Apex

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Mr. Greer was known to hire the most attractive dames to guard his estate while he sat locked away in his penthouse suite on the seventeenth floor overlooking New York City. Everybody in New York and their divorce lawyer knew real estate mogul Herman Greer only employed six-foot, blonde beauties with hips and breasts to die for. That’s why it nearly made the headlines when he decided to bring Valerie Seistucket along as his administrative assistant three years ago.

What Greer desired in an employee Valerie lacked. Overall, she lacked charisma; she was a self-starter; she was insanely OCD; and she always brought way too much at the company pot lucks. However, he would be able to overlook all of these shortcomings if she were just prettier, but damn it, she just wasn’t his type. Valerie stood at maybe 5’8″ — Herman likens shorter women to circus trolls — and she was a brunette, all characteristics of his ex-wife Marybette.

The one thing that Valerie had over all the other women Greer had ever employed or interviewed is her ability to manipulate a situation and get things done, no matter how bleak the circumstances. Valerie was a shark, and in a fish tank full of clownfish and sea turtles, Herman needed some teeth. If he did not establish himself at the top of the food chain, somebody else would beat him to it.

“Mr. Greer, here is a list of the scheduled appointments for next week,” Valerie placed a memo on Herman’s large oak desk, she felt as if she were handing a confidential document to the president of the United States. “I made one cancellation per your request for the ten o’ clock on Wednesday, but other than that everything will go as planned.” Valerie’s chestnut hair did not move as she talked and walked around the room, not even as she closed the Greer’s window blinds to keep the morning glare off out of his eyes. Just as Valerie managed Greer’s business life immaculately, she presented herself just as flawlessly.

Mr. Greer sipped his black coffee and mulled over his next week’s schedule, mindlessly clicking an ink pen. His silence concerned Valerie. “Does everything look okay, sir?”

“Set up a meeting with Thomas Black from Phoenix. Cancel my Friday nine and ten. Tell Thomas I want to follow up on the discussion we had last month. About the cancellations, tell them I will make it up to them.”

“One of the cancelations is Lyle, sir.”

Herman took a long swig of coffee and scribbled a note on the memo. “Make it work, Mrs. Seistucket. Lyle will understand. Hell, if it’s that important he can just see me at home on Saturday. Tell him that.”

“Yes sir.”

Back at her office, Valerie immediately made phone calls to adjust Herman’s schedule. She started with the easy conversations first.

“Hello, Mr. Greer.”

“He’s canceling, isn’t he?”

“Lyle, I—”

There was long pause. “I just, I need to see him or talk to him, please. Is there anything you can do?”

“He did say that if it was urgent that you were welcome to see him this weekend.”

“I don’t have that long! You can transfer me; you’ve done that before.” The desperation in Lyle’s voice was heavy. He was crying.

Valerie wouldn’t budge. “I’m sorry, Lyle. Have a good day.” She scratched his name off of her list, exhaled, and dialed a number in her cell phone.

“Hello, Mrs. Williams. I’m calling on behalf of Mr. Herman Greer of Wood Lake Enterprise,” Valerie spoke in a loud, confident manner as she quietly closed her office door.

“Is this line secure?” a man on the other line asked.

“I wouldn’t be calling on it if it weren’t, Eddie.” Valerie’s tone quietened and grew tense. “We need to speed up the project. He’s –”

“Why? Has the father caught on?”

Valerie started drawing tornados on a notepad. “No, he’s completely clueless. But the son about set up a meeting with him.” She cupped her head in her hand and whispered, “Eddie, we don’t have much time.”

“How fast does this need to happen?”

“By Friday.”

Silence.. “Give me some leverage. Our plan has us fixed next Sunday. That’s when Doug and Van were going to get their end set up. But this Friday? That’s in two days, Val. Our guys are confident they could get Lyle to break but they also said that they needed all of that time to get him there.”

“How much money are they offering him?” Valerie asked.

“Five thousand.”

“Well that’s part of the problem. Five isn’t enough. Make it thirty or forty. You’re dealing with the son that’s going to inherit millions within the next ten years. Another issue is what he wanting to discuss with his father exactly. I’ll find out what that’s about and handle it.”

“Do you think Doug and Van can pull this off in two days? What are they planning anyway?”

“Well they presented some ridiculous sham demon ritual to the council and they seemed to like it, but who knows? All I’m focused on is what happens next. Talk soon, Eddie.”

~~~~~

Valerie returned to Mr. Greer’s office an hour later with an updated schedule and a fresh cup of coffee. “Sir, I’ve completed next week’s schedule with the updates you requested. Mr. Black was thrilled to hear that you had reconsidered the discussion and agreed to a meeting on Friday.”

Herman was neck deep in paper work and only partially paying attention. He graciously accepted the cup of coffee, and asked, “And what about Lyle?”

“Oh, he told me to tell you that his meeting was simply unimportant and that it could wait until after the holiday. He is going to be out of town for the weekend, so he asked to set up a meeting in two weeks. I put it on your requests, if you haven’t already received a notification for that yet.” Valerie grinned. “He said he wanted nothing more than to just chat and catch up with his father.”

Herman grumbled. “That boy never learns. He just loves to waste my time with needless chatter. And to think that he would have taken an hour talking about ridiculous things such as which restaurants are now serving vegetarian foods. Ugh!”

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to work.”

“Thank you, Valerie. I don’t say it a lot, but thank you. And my apologies. My work has me frustrated today. Someone has gone through and changed and moved a bunch of files and such that they weren’t supposed to, and I’m having to fix the lot of it.” He breathed a leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes. “It sure is nice to know I have someone like you to help me out when I’m busy cleaning up these messes.”

“If you need anything, just let me know,” Valerie chirped, offering a warm smile before returning to her office.

~~~~~

At home, Valerie Seistucket quickly dressed down and fed her cat Blyme and waited for her boyfriend to get back from work. Dinner was just some quick leftover meatloaf.

“How was work, Dave?” Valerie asked, pecking her boyfriend on the cheek before heading to the kitchen to start cleaning the dishes.

Dave stretched on the couch in front of the tv, still a little dirty from his job at the construction site, but Valerie did not mind; he learned to clean up after himself thanks to some persuading from Valerie. “Eh, about the same. Not too bad, but it’s getting closer to Friday which means closer to another weekend with you, babe.”

“That’s sweet, but you know it’s not getting you any sex tonight,” joked Valerie.

“Naw, I figured we should do something this weekend. How about we go somewhere?”

“Oh? Where?”

“How about that one forest place you’ve been talking about? The one your parents talked about during Easter.”

Valerie started cleaning the silverware. “You mean Cinther Falls? West of town about sixty miles?”

“Yeah! That’s the place.” Dave got up from his place on the couch and embraced Valerie, passionately kissing her. She got some dish soap on his shirt.

“I think you got yourself a deal, mister,” she said, kissing him again. “I love you.”

“Love you more.”

~~~~~

The end of the week at Wood Lake Enterprises was typically boring and dead for most of its employees, but Valerie hadn’t ever been busier.

“Look, I understand your frustration, but the fact of the matter is that Mr. Greer isn’t interested in any new customers right now, and he’s simply too booked up right now and for the rest of the year to even consider a new project.”

Call after call, the angry messages and voicemails pile up, but none of them leave any lasting damage on Valerie. Curses and bad tempers did not bother her, but she did have a weakness. She would die before she would allow anybody to figure it out, however.

“I’m sorry, but no, Mr. Greer isn’t interested in your staffing agency. As a matter of fact, he’s fully staffed at the moment.”

Herman Greer was used swimming in his fish tank with his protector shark guarding him, but what if the tank shattered? Do all predators turn ravenous when they’re baptized in pools of blood?

Suddenly, Valerie received a call from her cell phone. She quickly closed her office door and answered the phone. “Go.”

“Is this…?”

“I wouldn’t have picked up if it wasn’t.”

“He bought the thirty. It’s happening tonight.”

“Any details?”

Eddie’s voice echoed like he was in a bathroom. “That sham demon ritual like you said. Doug didn’t give me much since it’s Doug, you know. But apparently some bitch offered herself. This shit is legit.” His voice was shaky. “I thought his people were just actors, but I don’t know anymore, Val. I don’t know.”

“Don’t get yourself psyched out. Doug and his team are professionals; if it looked fake, Lyle wouldn’t buy it, you know?”

“You’re right, I suppose,” Eddie admitted, unsure.

“Talk soon.”

After getting off of the phone with Eddie, Valerie looked at the clock, 4:49pm, almost time to go home, also almost time for Doug’s plan to spring into action. She swore her heart thumped three times as fast as the clock ticked, her fingernails dug into her sweaty palms. Her perfect posture broke into a stressed slump. Dave would be expecting her home soon to pack for their weekend away at the falls, but all she could think about was the plan and what it meant for her if it would fail.

Worst case scenario, if the plan failed, Lyle still could not link her to Doug’s plan; however, the truth would come flying out about her lying to his father about him being unavailable on the weekend, which would result in her immediate dismissal from the firm and ultimate destruction of the council’s plan. There was a lot of things riding on Doug’s plan, and her simple lie to Herman about his son could have dramatic consequences.

“I’ll make a note to deal with that on Monday,” Valerie whispered.

Hours pass and Valerie was still in the office. Herman left for the night long before and security believed she was hard at work on reports, but she was simply staring at the clock, sweat dripping from her brow. As each second passed, she felt the lump in her throat grow larger and larger. The bulb in her head swelled with each moment, making her want to take a revolver to her own head and pull the trigger. “Dave must be worried sick about me,” she thought to herself. “But why hasn’t he called?”

Suddenly, at about nine o’clock, Valerie receives a call.

“H-h-hello?” She half expected it to be Lyle.

“Valerie, it’s the Chieftain of Station 8B.” Doug had called at last.

“Y-Y-You’re calling, so, it-it’s done? The Cleansing is…?” Valerie tried to remember if that was what the council had called Doug’s project. Most of the council’s work is all in codewords to protect its integrity, so in high stress situations, Valerie finds herself forgetting what’s called what.

“Alert the council of our success here and begin taking the necessary steps for initiation,” Doug said nothing more, ending the call as cold and quick as he began.

Instant relief washed over Valerie, but that soon turned to regret when she realized what she had to do next.

Tears welled up in her eyes as she entered the number and pressed dial. “Hi, honey,” she spoke softly to avoid completely breaking down. “Something came up at work, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it to the falls this weekend.” She bit her lip and squeezed back the tears. “Maybe next weekend.”

Maybe next weekend.

Bodies In the Sandbox I: The Mutant Boy

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Photo Credit

The Mutant Boy

Tommy Gillespie fought hard but couldn’t break away. He was tangled in the grasp of George Turnboat, a 6-foot meaty giant, who flashed a grin that could make grown men buckle to their knees and the Stitcherton High girls swoon. At first glance, Tommy appeared courageous, a superhero standing up to the evil villain for every other bullied fourth grader in his school, but that wasn’t the case at all. Rather, his stoic expression was the pizza rising back through his esophagus, and his puffy chest was simply severe Marfan Syndrome. In reality, Tommy was a flea against an elephant, a child against a yeti. He knew very well this wasn’t a battle he could win.

George forced Tommy against the freshly painted lockers, staining Tommy’s backpack and elbows bubbly crimson. “You scared, Mutant?” snapped George, spitting in the boy’s matted chestnut hair. As George released his grip, Tommy fell on his ass with a thud. “Stay away from my girl, or we’ll see if your insides are as red as Stitcherton red, pussy.

For the moment it took George to march out of the main hall, Tommy remained still and reserved. A stream of wet red paint streaked down his forearm and fell off his wrist. “This must be what it looks like if I slit my wrists,” he thought somberly. “Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea, after all.” He waited until the metal doors clashed shut, when he was alone with the welcoming silence, before he lost himself.

Tommy wiped the tears away, striping his cheeks crimson. Never in his life had he talked to George’s girl, Natalie. The only one he ever talked to was his brother, but not even his twin could help him in such a hopeless situation. When George Turnboat wanted to beat the living hell out of the school’s deformed weakling, nobody could stop him from doing just that.

Mrrp, mrrp.

A cellphone vibrated in one of the lockers behind Tommy’s head, reminding him to check his own. And sure enough: “Three missed calls,” Tommy blubbered. Each were from unknown callers. He sat still against the wet lockers for a few more minutes, just crying. With his cherry face, he resembled the Stitcherton Devil mascot suit — flaming red, stinky as fuck, and empty on the inside.


Tommy found his brother sitting atop the monkey bars at the playground, chewing on a wad of bubble gum. “Hey, David,” Tommy sniffed, rubbing the dark welt rising on his throat. “We can go home now.”

David hopped off the bars and landed in the soft grass, trampling the recently sprouted wildflowers. “George again?”

“Yep.”

Chuckling, David added: “In the main hall? Y’know Mr. Harris is going to be pissed when he gets back tonight to see your pack print in the lockers.”

“Fuck him,” rasped Tommy. Following his brother to the sidewalk, heading towards home. “Did you know they’re calling me Mutant?” He rubbed his nubby sixth finger on his left hand, kicking gravel into the ditch as he walked.

David beamed. “Started that one myself. Figured it was better than Titty Tommy.”

A semi raced past the duo, stirring up dust and a crumpled page of Stitcherton Daily. When the soot settled down and the boys moved farther from the dirt road, Tommy patted the dirt from his hair and whispered, “He called again.”

David stopped. “Did you answer?”

“No.”

“How many –”

“Three,” answered Tommy. “It’s not stopping like you thought it would.”

“Whatever. Let’s just get home before Mom grounds us for life.” David’s attempt at quickly changing the subject had no effect, as neither of the boys could escape the thought of what was to come should they continue to ignore the blocked calls.

“It’s going to come again,” warned Tommy.

“And when it does, we’ll be ready.” David swallowed his gum. “As long as we have a bathtub….”

Tommy hid his panic behind a quivering grin. “…We have a fighting chance.”

Beautiful Life

He grew his hair out so you’d forget the ugly shape of his face
Sucked in his gut to hide the Bacardi pints from lonely nights past
A life drowning in vodka sweats and bad intentions, he swore he’d swim

Once your lover, the man stood before you a blue collar stranger
He rubbed his naked finger where once there was a ring
Daydreamed about the life that almost was

He smiled when he greeted you because you said you’d never forget his dimples
Sucked in his gut further so you’d see how much he had changed
But hopefulness turned to humiliation when he noticed your finger was bare no longer

Once your best friend, the man wept quietly in his room
Tears streaking the old ultrasound photo he had hidden in his wallet
Fractured, he turned to his past demons and welcomed them back with open arms

He drowned in the liquor so he’d forget your beautiful face
Slit his wrists to forget the baby girl you both had lost
As his blood slipped down the bathtub drain, so too did the pain and regret

Once your enemy, the man drifted away a lost soul
Forever dreaming about the life that almost was

Incubus, Ch. II

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Photo credit: aka Tman

Chapter II
Rapture

I wouldn’t argue that life was completely different; it was merely wearing a different mask. Twenty years ago, I would have never believed the thought would come to mind, comparing the past to the future, realizing the many similarities over the few differences. I suppose it was something one would only believe after their first dance in the star fields.

“Lieutenant, how are you feeling?” Dal’s eyes twinkled bronze and cobalt, tiny supernovae.

“Well, healthwise, I’m feeling a tad nauseous and got a headache from hell. But if you’re asking me about the situation — I’ll be honest — it’s manageable.” Fifteen years in the Defender unit might have taught me how to accurately protect a planetary system from an impending attack from a celestial force and even safely enter a black hole, but lie effectively? No way.

Not surprisingly, Dal was not convinced. He placed his warm hand over my frozen paw, his radiation bringing life to my scarred palm. “You don’t have to protect me, Eyla. What are we up against?”

The tension in my neck lessened and my shoulders slumped. I extended my claw and tapped the glass window, gesturing toward the grand Tryssian cityscape, resembling a miniature block set from space. The synthetic planet was often mistaken for a star from nearby systems from the spectacular light reflecting off the largely metallic sphere. “Got a transmission from Tryssia,” I paused, pointing toward a plasmic cluster that must have been light years away. “Primordials are moving, and they’re not taking prisoners this time.”

“But what about the peace treaty?”

“Primordials respect no one but themselves, much less an agreement.”

“Which one is coming?”

I reposition the transmitter on my hip and pat down the fur that had natted up on my shoulder. “Well, considering the planets he’s leaving are paved gold, I believe we’re dealing with Kuthar.”

Supposed guardians of the sanctums, the Primordic Sentries combed through our system like a parasite. Long ago, they were respected celestial beings, protectors, but the battle for Earth fucked with everything. One planet’s death caused the entire universe to shift off balance.

“Who was it that signed the treaty? Wasn’t that Kuthar as well?”

I shook my head. “Telari. The only one who’s got our backs.” I started pacing the observation deck. “And she never responded to our transmissions.”

“Damn.”

“You got that right. If Kuthar reaches our system, I don’t know what the fuck we can do. Hell, war with the creature isn’t even an option; we’d have the entire Primordic guard to answer to.” I cleared my throat. “So, yeah, other than that, I’m feeling dandy.”

 

Incubus

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Photo Credit: N G

Chapter 1
Evensong

First, we nail boards to the windows. Every slam of the hammer shook our little trailer; on a better day, from the vigorous trembling, you’d think I was getting laid. But, no, this was not a good day, nor did I figure we would have one for a long time.

As I offered him the planks, Jared smashed and stuck them against the windows. In all, the trailer had only four windows, each nearly too small for even a toddler to squeeze through, but we could not take any chances. Sweat glistened on the nape of his neck, diamond droplets trickling down his spine. The muscles in his back swelled and tensed as he helped me fortify our home, and suddenly I was thankful for the long nights he spent pumping away at Hartloch’s community gym.

He drove the final nail in, the head of it slightly bent from the force. “What next, Aubs?”

Jared knew what was next; I knew it too, but that didn’t make it any easier. “The sinks, with the carpet.” My eyes dropped to the stringy shag carpeting daddy installed for me the first week after he was diagnosed with cancer. It was the final project he ever completed, and it killed me what had to be done with it. Sunlight beamed between the furniture pressed against the front door, revealing all the swirling dust in our quaint trailer house. “Then after that…” My voice quivered.

“Don’t even,” Jared barked, falling to his knees. “How much d’we need?”

“Just start cutting, and I’ll let you know when.” An image of the creatures crawling up the pipes made my stomach churn.

But before he could drive the knife into the carpet, Jared stopped. “Look at us, Aubrey.”

“What?”

“What the fuck we doin’?” His voice was raspy with authentic country roots. “Say we get the placed locked up, how long we gonna survive after that? We ain’t got food to last us maybe a week, not to mention the Reverend and his tricks.” His eyes flashed like frenzied lightning under the flickering ceiling fan bulb. Despair bleached Jared’s typical enthusiastic tone. “We can’t do this alone.”

I snapped. “Who the hell can we call, Jared?” Pacing the living room, hands clenched in my hair, I repeated: “Who the hell can we call?” My mind pulled images of everyone I ever loved from my mental scrapbook. “There’s no one left but us.”

We sat in silence for a moment, me glaring daggers into Jared’s forehead. He knew it as well as I did: we were screwed. “Now get to stripping that carpet; we’ve got to fill these motherfucking sinks if we’re going to last until morning.”

#####

With our home finally fortified — every possible entry plugged up tight — Jared and I sat in the naked living room. The place where the entertainment center was that once held the television and Jared’s huge collection of games had become the place where we kept the shit bucket. Picture frames against the walls only existed as faint dust outlines against dirty wood panelling. Everything we used to have was either distorted and used to keep us safe, or rotting in a fire pit back at the refuge. I imagine that was also where the passionate, electric love Jared and I had for one another was buried.

The ceiling fan was the only one humming with excitement as Jared and I sat cross-legged on the cold, bare floor. Bright summer heat and light dimmed to a pale twilight as night was cast upon the land. Aside from a pack of dogs in the distance and the blaring emergency sirens, everything was quiet.

Something had also turned the volume down on my heart. I felt empty. I was empty. “Jared,” his name felt unfamiliar on my tongue, “I’m sorry for flipping out on you earlier.” Silence. “Babe, please don’t be this –”

Shh,” he huffed, pointing to the door. “Do you hear that?”

It started as a drip-drip-drip, like water from a faucet, but it quickly got faster and louder. The single light we had on in the trailer let out a final, bright burst of light before turning to lifeless gray. Illuminated by only the dusklight peeping through the cracks in the wood, my heart bounced to my throat. “They’re here,” I whispered.

The weight of the air I breathed splintered my lungs, the sheer pressure of it squeezing my brain. Tears streamed Jared’s face as the realization that we had been chosen had struck him. “I love you,” I mouthed, my fingers pressed to my burning temple.

Dust filled my body as I continued gasping for the very thing that was torturing me. Checkered shadows danced on the walls. Blood dripped from our ears. Our tears turned to crimson. In the back of my mind, I heard a haunting melody, drawing me to the door. But I knew I had to stay put.

I looked at Jared, who was still bent over in agony. We wanted so badly to scream, to say literally anything, but sound no longer existed, the very waves dissolved in the potent air.

Suddenly my body twitched, and I rose from the floor. All of my hair was standing on edge in the electrified atmosphere that had consumed the trailer. Time slowed to a trickle as every particle sluggishly ascended. My face was stricken, my mouth gaping, trying to breathe any ounce of oxygen.

Just as I was on the brink of death, everything stopped. The air returned, the pain subsided. Everything was in its perfect place — the entertainment center was back in the corner of living room, the television broadcasting an old cartoon, and Jared’s game collection was placed neatly on the side shelves. The picture frames of momma, my brother, and me were immaculately hung on the walls. Daddy’s shag carpeting tickled my toes. Soft moonlight shone through bare, crystal windows.

But one thing was not in its place; Jared was gone. In his place: a bloodstained stone tulip. My passion for Jared returned the moment he had gone. Before I could start to cry, there was a faint knock at the door. Two small taps shattered my soul.

The Reverend was outside, myself in my own twisted nightmare. But it wasn’t until the stone tulip crumbled to ash that the terror truly began.

 

White Rabbit

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Photo Credit

One by one they march

Their swords drooled blood of the enemy

They won’t stop

It was time to claim the divine reward.

 

Even the seas of magnetic dynamite they pass in stride

A cynic’s illusion, He should have done better

The purest magic wilts against stolid steel, they assure each other

Their eyes glued to the glacier palace, they keep marching.

 

Though the crystalline keep was anything but.

With every inch closer, the tower transforms.

Dreamy beryl walls to tarnished silver

Glimmering treasures to bleached ash

 

The Ivory Prince rises from the levitating tomb

His gaze reverts the silver suits to searing ingot

The soldiers’ knees buckle, but still they march.

He won’t let them stop.

 

Roaring razor storms consume the East

Corrosive lizards creep from the crevasse in the West

The forked tongue of darkness flicks at their heels.

All that remains is the Prince and His keep.

 

One by one they march

Crippled under concrete crowns of thorns.

They’ll be royalty, too

Dreaming of crystalline treasures in the furnace.