Can’t a writer get paid? Give Trev Hill some beer money!
Miss Jowens was cross. She had had enough of these young girls and their unladylike language and behaviour. Mind you, she shouldn’t have been surprised. Even at the interview she had been shocked by the way Miss Hayes the headmistress had talked about them. Oh yes, she plainly remembered, Miss Hayes had perused her CV and references with a favourable eye before asking if she, Miss Jowens, would require a residential position.
“Well, I am quite prepared to consider it, Headmistress, but I have found a small cottage on the edge of the moor which would be quite suitable for my needs. Unless the position specifically requires me to live upon the premises, I think I should prefer to live off-site”. Miss Jowens replied.
The Headmistress smiled and nodded,
“Not at all, Miss Jowens. I completely understand. In fact, I think it would be an excellent idea for your first few terms, at least until you feel you have settled in. Many teachers find the girls to be quite exhausting in the evenings and tend to leave abruptly. You cannot imagine, Miss Jowens, what little bitches these girls can be.”
Miss Jowens had been shocked that a headmistress would use such terminology for her charges but she had forgiven the lapse of decorum and accepted what seemed to be a rather splendid job.
The school was situated on a moor in the south of England. The young ladies, although she now gave pause as to whether some deserved the title, seemed good students and extremely energetic (although they could be sloth in the morning). The regular teaching staff seemed friendly and very professional, the pay was good and the hours amenable. A few hours literature classes a day and a little history, then a bracing cycle trip home for an evening by the fire. Very agreeable, or so she had thought.
Her initial reception had been the usual mixture of caution, fascination and a few little challenges, the usual things like feet on the desk, saucy attitudes and uniform infractions; nothing she didn’t expect or couldn’t handle. What had slowly begun to grate on her nerves was one particular class which contained a particular clique of upper form girls, the leader of which, a young madam by the name of Danni Murphy, seemed to have a penchant for high skirts, tousled hair in the morning and the mouth of a street urchin, not that any of the others members of the gang were far behind.
One of the earliest conflicts had come about Miss Murphy’s use of language. With the clanging of the lunchtime bell, Murphy had an annoying habit of jumping up and shouting, “Feeding time, bitches!” to a whoop of delight from her cronies. As the group had headed for the door, Miss Jowens had ordered the girl to remain behind and sternly lectured her about such behavior and language in her, Miss Jowens’s, presence. Amidst the usual teenage eye-rolling and eye-avoiding pouts, Murphy had mumbled something about it being a name she and her “homies” used amongst themselves and no insult was meant by it. Ever after, the impudent young madam had paused before uttering the offensive phrase in time to say something like, “Meal time… ladies!” in her sing-song voice.
Over the next few weeks, it became apparent that there was some tension between Miss Jowens and that particular class of girls. Even some of her colleagues had approached her in the staffroom or taken her aside and advised her, in hushed tones, to watch her step. It seemed that even the staff referred to the clique as “The Bitches”. Miss Jowens, although a little perturbed at the nickname, assured her colleagues and herself that her professionalism would rise above it all.
Time however, took its toll. And Miss Jowen’s nerves were becoming seriously frayed at the behavior and attitude of these stroppy young besoms. This morning had been a near breaking straw when she had come in to teach an early history class about Templar monuments (which had received whistles of derision) only to find the infuriating Murphy sitting on the desk with her skirt pulled high, revealing a scratch across her thigh to her friends.
“I assume, Dannielle, that there is some explanation for such bawdy behavior?” Miss Jowens had demanded. The girl stood, letting her skirt fall back to its full length.
“Yes, Miss. I was showing the girls some scratches I got during a cross-country run last evening when I tried to put my leg over a fence.” She smirked. Miss Jowens ignored it.
“Yes, well thank you, Dannielle, but a history class is not the place for such things…”
“No Miss, sorry Miss, I don’t suppose you’re into getting your leg over things,” came the taunting reply, followed by another comment from a girl behind,
“That would be ancient history!” This remark brought giggles from the class and the declaration of a one hour detention for the entire group that evening. The sentence brought moans and protests,
“But Miss, we’ve got cross-country tonight!”
“Then you’ll miss it, won’t you?” Miss Jowens declared triumphantly. A class of sullen heads bent over the text books and several pairs of angry eyes glared under their fringes at the teacher.
The detention classroom was ready and the girls filtered in slowly and sullenly. There were several books of short stories placed at the desks, Miss Jowens having just finished a literature class on early 20thc supernatural fiction. Danni Murphy slouched in and picked up one of the volumes with a whoop.
“It’s M.R. James time, Bitches!” and the rest of the class cheered. This was the final straw. In a voice of sheer fury, Miss Jowens ordered them to leave the books and to take their places. How dare they disgrace the work of the master with such behavior. They were not fit to read such fine works. And Dannielle Murphy was ordered to the front of the class. She stood, defiant.
“Make me!” she taunted. Miss Jowens fixed her with a glare,
“When I whistle, you’ll come to me my girl!” she replied in a hard voice. The girl moved slowly to the front of the class to stand before the enraged teacher. “Good, now face the class”. With a heavenward eye-roll, she turned slowly only to receive two lightning hard whacks across the back of her thighs with a pointer. She yelped and jumped around to face Miss Jowens with a savage stare.
“Don’t worry, Miss Murphy, those two won’t go down in the pointer’s diary… but if you’d like some more… otherwise, sit down while you can!”
Seemingly defeated, the sulking girl limped towards a desk. The class was silent, in a state of shock. There was only a mild response when it was announced that Miss Murphy’s behavior had earned them an extra hour of detention. One or two girls pointed out they would miss their evening meal but otherwise the rebellion seemed to have lost heart. Miss Jowens wrote up the detention assignment and sat back, satisfied.
The double detention had meant that the sun was setting as Miss Jowens began her usual cycle ride down the unlit moor road. She wasn’t worried as she had a good light and the weather was mild. It was a straight road and there was no chance of getting lost. But it did occur to her that this was the first time she had crossed this area at night.
Around ten minutes into her ride, she thought she heard the sound of running. Looking around, she saw nothing, although it was so dark that she couldn’t have seen if anything was there. Still she heard a drumming sound like the pounding of feet. Perhaps there were sheep of moor ponies attracted to her light, she thought. However, despite such attempts at comforting herself, she pedaled faster. The road snaked into a broad bend just before the stream bridge and she seemed to hear the running veer off to one side. She sighed in relief but continued to increase her pace as she approached the little flat bridge.
The hard, heavy bulk crashed out of the dark and sent Miss Jowens flying from her trusty bicycle, into the stream which gurgled under the bridge. Struggling to stand, she turned towards the bridge to find a large black canine confronting her with red eyes and a slavering snarl.
Miss Jowens had heard local legends of black dogs but had dismissed them. Legendary or not, however, there could be no mistaking the size and ferocity of the beast before her. She attempted to scramble up the stream bank only to find her way barred by another canine, this time with a lighter coat. Looking over to her right, a third creature was likewise barring her escape whilst baring its fangs.
Miss Jowens choked a scream for help and began to run, stumbling along the length of the stream, often falling and rising, drenched to continue her fruitless attempt to escape. The two lighter beasts ran alongside the stream and then, suddenly, with a great snarling and splashing, she heard the black one charging up the waterway behind her.
Slipping and stumbling, the terrified teacher clawed her way up the shallow bank and began to run across the moor. The thundering of the canine pads came hard and fast as the black dog jumped at her back, bringing her face down into the mud and peat. The other two hounds grabbed her arms in their jaws and dragged her fast and roughly across the sharp, abrasive surface of the moor. Through the pain and the banging of her head the bloodied woman became aware of several other dogs running alongside, barking joyously. The blessed darkness of unconsciousness spared her more.
“Did you enjoy the cross country run?”
The familiar voice crept into her ear, pulling her from the sweet darkness. Her eyes flickered open and through the blurred vision Miss Jowens began to make out a new face, canine, with burning eyes and an almost impertinent grin to its fanged mouth. Miss Jowens shivered as the face came nearer, licking her across the face and thrusting its nose into hers. She shuddered, waiting for the snap of jaws. The animal seemed to snort in amusement and turned its back on the terrified woman.
As her eyesight adjusted, Miss Jowens became aware that this dog, seemingly the leader of the pack which surrounded her had a two toned coat; the upper part around the body being dark but the hind legs being pale, almost white but with two fierce red lines across the back of them. The snarling face turned to gaze at her.
“Kneel, Jowens” came a voice, a singsong, almost human voice. The teacher choked back a cry and stared, quivering as the beast turned to face her. Raising herself onto her knees, Miss Jowens sobbed a final word…
“Dannielle?” she croaked.
The upper lip curled and the eyes rolled upwards before honing in on Miss Jowens’ widening pupils. The other dogs whined excitedly as the cry came,
Do I regret my actions? Of course—every waking moment the memories fester inside my mind, and at night let loose. Darkness is their natural habitat, so I suppose it makes sense. Yet, as I rock atop the sheets in solitary silence, I am confident I would not change a thing. My actions, no matter how obscene, were for the greater good, as you are about to discover.
You are all in grave danger.
Let me tell my story, and then you might understand where I am coming from.
Perhaps older than the English woodland engulfing it, the church was a small, black building that sagged under its own weight. The mossy grey tiles bowed under decades of leaf litter, and walls appeared to sink into the ground as if the surrounding graveyard wished to reclaim them. This ancient place was my destination, as I travelled with a great burden on my shoulders. A shining sun would have kissed lush grass, colonies of plump mushrooms and snowdrops, but my work required the cover of darkness.
Two earthy grooves, once carthorse tracks, were overgrown, and foliage brushed the underside of my car as I descended the valley. The deeper I travelled, the greater the sense of dread, and I was thankful for the occasional island of moonlight breaking through the canopy above. I navigated by memory while two bony nubs on my left hand, where my ring and pinkie finger had been, tingled. Skeletal branches thickened and encroached on my path, scraping windows, and almost entombing the car before the headlights found an opening and the walls of that cursed place.
Within a little clearing, I reluctantly killed the engine, and an eerie quiet descended, weighty and foreboding. Branches did not rustle, and animals did not call. My father was a ranger here and taught me how to identify all the different sounds. Had I heard anything—a hoot, or a fox cry—it would have brought at least a little comfort. Instead, I scratched the stump of my fingers in absolute silence.
It came from the trunk, and a breath froze in my lungs. In the rearview mirror, I saw lightly waving underbrush and one nervous eye. For the longest moment, I held still, ears straining until my chest burned. Satisfied that all was well, I exhaled a measured breath, and grabbing a flashlight from the passenger seat, exited the car.
The white beam of my flashlight sliced the cloying darkness, falling on the little wooden gate of the cemetery. Rusted horseshoes, thick with tufts of moss, hung from the waterlogged boards. Random nails and streaks of maroon suggested there were others at one time, but they were somehow displaced. On my last visit, as father had dragged me along painfully by my upper arm, I had seen and heard wind chimes in the trees, but these were likely buried under dead leaves, or tangled within the tall grass where they fell.
I angled the circular beam up a noticeboard beside the arched doorway. Once containing parish notices, it was now vacant, and more horseshoes hung, black with rust from the swollen frame. Further up, there was an overhanging roof with a diminutive bell tower overlooked the clearing.
A low moan escaped my lips.
Decayed and bloody, a carcass stretched across the opening where a long absent bell had once chimed. Pointed ribs were parted like the jaws of a carnivorous animal, and bloated sacks of rotted organs swayed in the breeze. Sausage strands of intestines spilt from its severed gut and snaked down the tiles.
“A sheep,” I whispered, not liking the tension in my voice. “It’s a bloody sheep.”
Broken yellow teeth grinned amongst matted curls of wool, and milky white eyes appeared to gaze into hell. I don’t know how long the fetid creature had been up there, but there was no doubt in my mind that it was some kind of warning. Someone wanted to keep people away from this place—and for a good reason.
A branch snapped.
I wheeled around.
The flashlight found vacant woodland, and overgrown bushes shrouded in shadow.
I reasoned that it might be a fox or badger, but the throbbing stumps of my left hand told me otherwise.
I was being watched.
Lifting the gate from a drift of soil, I pushed it open. A blistered nail snapped, and a horseshoe fell into the grass. Quietly, I made my way up the lichen-spotted flags to the porch, observing strange, white pebbles dotted in and around the headstones. On closer inspection, I saw animal skulls of varying shapes and sizes jutting from the grass, hollow eyes observing my progress. There was something blasphemous about their placement, something unclean and alien.
Like many others of its time, this rural church remained unlocked, and two iron rings served as handles. A strange symbol was crudely painted on the wood in something dark and viscous that smelled coppery and rotten like old blood. These were the same doors my parents had dragged me through when I was ten years old. Mum had been sobbing, and dad had been muttering distractedly under his breath. Neither of them would look me in the eye, or had answered my panicked questions. That was the last time I had ever seen her.
I pulled the doors, and they parted down the middle. The loud creak of rusty hinges made me wince. As if escaping the terrible space within, the odour of damp and decaying plant matter rushed past me. It was dim inside, but the roof at the front of the church had caved in, and moonlight cascaded onto a granite altar scattered with dead leaves. At either side of a narrow aisle, there were three short pews, which I guessed would have seated no more than twenty or thirty parishioners back in its day. One of the benches had collapsed into the rotten floor, creating a deep hole.
I moved gingerly towards the front, testing each spongy board with a toe before proceeding. The atmosphere was claustrophobic, and moonlight charged the air with unseen electricity. There was very little by way of religious paraphernalia. Animal skulls hung where crucifixes should have been, and half-moons of iron were fixed beneath broken and faded stained glass. The ancient creatures here preceded Christianity, and the locals tried more arcane methods to keep them at bay.
The church roof curved like the upturned bow of a ship, and within the jagged edges of broken tile, the moon was a silver penny against a sea of black. An ancient oak partially obscured my view, gnarled branches hanging over the rear of the structure as if to embrace it. Within the creaking boughs were sunken hollows, and inside movement.
My left hand prickled like it’d brushed against stinging nettles, and I retreated to collect my offering from the car. Moving abroad had crossed my mind many times, a means of escape from this nightmare—but dad’s words repeated in my skull.
“You have to sate their hunger, or they will infest. You’re the son of a High Peak Ranger, like my grandfather, and his grandfather before. If they don’t get what’s coming to them, they will destroy the High Peak and then come for you. Mark my words. Remember Ashopton?”
I prayed what I was doing would satisfy them for another twenty years, knowing what I would do after that since I didn’t want to visit this place again.
That is when I saw it, sitting at one of the pews.
I thought it might be a doll left behind by a long-dead parishioner—until its head tilted to one side. Pinprick eyes glowed a strange shade of blue within recessed sockets, following me as I moved against the altar. Its face was narrow and skeletal—as pale as porcelain. Papery wings, threaded with veins folded at its back. A serpentine tongue elongated between razor teeth and licked purple lips. My missing fingers throbbed. How I’d laughed when mum said, They’re real, son, but not like in the stories or picture books…
I wasn’t laughing now.
I’d screamed as they converged on mum. My dad had cried out, too, but more out of surprise than anything else. A ranger for over thirty years, he was an expert on these things but hadn’t been aware of their keen sense of smell. Neither of us had known that mum was with child until they finally bore through the white skin of her belly. She was the starter, and my unborn brother the main course. Blind panic mixed with guilty relief since I had been reprieved, for I was meant to be the sacrificial lamb. They coveted the young.
Dad had run. Isn’t that what he’d always done when confronted with a problem? Foolish and meek, I fought back, an act of futility that almost cost me my life. Instead, I paid with two fingers.
The doll in front of me now stood with the assistance of twiggy arms, a perfectly formed miniature person. Its clawed feet tapped against the wood as it shifted in anticipation. Hunching its shoulders, it threw an ugly face to the sky, shrieking like a bird of prey. A rustling, like autumn leaves, sounded from the holes in the towering oak, the darkness inside the warrens undulating and blinking with the movement of hundreds of tiny faces.
Springing on my heels, I headed toward the open doors. Bare boards wobbled and bent underfoot. Expanding, the creature’s wings were the size of dinner plates, mottled with greens and browns that shamed the stained glass. It emitted another cry as I rushed by.
Suddenly my front foot crashed through a section of rotten board, and into the mulchy ground beneath. I toppled forward, my ankle twisting painfully.
Scrambling to my feet, a fire erupted at my shoulder blade, and everything tinted a deep shade of red. Serrated teeth excavated deep into the flesh and blood blossomed, warm and wet, over my shirt. I reached a hand around, pulling the creature away. My skin stretched and tightened before it finally let loose, surprisingly light like a bundle of twigs. Everything flared white, my brain screaming in protest. I launched it back at the altar, where the others crawled and floated, infesting the church like cockroaches.
It hit one corner of the stone and fell from view. The others watched it descend and turned their glowing eyes on me. They were everywhere—climbing the walls, chattering as they navigated the seats of the front row, fluttering in and around the silver blades of moonlight. Timeless and unforgiving, they had resided in this woodland before the church was even conceived, and would still be here long after I died. I knew that I was running out of time.
Outside, a light breeze cooled the wound on my back. I pocketed the flashlight and moved to the rear of my car. Opening the trunk, I lifted her dead weight in both arms, a shoulder blade flaring in protest. She was drowsy, but fluttering eyelids told me that she was close to being awake. The last drink she consumed was orange juice laced with sleeping pills, a prescription of mine to help with depression. She didn’t partake in alcohol, but I certainly did—to gain courage.
“What are you doing…where are we?” she groggily asked as I limped back to the church. “William, answer me.” Her eyes widened, lingering on the shadows. Her body trembled.
We passed the gate into the graveyard.
“I’m so sorry, Susan, but it has to be this way.”
Glassy eyes widened, focusing. She bucked with her lower back, and I almost lost grip but managed to regain my composure. I had removed the belt from her jeans to tie her wrists. As the shadow of the church fell on us, Susan whimpered.
She must have heard them, too.
I’m not a monster, and, of course, I am sorry. I’d trawled through countless pathetic faces on dating websites before I found the ideal candidate. Initially, her doe-eyed stare and talk of romance bored me to tears; but somewhere along the line, it became a real thing. It was like repeating the word love somehow made it tangible. Entering the church with her in my arms like a newly wedded couple crossing the threshold, I honestly felt love for Susan.
The walls within crawled with grey creatures and their cold, pinprick glares. The fairy folk of the High Peak Countryside all gathered for their twenty-year congregation. I dared not allow my eyes to linger at any single point, lest it send me mad. These terrible residents were a million miles away from the famous Cottingley fairies photographed by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths back in 1917.
The newspapers reported how amazing it was when the young girls had captured beautiful winged cryptids on camera. They failed to mention the girls had vanished three days later, never returning from a picnic in the woods. Their parents, one of them a High Peak Ranger, hadn’t reported their disappearance. They had remembered how the remote village of Ashopton had succumbed after missing a sacrifice, and how they had to break the great dam to flood it.
Susan’s eyes widened as they sniffed the air and followed us with intent, their wings making a dry rustle. None of them attacked, but they chitter-chattered to one another in an urgent series of clicks and whistles. They knew what was coming.
“Please, William, don’t do this,” Susan whispered. “You don’t have to do this.”
I blocked out her pleas and gaped at the slab where countless children had lain before. I never forgave my dad for what had happened in 1977, but when I visited his death bed, he told me, “They like the young ones. It is in their nature. Every twenty years they take a little piece of our future so we may keep the rest.”
Avoiding the splintered hole I made, I laid Susan down on the slab, her bottom resting in the deep groove of the font. She sobbed, mascara running in black torrents down her freckled cheeks. One of the fairies flapped over to the pulpit and hung from the lectern like a hungry gargoyle.
“Please, William. I love you. I want to be with you forever. It doesn’t have to be this way…”
I closed my eyes, allowing my thoughts to drift away. Breathed in, breathed out—counted to ten. My stomach felt like it was swinging between my knees.
I reached forward, caressing the round bump of her stomach. It was like a watermelon, except something rippled beneath the surface of her taught skin, a foot or an elbow perhaps.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, turning away.
Shoulders shaking like a mourner at a funeral, I headed to the exit, my car waiting. They fell upon her in a leathery flap of wings. She screamed, but it eventually tapered away into a low, wet gargle.
I did not dare turn back.
The forensic people matched the tread marks to my car and deduced the identities of the bodies from Susan’s dental records. They found traces of blood engrained in the imperfect stone around the font, too. But did they think to search the hollows of that old oak? Did they not look in the nooks and crannies beneath the rotten pews? If they did, then they might have seen little eyes, like balls of blue fire.
I sometimes wonder how many of us there are out there in the big, wide world. Men and women perceived as murderers, when all they are guilty of is saving the world from creatures beyond comprehension. There are things out there in our woods and suburbs that hunt us while we sleep, and it is people like me keeping them from your door.
You don’t believe? Pah. I knew it would be useless. No one has listened for two decades, and the authorities repeatedly refuse my parole.
Well, it’s too late.
It has been twenty years to the day since I made my sacrifice, and I am the last of my kind. Heed my advice. Run. Get as far away from the Peak District as you can. A full moon is heavy in the sky, and the nubs on my left hand are itching like crazy.
About the author: Gary Buller is an author from Manchester England where he lives with his long suffering partner Lisa, daughter Holly, and dog Chico. He grew up in the Peak District where hauntingly beautiful landscapes inspired him to write. He is a huge fan of all things macabre and loves a tale with a twist. He is an associate member of the Horror Writers Association.
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During a Thursday, around 3:43AM, a female and male sauntered towards the driveway of her Spanish Colonial-styled mansion. The woman, Neala Desdemona Johnson, was blonde, in her thirties. Her appearance was comparable to the models found in Playboy. Her male counterpart, Rod Silverman, who was younger than she, favored an actor, Johnny Depp. In an attempt to convey his libidinousness, the male stopped and put his arms around his girlfriend’s waist. This effort at warming the woman to the proposal of having sex worked. Under her red leather skirt, jacket and shoes, she felt a lot warmer. And Rod’s blue Italian suit felt tighter, much tighter.
Mansions were common to Rod Silverman. Being the son of an investment banker father and an art curator mother, he was used to wealth. Irrespective of his family’s moneyed existence, as a young, rising model, Rod was getting riches of his own. Among the profits of appearing in fashion magazines and going to trendy clubs was dating attractive, wealthy divorcees like Neala.
Over to the right of Neala and Rod, crouching behind some shrubbery, the forty-seven-year-old African-American former football star Orello Johnson was wearing a ninja outfit. Disguised by his black cotton Balaclava Ninja mask, anger monopolized his expression. Sans his gear, he had short dark coiled hair, straight features, oval eyes, somewhat narrow lips, broad shoulders, bronze skin and an Olympiad’s musculature. Certain women thought the man was handsome. His awareness of these females made his ego rival the Rungrado May Day Stadium for largest mass.
Unheard by anyone else, Orello whispered, “I should take the blood from her fake breasts, breasts that I bought for her. I am the man who inflated those trailer tires and parked them in my mansion.”
Upon amassing an armory of anger, Orello emerged and unsheathed his head.
“What, what, what drug made you come here, Orello?” Neala screamed. Cold, pale fear encased her from skeletal pillars to the flesh covering her. Letting her fingers unify into fists somehow made the woman resuscitate her composure. The girder for steadying her logic was in place as she continued speaking, “I thought the court explained your visitation rights to you. You can see our daughter and son on the weekends.”
Asleep and oblivious to the fight below, two olive-skinned children with sandy hair were in the right wing of the mansion. Their little bodies, which had the attributes from both parents, were content.
“Pray, puta, pray!” Orello’s reply had all the rancor of a Rottweiler before chewing on its prey.
“Hey, uh, uh, don’t call her that!” Rod tried to posture like a defensive lineman, but the boy knew that if a fight started, Orello would defeat him.
“Shut up, sex toy. Your trampish hole and I have some probing to do. Does this boy know that you drove him in my Charcoal Gray 1969 Ford Bronco? Does this boy know that you’re gonna screw him in the house that I pay mortgage on? Does this boy know that you spend my one hundred six thousand dollars every four weeks?”
“Yeah, I’m a trampish hole, but not your trampish hole anymore. You will never screw me anymore and that’s causing your rage. Well, you had this hole for a whole long time. Some days I was your pleasure and other days I was your opponent in a boxing ring. Did you feel like the Heavyweight Champion of the World after beating a woman, Orello? Other than bringing grief, what else are you going to give our relationship?”
Each word that she lunged turned into a shank stabbing Orello in the abdomen. Psychosomatic or real pain, either way, it hurt as if it were a weapon. Enraged by her, Orello wanted the discomfort of the scene to cease. Walking away was not enough, he wanted blood. Orello wanted to see the submission of defeated fighters. His psychopathic need, the desire to ingest violence, wanted a couple of servings.
Evil was never birthed out of nothingness. Orello’s family proved that aforementioned concept to be incontrovertible. All Johnson men were large. Ranging from the tall and muscular to the stout, they were huge. What they possessed in size, they lacked in compassion for women considerably smaller. Bullying diminutive females was yet another trait these men possessed. Johnson men were known for abusing women. The clan pounced on insecure women. A specific Johnson son named Orello saw his father abuse his mother. That fight left bruises upon his psyche. The bruises metastasized into a murderous adulthood.
With a quick motion, Orello stabbed Rod with his Bowie hunting knife. The blade rammed through the trachea of the Hollywood-model-handsome male. Gurgling sounds, instead of other pained utterances, came out of the victim. Akin to a cocaine high, Orello felt exhilarated.
Before she could run or scream, Orello grabbed Neala. Stifled by his left hand, her howl was hampered.
“As opposed to screaming, why don’t you say this? ‘For giving my boyfriend a means to meet God, thank you, Orello.’ You won’t repeat those words, will you? Even though you won’t praise the gift that my knife gave your man, I am going to give you the same prize. But, first, speak your last words, say them.”
“What will you do with our d–d-daughter and s-s-son? Don’t deny Sandy and Justice a relationship with their mother. Leave before the police arrive. I won’t tell them that you stabbed Rod. Orello, besides thinking about our babies, I am concerned about your other children from your first marriage. Consider Arnette and Jordan before you do another thing right now.”
“Arnette and Jordan are adults now. They hate you. Praise for killing you, not criticism, is what I will get from them. Frankly, as for our kids, being six and seven, they won’t remember you after a while.”
“Imagine our kids’ lives with you in prison then put the knife down.”
“You’re merely another wallet-sucking parasite.”
“Your cynicism will prevent you from hearing this, how-however, I did love you. I profited from your love, never the money. Baby, even after the abuse started, I thought my heart could love you so much that your evil would weaken and go away. No matter how much love I gave, you still found reasons to beat me. Honestly, if I didn’t divorce you, Orello, I would have killed you. Much as I desired your death, I didn’t try to kill you. Two things prevented me from murdering you: our children and my hope that our relationship would become something beautiful. Please, Big O, don’t kill any chance for our reconciliation.”
Believe it or not, Neala was expressing some truth, despite what Orello thought. For a corn-fed 19-year-old Indiana girl, armed with dreams of being a model, L.A. was like paradise. So, between waiting tables and auditioning, Neala thought success was a tip away. Some fifteen years ago, at The Datura Club, when she met Orello, her whole spirit knew they were going to be media town’s hottest twosome. And, yes, around the beginning of the relationship, she did love him.
Years later, she saw that love get tackled until it hurt.
A single portion of the plea was false as a faked orgasm and that was the part about any future reconciliation. Neala would have sooner French kissed Charles Manson than date or remarry Orello again.
A combination of cocaine, steroids, CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and genetics prevented Orello from comprehending Neala’s statement. Exceeding all else, the weapon in his hand was able to communicate Orello’s response. Quicker than his mind’s ability to realize what he was doing, Orello’s arm swung as if it were a scythe mowing grass. Known for its sharpness, the metal went straight through the victim’s neck. There was no way of concealing the sanguinary act, Orello realized. Blood shot out and stretched to greet his clothes. The knife was the bartender and it was serving blood. Unsinewed as a dishrag, Neala fell and a plasma pool widened around her outstretched body.
Soon, though, once the satisfaction of killing his ex-wife dissipated, elation died. Not much later, it became dread and nausea. Fear’s cold hand grabbed the killer’s spinal column.
Leopard-legged and madness-motivated, Orello ran into the darkness. Among his goals, not getting caught for his monstrous act was paramount. Through side streets, the murderer made his way to his new home. About half a mile separated him from his desired sanctuary. Midway to his destination, Orello reminisced about being the first NFL player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season. Considering that he was now much older and his stamina had changed since the mark he set during the 1973 season, the former running back was pleased with the amount of strength his legs still possessed.
Orello entered his residence which looked like a place that Elvis would have enjoyed calling home. Although it was large enough to accommodate two jumbo jets, Orello preferred his former home. Expensive divorce proceedings made him lose the other house to Neala.
Disrobing in the dark and thinking about all that took place, the murderer scrutinized his actions. Garments and the weapon went into a plastic bag. The evidence was going to be put in a place as unattainable as Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa and D.B. Cooper. Sneaker prints on the carpet were vacuumed away. Inspired by a childhood spent watching Basil Rathbone on television, Orello mused that he could stump Sherlock Holmes.
Later, in his bedroom, numerous glasses of screwdrivers with a little juice could not remove Orlello’s conscience. Emotion-sedating pills, the kind that could make an elephant sleep, were also unable to remove the disturbing murder from his dreams.
“Yes, I killed my wife! Yes, I killed my wife!” Orello cried out. Remorse was a touchdown vulture that stole his demeanor.
“From the first news report, I knew you stabbed that woman. Unfortunately, by a jury of your so-called peers, you were deemed innocent of that charge. Double Jeopardy prevents the judicial system from putting you in a court for that case ever again. This time, however, the State of Nevada will make these unrelated kidnapping and robbery charges kick your prick into the penal system for a long, long bid.”
Orello did not know who spoke to him. He opened his eyes and found out he was not in his home at all, but he was in a 6 by 8 grey prison cell, wearing blue inmate garb. The voice belonged to a Corrections Officer in a green uniform. A middle-aged, tall, muscular white male with short auburn hair was standing outside of the prison door. He was in front of the bars looking at Orello. There, on his cot, Orello realized what transpired.
“Whoa, I was having a real serious nightmare, man. Check it out, um, what I was yelling wasn’t true. I had nothing, nothing to do with Neala’s, you know, you know, murder.”
“Bad dreams aren’t all you have to worry about today, football hero. Your court case is being called again. Make sure you wash yourself well because the jury is going to screw you.” The guard walked away from Orello’s cell. A blitz of laughter struck the walls and bars of the building. Inspired by the officer expressing his appreciation for his own humor, co-workers and other inmates stormed with their chuckles. From afar, Orello could still hear the guard speaking. “Try to understand this, sports star, pretend today’s New Year’s Eve and you’re the only available toilet in Times Square. Justice is going to piss on you. Court TV will let everyone see you get wet. Disappointingly for all the abused women out there, you’re not going to get a lethal injection, or what I call the ‘Juice.’”
Denied comfort, a need to satirize another inmate’s sorrow was on par with escaping. Humor was a tunnel to a freer place. Everyone in that section of the prison enjoyed lampooning the once venerated football player. By laughing at Orello, these criminals and officers felt better about their parts in the melodrama.
Disorientation was exiting with its fog in tow. Memories of situations that brought Orello back into the judicial double arm bar pin maneuver were appearing. The criminal remembered that after fifteen years of freedom, he made a life-defeating mistake. In a Las Vegas’ Auction House, with a gun in his hand, Orello confronted men who allegedly stole some of his valuable possessions. Since he stopped the auction in an illegal manner, Orello was arrested. That June, he was charged with a load of felonies.
Imprisoned by the realization that his somniloquy confessed to a form of unlawfulness while facing another form, Orello sat up on his cot. Right then, his desire for cocaine made him imagine the taste of the white powder on his tongue.
That guard returned to the cell. For a while there Orello thought he was hallucinating, because it looked like Neala exited the Correctional Officer’s body the way steam would from soup. Previous to disappearing, the apparition, dressed in a miniskirt-short ivory-colored tunic, turned, smiled and laughed. It was the type of laughter that people would associate with villains. Hearing the manic cackle gave Orello the feeling icy stalactites were forming on his spine.
Entering that courtroom with an infamous murder case in his past did not make the accused criminal look nicer. There was a full meal of reasons to hate Orello Johnson. Each person in that room chewed on some reason or another. Nervous about the setting, the defendant fidgeted.
Compounded with all the legalities Orello had to battle, there was Neala’s ubiquitous being standing next to the jury box. Later, she was standing beside Judge Janis Copper. Other times Neala stood a foot away from the bailiff. No matter where the ghost stood, she laughed throughout the long trial.
“Can you hear and see her?” Orello whispered the query to Criminal Defense Attorney Harvard Moldova.
“Who?” The middle-aged white lawyer in the pinstriped suit replied. Indeed, Harvard did not know to whom Orello was referring. In addition, he wished for another client.
“Neala is standing over there and over there at the same time. Look over there to the right and left of the judge before Neala changes her position again,” Orello whispered.
“Are you trying to get an insanity plea?” Harvard asked. Nervously awaiting an answer, the brown-haired lawyer stared at a client who made him feel hatred.
“Insane, no, I am not insane. I was just saying that some of the women here look like Neala.” A plea bargain for Orello to stay in an asylum would separate him from his children and his assets. His plans would be tackled. Sure, seven hundred fifty milligrams of Depakote and about four hundred milligrams of Theophylline would make the prison bid bearable, but deadening his senses would prevent Orello from getting the ultimate touchdown–freedom.
“Members of the jury, have you reached a verdict?”
Nervous about the setting, Orello continued tapping his brown slippers and biting the cuticle of his thumb. He wanted supernatural strength so he could race to a time before meeting his wife. If time travel were possible, Orello thought, he would jettison back to a time when he was loved by the American media.
“Yes, your honor, we have.” Harder than an assassin’s demeanor was the expression on the young, pale woman as she spoke, “Guilty, your honor.” Neala exited the woman’s flesh triumphantly.
His countenance became melted chocolate. All the flesh on his face dangled in a mass of sadness. Muscles that once maintained his structure buckled. Orello collapsed. His body and existence met the floor.
“Now, you’re gonna rot,” Frank, the father of Rod Silverman, screamed.
Age and despondency tormented the Silvermans. Every day the two conditions stabbed another part of them. Frank’s green eyes appeared murkier and sadder since the murder trials. His square jaw, which once gave him an appearance of a strong leading man, now hung as if the floor beckoned it. Over the course of the trial, his dark and full collar-length hair became grey. In his case, it was not the natural aging process. The loss of his son siphoned all vivaciousness from his being. Frank, in his sixties, could have passed for a man ten to fifteen years older.
Another victim of this siphoning process was Rod’s mother, Cheryl. Called the Elizabeth Taylor of the Hamptons, Cheryl’s beauty was admired for many years. Losing her son and finding alcohol turned her cinematic sultriness into a network of decrepit wretchedness. Wrinkles, warts and a disposition that would befit Edward Albee’s Martha replaced the woman Frank married. Undeterred by their divorce after the murder of their son, they attended all of Orello’s trials together.
Right alongside the Silverman family was Neala’s older sister, Daphne Ensler. Both were stairstep children, a mere year separated them. There, at age forty-eight, the auburn-haired buxom woman would sell her eyes and arms to get her sister back. Loss was an exclusive concern for the senior sibling, especially now since the murder of a family member and the death of her parents, Lars and Janet. On the day Orello stabbed Neala, he ran the blade through that farm couple. A little less than two years passed and both the mother and father died of heart attacks. Daphne’s heart was dedicated to her son, twenty-year-old Christopher, her husband, Jack, the contractor, and her career as a writer. Daphne’s books on domestic violence were acclaimed.
United, the Silverman family and Daphne Ensler stood in clothes befitting a funeral—Orello’s funeral.
Turning towards Frank, Orello saw the ghost of Rod Silverman appear, wearing the same type of tunic that Neala had, but his covered both knees. The ghost wore the expression of an individual who wanted to slaughter his slayer. If Orello were beef, Rod would have served the slices to sewer rats.
Even scarier than Rod’s expression was the presence of a brown-haired angelic woman with white wings and a yellow robe. None of the other apparitions scared him as much as the presence of this ethereal female. Maybe she was the devil, Orello thought. Yet, unlike any other known description of the fallen angel, she was not what the ex-football player expected. Materializing when she wanted, the creature was instructing Neala. Towering above everyone in the courtroom, she glared at Orello. Perhaps she was awaiting her moment to kill, the ex-football player concluded.
Orello returned to inmates and corrections officers tormenting him with words that felt like a bump and run. Such discomfort that was created by critical quips was not quite as painful as the visions of Neala, though. Without a logical schedule, the slain woman often appeared in Orello’s cell and laughed. Sometimes she was accompanied by Rod and that winged figure. Under those aforesaid circumstances, Orello awaited his next court appearance in two months.
Had Orello known how strange it sounded to others outside of his cell, he would not have yelled at his ex-wife. Testimonials from convicts and corrections officers agreed on this observation: Orello argued with a woman who was unseen and unheard.
In particular, there was this outburst from Orello that an inmate remembered. An unnamed eavesdropper said Orello bellowed the following: “Neala, Neala, appearing just to disappear won’t help you win this game. Stay so I can explain things to you or hide like a scared girl. Either way, I am going to win. I am Orello Johnson. Don’t you understand that in 1966, when your little ass attended grade school, I rushed for 1,709 yards, got me 22 touchdowns and earned the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award, and the Walter Camp Award all during that same year? Hell, in the Rose Bowl, just three years later, I ran 171 yards. Plus, I got an 80-yard TD run. What’s a pale as bird poop phantom gonna do to this brother, huh?
“I played the pig on the gridiron. America cheered me. America revered me. The reverence was a treasure in my bank. My name became success. My persona became a multimillion dollar advertisement. Back when America transmitted racism through rabbit ears, I was on TV. In people’s homes, I was selling waste and they guzzled it like they liked it. Spread out on the big scene movie screen, I was a buffoon with the stadium-wide smile and audiences wanted more helpings of my trash.
“Soon I am going to play a role that’s better than being in a franchise. This role is going to give me the Oscar for bedding that Lady Justice Broad.”
“Next to ants, you’re a giant. Next to an ethical man, you’re dirt,” Neala stated before her figure materialized.
“What’s a ghost gonna do to this brick house, huh?”
“Yo, Orello, shut your hole or I’ll show ya who’s goin’ to knock your brick house down. Ya sound like you’re crazy talkin’ to yourself,” an unseen inmate yelled from another cell.
Not a soul but Orello could hear Neala speak. Realizing that his responses were what the inmates overheard, Orello imagined cement drying on his lips.
Left with nothing else to do after Neala disappeared, Orello tried to sleep, but even that provided torment. Since his incarceration for his wife’s murder, Orello had nightmares about castration, not just anybody’s castration—his castration. Nighttime hours, rather fittingly it seemed, were now reserved for new horrific scenarios to play in Orello’s mind. The drama that played throughout his nightmare showed Orello tied to a bed and all the women he abused cheered as Lorena Bobbitt and Neala cut off his genitalia with knives. Every night there was this sensation of metal slicing him.
Besides the vision of the mutilating duo, there was another sorority that prevented comfortable sleep. His need to nod was interrupted by seeing Velma Barfield putting a toxic chemical in his meals. A lot of dreams were spent being chased by ax-swinging Karla Faye Tucker. Sweat formed all over Orello after watching Betty Lou Beets and Aileen Wuornos shoot at him. Sleep was a murderess. Nauseated, nervous and pained, Orello rarely got more than three hours of sleep per day.
“The judge is getting ready for the game, Mr. Sports Hero.” Those words were the alarm clock and calendar that alerted Orello to the date and time of his court case. It was two months to the day since his last judicial ordeal.
Orello saw himself as the team captain standing in front of a blackboard, drawing diagrams and preparing to defeat the other team. Further contemplation on the subject of his pending court case made Orello come up with what he believed was a good game plan. He envisioned himself mesmerizing the judge. Based on all accounts, Orello was effective in getting field goals on females. Even going back to his youth, the opposite sex wanted the athletic male. Success increased the man’s appeal. Orello figured by letting his charm run with the ball, the female judge would personally lead him to the parking lot. During Orello’s shower and dressing ritual, the idea became erotic.
“Is there anything that your client would like to say before sentencing?” The forty-something-year-old judge asked. Her approach to the case was much like the ponytail holding her black hair—severe.
“Your honor, my client would like to make a statement.” Earlier Orello told his lawyer that he had some words to impart.
“You may proceed, Mr. Johnson.” Only Orello could hear Neala’s cackle.
“Ma’am, I’m a simple former athlete. There’s no law degree hanging on my wall at home. Ignorance is the reason why I decided to do an unlawful thing. Someone told me about an auction that was going to take place. Also, I heard that my stuff, stuff that was stolen from my home was going to be sold. Sure, now after learning about the law a little, I understand that I shouldn’t have gotten a gun to get my things. Nor should I have held the thieves against their will at the auction house. Emotions, such as anger and hate, inspired a reaction before I could think about the best action.” Midway to the end of his monologue, Orello thought he made the judge wet.
“Your honor, let me say this, I am sorry about my unlawful act. Certainly, you can understand that I was trying to regain my own possessions from some thieves. My approach, though a little too hardcore, was well-intentioned. Whether some would call me a criminal or a hero, all I wanted was my own stuff back.” Convinced that his monologue was working, Orello started to plan a release party, complete with strippers, hookers, celebrities, booze and drugs.
“This state was always my favorite. A lot of my football fans live right here in Nevada, and I have always been good to my fans. Nothing would ever make me do anything against this area.”
“Mr. Johnson, you have two minutes before sentencing.”
“O.K, try to get into my motivations and you’ll understand why I handled the situation the way I did. Thank you for allowing me to speak in this honorable courtroom.”
Talking got Orello out of myriad personal dilemmas in the past. As a result, he was convinced that his voice made eggs sizzle. Unless the judge was a blind and deaf lesbian, her body should be lava, Orello thought.
“Thank you again, your honor.”
“You are welcome. I hereby sentence you to thirty-four years.”
Nine years before the possibility of parole became a mantra in Orello’s head. Over again the sentence echoed. He had to serve all those years in state prison before being eligible for parole. The judge might as well have shot Orello. There was, of course, the possibility of an appeal. No matter the legal option, the process of fighting the judge’s decision would take something that Orello did not have—patience.
There, as per usual, Frank Silverman was in the audience taunting Orello with condemnation. Orello’s acquittal for the murder of Neala Desdemona Johnson and Rod Silverman was a dagger in Frank’s heart. Granted, the Civil Court passed a judgment against the former athlete for two wrongful deaths, but it could not make the Silverman’s pain of losing a son stop. $66.6 million dollars that the parents were supposed to receive
did not alleviate the lamentation either. Consistent excuses as to why the complete amount could not be paid pushed the blade further into Frank’s psyche.
Ritualistically, beside Frank, Cheryl and Daphne stood.
It was the civil case that forced Orello into questionable business choices. He made a porno film, wrote a book about his wife’s murder and did personal appearances, etc. The celebrity could not let people sack his fortune. So, desperation became his defensive line.
“The Devil is going to bake your hide,” The Silverman patriarch cried out.
Consistently absent, Orello’s four children saw no reason to attend any of the court proceedings. As far as they were concerned, after Orello was arrested, he died.
Anna Simpson, dissimilar to her children, watched all of Orello’s courtroom problems on TV. Wearing a red floral Muumuu, red processed hair in rollers, surrounded by cherry soda cans, barbeque potato chips and a remote control, her pudgy physique was
orgasmic while watching the defeat of her abusive ex-husband.
A Hispanic bailiff, who was about the size of a kickboxer, took Orello out of the courtroom. The bewildered criminal turned to Rod’s father and stared. That uncommunicative state was caused by the presence of three afterlife figures. Overhead, unseen by all except Orello, Neala, alongside some befeathered female and Rod, cheered repeatedly.
Once the case concluded and the lawyer told Orello they could appeal the decision, the cell seemed even smaller. Handicapping this jurisprudential game, Orello knew that no appeal would overturn his predicament.
Later that evening, psychotropic drugs were administered to help alleviate the sensation of cleats and knives piercing Orello’s brain and lower extremities. The pills were prescribed because it was deemed that he was suicidal.
Somewhere around twelve thirty A.M., his ex-wife returned. The abusive spouse knew that the woman who bore his child would trek his way once more. Orello wanted Neala to haunt him.
“Now I guess my sentence will be spent being haunted by you.”
“Why would I share another portion of my immortal life providing a source of escape from your loneliness? No, you’re going to detox from your favorite stimulant—attention. Get ready for withdrawals from the warm love of women, football fans and your children.”
“Please allow your spirit to forgive. Please give me that.”
“You’re right. I should give you certain things. Here’s the first thing I will give: information. Recent reports have proven that a woman is beaten every nine seconds. That calculation inspired me to give you a gift. Right at the point some malevolent man hurts a woman, you will feel the blows upon your body. Punches and slaps some unknown woman endures will affect your flesh. Why should women suffer unaccompanied by your presence? Aside from being suicidal, you will experience discomfort a prison doctor will believe is psychosomatic.”
“Your gene pool was as worthless as pigeon crap on a porch. Until I came into your soon-to-be-on-food-stamps life, you were a liability. How could you have such powers?”
“Try to work past your stupidity and listen. That night you stabbed the life out of me, I saw a Goddess.”
“Did you get high before coming here?” A titter accompanied the question.
“She called herself Nemesis. This Goddess and her minions hunt men like you.”
“What kind of weirdo name is Nem-ee-sis?”
Annoyed with the process of answering Orello, Neala’s eyebrows illustrated her anger before she continued speaking. “My wounded form, which you created, angered her. She said, ‘Get up, Gaelic girl. Your parents dubbed you a champion and a champion you will be.’ For my promise to become a fighter on the side of her legion, I was given abilities.
“Far from this dimension, in a stratospheric area reminiscent of ancient Greece, fifteen of my postmortal years were spent training. Taught by Nemesis and other ancient mystics, I learned about bilocation, dematerialization, levitation, metempsychosis, mesmerism, psychokinesis, radiesthesia, telepathy and a lot more. Thankfully, this ghost of an abused woman was given powers by those omnipotent sources. I was using those powers to get you in this prison.”
Binocular-eyed and confused, Orello stood and listened. Neala’s words were unexplored constellations. Lost in her utterances, Orello could not believe how much his
former wife had transformed. Besides the powers the creature gave her, Neala’s IQ increased. His former simple country girl morphed into some kind of Mensa member.
“Above all, being vengeful was not a simple lesson. My folks taught their belief in forgiveness. Unlearning that concept was the hardest.
“Rod wanted justice to come down on you with the force of a mudslide.
Repeated pleas on my part gave me the right to administer your sentence. Albeit simple, my first attempt at attacking you was by storing a meaty suggestion in your mind. Over and over, I repeated these words: ‘Take your gun and get what someone got from you.’ Easier than waving flesh in front of a piranha, you enjoyed the bait.”
“Ah, Orello, your anguish is the best dish for me.”
Coinciding with the final vowel, she disappeared in a way that would perplex Houdini. In her place appeared Rod Silverman and the other outer worldly lady.
Frustrated with the amount of time Neala used for her revenge, Rod’s interest was his family. Rod was also exasperated by Nemesis and her associates. He was mystified by these beings, living in levitating jewel-encrusted Grecian buildings. From their ancient ceremonial clothing to their arcane rituals that were on par with witchcraft, Rod disliked their oddness.
Instead of yelling at Orello, Rod wanted to punch him and watch his frame become bloody pieces of dismembered flesh. Almost Herculean impulse inhibitors suppressed Rod’s vengefulness. Incapable of expressing his rage, he let Nemesis speak.
“Orello, certain people say I am a demon and others call me a saviour. Neither description matters,” Nemesis stated in a synthesized and genderless voice. “What concerns my existence is seeing parasites like you suffer. All of my ethereal resources are dedicated to a single goal—the destruction of brutish beings. View your torment as you would a tragic play. Moreover, know that Neala and I will enjoy your every upcoming scene.”
Before Orello could respond, the figures disappeared. Defeated, he tried to understand his fate.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Orello yelled while feeling invisible fists pummel him. Doubling over as a result of the attacks, he felt bruises form. Again, being consistent with Neala’s plan, the protuberances were imperceptible to everyone else. “I’m sorry,” Orello screamed once more.
“Yeah, you’re sorry for being such a sorry has-been.” Approximating the style of a stand-up comedian, the guard paused for an audience reaction. Bolstered by the sound of inmates laughing at his put-down, the correction officer continued his critical jokes about Orello. “Don’t be sad, Superstar. You’ll have your football memories to enjoy tonight. The guard quipped outside of Orello’s cell. Laughter that was coming from all sides of the isolation ward became louder than the 1812 Overture. The guffawing made the sobs Orello emitted inaudible in the Lacrimae Rerum Criminal Compound in Nevada.
A prison that was normally known for misery was pleased about accommodating its newest inmate.
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They got on separately, at different stops. The first snuffed a cigarette on a lamp post and entered wordlessly while flashing a monthly pass to the driver. He was a bit past middle-aged and wore it more obviously than most. He dressed himself as an icon of a bygone age; torn and dusty and almost entirely in blue denim; jean jacket covered in iron-on biker patches. Beneath it all was a graphic tee, detailing the rules for dating his teenage daughter.
The second man wore a conservative grey suit; also middle-aged, but a lot better looking for it. He sat down a seat behind Blue Denim. A couple stops passed by in silence until the Businessman tapped Blue Denim on his shoulder, and then, flashing a broad smile, pointed to one of his patches.
Blue Denim grinned and nodded. “Went there last summer, man. Time of my life.”
“Me and the family went just a couple weeks ago.”
“It’s a helluva place.”
They shared one last smile, like old friends remembering that time in that placeyears ago. Then, Blue Denim got off at his stop and it was only me and the Businessman.
I’ve seen young men with missing teeth playing music on their phone, unaware or in spite of headphones. I’ve seen fare arguments with screaming, cracked-out mothers-to-be. I’ve seen welfare parents off to interview at fast food jobs they couldn’t get. But, the conversation between Blue Denim and the Businessman was a different sort of interaction. Everything else on the bus was a desperate transaction. But their conversation was easy. It was intimate, soaked with the warmth of recognition. A few stops later and I was still replaying it in my mind.
Meanwhile, the businessman sat, swaying with the bus’ stops and starts while I was searching his back for something. I silently rehearsed my words and once I gathered the courage, I asked aloud the nagging question: “What’s Maritimus?”
The Businessman turned and smiled– a garish plastic thing that came with the ring of a cash register. He looked pleased to see I was eavesdropping. “It’s a little resort town on the coast,” he said. “You have kids?”
“I have a daughter.”
“Just turned sixteen.”
He adjusted his belt and gave me a flash of his realtor’s smile. “She’ll love it. Great place to just, you know, unwind.”
He said it as if he was indulging in an obvious innuendo. His smile flashed again with conspiratorial panache, and I found myself longing to know what knowledge was buried behind those bared teeth.
He turned back around to stare out the window and in another stop he was gone, briefcase in hand strutting importantly into a grey compound under siege by shiny new cars. His words tumbled about in my ears. Five stops later, I was surrounded by treeless lawns and cracked sidewalks. Houses painted ugly shades of yellow flanked my own, painted an ugly shade of pink. It was cracking like lizard skin in the summer sun. A part of me hoped it would all just fall off in flakes and save me the trouble. I walked up the dead grass of my sloping lawn and opened the door.
Kayla was already home and on the couch, a blanket covering her legs, her eyes glued to the flat, smooth glass of her smartphone. She greeted me without as little as a look.
I closed the door and began the steps to our usual dance. “How was school?”
“Diddly-dank,” she said, rolling her eyes.
I closed the door and slung my bag on the chair. “I’m not stupid, Kayla. I know no one says that.”
She rolled her eyes and said, “I say it.” She then tossed her phone to the side and stretched her arms out. “What’s for dinner?”
“I don’t know, doll. We have chicken defrosted, so probably some sort of chicken.”
Kayla went to the kitchen to look at her options and I sat down. She brought me a beer, and I thanked her. She asked me if she could have one too. I told her no, and our after-school ritual survived another day.
I thought of the bus.
Blue Denim and the Businessman ran through my mind as the bitter lit my tongue. Kayla had resigned herself to chicken and was improvising a marinade. I swished the beer around my mouth, letting the bubbles invade and pop in every toothsome crevice.
I hadn’t realized how tired I was. The walls of our home, modest to be sure, seemed to inch closer together every day. Maybe the talk of resorts wormed its way through my sense of space. I suddenly had the tangible feeling that I was missing something. As Kayla was in the kitchen, digging for ingredients, potatoes for a side, the thought grew, ballooning until it started to carry weight; a slab of concrete on my shoulders, pressing me down into the couch cushions, souring my beer… Minutes passed and it was like being stoned, I tried to chuckle quietly at my own anxiety, but levity did nothing. I had to expel it. I had to vomit it out, like a poison. I chewed on the words, till they were practically mush. Finally, I acquiesced and called to the kitchen with fateful words: “What do you think about going on a vacation?”
Kayla looked up, cocking a head out of the refrigerator and asked, “What were you thinking?”
“Some guys on the bus were talking about a place on the coast. Maritimus.”
Kayla raised a single, mocking eyebrow. “Seriously? Maritimus?”
“You’ve heard of it?”
“Jesus, Dad, like every girl at my school is rocking a Maritimus hoodie with a seal or some bullshit on it.”
“Don’t you wanna ‘rock’ one too?”
“Dad, please. Maritimus is for kids and old people.”
“I just thought it sounded fun. Good place to unwind or something. Sound of the ocean. All that jazz.”
“Its a tourist trap, dad.”
“Maybe,” I admitted. “Probably, actually. But it could be a fun one.”
Kayla dropped the chicken into a plastic bag filled with a myriad of seasonings and worcestershire sauce. She said, “Whatever,” but it was as good as ‘yes.’
That night I lay awake in my bed. My sheets were chilled and the night was still. I was tired, but I lay awake. I thought of the ocean air. Seashells. Sand. Rocky cliffs that stood noble and proud; jagged gargoyles to keep the ocean at bay. Helluva place.
I felt myself growing hard. I reached down to my thick shaft and started rubbing it up and down, at first weakly, and then faster, and then faster and harder still. At the end it didn’t even feel like flesh.
It was a mere two weeks before we departed. Summer break came. Vacation days were marked on the calendar.
Kayla rolled her eyes, as she was apt to do, and I understood it. Maritimus wasn’t quite cool. But, she was sitting beside me. Content to leave for the coast, to indulge in ol’ Dad’s fantasy vacation as long as her eyes were allowed to roll back and forth at will. It was a small concession.
I let her drive til we got to Portland and then I switched for the last hour. Windmills passed us faster than traffic. Grey and pregnant clouds stretched out across the sky as far as we could see. There was nothing dreary about them. The wind blew the scent of rain yet to fall.
A rustic sign of carved wood appeared on the horizon. Mountains and waterfalls and a spare elk framed Maritimus, OR, carved deeper than the rest. I rolled down the window and smelled salty air. Kayla stirred and looked up.
“Oh look. They have an iHop,” she said, pointing to a sign filled with restaurant logos.
“They also have shopping, and the ocean, and crafts, and I’m sure a lot of other stuff.”
“Tons of stuff.”
“You’re a peach, doll. Shut up and have fun.” I couldn’t help but smile when I said it. She looked like me then: looking out the windows, picking apart the seams of Maritimus, searching for disappointment.
But the air. It was sweet and salty, and suffocated my own cynicism. “Listen,” I said. “Do you hear that?”
Just over the car engine, the cutting call of peace. The ocean washing over sand, slowly eroding jagged rocks into smooth pebbles, seagulls honking for food.
Kay looked over at me and smirked, and then put her hand through my hair and tousled it, “You’re a cute kid, Dad.”
The hotel was quaint by design. It looked like an old lodge, with the outside of it covered in what I would assume were fake logs. The lobby was cavernous, with big wooden pillars holding the ceiling. On closer examination, I realized they were carved with various animals; one with a bear, another a seal, and another had a scene of salmon jumping from a stream. Another was of a native woman, eyes closed and arms crossed over her chest, a subtle smile spread across her lips.
The lady at the front desk was exuberantly friendly. So much so that on her second “You guys are going to have so much fun!,” Kayla gave me her you-have-to-be-fucking-kidding-me eyes.
The room had the same Trapper’s Lodge aesthetic as the rest of the hotel. Kayla jumped on one of the two beds. I was pleased to see she was impressed for once. “This place is huge,” she said.
“It’s nice, right?”
I took that as confirmation and looked at the tourism pamphlets spread out on the night stand. “What do you wanna do first?”
She looked up at me and shrugged, “I don’t know, Dad. You’re the Maritimus expert. This is your deal.”
It was almost lunchtime, and the sun was high in the sky. The air was crisp and cool. “How about we walk down to the coast and find some place to eat?”
Kayla agreed, holding her stomach and making exaggerated claims of hunger. She freshened up and we went back downstairs, the lady at the front desk smiling broadly, giving us double thumbs up as we left out the doors.
You could hear the coast wherever you were in Maritimus. It was as omnipresent as air. You could follow it, an audible compass to due west. We saw couples holding hands, splashing their feet and running away back up the wet sand. Kayla was braver than I, dipping a sandaled toe into the ocean. She withdrew it quickly and shivered, “Shit, that’s cold.”
We heard cackling, loud and mirthful. At first I felt a pang of shame, but it dissipated as I saw they weren’t laughing at us. They appeared to be locals, seven women, of varying ages laughing to themselves at a private joke. Their clothes looked like a lighter shade of burlap. Their spot on the beach was covered in straw. One of them, a brunette about twenty years older than me, turned her head slightly and acknowledged our presence. Kayla watched them curiously as I turned the other direction.
“Let’s go get some food,” I said.
She turned after a moment, as if we hadn’t seen anyone, “Not seafood.”
“Fine. You still like burgers?”
Kayla nodded and followed along behind me, up the beach to a series of businesses that looked like seaside cottages. Gauche fish seemed to be jumping over every decal. A diner called Maritimus Maximus looked to be our best option, built around a dissonant Roman gladiator theme that also incorporated marine imagery, perhaps even more dissonantly.
“What the fuck is this place?” Kayla asked.
“Watch your language,” I whispered, “We’re in public.”
She rolled her eyes, not bothering to correct them when a waitress only a couple years older than her popped into sight.
“How are y’all doing today?” She exclaimed it almost as a declarative, like the answer was a foregone conclusion of ecstasy. She turned to Kayla and hunched over a little, who was the same height as her and said, “You spending the day with your Daddy, girlie?”
Kayla looked at me from the corner of her eyes, it was a look of panic. “Uh, yeah,” she said.
“There’s a lot of things to do in Maritimus,” she said sweetly, “But nothing’s better than hanging with your Daddy!” She then gave me a knowing wink and sat us to a table booth overlooking the beach. Kayla mouthed ‘what the fuck’ to me as soon as she left us our menus.
“Well, it looks like they have burgers.”
Kayla shook her head and giggled. I started to laugh because she looked the same as when she was an infant and I’m sure our waitress’ heart warmed, watching father and daughter have a grand time.
We both ordered burgers with tacky Roman names, each with the suffix -us and they came out quick enough that we barely had time to make conversation.
In between mouthfuls of beef, grease dripping down her chin, she asked, “Who were those women?”
“No idea,” I answered, “Probably just locals hanging out.”
“I figured locals would be bored with the shore.”
“Probably just a club or a church group or something. Why stay inside when you have the beach so close, you know?”
The waitress picked up our plates. “I hope everything was super great!”
We told her it was and I paid the bill while Kayla texted.
“Anything catch your eye?”
“I saw a row of shops and stuff on the way down to the beach, maybe tool around there,” she said casually.
“Sounds good,” I agreed, and I let her lead the way.
It was a sort-of pseudo boardwalk. The ground was planked with white wood that served as a pedestrian walkway as big as the average street, with signs warning vehicles that it was not an actual road. I stood off to the side, picking benches to sit on as Kayla wandered from gift shop to clothing shop to milk-sugar-coffee shop. I wandered into a shop called Maritimus Mercantile. A lone shopkeeper, a chipper young man with a bright face greeted me excitedly.
It was half-museum and half-tourist shop he said, self effacingly. But the deprecation was surface level. His excitement betrayed no sense of shame. There were displays of pieces of wood, ships that sailed a long time ago, when Maritimus was a port on the way to Canada and beyond, a strategic fuel stop that faded into a resort town as ships became more advanced as well as anachronistic. A tribal headdress was on the wall, displayed like the head of a hunter’s kill. Maritimus boasted kind and progressive treatment of the native population back when such tolerance wasn’t in vogue. White settlers and natives exchanged culture and assimilated evenly and quickly. These facts were presented typed and printed, framed by red construction paper under an ancient photograph of men, women, and children, both native and settlers, smiling together arm-in-arm.
“We have a very rich history,” said the young man behind my back.
“Yeah,” I said. “Looks like it.”
I heard the door chime ring a set of ascending notes and turned to see Kayla with an iced coffee in hand.
“Whatcha looking at?” She asked.
“Oh, you know. Just checking out the local history.”
She nudged me in the side and she said, “Guess who I saw?”
“Those ladies in the weird brown dresses. They were walking around and I said ‘hi.’”
“They’re part of some sort of local committee, apparently we hit Maritimus during festival season.”
“What kind of festival?”
“C’mon, Dad. I thought you were reading up on the local history? We’re celebrating the day the town was established.”
She shrugged, as if not wanting to come off as too excited, “Well, yeah, a little. They invited me to go along with them and check out the town.”
“Yeah,” she said, circling to the point, “Can I go?”
I thought a moment. I said, “Sure,” but I wasn’t sure I meant it. I turned to the shopkeeper, who was adjusting a painting of Maritimus of olde, and asked, “What’s the story with the festival?”
He beamed at the question. “It’s a celebration. Of community and persistence, along with everything that makes Maritimus, well, Maritimus!”
“Do you know the women who are involved in the planning?”
He cocked his head robotically, “Oh? You mean Becky, Sue, Rachel, Erin, Gertrude, Olivia, and Willow? Yes, of course! Wonderful women, all of them. Very knowledgable of the area. All of them have keys to the city, well, practically. They are the folks that keep Maritimus as a place families can be themselves and relax! Bearers of the old ways, I’d say!”He laughed aloud at his rhyme.
“Alright,” I said to Kayla, “Just meet me at the hotel for dinner.”
Kayla agreed and gave me a peck on the cheek. Soon I was left alone with the sun, the sea, and the feverish keeper of the gift shop.
Maritimus was a good place to unwind, I decided. I laid on the beach, which was cool, but warm enough with the sun I didn’t mind. I read a book and breathed in the air. Down the sand, I saw other tourists, similarly complacent and relaxed. Another father, a little older than me, held his daughter in one arm, and his wife in the other. They laughed together as they watched a crab scuttle past.
I rolled over and closed my eyes, listening for the sound of rolling eternity. The laughing was too loud though, so I turned back and opened my eyes. The man looked at me and winked, then kissed his wife on the lips, long and hard. And then, without a second thought, turned to his daughter and did the same. All three looked at me and giggled.
I sat up, unnerved. Curious and sick. But they didn’t come to greet me. They turned away and continued to laugh, heading back to the center of town. I tried to push it out of my mind and watch the ocean lapping like a hungry tongue at the sand.
And then out of nowhere came a voice. “You enjoying Maritimus so far?”
I jumped, startled, then turned to see an old man in a white shirt and straw fedora standing behind me. He smiled broadly and offered a hand to shake. “Yes,” I said, “I am.”
He had a short white beard and shiny white teeth. When I took his hand, I also realized he was wearing white cotton shorts.
“My name is Emmett Grover– I’m the mayor.”
“No other,” he said with a grin. “I like to check in personally on our guest’s good time.”
His face stared back at me expectantly, daring me to be unsettled, to be anything but relaxed and happy. “I’m having a great time,” I said.
“Just wait for the festival,” he whispered conspiratorially, “It only gets better. I like to think of Maritimus as the ultimate resort town. And you know what makes it special?” He opened his arms, as if the town behind him was his to display, “Authenticity. Locals and tourists understand Maritimus intrinsically, because it is real. There’s no fakery, no plastic tourism. It’s a real town. A place like this, a place where a man can unwind, is good for the soul, you know? It helps you shed layers. Here, on the beach, with the sand, and the water, you become the real you.”
“You don’t need to sell me.”
“Ha! Ha! Of course not, dear sir! Of course not! You enjoy your time in Maritimus, and let us know if we can help you with anything.”
And with that, he ran off, hooting and hollering up the beach, like an excited child.
Through a mouthful of marbles, Kayla gargled up the words, “Now, Dad, don’t be mad.”
I was going to say, “Why would I be mad?,” but then she opened her mouth. In the center of her tongue was a diamond stud, shining white under the hotel room’s lamplight. I said, “Holy shit,” instead.
Kayla explained as best she could, around her swollen tongue. “I’ve always wanted one and Becky said carpe diem.”
In the face of my daughter’s tongue piercing, words escaped me. “Dad, stop looking at me like that. It comes right out,” she said as she played with the sharp rock, “But not for another month. It needs to heal.”
Her eyes glistened with tears, but she wasn’t upset. She looked at me like I was a pathetic little kid, or an out of touch old man. Maybe there wasn’t that much of a difference. She told me she loved me and that it’d be okay, rubbing a smooth hand across my face. “It’s Maritimus, Dad. Relax. Let’s just have a good time.”
I had that same numb sick feeling from the beach. It never left. The air just magnified it. The dissonance. Nevertheless, I sat numbly on the bed and accepted her words as truth. She brushed a soft hand across my face, and held my head against her chest, like she could see and feel my unease; softly whispering that everything was okay, that everything was good. That Maritimus would bring us closer together. She turned off the light and took off my shirt, and then took off her own and tucked me into bed. She laid beside me, warm and soft and young. And soon, we were both asleep.
The sun dodged through blinds and carried with it the warm glow of a new day. Kayla was snuggled up in the crook of my arm. She woke up looking at me, with her big eyes and long lashes, an affectionate smile on her lips. I struggled with the intimacy for a moment and then it dissipated when she yawned and everything started to feel normal.
“I slept so good,” she said. Her diamond tongue refracted light, a lighthouses swinging beam on the rocks of a dangerous shore.. I couldn’t help but think, in the early morning light, that it completed her though. Like a natural extension of her personality, a real-life gemstone joined to flesh.
She swayed her hips and yawned once more on the way to the bathroom. I was rock hard. Ready to explode. With her out of sight, I was overwhelmingly tempted to self-pleasure.
I shook my head and closed my eyes, burying my face into the pillow for a little longer, feigning sleep.
“Anything I can help you with, Dad?”
Did I imagine how she said it?
I shifted my head, my erection burying itself into the bedspread, leaking like a pubescent boy. She was standing, fully dressed, a half-smile, possibly a knowing half-smile, on her lips. “Like coffee or something?”
“Sure,” I said. And she was out the door. I followed her footsteps down the hall, lightly tapping out an arcane rhythm. I held the blankets close.
By the time she got back, I was dressed again. I was composed. I was her father and she was my daughter. I made peace with her piercing, and briefly told her to ask me next time she made a big decision. I drank coffee from a paper cup and we wandered out to the lobby. Everything felt like a dream, like it was floating on Maritimus’ salty air. We were light, nearly weightless, and on the horizon, past the ocean on one side, and the mountains on the other, I was sure there was nothing else but where we were right then.
“Look alive, Dad. It’s Maritimus Day!”
And then as soon as we exited the hotel lobby there were the women in burlap: Becky, Sue, Rachel, Erin, Gertrude, Olivia, and Willow. And in the center of them, in white cotton from head to toe was Emmett Grover. His mouth was a wide open ‘o’ of excitement, as if he and the committee had just taken a walk, right up to the doors of our hotel and that running into us was but a happy coincidence.
“Oh dear! Look who it is!”
Kayla waved to the ladies and stuck out her tongue, showing her diamond. One of them, a raven-haired woman of about forty-five beamed and said, “It looks beautiful. What do you think, Dad?”
Without thinking, I said, “It is very becoming.”
The raven-haired woman winked at me and I felt exposed and disgusted.
Emmett Grover’s teeth were as white as the rest of him, they showed when he spoke. “Why don’t you all join us for the rest of the day? A first hand tour of the freedom and family values that runs to the very core of Maritimus.”
“That sounds lovely, Mr. Grover,” Kayla said. I didn’t know how she knew his name.
She grabbed my hand in hers and pulled me along as the group moved down towards the ocean. Grover and the women, who only spoke to correct him on the minutia of the town’s history, led us to the water. Overnight a carnival had been erected, straw had been formed with twine into the shape of men, themselves arranged in a triangle. Each had a phallus made of sticks, denoting their sex. At the high point of the triangle was the sole female figure, twine binding the straw into a curvaceous figure. Between the three points, was a pedestal.
“Authenticity! Honesty! With yourself and your neighbor! Love!” Emmett Grover raved. “That is what Maritimus is about.”
He turned to no one in particular and shouted: “Soon the shackles will be lifted!”
Others were gathering, following the siren song of the carnival. Kayla ran off into the crowd leaving me with little but my thoughts and discomfort.
The crowd was swelling as conversations turned to a wave of indistinguishable static. Emmett Grover was running pell-mell through the crowd, and I could hear his voice piercing above it all. “The transference of power! Our deepest temptations turned to our greatest memories! Maritimus is good! Maritimus is great!” He reminded me of those old movie posters, with giant radioactive cockroaches and a strong-jawed leading man. “Romance! Thrills! The Greatest Spectacle on the Silver Screen!”
From here, things only got stranger.
The beach was packed, the faux-boardwalk was packed. The entire population of the town was gathering for the festival. I was being pushed along to the triangle. Emmett Grover was on the pedestal. The women, Kayla included, were hauling giant sacks of burlap, the same as the women’s dresses. The fabric darkened where the wet soaked through. They dumped a small furry body at one tip of the triangle. I squinted and saw that it was a young black bear, mouth slung lazily open. At another was the slick, wet, gray body of a seal, blood oozing from the concave hammer blow atop its skull. Finally, they reached the last point and dumped a bag of silver and asphyxiated salmon. Kayla turned to me and waved and then took one of the salmon and ripped it open with her teeth. She held it up in the air and the town erupted in cheers. A hundred pink eggs fell into her open mouth and she mashed them with relish. Her pink lips held a thousand promises.
I gagged on my questions– the who’s and the what’s and the when’s stopped in my throat. I was numb, and then I was shocked, then revolted, then– most strangely– I felt–
My eyes turned to the mayor.
Emmett Grover stripped off his clothes with aplomb and produced a knife in which to slice the seal jaw to fin.
He pulled out big bloody-white handfuls of blubber, rubbing it up and down his naked body. The women were skinning the bear.
(My beautiful daughter)
Before long one of them, the youngest, was wearing the skin. And through it all, children sat in the ferris wheel, laughing and pointing, cotton candy crystals hanging to their chin.
It was night time. I don’t know where the time went, but miraculously, the sunlight became torchlight and I was naked like the rest of them. Maritimus was alive with energy. The perfect little town. The ultimate resort. Helluva place.
Kayla was leading me to the pedestal. I suddenly remembered watching the other men go up, giving their penance in exchange for dreams. The young girl in the bear skin was already in the water. It was a lovely display, I remembered. Emmett Grover was standing behind a teenage girl with bird-like legs stretched out, gyrating hungrily into her ass. The whole beach smelled of a different sort of salt. Of flesh and sweat and sickly-sweet lust. Everyone was doing it, I realized. The older women were applauding and offering advice and commendations, the younger were paired with sometimes two-to-four men, three to four times their age.
Kayla took me by the hand. I was scared, and she knew it. She put her lips to my ear and told me it would be okay. Grover was raving, madder than ever, his body glistening with the seal fat, the girl in his hands face twisted in wretched pain. He wasn’t speaking English. Some forbidden portmanteau of syllables, a curious patois that everyone seemed to understand but me. I stared out at the ocean and was sure it was staring back.
I stood on the pedestal and Kayla kissed me deeply. She held me by my hips and suddenly I didn’t care that we were being watched. Her diamond tongue clinked against my teeth and I was hard again. Thirsty for her touch, ready to take it if need be. But when she broke her kiss, I knew there would be no need for taking. It was the inherent promise of a resort: transcendence from means, weeknight dreams made weekend reality. Her eyes said it all. And it was all for a price.
I was happy to pay it.
I was naked. She took me in her mouth, bobbing her head. The same head that kissed me on the cheek when she was a little girl. That giggled when I gave her raspberries on her four year old belly. She was a woman now, and she was finally mine. Running her diamond tongue back and forth along my shaft, slicing my most precious skin. Tendons and vessels shredded. Years from now I would delight in my disfigurement.
I made good on the promise sixteen years in the making. Blood and semen washed over my daughter’s diamond tongue.
Maritimus grew and shrank in my vision, swelling as I did. Wilting as I was. Kayla stood up and let me taste her lips.
The women took her body to the water and let her sink as I assumed they had done so many other times. The ocean roared and for a moment I thought I saw something rise out of its waters, but my knees were weak and I just wanted to lay on the sand. I saw her diamond shine from beneath the ocean. The other women tended to my shredded member, sucking the last bit of life from me, healing me of my weakness. I turned to see hundreds of glinting diamonds in the dark crowd, nearer to me I saw dozens of scarred genitals and the smiles of their happy owners. They gave me knowing winks and I felt elated to be so acknowledged.
An amalgam of animals rose out of the sea, eyes gleaming green, with my daughter in its arms. Emmett Grover said that this was Maritimus’ very own Director of Tourism. Its mouth was hungry for dread dreams, he said.
Kayla was awake. I was dripping out her mouth. The other girl too, bear skin still draped over her shoulders. He laid them down on the beach. When they came to, they began to kiss. The crowd cheered. “Another hundred years of seaside tourism!” “We’ve been saved!” “Print more hoodies! More posters! More everything! Maritimus is here to stay!”
Emmett Grover pulled us together in a big, naked hug. He smelled of sex and carrion. He handed us a big burlap sack, filled with sweaters and T-Shirts, calendars and trucker hats– all emblazoned with the town’s name.
Everything was soft and the world shifted lazily. I hugged my daughter and she hugged me back. We told him we couldn’t wait for next year and he laughed a deep laugh and slapped me joyously across my back as giving eyes from the ocean twinkled like diamonds in an old and forbidden rough.
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I take the bus every morning to work. I mow lawns. It’s not a bad gig. I don’t have to talk much to people when landscaping, which I like, cuz I don’t like to talk much. I keep a low profile. I go home. I microwave cheese on top of Doritos and I watch my favorite medieval fantasy shows on Netflix. Sometimes I check my phone, just to see if anyone has called. Nobody ever calls. My ma calls once every few months, but we don’t have much to say to each other. We haven’t had much to say to each other in ages. We used to talk all the time, when I was her little man and she’d lay in bed with me and sing me church songs and stroke my hair with her thin, feminine fingers. Dad was always out getting wasted, so I kept Ma company. We took care of each other. But those days were long gone. The only other person to call would be my lawyer, Jack, who at this point was my only friend. He was the only one left that gave a damn. I used to think he was in it for the money and the notoriety, and maybe that was true at first, but he once told me that my case was the most shocking and horrific he had ever worked on. He said that because of that he could never forget me. I was a part of him now and therefore he planned to do whatever it took to keep me safe. I owed Jack everything. Without him, I’d be a dead man. I know this. Every day I wonder if it’s the day I’m gonna die. On the bus. In line at the bank. I wonder if I’ve been discovered, and if some stranger is gonna take me out. And if they did, could I blame them? I’m the most hated man in the country. A demon. A monster. A cold-blooded killer. If someone were to enact vengeance they would probably have every right to do so. And they would be revered as a hero. My death would probably cause a mass celebration of triumphant joy. Ding dong the evil motherfucker’s dead. Good riddance.
My psychiatrist gets concerned when I talk this way, but I’m not an idiot. I know the truth about myself, about who I am and what I am. I know that my own ma can’t even look at me because I’m a disgrace to not only her, but the entirety of mankind. I know I don’t deserve to live, but I’m too much of a fucking coward to do the job myself. I thought about it a lot in juvie. I once tied all my boxer shorts together to make a noose. I managed to connect it around the ceiling pipes, but my dirtbag cellmate ratted me out before I had a chance to get it done. Truth is, I was planning on chickening out anyway. I’m afraid of Hell. I’m afraid of what awaits me.
“Do you believe you’re destined for Hell?” Dr. Cumtits asked me. Her real name, of course, is not Cumtits. It’s Cunitz, but when she crosses and recrosses her legs when asking me a straightforward question, all I really wanna do is cum on her tits.
“Where else would I belong?” I answered, still imagining pulling up her skirt and fucking her from behind over the armchair, but I quickly distracted myself from the image in my mind for fear that she could see it. Dr. Cunitz was not a woman I could have if I tried. She was married and all business, not easy like the guards I had in juvie. Cunitz found me sad, pitiful. She wanted to help me. She wanted to do her job, but I was damaged goods in her eyes, which I guess is better than being seen as the devil.
“I’m a psychiatrist, Sam, not a priest, so that’s really not something I can answer. I can tell you that I’ve seen you make a lot of progress since your release from the corrections facility. You have shown remorse. You have worked to get your life together. I don’t see a man that’s destined for Hell sitting in front of me. I see a man who is trying to be a good person.” A good person seemed far reaching and I wondered if even she knew that. Yeah, I had remorse. Not a day went by that I didn’t regret what I had done. Maybe if I hadn’t have been such a dumb, fucked up kid I could’ve been something. I liked mechanics. Maybe I could’ve been an engineer or a programmer. Maybe I wouldn’t be so damn lonely and miserable in my rats infested apartment where my only visitor is my parole officer. Maybe I could have a girlfriend. A wife. Kids.
I had a girlfriend briefly when I first got out. Her name was Billie and she had curly hair and brown eyes and brushed up against me as she displayed her tantalizing pool skills. She wasn’t bad, but I was much better, having learned from the best in juvie. Of course, I didn’t tell Billie that. She knew me as Mike Bryant, the name given to me by the state to protect my identity. Jack fought hard for this, for Mike. I was getting death threats in juvie before my release. I was told that if I ever showed my face in public again, I would be slaughtered. Ma had to move twice because they kept vandalizing her home. They called her “Rosemary” in the papers. The mother of Satan’s child. So the courts issued me a new name, complete with a license and a passport. Sam Piles was no more. Mike Bryant was now in his place. But I had to keep it a secret. From everyone. From my boss, Billie, anyone who wanted to befriend me. Only Jack and Dr. Cumtits still referred to me by my real name, and even then it felt like they were talking to the ghost of me. A faded copy of my former self.
So Billie and I got on okay. We fucked a lot. Snorted coke. Fucked some more, cooked for each other, watched Netflix, and fucked during the end credits. But it wasn’t just the fucking that I liked, although it was certainly a highlight. Billie made me feel like a person again. She made Mike feel a little more real and she gave me hope that there was a better life out there for me. That is until she started to get nosy. She’d ask about my parents, where I was from, where I went to school, what my childhood was like. All the questions the courts hadn’t planned for when they created Mike. I’d catch her snooping through my drawers and on my computer when curiosity got the best of her. I freaked out and pushed her and called her names for poking her nose where it didn’t belong. She cried and told me that she loved me and she didn’t want secrets between us. She wanted to marry me. She wanted children. Children. I wasn’t even allowed to be around children without someone from the courts monitoring. Who would show up at our wedding anyway? Jack? My parole officer? I doubt even Ma would make the effort to appear. But Billie kept pushing for the truth. She wanted to know who I was. She wanted us to be closer and she knew I was hiding something. So finally I felt like I had no choice but to tell her who I really was. I thought maybe if I did there’d be some release, like the confession of guilt. I thought the weight would be lifted and she’d love and accept me for being honest. I woke her up in the middle of the night, at a time when I had found the courage and if I didn’t do it then I’d never do it. “I’m not who you think I am,” I began and Billie smiled, perplexed, and caressed my arm.
“What are you talking about, Baby?”
“Mike Bryant isn’t my real name. I was given a new identity as protection. A lot of people would kill me if they knew where I was.”
“Kill you? What for?”
“Do you remember the papers ten years ago? The little girl that was abducted from her home and tortured?”
“Ten years ago I was busy being in and out of foster care,”
“You’d know the girl’s name. Chelsea Withers.”
“Oh yeah, I remember that story. Who can forget? Her face was everywhere when that happened. Terrible what they did to her!”
“I’m the kid that killed her.”
“What are you talking about, Baby?”
“I’m Sam Piles. When I was eleven, me and a guy named Travis Thatcher raped and murdered a little girl.” Billie stared at me in silence and then laughed, hoping I would laugh with her but I didn’t. I then saw fear wash over her face as she realized who she was in bed with. I went to hold her, but she pulled away and jumped out from under the covers to retrieve her clothes.
“I gotta go,” She abruptly said.
“Billie, are we gonna talk about this?”
“No, I don’t think so. I gotta go.” I tried to touch her once again, but she was cold and defensive. She got dressed and was out of my place at lightening speed. I tried to call her cell several times after that, but I got only her voicemail. Soon after, I found notes slipped under my door calling me a “baby killer” and a “psycho”. I knew I had to let Jack know. And so, Mike Bryant was erased from history and I was now Collin Bearse.
“Sam?” Dr. Cunitz had noticed I was shutting down, while talking about Billie. I didn’t like to talk about her. The bitch betrayed me. She had told me I could trust her with anything, and I believed her. But what did I expect? Love? Forgiveness? I barely received that from my own ma. Why would Billie be any different? Cunitz suggested I was seeking validation from Billie to fulfill my inner need to be forgiven by Chelsea’s mother. I told her that was ridiculous and I really didn’t care if that dumb bitch ever forgave me. She had gone on all these TV programs to protest me getting parole. She told the news that she hoped someone would do to me what I did to her daughter. Fuck her. I was quite aware that I would never have her forgiveness. But I admit, I became obsessed with the Withers family. I wasn’t allowed to go near them, but I researched them a lot on the internet. Lisa and Daniel Withers. They were once young, hippy, idealists. Very Christian, but the kind that actually helped people and followed the true teachings of Christ. Very much in love and full of light and goodness. Dan was an architect and Lisa was a pianist and a painter. Chelsea was their only child at the sweet, innocent age of five and they adored her and spoiled her like a princess. When Chelsea went missing Lisa could not accept that her child might be dead. She spoke of all the things she wanted for her daughter and that she knew one day her little girl would be back in her arms.
In court they had to hold her back from me as she cried and wailed and called me a fucking lunatic. Lisa started to drink and Daniel started to have affairs and they ended their marriage soon after Travis and I were sentenced. These days, Daniel is chairman of the Chelsea Foundation, which helps families who have been victims of sex-crimes. He is remarried and has two kids and he seems to be functioning rather well. Lisa, on the other hand, is still determined to ruin me. She remarried her lawyer, but they divorced fairly quickly. She does not have any more children and she still appears on TV sometimes just to condemn me. She was once an attractive woman with long blond hair, much like her daughter’s. Now she’s fat and gray and you can tell she’s not someone who sleeps a whole lot. I know this because I’m one of those people. I have been having consistent nightmares for eleven years and to even get an hour or two of sleep per night is a luxury.
“Sam?” Cunitz was still trying to get my attention. “Have you still been fantasizing about meeting up with Travis?”
“Sometimes, yeah.” I admitted with a shrug.
“What would you say to him if you could see him?”
“I don’t know. I’d probably ask him if he was able to sleep.”
“Do you think knowing that he had any guilt would help with your own anxieties?”
“Maybe,” I said, but what I wasn’t telling her is that I had already tried communicating with Travis against authority demands. I talked Jack into finding me Travis’ new alias. He was reluctant, of course, but Jack understood me. He understood that talking to Travis after all these years was something I had to do, so that I could rest just a little easier. Travis was the only other person out there that could relate to me. The only other person who knew what it was like to have this secret.
Travis was now Richard Klump and he lived only three towns away in a dump apartment much like mine. As I drove there, a million questions were on my mind. Are you sorry for what you did? How’d you know I had it in me? Do you ever think about doing it again? Do you still see her face in your dreams? I knocked on the door and he answered it only ajar. I instantly recognized him. He had a beard and a gut now, but his eyes were unmistakable, because they were so dark and daunting. “Travis,” I exhaled and he stared at me with astonishment. He knew who I was. I was sure of it. “I’m sorry. I needed to find you. I thought we should talk now that we’re grown.”
“Who are you?” Travis spoke with agitation in his voice.
“Sam. It’s Sam. Well, Collin now. I received an alias, same as you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Travis insisted and he went to shut the door.
“No, wait! Travis! Please! It’s been so long! I just need to talk to you! Please!”
“Get the fuck out of here or I’m calling the police!” Travis growled and he stared into me with his vacant, yet penetrative eyes and I knew he wasn’t messing around. I removed my foot from blocking the door and he slammed it in my face, and that was it. That was all it would ever be. Travis had a new life and he did not want me to be a part of it. Maybe he didn’t remember me. Maybe he repressed it all to survive, or maybe he was just scared of going back to prison. Whatever the reason, I knew that I’d never get another chance to ask him all the things I wanted to know.
Read the rest of the story in the Book of Horrors II
Carson Winter agreed to do an early morning interview with Mr. Deadman to discuss his short story The Chasm Bridged. A work very much inspired by Edgar Allen Poe and Lovecraft, and as a consequence we talk about both iconic authors. We also discuss the importance of show VS tell and how important it is for writers to learn to craft their story into an art versus just telling it.
Most importantly, horror is not a safe space, and in fact horror works by shattering one’s sense of comfort. If you are easily offended, then read some horror and toughen up. Start with The Chasm Bridged.
First off, if you haven’t purchased Deadman’s Tome Book of Horror I yet, then how can you call yourself a horror fan? Don’t be a wishy-washy, no good, fair-weather fan. Do yourself a favor and spend the the $2 on Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors I. It’s a great read and with as many followers as Deadman’s Tome has, it should have sold by the hundreds.
The anthology is the price of a Coke, but Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors lasts forever, whereas a Coke is just pissed away.
On October 1st, Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors II will release with ten solid, terrifying scary tales of absolute horror! They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but I say to Hell with that! Please, judge away.
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Deadman’s Tome is an online horror zine that publishes dark gritty horror on weekly basis. This, of course, is only possible because of the dedicated work of the contributors. The featured authors have spent hours honing their craft to deliver truly terrifying stories. The sort of stories that haunt you with a chilling sensation down your spine. To reward them for their dedication and commitment, I offer them a publication on a site that strongly encourage community engagement, along with a monetary compensation calculated by the number of views, comments, and likes their story receives.
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DISCLAIMER: Deadman’s Tome is a dark and gritty horror zine that publishes content not suitable for children. The horror zine proudly supports the freedom of dark creative works and stands against censorship. Hardly any subject matter is too taboo for this horror zine. As a result, Deadman’s Tome may feature content your mother would not approve of. But she doesn’t control your life, right?
Oreo – Blair Frison
I’m a terrible person.
I’ve used people in the most shameful ways. I’ve been violent with people I love. My whole life seems like a sickening crescendo, and it scares me to think of where it’s heading.
I know some of you will hate me, and rightly so, for what I’m about to confess. I hate myself too – but, for what it’s worth, I didn’t have much of a chance to begin with. I’m not trying to justify my actions, but my childhood is a catalogue of abuses. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.
My story begins about five months ago. I was seeing a girl named Megan. She had come back into my life after quitting me almost a year earlier. She told me she loved me and wanted me back. That she had made a terrible mistake and wanted to make things right. I was only too eager to take her back, fool that I was. I should have known better. Love has fangs. And the poison she brewed for me in the cave of her heart soon took hold.
She even said she wanted my baby. This was a shock at first but the idea grew on me, to the point where we would stay up all night discussing baby names. I loved her and wanted to spend my life with her so I told her I was ready.
I don’t know what went wrong.
She suddenly started cancelling our dates, and our daily conversations (by phone) were becoming shorter and colder. It was obvious she was losing interest, but when I questioned her about this, she didn’t want to discuss it. Finally, after not seeing her for almost a month, I decided to end it. I told her if she couldn’t make time for me, I was done. I was hoping she would realize she made a mistake and try to fix things. I was at least expecting an apology. But her reaction was something along the lines of “If only I could give a fuck.”
I haven’t talked to her since. But that same day, after we ended it, I killed my cat. I can’t explain it. I just saw red. It wasn’t even my cat – she belonged to my daughter. I got her as a kitten for Sophie on her sixth birthday. I won’t go into the details but I also won’t deceive you. The cat suffered. It wasn’t a quick death. Her name was Oreo and my daughter absolutely adored her.
When I said I was a terrible person, I wasn’t lying. But I pride myself on being a good father. I realize this probably seems doubtful, but you must believe me. My daughter is my soul.
She was devastated when I told her Oreo was missing. That very day she was helping me pick out a new kitten. We settled on a black and white one with a color pattern very similar to Oreo’s. Sophie insisted that the new cat keep the name of her predecessor; I tried to dissuade her but to no avail. For all intents and purposes, Oreo was back.
As she grew, she resembled the original Oreo more and more. She was treated well and I never hurt her. Killing Oreo was a mistake and I swore to myself that I would never lose control again. For Sophie.
Almost two months had passed since the incident and I was still disturbed that I could kill a living thing so easily. I began to self-medicate, first with Percocet, and then OxyContin. By this time Megan had become just another scar, fading and barely noticeable – but still there.
Then, about a week ago, something strange happened.
I had just laid down and was about to nod off when I heard whispering. I couldn’t make out the words but it was coming from the next room where Sophie was asleep. I got out of bed quietly and approached her room. I gently pushed the door open and the whispering grew louder. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I noticed the cat was in bed with Sophie. The whispering continued but I still couldn’t make out the words. I came closer to the bed and I could’ve swore the cat was whispering in Sophie’s ear. Before I could get closer the whispering stopped and the cat turned and stared at me for a moment. Then she jumped from the bed and ran past me.
I know this sounds silly and I would’ve shrugged it off, were it not for what happened the next morning. When I woke Sophie for breakfast, she told me that she had a bad dream. She seemed genuinely disturbed. I asked her what it was about and she told me. She dreamt that I killed Oreo. That I broke her legs and drowned her in the bathtub. That I buried her in the backyard..
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.