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VooDon’t by Kelly Evans

 

 

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

“Jesus, it really does.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How long do I hold them?”

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

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

“Now. Give them to me.”

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

“Tch.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fine. How much?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy spoke as they left. “You okay?”

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Just now.”

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

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

“You know more about it than I do.”

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

 

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

“You okay?”

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

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

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

He smiled crookedly and left.

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

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

 

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

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

“Can I get you anything?”

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

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

 

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

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

“Jesus, you look awful.”

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

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

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

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

“What can I do?”

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

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

“No, it’s okay. Just a stomach bug.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

“Sorry about yesterday.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“Kate?”

“In here.”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Ian?”

“You were having a nightmare. You screamed.”

“Where am I?”

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

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

 

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

“Something from your weekend away with Lucy?”

She shook her head. “Probably not.”

“Are you sure? A parasite maybe?”

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

 

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

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

“Judging by the scream a bloody bad one.”

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

“A head? Like, a human head?”

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

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

She didn’t have the energy to argue.

 

“I’m pregnant.”

“What?!” Ian chocked on his pasta.

“I’m pregnant. Having a baby.”

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

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

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

“Yes.”

“With a baby.”

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

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

Kate laughed. “Yes, a baby.”

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

 

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

“I have news.”

“Oh?”

“We’re having twins.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“It’s time.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly she had her voice. “NOOOOOOOOOO!”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She can read my thoughts.

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy! The trip here with Lucy was years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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Happy Birthday, Joshie by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt

 

 

Usually Rachel Harding did not want to go to her brother Joshie’s birthday party. This year was different. She had finally figured out what to get him.

Rachel made sure her parents did not see the change in her. She took as long in the shower as she usually did. She hesitated between two dresses before deciding on a third. She intentionally left her backpack-slash-purse up in her room so she had to run back for it. She slipped her birthday present for her brother into the backpack and then pouted down the stairs and out to the car.

“Really, darling, I don’t understand why you make such a fuss.” Her father’s seatbelt clicked with a sense of finality. “It’s only twice a year.”

Three times a year. Rachel’s mother dragged their family to the viewing home on Mother’s Day too. Christmas, Mother’s Day and Joshie’s birthday. Rachel’s three least favorite days of the year. She suspected her mother went more often, but she hadn’t figured out a way to prove it.

“She’s here. That’s the important thing.” Rachel’s mother cradled the boxed cake in her lap. “This is a day for the whole family.”

This was a day for Rachel’s mother. Rachel and her father were just in the car to keep her happy. Rachel kept her mouth shut and looked out the window. The countryside blurred into streaks of dying grass and withering trees that made Rachel feel sticky just looking at them. The weatherman predicted rain sometime this week. She knew how the sky felt. Stifled, like it could burst at any second. If only conditions were right.

The drive out to Eternal Rest Viewing Center only took an hour and a half, but it always seemed longer to Rachel. At last the family car passed the ruins that meant they were getting close. Rachel often wondered if they put the viewing center out here simply because no one wanted it in their back yard, or if there was a conscious irony. A viewing home in the middle of a ghost town.

They pulled up in front of what looked like a large hospital. Rachel supposed it had been a hospital, before the Troubles. Whatever had happened out here must have been bad. No one wanted to move back. But when the U.S. got control again, the viewing home had taken over the hospital. As the family got out of the car, Rachel resisted the temptation to slam the car door. No sense in overdoing things. She did trudge up the steps after her parents.

Her mother signed them in. Someone who looked like a nurse but wasn’t ushered them into the waiting room. Rachel and her father sat in the hard plastic chairs while her mother paced the floor. Rachel lost count of how many times she went back and forth.

She had been moving back and forth ever since Joshie got sick. Carrying Rachel and her father in her wake.

“Party seventeen, we’re ready for you in viewing room three.”

Rachel’s mother was off, making it hard for Rachel to keep up with her. Beyond the waiting room ran a corridor with marked doors. The viewing room was only slightly smaller than the waiting room. It was dimly lit. A curtain ran the length of the long side opposite the door. Rachel could never decide if the curtain was grey or blue. Rachel’s mother already had the cake out of the box and was setting up the candles. A large one and six made of red wax. The curtain slowly drew back.

The entire length of the wall was a large window. It looked onto a room decorated as a small boy’s room. Rachel knew Joshie didn’t live here. The bed and dresser and toys on the floor were just for the rest of the family.

“There’s the birthday boy. Happy birthday to you…”

Rachel joined in with the song, but the room swallowed up the sound. The glow from the candles lit up the face of a boy about ten years old. His dark hair was buzzed short. He wore jeans and a striped polo shirt. His skin had a greenish pallor, his eyes a milky film.

Joshie, Rachel’s older brother.

“Look! He’s smiling! He’s happy to see us.”

The creature that had been Joshie was opening and closing his mouth, revealing grey-black gums. No teeth, just in case. Rachel thought it more than likely that her zombie-brother realized the light from the candles meant there was food nearby. Of course he was happy to see his family. He thought he was about to get a snack. Of course Rachel didn’t say anything.

Their mother stood right up at the window rubbing her fingers against the glass where Joshie pressed his face. He gummed at the window as if he were trying to eat her fingers and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t biting down on human flesh.

“I have to go to the bathroom.”

Rachel’s mother didn’t say anything. There were times when Rachel wondered if she had gotten the cancer instead of Joshie, would her mother gone through all the trouble and expense to…preserve her. Rachel didn’t think so. She didn’t know whether she hated or loved her mother for that.

Rachel’s father rested a hand on her shoulder but he was staring at the viewing window. His face bore the same expression Rachel had seen on it when they passed a highway accident. Or when he watched the news on the last of the Troubles. Compassion mixed with disgust and horror. And curiosity. You didn’t want to look, but you still couldn’t look away.

“Do you want me to go with you, darling?”

It gave Rachel some comfort that she wasn’t the only one in her family who thought what had been done to Joshie was wrong. But her father had never said anything about it, in six years. Was that love, or cowardice?

“Dad… It’s…personal stuff…”

Rachel had hated it when she started menstruating. It was messy and gross. But she had learned a new power came with her period. Especially since her father didn’t keep track of her cycle. He blushed.

“Well, um, hurry back.”

“I’ll do my best.” She shouldered her backpack and headed out of the viewing room.

There were bathrooms near the viewing room. Rachel went in, making what she told her father not a lie. She waited a minute and walked right out. A quick look around. No one else was in the corridor. Rachel pushed open the door marked Authorized Personnel Only.

Rachel expected alarms to sound and half a dozen security officers to swarm her. Nothing happened. She stepped through the door. It swung closed behind her with a solid, final thud.

She could do this. Rachel looked around her. She shouldn’t be too far from the other side of the viewing rooms. She turned the corner and found a large door — more solid than the one she had just passed through — marked Viewing Rooms 1-4. A heavy steel door, with the hinges on the inside. A steel bar fit over the door in two heavy brackets. Next to the bar was a key card slot, its red light staring at Rachel.

Before the girl could even curse, footsteps echoed down the corridor. She heard female laughter and a male voice in reply.

“Don’t worry. That one could be there for the rest of the day. You can tell it creeps the guy and the girl out. She must really have him by the short hairs.”

More laughter. Rachel ran away from the sound as quietly as she could. Only after she started did she realize she was going further into the former hospital. She turned a corner, listening for pursuit. When she stopped, she nearly gagged. Something smelled awful.

A loud whirring sound made Rachel jump. It continued for a full minute and stopped again. The putrid smell grew stronger. Rachel put her hand over her nose and pressed onward. There had to be another way to get to Joshie.

The whirring sound started again, louder this time. Light spilled onto Rachel’s path from a half-open doorway. The stench and the whirring sound both came from inside. Rachel crouched down and stuck her head inside. The sound cut off.

A man stood at a long black counter like the lab tables at school. He wore a long dark apron, black gloves up to his elbows and enormous safety goggles, giving him a mad-scientist look. He was standing at an industrial-sized blender and singing off key to himself.

“Feeding the zombies, feeding the zombies…”

He reached into a grey bin to the side and pulled out a brain. A cow brain, Rachel hoped. He stuffed it into the blender and added organs and bits of intestines and other things Rachel couldn’t identify. He put the top on the blender and started it up. Rachel had to turn away. She still threw up into her mouth. She forced herself to swallow it.

As she looked away, she saw a white lab coat draped over the back of a chair. More important was the name badge clipped to the lapel. If it was a dual badge and key card, it was Rachel’s ticket further into the viewing center.

The sound of a viscous liquid poured into a container. Rachel didn’t look. As the blender whirred again, she crept forward. When it stopped, she stopped. She didn’t look at the man. If she didn’t look, he wouldn’t look. That’s what she told herself. He kept singing. Rachel inched forward with each pulse of the blender.

As she made her slow progress, Rachel found herself wondering if Joshie liked the slurry the man was making. Did cow guts taste as good as human flesh? If she got caught, would she find her way into the blender as a special treat?

She reached the badge at last and unclipped it from the lab coat. Scott Bridges looked like an ordinary guy in his photo. Not at all like the goggled ghoul in the room with her. Rachel slipped the badge into her pocket and turned to make her way back to the door.

“Where did you get to?”

Rachel froze. Had the man known she was there all along? She envisioned him cheerily pulling her intestines from her guts and adding them to his mixture. She hazarded a look in his direction.

The man was bent over his table, evidently trying to chase down a bit of organ that had escaped.

“There you are. Into the soup you go.”

When the blender started again, Rachel crawled to the door as fast as she could. She sat outside the gruesome kitchen panting. This was crazy. There was no way she could pull this off.

She saw Joshie’s face in her mind, and the glow of the candles on her mother’s face. She adjusted the strap of her backpack on her shoulder and rose. She had a birthday present to deliver.

She wondered how long she had been gone. Were her parents worrying about her? Her mother was probably still glued to the window, laughing at everything her precious not-Joshie did. Her father usually zoned out at a viewing, in his own world of loss and guilt. Rachel had plenty of time.

Would there even be a back way into the viewing area? The viewing center did everything to make its wards as non-lethal as possible, but they were still dangerous. The lock on the door leading to the viewing rooms, not to mention the bar on the outside of the door, suggested that they didn’t want to take any chances of the zombies escaping.

No. There had to be a way in. Rachel owed it to Joshie to find it. She owed it to Joshie, to her father, to herself. Even to her mother. She crept further into the viewing home.

Rachel wondered why her mother couldn’t see what she had done. Rachel couldn’t even remember Joshie’s face any more. Not his real face. The face of the brother who had pushed her on the swings and chased her around the back yard. The face of the brother who had held her hand when the Troubles began and made sure she brought Mr. Ted to the relocation camp.

The face of the brother who had held her and cried when the president went on TV and declared the war against the zombies over. The face of the brother as he got sick. The face of the brother nestled among all the tubes and monitors at the hospital.

A low sound from up ahead. Rachel slowed. The sound was constant and grew louder as she walked. She fingered the strap of her backpack and went on, looking around with each step.

Over Rachel’s every memory of her brother had spread the face of the zombie. She understood why her mother did what she did. But she just didn’t get it. Turning him hadn’t kept Joshie’s memory alive. It killed his memory, infected it. The zombie ate away at the real Joshie every time they came to see it. It would continue to eat away at the Joshie who lived in their hearts until there was nothing left.

Joshie was dead. Rachel had to believe that.

The sound grew still louder. Rachel recognized it at last. The moan of the walking dead as they roamed the earth hungering for human flesh. Even as the sound increased in volume, it still had a muffled, contained quality. Rachel frowned. Her muscles tensed, ready to flee from a lurching horde.

She turned a corner and came upon another door barred and locked like the door leading to the viewing rooms. Had she found a back way in? Unlike the other door, this one had a large window. Wire crisscrossed through the glass. Rachel crept closer and looked inside.

The room had maybe been an operating room before. Something big. Any equipment had long since been removed. Chained along the far wall were perhaps a dozen zombies. They wore iron collars and heavy shackles on their wrists. Their feet were unchained. The zombies all walked in place, the chains keeping them from going anywhere.

The zombies moaned as black gums chomped down on nothing. Perhaps they were all waiting for Scott Bridges to make his rounds. The all wore grey hospital robes, some with red-brown stains. Lunch apparently was messy.

Rachel scanned the room. Two of the creatures on the far end were children. There was a gap in the line before the adults began. Collar and shackles hung limply. Rachel just knew that was Joshie’s spot. The zombie-Joshie’s spot.

“Would Rachel Harding please report to the sign-in desk? Rachel Harding to the sign-in desk. Your family is waiting for you.”

That was it then. Her mother was done, and they were leaving the viewing home. They had started to look for her. Rachel had missed her chance.

She looked back at the zombies chained to the wall. She could still do this. If her mother was done, that meant Joshie was on his way back here.

She lifted up the heavy bar and slid Scott Bridge’s card through the lock. The light switched from red to green. She pulled the door open. The scent and sound pushed her back. She forced herself into the room.

The door swung closed. The zombies moaned louder. Could they sense her in the room? See her? Smell her? She heard the sound of chains pulled taught. She waited to hear links snap. Nothing happened. All four walls held zombies, not just the one wall she had seen from outside. But there was a clear space on either side of the door, about four feet wide. Rachel stood against the wall next to the door hinges.

She opened her backpack and pulled out her present for Joshie. The machete her father used for clearing out brush in the yard. She heard footsteps and voices in the hall. The door opened.

Two guards marched the Joshie-thing into the room. One was a man, the other a woman. They directed the zombie with a long pole with a noose on the end. The door swung closed.

Rachel let out a shout. She swung the machete. The guards were too shocked to do anything. The blade cut through the restraining noose. It stuck in the zombie’s neck.

Rachel yanked the machete out. She shouted and swung the blade again and again. She closed her eyes at the dull, wet sound of the blade. Tears streamed down her face. She didn’t care.

Hands grabbed Rachel’s arm. She swung the machete a final time. The zombie’s spine gave way with a sticky snap. The guards pulled her back. The blade clattered to the floor. Her whole body felt limp. It didn’t matter. She had done it. She looked at her big brother’s body.

“Happy birthday, Joshie.”

And she could have sworn that Joshie’s head smiled at her from the floor.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Phfhfft.”

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

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

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

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

 

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Cycles by Jareb Collins

 

The young woman woke with a gasp.

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

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

Ohmygod

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

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

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

Ohmygodohmygod

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

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

My face?

And then she heard the voices.

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

“…..terror…”

“………is lost…..never see…”

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

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

it’s the shock…too much strain….”

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

“…stifled……….losing

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

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

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

The voices began to speak again.

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

The light winked out.

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

The low droning of voices buzzed in her mind.

“…..begin again….”

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