“Sleigh Bed” Psychological Horror by Heather Webb

Kurt Melzer Sleigh Bed, (1936) from Wikimedia Commons,  Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

“… and a wool coat with an ermine fur collar, circa 1940s, which was probably her mother’s, since she wasn’t born until 1939. A brass coat rack, a bunch of vintage Ladies’ Home Journals, some old Perry Como records, and a lamp with a Tiffany glass shade. Daisy-ah, are you listening to me?”

I’d had a particularly trying day at work. I worked in a pet store at the mall, not because I particularly loved animals (I didn’t), but because jobs were not easy to come by when you were a twenty-year-old community college dropout. My intense social awkwardness- which bordered on pathological- made interacting with strangers an ordeal. Some days, however, dealing with animals was only slightly less stressful. Today, for instance, I’d splattered my uniform shirt with vile-smelling greenish water while attempting to clean a fifty gallon aquarium containing baby turtles. Later, a group of rowdy teenagers had loitered around the shop for over an hour, agitating both me and the animals as they attempted to film footage for a YouTube video, and finally, near the end of my shift, a scarlet macaw had bitten my finger deeply enough to draw blood. Now I was shuffling around my kitchen in my comfy clothes, attempting to make myself a soothing dinner of scrambled eggs on toast. My mother, on speakerphone, was triumphantly cataloging the items she’d scored at her latest estate sale. 

“Oh, and I got you a liwu. A present. You’re going to love it. It’s a sleigh bed.”

“A daybed?” I asked distractedly, scraping my slightly scorched eggs onto a plate. Particles of teflon coating were flaking off the pan, and had become embedded in the eggs. I hoped it wasn’t toxic.

“Sleigh bed, Baobei. An antique mahogany sleigh bed. I’ll ask Mr Timmons next door if he and his son can deliver it to your apartment tomorrow. They have a truck. What time do you usually get home?”

“I don’t know what a sleigh bed is. I already have a bed, Mom.”

I turned off the stove and sank down on the bed in question, with my plate in one hand and my phone in the other. It was my old childhood bed, taken from my room at my mother’s when I moved out last year. More accurately, it was the twin-sized box spring and stained, lumpy mattress from my old childhood bed. I hadn’t been able to figure out how to reassemble the bed frame, so I’d thrown it away.

“That pojiu old thing? You’re a grown woman now, Baobei. You need a grownup bed. You’ll love this. It has a carved headboard, and a queen-size mattress, and…”

“How do you think that’s going to fit in here?” I muttered around a mouthful of toast. “It’s going to take up the entire apartment. I don’t need a big bed. My little bed is fine. I’m a small person.”

“Stop this ingratitude immediately! Zisi de haizi!” My mother’s tone turned sharp. “I got you this bed because I want you to have a decent bed. I could sell it, along with the rest of this stuff. I could probably get two thousand dollars for it. I want you to have it. I insist you take it. Or perhaps you’re so grown up that you don’t need my help with your rent and bills anymore?”

There it was: my mother’s trump card. I sighed, flopping backward on my old familiar bed in defeat.

“I read you’re not supposed to use second hand mattresses.” I said. “Bed bugs.”

She knew she’d won.

O feihua. This is a wonderful mattress, a Serta. Nearly new. No need to worry about bed bugs. This lady was very wealthy. Even though she was quite old, she kept her things in lovely condition. I believe she had servants, or at least one. Anyway, I have to finish cataloging these items so I can get them listed. Be home tomorrow night, Xiao xiao. Zaijian!”


The following day was about as good as my days ever got: there were no further mishaps with the animals at work, and I had my longest conversation to date with Ethan, a coworker I’d had a crush on for months. By “longest conversation”, I mean that I managed about three sentences, none of them involving whose turn it was to change the wood shavings in the chinchilla cage. Instead, we spoke about where we’d gone to high school, about the classes he was taking at the community college, and about whether I might return to my studies someday (I lied and said probably). He then invited me to join him for a mocha latte in the food court after our shift. It was with both regret and relief that I was forced to decline, with the excuse that I was “having some furniture delivered” that evening. 

Shortly after eight, my new bed arrived, hauled up the stairs in pieces by my mother’s neighbor Mr Timmons, a portly man with a pink, bristly face, and his son, a sullen young man with a shaved head and a lot of tattoos, who I suspected might be a white supremacist. The mattress was so large they could barely wrestle it through the door. Soon my apartment was strewn with planks and slats of dark wood which I assumed was mahogany. Mr Timmons then sent his son, the possible nazi, down to the truck to retrieve the toolbox, and the two of them spent an interminable hour or so assembling the giant, oppressive bed that I didn’t want in the first place.

Their presence in my home made me so acutely uncomfortable that I was tempted to hide in the bathroom while they worked. The only thing that prevented me from doing so was my fear that Mr Timmons’ son would steal or at least riffle through my belongings while his father was occupied with assembling the bed. Finally, they concluded their work and departed, dragging my childhood mattress and boxspring away with them.

Even after they were gone, I found it difficult to regain my bearings. There had been no males in this apartment in the year since I moved in, and it seemed they’d changed the energy of the place, leaving me wired and jittery. More than that, the new bed altered the atmosphere of my home. As predicted, it practically filled the entire room (and therefore, the entire apartment; it was an efficiency apartment). It was an impressive piece of furniture, to be sure: the massive swooping shape of the thing was indeed sleigh-like; the wood was sleekly carved and deeply polished, yet it seemed to glow with its own dark and vaguely sinister aura. The mattress was firm and white, new-looking. My mother had neglected to send any bedclothes, however, and none of the sheets I had would fit it. In the end, I simply laid a blanket over it, pulled another blanket over myself, and eventually, unhappily, went to sleep.

I don’t know if I’d been asleep for minutes or hours when my eyes popped open. I felt suddenly, fully alert. I was aware that I was in my new bed; I could see its swooping curved shape in my peripheral vision. For some reason, however, I couldn’t sit up. I felt paralyzed, disconnected from my body. Looking down, I took stock of my corporeal self, visible only as a slight prominence beneath the blanket, my chest rising and falling with my breath. I was sure I’d covered myself with my blue Pokemon blanket, but now my blanket was white, some satiny material speckled with tiny rosebuds. I’d never seen this blanket before. With great effort, I moved my legs beneath it. I bent my knees, and saw the blanket rise up… but only over my left leg. On the right, the blanket lay as flat and still as if there were nothing beneath it. There was nothing beneath it. My right leg wasn’t there! I began to panic, my breath coming in screechy little gasps. I tried to reach down and investigate what was going on with my leg, but my arms wouldn’t comply. There was something, a clear plastic tube, inserted under the skin of my hand and held there with white tape. A silver IV pole stood next to the bed, and the tube in my hand snaked up to a bag of clear liquid that hung from it. On the other side of the bed, numerous amber prescription pill bottles were arranged on a silver tray.

As I struggled to break free of this near-paralysis, a figure loomed up on the left side of my bed. It was a woman- middle-aged, ruddy-faced, heavyset- wearing a white nurse’s uniform. I saw the glint of a hypodermic syringe in her hand. She depressed the plunger slightly, causing a drop of amber fluid to leak from the tip. With her other hand, she reached under the blanket and pinched me, hard, on the upper arm. She stared at my face, saw the pain register, then pinched me again, this time on the tendon where my neck met my shoulder. I tried to cry out, but was unable to make a sound. Her face was an impassive mask, but her eyes glittered, wholly malevolent. I struggled to move, to breathe. Now she reached out and flicked me, hard, on the cheek with her fingernail. It was surprisingly painful, causing my eyes to tear up. She stroked my hair almost tenderly, then wound a strand of it around her finger and gave a sharp tug. Again, I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out. She jammed the needle into my arm, lowered her face to mine until she was close enough that I could smell her sour breath, and whispered, “Don’t we have fun?”

I screamed myself awake, thrashing my arms and legs wildly. Clutching my Pokemon blanket- another childhood relic- I lay shuddering in the sleigh bed, bathed in cold fear-sweat. A quick assessment revealed that both my legs were still attached to my body, that there were no IV poles or pill bottles around my bed, and that I was alone in my apartment. My body was intact and I was in full control of it, and there was no sadistic nurse tormenting me. It had all been a figment of my imagination. My heart still hammered out a staccato rhythm, and my mouth was flooded with the coppery taste of adrenaline. Feeling shell-shocked and urgently needing to pee, I crawled out of the sleigh bed and made my way to the bathroom, turning on lights as I went. Nothing was amiss in  my apartment. Everything was in its place. No one lurked in the shadows. But the dream had been so vivid, so real. I could still see the glint of the hypodermic needle, the pores on the nurse’s cheeks as she loomed over me, the printed labels on the prescription bottles. The labels on the prescription bottles.

One of the classes I took before dropping out of community college was Introduction to Psychology. It was the only class I really excelled in, the only one I enjoyed. One interesting fact we learned in that class was that people can’t read in dreams. When we sleep, the region of our brain known as Broca’s Area, which is responsible for expressing and interpreting language, becomes inactive, making reading impossible.

The name on those pill bottles was Violet Morrow. 


I sat by the fountain in the mall and called my mother during my lunch break at work.

Daisy-ah! How do you like your new bed?”

“Um. Mom, I have a question.”

“What is it, Baobei? Something is wrong?”

“I was just wondering about the estate sale. The person you bought the bed from?”

“Famous house, downtown on 14th Street. Historical landmark. Big mansion, designed by a famous architect, I forgot his name. You know the one, we’ve driven past it. Big gray Victorian with purple trim? It’s called Morrow House.”

I felt like the temperature suddenly plummeted twenty degrees.

“You said Morrow?”

“Yes, Thomas Morrow. Bank president, very wealthy. He died thirty years ago, but his wife just died earlier this year. Their son lives abroad, and he’s planning on selling the house, so that’s why there was an estate sale.”

“The wife… her name was Violet?” I ask.

“So you have heard of them, wo de baobei. Very well-known family, very high society. Controversial, though. Especially her. She was an actress, before she married. There were some scandals. Affairs with powerful men. An abortion. She was rumored to be involved in the occult. She had psychiatric problems, got committed to a mental hospital at one point. Later in life, she held seances, invited psychic mediums into her home. They say she was trying to communicate with the spirits of her dead children. All of her babies were born dead, all but the one son.”

“Jesus, Mom. How do you even know all this stuff? This is common knowledge?”

Ya, no. I never heard of them before I went to the estate sale,” she laughed. “People there were talking about it.”

After I hung up, I hurried back to the pet shop. It was a slow afternoon, and I spent the remainder of my shift cleaning out aquariums with Ethan. After work, he invited me again to get coffee, and this time, I accepted.



I don’t even remember the bus ride home. I was too busy replaying every second of our conversation in my brain. One coffee had become many coffees, and we ended up staying at the Starbucks in the food court until the mall closed at nine and they kicked us out. It was the first time I’d ever spent hours in conversation with a member of the opposite sex. Amazingly, I didn’t feel shy or awkward at all… probably because I admitted fairly early in our conversation that I suffered from social anxiety.

“You’ve got to be kidding! So do I. When I was a kid, it was so bad they actually thought I had Asperger’s. I spent all my time hiding in my room, building dinosaur models. But later they decided it was just garden-variety anxiety.” replied Ethan. “Do you take anything for it?”

“I used to take Prozac. I stopped since I lost my insurance. It didn’t help much anyway. You?”

“Zoloft. 50 milligrams.”

“Ah. Same thing.”

“Yeah, pretty much. Damn, I’ve been trying to get up the courage to talk to you for months. I always thought you were just ignoring me.”

“No. I wasn’t. It’s just… hard for me to talk to people.” I admitted.

He smiled, and the warmth, kindness, and understanding in his long-lashed brown eyes made me feel giddy. And just like that, it wasn’t hard to talk anymore.

We talked about animals, about coworkers, about school and our future plans. About our families. He still lived at home with his single mom and two younger sisters, working at the pet store while he went to college so he could help his family out financially. I told him that I had my own apartment, but my mom still helped me out. I’d moved out of her house because we didn’t get along and it became too difficult for both of us to live under the same roof. Besides, she still managed to control my life from afar. I told him my father, like his, was nowhere in the picture. I hadn’t seen him since I was two. When the mall closed, we made plans to have coffee again the following day, and I left for my bus stop, feeling like I was walking on air.

This feeling carried me all the way to the steps of my apartment building, where it suddenly deflated like a leaky balloon. I realized that I did not want to go inside. Of course, I had no choice, and there was my big oppressive bed, looming bulkily in the shadows, taking up all the space in the apartment and sucking all the happiness out of me. I had to skirt around it to get to the kitchen. I found that I didn’t want to touch it, didn’t even want to look at it. But eventually, of course, it got late, and I had to climb into it and go to sleep.

My eyes popped open just in time to see a man I didn’t know roaring toward me from the shadows, his neck veins popping out and his features so red and contorted with rage that he looked like a demon.

“Bitch, I’ll fucking kill you!” he growled, leaping onto the bed before I had time to react and slapping me across the face so hard I heard a ringing in my ears. His fury made him beast-like, and the bitter animal smell of him filled my nostrils. I only had time to register that he appeared to be from a different time- formal white shirt and suspenders, hair slicked straight back from his face- before he slapped me again, causing my eyes to water. I snapped out of my inertia and began to struggle away from him, but he was twice my size, rage-fueled, sturdy and compact as a bull. There was no escape. He pinned my body to the bed with his weight, and his hands closed around my throat. He leaned over so that his red face with its throbbing forehead vein filled my vision. His eyes burned with murderous hatred. My own hands rose to my throat instinctively, trying to pry him off so I could breathe. My vision began to blur and darken as he squeezed. “Kill you, you bitch.”

I woke up and leapt from the bed in one swift movement, landing in a heap on the floor, tangled in my Pokemon blanket. My eyes searched the room frantically for my attacker, only to find that I was alone in my empty apartment. The dream had been so vivid that I could still feel his animal energy zinging around the room like electricity. I could still smell him: flowery hair pomade mingled with the gunpowder stench of his rage.

I crept to the bathroom. My shocked white face in the mirror startled me. There were red marks on my neck, scratches I’d put there myself, trying to pry his hands from my throat in my dream. Avoiding the sleigh bed, I went to the kitchen, turned on the light, and sat there awake until the sun rose.

The next day at work I was exhausted, but seeing Ethan allowed me to push the dream from my mind, at least temporarily. We continued to get to know one another, talking easily throughout the day as we cleaned hamster cages and treated the water in the tropical fish tanks. After work, we headed to the food court Starbucks again, and stayed until closing time. I had never felt safer or more comfortable with anyone than I did with him. Even our silences felt easy, and I knew I could talk to him about anything. But I did not talk to him about the dreams, or the sleigh bed. I did not want to think about them.

It was not until I reached my apartment building that the dread I’d pushed aside all day settled like a stone in my stomach. Apprehension turned my legs to water as I climbed the stairs. The sleigh bed loomed monstrously, seemingly grown to twice its original size, its dark luster filling the apartment. I would not sleep in it tonight, I promised myself. I’d never sleep in it again. Exhausted from the previous night, I soon curled up on the floor in a corner and went to sleep.

I saw bare white feet running through the wet grass, mud flecked ankles. They were both mine and not mine. I felt the blades of grass, cold and slick between my toes.

I saw a black bird hit a windowpane with a muffled thump, and then fall away, leaving an imprint of white powder and a tiny smear of blood on the glass.

I saw slender hands- mine, not mine- cutting a peach into sections with a slim, crescent-shaped blade. The blade slipped and bit easily into the pad of flesh at the base of my thumb, and dark blood welled out. I bent at the waist and wrapped my injured hand in the crumpled fabric of my white apron, but a spot of red leaked through.

I saw a yellowed ceiling, with a water stain that looked like an octopus spreading its tentacles. For some reason, it filled me with nameless dread.

I saw a small boy with wheat-colored hair spinning on a tire swing, beneath a tree with leaves the color of flame.

I lay in the sleigh bed and looked down at the newborn in my arms. Her face was pink and crumpled like a flower. My finger traced the delicate veins at her temples, her tiny ears. My hand cupped her head, stroking the soft blonde down of her hair. Then it closed firmly over her nose and mouth, and it stayed there while her tiny arms and legs churned. It stayed there until they went still.

I awoke in the sleigh bed, having somehow crawled into it during the night. I climbed out of it and hurried to the bathroom, still feeling the warmth of the squirming infant beneath my hand, her flailing limbs, the stillness that followed.

I heard my mother’s voice: “They say she was trying to communicate with the spirits of her dead children. All of her babies were born dead, all but the one son.”

Not born dead, I thought sickly. I tried to make it to the toilet, but vomited instead on the bathroom floor.


“I need help.” I told Ethan, as we sat with our coffees after work that evening.

“Okay,” he said simply.

It felt so good, not having to explain.

He drove first to his mother’s house, where I waited in the car while he collected the tools he felt we’d need, and a few other items I asked him to bring. My trepidation returned as we entered my apartment, but the bed was just a bed, Ethan’s presence seemingly having sapped it of its sinister power.

Still: “You’re right. It’s horrible. I hate it,” he said.

I wanted to kiss him right then and there, for seeing this.

Working together with the screwdrivers he’d brought, it didn’t take us long to disassemble the sleigh bed. We carried the mahogany boards and slats across the dark parking lot to the dumpster. The hardest part was wrestling the giant mattress out the door. We gave it a push and let it tumble down the stairs. Then, grunting with effort, we shoved and slid it across the parking lot and heaved it into the dumpster as well.

“You have the other stuff?” I asked. He went to his car and returned with a can of lighter fluid, which he handed to me without a word. I squirted a generous amount into the dumpster, saturating the mattress with it.

“Stand back,” I said, as I tossed in a match.

We held hands in the darkness and watched the flames lick the night sky, noxious tendrils of smoke rising into the air like a ghost. We stood there watching until we heard the whoop of a siren in the distance, and then we ran.


Although we talked on the phone daily, we rarely saw one another in person, and so it was several weeks before I was forced to admit to my mother what I had done.

Daisy-ah, how are you liking your new bed? Sleeping well?”

“Actually, Mom, I got rid of it. I’m sorry, but… it wasn’t a good bed for me. It made me have bad dreams.”

There was a long silence on the other end of the line, and I cringed, waiting for the torrent of abuse I was sure she was about to unleash in two languages. But her voice, when she finally spoke, was quiet.

“That’s okay, Baobei. That’s good that you got rid of it. Maybe it wasn’t a good bed after all. I think that woman, maybe she was a nu gui.

“A what?” My understanding of Mandarin was rudimentary at best.

“You know, a ghost. Like an evil spirit lady. I think she must’ve had a very bad life.”

“Why do you think that?” I asked.

“Well, I kept that coat. The one with the fur collar. But every time I looked in the mirror…”

My mother trailed off, at an uncharacteristic loss for words.

“What did you see, Mom?” I whispered.

“I saw ugliness. Pain. It doesn’t matter. I got rid of the coat, and you got rid of the sleigh bed, and now that ugly white nu gui can’t bother us any more. But Baobei… how long have you been sleeping on the floor? Poor Bao, we must get you a new bed!”

I smiled to myself, and did not tell her that I rarely slept at my apartment at all anymore, since I spent most nights with Ethan and his family, in a cluttered duplex that bustled with warmth and light and cheerful female energy. And when I slept on the floor in my apartment, I did not sleep alone, and I always had good dreams.

Heather Webb is a mom, teacher, and literary enthusiast. She enjoys reading and writing dark fiction, and has published in Eldritch Tales and several other magazines. She lives in Texas with her son.

If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream fiction and poetry with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine.

“Legacy” Dark, Supernatural Fiction by Evan Kaiser

"Legacy" Horror by Evan Kaiser

A hundred years old, this house!

What in the hell was a single, middle-aged man of modest means doing, buying such a house? Such a monstrosity?

I must be out of my mind.

Self-doubt notwithstanding, Eddie had his reasons.

For one thing, his girlfriend had a thing for retro art and architecture.

When she actually sees this behemoth ¾ this castle ¾ she’ll throw herself into my arms, forever. I’m sure of it.

For another, he needed the space. Eddie had endured life in a miserable, one-bedroom apartment on the other side of town for twenty-five years. Over that time, he had seen one neighbor after another move on and up to roomier digs, and his cramped, dingy flat had turned into a prison.

I swear that pad had steadily shrunk since the day I moved in.  Enough! Don’t I deserve a studio, after all these years? I’m sick of stacking my paintings like trash. And can’t I have a real kitchen before I die? I make a decent living. Don’t single guys get to have TV rooms, home gyms, and the rest? What am I waiting for? To be carted away in a box?

Decent living or no, appearances would have suggested the ancient neighborhood was out of his range. But the charming two-story residence came up as an insane bargain on zillow.com.  

The old lady’s relatives should’ve done their homework. Did they think the outdated wiring and water stains lowered the value that much? Dummies. Their problem, not to know the market. Totally their problem.

It was Sunday ¾ moving-in day. The sky was densely overcast, the interior of the house cavernous and gloomy. Eddie’s own furniture barely made a dent in the house’s bare ambiance, and he brought only a single lamp of his own, powered by a forty-watt bulb.

Reading glasses teetering on the bridge of his nose, Eddie labored to identify and sort books and bottles, cables and earphones, weird gizmos, and framed photos. He organized the stuff into piles on the splotchy, wooden floor. Minutes stretched to hours.

I can’t see a thing. Christ. Put lamps at the top of the shopping list, Eddie. Lots of lamps.

Before the move, Eddie had discarded almost everything useless, broken, obsolete, or ugly. Still, here was a residual mound of repulsive and embarrassing items to which he just couldn’t say goodbye.

For example, a fuzzy old knit blanket that was a gift from his mother, God rest her soul. It smelled of lavender.

Absolutely hideous.

I’d be struck dead to lose it, much less chuck it.

Attic-bait for sure.

 And then there were his childhood drawing books. He had found them at the bottom of the hallway closet in his apartment, and would never consider parting with them.

The archivists five hundred years from now will want to see those! Haha.

He sat now with his back against the window and held the books aloft to catch the dim light, smiling wistfully. After a long while, he buried them all in a box beneath a heap of weather-beaten rock concert t-shirts, then deposited that box atop four others, similarly laden with all sorts of precious junk, in the upstairs hallway below the trapdoor to the attic. 

Eddie clicked the attic light switch, and lowered the door with the pull rope.

Perfect darkness greeted him. 


He padded back downstairs. After rummaging without luck for a new bulb, he found his way to the kitchen for a flashlight. The kitchen, sizeable and modern, was a major attraction of the home.

Though recent history offset that appeal to a considerable extent.

It is a little creepy thinking of that old woman lying on this very floor, dying over the course of three days. Must’ve made for quite a clean-up. Guess I’ll skip that bit when I give Sally the tour! Lol.

 Flashlight in hand, Eddie trudged back up to the second-floor hallway. After schlepping all five boxes up the ladder and depositing them by the trapdoor opening, he turned the flashlight on, climbed into the sub-roof space — watching his head — and swung the light in a circle. 

There was more room than he had imagined. But, as with all attics, the space was constrained by the slope of the roof. Unfinished 4x4s provided the framing, and slabs of plywood served as a floor. Thick dust floated all around. Eddie sneezed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. 

There’s mold up here for sure. You can feel it ¾ more than a smell. Disgusting.

He poked about. A profusion of old newspapers, luggage, and old paintings was stuffed in the westward corner. 

Paintings! Waddaya know.

“A hidden talent, perhaps?” he murmured with a smirk.

In reality, Eddie anticipated mediocrity, and was unbothered. He had learned long ago to enjoy the ego boost of a real stinker ¾  the satisfaction of finding yet another fool he could better.

It’s amazing how bad most people’s basic drawing skills are. Hmm. To be fair, these ones on top aren’t terrible. 

He bent over in the corner to avoid banging his noggin and rooted through the rest of the compositions. Landscapes, still lifes, portraits — all acrylics on store-bought canvases. Some indisputably horrible, some arguably better than mediocre.

All by the same hand, even if the signatures are illegible. Dates easy to read, though, and all within the last three decades. I believe they said she lived here her whole adult life. Could all of these be presents from some artist friend? How likely is that? Nope. All hers, for sure. I should look for supplies up here. Acrylic keeps if it’s stored tight. Any brushes would be useless, but who knows what else I might find? Maybe even a decent palette.

As for the old lady’s paintings themselves ¾ nothing worth hanging, nor anything her next of kin would be interested in, by Eddie’s estimation.

A garage sale, perhaps? Someone always shows up to shell out cash for the worst tripe at those things — depend on it.

But despite his low opinion of the compositions, Eddie didn’t move on in search of paints and palettes. Instead, he lingered — over second-rate, even childish canvases he was ready to dispose of at a rummage sale. Why?

I’ve got to admit, some of these are interesting. I mean, not much talent on display, but these few here, these are pretty wild! 

He sneezed.

It was then he heard, for the first time, the terrible creaking.

Behind him.

He swung his flashlight around, to be greeted only by the bare wood of the inner roof and an empty plywood floor.

Then he heard it again ¾ in the opposite direction.

Flashlight beam duly swung. Again, nothing.

And then, finally ¾ a sound like a twig being extracted from a bucket of sap, in yet a third direction. 

He jerked the flashlight once more. And there, in the opposite corner against the inside of the roof, sat a pulsing, gelatinous mass of slime. It was half as high as Eddie but two meters or more across.

Breathing. Oozing.


There was a “head,” there were “arms,” but there weren’t anything remotely resembling legs.  The main body of the thing emerged broadly from the plywood. Zig-zagging, woody branches ran out of it at random intervals, adhering to the roof’s wooden beams. Its glutinous body sparkled gray and brown and green in the flashlight’s LED rays. Eddie’s clear impression was that its back was turned, its ‘face’ just inches from the roof frame. It was busy with something. With its hands. 

Some half-dead animal that got in through a hole in the roof? What else?

Eddie’s heart skipped a beat, and he lowered the flashlight. He inched toward the ladder. But his every step was answered by an oily slithering in the darkness. 

He froze. It froze.

What now? Despite his terror, he dared to turn his head and lift the flashlight at the creature for another look. 

It faced him. 

A hole parted the middle of its’ ‘head,’ as if a ‘mouth’ opening to speak. 

Eddie flew to the ladder and half climbed, half tumbled to the hallway floor. He flicked the trapdoor rope, the ladder and door snapping back up with a thud. Then he shot down the stairs and out the front door.

With trembling hands, he fished out his phone and called the cops.


“Mr. Frieder, there’s nobody in the attic or anywhere else in that house.” 

“It’s not a person! I told you it was some kind of….” 

The officer removed his cap and wiped his bald head. “Yes, of course. You told us. ‘Something disgusting, frightening’ you said, ‘decaying’ or something. Well, when I say ‘nobody,’ I mean anything like that, too. Nothing in the house, nothing in the attic, monstrous or otherwise. No animals. No people. No gas leaks. No explosive devices. Nothing. And no sign of anyone or anything having been in there anytime recent, either.”

 The cop waited for Eddie to say something. 

“She must be hiding,” Eddie finally blurted.


“Oh. I don’t really know. But it could be, I think….” 

“Mr. Frieder, there’s no one in your house. Take a nap. Take a vacation. Don’t call us again unless….” The cop got word on his radio and turned to answer briefly. His partner emerged from around a corner of the house, signaling all clear. “Like I say, Mr. Frieder, you should certainly call us if something alarming turns up, but try to be pretty sure about it. ‘kay?” 

“Sure officer. Thanks.” 

Eddie wore a sour expression as the police drove away. A few neighbors who had been watching from their yards avoided eye contact as they returned to their lives. Show over. 

A meticulous investigation of his own was called for. Eddie reentered the premises with a sigh and explored every corner, closet, and cabinet. His head swiveling like an owl’s, his eyes darting left and right, he took in every nook and cranny on the first floor. Then, timorously, laboriously, every crevice, every potential hiding spot, on the second.

The attic he put off. 

It’s getting dark. The flashlight helps only so much. It’ll have to wait.

He knew he’d have to head up there again eventually — just to prove to himself he wasn’t crazy. But he’d have to work up the nerve.

There’s nothing up there.  It was a trick of the light. Or maybe something I ate.

And to give himself time to lose the jitters, he’d take care of it after the sun was up high in the morning and his head was cleared by a good night’s sleep and a ginormous, sunrise coffee.


 For now, the sun was close to setting in the still heavily overcast sky, and the house was enmeshed in a deepening  miasma of shadows. Eddie searched out the large, south-facing window where he sat earlier in the day. There — where he could still catch some light — he opened a folding chair, cracked open a beer, and pulled up one packing carton for a side table and another for an ottoman.  

He chuckled nervously.

It could have been a decomposing animal like I thought to begin with. Cops could have missed something like that. Squirrels and raccoons get into attics all the time. Or maybe a pile of the old lady’s painting materials leaked and deteriorated. It was super dark! And it’s an attic. So disorienting! All those roof angles and stuff. And on top of that, look how tired I am! This moving business. It drains the shit out of you. That can’t help, either, can it?

He gulped some beer and closed his eyes.

He fell asleep by the window and awoke with a cottonmouth two hours later, the sky black. Not fully alert, he wobbled into the kitchen and shoveled a can of tuna down his gullet before heading upstairs to change. His plan for the evening was to read an old magazine in bed until he conked out. Eddie figured that wouldn’t take long, and he could use the extra couple of hours of sleep.

Before he could climb into bed, his phone jingled.

The text read: “how’d it go with move?” It was Sally.

He texted back: “no prob. boxes mostly empty. house gr8.”

“wall space for my pic?”

She loves that little portrait I did of her. It is great. But what she’s really reminding me to do is paint another, since she gained back the weight and her hair grew back in. Always a hidden message. Like everyone else, I guess. 

“lol. plenty.”

“sorry cldn’t be there. u still need help? shld I come now?”

I’d love to bounce this stuff off her. After all, I don’t really believe there’s a monster up there, do I? I’m pretty much as sensible as she is, ain’t I? Actually, right now, I guess not.

Eddie imagined various ways to tell his girlfriend what had happened that crazy day, but in the end, decided to wait. It wasn’t so much concern that something awful really lived in his attic, as that he still couldn’t be sure he wasn’t nuts.

I gotta search up there first before she comes over. Girl doesn’t deserve to be burdened with my ridiculous shit here after what she just went through. She doesn’t need me for that.

Afterward. When they could both have a good laugh over a late dinner. He could get it done before he drove in for the day shift at the department.

Funny how when I met her, she was the one getting the MRI. And now, look at me. I’m the one who needs his brain examined. Go figure.

“nn. let’s hook up tomw for dinner. hitting the sack early. :)”

“ok. tpm. text me. h&k.”

OK, so not Sally, let her be. But it would have been nice to talk to someone. Mom and Dad would’ve been nice. Really miss ’em.  Louis? Forget him.  That sonuvabitch brother of mine is like he’s on another planet.  Who do I have right now to turn to? Not a soul.

Eddie sighed, placed the phone on the pillow beside him, and crawled into bed. He stared at the ceiling.

The plan’s supposed to start with a  good night’s sleep. This isn’t good.

The incessant serenade of millions of crickets bore through his skull. The snapping and sputtering of pipes in the walls filled out the ensemble. Wide awake, Eddie obsessed over every single pop or bang of the plumbing.

Just pipes. Old house, hot water pipes. Right?

Then a bang of a different order.

Eddie sat bolt upright. Directly overhead, something loud and sudden, slammed

 His heart pounded like a locomotive in overdrive.

No way I’m going up there again. Not now. Not at night!

But the bang was followed by the weirdest gurgling. In the very same spot.

Gotta be the pipes! Pipes, pipes, pipes! Old, fucking houses. Calm down Eddie!

 Every muscle tense, Eddie drew his feet up to his butt and wrapped his fists tight around the edge of the bedcover. His eyes tracked the alternating thumping and slurping as something that was no hot water pipe slithered around above the ceiling until, finally, it moved to the intersection of ceiling and wall.

A shadow formed there, opposite the bed.

The apparition then dripped down the wall ¾ a black blob against the grays of the windows and other angles in the half-moon-lit, mostly unfurnished bedroom. Eddie pushed himself back in the bed as far as he could go.

“What the fuck are you?” He said shakily, opening his eyes wide but afraid to turn on the light.

The blob reached the floor, out of sight. Seconds later, it reappeared at the foot of the mattress.

It oozed like tar and overspread his lower legs, which went numb. Twisting from the hip, Eddie strained over his shoulder for the light switch, flipping it just as the umbral phenomenon flowed to his groin.

He turned. He cried out.

A half-decomposed face hovered above his crotch, empty orbs staring straight at him.

Then, gone. 

Eddie found himself quite alone ¾ in a brightly lit bedroom, soaked with sweat, cold as ice, and sprawled sideways. The comforter was bunched up over his legs and belly.

He sat at the edge of the bed. Dropped his face in his hands. Sobbed a bit. Eventually, with some deep breathing, he gathered himself together. Went to the bathroom to blow his nose and wipe his eyes. Changed into a new t-shirt and shorts. 

A nightmare. That’s all. Use your brain, Eddie. You work at a hospital. You’ve read about stuff like this. Be clinical. Night terrors, they call it. Really bad nightmares, something like that. Obviously, a reaction to the attic. Normal anxiety response. Anxiety, night terrors ¾ happens to people all the time.

But Eddie didn’t want nightmares ‘all the time.’ 

If I don’t flush out the attic and nail down, not nothing, but something that explains what I saw, I’ll go completely batshit bonkers. But I will nail it. I will. Just like they do in the department. It’s mysterious, scary, only until the MR gets done. Then, whatever it is, is there, and it’s something everyone has seen before and knows all about. Like it was with Sally. Tomorrow, I’ll figure it out. It’ll be like doing an MRI on the attic. And that’ll be the end of it.

He went back to bed. Though the sounds above the ceiling had gone, sleep was fleeting. He managed a few minutes, here and there, before his alarm rang at eight. 

He cleaned up, ate breakfast and bathed in the shimmering sunlight filling the house. There’d never be a better time, but his fear was difficult to surmount. He cast his eyes up the stairs, to the attic door, wondering what precautions he had failed to take.

A weapon. I know it’s no ghost. But still, could be an animal, and skunks and raccoons can be rabid. 

He didn’t trust himself with a knife and ended up latching onto a heavy wrench from his box of tools. Then, after retrieving the flashlight, he found his way to the attic door and pulled it open. The door and ladder dropped with a woeful groan.

He climbed only high enough to stick his head through the ingang and tentatively peered about with the flashlight.

First, the east corner, where last he saw the thing.

Shadows of the roof framing. Nothing alive, or even vaguely humanoid. Eddie took another couple of steps up, bringing his waist to trapdoor level, and searched in an expanded arc. Everything was otherwise as he had left it, other than some overturned canvases. Eddie guessed the cops had messed with them. 

He relaxed a smidgen. Then he climbed all the way up and continued his inspection. Morning light diffused up through the trap door, brightening the attic considerably compared to the prior, dreary afternoon. Eddie walked over to that east corner and examined it up close. He ran his fingers over the rough roof framing. There was no residue, no liquid, no stain.


At his feet lay a scattered set of oil paints and brushes. The brushes were frayed and dusty, thick with cobwebs. He picked one up, lifted his head, and was taken by surprise.

Isn’t that crazy, to almost miss something like that. Blends right in with the wood.

Crammed flat in the corner between roof and floorboards lay a folded, wooden easel.

“Huh. Pretty decent, really,” Eddie quietly said to himself, as he set the easel upright where there was room up top and locked it into place. “Maybe I’ll bring this down and use it.” He grabbed it by the lower, front horizontal member and gave it a gentle shake, establishing its stability. “Absolutely. Better than mine. Would not lose this.” 

He sighed, drew a finger along the beams of the easel. Dust floated in the diffracted sunbeams from below.

Relaxing up here. Quiet. Maybe I should convert this to a studio. I could install a skylight.

His paramount concern had been that he’d find nothing at all up here, and remain plagued by an terrifying mystery. So when the creaking reoccurred behind him, before he turned, he was more hopeful than scared.

Melting paints? A big old raccoon and its pile of stinking garbage?

But then he looked. And there it was. The being.

Next to the old canvases, a shadow, gaining substance, sprouting from the plywood floor. Again, the singular, bulbous mass, budding something like a head, followed by an arm at either side. Cut off at the waist. Facing away from him.

Browsing the canvases.

Eddie sidled as quietly as he could toward the trapdoor opening, wrench at the ready. He got halfway there. But a floorboard creaked underfoot.

The thing twisted ’round. Its face pulsated. It moaned. 

 The tone was wavering, alien, nauseating. Weakened by the sound, Eddie let go the wrench — but the tool flew straight through the monster’s midriff.

It screamed.

Get me out of here!

Eddie reached toward the exit. Strained. Ever more frantically. 

But he couldn’t move.

The being suddenly stopped its screaming. Its head extended toward Eddie in pseudopodial fashion, within three feet of his face. 

Damn thing is angry. God. What does it want?

The smell of acetone was overwhelming. Eddie’s head swam.

He cowered for a minute. When he finally braved a look up, he found the thing was back in the corner, combing through the pictures again. Its jelly body sparkled colorfully in the refracted light.

Not angry anymore. Why doesn’t it just let me go, then?

The specter lifted one of the paintings and turned. It held the painting close to its body.

And spoke

Distinct from the moaning, its voice was a high-pitched whine, like a siren on ancient seas, filtered through madness. The hole in its face widened as the wailing poured forth, and Eddie understood. He understood everything.

The being held a full-length portrait of a young girl in a straightforward, impressionist style. The paint was fresh, the image new. Eddie did not need to be told who the girl was, but the creature told him anyway.

Then Eddie melted. 

The hard borders of his body softened. Features disappeared. He tried to shout out, to protest, but instead, an unsteady, dying tone issued from his throat. No actual words could rise anymore to his vanishing lips. Yet, still, vestigial thoughts.

I must get out!

Alas, impossible without legs. And struggle only brought pain.

So he relented.

In what remained of his hands rested a brush and palette. Upon the easel before him sat a new canvas. He drew breath. He could see. No longer human, he was still alive. 

Wind whistled behind him — the being had fled. He was alone. The trapdoor closed of its own accord. No matter; before him sat an empty canvas, clear as day, glowing, in the dark. Time for a self-portrait.

Evan Kaiser is a retired physician who practiced primary care medicine in southeastern New England for over twenty-five years. He currently lives with his wife in the Providence, RI area and enjoys painting, reading, cooking, and birding.

“The Tap Room” Dark Fiction by James W. Morris

"The Tap Room" Dark Fiction by James W. Morris

Yeah, I’d have to agree that that’s a pretty disturbing story. But not as creepy as what happened to Tommy, huh? Remember when…oh, you didn’t know about that? No, now that I think about it, I guess Tommy was gone before you started coming in here. I’m surprised the other guys never told you. On the other hand, maybe not.

As a matter of fact, Tommy—the guy I’m talking about—used to sit right where you’re sitting. Back here in the corner, away from the rest of the bar. Just looking things over. I should mention that I only know so much about what happened to him because I’ve got special hearing. I can tune into a conversation occurring anywhere in the bar, shut all other sounds out. They teach us that in Bartending School. Specialized Listening 101, I believe it was called, but don’t quote me. Not to be nosy, you understand. It’s just that it’s profitable for a barkeep to know everything that’s going on in his or her bar. Who’s going to run out on his tab, who is planning to kick whose ass, that sort of thing.

So, about Tommy. I don’t remember his last name. Hmmm—maybe I never knew it. Anyway, Tommy was just a regular guy. Chubby, red hair. Bud bottles. He was, as they say, down on his luck, lost his job probably, but so have half the guys that come in here, right? I mean, what are you doing here in the middle of a Thursday, not that it’s any of my business?

Okay. So, Tommy is sitting here, just like you on a Thursday late in the afternoon, and

this man walks into the bar. What’s that? Sounds like the beginning of a joke? Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? Anyway. This was an older guy, a gentleman, distinguished-looking, too well-dressed for this neighborhood. A beautiful black suit. Not my usual clientele, no offense. His first impression of the place—well, let’s face it, it’s a working-class bar. It’s narrow, dark. A little shabby. I mean, I think we just painted the bathrooms that year, but he wouldn’t have known that, would he?

He looks around. Who was here? Just your hardcore drinkers, I guess. Tommy, Pat, Carlos, Fred, Deke, the usual suspects.

His eyes stop on Tommy. Maybe he sensed something about him. A need, you know? Desperation, whatever. Some people give off a smell or something. Me, I’m immune. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The old gent gives me a nod, almost a bow, then sits down next to Tommy. “Hello,” he says. Tommy looks him up and down, says a quiet hello back. The old guy offers to buy him a drink. Tommy’s wary, but nods Yes. Down on his luck, as I say. “Barkeep!” the old guy says, and snaps his fingers. Now, I was only standing a foot away. And him snapping his fingers like I’m in the next county. Meanwhile this bar is what, twenty feet long? Anyway.

“What are you having?” the old guy asks Tommy. By the way, this gent had a beautiful speaking voice—a weird accent though, not from around here, that’s for sure. Not quite English, not quite American. Mid-Atlantic, I think they call it. Like in the old movies.

“Shot and a beer,” Tommy says.

Now, Tommy wasn’t drinking shots. Not in his budget. But he gives me a look out of the side of his eye and I don’t say anything. They teach us to shut up in Bartender School, too.

The old man’s eyes flicker to the bar in front of Tommy and back, and I could see by the old man’s face that he knew Tommy was lying. But the lie seemed to please him—he smiled, showing a beautiful set of teeth, too nice to be real—and he orders a shot of whiskey and a beer for Tommy and straight gin for himself. He slaps a hundred on the bar. I know what you’re thinking, but it was real. I checked it, held it up to the light right in front of him, even used one of those counterfeit detection pens. I had to walk away to make change—there was barely enough in the till—but I kept tuned in to the conversation. Truth is, I thought the old man might be a scam artist, or worse yet, an insurance salesman.

So, after the drinks are served, the old guy says to Tommy, “Your troubles show on your face, son.”

Tommy looks at him for a second then turns around to see if the other guys in the bar had heard—most of them were sitting at the tables over there. They didn’t seem to be listening, though. As I remember, they were re-hashing that old argument over who would win in a fight—Samantha from “Bewitched” or Jeannie from “I Dream of Jeannie.” I think Pat was saying that their powers were about equal, but that Jeannie would be quicker on the draw since it takes a person less time to blink than to wiggle her nose. Carlos disagreed, and he and Pat were blinking and twitching at each other like they were having a shootout. Looked like a Tourettes convention. Funny the things you remember, isn’t it? Anyway.

“I’d like to make you a proposition, son,” the man says. Uh oh, I thought, listening with my special hearing. Here we go. “I’d like you to sell me something you own, but don’t consider valuable,” he says.

Tommy raises an eyebrow. “Oh, yeah? What’s that?” he says.

“Your reflection.”

Now, the bar gets considerably quieter. I guess the other guys were listening. In fact, I guess it was the definition of what you’d call a kind of “stunned silence.” For a few seconds, only. Tommy is the first to laugh. Then everybody else joins in, including me. Even the old man laughed a little, I think.

“C’mon,” says Tommy, like he knows his leg’s being pulled. He sips his beer. The others are still laughing.

“I understand your reluctance,” the old man says. “But I am willing to pay cash.”

He pulls out a wad of bills. Hundreds. Now, there’s no better way to call attention to yourself in a bar like this than to pull out a pile of money, and all the other guys come rushing over and surround Tommy. I decide it’s time to intervene. “Whoa,” I say. “Put your money away, Mister. These guys are villains and cutthroats. Why, Pat here”—I reach across the bar and grab Pat by the neck— “once killed a convent full of nuns for seven cents.”

Pat plays along. “Yeah,” he says (after I let go of his neck), “they deserved it. Wouldn’t come across. Had to use my machete.”

But the old man is still holding his money in front of him. And Tommy is eyeing it. “Thank you for your interest,” the old man says, “but this is a simple, private business transaction. It should not be of interest to anyone else here.”

Now a few seconds pass during which nobody says anything. Finally, Tommy says, “How much?”

Before the old man can answer, Fred steps forward. He’s our local wise man, you know. Okay, stop laughing. This time he had a good idea. He pulls Tommy aside and he says, “Look here, Tom. Probably this old guy has got lots of money and he obviously wants to give it away to people in need, like you. No offense. I could use a little help myself. He knows some people won’t take charity on account of their pride, am I right? So—he has them sell him something that doesn’t cost anything. That way they can keep their dignity, get it?”

Tommy thinks it over. He turns back to the old man. “Hey, I appreciate the offer, Mister, but—”

“It is not charity, Son,” the old man says. “I intend to keep your reflection for my permanent use.”

“My reflection, like a reflection in a mirror, right?” Tommy says. “You can’t take someone else’s reflection. They’re not—what’s the word? — transferable.” He laughs.

“Let me worry about that. One thousand dollars is the price. It’s non-negotiable, I’m afraid.”

He peels off ten bills and puts them in front of Tommy. Okay, so now the whole bar is involved. Everyone is looking at Tommy looking at the money. “Take it,” says Pat. “Take it,” says Carlos. “Take it,” says everyone else. Except me. I don’t say anything.

“Okay, Mister, if you want to give your money away,” says Tommy, and he grabs it.

The old man smiles. “Very well,” he says. “Please take my hand.” He and Tommy shake hands. The old man chugs back his remaining gin with everybody’s eyes on him. Then he climbs down off his stool and looks at his watch. “Let’s say that the transaction will officially occur at—half past nine then, shall we?” he says. We all look at our watches. Those of us that have watches. It’s a little after six.

“Sure,” says Tommy. “Is that it?”

“Yes. Our business is concluded,” says the old man. He makes his way toward the door.

“Wait a minute!” says Pat. “I want to sell my reflection, too!”

The old man stops, looks Pat up and down. “No thank you,” he says, and walks out. Everybody laughs. Pat’s sort of insulted, you know, but he laughs, too. He looks like he’s about to follow the old guy out, but just then Tommy throws a hundred on the bar and says, “Drinks for the house!” and Pat stops in his tracks. A cheer goes up. Tommy is slapped on the back, and everybody is shouting orders.

“Tommy, I don’t have change for this,” I say.

“Keep them coming till it’s all used up,” he says.

Okay, I’m gonna try and finish this story before it gets too busy. Remind me of where I was. Oh, yeah. Right. Well, it was quite an evening. Those guys were half in the tank already, and now free drinks are flowing. Pat was standing on a table at one point, I remember, exhorting his brother union members to kidnap the CEO’s of all the Fortune 500 companies and give the ransom money to animal rights groups. And Carlos was singing the Honduran national anthem. I always thought he was from Mexico, didn’t you? Anyway.

Everybody is drunk, and I’m trying to keep the place under control. Still, in a way I was glad to see them having a good time. I can’t stand mopey drunks—they make me want to shoot myself. Tommy had switched to brandy, which I didn’t even know he drank, and he looked happy and all, but he wasn’t really joining in.

Before you know it, it’s nine-thirty. Fred is the one who notices. He taps his glass. “Gentlemen,” he says, “I believe it is time.” He says it with a weird accent, and I realize he’s trying to sound like the old gent who bought Tommy’s reflection. A whoop goes up. All the guys run over to Tommy, who’s still at the bar. Now, you see that wall over there? The one with the poster of the girls in bikinis posed in front of an igloo? Well, there used to be a big mirror there that covered practically that whole wall. A fancy gold—well, gold-colored—frame. A mirror makes a small place like this look bigger, more open. That’s a little decorating tip for you. But, it’s beside the point.

So, they pull Tommy right off his stool and drag him over there to see if he still reflects. He’s struggling a little, not too much. Everybody’s laughing. I yell for them to take it easy, but they ignore me. Who was there? Well, Pat, Deke, Carlos and Fred for sure. A couple of other guys too, probably. I was watching Tommy, making sure they didn’t hurt him. So, here’s what happens. They drag him over, like I said, and hold him in front of the mirror. Of course, they’re all looking in the mirror as they do it. And they can see Tommy’s reflection fine, of course, what did you expect? Then, in a second, they all notice the look on his face—in the reflection—and they turn, one by one, to see if it’s there in real life. Which it is.

Well, how can I say this? I did two tours in Afghanistan. I was a cop for twelve years. I never saw any man with a look like that. He is astounded. No, I don’t know—appalled? But mostly, yeah, mostly he is afraid. Extraordinarily afraid. And then his face, well, it sort of—crumples in on itself. He makes a little noise. Like a peep. And then he dies.

Yeah, we all knew it right away. There was no mistake. Nobody says anything. The guys, they lay him down on the floor in front of the mirror, like they want to let go of him as soon as possible. We call the ambulance. And Fred is trying CPR, but we know it’s too late. I put a towel—a clean towel—over Tommy’s face. I couldn’t stand to look at it. After the ambulance takes him away—I think Carlos went with him—the rest of us stand around looking at each other for a while. Then Pat goes to the bar and picks up something, a bottle or something, and heaves it at the mirror, which explodes in a million pieces. After that, I tell everyone to get the hell out. Which they do. Without protest. I clean up and go home. What else was there I could have done?

The next day, the theories are flying. The consensus is that the old guy had hypnotized Tommy to see something horrible when he looked at himself in the mirror, and that Tommy couldn’t take it, that he had a bad heart or something that nobody knew about. Me, I kept my own counsel, as they say. But just between us—well, let’s put it this way: I think I actually know what Tommy saw when he looked in the mirror. He saw the worst thing a person could possibly see when looking at themselves—nothing.

You know, I’m not a philosopher, but it seems to me that being alive is more than just breathing and eating and stuff. There’s an element of willpower. The will to keep living. In other words, you have to believe in the fact of your existence. When Tommy looked in that mirror, he had just a little bit of doubt, and the nothingness rushed in.

Okay. Anyway. That’s it. You want another drink, or what?

James W. Morris has published dozens of short stories, humor pieces, essays, and poems in various literary magazines, and worked for a time as a joke writer for Jay Leno. His first novel, RUDE BABY, was recently published, and is available worldwide. More info at www.jameswmorris.com.


“Mentone” Supernatural, Psychological Thriller by Sjoerd van Wijk

"Mentone" Horror by Sjoerd van Wijk

Last Summer – the last day

“Arrevedeci, Mentone!” someone blurted out in the crowded hallway of Menton station.

He jumped at those words. His otherwise slightly crooked back straightened with a jolt – his frayed, slightly oversized red coat fell in line. His clunky leather shoes clicked together and the gaping hole between his bent legs disappeared.

No one noticed him. People rushed past, holing up in their sunglasses and their earbuds and their newspapers as a train came to a halt at the platform nearby.

He scratched in between his short messy fat hairs. And started: “Well…”

An electric shock surged through his hand and he stood even straighter. She had taken it, caressing it softly. His eyes went from her black hairs, twinkling brown eyes, bemused smile with thin lips, down to her flowery dress, tanned legs, and her massive white sneakers.

He then looked straight past her. Some fluffy white dog, owner unknown, stared at him from the platform.

“It was fun,” she said in the half English-French concoction they used to speak.

Now she had to get back to university life. He himself had to return home to Cologne to analyze data in spreadsheets.

That dog didn’t let go of his stare from afar. His heart skipped a beat.

She poked his sides to laugh at his shrill shouts of surprise. Then she hugged him. He wriggled a bit. But she held him tight – ever tighter than before.

He wanted to tell her, “So…”

She turned him loose, grabbed her bag and walked to the train, petting that white dog in passing. He followed quickly, eyeing the dog which eyed him, her, and the train she was boarding.

In the train’s doorway she blew a kiss, blurted out another ‘goodbye, Menton’, disappeared into the opposite aisle and that was that.

Mid December – morning

The corded streetlights of Menton boulevard dangle in the winds this early morning before sunrise. As do threads of his frayed red coat as he walks underneath, casting a tall shadow. Despite the long train ride here he had tossed and turned in bed during the night.

“Goodbye, Menton,” her voice resounds with each blow of the wind.

It’s almost Christmas here, making the Mediterranean chilly. He ducks himself in more, absent the heat of day. Wrappings of sweets race past him in spurts until they reach some broken garbage can in between two holed up sidewalk cafes. A blue plastic bag barely covers the contents that spill out over the cobbled street.

He makes fists in his pockets. He freezes – not from the cold.

A white mop of a stray dog rummages through the rubbish. The dog unaware pants in the same rhythm as the flapping threads of his red coat. Its tongue almost rolls right over the floor.

He walks slowly past. His knuckles white from the chill turn red.

At this point of the boulevard, it stretches out for miles back and front. It’s packed with hotels boarded up for this winter’s sleep. Nary anyone else in sight – just a dilapidated palm tree here and there. The waves crash over boulders nearby.

And the wind cries in her voice, “Goodbye, Menton.”

He quickens his pace and sets his eyes on a point far away. A parasol somehow left open through the night by its careless owners. Sweat drenches his skin, pricking everywhere on his body. He resists the urge to scratch as he races on. Just the clicks of his crummy leather shoes resound in the winds.

He pauses and closes his eyes for a deep breath near the parasol. Then freezes. 

Mrrrwf. Something bumps his legs.

Last Summer – the third day

“Hi,” she said.

The dog still bumped against his leg – he tried wishing it away, gazing at the sea.

“Hello?” she said again.

He looked in her general direction. Her red summer dress popped in the sun. He had to squint for a while.

He stepped sideways to escape the dog for a moment. “Hi.”

Her index finger pointed up. “I’m here.”

He followed it until he stared right into her big shades.

She removed them and laughed. “He doesn’t bite. Isn’t he sweet?”

He glanced sideways. “Oh, OK.”

She knelt to pet the dog. The wind swept up strands of her black hair.

“Are you scared? Really?”

He laughed back sheepishly.

She stood up again and held her palm high. “There’s nothing to worry about. You see?”

The dog jumped high to reach for her hand, then it turned on him.

He stiffened and hid his shaking hands wet from its snout in his pockets.

She chuckled. “All right, I’ll save you.”

She took that white mop. Held it tight against her. It hummed as she stroked it now and then. They walked to a bench through the masses, hurrying past unfazed by the dizzying sun. They sat down for a while. She asked all kinds of questions about him and he answered as best he could. Her English was as rusty as his French, but they managed. He did something right because she had to laugh more than once.

As they parted, she winked. “If you ever find courage, meet me in front of the casino at eight.”

“Su…” he began.

She freed the mop from her grip, then ran off after it.

Mid December – morning

He tries shaking his leg. To no avail. That white mop still bumps against it. He runs away despite some initial resistance from below. A mrrrwwllf of surprise. After a short while, he glances back anxiously.


He startles, stumbling right on top of a great big Santa, sporting a great big grin which falls backwards under his weight. From behind, he can hear the dog panting heavily. He gets up quickly to run.

Santa’s meant to welcome visitors to a market that serves as this place’s sole reminder of Christmas. The stalls enforce makeshift avenues within. Air rushes through creaks and crevices as if the market’s alive and whistling. He runs past signs of sausages, traditional tableware, dried fruits and some tableau of Jesus Christ born eternally in Maria’s lap, her loving gaze molded in plastic.

The wind doesn’t die down here. With each blow, her giggles reverberate throughout the place.

He cuts some corners. Dilapidated palm trees cast their shadows over the stalls here and there, large enough for a person to hide in them.

Again, her giggles resound.

A bark in the distance responds.

He flits his eyes from side to side. Cuts another corner for something cold to prick his sides.


He sways his arms around. A figure rolls over until it stops underneath a palm tree. Out of the shadows Santa stares at him sideways, sporting his great big grin.

He runs past it out of the market and on to the port, where the boats drift as yet untouched by their owners. The blackened border mountain hovers over them like a big kid picking on someone smaller.

“Just look closer,” the wind whispers from behind in her voice.

Last Summer – a week in

She pointed at a bright white spot in the port he couldn’t discern even after three clarifications.

“Just look closer. It’s there!”

He bent over some more and shielded his eyes from the sun with his hands.

“Never mind,” she said. “Let’s go.”

She slapped him on his bottom. His cheeks tightened. Then she took his hand and walked.

He complied, nervously glancing at some white mop of a dog staring at him from a distance. He tried to make some pun about boats – but it got lost in translation. When he jumped in the boat under the watchful eye of the dog following them, she did crack a smile. The boat rocked violently as he barely kept his posture, flapping his arms around.

“Don’t rock the boat, you silly…” she said.

“I am a bit silly,” he said.

Gliding through the blue-green waters – the motor really plowed in there – the mechanical noise drowned by the breeze. They moored at some rocks. The boat swayed in the waves and he instinctively put his hand on one side of it.

Standing tall, she undressed. Her white bikini over browned flesh almost seared anyone’s eyes who dared to look closely at her. He held his head down as the boat rocked again.

“Why don’t you take it off?” she asked, pulling at his worn out green shirt.

He tried to get up, to get used to the left-to-right rhythm of the boat. Then tried to remove his shirt under her watchful eye.

“I’m so clumsy,” he said when he got stuck.

She laughed. He gave the shirt a stern last pull and removed it.

“Don’t you hurt your eyes,” he said, pointing to his beaming pale skin.

She put on her sunglasses in jest, tossed them away again on her blue tunic folded in a corner, and jumped in.

Her splashes wet his pants, which he quickly removed. He jumped in after her, them splashing each other back and forth in the water.

In the boat they dried, drops sizzling away in the sun, while she leaned her head against him. Her drying hairs kept his shoulder blade moist. He closed his eyes. Waves splashed against the boat. Horns blared in the distance. Seagulls flew right over them, mewing gently. He cracked a smile and put his arm around her. She cuddled up.

Last Summer – the day after

He felt her breathing softly on his neck as they lay down. Species most exotic in the botanic garden aroused his interest more than hers, so at her request they took a break from strolling around. He tried to close his eyes again.

But as soon as he did, she woke up from her slumber. She raised her head and put her sunglasses in her red-white striped shirt such that it got pulled down a bit in the middle. Her long fingers slithered around in his messy hairs, pried away his shades, and tossed them away. The glasses crashed against the cobbled path. One patch fractured into shards.

He pulled himself up and made sure there was some space between him and her. But she pulled him closer again and caressed his face with a wry smile. His pupils flashed frantically from one side to another. Blinks per second, sky high. She pricked his belly. It tightened.

“You know,” she chuckled, “You really have the eyes of a psychopath.”

Mid December – morning

He quickly walks past the botanic garden. Barks, barks, barks resound on the empty street. Dog’s paws rattle all the mansion’s fences. Their spit specks of saliva light up in the early morning air.

Her whispering voice follows him, carried by the wind. “A psychopath’s eyes.”

He tries not to look sideways, at those lush mansions where the rag tag guardians abide.

“A psychopath’s eyes.”

Slender fingers curl around a palm tree on the sidewalk. He stumbles forward to the other side of the road. Peeks again at the tree despite his pounding heart. Despite the incessant barks. The barks. The barks. Paws still rattle the fences.

But nothing’s there. The tree merely casts a long shadow, the size of a human being. Still he turns around, hellbent on leaving this street now. Right now.

The wind still follows him. “A psychopath’s eyes.”

He looks back. Something white in the distance seems on the move. He runs. Past another tree around which fingers slither.

He gets to the end of that street where the iron fences clang and creek when another gust of wind shakes up his hairs without a whisper. A loud sigh. He looks back one more time and rounds the corner.

Screeeeeeech! A car comes to a halt. A blackened window rolls down.

He apologizes to the void.

An expletive leaves the window in return. It rolls up again, and the car continues its path down past those fences which barking dogs still rattle.

Last Summer – two weeks in

Loud rap music faded away, and with it, the car. A white stray dog followed them walking, peeping and mumbling.

He stuck out his hand to take hers. She slapped it.

“What… What were you doing?” she asked.

She kept pricking his sides with one of her long fingers. The dog let out a bark.

“Eeeh…” he said.

She stomped the ground with one of her white shoes. “You left me hanging there!”

A peep.

She pointed to the dog. “And he barely got away as well with you blocking his way!”

“But, but, but–” he said.

“That car came out of nowhere and suddenly you were gone.”

He stopped. Tried to get a glimpse of her fiery brown eyes hidden behind her sunglasses. He tilted his crooked back forward as he peeked. She put her glasses in her hands and just looked at him.

Finally, she said, “You abandoned me.”

Her otherwise supple hands formed fists. She crushed the feeble black plastic in them. They creaked harshly. The dog let out another bark.

“You abandoned me,” she bit again.

Mid December – morning

With that car gone, he slows down. He goes up some steep trail of sand and pebbles. Away from the asphalt, which smolders already this early in the morning. The barks and rattles of the dogs in the street fade away. Except for one. One still shrieks and peeps and barks from a distance.

His heart races. Up the slope he goes, breathes heavily with each step. Sweat pours. Despite his haste, he has to rest every once in a while, holding a tree for support. He always checks behind it. Stares into the bush. No one’s there hiding.

The barks don’t stop. They edge closer.

So he skips his next rest, straight past some ruin where stones amass under a crumbled wall and caved in roof. He wets his palms against his moist forehead while rushing. The thicket of trees thins past a wreck of some rusty machine, purpose unknown. This high up he eases briefly with no one around. He leans back against a tree. It feels cold to the touch.

“You abandoned me,” carries the wind. “With your psychopath’s eyes.”

Something massages his neck. Fingers. He jolts himself back.

Wrrrooof! It resounds from below, even closer than before.

He looks back at the tree with trembling hands. Yet the only sign of life there is a single white shoe at the base, resting on a bundle of frayed clothes.

He continues. The barks and pants of the dog following him now sound too close for comfort. His knuckles beat as if in spasm when he hoists himself up over an edge. Pebbles tumble down in their hundreds. Something behind him growls. Peeps. Growls. Pants. Step by step, his feet sink into the sand underneath the loose constellation of stones.

Wrrroooof! He turns his head. A white mop of a stray dog stares at him.

“Aaah,” he grimaces and reaches for his lower back. “What do you want? Stop it!”

He goes on. Cries of that white mop. Goes on. Legs stiffen from cramps. He goes on. Sun’s a-scorching. Still he goes on. His left leg drags now. He goes on.

Mrrrrwwllf, the dog peeps.

“What do you want?” he asks again in vain.

Wroof. Wroof. Two paws grab his left leg.

Pebbles race past them.

“Stop it!” he shouts.

He shakes his left leg, stretches it, shakes it again. Kicks. A whimper.

Mrrrrwlf. The white mop rolls down with the rocks.

“Stop it! Go away!”

The wind moves his hairs. With one final hoist, he gets over the last edge. Menton lies down below, the size of a small dot. He wipes the dust from his face, drowned in sweat. A gust of wind cools him down.

“My little knight,” her voice rings within it.

Last Summer – three weeks in

They met up at the entrance of the keep. He waved hello and stared at her massive white shoes.

“Sorry I’m la–”

She took his hand.

“Let’s go,” she said.

Her fresh hands cooled his clammy ones as she dragged him with her to the top.

She laughed. “You really can’t handle the heat, can you?”

He slipped. “Wooooh!”

Their hands clutched in a flurry of black hairs and their arms rubbing the other’s face midst shouts of surprise. Some brick on the stairs must have gotten loose. She held him by the waist to save him,  tightened her grip and stared in his eyes. He deftly maneuvered out of her grasp.

At the top of the keep, she hopped to the merlons. She pointed in the distance to the contours of Monaco.


“Yes,” he said.

She turned and winked. “Like you.”

“Y-Yes,” he said.

He scratched his head and turned away from her piercing eyes. The sun sparkled in the sea as he leaned on the hot stones. Down below, a white dog turned around its head to stare at him up above.


He tightened. Two arms – her arms – wrapped around him and left him no escape. She spoke some sweet words in her native Italian.

“My knight,” she said.


His hairs raised. Three tiny little kisses on his neck. He tried to move but with one jerk, she turned him around. She cast a shadow over him save for the one ray of sun that shone on his trembling shoulder. Her brown eyes glistered.

“My knight,” she whispered in his ear.

She winked. He quivered. She put her lips against his, slid her tongue in. He let out a muffled shriek. She pulled him even closer in reply. Then they kissed, and that was that.

Mid December – noon

At the top of the mountain he screams. At the top of his lungs, “Stop it!”

The white dog jumps over the edge. Blood courses past its blazing eyes. Wroof. Wroof.

“Stop it,” he says again, but the dog jumps up against him.

They fall backwards. His head cracks against a pointy rock.

“Ouch, ouch,” he moans.

The blood dries seconds after in the sun. A glittering pink tongue laps him up everywhere.

“Sto…” he says.

The tongue slobbers all over him, goes into his mouth.

A gust of wind carries her voice, “My knight…”

He batters against the white mass. Blood, sweat, tears, dribble, paws, hands; black hairs suddenly. From within the clutter, she stares at him with her bemused smile. The dog pants heavily. He sweats. It drools. Fingers appear from under the stones and scratch him.

He grabs his back in pain. “Ouch.”

Again the dog pants. Her soft hands caress his. He kisses her hands. He kisses everything he can, sticks out his tongue in advance, kisses, hugs the other body tightly and tightly and ever tighter and tighter.

“My knight,” her voice resounds.

“Stop it!” he shouts.

An iron stench fills the air. He scratches and bumps with his fists and barks become whimpers. Blood flows out from everywhere in the huddle until he soaks in it. He tries to get up. His knee kicks the now white-red mop a stone’s throw away. It falls down whimpering. On his knees his ripped clothes sway to and fro in the winds as her black hairs do behind a tree down below.

“Goodbye!” he screams. “Goodbye!”

He runs up to the dog and kicks it again. And again. And again. The beast glances up and peeps, whizzing with every blow in a steady rhythm until silence falls.

“Goodbye,” he whispers.

He rubs his eyes wet from tears, shaking and sweating in the heat of noon. He sits down next to the dog as it lets out its last breaths. And there he will sit until the sun hides and the clouds gather and the blood dries and the rain pours down from heaven.

Sjoerd van Wijk (1988) is a writer, filmmaker and journalist from Nijmegen, the Netherlands. His work frequently deals with themes of loneliness and alienation, with psychological horror being his fiction genre of choice. One day he hopes to turn Mentone into a film as well.

If you enjoyed this story, you may also enjoy “Bloodsucker” dark, supernatural fiction by Mehnaz Sahibzada.

While you’re here, why not drop by The Chamber’s bookshop?

“Robert, Howard, and the Devil” Fiction by Thomas White

About three months ago, Robert Shivers, the life-long friend of Howard Foker, had unexpectedly gone into the hospital for a few nights for minor surgery. Shivers had given Howard the key to his apartment so that Howard could feed and care for Robert’s hamster, Blinky.  Howard was oblivious, however, to the surveillance cameras, embedded in the apartment’s walls, originally installed by Robert to identify any burglar intent on kidnapping his beloved pet.

Howard had no sooner settled comfortably into Robert’s easy chair to watch the new autumn lineup of reality TV shows, than there was a scratching   noise from Blinky’s cage:  clawing the bars, the little pest was furiously demanding its feed.  Just like its master: always annoying Howard with irritating demands. In fact, the more Howard watched Blinky, the more he wondered if Robert actually had not been turned into this hamster by a wizard’s spell. The random shuffling, followed by sudden bursts of frenetic activity, then the way it greedily slopped its food and water – all very Robert Shivers.

   While poking through the kitchen closets looking for the little monster’s vitamin-enriched meal, Howard discovered a thick envelope. On it, in Shivers’ childish scrawl, were the words: “My Stimulus Package.” Stuffed inside the envelope was a smaller   packet on which Shivers had written: “Boy, this is hot.”  Gently opening it, Howard’s attitude toward Robert was about to change forever.

 Stapled together were advertising glossies featuring images of kitchen appliances, a generic, stock photo of the Statue of Liberty, set against the skyline of New York City, and assorted printouts of objects, such as jugs, for sale online. A sticky note was attached to the documents on which Robert Shivers had scribbled, “Wow, what a turn-on!”

Included with this stash was also a notarized statement which read:

“I, Robert Shivers say, under penalty of perjury, that I have an intense erotic desire for nonhuman objects. I find myself completely unable to lust after any human being no matter their gender…”

In addition, among the papers was a copy of a letter from Robert addressed to the executive producer, Jay James, of the new reality TV cable program, “It’s a Wild, Weird World,” which specializes in presenting to its audience – in its own words – “the unbelievable – uncensored.” The letter read in part:

“Dear Mr. James,

I have watched your show with great interest. I understand you are seeking guests with shocking and completely unique life-stories. I believe I can fulfill your program’s needs as I am just such a potential guest (my appearance being offered at your normal rate). Please see my attached affidavit with attachments. I think that the story of people who have sexual desires for only nonhuman objects would be of considerable interest to your audiences who tune in every week in search of ‘the unbelievable – uncensored…’”

   Stunned, Howard blinked his eyes: one can think he knows a person but actually never really know him. Huge difference between hanging out with this dude at the Big Hit sports bar watching Monday Night Football and getting a peek into his creepy, private world.

Who but a twisted weirdo could get an orgasm from a toaster? And even though the Statue of Liberty was a woman and was made by the French, it seemed really bizarre if not downright unpatriotic to be sexually aroused by America’s iconic symbol –  I mean the Statue of Liberty for god’s sake!

But Howard, his stomach grumbling its complaint against his skimpy breakfast, headed   for the kitchen again but this time more to satisfy his hunger for food than his curiosity about Shivers’ twisted inner life.                                                     

    Rummaging around for a can opener, Howard immediately found yet another clump of documents crammed into a dusty hole in the back of the kitchen’s cupboards’ walls; delicately opening the scruffy plastic-wrapped bundle stinking of mildew, he lightly pawed the shiny but stained upmarket  furniture catalogue advertising the usual items: blonde floor lamps with pale white shades, rainbow-colored, starkly-crafted chairs, smoothly-contoured black coffee tables, slab-like soft floor beds piled with cheery little patterned cushions.

   Then shocked, he looked closer and gasped – or, more to the point, gurgled an explosion of saliva: a glossy image of the pudgy body and face of Robert Shivers, naked except for black socks, was shown on one of the catalogue’s pages, hunched over a blonde floor lamp with a virginal white shade, a lusty, demonic grin on his face.  Had Robert somehow Photoshopped a selfie of his face and body into this catalogue to live out his twisted fantasies among this porno-utopia of upmarket sexually attractive nonhuman objects?

Howard’s conclusion was inescapable: Robert Shivers was not a normal pervert.


Sideling into his favorite Starbucks a few weeks later, Howard, still unsettled after his discoveries, almost spilled his latte as he absent-mindedly found a table, and fretted over this new information about Robert. Howard knew that he had to calm down, get beyond the shock of it all, and get focused on the business implications. It was a sick, cynical world, but one could find financial health, not to say happiness, in the problems of others. Now he had to just figure the angles.

How would he approach Robert about selling Robert’s bizarre personality to tabloid shows?  With his vast marketing experience in the mass media Howard was sure he could help Robert – for a lucrative commission – to make high-level reality TV executive contacts, who would pay Robert handsomely for his completely unique story of a life spent sexually attracted to upscale furniture, kitchen appliances, and the national icon of America.

 It was a delicate matter though as he did not want Robert to know that he had been rummaging through his personal papers. He needed his flunky friend’s good will, yet at the same time Howard had to figure out how to approach Robert about his weird desires without revealing how Howard discovered them – otherwise Robert could be open to a potential lawsuit for the violation of Robert’s privacy. (Howard, despite these sober concerns, smiled briefly when he thought of Robert being interviewed on TV about how he ‘dates’ a toaster.)

A taunt, sinewy arm with blurred tattoos flipped over Howard’s shoulder like a large stiletto knife. Howard’ s eyes followed the arm up to a face stuffed full of jutting, stained teeth that had not seen a dental cleaning in years – nor a cosmetic surgical makeover: thin wrinkled lips carved into a stony face, wandering unfocused, washed-out bluish eyes, and a small patch of dry grey hair on an otherwise bald, skull-tight head. His ruddy facial skin was littered with large warts. Howard thought vaguely of a diseased tropical plant –  or the face of the 1950s Yul Brynner but with a completely unknown, creeping skin condition.

The odd man suddenly yawned widely, sending waves of swampy bad breath into Howard’s face.  Tearful, and almost gagging, Howard half whispered, half-choked, “Who are you?”

Despite the grotesque appearance, the man’s voice was gentle. “If you know this song then you know who I am.” He began to sing slowly, hypnotically, as if he were crooning a seductive lullaby:

“Pleased to meet you

Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah

But what’s confusing you

Is just the nature of my game…?”

The man’s arm twisted slightly; a business card dropped into Howard’s lap as if it were a magic trick; glossy-lipstick-pink, spotted with little devil masks, the card was inscribed with black, very dramatic script:

“Edmund Lappe’

Therapeutic Wizard

By Appointment Only”

Edmund Lappe’ winked, then began softly crooning again:

“So if you meet me

“Have some courtesy

Have some sympathy, and some taste

Use all your well-learned politesse

Or I’ll lay your soul to waste…”

Lappe’ then pointed his middle finger at Howard’s nose, as if the wizard were making an obscene gesture, and waved it. Howard felt his face drip heavily as if he were sweating a river; it was his flesh sliding off like chunks of melting snow, drenching his shirt cuffs.

“Hell’s bells, I am melting like a goddam wax dummy in an oven!” Howard whined. His Starbucks coffee mug, his laptop, and his too-tight undies then vanished, too. Howard and everything in his world had been vaporized. Edmund Lappe’, his Satanic Majesty, a man of many faces and names, who enjoyed serenading the Damned with the Rolling Stones’ 1968 smash hit, then called Robert Shivers to report the good news: that as per his agreement with Robert for a lucrative commission on Robert’s tabloid TV story profits, Lappe’ had eliminated the slimy Howard – who had inexcusably violated Robert’s privacy and failed to properly feed Blinky as instructed – from the face of the earth.    

Thomas White has a triple identity: speculative fiction writer, poet, and essayist. His poems, fiction, and essays have appeared in online and print literary journals and magazines in Australia, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. He is also a Wiley-Blackwell Journal author who has contributed essays to various nonliterary journals on topics ranging from atheism, the meaning of Evil, Elon Musk, Plato, The Matrix, and reality as a computer simulation. In addition, he has presented three of his essays to the West Chester University Poetry Conference (West Chester, Pennsylvania), as well as read his poetry on Australian radio.

“The Son of Immortals” by Valeriya Salt

I am the King of the kings. I am the son of the falcon-headed Horus. I am the beginning. I am the end. I am the one who will live forever. I am Nimaatre Smenkhare Meriamun, the living god of the land of Kemet.

The golden boat of Re has finished its way in the celestial Nile and submerged in the darkness of Nun. I found myself wandering around the tombs of deceased kings who have already met Osiris in the Afterlife. I try to remember what I’m doing here in the middle of the night but fail. The night is dark and quiet. Khonsu’s crown shines brightly and lights my path with its cold silver light.

Quiet voices interrupt my thoughts. They sound from one of the tombs. Coming closer, I can see the dim light of torches. The voices sound louder. There is no doubt I’ve met the tomb robbers. Disgusting thieves, sons of dishonoured Seth, doomed to be punished in the Afterlife! Their souls will be eaten by the gigantic serpent Apophis and will be condemned to eternal death. They, who dare to steal from the kings, deserve nothing but a miserable death without a burial.

There are three of them on a doorstep of the underground tomb, ready to smash their way in, to defile king’s eternal peace, taking gold and jewellery, and all other of the king’s belongings, throwing his mummy out of its golden coffin.

I’m going to call my guards to arrest the robbers. Instead, my mouth produces a weird, heart-stopping scream. This scream belongs neither to a man nor to an animal. What is wrong with me? I can’t recognise my voice.

One of the robbers turns around. His face is pale like linen. His eyes stare at me in horror. He drops his torch and runs, leaving his peers and screaming like a lunatic. His friend shouts to him, but noticing me, just freezes on the spot.

‘The king… the spirit of the king,’ he mumbles in shock.

‘How dare you touch the royal tomb?’ I shout, trying to grab his shoulder, but my hand goes through his body and catches the air.  I see the thief falling, his eyes are wide opened. I lean over him, trying to have a closer look. He has stopped breathing. He is dead. I have no chance to stop the last one as he disappears into the darkness, following his peer.

I sit down on the ground in front of the tomb, examining my hands and wondering what happened to the robbers, where my guards are, and what, for all the gods’ sake, I’m doing amongst the tombs at night. Struggling to follow the flow of my thoughts, I start to read the writing on the tomb. It is a traditional plate with the name of a king on the door’s seal.

Oh Thoth, the Adviser of the kings, give me all your divine wisdom and knowledge! The king’s name on the plate is… Userkaf Smenhkare Meriamun, the name of my brother. And straight away, I see the face of Userkaf in front of me. He is my exact copy. Even our mother, the Great King’s Wife, queen Nefriru, couldn’t distinguish us. We are the same height, with the same short black hair, the same big black eyes, the same straight long nose, which we have inherited from our great father. We were born together, yet I was the first who came out of the queen’s blessed belly. I was the one and the only heir to the throne. My brother, Userkaf, was brought up to become Chief Priest of Amun-Re, but he always desired more. Always jealous, always despising me, always wanted to be the first.

I remember his face, but it’s blurry. I feel the cold water filling my ears and mouth. I can’t breathe. I try to break free, but my brother’s hand is squeezing my throat tighter and tighter. I try to push him, to call for help, but my efforts are weakening. I’m not a good swimmer. I never have been. The grimaced face of my brother, an agonizing blurry reflection of myself… then… here I am. I am dead.

I cry, ‘Oh immortal gods, I call on you! Let me take my revenge. Let me free the throne of Isis from the usurper. Let me be judged by Osiris in the Underworld. Let me travel together with Amun-Re in his golden boat in the skies and let the name of my brother be forgotten forever.’


The light of the oil lamps and torches is fading, and the whole palace is going to fall asleep. Only heavy steps of guards in the corridors and the murmur of fountains in the gardens break the silence of the chambers.

I don’t remember how I appeared here. I just wished to come back home to my palace in Niwt-Imn, to see my wife, young and beautiful Mutnefert, and our son, my only heir, Senenmut. I wish everything that has happened to me was a dream, a bad nightmare sent to me by the demons of the night. I wish to wake up. I wish…. to be alive.

I enter my chambers and… Oh Seth, I can’t bear to see my beloved wife in the arms of my brother, the murderer Userkaf. Using our similarity, he took my throne, my name, and now… he sleeps in my bed with my wife. She has been tricked the same way as all others. She believes that it was Userkaf who drowned in a river, not me. It was an accident, the will of Hapy, the river god who took Userkaf to his underwater palace. Of course, it was a lie she’s been told.

I’m afraid they can notice me. Coming closer to the bed, I realise they both are deep asleep.

My Mutnefert, my great queen, my only love. I always loved her. I have been in love with her since I was twelve, and she was only ten, but my brother desired her as well. When our mother, the Great King’s Wife died, our divine father took Mutnefert as his new Great Wife, but he was too ill and too old. As soon as he joined Osiris in the Underworld, Mutnefert and I married.  Userkaf couldn’t control his passion, though. He tried to seduce her a few times, but she loved me. She has always been the most loyal of my wives.  Oh, Atum, the creator of the world and all people, give me a body, and I will claim everything back from my brother. I will take my revenge.


I am only ten, but I can read and write fluently. I am short but strong and agile. My father always took me hunting lions and panthers. I have even caught one for my little managerie. My father told me that I was born to be a warrior. I was born to be a king, but I am preparing for the life of a scribe. The almighty gods have sealed my voice inside my throat, so I can’t speak. I never could tell the truth. I never could tell that my uncle Userkaf drowned my father and took his name and his crown.  I am just a boy now. My life is under threat. I am scared to death. Why, oh almighty gods? Why have you chosen this body? The body of my only son, Senenmut?

I sit now at the reception chamber together with three king’s scribes and write everything that is said in the king’s presence.

‘…And you are informing me about this situation only now, Great Vizier?’ The king sits on his golden throne. His head is crowned with a high fancy headdress. Tiny golden bees, colourful butterflies, and lotus flowers made from the lapis-lazuli move with his head’s every movement. Long golden earrings shine in his ears. Heavy wide bracelets decorate his wrists and ankles. His lips shine with a golden balm. He smells of lotus and rose oils. He wears my long robe and richly decorated sandals. He doesn’t hesitate to take everything from me.

Ineni, the Great Vizier and the major of Niwt-Imn, kneels. He leans lower and lower until his forehead touches the floor. Ineni is fat, old, and a coward. His bald round head is shines with sweat. He is afraid to make his lord angry, but doesn’t hesitate to tell him the latest rumours.

‘I didn’t want to bother my king with the information that hasn’t been proven yet. I just wanted to wait to be sure that—’ he mumbles under his heavy breath.

‘To wait? To wait for what? For the prince of Kush and his allies to summon a new army? When their barbarian soldiers will stay at the city’s gates?’ the king sounds furious.

Ineni crawls on his fat belly, coming closer to the king, kissing his toes with gold-covered nails.

The ruler only grimaces. ‘Do the viceroy and his chieftains remember that their sons were brought here by my father during his last campaign and have been living here ever since? Does he remember that his oldest daughter is one of my wives?’

‘There is something else, my Lord, you should know,’ the vizier whispers, looking behind his back at me and other scribes.

‘What is it? Speak!’  Userkaf waves.

‘The rumours are spreading in the city, Your Majesty. People keep talking…’ Ineni stammers.

‘What? Speak! Your king orders you.’ He presses his sceptre to the vizier’s head and raises his chin, staring into his eyes.

‘My sources reported that some of the high priests are involved as well. I’ve been informed that the viceroy has offered a deal to the priest of Sobek, the governor of the south who believes that… that you, our divine Nimaatre Smenkhare Meriamun, have been killed by your twin brother.’

The king only laughs, but I see his face goes paler. ‘Tell the priest of Sobek his suspicions are absolutely baseless. I would like to talk to him with regards to all the nasty rumours he spreads. As for our viceroy, I think I need to remind him to whom he should be grateful for allowing him on the throne of Kush.’

He grins, and I feel a chill runs down my backbone.


            I follow the king to his private chambers, trying to be as quiet as possible. Nephthys, the goddess of the night, has covered me with her dark veil. I am almost invisible, hiding behind wide lotus-shaped columns of halls and corridors.

Tiyu, my Kushite wife and another victim of Userkaf’s deceit, has already been brought here and been waiting for the king. He comes into the room and nods to the guards to leave them alone. I have no choice but to cringe behind the nearest column. If somebody notices me here, I will be beaten fiercely.

‘Ah, my gorgeous wife.’ My brother smirks, circling like a kite around its prey. ‘I haven’t seen you since the day of our wedding. We need to see each other more often.’

She looks different from all other queens. She’s taller than women from Kemet, and her long hair is wavy. She has been brought here as a guarantor of peace between my country and Kush, and I took her as my third wife. I love my Mutnefert and I am not interested in other women. I am not like my lascivious brother who’s obsessed with sensual pleasures. He has lots of women, spending almost every night with a new one or sometimes even with a few.

‘Life, prosperity, and health to Your Majesty. I’m happy to serve you, my Lord,’ she whispers, all her slim body starts to shiver.

‘If so, you need to talk to your father, the viceroy. Tell him to go back to his nest and sit there quietly, if he wants to save his crown, his land, his…’ He touches her chin. ‘And your heads.’

She closes her eyes. Her body shivers even more. ‘My Lord, my divine husband, I am sure you’ve been mistaken. Whoever told you this about my father, told you lies.’ She falls on her knees in front of him and starts to cry. ‘My father is the most loyal servant you have.’

He doesn’t want to listen to her anymore. He grabs her long curly hair and smashes her head onto a low table.

It’s unbearable to hear her scream. If only I could help, could stab a sword between his shoulders, but I am only a boy and I am scared to death. I hold my breath, trying not to cry, not to show my presence.

He squeezes her neck. ‘Now, you can write to your father how women in Kemet’s villages felt when his soldiers raided my lands.’

I leave my hiding place and hurry to my chambers.


I can’t feel my body. Am I a spirit again? I find myself in the king’s dinner chamber now. I can see the whole room, but nobody can see me. I am a spirit, an incorporeal being, something that doesn’t belong to the world of men.

The king enjoys his dinner, surrounded by his cupbearers, musicians, half-naked dancers, fan bearers, and all kinds of servants and slaves. Ineni, the Great Vizier, is also presented. Userkaf reclines on a low sofa, a golden band in the shape of a cobra crowns his short black hair, smothered by coconut oil. He wears a long white kilt. One of the slave girls massages his naked shoulders and neck.

Ineni fills his goblet with wine instead of a cupbearer, whispering the latest gossip in the king’s ear. I know what is in his mind. I can read this shameful plotter’s thoughts.

My father gave the title of the governor of the Southern Land to Hapuseneb, the priest of Sobek, the man of the greatest wisdom, experience, and honour. His family has been loyal to our house for many generations. Ineni couldn’t bear such a turn. Addicted to limitless power as much as my brother, he’s tried to overthrow Hapuseneb many times but failed. He knows his time is coming now.

The musicians play a simple quiet tune, and the half-naked dancers gyrate and flex in their fancy dance.

The king strokes his favourite cat. The embodiment of the great goddess Bastet purrs happily. Golden bracelets decorate its four paws; a golden collar embraces its neck.  

Ineni wants to say something to the king, but the appearance of the chief guard interrupts him.

‘Life, prosperity, and health to Your Majesty,’ the man starts, kneeling in front of the king.

‘Speak in the presence of the immortal god.’ Ineni waves to him, waddling and puffing on his low sofa like a hippopotamus on a river’s bank.

‘Forgive me my intrusion, my Lord, but Harmachis, the chief of Your Majesty’s chariotery, begs to see you now.’

‘Harmachis? Harmachis, the son of Hapuseneb, my wisest and the most loyal governor?’ Userkaf chuckles.

‘His Majesty is relaxing, don’t you see?  How dare you interrupt the rest of God?’ Ineni gets up from his couch. ‘The audience time is tomorrow morning. You know the—’

Userkaf waves. ‘Bring Harmachis to me.’

Ineni only grimaces.

The guard bows and opens the door, letting the young man in.

‘Speak in His Majesty’s presence!’ Ineni proclaims from his place to a kneeled Harmachis.

‘Life, prosperity, and health to Your Majesty, may you live forever,’ Hapuseneb’s son starts under his breath.

Userkaf makes an impatient gesture, ordering him to be as brief as possible.

‘I beg you, my Lord, for my father. He’s been ordered to come here, to the capital. He is kept under home arrest in his villa on the west bank. He’s—’

‘Your father is accused of treason and sabotage. Tomorrow, he will be questioned by my chief of security. This shameful case will be investigated. If you believe that he hasn’t done anything wrong, if you don’t question his loyalty to the throne, why are you so worried? I’m sure if his heart is pure, he will be able to prove this to my investigators.’ Userkaf makes a circle around the young man and gestures him to rise from his knees.

‘My Lord, I don’t question your fair judgement. I know that the gods advise you. Your voice is the voice of Maat, the goddess of truth and justice. She can’t be mistaken. She can’t accuse an innocent servant of Your Majesty in treason. But there are so many people, my Lord, who are jealous and sneaky. They are pulling a veil of lies in front of your divine eyes, trying to distract you from Maat’s wise advice—’

All of Harmachis’s wordy speeches are in vain. My brother doesn’t listen. He circles the young charioteer, staring at his longish golden hair, his pale skin, bewildered by his deep blue eyes.

‘You look different,’ he says finally, paying no attention to Harmachis’s pleas.

‘My mother, my father’s second wife, was from the Sea People’s country. I inherited her features, my Lord,’ Harmachis sounds confused.

‘I hope you inherited from her such features like loyalty, honour, and integrity, because none of them I can see in your father.’

‘My Lord, I—’

‘It’s enough speeches for today.’ Userkaf turns away from him. ‘I question your father’s loyalty, not yours… at least, not at the moment. Take a seat, have dinner with us, tell us how dedicated you are to your duties and your king.’ A mysterious smile crosses my brother’s lips.

Harmachis takes a seat on the floor, next to the king’s sofa. Userkaf makes a gesture to his slaves, and they fill a goblet with wine for the king’s guest.

The cat, unhappy about the disturbance, jumps on its place next to the king and starts to purr again, begging for food.

Userkaf smiles and gives it a piece of a roasted duck. It purrs even louder, enjoying the bit, licking the king’s fingers in gratitude.

‘You see, he knows who’s in charge.’ The king nods at the cat. ‘He’s loving and loyal to his master. Sometimes he’s like my people—forgets his place and starts to bite and scratch the hand that feeds him, strokes him, and gives him shelter. When he does this, I need to show him who’s a master here, and he becomes pleasant and obedient again.’

Harmachis chokes on his wine. His eyes look at the king with hope, ready for everything to save his father’s life, title, and honour of his family.

‘Why don’t you eat your meal? These duck and figs are delicious.’ Userkaf takes one of the baked figs and offers it to Harmachis.  ‘Try it. Don’t upset your king even more.’

‘I’ll do everything to please you, my king,’ he murmurs, taking a fig from the king’s hands with his lips.

Userkaf’s narrow eyebrows arch. ‘Leave us alone,’ he orders.

One by one, the servants leave  the chamber. Ineni doesn’t move from his low couch.

‘You’ve heard me, Great Vizier.’ The king doesn’t look at Ineni, he stares at the young charioteer, tempted by his eyes, his golden hair, his big lips.

I disappear.


I am a little scribe again. I sit on a low bench together with two other scribes and watch the king reinstating the priest of Sobek in his duties.

Hapuseneb kneels in front of Userkaf, his chief of security, and the vizier. His body shakes under the long white robe. All his jewellery was taken away from him on the first day of his home arrest and given to the king’s treasury. His shaved head is covered by ashes in a tribute of grief and obedience.

‘His Majesty the King, may he live forever, honours you with his forgiveness,’ Ineni proclaims, and the scribes start to scratch on their papyri, trying to catch every word.

I start to write down as well, but instead of words, I draw. I draw what I can’t say aloud. I draw my plan, the plan of my revenge.

‘The mercy of our king is truly limitless,’ Ineni continues. ‘He deigns not only to save your life and honour of your family from the greatest shame but also he leaves you to perform your duties as a priest of Sobek, the lord of all waters. However, taking into consideration all the charges against you, His Majesty orders you to be suspended from the post of the governor of the Southern Land.’

Userkaf nods in support of his words. ‘Remember, Hapuseneb, I’m watching you.’

‘I’m grateful to His Majesty for his mercy. I know Maat, who always judges fairly, advises my king that there is no guilt on me.  I know, oh the greatest of the kings, that the Eye of Re guides you through the darkness of lies to the light of truth. It shows you my loyalty is undoubted.’ Hapuseneb raises his eyes to the king.

Userkaf gestures him to rise from his knees. ‘I’m very pleased that you finally understood the seriousness of the accusations against you, Hapuseneb.’ He smiles his crooked smile. ‘Try not to disappoint me again.’ He takes a step closer to the priest. ‘Next time, even your son, who is very sweet with me, won’t be able to save you.’

He turns around and leaves the chamber. Ineni, the chief of security, scribes, fan bearers, and all other servants follows their lord.

I glance at Hapuseneb. He stands still, his head is bowed, his eyes are full of tears. I approach to him and take his hand. I give him my drawings. I stare into his eyes. My drawings… they are showing him how I’ve been killed by my brother. They are showing him the future. He knows now the favour of the king costs his son dearly. He knows what to do. He accepts his fate. He is ready for his revenge, and so am I.


It is a huge feast in the palace. My brother adores such types of entertainment when he’s partying till late at night, getting drunk with his generals and chief officers. 

I am too young for the feast. I am supposed to sleep in my chamber as all little princes do, but I am here, hiding behind a column. I am here. I feel the future. I don’t know how, but I feelwhat is going to happen.

The music plays louder and louder, drunken guests try to dance, shouting, laughing, and falling on low couches. Userkaf is on his low sofa, embracing one of the slave girls. He looks tipsy and bored. His usual entertainment doesn’t amuse him anymore.

‘Where is Harmachis? Where is my favourite and most loyal friend?’ He turns to one of his guests. ‘Why doesn’t he celebrate with us?’

The officer sends one of the servants for Harmachis, but after some time, he returns alone.

My brother frowns. He doesn’t like to wait, even less he likes to ask for something twice. He sends the chief of security to bring him Harmachis immediately. A couple of hours pass before the chief of security returns. Userkaf is drunk and furious, but he doesn’t want to show it to his guests.

‘My Lord.’ The officer kneels in front him. ‘We’ve found him.’

‘Where is he? Where has he been? You make me wait… again.’

‘I didn’t mean to disappoint you, my Lord, but…’ The officer struggles. ‘Harmachis was arrested this morning together with Your Majesty’s wife, queen Tiyu, when they tried to cross the border with Kush.’

‘What?’ Userkaf jumps from his couch. ‘Why? How? It is… it is…’ he stammers, his eyes shine in anger.

‘It is treason, my Lord.’ The officer bows his head lower.

‘Why did you hide it from me?’

‘I didn’t want to upset my king until we would know the details of their plot. I know, oh my Lord, that Harmachis is very close to Your Majesty—’

‘Where are they now?’

‘Queen Tiyu is under arrest. She is locked in her private chambers. It was the order of the Great Vizier. Harmachis is in prison. He is waiting to be interrogated.’

‘Question them, torture if needed, and send my treacherous wife back to her father with the greatest dishonour. Make Harmachis suffer as he makes me suffer from his treason.’


The king’s army like a cloud of sand moves south-east to the land of Kush. The king is in a chariot of fine gold, adorned with his accoutrements like Horus, the lord of action, like the war god Montu, like Sobek, the lord of the waters. The royal serpent on his crown spills fire. Trumpets sound, troops start their march down the hill to meet the enemy’s army. Hundreds of thousands of Kushite soldiers are killed. Hundreds of officers and aristocrats are captured. Beja, the viceroy of Kush, and all his family follow the king’s chariot as the most precious trophy of the king’s victory.

I am a bodiless spirit again. I observe the battlefield, captured by the whirlwind of countless dead soldiers’ souls—free and wild, just like I am. .

The battlefield is covered with dead bodies, abandoned without a burial. The rivers of Kush turn red, filled with blood. Cities are in ruins, and the moaning of Kushite wives is spreading all over this endless desert. Sekhmet, the ferocious mother of war, has a rich harvest of souls in these lands.

Userkaf took his revenge. Surrounded by his officers and generals, he returns to Niwt-Imn to worship the gods, who granted him the victory.


The king disembarks from his royal barge at a quay on a riverbank and looks up at two obelisks of red granite with golden pyramids atop. This is the threshold of the house of deities. This is a gateway to another world that is accessible only for the king and the priests. Crowned with the double crown and carrying the ceremonial flail and the sceptre, with an artificial beard made from fine golden threads, he sits on a golden throne on a long pole, supported by bearers.

The procession passes the main gates and enters the first square court. It crawls through the endless gateways, roofless courts with sacred lakes, and halls with columns, where the light shades gradually, preparing the king and his retinue for the meeting. The king with his eyes half-closed looks focused.

His body has been cleaned by the waters of a sacred lake. The priests purified him by burning holy oils and giving him special salts to chew and so to make his mouth clean and ready for the uttering of his prayers. His body is fully prepared for the conversation with the gods, but his mind is as dark as the waters of the Nile. His heart knows no mercy.

I’ve assisted priests in purification as it was the will of the king. Userkaf wants to get rid of me as he’s already done once. Is he afraid of his ten-year old nephew? Is he afraid of me spying on him and, one day, taking over his throne? He wants me to become a priest of Sobek now. He wants to lock me up in the temple, far away from the court.

It is the time to worship the river god, Sobek-Re, who gives mightiness to the king, who makes the king’s heart fearless, who makes the king’s body unreachable for arrows and spears, who protects him in a battle.

The king enters the shrine, and I follow him as that is what he wishes. There are only the king, Hapuseneb, and I in the chamber.

I carry a richly decorated casket—the offering to the god. My hands are numb. The horrible content of the casket makes me feel dizzy.

The first words of a hymn start from somewhere above the ceiling, and the service begins. There is a huge pond in the middle of the chamber. In its sacred waters, the embodiments of Sobek enjoy their meal. The king offers the first bloody piece of meat, and one of the divine creatures opens its massive jaws with razor-sharp fangs. Its brothers and sisters, feeling the smell of blood hiss and gnash their teeth, ready for the feast.

The spicy fume of the lamps fills the chamber, the hymn sounds louder. Userkaf is on his knees in front of Sobek’s statue. Only the pond separates him from the deity. He takes the casket from my hands and, slightly turning it to Hapuseneb, pronounces a short prayer, ‘Oh Great Father of all the waters, oh mighty Sobek-Re! Please, accept this offering from your obedient son.’ The king opens the casket.

Poor Hapuseneb screams in horror. The head of his son, Harmachis, stares at him from the casket.

Userkaf grins. ‘I’m sure that my Lord, mighty Sobek, enjoys the taste of the traitor. The pieces I’ve offered him belonged to the body of your handsome but disloyal son.’

Hapuseneb’s eyes are full of tears. He saw this scene in my drawings long ago. The reality hurts even worse.

I open my mouth, and for the first time in my short life the sound as loud as thunder comes out, ‘Murderer! Murderer and usurper!’

Userkaf tries to rise from his knees, but I push him forward and…

The powerful and bloodthirsty embodiments of Sobek are ready for a new portion of the offering. The king screams and shouts, but the heavy wooden doors are too thick. Nobody from the outside can hear his screams.

The pond turns blood red. Userkaf stretches his hand, covered in blood, trying to get out of the pond, but Hapuseneb has no mercy. He steps on the king’s fingers and pushes him back. A few minutes later, Sobek is satisfied with his offering.

Hapuseneb looks into my eyes with sadness and hope. I give him the casket. He kisses Harmachis’s forehead and turns to me. He dashes to open the heavy doors. He falls on his knees and proclaims, ‘Long life and prosperity to the king, may you live forever!’ I am the King of the kings. I am the son of the falcon-headed Horus. I am the beginning. I am the end. I am Nimaatre Smenkhare Meriamun, the living god of the land of Kemet. I am the son of immortal gods and I will live forever.

Valeriya says about her life:

“I am a multi-genre author from the United Kingdom. I studied History and earned my Master’s Degree in Art Expertise at St. Petersburg University of Culture and Arts. Born in Belarus, I’ve lived for many years in Ukraine and Russia before settling down in the north of England. Apart from creative writing, I have a passion for travels, arts, history, and foreign languages. My short stories and essays have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including The Copperfield Review, Meet Cute Mag, Bewildering Stories, The Pine Cone Review, and Strange Fiction SF & F ‘Zine.

“When Stanley Met Demon Fire” Fiction by Thomas White

The Chamber Magazine

Stanly had as a youth watched the bright orbs shift and glide above the desolate plains, known in the guide books as the Wastelands, near his home. Local gossip was always abuzz with claims that UFOs were in the area and about to land. But as Stanly found out what comes from the skies are not necessarily aliens in spaceships from the other side of the cosmos.

About a year ago, when Stanly had been unemployed, he had been approached by a little man at Stanly’s favorite café. The man had all of the appearances of a street person: frayed and stained overcoat, multiple layers of heavy sweaters smelling of rancid sweat and body odor, patched and torn trousers. A grey-grizzled face with a puckered mouth slightly dribbling tobacco completed the picture of a man down and out. But his teeth! Where there should have been a tramp’s dirty yellow, rotting stumps were glistening white rows of precision-crafted incisors. And instead of an overwhelming stinking whiskey breath, his mouth had a slight greasy smell as if the little man’s mouth was a car hood opened to reveal its engine. Then Stanly noticed the front of the odd man’s neck: leathery and flaming red.

At first Stanly thought the little man, sniffling and mumbling, was going to ask for a tissue or money.  Instead, he flashed a very professional business card that read:

      ‘Heaven is Hell traveling under false pretenses.’

       Interested in learning more?

       Talk to the Star Watchers

       If you want to earn some quick cash.

Offering to buy Stanly a coffee, the man said in a low, almost timid voice, “Excuse my trashy clothing, but when I am traveling on earth I like to keep a low profile. You see my name is Demon Fire, who lives amid the thunder and lightning in the Hell that humans call ‘Heaven’- aka the skies.”

The little man glanced at his grubby boots, then flashed a rigid grin like a corpse trying to be sociable. Noticing a puzzled Stanly starting intently at his face and neck, Demon Fire chattered and flexed his mechanical teeth while pointing to his leathery neck. “These teeth are not human but precision machined from junk parts from an old car engine… but the neck is … real.”

“Who are the Star Watchers?” asked Stanly

“That is what we need to talk about: your big chance to earn some quick cash,” Demon Fire said as he motioned to Stanly to leave the café with him.


About two miles from the café was a sleazy strip joint, The All-Star Club. Stanly and Demon Fire took a taxi there and Demon paid the driver. (For a street person in shabby clothes, DF seemed to have plenty of ready cash, Stanly mulled, smiling to himself.) Both settled comfortably into a booth. A waiter in a bright red leotard took their drink orders.

Demon Fire got right to the point. “We want to hire a guide to take people out to the Wastelands. We have it all set up: it will by day be billed as an eco-excursion, but by night a star gazing tour. The website has already been created. The entire package is called The All-Star Watchers Experience. So Stanly how would you like a job as the guide? Training is included. We pay well.”

Stanly obviously thought the whole thing very weird. What was this eccentric claim to have teeth made of junk auto parts? What did that crazy story about traveling on earth in shabby clothes mean, as well as living in the sky?    Very bizarre marketing ploys to draw attention to their new tourist enterprise? It was, however, best to not ask any questions about this. Stanly needed a job badly, his rent was two months overdue, and any probing into that weirdness might personally offend Demon Fire and cause him to withdraw the job offer.

After relaxing over more drinks with Demon Fire, and reading the tour’s website on Demon Fire’s iPhone, Stanly signed an employment contract for a nice salary as a guide for the All-Star Watchers. Despite the wackiness of his new boss’s tales and his bedraggled appearance, he handled the hiring in a very thorough, professional manner.                                


After his two-weeks paid training on the ecology of the Wastelands and basic facts about astronomy, Stanly was directed by Demon Fire to meet the first All-Star Watchers tour group in front of thestrip club. Stanly had expected the usual crowd: backpackers, retirees wearing long black socks and plaid shirts, perhaps some foreign tourists too, but instead the group was composed of five muscular men with clenched jaws in oil-stained overalls; their greasy t-shirts read: “Jones Junkyard. Body Parts: Just for You.” 

One who seemed to be their leader identified himself as Mr. Jones. He mumbled that they needed to stop first at the 7-Eleven near the entrance to the Wastelands to get some snacks as his team was hungry. Stanly was puzzled. These guys did not have cameras, and, in fact, obviously were locals. Jones Junkyard was a small buyer of wrecked cars and scrap metal on the outskirts of town not far from the Wastelands.  Very strange that Jones and his employees would be ‘touring’ literally in their own backyard. Yet once again Stanly did not question Demon Fire, who had arrived shortly after Stanly to greet the ‘tourist’ party, about this new oddness. None of Stanly’s business to question the motives of paying clients. The customer was always right, as his tour training facilitator had repeatedly emphasized.

Demon Fire spoke a few words to the men which Stanly did not hear, then drove off in a spiffy SUV. Stanly followed in the All-Star Watchers four-wheel drive van while the junkyard men fell asleep. DF quickly disappeared around a corner, while Stanly got stuck in traffic. Though Stanly thought the men would ask some questions about the tour’s itinerary and agenda, they just continued to sleep, snoring loudly. Stanly drove in silence not volunteering any information.

Stanly pulled up into the parking lot of the 7-Eleven so the men could buy their snacks, but he was surprised to see another four-wheel drive parked there, its front door also marked “All-Star Watchers Tours.” None other than Demon Fire jumped out of the driver’s side and yelled and waved at Stanly to come over and introduce himself to a second group of tourists who would also be going along today.

 Looking into the back of the van, Stanly saw bodies, unmoving and strangely quiet, tied up in rope, duct tape plastered on their mouths: stereotypical tourists dressed in plaid shirts and checked shorts, youth in pre-ripped jeans with backpacks, as well as other people in casual hiking clothes prepared for their big day out on the Wastelands. This time Stanly knew he needed to ask Demon Fire some questions, but the junkyard men bounded over like smooth cats and grabbed Stanly, slapped some duct tape on his mouth, hustled him into the van seat next to Demon Fire, and then piled into the back with the captive tourists.

Ten minutes later, they all arrived at a desolate spot on the Wastelands. Demon Fire sprang screaming hysterically from the van and stripped off his ragged, smelly clothes as if they were in flames. The sky darkened quickly as he waved wildly, storm clouds mushrooming on the horizon.  At a flick of Demon Fire’s wrist, bolts of lightning   rammed the heavens like angry spears.

The junkyard men dragged the bodies from the back of the van and dumped them like sacks on the grass. Knives flashed and the men went to work slaughtering them. Hands, feet, fingers, arms were, with great professionalism, neatly sliced off like skilled chefs working a large round of beef at Stanly’s favorite buffet at the Holiday Inn. Surprisingly, however, the tourists did not scream though even when these butchers worked their way into the guts with rotary saws. Hearts, intestines, livers flew through the air, torrents of blood rained, but not a sound. A slaughterhouse drenched in silence.

Demon Fire by now, having fully cast off his ‘little man’ ‘street-person’ identity, had sprouted into a tall muscular creature with horned feet, scarlet-red leathery skin, and a pointed nose.  Seeming to read Stanly’s thoughts, he growled smugly:

“When one is an evil demon one has ways of keeping people quiet even when they are being slaughtered… After all we don’t want to scare the neighbors,” he said, shushing quiet by a long, knobby-knuckled finger on his lips.   Before Stanly could reply, Demon Fire said, “You see stupid humans have thought for centuries that evil demons came from some kind of hot, underground smelly place called ‘Hell’, but, as I told you over coffee, ‘Heaven is Hell traveling under false pretenses’…and all those ‘UFOs’ humans have reported on for years?  They are actually our Fast Demon Modules –  FDMs -we use to get around in the sky and avoid repulsive humans.”

“Why are your junkyard savages butchering innocent tourists?” Stanly demanded.

“Well for a long time, we demons replaced our own body parts, knees, teeth, elbows, fingers, et cetera.  –  demons’ bodies wear out too like humans’- with reengineered metal scrap from various junkyards. But with all of the new industrial technology coming online, our workshops are having trouble with the complexities of the new recycling and manufacturing processes. It is now time to use the original, realhuman body parts, which are certainly more cost effective, too.  Jones Junkyard, one of our longtime suppliers, is developing a new, more simplified business model to accommodate our growing need for authentic anatomical components, hence the very professional demonstration you witnessed today.”

“And in case you think the disturbance,” Demon Fire’s red eyes glared like raw wounds and rolled toward the sky, “that I caused with the clouds and lightning was me doing a rite of worship in homage to some kind of ‘Sky God-Demon’ think again. Demons are independent operators who do what they want. I was just in the mood to create a gothic/scary atmosphere that was appropriate for our junkyard team’s excellent effort today… We demons are not all boring business…we like a little drama in our lives once and awhile.”

 One of the junkyard butcherers came over and whispered something to Demon Fire. “Excellent,” he proclaimed, “all the body parts have been collected.” Demon Fire flicked his wrist again: a larger bright orb popped out of nothing and then slowly lowered itself to the dark grass. It dimmed slightly to reveal a saucer-shaped, semi-translucent hull through which various shapes could be seen moving about.

Demon Fire flashed his frozen smile’s metal teeth again. “Well, Stanly we really need a reliable human to run errands for us on earth. I don’t want to dress up in trashy costumes to hide my identity anymore. I will double your salary and, as an added perk, you will get plenty of travel.” Demon Fire waved toward the FDM. “And besides,” his hot breath whispered, “you really don’t have much choice do you?  After all, I am sure you want to keep all of your body parts.”

As the Jones Junkyard guys slowly gathered around Stanly to escort him to the Fast Demon Module, Stanly could not have agreed more.

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.