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Zombie Life Ain’t So Bad

Zombie life isn’t so bad. Undead Greg delivers a pitch to those willing to make the greatest decision of their life. Join the undead, the winning team, and live a life of no responsibility, no drama, no stress, no pain, and best of all no need to work ever again! Granted, Donald Trump may try to deport you to Mexico, but, it’s worth the risk.

https://www.spreaker.com/episode/8030093

Undead Greg is a perverted, politically incorrect zombie that would love to eat him some Halle Berry. Show him love and he’ll grant you immunity for when the apocalypse comes.

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Bleeder Resurrection: Exhuming the Corpse

 

            Blades of pale light pierced through the gray hazy sky that loomed with a deep saturation over the desperate city. The cries of many washed under the sounds of traffic and the occasional roar of thunder. The light splashed against the glass of the Richard Keller building–a towering scraper that rose towards the heavens in narrowing stacks of steel and glass—shielding those inside from the toxicity of the air, the cacophony that plagued the inner city, and the scorching heat of an afternoon sun.

 

            Nava sat in a cushioned chair with no intention to stay longer than needed, and delivered Mr. Keller a steady gaze that sought for truth behind the lies. Keller, with legs crossed as if talking business, tapped the end of a metallic pen against the mahogany desk.

 

            “So are you going to tell me or not,” asked Nava, agitated.

 

            “I already told you,” said Keller, glancing away for a moment with a heavy sigh. “I don’t know a damn thing about that property.”

 

            “But you own it and must have some sort of record of who leased it last,” asked Nava, more of a statement than a question.

 

            “That piece of trash property,” said Keller, foolishness stretching across his wide wrinkled mug. “The last company to lease that dump went out of business years ago. With the economy decaying around us, there isn’t any use for my organization to inspect it anymore.”

 

            “I don’t buy that for a minute,” said Nava, the tips of his fingers pressed together, and his elbows dug into the padded arms of the chair. “You know more.”

 

            “Good lord. The moment the police decide to get balls and do something about this slum of a city the moment you would stop sniffing around in useless bullshit,” said Keller, holding the pen loosely between his clinched fingers, pointing the tip at Nava. “You have some nerve coming in here and expecting something close to respect. The police don’t run this joint any more than the drug dealers and the pimps. You represent trash overdue for throwing out.”

 

 

            “Times are tough, very tough indeed, but without our help it would be much worse,” said Nava, holding back. “What do you know about the operation that took place on your property?”

 

            “I don’t know a damn thing,” said Keller, leaning back in his chair.

 

            “Stop with the lies. We know it was a military operation, and we know that you keep watch over your possessions. A man like you would demand some sort of compensation for the time spent on your land.”

 

            “If that were true,” said Keller, raising an eyebrow. “You wouldn’t find a damn thing. Nothing in the books, nothing close to the type of evidence you would need to tie this to me.”

 

            “Time will tell,” said Nava, smugly. “Once we get the information we need, we’ll meet again.”

 

            “You mean from the engineer gone rogue? You won’t have the time. He’ll be dead before he reveals anything more than he already has,” said Mr. Keller.

 

            “Is that a threat,” asked Nava, leaning forward.

 

            “No,” said Keller, clicking the pin. “It’s a matter of fact.”

 

            “Enjoy your remaining moments of freedom, because when this is through, your ass will be in jail,” said Nava. He rose from the chair and stepped out from Mr. Keller’s office without another word.

 

            The lieutenant walked with anger seething between his teeth. He thought, for a moment anyway, that something useful would come from the lead, but instead he found another dead end. A man dressed in a dark suit walked by, brushing against Nava’s shoulder. Instantly the two stared at each other. Nava, distracted by the case, thought little of paying any respect to the gentleman, whereas the suit gazed with narrowing green eyes, piercing, scanning, and judging. Before Nava could say a word the suit entered the elevator. Nava dusted off the sleeve of his gray short sleeve shirt, and the motion caused his the thin chain that held his badge to wiggle slightly.

           

            Nava exited the front and felt the humidity almost immediately. Standing at the steps, he could feel his pits gushing with sweat. He wiped his forehead, and swallowed through a dry mouth. Herds of people walked along the sidewalks in various clusters, making it difficult to enter, and much more rewarding to leave. Nava bid his time for a quick phone call before daring to cross the consistent current.

 

            “Pick up you old bastard,” said Nava, softly as he eyed the women walking by. “Hey Roberts, it’s me, Nava. I tried the lead you gave me and got nothing. I hope you start rethinking your plans for retirement.” Nava ended the voicemail and closed his cellular phone. After taking a moment to clear his head, the lieutenant stepped into the moving crowd and followed suit. Like the rest, he stayed clear of the darker areas of the street, avoiding the alleyways with pretentious ignorance to the muffled sounds of fighting. Crime infested his poverty-stricken city, slowly but surely causing the once beautiful city he grew up in to plummet into a chaotic nightmare that no amount of arrests could prevent. It soured on his tongue, generating memories pregnant with regret, but Mr. Keller was right; the power of the badge faded into shadows as the change in times released a tormenting sense of desperation. An economic meltdown like the world had never seen brought this powerful nation on its knees, and those willing to threat with nuclear attacks and other disasters didn’t hesitate. The further the depression hit, the more increasing the stakes for a better life became. Thus, hundreds of people were tossed out of the corporate sector to test their wits against the bleak, desolate streets that rendered the more desperate individuals into prostitutes, drug dealers, and worse.

 

            Nava strolled along the crosswalk with his fists deep into the pockets of his khaki cargo pants, while reliving the awkward moment when Captain Roberts decided to retire. Nava stopped to the abrupt squeal of a military truck and stepped towards the building. Rows of men and women branded with the patriot duty to serve in the world’s finest military force lined the cab of the truck.

 

            The National Guard stormed to the sidewalk, grabbing anyone that looked of age, and carried them into the truck. One by one they’re loaded into their harvester of sorrow like cattle for the slaughter.

 

            “At this rate you would think our way of life would be a little better,” said a homeless black woman.

 

            “If they had any sense, they would clean out the alleyways,” said Nava. He watched as the armed forces proceeded to board the truck. A crack of lightning smeared from the sky and released a downpour onto the city.

 

**

 

            Scampering over a pile of shattered stone and metal that gleamed in the light of a full moon, Abigail reached for the top with only minor cuts. She clasped the rusted rebar in her small, dirty hand and pulled herself over a rough slab of metal. She dusted her hands, wiping the residue against the denim of her jeans. She peered through the darkness of the opening–a gaping wound in what used to be solid floor—for any signs of movement. With the exception of the settling dust, there was nothing. Her gut fell deeper, pitting lower than before in hopelessness, but she leaped down anyway. The sound of her red converse hitting the floor was followed by a slight girlish groan.

 

            Except with the occasional stress of the crumbling structure, the air was snuffed of any sound. A cool breeze emerged from the pit below, penetrating her soft exposed skin with a dryness she felt before. With her hands clinched around her arms, Abigail walked slowly towards the grave of her guardian. Buried under layers of clutter that weighed more than he did, Abigail could only rely on her gut feeling that he would some day return. She dropped to one knee and felt her smooth fingertips along the thorn of the rose she brought with her. She could feel the sharp natural instrument slicing through the layers of flesh, and though she connected with the tease of pain, she dared not to press deep enough to draw blood. With a moment of wishful thinking distracting her, Abigail placed the rose along with the others.

 

            Though distant, the sound of men approaching sent her scurrying away for cover. She ducked under a metallic table that sat against the wall and waited with a curious eye. Obeying shouting commands, a group of men climbed over the ruins opposite of her entry. They struggled with reaching hands that scraped across the folds of sheet metal and steel. Profanity flowed from their mouths in thick waves, growing more potent on each attempt, while the sound of a starting engine roared behind. Only two of them made it over the scrap pile, and they watched as a bulldozer scooped what it could, leaving a small opening for the others to use.

 

            All of them wore ragged clothing in desperate need of washing, and they approached as if haunted by some heavy burden. Some of them held knives, some grasped tightly onto lead pipes, but they all carried the intent to kill without the slightest sense of remorse. Abigail crawled deeper into her cover upon glimpse of the one in front. A cryptic symbol burned into the flesh of his forehead, searing the brand with a bold dark scar that represented, in one glance, an ever-moving entity of soullessness. The man, Malkovak, had haunted her before, rendering her frightened beyond imagination, all the while hoping that someone would help her.

 

            “I can’t believe it took this long,” said Malkovak, the voice resounding deeply.

 

            “She’s clever,” said the other.

 

            “That she most definitely is,” said Malkovak, stepping towards the cluster of roses.

 

            “Do you think he’ll still work,” asked the other.

 

            “If our Lord deems it so,” said Malkovak, his voice lifted with a hint of pleasure. “And I believe he does. First we should bring in our sacrifice.”

 

            Two cloaked individuals pushed a woman dressed in torn rags and bound in chains towards the rim of the pit. She squirmed and cried out for forgiveness, offering them her body as a compromise, but they were only mildly amused.

 

            “Nzulmbi,” muttered Malkovak, kneeling down, inspecting the recently added rose.

 

            “Nzulmbi,” said the others in complete unison.

 

            “As children to your blessing, we call to you so that we shall not be forsaken,” said Malkovak, pulling out a curved dagger from under his coat. “For an ounce of sympathy and protection, we offer rivers of blood.” The others repeated the phrase, their voices collecting into a morbid choir.

 

            Malkovak rose with the dagger slicing through the woman’s chest vertically. Blood splashed along the blade, staining the sleeves of his wool suit. A crimson tear gushed as if it were an open faucet, saturating her little rags. Malkovak pressed the blade against her neck, teasing her with a slow slicing motion that ate more and more of her flesh with growing hunger. A thin line of blood emerged from the wound, and Malkovak produced a little smirk. He pushed the screaming woman into the pit, watching as her body fell helplessly onto piercing rebar.

 

            “Bring the equipment,” said Malkovak. “It’s going to take more than a bleeding woman to get him out of this.” He walked towards the table.

 

            “We should thank her,” said the other.

 

            “Then allow me,” said Malkovak. He reached under the table with fast hands and clinched firmly onto Abigail’s arm, pulling her out with complete ease despite her attempt to fight. “How easy this is,” he said. “We’ve got both of you, together. This will be a glorious day, indeed.”

 

**

 

            His cell phone buzzed. “You got anything,” said Nava.

 

            “No,” said Vivian, disappointed. “My source gave me nothing. A bunch of bullshit.”

 

            “Well, it turns out Keller isn’t going to talk about it. This has to be the longest light ever,” said Nava as he slammed his palm against the steering wheel.

 

            “If you’re on Main Street then you’ll be there for a few minutes. I suggest you get comfortable,” she said, stopping with an air of silence. “Wait, you already talked to Keller.”

 

            “Yeah,” said Keller, heavily. “He wasn’t much help. But I swear we will get him for something. I know it.”

 

            “Well, your intuition is right,” said Vivian.

 

            “Why is that,” asked Nava, releasing off the break, slowly coasting behind the other slow responsive driver.

 

            “He’s dead,” said Vivian. “I just heard that someone called in a body in the Keller building, and it was him. Do you know anything about it?”

 

            “I don’t know shit,” said Nava. The light changed to red, catching him just before crossing the intersection. He slammed the steering wheel. “Wait. Before I left his office he gave an obscure threat. He pretty much warned that anyone that talks would die.”

 

            “Nava, you should wait for me before you do anything,” she said.

 

            “Sorry Viv, that isn’t going to happen,” said Nava. He floored the pedal and crossed the intersection, swerving between the vehicles for narrow openings that were closing by the second. He closed his cell and tossed it to the passenger seat. He grabbed the steering wheel with strong grasps that bleached his knuckles, and drove aggressively through the busy streets, navigating down side streets whenever traffic became too dense.

 

            He drifted into the parking lot of a grungy apartment complex where roaches and rats were regulars, infesting the floors, crawling behind the walls, and thriving off the filth of the junkies, bottom feeders, and other slugs of life. Nava kicked in the flimsy chain linked postern and ran up the gravel steps. He stormed up the stairwell and stopped with heavy breathing by Levon’s door. He knocked and waited, and knocked again, but the stall of time played on his nerves. Nava pulled out his USP .45 and knocked one more time before trying the knob. Stubborn, but a good solid push forced the rotting particleboard to swing open. Nava stood on the threshold with gun raised, while the door pivoted against the wall.

 

            “Levon,” said Nava, cautiously. “It’s Nava. Please tell me you’re in here.” Nava stepped deeper into the studio apartment, navigating a narrow trial that dug through the piles of junk and garbage composed of computer parts, fast-food wrappers, magazines and things collected over years of living. The bed, cluttered with paper plates stained with food residue, was empty. The computer chair, marked with white streaks going down the rim of it, was empty. The room, with the disgusting filth that hid in the closet, was empty of anything other than a few insects. A foul stench wafted into the air, and it lingered in from under a closed door. Nava neared and tapped lightly against the door.

 

            “Levon, are you in there,” said Nava. He opened the door with gun pointed and ready.

 

            “Jesus Christ,” said Nava, covering his eyes as he walked away.

 

            “What’s the deal? Can’t a man take a shit in peace,” asked Levon. “Fuck, man.”

 

            Nava leaned his back against the wall parallel with the opened door. “You have two minutes to finish up before I pull your ass off that seat. Don’t make me do it. Don’t you dare make me fucking do it.”

 

            “You invaded my home,” said Levon, hollering from the bathroom. “I should be asking you to leave.”

 

            “You have two minutes,” said Nava.

 

            “What’s the deal,” asked Levon, closing the magazine.

 

            “I have reason to believe that someone is gonna try to kill you, and you and I don’t need that,” said Nava. “Just hurry the fuck up. I would think a gun in your face would finish the job.”

 

            “Hold on,” said Levon. “Almost done.”

 

            A muffled release of air went almost undetected, but the shattering of a computer monitor brought Nava down with his hands wrapped around his weapon, aimed at the doorway.

 

            “Don’t be breaking stuff,” muttered Levon.

 

A dark suit walked by with only a second of exposure. Nava shifted to the other wall, pressing his back against the strained surfaced. His gun aimed at the small stretch of wall aside of the doorway. A hole punched through the wall, sending a bullet down where Nava once was. The lieutenant returned fire, projecting an acute burst of thunder that startled Levon.

 

            “Alright, alright,” said Levon. “I’m fucking done.”

 

            “Hurry,” said Nava, trying hard to maintain focus on the target.

 

            Levon stepped out of the bathroom dressed in a dirty, black guayabera and very relaxed cargo pants. Nava grabbed him and pulled as he walked closer to the doorway. With an itchy trigger finger, he peered around for an angle that would answer his lurking, nagging curiosity, but after several attempts all he could do was brave the confrontation.

 

            Nava’s gun pointed straight down the hall, waning slightly. The suit stared, his eyes dull like the approaching reaper with weapon for execution. Rounds were fired from both directions. Nava landed with his shoulder bashing against the floorboard, he checked himself, unsure of any inflicted damage. Not a drop of blood from him, but the stalker had a different fate. A splatter of blood marked where he stood, and a kicked in door pointed in the direction to follow. Nava pushed himself off the ground and pointed the gun as if their executioner would jump out for another attempt.

 

            “Levon,” said Nava. “We’re leaving this dump.”

 

            “Fuck,” said Levon. “What the fuck is going on, man?”

 

            Nava paced backwards with Levon nearby and didn’t shift from his position until a quick escape was within a few steps reach. The two raced out from the contaminated complex, and Levon followed Nava to his ride.

 

**

 

            “I’m glad you decided not to finish him off,” said Vivian, accusingly. She leaned against the interrogation room wall. A hand wrapped around a relaxed arm as she bit her lower lip. Her dark short hair was slightly long at the front, a few strands settled with sharp tips right above her left eye. A tight forming police uniform hugged her petite frame, bending over her small bust with parted collars that exposed the pale skin and beginnings of a plain white shirt.

 

            “Believe me,” said Nava, unfolding a chair. “I wanted to.”

 

            “Why is that not a surprise,” she said, looking away from him. “You should’ve waited for my help. Perhaps you wouldn’t have had such a close call.”

 

            “No thanks Viv,” he said, cupping his hands with elbows placed on top of the metallic table. “If I waited a minute longer then Levon here wouldn’t have made it.”

 

            Levon didn’t look at any of them. He stared at the tiled floor, lost in his own thoughts.

 

            “He seems broken,” she said. “You really think you can get anything from him.”

 

            Nava glanced at her with a slight smile, and tapped the middle of the table, pulling for Levon’s attention. “Levon, since I saved your life, I feel that it’s only fair to ask you a few questions.”

 

            “If that guy is after me then it would have to be because of what I know,” said Levon, leaning forward with brilliant beady eyes that shown through his dirty mug. He placed fingertips against his weathered, tainted lips and seemed a hostage of his own delusions. “They know,” said Levon. “Despite your efforts to silence the story, they know. Don’t they?”

 

            “That’s what makes it so important that you tell me everything you know about the operation that took place at the old piping yard,” said Nava, gently.

 

            Levon stiffened and pressed a finger against this temple. “I know you want what’s in here, but at the cost of my own life, at the cost of yours? I don’t think you understand that some things are better off left alone. Don’t tamper with something you have no business with.”

 

            “Levon,” said Nava. “If you don’t help us then how can we help you? Don’t you want to be protected?”

 

            “Besides we already have the whole department wanting to snuff us,” said Vivian, disregarding their only witness. She walked to the table, pressed her palms against the surface, and leaned forward. “I don’t want to work narcotics again,” she said, shaking her head. “So just spit out the fucking information.”

 

            Nava glared at her, but redirected his focus to drilling the confused, smelly, disgusting man. “We’ll protect you,” said Nava, laying on genuine comfort. “We know you were involved with creating him.”

 

            “Don’t go jumping to conclusions. I didn’t do anything more than help design a system that could, if used correctly, function as artificial organs, secreting huge doses of serotonin, epinephrine, endorphins and other chemicals into a host, a breakthrough that would revolutionize our current concept of medical science. If someone had this in them, their body would perform ten times more efficiently. Athletes could become the perfection they dream of. Soldiers could become the soldier their country needs them to be. I didn’t know what the company we shipped the technology would do with it. If we did, I wouldn’t have anything to do with it. But, then again, there were rumors. There was this gossip that something big, something evolutionary was in the works.”

 

            “What company did you ship it to,” said Nava.

 

            “Sekume, but the name of the company won’t matter. It was a front for powerful wealthy men to pool their resources together without detection. But this is really just a rumor. It probably isn’t true. But there is a name, Aidan Agamat. My associates would refer to him a number of times.”

 

            “Agamat,” muttered Nava. “Sounds familiar.”

 

            “He’s a financial advisor for Jackson & Pearson,” said Vivian. She parted her lips, thinking about the difficulty it would be to pin a man with such reputation as the one responsible for the monster’s manifest.

 

            “So you shipped the technology to him,” said Nava, doubtful.

 

            “Yes,” said Levon. “I’m telling you. You should stop now and prevent a lot of unnecessary damage from happening. The more you look into this the more difficult it will be to do anything with it.”

 

            “Then we best keep this to ourselves,’ said Vivian, glancing at Nava. “Hopefully we won’t get pulled from the assignment.”

 

            Nava rose from his chair and left the room with Vivian following behind. She tugged on him. “Look, I know you’re worried about finishing this, but we’ll get something.”

 

            “Trust me. I want nothing more than to bring the asshole responsible for this to justice, but we can’t do it without doubling our efforts,” said Nava, rubbing his face with his hands.

 

            “I could see what I could get out from those connected with the cult,” said Vivian. “It’s worth looking into.”

 

            “Sure,” said Nava, narrowing his gaze. “Just don’t let your guard down and take someone with you just to be safe. I wouldn’t walk those alleys alone, not again anyway. You should take Darren with you.”

 

            “What makes you think you’re going to be doing shit alone,” said Vivian.

 

            “Don’t worry about me. I’m just gonna ask him a few questions,” said Nava.

 

            “But what about the gunman,” asked Vivian, placing her hands on her hips. “You think you’re going to face him alone? We should hit the streets together, double our efforts that way.”

 

            “I’ll be expecting him, so I already have the advantage,” said Nava, trying his best to sound convincing. “Besides, he’s a pathetic shot.”

 

            “Stubborn ass,” said Vivian, shuffling her feet.

 

**

 

            Torches set ablaze crackled hungrily in their iron fixtures, fighting the suffocating darkness with orange hues that dominated in areas of interest, leaving the corners and various portions to disappear into the darkness. A cage held high above the ground by a chain that extended up into the shadows rocked to the weight of their brave hostage. With water-rimmed eyes, Abigail sat against the bars of her tiny cage with arms wrapped around her folded legs. She feared their intent, knowing that they would surely kill her and not with a kind hand. No, her captures would treat her like all their other victims, but because of history, they would increase the glorification of her sacrifice. Horrid thoughts plagued her mind, saturating it with a heavy mess. During the intense moments, when tears of dread trailed down her cheeks, she fixated her view at her only salvation. The Bleeder, like some forgotten relic, looked weathered, battered and broken. His body, the fractured, blood stained remains of it, was stretched out between overhanging boards that housed a number of cords that snaked one another into a pit of mechanisms below.

 

            The chamber was underground, that Abigail was certain, but the exact location she wasn’t sure of. The smell of rot penetrated the earthy, musky scent of water stained bricks and mortar, dried oak, and dust. Without much to do, all she did was set her eyes onto her once giant undefeatable guardian, trying to see beyond the shattered wielding mask that covered a ruined, mutilated face.

 

            Three men dressed in all black entered from the side door, pacing towards the machines. Malkovak followed them. With a hand on his chin, he seemed favorable to the progress, but weary of the amount of time it would take to test it.

 

            “Finding the parts was hard,” said the taller assistant. “But you were correct with the leads.”

 

            “Of course, it is a rarity for our seers to mislead us,” said Malkovak, voice steady and even. “Besides, the branding on the equipment inside him could only mean one thing. How is he responding?”

 

            “His vitals are, well, not much of anything,” said the shorter assistant.

 

            “You can’t measure something like him, he’s a creation of our Lord,” said the taller one. “We just finished patching him up.”

 

            “You hear that,” said Malkovak, glancing over his shoulder at Abigail. “It sounds like it is time to feed our messiah.”

 

            The assistant pressed a few buttons and turned a few dials and blood gushed through the cords, feeding into the Bleeder’s corpse. Thin streams poured out from the patchwork, but overall the carcass contained the fluid long enough for it to absorb the needed nutrients. After a slight groan, the Bleeder clinched his right fist with bleeding fingertips.

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Therapy of the Dead Chapter 3

The door closed behind him and locked instantly. Cosmetically, the room felt alien from the previous, a boring drywall surface replaced the glamorous wood, a partially stained cement floor replaced the fine wood and luxurious carpet, and fluorescent lights replaced the royal illumination for a sight impairing, flickering, ghostly aura. It was a shadow, an unwelcoming cousin, of the hotel lobby, hallways, and library. Even the scent was a rapid change, a staggering essence of filth and unwashed rooms.
He checked the handle of the door again, to make sure that his stay was demanded of him and it was of no use. The handle wasn’t giving into his forceful attempt. Cautiously, Patrick proceeded down the narrow hallway until he came to a crossway that seemed to bear the same results either direction. He took a moment to pause, as he checked the contents of the folder for any additional information. There weren’t any photos of this area that could have been used as a warning, but there was a post-it note on the back of the eagle photo reading, “The hallway is not of importance until you find number six.”
            Glancing up from the folder and with no idea of what to look for, Patrick scanned the area for a reference of what a number six could mean. There were fire exit signs, a broken elevator with a busted door, knocked over mop buckets, and a stained that looked a little too much like blood, none of which looked recent. He walked on with an eagerness to find an answer to the puzzle. There were markings on the nearby wall, a black panel with a faded set of numbers and text reading, “Rooms 1-6.” He took another glance at the aged blood colored stain and proceeded with a nervous footing. It was in his mind that he knew he didn’t want any more of this job, that the tasks he was to complete were not just a waste of time, but a weight on his safety and sanity.
            He stood before a crusty, paint faded, weathered wooden door that had the number six on the floor and a marker of where it would have been. The knob was nasty, with a layer of filth and metallic decay; it was something of a health hazard, a possible source of contagion. Patrick was disgusted and hesitated for a brief moment and sighed, heavily, “This is something not for me. What am I doing here?”
            “You’re the new guy right,” was heard from behind. It was a male, tall, pale and with very long blond hair. His stance, attitude, and gear were something out of a metal rock band from the 80’s. He stood staring at Patrick through dark broad aviator glasses, while smoking a cigarette. The scent of smoke was of a sudden realization; the man must have come from the opposite room without detection.
            “Uh, yes, I am the new guy. You mind explaining a few things. I mean this is out of the ordinary by far,” Patrick replied.
            “Hey, there is a lot I can’t explain.”
“By the way my name is Patrick, Patrick Brody. You mean you don’t mind the weirdness. I just saw a puddle of blood down the hall, and after seeing what I have I’m worried.”
            “Yeah, those stains are there for a reason though, not anything I can’t handle. Hey, I would like to elaborate but you said it best, there is a lot of weirdness. I used to wonder if it was really real, but now I just take it as it is, a paycheck, and a pretty big one too.”
            “I wonder if that would be possible, right now I feel like I’m on a rollercoaster that I would like to stop. I’m sorry, what is your name?”
             “Oh, wait man. I can’t give you my name. Haven’t you read the rules, I purposely blanked out your name, it is cool, but we go by ID numbers here. I mean, you don’t want me to announce that a Patrick Brody works for a company that deals with ghosts and monsters do you? That would make us both look foolish. So here you go, my ID number is 738105. I’ve been here for a year now, so if anyone knows the ropes around here it would be me.”
            “You mind telling me what is going on here exactly, ghost and monsters. I understood spirits.”
            “Yeah, ghost and monsters. I didn’t believe it too, only sang about them, but they are totally real. Something kind of messed up is that they aren’t the things we expect. You have no idea what you will encounter, but hey watch out for the headless ones. They are tough; it takes two magazines of an automatic to kill them. Hey, I know you don’t believe it but just go through that door and the next five or six after and you will see for yourself.”
            “Why so many doors?”
            “You think this place wants us here, okay look I spent too much time here already, it’s Saturday and I got a gig, catch you later,” said the rock star as he walked away.
            “Wait, what if I need your help,” Patrick quickly replied.
            “Consult your manual, it has all the information you need to do your job, see ya.”
            Patrick allowed the breath to pass through his mouth. The odd individual left too fast for him to even consider catching up, leaving him with the door and the mystery that was waiting to be revealed. He used the sleeve of his coat to turn the knob, destroying the fine material. The knob was stubborn, resisting what would normally do the trick, as it had obviously not been used in quite sometime. Flakes of rust feathered towards the water stained cement, while the bulk of it scrubbed off onto the fabric of his sleeve, but the effort was worth it.
            The door cracked open, exposing a typical hotel room. An empty room with a fallacy of decoration in a sad attempt to distract from the boring wallpaper, a spread of ruined carpet from wall-to-wall. A bed was placed at the wall and extended into the middle, while two end tables rested on either side. The style of the tables was laughable; it was a weak attempt at something Victorian with a false implication of elegance, a charm that would only work on those who had never seen true elegance. On top of the tables were glass lamps, blaring, fighting the darkness, and leaving only a faint shadow at the farthest corners.
            Patrick stepped into the room and noticed the lights. It was a curious find. He checked the table to see if there was any indication of a previous client.  There was only a small Bible, cute in size but traditional in image. There was some uneasiness in the sheets, along with an impression on the pillow, giving him reason to check behind. He eyed the dark corner with suspicion, but without any eagerness to investigate further. Instead his eye found another door opposite from the first, while glaring at the shadow he crept toward the door.
            “There are things you shouldn’t see, unless your mind is free,” came a whisper from the corner.
            Brody gave no response, as there was uncertainty, instead he continued towards the door with an outstretched arm. The knob was in better condition that the previous, but the same couldn’t be said about the door, there was an engraving of a fist telling of a time of intense aggression.
            “You’re one of those Shade guys, passing through like you have entitlement. You can just rot! You save nothing as there are more than what can be saved,” said the shadow. The white of his face peaked into the dim light. The white of his eyes shone through, exposing the full amount of fear he held for this belief. It was an image that was hard to fight, like staring into the eyes of a victim of an utmost fearsome ploy, invoking questions, but the desire to be saved was seemingly not there. Patrick took a deep breath and allowed his wired nerves to ease, “You live here?”
            “It was only to be a temporary stay. It wasn’t supposed to be permanent but that changed. That changed so rapidly, didn’t it old friend,” he said while clinching tightly to a glass pipe. A flare of light flashed from his other hand and Patrick quickly snapped back into his role, knocking the devices from the starved man. The frail fiend stared with sunken, dreadful eyes; the mouth was cavity-infested giving Patrick a better understanding of the degree of the addiction. It was a sad sight, but a touch of a feeling that the experienced psychologist remembered.
            “You don’t need it. You never did and still don’t. You have a family or any friends?”
“Family, they shunned me. They will do the same for you. What you see past that door will create for you the same fate.”
“Okay, I understand that you have an outlook on this that places the obstacles behind the door at fault. You have seen some horrific things, you must have, but you know that there have been others that managed to deal with it, cope.” Patrick placed too much emphasis on the last word that it triggered an angered response; something only an amateur in his profession would do. He regretted giving air to the cut and dry solution, but it was done, and all he could do was either sulk or let it go. Patrick found himself somewhere in between. It is never a good idea to diagnose your own psychosis, but Patrick was stubborn, materialistic, and obsessive of the image he projected and fully believed that he was capable of relieving himself from these depressive moments.
“Cope, you cannot cope with what labels you insane,” said the crack fiend. Like a splash of water to the face, the words were projected with such dire tone that it brought Patrick out of his self-obsessing.
The addict continued, “How do you explain a walking corpse, how do you explain a room that breathes, a floor that bleeds, things that no one should ever see. The sad thing is that it isn’t a movie, it is real and you can’t speak of it, you can’t live with it as you will forever have the fear.”
“You can still cope, the same way a victim of rape manages to. They fear, not of what you fear, but they fear the past and horrifying revelation that it could happen again, along with the emotional tear that it leaves behind,” Patrick said.
“A rape victim? I’m not a rape victim! Why the hell are you trying to make sense out of this? There is no making sense out of what is there.”
“I was comparing the ability to cope, it takes ambition and willingness to not allow the past to haunt, to not allow the images to torture you. You are in control of how much you’re affected by it, and getting high isn’t going to ease that, it will only make it worse. Why don’t you leave this place, step outside and check into rehab, you can get this under control.”
The man squirmed in his corner, “You make it sound so easy. You make it seem like it is just as simple as making a decision, but I can’t leave. Leaving is what will place me into a ward, and I am not insane.”
“You are not insane and I believe you, I have seen some bizarre things along my journey here, and all of them I will never speak of either, because I am aware of what little audience there is for it. I know, just as you know. Why punish us for it? Why allow them to win, if anything know the truth and learn to live comfortably with it. I mean its better to live and try than to die and fail, right?”
The hateful glare dissolved into something passive, almost agreeable. He rose from the pocket of darkness and exposed his ragged form; the drug had taken a lot from the man, rendering him into skin and bones. It might be too late for a full recovery, but Patrick would do everything he could. Helping people was what he loved to do, and from the warm feeling it brought a better sight on his ability. It was challenging, but that is what allowed him to be so passionate about it, as there was something significant at stake. A faint smile formed across the man’s mouth; unfortunately it exposed more of oral destruction.
“Now, I have to go in through that door, but I expect you to take me up on this okay. You know better than I whether or not I will come back, but I’m not afraid, not as much as I used to be. I want you to make an attempt okay. Here take this card; it has my number plus a number of a very good and very respectable rehab clinic. Call me ASAP, you got that.”
“Thanks, I’ll do it. What you said was right, but its hard, you will see, it will be very difficult and I really wonder… sometimes on how I can change it.”
“You can start by making that phone call, here is some change for a payphone, if you can find one these days,” the man took the change, plus the extra wad of cash into his boney hands before nervously stepping out the door. There was a moment of gratitude, but Patrick was modest and willing to do what was needed to get the man much needed help. He checked the hall to see that the frail figure wasn’t faking. The warm sensation of good washed over him in a series of awesome waves, but soon was replaced by the previous surge of unease. He was alone in a place that was a fierce enemy of sanity, and with only a vague warning to go off of. With a subtle but constant pulse of doubt, he went for the door.
This one was easier, minus the unnoticed lock, which gave a fight to come loose. There was another room, much like the previous but empty of any people or decorations. The bed was the same color as the previous; the carpet was the same texture and the end tables where identical. There was another door on the opposite wall. Patrick took a moment to clarify that it was a different room before proceeding towards the next door. His shaking hands cupped a knob that was in better condition than the previous, but was attached to a weathered door that has seen better days.
The door exposed another duplication of the previous room, minus some details. This time was there were no sheets on the bed; only a comforter with a large dark red stain. Patrick studied the sight and noticed that the blanket was nowhere in the room and that the blood was a recent addition. The light was too dim to analyze as there was only one lamp and dimmer than the previous. Relocating the lamp so that it shone on the mattress, there was a sudden air bubble in the gore. A slight gush of red flowed onto the material leaving Patrick with a spineless reaction. He cowardly moved away and prepped himself with a sense of comfort.
“I’m not seeing that,” he whispered. He felt his flesh chilling. A tingly feeling traveled through his spine, causing his nervous system to shiver as if it was freezing. His body convulsed, while he stared at the gruesome oddity with his back plastered to the wall. He couldn’t help but to whisper, “There is nothing strange, nothing to fear; I’m only on a mission to talk to… ghosts.”
He bolted towards another door to find an empty room, very similar to the previous cosmetically, but without the slightest indication of human presence. The carpet had to have been laid out in the past decades, as its color had faded into a dull grey. However, the stains of various body fluids and drinks were gone. There was another door and it looked a lot like the very first with a number six on it and a crusty knob. Patrick walked to it with wonder, but the door was treated as a safe zone, he predicted it was going to be there and that it would possibly send him to another similar place. He focused his attention on the foul knob and it opened with surprising ease. The door cracked open as soon as the knob was released, slowly pivoting on the hinges. There was an empty hallway, blanketed by blackness, riddled with rot, and damaged by time and neglect, along with an infestation of spider webs; the distance it traveled was hard to tell. The light from the pathetic electronic screen of his cell phone was his only guide, throwing a wave of dim pale light upon the nearest objects. Patrick stepped through the doorway, proceeding further, and his only known comfort locked behind him.
Patrick gulped but continued without the desire of checking the door to see if it was just a clever trick brought on by the crack head. The intent was there but the surrounding nothingness disoriented his direction, further killing any desire to push deeper, but he couldn’t just stay where he was. He used his hand to feel for a wall, reaching across the unknown, a wet substance made contact with his fingertips. Jerking his hand back the dim light revealed that it wasn’t blood, but some sort of clear liquid. He continued to guide himself along the wall, which served as an anchor to his safety. He tapped on the wall like a blind man trying to find his way; he tapped into a mess of filth; spider webs, pockets of cool air which turned out to be craters along the wall, something hairy and moving, and the occasional lantern. The latter find was a symbol of possible clarity, but age had rendered the once useful device into an icon of satire. He cleaned off the dust and the cobwebs to find nothing working on the wall mounted antique. The next two lanterns were the same way, scorning the belief of anything working in this abyss. The fourth one was in better shape; the surface of the bronze creation was not as dusty and aged, revealing signs of recent use. There was actually an indication of it being pretty modern as it had a series of electronic buttons. Nothing amazing as it was just a simple button, but a definite change in cosmetic and acute design in comparison with the others.
            A slight push on the tiny button washed the hallway with waves of bright light, strong enough to fight the shadows of the farthest end of the long, never ending hallway. A wave of cockroaches moved along the wall, taking shelter in the various holes and craters, the rats were a little braver and waited for his presence to run scared. The spiders were plump in size from all of the insects, and looked capable of moving up on the food chain possibly feeding on much bigger game. Patrick walked cautiously, avoiding anything that looked remotely harmful, while trying to ignore the scent of dust and rotten wood.
            At the end of the hall was a door, cracked just a little at the hinge to reveal what the curious eye was willing to see. The light from the very distant lamp had dissolved into a faint shadow, hiding his presence from the things that he observed. The sight was of a kitchen area lit by a strong pale light, the counters were covered with garbage and unwashed plates, along with body parts and blood, which dripped from the island. On the island piece was a being of pure unbelief, rolls after rolls of fat constructed the body; stubby, bloated, and infected legs were poised in the air. The skin was pale; revealing the constricted veins that spanned across the grotesque form. There was another that squatted in between the legs, shifting fold after fold, searching for a sweet spot to fest from; but it had no head, neither did the other. An indication of where a head used to be was all that was there, a bloated neck with a set of teeth that constantly throbbed as if breathing.
            The sickening, pseudo sexual action went horribly wrong when the neck of the squatted thing expanded, parting into folds like that of a man eating plant. Without sparing a second, the damnable creature began shredding through the fat, all the while aiming for a certain pleasure. Blood sprayed along the walls like that of a frantic water hose; chunks of fat and gunk were devoured. The poised victim screamed, without a mouth, it screamed a horrid stomach flipping sound, while the other consumed it as if it had starved for years. Patrick couldn’t believe his eyes; he stumbled against the wall, making a sound that was sure to trigger a reaction. He didn’t care to glance back. He didn’t want to look at it while in motion, as the mere idea of something that large moving was gross. He bolted down the hallway, not caring for the occasional web, not thinking about the startled collection of rats, he ran for his life towards door. His hand on the door, he gave one peak and saw only a blur of shadow, he didn’t wait for it to become clear. He opened and for a moment doubted his safety, and he stumbled onto the floor.
            The floor was cold and damp, not like the carpet he previously had known to be there. His mind was disoriented, it was possible that he passed out but he somehow managed to stay alive. His hand moved to feel along the floor only to cup a handful of something wet and gritty. His scared eyes instantly opened to find that he was in a field of grass. It was a front yard of some sort, with a large house of decay. The front door was closed, sealing him away from the encounter with only the protection as strong as wood. The brick exterior of the house was the victim of a strong over growth of vines, while the color had faded into a dull mix of brown. The wooden shutters had collapsed and the windows boarded up hiding the horror that was within the decrepit walls. 
            Patrick brushed off his clothes and turned to see his car parked in the driveway. It was curious, but a relief as he didn’t want to stay here any longer, though he had little idea of where he was. He opened the car door and stepped into his ride, instantly checking the backseat for any unknown intruder. He was skeptical of his own surroundings. He pinched himself to make sure he could feel pain and though it was clear through pain he wasn’t dreaming, there was something that needed clarification. He needed to know if what he saw was real, but not now. Fear detoured him from instantly opening that front door. He sat thinking about the crack head, about what he said; it made no sense for a wooden door to shield him from what chased him. He grew tired of waiting in indecision, hoping that his fear would subside, and with a spike of encouragement he went for the door to find a solid wall behind it. Cold to the touch, the surface was real but behind it there was a faint thud, evidence that there was reality in what happened. For a moment he shared thought with the crack head, it was maddening to even believe it, but the facts were constantly presenting themselves, rudely awakening his known-to-be true biases.
            Patrick retreated to his car and backed out of the driveway and used the GPS navigation system to help find his way back to a known highway. The house was in a forgotten pocket of land along 514, a street that after many needless lights would take him to Fifth Avenue. He followed with his own known directions without any sudden surprises, which he was expecting. He shared the idea that he did fear more than ever now, as he didn’t know what to fear. He couldn’t allow his own eyes to be a ground of sanity, as apparently things could change instantly, and it was something he couldn’t find a reason for. There was truth and an obvious purpose but it was so hell bent and way too backwards to even attempt with a clear mind. He didn’t doubt his ability, as he was sure he could do it, but it was the job itself, the overall effect it would eventually have on him. He dreaded the very thought of continuing.

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Coffee in the Morning by Russ Bickerstaff

She sat there with her hands around a cup of coffee looking out the window at passing traffic. Tomack Alto tried not to stare, but she was a total stranger sitting there in his kitchen in the early morning and she had come to his door speaking something to him that he had never expected to hear. She had told him about the blood coating the temple by the volcano. So naturally he had to let her in. He really didn’t have much of a choice. To close the door on her would have been closing the door on a part of himself.
Her eyes peered out the window at passing traffic. Nothing could have been more mundane than this total stranger sitting there taking a sip of coffee. Tomack found a second mug and filled it for himself. He had just gotten back from dropping his kids off at school and wasn’t due in to work until later on in the day. This was his point in the day to relax a little bit before the stresses of the day lurched into view. He was used to enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning by himself. This was a bit out of the ordinary for him.
“So,” Tomack said, “run this by me one more time.”
“What do you want me to say?” She asked slowly.
“We can start with what you told me when I answered the door.” He said.
“Okay,” she sighed. “The only blood covering the temple in the shadow of the volcano will be your own.” She had a soft, girlish voice which made the words all the more strange. She spoke the words like a child who had memorized lines for a performance in some grade school auditorium. Then she took another sip of coffee as a dump truck drove by outside the kitchen window.
“Right,” Tomack said stifling a shiver that had run up and down his back. “And how is it you know about that?”
“About what?” Her voice almost seemed a little tired in response. Tomack tried to search her eyes, but the woman seemed determined to gaze out the window.
“How is it that you know about the temple in the shadow of the volcano that has to be painted with blood? I’ve known about it my whole life, but I’d never heard about it from anyone else before.”
“Me too.” She glanced at him and nodded absently.  “I mean,” she said with a sigh, “I’ve known about this thing my whole life too. Never read about it anywhere. Never heard about it from anywhere else. I just know there’s this temple in the shadow of this volcano. I know that if my blood covers the walls of that temple, the world will come to an end.”
“Wow,” Tomack gasped. “That’s exactly it. It’s what I’ve known my entire life. Only I’ve never known where this temple was or anything like that. But it’s something I know to be absolutely true. It’s like gravity always doing the same thing or the sun always rising in the morning. Black will always be black. White will always be white. And there will always be this temple unless my blood coats its walls.”
“Right,” she said, “and then the world comes to an end if that ever happens.”
“Which is totally crazy.”
“Right,” she said. “But that doesn’t make it any less true.”
“Exactly,” he agreed.
“But there’s more to it than that,” she said. “You and I both know there’s more to it than that, right?”
“Yeah,” he said gazing out the window as an old man strolled by outside with a dog on a leash. “That’s as surreal as everything else.”
“I guess when I moved into the neighborhood and saw you for the first time I knew you were the other one who knew about it.” Tomack looked at her and saw her as she spoke. And maybe he was looking at her for the first time and even though he had never seen her before, he knew. He knew she was who she was as well as he knew that black was black, white was white and there was a temple in the shadow of a volcano. He knew that the only person who could kill him and paint the walls of that distant temple with his blood was her. She clearly knew that same thing about him.
“Right,” he said. “I’m not interested in killing you or anything.”
“Right,” she said matter-of-factly. “I don’t even know where that temple is.”
“Exactly,” he said. “I’d tried to track it down online, but there’s no evidence a place like that even exists.”
“I know,” she said. “I’d looked into it to. Couldn’t find anything.” She took another long sip of coffee.
“The thing is…” he said, his voice trailing off into the ether as he cautiously gazed into his cup. “If you did know where it was and you could take us there right now through some sort of magic or whatever, you wouldn’t tell me about it.”
“Right,” she said reluctantly. “I am the villain in this whole thing. I’m the antagonist and the nemesis. I don’t even know why, y’know?”
“Right,” he said. “And I don’t know why I’m supposed to be the hero or anything like that. It’s just . . . fate or something.”
“Right,” she said. Here eyes glanced away into the sky as she thought about that distant space. The acrid smoke coming out of the volcano. Right now there was a woman pushing a stroller on the sidewalk outside the kitchen, Within the hour she would feel his skull crush in her bare hands as blood gushed out of Tomack’s body that would paint prisitne whit marble walls of a temple at the end of the world. By lucnh time it would all come crashing down. Gravity would shake loose from every other dimension as planets and galaxies would spiral out of control into an uncaring abyss of nothingness. Infinity itself would be at an end right around 3:00 p.m.

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Shut In by Jill Hand

The first time it happened I was eating a Western omelette at a diner on Route 1, thinking about nothing in particular.  All of a sudden, my heart started to pound like a jackhammer and I broke into a sweat.  The funky, sixties-style hanging lamps over the counter suddenly seemed too bright and the music playing softly in the background (I remember it was “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M.) sounded off-kilter somehow, like music you’d hear in a carnival funhouse, one where the carnies might knife you in the kidney and steal your wallet.
I thought I was having a heart attack.  Then my stomach gave a lurch and I ran into the men’s room, barely making it into one of the stalls before I heaved the omelette and the chocolate milkshake I’d been drinking into the toilet in a spectacular splashing cascade of vomit.   Then I sank down on the sticky floor and put my hands over my eyes, willing the panicky feeling to go away.  It eventually did, after what felt like ten years but was probably less than ten minutes. I wiped off the toilet seat with a wad of toilet paper, flushed once and then again when all the chunks of eggs and green pepper and ham failed to go down.  Then I stood up on shaky legs and splashed cold water on my face.  My reflection in the mirror looked five years older than it had that morning.  My eyes were haunted and my skin was sickly pale under my tan.  I looked like my dad used to after a round of chemo for the lung cancer that eventually killed him.
That was my first panic attack.  Fun times, as the kids say.
I never knew when the panicky feeling would strike, that was the hell of it.  I might be fine for days, weeks even, and then I’d be shopping for groceries or putting air in my tires, when out of nowhere I’d get hit with an ice-cold blast of pure fear.  It got so I stopped going out, except when I had no other choice.  I had my groceries and my booze delivered.  I had cable TV for entertainment, as well as the lovely Destinee, who made house calls and who described herself on her website as a therapeutic masseuse.  I paid my bills online and managed to get the garbage out to the curb twice a week by concentrating on counting the steps to the curb and back.
Despite all my maneuvering I still had to go out sometimes.  I wished I could work from home, like some of the people did whom I met online in a chatroom for agoraphobics, but I couldn’t.  My job wouldn’t allow it.  It seemed a shame, what with Disabilities Act being the law of the land, that my boss couldn’t make accommodations for my very real disability and set it up so I could work from home, but he couldn’t.
That’s perfectly understandable, given that my boss is a loan shark and I’m the guy who whacks people who fail to pay up.  My boss, James Xavier O’Malley is a big, sentimental bear of an Irishman, a real sweetheart of a guy, unless you fail to pay the vig and then Jimmy isn’t so sweet anymore.  He’d probably want to help me out if he knew about my condition, which he doesn’t, but what could he do?  It’s not like he could tell some deadbeat to go over to my house, ring the bell and get whacked where I feel comfortable.  No, I have to go where the deadbeats are and that means leaving my house.  I hate to leave my house.  It’s the only place where I feel safe.
That brings me to three days ago.  I was getting out of the shower around 6 p.m. when my cell phone rang.  It was Jimmy with a job for me.  He stated off by asking how I was feeling.  I said I was feeling good, which was true.  I was relaxed and happy, all aglow with post-coital endorphins.  Destinee had left twenty minutes earlier, after kissing me on the lips and gathering up her massage oils and the other tools of her trade.  She maintained that the fact that she always kissed me on the lips before leaving proved she wasn’t a prostitute, because prostitutes don’t kiss their clients on the lips. Destinee is definitely a prostitute, but I figured whatever floated her boat.  If it made her feel better to pretend she was a massage therapist, so be it. 
“I’m sorry to call at the last minute, but it has to be done tonight,” Jimmy said.
I told him it was no problem.  Who would be getting the delivery?  (We spoke in code on the phone, in case the boys in blue or the feebies might be listening in.) 
“It’s a dude called – you’re gonna love this – Rumalong the Enchanter.”
“You’re shitting me,” I said.
“I shit you not,” Jimmy replied, sounding happy as all get out.  “He’s one of those geeky RPG nerds.  He plays some stupid game online where grown men pretend to be wizards and go on quests and cast spells and slay dragons and shit.  They probably all live in their mothers’ basements and never got laid in their entire lives they’re such losers.”
I asked why Rumalong the Enchanter would be getting a delivery.
“Some other nerd who plays the same game is pissed at him, so he gave our friend in Newark ten pizzas to make sure he gets a special delivery,” Jimmy said.Translated into English, that meant somebody had paid DeShawn Harvey, head honcho of a dope-slinging and murder-for-hire crew out of Newark’s Central Ward called the Sick Slick Sixes (I dare you to say that ten times fast) ten thousand dollars to agree to grease a pretend wizard.
Jimmy said Rumalong the Enchanter, aka Raymond Aldrich, owned a comic book store in East Orange.  I was to make the delivery there at 8 p.m., right before he closed for the night.  I’d be getting eight pizzas up front with Jimmy keeping the other two for putting me onto the job.  When it was done there’d be fifteen more pizzas in it for me.  That was a lot of pizzas.  Somebody must want this Rumalong character dead really badly.
“Sounds good,” I said.  “You know how much I like pizza, but how come one of our friend’s guys isn’t making the delivery?”
That was because they’d refused to do it, Jimmy said, having gotten the idea somehow that Rumalong was a real wizard and being afraid he’d put a curse on them.  “You know how blacks are, they’re superstitious as hell,” he said, laughing scornfully at the foolishness of our darker brethren.  “They believe in voodoo and curses and all kinds of idiotic shit.  Their loss is your gain, am I right?”
I agreed he was right.  I didn’t point out that Jimmy had a habit of tossing spilled salt over his left shoulder in order to blind any devils who might be lurking behind him, and how he swore he once saw the ghost of Dutch Schultz sitting all by his lonesome in a booth at the old Palace Chop House in downtown Newark, where he’d been gunned down back in 1935.
I got dressed, took my gun out of the wall safe where I keep it, and gathered up some zip ties in case I had to restrain anybody who might be in the comic book store along with Rumalong.  Be prepared, that’s my motto.  Then I went online and checked my bank account, the one that’s not located in the U.S.  Yes, the eight grand was in there.  Satisfied on that score, I set off for East Orange.
I drove my Lexus up the Parkway, listening to a call-in sports radio show.  Most of the callers sounded like the kind of socially awkward nerds who probably spent much of their time in front of a computer, pretending to be wizards and virtually boinking warrior chicks.  I was feeling fine.  I was feeling relaxed, just another guy on his way to work, bringing home the bacon in order to keep a roof over my head and put food on the table.
You’re probably thinking that I’m some kind of a monster, seeing as I get paid to kill people.  That’s where you’re wrong.  I’m just a guy doing a job, one that if I didn’t do it, someone else would.  Besides, everybody dies sooner or later.  More often than not it’s prolonged and painful.  Few of us will are fortunate enough to wink out in our sleep at age ninety-eight, ensconced in a king-sized bed in a Park Avenue penthouse, snuggled up next to a Brazilian swimsuit model.
For the unfortunate majority, death will steal your dignity long before it steals your life.  I watched my dad die of cancer so I know whereof I speak.  At the end he was whittled down to yellow skin stretched over knobby bones, his eyes staring out of their sockets like frightened little animals cowering in a cave.  He used to sob like a child when the pain got so bad that morphine no longer kept it at bay. 
Dad had been a longshoreman, a big, tough, broad-shouldered guy who was always laughing and kidding around until the cancer hit him hard.  When we put him in the ground he weighed seventy pounds.  The funeral director recommended that the casket be kept closed.
That’s the reality of death.  It’s not like in the movies where somebody gets sick, makes a tear-jerking speech and then twitches a couple of times and lies still.  Death can be one mean son of a bitch who’ll slowly grind you up before he kills you.  The kind of death that I deliver is swift and almost painless.  Given the choice, wouldn’t you rather get one behind the ear from someone like me instead of spending your last days in a nursing home, wearing urine-soaked Depends?
Distant Galaxy Comics and Collectibles, Rumalong’s place of business, was in a not-so-great part of town, sandwiched between a dry cleaner and a vacant storefront that used to house something called Beauty Lady Nails.  I drove past and saw the lights were on inside.  A fat white guy with an unfortunate neck beard – presumably Rumalong — was behind the counter.  He appeared to be the only one in there.  So far so good.
I parked around the corner and got out, humming “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”  This should be a piece of cake.  I’d punch Rumalong’s ticket, empty the cash register to make it look like a robbery and head back south.  I might make it home in time to catch some of the Knicks game.
When I opened the door to Distant Galaxy, I was greeted with the opening strains of the theme song from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the one that goes daaah-daaah-daaah-DAH-DAH!  The guy behind the counter looked up.  He had full-sleeve tattoos of skulls and lightning bolts and dragons done in a swirly, Asian-looking style that he probably imagined marked him out to be one seriously hip dude.  In reality he just looked like every other loser who collects comic books.
“Hi,” I said.  “How ya doin’?”
The guy smiled and said he was doing fine.  He came out from behind the counter and asked if I was looking for anything in particular.  I said I was looking for something for my nephew, Bobby.
“He got an A on his spelling test, so I thought I’d get him a comic book or something as a reward.”
I really do have a nephew named Bobby, but he’s twenty-nine years old and lives in Arizona with his girlfriend and her three kids.  I doubt he ever passed a spelling test, let alone got an A on one.
I was pretty sure that the nerd standing before me was Rumalong, but pretty sure won’t cut it in my business.  What if this was just some employee and Rumalong was home watching porn and stuffing his face with Hot Pockets?  I had to be absolutely certain that this was the right guy.
I stuck out my hand.  “I’m Mike Mitchell,” I said.  That’s not my name; it’s not even close.  The guy took my hand and pumped it twice.  His fingers were soft and pudgy and his palm was sweaty.  “Ray Aldrich, pleased to meet you.”
Bingo! It was Rumalong all right.  I was getting ready to move him toward the back of the store, out of sight of anyone passing by on the street, by expressing an interest in something back there, possibly the light sabre that was displayed on a shelf, or the lucha libre Mexican wrestling mask on a wig stand that was sitting beside it.  Instead he gave me a funny look.
“I know who you are,” he hissed, drawing back and glaring at me in a manner that can best be described as baleful.  “I discerned it when our hands made contact.  You are the bringer of death!  Cedric of Arnor sent you, didn’t he?”
“Whoa! Chill out!” I said, holding up my hands.  “I don’t know anybody named Cedric, and I’m not the bringer of death, whatever that means.  I sell cars.”
I gave him my best reassuring smile.  “Honestly, I sell pre-owned vehicles.  I can get you a great deal on a Mazda 6 sport automatic.  It just came in today, clean as a whistle, two years old and only fourteen thousand miles on it.  We’ve got a great financing package available to qualified buyers.  Whaddya say?  Are you interested?”
“Noooo!” he howled.  He took off toward a door in the back that had a sign on it that read PRIVATE. EMPLOYEES ONLY. I ran after him.  I couldn’t let him get to a phone to call the cops (the po-po, as the members of the Sick Slick Sixes would say.)  I didn’t want him to get to a gun, either, assuming he had one back there.  That would be bad.
I ran down an aisle filled with all kinds of crap that I couldn’t believe people paid good money for: little plastic figures of superheroes, comic books lovingly packaged in clear plastic envelopes.  There were pulp magazines from the forties and fifties, too, the lurid artwork on the covers depicting scantily clad, big-busted women being menaced by bug-eyed monsters, and muscular G.I. Joes gleefully bayonetting simian-faced Japanese soldiers.
Rumalong threw open the door to the back room and slammed it in my face.  I was about to ram it with my shoulder and break it open when something made me try the doorknob.  To my surprise, it turned easily.  I threw the door open and jumped to one side, expecting to be met by what the long-dead hacks who wrote for the pulps would have called a hail of bullets, but nothing happened.
Cautiously, I peered around the door frame.  What I saw pulled me up short.  The pathetic jerk wasn’t holding a phone or a gun.  He was standing in a shabby little office with a wooden stick about eighteen inches long pointed at me: a magic wand!  I laughed in relief and pulled my gun from my waistband.
“What’s up, Harry Potter?  Are you going to cast a spell?”
“I am,” he replied, deadly serious.  “You may slay my mortal body but you will never escape my undying curse.”  He was obviously riding the crazy train.  That was fine with me.  At least he hadn’t called 911.
He leveled the wand at me and began reciting a string of what sounded like gibberish.  I sighed.  The poor guy wasn’t only riding the crazy train, he was driving it right off the rails.  Then I recognized some of the words he was intoning.
Long ago, I’d attended an all-boys Catholic prep school run by the Jesuits.  I’d taken four years of Latin from an old geezer named Father Bernard who looked like an Egyptian mummy.  Father Bernard was known for throwing chalk at the heads of boys who dozed off in class.  He had an accurate aim.  After one time of being clipped on the noggin by one of the good father’s chalk missiles, boys tended to stay alert in Latin class.
Rumalong was speaking Latin, or something close enough to Latin to be a kissing cousin.   Vereor.  That meant to be afraid of something.  And what else was he saying?  Something about a house, domus, a house that was no longer something.  Safe!  That was it!  A house that was no longer safe for the bringer of something… Mortem.  Oh, hold on! Rumalong was casting a spell that would make the bringer of death no longer feel safe in his own home, one that would percutio (Hit? Strike?) the bringer of death with something fear.  Unremitting?  Yes, that was it; the curse would strike the bringer of death with unremitting fear.
That’s when I shot him to make him shut up.
The bullet hit him in the forehead.  He looked surprised.  They always do.  Then I shot him again, in the chest this time, then once again for good measure.
I was rattled.  This hadn’t gone down at all like I’d planned.  I pulled on the gloves that I always carry with me when I’m on a job and retrieved the wand from where it had rolled under the beat-up wooden desk.  I half expected to get zapped when I touched it, crazy as that sounds, but nothing happened.  It was just a piece of wood.
I laid it on the desk beside a pile of unpaid bills.  The one on top was from the electric company and was stamped PAST DUE in red letters.  It looked like old Rumalong the Enchanter wasn’t a financial wizard.  The thought made me smile a little. I needed to get out of there fast.  I went up front and took the cash out of the register.  There wasn’t much: ninety-six dollars in bills and some coins.  I stuffed the bills in my pocket and left the coins where they were.  
I looked around for a security camera and didn’t see one.  I went over my movements since I’d entered the store.  I’d pushed open the front door with my elbow so I hadn’t left any prints there.  I hadn’t touched anything inside with my bare hands.  It looked like I was good to go.  I left out the back door, walking casually past a dumpster from which came rustling noises that might either be a stray cat or a wino foraging for something to eat.  I passed through the alley between the comic book store and the dry cleaner, encountering no one on my way to my car.  I got in and headed home.
The encounter with Rumalong had made me uneasy.  It would be one thing if he’d put a curse on me that was supposed to give me a brain tumor or make my dick fall off, but he hadn’t.  The curse he’d cast (the curse he believed he’d cast, because magic curses don’t exist, outside of fairytales, I sternly reminded myself) was one that was supposed to make me constantly afraid.  I wouldn’t even feel safe in my own home.  That was the only place where I’d never had a panic attack.  It was the only place where I always felt safe.
“Bullshit.  The guy was nuts,” I muttered.  “He probably memorized those words from some fake book of magic.”

That made me feel better.  I turned on the radio and sang along to an oldies station.  When Screamin’ Jay Hawkins came on, ominously moaning, “I Put a Spell on You,” I even laughed.  That’s how little I knew.
At home, I called Jimmy and told him the delivery had been made.  Then I got a beer out of the refrigerator and settled down in front of the TV.  The drapes were drawn against the night and I had a fire going in the gas fireplace.  Things were nice and cozy.  I was just about to go check and see if the Kung Pao chicken that had been delivered from the Chinese place a few days ago still looked edible.  If it passed the sniff test I was going to microwave it and make it my dinner. 
That’s when I started getting a funny feeling down in my guts. 
I once saw a show on TV about migraine headaches where migraine sufferers described their symptoms.  Some of them said their headaches started with something called an aura, in which they saw flashes of light or weird, shifting shapes.  One woman said she saw what looked like fluttering black fringe out of the corner of one eye.  Sometimes it went away after a few minutes and no headache followed.  Other times, the black fringe meant a skull-buster of a migraine was on the way.  I’ve never had one, but from what I’ve heard about them from people who have, migraines are real bastards.

The woman who experienced the black fringe auras had been a criminal defense attorney and she looked like a tough cookie.  Nonetheless she admitted that she sometimes broke down and wept when it happened, knowing she might soon be feeling like her skull was filled with razor blades and shards of broken glass.  For the next day or two, even dim light would hurt her eyes and any noise above a whisper would be intolerable.  That’s why she wept when she saw the fluttering black fringe: she knew what might be coming.
I didn’t cry when I felt the funny feeling in my guts – not then, anyway – but I felt scared.  That’s how my panic attacks always started, with a queasy, twisting feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if I were riding in an airplane that hit an air pocket and dropped a couple of hundred feet.  It might be nothing, I thought.  Maybe I just needed to eat something. 
The Kung Pao chicken passed the sniff test, but I no longer wanted it.  There wasn’t anything else in the fridge that I wanted, either. 
I felt restless, and the queasy feeling was getting worse.  I thought maybe I had to throw up, but when I leaned over the toilet bowl, nothing came up.  Nothing came out when I sat down on it, either.  I decided it was time to bring out the big guns.
I went back into the kitchen and got a piece of bread and ate that, so I wouldn’t be taking drugs on an empty stomach.  Then I got the Xanax bottle out of the medicine cabinet and shook two tablets into my hand.  There were three left.  I’d call the accommodating doctor who prescribed them for my “trouble sleeping” in the morning and get a refill.  The doc was so willing to take pen to prescription pad that he probably wouldn’t have batted an eye if I’d told him I wanted them for menstrual cramps.
I went into the living room, turned off the TV and the fireplace and grabbed my almost-finished beer.  After washing the pills down with the last few swallows, I poured myself two inches of Scotch and drank that. 
There, I thought, rinsing out the glass and putting it in the dish washer.  That should do it.  I’d lie down in bed and let the pills and the alcohol take effect.  A little anxiety was no match for central nervous system depressants.  Soon I’d drift off, wrapped in the loving arms of Morpheus.  When I woke up in the morning I’d be fine again.
But I couldn’t get comfortable.  The bed that had been perfectly comfortable that afternoon when Destinee and I took it for a spin now felt distinctly unwelcoming.  The sheets got all twisted as I tossed and turned.  No matter how much I plumped the pillows, they didn’t feel right.  Worse, the pills weren’t working.  Instead of feeling relaxed and sleepy I was feeling more and more apprehensive.
Shit! I thought.  Shit! Shit! Shit!
I got up and went into the kitchen without turning on the lights.  I felt safer in the dark.  I didn’t want to see the clock on the wall ticking away the seconds or the stainless-steel surfaces of my top-of-the-line appliances.  Those things suddenly seemed inimical to me, as did the black granite countertops and the cold, white tile floor on which I was sitting, my back against the wall and my knees drawn up to my chest.  None of the things in the kitchen were my friends.  It was better to be in the dark, where I couldn’t see them.
I’d felt this way once before, back in the eighties when, like a lot of people who had the wherewithal and the right friends (or the wrong friends, as the case may be) I used cocaine.
A woman I knew named Maxine got it for me.  She was a fashion photographer and a party animal who had access to Studio 54 and Area and all the other clubs that were frequented by what used to be called the Beautiful People.  Maxine had seemingly endless quantities of cocaine and I happily inhaled massive lines of it like the total pig I was in those days until one night something very bad happened.
Maxine and I had boogied the night away somewhere and I’d gone home feeling chipper.  I was feeling so chipper that I thought it would be a good idea before turning in for the night to have some more cocaine.  Bad mistake.  Apparently it’s possible to take so much cocaine that you give yourself a heart attack, or in my case, feel like you’re simultaneously having a heart attack and going crazy.
The next hours were terrible ones indeed.   At one point, I dropped to my knees and frantically gnawed on one of the living room windowsills while peering out at the dark street, terrified that something was coming to get me and feeling like I needed to chew on something or I’d eat my own tongue.  Going to the emergency room was not an option, despite the fact that my heart felt like it was about to burst out of my chest.  Even thinking about being in a brightly lighted space with people asking me questions was almost unbearable.  So I chomped on the windowsill like a giant, crazed beaver and thought about maniacs armed with axes and sawed-off shotguns until the sun rose and the terrified feeling gradually went away.
I never touched cocaine again after that.  But now I was experiencing that same amped-up, restless feeling that something horrible was about to happen.  This was far worse than any of my previous panic attacks.  Damn Rumalong for putting the idea into my head that I was cursed with fear!  Unremitting fear, he’d called it.  That meant it wouldn’t stop in an hour or so the way my previous panic attacks – even the worse ones – always did.  It meant the fear would never stop.  I hugged my knees tighter and closed my eyes.
The kitchen felt too big.  Something could be coming for me from out of the shadows.  I needed to find someplace small to hide until the fear passed.  My bedroom closet was a walk-in and was too big for my purposes.  All the other closets were full of stuff.  I didn’t have time to empty them out.  I needed to get somewhere safe right away.
Then I remembered the little closet under the stairs in the basement.  Whimpering and feeling my way in the dark, I made my way down there and shut myself in.
The little numbers on the illuminated face of my wristwatch tell me that three days have gone by since I killed Rumalong.  The fear hasn’t gone away.  If anything, it’s gotten worse.  
I’ve come around to thinking that the Sick Slick Sixes were correct in believing him to be a real wizard, bizarre as that may sound. 
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” I tell the cricket that’s clinging to the cement wall next to my head before I pop him into my mouth and eat him.
He’s a big one – camel crickets, they’re called.  My basement hidey hole is full of them.  He wriggles going down. When I started getting hungry I’d hoped they’d taste like the shrimp they resemble, with their big, staring eyes and waving antennae, but they don’t.  They don’t taste like chicken or popcorn, either.  They taste disgusting, but they’re all I have to eat in here, and urine is all I have to drink. 
“Some crummy restaurant this is,” I tell the cricket that has hopped onto my left shoe.  I eat him too.
I figure I have three options, none of them pleasant.  I can stay huddled up in here until I starve to death.  That’s the first option.  Option two is I force myself to open the door and go upstairs and get my phone from where I left it on the hall table.  Just the thought of opening the door fills me with horror.  Maybe I could do it, but what then?  Who would I call?  The police, asking them to send an ambulance because I killed a wizard who put a curse on me and I need to go to the psyc ward because I’m eating crickets and drinking my own pee?
Maybe I could call Jimmy, or Destinee, but what could they possibly do for me?
The third option lies in the safe in my bedroom: my gun.  One shot through the roof of my mouth would put an end to the fear, or would it?  There’s that other line from Hamlet, the one where the brooding Prince of Denmark talks about suicide, and how there may be dreams waiting on the other side of death, bad dreams.
I decide I’ll count to one thousand.  If the fear doesn’t recede by then, and if no better option presents itself, I’ll make a run for the safe.  I start counting. One…two…three…

The End

  

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The Accident on Mitchell Street by Jacob M Lambert

Heels scuffing the hardwood of the foyer, the couple dashed through the open door and out into the frosty October wind, the pungent scent of their deodorized bodies lingering behind them—lilies, aftershave, and musk all rolled into a single funk.

And Ellie Masterson, who’d seen this happen at least twice a day, simply pressed the clipboard to her chest, sighed, and let her almond brown hair drape over her face. She then left the kitchen (which was the farthest she’d made it with potential clients) and approached the front door, waiting on the next group.

“You’ve got about ten minutes, and then I’m—”

Before she could finish the sentence, two men—one wearing a fuzzy green sweater and the other a long trench coat—strolled up the sidewalk, holding hands. Ellie forced her best smile, one she hoped made her look more welcoming and less like a sixty-year-old, impatient ghoul. But with the dark eyeliner and rouge lipstick on her pale face (in addition to the knee-length substitute teacher dress adorned in bright flowers), she doubted the most sanguine display would make much difference.

There was the house, too.
And as if it knew her thoughts, the floor trembled beneath her feet, drawers flew open upstairs, chandelier lights flickered above—everything that drove the previous potentials from the kitchen and back to Watertown, or wherever they had come.    

Again, Ellie sighed.

“Excuse me, are you Ms. Masterson?”

The man in the trench coat extended his hand. He was handsome, she thought, with his tanned, pop-marked face and auburn goatee. A white scar stretched from his right cheek to his chin—but that only made the flesh of Ellie’s neck flush even more: she thought scars were sexy.

“I’m sorry. Yes—I’m Ms. Masterson, but please, call me Ellie.”

Smiling, the man said, “We called about the house. I’m Blake and this is my—”
“Tim,” the man in the green sweater interrupted. He casted an awkward, wide-eyed glance at Blake, then let his gaze fall back on Ellie. “We were hoping the house hadn’t sold yet. It hasn’t—has it?”

Momentarily feeling out of place, as if she were swaying drunk in a room full of addicts, Ellie dipped her chin and tightened her lips. “Actually no: we haven’t sold it yet.”

“Great,” Blake said, his smile widening. “Can we have a look?”

Ellie nodded and, stepping to the right, ushered the two into the foyer. She then—as always—remained silent, letting them formulate their own opinion before she interrupted. It was something she’d learned the hard way: too jovial, too insistent, too micromanaging was for the mannequins on QVC, not underpaid realtors. And while she watched Blake climb the stairs, where he stopped, pointing at something near the top, a familiar sound reverberated in her ears: the staccato thumping of her own heart.

“What was that?” Tim said, stopping midway between the hardwood and the stairs.

Here we go again, she thought, and for the third time (at least since the couple arrived) sighed. “I didn’t hear anything?”
“I never said I heard something,” Tim replied. “Is there someone here?”
Ellie walked toward them. In her peripheral, a rounded ceramic plate with child’s feet stamped in red paint swayed on the imitation wood paneling. Finally, she stopped a few feet shy of the bannister. “There is an extra aspect of the house I didn’t mention in the online advertisement. But I usually wait until—”

“You’re not going to tell me what I think you are, right?” Blake descended the steps backward, while keeping his eyes on Ellie. The flush came again, and she could smell the sweat fuming from her chest—a sickly scent that stood out over the dust, cologne, and mixtures of various undefinable stenches creeping through the house.

Pursing her lips, Ellie nodded.

“Wonderful!” Tim shouted, the disgust in his voice striking Ellie like an invisible cannon ball to the stomach. “I knew there was something off about this place. The outside looks like a Victorian mansion—and the inside…it’s beautiful. But eighty-thousand: too unbelievable.”
“It’s hardly noticeable. I promise. Just—”  

“Are you serious right now, lady? C’mon, Blake,” he said, interrupting her. But as he reached for his husband’s hand, the opposite happened.

“Who is it?”

Ellie met Blake’s gaze, but she quickly looked away as she spoke. “A man—I don’t know his name.”

As he opened his mouth to reply, ahead, on the wall next to Ellie, the plaster (the only place without the unpleasant paneling) started cracking, large chunks crumbling to the floor. Tim’s eyes widened, but he remained stationary, right hand clutching the bannister. However, Blake, moving past him, approached the area between stairs and wall—where a narrow hallway led to the kitchen. Through all this, Ellie continued pursing her lips, chin tilted, as if waiting for a disciplining blow. Her heart paced rapidly in her chest, and had she not grown use to the sensation, she would have feared the worst: heart attack, stroke, etc. etc. etc.

But that didn’t happen. It never did.
“Are you sure it’s only a man?”
“Why?”

Bushy brows drawn into a single arch, Blake shook his head. “Because, I don’t think a grown man would write this.”
On the wall, carved in jagged, mismatched letters, was a single question: IS MY BIKE GOING TO BE OKAY.

***

As Tim’s legs thawed, so did his mouth. “I can’t believe you knew about this and still tried selling us this house. I swear you’ll lose you license over this, lady. I swear.” 

“Still think it’s a man?” Blake said. “Cause I don’t think so.”

“Are you listening to me?”

Hearing him absolutely fine, Blake reached out and traced the coarse texture of the scrawling, then lowered his head—his bottom lip trembling.

“When I was a kid, my grandfather died in a motorcycle accident, a few days before I turned eleven.”

“I’m…sorry,” Ellie said, raising her head, but only a little.

“It’s okay, really—that was a long time ago. But he loved his bike, you know?” Blake paused and wiped a single tear from his left cheek, before it could dampen his mustache. “For a long time, I wondered if he was still there. My parent’s said he was in heaven: their usual poor attempt at commiserations when someone passed. But I didn’t believe it, cause sometimes, when I was alone, I could smell the Talcum powder. He would always use too much, and the scent would follow him: a medicated, menthol odor. You know what I mean?”
Ellie understood perfectly, but for her it wasn’t a smell—it was a sound: laughing.

“I’m not smelling anything right now, though,” Blake said, “but the bike, the way this is written on the wall: a child wrote this.”

From behind, now standing on the bottom step, Tim rubbed his eyes and shook his head. “Will you come off it already, Blake? This whole thing’s a scam, don’t you see that? She probably read a few of your books and looked you up online. It’s not that difficult, with all of the sites out there offering pennies for background—”

“Tim, go outside. Smoke a cigarette or something. I’m sure you’re having a nic fit anyway, so just go.” Blake’s voice, especially on the emphasis of Tim’s name, made Ellie’s large frame shudder. She hadn’t expected the sudden severity in the man’s tone, but she was glad for it: Tim’s slender neck craned forward, and he released an exasperated breath. Then his previously smooth features wrinkled into a scowl as he descended the step, sauntered to the front door, and slammed it—rattling the blinds over the frosted window in its center.  

Closing his eyes and shaking his head, Blake frowned. “I’m sorry about that. Been married only a week and I’m already kicking myself. But he’s a good man, Ellie. Just doesn’t have an imagination, that’s all.”

“No, it’s alright,” she replied. “I should have mentioned this in the description.”

“Well, it’s not exactly something you broadcast. But the message on the wall: I think a child wrote this—not an adult. What do you think?”
Ellie shrugged.

“Look, give me a few days to talk to Tim, and I’ll give you a call with our decision, okay? I think that whoever wrote this,” he said, again pointing to the words, “might just need the same thing I did: someone to guide them forward.”
Blake smiled and nodded to Ellie before retracing his earlier steps to the front door. For a moment, she stood there—between the wall and stairs—then wiped the tears away from her own cheeks as she ventured into the foyer, where the round, ceramic plate rested against the imitation paneling. There she stopped, facing it, her eyes drawn to the four-inch-long red footprints adorning the front.

“I think I might have found a home for you—both of you,” she said, smiled, and started rounding the corner. But the sound of someone digging into plaster, like rats chewing their way through a cardboard box, halted her progress.
The thumping in her chest returned. But this time a wave of unreality seized her vision, making everything appear sharper, louder, and more urgent. Turning on slick joints, Ellie returned to the wall, where she then took a deep breath before lifting her eyes to the letters. IS MY BIKE GOING TO BE OKAY remained etched there in deep, crooked groves. But there was also something else, directly below it:
MOMMY.

“I told you before, a dozen times: I’m not your mother.”

In that instant, the plaster started falling again, and letter after letter appeared, each digging deeper and deeper into the wall.

“Please, you have to stop,” she said, dropping the clipboard and placing her hands to her temples, where she then squeezed, as if the pressure alone would halt the irrational fear that her head might tumble to the floor.
More pieces of the wall crumbled as the response appeared. And if there was any equivocation to the message, the startling crash of the ceramic plate shattering on the hardwood floor extinguished it. Underneath the previous MOMMY was this:
YOU COULD BE. MY DADDY LIKES IT HERE. IT’S NICE

“No, we’ve been through this,” she said, letting her eyes wander over to the ceramic shards—noticing the way each piece somehow broke into a perfect bladed shape. “I won’t. I am Not. Your. Mother.”

As Ellie backed away, now almost tripping over her feet, one final message formed on the wall, but this one went deeper: into the wooden support beams, scrawled almost irritably.
THEN LEAVE ME ALONE. GET OUT. GET OUT. GET OUT.

***

  Blake’s hands shot into the air, palms facing the gunmetal sky, as if holding an imaginary globe. “You don’t have to be such an ass, Tim.”

“Did you not see how she acted? Could barely look me in the eyes.”

“She was afraid you’d judge her—like you’re doing now.”

Silence fell between them. The October air numbing his semi-bearded cheeks (where the hair was already growing back from the morning shave), Blake leaned against the hood of their black 08’ Honda Civic. “Look, can we agree to disagree? I’m tired of arguing.”
“Yeah, I guess. It’s just—”

Across the road, both men heard the front door of the house swing open and slam against the inside wall. Moments after that—they saw Ellie, hands over her ears, dash down the front steps, through the yard, and continue toward the road.

“What’s she doing?”

He didn’t reply, just simply watched the woman keep running until she disappeared around the corner and out of sight.
Finally, Blake repeated the question, but again, Tim didn’t answer. “I thought we were okay now? Say something.”
“We’re fine. We’re fine. But look at that. Have you ever seen anything like that?”
Even from where he stood, Blake could see the distinct shape of a boy standing in the open doorway and the undulating effect his presence had on the house: it was like an invisible finger pressing the center of an object made of partially liquefied gelatin. Everything bounced and rippled outward. And when Tim squeezed his shoulder, Blake, before breaking his stare, caught the sight of a much taller man shadow the boy’s tinier frame.
Then it was gone.
“Did you see that?”
Tim nodded. “Let’s follow the lady’s example, Blake. Unless you’re still thinking about buying the house? And you’re not, right?”
He took a step away from the car, further into the street.
“C’mon, Blake? Blake?”

THE END

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Black Beauty: A Tale of Morbid Love by Mark Armstrong

I watched the world darken and smiled. It was a somber smile, one of the joys to come, yet with the knowledge that this was the world now. Dark; Dead; Hostile. A person in my profession should be overjoyed with this glorious turn of events. Truly, as it were, I was as depressed and devoid of life as any other would be survivor. Where is the joy in the hunt when there is no sun with which to warm my bones and the cold skin of all my potential lovers? Another day brings another false promise of sun rise and the notion of becoming something’s dinner; Tragic indeed. Once upon a time I reveled the notion of being discovered as the monster I am. Now? Now I am no monster. In this dusty, dark existance, I am just as any of these other cretins walking the streets. Quite annoying, I admit.
Taking one last drag of my crooked cigarette, I flicked the butt over the lip of the rooftop. I watched it fall, my final lungful of wispish cancer following on the wings of a stale breeze. Up, up, up it traveled into the already cancerous atmosphere. Poetic and pathetic. That’s my style.

I turned back towards the open portal to my personal paradise and allowed the pungent odors within to assault my sinuses. Closing the window behind me, I surveyed the room. To some, it was clothed in a drape embroided with Hellfire and brimstone. To me? Why, to me, it was a play room. A carnival hall of games and fun. Giddy, I glided across the stained wooden planks of the converted attic room to my prize. My, was she lovely.

A table stood in the center of the room, draped with white satin sheets I’d found in a closet below. On this, my dais of desire, open to all the world and it’s filth, was a young African American woman. Her abdomin was a glistening, gaping hole. The tips of her ribs shone bright white in the glow of the candles I had placed around the spanse of the room. Her organs were in a large mixing bowl on the floor. I had it covered with a towel so the flies wouldn’t get them and the smell wouldn’t attract unwanted attention. I licked my lips at the thought of them. I think tonight I’ll sample a brain and kidney stew.  Anyway, back to my Black Beauty.

Her lips were grayish and pale; parted just enough to see her white teeth. She had very good dental hygeine before her death. I traced a finger along her high cheekbones and down to her slightly pointed chin. I felt my pulse rise in anxiousness as I caressed the large smile across her throat that my knife had granted her the night before. Quite a tale, that one.

I’d been traveling all day and needed a place to lay my head. Finding myself in the surburbs on the outskirts of the city, I was in a prime area for some comfort. It wasn’t hard finding a lovely two story home to call my own for the night. Needless to say, I wasn’t the only one with that idea. My Black Beauty was sleeping in a back bedroom on the second floor, the door barricaded from her side. I’m assuming she wasn’t expecting company of my sort, because upon forcing myself inside out of curiosity’s sake, she was just shying out of her sleeping bag, baseball bat at the ready. I smiled my most award winning smile and put my hands up, a show of friendship. She didn’t lower the bat, but after a bit of light conversation and much convincing, she did. Her mistake, hehe.

The feeling of my knife skating across her chocolate flesh was bliss in every sense of the word. Her scream was muffled into my hand, her breath warm against my palm. I felt her gnash her teeth, trying to gain purchase upon my flesh, her spit dampening my already sweaty hand. The gurgling started as her jugular began to spew precious crimson. Music to my ears. A symphony of darkness. She died quickly in my arms, going limp and beginning to cool. I caressed her as a lover and as such, had my way with her body. We lay together afterwards, me smoking a cigarette, her staring deeply into my eyes. Oh those lovely, glazed over brown eyes.

Snapping back to reality, I let my eyes wander ever more over my Black Beauty. Her skin was supple, soft to the touch. It gave beneath my touch, reminisent of a memory foam mattress. I walked my fingers along her inner thigh and down to her vaginal lips. Sucking the tips of my fingers to make them moist, I slowly inserted them inside. Her cunt was cold and sterile. My fingers slid cooly over her inner flesh and I quaked with excitement. No longer in control of my own faculties, I dropped my trousers and proceeded to lubricate my cock with spit. Slowly, ever so slowly, my God, I slid deep into her crevice.

The pleasure shot through me like a syringe full of pure Columbian heroin. I pumped my hips faster and faster, my cock spearing her pussy harder and harder. I cried out as my seed screamed into her body, the table rocking with the force of our ungodly love. Slumping forward, I rest my head upon her left breast, a pillow of slowly rotting meat. I breathed in deep her stomach churning scent with relish. I would keep her for a few more days for sure. Why not rest here and enjoy the fruits of this world for a bit? Survival takes a step down from my cardinal pleasures.

I commenced to clean us up when I heard the noise below. The shattering of glass and wood, the cries of the hungry. “They’re here!” I croaked, my throat going dry. Is there no privacy for love? Maybe not unholy, necrophilic love, but God has turned a blind eye to this world. I ask not for light but beg for peace and privacy. There was pounding throughout the house as the dead searched for me. They must have heard my lovemaking to the lovely Black Beauty. I cast one last look upon her heavenly form and kissed her pale lips one more time. “Au revoir mon amour.” With that, I took up my knapsack and and gun belt and headed for the window.

The darkness seemed sentient in that it immediatly wrapped itself around me like a living shroud. I crouched low, my breath coming in small gasps. The sound of the house being searched echoed below. The sounds of the hungry grew louder and more urgent. They must have caught my lover’s scent. Creeping along the roof lip, I peered over the edge. It was quite the drop, but there was a balcony below and the drop from there wasn’t too brutal. I didn’t think twice.

Swinging my legs over, I slowly lowered myself down until I hung by my arm’s length, my legs swinging just above the balcony railing. Grunting with excerssion, I let go, a soft prayer upon my lips. I landed hard upon the railing and flailed. Tis the end of me, my dears. Falling backwards, I screamed as I hit the hard ground a good eight feet below. My pack cushioned the fall, but I felt my right ankle snap, the bone shearing through my flesh and exposing itself to the tainted world. I cast around wildly to see if I was alone. Wouldn’t you know it, I wasn’t. Three beasts loomed upon the porch. They leered down upon me, their black silouettes even blacker than the darkness surrounding us. I screamed again and began to crawl backwards, drawing my pistol. Oh cruel fate, thy name is irony. A cannibalistic necropheliac about to be devoured by walking corpses. You better believe there is a God and he a is a sick fuck, laughing down at me for my sins.
I fired two shots before the first of the hungry reached me. Claws like white hot spears impaled my thigh as the beast drug me towards it and it’s dinner guests. I heard the gutteral croak in it’s throat as it groaned it’s success at a live meal. The others within the house began to pour out as well. It was over. I had a great run, with many lovers and many succulent meals in my life. Now, I was the meal. I couldn’t help but start to giggle. The two hungry from the porch caught up the the leader and sank their greedy claws into me as well. There was no pain anymore as their needle like teeth began to rend the flesh from my bones. Blood pooled beneath me and poured from my mouth. I coughed and shook, the laughter never stopping. My final image was of a beaked tounge shooting from one of the gaping maws over me as my eyes were plucked from their sockets. Still, I laughed. Then, silence. My final living thought was of her. The night I shared with my morbid Black Beauty. Poetic and pathetic. That’s my style.

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Updates and author payouts

Quick update: Deadman’s Tome needs submissions! Enjoy writing? Have a desire to express through written word? Want the satisfaction of others relating to you through story, or do you simply want to scare?

Well, send in your short fiction and we’ll let the public feed on it!

For authors, some of you know that I payout incentives based on likes, comments, and shares. Deadman’s Tome will release payouts June and July.

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Kingdom of the Living Dead by Joseph Rubas

(The following account was written by Stanly Ford in Reno, Nevada, between July 3 and 4, 1928. The events described reportedly took place between on June 18 of that same year somewhere in the desert west of Austin, Nevada. Though no hard evidence has ever been discovered that would definitively prove or disprove the events herein related, Mr. Ford was able to convince a number of scientific figures of the day, including the folklorist Howard Lovecraft, who wrote a lengthy article on the Ford case which he published as part of his Eldritch Myth in 1942. In researching his article, Lovecraft met with Mr. Ford, who had been found “wandering in the wilderness, vacant and babbling” on the morning of June 28 by a nature photographer from National Geographic. In Lovecraft’s opinion, Stanly Ford was a “Frank and intelligent fellow whose eyes shone with honesty.” This account was first published in Amazing! Magazine on February 18, 1956, under the title “Attack of the Fifty-Foot Ghoul.”)
 
My name is Stanly T. Ford, and I was born twenty-eight years ago in the town of Patricia, California, which straddles the Oregon border. As a child, my pursuits were normal and wholesome. I attended church, sang in the choir, played sports with the other boys, and aspired to one day become a missionary in strange and foreign ports. I eventually abandoned the calling, but remained faithful.

What I have to write today is, then, not a delusion born of morbid fascinations or exaggerated whimsy. I come before the world with the truth. Already, the papers in town are calling me mad, and while that perturbs me to no end, I am resolved to stand firm in the face of ridicule.

God help me, I’m not lying when I say that I and my colleagues encountered something hideous in the badlands of central Nevada, a creature which has no rightful place in this world, a foul, soul-petrifying thing escaped from the most depraved of Arabic folklore. I beg you all to take my words to heart.

It, whatever it was, is out there now, shoved into some dark subterranean chamber, waiting to rise once more. God help us, it might even be coming this way as I write.

The firm for which I work, Birchen Asphalt Co., was contracted by the government to erect a highway between Austin and Ely, Nevada, a distance of some fifty miles. As the house surveyor, it fell to me to scout the best possible route for this proposed highway.

I arrived in Ely on the fifteenth of June along with my partner, a stout and brutal former doughboy named Lewis, and a sixteen-year-old apprentice by the name of Elroy. We checked into the Union Hotel on State Street around noon that cursed day, and then took our lunch in the café across the street. As we waited for our food, Elroy picked my brain, so to speak, and Lewis sat to himself, seeming to gaze into the ether.
The day was well over 100 degrees, and the café felt like an oven. The combination of the heat and Elroy’s incessant questions began giving me a headache, and, as politely as I could, I excused myself before it could progress into a full-scale agony.

Outside, the arid breeze washed over my fevered face; compared to the stuffy air of the diner, it was blissful. I closed my eyes and leaned back against the wall flanking the door. Slowly, the pain faded, ebbing away like spring runoff.

“Hot day, isn’t it?”

I opened my eyes, and saw, before me, a brown man in khaki shorts and shirt. At first, I mistook him for a negro, but quickly realized that he was, indeed, a white man, albeit one whose prolonged exposure to the sun had baked his skin an unhealthy shade of dull brown.

“It is,” I replied, “much warmer than California. I’m afraid I’m no good in such brutal climes.”

The man chuckled, a raspy, rusted sound that grated the nerves. I feared that my headache would flare back up like an ember buried deep within a seemingly extinguished campfire.

“California man, eh? What brings you here? And in summer?”

I told him, and he grinned. “Looks like we’re coworkers, almost. My name’s Sam Johnson, and I’ll be doing some digging in that area.”

Johnson, in a surprisingly plainspoken manner, told me that he was a professor of archeology, and was conducting a dig along with members of his college’s folklore department.

“Looking for evidence of Old Ones,” he said, nearly whispering the last two words.

“Old Ones?” I asked uncertainly.
Johnson nodded. “Those who walked the earth before us.”

Intrigued, I invited Johnson to accompany me, and, together, we returned to the table, where Elroy was making the grave mistake of questioning Lewis. For his part, Lewis sat with his arms reservedly crossed over his broad chest.

I introduced the Doctor, and then listened rapt for what must have been a half an hour as he regaled us with tales of these Old Ones. From what he told me, the world was once ruled over by strange beings unlike anything ever seen since. With the advent of man, the Old Ones went “underground,” so to speak, and have been biding their time, waiting through untold eons to retake what is theirs.

“Dr. Franklin can tell you much more than I ever could,” Johnson finished, taking a sip of water, which the waitress had brought with our meals. Looking around like a man just woken from a long coma, I saw Lewis, drumming his fingers on the table and looking impatient. The plate before him was clean. Elroy, like me, had been listening intently. His eyes were large and boyish, and he had hardly touched his food.

“He’s the head of the folklore department,” Johnson explained. “Say, how about we all meet up tomorrow? We can take you surveying, and then you can come with us on the dig? I’m sure Dr. Franklin wouldn’t mind.”

I jumped at the idea, as they say, and we arranged to meet in the lobby of the Union the following day.

Back in the hotel, Lewis, Elroy, and I spent rest of the day relaxing. I wrote a lengthy entry into my diary (which I seem to have lost in the desert), and read a newspaper. When it came time to sleep, I was restless, and laid awake long past midnight, my mind spinning. I cannot say that I believed in Johnson’s Old Ones, but he had offered compelling evidence, and the singular nature of the whole thing awoke in me a hitherto unknown chasm of dark curiosity.

Perhaps there was something to it. I do, and did, believe that there are things which man cannot explain. Or rather, there are things that conventional and intolerant science cannot explain. Men like Johnson and this Dr. Franklin are our only chance at truth, for the scientific community, despite its tremendous strides in the past hundred years, is stubborn in its refusal to entertain things like the paranormal, and dismisses what it cannot account for as stupidity, superstition, or flat-out falsehood.

Thus wired, my sleep, when it finally came, was light and fitful. When dawn crested in the east, I rose and hurriedly dressed. When the appointed time came, my compatriots and I met with Johnson and a small group of swarthy men in the hotel lobby. With them was a small, rotund man with large glasses and a bald pate. Dressed haphazardly in a tweed jacket and a pair of dirty slacks accented by a yellow bowtie, Dr. Franklin was not an impressive specimen. When I spoke to him in the car, however, I found him to be a genius of the highest magnitude.

I’m embarrassed to admit this next part, but I, after little thought, called off that day’s work so we could accompany the Johnson-Franklin group to its campsite, roughly thirty miles west of Austin, and fifteen miles south from there. I was like a giddy child who ignores his studies in favor of playing in the dirt, and my professional nature recoils in hindsight. Then, though, I was concerned only with the blasted dig.

On the way, Franklin told me more of these Old Ones. An assorted race of star dwellers who came to earth several millennia before the accepted dawn of time, they built weird and futuristic cities and regularly traveled between here and unknown planets in space. Godlike, the Old Ones are monstrous in appearance and intent, and, Franklin whispered, may have even created humankind themselves.  

My head swam with the frightening subject matter, so much so that I was struck speechless until we arrived at the campsite sometime after noon. Horror suddenly forgotten, I was agog at the starkly beautiful terrain surrounding us; Strange and alien rock formations rose from vast seas of sand, and mountains that seemed somehow off towered into the duty skies on three sides of us.

At once we set about getting set up. Lewis approached me at one point and demanded to know when we would be leaving. “Tomorrow,” I told him, though, and again I regret to even say it, I was lying. I was consumed. So much so that I can’t help but think that that thing was influencing me all the while, pulling strings from a distance.

Within an hour, a virtual tent city had sprung up. There were twenty people in the party, not including us, but in that isolated waste, they seemed multiplied; I could have sworn there were twice as many.

Ever the amiable host, Dr. Franklin invited us to stay with them as long as we liked. That night after dinner, as we sat around a small fire, I told him that we would most likely be leaving in a day or so. Was it a lie? I don’t know.

“Well, then,” Dr. Franklin said with a grin, “I suppose we had better follow up the most promising leads first.”

“Leads?” I asked.

Franklin nodded. “I told you earlier that there were many types of Old Ones. They are like man, grouped into races, classes, what have you. I did not tell you, though, which Old Ones we are looking for.”

“No,” I replied, “but that…”

Ignoring me, Franklin went on: “They are popularly called ghula, or ghoul. In Near East mythology, the ghoul is a demonic entity that dwells in the wilderness, usually near cemeteries and oft traveled highways. Cannibalistic by nature, ghouls are incorporeal, and thus are forced to take on the form of the poor wretch they last ate. Most ghouls eat only the dead (and so appear as the dead). Others, however, are more…daring, and kill living humans…”

Trailing off, Dr. Franklin poked the fire with a stick, sending a shower of sparks into the night. For the first time in what may have been hours, I became aware of the camp around me. Dark and silent, it was asleep. Dr. Franklin and I were alone with the night.

“It is believed that the first ghouls were created by a cannibal giant who lived under the Arabian Desert. This proto ghoul, I believe, was but one of a race, a race with lives even now beneath the deserts of the world.”

“What brings you to this particular spot, then?” I asked, “what leads do you have?”

Franklin smiled. “This…area has always been shunned by the Shoshone Indians, who have lived in this part of the country for centuries. There are stories of “Wendigos” haunting the deserts, giant cannibal creatures who turn human beings into flesh-eating revenants. This part of Nevada is particularly legend haunted. I’ve spoken to a few Shoshone, including a medicine man who claims to be one-hundred-and-fifty, and they all agree that there is, in fact, a “Wendigo” in the salt flats. They couldn’t agree on where it lived, but the medicine man says there is a “bottomless” cave about three miles south of here. That, my friend, is where we are going tomorrow.”

There, we ended the night.
I had no trouble sleeping, thankfully, but my dreams were plagued by giant, hoven creatures. By morning, I was fatigued and lethargic. When Franklin came around to rouse me, I nearly begged off, but forced myself out of bed anyway.

We began our trek into the desert at once, just Johnson, Franklin, two of their laborers, and myself. The heat of the day was astounding, the sun a boiling caldron of hellfire, and by the time we came into view of what Franklin believed to be the cave (a large, humplike mound of rock), all of us were heat sick.

Taking refuge under an out jutting rock, we ate lunch and excitedly discussed the looming hill, yet a mile off.
Done, we buried our trash in the sand and pressed on. Twenty minutes later, we stood before the mound. Composed of reddish rock, the hive-like mound rose perhaps eighty feet into the air. At its base was a yawning maw. A sort of pathway had been erected leading into it, stones laid out like fine jewels.

“I want you all to stay here,” Franklin said, pulling a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. “I’m going to make sure the land is clear. Once I know it’s safe, I’ll come out and get you.”

We grudgingly agreed, and stood in the sun while he cautiously disappeared into the darkness.

“If we don’t find anything here,” I asked Johnson, “where is our next destination?”

“About two miles north of here. There’s a little oasis that near the mouth of another cave.”

            For the next several minutes, we waited in silence. Finally, Dr. Franklin appeared. “Come on!” he cried excitedly, “you have to see this.”

            Johnson and I looked at each other. Followed by the laborers, we went to Dr. Franklin, whose eyes shone. “It’s amazing! Simply amazing!” he babbled. “It all but confirms the presence of the ghula.”
            For the first time, apprehension blossomed in my stomach. I could see that Johnson was slightly rattled as well. Regardless, we followed Dr. Franklin into the cave, which was cold after the heat of the day. In the dim sunlight filtering through the entrance, I immediately  noticed strange hieroglyphics on the walls.

            “Arabic,” Dr. Franklin said, “it says ‘All entering, know that this is the kingdom of the living dead.’”

            A shiver trickled down my spine.
            Franklin, electric torch in hand, motioned for us to follow him deeper into the cavern. “And up here.”

            Close to what I imagined to be the back of the cave, we found a pit, perhaps twelve feet across and twelve feet long. “Down there,” Franklin said, “is where I believe the ghula to be.”

            Franklin shined the light down, but the beam only reached five feet. I cannot say what lay beyond that, but I sensed that it was forever.

Looking up, I then noticed that the walls were honeycombed with archways, gaping holes which no doubt led to hidden chambers. In one of them, I perceived, or thought I perceived, a flicker of movement, and my heart jolted against my ribcage. Behind me, one of the laborers muttered something under his breath, and the other spat the word “Evil.”

            “Dr. Franklin,” I stuttered, licking my sandpaper lips. Scanning the lopsided thresholds, I became convinced that each one held something living, something infinitely grotesque. “Shine the light up there.”

            “What?” he asked, turning. I pointed to the first entryway I had seen, and he gasped.

            “I hadn’t noticed those.” He raised the light, and at that moment a dreadful noise, much like a long, hollow moan, drifted from somewhere imperceptible.

            Almost simultaneously, the light fell upon the opening, revealing a figure in a dark, ratty robe, its face bluish and…crusted, for lack of a better term. I started, while one of the men behind me yelped.

            The thing stood there watching us, its eyes as black as midnight on the ocean floor. Paralyzed, we could do little more than stare back, which we did for what seemed an eternity, but really couldn’t have been more than a minute. Finally, the spell was broken by Johnson, who yelped like a small dog tread underfoot. “Something has me!”

            Franklin turned the light, and we all beheld it; hands, gray with decomposition, were popping out of the ground like abominable serpents, and one held fast to Johnson’s ankle.
Panicking, Johnson pulled back, and the creature who had him, displaying a detestable premeditation, let go; screaming and pin wheeling his arms as though he were a bird, Johnson toppled into the chasm. Franklin reached out to grab him, dropped the flashlight, and was tripped by one of the hands, falling to his knees with a muffled umph.
With a cry and a rustle of feet, the two laborers fled, leaving me rooted to where I stood, too terrified to move, my heart thundering and my stomach tightening.

Dr. Franklin screamed; the darkness teemed. Seconds crept by, a minute, I stayed where I was, my legs like cinderblocks. I sense movement all around me.

“Damn it!” Dr. Franklin screamed, struggling with the creatures, “get off of me!”

In the beam of the fallen torch, his face was contorted in fear and desperation. There must have been five sets of hands rising from the floor, clawing, pinching, grabbing.

As I looked helplessly on, a head broke through the dirt not a foot from Dr. Franklin’s face. Its eyes were black like the others’, and its mouth, twisted in hateful hunger, worked up and down, chomp, chomp, chomp. The doctor wailed, and the creature, becoming aware of his presence, turned to him. I can’t be sure, but it looked like it smiled.
“No! No!” Franklin screamed.

The ghoul strained forward.

“Help me, Stanly!”

The ghoul bit. Blood gushed. Franklin howled.

With an electric jolt, my paralysis broke, and I threw myself toward daylight, teetering precariously on the brink of madness. All around my feet, hands waved mockingly back and forth, clawing at thin air, waiting to rip and tear. Close to the cave mouth, beyond which sanity lie, one of the ghouls had worked its way entirely free, and stood in my way, waiting to enfold me in its undead embrace.

A man more in his right mind might have stopped. I didn’t. I barreled right through the thing, knocking it aside, and exploded into the sun.

I had expected to find safety outside of that cave, as if such horrors could only exist in the dark. Instead, I found more terror. There were two, three dozen ghouls hobbling aimlessly to and fro. A number more were bent over two supine figures, partaking of their flesh.
          
  The ones not otherwise preoccupied quickly noticed me, and began shambling in my direction, their arms outstretched and their mouths working furiously.
           
With a muttered curse, I ducked heedlessly to my left, and almost fell over a boulder sticking out of the ground. Climbing over, I landed on my back and struggled to my feet. Before me, a long, sandy incline hugged the bottom of the accursed hill. Beyond, open desert.
            Panting raggedly, I got perhaps halfway down before I tripped in the deep sand and fell. Screaming, I rolled head-over-feet the rest of the way, striking hidden rocks with my knees and elbows.
            When I finally came to rest, I got back to my feet and spared a glance over my shoulder: A line of ghouls were picking their way down the hill.
I ran then. It seems I ran for eons before I again looked back, but it couldn’t have been more than five minutes. Thankfully, the ghouls had given up the chase. In the hazy distance, the hill stood like a beacon to the living dead.
Before I could turn my back one final time, something extraordinary happened. With a shake and a rumble, the hill collapsed on itself like a house of cards. Within seconds, the debris exploded into the air as something titanic rose from the depths, a gigantic stalk of organic horror fifty feet high and as wide as a building.
            The human mind can only handle so much, I’ve been told, and at this point, I lapsed into blessed catatonia.
When I came to, I was here, in Reno. How I came to be in this area is beyond me, as it is three hundred miles west of where I began. For several days after being found, I am told, I was stark raving mad. In fact, yesterday was the first moment of lucidity I’ve known in some time, though when I came to, I imagined that I was still in the desert, moments away from being trampled or eaten.
The others weren’t as lucky as I. The paper says that they are all missing, but I know what really happened to them.
As for the ghula itself, the animating spirit of dead flesh, I know where it is, if, God forbid, it isn’t in transit. You won’t see it, just a fraction of it.

My grandmother once told me that God was so big that the sky was but the iris of his eye, but even she could never comprehend the size of the ghula. For that rising stalk I beheld in the desert was not the ghula. Right before I blacked out, I recognized what it was, from ball-and-socket pivot to the jagged, misshapen crown. It was not the ghula. Or at least not its body, or even its arm. What I saw was but one single finger.

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The Corruption in the Deep by S. Alessandro Martinez

I should never have gone there. I should never have prodded into the depths of unknowable things. That deep, dark realm of nightmares and horror, it was my doom. I will not condemn you if you decide to take my account as the result of a bizarre fantasy, for it is a difficult tale to accept. But I am writing this down in the hope that someone finds it amongst these ruins. My own consciousness constantly hopes that everything that has happened is just a dream and that I shall wake up soon.
At an early age I had come to the realization that there was something wrong. I always felt an intrusive, alien presence within my own self; part of me, but also distinct. I noticed abnormalities with how the flow of time was perceived, with how space and distance were judged, and how the world seemed incorrect to me. I lived with these thoughts every day, trying to push them from my mind so that I could go on with my life. However, these inclinations never truly disappeared. There would always be a tugging at my mind, forcing me to bring my realizations back into view. And with each passing year as I matured into young-adulthood, my noticing of these aberrations became more and more intense and debilitating. They would cause me great anxiety and paranoia. I would seldom leave my home, and would spend most days cooped up with my books.
As far back as I can recall I had a substantial interest in matters of the occult and of the mind. My family being not of great wealth, I could only study and learn from what paltry offerings my young and inexperienced self could get my hands on. Yet as I grew and circumstance changed, I was able to expand my knowledge, being able to afford to buy books, go to school, and procure other sources of information. I divided my time between studying psychology in school and occultism in private. But what I could not discover was the source of this…pulling at my mind. What was this accursed presence within me that was driving me slowly to madness? I obsessively studied my occult and psychological materials in search of an answer, but to no avail.
My mental condition grew worse with each passing year, although I managed to keep it hidden from my family and peers. My anxiety had become so overwhelming that I never stepped outside, with the exception of going to my classes.
But at the start of my third year of university, the dreams began.
In my dreams I would find myself in a dark city, not a city of metal and glass, but a city of ancient stone. A place with buildings constructed of massive obsidian blocks covered with hieroglyphs, obscured by countless years of overgrown moss and vines. There were immense pyramids crumbling to ruin, and colossal brooding obelisks scattered around, whose purpose had been lost to time. This was a city of great antiquity that sprawled out in all directions as far as I could see, and was bathed in the sinister moonlight emanating from a sky of eternal night. And although no living things were in sight, I had a creeping and inexplicable sense that this place contained a lurking horror which should not be disturbed. After initially taking in the surrounding view I decided to move deeper, but that is when I awakened in my bed.
From then on every night I dreamt and found myself in that lonely, decayed city of timeworn stone. And every night I would manage to explore more and more of the bizarre surroundings before waking. I walked among those dead and silent buildings for what seemed like hours every time I slept. My fear of rousing some hidden horror among these ruins was overcome by a sense of fascination and curiosity. The decrepit and alien city sparked such a grand wonder in me, perhaps due to my occult interests. But there was an utter loneliness and silence that disturbed me down to my core, for I had not encountered any living things. Surely I should have come across something by now. I would roam around the hulking buildings, gently caressing the cold stone with my fingers as I passed by. I wandered under uneven archways of oddly menacing angles and through large, empty city squares, admiring the unearthly architecture. Even though this place brought on a sense of terror and dread, it also inspired great awe.
I kept the knowledge of this world to myself, of course. What would be the point of telling any others? My educated classmates and my knowledgeable professors would most likely tell me these were just some fanciful dreams my subconscious mind had concocted. But were they? I had never had dreams of such vividness that at times I wondered whether my waking life was the dream, and if my dreams of the ancient city were my true waking reality. The crunch of gravel beneath my shoes, the gusts of wind through my hair, and even the smell of rotting vegetation that I experienced there had to be much more than simple constructs of the mind. Had my study of the occult, of the arcane, and of the forbidden, sparked something inside me? Had my fascination with dark things and my studies into the inner workings of the mind opened some sort of mental rift into a world unknown to man, only accessible through a higher state of consciousness attained in the dimension of dreams? I set out to discover the truth.
From the musty storerooms at the university, and through some shady dealings, I managed to acquire the ingredients for a drug that we had learned about in class that would send one into an extremely deep and long slumber. I hoped that consuming this would give me sufficient time in the dead city to find some sort of evidence that the dream was indeed an alternate world. Afterwards, I headed home to begin the second step of my preparations.
Years ago I had unofficially “borrowed” an ancient, leather-bound tome of supposed spells from the off-limits section of the university library for my own private studying of arcane knowledge. In it, I had discovered one incantation that seemed well-suited to my venture. Never having attempted to cast magic before, and not sure whether I actually believed in it and whether it was foolish to even try it, I studied the yellowed pages of the book for a good while before carefully performing the spell step by step. Swallowing the drug with a glass of water, I strapped my schoolbag around my shoulder, secured my pocketknife in my shirt pocket, gripped my flashlight, and made myself comfortable on my bed. The spell I had performed would supposedly allow objects of my choosing to travel with me into the alternate dimension. I felt the effects of the drug taking hold soon enough, and when my eyes became heavy with sleep I closed them without hesitation.
When I opened my eyes again I found myself staring at that familiar decayed city of eternal darkness and night. I looked down to see my flashlight in my hand and felt the pull of the bag on my shoulder and the weight of the knife in my pocket. Either the spell had proved successful, or my subconscious mind had projected the ideas of these objects into my dream. Not caring just exactly how my items were with me, I set about to explore the deepest levels of the desolate metropolis, smirking at my own cleverness. I had made much progress though the winding streets and structures since the dreams first began, but this night I would cover much more ground. I walked along the deserted streets, weaving my way through the enormous buildings, pyramids, and obelisks. I went through the city going farther than I ever had before. Even after so many trips to my dream world, I still found the eerie architecture dread-inducing yet beautiful.
It was after several hours of intensive exploration that I came upon what seemed to be a sort of cemetery. There were broken markers scattered about that resembled gravestones, mounds of odorous black dirt, and large oblong boxes made of smooth rock and covered in bizarre markings. With my interest in dark and occult things I was instantly fascinated. I crept among the alien-looking graves and sarcophagi and finally came upon what appeared to be a grand mausoleum of finely-cut black stone and rusted dark metal. I stood there taking in the sight as the baleful moonlight shone down across its front archway revealing indecipherable characters of an unknown language. And below that lay the open gateway of the tomb, like a gigantic yawning mouth leading straight to the darkest recesses of the Pit itself.
The opening in the mausoleum filled me with unease, for shining my light into that black abyss could not even penetrate its darkness. I studied that grim tomb until I noticed the rank, fetid smell of rot in the air which seemed to be emanating from the dread doorway. I let the flashlight fall from my grasp as I quickly moved my hands to cover my nose and mouth as the stench grew thicker. And along with it came the sound of something moving inside the crypt, the first living thing I had heard in all my time here. Such a wretched and nauseating odor mixed with a sound so disturbing was terrible, but my feet were transfixed to the spot as a man-shaped shadow drew itself from out of that mausoleum.
I rapidly drew out my pocketknife but the thing suddenly spoke to me. It did not direct its words to me through vocalized communication, but I perceived the words right inside my head. It told me, in a malicious manner, that it had dwelled in this hell for quite some time and that I was to help it escape. I was to finally be its freedom from this dead place. I was to be its key to unlocking the gate and that I was going to help it whether I wanted to or not.
Wanting to look upon this shadowy being I gathered up the nerve to quickly pick up my flashlight, and I shone the light at its face. Horror gripped my heart as I beheld my own face staring back at me; my own features and likeness, except with a certain malevolence and malignity in its eyes. What manner of delusion was this? This could not be real. This must be some terrible nightmare after all, a construct of my own mind.
The being began to lessen the distance between us as I stood there awe-struck. While my brain tried to rationalize the situation, my body made its own decision and I turned to flee. I ran in a frenzied panic through the streets of that decayed and massive city. But how would I escape? My means of leaving this place previously had been by waking up, but I had taken that accursed sleeping drug. My only hope was to hide from this doppelgänger until the medication wore off and I could awaken. But no matter how far or how fast I ran, I could hear him behind me, although the sound was not the sound of footsteps, but of something large pulling itself across the ground.
I shouldn’t have looked back; it was my downfall. As I ran I had begun to feel a rousing and stirring somewhere out of my current body which I interpreted as my real body waking from its slumber. How grateful I was to feel that sensation. I would soon be free of this nightmare. My morbidly curious mind, although terrified, wished for one last glance at my pursuer. As I turned my head to look behind me, my feet stumbled and I fell. I screamed in utter terror at the thing pursuing me, a creature so horrid and blasphemous, it was almost beyond the description which human minds can fathom. Its body had changed completely. The wretched things was so terrifying, my mind could not retain the image of its full form. All I can recall is a pale, bloated body, and a mass of eyes, mouths, and limbs that bent at grotesque angles. A truly hideous monstrosity from the darkest depths of insanity had been chasing me. I cowered there on the ground and feebly raised my pocketknife as the thing grabbed me and all went black.

#

I finally awoke, not in my own bed, but still in that ancient city of my nightmares. I do not know how long I’ve been here now; time has lost all meaning as the sunless days have all blurred together. Sometimes I can hear faint voices around me, voices that sound familiar but I cannot remember who they belong to. And sometimes I can hear my own voice and see flashes of scenes as if I were back in my own waking world. I do not know what has happened to the body that used to be mine in my own reality or what shall happen to me in this place. But that nameless horror that attacked me is gone and I am still here, with my mind half-broken, in this dead and decayed city of eternal darkness.

The End