Saturday, August 18, 2012

City of Bones #23 by Russel Streur


DNA rendition
Another blow
Deliberate halt

New flame of revolution
Higher ground
Minimum wage

“He was one of the lucky ones,”
the researcher said.
“He managed to escape.”

Vertical garden
Simulation carousel
The old way


City of Bones #22 by Russel Streur


Central artery
Seismic rupture
Core dysfunction

New order
Ban on demonstrations
Bedlam left

“You would see people with nothing left,”
the manager of the gift shop said.
“I don’t want to talk about that part.”

Toxic factory
Acid suicide
Chain of custody


City of Bones #21 by Russel Streur


Spectrum disorder
Repeated injection
Isotope medley

Rising doubt
Lack of confirmation
Tracking tool

“The state has ceased functioning.”
the editor said.
“It’s really just a photo op.”

Instruction from above
Friendly fire
Surveillance fee


City of Bones by Russel Streur

The Earth Creature by Beth J. Whiting

The mother and daughter went outside to get lemons from the lemon tree but they found it was gone.
            The daughter Brittany asked, “Did daddy cut it down?”
            “No.  I would have known about that.”
            They stood there stupefied.  The mother confronted the father about it.
            “Did you cut down the lemon tree?”
            “No.  Why?”
            “It’s gone.”
            The father didn’t believe it.  He went outside himself to see if this was for real.  He was amazed when he saw no lemon tree.
            “There wasn’t a hurricane or anything.”
            The parents stood there blankly.
            Their girl who had curly yellow hair said, “I know who did it.  It’s the Earth creature.   He must have eaten it.”
            The parents laughed at this imaginative fantasy of their child.
            The father chuckled, “Earth creature.”
            “Yes.  He’s only eaten a lemon at a time though.  I don’t know why he decided to eat the whole thing suddenly.”
            “Where does the Earth creature live?”
            “He lives in the ground.  Since he’s blind he eats by sense of taste and smell.  He gobbles things up from the ground from time to time.”
            “You’ve met this creature?  How does he look?” he smiled.
            “Like mud only with a big giant tongue in the middle.”
            The mother stopped, “That’s enough for now.  You don’t need to be filling your mind with crazy stories.”
            “But it’s true I’ve seen him.”
            The mother thought this was more outlandish than usual. 

            The mother was making dinner, spaghetti when she looked at her daughter’s drawings at the moment.  Her daughter usually made scribbles.  When Brittany had a coloring book most of the time she went in the lines.
            However she was doing something different today.  She colored a picture of mud with teeth and a tongue.
            “That’s the earth creature.”
            The mother frowned, “More like mud monster.”
            “You wonder why your garden has shrunk.  It’s because of the Earth creature.  He’s eaten some of your zucchini.  You have to understand.  He has to survive.”
            “You mean you’ve eaten my zucchini.”
            “Why would I eat it raw?”
            The mother was about to say you could have cooked it yourself but she didn’t bother.  She didn’t let her daughter in the kitchen anyway.  Even though Brittany was seven, the mother still imagined her getting burned by the oven and stove.
            “We’re friends.  Me and the earth creature.”
            “You mean you and the earth creature are friends.”
            “Whatever.  It eats the ants and the bugs in the ground too.  He eats weeds and trash.  He sucks up the things he needs.”
            “That’s nice to know an animal is in our backyard.”
            “It’s not an animal.”
            The mother laughed, “I think you need better imaginary friends.”
            Brittany didn’t respond to this.  She just left.
            The mother tried to find Brittany the next day.  Dinner was ready.  She found her in the backyard.  The sun was starting to go down.
            She found her feeding leftover chicken salad into the ground.
            Strangely the mother saw the food disappear.
            When the mother came to Brittany’s spot she just saw mud.
            “You know I was planning to save that for my lunch tomorrow.”
            “I just thought it was leftovers.”
            “I thought your friend just ate food from the ground.”
            “No he eats things you give it too.”
            “Does he talk?”
            “Yes he talks.  He has a large voice though so he only speaks in whispers to me.  He doesn’t want to alarm the neighborhood.”
            “What does he talk about?”
            “Daily stuff I do.  We talk about what he eats too.”
            “Don’t feed anything else without my permission.”
            “He’d say you say that.”

            When the mother came into the kitchen, the father who had been waiting for the meal asked, “What’s the delay?”
            “She’s talking to the ground again.”

            Later on that night a friend of the mother’s stopped by to visit.  It was unexpected.  She had made them pineapple upside down cake. 
            The mother was embarrassed.  All of Brittany’s toys were scattered around in the living room.
            When the visit was over, the mother marched over to Brittany.
            She ranted on, “All your toys were all over and my friend saw it.  From now on I’m going to be stricter on you.”
            Brittany seemed annoyed, “But she came by unannounced.”
            “It should have been cleaned anyway.”

            When Brittany was away at school, the mother made a cleaning chart.  She listed which days Brittany had to take out the trash, clean her bedroom, and such.  The mother realized she needed to be more aggressive.  She had to prepare Brittany for the adult world.
            When Brittany saw the list she was annoyed.
            “I already do these things.  Why do I need to mark them now?”
            “It will make you more efficient.  It will prepare you for the outside world.”
            “I go to school.  I already am in the outside world.”
            The mother ignored that.

            The next night Brittany’s chore was doing the dishes.  The mother was at a church social so she didn’t come home until 9 p.m.  She saw the dishes still not done.
            She found Brittany talking to the ground outside.
            “Brittany it’s 9 o’clock and the dishes are still not done.”
            “I’m sorry I got caught up with the Earth creature.”
            The mother didn’t take it so lightly.
            She grounded her daughter.

            “You’re supposed to come home after school every day this month.  No detours.”
            “That’s fine,” Brittany shrugged.
            “That means you can’t do your singing lessons.”
            “That’s not fair.  That’s the only time I get out of the house.  Besides I thought you wanted me to do them.”
            “It’s a privilege not a necessity.”
            “No you’re just cheap.”
            Brittany stomped to her bedroom.
            It was true.  Brittany did have a lovely voice.  Unfortunately she’d been spending more time outside than practicing.

            There was an improvement in the next month.  Brittany did her chores on the mark.  The house was more clean than usual.  But she was spending all of her free time outside.
            The mother ended up forbidding her daughter to use the backyard.
            “That’s not fair.  I’ve done all the chores.  I’ve kept the house clean.  I’m allowed to have a friend.”
            “You call mud a friend?”
            “He said you would do this.  He said you would end up punishing me again.  And he was right.  This time I’m going to listen to his advice.  He said he needed eyes.  Well I’m giving him that option.  He can have mine.”
            She ran outside to the backyard.
            The mother was slow in following.  But she saw her daughter leap into a hole in the ground.  When the mother looked back she saw eyes coming out of the ground.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Death Clouds by C.L. Snyder

The storm dances closer, looming, zooming in, I have no where to go.
The whirlwind whispers my name like a voice in the shadows of your closet.
Hot white claws shred a path to me.
I’m breathless in a flurry of movement surrounding me, pulling my clothes, my hair, and my strength along with the whole of the Earth to this beast.
It booms with each inch gained, a thunder drum sounding my death to all.
With ravenous hunger it descends.
Grey furry turning a head-spinning circle round and round as a chours of my name chains me in place.
I’m bathed in bright red drops staining me, weighing me down into its nothingness.
In another place I hear the anguish cry of my former love.
In this place I hear the faint sirens of the Calvary that will arrive in vein.
In this place I smell the blood as it mixes with the lavender water.
And here,
In this place,
I feel the prick of the razor as it settles down against my skin, beneath the crimson water.

Hunger Eternal by C.L. Snyder

The shadows are alive
with deep eternal hunger.
Ancient eyes once bright with life
awaken from their slumber.
They flow into the night
with their mouths open wide.
They swoop upon their prey
hating and loving the blood needed to survive.
They envy the death they give
knowing they will never feel their own.
Blessed with eternal forever’s
yet cursed with a heart of stone.
They live without really living
no future, present, past.
They love without really loving
for nothing but their life ever lasts. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Haunted by Paul Galarraga

                        How like ghosts we all are. How like the living dead we float through our day, our feet never touching the floor boards, our actions never disturbing the ether, our light never penetrating the true darkness that surrounds us. How we exist, without living, without drawing a true breath on most of our days. Perhaps once in our lives, long ago—maybe—those golden memories locked up, treasured and kept in the safety of our collective recollections, we truly lived and, oh, the tragedy that when we were drinking fully from the cup of life, we knew it not. We wandered through those sun dappled days oblivious to what we had, ignorant of what we were wasting and now, in our maturity, we put those days behind us. Because if we were to acknowledge what we have lost and what we may have grown too old to ever return to, we may lose the last of our hope and have to wake up to our spectral state once and for all.
            I know of what I speak. Because I have walked in the sunshine and have sung with such joy that to remember it now fills me with such sorrow that tears have replaced the laughter I once knew. I cannot remember the past without the sadness debilitating me, making me weak in the bones, a shell, a ghost of what I once was. I can no longer sing those songs, they are lost to me, their Lyrics have vanished. The chorus has left only scorched ruins in my melancholy brain. My new existence is all consuming. Much like the virus that only grows stronger inside me every day and weakens me, transforms me, until in life, or what now passes for it, I look like an animated corpse. And it is a corpse, an ambassador of the undead that has come home today. I am the last of the Marigold line and today I have come, half walking and half carried, by my lawyer with his own agendas and obligations to the wrought iron gate that formerly declared the power of my once great family.
            The line began with some distant ancestor, a grandfather with too many greats before his name to remember. He was a slaver and built this house with the blood and sweat of slaves whose bones reside throughout these valleys and woods, some maybe even beyond Georgia and many laying, uneasily, beneath the willows of this very house.
            He set the laws, the tone and laId the groundwork, both for his home and his family. For the next 200 years the Marigolds would rule this land and they would broach no government, no war and no slave revolt. The loss of the civil war and the slaves seemed, in time, to even strengthen the family. Many forays into politics and world affairs would follow. The family could boast of gold strikes in the Klondike, silver mines in Colorado, Canadian whiskey brought into Boston Harbor during prohibition and even an astronaut; one of Derek's favorite uncles. Everywhere the Marigolds left their bones and sent home money. The empire must be maintained.
            “Mr. Marigold I think the key is breaking in the lock,” Mr. Collins said. What a helpful chap, driving me here after liquidating my property in New York. Now as he retrieves a pair of bolt cutters from the trunk of his Mercedes I wonder how many times he has helped the idle rich liquidate their worldly goods once they hit the skids. How many times has he maintained the deathwatch for one who, when gone, will finally release their death hold on all their filthy lucre. Why else would he keep bolt cutters and work gloves in his trunk, better to keep your hands clean while swimming in death for fun and profit.
            First kill all the lawyers, I thought and couldn't help laughing.
            “What's so funny Mr Marigold?”
            “Oh nothing Mr Collins,” I said trying not to make eye contact. “I suddenly remembered a joke.” I have always been such a terrible liar.
            So today the last of the Marigold family comes home. It was a sad epilogue I think. The old mansion is not the way I remember it. Although I can't say that I remember it fondly. The place had fallen by the waist sides, much the way I had.  Bad investments in the nineteen thirties had drained the coffers of my once powerful family and the house had followed the fortunes. Running down as the money dried up. The once stately palace was now just an old dilapidated house.
            A series of wills and final requests had kept the descendants from selling it and a meagre trust was the only reason the house was still standing. The house sat alone and abandoned now. The servants came only on tuesday, more out of a sense of duty than an obligation of employment. The house has had had no visitors, until today.
            Mr. Collins cut the rusty padlock on the ivy grown fence. The old hasp gave with a groan and the ancient fence opened with a screech of protest. We sidestepped the spray of rust and walked into the jungle like garden.
            I smelled the past. The aromas of childhood, visiting grandmother, delicate butter cookies and happier times. I drank in those memories as I kicked up dead leaves in the front walk.
            For me it was all coming to an end. The garden parties where my mother would entertain the hoity-toity and gather Marigolds in bunches from all corners of the globe, getting them to talk of their achievements to the amusement of her guests. All those people for her collection, all that greatness, power and fame like a heavenly constellation built around a bright center; and in that center was wandering Venus, my mother, Esther Marigold, nee Duchesne, of the Atlanta Duchesnes, the queen of the ball. Even if beneath her pancake makeup was the rosy stain from ruptured blood vessels, one did not speak of alcoholism in the house, or of a husband tortured by a crippling depression that would lead both to financial ruin and a lonely suicide hanging in a pool house; found by a servant while his wife was skiing the pristine drifts in Switzerland and a son who spent his days stoned in a succession of parties that did nothing to make up for a lost childhood.
            But those days are gone and the memories of Bryan, my Caleb, who played with me in these woods, laughed with me as we swam naked in the private lake on the estate and opened doors to a young man who lived in luxury but never owned a single drop of love. Brian is still alive in my thoughts. I keep him there very well. Eternally young and laughing. Eternally beautiful and desirable. Nothing like the skeletal remains that lie beneath a highway overpass in a forgotten cemetery in a run down part of the city I will never return to.
            Perhaps my memories of Brian and of happiness are all that still keep me alive. Maybe despite my plummeting T cell count, my joy stored deep inside like a miser's gold will keep the reaper at bay, or it may fade and open the door to oblivion, open the wrought iron gates with the filigreed M that have kept the estate from the looters hand for six long years now.
            Maybe this is where I belong? My broken down body in this broken down house and once I am dead the gate will be torn off at it's hinges, like a scab, and the house will be razed. I have already seen at least one artist's sketch from the real estate firm that wants to develop the property. Maybe the land will at long last heal. Children will one day play under the willow where Brian and I shared our first kiss and swim in the lake where my mother met her cold end during a drunken swim. Maybe her suicide, everyone knew it to be suicide, has not left the stain I think it has, maybe this place can finally heal from the cancer of the Marigolds and become a bright center once again.
            The house was just as it had been left. Tall, dark and imposing. A ramshackle of loose siding and fallen roof slates. The windows were dark, even in sunlight, as if they had the ability to absorb the light around them.
            “Would you like me to help you in Mr. Marigold?”
            “No thank you Mr. Collins,” I said. I needed some time alone with the place. “I will of course see you on Monday to sign the last of the contracts.”
            “Of course Mr. Marigold.” He was already turning to leave. “I took the liberty of asking Mr. Wayne, the caretaker to stop by in the morning to check on you and find out about more supplies. He told me he had left a stocked larder and that the electricity and water are on and working.”
            “Thank you Mr. Collins.” Oh please leave.
            He left without another word. One of the more pleasant things about him is his ability to know when to leave and when not to speak. How many hundreds of rich families must have conditioned that into him over the years? How much he must despise us all.
            I walked up the brick path and I was a little short of breath by the time I negotiated the circular drive. The main door was still in place, a monstrous thing of oak and brass that was unlocked but I still had to put my shoulder into it to get it open. The house breathed a sigh, I'm sure of it, when I went in.   I was assailed by the musty smell of a forgotten home. Dust, mildew and something else. If I didn't know better I would think that the Marigolds had actually left more than their memories here. But the bones were, of course, safe in the family graveyard in the woods behind the house.
            The furniture, covered in white sheets, looked like a coven of ghosts assembled for some macabre reception. I knew that few servants still worked the house. It was a miracle the place was still standing. Vermin and the ever encroaching wood rot made the house nearly uninhabitable. I was starting to doubt that it would be ready for sale in a month even though I knew it was the property the buyers wanted anyway, so there was little to do but say good bye.
            I began coughing again. The violent fit took my breath and brought me to my knees. It abated and through the tears in my eyes I saw the red on my handkerchief. Damn, I caught my breath and stood. Cold sweat coated my forehead. This would be a long day.
            I went to my grandfathers desk, turned on the large bankers lamp and unpacked my messenger bag. I laId out the reams of documents that Mr. Collins wanted me to review. I would be the first Marigold to be allowed to sell the home. On the front of the paperwork was a note from Mr. Collins about the real estate developers that wanted the land and an explanation of how the auction would go. I skipped to the part about the firm tearing down the house, the place still had too many memories for me. My heart would always reside here, the place I had spent a lifetime running away from. 
            I went into the great hall and lit a cigarette.  It tasted awful and burned my sensitive lungs, but the nicotine brought guilty pleasure and I began to relax. I watched the smoke swirling in the dusty sunlight rising to the great ceiling. It was almost twenty five feet high and contained a rather impressive fresco that had always fascinated me as a child. The fresco was by an Italian, my grandmother had once told me the name, but now it was gone from me. It was a scene from Wagner: Siegfried was wounded and lay on a flat stone while a flight of Valkyries circled high overhead. I vaguely remember the story that went with it. My great grandfather thought that Hitler would eventually defeat the communists and make peace with England and the US. So he commissioned the fresco, knowing it would take years to complete so he could one day host a grand ball and invite the Fuhrer. Oh what unrepentant sinners we Marigolds are. Not even the holocaust could persuade old grand papa to have the horrid thing painted over.
            The smoke was deep in my lungs. It felt like death.
            I thought back to the day I went to my doctor with a mild cold that wouldn't go away and came out of the doctor's office in a cloud of questions. The tests answered them all. They found AIDS related tuberculosis. I walked out pale, not quite believing what they had told me. Now with my skin still pasty white and my lungs growing weaker by the day I was resigned to my own death. It brought out a quiet dignity in me that I never knew I had. The days of asking myself why were gone. A lifetime as a bachelor, never produced an heir and my brother, the only hope for the line, died in a glider accident in Mexico. I was the last of the Marigolds and I would help bring an end to this house.
            End of the line, I thought.
            The money would go to charity, after my creditors were through and perhaps I could leave the world a little better than I found it. Perhaps the old rat trap may still do some good before the roof comes down under its own weight, I thought. The house gave a deep groan, as if in response. It left behind a strange silence and I could feel the room getting colder. I was worried it might be another fever, but then I saw her.
            There was someone in the house. I dropped my cigarette, stomped it out and walked out to the hallway. I threw curtains aside and pushed open the large double sliding doors in the parlor. Searching, for what I had no idea, the house was supposed to be abandoned. I found no one. I stood in the silent room, listening. The rustling of the leaves against the windows drew my attention and I ran outside.
            At the stairs—too quick—I slipped and came down hard. My head was muddled after the hit and I had a terrible light feeling. I didn't know if I passed out but I came up on my feet easily, so I assumed I wasn't hurt very badly. My vision was still hazy and I could just make out the balcony and the woman standing at the doorway.
            She is beautiful, was the first thought I could put together. I focused my eyes on her and climbed back up the stairs.
            “Excuse me,” I said.
            She turned and walked into the house and I followed. The feeling of the surreal was thick and I felt like I was walking through a dream.
            “Please stop,” I called out.
            I followed this woman up the grand staircase and into the master bedroom. She turned and caught me in the spell of dark, lustrous eyes, like black agate. I tried to speak, but now words wouldn't come. She seemed to know me and in a strange way I knew her.
            “Who are you,” I asked as she sat on the bed. “Are you living here?”
            She turned and without a word took a brush from the nightstand and began to comb her raven hair. I sat on the bed and stared at her. She was like a beautiful angel. The question of what she was doing in an abandoned house, or for that matter why she was ignoring me didn’t seem to matter. The universe closed in at that moment and all that mattered to me was the here and now. I felt a warm feeling, the first in a long time and my pulse quickened in a way I only vaguely remembered ever feeling before.
            She turned back to me and I was lost in her dark eyes. She put down the brush and began to undress. My throat was dry as I swallowed but strangely it didn't hurt. My lungs were not even bothering me. She stood before me, proud and so sure of herself. She had a magnificent body like an ivory statue of an ancient goddess. She was radiant with beauty. She reached out and put a hand on my chest. I winced. It had been so long, and I wanted this woman so very much, but love and sex was something I had pushed out of my life. Many things get pushed out of your life when you prepare for death. I though of my blood as a deadly poison, killing me. What she wanted I could not give her.
            She pouted with her full mouth and her velvet lips became more beautiful with the gesture. I sighed as her eyes moistened. I tried to think of something to say, but she gestured to me to keep quiet. She began to sing. It was a haunting melody that caused shivers to run down my back and neck. My resolve was weakening as she sang and came closer. I wanted nothing in this world as much as I wanted this woman, not even my own life. All was forfeit.
            “I am dying,” I told her in a nervous stammer. “I have AIDS. I can not do this. I could infect you.”
            She put her fingers to my lips to quiet me and I shivered at her touch. She stopped singing and began to kiss me. Deep soulful kisses. I could feel desperation, loneliness and desire from her. She took off my shirt while kissing my neck and chest. The shirt came off and when I saw my nude skin it was smooth and clear. None of the scabs and dry patches were there today. The itching was gone also.
            Perhaps I am near death, I thought as the girl  leaned forward and clutched me in a passionate embrace. I did not care if death was near, all I wanted was this. My release came quickly and left me weak.
            I lay in her arms and wept because I was so happy. She gave me gentle kisses and stroked my hair. The night went on forever. The pale moonlight shone in through the tattered curtains as we made love all night. I was falling in love and did not mind one bit. Every orgasm made me want life more and more. I could be happy, if I could just hold this moment forever.
* * *  
            The lazy sun streamed through the bedroom window and I came awake with a smile. I didn't know how long I was asleep, but the sun was high so I figured close to noon. I rose from bed and walked naked down the stairs. I felt so comfortable, so sure of myself. The world was mine. I was looking for the girl. I wanted to know her name and to tell her how much in love I was.
            Was she 'positive' is that why she didn't care? I thought and how did we know each other? It was all a dim memory as if my life was an old movie I saw long ago. As if I was remembering things that did not happen to me, as if I was someone else, or many someones. I saw that the front door was open so I stepped outside. The sun shone on me with glistening light, but it was not warm. I felt serene and at peace.
            Then I began screaming.
            At the bottom of the front steps, partially covered with dead leaves, was a dead body—mine. The position of the neck told me the cause of death. I ran down and noticed the missing step, but this time I did not trip. I felt strange as if I was not really there. I looked closer and the pale look of the dead was unmistakable. I was staring at my very own corpse.
            I ran to the gate. I ran to escape. I ran for my life, for my sanity. 
            The gate was unlocked, but it would not open for me. It felt intensely cold to my hands. It nearly burned me, I am sure, and I realized that I was trapped there by something unseen.
            Am I a ghost? I thought. It was all so unbelievable, this was not how I envisioned death.
            “You will like it here,” the voice of the girl startled me and I turned to her, wide eyed. She was beautiful in the morning sun. Naked, her hair streaming down her shoulders. The sun reflected in her dark eyes. I wept and she took me in her arms. She wept also, her loneliness of one hundred years was over.
            “I have found happiness Derek,” she whispered in my ear. “but why do you weep?”
            “Because I am happy,” I said. I looked deep into her eyes, “Because I am home,” I said and the sun dappled the overgrown garden in golden hues in that haunted place that would be forever my home. 

Raging War by Samantha Seto

Wiping palmfuls of blood
out of my eyes,
snapshot of hundreds of pills,
grim half-dream haze.

My dark-unadapted eye, God-centered.
Paper cranes drift from the ceiling,
red ribbons wrap around painted birds.
Faint voice emerges, I glower.

She’s so different, so useless.
They scream, ashamed of me.
Don’t burden her, she’s barely there.
Muffled tears behind heavy breaths.

Misty hospital smells comfort me in dark green walls,
never able to concentrate.
Taste bitter salt in the smell of linen,
my mother whispers.

Stay here, listen to me, awaken.
Reach my hand out, I imagine her:
Dark, nebulous iris, black shawls,
wrinkled hair, face of shadow moon.

Get a grip on reality, I remind myself.
I shrink at the words spoken, strain my voice.
Why must I be so deprived, a nothing.
She leaves prayer in doctor’s note, paranormal cure.

Dirty water from streets flood windows, steady hallucination.
Someone shoves a blank page in front of me,
I etch the word with paper cut hands,
each letter bleeds through ripped paper - BLIND.

Heads Up by Michael Flanders

     Brom road his stallion down the dirt road leading out of Tarrytown. His horse sped through the night, passing trees that looked like skeletal hands in the light of the moon. He recalled stories his friends spoke of earlier around the fire in the Van Tassel estate, stories where these trees would take on a life of their own, where the dead crept through the shadows on the outskirts of town, where the ghosts of fallen soldiers beckoned for blood, all during the witching hours of the night. These tales made grown men cry mere hours ago, leaving him to question their manhood. They were weak, they were fools, but most of all they weren’t Brom.
     He was a beast in stature, standing six-foot three, with the chiseled features of a statue. His brown hair accentuated his baby blue eyes, yet he was never mistaken for a man of a soft nature. The muscular frame he wore and brute force he demonstrated on a daily basis saw to that. There was no question why Mayor Van Tassel had elected Brom the town vanguard. He was strong, he was able-bodied, and he was the one intended to marry the beautiful Katrina. Not Ichabod. The lanky and superstitious schoolmaster thought he’d make an attempt for Katrina’s hand, it was obvious with how attentive he was to her every word. Leaning in to touch her knee, hanging on each syllable she spoke, didn’t the annoying peasant know that women aren’t meant to be heard, but rather placed upon a mantle like a conquest? In fact, if it hadn’t been for Ichabod’s clumsy flirtations at the party, Brom wouldn’t be riding so hard after him now.
     Coming to a crossroads, the man had to stop for a moment and listen to the night. Complete darkness was kept at bay by splinters of moonlight creeping through the branches and grey clouds overhead. The smell of rain bled into Brom’s nose, hinting that the clouds carried a downpour for later in the evening. Patting the horse, he relaxed its breathing so he could make out which direction Ichabod had gone. There was no way he was going to lose that scrawny excuse of a man, not after his desecration of Brom’s betrothed.
     An eerie silence fell upon the area, interrupted only by the chirp of a cricket. Brom’s horse circled atop the loose dirt, causing a small cloud of dust to build. His eyes penetrated it for a moment, and suddenly Brom found himself seeing things in the forest. No, not things, men. But they seemed less than that. Their features were dressed for the grave, their mannerisms, mindless. One in particular stood out, drawing Brom’s attention to the object dangling from its mouth. Could it be a wild hare which the man chewed upon? Would the liquid dripping from his mouth be blood? Was the animal still alive? Unsettled, Brom shook these thoughts away. His task was Ichabod, and besides, the dust had dissipated; now nothing appeared where he was just looking.
     The faint sound of hooves made Brom break for the right, nudging his horse forward and taking off like a cannonball. The cape he wore tugged at his neck, making him rethink the whole costume idea only for a second. Yes, he wanted to scare Ichabod, and he could’ve easily done that without the aid of theatrics, but somehow the idea of making Ichabod believe the fabled Horseman rose from the depths of Hell to claim his head was too good to dismiss.
     The Horseman. What was so scary about a decapitated man riding nightly in search of a head to replace his? To Brom, there was no reason to be afraid. He didn’t buy into the story. If it could bleed, it could die. After that, The Almighty takes care of the rest. There were no such things as ghosts, goblins, or horsemen of the headless variety. It’s all just men and their imaginations, as he experienced only a moment ago. But Ichabod seemed to think differently, hence why Brom was now clad as the ghostly rider.
     His horse continued its charge as a figure appeared in the distance. He kicked at its sides, spurring it to run faster. Ichabod was in his sights and he wouldn’t let him get away. The horse lunged forward, suddenly propelled by an unnatural force. Brom’s cape bellowed wildly in the wind with the new burst of speed, but it got caught on a lone tree branch, yanking it from his person. Was it a branch, Brom thought, or a boney claw reaching out for me? He immediately dismissed the idea, he wouldn’t let his mind be clouded by such nonsense again.
     Ichabod couldn’t have been more than twenty feet ahead now. Brom grinned for a moment at the thought of his actions. Sure, part of his costume was gone, but they’re both riding too fast to drink in all the details. Brom was eager to scare the piss out of the poor man. He didn’t need a cape for that.
     Pulling alongside the schoolmaster, Brom had to prepare himself. He wanted to laugh right now, laugh at how pale the poor man would turn once he saw a ghost riding beside him. Brom looked to Ichabod, and as he spoke he found that all together he lost his words. Ichabod had no head.
     His gaze unwavering, Brom realized he wasn’t looking at the dismembered body of Ichabod Crane, but rather the ghostly form his friends had described earlier in their tale of the Headless Horseman. He was muscular, tall in stature even with having his head severed, and he wore the bloody war garments of years gone by. The unsettling part of looking at this man -a man? Or the Devil on horseback?- wasn’t that he possessed no head, but rather that even with missing this important part of the human body it still seemed he was looking back at Brom.
     A flash of metal and Brom realized he was on the ground. He blinked a few times to make sure he wasn’t dreaming and went to collect his bearings. He tried to move his hands, he tried to push himself upward, but found that he couldn’t feel his arms at all. It was at this moment Brom saw the Horseman ride off in the distance, followed by his own horse…with his own body still riding along. A dreadful revelation took hold of Brom’s mind, but only for a moment. You see, a head can only stay alive so long once it’s been removed from the body…
The End

The Harbinger by Michael Flanders

I swiped with my ax and chopped the thing in two. Liam wiped away the debris and placed another log on the block, holding it steady for me.
     “Are you ready,” I asked with a grin on my face. “This one’s gonna come fast.”
     Liam looked up at me with his baby blue eyes, returning my smile with a smirk of his own. “Ready!”
     I dropped the blade and Liam quickly threw himself backwards, letting another log feel the wrath of my ax. It was right after this we both heard a voice.
     “Come one, come all! You’re about to witness the greatest show of them all!”
     I picked up Liam and slung him over my shoulders. Even up there he couldn’t tell me who was calling out, so we headed closer to the sound. A few steps later we saw the feint image of a man walking up the dirt road leading into town. He repeated his chant, causing Liam to become excited.
     “Is it the circus, daddy? Can we go?” asked Liam.
     “No, Liam. There’s something off about this. The circus isn’t due for another month’s time,” I told him. “Head back home, I’ll meet you there once I find out what’s going on.”
     The boy took on a look of sadness. “But dad-“ he started.
     “No buts. Get home now.”
     I loved my son to death, yet he looked so pitiful and hopeless when I asked him to do something against his wishes. He bowed his head and slowly shuffled off, making it a point to stir up dirt by dragging his feet.
     “Come one, come all! You’re about to witness the greatest show of them all!”
     I turned my attention back to the chanting. The unknown herald strolled through the streets in his top hat and trench coat, reciting this phrase until a small crowd trailed behind him. Upon first glance he looked almost like a ring master, twirling a cane between his bony fingers and walking with an unmatched bravado. Closer inspection revealed a skeletal man in dirty attire, his hat covered with grime and burns, his coat dingy and tattered.
     Yet people flocked to him, unflinching. They were mesmerized with his presence, his ability to be confident even though his appearance was that of an abused vagrant. He rallied more and more of my fellow neighbors with every stride, none of them seeming to care about following this odd stranger. And even now I must admit curiosity got the better of me, for I fell into the crowd. Yes, I became one of the sheep being led by the shepherd, or perhaps it’s better to say I was one of the cattle being led to the butcher… We all stopped in the center of town.
     “Thank you all for joining me on such a glorious day,” said the top-hatted man. “I have much to tell you and much more to show you if timing permits. That’s the funny thing about time though, we always take it for granted, assuming we have as much as we need and it’ll never run out.”
     People in the crowd started to chatter amongst themselves, and then the arousal of suspicion came. “Where’s the rest of your circus folk?”, “Is there a bearded lady?”, “If it’s a cure-all you’re sellin’, I ain’t buyin’!” How na├»ve we all were.
     The man danced around the statue built as a landmarker for the town’s founding father, twirling about as if light as a feather. He was carefree, he was high-spirited, yet he remained enigmatic. His hat hid his eyes from us all, and a man’s eyes defined him. How could we tell, how could I tell what his true intentions were?
     “Now, now my friends. This gathering is nothing of that sort. It’s more just a test of time against your will. That being said, I’m a fair creature. How does one hour sound?” the man asked while finally standing still on the base of the statue.
     More suspicion came from the crowd. The chatter turned almost frenzied with the level of confusion rising. Finally Old Man Jones spoke up. He wasn’t anyone special in the town, just your average farmer who wanted to know what the hell was going on.
     “What’re ya talkin’ about, sonny? An hour for what?” sputtered out Old Man Jones. He wasn’t a poet, but at least he was direct.
     The top-hatted man used his cane to push up the brim which concealed his eyes. It was unbelievable at first, something the whole town obviously didn’t expect. A crimson pair of orbs were staring out over the town where human eyes should’ve been. To say we all questioned our faith at that moment would be an understatement.
     “My dear man, I’m giving you and your town one hour to make the greatest decision of all. Die, or give me one of your children,” the man grinned from ear to ear, revealing a set of razor teeth one could only describe as snake-like.
     Something in Old Man Jones must’ve had it with this guy, because he pulled out his pocket knife and ran at the demonic vagrant. He slashed at the person, tearing loose clothing, flesh and blood. The man simply grabbed Jones, gripping him by the wrist, and lifted him off the ground. He pushed his hat back a little further, letting locks of black hair fall over the sides of his face. He looked to Jones, then to the awestruck audience.
     “I was hoping a demonstration wasn’t in order. As I’ve said, I’m a fair creature. Had you brought what I asked for, this man would’ve lived. Sadly though…” the man’s words stopped there. Jones was kicking and struggling to get away from the top-hatted individual, but he seemed to possess a supernatural strength. This power was used to keep the feeble farmer levitated above the crowd. Yet this was only the beginning of our “demonstration,” for a burst of fire erupted from the chest of Old Man Jones. Flames swallowed his entire body, covering him in a blanketed inferno. It all happened so fast, I still don’t think he even had a chance to scream. The man held Jones in the air for what felt like an eternity, then dropped his charred corpse to the ground. He dusted off his hands and held them out to the crowd.
     “One hour, my friends. This is how long you’ve been given to satisfy my appetite. A moment longer will produce consequences such as this. Or this.”
     The man snapped his fingers and all of our livestock fenced around town lit up just as Old Man Jones did. The chickens ran around like soundless flaming spirits, the cattle went mad, bumping into each other like silent towers of smoldering meat. He clapped his hands together and all the fires around town went out, our animals fell to the ground as lifeless chunks of charcoal. Jumping from the base, the man worked his way through the crowd, strolling past all the villagers who dared not to be touched.
     He stopped just on the outskirts of the group and turned to us. “Find me at the tavern in an hour’s time. Remember my dear audience, don’t be late.” He propped his cane over his shoulder and began to strut off.
     “Who are you?” a voice from the crowd called.
     The man halted his steps and slowly looked back to us. He wore an evil smile upon his face, as if delighted to answer the unknown person who questioned him. “I am the Harbinger of Fate, the Herald of Chaos. Death is my servant and my curse. Be warned, I am an Agent of Strife and your life is forfeit if we meet again after today.” He directed his attention back to the road leading to the tavern and picked up his course once more. Soon he disappeared from our eyesight and we were left in a state of utter panic.
     The silence was deafening. We all stared at each other for moments, wasting the now precious gift we’d been given by “The Harbinger.” Mouths hung open, eyes shifted between husbands, wives and loved ones. It’s not known who spoke first, but finally someone asked “What are we going to do,” and the town went mad. I tried to get my bearings and talk to everyone rationally, but my attempts were in vain. It’s hard to gather the thoughts and ideas of a mob in fear for their lives, or the lives of their children. Eventually it got frustrating.
     I mounted the same statue The Harbinger stood mere moments ago. “Alright everyone, shut the hell up and listen! This man is a worker of Satan! He is too powerful for us to take in a fight! Yet we are servants of the Lord, and that adds speed to our flight from here! Gather your families, your belongings, anything of value and flee! Flee for your lives!”
     At once the crowd broke for their houses, and I followed in suite. I kicked open the door to my hut and began looking for my son. “Liam!” I shouted. “Liam, where are you?!” I must’ve ran through the place a half dozen times before the screams came from outside.
     “We can’t leave! Oh dear God, we can’t leave!” I heard as I rushed back to the crowd now gathered again. Widow Timbleton was surrounded by everyone, sobbing on her knees. “I had no one… no one left to run away with. I flew for the entrance to town and was knocked back by a sightless wall. We’re trapped! The Devil has us!”
     Immediately we left the hysterical woman to her cries so we could investigate this invisible force keeping us in the town. Father O’Riley was there probing at nothingness when we arrived. We stared in awe, unsure of what we were seeing exactly. There was absolutely no wall there, yet each of us took a turn pushing against the barrier.
     “We are all damned,” said Father O’Riley. “The Lord is smiting us for our sins.”
     I looked at my fellow villagers, neighbors, friends, and saw the frenzy they were in. They all seemed to believe a way out was possible, if they could only find it. Each one now groped at different parts of the wall, hoping against hope there was an escape from the Hell which was now our home. I removed myself from the group, running back to my house to find Liam. There was only forty minutes left before the judgment of The Harbinger was brought down, and I wanted to make sure my son was safely hidden from the sorcery of this mad man…
* * *
     Five minutes remained. The town was in utter chaos. Neighbors bickered between one another, blaming each other for this blight. Some even wanted to offer up the children of their former friends in order to appease The Harbinger. Our once quaint town of farmers and tranquility had become an asylum for the wrathful and the damned. Everyone’s true colors started to show, yet I remained uncaring. Liam was still missing and I felt completely helpless. There was now three minutes left.
     It was a difficult decision to come to, but I seemed to be the only person left in town with some sort of sanity (or perhaps it was insanity). I decided to approach The Harbinger and reason with him. It was the only thing to do. Either that or let the whole village burn without so much as an attempt to save it. I didn’t care about the inhabitants. It was Liam I was doing this for. I rushed to the tavern to meet with the top-hatted man.
     I burst through the doors of the tavern and was met with a shocking surprise. Liam was sitting with The Harbinger. The two were at a table with their backs to me, the man downing a shot of whiskey while my son spoke.
     “And you were able to trap the tiger?” Liam asked with amazement in his voice.
     The Harbinger nodded an affirmation and laughed. “It wasn’t as difficult as it sounds. Someone like me is… capable of so much more than taming simple creatures.”
     I slowly worked my way into the tavern, trying not to draw attention to myself. It was a poor effort though, because Liam quickly turned around as I stepped on a loose board that squeaked.
     “Dad!” the boy shouted as he sprang from his chair to hug me. “Dad, this is my friend! He’s caught a tiger before!”
     The Harbinger rose to his feet, smiling at the look of fear on my face. I fed into Liam’s awe, trying to keep the situation from getting worse. “Really, son? That’s good. I’ve seen your friend though, and know some of his… special skills.” The man laughed.
     “Oh Connor, I must tell you Liam here is quite the treat. I thank you for offering me some company while you and your fellow townspeople discussed my proposition. Tell me, have you all reached a decision yet?” He dropped his brow and narrowed his red eyes at me.
     “Why are you doing this,” I begged. “Are you the Devil?”
     The Harbinger became enraged. “How dare you compare me to such a paltry being! I belong to no religion, for I am older than them all! God, the Devil, they are all pawns as far as I’m concerned.” Flames began to ring around his eyes. “Now make your choice.”
     I became frightened, pulling Liam closer to me. “We have no choice. You didn’t give us enough time-“
     “Time does not matter! You were given instructions! I made it clear what would happen if my demands weren’t meant!” The Harbinger lifted his hand.
     “Wait! Take me! Spare the village, spare my son, you can have me!” I shoved Liam behind myself and dropped to my knees.
     At first I couldn’t tell if he was contemplating it, or if he was merely drinking in my shame for his amusement. He walked around me for a moment, looking me up and down. He worked his way back to the front of me and stood frozen for what felt like an eternity. Suddenly he snapped and Liam was set ablaze.
     “No!!!” I shouted! I threw myself on Liam, trying to douse the fire which magically consumed him, yet I was thrown from the flames. I couldn’t bear the heat, and I laid on the floor now crippled, watching my poor son dance his life away in helpless torment. His soundless body dropped to the floor after five minutes of being on fire.
     As if Liam’s corpse hitting the floor was his cue, The Harbinger gripped me by my throat and lifted me into the air. “I didn’t ask for you! Telling a whole town to choose between a man or its survival is trivial. They’ll choose the man every time. Telling a town to choose between itself and a child is a completely different beast entirely. That’s when the chaos ensues…” He stared at me with intensity, choking the life out of me.
     I don’t know what compelled me to ask, or how I even mustered up the strength to do so, but I guess I had to know, “Why… why create… chaos?”
     Immediately he dropped me, allowing my lungs to fill up with air once more. He grabbed his cane and made his way to the front of the tavern. He looked back at me and smirked. “Why create chaos? Isn’t it obvious? It’s what I live for, it’s what fuels me. Chaos is older than time itself, I’m older than time itself. But I didn’t get to be that way by just sitting idly by. Sometimes you need to be the fire-starter.” He kept the grin on his face as he snapped his fingers again. I could hear fires erupting all over town. “Remember, if we meet again I will kill you.” Those were his parting words as he exited the tavern, and then I passed out.
* * *
     I don’t know how I made it out of the town, or even why I wanted to live after seeing my son die, but things happen for a reason I suppose. I’m living in a new town, far from where Hell had been brought to life. I’m all but useless now, my arms and legs rendered immovable by trying to help Liam. Yet I get by, the town has accepted me as an eccentric of sorts, paying to tell them tales of the so-called Harbinger. However, they all failed to heed my warning as soon as the words “Come one, come all! You’re about to witness the greatest show of them all!” bellowed through the streets. They flocked just as we did all those years ago…