“The Power of the Pale God Compels You” By Joe Jablonski

"The Power of the Pale God Compels You" By Joe Jablonski--The Chamber Magazine

Have you heard the good news?

We were on the edge of an unknown solar system in an unknown sector when the alien craft appeared.

It was massive, a perfect sphere. All black. Large hair like growths jutted out in all directions. The soft glow of the systems blue giant reflecting off its exterior was absolutely beautiful.

We hailed it to no avail.

A tractor beam locked on to us, trapping us within a false gravity. A set of bay doors opened at its front. Then a flash. Two metallic tendrils shot out of the dull blue haze within, their claw-like tips digging into the front of the ship.

Decks three through six lost both pressure and atmosphere. There were no survivors.

The captain gave the order. Ten volleys of plasma torpedoes followed and not a scratch.

We were pulled inside to the sound of klaxons and screams. Another flash and everything went black.

This was first contact.

This was a complete nightmare.

***

I woke in small cell without windows or doors. Cold. Fetal. A nutrient tube had been sown into my stomach. Dried blood surrounded the point of insertion. Pulling only made the stitches grow tighter.

There was a presence behind me. I could feel the coldness of it; the wrongness of it.

It shifted its weight and spoke.

“Hello, Pat, is it?”

I looked up, my eyes rolling lethargically within my skull. The ships waste management tech stood over me wearing a shiny robe of red velvet. His head came into focus. A glowing orb drifted above his face. Two wires in the back connected to the empty sockets of where his eyes once were.

I recoiled and scuttled backwards. “What the hell happened to you?”

“Stay calm,” he said taking a step towards me. His grey lips stretched into a smile. Purple liquid dripped from the corners.

His name was Raymond. There was a rumor among the ship that he was the sole survivor of a suicide cult on a desert planet. Their method of self-execution was walking out into the vast wasteland outside the safety of the port city and starving themselves of all water and food.

Two months after the cult’s leader broadcasted the groups intentions, Raymond was found drenched in blood in a small cave, thirty pounds overweight and surrounded by the hacked up remains of forty-three people.

The genitals were first to be eaten. Or so they said.

No one ever got too close.

“Do you trust me?” said Raymond.

“Not really,” I said. I was panicked. Hyperventilating.

“You should. I come to you today with a wonderful offer.”

The color of his face orb shifted. My breathing slowed. A strange calmness came over me.

It was hard to move.

It was hard to think.

Raymond sat down at my level. Legs cross. Elbows on his knees. He said I had a choice: accept the Pale God’s guidance or become an offering.

I could only stare. Whatever they had drugged me with was kicking in. I was trembling. My vision blurred. The walls vibrated all around us.

Raymond was a rock within it all. He gently put his hand on my shoulder and moved in closer.

With growing fervor, he told me how the Pale God only gave his blessings to those who joined willingly.

He told me how he couldn’t even begin to describe how good it felt to live in its light.

He told me how in its infinite kindness, it would absolve me of all my sins.

I just needed to say yes.

By now the entire room was shaking. Raymond praised the Pale God at the top of his lungs like a mad man, head up, arms to the ceiling, his face-orb brightly flashing a rainbow of colors in sync with the words.

My back was to the wall. There was nowhere to run.

Suddenly, Raymond froze and held up a finger. All went still in an instant. The orb drifted closer until it was inches from my face. A million tiny particles danced within its now soft purple glow. It was all I could focus on.

I was drawn to it, mesmerized by it.

Raymond reached out from beyond its light, squeezed my arm softly, and said, “My friend, I have no doubt that when the time comes, you’ll do the right thing.”

He then stood.

He then smiled.

Then flash, and he was gone.

A coldness came over the room. Everything seemed so empty and hollow in the absence of his orbs glow.

That void within was a parting gift.

I had a day to decide.

***

This was the part where I’d usually give you an engaging insight into my past, but my memory was fading fast within the fog. Only glimpses remained: A woman scorned. A cat smuggled. A plasma torch igniting.

This wasn’t the first time I was offered a false hope in exchange for enteral servitude.

We were all running from something…

I stood naked in near darkness, placed single file in line with my former crewmates, our muscles locked in place by some invisible forces. The air was thick and warmed. A severed nutrient feed dripped down my leg.

Glowing particles rose from the floor all around us, slowly merging and taking shape, forming the landscape of an Earth I’ve never seen with my own eyes.

In minutes we were all standing in a field of violet flowers within a mountain valley. Ethereal sunlight seeped through the cracks of large, vibrant clouds, shining onto a large stone platform engraved with intricate gold patterns.

But something off. Everything was too crisp, too saturated, all of it blowing in a breeze I couldn’t feel.

Shadowed specks drifted in and out.

Suddenly, a voice boomed over the valley.

“Please welcome your savior, the Pale God.”

A small creature appeared on the platform, serenaded by loud, disembodied claps, and draped in purple. It rode atop an elaborate machine, all torso and head without features. Fleshy growths clung to the cracks in skin textured like chipped marble. An orb twice its mass was embedded deep into its skull.

On either side stood a pair of massive aliens with massive limbs. Their heads were oval with jaws fillies with razors. Each had an orb of their very own, single wires extending into their single eye sockets.

The Pale God’s orb rippled and flashed green.

Our muscles suddenly freed. Many of my former crew looked around in confusion. Some murmured. Some wept.

Not one deviated from the line.

“This isn’t right,” a voice whispered from behind me. “Did they talk to you too? What’d they mean by ‘an offering?’”

I didn’t answer. All my focus was on the Pale God. I could feel a gentle vibration somewhere within the back of my mind. It was faint, almost soothing.

Our ships’ captain jumped up on the podium with gusto. Her crimson robes were pressed to perfection. Her face orb glowed bright blue.

“It’s a wonderful day for all of you,” she said with uncharacteristic glee. “Today is the day you get to receive the truth of our God’s glorious blessing.”

The captain motioned to the person at the head of the line. It was the first time I had ever seen her smile.

“You, Madeline. You get the honor of being first.”

Madeline held a rosary tight in her grip, her lips moving wordlessly. Two robed figures guided her up onto the platform until she was just feet from the Pale God.

Madeline brought the rosary to her face. She was sobbing uncontrollably.

“Kneel before him to receive his gift,” said the captain.

The woman froze. She shook her head ‘no’ rapidly, her eyes closed tight.

“Oh dear,” said the captain.

The Pale God’s orb turned red. It didn’t hesitate.

Madeline’s body was lifted inches off the ground, limbs locked and outstretched against her will. Her screams of protest cut off in an instant as a fine red mist her shape and size was ripped from her. The false Madeline hovered in the air for mere moments before being absorbed into the pale Gods orb.

A dried husk hit the ground. No longer moving. No longer defiant. It flaked into dust piece by piece, blown away by a gentle breeze.

When it was finished only the rosary remained.

The line erupted in terror. I vomited uncontrollably, starting a chain reaction that spread to the next three in front of me.

The orb flashed a warning. The vibration in my head was growing warmer. I tried to resist it, the comfort of it, the wrongness of it.

It was nothing more than a false hope, a tease to convince us to submit.

“Please, everyone, calm down,” said the captain, waving the crowd to silence. “I know how you all feel right now. I really do. I was hesitant to receive the gift myself. But, my friends, I assure you, I now can’t even imagine a life outside his grace. All the pain, all the suffering, ever sin I ever took part in or endured, all of it has been forever washed away. It will be the same with you. All you have to do is submit and we can continue our journey, spreading word of his eternal love to all we come across.

The vibrations grew stronger.

The man behind me whispered it was all bullshit. He said he saw our ship be destroyed with everything on it. Our only chance now was to fight.

The words were slow to sink in within the fog. Muddled glimpses of everything I had lost flashed in my head: A rock from my home planet. An engagement ring returned. A cat freed from a butcher in a shipyard in exchange for six pounds of thigh meat.

Everything I owned was on that ship, everything I ever knew and loved; all off stripped away in an instant.

My fist and jaw were both clinched tight. Sgt. Snugglesworth didn’t deserve any of this.

I whisper back to the guy behind me that I was in.

The podium shifted.

Next in line was the ships head cook. Old. Rotund. He made his way in front on the Pale God and dropped to his knees instantly, professing his undying devotion.

The Pale God’s orb glowed blue.

The captain plucked a fleshy mass out of a crack in its skin and approached the cook.

“Open your mouth,” she said softly.

He did as he was ordered. He was shaking. He was drooling. There were so many tears.

The captain gently placed the flesh on his tongue. It sizzled on contact.

Then a pause. A moment of silence.

The chef suddenly stood and turned towards the crowd in a panic, grunting and clawing at skin around his eyes as they started to boil and melt into a thin milky liquid that ran down his cheeks.

The chef dropped to his knees, gasping and pleading.

Two robed figures calmly approached, one with a uniform, the other with an orb. The former wrapped him in red velvet. The orb was placed just above his face. Two wire snaked from the back, slowly finding their target, and digging their way deep into the chef’s now defunct eye sockets, latching tight onto his cerebral cortex beyond.

The orb floated from the latter figures grip. It flickered green, matching that of a Pale God’s.

The cook froze, slowly lowered his hands, mouth agape with a look of wonder stretched across his face. A newborn discovering newborn things.

He welcomed the captain’s embrace with a smile.

He beamed when she told him how proud she was of him.

He jumped and clicked his heels together with all the grace of a seventy-four-year-old, proclaiming loudly to all of us how he had never felt better in his entire life.

***

Twelve people ahead of me and counting.

A woman with dreadlocks and a purple face orb moaned and writhed with delight atop the platform. I now knew with absolutely certainty that all my ex-girlfriends had faked it.

The vibration grew louder. The brain fog cleared. This bliss was just a taste of what the Pale God promised.

It was getting harder to resist.

Next up was a steel worker. As the captain cheered, he turned towards the crowd with a smile and an orb, just like the rest of them.

I was so close to the front. The fear was overwhelming. The vibration was overwhelming. A complete dopamine rush radiated throughout my entire body. Better than finest meal. Better than the finest drug. Better than sex.

I couldn’t let it get to me. I had to be stronger than this. I knew deep down that there was no real choice, no real way out. Die in excruciating pain and become nothing or live as monster, blinded and enslaved.

I was terrified of the things it’d make me do if I accepted. I was terrified I would only be a mindless husk of my former self. But most of all, I was terrified of eternity.

Do you really want to live forever?

The line inched forward.

At two from the front, the man behind me whispered it was time, he said he had a plan.

I was all ears and endorphins.

He moved in close, whispering that he had smuggled in two plasma grenades from the ship before initial blackout just in case. He said to not ask where he stored them.

The person ahead of me took the podium. He was only the second to refused. He shit himself as his soul was torn from his body.

The man behind me shoved a plasma grenade in my grip. He whispered to take the Pale God out and he’d handle the rest.

I armed it behind my back as the captain motioned me up. I looked from her to the Pale God on its tiny throne and took a deep breath.

Its orb was bright and all consuming.

I shook in awe of it.

I was so close to giving it.

I closed my eyes. The grenade felt so real in my grip. A tiny red light flashed on top. It beeped softly, a countdown my imminent demise.

But I no longer mattered. I was going to end this, for the man behind me, for my cat, for every single person and thing lost or indoctrinated. I was going make damn sure no one would ever be given this terrible choice ever again.

My eyes shot open. The grenade was white knuckled in my grip. I drew back for a pitch of a lifetime.

The captain smile faded.

The Pale God’s orb flashed.

The man behind me yelled to do it already.

It was then I heard a meow.

I froze mid-throw. Eyes wide. Mouth wider.

There among the initiated was Sgt. Snugglesworth. He wore a collar of red velvet. Dried eyeball juice was crusted into the orange fur around its now empty eyes. A tiny orb drifted just above it all.

He was a calico.

He was purring.

He was being held by the woman scorned.

She reached her hand out to me. All the horrible memories came flooding back; memories I joined this doom expedition into the unknown to forget; memories I never wanted to relive again.

It started when we were neighbors in a slums of dumpster fire of a planet. It was a new colony. The air was thin. The crops weren’t taking. Every night I went home starving to a tiny shack, eating what little rations remained from the ship. The distress beacon had been on for three months and counting. We were all getting weak and losing hope fast.

She lived only one shack over. We shared a wall of plywood and fiberglass. Neither muffled the sound of her husband’s abuse.

I didn’t just kill him for her benefit. No, it was a slow torture. I lost a hundred night’s sleep to his rage. I thought of every single time I had to hear her cried out in pain as I grazed my blowtorch against his skin.

I thought of her protests.

I thought of the sound of her body slamming into the wall.

I thought of every time I was too cowardly to stop him.

It took him hours to die. When it was done, all I could focus on was the smell of his burnt flesh.

I cut and rationed it carefully, hiding the rest of his remains deep down into a sulfur pit where they’d never be found.

It was that same smell that lured her over. She looked at me with eyes filled with the same exhaustion and desperation I felt. I should’ve turned her away.

We spend hours together, just talking and eating. At sundown she said it was getting late. She said she was starting to worry about her husband’s whereabouts. Then, as she reached for the door, she turned and thanked for the first real meal she had had in months, asking me where it came from.

Telling the truth was a mistake. I thought I’d be her hero.

Not long after the federation came with an offer and a way out. Three ships were being sent to scout the unknown regions. They were looking for the best of the expendable with the promise of unlimited food and shelter. No background check required. None of us had any illusion it was anything less than a suicide mission.

I signed up immediately, pretending to be surprised when I bumped in her in the shipyards. Going in for a hug was my next mistake.

I never did learn her name…

Back on the podium the Pale God shifted.

I looked around in a panic, the grenade still tight in my grip. Everything was hazy and out of focus. Figures drifted in and out in rapid succession.

The woman.

The guards.

The cat.

The disciples.

The captain.

The Pale God.

The smiles.

I raised the grenade above my head, my hands shaking violently, phantom orbs seared into vision. The fog was back. I was warm and fuzzy all over.

The man behind me ordered me to kill.

The Pale Gods orb turned red.

The brain vibration were teeth shattering.

Time froze. Suddenly everything went dark. I saw visions of countless alien races on alien planets. Their collective memories all rushed in at once. Their accomplishments. Their sins. Their wars. All of it wiped away.

They Pale God knew everything they knew; all knowledge was gained from those absorbed into it orb and feed directly to his disciples. It took what it needed and discarded the rest.

The vision shifted to a future with me and the woman of my dreams. Her past didn’t matter. Neither did her name. We were on Earth having a picnic, surrounded by countless indoctrinated. Everything was clean, and in perfect harmony.

All the people were polite. Everyone smiled and helped one another. There memories were my memories.

Underneath a twilight moon, the woman grabbed my hand and placed it on her stomach. She had the beginnings of a baby bump. There, poking through both her shirt and stomach, was two tiny wires connecting to a tiny flashing orb.

The vision shifted. I saw a million murders committed by a million species.

I saw a creature wrapped in the limbs of his enemies drive a sword down the throat of another of its kind.

I saw two lanky green aliens drive a probe into a caveman.

I saw Raymond castrate a dead bearded man with his bared hands.

The Pale God was there overseeing it all. There was no judgement. Only forgiveness. Only love.

The vision shifted.

I saw myself cooking another man alive with glee.

It was all too much. Complete sensation overload…

Back on the podium I dropped to knees, tears running down my face. The grenade was nearing its countdown. The Pale God’s orb dimmed, it’s two alien guards were tense and ready for anything.

This was the part where I was supposed to tell you that I could see through the fantasy to all the Pale God’s nefarious true intentions. I could say that it was all an illusion, a false promise devised only to expand his kingdom of slaves. I could exposé the virtues of how some people shouldn’t be forgiven so easily.

But I won’t.

I deserved this. I wanted this. Within his grace I could pretend I was still the good guy. The how didn’t matter.

I switched off the plasma grenade with only a second left, letting it roll from my grip, a coward all over again.

Sgt. Snugglesworth jumped into my lap, nuzzling up to my chest. His orb was yellow and pulsating in rhythm with his purrs.

As I scratched his ears, the captain asked me to open my mouth. I ate the flesh of the Pale God without hesitation, never noticing the man behind me running up, his grenade armed and blinking…


Joe writes out of Charlotte, NC. His work has been published in over 40 markets including K-zine, Strange Constellations, and Liquid Imagination, as well as having been twice nominated for the Pushcart prize. You can check out his blog at jablonskijoe.blogspot.com.

While you’re here, you might want to check the submissions guidelines and our new experiment: Rural Fiction Magazine.

Two Works of Flash Fiction by Dylan Thomas Lewis: “Hallowed Cliff” and “They Did It for their Freedom”

Hallowed Cliff

The archway stood firm under the shroud of night, its heart spelled in dripping letters: Hallowed Cliff Cemetery. He could still discern the entrance atop the sodden hill despite the starless sky, through the rain and sweeping winds. The image had been blistered into his unconscious. He marched on through the marshy soil as if he could rid himself of it by way of physical exertion; or perhaps cleanse his spirit with heaven’s baptismal waters. He dared not stop for fear of sinking through the earth and residing himself to an unceremonious yet eternal tomb. Though the world would not make it easy. Several times he lost his footing and slid upon the mud before slamming the shovel head into the ground and forcing himself up, carrying on with stubborn consternation. 

He wiped the muck on his pants as he passed under the arch and trudged forward among the aisles. Over the fresh and dying roses, the pink and purple larkspurs. Past endless processions of graves. Stones of granite. Stones of marble. Sandstone and slate. Some brandishing themselves to the eye, almost arrogant in their novelty. Others having been neglected for centuries, their texts gone as if washed away by Mother Nature for some unutterable slight against her. He eyed the years as he went, capricious, interchangeable; like philosophical tauntings from beyond, calling to him, demanding he decipher their unanswerable ponderings. 

The shovel struck into the ground as he removed a pewter flask from the inside of his shirt, then took a swig and stepped to the grave before him. He looked upon the head with bloodshot eyes, compelled to take in the marking over and over again by light of Zeus and Selene; inconstant; uncertain. 

Eva Meridian Mara
February 21st, 1981 — July 8th, 2021
A Mother
A Friend
A Person
Rest in Peace
Could’ve thought of better.

He drank, then replaced the flask and stepped to the grave opposite. He unbuckled his belt and pissed into the sloshy soil. 

“Apologies, miss — errr — mister.”

He flicked his member clean and redid the front of his jeans, then took the shovel in hand and returned to the opposite grave. With a last look at the stone, he stabbed the shovelhead into the mud and lifted a mound of green and black muck from the earth, tossing it to the side and splattering little balls on the opposing marker. Shovelful after shovelful. Foot after foot. He spent an hour laboring deeper and deeper into the earth, stopping at several points to pour water from his shoes. Finally he was done, breath unsteady, a salty sweat amongst the rain on his brow. 

A great hole sat before him, four by eight in dimension with a depth of six feet, the lid of a dark red casket peeking out the bottom. He lowered himself in and dug along the side until he found the latch. A light hiss escaped as he undid it, like a snake warning him from its burrow. It drew his thoughts toward the darkness within. Toward the all-knowing nothing entrapping the poor soul inside. It struck him with what he felt was an unnatural reverence. A connection and understanding unique to him and him alone. 

He’d always found an allure to such things. A morbid, yet uncompromising curiousness for the shadows — of both sight and mind. For the implications they presented. The universal and contradictory lessons that fed him without frame left him frozen in place, unable to comprehend what lay before him, regardless what his conscious mind would admit. The horror. The humor. The eternal void just below the surface of all. 

He lifted the lid by a foot and shined his phone inside. He saw an arm veiled by a wispy white dress, stiff and pale like a cheap manikin. Spitting onto the earth wall opposite, he slid his phone in and let the lid drop, removing the flask and downing what remained. He washed what mud he could from his hands, limbs, and torso, then rubbed his hands across his face and put his head back to run them through his hair. With a final breath, he gave a glance toward the waning moon in the east and crawled inside.

He set the still shining phone on the cadaver’s stomach and burrowed his way next to it, snuggling close with his arm under the neck. His hands grasped the rigor, the penetrating cold. His eyes traced up and down the ghostly vessel. He imagined her origins, physical and ethereal. Tried to unweave the mysteries and intricacies of her being as well as those who’ve come before and will come long after. The marks of his existence and what it all amounted to. The incalculable sum rendered indistinguishable from its antecedents. 

Rubbing his fingers across her cheek, he stared at the unflinching eyelids, decorated with red and black eyeshadow. At the plush raven hair, the light reflecting off it like stars in the vacuum of space, ever expanding, shifting further and further away. His body began to shake. He smashed his eyes shut and swallowed the snot creeping down the back of his throat. Tears of regret leaked onto his cheeks. A great breath entered his lungs and returned as if unsure of the vitality of its own purpose. 

He reopened his gaze to the eyelids. He reached with trembling hands and placed them directly under. He moved to lift the lids from their perch, but shot back upon touch, reeling as if scorched by some invisible spark. His head hung, he cried harder than he’d ever done. His eyes, half drowned in tears, stared past the light into the darkness and beyond. It stared back. He clutched the body close, burying his head into the bosom as his weeps filled the tomb, echoing back into his shattered sense of self.

They Did It for their Freedom

The sun rose as they moved the slaves young and old through the gates of Cathartra. Off the hardened pozzolana and onto the crude, unkempt path towards the Anglo River. The slaves in their thin, ebony rags amongst the Cathartrans in their flowing, ivory robes. Two days prior, the former had taken captive three of the most powerful families in the land, raiding their property and moving them to the valerian fields in the dead of night. Just before dawn, they allowed one of the captives to flee, instructing him to inform the Council of Six of what had occurred. 

The child dashed through the streets in his soil stained garments until he came to the council building, a band of warriors stationed at the front. Flamed with righteous indignation, the Council rushed to conduct an emergency session. Noon came and the slaves approached with the three families in their grasp. They did it for their freedom, they said. They wished to speak with the council and negotiate a peaceful resolution between their people. To raise the land as equals under Cathartran law.

The eldest seven were invited to discuss terms. For hours the soldiers stayed planted outside, watching the slaves with distrustful stares that were readily reciprocated. The tension pranced amongst them like a phantomed, temptress mare, urging them toward bloodshed until the negotiators reemerged.

The slaves were promised full rights under the courts as well as a mule per person and land at the outskirts of town; roughly forty acres per family. Men were granted entrance within the military and the group as a whole would no longer remain responsible for the trades previously forced upon them. Rather, tasks would be split evenly between them and the Cathartrans and training was to begin immediately so that all could become educated on such matters. Upon graduating from this instructional period, the two groups would come together as a single labor force.

The last promise was, to symbolize their status as true citizens, each slave would be taken to engage in the Rite of Till at the Temple of Kings. In two days time, a party of Cathartrans would lead half the slaves to conduct the ritual while the rest would attend the morning after. This latter group would remain in Cathartra to commence preparations as they awaited the others’ return. Once these terms were announced, the slaves released the families and took camp in the valerian fields while the Council called the soldiers in for the night.

It was noon when the first party marched onto the boats. Cries from the infants had been audible since they left, resounding through the ranks and vexing the Cathartrans’ ears the further they traveled. They docked on the opposite shore and continued on through the Fifteen Fields. Soon the slaves began to sing songs of torment and sorrow. At first, but a single child recited the tunes, though, within the hour, the entire party had joined, rousing a powerful chorus that resounded through the land. Though they spoke in tongues foreign to the Cathartrans, the emotions touched deep within their marrow.

The vocals continued as they entered Brown’s Forest at evening’s dawn, sentiments still rocking like great, granite swings from the gods. From there, the Temple would not be far. As they trudged forward, the grass and trees grew thick and tangled, blocking sunlight from their struggling forms. It didn’t take long for the singing to diminish and eventually die within the darkness, giving once more to cries of infants.

The Temple was dilapidated, overrun with vines and other forms of wildlife. A screech sounded in the distance as an unrelenting stench sauntered about. The Cathartrans looked to the building with a familiar air while the slaves gaped with mixed emotions. Even the children fell silent upon arrival. The Cathartrans led them inside, the lone source of light now the torches in hand. Hordes of cobwebs were scattered about the place, all coated in a clean sheet of dust, including the aged, yet dominant obelisk at the center. It reached near the very top of the Temple, inscribed with pre-Cathartran text.

The Cathartrans rested their torches upon bronze sconces as the slaves gathered around the obelisk, vying for proper views. The eldest of the negotiators shuffled to the front and roamed once around the pillar, sliding his fingers across the text in a slow, gentle stroke, pondering as if caught in a profound, yet forgotten memory. He crouched to examine the base, then rose and whispered in a vernacular unrecognizable to anyone. It was as he did this the Cathartrans unsheathed their swords.

****************

Evidence was taken of their deed as a warning for those left in Cathartra; menial objects such as clothing, necklaces, and bracelets. Some then graduated to thieving sections of the slaves themselves. Eyes, scalps, tongues — even severed legs of the children. The survivors gathered their torches and trudged out of the Temple. The return journey through the Forest was cruel and arduous on account of their labor and the blood-soaked robes holding them down.

When they maneuvered their way into the Fields, there was but a single ray of sunshine glistening over the horizon. The last image one could see as it disappeared and gave way to night was that of their demented figures, united in a call to slaughter. Crimson shapes in the dark. Hellish protectors of their way of life. They stepped forward and left the Forest behind them, marching backward through the night. On toward Cathartra, the glorious polis they loved without condition.


Dylan Thomas Lewis is a writer and musician from Kirksville, Missouri. He graduated from Central Methodist University in May of 2019 after serving as co-editor of the college’s literary magazine for two years. He writes screenplays, short stories, and music, playing guitar for Electronic Rock band Secular Era. His favorite writer is Cormac McCarthy. His favorite filmmaker is Stanley Kubrick. 

His first submission “Hallowed Cliff”* can be classified as Southern Gothic. The second submission “They Did It For Their Freedom” is an experimental piece loosely based on a story from ancient Sparta, mixing elements of Horror, Fantasy, and Historical Fiction. 


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“bang dammit slam” Dark Flash Fiction by Daniel Solomon

BANG!

Dammit! she cried. Slam! went her fist on the button,.

Maya drew her face near to the doorknob, as if speaking through it would amplify her sentiment. She tried to steady her voice through angry sobs as she demanded that Re exit the bathroom.

Re whimpered an apology from the other side

Then come out, Maya said. I need you here.

No, Re said, I need to take responsibility for this part.

Maya leaned into the door on clawed fingertips. She told Re it would be okay.

That is the stupidest thing you could say, said Re. We aren’t even gonna get into space.

Just come out, Maya insisted.

From inside the bathroom, Re answered, We’re running out of chances to take control of this.

Maya thought about the machine, and what was left of it. She thought about its too-tiny LED screen.

In no order, she remembered seeing:

The elimination of honeybees.

The nukes going off again. And then one more time.

Reform camps, work camps, concentration camps.

The complete eradication of monkeys from Delhi and Chandigarh.

Everyone who can do so taking shelter behind a gate.

Rhinoceroses burning under napalm appliques as white supremacists retreat from stolen lands in East Africa.

Elites of all stripes doing basically the same thing everywhere, getting ready for an escape to space.

Meat processors equipped with laser scalpels to melt the beaks off of chickens like solder.

Everyone in Pacific Standard Time sitting down to tofu dinner, hearing a distant BANG!, and looking to their windows simultaneously to see one bright flash in all directions only half a moment before everything in the entire world turns off.

No one escaping.

The sum is suffering, Re added. We never win.

Maya wept. Re, this isn’t about the whole world. Come out. For me.

There was silence in the bathroom.

She gathered herself, tried to project authority into the other room.

You

do not

have to do this.

Your depression

just feels like

the singularity.

You have responsibilities to me.

She pressed her ear to the door. She could hear Re shuffling around. She heard the toilet seat close.

No! she pled. I’ll be right back don’t go alone.

She heard Re draw the shower curtain.

The bathroom door jiggled in its frame as she pulled her weight away from it. She nearly fell down the stairs, two flights of stairs, into the basement, the laboratory.

Maya threw aside the dust rag covering the apparatus she had devised using stolen machine components. On top of the box was a button. Inside the box, the button was connected to a chisel honed to a quantum edge. At the edge of the chisel, in a realm too small to perceive, there was a crumb of circuitry salvaged from the corpse of a computer that had been faster than anything else on the planet. In that realm, the chisel blade hovered like a guillotine over a crystal whose facies flowed in an infinite loop of symmetry.

For only a split second, Maya hesitated. How long was the crystal’s loop?

She announced to the basement, to Re, that she didn’t want to be alone. She drew a long breath–

BANG!

Dammit! Maya shrieked.

Her fist went slam!


Danny is an ethnographer and natural historian. He teaches anthropology and gender studies in the SF Bay Area. You can find his fiction, poetry, scholarship, and experiments with time at his website, danielallensolomon.com.


“Last Call at the Divina Comedia” Dark, Hyper-Real Fiction by Alan Catlin

Virgil stopped and spoke, “Where we’re going is a drinking man’s ultimate dream: a bar where it’s always happy hour, where the drinks are free, and there is no closing time.  I’ll bet you didn’t think such a place actually existed.”

“Not in this life.” I said.

I thought I heard him laugh, but I couldn’t be sure.  Maybe he was simply clearing his throat; taking a deep breath for the final push into the darkness.

“Make sure you stay close, now.  We’re almost there.  I wouldn’t want to lose you now.”

“I suppose I shouldn’t look back either.”

“Sure, you can, if you want to.  No point in it, though.  There’s nothing to see.”

Nothing to see.  Truer words have never been spoken.

He pushed against something in the darkness.  A door gave way from the wall, and he ushered me inside.

“Watch your step.” He said.

And I stepped inside.  The door closed behind me without a sound.  I looked back where the entrance should have been, but I could not see anything resembling a door.  It was as if the wall had sealed itself, the way a wound would, without leaving the slightest trace of scab or scar.

“So, what do you think?” Virgil asked. 

“It’s tough to tell.  The light in here is very strange.”  And indeed, it was.  A strobe light flashed on and off at regular intervals. It was a kind of black light and its source was from somewhere behind the bar.  Consequently, the place seemed colorless and featureless at first.  Like a black and white movie image that had failed to fully clarify.

“Don’t you be worrying about that none. ” He was saying.

“Careless and trouble free, is that it?”

“That’s the spirit.”

“Ever it be so humble…”

“Something like that.”

“So, what’s this place called?”

“I call it the Divina Comedia but it really doesn’t have a name.  Doesn’t really need one.  Call it whatever you like.  Grab a drink.  Don’t be shy.  See, there’s one on the bar for you waiting to go.”

I looked, and I saw that he was right.  It was my brand.  The right mix and it burned all the way down when I took a good, long swallow.  It could be worse than this. A whole hell of a lot worse.

“Take a look around.  Make yourself at home.  We’re all friends here.”

I certainly hope so, I thought, as I slugged about half of my tall drink down, and placed it on the bar.  There didn’t seem to be anyone back there making drinks, but there must have been.  The next time I looked at my drink it was filled to where it has been before I had taken my first long swallows.

“What’s with the flashing neon?” I asked.

“Atmosphere.”

“I hope you don’t have too many epileptics among the regulars.  That constant flashing would have them on the floor rock and rolling like an old-time revival band.”

“They will do that for you.”

“The constant flashing doesn’t get on your nerves?” 

“Nope. You get used to it.”

“Nothing gets on your nerves, is that it?”

“Pretty much.”

“I don’t see how I could get used to something like that.”

“Don’t trouble yourself.  You’d be surprised what you can get used to when you try.  Put your mind at ease and enjoy the sights, and sounds, and, the free drinks.  Take a look around.  Make yourself at home.”

If this was to be my home away from home, I thought, it was going to be a long, strange, drawn-out affair.  At first, focusing was difficult due to the nature of the interior lighting.  Although the bar was oddly quiet, you couldn’t help but sense the presence of the other drinkers; the other patrons along the long expanse of the wood.  I wondered who had designed this magnificent hand planed surface, who maintained the surface, and kept it waxed, oiled, and hopefully, free of permanent damage from distracted smokers, graffiti carvers; the careless, and the bereft.

The first person I saw was a small, aged man, almost completely bald, wisps of greasy hair lying askew across his bald spot.  It was difficult to see his face in the haphazard light.  His shadowy form was enveloped in a haze of smoke and dust, as if the light source were from a projectionist’s booth, and the life illuminated, was a flickering form disrupted as soon as it assumed a shape. 

What was clear was, his back was permanently stooped, hunched around the shoulders as he sat before a jukebox selector. The cards indicating the song selections were laminated in yellowed plastic stained so badly the hand typed words could not be read.  Each card contained eight selections, both A&B sides. The pages could be turned by flipping the selections, one after the other, using small metal rods affixed to the bottom of each page. The whole card assembly was encased inside a small, glass cage smudged, dirty, and greasy with an accumulation of filth only an untold amount of human contact could bring. 

The man was transfixed by the device, and was driven to continually place the same quarter in the coin slot at the very top of the machine. The coin traveled the length of the machine, clanging as it went, until it settled noisily into the coin return where it was retrieved, then dropped into the coin slot, and the whole process began anew.  Time after time after time.

“It’s what he does.” Virgil said, as if he were reading my mind. “No point in trying to change things you can’t control.”

No point at all, I thought.

A few stools down from the old man, sat a fat woman of indeterminate age, dressed in a filthy, hopelessly out-of-date house dress.  The woman was crying noiselessly, not crying so much as weeping, with an intensity so complete, I wondered what it could be she was hearing from the two skinny men sitting on either side of her. Their hands were cupped to an ear on either side of her head, whispering loudly, but inaudibly to everyone but her.  The tears rolling down the fat of her cheeks, onto the wattles of her neck, sliding further down to stain the fabric of her faded dress.  And the whispering.  Always the whispering.

I turned to face the bar, cradling my tall drink between my hands.  I noticed a circular, slightly raised platform to the left of the back bar mirrors, on which a cage was placed.  Inside the cage was a young female dancer swathed in white bandages as if she were a burn patient, or a mummy whose exposed skin had been covered by white baby powder. Except for her face; that impassive face, coated with black grease paint. And false eyelashes teased unnaturally long; her unnaturally red lips, and her all too white teeth filed to a point. 

I couldn’t say for sure if what her body was doing could be called dance.  Movement yes, but dance?   Whatever it was she was hearing, came from within; a silent inner music, dissonant and mournful, slowly transferred from her brain to her outer limbs.  Limbs that slowly translated the cranial impulses into a sluggish, mechanical movement.  The pediment she stood upon seemed to give off a kind of damp, dank effusion, a soft glow that served no real purpose, neither illuminating her body, nor emphasizing what it might be doing.

Reflexively, I looked in the back bar mirrors to see what had made a noise behind me in the darker corners removed from the bar.  What I saw there disturbed me more than a sudden noise in an unfamiliar place did; the mirrors were alternately concave, convex panels, horribly distorting, and absorbing all the objects that fell within their purview.  The glass oxidized, and unclear in places, crowded with smoke, and, shadows, and the unfiltered dust.

Beside the bottles, an ancient, hand crank, ornately designed cash register.  A NO SALE ticket prominently displayed inside the glass fronted space for the recorded transactions.  A hand lettered sign on either side of the cash machine that said HAPPY HOUR PRICES IN EFFECT: FREE FROM NOW UNTIL…?

Now Until….?, seemed suitably vague.  As vague as the indefinable shape behind the wood.  I tried to focus on what the unmoving form might have been, but it remained immobile, fixed as a cigar store Indian. I saw a human figure, cloaked in a long-sleeved white shirt with a black garter around the sleeves to keep the cuffs stationery.  And then I saw carved wooden cigars in its out-thrust hands.  The fake, faded headdress and the folds of the tribal gear made from animal pelts covering the body. 

I drank deeply, closed my eyes, and tried to clear my head. 

When I opened my eyes, the vision was gone, replaced by a small fun house clown rotating on a metal axis that rocked back and forth, laughing at something so unimaginably funny, nothing could stop the laughter.  The silent, wild laughter.

I hoped that if I drank enough, closed my eyes, and, looked again, this vision too would no longer be there.  I might think that, might temporarily be relieved of seeing them before me, but the relief would be temporary. I knew that anything I imagined seeing was sure to remain, and fixed in my memory and subject to recall without notice.

Even the young, thin woman dressed in a clinging black evening dress, hunched over the bar, sipping a frothy white drink through a long, plastic straw.  Her unnaturally pale skin, sepia tainted by the light, when there was light, oddly present as an after-image, when there was not.  I felt drawn to her, but I couldn’t say why, couldn’t begin to imagine what would happen if I acted on my impulsive attraction.  All things here being equal and opposed, black as white, white as the black foam of her drink; the strange evanescence of her skin in the encapsulating dark.

I turn from the solitary woman, to look at the other patrons sitting at randomly spaced intervals along the bar.  Collectively, they look like Dust Bowl pioneers, refugees from a Steinbeck novel like Grapes of Wrath; their shabby clothes, thin cotton jackets, and pants losing threads, torn and tattered from years of traveling, hard work and abuse.  All their shoes were careworn, lost soles, holes where their feet showed through what remained of the leather.  I thought of the Dust Bowl poet and how she saw, with unflinching eyes, the hordes of the hopeless struggling against the wind, the dust storms, the heat and privation, struggling Westward to a promised land that became just like where they left only with grass and clear skies, instead of dust and infertile plains. 

I thought of how they would discover more unrewarding, back breaking work, for insufficient wages, they would piss away in a place like this, hunched over a bar.  A bar that would stink to high heaven of human sweat, rancid beer, and defeat.  I thought of the last their few nickels rubbed together, as if somehow there might be luck in it, but all that ever happened was a faceless man behind a bar removed them one after the other in exchange for another, not-cold-enough, tasteless beer. A beer that increased the despair they felt, that hung about them as an extra layer of skin.  

They no longer possessed the ability to dream of a better place. Their posture, their demeanor, everything about what they did and did not do, was reflected in their slow, determined, dedicated-to-a-cause-like-no-other, drinking.  If they had been drinking for free, the way I had been, it certainly did not show in their mannerisms, the way they turned to look at me as one; their tired, dead eyes inset amid darkened shadows in the leanness of their face and bones.  A look that was so far beyond life, even death wouldn’t qualify it. 

If I were capable of feeling horror, and, of showing it, I would have done so then.  Instead, I turned toward an odd, disruptive noise that came from a pinball machine. The way it was working was oddly fascinating. Despite not having someone to work the push buttons, the flippers and levers, the metal ball traveled the intricate gridwork of the machine on its own, triggering flashing lights, and toting scores as it went.  The face of the machine briefly lit, and flared, revealing the face of a laughing carnival clown in a setting that suggested a Coney Island funhouse.

Just as I began to have a sense of the machine, it would stop dead and the steel ball would roll unmolested through the board maze. TILT would register in large capital letters on the board.  Just as abruptly the machine self-started and the lights would begin flashing again, a dizzying momentary glowing that would fizzle out in mid-turn. It was as if a crazy, unseen spirit, had been playing. There was no doubt in my mind that he was winning whatever game this was.  

Then I hear the hollow sound of heavy, wooden darts sinking into the pitted cork of the boards the players threw their missiles at.  They were keeping score with chalk on a board that squeaked as they drew the odd shaped numbers on it. Their uncut nails slide across the skin of the chalk, and the board, and the face of the dart board, as they played, and threw, and watched. Boldly, they drew concentric circles in the false black lights of these neon dreams, and sudden alcoholic reveries of places like this one. Places thrust open, to admit a ravening crowd, the native sons and daughters of the night game players, mole people and worm runners, fully blood lusted and raring to go wherever the next cocktail will take them; even if where they are going is well past the point of no return. 

That’s where they’ll find me now. Now that I’ve seen the contents of the self-portrait in oiled cloth on the barroom wall. That painted visage framed in spoiled wood, stained with blood, and alcohol, and tears, gold flecked, in places, to contain the perfect image of the penitents’ bearing torches down the side of a volcanic mountain at near-dusk.  The procession leading the unseen spirits from their graves to walk again, on hollowed grounds, inside the sulfuric tainted mists that cling to the blue blackened sky; the red sun sunken into itself behind the black mass of volcanic stone.  Those torches borne, as weights, that can never be successfully removed from the chained hands of the living and the dead, chanting as they come and go. The seen and the unseen, animated as I watch, as I try to read the caption inscribed in gold plate that says Los Dias de los Muertos.

What else could it say?

Nada, hermano.

I look back toward the bar, and there I am behind it, raising my carved hands in a  toast to the drinkers here, there, and everywhere else.  And here I am in the dark of the barroom, returning the gesture, touching glass to glass with others, I have known, or, will come to know. Tilting the one that matters, the one that holds my flavor that I must drink; drink, and drink, and drink from until I can drink no more. 


Alan Catlin is primarily known for poetry but that doesn’t prevent him for mixing and matching prose and poetry as the subject allows.  He has published dozens of full length book and chapbooks, mostly poetry, over the years. Although he is not a genre writer he has somehow managed three Rhysling Prize nominations and a Bram Stoker Award nomination He didn’t win either award.


“Flowers in the Woods” Dark Sudden Fiction by Anita Joy Balraj

“Forget-Me-Nots” Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

I went to the woods to meet Henry and Gertrude, then… Someone is at the door of my room. Mummy had painted flowers on the door to match with the floral pattern on the floor. I do love flowers, so pretty and delicate! Oh, it’s Mummy, she’s crying now on the floor. She is hugging my bridesmaid gown, how I love the way it glitters! I just wanted to see the pretty blue flowers deep in the woods and maybe see some birds, then… Daddy just ran in and held her, he seems to be crying too. Oh, he is so close to the jewelry box on my dresser! I do hope he doesn’t find the love letters from Henry, I have there. Rob just came in panting, with tears. He always makes me wonder if I really am the oldest. He is telling Daddy that they found me. I had finally found the blue flowers when someone called out my name, then… As soon as Rob spoke, Mummy fainted on my bed. He said I was found in the woods, at the bottom of the lake; I was dead.


Anita is a business analyst by profession and a poet by choice. She started writing when she was six, and has no plans to stop. 


Four Works of Flash Fiction by Jane Ayres

Leaving Home

Her gimlet eyes are sooty diamonds. ‘You treat this place like a hotel.’

I laugh.  It sounds hollow, even to me. ‘You want payment?’ Of course, I had paid already, in more ways than one. Time to go. Time to find a nicer hotel – an exotic marigold, preferably.  Far away from here. Somewhere the rooms have locks on the doors, where you don’t get wriggling red ants dropped on your face while you’re sleeping.

‘You’ll regret this!’ Mother’s voice has become uglier.

‘I won’t.’

‘You will.’

‘I won’t.’

‘Listen to me. You need to listen.  That’s the problem.’ She is whisky-slurred again.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘What are you talking about? You crossed a line’

‘Don’t throw it back at me.  You always throw it back.’ Words catch like barbed wire in my throat.

‘You push too far.  You keep pushing.’

‘So, it’s my fault? You’re blaming me? You’ve totally lost it.’

‘Get out, then. Don’t come crying to me when it all falls apart, because I won’t take you back.  No-one will want you, not now, not ever.’

‘Well, you made sure of that, didn’t you?’

‘Monster!’ Her skull-splitting scream contorts a face I once considered beautiful. My stomach lurches.

I’m two, maybe three, steps away from reaching the door, clutching the rucksack I’d packed the night before and hidden inside the foul-smelling, blood-stained wardrobe. 

‘Pot. Kettle. Black.’ My voice barely a whisper, I walk away, the sharpened blade still warm in my pocket.

Last Kiss

“So, you cheated on me.” Mel almost choked on the words, salty tears spilling from her baby-blue eyes, and I quickly regretted confessing my deceit.

“How could you?” Her soft voice was heavy and sad. “Who was she?”

I hesitated. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Someone I knew, then.” 

I couldn’t argue. Memories of her younger sister and I rolling naked on the sand dunes, arms and legs entwined, passionate tongues exploring, probing, were still vivid, fresh. Had it really been worth it? 

Mel started to walk towards the door. I panicked. “Don’t go,” I heard myself say. I began to cry. Images of what had been, what would no longer be, flooded my brain and I realised I didn’t want it to end like this. “I’m sorry. It didn’t mean anything.”

Mel turned and stared, unmoved, the hurt in her eyes replaced with contempt. “You betrayed my trust.”   

“I’m sorry,” I repeated. Needles of moonlight poked through the bedroom blinds, casting an eerie glow. Mel paused for a moment, as if considering what to do next. Then she said, “Before I leave you, Kat, before I leave us, I want one last kiss.” Cradling my face in her slender fingers, she brushed her lips gently across my forehead, moving down, until her mouth covered mine. My head started swimming while familiar delicious sensations surged through my veins as the tip of her tongue touched my teeth. I felt the magnetic force of Mel’s desire as she pushed me against the wall and in that moment, I was confident she could never leave. Not when we still had this, our two bodies fused, as if time had been frozen. After a few moments, I tried to pull away to get some air, but Mel held me so tightly I was unable to move. She’d sealed her lips to mine, draining me, and I suddenly realised this kiss would not end until finally, triumphantly, she’d drawn all the breath from my body.

Something Wicked

“Hey, big brother, your turn to see to Mum,” Faith murmured.

Alec yawned but nestled further into the well-worn armchair in the corner of the draughty living room.

“Her glass of milk is on the kitchen table,” Faith reminded him.  “Semi-skimmed, of course. And don’t forget her medication.”

Cursing profusely, Alec finally got up, rubbing his bleary eyes. Faith knew his patience was wearing thin. 

“When you think of the word ‘mother’ what adjectives spring to mind?” he muttered. “How about cantankerous, vindictive, demanding, selfish -”

“Stop it, Alec. She’s our mum,” interrupted Faith.

“Exactly,” he replied. “If anything, old age has made her even more intolerable.”

“This is her home.  If she wants to recuperate on the top floor, she can. Have some compassion.”

“Like she did, when we were kids?” His voice cut like an ice pick piercing a skull. “Besides, it’s only a broken ankle. Which she brought on herself.”

“How can you be so mean? She tripped on the doorstep.”

“Yes, pursuing her latest care assistant with a meat cleaver, after wrongfully accusing the poor girl of stealing one of her hideous china ornaments. I’m not surprised the agency refused to find a replacement this time. She’s a bloody nightmare, and I swear her temper outbursts are getting worse.”

“In the meantime, we can sort things out. We can, Alec. She’s our mum.”

“So you keep saying. When we were growing up, I kept hoping there was some mistake, that she wasn’t really our mum, that we’d been adopted, and one day we’d be rescued by someone who really loved us. At the very least, a normal human being. No such luck.”  He disappeared into the kitchen and returned holding a wipe-clean plastic tray. Hovering in the doorway, he said, “You forgive too easily, Faith.”

Avoiding his gaze, she continued, “Try again to persuade her she’ll be better off down here.” 

“Fat chance,” he replied, his voice fading as he disappeared into the gloom of the forbidding oak staircase.

“We could make up a bed for her in the living room,” Faith mumbled to herself, as she snuggled into the sagging sofa, pulling a fleecy blanket over her shoulders. Minutes later, she had drifted into an uneasy sleep.

Alec was panting by the time he reached the second flight of stairs. The house was too big too old, menacing shadows lurking in every dark corner. Alec had always been convinced the place was haunted.  In a way it was. After their softly-spoken father’s shocking departure when they were still toddlers, both siblings had frequently been at the receiving end of their mother’s volatile rages and spiteful manipulation. Alec could never understand why, despite everything, Faith had tried desperately to win her monstrous mother’s affection.  

As he stopped on the landing, at the very spot where their father had fallen to his death, Alec looked forward to the day he and Faith could sell this dreadful, crumbling shell of a building, and try to escape all the memories locked inside. Perhaps then they could get on with their lives. Having to be here now was putting a strain on his already unstable marriage, not to mention the disruption it was causing his property development business. And he knew things were just as difficult for Faith, who was missing her beloved Danoodle, Ivan, temporarily entrusted to a friend’s care, since their mother loathed animals and had never allowed them to keep pets.

Taking a deep breath, Alec opened the door to the bedroom and quietly entered the stifling, foul, cluttered space. Even his mother’s harsh snoring sounded belligerent.  For a moment, seeing her pasty, puffy face he felt a pinprick of conscience.  He reached out and tentatively shook her shoulder to wake her.

“I’ve got your milk, Mum.”

She rolled over, ignoring him. “I’m not thirsty.  Take it away.”

“Don’t be silly. You must drink something, or you’ll get dehydrated.”

She muttered ungraciously, eyes half closed, and suddenly all the years of resentment and fear that seethed and fermented inside him rose up like bitter, red-hot lava. In an impulse, Alec opened the bottle of pills and tipped the entire contents into his mother’s milk.  He would forge a suicide note and no-one need ever know what had really happened.  Then he and Faith would be free. Finally.

“Come on Mum, drink up.”

 “I don’t want it,” she spat.

“I don’t want to be here looking after an ungrateful cow but do you see me complaining?” Sighing, he placed the tray carefully on the bedside table. If he couldn’t persuade her to drink it, maybe he would have to force her. Glancing at the sweat-stained pillow leaning against the laundry basket, Alec picked it up with a look of grim determination. Perhaps there was another way, quicker and simpler.

Downstairs in the dining room, Faith woke with a jolt.  Shivering violently, she glanced at the clock.  Nearly midnight.  Where was Alec? Shuddering, she remembered her nightmare.  It was only a dream, she told herself, but she couldn’t shake the feeling of unease.  Something was wrong.  Panicking, heart pounding, she ran up the stairs.  As she flung open the bedroom door, she saw Alec bent over their mother, trying to smother her with a pillow.

“What the hell are you doing?” she screamed, leaping forward and knocking her startled brother to the floor.  “Mum!  Mum are you okay?”

Sprawled across the bed, the terrified woman was coughing and spluttering for breath. Between gasps, in a tight, rasping voice she muttered, “Thank you.”

Tears pricked Faith’s eyes.  It was the first time she could ever recall her mother uttering those two simple words. Still shaking, Faith said, “Let’s get you sitting up. Your voice sounds croaky. Here, this will help.” Alec watched with a mixture of horror and surprised delight as Faith gave their mother the glass of milk, sip by sip by sip. “Yes, drink up, Mum,” he said, standing beside his sister, unable to stop the grim smile that had hijacked his face. “It will make us all feel much better. Sweet dreams.”

Mother Love

“How could you? My own daughter committing such a vile, disgusting -”

“Sorry, Mum. It won’t happen again.”

“Promise me.”

“I promise.”

She watched me cowering in the corner of the cellar, the stench of urine overpowering. “I’ve tried to bring you up properly,” she continued, unfastening my chains and helping me to my feet. “I couldn’t believe it when the neighbours started complaining, told them they’d got it all wrong. That my daughter hadn’t got a sadistic bone in her body.  But after all you put us through last week, well…”

“I won’t do it again,” I insisted, trembling beneath her stony glare.

“Too right you won’t do it again,” she growled, her gnarled fingers still gripping the bloodstained tin-opener. Unaccountably, her tone softened. “Your old Mum believes you. This time.” She held out her hand. Cautiously, I tiptoed out of the shadows.

“Do you forgive me, Mum?”

She smiled. “I forgive you. Come to Mummy.” She threw her arms around me and gripped my rake-thin body with her familiar powerful embrace. Sobbing like a baby, I buried my head into the soft folds of her maternal breasts, breathing in the smell of stale biscuits and nicotine.

“There, there,” she crooned, rocking gently. 

My stomach rumbled loudly, a reminder food hadn’t passed my lips for days. Shut away in the darkness, it’s easy to lose all sense of time. To lose all sense.

“Is my precious hungry?” she murmured. “Doesn’t Mummy feed you properly?” I was vaguely aware of her screams as I sank my teeth into the warmth of her flesh and began to eat.              


UK based neurodivergent writer Jane Ayres completed a Creative Writing MA at the University of Kent in 2019 aged 57. She is fascinated by hybrid poetry/prose experimental forms and has work in Sledgehammer, Punk Noir Magazine, Versification, Streetcake, The North, Crow & Cross Keys, Door is a Jar, Kissing Dynamite and The Forge.  @workingwords50