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The Splitting – Lorna Wood

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The Splitting – Lorna Wood

 

We were I then. I floated in the element, a sticky, warm, viscous fluid full of nutrients. The smallest food dissolved and slipped in through the pores of my integument. When larger organisms drew near, I lazily flipped my cilia, swooshing them down the nearest gullet.  I was—we are—omnivorous. Creamy, crunchy, gelatinous, sweet, salty, even bitter—all delectable.

I was swelling, exuding pheromones that eddied around my cilia before being carried out farther and farther.

Inexorably, they were drawn to me, desperate to see my ripeness, stroke my taut integument, absorb my exudate. The element sloshed as they thrashed and corkscrewed through it, but I could only float, waiting.

They came from all directions. Their pheromones were faint at first, like the memory of an especially tasty organism, then stronger. The element became a love potion, maddening my inflamed ganglia.

One day they were there, gray, ropy, tumescent, all singularly focused on my need, which was also their own.

They wriggled, observing my body quiver involuntarily as the waves they created washed over me. My gullets opened and closed, instinctively synching with the rhythms they created.

Seeing my response, they began to touch me. At first they barely grazed my cilia with the tips of their tentacles, but even this was exquisite torture. I could feel my cloacal vacuole swelling, my insides gathering themselves.

Sensing my acceptance, they presented gifts: organisms I had never tasted before, balms for my strained integument. Although I felt far too full to be hungry and too stretched to be touched, my gullets opened convulsively to their offerings, and I let them gently cover me in healing ooze.

They became bolder. Lewdly training their eyestalks on the integument around my cloacal vacuole, they saw the telltale stretching and quivered vibrating, triumphant laughter through the element. Then they wrapped me in their tentacles and squeezed.

For a few seconds, I was in agony. My overloaded ganglia telegraphed fire to every part of my distended body, but there was no release, only the pain of the squeezing, coupled with my need for them.

Then, suddenly, my cloacal vacuole burst, expelling a thousand baby thems into the element. The force of the expulsion loosened their grip, and I saw their eyes turn fleetingly in the direction of their successors, but they were in the throes of it now and could not let go. Murmuring their greedy desires, they snaked their swollen tentacles everywhere around my quivering body, even down my gullets and into my cloacal vacuole.

I could already feel the change, the we-ness, as it were. And I no longer felt tight, inside or out. Still, I needed them even more than they needed me. The expulsion had left an emptiness that needed filling.

I began to suck with all my gullets. Their tentacles seemed the only food I would ever need, but I needed it insatiably.  My quivering condensed into a focused, peristaltic pulse in every gullet groove. The tentacles became mush. Involuntarily, I released enzymes, breaking them down further. My integument tightened inexorably around the opening where the expulsion had occurred, and when the chemicals had broken down the tentacles in the cloacal vacuole and harvested their DNA, they were severed and the vacuole closed.

All the time I heard their cries, saw the anguish in their eyes, bobbing in terror on their stalks, but I could not help them. I seemed to need all my energy to pull against their attempts to withdraw the tentacles. I told myself I would help them later, if I could, but this was foolishness. I was still hungry when all the tentacles were gone, and it would have been cruel as well as wasteful to leave their little bodies floating helplessly. I pulled them in too, though I took no special joy in it.

For a moment, all was quiet. Even the element seemed absolutely still and empty. Then the pains began.

I was ripped in half. My nerves snapped, then regrew, my integument split, and my tender insides were torturously exposed until it too could regrow. It took a long time. I don’t know how I stood it, or her, my sister-self, either. We sent each other comforting element waves, signaled back and forth with our neural transmitters, eventually talked.

It’s peaceful now. We enjoy floating side by side, ingesting. One day, we’ll be a colony.  

End

lorna-woodLorna Wood is a violinist and writer in Auburn, Alabama, with a Ph.D. in English from Yale. She was a finalist in the 2016 Neoverse Short Story Competition and the Sharkpack Poetry Review’s Valus’ Sigil competition. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Between Worlds Zine, Dark Magic (Owl Hollow Press anthology), No Extra Words, Wild Violet, These Fragile Lilacs, Experimementos, Cacti Fur, Birds Piled Loosely, Every Writer, Blue Monday Review, and Untitled, with Passengers, as well as on Kindle, where her author page is  amazon.com/author/lornawood.

 

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Many Died After Reading Ancient Tome

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This accursed ancient tome contains tales of sinister mutations, carnal perversions, harrowing afflictions, insatiable blood lust, and absolute terror. When unearthed from the ruins of the ancient city of R’lyeh, a bizarre and sinister fate fell upon the excavators. The laborers reported excruciating migraines, bleeding from various orifices, and suffered from demonic hallucinations. The foremen reported visions of hell on Earth and spoke of direct contact with demonic entities. Investigators tried to make contact with those afflicted to verify the claims, but with each attempt came a horrible fate. One poor soul went as far as to put a bullet in his head the moment a journalist began an interview. The journalist, after relaying the chilling episode, stabbed his own eyes out with his fingers. Another laborer was contacted for an interview, but halfway through he ate his own tongue. Afflicted with madness, the man bashed the reporter’s skull in with the digital recorder before authorities could respond.

 

The original source of the Book of Horrors is sealed in a secured area, locked behind layers of cold steel. Initially, researchers attempted to study the strange abhorrent artifact by direct contact. However, that quickly changed after not one, not two, but three tragic deaths. In order to minimize anymore costly deaths, the department mandated that further study be done remotely from a digital copy that the last direct researcher was able to generate before he bashed his head against the wall until he died.

 

Of course, by making a digital copy, the material, whether or not classified, became subject to hacking. A hacking that was rendered easy through sloppy handling of confidential emails. I present to you a portion of the digital copy of the original Book of Horrors. Readers beware, for the passages contained within this electronic copy may not be without a certain, dreadful, and otherwise avoidable curse. It is not yet known whether the stories in the digital copy of this tome carry the same curse that lead to so many preventable deaths. You have been warned.

 

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Last Of The Aztec Riders – Mark Mellon

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“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.

AAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH

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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Weekly Dose of Unadulterated Horror

Horror zines are a dime a dozen, really. Why? Because it really doesn’t take much to start a blow, site, or a bare bones platform to feature and promote indie horror. But what makes Deadman’s Tome so different?

Deadman’s Tome is a site dedicated to horror fiction (short stories, flash fiction, and poems) with a stance that there is no subject that is too taboo for horror. Horror, whether film, literature, or art, is not a safe space. Horror, in order to be effective, has to challenge the reader, because good horror shatters one’s sense of safety and comfort. Deadman’s Tome  proudly features uncensored and unadulterated content.

The Other White Meat – R. K. Gemienhardt explores a a sexual form cannibalism also known as vore but without any pretentiousness about the subject. Feminists hate this story because the woman is ditsy enough to become the victim, but we all know at least one woman that falls for just about anything.

A Corpse Can’t Laugh by Salem Martin and G. B. Holly  exploits an all to American trend  to tell a demented and relentless tale of a girl that systematically murders her classmates in school.

Of Diamond Tongues and Seaside Tourism – Carson Winter tears into those cliche 50 rules for dating my teenage daughter shirts. The story starts innocent enough, but it will leave you disturbed for sure. Unless you frequent those odd daddy “role-play” vids.

Popcorn – Wayne Summers will gross you out to the point to where you’ll never trust popcorn again.

 

Deadman’s Tome offers new relentless horror Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!

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Of Diamond Tongues and Seaside Tourism – Carson Winter

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They got on separately, at different stops. The first snuffed a cigarette on a lamp post and entered wordlessly while flashing a monthly pass to the driver. He was a bit past middle-aged and wore it more obviously than most. He dressed himself as an icon of a bygone age; torn and dusty and almost entirely in blue denim; jean jacket covered in iron-on biker patches. Beneath it all was a graphic tee, detailing the rules for dating his teenage daughter.

The second man wore a conservative grey suit; also middle-aged, but a lot better looking for it. He sat down a seat behind Blue Denim. A couple stops passed by in silence until the Businessman tapped Blue Denim on his shoulder, and then, flashing a broad smile, pointed to one of his patches.

“Maritimus?”

Blue Denim grinned and nodded. “Went there last summer, man. Time of my life.”

“Me and the family went just a couple weeks ago.”

“It’s a helluva place.”

“Helluva place.”

They shared one last smile, like old friends remembering that time in that place years ago. Then, Blue Denim got off at his stop and it was only me and the Businessman.

I’ve seen young men with missing teeth playing music on their phone, unaware or in spite of headphones. I’ve seen fare arguments with screaming, cracked-out mothers-to-be. I’ve seen welfare parents off to interview at fast food jobs they couldn’t get. But, the conversation between Blue Denim and the Businessman was a different sort of interaction. Everything else on the bus was a desperate transaction. But their conversation was easy. It was intimate, soaked with the warmth of recognition. A few stops later and I was still replaying it in my mind.

Meanwhile, the businessman sat, swaying with the bus’ stops and starts while I was searching his back for something. I silently rehearsed my words and once I gathered the courage, I asked aloud the nagging question: “What’s Maritimus?”

The Businessman turned and smiled– a garish plastic thing that came with the ring of a cash register. He looked pleased to see I was eavesdropping. “It’s a little resort town on the coast,” he said. “You have kids?”

“I have a daughter.”

“How old?”

“Just turned sixteen.”

He adjusted his belt and gave me a flash of his realtor’s smile. “She’ll love it. Great place to just, you know, unwind.”

He said it as if he was indulging in an obvious innuendo. His smile flashed again with conspiratorial panache, and I found myself longing to know what knowledge was buried behind those bared teeth.

He turned back around to stare out the window and in another stop he was gone, briefcase in hand strutting importantly into a grey compound under siege by shiny new cars. His words tumbled about in my ears. Five stops later, I was surrounded by treeless lawns and cracked sidewalks. Houses painted ugly shades of yellow flanked my own, painted an ugly shade of pink. It was cracking like lizard skin in the summer sun. A part of me hoped it would all just fall off in flakes and save me the trouble. I walked up the dead grass of my sloping lawn and opened the door.

Kayla was already home and on the couch, a blanket covering her legs, her eyes glued to the flat, smooth glass of her smartphone.  She greeted me without as little as a look.

I closed the door and began the steps to our usual dance. “How was school?”

“Diddly-dank,” she said, rolling her eyes.

I closed the door and slung my bag on the chair. “I’m not stupid, Kayla. I know no one says that.”

She rolled her eyes and said, “I say it.” She then tossed her phone to the side and stretched her arms out. “What’s for dinner?”

“I don’t know, doll. We have chicken defrosted, so probably some sort of chicken.”

Kayla went to the kitchen to look at her options and I sat down. She brought me a beer, and I thanked her. She asked me if she could have one too. I told her no, and our after-school ritual survived another day.

I thought of the bus.

Blue Denim and the Businessman ran through my mind as the bitter lit my tongue. Kayla had resigned herself to chicken and was improvising a marinade. I swished the beer around my mouth, letting the bubbles invade and pop in every toothsome crevice.

I hadn’t realized how tired I was. The walls of our home,  modest to be sure, seemed to inch closer together every day. Maybe the talk of resorts wormed its way through my sense of space. I suddenly had the tangible feeling that I was missing something. As Kayla was in the kitchen, digging for ingredients, potatoes for a side, the thought grew, ballooning until it started to carry weight; a slab of concrete on my shoulders, pressing me down into the couch cushions, souring my beer… Minutes passed and it was like being stoned, I tried to chuckle quietly at my own anxiety, but levity did nothing. I had to expel it. I had to vomit it out, like a poison. I chewed on the words, till they were practically mush. Finally, I acquiesced and called to the kitchen with fateful words: “What do you think about going on a vacation?”

Kayla looked up, cocking a head out of the refrigerator and asked, “What were you thinking?”

“Some guys on the bus were talking about a place on the coast. Maritimus.”

Kayla raised a single, mocking eyebrow. “Seriously? Maritimus?”

“You’ve heard of it?”

“Jesus, Dad, like every girl at my school is rocking a Maritimus hoodie with a seal or some bullshit on it.”

“Don’t you wanna ‘rock’ one too?”

“Dad, please. Maritimus is for kids and old people.”

“I just thought it sounded fun. Good place to unwind or something. Sound of the ocean. All that jazz.”

“Its a tourist trap, dad.”

“Maybe,” I admitted. “Probably, actually. But it could be a fun one.”

Kayla dropped the chicken into a plastic bag filled with a myriad of seasonings and worcestershire sauce. She said, “Whatever,” but it was as good as ‘yes.’

That night I lay awake in my bed. My sheets were chilled and the night was still. I was tired, but I lay awake. I thought of the ocean air. Seashells. Sand. Rocky cliffs that stood noble and proud; jagged gargoyles to keep the ocean at bay. Helluva place.

I felt myself growing hard. I reached down to my thick shaft and started rubbing it up and down, at first weakly, and then faster, and then faster and harder still. At the end it didn’t even feel like flesh.

***

It was a mere two weeks before we departed. Summer break came. Vacation days were marked on the calendar.

Kayla rolled her eyes, as she was apt to do, and I understood it. Maritimus wasn’t quite cool. But, she was sitting beside me. Content to leave for the coast, to indulge in ol’ Dad’s fantasy vacation as long as her eyes were allowed to roll back and forth at will. It was a small concession.

I let her drive til we got to Portland and then I switched for the last hour. Windmills passed us faster than traffic. Grey and pregnant clouds stretched out across the sky as far as we could see. There was nothing dreary about them. The wind blew the scent of rain yet to fall.

A rustic sign of carved wood appeared on the horizon. Mountains and waterfalls and a spare elk framed Maritimus, OR, carved deeper than the rest. I rolled down the window and smelled salty air. Kayla stirred and looked up.

“Oh look. They have an iHop,” she said, pointing to a sign filled with restaurant logos.

“They also have shopping, and the ocean, and crafts, and I’m sure a lot of other stuff.”

“Tons of stuff.”

“You’re a peach, doll. Shut up and have fun.” I couldn’t help but smile when I said it. She looked like me then: looking out the windows, picking apart the seams of Maritimus, searching for disappointment.

But the air. It was sweet and salty, and suffocated my own cynicism. “Listen,” I said. “Do you hear that?”

“Nope.”

“Listen closer.”

Just over the car engine, the cutting call of peace. The ocean washing over sand, slowly eroding jagged rocks into smooth pebbles, seagulls honking for food.

Kay looked over at me and smirked, and then put her hand through my hair and tousled it, “You’re a cute kid, Dad.”

***

 

The hotel was quaint by design. It looked like an old lodge, with the outside of it covered in what I would assume were fake logs. The lobby was cavernous, with big wooden pillars holding the ceiling. On closer examination, I realized they were carved with various animals; one with a bear, another a seal, and another had a scene of salmon jumping from a stream. Another was of a native woman, eyes closed and arms crossed over her chest, a subtle smile spread across her lips.

The lady at the front desk was exuberantly friendly. So much so that on her second “You guys are going to have so much fun!,” Kayla gave me her you-have-to-be-fucking-kidding-me eyes.

The room had the same Trapper’s Lodge aesthetic as the rest of the hotel. Kayla jumped on one of the two beds. I was pleased to see she was impressed for once. “This place is huge,” she said.

“It’s nice, right?”

“Diddly-dank.”

I took that as confirmation and looked at the tourism pamphlets spread out on the night stand. “What do you wanna do first?”

She looked up at me and shrugged, “I don’t know, Dad. You’re the Maritimus expert. This is your deal.”

It was almost lunchtime, and the sun was high in the sky. The air was crisp and cool. “How about we walk down to the coast and find some place to eat?”

Kayla agreed, holding her stomach and making exaggerated claims of hunger. She freshened up and we went back downstairs, the lady at the front desk smiling broadly, giving us double thumbs up as we left out the doors.

You could hear the coast wherever you were in Maritimus. It was as omnipresent as air. You could follow it, an audible compass to due west. We saw couples holding hands, splashing their feet and running away back up the wet sand. Kayla was braver than I, dipping a sandaled toe into the ocean. She withdrew it quickly and shivered, “Shit, that’s cold.”

We heard cackling, loud and mirthful. At first I felt a pang of shame, but it dissipated as I saw they weren’t laughing at us. They appeared to be locals, seven women, of varying ages laughing to themselves at a private joke. Their clothes looked like a lighter shade of burlap. Their spot on the beach was covered in straw. One of them, a brunette about twenty years older than me, turned her head slightly and acknowledged our presence. Kayla watched them curiously as I turned the other direction.

“Let’s go get some food,” I said.

She turned after a moment, as if we hadn’t seen anyone, “Not seafood.”

“Fine. You still like burgers?”

Kayla nodded and followed along behind me, up the beach to a series of businesses that looked like seaside cottages. Gauche fish seemed to be jumping over every decal. A diner called Maritimus Maximus looked to be our best option, built around a dissonant Roman gladiator theme that also incorporated marine imagery, perhaps even more dissonantly.

“What the fuck is this place?” Kayla asked.

“Watch your language,” I whispered, “We’re in public.”

She rolled her eyes, not bothering to correct them when a waitress only a couple years older than her popped into sight.

“How are y’all doing today?” She exclaimed it almost as a declarative, like the answer was a foregone conclusion of ecstasy. She turned to Kayla and hunched over a little, who was the same height as her and said, “You spending the day with your Daddy, girlie?”

Kayla looked at me from the corner of her eyes, it was a look of panic. “Uh, yeah,” she said.

“There’s a lot of things to do in Maritimus,” she said sweetly, “But nothing’s better than hanging with your Daddy!” She then gave me a knowing wink and sat us to a table booth overlooking the beach. Kayla mouthed ‘what the fuck’ to me as soon as she left us our menus.

“Well, it looks like they have burgers.”

Kayla shook her head and giggled. I started to laugh because she looked the same as when she was an infant and I’m sure our waitress’ heart warmed, watching father and daughter have a grand time.

We both ordered burgers with tacky Roman names, each with the suffix -us and they came out quick enough that we barely had time to make conversation.

In between mouthfuls of beef, grease dripping down her chin, she asked, “Who were those women?”

“No idea,” I answered, “Probably just locals hanging out.”

“I figured locals would be bored with the shore.”

“Probably just a club or a church group or something. Why stay inside when you have the beach so close, you know?”

The waitress picked up our plates. “I hope everything was super great!”

We told her it was and I paid the bill while Kayla texted.

“Anything catch your eye?”

“I saw a row of shops and stuff on the way down to the beach, maybe tool around there,” she said casually.

“Sounds good,” I agreed, and I let her lead the way.

It was a sort-of pseudo boardwalk. The ground was planked with white wood that served as a pedestrian walkway as big as the average street, with signs warning vehicles that it was not an actual road. I stood off to the side, picking benches to sit on as Kayla wandered from gift shop to clothing shop to milk-sugar-coffee shop. I wandered into a shop called Maritimus Mercantile. A lone shopkeeper, a chipper young man with a bright face greeted me excitedly.

It was half-museum and half-tourist shop he said, self effacingly. But the deprecation was surface level. His excitement betrayed no sense of shame. There were displays of pieces of wood, ships that sailed a long time ago, when Maritimus was a port on the way to Canada and beyond, a strategic fuel stop that faded into a resort town as ships became more advanced as well as anachronistic. A tribal headdress was on the wall, displayed like the head of a hunter’s kill. Maritimus boasted kind and progressive treatment of the native population back when such tolerance wasn’t in vogue. White settlers and natives exchanged culture and assimilated evenly and quickly. These facts were presented typed and printed, framed by red construction paper under an ancient photograph of men, women, and children, both native and settlers, smiling together arm-in-arm.

“We have a very rich history,” said the young man behind my back.

“Yeah,” I said. “Looks like it.”

I heard the door chime ring a set of ascending notes and turned to see Kayla with an iced coffee in hand.

“Whatcha looking at?” She asked.

“Oh, you know. Just checking out the local history.”

She nudged me in the side and she said, “Guess who I saw?”

“Who?”

“Those ladies in the weird brown dresses. They were walking around and I said ‘hi.’”

“Yeah?”

“They’re part of some sort of local committee, apparently we hit Maritimus during festival season.”

“What kind of festival?”

“C’mon, Dad. I thought you were reading up on the local history? We’re celebrating the day the town was established.”

“Oh, cool.”

She shrugged, as if not wanting to come off as too excited, “Well, yeah, a little. They invited me to go along with them and check out the town.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” she said, circling to the point, “Can I go?”

I thought a moment. I said, “Sure,” but I wasn’t sure I meant it. I turned to the shopkeeper, who was adjusting a painting of Maritimus of olde, and asked, “What’s the story with the festival?”

He beamed at the question. “It’s a celebration. Of community and persistence, along with everything that makes Maritimus, well, Maritimus!”

“See?”

“Do you know the women who are involved in the planning?”

He cocked his head robotically, “Oh? You mean Becky, Sue, Rachel, Erin, Gertrude, Olivia, and Willow? Yes, of course! Wonderful women, all of them. Very knowledgable of the area. All of them have keys to the city, well, practically. They are the folks that keep Maritimus as a place families can be themselves and relax! Bearers of the old ways, I’d say!” He laughed aloud at his rhyme.

“Alright,” I said to Kayla, “Just meet me at the hotel for dinner.”

Kayla agreed and gave me a peck on the cheek. Soon I was left alone with the sun, the sea, and the feverish keeper of the gift shop.

***

 

Maritimus was a good place to unwind, I decided. I laid on the beach, which was cool, but warm enough with the sun I didn’t mind. I read a book and breathed in the air. Down the sand, I saw other tourists, similarly complacent and relaxed. Another father, a little older than me, held his daughter in one arm, and his wife in the other. They laughed together as they watched a crab scuttle past.

I rolled over and closed my eyes, listening for the sound of rolling eternity. The laughing was too loud though, so I turned back and opened my eyes. The man looked at me and winked, then kissed his wife on the lips, long and hard. And then, without a second thought, turned to his daughter and did the same. All three looked at me and giggled.

I sat up, unnerved. Curious and sick. But they didn’t come to greet me. They turned away and continued to laugh, heading back to the center of town. I tried to push it out of my mind and watch the ocean lapping like a hungry tongue at the sand.

And then out of nowhere came a voice. “You enjoying Maritimus so far?”

I jumped, startled, then turned to see an old man in a white shirt and straw fedora standing behind me. He smiled broadly and offered a hand to shake. “Yes,” I said, “I am.”

He had a short white beard and shiny white teeth. When I took his hand, I also realized he was wearing white cotton shorts.

“My name is Emmett Grover– I’m the mayor.”

“Of Maritimus?”

“No other,” he said with a grin. “I like to check in personally on our guest’s good time.”

His face stared back at me expectantly, daring me to be unsettled, to be anything but relaxed and happy. “I’m having a great time,” I said.

“Just wait for the festival,” he whispered conspiratorially, “It only gets better. I like to think of Maritimus as the ultimate resort town. And you know what makes it special?” He opened his arms, as if the town behind him was his to display, “Authenticity. Locals and tourists understand Maritimus intrinsically, because it is real. There’s no fakery, no plastic tourism. It’s a real town. A place like this, a place where a man can unwind, is good for the soul, you know? It helps you shed layers. Here, on the beach, with the sand, and the water, you become the real you.”

“You don’t need to sell me.”

“Ha! Ha! Of course not, dear sir! Of course not! You enjoy your time in Maritimus, and let us know if we can help you with anything.”

And with that, he ran off, hooting and hollering up the beach, like an excited child.

***

 

Through a mouthful of marbles, Kayla gargled up the words, “Now, Dad, don’t be mad.”

I was going to say, “Why would I be mad?,” but then she opened her mouth. In the center of her tongue was a diamond stud, shining white under the hotel room’s lamplight. I said, “Holy shit,” instead.

Kayla explained as best she could, around her swollen tongue. “I’ve always wanted one and Becky said carpe diem.”

In the face of my daughter’s tongue piercing, words escaped me. “Dad, stop looking at me like that. It comes right out,” she said as she played with the sharp rock, “But not for another month. It needs to heal.”

Her eyes glistened with tears, but she wasn’t upset. She looked at me like I was a pathetic little kid, or an out of touch old man. Maybe there wasn’t that much of a difference. She told me she loved me and that it’d be okay, rubbing a smooth hand across my face. “It’s Maritimus, Dad. Relax. Let’s just have a good time.”

I had that same numb sick feeling from the beach. It never left. The air just magnified it. The dissonance. Nevertheless, I sat numbly on the bed and accepted her words as truth. She brushed a soft hand across my face, and held my head against her chest, like she could see and feel my unease; softly whispering that everything was okay, that everything was good. That Maritimus would bring us closer together. She turned off the light and took off my shirt, and then took off her own and tucked me into bed. She laid beside me, warm and soft and young. And soon, we were both asleep.

 

***

 

The sun dodged through blinds and carried with it the warm glow of a new day. Kayla was snuggled up in the crook of my arm. She woke up looking at me, with her big eyes and long lashes, an affectionate smile on her lips. I struggled with the intimacy for a moment and then it dissipated when she yawned and everything started to feel normal.

“I slept so good,” she said. Her diamond tongue refracted light, a lighthouses swinging beam on the rocks of a dangerous shore.. I couldn’t help but think, in the early morning light, that it completed her though. Like a natural extension of her personality, a real-life gemstone joined to flesh.

She swayed her hips and yawned once more on the way to the bathroom. I was rock hard. Ready to explode. With her out of sight, I was overwhelmingly tempted to self-pleasure.

I shook my head and closed my eyes, burying my face into the pillow for a little longer, feigning sleep.

“Anything I can help you with, Dad?”

Did I imagine how she said it?

I shifted my head, my erection burying itself into the bedspread, leaking like a pubescent boy. She was standing, fully dressed, a half-smile, possibly a knowing half-smile, on her lips. “Like coffee or something?”

“Sure,” I said. And she was out the door. I followed her footsteps down the hall, lightly tapping out an arcane rhythm. I held the blankets close.

By the time she got back, I was dressed again. I was composed. I was her father and she was my daughter. I made peace with her piercing, and briefly told her to ask me next time she made a big decision. I drank coffee from a paper cup and we wandered out to the lobby. Everything felt like a dream, like it was floating on Maritimus’ salty air. We were light, nearly weightless, and on the horizon, past the ocean on one side, and the mountains on the other, I was sure there was nothing else but where we were right then.

“Look alive, Dad. It’s Maritimus Day!”

And then as soon as we exited the hotel lobby there were the women in burlap: Becky, Sue, Rachel, Erin, Gertrude, Olivia, and Willow. And in the center of them, in white cotton from head to toe was Emmett Grover. His mouth was a wide open ‘o’ of excitement, as if he and the committee had just taken a walk, right up to the doors of our hotel and that running into us was but a happy coincidence.

“Oh dear! Look who it is!”

Kayla waved to the ladies and stuck out her tongue, showing her diamond. One of them, a raven-haired woman of about forty-five beamed and said, “It looks beautiful. What do you think, Dad?”

Without thinking, I said, “It is very becoming.”

The raven-haired woman winked at me and I felt exposed and disgusted.

Emmett Grover’s teeth were as white as the rest of him, they showed when he spoke. “Why don’t you all join us for the rest of the day? A first hand tour of the freedom and family values that runs to the very core of Maritimus.”

“That sounds lovely, Mr. Grover,” Kayla said. I didn’t know how she knew his name.

She grabbed my hand in hers and pulled me along as the group moved down towards the ocean. Grover and the women, who only spoke to correct him on the minutia of the town’s history, led us to the water. Overnight a carnival had been erected, straw had been formed with twine into the shape of men, themselves arranged in a triangle. Each had a phallus made of sticks, denoting their sex. At the high point of the triangle was the sole female figure, twine binding the straw into a curvaceous figure. Between the three points, was a pedestal.

“Authenticity! Honesty! With yourself and your neighbor! Love!” Emmett Grover raved. “That is what Maritimus is about.”

He turned to no one in particular and shouted: “Soon the shackles will be lifted!”

Others were gathering, following the siren song of the carnival. Kayla ran off into the crowd leaving me with little but my thoughts and discomfort.

The crowd was swelling as conversations turned to a wave of indistinguishable static. Emmett Grover was running pell-mell through the crowd, and I could hear his voice piercing above it all. “The transference of power! Our deepest temptations turned to our greatest memories! Maritimus is good! Maritimus is great!” He reminded me of those old movie posters, with giant radioactive cockroaches and a strong-jawed leading man. “Romance! Thrills! The Greatest Spectacle on the Silver Screen!”

From here, things only got stranger.

The beach was packed, the faux-boardwalk was packed. The entire population of the town was gathering for the festival. I was being pushed along to the triangle. Emmett Grover was on the pedestal. The women, Kayla included, were hauling giant sacks of burlap, the same as the women’s dresses. The fabric darkened where the wet soaked through. They dumped a small furry body at one tip of the triangle. I squinted and saw that it was a young black bear, mouth slung lazily open. At another was the slick, wet, gray body of a seal, blood oozing from the concave hammer blow atop its skull. Finally, they reached the last point and dumped a bag of silver and asphyxiated salmon. Kayla turned to me and waved and then took one of the salmon and ripped it open with her teeth. She held it up in the air and the town erupted in cheers. A hundred pink eggs fell into her open mouth and she mashed them with relish. Her pink lips held a thousand promises.

I gagged on my questions– the who’s and the what’s and the when’s stopped in my throat. I was numb, and then I was shocked, then revolted, then– most strangely– I felt–

My eyes turned to the mayor.

Emmett Grover stripped off his clothes with aplomb and produced a knife in which to slice the seal jaw to fin.

(Kayla)

He pulled out big bloody-white handfuls of blubber, rubbing it up and down his naked body. The women were skinning the bear.

(My beautiful daughter)

Before long one of them, the youngest, was wearing the skin. And through it all, children sat in the ferris wheel, laughing and pointing, cotton candy crystals hanging to their chin.

 

It was night time. I don’t know where the time went, but miraculously, the sunlight became torchlight and I was naked like the rest of them. Maritimus was alive with energy. The perfect little town. The ultimate resort. Helluva place.

Kayla was leading me to the pedestal. I suddenly remembered watching the other men go up, giving their penance in exchange for dreams. The young girl in the bear skin was already in the water. It was a lovely display, I remembered. Emmett Grover was standing behind a teenage girl with bird-like legs stretched out, gyrating hungrily into her ass. The whole beach smelled of a different sort of salt. Of flesh and sweat and sickly-sweet lust. Everyone was doing it, I realized. The older women were applauding and offering advice and commendations, the younger were paired with sometimes two-to-four men, three to four times their age.

Kayla took me by the hand. I was scared, and she knew it. She put her lips to my ear and told me it would be okay. Grover was raving, madder than ever, his body glistening with the seal fat, the girl in his hands face twisted in wretched pain. He wasn’t speaking English. Some forbidden portmanteau of syllables, a curious patois that everyone seemed to understand but me. I stared out at the ocean and was sure it was staring back.

I stood on the pedestal and Kayla kissed me deeply. She held me by my hips and suddenly I didn’t care that we were being watched. Her diamond tongue clinked against my teeth and I was hard again. Thirsty for her touch, ready to take it if need be. But when she broke her kiss, I knew there would be no need for taking. It was the inherent promise of a resort: transcendence from means, weeknight dreams made weekend reality. Her eyes said it all. And it was all for a price.

I was happy to pay it.

I was naked. She took me in her mouth, bobbing her head. The same head that kissed me on the cheek when she was a little girl. That giggled when I gave her raspberries on her four year old belly. She was a woman now, and she was finally mine. Running her diamond tongue back and forth along my shaft, slicing my most precious skin. Tendons and vessels shredded. Years from now I would delight in my disfigurement.

I made good on the promise sixteen years in the making. Blood and semen washed over my daughter’s diamond tongue.

Maritimus grew and shrank in my vision, swelling as I did. Wilting as I was. Kayla stood up and let me taste her lips.

The women took her body to the water and let her sink as I assumed they had done so many other times. The ocean roared and for a moment I thought I saw something rise out of its waters, but my knees were weak and I just wanted to lay on the sand. I saw her diamond shine from beneath the ocean. The other women tended to my shredded member, sucking the last bit of life from me, healing me of my weakness. I turned to see hundreds of glinting diamonds in the dark crowd, nearer to me I saw dozens of scarred genitals and the smiles of their happy owners. They gave me knowing winks and I felt elated to be so acknowledged.

An amalgam of animals rose out of the sea, eyes gleaming green, with my daughter in its arms. Emmett Grover said that this was Maritimus’ very own Director of Tourism. Its mouth was hungry for dread dreams, he said.

Kayla was awake. I was dripping out her mouth. The other girl too, bear skin still draped over her shoulders. He laid them down on the beach. When they came to, they began to kiss. The crowd cheered. “Another hundred years of seaside tourism!” “We’ve been saved!” “Print more hoodies! More posters! More everything! Maritimus is here to stay!”

Emmett Grover pulled us together in a big, naked hug. He smelled of sex and carrion. He handed us a big burlap sack, filled with sweaters and T-Shirts, calendars and trucker hats– all emblazoned with the town’s name.

Everything was soft and the world shifted lazily. I hugged my daughter and she hugged me back. We told him we couldn’t wait for next year and he laughed a deep laugh and slapped me joyously across my back as giving eyes from the ocean twinkled like diamonds in an old and forbidden rough.

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

 

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[Politics] Will The Real Horror Please Stand Up

WILL THE REAL HORROR PLEASE STAND UP

BY MARC SHAPIRO

AUTHORMARCSHAPIRO@YAHOO.COM

When you’re asked to compare Donald Trump and horror, you damned well better be qualified to do both. I am.

My book Trump This! The Life And Times Of Donald Trump (Riverdale Avenue Books) is not just a biast gasbag of a political tome.  I wasn’t going to make it easy on readers. I just presented the facts and nothing but the facts. The real horror will come when you enter the voting booth come November and decide whether or not to mark your X for The Donald.

As to the horror aspect. I was a journalist for Fangoria Magazine for the better part of two plus decades and, in the process, learned from some of the great horror minds what made good scares. And what literally pulls the wool over people’s eyes. Which has ultimately led me to the following conclusion…

Donald Trump is not the monster. He’s not Jason, Freddy, Pinhead or Frankenstein. What he is, quite simply, is the manifestation of some very real zombies who follow him like lap dogs, cheer and boo on command and basically see in their psychological political creation, the justification of every uneducated stereotype, blind, rascist attitude and the willingness to believe anything that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth without, for a nano second, even stopping to consider that he might be full of shit.  

Yes the monster is you. And with less than 70 days before the election that will decide who will lead this country for the next four years, it is already too late. The monster is loose and out of control. Or, more succinctly, those who created him and now control him are thumping their chests and preparing for the apocalypse. The dark forces of human nature are abroad in the land and anyway you look at it things are looking mighty black.

Stopping to think that your personal and professional failures might be your own fault rather than some Mexican taking your job or that that people who do not look, speak or pray to God the way most God fearing white folks do is the delusion that has led you down the garden path of blind hatred. None of what makes your life a living hell is your own fault.  At least that’s the way you see it.

At the end of the day, if Trump wins, the darkest aspects of human nature will have been given carte blanche to come out of the shadows and ply their nightmarish trade out in the open. If Trump loses, the people who don’t read, think, or question will have found their way out of the night and feel emboldened that their way of life, hate and dark horror have been given a legitimate voice by the Trump monster they have created. Trump may ultimately skulk off into the night. But he will have left a legacy; people of no conscience, thought or love taking to the streets with only one thing on their minds…

Doing the devil’s bidding.

-30-

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Snoflower by L.K. Scott

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Enhance your coffee

Snoflower by L.K. Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How old is she?” Kristy finally asked.

Ben swallowed hard. “Eighteen.”

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

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

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

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

“You don’t love them?” she asked.

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

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

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

“I love you, snoflower.” he said.

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

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

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

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

Ben smelled of pine chips and sour bear meat.

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

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

“Except I won’t be there for it.”

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

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

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

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

 

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Killer Instinct by Gabrielle Esposito

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The night air was wet and humid. It lay heavily on his body, as if a blanket had been dropped over his head. It was alive, and every time he took expanding his lungs, filling his body, giving him weight and strength while feeding his blood and his mind. His vision sharpened, and in the darkness, he could see the small figure writhing. A wide smile crept across his face and he stepped closer, moving without truly thinking about it. A spark of excitement jumped in his stomach, unleashing a frenzy of anxiousness. He had to get his hands around the thing. He had to feel its body twitching underneath his fingers.

“Now we’re going to have some fun,” said Eric. “Just you and me and the moon.”

He bent down, his eyes straining only slightly in the light of the night. His vision had enhanced to that of a predators’, and there was nothing that he missed. The mouse that he had trapped underneath a shoe box was struggling to escape. He could hear it gnawing the side of the cardboard, and he could hear its frantic squeaking. Eric lifted up the box and his hand shot forward to grab the rodent. Its fur was soft on his flesh, silky and smooth. But what he relished most was the rapid pace of its breathing. In the bone-white luster of the moon, he could the mouse’s eyelids plastered up as far as they could go, giving him a look of pure panic. He could only imagine the way it must feel to be so weightless in some stranger’s hands, far away from any comforting face and knowing that you were doomed. The mouse’s feeble legs twitched and kicked, clawing at his hand with all its might. But it only felt like a soft scratch to him.

He put his lips to the little pink ears on top of the mouse’s head. Its whiskers twitched.

“You don’t like being small, do you?” whispered Eric. He stroked it with his thumb. “I don’t like being small either. People like to tease me about it. All. The. Time.” He only realized he had tightened his fingers when he saw that the mouse’s eyes were bulging out of its small skull.

Eric wanted to lessen his grip. He really did. But his unstable mind began to veer off track. It turned to the bitter dark thoughts and memories that were far more potent than the pleasantries he had floating around inside his skull. He thought of everyone who had called him a name. Each person who had taken advantage of his deformed height. Everyone who had ever doubted him. Every person who gave him a look of sympathy or horror as he passed them on the street. Every time someone told him that he would never be normal.

He felt something hot slide down his cheek. It splattered onto the knuckle of his thumb. He followed it down. It was only then that he realized that the mouse was still.

He forced himself to look at it. He no longer felt the pressure of the mouse’s ribcage coming and going as it took frantic gasps of air. It’s once swiveling and frantic eyes were calm in their sockets. And already he missed the small innocent creature. Already the deep seated anger and regret began to make his throat burn as a hot ball of hate traveled up from his stomach and stuck in his windpipe.

He didn’t want to be this way.

“Eric! Come in please! It’s getting too dark.” His mother was calling him. Eric picked up the mouse and chucked it into the woods. He watched it land near the others who had lost their lives at his destructive hand. He could see it growing to a decent height now. It was almost five inches off the ground, and almost as long in length as he was.

He reset the trap, and then grabbed his crutches.

He hobbled out from behind the shed, careful to watch for any rocks or holes. Eric knew how unstable his balance was. He refused to let himself get careless. At school, he was used to people calling him names and knocking his crippled and deformed legs out from under him. But home, especially behind the shed, was a safe place. He didn’t want it to be tainted by the memory of falling face first into the mud.

“Coming Mom!”

He made his way slowly back to the front yard. She was waiting for him, standing in the door in her bathrobe.

“You want some ice cream before bed?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” said Eric. “I’m getting too old for it, I think.” His mother turned to look at him, a bemused smile on her face.

“What do you mean? You’re only eight.”

Eric said nothing, and instead flashed her a smile out of sympathy. He allowed himself to be led inside and seated at the front table. Eric couldn’t see the point in the creamy desert being put in front of him. It wouldn’t touch any part of his being or cause any delight. It didn’t matter how much chocolate syrup he loaded onto the quickly melting humps of cream or how much sprinkles he dotted its surface with. The ice cream would still turn bitter in his mouth.