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The Statewide Thing – Joseph Rubas

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The Statewide Thing – Joseph Rubas

“Come on, Harv; you’re killing me.”

Dave Birsk switched the phone to his left hand and switched on the lamp, filling the living room with soft, warm light. It was late, past nine, and he was tired.

On the other end, Harvey, his brother, sighed. “I wouldn’t ask you if it wasn’t an emergency.”

“Are you sure it can’t wait until tomorrow?”

“I’m sure.”

Dave shook his head. “Alright. I’ll be there in half an hour.”

Harvey sounded relieved. “Good.”

Dave hit the END button and put the phone into his pocket. He got up, sighed, and went over to the metal rack by the door. He grabbed his shoes, slipped them on, and hit the bathroom before leaving.

Outside, the night was crisp and cold, a frigid wind moving noisily through the trees along the highway. A half mile past them, the Potomac crashed against the shore, the sound of it near deafening.

Harvey owned a bail bonds business in Fredericksburg, twenty-five miles north of Colonial Beach, where Dave lived. With travel time alone, Dave wouldn’t be back until past midnight. Thank God he was off tomorrow.

Dave…you gotta help me, Harv had said. He sounded bad…like a man in deep shit.

What? What’s wrong?

I…I can’t tell you over the phone, but you gotta come. You gotta.

God only knew what Harvey had gotten himself into this time. Ever since Yolanda left him in 2013, he’d been a wreck, drinking too much, going to the bars, always stinking like booze. Dave loved his brother dearly, but dude was turning into a fucking alkie, just like dad, and Dave couldn’t stand alcoholics. The last time they talked, in March 2014, Dave told him he needed help.

I’m fine, Harv said.

No, you’re not, Dave countered.

They argued, and that was that. Harv didn’t call him and he didn’t call Harv. Now, out of the blue, Harv was on the horn, sounding all shaky and shit.

Dave didn’t like it.

The wind washed across his face like a brisk slap, bringing him out of his reprieve. He locked the door, descended the steps, paused, listened to the crashing of the river, and climbed into the Silverado.

As he drove through the empty streets of the Beach, Dave cycled through the radio stations, finally settling for 95.9 WGRQ, Hometown Oldies or whatever they called it. He was surprised to hear the opening strands of one of his favorite songs from childhood.

Whaaaaaat? That’s not oldies! That’s…

Dave sighed. He supposed it was oldies. The new oldies.

May, how time does fly. He would be fifty-one next year, though he neither felt nor looked it. Harv was only a couple years behind. Forty-eight? Forty-nine? He couldn’t remember, but he was coming up on the big 5-0 pretty fast. It was wild when you thought about it. When you’re young, you know intellectually that, say, ten years isn’t a long time, but you never truly know until you can look back at ten years past with the clear and level visibility of a thirty or forty year old. It wasn’t a long time, but, then again, it was. Just long enough to put some gray in your hair without being too obvious.

Outside the Colonial Beach town limits, darkness swallowed the Silverado. Houses were few and far between on the road to King George, and many of them were already dark. A car passed in the opposite lane, going back into town, but that was it. He didn’t see another vehicle until he crossed 301.

King George, the county seat of King George County, was clustered along the main drag (Highway 3…Kings Highway in town), a series of low, time worn buildings; auto shops, diners, the court house, the library. Dave checked the time on the dashboard clock. 9:40.

Things closed down early in the countryside. When he was a kid he hated it. The town he grew up in was a farming community south of Richmond. As soon as that sun set, everything closed like throwing a switch. Now, as an older man, he didn’t mind. He worked, he came home, and he slept. Not much time for anything else.

Dave’s phone buzzed in his pocket, scaring him.


“Are you coming?” Harv asked. He sounded desperate.

“Yes, I’m on my way.”

“Good, I don’t think…”

Harv stopped, and Dave was sure he heard someone else in the background.

“Harv, what’s going on?” Dave demanded.

“I can’t tell you until you get here.”

Dave could fucking strangle Harv. “Alright. I’ll be there shortly.”

He hung up and tossed the phone onto the seat next to him.

Fifteen minutes later, he was pulling onto Lafayette Blvd, which ran along the southern border of Fredericksburg’s Old Towne district. To his right, a set of train tracks crossed over a slanted street, the bridge gray and ancient. Just ahead, the old train station. It was a restaurant now, though it still served commuters to D.C. and Northern Virginia.

On the radio, CCR sang about someone named Willie.

Harvey’s office was north of the old courthouse on Princess Anne Street, right smack-dab in the heart of Olde Towne. Dave turned onto the street, waiting for a black man in a puffy jacket to cross, and crept forward. Ahead, the grand spires of a gothic church rose high into the night.

He parked at the curb in front of Harv’s office (STATEWIDE BAIL BONDS…EVERYWHERE, EVERY TIME!), a squat, ugly building with a red roof wedged between the town museum and a vacant lot. The front was all glass. In the alley between the museum and Harv’s office, a light shone. It was probably the light by the side door.

Harv was waiting.

For a long minute, Dave stayed in the car, preparing himself for what he might find. A dead hooker, maybe, or Harv covered in blood, a failed suicide attempt. His heart ached and his stomach rolled. He wished for a brief second that he hadn’t come after all, but then pushed it away. Harv was his blood. If he needed him, he’d be here.

With a deep breath, Dave killed the engine and got out, a particularly strong gust of wind nearly ripping the door from his hands.

At the head of the alley, Dave stepped on something, slid, and nearly fell. When he caught his balance, he looked at it.


Jesus Christ.

At the side door, Dave pounded like a cop with a warrant. “Harvey!” he cried.



Dave pounded again. This time, the door opened, and Harvey stood in the doorway, a tall, thin man with glasses and a balding pate. His cheap brown suit was ruffled, and he looked sick, his face gray and his eyes bloodshot.

“What the hell’s going on?” Dave asked, pushing past Harvey. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Harvey said, “it’s not me.”

Dave stopped.

“What do you mean?”

Harvey looked guilty.

“What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Then what trouble are you in?”

Harvey swallowed. “Let me show you.”

Harvey led Dave down the hall to the back room where supplies were stored. The first thing Dave noticed on entering was the table in the middle of the room.

The second was the child strapped to it.

“What the fuck?” he drew.

The child stirred, made a small noise, and then turned to look at them, its head flopping bonelessly against the table. In the meager light cast from an overhead lamp, Dave saw two things: One, it was a boy, maybe four or five, and two…it was dead. Its skin, he noticed, was mottled and gray/blue. Its head was cracked and oozing. It was naked save for a pair of underwear, providing Dave a pretty good look at the decomposition already starting on the stomach.

“Hey, Dave,” it said, its voice dark and vile, “come suck my dick.”

Dave grabbed Harvey by the lapels and dragged him out into the hall. “What the fuck is that?”

Harvey chafed. “I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you, just let me go.”

Dave shoved him back.

“Whip his ass, Dave!” the monster called.

“Shut up!” Harvey yelled. He looked back at Dave. “I don’t know what it is. I was coming home down 218 and it ran in front of me.”

218, which wound from Fredericksburg to King George, was one of the most dangerous roads in the area; surrounded by forest, it twisted, turned, rose, and fell so often it could legally be classified a theme park ride.

“It was starting to get dark, and I didn’t see it until the last moment. I hit the brakes, but…”

“You ran this thing over?”

“Look at its neck and head, Dave.”

In the room, the thing laughed. “My head flops like your wrist!”

Dave nodded. “Okay. So you hit it.”

Harvey nodded. “Yeah. I hit it, and stopped. I thought it was a…a…a deer or something. I mean, it was on all fours.”

“Like Yolanda in the projects!” the creature shouted, and Harvey stiffened.

“Hey, buddy, how about you shut the fuck up,” Dave said, taking a step into the room. “We’re having a conversation here.”

The monster flicked its tongue suggestively.

“Go on,” Dave said to Harvey.

Harvey took a deep breath. “I got out of the car and looked around. I didn’t see anything. My headlight was broken. That was it. Then as I’m getting in the car, I heard something underneath. I got down on my hands and knees…and there he was.”

Harvey shuddered as he remembered the creature in the darkness beneath the car.

“He flew out at me and tried to bite my neck.”

“Yummy neck!” the creature laughed.

Harv subdued the creature and tied it up with a pair of jumper cables he had in the trunk. “I panicked and brought him here. Then I called you.”

Dave took a long minute to process the story. It was crazy, impossible, yet there, tied to that table…

“Come on,” Dave said, slapping Harvey’s chest. “I want a closer look.”

Harv did a good job tying the monster down. One long strap went across its chest, while others held its hands and feet immobile. Dave did a circuit, walking slowly around, and studied the creature, despite its name calling: “Fag! Bitch! Punk!”

Upon closer inspection, its skin wasn’t just blueish gray, it was also shot through with yellow and brown. Its nails were long and jagged, its eyes deep and inky black. When it opened its mouth, its teeth were yellowed and pointed. He hazarded a quick touch of the thing’s forehead, and it was cold.

“This is fucking crazy,” Dave said finally. He stepped back from the table and put his hands on his hips. The monster asked for a handjob.

“You got a dirty mouth,” Dave said. “Where’d you learn to talk like that?”

“You’re mother.”

Dave chuckled nervously. He and Harv exchanged a glance.

“Who are you?” Dave asked, his tone serious. He came forward and knelt by the creature. “What are you?”

The creature flashed a reptilian smile. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Get away from it,” Harv pled.

“Are you a zombie?”

The thing laughed. “Brains! Brains! Give me brains!”

“Come on, Dave,” Harv said.

Dave got up and went to his brother. “What do we do?”

“I don’t know,” Harv whined. “Kill it?”

Dave considered it. “No. We should call someone. The government. The army.”

Harv started. “But they’ll probably kill us! We’ve seen too much!”

Sighing, Dave looked at the creature. “What are you?” he asked again.

“Nothing,” the monster said.

“Kill it,” Harv said. “That’s the only way!”

He was right. “Do you have a crowbar or something in here?”

Harv nodded. “I keep a baseball bat in my office.”

“Go get it.”

Harv nodded and scurried away. For the moment, Dave was alone with the creature.

“You can’t kill me,” it said. It flopped its head back and forth several times as if to corroborate. “Your faggot brother couldn’t with his car, and you can’t with that bat.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“Take your best shot.”

“Oh, I will.”

“You’re a bitch.”

The creature laughed and began to sing. “Dave is a bitch. Dave is a bitch. Punk ass, pussy ass bitch!”

Harv returned with the bat. It was heavy and wooden. Dave took it. “Alright,” he said. “Stand back.”

The creature smiled as Dave approached and raised the bat. “Make my day, asshole.”

The bat crashed down.

The creature’s head exploded. Skull and brain fragments sprayed Dave’s face. Dave opened his hitherto closed eyes. The monster’s head was a splattered mess.

It didn’t move.

“I think it’s dead,” he said.

Harv sounded relieved. “Thank G…”

In the mess, something moved.

“The fuck?”


Bone and brain fell away, and, to Dave’s unending horror, a pink, slug like thing emerged. “Holy shit!” he screamed.


The thing was roughly six inches long and smooth. On what Dave took to be its head, two antennae quivered and worked.

He had the unsettling feeling that the slug was looking at him.

“You gotta…”

The creature sprang forward, launching itself into the air. Screaming, Dave ducked, and watched in horror as it hit Harv square in the face. “Jesus Christ, Harvey!”

In a flash, the thing disappeared into Harvey’s nose. He screamed, danced back, pounding at his own face, and fell. Dave threw himself at his brother and collapsed at his side. “Harvey!”

Harvey screeched in agony as the thing bore into his brain. He jerked, writhed, and sputtered, his eyes turning red and his face losing its color. Dave was petrified. He tried to hold him down, but he was too strong. He looked helplessly around. There had to be something, something he could jam up his brother’s nose and get the slug.

Harvey fell still.

Dave looked down at him. His eyes were closed, his lips slightly parted. “Harv?” he asked, shaking his shoulder.


“You okay?” he asked, his heart pounding.

Finally, Harv’s eyes opened.

They were black.

“Shit!” Dave spat, falling back. Harv sat up, rolled his neck, and looked directly at Dave. “Told you….”

Dave screamed and struggled back to his feet. The bat was lying halfway under the table, where he dropped it. He snatched it up, and, without hesitating, slammed it into the Harvey-thing’s arm with a sickening crack. The thing toppled over, spasmed, and began getting back to its feet. Dave brought the bat down onto its back, once, twice, three times, hoping to break its spine. Maybe if Harv couldn’t walk, or use his arm, the thing would go in search of another host. Out in the open, he could kill it.

For a long moment, Harv didn’t move. Dave stood at the ready. The slug didn’t appear either.

Fuck this, he decided. His phone was in the Silverado. If he could get to it, he’d call the cops, or the army, or someone.

“I’ll be back,” he said…to his brother, not the thing.

The rest of the building was dark and quiet, and Dave imagined other things in the shadows.

Outside, the wind had picked up and become even colder. Dave fought his way to the street, but before he reached the truck, something stopped him.

He looked up.

Things moved in the sky, obscuring the stars. They were large, he saw, massive, in fact, black and trimmed with bright running lights. Planes, he thought, but no; they didn’t look like any planes he’d ever seen before. Boxlike in dimensions, long, wide, and square.

“The invasion’s begun,” the Harvey-thing said from behind him.


Joseph Rubas is the author of over 200 short stories and several novels. His work has appeared in: Nameless Digest; The Horror Zine; All Due Respect; Thuglit, and many others. He currently resides in Florida.



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Hellfire Pass by L. L. Hill


“More rice. Please.” Stafford added the courtesy word as a reluctant and unwarranted afterthought as he held his dented empty tin bowl towards Sergeant Anzai. The stench of old sweat, outhouses, machinery grease, dust, and wet jungle lay in an unnoticed pall over the prison camp.

Lieutenant Stafford still covered his bald spot with his lank brown and greasy hair hand combed over. Unshaven, his uniform khaki shirt hung down from gaunt shoulders and covered a waist cinched with a belt three notches smaller than his prewar size. A dirty big toe showed in one of his sockless dress uniform shoes. A heavy brow ridge with long eyebrows shadowed his light brown eyes and their ring of crud. He looked down into the snapping brown eyes of the Japanese sergeant.

The sergeant did look rather like a snapping turtle he had observed on his uncle’s Ontario farm in a pond. Mean, vicious, and ready to bite. Stafford blinked his long lashed eyes and wished for enough water to wash the crusty build-up away. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he located a last grain of rice stuck in a tooth, worked it out and swallowed. A fly buzzed down and he jerked away.

Hands behind his back, Sergeant Anzai glared up at Lieutenant Stafford as if the black hatred emanating from him could vaporize the officer and all that he represented in opposition to the Japanese Empire on the spot. The fly dashed past him and landed on the rim of the rice pot with a dozen others. Silent spectators, the prisoners of war around the nearly empty pot watched the confrontation escalate like a tropical boil. One of them slipped away between flimsy bamboo huts to get the Major.

“No more rice,” Sergeant Anzai spat out.

“I need more rice, I am sick and hungry.” Stafford did not want to sound petulant but did. Rather like pleading for more birthday cake when he was ten, he thought.

“You think you get more food than me?” Clenched into tight fists, Anzai dropped his hands to his hips.

“I’m bigger than you. I need more.” No point in rationalizing with the dictatorial pricks, but dogged persistence occasionally produced results, and today Stafford was very hungry. Perhaps he really was sick, he thought. His stomach felt completely empty after eating a cup of rice and his bones ached.

“You bigger make you more man? You surrender! Disgrace self!” His spit landed on red soil and dissipated in the morning heat.

“I surrendered in Singapore on orders. Per the Geneva Convention…”

“You no even learn to speak Japanese! I have to speak English to you!” White spittle formed in the corners of his lips. “My uncle had his store stolen from him. He in jail for being Japanese. He no soldier. You man to put family in jail for being Japanese!? You man!?”

The half-ring of soldiers behind Anzai laughed at Stafford’s now red face even though they likely understood little but the emotion of the exchange. At a gesture from their sergeant or officer, they would beat any prisoner into submission. Some had never returned from beatings.

“I should like sufficient food to eat, per the Geneva…” As he spoke, Stafford thought that he felt a rat gnawing its way out from his empty stomach and then Sergeant Anzai interrupted with a virulent flood of Japanese that had his soldiers laughing.

“That’s enough then Stafford, old chap, you did your part,” said Major Jennings striding in as fast as his gimp leg allowed. “Stand down there, man. Have another go another day. Jolly good show,” he finally whispered. A young lad that pushed too hard, thought the veteran.

Jennings slapped Stafford’s back as Anzai’s tirade continued with the sergeant pointing to his groin and miming penis size. Behind the jeering guards, a black and gold hoopoe with a long, curved beak landed on a patch of grass. Transfixed, Stafford watched the bird find an insect and work it up the long bill to swallow.

Anzai, observing that he had lost the attention of the target of his audience, shifted his position so that he could see what Stafford was looking at. On seeing the bird, he rushed at it with a kamikaze yell. In a whirring blur the bird fled.

“You have time to watch bird, you no need food!” Anzai began miming an officer walking with a cane as his continued his Japanese oration on the evident evil of the British, bird watchers, and surrendering.

In a fugue of starvation, Stafford had been wondering if there were any small nets to catch birds available during the loud display. Jennings pulled him back and steered him back to the mess with a hand on his shoulders.

“Have a seat, old man,” Jennings said pushing him down onto a broken cane stool.

Sergeant Anzai’s eruption dissipated into the occasional flare of a magma laden comment as the prisoners of war pretended to focus on clean up and the Japanese withdrew to the scant shade of some trees.

“Did your part to get the Japs riled up there Stafford, old man. Now we need to get out and get some blasting done.” The blond hairs of Jennings stiff, thin moustache appeared to be glued onto his parchment yellow skin. A fly landed to drink in the tear dripping down the side of his nose and he waved it away with a flick of his long, tapered fingers. “Remember, push the limit, but don’t go over it,” he said in a tone just loud enough to carry around the mess.

Jennings was looking at the red and black dirt that had accumulated under Stafford’s ripped and torn fingernails, and worrying about his mental state when Stafford asked, “Do you know where I could get a fine mesh net?”

A tin mess cup dinged against the water pot in the silence that followed Stafford’s question. In a babble of jokes and laughter, Jennings gasped out of white lips, “Good God man, you’re not going to start collecting tropical birds are you? They’re just feather and bone man, not worth the effort.” He was now very worried about his junior officer and gazed at the other men for support.

“I think that three or four would be the size of a quail,” blinked back Stafford. He then closed his lips and pouted, feeling his idea as disregarded as that of a child.

Jennings knuckles were white on his cane. Another gone to battle fatigue, he thought. “Look man, plucking small feathers would take ages even if you could find a net to string between trees. And how would you stop the Japs from finding it and taking it away?” He stopped talking as he reflected that talking to a mule would be a more effective expenditure of energy. “Right then. You’ve already missed the morning medical so you’ll have to come out and help blasting that damn pass! Can’t think why the Japs had to put a line here. I’ll send you to the doc’ as soon as I can. Mess crew, carry on. Blasting crew, with me. Maybe we’ll find some fruit on the way.” He limped towards some Japanese guards followed by the blasting crew in loose formation.

Bloody waste of another good man, he thought as he marched through a mixed crew of Malays, Tamils, and island Chinese already at work carrying steel rails in 120 degrees before they became too hot to touch in the afternoon. Rain or shine, this railway was a killer; one rotted and the other cooked any laborers. The Asian slave labor all wore loin clothes, Jennings noted as he turned to look at his tattered crew. His lot looked like blast survivors in threadbare and ripped uniform remains, he thought. At least the natives were used to the heat, he thought as Stafford tripped on a loose rock at the tail end of the group. The hospital today for that officer, thought Jennings as he resumed his trek.

Stafford stopped and looked at the pale red blood that oozed from the scrape on his ankle. It should feel sore, he thought, but it felt numb. He looked up and saw that Jennings and the others had continued on.

One of the guards cracked a whip across the bare back of a coffee brown slave. The small man fell to the ground pleading and was whipped again. Then the guards began kicking him where he lay on the gravel rail bed. No other prisoners tried to help.

Stafford stepped back into the shadows of some drab olive leaved trees and looked down at the ichor that now welled out of a bone-like lump that appeared under the wound. With a bump he sat on the ground. He would have to go to the hospital, he thought. That was a blooming infection already yet bloody Jennings would have to clear it first. What a pest that man was, thought Stafford, forms and orders for everything. If there were an order for nets for birds, Stafford would have had them. At least his stomach had settled its demands to a throb.

With a ping-clang, sledges almost as tall as the men that heaved them began to hammer in nails around the rails. Stafford had just decided to get up before the guards found him when he saw a red patch peeking out from the cover of a branch of leaves in the crook of a tree.

His sluggish heart skipped a beat as he raised the branch to see a plump, juicy mango that had been placed there until someone had time to eat it. Saliva began to lubricate his mouth. Stafford jerked around looking back and forth and saw none of the slave crew nearby. ‘Wogs,’ he thought as he grabbed his red treasure as he scrambled away into the trees.

Used as a fence by the Japanese, the tangled jungle that clad the steep hills of Siam usually killed those that tried to escape into it. Snakes, spiders, scorpions, tigers, and mosquito born disease were additional deterrents to the rugged landscape to any attempted flight.

Stafford could still hear the slave crew when desperation drove him to sprawl heedless of venomous snakes and spiders on the ground. With shaking fingers and tartar coated teeth he peeled a strip of skin and sucked the fibrous orange interior. Not since Singapore had he had one and this one was sublime.

He had rolled onto his back to suck the juice more easily when a small brown man ran up and leaped down on him. Spitting and growling, they thrashed together into and around creepers and thin barked trees. Stafford whimpered as he pushed the thick, spice laden greasy hair away from his nose with a punch. Digging his knobbing fingers in around the large seed, he ripped the fingers of his other hand through the welts and bruises on the Malay. The heart thudding shock of the attack over, Stafford began to truly fight for the succulent fruit, blocking the blows of the shorter man while inflicting pain whenever possible. If he wanted the mango so badly, he should have held onto it, thought Stafford as he pressed his thumb into an eyeball and felt a pop. His assailant reeled away screaming with fluid dripping down between his stubby fingers. Stafford was aware that the Malay’s grimacing in pain displayed teeth filed to points at the same time both men realised that Sergeant Anzai and three soldiers with fixed bayonets had quietly become spectators.

Muted by quaking trees, a blast shook the ground – Jennings had blown a hole near completion last evening thought Stafford. Gazing at Anzai, he raised the mango to his gaping mouth almost as slowly as the fruit had grown. The clangor of the sledges continued below. As if drawn up by a string, Stafford’s arm lifted its treasure as he watched the slave and the soldiers, noting every sweat bead on Sergeant Anzai’s thin moustache, that his thick lips were open with curiosity and anticipated cruelty, aware of the whimpers of the desperate brown man who still protected a destroyed eye and ignored a toe nail hanging by a strip of skin. Even minor injuries killed as the Asian slaves had no hospital or access to medicine, but Stafford was indifferent to anything but the tasty fruit.

“Stop, you stop now,” barked Sergeant Anzai.

In reply, Stafford sank his teeth into the orange pulp as the Malay attacked him screaming and flailing uselessly with limbs that knew their lifespan was short. Curled up with his long boney back to the blows, Stafford continued to eat, stuffing his mouth with large bites. He heard Anzai snap an order and felt the soldiers pull the Malay away. Then he heard the thumps of boots and rifle butts breaking the man. Sergeant Anzai stepped on Stafford’s wrist with one foot and wrenched his sugar prize away with long nailed fingers as the prisoner cried out in desolation over the loss of his mango.

“Stan’ up!” ordered Anzai.

Awkward, Stafford lurched to his feet and swayed as dizziness assaulted his balance. The man on the ground had been silent though blows still rained down on his pulped, broken, and bloody body. Looking from Stafford to the Malay without moving his head, Anzai gave an order in Japanese and his men stood at attention.

Still holding the remnants of the mango, Anzai led the way back to the railway. None of the men looked back at the ruined wreck. On the embankment above the Malay crew, the sergeant stopped and waited for the sniffling Stafford to stumble to a stop. He flinched aside from a last push with a rifle butt by a blood spattered soldier.

Stafford looked down into a sea of black hair and bodies shaded yellow and brown. ‘Inscrutable’ was the word Jennings would use, thought Stafford as he swayed transfixed by the raised gaze of the men below. With ill yellow and red eyeballs, they looked just as desperate as their deceased comrade and he was alive, he thought. ‘I am British,’ he said to himself.

“Now,” Anzai said grinning. “Now you fight for mango,” and he tossed the fruit into a lunging, jumping, grabbing, punching, kicking melee of hunger and rage.

Stafford licked the dried syrup around his lips as the now grit filled fruit kicked into view in the scrum. He began to lean forward to assess his chances and stepped back when he realised that his shaky legs would not hold him from falling into the writhing pit below.

Stafford looked into the grin folds that held black eyes in a face whiter than his own. “I think that I must return to my work party now, Sergeant Anzai.” I will find another mango, he thought.

“Yes, I tink so to. An’ you no leave again or ‘accident’ happen you.” The sergeant continued to grin. “You no want to be fight again.”

On wobbly knees Stafford took short steps between the immobile soldiers and walked around the curve cut into grey and brown rock. A bamboo grove on the lower side had been logged for building supplies and material. Morning and night work parties cut the section they now called ‘Hellfire Pass’ into the side of a steep hill. Exhaustion and starvation pitted against solid rock and hatred had won due to British ingenuity and courage thought Stafford as he shuffled up to his fellow prisoners.

“Bloody hell! Stafford old man, where did you get to? You look like you’ve been in a fight,” said Jennings in concern.

“I think I was, can’t remember…” Stafford trailed off as he knew that he could not explain his actions, as Jennings would note that it was ‘not cricket’ to take a wog’s fruit.

“Was it one o’ the wogs, Lieut’nant?” asked a Scottish corporal.

“Well, I’ll make sure Sergeant Anzai knows…” Jennings began and was interrupted.

“Already knows, told me to stay with group, remember that…” Stafford fainted.

“…maybe we can trade with the Thais for a chicken,” suggested an American private as he waved a shirt over Stafford’s recumbent form. “Obviously we’re not getting enough to eat.”

“What do we ‘ave to trade, mate?” asked an Australian officer. “Japs keep takin’ our Red Cross parcels.”

“Right, he’s awake,” said Jennings.

Stafford’s eyelids fluttered as he woke to a babble of consternation. He winced as a shirt blew sand into an eye. As tears flooded the eye he covered his face with his hands and turned away. When he saw the Malay’s face again, he began to bawl in great gulps as if each breath that he took would bring the starving man back.

“Alright then, give Stafford a moment then,” called Jennings. “There’s four holes to be drilled. Let’s get at them, lads.” Tears were not shed or shed in private.

There was a scuffing, shuffling, muttering as the prisoners of war dragged themselves back to their tasks. Stafford wept on, thinking about the Malay’s eye and wondering how he found the fluid to weep. Jennings would decide to say nothing if he was told, Stafford thought as his bubbling dwindled, but then he would be excluded from officer’s duties.

A boot kicked him to writhing pain in a kidney. Then a flurry of kicks reminded him that he was as mortal as the brown Malay. He heard Sergeant Anzai order the beating stopped and lay choking and gasping for breath.

“Look, no cry Ingrishman, look what I give for you,” jeered Anzai with a plump red mango perched on his manicured fingertips. “Look, look, you go get.”

Stafford’s stomach growled and an arm betrayed him by reaching to bring the juicy fruit to his lips. He was kicked in his boney buttocks as the prize remained out of reach.

“Ger up! Ger up!” ordered the corporal.

“See, for you we find. Now you go get,” said the sergeant as he sidestepped to the recently blasted wall.

A cloud loosed a caul of rain that misted down on the cut as Stafford got up and took one small step. His tongue wiped the moisture from his lips with the taste of dust and cordite. He should call for Jennings, he thought.

“Come. I no tell. Come,” urged Anzai who ignored the fine rain.

Stafford stepped forward again, thinking that Jennings was a good sort but would not understand after all. He was really close to the fruit too, so close that if Anzai were careless then he could grab it. He thought to feint a half-step stumble but Anzai stayed put. In the shadow cast by the cloud and the wall, he could not see the miasma of hatred in Anzai’s eyes yet felt worry needle his brain.

A tremor began in his knees. By clenching his jaw, Stafford found that he could stop his knees from shaking. He felt the soldiers behind him step closer and stepped forward to get away. Their breath carried the odor of horseradish and Stafford wrinkled his nose as he again stepped forward.

“Come, come,” said Anzai, shaking the mango like a treat for a dog. “Come, come.”

Anger made Stafford stop. He swallowed and glared down at the shorter man. A rifle butt connected with a kidney. He groaned and sagged forward. Anzai had a plan to disgrace him, Stafford now knew in the fog of his starved thinking. How he planned to do so near the freshly blasted wall, Stafford could not see, so he decided to fight.

In the thin soles remaining to his shoes he rushed forward and smacked into the wall as Anzai called out in Japanese and the mango lifted in a net tied to a rope above his head. Almost had it, thought Stafford touching a bloody nose and listening to laughter. He had felt the net brush against his hair as it rose.

“You try again. Go, climb and get mango,” directed Anzai as three bayonet points connected with Stafford’s back.

Hungry, tired and with the tendrils of terror beginning to wrap his body, Stafford thought again of calling for help. The prisoners had heard the Japanese guards and were making more noise as they pretended to work harder.

“No call Jennings, you climb,” ordered Anzai as he observed Stafford’s head shift. “Now.”

The bayonets pushed and Stafford began to climb the sloping wall. He had half a mind to climb to a ledge and call for help, but he could just see the plump red fruit bounce up the wall. If he could get it, he could embarrass Anzai too. With that excuse to fortify himself, he climbed hard and fast on rain slicked rock watching the prize bob just ahead of him.

A foot slipped and he held on shaking. Anzai called from below, “You climb more,” and laughed.

It then occurred to Stafford that the rope itself, a thick hemp used to secure railway ties, was now the prize. If he could grab that then he would be away from Anzai and not clinging to a ledge. He shifted his weight and waited. Jeering Japanese voices announced the dropping of the prize.

Stafford watched it pass and eyed the rope for a spot that passed over a gap in the rock face so that his hands had space to grasp the rope. Someone shook the rope like a cat’s tail from side to side. Stafford shifted his weight one more time to the tips of his toes and jumped. His hands slid on the harsh fibres and held. Then pain spread in his arms and shoulders as his weight stressed his weak sinews and muscles. His feet scrabbled on the rock to take the load off.

Toes caught on a ledge, he leaned out with a smug smile at his achievement. The sun returned and showed him Japanese soldiers very close above and well below him on the glittering rock face. He was planning to climb up when Anzai called an order and the rope was loosed from the top. Stafford fell with the rope and landed on the rough cut rail bed. Next to his sightless eyes, the mango had split open.

Anzai barked an order and the rope whipped upwards. His giggles were shrill cackles.

“What happened?” asked Jennings drawn down finally by the thud. “Stafford!” he exclaimed.

“Most unfortunate accident. He fall from rope while checking rock wall. Write report.” Anzai walked away from the shocked officer giggling.

“You bastard!” spat Jennings, enraged.


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


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Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors
Lost but not forgotten, the ancient tome that madmen rambled about has finally been unearthed!

Behold the Book of Horrors: Pages of flesh, bound by bone, contains passages inked in blood of murderous desires, demonic cultic practices, nagging old hags, and long forgotten ancient cities. And while the original document had a nasty habit of crippling and maiming the reader, you get the benefit of a safe electronic copy.

Get a copy of Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors today! Don’t have the money for it, but want to support horror and give recognition to the authors? Send me a tweet at @MrDeadmanDT for your chance to receive a free or discounted copy.

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Snoflower by L.K. Scott

Enhance your coffee

Snoflower by L.K. Scott

The mornings after Ben stayed out late, but arrived before the sun rose, he found Kristy still in bed asleep, or at least she pretended to be. She never slept so quiet, and after he awoke, there would only be enough coffee in the pot for her—never for him. That didn’t stop him from returning late and he never missed an opportunity to kiss her upon his arrival and again in the late morning.

Ben arrived before four am. The sun wouldn’t rise until eleven thirty when the icy tundra would sparkle beneath the full yellow sun. Plenty of time to get some rest before chores. Darkness swallowed their austere home and shedding his clothes he slid into bed beside her. He kissed his wife softly on the cheek who in return pressed her warm naked body against his, despite her taciturn behavior towards him the previous night.

“I love you, snoflower,” Ben told her. In the darkness his face was black like a withered apple, and almost destroyed from the unforgiving winters; his sloping forehead was dark, sun damaged from the long summers when the sun never set and the snowy mountains focused the beams like a magnifying glass across the blustery lands. His sickle-curved posture made him appear decades older than his natural age, and a thick scraggly beard protected his neck from exposure; a secretive, hairy, hunchbacked lecher. She smiled, still half asleep and said, “I love you too.”

At ten thirty in the morning, when the skies were dark and hinted the first flush of deep blue dawn, Ben ate breakfast at the table, a dish of salmon and potatoes with leftover bitter coffee warmed on the stove. After breakfast, Kristy stoked the fire, adding fresh wood that Ben had stockpiled and chopped during their brief Nunavut summer, while Ben gathered warm furs for the long evenings to come. Then, once settled, he retrieved a book from the shelf and settled into his rocking chair beside the warming comforts of the fireplace.

She leaned against his rocking chair after coffee and when she sat down beside him her eyes fluttered and he felt her body heat radiating off her body. She was a spirited-looking woman with hollow dimples on the corners of her lips that grew cavernous on the rare occasion she smiled. She had a short stubby noise and big fleshy cheeks, pinpoint, fig-shaped eyes with skin colored to match, but unlike her husband, Kristy’s was creamy like the fluid from a springtime milk thistle.

She watched him and the dancing flames until the hot water was ready once again and she hoisted herself up to fill their mugs and refill the kettle. As she moved about the room she left a rosy scent behind her with sage and pine with a tinge of salt and lemon from the fish she had prepared earlier. And again, after she retired for the evening and pretended to be fast asleep, Ben would depart until the earliest hours of the next day, and like usual she would empty the coffee pot until there was serving left for only one. Not just as a punishment, but to show him that she knew.

The following day while Ben was hunting for caribou, Kristy went outside to gather wood for their stove, several hauls that would last them through another bitter night. The sun had been down since just after lunch, for which she served a rare polar bear dish they had received from visitors who lived in a small village north, with a side of fireweed and more leftover potatoes. She wanted to surprise Ben with sage tea as soon as he arrived, but upon hearing a strange noise beneath the porch floorboards she dropped the wood onto the permafrost ground.

Beneath the porch, a dugout had been made behind their normal storage of usual meats and frozen grasses, large enough that Kristy could comfortably stand, but not for long as the air was dry and carried a deep Canadian chill. The ambient glow of the northern lights reflecting off the early snow allowed Kristy to see the round young face of the missing girl from a nearby village. Kristy didn’t remember her name, but the young woman had been missing for weeks, approximately nineteen years old and very beautiful though her eyes were ripe with fear. How she had survived the weather, Kristy didn’t know. She could only imagine that Ben had kept her alive—fed her just enough to keep her weak and away from death. There was a small heater in the corner, but not large enough to keep out the chill. The girl was alive now, Kristy could see the shallow rise and fall of her exposed breasts, blue from the cold. She muttered a plea to which Kristy replied, “I’m sorry, I just can’t.”

Kristy stood watching the girl, rigid with early signs of frostbite in her fingers. Her wiry, brittle hair covered her face and the dirt floors beside her. Even close to death, she appeared enchanting and fresh with pure skin like new-fallen snow and white with the natural illumination of the pale moon and northern lights.

As Kristy looked around the makeshift cell, other frozen bodies came to view. Four other girls, dead and frozen, each perfectly shaped youthful creatures preserved like bluish ice sculptures in the freezing temperatures. Some had perished with their eyes open, their irises frozen over and glassy, as if to be content with watching the shimmering starlight through the open cellar door. Ben loved them, Kristy knew. He spent more nights with them than he ever did with her. They were his collection and he chose to be with them. Did he touch them the way he refused to touch her? Did he make love to them, even after they froze? How could he choose them, how could he stray from her tenderness for an ice sculpture that would never touch him back, never love him the way she did.

Please,” the girl croaked. If dirt had a voice.

Kristy said nothing and returned to retrieve the firewood she that had spilled to the ground. She’d burn them in her kitchen stove to warm the kettle that would make Ben’s favorite sage tea. Ben arrived home several hours later. Coffee for one again. The tea would be late tonight. She thought of the young woman frigid below and Kristy wondered if her footfalls could be heard below the floorboards as she moved about the kitchen and into the living room to greet her husband with a kiss. Was the taste of the dead women still on his lips? Would she smell her between his legs if he allowed her close enough?

Kristy served him leftovers from breakfast with fresh potatoes and bittercress. She spent the meal in silence watching Ben as he raised the spoon to his mouth and licked the thick meaty drippings from his lips. His tongue slipped back into his mouth and she watched the muscles in his hirsute neck swallow, his adam’s apple swell, rise in his throat, then fall. He took a sip of his tea and when he caught her staring, he said: “I love you, snoflower,” and she blew out the lantern for the night.

He kissed her, but only on the cheek. She longed for more, to have him kiss her where her where her skin was sensitive, his rough hands in places where her body ached, places he only touched the missing girl, yet the only affection she had received was from the pet name he had given her that continued to echo in her ear long after he went out for the night.

In the veil of darkness she listened to Ben’s snores. She imagined packing her only suitcase with the few clothes she owned, and trudging through the snow to the nearest village, ten kilometers east. Donning the warmest caribou and seal skin coats, she could only voyage so far before submitting to a winter’s icy death touch. Beyond the snow-swept tundra, she still could not survive on her own. Even as the guilty thoughts drifted through her head like the lights that moved through the starry night skies she felt her betraying body pressing against his, his breath on her neck, the warmth of his bare skin against hers, his fingers which brushed against her thigh, and she knew she could not leave him. She missed him. She missed him like the winter snowflowers miss the springtime sun.

The following morning, Ben found the coffee pot still warm, its contents enough for one; for her, never for him. There never was. The sky was still black and would remain that way until spring. Ben looked forward to the cold season; it preserved the bodies and kept them firm.

Kristy leaned against his chair, handed him the mug of coffee, a nice change, but what was the occasion? It wasn’t until he drank the last of it and placed it in the wash basin and then stepped outside when he noticed the footsteps—his wife’s footsteps—leading under the porch and into storage. Through the kitchen window, he glanced at her, studied her care-free expression as she prepared the last remaining bits of polar bear for their evening stew. Below he saw his latest girl dead from hypothermia. She would still provide release for him all winter, but he was never truly satisfied. Not with them. The intimacy that he wanted was unobtainable and he suffered from a lust that could not be filled by any but one. What he wanted, what he truly wanted, was to love his wife in the most intimate way he knew.

“I love you, snoflower,” Ben said, though she could not hear him from the window. He disappeared from her sight, following the bank of snow under the porch. In the kitchen she heard the storage door creak open on rusted, frozen hinges. He was gone no more than a minute this time instead of all night, long enough to see the frost over her dead eyes. Again she heard the storage door groan and he emerged from outside. He stood in the doorway.

“How old is she?” Kristy finally asked.

Ben swallowed hard. “Eighteen.”

Kristy brought the spoon to her lips, her eyes blinking away the tears. The polar bear stew burned her tongue, yet she still felt frozen. “Is it because she’s prettier than me?”

His expression crumpled and his eyes filled with hurt, and the feeling that she had done or said something wrong made her feel heavy and ashamed in her chair. She let her eyes droop to the floor in hopes that he hadn’t seen her tears.

Ben crossed the room to her and dropped to his knees. His hands reached for hers as they rested in her lap. They felt like snowballs around her molten fists.

“No, honey, you are the prettiest one of all. Whenever I’m with you, I fall more in love. You are my soul mate. I love you more than anyone in the world, Snoflower.” He stared into her eyes, but that look of hurt remained.

“You don’t love them?” she asked.

“I love you and only you.” he replied.

Kristy stood up and moved to the coffee pot. She placed a mug next to it and faced Ben, her eyes pleading for affection, her mouth pleading for his. To be kissed passionately like how he kissed those girls. “There’s coffee for you in the morning,” she responded.

Ben kissed her, on the lips, but still just a peck.

“I love you, snoflower.” he said.

“I love you too,” she replied. Even after his confession, his reassurance, he still did not show her the affection she desired. She began to cry.

Ben raised the coffee mug over his head and smashed it into her skull.

The frozen air forced Kristy awake. Each breath filled her lungs with temperatures that crystalized in her throat, her breaths becoming shallower with every inhale. Drums and bone mallets like the ones she saw at the village equinox festival last year seemed resound within her skull and with each beat she saw explosive white and brown veil her sight. Thick coagulating blood spilled from her ears and dripped across her face, sealing the right one closed. She reached out, her fingers scraped against frozen dirt. Darkness surrounded her and above, her husband’s heavy footsteps shook the icy cavern. The hinges creaked as the door opened. Beyond his silhouette, the sky gleamed a curtain of emerald from the northern lights. The door shut and all became black again.

“I’ve always wanted to know you this way,” he said. Kristy clawed at the dirt, her arms weak, and her legs refused to move. “Even more than the others. I never thought I could have you this way. I’ve wanted it for so long.”

Ben smelled of pine chips and sour bear meat.

“Is this how you made love to them?” Kristy’s voice cracked, her throat felt like razor blades in the dehydrated freezing air. She was naked, caked with dirt and dotted with bruises over her bluish skin. The other girls stared wide-eyed and envious. Kristy could give Ben what they couldn’t.

“I wait a week. They are usually dead by then. The winter preserves their body in perfection and it helps with the smell. There’s almost no decay at all.” Ben stood wrapped in the warmth of his elk hide over her, blocking the hatch door. “You’re almost there. Another day, maybe two. You’ll die of dehydration if the temperature doesn’t kill you first. It will hurt, but only for a little while, and in a few days it’ll be over. Then I can have you just like I’ve always wanted. In the summers, we can travel to the permafrost territories of the north where you’ll stay preserved. Think of it as a vacation. Just the two of us. When winter comes, we’ll return.”

“Except I won’t be there for it.”

“Sure you will. You just wont experience it the way I will. I’ve never brought any of the others there, but now that I have you, I won’t need them ever again. We’ll be intimate just as I always wanted. Just like you’ve always wanted.”

Kristy’s body relaxed as she gave in to a new kind of warmth that overwhelmed her body. Her limbs fell still and her eyes stopped seeing. Just as she drew in her final breath, she heard her husband say with a final, heartfelt resolute, “I love you, snoflower.”

“I love you too,” she replied, and succumbed to the icy winter’s night.


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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, lovecraftian literature, or erotica. The darker the tale the better. take Snoflower for example, a story of necrophilia and kidnapping entwined with love and infidelity. If you’re thinking where to submit horror short stories then consider Deadman’s Tome. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the authors.