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.

 

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.

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.”

We All Float On, Ch.3 (finale)

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Read chapters 1 and 2 here!
(Also sorry for the change of POV! I totally forgot the first two were in 1st, and don’t have time to go back and adjust.)

Jess’s eyes painfully flutter open to a wet stage. Elephant tears slowly drop from a dark ceiling, the mucous liquid smelling more like piss and sweat than anything else. Icy chains and brutish spikes shine from the glint of moonlight beaming from a shackled window. Curious mice pinch at her aching feet.

“Get the fuck,” she groans, “out of here.” The words slid off her tongue like sticky rice down a dry metal slab. Her tongue the size of an egg, she tries to scream.

She must have been out, what, a couple hours? The moon was still dominating, with no glimpse of morning light peering over the horizon. Jess smacks the stone floor and cackles. Her forced laughter brought life to the dark cell. She found humor in the fact that, if she saw her father again, at least he would stop suggesting she take part in beauty pageants. With a broken leg and at least five other cracked bones, she could count on living life entirely different, a life without Karl, Sheila, and… “Oh, god. Stephen.” The distressed giggles went silent, and then Jess felt her eyes well up. “Stay focused, Jessica,” she squeezed her eyes shut. “Everything will be okay; everything is okay.” Willful thinking was not her strong suit.

The cuffs carve warm, pulsing bracelets into her wrists. Her heart thuds an enchanting beat in her ears. Suddenly she could see how people who spend too much time in the dark end up in the ward. Gritting her teeth, she forces herself up against the wall. Condensation clung to her chest. Then she remembered the safe word. “Spaceship!” she yelled, her cracked lips bleeding from the commotion. “Spaceship, spaceship, spaceship!”

A dull hum brings forth bright light and hooded specters. “So how was that, boys?” Jess asks, squinting.

Nathan Kensington flashes a wide grin, his teeth as bright as the moon, and stops the night vision recorder. “You tell me, Jess. How do you think you did?” He kicks a clump of bloody mud from his shoes. “And why did you stop? We had planned another half hour or so.”

“Because I’m thirsty and tired, Nathan.” She sighs, snapping for a refreshment.

The other man and woman walk up to Jess, offering her a towel and a drink of water. They remove the chains and bring her a chair. “If you ask me, you could have pulled a more convincing struggle,” the Amazonian woman advises. “But it’s hard not to believe those tears, I have to admit.”

“Stephen, what did you think?” Jess latches herself onto the masculine man standing beside the amazon. She missed being snuggled in his hairy chest.

Stephen gives her a peck on the cheek, his hot tongue washing Jess’s clean. Jess runs her fingers through his stiff hair as he grips her ass. She winces, reminded of her broken leg. “Everyone is going to eat this up. You’re going to be a fucking star, baby.”

“The victim of the century,” Jess pipes, clasping her sexy dead man. “Gimme five and we’ll shoot the sequel, kay?”

Devils Dance, Ch.1

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Mr. Brewer wrapped his arms around a little pig-tailed girl. “You come back and see me now,” he said quietly. “Next time I won’t be so tired, I promise.”

The hint of a smile appeared on the child’s face. “I love you grandpa. I’ll come back as soon as mommy lets me. Like maybe next week.”

“I’ll be counting the days,” Mr. Brewer stated, releasing his granddaughter from his weakening grip.

Everything had happened so suddenly; one minute he was lying next to his wife back in Atlanta, the next his love had died of pneumonia and he had been deemed too much of a burden to care for by his only daughter Shelly. She wasn’t wrong, however, and Mr. Brewer by no means had any animosity toward his daughter. She simply had made the decision that was most appropriate for her family, and that was just fine.

But life at Serenity Summit was not what Mr. Brewer had expected it to be. On the pamphlet Shelly had presented him during his last weekend as a free man, he noticed all the folks living at the Summit were smiling and having a blast, their images plastered under the title, “Serenity Summit #1 for its Engaging Family-Oriented Atmosphere.” Although it was true that during his stay he had acquired new friends, actual family visits were scarce – he imagined he wouldn’t see his granddaughter again until next month, but Shelly’s demanding lifestyle was to blame for that, not so much the hospital.

“Goodbye,” Mr. Brewer shouted, to which the girl shot him one last hopeful grin before walking out of the facility.

Suddenly, a nurse dressed in Peanuts scrubs nudged the man in the shoulder. “Wow, Hayley has sure grown a lot since I first saw her.”

Mr. Brewer stared blankly into the nurse’s eyes, the name echoed in his mind. “Who?”

“Your granddaughter, Mr. Brewer. You remember Hayley, don’t you?”

Irritated, the old man straightened his posture. “Granddaughter?” He chuckled. “You’re mistaken, miss. That was my daughter Shelly. Isn’t it a bit early to be talking about grandchildren? I mean, by God, she’s not even six yet!”

“You get some rest now, Mr. Brewer, so you’ll be full of energy for the bingo game tonight,” she encouraged, giving him two pats on his knee before walking over to another resident.

Hayley. The name resonated in his head. Surely the nurse was mistaken, he thought. There was no way he could have a grandchild.

In an attempt to find a photograph of his daughter, for proof that he wasn’t losing his mind, Mr. Brewer rolled himself into his room, and sure enough he found it. On his nightstand was the picture of a grown woman who closely resembled his Shelly – she even had the same birthmark on her face just like his daughter.

“Damn,” Mr. Brewer cursed, dropping his head.

He hadn’t realized his roommate Greg was in the corner reading a newsletter dated from 1942. Nor did he realize that Greg’s record player was on. Mr. Brewer finally realized that his wife Nelly was right: he had gone bat-shit crazy.

“What’s the matter? Nurse didn’t get you that green Jell-O you like so much?”

“Naw, just seein’ things more clearly for the first time in a while, is all,” he replied, noting that the music was getting louder. “Hey, turn that down would you?” He motion toward his buddy’s record player.

Greg was dumbfounded. “Huh? I don’t hear nothin’. It’s not on.”

Mr. Brewer wasn’t about to let himself be played as an ignorant fool. Just who did Greg think he was, anyway? “Greg, I said turn the fucking music off. It’s not the ‘40s anymore, so you need to stop reading that goddamned paper and listening to that ridiculous song every afternoon!”

“Bud, I swear there ain’t no music playin’.”

The old man lost it and knocked a vase to the floor, sending dozens of ceramic shards spiraling across the cream-tiled floor. “You listen to me, bud,” spat Mr. Brewer. “I’m not taking your shit anymore. You’re always treating me like a sucker, and it’s going to stop today.” Then, with one of the longer pieces of ceramic, Mr. Brewer shoved the spike into Greg’s throat, puncturing his jugular artery.

The white room was painted red in seconds, after a frenzied Mr. Brewer continued to stab his old friend. With each puncture, a memory was brought back to Mr. Brewer: with a gash to the jugular came that of his wife Nelly, who had given birth to the most beautiful baby girl in the world; then a splurge of hot blood on his face brought a replay of Shelly’s wedding into his vision, and then of Hayley’s birth; with a swift plunge to the chest, he remembered that his withering consciousness and his temper were what landed him in Serenity Summit to begin with. His rage subsided after the strings of red goo expanded into a dark crimson pool. His buddy reduced to a ripped blood fountain, the gurgling of blood made Mr. Brewer vomit into his palm.

“Oh my God, what I have I done,” he asked, dropping the bloodied ceramic shiv – the spike shattered on the hard floor. Turning to the record player, he realized that Greg was telling the truth after all; there was absolutely no record spinning, but Chattanooga Choo Choo still blared through the speaker.

Suddenly, Mr. Brewer opened his third story window, revealing a beautiful expanse of wilderness. And to make it even more desirable, the music didn’t reach outside. So, with his face chapped with tears, he jumped. He never felt freer than the second before his skull met the sidewalk.

Several states over, a similar chilling melody hummed down a drive of freshly fallen snow. Death’s stale tune whisper met the door of an honors boy and precious Mumu.