Full Bloom

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Photo credit: Flickr

Toss that rouge. And don’t even think of spreading that magenta gloss. I’m a Crazed Comedia, Louis Vitton kind of girl. The others try and copy my slide. Everybody wants to be the leather queen rocking those Wang spikes. But there’s only enough room on the throne for one queen. And that’s me.

Hand on cocked hip, lips pursed, mane slicked back. That gorgeous Swayze with the chestnut curls and jawline for days blows my name in the microphone. “Angel McVey.” The only name the viewers will remember after tonight is the big A-M. Baby Vey was bringing it to the floor.

Glitz and glam, carmine and lavender, nobody does it better. I strut across the catwalk in my glimmering 6-inch Wangs and charcoal skirt. The men watch, hands bouncing in their tight slacks, as my caramel legs traipse the stage. The young Pitt blows me a kiss – the signal – and my little earpiece hums to life.

You can bury me in glitter and Versace, manicure these nails, prop me up on a cum-stained pedestal and call it pornography, but you’ll never have the empress you imagined. My voice ruins me. No matter how much lace I wear, it’s always there to bring me back to Earth. “Ladies and Gents,” I speak into the bedazzled microphone, “that excludes tonight’s show. You’ve seen our queens and kings, princes and princesses. And you’ve seen the muses.” A caterwauling group of teenaged boys – far younger than the minimum age requirement, but, hey, Mama don’t judge – lick the pit between their index and middle fingers. As if they had eaten a pussy before. What amateurs. “Return tomorrow night for the debut of Starlet Kix, fresh from her slick spaceship!” I almost vomit from the plug – who wants to see that over-produced tramp? Not this queen. I hand the mic back to Swayze and storm behind the curtain.

“What the hell was that, Angel?” Curt was looking mighty fine in a sequined blazer, I’ll admit it, but the man had a few things he should have learned before purchasing Night Owl.

I scrub the mirror clean with my palm and remove the crystal earrings. “Come on, babe. You know this bitch don’t do no promotion for fresh faces.” Unbuttoning the dress reveals my chiseled chest and black fuzz. In an instant, I turned from full-blown goddess to simple otter. The transformation disgusts me. “You can’t expect me to give you a spectacular performance by pinning me with Scarlet Snowflake, anyway,” I admit. “That girl is out for my crown, and you know it. Has been since day one.”

All Curt can do is drop his head in agitation. He’d do anything to promote another queen from under me, kicking me out the door, but with a brain like this goddess it’ll take more than he can ever throw. I ain’t one to indulge in mind games. You get what your green dollar pays for. “Fine,” he huffs, heading out of the dressing room. “Oh, and Dalon is here. Figured I’d let you know.”

Dalon. Mother fucking Dalon Arneecher. Just thinking his name makes me want to scribble obscenities on the mirror and go total psycho on his lying ass. “When the hell did he get here? He watched the show?” But Curt was already gone. He had other queens to tend to, after all. This babe didn’t need no help, that’s for sure. I can handle my own clasps, thank you very much.

Then there’s the smell. The stench of sex and honey. Gut-wrenching. It was his favorite cologne; it was the one I emptied in the driver’s seat of his Mercedes. It’s surprising he’s still wearing the disgusting poison. “Dalon, get your ass from behind that door. If you don’t, I’ll send this heel into your chest like last time.” I wipe eyeshadow and concealer off with a purple wet cloth. Every scrub revived a red canvas of blemishes and pimples.

Dalon shyly entered the room. He’s changed his hair. His dreads were replaced with a clean-cut fade. “Hey, Eddie.” His short-winded quietness catches me off guard. “Got a second?” As if I’m willing to devote an abandoned second on this asshole.

“I don’t got nothing to say to you, boy. Move along.” His sheepish smile reminds me of why I loved him to begin with. Every moment with him felt pure and undisturbed. That is, until I caught him with two other women. “Go on.”

“Is it Ashley or Eddie?” His dark eyes melt me. “Please, it’ll only take a second. Then I’ll be out of your life forever.”

“You’ve got two words. That’s it.”

He drops his head in his hands and cries. I dated the man for five years and never saw him cry like this. “I’m done.” The voice cracked and strained against the sobs. He looked me in the face, his eyes crimson and his cheeks pulsing. “I’m dying, Ed.”

“What the fuck are you talking about? Don’t you be playing those games.” My tone is soft despite my wanting to hate his ugly, crying face. Damn these sympathetic genes my dad gave me.

He sat on a metal chair at another makeup station, collapsed is the better word. “AIDS.” It was all he had to say to get me out of my perch to embrace him. “My life is ruined. I fucked up, Eddie. I fucked it all up.”

This man, the one I swore was the love of my life when I left home at seventeen, was falling apart in my arms. Dalon’s tears drip down my chest. The news leaves me stuck; for once in my life I don’t say a thing. No sexist quip, no apologies, nothing. At last, the queen is without her greatest weapon.

“I didn’t contract it from Eidan, either.” He sniffled. “I needed a blood transfusion after I…” Another sniffle. “I tried to end things, and I can’t afford no fancy hospital.” He trembles in my arms.

I take a deep breath, my nose buried in his hair. I breathe in that shitty cologne and two-dollar bathing soap. He must have scrubbed himself raw in the shower before coming to see me. He feels disgusting, polluted, but no amount of alcohol and perfume will cleanse him of his affliction. I know this because I felt the same when the doctor told me I was poz.

Nothing I can do will make him feel totally clean again. There will always be that lingering thought of how disgusted his friends and family would be if they ever discovered. That sense of potential abandonment is what earned me the lines on my thigh – I still carry the razor in my wallet. But I don’t tell him of any of this.

Instead, I hand him some gloss and a swift pat on the back. “As of tonight, you’re no longer Dalon Arneecher. A queen has been born, and her name is Lily Fierce.” He looks at me puzzled. “Just trust me, babe. You got this.” We sit up and I begin spreading concealer against his chapped face. I repeat my momma’s words. “Toss that rouge, baby. Fuck that magenta. Tonight, you’ll be Comedia, rocking that Vitton. Tonight, the throne is yours.” I pop his collar and add some more concealer against his unshaven neck. “Every wilted flower can bloom, baby. All it needs is some water and love.”

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Inheritance

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Photo credit: Dave Winer

While Beatrice enjoyed living in an upscale apartment in the heart of New York and loved her large paychecks from Crown Plow Inc., there were just too many people. She could give presentations to teams of superiors detailing a new marketing strategy she had developed – dozens of old, white men packed in a cramped cubicle – but put her on a similarly dense sidewalk, clopping past mustache machos and Vera Wang’s, and she loses it. Crumbles.

That’s why she tried talking herself out of going to the reading of her grandfather’s will. Or maybe it was simply that Beatrice didn’t feel like seeing those two-faced, overweight relatives of hers. She can picture them all crying, saying how sorry they were for losing such a great man, all the while eyeing a fresh plate of bruschetta and other treats her chef sister, Balie, whipped up. They say they’re there to celebrate the life of an old man, but they’re infinitely more intrigued with the passing of his $30 million estate and the award-winning hors d’oeuvres.

“You’ve got to come, Bea.” When Balie heard the news of their grandfather’s death, she was in the middle of a signing in Chicago. The second edition of her cookbook was earning her millions. “He would have wanted you there.”

Beatrice held the phone with her shoulder as she entered her apartment. The cat had made a mess with the lily bouquet her mother had sent her for her birthday. She seethed with irritation, but patted the damned cat anyway. “I’m drowning in work, Balie. And besides, he and I haven’t talked since I was a little girl. At Aunt Della’s wedding, remember?”

“I know how that feels, but it can wait until you get in Sunday, can’t it?”

“George is expecting a full report by 8am Monday.”

Balie breathed into the phone. “Beatrice.”

“I’m sorry, but I just can’t right now.”

“For somebody who hardly knew you, you’re sure getting off alright.” Now they shared irritation. “He’s leaving you his farm, Beatrice.”

The admission made Beatrice choke on her wine. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope. That’s why you’ve got to come. Mom wanted to wait to tell you herself, but you know…”

She was shocked at the news. She had no contact whatsoever with the old man for nearly twenty years, and he decides to leave her ownership of his huge ranch? “Why would he do that? I’m not even his biological granddaughter. I’m adopted for Christ’s sake.” She chewed on a cheesy cracker. “Do you know what he left you?”

“I got his cabin in Wisconsin and some other things. So does this mean you’ll come?”

“I guess I can send an email to George…”

“Good girl. Listen, I have to go. Steve’s home. Love ya.”

Beatrice sat the cracker platter on the coffee table and flipped on the news. She drifted off on the sofa wondering what the hell she was going to do with a big ass farm in Pennsylvania.

#

“Honey!” A woman of about sixty, adorned with knock-off jewelry and White Diamond perfume clutched Beatrice, crushing her against two big pearl necklaces.

Forcing a smile, Beatrice said, “Hi, Mom. I’m sorry about Grandfather.”

Her mother joined her in a guest room upstairs. It was the only quiet place in the Victorian manor. “You must not have heard.” She watched as Beatrice’s face went to strained sorrow to white-washed confusion. “Honey, you’re grandfather’s death was no accident, and I’ll leave it at that.”

“Somebody…?”

She nodded. “It was a travesty. All over the news. But it’s too much for these Christian lips to mutter.” Her mother closed and locked the door, bringing a finger to her mouth, waiting for some distant relatives to pass. She resumed. “Now Balie told me that you already know about your inheritance.”

Beatrice cocked her head and smirked. “Mom, what’s wrong? You’re acting weird. Val didn’t slip you some of his Liquid Surprise, did he? Because, you know that’s just butterscotch and tequila, right?”

“No, no, no. Hush, baby. You have to listen.” She handed Beatrice a rubberstamped note. It had yellowed with time. “He and I both decided it was best to have you as the keeper of our secrets. Not even Balie knows of this, so you can’t say anything. Hear me?”

Beatrice figured the tequila got the best of her mother. “Sure, Mom.” She couldn’t take the woman seriously. Secrets? The only secrets they cared to keep were the family recipes and the fact that sometimes they skipped Sunday sermons to drink soda on the coast. They were such sinners. Rebels.

“I need you to leave here now and go to the farm. Don’t open the letter until you get there. Promise me.” The woman revealed in her mother’s eyes was not one with which Beatrice was familiar. This was a seriously ill lady who needed some professional attention. “Beatrice, promise me.”

Regardless of the lunacy of the case, Beatrice enjoyed the thought of escaping all the madness. “Fine, I will. It’s right off Milwey and next to the old food warehouse, right?”

Her mother yanked her arm, her sharp magenta nails drawing blood. “Heavens, no! Honey, it’s not that farm. I’m talking about the one just about thirty minute’s hike from this manor, maybe less if you walk fast.” Her face was flushed, nostrils flared. “It’ll all be explained. Just go. Don’t tell anybody. Hurry.

Beatrice was out of the house in a split second, evading Balie and the others with ease. They didn’t act like they cared at all that she had left. The fresh air lifted her spirits, which she desperately needed after the strange encounter with her mother. She made a point to inform Balie of everything when she got back. She was not one to keep secrets of any kind.

The fresh autumn breeze made the hike easy in black leggings and tennis shoes. Beatrice was relieved to have decided against the heels and skirt for the reunion. The last thing she wanted was to draw suspicion for her fancy dressing – the family had a disliking towards anybody who displayed their wealth so nonchalantly. But it meant everything that the lower-class relatives appeared financially comfortable. It was just a big sham.

Sure enough, there was a farm about two miles from the mansion. At least there used to be one. All that remained on the parched earth was a metal silo behind a bent, barbed wire fence. The silo had been refashioned into a larger structure, complete with a power generator and a door.

“Okay, Grandfather. What did you have to tell me?” She whispered, ripping the letter’s black seal. The seal was etched with a wingless bird. It was almost dinosaur-like upon first glance.

From the envelope, she found a tarnished, double-sided key and a note. While the letterhead consisted of strange symbols Beatrice had never seen before, the message was very clear: You know what to do.

Only she didn’t. Sure, she knew the key unlocked the silo, but what then? “I really should have stayed home. I’ve got a bunch of crazy fucks for family,” she mumbled quietly before popping the key in the padlock on the silo door. After a few twists, the lock fell and the door slowly waved open. The beastly creak echoed throughout the chamber and gave Beatrice a bad taste in her mouth.

The smell was foul, unlike anything Beatrice had ever experienced. She flicked the light switch by the door, and the inside of the silo was illuminated. But she didn’t find grain.

The silo was hollow save for a spiraling, wire staircase that went all the way to the top. Hundreds of savagely torn corpses, if not thousands, were stretched along the wall, some overlapping others, kept dangling on hay hooks molded to the inside. The floor was a toxic blood mire. Beatrice fell to her knees at the sight, horrified, tears streaming her face. She tried to scream, but nothing came out but a series of suffocated gasps.

Then she noticed a hatch leading underground, kept shut by another padlock, this one sporting the same strange wingless bird on the rubberstamp. Beatrice looked at the other side of the key and back to the hatch. She was paralyzed, unfazed by the pungent odor of decaying bodies. There was no way she was opening that hatch – for all she knew it was a portal to Hell.

Beatrice could not begin to understand what she was seeing. Every corpse was ripped in a similar fashion, and the longer she looked, she realized the bodies made a pattern just like the one on the letterhead of the note.

“Now you know.” Her mother came up behind and spooked her, the silo amplifying her scream. She fell and sobbed under her mother’s forceful grasp. Her nails sunk into Beatrice’s shoulders. “Now you know your grandfather was an artist. There’s no doubt he was troubled, but sometimes I find myself sitting right here where you are, just marveling.” Her voice smelled of stale Sulphur.

Beatrice was still speechless, fighting against the woman’s tight embrace. She just wanted to go back to her apartment in New York, back to her boring life at the firm, back to her mischievous cat.

“But I’m afraid this is not the secret I was talking about.” She pointed at the hatch. “In there. Go on.” The woman picked Beatrice up and pulled her towards the hatch. No matter how hard she kicked and screamed Beatrice could not get her to stop. The once frail sixty-something had found the strength of an athlete in an hour’s time.

“Mom, stop! Please just stop!” She was covered in the bloody mixture, it burned her skin and ate holes in her clothes. “Momma!”

The woman grunted and cackled menacingly. “Don’t you see, Beatrice. He chose you. From the very start.” She dropped Beatrice for a second to unlock the hatch. It wasn’t long enough for Beatrice to regain balance. “It’s why we adopted you. You’re the chosen one, baby.” Then: “You’re the one who will bring the Forgotten back to our realm.”

“Mom, stop!” She kicked the old lady and clawed at her face, allowing her ample time to get to her feet and sprint out of the silo. She jumped over the barbed wire fence, and darted for the manor. She saw Balie and her brother Brandon off in the far reach of the field. “Guys!” She caught up to them. “Please, call the police.” Balie was holding her phone, searching for a signal, while Brandon grasped a slugger.

Balie was dumbstruck. “What the fuck happened to you, Bea?” She hugged her sister. “Mom told me and Brandon to follow her out here, but we lost her. Did you see her? Is she okay?”

“We’ve got to get out of here.” Beatrice was crazed. Her heart was beating in her throat. She turned to her brother, forcing herself to speak between cries. “Brandon, something’s wrong with Mom. We have to get the police.”

Balie tugged at Beatrice. “Come on, Bea. I don’t have cell signal out here, so we need to go back to the –” A sharp blast whizzed past and struck Balie. The blood blinded Beatrice as her faceless sister was flung to the ground. Lifeless in an instant.

Suddenly Brandon cracked the slugger against Beatrice’s knee. He was dragging her by her hair back to the silo before she had chance to scream.

“I got her, Momma.” Brandon tossed Beatrice to the ground, who was wide-eyed with shock and fear. He flung off a fistful of hair that had laced around his fingers. “Val got Balie.” He didn’t sound disappointed.

“Such a shame about Balie. She had a bright future, but if Val felt it was necessary then I won’t argue.” She gestured toward the hatch. “Now throw her in, Brandon, so we can begin the ritual. Your grandmother is decidedly hungry.”

Man Seeking Monster

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Photo credit: Flickr
The shop is closed, has been for three decades, but he knocks anyway. Four heavy thumps nearly tear the flimsy screen door off its hinges. The taps disturb the awkward stillness in the old building, rattling the dust mites off cracked neon wall trim and warped tables. Fried Frieda and her ceramic pal Burger Bob haven’t seen this much traffic in the thirty-two years since the restaurant’s closing.

“Knock, knock,” the man huffs, “anybody here?” He taps again.

A glass hula-hooping figurine falls off its wooden pedestal, shattering in pieces on the checkerboard tile. Another would topple the whole six-foot shelf. “Who are ya?” I ask, my fingers tracing a heart with a smiley face on a dirty mirror.

“I was told to meet somebody here. Uhh… A Mr. Hayes?” That name I haven’t heard in forever. I need to update my profile.

Clearing my throat, I say, “Yeah, hold on a sec.” Through chapped, barred windows I can only make out the man’s silhouette. I walk the trail of broken plates and lightbulbs over to the door. “You know, from the stats you gave me on Facebook, I pictured you to be a smidge larger.”

“You won’t be disappointed.”

I unlock the door to face a husky, the total package. His legs were the size of tree trunks, and he could put an entire buffet bar across those broad shoulders. Sure, his acne scars and lazy eye would keep him from winning an award for most attractive assailant, and his being on the short side – 5’9” probably – but that didn’t matter much in the long run.

Our handshake seems to last hours. At this point, I would not be surprised if I didn’t have an unbroken bone left in my limp hand. His eyes were cold silver, and his black hair shined in the cloudy sunset. “You must be Dawson.”

“I got your payment safe and sound.” We take a seat inside on a couple barstools, and I’m surprised he doesn’t fall through the shitty thing.

“I’d give you a drink, but I’m afraid all I have to offer is some warm piss.” Small talk is not my strong suit. I release an ugly giggle before locking my lips.

He gives me a concerned look and shakes it off. “You know,” he scratches his head, “I don’t usually engage in this sort of thing with my clients. I find it easier to come in, get the job done, clean up, and get out.”

“So you do this often? I figured I was the first.”

Dawson chuckles. “You’d be surprised what people ask for.”

My mouth runs like a river. I can’t stop. “How long have you been doing it?”

“Not for long. About a year.”

“So it pays well, I reckon? I mean, you’re getting $5,000 from me, and that’s just for an evening of fantasy.” Fuck me. These lips need sewn shut.

He evades my question and places his hand on my thigh. Dawson’s warm hands feel like freshly grilled beef patties against my jeans.  “Look, let me grab my bag from my truck, and we’ll get started.” He hands me a black tube. “Usually I add this in secret to my clients’ drinks, but seeing as the only other option you have is a glass of piss, you’ll have to take it straight.” He claps my back. “Drink up.”

It would have tasted better with the piss. The concoction chewed against the back of my throat, lingering there as I gasp and choke. I feel it ooze down my gullet, scorching everything it passes, until dropping into the pit of my stomach. My stomach quickly bloats, and I want to vomit. But that’ll cost extra.

Dense rain drops fall against the tin roof of the rickety restaurant, and if it were different circumstances, I would call it almost romantic. Dawson returns with a plump red bag, his drenched clothes clinging to his sinewy frame.

“So? How was it?” He unzips the bag and places a roll of duct tape and plastic ties on the bar.

I imagine myself sporting that sexy half-grin, all alluring and unfazed, but all I can muster is a sheepish, beaming smile and a runny nose. The only place I can find for my clammy hands is pressed firmly against my crotch. To Dawson, I must look like some hormonal, strung-out youngster; he would not be too far off with that description.  “It was fucking awful, but I downed the thing,” I admit.

Dawson has all his tools lined up on the table. The golden sheen of a machete and glossy surgical tools glisten with every flash of lightning through dusty windows. His duct tape is covered with pink unicorns. At least he has a nice sense of humor.

“You… you drank the whole tube?” Dawson rips a strip of unicorn tape with his teeth and wraps my hands with it.

His words are slurring, my vision fuzzy. “You didn’t tell me not to…?”

He buries his head in his hands. “Shit, man. I’m –” He begins to pace. “Fuck! It hap –”

“Dude, dude, dude, duuuuude, slow the hell down. I can’t make sense of a thing you’re saying.” But from the look on his face, he can’t understand me either.

Suddenly a little clown with donuts for eyes and a wig of bright pink curly fries hops into view. The small guy has been hiding in a pile of ripped magazines all this time. Who would have known? I try to dodge a blue ball he hurls towards me and fall off the bar stool. My tongue turns to cotton as the clown pecks my cheek.

A team of bopping toy soldiers dressed in drag vigorously shakes my head until I see Dawson again. “Mr. Hayes.”

I can’t help but stare at his pink lips. Reminds me of a guy I fucked last Hanukah. We were just about to kiss when he toppled his chardonnay on my lap. I never got that stain out. The memory brings tears to my eyes; I can’t stop laughing.

“Listen to me, Mr. Hayes.”

“It’s Ryan,” I lick his nose. “Baby, why are you still dressed? It’s only fair after I had to take mine off.” I cross my arms around his thick neck and go in for a kiss, but he pulls away. Rude.

Every blink grows heavier and heavier, until at last I drift off to sleep, joining my new friends Elbur the Clown and the toy drag soldiers in the cotton candy bushes.

#

“Shit,” Dawson mutters. His words faintly echo in my head as I drift in and out of consciousness. “He wasn’t supposed to take all that GHB. What an idiot. Or didn’t I tell him?” I feel my wrists and legs tighten together in the duct tape. “Well, a deal’s a deal. The money’s still green.” Then: “Surely it’s not enough to overdose. Surely not. Fuck, I should have asked Ben about the dosage.” A crack of thunder steals the rest of his speech.

Right as I fall to sleep again, he rips my clothes off. My hard dick springs out of its cage like a drooling jack in the box. My paralyzed body and frenzied mind aches for him. I’ve never felt so horny and horrified in my life. It’s a shame I can’t be conscious to experience the evening of brutal pleasure a cold $5,000 bought me.

The next thing I feel is splitting pain in my gut and his calloused hands and tongue raping in my ass. Then he sinks his fangs into my thigh and releases a throaty gurgle. He promised there would be no nasty transformation, but then again he said he was a sexy brunette over six feet tall.

This is not at all romantic as I imagined.

Chasing Shadows, Ch. 4

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I push, but it pushes back harder. Tears chap my face as I run through the jungle, pursued by my demons. I hurriedly dash over frozen leaves and snow piles, barreling over cracked boulders and old stumps. The sense of security I had days prior is reduced to an itching feeling of loneliness and regret. Voices that are not my own quarrel in my head; my mind is a verbal battlefield.

Slow down, baby. You don’t need to run anymore.

My heart thumps in my chest, begging for me to stop. With every step, I wish I am spotted by a Tracker or Ranger fleet – anything to end this convoluted race. I can’t help but think of what happened to the general and the other Renegades, what I did to them. It was unconscionable, savagery. I am a monster.

What is unconscionable is the total lack of Fangclush imperials. Bobby and I encountered dozens just in our short journey to this so-called forgotten realm. “Beyond the Courtshyn Lake, the Sentinel’s blood runs thin,” Aaron told us. If only I could concentrate this telekinetic monstrosity lurking within me toward that man’s scarred forehead – I would rip him to shreds, or do whatever it is that I do. The Renegades mentioned I am called the Nuclear Bitch by the soldiers out of Fort Legacy. Sounds kinky.

It does not take me long to clear the forest, and I’m back at the old field, our safe haven. I return to the old shack’s remains. It was the first thing we saw that reminded us of home. And in a world rife with insanity and violence, we took advantage of what we had.

Even though it feels as though I was running for hours, the amber stain in the sky informs me I only ran a thousand yards or so. In the horizon, above the tree line, I make out the tallest tower at Fort Legacy. The fort was known for its intimidating, barbed peaks.

Something comes back to me as clear as the sparkling ripples dancing upon Courtshyn Lake.

#

“Tell me something…” The lieutenant never seemed tenser. A man in his position should have been overcome with glee, having captured the most wanted criminal in the realm, yet his lips were pursed and his brow pulled together.

A slight beeping comes from a machine behind me. I trace green and yellow cords in the veins in my arm. Mirrors lined the room from wall-to-wall. “What was that?”

“Even in death, you refuse to cooperate.” He chuckled, annoyed. “Do you even know where you are, Lange?”

I mumbled, “Legacy.”

“What’s that?”

“You heard me, dammit.” I spit in his face and writhe against my restraints.

He flashed a look at a monitor and back to the notebook in his hands. “And do you know why you’re here? Let me –”

“I’m here because I killed her. She was dead before she could call her porcelain goons.”

His face softened. “You Disgraced will never learn what it is to be civilized.” Something inside of him cracked. “Every single one of you sits with your hands at your crotch, chiming your immortality, while everybody else suffers. And you get offended when we start speaking up. You call yourselves the peaceful ones, ha!” He readied a black syringe, his hands trembling.

“And I’d do it all over again,” I retorted. “That bitch killed my family, so it was only fitting that she suffer a similar fate. You humans reproduce like filthy rabbits anyhow. I’m sure you had three other cows loaded the instant her bloody head hit the floor.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Lange.” He propped me back and inserted the syringe. “She wasn’t just human. Sheridyn was a plesmorph – just like you.”

“Lying doesn’t suit you, Lieutenant.”

“Thankfully, Sheridyn provided us with enough information into the special breed, not enough to produce a hard set defense against it, mind you. But give us time. You won’t be a threat for much longer, and then the war will be over. The pathetic rebels will drop to their knees as we humans take back the Earth.”

They already had the Earth; it was the other two realms to which he was referring – and they’d never have those. But I don’t correct him. The injection made my eyes heavy, my chest dropping. Though I tried to stay strong, I whimper. My blood turned to tar, my mind spinning. “It’ll never be enough,” was all I could muster. The humans wouldn’t stop until they drown the realms in their paranoia and terror.

The lieutenant left the room and the lights dimmed. Another man’s voice appeared on a speaker above. “This begins the second session. Tell me what you know of the Krysolux and its power.”

It was what gave the Disgraced their luster, their life force, but I did not comply with their requests. I couldn’t.

#

The truth is hard to swallow: there are parts of my memory that are missing. The memories arrange themselves in a scattered jigsaw puzzle, all solid black with no side pieces. Each one leaves me more lost than before.

Fall into slumber. Return to Elymia, Sophia.

I sprint toward the only place I know will have answers.

Come home.

I abandon the safe haven and inch closer to a forgotten artery of the Fangclush – I return to Legacy.

Chasing Shadows, Ch.3

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Read Ch. 1

Read Ch. 2

“Excuse me?” I ask, pulling out from under his meaty palm.

Tarkin approaches as the old man backs away, obviously offended that I didn’t accept his embrace. And why would I? He literally just appeared from the shadows and put his hand on me. That’s not how I roll. “We heard of your actions back at Fort Legacy.” His raised eyebrows and smirk make me feel like I should know what the hell he’s referring to, but I’m at a loss. “Your face is plastered everywhere. You can’t tell me you don’t know that.”

Another chump chimes in, nodding. “They call you Nuclear Bitch for what you did at Legacy.” They laugh. “You’re fucking famous. Even more so than the general.” He motions toward the old man. By the look of him, I can tell he’s of some prestige – how could I have known I just offended the Renegade leader?

“General, huh?” I offer a smile as a peace offering. Thankfully, he accepts it.

“Sophia, please come with us. I have so much to tell you.” His comforted expression flips. “About the war; about you; about Sheradyn.” He pauses, noticing my failing state, to sit me on the carrier.

I stammer at the thought of her. There’s no way she can still have a part in this. I try to speak, but my parched tongue won’t budge.

“Sir, we need to get her back to the refuge. There’s no telling for how long she’s been in the absorption tube.”

This is all too much. A maelstrom of thoughts concerning Sheradyn, my past, and my alleged past rips through my conscience. And now an absorption tube? Is that what they call the metal crypt? Bright runes burn red on my skin, urging me to do what I know best. Run. It’s all I know, or think I know.

The runes have a voice of their own. It kills the maelstrom.

Recede. Let me guide you.

I feel my eyes grow heavy. I have not slept in weeks. Times that I had to rest, I was up crying my eyes out over losing Bobby. And that damned Sheradyn! Thinking of her drowns me with inescapable fury. Her violet eyes, designer clothes, and that voice. God, that voice.

“Get her sedated, boss.”

“There’s no need for that, Tarkin.”

Their faces begin to blur. My body shakes.

That’s it, Sophia. Forfeit control. Almost there.

I try to hold on to their words, but I’m slipping. With every dazed blink, a cerise cloud behind my eyelid darkens, grows richer, thicker. I feel her coming up my throat, and choking on her tangled hair. I can’t breathe. Crimson becomes me.

“General, we’re losing her! Quit standing there and do something, damnit!”

“Hold on!”

That’s it, baby girl. I’ll take care of you.

#

My eyes flutter open to an orchid expanse. Then I see him within the fog. “Bobby!” I yell, but his image fades away. Shadows of my past dance around me, a silhouette ball. My mother, dressed in her beautiful golden gown, is pressed against my father, and they sway with the rhythmic silence. Their blown kisses hit me in tufts, pacifying tranquility.

A flock of glimmering meadow larks and hawks glide past, their songs changing the pace of pirouetting shadows. I giggle at the sight and run to join my family in the mist. But before I can get close, the vapor turns to a violent downpour of galactic tears.

The birds are empty shadows in the sky. Gaiety turns to loneliness, as I am abandoned in a limitless expanse. Within moments, everything fades to reveal a little box.

The box is wrapped in periwinkle ribbon – my favorite color – and it sparkles under the dreamscape’s infinite light. The present is electrically charged, the static tickling me as I hold it in my palm. The lid comes off with ease, and I peer into the case, finding a strand of red hair.

Suddenly, the scape turns black, and I scream. Furious cackling shatters the sky, and red hair falls endlessly from the gorge.  I feel a bulge form under my eye, and I pull loose long strands of hair. With every terrified scratch and tug, it continues to flow.

My stomach erupts scorched hair into my esophagus, burning strands snared between my teeth. It rips my tongue backwards, down my throat. I feel a pair of cold hands around my neck. The ground begins to fall in pieces into an ashen abyss. A pair of violet eyes beckons me forward, and I fall. The gravity of Sheradyn’s voice pins me to the wall, which was swiftly spiraling down to an obsidian snare.

“Bring me back!” My muffled screams fill the chamber. “Take me back now!” At last, the shadows subside, and I escape through the darkness.

#

I come to in the middle of the jungle. Instantly, I survey my body, scratching. My voice is hoarse and my body aches, but the red runes are gone. “General –” My voice is exhausted. But the scene in which I am placed needs no words.

Corpses lie scattered about, scorched beyond recognition. I recognize Tarkin from his old cloak, and the man beside him must be the general – the Renegades, each of them, all dead. A miasmic smog drowns the forest, filling it with the putrid stench of blood and shit.

Runes similar to my own cover the ground. The portion of sky directly above my spot in the jungle is cracked and stained amber. Among the Renegade and Pale bodies are also those of birds and other wildlife. Black blood oozes from a crevasse. The land has been poisoned… Surely, I couldn’t.

My fingers trickle with newfound passion, and a flurry of conflicting memories and words flood my mind. So, I run. I run as fast as I fucking can. Not even the bloody tears in my eyes and an infected shoulder can slow me down.

Chasing Shadows, Ch.2

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Read Ch. 1

I won’t deny them their humanity like they did to us. They labeled us Disgraced, as if they have any ounce of grace themselves. For thousands of years, my kind took part in a grand charade; in our mind we became human. But deep within, we knew we’d have to face the truth someday.

We speak the same language as the humans, walk the same; we eat just as they eat. We were the neighbors who greeted the newcomers with a cupcake basket the moment they moved in next door. But the similarities weren’t enough. We were trapped, beautiful angels forced to live a filthy pig pen, controlled by savages. They treated us like monsters, so we became monsters.

While we share space, we Disgraced are further separated by our luster. Some exhibit their luster outwardly in the form of a physical attribute, while others are more inwardly focused and thus are infinitely more intelligent. Inwardly-focused Disgraced are more apt to survive in these tumultuous times; it’s just the other side that has a hard time blending in.

“So what do you think we’re going to get for bringing in this witch?” The voices echo in my metal chamber.

“Lovers and gold, my friend; lovers and gold.”

“Both of you shut the fuck up! Unless you want to join it,” Eric snaps.

It. That’s all we are to them now, and it’s sickening. Thousands more are brought to the Pale every day, placed in shackles and fed to the Stolks.

It’s hard to believe that there was a time, before the Pale, in which I believed I had feelings for the pathetic shrew. With Eric’s blonde hair and chiseled chin, he would be a total catch if he wasn’t bat-shit crazy.

The rugged road brings me back home. I can still visualize the look on Daisy’s face when I told her I knew her secret, that I caught her kissing Daphne Varlin in the graveyard. She was horrorstruck, until I told her next time to find somewhere a little more romantic, and she might just have a partner for life. It didn’t take a scholar to see they were in love, but in our small town the only thing worse than being Disgraced was a homosexual. Not a second goes by that I don’t wish they would’ve turned me and not Daisy. She was so pure.

Suddenly, we stop moving. “Renegades! In the hills!” The men mumble and I hear them bunch outside the globe. Then there is a charged hum, different than the Sizzlers. The last time I heard this sound was the night Bobby and I were ambushed.

We don’t have a name for it, but its hum is the sound of nightmares. It’s a weapon capable of harnessing luster – the humans’ way of leveling the field.

“Stay away!” I yell, slapping the cold steel wall, as if that’ll do anything.

The fight ensues, but I remain blind within my spherical prison.

“There!” one of them shouts, launching the weapon. The piercing shrill of the gun amplifies within the cooker; my right eardrum bursts, the force blowing the orb and me off the carrier. The door hinge pops slightly, allowing enough of a hole for me to spectate.

It is a full-blown ambush. For every Pale soldier there are at least three Renegades. Whips of cobalt energy clap through the air, electrocuting a few soldiers. Eric is right in the middle of them, safe under a special, plasmic shield, blasting them with the super weapon. I watch seven Renegades melt under one shot. But more come from the mountain. It’s as if Eric kicked an anthill, and now he has to deal with the ants.

I shove a finger through the hole in an attempt to loosen the door, to no avail. Luster pulses throughout my body, itching to join the fight. If I can escape and have time to focus, I can obliterate them all in one swipe. I can be free.

Eric disappears from my sight and things quieten down. A foot obscures my peeping hole. “Hey!” I shout. “I’m stuck in here! Help! Please!” I’ve never sounded so desperate in my life.

Something rips the door out and brings me out in a single swoop. A fist of boulders sinks into my flesh and tosses me into the air.

Angry, carmine streams of light flow from my palms and grip the trees, allowing me to softly fall back to the ground. Inside, I am aching to go total-psycho on these dudes, but I can’t risk the energy loss knocking me out for hours like last time. The runes are already forming on my body; I can feel them burn into my clothes. I’m a ticking time bomb.

“Who the hell are you?” The man wears a tattered coat, his long hair loose against his shoulders. The others are in position, ready for retaliation should I turn out to be as crazy as I appear.

One of them comes from behind and pats my back, reminding me of the Sizzler bolt that was still lodged in there. “Stand down, Tarkin. This is Sophia.” The group erupts in gasps and whispers. Then, the man turns to me. “It’s nice to finally put a face to the legend, I must say,” he says, chuckling.

I have no idea what the fuck this dude has been smoking, but I want some of it.

Chasing Shadows, Ch.1

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My feet trample the freshly-fallen snow as I sprint across the field. Every step sends my body quivering, my mind shouting for me to stop and just let them take me. I can’t go on forever, I know that. Capture is inevitable, but I’ll be damned if I made it easy for the bastards.

Scarlet bursts crack and pop against the tree line. Sizzler bolts zip and shatter in the air beside me, my face chapped from the bullets’ mini explosions.

I spy two Fangclush guards running for the gate. They think I want to hijack one of the copters, but I’m no fool; perhaps if Bobby were with me, that would be an option, with his experience with the Glaritor equipment. I have better chances of surviving in the jungle.

Another explosion, it was Raina’s shack, recalling the time we all sat at her bar making small talk just before the invasion. That was the evening Bobby proposed. If only I had said yes.

There had to be at least seven of them on my trail, and from the charge in the air, more were coming. I barrel over a short barricade and run into the jungle. Aside from the frantic huffs and Sizzler shots, I hear a pack of Stolks howling.

Distracted, I tumble over a frozen stump and fall face-first into a boulder. Before I have to react, a Sizzler splices my shoulder and I slump in the snow, frozen. In moments, I am surrounded by an army of glistening soldiers. Despite my pain, I don’t utter a sound. I can’t.

The packmaster approaches me and removes his visor. It’s Eric. He still sports the gnarly burn I gave him last time we met. “Told you I’d find you,” he spits, motioning for the others forward. “Put her in the tank before the bolt wears off.” Then, to a sluggish responder: “Now!”

This was not the Eric I grew up with, the younger boy whose family I ate brunch with every Sunday. He was forever changed by the Pale. “Go to hell,” he adds, before two beefy men hurled me into a metal globe. Oh, Eric, I’m already there.

After a few minutes, the paralysis wears off and I am finally able to wipe the blood and soot from my eyes. Rage boils inside me; I see a light flicker in my skin, but I extinguish it. If I were to use my power now, I’ll just end up frying myself in this meat cooker. Instead, I lay my shattered head against the cold steel and dream of the bubbling tar I am going to reduce Eric to the second he opens this dark crypt. For the first time since the takeover, I smile.

Mystic Keys and Expectations

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“Dear, beautiful spectator,” said the magician, his knuckles dove-white from his clasp on an amethyst, shimmering top hat. The audience was wide eyed as the young man reached inside his polka-dotted blazer. “I ask you to look inside yourself, unlock the chest of your lonesome soul,” his eyes glinted, “tell me what you find.”

He waited a few seconds before continuing. “You will find, binding your very being, two padlocks. If you look closer at the first, you’ll find yourself with a third-degree burn on your nose and a spirit full of harmony and grace. It’ll feel you with such jubilation that you’ll never want to look away, but you risk blindness the longer you peer at the blazing bolt.” Pulling a gilded key strung on a strip of speckled lace, he added: “With haste, this first lock of lust can be overcome.”

“Now you’re left with one obstacle, to unlock the soul – you’re full potential. If you focus hard enough, you’ll make out a black padlock; its cloak of darkness shrouds the brightest light.” He pulled a twisted obsidian key from his blazer. It shone under the spotlight like a thousand black candles. His mouth was pulled back in a sneer, his heart racing. “This one is infinitely more difficult to handle than the first. Every second you peer into this bolt is an eon of torment.” Several spectators coughed in their red, cushioned seats, disturbed. “You must face your demons, peering into the boiled face of the devil, before the lock drops and the restraints are lifted. In this battle, the deepest force of the universe is concentrated on you. Bleak vultures will try and tear at your shoulders; shadowed serpents will sink their fangs into your heel.” A viewer bellied over and vomited on the black tarp.

The magician grimaced as he dropped the key, reaching within the ornate top hat. “Let the dancing fumes wash away your glowing, painted wings. As the toxin slithers into your conscience,” the magician pulled a skeletal, writhing creature from the hat, “I will exonerate you.”

Suddenly, the viewers fall to the floor, scratching at their chests and throats. Children’s eyes turn vermillion, their skin splintered like blistered glass, as their parents stumbled to their side. Whispers muted the indignant bellows. Cloaked specters carried the babies to the ceiling, sending their fragile bodies back to the ground, smashed and mutilated. Every breath was an inhalation of bladed powder and cyanide. Boiling slime expanded across the tarped floor, an ocean rife with starving, scaly beasts.

The magician groaned, snapping the patchy, wiry neck of a vicious rodent – its squeal a nightmare siren. Virulent typhoons of shadow and disgrace protected him from the evil consuming the theatre. Flickering emerald flame followed his footsteps, as he approached the door.  With every step closer, blurry phantoms shouted: “You’re not invited!” One flung an infant’s decapitated corpse at him. “NOT INVITED!” The banshees’ shrieks nearly brought him to his knees, but he forced himself to reach the locked door.

Trained on the shimmering, golden deadbolt keeping him contained in this infernal trial, the magician pushed in the key and turned. The padlock opened with a pop and dropped to the floor. In a flash, the charred tarp turned into soft prairie grass; the intestine-adorned walls faded to reveal a sunlit forest and a diamond-specked pond, disgusted incantations a chorus of mockingbirds.

For the first time in an eternity, the magician smiled and laughed, rolling around on the damp grass. “Free at last!” he shouted.

The magician’s expression changed, however, when he cut himself on the teeth of a charred, barbed statue resembling the Bringer, the evil entity from his dreams. Elation melted to malice. Ravens obscured the beaming sun, and the forest collapsed to a frozen graveyard.

The Bringer’s silhouette was etched on the horizon. “For years you relied on slight-of-hand to deceive unwitting spirits. Now you shall wear their souls and walk through the inferno you so dexterously illustrated.” Sharp winds ripped the clothes off of the magician, the great entertainer reduced to a bumbling, naked boy in a bed of sweltering snow. “You will forever chase the jester of your former being, always falling short of vindication.”

“Please,” the magician begged, “make me forget all of this. Give me a fresh canvas to start anew.” His tears evaporated against the hot snow. “I’m so sorry, for everything.” He wept. “I know I shouldn’t have touched those kids. I’ve learned my lesson! Please!”

The Bringer roared, cracking the frozen earth. “Something tells me you enjoyed that first trial too much to ever be forgiven.” It cackled. “Granted you survive the night, you’ll find your black key somewhere in the winding river of tar up north; the padlock is deep within the Salahrin Mountains, but I’ve got a feeling the army of vengeful infants and tortured toddlers will pick you off far before you reach the border.”

Devils Dance, Ch.4

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Read previous installments:

Chapter One,
Chapter Two,
Chapter Three

They had been on the road for five days, with no hope of ever returning home – not as free citizens at least. Commissioner Davis and his band of taut merry men had caught onto their use of a third party to intercept 911 calls as they reached the station.

Moran hated to drag her nephew, Todd, into all of this, but with his intellect in rather underhanded tactics in receiving information, using him was a no-brainer. “He’ll be okay, won’t he?” Moran asked Robert, closing the door of the 1998 Suburban they just purchased.

The truth was that Robert had no idea as to the security of Todd, or either of them for that matter; that’s what he continually told Moran, too. “Stop your worrying and focus,” he said. “I called Todd yesterday and told him to lay low.” He tossed a folded map over to Moran. “Tell me how to get to Vindeville from here.”

Stephenie trained her eye on a passing squad car, strangled with anxiety. “Just get on the interstate off Herstam and continue for about thirty minutes.” She placed the map into the glove compartment, to Robert’s surprised glare. His bright blue eyes shone under a heavy eyebrow shelf. “What?”

“You’ve been there?”

“I have. We used to have Christmas there, when my uncle still had his river property. The last time I was there was about twenty years ago; the entire town was in shambles.”

Greer started on Herstam and found the interstate. He seemed distracted, but Moran figured he was tensed from the entire situation.

Driving in total silence almost killed Moran. Every opportunity, she would shift in her seat or pretend to thumb through the map – anything to keep her occupied. Each breath and every thought were audible. “So, can I ask?”

“Hm?”

“What’s in Vindeville?”

Greer swerved to avoid a semi in the shoulder. His instincts called for him to stop and assist the semi driver, but then he remembered he was a fugitive, on the run for a crime neither he nor Moran had committed. He had to remind himself many times throughout all this that that was the reason for everything they were doing: to prove their innocence, nothing else. “Something’s going to be there.”

What’s going to be there?”

“I don’t know.”

Stephenie sighed. “You don’t know? What are you saying?” His subtle glance to Moran was plenty an explanation. She gasped. “Again?”

Nodding, yes, Robert reiterated, “Around four last night. Woke up drenched in sweat, with its fucking voice still in my mind. I can’t get it out of my brain, Stephenie.”

“What did it say?”

Robert dared not recall the entirety of the nightmare, or risk their safety on the road. He sipped from a blueberry Slurpee, in hopes of that cooling the hot tinge blistering the back of his throat; it did nothing but leave him with a brain freeze. “I saw it this time, Steph. It didn’t say anything I could understand – just stood there, whispering.” Or sat there, Robert decided would be a better description. He winced, feeling a caustic tentacle scrape his uvula – he swallowed hard. “Something is going to happen there, or already has.” Closing his eyes, he recalled the brutish sight. “If Vindeville is as small as I’m told, I’m sure we’ll pass right by it and I’ll remember. Maybe  we can prevent the catastrophe from occurring.”

“You really think that, Rob?”

“I’ve got to.” He turned to Stephenie, eyes full and face bleached. “By god, I’ve got to.”

Moran held Greer’s hand for the next twenty miles, until they reached the Vindeville welcoming sign. As they passed the sign, her heart dropped. The town was exactly as it was when she left it.

With a population lingering around 2,500 on good years, Vindeville was the last stop anybody would make on their tour of Wisconsin. Every building was run-down; every house chock full of bird shit and useless junk – the place was evidently popular amongst pack-rats and the like. Save for a small gas station, a dilapidated school, a food department, and a few antique stores scattered here and there, the next bout of civilization was an hour away. It was a day trip for Vindevillians to do pretty much anything.

“So what do you remember?” She asked as they passed a shoddy residential area. “Was it a junky house, or a junkier house?” She joked.

Greer abruptly pulled the car to a pull-out and pointed. “That’s the one. It’s hard to see for the hills and trees, but that’s the house it showed me.” Images flashed in his mind, ones of torture and terror confined in a dank room. His recollection of the tarnished chains, broken liquor bottles, and the screams – oh god, the screams – pulsated with a glimmering kerosene lamp. His hands grew hot on the steering wheel, his resilient soul reduced to that of a quivering child. “That’s it,” he repeated.

Stephenie tilted her head, confused. “Rob, that’s not a house,” she said. She remembered her uncle’s wedding ceremony, recollecting its peculiar location despite being one of the town’s hot spots. “That’s Wakersbade First Baptist.” She cleared her throat. “What would it being doing within a church?” She asked, noting that none of the past murder-suicides were committed within a house of worship. This would be a change in its seemingly ironclad pattern.

The two sat still for what seemed like hours, stunned, looking out onto the horizon at the white building, before Robert took the Suburban down a graveled road to Wakersbade. An unsettled silence hushed the vehicle, Greer horrorstruck and frozen. He retracted his lead foot as the white chapel skitted into view, and came to a stop.

Greer could not help noticing the resemblance between himself and the skinny staked man atop the church’s twisted spire. And he felt just as helpless. He felt something calling him, wanting him to approach the courtyard. The air hummed with aggravated energy as Robert hopped out of the vehicle, spellbound, to face the horrors within the church and deep within himself.

The Case of the Ashen Crow, Ch.1

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“Those eyes shined with innocence, more so than all of the others,” said Raymond Shire, his cuffed hands scratching his crotch. He exhaled, overcome with the memories of his girls and boys. “Little Kaya is different than all the rest.”

Detective Robert Greer shifted uncomfortably in the flimsy plastic chair. No matter how many times he tried to prepare himself for this particular case, the look in Shire’s face as he discussed the children, the creep’s conquests, in present tense always disturbed him; an outsider would believe that the children were all still alive despite the bodies that had been found, due to Raymond’s flawed choice of words. This was Greer’s fourth case since graduating from the academy with honors, and the cases were only getting more and more fucked up. “How so?” he inquired, scribbling in a coffee-stained notepad.

The convicted felon offered a half-cocked smile. “Oh, Doc, if I told you, you’d never believe me anyways.” Spitting a chunk of tobacco in a Dixie cup, he added: “Kaya was special.” Shire’s eyes peered into the one-way mirror displayed opposite him, sending a wave of awkwardness over the speculators.

“Did you rape her, too?” Greer was beside himself for being so frank, but for all he and the others knew, Shire had other children out there somewhere. “Like you did to the rest?” He assumed so.

Raymond rolled his eyes. “You will never understand, Doc.” Then to the mirror: “Bring me in someone of some merit, wouldja?” He belched. “Doc here gets lucky on a few cases and suddenly he’s a rising star. You think I’m just a pal who just fucks girlies, but, oh, we are so much more.” His roaring laughter reverberates into the passing hallway, enough to silence the building. “Tell whatever dildo-banging, cock sucking twat whose ass you’re shaving to get me a more competent pal.”

Greer was the third investigator assigned to the case; he knew the risks of dealing with Raymond. The man was known to directly target the detectives who were getting close to hauling him in. He killed the first’s youngest niece, Thari, and set out to murder the second detective’s wife – she was the only captive to ever escape Raymond’s cold grasp.

While they had yet to discover the bodies of at least twenty children, boys and girls, under nine, one leading fact of the case was that Raymond tended to conduct his misdeeds near the childrens’ home; however, when he showed up at the station one day naked and dazed, everything changed. Every psychological report the agency had on Shire, due to in-house tests, turned out to be completely wrong. Suddenly they were not dealing with a masochistic, active pedophile.

“I’m sorry to say, you’re stuck with me.” Robert took a sip of water. “Now, tell me about the others. How many are still out there? Tell me about Andrew Menakee and Sarah Binx.”

“Never heard of them.”

“No?”

Raymond shook his head, no, before losing himself in thunderous laughter. “Nah, Doc. But I have heard of Nelson and Ella.”

Chaos erupted in the observation room, squads of eyes scrambled through various forms and papers. But there was nothing on those two names. “Give me last names, Raymond. Who were they? Where can we find them? Help us out.”

“Kaya said you would never understand. I thought surely you would crack the case, Doc, but she was right. She always is.” He slapped his face against the table and lunged himself against Greer. The two fell to the floor. Greer tried to push him off, but Raymond was too forceful.

“Let me see if you’ve got as big of balls as you like to act!” He rubbed himself against Greer’s groin, oozing strips of warm drool down Greer’s neck and chest. He started to force his hands down Greer’s slacks, but just as he passed the waistband, the detective broke his hand free and decked Raymond in the chin. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Robert straddled him and delivered three more blows to his face, cracking Raymond’s nose and bloodying his eye. With each hit, Raymond’s chortles turned to manic screeches.

In moments, Raymond was pinned against the wall, hysteric and frothing. “He doesn’t! He doesn’t!” He yelped at the mirror, slinging slimy spit and blood on the wall and floor. “Tell me, Doc, how can you please your boss with a cock like that?  That cutie, Nelson, had a bigger prick than you, and he was five!”

Greer shrugged off the guards and rushed out of the room, furious and humiliated. Just as he had about reached the bathroom to cool off and fix his torn pants, Raymond burst through the interrogation room and was racing back to him.

His face was that of panic. Slobber and bile trailed him, as he darted at the detective. “Doc, Doc, Doc! You left before I can tell you!”

Greer’s hand went straight to his pistol. “Stop now! Or I will shoot!” He took aim.

The frenzied pedophile came to a halt, lost in no time within a swarm of officers. He was thrown to the ground. “Doc!” he yelled. “You wanted to know more about Kaya!” They began to take him away. “I told you I never killed Kaya, because she was already dead when she found me. She found me, Doc! And she’s going to rip the cock off all you fuckers!” Raymond’s cackles haunted the hall.

Detective Greer entered the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face. “Why couldn’t you just stay in school and become a doctor like you had planned, Rob?” he asked his pitiful reflection. “I swear, one of these days, I’m going to go bat-shit crazy over one of these psychotic fucks.” He forced himself to stop peering down at his crotch, trying to squeeze Shire’s accusations from his mind.

“Or maybe I’m already there.”

Best Friend

Their bodies danced different melodies. As Snowflake pulled away, Harry moved forward. She wanted to throw herself in a lane of oncoming traffic, while he wanted her down on the floor.

“You said you wanted to play, didn’t you?” Harry asked through ecstatic gasps. The hold he had on her tightened. “Well, now you get exactly what you asked for, girl.”

Snowflake’s doleful pleas filled the aquarium, evoking annoyed and disgusted sighs from the passersby. “God, man; can’t you take that someplace else? There are kids here,” mumbled a man clad in formal attire – nothing similar to what one would expect to see in a public aquarium.

Harry dismissed the offended gentleman, and continued thrusting himself onto the brunette beauty. He usually was not one for public displays of affection, but he felt there was a point to be made: if Snowflake was serious about her requests, she should do as she was told. It was the least she could do; after all, he was the one who fed her and gave her a place to sleep.

At one point, they caught the eye of an unsuspecting young kid who had just come from the bathroom. “What?” Harry yelled. “You ain’t ever seen a guy enforcing his dominance on his bitch?” The little guy stood there utterly confused until his mother called him back to the posse.

With a final lunge, Harry stopped and looked down at the defeated female. The flash of excitement that shone in her dark eyes had been exterminated by the one she trusted the most. She dropped her chin to the tiled floor and whimpered.

“Glad to see you finally understand my frustration, Snowflake,” he said, zipping his trousers. “Now let’s go get that ball you wanted to fetch so badly that you lost it in the otter exhibit.”

The young collie’s copper fur sparkled under the lights of the seahorse display; her happiness had returned along with a swiftly-wagging tail. She would finally get to play fetch with her master.

Cinders In the Murk, Ch.1

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The fuchsia sky peppered with cyan speckles; the sweet dampness of my shoulders after a cool rain; luminescent bubblegum butterflies blowing mini kisses at my cheek; forest sprites weaving between my appendages, humming their melodic tune like twirling enchantresses – it all fills my heart with warm syrup: I’m finally home. Although I have one mission left to complete, I can’t help but feel relaxed and at peace in the confines of Espian territory.

Princess Dalia greets me at the heart of the forest by batting those huge emerald eyes and giving me the most welcoming embrace a traveler could receive after returning from a journey. “It’s so nice to see you again, Kal. You don’t know how much I’ve missed you.”

Although I want so badly to keep my hands around my true love, there were other matters that needed to be sorted. “It’s important that I see your father. Is he in his chamber?”

Happiness drained from the royal nymph’s face, and her grip on me falls. “If you hurry you may catch him in the dining hall, but if you don’t find him there, check his chamber.” She brushes a string of hair from her vision, revealing more of her pistachio skin, and pecks my cheek.

I take her hand. “Would you care to accompany me, my darling?”

She shakes her head, no. “Jaya needs me down at the cavern; I believe she’s having difficulty completing the embroidery on the Kannimara tapestry my father requested. You know how important that tapestry is to him.”

After kissing her knuckle, I say, “Take care then, Dacia. I’ll visit you in your quarters tonight; I picked something up from Blarenwood you will enjoy.” I bid her farewell and catch the king in the dining hall, as she mentioned.

The king wasn’t known to exhibit abusive behavior for which many other monarchs are known. So it was to no surprise that I caught him helping clean up after dinner. “Your majesty,” I say, bowing.

“Kalenach, so you’ve returned. I take it the mission was a success?” he asks, shining the final dewdrop plate.

“Lord Espian, I’ve returned not to relay news of success, but one of peril. Although I safely eradicated the raiders around Blarenwood Heights as you asked –”

Espian stops me, turning to the other maids occupying the room. “My dear Zella, Ven, could you perhaps turn to tidying the west wing? Please leave the dinnerware for me – I find it helps me focus.” Then, after having the hall to ourselves, he continues. “I know what you wish to tell me, Kalenach. I’ve known for a very long time how you feel about my daughter.”

“Respectfully my lord, that is not what this pertains to. Rather, it’s about a war with the raiders. There are rumors that you have cut the food and supply lines leading into Gerniyew. Surely the rumors are mistaken; I told them that you’d never allow such a thing to happen because there are far more innocent people than raiders in the crystal city.” I pause to catch my breath. “I’m afraid someone is spreading acid about you.”

The king keeps his eyes trained on a glossy dinner plate. “Oh, Kalenach, they are not mistaken, mind you. And the decision was not an easy one to make, as there are innocents as you stated; however, I’d rather make the sacrifice if it means eliminating the threat of the raiders before they become a force too large to handle.” He smiles. “Don’t you see? The fall of Gerniyew will be so devastating to them that the raiders will surrender, and peace will return to our nation.”

Or that would enrage the masses and turn everyone against us for taking out the most populated settlement in the world. “There has to be another way.” The thought of standing tall beside a twisted king sickens me. I’d rather lose any chance I have with Princess Dacia than take part in this scheme.

“I’m afraid it’s too late. Commander Frossa has already received the order to suffocate the grand city. And the tapestry that I will personally hang in the Gerniyew palace is nearly complete.” Setting a shined plate down to fetch a dirty one, he adds, “This cannot be stopped.”

I once believed nothing could shake the trust and loyalty I had toward Lord Espian, but I am utterly ruined. Without saying a word, I rush out of the dining hall. While I close the door, Espian mutters, “He should have just asked to marry my daughter and minded his own business like I wanted him to; such a shame, such a shame.”

As I exit the palace, I’m dropped in an unfamiliar place. No longer does my heart long to see the glowing butterflies under the magenta sky; the feeling of joy I once got from the song of the forest sprites leaves me now with a caustic pit in my stomach. Knowing that Espian territory – my former home – will be officially declared hostile sends a stinging quake down my spine.

I am torn between the lives of the innocent and the one I would have with Dacia if I turn a cold shoulder and mind my own business as the king requested.

“Kalenach!” It’s Commander Frossa. Her perfect, ceramic lips are pursed to the point of shattering. The king’s order hangs on her hip beside a crystal blade. She stands under the shadow of the royal tower, her sparkling cape dancing against the wind. “We need to talk.” Her voice is hoarse, strained. “It’s about your wife. I don’t know how, but she’s escaped Espinglow.” Her stature drops. “Everything we’ve planned is in peril.”

Legacy

They said a cure was imminent. That was ten years ago.

Rotting bodies cover the road to work. A stream of yellow pus and bloody discharge from the contaminated corpses divides the street; it won’t be long until the drainage system is completely filled. Those superb draining vents, responsible for putting our metropolis on the map, will be reduced to nothing more than a bath of defecation and infection soon.

Only a couple thousand of us are left in the town, which doesn’t sound half-bad as long as the original population of 200 thousand isn’t considered. During year one of the plague, the typical conversation switched from “What size frizzolatte should I order?” to “Where the hell are all these bodies going to go?” Initially the deceased were buried, and when the cemeteries filled up, they were burned. Mass bonfires of forty to fifty bodies dotted every backyard and park for miles – the columns of smoke resembled gnarled fingers of Satan reaching from the bowels of Hell to crush the living. It wasn’t until half of the city was buried under a massive mound of ash that other means were considered.

“Penny.” A thick hand swallows my shoulder. “Lost in thought, I reckon?”

Oh, Roger, if you knew half of the stuff that frequented my thoughts, you wouldn’t want anything to do with me. “How else am I supposed to entertain myself?” Then, motioning toward the busted flat-screen television screen: “You ruined our one source of amusement in last week’s quarrel.”

The side of his upper lip curls inward and he huffs, “Once again, babe: not my fault. It was either going to be us or Charlie who got the last round of antibiotics, and with the little one on the way anything can happen.” He rubs my inflated stomach and smiles. “I’ll do anything for you.” His grin brightens the room, and for a second one would think that we’re both happy and that the land isn’t in turmoil.

“First you made me that elevated pair of rubber loafers, then I got that precious baby-doll gown that makes me look somewhat civilized, plus countless other things – and now you’re looking after my health. You’re making it increasingly difficult for me to find something for you.”

Roger plops down beside me on the flimsy couch he scavenged from a house a few doors down. “Babe, you’re giving me what can never be one-upped. This baby will change everything.”

He was right: our baby’s very existence will prove that even in an infected world, hope is alive – it only has to be sought. This next generation will be the one responsible for exterminating whatever has befallen most of the population, thus putting the human race back on top. I don’t know how, but health will be restored somehow, one day.

I reach in to kiss my husband, and I notice a peculiar node under his ear. “Roger, how long have you had that?”

“Had what, babe?”

That’s how it usually started, the infection. A hard bulge forms on a patch of exposed skin, appearing benign during the first couple days, but following the week after contact effects only become more severe. In a week, clusters of bulbous blisters form around the lump, flulike symptoms develop and the infected individual grows weary and exhausted. Within a few days, the colony of blisters continues to spread, but this time the heads of each swell up and turn white. Vomiting and dysphasia as well as hallucinations follow – the bile being infectious to anybody in contact. Within the third week, the white sacs atop the blisters turn yellow and burst from the slightest touch – from observation, most pop open due to the infected individual’s own movements. The pus only leads to more blisters and then comes discomfort in the eyes. By the fourth week, the virus has already won, with the host stuck in a seizure-like state. It only takes a few more hours for the seizures to stop and breathing to cease.

Before the realization struck that this virus was eventually going to lead to the dismantling of society, I worked as a nurse at the regional hospital. I never came in contact with patient zero – don’t know if there even was a patient zero – but I dealt with dozens of these cases, and they ended the same, tragic way. But this can’t happen to the love of my life. Not now.

I’m already bursting with tears, my emotion intensified by my hormonal imbalance. “Give me the medicine bag.”

Roger is dumbfounded. “Whoa, whoa! What’s going on?”

“With what you’ve been telling me, there should be enough in there to possible slow the rate of infection. Maybe it’ll buy us enough time to reach the city center – the more qualified doctors with experience with it might be able to help us.” I’m hysterical, my words rushed and mumbled. “Hell, if we can’t find a way to combat the virus after fifteen years, for God’s sake, what good is any of this? And fuck, I’m bringing a baby into this pathetic existence! I’m the monster!”

“Virus? Penny, you have to slow down. Take a breath, honey.”

Amidst a storm of conflicting emotions, I say, “It’s your neck; you’re infected.” I know I should be staying strong during Roger’s time of need, but I’m defeated. Without Roger, there’s no way my baby can make it. He’s always so brave, facing the odds on his scavenges for food and other necessities. Last night he went on a baby run and brought back loads of diapers and different colors of infant clothes. He has everything planned so immaculately, and now…

His hand discovers the node. “Shit. You said something about the center being able to help?”

“I don’t know, I just don’t know.”

A fire ignites in Roger’s eyes that I have never seen before. I know he’s about to do something completely reckless and selfless before the idea rolls off his tongue: “Then I’ll go, but you stay here. I’ll get Charlie to look after you. I know he’s still pissed at me, but he’ll do it.”

“Roger, let me –”

Before I finish, Roger kisses me, and time stops. He knows it’ll be a lost cause; his sister died of the damned virus before the world turned to shit. Although he wasn’t around to see the initial symptoms, he saw the last stages, and it forever changed him. And that’s not to mention the countless others he’s witnessed fall victim. There was no cure, or we would’ve heard about it by now.

On my lips, he mutters, “Stay strong, babe. I love you more than you will ever know.” Then he slips out the door and runs toward Charlie’s trailer.

I am slightly taken aback with his sudden urge to just disappear, but I know he’s only thinking about the baby. But that doesn’t make things any easier.

So I’m left all alone on the filthy couch, incapacitated because of the baby on board, hoping an enraged Charlie would happen to make an appearance. But I knew I had a greater chance of curing the damned plague myself than to ever be able to count on that man.

Looks like I better get to work.

Devils Dance, Ch.3

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Read the previous chapters here, and here.
New chapters posted every Thursday!

“Don’t touch anything.”

“I know the drill.”

Despite being on the third week of dismissal from the station, ex-detective Robert Greer was not one for neglecting protocol. The last thing he wanted was for his superiors back in Dallas to find he was still investigating the case.

Robert waved his flashlight across the room, illuminating the gruesome scene: a shattered flat-screen T.V. was in shards on the floor, strange red depictions featuring strange symbols and images stretched along the walls, and then there was the blood and the body. “Shit, fucking bitch,” officer Stephenie Moran exclaimed, surprised at her colorful choice of words. “Is that the one?”

“Nope. He’s too young. All the others have been over eighteen; that kid looks to be fourteen or so.”

Suddenly, Moran felt something brush against her leg. “Mrrp.” A little tabby rubbed its little cheeks on her boot. The etched name on its collar read Mumu. The small cat seemed totally careless of the scene that had just played in front of its chestnut eyes.

“Get it away.” Greer growled. “I don’t have time to run back and get my inhaler, so keep the kitty away please.” She shooed the cat away, who ran into the kitchen, obviously on the hunt for some chow.

Moran trained under Greer at the academy; he taught her all she knew. So when she discovered his plan to continue the case without formal support, she felt obligated to follow along. Greer was the only one to ever stick up for her – standing at a plump 5’4” with a face for radio, she was always the victim of her peers’ jokes. So her support in the case he was so passionately involved in was the very least she could offer.

“You coming along, Moran?” Greer had that look on his face, the one he got right when shit was about to go down, as if he somehow knew what he was going to find upstairs.

Stephenie nodded, her nose in her palm. “Yeah, boss.” Adding: “How much longer do you think we have before the squad shows?” She dusted the cat fur from her boot.

“Ten minutes.” He traced his light along the winding staircase, noting a singular set of bloody footprints ascending the steps. “Be careful there,” he advised, gesturing at the blood. “We can’t leave any footprints.”

Moran shook her head and sighed. When was he ever going to stop looking at her as a rookie and consider her his partner? “You got it,” she chirped.

The bloody caricatures and footprints stopped at the farthest door in the hall. It was the master suite. A  few days ago, the room would have looked expertly designed and beautifully kept. Eggshell drapes covered the room’s two large windows, wonderfully complementing cashew walls and glossy mahogany trim. What elegance the room displayed had been completely washed away under a layer of blood and brains.

“That’s the one.” Greer pointed, his lips parted in a painful sneer.

“Does he have the…?”

Robert nodded. “Yes. Right there. See?”

Sure enough, there was the mark. Moran could not believe her eyes. Seven murders scattered across the nation alone – possibly more once they get the files back from Interpol – all connected by a miniscule detail often disregarded in investigations. At first glance, any expert would deem the scene a murder-suicide, and leave it at that; however, each of their perps have a small four-spiked star printed just behind their left earlobe. The star is only visible for a few hours after the act is committed, eventually vanishing completely.

While Robert was a renowned detective, he could analyze copious amounts of information at record speed as well as recognize complicated patterns in bundles of random information. He attributed his many past successes to his attention to detail. Granted, his obsession with patterns got him kicked off the squad, he was in too deep with his case to simply turn in his gun and badge and leave it at that.

“Well I’ll be damned. Rob, we’ve got to say something to the commissioner. Looks like we’ve got a serial killer.”

Robert missed the suggestion, as he was too occupied with what he was observing out the window. Three officers were speaking with the neighbors, the ones who reported the attack. Moran and Greer had seconds to get out of the house before they would be booked. “We’ve got to go now! Check one of the other rooms for a window with access to the roof. If we can get out the back, we still have time.” His breathing was heavy and thick. He wished he wasted the few minutes to retrieve his inhaler – he was going to need it.

The two found an open window in the young boy’s room at the back of the house, forgetting about paying careful attention of smudging the floors. “We didn’t get pictures of the symbols, Rob!” Greer helped Stephenie onto the roof.

“We’ll get some at the next one,” he muttered, dropping off the roof, with an empty flowerbed breaking his fall and roll. “Now you. Hurry. We’re on foot now.”

Moran leapt from the house, and they ran, jumping hedges and scaling the rustic privacy fence. As they were sprinting for the woods, Stephenie peered back at the scene – she counted four cars and an ambulance, all arriving within seconds of each other. Two officers were turning Greer’s black Mercedes inside-out.

“How are we going to find the next one?” Moran inquired between exhausted huffs.

The two had reached the woods and kept going. Robert almost missed a short string of bare barbed wire, nearly getting a face of snow and leaves. “It’ll find us. It always does.” Images from Greer’s past flooded his mind, bringing him back to that frightful night in Chicago where he first encountered the thing. His difficulty in describing the sight to his superiors was what consequently led him to his dismissal and round with alcoholism.

But Robert Greer finally had a name for what he had encountered in Illinois. Moran was correct in her speculation that they were dealing with several crimes committed by one entity, but calling it a killer was assuming it was human; the thing that murdered his girls was anything but.

Violent Delights

A short applause came from behind the door, elevating Gigi – the vocal lessons and hard work were finally paying off. Then she remembered her parents left an hour ago, and she was supposedly home alone.

Gigi had a sinking feeling she was about to hit a higher octave.