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Over The Threshold by Jim Lee

 

The Nation was in turmoil—felt simultaneously threatened and neglected, from within and from without. To some it seemed it had always been and always would be so.

 

But for now the four young people allowed themselves pride in their accomplishment and hope for the future. They all came from the same poor rural District; had been friends since childhood. And now they were cadets no longer, but had just graduated—these three young men and one equally young woman.

 

Each now wore upon their shoulders the bars of a Sub-Lieutenant in the Nation’s Army—the self-ordained bulwark of their Homeland’s ongoing Defense against its many enemies, foreign and domestic.

 

Ideally, Military life would not have been the first career choice for any of them—though for Nelka, it might well have been the second or third. She had always been the Patriot of the four. But the Nation’s situation was anything but ideal. The Army at least promised steady employment, not to mention a real chance of advancement for this quartet of newly minted Officers.

 

All four felt certain that, at the very least, he or she would now be in a position to have a measurable impact on the lives of their People.

 

#    #    #

 

Blood and pus filled the Prisoner’s swollen mouth. The surviving eye blinked and teared; the bare socket adjoining it oozed a colorless, thick jelly-like substance. This jelly crawled, in slow globs, past a broken nose and across a shattered cheekbone to the lopsided perpetual grin of a badly fractured jaw.

 

To one side of her in the humid darkness, the creak of a wooden chair informed the Prisoner of another Presence. And then, in her ear: A familiar, sneering Voice.

 

“You are a trained Biologist, correct? You know of Pheromones?”

 

Head lolling, the Prisoner would have shrugged—if only she could. But the straps did not allow such movement. She was held upright, almost naked upon the unforgiving metal of the modified electric chair. Wrists, ankles, upper arms, thighs and neck—all were securely bound.

 

Strobe lights flashed in series. They glared into her blurring ‘good’ eye: Red light then blue then on to gold, white and orange, in turn. Then back to red and the cycle persisted—endlessly, mindlessly.

 

“Pheromones,” her Chief Tormentor’s whisper was as insistent as ever. “You know about them?”

 

A stooped shoulder was now clasped, shaken savagely.

 

And the Prisoner moaned. “Y . . .yah. . . yeh . . .yes!” The struggle to force an actual word from between her ragged lips exhausted the Prisoner. Smoke-scarred lungs rebelled and the resultant coughing fit caused the general dull ache in her chest area to grow more pronounced and localized.

 

Dimly, the Prisoner tried to remember how many ribs the human body contained. She wondered how many, what percentage of hers were broken.

 

“Pheromones,” she repeated with dull resignation.

 

And the strobe lights cut-off.

 

As abruptly, the white overheads snapped on. They stayed on as the Prisoner blinked, rolled her single eye. The red-and-purple sore that was her tongue set a row of rotting teeth wobbling as she studied the bare room and her Interrogator.

 

He wore Army fatigues, of course—though neither hat nor coat. Still, she saw the pips on his collars. That made him a Major. With Internal Security, no doubt—though at this point such distinctions hardly mattered. The Ruling Junta’s poisonous and paranoid influence had long ago spread generally throughout all branches of the Army, the Air Force, and the National Police and finally even the Nation’s once-proud and outwardly-focused Navy.

 

This Major was balding, his face moderately wrinkled. But in his way, he was a handsome man. He sat companionably near the Prisoner’s side, grinning. “What do you know, Darda?”

 

“T . . . Told you!” Despite the jungle warmth and suffocating moisture, the Prisoner’s loose teeth chattered. Another coughing fit erupted and the Major waited patiently, studying his nails. At length the hacking subsided; a flow of discolored drool escaped one side of her mouth. It carried down her chin a jagged, crimson-tinted fragment of enamel.  

 

“Not the names,” the Major corrected, still seemingly enthralled by his manicure. “Not this time. That part’s over, remember?”

 

He leaned closer to the recipient of his recent handiwork. “Though you were helpful, of course—in the end. And after all those difficult weeks! So now you see that I was right: Being a stubborn little Bitch accomplished nothing. Correct?”

 

In silent agony, the Prisoner considered all the names, the faces, the individual histories. Old, cynical and ill-mannered Ba Win. That soft-spoken, outwardly cultured bastard of a Lieutenant-Colonel of Police. The grim-faced onetime University Professor. Distantly, she wondered if any of them had in fact been part of an actual cadre of the Opposition. They’d all finally confessed under torture and named names—if only to make the suffering end and thus to be allowed to die. But hadn’t she done the same?

 

And had not naming her brother, their older cousin or her long-crippled artisan friend and former lover Sein Lat saved any of them?

 

Probably not. They were all perhaps too obvious candidates for membership in her Resistance Cell. Yet in the perverse universe of lies and deception, of terror and counter-terror that the Nation had become, who could tell?

 

Perhaps what was sensibly so obvious was now the best, most absurd protection possible!

 

Her friends and relatives—her Comrades. They were, she’d discovered at this very late date, really who she had been fighting for, all along. The People? If she had the energy, she would’ve snorted. Who in Hell were they, anyway? The faceless, grubby, apathetic and anonymous millions!

 

She closed her one ‘good’ eye.

 

That earned her a careless slap. “Look at me, Darda!” Another, harder blow followed. “Don’t you even want to know if you die today—or how?”

 

Oh, yes—that, above all else, the Prisoner wanted to know!

 

Her solitary eye opened, focused as best it could.

 

The Major nodded, offered his winning smile. “Better,” he cooed then he swung his head around. Over his shoulder, he gestured at the tiny camera mounted in the upper corner of the wall, scarce centimeters below the ceiling.

 

A hard-faced Lieutenant in crisp full uniform entered the room, followed closely but with obvious reluctance by four much younger junior officers—one of them female. From useless habit, the Prisoner struggled to fix identifying details for each in her memory. Two of the younger ones held large boxes in outstretched arms. The full Lieutenant and the other youngsters held one clear plastic squirt bottle apiece. The liquids inside the three bottles were each a different shade of amber.

 

Pheromones, she thought with vague foreboding. She noted that, in contrast to the stone-faced Lieutenant, all the youngsters reacted—visibly appalled by her condition. None could be more than 22 or 23, and none showed much desire to meet her gaze.

 

Oh, lads, the Prisoner thought wistfully, without consciously excluding the girl among them. Should’ve seen me ten years ago! Or five—or maybe even last year. . . .

 

Something was moving, rustling minimally around inside the reinforced cardboard boxes. Her one moist eye narrowed.

 

Yes, she thought. “Pheromones,” the Prisoner managed to repeat aloud, her voice as rusty as an old gate.

 

“Correct.” The Major gestured for one of the young officers to approach, to show the Prisoner his box’s contents. The lad grimaced, but obeyed. In contrast to the older men, this one had not yet excised the name stitched into the breast pocket of his uniform.

 

Hello, the Prisoner thought dryly, Sub-Lieutenant Shan.

 

“Once you were a biologist of sorts,” the Major muttered. “Ought to be able to identify these?”

 

A dozen fist-sized, dull-brown beetles milled about in the interior of the box.

 

The Prisoner frowned. “Carrion beetles,” she whispered. “Type common to . . . oh, the northwest Border States.” At times she’d wondered exactly where she was being held. Now the news came too late to be of value—perhaps it had always been too late?

 

She caught Shan’s dark, unwilling eyes. The young man’s wispy mustache twitched and she willed him to understand her silent plea. For an instant, she thought he did.

 

Then the Major directed Shan back to where the others stood.

 

“Yes, indeed.” The Major grinned. “Scavengers of the jungle, aren’t they? Cleaning up all the unsightly waste left by others. Normally quite harmless to anything still alive. But like all insects, subject to certain biochemical scent clues—known as Pheromones, correct?”

 

There was no need to answer, nor question. The Prisoner had the idea, saw the thrust of it. “Mandibles,” she wheezed, to make sure the young ones didn’t miss the point. “Not adapted to . . . living flesh!” Forcing out that many words triggered another round of hacking coughs.

 

The Major waited those out before nodding. “Yes, those wide strong jaws are meant for ripping dead, unresisting, decaying flesh. Working on live tissue, they would be most . . . inefficient. Even should the victim be . . . unable to resist. But what if the beetles were whipped into a mad feeding frenzy by doses of the right combination of Pheromones?”

 

“Which—” Yet another sustained coughing fit forced the Prisoner to break-off her reply. She drooled blood, trembled. She fought to hold herself together long enough get certain last coherent words out and make them clear. “Which you will provide, Major? Am I—what I represent—such an evil . . . such a threat?”

 

The Major snorted. “You’re nothing, Bitch.”

 

But she saw beyond him four young faces, which had their own opinions about that.

 

She made no further comments, merely watched as the uncaring Lieutenant collected the other two bottles from the youngsters and presented them to the Major. Then the Lieutenant hefted the one he held and moved into position alongside his Superior.

 

Darda braced herself, summoning what courage she still had, as her shattered body was liberally misted with a sickly-sweet combination of chemicals.

 

It must be a good death, she told herself. Stay calm, show them! Don’t scream too soon. It’s your last chance . . . last chance . . . your last ch. . . .

 

She realized with dismay that the Major had ordered the four junior officers from the room. She was alone with him and the equally unmoved Lieutenant.

 

Each man raised a boot, kicked over a box.

 

The dull-colored, great-jawed beetles stumbled over one another. The smell, the unmistakable and irresistible guide to their actions hurried them forward. The first reached a dislocated toe, bent grotesquely to one side and especially exposed. But the carrion beetle had no mind for aesthetics, no concern for anything—except for the perfect and complete and total need to fill its maw. A set of insect jaws closed with a tiny snap. The first jerk was answered by a second and a third then an infinity of others.

 

There was no point holding back now. The screams went on for a full hour.

 

The feeding would’ve gone on much longer, if the Major hadn’t ordered his young charges to recapture the beetles. “They might prove useful again,” he stated with a smirk.

 

The Lieutenant stood watching at the open doorway. He was not surprised that all four of the callow youngsters became physically ill at the sight, one after another. He knew from personal experience they would harden, become used to it and finally accepting of the necessity of such methods.

 

What did surprise him was that the Prisoner still lived—unconscious when the others began prying the beetles from her with gloved hands, yet still breathing. He withdrew just long enough to inform the Major, who was also surprised—but not unhappy at this result. And so the four young officers were alone with the Prisoner in the single moment that she fought her way back to semi-consciousness.

 

“Help me, Shan,” she whimpered blindly, though the one she directed this last plea toward happened to be Sub-Lieutenant Wu.

 

Then she passed out again.

 

#    #    #

 

Hours later, four young Officers slowly walked a path in jungle twilight. Sub-Lieutenant Shan, as usual the one in the lead, lit a cigarette and took a puff. Then he passed it on to the next in line. Kian did the same and handed the smoldering object to the woman. Nelka inhaled slowly, took the cigarette between her fingers and turned her head. She arched a questioning eyebrow when the last man nodded and extended his arm. Wu was normally a non-smoker—but tonight nothing at all seemed normal to the four.

 

He took the cigarette, drew the smoke in clumsily and gagged as twin streams of acrid vapor flowed from the nearby woman’s nostrils.

 

They continued walking. Perhaps a hundred meters on they came upon the remains of a dead bird—and two large brown beetles feasting on the corpse.

 

The youngest of the still-new Officers stepped forward and raised a quick grim boot. But Shan elbowed him aside. The middle two simply stood there, nodding. The four finished another cigarette between them as the scavengers ate.

 

“Better things to crush,” Sub-Lieutenant Shan remarked at last.

 

“Don’t even think it,” Kian warned.

 

“We can’t let it go on!” Wu said, astonished.

 

“There’s not a fucking thing we can do!” Kian shot back. He bit his lip; shook his head. “Besides, she’s . . . a terrorist.”

 

“According to Major Tang.” Shan ground the cigarette butt under his boot.

 

“She confessed,” Kian pointed out.

 

“After all they did to her?” Wu asked. “Who wouldn’t?”

 

Kian winced; looked to Nelka for support. The woman met his eyes and slowly, grimly shook her head.

 

“And how about what we did?” Wu demanded.

 

“What are you talking about? We just . . . Major Tang and Lieutenant Vonn are our Superior Officers! We only did what we were told; we followed Orders!”

 

“Making us complicit,” Shan snarled, his eyes narrowed to slits.

 

“Bullshit!” Kian whipped his head around in one direction and then the other. “We did our Duty!”

 

“Really?” the woman said.

 

“Nelka, you of all people—”

 

“Yes, me—of all people!” She sniffed, ran the back of her hand across her lips and frowned. “That was wrong and Major Tang—”

 

“He’s the Ranking Officer . . . the local embodiment of the Ruling Junta!”

 

“Exactly, Kian.” Shan sighed. “And if we go along with it . . . .”

 

“What choice do we have? Shan, think about it. If we refuse lawful orders—”

 

“Lawful!” Nelka interrupted.

 

“In this situation, the way things are . . . .”

 

“Anything goes?” Wu stepped up, his face within centimeters of Kian’s. “Doesn’t that make us terrorists as much as anyone?”

 

“We just carried some stuff into a room, put it down and left when told to.”

 

“And afterward?” Wu taunted.

 

“Yes, I know. Look it’s a terrible thing. But all we did, personally—”

 

“What about tomorrow?” Shan answered. “Or the next day, next week? That’s how they work it. Drag us into it, step by step. Soon we’ll be required to take an active part in this shit. Then we’ll be trapped!”

 

“As if we aren’t already?” Kian turned, walked two steps away and faced the darkening jungle. “What do you propose we do? Desertion earns us the firing squad, just like refusing orders would.”

 

“If we’re lucky,” Nelka murmured.

 

“Yeah—and our families?”

 

“Could we get word to them?” Wu thought aloud. “Tell them to go into hiding?”

 

“How? Where? You’re all dreaming.” The misery on Kian’s face was unmistakable. “And what do we do then—join the fucking rebels in the Hills?”

 

Nobody replied. Nobody met his desperately searching eyes, either.

 

“You’re insane—all three of you!”

 

Nelka grimaced. “What other choice do we have?”

 

“Stay loyal.”

 

Loyal! To what exactly? I signed on to make my Country better!”

 

“Maybe we still can—by staying, coming up through the ranks until we can influence things—?”

 

“Now who’s dreaming?” Shan spoke again. “Look, this woman—she was a biologist?”

 

Kian nodded. “So what?”

 

“Remember a few years back, how the old Junta tried loosening its grip a little?”

 

“In response to outside criticism,” Kian said. “Yes, I recall. Things quickly got out of hand.”

 

“Right,” Nelka mused now. “People tasted a few tiny crumbs of freedom and demanded more. High Command panicked, the current bunch overthrew the old crew and clamped down even harder than before. They even shut down the State University.”

 

Wu nodded. “They purged the Air Force Chief of Staff and a half-dozen other relative moderates, mostly Navy guys.”

 

Kian turned back to Shan. “What about it?”

 

“I got to study some evolutionary biology before they banned the text books. It’s said our greatest survival skill is our ability to adapt. People can—and will—adapt to their environment in order to survive. We can literally get used to anything.”

 

“Yeah, that’s nice.”

 

“Is it? Right now, we’re at the edge—right on the threshold of something that will change our lives forever, one way or another. There’s no turning back; no avoiding it. We have to choose: Are we going to get used to this? One way or the other, we must pass over that threshold!”

 

“Do we stay?” Nelka whispered in Kian’s ear. “Become like Tang and Vonn? Or—”

 

“Or what?” Kian threw up his arms. “Run off and become guerrillas?”

 

“We can’t just leave her,” Shan remarked, his downturned eyes following the carrion beetles. The big insects finished their meal and turned, wobbled off into the surrounding jungle.

 

“So you want to do what, Shan? Indulge some romantic notion of a rescue mission? You’d have to carry her, crippled up as she is and she’d die anyway.”

 

“Along with the rest of us,” Nelka agreed grimly. “Just having her with us, she’d slow us down and we’d be caught.”

 

“Caught and slaughtered.” Kian nodded vigorously. “Glad I’m not the only one here with some brains left!”

 

“But to leave her for Tang?” Wu’s round face distorted with pain.

 

“She knew, I’m sure of it. She begged for the only help, the only mercy we could possibly provide.” Shan turned, drew his sidearm. He knew it was loaded, but he checked anyway.

 

“You’re all crazy. Look, I’m not getting shot—getting my family hurt, maybe killed too. Not in order to save some Goddamned Biologist-turned-Bomb-Thrower!”

 

“No?” Shan lifted, pointed his pistol.

 

“For mercy’s sake, Shan!”

 

“Exactly.” Shan bit his lower lip and fired.

 

#    #    #

 

Lieutenant Vonn happened to be out in front of the armory when the three of them appeared. He was about to ask what they were doing—and where was the other kid?

 

He didn’t get the chance.

 

They knocked him and the private guarding the door unconscious.

 

Shan and Wu went inside, emerged with three assault rifles and several grenades. They found Nelka standing, her face grim and the knife in her hand dripping crimson.

 

The two looked from that knife to the wide gash in Vonn’s throat. Wu nodded; Shan handed Nelka a rifle and they marched across the compound under a balefully full moon.

 

The bored corporal on guard duty out front was quickly dealt with and they rushed into the building. Wu held two astonished soldiers at gunpoint in a room with a monitor that displayed what ‘fun’ their CO was having around back.

 

Shan and Nelka burst in. Tang jumped up, turned and took a burst from Nelka’s weapon in the chest. Shan took out his pistol. He took two steps forward, met the Prisoner’s single grateful eye and fired.

 

Quickly retracing his steps, Shan told Wu, “Come on!”

 

Just behind them, Nelka gritted her teeth and whirled—took out the other two soldiers before they could reach their guns.

 

The small base was crazy with confusion from the late-night gunfire and the three made their escape with relative ease.

 

Within five years the old regime—along with most of the Nation—was in ruins.

 

Before the rebels allowed UN teams in to help guide the Nation toward some semblance of decent governance, the hard old men of the Junta came before a Tribunal of three much younger, but now equally hardened Officers.

 

Most drew long prison terms, but the worst of the Old Order faced firing squads. Yet in some ways, they were the lucky ones . . . .

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Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes short stories and flash fiction whether it’s ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, slasher sprees, bizarre fiction, classic horror literature, lovecraftian literature, or erotica. The darker the tale the better. take Over The Threshold for example, a story of dark, gritty, and hypocritical side of war. If you’re thinking where to submit horror short stories then consider Deadman’s Tome. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the authors.

 

   

   

 

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Cycles by Jareb Collins

 

The young woman woke with a gasp.

She sat bolt upright, the world cloaked in darkness, and thought maybe she was blind. Fear bit deeply into her chest, clawing its way towards her heart. She fought the urge to panic, and stifled a scream swelling inside of her as she discovered the blindfold around her head. Drawing a ragged breath, she clawed at the linen bound around her temples, unravelling the cloth as fast as her stiffened fingers could move.

The last strip fell, and she paused for several moments as her eyes adjusted. She could hear nothing but the sound of her own labored breathing and the pounding of her heart. A solitary lamp flickered above, casting her surroundings in a sickly, intermittent light. Her eyes ripped through the small space, confusion melting into horror. She was in a trailer, a single-wide space that was empty except for the bed she now lay in. She tried to pull her legs from under the thin sheet covering her, discovering they were strapped to steel rails on either side. She was in a hospital gurney.

Ohmygod

Fumbling in the dim light, she loosened the straps and freed her legs. A stab of cold revealed concrete beneath her bare feet. The chill of the cement crept into her legs, and a draft blew up the short hospital robe she was wearing. Shock was rapidly setting in, and her mind began to shut down. The space pressed in around her, and she stumbled sideways. She crashed into the rough, unfinished wall, her hands breaking the fall. She pushed herself upright, crying out as a splinter bit deeply into her palm.

Her voice came out as a croak, swallowed in the empty space.

Shuffling to the end of the rectangular room, she found a door set in to the far wall.
Locked.

Ohmygodohmygod

She beat her fists against the unyielding surface. She felt hot tears spill down her cheeks. She froze when she saw the smear of blood on the small, polished square. The blood was hers. The square was a mirror. She shuddered in the fringes the feeble fluorescent lighting as she searched the reflection before her.

Her lips moved wordlessly as she stared blankly. She didn’t recognize the face.

My face?

And then she heard the voices.

Moments ago: silence, broken only by the shallow breath of fear. Now, a fierce wind howled outside, shaking the walls around her. She strained her ears for the low moan swaddled in the folds of the gale, the words almost imperceptible. She closed her eyes tightly, focusing on the roaring gusts, concentrating. Slowly, she began to pick the language out.

“…..terror…”

“………is lost…..never see…”

“…..the cycles. She cannot…….it’s over…”

As she listened, her skull began to pulse. It was not painful, at first, but the volley of words increased and the pulses became sharper.
“…straining straining straining…finding a way inside…fear……devastation….

it’s the shock…too much strain….”

The pain in her head became a blinding maelstrom of anguish. The words continued to pour into her mind, becoming garbled as the jagged white lighting threatened split her skull and spill the nonsensical diatribe on the freezing floor. She dropped to her knees, clutching her head in agony.

“…stifled……….losing

her………dwfs….dfg….muummmffff…..dying….”

She toppled to the ground, feeling nothing but the excruciating fury in her head. She spasmed, hearing nothing beyond the thrumming of death pounding at her skull.

Slowly, the pain began to recede. The gush of words deteriorated to the low hum of angry bees in flight. She tried opening her eyes, but the flickering bulb above punished her efforts. She retched. The bile burned her throat; too tired to cry, she curled into a ball. She lay her head on the floor and sighed at the coolness against her fevered face. She was exhausted, but sleep would not come. Eventually, she pushed herself to her hands and knees. She grimaced as she inched her way in the direction of the bed, carefully peeking through lidded eyes. Reaching the metal frame, she grasped the railing above her and, with herculean effort, pulled herself to her knees.

The voices began to speak again.

Fear ripped a hole in her chest. She gave in to the uncontrollable sobs. She screamed, her voice escaping in raw, clipped shrieks. Grabbing one of the gurney’s dangling leg straps, she wrapped it twice around her neck. She lurched to her feet, then threw herself to the floor. She heard her own neck bones snap like fragile branches surrendering to the unyielding mental tempest.

The light winked out.

She awoke in the hospital bed with a gasp. The world was cloaked in darkness, and she feared she was blind.

The low droning of voices buzzed in her mind.

“…..begin again….”

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The Appointment by Karl Lykken

 

“I wasn’t expecting you back so soon,” Dr. Dunkelheit says, showing a brief look of genuine concern before his usual stoicism reclaims him. “It’s only been six weeks, yes?”

“That’s right,” I confirm. “I’m not here about my stomach pains this time, though. I’m here about this.” I lift up my shirt and show him the purplish growth on the side of my gut. Not that the shirt did a great job of concealing it anyway. “Frankly I wish it was just more stomach pains.”

“When did you notice this growth?” Dunkelheit says, bending down to examine it.

“Yesterday. I got bit by a spider. At first I thought the bite was just swelling up a bit, but then it got so hard and just kept growing. I mean, you could fit a tennis ball in there! That can’t just be a normal spider bite, right?”    

“No, but I’ve seen this before,” Dunkelheit says, pulling on a pair of gloves. “It’s nothing you need to worry about, but I need to move quickly. We don’t have time to schedule an operation, so I’ll just remove it myself.”

“Wait, what?” Panic sweeps through me. “Why is it so urgent? Shouldn’t I get a scan or something first?”

“Try to relax,” Dunkelheit says, motioning for me to lie back on the bed. “You’re just having a reaction to the bite. This is a simple procedure, but it’s important that I start draining the fluid right away. Otherwise it may burst.”

“Burst?”

“Don’t worry; I won’t let that happen. And on the bright side, since I’m performing the operation you won’t have to pay for a surgeon.” He gives me a smile that I know is meant to be comforting.

“It’s not my wallet that I’m worried about right now, Doc.”

“You don’t need to be worried about anything. I’ve done this many times before.” His voice is calm, but his eyes are not. God, what kind of bite is this?

He moves toward the counter and readies a pair of hypodermic needles. “I’m going to give you an amnesiac,” he says, bringing over one of the syringes and rubbing an alcohol swab over my arm.

“Jesus, Doc, this has got to be nasty if you don’t want me to remember it. What is this thing?”

“It’s nothing. The amnesiac is just because I prefer to operate in the nude, and I don’t want to give you nightmares,” he says with a smirk. I would chuckle if I wasn’t so terrified. He gives me the injection and then picks up the other syringe. “Now I’m going to give you a local anesthetic.”

I feel a small prick as he sticks in the second needle, then soon nothing at all around my stomach. “That amnesiac should already be kicking in,” he continues. “So we can go ahead and get started.”

I angle my head so that I can see the growth. The doctor brings over a small surgical tray and picks up a scalpel. He makes a small incision along the top of the bite, and a foul odor issues out from it. I wonder if he’s cutting into my bowels. I see him set down the scalpel on the tray and then reach into the growth. He pulls out–what is that? What the hell is that? He sets the thing down on the tray, its wings and pincers limp and lifeless.

“Damn. Spider bites can induce early birth, but six weeks was far too premature for him to survive,” Dunkelheit says. “I’m afraid we’ll have to try again.” His mouth opens wide, his cheeks forced apart by two long pincers, and a stinger snakes its way out from his throat. I want to recoil, but I’m paralyzed from either the drugs or my fright. He bends down and lets the stinger plunge deep into the middle of the deflated growth. I try to scream but nothing comes out.

Dunkelheit stands up straight, the pincers and stinger sliding back into  his throat. He rotates his head, cracking his neck joints. “Now then, hopefully it will be a good eight weeks before you need to come for your next appointment.”     

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Pandora by Helen Mihajlovic

Pandora by Helen Mihajlovic

 

The ethereal song of the blackbird infuses an azure sky as Hephaestus plunges his hand into a tepid lake. He digs his fingers deeply into the wet soil removing handfuls of clay, pondering his undertaking: to create the first woman.

He warms the clay in his hands, making it easy to mould. He shapes her

curvaceous breasts, sculpts her hips and lengthy red tousled hair to hang on her slender shoulders. With the carving of her two delicate hands she is complete. He looks at her fair skin and her brows arched over almond shaped eyes. “Pandora,” he exclaims, in awe of his creation. Hephaestus rummages through his filthy bag and removes a box. “You are to take this box with you. It is a gift,” he says, handing it to her.

She holds onto the brownish-red box.  

“But you must not open it,” he warns.

Her brows rise. “Why?” she asks.

“You are only to open it when I give you permission,” he says sternly.

“What is inside?” Her voice rises with curiosity.

He hesitates. “Something very precious and with great power.”

Pandora’s grip on the box tightens.

***

The box weighs on Pandora’s hands as she climbs the steep steps of a palace

built on a hill. She looks at its wooden columns and walks under its tympanum adorned with a sculpture of a titan bearing fire. It is as Hephaestus had described it to her; she marvels at the grand pebbled mosaic floors and the fresco of the twelve Olympians that embellishes the walls.

“This will be my new home.” She smiles at the splendor that awaits her.

As a gust of wind batters her bare flesh, a door opens from the far end of the palace. A man with a peculiar round head and bulging eyes strides towards her. His nose is akin to a pig’s snout and the skin on his neck is shriveled like a turkey’s wattle.

“Pandora.” Epimetheus salivates as his sordid stare explores her naked body. “I am to be your husband.”  

Pandora gasps.

***

The vivid light of noon gradually diminishes to the deep red glow of a setting sun as Pandora spends the day gazing at the box. Her fingers quiver as she touches its rim. She slightly lifts the lid and lowers her head to peer into the box.

“Madam Pandora,” a slave boy calls from the hall. Pandora’s limbs start, the lid slips from her fingertips and the box shuts with a thud before she can peer inside. She lifts her head as the slave boy enters.  

“Your betrothed would like you to join him at the market,” he says, glancing at the box.

She places the box in the center of the table. She leaves, blushing at the slave boy’s lecherous gaze.  

***

Pandora finds herself immersed in pleasure at the sights of colorful tunics, golden necklaces, sparkling gems and pendants inlaid with pearls in the open-air market. Sweet scents of rich oils, rose, myrtle and cinnamon perfume the air. 

A fair-haired young man with curls framing his long neck approaches Pandora and Epimetheus. He holds a basket filled with fruit.

“Madam, would you like a piece of fruit?” he stares at her elegant frame. Pandora looks into the basket full of figs, grapes and olives. “I will have a fig,” she says.

Smiling warmly, he gives her a fig, then turns to Epimetheus and offers him the fruit. Epimetheus shakes his head, giving him a drachma for the fig. Pandora feasts on the young man’s bright eyes as he gives a slight bow before leaving.  

While the sweetness of the fig fills Pandora’s mouth, a tall man with taut cheeks, a broad chin and swarthy skin approaches.

“Chitons!” the man yells, carrying various linen clothing over his brawny shoulder.As Pandora catches sight of his glance, she smiles.   

“Chitons and cloaks!” He weaves his way through the crowd.   

She looks at her betrothed with his strangely protruding forehead and dribbling mouth; an odd inflammation deforms his ears.

Is this to be my husband? He is old enough to be my father!  Pandora thinks to herself in disgust. He will be in the way of my happiness. He will interfere with me finding a man I love.

She falls into a reverie, imagining herself watching her betrothed peacefully sleeping in his bedchamber; his sagging eyelids closed, the rise of his plump cheeks with each horrid puff from his mouth. As she walks closer her brows knit with a scowl; she would go mad living another day near him! She sees his unusually large fingers laid on the bed sheets. Her stomach churns at the thought of his heavily veined hands caressing her body on their wedding night.  Her blood pulses with an unruly anger as she draws closer to him. Oleander flowers sit in a rich red vase on the bedside table; she impetuously seizes the vase and strikes him on the head. He shrieks. With a tempestuous upward surge of her arm she strikes him again with full force. His body convulses. She clouts him once more. Pandora breathes in deeply and steps back. She looks at the walls, floor and bed; a crimson liquid stains all in front of her. Madness. A blend of blood and perspiration drips from a lock of her hair. She shuts her eyes, holds her aching head. The air reeks with the sour scent of the Oleander plant and her senses are besieged by this orgy of blood. As Epimetheus gasps for a final breath, his lungs heave. He is still and his eyes hold a cloudy, empty cataleptic stare.

Pandora rouses from her reverie at the sound of a goat’s bleat. Her breath deepens, impious thoughts stir in her mind and the reverie of the death of her betrothed awakens a delight within her.

She turns to the noise of people hastily rushing on the dirt road and she stands fixated looking at them; it is odd that no one is like her. She wonders why all the men stare at her.

“Where are the women in this town?” she asks.

“You are the first woman created by the God Hephaestus,” Epimetheus replies.

“Other than you Pandora, he has only created men.”

Pandora’s mouth gapes with disbelief. “Are there any women elsewhere?”

“No.”

Pandora feels light headed. All darkens. She collapses.

***  

Pandora wakes with a start to a loud pounding sound; she discovers herself lying in her bed, on her side, near the window aglow with the sun’s light. One grim thought spawns another as Pandora lowers her thick lashes.  She is floating through a life she does not like. Her limbs hold little desire to move. She yearns to sleep and shut the world out. When she wakes may she be happy, may she be in a different life, a perfect life.  

Her grim thoughts cease as a finger crawls from behind her to find her naked nipple. She jolts. It must be my vile betrothed, she thinks. Perhaps he does not have the chivalry to restrain his desires until our wedding night.  

She hastily removes his hand from her breast. Feeling soft boyish skin, she quickly looks over her shoulder into the handsome black eyes of the slave boy, naked and lying next to her.

“What are you doing here?” she asks, her eyes widening.

“I was instructed to wait here until you were awake,” he says. “I crept into your bed when your betrothed left the palace.”

She twists her body to his while hearing a rhythmic pounding.  

“Do you hear that noise?”

He shakes his head. “No, I hear nothing.” He strokes her neck.

“It grows louder.” She turns her head towards the door, imagining the pounding sound to be the opening and closing of the box’s lid.  

“Pandora, only silence fills this chamber,” says the slave boy.

Her heart races; thoughts of the box plague her. She envisages herself opening the box; two glaring eyes look onto her from within and a slithering sound pervades the air. She awakens from her fancy when the slave boy removes the bed sheet that cloaks their naked bodies. A crimson blush flares on Pandora’s cheeks. The slave boy’s hand creeps again to her breast.

All she can think of is the box. She imagines a woman with thick dark hair and glaring blue eyes emerging from the box, waxen skin and large naked breasts. She holds the decapitated head of a strange man on her arm, his mouth wide open showing pointy edged teeth, his eyes holding a mad stare.

The slave boy rouses Pandora from her daydream. He stands naked near the bed and he parts her legs, pulling them towards him. He lifts her and her legs entwine around his torso.

Depraved thoughts of the box flood Pandora’s mind and heighten her arousal: She imagines a fair skinned woman with a large blue serpent wrapped around her body rising from the box. The serpent’s yellow eyes stare at her, revealing its sharp fangs with an angry hiss.

Filled with perverse desire, Pandora’s kiss roughens, her grip on the slave boy’s back grows forceful. Pandora imagines two men with grey complexions creeping out of the box, they bow their heads in shame for all the immorality the box holds. Pandora’s blood quickens as the slave boy’s loins move inside her. She thinks of a destructive fire blazing from the box. She is certain there is some dark, unholy power locked away in that clay box that will fill the world with evil. Her body violently thrusts against the slave boy’s loins. He satiates her desires and she heaves a sigh of pleasure.

***

 An odd sense of fear comes over Pandora as she watches the angelic sleeping face of the slave boy. She sits upright, turning her head in the direction of the constant pounding sound. Heart racing, she stands and follows the sound.

The soles of Pandora’s bare feet grow cold as she walks across the burnished marble floor. Her eyes narrow as she sees the box is no longer on the table where she had placed it; instead it waits for her in the center of the hall, its pounding causing her head to throb, her forehead to crease. She draws closer as she becomes aware of the box’s changed appearance; on one side the clay has disintegrated. The box begins to violently shake. Her breath quickens as she steps back. She grasps the torch from the wall and her hand trembles as she approaches the box. Her brow becomes drenched with perspiration as the warmth of the torch’s flame embraces her naked skin. Her entire body shakes as she holds the flame near the box’s rim, pondering its destruction. She becomes light headed, she screams, howls, confused, frenzied. Staring imploringly at the box, she falls to her knees and sobs.

***

Pandora’s gaze numb, she slumps in the chair, her chin clasped in her hand. I am trapped in my own life; I do not know how to escape, she thinks to herself. A betrothed whom I do not love and nothing of value to keep me to this world. She thinks of Epimetheus, his expressionless face and vacant stare, as if there were not a thought that stirs in his head.

Pandora’s eyes turn to the bookshelf. At the edge sits a garnet book. Thinking

it unusual in size, she grabs it from the bookshelf. Her eyes explore its cover, searching for its title; there is none, only an embossed plant with fringed petals in the centre of the cover. Leafing through the pages, she glimpses several highlighted entries: Hemlock, Rosary, Pea and Oleander. She reads out loud: “Each part of the Oleander plant is poisonous.” She purses her lips.

***

Pandora frowns at Epimetheus as he slurps his soup. She looks at the slave boy standing at the corner behind him; the slave boy reciprocates with a covetous stare.“Where is your exquisite box?” her betrothed asks, looking at the table where she had previously placed it.

“I have placed it somewhere safe,” she says. “It is far too precious to leave here where anyone could take it.”

Epimetheus nods. “Hephaestus gave all of us a box similar to yours.” He fills his spoon and returns to his slurping.

Pandora looks puzzled. “I am not sure what you mean.”

“When Hephaestus creates a person, he gives them a box.”

“Did you get a box?” She leans her head forward.  

“Yes.”

“What is in the box?” her heart quickens.  

He coughs. “This soup has upset my stomach,” he says wiping his brow.

“Did you open the box?” Her voice grows louder.

He screws up his nose at the soup. “I do not feel well.”

Pandora examines his sickly green complexion.

“Yes I opened the box,” he sighs. His eyelids half closed, his neck bends forward and he vomits on the table. Pandora turns her head in disgust; her hand covers her nose. The slave boy rushes to him.

“I need to rest. Take me to my bedchamber.” Epimetheus’ voice falters as he rests his arm on the slave boy’s shoulders.

“Pandora, the garden has many medicinal plants. Please find one to help with this sickness.”  Pandora nods. The slave boy leads Epimetheus to the chamber.

***

The sweet aroma of lilac enchants Pandora as she wanders through the blooming garden. The chirrup of the birds weaves through the air between a medley of crimson, violet and gold flowers. She catches sight of the notorious plant and halts to stare at its roseate petals.

How pretty and innocent the flower looks and no different to the others, she thinks. Her slight hand reaches to pick it. Placing her aquiline nose near the petals she breathes deep into her lungs the heavy scent of the Oleander. She twirls the flower by its stem between her fingers and thoughts of the Oleander’s poison crawl back to her mind.

***

Pandora carries a tray into the chamber where her betrothed lies on a mahogany bed. The cups clink as she places the tray at his bedside table and darts him a look of disdain.  

“Pandora, my dearest, you have brought me a warm drink to soothe my stomach.”

A wicked smile crosses her lips. She watches as he shuts his weary eyes. “Do not forget to drink it before you sleep, I picked the medicinal flower myself.”

His eyes strain to open. “Of course.”

“Pandora,” a voice calls from the hallway. She raises her head to the direction of the voice, then quickly looks back to Epimetheus, already snoring loudly. She rushes out of the chamber. Pandora follows the voice down a long hallway. Her breath deepens as she reaches the room from which the voice calls.

“Pandora,” the voice now whispers from within the box. She looks down with a wild glint in her eye. Her heart pounds as she nears the box; it sits in a corner. She reaches out to touch it; her fingertips feel its cold exterior. Her forehead sweats as she lifts the box; it feels heavy in her slender hands. What could there be inside? She thinks, looking at the box. If Hephaestus told me I could eventually open the box, then surely there would be no harm in opening it now.

A chill runs down her spine as she holds the edge of the box. She opens the lid. All is still. Where is the chaos she had expected? Pandora looks up as Hephaestus rushes into the room with a winded rage.

Her eyes scan the entire box. “There is nothing here.” Her mouth hangs wide open.

“I cautioned you not to open the box,” he yells.

“You made me believe there was more!” Pandora’s tone grows angry. “There was meant to be something precious and powerful inside.”

“There was something precious and powerful,” he says.

“You are lying,” she stares at the box. “It is empty.”

“You were not to look into the box until you developed your character,” he says.

“Then the box would be opened and you would have the one thing that was missing when I created you.”

Her heart quickens. “What is it?”

He hesitates. “I have watched you from afar. Your behaviour has been a harmful influence to it,” he says. “Your actions have shown little thought for others.”

“The box called my name. It whispered telling me what I should do.”

“You do not take the blame for your doing, you blame the box or any other thing for what you willingly do.”

“No!” she shakes her head. “I loathe my life. I did it in the pursuit of happiness.”

He interrupts. “Your putrid nature grew so much in force that it could distort the very box in which it lay.”

“What was the precious thing inside the box?” her lips tremble.  

He huffs. “Your soul was in the box.”

She gasps. She shakes her head.

“What shall happen to me now?” she asks, helpless.  

Her heart violently pounds; descending into a dark void, she frantically bangs on a clay wall. She has become imprisoned inside the box.

About Helen Mihajlovic

Helen Mihajlovic is a published writer in books and online magazines. Her short story ‘A Dark Love story’ is in the book ‘100 Doors to Madness’ available at Amazon. Other published stories are ‘A Sinister Nature’, ‘The Temptation of Eve’ and ‘The Prince of Devils’. Helen also makes films, her film ‘Dominica- A Tale of Horror’ may be viewed online. She is grateful for a good editor Alison Strumberger and feedback from Roger Smith. All stories are dedicated to her brother Bill and mother.

 

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Become a patron today and support the online magazine!
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Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors Anthology
https://deadmanstome.net/2016/05/21/deadmans-tome-book-of-horrors-pre-order/

Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes short stories and flash fiction whether it’s ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, slasher sprees, bizarre fiction, classic horror literature, lovecraftian literature, or erotica. The darker the tale the better. Pandora touches on a Greek myth and literary classic and for a reminder that curiosity and desire often lead to terrible fates, even if they’re pleasurable at the time. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the authors.

 

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Interview with Sean Glasheen – Occult, Oujia Boards, and More

Grand Master Seán Glasheen, author of Melissa’s Hobby, joins Mr. Deadman to discuss his short story (a story that has done so wonderfully on the site), the upcoming anthology, and talk about two subjects his story touches on occult and betrayal. Seán Glasheen is a young man, what could he possibly know about the occult and betrayal?

https://www.spreaker.com/episode/8798498

 

After the interview, there will be a post-show. The Deadman’s Tome post-show is where topics get interesting. Last week Clive Carpenter and I got heated over how people bitch and complain about not finding the time to write their book yet their watching reality TV and Kim Kardashian’s ass. This week, oh boy, do I have something planned. You know for damn sure I’m going to talk about some real scary stuff, the horror that is our reality.

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The Bleeder by Jesse C. Dedman

The Bleeder by Jesse C. Dedman

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It was a few minutes past midnight when the commotion subtly uprooted the diseased calm that lingered in the ally way. The back doors of the van flew wide open, but the pocket of darkness offered a great cover that the brake lights contested, glowing with a hue that seeped into the darkness, revealing a glimmer of movement. A body, or something that resembled one, was thrown out to tumble along the rough pavement. The heap splashed into a puddle of water and stayed without the slightest twitch. Just like that, the van was gone, driving off into a distance unseen by the huddled homeless.

 

Curiosity lured a few, which later grew into a modest crowd. They observed and discussed the strange form of the man’s condition. His arms and body were swollen with bulging muscles, and metallic etchings throughout his skin invoked a wave of questions. They pointed at his face, explaining the oddity of his mask, which was a modified wielding mask. There was a metallic cube of extreme weight that illuminated with flashing dials, which connected to his body by a series of tubes and hoses.

 

Being starved for most of their time, the homeless crowd was only as humble as their basic needs. They tried as hard as they could to pillage from the helpless manifest. Swooping as if they were vultures over a rotten corpse, attacking the pockets of his jeans only to fine lint. It was only the strange bulk of metal that was profitable, but it wouldn’t come undone. They beat the connections with bats, and the failure led to a bigger consumption of desire. One of them was wise enough to use his knife, but the sharp edge of his blade was dulling to the surface.

 

His arms moved, flopping in the puddle, but nothing significant. The mere fact that he was becoming aware scared off most of the people; the three that remained were the most rugged, disgusting, and unclean of the bunch. They were the alphas of their ken, or perhaps just the most desperate. They watched him move and grew with eagerness; their victim was weak, shaking to keep his own weight. Caught in a desperate cycle, the desolate fiend struggled to even kneel.

 

The boldest one acted first, placing his gritty, contaminated palm upon the surface of the cube. He brushed against the surface, feeling the cold untouched metal, while toying with a clever idea. A series of chords detached from the sides of the device and lunged at the man. One by one, three different lines snapped into his body with a force he couldn’t contest. His cry and torment was not given a reply he hoped for. His brethren ran off, but their attempt was without success. The remaining lines expanded into the distance, piercing through their chests.

 

A web of chords drained them of their blood and other valuable fluids at a rate that their body couldn’t adjust too, a strong piercing pain, followed by a searing vacuum gave allowance to a creeping coldness. The dials on the device flourished with an assortment of lights, while the entity attached suddenly had the strength he needed. He rose from the ground, carrying the device in his hand, which he clipped to the narrow bars that ran along his back. The being took notice of his surroundings and couldn’t help but feel the overwhelming sensation of being lost, alone, and without any help. He could see the damage done to him, but not feel the pain.

 

He took the overcoat from the bold one and used it to cover his shirtless torso. The fabric loomed over the device, rendering him as muscular hunchback. He walked throughout the narrow pathways as if to find something, while studying the sudden change in place. The shadows were thick, but his eyes were keen to resolving that. He saw with illumination, everything beamed at the seams with a slight golden tint, but it started to fade as his eyes have endured the torment of electrical shocks and chemical injections all too much.

 

The smell of tobacco redirected him to another narrow passage, where a slender young woman stood with cigarette in hand. She wasn’t aware of his presence and that offered a moment of invitation. He approached with an opened hand with its machinery infused fingers and lunged for her frail neck. She screamed but was silenced by a sudden slam to the wall. A gash was indented into her skull, which bled out onto the crusty pavement.

 

He knelt over her and opened the visor of his mask. His pale skin was riddled with crust lines and scars. The eyes were of a more enriched story; strained from the constant injections, the whites of his eyes were of that of a waterlogged, blood-soaked sack, and drooped with intense saturation. With careful fingers, he released himself of sight, and began to take hers. His fingers were tipped with a silver piece that housed many uses. They adjusted to what his body needed in order to complete the exchange of eyes.

 

It was shortly after this procedure that he heard the low rumble. It was a subtle bass that pounded from a source unclear. He searched for it, following the noise. It grew in texture, expanding into a chorus of speeches and mid-topic rants. It was difficult for the lab designed creature to follow, but what he found were basement doors that had seen better days, bared with an iron piece, chained by a web of iron and padlocks, all of which were destroyed in contest against his strength.

 

He bled from the tips of his fingers at an invariable rate until the last drop. He didn’t faint, nor did he suffer. It was this exploitation that was seen as a miracle by those around him. This ability blessed him with continuous tribute, placing him as an idol before their praised lord. They tested him, searching for flaws in ability, but all the questions were answered with a notion that their faith was honest. The men and women in this chamber serve a god not to alien from common beliefs, one that rules with intolerance and justifies punishment, pain and torment, by any means, Nzulmbi.

 

The third day of their trials delivered onto them a fatality that bolstered the creature’s reputation. It was during a ceremonial chant. The head of the Covent praised the work of other members, discussed foul showcases of violence, while reading a passage from an ancient tome. He spoke in Latin about a deity that rules with righteousness, blessing those that should be blessed, those willing to make great sacrifices. The speech was what made his accidental death something of a novelty by the group. They watched as the creature drained the head priest until his flesh was cold.

 

With natural reason diluted by actual practice, the Covent was quick in their efforts. They appointed a new head priest and developed a network of trusties that would allow them to offer sacrifices to their newfound idol. The first victim was a meek little man that seemed too scared to either resist or run away. The others were snatched from a status that made it almost impossible to trace. Compared to the previous, they faced more elaborate chanting and festivities, while standing in his shadow. The moldy basement became more alive after each additional victim, until the day she was offered.

 

A little girl, not much older than ten was delivered in front of the idol. He sat on a handcrafted stone throne, a tribute from one of the more talented individuals, with an unshakable calm, the same he expressed with the others. The network of cables launched out from his backside, but they didn’t strike into her flesh. Instead, he studied her more carefully and saw in her a gentle innocence; she was young, fresh with life, and blessed with a clean slate something different from the others.

 

“The sacrifice must be made, as it claims it so in the tome of the ancient king. Don Laviall was an honest man willing to make our lord happy no matter what the means. The death of this young girl will bring his eyes onto us and enlighten us with a type of kindness never seen before. Wealth will rain down onto us from the heavens once we know how valuable our lives are in comparison to the lord,” said the Priest.

 

“She is so little. She has no life yet to take, seizing a beginning,” said the masked creature.

 

“But you, as the bleeder, must surely understand. You did after all come to us and give insight.”

 

The light within him had been contested before, but the memory of it was faint. Searching for it, digging through a dark hole, scratching at any photographic image. He breathed slightly and never felt his lungs expanding. He thought with an active mind, a mind that has been conditioned and void of deep wondering. He was a shell of a man, but inside was something animated by carefully designed mechanisms. It was partly because of these machines that he lived in this numb state. Even when he bled, it poured out of his body without the slightest awareness.

 

The image of the girl, her flush cheeks and blond hair, freed him from the nothing he was so accustomed too. It was for this feeling that he moved to defend her against a group that had housed him for months. He felt nothing in response to the thought of fighting them, only slight confusion, as he never registered anything they have ever said.

 

“I have to think, does your messiah really profit from her loss?”

 

“He profits from our existence, but we don’t exist without his blessing. This is for us to begin a new cleansing.”

 

“You exist right now, you feel it don’t you. You feel it when you breathe, when you move. The one that doesn’t exist is I. I don’t exist and neither does this lord that you speak of.”

“The Bleeder might have misspoke, he wouldn’t denounce his creator, not with full intent. Perhaps we were wrong about the level of your servitude. You are less of what you seem, the Bleeder is thus a shadow of another idol. We will find that such idol, and we will create a better platter for it. Right now, we have this dear child to offer to Nzulmbi and that must be done. To not, will bring this Covent down to a low unimaginable.”

 

“No one will hurt this child, no one will even touch this child. A group of men like you stand before me, with a mind much more diluted than mine. That bothers me and makes me feel something I have long forgotten about. The absence of emotion had left me stale, but that has been revoked. I dare you all to challenge me, but I dare you even more to challenge each other. This lunacy has gone far enough,” said the Bleeder.

 

“You are part of what you just labeled as lunacy. You are a totem of worship. Your body is not by design from the god we neglect, but by the god we worship. You are him. You will feast.”

 

“If God created me, then he owes me an explanation.”

“We are the messengers of that. You must know it to be true, you found us.”

 

The Bleeder paused and his hesitation grew as he thought about that notion. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt aware, or even felt at home with anything. His mind was diluted into a despairing loss and was of no use other than to further dissolve any stable radiant. He moved from his place and felt an instant gain of pressure and had to use the arm of the stone chair to keep his place.

 

“You see, you are weak without her blood. You body needs to be revived so that it can flourish at full strength. Your ability to live is because of the way he crafted you. You steal blood, gain nutrients and bleed out the rest. You are what you hate. Do not let this girl be the end of you.”

 

The chords launched from his back, piercing through the air at rate faster than before. The metallic lead of the cable stabbed through the priest’s neck, causing him to gasp for air.

“…This isn’t his will…,” were his last words before the clamp readjusted so that it could absorb the blood. The other cables launched out, attacking random people in the thick crowd. The rest were speechless and not sure what to make of it. The head of their command, of their view, was cut off and now they are bleeding for their idol.

 

“This isn’t his will, then he is a traitor and must be punished,” said a bearded man.

 

The bleeder regained his strength and swallowed the frail girl into his arms. He bolted for the door, while offering his thick skin and muscles as protection against the rain of attacks. The rioting crowd was of no contest to his will; he reached the door and left with his web of cables springing back into place. The sporadic movement of the cables caused further injury onto the people, slicing through the skin of many.

 

The fallen idol slammed through the door shattering it into a thousand splinters and kept on running. He ran through a network of passages, running past several sleeping homeless, junkies, and social misfits. He was in a place much worse than before, even though it was more open. It was a forgotten part of the city; a place that once had a great view of the river bend. Now it contained only a collection of scattered cars, buses, and other junk that acted as housing for the people that lived there. They were the type that considered a morning injection of heroin to be a good way to start the day, a type that wouldn’t care at all for his intrusion.

 

Using the overlapping shadows of the place as a cover, the Bleeder began to pace much slower and wandered without any direction. The escape had dissolved to an expanding calm, he stooped behind a brick wall releasing the girl from his grasp. He examined her and sighed to the strange feeling. Her eyes moved, twitching to a disturbance known only to her. She squirmed for a moment, startled for a second that went by slower than how it started.

 

“Home, I want to go home,” she cried while crawling out of his arms. “Where am I?”

 

“You want to go home. Home, that is where you should be, where is it, your home.”

 

“What happened to you? You look weird, eew gross, is your hand bleeding?”

 

“Yes, it bleeds, and what happened to me is the reason of my being. That is the only thing I can make out of this misery.”

 

“Why are you so sad?”

 

“Is this sadness? I don’t know. I saved you from those people. Do you remember the people that brought you before me?”

 

“I thought that was just a dream. Does that mean I get to go home now.”

 

“Yes, but where is it.”

“I don’t know, not here anyway. We should leave this area. Head for a much wider street.”

 

“I will try, but I’m not sure where here is.”

 

A group of people gathered at the opening of the ally, and the sound they made brought onto them his attention. He poised his dark image before them, empty of fear. The cultists made their taunts, but the empty reply drove them impatient. They charged at him, leaving him with only seconds to think. He glanced at the girl and spotted a latter. He offered her cover and rough persuasion as she climbed to the rooftops. The rushing mob swarmed him like ants on a spider, weak and pathetic, but the surge of their numbers was a greater advantage than first thought. He spun his fists, pounding for release, but they stayed with their fight. He grasped a kneecap and smashed it with his fist, causing the pile of bodies to cave.

 

He fled from the scene, but turned around to find a man with shotgun in hand. The barrel was pointing directly at his chest, and the man didn’t hesitate any longer. The shot was fired and the bullets punctured through his chest creating a cavity that exposed the fumes of his inner workings; a musky green essence seeped out, causing the man to churn with a repulsed stomach.

 

The Bleeder climbed the ladder with difficulty at first, but he proved to be too strong for the others to hang on. Upon reaching the top he lunged for the face of a follower and smashed it against the brick wall. The body fell unto the others, freeing the ladder from their efforts. The little girl was at the edge of the building seemingly amazed by the sight of the busy city.

 

“You are okay, but only if we hurry?”

 

“My home is over there,” she said while pointing at a collection of rundown apartments. The Bleeder glance at the sight and became one with the objective. He pulled the girl closer to him, further staining her white dress. She was more repulsed by his roughness than his skunk-like stench.

 

“I will take you there.”

“What about those people? Aren’t they trying to kill you?”

“I believe so, but their intent shouldn’t last too long. I am stronger than they are and will succeed.”

 

“You might want to see a doctor, I never seen green smoke come out from a person’s chest before,” said the girl.

 

“I can’t say I haven’t and I doubt a doctor would be able to do much. I’m a monster, after all.”

 

“Yeah, you are, aren’t you? But than that makes you my monster, I don’t mind.”

 

“I see that you don’t,” he took her into his arms and jumped across to the other roof. He ran over the rooftops with the speed of a bull and was nothing close to being acrobatic. The pavement would crack to his landing, any glass surface would shatter to the vibration of his stomping, and the ledges crumbled easily to his presence. The air was the only thing he didn’t harm as his coat flapped on every jump. The girl screamed with fear at first, but that soon changed to excitement.

 

He crashed onto the roof of an apartment and shattered it, causing a great commotion as the residents were rudely wakened. He ignored the shouting and continued towards the girl’s direction. He navigated the grounds of the place, stomping over grass, bushes, and flowers until he reached a fence that was instantly taken down. She was amazed by his strength and laughed at him for his seer determination. He didn’t respond, as he didn’t know what to say. He stopped suddenly at her door and gave no indication of being out of breath. He set her down and turned his back.

 

“Wait, where are you going? You should meet my father, he should thank you.”

 

“If he is like you than yes,” he said.

 

“He is, he taught me much about the world and trained me to be smarter than most.” She opened the door and ran into the small apartment. For a place that was centered in a rat’s nest it was actually well kept, taken into high regard in appearance and smell. The Bleeder had difficulty walking in, but once he did he found the girl rejected by her own father.

 

“You are not to be here. How did you get here?”

 

“Daddy, I was saved by this man here, I think some bad people were going to do some awful things to me.”

 

“That awful thing was what they needed to do, what we needed to do. You are my only daughter and to offer someone like you with your importance is a sacrifice I am willing to make. Humanity needs to be redeemed.”

 

“So, you let them take her. You just give her up for a belief?”

 

“What are you supposed to be?”

 

“They worshiped me, I think. The people you gave her to…”

 

“Dad, I don’t get it, what is going on,” asked the girl.

 

“Abigail, this is the thing that was to take your life. Salvation is close… all he has to do is strike.”

 

“That is not happening. I might be lost and some sadistic manifest, but I am not some tool. You, as her father failed, and the only salvation is in your death,” yelled the Bleeder. He lunged for the father and raised him by the neck.

 

“Wait, he is my dad, my family.”

 

“Do you have a mother?”

 

“No, she died when I was born.”

 

“Hmp… Her death was my awakening,” said the father.

 

He squeezed his hand just enough to give a stern warning. The girl cried a trembling wave of tears, “You monster.”

 

The Bleeder closed his grasp, teetering with a cold delivery of death, but she stopped him. She wiped her tears and looked too clever for her age, “He wants to die, don’t give it to him. Instead take me to my aunts and I will explain what happened.”

 

“She’ll never believe you and I will win in court. You are my property,” said the father.

“What about the cult,” asked the Bleeder.

 

“We do not exist, nor do we give detail of anything we do.”

 

“Then your death will free her”

 

“My will locks her into another, there is no way to stop what must be done.”

 

“Then he will die too. I made my decision, and I will protect her, as she is just a girl.”

 

“Then Nzulmbi will take you back and he isn’t passive like the others, he will find you and set you back.”

 

“I’m a creation of something human, that I believe to be true and it is your cult I have to thank for that.” He squeezed the throat with full might, snapping it into a flatten mesh of flesh, bone, and blood. He dropped the body to watch it fall and noticed the girl’s repulsive reaction.

 

He left her there with a promise that he would keep watch. She didn’t want her only sense of security to be far and away, but her cries were of no use. As much as he wanted to protect her, there was a growing curiosity of his creation, a longing for a sense of purpose. A monster such as him shouldn’t be real, but that is a moot point when considering what man can do so long as there is desire and drive to do it.

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Snoflower by L.K. Scott

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Enhance your coffee

Snoflower by L.K. Scott

The mornings after Ben stayed out late, but arrived before the sun rose, he found Kristy still in bed asleep, or at least she pretended to be. She never slept so quiet, and after he awoke, there would only be enough coffee in the pot for her—never for him. That didn’t stop him from returning late and he never missed an opportunity to kiss her upon his arrival and again in the late morning.

Ben arrived before four am. The sun wouldn’t rise until eleven thirty when the icy tundra would sparkle beneath the full yellow sun. Plenty of time to get some rest before chores. Darkness swallowed their austere home and shedding his clothes he slid into bed beside her. He kissed his wife softly on the cheek who in return pressed her warm naked body against his, despite her taciturn behavior towards him the previous night.

“I love you, snoflower,” Ben told her. In the darkness his face was black like a withered apple, and almost destroyed from the unforgiving winters; his sloping forehead was dark, sun damaged from the long summers when the sun never set and the snowy mountains focused the beams like a magnifying glass across the blustery lands. His sickle-curved posture made him appear decades older than his natural age, and a thick scraggly beard protected his neck from exposure; a secretive, hairy, hunchbacked lecher. She smiled, still half asleep and said, “I love you too.”

At ten thirty in the morning, when the skies were dark and hinted the first flush of deep blue dawn, Ben ate breakfast at the table, a dish of salmon and potatoes with leftover bitter coffee warmed on the stove. After breakfast, Kristy stoked the fire, adding fresh wood that Ben had stockpiled and chopped during their brief Nunavut summer, while Ben gathered warm furs for the long evenings to come. Then, once settled, he retrieved a book from the shelf and settled into his rocking chair beside the warming comforts of the fireplace.

She leaned against his rocking chair after coffee and when she sat down beside him her eyes fluttered and he felt her body heat radiating off her body. She was a spirited-looking woman with hollow dimples on the corners of her lips that grew cavernous on the rare occasion she smiled. She had a short stubby noise and big fleshy cheeks, pinpoint, fig-shaped eyes with skin colored to match, but unlike her husband, Kristy’s was creamy like the fluid from a springtime milk thistle.

She watched him and the dancing flames until the hot water was ready once again and she hoisted herself up to fill their mugs and refill the kettle. As she moved about the room she left a rosy scent behind her with sage and pine with a tinge of salt and lemon from the fish she had prepared earlier. And again, after she retired for the evening and pretended to be fast asleep, Ben would depart until the earliest hours of the next day, and like usual she would empty the coffee pot until there was serving left for only one. Not just as a punishment, but to show him that she knew.

The following day while Ben was hunting for caribou, Kristy went outside to gather wood for their stove, several hauls that would last them through another bitter night. The sun had been down since just after lunch, for which she served a rare polar bear dish they had received from visitors who lived in a small village north, with a side of fireweed and more leftover potatoes. She wanted to surprise Ben with sage tea as soon as he arrived, but upon hearing a strange noise beneath the porch floorboards she dropped the wood onto the permafrost ground.

Beneath the porch, a dugout had been made behind their normal storage of usual meats and frozen grasses, large enough that Kristy could comfortably stand, but not for long as the air was dry and carried a deep Canadian chill. The ambient glow of the northern lights reflecting off the early snow allowed Kristy to see the round young face of the missing girl from a nearby village. Kristy didn’t remember her name, but the young woman had been missing for weeks, approximately nineteen years old and very beautiful though her eyes were ripe with fear. How she had survived the weather, Kristy didn’t know. She could only imagine that Ben had kept her alive—fed her just enough to keep her weak and away from death. There was a small heater in the corner, but not large enough to keep out the chill. The girl was alive now, Kristy could see the shallow rise and fall of her exposed breasts, blue from the cold. She muttered a plea to which Kristy replied, “I’m sorry, I just can’t.”

Kristy stood watching the girl, rigid with early signs of frostbite in her fingers. Her wiry, brittle hair covered her face and the dirt floors beside her. Even close to death, she appeared enchanting and fresh with pure skin like new-fallen snow and white with the natural illumination of the pale moon and northern lights.

As Kristy looked around the makeshift cell, other frozen bodies came to view. Four other girls, dead and frozen, each perfectly shaped youthful creatures preserved like bluish ice sculptures in the freezing temperatures. Some had perished with their eyes open, their irises frozen over and glassy, as if to be content with watching the shimmering starlight through the open cellar door. Ben loved them, Kristy knew. He spent more nights with them than he ever did with her. They were his collection and he chose to be with them. Did he touch them the way he refused to touch her? Did he make love to them, even after they froze? How could he choose them, how could he stray from her tenderness for an ice sculpture that would never touch him back, never love him the way she did.

Please,” the girl croaked. If dirt had a voice.

Kristy said nothing and returned to retrieve the firewood she that had spilled to the ground. She’d burn them in her kitchen stove to warm the kettle that would make Ben’s favorite sage tea. Ben arrived home several hours later. Coffee for one again. The tea would be late tonight. She thought of the young woman frigid below and Kristy wondered if her footfalls could be heard below the floorboards as she moved about the kitchen and into the living room to greet her husband with a kiss. Was the taste of the dead women still on his lips? Would she smell her between his legs if he allowed her close enough?

Kristy served him leftovers from breakfast with fresh potatoes and bittercress. She spent the meal in silence watching Ben as he raised the spoon to his mouth and licked the thick meaty drippings from his lips. His tongue slipped back into his mouth and she watched the muscles in his hirsute neck swallow, his adam’s apple swell, rise in his throat, then fall. He took a sip of his tea and when he caught her staring, he said: “I love you, snoflower,” and she blew out the lantern for the night.

He kissed her, but only on the cheek. She longed for more, to have him kiss her where her where her skin was sensitive, his rough hands in places where her body ached, places he only touched the missing girl, yet the only affection she had received was from the pet name he had given her that continued to echo in her ear long after he went out for the night.

In the veil of darkness she listened to Ben’s snores. She imagined packing her only suitcase with the few clothes she owned, and trudging through the snow to the nearest village, ten kilometers east. Donning the warmest caribou and seal skin coats, she could only voyage so far before submitting to a winter’s icy death touch. Beyond the snow-swept tundra, she still could not survive on her own. Even as the guilty thoughts drifted through her head like the lights that moved through the starry night skies she felt her betraying body pressing against his, his breath on her neck, the warmth of his bare skin against hers, his fingers which brushed against her thigh, and she knew she could not leave him. She missed him. She missed him like the winter snowflowers miss the springtime sun.

The following morning, Ben found the coffee pot still warm, its contents enough for one; for her, never for him. There never was. The sky was still black and would remain that way until spring. Ben looked forward to the cold season; it preserved the bodies and kept them firm.

Kristy leaned against his chair, handed him the mug of coffee, a nice change, but what was the occasion? It wasn’t until he drank the last of it and placed it in the wash basin and then stepped outside when he noticed the footsteps—his wife’s footsteps—leading under the porch and into storage. Through the kitchen window, he glanced at her, studied her care-free expression as she prepared the last remaining bits of polar bear for their evening stew. Below he saw his latest girl dead from hypothermia. She would still provide release for him all winter, but he was never truly satisfied. Not with them. The intimacy that he wanted was unobtainable and he suffered from a lust that could not be filled by any but one. What he wanted, what he truly wanted, was to love his wife in the most intimate way he knew.

“I love you, snoflower,” Ben said, though she could not hear him from the window. He disappeared from her sight, following the bank of snow under the porch. In the kitchen she heard the storage door creak open on rusted, frozen hinges. He was gone no more than a minute this time instead of all night, long enough to see the frost over her dead eyes. Again she heard the storage door groan and he emerged from outside. He stood in the doorway.

“How old is she?” Kristy finally asked.

Ben swallowed hard. “Eighteen.”

Kristy brought the spoon to her lips, her eyes blinking away the tears. The polar bear stew burned her tongue, yet she still felt frozen. “Is it because she’s prettier than me?”

His expression crumpled and his eyes filled with hurt, and the feeling that she had done or said something wrong made her feel heavy and ashamed in her chair. She let her eyes droop to the floor in hopes that he hadn’t seen her tears.

Ben crossed the room to her and dropped to his knees. His hands reached for hers as they rested in her lap. They felt like snowballs around her molten fists.

“No, honey, you are the prettiest one of all. Whenever I’m with you, I fall more in love. You are my soul mate. I love you more than anyone in the world, Snoflower.” He stared into her eyes, but that look of hurt remained.

“You don’t love them?” she asked.

“I love you and only you.” he replied.

Kristy stood up and moved to the coffee pot. She placed a mug next to it and faced Ben, her eyes pleading for affection, her mouth pleading for his. To be kissed passionately like how he kissed those girls. “There’s coffee for you in the morning,” she responded.

Ben kissed her, on the lips, but still just a peck.

“I love you, snoflower.” he said.

“I love you too,” she replied. Even after his confession, his reassurance, he still did not show her the affection she desired. She began to cry.

Ben raised the coffee mug over his head and smashed it into her skull.

The frozen air forced Kristy awake. Each breath filled her lungs with temperatures that crystalized in her throat, her breaths becoming shallower with every inhale. Drums and bone mallets like the ones she saw at the village equinox festival last year seemed resound within her skull and with each beat she saw explosive white and brown veil her sight. Thick coagulating blood spilled from her ears and dripped across her face, sealing the right one closed. She reached out, her fingers scraped against frozen dirt. Darkness surrounded her and above, her husband’s heavy footsteps shook the icy cavern. The hinges creaked as the door opened. Beyond his silhouette, the sky gleamed a curtain of emerald from the northern lights. The door shut and all became black again.

“I’ve always wanted to know you this way,” he said. Kristy clawed at the dirt, her arms weak, and her legs refused to move. “Even more than the others. I never thought I could have you this way. I’ve wanted it for so long.”

Ben smelled of pine chips and sour bear meat.

“Is this how you made love to them?” Kristy’s voice cracked, her throat felt like razor blades in the dehydrated freezing air. She was naked, caked with dirt and dotted with bruises over her bluish skin. The other girls stared wide-eyed and envious. Kristy could give Ben what they couldn’t.

“I wait a week. They are usually dead by then. The winter preserves their body in perfection and it helps with the smell. There’s almost no decay at all.” Ben stood wrapped in the warmth of his elk hide over her, blocking the hatch door. “You’re almost there. Another day, maybe two. You’ll die of dehydration if the temperature doesn’t kill you first. It will hurt, but only for a little while, and in a few days it’ll be over. Then I can have you just like I’ve always wanted. In the summers, we can travel to the permafrost territories of the north where you’ll stay preserved. Think of it as a vacation. Just the two of us. When winter comes, we’ll return.”

“Except I won’t be there for it.”

“Sure you will. You just wont experience it the way I will. I’ve never brought any of the others there, but now that I have you, I won’t need them ever again. We’ll be intimate just as I always wanted. Just like you’ve always wanted.”

Kristy’s body relaxed as she gave in to a new kind of warmth that overwhelmed her body. Her limbs fell still and her eyes stopped seeing. Just as she drew in her final breath, she heard her husband say with a final, heartfelt resolute, “I love you, snoflower.”

“I love you too,” she replied, and succumbed to the icy winter’s night.

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Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes short stories and flash fiction whether it’s ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, slasher sprees, bizarre fiction, classic horror literature, lovecraftian literature, or erotica. The darker the tale the better. take Snoflower for example, a story of necrophilia and kidnapping entwined with love and infidelity. If you’re thinking where to submit horror short stories then consider Deadman’s Tome. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the authors.

 

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Revenge of the Shape-Shifter by Rekha Amberdar

 

Revenge of the Shape-Shifter by Rekha Amberdar

Pine trees mimicking sentinels on a silent watch sliced the ground like slanting natural railings as Tess Scolari wound her SUV up the dirt incline of Dead Sage Mesa. Snaking up the forlorn hill, she tried not to look out the window to the right. One slip and the SUV would somersault downward several hundred feet below.

On either side in the distance, burned juniper and yucca trees stood hunched over like skeletal dwarves from the raging forest fire two summers ago. Tess avoided looking at them as she persisted onward up the dry, dusty trail leading to Tierro, the shaman, who had for sure caused the death of one of the cub reporters on Bits and Bytes, the online newspaper Elise worked for. The official story was that the reporter had gone off the treacherous incline, but Elise knew that wasn’t the truth. She had nothing to go by – just a gut feeling, which was why she was here. She had to find out more about the man who caused the residents of San Mariposa to clam up when she asked if they knew anything about the shaman who lived on top of the hill up the mesa. Nobody knew when he came or where he was from; they just felt his evil power around them and in their small hill town.

The vehicle’s clock showed 3 p.m. The heat today was a bit more intense for a late December afternoon, but it was dry heat so typical of Arizona. Tess pressed the window button and the window opened a crack. She felt the hot blast surge in. Big mistake. She jabbed at the button again.

Her journey was at an end. The dirt trail finally curled into a cul-de-sac on which sat a brown adobe hut. A man lolled on a bench outside it, smoking a pipe. Whatever she’d expected, it wasn’t this. The man was probably in his forties, wore faded blue jeans, a jeans jacket with leather tassels, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. She’d almost expected him to be clad in sackcloth, or animal fur.

Wolf skulls on stakes fronted the adobe forming a macabre fencing around the tiny property. What a sight, she thought, and wished she hadn’t come. Too late now.

She parked while the man watched her closely. She took a deep breath and got out of the vehicle.

“Mr. Tierro?” she said, walking up to him. “I’m Tess Scolari from Bits and Bytes, and I’d like to interview you.”

“So. You’ve come.” He had a deep droning voice, almost as if it had emanated from the belly of a mausoleum. “You have come, Cara.”

“Pardon?” The guy was weird. She should really turn around and leave, no questions, no interview.

“You did not come to me. I called you, summoned you here,” he said. “Ah, you’re puzzled. Never mind. You’ll soon learn.” He got up and ambled toward her, extending his hand.

Tess’s stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch. She willed it away and persevered. “I hoped you might have time to answer a few questions. Our readers would be interested to know about the power and place of shamanism in our society,” Lay on the soft-soap, it’s your only route.

As she took the proffered hand, revulsion zipped through her. There was a hidden power to the man, good or evil, she couldn’t say. In a moment’s fraction she retracted her hand. “Where do you want to sit?” she said, affecting a brisk tone.

He threw her a long appraising look that had the effect of a spider crawling on her skin – slow and deliberate. “Here, on the bench. Where do you want me to start?” he said with a half-grin lifting the corner of his upper lip. That and his small black beady eyes made him appear sinister.

The voice in her head screeching “Leave!” now rose to a crescendo, but she slapped it away. She had a job to do.

“Tell me about your background and how you came to be here.” That was probably too direct, but she had to extract what information she could and get out of there – fast.

“I am from long ago and far away from the land and the time of the ancient Inca, and I have known you, my dear, from that time.”

“Excuse me. I think you have me confused with somebody else.” Tess took out a small digital voice recorder from her tote bag. “Mind if I turn this on?” she said.

“Gadgets!” The man gave the recorder placed on the bench between them a feral glance. “We must cut off from the chains that tie us to the material world,” he said. His piercing black eyes held her like a snake would survey a rat about to be devoured. His soporific voice intoned as if he was in a trance. He took a few puffs of his pipe. What was he smoking? Pot?

“Makes my job a bit easier,” Tess said lightly and pressed the on button. “Go ahead.”

“I’m not from this world, neither are you, my dear Chayna.” He leaned back.

“Really? Why do you say that?” Humor the guy a bit and you’ll get him to incriminate himself about the reporter’s death.

“You and I are from long ago, a time that nobody these days would comprehend. We need to go back to that time to find our true calling,” he said and threw her another curiosity-ridden look. His getting interested in what she was all about wasn’t what she wanted or needed. “You need something to relax you, my dear Chayna.”

“Chayna?”

“An Inca name meaning “songbird.” You came to me like a songbird in the wake of a new dawn. Do you not remember what you and I were in a previous lifetime?” His eyes lost their spaced-out look from before as he focused on Tess. Now they had an intense glow, something a religious fanatic would exhibit.

Tess shifted uncomfortably and cast about for a distraction. She needn’t have bothered for it looked as if he had a sudden inspiration.

He stood up. “You’re too tense. You need some of my special tea. You’ll like its brew and aroma. It’s refreshing and soothing at the same time. I’ll be back soon. Don’t go away,” he said and gave a high-pitched laugh that sent shivers down her back.

“Tea would be nice,” Tess said. Anything to get rid of him for a bit while she composed herself and thought through her mode of operation. She turned off the recorder.

Her gaze shifted to the land around her. She’d come a long way winding up the hill on the red-brown dirt road, large red boulders dotting the stark scenery in profusion. Not a soul stirred in these parts, and she was fearfully aware of that. And no one knew she was coming here.

The smell of incense burning from inside the adobe wafted out. It had a heady aroma. Too strong to be pleasant, it stung the nostrils like the potent stench of a dead skunk. She waved away the smoke, which had drifted out and then checked her watch. Three-thirty. Hopefully she could get out of here by four.

Tierro came out holding two steaming stoneware mugs of tea and handed one to her. “You need to disconnect from the busyness of your life, my dear Chayna. You were meant to bring joy to others with your songs. But how can you, in your present situation?” He sat down on the bench again. What was he talking about?

Tess pressed the ‘Start” button on the recorder. “How did you become a shaman? Do you have psychic powers? Can you foretell the future?”

“We all have psychic abilities, if you think about it. Even Jesus’s Resurrection was a paranormal experience. He overcame the laws of physics. He was a shaman of sorts,” he droned on.

“You mean we all the power to resurrect ourselves?” This was so bizarre.

“Yes. If we need to. We all have the ability to call power to ourselves. It’s a matter of developing it like us shamans do.” He sipped his tea. “Someday I can show you how to develop those powers and there’s no limit to what you can do.”

Not if I can help it. Tess took a sip of the tea. It didn’t taste half bad. In fact it was curiously refreshing and she was thirsty. She took another sip, and then another.

Tierro’s voice was a monotonous drone now. Her eyes felt droopy and her head lolled back on the wall of the adobe. The tea – what was in it….?

Tess awoke to the man’s voice. “Wake up, Chayna. You fell asleep.”

She tried to sit up straight, her head heavy and groggy. “What happened?”

“Did I not tell you that the ways of today’s world deflect us from our true calling? You were exhausted and fell asleep. The tea calmed you down,”he said with a beatific smile. He probably saw himself as God’s answer to the world of therapy, she thought.

“Fell asleep? That’s impossible.” Tess got up. Whatever she had on the recorder would have to do. “I have to get going. Thanks for the interview.”

She dropped the recorder into the tote bag and slung it on her shoulder.

“You’ll return to me,” he said and gave her a droopy-lidded look. Was he stoned from what he was smoking or the tea?

Not likely to return, she thought as she got into her SUV and drove down the slope.

Tess stepped on the gas pedal as if a pack of cheetahs were after even though she was heading down toward Arapaho Canyon, her exit route out of the mesa.

From a distance, almost at the bottom of the Canyon, she saw a large raven perched on what appeared to be a dead cactus. As she drove past it, she turned to look at it, and regretted her decision the next minute. It stared at her relentlessly with small, beady eyes. At that moment, a bolt of white light hit her eyes and she instinctively shut them for a second. Panicked, she steadied the vehicle, slowed down for the next hundred yards or so, and parked on the side of the road. She placed her hands on the steering wheel for a split second, her heart pounding like a thunderclap.

She turned around to look at the cactus and the raven. No raven there – but a man walking uphill. Something in the way he walked and what he wore struck her as being oddly familiar. It was Tierro, the shaman, clad in jeans, jacket, and cowboy hat. Her heart thudded wildly again. How did he get down the hill so fast? And where was the raven?

* * *

Tess turned on the laptop sitting on her living room coffee table and opened up a browser. She then typed in the keywords “San Mariposa psychics” and waited.

At the top of the list was Rafe Loren, psychic and animal trainer. Bonus, she thought. Maybe he could answer the many questions she had. She searched for his contact information and found it. Email or phone call? she pondered. She finally opted for a phone call and punched in the numbers on her cell phone. Her cell phone was her lifeline these days; landlines through the phone company were so expensive anymore.

“Rafe Loren,” the pleasant voice at the other end said.

“I’m Tess Scolari, feature editor for Bits and Bytes and I’m researching a local shaman. I’d like to get your take on psychic powers. I’m a total newbie in that area.” That sounded general enough.

“Sure. Glad to help.”

“Maybe we could meet somewhere convenient – a coffee shop?” Tess named Café Corner, a small eaterie downtown, which was close enough for both of them. Rafe agreed to meet her the next morning around ten o’ clock.

Rafe was as pleasant as he’d sounded over the phone and Tess told him the purpose of her visit, including her misgivings about Tierros’s powers.

“I’m not surprised that you felt the guy had a creep factor to him. Shamans are known to have abused their powers and he could be one,” Rafe said.

They sat sipping their coffee after the waitress brought rolls to go with it.

“That’s a relief to know. I was beginning to think maybe I was imagining things,” Tess said with a chuckle.

“From what you describe, it looks like this guy has shape-shifting powers. In ancient South American legend, the raven symbolizes black magic,” Rafe explained. “I’ll have to research the Inca name he called you – Chayna.” He shook his head. “Obviously the guy is really into this thing and he’s freaked you out.”

“I don’t care to visit him again. Now it’s not the piece I’m doing anymore, but the fear that he might actually be harmful,” Tess said with a shudder.

“Take care, and don’t go up there again,” Rafe said. “If you have to, I’ll come with you.”

It was reassuring to hear that, and Tess felt herself relax a little. “Thanks.”

A few days later, Rafe called her.

“Turns out that among the ancient Inca, there had been a shaman who abused his power and would turn humans into werewolves. He himself was a shape-shifter and could alter his appearance at will His lover, Chayna, hated his evil ways, and ran away from him. He tracked her down and murdered her. For some reason, Tierro thinks you’re Chayna,” Rafe said. “What an honor, huh?”

“I’m pretty certain he caused the death of the reporter who went up to interview him, although we have nothing to go by,” Tess said.

“Just set that aside for now and concentrate on how to stop him from coming after you. For that you’ll have to think like a psychic.”

“So what do I do now?”

“Win his confidence.”

“But I thought you said not to see him again,” Tess said.

“By yourself. But now I’m going to be there as well,” Rafe replied with a reassuring grin.

“No. I can’t let you get into this.” Still Tess felt relieved that he was willing to help.

“You’ve no choice. I know this stuff. You might as well let me help you.”

“Well, you have a point there,” Tess finally relented. “But if he’s a psychic he’ll know I’m not up there alone.”

“Don’t worry. I have psychic powers of my own.” Rafe took the last sip of coffee and pushed away the mug.

“Thanks for your help.”

They got up to leave.

“I’ll call you with a plan. How’s that?” Rafe said as he saw her to her SUV.

“I’ll be waiting,” Tess said and got into her vehicle.

***

The days had cooled considerably. The residents of San Mariposa were readying themselves for New Year’s Eve celebrations. She should have shelved the project and left it for after the New Year, but there was no  time to lose. She had to crack the sinister mystery behind Tierro.

Two days later, Rafe called Tess. “It’s time to see the shaman again. You go on ahead, I’ll be coming along with one of my animal friends.”

“What kind of animal?” Tess asked.

“Wolf. In Native American and most other legends, the wolf is a protector. It’s only when its power is abused, things go wrong,” Rafe said.

“What are you going to do?” Tess asked.

“Cover you while you get this creep to do a shape-shifting stunt.”

Tess felt a rush of anxiety. What if their plan failed? It was either that or the shaman pursuing her with macabre stories of reincarnation.

For the second time, Tess drove up the red dirt road to the hill to Tierro’s adobe hut. Rafe followed her with his wolf buddy, but was out of sight. This time she resolved to appear less standoffish, more pleasing. Her blood curdled at the thought. But it was vital to do whatever was necessary before he caused any more harm.

 

When she reached the top of the hill, she caught sight of Tierro coming out of the hut. A wind had started up and it rattled the wolf skulls on stakes like windchimes rattling in the breeze. It was a creepy sight and Tess had the sudden urge to turn around and leave, but she couldn’t.

Her SUV spat gravel and she turned into the pocket handkerchief-sized front yard and parked.

She got out and affected a light tone. “A few more questions. I hope you don’t mind,” she said. She made sure she sounded nonchalant.

“You have come, my Chayna, as I said you would,” he said, looking as slimy as ever. Tess felt the hair on her head bristle. How could she go through with this charade?

“If you’re a true shaman, you should be able to shape-shift at will. Can you?” she asked playfully.

“Yes. I can.” He came close and stood a breath away. “Would you like a demonstration?”

“Would love one.”

“When I return to my original form, I’ll claim my payment – you.”

“Deal.” She regretted her recklessness, but time was running out. And Rafe would be here any minute.

“You wait here,” he said.

He went inside for a few seconds. The next minute, a raven flew out and circled the adobe, cawing wildly.

Behind her she heard sounds – Rafe and the wolf. Tess moved toward the wall of the hut. The raven seemed transfixed by her and circled her head. Rafe shouted a command to the wolf and he leaped at the raven and chased it into the hut. Rafe shut the door of the hut. Deadly growling and screeching sounds emerged from the hut.

Suddenly, nothing – total silence. Tess expected to see Tierro emerge with the bravado of a circus magician.

“What happened?” Tess asked with a shudder.

“Lycos did his job.  He made short work of the raven,” Rafe said, opening the door a crack.

“But Tierro. He could reappear, resurrect,” Tess said, remembering what he had said.

Rafe shook his head. “The raven held Tierro’s soul. It was the raven whose power controlled Tierro,” he said.

He opened the door wider. Lycos wandered out and sat on his haunches, calm and obedient. Inside the hut, raven feathers lay all over the floor, some of them charred as if by an unseen fire. “Spontaneous combustion,” Rafe said. “That was his mode of escape, but he didn’t make it.”

“I want to get out of here,” Tess said, shivering. She’d had enough.

Rafe helped her back to her vehicle. “I’ll follow you. You’re safe now.”

“I know,” she said with a wan smile as he walked her to her SUV. She got in, started the engine and, with a wave, drove off. No more reports on reincarnation, or the power of shamanism and superstition. Her next piece would be a comprehensive look into zoning laws.

THE  END

About Rekha Ambardar:

Rekha Ambardar is the author of two contemporary women’s novels and over one hundred genre (romance, mystery, horror) and mainstream stories in both print and electronic magazines and anthologies. She has also published articles on writing and current topics in magazines, including The Writer’s Journal, ByLine, Writing World .com, and The World and I.

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Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors Anthology

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

 

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Brutal Doom Realism Fails

Brutal Doom Realism Fails

What does Deadman’s Tome and a video game like Brutal Doom have in common? Uh, sheer brutality and a death buffet? Sounds about right to me.

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Spawn of the Slithis B-Movie Horror

SPAWN OF THE SLITHIS!

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