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Deadman’s Tome LIVE @ 10PM (CST)

 

 

Horror authors Brian J. Smith and Matthew Johnson join Mr. Deadman to discuss their stories, influences, and other projects. Brian J. Smith is the author of Caught In The Act, a short, dark, and gritty flash in the pan fiction of lust, revenge, and murder that lingers like the smell of gunpowder. Matthew Johnson is the the author of Scuttle Bug, a gruesome and haunting tale of a bug from Hell determined to borrow deep inside Amanda. Scuttle Bug is also featured in the latest anthology Deadman’s Tome: Book of Horrors.

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Book of Horrors – More Plastic Wrap

 

More Plastic Wrap – Florence Ann Marlowe

The gloom descended on him the moment his sneaker touched the broken walk leading to his mother’s house.  It was as if a cloud had taken up permanent residence over the green tiled house.  Michael looked up at the grimy windows and they stared back with baleful black eyes. “The beast” as Michael liked to call it, waited for his return, laughing at him.  It knew he was a prisoner, unable to escape.

The rusty mailbox, clinging to the side of the house by one screw, hung heavy with the day’s mail.  Michael shifted the plastic bags to one hand and dug out the fistful of envelopes.  Bills, advertisements and his mother’s social security check.  He gritted his teeth.  Another reminder that he was not his own man.  

Hoping not to wake her, Michael crept through the door – but the house betrayed him.  The door creaked, squealing on him.  Under his breath he cursed the miserable old beast.  

“Izzat you, Mikey?”

Her voice was like a buzz saw gnawing at the nerves in his ears.  Michael felt his lips curl back into a snarl.

“Yeah, it’s me.”

“Did you get me my smokes?”

He tossed the bags on the kitchen table.  They contained three packs of Marlboros, six sticks of Slim Jims and a thirty-two ounce bottle of blue Gatorade.

“Did you get my smokes, sweetie?”  Her scratchy, witchy voice clawed its way from her bedroom upstairs.   

Michael shouted back. “Yeah, I got everything.  Here’s your mail.”  Under his breath he muttered, “Ya crazy, old bitch.”

His mother gingerly climbed down the stairs in a dingy pink housedress and terry cloth scuffs.  She was a tiny woman peering out beneath heavy black framed eyeglasses.  A nearly spent cigarette hung from her lips as she approached her only son.

“Didja have enough money for everything?”

Michael grunted and nodded.

The old woman patted his arm and eased herself into a chair to look through the mail; Michael flinched at her touch.

Thirty-two and living at home with his elderly mother, Michael acknowledged his failure. He had moved in with her when he dropped out of community college and swore it would only be until “he got on his feet.”  The years rolled by and there was always a reason he was unable to move out.  His mother pretended he was there to take care of her, but Michael felt trapped – trapped by the monstrous old house and his clingy hag of a mother.

She rifled through the bags.

“What the hell is all this?  I didn’t tell you to get this.”  The tone of her voice turned sour.

Michael grabbed at the bottle of Gatorade.  “I bought them for myself.”

“Not with my money!”

“No!”  Michael lied.  “I’ve got my own money.” Michael had already cashed his measly check from the video store and the piddling remains sat in his wallet.

The old woman patted his arm and nodded.  “All right, honey.  You can have your candy.”  

Michael furiously ripped open a Slim Jim and tore off a piece with his teeth.  The salty dried meat tasted bitter in his mouth.  

“Sweetie,” his mother said.  “You wanna take my check to the bank and cash it now?”

“Not now, Ma.” Michael said.

“But Mikey, I just signed it.”  

Michael gritted his teeth and headed for his room.

“It’s got my name on it now.  What if I lose it or what if someone breaks in?”

“I’ll do it tomorrow.”  Michael growled.  

The old woman sighed.  ‘All right, honey.  I know you’re tired.  You rest up.”

Michael rolled his eyes and bit off another huge chunk of Slim Jim.

“I don’t feel so good.” She struggled to stand. “I’m gonna go lay down.”

He watched his mother’s tiny form shuffle back up the stairs, the saggy flesh of her upper arms waggling with each step. Her door clicked shut and he could hear her coughing.  

Alone later in his room Michael pulled a stack of dog-eared magazines from under his bed.  He rifled through the pile, knowing well the contents of each one by the cover.  The pubescent blue-eyed nymph sucking her forefinger while staring innocently at the camera promised many pages of girl on girl action beyond the cover.  Michael chose the cover with a dark haired vamp pulling bright red chewing gum from her lips in a long slippery trail.  He knew he’d find several pages of beaver shots glistening within.  

Michael slid his hand into his pajama pants and began to fondle his balls.  His vision blurred slightly as he got caught up in the images of young women on their backs, their legs open, forming a perfect V and the smooth, slick pinkness lying between their thighs.  He sighed and closed his eyes as he began to caress his erect cock when he heard his mother coughing in the next room.

Michael’s hand froze. He waited for the coughing fit to die out and then resumed playing with himself.

In his mind the nubile blonde from the magazine’s pages crawled onto his bed and laid her soft lips on his cock.  Her eyes were locked onto his as she dragged her tongue up the shaft and traced the tip of her tongue along the ridge of his big mushroom head.  He slid his hand up and down faster along his penis when his mother started a new bout of throat wrenching coughs.

Michael shouted to her.  “You alright, Ma?”  He couldn’t very well tell her to “shut the fuck up, I’m trying to concentrate here!”   

In between coughing fits she called back, “I’m all right!  I just need some water!”

He leaned back in bed and gripped his cock with one hand until it hurt.  She was still hacking.  Michael tossed the magazines onto the floor and stared at the dark ceiling.  Friggin’ crazy bitch was going to cough all night.  

It sounded like she was in the room with him.  He rolled onto his stomach, his cheated penis aching. Why wouldn’t she leave him in peace?  Her coughs echoed through the old house.  It was as if the walls were mimicking her, coughing back in sympathy.

The coughing fit continued.  He could hear her straining to bring up whatever was blocking her throat and he felt his stomach roil in protest.  Each jagged hack was like a blow to the back of his head. The last thing he thought before falling asleep was “disgusting old bitch.”

Just past four in the morning, Michael stirred in his sleep.  Foggy, he sat up and listened.  His mother was calling his name.

“Mikey, I need you!”  She was struggling to speak.  Michael could hear her gasping and wheezing.   Her voice was strangled.  “Mikey!”

Michael felt no urgency to get up.  A great lethargy seemed to wash over him as he listened to his mother’s rasping calls.  He lay staring into the dark, only glancing once at his alarm clock to check the time.

Michael was well aware what had happened, it had happened before.  She fell asleep on her back and the mix of phlegm and tobacco in her throat had formed a plug.  She was choking.  But all she had to do was go into the bathroom and get a drink of water.

She gagged as she tried to dislodge the obstruction.  The sound turned his stomach.  Her voice, normally high pitched and whining sounded like a frog as it struggled to escape her clotted throat.

“Mickey, help! Water!”

He could hear her gasps and moans drifting down the hallway.  Instead of feeling alarmed, Michael felt nothing but excitement. Her labored breathing created a rhythmic pattern.  It reminded Michael of something he’d read as a kid in the school library.  “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”   He began to chant the words under his blanket, along with the phlegmatic sound of his mother’s wheezing.

He stopped chanting and listened.  He could hear a weak, barely audible whistle from the next room; a rattling whistle like steam being expelled through a narrow pipe.  

It tittered several times before petering out into a wet rattle.  

“Mom?” he whispered and pulled the blanket down.  A cool breeze wafted against his cheek.  There was no answer.  For once, the house was silent.   He tried again in the softest voice possible.

“Mom?”

When he received no answer, he pulled his covers up and lay staring into the dark for nearly an hour before finally drifting off to sleep.

The next morning Michael waited until sunlight pierced the muddied windows in his room. The alarm clock near his bed said it was twenty past ten. The house was unnaturally still.

In nothing but his pajama pants, he crept down the hallway towards his mother’s room.  The door was still closed.  There was an unseasonal chill in the house.  The air felt frosty – like a wet, cool breeze snaked its way through the hallway.

Michael leaned an ear against the door to listen and the wood itself seemed to sear his flesh.  He pulled way.  A film of sweat lay on his upper lip as he caught the metal door knob in his hand. The knob felt icy cold as it turned.  He allowed the door to ease open just a few inches before peeking inside.  

She was lying on the bed in a tangle of bedclothes.  One skinny leg stuck out, a slipper dangling from her foot.  She was wearing the clunky eyeglasses; her head thrown back against the headboard.  Michael pulled the door shut with a jerk.

The texture of the wood, the bubbles in the yellowed paint seemed to grow before him.  A tattered spider web hung in the corner above the staircase and Michael watched it sway gently.

His heart thumped in his chest. He rapped at the door with his knuckle and it sounded brutal.  He pushed the door open and whispered, “Ma?”  The door swung open and the picture was still the same.  His mother was frozen in an absurd ballet pose, half in and half out of the bed.  Michael padded into the room. Standing at the foot of his mother’s bed the room seemed impossibly neat save for the box of tissues and three packs of Marlboros on her nightstand, one already open and missing several cigarettes.  The white and pink quilt, lumpy and misshapen from too many rolls in the dryer, still lay neatly folded across the foot of her bed.  A litter of used tissues was scattered all over the floor beneath her one slippered foot.   

In the time it took Michael to move from the door to his mother’s bedside, he took in the white flecks of dry spittle around her mouth, the yellow discharge on the front of her pink nightgown and the glaze of her open eyes beneath the thick lenses.   He leaned forward as if to touch her and then bolted from the room.  He dashed into the bathroom; pitching forward over the sink; dry heaving.  The ghostly taste of Slim Jims filled his mouth.  

His mother was dead.  His mother was dead and she was lying in her bed like a stumpy manikin.   Michael dropped his ass onto the toilet and gathered up the legs of his pajamas.  She was dead – which was all right, Michael thought.  It was gross, but it was all right.  She was old, she was sixty-eight.  That was pretty old, wasn’t it?  She died of old age.  

He glanced into the hallway and realized he’d left the bedroom door open.  He imagined his mother’s still poised as if she were climbing out of her bed, staring at the ceiling.  He’d have to close the door before they came.  Who the hell was coming?  He’d have to call the police or the paramedics.  Who do you call when someone is already dead?  He’d have to figure out who to call.  Then what?  What happens after they come?

Michael skidded past his mother’s door and sprinted down the stairs to the kitchen. He pulled the fridge open and grabbed the container of orange juice.  He gulped big mouthfuls directly from the spout.  Finally he slumped down at the table and stared at the Formica top. The sugar dispenser and the salt and pepper shakers were arranged in a neat little triangle in the center of the table.  His mother had used them as paperweights to keep her precious Social Security check in place.  Michael put one finger on the pale yellow piece of paper and dragged it over to his side of the table.

Michael picked up the check and turned it over.  His mother’s neat, almost artistic looking signature was scrawled at the edge of the back of the check.  Funerals were expensive.  He looked up at the horrid yellow wallpaper and the garish light fixture dangling above.  He could sell “the beast.”  There had to be a will somewhere – although his Mom had always had a superstitious fear of talking about her own death.  What if there was no will?  And even if there was the rickety monstrosity could take years to sell.

His mother’s check felt hot in his hands.  “The beast” was paid off.  Who had to know if the old woman was dead?  Who would tell?  If she never left the house, it would be his secret – his and “the beast’s.”

His mother had been a small woman. Barely five feet tall, she claimed to have “shrunk” over the years. Michael considered storing her body in a plastic garbage bag, but he needed something more permanent.  In the closet between their rooms, a green Rubbermaid container had been stashed to hold the few Christmas decorations his mother bothered with each year.  

He brought a fresh garbage bag into the bedroom and regarded his mother’s still form. Michael had wanted to use her pink quilt as a type of shroud and just wrap her body up and dump it into the container.  Her body wouldn’t bend the way he needed in order to fit her into the container.  The garbage bag proved useless too.  It slipped and slid as he tried to cover her up. Her arms kept popping out.  

Michael had to abandon the quilt and roll her body off the bed and into the container. He shuddered each time his fingers gripped his mother’s cold lifeless limbs. He forced the arms to lie flat next to his mother’s sides and pushed her head down until it touched her boney knees.  When he stepped back, sweat pouring down his cheeks into his collar, her grizzled little head popped up slightly.

Michael forced the lid onto the container, pushing his mother’s body down.  There was some resistance, but he pressed the corners of the lid until he heard that satisfying snap of the sides locking into place.  A wild thought fluttered into his head:  that should keep her nice and fresh.  Michael allowed a high pitched giggle to escape his lips before he dragged the box into the hall. The box traveled in a series of short shoves and grunts.  There was only one place to store the box:  the hallway closet where he got the container from to begin with.

His mother’s winter coats and heavy suits hung above her final resting place.  Michael slid the box in as far as it would go until it hit the back wall of the closet.  The house was mercifully silent but he could feel it judging him as he closed the door.

The bank had no problem cashing his mother’s pension check.  He’d done it many times over the past few years and had even signed it for her himself.  He took the cash home in his wallet, reminding himself to take a look at her checkbook when he got home.  He treated everyone to Chinese food for lunch at the Video store and bought himself a new video game.  For dinner later that night, he treated himself to a dozen White Castles and a case of beer.

At home he tiptoed passed the closed door of his mother’s bedroom.  Pushing his sneakers off without untying the laces, he dropped onto his bed, face down. Soon he was drifting through a foggy world where he was at Donegal’s pub, tossing back beers and laughing his ass off with the buxom brunette from his magazine. The dark haired beauty wrapped one leg around his and pushed her tongue into his mouth when his mother started coughing.  Michael snorted and shook himself awake

“You okay, Ma?” he mumbled, rubbing at his scruffy face.  The wet coughing continued for a few seconds before Michael was shocked awake and sober.  He sat up, swinging his legs to the side of the bed and listened.  There was silence.  He dropped his feet to the floor and stumbled into the hallway.  His mother’s bedroom door was ajar.  

He scuffed down the hall as if he were walking through gelatin.  His brain tingled like mad when he stopped in the doorway and scanned the empty room.  The bed was naked, stripped of its linens. He was sure he’d shut the door after storing the body laden container in the closet.  He glanced down the hall at the closet door.    

He closed the bedroom door and shuffled back down the hall to his room.  As he passed the closet he caught a whiff of an unpleasant, sour odor.  He snuffled, running a finger under his nose.  Yeah, he thought, she’s in there.  

The next morning, Michael stood in front of the bathroom sink, splashing cold water over his face.  He looked dreadful.  His face was pasty and bloated looking.  His eyes were rimmed with red.  His stomach was unhappy and there was a horrid sour smell in the air.  

Michael wiped his face with a dirty towel and looked in the mirror.  He could see the hallway closet lurking in the corner behind him. The sour odor drifted down the hall..  

Michael’s mom always kept several rolls of clear plastic wrap in the kitchen.  He used his fingernails to claw at the end of the roll and pulled a long sheet of the transparent material.  His plan had been to wrap it around his mother’s body, but he couldn’t bear to open the container and face what was inside.  Instead he decided to wrap the entire container in as many sheets of plastic wrap as he could.

The tenacity of the wrap amazed him.  It refused to leave home base and fought off all attempts Michael made to rip a piece from the main body of wrap.  When he finally did get a strip free, it clung to his fingers and sucked at his bare arms.  He found himself flapping his arms around, trying to free himself of the parasitic clutches of the plastic.  He finally got one layer of wrap around the girth of the container.  He began to pull off a second sheet when the wrap came to a sudden end. No worries, he thought.  There’s always more plastic wrap.

He found the second roll of plastic wrap and wound several layers around the box before it gave out. He left the plastic attached to the roll and wrapped the container until all that was left was the very end of the roll.  He tried to rip it free with his fingers and then attacked the sheet with his teeth.  His face came close to the container and the odor seemed to bounce back at him, attacking his nostrils.  Finally the container was muffled under five layers of clear plastic wrap.  

Satisfied the smell was contained for good, Michael slid the box back into the closet.  The plastic wrap had built up beneath the box, keeping it from sliding freely over the linoleum floor.  Michael felt something jostle inside the box as he pushed it into the recesses of the closet.  He jumped and pulled away.  The box sat silently in its make-shift tomb and Michael shut the door.

*******

Days later the smell was invasive forcing him to go out and buy more plastic wrap.  He could feel it curling around the edges of the front door as he turned the key.  When he pushed the door open, it rushed to meet his nose and rubbed against his face like an affectionate cat.  When he closed the door behind him it seemed to envelop him, making him gag.  He swore he could see green tendrils of the toxic fumes hanging in the air.

Michael opened the closet door and the smell pumped into the hallway.  His eyes teared.  With ginger hands, he pulled the mummified Rubbermaid container out.  Michael studied the neatly wrapped package.  The layers looked rippled in spots, as if someone had tried to tamper with it.  Michael shook his head.  It was just more of a mess than he had remembered.  

He opened the first box of wrap and wound it in one direction around the box until the roll of plastic was spent.  He opened a second box and wound it around in the opposite direction. He finally used another whole roll over the entire thing, winding it tightly until it resembled a transparent beehive.  The dark green container could barely be seen beneath its cellophane cocoon.  He had a hard time shoving the box back into the closet; its lumpy overcoat skidded against the floor.  Before he closed the door, he thought he heard something bounce and settle within the container.  

The highboy dresser in his mother’s room was just narrow enough to fit in the hallway.  Michael pushed it into the hall and slid it in front of the closet door.  He wasn’t sure it would do anything about the smell, but he felt better not seeing the closet door.   On top of the dresser he began to place sticks of solid air freshener.  He’d grabbed the colorful columns of solid deodorants off of the supermarket shelf, not paying attention to what fragrances they held.  He opened each one and twisted the covers off, displaying the stick of fragrance.  The combined aroma was unpleasant, but tolerable and he thought he could sleep.

He woke with a start hours later.  His mother was coughing.  He lay frozen in bed, his eyes wide in the darkness.  He could clearly hear the staccato of her smoker’s hack.  It was muffled as if it came from behind a closed door; muffled as if it came from layers of plastic cling wrap.  

“Mikey?”

As if he’d been shocked by high voltage, Michael sat up in bed.  He stared at his bedroom door as if he could will it to lock out anything that might wander in from the hallway.  The coughing had stopped, but his ears strained for any sound.  And then it came.

He could hear a crisp, dry crinkling sound.  

It was a crinkly, crackling sound like layers and layers of plastic being peeled away.  His heart battered against his rib cage.  A tearing sound, a clean ripping and a thud.  And then a wet splat, something like the slap of raw meat on the floor.  

Michael swallowed and listened again.  There was silence.  His head seemed to clear and he ran his hand over the front of his underwear.  They were damp.  He shook his head as if to rattle his brain.   It had been a nightmare.  The house, in its gloomy brooding, was still. It was toying with his brain. He slipped under the covers and glanced at the alarm clock.  It was just past four.

The next morning the smell still lingered in the hall.  Michael had bought ten rolls of cellophane, but pulling the dresser from the closet and opening the door was out of the question.  If he opened the door and the plastic wrap he had labored to seal the Rubbermaid container was tattered, rendered from the strain of the lid being pried open from within he would lose his mind. What if the lid had been dislodged and his mother’s decaying, blackened hand was sticking out, the nails clawing through the plastic wrap?  What if he opened the closet door and his mother’s putrefied corpse was sitting on top of the box, shreds of cling wrap lying at her feet, her accusing eyes bulging from behind her clunky glasses?

Michael scrubbed at his face.  The dark corners of the musty old house were drawing him in.  He refused to go mad.  It was just a bad smell and these things could be dealt with.

He carried an armful of air fresheners into the hallway and began to open them and place them around the dresser on the floor.  Michael fought not to see the wisps of cigarette smoke that he was sure was escaping the seams around the  closet door.

He dreaded nightfall.  Everything was different once the sun went down.  The dreary house became ominous, like a cranky old man.  Shadows seemed to dart out just beyond Michael’s peripheral vision.  He could hear thumping sounds from the hallway.  At one point, right after sunset, Michael thought he heard his mother’s bedroom door open.  Too frightened to look, he muted the television and stared straight ahead, listening.  The back of his skull tingled when he thought he heard the shuffling of her slippered feet.  He whirled around, a thin scream clawing at his throat, but nothing was there.  

That night Michael locked himself in his room.  He kept telling himself it was all in his head, the noises, the shadows, even the smell.  There was definitely a smell, a terrible smell; but it was not a visible vapor that dogged him from room to room.

He dozed off into a cloud of unrest where he could hear the crackling of plastic and fleshy footsteps in the hallway.  He jerked awake a few times when he thought he smelled cigarettes burning, but exhaustion forced him back to slumber.  Sometime in the middle of the night he dreamed that his mother was in his room, hovering over his bed.  He opened sleepy eyes and saw her face, blackened like an overripe banana, floating behind her thick glasses.  She leaned close enough that he could feel her whistling, wheezing breath on his face and the heat of her own flesh decaying.  

Michael bounded from his bed, his hands outstretched, fully expecting his fingers perforate her pulpy flesh.  He was alone in his room.  Clutching his chest, he looked at himself in the mirror over his dresser.  His chin was scruffy with bristles.  He hadn’t shaved in days.  His eyes looked like wet holes in his head.  He needed escape.

When he opened his bedroom door the odor of the apartment scrabbled at his throat.  It was thick and powerful.  He sprinted past the dresser in the hallway.  The stench followed him like an eager puppy. Michael gagged and somewhere upstairs something echoed his cough.

At the Quik-mart, he bought an egg and sausage sandwich and an orange Gatorade.  As he left the store, he unwrapped the sandwich and took a huge bite.  It tasted greasy. Behind him an older man wearing a blue windbreaker and baseball cap stood drinking a cup of steaming coffee.  He nodded to Michael and took a long drag from his cigarette which started a coughing fit.  

The sandwich suddenly tasted of ashes.

The older gentleman shrugged and motioned to the lit cigarette with his coffee cup.

“These things are gonna kill me one day, but whattaya gonna do?”

Michael tossed his sandwich into the dumpster and took a swig from his Gatorade before heading home.

The odor greeted him as he stepped into the apartment.  It was happy he was home.  He pushed past it, covering his mouth with his hand.   It seemed to grapple down his throat, searching for his intestines.  He could feel it winding through his guts like a snake.  

The air in the old house was toxic.  Mingling with the flowery and fruity smells of the deodorizing sticks, the resulting aroma was nauseatingly sweet. The odor came from a box wrapped in miles of plastic wrap. He needed to keep the odor in the closet or his mother wouldn’t stay put.  What would keep them both in?  More plastic wrap.

Michael dropped the boxes of expensive, brand name wrap on the floor in front of the closet.  He pushed the dresser away and stared at the closed door.  No power in the world could compel him to open that door.  He pulled one container of cling wrap open and then another.  He carefully placed a sheet of wrap over the closed door, sealing off the edges of the door frame, blocking the escape route for the bad smell.  The cling wouldn’t stay clung.  When he applied a second layer of wrap it fell forward.  He watched it drift down in slow motion.  

Michael searched the drawers in the living room until he found the stapler.  He attached each layer of wrap to the wall with the stapler, flattening out little pillows of putrid air trapped beneath the plastic.

He pushed the dresser back in place and inhaled deeply.  The foul smell was still there, but faint.  He was confident he had weakened it.  Looking up at the cracked ceiling he chuckled.   This house won’t beat me. You won’t be my tomb!

A blanket of perspiration lay on his skin.  A job well done, he thought as he kicked aside the empty cling boxes.  He picked up the last remaining box and took it into his bedroom.  His bedroom was safe.  The smell couldn’t get to him there.

The sun was setting as Michael lay, fully clothed, on his bed.  He was listening to the creaking house.  A bird warbled outside and the wind tree branches against the window.  Michael could hear the heartbeat of “the beast.”  It seemed content.  Beneath it all he could hear the soft purring sound of brittle fingers cutting through layers and layers of cellophane.  

Across his chest, Michael held the last unopened box of plastic wrap.  He picked at the cardboard lid until he freed the roll within and pinched the end of the cellophane sheet.  He peeled a good sized piece of wrap from the box and sliced it across the metal edge.  He let the blurry gossamer sheet flutter in his hand like a translucent sail.

From the hallway he could hear the sound of plastic being shred.  He could hear a muffled thump and then another like the frustrated pounding of someone locked out – or in.  Michael let the cling wrap float down over his face.  He smiled as it folded itself over his cheeks.  He was a big boy, he thought.  He could handle anything.  All he needed was more plastic wrap.

As his bedroom door slowly swung open, he grabbed the edges of the plastic cling wrap and drew them down tightly over his face and took a deep breath.

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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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Book of Horrors – S. Alessandro Martinez

Mr. Deadman and S. Alessandro Martinez talk about the Deadman’s Tome: Book of Horrors. An anthology loaded with ten great terrifying horror shorts designed to disgust, creep, and frighten you!

 

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The Widow’s Reaction by Stephen Millard

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Tonya Dumont’s husband was dead, and under strange circumstances. It looked like an accident but his body was still at the morgue four days later so she knew it had the possibility of not being just your everyday accident. So when the morgue contacted her to visit her at home she thought it was just as strange a circumstance.

“We operate a bit differently,” was what the man from the morgue replied with when she asked if this was usual protocol. As she waited for him to show up she couldn’t quite remember his name. Was it Robert, or Ronald? Some name that was usually shortened, or ‘nicked’, as her mother would say.

“We like a more personal touch. This is the single hardest thing a person has to deal with, why should we make them go through it in anywhere else but the comfort of their home?” His logic was agreeable and furthermore he did run a private business, so why couldn’t they meet here instead of there to discuss the disposal of her late husbands body.

Disposal, she now thought sourly, if he would’ve used that word I wouldn’t have been so agreeable.

But she could say it, to herself in her own home. Anything could be said or done in one’s home and that’s why she didn’t question him, it just made sense. She wondered not about this mortician but rather about every other mortician, thinking they all should be this understanding.

So now she was waiting for him, this Robert or Ronald, and was frantically picking up her living room. She believed in the appearance of normalcy simply because she didn’t want to be seen as just another sad fresh widow. She didn’t want to be pitied and she didn’t warrant it, or at least that’s what she was trying to achieve. In movies or books when someone loses the love of their life they always spiral into this purgatory, with dishes piling up and a half drank bottle of booze in the midst of it somewhere.

Well not her.

Not the mighty Tonya Dumont.

Just because her husband was dead didn’t mean that she had to ruin everything they’d worked for. She continued going to work and as she walked around her house now she found it quite a quick job to clean up for her guest. All she had to do was wipe a thin layer of dust off of the coffee table and she was done. The coffee table that, through every evening, was her husbands best friend. He put his beer, food, and feet up on it, not to mention the wide-spread of every Sunday paper and it was just then that Tonya realized that while he was alive she never had to dust it. He never left it alone long enough to gather dust. And now that her simple tidying was done she felt entirely empty. Empty because she found that even though she worked so hard to put on a mask of life to wear when she went out, it was removed every time she stepped foot in her door. The walls here knew what was missing from inside them, and they pitied her whether she liked it or not. They felt the air, now so still after housing his constant energy and knew exactly what she was; a sad and lonely widow. There are, after all, no secrets that can be kept from the walls of a home.  

Her expression began to hollow out, taking the look she never even let herself see. Eyes sinking in, lips losing color, mouth hanging agape. Like a doped mental patient, if only so numb.

The first time the doorbell rang she didn’t even hear it. She just kept looking down at her dead husbands favorite spot until the man knocked instead. This snapped her back and she felt the blood return. A quick breath and adjustment to her hair was all she needed, and she was back, to open the door with as much of the mask on as the walls would allow.

“Hello Mrs. Dumont? I’m Randall Flynn from Roseview.” Randall, she thought as he offered his hand. She took it and opened the door in its entirety.

“Please come in,” Tonya said standing back with a modest, only-being-polite smile on her face.

“Thank you. Wow,” he looked around, up the stairs and at the chandelier hanging above him. “This is a beautiful home.”

“Oh thanks,” she replied, a little bashful. It had been a long four days since anyone had been in the house with her. “Can I get you something to drink before we get started?”

“Just a water please.” She showed him to the living room, Randall continuing to marvel at the house while all Tonya saw was the coffee table, and then went to get the water.

“Have a seat,” she called back to him, but once she returned, she wished any other words would’ve been spoken. After turning the corner her feet slowed, just for a step, and she felt the mask slipping off.

Randall was sitting in her husband’s favorite spot, letting his brochures clutter her husband’s favorite coffee table. Rage and injustice filled her but she managed to grab the mask just before it hit the floor to inevitably shatter, and put it back on. Tonya continued her stride with that same polite smile and placed his water in front of him.

“Thank you,” he said somberly. “Now,” 

and so it begins, she thought,

“we have a number of affiliates around town that can set you up with a beautiful service, so let’s clear some of this up. Did you have a cemetery in mind? A plot already reserved perhaps?” He was verbally walking on eggshells, like a parent talking to their child about sex and his face was anxiously compressed.

“No. It was just the two of us, his parents aren’t in the picture and mine are still alive so we just never really thought about it.”

“Right,” he nodded. “Well in that case I’d recommend you take a look at these.” He slid the brochures over slowly, as if he was trying not to scare her. Tonya picked one up and began looking, as he recommended.

It was perverse. A delicately manicured advertisement to make money off of not the dead, but the grief of the living. Everyone wanted a ‘respectful’ burial, which of course meant an expensive burial. One full of flowers and granite and marble and things that cost half a years salary, only to be visited a few days a year.

She sighed at the bullshit of it all.

“I know this is hard,” he responded. Looking at him, she tried to hide her contempt. This was a business man sitting in her dead husband’s favorite spot and he had fooled her even before meeting her. Fooled her into thinking that he cared by coming to her, instead of making her come to him. A good businessman, with his look of delicate apprehension and understanding. But what was he, maybe thirty? At best? What the fuck did he know about-

“Mrs. Dumont?” He looked even more anxious now. She quickly reapplied the mask.

“I’m sorry, I just don’t know where to begin here,” she said pretending to look back down at the brochures.

“Take all the time you need. I know it’s especially hard when the deceased is murdered.”

“What?” Tonya’s mask shattered before she felt it fall.

“You didn’t-?”

“Scott was murdered?” It seemed like she couldn’t get enough air.

“Oh, oh Mrs. Dumont I’m so sorry. We found out this morning I thought the police contacted you. I-” His hands were up, like football player who just got flagged.

“I talked to the police this morning and they said nothing about this.” She was furious, wanted to smash the untouched glass of water against his forehead and watch him bleed. She kept the quiet, even tone of a person who has known anger all their lives and can use it for the tool that it is.

“I apologize, you must feel-”

That’s where she cut him off. After her rant was done she was unsure of what exactly she had said but it went on five, maybe ten minutes and only at the end did she realize she was standing over him, yelling down at him as if he was a dog. She called him things she’d never said before and told him exactly how she ‘must feel’.

Then she stood up straight.

“Now get out. I’m not doing business with you.” But he didn’t move. “Did you hear me? I said-” She wanted to scare him, to make him flee away like the house was burning down. But then he began to smile, with a slow spreading pleasure, and she realized that he too, had been wearing a mask.

“Why don’t you sit down?” He said.

“Your fucking sick. I’m calling the cops.” She reached down to her phone on the coffee table, but then couldn’t move.

Randall had pulled out a knife and stabbed it through her hand, nailing her to the table. At first she just stared as it stood straight up out the back of her hand, and then she began to scream. Tonya’s guest leapt up at this and stuffed fabric into her open mouth, muffling and choking her. The force of this act sent her back down to the chair. She attempted to fight back with her free hand as the man brought duct tape to seal her mouth but the constant jerking against the shining blade that crucified her was unbearable. After she was silenced and fixed to the table he sat back down, lounging like a cat in the sun. He was satisfied.

Tonya looked at her hand through the tears and saw her blood dripping off the side of her husband’s favorite table. The other hand gripped the arm of her chair like a child at the dentist.

“Soooo as you probably guessed, I’m not from the morgue. I’m just a guy,” he reached into his pocket, “who is interested in how people will react,” he continued digging around. “How we react is the what makes us who we are,” he found what he was looking for and pulled out a small tape recorder. “And you-,” he rewound the tape then pressed play. She heard herself screaming at him and tried to do the same again, but the tape covering the soggy cloth in her mouth stopped it. He likewise stopped the recording. “-are a very interesting person.”

He opened up the tape recorder and took out the small cassette containing her audio and put it in on the table next to her bleeding hand, then took out another cassette from his pocket and slipped it in, clicking the recorder shut. Excitement lit up his eyes as he pressed play.

At first all she could hear was crying, then Randall asked a question, and her husband’s voice responded through sobs. Her eyes opened to their fullest and upon her realization he stopped the recording. She reached out with her free hand but he swatted it away and it went to the handle of what was fixing her in place. Jubilation took him over and a small happy gasp escaped him. Her hand was wrapped firmly around the handle of the knife. As she stared at him his crazed eyes darted between her eyes and the knife, her eyes and the knife. She took in short quick breaths and felt adrenaline build her up. Then she pulled.

But she couldn’t get it out. She began to cry again and let her hand drop lifelessly from the handle.

“Oh!” He shouted. “That would’ve been intense!” He settled back down and sighed. “So I killed your husband,” she met his eyes, “obviously,” he continued, “and I’ve got just about everything I need from you. But before I finish I’d like to thank you, seriously,” he leaned forward, “you were way more interesting than your husband, he just cried the whole time,” he took on a disgusted look, “cried and begged.” He stared at her eyes for a moment, trying to make sure that hammered home. Then he took out a pad and pen, flipped it open, and began checking things off.

“Okay,” he said slowly, “so we’ve got the death of a husband, the widow’s reaction, and… do your folks live near here?” Her eyes widened again in realization and she tried once more to reach out and grab him, this time he caught her by the wrist, then held her hand in both of his, tenderly. “Don’t worry,” he consoled, “they’ll be fine,” he thought about this, peering upward, “physically,” he amended. Tonya pulled back her hand from his in a snap. Their skin made a rustling sound against each other and she felt sick from it. “But,” he stood up, gripped the knife that was stabbed through her hand and put his face inches away from hers, then removed the knife to use it elsewhere. “I’d love to get their reaction when they find out that I killed their daughter.”  

 

 

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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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Love Electric by Calvin Demmer

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Edith McCarthy liked to peep on potential clients before meeting them. She had parked her van near their Dutch Colonial-style home and was looking through her binoculars. What she saw through the kitchen window did not surprise her. Missus Collins, the lady who had phoned her, was getting fucked like a bargain priced prostitute found on a street corner with a broken light. She was bent over the kitchen table, panties down below her knees, as the broad shouldered man pounded her. Edith decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and presumed the man to be her husband.

Edith placed the binoculars on the seat next to her, rubbed her eyes, and started up the van. She had seen enough. The couple looked happy—they fucked like it at least—and added to this Missus Collins had said they had recently purchased the home. Edith had the inspiration required.

Back in her small apartment on the other side of town, she paced the living room as she counted down the time until she was meant to meet Missus Collins. She couldn’t stand waiting and decided to get through some training. As she never entertained guests she had set up her own little gym in her living room. Cash was tight, so it was mostly a bench and some free weights. Edith picked out her favorite CD, Classic love songs of the eighties, which she had managed to shoplift.

As her portable CD player pumped out the tunes, she did bicep curls, staring herself in a body length mirror. There was no denying the extra few pounds she had put on since getting out of prison—she had been convicted of assault—but she had also gained more muscle. Having just turned forty-two, standing five-foot eleven and weighing a hundred and sixty pounds, she felt good. She clenched tight on her next curl and grimaced, wanting the bicep to pop. The steroids she had purchased from a man riddled in acne at her gym had been worth it.

Prison had changed her. She had not learnt any rehabilitation, if anything she had discovered how to hate more and from a place deeper within. In fact, she had learned to love the hate, to turn into something beautiful. She had also learned how to take better care of herself in a fight and how to get away with certain things.

Edith finished up her set, wolfed down some food, and showered.

#

When Edith arrived for her meeting with Missus Collins, she found the lady dressed impeccably in a gray skirt and floral white shirt. She also found out Missus Collins first name was Tiffany. Tiffany’s heels clacked on the wooden passageway as she led Edith to the first room she wanted to have painted.

“I was so surprised to find a female painter” Tiffany said, entering the empty room. “Have you been in town long? We have just recently moved here, this is actually the first home we have ever purchased, we are so excited.”

“Nah, I move around a lot,” Edith said.

“Well, this is to be my office, I am a realtor, oh, remind me to give you a card before you go.”

Edith nodded.

“The other room, just down the hall to the left, will be my husband, Harold’s, entertainment area, mostly for him and his buddies to watch sports. You know how it is.” Tiffany smiled. “He was here earlier, but will only be getting home at four, has some or other meeting.”

Edith nodded. She was glad both rooms were on the bottom floor and that she now knew for sure she had already seen Harold that morning. Good, good, they’re in love, how sweet, Edith thought. She checked her wristwatch. It was only one o’clock. There was more than enough time until Harold arrived.

Edith took a notebook and pencil out from her back pocket. She pretended to start writing things down while looking over the empty room. “You have your color in mind already?” she said.

“Yes,” Tiffany said. “A pastel blue. I don’t want it to be too distracting.”

Edith frowned. “How do you feel about red? Bright red?”

Tiffany shook her head. “No, that would drive me mad. Definitely a light, soft blue.”

Edith took a step towards Tiffany. “No, I am afraid that is just not possible. It will have to be red.”

She reached for Tiffany’s wrist.

“What the fuck?” Tiffany said, pulling away.

Tiffany’s reaction speed surprised Edith, but Edith had natural close-combat skills ingrained in her from prison. She moved right up against Tiffany and stabbed her in the lower part of her neck with the pencil. Tiffany let out a shriek; Edith pulled her close and pressed the pencil in deeper. A stream of red blood shot out from Tiffany’s neck, landing on the light gray carpeting of the room. Edith released Tiffany, who fell to the floor and began crawling for the door.

“Look what you made me do,” Edith said. She reached for Tiffany’s legs and pulled her back. Tiffany tried to scream but all that came out was a gurgling sound. Edith turned her over and dodged a kick. Tiffany’s neck was bleeding profusely and even her mouth had become an exit point for some crimson blood. The sharp copper smell hit Edith like a slap to the face.

“Fuck woman,” she said. “You’re wasting the blood. We don’t waste the fucking blood.”

Tiffany tried to kick out but couldn’t lift her leg high enough. She attempted to roll over again. Edith figured Tiffany was trying to escape again and assisted her. When Tiffany was back on her stomach, crawling with less impetuous than a few moments ago, Edith brought her right boot down on Tiffany’s lower back.

There was a dull crack sound. Tiffany’s body writhed back and forth then stopped. Edith moved closer and brought her boot down on Tiffany’s neck.

Edith said, “Fucking blood wasting bitch.” She tensed, her arms became rigid on her sides, but she calmed and found focus. She made her way to her van, now she needed her equipment.

When Edith returned to the room, she stepped over Tiffany’s body and placed her portable CD player in the middle of the room. She pressed play. Her favorite CD immediately soothed her. She put her empty white five-gallon bucket near Tiffany and then lifted Tiffany’s neck over it. Edith removed the pencil and watched as the blood began pooling at the bottom of the bucket. Fortunately, she had a few techniques to extract a bit more blood, but she didn’t need too much. The room was small.

Satisfied with the amount of blood, she added her own special mix. This mix not only helped to thin out the blood but also helped it to dry faster. Edith poured some of the blood, now mixed, into her roller tray. She dipped her roller, which she had attached to a longer frame, into the tray.

Edith made sure she got a good amount of blood on the roller and then made her way to the wall. She began in the middle of the wall to the right and half a roller length from the corner. This would help against the blood getting too thick in the edges. She made sure not to force the blood out of the roller. It didn’t take long to find her groove. Edith painted the room with Tiffany’s blood. She couldn’t resist singing along to her favorite ballads.

#

Edith sat on the large, noisy, and uncomfortable black sofa in the living room. Tiffany’s body had been wrapped in plastic and had been placed her in the van. Her equipment stood in the other room that still required painting. She stared into the blackness of the flatscreen hanging on the wall before her, breathing in deep. Her body still rocked with energy that she had received when painting the room with Tiffany’s blood. Glancing down at her wristwatch, she saw it was four o’clock. She tensed different parts of her body and felt the current rocket there. Her muscles hardened. She was ready.

The front door opened.

A man, who she recognized from the morning’s spying, entered the living room. He wore a neat navy blue suit, and a soft yellow tie swung around his neck. The man was attractive and Edith had to force down the jealousy she felt towards Tiffany. Such emotions had to wait, as there was a job in the process.

The man’s eyes narrowed when he saw Edith. “Oh, hello.”

“Hello, Harold,” Edith said.

“Ah, okay, are you a friend of Tiffany’s?”

“I am the painter.”

“Oh I see,” Harold said. His face seemed to relax. “I thought she was meeting you earlier this morning?”

“She was,” Edith said. “But she wanted me to get your opinion on something.”

Harold removed his coat. “I don’t really have much time. I thought she would handle all this. We’re expecting my parents this evening.” He removed his tie and placed both it and the coat on the side of the single-seat chair next to him.

Edith smiled.

“Where is she?” Harold said. He started walking towards the staircase. “Tiffany,” he called.

Edith got up. “Oh, I will show you. She’s here on the bottom floor.”

She led him to the room she had painted, battling to keep the happiness spreading across her face in check. It was not often she got to show off her work to a client.

Harold looked all around the room, shaking his head. “What the fuck is this mess?”

“The paint job, you don’t like it?”

“Just tell me where my wife is?”

Edith smiled. “She’s here.”

Harold stepped towards her. “Listen, I don’t have time for nonsense. Just tell me where my wife is and what the hell is going on? And what the hell is on the walls? It doesn’t smell like paint.”

“It’s blood. Your wife’s. Do you like it?”

Harold reached for Edith’s throat. “Listen you steroid junkie, tell me where the fuck my wife is.”

Edith hit Harold in his ribs with a clean left jab. He winced and bent forward. She pulled her right arm back and launched a right hook aimed at his temple. The shot clean and Harold nearly toppled over.

“What the fuck?” he said, trying to regain equilibrium.

Edith kicked at his left knee. There was a sharp pop sound. Harold buckled and screamed. He fell forward onto the bloodstained carpeting.

“You fucking crazy bitch!”

Edith walked towards him and lifted her right boot. “I have to break your neck now. I can’t be wasting any more blood today.”

“Get the fuck away from me you freak. I am gonna put you in jail for—”

Edith brought her boot down on Harold’s neck. The dull snap made Edith smile. She stood over Harold and nodded, realizing he was dead. Edith looked over to the recently painted walls and smiled. The current it sent through her almost brought her to tears. She wanted to savor the moment a bit longer, but she had more work to do.

Edith grabbed Harold’s feet and began dragging him to his entertainment room. “What lovely work I am doing these days,” she said to the recently deceased Harold. “You see, once I have finished your room, your new home will be the talk of the neighborhood.”

Once Harold was in the center of the room, she placed her bucket next to him. She reached for her knife.

#

Edith sat in the front of her van staring at the house. Both bodies were wrapped and in the back of her van. She knew a river where she could dispose of them, along with any other items from the house that needed to join. The cellphone she had been using while staying in town could also go. She had stayed in town longer than usual and knew it was a risk, but she had enjoyed her time here. The place had so much love to give. Her operations had also begun to run smoother.

I really did some impressive work here. Both those rooms came out just perfect. Oh, his parents are going to be so impressed when they arrive this evening, she thought. She waved goodbye to the house, and was about to start up the van when the phone rang.

“Hello, this is Welcome Home Painting,” Edith said.

“Oh hello, I was wondering if I could make an appointment for tomorrow morning. My husband and I purchased a home a few months back, and we received some great news this week, we are expecting our first child.”

“Oh that’s wonderful, congratulations.

“Thank you. We’d like to have the room we want to convert into a nursery painted. My husband also mentioned doing the garage while we are at it. It’s our first real home, and we want it looking great.”

“That’s great; you two sound so in love.”

“Ah, yeah, we are. My husband will be at home for the meeting tomorrow. I’m out of town until next week, but I’d like the work done as soon as possible.”

Edith smiled. One more job, she thought. “Well, I just happen to be free, finished a lovely job today. I can even start tomorrow after your husband has told me what he wants. By the time you’re back, I will be long gone any room you need painted will look beautiful. I promise you my work is incomparable.”

“That’s great, thank you.”

When done with the conversation, Edith started up the van, humming the tunes to one of her favorite ballads. She made her way to her apartment. The energy from the day surged within.

Edith wondered if this was what it felt like to be loved.

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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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Hellfire Pass by L. L. Hill

 

“More rice. Please.” Stafford added the courtesy word as a reluctant and unwarranted afterthought as he held his dented empty tin bowl towards Sergeant Anzai. The stench of old sweat, outhouses, machinery grease, dust, and wet jungle lay in an unnoticed pall over the prison camp.

Lieutenant Stafford still covered his bald spot with his lank brown and greasy hair hand combed over. Unshaven, his uniform khaki shirt hung down from gaunt shoulders and covered a waist cinched with a belt three notches smaller than his prewar size. A dirty big toe showed in one of his sockless dress uniform shoes. A heavy brow ridge with long eyebrows shadowed his light brown eyes and their ring of crud. He looked down into the snapping brown eyes of the Japanese sergeant.

The sergeant did look rather like a snapping turtle he had observed on his uncle’s Ontario farm in a pond. Mean, vicious, and ready to bite. Stafford blinked his long lashed eyes and wished for enough water to wash the crusty build-up away. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he located a last grain of rice stuck in a tooth, worked it out and swallowed. A fly buzzed down and he jerked away.

Hands behind his back, Sergeant Anzai glared up at Lieutenant Stafford as if the black hatred emanating from him could vaporize the officer and all that he represented in opposition to the Japanese Empire on the spot. The fly dashed past him and landed on the rim of the rice pot with a dozen others. Silent spectators, the prisoners of war around the nearly empty pot watched the confrontation escalate like a tropical boil. One of them slipped away between flimsy bamboo huts to get the Major.

“No more rice,” Sergeant Anzai spat out.

“I need more rice, I am sick and hungry.” Stafford did not want to sound petulant but did. Rather like pleading for more birthday cake when he was ten, he thought.

“You think you get more food than me?” Clenched into tight fists, Anzai dropped his hands to his hips.

“I’m bigger than you. I need more.” No point in rationalizing with the dictatorial pricks, but dogged persistence occasionally produced results, and today Stafford was very hungry. Perhaps he really was sick, he thought. His stomach felt completely empty after eating a cup of rice and his bones ached.

“You bigger make you more man? You surrender! Disgrace self!” His spit landed on red soil and dissipated in the morning heat.

“I surrendered in Singapore on orders. Per the Geneva Convention…”

“You no even learn to speak Japanese! I have to speak English to you!” White spittle formed in the corners of his lips. “My uncle had his store stolen from him. He in jail for being Japanese. He no soldier. You man to put family in jail for being Japanese!? You man!?”

The half-ring of soldiers behind Anzai laughed at Stafford’s now red face even though they likely understood little but the emotion of the exchange. At a gesture from their sergeant or officer, they would beat any prisoner into submission. Some had never returned from beatings.

“I should like sufficient food to eat, per the Geneva…” As he spoke, Stafford thought that he felt a rat gnawing its way out from his empty stomach and then Sergeant Anzai interrupted with a virulent flood of Japanese that had his soldiers laughing.

“That’s enough then Stafford, old chap, you did your part,” said Major Jennings striding in as fast as his gimp leg allowed. “Stand down there, man. Have another go another day. Jolly good show,” he finally whispered. A young lad that pushed too hard, thought the veteran.

Jennings slapped Stafford’s back as Anzai’s tirade continued with the sergeant pointing to his groin and miming penis size. Behind the jeering guards, a black and gold hoopoe with a long, curved beak landed on a patch of grass. Transfixed, Stafford watched the bird find an insect and work it up the long bill to swallow.

Anzai, observing that he had lost the attention of the target of his audience, shifted his position so that he could see what Stafford was looking at. On seeing the bird, he rushed at it with a kamikaze yell. In a whirring blur the bird fled.

“You have time to watch bird, you no need food!” Anzai began miming an officer walking with a cane as his continued his Japanese oration on the evident evil of the British, bird watchers, and surrendering.

In a fugue of starvation, Stafford had been wondering if there were any small nets to catch birds available during the loud display. Jennings pulled him back and steered him back to the mess with a hand on his shoulders.

“Have a seat, old man,” Jennings said pushing him down onto a broken cane stool.

Sergeant Anzai’s eruption dissipated into the occasional flare of a magma laden comment as the prisoners of war pretended to focus on clean up and the Japanese withdrew to the scant shade of some trees.

“Did your part to get the Japs riled up there Stafford, old man. Now we need to get out and get some blasting done.” The blond hairs of Jennings stiff, thin moustache appeared to be glued onto his parchment yellow skin. A fly landed to drink in the tear dripping down the side of his nose and he waved it away with a flick of his long, tapered fingers. “Remember, push the limit, but don’t go over it,” he said in a tone just loud enough to carry around the mess.

Jennings was looking at the red and black dirt that had accumulated under Stafford’s ripped and torn fingernails, and worrying about his mental state when Stafford asked, “Do you know where I could get a fine mesh net?”

A tin mess cup dinged against the water pot in the silence that followed Stafford’s question. In a babble of jokes and laughter, Jennings gasped out of white lips, “Good God man, you’re not going to start collecting tropical birds are you? They’re just feather and bone man, not worth the effort.” He was now very worried about his junior officer and gazed at the other men for support.

“I think that three or four would be the size of a quail,” blinked back Stafford. He then closed his lips and pouted, feeling his idea as disregarded as that of a child.

Jennings knuckles were white on his cane. Another gone to battle fatigue, he thought. “Look man, plucking small feathers would take ages even if you could find a net to string between trees. And how would you stop the Japs from finding it and taking it away?” He stopped talking as he reflected that talking to a mule would be a more effective expenditure of energy. “Right then. You’ve already missed the morning medical so you’ll have to come out and help blasting that damn pass! Can’t think why the Japs had to put a line here. I’ll send you to the doc’ as soon as I can. Mess crew, carry on. Blasting crew, with me. Maybe we’ll find some fruit on the way.” He limped towards some Japanese guards followed by the blasting crew in loose formation.

Bloody waste of another good man, he thought as he marched through a mixed crew of Malays, Tamils, and island Chinese already at work carrying steel rails in 120 degrees before they became too hot to touch in the afternoon. Rain or shine, this railway was a killer; one rotted and the other cooked any laborers. The Asian slave labor all wore loin clothes, Jennings noted as he turned to look at his tattered crew. His lot looked like blast survivors in threadbare and ripped uniform remains, he thought. At least the natives were used to the heat, he thought as Stafford tripped on a loose rock at the tail end of the group. The hospital today for that officer, thought Jennings as he resumed his trek.

Stafford stopped and looked at the pale red blood that oozed from the scrape on his ankle. It should feel sore, he thought, but it felt numb. He looked up and saw that Jennings and the others had continued on.

One of the guards cracked a whip across the bare back of a coffee brown slave. The small man fell to the ground pleading and was whipped again. Then the guards began kicking him where he lay on the gravel rail bed. No other prisoners tried to help.

Stafford stepped back into the shadows of some drab olive leaved trees and looked down at the ichor that now welled out of a bone-like lump that appeared under the wound. With a bump he sat on the ground. He would have to go to the hospital, he thought. That was a blooming infection already yet bloody Jennings would have to clear it first. What a pest that man was, thought Stafford, forms and orders for everything. If there were an order for nets for birds, Stafford would have had them. At least his stomach had settled its demands to a throb.

With a ping-clang, sledges almost as tall as the men that heaved them began to hammer in nails around the rails. Stafford had just decided to get up before the guards found him when he saw a red patch peeking out from the cover of a branch of leaves in the crook of a tree.

His sluggish heart skipped a beat as he raised the branch to see a plump, juicy mango that had been placed there until someone had time to eat it. Saliva began to lubricate his mouth. Stafford jerked around looking back and forth and saw none of the slave crew nearby. ‘Wogs,’ he thought as he grabbed his red treasure as he scrambled away into the trees.

Used as a fence by the Japanese, the tangled jungle that clad the steep hills of Siam usually killed those that tried to escape into it. Snakes, spiders, scorpions, tigers, and mosquito born disease were additional deterrents to the rugged landscape to any attempted flight.

Stafford could still hear the slave crew when desperation drove him to sprawl heedless of venomous snakes and spiders on the ground. With shaking fingers and tartar coated teeth he peeled a strip of skin and sucked the fibrous orange interior. Not since Singapore had he had one and this one was sublime.

He had rolled onto his back to suck the juice more easily when a small brown man ran up and leaped down on him. Spitting and growling, they thrashed together into and around creepers and thin barked trees. Stafford whimpered as he pushed the thick, spice laden greasy hair away from his nose with a punch. Digging his knobbing fingers in around the large seed, he ripped the fingers of his other hand through the welts and bruises on the Malay. The heart thudding shock of the attack over, Stafford began to truly fight for the succulent fruit, blocking the blows of the shorter man while inflicting pain whenever possible. If he wanted the mango so badly, he should have held onto it, thought Stafford as he pressed his thumb into an eyeball and felt a pop. His assailant reeled away screaming with fluid dripping down between his stubby fingers. Stafford was aware that the Malay’s grimacing in pain displayed teeth filed to points at the same time both men realised that Sergeant Anzai and three soldiers with fixed bayonets had quietly become spectators.

Muted by quaking trees, a blast shook the ground – Jennings had blown a hole near completion last evening thought Stafford. Gazing at Anzai, he raised the mango to his gaping mouth almost as slowly as the fruit had grown. The clangor of the sledges continued below. As if drawn up by a string, Stafford’s arm lifted its treasure as he watched the slave and the soldiers, noting every sweat bead on Sergeant Anzai’s thin moustache, that his thick lips were open with curiosity and anticipated cruelty, aware of the whimpers of the desperate brown man who still protected a destroyed eye and ignored a toe nail hanging by a strip of skin. Even minor injuries killed as the Asian slaves had no hospital or access to medicine, but Stafford was indifferent to anything but the tasty fruit.

“Stop, you stop now,” barked Sergeant Anzai.

In reply, Stafford sank his teeth into the orange pulp as the Malay attacked him screaming and flailing uselessly with limbs that knew their lifespan was short. Curled up with his long boney back to the blows, Stafford continued to eat, stuffing his mouth with large bites. He heard Anzai snap an order and felt the soldiers pull the Malay away. Then he heard the thumps of boots and rifle butts breaking the man. Sergeant Anzai stepped on Stafford’s wrist with one foot and wrenched his sugar prize away with long nailed fingers as the prisoner cried out in desolation over the loss of his mango.

“Stan’ up!” ordered Anzai.

Awkward, Stafford lurched to his feet and swayed as dizziness assaulted his balance. The man on the ground had been silent though blows still rained down on his pulped, broken, and bloody body. Looking from Stafford to the Malay without moving his head, Anzai gave an order in Japanese and his men stood at attention.

Still holding the remnants of the mango, Anzai led the way back to the railway. None of the men looked back at the ruined wreck. On the embankment above the Malay crew, the sergeant stopped and waited for the sniffling Stafford to stumble to a stop. He flinched aside from a last push with a rifle butt by a blood spattered soldier.

Stafford looked down into a sea of black hair and bodies shaded yellow and brown. ‘Inscrutable’ was the word Jennings would use, thought Stafford as he swayed transfixed by the raised gaze of the men below. With ill yellow and red eyeballs, they looked just as desperate as their deceased comrade and he was alive, he thought. ‘I am British,’ he said to himself.

“Now,” Anzai said grinning. “Now you fight for mango,” and he tossed the fruit into a lunging, jumping, grabbing, punching, kicking melee of hunger and rage.

Stafford licked the dried syrup around his lips as the now grit filled fruit kicked into view in the scrum. He began to lean forward to assess his chances and stepped back when he realised that his shaky legs would not hold him from falling into the writhing pit below.

Stafford looked into the grin folds that held black eyes in a face whiter than his own. “I think that I must return to my work party now, Sergeant Anzai.” I will find another mango, he thought.

“Yes, I tink so to. An’ you no leave again or ‘accident’ happen you.” The sergeant continued to grin. “You no want to be fight again.”

On wobbly knees Stafford took short steps between the immobile soldiers and walked around the curve cut into grey and brown rock. A bamboo grove on the lower side had been logged for building supplies and material. Morning and night work parties cut the section they now called ‘Hellfire Pass’ into the side of a steep hill. Exhaustion and starvation pitted against solid rock and hatred had won due to British ingenuity and courage thought Stafford as he shuffled up to his fellow prisoners.

“Bloody hell! Stafford old man, where did you get to? You look like you’ve been in a fight,” said Jennings in concern.

“I think I was, can’t remember…” Stafford trailed off as he knew that he could not explain his actions, as Jennings would note that it was ‘not cricket’ to take a wog’s fruit.

“Was it one o’ the wogs, Lieut’nant?” asked a Scottish corporal.

“Well, I’ll make sure Sergeant Anzai knows…” Jennings began and was interrupted.

“Already knows, told me to stay with group, remember that…” Stafford fainted.

“…maybe we can trade with the Thais for a chicken,” suggested an American private as he waved a shirt over Stafford’s recumbent form. “Obviously we’re not getting enough to eat.”

“What do we ‘ave to trade, mate?” asked an Australian officer. “Japs keep takin’ our Red Cross parcels.”

“Right, he’s awake,” said Jennings.

Stafford’s eyelids fluttered as he woke to a babble of consternation. He winced as a shirt blew sand into an eye. As tears flooded the eye he covered his face with his hands and turned away. When he saw the Malay’s face again, he began to bawl in great gulps as if each breath that he took would bring the starving man back.

“Alright then, give Stafford a moment then,” called Jennings. “There’s four holes to be drilled. Let’s get at them, lads.” Tears were not shed or shed in private.

There was a scuffing, shuffling, muttering as the prisoners of war dragged themselves back to their tasks. Stafford wept on, thinking about the Malay’s eye and wondering how he found the fluid to weep. Jennings would decide to say nothing if he was told, Stafford thought as his bubbling dwindled, but then he would be excluded from officer’s duties.

A boot kicked him to writhing pain in a kidney. Then a flurry of kicks reminded him that he was as mortal as the brown Malay. He heard Sergeant Anzai order the beating stopped and lay choking and gasping for breath.

“Look, no cry Ingrishman, look what I give for you,” jeered Anzai with a plump red mango perched on his manicured fingertips. “Look, look, you go get.”

Stafford’s stomach growled and an arm betrayed him by reaching to bring the juicy fruit to his lips. He was kicked in his boney buttocks as the prize remained out of reach.

“Ger up! Ger up!” ordered the corporal.

“See, for you we find. Now you go get,” said the sergeant as he sidestepped to the recently blasted wall.

A cloud loosed a caul of rain that misted down on the cut as Stafford got up and took one small step. His tongue wiped the moisture from his lips with the taste of dust and cordite. He should call for Jennings, he thought.

“Come. I no tell. Come,” urged Anzai who ignored the fine rain.

Stafford stepped forward again, thinking that Jennings was a good sort but would not understand after all. He was really close to the fruit too, so close that if Anzai were careless then he could grab it. He thought to feint a half-step stumble but Anzai stayed put. In the shadow cast by the cloud and the wall, he could not see the miasma of hatred in Anzai’s eyes yet felt worry needle his brain.

A tremor began in his knees. By clenching his jaw, Stafford found that he could stop his knees from shaking. He felt the soldiers behind him step closer and stepped forward to get away. Their breath carried the odor of horseradish and Stafford wrinkled his nose as he again stepped forward.

“Come, come,” said Anzai, shaking the mango like a treat for a dog. “Come, come.”

Anger made Stafford stop. He swallowed and glared down at the shorter man. A rifle butt connected with a kidney. He groaned and sagged forward. Anzai had a plan to disgrace him, Stafford now knew in the fog of his starved thinking. How he planned to do so near the freshly blasted wall, Stafford could not see, so he decided to fight.

In the thin soles remaining to his shoes he rushed forward and smacked into the wall as Anzai called out in Japanese and the mango lifted in a net tied to a rope above his head. Almost had it, thought Stafford touching a bloody nose and listening to laughter. He had felt the net brush against his hair as it rose.

“You try again. Go, climb and get mango,” directed Anzai as three bayonet points connected with Stafford’s back.

Hungry, tired and with the tendrils of terror beginning to wrap his body, Stafford thought again of calling for help. The prisoners had heard the Japanese guards and were making more noise as they pretended to work harder.

“No call Jennings, you climb,” ordered Anzai as he observed Stafford’s head shift. “Now.”

The bayonets pushed and Stafford began to climb the sloping wall. He had half a mind to climb to a ledge and call for help, but he could just see the plump red fruit bounce up the wall. If he could get it, he could embarrass Anzai too. With that excuse to fortify himself, he climbed hard and fast on rain slicked rock watching the prize bob just ahead of him.

A foot slipped and he held on shaking. Anzai called from below, “You climb more,” and laughed.

It then occurred to Stafford that the rope itself, a thick hemp used to secure railway ties, was now the prize. If he could grab that then he would be away from Anzai and not clinging to a ledge. He shifted his weight and waited. Jeering Japanese voices announced the dropping of the prize.

Stafford watched it pass and eyed the rope for a spot that passed over a gap in the rock face so that his hands had space to grasp the rope. Someone shook the rope like a cat’s tail from side to side. Stafford shifted his weight one more time to the tips of his toes and jumped. His hands slid on the harsh fibres and held. Then pain spread in his arms and shoulders as his weight stressed his weak sinews and muscles. His feet scrabbled on the rock to take the load off.

Toes caught on a ledge, he leaned out with a smug smile at his achievement. The sun returned and showed him Japanese soldiers very close above and well below him on the glittering rock face. He was planning to climb up when Anzai called an order and the rope was loosed from the top. Stafford fell with the rope and landed on the rough cut rail bed. Next to his sightless eyes, the mango had split open.

Anzai barked an order and the rope whipped upwards. His giggles were shrill cackles.

“What happened?” asked Jennings drawn down finally by the thud. “Stafford!” he exclaimed.

“Most unfortunate accident. He fall from rope while checking rock wall. Write report.” Anzai walked away from the shocked officer giggling.

“You bastard!” spat Jennings, enraged.

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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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Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors

Featuring ten horror stories crafted specifically to terrorize, frighten, and horrify, this brand-new anthology is a solid beast. Any and every horror fiend should have a copy of this chilling collection of short stories!

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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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The Four of July by Shawn M Riddle

 

I wake with a jolt, dreaming of being lowered steadily into a thumping cement mixer.  As I struggle back to the waking world, I realize that the sound isn’t only in my dream; it’s resonating throughout the whole cabin. Damn! Those helicopters again. They’ve been flying around here at all hours of the day and night for the past two days. Helicopters in Washington D.C. were common enough, but not all the way out here.

“I’m gonna find those flyboys and tear ’em a new one,” grumbles Jack as he sits up in his cot and rubs his eyes.

“I don’t know man. Something doesn’t seem right,” I say.

“We’re in the middle of the Shenandoah Mountains, for Christ’s sake! I expect this kind of crap at home, but I came out here to get some peace and quiet!” Jack’s voice gets louder with every word.

“I don’t know which is louder; you two or the damn helicopters! Will you shut the hell up? I’m trying to sleep over here!” Mike yells from his bed.

“This is starting to freak me out a bit,” I say. “Maybe there’s something wrong.”

“We can ask at a gas station on the way back, if you like,” Jack says with a shrug.

Since there’s no cell phone reception out here, and the local radio stations aren’t much better, it’s about our only option. I nod in his direction.

“Why are you worrying about a few helicopters anyway? They’re probably just on an exercise or something,” Mike says.

“Well thanks to those damn choppers, we’re already up, so we might as well get goin’,” I say. “Let’s get something to eat and pack up.”

Jack and Mike mutter a few unhappy remarks, but finally get out of bed. We get the coffee pot going and load the car. We finish up, lock the cabin and head down the road. After an hour or so of hairpin turns and narrow mountain roads, we finally turn onto the paved road that leads to the Interstate. Jack turns on the satellite radio. The speakers remain silent.  

“Did you pay your bill this month, Einstein?” Jack asks me with a smirk.

“Yeah, I did. It should be working. Try the regular radio.”

He switches the receiver to AM/FM and thumbs through about a dozen stations; nothing but a soft hiss. I lean back in my seat and light up a cigarette. I must be looking grim because Jack turns around and tells me, “You worry too much, man. It’s probably just the antenna. I’ll check it when we get to the gas station.” Deciding that Jack is probably right, I hand him my MP3 player and he kills the quiet with some music.

There are no cars on the road, but that’s not unusual for this remote area. Along the way, we pass a couple of people walking in the road, staggering back and forth. One of them is limping. “Looks like they’ve started nipping at the Kentucky sipping medicine a little early today,” Jack chuckles as we pass them by.

We reach the gas station and hope to pick up a snack and fill the tank, as well as hopefully get a few answers. The lights aren’t on inside and neither is the electronic display on the pump.

“Well, this sucks,” Mike says as we get out. “Ten thirty in the morning and the place is still closed? What the hell’s up with that?”

“Closed or not, I gotta take a leak,” says Jack.

Jack walks around the side of the station toward the restroom. When he turns the corner, he stops.

“Hey man, what’s up?” I ask. “Didn’t make it to the can? Should we bring you some dry clothes?”  

Mike and I chuckle, but instead of the expected sarcastic remark, Jack says nothing and still doesn’t move. We start to walk over to him. Before we reach him, an acrid stench catches in our nostrils. Mike turns his head and retches and I gag and swallow back bile. With eyes watering, Mike and I turn the corner of the building and see what’s rendered Jack speechless.  

A few feet from the restroom entrance, a man is sprawled on the ground, his skull split wide open, pinkish gray remains of his brain smeared on the sidewalk. On the wall, next to the body, there is a reddish brown stain. Maggots are crawling over the rotting flesh of his skull.  

“Holy shit!” I gasp.

Mike gapes at the corpse. “What the hell?”

Jack’s face is deathly white. He turns around, falls to his knees and throws up. I struggle to contain the contents of my stomach. Covering my nose and turning my head, I take a few deep breaths to compose myself.

“You OK, bud?” I manage to ask, as Jack regains some composure. He slowly nods his head, but says nothing. I help him to his feet.

“I’m OK man,” he says finally.

Mike pulls out his cell and stares at the display. “No Service. Hey, either of you got a signal?” he asks as he flips his phone closed.  

Jack and I check our phones. “No dice,” I say as Jack shakes his head.  

“Well, let’s not just stand here with our dicks in our hands.  Let’s get inside and call the cops,” says Mike.

“What if the guy who did this is still here?” I ask, glancing around nervously.

Mike turns and heads towards the shop. “You gotta be pretty stupid to hang around after doing something like this.” Jack and Mike, despite being the best friends a guy could have, can be impulsive and reckless at times. As if to prove this point, Jack follows Mike without a word.

“At least keep your eyes open, guys,” I say as I hurry to catch up.

The shop is unlocked and the interior has been trashed. Packages of candy, chips and cans litter the floor. I go behind the counter and pick up the phone. It’s dead.

I take a long look at the mess. “What the fuck is going on?” I ask. Neither one of them say a word.

I light up a cigarette and inhale deeply. Mike follows suit.

“Hey man, hand one over,” Jack says.

“I thought you quit?” Mike asks.

“Just give me a damn cigarette!”  

I toss Jack my pack and lighter. He lights up and inhales half the cigarette in one drag.

“What do you think happened?” I ask finally.

“Who gives a shit?” says Mike. Motioning in the direction of the corpse, he says, “All I know is someone popped that guy’s head like a zit and we need to get the hell out of here!”

“You’re right,” I say. “Let’s just go.”

Before we get to the front door, Jack says, “First things first. Hold up.” He heads to the cooler in the back and opens it. Pulling out a twelve-pack of beer, he frowns and then says, “Well, warm beer is better than no beer!” He opens up a bottle and downs it in seconds.

“What are you doing?” Mike asks, incredulous. “Isn’t this is a fucking crime scene?”

After belching, Jack says, “Do you think the cops are gonna give a shit about a twelve-pack of beer? Are they gonna come in and take inventory? No, they’re gonna walk straight over to dead Fred or whatever the hell his name is, stick a meat thermometer in his ass and vacuum up what’s left of his brains.”

Mike and I glance at one another then, despite the situation, we start chuckling and it doesn’t take long before we’re out right laughing.

“Fair point,” I say and head for the door.

As I open the door, something grabs me by the arm and pulls me toward it. I stare into my attacker’s face and nearly piss myself. The thing looks like a man, with pale greenish, bloodshot eyes, but half of the left side of its head has been torn away; its left eye bulging from its socket and dripping with thick yellow pus. The bones of its jaw protrude through the torn skin. It moans as it tackles me to the ground, opens its mouth and lunges forward. I lash out, yelling, “Get this fucking thing off me man!”

Mike kicks the creature in the head, sending it reeling across the floor. It stands up as I scramble away. Jack stares into its rotting face, his eyes wide with shock. Mike is fixed to the spot, staring in horror.

It begins to move toward him. Jack reacts first. He punches the thing in what’s left of its face, knocking it back to the ground. Breaking the empty beer bottle against the wall, he jumps on its chest and jabs it straight down into its left eye. Thick yellow-brown fluid shoots out the top of the bottle, splattering his shirt. It twitches, and then lays motionless.

Mike helps me up. I stand there, shaking, staring open mouthed at the bloody corpse on the ground. My heart is pounding in my chest; every beat sounds like an earthquake. I’m sick to my stomach, sweat pouring off me. My friends look first at me, then at the body on the ground.

“Thanks, guys.” Neither respond, just nod numbly. They’re dazed, almost like they’re moving in slow motion.

“What the blue fuck is going on?” Jack asks. “We’re in the middle of a bad horror movie! That thing was a zom–” “Don’t even say it,” Mike interrupts. “We all know what that thing was.”

“We have to go. Now! Maybe we can find some help.” Jack looks around and walks over to the service island to grab a few paper towels. After wiping some of the blood and pus from his shirt, he comes over to me and puts his hand on my shoulder. “Come on man. Let’s get out of here.”

A moan sounds from across the road. One of those things is running from the rear of a house, heading right for us. Its moan becomes an ecstatic howl.

“Get in the fuckin’ car!” Mike yells.

As we race away from the station, tyres squealing, I look out the rear window and see the creature chasing the car. It falls behind quickly and then disappears out of sight.  

Mike lights up another cigarette and, offering me one, says, “You gonna be OK bud?”

“Yeah.” I take a cigarette from him, my hand trembling slightly.

“I don’t know about you two, but I need to get to my parents’ house and check on them. I hope they’re OK,” Jack mutters, staring ahead.

“Me too,” says Mike.

My family is Jack, Mike, and Jack’s parents. I’ve known these guys since grade school. They’re the closest things I have to brothers. Jack’s parents sort of adopted me after my parents died. I spend holidays, weekends, and most of my spare time with them. I’m just as worried about them as he is. If something’s happened to them while we’ve been off screwing around in the mountains, I don’t know if I could deal with it.

We drive for a long time. As we reach the outskirts of civilization, we see other vehicles, broken down and abandoned. At first there’s only one or two, but then more and more clog the roadside. On the other side of the highway, we see another vehicle heading our way. It shoots by at high speed. Several more pass us before we merge onto Interstate 66, east bound towards Washington D.C., and home.

We all live in Rosslyn, just outside D.C. proper. We see signs of further carnage as we drive. Burning vehicles and numerous bodies litter the highway. Many appear to have been torn to shreds. Jack has to swerve several times to miss creatures that are wandering in the road. Some chase after us as we pass them, but most of them continue to stagger aimlessly.

“What do you suppose started this shit in the first place?” Mike asks the question we have all been wondering.

“Don’t know and don’t care right now,” Jack says. “What I do care about is finding some gas for this heap before we end up walkin’. From what we’ve seen so far …” Jack pauses and points to one of the creatures stumbling in the road, “walkin’ ain’t exactly my preferred choice and we’re damn near empty.”

“We also need to start thinking about where we are gonna get supplies too,” Mike adds. Jack and I nod in agreement.

Jack takes another look at the gas gauge. “Keep your eyes open, and let me know if you see anyplace we can stop.”

A little further down the road, just outside the City of Manassas, we come to a rest area and coast into the parking lot, out of gas. Two other vehicles are here, one SUV and a large van with the markings of the Virginia State Police on the side.

The SUV’s driver’s side window is smashed; the half eaten corpse of a woman hanging out the door. Bite marks cover her torso and arms, and her severed head is lying on the ground a few feet from the vehicle, cheeks and eyes gouged away. The van appears to be intact, with the exception of one flat tyre.

The rest stop is a small single level building, with two separated sections for public restrooms and a lobby in between. There’s a small picnic area and a pet rest area at the side of the structure. Scanning the area, we see no signs of life or movement. Dismembered bodies are littered everywhere.

“Fuck me,” Jack says as he takes in the scene. “It’s a war zone.”

A man, – or what used to be one, – staggers out from behind the building near the pet rest area. Its left arm is missing from the elbow and its torn business suit is covered in blood and gore.

“Shut up and get down,” I whisper, pointing to the creature. We kneel down behind the car, out of the creature’s line of sight. We and wait for a few minutes. The creature shambles on aimlessly.  

Jack scans the area. “We can’t sit out here all day, man. There’s got to be more of those things creeping around.”

“Well, we can’t just walk by that thing,” I say.

“I’ve got a plan.” Mike leans into the open door of the car and takes out a long metal flashlight. “I’m gonna go around the other side of the building, sneak up behind that thing and crown its ass.”

“Are you on drugs?” I ask him. “What if there are more of those things around back? They’ll rip you to pieces!”

“What choice do we have?” Mike replies fiercely.

Jack and I look at one another and then nod to Mike. I don’t like the idea at all, but it’s all we’ve got. He is small and fast, so he has the best chance of the three of us.

He inches around the side of the car and takes a peek. The creature is standing motionless in the pet rest area, looking in the opposite direction. He takes his chance and darts around the side of the building and out of sight.

Several tense minutes pass before I see Mike appear around the other side. He crouches low and creeps up behind the creature.  It seems oblivious. Once close enough, he swings the flashlight over his head and brings it down onto the back of the thing’s skull.  Blood spurts upwards and it falls to the ground with barely a sound. He jogs back with a big smile on his face. “Fucker never saw it coming.”

“Don’t bust your arm patting yourself on the back man,” Jack says, but manages a smile.  

We head for the building, stepping over bodies along the way. We see dozens of empty bullet and shotgun casings amongst the dead. I reach the front door first; it’s locked and chained from the inside.

“Stop right there and put your hands up!”

Looking up, I see a woman on the roof with a machine gun pointing at us.

“Hold it lady, we’re not armed! We just want to get inside,” I say, putting my hands in the air.

“Are you bitten?” she asks.

Jack looks to me and Mike then to the woman on the roof. “What?”

“Are you bitten?” she snaps.

“No,” Jack says. “We’re not! Will you put that thing down before someone gets hurt?”

She stares at us down the barrel of her weapon. “I give the orders here. If you want in, you’re gonna have to strip!”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I ask.

“Strip, now, or get the hell out of here!” As if to emphasize her point, she pulls back the charging handle of her weapon, chambering a round with a series of dry clicks.

We strip fast. We’re standing there naked, in front of a rest stop off Interstate 66. Under different circumstances it would all seem pretty funny. “Turn around nice and slow; now!”

After we’ve turned a full circle, her tone more relaxed, she says, “OK, put ’em back on and get over to the front door. I’m coming down.” We nod, getting dressed even faster than we stripped.”

A short time later, she appears at the door, wearing the uniform of the Virginia State Police. She fumbles with her keys, unlocks the chains and gestures at us to come in.  Keeping her eyes on us, she chains the door once more.

“Look, lady, if you wanted a date, there are certainly better ways to ask than that,” Jack says with a smirk. Leave it to Jack to make a smart ass remark to someone who just threatened to shoot us.

She ignores his comment. “I’m sorry. You can’t be too careful; I let some folks in here a few days after I got here and one of them had been bitten. In a couple of hours, she turned and chewed up her family and two of my men before I put the bitch down. You three are the first living people I’ve seen since then. My name is Sergeant Diana Ortiz.”

After somewhat shell-shocked introductions, she leads us into an office and hands us some bottled water. A table in the centre of the room is cluttered with a variety of shotguns, pistols and ammunition.

“That’s a nice piece!” I say, gesturing to the machine gun in her hands. “I didn’t know cops were allowed to carry those.”  

“I’m a trooper; it took me a lot of hard work to earn this uniform.” She scowled at us to emphasize the point then added, “It’s an MGA MK46LE SAW; very useful as an attitude adjuster. We had a few back at the barracks.  They’re issued on a limited basis – crisis situations, terrorist attacks, that sort of thing.”

“OK, sorry,” I say. “Can you please tell us what the hell is going on?”

“Where the hell have you three been?” Sgt. Ortiz gapes at the three of us in astonishment.

“For the last three weeks we’ve been out at Jack’s cabin.” I gesture with my thumb toward Jack. “Out Shenandoah way. We went up there for the Fourth of July weekend … and our yearly vacation. We heard helicopters flying around the past couple days, but besides that, we don’t know a damn thing about what’s going on. We come down from the cabin this morning and find the world has gone to hell.”

Sgt. Ortiz nods at this and says, “About two weeks ago we started getting calls in like you wouldn’t believe. Out of the blue, we were getting hundreds of them an hour. It gets busy at times, but never like that. Murders, attacks, looting, you name it.  When people started describing the attacks, we thought we weren’t hearing things right, thought maybe they meant dog attacks, an outbreak of rabies or something.”

“Dog attacks?” Mike asks.

She takes a drink from her water bottle. “Yeah, we kept hearing about people being bitten. But it didn’t take long to figure out it wasn’t dogs doing the biting.”

“Jesus Christ,” Mike mutters, shaking his head.

“He has nothing to do with it. Within hours, all the law enforcement agencies in the Washington D.C. area were completely overwhelmed and simply couldn’t respond to every call. It spread so quickly, there wasn’t even time for the National Guard to be properly mobilized. A few units here and there were rumoured to have gotten moving, but we never saw any kind of help from them.”

“Did anyone have any clue what was causing these things to walk around?” Mike asks.

“The same bullshit you always hear on the radio and TV, people talking like they knew what was going on, but no one had a fucking clue. After I lost my partner on a call, I decided not to ask any more questions. Before long I couldn’t raise anyone on the radio anymore to ask. All the channels had gone dead. The few times I was actually able to raise someone; they were just as clueless as everyone else. Some were begging for help that I was no longer in a position to give. What’s the point of knowing why or what anyway? The only thing we can do is deal with it! Those things have taken enough, they’re not gonna take any more away from me!” She gestures to the table next to us, pointing out the small collection of guns and giving a curt nod.

“What happened to your partner?” Jack asks.

Sgt. Ortiz takes another drink from her water bottle, brushes her hair away from her eyes, and continues. “I was on duty in the Fairfax area with my partner. The call came through as a domestic dispute. We normally don’t answer calls to residences, but the shit was hitting the fan and the local cops needed our assistance. When we arrived at the house, the lights were off and the curtains drawn. Knocking on the front door didn’t elicit any response. My partner David and I kicked in the front door and went in. What we found there …” She trailed off, her eyes glistening brightly.  

I pull out my water bottle and say, “Maybe something to drink?”

She takes it. “Thanks.”

Jack grabs a cigarette from the pack I had left on the table and lights up. “So you just walk up to the house and kick in the door? Not too bright if you ask me with those things running around.”

“At that point we didn’t know those things were the cause of this shit! Perhaps I wasn’t clear on that point. Can I continue now?” Sgt. Ortiz snaps.

“Sorry,” Jack says, looking as if he has just been slapped in the face.

“We saw the woman of the house – neighbours said her name was Wilma Simmons – dead on the kitchen floor. No, not dead, worse than dead. When I looked at her I thought she’d been torn apart by a wild animal. Blood was still oozing from her wounds, she hadn’t been dead long. Nothing left of her face – it had been bitten … ripped off. Blood was everywhere. Then like that,” she snaps her fingers,” a loud crash and David was screaming. I turned around and saw a man on top of him. It must have been Mr. Simmons; he had his mouth around David’s throat and was tearing at him like a wild dog. When he pulled away … well a mouthful of blood and David was dead.  I shot the fucker in the chest. He jerked but he didn’t fall. Then he ran right at me. I shot him right between the eyes, which put him down for good.”

“Talk about fucked up!” I say.

She ignores me and continues. “I didn’t even have time to take more than a couple breaths, and then the old lady … just got up off the floor and came at me. I never thought an old lady could move that damn fast! I shot the bitch in the head before she got too far. I looked over at David lying on the floor. His eyes were wide open, blood still oozing from his neck. I checked for a pulse, I got nothing. Then he started to stir; I stood up and put my foot on his chest to keep him down. He began to moan and thrash, jaws snapping at the air, trying desperately to bite me. His eyes were a milky greenish colour, all bloodshot and cloudy … I put a round in his head, there was nothing else I could have done. I’d known David Brown for ten years, and I put him down like a rabid dog.” Tears roll from her eyes.

“I … I’m really sorry,” Mike says, putting his hand on her shoulder.

She shrugs off Mike’s hand. “It’s done, and I can’t change what happened.” She wipes the tears from her face and takes another drink. “Shortly after that is when things just went to shit. Buildings were burning out of control, people in the streets with guns, shooting those things and each other. All order broke down, it was anarchy. I came back to my barracks and loaded up the van with as many guns and men as I could. I lost five men in the few hours after we left, two were torn apart by those things, and the other three were killed in a shootout with some looters. The whole world was coming to an end and these motherfuckers were out looting DVD players and shooting people? When it’s all said and done, people will never change. It makes me sick. There were only three of us left when I decided to get us the hell out of the war zone. The situation had escalated far beyond anyone’s ability to control. We heard reports on the radio of several local towns completely engulfed in flames. Other reports stated that the President had ordered non nuclear bombing runs on major cities. We were driving on Route 66 West, trying to get as far away from D.C. as we could when we saw a formation of bombers in the air, headed for D.C. It didn’t take long for the city to be reduced to a steaming pile of rubble. The explosions and flames were incredible. Did it do anything but kill thousands of people? No, those things are still everywhere. What a waste.”

I feel as if someone has just hit me in the chest with a sledgehammer. I stare at my friends and a look of absolute horror is etched on both of their faces.

“D.C. is gone? No … I don’t believe … Mom? Dad? No! I’ve got to find them!” Jack shoots out of his chair. Sgt. Ortiz gets up, firmly puts her hands on Jacks’ shoulders and forces him back into his chair. She brings her face up to his, so they’re staring nose to nose. Speaking very clearly and firmly, as if to a child, she says, “I’m telling you … D.C. is gone, there’s nothing left. All you’re likely to find are those creatures.” Jack begins to sob, slamming his head on the table.

Mike’s eyes are wide with shock. He slams a fist down on the table. “I don’t believe this shit!” I put my hand on Jack’s shoulder, trying to offer him comfort; I do the same for Mike. I feel a burning hatred welling inside me. These creatures, they’ve taken everything from us, I want to kill every last one of them with my bare hands!

After a few long minutes of silent sobbing, Mike wipes tears from his eyes and looks at Sgt. Ortiz. “Excuse me offi–”

“Trooper,” she corrects.

“Sorry, there’s something bugging me about those things,” Mike says.

Jack lifts his head from the table and glares at Mike, “You mean besides the fact our families are most likely dead because of those motherfuckers?” His eyes are filled with a rage you only see in movies.

“As I was saying,” Mike continues, a little stunned. “The thing that kind of bothers me here is the one that attacked him.”  He pauses and gestures to me. “It didn’t move very fast, but the other one we ran into at the gas station moved faster than a redneck seeing a ‘free beer’ sign. If these things are dead, they shouldn’t be walking at all, but since they can obviously walk, shouldn’t they be stumbling around, you know rigor mortis making them all stiff or something?”

“Didn’t move all that fast? Try being at the receiving end of that bear hug and tell me it didn’t move fast!” I snap.

Sgt. Ortiz puts up her hand. “From what I’ve seen and heard in the initial reports, the ‘fresher’ they are, the better they seem to be able to function. I’ve seen people get up and run, climb ladders, jump over barriers, and even use some basic fighting skills just seconds after they were killed. The ones that are a little older move pretty slowly, with no real co-ordination. You can almost walk past them. So it’s the fresh ones you have really to worry more about. I wouldn’t want to get caught with my pants down in even a small group of the slow ones though. I don’t really know how long it takes for them to slow down, probably a few days or so.”

His voice still rather weak, Jack looks at us and says, “I think it’s time we all thought about what the hell we’re gonna to do. We still need supplies and we sure as hell can’t stay here forever.”

I nod. “Man’s got a point.”

Just then I hear a ‘whoop whoop’ noise in the distance that can’t be mistaken; a helicopter. “You hear that?” I ask.

Sgt. Ortiz bolts from her chair and yells at all of us to follow her to the roof. She runs out of the room and down the hallway that leads to the roof hatch. We follow her as quickly as we can. We climb the ladder and open the hatch to the roof. “There!” Sgt. Ortiz points to the helicopter. It’s swaying back and forth and I see smoke coming out the back.

“Oh man, they’re fucked,” Mike says. Another larger puff of smoke erupts from the passenger compartment and flames become visible. It auto rotates to the ground about a quarter mile from the rest stop. We watch as it circles around and around, trying to keep some measure of control in its descent. It hits the ground hard, landing on its runners just on our side of the highway, near the edge of the woods fifty yards or so from the rest stop. Two people jump out before the chopper explodes, sending shards of metal and debris everywhere. We duck down behind the parapet wall for cover. The sound of the explosion is almost deafening.

The people who escaped from the chopper are on the ground, not too far from the building. They’re barely moving. “They need our help! I’m going out there!” Sgt. Ortiz snaps.

“Me too,” Jack and Mike say simultaneously. I hesitate for a moment, frozen with fear. I’ve spotted dozens of those things coming out of the tree line – about 100 yards or so from the downed chopper.

“Holy shit! Look at all of ’em!” Jack yells.

“Downstairs in the office, there’s more guns. Get down there, grab something to fight with and let’s get out to those men before those fuckers do!” Sgt. Ortiz commands.

“Come on man, these guys need our help!” Mike shouts to me as he heads down the ladder.

I slide down the ladder and run to the office. I grab a 12 gauge shotgun, as many shells as I can manage to stick in my pockets and a 9mm pistol from the table. Jack and Mike grab some shotguns and pistols as well. Sgt. Ortiz holsters her pistol, grabs her SAW and leads us to the front door. After she unchains the door, we run as fast as we can toward the crash site and the injured people. It’s an Army chopper; the men who made it out are wearing digital camouflage fatigues. They’re on the ground, blood covering their uniforms. We bolt into the field as fast as we can, but it’s too late. We hear the men scream as the things reach them first, tearing them to pieces. There’s nothing we can do. Several creatures notice us and start to run toward us.

“Move it! Get your asses back inside!” Jack screams. The four of us turn and run towards the rest stop.  Twenty more of the creatures have appeared as if out of nowhere, blocking our retreat. They’re runners, explains how they closed the gap so quickly. Sgt. Ortiz opens fire. She cuts the first few of the things down in mid stride. The chatter of her SAW is deafening enough; the addition of our three shotguns in the mix makes my ears scream. The blasts keeps coming and coming. The creatures in front of us are falling – blood, bone, tissue, and every type of matter possible in the human body are being ripped apart by the hail of bullets and buckshot.

Once the last of the runners are down, we continue back to the building. “They’re down, let’s go!” Sgt. Ortiz yells to us. I’m surprised that I can hear anything at all with the ringing in my ears.

Before we get to the front door of the building several of the runners come around the opposite side of the building and grab Mike who’s a few feet behind the rest of us. We hear him scream; all of us turn around at the same time. They have him down on the ground, sharp broken teeth sinking into his limbs and torso. He screams again and again as he lashes out, trying to fight them off.

Jack shoots two of them, but it’s too late to save him. As Mike is being torn apart, I raise my pistol and shoot my friend in the head – his screaming brought to a sudden, brutal stop.

We enter the building and chain the doors behind us, barely making it inside ahead of the creatures. Looking through the glass doors, we see the area is now teeming with them. Some of them are the runners, but many of the ones that move slowly, making their way methodically toward the building, and us. They’re everywhere, the sound of the crash and resulting explosion must have brought them.

I begin to panic. “Those things killed Mike! They’re everywhere! We’re fucked! There’s no way out of here!” My vision flashes white and I feel a white hot sting on the side of my head as Jack slaps me hard across the face. I fall to my knees, stunned and sobbing.

“Get yourself together man! There’s nothing we could have done for him. We have to stay cool!” Jack growls at me. Shocked, but gathering my senses, I rub my throbbing cheek and jaw, stand up and nod silently.

There’s loud banging on the service entrance door in the back. More of the creatures have made their way behind the building. Sgt. Ortiz rushes towards the noise and yells, “Cover the front!” The back door begins to shake and buckle under the onslaught of the creatures.

After reloading, Jack and I look to the front and see twenty or thirty creatures pounding on the safety glass, desperate to claw their way in. Bloody handprints stain the glass. A loud crash signals the demise of the back door. Sgt. Ortiz’s SAW begins to chatter. Another crash and the creatures break the safety glass and start surging into the lobby. Jack and I dive behind the information desks. We raise our shotguns and start shooting. A heady cocktail of rage and terror are burning through my veins; hate for these things, these murderous God damn things. I bellow and scream as the blasts tear apart the rotting corpses.

As I glance at Jack, his shotgun clicks empty. He raises it like a club and runs at the remaining creatures.

“You pus-brained motherfuckers! You want some, come and get it!” Jack screams as he charges them. He hits one in the side of the head, shattering its skull. He continues to wade into them as I fire into the crowd. Still hearing the chatter of the SAW in the back of the building, we continue to fight. One creature manages to get behind Jack and grabs him.

I aim at it and pull the trigger, but instead of a recoil, I hear a dry click. It sinks its teeth into Jack, tearing a chunk of flesh from his arm. Howling, Jack discards the shotgun and lifts the creature off the ground.  As it snaps at him, he twists it and slams it head first into the ground with a sickening crunch.

An arm tears away from its socket in his powerful grip and he uses it as a club; adrenaline lending him extra strength. He uses his improvised meat club and beats several others back before he’s overwhelmed by them; they take him to the ground. As the things rip him apart, he yells “Hope you choke on it you fucks!” They tear him to pieces in front of my eyes.  It takes less than ten seconds.

Screaming, I take out the remaining creatures near me using the butt of my shotgun, crushing skulls.  The ones who have just murdered my friend get extra treatment, smashing their heads into mush. I turn to face another one; it lunges at me and sinks its teeth into my throat. I manage to throw it off and cave in its rotting skull with one final swing. I fall to the ground, choking on the blood pouring from my neck and into what’s left of my throat. As the world begins to blur, I hear pistol shots coming from the back of the building. My final thoughts before all goes dark are of my friends …

Blackness …

I feel … Strong … powerful. I don’t hurt.

I hear loud noises close by … What are they?

My eyelids feel like lead, but I force them open.

Where am I? How did I get here?

I look around and see someone at the back of the building. Loud noises and screams are coming from her.

She looks familiar … but … I can’t … remember …

She’s holding something in her hand … a gunshe’s shooting the others.

Rage … searing, blinding rage … and hunger, a burning, uncontrollable hunger. What’s happening to me?

I stand up and run toward the woman in the room.  She doesn’t see me, her back is turned. All I can think about is this woman’s flesh. So alive, so warm. I want to rip it from her body, tear her to pieces … hungry … this hunger’s unbearable! I must have her! I’m so close, I can smell her, even taste her in the pungent air. She turns around, raising her pistol. I see a flash of bright white light and the sound of thunder roars through my head …

 

THE END