On the Road to Nowhere

Shepard walked down the center of the old two lane road heading nowhere. It was hot and the sun seemed fixed behind him. The cumulus clouds that littered the sky did provide shade from time to time, but it was short lived. There was a slight breeze that blew in from the northwest, so he was thankful for that. Flat farmland surrounded Shepard on all sides. The fields had been abandoned long ago. A few corn stalks scattered about serve as an eerie reminder of how things used to be.
Alone, Shepard travelled with no destination in mind. The hiking backpack he wore carried supplies; mostly canned food, bottled water, and cowboysome helpful tools that he found along the way. There was a pry bar attached to the side of it, which came in handy in more ways than one.
The weight of the backpack was beginning to takes its toll. Soon Shepard knew he would have to give his shoulders a rest and take a break, but it wouldn’t be for long. His watch read 5:13pm and that meant it was time to start looking for shelter soon. It was not safe to be out at night. Most nights he would find and abandoned house to hold up in, but he walked most the day not really seeing any. His only lead was a thin stream of smoke rising into the air about two or three miles out.
The smoke was coming from a small grove of trees to Shepard’s left. He had been watching it for some time and wondered about its origins. It did not look like there was something burning out of control from what he could tell, and that made him all the more curious.
About an hour later Shepard arrived at a rock road that broke off to the left and entered the small grove. The smoke was still rising from the center of the cluster of trees that sat about a hundred and fifty yards back. Shepard unslung his backpack and set it on the ground. He opened the bag and begun to rummage though it until he found his binoculars.
Pulling them from the bag he stood up and began to scope out the area. It was hard to see through the dense trees, but he thought he could see the outlines of a house in there. Lowering the binoculars he stood contemplating his next move. If the smoke is coming from a house, then that could mean that it is occupied by actual people, which could be dangerous.
Shepard put his hand on the .38 revolver he had tucked in his waist band and pulled it out. There was no reason to check and see if it was loaded. He knew it was. The real question was how much ammo did he have? A quick search through the backpack revealed that he had plenty. Dropping the binoculars back into the bag he zipped it up and slung it over his shoulders. Shepard looked up at the sky for a second trying to find a reason not to check out the grove, but couldn’t find any. With the .38 in hand he set off down the rock road.
As Shepard entered the tree line he was able to see the house more clearly. It was an old two story farm house, but looked pretty well maintained. The house was white with a brick chimney running up the right side; the thin smoke he had spotted from the road was ascending from that. There was a matching one car garage that sat off to the left of the house; the door was closed so Shepard could not see into it. The closer he got to the house he could hear a banging noise coming from the backside; cautiously he began to head toward the noise.
Shepard rounded the corner of the house slowly with his pistol out in front of him. About twenty yards away from him stood an old man with white hair chopping wood. The man didn’t see Shepard standing there because his back was to him. Shepard marked the SKS assault rifle that was propped up against the wood pile about four steps away from the old man. Lowering his pistol he called out to the old man, “Hello”.
The old man whirled on his heels dropping the axe in the process. The look of terror showed in the man’s face as he started to take a couple clumsy steps toward the SKS. Shepard raised the pistol, not really pointing at the old man, but enough to get his attention.
“Don’t do that!” Shepard called out and added, “I’m not going to hurt you.”
The old man stopped and looked at Shepard not trusting him. Shepard held out his left hand showing it was empty and slowly began to put the pistol away. He wasn’t worried about the old man going for the SKS. Shepard was confident that he could draw and gun the old man down if he went for it.
“I don’t want any trouble. I just saw the smoke from the road and came to check it out.” Shepard said.
When the gun was away the old man relaxed a little and asked, “Are you alone?”
“Yes.” Shepard answered.
Hearing this made the old man’s state of fear do a one eighty. All his fears seemed to disappear in an instant. The old man began to smile and stepped away from the SKS.
“No harm no foul, you startled me is all.” The old man said.
“Sorry, that wasn’t my intention.” Shepard replied.
The old man stuck out his hand and said, “My name’s Tom, and you can’t be too carful these days, no sir.”
Shepard shook Toms hand and said, “Mine’s John Shepard, but I just go by Shepard.”
“Nice to meet ya.” Tom said.
“What about you, are you alone here?” Shepard asked.
“Yes, just me.” Tom answered quickly then added, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone.”
“Same here.” Shepard said.
“Well, I don’t have much, but if you’d like to come in I could make us some dinner. I wouldn’t mind having a conversation with someone, to be honest with ya.” Tom said.
Shepard started to shake his head and said, “No, I don’t want to put you out.”
“Nonsense, you won’t be putting me out at all.” Tom replied.
Shepard thought it over. He wasn’t sure if he should trust the old man, but he seemed nice enough. The only thing that made Shepard keep second guessing himself was the man’s eyes. There was something wild about them, but he shrugged it off thinking it’s probably because the old man’s been alone for so long. The old man probably sees the same damn thing in my eyes, Shepard thought.
“I guess I could eat.” Shepard said.
“Good, good. Come on in.” Tom said as he turned and picked up the SKS by the barrel. Shepard’s hand dropped to the butt of his pistol, but he did not draw. Tom hadn’t noticed that the move he just made almost got him shot. He just turned and started walking toward the house. Shepard relaxed a little and began to follow him.
As the two approached the house, Shepard noticed something peculiar about the cellar doors. It was chained closed from the outside. Shepard found this to be strange. He understood chaining the doors closed to keep those things out, but why not chain it from the inside? He probably has it double chained, inside and out; he thought and followed Tom into the house.
The door they entered through lead them into the kitchen. It was dark inside the house. There wasn’t much light coming through the window thanks to the trees outside. Shepard expected it to be a mess inside, but it wasn’t. Sure, things were dusty but other than that, the place looked okay. After a few twist and turns, Tom led Shepard into the living room.
“Make yourself at home, I’ll start dinner.” Tom said as he leaned the SKS against the wall and turned back toward the kitchen.
Shepard stood for a moment and peered around the room. It had all the usual things a living room might have; a couch, end tables, a recliner, and a fireplace and mantle. The fireplace was roaring with flames, but the glass doors were closed trapping most of the heat inside of it. Shepard wondered why the old man kept a fire going with it being so hot outside, but as the thought was going through his mind something on the mantle caught his eye as he set his back pack on the floor.
The mantle was cover with little nic nacs, but there something that looked like a picture frame lying flat in the center. Shepard stepped over to the mantle and lifted the picture frame. The picture was of Tom and what seemed to be his family. Tom and his wife stood side by side smiling and a younger woman with two young children, both boys, sat in front of them smiling. The boys looked to be only seven or eight. Must be his daughter and grandkids, he thought. Shepard laid the picture back down and went to sit on the couch.
Sitting on the couch Shepard could hear Tom in the kitchen banging around on pots and pans. He also noticed though the window the sun was beginning to set. Another hour and it would be down and a half hour after that, total darkness would set in. The thought of night worried Shepard. If Tom decides not to let him stay for the night, things could get very bad for him. A few minutes later, as if Tom could read Shepard’s thoughts, Tom came into the living room.
“You gonna be okay to staying here tonight?” Tom asked.
“Sure, as long as it won’t be any trouble?” Shepard asked.
“No trouble at all. You don’t have a bigger group out there waiting for you to come back do you?” Tom asked.
“No, like I said, it just me.” Shepard answered.
Tom nodded his head and said, “Okay then. I’m gonna go outside and fire the generator up so I can start cooking. I’ll be closing the shutters on the windows while I’m out there too. I’ve got to barricade ourselves in for the night. The generators noisy, it’ll attract them throughout the night.”
“How bad does it get out here?”
“Not too bad, usually. Might have five or six to take care of in the morning.” Tom said as he grabbed his SKS and headed outside.
#
The sky was completely black by the time dinner was on the table. The two men ate what little food Tom made and made small talk. When they were finished eating Tom took the dishes from the table and returned with two glasses of wine. He set one of these in front of Shepard and kept the other for himself.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had a drink.” Shepard said.
“It aint the best stuff, but we’ll make do.” Tom replied.
Shepard nodded, raised the glass toward Tom, and then took a sip. The wine was bitter, and Shepard wondered if this was homemade.
“So, how long have you lived here?” Shepard asked.
“Oh, about thirty five years or so. Just me and the wife. Well, until she passed a few years back.” Tom answered.
“Any kids?”
“No. Just me and her.” Tom’s eyes shifted downward as he answered.
He’s lying, Shepard thought, but why? The family picture on the mantle came to mind as he studied Tom.
Tom quickly changed the subject by asking, “How long have you been on the road?” Tom asked.
“Damn near since the start of it all.” Shepard answered.
“That’s a long time. How in the hell have you survived that long? It’s fucking dangerous out there!”
“Well, the U.S. government spent a lot of money on teaching me how to stay alive.”
Tom’s eyes widen at this remark and he asks, “Are you military?”
“Once upon a time.” Shepard answered as he sipped his wine.
“Before this….This epidemic or after, when the government was recruiting everyone?” Tom asked almost greedily.
“Before, long before.” Shepard answered thinking about how Tom used the word epidemic.
“So, you don’t know if they’ve come up with a cure yet?” Tom asked.
Shepard gave Tom a concerned look and asked, “A cure for what?”
“This…This…This sickness that’s infected everyone.”
Shepard thought for a second on how to respond to this. The man was obviously in some sort of denial about what was happening. He could see in the old man’s face that he was at war with himself. Not wanting to believe what was going on when it first started was understandable, but it’s been a better part of a year now.
Shepard felt that there was no other way but to come out with it and said, “There is no sickness. These people are dead, and the last time I checked there’s no cure for death.”
“Don’t be a fool! The dead don’t get up and try to fucking kill people. This is some kind of virus that’s making everyone crazy.” Tom said angrily.
“Look I’ve….” Shepard started to say but quit. Something wasn’t right, he felt different. The room began to spin out of control and before Shepard had time to react he passed out.
#
Slowly coming back to consciousness, Shepard realized he could not move his arms or legs. He felt like he was still sitting, but at the same time he felt like he was moving. He also noticed that he was having trouble breathing out of his mouth. Moving his tongue around Shepard discovered the reason for this. There was what felt like a dish rag stuffed into his mouth. He tried to spit it out unsuccessfully. Slowly opening his eyes, the horror began to set in.
Shepard was tied down by rope, around his wrist and ankles, to the chair he was sitting in. There was indeed a dish rag stuffed into his mouth and there was duct tape wrapped around his head holding it in place. He was also being dragged backward, to God knows where, and figured the movement is what woke him up.
The chair stopped outside a closed door just off of the kitchen. The door was locked by a deadbolt and Tom proceeded to unlock it. The lock made a clicking noise and then the door swung inward. Shepard’s turned his head and looked through the doorway.
There was a set of stairs leading into a basement, except only the top three steps remained. The rest of them were missing. There was a faint glow coming deep from within the basement and from what Shepard could see what looked like human bones scattered about. Tom spun Shepard around and looked him in the eyes.
“Sorry about this Mr. Shepard, but my daughter and grandkids are sick and need to eat. Since they won’t eat nothing but flesh now, that’s what I’m gonna give’em.” Tom said and then added, “Until they come up with a cure at least.”
It was in that moment Shepard realized the horrors of his mistakes. The smoke he’d seen from the road wasn’t by accident, it was a lure. The old man had been drawing people in and feeding them to his daughter and grandkids. That’s why the old man kept asking him if he was alone. He didn’t want a bigger group to come to look for him later, and let’s not forget about the cellar doors. The chains were on the outside to keep people in, not out.
Shepard tried to beg the old man to stop, but nothing would come out thanks to the rag stuffed into his mouth. Tom grabbed Shepard by his shirt and pushed him backwards. It took about two seconds for Shepard to hit the basement floor. The chair broke into pieces on impact and there was a loud thud when his body hit the floor. Tom assumed the thud was Shepard’s head bouncing off the concrete floor. The old man stood and starred down at Shepard for a moment to see if he would try and get up. He didn’t, Shepard lay motionless on the floor. Tom stepped down on to the stairs and began clapping loudly and whistling.
“Come on! Time to eat!” He yelled and then slammed the door and locked it.
Shepard’s eyes snapped open when he heard the deadbolt lock. He quickly looked around in a panic to see where the undead were. He saw nothing but junk scattered about.
There was only a single light bulb hanging in the middle of the basement and it made it hard for Shepard to see anything past it. He quickly started to free his hands from the ropes, when that task was done he tore the duct tape off and pulled the rag out of his mouth. As he started to untie his legs something moved from the back of the room. Shepard froze and fixed his eyes on the dark object moving in his direction. Stepping into the light from the back of the basement was Tom’s daughter.
She was in the middle stages of decomposition. Her once blonde hair was now dark and matted down with dried blood, her skin was a pale grey, and her eyes were white filled sacs of pus. The sun dress she wore was torn down the center and her left breast, which looked to be mostly eaten away by insects, was exposed. Behind her the two boys, now a few years older than in the picture, followed. They too looked to be in the middle stages of decomposition.
Shepard franticly tried to untie his legs as the dead woman closed in on him. It felt like the knots got tighter with every step she took toward him. His heart was beating so hard he thought it was going to burst. Was this how he was going to die, eaten alive in this crazy assholes basement? No, Shepard thinks and tears away the last of the ropes.
The dead woman tried to fall on top of Shepard but he rolled to his right avoiding any contact with her. Shepard quick sprang to his feet and kick the woman in the chest sending her sprawling across the floor. He quickly turned his attention to the two boys and did the same to them.
The woman and the boys hissed like vipers and tried to regain their footing. Meanwhile Shepard moved to the other side of the basement looking for something to use as a weapon. He knew the only way to really kill them was to destroy the brain. Anything else just did not work. As he turned to check on the dead woman and children Shepard foot kicked something. Shepard bent down and picked up something that looked like a long bone.
It was a human femur. Well bub, this is as good as you’re gonna get. You’d better make it count, he thought. Shepard laid the femur on the ground and then put his foot on the top part of the bone. He lifted as hard as he could which caused the top part of the femur to snap off making it sharp and pointy.
When Shepard stood back up the dead woman was on him. He grabbed what was left of her dress and shoved her backwards. The dead woman stumbled three steps back, gained her footing, started back at Shepard, but it was too late for her. Shepard lunged forward and rammed the pointy end of the femur into one of her eye sockets, killing her for good.
Shepard then pulled the bone out of her skull and turned to the children when an idea came to him. Instead of killing the boys, he darted around them and headed for the stairs. Luckily the boys were slow and this bought Shepard some time.
He began rummaging through the junk piled up by where the stairs used to be. There were all sorts of junk, anything from old records to magazines and paperwork. Sifting through the paperwork Shepard found a paper clip holding a stack of papers together. This’ll work; he thought and grabbed the paper clip.
Sticking the paper clip into his mouth Shepard backed up, ran at the wall, kicked off of it propelling himself upward, and grabbed the stairs with his right hand. Still holding on to the femur with his left hand, he set it up on the stair quietly and then pulled himself up. It’s a good thing that ol’bastard didn’t remove all the stairs, otherwise I’d been fucked, Shepard thought.
Shepard sat catching his breath as he looked down at the two boys. They both stood underneath of him arms raised, moaning and hissing at him.
“Easy boys, suppers on its way.” Shepard said and then pulled the paper clip from his mouth.
It didn’t take long for Shepard to pick the lock. Quietly he stepped back onto the main floor and shut the door. He turned the femur over, holding the rounded blunt end upward like a club. As Shepard neared the living room he could hear loud music playing. He must not like to hear his victims scream while they’re being eaten alive, Shepard thought. This was good. It would cover up any noise he might make.
Stepping into the living room he saw Tom sitting in his recliner with his back to him. Shepard clammily walked over to Tom and stepped out in front of him. Tom’s eyes were closed and he was humming to the music.
“Wakey wakey.” Shepard said.
Tom’s eyes snapped open in terror as he saw Shepard standing there. Shepard swung the femur as hard as he could hitting Tom on the left side of his jaw. The blow sent teeth flying out of Tom’s mouth and knocked him to the floor. Shepard went to hit him again but stopped when he noticed that Tom was unconscious.
#
As Tom came to, he quickly realized that he was now strapped to a chair. He sat facing the open door to the basement where his two grandkids stood reaching up for him. He began to cough on the blood pouring from his swollen mouth.
Shepard knelt down beside him and said, “Make your peace with God old man. This is the end for you.”
He stood back up and stepped behind Tom. Tom tried to speak but nothing but mush would come out. With one swift kick to his back, Tom fell face first into the basement.
As soon as he hit the ground the two boys were on him, biting and tarring at his flesh. One of the boys bit into Tom’s cheek and pealed it off like pulling the skin off a piece of fried chicken. Tom Screamed in agonizing pain. When Shepard had seen enough, he closed the door and locked it.
#
An hour or so passed by when Shepard went back to the basement door. This time he had the SKS in his hands, as well as his .38 back in his waist band. No way am I sleeping here with those damned things alive in the basement, Shepard thought. Unlocking the door he swung it open slowly.
The two boys still sat eating parts their grandfather that they had torn off. Tom himself had turned into one of the undead. His head turned back and forth looking around as if he had lost something. Shepard raised the SKS and fired three shots into the heads of the undead creatures. He then fired two more into Tom’s head just out of spite. Shutting the door behind him Shepard went back into the living room and laid down on the couch. It wasn’t long before sleep came over him.
#
The next morning Shepard raided the kitchen for any food or water. There wasn’t much to find, but a couple cans of vegetables and four bottles of water. Shepard packed the item into his back pack and headed for the front door.
As he stepped over the threshold Shepard noticed that Tom was right about the noise from the generator. There was six of the undead wondering around the yard. Shepard dispatched these creatures easily. He stood for a moment and looked around making sure there were no more. When enough time had passed and Shepard felt it was safe, he headed for the garage.
Opening the garage door Shepard began to grin. Inside sat an older Ford pickup truck. He stepped around to the driver’s door and saw the keys hanging from the ignition. Wow, it the fucking thing starts, I just might dance the jig, he thought.
Shepard threw his bag in the bed of the pickup and slid into the driver’s seat. Turning the key the truck rumbled to life.
“Yes!” Shepard yelled.
Shepard put the truck in gear and drove down the long driveway back to the main road. As he reached the road he stopped for a second and looked at the gas gauge. The needle was at the half way mark. Shepard turned left onto the main road and continued on his way to nowhere.

Stephen P. Smith
https://www.facebook.com/spswriter

The Lovely Grey

Oh lovely! She has grown grey and cold, sprawling in the corner
Her roots have pulled up the planks, the desperate fingers on a coffin of a disgruntled mourner
Wait, wait for the wind to stop blowing
Hesitation marks, fresh on her arms. Oh if only he had warned her
Piecing her flesh together, it is late, too late. The disease comes, the visiting foreigner
Wait, wait for the blood to stop flowing

Oh lovely! Her skin crawls like homesick spiders, listless, lost
The pattern, like those marks, the threads so intricately crossed
Lonely. The heart beats slowly, discontent and rusty
Webs, they were not built for the weight of opportunity’s cost
Webs, look, look at her skin, the patterns embossed
Hesitation, hesitant, the violence is gusty girlgirl

Grey, they are icy pupils
Blessed, eight legged
Brief, arachnid relief
Grey, are their scruples

Dead, they are little pictures
Daunting, cobwebs so haunting
Restless, lungs so breathless
Dead, quoth the scripture

By Tristan Standridge

Letters I’ve Written . . .

Death Certificate Signed In BloodDo you not keep your love letters? Do you not read them in the dead of night, in the time when all life is stilled, when breathing is shallow and thoughts are deep, when light is dimmed and hopes go with it into the darkness? Do you not then reach for the lamp and illuminate your heart and your room, do you not reach for the letters in their secret box concealed under your bed, where you hope against all hope no one will think to look for them?
What if they do?
What will they discover? Your endless outpourings of love for those who are no longer in your life? The pain your heart went through, embedded in the warp and weft of the paper on which your words are immortalised? Do you think they will laugh at you if they read them? Or would they empathise to the point when sorrow takes over and they weep over the letters, knowing that their life is writ clear there too?
Ignore that. We are talking of you reaching for the letters in the darkest reaches of the night, the endless depressing unbearably lonely night, when you hold the letters and touch them and smell them and remember them, word for word.
Remember Harriet, the blonde with the nose which wrinkled when she laughed? The eyes which twinkled no matter what mood she seemed to be in? Harriet, who laughed at the wrong times and the right times, who was slender and graceful and delightful to be with?
For the moment, put her memory, affectionately, to one side and let us move on to Georgina, the elegant, leggy sultry dark haired girl with the penchant for foreign cigarettes, preferably Russian, for strange cocktails and equally strange men to go with them. She was good for a time, wasn’t she?
Melissa, oh how could you forget Melissa …
How many in all? Do you remember?
Count the letters and you will.
One by one, smell and touch and remember.
Each one is different, is it not?
Each one is written in the blood of the victim.
Before they died.

By Dorothy Davies
http://www.dorothydavies.co.uk

Awaiting the Beast

demon_child_by_snugglerofsoki-d4jvpb6“Dad! It happened again! Shane’s going to die!” Scott yelled as he dropped his backpack in the doorway and ran to his dad.
“Whoa, what happened? What are you talking about?” Chris asked putting both hands on his ten year old son’s shoulders.
“It was Dominic! I saw him do it! And when he looked at me his eyes changed color again! They were all black! He has green eyes though!” Scott said breathlessly.
“Do what?” Chris asked, ignoring the comments on Dominic’s eyes.
“During our hiking field trip, I saw Dominic talking to Shane and I overheard Dominic dare Shane to walk across this really old bridge and he did and he fell through it! I tried to stop Shane but he wouldn’t listen! It wasn’t until after Shane fell that I saw a sign that said ‘danger- do not cross’ hidden under some fresh dirt! Dominic must’ve told Sebastian or one of the boys or one of the twins to take it off!” Scott said frantically.
“Oh my God, is Shane going to be alright? What a stupid and thoughtless prank!” Chris said angrily.
“I don’t know, it looked really bad. There were a lot of rocks down there. I think they said his back was broken!” Scott said.
“I take it Dominic will be disciplined.”
“Hardly! They’re saying it’s an accident!”
“It sounds like an accident to me,” Chris said.
“It’s not, Dad! What about the sign?” Scott protested.
“It probably fell off and someone must’ve accidently kicked some dirt on it while walking by it,” Chris rationalized.
“But Dad, what about Sara? He was there-” Scott began.
“What happened to Sara was an accident. I don’t want you accusing Dominic or any of his friends again. Now go upstairs and do your homework. We can visit Shane this weekend if you’d like,” Chris said, standing straight up and instantly appearing intimidating to Scott. Realizing that he lost this discussion, Scott grabbed his backpack and solemnly walked up the stairs to his room.
He shut his door, tossed his backpack on his bed, and flopped into his desk chair. He sighed and slowly opened a drawer. Inside lay a newspaper article cutout that he hesitantly placed in front of him. It pertained to a 9 year old girl named Sara Benson who tripped through an opening in a fence where, on the other side, a baseball game was commencing. As she fell through, a player practicing his swings in the hole accidently swung and hit Sara in the head, causing her to die instantly.
Scott knew it was no accident. Lily and Evelyn, identical twin ten year old sisters, invited Sara to play tag that included a safe spot that was the dugout wall. When it was Sara’s turn to be chased, Tristan spilled his ice filled soda in front of the dugout wall ‘safe spot’ causing her to slip and fall through the opening in the fence that just happened to be next to it.
Scott was playing at short stop at the time and saw the whole thing. When he told his coach, he didn’t believe him and punished him instead, for lying. He knew Dominic was behind it. Dominic was talking to the girls and Tristan just before they invited Sara to play tag.
Scott placed the article gently back into his drawer and pondered when there would be a new article about Shane.
#
“Do you think it was a big enough fall?” Sebastian asked his brother as he cleaned off his dirtied boot. Dominic stood staring out his tree house window. The giant oak tree in their backyard provided much height and branches to secure privacy from all directions. It was a great place to relax in solitude from the walking shells of the lives below them.
“Yes. It may be slower than the last one but it’s a sure thing,” Dominic said emotionlessly.
“Then why do you not sound happy?” Sebastian asked standing up. Dominic narrowed his eyes in anger as he whirled around to stare at Sebastian and slammed his fist hard into the oaken wall, creating a massive dent. As he pulled his hand away, his skin resembled no impurities from the act.
“Because I should not still be here! Ten years was the cut off! Ten years of stealing these pathetic souls! It’s been thirteen! The Beast should have been here to take me home three years ago,” Dominic yelled. He took a deep breath and returned to his calm composure. He turned and looked back out the window.
Down below he could see his female, falsely stationed guardian, known as his mother, talking to the twins. His mother offered them peanut butter cookies which they accepted before walking toward the tree house ladder. Before the twins reached the tree house opening, Dominic could see Lance, Cormac, and Tristan entering his backyard, being offered cookies, and then proceed to the tree house ladder as well. He could hear the girls entering and then, a few moments later, the boys.
Dominic turned around and was greeted by blank emotionless stares. Cookies were stacked neatly on a table except for Tristan’s who appeared to have already eaten his. Crumbs remained on his shirt but were quickly wiped away as Dominic’s gaze landed upon them.
“You have a taste for human sweets, Tristan,” Dominic stated. “Even the ones that don’t contain blood in them.”
“The mortals are addicted to them for a reason and now I can see why,” Tristan answered.
“Indeed, your sin,” Dominic said as he looked back out the window. There was a moment of silence. “Seven deadly sins and seven deadly demons.” The demons nodded as they were reminded of their targets.
“What are we planning for your birthday party this weekend?” Lance asked.
“A massacre,” Dominic replied immediately.
“Our parents?” Cormac asked. Dominic nodded. He gazed across his neighborhood and set it on a two story white house with navy blue trim. He cocked his head slightly and turned back around.
“I think we should invite Scott to the party,” Dominic said. Sebastian narrowed his eyes.
“Scott Moore?” Evelyn asked.
“He’s suspicious of us though,” Cormac said.
“Which is precisely why he should be here,” Dominic said.
“Take him out?” Sebastian asked. Dominic nodded again.
“They’re supposed to bring an entertainer or something; a surprise,” Dominic muttered in disgust.
“Do you think it’ll be the Beast?” Tristan asked.
“Hopefully,” Dominic replied.
#
Scott stayed up late on his computer looking for any stories or articles pertaining to color changing eyes and deaths. Unfortunately, colored contacts and random deaths were the only things that popped up.
As soon as he finished his homework, he began searching. There had to be something, he thought. He narrowed his search using the keywords ‘child deaths’ and ‘black eyes’. Black eyed dead children came up. He slammed his fist down on his desk, recoiled it in pain, and almost shut the computer off when a drawn picture of solid black eyes on the right side of the screen caught his attention. They looked demonic in nature.
He clicked on the picture and an article popped up. It was about a farm family of seven that were burned to death in an accidental fire. The eldest sister and the youngest brother were the only survivors. The eldest sister, Mary Grey, began exclaiming that her brother, Garret, had started the fire and when he did so, his eyes turned black. She was placed in a mental hospital. The picture of the black eyed face was a drawing Mary created to describe what she saw.
Scott read that the mental hospital was part of the same hospital Shane was staying at. Completely drowned in the article, Scott instantly jumped at a knock on his door, which was his dad telling him dinner was ready.
#
Scott slept uneasily that night for part of him was anxious to hear the condition of Shane and the other part of him was excited to see Mary Grey; if he could get away with seeing her. The fire happened five years ago but the article made it sound like she was going to be there awhile.
The next morning he woke for school, ate breakfast, and took the school bus. Scott sat in an empty seat and stared sleepily out the window. “Hi Scott!” a voice said abruptly. He instantly turned to look at who had spoken his name and blinked repeatedly in surprise.
“Hi Rebecca,” Scott said as his heart skipped a beat.
“Is this seat taken?” she asked.
“No, it’s not,” he replied quickly moving his Spiderman backpack. She sat down and smiled warmly at him. Wow, Rebecca Platt is talking to me! I didn’t even know she knew I existed! he thought. She looked at his backpack.
“Spiderman’s pretty cool but I like Dr. Henry Philip McCoy better. Peter Parker can’t match his genius no matter how much he goes to college and applies himself,” Rebecca said. Scott blinked. I know she just made a Marvel reference, but who the hell is Dr. Henry Philip McCoy? Oh God, I can’t let her think I don’t know!
“Uh yeah, I suppose he can’t,” Scott said somewhat lamely. “What’s your least favorite Marvel character?” Her smile broadened.
“Bruce Banner. He’s a genius but he has anger issues. Though his skin color is green which is the color of envy, not anger, which is strange. They should have made him red. Tony Stark is pretty smart but he’s too prideful.”
“Oh okay,” Scott said lamely again. He loved The Hulk and Iron Man.
“Do you believe in superheroes, Scott?” she asked. Scott was taken aback by the strange question.
“Uh, no, they’re not real,” Scott stammered. She laughed.
“I don’t mean with super powers. The best parts about these superheroes are that some of them started out as normal human beings, even as kids. They then were landed with heavy responsibilities and decided to do good with them,” Rebecca said.
“And fight evil,” Scott added. She laughed again.
“Exactly,” Rebecca said as she got up to exit the bus. He didn’t even realize it stopped.
“Rebecca,” Scott said.
“Yes?” she said, turning to look at him.
“How would you fight evil? I mean because, you know, we don’t have any superpowers?” Scott asked.
“I wouldn’t give them what they wanted,” she said simply. “Refresh your knowledge on Dr. McCoy tonight, he may help you out,” she said. Scott was confused.
“Help me with what?” he asked but it was too late. She was out the door. He tried to follow but he lost her.
Instead he ran into his friend Chad. “Hey, I heard you saw what happened to Shane! Is it true that his whole body was mutilated?” Chad asked.
“What? No, but he looked pretty bad,” Scott said, still looking around for Rebecca.
“What are you looking for?” Chad asked annoyed.
“Rebecca Platt,” Scott answered.
“Why?” Chad asked.
“She said something to me that I didn’t understand,” Scott said. Chad placed his hand on Scott’s chest to stop him from moving.
“Yeah right Rebecca spoke to you. She doesn’t even know we exist, man,” Chad laughed.
“Maybe not you,” Scott snickered. Chad hit him in the shoulder as they both entered the classroom. The class became abruptly quiet and all eyes turned on him.
Classes commenced with an excited buzz spreading about Scott, Shane, and Dominic and the accident throughout the school and in every classroom Scott entered. It wasn’t until after school and on the bus did he encounter something else to spark more rumors.
He sat in an empty seat and stared out the window. “Hi Scott,” came another voice. His heart raised and as he turned around, expecting Rebecca, but instead, he saw Lily, Evelyn, and Tristan. The three smiled and took the seats behind him. Sebastian, Lance, and Cormac took the seats in front of him and they each turned to face him. Dominic came closer down the aisle and stood in front of the empty seat next to Scott.
“Hello Scott,” Dominic said in an icy voice. Scott stared into Dominic’s green eyes, hoping they would turn black. “Is this seat taken?”
“Yes, by Spiderman as you can see,” Scott said. Dominic raised his eyebrows, looked at the three boys in front of Scott, and laughed. With two fingers, he knocked the Spiderman backpack to the ground and sat down next to Scott.
“Looks like the hero’s fallen,” Dominic remarked, smirking.
“What do you want, Dominic,” Scott asked, annoyed.
“I wish to cordially invite you to my birthday party, tomorrow at 5pm,” Dominic said as he handed Scott an invitation. Scott did not accept it.
“I’m not going,” Scott said immediately. Dominic smirked.
“Really? I was sure your dad happily agreed to it when my mother called earlier. He’s invited as well. You’re not angry, are you?” Dominic asked, smirking. The six other children snickered. Scott narrowed his eyes, remembering what Rebecca said about The Hulk, and looked at them all. The bus came to a sudden stop. Dominic looked around and smiled at Scott. “Good chatting with you, Scotty. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He picked up Scott’s backpack, opened it, slid the invitation inside, zipped it up, and set it gently back on the seat. The rest of Dominic’s gang got up, said goodbye to him, and left.
Scott sat staring at his backpack until the bus stopped once more.
“Hey Scotty, Dominic’s mom called. She says that we’re invited to his birthday party tomorrow,” Chris said, as he continued to wash the dishes.
“Dad, I don’t want to go!” Scott protested.
“It would be nice to go and show that you have no ill intent toward their son. I mean he was nice enough to invite you, right?” Chris asked.
“Dad, he hates me! And I hate him!” Scott said. Chris placed a dish down and walked toward Scott, his face stern.
“We’re going. After you finish your lunch, I made sandwiches, we can get him a gift and then go see Shane,” Chris said, indicating a roasted turkey and provolone cheese sandwich.
Scott’s stomach growled as he saw it and instantly sat down to eat. He never won arguments.
#
Scott had no idea what Dominic liked besides hurting people so he hoped that a Hulk action figure sufficed. After leaving the store, they headed straight for the hospital.
Shane was in a deep sleep as a morphine drip flowed through him. The doctor said that he had broken his back and that he would be paralyzed for the rest of his life. When Scott bluntly asked how long that would be, the doctor gave no answer.
Chris left Scott to get some drinks in the cafeteria four floors below them, giving Scott the opportunity to find Mary in the psyche ward. To his surprise, by telling them that he was a friend and that his dad would be coming shortly, he was let in.
Mary sat at the window gazing at the landscape below. “Mary Grey?” Scott asked shyly. The girl turned around and looked at him.
“Hello. Do I know you?” she asked.
“Um no. My name is Scott Benson and I was wondering, uh, if you could tell me about what happened to you?” Scott stammered. Mary was now twenty years old yet looked almost the same as the fifteen year old picture of her in the newspaper.
“Why?” she asked, narrowing her eyes. Scott waited for this question and though he prepared the answer, it was still hard for him. He took a deep breath.
“In the article, you said your brother’s eyes turned all black. Just before the fire. I know someone whose eyes turned all black right before…” Scott started. He took another deep breath. “…before they died.”
Mary’s eyes widened. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“It’s happened twice already. The same kid. I’ve seen it both times but no one will listen to me,” Scott said.
“You should be glad they don’t. They’ll think you’re crazy like me,” Mary said, sitting him down next to her.
“Please help me, Mary. I don’t know what to do. What is he?” Scott asked. Mary closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“I asked my brother the same thing. He came to visit me here one day a year afterwards and I asked what he was. Well he wasn’t my brother, that’s for sure. He said he was a demon sent here to observe us and take souls back home. Home, I’m assuming, could only mean Hell. He said that every demon sent here has a specific target. His, was families and after ten years of collecting, he said something called the Beast would come and take him home. Apparently they’re stuck here in human form until the Beast comes. After Garret told me this, he tried to kill me. He pinned me down, a six year old, and slashed my wrists! He made it look like I did it. I was dead for three minutes until I was revived and later placed on suicide watch,” Mary said, showing her vertically scarred wrists.
Scott cringed at the sight and suddenly felt like he was going to throw up. “Wow,” was all Scott could say.
Mary instantly empathized with him. “I’m so sorry that you’re now going through this, Scott. I don’t know how to help you. I would just run. Take your loved ones and run far away.”
“Scott! What the hell are you doing in here?! One of the nurses told me they saw you come down here but I didn’t believe it,” Chris said sternly as he stormed toward Scott. Scott jumped up and looked at his dad.
“Um,” Scott stammered.
“He was looking for you and got lost. I was just giving him directions when you showed up,” Mary said, smiling at Chris. Chris raised an eyebrow.
“And you decided to go to the psyche ward to ask for directions. Right, let’s go,” Chris said, grabbing Scott’s arm. Scott looked back at Mary, who gave him a solemn look, before they exited the building.
After a silent dinner with a tension filled atmosphere between Scott and his dad, Scott took a shower and then typed in Dr. Henry Philip McCoy into the search engine. He jumped and nearly fell out of his chair when cartoon images of Marvel’s character the Beast showed up.
Scott was unable to look away from the furry blue mutant as he thought over what Rebecca and Mary had said. Rebecca made a point of mentioning envy, anger, and pride, Dominic also mentioned anger, and then she pushed me to look into the Beast which is the same term Mary used to describe what her brother sought after, Scott thought. Does Rebecca know about Dominic?
He continued to read up on everything he could about Dr. McCoy and his beast counterpart but nothing seemed to stick out to him. He did not even realize he fell asleep at his desk until his dad woke him up for breakfast the next morning.
As his eyes hazily opened, he tried to recall a strange dream he had of his deceased mother, Rose, trying to tell him something. Scott had a strange feeling that it was important.
After breakfast, he went upstairs and went straight to a bookshelf to pull out a small unfinished scrapbook his mom made for him. He collapsed on his bed and gently flipped through it.
Rose Moore accidently drowned in the bath tub two years ago when she slipped, hit her head on the wall, and unconsciously fell in. No one else was home. Scott was sleeping over at Chad’s house across the street and Chris was still at work. Scott found her when he made a trip home to get his sleeping bag that he had forgotten. His dad had just gotten home when he heard Scott yell.
Scott remembered how she loved the scent of orchids and would always smell like them. He remembered how when he was little, he would always play with her spiral copper curls and giggled when they bounced back into place. There were plenty of pictures depicting that scene in his scrapbook.
He also remembered that both those things vanished when he saw her floating face up under the surface. Her scent was almost equal to that of the smell a garbage disposal emits when it stops working and collects all the leftover food. Her cooper curls were dark and reached across the water like clawed tentacles reaching for unsuspecting victims.
He was tired of seeing death. He looked through the pages and found what he was looking for.
#
Scott sat at an old ornate dining table surrounded by seven demonic children and their parents. Dominic had already opened his insane amount of gifts and seemed to be uninterested in each and every one including a hundred dollar bill, a PS3, and a new laptop. When he opened Scott’s present he raised an eyebrow and smirked at Scott.
When the lights turned off for the cake candle blowing, an icy shiver ran through Scott’s back and he wondered if he would be the next Shane, Sara, or Mary. A match ignited the thirteen candles on top and though it should’ve given a sense of peaceful ambiance, the lit candles seemed to mirror that of a raging inferno.
Dominic grinned across the table at Scott and he soon realized that the other six children turned to grin at him as well. Scott narrowed his eyes and looked around him. Dominic blew out the candles and it went dark.
Scott could feel Cormac and Lance on either side of him grab both his arms but a thunderous knock on the front door startled them and caused them to let go.
“Oh my!” Scott could hear Dominic’s mother say. He heard her fumble to the door. “It seems like the power’s out,” she mumbled. She opened the door. “Oh hi! You must be our entertainer!” she exclaimed in delight.
The table was silent as everyone looked toward their new visitor. The light from the street and the visible moon and stars gave off the only light in the now darkened room. The figure was tall with long blonde hair tied in a ponytail. His face was painted white with black diamonds under his eyes. He had a Hello My Name Is sticker on his left peck with a huge blue G written on it. He smiled broadly and nodded yet said nothing.
“Oh come in, come in! The lights seem to be out so leave the door open. Look honey, the entertainer’s here!” she exclaimed to Dominic. Dominic grinned and stood up.
“Welcome my friend. The party can finally start,” Dominic said. Lance and Cormac grabbed Scott and tried to pin him down to the table as the other children attacked the rest of the party.
“Stop! Dad, help!” Scott yelled. There was no answer. Screams echoed from the kitchen and then fell silent. Adrenaline rushed through Scott and he threw Cormac off of him and kicked Lance square in the stomach. Scott ran for the kitchen and skidded across the blood pooled floor. Bodies of family members littered the once white tiles with disassembled pieces everywhere.
Scott swallowed the scream that was dying to escape as Cormac and Lance came into the room after him. They exchanged pleasurable looks and turned there now pitch black eyes on him. “You can’t win, Scotty. The Beast is here and we’re all going home. You should come with us. There are plenty of riches down there,” Lance enticed.
“It’ll be a place where you can rest forever,” Cormac said as they both slowly walked towards him. Scott gingerly stepped back and was careful not to step on so many pieces.
Riches, rest, Scott thought. Scott hesitantly took out a dollar bill from his pocket and ripped it in half. Lance slowly tilted his head to the side and twitched ever so slightly. Scott dug deep into his pockets and splattered coins all over the floor and stomped on them. Lance’s mouth opened slightly showing tiny sharp teeth as he gazed in shock at Scott’s actions. Cormac looked in confusion at Lance.
Scott, without hesitation, pulled out a hundred dollar bill he’d been saving for years from his pocket. Lance’s eyes immediately fixated on the bill like a hawks and then looked into Scott dead in the eyes. “What are you going to do?” Lance asked, his voice a cold harsh whisper. Scott began to rip it. “NO!” Lance yelled as he leaped at Scott, claws replacing fingernails. Once the bill was torn to pieces so was Lance.
Lance let out a howling scream as he was ripped apart from the inside and his flesh exploded into ash in midair. Scott gasped and covered his face. Cormac let out a surprised yell and turned his gaze back to Scott.
Scott looked at Cormac’s deranged expression and ran. He jumped over the massacre and dodged pieces until he threw open the other door and flew up the stairs. He could hear Cormac behind him but once Scott picked up speed, that same howling emerged from Cormac’s lungs and he exploded to ash as well.
He could not believe it was working. When his mother came to him in that dream, he’d almost forgotten what she told him. Then a trigger reminded him that she told him that they wanted his weaknesses so he needed to give them his strengths.
Coming up to a platform, he was greeted by the twins.
“Hi, Scotty,” Lily said, as she smirked and winked at him.
“You think you’re something by killing two of us? I’ve killed hundreds and will continue to do so for my prince,” Evelyn said stepping toward him. Scott swallowed and slowly bowed.
“Then I congratulate you on your work. You are obviously my superior,” Scott said quickly. Evelyn twitched and placed her hand on her chest in pain.
“Stop that,” she said. “Challenge me!”
Scott took a knee. “I am not worthy to challenge such a force and I yield,” Scott said. Her scream echoed and smoldered cinders littered the platform. Lily gasped and jumped on top of him.
“Kiss me,” she said, moving closer to him. He turned his head away and closed his eyes tightly. Another scream, another pile of ash.
Scott jumped up, wiped the ash from his body and continued up the stairs to a hallway. Before he saw anything, Sebastian slammed him against a wall and began to claw through his shirt and into his stomach. Scott screamed.
“I want your soul! Your kind aren’t worthy of them!” Sebastian screamed.
“Take…what…you need. I’m… not envious of you,” Scott said through gasps of blood. Sebastian barred his fangs in anger as he understood that it was over for him.
“No. NO!” Sebastian growled as he disintegrated. Scott slid down the wall and collapsed against it. He clutched the deep gashes in his stomach and gazed straight ahead. He could hear over the throbbing in his head an excited growl. Scott shifted his gaze to the doorway he was next to and saw Tristan hungrily coming closer to him.
Tristan got on his knees and reached through a gash and gripped something from the inside of Scott’s stomach. Scott let out another ear splitting scream as he could only imagine it was an intense.
“You smell so good. Better than cookies, better than cake. Would you like some cake, Scott?” Tristan asked.
Shakily yet as quickly as he could, Scott reached in his other pocket and pulled out a small bottle of holy water. Tristan growled and tried to rip his intestines out before Scott placed it to Tristan lips but Scott beat him and watched another ash cloud fill the room.
Scott dropped the bottle and felt his eye lids grow heavy. He heard feet shuffling and felt two hands press against his stomach. A warm sensation instantly flowed through him and he flashed his eyes open. The pain was gone and so were the gashes.
Scott looked around but saw no one. He was terrified to get up but superheroes never backed down from a fight.
A feeling more than anything pulled him toward the attic. Once he entered, Dominic waited for him with his dad lying in a pool of blood in the center of the room.
“No! Dad!” Scott yelled racing to him. Chris faced away from Scott but his eyes were situated neatly against the back of his skull. Scott screamed and jumped up in shock. Dominic grabbed him by the base of his chin and neck and held him up.
“Does this make you angry, Scott? Does it make you angry that I’ve still won and your daddy is dead?” Dominic roared. Scott could feel Dominic’s hand begin to crush his jaw. Tears finally streamed down Scott’s cheeks. “It looks like the hero’s fallen. Just tell me and the pain will stop.” The door to the attic swung open and the Entertainer walked in. He looked from Scott to Dominic to Chris. “Almost done,” Dominic said, turning back to Scott.
Dominic readjusted his grip so that Scott could speak. Scott coughed as he gasped for more air. Scott slowly grabbed the bottle of water from his pocket. “I forgive you,” he said, flipping the cap open and pouring it on Dominic’s face. Dominic yelled and dropped Scott.
Scott backed up and watched Dominic’s flesh melt off his face. “Holy water!” Dominic yelled. Scott’s mother had kept a bottle of holy water from Scott’s baptism in the scrapbook in a built in pocket.
“Beast! Take me home now!” Dominic screamed as his flesh began to tear off his body. The Entertainer narrowed his eyes and walked toward Dominic. A strange and eerie cackle emerged from Dominic’s lips.
The Entertainer lightly pressed his black gloved fingertips into Dominic’s chest. He stopped cackling. “What are you doing? No. Stop! You’re not the-” With a little more pressure, the Entertainer shattered Dominic. His ashes scattered across the room with his scream echoing in his wake.
Scott’s chest dipped and rose as he exhaled sharp heavy gasps. Warm tears continued to stream down his cheeks. He gazed at the Entertainer who began to walk toward him. As he did so, Scott immediately noticed his dad twitch and get up.
Scott’s mouth dropped open in shock as he gazed in horror at his dad’s eyeless form jump onto the Entertainer’s back. The Entertainer grabbed his head from behind and slammed him onto the floor. Chris jumped up and they both took a step back as they planned their next move.
Dad. He was the Beast, Scott thought. He killed Mom. He said he just got home but he had been there. I never heard the car pull up. He hid when I got home.
Scott saw white wings thrashing. He took a closer look at the Entertainer but there were none. Scott blinked and realized that the reflection of the Entertainer from the pool of the blood depicted him with flailing blonde hair, fair skin, and long bright white feathered wings. His name tag also read Gabrielle in blue letters.
He looked back at the real Entertainer and did not see any of those things. His hair was still in a ponytail, his face paint was still on, and he had no wings. Scott looked back at the reflection and looked at his dad.
What reflected from the red surface was not his dad and neither was it the blue mild mannered doctor from the Marvel cartoons he used to watch. In its place was something more hideous than an eyeless man coming back to life.
Solid muscles bulged from his black hairy form. Elongated arms reached past his knees with fingers double the length of a humans and yellow claws that tore easily through the Entertainer’s flesh.
Scott previously wondered why crazy people were often referred to as people who snapped but now his question was put to rest. As he gazed at the reflection of two supreme beings fighting in two different worlds, he could swear he heard the resounding snap in his head and then a peaceful silence as the Beast lay dead in both the reflection and real life.
The Entertainer or Gabrielle smiled warmly and knelt in front of him.
“I didn’t give them what they wanted,” Scott muttered.
Gabrielle smiled and nodded. Scott weakly smiled back as he suddenly smelled a strong scent of orchids.

By Ashley Dioses

Another Hole to Dig

She liked to dig in bare feet. That’s why one of the toes was missing on her right foot. Shovel incident. She smashed the metal head into the packed dirt, carefully avoiding the wiggly painted nails. She had taken to using bright colors on her toes, so that she could easily see them while working.dawn-of-the-shred-grave-yard-shoot-amy Right now they were a caution-reflector-yellow, gleaming through the rough spray of soil. She wasn’t very far along, the hole was shallow and she had hours ahead of her. The sun had just set and her florescent lantern cast a dim, eerie glow around her progress. It helped that this wasn’t the first time the piece of earth had been uncovered. But it wasn’t fresh and the weather over the last month or so had packed it down.

She thrust her weight against the shovel and lifted another heavy pile out of the way. Only about 4 feet to go. She barreled through her work, fueled by urgency and anger. Three years, she’d given him three years. If she had been younger maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but time was passing unkindly and she saw her looks fading. She saw the girl he’d picked as her replacement, her perky breasts, probably a tighter, pinker pussy. Actually she’d checked, the pussy didn’t seem tighter. It didn’t matter, just like cars she was traded in for a newer model. The jean shorts started chaffing her milky thighs as she violently continued her task. There were three trash bags and a wheel barrow parked above her on the undisturbed ground. It had only taken three bags, she thought, to fit her problems.

They were reckless, like any budding couple, they didn’t get suspicious or notice her following them. They were blissfully unaware of the twitch she’d developed from watching them kiss, and the marks she left on herself every time she watched them fuck. They didn’t know until the moment she walked into the bedroom, drenched from the downpour outside. Even as they tried to understand what it meant that she was standing in there, they didn’t fully comprehend what was going to happen. So it was easy.

She took him out first as he attempted to confront her. Thunder covered the sounds that followed. The sick ‘THWACK’ from the baseball bat as it collided with his skull. He was a Yankees fan. Go Sox. She’d grabbed the bat from above his mantle. Someone had hit a home run with it once, and now so had she. The girl wailed and tried to run naked from the room, but was only met with a thick blade plunging deep into her belly. She ran straight into the the thing. Couldn’t get any simpler.

She dragged the impaled girl across the hardwood floor to the tarp she’d laid out in the next room. The girl coughed up a thick bubble of blood that erupted from her mouth and leaked down her cheek. She creased her forehead at the girl and scanned the deplorable mess. This girl didn’t look like much of an upgrade from herself. She was thin, but not so thin, and her round face was almost homely, her eyes dull brown to match her hair. She searched her orifices for anything special. Examined her breasts and touched her skin. The girl moaned and wiggled on the tarp, spurting fluid and dying pathetically. She didn’t wait for the girl to pass before she brought out the bone saw and began hacking pieces off. At first the girl tried to scream, but it was too much and eventually she just went still. When she was done she took each body part and stuffed it in the 40 gallon garbage bags. Then she went after him.

The hole was almost complete, she’d placed a ladder against the side so that she could climb in and out. Her shovel came down for a final time, it hit something solid and she smiled. She began clearing away the dirt from the lid of the coffin and grabbed at her crowbar to pry it open. After much coaxing, the lid opened to reveal the casket interior filled with roughly 9 other trash bags. She frowned. It appeared she was running out of room in this grave. Oh well, she thought closing the coffin, I’ll just pile these on top.

She had killed Michael and his girlfriend over seven different times. Each time she dug down into this grave or that she expected it would be the last. Then, while walking the streets she would see them in a warm embrace, cradling each other’s faces and looking lovingly into their eyes. She would follow them and learn their routine, until the moment when she could stand it no longer.

She grabbed the bags bursting with body parts from the wheel barrow and tossed them haphazardly into the ditch. Picking up the shovel she started filling in the hole once again. The ritual was familiar and she felt very accomplished by the time she patted the packed dirt down. This would be it, she said to herself, this would be the final time, they would not rise again.

She strolled out of the cemetery to her inconspicuous blue Subaru, where she loaded the wheel barrow and shovel. She shook away the grime as best she could and slid her bare feet into flowered flip-flops. Driving home was always a relief, she was tired and satisfied. That’s when she saw them walking the down Broadway, arm in arm, and her jaw dropped. She hastily parked the car, and pulled a sun dress she had in the back over her dirty clothes. Stepping out of Subaru she began to follow her ex and his new squeeze yet again.

By Emily Smith-Miller

A Girl’s First Time

“Would you stop that? Please, you look fine.” Lauren stepped over to Jenna and snatched the ribbon from between her fingers. The tall blonde first timerolled her eyes and tried to look condemning, but with the music of the costume shop rattling the glowing orange walls as if the whole thing were one giant boom box, her expression quickly melted into something much less sinister.
Ashley was somewhere laughing to their right, wreaking havoc on the store’s customers. She appeared from around a neon yellow stand wearing a bright white wig pulled down over her long, dark hair. Her bangs shot out over her forehead in every direction, but beneath the harsh fluorescents her bronze cheeks glowed. She’d spotted the grim face of a gargoyle hanging on the wiry black rack to Jenna’s left and as she swept past the girls, she tossed the wig to the floor and pulled the bloody, ghoulish mask on in its place.
“I’m a monster!” She charged at Lauren and Jenna with her slim shoulders squared. Lauren screamed and Jenna’s pulse quickened. She watched the ribbon slip from Lauren’s fingertips and pirouette to the black and white tile floor where it lay there staring up at her mockingly in slick crimson.
“Would you guys cut it out?”
Lauren laughed, but Ashley was already off, chasing a group of middle school-aged kids down the next aisle. Lauren running the piece of satin around Jenna’s slim waist distracted Jenna. Lauren’s blue eyes were speculative in the mirror’s gaze and filled with a quiet understanding that made something feral and snake-like rip through her gut. When she looked to her own face, suspended in white in the mirror’s gaze, she saw that her creamy cheeks were warring with a ravenous blush. She flicked her eyes, which were green like shards of broken beer bottles, back to Lauren.
Lauren said, “Well, it’s not anyone’s fault but your own that we’re here right now, little miss I’m-too-cool-to-buy-a-costume. How could you forget a costume, Jenna? It’s Halloween.”
Jenna scowled so hard it hurt.
“Very nice,” Lauren stood back to admire her work. Jenna reddened even more dramatically and tucked back her russet curls. It was hard to feel confident standing next to Lauren, who didn’t need the little halo on her head or the small feathered wings to make her look any more like an angel.
Lauren squinted, as if the lights were suddenly much brighter than they were. When she twisted to the side, her eyes glowed opal like an animal in the night. “I think you need something, I just can’t figure out what.”
Just then two men walked into the costume shop and came to a complete stop at the sight of Ashley, bent over the front counter, flirting with the boy at the register.
“What?” Lauren said, lips pursed. She picked up three different kinds of face paint and held them up at eye level then frowned and put them all back.
“What.”
“That swoon.” She mimicked the action and came upright laughing. “Don’t get all romantic on me now.”
Jenna bit her lower lip and wiped her clammy palms off on the side of her dress, which was a disastrously inappropriate choice from Ashley’s closet. “Why can’t I do that?”
“Do what?” Lauren picked up the wig Ashley had been wearing earlier and placed it on the gargoyle’s now vacant rack. It stood out, a light among monsters.
“Do what you and Ashley do. I mean, for Christ’s sake, Ashley just got a date wearing a disgusting ghoul face.”
Lauren perked up, smiling. “She did, already?” She laughed. “That girl is crazy. It looks like we’ve got some catching up to do.”
Jenna’s heart sank. She turned back to her reflection and though it had only been a few seconds, she thought she looked greener now, and sick.
“That’s what this is about, isn’t it?”
“What?” Jenna tried to sound contrite, but her already flushed cheeks warmed.
“You’re worried about not being able to get a date to Trish’s party. That’s what all this costume nonsense is about.”
“No, it’s not,” Jenna said too quickly, “And I’m not. I just…”
“You’re going to be fine. Just be yourself.” Lauren perched her pretty face on Jenna’s shoulder and Jenna felt all her insides tighten to little metal knots. Her focus was torn between Lauren’s too blue gaze and her scarlet ribbon, as if either one or the other was responsible for keeping her together; pull the wrong strand and she might come undone. “I promise,” Lauren dropped her pitch and her breath found a way through Jenna’s curls. A tremor shot through her and she tensed. “Have I ever broken a promise to you?”
Mute, Jenna shook her head.
“Come on, let’s go.”
“Now?” Jenna’s voice was strained.
“Yes, now. Before Trish and her pack descend on the streets and all the good ones are taken.” Lauren drifted towards Ashley at the register while Jenna lingered a few moments behind. She stared at herself in the mirror and attempted to mimic the way Lauren or Ashley smiled, but she only looked uncomfortable at best, and at worst, constipated. Lauren called her name from the register and Jenna turned away from her own face. As she approached, Lauren mouthed a single word. The word was, perfect.
Jenna gulped. Though she didn’t feel worthy of the adulation she still followed Ashley and Lauren out onto the streets, which immediately transformed them–they were no longer three girls, but now a nurse, an angel, and a kitten.
The carnival on Warwick Boulevard was at its peak when they arrived just after ten thirty. The street was full of superheroes and princesses, ghosts, goblins, pixies, sprites, and of course the more modern Hannah Montanas (of which there were several), Iron Men, and the entire cast of Toy Story. Carved pumpkins stared out at the street from nearly every storefront with gaping mouths full of large, square teeth. Their eyes watched her as she walked. In front of her, Ashley was twirling through the crowd, dancing in a way that suggested she’d never been embarrassed of anything before in her life.
When Ashley did another spin Lauren said, “Ashley, you’re going to run into someone.”
As if part of a larger script, Ashley just then crashed into the back of Elvis’s black and sequined jacket as he fiercely made out with a velvety white rabbit underneath the inorganic yellow glow of a streetlamp. Bestiality at its finest. Ashley doled out lavish apologies to the couple, which quickly moved away from her and when Ashley’s eyes alert eyes found Jenna’s face in a swift flash of ochre, Jenna could have sworn–for just an instant–that she saw a gleam of menace in Ashley’s smile that had not been there seconds previous. Then it was gone.
“What?” Jenna’s voice was blunt.
“Did you know that Halloween predates Christianity?” Ashley said.
Lauren groaned, “Oh god, not this again.” She looked down at Jenna, whose height she eclipsed by nearly five inches, and whispered loud enough that Ashley would be able to hear. “She does this every year.”
“Hey, you know Halloween is my favorite holiday of all time, so bite me.”
Jenna smiled. “What’s so great about it?”
Ashley hardly needed the encouragement. “It’s a Celtic holiday celebrated on the one night between autumn and winter when the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest.” She waggled her fingers in Jenna’s face, brown eyes wild.
“So then what?” Jenna said with the ghost of a smile. “The dead walk the earth?”
Ashley looped her arm through Jenna’s, voice saturated with conspiracy. “The dead and then some. You know the tradition of carving pumpkins was started to keep us protected from the monsters that haunt Halloween night. It was said that their menacing faces would ward off the hungry spirits.”
“Does it work?”
“I carved my pumpkin yesterday, have you carved yours yet?”
Jenna rolled her eyes. “No.”
“Then I guess we’ll see.”
Jenna’s adrenaline spiked at the stark notes of menace she heard in Ashley’s voice, and Lauren shoved the naughty nurse into the ever-thickening crowd. “Cut it out, weirdo.”
Ashley just beamed.
The density of the mob smashed into them then and nearly prevented them from moving forward. Warwick emptied into Fisherman’s Field and they were being aggressively funneled into the carnival’s main entrance. “Ashley,” Lauren said just after clearing the ticket booth, “go scout for us. I’ll need a detailed report on the hottest guys here and keep in mind who Trish brought to the last party. If you can, snag us a couple boys who are even more beautiful and bring them to the Ferris wheel. We’ll catch up.”
“Oh my god, that boy was positively delicious.” Ashley swooned, collapsing into Jenna’s arms. Jenna gasped and still could not keep laughter from choking her throat as she struggled under Ashley’s weight.
Lauren helped Jenna lift Ashley back to her feet, muttering a few disapproving lines like a mother condemning a child, as she did. “What’s wrong? You seem off,” Lauren said to Jenna as they watched Ashley make her way through the throngs before finally disappearing around the dunk tank where a teen in a tube top was fully submerged, “You’re not still nervous about Trish’s party, are you?”
Jenna reddened. “Well now I am.”
Lauren’s smile returned as they moved past the merry-go-round and the eerie music that hung suspended in the air above it. “Don’t be.” She spoke in that lilting way she often did, touched with just a hint of an accent that sounded oddly Eastern European. Jenna thought fleetingly of Lauren’s past and the friends she’d meet that Lauren had known forever and she felt thrilled and horrified and nauseous all at once.
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” she murmured, rather meekly.
Lauren took her by the hand; she had a pianist’s fingers. “They are going to love you. You’re going to fit in perfectly, I know these girls.”
“Yeah, I know,” but it had to be perfect, “but still…”
“But nothing. You’ll be fine. And besides, I think I see Ashley.”
“Hello lovelies,” Ashley said, teddy bear stuffed under one arm. She motioned over her shoulder with her eyes and said, “I have a couple people I want you to meet. This is Connor and Jon. I met them at that balloon game over by the bouncy castle–they were losing horribly until I showed up–but anyways, we got to talking and they want to come with us to Trish’s party.” She feigned embarrassment. “Sorry L, I may have let the details slip.”
Jenna felt the hard curve of Lauren’s elbow clip her ribs as two boys Jenna hadn’t even noticed began to approach. Ashley continued talking but Jenna was lost in the boy on the right’s large blue gaze. He was beautiful, with shaggy black hair and a light shade of stubble covering his hollow cheeks. He looked like the football players Jenna remembered from high school, though they’d never been interested in her then. But this boy stepped right up to her. He tugged down on the hem of his shirt, rubbed his square jaw, and touched the back of his neck. There was restraint in the way his hands twitched towards her, and in the way his eyes fought not to look up into her gaze. Like he was humbled by her. Like he couldn’t look away.
Jenna held out her small hand and his large mitt quickly swallowed it. He introduced himself again as if he’d forgotten that Ashley had already done it for him. “Hi I’m Jon. Jon Weldon.”
“Jenna,” she said, feeling her stomach flip when he said his name. “It looks like you boys forgot your costumes.” She swept her eyes from Jon to Connor then back again.
Connor shrugged. “Eh. Halloween’s never really been my thing. This dork over here wanted to dress up as Luigi and Mario but I was the rational one who talked him out of it.”
“That’s too bad.”
Lauren laughed, “Coming from the girl who I nearly had to hog tie to get into cat ears and a black dress.”
Jenna bit her lip as laughter fluttered through their small circle. Her eyes danced up to Jon’s and he seemed surprised again that she was looking at him. He gulped, dropped his voice and said very sweetly, “Well I think you look nice. Really pretty.”
Ashley spoke up, sparing her the grief of having to respond. “Alright ya’ll, I’ll be back in a few. Just going to pick up my date. Have fun on that death contraption.” Her eyes flashed up to the Ferris wheel in impish delight.
Lauren nodded, eyes suddenly severe in ways they hadn’t been before. “Stay close. I’ll call you. Remember, we don’t have much time.”
She ascended the first steel staircase and her heel clanged out of time to the carnival music. Next, Jenna was being shepherded onto the rickety white carriage next to Jon. The car door with the flaking red and ivory paint closed and the rusting metal bar came down across Jenna’s lap. She wrinkled her nose apprehensively. The seats of the Ferris wheel were cool against the backs of her thighs as the poorly put-together contraption resisted gravity and took them up into the sky. Jon was talking beside her, and in the car behind them she could hear Lauren and Connor laughing, as if they’d known one another for years rather than minutes. She felt something irrational swell inside of her chest, like the pinprick of a jealous love, but Jenna knew that was stupid. Lauren had that affect on everyone.
Jon cleared his throat. “So have you lived here all your life?”
“What?” Jenna said, slightly shaken. Her lungs jerked when the car came to a stop. They swung back and forth for a few seconds before the engine revved and they continued their climb.
He laughed, “Are you afraid of heights?”
Jenna looked up at him, afraid to see the mocking in his eyes that had not tainted his lips. But he was just staring at her sweetly with those blue eyes that she could see the ocean in; they were pretty powerful those eyes, pretty beautiful too. “Yes.”
He grinned and slid towards her in the seat so that they were seated thigh-to-thigh. The snake in her abdomen switched its tail restlessly as her whole chest flooded with heat. “Don’t worry,” he said, bringing his mouth down to her ear so that she could feel the gentle pressure of his lips against her skin. She closed her eyes. He held her wrist. “You’re safe with me.”
She looked at him, so close to her that it would have taken little effort to reach his lips. She looked down. The tension between them was palpable as they made small talk and spoke briefly of their lives that had brought them together at this moment. Connor was from Chicago and had moved the year before. He was taking classes at the local community college. He had been a football player in high school before he’d torn his ACL. Now he wanted to be a physical therapist. Jenna had lamely confessed that she wasn’t in school. She hadn’t been for the past year. Jon didn’t seem put off and instead said a few things that were encouraging. She had smiled and when the Ferris wheel stalled for an instant she felt safe leaning in to him. That was when he asked her how long he’d known Lauren.
“One year,” she said.
“Really?” His eyebrows lifted in surprise that was genuine. “You guys seem like best friends, sisters even.”
Pride flooded her chest and Jenna beamed. “Yeah, we actually met last year on Halloween in the Haunted Forest.” She pointed towards the Haunted Forest entrance beneath them and from their vantage point she could just make out a group of kids clustered behind a Grim Reaper who carried a torch instead of a sickle.
Jon pulled her closer, hand finding her waist and squeezing. “So it’s like your one-year anniversary, then?”
Jenna laughed. “Yeah, something like that.”
She looked up into his eyes, but the tension was cleanly severed by the buzzing of her cell phone. She jumped and Connor laughed and she glanced down to see a text from Ashley flash across the screen, followed closely by another from Lauren.
Time to go, sluts.
You ready, love?
Jenna turned back to face Lauren and nodded.

Jenna drove with Jon, Lauren, and Connor in the car behind Ashley. Ashley drove with her date–the boy from the costume shop–and she drove like a maniac. Left, right, grind the clutch, change gears, blast the music, another left. Connor, in the driver’s seat, could barely keep up. Jenna laughed when he commented crassly on Ashley’s driving under his breath.
Foreign energy tunneled through Jenna’s limbs as Connor reached over and took her hand at the same time Lauren’s eyes found hers in the side mirror. Lauren cracked the window and a gust of wind blew into the space and smelled like popcorn and pine and something so much darker. Jenna couldn’t help but wonder whether then whether or not Ashley’s talk about Halloween meant anything. What if there really was something different about tonight? Something blossoming and golden and perfect.
Ashley swung off Route 3 at mile six, taking the turn at 40 mph. The cars squeezed down a narrow dirt road. Trees closed in around them, rising up in slate grey silhouettes against the onyx sky. Soon the only lights left were headlights, the glow from the jack-o’-lanterns guarding Trish’s house, and the slim face of the orange moon, arcing across the sky.
“Holy shit,” Jon muttered and Jenna felt her stomach clench as she saw all the cars piled in Trish’s unpaved driveway. They pulled into one of the few spots remaining just beyond the tree line, dry leaves and pine needles crunching as they came.
Lauren was the first out of the car, and opened up Jenna’s door for her. Pulling Jenna out of the backseat, she gave her a small, brief hug and said, “Don’t be nervous. You’ll have a great time if you just relax. Just be yourself.”
Ashley found her next while the boys gathered beneath the glow of the pumpkins, and threw her arms around both girls’ necks. “Happy Halloween,” she squealed, kicking her feet up into the air.
“Ashley, you are a total freak.”
“Oh my gosh, I love you guys,” Ashley said, leaving Lauren’s statement ignored for the time being, “You guys are my family.”
“Yes. We are a family,” Lauren agreed, her gentle gaze pressing down onto Jenna. Jenna sucked in a breath and followed Lauren towards the house, as she would have followed her anywhere: blindly.
The mansion loomed up before her in Southern-gothic decadence. Baroque minarets spiraled up into the sky, Spanish moss poured over the edge of the third-floor widow’s walk balcony, and the one great big window stared down at her like Odin’s eye, framed by ivy. There were girls gathered in front of the open door that looked up when she approached. Every gaze dripped down onto her and the girl in the front, who she recognized from photographs as Trish, stepped forward and smiled ever so slightly. Jenna gulped.
“Hey Jon, Connor, why don’t you guys go on in? We’ll meet up in a second,” Lauren said. Jon looked to Jenna once before disappearing into the dimly lit entryway, receiving more than one appraising look from the girls gathered on the steps.
Jenna inhaled, and held the breath as Trish stepped forward to meet her. “Lauren,” she said, onyx hair glittering in the non-light.
“Trish, this is Jenna. Jenna this is Trish, Mary Beth, and Claire,” she said motioning to the two girls gathered just behind Trish. They moved when she did, and stared at Trish as if she were the God of their own private heavens. Her eyes flashed to Lauren and then to Ashley, standing just next to her. She supposed that’s how she looked at Lauren, like a child searching for a light in the dark.
Trish meanwhile focused on her with a raptor’s intensity. “So this is the one I’ve heard so much about?”
“The one,” Lauren answered, voice filled with nothing but pride that was unshakable.
“She’s been hiding you for a while,” Trish said, speaking directly to Jenna this time.
Jenna’s mouth fell open but she said nothing.
The girl with the vibrant red hair, Mary Beth, stepped forward. “So tonight is her–is your–first time?”
“Oh hush now. No need to make her more nervous than she already is. You’re not nervous are you?” Trish said to Jenna.
Jenna laughed, though the sound was desperate. “I’m scared shitless.”
The girls at Trish’s back shifted uncomfortably as Ashley burst into fierce laughter. Even Lauren concealed a smile with her hand.
“Oh my stars,” Trish said, reaching up and touching her painted lips. Her dark eyes were feral and searching for something in Jenna that, it seemed she’d found. “Lauren, you didn’t tell me she would be such a doll.”
Lauren smiled coolly, and somehow Jenna got the sense that Lauren and Trish had known one another for a long time. “Of course. I told you there was a reason that I picked her.”
“You always did pick well.” Trish was a petite girl and stared up at Lauren affectionately. Her eyes flashed to Ashley when she said this and Ashley blushed, looking humble for the first time Jenna could remember. “We better get moving, it’s almost midnight and we don’t want to keep the rest of the girls waiting.” Trish hooked her arm through Jenna’s and guided her into the house, which opened up before her like a gaping jack-o’-lantern’s mouth, and swallowed her whole.
It took Jenna’s eyes a few minutes to adjust to the darkness inside the house. The only lights hung against the walls in the form of soft orange orbs shaped like pumpkins with sharp smiles and wandering eyes. Trish steered her into the kitchen, and handed her a beer. Jenna sipped on it reflexively while Trish turned to the girls gathered around the coffee table.
“Ladies,” she said, “before we go out onto the dance floor I’d like to introduce you all to Jenna. Tonight is her first time.” Cheers rose up and in the next second the group of gorgeous, perfect girls swarmed her, generously doling out compliments and congratulations before darting off in every direction to grab their dates and spread the news. Jenna’s heart was pounding.
Lauren was watching her, and when Trish took a step towards her, eyes as round and large as marbles, she got to her first. “It’s alright Trish, I’ve got it from here. Go change the music to something a little more apropos and we’ll meet you in the living room.”
“Absolutely.” Trish grinned at Lauren and gave Jenna one final hug before drifting out of the room. Mary Beth and Claire followed without question.
Ashley gravitated to their small trio and held her hands to her lips. She smelled like candy and vanilla and cinnamon and said, “Tonight is going to be perfect.”
Perfect. It would be. It had to be. Jenna felt something small and beautiful burst in her chest.
Lauren adjusted the ribbon around Jenna’s waist with affection. “Just…”
“Be myself,” Jenna finished for her with a small smirk. “I know.”
“Good.” Lauren stared down at Jenna for a long time, and then dropped her voice to a whisper that brushed against her cheek with warmth. “And now we dance.”

Jenna felt sweat glisten on her forehead as they began gravitating towards the den and its inviting darkness. The grandfather clock in the hallway read 11:52. Ashley clapped and pushed Jenna towards the hall, whispering in her ear as they went. Jenna felt deaf to the encouragement. Still, she followed Lauren from the foyer to the living room and then past it to the dance floor and the bodies adhered to one another in heat and sticky sweat that drew Jenna forward like a desert traveler to a fata morgana on the horizon.
Jenna weaved through the crowd with Lauren and Ashley behind her, glitter and perfume colliding in the air. She turned when Lauren touched her elbow and was only completely horrified when she both saw and felt the pressure of many sets of eyes wandering over her skin, as if hungry tigers in wait.
“Don’t worry about them,” Ashley shouted as she dipped her hips into the random strangers behind her. She closed her eyes, and Jenna watched with envy as Ashley danced without inhibition. Jenna was cemented in a rigid stance, like a gargoyle amongst daisies before Lauren grabbed her hand and wrenched her forward so that the warmth of their bodies met in inescapable violence. All she could hear was the beat of the bass and all she could see were Lauren’s bright eyes and all she could feel was the snake in her belly thrashing. She closed her eyes.
“Hey there,” a deep voice said behind her seconds before hands circled her waist. Lauren released her and Jenna saw that her eyes looked wild and only slightly panicked.
Jenna was shaky when she reached back and found Jon’s hand. He gripped her fingertips and kissed the back of her neck, he pulled his hand back through her hair. Trish appeared then with her date in tow, Mary Beth and Claire with their dates just behind her. All of their eyes were staring fixatedly at her and she knew that they were waiting for her alone because tonight was her night, and this was her moment.
To her left, Ashley’s date had his hands all over Ashley’s body, squeezing her breasts, touching the long, lean arch of her neck, and sucking on it. Ashley’s eyes were closed but on her lips she wore a grin that managed to look, at the same time, both divine and homicidal. Lauren was dancing lazily with her date while the muscles in her face twitched mechanically, resisting her face’s perfect symmetry. Her eyes were slightly bloodshot and they were glowing with heat that made the tremors in Jenna’s palms disappear. Something blisteringly hot swirled beneath her skin and the snake ached for release. She met Lauren’s gaze squarely. Lauren nodded, just once.
Jenna turned to face Jon and without hesitating, brushed her mouth across his lips. He froze for a moment and his pupils dilated, but he did not try and resist as she pulled herself up on his neck. His hands circled her waist, running greedily from her back to her thighs, but she barely felt it. Instead she was focused on the feelings of eyes on her face and the distant chime of the grandfather clock. Ding, dong. Ding, dong. An explosion of panic and fear and adrenaline and lust lit, like a match down her spine, and she knew in that second that she had reached perfection as muscles she did not know she had twisted the contours of her small heart-shaped face.
She opened her eyes and everything was in black and white. The whole world was grey and yet somehow each detail was oddly sharp. She glanced over Jon’s shoulder to find Lauren, whose back was to Connor, her hands on his, and her long legs peeking out from beneath her skirt. She saw all of these things, but was distracted by Lauren’s eyes: they were lidless, round orbs resting precariously in the top of her skull. Beneath that a messy, gaping hole of jagged sharp teeth sat where her mouth had been moments previous and all Jenna could think in that moment where actions and consequences had no bearing and her previous life that had ended last Halloween did not exist was that Lauren had never looked more beautiful than she did tonight.
Jenna saw Ashley; she saw tremors rip through the girl’s skin to the music’s accelerating beat. The boy who was breathing heavily into Ashley’s hair did not notice the snout protruding from between her cheeks or the ten-inch talons that reflected Jenna’s whole world back to her in miniature. Ashley’s eyes, like Lauren’s, were wide and wandering. They saw Jenna and Jenna went still when Ashley lifted a single finger and pointed it at her chest. In that instant, the last restraints she’d used to control the snake–no, not the snake–the monster inside of her, released.
She pulled away from Jon and fear flashed across his pretty blue eyes when he saw her, what she had been, and what she was becoming. He opened his mouth to cry out but the monster had already dissolved into Jenna’s spine, becoming her. Her back arched forward, her hands distended into jagged claws, her jaw unhinged, and her face ripped open at the center when her mouth opened. Jon cantered back. Her thumbnail hooked through his meaty shoulder and he screamed. Without hesitating, she sunk her teeth into the soft flesh of Jon’s neck and bathed in the sweet scent of his cologne mingling with his blood as it fell over her and she fell over him.
She took him down. Cheers and howls rose up and were accompanied by a chorus screams, but Jenna heard none of them. Blood burst into her mouth in crimson ribbons, like the one she wore around her waist, and tasted both salty and sweet. Her body coiled around his like a constrictor and she ripped tags of flesh free of his chest, tearing straight through to the bone. Small fountains of spray slashed across her face and branded her in heat. She could feel him jerk beneath her, resisting her in any ways he could. Absently, she stabbed her ring finger down through his hands and nailed him to the floorboards. He screamed and screamed again. She closed her eyes and tossed back the mane of her hair, breathing up into the ceiling and rubbing his blood all over her chest. She’d never known such glorious sin and felt herself reach Valhalla.
A sound caught her attention and she looked to the left to see a boy burst for the front door with two girls tearing after him, teeth gleaming like bits of broken glass as they cackled. Ashley was hunched over the dead carcass of her date as she lowered the glittering tubules of his intestines into her open mouth. Her dress was ripped open in the front and across her clavicle Jenna saw two words tattooed there in stunning simplicity: semper esurio. She felt her monstrous face contort into what might have been a grin, or something like it.
Beneath her, Jon made a sound. She tilted her head to the side and looked down at his blubbering lips, then ate them. His blue eyes, now flat, rolled to the back of his head, his screams fettered out, and then his heart came to a swift, sweet, stop shortly after.
That’s when Lauren howled. She howled Lauren howled up into the unseen starlight, several other cries rising up its wake. A current ripped through her and Jenna felt herself join the chorus. Lauren’s one remaining wing was tattered and blood bathed her white dress and Jenna knew that she was looking upon Elizabeth Bathory in the flesh and she was honored to have had such a creator. Lauren’s eyes shot up and found hers, as if she had heard Jenna’s unspoken thoughts. She straddled what was left of Connor and, using her talons, she carved back his skin. He continued to choke on his own blood until Lauren plunged her fist into his chest and ripped his heart out through his sternum. And then Lauren stood, full of grace. She stepped across the floor, bare white feet plodding through puddles of deep burgundy, and Jenna was held fixed to her brilliance, like staring directly at an open flame.
Lauren balanced the slippery organ between her fingers, playing with it like putty, and came to Jenna. Jenna’s heartbeat pounded. The girls in the room had quieted. There was no more laughter, but there was a rumble. Hands and feet and limbless body-parts jangled against the floor, drumming out a rhythm that had nothing at all to do with the music playing; the music soon faded to white noise and then to nothing while the symphony rose up to overpower it. She could hear hissing in unison, and the hard thump of her own heartbeat, which matched the girls’ hard fists against the bloodstained floor. Boom, boom, boomboomboom. Lauren’s mouth was wide and dripping with blood and cartilage, but Jenna knew that she was smiling as she lifted the heart to her lips. Ding, dong. Boomboomboom.
The smooth aorta touched Jenna’s bottom lip and Lauren squeezed, liquid magic and metal and fire and heat and perfection taking her thoughts from the sweet, lovely boy lying dead beneath her to the fresh flesh now feeding her gluttonous veins. She’d never known such crippling lust or glorious revulsion. And she’d never felt more at peace looking up into the eyes of her friend, mother, lover, sister, god and creator, bits and pieces of skin and muscle dangling from her narrow chin. Ding, dong. Boomboomboom. Jenna rubbed the blood across her chest, bathing in its effervescence, and howled up into the heavens while the chorus of her family rose up just after and obliterated all else. It was then that Jenna felt it flowing into her in crimson ribbons: that sweet, raw perfection. She drank the red nectar, and she was home.

By Elizabeth Stephens

The Pit

the pit

The drip, drip, drip of water reverberated within the confines of his skull as he lay against the damp, cold, antiquated bricks of the pit. The steady hammering of droplets was all he heard when he was awake. It was all he heard when he dreamt, escaping the mildew walls of his prison for the tight framing of his nightmares, dreading that moment he’d awake, that moment he’d be violently roused from his slumber. Searing pain plucked him from the realm of spectres as a torch smoldered a gaping wound, singeing shut the doorways for his life’s essence to pour out and end his misery.
He’d shriek, his voice slicing through the icy, stagnant air like shattering glass, and that torch would drop. It’d burn out and roll into the abyss, a veil of darkness so thick he’d dare not venture into it.
But his arm was out there, the skeletal remains of his right hand, the meat peeled right off, gnashed into a sinewy, slushy stew. Whatever else was out there probably nested on a pile of limbs, burrowing deep into the bone white remains of God knows how many people who ended up here, tossed into this damnable abyss for crimes against the State, for speaking their minds in lieu of Church doctrine.
A gun lay out there too. A revolver. With 2 shots left. Just enough to make it count. Just enough to spark a flash and aim and drill a final bullet between its eyes. Maybe he’d eat the beast. Maybe he’d injure it and digest the abomination bit by bit, oozing saliva over every gangly, gangrene-infested chunk as it watched. Silently.
Because it never spoke. It never rasped even the softest sound.
It didn’t even breathe.
He’d sit awake for hours, his back rubbing against the rough stone, and the only breath prickling his ears was that gasped from his own chest, his own wheezing rasps for air as the darkness encircled closer around him, contracting tighter and tighter like a serpent coiling around its prey. Teasing him. Toying with him. He was just a torn ragdoll held together by a few stitches, a celestial prostitute in the pig shit-smelling wooden cages of Chink Alley, being force-fed in order to put out another day’s work.
With that gun, that revolver lying mere inches away under the enveloping pitch of nothing, it’d all change. No more waiting around for death. No more clinging to life while some dopey, toothless mongoloid had its way with him, robbing him of the only thing worth saving – his soul.
He’d reach for the firearm with his only hand. His left hand. His alien hand, whose fingers knew not the pull of a trigger, not the deathly pull of emotionless, precision steel.
But he’d try anyway. He’d march those meek cherubs across stagnant pools of mold and mosquito eggs, fanning them out in a line, hunters on the prowl for a pheasant to ensnare. And they’d scurry into the darkness; their lives depended on it. One more night of inaction and they, too, could join the other digits in the digested stew of a silent killer, of a spectral ghoul with an insatiable hunger.
Within that shrouded abyss, rocks clattered against each other. The cherubs halted their march. Had the beast moved? Was it coming for him so soon?
He drew back his arm and touched where his right should have been. A ghostly tingle dulled his senses, and a sensation not far from the smoldering of a tree after a lightning strike assaulted his nerves. In his mind, he could almost flex his right fingers, almost lean that arm forward and coil around the handle of a gun. When he looked away from the phantom limb, the pain lessened, and the agony subsided as muscle memory took over, playing as if the trauma had never occurred.
Something laughed – a harsh, raspy, scorched throat laugh.
“It’s got you… dreaming, has it?” The ghoul coughed, its voice parched. Each word cut through the still air like a razor, slicing that desiccated flesh in its throat as it spoke. He could almost hear the spurting blood. “Pretending like the whole thing never happened?”
He tried listening to where the sound originated from, perked his ears and closed his eyes, but the voice seemed to bark from every crevice, to jab and taunt from the cracks in the brick and bubbles in the water. It oozed its way into his skull, echoing with that constant drip, drip, drip. And as he remained silent, the voice just laughed – snickered and cackled from its perch within the walls.
His left hand, hesitant at first, voyaged back into the abyss. Those trembling fingers knew there would be no second chance.
“Go for it; pick up the gun,” the voice howled.
Bony digits coiled around something cold and wet and metal, fastening tightly around their savior. His left arm slowly began to drag the revolver back, sliding the gun as quietly as he could across pebbles and rocks.
“You can’t kill me. You’ll miss.”
He pulled the revolver to his leg, curling his index finger around the trigger as he slowly raised the weapon.
“I’ll pin you down; I’ll gnaw into your joints; My teeth will strip each individual muscle from your limbs; your bones will pick my gums as I dive into your organs. Before this night is through, I’ll have your heart; I’ll savor it and suckle it; I’ll caress it with my tongue, licking as far into your valves as I can before I tear it apart with my incisors!”
The voice was louder. More urgent. More painfully reverberating against the walls of his brain as the beast spewed its vileness. And it was in this dissonance, this chaotic drumming that severed man from his senses, that he realized he would only need just the one bullet.
The prisoner, the fool in the pit of the damned, held the barrel of the gun against his own skull, and he pulled the trigger.

By Scott Waldyn
http://www.literaryorphans.org/playdb/scott-waldyn/