Taste the Shawl

The cold weather,
this vein problem sticks to tender demon tedious,
as he rocks in grandmother’s chair–
grandmother’s chair built from
her funereal elegance,
Victorian skin–
withered attention.

He sings smooth soliloquy in tongues
fluid with sick vapors,
targeting the words which made her famous in this–
argued death of ruffled Cholera,
Polio projection of what ailed her.

key girlVenomous behemoth suckles cherries
of crimson persuasion,
bloodied from the floor by the front door–
these puddles smolder with sin,
smugglings from the soil
to build her bones of succulent calcium,
mourner’s focus of erosion.

Grains and curses of scattered bloody somethings violate purposefully
the air of cannibal crumblings,
obedient prescription mumblings of overdone hunger–
charred to the core of corpse cryings
as he rocks in grandmother’s chair,
grandmother’s chair built from graveyard hair–
and licks his lips to taste the shawl.

By Brittany Warren


The Corpse Garden

Corpse garden beneath

                    Highway overpass

Distant transmissions echo

                   Through steel towers

Bodies hang high

                   From metal girders

Cables plugged directly

                   Into veins and arteries

Speak to demons

                   Nesting in neural networks

Totality of existence

                   Conspiring to carnage

rope girl





By Allen Griffin

Herbert the Pervert and the Glory Hole of Doom

evilUltimately it was his pride that was his motivation for visiting the porn shop to use the glory hole. Pride controlled by his shriveled manhood yes, but it was his pride nevertheless. For Herbert Genson was a deeply selfish individual and the thought of paying for sex with some common whore was repulsive and degrading – why should he, Herbert Genson, a war veteran be reduced to forking over what pitiful amount of his pension the government tossed his way as another would fling a mangy dog scraps from the rubbish. Needless to say Herbert was a bitter, twisted weed of a man would be the understatement of the century, the man practically pissed vinegar.
It all commenced with the unexpected passing of his wife Betsy Genson, devoted to thirty-five years of marriage the old crone abruptly keeled over one morn of a massive stroke, rather than being devastated with grief at the tragic loss of his wife, old Herbert was filled with rage at what he perceived was a serious affront against him. He felt cheated, robbed of dying first, although it was coming to terms with the forced celibacy that made his blood boil the most.
Not that Betsy was a minx between the sheets, she never had been for that matter, preferring to lie in a semi-fetal position motionless and mute as Herbert slaved away on top, pumping away with all the strength his frail frame could muster. Often the climax was brought about only by him fantasizing over other faceless women. A harem of women envisioned from dirty books his fellow soldiers had an abundance of in the war. He was too proper to belittle himself with actually owning these girlie mags. Still his eyes were free to roam the stained, creased pages for later use.
So with Betsy’s passing he found himself in a serious rut, he longed for sexual gratification, his loins tiny and shrunken like a snake carcass left in the harsh desert sun, still hungered for the orifices of a young woman, preferably virgin and white. As the days after Betsy’s death blended into months and as Hebert’s longing grew his standards were reduced. It intensified to when he would settle from any female contact, to any contact whatsoever, meaning he would accept another man’s orifice if such a one was offered, although he would scarcely admit that even to himself.
Nevertheless the seeds of corruption were planted in the desperate and horny Herbert. Firstly, he shied away from such thoughts, sickening himself with how vivid they were and how hard they made him. They always crept back, like cockroaches when the kitchen lights were extinguished, he could no longer sit idly by. He needed to act on them, consequences and eternal sin be damned he was a dog with a bone and needed to deposit it someplace.
Prostitutes were still unwaveringly out of the question, there was no way he would hand over his hard-earned cash to some lipstick-smeared working girl to receive the same treatment his useless dead wife Betsy used to favor him with, so he was committed to finding a suitable alternative. Now that he had abandoned his reservations any sordid encountered was a possibility, ripe for the plucking.
With that in mind Herbert started to pay close attention to the adult shops that had been popping up around the city, years ago he sauntered past these establishments with his nose pointed skyward, but that was before he was infected with the lethal virus of horniness, it riddled his body, clouding his mind, it was all consuming and he was its helpless puppet.
So he now paused at one of these places, one of the cleaner ones he could find, it was single door-way on a bustling street, concealed behind a curtain of grimy plastic flaps that flicked upward tantalizing in the wind, as if fingers beckoning him in for some anonymous carnal delight. On this first instance Herbert made his way as far as past the plastic curtain before he succumbed to cowardice and made a hasty retreat, vowing to conquer his apprehension and return.
Which he promptly did the very next day; this time he swallowed down the bile of doubt lining his throat and endeavored forward, He passed the curtain and blundered down a narrow corridor, his feet scrabbling up a din on the tattered carpet, his eyes glued to the X-rated pictures plastered across the entirety of the walls. Women and men alike, naked as the day they were born, performed the most depraved acts that would shame Ancient Rome orgies stared out at him smiling. Herbert was a kid in a candy store; his wide orbs lingered over these scenes of sick, seeing stuff that he never knew existed. Onward his feet took him on auto-pilot he barely registered how far he had descended the corridor, before his feet collided with a staircase and he nearly went toppling. Somehow he managed to shoot out a hand and steady himself on the dirt-encrusted banister. He cursed himself for his clumsiness.
“Nearly cracked your skull,” He spat, in his gravelly voice, “You old fool,”
“May I help you,” inquired a lispy voice from somewhere in the depths below.
Nearly jumping with fright, Herbert composed himself and craned his neck over the banister; there a pair of eyes attached to the head of a young, smiling man peered back at him, his very expression the perfect embodiment of friendly.
“Sir,” He went on, “Are you OK? You need to watch out for those stairs; there mighty step and you wouldn’t want to take a spill down them. Sir,”
Herbert was frozen to the spot with the shock of being addressed in such a godforsaken joint. When the young man did not melt into nothingness like a dream, Herbert worked out a response, “I am lost, I did not mean to come in here,”
A wry, knowing smile played across the young man’s delicate features, “That’s fine sir, I’m sure you know the way back to the exit, have a good day now,”
But he was calling that out to thin air; Herbert was long gone, departing as fast as his ancient chicken legs could. When the adrenaline subsided as he inched back out into the tide of foot traffic on the street, it was replaced with a seething anger at the cheek that young whippersnapper had dished out. The lads face was etched into his mind’s eye, tattooed with the ink of venom, every detail was perfectly rendered, right down to the ridiculous pencil-thin mustache the jerk was sporting. He was obviously a homosexual but that was not what bothered Herbert, rather it was the knowing look the other man had fixed him with – it conveyed a million messages, paramount of which was I am comfortable with my sexuality and everything I do, I am not ashamed by my desire or my willingness to pursue it.
Herbert dearly wanted to lash out and reduce that pretty self-righteous face to smithereens, that would teach him to be smart Herbert resolved, but his longing for sex or at the very least to be on the receiving end of a sex act surpassed this want to inflict violence. He decided on returning to that cesspool of an adult shop, that very night no less.
Doing so on any empty stomach was unacceptable, Herbert had made up his mind on returning fortified by alcohol. Yes, surely that magical elixir would make him succeed where he had failed so miserably before. It was the antidote to ease his ailment of doubt and he would apply himself to the act of its consumption as vigorously as whatever went on in the sanctuary of a locked stall with a glory hole.
Rushing through his front door Herbert set about getting as a drunk as he felt comfortable with. Unfortunately his stock of alcohol was meager at beast, boasting only a few lone beers and a couple of fingers of whiskey in a dusty old bottle that lay sentient in the kitchen cabinet. He assassinated them as if they were mere tap water; wiping the sting away from his mouth Herbert pondered his next plan of action. Then a stroke of genius hit him and he raced off to the living room, a room he seldom strayed into as for all intents and purposes it had been Betsy’s sanctuary and it always reminded her off him. With its fragrant stench of her cheap perfume and useless feminine trinkets that were strategically positioned around the perimeter of the room, all China dolls and kitty cats. The trinkets had always annoyed him to no end; in fact right now he was on the verge of submitting to frenzy and smashing all these offensive items to a million pieces, serves the stupid wench right for dying before me he thought morosely.
He kept himself under control, there were more pressing matters at hand, his object of desire, was displayed prominently on the mantelpiece. It was a perfectly aged bottle of champagne that Herbert had purchased in France a couple of weeks before Betsy and his wedding, Betsy had wanted to open the bottle on their wedding day, the selfish bitch, Herbert had dismissed her suggestion with a single frown, suggesting they would save it for a special occasion. There the bottle had slumbered and now it would be awoken – the special occasion was upon him.
He grabbed the bottle, colliding with the coffee table he sent one of Betsy’s most cherished China dolls flying, it landed on the tiled floor and came off second best, the head, still intact, turned to face him accusingly. He met its gaze with an equally unfriendly one of his own as he busied himself tearing the seal and popping the cork, it was hard work with such finicky fingers but he persevered, thirsty for his reward, in a matter of seconds the cork shot out and ricocheted off a sculpture of a cluster of cats on the China cabinet. This too was no match for such brute force and went sailing to the floor joining its fellow fallen friends in a similar broken condition, Herbert laughed merrily at the destruction he was responsible for, it was so satisfying destroying Betsy’s favorite possessions.
He chugged at the bottle like the disgusting slob he was, belching the bubbles loudly as they brewed in his esophagus. When the bottle was empty and it was in a spell, he pitched it, cricket-player style into the China cabinet, savoring the ruckus it made.
Then the realization dawned on him that the house was bone-dry and he would have to leave immediately if he had any hope of riding the wave of drunken oblivion he was currently at the crest of. With that he fled like a junkie robber. In his absent-minded state he left the door wide open as he spied a cab, he hailed with a clumsy sweep of his hand. The journey was punctuated with bouts of incoherent rabble from Herbert, mostly on the subject of Betsy who had been such a scourge on his life and how much he loathed her for it. The conversation was strictly one-sided, the cab drivers English was limited and he thought his passenger utterly mad and was glad to rid of him in the city, mutely taking the man’s abuse about the cost of the fare and skidding off with a rubbery tire screech when this nonsense had concluded.
Herbert did not pause and linger at the doorway as he had previously, filled with Dutch courage he passed through the door with a spring in his step that reverberated from his gnarled feet to his nobly knees and settled in the base of his groin. Ignoring the posters of decadence lining the corridor walls and mounted the rickety staircase like a pro, normally his elderly body would sing songs of protest at accomplishing such a feat but not today, today his dick was all that mattered. Arriving at the ground floor, Herbert allowed himself a brief moment to drink in surroundings.
The place was a shoebox, carefully-lit there was shelves on every flat surface housing contraptions and paraphernalia dedicated to the art of hard-core sex – lovemaking of the kind depicted in Mills and Boon novels had no place within these four semen-stained walls. Occupying the far left wall was a glass topped counter, sprawled across it like a wounded animal was the young man from before who shifted when Herbert’s eyes passed across him.
“Lost again?” said the young man, that insipid smile spread under that fluff that aspired to be a mustache.
“No,” barked Herbert, marching to the counter to the beat of his own drum – the withered heart caged in his bony chest, “I’m looking for something,”
“What might that be, a bus timetable or perhaps a coupon to an all you can eat diner,”
“Don’t be smart with me boy,” Herbert spat back, his temper wearing thin, “I served this country; I could have been killed so you could stand here and disrespect your elders,”
“I beg your pardon,” quipped the upstart on the opposite side of the counter, he even furthered the insult with a mock salute.
Herbert narrowly avoided yielding to his rage but a higher power made him ignore the jest, I need him Herbert thought bitterly and the bastard knows this. So Herbert endured, tactfully continuing,
“I’m looking for some relief,”
“Relief, what sort, if it’s back relief I would recommend a Chiropractor or even acupuncture, I hear that works wonders,”
“No, relief of the,” He glanced furtively behind his shoulder as if Jesus Christ was looming over his shoulder before adding, “sexual frustration,”
“You need some sexual healing,” clarified the porn shop clerk in a mix of disbelief and naked revulsion.
“Yes,” admitted Herbert guilty as another man may voice at a trial for murder.
“Are you a cop?”
“Do you have a serious medical condition? Such as a heart condition,”
“I must confess I’m intrigued,” said the young man, savoring the discomfort with a twiddle of his absurd moustache, “I never realized you were gay,”
It took every fiber of Herbert’s being to resist the temptation to reach across and beat the man to a senseless pulp, swallowing hard he pressed on,
“I am not gay,”
“But sir that’s what awaits you behind that curtain,” He tipped a thumb in the direction of a small black curtain off to the side that Herbert had not noticed until now, “The chances of you encountering a beautiful woman or any woman for that matter are slim to none it pains me to say,”
The man’s expression of pain seemed to be one of amusement in Herbert’s opinion but he continued sensing their discussion was at an end,
“You do understand that don’t you sir?”
“Great, its fifteen dollars, you can stay as long as you like obeying the general etiquette of no means no and safe sex,”
Herbert was outraged at having to pay for such a venture but forked over the cash regardless he had come this far and the notion of returning home defeated with blue balls as big as genetically modified grapefruits plain scared him. When the sale was finalized the troublesome clerk presented him with a token which Herbert stuffed into his pocket without so much as reading it. His field of vision had narrowed to a tunnel like a drug user in the midst of a hallucination, he only saw his target – the tattered curtain that when parted would lead him to what he had longed for since the day that accursed Betsy betrayed him by dying.
The curtain swept aside like thinning smoke and he glided into its dark interior. The short corridor he found himself in was so dimly lit Herbert nearly broke his neck going in, gradually his eyes adjusted to these harsh conditions. Rows of stalls were on either side, Herbert could hear the rustling of shed clothes and the slapping of flesh on flesh and the symphony of gasps and groans at whatever debauchery was occurring behind the doors that divided them.
Some were slightly ajar and Herbert glimpsed shadows melded together, hunched over one another in the throes of shameless passion.
Partly because he did not want to intrude on these scenes and partly because Herbert wanted to be in complete control over whatever transpired – especially the initiation portion Herbert rushed into a stall he found to be empty and locked the door behind. Trembling with anticipation he shed his clothes and sized up his body. His member, pathetic in size and shape stood to attention fully erect, no small feat in itself, given his advanced age and declining health.
Still there it was – ready to be wielded by its owner and Herbert could wait no longer. He spotted the glory hole punctured at groin height on the wall and closed in on it, without a moment’s hesitation he slid his genitals into it and silently beckoned an anonymous fellow pervert to make themselves useful and get him off. Anticipating a long delay Herbert was pleasantly surprised when he sensed movement in the adjacent stall seconds after he had jammed himself through the wall.
Truly his prayers had been answered by the God that had tormented him so for all these years, the bastard feels guilty Herbert noted.
The person in the other stall hesitated, nothing but nothing occurred for what seemed eons, impatient with lust Hebert lightly rapped his knuckles on the wall in the hope this may jolt the stranger out of their trance. Success, he could hear their short, measured footsteps as they crept across to his throbbing member.
A foul smell assaulted Herbert’s nostrils as their proximity neared, it took Herbert a moment to register and place it, so much time had passed since this stench last invaded his noise – it was death, fresh death with the blood of the deceased still cooling in the veins. Hebert could not shake the belief he was now in the company of a walking corpse as ridiculous as it sounded.
Before he could submit to such childish fears and make a hasty retreat the figure in the other stall lunged forward and seized his penis.
“Let go,” shrieked Herbert in a falsetto voice that passed for a school girl in distress, “You’re hurting me,”
“How many times did I say those exact same words to you over the years and you told me to shut up and be quiet,” said a familiar voice, though familiar it was distorted as if filled with gravel or maybe soil, a souvenir from the disturbed grave it had escaped from.
“Who are you?” pleaded Herbert, struggling with the pain of the vice-like grip crushing his manhood to the point of bursting as children would jumping on a plump leech, “Please tell me,”
“After all these years you honestly don’t recognize me?”
“No, should I?”
“Should you recognize your wife’s voice after more than thirty years marriage together, yes, I think so,”
“Betsy?” he asked, voice thick with disbelief.
“No, the Grim Reaper,” She hissed back, tightening her grip mercilessly, “Of course it’s me you pathetic old fool,”
“But that’s impossible, you’re dead,”
“Who are you trying to convince me or yourself?”
“I found your body, I buried you,”
“You did,” Betsy confirmed, “But I decided to come back to bring you with me, you do not deserve to live,”
“Why are you being so mean,” Herbert whined, “All I ever did was love you, I did everything for you,”
“You stand there, drunk on the Champagne, you never allowed me to drink, with the insults about me still fresh on your lips and you have the gall to say that, you pathetic creature,”
“I see the error of my ways, I can change,”
“I can be of benefit to society; if you will let me go I will create a charity in your honor,”
“You’re never done anything for anyone except yourself,”
“Please,” He implored, reduced to tears that stung like a jelly-fish, “I can be a whole new person,”
“I didn’t make a deal with the Devil so I could come back only to listen to your miserable lies and fake promises. I would ask you to take it like a man but I know better than anyone that you are not one, so let’s remove the filthy little organ that’s caused me so much hurt,”
With that the reanimated corpse of Betsy, gave a tremendous yank with all of her supernatural strength, severing the filthy little genitals that belonged to the filthy little man she had the misfortune of spending her life with. The organ was severed as if made of wet paper in one gruesome gesture, testicles and all. Herbert roared, a roar that only an incinerated live pig could muster, it practically broke the sound barrier, shredding his voice box to a pulpy mass of distended cords.
He was on the verge of succumbing to the blackness that splashed across his field of vision like an oil spill, there was a deafening roar splitting his eardrums and in his mortally wounded state he failed to understand his destroyed voice-box was the cause of the chilling cacophony. Despite this wall of sound Herbert was fully aware of another sound – laughter. Emitted from two individual sources, one unmistakably belonged to Betsy the other belonged to an entity not of this world. It sounded like a million flies united as they buzzed down the barrel of a megaphone, imitating a human’s voice and failing miserably, only Lucifer himself could make such a sound.
As Herbert expired from his wounds, slumped upright against the wall, no longer a man even anatomically, he was suddenly immersed in a fierce red glow and with it came an intense heat, of a degree he has never before experienced. In his delirious state he was convinced that he was trapped in a furnace, the kind he chucked stray cats into during his childhood. Although the pain exploding from his groin was the greatest he could feel. He could feel his flesh burning, sizzling like the bacon he gorged himself on of a morning.
A sea of hands sprouted like weeds around his feet, hands of all shapes and sizes varying from that of a newborn baby to a fully grown man, all a uniform color of polished onyx, with nails like rusted nails. They latched onto his helpless frame, dragging him downward, tearing his flesh like a pack of ravenous piranhas. Without warning the surroundings tore open like a canvas, exposing a land of fire, stoked into such a heat it would melt a mortal in an instant. Looming in the foreground the figure was a giant. Their figure constantly shifting shape, despite the brightness of the surrounding flames they were shrouded in shadows, a darkness as black as midnight in a mineshaft. Resting atop was a massive head, its only feature a freakishly sized mouth, its blistered lips the size of two anacondas were spread in a wide smile exposing the maw of its mouth. Lining it was rows of needle teeth, writhing like maggots as if alive, at the center of its mouth was two giant orb-like eyes that resembled a serpents, the color of a deep amber and right now they were affixed on Herbert as he was dragged inexorably toward it.
Then it spoke in that inhuman voice that instilled abject dread, “Herbert dear boy, welcome, we have been expecting you,”
And with that the Devil lunged forward to chomp his very soul like a tasty morsel. Herbert screamed his last breath as he was devoured like the victim in a children’s fairy-tale. At that exact moment the torn canvas dividing the two worlds – that of the mortal and that of the immortal, abruptly sealed shut, the invisible zipper pulled close into nothingness leaving but not a single trace.
Altered to the frenzy by the shrieks of bloody murder, the young clerk proceeded toward the curtain barrier, on legs made of water which was funny considering the dryness in his throat. He was reluctant to enter but his sense of duty prevailed when a dozen or so semi or fully naked men ran out, narrowly avoiding barreling the intrepid clerk in their haste to escape the insanity. Nervously playing with his thin mustache, he neared the curtain and after summoning some bravery called out,
“If you’re hiding in there, I feel obliged to let you know the police are already on their way,”
No response whatsoever saw the young man hesitate at drawing back the curtain and continuing his investigation, he strained his ears to pick up the slightest noise that would betray the presence of a would be attacker, but nothing reported back to him, either there was no one alive in there or they were an expert at holding their breath. He had no desire to stumble in on a crime scene or become a fixture in a crime scene photo album buried away in a moth-balled archive somewhere.
Still, part of him needed to know so he surged forward on borrowed bravado, plunging into the darkened hallway with bated breath ready to turn tail and flee at any sign of trouble. He zeroed in on the stall where the murder must have happened, it was easy to pinpoint for it was clearly the source of the abundant supply of acrid smoke that wafted out to greet him like a flash-hotels welcoming committee. Then a smell hit his nostrils so foul he almost wished it had been a murderer’s blunt instrument instead. It brought him back years ago in a rural town, during a bad spate of bush fires a whole family had been burnt alive, he had been one of the first on the scene and would never forget the smell of roasted human.
Here it was now, in this palace of porn which only usually reeked of salty sweat and semen, not nice smells by any means but infinitely better than the mix of burnt hair, scorched skin and boiled blood that comprised the smell of a cooked person. The young man wretched but kept down his dinner, breathing through his mouth with a sleeve cupped across it, he ventured on.
The door of the stall stood ajar, blown off its hinges as if a small explosion had detonated within. The young man peered into it, expecting to see the confines converted into a butcher shop and some raving killer hunched over a kill, stuffing their victims intestines into his gnawing jaws. He was mildly disappointed when this was not the case. There was a small fire suffocating on the remnants of the carpet.
The stall had been painted in a befitting black before, now in the flash of heat, much of the paint had peeled away only to be replaced with a coat of smoky blackness. When the young man took a closer examination he noticed scratching in the blackness, as if some poor soul had clawed for dear life, when he averted his gaze downward the young man took note of the smouldering pile of clothes. If someone was in here they would’ve run away with the others or vanished altogether he thought to himself.
“Internal combustion?” He reasoned to himself, doubt as thick as the smoke that enveloped him.
That was what the Cops thought as well, there was an investigation into it, technically the case is still open although it now lives in a comatose state in a drawer in an archive in a row or archives, Herbert had amounted to the fear the young man had had when he discovered his final resting place. To be fair the authorities had little to go on, there was not a trace of human tissue recovered and the clothes had burnt so badly Herbert’s wallet melted with them and with it his chances of being identified. Thus ended the legacy of Herbert Genson and the commencement of his eternity of suffering, he was neither missed nor mourned.
It is said amongst certain circles that the porn shop is now haunted by the spirit of Herbert Genson, that every once in a while the Devil releases Herbert from his Hell playground and allows him a brief respite by haunting this porn shop. It is also said that Herbert Genson rips off any man’s genitals he comes across in a futile gesture to replace his own, and that he takes the souls of his victims back to Hell to share the burden of suffering.
But surely that is just mindless gossip from mindless people, such things cannot happen, the Devil is not real nor is this Herbert Genson whose story we have heard – well then I challenge you to go down to your nearest, seediest adult store, pay the fee and go into the stall and literally put yourself in that position. But be warned if you hear the voice of a billion flies, or smell the smell of cooked human or worse still feel the grip of a dead man’s hands around your soon to be dismembered member, then you will know that this story was true – right before your dick gets ripped off and your soul takes an unscheduled prolonged stay in Hell’s eternal sea of fire.

By Samuel Elliott



Three by Euginia Tan


i passed by an

accident scene

on my way to ballet.

each time i leapt

trying to twirl in mid-air

i would land, ankle crooked

wondering how

the bloodied dead bodyskull face

soaked in red

would appear

en pointe

pirouetting in the middle of the road

where his spectators

would stand awed

even more so than at the presence

of lazarus

who rolled boulders away

while my corpse bowed clumsily

on the rough gravelly stage

that took his breath away

and made me feel my age.


i know there’s something in that drink you just handed me


as i am wont to

wantonness and

prone to sudden spells

of suddenly lubricating

my cheap underwear lined with lace

i will gladly drink up and let you do whatever you deem fit

there’s a whip in the boot

cuffs under my pillow and

a policeman uniform hidden at

the very back





she told me she

had dreams and grand schemes

of successfully murdering

her baby sister one day.

this lanky young girl

with gaudy motifs on her shirts

her chest still flat and face too flushed

from pre-adolescence.

this lanky girl no heavier than my little finger

telling me repeatedly

over and over again

how she would brandish her knife (from the kitchen

where i watched her just make me lunch;

spaghetti with mushrooms, tomato, chicken thigh.)

and stick it in the soft

jelly-like folds of her sister’s gut

letting the thrill of the first stab

course through her own scrawny frame first

then giving in to rage

two, three, ten and twenty

deliberate well-administered strokes

of her weapon of choice.

she says all this with relish

her wiry braces glinting

winking at me as though daring me

to be her partner in crime.

By Euginia Tan

This is Reality!

“Oh. My. God!” Melissa screamed into the phone. “I know! And did you see the mother?”rozbitá televizní obrazovka s rukou
She was talking to her girlfriend, Sandy, and Sandy was on her lunch break from work.
“I just… I couldn’t believe it. It was so…” she looked for the right word. “Intense!” She nodded to herself, wide eyed.
They both laughed, and agreed to meet up at her place when Sandy finished her shift.
Melissa hung up and reached for the remote control. She flicked through the channels. Each fragment of TV show made an appearance for no more than a second or two. Melissa paused for a moment at the sight of someone crying, but carried on when she saw it was an old movie.
She realized it was just a regular news channel she’d landed on. Melissa wouldn’t normally “choose real news,” as the slogan went, but something had caught her eye. In the top right corner she noticed a face that was very familiar to her. It was the face of Charlie.
She froze, waiting to hear what it was all about. The corners of her mouth were trembling and her heart was racing. But the voice on the TV was flat and uninteresting. She shut it out of her mind concentrated on the images.
Charlie’s face was wide and pockmarked. He had thin, grey hair and dark brown eyes, almost black. His teeth were crooked and jagged at the edges, and when he grinned it made Melissa and Sandy shudder all over with revolt and disgust. They loved it! In fact, they made a joke out of it every time his face came up on TV – they would stop, turn, face each other, stick out their tongues, and mock-shiver like they were jelly; falling about in fits of laughter when they were done.
Charlie was one of the stars of the new hit TV show, Unnatural Predators. It had been described as “no holds barred” and “ground-breaking” and “revolutionary” and came with a warning right before the show started that told viewers, in a very deep and serious tone of voice, “this program contains explicit content that all viewers will find offensive.”
All viewers, she noticed; not just some. What that meant, at least in her experience, was that the show would be pretty darn… what was the word? Intense.
Charlie was a lot of things, but most of all, he was the perfect villain. He was the guy everybody loved to hate, and the very sight of him made their spines quiver and stomachs wretch.
Charlie was a pedophile.
The girl’s mother, in the most recent episode, had spoken of the great sacrifice she was making, all in the name of “raising awareness” and “bringing an important issue to the forefront”. She spoke with the kind of sincerity that came with tears and smiles and solemn head-bobs. This was reality, after all. Melissa wasn’t even sure what the woman meant by forefront, but it sounded like a darn good cause.
The front door opened and Melissa turned her head. “Hello?”
A grunt from the hallway, and then heavy footsteps up the stairs.
“Oh,” she smiled. “Hi sweetie. I’ll put dinner on soon. Call you when it’s ready.”
A door slammed.
The small plastic container was steaming when Melissa pulled it out of the microwave with her thumb and forefinger and dropped it on a plate.
“Dinner,” she called, then made herself a Vodka and Krystyl-NRG mixer and went back to the couch. It was nearly eight o clock, and her show was about the start.
The phone rang.
“Did you hear?” It was Sandy.
“Here what?”
Sandy breathed in and out. “They already shot the scene.”
Melissa brought her hand to her mouth. She didn’t want it to be true – it was so soon – but then something occurred to her. If the scene had already been filmed, then that meant it wouldn’t be shown live on TV, as promised. But on the other hand, if it was finished, they might…
“Do you think they’ll show it tonight?” she asked.
“Maybe,” said Sandy, and she giggled.
The show started – the theme music, the montage of photos and images, all coming together into one giant model of a planet.
They opened with footage of the little girl: Mathilda, 7 years old, from a small town called Pellegrino. She was all dolled up and ready to go. Her hair was up in a beehive and her eyeshadow was a deep blue. She turned and smiled, then blew a kiss, winking. Simultaneously the screen showed a graphic that caught the kiss and then a sparkle came off her white smile as she winked.
“Isn’t she beautiful.” Sandy cried.
An interviewer held up a big microphone with pink sequins along the edges and asked: “Mathilda, so, what’s been your most exciting moment so far?”
The girl’s finger came up to her mouth and she looked up and to one side – the perfect Shirley Temple pose. She smiled – that twinkle again – and said: “I’m gonna be a star!”
The crowd cheered.
“Okay, I’ll call you after,” Melissa said and hung up the phone.
After the next commercial break they recapped the last seven weeks, beginning with the quest for the perfect candidates. Thousands of young girls auditioned, accompanied by their mothers – most of whom were overweight – and each one performed in front of an audience. There were five judges on the panel; an eclectic mix, ranging from a teenage hip-hop star to a sixty-five year-old playwright. In the first round they used only the buzzers, which marked the bad ones as “rotten” and the good ones as “sexy”. They replayed the highlights – the freak shows!
Then there was the hunt for the Charlie. The main thing was the look. He had to have that inexplicable look – the kind of look that people associated with all men of his kind.
And when the current Charlie finally came along the voting was unanimous. No one knew quite where he was from, or his background. At first he caught the eye of the panel and the audience with his general manner and overall demeanor, but when he stood and described his tastes and desires the old playwright had actually fainted.
Melissa called Sandy at the next commercial break.
“Did you remember that girl whose mother came up on stage with her during the third round. The mother was wearing garters and net panties. Like she was trying to upstage her daughter.”
Melissa smiled and then laughed. “Was she the one they dragged off stage?”
“Yes! That weightlifter judge came up and carried her off by her throat. It was hilarious.”
The show came back on, and there was an announcement that the main event would be broadcast tomorrow night.
Darn! Melissa couldn’t believe she had to wait a whole day to see it.
“We’ll be starting any moment now,” said one of the commentators. “Charlie is in his room preparing, and…” The camera showed the commentator knocking at a dressing room door marked, Charlie. “May we come in?”
An assistant looked at the camera and smiled, holding the door.
“So,” asked the commentator. “What’s the process involved?”
The assistant smiled, pushing out her chest. “Well, Simon, we’re getting Charlie ready as best we can. As you know, this is a one-take deal, so there will be no do-overs, no re-shoots.”
The camera panned across the large dressing room. Charlie was admiring himself in the mirror and he had another assistant sitting beside him.
“And what’s this one doing?” asked the commentator, pointing to the second assistant.
The assistant waved and held up a pair of nail clippers.
“Gotta get this one groomed and ready. He’s like an untamed animal.”
Charlie turned and faced the camera and growled, holding up his hand in a claw shape. The commentator laughed. “You carry on,” he said.
During the next break Melissa refilled her Vodka Krystyl-NRG. On the counter top beside the refrigerator she noticed a large pair of wooden scissors. She picked them up with her free hand and frowned. She’d never seen them before. It puzzled her.
Then the music blared from the TV – the show was starting again. She rushed back into the living room and sat back on the couch, spilling some of her drink on her pants.
The screen filled with Mathilda’s young face, accompanied by sombre music. Mathilda and her mother were sitting together in the dressing room. The mother was holding her daughter’s hands, and was saying, “Everything’s going to be fine, Mommy promises.”
The girl nodded and smiled, this time she didn’t show any teeth so there was no twinkle. “Am I still going to be a star?” she asked.
“Of course you are,” said her mother. “And you’re gonna make lots of money.”
The girl smiled again. There was a close-up of her face. “But I’m scared,” said the girl in a quiet voice. The audience provided their collective “awwwww” in the background.
The mother glanced at the camera and gave a small, understanding nod.
“And what did mommy say?” she asked. The girl snivelled and looked down at the ground. “Mathilda? Mat-”
She took her daughter’s chin firmly in her hand and pulled her face toward hers. “Mathilda, look at me.” The camera showed a side angle now of the two of them. “What did mommy say?”
Mathilda squeezed her eyes shut and a large tear rolled down her cheek. “Mommy says-” she snivelled again. “Mommy says, everything will be OK.”
“That’s right, that’s exactly what mommy says. And do you think mommy’s lying?”
The girl shook her head.
“That’s right.” The mother wiped the tears from her daughter’s face and yelled over at the production crew. “We need a touch-up over here.”
The makeup team took over and the mother faced the camera. She brushed the back of her hand across her forehead in a “phew” gesture, then followed this with her famous sad-eyed head-bob.
Melissa felt a lump in her throat. This was truly great TV. She was mesmerized, so much so that she didn’t even notice the front door open and close as her son left the house.
When the show was over she called Sandy again and the two of them talked for nearly two hours about the night’s events and the how each scene had made them feel. They discussed Charlie – Melissa joked that Sandy had the hots for him and Sandy made a gagging sound and this sent the two of them into fits of laughter.

The coffee was bitter when Melissa came down the next morning and she realized it was from the day before. She made a fresh pot and saw the wooden scissors once again. She picked them up and examined them. They were not real scissors, they didn’t open or close. She turned them over and saw something written on the back: Product of X-Shield Productions.
Where had she seen that name before?
Her coffee maker beeped and she poured herself a cup. The front door opened and her son came in.
“Josh,” she said. He didn’t reply. “Coffee’s on,” she said.
Melissa sipped at her own coffee while reading this week’s edition of Scandal-Breaker Magazine.
She looked up and saw Josh was still standing in the doorway. She smiled. “Hi dear.”
“Would you go somewhere with me today?” he asked.
She considered this. “Ah, sure,” she said. “Where?”
There was a pause.
“I can’t tell you,” Josh said.
Melissa looked at her watch.
“What time would this be?” she asked.
Josh was silent for a few moments and Melissa nearly went back to her magazine.
“Ten minutes?” he said.
She smiled. “Sure.”
Melissa refilled her coffee and took it into the living room. She flicked through the TV channels again, pausing briefly on what she mistook for an episode of Scandal-Breaker LIVE, before landing once again on a face she recognized well. This time, it was Mathilda’s face she saw in the top right-hand corner of the screen. There was a man talking, again in that dull voice. The choose real news voice. She was just about to turn down the volume when something stopped her.
“…the young girl is being held in the intensive care unit at the County Hospital after a…” Melissa tuned out momentarily, her mouth open. Mathilda was in hospital? What happened? She’d seen her on TV only the night before. She had to call Sandy.
“…and the brutal attack reportedly took place on the set of the hit reality TV show, Unnatural Predators. Executives at X-Shield Productions refused to comment.”
Melissa was silent for a moment, genuinely shocked. She hoped Sandy hadn’t already heard the news – she wanted to be the one to tell her. She reached for the phone.
“I’m ready mom.”
She turned and smiled. “I’ll be right out. Go wait in the car, sweetie.”
As Josh walked out the door Melissa grabbed the phone and dialled Sandy’s work line. It went straight to voicemail. Darn!

“You still not gonna tell me where we’re going?” Melissa asked. They were driving along Richmond Street.
“It’s a surprise,” he said. “Make a left on Porter, then park along there.” Then he looked at her with a face she’d not seen since he was five years old, right after his Daddy left. It was an expression of hope and anticipation as he’d handed her the Christmas card he’d made for her at school. “It’s suppise mommy,” he’d said, right before sprinkling macaroni and glitter all over the kitchen table.
Melissa parked the car and followed Josh in through the back door of an old warehouse. He was carrying a backpack and she caught a glimpse of those wooden scissors poking out the side.
As soon as they were inside two men ushered Josh through a private door and Melissa was taken through another door that was marked, backstage area. The room was small and there was a window in the corner. She was seated in front of a large monitor where she saw the blown up face of a man. The man was talking, giving introductions and making the audience laugh. Melissa smiled. Was her son going to be on a game show?
The man pointed to the screen, his face all snarly and crazed, and the dramatic music started. “…but which of these contestants will… Make. The. Cut?”
There was cheering – this time she heard it from all around her, not just from the TV screen. Melissa laughed and clapped her hands.
A man in a suit brought her over a glass. She took a sip and smiled. Vodka and Krystyl-NRG. “My favourite!” she said. “Thank you.”
This was fun, she thought.
“Shall we bring out… contestant number one?” the man on the TV shouted. When the camera zoomed out she noticed that the man’s eyes were small and beady, and his forearms were thick and hairless. His sleeves were rolled up, and what was that he was wearing down his front? A white apron?
They cut to the images of the screaming crowd, the camera panning across the faces of all the people clapping and cheering, some holding signs and banners. Big brand advertising was pasted across the walls.
Suddenly the building was blasted with heavy guitar music and Josh walked on stage, waving at the crowd, then shaking the hand of the man in the apron.
Melissa stood in the empty room and screamed and clapped in delight.
Josh sat down and the man asked him some questions about his age and his interests and where he was from; and he answered them so well, Melissa thought. She couldn’t wait to tell Sandy all about this when she got home.
“Are you ready?” asked the host.
“Yes sir,” Josh saluted, then pulled out his wooden scissors and waved them in front of him.
“You have five minutes,” said the man, then he turned to the audience and commenced the countdown: “Three…two…one…”
Melissa was on the edge of her seat. “Come on, sweetie,” she called out.
The clock started ticking on screen. Josh leaped up and threw the scissors in the air. They spun three times before they started to fall. Josh stood below, faced the ceiling and opened his mouth. The crowd gasped. Melissa wrung her hands together. Down fell the scissors, picking up velocity, and they were heading right for Josh’s face. Melissa stood and approached the TV.
“O.M.G. O.M.G.” she said.
In the last second, Josh moved his head over and turned it to one side. The scissors slid across his mouth and he bit down, catching the blade side-on in his teeth. Then he whipped his head back around again and faced the audience, showing them the scissors, then took a bow. The clock froze at four minutes and forty seconds. Clapping and cheering followed, but Melissa heard some boos as well.
“Oh, well, would you listen to that,” said the host. “Seems like some of the audience members were rooting for the scissors and not you.” There was laughter from the crowd.
“Are you ready to continue?” asked the host. Josh nodded. “Yes sir!”
The booming voice counted down, and the clock was started again. This time, Josh pulled out a second pair of wooden scissors and held one in each hand. He crouched down and slammed both handles down onto his knees. Fire erupted from both blades in a white flash and the audience clapped.
Josh tossed one of the fiery batons in the air and then the other. The second one tapped the first at the tip, sending it on a new trajectory. Josh dived to one side and slid on the ground. There were more gasps from the crowd. Josh’s outstretched arm caught the first pair of scissors, then he jumped in the air and sprinted in the other direction. The second scissors were right in front of him and he kicked his foot out to stop it from hitting the ground.
Then the entire stage turned a dark red and the deafening fog-horn tore through the studio. The action replay showed the tip of the scissors touching the ground just ahead of Josh’s shoe.
“Oh, no, Josh,” said the host with a grin. Then to the crowd: “What does our audience think?”
They entire crowd stood and yelled: “Failed!” in unison.
“Ooh,” cried the host. “You have one more act, don’t you, Josh?”
“Yes sir,” he said. His voice was tense now, less confident.
“Better make it count, or…” he turned to the audience and said, “Make. The. Cut.” Guitars sounded again and the camera panned out from the stage.
On the screen came the words: Commercial Break, and Melissa stood up and peered through the small window overlooking the stage. Men with gadgets clipped to their belts and headphones around their necks were marking various spots on the stage and taking notes. A young girl was sweeping makeup across Josh’s face and another was pulling at his hair. Melissa waved but Josh didn’t look up. She sat down again. The TV was showing Scandal-Breaker LIVE and Melissa was temporarily distracted.
“This just in,” said the Scandal-breaker reporter known as Razz Bazz. His Mohawk hair looked a different colour each time she saw him.
“We have received reports that young Mattie Jennings has just died in hospital. Mattie is better known as Mathilda from the hit show, Unnatural Predators, which is currently the subject of some controversy across the country.”
Melissa leaned in when she heard the name Mathilda mentioned.
“Our sources inside the hospital say the death was a result of massive internal trauma.” Razz Bazz touched his ear piece. “But wait,” he smiled. “We now have an exclusive interview with the mother.”
Melissa was so excited she nearly forgot where she was.
The guitars shook the building again and the monitor switched back to show the main stage. Melissa nearly cried out in protest until she saw her son waving at the crowd.
“Welcome back,” said the host, and made his introductions. Melissa tried to remember what had happened before the break and wondered whether there would be a recap when the show aired on TV.
“Are you ready for your third act, Josh?” the host asked. Melissa thought she heard something ominous in his voice and it added to the suspense.
“Yes sir!” Josh cried, and the countdown commenced.
This time, Josh held up the scissors to his face. There was something on the tip of them now – something black and round. What was it?
Gentle music faded in, and Melissa recognized it instantly as her favourite song from when she was younger.
All the lights dimmed except for one that beamed up from the stage and illuminated Josh’s face. As the camera zoomed in and focused, Josh began to sing.
Melissa decided to walk over to the small window and watch from there. As she looked over at the stage, she welled up and the tears stung her eyes. For a short moment, there was a connection with Josh she’d never experienced before, and everything else in her life faded away.
As Josh hit the last note, he looked up, directly at the window, and smiled. Melissa smiled back and touched the glass with her fingers just as the music faded out and Josh took a bow.
The enthusiastic cheering was broken apart by the aggressive booing, and the two sounds blended into one heartless drone. Melissa frowned.
“Well, well,” said the host. Then he faced the camera and frowned. His mouth turned down at the corners and his tiny eyes squinted and glared and it made him look like an insect. “Cast your votes now,” he said, pointing at the audience.
The stage went dark and they were in total silence. Once more the camera panned across the audience, this time they all had smart phones in their hands. A pie shape appeared in the top left hand corner of the screen and inside it the colours spun around before settling. The red made its way around the pie in a clockwise motion, gradually consuming the green until the pie was made up of nearly all red.
The lights came back on and Josh was now sitting in a chair. There was an audible crack as long metal rods reached out of the floor next to where Josh was sitting and clamped around each of his hands. He wriggled, but then gave up.
“I’m sorry Josh,” said the host, turning back to the audience. “But numbers don’t lie.”
The screen showed the audience, mesmerized by the show, waiting to see what happens next.
“I’m afraid you…” a long pause, followed by loud, flowing sounds that echoed throughout the building. “Made. The. Cut.”
Melissa breathed out, closed her eyes. Yes! She thought. He made it!
The host raised his hands and another small trapdoor opened in the floor. This time, a long blade rose slowly, building up the audience into a frenzy. The two large handles appeared and the trapdoor closed.
“Oh no!” said Melissa.
The host reached down and grabbed the giant scissors, which had to be at least five feet high, and his fists clenched around each of the handles. He held them up in front of him and snapped them open, then closed, then open, then closed. The crowd screamed and clapped, expressions of awe on each of their faces.
“No, no, no!” Melissa banged her fists on the door, then tried the handle. The door opened and she bolted through, knocking over one of the sound guys.
The host approached Josh, who had begun to cry. “No use fighting, son,” he said, and he held up the scissors and opened the blades.
Melissa ran past four of the other contestants waiting in line and a security guard approached from her left before touching his ear and backing off. He watched as she ran, nodding to the instructions of the voice in his ear.
The host pushed the open blades forward until the edges brushed against Josh’s neck, grazing the skin and causing tiny beads of blood to form at the surface. Josh winced in pain and looked up at the host.
Melissa reached the door to the stage and looked around.
“Open drains,” said a man to the left of her sitting at a small desk in front of a computer. Melissa screamed and barged through the curtain and onto the stage. The security guard nodded, then sprinted on stage after her and grabbed Melissa from behind. Her legs kicked out on front of her as the guard lifted her off the ground. The audience gasped and fell silent.
“Whom do we have here?” asked the big, booming voice.
“Mom,” called Josh, distressed.
The audience gasped again, most of them raising their hands to their mouths. This was the big twist – the one that would no doubt be shown later on Scandal-Breaker! LIVE.
The security guard didn’t move, just held her there, right where she was. The host turned back to what he was doing and wrenched the handles shut, closing the blades around Josh’s neck. They cut through the first layer with no difficulty, but the host had to reposition himself to finish the job.
The camera zoomed in on Melissa’s face now, capturing all the emotions that were running through her, one by one. The host, whose apron was now a dark red, turned to face the audience.
“Join us, after the break, to find out if our next contestant will… Make. The. Cut.”
The screen showed a profile of the next contestant, listing his skills and vital statistics, then faded out.
Melissa was taken out by security. She was still kicking and screaming as they threw her out the back door and onto the sidewalk. She tried to get back in the guard grabbed her and held her still. “Ma’am?” he said. She kicked and bit and scratched. “Ma’am!”
He faced her. “Ma’am, if you don’t calm down, I’m going to have to call the police.”
She screamed at him, though she didn’t know what it was she was saying – she just couldn’t find the words.
“Ma’am, will you listen to yourself? Just listen to yourself.” His voice was incredulous. “You’re being hysterical. You’re acting crazy.”
Then Melissa stared back at the guard with an expression of moral outrage that would likely be as unfamiliar to him as it would have been to her that very morning.
“Ma’am, if I let you go, do you promise to behave like a civilized human being again?”
She nodded, too bewildered to move or speak.
“Good, thank you,” said the guard.

Melissa drove home, still uncertain what she should feel.
On the radio she heard the familiar voice of Razz Bazz and she decided it was a welcome distraction.
“We now have it on good authority that Janice Jennings, the mother of the late Mathilda, will be the star of her own TV show: The Law Suit. In an interview with the family lawyer, Ed ‘The Shark’ Voorhees, Ms. Jennings will be launching a tort action against the production company for gross negligence resulting in the death of her daughter.”
On to a sound bite: “This sort of criminal negligence just can’t go unpunished,” said The Shark. “And I intend to dedicate the next few months of my life to pursuing justice on behalf of the family. It’s just outrageous how today’s society would chew off its own arm if it meant getting in front of a camera.”
Razz Bazz continued with the report, laughing. “Wise words, Mr. Shark, wise words.” He cleared his throat. “The rights to the show have been bought by Brevacom, the parent company of X-Shield Productions, and should commence shooting this fall.”
Melissa stared at the traffic in front of her and processed the day’s events. And then an idea occurred to her.
After she got home, the first call she made was to Brevacom’s marketing department, where she explained everything, up to and including the death of her only son, and they were very interested in auditioning her for the next season of The Law Suit.
The next call she made after that was to Sandy, and she felt a buzz of excitement when she picked up the phone. After all, there was so much she had to tell her.

By Jonathan Woodrow

Love, And Other Violent Things

“Bang! You got me,” she said, collapsing in a quivering heap. Her breasts heaved one last time while she held her breath feigning death. He stood over her with his pop gun pistol and stroked her soft cheek.
“You fought the good fight, but you weren’t good enough.” He holstered his weapon and walked off into the painted wall sunset, leaving her still warm corpse to collect insects and decay.
She sat up and watched him go, a ghost maybe, a spectre possibly, or just the shadow of a tainted love shot down in cold blood.
“Did I deserve it?” she asked, cocking her head.
“The dead don’t talk,” he answered.
“They do if they’re murdered, especially if they don’t know why.”
“It was a crime of passion, you’re lucky I ended you quickly.”
“I don’t feel lucky.”
“You should, the things I would have done to you . . . they would’ve made Manson’s hair stand on end.”
“Who’s Manson?”
“The godfather of psychopaths,” his eyes grimaced.
She felt a shudder and returned to being dead. He knelt beside her now, he touched her face and pulled out his pocket blade. In her forehead he carefully etched a heart, her eyes were open and watering.
“Why?” she shook.
“There is love,” he answered. “But love dies, just like the soul and body. You and I, we will be in love forever, this is the only way I could truly own your essence.”
“But it hurts,” she whimpered.
“Life hurts, this is merely a pinprick compared to what comes next, that’s going to hurt me more than any knife wound or gunshot.”
She closed her eyes, and let him graze her with the sharp end.
Every incision was precise, he took painstaking care to make the Y cut down her chest and open her up. The ribs were the most difficult to overcome, fortunately he had come prepared with pruning shears to get past the sternum. Of course he needed to get to that finite muscle, protected by stubborn bone and cartilage .

She was cold now, opened like a tin of tuna, revealing the edible innards. He had dug through her body, selected interesting organs and efficiently cleaned her out. All that remained was her exposed, intact heart. It glistened, young and vibrant. He could still see it beating . And as he ran his fingertips across her internal skin the hairs on her arm prickled under his guytender caress. Her eyes were fixed on him in that adoring stare and he leaned forward to kiss those pouty, purple, perfect lips. She pressed back against him and her slick blood lubricated their embrace.
“Now you are mine to fill as I please,” he whispered gently into her scalp.

By Emily Smith-Miller


cut upHells Bells my sister Kate is almost all the way down the well. As her torso plummets and twists into the stony black crater; I gather up her arms and legs figuring I’d throw them down later.

But now I think it’s time for me to refresh and go get a beer.

Sauntering off to my cooler, housed in the cluttered trunk of my car. Oh, how I like drinking cold beer alone, I simply don’t like sitting elbow to elbow in a bar.

With that first foamy sip I think about Kate’s final journey, her permanent immersion into the earth. I think about my family, their stuffy personalities and overall lack of mirth. Always so serious; always so tight; all they ever do is work day and night. Never a vacation; never a short trip; oh well, until tonight, into that cold water their bodies did dip.

Deep in thought I take a second gulp and cup it on tongue; I should have killed them years ago; I should have done it when I was young. But I didn’t have a job then and I couldn’t afford the tools; satisfaction cannot be gained merely with a simple gun you fool. To truly enjoy, you have to scrape off their flesh and cut through their bones and watch it all dry in the sun.

And how that sun hangs so high in the sky, its searing rays I cannot escape. On this flat field there is only a well, and no tree branches for shade. Truly in this instance beyond my family’s demise, it is this ice cold beer that is adding joy to my prize. Those chilling hops and barley and all that frothy fun; you know, I never realized my sister’s legs were this long.

Her nails on fingers and toes are painted in the exact same shade; I marvel too at these talon designs and how they are made. What is that dear reader? No, I didn’t forget her head. Her ponytail is tied to my belt and in this light, my her hair looks so awfully red.

It used to be brown, then blonde, and then some shades in between. It used to be long, then short, and quite sleek but always meticulously clean. So very, very red is her dangling dead head; no, it’s not the blood or an illusion from the sun; it just looks like she had a crappy dye job done.

I take some time and knock back a couple. I take some more time and knock back four more. The icy cold tingles and washes down my spine. My body shudders and shivers to its core and it feels oh so fine. Ah, refreshed it’s time to finish up here. I feel energized. I now feel fortified by beer.

I have to go home now and I think I’ll make some tater tots. I’ll eat them with pickles; the juice and jar will keep Kate’s head from rot. Of course I will have to shrink it just as I did with Mom and Dad. They’ll all make joyous decorations for my bachelor pad.

It is so nice when the family does things together.

By Joseph J. Patchen

The Testicle Drawer

She sat in the armchair with tears trickling down her face, biting her lip and wincing occasionally, whenever a sharp unwanted memory resurfaced and piercingly struck home once again with its cruel truth.
There should be grooves worn into my cheeks, she thought to herself, grooves to the bone for all the tears I have cried, I will never escape this pain, never.
She shut her eyes as tight as she could and shook her head for a few seconds, trying to dislodge his laughing face from inside her mind.
jars“I hate him!” she whispered to herself.
“I hate him so much, I can feel it running through my veins like liquid fire, my head buzzes with the intensity of the anger and disgust which fills my thoughts constantly.
But my chest, oh my poor chest, that is where the worst of it lives, all the pain, despair, loneliness and loss, yes I carry it around in my chest. It nests there around my broken heart, a heart once so innocent that all it wanted was to love.”
As she said the word love, her whisper changed first to a moan, then to a cry until it ended with a scream.
She looked around herself confused, with a grimace of pain distorting her tired features, shaking her head slowly and mouthing the word ‘No’ silently over and over again.
She slipped into a daydreamy trance for twenty minutes or so, until the sound of the village clock striking the hour brought her back to her senses.
“Where is he?” she whispered to herself as she looked slowly around the room with yearning, desperate eyes.
“Where is the evil bastard, why is he not here, why is this happening to me, how can this be happening, what went wrong, I just don’t understand anything anymore?
Look, there is the wooden floor which he sanded and varnished himself, there is the green stripe he painted along the skirting board and door frames; there are the wooden blinds that we went out and bought together in Redruth.
This is a graveyard of my marriage, I am living in a graveyard of misery, I cannot change it, how can I?
I cannot decorate, the thought of it sends me straight back to when we decorated it together, when we were happy, when life made sense.
I rot here, here is where I rot, this prison I built with him while blinded by love, little did I know that the home which I lavished my care and affection upon would soon repay me with indifferent looks from its heartless walls.”
She pulled a scrumpled tissue from her pocket and spat into it three times, as if she were trying to rid herself of some poison, then replacing the tissue back in her pocket, she raised her fist in anger and looked around the room silently crying, with her mouth half open, in perfect despair.
Her eyes fell upon an opened newspaper on the coffee table just in front of her; she reached forward and picked it up, along with a black pen from close by.
She placed the newspaper upon her lap and looked down at it, it was opened at the wedding page, there were thirteen photos of newlyweds but the grooms in twelve of the photos had been completely blacked out, she leaned forward with the pen and began to work on blacking out the
thirteenth groom, dot by dot.
As she pressed away patiently, she curled her lips into a sad smile and whispered,
“You poor, silly women, ah, thirteen more brought blindly to the slaughter, you will be broken apart and left for dead just as I was, there is no saving you now!”
Her thoughts flashed back to her own wedding day, she cringed, closed her eyes and stabbed at the newspaper with the pen, screaming as she did so.
She did not stop until she felt the tip of the pen sink into her left leg, then she calmed down quickly into a soft, regular shudder, leaned forward and put the pen and newspaper back on the coffee table.
Nothing makes much sense anymore, she thought to herself as she sat back in the chair, all my hopes and dreams came true yet only to fall to pieces right before my eyes, does nothing mean anything anymore, am I the only one alive who really means what they say when they make their vows?
Men, fickle, fickle, fickle, it is all but a game to them, no matter what you give them it is never enough, off they go filthy beasts, sex, sex, sex, digging through the slime and dirt for sex.
All your love betrayed, all your trust destroyed, every nice part of you laughed at and looked down upon as a weakness, you cannot win by playing fair, it is the cheaters who win every time because it never meant anything to them in the first place, lies, lies, pretty lies.
She fell asleep in the chair for a few hours but was woken up by a gnawing sound, it was one of the rats in the cage in the corner, she stood up and walked over to inspect.
“Ah, we have babies!” she said with delight as she looked into the cage.
There was a rat half curled upon the strips of toilet tissue in the corner of the cage with six or seven young around her belly and on the opposite side of the cage was a second rat, obviously the proud father, gnawing away happily on one of the bars of the cage.
“I’m so proud of you Alissia!” she said fondly to the mother rat, then she turned and walked to the fireplace.
The fire had already been made, it needed only a match to be struck to it, this she did, she stayed squatting for a minute or two watching the paper burn and the sticks catch light, then she stood up and walked out into the kitchen.
She reappeared shortly carrying a clear, plastic cereal container which she carried over to the rat cage, taking the lid off as she walked.
“Ah, my Alissia, you have finished with that thing chewing away in the corner, he has served his purpose now that the children are here, it is time for the thing to leave us!”
She opened the door of the cage, reached in and picked the male rat up by its tail, pulled it out of the cage and dropped it into the cereal container, quickly putting the lid on.
She walked to the fire and placed the cereal container in the middle of the fire, picked up the poker and pressed it down on top of the container.
“The things always jump around, the last one jumped so hard that the whole box came rolling out of the fire, ruining the rug but I have learnt, I have learnt!” she said to herself with a chuckle.
She watched as the rat squirmed around inside its trap, then a small hole appeared in the bottom and the container filled with smoke, there was a high pitched squeal and the whole container lost shape and melted into a ball around the burning body of the rodent.
Once she had tired of staring at the now diminished plastic container she replaced the poker on its stand, walked back to her chair and sat down.
After a few moments she glanced at the newspaper on the coffee table in front of her and cringed at the sight of the wedding page with the hole in it, she leaned forward in her seat and turned three or four pages to cover it.
When she had done this, she realized that she now had the personal section before her; she glanced down the column, tutting to herself as she saw the advertisements for tarot readings, soul mate introductions, massages etc, until something caught her eye.
It was the name of Alan and the message read,
Alan, looking for adult fun with women aged 18-35, discretion assured, followed by a phone number.
“Ah, a bastard, a sneaky little bastard!” she cursed aloud.
“Discretion assured, after married women for sport, you evil sod, wanting to break apart families for fun, oh you are the sickest of the sick, the sickest of the sick!”
She stood up, closed her eyes for a second and smiled, then walked to the bookcase, picked up a black marker pen off one of the shelf’s and sat down upon the floor.
There was a drawer at the bottom of the bookcase, she pulled out a chain from within her blouse and unlocked the drawer with the key attached to the chain.
She pulled the drawer open, grinning as she did so, inside the drawer were nine large pickle jars, each jar with a white label stuck to the top of it, all bearing the name of a man, except one.
She wrote the name of Alan upon this and then closed and locked the drawer, chuckling to herself in an almost insane way as she stood up and replaced the pen.
Into the kitchen she then went, returning shortly wearing her coat and putting her purse into one of her pockets, then taking a brush off the mantelpiece she set right her hair while repeating to herself,
“Fee, fie, foe, fum, fee, fie, foe, fum, fee, fie, foe, fum!”
Smiling, she went to the coffee table, ripped out the page with the personal column, walked happily to the front door, to enter the street, head to the phone box on the corner and phone up Alan.
By Paul Tristram

Espresso or Are These Beans Burnt? They Taste Burnt to Me.

They went to the same cafe every day. Sat there sipping the same lattes and reading the same books they had brought with them each and every time before. He always sat in the back of the room. She liked the window. Most afternoons, he wrote. She liked the way he held his pen. The way his writing looked effortless when she only ever struggled. She thought one day that he might look up at her in passing. She tried to order loud enough so that he could hear. She wanted it “Rich, and Thick, with lots of Sweet … Buttery … Foam.” She licked her lips, thought of licking him. He looked over at her. That was the second time in a month. Did he know what she was thinking? Did he want to suck that latte foam off her mouth? Did he want her, right there on the table with the barista watching?
bloody coffee
Yes … He did.

He’d always wanted her, wanted to dribble steaming hot milk on her stomach until it boiled her flesh inside out. He wanted to shove pastry up her ass with his leather-clad fist. He imagined her insides tasted gooey like sugary cream salted taffy left out in the sun. He smiled at her. Adjusted his pants. Went back to writing. He imagined her in just her lacey black panties. He had looked, once, and seen them when she crossed her legs. She wore those stockings, the kind with garters. He wanted to cut them off slow with the straight razor he had in his pocket, wanted to wrap them around her throat while he kissed her gasping red mouth. She was so sexy. He imagined she’d scream, slap his face. He imagined she wanted him like that, her chest flushed and heaving, glass breaking all around them. He could feel the sweat against the hair on his legs.


He wanted her, all of her — her meat, her organs, and her pretty blue eyes — and he wanted her to want him. Wanted her to beg for it until she couldn’t take it anymore.


He wanted those gorgeous latte covered lips, face down now, heels up later in the dumpster.

“Sir! … Do you need anything else?”

He put his pen down, took his glasses off, and wiped the sweat from the lenses. He looked over at her. She was still smiling at him.

“Yes,” he replied to the waiter. “Can I have some very hot milk? To go.”

By Cheryl Anne Gardner

The Skeleton Man

native“Alright boys and girls we’re a few miles out of Walpi Village. Couple of things we gotta go over before we get there.” Tim, the driver, spoke to his group of student teachers in the back as his Volkswagen Van bounced unforgivingly along the harsh mountain road.
“Tim, what is this our fourth time through this? Do we really need these little pep talks before every stop?” Said Chris, one of the student teachers. Chris wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to teach. He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to do anything. He was a trust fund baby, but his father insisted that he get a real job if he wanted to receive his fair share of the family fortune and teaching seemed an easy route to him.
“Look man, this is different. I don’t wanna freak you guys out but this place is way off the fuckin’ radar ya know? Like back to the Stone Age and shit. They don’t like outsiders and the only reason we’re going in is because the Reservation Council insisted we spend a week teaching these little feather heads about the outside world.”
Tim had been a high school biology teacher for a few years but his excessive use of the words “fuck” and “shit” along with his fondness for THC had him seeking employment elsewhere. Shortly after he “resigned” he signed up to work with the REA (Reservation Education Association), and truth be told he felt more comfortable there. College girls were much more legal than the ones in high school.
As Tim went through his spiel on the dos and don’ts of dealing with the Hopi Villagers the only one really paying attention was Megan Myers, Meg she preferred. Of the four student teachers, Meg was the only one that took this assignment seriously. It had been, after all, her idea that the group spent their last semester traveling around Arizona and teaching at various Hopi reservations.
Megan had two great passions in her life, volleyball and teaching. At first it was only volleyball. She’d been awarded a full athletic scholarship to Arizona State University and even been picked to play on the Olympic team in 2012. Unfortunately a few torn ligaments in her knee ended her volleyball career quite abruptly. Now she focused on her teaching. She wasn’t bitter. She viewed it as a new opportunity. A simple life of teaching high school history and coaching volleyball sounded just perfect to her. She took on the task of teaching with the same voracity that she had with volleyball. Always looking to go above and beyond what was expected of her, hence, the student teaching at Native American Reservations.
The rest of the group went along with Meg’s idea for different reasons. Quinn, Megan’s boyfriend, knew how passionate Meg could be and realized he didn’t have much of a choice. If he didn’t want to spend a whole semester away from his girlfriend then he would have to tag along. A fellow athlete, Quinn had shared Meg’s passion for sports, but not for teaching. He just wanted to coach baseball and have his summers free.
The only other girl, Ashley, had been Meg’s best friend since the two girls shared a dorm together freshman year. Ashley had developed a sort of unhealthy dependency on Meg. Hanging out with such a wholesome girl made her feel better about her less than wholesome lifestyle. Chris had come along because he wanted to get with Ashley and thought four months away from any frat boys or jocks might improve his chances. He was wrong.
As Tim pulled his van around a tight corner the students got their first glimpse of Walpi Village. They’d been doing this for about two months now and all the Hopi villages they’d visited had a sort of cultural blending theme. The men wore blue jeans and band T-shirts while they performed their traditional ceremonies. The pueblos had satellite dishes on their roofs. Walpi Village was nothing like that. As they crossed the stick fence that signified the border of the village, they felt as though they were stepping back in time. The first thing they noticed, since dusk was rapidly approaching, was that there was no electricity whatsoever. The only light came from the fires and torches that bathed the whole village in an orange glow.
As they pulled in and got unpacked they instantly saw what Tim was talking about. Most of the Hopi Villagers ignored them. Those that did acknowledge them did so with scowls. Tim talked with the village elder who pointed out where the group would be staying, two tents set up a good distance outside of the village. This was going to be a long week.

The next morning the group set to work. Chris and Ashley were in charge of the five to ten year old group while Quinn and Meg taught the older boys and girls of the village. There weren’t any children there over the age of sixteen.
The first thing Meg noticed about her group of students was how small it was, five students in total. Too small, even for a tiny village like Walpi. She judged based on the number of people she had seen the night before that about three quarters of the village’s population had kept their children at home that day. She understood. The Hopi people had their own traditions. She wasn’t there to force Western Civilization down anyone’s throats. She was only there to help.
“Ms. Myers,” one of her students asked her, “what’s it like out there-beyond the village? Is it better than here?”
“No, not better,” she responded. “Busier, but not better. There are a lot more people, all different kinds of people, all living together. People out there are always rushing. Everyone seems to be in a hurry all the time.” After thinking about it Meg could see the benefits of living a quiet secluded life up high in the mountains, although she was shocked to learn that many of the children had never left the village. “I think that’s enough for today kids. Why don’t you run on home?”
Megan began packing up her things when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around to see Cha’Tima, a sweet boy around the age of fifteen. Tall for his age, and a bit awkward, the pockmarks and pimples on his face showed he was having a difficult time going through puberty.
“I picked these for you this morning,” said Cha’Tima as he handed her a beautiful bouquet of purple and gold desert wildflowers.
“Thank you Cha’Tima! That was very sweet.”
“I just wanted to tell you…well I think…I think you’re very beautiful.” His cheeks flushed red and he ran off embarrassed. Megan was getting used to this. She never considered herself beautiful, cute maybe, but many of the boys on these reservations had never seen a white girl. She was something different, and whether she knew it or not she was very beautiful.

Despite the initial hostility towards the group, the people of Walpi Village were beginning to warm up to them. Each day more and more students joined the classes and on the fourth day they were all invited to witness a traditional Hopi ceremony.
“The Snake Dance,” said Meg. “Isn’t that what it’s called?”
“That’s right,” said Cha’Tima. “I’m impressed. I didn’t think anyone outside the Hopi tribe knew about the Snake Dance.” Meg just blushed and watched the ceremony begin. Cha’Tima explained, “We pray for rain and the snakes carry our prayers back to the gods.” It was a beautiful ceremony, if not a little unnerving. It started with a dance around a huge bonfire by the men of the village. They wore eagle-feathered headdresses and hand woven cotton blankets. After this the priests came out. There were four of them altogether, each carrying two rattlesnakes. The rattling of the snake’s tails added to the beat of the drums to create an almost hypnotic rhythm. The priests placed the snake’s heads into their open mouths as they continued to chant their prayer for rain. Meg was sure she was going to see someone die that night, but she didn’t dare interrupt. Tim, who was sitting next to the Chief with Ashley enjoying a long drag on the peace pipe, had specifically warned against this.
The ceremony was short, lasting only about an hour. Afterwards Meg went to look for Ashley but couldn’t find her anywhere.
“She went off with Tim, out into the desert,” said Chris. “What the hell is wrong with her going out there with a creep like Tim? He’s gotta be almost forty.”
“Dude, he’s early thirties at the most.”
“Shut up Quinn! Nobody asked you!”
Quinn was a big and overly proud. He didn’t like being talked to like that by anybody, much less a spoiled rotten little punk like Chris.
“Listen motherfucker, Ashley doesn’t want anything to do with you. She thinks your weird and she’s tired of you hitting on her.”
“I said shut up!” Chris pushed Quinn hard, but only moved his large frame back an inch or so. Quinn’s eyes went red. He balled his fists and was about to draw back when the uncomfortable silence was broken by a shrill scream.
“That sounded like Ashley!” said Meg.
“Masauwu.” Whispered one of the old priests sitting behind the group cross-legged on the dirt. Nobody seemed to notice him until he spoke.
“Masa-what? What’s he saying?” Quinn said to Cha’Tima.
“Masauwu, the Skeleton Man.” Cha’Tima replied. His eyes wandered out towards the sound of the scream.
“Who the fuck is the Skeleton Man?” asked Chris.
The old priest began to speak in the Hopi language. Cha’Tima translated.
“The Skeleton Man is the spirit of death. He guards the door to the fifth world. He watches over the Hopi people and, when called upon, takes vengeance upon their enemies.”
“Do you think she’s in danger?” Asked Meg.
“Only of catching the clap,” said Chris, still pouting.
“Chris, that’s Ashley out there!”
“Look Meg,” said Quinn, “as much as I hate to agree with Chris I think Ashley’s safe. If we went out there looking for them we’d just end up getting lost.”
“But that scream.“
“Haven’t you ever heard a coyote babe? They can sound an awful lot like a chick, especially a chick with a high-pitched voice like Ashley’s. I’m sure Tim and Ashley are right outside the village getting stoned right now.”
“I don’t know, something just doesn’t feel right.”
“Look, if they’re not back by tomorrow morning, which they will be, we can head out with a guide to look for them okay? Let’s just go to bed. Why don’t you come sleep with me tonight?”
“No, no I’ll be fine. I’m gonna wait up a little longer for Ashley.”
The disappointment on Quinn’s face was quite obvious. “Alright fine. Well g’nite sweetheart. I’m telling you everything’s fine.” Quinn kissed Meg on the forehead and trudged off to bed alone. Chris followed him shortly after. Meg waited up as long as she could for Ashley. She fell asleep next to the fire. When she awoke the next morning and checked around the village, Ashley and Tim were nowhere to be found.

Meg woke the boys and they agreed to go out and look for the missing members of their group. Cha’Tima agreed to be their guide.
“I know the land better than anybody I swear!” He said a little too enthusiastically. “I can help, really I can.” With none of the other villagers offering to help they really had no choice.
Cha’Tima took them out of the village and down the mountain trail. He took them through canyons, past dried up riverbeds, and into dark caves. The group must have traveled twenty square miles over the course of the day but they’d seen no sign of Ashley or Tim. By the end of the day they were thoroughly exhausted and beginning to lose hope.
“Something bad happened,” Meg said tearing up a little. “Something really bad happened. We need to get to a phone and call the cops.”
Quinn tried to calm her down, “Okay, well head back into town tonight. Who knows they might be back at the village by now.”
That’s when the group realized that they could see no sign of the village in any direction. They couldn’t see much of anything out in the desert.
“Cha’Tima, we want to head back now, which way is it?” said Meg.
“Umm…it’s North, I think, but I can’t see the stars.” Night was setting in quickly but heavy clouds covered the night sky.
“Quit messing around Geronimo, take us back.” Said Chris.
“I-I don’t know the way. I’m sorry Meg, I’m really sorry.”
“Oh that’s great. Look you little shit,” Chris now had Cha’Tima by his shirt collar. “I’m not spending the night out in this fucking desert. You better figure out which way home is real quick.”
Cha’Tima’s eye went wide with horror, but not because of Chris. He was staring at the two dark figures approaching the group.
“Oh my God, is that?”
Ashley and Tim shuffled towards the group out of the darkness. Their clothes were gone and their naked bodies were smeared with filth. Their heads hung low and they both appeared to be sobbing.
“Ashley, oh my God what happened?” Meg ran up to her friend.
“No! Stay away, stay away from me. He wants you too. He wants all of us!”
“Ashley what are you talking about? Who wants us? What happened to you?” Meg asked.
“Run! Get the fuck outta here! Just run away please!” Tim screamed at them through choked back tears. Despite their pleas Ashley and Tim kept shuffling, zombie-like, towards their friends.
“Looks like you guys had a good time together,” said Chris. “Timmy my man, don’t think for a second I won’t be reporting you for this. Good luck finding a new job buddy.”
Just then Tim lunged on Chris and grabbed him around the throat with one hand.
“Tim what the fuck!” Quinn shouted as he tried to pry Tim’s grasp off of Chris’ neck.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” Tim sobbed. “I can’t control it. I can’t control my body! Just run! Get outta here!”
Before Quinn could listen Tim’s other hand reached up and snatched onto Quinn’s throat. With inexplicable strength the stark naked Tim lifted the two men high into the air and started walking off with them.
Meg was frozen in place as she watched the scene unfold. When she finally found the nerve to turn her head she saw that Ashley was already on top of her. Tears streamed down Ashley’s face. She was sobbing and choking and apologizing to Meg over and over again. Her arm shot out like a bullet and she clutched Meg’s long blond hair tightly between her fingers. With a quick yank she pulled Meg to the ground and dragged her off in the same direction as Tim. Every nerve in Meg’s scalp shot out in fiery pain and she was certain the top of her head would come off at any second. She twisted and kicked to get free but it only increased her agony. Ashley’s grip was so strong! She continued to fight for what seemed like hours as Ashley dragged her body over the harsh desert terrain and finally into a cave dimly lit by torchlight.
Meg prayed for the sweet release of unconsciousness, but it never came. She felt every agonizing inch of her journey until Ashley finally released her grip and dropped Meg on the floor of a large circular chamber deep within the cave. Meg got up on her hands and knees and surveyed her surroundings. There was a large bonfire in the center of the chamber. Quinn and Chris lay at Tim’s feet, unconscious but still breathing. Around the fire stood more people, twelve altogether. They were naked and covered in grime, just like Ashley and Tim, but their bodies were emaciated husks. Nothing more than skin stretched tightly over bone. Their hair was long and thing and grey. Their eyes were yellow and bloodshot.
“I’m so hungry,” Meg heard one woman cry. “I’m so tired and so very hungry.”
How long have these people been like this? Meg thought to herself.
Meg saw the only exit to the chamber behind her, guarded by three more of the walking skeletons. A long dark shadow was coming down the ramp that led to the cave’s entrance.
“The Skeleton Man,” Meg said to herself as she prepared to meet the evil face to face. But it was not the Skeleton Man, nor any other beast. Strolling casually down the ramp was Cha’Tima. Not the awkward boy Meg had met at the village. This was a confident young man bearing a wicked grin.
“My dear, sweet, Meg. I’m so happy you’re here.”
“Cha’Tima, you…you did this?”
“Oh no. I’m just a servant. This is the work of Masauwu.”
“That’s just a story Cha’Tima. He’s not real—“
“He’s real!” Cha’Tima shouted. Suddenly his face went red with anger “You white people think our beliefs are just stories, stupid silly little Indians and their stupid silly little stories. Your race is too young, too polluted to remember the old ways, the ways of magic, but you’ll see. He should be here very soon.”
Meg wasn’t going to stick around to find out. She started to get up, but before she could get to her feet Tim’s body came over and put a knee on Meg’s chest. She gasped harshly, expelling all the air from her lungs.
“What’s the matter you little shit?” Tim shouted to Cha’Tima as he put his full weight on top of Meg. “You can’t fight your own battles?”
Cha’Tima shot Tim an angry look and before he could say another word both of Tim’s hands shot up to his face and his fingers dug into the soft flesh of his eyelids. He plucked out his own eyeballs and threw them on the floor of the cave. Tim screamed out in agony as the dark red liquid streamed out of his empty eye sockets.
“Quiet.” Cha’Tima said. “Masauwu comes.”
Tim’s body pulled its knee off of Meg’s chest and she gasped for air. She rolled over just in time to see the dark doorway open right in the middle of the bonfire. Out of the darkness emerged an enormous figure. With one great leap he came through the doorway and landed on the cavern floor. He stood before Meg, grey mottled skin stretched tightly over an enormous skeletal frame. He wore a simple leather loincloth and a tattered dingy rag was wrapped around his large head. Two deep crimson stains hinted at vacant eye sockets underneath. Wisps of silver hair grew out of his head in patches and fell in front of his face. This was the Skeleton Man.
Cha’Tima knelt down before him. “Masauwu, I have three more for you tonight.”
The Skeleton Man said nothing. With great strides he covered the distance over to where Quinn and Chris lay. Ashley and Tim picked the two men up by their shoulders and presented them to the Skeleton Man. Slowly, methodically, he unwrapped the bandage around his eyes. He placed a finger into each of his exposed eye sockets and when he pulled them out the tips were coated in a black tarlike substance. He inserted his bloody fingers into the boy’s mouths and unconsciously they swallowed. Their limp bodies suddenly became rigid, but their heads still hung loosely.
Then they came after Meg.
Meg sprang up, trying to get away, but the boys were on her too quickly. Their heads bounced around on limp necks and Meg was certain she heard something snap. They tackled Meg and held her fast on the ground, face up. She saw the tall gangly frame of the Skeleton Man standing over her, his long finger already coated in another batch of black blood. She tried to scream but the impact of hitting the ground had once again knocked all the air from her lungs.
“Masauwu, if I may,” Cha’Tima said humbly. “I have worked hard for you and I have but one simple request. Once you change this girl, let me have her, please. I will keep her in the village as my wife.”
The Skeleton Man, paused, seemingly thinking it over, then nodded in agreement.
“Thank you great spirit.”
Quinn and Chris forced their fingers into Meg’s mouth and pried her jaw open. The Skeleton Man’s hand hung above her face. With the black blood caked underneath a cracked brown fingernail he prepared to administer another batch of the poison. She felt it brush past her teeth and land upon her tongue. It had a texture like cottage cheese and tasted harsh and bitter like stomach acid. She twisted and wretched with all her might but it was no use. Eventually she swallowed the Skeleton Man’s blood.
Cha’Tima stood above her with a wicked grin. “Don’t worry Meg. You won’t have to live like the rest of these walking corpses. I’ll take care of you. I’ll feed you and bathe you and love your for as long as I live.” Then, as an after thought, “Of course once I die you’ll have to live like one of them, but until then be happy!”
Meg’s body rose, slowly. At first she said nothing, did nothing. Her head hung low, but when she raised it to look at Cha’Tima she was smiling. “You know, I have heard of the Skeleton Man before.” She started walking towards Cha’Tima and he started backing up. The smile vanished from his face. “How he is the protector of the Hopi people.” She kept walking towards him. “How he takes vengeance upon their enemies.” Closer and closer she came. “And most importantly how Masauwu cannot harm the Hopi people.” She stopped walking and stood inches away from Cha’Tima. “Do you know who told me these stories?” Meg leaned in and whispered in his ear. “My grandmother, a strong woman, a Hopi woman.” With that Meg stepped back and kicked Cha’Tima square in the chest sending him reeling backwards into the bonfire behind him.
A scream emerged from the flames as Cha’Tima tried to claw his way out of the fire. Pain flooded his mind and all rational thought was lost. He flayed around for several minutes, his cries becoming higher and higher until the fire melted his vocal chords. Shortly after that the flames took his life.
The Skeleton Man towered above Meg, looking indifferent. He glanced at here once before opening the doorway in the flames and walking through it. The corpses he controlled followed after him. Quinn and Chris were still unconscious, or maybe dead, Meg hoped they were. Tim followed them and last was Ashley. She turned her head as far around as she could and looked longingly at Meg before the doorway shut behind her. Deep down Meg knew there was nothing she could do for her friends.
Meg made her way out of the cave and wandered the desert for a day and a half, bloody and broken, before making it back to the village. She didn’t say a word to anyone, nor they to her. She simply got in the van and drove away.

By Adam McCully