Posts tagged Horror

Hameln

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I watch carefully as it rests on my chaise lounge. Sat myself with hands sheathed to the elbows in claret, I have poured generously into his trembling glass, provided grapes with only slight hints of rough cutting. Its eyes settle somewhere between the top of my head and the oil painting of my parents. I have lived lonely in my castle for so long that the colour has all turned stale; the silk has turned to cobwebs. The velvet is so drenched with blood that we can no longer tell what is dye and what is death; how many gallons have been shed and soaked up. Sharp corners follow you always and catch echoes. There are a hundred long corridors fit for racing down, if one ever had a child or friend. Rocks have long shot out the ornate windows, and I have long ceased replacing the wood boards when they rot. Old visitors would complain of the dust and dim light, the china plates and furniture left to fall into ruin; the clock always oscillating between midday and midnight. The cracking paper, grown grotesque with points and curls that were once purple, shrinks from corners, like dewy lettuce leaves folding back. Remembering to smile with no teeth, my voice lilts to grow musical and warm – to soft-speak the shivering thing with tones of saffron into a haze of almost-sleep.

On moon days, when melancholy has held me in bed for weeks upon months, I rouse myself with force. I float along upturned soil, chin held up as though pulled by elastic threads and a heart that I batter with threats. At my best I need only the barest of weapons to convince my prey to come hither. Sometimes just a smile will do. You have never seen such unsettling perfection that will not age and derelict with her home: eyes and canines that bicker so silently over which will pierce you first. My hair rushes for the ground like cascades of worm silk; my face, so unfairly proportioned the religious villagers cursed me and would not look in my eyes.

And I have nothing to do these days but catch strays. Invite them in and serve cold duck; bewitch them rotten and take out each eye. These eyes, most nights, become ornament: crystalline bluebells for lonely corners, that whisper to the sparkling sea. I hang up their shirts to replace the curtains long nibbled at by moths, spend endless nights sewing pocket squares into bunting. And I butcher, and I ravage, and I sing myself to sleep.

Do not look in her eyes, do not look in her eyes, chant the old hags. Eyes are the mirror of your wanting: eyes are the black pits of lost light wherein flesh is soaked in and gobbled up.

Picking my claws and brittle teeth, I sit for days in front of my mirrors, tripping into ever so slightly distorted reflections till I cannot be sure who I am. I talk and pretend they talk back. Whole floors are filled with them, by now – huge and small things that reflect each other and myself. Of course, it is easy to get lost, in this maze of distillations. Sometimes they do all the work for me – disorientating the poor rabbit until days have gone by and you are just full of imploration to be eaten: to be devastated and annihilated by the most delicate set of ivory hands.

Raised to be appreciative of beautiful things, I display my prey as I have seen others do in huge mansions. I have stared many a decapitated fox in the glassy eye, conversing with its master over red wine and soft cheeses that were always poked through with little bulbs of garlic. They hoped to catch me out, I suppose, the superstitious people who were once my neighbours, and spat over their left shoulders whenever we talked of blood.

Revolted, however, by the thought of decapitation, I hang up my dead bodies by the neck. Marionette threads pass through small holes in each hand and foot, before my tall babies are suspended from the ceilings and walls. And they dance! Oh, do they dance – they jerk in beautiful harmony with me; spin and entangle themselves in their strings, so they can never be freed to run away. When I tangle in with them, stay pressed to the skin as it cools – oh, you have not known such loveliness. I rub my cheek against their chests, smiling at a stillness of heart alike my own. Mais je suis désolé, jeune fils –désolé, désolé – we ballet. I bewitch more men to help manage the strings, sometimes; when there are over twenty marionettes and I cannot coordinate the dance myself. They spiral, they pirouette – they flit like the velveteen bats blending impeccably into our sharp, melancholy-spangled nights of red and rich blue. Our days are only pale lavender for countable hours a year; they dissolve, clandestine, into dusk-ridden nights that sit witness to endless slaughter.

But not yet, not yet, my new-born men. First, I will cradle your infantine bodies. Depleted, you shall dance through cobwebs and pools of sinking vermillion, learning the most ancient of this family’s footsteps. Dust rouses, blushing chests splice open and deluge: cataclysms follow each other with no breathing space, in these withering turrets of derelict that home a once tender, young mellow of a girl. She comes back up for air, at brief moments, when I lower my cocoons into safe-spaces under the floorboards, to rest for long hours and recoup.

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Hazel

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The eyes were staring at me through the window, colder than the breeze that caresses a lake in the winter.

They were intimidating, but they didn’t scare me. In fact, they were interesting. Something within them was enough to whet the appetite of anyone that peered into them, and it was the only thing that was present in them. No feeling, no liveliness. Just the incomprehensible. captivating, tempting.

The year was 1985, and I was standing outside the front window of Schroeder’s Antiques, a quaint, unimpeachable store that stood on the edge of the street of Maple Lane. It was surrounded by a handful of other businesses and stores, so it was typically overlooked. Not by me, though. I had always loved that store. The smell of the old wood filling my nostrils always relaxed me, eased my nerves. Besides, it was a nice distraction from all of hullabaloo rummaging through the town.

It wasn’t everyday that something like this happened in a small town like mine. Four children murdered in a span of three weeks? It was almost too much to handle. The town was still trying to wrap its head around it, but I didn’t want to. I just tried to ignore it. I had to ignore it. Dark things had no business being in such a bright place. And I guess you could surmise that my mind was on the list of bright places. You know what thoughts like that could do to you.

But I couldn’t ignore the doll in the window. Those eyes. The way it stood in the window like he was waving at everyone on the other side. He had been there since the first murder. I could remember him so vividly, yet I don’t remember why. I had never stood outside the window of the store before, I had always gone in. But yet it still lingered in my mind that I had seen this particular doll before, felt it before. And though I couldn’t recall every exact detail of it, it appeared to me like garden variety on that day on Maple Lane. Some part of me could only place one singular plastic balloon in his hand when I had first seen him, but somehow he had four as I watched him that day.

The eyes that were gazing at me were queerly human-like. Mere yellow orbs with their own life inside of them, like they each had their own heart. And though they were plastic you could almost see the breath rising behind them. I knew it wasn’t the case, though. There was no way that a doll could be even remotely human-like. That was stuff that only happened in movies.

Even if the doll was a clown, and it resembled something so alive, like it did there in the front display of the store.

In the reflection on the window in front of the clown’s face, I could see Jax. My son with chocolate brown hair like mine whose eyes would light up when the sun glinted against them just right. My pride and joy, the one that made it seem like everything that was good in the world was thriving inside of him like glorious caged heat. Jax was seven-years-old, and he had the liveliest attitude I had ever seen. How thrilled would he be to see a doll like the clown in the window.

One of Jax’s favorite things was to go see the circus with his father whenever it came to town. I never came along — the circus had always creeped me out — but Jax would always come home cheering of all the remarkable things he had seen. The music, the acrobats, the animals. But he had always loved the clowns; those seemed to be his favorite.

So of course, when his dad left and never returned, it was hard to see something like that stolen from him. To Jax, the clowns were his father, and when his was father was gone, so were the memories. The saying goes to let the dead dog lie, but when the dog was something that Jax needed, then I couldn’t just turn my head and walk away. It was medicine that he lurched for.

I scrutinized the doll a little closer. His demeanor seemed to send chills backflipping down my spine. His skin was a pallid, porcelain white, a scarlet painted-on smile hung over his face like Christmas lights. Those eyes that were staring so intently at me were a bright hazel, narrowed almost to slits, like a cat’s. He was dressed in a rainbow jumpsuit, with red pom-poms running down his front, finished with oversized, orange shoes. Tufts of vivid, sunset-orange hair protruded from his hairline, rays of the sun circling his head.

With my hair tickling the nape of my neck, tugging my sweater closer around my body, I made a decision. Swinging the door open to the store, I strolled in, the familiar smell of the ancient oak overwhelming my senses, giving me a similar feeling of strong vellichor. It seemed like I was the only customer. There was only one other person in the store besides me: a short, stout man with a thick mass of curly, brown hair on his head, dressed in a red floral Hawaiian shirt tucked into worn jeans. He was standing behind the counter of the checkout desk, and he flashed me an amiable smile upon entering. Anything to keep a customer, I guess. Any other reason couldn’t service the forced smile on his face, and it wasn’t like this place was Disneyworld.

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The House At St. Joseph’s

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It was a hot late summer’s day, and as the sun’s rays were reflected on the glass of the estate agent’s window, it was difficult to see the houses they were advertising. James, a town guide who worked for the council, and Rosie, a newly qualified schoolteacher, were linking arms and looking at the descriptions. Their eyes suddenly latched on to one of the photographs.

The Old School House
Period property in need of modernisation. This is believed to date from the 16th Century, and was a former school.
Two bedrooms
Lounge / diner with large dormer window
Kitchen

Rosie gave James a squeeze. “Huns, this looks lovely. It’s just perfect. Can’t we go in now and make an offer? Please?”

James gave a nervous frown. “Look at the price. Can we afford it?”

“Darling, you’ve got a good job at the council. You could be a museum curator in ten years. By that time I could be a Head of Department. We can do it! Please say yes!”

Moments later they were through the door.

April 2019

Rosie stood in the centre of her new house. A fresh maroon carpet had been laid, a sofa nestled by the bay window, and many unpacked boxes littered the floor. She looked up.

“Don’t you love the smell of an old house? You can smell history, past loves, past conquests and romances and arguments!” James stood still. The smell reminded him of his time as a guide at Hatfield House, where he would take wide-eyed tourists to the room where the lives of kings were made and broken. “This is ours now”, he mused. “The panelling over the old beams will have to go though.

Rosie turned and smiled. “You know what? I’m knackered. We’ve still got all these boxes to unpack, but I just can’t face it right now. How about we get some fish and chips and get an early night?”

James gave her hand an affectionate squeeze. “Good idea! I’ll just pop down now. Have we unpacked the kitchen stuff yet?

“Yes – that’s one box I have done. See you in fifteen. I’ll be ready for you!” She gave him a broad smile.

It was just after Midnight when Rosie woke up with a start. She was sure she had heard something. She slipped on her kimono dressing gown and tiptoed down to investigate. A wine glass was lying shattered on the stone floor of the kitchen, its stem, still intact, pointing accusingly at her. She stood for a moment. She was sure she had unpacked all of the glasses, laid them in the cupboard above the sink in neat rows, and closed the door. She wasn’t so sure now. Maybe she had left the door open. Her memory was beginning to blur. She’d ask James in the morning. Determined to make no sound, she sidled gingerly up the stairs, opened the bedroom door, and very slowly and quietly eased it shut behind her.

The Easter Sun was streaming in through the bedroom window when James rolled over in bed and gave Rosie a kiss. “So how was your first night in our new bed?”

“Beautiful, slept like a baby”, Rosie lied

Maybe it was just a dream. Maybe it didn’t happen. Rosie slipped on her dressing gown again and crept downstairs. She always liked to have breakfast before she got dressed, something that often annoyed James, who stepped out of his side of the bed, slipped on a T shirt and shorts and followed her down, as Rosie turned towards him in the kitchen.

“Did you leave the cupboard door open last night?”

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Promises

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The anticipation was the best part.

Lily gave herself a treat that evening, outside one of the more expensive gyms where the rich worked off their calories and their guilt. She watched from the shadows as the light waned, waiting for the right meal. She was vaguely aware of time passing, but had only taken note of the passing people.

The summer air tasted like rain and sweat. The sky was dull, black and gun-metal grey clouds, the city cast in monochrome save for the occasional ray that had struggled through to light the depraved city below.

She disliked picking on the city’s undernourished. There was an aftertaste, like the bit of a cheese that you waited a little too long to eat. Or the leftovers that look alright but smells slightly off. At least, that’s what she had assumed. It’d been a while—some hundred years or so since she’d truly enjoyed a more conventional meal.

Finally, the male walked out. He was still in his sweat-soaked gym clothes, his bag slung over his shoulder. Keys to an expensive car flashed in his hands. The same car she had seen him park a couple of hours ago. Her senses narrowed to his movements and the sound of his blood whooshing through his veins. The dark sky above rumbled ominously.

Lily stalked him crouched on all fours, allowing her body to take full control. It guided her along the edges of the car park to where the flashy car was parked by a copse of trees and a conveniently recently-broken street lamp. She grinned. It was lovely when a plan came together.

The meat was a little tough, but that was a fact easily ignored. After exercise, the blood is a gorgeous, oxygen-rich ruby-red loaded with delicious hormones, with its own sweaty seasoning like the salt rim on a margarita. Enough for her to get completely blissed out.

Her very own, personal catnip flavour.

She had a pro-wrestler once. Got him in his dressing room immediately after a fight. He was the most delicious meal she’d ever had and absolutely worth the hasty escape plan.

She was two cars away, close enough to taste him on the air when the man dropped his keys. She inhaled deeply as time slowed. His lemon-and-salt flavour saturated her brain. Her mouth flooded with venom.

She leapt over the cars and landed in a crouch beside him. He started and fell back against the car, knocked off balance.

“Oh,” she said, her voice dropping into a mocking tone as she stood. “Did I scare you?”

He blinked. “I didn’t see you there.”

“I know,” she said. “I don’t like having to chase my dinner. All that stress ruins the flavour.”

“Er…” His eyebrows rose. “I don’t quite follow?” He looked her up and down, taking in the dark, nondescript clothing. Lily had average features, and looked about twenty—ish. Mousy brown hair, dark brown eyes. Utterly forgettable. He dismissed her with a roll of his eyes and a wave. “Listen, sweetheart,” he said. “I have no idea what kind of crazy you are, but I don’t want a part of it.”

Lily giggled and ran her tongue over her teeth. He was perfect. She could barely hold herself back any longer, giddy with bloodlust as she was. “Don’t worry about it, it won’t matter in a moment anyway.” She stepped towards him. “You look absolutely delicious.” She put her hands on his chest and ran one hand up and around his neck. Her right hand stayed above his heart. “Come here, handsome.” She tugged him down gently.

He leaned down at the first flash of lightning. The crack of thunder drowned out his scream.

The clouds succumbed to their weight and opened as she made her way back to the business district. The few people left wandering outside ran for cover. Rain washed away the grit-and-ash taste of exhaust fumes from her palate as it wiped the air and the streets clean, giving way to the sweet aroma of the city’s other delights—rotting refuse and the revolting creatures in the dark places of the world.

Rats. She’d always been rather fond of the entrepreneurial little beings. They climbed up telephone poles and then along the swaying criss-cross of wire that spanned the width of the street, tails wrapped around cables, tightrope walking in single file.

The rats go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah…

The hammering rain drowned out a lot of her hearing but Lily picked up a disturbance some distance up the street. The rain and fog obscured figures into shadows. The working girls were getting excited. A few of the window shoppers got a little handsy sometimes and she would have to interfere. She cocked her head to get a better listen. The sound was muted, as if it had travelled under water. It didn’t seem like they were being bothered. All Lily could hear was cooing. A high, quiet voice answered—a child?

Either way, she didn’t have to get involved. Again. She sighed and settled back under the awning of the shopfront that was providing meagre shelter from the torrential rain.

That night, Floret’s Perennials was her office. Tropical plants spilled out of terracotta pots and bright greenhouse flowers stood in tall vases, their unnatural presence even more unlikely in this rotten neighbourhood.

The smell helped drown out the tastes of human filth rising in steamy tendrils from the storm drains.

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The Day She Became The Storm

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Skylar Lawrence was a very quiet little girl. When she was a baby she lost her parents in a car accident and was raised by her grandmother in the small town in Vermont. Those few things she knew about her parents were mainly the memories she built from the photos and some of their belongings. She never actually missed them; she did not feel she was ever familiar with the people she saw on the photos.

She spent her childhood and youth years in that same town she left after having entered the college. That time she left, she left it forever except that week she came to her grandma’s funeral in the middle of spring term. That day has changed her, made her feel totally alone in the big brave world, made her hate her solitude, which lasted until she met Hayden Foster – the love of her life, her future husband that cured her from her superstitions, prejudice, preconceptions, paranoia and what’s the most important – loneliness. She was looking for him for a very long time before she found the person she pictured in her head as a perfect idea, like the shining star that would light up her way.

She was dreaming about someone, who would come to her life not to visit, but to stay; someone, who would love the chocolate cake and hate the olives, just like she did; someone, who would see, understand and accept the monsters she was holding in her drawers and her wardrobe, and let her keep them; someone, who would see the beauty and the ugliness in every single human being; someone, who would be able to see the world not the way it was, but in the way she saw it, so gorgeous and so monstrous, so innocent and so filthy, full of the amazing things that are easy to create and easy to destroy. Eventually she met that person, he came out of her. She met him long time after she was meant to, in the most uncomfortable time, but she met him. Moreover, she made him.

Skylar Lawrence was special. Everybody said that – her grandma, her teachers, her neighbors, her friends. But it turned out to be a problem, when she became too special. Her grandmother was taking a very good care of her, at times even being too strict. Skylar had dark blond hair always braided or scraped into the ponytail. Her clothes were always ironed and neat. Her manners were just fine, her posture was perfect and she never sat with her knees apart. She was not very social, but had several school friends, who immediately stopped talking to her after everybody discovered what she was capable of.

One of those days when she was a child, she was playing outside with her ball and it rolled into the neighbor’s rosebush. When she finally got it from there, having scratched her forearms to blood she saw two patent-leather shoes standing on the grass. She raised her gaze and stood up. ‘Who wears leather shoes in summer?’ she thought.
‘I do’, answered the boy standing opposite her. ‘These are my favorite shoes, I wear them every day’.

Skylar gasped, her eyes widened. ‘That was so rude. I did not want to say that aloud. Did I say that aloud?’ the thoughts were rapidly rushing in her confused mind.

‘No, you didn’t. You did not say that. But I heard it’, the boy was slightly smiling, ‘You don’t have to say it for me to hear it’.

‘Liar!’ said Skylar impatiently. She knew it was rude to say that word as well and she was not allowed to use it, but lying was also bad and having measured those using the scale of bad things she just invented in her head, she came to conclusion that pronouncing the word ‘Liar’ was not as bad as actually being a liar.

‘I am not lying’, said the boy shaking his head.

‘Yes, you are. Nobody can hear what I think if I don’t say it out loud.’

‘I can’ said the boy shrugging his shoulders.

‘I guess’ Skylar started ‘you can prove it, if you really can read my mind’. Then she tightly shut her eyes and covered her mouth with both hands.

‘Pizza, pony, twelve’, said the boy rolling his eyes up. ‘Anything else?’ he seemed upset because of Skylar checking him.

She peered out at him and tried to understand how he was doing that, but did not find any reasonable explanation.

‘I want to try again’, she said and rapidly closed her eyes and covered the mouth.

‘Hopscotch, Christmas tree, Barbie’, the boy seemed to get bored.

‘How are you doing that? Is that some magic trick?’ Skylar did not know how it was actually possible for a person to read someone else’s mind. It was that time when she did not yet figure out how far from being the person was that boy standing in front of her.

‘Kind of. I can do many things’, answered the boy. He could clearly see that Skylar was curious and not scared a bit, unlike the rest of the kids he was trying to make friends with. He liked her. She was different.

‘Many things?’ Skylar widened her eyes. ‘Like what?’

‘Like this’ said the boy touching Skylar’s forearm that got scratched when she was trying to release the ball from the rosebush. When he moved his hand away there was nothing else but smooth perfect skin with no marks. Skylar stood motionless with her mouth opened.

‘The priest was telling us about people like you, who can do miracles’, she finally constrained herself to speak.

There are only a few people who can do such things. So I can’t tell others about it. Only to those who can do something special too. Can you promise that you will keep this in secret?’ he asked.

‘I will. I promise’, said Skylar nodding her head ‘But why did you tell me? I can’t do anything like it’.

‘I think you can. You just need to recall it. You are very special, Skylar. I hope you will soon have the power to do amazing things just like I do. And if so we could make great things together.’

Skylar’s face widened in a smile. ‘Wow! Can you teach me how to do it?’ She was excited.

‘Sure. We can begin right away. I can show you more and you will learn something of what I can do’

‘Do you want to go to the park and show me more there? It’s just around the corner.’

‘Sounds like a good plan to me’, the boy smiled.

‘You didn’t tell me your name by the way’, said Skylar.

‘Dylan’ he answered and together they went along the road, deeper and deeper to what had to be hidden from Skylar and all the other living beings, having left the Mrs. Lowell’s rosebush behind.

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Jury Duty

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“We the jury find the defendant guilty of six counts of murder in the first degree.”

With those words, three long months of sequestration was ended, and the twelve individuals who held the fate of Jonas Slab in their hands could go back to their lives. The trial had been intense- Slab was accused of murdering at least six people over the course of three years. The evidence was vile and nightmarish- more than one of the jurors had begun to have nightmares, and several talked frequently of needing the number of a good therapist.

It was not all bad. The jurors bonded. Tess- mother of three- and Abigail- grandmother of eight- had formed an almost mother/daughter bond. Reggie, Clive, and Zed had all decided it would be fun to go together to see their mutual favorite football team- the Houston Texans- play during the upcoming season. Sam and Liz had been flirting a lot during the time, and several jurors had actually placed bets on whether or not he would ask her out before the trial ended. Alexis and Ted won when after the previous night’s deliberation ended, Sam caught Liz in the hall and asked her to coffee after the verdict. Luis, Jeb, and Olga were just glad to be done.

Jonas Slab waived his right to appeal, and declared- “I just want it over with.” His execution was set for one year to the day after the trial concluded.

*****

They all received the notice about a week before the execution.

A jury summons.

They all had the same reaction- not surprising considering that they had just given three months of their lives the year before.

But a summons is law, so begrudgingly, they all showed up. Even though the location was at the old courthouse (Which they paid no attention to), and the summons was for eight in the morning (Which they did pay attention to).

When Reggie saw Alexis, he thought it odd that both of them would get called again. Olga, Liz, and Clive arrived next, then soon after all the rest were in the dark courtroom, in a vacant building. Ted was a contractor, and he noticed right away that the building was altered. But he couldn’t tell why.

Abigail noticed Liz and Sam were on opposite sides of the room. “Sam, did you not come with Liz?” Liz averted her eyes, and Sam gritted his teeth and mumbled, “We’re not together anymore.”

“Guys, something isn’t right,” Ted began. “This room has pipes it shouldn’t.”

Luis grunted. “It also has people it shouldn’t.”

As if on cue, a fine mist filled the room. “I don’t feel so good,” said Tess, just before passing out. The others followed in rapid succession.

*****

When Zed and Clive woke, they made eye contact. They both immediately displayed expressions of shock and terror. What they saw was the rest of their fellow jurors in a circle around the room. Each was strapped to a rudimentary wooden chair and each had a variety of devices behind them. Some looked like surgical instruments- needles and scalpels and knives. Some were more electrical in nature. Some were tools. And a few had large blades- like guillotines laying on their side.

Olga was the first to scream, then Sam, then a chorus of terrified voices cried out- some tearful, some angry, some pleading.

Ted was still looking around the room- the same they had entered into. But the furniture was different before- more like the courtroom. Now, it looked eerily similar to their deliberation room. Where the judges seat was, there was a large television. The lights were fluorescent, stark, and flickery. Below the television, on the wood panel was a clock. It read 6:00 in digital red numbers.

The television flickered on.

There was a shape- a dark, hooded shape not unlike a grim reaper. But where the face should be, there was only blackness. When it spoke, its voice was mechanical. Altered by some device to mask the true voice. There must have been speakers spread around the room, for when the shape spoke, it seemed to be right behind everyone at the same time.

“Welcome jurors. Today, we are holding court to judge crimes so heinous, so cruel that should a guilty verdict be rendered, then death will be swift and equally cruel. You are judge, jury…and defendant.”

It took a moment for that to sink in. Sam began to weep, as did Liz and Tess. Abigail, a woman who had been through much in her life, steeled herself. Jeb began to struggle with his restraints.

Ted- who had been foreman- fell back into his leadership role. He was a man of medium build, but large forearms that strained against the restraints told a story of a life wielding heavy hammers and tools. “What do you want from us?” he demanded, his stubbled jaw tense.

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A Brittle Tuxedo

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The night air was fresh. She was returning from a jog, one of the many activities she tried and failed to integrate into her daily routine. Slowing to a walk, she crossed the street, stepping on the pavement she crossed every weekday to make the bus when she was young. She walked up the steps to her home and was about to enter when she recognized the pristine silence surrounding her. She paused, doorknob in hand. Her memories of life here were marked by the vibrant sounds of the community: laughing children, barking dogs, and occasional sirens in the distance.

Tonight, however, the silence was suffocating. She felt as if she were living in a ghost town, a cul-de-sac of empty homes and lost souls. She heard a faint rustling behind her. Removing her hand from the doorknob, she turned around to face the street.

The moon shed a soft light on the streetlamps, homes, and mailboxes around her, smoothing their edges. But there was something, something in the center of the street, that was not illuminated. She had no sense of what it was, other than that it reflected no light. She began walking back down the steps. As she moved closer, the object began to reveal itself in greater detail, seemingly growing outward, slowly morphing into a human form. Her jaw tensed.

Continuing forward, she stepped up to the edge of the sidewalk. Now only a few feet in front of her, it was clear that it was a man. She tilted her head to the right and squinted. A tall man, dressed in a tuxedo.

She wanted to say something, but couldn’t.

The silence persisted. She extended her leg to step down onto the street. When the ball of her foot made contact with the road, the man became visible to her. The light on his upper body and face had no origin, but it shone upwards, sharpening the edges of his figure. Startled, she removed her foot from the street. The light dissipated, but the tall man remained. She wanted to look around, to see if anyone else was here, but she didn’t want to take her eyes away from the man.

She cautiously placed her foot back down onto the road, and the light returned. She looked at him carefully. His arms rested at his sides and his upper body curved, like someone had a hold on his chin and was pulling down. She noticed slight tremors in his head. It was trembling from side to side. He was looking at her, but she couldn’t bring herself to meet his stare. The corners of his mouth were bent, forming a smile.

She knew this man, or at least sensed a vague recollection when examining his body and face. She could recall a warm sensation in her chest, the result of downing a shot of vodka. She went on a date with this man once. She learned of him through a mutual friend, and they met up at a bar. He went out of his way to meet her, as he lived far away. She remembered the face he made when he saw her expression when he entered the bar wearing a tuxedo. That night, from what she remembered, was uneventful. She went home afterwards and fell asleep. She woke up the next morning to a phone call from her friend telling her that he was murdered later that night in a home invasion. Her friend was crying too much to hear her when she asked if his home was the one invaded, or if he was one of the invaders.

He blinked, looking down at her. She was puzzled, inspecting him. She had seen pictures of his funeral online. Few attended it. She said his name. He remained motionless. Her first thought was to call someone. Maybe this was a misunderstanding, an insensitive prank of some sort. She reached out to touch his arm. His suit was brittle and cracked at her fingertips. She pulled her fingers back.

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The Door, The Quiz, The Fire

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The Door

If I could only make it to the door, then the corridor would be sure to follow and, soon after the staircase and the street beyond. But once on the street I would be forced to pick a direction and this decision would bring with it a destination and oh so many other things besides that. And, once a destination has been decided, the whole affair becomes rather a foregone conclusion and the journey back becomes as inevitable as the journey there. So much so that it hardly seems worth the effort to go there at all, as what else would I be doing other than simply going through the motions until, eventually, my feet brought me right back to where I started? And, knowing all this, how can I possibly make it out of bed, let alone all the way to the door?

The Quiz

The quiz is really quite a simple affair, but there are some difficult questions regardless. The simple questions are hardly worth answering, for it is almost a certainty that everyone else will already know the answers too. Nonetheless, we all flounder and scramble to be the first to answer them and, despite our best efforts, it is almost always the same person who manages to get there first. With a flourish, they callously grab the pen, from the member of our group who has delegated himself as scribe, and begin to scrawl the answer. This makes all of the rest of us feel small and slightly stupid and, although we know the answer too, we can never be confident in the success of our efforts to demonstrate this knowledge to the rest of the party. We jointly lean in, watching the movements of the pen and nod with vigorous approval as it spells out the answer that is within all of our minds. At the same time, we eye each other suspiciously, wondering if some of these nods are mere pretences at knowledge.

The would be scribe, usually the owner of the pen, or, at least, the one who managed to to solicit the pen off of the host before the quiz began, takes back said pen off of the envied answerer and we all poise for the next question. This process repeats itself many times throughout the evening, but, in rare interludes, its recurrence is interrupted.

A more difficult question is asked and we all look from one to the other, searching for assurance that this is not, simply, just an easy question whose answer we alone are ignorant of. If the usual answerer quickly grabs the pen and begins to write without hesitation we are left almost completely unsure of whether the question was really difficult or not. We all pretend to double check their answer and nod as if we are offering our approval, but it is impossible to tell if everyone else is faking it too, or if it is us, alone, who are ignorant.

Occasionally, one of us will nod with extra vigour, as if to acknowledge, both that it was a hard question, and that, despite this, they really knew the answer. Even more seldom, someone will admit that they hadn’t a clue and the cheeks of those pretending will turn red to reveal their trickery. Ordinarily, however, we are all just left wondering.

Part of us would like to entertain the idea that the frequent answerer is just the smartest of the group, as that would allow us to believe that, even on the questions that we find easy, most of the group are pretending. However, despite the comfort that this would provide us with when we, too, are ignorant, we cannot do this, for secretly we entertain the notion that we are the cleverest person at the table and the frequent answerer is simply just swifter of hand, or less hard of ear, or slightly sharper, in his reaction, but lacking the same depth of knowledge as that which we, alone, possess. As such, every time that we are forced to nod along in pretence, averting our eyes from our associates rather than using them to scrutinise their every move, we become slightly more tense.

As the quiz progresses, this tenseness gradually increases. Perhaps a more difficult question is even answered by one of our associates other than the frequent answerer. This makes us feel all the more stupid as, although the difficulty of the question is more pre-evident, the fact remains that more and more of the colleagues, who we would like to dismiss as less intelligent than ourselves, have succeeded in answering a question, whereas we have not. We can attempt to soothe ourselves with the knowledge that even the frequent answerer did not know that answer, but there is no hiding the fact that we are only deluding ourselves here. The frequent answerer has nothing to prove and, even if he did, we wish to dismiss him too and are still a long way away from being able to even pretend to do that.

Now, we are forced to make a decision: do we sit back and tensely try to relax, dismissing either the quiz, or ourselves, as stupid or a joke? Or, do we press on and hope against hope that some difficult questions arise that are in our speciality areas, or, even better, in someone else’s, but, through some twist of fate, we are the only ones who know the answer? Sure, in the past we have taken the first option, leaning on drink or comedy as an excuse for our inadequacy, but today we cannot do that, we do not wish to do that, for what if our fortunes were to change, but we were too distracted to take advantage?

We press on, becoming tenser and tenser, growing increasingly more suspicious of each other’s nods, even considering the possibility that the frequent answerer is cheating in some way. Things begin to look hopeless, until, out of nowhere, the perfect question arises. We know that no one else will know the answer, but we still scramble desperately to make sure we are the first to give it. We do not even grab the pen, for to make to do so would be to admit our ignorance in so many of the proceeding questions. Instead, we shout the answer, with regrettable volume, across the table and across the bar and, in unison, all of our associates turn their heads towards us and scowl. ‘Shhhhh!’ They say, silently remembering how discrete they had been when it was their turn to answer. We shrink into our seats and try to laugh it off, but it is too late, even, to play the clown.

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The Horror Within

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The shadows danced in the flickering torch light, my trembling hands pressing lightly against the smooth stone wall as I observed my surroundings coolly.

The cobbled hallway stretched on and the torches that were mounted every dozen feet or so did little to help my vision penetrate the dim light.

Every step I took was attempted with the utmost secrecy as I made my way in the direction of the college’s magical archives.

As I rounded the corner, the sounds of hushed voices fluttered in the air. Instinctively, I felt every muscle in my body tense. Standing stalk still, I forced myself to hide away into one of the hall’s many narrow classroom doorways.

“You must search for Malik! He cannot be allowed to perform the ritual!” A whispering voice spoke as an assortment of footsteps seemed to join it. “It’s your fault he can even accomplish this in the first place.” Another voice answered; this one sounded effeminate, angry and annoyed.

It could have been one of the many professors that lectured here but it was too difficult to tell at this distance. Tilting my head away from the whispers, I had to remind myself to not idly waste time. Pushing out from my dark shelter, I turned and double backed the way I came searching for a detour.

The voices and footsteps were echoing out from the far corner down the hall and they were all too close for comfort.
Years of preparation were in danger of being destroyed! I had spent so many days and nights secreting the materials in and out of the archives that were usually reserved for only the most accomplished of scholars.

Usually.

My eager and apparent innocent demeanor had earned me the title of the assistant to the curator and I had taken every advantage it afforded me to delve into the taboo secrets that were forbidden by law.

Blood rites, conjuration and divination into the outer planes were a few of the many subjects I had conspired to learn under my instructor’s complacent watch.

Reminding myself of the task at hand, I realized that the large wooden double doors of the archives had just come into view. I quietly padded down the last steps of the northern most stairway towards the doors.

It seemed no one had even searched down here yet in the archives themselves. My pursuers must have assumed that I would attempt the rituals away from the college grounds to avoid their interference.

‘They think too little of me.’ I thought to myself, a smug smile growing on my face as I reached for the wooden doors’ iron handles. My reach faltered as I realized my hands were trembling. It was difficult at this point to tell if it was from fear or excitement.

Shaking the thoughts away, I resumed pushing heavy oak doors open. They swung easily; the archives left unlocked by a ‘certain someone’ earlier in the evening when they watched the Curator leave for the night.

The doors were truly a testament of the craftsmen who balanced them delicately on their hinges in the year’s past. The very same hinges that squealed loudly in detest to their late-night use.

Surprise shot through me as I sharply turned to look over my shoulder at the staircase.

I forgot to grease the bloody hinges!

The yawning silence that followed went uninterrupted for a brief few moments. Relief flooded through my mind as I exhaled a breath that had somehow found itself stuck in my chest.

Grinding my teeth in frustration, the doors closed with similar argument as I shut them.

This time however, I swung them quickly to cut the noise down as I crossed into the threshold of the room. Hustling over to the nearest bookshelf by the door, I reached behind it into the tight space between the wall and the shelf.

The object I was searching for was still there. A hard beam made of yew that I had stashed away days previously. I had it cut by the village woodsman to a very specific size weeks ago. A size that with some clever positioning would work well as a barricade.

Awkwardly pushing the beam into the frame of the door, I grunted with exertion as I delivered some small applications of brute force to ensure it was thoroughly lodged across the entry way.

Satisfaction grew in my heart as I turned away to face the grandeur of the college’s archives.

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Kieran’s Jellyfish

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The gull stabbed at the bread with its beak. Kieran threw another slice. Then another.

A second gull landed and nudged its rival aside from the free lunch. The first bird lunged at the usurper and they exploded in a flurry of wings and feathers.

‘Kieran, don’t!’ his mother said.

‘Nothing but vermin, them creatures,’ his stepfather remarked from behind the daily paper.

Kieran turned from the gulls to the bright, shimmering shore. Scores of families had set up camp for the day. Everywhere he looked he saw overweight Mums and Dads, small children building sandcastles, dogs yapping. A nearby group of youths, a mix of lean boys and girls in undersized bikinis, were laughing aloud at some secret joke. There was no one Kieran’s age.

Kieran was eleven, a small dark-haired boy with eyes the colour of emeralds and a habit of squinting. His vision was perfect, but somehow the world seemed better through narrow eyelids.

The gulls ripped the bread to crumbs. They screeched in disappointment and flapped away. Kieran returned his attention to Mum and Archie.

He squinted at his mother. She looked a lot like him, except her locks were lighter and her eyes a dull brown. Archie, now in his third month as Kieran’s official stepfather, was a porky man with shiny bald pate, a greasy moustache and eyes as big as golf balls.

‘Feel free to wonder off, Kieran,’ Archie said, lowering his newspaper.

‘You’re so thoughtful, Archie,’ Mum added. “Kieran doesn’t want to hang around all day with crocks like us.’

Archie’s wide-eyed scowl burned into his stepson as if to say ‘clear off, I want your mother to myself, with no dumb kids in the way.’ Kieran retaliated with a frown, but his resolve melted faster than ice cream in the sun. He had to be careful. Archie’s temper was like a lurking crocodile. Kieran never knew when it would erupt from the depths and strike.

Kieran turned down his lower lip and threw his mother a look. She didn’t notice.

‘Yup, okay,’ he said at last, collecting his bucket and spade and stumbling off.

Kieran walked towards the far end of the beach, where jagged rocks broke through the sand like razors. As he came closer the sound of the holidaymakers faded.

The rocks were deserted.

‘Here there be monsters,’ he remarked in a glum voice.

He stopped at the first slab of basalt and rubbed the back of his hand across his lips. His flesh reeked of sunshine and sweat, summoning up a memory from last year.

Last year with Dad.

The two of them had explored this slanted world, charting rock pools, hunting crabs, inventing stories. Dad liked to pretend each sea-puddle was an uncharted lagoon teeming with bloodthirsty creatures. Everything was fun.

“Here there be monsters”, Dad used to say, over and over, grinning his cheeky grin and pushing back his wispy hair.

But Dad was gone now, Mum had seen to that. Mum and Archie.

Kieran sighed and inched nearer to his favourite rock pool. He knew from his explorations with Dad that this was the largest, the size of a paddling pool. A glassy underworld where fish and crustaceans lurked in seaweed jungles.

‘Here there be monsters,’ Kieran mumbled sadly, kneeling down on the stony rim.

He sat very quietly, as his father had taught him, and watched as the pool revealed its inhabitants. Small fish darted from side to side, searching for an escape back to the Atlantic. Shrimps glided over the sand like submarines. Limpets clung to the rock, hard as stones. Ruby red anemones trailed poisonous fronds in the water.

There! A slender, silvery young crab scuttled into the shadow of the rocks.

Kieran beat his chest in best King Kong fashion.

‘I am the giant of doom. Come to destroy-oh!’

A severed claw popped out.

‘Who’s snacking on you then?’ Kieran remarked to himself.

He waited. The minutes ticked away. Then, as he was about to give up and move on, something stirred. He almost missed it. A ripple in the sand, nothing more.

He hunched over the pool and lowered his head to the surface. A crescent of translucent skin had emerged from its hiding place, then halted. Perhaps it had seen him?

Kieran leaned back and froze every muscle in his body. More moments passed. The creature began slowly drifting out, across the sandy floor.

‘A jellyfish!’ he said. At least he thought it was a jellyfish. It reminded him of all the dead jellyfish scattered along the shoreline. Revolting blubber pancakes. This creature had a similar appearance. A circle of clear flesh, riddled with veins and dark spots.

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From The Earth

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They were everywhere. Each corner Leanne turned, her stomach lurched at the sight of another friend screaming in agony as hordes of the undead pulled and chewed at flesh and bathed in blood. For Leanne, it had stopped being about winning a long time ago. Now, all she wanted to do was survive long enough to see the light of day again. To see her family again. But as each second passed, salvation receded further and further out of reach. Soon enough, hope was a distant memory and the only thing left to keep her going was adrenaline, and it was running out, fast. As if sensing the end, Leann’s body started giving out, legs twanged and snapped with each step and every breath became more laboured than the last.

Finally, too bloody and bruised to carry on, Leanne slowed from a panicked sprint to a defeated stumbling. With almost all options exhausted, she gave into darkening dread and dropped to her knees at the mercy of one of the surrounding cameras and begged until she could cry no more. But all the camera did was look down at Leanne in pity, and the omniscient voice that once droned in the ear like a bee, was as quiet as a tomb. Leanne’s fate had been sealed. It was over. It was all over. Almost on que, waves of the undead began pouring in from both sides of the hallway, trapping Leanne in the middle like a sitting duck. Against the crescendo of Leanne’s beating heart, the undead inched closer and closer until all she could see was bared teeth and soulless eyes.

Her scream was like a gunshot.

*

As Leanne was torn limb from limb, Marcus and Ali clapped and cheered triumphally – the bitch was dead. As Marcus switched from camera to camera to ensure not a single spurt of blood went unseen in glorious high definition, Ali scrolled through and read each and every comment beneath the live stream on the website. Laughs and giggles laced his every word.

BiggWolf69: The bitch had it coming…

BritishBullDog11: Gutted. I had money on Leanne to make it out.

Long’n’Juicy:  Best show on the internet!

BuggzBunne: That’s it, I’m applying for the next season. I could out survive these spoilt rich kids, easy…

DonaldTopTrumps: @BuggzBunne, No, you couldn’t. Leanne kicked ass!

I really think she could have made it out, she just gave up too early.  

BuggzBunne: @DonaldTopTrumps, You don’t know what I’m capable of.

I’m ex-marine, bitch.

DonaldTopTrumps: @BuggzBunne, Ex-marine? Right… and I am the real Donald Trump.

JohnDoe88: I wish we still had dead heads in Britain! We killed the last of ours too quickly.

We could have had fun shit like this if we hadn’t. #BringBackTheDead   

Biscuit00001: @JohnDoe88, Fun shit? Watching the undead get exploited and butchered for mere entertainment is ‘fun shit’? You are fucked up.   

BiggWolf69: @Biscuit00001, Looks like we have a DeadLib p*ssy in our ranks, boys.

RealNi88er: @Bisucit0001, Get the F*ck out of here. They are dead, we can do

what we want to them. And the ‘human beings’ signed up for this…

As Ali continued to read through the comments section, Xanadu found himself increasingly feeling feint and lightheaded. He even had to close his eyes to help stop his head from spinning, which did not go unnoticed around the room.

Usually, it was Xanadu reading the comments aloud with macabre glee. However, in the last couple of weeks, he had been struggling to rustle up anything approaching enthusiasm for the bloodbaths. Some days, when it really got bad, Xanadu had to flee the room to avoid vomiting right there and then. Once in the hall, he would stay there until the survivors escaped or the last body had been devoured.

Because of his sudden, and stark, aversion to the violence of the game show, Xanadu had become a pariah in the control room and office. So much so that, unless it was absolutely necessary, no one spoke to him or even looked in his direction. And, when he wasn’t in the room, his colleagues often joked about knocking him out cold and locking him in the House of Horrors to fend for himself. But, as much as everyone had grown to hate him, there was nothing that could be done – Xanadu was the boss.

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