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A Corpse Can’t Laugh by Salem Martin and G. B. Holly

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ACorpsecantLaugh

A Corpse Can’t Laugh by Salem Martin and G. B. Holly

A shadow, long and spindly, like something from a fever dream, betrays the teenage girl. She crouches in the shade of the rusted bike shed, her chest rising and falling in snatched, shallow breaths with one hand on the corrugated steel. She is looking out towards the empty recreation yard, a neatly tied ponytail hanging, glossy blonde, over one shoulder.

Time stands still for one perfect second, its cogs jammed by inevitability as I watch. I appreciate the way she has been created, the attention to detail in this blissful moment; from the restrained sobs to the way her gingham skirt ripples against her tanned legs in the breeze. A small plastic bag flutters along beyond her, distorting in the mid-day heat.

She senses me and turns with a strangled gasp. Those green eyes, once spiteful and judgemental, are now glazed over with tears. She raises one hand, with perfect polished nails made for scratching and hair pulling, in a ‘stop’ gesture, but it’s too late. Her head explodes in a firework of claret.

Blood rains down from the sky like red confetti. It is so beautiful. One droplet lands on the concrete in front of me, it is a perfect square of ruby. It settles and then starts to dissipate with the grace of a melting snowflake.

 

“Headshot!” the deep angry voice reverberates around me. It echoes across the recreation area, and some crows in a nearby tree are startled into flight. The delivery and inflections remind me of long nights sitting alone, a joypad my only grip on reality, whilst arguments raged below.

The decapitated corpse lies on her side, back against the wall of the old shed. She is beginning to fade. I can barely make out her tongue protruding from the stump of her neck. It is swollen like a fat, pink leech. “Who’s the ugly bitch now?” I find myself saying.

Satisfied, I turn back to the main building.

A square-edged sun sits beaming in an endless blue sky as I approach the double doors, scuffed and worn with frequent use. One of the adjacent windows is ajar and as I check my inventory for ammunition levels I can hear frightened sobs, and whispered shushes in perfect stereo clarity. I am reminded of my mother’s tears as she sits in the living room amongst the broken furniture, a purple welt on her thin, frightened face.

“Get your mother an ice-pack” she had said to me; her voice so pathetic that I almost cried. It wasn’t the first time I had to assist with first aid, it certainly wasn’t the last.

The doors push open with the squeak of metal on metal. I can almost smell the nostalgic scent of old wood, chalk and sweat.

“Heeeeeere’s Julie!” I boom down the echoing corridor, and I can’t help but chuckle. This is an empowering role reversal. Whilst some of the girls here claimed to own these hallways, I was at home racking up high scores. Who’s queen now, bitches?

“Eeeney. Meeney. Miney. Moe,” I recite slowly, deciding where to go next. “Decisions, decisions.”

“Don’t waste too much time,” the deep demonic voice says, I can sense that it is hungry for more death.

There is a sudden noise up ahead and I am distracted by one of the bins clattering onto one side, spilling its contents all over the floor. There is a shusshhhh of trainers skidding on linoleum as a figure runs away. The teenager’s arms pump like he is trying for the one hundred meters. Tall and gawky, he is not much older that I am. The green tracksuit he wears is similar to that of a video-game plumber with whom I grew up.

I raise the gun. Shoot. The bullet thuds into a noticeboard, but I quickly reload and aim for a second time, a tinnitus whine ringing in my ears. The second shot hits the green tracksuit in the base of his spine with a wet thwack. He carries on running for a couple of yards, a magenta stain soaking around the small of his back, before drunkenly losing control and smashing into a table at the far end of the corridor. It collapses under the impact and he skids face first into the wall, surrounded by pixelated splinters. He coughs once, arches his back, and then lies still.

“Spinal tapped!” the voice booms. A smile quickly flashes across my face.

I see that the bullet has not completely passed through him when I kick him over, but a trickle of blood runs down his distorted face. His eyes are open and stare up at the ceiling, glassy and lifeless. His final expression is one of mild surprise. It reminds me of their faces when I told them about the divorce. I thought that it had worked, that they would stop hurting me out of sympathy. Maybe they would feel sorry for me. It was a short respite.

“And to think you just watched as they did what they did to me,” I hiss at him. “You didn’t even go for help…” I can feel a tear welling up in my eye as a memory fleetingly enters my mind before I force it back out again. Using the sleeve of my jumper I wipe my blurred vision. I need to concentrate, need to be on my game.

Dink. There’s a hollow, metallic noise behind me, and I quickly spin around with my gun raised. A woman stands there, she has emerged from a nearby door that gently clicks closed behind her. Her trembling hands, neatly painted with red nail varnish are raised level with her thin-lipped face. She smiles nervously, and her eyes flit briefly down at a soda can that has spilled from the bin.  

“Please, Julie,” she begs, her voice trembling. She licks those thin lips. “I’m so sorry, it doesn’t have to be this way.”

“You made me feel like it was all my fault.” I reply coldly, “You made me think that I was the reason my dad left..”

She looks confused, like she had lost the thread of a conversation. “Julie, I don’t understand what…”

She doesn’t see the grenade coming. Her innards project outwards at velocity, and for a frozen moment in time the woman is a blossoming pixel-art flower. The concrete behind her is like a giant chessboard, spattered with alternate squares of red and black all the way up to the ceiling. She has been reduced to a glitch, still smoldering from the explosion; her body lies half in and half out of the wall. I can smell the sweet and metallic aroma of fresh blood.

“Over their dead body!” the voice roars in my head. It reminds me of the man that gave me life, and almost took it away. A person who had a judgemental opinion on every little thing that my mother and I did, provided a running commentary on our failures.

“My Commentator.” I whisper aloud. I can feel my eye twitching, but I don’t know why. My kill ratio must be impressive now, even by national standards. But it’s not over yet.

A semi-transparent map appears in front of me, floating in mid-air like a hologram. I am surprised by its presence at first, but this quickly turns to fascination. It shows a top down view of the building. I can see where I am standing, marked with a red skull. The others, all huddled in one of the rooms to my right, are represented by pale blue dots.

Ensuring the gun is fully loaded, I march towards the frosted glass of the library. First, I press my ear up to the crack between the doors. I can hear muffled whimpering and frightened whispers. Good, the more terrified the enemies are, the larger my point multiplier becomes.

I let things become deathly silent before kicking open the doors. The frosted glass shatters as it bounces off the walls. I hear a collective intake of breath, and I catch sight of students and staff huddled under tables and behind bookcases.

As if that will save them.

“Slaughter time! Kill as many as you can within the time limit!” the Commentator is shouting instructions for this area. A grinning skull icon floats in mid-air, at the upper edge of my vision, leering at me. He wants to feed on their exquisite suffering. The more I kill and the more brutal the kills, the more points I get. I’ve gotten far. I’m doing well. I can’t fail now. I need that high score.

“Heads will roll!” the Commentator roars and I spring into action. A symphony of bullets tears through tables, books, and bodies. A tapestry of gore stains the walls and floors. Shrieking and yelling rises to a deafening level. Everything is so crisp and clear. The audio and visuals are stunning. I can hear the crack in a girl’s scream. I can make out pieces of skull in the bloody pulp that used to be someone’s head.

“Bloodbath!” the Commentator shrieks with glee. I see his skull icon transform into a more demonic form. He grows twisting horns, his teeth become razor sharp, his smile becomes unnaturally wide.

“Brutal kill!” the Commentator roars again as I send Mrs. Thomas flying over a table with a storm of bullets.

“Brain drain!” Mike, the school’s best basketball player, is now leaking all of his education through a hole in his forehead.

“Break a leg!” Jared won’t be running track anymore.

“Pain in the neck!” Karen’s singing voice is useless now as she clutches the wound in her throat.

“Ass Blaster!” Mr. Taylor will no longer be able to sit behind his desk to scold me.

“Belly up!” No more stealing my lunch, Joseph.

“A little off the top!” Oh no, now Lucy can’t wear her crown when she gets voted prom queen.

“MASSACRE!”

I hear the Commentator’s raucous laughing as I stop to catch my breath. I gaze around at my handiwork. It looks like a scene from a horror movie. There isn’t one inch of the library that isn’t splattered in wet crimson. People are lying on the floor, riddled with steaming bullet holes. Many of them are missing chunks of flesh that have been blown off. A few are even missing half of their faces.

They look like they were savaged by a pack of wild animals. I can’t believe the detail and work that went into the character models. Some of the bodies twitch, but I haven’t missed anyone. This definitely has to be a new high score. It just has to be.

I allow a smile to grace my lips. I wipe away some drops of blood from my cheek. I look down at my hand and see that it’s not blood, but tears. I quickly wipe my hand on my skirt and exit the library.

“You’re not done yet,” the Commentator says. His voice is much deeper now. It resonates in my skull. I rub my temples.

I hear something far off. It’s coming closer. It’s something loud and piercing. It sounds like sirens. That means my time to complete this level is running short. I have to get moving.

I make my way down the silent corridors. Every so often, I search a classroom for useful pickups. I receive bonus points for finding and killing any characters hiding in there. I would like to check every room, but my time is running out. I can hear the sirens growing closer.

I make my way to the other side of the building. There are large double doors with windows that make up almost their entirety. These lead out into a courtyard and the street. I peer between a flyer for the autumn dance and one advertising the chess club that are taped to the door windows. Outside I can see men and women crouched behind cars with flashing blue lights on top.

“This is it,” I whisper to myself as I pull away from the window.

The Boss.

I didn’t think he would have so many minions though. My hands become sweaty as I grip the gun. I feel a tightening in my stomach. I have to win.

“Come out with your hands up,” I hear a magnified voice blare. I locate its source and see a man with a large megaphone and a grim, hardened expression. That must be him. If I take him down, I win.

“Kill him,” the Commentator instructs in a silky voice. As I stare at the Boss, a ray of sunlight shines down, as if highlighting him.

It is in this moment that I notice that the sun is not square at all, but a perfect sphere, and I see an ambulance next to the shed, men are loading a gurney into the back of it, a pair of tanned legs poke out at the bottom of the white sheet. I can feel and smell the sticky syrup of blood all over me, and around me. It’s all so…real.

“Let’s keep calm here Julie!” the megaphone booms, off to my right. He’s trying to lull me into a false sense of security. There is an echo of metallic crunches, as weapons are raised.

“We know what your dad did to you, Julie- and the bullies. We sympathise with what happened to you, and your mother, but there is absolutely no need for this- what you have done is wrong. The first step to redemption is acceptance…”

I blink more tears from my eyes, the left one twitching like crazy. My head hurts, it hurts so much. What have I done?

“Come out quietly, Julie…please…we’re here to help you,” he continues.

“Finish them,” the Commentator growls in my ear.

I grasp the brass doorknob in a sweaty hand and twist it slowly. They don’t seem to notice outside. I ready my gun. My heart is pounding in my throat. I can taste the adrenaline. I swing the door open and step out onto the concrete steps, raising my gun to my target.

“She has a weapon!” I hear several of the minions shout. My vision dances with red dots as lasers crawl over my body like fireflies.

My finger, sweaty and shaking, places pressure on the trigger.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper.

“Fire!”

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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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Popcorn – Wayne Summers

 

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“How long’s it been there?” asked Shirley, her flabby arms akimbo.

Tina, seventeen, scrawny and wearing too much eye make-up, was jabbing at the dead creature with a broom handle. Her face was contorted in disgust. “Well how am I supposed to know?”

“You’re supposed to know because you’re supposed to clean that popcorn machine every night,” said Shirley, her brow heavy over eyes narrowed by fat, puffy cheeks.

“We do clean it every night but not back there,” snapped Tina, chewing a piece of gum that had long since lost its flavour. “It’s joined to the glass. Ewwww it must have got melted on.”

She gave the dead creature a few more jabs and succeeded in dislodging it.

“You’ve left a bit on the glass,” Shirley noticed, pointing to a small ring of flesh.

Tina sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes. She reached behind the popcorn machine with an old rag in her hand and scraped the last traces of the dead creature from the back of the popcorn machine.

“What was that?” Shirley asked, leaning in to get a better look.

Tina jumped back. “What?” she shrieked. “Is there another one?”

Shirley frowned. “No you twit. Something fell out of its…its butt and landed in the popcorn.”

Both women brought their faces up to the glass and examined the inside of the glass cabinet.

“It’s drilled a hole through the glass,” Tina observed.

“There it is,” said Shirley, ignoring Tina’s statement of the obvious. “What is it? It looks kinda like, like an egg.”

“Look there’s more of them,” said Tina. “Yuk Shirl! How long has that thing been laying eggs in the popcorn?”

Shirley’s face turned a pale shade of white – not because of any concern for the cinema going public but because she been rather fond of picking at the popcorn when no-one was watching. Tina wore a matching expression of horror. The problem was that there was no way of telling how many eggs each of them had ingested since the eggs themselves looked remarkably like pieces of popped corn.

Shirley tried not to think about what may be lurking in her intestines but the harder she tried to push the thought from her mind, the more vivid the images became. But as they do, one thought led to another and soon she was imagining what might have been growing inside the eggs, growing inside her at this very moment! A wave of nausea swept like a tsunami over her, giving only the shortest warning of what would happen next. With her mouth stretched wide she leant forward and a stream of popcorn vomit sprayed the glass cabinet and the floor beneath. Tina, who had a weak stomach at the best of times, caught only a whiff of it and started throwing up herself.

Even when she arrived home, the stench of vomit still strong in her nostrils, Shirley could not get the creature and its eggs out of her mind. She hurried into the bathroom, turned on the bath tap and while she waited for it to run she brushed her teeth.   

The warm water flowed around her bulk as she settled into the bath. She rested her head back against the end of the bath and closed her eyes. A long sigh slid from her lips.

As visions of the dead bug stole into her consciousness she pushed them away, replacing them with more mundane thoughts. What did she feel like for dinner? Remember to buy some sponges for work. They had used the last two cleaning up the vomit. Keep the receipt.   

While her mind was occupied on blocking out all memory of her nightmare discovery at work her fingers were kept busy scratching an itch on her leg and then another one on her belly.

Buy more milk. Did she need cat food? She’d have to check.

The itchiness persisted; her thigh this time, and just above her left breast. Another itch just above her hip demanded her attention. Only then did she realise how itchy her whole body had all of a sudden become. It also happened that at that precise moment the itchiness turned into pin pricks of burning white heat.

Panic radiated from her eyes. Splashes of water jumped the side of the bath and flooded the tiled floor as she struggled to alleviate the pain.

Then her wide eyes became wider still as a tiny head, all tiny, jagged teeth and throat, punctured the flesh of her stomach. She screamed and started slapping the worm-like intruder with the palm of her hand. It disappeared back below the skin while another of its kind appeared above her left breast and another on her thigh. Tears streamed from her eyes as more and more of the toothy worms ate their way through her vast stores of flesh. Rivulets of blood poured from each wound, staining the water a pale red.

She scrambled to her feet nearly slipping but saving herself from falling by landing against the wall, pressing her bulk against it as the worms bit back into her flesh, tunnelling through it, eating flesh, muscle and nerve, and growing at an alarmingly exorbitant rate. Her naked body was streaked red. Her vision started to blur. The worms were now tearing meat from her bones, attacking each other beneath her skin. By the time Shirley fell, splitting her head open on the side of the bath, the largest of the worms were making their way up the tiled walls to the cornices.

By first light the following morning the worms had cocooned themselves in the space where the wall met the ceiling, stuck there by a mesh of thick, grey silk. Shirley’s body was cold and purple, riddled with holes turned black by congealed blood; her eyes open, staring into forever.

Within two days Shirley’s body was swarming with blowflies. Already maggots wriggled and slithered inside her slowly rotting carcass. Yet the buzzing and wriggling wasn’t the only movement in the small room. The cocoons were pulsing with new life. Hour after hour the silken sheaths swelled and ebbed as the creatures within strengthened themselves, preparing for life beyond the bathroom.

By dusk the flies had deserted the body and the bathroom was filled with tearing sounds as tiny teeth bit through the silk casings; then clicking sounds of communication as the fledgling creatures stretched their gossamer wings and flexed their giant mandibles. The abdomens of the females throbbed, a pinkish hue behind pale skin which attracted the attention of the males.

Weak but driven by an unstoppable urge to breed the males climbed onto the females and fertilised them. By instinct or by some other sense the females thanked their mates by turning on them and devouring them. As new life grew already within them they feasted on the flesh of the males, much needed nutrients for the long flight ahead.

Night fell. Electric light from the street lamps outside filtered in through the frosted glass of Shirley’s bathroom window. Sensing it was time, one of the creatures flew into the glass, creating a cobweb of cracks. Another of the creatures flew into the glass and the cracks grew longer, larger. Then another and another flew at the window until the tinkling of glass falling out onto the concrete footpath below signalled departure time.

The creatures sped into the night sky, their senses honed to detect the slightest traces of hot butter and salt, for that’s where they would find the popcorn that would camouflage their eggs and the popcorn machines that would incubate them. As they flew their razor sharp teeth bit into any of their number that they encountered. A vicious breed, it was sure that only the strongest and most voracious would survive to breed.

At The Astor cinema Margaret who was both the owner and manager slammed the phone down.

“I can believe it of Tina but not of Shirley,” she ranted to her husband. “I always though Shirley was dependable. She always calls me if she can’t come in.” She shook her head mournfully, her silver-grey ponytail scraping across her back. “Well, pull your sleeves up, baby. We’re going to have to do this shift. You go and open the doors and I’ll add some more popcorn. It doesn’t look like I put enough in.”

Margaret counted the money in the cash register as her husband unlocked the double doors of the small cinema, dropping the keys in the process.

“Damn it!” he cursed, bending down to retrieve them and not noticing the two insect-like creatures flying into the cinema.

Margaret had her head in a cupboard as the two intruders found a narrow gap behind the popcorn machine and set to work drilling a small circle of glass out of the window. Fuelled with the meat of their mates, the creatures made light work of the glass; pushing their ovipositors through and then falling into a trance-like state. By the time Margaret had found the bag of popping kernels the creatures were already pumping eggs into the popcorn that was already there.

She had no time to refill the machine.

“Can I help you?” she asked, brushing her fringe away from a sweaty forehead.

“Two tickets to “Small Mercies”, please,” said the woman. “Oh, and a jumbo popcorn.”

 

The End

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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 – Babel Frequency

Babel Frequency – David Wright

It was as if a giant magnet had passed across the earth and erased the collective hard-drive of humanity.

The woman woke from fitful sleep, her hair drenched with sweat, the visions of the dream world still fresh in her consciousness.This was the most important time. Only in sleep could she remember the past.  Only in the dream world did she truly know who she was and what things were.  But there was a danger, for in the dream world, dead men walked.

“Dead men walking.  Dead men walking.  Dead men walking.”  Her breath came in short gasps, racing in rhythm to the quickening beat of her heart.  She began to shake violently.  She felt as if she were about to die, alone in a dark empty world.  She was about to scream out into the darkness when strong arms wrapped around her from above.  They held her tightly as if to squeeze the fear out of her heart and the breath out of her words.  She remembered the arms.  They were her lover’s arms.  Slowly, her lips stopped moving and the fear ebbed from her like water from the shore.

Three nights ago, she saw the city out her apartment window.  It was alive with the sound, motion and purpose of ten million souls.  It pulsed to the rhythm of their heartbeats.  It breathed with the inhale and exhale of their lungs.  Until, in a moment, in the first moment, the once vibrant city was thrown violently into chaos.  She didn’t know why it happened or how.  In fact, she knew almost nothing at all–not the time of day, not the meaning of a word, not even her own name, only the warm touch of her lover and the unspoken knowledge that they must stay together.  As they huddled in terror, the city died all around them, and dream by dream their memories came back–frightened birds returning to their cages.

“I saw them again,” Lyra began.

“Hush.”  Her lover rocked her slowly.  Darren—that was his name.  She remembered.

“No, Darren.”  She tried the name for the first time in three days.  “I must tell you.  They’re real.  Their skulls are white like…like the moon.  Their eyes sunken in.  No skin, but their hearts are still beating.  They walk, and when they catch you, they drag you down to death, and they burn you with fire, and you can’t get away, no matter how hard you fight.”

“Just a dream.”
“No.”  Lyra pushed his lover’s hands down and reached into his pocket for the picture box.  It was one of the few things Darren had on him before zero hour and until a few minutes ago Lyra had not known how to use it.  Her fingers paused over the light emitting paper for only a second before touching the icon and bringing the ghoulish apparition to life.  “I saw this.”

Darren looked at the ghoul with distaste.  She knew her lover had not yet dreamed of dead men walking, but she knew others had.  She saw them in the night, huddled under benches or in doorways, shaking and screaming until their hearts stopped and their last breath wheezed out of them.

“Just like before.  Just like the first time.”  She looked into her lover’s black, sunken eyes–blank eyes that seemed to know only fear and confusion.  Over his shoulder, the first rays of sunlight were snaking their way into the bowels of the dead city.  Lyra and her lover stood, viewed the giant green woman over the water as she moved into the light, and once again set off in search of something, anything they could remember.

Hours passed.  Lyra grew hungry like she had yesterday and the day before that, but not knowing what food was, she could not satisfy her hunger.  She became thirsty, but knew nothing of drink.  They came to an intersection where, three days ago, the cars had crashed into one another or slammed into bewildered pedestrians who had wandered into their path.  Dead bodies, some with dried blood caked on their faces and in their hair, sat peacefully in the cars and under them.  The traffic light was still changing from green to amber to red with undaunted precision.  The smell of death choked at Lyra’s lungs and tugged at her empty stomach until she gagged.  She remembered the horror of zero hour and dragged her lover away.

Over the last three days and nights, Lyra had watched without understanding as, depending on their size and condition, people began to die.  The small ones were the first to go as their fathers and mothers wandered aimlessly away forgetting the once familiar sound of their children’s cries and leaving them to starve helplessly.  Lyra was more fortunate than most.  On that first night, she had dreamed of her lover, the burn of his unshaven face and the odor of his unwashed body.  Lyra had awoken from her dream to find her lover nearby, quietly watching the bugs gather around a streetlight.  Since that time, they had never been apart.

Even now, baffling visions from the dream world were cycling without meaning through her mind.  A woman, her mother, her soft lips, the warm touch of her hand.

They stopped at the corner before the next intersection.  Large buildings rose on either side of the street blocking all sunlight.  She remembered seeing a woman at this intersection two days ago.  The woman was not her mother.  She was screaming in terror at the sight of a cat or a fallen bird that had forgotten how to fly.  Cat.  Bird.  She remembered these words although she did not know them two days ago, or yesterday.

Her birthday cake.  Ten candles.  The smell of chocolate.  Hot dogs.  Her mother’s quiet, sad voice.  Turkey in the oven on… on Christmas.  Burned meat.  The smell of burned meat.

Lyra was not dreaming now.  She smelled burned meat and remembered.  She remembered the taste.  She remembered cutting the flesh and feeling it warm her tongue.  She remembered chewing and the cold splash of ice cold Coca-Cola as it ignited sparks down her throat.

Lyra pulled her lover down Park Avenue in the direction of the smell.  She stopped in front of a shop window.  Inside, the blackened flesh of some animal was still turning and smoking over a skillet.  Lyra walked blindly into the window, bruising her forehead.  She banged on the window with her hands.  Her blows grew fierce as the scent of burned meat grew and burned in her nostrils.  The smell of burned meat.  Frantic, now, with memory, she smashed at the window with her hands and knees.  The window shattered.  With bloody hands, Lyra ripped at the blackened carcass.  The taste of ash and flesh.
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“Dead men walking.  Dead men.  Dead men.”

Lyra woke from the deep sleep without dreams.  The room was dark but warm.  She heard screaming, her lover’s scream.

“Dead men.  Dead men.”

Lyra fumbled in the darkness until she’d found her lover’s shaking body.  Lyra tried to put her arms around him, tried to squeeze the fear out of him, but she was pushed aside by his strong arms.

“Dead men.  Dead men.”  Darren’s chanting grew louder and more urgent.  Lyra struggled to hold him down.  She pulled on the big man’s arms and legs.  She grabbed her lover’s hair and scratched at his face trying desperately to wake him, only to be thrown down again and again until one final blow knocked her head savagely against the wall.  In the distance, she heard her lover’s frantic screams grow to a crescendo and then stop.  Exhausted and badly beaten, Lyra crawled across the cold pavement in the direction of the last scream until she found Darren’s motionless body.  Lyra was just in time to feel her lover’s heart stop and the last breath wheeze out of him.

Lyra stayed with her lover’s lifeless body for two days.  There was hardly anything left alive, now, in the city, except flies and maggots.  She awoke on the sixth day to see them feeding on her lover’s eyes.  She tried to brush them away, but they were coming out from the inside.  Lyra couldn’t breath.  The smell.  The pain of hunger gripped her once again.

Lyra returned to the store with the burned meat, but the meat had been almost completely devoured by bugs.  Lyra smelled burning once again, but this time the smell did not bring to mind memories of food.  It was an unpleasant smell, a repulsive smell.  The narrow streets were filling with smoke.  Lyra’s lips were bleeding.

She pushed on, falling from time to time but feeling no pain.  She found herself in the trees when the lights went out.

Lyra was still alive when her picture box began talking.  They were there on her picture box.  The ghouls.

“Unit thirteen, take the next block on Park Avenue to the trees.  Clean it top to bottom.  Should take the rest of the morning.”

There was silence again and the box went dark.  Then another ghoul appeared.

“I hope not.  This place is beginning to stink.”

The box went black again.  Lyra listened.  Light was cutting a wedge on the grass.  She could not move.  She’d dreamed again–skating in the snow in a place she remembered–two blocks away.  She was only seven or eight.  It was cold.

“Dickie, hold up.”

Another ghoul appeared on Lyra’s picture box.  The ghoul reached his white hands up and took off his white, eyeless, faceless skull.  Lyra was surprised to see another head underneath, a human head.

“Dickie, I know we’re at war, but this is…  I mean, look at all these people, all these bodies.  What did this—a bomb?”  The ghoul spoke.  His voice was deep and his speech slow.

“Well, it’s not actually a bomb.  It’s a virus, a computer virus.”  The second ghoul appeared on the box.  He, too, had a human head under his white skull.

“A computer virus did this?”

“A special computer virus–the first computer virus to be successfully transmitted from hardware to wetware.  These poor suckers caught the virus from the ultra low frequencies emitted by their digital equipment–their computers, their cell phones, their calculators–and they died.”

“Yeah, but how?”

“The virus counts down in their brains to zero hour, then it savagely attacks the fear centers of the brain with visions of death so terrifying that either their heart stops or their brain, in defense, wipes the slate clean.   It wipes out their memories.  They forget how to eat and walk and talk, and then they just die.  Either way, they die.”

“What if they’re not all dead?  I mean, what if we see some survivors?”

The second man shook his head.  “We can’t take a chance of it spreading.”

“So.  What do we do?”

The second man shrugged.  “Dead men walking.”

The first man put his helmet back on.  “Tough way to go,” he said and flamed another body.

Lyra looked up from the picture box to see smoke rising from the trees.  They were coming closer.

Read more Chilling Stories in the Anthology.

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Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes short stories and flash fiction whether it’s ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, slasher sprees, bizarre fiction, classic horror literature 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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HORRGASM PRE-ORDERS

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Featuring six titillating tales, this anthology delivers a chilling blend of provocative horror. THE WOMAN IN RED opens with a lusting and blood thirsty couple hell bent to outshine Jack the Ripper. Take a bizarre road trip delivering talking heads with a hot blonde with a twisted past in HEAD TRIP. DOSE goes through hookers and drugs faster than Charlie Sheen, explores the S&M scene, while delivering a haunting climax. SEX TOY plays with an odd, foreign and blasphemous sex curio that takes a couple’s love life to a whole new level. TOUCH ME, I’M SICK warns of a grave consequence no lustful adulterer would ever want to pay. Lastly, THE VAMPIRE NYMPH wraps up the anthology with sizzling vampire sex served with a cold dish of irony.

HORRGASM is due to release August 15th, 2016. PRE-ORDER your copy today.

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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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Summer Drought – Call for Submissions

Having been in the publishing business for a few years now, I’ve learned that submissions tend to slow down to a crawl in the summer time. I’m not sure if it’s because of the family gatherings, travel, socializing, beach parties, and youth sports stuff, but what I do know is that summer is a time of many distractions.

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The flow of submissions, however, has dwindled this week. I have a few that I’m sitting on, not too impressed with them.

Authors and writers of horror and dark fiction, submit your work to Deadman’s Tome. No, I’m not the biggest and most established horror magazine out there, but the audience is growing, because the zine encourages community engagement. Your story will be read, it will be shared, and you will receive ego-inflating attention!

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VooDon’t by Kelly Evans

 

 

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

“Jesus, it really does.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How long do I hold them?”

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

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

“Now. Give them to me.”

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

“Tch.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fine. How much?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy spoke as they left. “You okay?”

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Just now.”

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

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

“You know more about it than I do.”

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

 

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

“You okay?”

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

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

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

He smiled crookedly and left.

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

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

 

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

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

“Can I get you anything?”

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

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

 

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

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

“Jesus, you look awful.”

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

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

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

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

“What can I do?”

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

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

“No, it’s okay. Just a stomach bug.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

“Sorry about yesterday.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“Kate?”

“In here.”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Ian?”

“You were having a nightmare. You screamed.”

“Where am I?”

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

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

 

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

“Something from your weekend away with Lucy?”

She shook her head. “Probably not.”

“Are you sure? A parasite maybe?”

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

 

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

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

“Judging by the scream a bloody bad one.”

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

“A head? Like, a human head?”

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

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

She didn’t have the energy to argue.

 

“I’m pregnant.”

“What?!” Ian chocked on his pasta.

“I’m pregnant. Having a baby.”

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

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

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

“Yes.”

“With a baby.”

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

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

Kate laughed. “Yes, a baby.”

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

 

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

“I have news.”

“Oh?”

“We’re having twins.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“It’s time.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly she had her voice. “NOOOOOOOOOO!”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She can read my thoughts.

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy! The trip here with Lucy was years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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Lost In The Dark by Matt Michaelis

 

The road curved through the swamp.  Headlights preceded the car as it careened over the asphalt, faster than the signs would allow it.

“Slow down, John, you’re going too fast!”

“We have to get to my parents’ house tonight, Sue.  We can’t afford a hotel room.”

“We won’t make it if you slide off the road and into a ditch!”

His voice rose, “Jesus Christ, will you calm down?  You’re just like your mom, you know.”

Sue fell silent, her desire for safe travel losing the battle with her desire to distance herself from her mother.  In her mind, the face of the angry woman who demanded full obedience loomed the way that it did when she was five, terrifying her until she ran to the only safety available, her uncle, Pete.

John had proposed to her three weeks ago.  Sue thought it was weird when he wanted to go to a baseball game.  Suddenly, she found herself broadcast on the  KissCam, with a ring in her face.  Stunned, all she could say was “yes,” unenthusiastically.

Sue looked at him, smug satisfaction shining out of him.  Not for the first time, Sue thought about throwing the ring in his face.  The voice of her mother calling her out for being impetuous and ungrateful kept her from acting in anger, so she kept her opinions about his reckless driving habits to herself.

Thus, the car continued careening down a winding, foggy road, and neither of them saw the plank of wood with the protruding nails until the front tire had driven over it.  The spikes penetrated the inner tube, and the sudden change in balance made John swerve violently.

“Shit!” he shouted as the car hydroplaned.  Sue held her breath, eyes wide, as they spun around and the car fell into the ditch onto its side.

 

The world came back into focus slowly.  John’s voice came through her delirium.

“Sue?  Sue, are you okay?”

“Huh?” she said, shaken.  “Y-yeah, I’m okay.  Wh…are you okay?”

He touched his forehead.  “I think so.”  He took his hand away.  Blood shone dark red on his hand.  “Oh, hell.  We have to get out of here.”

He tried his door, but it wouldn’t budge.  The frame must have bent, keeping it from opening.  Sue’s window had broken over the flooded ditch.

“Okay Sue, listen to me,” John began.  “You have to crawl out the window and into the water.”

“I-I can’t!  There’s glass-”

“Shut up and listen!  There is only one way out of here, and it’s out that window.  You have to go first.”

She looked at the window where the safety glass had shattered.  The swampy water sat, stagnant and dark like pitch.  She hesitated.  The abysmal water seemed endless and full of unknown terrors.

“Sue!”

His shout brought her back, and she tugged at her seat belt.  Her fingers fumbled the latch open with a click.  Sue took a deep breath and crawled into the murky water that lay beneath her.  John followed with a whimper, which he was relieved that she hadn’t heard.

They stood by the road, clothes dripping.  Her arm bore a few scratches, but other than that, Sue wasn’t hurt.  Aside from the cut on his forehead, John wasn’t bleeding.  No serious damage could be seen, although Sue worried about the bump on John’s head.

“Let’s see if we can get the trunk open.  The first aid kit should be in there.”

John moved to the trunk, and with some difficulty, managed to open it.  The kit had stayed together, and they patched their woundss.  John grabbed the tool kit and took out a flashlight, and a folding knife with a four-inch blade.

John took out his phone, but there was no signal.  Sue’s phone wouldn’t come on.  “Damn, that’s weird.  The compass keeps spinning around.”  He put the phone back into his pocket.

Sue shivered.  “How cold is it supposed to get tonight?”

“Low thirties.  Let’s change into something dry.”

They got their suitcases out of the trunk.  Sue looked up and down the road before disrobing.  John gave a snort of derision at her modesty.  He stripped completely nude, toweled off, then dressed.  He handed her the towel, smirking at how Sue danced in the cold to keep warm.

Teeth chattering, Sue toweled off quickly, and put on fresh clothes.  She looked down the road.

“Any idea how far it is through the swamp?” she asked.

He shrugged.  “Hard to say.  I think we had another hour’s drive before anything resembling civilization.”

“How far back was the last house?”

“At least an hour.”

“So what do we do?” Panic crept into Sue’s voice.

“Someone’s bound to drive by sooner or later.  Let’s go ahead and start walking up the road and we’ll stop the first car we see.”

“What if no one drives through?”

John fought the irritation rising in him.  “Then we walk until we find a store or something.  Stop whining.”

They set out down the road, the flashlight bobbing along the path.  Sue wrapped her arms around herself.  Even with dry clothes, the wind whipped through them.  John tried to look unaffected by the cold, but he clenched his teeth to prevent them from chattering.  His hand gripped the knife in his pocket. He stroked the spine of the blade with his thumb, the hard steel comforting him.

An hour later, they hadn’t seen a single car, nor had they seen a single building.

“Maybe we should go back to that turn-off and see if there is anything down there,” Sue suggested.

“It’s at least twenty minutes back, and I don’t want to leave the main road.  Something will turn up soon.”

“But we don’t know that!  You wanted to try the short-cut that you found on the GPS.  Neither of us have ever been here before.”

“For Christ’s sake, Sue,” he rubbed his head.  “I can’t take this.  I have a headache, and your pissing and moaning isn’t helping!”

Sue resumed her silence, and they trudged on.  John’s head got worse.  The steps he took were more uneven as they went on.

“Sweetie, we should probably stop, you aren’t looking so good.”

“I’ll be fine without your constant nagging.  I just need some food, maybe a beer.  Look!”

He shouted and pointed the flashlight into the swamp.  There, over the water, was a light, bouncing over the ground.  It looked like lantern.

“Come on, let’s go!”

“John, you must be crazy!”

“Crazy about getting out of this stupid swamp and getting some help, yeah.”

“He could be a serial killer!”

“Relax, I can handle it,” he patted the pocket where the knife was.  “Come on!”

Without waiting for her, he shined the flashlight on the ground and found a dry patch.  Sue followed him as he slowly picked his way through the brush.

“John, we’re never going to get through this.”

“This is the first sign of life that we have seen.  They must see us because they’re signaling to us.  Come on.”

They pressed on as best they could.  Sue’s jeans got snagged on brambles that tore through to her skin, like the forest was reaching out fingers to snare her.  The further they went in, the more that she felt like they would never get out.

John grunted as his toe hit a root.  “Jeez, he keeps moving back with that light.  I guess he’s leading us to his house.”

“Who could possibly live out here?  There’s no road!”

“There’s probably a back road that connects to a highway.”

Slow as they were moving, they still made progress, but the light stayed ahead.  The brush continued to harass them, as though it was warning them back.  Sue couldn’t tell how far they had gone, or for how long.

“Hold on!” John shouted.  “We’re coming, stop, ow!  Stop moving away!”

He increased his speed, and so did the lantern.  Sue tried desperately to keep up.  His breath came in heavier drags.  Sue was falling behind him, but could still see his flashlight bouncing and the lantern bobbing.

“John, wait!”  She couldn’t tell if he ignored her or couldn’t hear her, but didn’t even break his stride.

Suddenly, Sue crashed into John.  He had stopped in a clearing and was looking around.  He whipped around and yelped, as though he hadn’t known she was following him.  His sudden jolt knocked her over, and he shined the flashlight into her face while she was on the ground.

“What the hell do you think you are doing?”

“You just stopped!  What happened?  Where are they?”

“I…don’t know.  I must have lost him when you bumped into me.  Why didn’t you look where you were going, stupid?”

“I can’t see anything!  You have the flashlight and you nearly left me behind.  I’m sorry,” she said in a hurt voice.

The light they had followed was gone.  The stars and a full moon made the clearing visible.  There was no sign that anyone had been there.  John shined his light on the ground.  No footprints.  The clearing turned into a meadow with clusters of trees.

Sue shivered.  “What do we do now?”

“We go back, what the hell else do we do?”

“John, we barely made it through there once, and we have no way to tell which way we came.”

He pointed back into the woods.  “We walked straight the whole way, it was only about ten minutes.  We walk back, get on the road and keep going.  Come on, before it really gets cold.”

Sue followed him into the brush.  She wondered why she accepted his proposal, then she remembered all the people cheering at the Kisscam.  You can’t say no in front of thousands of people.  She was positive that had been his plan all along.

Her ears perked at the sound of a soft voice nearby.  She tried to listen to it over the cracking of debris under their feet.  Sue couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like her mother.

The quiet is getting to me, she thought.  It’s just the wind.

“Never listened to me either.”

She spun around, that time the voice was clear.  Almost as if it was in her ear.

“Is someone there?” she said, her voice rasping out.

“He’s the best thing that ever happened to you.”

Her hands clamped over her ears.  The voice sounded like it was still beside her.

“You’d just throw it away, because you can’t shape up for him.  That’s how you’ve always been.  Stubborn.  Useless.”

“Stop it!” she cried.

“What the hell are you yelling about?”

She looked at John, who was standing with the flashlight pointed at her.  He sounded exasperated.

“You didn’t hear that?  That voice?”

“There’s no fucking voice, Sue, or I would ask it how to get out of this fucking swamp!  I wish that there was a voice, but the only voice out here is your pathetic whimpering!”

She tried to cover up the sob that slipped out of her mouth.

John’s tone softened, barely.  “Come on.  We’ll make it back.”  He walked off without offering her a hand.

John went ahead, grumbling to himself.  “Oughta just leave her here.  Stupid bitch is useless.”

“You were the idiot driving.”

He spun around and pointed the flashlight at Sue.  “What the hell did you say?”

She looked at him wide-eyed.  “What?  Nothing.”

“That’s just cute.  Get cheeky, since you can’t be any fucking help.”

“John, I didn’t say anything!  What did you hear?”

She looked genuinely shocked at his reaction, which did nothing to make him feel better.  “Nothing, just shut up and come on.”

They continued, and Sue found the idea of being on a man-made path comforting.  Her heart lightened, and she moved faster, keeping up with John.

They were deposited into a clearing.  John’s curse echoed off the trees as Sue looked around.

“This is the same clearing that we were in a moment ago!”

“Don’t be ridiculous, it can’t be.”

“It is, look!”

His eyes followed where she pointed.  Already, in the mud, were their tracks from when they had arrived before.

“This isn’t happening.  We went back!”

Sue could see his eyes in the moonlight, and his look frightened her.  He was repeating, “we went back,” softly to himself.  She was afraid to say anything, just watched him as he looked around.  Suddenly, she realized that night air had gone eerily silent the moment they left the road.

“John, the crickets are gone.”

“Oh, big fucking deal!” he shouted, rounding on her.  “We’re, lost in fucking nowhere, and you’re worried about fucking bugs!  God damn, you are stupid, woman.”

That was the last straw.  “Fuck you.”

His expression turned dark.  “What did you just say?”

“You heard me, you bastard.  You always want to cut me down!  When we get home, you can choke on your ring.  I’m not marrying some pathetic-”

Something broke in John, too.  “Pathetic?” he said through gritted teeth.  “Pathetic?  I’ve been there for you when you were down more times than I can even count.  You think I cut you down?  I raised you up, you fucking cow!”

“You really are a pathetic, little man.  You can have your ring right now!” she screamed at him as she stripped it off her finger and threw it at him.

The ring bounced off his chest and he caught it

“Fine, let’s see how well you do without me.  Good luck not getting raped and murdered out here, you dumb bitch.”  John pocketed the ring and strode off.

“You can’t just leave me out here!  You have the only flashlight!”

“You should have thought of that before you went after my nuts.”

“Come on, we’ll walk back to the road.”  

Lights popped into her vision when he backhanded her.

“Don’t follow me, you little whore.  If I see you, I’ll kill you.”

Sue stood dumbfounded as the sting in her cheek subsided.  He had never hit her before.  It was like he was some other person, some monster, that she had never known until now.  A monster with the only flashlight.

 

John felt a small amount of satisfaction from leaving Sue whining in the dark.  Her biggest mistake was not appreciating him.  Well, she’d appreciate him now.

She was as good as dead out here, and good riddance.  He would get home, play the bereaved fiancé, then he would be free to find someone else, and give her the ring instead, someone who appreciated what a solid man he was.

The ring!

Shit, if they found her dead and he had the ring, it would look like he killed her.  He couldn’t leave her behind.  He had to find her and make up long enough to get them out of the swamp.  Grimacing and frustrated, he set off to find her before she did something stupid.

 

Sue wiped the tears from her eyes.  She had never felt so alone before.  Abandoned and afraid, she fought the despair that threatened to paralyze her.

“Oh, hell,” she sighed.  “I’m scared.”

“You should be.”

She jumped and nearly fell down again.  A woman stood in front of her.

“Mom!” she cried out.  “Oh, thank god!  How did you get here?  Please, you have to help me get out of here.  John’s gone crazy.”  She ran to embrace her mother.

The second slap made her spin.  “You ingrate!  For years I’ve watched you screw up, and now you’re going to die, all because you didn’t listen to someone who knew better than you!”

Sue looked up, but her mother was gone.  Her mind must be playing tricks on her.  But her cheek still throbbed.

  She had to find a way out.  If only she could stop her knees from shaking and take that first step.

 

John hoped Sue was where he had left her.  Dumb bitch would probably try to find her way out of the damn swamp by herself.  

“Where are you going, John?”

He turned around at Sue’s voice.  “What the hell are you doing there?  I was just looking for you.”

“And I had to find you, because you can’t handle anything by yourself.  Can you even wonder why I wouldn’t want to marry a little boy like you?”

He stopped, stunned by her words.

“We can talk about your attitude when we get to the road.  Come on, let’s go.”

She laughed.  “I’ll find my own way.  I’m leaving you out here.  You’re the one who’s lost.  Like you’ve always been.”

He blinked.  And she was gone.

How dare she talk to him that way?

“I’ll find you, you bitch.”

 

“I’m never going to find my way out of here,” she thought.

The woods had not looked so intimidating before.  Maybe it was the company of another human being, even John, that had made it less frightening.  Now, lost and alone, Sue felt despair creeping up in her.  The brambles tore at her, but she didn’t even notice anymore.  She was focused on finding the road, but she felt like she was just walking in circles through the trees.

“Don’t panic, Sue.  Don’t panic.  The worst that will happen is that you find the road in the morning, and then get picked up by some random driver…who hopefully isn’t a psychopath.  Oh God, I’m going to die out here.”

Suddenly, she heard a laugh, a high-pitched, chattering laugh.  Dismissing it as her imagination, she moved on, but she heard it again, closer this time.

“John?  Is that you?” she called at the trees, but all that answered was the laughter.  

“That’s not funny.  Who’s there?”

She felt something brush at her skin, and she gasped and turned towards it.  She felt it again at her back, and spun.  It brushed her again, this time, it felt like a hand on her shoulder, and she cried out.  It was as though the darkness was alive and mocking her.

“Stop it!  Stop it!” she sank to the forest floor.  The whispers became clearer.

“All alone,” the darkness said.

She put her hands over her ears, but that only made the laughter louder.

“You’re here forever.”

She sobbed as the words penetrated her thoughts.

“Here with us!”

“Shut up!” she cried.

She closed her eyes as tight as she could and screamed to drown out the voices.  When her lungs were empty, she fell to the ground and cried into the leaves.  She heard one last, tiny whisper.

“No escape!”  It trailed off with a giggle.

 

“Shit,” John said as he turned towards the scream.

He hoped she was just overreacting, like she always did, but he tried harder to find her.

“Sue!” he shouted.  “Sue, where are you?”

“Here!” he heard her from his right.  He turned to run towards the voice.  

“No, here!”

He spun around as her voice came from his back now, a malicious giggle at the end.

“Here I am, lover!”

He turned around again, but he couldn’t see her.  “Dammit, this isn’t funny!  Where are you?”

His whole body tingled as he felt breath in his ear, “Right here, baby!”

John threw his arm around in a hook, but his fist connected with the air.  His ear still tingled.  He tried to get his breath to slow down, but it was impossible.

“Calm down, John.  You’re in control.  She’s fucking with you, is all.  Just fucking with you, but you won’t let her.”  Determination solidified on his face.  “You’re in control, and you will show everyone. You’re the man, John.  You’re the fucking man.”

As he started to move again, his thoughts were interrupted by her voice.  “You going my way, cutie?” Sue stood right next to him, a mirthful smirk on her face.

He gave a start and looked at her.  He remembered that he needed to leave here with her thinking that everything was forgiven, so he managed a smile.  “Oh, baby, there you are!  I heard you scream.  Are you alright?”

“I’m better than ever!” she said, her voice sultry.  She walked towards him, her hips swaying seductively.

“What, um, what makes you say that?” he said, puzzled.

“Oh sweetie,” she purred, one hand coming to his cheek.  “I found someone out here.”  He stared at her, all response completely lost to him.

“What the hell are you talking about?” he said.

“I let the dark in.  It’s alive out here.”

“Sue, you’ve gone nuts.”

“No, baby,” her finger touched his lips and stroked them softly.  He quivered with desire, which warred with confusion and rage.  “You feel it, too.  The dark led us out here.  It’s lonely, baby, just like me.”  Her finger trailed down his torso, to his belt and below.  His eyes bulged and he gasped.

“What are you doing?” he said, warily.  She was never the type to be flirtatious or seductive.  Was she capable of this kind of trick?

All women are, he thought.

“I’m trying to help you, John.  We don’t have to be lost out here.  The dark can take care of us.”

The smile playing on her lips pissed him off more than the words.  “You’re not making any sense.  Stop trying to fuck with me and let’s get out of here.”

“We can’t, lover.  It won’t let us.”

“You think you’re going to keep me here?”

“Not me, lover.  The dark.”

“Stop saying that!” he shouted, rage grabbing him by the heart.  He lashed out with the flashlight and struck her in the temple.  Her head whipped back, and she toppled to the ground.

Lying in the brush, she still managed that infuriating smile.  “Is that it, lover?  I could barely feel it.”  Her tongue flicked the trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth.  “As usual.”

She began laughing.  Laughing at him.

The rage boiled.  His heart pounded in his chest like it wanted to get out.  His teeth ground together hard enough to crush bone.  “Shut the fuck up!”

She just looked at him and laughed.  He could feel her laugh all around him, running into his ears and down to his soul, tearing it like razors until the holes in him were filled with something else.

Something dark.

With a roar, he threw the flashlight aside and leapt on her.  His right fist came down on her face and he heard her jaw crack.  Still she laughed.  His left drilled into her eye socket, skin splitting, and slinging blood from her lips as her head whipped around.  Still she laughed.  He struck, again and again, her skin bruising and bleeding, her bones cracking.  Her hair whipped back and forth as her head slung around with each blow that crushed her face into something between meat and human.

And still, she laughed.

His thoughts didn’t collect into words.  The rage was its own language.  He couldn’t feel his knuckles as they cracked against her skull.  He felt her bones come apart.  The opening in her head oozed blood and gore, and still he struck.

And still she laughed.

“J-John?”

He heard the timid voice behind him, and whipped around.

 

Sue didn’t know what to think.

She heard the screams and grunts, and went to see if John was in trouble.  She was not expecting to see him hunched over a rotten log, beating it with his fists.

“John?”

He whipped around and looked at her with sheer madness in his eyes.  Spit frothed around his mouth, his knuckles were wet and dark.

“A-are you okay?  I heard you shouting and-”

He looked back at the log and looked back at her, confusion etched in his face.  He got up awkwardly and stumbled over to her, his hands reaching out to her.  She stepped back.

“Dead.  Why not…dead?  Kill you again…laugh at me, you bitch!  In fucking control…”

She turned and ran.  John had gone insane.  An odd thought popped into her head, unbidden.  Despite rejecting his proposal, she might spend the rest of her life with him anyway.  The idea nearly made the insane laughter in her mind boil out of her mouth.

 

John caught himself on a tree and stood up.  Why wouldn’t his head clear?  Thoughts felt like they were moving through tar.

He’d killed her.  Then she was standing there.  She laughed at him.  No one laughs at him.

“The dark.”

With those two syllables, it became clear.  He could kill her again.  The dark could give him all the Sues he could kill, forever.  This time, he could do it differently.

He pulled the knife from his pocket and opened it, the blade slipping in his blood-slick, trembling fingers.  He tested the edge against his thumb, and felt it slip into his flesh.  A dark bead pooled on his thumb. He stared into it.  He could feel himself sliding, falling into the dark as it filled him with a freedom he had never before experienced.  A freedom from hope, a freedom from consequence.  A freedom from humanity.

Fits of laughter shook his body.  The more that the darkness filled him, the more he laughed.  And with his knife out, he ran to find his love, his victim, and begin his new found life in a Heaven of ripping her flesh forever.

 

Sue slowed to a stop.  Fear and exertion had nearly drained her completely.  Somehow, she had to get away from the thing that John had become.  

The look in his eyes was totally animal, not a shred of human mercy at all.  She couldn’t run away from him while finding the road.  She was going to die here.

The realization did not horrify her as much as she thought it might.  She had been driven to the brink.  She had been brought all the way to zero.  Hunted, lost and desperate, she had nowhere to go but forward.

She heard him shouting her name as though he were calling a pet.

“Sue!  Here, baby!”

She moved away from his voice and took off her jacket, then threw it over a stump.  She picked up a branch and doubled back to a clump of bushes.  The anticipation of turning the hunt on the hunter thrilled her.  She could hear her heart pumping with the adrenaline coursing through her body.

Before long, he came into view, whistling.  Moonlight glinted off the blade of the knife he held.

“Come on, Sue.  Here, kitty, kitty!  Let’s get crazy and see where the night takes us!  You and me, what do you say?”

She saw him through the bush, his face obscured.  He movd towards the jacket, taking the bait.  With a shout of fury, she launched at him and swung for his head.  He turned, but not quickly enough.  The branch caught the side of his temple and he went sprawling.  The ground knocked the wind out of him, stars dancing in his eyes.  Still shouting, Sue brought the club down on him again, and he raised an arm to block it.  He cried out as it connected with his forearm, the crack announcing a fracture in the bone.  Her next swing caught him on the cheek.  He spat blood.

She came in for another swing, this time at his head, but he rolled away.  She toppled forward as he slashed her leg.

Sue fell to the ground with an agonized scream.  She crawled away from John, who was staggering to his feet, knife in hand.  He made a move towards her, but lurched to the right.

The pain of her injury was hard to ignore, but Sue made herself stand.  John had caught himself on a tree, and Sue launched at him and swung wildly, connecting with his shoulder.  As he fell, the knife came up and slashed under her arm.

It wasn’t deep, but her artery was cut.  She was losing blood fast.

John came at her again, but she side-stepped on her good leg, and struck again.  He crumpled to the ground.  With a wordless cry, she delivered a blow to his ribs.  Her vision became fuzzy.  She was bleeding out.  Tearing off her shirt, she bundled it up under her arm.  Clamping down helped staunch the flow, but she didn’t know how long it would take John to recover and attack again.  Her vision cleared, and the club slipped out of her hand as she limped away.

Her steps became shorter as the pain increased.  Each bounce made a little blood from her arm squirt out into the shirt.  Finally, she couldn’t run any more, and sank to her knees.

Half-conscious, she felt her senses slipping.  It was only a matter of time before she’d pass out.  She only hoped that she died of blood loss before John regained his senses and found her.

“He’s going to find me,” her voice came in a croak.  “He’s going to kill me.”

“No, Honey.  He won’t,” a man’s voice said soothingly.

She looked up and saw the moon was brighter than it had been all night.  His silhouette stood over her, and though she couldn’t see his face, she recognized the voice and the comfort of his presence.  But that was impossible.

“Uncle Pete?” she felt his strong fingers grip hers. “You…you died.”

“Everyone dies, but not everyone stays strong.  You held onto yourself.  I’m proud of you.  Come with us, Honey.  Come to the dark.  We have such wonderful things to show you.”

She couldn’t think anymore.  The hand that held hers was so warm and strong, she felt that it would never let her go.  It wasn’t the man who had comforted her as a child.  It was something else, something that could comfort her forever.  And she would be one with it.  One with the dark.

Her last breath came in a whisper that sounded very much like “yes.”

 

Carly drove the car down the foggy highway, faster than she should.  Beside her, John slept in his seat.  It had been a rough two years for him.

He was found dehydrated and raving in the woods and brought to the hospital.  When he recovered enough to tell what happened to himself and his fiance, he couldn’t remember anything.  Where she had gone, or how he had received his injuries, why he had her ring. After they searched the area, they found no trace of her body.  That was all that Carly knew, he wouldn’t talk about it.

He was haunted by nightmares that made him whimper.  He was so terrified of the dark, he slept with a nightlight.  Thankfully, his soul was finally on the way to recovery.

Carly had been a volunteer at the hospital through her church.  They hit it off.  When she stopped volunteering, she still came to visit him.  One thing led to another, and they began dating.

Now she was on the way to meet her future in-laws.

John stirred as they rounded a curve and grumbled.  He rubbed his eye and sat up in his seat. “Where are we?”

“The GPS found a shortcut, I thought I would take it.  We should be there soon after we get through this swamp.”

“Shortcut?” the word was barely out of his mouth when his face went pale.  “Oh God, no!  No!”

He began screaming hysterically and grabbing for the wheel.  Carly’s eyes went wide with fear as she fought to control the car.  When she looked back up, she screamed as well.

A woman in tattered, stained clothes was standing in the middle of the road, her tangled and matted hair over her face.  John’s fit became more intense as they came closer to hitting her.  Carly yanked the wheel to the left, and the car spun off the road and hit a tree.

Carly’s head impacted the steering wheel, and she lay there.  John’s vision swam, but he stayed awake.  He shrieked as he fumbled to get free.  Spilling out of the door, he scrambled to get up.  He ran down the road crying and shouting, “Please!  Oh God, please, someone help me!”

“Here, kitty, kitty!”

He turned towards the voice that he never expected to hear again, and fell back as he screamed. Crawling away on the road, he looked at the figure of Sue.  Her hair was snarled in swamp debris and her skin was lacerated from brambles.  Blood trickled down one arm, where he had stabbed her two years ago.

“No!” he screamed.  “No, it can’t be!  You’re dead!  You’re dead!  You’re dead!”

Her cracked lips parted in a smile that held all the cruelty in the world.  Her eyes menaced him.

“Everyone dies, John,” she said as she advanced, her hoarse voice clawing at his mind.  He scrambled back, gibbering.  “You only need to be afraid if you think you’ve done something bad.  Have you, John?”

Her fingertips touched his cheek.  He shrieked and curled into a ball.  “Shh, it’s okay.  It’s only Hell.  Come with me, Honey,” she extended her hand.  “I have such wonderful things to show you.”

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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.