“The Man with a Mole in the Shape of a Cross” Fiction by Benjamin Umayam

The Chamber Magazine
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The play was first presented in a downtown bodega, closed due to the crisis.  Rent was cheap, so this spattering of diaspora Asian artists could afford to establish their theater company in this space.  The name of the company was Angina.  It was a play on words referring to the nearby famous off off off Broadway company of Hispanic bards, La Mama.  Ina was Filipino for mother, ang translating as the article The.  No matter that it was, scientifically, a heart condition or that it sounded very close to the Italian/Yiddish NY slang agita, meaning heartburn. 

The director, he was pretty much famous back in The Philippines. Notable because he produced Marat/Sade,  that play about inmates in an asylum who prosecute some guy Marat.   It is a play within a play.  The Marquis de Sade directs the play, yeah, the S & M guy.  Loosely, it is about class struggle, suffering, and whether the revolution comes from changing society or within the individual.  Not your Bye Bye Birdie or Sound of Music.

This director produced this in The Philippines under Martial Law.  Marcos kicked him out, and he ends up at Angina Theater.  This play he is directing is called “The Man with the Mole in the Shape of a Cross.”  The cross is on his left cheek above his lip.

As with many downtown productions, the theater is not just on the stage.  The audience is part of the theater.  In the end, everyone spills into the street as the cast marches around the corner of Lafayette and causes a traffic jam in The East Village, a significant feat if you know how busy the streets of East Village are at 11 PM.

Director,  he is very effeminate, heavy mascara, a Dorthy Hamill bob, wears long shirts that look like dresses over pants that look like palazzos. He is dramatic in that way and passionate to the extreme, the Enfant Terrible of the theater season, partly because he was kicked out of a country under Martial Law with an autocrat who crushed artistic freedom.

The play is brilliant, we are told.  Innovative.  Revolutionary.  In hindsight, it is wannabe Bertolt Brecht,  Antonin.

In an interview, the director talks very big with his arms.  The idea came to him in a dream. 

Many people in a house.  They search, room to room. They are looking for what, who knows.  But they must explore, pushed forward by some absent leader whose voice eggs them on.

One main character is a glamourous one, model type, thin.  The second main falls for him. He is ordinary and big.  It is the ruling class versus the working/middle class.

The big one, he has a cross, on his face, on his left cheek, a mole, only it is not.  It is simple, black.  Yet it shines, bright.  Stunning.  The two main characters are attracted to each other.  They talk opposite views.  In the end, the fat boy wins over the glamour boy.  In live performance,  the skinny guy kisses him passionately, on the mole, the cross that is so beautiful.  They get naked and start making love as the lights go down—the audience gasps.   The music at the end is distorted white noise from a guitar; it almost sounds like that terrible Lou Reed album.  There are accompanying fireworks at the end.  Brings to mind a KISS concert.  The crowd approves.

Director talks about the use of new lighting technology.  Using special paint for the cross/mole,  he can enhance it to shine so brightly, illuminating, and enlarging.  They do this pyrotechnic effect; the couple lights up, on fire, seemingly.   His inspiration is from an obscure short story he read as a child and that newish novel about combustible twins who destroy their father’s career, a  senator who suddenly becomes VP.

As the curtain falls, the cast walks offstage, down the aisles into the street.  The audience follows and exits.  Many say they are caught up and willingly do so.

Rumors circulate.  The press talks about how the two main characters are so into their roles they genuinely fire up.  They flame on their own, without the benefit of special effects.  They have become comic book anti-heroes, like The Torch of The Fantastic Four of The  Marvel Comics universe.

Randi from upstate New York is a down-and-out Broadway freak. The theater is everything to her, especially the American musical.  She hates all the attention this play is getting.  The sermons of her pastor, they fan her hatred.  All this celebration of gayness, the homo sex on stage.  She hates the mole that is a cross, the symbolism of that.  She is whipped into a frenzy with talk that Josh Gadd, Olaf’s voice from Frozen,  or James Corden’s baker from Into The Woods will take on the big guy role on the big screen.  Although, she is okay with Josh Groban as glamor boy.

When her friends get caught up in the adulation, cheering the play to newer heights, she makes a decision. She takes a shotgun from her hunting dad’s rack.  She hides it in her red portable chair case she usually slings over her shoulder when she lines up for hours for Broadway lottery discount tix.  She takes the Greyhound to Manhattan and attends the last downtown performance.  As the cast turns the corner at Lafayette, she rushes the actors and aims at the cross, the mole on the upper left lip.  She laughs in madness as the body twitches, a bloody hole where the face used to be.  An easy target, how could she miss? 


Ben Umayam moved to NYC to write the Great American Filipino Short Story. He worked for political consultants, then was a chef at a fancy hotel, and then worked cooking for priests. He has since retired and is working on that short story again. He has been published by Maudlin House, 34th Parallel, Digging Through The Fat, Southeast Asian Drabbles Anthology, Anak Sastra, Corvus Review, Lotus-eaters, and Ethelzine. 


“The Collector” Fiction by Andrew Hughes

The Chamber Magazine
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Perculus knelt in the center of a patch of dense reeds, his trousers undone and Sophia’s bodice clutched in his fist, when he heard the rustling to his left. He dropped the lacy thing and reached for his belt. Yanking it far too tight, so it cinched slicing lines into his stomach, he stood and looked around. 

            “Hello?” His voice quivered with shame that teetered on fright. “Mr. Halopen?”

            Silence.

            He waited in the quiet, unsure that he could continue the act after a fright like that, but there was still a chance. Her scent clung to the garment, overpowering his senses, filling his chest with each inhalation, not even the repugnance of the swamp could cool his lust. Soon, he thought. Soon he would smell her again.

            Perculus knelt back down and began adjusting his belt, easing the tension that constricted his abdomen, when he heard it again. The crack of a branch, followed by something else. A slithering. It was behind him now. Thoughts of the noble girl were flushed from his mind, the vats of lust refilled with cool dread. Slowly, he adjusted his posture, straightening his back until his eyes peaked above the fluttering tips of the reeds.

            Sight of the swirling green stalks faded to the swampy landscape. Black barked trees, some standing, some fallen, all covered in flaky, parasitic moss. Ground absorbent and wet. The occasional rock or stump. As he scanned the swampland, Perculus passed a tree that seemed to be a few years from folding over upon itself under the weight of accumulated moss. He continued his searching when a shadow shifted. He looked back at the tree. His heart pulsed. Yes, there was something hiding behind there.

            Perculus kept his eyes trained on the trunk and felt amongst the soggy ground, searching for something to strike with. His fingers came across the bodice and the rock it rested upon to keep the marshy ground from staining the lace perfection. Perculus swore beneath his breath. He knelt down, snatched up the bodice, and hung it atop the patch of reeds. Then, he grabbed the rock, a fist sized chunk of limestone, and stood.

            Slowly, he eased his way through the reeds, trying to contain the noise of the shivering stalks, but when his boot met the muddy ground and gave a loud squelch, he abandoned the silent plan and darted forward as fast as his legs would go. He swung around the trunk, raised the rock, and brought it crashing down. The blow gouged an ugly chunk of dead wood and the tree groaned in protest. Perculus sucked in a deep breath. What was this foolishness consuming his heart? He, the son of a hero of the 3rd Comets War was afraid of things in the swamp?

            Perculus felt a soft tap on his hip and he spun with the rock raised. He brought it hurtling down and stopped inches from her face.

            “Oh by The Ancients Cassandra,” he said, tossing the stone. “What are you doing out here?”

            The blacksmith’s youngest daughter stared up at him. She flashed a wide toothy grin and waved her pudgy, muck stained fingers. Perculus looked out at the swamp. They were some two miles from the outskirts of the village. There was no footpath that led here, no old horse trail. This place was useless and empty. He choose it for that reason. Because if anyone were to find him here… He remembered the bodice. He could see it amongst the mess of reeds. What if someone went looking for Cassy? They would follow her tracks here. They would search for her and they would find it.

            “Okay,” he said, putting his hands on her shoulders. “I need you to do this for me Cassy. Put your hands over your eyes and don’t move until I come back. Understand?”

            Cassandra nodded and moved her hands to her face, leaving black smudges across her cheeks. That was fine, he could fix that on the walk back.

            “No peeking.”

            Perculus picked up the rock again and entered the reeds. He took the bodice, knelt down, and placed it upon the rock. Then, he pulled a handful of stalks from the patch and covered it best he could. It was an unconvincing disguise but it would do for now. They needed to get out of here before someone came looking.

            Perculus stood back up. Cassandra was where he’d left her, eyes still covered. Good. Now he just had to follow the tracks back home. As he exited the reeds, he looked at the footprints leading back towards the village. Cutting through the mud, he could see his as clear as the stars on a cloudless night, but there, next to them, a path of massive, three pronged impressions stained the mud, leading all the way back to where Cassandra stood, her hands now hanging down by her side.

            “Cassy?”

            Cassandra smiled and her face rippled inwards, the mask peeling away to the black thing beneath.             Perculus screamed and stumbled backward into the reeds, his head striking the rock. As the black thing filled his vision, he took in a final inhalation of Sophia.


Mr. Hughes notes that “The Collector” is part of a larger work in progress.

Andrew Hughes has been writing and publishing short stories for the past decade. One of these, The Crab Catcher, was recently reprinted in Brilliant Flash Fiction’s Best Of anthology. He currently lives in Arizona, working as a criminologist, and taking care of the world’s most adorable white husky.

“The Green Road” Fiction by John O’Donovan

     Come rain or sunshine, John Connors wore the same blue denim jacket to school every day. It was a gift from his father when he came home for a visit last Christmas. The jacket had an inside pocket where there was a letter inside an envelope. The address on the envelope: Mr. Joseph Connors, The Green Road, Ballysimon, Limerick, Ireland. On the back of the envelope, the return address: Mr. Michael Connors, 34 Weston Street #4B, London, England. His grandfather gave the boy the letter to hold it and fill his naive young heart with hope.

     “Grandpa, why does Daddy have to go and live in England?” the boy asked his grandfather.

     “Because that’s where the jobs are and he’s a fine, good carpenter with no work here abouts,” the grandfather replied.

     The boy didn’t know much about his mother. It was not talked. He only knew, “She ran off with the tinkers…too young, too wild.”

     The Green Road was named after the Green family; farmers who lived on that road years ago.

The square, two story house was still there, but abandoned, overgrown with vines of ivy, since old Mrs. Green passed away. Vandals had not yet discovered it. The front entry door, and windows shut down tight.  There was a gray stone wall to front, mottled white with lichen, and a large iron gate with plywood attached, to keep people from seeing in.  

     On his way to and from school the boy passed, not seeing, until one day, the gate open just a crack. It called out to him… John, come visit. He squeezed through. There were out houses; stalls for horses, a hay barn made of four metal stilts with a rust ridden galvanized roof. All falling into ruin, but there was something else; something lives, something watching. His skin began to crawl. He backed away. He went to school.

     Inside the house the watcher watched. He watched the boy through the tattered curtain lace. He had been waiting for him. He set the trap. “He’ll be back.” the watcher said aloud  to the emptiness.

     A two room school in a one street village. The girl was there. When they passed, she smiled at him. Dolores, I would die for you, as her green-blue virgin eyes seared his virgin soul.

     Coming home from school, he came again to the Green house. The gate  still open, he entered. There was an old rusted milk tankard lying sideways. He sat on it, as if to ponder. On the floor of the yard, a large crack ran from the main house to a drain hole in the center. A cluster of dandelion grew in the drain hole, bright green leaves and yellow flowers in stark contrast to the gray-black cobblestone floor.

      He took the letter out, to read again. ‘Dear Father, I will be down in your country next week. I will stop in to see my son, for his  birthday, what is he now, twelve? My gosh, he’s almost a man. See you then. Love, Mike.’

     “To see my son,” The boy said the words aloud. “To see my son…I love her.” His words echoed all around the empty yard followed by a long silence. He felt a chill, like something cold caressed him. Suddenly, a wind came up as a large black cloud swallowed the evening sun. He got up to leave, to run…he heard a noise. Someone was in the house.

     Run John, run…but it was too late. An older man was at the back door. They stared at each other.

     The man spoke, “I don’t suppose you have a fag on you?”

     “No sir, I don’t smoke.”

     A small dog, a Jack Russell terrier, came bounding out and ran to the boy with great energy and excitement. 

     John Connors studied the man briefly. He reminded him of his Uncle Ned, his father’s older brother. They went fishing once, down in the big river.

     “’Tis a dirty habit, don’t be takin’ it up. He won’t hurt you, he’s only a puppy. Jim Gorman here, I’m thinking about buying the place, just checking it out,” the old man said.

      “There’s a girl in my school, I think I love her…and my father is coming to visit,” the boy said as he petted the dog.

     “That’s grand, what’s your name?” the man said, “Will you come in and have a cup of tea with me, looks like there’s a shower coming?

     John Connors remembered then, his grandfather’s dire warning, “Don’t ever take up with strangers, you don’t know what they have in mind for you. “ Yet, the fateful words escaped his lips: “John Connors, sure I will.”

     The old man gently put one hand on the boy’s shoulder and with the other, closed the door behind them as the first splatters of raindrops smacked the cobblestone yard.

      Four hours later, John Connors’ blood streamed it’s way along the jagged crack to the drain hole. In the red-black liquid, a crescent moon reflected, dancing with the ripples. Come daylight, the yellow dandelion flowers would be dead; too much iron from the blood.

     A worker found his body in the rock quarry, ten days later. He was naked except for his blue denim jacket. His genitals had been surgically removed and his eyes gouged out leaving two black empty holes. His lips were pulled back into a grimace, and the letter from his father; folded neatly between his young, near perfect teeth.  His father; the fine, good carpenter, had gone back to England. He never came home for the funeral.


John O’Donovan is an emigrant from Ireland to the U.S. He is a retired carpenter, living in Southern California with his wife and two small dogs. His short stories have appeared in Mason Street Review and Brief Wilderness.

“Clowns at the End of the World” Fiction by Thomas White

The Chamber Magazine
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Billie Jay Radio never thought the End of the World would look like this. His grandmother, a member of a weird cult, had gloomily foretold something far more impressive: horned beasts rising from the sea, raging locust hoards, falling stars, cosmic torrents of blood, spectacular angelic – demonic air battles. Great scenarios for a new disaster flick, but the reality of the actual apocalypse, as it unfolded, was quite different. First, there was the breakdown of shopping mall culture.

Shoppers could no longer browse freely through malls without being obstructed by merchandise–computers, TVs, furniture, stacks of Nike running shoes–dumped into the commons areas by clerks with vacant eyes and odd mouths that seemed to both snarl and smile. Rampant looting appeared to be in progress. Billie Jay thought of those old newsreels of the 60s urban riots he had seen in his history class. However, here the store employees were stripping their own shelves.  Even the manager of the local Salvation Army outlet was seen cleaning out his used clothing bins and hurling green polyester pants into growing piles of designer suits and dresses. When confronted by a mall security guard, the disheveled man only mumbled incoherently about “the end being near.”

 Billie Jay, however, knew there was a real problem when Ashley Baker, the normally very efficient waitress at his favorite upscale mall café, refused to take his order for a double latté, instead calling him a “fuck head who is wasting my time.” Then unleashing a stream of obscenities against Billie Jay—sparked by nothing in particular— she finished with a roaring insult: “And no body is going to tell you to ‘have a nice day’ for the end of days is at hand!” Again, there was the same weird look that he had seen on the faces of other mall employees, a bizarre mask of cruelty and cheerfulness.

Day after day, week after week a race of (otherwise normal looking) weirdos was emerging, dangerous, unpredictable, no longer knowing how to wish customers a nice day or caring about the expensive products they marketed to the well-heeled consumers.

 Soon there was an even more alarming trend. Customers, Billie Jay observed, no longer rushed frantically through the malls looking for bargains. While they could have in fact easily carted away looted state-of-the-art electronic hardware or designer suits, these ex- consumers merely shoved the items aside. Entire mall areas were thus cleared of abandoned merchandise to make room for wrestling matches, Frisbee throwing, dice games, kickboxing, and skateboarding (an extreme version that sought to run down women pushing baby strollers). The security guard, who had confronted the Salvation Army outlet manager for dumping old trousers, was now acting just as strangely, first warmly embracing random passersby, and then violently grappling them to the floor. Others leaped into the fray, until bodies were writhing in heaps like rugby scrums or mass orgies. The old scripts guaranteeing the stability and predictability of life were being lost to rampant social amnesia. This trend was even surfacing in Billie Jay’s professional life. As a seller of gentrified properties, Billie Jay once could count on at least greed as an absolute. Yet even that was slipping away. One couple insisted on negotiating a higher price, and then excused themselves right in the middle of the open house viewing to use the bathroom together. Disgusted by the flushing, giggling, and grunting sounds, Billie Jay waited outside. At least they immediately signed the contract for twice the list price (though he barely shook their damp hands).

Then one day (to make matters worse) the circus came to town. Curiously, though the performers never really seemed to perform, they were instead aimlessly wandering through streets causing traffic jams. Men and women in tights, with the stereotypical appearance of graceful high wire trapeze artists, made obscene gestures at the furious, swearing motorists. Jugglers, aggressively accosting pedestrians, deliberately scattered their balls on street corners causing a hazard. Yet the performers still angrily demanded what they called “entertainment user fees.” Puzzled, Billie Jay searched the internet–even read the newspapers and called the local arts center—for performance information but could find no evidence of any scheduled performance dates. Apparently, the circus was no longer really the circus but had changed into something else. What that was Billie Jay Radio would soon find out.

One afternoon while shopping cross-town at another mall not yet stricken by the strange anti-consumer madness, he observed a gang of clowns roaming through the parking lot. Some thin (indeed borderline anorexic), a few portly, others almost dwarfish, the clowns, their makeup streaming profusely like sweat, and baggy costumes hanging in dirty tatters, bellowed, shook their fists and scattered flyers. Billie Jay picked one up one and read it: The End of Days is upon us. Forget your old scripts and narratives. Everything is changing including the End of Days itself.

Cautiously, at a discreet distance, Billie Jay followed them into the mall (avoiding the slippery, buttery trail of their red and white grease paint). Squatting behind a large pot plant in the atrium, he watched one of the clowns–nasty scowl, bloodshot eyes and stained, pointed teeth emerging from behind his thinning makeup–enter the administrative offices.  Loud scuffling sounds, shouts, and then the clown burst out, waving a pistol at the neck of a scrawny, trembling man–farting uncontrollably from fear. His nametag read, Harold Sorrow, Customer Care Specialist.

With military-like precision, the clowns then marched their hostage through the parting crowds of oddly silent shoppers to the mall’s central commons where a platform, microphone, podium, and chairs had been set up amid the piles of consumer goods. While the lead clown still aimed his pistol at the now crying, still farting, customer care representative, his clownish cohorts mingled casually, as if networking at a cocktail party, among the onlookers, distributing the same ominous flyers. Cranking an erect arm up like a Nazi’s salute, the lead clown strutted, prodding his hostage, followed by his colleagues, up onto the stage. From one baggy, ragged pocket, he pulled a sheaf of paper while carefully still aiming the gun at the whimpering hostage who had curled up in the fetal position on the stage. The clown read in a thunderous voice:

“We are the Clowns from another dimension of reality here to announce that the human race has entered into a new stage: no longer can you count on even the most ordinary desire, hunger or need. Nor can you predict–or hope—that people will behave in any ‘normal human manner.’ In fact, your lives, all societies, the entire globe, as I speak, are lapsing into a series of unscripted pratfalls, thoughtless stunts, clownish blunders, random absurd acts–a ‘circus’ of sorts but one that is funny and dangerous, comical and brutal. In other words, once you paid admission to laugh at me and my ilk… (The clown paused, and waved at the other clowns who clumsily danced, made silly faces, then bowed to the mildly tittering audience) …. however, you will now rage at me for what I am about to do, ‘unexpected behavior’ (clown flashes a smirking smile) from a person normally paid a low wage to amuse the jaded public.(The clown shoots the customer care representative who squeezes into an even tighter fetal ball, then unfurls limply, blood trickling from the back of his neck.   The clown’s red eyes blazed even more fiercely. He bares pointed teeth. Growls escape from his foaming, wrinkled lips).

Very theatrical manner, Billie Jay noted mentally, smiling to himself, again still watching from behind a nearby pot plant. In case the Seven O’ Clock news would interview him later, he mulled over possible sound bites.

As if on cue, there were shouts and sounds of people scrambling and running. CNN camera operators were rushing toward the stage, but gathering even more speed galloped by it, ignoring the bleeding customer service rep’s body and the mad clowns, who were now singing obscene songs at the top of their lungs while the crazed, laughing audience clapped along. Curious as well as bored with the meaningless scenes before him, Billie Jay dashed after the CNN crew, who by now were filming scantily clad models in front of the mall’s Victoria’s Secret outlet. Perhaps if he could tell the film crew what he had witnessed, he could cleverly work in some references to his real estate business. Finding more deranged customers who insisted on paying above market prices would be super. Maybe this new weird, apocalyptic world would not be so bad after all.


Thomas White’s poems, fiction, and essays have appeared in online and print magazines in Australia, the United States, and Canada. In addition, he is a Wiley-Blackwell Journal author, and contributor to various non-literary journals on topics ranging from the meaning of Evil to reality as a computer simulation.  

“The Sociopath’s Lament” Fiction by Tim Carter

The Chamber Magazine
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I awoke to a shape standing at the foot of my bed. A man-sized figure, black against dim moonlight leaking through floral-print curtains. He was more a vacancy of light than a person, and utterly still.

It was deep into the night. Perhaps 2 AM or later. Somewhere in the house our dog, Noodles, barked furiously. Angela named the little monster and I accept no responsibility for the mutt or the name. He yapped as small dogs do, with much anger but little effect.

He certainly didn’t deter the thing at the foot of my bed. The figure didn’t speak. It took me a few seconds to remember that Angela was visiting family in Portland. The bedroom door was closed, the dog going mad somewhere on the other side.

My heart raced; my body paralyzed with terror. I ran through ways to fight off an intruder. None seemed realistic. I’m only five-foot-six, maybe one hundred and fifty-five pounds. I lay flat on my back, barely awake, betrayed by my own frozen muscles.

He glided up the side of the bed. I couldn’t see his face and it came to mind that he wasn’t a  human intruder at all but a demon. A malevolent spirit with an otherworldly purpose. He laughed softly. Then he was gone. Neither door nor windows moved or made a sound.

I knew then he’d come to haunt me.

Still, I got up, pulled on my robe and checked the house, just in case.

We live in North Burnaby, a quiet suburb on the edge of Vancouver. Successive municipal governments blanketed the place in streetlights. When the wind blows, they conspire with overgrown pines to fill my modest pied-a-terre with moving shadows. It’s an old house, 1950s, the best I could do on a teacher’s salary.

On a good night, the shadows provide amusing distractions. Now they kept my fear at a low simmer, as if to soft boil me, like an egg. Might be I was rattled, too. A burglar would have been a one-off event, cured by the police, insurance, and a few stiff drinks.

This was different. A beginning.

It was Dieter Runge’s fault, the prick. Runge taught film studies and PE at the school where I chaired the English department. I had been thinking about his neck when I fell asleep. Specifically, about my hands around his neck, thick with muscle and fat, squeezing. About the smell of him, sweat soaking up through his grey hoodie and onto my chest as I choked the life out of him.

I often indulged such thoughts while alone in bed. Runge wore a stopwatch on a cord around his neck, a badge of manliness or something similarly toxic. Sometimes, for variety, I used the cord to garrotte him. Getting both hands inside the loop and twisting, hard, until his life flowed into nothing. Mostly, though, I preferred a more personal narrative. There was something uniquely exciting to his bare, tuna-steak flesh under my fingers.

I had fallen asleep with this film running in my head, my very own pornographic masterpiece of murder. Somehow, in the moment of transition between waking and oblivion, the fantasy must have opened a portal. A door to a darker place that allowed a demon to slip into my bedroom. Maybe even invited him.

So ok, it was probably more my fault than Dieter’s. But he was still a prick. The kind of man who’d been bullying his peers since he was six years old, when a growth spurt and an affinity for junk food had first given him an advantage. He had this way of standing too close to you even when you weren’t arguing, making the point that he was bigger and stronger.

Besides, I’ve never known a PE teacher who wasn’t a tyrant. A certain insecurity-driven assholeness is practically cooked into the job description.

At this point, I hadn’t actually strangled anyone. Not for real. Some people are haunted by what they’ve done. I was haunted by what I wanted to do.

Which made the demon doubly terrifying. Because how could I defend myself? You can control your actions. You’re responsible for your actions. Nobody controls their desires. The heart wants what it wants, as Emily Dickenson or Selena Gomez will tell you.

Neither daylight nor professional boundaries inhibited my demon. He followed me to work, watching me from under a reaper’s jet-black hood, eerily motionless at the end of a long, brightly lit corridor. The school’s fluorescent lighting was no match for his impenetrable darkness.

Students crowded around him, oblivious. I wondered if he was in my head. The prospect did not make him any less terrifying.

Kids today are punks. Clog a hallway with a hundred of them and you’ll find dozens of twisted souls. Probably more. The shit on their phones alone would turn your hair grey. Incest fantasy porn and CGI dismemberment scenes barely scratch the surface. It didn’t matter.

He wasn’t there for them.

He was there for me.

I’m not brave. If he’d asked for something, I’d have done it. He scared the crap out of me, dark and silent and knowing. That was the worst of it. The unspoken realization that he knew everything. It left me naked, my dreadful secrets laid bare, like snakes on a stone floor with nowhere to hide.

Angela returned that night. After so many years, there’s a threshold for how long she has to be gone before I miss her. A week is about right, and that was dead-on this time.

I was hoping her return would chase him away. We had a nice dinner. Afterwards we began to make love.

I felt him before I saw him, watching us over a bedside sconce. Angela’s skin warmed under my fingers, and he began to whisper. Not words I could comprehend, but something. A demonic mantra, maybe. Low, urgent, and demanding. A perfect echo of my desire.

Turned on, Angela responded to my touch, and usually that’s enough to get me going. Now, though, fear and hunger fed my arousal like wind into a bonfire. Each gust pushed the flames, and they in turn sucked harder. Lust hit me like a low-voltage current, curling my fingers and making my heart stutter. I buried my face in Angela’s shoulder so she wouldn’t see my cheek twitching.

I wanted to bite her, to taste blood, to push a forearm into her trachea and feel the way she moved when she couldn’t breathe. Less rhythmic, almost twitchy with excitement. That’s how I got my taste for it. It’s probably why I married her. I pinned her down and she gasped. She couldn’t hear the whispering, but she felt the effects and shuddered in anticipation.

I didn’t dare go further. There’s a line I never crossed, not in how far I went but in how I felt about it in the moment. Fall into that kind of love and you’ll never dig yourself out.

So ultimately it was unsatisfying. Like an alcoholic taking a single sip of communion wine. My demon’s whispers rose and fell with Angela’s orgasm, both tinged with disappointment.

The demon disappeared after we finished. But not for long. From that point onward he was never gone for long. I’d catch him following me. Or sometimes leading, since naturally he knew where I was going. I started looking for him when I left the house, but that only made it worse. The act of looking itself put him in my mind, a haunting by a haunting.

Desperate, I accompanied Angela to church. I’m a sporadic worshipper at best. Angela’s a regular and she was pleased. By then I was willing to try anything.

I might not be devout, but I believe. I hoped God might help. What a joke. The bastard demon walked right past me, up the stairs and into the church. I halfway expected him to hold the heavy oak door for one of the old ladies that made up most of our congregation.

I refused to be intimidated. Or to acknowledge it, anyway. Instead, I prayed. It didn’t help. They were just words thrown into a vacuum. We’re Anglicans, which is nice and all, but far too feeble for a demon situation. I needed Southern Baptists, or some crazy-as-hell Pentecostal lunatics with fire and brimstone and a screaming preacher speaking in tongues to even hope to make a dent.  

Instead, I had Father McGee. Kindly and fat, he excelled at holding the hands of the dying, and his brownies cleaned up at bake sales. He was no help to me at all.

Brazen as all hell, my demon made himself comfortable at the end of my pew. Multicolored rays of light from the stained-glass windows disappeared into him as the sun rose. Like he was sucking piety with a straw and never getting full.

Anglicans aren’t big on confession, but it’s an option. I figured I’d try. Maybe Father McGee could refer me to someone more qualified, or at least more fearsome.

I slipped into the booth. The gate slid open with a harsh snap of wood striking wood and, naturally, the fucking demon leaned in from the other side. The audacity of it gave me a momentary flash of courage.

“You can’t judge me. You of all people. I haven’t done anything. I haven’t done anything.” 

I could see his face now. Familiar, but black as if burned, with dark eyes that didn’t blink.

“Desires aren’t sins. And I don’t feel guilty. Not a bit.”

His smile answered for him. He didn’t believe a word of it. I might as well have been talking to myself.

“Well, fuck you then. I’ll go to a shrink. He’ll listen. The more I talk, the stronger the prescription. And that’ll be the end of it. And of you, too.”

He gave a small, knowing tilt of his head. Calling my bluff. It’s hard to lie to someone who knows your secrets. More than knows, who collects them. Hoards them like rare truffles still smelling of dirt and rot. He casually slid the gate closed, as if bored.

As we drove home, my fear and paranoia grew deeper, richer. My hands shook. Angela asked if I’d had too much coffee. What could I tell her?

He started to visit me in my dreams. I would be giving a lecture on Twelfth Night and realize I was in pyjamas, old flannel ones with stains, and the whole class was laughing. He sat at the back or leaned casually on a shelf filled with old textbooks.

I slept less and less, and the world became fuzzy around the edges. Angela cancelled a painting retreat on a small island off the coast, a favourite for her, out of love and concern.

It was no help. He was with me always.

I could feel a breaking point approaching. I’d eat breakfast or step into a class, and I’d want to scream, to run, to tear out my hair. Anything to make him go away, or even just to be cloaked again for a while, to make my secrets secret again. Instead, I’d sip my tea or open a textbook with shaking hands and fake normalcy as best I could.

It happened, finally, in a kind of waking dream. It started with Noodles, once again losing her goddamn mind at two in the morning. This time Angela was fast asleep beside me.

At least I wasn’t paralysed, and I didn’t want him in the bedroom. Some small shred of decency compelled me to leave Angela out of it. I pulled on the robe and a pair of slippers and left.

The bedroom door opened not into my living room, but instead a school hallway, pitch black, trapped like me in the wasting hours of the night. The waning moon left the building dark and silent, but for the whispering.

I fled, down the hallway and around a corner and then another. The school was a maze that didn’t end. Running was pointless, but that’s dreams for you.

I grabbed a locker to help me turn, the slippers being less than ideal for escaping demons. My hand came away sticky and I saw that it was covered in blood. That I was covered in blood, as if dipped into a deep vat, as if I’ve fallen down a deep and sunless well of crimson.

I stumbled, leaving rusty red smears on doorknobs and lockers, half-slipping footprints trailing back to the black, pursuing shape of the thing.

The whispers invaded my brain and I understood them for the first time. Like tentacles of thought wrapping through grey matter, they wanted to pry me into two. Here, my desires. Naked, shameful, repellant and yet thirsty. So thirsty. Over there my conscience, horrified and covered in blood and aroused and horrified anew to be turned on so. An unsustainable Escher drawing of desire and repulsion.

As the one became two, I had to choose. I couldn’t be both. The demon whispered his advice and I took it, clinging to desire at the expense of all else. I guess you could call it fate.

My disassociated twin ran beside me. Two men, both in plaid robes, pelting down school corridors with torment hard on our heels.

I regressed. Fight or flight, kill or be killed. I threw an elbow, knocking my conscience into the monster’s path. Better him than me.

He slipped and hit the floor, but to my dismay the demon refused to do my dirty work. My other half clawed his way up and closed on me, neck and neck with the demon. I couldn’t tell you which I feared most.

It seemed for a moment that they merged. That somehow, that was the secret. My demon and my conscience were one.

In that flash of insight, I turned and tackled my blood-soaked other half. I expected him to be ghostlike, ephemeral. Instead, the impact shuddered all the way down my spine.

We slid across the linoleum floor in a tangled mess. I took the wind out of him, though, and so ended on top. I kept him flat on his back, my full weight on his chest. I found his throat with my hands and clamped down. How could I know that this would be my first real killing?

He struggled desperately and I took a little pride in that. I could admire him even though I knew he had to go. I wish I could tell you I felt remorse, but that would be a lie. I needed to end it, and this was how.

The light went out of his eyes slowly, like sliding a dimmer switch down to the final notch.

You can’t make friends with your demons. That’s a myth. But you can come to a livable arrangement. Once I’d made the sacrifice, the terror dissipated. I miss him, my other half. I know I should feel sad. Or guilty. I don’t. I guess in the end, that’s what I’ve lost.

But you can’t live in terror your whole life. You’d surely go mad.


Tim Carter is a writer of stories, video games, film and TV.  He is known for MORTAL KOMBAT: LEGACY, the DEAD RISING series of movies, and the award-winning video game SLEEPING DOGS. He lives in Vancouver, Canada with his wife, two dogs, and a disgruntled cat.