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The Master’s Torment – Mr. Deadman

The Master’s Torment

Moranet’s Rebirth

Mr. Deadman

Poor Moranet, son of the king, spared by the wicked hand of the Queen, falsified the wrongs with weariless perseverance, even in the face of death. Before his demise, life handed him a series of unfortunate hardships that drove the dagger of hopelessness deeper and deeper, until all that remained was pure hatred and anguish. A death absorbed by such raw emotion could blind the deceased, keeping the spirit bound in our world, and the prince of Scyrfelt differed not the slightest.


The mark she left behind seethed painfully upon his flesh in a throbbing discoloration. He should not have ignored her command. After all, the highest order in the house demanded respect for her authority; otherwise, she would exemplify how limitless her authority was. The queen of the castle, his mother, exhibited compassion in the absence of abuse. Rarely did she ever give anyone a friendly expression, and the walls whispered of malicious intent for the Lord of the Castle, the distant cousins, and even her son, Moranet. There were moments where she dragged guests into the stockades to treat them like disobedient slaves that broke their last command, all the while laughing with a voice that intensified the torture. Reason would often need to be present, but her logic knew no bounds for reason, instead she acted merely on response to a threat only she seemed concerned about, while roaring the King’s command.

Moranet stood in the hallway leaning his back against a wall. A chilling breeze rolled in from the windows, embracing him in a wrath of shivers. Her command resonated with a cold touch, for she desired for him to follow suit with the King’s master plan. With only a few details, the plan appeared rather indifferent to humanity, shattering the idea of hospitality even further; nevertheless, the command must be followed.

Through the expansive gallery he walked, and with each step his resistance towards the very idea morphed into an icy indifference. His steps echoed off the glamorous walls, which were decorated with fabulous paintings and pieces of polished armor. He paused before a small side door with fingers wrapped around the handle. The servants that walked by were ever curious, some with concern, others with fear, while a small portion with knowledge of why he hesitated. Moranet pushed on the door and stepped down into the shallow waters of the Queen’s interior Garden. The moisture soaked into his boots, but he gave no acknowledgment.

The overgrowth of vines and other greenery masked the walls, dominating the hard rough stone with intrusive branches and roots. Roses layered a corner all to themselves, while lilies at another, but in between lay a hybrid of different flowers; combining the beautiful with the carnivorous, producing a man-eating plant that attract the curious hand. However, the charm faded into a dull, brownish, and grey hue that expressed the malnourishment it had endured. Just as the Queen predicted, her prized creation suffered because of a lack of attention. The servants have been slacking, and refused to lure any more villagers for feeding what they considered a monstrosity.

Moranet demanded the gardener to come closer with hand ready to punish for any refusal. “This Hydra, why does it look ill, as if it hadn’t been fed for weeks?”  

Cowardly, the grey, wrinkly, and cock-eyed man lumped a few feet, while dropping the tool he had in hand. He feared the splash of the water would be the last of such noise that would act as prolog to his death. “Oh, Sir Moranet, please spare my neglect, for it was only done in your respect.”

“This plant is dear to the Queen and it is in a state that could no longer prove useful. How, you shivering disgrace, could that be respectful?”

“Your mind echoes with her command, but not without resistance. I only ask that you see reason, and allow this to go ignored. The kingdom will thank you, I’m sure of it,” said the Gardener, in a stronger voice, followed by an ominous laughter. After choking on his disrespectful laughter, the Gardener lowered his frayed hat and reached into the water for his tool.

“If you only knew the half of it. Torment has been accompanying me for way too long, and the only way to make peace with it is to befriend it. Do as she orders and feed the Hydra.”

“Yes, but only if we could lure more villagers. They have gotten wise on us, and noticed that none have ever returned,” said the Gardener, with a wicked smile.

“Hold your tongue, and acknowledge that she pays you well for your service.”

“Pay well does she? Only if one values life over anything else, but life can hardly even get you scraps of moldy bread,” said the Gardener, in a mocking tone. “Her reign will fester and rot before another villager steps into her lair.”

Moranet, without a moment of notice, grabbed the Gardener by his robe, and threw him against the closed mouth of the plant. The sudden thud shattered the frail man’s competence, but as his fingers pressed against the soft, mushy surface, he realized his weight kept him safe. However, the conductor of his demise noticed the element of safety, and Moranet gave with a cold delivery of steel an inviting taste of blood for the plant to enjoy. The first drops fell from the rim of the plant’s wicked jaw, and the taste invoked a surge of life into the once dying Hydra; Moranet made sure that the beast got its food.   

The jaws slammed on the prey, tearing into flesh, snapping bones, and consumed the body, but Moranet couldn’t watch without the torment of the faintest whisper. Like a voice echoed in a long empty hall that spanned the distance of many miles, the clarity of its words vibrated into a distorted chorus, but the message was obvious, and it found resonance in his heart. Though the prey was a mere useless peasant, it was a reminder of the horrific deeds he had endured thus far. Contrary, in exchange for her respect, anything was at stake, and he wouldn’t have handled it any differently, for it was her name that was spat upon by a loathsome Gardener. Nevertheless, such admiration doesn’t spare one from the seeping touch of guilt, overtime a callous develops, but even hardened skin can be broken.

Ignoring the chorus of shame, Sir Moranet left the shallow pools of the grand garden, which thrived within extensive networks throughout the castle, allowing the Hydra reach whenever intruders dared to enter. Unfortunately, it would take years for the plant to recover from the mistreatment it had received, unless they marched a village load of sacrifices. Upon returning to the throne room to bask in the Queen’s presence, a wonderful, mystical, and sweet scent wafted from the tall gallery of windows, which overlooked a forest with a wonderful view of a waterfall.  Her charmed incense glowed with amber tips, while a trail of smoke circulated in the air, gently passing by, and the particles teased with a bliss that played inversion to her voice. She called for him, but she sat in the king’s throne facing the balcony, which basked in the golden rays of the high noon sun.

“I can see why your father despises you, denying you of your rightful throne,” said the Queen, in a soft, but vibrant tone imbued with morbid tranquility.  “You were expected several minutes ago. Why so late?”

Sir Moranet bowed, and like Atlas, he bore a world of pressure. He couldn’t release his gaze from the floor, and he tried as hard as he could to summon the will to at least look at her, but nothing was there. Being already emotionally defeated, the young prince could only hope that the Queen didn’t hear anything too troubling to warrant further abuse; with her the threshold was in constant flux. Silence trailed her question, and it festered into awkwardness. Moranet couldn’t speak without swallowing, but his throat felt like a barren wasteland.

“Pride was never your strong suit. I have seen fresh recruited squires with more courage than you. But I suppose that should be expected, you are your father’s son, and like the others you are weak. Too weak to spread the word of the King, and you have only so much to your advantage,” said the Queen, her voice building with dominance. “Your one winning quality is your loyalty, but I have heard a rumor today that hurts me, and any pain I feel is felt by all of those around me.”

Somewhere, somehow, the will to speak rose from within, and Sir Moranet spoke with insecurity, “I assure you, my Queen, that anything you have heard pales to the example I made in your name.”

“Hesitance to fulfill an order tells me that you are not in agreement with what the King dears most. I know you killed the Gardener in defense of my name, but you hesitated to fulfill what is best for the Kingdom. So I find your loyalty in question. Perhaps you are too distracted, I know of someone you have been seeing lately, a woman within these walls that you have hidden from me. She distracts you from fulfilling the King’s will.”

The prince’s heart fell into an abyss never thought imaginable as if his mother’s lurking question could tug upon it. The dread merely warned of what evil she could manifest, and knowing full well of her inability to even consider negotiating, whatever she said he had to do. He was frozen in fear, all the while hoping to God that she wouldn’t destroy another life that was dear to him.

“As I understand it, you two are planning to wed, but you could never have my approval if I fear she corrupts you. However, there is a greater evil lurking about. Sir Helbrant plans on secreting his notorious lies into the minds of our villagers. And being that common folk are much like sheep, they could easily be herded into wanting to bring destruction on their very own righteous King.”

“Please, mother, allow me to slay this pathetic excuse of a knight,” said Moranet, in a bold tone.

“I sense you want to ask of me something in return, but you shouldn’t doubt my judgment. Whereas the King would judge your future wife to death, I would allow you to have more nights with her,” she said, in a rare, but maternal tone. She rose from the depths of the throne and stepped into the layering sun light, which shone from the opposite direction, trailing her frame with a golden aura. Her hands wrapped around the glow of burning incense. The loose garment of her robe draped off of her slender arms, while a faint titian hue dimly illuminated the ends of the sleeves. “Bring me his head, and I’ll make sure your father does nothing to her. Otherwise, he may have me slay her in front of you.”

Moranet felt as if an energizing jolt vibrated throughout his body, releasing him from the fear in exchange for a soothing, rejuvenating aura of calm. He obtained her recognition, even though he desired her recognition and respect, respect was too much to wish for as of yet. The prince could only hope that fulfilling this quest would grant him into the inner circle of his mother’s trust, which he and his love would both benefit from.

The bright of the mid-day sun dimmed to a spectrum of orange values as the sun burrowed behind the mountains. The calming wind of the day gave into a windy frenzy, as if the gentle touches of before were the build for something worse. Moranet and a few knights stormed into town on their steeds after receiving word of Helbrant’s location; they surrounded the pub with weapons drawn, some wet with blood in order to make their intent known. Upon entrance of the pub, Moranet, backed by two knights, expected an air of fear to embrace them, but the eyes of those around them spoke of an inversion of the norm. Instead of fleeing for their lives, begging for mercy, and kissing his feet for shreds of respect the villagers sat with newfound confidence, which they wore with weary, sweat-drenched skin. The lies that flowed out from Helbrant’s mouth ran as fluid as wine, filling their cups with a sweet, inviting aroma, intoxicating them on the very sip with its potent content.

“I come by the King’s command, I hope you all find value in your lives,” declared Sir Moranet.

“The command you follow is all part of her wicked game. Your mother speaks for a king that may not exist any more. Why do you allow yourself to be her fool,” said Helbrant, not concerned by the number of drawn swords that closed in little by little with every suggestive word.

“I see that you have manipulated the minds of these people, but their blunt knives, and farming tools could never scratch our armor. I suggest you admit to the crime! That you spread lies about the king and his rule,” said Moranet, with a hand on hilt, ready for the slaughter.

“The only thing I will admit to, is that it pains me to see how much wrong that wretched woman has done. The Queen is the voice behind the commands you obey, and the lives you take mean nothing to her. The dead collect as if to build a morbid stairwell of rot, so that she can reach even a new level of power. She claims to believe in our Holy Lord, but her ways of manipulating mirror the craftiness of those wretched pagans.”

“Calling the Queen a witch, are you? This treason could only be paid with your head,” said Moranet, smirking at his target, while his drawn blade glistened in the wavering candlelight. “You have no army to come to your defense. There is no one for you to call too. Why don’t you shake with fear?”

“These people will forever question the leadership. The renegade seed has already been planted, and the only way to destroy what I have done would be to eradicate everyone, but then such an example could be used in my favor if my preaching lives on, and I know it will. The Queen’s rule is over. You can count my words on that one, cousin.”

Moranet knocked over the table; the clustering clatter of the bronze dishes bolstered the harsh sound of steel blades biting at one another. The upturned candles gave life to an upset flame that quickly devoured the dry wood of the furnishings, growing into a searing blaze. The blood of the opposing villagers poured onto the ground, staining the crude wool rugs, and those that fled found their demise in a tiresome death. Moranet’s blade touched the flesh of Helbrant’s neck, and the cold steel mirrored his indifference. The Queen’s promise gripped him firmly, squeezing the little doubt he had, rendering the grief into an uprising fury. For the sake of his future wife, and the protection of the King’s rule, Helbrant must die.

“Your head will be placed in shame before your body is made cold, but in the afterlife may you look upon the glory you almost destroyed. With your death I can take my wife, restore order to this shattered kingdom, and rule as the rightful king I am. Good-bye, Cousin,” said Moranet. The narrow strip of his blade sliced into the skin, and streaming blood smeared upon the steel as it dug deeper. After several whacks the head was finally free from the body, and Moranet and his knights left the pub, while the fire continued to consume in a hardly controllable growth. Let the villagers struggle for their own safety, and let that be an example of how things would be without their precious Queen to care for their weakened King.

After retiring his steed for the night, Moranet walked towards the throne room, but a curious whispered caught his attention. Two female servants, dressed in dirty robes, conversed about the well being of the King like usual, but a dreaded word was muttered that demanded to be checked.

“Your mouth better not be as foul as your face, you hideous, dirty swine, for any joke of this kind would mean instant death. A death you would not enjoy,” muttered the prince. He enclosed the two into the corner with an extending arm, while his other hand held onto the lifeless head.

“I speak only what the others have told me. The king is dead,” she said, in a whimpering voice.

“By whose hand and you better not hesitate.”

“His life was taken by the means of poison, but the Queen doesn’t believe it, she would have us believe it was the will of the Almighty,” she coward away, and exploited a flaw in Moranet’s towering presence with the other following close behind. The prince wanted to stop them, but the opportunity fled too soon for him to realize. Moranet kept his doubt at bay, which lingered with an endangered presence, as his focus narrowed in favor of fulfilling the king’s command.

An ominous darkness restricted the faint light of the distant glowing amber, while the Queen’s crying echoed faintly off the towering walls of the enormous chamber. The chorus of sorrow resonated with an eerie, glow that hovered near the threshold to the King’s chamber, and though the irregular sound beckoned the prince to come closer, the touch of sadness that once vibrantly sounded ceased to be. Instead of a cry of despair, she cried with a subtle, sadistic laughter that bestowed upon Moranet a greater sense of urgency. The preservation of the Queen’s delivery of the King’s command urged him to storm into the room, but what he saw dropped him to his knees. His father had already lost the little color of life he had left, and sitting upon his corpse was mother. Tears of joy ran down her face, and they licked the cold, soft flesh of the king. With a free hand she traced the contours of his face like a passionate lover would do.

“Suffering all those years, being made silent while playing nice to your boyish ways. You have finally given me something worthwhile,” she whispered into the dead king’s ear.

“Mother, I’ve returned with his head,” said Moranet, cautious if he should continue. “Please, tell me that death of father doesn’t please you this way.”

“Don’t worry, my precious little boy, you have done a number of great wonders,” said the Queen, in a charming voice contaminated by questionable intent. “Your deeds bring security to my command, and preserving my rule is your sole purpose.”

“I thank you, mother, for your respect, but shouldn’t I have a spot on the throne,” said Moranet, in a daring voice.

“Of course you will, but as slave to my desires. You will act as the hammer that crushes all of those that refuse my rule.”

“Is it true you poisoned father,” asked Moranet.

“Why would you ever accuse me of such treason? Your father died by the will of the Lord, don’t ever ask again. Please, give me the head and go off to your future wife,” said the Queen. Moranet, riddled by cowardice, found himself a puppet to her command, and once again he left her presence feeling a sense of reward and confusion. However, the confusion faded upon thought of Elizabeth. The prince ran to his chambers, climbing the spiral stairwell without caving into fatigue. He plowed through his door with lusty desire, but found his love to be still on his return. Her naked body, stretched along the floorboard, was illuminated by a dim yellow tint that waned from the candles. Dried tears stained her cheeks, while she appeared lost in a dream.

“What horror,” cried Moranet. “Could it be that my mother has wrong me to the point of nothing, surely she couldn’t be as mad as my cousin claimed her to be.”

“Oh, my weak son, how it must be a heavy load to be you,” said the Queen, who stood behind him. How she got to his room so fast he did not know, yet his fear shifted to the ornate dagger she held in her hand. “She isn’t dead, not yet anyway.”

“Everything that was done was done not for him, but for you. All of it was for you! It was never father, but you,” cried Moranet, while huddled over his love. She blinked to the touch of his cold tears, and spoke briefly of his name. “What did you do to her,” he yelled.

“You pathetic child, love dilutes you to think so low of your own mother. Never can this be allowed without the spent of blood,” declared the Queen, while inflicting a nasty gash into her son’s arm. “You will prove yourself loyal to me! Use the knife beside her and kill her.”

Moranet shivered at the thought, and though he harbored loathsome thoughts towards his master, the will to disobey sounded like a whisper in comparison. With a nervous hand he grabbed the tiny knife, which bore a series of bloodstones along the handle, and an old symbol of power used by those long passed. He paused with the point of the blade longing for penetration, and his hesitation bought him another painful lick of the Queen’s fury. With sudden flight, the prince dashed out of harm’s way and stood resistant to his mother’s command.

“You will not get away with this evil. Once the word gets out that you poisoned the king, your time will be short,” said Moranet, right before running to the window, shouting out the cruelty of her evil deed.

The Queen pulled her son away from the window, knocking him onto his knees, forcing his head down with her blade resting at the back of his neck. She controlled him completely, pulling him closer to his naked wife to be.

“If you value your life, take the knife and stab it deep into your wretched whore,” ordered the Queen, the teeth of her blade dug into his skin. Moranet took the ritual knife and raised his hand into the air. The slow, torturous slicing of his flesh motivated him beyond what love could counter, and his clinched fist was wet with his lover’s blood.

“The ritual is nearly complete, and you shall feel overcome by anguish when you question me,” said the Queen. “You will protect my rule, and keep the invaders out from my kingdom.”

“Never,” shouted Moranet. The prince sobbed, and anger soared through his blood, building up into a rage that questioned her control.

“Not alive you won’t, but in death you will. Your soul shall be bound to this castle, defending it against those that I despise,” said the Queen. Moranet broke out of her grip, but received a fatal blow that would bleed him out in a paralyzing state. The Queen stepped over the corpse and demanded that they be tossed into the depths of her gardens so that the blood could enrich her horrors.

In the chaotic void of darkness, where not even the faintest shred of light could penetrate, and yet a grayish demeanor fell upon the surfaces of many things like a silky vale flapping in the wind, waning in and out of sight without much notice. Only this dull touch of detail could direct him, for everything else hid behind a never moving wall of night. While the subtle touch of grey embraced the shapes of people and objects, a distant, sad, and yet melodic chorus of harps played from an undetectable location. Surrounding him in a sea of mystifying sound, a series of angelic voices sung in a foreign tongue. Though the composition grew with instrumental inclusions, the volume decreased below the decibel of a faint whisper. Only when he concentrated could he hear it, but never long enough to indicate whether madness had stricken him delirious for a song that never existed.  An oily smear of neutral tones invaded the walls of emptiness, providing a limited sight that would seem wonderful to the blind and yet a curse to others.

Time seemed to no longer pass; he stood in a forever-prolonged minute, while waiting for an answer to a question he kept forgetting he asked. Memory passed through him like a circling freight train, roaring through with images of the things that he could faintly remember–too fast to be remembered. What kept him wanting to catch his forgotten memories was the intoxicating anger that flowed around him as if it gushed from a hot spring that could never tire. He sought for the pain, misery, and fear of those that he could only faintly sense, but he couldn’t find as to why. The only substantial thing he could remember was his name, Moranet.

About the story: I wrote this years ago after re-visiting Arthurian literature and wanted to use a folklore narrative to tell a story of betrayal that mocks spoiled prince and wicked mother tropes.

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Last Of The Aztec Riders – Mark Mellon

beverage-mug-000000Enhance your coffee today

“Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you a good story.”

Jack Pilgrim regarded the one-eyed, one-armed, huge man on the barstool beside his. The half of his face minus an eye was scarred almost beyond recognition as human, his deformed lip pulled down in a perpetual half scowl. After twelve hours on his hog high on meth, Pilgrim only wanted to focus on the shot and the beer before him, drunk to delay and lessen the inevitable bummer.

“Look at the patch on my cut.”

He turned his back to Pilgrim. On the faded black leather vest, a skull with a feathered headdress screamed. The top rocker read “Aztec Riders;” the bottom said “Tiny.”

“I’m the only one allowed to wear this patch, man. Nobody left but me. And I can tell you all about it, the whole freaked out story. But you gotta buy me that beer first, man. So what do you say?”

Intrigued and sympathetic to a biker so fucked up he’d never ride again, Pilgrim nodded to the bartender who poured a draught Bud in a pint glass and set it before Tiny. He knocked it back, set the glass on the bar, and wiped the foam from his scraggly beard with his hand.

“Like I said, I’m the only Aztec Rider left. You should’ve seen us back in the day, bombing a hundred strong in a tight vee formation at eighty per, total road Nazis, blowing through every traffic light. And no one, not no citizen, not no pig, dared fuck with us. We had Bullhead City under our thumb and most of Nevada and Arizona too, at least as far as pussy and meth went. And it was all because of our Prez, Pothunter. See, we called him Pothunter coz he was always poking around in caves on Federal parks and reserves, looking for Indian stuff, old shit, know what I mean? Even if it is a Federal beef. Like we cared about stuff like that. And then he showed up at the clubhouse with this idol, like a real idol, you know-“


The clubhouse was a long, one story cinderblock building with a corrugated iron roof in the middle of the desert, surrounded by an ten foot fence topped by concertina barb wire with signs posted that read KEEP OUT! and TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT! in huge, screaming red letters. Inside the dimly lit clubhouse, the Riders sheltered from the roasting heat to the dull roar of a sorely overtaxed wall unit air conditioner, ripped off from a hotel. In the background, John Kay rumbled Close your eyes, girl, Step inside, girl on the tape deck while Tiny snorted yet another line of meth. The room became infinitely extended in his tunnel vision. Blood pounded in his ears like hammers against anvils. He wondered if he was going to pass out.

The door burst open. The blast of light and heat sent the Riders scurrying to

darkness like rats to their holes. Pothunter walked in, a burlap bag held in both hands. A prospect hurried to shut the door.

“Hey, Prez. What you got? Beer or scotch, I hope,” Tiny said.

Pothunter set the dusty bag on the already filthy carpet.

“Lots better, Tiny. I went to Teuwanta State Park and dug some by the cliffs. You won’t believe what I found.”

He undid the rope and pulled down the bag to reveal a terra cotta figure about two feet high, ancient and worn, the paint faded, the features still distinct. The idol was a hideously grimacing, round-headed skeleton, dressed in a mask and garments made from flayed human skin. Internal organs, liver, heart, and kidneys, dangled from an open chest cavity.

“Whoa. What the fuck is that thing, Prez?” almost everyone said simultaneously.

“Our new mascot.”

Pothunter’s broad, red face beamed with pleasure. Tiny had never seen him happier, not even when he beat a Red Devil to death with a chain. He picked up the idol and set it with great ceremony on the card table that held the club’s shrine, composed of pictures of members who were either dead or in prison and some fake Indian relics Pothunter bought in Nogales one time.

“Listen up, everybody. This is the first real find I ever made. It’s some kind of god, some kind of bad, evil thing that just lives to make trouble. You know, like us.  This is bringing us wicked good luck. So I declare a three day party in honor of our new mascot, the god of the Aztec Riders. Bad Bob, tell the mommas to haul ass over here. They got some trains to pull.”

“Bitching,” Tiny bellowed.

The others howled as well, more delighted by the prospect of days of sex, booze, and meth than the idea of an official mascot. Head bent, arms pumping, Pothunter shuffled back and forth before the idol in his own version of a ritual dance. Puzzled and somewhat disturbed by the grotesque figure, like the loyal members they were, others showed club spirit and followed the Prez’s lead. They danced behind him in strict order of precedence, Vice Prez Bad Bob, Secretary Tiny, Treasurer Vulture Ed, and  Sergeant of Arms Bruiser Vito, followed by patch members in order of seniority. Prospects brought up the rear. The Indian Dance became a ritual, a ceremony that set the Riders apart and drew them together.


“Swear to God, if our luck didn’t change the day Pothunter found that idol. Like bam, like the biggest, best hit of meth you’d ever want in your life. In no time we had a steady stable of a dozen whores, each one turning over eighty percent of everything she made in tricks. She’d a fucking well better if she didn’t want her ass beat. Plus we had five meth labs going, no bucket shop shit either, man, each one with a real cook who knew his stuff cold. And no cop ever so much laid a finger on us, not one bust in the whole club for eight months, I shit you not.”

Tiny paused to give Pilgrim a significant look with his pale blue orb.

“Storytelling’s thirsty work, you know.”

Pilgrim nodded again. The bartender set another Bud before Tiny. He knocked it down like the first.

“Yeah, so like I said, we was rolling in serious bread after years of nickel and dime bullshit. We knew we was lucky and Pothunter was right. The idol brought us luck. Every weekend we threw a party with enough booze, drugs, and sluts to do up Vegas, and live bands too. And the big climax was always the Indian Dance in front of the idol. Man, you should have seen how we used to get into it. It was downright tribal, know what I mean?”

Tiny frowned with the good side of his face and shut his eye.

“And everything was cool, man, just completely cool, until this bitch came along one night and really started some shit, you know-“


The sun was a bloody red eye above the horizon. Clean, fine desert air was marred by the stink of tobacco and marijuana smoke, silence shattered by pounding drums and twanging guitars.

“And this bird you cannot change,” a three hundred pound man in a tiny black cowboy hat wailed from the stage as his band thrashed through primitive chords behind him.

Tiny took a drag off a giant reefer to take the edge off the speed tweaking through his veins and stared at bare breasts flaunted by drunken mommas as they gyrated to the music. He caught Bad Bob’s eye and stuck out his tongue. Bad Bob made a fist and pumped it up and down, the universal symbol for a gang bang.

The night wore on. A select few outsiders were allowed inside the clubhouse to party with the Riders, primarily hangers on and attractive women. Flush with cash, the Riders had refurbished the clubhouse, equipped with a new pool table, fully stocked wet bar, and an impressive new shrine, handcrafted from mahogany by a full patch member who also held down a righteous day job as a cabinet maker. The idol was in its own special niche, topped by a banner that depicted the Riders’ crowned, screaming skull.

Lines of meth were laid out on a table, straws alongside for anyone who cared to snort.  The open bar was staffed by two succulent, young honeys, enormous fake breasts straining against ridiculously tiny t-shirts to the point of rupture. As always, Steppenwolf blared, only now from a state of the art MP4 player.

Last night I found Aladdin’s lamp

The scene was lively, the vibe as mellow as could be among a gang of violent felons high on hard drugs. Tiny tried to take it all in, perception fractured by alcohol and drugs until moments became difficult to link together. He took another drag off the joint, exhaled, and went into a coughing fit.

A loud, brassy, female voice cut through the party chatter and music like a semi-trailer’s klaxon in the desert night.

“So what the fuck is that supposed to be? Santa Muerte or something?”

A fortyish Latina woman drunkenly swayed in the middle of the room, attractive even though overweight, jet black hair flecked with a few silver threads, a loose grin on her face, eyes wide and full of devilry. Miller tall boy in one hand, she pointed at the idol. Wild, chaotic laughter burst from her.

“Where did you gringos find that? In Tijuana? I bet you paid way too much.”

“Listen, bitch, that’s our club mascot, so don’t disrespect it, you hear me,” Pothunter bellowed, his ordinarily red face a brighter shade of beet.  “That’s a genuine pre-Columbian artifact I dug up myself out at Teuwanta State Park.”

“Are you kidding me? Where I come from in Guerrero, factories make stuff like that by the shit ton. Dios mio, que gringo tontería.”

“No, bitch, you’re wrong. This is the genuine, real thing that I dug up with my own hands. And I’m gonna prove what I mean right now. Members. It’s time for the Indian Dance.”

Pothunter dropped low and began the familiar windmilling shuffle. The other Riders fell in behind him with the precision of a well rehearsed dance team. Back and forth they danced before the idol in zigzag lines, each man caught up in the intricate dance steps, faces serious and grave.

“Oh, shit, I can’t believe this shit. This has got to be the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. Ay, que broma.”

Her beer gut rhythmically shook with laughter, the whites of her eyes and teeth flashing in the black strobe light.

“Bitch, I’ve had fucking enough of you,” Pothunter screamed.

He ran over to the woman and with one vicious uppercut knocked her sprawling, out cold before she even hit the linoleum. Tiny put two fingers to his mouth and blew out a long, loud appreciative whistle.

“Down with one sock. That’s why Pothunter’s Prez. Yes, sir, Aztec Riders forever.”

The Indian Dance continued. The woman lay where she fell, ignored by everyone. The night wore on. Before Tiny knew it, sense of time destroyed by drugs, it was three in the morning and no one in the clubhouse but the few most hardened partiers and the unconscious woman.

“Tiny, chop up some more flake,”

“Sure thing, Prez.”

Tiny dumped a hefty pile of meth flake onto a mirror and chopped it fine with his buck knife. The woman on the floor moaned loudly. Pothunter looked over at her and grinned.

“Looks like she’s coming round. Good thing too. Now we can kick her ass out.”

She sat up and cradled her aching jaw in her hands.

“Oh, you motherfuckers. You cracked my tooth.”

She looked up and focused on Pothunter.

“You’re a real brave man, you are, punching a woman. Que hombre.”

“Yeah, well, you see what you get, bitch, when you disrespect the Aztec Riders.” Pothunter said.

She got to her feet, still good and drunk and plenty angry too.

“Disrespect a bunch of pussy, pinche cocksuckers like you, you fucking gringo. I got chulo buddies that eat little shits like you alive. Fuck you and fuck your stupid idol most of all. Pendejo joto cabron.”

She spat at Pothunter.

“Bitch, I’ve had just about enough of your fucking shit,” Pothunter said.

He ran over to the woman, knocked her flat again, and kicked her repeatedly with his steel toed Chippewa boots. Other Riders joined in, punched and kicked her as she writhed and screamed on the floor.

“Hold her down. Hold the fucking cunt down,” Pothunter ordered.

Riders pinned down her arms and legs. Bad Bob crooked a massive arm around her head and pinned her jaws shut. Pothunter took out his Bowie knife with the sixteen-inch blade. He slit the woman’s shirt open, bared her soft, unmuscled gut. Tiny’s eyes went wide with joy. He loved nothing better than a gangbang.

Pothunter raised the knife high over his head. The woman’s eyes went wide with fear. She tried to break free, but half a dozen bikers held her down hard.

“Now you’re going to pay for your fucking disrespect, cunt.”

“No, Prez, no,” Tiny bellowed. “Not in front of witnesses.”

Pothunter’s knife stabbed down, deep into the woman’s stomach, just below the sternum.


The scream that poured through her clenched teeth deafened everyone in the clubhouse, a horrible, mortal wail of pain. Pothunter nonetheless dug the cruel blade in deeper, rent her stomach open into a gaping wound.

“We’re gonna worship the idol the real way, the Aztec way.”

Deep into shock, her eyes rolled back into her head. Her body thrashed uncontrollably. Beer gutted bikers could barely hold her down. Pothunter jammed his right hand into the open wound. He fished around for a moment, grunted with satisfaction when he found what he wanted, and with one, awful, tearing wrench yanked her heart loose from its mainstrings.

The screams ended. The woman lay still, quite dead. Covered with gore, Pothunter stood tall and proud. In his bloodstained hand, to the Riders’ awe and terror, a still beating heart. Black blood oozed from ventricles.

“This is just like the Aztec priests did it, brothers. Good enough for them, good enough for us. This is going to change our luck forever.”

He took the heart and held it high before the idol.

“Accept our sacrifice.”

Pothunter smeared the idol with the heart. Blood stained the idol’s face. Pothunter smiled widely, drunkenly, well pleased with his handiwork.

There was an awful thunderclap, a crash of doom like the last trump. The lights went out.

“What the fuck happened?”

A grotesque figure appeared before them. A skeletal corpse clad in another man’s flayed hide crouched before them, the idol brought to life. Internal organs dangled from his open chest cavity, lungs, liver, and beating heart. The god’s unsmiling mouth protruded slightly from the splayed lips of the expertly skinned face that covered his own. Vertical stripes ran down the mask. The flayed man’s hands hung loose by his wrists. Long tassels hung down his back from his elaborate, green-feathered headdress. Beneath the flayed garments, yellow skin was painted red.  Blood and pus seeped to the floor from the abscesses and open sores that covered his body. The smell of rotting flesh was unbearable. Blue flames burned in the flayed mask’s eyeholes, the only light in the otherwise black clubhouse.

Pothunter smiled broadly. He pointed to the bizarre apparition and gestured widely to his brothers.

“Do you see this shit? It fucking works. Everybody get down on your knees and bow.”

Addled with drugs and adrenaline, caught up in the moment, the Riders automatically did as their Prez bid. They got down on their knees and bowed low to their mascot made flesh. Pothunter even made so bold as to approach the idol and  present the heart to the idol, thick blood caked on his hand.

The apparition’s face split wide in a soundless roar. So did the flayed skin of the victim’s face. The skin ripped into pieces to reveal the wearer’s broad-nosed, cat-mouthed face, only to have that split wide. With a great gush of blood and splintered bone, the face destroyed itself to show a new one. The tiny, fine-haired head of a squalling infant screamed for his mother’s dug only to also split wide with a violent wrench of flesh and bone to show a handsome, young man, red face smooth and unlined. The handsome face seamed down the middle and ripped in twain. There in its place stood the withered, drooling countenance of an incredibly old man, only to have the hoary face crack in turn to show the grinning skull that lurks under every human face.

Bits of bloody flesh and fragments of shattered bone spattered Pothunter’s face. Slack-jawed with fear, eyes fixed on the exploding head despite the endless spray of gore, Pothunter managed to scream at last, a long and low, pitiful wail like a small animal about to die.

The idol stuck his long nails like daggers into Pothunter, ripped him to literal shreds before the other Riders like an angry child with a newspaper.

“Shit. Run for it.”

Riders ran for the door, but it was padlocked shut and the lock wouldn’t turn. A few men had enough nerve to pull their pieces and fire at the monster. Bullets riddled the walking corpse, but it just kept on coming, a trail of gore and lymph behind it. Grim face indifferent to their misery behind his flayed mask, he inflicted the same fate on each man, tore them into bloody gobbets of meat, rent them asunder limb from limb. Brave men who’d sworn never to crumble or bend the knee, each begged for mercy in his turn, called out for his mother, only to be tortured to death, maimed and savaged until he died with a last, despairing  cry.

Tiny found himself outside the compound with no idea how he got there. His right arm hung useless and shattered by his side. Blood streamed from the ruins of his left eye socket. In the distance, he could hear a siren’s wail, a police car or an ambulance. Tiny stumbled toward the approaching siren, his only hope for survival.


“And that’s the straight and narrow of it, swear to God on a stack of Bibles before my mother’s grave, every last word of it. Only thing I can’t figure out is why I was the only one to get out of it, even if it wasn’t it in one piece.”

“Because you told your Prez to stop before she killed the woman,” Pilgrim said.

Tiny considered this, then shrugged.

“Maybe so, but it’s still about the God damnedest thing I ever saw. Think you wanna stand me another beer, man? Just one bro helping another, you know?”
Pilgrim pulled out his trucker’s wallet and put three twenties down on the bar.

“Keep the change,” he told the bartender.

He headed toward the door only to have a painfully thin blonde woman intercept him. Once even more than passably pretty, her delicate features were ravaged and gaunted by hard living.

“You didn’t believe that line of bullshit he was handing out, did you?” she said with a conspiratorial grin, teeth blackened from meth abuse. “He just blew himself up cooking meth, that’s all. You ain’t headed to Kingman, are you? I’m not too proud to slut a ride, if you know what I mean. You got any meth on you?”

“Sorry. I ride alone.”

Pilgrim went through the batwing doors, outside into heat that smothered him like a funeral pall. He saddled his Indian, kick started the engine, and drove off into the night.


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VooDon’t by Kelly Evans



“It smells funny in here.” Lucy wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“Jesus, it really does.”

“You’re the one who wanted to come in here. Why in God’s name would you want to visit this place?”

Kate looked around the shop and shivered. The windows were blackened to block out the early evening light from outside and candles covered every surface, dried red wax covering ancient candlesticks. The air was heavy with humidity and a musty smell Kate was afraid would cling to her clothes. Arcane symbols were painted on the walls and floor, and shelves held jars, cans, and bottles in every shape and size, their contents unidentifiable.

Peering into a jar, Kate jumped back when a small movement disturbed the murky fluid. She answered her friend’s question. “For a laugh. We’re on a weekend away and you HAVE to go to a voodoo shop when you’re visiting New Orleans. It’s like a law or something. Like those hurricanes we had this afternoon.” She waved a hand around nervously, glancing at the jar again. Nothing moved this time. “It’s all done for tourists, isn’t it.” It was then that she noticed the tall black woman standing behind a glass counter filled with small animal skulls. Behind her, painted on the wall, was a large symbol comprised of a triangle, a heart, and various intersecting lines.

“Can I help you ladies?” The woman’s broad Creole accent was slow and measured.

“Um, no, we’re…” Kate looked at her friend, “we’re just browsing.” She nearly laughed as she said it, like they were browsing a department store for a new shirt.

The woman nodded. “Let me know. I’m Marie. This shop is mine. My mother owned it before me, and her mother before that. My line goes back to ancient times.”

Kate nodded and turned to Lucy, knocking jars over on a shelf in the process. Whispering, she leaned toward her friend, using a shelf to steady herself. “Obviously a speech for tourists.” Her words slurred. “The woman’s probably from New Jersey.”

Lucy giggled and playfully slapped her friend. “Shh, she’ll hear you.”

Buoyed by Lucy’s laughter Kate continued. “I’m sure that accent is fake too.”

Lucy’s laugh earned them a look from the shop owner. They turned their backs to the counter and pretended to be interested in a can of something neither could pronounce.

Voice lowered again, Kate spoke. “I’ll bet you any money she reads palms or some other crap.”

“No, but I do read the cards.” They jumped at the sound, the voice directly behind them. The scare made them both giggle.

Addressing them both she spoke again. “Would you like a reading?” The owner looked directly into Kate’s eyes. “No charge.”

Kate felt an elbow in her ribs as she was nudged forward a step by her friend. “Uh, sure, why not.” She slapped Lucy’s elbow away.

As they walked toward the counter, Kate muttered, “This should be hilarious.”

Lucy shushed her again and stood by the counter as Marie unwrapped her cards from a faded purple cloth.

Kate had seen tarot cards before; they had all messed around with them in high school. But never anything like these. They were very old, that was obvious by the faded designs and worn corners. And while she recognized the suits, the illustrative drawings were nothing like she remembered at all. Priests, nuns, and angels mixed with demons and other unnatural creatures in every carnal pose imaginable. She turned away, blushing. The heat in the shop and the numerous drinks she’d had were making her light-headed.

Marie seemed not to notice her embarrassment. “Take the deck. Hold it between your palms. Let your spirit enter the cards.”

Kate took the deck from the counter and held them as instructed. They were awkward to hold at first; too large for her hand to grasp completely but the cards’ age had softened them and soon they moulded themselves into her hand.

“How long do I hold them?”

Marie’s head tilted as she started at Kate. “A moment is all the spirits need to see into your soul.”

Kate snuck a look at Lucy and mouthed ‘dee speereets’.

“Now. Give them to me.”

Marie muttered words Kate didn’t understand as she waved a smooth black hand over the cards, then began placing single cards in an elaborate pattern on the counter top.


“What?” Despite her earlier mocking, Kate wanted to know. “What does it mean?”

Marie waited a moment before replying. “You are unhappy. With a man. Your husband.”

Kate’s interest plummeted as soon as she heard this. Typical charlatan’s guess. She wore a wedding ring and who wasn’t unhappy with their relationship sometimes. But it struck a nerve. The buzz she’d felt earlier was wearing off, leaving her with a heavy, sick feeling. She covered her irritation. “’Wit ah mahn’? Really?”

Marie ignored her and continued. “And your work. You’re frustrated.”

Kate snorted. She didn’t know anyone who was happy at work. Still, another nerve hummed strongly and in her current state it bothered her.  

The shop owner looked at a further card then at Kate. “You want a child. You think a child will save your marriage.” She nodded. “And keep Ian from seeking another’s bed.”

“What did you say?” Kate was scared now. How did this woman know her husband’s name? Did Lucy or her mention Ian earlier? She couldn’t remember.

Marie shrugged. “Not me, chere. The spirits.” She waved her hand over the cards.

Kate’s anger grew; fuelled by the hurricanes, it masked her unease.

Marie continued. “Yes, you are very unhappy. Desperate. For fortune, riches. For your husband’s dying love.”

Kate backed away from the counter, stumbling. “You fucking bitch! How do you know these things?”

“I reveal what my Loa already knows.” She pointed to the symbol on the wall.

“A bunch of fucking chalk drawings told you?” Kate put a hand onto the counter to steady herself. “Fuck your Loa! You can both go to hell!”

Marie made no mention of Kate’s outburst but her eyes narrowed and her lips were thin and bloodless when she spoke. “Let me help you to the life you seek.” She grabbed Kate’s arm.

Shrugging off the woman’s hand, she couldn’t help the acid in her voice. “What, a fucking worthless spell or some other bullshit?”

“A gris gris bag. That’s all. To bring you fortune.”

Kate hesitated long enough for Lucy to lean in and whisper. “Do it. Then we’ll leave.” Her friend glanced at Marie’s still narrow eyes and lowered her head.

“Fine. How much?”

The shop owner waved her hand. “Like the cards, no charge.” She turned and disappeared into a back room, but not before making a sign to the symbol on the wall. After a moment she returned carrying a red drawstring bag, small enough to fit into a pocket.

“Here.” She handed the bag over to Kate.

Kate smelled the bag and frowned. “Is it safe? It smells fucking foul.” The hurricane-induced nausea she felt was made worse by the mix of herbs and burnt material.

A look of fury passed over Marie’s face, there only a moment then replaced by a blank look. “There is no reason for me to wish you harm, is there?”

Kate took the bag and shoved it in her purse. She looked at Marie and saw her smile was gone. In its place was a look Kate couldn’t identify. Anger? No, something else. Satisfaction? Triumph? She couldn’t tell but she was suddenly afraid.

“C’mon Luce, let’s go.” She grabbed her friend’s arm again and led her out the door.

Lucy spoke as they left. “You okay?”

Kate hesitated. She felt an unease she couldn’t name. Avoiding her friend’s question she started down the street. “I need another drink.”


“I’m home!” Kate closed the front door “Ian?”

She left her bag in the hall and walked into the kitchen. The remains of a meal sat on the counter and there were dishes in the sink. Sighing, she went into the living room where she found Ian laying on the sofa, watching football. Bits of potato chips and cheese puffs littered the floor.

Kate stood behind the couch and waited. When she received no sign that she’d been noticed, she coughed.

Ian jumped. “Jesus, when did you get back?”

“Just now.”

He turned back to the TV. “Good, the washing machine isn’t working, can you take a look?”

“You couldn’t have done something about it while I was away? You left it for me?”

“You know more about it than I do.”

Kate shivered, the hangover from her weekend still haunting her. “I’m going to bed. The least you can do is tidy the kitchen, I’m not doing it in the morning.” She stormed off, Ian’s grunt of acknowledgement following her.


Arriving late at work, Kate groaned when she saw the files on her desk. Someone had worked the weekend and had left it all scattered in no discernable order. Being an accounts payable clerk was not glamorous but it paid the bills. She flopped down in her chair and opened the first file but the words swam before her. Closing the file she leaned back and shut her eyes. Her head ached and she was exhausted. Maybe she should go home. But there was work and she’d already been passed over for more than one promotion; leaving all this wouldn’t look good.

“You okay?”

Kate opened her eyes. Her colleague, Gordon, stood before her, arms filled with more files. “I’m fine, just tired.”

“You look wiped.” He dumped the papers on her desk. “Sorry.” He looked embarrassed.

She waved an exhausted hand at him. “Don’t worry about it.”

He smiled crookedly and left.

It was true: her job frustrated her, as the stupid voodoo woman had guessed. Not only the work but the commute. There was an office ten minutes from her house but, try as she might, she couldn’t land a position there. Instead she had an hour-long drive.

Ignoring the nausea she now felt, she set her head in order and opened the file again.


“You don’t look well.” Ian was sitting across from her at the dinner table. She didn’t feel like cooking and had picked up a pizza for Ian on the way home.

“I don’t feel well.” Another wave of nausea washed over her as the smell of pepperoni rose from the box and she hesitated, ready to run to the bathroom. The feeling passed.

“Can I get you anything?”

“No, it’s probably just something I ate.”

It was only after she had forced down a handful of dry crackers that Kate realized it was the first time in months her husband had paid any attention to her.


Kate woke suddenly and threw herself out of the bed to rush to the bathroom. She barely made the toilet before what remained of her meal last night came hurling out of her. After what seemed like an eternity she suffered through the dry heaves that continued long after her stomach was empty. She heard Ian behind her.

Finally it was over and she stood, using the back of the toilet to steady herself.

“Jesus, you look awful.”

Charming, she thought. Looking in the mirror Kate saw a pale drawn face staring back at her, with pinprick dots of red around her eyes and across her cheeks where the violence of her vomiting had broken blood vessels. She muttered a sarcastic ‘thanks’ to Ian and crawled back into bed, curling herself into a tight ball.

Ian left the room without a word and Kate felt that flare of anger once more. But it was short-lived because he returned with a glass of water and the blanket she used when watching TV.

“Here.” He handed her the water. “Drink. Small sips, not too much at once.”

While she drank gratefully, Ian spread the blanket on the bed around her, waiting until she had drank as much as she could.

“What can I do?”

Kate shook her head but the movement made her feel ill again. “Nothing.”

“Do you want me to stay home with you? I’m assuming you’re not going in?”

“No, it’s okay. Just a stomach bug.”

Ian shrugged, a look of helplessness on his face. Kate felt bad for him. He was being so nice to her, after such a long period of coldness between them.

She watched him get ready for work. “You sure I can’t do anything for you?” His concerned face regarded her from the bedroom doorway.

“No, really. It’s a bug. I’ll be fine.”

He started to exit the bedroom and she could see his shoulders sag a little.

“Ian?” He turned back toward her. “Thank you.”


Eventually Kate forced herself to get up and call work. Expecting a lecture, she instead got a sympathetic HR rep who made noises like a mother hen and told her to take care. “Drink lots of fluids, dear.” Following this advice Kate refilled her water glass and went back to bed, falling asleep instantly.

Later in the day, feeling better, she rose and managed to keep down some soup. She dragged her blanket downstairs to the living room and made herself comfortable on the couch, tuning the TV to a mundane daytime talk show. As she settled in her work phone beeped. Kate considered ignoring the message but in the end reached over to grab the phone. It was from HR; they wanted to meet with her tomorrow. ‘Great, they’ll probably fire me for taking the day off.’ But she didn’t care. The nausea had returned.


That night Ian and Kate had a light meal; he ordered in again and she stuck with crackers and soup. They snuggled on the couch and watched a movie, Ian’s arm closing protectively around her. Maybe the weekend away WAS just what their relationship needed. Yes or no, she felt comfortable with him again.


“Sorry about yesterday.”

Marg, the HR woman Kate had spoken with when she called in sick, smiled. “You still look pale.”

Kate reached into her bag and took out the pack of crackers she had brought in with her. “My stomach is still upset but these help.” She put them back. “And I am sorry, I’m usually very healthy.”

Marg dismissed the comment with a wave. “It’s fine, really. That’s not why I called you in.”

Curiosity replaced the worry Kate had felt. “Oh?” They weren’t going to fire her.

The HR woman smiled again. “No, not at all. In fact I have some good news for you. A position has opened in another office, it’s a senior role, located at our head office, I believe you live quite close to that building?” She waited for Kate’s nod of affirmation before continuing. “We’d like to offer you the position.”

A whisper could have knocked Kate off of her chair. “Really?”

“Yes, of course. We know you’ve been passed over before but we’re positive this would be an excellent fit for you.”

Kate’s head ached but she was clear-minded enough to consider what this would mean. More money. Less travel. More seniority, responsibility. And the office, so close to home! She could eat lunch at the house and be back at the office without even getting into a car.

Marg interpreted Kate’s silence for hesitation. “Do you want to think it over tonight? Talk it over with your husband?”

Kate knew what Ian would say. “No, I don’t need any time. The answer is yes.”


Dinner was in the oven, candles were on the table, and champagne was on ice. Now all she needed was Ian. It wasn’t long before she heard his key scrape in the front door lock.


“In here.”

Ian entered the kitchen. “What’s all this?”

“We’re celebrating.” She told him about the new job as she poured champagne.

Ian listened intently, his smile growing wider. “That’s fantastic, congratulations.” He reached over and held up his champagne flute. “To your new job.”

It may have been the meal, or the news, or the champagne but Kate felt like she was on a first date. It was like their early years together, before the arguments and tension and tears. And instead of watching a movie after dinner, Ian silently took her hand and led her to the bedroom. It had been months since they made love but thankfully, some things are not forgotten.


Kate stood in the circle of people, watching the dancer. The drums grew louder and louder with each wild gyration he performed. They were outside and it was hot, unbearably so. But she couldn’t move, couldn’t force herself to look away from the dance nor escape from the circle or the heat. Suddenly the dancer grabbed her hand and led her to the centre of the circle. Kate stood alone, aware that all eyes were now on her. A tall dark woman with elaborate white markings covering her body stared at her. The dancer continued his exotic steps, this time around Kate. With each turn he ripped a piece of her clothing from her body until she stood completely naked. Kate tried to cover herself but the dancer took her arms and placed them by her side. She felt sweat trickling between her shoulders and down the small of her back; the heat was suffocating. Her head pounded along with the drums, the sound coming from all around her.

With a last flourish the dancer forced her to the ground and mounted her, at the same time speaking a language she didn’t understand. She looked up at the painted woman then dared to look down as he positioned himself on top of her. What she saw horrified her: a snake where his genitals should be. As the serpent entered her she screamed.

“Kate.” She was being rocked back and forth, the snake moving inside of her. Disgust filled her, along with fear, and she knew she would vomit. She tried to turn away from him, to get out from beneath him, her stomach closer and closer to expelling its contents.

“Kate!” More shaking and she sat up in bed, eyes wide, looking around the room, trying to catch her breath.


“You were having a nightmare. You screamed.”

“Where am I?”

She heard the puzzlement in Ian’s voice. “Home. In bed.”

Kate closed her eyes. It was a dream. Just a dream. But then why, if it wasn’t real, could she still feel something moving inside her?


Ian insisted on her staying home the next day, but Kate was excited about her new role, despite the exhaustion she felt. She signed the contract and was surprised by the salary, much more than she had expected. Immersing herself in learning about her new role, Kate convinced herself that she was fine, that the nausea she still felt was nothing more than nerves. But no matter how much she tried to hide it, Ian noticed.

“Something from your weekend away with Lucy?”

She shook her head. “Probably not.”

“Are you sure? A parasite maybe?”

“I don’t think there are any parasites in New Orleans,” she snapped.  Seeing the look on Ian’s face, she immediately regretted it. “I’m sorry, I’m tired. New job and all.” She stood and cupped his face in her hands. “I love you. Don’t worry about me.” She placed a kiss on his forehead. “I’m off to bed.”


“Kate! Wake up!” She felt herself being shaken again and relief flooded her as she woke and saw Ian’s worried face looking down at her. “You were dreaming again.”

“Was I?” Kate felt the dream trying to lure her back.

“Judging by the scream a bloody bad one.”

“I screamed?” She thought back. “I was being chased, running from something. It wanted to kill me. There was a woman in the trees, she was laughing at me. I kept running and she kept appearing, closer to me each time. Then suddenly she was right in front of me.” Kate shuddered. “She was holding a head.”

“A head? Like, a human head?”

Kate nodded, unable to describe the horror of her dream. It was less the visual, although the severed, mutilated head made her feel ill. No, it was the feeling. The smell of the wet earth. The sound of the wind. The fear. She shivered and covered herself in blankets. “I can’t seem to get warm. Can we turn up the heat?”

Ian nodded and without a word went downstairs to the thermostat. When he came back there was a determined look on his face. “You’re going to the doctor tomorrow.”

She didn’t have the energy to argue.


“I’m pregnant.”

“What?!” Ian chocked on his pasta.

“I’m pregnant. Having a baby.”

Ian jumped up, a look of confusion on his face. “You’re sure?”

Kate nodded. “I got the results from the doctor today.” She grabbed her glass of water from the table and held it in front of her. “Congrats, you’re going to be a daddy.”

Ian sat down again, shaking his head. “Pregnant?”


“With a baby.”

“Well, of course, what else would it be?” Ian remained silent. “Aren’t you happy?”

His face finally relaxed into a smile. “Of course I am, god, I’m ecstatic!” He rushed over to hold her and placed a hand on her belly. “A baby.”

Kate laughed. “Yes, a baby.”

After dinner they snuggled on the couch. Kate couldn’t remember a time when everything had been going so well. And that night, for the first time in a week, she had no dreams.


Over the next few months Kate worked at becoming an expert in her new role. She sat at her desk, her hand unconsciously cradling her swelling stomach. Still constantly exhausted, it took all of her resources to focus. During the day she grew into her management position; at night she prepared for their child and enjoyed Ian’s company. Her visits to the doctor raised no concerns; it was a normal pregnancy. Except for one thing she learned at her appointment that afternoon.

“I have news.”


“We’re having twins.”


The woman was back, decorated as usual. This time she held two snakes, one white and the other black. She twirled seductively, using the snakes as props and somehow coaxing them to sway along with her. She danced in a circle that had been painted on the floor, two elaborate symbols painted within the circle’s borders. Kate watched from outside the circle. There was no one else there.

Reaching down carefully, the woman placed the snakes on the ground, one inside each of the symbols. Kate watched, fascinated.

The snakes slithered toward each other, meeting in the middle. Kate was suddenly very afraid, although she didn’t know why. Something bad was about to happen, something she couldn’t stop. She could feel it inside.

In a flash of movement the black snake attacked, launching itself at the white snake. The white snake turned, desperate to protect itself but was too late: blood flowed from a large gash in its neck where the black snake had torn a piece of flesh out. As the white snake lay dying, the black snake began to swallow the body, ignoring the feeble thrashing of its prey. Soon it was over.

Kate could still hear the woman’s laughter long after she had woken.


“I had the strangest dream last night.” Kate was eating breakfast with Ian.

“You ARE pregnant. Probably all that bizarre food you’ve been eating.” He reached over to the corkboard and pulled a piece of paper from it. “Look at this grocery list: hot peppers, crawfish, garlic – and you put black pepper on your cereal yesterday.”

Kate shrugged. “I know. All this stuff used to give me the worst heartburn but these days I can’t seem to get enough.”

Ian frowned as she grabbed the hot sauce and added a generous amount to her coffee.


The months went by, season followed by season, and Kate grew larger and larger. Her dreams continued; sometimes mild and curious, but often too horrible to believe her own mind could come up with such images. She stopped mentioning them to Ian, convincing herself they were a result of the pregnancy, or the odd food she constantly craved. Surely that must explain them. Right?


Kate was part of a crowd of onlookers again, a circle of bodies tightly packed around a large stone table. The forest was filled with the sound of insects and animals although none revealed themselves. A smell of dark, damp soil that she had become used to permeated everything: the forest, her hair, her clothes, what little there was. All had the musty smell of death and decay.

The dark painted woman was there; she was always there, watching. She stood beside the table and with a glance at Kate, signalled to someone Kate couldn’t see. A moment later a young woman was led to the table, heavily pregnant. She stumbled a few times and was held up by one of the woman’s helpers. Her eyes were wide with fear and she was moving her lips but Kate couldn’t hear what she was saying. The woman was helped onto the table and tied down with ropes: feet, hands and neck. It seemed unnecessary as the young woman seemed unable to move but Kate soon understood the reason for the bindings.

The painted woman addressed the watching crowd then raised a knife in the air over her head, holding it with both hands. She began to chant and soon the crowd joined in, repeating the same phrase over and over. Kate tried to run but couldn’t. When she looked down at her feet she saw they had melted into the floor. She screamed but no sound came out. Looking back up she saw the dark woman staring at her, a small smile playing on her painted lips. Her chanting grew louder and the young pregnant woman on the table finally began to move, struggling to free herself of her bindings.

The chanting reached a crescendo and on the last syllable the dark woman plunged the knife into the pregnant woman’s belly. The young woman’s scream was inhuman; like an animal in pain, a demon escaping from hell. She tried to look away but felt an invisible pressure on the back of her head, forcing her to watch.

The dark woman laughed as she reached inside the young woman and brought out a deformed foetus, a pathetic mockery of a human. She held the creature in the air, laughing as the foetus mewled, mucus in its throat making a wet sound. Grabbing the knife once more, she cut the umbilical cord and licked the blood and tissue off of the knife-edge. Kate could see pieces of flesh in the dark woman’s teeth as she smiled broadly. She began to laugh again and Kate could hear whispering: foreign evil-sounding words.

The pain started at that moment and Kate grabbed her stomach, doubling over in agony. Suddenly the dark woman was standing in front of her, foetus held by the neck in one hand, knife at the ready in the other.

Kate woke screaming as the knife entered her stomach, the woman saying only one word to her: ‘Now’.


“Ian.” It was her turn to nudge him. She had lain awake after the dream, trying to calm her breathing when the pain hit again. “Ian! Wake up! It’s time.”

Ian rolled over, mumbling in his sleep. As another wave of pain washed over her Kate kicked her husband in the leg. “IAN!”

He was finally awake. “What? What is it? What’s wrong?”

“It’s time.”

She saw the look of understanding creep onto his face. “Now? You’re serious?” He leaped from the bed as he spoke. “Okay, right, we’re good, we’re good.” He was running around the room. “I’m ready, I’m ready.”

They got to the car and Kate was grateful the traffic was light. Reaching the hospital in record time Kate was quickly checked in and ushered into the delivery ward.

“Is dad coming in?” The nurse smiled at Ian.

Kate replied on his behalf. “Dad is not, dad faints at the sight of blood.” She laughed and then grimaced as another contraction gripped her. Through clenched teeth she continued. “Dad can’t even watch hospital shows on TV without feeling dizzy.”

“Right then, it’s just you and me.” The nurse winked at Ian and wheeled Kate through a door.


It was a quick birth with no complications. Within an hour of arriving at the hospital Kate’s family grew by two members: a boy and a girl, both healthy and loud.

“They’re beautiful.” Ian was looking from one to the other of his children.

“They’re perfect.” Kate smiled through her exhaustion.

“Have you thought of any names?” The nurse had come back in to check on Kate and the twins.

“I have.” She ignored Ian’s raised eyebrows. “Aaron and Maura.”

Ian smiled. “They’re beautiful.” He looked at the boy, light haired like himself. “Welcome Aaron.” Then to the girl, who’s patchy dark hair was similar to Kate’s. “And you, Maura. Welcome to the family.”

They remained like that in silence until the nurse interrupted. “Sorry dad, mum needs her sleep. As do the little ones.” She winked at Ian again. “Can you stand to be away for a while?”

Ian nodded and leaned over to place a kiss on Kate’s forehead. “I’ll go home and bring you a few things.”

Kate nodded, already falling asleep. She took one last look at her children before nodding off. It was the first night in months she slept peacefully, nightmare-free.


The years passed and the twins grew. Kate and Ian moved into a bigger house; Kate had gotten generous raises each year, along with a substantial annual bonus. The house suited them well: there was room for them all, with modern appliances and parking for both of their cars. The neighbourhood was upscale with a highly rated school just two blocks away.

Ian’s business thrived and Kate continued to excel in her managerial role, despite the constant exhaustion.

“You’re a working mother, of course you’re tired.” She was sick of people telling her this. “Are you getting enough sleep?”

Yes, actually, she was. Since the twins’ birth, she’d experienced no nightmares, or at least did not remember them, and had grown used to their absence.

Maybe those people offering unwanted parental advice were right: working and looking after twins WAS making her tired. It must be.


She was with the watching crowd again, standing in a circle around the stone table. The dark woman was there, leering at her with her white painted lips. There was no chanting this time, only signs made in the air above the table. The crowd’s silence was like a blanket of snow, and only their breathing could be heard.

A child’s wail made Kate’s heart ache, tears forming in her eyes. No. Please. But as soon as she spoke the words they were whipped away from her mouth. The woman laughed and showed Kate her clenched hand. When she opened it and blew on her palm Kate’s own words blew back in her face.

Tears stung her eyes as the child was brought out to the table. It was a newborn, it’s skin red and angry-looking. No bindings were needed for such a helpless creature.

The woman beckoned to Kate with a long painted finger. “Come.”

She couldn’t help herself; no matter how she tried to disobey the command, her body was not her own. It no longer followed Kate’s orders; rather it belonged to the dark woman entirely. She was handed a knife, a small sharp blade with a worn ivory handle. Once more her words were snatched from her mouth before she could voice them. She couldn’t even shake her head.

A gesture from the woman caused Kate’s hand lifted of its own accord. She tried to control it, tried to stab herself with the blade. She was rewarded with a mocking laugh and a finger wagging, no no. The hand continued to lift until Kate’s arm was fully extended, the knife pointing down at the child.

Please. No. The tears were streaming down her face, blurring her vision. But it was too late. Suddenly her arm plunged, burying the knife in the child’s chest. The child screamed in pain and began twitching, its small limbs convulsing. Withdrawing the blade Kate reached in with one hand and grabbed the tiny heart.

The painted woman laughed triumphantly and made another motion. Kate felt her hand move again. No no no no no. Her hand came closer and closer, the small bloody heart nearing her mouth.

Suddenly she had her voice. “NOOOOOOOOOO!”


Kate’s eyes flew open. She couldn’t catch her breath, she felt like she was suffocating. The room was pitch black and when she reached for Ian she found she couldn’t move. Her breathing grew worse as she tried to gulp in enough air. A moan escaped her lips when she discovered that her legs were useless to her as well.

“Ah, you’re awake.” A broad Creole accent came from somewhere in the dark. “Good.”

Kate rolled her eyes, frantically trying to determine the source of the voice. A voice that sounded so familiar to her.

A pale light flicked on and a face appeared above her, one she recognised instantly. She willed herself to move, her leg, her arm, anything. Nothing happened.

“You remember me, no?” The dark lady smiled. “Yes, I can see you do.” She moved away and the laughter that had haunted Kate for years assaulted her from the other side of the room.

Was this another dream? Without moving her head she looked around the room as best she could, rolling her eyes left and right. The room was empty; a single dirty bulb swinging from the ceiling caused shadows to play on the peeling walls. The smell of something rotting permeated the space, making Kate gag.

“No, chere. This is no dream. You are here. I am here.”

She can read my thoughts.


The silence lay heavy. Then, from the corner of the room, “Tch.” The face appeared above her again. “You still think this is a dream? You still think you can escape me?” She wagged a long finger. “No, not possible. You are mine.”

Kate’s mind raced. She thought of her children, her husband, her home.

“You think you have children? That this life you live is real? That you have a beautiful house and wonderful job? No chere. THAT was the dream.”

It wasn’t possible. Every part of her screamed that it wasn’t true. She thought of Ian.

“Ian will come to this city. He will hear that your friend returned without you and come looking.”

Lucy! The trip here with Lucy was years ago.

“No. Only yesterday. I took your friend’s memory, she will return remembering nothing of my shop or your visit here.” Marie stared into Kate’s eyes. “Nor of the grave insult you gave to my Loa.”

Kate’s eyes widened as understanding washed over her. But still she had to try. Ian will come.

“No one knows you came to my shop. No one will look here for you. No one.”

The truth violated her and her mind screamed. The twins, who she loved more than life itself, had never been born. Her relationship with Ian was as she had left it when she travelled to New Orleans, on the verge of collapse. She still had a job she hated. A house she hated. None of it had been real.

“Who is to say what is real and what is not, eh?” Marie laughed again and swept out of the room, leaving Kate’s mind to fall apart. After a while she returned, dressed in robes, face fully painted. A large man was with her. She motioned at Kate and the man picked Kate up, tossing her over his shoulder. She felt the pain of the treatment but still could not move.

They carried her outside. It was dark, a sliver of moon hanging in the sky. After half a mile they slowed and Kate was put on the ground, propped up against a tree trunk.

“Welcome to your new home.” Marie spread her arms wide.

Through the haze that had entered Kate’s mind she saw the dirt mounds, each one with a crude wooden cross at the head. Her eyes rolled wildly, still the only part of her body she could move. They were in a small hollow surrounded by a dense forest of dead and dying trees. The moon shone through the bare branches and in the diffused light Kate could see that many of the graves were fresh. All were ornamented; pictures, candles, and personal items adorning the spaces, the crosses heavy under the weight of crucifixes.

“You like your home? Good.” A terse word to her assistant and Kate felt herself being lifted once more. A few steps later she was placed in a box and a lid was nailed onto the top. Kate could see Marie’s triumphant face through the cross that was carved into the coffin lid.

“Au revoir, chere.” Marie’s painted lips parted into a smile.


It was the last thing Kate saw before the first shovelful of dirt hit the coffin.


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



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Touch Me, I’m Sick by Mark Slade


It was never about love for Mike and Carrie. It was always about sex.

Where ever they found themselves, the attraction was so strong that they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other. Dropping their kids off to school, Carrie would climb into Mike’s Classic ’66 Dart and they would pull around the school—behind the chain link fence where the baseball diamond was empty and have their way with each other. On a weekend picnic at the park with Wade and Denny, Carrie would see Mike with Jen and Francine. They would chat a few minutes, then off with their respective spouses and children to eat their lunches. Carrie would excuse herself as Mike did. They would search each other out, go into a Porta potty on the opposite of the park where their families were and go at each other like horny rabid animals.

The funny thing is, up until a week ago, they were complete strangers.

Only Wade and Jen knew each other from work, and had brought, actually, dragged Mike and Carrie to an office party. Wade and Jen were in advertising. They worked closely on an ad program for the Church of Latter-Day Saints that has become something of a pop-culture phenomenon. A child that is bullied at school, bullied at home, grows into an adult, comes back home to help the bully who is now homeless and bring his father home to live with his family.  Not the message, nor the way the commercial was shot, was not the reason the ad was such a big hit. It was the great CGI effects used to morph the child into an adult as he offered his hand to the bully sitting on the sidewalk. For some reason, the campaign had gotten into the American public’s consciousness, sparked debate on social media, for good or bad.  The agency was so proud of Wade and Jen, they threw a party to honor them. Wade was a banker. He found advertising more boring than banking. Carrie felt the same way. Her interest in real estate was waning to the point she was thinking of going back to teaching high school.

“Hey,” Jen said to her husband. “I’d like you to meet Wade’s wife, Carrie.”

“Oh,” Mike changed hands with his drink. “Hi. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you,” Carrie flashed her big brown eyes at him in her usual shy, little girl way. Mike exuded all the arrogant charm of a jock.

Mike smiled, shook Carrie’s hand.

Carrie looked at Mike, Mike looked at Carrie, eyes wild, body full of electricity.  Both of them had this unholy urge and desire to strip each other’s clothes off and screw each other silly, right in front of everyone. It was all both of them thought of the whole evening. For most of the evening they stayed away from each other. Sometimes trading meaningful glances, or nervously brushing past each other as one of them worked the room.

Finally, neither one could take it anymore. Carrie sat her drink down, made sure her purse was on her shoulder and headed out the door for some fresh air. She stood in the parking lot, partly hoping Mike wouldn’t follow, but mostly needing him to. She heard footsteps on the gravel behind her and there he was, hands in his pocket, glaring at her. Carrie trotted to him, grabbed him by the arm and off into the bushes they went. Her dress went up, his zipper went down. Her pantyhose rolled down, his penis came out, driving hard inside her. She pushed her face into the bushes, gripped the tiny limbs in her hands and took it.

Intense as it was, satisfying somewhat, both were disappointed it ended in a few minutes.

Carrie rolled up her pantyhose, fixed her dress. Mike placed his penis back into his trousers and zipped up. Without words, they beheld each other guiltily.  Mike sighed, nodded, and walked away. Carrie waited until Mike was out of sight before she started back.  She retrieved her phone out of her purse and pretended to speak with the babysitter.

“No, Tina,” Carrie gave out a fake laugh as she came upon Wade. “Denny cannot have the rest of that Chocolate pie. Yes, tell him I said that! Goodbye!”

Wade had a strange look on his face. Carrie stopped smiling until Jen strode over like she was on a cat walk and handed Carrie another drink.

“Uggg! Kids!” Their glasses touched in a toast. “But we need them to validate our existence in this world.”

Carrie giggle, took a sip of her wine. ‘Ain’t that a fact!” Carrie stepped backwards and bumped into Charlie Dixon, one of the other Ad people. Carrie nearly fell over backwards, spilling her wine on the office carpet.

“I’m sorry,” Charlie said as he caught Carrie.

“Oh!” Carrie giggled.

“Are you alright?” He asked, showing a bit of concern, but was mostly annoyed.

“Yes,” Carrie said, steadied herself on Charlie’s arm. “I guess I’m tipsier than I thought.”

Charlie smiled, nodded, and headed for the bathroom.

“Hey,” Wade approached her. “Who is Tina? Your Aunt Delia is taking care of Denny tonight.”

Carrie gave Wade a cold gaze. “It was a joke, alright? Just relax. I won’t embarrass you anymore.” She said and rolled her eyes.


When Carrie finished her shower, she noticed a bruise on her midsection. She ran her fingers across it. It didn’t feel like a bruise. It didn’t even hurt. It almost looked like a tattoo.

“That’s weird,” Carrie said examining the mark in the mirror. “Maybe I did it in my sleep…..scratching….hmmm….I don’t know….I wasn’t wearing anything tight past few days…..”

“Honey?” Wade called out before entering the bathroom.

“Yes?” carried called back.

“I got an odd phone call from Jen,” He looked distressed, in a daze, almost walked into the bathroom cabinet.

Carrie finished drying off and pulled Wade to her, wrapped her arms around him. She kissed his ear. “Oh, honey, what’s wrong?”

“Remember Charlie Dixon? You met him at last night’s party?”


“He died,” Wade’s voice broke slightly. “In his sleep. He was only thirty five.”

“What caused his death?” Carrie led Wade to the bedroom, sat him on a footstool in front of the bed.

“Apparently….a heart attack. He was…only thirty five.” Wade looked confused.

‘Maybe he just didn’t take good care of himself.” Carrie rubbed Wade’s shoulders.

Wade scoffed. “No,” he raised his eyebrows at her. “Charlie was a health nut.”


They finished inside the porta potty, again, having almost nothing to say.

Mike shrugged, gave Carrie an embarrassed smile.

Carrie sighed. “This is crazy,” she said, fixed her bra and shirt.

“Yeah,” Mike nodded. “I don’t even know you.” He laughed nervously.

“We can’t keep doing this,” Carrie closed her eyes, reopened them, trying to compose herself.

“I’ve never done this before,” Mike said.

“Well, I’m not a cheater, either!” Carrie said, her nostrils flared.

“Whoa lady….. I didn’t say you were….”

“Is….is it….just me? Or….is this….something hard to control? I mean….I don’t even have to see you…ever since the party a few days ago…..”

“No,” Mike fastened the button on his shorts. “I’ve….been driving down your street, hoping wade wasn’t home.”

“He wasn’t home yesterday.” Carrie breathed uneasily, fixed her honey-blonde hair back into a ponytail.”

“You should’ve came inside.” Carrie touched Mike’s chest.

“Yeah,” he sighed, flinched slightly at her touch.

They heard footsteps outside the porta potty. Carrie withdrew her hand quickly. Mike placed a finger on his lips, Carrie held her breath the best she could.

A man in light brown khaki shorts and a shirt appeared at the porta potty door. Mike rushed out, closed the door quickly. The park worker stood with his hands on his hips, cutting his eyes at Mike. Beads of sweat rolled down the man’s unkempt beard.

“Hi,” mike said.

“Sir? Was there another person in there with you?” The park worker said with all the authority given to him by NATO.

Mike laughed nervously. “No. Of course not.”

“Well I’ll just have a look myself…….”

“Look,” Mike touched the man on his elbow, and he instinctively pulled away. “Okay,” Mike whispered. “Hey….yeah…I have someone in there. I made a mistake…”

“You bet you did!” The park worker growled.

“I’ve got fifty bucks here that says you didn’t see anything,” Mike took the bill out of his wallet and offered it to the man. The park worker eyed the money and Mike, not sure what to do. “C’mon, man,” Mike cleared his throat. “This is a better situation for all involved. I’m sure you’re the only one that has seen anything. Just give us ten minutes and we’ll disappear. As a matter of fact….it looks like rain….we’ll both leave immediately.”

The park work took the fifty dollar bill, rolled it up and dispatched it into his front pocket. “Ten minutes,” he pushed a finger in Mike’s face and walked toward the edge of the lake.

“Ten minutes,” Mike echoed the park worker and watched him disappear around a cluster of trees. Mike opened the door to the porta potty and shooed Carrie out.

“Thank you for not getting me involved.” Carrie kissed Mike.

He tried to dodge the kiss, which was more a brush on the lips. “Yeah, well. We better get back to our families. I’m sure they’re wondering about us.”

By the time Carrie and Mike reached the picnic area, there was a crowd gathered at the edge of the lake. Carrie went to the left to Wade’s side and Mike went to the right, fought to separate the middle of the crowd, where Jen was front and center. Jen glanced over her shoulder and saw Mike. She ran to him.

“Oh geez, honey. I was getting worried.” She said, her hand cupping her mouth.

“I know, I went to find a bathroom and got lost,” Mike said.

“You wouldn’t believe what has happened.”

“Why? What happened, Jen?”

“This,” Jen led Mike to the edge of the lake.

The park worker that Mike had just bribed was floating, face down, his body motionless.

Read more of the story in HORRGASM

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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.”


“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.


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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