Guest Blog: Mike Lane

#authors #amwriting #writingprompt #amreading

A while back I was trying to do a full month of guest bloggers. Then I got sick. Really sick. I ended up with a full month of being back and forth in the hospital. Mike Lane wrote a story for that month and it’s fantastic. I’ve decided to pick up where I left off. Thank you Mike Lane for this amazing story!


There’s A sucker Born Every Minute

by Mike L. Lane

The ’67 Satellite soared over the open road like an eagle silently scanning for prey. Beau beamed in the rearview mirror with unabashed admiration. The Plymouth was a direct result of his silver-tongued charm, dashing good looks and two years of peddling bogus goods at high markups and it sure beat the hell out of the broken-down Rambler he traded in. The Rambler was a complete lemon and he cursed the shady bastard who conned him into buying the hunk of junk in the first place. The bastard’s words burned in his ears to this day. When I see you, Beau, I see a business man fed up with the whole free love movement and the dirty hippies driving around in psychedelic Volkswagen vans. No, you my friend are a man on the move and a man on the move… a serious man… drives a serious car and a rambling man such as yourself drives a Rambler. Am I right? Considering his own line of work, he should have spotted the hustle from a mile away. But he did hate the hippies and he wouldn’t be caught dead in a VW. The man had read him like an open book and his need for transportation clouded his better judgement. The clunker had left him stranded in too many hick towns to count and after multiple repairs, a busted water pump, a shotgun peppered back windshield and miles of humping it on foot, he learned his lesson. He was the fast talker and everyone else would bend to his sales pitch or get out of his way, hand of God. After scraping up enough cash, Beau had marched into the dealership and negotiated for the ride he deserved. He convinced the salesman to drop the price and even the sales tax for the Satellite. The Satellite was the future and served as Beau’s personal reminder. He was in charge of his destiny. Everyone else was a mark to be taken advantage of.

The business was simple. Long before the ill-fated days of the Rambler, he discovered a basic truth P.T. Barnum was credited for, though the saying dated back long before his time. There’s a sucker born every minute. With this thought in mind, Beau invented a fictitious company, Honeycutt LLC, and traveled door-to-door with cases of bogus goods to unload on unsuspecting buyers. Needed a new tile and grout cleaner? Use Honeycutt’s Household Spray- a mixture of scented water and bleach. Going bald? Use Honeycutt’s Ultra Hair Tonic- a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and black shoe polish. The trick was to get his foot in the door, spot what the sucker needed most and convince them to buy. He was damn good at it, too.

The blurred trees surrounding the highway gave way to open wheat fields and a sign came into view.

BLUE BOTTLE CREEK

NEXT RIGHT

Beau had stumbled across odd named towns like this before- places like Toad Suck and Booger Hollow- so he didn’t flinch at the idea of Blue Bottle Creek. Backwoods bumps in the road like Blue Bottle were common throughout the state. Most didn’t exist in his tattered Rand McNally roadmap and were easily missed by an ill-timed blink. They hid in the thick woods undisturbed by time, caught in a 1930’s life and unaware of the forty year difference. The inhabitants were simple minded folk, gullible and easy to do business with, just the way he liked them. He down-shifted the Satellite and coasted to the gravel road before turning in. Blue Bottle Creek fit the bill fine. Besides, the Grapette soda he drank thirty miles back had gone straight to his kidneys.

The dirt road snaked past several wheat fields before being swallowed by endless groves of pines, oaks and southern magnolias. Frost burdened branches tapped the roof of the Plymouth and forced Beau to watch his speed. The AM radio crackled off and on, gaining and losing reception while Simon and Garfunkel made a choppy attempt at describing the bleak weather outside. The timid sky peeked through the foliage hovering over his path, but the winter sun refused to show, cowering behind a blanket of ashen clouds. The midafternoon road felt like midnight and the frigid air fogged his windshield. Beau shivered and adjusted the defroster. He disliked traveling into the unknown. He never knew what lurked around each bend in the road or crest of the hill and although he wasn’t frightened by what he might stumble upon, he was always alert. A good salesman, huckster or not, had to be.

Beau anticipated his first customer with each winding curve, only to find more trees. He kept the speedometer below thirty, but with each passing minute he found his foot growing heavy and the dull ache in his bladder served as a subtle reminder that he needed to make a pit stop soon. Like a man stranded at the bottom of a cavern, he was eager to break through the forest and into civilization. Irritated, he reached for his Lucky Strikes, pulled one from the box with his teeth and pressed in the dash lighter. In a moment’s distraction, a black cloud of insects splatted across the windshield with a sickening thud.

“Hell’s bells!” he exclaimed as he slammed on the brakes. Bug guts and crushed wings clung to the window and obscured his vision. He flipped on his wipers and smeared the insect carcasses like egg yolks across the glass. Beau stared in disgust as an oversized fly twitched in its death throes. The metallic blue bug lurched in his direction, banging its head on the glass. Unnerved, he moved back in his seat and jumped as an audible click sounded from the dash. The lighter was ready.

With a nervous laugh, Beau lit his cigarette, reached into the back floorboard for a rag and stepped out of the Satellite. The cold air bit at his skin beneath the suit and he sucked in smoke between chattering teeth.

“Nasty bastards,” he mumbled. He scrubbed the windshield on his side, careful not to touch any of the dead and dying flies. Lovebugs, or honeymoon flies as the old timers called them, were a nuisance he had dealt with before, but only in the spring. These were more like overgrown houseflies and to the best of his knowledge even they disappeared in the cold. It was the damnedest thing. He gazed out over the road where other clusters of flies hovered in the distance. Two of the pests, damn near the size of hummingbirds, buzzed about his ear. He frantically swatted them away and jumped back in the car, thankful he hadn’t been taking a piss. He popped the emergency brake and took off again, making a point to drive slower and hit the first gas station he found.

The woods grew thicker with each mile and the pressure on his bladder intensified. At such a reduced speed, flies hovered lazily past him. One thudded into the windshield, dropped a few inches and cling to the glass. Its mouth… or what he thought was its mouth, opened and shut on the hard surface. The fine feelers lining its gaping maw scratched the glass like wire bristles before it flew away in a stunned daze.

The car dipped down an incline before trudging up a steep hill. The trees thinned back into open fields again and at the peak stood his salvation. Like a beacon in the dark, a large house loomed on the horizon and his anxiety receded. At best, he envisioned the first sale of the day and this always put him in a good mood. At the very least, he could relieve his bladder in the privacy of someone’s bathroom, safe from the winged monstrosities splattering against his car. The house wasn’t the ramshackle lean-to he expected in such a remote location. It was large enough to imply the owners were wealthy and the cash register in his head dinged as he pulled onto the dirt driveway.

Still he was cautious. Simpletons from the backwoods might be easy to con, but they were also testy when it came to trespassing and most had the firearms to prove it. An actress was murdered in her California home back in August and although Blue Bottle Creek was a world away from Beverly Hills, the news of the home invasion was nationwide. Even country bumpkins were on high alert after the incident and Beau had no intentions of getting shot. He had only been fired at once, but once was plenty. He had pawned off a whole case of beauty supplies to a lonesome housewife in Whelen Springs and with a little added charm was invited to the bedroom for some much needed afternoon delight. Much to his dismay, the husband came home early from the saw mill. Beau barely had enough time to grab his pants and dive through the open window before the shotgun blast splintered the wall behind him. If the Rambler had been in one of its typical moods, he would have been gunned down in the driveway, but fortune was on his side. The old lemon fired up on the first try and the infuriated husband’s final shot busted his back windshield. The near miss hadn’t kept him from seducing the occasional buyer- he couldn’t be denied the job’s extra perks after all and with the war going on there were plenty of lonely women who craved a left-handed honeymoon- but it had made him more mindful of his surroundings. People this far back in the woods weren’t to be trifled with and caution was always key.

He let the car idle for a minute as he checked his reflection. A group of children chased one another in a nearby field, running endless circles one right after the other. The one on the end of the chase train stopped and turned toward the car. The child peered at him from behind a Halloween mask. The mask’s gaze squinted into a plastic grimace, its large rounded nose drooping over its upturned mouth. It took Beau a minute to place the character before a strange phrase popped into his head to shake the name loose.

“I am what I am and that’s all that I am,” he mumbled under his breath with a grin. “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.”

Beau waved at the child as he stepped out of the Plymouth with a fake smile. He hated kids, but it was show time and his salesman personality kicked in without a second thought. The rest of the children stopped and glared back at the stranger in their yard. Each one of them donned the face of a different cartoon character. The smallest one was Minnie Mouse and Mickey stood nearby. The biggest kid was Donald Duck and the last boy wore the mask of a character Beau struggled to recognize. It looked like a crocheted version of Wimpy from the Popeye cartoon. The pathetic expression on the mask spoke volumes. Beau figured the kid donned the same sad expression beneath; irritated and ashamed of his mask in comparison to the others.

“Hi-de-ho, kiddos,” he said removing his fedora and offering a graceful bow. The gesture had no effect on them and they stood stone still. With a puzzled laugh, Beau placed the hat back on his head and tried again. “Is your ma or pa around?”

The children only stared.

“Bunch of retards,” he muttered under his breath through a forced smirk. Their united glare unsettled him, but he swallowed hard and gave it one last shot. “Any grownups home? Your dad or mom? A grandparent maybe?”

The bitter wind matched their silence and he tugged his suit coat tighter around him.

“An older brother or sister perhaps?” he added. After a moment of silence, he mumbled, “Kissing cousins maybe?”

Giving up, he prepared to go knock on the door when Donald stepped forward and pointed nonchalant at the house.

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!” Beau responded in his best Donald Duck voice. He hoped his impersonation would at least break the ice, but they remained stoic. The boy lowered his arm and the children ran off into the field in the same circular patterns as before. Beau shook his head in disbelief, stopped to check his reflection in the side mirror one last time and strode up the porch hoping the people inside weren’t as off-putting as the kids. He rapped on the door three times.

After a few seconds battling the cold wind and the mounting pressure in his bladder, the door cracked open and warm air washed over his frozen cheeks. A timid, pale woman peered apprehensively through the slight opening.

“Can I help you?” the woman said in a soft, sweet voice, her intriguing southern drawl a light whisper on the whistling wind. The door cast a shadow across her features while the door shielded the rest of her body from the cold. She was pretty in a mousey way with soft features and dark raven hair pinned up in a bun. The male in him sensed vulnerable prey and an opportunity for some after work enjoyment, but he placed these thoughts on the backburner. Counting the chickens before they hatched wasn’t a part of his M.O. The keen eye of the salesman noticed the sparse bags under her eyes and the silver strands hiding within the bun of her hair. The sales pitch Rolodex in his mind whirled and landed on the appropriate opening.

“I don’t mean to bother you, ma’am, but I was just speaking with your lovely neighbor down the road…” he paused and pointed in the opposite direction of the way he came in hopes she would fill in the blank for him.

“Marla Scott?” she asked, taking the bait.

“Yes, yes! Sweet Marla was her name! You must forgive me. I don’t normally forget names, but I wasn’t prepared to be met by such beauty and got so tongue-tied I plum forgot about poor Marla,” he said, spreading the act on thick. His full toothed grin evoked a similar response from the woman in return. He let an awkward silence fall between them, taking in the features of her face with feigned awe before speaking again. “Where are my manners? Here I am rambling on your doorstep like a bumbling buffoon and haven’t even bothered to introduce myself. I’m Andrew Beauregard Phillips of Honeycutt Health & Beauty Supplies, but all of my closest friends call me Beau.”

He took off the fedora and gave another graceful bow, his gaze locked on hers and his smile unwavering.

“You will call me Beau won’t you, Mrs.…”

Miss Fora,” she corrected him with a blush. “But everyone just calls me Calli.”

 “Calli! What a beautiful name to mirror such a beautiful woman,” Beau gushed. He gently took her hand in his and gave it a soft kiss. Calli’s pale cheeks reddened and Beau’s confidence grew. He loved the chase and at this rate a sale was certain. Maybe more if he played his cards right. With the pleasantries out of the way, he needed to push himself inside and out of the cold. He rubbed his hands together and gave off an exaggerated shiver not too far from the truth. “Do you mind if I come in and talk to you for a while, Calli?”

“Oh, land sakes alive!” she exclaimed. She ushered him in and shut the door behind them. “I am sorry as sin for not offering sooner! You must be colder than a polar bear’s toenails, bless your heart.”

The heat from the room was like stepping into an open furnace and hit Beau all at once. The cold air in his suit evaporated and he was grateful for the warmth. The overhead fluorescents blinded him and his vision washed over in white.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be so bright in here,” he apologized. His sight adjusted beneath his palm as black shapes took form, outlining Calli’s slender frame. She wore a long, flowing nightgown and Beau sensed his luck improving by the minute. The outfit wasn’t sexy or scandalous by any stretch of the imagination, but the sheer silk and white laced ruffles held a peculiar charm. There was something intriguing, yet innocent about it.

“Would you like some coffee, Mr. Phillips?” she offered. Under the lights, an odd shade of blue resonated from within her black locks. She bit her lower lip and tucked a loose curl behind her ear. “Something to warm your bones?”

“Beau,” he corrected with his salesman’s smile. “And coffee sounds divine.”

“Take a seat in the front parlor… Beau,” she said, the blush returning to her cheeks. She shifted her gaze and hurried into another room, the white night gown flowing behind her. “I’ll bring your coffee in a jiff.”

Beau placed his fedora atop the hat rack and admired how clean and neat the house was. Everything was in shades of whites from the ivory end tables to the satin loveseats. There wasn’t a speck of dust or dirt to be found and the floor tiles were clean enough to eat from. The home seemed almost sterile. There were a few household products to peddle in the Plymouth, but the house was so immaculate his gut argued the futile idea. No, he would go with his original instinct. Calli needed some of his Honeycutt Cold Cream and Anti-Wrinkle Aides. It was easier talking women into the cold cream anyway. It was a concoction inspired by his grandmother, made from cheap Crisco shortening and isopropyl alcohol. The alcohol was the trick. Its cooling effect gave the impression of instant results. Mixed with a heavy dose of the cheapest, fruitiest perfume he could find, his cold cream fooled them all and cost him a fraction of what Ponds produced. Considering the amount of money spent on the living room alone, there was a small fortune to hustle here, ripe and ready for the taking.

“How do you like your coffee?” Calli asked, snapping him from his thoughts.

“Black will be fine,” he replied. He stood up from the love seat and asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Oh, heavens no! I won’t hear of it. You make yourself comfortable by the fire and I’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail,” she quickly replied and disappeared again.

Beau was relieved. His salesman persona required him to be cordial at all times, but he didn’t feel like helping her at all. He was eager to get started on his pitch and to be honest, didn’t really want the coffee. He was always grossed out by taking drinks and meals from complete strangers, especially the ones he targeted. Country folk were used to bare necessities and this was typically true about what they consumed.

He walked over to the mirror above the fireplace and checked his reflection again. Calli was an attractive woman, slight and slender with a bashful charm he found irresistible. The graceful way she glided around in the white, silky night gown enticed him. He was confident he could lure her into the bedroom later; a well-deserved bonus for the hustle he was about to perform. Grinning wide at his reflection, he took a moment to feather his hair and check his teeth. A trickle of sweat rolled from his temple and he blotted it away with the bottom of his tie. The room was warmer than expected and the suit jacket went from being paper thin in the cold to a heavy blanket within the warm house. He considered shedding it, but the suit was part of the act and appearing too comfortable too soon was a rookie mistake. Appearances were everything.

“Here you go,” Calli said. She offered the steaming mug of coffee and he made it a point to graze her fingers. He was astonished at how cold her skin felt to the touch.

“Thank you so much, Calli,” he said. With the first tentative sip, he fought the urge to spit it back in the cup. It was loaded with sugar and tasted like tree sap. He swallowed and feigned delight. “This is excellent coffee.”

“Bless your heart, you’re kind to say so,” she beamed, the red patches springing up on her pale cheeks again. There was something odd about her skin tone Beau found a bit unsettling. Despite the blush, her skin was so white, pale wasn’t an accurate description. It was an anemic alabaster, just a few pigments shy of translucent. Purple veins pulsated in the shallow confines of her skin and her flesh appeared thin enough to burst under the slightest touch. He supposed it was a result of the white washed room, the fluorescent lighting and the blanched gown she wore. He shook the image from his mind and was startled when she broke the silence in the room. “You said you just came from Marla Scott’s?”

“Yes!” he exclaimed and was shocked to hear his calm, cool voice crack. He cleared his throat, gathered his thoughts and pushed forward. “I gave Marla a few free samples of my Honeycutt Cold Cream and Anti-Wrinkle Aides- which she absolutely loved by the way- when she mentioned your name and how you might be interested in them as well. But now that I see you for myself, Calli…”

He closed the gap between them and gently lifted her chin. Caution was key here. How he delivered his next few sentences would determine the sale and any bonus action he had in mind. After pausing long enough for Calli’s baby blues to retreat from his advance, he continued.

“Can I be honest with you? Marla is a beautiful woman- there is no doubt about it- but I must say she pales in comparison to you. I don’t know if you even need what I’m selling.”

He had never even met Marla Scott, of course, but it didn’t matter. Calli had shown enough kindness and poise, she would never say a harsh word about her neighbor’s appearance even if the lady was a wart infested toad. Besides, the whole ruse worked in his favor no matter how Marla looked. If she was pretty enough for Calli to question her own beauty, a sale was in the bag. Keeping up with the Jones’ the old timers called it. And if Marla was a walking nightmare, what woman didn’t love being placed on a pedestal, even if her competition was subpar?

“You are too kind, Beau,” she said. “I’m no beauty queen.”

“Blasphemy! Put me in my place if I am being too bold, but you, my dear, are a goddess,” he exclaimed, raising his arm to the heavens in a solemn oath. “Hand of God.”

Calli laughed and shook her head. For a moment, Beau wondered if he had gone too far.

“I can’t figure you out,” Calli said, stepping away from him and gliding toward the fireplace. “You’re either the most charming man to come calling on me or you’re the best snake oil salesman I’ve ever met.”

“Snake oil salesman?” Beau asked with mock hurt. Something unpleasant tickled the nape of his neck and he swatted it. His palm came away damp with sweat. “Why, I haven’t even tried to sell you anything, Calli. Besides, can’t a man compliment a woman on her beauty just out of sheer admiration?”

“I suppose so,” Calli agreed. “Whatever your reasons, I’m sure you are all the buzz with the ladies, Beau.”

“And it’s not just your beauty I admire, Calli,” he said, ignoring the compliment and pressing forward. “It’s all that you are. It’s the way you carry yourself in front of a complete stranger with kindness and compassion. I look around this immaculate home and see the fine children you are raising all alone and I wonder how you manage to keep your home so clean. It must be so tiresome!”

Beau made a grand gesture of this, running his finger across the mantle place and showing it to her in amazement as his finger come back squeaky clean. His point made, he retreated from the unbearable fireplace. The intense heat in the room contended with the pressure on his bladder and he sought shelter near the window.

“I admit,” she answered with a humble smile, “it is tiring at times, but I love my children and I’d do anything for those little suckers.”

“I never doubted it,” he said. He peered out at the oddball children running around outside and fought the urge to roll his eyes at his own comment. Only love could keep her from running away screaming at the sight of those masked dimwits, he thought. The room’s heat tested his resolve; his irritation bubbling beneath the surface of his pleasant façade. Sweat stains blossomed under his armpits and around his collar. “But children do take a toll on one’s youth.”

It wasn’t quite time for the switch, but waiting wasn’t an option. Sweat trickled down his back and if he didn’t get the ball rolling soon he was afraid he would say something crude. After some silence, Calli spoke up.

“Well, I have started growing crow’s feet,” she said softly, staring at the floor. “And these dark rings.”

“I never even noticed,” Beau lied. He returned to the loveseat and lifted her chin. Fearful of what he might say, her eyes gradually met his. He inspected her face with the appraisal of a jeweler. “They are barely visible, but now that you’ve pointed it out, I do see what you mean.”

The switch was never easy. No woman wanted her flaws pointed out especially one as delicate as Calli, but Beau had pulled this maneuver so many times it came natural to him. Now was the time to build her back up, but the inferno in the room was causing his head to throb. His back was drenched in sweat and if he didn’t break out of the jacket soon he thought he might faint.

“Don’t look so sad,” he said. “It just so happens I have the perfect thing for you, my dear! I’ll tell you a secret. Marla was in desperate need of my Honeycutt Cold Cream and she felt its healing powers right away. She’s so thin and gaunt her crow’s feet looked more like rooster claws, but my cold cream did the trick, lickity-split.”

This comment almost always forced a chuckle, but Beau realized his mistake before Calli voiced it and his mind scrambled for an excuse.

“Beau… uh, Mr. Phillips, Marla is a very… round woman,” Calli said with a wince, as if pointing out her neighbor’s flaws caused her pain. She inched away from him on the sofa as she spoke, her tone puzzled. “She is far from thin.”

“I apologize,” he said, loosening his tie and allowing it to dangle unkempt from his neck. The air was so thick and humid his breaths were labored. He had messed up, but he convinced himself the damage was reversible. There’s a sucker born every minute, he reminded himself, you just have to know the right words to say and you have to spit it out before she has time to think. Grasping the first explanation to come to mind, he forced it on her like vomit. “I meant to say her nose was so thin and gaunt. A thin nose draws attention to crow’s feet and bags under the eyes, don’t you think?”

“I suppose,” she said, but her hesitant response was proof she wasn’t buying it. He knew under normal circumstances he could right this train, but the blazing air surrounding him jumbled his thoughts. All he wanted was to strip to his boxers and run out into the cold air. He needed time to think and his throbbing bladder reminded him of the one guaranteed retreat available to him.

“I am so sorry to ask, but can I use your restroom?” he pleaded. His plastered smile melted and the urgency of his question crept through.

“Sure,” she said. She pointed to a room at the end of the hall and he made a mad dash, apologizing profusely as he went.

Stars swam in his peripheral vision and buzzed around his ears like a swarm of flies. He slammed the door behind him, stripped off his coat, dropped his pants to his ankles and urinated with a heavy sigh. The release of mounting pressure was one great relief, but even the bathroom was a broiler oven. Sweat rolled through his close cropped hair and streamed down his chest and legs in buckets. The thick scent of his body odor permeated in the confined space, sour and salty. The temperature was well above one hundred and for the first time he wondered how Calli stood it. Through the course of the past half hour, she had never shown the first inkling of discomfort. In fact, she seemed as cool as a cucumber, unfazed by the boiling air. He leaned over the sink and splashed cool water on his face certain he needed to leave, sales and sex be damned.

“Are you okay in there, Mr. Phillips?” she asked with a light rap on the door. He jumped at the sound of her voice and scrambled to gather his thoughts. Even if he had blown the sale here, there was always Marla Scott down the road, not to mention all the other potential buyers in Blue Bottle. He needed to make a clean getaway without rousing any more suspicion.

“I’m right as the rain,” he lied. Staring in the mirror, he didn’t recognize the strange man before him. His reflection was sopping wet and disheveled. His face glowed bright with heat and his eyes burned like coals. His mouth, keeper of the shark toothed smile and silver tongue, was drawn down in a tight red knot. Struggling to pull himself together, he tidied his appearance in a flurry and went to the door. “Besides, I thought we were on a first name basis, Call…”

     The last syllable of her name caught in his throat. Calli’s night gown was completely unbuttoned and revealed the supple swell of her breasts on both sides. The tidy bun was undone and her wavy, black hair hung loose around her shoulders. The shy, mousey expression was replaced by a sultry smirk. For a brief second, Beau forgot about the infernal heat.

“Of course we are, Beau,” she purred. She ran a cold, slender finger down his sweat soaked shirt and played with the top button. “I was thinking we should get to know each other a little better, don’t you?”

Beau was dumbstruck. Calli managed to unbutton three buttons and was kissing his bare chest before his sense of reasoning took hold. Something about this woman, no matter how sexy she appeared, was off. She had transformed from a timid homebody to a sex kitten at the flip of a switch. Her house was hotter than the devil’s anus, yet she was cool to the touch. She had caught him in a lie and disregarded it like a bad memory. His instincts screamed for him to leave and in a hurry. He gently took her arm and pulled away.

“I’m sorry I wasted your time, Calli,” he said, fumbling with his words. He had never refused sex before and the whole experience seemed surreal. “Perhaps it’s best I be on my way.”

“Why, heaven sakes, no. Things are just starting to heat up,” she said with a smirk. She licked sweat from her upper lip and he realized at once it was his sweat. She hadn’t been kissing him at all. She had been lapping the foul scented sweat from his chest with an insatiable thirst. The rank smell of his own body odor made his stomach lurch. He was about to voice his disgust when something else stole the words from his mouth.

A housefly landed on her left eyebrow. It wasn’t oversized like the ones drying on the Plymouth’s windshield, but its body was the same metallic blue. Calli didn’t budge. It was as if nothing was there at all. Nor did she move when another fly landed in her long lashes and preened itself. A third fly emerged from within her right ear, buzzed lazily around and settled on her upper lip. Calli never flinched.

“I have to go,” he said pushing past her. Her bizarre behavior and the roaring heat were too much for him to comprehend. Her bare feet padded behind him, but he refused to stop. He opened the front door and was about to make a run for it when he noticed his car was no longer in the drive. “Where in the hell is my car?!

Smoke from the wheat field caught his attention and his jaw dropped at its source. The masked children warmed themselves in front of the Plymouth, a blazing fire rippling from the hood.

“Hell’s bells!!!” he screamed in disbelief. The children turned at his voice, their happy masks beaming. The Plymouth Satellite was a roaring bonfire. Flames flickered from the seats and danced across the dash. Red embers rose from the fire and scattered like leaves on the November wind. The cases of Honeycutt Cold Cream added fuel to the fire, exploding in the backseat. Beau’s anger reached its boiling point and spittle flew from his lips as he screamed, “Kill you all! I’ll fucking kill your stupid Mickey Mouse asses! Each and every one of you retarded little shits!!! Hand of God! Hand of God, I will!

The biggest one raised his glove and lifted the Donald Duck mask. The plastic, duckbill grin revealed the child’s disfigured face and the words in Beau’s mouth dried to sand. His skin was the same semi-translucent color as Calli’s; a sickening, milky alabaster. His head was void of a mouth, nose, eyes or ears. It wiggled in ringlets, fat at the neck but narrowing to a hairless point where its scalp should have been, like an oversized maggot.

“My sweet babies. Bless their little hearts,” Calli spoke from behind him. “They need the warmth to survive, but they do love frolicking in the yard. Sorry about your car, Beau, but you won’t be needing it anyway.”

The hair on the back of Beau’s neck stood on end. Her babies? In the shock of the moment, he had forgotten about Calli. Calli, the creature who had given birth to these abominations and who had licked sweat from his body like some sex craved fiend.

“Look, Calli,” he said, slowly turning toward her with his arms raised in submission. “I don’t want to cause any trouble. I’m not even mad about the car, okay? I’ll just be on my way and never speak of you or your children to anyone. Hand of God, you have my word…”

Calli’s nightgown lay behind her on the floor. Her legs were spread apart in an awkward stance with her knees much lower and bent back in the wrong direction. She closed the ground between them in a floating rush, her bare feet skimming the floor tiles.  Black hairs spread across her arms and legs like a taint through a spoiled bowl of fruit. Flesh split on both of her shoulder blades and two barbed appendages lashed out at him. He turned to run, but one slashed at the back of his foot and severed his Achilles tendon with a sound like ripping fabric. He screamed in painful misery as he fell onto the porch, his leg no longer able to bear his weight. The kid with the crocheted mask turned toward him and tilted his head as if to say, Who’s pathetic now? Calli’s other barbed appendage wrapped around his waist and pulled him back inside, its sharp hairs pricking deep into his flesh like needles.

“Oh God oh God oh God,” he sobbed. He wanted to beg for his life, but the words hung in his throat.

“Land sakes, Beau! You shouldn’t carry on so,” she said. He couldn’t tell if the pity in her voice was real or her own twisted version of a sales pitch. He dug his fingers into the passing tiles, scratching and clawing to find purchase. Two fingernails snapped off into a trail of blood before Beau acknowledged he was no match for her strength. She pulled his limp body across the hallway floor with ease and down into the cellar. Beau watched in horror as the open front door disappeared from sight. “It’s not so bad, dear, I promise. I have no intentions of killing you.”

“Oh God, please no,” he moaned. If she wasn’t going to kill him, there was only one other thing on her mind. Tears streamed and mixed with the snot bubbling from his nose. Involuntary convulsions of terror rocked his body. He had to talk his way out of this, but the horror was too great. It choked the words pouring from his lips into a shrill whine. “I can’t… I mean we can’t! My … my equipment… down there… it doesn’t work, you see? Limp as a noodle in boiling water, hand of God. Please, God no…”

Calli laughed and tossed him onto a filthy mattress on the cement floor. The impact sent a wave of sharp pains through the puncture wounds in his abdomen and he sobbed hysterically. The foul odor of the room burnt into his nose and churned his stomach. It smelled like a mixture of rotted fruit and sewage. She spread him out, roping his arms and legs to four iron stakes as he blubbered for mercy. With him secured, she placed her foot beneath his chin and lifted it toward her.

“Do you really think I want to lay with you?” she laughed. She stood dominantly over him, but Beau kept his eyes clamped shut, his mind unwilling to accept whatever horrible sex act she was prepared to unleash on him. Disturbing images forced bile into his throat and he vomited on his shoulder. “Honey, no offense, but you’re not really my type. Now open your eyes.”

He refused. Whatever depravity she had in mind, he wouldn’t watch. He couldn’t. Thoughts of spawning insect half-breeds with this creature flooded his brain like a recurring nightmare. Warm fluid splashed his stomach wounds and he screamed.

“Oh, hush! It doesn’t hurt,” she said, the first hint of irritation creeping into her voice. “Take a gander for yourself.”

Beau kept his eyes shut, but he felt something change within his open wounds. The searing pain subsided. The puncture wounds were no longer burning coals but an almost tolerable dull ache. They began to itch, the same type of intense, maddening itch of a scar as it heals. He raised his head for a better view.

“I secrete a healing enzyme,” Calli explained. Beau was mesmerized by the wounds. They were covered in the slick, slimy substance, but much smaller than before. They itched like mad, but his restraints kept him from scratching.

“Is this some sort of sick sex game for you?” Beau snapped, turning his head away again. “You hurt me, lube me up with itching slime and rape me?”

“Beau,” she sighed shaking her head, “you are one typical male. For the last time, honey, I’m not having sex with you. Ever. No one is.”

A strange moan issued behind him. Startled, Beau angled his head around. On another mattress was a large mound of sore covered flesh. Blood oozed from grayish wounds and hundreds of large, milky puss pockets were scattered all over it from head to toe. The body shivered in haggard, shallow breaths and wild eyes stared back at him. Its mouth pleaded with urgent, pitiful moans, but whatever the flesh mound tried to convey, its meaning was lost on Beau. The words were unintelligible.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Calli said. Sarcasm dripped from her lips. “I thought you knew my neighbor, Marla.”

Marla, or what was once Marla, bucked against her restraints. Streams of phlegm erupted from her open mouth and splattered on the cement in gobs. One rounded nub of an arm reached out for Beau and he angrily looked back at Calli.

“Not so thin and gaunt after all, I’m afraid,” Calli grinned. “But bless her heart, she has lost some weight.”

For the first time Beau got a good view of Calli’s naked body. Her stomach had been shielded well behind the night gown, but now there was no hiding it. The semi-translucent skin of her belly revealed rows and rows of pearls within. But they weren’t pearls at all. A popping noise sounded behind him like someone snapping bubble wrap and he turned back to Marla. Horrific realization hit him all at once. The puss pockets on her flesh gave way, one by one, bursting with larvae. Miniature versions of the Donald Duck kid squirmed free from Marla’s flesh and Beau’s heart mimicked them, attempting to escape from his chest.

“I lay my eggs in decaying flesh, Beau, but don’t you worry your pretty little head over it. My secretions will keep you alive for many, many years, I promise. Hand of God, as you say,” Calli said, squatting over him. The southern drawl he had found so intriguing was no longer sweet or sexy, but menacing. “Land sakes alive, Beau! I’m willing to bet there’s one of those little suckers born every minute.”

Guest Post: Thomas Malafarina “Jacob’s Tree”

By Thomas M. Malafarina

© 2018 Thomas M. Malafarina

The old tree stood alone on an island of dirt in the middle of the corn field, the only tree remaining of the original crop of more than a dozen. The others had all died out over the years. This tree with its gnarled, twisted trunk and dried out branches looked as though it would soon be joining its brothers in death. Scores of crows flew through the fields but seemed to do their best to avoid the tree. Perhaps this was because of how the tree resembled a giant scarecrow; or perhaps for other reasons only they knew.

Jessica had never understood why these strange islands of trees and underbrush were scattered throughout various farm fields. She always thought a more open uninterrupted field would make the farmer’s job a lot easier. That was until Jacob had explained it to her.

He had told her,”Sometimes the trees act as wind barriers. Other times if the right vegetation is planted on among the trees it can lure insects away from the crops. And sometime, especially in the old days, these areas even served as family burial grounds.”

Jacob had been the fourth generation son of a farming family. He also considered himself Jessica’s fiance; although she would be most certain to disagree. Their relationship was rocky at times and complicated at others. They had been friends since junior high school and even back then in the eighth grade Jacob announced he would marry Jessica someday. She never thought he was serious, even though he continued to insist they would marry all through high school.

Jessica liked Jacob a lot, but only as a friend. It wasn’t like they had ever actually dated or for that matter had even kissed. In her mind they were just good friends. Jessica had big plans for her future. She was going to go away to college. After that she hoped to land a high-paying job somewhere far away and would never return. She knew she could never settle down and be content to be a farmer’s wife, pumping out a brood of farm kids. She tried to explain this to Jacob, time and time again, but he wouldn’t listen.

“It’s our destiny to be together Jessica.” He would insist. “You can say what you want and believe whatever you choose, but I know it’s you and me forever.”

No matter how much Jacob frustrated her with his endless talk of love and marriage, Jessica never had the courage to say the words Jacob needed to hear. She truly didn’t want to hurt him but somehow she had to find a way to get him to understand.  She did her best to avoid him during the final months of high school. She had thought perhaps this cold shoulder treatment would be a subtle way of not only distancing herself from Jacob, but maybe making him lose interest in her as well. She thought her plan was working until a week or so after high school graduation.

She had been coming out of a clothing store at the local shoping center when Jacob pulled over to the curb in his pickup truck and asked her to get in.

“Sorry Jacob, I can’t now. I have things to do.” She told him.

Jacob gave her that lost puppy look She had once found cute but now just found annoying, “Come on Jessica. It’s stupid to be avoiding me this way, especially with us getting married and all.”

“For the last time Jacob, we’re not getting married.” She said trying to remain calm but feeling her temper growing.

“But of course we are. We’ve been talking about this for years.”

“No WE haven’t Jacob, you have. Not us, just you. I’m not marrying you or anyone else. I’m leaving for college out of state in two months and never coming back here!”

“But Jess. You and me have to start making babies, lots of them. And we can’t do that without getting married.”

“You’re such a dope Jacob. You don’t have to be married to have babies or to have sex.”

“Maybe not everybody, but I do Jess. That’s how we do things around here. You know that. That’s why we’ve been saving ourselves for marriage all these years.”

Jessica went suddenly silent and had trouble meeting Jacob’s stern gaze. Jacob said, “Jess? You, you have been saving yourself haven’t you?”

She knew her answer would break Jacob’s heart, but she had no choice. He wouldn’t leave her alone. She took a deep breath and murmured, “No Jacob. I haven’t saved myself for marriage or for you. In fact, there have already been many boys. I’m sorry Jacob, but that’s just the way it is.”

Jacob looked as if Jessica had reached inside his chest and pulled out his still beating heart, crushing it between her fingers. He never said another word to her; he just turned his head away and drove off. She never spoke to him again. Two weeks later Jacob was killed while working on the farm in an accident involving a piece of heavy equipment.

His parents had his body cremated and his ashes scattered beneath the old twisted tree on the island in the cornfield. Jessica attended his memorial service held at the base of the tree where Jacob’s ashes were spread. After that day she always thought of the hideous tree as Jacob’s tree.

Jessica spent the rest of the summer getting ready for college. Occasionally she had made a few trips past the cornfield where Jacob’s tree stood but never left her car or ventured out to the island. She would often imagine him saying to her, “”It’s our destiny to be together forever.” But she always managed to put the thoughts out of her mind.

With the exception of those creeping thoughts of Jacob, that summer was an exciting time for her as it marked the start of her adult life. She was going away to college. She was going to make something special of her life. Yet nevertheless every so often she would still hear Jacob’s voice in the back of her mind saying, “It’s our destiny to be together forever.”

The day before she was to leave for college Jessica realized she needed to do something to find closure. She had to find a way to put Jacob and her past to rest before she could begin her new life.

She drove out to Jacob’s family farm and parked along the dirt road leading back to his parents’ farmhouse. She crawled over the split-rail fence and walked out to the island and to Jacob’s tree.

She stood before the gnarled and twisted thing and said, “Jacob. I’m so, so sorry. I tried to explain to you for years that we could only be friends. I should have been more honest with you but I didn’t want to hurt you or risk our friendship. But in the end, I lost both and for that I will be sorry for the rest of my life.”

“It’s our destiny to be together forever Jessica.”

Jessica breath caught in her throat as she heard Jacob’s voice again, more clearly than in the past. She also was certain she not only heard the voice in her mind but in her ears as well. Yet she knew such a thing was impossible. That was when she heard a scraping sound like some creeping creature slithering along the ground. She looked down and saw several long vines rising up from the ground at the base of the tree and working their way toward her ankles. She stood stunned for a moment then began to slowly back up.

As she did she felt something press hard against her back and looked up to see the tree leaning down toward her with its long branches extended like twisted arms. She saw a face forming on the surface of the tree’s weathered bark. It was Jacob’s face. She felt a tightening in her chest and saw that some of the smaller branches had grabbed her around the waste and chest like hands, their grip vice-like, driving the air from her lungs.

Within seconds she was lifted high into the air and brought toward the trunk of the tree where she was held tightly by branches and vines. Soon the creeping foliage had encircled her, tearing off her clothing and leaving her naked and bruised in its grip. As she hung in the air she felt the vines crawling up her legs and invading her most private of areas. She burned with an agonizing pain. She wanted to scream out but more of the invasive things had found their way into her mouth and were crawling down her throat, choking off her air supply.

As nightfall engulfed the remainder of the day, so Jacob’s tree swallowed Jessica, bringing her back to him. Her last thoughts were that Jacob was right. She would now be his forever.

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 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!

 

 

NEW RELEASE from Author Sylvia Stein!

Author Pic.jpg

Sylvia Stein is a published author with several anthologies with her Writer’s group 750 on LinkedIn. Stein obtained a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University this past July 2015.   She is a mother of three beautiful children Paul 10, Michael 9 and Consuelo 6.   She resides in the city of Fuquay Varina with her amazing husband Jeremy.  Stein has also published two solo books one was her first novella Closure which she worked on while attending SNHU and published in July of 2014 and the other her first YA Chasing Clarity was published this past October 2015 and it was created during National Novel Month (Nano) in 2013.    Her latest book is entitled, The Diary of a Broken Father which came Out in February 2017.     Her new thriller which she has been working on since 2014 will be out Late 2018 and is entitled, Battered Mind.

Synopsis:

Sadie Martin Carlyle is on trial for the murder of her husband Dante Caryle. She claims she killed him in self defense and that he was a monster. She was a battered woman and if she had not defended herself he would of killed both their young daughter and her.  In short, She feared for their lives.

However, there is more to this case than meets the eye. Sadie Martin is not your typical woman. Her family consists of her Criminal lawyer father Jackson Martin from Atlanta and her mother Barbara Reece Martin is one of the main leaders of the Southern Belles of Atlanta.

From the very start, there are secrets that are hidden that no one will see coming. Sadie’s story will take the reader through a very emotional journey throughout. Once the case begins, everything you think you know about what happened between Sadie and Dante Carlyle will have you asking many questions and is everything being said the truth?

Concept 2

From the Author

Hello my name is Sylvia Stein and I am an Indie Author.   I have exciting news.  This week I am doing the cover reveal of my book which I hope will be released in late 2018.    I have been working with this book for awhile.  It is a story I have been doing extensive research one and because of the topic I am covering I want to be sure I do it justice.  It is a work of fiction and for today I will be revealing the book cover which was designed by the very talented and amazing Michael Dangremond  and his title of his art work the cost of love.   When I saw this portrait I immediately saw what I was looking for for my main character of Sadie Martin Carlyle.   The title of this my first thriller is Battered Mind and I hope you all enjoy the cover reveal.   I absolutely was blown away by it.  I hope you are too!  Thank you for your help in the cover reveal.   I do appreciate it so much.    

 

 

Thank you so much,

Sylvia Stein

Dusk Warriors, Guest Blog by Emerian Rich

dwBAR

Dusk’s Warriors
by Emerian Rich

 

dwbook3d2Heaven has opened up and welcomed the vampires of Night’s Knights into a new reality. As they struggle to find their place in their new world, trouble brews on Earth.

Demon servant, Ridge, is causing havoc by gathering up all the souls on Earth that have been touched by immortality. When he injures one of the Night’s Knights crew, he launches a war between the vampires of Heaven, the Big Bad in Hell, and a mortal street gang of vigilante misfits.

Will Julien, Markham, and Reidar be able to defeat the evil that’s returned, or will they once again need Jespa’s help?

 

Praise for Dusk’s Warriors:

“All hail, the queen of Night’s Knights has returned! Emerian Rich’s unique take on vampires delights my black little heart.” ~Dan Shaurette, Lilith’s Love

“A world of horror with realistic characters in a fast paced thriller you won’t be able to put down.”

~David Watson, The All Night Library

Praise for Night’s Knights: 

“Fresh, original, and thoroughly entertaining.” ~Mark Eller, Traitor

“Emerian brought the Vampire Novel back from the dead.” ~C. E. Dorsett, Shine Like Thunder

 

Available now at Amazon.com in print and eBook

 

https://www.amazon.com/Dusks-Warriors-Nights-Knights-Vampire/dp/1544628803

emz1smallEmerian Rich is an artist, horror host, and author of the vampire series, Night’s Knights. She is the hostess of the internationally acclaimed podcast, HorrorAddicts.net. Under the name Emmy Z. Madrigal, she writes the musical romance series, Sweet Dreams and she’s the Editorial Director for the Bay Area magazine, SEARCH. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son.

 

 

Guest Blog: Clock Work and HorrorAddicts.net

HorrorAddicts.net Press presents…

Clockwork Wonderland.

Clockwork Wonderland contains stories from authors that see Wonderland as a place of horror where anything can happen and time runs amok. In this book you’ll find tales of murderous clockworks, insane creations, serial killers, zombies, and a blood thirsty jabberclocky. Prepare to see Wonderland as a place where all your worst nightmares come true. You may never look at classic children’s literature the same way again.

Edited by Emerian Rich
Cover by Carmen Masloski

ClockWorkFrontFeaturing authors:

Trinity Adler
Ezra Barany
Jaap Boekestein
Dustin Coffman
Stephanie Ellis
Jonathan Fortin
Laurel Anne Hill
N. McGuire
Jeremy Megargee
James Pyne
Michele Roger
H.E. Roulo
Sumiko Saulson
K.L. Wallis

With Foreword by David Watson

URL: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1544785518

Excerpt from
A Room for Alice

by Ezra Barany

Alice woke on a cold floor. Candlelight flickered, throwing more shadows than light. She lay beside a metal table. Dried, splattered blood covered the walls. Clocks big and small hung their heads upon the walls. They ticked and clicked, wringing their hands at different hours. Some second hands spun fast as if racing to get away from the present, other hands twisted time backwards.

Where was she?

Skies and stones! She tugged on her clothes. These weren’t her pajamas! She sported a white tunic, a black corset with brass ringlets down the front, black shorts, and black and white striped knee socks. The only thing that was hers was her choker, but she never wore it to bed. Someone must have placed her choker around her neck. Someone must have dressed her. Her gut sank at the thought. A woman in a black dress lay on a mechanical table near her.

Stones! Was the woman even alive? She looked pale, fastened to the table by two metal neck-braces, one just under her chin, the other just above her shoulders. What kind of machine was it? Alice held her nauseous belly.

Flies buzzed nearby. A huge severed head of a rabbit perched on a tall pedestal. The dry thin flesh of the lips receded into the gums, baring its teeth into a twisted snarl. One black marble-shaped eye posed open. The other eye wore a cylindrical monocle fastened with leather straps. Beside the head rested a tiny blue vial. Behind the head on the wall hung a huge clock, bigger than all the rest, spanning from floor to ceiling.

Alice’s stomach coiled sick. She had to get out. She ran to a metal door along one wall and tugged on the handle. Locked. She pounded on the door.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” she yelled.

“Yes, Alice,” a man’s voice boomed.

Her heart thu-thumped. She scanned the room to see where the man’s voice came from. She peered through a small hole in the wall beside the door and sucked in a breath, surprised. Another eye squinted at her from the other side.

She bolted backwards and tripped on something, landing on her backside. She had tripped on a walrus puppet.

“Careful. I don’t want you to hurt yourself,” he said with a scolding tone. “That’s my job.”

“Who are you? What do you want?” She scrambled to her feet, eyeing the wall.

“Call me D. I have orders from the Queen of Hearts to behead the Queen of Spades and replace her head with the rabbit’s head.”

“You’re joking.” Alice eyed the poor woman on the table. “That’s the Queen of Spades?

“Yes. Relax. She’s dead already and won’t mind the removal.”

“What does that have to do with me?” Alice tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry.

“I don’t wish to mess my hands with such business. You’re here to complete the task for me.”

“What? Never!” Alice spun, looking for another door.

“Alice, listen carefully.” The man’s voice commanded attention. “Before you woke, I fed you a poison. In three minutes you’ll have a stomachache. In five, a headache. In ten, your heart will beat rapidly, fighting to get more oxygen to your blood. In fifteen minutes, it won’t matter, because your lovely body will lie dead on the floor.”

Oh, no. Alice’s belly already clenched with pain. Was the pain just a phantom sting in her imagination? The horrible man didn’t sound like he was bluffing.

“You have the antidote, right?” Stones, she hoped he did.

“Actually, most of the antidote is in the room with you.”

Flickering shadows teased glimpses of toys and clothes.

“See that blue vial on the pedestal? It has the main ingredient to render your poison inert, but it’s completely useless without its catalyst. The catalyst to activate the antidote is with me. Do what I say in under fifteen minutes and you’ll get it.”

“What do I have to do?” Alice clutched her stomach, wincing at the immense pain. The pain was real, not just her imagination. She had been poisoned.

“You must behead her.”

Alice gazed at the poor Queen of Spades. Dead or not, cutting off the woman’s head was an impossible task to bear. But if she had to, what would she use? There was no saw in the room, though the corners of the room were too dark to be certain.

“I don’t have any tools to behead her.”

No response.

“Hello?”

Nothing.

Alice approached the peephole and stooped to look in.

“Are you still there?”

The door beside her screeched open. A thick man with a balding head trampled in.

“Don’t hurt me!” Alice scampered to the back of the room.

To read the full story and more Clock-inspired, Alice Horror, check out Clockwork Wonderland.