Guest Post: Jae Mazer

Feel the Death

By Jae Mazer

The rickety bus creaked and heaved, fumes vomiting from its tailpipe as it trembled down the old road. Mia and Sachia held on to each other, watching as the barren wasteland outside raced by the windows.

“We’ll be there promptly, girls.”

The driver’s voice was wet and wrapped in a cackle that couldn’t quite find an escape.

Mia shuddered. Tears glazed her eyes.

“It’s okay,” Sachia said, squeezing Mia’s hand. “We’ll be there soon.”

She doesn’t mean it, Mia thought. She’s still angry.

As if on cue, the home appeared over the lip of the next hill, staring in wait up the road at its feet.

“Will it hurt?” Mia asked the older girl.

“No,” Sachia said.

“Will it be frightening?”

Sachia didn’t answer.

Mia looked out the window. The bus had slowed considerably, the tyres upsetting a minimal cloud of dust. Tumbleweeds blew across the dusty ground, catching in cracks and bouncing into the air.

“Will I blow away to dust?” Mia asked.

Sachia said nothing.

Mia wasn’t ready. When the bus pulled up to the behemoth of a structure, she remained firmly planted to her seat, even after Sachia stood.

“C’mon,” Sachia whispered, a hint of panic escaping its constraints. “Don’t linger. They’ll come out and get you, regardless.”

Mia got to her feet, despite the lead in her stomach. She shuffled down the aisle, Sachia tugging her sleeve the whole way.

The air should have been fresh, should have helped to quash Mia’s fear, but no. It wasn’t fresh. It wasn’t anything. It was a stale, stagnant yellow blanket that hovered in Mia’s nostrils and lungs; tight and still and bland. A suffocating nothingness.

“It’s not warm,” Mia said, her voice breaking. “It’s not cold. It’s not anything.”

“Hush,” Sachia said, jabbing her sister in the ribs.

The headmistress stood on the step, patiently awaiting their arrival. She was stunning, Mia noticed straight away, with a black dress and blue-black hair. She was beautiful and terrifying, pale skin glowing from beneath the slits and ties of the dark fabric.

“Promptly now, girls,” the driver said, rushing the stragglers off the bus. “We haven’t much time before I fetch the next lot of you.”

And with that, the last of the girls, two young beauties that looked almost old enough to drink, were off the bus and waiting in a trembling cluster at the base of the front steps. The bus pulled away, clouds of silence billowing in its wake.

There was no wind, no animals, no one was talking. The headmistress stared into each and every set of eyes. No one dared allow breath to pass their lips. A buzzard cawed in the distance, the sound of nails down a chalkboard. Mia startled, and Sachia held her tighter. The headmistress met Mia’s eyes, and for the briefest of moments, Mia thought she saw a smile threaten to emerge across the woman’s stoic face.

A gasp rippled through the pack of girls when the headmistress spun around, her raven-coloured hair whirling in a pirouette as she clip-clopped into the house. The girls looked at each other, eyes pleading for a prompt, for a suggestion, for a hero that would lead the way.

One girl, a strawberry blond with a college bow in her hair, took the first step. Her bravery opened the dam, and the girls moved in unison, up the stairs and into the house like a swarm.

The inside of the house smelled of campfires and copper, and the air was wet and heavy. Though beautiful on the outside, its interior was dilapidated, yellowed walls peeling strips of paint and ceilings sagging and stained brown.

“What is that smell?” Mia asked, tugging on Sachia’s sleeve.

“Shhh,” Sachia scolded, swatting her sister’s hand.

“But it smells so awful,” Mia said, tears welling again. “Like the slaughterhouse—”

“Because it is,” Sachia snapped, raising her finger to her lips in an attempt at silencing her frantic sibling.

They moved from the entrance into the main room. The only room on the first floor. A massive wood stove sat against the far wall, covered in pots roiling with steam. Long wooden benches lines the room like church pews, empty, save scraps of food and chipped dishes.

The strawberry blonde hesitated only a moment before walking forward and taking a seat at the end of a pew in the first row, folding her hands neatly in her lap like the proper miss she clearly was. The others followed suit, but with much less grace, stumbling and seating themselves with an awkward hesitance.

“What are we doing?” Mia asked, looking around the room. It was barren, except for the wood stove, pews, and meager leavings of occupants passed. “What is this?”

Sachia didn’t answer.

She’s done answering, Mia thought. She’s angry.

Mia looked around at the other faces, pale and sullen, streaks of dusty tears marring blotchy skin. A small girl, no more than 5, was trembling violently, despite the tepid air.

So young. How is she here?

The little girl looked up at her with wide blue eyes, lip trembling, blonde hair soaked in brown crud.

So young.

They ate in silence. Bowls of gruel from a pot on the wood stove were doled out by a hefty woman in a burlap dress, mouth stitched closed, nostrils flaring from the influx of air. Mia cringed when the woman handed her the bowl. The woman paused, smiling, the heavy twine stitching her lips together tearing her flesh ever so slightly.

That twine is damp with blood, Mia thought, her eyes fixed on the meaty, cracked lips. That’ll infect in no time.

The smiling henchwoman waddled away, gristle dripping from her ladle to the floor. Mia did not eat. She held the bowl in her hand, watching globs of meat float around the brown sludge.

“It’s time.” A bald woman with thick veins protruding from her head stood in the doorway, filling it with her great mass of muscle. “Five at a time. No dawdling.”

“At least it’ll be quick,” Sachia said.

Mia eyed the girls lining the pews. Twenty. At most.

Too quick, Mia thought, her heart pummeling her ribcage.

The strawberry blonde, who had proudly taken the first spot in the first row of pews, now looked like she deeply regretted that decision. She was in the first five. She wasn’t so quick to lead this time.

“Let’s go,” the bald woman barked.

The strawberry blonde looked at the girls, her eyes frantic and too afraid to cry. Everyone looked away as if ashamed by her weakness. Her sobs became audible, and her body convulsed with tremors of fear. The bald woman rolled her eyes and stepped forward. She wore heavy, shiny black boots that crept up to her exposed groin, the laces threaded straight through the muscular flesh on her thighs. Those heavy boots clopped so loud Mia was sure they would break right through the floor. The bald, booted woman grabbed a handful of strawberry blonde hair, and lifted the girl off the pew. The girl screamed and writhed, but the bald woman didn’t flinch. She held the girl, suspended a good foot off the floor, and walked out of the room.

The next four girls followed without argument, looking at their feet rather than their violently struggling comrade. Mia watched as they exited the room, feet shuffling, eyes darting around. It pained her to see their fear, their uncertainty. She looked back down at her gruel.

Time passed. Maybe minutes, an hour, Mia couldn’t be sure. The room was quiet, except for the growling of tummies, and the occasional whimper from someone who couldn’t hold their fear any longer. Just when Mia thought the tension might turn her inside out, a crash came from the upper floor. A girl in the pew ahead of her screamed.

“What was that?” Mia asked, searching Sachia’s face.

Sachia didn’t answer. She was looking up at the ceiling, watching the candle-lit chandelier swaying from the boom.

Another boom. And another.

Five in all.

Then silence again, other than the tinkling of the yellowed crystals on the swaying chandelier. The girls looked up, watching the light dancing off the walls as it swayed to a stop.

“C’mon then,” a voice boomed. “On with it.”

The bald woman was once again standing in the doorway. Her platform boots were still laced to her long legs, but Mia had not heard her clomping down the stairs. When she left the room, though, she was clomping, even louder than before. The second batch of girls didn’t waste any time, following close behind the sound of the boots.

Mia wished she was with them.

The wait was agonizing.

The crashes were louder this time. The floor above creaked, and gyprock rained down in a fine powder with each of the five booms. But this time, there were screams. Blood-curdling and high-pitched, gargling and desperate. Mia looked up at the ceiling, and saw the water spots along the trim growing darker, wetter…

The next batch of girls were already standing at the door before the woman appeared from the foyer. These girls did not go quietly. The bangs were accompanied by ear-piercing mewling and gagging sobs. The walls shook, the wood cracking from ceiling to floor with bang after bang after bang.

Mia’s pew was the last one left. By the time the bald woman was standing in the doorway, Mia was regretting wishing the time away. She did not want to go. She did not wish for it to be all over. That room, with those splintered pews and that nauseating gruel and that terrible, horrible woman with the stitched smile didn’t seem all that bad now. Mia could comfortably see herself spending an eternity there, bottom full of sores from being pressed onto that wood, stomach burning from consumption of that lardy stew.

Now, staring at the back of those boots, at the platform heels and blood spurting from the holes in the bald woman’s thighs, Mia thought the room with the pews had been paradise.

Up the stairs they went, avoiding holes and missing boards. Mia stumbled and reached for the handrail, but quickly recoiled when she grasped something slick and wet.

Not a handrail.

A taut set of braided intestines, perhaps from three or four donors, attached at the top and bottom of the stairs on large femur bones.

“Keep going,” Sachia said, pulling her sister up the stairs.

The top of the stairs had a tiny entryway that opened up into one large room that occupied the entire top floor of the house. The ceiling was high, like a gymnasium, and the walls were soiled and weathered, very much like the room below. This room was more barren than that room, though. Virtually empty…

Except for the bodies strewn across the floor.

Mia followed her sister into the room, and her feet sank into the shag carpet. Her toes squished like she was stepping in mud at the bog back home. She wiggled them, grinding into the moisture.

“Girls.”

The bald woman was gone. The raven-haired headmistress had taken her place, standing in the center of the room.

Had she been there when we came in? Mia wondered.

“Noses against the wall, girls.”

Nobody moved. Mia looked at the other girls, eyebrows raised, eyes scouring the walls.

The headmistress drew in a deep breath that sucked the air out of the room. All the girls looked at her. Her eyes turned red, and her mouth flew open, splitting her head in two. A tail sprouted between her legs, and teeth jutted from the bottom of her jaw.

“I said, noses against the fucking wall, ladies!”

It wasn’t a voice. It was a feral howl, a morbid bellow that clawed its way into Mia’s ears and dove to the bottom of her colon.

The girls obeyed. Instantly.

It was a pleasant surprise, that wall. It smelled of lavender and honey.

“Sachia?” Mia said, reaching to the side for her sister. “It smells like Mom. Like home. Isn’t it lovely, Sachia?”

Sachia didn’t answer. Mia turned to look at her. Sachia’s face was pressed against the wall, a smile on her plump lips. Mia’s heart was swollen with love for her beautiful sister, her mentor, her caregiver. Her best friend.

Mia yelped as her cheek split open. A tongue, thin and black and barbed, licked across her cheek and in front of her face.

“Against the wall,” the headmistress hissed. “Dear.”

Mia focused on the wall but watched Sachia in her peripheral. Odd. She seems taller, higher…

The lavender and honey was overwhelming. Mia’s nose pressed into the wall, and it received her, soft and supple like her mother’s breast. Mia felt euphoric, like walking on air, and the pleasure intensified. She breathed in and tasted her favourite cookies that Mother used to bake—chocolate chip with caramel drizzle. Mia licked the wall, and her tongue was overwhelmed with the flavours of a hundred favourite meals.

Then came unfamiliar sensations. The smell of lilies on a wedding day that had yet to transpire, the pulsation and flood of sexuality yet to be released, the pure adoration of birth and child rearing.

Pleasure turned to desperation, and then to abject terror.

Mia had never felt those lovely things.

She never would.

She opened her eyes and turned her head away from the wall.

“Sachia,” she whispered.

Sachia didn’t answer. She couldn’t. She would never answer again. Her face was contorted in pain and horror and violation, the front of her white nightgown soaked in crimson. Mia looked down at the waterfall of blood pouring to the carpet and found that she and her sister—all the girls—were suspended several feet off the floor.

Mia looked down at her body. She, too, was but a painting hung on the wall, suspended by a talon that reached into her from beyond the chipped paint, from the opposite side of the house and the hell that lay beyond.

“Hurt?” The raven woman hissed.

Yes! Mia screamed, but only in her head. Her words were muted by the blood pouring from her mouth.

“Good,” the raven woman said.

Mia felt it, in that talon that ripped through her skin and grasped her organs. She felt the receiving end of the blade she had driven into her own mother. She felt Sachia’s hands as they had wrapped around her neck after discovering their mother’s body in the master bed.

She turned to her sister, hanging on that wall, face blue and petechial hemorrhaging brightening her eyes to a glowing red, tears bleeding down her face.

She feels her own hands, like they wrapped around my throat, when she saw what I had done…

“Feel the death you served,” the raven-haired woman said from her perch on the wall.

Mia fell.

She fell for many minutes, crashing to that wet carpet, sending blood splashing up and coating the walls, filling her mouth and eyes and ears…

She saw herself fall.

Her body was limp on the ground, a pile of meat flayed out and on display, just like she had left her dear mother.

She looked to the side, at all the other girls, covered in blood, embedded in and beneath the walls, floating, lining the house in horizontal stacks and piles that extended out into the barren wasteland beyond the structure itself. The rows of girls floated for miles.

And in the distance, a plume of dust from the bus approached on the horizon.

Guest Blogger: Billy Stuart, “Samhain”

This piece is brought to you by Billy Stuart! One of the ScaryDad creators and podcasters, here in Houston, TX. I met Billy when he submitted to the Hydrophobia Anthology to help victims of Hurricane Harvey and became fast friends. It’s my pleasure to share his writing prompt below. As always, make sure to catch his bio at the end and give him some love by commenting, liking, and sharing!

 

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Samhain

The whole thing started as a curiosity piece, part of a week-long Halloween-themed series. It’s the sort of maudlin fluff that serious journalists despise, but what we all end up doing so much more of than actual reporting. This is the stuff of small town newspaper. Talk with an old lady whose cat was rescued by the fire department. Cover the ribbon cutting at the new Chevron station. Interview old folks and ask them what it was like to grow old in this no-horse town in the middle of nowhere. But I digress. It was nearing Halloween and the boss wanted to report on some dark and mysterious things in our town’s history.

I was handed three assignments. The first was the fire that destroyed the old courthouse way back in 1928. This was a huge deal back then as all court records- sentences, fines, and judgements went up in smoke one night. To this day the cause of the fire remains unknown. I had the pleasure of meeting the town’s oldest resident, Mrs. Kimmie Dougat, who is, “97 years young this fall…”

She was seven years old at the time and claims to have been there to watch it burn. This was difficult to coalesce with the fact that archived accounts report that the fire started sometime in the middle of the night and that by the time anyone even knew there was a problem, the building had already been reduced to cinders and ash. Miss Kimmie was a sweetheart, though so I didn’t really care whether or not she was lying.

The second assignment was an interview with Lawrence Thomas Griffith III to discuss the 44th year of the charity ball and auction at the KC hall. Griffith the Third is the owner of Griffith Motors (est. 1948), our local car dealership. His grandfather, Griffith Sr. had come back from the war with a piece of shrapnel and a dream and had run a very successful dealership until his retirement in the mid 70’s. His son, Griffith Junior, was a showman. He often appeared on radio and television to promote the dealership and anything else he had going on, which largely consisted of charity fundraisers. He was a beloved figure in town who greatly improved his father’s legacy and made his own not insignificant impact on the town’s economy. The charity ball and auction are local traditions that people look forward to all year.

Griffith the third is a young, sad-faced and serious man, with little of his father’s charisma or personality. While certainly pleasant to be around, it is obvious that the young man’s heart is not in selling cars. If I had to guess, I think he’d prefer the big city and all its… flavor to the small town we inhabit, if you know what I mean. And III is an only child so the entire family business rests on his shoulders. I personally don’t see the dealership making it another five years.

And that’s the kind of life we lead. Small town, big gossip, old school. In spite of the internet, we still sell out our entire print run every week. We sometimes even have to print late editions. Kids still play in front yards here. The ladies gather at the salon to talk about whose teenagers are messing around with whose, and the Baptist Church’s Spring Festival is the most anticipated event of the year. These are good, solid, salt-of-the-Earth folks. It’s the kind of place just about anyone, well, anyone except Griffith the Third, would like to put down roots and live easy.

Unless you were living here between 1998 and 2001. Then it was most definitely not one of those places. You see, in those years the town was terrorized by a serial killer. Four total victims, all under the age of ten, snatched from their own bedrooms on Halloween night. There were never any signs of a break-in or struggle and none of the victims were ever found

Making the situation even stranger was how the story ended.  In ’01, shortly after the fourth victim went missing, a local man by the name of Charles Lee Brooks walked into the police station and confessed to snatching, raping, and killing the children. He said he would cooperate fully and show where he’d hidden the bodies. He declined counsel and said he didn’t even want a defense. He swore that he was guilty and needed to be punished. He also begged to be locked up. Unfortunately, the bodies were never recovered nor were the confessions ever made. You see, once they had him all locked up, Mister Brooks took a sheet and wrapped it around his neck and hanged himself from the bars.

It should have been national news but there was always a bigger, juicier story somewhere else. Even when the story took such an unusual turn, there was still wall to wall coverage of 9/11 on almost every channel, so the story was never picked up by the media. Locally, however, it was quite the sensation.

Charles Brooks was a chronically unemployed alcoholic who lived on the outskirts of town. He did odd jobs and errands to make ends meet and when he was in a rare dry spell, he made his money working on people’s cars. Despite all his problems, Brooks was magical when it came to motors. He could rebuild an engine by himself in an afternoon. The police concluded later that that’s why there were never any signs of a break-in: Brooks had simply copied his customers’ house keys and let himself in.

My third assignment for Halloween was to interview the officers who worked the case of the “Samhain Killer” all those years ago. My boss, the Ledger’s editor and chief, S.L. Cypress, was the man who named the killer. He was not subtle about wanting to get famous, to contribute to national publications, go on TV, and all that, so he took extra steps to sensationalize the whole thing. The insensitive bastard even added jack ‘o lanterns and black cats to columns discussing the murders, even years after Brooker had died. To say that the people of this town are not fans of Halloween would be an understatement.

The thing was, nobody ever came calling. National media didn’t care about a years-solved case that never produced any details. It was simply a tragic tale in an otherwise uninteresting small town somewhere in America. Yet, every five or ten years, Cypress would drop the assignment on one of his staff writers, making them pull out the files and relive all the boring details. “Team,” he’d say, rubbing his hands together excitedly and smiling broadly, “It’s been long enough. America needs to know about Sam-Hane.”

He said it incorrectly. He said it incorrectly every time. For a man of words, this was like nails on a chalkboard. It was the sort of mistake that would see the red of a proofer’s pen so quickly if it was written, but since it was spoken our otherwise super-strict boss-man simply refused to correct it. He’d say it on the radio too, whenever he was invited on to discuss local events or history. “It’s just a travesty that such a tragic event was just ignored. It’s like nobody cared at all for the suffering of the people of a small town. People need to know what happened here. People need to know about Sam-hane.”

Now, to be fair, the story of Samhain did have plenty of mystery and intrigue and his crimes certainly should have blown up alongside killers like Bundy and Zodiac. Four victims, killed by a familiar local personality, and no bodies… It wasn’t that it was boring in and of itself. It was that after writing the same damn article so many times over the years, nobody wanted to do it yet again. So, Cypress assigned Garden Club and Marching Band and Newlyweds-with-Ironic-Names and damn near every other kind of maudlin fluff that we just despise, and damn it if I didn’t get stuck behind a train on the way to work that morning so I got to the office with exactly one assignment left to choose up on the board: Samhain.

Damn.

S.L. wanted the angle of the story to be a 20th anniversary of the disappearance of the first victim, Kyle Walters. He wanted interviews with police and family members. The problem with that was, S.L. Cypress is a baby-faced and vibrant man in his late-sixties who thinks and acts like someone in his thirties. He’s way past retirement age but he’s still in the office before the light and stays late nearly every night. He never married, so the paper is basically his home, the staff his family. I’ve always liked S.L., except for his weird obsession with getting his serial killer stories picked up by the Times. It’s just that he fails to realize that most of the people who were involved with Samhain just really don’t want to relive that time of their lives. Twenty years is a long time, but when you lose a child, those scars never heal, and they never go away. S.L. didn’t care. He wanted his story and he would have it. On his desk. Friday morning. Or there would be Hell to pay.

Fair enough. I’d write his damn story. I went to my desk and prepared to do a very simple Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V on the article I’d written two years before. I sat down and booted up my computer and dicked around on my phone while I waited for the desktop to come up. Checking Facebook, I discovered that Arnold Waller had died. Sheriff Waller had been the face of law-enforcement my entire life. In his brown uniform, hat, and boots, Waller was as much a symbol of this town as the water tower or the little league park. I went to school with his son. Frankie was one grade above me, but the school was so small that most everyone except for the very oldest and the very youngest were friends.

I posted a quick, “thoughts and prayers” comment and stared at my computer screen. Sheriff Waller had been there that night that Brooks had come in to the station. Was likely the one who called in the ME when Brooks kicked it too. I picked up my phone again and reread the post.

“My father, Sheriff Arnold Waller, died this morning at home. He was 79. Funeral announcements forthcoming. Thank you for your concern and support. -F

It wasn’t much, almost strikingly stark. And Frankie wasn’t a guy known for brevity; Frankie liked to talk. I read and reread his post. Comments with broken-heart and sad-faced emojis started rolling in. The whole town was going to be in mourning. Sheriff Waller was an institution. He’d been patrolling for most of everyone’s lives. I think when he retired he’d been with the department for thirty-something years.

And Frankie adored his father. The two of them were practically inseparable—always hunting, fishing, going to games—something didn’t add up. Even though it was just Facebook, Frankie Waller was not one to elegize his father with a mere 23 words. I grabbed my keys and went straight to his house.

Frankie’s vintage Ford Galaxy was in the driveway and the garage was open when I arrived, but nobody answered the door. I called around and poked at the edges, deciding whether I wanted to risk just walking in. I was standing in the garage pondering the issue when Frankie opened the door and we startled each other.

“Jesus Christ, John! You scared the hell out of me!”

“Frankie, I’m sorry! I rang the bell, but no one answered. I, uh, I saw your Facebook. I came by to see how you were holding up.”

He didn’t look good. His normally jovial demeanor was gone. Before me stood a man who had been stressed to the limits. His dark hair was messy, and he had about three days of beard. His skin was greasy, and he looked as if he hadn’t showered in days. He narrowed his eyes at me and then looked at the ground. “I, uh. I’m not feelin’ much like company, John. Been a hard row to hoe the last few days.”

He then went to the refrigerator and got a beer. He didn’t offer one to me. He cracked the tab and drank half of it in a single swallow. In all my life I don’t think I remember ever seeing Frankie even drink a beer, what, with his dad being the sheriff and all. The Wallers were pretty straight-laced. When we were young, Frankie only avoided earning the nickname Opie by being big enough to smash anyone who wanted to say it to his face. I’m not proud of the fact that we called him that behind his back anyway and sometimes still do. But mean or not, it was accurate. Now, this impossibly, and sometimes irritatingly upstanding man was drunk at nine in the morning. True, he was mourning his father, but there was something more.

“It’s okay, Frank. I just wanted to offer my condolences. If there’s anything you need, you let me know, alright?”

He looked at the floor again and nodded without saying anything.

“Okay. I’ll see you later Frankie.” I said as I turned to leave.

“John…” He said, lifting his head.

“Yeah?”

He tipped the can and drained the rest of the beer before tossing the can at the refrigerator. He then began to sob. “I, I, I need to… I. Oh God… I”

“What is it, Frank? I know you loved your dad. It’s okay. We’re all going to miss him.

“It’s not that! It…. FUCK!” He swung his fist and put a hole in the sheetrock next to the refrigerator. I ducked instinctively, although I was not within reach of him. I stepped backward slightly. Frankie was having a breakdown and although I don’t think he’d ever hurt me on purpose, at the moment he was a bit out of his mind.

He staggered a bit, then caught his balance and then swayed. “I… Son of a?!”

I turned to see S.L. pass by in his blue Lexus, He cruised slowly, looking straight ahead, and turned at the end of the street.

“Him,” spat Frankie, swaying.

I looked from Frankie to where the car had passed and back again. “He hit you up for an interview or something?” I asked. S.L. Cypress was known for being a bit brash and unsympathetic. He’s definitely the kind of guy who would call a man on the day his father died and ask if he had any comments for the late edition. Decorum was not his thing.

“No. Look. I… I have to talk to someone, but it can’t be in your fucking paper, okay, John? I need to talk to a friend and since none of them are around, I need to talk to you.”

Ignoring the insult, I said, “We’re friends, Frankie. You can tell me anything.”

“Totally off the record.”

“Off the record. I promise.”

He helped himself to another beer and failed to offer me one a second time, then ushered me into the house. He took a look back over his shoulder, scanning the street for something, then closed the garage door and came inside as well.

“It was them, John. Cypress and my dad.”

“Who was them? I don’t know what you mean.”

Samhain. The murders. It wasn’t that guy, uh, uh, Brooks. It was…”

He looked at the floor, glassy eyes haunted. He had the look of a man who had lost everything.

“Slow down, Frank. You’re not making any sense.”

“They… My dad. Last night, right before. He said he needed to confess something. We’re not catholic but I offered to call a priest or a minister or something. He said it was too late for that but that he couldn’t go without telling someone.”

He stared at the floor in silence, thinking. His eyes went wide, then narrowed. He started and stopped several times before continuing. “My dad. Everyone’s favorite guy, Mister Law and Order… Turns out he was a… a… Fuck! He liked men and boys, okay? He was a closet freak. He’d go into town and… I don’t know. Do whatever he did. Hire kids to… do things.

“Sam Cypress’s his… partner. Cypress ran into Dad someplace in the city. Long time… years ago. Dad didn’t know why Cypress was there, but he’d been caught cruising by the newspaper man. Dad begged Cypress not to tell anyone. He had a family and a career, and he’d lose it all if people found out. Cypress and my father made a deal. Sam wouldn’t say anything about dad’s dalliances. He’d keep a secret for him, if he’d do him a favor in return…

“See… see… Sam liked kids too. But he didn’t just screw ‘em. He… he killed ‘em. He did worse things than kill ‘em. And my dad was investigating the, uh, disappearances. Sam promised my dad his secret was safe as long as he stopped looking for the missing kids. So he did.”

“But Brooks confessed,” I said, “Walked right into the police station and…”

“My dad killed Charles Brooks, John. He… he choked him out in his cell. Brooks never confessed to anything. Dad just found an easy mark that nobody liked to take the fall. A bit of work with the documents, and he had an open and shut case, except for they never found the bodies. Cypress stopped snatching local children. Dad never knew if he just quit or went other places. But no more kids went missing, Brooks hung for it and life went on.”

My heart was beating hard in my chest. This was the story of the century! Local police complicit with a child killer? Off the record or not, the world had to know!

“I think Sam is going to try to kill me,” Frankie said. “He’s driven by the house a few times today but every time, someone has been here.”

“Look, Frank, I know this whole thing is hard to deal with but if this is true, we need to tell people. We need to bring Sam to justice. No more secrets.”

“John, you promised. I can’t… I can’t let people know what kind of a monster my father was. What he did. What he… what he didn’t do. My family would be ruined!”

“Frank, think of all the families that were ruined because of him! You can’t let him get away with this!”

Frank stared at the floor and sobbed. It was a long time before he finally nodded. “Okay. Go. Now. Before I change my mind.”

Good, old Opie. I knew he couldn’t just let this slide. His father may have been a pederast, but he raised that boy right. I took some more notes and then made my way outside and back out to my car. I looked up and down the street, but there was no sign of Sam. Samhain, I thought, the bastard named himself. I drove home to work on my story in private. Tomorrow, Halloween, I would bring down the Samhain Killer.

I wrote my story, with Frankie Waller’s confession as close to verbatim as I could get. I also wrote the story I had intended to write to turn in to S.L. when I got in. I needed to be quick and clever to switch the stories at the last second. That’s when S.L. met me at the door and asked me to come into his office.

Adrenaline pumping, I walked with him and he closed the door behind us. Did he know? What did he know?

“I think I saw you talking to Frank Waller at his home yesterday, yes? What did you talk about?”

“Uh, nothing. I stopped by to give condolences for his father passing. He was already drunk. Taking it pretty hard.”

“Uh huh,” he said, eyes narrowing, “That’s all? He didn’t tell you anything else?”

“What would he tell me? He was just sad and drunk. Why?”

“You haven’t read this morning’s edition yet, have you?” He pulled the folded paper from his pocket and handed it to me. There, on the cover, was Frankie’s old car, on fire in a field.

“What is this?”

“Police found our friend Frankie with half of his head missing. Drove his car all the way out to Mill Creek road, then boom. Twelve Gauge”

I stared at Cypress, choosing my next words very carefully. “I don’t know what to say. He was really broken up about his dad. But I didn’t think he’d do anything like this.”

“You never do, son. You never do. But you know what else?”

“What’s that?”

“There was a box with five pairs of hands and five Halloween masks in the trunk of that old junker.”

“They found…”

“Seems as if old Sheriff Waller did some confessing to our friend Frank before he passed on. Told him something the boy just couldn’t handle.”

The way his eyes bored into me, he knew that I knew about him. Or at least he knew that Frank had told me something. I tried to meet his gaze, but it was impossible. All I could do was stammer, “Confess to what? Hands? Whose hands?”

Sam smiled and sat on the edge of his desk. “Well, the hands of the children, of course. Victims of our favorite local legend. Sam-hane.”

I didn’t know what to do, or what to say. Here was a man who had killed children for fun, who had successfully blackmailed a town sheriff for decades, and had probably just killed Frankie Waller.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” I said, “And here we thought it was Charles Brooks this whole time. What, were they in on it together?”

Sam narrowed his eyes, caught off guard for a moment. He didn’t say anything. I continued, “So given the new development, do you still want the story?”

He was silent a few seconds longer before his face softened and he answered. “No, no. I’ll take it from here. You get some rest, John. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

My phone began to ring. My wife, Janice. I pressed the, “Call you back later” button and put it back into my pocket. “I was up late working on the story. You know, you said you wanted it on your desk by now.”

“And I’m sure it was great, just like everything you write. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to call New York. They’ll want to hear about Sam-hane this time. Why don’t you go on home, John? You really need some rest.”

My phone began to ring again. Janice. She wouldn’t be calling back like this unless it was important. I silenced the ringer and held the phone in my hand, letting it vibrate as I backed slowly out of Sam’s office.

“In fact, take a couple of days off. Things are going to be quite busy around here pretty soon and I want you rested and ready to jump right into the middle of it all. Spend it with your family!” He said, “Take that lovely daughter of yours, uh, forgive me…”

“Michelle.”

“Yes, Michelle. My apologies. Take her out trick-or-treating! She’s just so excited, isn’t she? Bet she can’t wait to put on her cute little blue fairy costume. Hell, just take the whole weekend.”

Something, other than the whole conversation, was terribly wrong. How would he know what color my kids’ dress was?  I didn’t have time to finish the thought before my phone began to ring for the third time. Then my blood went cold. I pushed the answer button and said, “Hold on, Jan. One second.” Then, to Sam, “You said the box had five pairs of hands.”

Sam nodded. “I did.”

“Samhain only had four victims. Whose are the fifth pair?”

He smiled broadly. “I can’t even begin to suspect. So horrible. But I don’t think it will be long before we find out. Anyway, that’s all for now. Happy Halloween, John.”

 

Guest Post: Jessica Raney

THE LESSON

by

JESSICA RANEY

Her dress was new. Well, new to her, anyway, a hand-me-down from a cousin, light blue, dotted with little white embroidered flowers. The fabric was thin in places and some of the little flowers had unraveled, but washed and pressed carefully, the dress had new life. She twirled in a circle to make the skirt flow out and smiled at the way the little white flowers twinkled in the morning sun. Her mother had warned her about vanity and pride and she had an extra lesson that morning about modesty. She didn’t understand. The dress was so pretty, and she never got new things. If it was wrong to like the dress, then why did she have the dress? There was an extra lesson for her in not asking impertinent questions.

When the lessons were done, and everyone dressed in the nicest clothes they owned, they all walked together into town. Her father walked in front, then brothers, then her mother. She walked last, always. She didn’t mind. Most of the time, she kept her head down, but sometimes, she would look up and see the sunlight glittering off the new green leaves or a little bird flittering from branch to branch, singing his Spring song. Once or twice, she dared a twirl, just to see the dress move and the little flowers dance. After, she looked up carefully at her mother and father. If they saw, she would have more lessons later. They walked steadily, seeming to have taken no notice of anything. Her mother’s head was bent and her father was walking steadily, setting the pace for them all, his head straight and his eyes on the path, not on her.

It was an important day, the most important of the year and everyone had come. Families that lived farther out than hers had come; some must have begun walking days before to make it on time. They all looked tired and slightly rumpled from their long journey. The women all nodded at their husbands, and then carried their baskets filled with family lunches and suppers over to the rough picnic shelter. The boys could mingle and talk quietly amongst themselves, but the girls lined up next to the shelter and said nothing. They had all had many lessons.

They were supposed to keep their heads bowed and pray. She never did. The things she was supposed to ask for, humility, modesty, obedience, she didn’t want, and she wasn’t sure anyone was listening anyway, despite repeated lessons to the contrary. This was the first Spring Gathering she had been allowed to attend, fully. She attended worship services, of course, twice a week, but this was an event. In past years, the small children were ushered out and spent the night in someone’s home, where they read scripture and sang songs until their families collected them the next day. Her parents called the Spring Gathering special. She didn’t pray but she wondered what made it special. Nobody would tell her. Her brothers, who normally liked to tease her with all sorts of tall tales about everything were sedate and quiet about this.

She was hot. They were standing in direct sunlight and while the morning had been cool, the sun was at full strength now and its bright rays and the layers of clothing were making the girls sweat. Mercifully, the worship bell rang. Seven long, slow chimes signaled everyone to assemble and begin. The small children were collected and taken by a group of women. Everyone else filed into the worship area. It was different from the normal area. Set back into the forest a quarter of a mile from the main church, the land was cleared. There were roughly hewn wood benches and a rudimentary stage and altar. There were poles and lanterns surrounding the entire area, but none of that seemed at all remarkable to her. What was remarkable was the area to the left of the pulpit. There was a perfect circle of dead grass. It wasn’t burned or charred, just dead. Brittle and gray, the circle stood in stark contrast to the tender, green grass that grew thick and luscious all around it.

Her father led them to a bench and they all sat down when he did. That was no different than any other service that she had ever been to. The main difference was the silence. There wasn’t the usual friendly hum of conversation that preceded a normal service. Nobody said anything. In fact, nobody moved. No fidgeting, no shuffling in seats, everyone sat still and stared directly ahead. Her brothers both looked pale and nauseated, as if they were both about to throw up. Her mother was sweaty and kept her head bowed, her lips moving in silent prayer. Her father just sat there sternly as he stared at the altar.

She didn’t know how long the silence lasted but it was finally broken when the Pastor climbed on the stage and took his place in the pulpit. He instructed everyone to stand for the invocation, which was the longest one she had ever heard. The clearing was in full sun and it was stifling hot with no breeze. It was difficult to stand still but nobody dared move, not even to fan themselves.

When the Pastor was finished, he motioned for some of the fathers to help him and they brought out a big copper kettle. It was steaming hot. The men used thick woolen mittens to handle it and when they placed it on a tripod in front of the altar, she could see the wisps of vapor and waves of heat. The pastor said another long-winded blessing over the kettle, then he dipped a ladle in and extracted some of the liquid. He poured some out on to the spot of dead, brown grass and then he drank a ladle full himself. He coughed a bit and his face reddened, but he didn’t do anything else remarkable. He motioned for the fathers to bring their families forward. Each father obliged. They led their family to the kettle and each took the ladle and made every member of their family drink. She could tell that several did not want to drink. They looked afraid, their faces pained and grimaced even before the ladle touched their lips. But there was no choice in the matter. The fathers made everyone drink. When her own father led them to the kettle, her mother swallowed hers without any complaint at all and then went back to praying. Her older brother did the same and her middle brother sniffled a bit, but he drank.

She was unprepared for the smell of the liquid when her father put the ladle to her lips. The steaming brown liquid smelled like the outhouse in the middle of summer and burning hair. She wrinkled her nose and took a step backward, but her father’s eyes flew wide and his mouth got the angry white ring around it. He grabbed her and pulled her closer, then grabbed her chin and poured the liquid down her throat. She doubled over and coughed and sputtered. It was the most vile, bitter, foul tasting thing she had ever put in her mouth. She thought she might throw up, but her father grabbed her chin and held her mouth closed. The sick came up, but had no place to go, so she swallowed it down and he dragged her back to their seats.

Once every person in the clearing drank the liquid, the men put the kettle away. The Pastor began to read scripture. After a while, people in the crowd began to shout at him and their words were gibberish. He ignored anything except the book in his hand and kept reading. His voice started out as a dull drone, but as time went on, he got louder and more animated. His face was beet red and he was sweating profusely, his white shirt front soaked through with brown stains. Everyone in the audience was sweating too. Her own blue dress was completely drenched, and her hair stuck to her head. The world was spinning, and she could no longer hold in the sick. She threw up all over her dress front and she wasn’t the only one. All the children had vomited all over themselves, some of the older teens too. Most of the adults looked sick, but only a few of them had. Her father and mother were drenched in sweat and pale looking but they looked otherwise well enough. Her mother had raised her hands to the sky and was swaying back and forth, speaking in gibberish and her father’s eyes were flashing as he growled and shouted encouragement to the Pastor.

The Pastor was screaming, and she couldn’t understand anything he said. He had gone on for hours and it was dusk now. All the colors were dark orange and vibrant, like nothing she had ever seen before and if she hadn’t been so sick and confused, she might have said the world looked beautiful. But it was still so hot, and everything smelled like vomit and body odor, the smells and heat hit her in never ending waves and cramps gripped her stomach. She soiled herself as had everyone else in the clearing. Some of the children had fallen over. They twitched every so often and she didn’t think they were dead, but that was the only indication that any of them were alive. Her older brother had joined a group of men who were tearing at themselves and pounding the area around the pulpit as the Pastor spoke. She had never seen him act that way before. He was normally quiet and docile but now he was a wild thing, beating his fists bloody against the rough wood.

Someone started a chant. It was nonsense to her, but soon almost everyone had picked it up, including her parents. She just couldn’t get it and she stood silent as everyone else sang. After a bit, a father would scream a blood curdling yell, not a fearful sound, but one full of anger and rage and they would grab someone and pull them to the circle of dead grass. She watched her Uncle yell and grab her cousin Ava. Ava screamed and vomited, terrified. Soon the circle of dead grass was almost surrounded by struggling, screaming pairs. Her mother was frantically praying and beating her hands against the bench. Her middle brother was doing the same and they all cried out when her father raised his hands to the sky and gave the loudest, most rage-filled yell of them all.

He grabbed her. Her instinct was to run, and she tried, but he was too strong. He easily pulled her to the edge of the circle. She kicked and clawed at him, bit down hard into his arm and he slapped her so hard one of her teeth came loose. The Pastor had stepped into the circle. As he made his way around the circle, he told stories of each person. He detailed how bad they were and how they had sinned. One boy was too soft and feminine. One girl, not soft enough. Some were lazy. Some didn’t listen well. When he stopped in front of her, his list was long. Prideful. Disobedient. Questioning. The Pastor spat all those words out as if they were the same vile, brown liquid they had all drunk earlier. His face was angry red and white rage spit formed at the corners of his mouth as he enumerated everyone’s sins.

Finally, he turned to the middle of the circle and began to ask for help. She couldn’t tell exactly who he was asking to help, but everyone else seemed to know because they began chanting a name. The name wouldn’t stick in her head, so she couldn’t say it even if she wanted to, all she could hear was the steading chanting of the crowd. The Pastor seemed satisfied and then he turned back around to them and began running around the circle. He stopped in front of each pair again and raised his hands, letting the crowd scream for each one. They screamed loudly for her each time he held his hands above her, her father loudest of all, but they screamed loudest for a tall red-haired boy, her oldest brother’s age, seventeen or so. They found him with books. Words not in the Scriptures. Old ones.

More fathers came, and they helped drag the boy to the middle of the dead grass. He was crying and fighting them, but like her, he had vomited and was so sick and weak, that he couldn’t put up much fight. The Pastor prayed over him and what words she could make out sounded like an offering. The Pastor fell to the ground, beating the dead grass, imploring someone or something to help the boy. The crowd resumed the chants and they added in pounding of their own.

Through the gibberish and the drumming, she could hear something else. Something very faint at first, as if were far away and as it got closer, it got louder. The ground shook slightly, but just as the rumble got louder, the tremors got stronger as well, until finally, the whole dead circle of grass was churning and vibrating.

The Pastor stepped out of the circle as did the men holding the boy. He tried to run, but he tripped and fell flat. A thin black root had emerged from the ground and it hooked his ankle. The boy pulled his foot free and stood up, but as soon as he tried to run, another oily black tendril snaked out of the ground and caught him. A few more attempts netted the same result, as if the root were mocking him. The crowd was still chanting and pounding and as they did, a big mound of earth in the center of the circle appeared. A thick black trunk began to push its way out of the dirt, slowly at first, but then it gained momentum as it seemed to feed off the energy of the crowd. It rose up, at least fifteen feet from the earth, dripping putrid black oil. She could smell it and it smelled worse than the liquid in the kettle, as if every dead thing in the world had combined their rot and decay.

The boy was sitting on the ground. A few of the tendrils held him there but she didn’t think he would move anyway. He was staring at the trunk, and he was listening. She could hear it too, a whisper and while she couldn’t make out the words, she could hear the quiet hatred in them. The boy was sobbing as the voice kept whispering the hatful words that only he could understand.

Black, putrid tendrils pushed their way out of the ground. They slithered toward the boy and wrapped themselves around his torso. Slowly, they pulled him to the trunk and then pushed him up into the air. One tendril wrapped around his left arm and positioned it above his head. Another did the same thing with his right arm. The tendrils snaked around the trunk and plunged into the boy’s wrists. He screamed, and the crowd cheered and drummed louder. He screamed again when the oily tendrils pierced his feet. The tendrils that had encircled his torso released and he was supported only by the wounds in his wrists and feet. The crowd cheered and danced as the boy writhed. She wanted to look away, but her father saw, and he held her head steady. She tried closing her eyes, but it made her dizzy, so she had no choice but to watch the boy’s misery and to listen to the malicious whispers and the hate-filled chanting of the crowd.

It took the boy all night to die. It finally happed as dawn was peeking over the treetops and when he died, the crowd fell over, exhausted and spent. She passed out too and when she woke up, the trunk and the boy were gone. The circle of grass remained, but the ground was undisturbed. It was as it had been before, just yellow-gray, dry, dead grass.

She was filthy. Covered in vomit and all her other body fluids, her pretty, light blue dress with the delicate white embroidered flowers was ruined. Her father burned it, along with everyone else’s soiled clothes after they had all washed. Some people ate, the adults, the ones who had seen it before. She couldn’t. She wasn’t sure she could ever eat again. After somber goodbyes and quiet well wishes, the families started home.

As she walked behind her mother, she kept her head down and tried not to vomit again. Her head throbbed, and her stomach was still cramped up. She glanced up once at the tree tops and smiled at the light glinting off the fresh green leaves of the canopy but her smiled faded and she bowed her head again when she heard the voice begin to whisper, and this time, she could understand every word.

Guest Post: Simon Critchell, “The Picture”

Hey guys! Please help me welcome a guest post by Simon Critchell. Simon has a book coming out in the Fall from Stitched Smile Publications and we thought it would be cool to start the month of June off with a little sample of his work. Please check out his bio at the end and give him your thoughts, a like, and a share of his story, “The Picture”. 

 

WordPress_Guest Author 001

The Picture

 

It was quiet, too quiet. The girls liked to party and even on a school night 10pm was far too early for their fun to have ended. Brendon checked his watch. 10pm on the dot. The lights were all out. He felt conflicted. By rights they all should be in bed, he’d never understood in all his time doing security at the campus how these girls learnt anything. Their sorority had the worst reputation for partying in the whole place. It seemed they almost had an endless party going. Except now, tonight. It was far too quiet.

Any other sorority house he would have made a safe assumption everyone was tucked up in bed. Not this lot. And yet, what if they were? He would cop their wrath. He could imagine the bellyaching that would go on.

What if they were not? What if a modern day Ted Bundy had slipped into the house and was busy raping and murdering? Imagine waking up the next day to find out they had all been killed while he stood outside pondering. It was too quiet.

Brendon walked up to the front door. He second guessed for a few moments and then wrapped the door knocker hard. Bang! Bang! Bang! He stepped back and listened, his eyes scanning the windows for signs of life. Nothing. More quietness.

He’d already taken the action to wake everyone. His second knock didn’t come with any debate. Bang! Bang! Bang! Again, he stepped back, a little further this time. There was nothing.

He could see that there were a few lights on inside. A hall light, another hall light upstairs. Also, the dining room light appeared to be on, but more than that he could not tell. The dining room had block out curtains making it impossible for him to see into the room.

He stood looking at the front door, his hand resting on a large bunch of keys he had clipped to his belt.

He wasn’t in the habit of letting himself into female sorority houses, nor the male ones for that matter. His fingers fidgeted with the keys. He was waiting for a reason not to go in. It wasn’t coming. All that came was silence and questions.

Brendon decided to do another walk around the outside of the building. If he saw or heard nothing by the time he got back to the front, he would let himself in. He unclipped his Maglite and began working his way around, making sure to bathe all the windows in the torch’s bright light. Scenarios kept going through his head, reasonable ones. Had they all gone out to a party? It was conceivable, but completely out of character for these girls. They partied a lot, but always in their own house.

It didn’t take Brendon long to make it all the way around the house. Nothing stirred. He wondered for a moment if he was being punked, but overwhelmingly he had a sense of unease. He stood under the porch and fumbled with the keys, hunting for the right ones. All the Sorority houses had two locks on their front doors, both deadbolts. Brendon found the right set and slid a key into the lower lock. He unlocked it. Then the second. He gave the knocker three last knocks. Bang! Bang! Bang! Then he walked into the building. He switched off the torch.

“Security! Anyone home?” He shouted into the silence.

The silence answered him with more silence.

It was cold.

He stood for a moment, in the quiet, listening to it.

“Security! Anyone home?” He bellowed for a second time.

He looked at the stairs and decided against checking the bedrooms first. He’d work the downstairs to start with. He started on the left, going into the kitchen. After a couple of fumbles he found the light switch and instantly the colonial kitchen was bathed in light. It was a mess. He hadn’t expected anything different. It was a party house and they were never tidy, whether occupied by males or females.

There was a pot with over cooked noodles in it. The gas was not on, but he touched the side of the pot and it was a little bit warm. Brendon guessed the heat had been turned off fifteen minutes earlier.

There were several open bottles of wine standing on the cluttered bench tops. Quite a few of them were empty. There was an ashtray with several stubbed cigarettes and five dead joints in it. There was no doubt in his mind that the kitchen looked like this all the time. But, it made the silence all the more bizarre.

Brendon was keen to get to the next room along, the dining room, the room with the lights on. He opened the door from the kitchen into it and was immediately struck by the temperature drop. He knew the windows were not open, so it confused him. The room was also untidy. There were plates on the table, some with half eaten food, others with traces of the meals they had hosted. It seemed the noodles in the kitchen had been a second batch. There were wine glasses, wine bottles and a few beer bottles. Also one expensive looking crystal cognac glass with a little puddle of liquid at the bottom of it. Next to that was an ashtray with the butt of a fat cigar. Another ashtray across the table had cigarette butts and some more dead joints.

The table itself had been pulled across the room, giving the seats closest to the wall no space to accommodate people.

At one end of the large floor was a mobile phone, mounted on a tripod. It appeared it was there to film, photograph or record something. Brendon wondered if he should touch it.

Is this a crime scene?

He felt like he should leave it. He also felt like he was being dramatic. There was nothing anywhere he’d looked to suggest foul play. He sensed something was wrong. He sensed something had happened in the room. It had a troubling vibe about it. But there was no actual evidence.

Brendon stood in the middle of the space and collected his thoughts. There was a lot more of the house to search and none of the girls were in this room, but he knew they had been very recently.

He went back to the phone. It was an iPhone. He pressed the button at the bottom of the screen and suddenly an attractive brunette was smiling at him. He pressed the button again to get into the phone  and a passcode screen opened up. Brendon cursed. He tried 1234 and 6969 and then gave up.

He wanted to leave the room, but something was holding him back.

His eyes fell upon a pair of shoes poking out from under one of the long black out curtains. He froze.

“You! Come out! This is campus security, come out now!” He bellowed far louder than he needed to.

The shoes did not move. Brendon stared at them. Brown, pointed, possibly boots. They were in line with a bulge in the curtain. This further convinced Brendon that one of the girls was standing there.

“I will tase you if you don’t move, now!”

He pulled out his taser and switched it on.

“Last warning!”

He crept as stealthily as he could up to the edge of the curtain, his taser trained on the feet and legs of where he imagined the girl to be.

Suddenly he grabbed the curtain and yanked it open, expecting to see a girl fighting to contain her laughter. He very nearly tased the window. There was nothing but a pair of ankle boots.

Brendon strode to the main entry door of the room. As creepy and troubling as the dining room was, he wasn’t getting anywhere. All he had was vibes and hunches. He opened the door, took one more look back at the shoes and then walked out into the relative warmth of the hall. He walked two paces towards the lounge and stopped. He turned back to the dining room, walked through the doorway and straight to the window where the shoes were. On one pane of glass, just discernible, were four parallel lines. They had been made by a finger.

| | | |

Brendon went back to the phone, briefly enjoying the happy smiling girl, before trying 1111 as a passcode. The screen went blank, then opened a photograph. It was taken in the room and was black and white. It appeared to show six of the girls climbing or hanging on to the wall. They all seemed to be a foot or two off the floor and they were all dressed very strangely. As he looked closer there also looked to be someone laying on the floor. They were all barefoot. Brendon tried to scroll left or right, to see if there were any other photographs, but there seemed to be none. That didn’t seem very likely. He tried to close the photo to see if there was anything else interesting on it, but it wasn’t letting him do anything. He looked at the photograph for a minute or two and then pulled out his own phone and called the police.

*****

“I’m just saying they are lame as fuck. Come on. Who knows about this stuff? I know about this stuff ! Right?” Tuesday stared at the eight other girls.

They were all sitting around the dining table, ready to play with the Ouija board Kelly had picked up off Craigslist a week earlier. Kelly had been working on the rest of them to give it a try and most of the girls were wary. Tuesday wasn’t, she wasn’t interested. As far as she was concerned, Ouija was to the dark arts what Hirst is to actual art.

“Look, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have some occulty fun, but if we are going to, lets do it properly.”

“Fuck Tuesday! Why do you have to be such a bitch!” Kelly snapped, furious that her fun was being spoilt.

“Hey! Come on guys. Do we even have to do any of this stuff? Let’s get the studs round and party like usual.” Danielle attempted to get them all back to their usual revelry.

“Look, of all of us I know a few things about the occult. You want some witchy fun, let me give you some witchy fun.” Tuesday looked at them one at a time. They all knew she was into the dark stuff.

“Tues, Kell has been going on about this thing for days, can’t you let her have her fun?” Nikki chipped in.

“I tell you what. Let me show you the real stuff and if that does not blow your minds, then I’ll happily play Ouija the rest of the night.”

Kelly glared at her, rolled her eyes and signalled her capitulation by pulling the board away from the centre of the table.

“Okay cool!” Tuesday beamed.

“So, what now?” Sarah asked between glugs of her wine.

“Okay. Let me get a drink and then I will tell about what we are going to do.”

Tuesday popped into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of red from the wine rack and glass, and returned to the dining room. She stood at the head of the table, opened the bottle and poured herself a generous glass.

“Here’s to tonight’s dark adventure!” She toasted and took a big gulp of the wine.

Around the table the girls all raised glasses or bottles and took a drink.

“So, we are going to invite somebody to visit us. This being is dark, sexy and I am quite sure he will love meeting us.”

“This ‘being’, this is somebody you have met before, is it?” Kelly challenged.

“No. I have experience in summoning beings like him, but no, not specifically.”

“By being, what sort of being are you talking about.” Kelly continued her quizzing.

“A supernatural being.” Tuesday chose her words carefully.

“And this supernatural being is good in his nature, is he?”

“I have not met this one. Some are good, some not so good.”

“And a not so good supernatural being is a what?” Kelly directed a thin smile at her.

“I’m not sure what you are getting at Kelly.”

“I’m sure a not so good supernatural being is called a demon, Tuesday.” Kelly looked around the table, soaking in the concern.

“Are you trying to get us to summon a demon?” Coco demanded.

“Look, this being is a fun one. I wouldn’t call him a demon.”

“So what is his name?” Kelly kept up her challenge.

“His name is Asmodeus.” Tuesday knew exactly what was coming.

“Asmodeus,” Kelly read from her phone, “is one of the kings of demons.” She stared at Tuesday.

“What the fuck Tuesday!” Sarah, chimed in.

“Okay, okay. Yes, he is a demon, but he is a demon of fun! He is our kind of demon. He will love us!”

“You are a bit fucked up, Tuesday. You know that, right?” Kelly grabbed her chance with both hands and launched into a spirited attempt to win back the evening. “Instead of having a nice peaceful, harmless chat with a few old relatives, you want to summon a fucking king of demons. Does nobody else have a problem with this?”

“You can make anything sound bad if you put inflections like that on it. I know people who have summoned this guy, personally. They said he was a lot of fun and very helpful. I’d far rather play with a guy like that than talk through a board with some old relatives. This guy is all about sex and debauchery, isn’t that us?”

“She’s right.” Danielle lifted her glass.

“She is.” Coco chinked Danielle’s glass with her own.

“Look, this is just fun, right? I’m not trying to win anything Kelly. We can do both, right? Meet Asmodeus and then chat to the rellies. We could even tell them about Asmodeus.”

Kelly shook her head and looked at Tuesday with a blank look.

There was a pregnant pause.

“Alright then.” Kelly capitulated again.

“Okay. Right, we need the floor. We need to pull the table over. Across to there.”

The girls all groaned. They’d moved the table before and it was horribly heavy.

“Jesus Tuesday, you are a pain.”

They all got up, slowly and reluctantly.

“Should we clear up dinner?” Sarah asked the room.

“Nah, fuck that!” Danielle giggled.

Then together they all pushed the large hardwood table up against the wall, clearing a big floor space in the room.

Tuesday surveyed the area then left the room, shouting “Won’t be a sec.” as she bounded up the stairs.

In her room, she gathered up a handful of long black candles, a packet of jasmine incense and some printed sheets from her desk. Ever since Kelly had started banging on about her Ouija board she had been hatching a plan to meet Asmodeus. She ran back down the stairs and went via the kitchen, gathering seven saucers for the candles.

She walked back into the dining room and placed her treasures onto the table, between the dirty plates.

Kelly picked up one of the printed sheets. “What is this?”

“It is called a sigil. Like think of it as a logo. So, you could say this is Asmodeus’ logo.”

“Wait, I know you didn’t just print these.”

“No, I didn’t. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while. I’ve had these in my desk for a few months at least.”

“So how is this going to go, exactly?”

“Well, It’s not too complicated. We light the candles, incense. I’ll put these printed symbols on the floor for us all to look at. We don’t need to be in a circle, but seeing as there are eight of us, we may as well make one. I will speak some words, which you can all repeat. And then we wait for our guest.”

“That’s it? No cavorting around naked or anything like that?” Danielle sounded disappointed.

“I’m sure Asmodeus would love it if we were all naked, but we don’t need to do that. We could though.” Tuesday smirked.

“I vote naked!” Offered Danielle.

“Okay, who wants to do this naked?” Tuesday looked around at the girls.

“Is this demon going to fuck us or something?” Kelly was clearly concerned.

“I don’t know. We haven’t even met him yet.” Tuesday laughed, “Naked was D’s idea, not mine.”

“Hands up for naked!” Danielle enthused.

Coco put her hand up while the rest looked a little bemused.

“You lame asses.” Danielle pouted.

“It’s a bit different all being naked when there are a bunch of guys here, D.” Sarah argued.

“Okay, so, we all stand around not naked, and wait for our guest. When he appears we all stay polite and respectful. We can ask him for help with things, but most likely each favour will need some kind of payment.”

“What kind of payment?” Kelly flashed.

“Fuck, I don’t know Kelly! I’m winging this, can’t you tell?” Tuesday groaned with exasperation.

“Perhaps he’ll want to fuck us!” Danielle beamed.

“Christ D, can’t you be a bit less of a bitch on heat?” Kelly rolled her eyes.

“So anyway, then, after we’ve met him and talked to him, we can all sit around the table and play Ouija.” Tuesday smiled thinly at Kelly.

Tuesday moved around the room, placing the candles and incense where she wanted them, then the printed sigils in a ring in the middle of the space. She lit the candles and the incense and started to direct the girls into their places.

“Oh wait! I want to film this.” Coco said, before darting from the room.

Coco had filmed several of their events, generally more orgy in nature. She had perfected a rig that enabled her to set her phone filming while she joined in the fun.

A few minutes later she returned with her tripod. The rest of the girls, apart from Tuesday were all seated in a rough circle on the floor. Tuesday watched her as she set the phone up, presumably pressed the go button and then sat herself down between Danielle and Emma.

“Right, so, we all need to take a moment and imagine Asmodeus. He is depicted in some places as a three-headed creature, a man with a head of a man, a bull and a sheep. But we will not picture him so. We will think of a dreamy, sexy, seductive. Jim Morrison, Johnny D, Jason Momoa.”

“Oh fuck, swoon!” Murmured Sarah.

“So stare at the sigils and imagine that, then repeat after me. Lord Satan.”

“Satan?” Kelly gasped.

“Just trust me Kelly!” Tuesday snapped.

Nobody else seemed concerned, so Kelly didn’t bother saying whatever her gaping mouth was about to say.

“Repeat after me, Lord Satan.”

The girls all repeated, “Lord Satan.”

“By your grace, grant me,”

“By your grace, grant me,”

“I pray thee power to conceive in my mind and to execute that which I desire to do,”

“I pray thee power to conceive in my mind and to execute that which I desire to do,”

“the end which I would attain thy help, O Mighty Satan,”

“the end which I would attain thy help, O Mighty Satan,”

“the one True God who livest and reignest forever and ever.”

“the one True God who livest and reignest forever and ever.”

“I entreat thee to inspire Asmodeus to manifest before me”

“I entreat thee to inspire Asmodeus to manifest before me”

“that he may give me true and faithful answer, so that I may accomplish my desired end,”

“that he may give me true and faithful answer, so that I may accomplish my desired end,”

“provided that it is proper to his office.”

“provided that it is proper to his office.”

“This I respectfully and humbly ask in Your Name,”

“This I respectfully and humbly ask in Your Name,”

“Lord Satan, may you deem me worthy, Father.”

“Lord Satan, may you deem me worthy, Father.”

The girls, who had generally all been looking at their sigils, all lifted their gazes to Tuesday, who was standing with her eyes closed.

“Is that it?” Danielle frowned at Tuesday.

Tuesday opened her eyes and stared blankly at the floor in the middle of the circle. The floor which was totally unoccupied by any demons.

“Yes,” she finally said. “We’ll just wait a bit.”

“Can I wait with a fresh beer?” Coco winked at Tuesday.

“Yes, no need to stay sitting in a circle. I don’t think we did anything wrong.”

“Bit lamo Tuesday.” Kelly said with far too much joy.

“Who else wants a fresh one?” Coco asked as she headed towards the kitchen.

“Sol please!” said Emma.

“Bottle of red.” Added Danielle.

“I really thought something was going to happen.” Sarah gave Tuesday an apologetic look.

Tuesday bent down and started collecting up the sheets of paper.

Coco came back into the room with three beers and a bottle of red. She put the spare beer on the table and handed Emma and Danielle their requests. Tuesday put the sheets on the table and picked up the spare beer. She felt a little confused, a little disappointed and a little embarrassed.

“So what are we going to chase that adrenalin rush with?” Kelly sniped.

“Jesus Christ Kelly! Do you have to be quite so cuntish?” Coco sneered.

They all felt the temperature change.

“Coco, did you open a window in the kitchen or something?” Tuesday felt goose-bumps.

“Excuse me ladies?”

In unison, all eight of them swung their heads towards the door to the hallway. A man was poking his head into the room. He was dashing, certainly more dashing than the men they were used to seeing in the house.

“I wonder if any of you might have a phone I could use? I am lost, late and mine is completely out of battery.”

He stepped into the room.

Danielle looked at Tuesday and mouthed “Fuck!” to her.

“Who …. Who are you?” Tuesday asked.

“My apologies, my name is Eno. I saw the lights and I did knock. I have a church appointment and just need to let them know I am still on my way. I can pay for the call.”

Eight pairs of spooked and perplexed eyes watched. The beautiful looking man fished a money clip out of his very expensive looking suit and peeled off a $10 note.

“Eno?” Tuesday frowned.

“Yes, I have a little Spanish in me, my mother.”

“So you just want a phone? You have not come here to help us?”

“No, just the phone. Why? Do you ladies need help?” Eno frowned a look of concern.

“People always need help with something.” Tuesday mused.

“Yes indeed. It is the human condition.”

“And you need help from us.” Tuesday stated.

“So you’re not Asmodeus?” a slightly pickled Emma blurted.

“Emma! Seriously.” Kelly hissed.

“Asmodeus? That is quite a name. May I come in?” Eno didn’t wait for a reply. He walked into the room and turned one of the dining chairs around, sitting on it to face the girls.

All the girls, including Tuesday, were a little mesmerized by the man.

“Coco, would you be a dear and get me a glass of cognac?” Eno smiled most charmingly and winked at her.

“We don’t have cognac, just three kinds of beer and some wines. Would you like some wine?” Coco could feel herself falling under his spell. He was disgustingly good looking.

“Yes, I’m pretty sure if you look up in the corner cupboard you will find cognac and some glasses.”

Coco walked out into the kitchen, half in a trance.

“So who is this Asmodeus you confused me for?” Eno asked the room.

“Oh, just some silly fun we were having.” Kelly offered.

“I like fun. Can I play too?”

“We’ve stopped that game.” Tuesday looked over to Kelly.

“You know, Tuesday, even when we think the game is over, it usually isn’t.” Eno looked over to Danielle who was trying to get a spark out of her crappy lighter, to put some fire into a joint she had in her mouth.

“Life is filled with choices. You may not have all the choices you want, but you can choose life or death every single day.” He watched as in that instance Danielle’s lighter spat a blue flame at the tip of her smoke, igniting the dope.

Coco came back into the room shaking her head and holding a very full crystal balloon cognac glass.

“How?” She asked as she passed the glass to Eno.

“Thank you, you know usually when you serve a good cognac you put a good shot of the drink into the glass, rather than fill it. And this cognac is a very good one. The right amount enables you to warm the liquid with your hand, enabling it to breathe. Too much and it is less likely to get to the desired temperature.”

“How did you know it was there? And how do you know it is good?” Coco quizzed.

“Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac is a very good cognac. $30,000 a bottle.” Eno sniffed at the vapours.

“Get fucked!” Danielle scoffed.

“Would you like a taste, Danielle?” Eno offered, holding out the glass.

“How do you know our names?” Tuesday asked, more as a muse than a demand.

“I know many things, Tuesday.”

“You are Asmodeus, aren’t you?” Tuesday challenged.

“No.” Eno stated, taking a good slug of the cognac.

“Okay. You know him then.”

“Yes I do. He is a very powerful king. He is a very busy king.” Eno pulled a fat cigar out of his suit pocket, clipped the end with a cigar cutter he pulled out of another pocket. He put the clipped end of the cigar in his mouth and the other end spontaneously ignited.

“So tell me, ladies, what did you want from Asmodeus? What were you going to ask him for?”

Kelly went to answer, but Eno put his hand up to silence her.

“Wait, let me answer that. Sarah, you were going to ask for more money. Boring. Coco, you want inspiration for a marketing strategy. Also boring. Danielle, a really big dick to fuck. A little less boring, but still yawn. Kelly, you want to be rid of someone. Interesting. Emma, you have the hots for someone and want to catch their eye. Boring again. Cathy, you want someone to die. Interesting. Nikki, you want to be less fat. That is sad. And Tuesday, you want the kind of power you could never attain conventionally. Also, interesting.”

All the girls were stunned, and Kelly looked decidedly sheepish.

“So let me ask you this. What were you going to give, to pay for these favors?”

Danielle was about to answer when she too was stopped by Eno.

“Yes, Danielle. I think we all know what you were going to give. Okay. Apart from Danielle and her go to, none of you had or have a clue. Tuesday. You organised this “fun” and you should know, you need to have something to trade if you are going to trade with a demon. Nothing is for nothing. If Asmodeus had turned up he would have been very disappointed by your lack of preparation and commitment.”

“I don’t understand, Eno, if that is your name. Who are you? Why are you here?” Tuesday made a small attempt at regaining control.

“I am here because Asmodeus could not come. I came because I like to have fun. I came because I like to go shopping.”

“Shopping for what?” Coco clawed her way out of her trance.

“Would you please all stand up?”

Before any of the girls had a chance to think about their choices, they all stood.

“You know, I have a certain standard. I like people to present a certain way.”

The girls all looked around at each other. They were all dressed in casual clothes, yoga pants, t-shirts, jeans. Nothing offensive, but nothing particularly nice. Tuesday felt Eno’s stare.

Suddenly, in an instant, all eight of them were completely naked. Kelly, Sarah, Nikki and Coco all screamed. All of them covered their crotches.

“I apologise, ladies. I did not mean to shock you.”

In another instant they were all dressed again. Their clothes were not theirs. They all had simple, plain, cotton dresses on. Kelly, Sarah, Nikki and Coco all screamed again.

“That’s better.” Eno nodded to himself and took another slug of cocgnac.

Kelly started to cry and soon she was joined by Sarah.

“Who are you? Really?” Tuesday demanded.

“I am even better than what you were seeking. I am quite capable of answering all your wishes, and so much more. I am your desires, and your fears. We are all very busy. The time of Asmodeus is not beholding to mankind. It isn’t his lot to pander to the petty whims of you. Do have any idea how many people are attempting to invoke Asmodeus at this very moment?”

The stunned girls all looked dumfounded, like deer in headlights.

“2, 346. And that is what we’d call a quiet moment. I don’t want to bore you with the numbers trying to invoke me. I never have quiet moments.”

The girls all suddenly found themselves dumb. Tuesday went to ask Eno who he was again and was unable to make a sound. Without warning they all rose up off the ground. All of them panicked and tried to scream and shout. They could not say a word.

“You wanted to know who I am, Tuesday. Eno Levi. That is what I would have told you, had you pressed me. In truth I have many names. I was ‘round when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain.”

Tuesday and a couple of the other girl’s all widened their eyes as they pieced together the clues.

“Except I wasn’t. That story is something you have to pick through to find echoes of truth. What is true is that I need you ladies. Fortunately for me, now I have met you and, let’s say inspected you. I know you are going to fulfil my needs. I will explain. I come from a very dark, very difficult place. It is all about punishment and retribution. And you see, if you punish people continually the punishment becomes the new norm. It is no longer punishment. It does not matter how nasty it is, eventually it becomes impotent. Light and shade, light and shade. You see what I am getting at. Of course, you can’t be the light for everyone, that wouldn’t even be possible. No, you are going to join legions of lights.”

The girls were all beginning to see the horror of what they had invited into their lives. They all were at various stages of crying and Nikki involuntarily began urinating.

“Why you? Because of course you are all going into your own personal hells. I could tell you that by attempting to invoke a demon you were all guilty of witchcraft, and thus deserving of a trip to hell. But that is bullshit. In short, you stuck your hands up. You called. It is a bit like inviting someone you know to be a serial killer around for afternoon tea and expecting them not to murder. So now you know. You know your fate. You are to give brief moments of pleasure to countless evil bastards, forever.”

The girls all stopped crying. Not because of any serenity, but because Eno had tired of the spectacle. They all went long and stiff, and each of them floated to the walls, hanging in mid-air against them, their backs to Eno.

“What of your wishes? You wonder. You don’t seriously believe we adhere to made up mumbo jumbo your wiccan leaders concoct, do you? Rules? There are no rules. Apart from the ones I make up. However I will grant one of your wishes.”

Eno sat back in his chair and enjoyed his cigar and cognac in silence. Suddenly Kelly slumped and dropped to the floor, dead.

“No need to thank me, Cathy. Okay ladies, let’s go.”


BIOGRAPHY

The temptation when you sit down to write one of these bio things is to delve into the past, treat it like a CV. How old am I? Where was I born? What else have I written?

I like to think I am an interesting person, I’ve lived, loved, had my heart broken. I’ve held interesting jobs, cheated death on more than one occasion. But that is probably not what you want to know, you are wondering why I write the kind of books I write.

Empathy.

It can be summed up with that one single word.

You see, when I read about monstrous people wreaking unimaginable suffering on human beings, I live through that ordeal, I feel the terror and agony, I am right there seeing the face of the beast, soaking up the unfathomable evil. I suffer the terror.

I’ve been through phases where I’ve feasted on information about these creatures who hide amongst us. Not just a morbid curiosity, its more than that.

For a long time I was very perplexed by the ability of one human to be so malevolent. It is the same with cruelty to animals. What makes another person capable of relishing the violent suffering that is so abhorrent to me? It made no sense. It disturbs me when things do that. I need to understand.

I’ve spent some periods of my life in West and Central Africa, and know that animals are treated there with a completely different regard to the way I would treat them. It isn’t so much that pain and suffering is enjoyed, it just does not matter. I was only 23 when I drove past a cow just starting to be butchered by the side of the road, and found the whole thing very disturbing. You don’t want to be beef cattle in the Congo, trust me!

How can a person, or a race, have such a different level of empathy to me? How can a man like Gary Ridgeway snuff the life out of so many teenage and twenty-year old girls with his bare hands? It is an alien ability to me. At least it is not something I could possibly do myself.

But, I have been exposed to enough differently wired people that I am able to understand the functionality of these disconnected minds. I can’t put myself in their shoes and want what they want, but I can project myself into their minds and live and think through that dysfunction. Once I know, for example, what Gary Ridgeway’s mind is like, I can experience his actions through his eyes. Of course, the experience of the victim is an easier, albeit more uncomfortable, connection to make.

The ability to mentally live through these horrific crimes hammers home how diabolical they are, and how wrong the people who can commit them are.

So, yes, I could have told you about my dog, or my kids. I could have regaled you with details about how long I have been writing, or how my farts don’t stink. Instead I thought I would let you peek through the window into a mind capable of creating the disturbing and challenging darkness that is 21:24 (soon to be released by Stitched Smile Publications) and other disturbing stories!