pressed down by the unfathomable weight of his guilt he fell to his knees beside it and covered his mouth with his hands.

“What have you done?” he whispered.

“I recall asking you the same question a few months ago.”

I took another swig of beer.

“This isn’t funny, Steven!” The rage was quick and loud. “We don’t have time for this. We should be getting out of town and now we’re going to have to bury it again.”

“Bury it? I’m not burying anything. We’re damned, little brother. Where do you think we can run to avoid our judgment? Besides, aren’t you curious?”

“No.” he said sullenly.

“You came to me with tears in your eyes and asked me to help you make it all go away.” I said. “Looked just like you did when you were six and you accidentally crushed your pet mouse. You remember how you cried when Narf died in your little hands? You remember coming to me to help you? You wanted to hide what you’d done, hide from the consequences that would come your way. Can’t very well hide now, can we?”

“This isn’t a joke, Steven.”

“Does it look like I’m laughing?”

“We’ll have to ditch it on the way,” he muttered to himself. “There are lots of woods between here and dad’s cabin so we should have plenty of places to dump it.”

“There’s no ‘it,’ baby brother. There never was an ‘it.’ Always a ‘who,’ though.”

He ignored me and yanked the handle of the mud caked foot locker as if his rage would make it fly out the door and into the breezeway. Instead it barely budged. Something inside though began to rattle and scratch.

“You ever hear about Schrödinger’s cat?” I asked, polishing off my beer.

“I don’t have time for a lecture. Get up and grab your shit so we can leave.”

“And go where, Roger? They’re everywhere now. Looking for her I bet. Yeah, God woke ‘em all up just to find her. Where do you plan to run to when the cemeteries are spitting out bodies to hunt for us, huh? Where can we go when the dead are scouring the earth for you and me?”

“I’d rather run than wait here like an idiot.” he argued. “Now let’s get up and go.”

“We’re not going anywhere until we talk about the cat.”

“You’ve lost your damned mind.” he shouted. He stood, kicking the box as he did. He turned to walk off, to storm away like the spoiled little child he was. I snatched my revolver off the end table beside me and fired a shot into his leg. Blood spurted as Roger yelled and collapsed in the floor.

“The cat is locked in the box with a vile of poison,” I said. “There’s a Geiger counter and a piece of radioactive material inside. When it reaches a certain level of radiation a trigger snaps and breaks the vile, killing the cat instantly. From outside, there’s no way to know if the cat is alive or dead. At that moment the cat is in two separate states of existence, both alive and dead. Only when we open the box does reality manifest, does the cat become either one or the other. With everything that’s been going on, what do you think that means for what’s inside our little box here?”

“You’re crazy.” he sobbed, clutching his wounded leg.

“No. Crazy was getting drunk and trying to drive home in the rain. Crazy was helping you clean the blood off your hood and hide the evidence in the woods. This is an exercise in thought. Now tell me, is it alive or dead?”

I reached down and popped the latch on the foot locker.

“Crazy was seeing her little face on fliers and milk cartons, in papers every day and going about my life as if I didn’t know where she was. Crazy was pretending that I could ignore the grief I saw in her mother’s eyes when she pleaded for someone to bring her baby home on the ten o’clock news.”

I lifted the lid.

“Even now, opening the box doesn’t answer the question. Alive or dead; one or the other? Or neither? Or both? Or is it something new entirely?”

“Please, Steven,” Roger cried. “Not like this.”

Tiny hands reached up from the box, mottled skin gray with putrid veins rippling black lightning across the marbled surface of her arms clutching at the open air.

“She was dead when we buried her,” I continued. “No questions there. So now what is she?”

Dirty pigtails crested the lid, milky eyes staring lifelessly at us. Crusted patches of maroon formed a river of red from her nose and mouth that ended in a lake on a molded pink jumper. Slowly, the little girl, her frame twisted, broken, crawled into the carpet towards Roger.

“Even when observed she’s alive and dead.  Schrödinger’s cat refuses now to conform to the laws of reality and existence.”

“Please, Steve,” Roger sobbed. He tried to crawl away but only managed to back himself into the corner. Little hands pulled a broken body across the floor, tiny teeth chattering hungrily towards her killer.

It was a strange new world I had created, opening that box, but it would all be over soon.

 

Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes short stories and flash fiction whether it’s ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, slasher sprees, bizarre fiction, classic horror literature or erotica. The darker the tale the better. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the authors.

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The Night We Aired the House by Chris Campeau

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I knew my mother was sick, weeks before we tried to take her to quarantine. There was no denying it. I first suspected it when she stopped opening her bedroom blinds in the morning. I knew it for sure when she started sleeping ‘til dusk. I was even more convinced when the upper floor took on that sulphur-like smell. The air was thicker, foul. I would hold my breath when passing her bedroom; the smell was strongest there. The door was always open. She would face the wall, hair leaking from the top of a blanketed lump. And the heat. Had the daylight been able to shine in, you might have seen a sheet of the hot stink wafting into the hallway like a fevered mirage. Yes, my mother was sick. No, it wasn’t your ordinary flu. She was aware too, of her sickness I’m sure, but gave herself no fighting chance. Not that she stood one; this we never said aloud to one another, Darry or I, but we knew. They all end up the same. We had seen it.  


I wish she would have come to terms with it earlier. We could have done more with the last of her time in the house, if only to read together like we used to. Instead, she surrendered, let the sickness consume her. And just as sure as the sky is blue, as sure as the mourning dove sings to dawn its warm song of welcome, a hand from Hell cradled my mother snugly within the fiery furs of its palm. And I knew, on that Sunday evening, as Darry helped her down the front steps and I locked the door to our house, that it would be the last time she would leave it.


From behind the wheel, Darry scoured the radio waves for a station. We sat closemouthed as static rolled over the speakers. Finally, Rod Stewart started in with,  ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’, and Darry let off the dial.


“Baby, can you turn it up? Please?” my mother asked.
He kept his hands on the wheel. “Don’t you think we oughtta talk?” he said.


She shrank towards the passenger-side window. From the backseat I could make out only the relief of her face: her nose and cheekbones reflected in the side mirror; the shallow terrain of her face buried within the hood of her sweater. I looked sparingly.
“Mum…,” he said. “Please. We have to.”


She inched her head off the window so that she was staring not at Darry but directly ahead. I looked out the windshield too—the road lit up by two pistons of white, scanning a desolate stretch of pavement, the dotted line being eaten by the hood of the Oldsmobile.
“We don’t,” she replied.


Darry was frustrated, working out the arithmetic to find the right words. In the rear-view, he wore the same look he used to when Dad would gift him a last-minute curfew, seconds before slipping out of the house to snowmobile with Samantha Herrin. We don’t take the ski doo out nowadays. Darry doesn’t wear his sledding bomber anymore either. It’s boxed up in the cedar chest in the garage. He says it reminds him too much of Sam. That was before the spread. Before the deaths.


Darry turned the volume knob clockwise, and the heap of sweaters that was my mother began to tremble, while Rod Stewart’s voice masked the sound of her tears. The streets were mostly vacant; they had been for many months. I watched the storefronts pass as we drove out of town. Most were boarded up—only a handful of shops remained afloat—but some had their lights on, and they stood as rectangles of illuminated hope, foreseeable futures, contrasts to the dark of the night.


“They’ll figure it out, Mum,” I said from behind a gauze mouth-covering. “They will. Why it’s still spreading I mean. Once they do


“I need to be home, Thomas.” She spoke into her lap. “I need to be in bed. Can’t you boys see that?” Her voice grew. “Has everyone gone mad? How am I supposed to gain strength if I’m taken from my home? How?” The last word rode on a pitch as deep as an operatic bass note. I caught Darry’s eyes in the rear-view. They mirrored the fright in mine. It had reached her larynxanother symptom they had taught us to watch for. The notion that she might not survive the drive pounded at the back of my skull, pleading its way in. If it were to be, if she didn’t make it, Darry and I would likely witness her return as well; those who had succumb to the illness hadn’t stayed down for long. I wiped my palms on my pant legs. Darry put his foot to the pedal.    


She sighed a lengthy expulsion of air and returned her head to the window. The stench of her breath made its way to the back of the car. It was all I could do to subdue the gag reflex. When she was gone, Darry would take the car, and I wondered if the smell wouldn’t resonate in the fabric of the interior, immortalizing our last drive with her. On the seat beside me I toyed with the leather tassels of her slippers. They were the only things I thought to grab for her on our way outnot a family photo album, her glasses, ibuprofen for the drive, but the shrivelled foot coverings that so rarely left her feet. In the dark they looked like hairless carcasses of small animals. I was waiting to tell her. I wanted to give them to her when the hazmat officials took her over. I knew the slippers would fetch us a final smile from her face, so I held them back in anticipation. It was worth something.
We pulled over on the curve of county road fourteen, a few hundred yards from the tracks; she said her stomach was queasy. The crossing was broad and deeply-set, with just a marginal length of iron cutting across the road. The rest extended into infinite black on either side. Not a half mile beyond the tracks the quarantine centre stood like a bright white pillow, the four-acre dome lit by spot-lights surrounding its perimeter.
The cold had entered the car, but I was grateful for the fresh air. I leaned forward and rubbed the middle of my mother’s back as her head hung out of the door. I applied pressure in an attempt to soften the heaving. There was nothing to come up. At this stage, it was just the hunger forcing her body to lurch.


“Jesus Christ!” Darry threw his gloved hands over the wheel and let his head drop. The engine wouldn’t turn. He twisted the key over so many times I thought it would snap. My mother sat back and wiped her mouth, the nausea passed. Darry threw open his door and rounded the front of the car. My stomach began to reel as I watched him staring blankly at the hood. I knew there was nothing under it that he could fix, still he propped it anyway. My mother moaned, and the crank on my stomach tightened.


“I have an oat bar,” I said.
Silence.


“Mum, you have to try.” I fetched the green foil package from my pocket and probed her arm with it. With a pale hand, cracked like fissured parchment, she took the bar and turned round to face me. She pushed her hood back, and while I prayed for a smile, she just stared blank-eyed. In the little starlight coming in through the windshield I could see acne along her jawline, and her umber hair no longer breathed, but clung to her scalp, hanging in ropes like greased silly string.


“For you, Thomas,” she said,  “I’ll try.” Before she turned around I caught a glimpse of the top of her chest where her sweater hung loose, where extra veins had begun a hike up her neck.


“Thomas?” she said, barely above a whisper. I hunched over the centre console, and she latched onto my sleeve. Her wedding ring hung loosely between two pronounced knuckles. Her hand slid down and found mine. Her flesh was no longer hot, not even warm. It was ice. It stung. “Thomas,” she said again and placed a hand on the back of my head, drawing my ear towards her lips. “I think we ought to hurry up, baby.”


A rumble sounded deep within her, and I stole my head back. A wild appetite was growing in her belly, I could sense it. As I sat back in my seat, I could feel her eyes on me in the passenger-side mirror. I drew my zipper up to my neck and reached for the door.
“Darry.” I came around to the front of the car.


“I don’t know what the hell I’m looking at,” he said. The metal innards of the old beast were nothing more than dark shapes, complete gibberish to us both.


“We’re going to have to walk,” I said. “She’s getting worse.”


Darry stepped away from the car and stared across the fields of black snow, fields so vast they rendered us pebbles, loiterers on a stretch of nowhere highway.


“We have no choice,” I said. I curled my bottom lip and guided a breath of hot air towards my nose, warming the interior of my mask. “Darry. Look at me.” I went ahead and said it, what neither one of us wanted to admit. “I think we might have waited too long.”
He faced me. Stray curls spiralled out of his tuque at the ears. We shuddered in unison as the wind came at us. A sheet of snow trailed behind it. It grazed over the road in a hurried fashion, and then it was gone into the field on the other side, as quickly as it had come. Again, all was still. Darry drew on a cigarette, pitched it into the dark, and yanked his mouth covering up from his chin. “You’re right. Go on and fetch your gloves. Let’s get moving,” he said.


We didn’t look at each other much as we carried our mother toward the dome. I’m not sure we would have survived each other’s sorrow had we. Darry had her torso in his arms, and I, her legs. She was looking up at the stars, brilliant, full. A ring of white had invaded her irises another symptom, one of the final stages. It wouldn’t be long now. My legs began to feel the added weight not only of my mother, but of the helplessness that was suddenly birthed by the inevitable. Ahead, our dome-shaped haven looked smaller than ever.
“It’s not so cold out anymore,” she said. Darry and I halted. “It’s really quite a nice night. Don’t you think, boys?”  Her breath didn’t show in the cold. The snowflakes on her face didn’t melt.


“It’s beautiful, Mum,” Darry said, brushing the snow from around her eyes.
“You’re father loved this kind of weather.”


We walked along the shoulder of the road, trying to be quick but only wasting energy in doing so, and in turn slowing us down. I concentrated on my Kodiaks to confirm that my toes were in fact wiggling.


“I have to go back to the car,” I said.
“Thomas, what? Why?”
“Her slippers. I have to get them.”
“What?”
“Take her!” I dropped her legs and Darry scrambled to balance her weight.
“Thomas! Stop!” he yelled.


I ran with all the fire in my legs, kicking up chips of ice with my heels, but the Oldsmobile was hardly getting bigger. Under only starlight it looked long abandoned, like it hadn’t seen an owner in years. Behind me, Darry was a frenzy of shouts and hollers.
“There’s no time!” I heard him say. “Thomas! There’s no time!” Then he blurted something I couldn’t make out. He screamed it again, but I kept running. Only at the sounding of the air whistle did I draw the connection. Train.


My heart nose-dived to the base of my stomach. I pivoted brashly, slipping to my knees on a patch of black ice. Pants shredded and knees bleeding, I scrambled to my feet and raced back towards Darry and my mother. If we didn’t make the tracks before the train … the setback could be devastating.


When I reached them, however, Darry had already laid her out on the tracks. I wanted to scream, but my lungs were gone.
“Don’t look,” he said.


I tore over to her and winced as my bloodied knees pressed against the iron. The tracks were buzzing with the momentum of the impending train. To my right, a dime-sized light was broadening in size.
“Thomas! Get back!”


I placed my bare hand on her cheek. Her lids were closed, but her eyes were running rampant beneath them. My heart hit my throat as the whistle soundedmove or die, it announced.


“Thomas! Get the fuck off the tracks!” Darry swung himself under the flashing arm that had lowered between us.


But a heat flooded my mother’s face beneath my hand. She became a searing furnace. The blood of renewed life surged into her veins, and my tears hit her flesh with a hiss. The headlight bore down on us now. She opened her eyes, seeing life again for the first time, and the last. With the train’s light, I could see bright candy red where the whites of her eyes should have been. I knew then that Darry had done what I couldn’t have. The sickness had completed its work. The woman on the tracks below me was no longer my mother, my friend, but a parasite desperate to drain the blood from my body. Her eyes scanned mine with unfamiliarity, widening as they landed on my throat.


Darry’s arm hit my neck and yanked me backwards. I cupped my hands to my ears as the air brakes screeched at a soaring decibel level. Before he spun me around, I glimpsed her on her knees: her frothy open mouth, her poor attempt to try her legs. Her bleeding eyes. The metal beast roared into frame with bullet-like velocity. My mother went with it in a burst of dark wet, fragments of her assaulting the snow in my peripherals.


As we walked, the train’s rhythm chugged steadily alongside us, synching to my pounding heartbeat and diminishing only when we reached the car.  I clambered into the back seat, and Darry took rest beside me. Our breath was just as visible inside, and between us, the cold slippers were stiffened like museum pieces. I disregarded them and awaited the grief to infect and transform me.