No Future In Arguing

Because of the argument with her mother, Lakshmi wasn’t able to sleep. It happened ten days ago to this very minute and her hatred for her mother hadn’t abated one iota. Truth to tell, she wasn’t able to remember who started the argument or what the initial disagreement was about but, as with most feuds, it opened a doorway for all the other things, the niggling bits of minutia to spill out, and words were exchanged and feelings were hurt on both sides.

Ten days of freezing her mother out. Ten days of refusing to eat or talk or even be in the same room with that woman. Ten nights of lying awake in bed, staring at the headlights of passing cars that trailed rectangles across her ceiling. Lakshmi knew every inch of the ceiling and walls of her room like the back of her hand…which was why she was shocked when her eyes fell upon the crack.

It was beside the mirror that sat atop her chest of drawers, a horizontal crack no longer than a foot in length that resembled a demonic smile. Lakshmi stared at the crack long and hard, wondering how she had missed something so obvious before…when it blinked. All right, so perhaps blinked wasn’t the proper word, but she could have sworn she saw a light flicker from within the crack.

Probably just the wiring, she thought as she pushed a chair against the wall beneath the crack. At night, Lakshmi regularly heard mice scurrying between the walls. One of them must have nibbled on a wire and exposed it. She’d have to remember to tell her father in the morning as it had to be a fire hazard.

Standing on the chair to inspect the crack, she ran her index finger along its jagged yet smooth edge which was surprisingly cold to the touch and she thought she felt a slight suction…then the flicker again!

I didn’t imagine it, Lakshmi thought as she leaned forward and stared into the crack. There was something moving within and she was surprised to see that it was…

Herself.

It was like watching a movie. She watched herself being herself, doing the things she normally did, but not on any day she ever remembered. The images began at a normal pace, then sped up to such a degree where, to anyone else, they would have appeared to be nothing more than a blur but Lakshmi was able to follow along because she was somehow connected to them. They were her personal images, of her life and she was living them, retaining the information contained within them as the events unfolded.

Eyes glued to the craggy slit in the wall, Lakshmi watched the rest of her life, the entirety of her existence, unfold before her in a series of flashes. Her life was quite literally flashing before her eyes.

Flash: Her relationship with her mother falls apart after a series of little spats over the next few years, which leads to the fight to end all fights when she turns seventeen which causes irreparable damage. That will be the final time the two will ever speak to one another.

Flash: Her father grows miserable with all the constant fighting, which wears on his soul until he can’t take it anymore. Lakshmi cries uncontrollably the day he finally leaves their home for another woman. She begins smoking to handle the stress.

Flash: Her dream career of becoming a geophysicist vanishes that day she quits college for a job that allows her to move out of the family home and away from her mother for good.

Flash: She works so many menial jobs, none of which manages to hold her attention for very long, and slowly saps all the dreams and creativity she holds in reserve. With each successive job, the sheen in her eyes dulls a bit more.

Flash: As with the job situation, so too her love life. Her many attempts at love fail for the same reasons time and time again. Somehow, she becomes relationship poison and seeks the same.

Flash: Eventually, her worries and frustrations in finding a mate cause her to settle for a man beneath her worth, a man who adds nothing to her life, a man who also works dead-end jobs with no hope of career advancement.

Flash: Then comes the struggle to save money for secondhand furniture and a used car, and as rents increase, their apartments over the years become smaller and rattier.

Flash: She cries alone in the bathroom with a pregnancy test showing a positive result.

Flash: The birth of her daughter, Rani, is agonizing and when it’s done and the baby is placed in her arms, she knows she should feel something, tries to feel love, but the emotions just will not come.

Flash: Not long after, she’s pregnant again with a premature boy this time, Samesh, and makes the effort to spread the already nonexistent love even thinner.

Flash: Samesh is born sickly and remains that way. Medical bills mount that they’re unable to pay, and her husband comes home later and later, complaining of overtime that is never reflected in his paycheck.

Flash: Fed up, her husband leaves in much the same way as her father did, for another woman, and she now is forced to get a second job to make ends meet.

Flash: Her already distant relationship with her daughter grows volatile when Rani turns to drugs after running with a group of delinquents.

Flash: Samesh’s condition worsens and neither her husband nor Rani are present at the hospital when he dies.

Flash: She develops a cough that turns into a hacking fit that turns into lung cancer that kills her a day before her sixty-sixth birthday. And like her son, she too dies alone.

Lakshmi thought the images would stop there, but she was mistaken. Somehow she was actually able to see beyond her own death, where Rani, holding a one-year Narcotics Anonymous recovery coin, arrives at her hospital room moments too late. Too late to apologize, too late to make amends, too late to say “I love you.” And the pain of this sends her running back to a drug den to score, where a fatal hot dose takes her life.

***

A noise, the sound of wood and plaster breaking in reverse, pulled Lakshmi away from the visions of her future and back into the room with such a quickness that she staggered back, falling off the chair, and hit the hardwood floor with a heavy thud.

A concerned woman’s voice called from outside the room. Her mother. The woman she hated mere moments ago and wished all the nastiness a seven-year-old girl’s mind could muster…but now, there was something else. Something she couldn’t quite remember. The images of her future started jumbling inside her head to the point they no longer made sense and began evaporating like so much mental vapor.

Something about her father and her husband leaving? Something about a baby…a girl, or maybe a boy, sick and dying? And a fight, a big fight…

Scrambling to her feet, Lakshmi raced out of her bedroom and down the hall as memories greyed out and faded from her mind. There was something she had to do, something before these feelings vanished and she went back to being angry.

She burst into her parents’ room, where her father, just about to fall into a deep slumber, leapt out of his skin at the girl’s sudden arrival.

Her mother, on the other hand, was fastening her dressing gown, about to investigate the sound from her daughter’s room, when Lakshmi rushed up, arms flung wide, and embraced her.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” Lakshmi sobbed as the recollections of her future life disappeared completely.

Her father watched in confusion, while her mother shrugged at him, smiled, and stroked her daughter’s hair, cooing, “Everything will be all right. Everything will be just fine now.”

***

In Lakshmi’s room, the crack in the wall, once the length of a wooden school ruler, began to shrink, as the wall knitted itself whole again.

Tiny Stories: Our First Time

Popular belief has it that the universe is comprised of atoms. In reality, the universe is actually made up of…

I almost passed on the blind date. I mean, when had that sort of thing ever really worked out? A friend who claimed they knew you, your tastes, and your interests, matching you up with your soulmate? In reality, all it really amounted to was pushing two single strays together to avoid being the couple saddled with a fifth-wheel friend.

But the moment I saw her, Orelline, my blind date, I knew two fundamental things at the exact same time (1) that I was punching above my weight class because she was phenomenally out of my league, and (2) I would be so nervous and foul things up so badly that this would be our one and only date.

And I was nervous, embarrassingly so, and clumsy, and tongue-tied, and trying way too hard to seem more interesting than I actually was. I replayed that night over in my head at least a thousand times, cringing at every fumble and misstep, and for the life of me, I could not understand why this stunningly gorgeous woman agreed to a second date.

I wish I could say that the second date went better than the first, but whatever small measure of confidence I had amassed over the years abandoned me completely. I floundered like an insect drowning in yogurt. And when the date ended and I saw her to her door, I was prepared to apologize for, well, for being me, for not being good enough for her, and I probably would have stammered my way through that speech, that I had been mentally preparing on the way to her house, had she not shut my thought processes down…with a kiss.

By date eight, we had forgone the need for meeting in a restaurant or catching a movie, or going to the theater. Instead, Orelline insisted that I come to her place and bring a change of clothes. I would not allow myself to presume what that meant but I secretly prayed that what I thought might happen would indeed happen.

Her text notified me of the key under the mat and when I let myself in, I discovered a trail of rose petals, lit by a row of candles that led to her bathroom. I had brought with me a bottle of champagne to help ease the pressure of our possible first time together and made a detour to the kitchen in search of glasses.

The bathroom door was slightly ajar so I entered but upon seeing me, Orelline hid her body beneath the suds of her bubble bath.

“I’m sorry,” I said, immediately regretting my intrusion and turning to leave. “I shouldn’t have come in unannounced. I just thought this would be sort of, I don’t know, romantic? It was stupid of me.”

“No, don’t go, it’s sweet, really,” she beamed a smile that seemed forced. “You just startled me, that’s all.

“Look, if you’re not ready for this, if we’re moving too fast, just say so. I can wait until the time is right.”

“No, it’s not that.”

“Then what is it? And please don’t hand me the it’s not you it’s me line. I’d prefer it if you were just honest with me.”

“But it is me,” Orelline confessed. “I’m afraid.”

“You’re afraid? Of what?”

She couldn’t meet my eyes. “I’m afraid that if we make love, your opinion of my supposed beauty will change drastically.”

I studied her face and the peaches and cream flesh of her exposed arms and answered, “I can’t imagine a scenario in which that would be even remotely possible.”

She exhaled slowly and stood up in the bathtub. The soap suds slid down her glistening body, revealing the fact that every inch of her skin that her clothing normally covered was a labyrinthine knotwork of scars.

“I’m into a particular kind of sex,” she said, as the champagne flutes slipped through my fingers.

13 for Halloween: Final Thought (audio)

Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3 * Part 4 * Part 5 * Part 6

Six months. That’s all it took for the world to collapse. Six months after the first demon portal opened and if there was another living human soul left on the planet besides Mitchell Larkin, they’d be living an isolated life within a hidey-hole in the deserted ruins of some city or town, which meant they might as well be on the moon.

But that hadn’t meant Mitchell gave in to defeat, no siree bob. Part of his daily routine, after searching for food and supplies, was to scour all the books on the occult that he was able to scavenge, searching for a way to reverse the damage done by that lunatic couple in the deadly viral video.

He never had much use for religion, never believed in the supernatural, let alone the occult, but now, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more devout man on the face of the Earth, that was if you could have found another man on the face of the Earth.

He managed to survive so long because he barricaded himself inside his heavily fortified house, setting snare traps along the perimeter, and studied the patterns of the demons’ movements and attacks, assessing their strengths and weaknesses. That, and he uncovered a ritual that somehow masked his house from the demons’ senses. The practicing of dark arts went against the principles of his newfound religion, but he was a desperate man working on the fly so he hoped God would realize this and cut him a little slack.

This wasn’t to say that Mitchell was always on the top of his game. There were days that he simply went through the motions, and it was on one of these days that he accidentally stumbled on a possible solution. Within the pages of a book he thumbed through a thousand times, there were details that, when combined with a separate incantation from another book, should theoretically do the trick of exiling those bastard demons from Earth forever.

Mitchell was now a man with a mission. He checked and triple-checked his calculations, made special runs into dangerous territories to secure the items he needed, and prayed that God would look the other way this one last time. The newly converted should have been eligible for a three-strike rule, in his humble opinion, even if this was strike four.

The ritual was dangerous in the extreme, and if Mitchell mucked it up he could wind up pushing daisies, and to be clear, he didn’t want to die, but he couldn’t see any other options at this point.

Pulling off the ritual required knowledge and power. The former Mitchell was sadly lacking being a novice and all. The latter? Well, he just had to hope that the power of his convictions was good enough.

Mitchell created a large circle out of sea salt in the center of the living room floor and inside that circle, he salted the pattern of a pentacle. Dragging a steak knife across his left palm, he squeezed several drops of blood on each of the star’s points. Then he stripped down to his birthday suit, placed a lit white candle anointed in olive oil within the circle at magnetic north, and sat in the middle of the power circle.

Concentrating on the candle flame, Mitchell attempted to clear his mind of all distractions even though the salt was irritating his bare butt. His nervousness showed in the recitation of the rhythmic chant, he was speaking the words too quickly and had to force himself to slow his pace. Yes, time was running out for the human race, but in truth, he had all the time in the world.

He repeated the incantation over and over again, to the point of his throat becoming raw, and he thought he made an error somewhere, mispronounced a word, Latin wasn’t his strong suit, after all, and his confidence was on the verge of faltering…when the air suddenly crackled with charged particles.

Then he felt it, the tingle of the raw power of the earth itself, traveling up his chakras, filling his frame with the awesome energies of nature. For the briefest of moments, Mitchell existed in the sweet spot of existence, breathing in the rarified air of a cosmic entity as his soul made a connection with not only the planet of his birth but the entire universe as well.

And he wasn’t alone. Something tapped the outer fringes of his expanding awareness, a force that was unmistakably feminine. As their essences intermingled, Mitchell discovered her name was Flora when she used to have a physical body. She had been an astral traveler exploring higher planes of existence when the demons feasted on her dormant flesh.

Mitchell’s chanting drew her essence to this spot and as she had a score to settle with the beasties, Flora graciously infused his energies with her own. For a scintilla of a second, Mitchell felt invincible, filled to bursting with power and endless possibilities. Alas and lack, this power brought about its own set of difficulties.

The Mitchell/Flora union caused an energy surge that shattered the magicks which cloaked his home from the demons and, to make matters worse, it served as a beacon, beckoning the interdimensional invaders, challenging them to come. And they came in droves, from every direction, wave after wave.

Flora tried her best to keep the creatures at bay in order to give Mitchell the chance to finish the ritual and send the hellspawn packing back to wherever the hell they came from, but they both knew sure as bread fell butter side down that there was no way in hell that their combined energy was strong enough to see the matter through. And even if they had been able to draw upon more power, neither had the knowledge base to pull off a feat of that magnitude.

In his final act, Mitchell thanked Flora for trying to help and released her energy back into the universe. There was no sense in taking her with him. And when the ravenous demon horde eventually tore through his makeshift security measures and entered the room, an odd thought struck him:

“Will I taste like chicken?”

And that just about does it for the 13 for Halloween series. I want to thank all of you who followed me on this experimental journey. I know I run this phrase into the ground but, it's very much appreciated.
And not only is it Halloween but it also happens to be my birthday, so please feel free to pick up a slice of PumpKill BirthSlay cake (okay, okay, I'm officially laying off the Cryptkeeper puns) on your way to the egress. HAPPY HALLOWEEN, all!

13 for Halloween: Disobedient Iczer (audio)

Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3 * Part 4 * Part 5

Once upon a dimension, there existed four little hellspawns named Qemno, Gatoix, Byanki, and Iczer, and they lived with their mother in the festering pus sac of a decaying creature trapped in the dried magma of the root of a very large bleeder tree.

“Youngling rapscallions,” said Mama Hellspawn one morning, in her guttural native tongue. “This pus sac is devoid of nutrients and so you must go out into the realm and fend for yourselves for a while. You may have noticed portals opening to badlands, stay away from these doorways. Your father entered one and was slaughtered by the beasts called hoo-mans. They are unnatural creatures and must be avoided at all costs.”

“Why?” asked Iczer.

“Because they will put you in a stew and eat you until you are no more,” answered Mama.

“No, Mama, why did we open the doorways to danger?” Iczer clarified.

“The hoo-mans opened the portals…to slay us. Now, run along and feed yourselves but do not become prey. When I have found a new home, I will send for you.” Mama Hellspawn turned to leave, resetting her jaw from conversation mode to evisceration mode in order to hunt and take down a large beast for their new home.

Qemno, Gatoix, and Byanki were obedient hellspawns and did as they were bade, venturing out and using their enhanced sense of smell to detect the scent of victuals and root through the gravepits until they reached pockets of cadaverous dung worms.

But Iczer, the disobedient one, scampered straight to the nearest portal and clambered his way into the badland place his mother called Errth.

But what made these lands bad? Iczer wondered. He encountered several beasts that traveled on all fours just like him. Were these hoo-mans? No, for they were not scary at all. He unhinged his jaw and swallowed them whole for his stomach teeth to gnaw on.

But then, when his belly was slaying the meal inside him, whom should he meet but a hoo-mans! Mama was right, it was frightfully ugly and walked on twos instead of fours.

The hoo-mans ran after Iczer, waving a painstick and screeching something unintelligible. Iczer was most dreadfully frightened; he rushed all over the badlands, for he had forgotten the way back to the portal. He lost one of his legs when it became wedged in a crack in the stone ground and he was forced to detach it to evade capture, and sacrificed an exploding eye which emitted a poisonous gas to choke the hoo-mans.

After losing the hoo-mans, Iczer thought he had gotten away altogether, but he unfortunately ran into a web of some sort and got himself all tangled up.

Iczer gave himself up for lost as more hoo-mans came with their painsticks to kill him, but he remembered Mama showing him how to escape a web, so he wriggled and wriggled just as he had been taught. It was no use, he was still trapped even though he was sure he had done everything the right way.

The hoo-mans beat him with painsticks and he was helpless to defend himself. Iczer shed big tears and let out a wail that only made the hoo-mans beat him harder. They beat him and beat him and when they tired themselves out or lost interest because he was unable to scream anymore, they picked him up within the web, probably to put him in a stew and eat him all up. He would have cried if he had any tears left.

This was the end, he felt it in his three hearts, so he said the only prayer he knew, a youngling’s prayer for safety before hibernation, and tried to be a brave little hellspawn as he gave up his life.

But there was a commotion and he was thrown violently to the ground. All around him the hoo-mans were squealing, squawking and yawping at a decibel that hurt his ears to hear. And they were exploding, spraying liquid everywhere.

Was that what their blood looked like? Iczer wondered. And when the last of them had fallen, the reason for the sudden burst of chaos came into his line of sight…Mama.

“I came as soon as I heard your call,” Mama Hellspawn said, extricating the broodling from the web.

Iczer collapsed into the folds of her being, comforted at first by her cooing. When her tone turned to admonishment, he didn’t care for he was safe within her now, and the world was normal again.

And after she was done reprimanding and punishing him, he would ask her to show him what she had done to the hoo-mans to rescue him because Iczer planned to return to these badlands when he was stronger and make every single creature here pay for their cruelty.

13 for Halloween: Baby’s First Feeding (audio)

Felicia Dunner hated people. Always had. Even as a little girl.

Why? Because people were ineradicably violent, unavailingly vindictive, immeasurably self-righteous, and the list went on. But plants? Oh, with plants she could just sit in their company for hours, enjoying the warm summer nights, breathing in the relaxing scents of honeysuckle and jasmine, plumenia, and gardenias.

Nighttime was always best. When she was young, Felicia would sneak out of the house while the rest of her family was asleep, step into the peaceful hush of her dormant neighborhood, kneel in the rich soil and listen to the gentle and soft evening breeze that rustled the leaves in the trees. And it was on one of those oh so long ago summer nights, when she was fed up with dealing with people, that her lifelong purpose came to her with a clarity she had never experienced before or since.

She studied botany, first on her own, devouring any and every book the library had to offer, then as an elective when it became available in school. Felicia had been blessed with strong analytical, mathematical, and critical thinking skills, and threw herself into the fields of botany, plant science, and biology to earn her doctoral degree.

A sizeable grant aided her in setting up a research facility deep within the Amazon Rainforest under the guise of discovering a plant-based cure for cancer. In reality, Felicia’s goal was to transcend the trappings of matter and biochemical pathways in order to twist evolution by stripping two disparate species and braiding them into a new, better, and stronger whole. If successful, the homo sapiens would experience the slow fade of an endangered species and give way to plantae sapiens, a race of human plants.

During her college years, she dated voraciously. Those who were narrow-minded and envious of her accomplishments branded Felicia as promiscuous, while those who sought to know her better thought she was coming out of her shell, stepping outside her comfort zone. Little did either faction know that she was collecting samples. Enzymes and plasmids were needed to help fuel her gene splicing and cloning experiments, so she compartmentalized her disdain for human contact and cast a wide net into the dating pool, male and female alike. To her, flesh was flesh, and as she was asexual and only interested in collecting raw genetic materials, she was immune to the preference of one gender over the other.

Felicia was plagued with failure upon failure, approaching her experiments from the standard cloning procedures of taking the plant-human spliced DNA and preparing an egg cell, inserting somatic cell material, convincing the egg that it was fertilized, and implanting it into an artificial womb. And it wasn’t until she had exhausted all of her genetic materials that she realized her error and cursed her meat-based brain. She was approaching the matter all wrong, thinking like a human.

Her misanthropic manner eventually drove away all her assistants so Felicia was forced to use samples cultivated from her own body, and instead of creating a replica of a human egg, she created a plant-like seed the size of a peach pit.

Felicia placed the seed in a container filled with a solution infused with human and plant enzymes and stored it in a dark place at room temperature for twelve hours to let the seed soak and initiate the germination process.

Failure.

Then she tried sowing the seed in quality soil with a sterile, seed-starting mix, planting it at the proper depth according to her calculations. She watered it wisely, maintaining consistent moisture, kept the soil warm, fertilizing, giving the seed enough light, and circulated the air.

Again, failure.

Giving up was never an option, but Felicia couldn’t deny she was balancing on the precipice of admitting the futility of her efforts, when, out of the blue, a thought struck her. Had she been planting the seed in the wrong soil? It had been nutrient-rich, to be sure, but perhaps it was missing that certain something, that bit of magic that existed in the blindspot of her prejudice. A human variable.

Hoping against hope, Felicia extracted the seed from the soil, rinsed and drained it, and then replanted it in the richest soil she possessed. With equal amounts of care and effort, she placed this unique seed, neither fully plant nor human, deep within her lady garden. She knew full well the dangers of retaining foreign objects in the uterus: infection and purulent malodorous discharge, granulation tissue formation leading to adhesions, and fibrosis, but she was desperate.

At first, she thought she was facing yet another failure but a missed period and tender, swollen breasts clued Felicia in that she was finally on the right track. All the other symptoms soon followed: nausea, but thankfully no vomiting, only dry heaving, increased urination, fatigue, light spotting, cramping, bloating, and constipation. Also, her sense of smell and taste became heightened and she was experiencing abdominal twinges, the sensation of her stomach muscles being pulled and stretched. All this occurred within the first three days.

Felicia’s stomach became upset on day four, as if her digestive system was in turmoil, swelling like a tidal wave before gradually subsiding. On day five, she awoke to a dull ache in her back and lower abdomen and there was a pressure in her pelvis that was indescribable, accompanied by strong waves that felt like diarrhea cramps. They couldn’t have been labor contractions, it was far too soon, and it hadn’t matched with any of her calculations!

Despite that fact, there was a pounding in her uterus and a wrenching intestinal cramping that felt like severe gas pains and just when it felt like she was about to pass out, her entire body was flooded with numbness. Felicia was aware of anesthetics that existed in nature. Was the seed releasing eugenol to numb her nerves?

Reclining on a makeshift examination table, she watched in absolute calmness as if detached from her physical body, as thin tentacle-like vines pushed their way free of her lady garden, extending, probing her thighs and calves until they located her ankles. Snaking around the bone just above her feet, the vines slowly drew her legs close. Felicia could feel her baby shift and move, it was extricating itself, pulling itself free from her womb, in essence, birthing itself.

Once breached, the vines released her ankles, leaving nasty welts, and crawled up to her belly, using its tentacle appendages as legs. Felicia cupped the leafy infant in her hands. It was so light yet so firm and it radiated such heat. She tickled the bulb of its head on some sort of motherly instinct and the petals began to unfurl to reveal the humanish face within that bore a resemblance to pictures of herself as a child if she had been made of foliage.

Felicia bore her breast and placed her baby’s lips to her nipple. This was indeed a product of her loins, her experimental hybrid baby was a flaming success, the next step in evolution, and yes, it would replace humankind but not in the way that the botanist had envisioned. Homo sapiens would become an endangered species because her progeny was a creation born not with the need for mother’s milk, but with the taste for human flesh, and she had no other choice than to see that her baby was properly fed.

13 for Halloween: Helpless Beauty (audio)

Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3 * Part 4

A fortnight after the news reported the first interdimensional portal opening, Campbell stepped out of a gutted convenience store with several tin cans missing labels, a few jars of baby food, and a couple of packets of smashed ramen in his backpack. It was the first find in the seven stores he visited and while it wouldn’t have passed as fine dining, it was a damn sight better than the zero food in his apartment.

The main avenue outside looked like the aftermath of a demolition derby, abandoned cars smashed into one another in the street and on the sidewalk for more than three blocks. It was eerily quiet, especially for the city midday, and the air stank of insect musk and mildew. Soot-laden clouds hung so low a person could stand on the roof of a building, reach out a hand, and touch their underbelly as they drifted past.

He was about to head off in a different direction to try another store when he spotted a woman standing in the intersection, naked and alone, shivering in the ninety-degree heat. Campbell stopped dead in his tracks and rubbed his eyes almost like a cartoon character trying to clear a mirage from his vision. Head on a swivel, he looked around for any sign of demon threat and when he found none, against every ounce of common sense in his possession, he approached her.

Campbell made a throat-clearing sound and it startled the woman as if she hadn’t noticed him although she was looking directly at him as he approached.

“Don’t worry,” Campbell put his hands out. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“…hurt you…” the shivering woman said. Her quavering voice was an octave higher than his but still on the husky side, and she spoke in an accent that he couldn’t quite place.

“Now, I know how this looks,” Campbell said as he set his backpack down and began unbuttoning his shirt. “But I assure you I’m not that kind of guy, okay? You just look like you need help.”

“…need help…” the woman repeated. She wrapped her arms across her bare breasts.

Campbell held his shirt out. “Here, take this.”

The woman said, “…take this…” but stood motionless, paying no regard to the shirt at all.

Poor thing must be in shock, Campbell thought, or maybe she didn’t understand English, the way she kept parroting the last words he spoke.

Holding his shirt out like a muleta, Campbell approached the woman slowly like a timid matador and made the shushing noise parents used to calm newborns. She remained stock-still as he maneuvered behind her and draped the shirt over her shoulders, but shied away when he tried to adjust it for a better fit.

“Okay, no touching,” Campbell said, backing off. “Understood. It’s all good.”

“…all good…”

“Are you all right?” asked Campbell, moving back into her line of sight. “What happened to you? Are you alone? Where do you live?”

“…you live…”

“Okay, too many questions at one time. How about this, are you hungry?” Campbell mimed putting food in his mouth and chewing.

“…hungry…”

Scooping up the backpack, he opened it and pointed at the tin cans and ramen. “Food.”

“…food…”

“That’s right, food, eat food, but we can’t eat here, we have to go someplace safe. I live nearby…”

“…near by…”

“I’ll share it with you but you have to come with me back to my apartment.”

“…apart ment…”

Campbell sighed. He wasn’t sure how much of what he said had actually gotten through but too much time was spent standing out in the open in this one spot and he was beginning to get nervous. And if he was being totally honest with himself, he had never been comfortable with his body and he was now shirtless in front of a beautiful woman. Yes, even though she was covered in grime, there was no denying how breathtakingly beautiful she was.

That wasn’t the reason he stopped to help her, he told himself, and almost believed it to be true.

Slipping the pack on his bare back, Campbell gestured for the woman to follow him before he turned and walked away. If she did, fine, and if not, then he tried, but he wasn’t about to risk burning any more sunlight out in the open. He hadn’t looked to see if she was following because if she wasn’t he’d be more depressed than he was willing to admit, but he did walk at a much slower pace than normal, just in case.

Remarkably, there was almost a peaceful quality to the city today, no roaming packs of either demons or human scavengers. All things considered, it was a good day in the apocalypse. And it just kept getting better because when he reached his apartment building, the woman was ten paces behind, walking with an unusual gait. He hadn’t lost her or his lucky shirt.

I’ll check her for injuries once we’re safely upstairs, Campbell thought, because the woman walked with an unusual gait, which made the climb up the stairwell time-consuming. When they eventually made it inside the apartment, the sun was beginning to set and the power had gone out eight days ago, so the first task was to light a few candles.

He silently cursed himself for not thinking to look for more candles when he was out. Sure, he had enough votives to last a few nights but having extra certainly wouldn’t hurt. He was going to have to learn to start making lists before going out to forage for supplies, especially now that he’d be providing for two.

He offered the woman a seat several times while he was darting around trying to tidy the messy apartment up but she continued to stand by the front door, shivering.

When his place was as clean as it was going to get at the moment, Campbell ducked into the kitchen to fetch a bowl which he filled with distilled water from a plastic jug. The building still had running water but the pressure was so low as to be nonexistent. He added a few drops of dishwashing liquid and gave it a quick stir with his index finger to kick up some soap bubbles.

Snatching a mostly clean tea towel off the rack, he set it along with the bowl on the foyer table near the woman.

“Get yourself cleaned up,” he said. “I’ll rustle up something for you to wear.”

“…to wear…” the woman said but paid no attention to the water or cloth.

“Look, you’re gonna have to get that gunk off you if you wanna stay here…”

“…stay here…”

With a huff of exasperation, Campbell took up the tea towel, dipped it in the sudsy water, and attempted to wipe the schmutz off her face, which up close was even more beautiful, almost unreal, like an oil painting.

The woman twitched and from somewhere inside the apartment came a scrabbling noise, which made his hand jerk and touch her face. A faultline appeared where the cloth made contact and divided her features. He gasped and took a step back as the crack in her face traveled down her body. She was being torn apart!

Campbell’s mind clutched at the straw of reason, explanation, anything that could have made even the tiniest bit of sense out of what he was seeing. The first thing to come to mind was that a creature had somehow burrowed its way beneath her skin and now it was eating its way out but as he watched the way her body segmented itself and rearranged the parts in a way that defied the laws of biology, he saw that she wasn’t being eaten alive. Something unholy and unnatural was unfolding from within her.

All too late he pieced the clues together. Of course, she was too beautiful to be real because it was a clever disguise, a camouflage used to lure in dumb human apes, the way certain animals and insects disguised themselves to fool predators or attract prey. She wasn’t shivering because she was cold, it was struggling to keep itself compressed within the bits of its carapace that resembled a human woman when pressed together in the proper formation. And its voice, that sounded oddly familiar now that he thought of it, was his own parroted back at him at a higher pitch.

What a complete and utter fool he was, thinking that rescuing a helpless beauty would put an end to his loneliness when all it actually did was end his life.

13 for Halloween: Better Left Unasked (audio)

“I don’t believe you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your husband just walked past us looking like he stepped out of an abattoir, which isn’t exactly a normal look for an accountant, and you don’t seem fazed by it at all.”

“Well, it’s not the first time.”

“What?”

“Lately, Hughie’s been coming home bloody every night.”

“And you never thought to ask him why? Or what’s going on in his life?”

“No. My mother taught me early on that sometimes the secret to happiness is figuring out which questions you’re better off not knowing the answers to.”

Consider this light fare a palate cleanser from yesterday’s post while I concoct tomorrow’s entry.

13 for Halloween: Unplanned Cesarean (audio)

Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3

Certain truths take a while to be accepted as fact. The world going to hell was the latest example of this, and unfortunately for the human race, most likely the final time it would happen because, by the time the populace at large began taking the news seriously, it was already far too late.

When media outlets first began reporting that the viral internet video which led to the Presidential Internet Shutdown was responsible for opening interdimensional portals all across the globe, allowing demonic creatures to invade the Earth, it was easy to see how the news could have been ignored. It sounded like a prank on the scale of the Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio scare. But the portals would continue to appear until it was no longer possible to ignore.

Those who had never been in the presence of pure evil before soon discovered it to be a palpable sensation that overwhelmed all the senses because its very nature was too raw for the sane mind to handle. That was the scene in the Corbyn household. As the other residents of the Notre Villa Cooperative fled the city in search of a safe haven, Barnaby Corbyn was boiling hot water and fetching towels for his wife, Margot, who was in labor.

Out of his depth, the poor man tried contacting his wife’s doctor, the hospital, the ambulance service, and even the police, but none of the calls were able to get through because there was no longer a dial tone on their landline or signal on either of their mobile phones.

Normally, Barnaby was not a man who was good in a crisis and knew absolutely nothing about delivering a baby, but needs must when the Devil drives, so he intended to follow his instincts and do his level best, which included keeping Margot calm despite the oppressive tension that filled the bedroom. He soon discovered that his level best would prove insufficient to the task at hand when he caught an unnatural movement out of the corner of his eye.

His legs buckled as he staggered toward the bed. At first, what he saw had not made a bit of sense. Margot had gone limp suddenly during her patterned breathing, her face taking on a deathlike pallor, and pushing its way free of her pregnant stomach was what appeared to be a tiny obsidian hand.

A shriek that had never been issued from a human, let alone a man of his stature, escaped Barnaby as fingernails sharpened to scalpel points slowly and deliberately scratched at his wife’s bloody belly flesh. Instinctively, he covered his mouth, attempting to choke back the bile rising in his throat at the same time as he was screaming.

Sanity slowly leaked from Barnaby’s ears as the realization dawned on him that one of those interdimensional demon portals had opened in the last place anyone could have expected…inside Margot’s womb.

13 for Halloween: Homeless (audio)

Part 1 * Part 2

I don’t dream. I never have. Dreams are reserved for people who are asleep. Me? I’m what they call a true illuminate because I can transcend into a higher state of consciousness, beyond the realm of mere dreams. When my physical body is at rest, recharging, I enter into a state of intensified wakefulness and the universe becomes a playground for my astral form.

Sometimes I travel with purpose, to view the birth of a star, or bear silent witness to the death of a solar system. Other times I drift aimlessly in the cosmos and ruminate on the miracle of existence. Then there are times when I’m caught in the undercurrent of an event that exists in defiance of the natural order and chaos of reality.

Tonight, it’s the latter.

I’m being drawn against my will to a bedroom, where a naked couple performs some sort of, I don’t know, ritual? that can only remotely be considered sex by a raving lunatic. The sounds of their ecstasy? lament? fill the air as their bodies bend, twist and contort in ways the human form isn’t designed for, even if they happen to be triple jointed. They both move in a feverish and jerky fashion, attempting to slot themselves together, like two shifting pieces of an ever-changing puzzle, until the man’s mangled body finally forms the proper key to tumble the lock of the woman’s hideously misshapen physique.

There’s a sound unlike anything I’m ever heard and suddenly a patch of reality behind the deformed mass of the couple segments horizontally and lifts like a venetian blind being drawn. I can’t be sure, but I think they somehow managed to open a door to another dimension? plane of existence? and now shapes are moving in the reality rift, clawing their way through the opening.

I try to move closer in order to get a better look, tamping down my fear of the unknown because in my astral form whatever they are can’t hurt me. And just as the lead figure is about to come into view, I’m being pulled away, snapping back to my physical body, by a force stronger than the one that brought me here. On the way I see things, brittle and broken images of horrible events happening all over the world, racing past me at subliminal speeds…before I come to a complete halt.

It takes a moment for me to realize that I’m back where I started from, the spot I chose to rest, at the treeline of the forest behind my house. But something’s wrong. I hear noises coming from within the forest, unnatural sounds trying to mask themselves within the hum of nature. My senses are sharper during intensified wakefulness and I can feel them, lurking in the field of trees, cloaked by the shadows of the night, moving stealthily toward my sleeping body.

I force myself to remain calm. I still have time to slip back into my body, wake myself up and make it back to the house before whatever’s coming can reach me. The process of slipping back into my physicality is so simple…

No! It’s impossible!

I didn’t spend that much time away from my body. I’ve traveled longer distances and remained out until the crack of dawn with no problem plenty of times before.

My attention snaps back to the treeline. They’re braver now, all the stealthiness abandoned as they crawl out from the cover of the trees. And I see them for the first time, these things, like creatures out of a nightmare. I scream to draw their attention but they can’t hear me.

The inhuman beasts surround my defenseless outer casing. I try again to reenter my framework, but for some reason, maybe I was away too long, I’m now locked out of my own body. But I don’t give up. I lunge at them, swing my fists and try to kick them, which is about as effective as fighting air. So, I float, helpless to stop them, and all I can do is watch and cry as they tear the flesh from my bones and savagely devour my anatomy.

I once felt superior to everyone else. having the universe to explore, but now all I feel is homeless and alone, and I’m terrified because I’m not sure how long I can survive without the physical body that served as my anchor.

13 for Halloween: Sebaceous Splendors (audio)

I run a shoppe on the High Street, a tiny place that has a terrible word of mouth reputation, primarily for the produce I sell.

In my shop, Sebaceous Splendors, you can find the finest cuts of skin, the purest jars of blood, and the cleanest bones on the continent. Looking for a body part? Come to Sebaceous. Need a fresh organ to grind? Sebaceous has you covered. And where do you go when your sinew and tendons run low? You guessed it: Sebaceous.

In the cold light of day, townsfolk would not be caught dead entering my establishment, which is why I switched to night hours.

Under the cloak of twilight, as the rest of the village sleeps, slippered feet shuffle across cobblestones and slink into my shoppe. The shadowed alleyways surrounding my business are choked with clientele awaiting their turn to dash in and purchase a bit of the abnormal, either for spells and enchantment or to satisfy an unnatural appetite. I cast no aspersions. I sell what I sell. What you do with it is your own affair.

Not all who visit are right-minded, as one might surmise. Some syphilitic fingersmiths seek to cheat me of my efforts by attempting to nick a spleen or appendix and make a mad dash for it, which is why I purchased a NeverEver dog, so named because if one ever sank its five rows of teeth into you, you would never commit that or any crime ever again.

So, the next time you have a craving for something that cannot be procured at your local mart or need to bind someone to you, heart and soul, for all eternity, consider dropping by Sebaceous Splendors, open Midnight to Dawn, with nightly Hour of the Wolf specials!