Nicole Tanquary, author of Cheshire (a horror short featured in Campfire Tales), is rumored to be considered for Ellen Datlow Best Horror of the Year! Ellen has been editing science fiction and horror for over thirty-five years and has seen everything from the worst to the very best. If this is true, then we’re honored.
Enjoy a sample of Cheshire
Jocee’s fingers curled in on themselves, around a little flesh-wound that was just beginning to sting. She tried to think back to when she and the others had lined up to wash their hands in the class sink … had the cut been there then? She couldn’t remember. At the sink, she had been focused on the promise of apple juice and graham crackers for snack-time, not cuts.
She sat cross-legged with the other students in a semi-circle on the carpet floor. Ms. Elli was reading them “The Lorax” for story time. The Lorax was one Jocee knew already; her older cousin Richie had been a big Dr. Seuss fan, and she had inherited his children books when she was born. He had scribbled in them with his Crayolas when he was little, though. So in Jocee’s book, the Lorax’s orange fur was waxed over in blue, turning it a dingy brown color. The bright orange in the teacher’s book didn’t look quite right to her.
Thinking of Richie’s books made her think of the big crayon box in the playtime cabinet. Most of the crayons were old, broken in half and crumbling, but still, you could find all kinds of colors in there if you looked hard enough. Really pretty colors too, like Burnt Sienna and Midnight Blue. Jocee doubted that Ms. Elli would let them color in her Dr. Seuss books. The pages were clean, fresh from the school library. Almost alien to the books on Jocee’s shelf at home.
Jocee rubbed her hand against her calf, eyes turning briefly from a field of Truffula Trees to examine the wound. It was a little nick, right across the upper end of her pointer-finger. It was red still, but with dried-out, brownish edges.
The skin around the cut, though … it was starting to go red, swelling up until it was almost shiny. Jocee bit her lip, rubbing her finger harder against her leg to massage away the sting.
She waited until the story was done, when Ms. Elli had sent everyone out with pencils and huge slabs of paper to practice writing their names. Then she went up to Ms. Elli, holding her finger gingerly in the air. “May I have a band-aid?” she asked, like she was supposed to. Jocee’s mother always told her to put a band-aid on a cut right away, to keep the germs from getting in. The pain in her finger was turning to more of an ache by now. Like a sore stomach that made you sick if you thought about food.
As Ms. Elli smiled and got out the band-aid box, Jocee’s insides tossed and turned. In the corner of her eye … the very bottom corner, almost hidden by the curve of her cheek … she thought she saw a gleam.
She turned that way and found nothing but abandoned puzzle pieces. Still, it had been very clear.
A smile. A smile made of shiny-white teeth.
Shivers started at the base of her neck and wriggled down into her feet. The smile hadn’t been a nice one. Jocee didn’t yet know the word ‘sneer,’ but instead thought to herself that it had been a little like the Cheshire cat’s smile, from Alice In Wonderland. The Disney version had always scared her, especially that dark forest where the pink-and-purple cat lurked in the trees …
The idea solidified in her mind, and Jocee decided that, yep, the smile she had seen belonged in the mouth of Cheshire cat.
The world might’ve looked a solid black from her bedroom window, but Jocee saw now that it was more of a gray; the white snow reflected up into the clouds, staining their bellies with sickly-dull light. Powdery sheets of the stuff had been falling since midday, but with the disappearance of the sun the flakes had thickened, turning puffy, sticky, piling up on layers other storms had left behind weeks ago.
Jocee’s feet dug fresh tracks into the snow, which was almost to her knees. The wind was at her back, pushing wet, chilly strands of hair around her face. The trees around her were naked, moaning in the snow-edged wind.
Ice was starting to melt into the bottoms of her shoes. But by now, the needly-feeling in her fingers and toes had gone away, replaced with a numbness that was slowly creeping up her extremities. Her baggy Led Zeppelin shirt billowed against her waist, reminding Jocee that she had (on purpose?) forgotten the winter coat hanging in her closet. She wore no hat, no hood. The warmest thing on her were her sweatpants, and they were soaked with snow-melt and turning clammy against her legs.
Jocee could feel a little niggling voice in the back of her head. What the Hell are you doing? Get back to the house where it’s warm, no living person should be out in this. She pushed the voice deeper and deeper inside her head, until it could only yammer to itself. Her eyes were fixed on the space ahead of her.
She was not giving up this time.
Cheshire’s brown gaze was settled on the back of her neck. Jocee had been feeling his stare for the past ten minutes or so, though she couldn’t see him just yet. She forced one foot forward, then the other, feeling them sink into the snow’s heavy cold. She wouldn’t let Cheshire have the pleasure of seeing her afraid.
Her thoughts spun outwards, desperate to find alternate routes to busy themselves with, but there was nothing – nothing besides the freezing snow. This whole situation was ridiculous. How had she even gotten here? It was Cheshire’s fault, she knew that much. But when had this whole thing even began? This chase scene that had gone on for years and years now?
Kindergarten, she answered, to herself. That’s when this mess started. The good old days of clay sculptures and glitter-glue. A smile came, painful on her winter-dried lips. That first day in Kindergarten, Jocee hadn’t known that Cheshire had touched her, save for that little cut mark he had left on her finger. Even though she’d seen his smile, she hadn’t found out where the cut had came from until a week later, when he came again. In the meantime, the spot had swelled under the band aid, itching like a rash. She had kept rubbing it … looking down now, Jocee could see the scar tissue built up from then, white and hard against the pink tip of her finger.
“What are you doing?” Cheshire’s question came from somewhere behind her.
Jocee shoved her hands into her armpits and plowed ahead, fixing her gaze on the unbroken white beneath the trees. She could hear footsteps crunching on the snow, following her from maybe fifteen meters away.
When had Cheshire first spoken to her? Not the first time they had met, he had come to her as a stray dog, not a person, as she had been standing and waiting for the bus. Jocee’s brow furrowed in thought. Maybe it was when he came into her room – that had been when he first introduced himself, wasn’t it? A week after he gave her the cut?
While the old couple slept Malakai the demon eyed them in the dark. They disgusted him and were perfect for his needs. 3000 years of servitude was over and he was free of this half-life. He was ready to return to the full world and no one was left to stop him. He had outlived all his hated masters.
His last token holder had died with no heirs to pass the trinket that held Malakai’s spirit and so the cragged metal returned to Malakai, granting his freedom.
He held the shiny nugget to his lips, licked it slowly then rubbed it against his cheek like a preening cat.
“Let us play and flay.” The demon whispered before tucking the nugget back into his soul, where he would never again be parted from it, no matter how much it hurt to hold onto, the blunted edges that pushed at his insides for release.
He had been watching the old couple for the past few moons. He hated them. They rarely spoke to one other and struggled to even look in the other’s direction. They abused each other with their silent hate and disappointment.
The old woman’s wrinkled hand moved as he scampered up her body, no bigger than a mouse. Even her movements repulsed him, shakes that screamed of old weakness.
They blamed each other for their own failures, their bitterness permeated every corner of their shack which smelled of piss and boiled cabbage. Malakai felt only inevitability at destroying them. After all, they had left the door open for him, all he would do was give them exactly what they wanted.
For the husband, freedom.
For the wife, the child she was promised.
Standing on the crone’s right shoulder, away from the husband, Malakai rearranged his features to resemble a child, the hag’s ultimate weakness.
“Mama, set me free. I’m so alone.” Malakai’s sharp little needle teeth emerged from his purple lips as he smiled brightly.
The old woman was infected with him now, she would never stop until she saved her little boy from the big bad monster that lay in the bed beside hers. And in return for his hard work Malakai would receive a body that would fit the size of his soul instead of this tiny carcass no bigger than a man’s thumb.
He trotted closer to the old man, licking his large callused thumb, wrapping his arms around it and biting down hard enough to draw a few drops of food.
Malakai was hungry and the old man’s blood was good. At least these country types ate well and tasted strong and when the old woman made the poppet this body would be Malakai’s to do with as he pleased.
Enid woke to the feel of tiny feet scampering up her body. Her hands jerked in reaction before she could stop them. It frustrated her, all this aching and shaking, it would only scare the child away. But what could she do, she was frail and old, no law against that, goddamn it all to hell.
She glanced toward Tom’s single bed on the other side of the room. The floral comforter was on the ground, tossed aside by his nightly struggles with sleep. She could see his striped summer pajama’s, old man’s clothes, and his plaid slippers lined up just so. Everything about him screamed old and stuck in his ways.
He wasn’t sleeping, she knew him well enough to know the difference in his breathing. He was lying still with his eyes shut, like he did every morning, waiting for Enid to get up and make his breakfast. Lazy old goat.
“Dead yet?” There was little of the humor that had made their marriage a success left.
“After you, my sweet.” He replied, gruff with lack of sleep.
Enid clacked her false teeth into place and left the room. The tiny child was waiting for her in the kitchen and she gasped in surprise, clutching a hand to her heart wondering if her body’s aged pump would stop dead.
“You’re really real?” She asked.
“Almost.” Malakai said on a wet, wobbly, pitiful sigh. “I need the doll. Have you finished it yet?”
Enid hobbled to the cupboard that held her knitting bag, rummaging inside she found the doll she had been working on for the past few days.
“Is it perfect?” Malakai snatched it away, sniffing each seam and licking each stitch. “Perfect.” He turned wide blue eyes to Enid. “It’s perfect. You have done perfect.”
Enid held the table to help her sit. Resting her chin on her hands to stare at the gorgeous little boy who so resembled a young Tom. “Thank you, child. I followed your directions exactly, and now you’re here. Will you be able to become a real child now?”
“Yes. Just one more thing…” He allowed one tear to trail down his perfect cheek.
“What is it? I’ll do anything. I promised.”
“I need my father’s body to complete my transformation, to be with you forever.”
Enid blinked, becoming more enraptured with each glance at the perfect child. “Alright. Just some skin, nails that sort of thing?”
“I need flesh to become flesh. I must be made from the meat of my father.”
“Not much. Just enough to fill the doll.”
Enid lifted the knitted doll. It was smaller than her hand, with tan skin, blonde hair and blue eyes, just like Tom when they met.
“Tom’s thumbs.” Enid said, “I’ll use Tom’s thumbs.”
Malakai clapped his little hands, “Perfect. Perfect. Thumbs and Plums. Soon?”
“Tonight. I promise.”
Later that day, Enid got her chance. “Don’t worry with lunch for me.” Tom said. “I’m not feeling so well.”
“Yeah, looks like the doc was right. I don’t have much longer, Enid.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Nothing, nothing at all. I’m going to bed. I feel like I might actually sleep.”
“Why don’t you take one of the pills the doctor gave you to sleep?”
“No, I told you. I’ll be ending on a mountain of drugs, I want to go without them for as long as I can.”
“I’ll bring you through a warm drink then.”
“I don’t think…”
“Just do as I tell you and don’t be a stubborn old man.”
Tom chuckled, “Alright, Enid, don’t get your knickers in a twist.”
“Would be the only thing that’s happened to my knickers in years.” She grumbled as she stalked to the kettle.
The spiked drink put Tom into such a deep sleep he didn’t even move as she took his favorite boning knife to his thumbs. She reminded herself that this was his penance for having bought home the disease that had rendered her sterile. This was the least he could do for her.
Afterward she cleaned his wounds, dressed them carefully, like a mother, cooing gentle words of apology. She doubted he would notice, he didn’t seem to notice much anymore these days, and if he didn’t like it he could go tell someone. There was another problem. Their lack of children had pushed them away from those that had them until they were solitary with only each other for company.
She gently washed the detached thumbs, waiting for the blood to drain away, soaking them in the kitchen sink wondering how they had ever created anything. They looked so small and shriveled when she pulled them from the water that she worried they would not be good enough for her child.
Back at the kitchen table she dried them with complete devotion, careful not to miss a watery red drop, even going so far as to use the napkins she had kept for good. Except there had never been a good. So the tissues were old and perishing. With frustration she threw them all in the trash, snatching out the white linen sheets she had been given for a wedding gift. Another thing to keep for good. Useless.
They continued to drip and seep for so long Enid was in tears, certain they would never be good enough. For once in her life she wanted to accept only perfection, not the ongoing faults, blame and mistakes.
She left them in the sun, sitting beside them on a blanket for several hours to ensure the birds didn’t come and snatch her treasures away. The thumbs resembled tiny ham hocks. There was nothing about them that made her certain they would produce life.
That night she wrapped the thumbs in one of Tom’s unused handkerchief’s, one he had gotten from his mother and hidden away in the back of his underwear drawer. His private territory. She then slipped the small package into the doll. It slid in easily. More room left around the doll than she expected when seeing Tom’s thumbs still attached to his hands.
She washed her hands, wondering if she should sew the doll up or leave it to await instructions from the child. emptying the sink she mindlessly wiped at the discolored ring left behind from the bloodied water. She wondered what the child would be called? Would he look like her as well as Tom? Would he have Tom’s calm personality or her erratic temperament. She hoped he had more of Tom. Her several breakdowns over the years making her certain she was riddled with demons in her blood. Remnants from her deranged family.
Behind her a small voice cried, “It’s not enough!”
She spun with a sinking sense of dread. “I did what you asked.”
“It’s not enough, and where’s the blood?”
“I cleaned it, I refuse to allow blood to drip all over my floor.”
“I need the blood.”
His blue eyes flashed to red and Enid stepped back, once more automatically clutching her chest, worrying for her aged heart.
“You’re not real.”
“I won’t be if you don’t do things right. Thumbs and plums. I asked for thumbs and plums.”
“His nuts, the seed. I need his seed.”
Enid sat down, disgusted even though it sounded logical. “I refuse. You can’t ask me to do that to him.”
“His dirty plums destroyed your life, they took your chance of children. They stole my life from you. All I’m trying to do is give that back to you. Please help me give you something. Help me. Set me free. I was supposed to be born and it never happened because he cheated on you and ruined your life. He took my life from me. Do this for me if not for you.”
That small pleading voice drilled at her brain. When she next looked up the child was a stunningly handsome young man.
“Who are you?” She gasped.
“It’s me, Mom. This is what I’ll look like when I’m older. If you give me that chance.”
“I can’t.” She wailed. “I’m not strong enough.”
“Cut them out. for both of us.”
Enid stared at him, in awe of his beauty, so like Tom as a young man.
“Will you stay with me?”
“I’ll do it.”
“I love you, Mommy.”
Tom came awake. Something was wrong. He felt sick to his stomach. He relaxed back into the dirty old pillow. The cancer had taken hold. It was eating him from the inside out like a horror movie monster. On a frown he lifted his hands that felt hot and thick. They were wrapped up and something about the shape made his heart beat hard. His head was too fuzzy to put it altogether.
His bowels clenched in a familiar sickening way and Tom scrambled from his bed, frantically kicking aside bedding that should have been replaced years ago. Forgoing his slippers for speed Tom stumbled to the toilet, terrified at the amount of blood he found when he flushed.
Clutching his stomach with one bandaged hand he steadied himself with a shoulder to a floral wallpapered wall (he had always hated floral but Enid never gave him any choice in decorating all those years ago). He found his wife seated at the table with a doll clamped in her hands, rubbing it against her cheeks and whispering to it frantically.
“Enid,” He interrupted, “I don’t feel so good, in my stomach. I might need the hospital. And something’s wrong with my hands. Honey, are you listening?”
When she turned, Enid’s eyes had that flat, long stare that showed she was in the thrall of another one of her delusions. Tom wanted to punch her back to life. After all these years, of enduring her hostility and her mental instability, when he needed her for once she was off on another one of her fucking breakdowns.
“Not now, Enid. Snap out of it. I need you.” She bared her teeth at him and Tom’s heart sunk further. She had returned to that one indiscretion that had almost broken them. It was strange that she had forgiven him all those years ago, yet when her mind wandered this is where she inevitably returned too. His one stupid mistake. He would never be forgiven and he berated himself for ever having stayed in this painful loveless marriage.
Stumbling to the phone he lifted the receiver, thankful he had always controlled the money so bills were always paid on time.
“What are you doing, Tom?” Enid asked in that far-off voice that made Tom rage.
“I’m calling an ambulance. I’m sick, Enid, real sick.”
The call connected but Enid touched his shoulder and took the phone off him. Dropping it back into the cradle, she smiled, just like the Enid of old, the passionate, fiery woman he had fallen for all those years ago.
“I’ll sort it. A taxi will be faster. You go get dressed while I organize everything.”
Tom sagged a little with relief. “Thank you, Enid. I know you’re going through something right now but I need you. Just for a little while.”
“I need you too, Tom. More than ever before.”
His stomach clenched again and Tom had to fight black speckling unconsciousness that threatened to overwhelm him. Stumbling back to the room, Enid followed with water and pills.
“Painkillers.” She said, dropping them into his mouth.
The look in her eyes warned him but Tom was all out of fight. He swallowed the pills and lay back on the bed.
That night Enid gave Tom more pills, more than she thought wise but enough that he would feel nothing and not wake up. Whatever her decision.
He was hot to the touch and she noticed that above the bandage that covered his left hand a hot line of infection was creeping into the light. She wondered if she should have boiled the boning knife she used? It was too late now. She sat on his bed for a long time with a small pocket knife. One Tom had been given years ago by one of the many customers he had entertained in his shoe store. It seemed sharp enough to do the job.
The little voice came from her dressing table. “What are you waiting for?”
“I can’t do it.”
“We’ve been through this. You have to do it.”
“He’s sick, he needs a doctor.”
“He ruined our lives.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I’m not alive because of what he did.”
“I forgave him.”
“I cheated too.” She gasped, never once having admitted this before. The secret that festered in the back of her head now tried to worm it’s way out of her mouth.
“It was too late by then. He infected you.”
“I can’t let him die!” She was crying now. Yelling with certainty.
“Then I will die.” The small boy turned away but Enid saw that flash in his eyes again in the mirror. That glint of something more hidden behind the façade she wanted to see. Could this all be her imagination? She had lost her mind several times before but those times she had never hallucinated. She reached out to touch the boy but he backed away.
“Not until I’m real. Please.” His pleading burrowed into Enid’s brain, twisting into her exhausted nervous system.
It was easier to just give in than to fight. “Okay.”
“Don’t forget the blood this time.” He said and scampered away.
“What’s your name?” Enid asked his back.
He turned back on a grin, “I’m Tom Junior.”
It had been a late night for Enid but the next morning she awoke with a feeling of dread and excitement.
“Today’s the day.” She told Tom who slept on, unaware of his new mutilations.
Noise in the kitchen had Enid sitting upright, hand to her chest. “He’s here, Tom. Our boy has finally come home.”
Tom surprised her into a small shriek then by saying, “He’s not ours, Enid. He’s trying to kill me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I need the hospital, Enid. Please…”
“For once, this isn’t all about you, Tom. It’s my time.”
She shuffled from the room to find Tom more drugs and to meet her son.
On the kitchen table the small doll had come to life. It moved and jerked with life. “Help me.” He cried.
Enid rushed to hold the small creature upright, it’s squirming sickening and unnatural. She had been expecting a real child, not an animated doll. Her disappointment sparked, that overwhelming feeling that had travelled the road of her life on her shoulder, reminding her of all the things she would never be, would never do.
“You’re still a doll.” She said.
The thing froze. “Not forever. I will change with your love and devotion. Like any other little boy.”
“But I don’t have much time left.”
“There is time.”
“Will you grow?”
“I will become more like you.”
“But will you grow?”
“Am I not good enough?”
“I want grandchildren like all those nosy women in the fancy units in town. I want to be rid of their pity and their dislike. I want to be one of them.
“You have what you wanted.” The knitted eyes sparked into life, not the blue of the child in Enid’s imagination but the fiery red she had glimpse. “I’m a fucking kid.”
“Don’t you profane at me!” She roared, insulted to her very core.
“Then be grateful I have worked so hard for you.”
“But I wanted a child, grandchildren. All you have given me is a midget and a sick husband. Two retards to attend to.”
“This is what you wanted.”
“I’ve changed my mind.”
“Too late.” The little creature snarled, small teeth breaking through the knitted wool. “You will attend me, crone, else your torment shall be ceaseless.”
“Torment? You think I don’t understand torment?”
With that she turned away and left the room. Malakai tried to move but the vessel his body was contained in was tight and slow. Until he became accustomed, until he learned to control a body once more, until this obscene shroud began to turn into a body proper, Malakai was trapped and at the hag’s mercy.
“Mother!” He called, “Please come back. I’m sorry I just…it’s been a shock finally being with you.”
It was sometime later that Malakai heard the sirens. He saw no one because Enid returned to the room only to stuff him into a drawer, unmoved by his pleading, her lips tight with anger, the wrinkles deep, her eyes heavy.
With little else to do Malakai waited, eventually falling asleep. Something he had not done for over 3000 years.
When he awoke it was bright and hot. He was under a spotlight of some kind and could hear a strange frantic clacking noise, could feel an incessant dull tugging at his legs. His head was held down with a cold iron, he couldn’t budge it.
He squinted past the bright light to see Enid frantically knitting, the wool coming from Malakai’s new body.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting rid of you before I go to jail to finish my days. You never warned me cutting Tom up like that would send me to jail.”
“How was I to…”
“He’s dead you know. Infections, cancer, blood loss, old age. Whatever it was I started it and I killed him. Least I can do is make sure you don’t do it to some other weak minded woman.”
“You can’t do this. I’m alive…”
“Not for long.”
“You don’t understand. I’m trapped in this material. I can’t be killed least it is completely consumed.”
Enid smiled. “Consumed, huh? How’s a fire for consuming?”
“My base is gold. You could never put me in a fire hot enough. Please, you must let me stay. Take me to this jail with you.”
“Like hell. I ain’t going to jail. I’m an old woman. I’m going to Hell to meet my maker and atone for all my sins. I’ll meet you there you evil little monster.”
“Fuck you, crone. Set me free. There is no way an old piece of shit like you can stop me now. I’ll find another way into the world. I’ve come this far, there’s no way back.”
Enid stopped knitting.
“I think I can slow you down at least.”
She picked the doll up, slipping out the back door of her horrible shack as the police turned into her road with screaming sirens. It was dark now but they would soon find her. That was not Enid’s focus. Her focus was getting this evil little puppet to the house three roads over.
She had to take the back way, down dark, dusty streets, past howling dogs and hissing cats. Eventually she came to the right place, clutching her chest as the huge dog threw itself at the fence then shoved his huge head through a hole it had dug.
Without further comment, hearing the police dogs on her trail Enid dropped the shrieking doll into the hole. The dog growled at it uncertainly for a moment then picked it up and swallowed it whole, the smell of blood permeating his mind.
“Enjoy that you evil little shit.” Enid said just as a police dog brayed at the other end of the road and a policewoman screamed at her to lie down on the ground.
Malakai waited inside his precious stone. All his earthly trappings were gone by the time he left the dog. He was picked up by a bird and dropped into a nest. The bird either died or didn’t find a mate as the nest was never used and it took long years for the twigs to rot enough for the stone to drop from the tree.
A young boy found the gold nugget, thinking it just a strange stone he put it in his pocket and took it home. His life would never be the same and the voice in his head pushed him to many things he would otherwise never dream of. He even swallowed it once, interested when it re-emerged unchanged.
Malakai was patient. He would wait for the right time. He had nothing but time.
“You know,” Plimpton said walking around the large rectangular wooden table, “I once knew a guy who kept his wife’s heart in the freezer next to two pieces of cake that they saved from their wedding. It was white with almond frosting- the cake, not his wife’s heart. Nope, he kept that in a small black index card box, lined in yellow velvet. Really made that heart stand out when you opened it. I mean, the frozen purple of the thing set against the bright yellow felt. It was really an attention grabber, let me tell you.” Plimpton turned and faced the double sinks. They were stainless steel, old and worn. Rust stains had begun to form around the base of the faucet that straddled both basins, and the two knobs were turning green beneath their edges. A smear like melted chocolate ran down the steel divider on both sides, like an ugly reminder that the kitchen was too hot this time of year. The kitchen was always hot. Nothing lasted in there.
Plimpton stood and ran his hands, rough and fat, under the hot water and he looked out of the kitchen window above the sink at his back yard. It was quiet this time of night and the moon hid behind the clouds in anticipation of what was to come. The moon knew his intentions, and so did she.
He turned off the water and dried his hands on a dish towel that was hanging from a hook beside the sink on the lower cabinet door to his right. He shook the towel and flung it across his shoulder and reached up to his bulbous bald head and pulled the goggles down over his eyes. He was all forehead and very little face. He wasn’t deformed nor was he what he considered to be an ugly man. On the contrary. In fact he found himself to be quite dashing and well proportioned, if only that meant that the majority of his head was above his two rather small, beady, black eyes. His hair had fallen out long ago and this, in his own estimation, just added a sophisticated look to his appearance that, up until that point, he had been lacking. Indeed, at five foot six inches tall and one hundred and ninety pounds, Plimpton looked like a small blue balloon, caught in a fan, as he wobbled this way and that, adjusting his goggles that of course immediately fogged up once he had put them on. The heat in the kitchen was almost unbearable.
He took the goggles, which were not like a chemist’s goggles but more like goggles you buy at the dollar store to swim in your back yard plastic kiddie pool, away from his eyes. He wiped the insides of them with the tip of his white butcher’s apron, though he never had the patience to properly learn a trade as skilled as that. No, Plimpton was a simple man who enjoyed the simple things in life. He liked a good cold beer in his hand, a good tune, perhaps something from the Doors playing on his record player in the living room next to his favorite chair, a lime green recliner that was moth eaten but, oh so comfortable. Plimpton also enjoyed watching his Bearded Dragon, Petunia, chase big, fat, black crickets across the kitchen floor, as she was doing now. The cricket’s chirps stopping abruptly as the chase began. She ran in an ancient manner, one that evolution had perfected, her short little legs flying out in front of her as she kept her body close to the floor. She flattened out like a sole when she was frightened, a natural but superfluous defense mechanism. Bearded Dragons have no teeth and are not aggressive. He liked that about Petunia. There was too much aggression in the world already.
He let the goggles hang below his scruffy, double chin, sparsely inhabited by long, scraggly, gray hairs that made him look like a cancerous old troll, and walked into the darkened living room from the open kitchen doorway. He lifted the soapy plastic lid to his Delco Electrolux record player and put the needle gently down onto a forty five of L.A Woman and, just as gently as he had opened it, shut the lid, turned the volume up just enough to where he thought he could hear it from the kitchen, and walked back in to continue his evening.
He approached the table and pulled two vinyl surgical gloves from out of a small cardboard box on the counter by the sink. He blew into the end of each powdered one and gingerly slipped them on his thick, stubby hands. He looked down at her, “How we doing?” He started to slowly sway with the music as it began to play. He loved Jim Morrison and the Doors. He loved everything about them, their music, their poetry, their youthful defiance of authority and most of all, their willingness to break on through. She mumbled something he couldn’t quite understand. “Oh goodness. I’m sorry,” he said bending over her thin, trembling naked body. “Let me get this for you.” He pulled the gauze from her mouth in a long, quick jerk. He had shoved several wadded up pieces down her throat when he had started in order to keep her from biting her tongue off, though he was very careful to make sure she could still breathe. That’s why he had put a tube in there as well. An ounce of prevention and all that, you know. He removed the tube as well.
“Why are you doing this?” She managed to whimper out. Her throat was sore and her lips were dry and cracked. Her green eyes could not focus on the details of the room. She must have been drugged and was still feeling the effects. There was no way for her to know how long she had been on his table, but it felt like hours. Her legs, though long and lean, were numb and her chest was on fire. She hoped that she was having a heart attack and all of this would be over soon. But she knew she wasn’t that lucky. If she was a lucky girl, she would never had gotten into his truck as she was walking. She would have called triple A and waited for the tow truck, but it had been a long hot day and she had just wanted to get home. She could always come back with her husband the next morning and change the flat. He would have had it done in no time, and none of this would have happened, but, she wasn’t that lucky. He looked down at her staring up at him. She was in fact quite beautiful by modern standards. She was young, not thirty years old yet. Her stomach was flat and her breasts were large. She obviously hadn’t had children yet, or at least if she had, she kept herself in good shape. Her manicured nails and styled short hair depicted a professional attitude. Perhaps she worked in an office. Maybe she was the boss. No matter. In this moment, he was God. She had the same scared, sad puppy dog look in her eyes that they all did. This is what sickened him the most. They were all beginning to be the same inside and out. One of these days he would find one that was different, but for now, he had to find out. He had to look. He just had too.
He loomed over her on the table and drew a small mark just above her eft breast with a black magic marker. He put the cap n with an assertive smack. “Why? Why? Why? Everyone asks why. Everyone wants to know why, but no one ever asks how. Nobody ever wonders how. Do you think this shit is easy? Hell no. It takes focus. It takes study. Not everybody can do a thing like this, I just make it look easy ‘cause I’ve done it so much. Why? Fuck Why. Ask me how. Go ahead, ask.” He stood back, chest heaving. That was a rant he didn’t expect to have, but it was smoldering inside the kitchen and it was late. He was getting tired and just wanted to finish up so he could go and lay down on the coolness of his bed in the darkness of his room. He calmed briefly and continued. “You know, I ended up putting dad’s heart into the freezer right next to mom’s. I knew those two would be together forever. They really loved each other. They were such a fun couple.
“You’re insane,” she croaked out through parched lips and a tongue covered in sawdust.
Plimpton put his goggles back on and grabbed the cleaver from the corner of the table at her feet. He smiled and winked, “Well, it’s all relative don’t ya know.”
Looking out from the rural track, a single tree sat in the near centre of the field, bathed in sun and stretching a small shadow down across the scorched grass. Daisies populated frequently throughout and a light breeze deceived the passer-by into thinking the day was less warm than a British Summer should be. The boys left their bikes by the stone wall partitioning the field from the one over the road. Dodging cow excrement, fresh and old, Harry and Liam walked towards the tree and the shade. Their shirts swam in sweat from a day’s cycling and their water bottles sat half empty in their hands.
As they got nearer their steps began to slow, their smiles fled and they stopped all together.
The smell hit their noses like a rotten bin at the back of a restaurant, then they saw it. One, then two, then more.
Fingers, swimming in blue bottles on a bed of green.
Ashen-faced, the boys knew what must sit beneath the tree. The shade, masking a shadow that would extend across the field in the later hours.
The pair looked at each other, as if daring, yet not. They had to see, didn’t they? When the kids at school asked, fingers wouldn’t be enough. They’d need guts and entrails, limbs and sinew.
One step, then another. They encroached on the thing that had to live there, under the oak. The closer they got, the less they saw. The figure, its arms and legs splayed out revealed nothing.
The shadow of a being. As if cut from the flesh, along with the digits.
Liam turned to Harry and Harry to Liam alike. Their frantic, pumping legs led trainers to tread deep in cow faeces, yet they noticed not for a moment. Their water bottles fell and laid together. Leaping and scrambling over the wall and wrenching their bikes from their resting places the pair peddled as fast as seven-year-old legs could go. Down, down was easier. Down seemed better, nearer to somewhere and closer to safety.
The sun fled and the shade chased. Tarmac became darker behind them. The only sound to pierce their ears was the heavy breath that escaped each boy.
A house, there, not too far.
A few hundred more feet. A few hundred more breaths.
Neither boy so much as glanced at the other, nor did they look back. Had they…
Their tyres screeched and marked the driveway to the house, the bikes running free and the boys falling and fleeing fast. Their fists battered the oaken door, their sweat soaked the welcome mat.
Now they looked, now they saw.
Behind and in front, it fell upon them; a night and a shadow a shade and nothing.
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.
Horror zines are a dime a dozen, really. Why? Because it really doesn’t take much to start a blow, site, or a bare bones platform to feature and promote indie horror. But what makes Deadman’s Tome so different?
Deadman’s Tome is a site dedicated to horror fiction (short stories, flash fiction, and poems) with a stance that there is no subject that is too taboo for horror. Horror, whether film, literature, or art, is not a safe space. Horror, in order to be effective, has to challenge the reader, because good horror shatters one’s sense of safety and comfort. Deadman’s Tome proudly features uncensored and unadulterated content.
The Other White Meat – R. K. Gemienhardt explores a a sexual form cannibalism also known as vore but without any pretentiousness about the subject. Feminists hate this story because the woman is ditsy enough to become the victim, but we all know at least one woman that falls for just about anything.
Looking up from our sleeping bags at the trillions of stars in the late night sky, well, it didn’t get much better than that. The four of us spread out, in our bags, hearing the crinkle of plastic when someone moved. I suggested a game of firing our BB guns directly up at the stars, see if the BBs fell back on us, you know, live dangerously. So, we did. Tat tat tat. The cartridge pistols blasting away. Screaming with delight.
Satch wanted to sleep so I shot his sleeping bag. Tat tat tat. Stop he yelled through the sleeping bag. Bob and Dale joined in. Satch screamed louder. So what if we shot his eyes out. So what if his brother’s sleeping bag was peppered with holes.
Dale’s backyard was square and grassy and kind of big by subdivision standards. A wooden fence surrounded the yard. Dale had a dog, Penny, a shepherd. The dog stayed in the house tonight. This was a camp out and we didn’t need a wolf wannabe running about, spoiling the stories we told to try to scare each other.
There were plenty of snacks. Dale’s mom always kept a good refrigerator and pantry. We had chips, popcorn, Milkduds, Mike and Ikes, Snickers, all the pop we could carry and hide in our bookbags. Dale even managed to sneak out a Hudepohl beer that belonged to his dad, oblivious on the couch in the living room. We shared it.
There was a rotten smell that drifted from the city dump several miles away, the slow nostril burning stench aided in the telling of stories that focused on young guys about our age, usually caught and skinned alive in backyards just like this one by an escaped maniac wielding a hatchet or machete, wearing the cloak of decaying skin fleeced from his many victims.
I was real good at telling stories. I launched into my favorite, a story about Riddle, a homeless man familiar to all the kids at school, a quiet man who lived somewhere in the vast woods that separated our subdivision from Oakdale Cemetery.
Dale mumbled he heard the story before but he stayed hidden beneath his sleeping bag, so I guessed it was still an effective story. Satch whimpered and I told him to shut up. He was still pissed about the BB holes in his bag. I pictured trails of fire ants lining through the holes to get at the potato chip pieces and spilled pop inside his bag. Tough shit.
Bob was well hidden inside his bag too, but he didn’t say anything so I figured it was ok to go on. Riddle, I said, lived in the woods because he had nowhere else to go. All his family was in the Oakdale Cemetery.. He visited his mom and dad and little brother every day, usually around dusk, because there were fewer people about. People bothered him. What I mean is, he loved being around people, but people didn’t like him much. He wasn’t right in the head. They treated him poorly. Especially children. Especially kids our age.
Bob, you yourself said you threw crabapples at the poor guy when he knelt by his family’s graves. Snuck up behind him and cracked him good in the back of the head. Dale, you were there too, I think, weren’t you?
Riddle had a bad knee and couldn’t run fast enough to catch you two, but that was how it always was, people just treating him bad. Riddle disappeared not long after that. Some say the police rousted him from his den in the woods and took him out of town, some say he died somewhere in those woods, covered up in leaves and shit, the smell… I let them think about that, with the dump smell strong in the air.
I sipped my warm coke and nibbled on a stale pretzel rod. The night air was cooling. A wind picked up. Far away a train whistle, but other than that the neighborhood was ghastly quiet. It was perfect.
But here’s the thing. You know how people’s pets have been disappearing the past few months? Shit, Satch, your pipsqueak dog, Cracker, he never turned up, did he? Know what I think?
I know what you think, Dale mumbled in his sleeping bag.
I think Riddle is still around. I think he’s been getting even. I think he moves through the neighborhood in the dead of night. Going from one yard to the next. Climbing fences like this split rail fence behind us. If someone has a swimming pool, like the Jennings, he pisses in it, or takes a shit in it, leaves his mark. And if there happens to be a dog or cat he can catch, well, he likely takes them to the woods and skins ‘em alive. I raised my voice just a little at this pointfor effect. The crescent moon briefly stabbed out of a menacing cloud and darted back in again.
It was dead quiet again. A tree on the other side of the fence shuffled its leaves like a worn deck of cards. Penny interrupted the effect with renewed burst of barking. Pissed me off. I threw myself out of my bag and charged into the house. I almost slipped in the pool of blood by the back door. Penny was locked in Dale’s room. She thumped against his door. When I pounded at the door and screamed shut up she seemed to rustle beneath something, maybe Dale’s mom, and after a long few minutes all was quiet again. I passed his dad on the couch, and was sure I heard some flies buzzing around him. Even at this hour.
I went back to my friends. They hadn’t moved. After I crawled back in the sleeping back I propped my arms beneath my head to stare at the stars, which were fewer and fewer now.
I resumed my story about Riddle and his retaliations.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…” I prayed my rosary. I had done it many times already; I had lost count. My fingertips were tender and cracked from their contact with the beads. My hands were cramped from clutching the string.
It was becoming so rote that my mind was beginning to wander. I could not allow my mind to wander. I changed my inflection as I continued my prayer to the Holy Mother, focusing on each word, on my breath as it formed the words, on the buzzing in my throat as my larynx vibrated to create the words, on anything… but… that.
“Glory be to the Father…” The prayers poured from my lips. Somewhere in the forced monotony, the walls and dressers melted away. I was no longer on my knees in my bedroom, no longer surrounded by the aroma of frankincense. Instead, I gradually became aware of the darkness and dampness that permeated my senses.
“O my Jesus, forgive us our sins…” My heart was already flagellating before I fully realized where I was: the basement, the very place I wished my mind to avoid. I stood up in the dusty light eeking in through the windows, clutching my beads like the lifeline I had to believe they were.
I tried to move to where the stairs should have been but they were not there. No matter how fast I ran I moved no closer to the walls.
“The third sorrowful mystery, our Lord is crowned with thorns,” whispered my lips to the dank room. I nearly stumbled as my feet collided with an unknown form, lost to the shadows.
I bent down to investigate. As my eyes adjusted to the even lower light, I knew what I was seeing. I wanted to back away, to run, but instead my free hand moved to the figure’s mouth. With one thumb I pulled down the chin, opening the mouth.
“Our Father, who art in heaven…” I choked. Inside the mouth was some mass of shapes, squirming and writing. Familiar shapes. I leaned in closer to see what. The head turned and spilled its contents.
The floor of the basement crawled with strings of beads. The smell of decay permeated the moist air.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…” I backed away from the squirming pile, not wanting any of the white orbs to touch my feet. As I gazed at the corpse before me, I saw more movement. The eyelids quivered as when sleeping.
Then a bulge at the bottom of the eyelids started to force its way out, a silver speck that slowly grew and extruded itself from the hole where the body’s eyes should have been, would have been if I hadn’t…
“The Lord is with thee…” A crucifix squeezed itself through the slack eyelids, dangling from a chain as the moving beads wrestled with each other, slowly dislodging themselves from the orifice as well.
Where the flayed form of my Lord should have been, instead two small worms were nailed to the cross, intersecting each other in the center.
“Blessed art thou among women…” I said, my throat tightening to resist the impending bile. More movement in the naked corpse before me.
Under the skin of its breasts, the outline of more beads. Holes chewed into the rotting skin showed white beads, burrowing themselves deeper at the threat of my heavy breath.
“And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus…” My eyes forced themselves further down. Indeed, the full, round stomach was also crawling with small chaplets. I fell back to my knees upon seeing the shape of her belly, broken in the midst of creating life, now host to a new kind of life, these garlands of carrion grub.
“Holy Mary, mother of God…” My eyes continued to scan, down to her familiar pubis, her labia that I had touched and entered so many times. Now they were slack, fully rotten, seeping with putrescent juices and crawling with wriggling rosaries like the one I compulsively continued to finger.
“Pray for us sinners, now…” And just slightly further down, deep gashes down her thighs, caked with dried, dead blood, masses of the beads fighting each other to consume her flesh before the smaller, invisible things could. A film of more dried blood surrounded her, the liquids soaked into the concrete, or evaporated, leaving only a crackling layer of desiccated clot.
Beside that lay a knife, its hilt inlaid with the enflamed image of the Sacred Heart. The organ was pierced and blood flowed from the hole. It was encircled with a crown of thorns, and a cross was jammed into the vein on its top.
“Now, and at the hour of our death.”
I had killed her with that knife. The bastard inside of her wasn’t mine.
As I shuffled away from my crime, rosaries crawled beneath my feet, tickling the arches as I moved my weight around, not wanting to touch the holy parasites, unable to avoid it. I missed my footing and fell, the squirming, groveling chains sickening me. My true rosary flew from my hands, landing amidst the disgusting counterfeits.
My hand flailed for purchase, but found only strings of beads and the knife handle. It closed around the knife.
“Amen.” I lifted the knife. I pressed the blade to my throat. Its tip was sharp against the tender skin.
I clenched the handle tight, the carving of the Sacred Heart piercing the skin of my palm. I placed the heel of my other hand against the butt, and forced my hands to push.
The knife slid into my skin. It slowed as it hit the stronger material of my larynx and trachea, but I pushed until the crossguard coldly touched my throat. Then I pulled it out, and let the blood flow around me.
The white and silver beads around me quivered with anticipation at the impending meal, my body and my blood, their Eucharist.
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.
“It smells funny in here.” Lucy wrinkled her nose in disgust.
“Jesus, it really does.”
“You’re the one who wanted to come in here. Why in God’s name would you want to visit this place?”
Kate looked around the shop and shivered. The windows were blackened to block out the early evening light from outside and candles covered every surface, dried red wax covering ancient candlesticks. The air was heavy with humidity and a musty smell Kate was afraid would cling to her clothes. Arcane symbols were painted on the walls and floor, and shelves held jars, cans, and bottles in every shape and size, their contents unidentifiable.
Peering into a jar, Kate jumped back when a small movement disturbed the murky fluid. She answered her friend’s question. “For a laugh. We’re on a weekend away and you HAVE to go to a voodoo shop when you’re visiting New Orleans. It’s like a law or something. Like those hurricanes we had this afternoon.” She waved a hand around nervously, glancing at the jar again. Nothing moved this time. “It’s all done for tourists, isn’t it.” It was then that she noticed the tall black woman standing behind a glass counter filled with small animal skulls. Behind her, painted on the wall, was a large symbol comprised of a triangle, a heart, and various intersecting lines.
“Can I help you ladies?” The woman’s broad Creole accent was slow and measured.
“Um, no, we’re…” Kate looked at her friend, “we’re just browsing.” She nearly laughed as she said it, like they were browsing a department store for a new shirt.
The woman nodded. “Let me know. I’m Marie. This shop is mine. My mother owned it before me, and her mother before that. My line goes back to ancient times.”
Kate nodded and turned to Lucy, knocking jars over on a shelf in the process. Whispering, she leaned toward her friend, using a shelf to steady herself. “Obviously a speech for tourists.” Her words slurred. “The woman’s probably from New Jersey.”
Lucy giggled and playfully slapped her friend. “Shh, she’ll hear you.”
Buoyed by Lucy’s laughter Kate continued. “I’m sure that accent is fake too.”
Lucy’s laugh earned them a look from the shop owner. They turned their backs to the counter and pretended to be interested in a can of something neither could pronounce.
Voice lowered again, Kate spoke. “I’ll bet you any money she reads palms or some other crap.”
“No, but I do read the cards.” They jumped at the sound, the voice directly behind them. The scare made them both giggle.
Addressing them both she spoke again. “Would you like a reading?” The owner looked directly into Kate’s eyes. “No charge.”
Kate felt an elbow in her ribs as she was nudged forward a step by her friend. “Uh, sure, why not.” She slapped Lucy’s elbow away.
As they walked toward the counter, Kate muttered, “This should be hilarious.”
Lucy shushed her again and stood by the counter as Marie unwrapped her cards from a faded purple cloth.
Kate had seen tarot cards before; they had all messed around with them in high school. But never anything like these. They were very old, that was obvious by the faded designs and worn corners. And while she recognized the suits, the illustrative drawings were nothing like she remembered at all. Priests, nuns, and angels mixed with demons and other unnatural creatures in every carnal pose imaginable. She turned away, blushing. The heat in the shop and the numerous drinks she’d had were making her light-headed.
Marie seemed not to notice her embarrassment. “Take the deck. Hold it between your palms. Let your spirit enter the cards.”
Kate took the deck from the counter and held them as instructed. They were awkward to hold at first; too large for her hand to grasp completely but the cards’ age had softened them and soon they moulded themselves into her hand.
“How long do I hold them?”
Marie’s head tilted as she started at Kate. “A moment is all the spirits need to see into your soul.”
Kate snuck a look at Lucy and mouthed ‘dee speereets’.
“Now. Give them to me.”
Marie muttered words Kate didn’t understand as she waved a smooth black hand over the cards, then began placing single cards in an elaborate pattern on the counter top.
“What?” Despite her earlier mocking, Kate wanted to know. “What does it mean?”
Marie waited a moment before replying. “You are unhappy. With a man. Your husband.”
Kate’s interest plummeted as soon as she heard this. Typical charlatan’s guess. She wore a wedding ring and who wasn’t unhappy with their relationship sometimes. But it struck a nerve. The buzz she’d felt earlier was wearing off, leaving her with a heavy, sick feeling. She covered her irritation. “’Wit ah mahn’? Really?”
Marie ignored her and continued. “And your work. You’re frustrated.”
Kate snorted. She didn’t know anyone who was happy at work. Still, another nerve hummed strongly and in her current state it bothered her.
The shop owner looked at a further card then at Kate. “You want a child. You think a child will save your marriage.” She nodded. “And keep Ian from seeking another’s bed.”
“What did you say?” Kate was scared now. How did this woman know her husband’s name? Did Lucy or her mention Ian earlier? She couldn’t remember.
Marie shrugged. “Not me, chere. The spirits.” She waved her hand over the cards.
Kate’s anger grew; fuelled by the hurricanes, it masked her unease.
Marie continued. “Yes, you are very unhappy. Desperate. For fortune, riches. For your husband’s dying love.”
Kate backed away from the counter, stumbling. “You fucking bitch! How do you know these things?”
“I reveal what my Loa already knows.” She pointed to the symbol on the wall.
“A bunch of fucking chalk drawings told you?” Kate put a hand onto the counter to steady herself. “Fuck your Loa! You can both go to hell!”
Marie made no mention of Kate’s outburst but her eyes narrowed and her lips were thin and bloodless when she spoke. “Let me help you to the life you seek.” She grabbed Kate’s arm.
Shrugging off the woman’s hand, she couldn’t help the acid in her voice. “What, a fucking worthless spell or some other bullshit?”
“A gris gris bag. That’s all. To bring you fortune.”
Kate hesitated long enough for Lucy to lean in and whisper. “Do it. Then we’ll leave.” Her friend glanced at Marie’s still narrow eyes and lowered her head.
“Fine. How much?”
The shop owner waved her hand. “Like the cards, no charge.” She turned and disappeared into a back room, but not before making a sign to the symbol on the wall. After a moment she returned carrying a red drawstring bag, small enough to fit into a pocket.
“Here.” She handed the bag over to Kate.
Kate smelled the bag and frowned. “Is it safe? It smells fucking foul.” The hurricane-induced nausea she felt was made worse by the mix of herbs and burnt material.
A look of fury passed over Marie’s face, there only a moment then replaced by a blank look. “There is no reason for me to wish you harm, is there?”
Kate took the bag and shoved it in her purse. She looked at Marie and saw her smile was gone. In its place was a look Kate couldn’t identify. Anger? No, something else. Satisfaction? Triumph? She couldn’t tell but she was suddenly afraid.
“C’mon Luce, let’s go.” She grabbed her friend’s arm again and led her out the door.
Lucy spoke as they left. “You okay?”
Kate hesitated. She felt an unease she couldn’t name. Avoiding her friend’s question she started down the street. “I need another drink.”
“I’m home!” Kate closed the front door “Ian?”
She left her bag in the hall and walked into the kitchen. The remains of a meal sat on the counter and there were dishes in the sink. Sighing, she went into the living room where she found Ian laying on the sofa, watching football. Bits of potato chips and cheese puffs littered the floor.
Kate stood behind the couch and waited. When she received no sign that she’d been noticed, she coughed.
Ian jumped. “Jesus, when did you get back?”
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.
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.
Ian entered the kitchen. “What’s all this?”
“We’re celebrating.” She told him about the new job as she poured champagne.
Ian listened intently, his smile growing wider. “That’s fantastic, congratulations.” He reached over and held up his champagne flute. “To your new job.”
It may have been the meal, or the news, or the champagne but Kate felt like she was on a first date. It was like their early years together, before the arguments and tension and tears. And instead of watching a movie after dinner, Ian silently took her hand and led her to the bedroom. It had been months since they made love but thankfully, some things are not forgotten.
Kate stood in the circle of people, watching the dancer. The drums grew louder and louder with each wild gyration he performed. They were outside and it was hot, unbearably so. But she couldn’t move, couldn’t force herself to look away from the dance nor escape from the circle or the heat. Suddenly the dancer grabbed her hand and led her to the centre of the circle. Kate stood alone, aware that all eyes were now on her. A tall dark woman with elaborate white markings covering her body stared at her. The dancer continued his exotic steps, this time around Kate. With each turn he ripped a piece of her clothing from her body until she stood completely naked. Kate tried to cover herself but the dancer took her arms and placed them by her side. She felt sweat trickling between her shoulders and down the small of her back; the heat was suffocating. Her head pounded along with the drums, the sound coming from all around her.
With a last flourish the dancer forced her to the ground and mounted her, at the same time speaking a language she didn’t understand. She looked up at the painted woman then dared to look down as he positioned himself on top of her. What she saw horrified her: a snake where his genitals should be. As the serpent entered her she screamed.
“Kate.” She was being rocked back and forth, the snake moving inside of her. Disgust filled her, along with fear, and she knew she would vomit. She tried to turn away from him, to get out from beneath him, her stomach closer and closer to expelling its contents.
“Kate!” More shaking and she sat up in bed, eyes wide, looking around the room, trying to catch her breath.
“You were having a nightmare. You screamed.”
“Where am I?”
She heard the puzzlement in Ian’s voice. “Home. In bed.”
Kate closed her eyes. It was a dream. Just a dream. But then why, if it wasn’t real, could she still feel something moving inside her?
Ian insisted on her staying home the next day, but Kate was excited about her new role, despite the exhaustion she felt. She signed the contract and was surprised by the salary, much more than she had expected. Immersing herself in learning about her new role, Kate convinced herself that she was fine, that the nausea she still felt was nothing more than nerves. But no matter how much she tried to hide it, Ian noticed.
“Something from your weekend away with Lucy?”
She shook her head. “Probably not.”
“Are you sure? A parasite maybe?”
“I don’t think there are any parasites in New Orleans,” she snapped. Seeing the look on Ian’s face, she immediately regretted it. “I’m sorry, I’m tired. New job and all.” She stood and cupped his face in her hands. “I love you. Don’t worry about me.” She placed a kiss on his forehead. “I’m off to bed.”
“Kate! Wake up!” She felt herself being shaken again and relief flooded her as she woke and saw Ian’s worried face looking down at her. “You were dreaming again.”
“Was I?” Kate felt the dream trying to lure her back.
“Judging by the scream a bloody bad one.”
“I screamed?” She thought back. “I was being chased, running from something. It wanted to kill me. There was a woman in the trees, she was laughing at me. I kept running and she kept appearing, closer to me each time. Then suddenly she was right in front of me.” Kate shuddered. “She was holding a head.”
“A head? Like, a human head?”
Kate nodded, unable to describe the horror of her dream. It was less the visual, although the severed, mutilated head made her feel ill. No, it was the feeling. The smell of the wet earth. The sound of the wind. The fear. She shivered and covered herself in blankets. “I can’t seem to get warm. Can we turn up the heat?”
Ian nodded and without a word went downstairs to the thermostat. When he came back there was a determined look on his face. “You’re going to the doctor tomorrow.”
She didn’t have the energy to argue.
“What?!” Ian chocked on his pasta.
“I’m pregnant. Having a baby.”
Ian jumped up, a look of confusion on his face. “You’re sure?”
Kate nodded. “I got the results from the doctor today.” She grabbed her glass of water from the table and held it in front of her. “Congrats, you’re going to be a daddy.”
Ian sat down again, shaking his head. “Pregnant?”
“With a baby.”
“Well, of course, what else would it be?” Ian remained silent. “Aren’t you happy?”
His face finally relaxed into a smile. “Of course I am, god, I’m ecstatic!” He rushed over to hold her and placed a hand on her belly. “A baby.”
Kate laughed. “Yes, a baby.”
After dinner they snuggled on the couch. Kate couldn’t remember a time when everything had been going so well. And that night, for the first time in a week, she had no dreams.
Over the next few months Kate worked at becoming an expert in her new role. She sat at her desk, her hand unconsciously cradling her swelling stomach. Still constantly exhausted, it took all of her resources to focus. During the day she grew into her management position; at night she prepared for their child and enjoyed Ian’s company. Her visits to the doctor raised no concerns; it was a normal pregnancy. Except for one thing she learned at her appointment that afternoon.
“I have news.”
“We’re having twins.”
The woman was back, decorated as usual. This time she held two snakes, one white and the other black. She twirled seductively, using the snakes as props and somehow coaxing them to sway along with her. She danced in a circle that had been painted on the floor, two elaborate symbols painted within the circle’s borders. Kate watched from outside the circle. There was no one else there.
Reaching down carefully, the woman placed the snakes on the ground, one inside each of the symbols. Kate watched, fascinated.
The snakes slithered toward each other, meeting in the middle. Kate was suddenly very afraid, although she didn’t know why. Something bad was about to happen, something she couldn’t stop. She could feel it inside.
In a flash of movement the black snake attacked, launching itself at the white snake. The white snake turned, desperate to protect itself but was too late: blood flowed from a large gash in its neck where the black snake had torn a piece of flesh out. As the white snake lay dying, the black snake began to swallow the body, ignoring the feeble thrashing of its prey. Soon it was over.
Kate could still hear the woman’s laughter long after she had woken.
“I had the strangest dream last night.” Kate was eating breakfast with Ian.
“You ARE pregnant. Probably all that bizarre food you’ve been eating.” He reached over to the corkboard and pulled a piece of paper from it. “Look at this grocery list: hot peppers, crawfish, garlic – and you put black pepper on your cereal yesterday.”
Kate shrugged. “I know. All this stuff used to give me the worst heartburn but these days I can’t seem to get enough.”
Ian frowned as she grabbed the hot sauce and added a generous amount to her coffee.
The months went by, season followed by season, and Kate grew larger and larger. Her dreams continued; sometimes mild and curious, but often too horrible to believe her own mind could come up with such images. She stopped mentioning them to Ian, convincing herself they were a result of the pregnancy, or the odd food she constantly craved. Surely that must explain them. Right?
Kate was part of a crowd of onlookers again, a circle of bodies tightly packed around a large stone table. The forest was filled with the sound of insects and animals although none revealed themselves. A smell of dark, damp soil that she had become used to permeated everything: the forest, her hair, her clothes, what little there was. All had the musty smell of death and decay.
The dark painted woman was there; she was always there, watching. She stood beside the table and with a glance at Kate, signalled to someone Kate couldn’t see. A moment later a young woman was led to the table, heavily pregnant. She stumbled a few times and was held up by one of the woman’s helpers. Her eyes were wide with fear and she was moving her lips but Kate couldn’t hear what she was saying. The woman was helped onto the table and tied down with ropes: feet, hands and neck. It seemed unnecessary as the young woman seemed unable to move but Kate soon understood the reason for the bindings.
The painted woman addressed the watching crowd then raised a knife in the air over her head, holding it with both hands. She began to chant and soon the crowd joined in, repeating the same phrase over and over. Kate tried to run but couldn’t. When she looked down at her feet she saw they had melted into the floor. She screamed but no sound came out. Looking back up she saw the dark woman staring at her, a small smile playing on her painted lips. Her chanting grew louder and the young pregnant woman on the table finally began to move, struggling to free herself of her bindings.
The chanting reached a crescendo and on the last syllable the dark woman plunged the knife into the pregnant woman’s belly. The young woman’s scream was inhuman; like an animal in pain, a demon escaping from hell. She tried to look away but felt an invisible pressure on the back of her head, forcing her to watch.
The dark woman laughed as she reached inside the young woman and brought out a deformed foetus, a pathetic mockery of a human. She held the creature in the air, laughing as the foetus mewled, mucus in its throat making a wet sound. Grabbing the knife once more, she cut the umbilical cord and licked the blood and tissue off of the knife-edge. Kate could see pieces of flesh in the dark woman’s teeth as she smiled broadly. She began to laugh again and Kate could hear whispering: foreign evil-sounding words.
The pain started at that moment and Kate grabbed her stomach, doubling over in agony. Suddenly the dark woman was standing in front of her, foetus held by the neck in one hand, knife at the ready in the other.
Kate woke screaming as the knife entered her stomach, the woman saying only one word to her: ‘Now’.
“Ian.” It was her turn to nudge him. She had lain awake after the dream, trying to calm her breathing when the pain hit again. “Ian! Wake up! It’s time.”
Ian rolled over, mumbling in his sleep. As another wave of pain washed over her Kate kicked her husband in the leg. “IAN!”
He was finally awake. “What? What is it? What’s wrong?”
She saw the look of understanding creep onto his face. “Now? You’re serious?” He leaped from the bed as he spoke. “Okay, right, we’re good, we’re good.” He was running around the room. “I’m ready, I’m ready.”
They got to the car and Kate was grateful the traffic was light. Reaching the hospital in record time Kate was quickly checked in and ushered into the delivery ward.
“Is dad coming in?” The nurse smiled at Ian.
Kate replied on his behalf. “Dad is not, dad faints at the sight of blood.” She laughed and then grimaced as another contraction gripped her. Through clenched teeth she continued. “Dad can’t even watch hospital shows on TV without feeling dizzy.”
“Right then, it’s just you and me.” The nurse winked at Ian and wheeled Kate through a door.
It was a quick birth with no complications. Within an hour of arriving at the hospital Kate’s family grew by two members: a boy and a girl, both healthy and loud.
“They’re beautiful.” Ian was looking from one to the other of his children.
“They’re perfect.” Kate smiled through her exhaustion.
“Have you thought of any names?” The nurse had come back in to check on Kate and the twins.
“I have.” She ignored Ian’s raised eyebrows. “Aaron and Maura.”
Ian smiled. “They’re beautiful.” He looked at the boy, light haired like himself. “Welcome Aaron.” Then to the girl, who’s patchy dark hair was similar to Kate’s. “And you, Maura. Welcome to the family.”
They remained like that in silence until the nurse interrupted. “Sorry dad, mum needs her sleep. As do the little ones.” She winked at Ian again. “Can you stand to be away for a while?”
Ian nodded and leaned over to place a kiss on Kate’s forehead. “I’ll go home and bring you a few things.”
Kate nodded, already falling asleep. She took one last look at her children before nodding off. It was the first night in months she slept peacefully, nightmare-free.
The years passed and the twins grew. Kate and Ian moved into a bigger house; Kate had gotten generous raises each year, along with a substantial annual bonus. The house suited them well: there was room for them all, with modern appliances and parking for both of their cars. The neighbourhood was upscale with a highly rated school just two blocks away.
Ian’s business thrived and Kate continued to excel in her managerial role, despite the constant exhaustion.
“You’re a working mother, of course you’re tired.” She was sick of people telling her this. “Are you getting enough sleep?”
Yes, actually, she was. Since the twins’ birth, she’d experienced no nightmares, or at least did not remember them, and had grown used to their absence.
Maybe those people offering unwanted parental advice were right: working and looking after twins WAS making her tired. It must be.
She was with the watching crowd again, standing in a circle around the stone table. The dark woman was there, leering at her with her white painted lips. There was no chanting this time, only signs made in the air above the table. The crowd’s silence was like a blanket of snow, and only their breathing could be heard.
A child’s wail made Kate’s heart ache, tears forming in her eyes. No. Please. But as soon as she spoke the words they were whipped away from her mouth. The woman laughed and showed Kate her clenched hand. When she opened it and blew on her palm Kate’s own words blew back in her face.
Tears stung her eyes as the child was brought out to the table. It was a newborn, it’s skin red and angry-looking. No bindings were needed for such a helpless creature.
The woman beckoned to Kate with a long painted finger. “Come.”
She couldn’t help herself; no matter how she tried to disobey the command, her body was not her own. It no longer followed Kate’s orders; rather it belonged to the dark woman entirely. She was handed a knife, a small sharp blade with a worn ivory handle. Once more her words were snatched from her mouth before she could voice them. She couldn’t even shake her head.
A gesture from the woman caused Kate’s hand lifted of its own accord. She tried to control it, tried to stab herself with the blade. She was rewarded with a mocking laugh and a finger wagging, no no. The hand continued to lift until Kate’s arm was fully extended, the knife pointing down at the child.
Please. No. The tears were streaming down her face, blurring her vision. But it was too late. Suddenly her arm plunged, burying the knife in the child’s chest. The child screamed in pain and began twitching, its small limbs convulsing. Withdrawing the blade Kate reached in with one hand and grabbed the tiny heart.
The painted woman laughed triumphantly and made another motion. Kate felt her hand move again. No no no no no. Her hand came closer and closer, the small bloody heart nearing her mouth.
Suddenly she had her voice. “NOOOOOOOOOO!”
Kate’s eyes flew open. She couldn’t catch her breath, she felt like she was suffocating. The room was pitch black and when she reached for Ian she found she couldn’t move. Her breathing grew worse as she tried to gulp in enough air. A moan escaped her lips when she discovered that her legs were useless to her as well.
“Ah, you’re awake.” A broad Creole accent came from somewhere in the dark. “Good.”
Kate rolled her eyes, frantically trying to determine the source of the voice. A voice that sounded so familiar to her.
A pale light flicked on and a face appeared above her, one she recognised instantly. She willed herself to move, her leg, her arm, anything. Nothing happened.
“You remember me, no?” The dark lady smiled. “Yes, I can see you do.” She moved away and the laughter that had haunted Kate for years assaulted her from the other side of the room.
Was this another dream? Without moving her head she looked around the room as best she could, rolling her eyes left and right. The room was empty; a single dirty bulb swinging from the ceiling caused shadows to play on the peeling walls. The smell of something rotting permeated the space, making Kate gag.
“No, chere. This is no dream. You are here. I am here.”
She can read my thoughts.
The silence lay heavy. Then, from the corner of the room, “Tch.” The face appeared above her again. “You still think this is a dream? You still think you can escape me?” She wagged a long finger. “No, not possible. You are mine.”
Kate’s mind raced. She thought of her children, her husband, her home.
“You think you have children? That this life you live is real? That you have a beautiful house and wonderful job? No chere. THAT was the dream.”
It wasn’t possible. Every part of her screamed that it wasn’t true. She thought of Ian.
“Ian will come to this city. He will hear that your friend returned without you and come looking.”
Lucy! The trip here with Lucy was years ago.
“No. Only yesterday. I took your friend’s memory, she will return remembering nothing of my shop or your visit here.” Marie stared into Kate’s eyes. “Nor of the grave insult you gave to my Loa.”
Kate’s eyes widened as understanding washed over her. But still she had to try. Ian will come.
“No one knows you came to my shop. No one will look here for you. No one.”
The truth violated her and her mind screamed. The twins, who she loved more than life itself, had never been born. Her relationship with Ian was as she had left it when she travelled to New Orleans, on the verge of collapse. She still had a job she hated. A house she hated. None of it had been real.
“Who is to say what is real and what is not, eh?” Marie laughed again and swept out of the room, leaving Kate’s mind to fall apart. After a while she returned, dressed in robes, face fully painted. A large man was with her. She motioned at Kate and the man picked Kate up, tossing her over his shoulder. She felt the pain of the treatment but still could not move.
They carried her outside. It was dark, a sliver of moon hanging in the sky. After half a mile they slowed and Kate was put on the ground, propped up against a tree trunk.
“Welcome to your new home.” Marie spread her arms wide.
Through the haze that had entered Kate’s mind she saw the dirt mounds, each one with a crude wooden cross at the head. Her eyes rolled wildly, still the only part of her body she could move. They were in a small hollow surrounded by a dense forest of dead and dying trees. The moon shone through the bare branches and in the diffused light Kate could see that many of the graves were fresh. All were ornamented; pictures, candles, and personal items adorning the spaces, the crosses heavy under the weight of crucifixes.
“You like your home? Good.” A terse word to her assistant and Kate felt herself being lifted once more. A few steps later she was placed in a box and a lid was nailed onto the top. Kate could see Marie’s triumphant face through the cross that was carved into the coffin lid.
“Au revoir, chere.” Marie’s painted lips parted into a smile.
It was the last thing Kate saw before the first shovelful of dirt hit the coffin.
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.