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I See Your Night, and Raise You Hell by Charles Gramlich

 

I was crossing the University of Arkansas campus at Fayetteville with my wife, Rachel, when a young male student approached us and said something weird. It was Saturday and there weren’t many people around. Just a few moments before, I’d found one of those squirt-flowers like clowns often wear. It lay on the ground like a yellow sunflower with a tube and squeeze bulb attached. I figured it belonged to some college prankster and picked it up on impulse. It was still in my hand when the kid made his comment.

“Nasty piece of work that,” he said, pointing at the flower. “You could do some serious damage.”

Now, Rachel and I were older than your average college kid and both of us were dressed well. I had on a jacket and tie. Surely the kid would have thought of us as parents, or perhaps considered us faculty. What student says that kind of thing to parents or to faculty members he doesn’t recognize?

The comment clearly made Rachel uncomfortable so I just ignored the guy and walked on. We were here to see Rachel’s son and within a few moments found his dorm room and began our visit. A little while later I had to use the dorm’s bathroom and was standing at the sink washing my hands when the same young man came up beside me.

“Bet you’re wearing that squirt-flower already,” he said. “Hurt anyone with it yet?”

Irritated, and not eager to have an uncomfortable discussion with a strange young fellow in the bathroom, I snapped an answer to his question, “No! And it’s not in my plans for today.”

He smiled crookedly. “Look,” he said. “I know that under your respectable clothing you’re a clown. I recognize you because I’m one too. And every one of us has the brain of a psychopath in our heads. You’ll hurt someone with that flower. Just like I would.”

I sighed, then lifted the left side of my coat to reveal the flower where I’d hooked it to my shirt pocket. The kid smiled, without getting too close, and while the dangerous little toy held his attention I slid my right hand into my pocket and drew out the silenced 9 millimeter I carried there. Quickly placing the business end of the pistol against the young man’s chest just over the heart, I pulled the trigger.

“Phfhfft.”

The kid’s eyes widened but my movements had been too swift for him to react. He collapsed slowly to the floor, like a blow-up doll deflating. He kept looking up at me as life fled him.

“When psycho clowns meet,” I told him, “it’s best for one to kill the other immediately and get it over with.”  

Pocketing the pistol, I dragged the body into one of the stalls and locked the door. It’d be a while before it was found. After climbing out over the top of the stall and washing my hands, I left the bathroom. I kept the squirt-flower. The kid was right. It was a great tool for mayhem and murder. A little poison. The right kind of acid. Something viral. All were far more subtle than a bullet.

The kid had clearly been new to clown-work; he hadn’t deserved such artistry. There were plenty who did.

 

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Cycles by Jareb Collins

 

The young woman woke with a gasp.

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

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

Ohmygod

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

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

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

Ohmygodohmygod

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

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

My face?

And then she heard the voices.

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

“…..terror…”

“………is lost…..never see…”

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

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

it’s the shock…too much strain….”

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

“…stifled……….losing

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

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

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

The voices began to speak again.

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

The light winked out.

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

The low droning of voices buzzed in her mind.

“…..begin again….”

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