Arachnid Gift

A Morbid Tale by Jessica Marie Baumgartner

Old age plagues my body. I am stiff, sensitive, and rotting.

I stomp through my own shit to reach my feeding trough. The wood beams creak under the weight of my body and I lean forward to poke around molded piles of leftover food. My clouded vision makes everything run together. I close my eyes ignoring the pain in my stomach. It increases with each slurp and I think back over my long life.

I remember how she saved me. Loneliness increased under a looming fear of death, until I met her. The farm had always been a place of fear for pigs like me, but she weaved her web to call attention to my worth. In her eyes I was a creature worth saving.

Never once did she plea to be rescued from the engulfing embrace of the end. Did she know something I didn’t? It seemed so easy for her to let go.

Maybe she understood the struggle of survival. She saved me and I loved her for it, but now I loathe my existence. The ache in my bones is unbearable. My hooves are cracked like the paint on the barn. “Ouch!” I stumble against a beam and a splinter pierces my skin.

“Are you hurt?” Estelle asks.

“Leave me be.” The lasting generations of spiders have too much spirit. I don’t bother to make friends anymore. The sows that touched my heart are all gone. My piglets have been butchered and eaten. Most of the animals I knew in my youth are dead.

Estelle is the only one who continues to talk to me. Blood sucking creatures all need a distraction from their heinous acts and that’s all I am. It’s all I ever was.

She slides down a spindle of thread. “Let me sing you a song.”

“Save it for your next victim. I’ve heard every spider’s song. You are no different. You’ll leave me. They all leave me.”

She ignores my grunting and hums a melody. My legs give out beneath me. My chin smacks the ground so hard I refuse to move. Her song does not sooth the pain, but it does remind me of my younger days.

I once frolicked in manure, kicked up my heels in the sweep of a strong breeze. There were conversations to be had, new animals to make acquaintance. The warmth of love wrapped itself around me in the shape of new birth, but it was severed with the turn of each season. “I would have rather been butchered,” I cry out.

Estelle falls silent. She drops low enough to swing against my ear. Her little legs make my heart pound against my ribcage. She climbs over my cheek to perch on my nose and stares at me. “I wish I could make you feel better.”

“Why?” I grunt.

“Because you’re my friend.”

I glare at her youthful smile. “I have witnessed births and slaughter. The farmer promised I would live, nothing more. I am still alive; if this can be called living. I wake, I eat, I vomit, and sleep.”

“You were gifted a full life. When the chill of winter strikes, my body will shrivel. I will die. No one can save me.”

“No one can save any of us.” I snort “Your ancestor merely prolonged the inevitable.”

“Because it was your wish and she loved you.”

I find the strength to roll over, hoping to shake her off me. She redirects her steps and rests on my cheek. I sigh and wince at the prickles that rise with the breath. “I hate her now.”

“No.”

I blink at Estelle. She has never contradicted me before. “Soon I’ll follow, but it doesn’t frighten me.”

“It should.” A tear slides from my eye.

“I would rather enjoy what time I have than lamenting what I lost.”

“You are young.”

She slides off my face and releases a string to lower herself to the ground. “Maybe I am young, but I am not as foolish as some.” She glances back at me before she leaves. “I will never have the luxury of growing old. You were given a wondrous gift and you have squandered it.”

“Your predecessor would never have spoken to me so.” I feel the lie burn in my throat, but Estelle has gone. I force myself to my feet. “Wait.”

She scurries up the wall of the barn and stops.

“You have been good to me.” The tears pour down my cheeks like the day my best friend died.

“Sometimes friendship is all we have.” She nods.

I offer her a smile. The love in my heart seems to warm all my senses. Her blurry figure comes into sight and I heave my body against the wood frame, crushing the life out of her. “It is better this way.” I sob. “Best to die full of hope than rotting in misery.”


Jessica is the author of the Embracing Entropy Series (the 1st book of which, won a Summer Indie Book Award), Siren’s Snare, Tale of Two Bookends, and My Family Is Different. Her stories have been featured by publications such as “Everyday Fiction,” “The Lorelei Signal,” “Fiction on the Web,” and many others. Check her out at www.jessicamariebaumgartner.com

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Just Enough Brains

A Macabre Tale by Steve Sibra

Every animal has just enough brains to preserve its own hide – dead or alive.

 It took Adrian a year to learn how to properly skin a human being.  He studied on the process and then he practiced.  There were quite a few setbacks.  But eventually he got it down.

 Now tanning the hide, that was even more difficult.  First it had to be carefully dried; then he used a mixture composed of dog shit, cow shit and his own urine in order to soak it and massage it and soften it.  Over time this would remove the hair follicles as well . . . but he had to let it all sit and soak.  Sometimes for months.  He had to be able to scrape the hide without damaging it.  It took lots of practice.  Lots and lots of practice.  But his mother had always been so happy with how good he was with his hands.  So this accomplishment gave him great pride and satisfaction.

 One of the final steps was to add the brains to the mixture.  Cedar oil was a good tanning agent when he could get it.  The mixture of feces, urine, brains and other ingredients would sit with the skins soaking in it for many, many weeks.  It did not smell pleasant.  Adrian could never get the smell off himself.  Another reason to just stay away from people who were still alive.

 Or if he encountered them — another reason to not let them live for long.  They would always complain.

 Doing the skin from the head, the scalp and face – – this was the most difficult to maneuver through the tanning process.  But for Adrian, it was the most rewarding and the only part he truly loved.  If he did his job right, when he was done he could stretch the skin of the person’s head over his own.  He could position the eyes and nose holes, and the mouth, to match his own facial features. 

 Adrian would prance around the shack, naked except for the face of his victim.  He would imitate the voice of the person whose face he was wearing.  Late at night the sounds of high pitched squeals emanated from the rickety building.  The birds and raccoons would never approach the place.

 “Oh my God!  Oh my sweet God!” Adrian would mimic the pathetic creatures.  “Please don’t kill me!  Oh God oh no, please!  Please!  I will do anything!  What do you want?  What do you want from me?”

 Adrian danced in the moonlight that came through the window.  His erection jutted out in front of his lean body casting a shadow across the wall. 

 Adrian had everything that he wanted from them.  All of them.  When he wanted to be another person he just took off one hood and hung it on a nail.  Then he would choose another.  A new one, and pull that person onto himself.

 Adrian was content.  He had it all.  He thought of it as using others to bring out the best in himself.  God had placed many beings inside of him.  Now he was able to dress himself for each of them.


STEVE SIBRA grew up on a farm in eastern Montana where the earth was dry and there were snakes and bugs everywhere you looked.  After college he embraced the world of monsters through his childhood fascination with comic books, which he turned into a career.  His writings have appeared in numerous literary journals and he regularly reads his work at various venues in the greater Seattle area.

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Breaking Point

A Twisted Tale by Tom J Perrin

“Olsson, what the fuck is that meagre excuse for a report?”

Meet James ‘Jim’ Olsson, a 40 something seemingly stuck in a dead end finance job like many others, and with a complete cunt for a boss. Like millions of others worldwide, Jim’s Monday morning started with a dressing down from a ‘superior’. Jim’s boss is a younger man called Mikey. Mikey hasn’t lost most of his hair, and Mikey also apparently spends a lot more money on his suits than Jim does or can. He hadn’t taken to ‘Olsson’ from the first day that he started working at SJH Finance, a relatively big player in Denver’s financial market. That had been almost 2 years ago now and Jim pondered on a daily basis how he hadn’t kicked the smarmy little fuck to death by now. He could easily overpower him and beat the shit out of him. However, Jim Olsson was a big picture kind of guy and in place of losing his job and becoming blacklisted in the financial world he would instead suffer, smile, nod and pick up his fairly sizable pay check at the end of every month.

Recently, every Monday had started like this. A short walk from his cubicle down the corridor took Jim down the hall to his boss’ plush office. A sofa hugged the wall to the left as you entered, on the right stood a huge bookcase packed full of books on finance, old reports and all other types of stuff. Jim had last week noticed that Mikey had bought in a collection of books by famous French writers such as Georges Perec, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Pretentious prick was Jim’s first thought. He had overheard his boss brag that they were “for decoration”. The huge oak desk was far too grand for its occupant, who preferred to stand and pace the room most of the time anyway, a putting mat lay alongside the desk, underneath the bookcase, balls were scattered amongst it and a putter leant against the bookcase. The American flag and that of the state of Colorado stood behind the desk, and they were flanked by framed certificates and pictures of the boss shaking hands with some famous people, none of whom Jim could quite place. He wouldn’t ask, he didn’t care enough to. The desk was littered with papers, scattered disorderly across its surface. The apple computer stood grand and silent, a lone Starbucks cup and scattered papers lay on the desk now, and Jim recognised it as the report on market trends he’d turned in late on Friday evening. Mikey was walking methodically around the room, firing verbal bullets at Jim as he paced. Jim felt like a naughty schoolchild who had been sent to see the principal, he sat there head bowed, taking all the abuse on board, nodding like a bad child.

“What the fuck happened? I’ve got to send it off this afternoon and you turn in this pathetic pile of horseshit, are you fucking retarded? You’re trying to get us both fired, because if this is designed to fuck me over, you’re coming down with you pathetic sack of spunk…”

“I-I-I…” Jim stuttered, his childhood stammer from childhood had lessened with time, but came back when he was nervous.

“Don’t you dare stutter in front of me, you baby… You’ve got until midday to take this crap and make it something half way presentable, or so help me God I will fuck your life up, Olsson.”

‘I’ll t-t-t-try’

“Do I scare you Olsson?” A perverse and queer smile came across his face. “You can’t help the stutter can you?  Are you going to cry now? Piss yourself?” He laughed to himself “Fuck off out of my office. The clock is ticking”. He dismissed Jim with a wave of the hand and took his seat again. The headmaster had humiliated the pupil and now took his righteous throne, looking smug as fuck. Jim left the room, looking at his feet.

Back in the solace of his cubicle, Jim took off his thick rimmed specs and put them on the keyboard of his computer. He put his head in his hands and fought back the tears that were welling in his eyes. He looked at the clock that showed 9.30am and wondered how on earth he was going to rewrite the report in two and a half hours when it had taken him the best part of two days to complete.
He knew it wasn’t his best work, and would have been able to concentrate better if he hadn’t been called away from work TWICE last week by the police who had found his daughter skipping school again. He had had to go to the cop shop to pick her up. She had been skipping class a lot lately in favour of “hanging out” with a drop out fuck called Scooter. Jim knew very well what hanging out entailed and he didn’t like it one bit. If he ever came across this Scooter guy, he’d rip him apart for corrupting his daughter.

He didn’t fully have a plan, but walking into the bar where all the Bikers hung out, Jim knew what Scooter looked like, and was ready to scare the shit out of him. He felt the reassuring coldness of his Father’s old gun against his hip. His father was never one to take anything lying down. Jim wasn’t a violent man, but the way his life was going, he had absolutely nothing to lose, he was up shit creek without a paddle and had given up trying to paddle with his hands.

“Jack and Coke, double” Jim said, settling down at the bar, looking out of place in his sports jacket and jeans. He spied the group he sought sitting in the corner, and sipped his drink methodically, waiting for the opportune moment.

He sat and pondered what his life had become.

Jim’s wife of twenty years Valerie was having an affair. He knew that for a fact. Jim used to play golf with an ex-pro called Steve before a back problem had put pay to his ambition to become more than useful at his favourite sport. They had been at it for months, and Jim had caught them one night when he was meant to be in Connecticut on business. The conference had been cancelled so he had headed home after all, only to find Steve and his overnight bag in the hall. He had played it off as if he had come around to check up on Jim and offer him a game at the weekend. Valerie however was wearing matching underwear that night, a pleasure never afforded to Jim over the past six years of marriage. Since then things hadn’t been cool but positively ice cold. Valerie was spending more time away from the house than she was in it. He was just waiting for her to do the right thing and fuck off. At least then he’d be left alone in their spacious Centennial town home. That would be nice. All of this was going through his mind as he sat with watching the group, Scooter seemingly the ringleader.

His moment came after around half an hour of waiting, Scooter ambled towards the toilets on his own. Jim saw off the rest of the drink and followed.

“S’up” Scooter nodded at Jim as he walked into the toilets behind him.

His head smashed into the tiles before he could start pissing. Jim smashed it two or three times before holding it there, the blood seeping down the white tiles. “You ever come near my daughter again you little runt and I will kill you. Nod if you understand.”

Scooter nodded. “…and just in case you think I’m bluffing.” Jim took out his Father’s pistol and whipped Scooter around the back of the head with it. He slipped to the floor. Jim was content.

That lasted about a week before his daughter packed her bags and screamed at Jim from behind the locked door. “He knows who you are, you fucking cretin, where you live and where you work, you’d better watch yourself, he’s going to kill you. They DON’T mess around” As she stormed past him and out to Scooter who was waiting, Jim followed and immediately retreated as Scooter came for him. He tripped over his own feet as he back peddled.

Scooter held him by the cuff of the neck. He smirked at Jim. “Not here, this is too easy, old man. We’ll get you, and that’s a promise.”

Since then his Father’s gun had never left his hip or the ankle holster he bought from the gun store on the outskirts of town. The clunky body of the gun was all too evident through his work suits.

He was paranoid, and scared…

But he was also incredibly fucking angry…and ready.

The report was rewritten with some effort and handed in just after midday, as Olsson took off his glasses and again rubbed his aging face, he knew it was a job well done. He wouldn’t get any sense of gratification from that prick down the hall however, he considered going down the hall and slamming the report down on his oversize desk and telling him to shove his attitude and job up his arse. He wouldn’t, of course. He’d love to see that cunt’s face get smashed in with a hammer, his fingers broken one by one while he screamed and cried like a dog. Mikey Malone was the kind of guy who wouldn’t think twice about stabbing you in the back, to people like Malone you were beneath him, nothing more than a mere spread of dog shit on his Italian leather shoes. Jim only now realised how much he hated everything that his boss was. Before he had been nicely plodding along, now however things were feeling so different. Jim felt belittled, his boss was everything he wanted to be, and at half the fucking age. He was the kind of person to get all the attention that shakes all the hands, and that gets his pick of the women. Jim stared longingly towards his superior’s office, a wave of jealously had just swept over him and there was nothing Jim could do to stem it.

The feeling of hatred towards his boss was intensified as Jim made his way past his Boss’ office toward the toilets, the door was slightly open and Jim saw one of his colleagues sitting on the couch, spread and comfortable. Mikey was putting balls on the mat.

“No, the report is fine; I’m just making him do it again because I can. I’m going to make him sweat.” Jim turned his back now to the door. He headed once again back down the hall and back to his cubicle, the anger simmering away in him.


“It’s not good enough” His blank, expressionless face stared directly at Olsson

“W-w-what do you mean?”

“Are you deaf? This is fucking garbage. You think I can send this in in this state?”

“I d-d-don’t un-un-understand”

“What’s not to understand, this report IS SHIT, you’ll have to do it all again”

“I c-c-can’t… There isn’t enough t-t-time”

“Not my problem” He tossed the report and it landed at Olsson’s feet, the pages scattering across the floor. “Do it again, and make it right this time, 5pm tomorrow.”

Olsson just started at his boss, he couldn’t find the words or even process his thoughts right now. He knew the report was fine; more than fine. Jim knew exactly why his boss was doing this, because humiliating Jim was his favourite fucking sport.

“Time is ticking; don’t you think you should be on your way Olsson?”

“I-I-I-I….”

The Starbucks cup hit him on the shoulder, spraying now ice cold coffee over his white shirt and tie. “Get the fuck out of my office, and fucking get working on that report. Why is that so hard to compute? Are you dumb? Christ, no wonder your wife is fucking someone else. Steve isn’t it? I golf with him occasionally.”

Of course you fucking do, Jim thought to himself.

Olsson bent down to reorganize his papers. Something twitched in his mind, his hands dropped the report and before he knew it his hands were in fists.

“Fuck you” He’d said it before he fully knew what he was saying, no trace of a stammer.

“Getting brave aren’t we Olsson?” Mikey stood up and removed his jacket; he started to round his desk, rolling the sleeves of his shirt as he went. That was when he saw the gun being drawn from Olsson’s ankle holster.

The first shot hit him in the shoulder, rocking him backwards. He staggered against his desk. The second, third, fourth and fifth were scattered around the abdomen. After he had rounded on the body, he pressed the gun against his boss’ temple. “Fuck you”.  He pulled the trigger.

Olsson took a deep breath and ejected the magazine from the gun, replacing it with a fresh supply of bullets drawn from his pocket. Upon turning around, he saw that Mikey’s secretary was standing at the window, watching open mouthed. The bullet struck her in the side as she turned to run away, smashing the glass in the process and flinging her pile of papers into the air as she turned to run. Olsson started for the door. As he returned to his cubicle to retrieve his jacket, he waved the gun around the office.

“If anyone moves, they’re next.” After shrugging on his jacket casually, hyper ware of the silence around him he headed for the exit. At the door, he turned to the stunned office and threw his hands up in the air.

“Everyone has a breaking point” He headed for the elevator.

The woman he shot in between floors didn’t know what has happening, she just felt the butt of the gun in her back, the sound was deafening in such a confined space. The lift stopped on the ground floor, Olsson stepped out over the slumped body, holding the gun limply at his side as he went. The security guard wasn’t hard to deal with; he was old and hadn’t even got up from his desk when Olsson shot him between the eyes. He had one bullet left in his gun when he walked through the revolving doors which had proved the gateway to his own private hell for the majority of the last two years of his life. He took a seat on the bench placed outside the offices, heads were turning towards him from all angles, a woman screamed, and children ran away. Olsson pulled out a cigarette and lighter from his jacket pocket. He hadn’t smoked in twenty years, having promised to give up when he married Valerie. He took his first drag on a cigarette for what seemed like forever. It was the sweetest taste on the world. The tar filling his lungs gave him a new appreciation for smoking, if he ever had the chance again, he would smoke a packet a day and to hell with the consequences. He crossed his legs and slouched back into the bench, the gun resting in his lap the whole time. James ‘Jim’ Olsson was, for the first time in a long while, content.


Tom J Perrin has over fifteen short stories published in various places, as well as publications deals for his first novella (Early 2017) and Children’s Novel (Christmas 2016). Chasing the dream both is short and long forms of writing.

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Turning Out Leather

A Twisted Tale by Steve Sibra

I awaken and I sleep and I do not know the difference between the two.  In one realm my wife and children have been brutalized and left to die; they have been sewn up, stitched into leather tubes while still alive.  I hear the screams.  But do I hear them in reality, or in a dream?  I pray it is the dream.  But I cannot tell.

The rhythm of Amber’s screaming lulls me into sleep.  Or am I already there?  I dream that I have gone to the kitchen for some applesauce, only to find that a naughty puppy has eaten all of it.  Or is this real, and the other a dream?

I sleep and I awaken, over and over again.  Some monster is sewing up my wife, just as he sewed up my son and daughter.  They were alive; the heavy leather cords bound them tight as their horrible screams were muffled and finally silenced.  I was asleep through all of it.  I know I was.  And yet I heard it.  I heard the monster doing his work.  I heard him eating my baby’s limbs.  I heard the slobber, the lips smacking.

I awaken to find my wife, my Amber.  At least I think it is her.  It is a dark twisted tube of leather.  It is so thick, so dry.  How is it possible?  I hear footsteps in another room.  I hear a man whistling!  He whistles a tune that I used to enjoy when I worked in my garden, with my tools.  I hear him sawing.  He is using a saw of some sort.  The rhythm of it could put a person to sleep.

I will fall asleep again and when I awaken Amber will be gone.  Then the only one left is me.   Somehow I am making this happen.  There is no one else, there cannot be.  I am turning out leather and it is my wife, my children.  I am sewing buttons over their eyes, using an elaborate stitch that I learned somewhere.  But where?  When?  I fall asleep again and dream of applesauce.  And when I awaken next time . . . I have been made into leather.  I have done it to myself.  I know that I have.  There is no one else. There is no one else.  I must find out what is happening.  I know what I must do, as soon as I am awake.

I am going to find that naughty puppy.  And I am going to sew him up.  I am going to make him into a tight ball of leather.   I am hungry and I really would like some applesauce.


Steve Sibra grew up on a farm in eastern Montana near a town of about 800 people.  He made his own set of encyclopedias in fourth grade.  After dropping out of law school he opened a comic book store and has made his living buying and selling old comic books for over 30 years.  Steve’s poetry chapbook, “The Turtle Is Not A Metaphor”, was published this year by Three Frogs Swimming Press, and his work has appeared in numerous literary journals including Jersey Devil Press and Jawline Review.  He lives in Seattle.

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Installation Pieces

A Twisted Tale by Sarah Beaudette

3,462 people responded to Mitchell’s tweet, all of them asking where to send their donations. Mitchell thanked each person from the bottom of his heart and gave the address of his brother’s cold storage unit in upstate New York.

One month later Mitchell was shivering in a maze of frosty boxes stacked to the ceiling. He picked his way through the crates, boxes, and air mailers of every size and color to the west end of the unit, toward his work table and some precious few feet of floor space. He’d only had a few thousand followers. He’d only been asking for donated materials for his newest sculpture, but something about his tweet struck a nerve with the masses and inspired them to come to his aid. Standing at the work table with apron donned and crowbar in hand, Mitchell knew he was about to become a conduit for a sea change in postmodern art.

The crate he opened first was a rectangular pine box the length of a coffin. The piece inside was whole, almost as big as himself. A block of deep green lake ice. A cluster of bubbles at the surface trailed downward to a woman’s mouth. Mitchell studied her serenely closed eyes, her diaphanous cloud of black hair, her perfectly preserved body. A note on the packing slip read “Don’t know why she’d go out there in April, damn fool woman. We were happy, nigh on 20 years. Can’t keep her like this anymore.”

Mitchell closed his eyes and breathed deeply, tapping the ice with a fingernail. It would take a long time to melt. In the meantime he’d let the ideas percolate. He switched on a heat lamp in the corner and turned to the next package–a thin yellow airmailer from Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Out of it Mitchell pulled a handful of tissue paper, along with what looked like a page of someone’s trigonometry workbook. A scribbled note read: “Dad said to tell u: 5x great grandmother’s ears, cut off 4 witchcraft, 16(??). They gross me out.” Mitchell shook them out of the tissue and pressed each leathery bauble carefully, testing its tensile strength. They’d make perfect knobs or even…ears. An idea thumped its first stuttering heartbeats. Mitchell snatched up the next package.

Inside the plain cardboard box was an expensive lavender hat box. On the silky lining inside it Mitchell found folded sheaths of supple, unmarred skin. Softer than calfskin. Mitchell was too busy lifting it out and arranging it this way and that over the table to see the note that fell on the floor. “Can send more if you want, always have more than I need.”

Mitchell plowed through the heaps of packages, the finished piece’s image now strobing in his brain. Within an hour he had three sets of Chinese women’s toes, enough for replacements if he made a mistake, 36 leather crescents from vaginal circumcisions, and twelve long, smooth femurs. He learned to shake the packages before opening them, and set aside any that sloshed. The fetuses in preserving solution were fascinating, but useless.

With the best pieces of flesh and bone spread out and sparkling with frost on the table, Mitchell was almost ready to start. First, the ice. The woman now lay as if sleeping in a puddle of water on the cement under the lamp. When he crouched to inspect her, his heart sank. The cellulite and age spots made the skin totally incompatible with the hatbox skin. Her bones had knitted unevenly after several violent breaks, and he couldn’t use those either. But the hair. Two feet long and thick, it shone in the dull red light. He cut it off with a pair of kitchen shears.

As the afternoon wore on, Mitchell had to discard many pieces that didn’t fit. Even with these setbacks, the piece took shape quickly under his fingers. After eight hours of bloody, sweaty work with boxcutters, nails, sutures, and a butcher’s mallet, he stretched his arms and rolled his neck. Finished. He turned on his phone for the first time since the last tweet in which he’d thanked everyone before going off the grid for a month of contemplation. Mitchell framed the piece in his screen. It was stunning; it would make his career. He’d been caught up in a fateful maelstrom that called to him even now in the January snowstorm raging outside. It was a completely new medium.

He snapped a photo to post. The outer construct was a cabinet, as he’d intended: a slanting box the size of a microwave, faultless skin stretched over powerful bones. Four smaller books fit inside it, each book with two flattish lids splayed open to reveal the third and smallest level: four tiny, humanoid dolls. It was better than he’d hoped: visceral, disturbing, vaguely threatening.

Mitchell opened Instagram to post the photo. He blinked. And blinked again. The very day he’d gone off the grid, people had started posting snaps of their own pieces inspired by his idea. Hundreds: many better than his, made in much less time, most of them by women using parts of their own bodies. One photo showed a bridge across the Snake River constructed entirely from women’s bodies wrapped with barbed wire. Its beams were covered by a fuzzy down of fingers and shags of escaping hair. Hair bandages around a small child’s cut finger. Kitchen witches dripping onto countertops. Garden paths sparkling ruby red next to homemade signposts. 3 Mexican Blend Fertilizer Will Help Your Garden Grow. Lumpy pregnant scarecrows hanging their heads in warning next to the revolving doors at the entrance of the Goldman Sachs tower in Jersey. A full size replica of the White House built with disinterred bones and covered in what looked like brown paint. Caption: 500 billion pints to get here.

Outside, stumbling through white drifts that threatened to engulf him, Mitchell dropped the last of the donations into a row of dumpsters. When he was finished and nearly frozen through, he placed the cabinet gently on top and made the three hour drive back to his apartment in Newark. For a year he rarely went outside. He couldn’t walk under a fire escape without carrying an umbrella to shield himself against the blood that rained like April showers–behind every closed apartment door was a work in progress. When he took his dog Trixie for a walk in the park, he had to watch out for pairs of gray feet that jutted into the path from under bushes and threatened to trip him up. People were calling them “installation pieces.”

On the tweet’s four-year anniversary, Mitchell finally accepted an interview request. He wanted to provide some context. He wanted a modicum of recognition.
Over Skype, the journalist asked him how it all started. Mitchell didn’t know why he answered the way he did, but it seemed to be what she wanted to hear. “Well, Candy,” he said, “I went to a number of women’s groups.”

The journalist nodded enthusiastically. Her lips parted in a carnival rictus that made Mitchell grimace, but he pressed on. He needed to explain.

“It was a conduit situation, starting with my tweet…”

She chuckled. Hiccupped. Erupted in outright guffaws. Mitchell waited politely but the journalist couldn’t control herself–the laughter fell out of her like a clown vomiting scarves.

Mitchell stared at the pinpoint scars encircling the woman’s mouth. She’d shrugged offhandedly when he’d asked about them during the smalltalk at the beginning of the interview. It was a college project she’d done when the movement first started, stitching her lips together.  As she laughed the white dots stretched wider and Mitchell couldn’t look away. An unnameable fear blanketed his organs in dead grass and clogged his throat with wasp nest paper.

He wanted to go home. He wanted to forget the whole goddamned thing–but the journalist just kept laughing.


Sarah Beaudette is a nomadic writer currently living in Mexico. She spends her time deciphering subway maps in foreign languages, drinking strong coffee, and reading gorgeous horror. You can find her fiction at NYC Midnight and Necessary fiction, and her travel writing at theluxpats.com.

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Vanity Kills

A Terrible Tale by Tom J Perrin

Selfie
/’sεlfi’/
Noun     Informal
A photograph that one takes of oneself, typically taken with a smartphone or webcam, and shared via Social Media

The familiar click of the camera’s shutter annoyed everyone at the table, but Chelsea didn’t care as she pouted furiously at her phone, annoyed at the standard of the selfie she’d just taken. Arching her arm above her and smiling, she experimented with various props before taking the shot. She took another shot, posing quizzically while pretending to take a bite out of her sandwich.  It’d do. She set about immediately sharing the picture around her various social media accounts, clicking away rapidly, oblivious to the fact that her social circle were actually gathered around her.

“Did you really just take a fucking picture of yourself eating a cheese sandwich?” Luke asked from the other side of the table.

“I wasn’t actually eating it Luke, Goddd…” She replied, “You’re so dumb sometimes”.

“Coming from the girl who takes the same picture thousands of times, and actually believes they are any different.”

“They ARE different. I’m wearing different clothes, my hair is different, and the weather is different…dummy.”

“Whatever, Lacey” Luke sneered, his attention back on his food.

His use of her nickname was a subtle indicator that the conversation was over. She absolutely hated people using it. Between them, they’d decided that it was the best possible way to get her to shut up. The story of how that nickname came about embarrassed her.

The short and sweet version is that she was caught fooling around in the boy’s changing room and her black lace pants were laying discarded on a clothes peg. Naturally, the story spread like wildfire and the nickname quickly stuck. It gave her cult status around school, and she frequently found herself invited around ‘for cuddles’. A quick read of her Twitter profile made it clear that she thought that ‘cuddles and selfies are all a girl needs to be happy’.

“Fuck you, Luke” she threw her sandwich down on her tray, stray cheese spraying the table.

“Don’t you mean cuddle?”

With that she stormed away from the table. Luke laughed to himself; he’d been there with Chelsea and now enjoyed ribbing her. There were a few wry smiles around the table. Luke picked up his phone.

“Oh man, #LunchtimeSelfie,” he said aloud, “I’m going to give this a little like.” He laughed to himself, this time the entire table joined in.

A quick search on Chelsea Broughton’s Instagram page tells you that she has posted some three hundred and forty-nine times, has three hundred and twelve followers and is currently following 2.7k people. The short bio reads ‘Chelsea, 18, Disney, Cuddles, Selfies’. Below there is a veritable mix of selfies, ill-advised pictures of her with other boys and older pictures that are labelled with #TBT. The 2.7k people she follows comprises of celebs, friends from school and just about everyone else in the world. Her pictures are greeted with comments from guys worldwide; they started off complimentary but have quickly fallen into the degrading. Chelsea doesn’t seem to mind though, and responds equally to every picture with an emoticon with hearts for eyes.

“She’s a selfie slut” Luke put it to their group a while back.

“An Insta whore” Mark quipped.

“Instant whore if you ask the football team!” Luke added.

The laughter at the table only died down when Chelsea sat down at the table, oblivious to the subject matter of the laughter.

The fayre had arrived in Vacaville and now stood proudly in the center of town. A smorgasbord of bright lights and repetitive music, it was the talk of the town for the three weeks it would take up residence. The whirl of the rollercoasters brought joyful and sometimes genuine screams, the clearly fixed coconut shy and hook ‘em ducks brought hoots of derision and the dodgems provided the musical overture to the piece, the steady hum of electricity that was underpinned by the crashing of bumper on bumper. The whole scene was further enhanced by the wafting smell of cotton candy and hot dogs, the staple diet of the fayre dwellers. Hidden away in the far corner of the grounds was the small arcade, awash with slot machines, air hockey tables and driving simulators.

Chelsea came stumbling out of the bushes behind the arcade, her hair a mess and her low cut top riding high just below her ample breasts. She japed at the corner of her mouth with her tee shirt, wiping away the stray semen; she adjusted herself in the small pocket mirror and started to reapply her red lipstick. From behind her came the captain of the football team, Jono, he was buttoning up the front of his jeans and walked by her without so much as an acknowledgement. He disappeared into the swelling first week crowds without a glance back or even a quick ‘thanks for the suck job, babe’.

Chelsea sighed to herself and leaded into the arcade where a group of teens were clustered around the pinball machines, flipping furiously through a flurry of lights and sounds. She spied the gypsy fortune teller machine hidden in the corner. ‘Your future told for just $1’ the sign read, the dust covering the machine gave it a sinister edge. Chelsea pulled the bill out of her back jean pocket and fed it into the machine. The mummy’s eyes lit up and the mouth began to open and close rhythmically as it warned the recipient of the card of the true and powerful nature of the gypsy’s predictions. This washed over Chelsea as she waited for the card to drop out; she was washing her tongue over her teeth, trying to rid her mouth of the salty aftertaste. The card jutted out of the bottom of the machine with a puff of smoke and the gypsy fell silent again. She took the card.

Your vanity will kill you, with every flash of your camera, you have lost a part of your soul, be warned that there is no going back. Beware of the bright light.

“What a load of garbage,” she said to herself, idly shoving the card into her back pocket. She took a picture of herself next to the gypsy, the flash making her blink. A voice came from just outside the arcades.

“Hey, Laceypants.”

It was Giano, the kicker for the football team. He smiled at her and held out a small bottle of vodka to her. She walked over and took a sip from the bottle before handing it back.

“Want to take a little walk with me, sexy?” He asked.

She took his hand and the walk lasted two minutes, to the exact same clearing where she’d been ten minutes earlier with Jono, and as her knees settled into the moist ground, the card jutted out of her back pocket, all but forgotten.

“Argh, pop already, you motherfucker,” Chelsea squealed into the mirror
The spot wouldn’t budge however, no matter how hard she squeezed it between her thumb and index finger.  The spot on the end of her nose only continued to glow an angry red. It hadn’t been there last night at the fayre, it looked fresh and had thrown her morning into disarray, and not even a pin prick could penetrate the tough outer skin of the spot. She growled in the pit of her throat and stomped her foot like a petulant child.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid.” She was bemoaning herself for letting Giano come on her face yesterday, the link between her salty face full and this morning’s spot all too obvious to ignore.

The flash of the camera made her blink, it somehow seemed brighter. The tag line on this picture was ‘time to cover up this bad boy for a few days’ with Chelsea striking a sad face pose.

On the bed side table, the card from the fortune machine sat in the midst of a cluttering of books and non-essential junk.

Two weeks later

“What the actual fuck!!” Luke stressed every word as he stared at Chelsea across the table, she’d just silently plopped herself down onto the table.

Underneath the Patriots cap, her hair was unusually pulled all the way back in a tight ponytail as she tried to hide the greys that were starting to show through her natural colour. She tried to dye her hair last night and awoke expecting a natural glow again, but her hair actually seemed a more prominent shade of grey than it had the night before.

The spot on her nose was still there, still blood red but it had now been joined by thirteen more, just as big, just as ugly and just as puss filled.

“I’m not in the mood Luke, can it,” she muttered looking up, barely audible.

She blinked against the flash of his camera

“Just going to pop this on Instagram…hang on, hashtag more spots than a Dalmatian.” He sneered across the table at her, his eyes meeting hers for a split second. She looked haggard. He began to click away on his phone.

“FUCK YOU.” she threw her tray across the table at him, the pasta and salad spilling into his lap, she looked around at the people who were now looking her way. She took off the Patriots cap and threw it down before getting up, standing atop the table and addressing everyone in the canteen. “Fuck ALL of you, you want to mock me, go right ahead, I’ve got a face full of spots that won’t quit and my hair is going grey at eighteen, my skin is wrinkling and I AM FUCKING UGLY…go ahead, mock, take a fucking picture if you’d prefer.”

Several people did, the flashes of the cameras made her blink against the bright lights. Luke thought to himself that if she were to start swotting away the cameras, she’d be like a spotty King Kong, just maybe with bigger nostrils.

Eventually she broke down in a flood of tears and ran from the canteen, her shrieks filling the empty corridors as she fled.

“Well, that escalated quickly,” Luke said to himself, brushing the errant food off of him and taking a sip of his root beer.

Chelsea sat in the shower, the scalding hot water barely registering as she scrubbed viciously at her face, the spots oozing puss down her face. Large clumps of her hair had fallen out, and were beginning to block the drain. As she scrubbed even harder, she screamed shrilly as a chunk of her face came off in her hands and fell to the shower floor with a moist slap. The blood cascading from the hole in her face joined everything else racing towards the drain.

She clambered out of the shower and screamed as she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She was now ninety-eight percent bald, with only the occasional strands of hair sticking to her pink scalp. Her face had a hole in it just below the left cheekbone and the spots had all burst and puss slowly oozed down her face.

She ran to her bedroom and snatched up the gypsy’s card and sprinted from the house, wearing only her robe. She covered the distance between her house and the fayre in a little over ten minutes, her feet bloody from running on blacktop. As the fayre was winding down, the crowd was sparse but there were still enough people to be startled by the sight of Chelsea running through the grounds and directly to the arcades.

A handful of people followed and watched on astonished as she wrestled with the gypsy fortune telling machine, rocking it backwards and forwards and screaming ‘what the fuck have you done to me’ over and over again.

The machine kicked into action and spat out a single card at Chelsea as she fell to the floor. It only had four words on.

I told you so.

“Hey, freakshow,” a voice called from behind her. The flash of the camera was the last thing she ever saw.


Tom J Perrin has over fifteen short stories published in various places, as well as publications deals for his first novella (July ’16) and Children’s Novel (September ’16). Chasing the dream both in short and long forms of writing.

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Pearly Grey Eyes

A Horrible Tale by Daniel Lind.

You are thirteen summers old with a skip in the step. With no customers inside, I sneak out from my corner shop to catch a glimpse of you walking home from school. Youthful pearly grey eyes sparkle in the afternoon sun.

Your magical smile conjure a tingling in my bones.

You skip past my shop every morning, but seldom come in. Too many hours pass until I spot you again. Your friend Lucy bought a chocolate bar, but I’d give you one for free. Do you like chocolate? I’ll soon find out.

Short hair doesn’t suit you. And why change glasses? The school uniform doesn’t fit either. The sleeves are too long. I know just the outfit for you–a white sleeveless dress.

***

I asked Lucy about you this morning when she bought chewing gum. She claimed you were home with a fever. Are your parents taking care of you? I will pay a visit, so I can make sure. Closing the shop a few hours won’t do any harm.

***

Is it your birthday? Oh, how time flies. You’re in my shop on a Saturday afternoon, wearing an ugly pink dress your uncle probably bought. I’ll get you a gown that fits you. Your hair has become long enough to be tied into a bun.

My heart beats faster when you ask me if I have any Go Girl magazines. No dear, that’s a magazine for girls, but you’ve become a young woman. It’s hurtful to know you’re being influenced by rubbish. I will have to teach you what the right literature is.

You still drink milk?
I have many flavours in the shop, yes, including strawberry.
They’re on the right.
Two for a pound.
Sorry, I’ve got no change.
That’s all right, you can pay next time.

My heart sinks as I wish you a good day when you walk out. The void you leave in your wake threatens to strangle me. I need to know where you’re going next.
This misery has to end.

Soon, I will take you away.
Soon, you will be under my protection.
Soon, I will adorn milk cartons with your pearly grey eyes.


Daniel is a Primary school literacy teacher, working in London. He writes short fiction and is currently involved in a project to steampunk classical fairy tales. He’s on twitter too: @lindhoffen

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Snuff Love

A Sick Tale by John Rickett

Duct tape. Check.

Old VHS camcorder. Check.

Four rolls of sheet plastic. Check.

Revolver—I pop open the cylinder and count six rounds.

Check.

This is exactly what it looks like.
But it feels like someone poured powdered cement down my throat, and it’s solidified in my guts. Like someone’s rubbed my cock raw with sandpaper. Like a bowling pin lodged in my ass, sideways.

Still, as I wait for the young couple to exit the store, I keep rubbing the bulge of my cock through my sweatpants anyway, clenching my teeth against the burning. Hoping—no, praying, that I’ll shoot my load.

It’s been thirty-seven days.

This used to be so easy. I’d pop the old snuff film into my dusty VCR, lean back on the egg-crate in my basement and just beat it. Most times, I’d never get past the part where a man, sporting an enviable mustache, buries his gun in the boy’s blond hair and—PAP PAP—sprays the wall with the kid’s blood.

Meanwhile, the girl—I’ve named her Laura—screams through the duct tape stretched across her mouth, and you can see in her eyes that it’s the first time she knows it’s real. Really real. So real, that drool is rolling down her chin. So real, her mascara runs down her cheeks, turning Laura into this beautiful, terrified harlequin.

I would nut so fucking hard at that point.

My wife at the time, she’d try to get me off. But, nothing did it. Oral. Swinging. Anal. Nothing.
So, stiff-dicked, I’d stomp down to the basement, pop old-faithful into the VCR and shoot into a towel so stiff it could cut you.
When she found out about the film, she left.

My second wife didn’t even try to get me off. And I never asked.
So, I spanked to that film before my kid’s moved out.

And after.

At Gina’s (my oldest’s) graduation, one of the girls reminded me of Laura. So, I came home and spanked, imaging it was her muffled-screams, choking through a duct-tape muzzle.

But then, thirty-seven days ago, it happened. D-day.

I’d let go of my cock as the teen boy brains splattered across the cinderblock walls. It throbbed, aching, pulsing.

I slowed my breathing.

“Not yet,” I whispered, licking my lips, staring into Laura’s glossy, tormented eyes. Making a real connection through time and space with her through the screen.

Then, the mullet-man in the white button up appeared, ripped off the duct tape and slid a knife along her naked shoulder. Laura shuddered and I wanted to grab my cock so bad. Just squeeze and jerk, and jerk.

But I didn’t.

That night, I wanted to take my time. Really savor it. I wanted to get to Laura’s death. In twenty-five years, I’d never made it to the end. Always limp and sleepy by the time Laura’s dead body smacked against the tile floor.

So, cock twitching, I ran my index finger along the shaft—just let it throb and throb as I thumbed volume-up on the remote and whispered, “Please. No,” in time with Laura. Then, I spit in my palm and squeezed my cock.

The Mullet man buried his face in Laura’s sweaty hair and inhaled. Laura’s breath came in gasps, and I was about to pop like a zit.
The man pressed the knife to Laura’s slender neck.
A fat blob of blood appeared at its tip.
I jerked and jerked and jerked and jerked—

And the screen went black.

Pants around my ankles, I lunged at the VCR and clawed at the opening, trying to rip the tape from the maw of the machine. It answered with a clunk and pop. Smoke fizzled from  the opening, and I gripped tight as cum engorged my cock and sprayed the smoldering wreckage of VCR.

I didn’t even get to enjoy that last one.

Thirty seven grueling days. Trying to fix the tape or find another. Experimenting with porn—everything from Asian to Shemale; Brazilian to Bukkake. Exotic toys and a laundry list of lubes—from aloe to motor oil, and all I’m left with is a husk of meat, stinging from sweat, scabby and flayed like a small dog’s favorite rawhide.

Sometimes, I’ll wake in the middle of the night, naked and jacking a bloody sausage.

Today is the first time I’ve bothered wearing pants in weeks, and I’m reminded why as my raw cock sticks to the fabric.
But I keep rubbing, waiting for the couple to leave the store, going over inventory a final time: Gun, camcorder, plastic, duct tape.

The girl who looks like Laura with the boy who doesn’t quite look like the boy leave the store and step off the curb into the parking lot. Her eyes are hidden behind giant sunglasses, and her smile is warmer than Laura’s. It’s too wide. It’s too fucking smiley.

Imagining those lips and teeth bound in tape makes me rock hard. I bite the inside of my cheek, and throw the car into drive.
They’re too busy swinging held-hands and playfully shouldering one-another to notice my car as I roll alongside them.

“Hey there,” I say, through the window, the palm clutching the gun in my lap sweaty against the grip.

The boy looks at Laura, but Laura, she’s smiling at me, the breeze whipping hair across a cheek that doesn’t have enough mascara running down it.

“Hey,” she says, her voice a honey-dipped twang. “Do I know you?”

“No,” I say, swallowing a monster lump down my throat, and raising the gun. “But, you remind me of someone.”


John Rickett dwells in the armpit of America, where he claws at the walls, escaping his suburban nightmare by performing woodworking ninjutsu, moonlighting as a word-sorcerer. Recently, his post-apocalyptic fairytale retelling, Three Brittle pigs was selected for The Molotov Cocktail’s 2015 prize-winners anthology.

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Teaching Junior

A Twisted Tale by Alex Maher

Big John Miller loved Sundays.

That was when young John Miller Junior would come over and hang out in the shed with Ol’ Grandad. Margaret, his wife of fifty-three years, and Phillipa, his daughter, would be inside getting Sunday dinner ready. They would be chopping and preparing vegetables and cakes for dessert. They would be talking about whatever girls talked about when they chopped and prepared, and he would get to hang out with John Junior for the day.

His thoughts turned to Margaret’s sweet lemon meringue pie. The lemon so tart it would turn your belly button inside out and the meringue so sweet you’d think it was a Disney movie. His mouth watered and his tummy let out an involuntary rumble, much to Junior’s amusement

Big John looked down at the eager eyes of his grandson. The ripple of intelligence and curiosity sat deep inside the seven year old’s inky pupils. The boy stood up on a foot stool so that he could see over the work bench

“Now m’lad, what’s the first thing we need to do before we start to saw?”

The young boy thought for a while. “G-clamp. You must clamp it down.”

Big John beamed.

“Almost.” He roughed the boy’s hair, “almost. The first thing is to finish your cup of tea.” He held his finger in the air, as if to pause his eager companion and drained the still warm drink.

“Mmmm.” He turned to his grandson once again, “so why is it important to finish your cuppa?” He put the cup to one side, out of harms way, so that it wouldn’t get knocked when they started to saw.

“Um,” the boy fidgeted and twisted side to side. Then the smile broke through his concentration. “To calm the nerves and to keep the hand steady.”

“That’s right.” Big John replied, “because with a steady hand comes a …?”

“Steady cut.” The boy finished.

Yup, Big John loved his grandson, that was for sure. Now it was time to pass on some knowledge, just like his own grandfather had passed on to him. And one day Junior would do the same, of that he was sure.

He reached up to the saws hanging on the wall. Each one had its own, carefully drawn, stencil outline. His hand hesitated at the choice.

“What one d’ya reckon? The rip or the crosscut?”

Once again the eager face of John Junior screwed up in thought. He looked at what they were going to cut. “Crosscut? Cos it cuts on both the push and the pull?”

Big John clapped his hands together and rubbed them vigorously. “Bingo. Ok. Now it’s time to make sure it’s clamped nice and tight. We don’t want the bugger to move while we’re cuttin’ now,  do we?”

Junior pulled the vice handle as hard as he could. “Ok. We’re good to go.” His young voice squeaked with excitement.

Big John handed the cross cut saw down. The teeth had a wicked gleam as each dagger-point glinted in the setting sun which filtered through the window.

“So, make you’re holding it correctly,” Big John adjusted the boy’s grip, “that’s better, now place the blade down and make the first strike. It’s easier if you pull back. That’s it. Towards you.”

The boy took great care. He placed the blade down and set his hand the distance he’d been shown. The pride flowed through Big John’s heart. Then the boy pulled the saw back towards him.

“Hold on tight, mate, she’ll get away from you, and you’ll cut your finger,” he said as the boy pulled a second time. The saw glided through with little effort, then juddered as the woman started to wake up.

“Right, she’s starting to come to, quick, what do we do?” Big John asked. His enthusiasm was contagious.

The boy squealed with excitement. “The hammer. The hammer.” The lad jumped up and down.

“S’right. The hammer,” Big John said.

There was a quiet whimper, then the woman came round. She started to scream through the rags stuffed into her mouth. She strained at the bonds holding her down. The rope bit into her wrists. She pulled at the vice holding her partially cut leg. The wound gushed and spurted. She slipped from the vice’s grip, the blood acting as a lubricant. She pulled her leg free, and blood splattered across the boy’s face. He blinked and took an involuntary step back.

Big John held the hammer out for the boy to take. He knew the lad didn’t have the strength in him to knock her out, but the lad’s gotta learn. He had a second hammer ready to finish the job.

“Ok. Remember, mate. Right between the eyes is where you-”

The boy brought the hammer down and laughed as the woman’s right eye caved into its socket. She screamed again through the rags. The veins on her neck bulged. For a brief instant Big John thought about slitting them, it would be quicker. But the boy had to learn.

“Try again,” he encouraged.

This time, the hammer struck true, and the girl stopped wriggling. She slumped, and her head fell backwards. The vacant hole that was once an eye stared at John. He couldn’t work out where it had gone. Then he chuckled.
The gelatinous ball was stuck to the claw portion of the hammer where junior had struck with the wrong side.

The pair both stood back. The young boy admired his handiwork while Big John admired his grandson. There was a click and the back door to the work shed opened. Margaret popped her head through the door.

“How we going, boys?”

“Good,” Junior replied.

“We’ll be there soon, my love.” Big John smiled at his sweetheart. He wiped his brow, painting a smear of red behind.

“Okay. The veggies are ready to cook, my love.”

“Jolly good.” He took the saw from John Junior’s hand, “I’ll take it from here.”

The boy started to protest, but a stern look settled him.

“We’ll be five minutes, Hun.” The saw blade slid through the flesh with ease, he turned his attention back to his wife.

“Did you want a leg or a breast?”

“Whatever you fancy, Hun. It’s all nice when it’s fresh.”


Alex was born and raised in England. When he was sixteen, his family moved to Australia where he learned how to surf, joined a rock band and rode his motorcycle to gigs. Alex currently lives with his wife, three beautiful kids, a dogs, three cats, several parrots and a fish tank.  He hasn’t grown up yet.

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Hunger

A Twisted Tale by J Saler Drees

When Makar was a baby in a Russian orphanage rats chewed on his face, leaving him for the rest of his life with a crumpled ear, missing nostril and disfigured lips. Growing up, his face gained him more pity rather than love, until he finally found Griselda. Griselda who now wants him to spend the night again. They rest in her bed after having sex, his arms wrapped about her pillowy body, squeezing her soft flesh tight.

Usually he’d say yes, of course he would, but tonight is different. Tonight is the night of no moon. And he can’t stay or she’ll find out he turns into a rat. And if she finds out he’s a rat she’ll no longer want to be with him. And worse, he thinks she’s the one he wants to marry, the one he can see spending the rest of his life with. He’s thirty, has a steady job as an accountant, and ready for commitment. Except, how can he ever tell her that on the night of no moon, every month he turns into a rat from sun down till sun up? To tell her is a risk he’s not willing to take.

The summer sun has not yet set, he has two more hours of day light, some time to find a believable reason to leave. She turns to face him, her dark hand tracing down his pale chest to his belly button.

“Just stay,” she says, leaning in, her raisin colored hair like satin to his skin. “I’ll make you dinner. My dolbladas. Your favorite meat pies.”

She swirls her finger about his belly button and then traces his stomach to his pubic hair, where she runs her fingers through the springy nest. He’s getting hard again. Going back alone to his own miserable apartment is near unbearable. He doesn’t want to extract himself from her body. He thinks of sex again, Griselda with her orgasms smelling like cocoanut water and ripe mangos. And then dolbladas, her famous fried meat pies, made with her old hidden family recipe.

But staying is out of the question, after what may have happened last month, he can’t take any more chances. Especially with Griselda, this Guatemalan goddess. He slides out from her arm, and sits up in bed. “You know I’d love to stay the night, but I have a meeting in the morning.”

“On Saturday?” She moans, rolls on her back, her brown breasts splaying out over her sides, the lavender nipples balancing upwards. She gives him a pouty look, her thick lips protruding. “Tonight I need you most.”

“I can’t.” He shakes his head, torn, wishing to say the opposite.

“Tell me you’ll stay. Seriously, tonight I need you the most. It comes every new moon.”

He hesitates, gazes at her. Does Griselda know about his secret?

“What do you mean?” he asks, the scars on his face feeling hot.

“You’re going to think I sound silly.” She pauses, hands reaching for him, but he swings his legs over the edge of her bed. “I think there’s a monster around. I started marking my calendar whenever I see it.”

“A monster?” He stands, looking out the window at the sun faring toward dusk. “Don’t play games with me.”

“You know I don’t play games,” Griselda says. “I need protection from it. I swear, last month I heard it lurking by my garage and when the sensory light blinked on, I saw its eyes before it disappeared into the dark.”

The evening light through the window blinds streams eerie lines on the opposite wall. If only he could lasso the sun, corral the day. He asks, “How am I going to protect you?”

“I can’t be alone,” she replies, her stare imploring him, like a deep lake enclosing over his head. He turns his back to her, afraid she may see in his eyes someone else.

“I’ll stay for a while,” he says. She steps behind him, her hands slide over his shoulders, her lips kiss him on his deformed ear. He closes his eyes, and then she’s gone. Her foots steps patter out the bedroom door, slap down the hallway into the kitchen.

He shakes his head, quickly grabbing his clothes strewn about the floor. Already he feels the itch under his fingernails. Sense of smell is heightened. The Gain Spring laundry detergent in the sheets, dust in the corners, faded feet smell of Griselda’s shoes, but mostly that cocoanut mango natural woman smell. He can just eat her. So dangerous. He shouldn’t be here.

His tail bone throbs. Hair follicles along his arms and legs ache, ready to sprout. He might not make it back to his place in time to be able to dead bolt himself in the bathroom. Street lamps burn brighter strips through the window as the sky completely darkens.

Quietly, he slips out the bedroom door. He smells meat searing in the pan, oil heating in the pot, the cackle as bubbles pop, waiting to fry the pies. Beyond the hallway wall, he glimpses at her, naked by the stove, sifting out flour that she will soon roll out into crust. She sings in Spanish as she always does when she cooks. He doesn’t know what the words mean, yet enjoys her loud voice, stands listening for a moment.

Amada Margarita, mujer de don Simón,
quisiera que comiera
los tamales de ratón

Saliva cultivates in the corners of his mouth. The smells tantalize an inner beast. He feels his teeth sharpening. He steps away toward the front door before it’s too late.

“Makar? Where are you going?” Her voice calls out behind him. He feels her presence rushing toward him. Fingers wrap about his arm. “The monster will be here soon.”

“I’m going to my car,” he stammers. “To get, to get a gun for protection.”

She lifts up a hand and fingers brush his disfigured lips, where part of his gums and teeth show. He pulls away more desperate. Front teeth are ready to plummet upward, sharp spears toward the ceiling.

Her big eager eyes look up at him. The mango flesh, the cocoanut blood. He can sense her heart beat, hear the hum of her organs beneath skin.

She says, “You don’t believe me do you.”

“I do.” He swallows the saliva sweating in his mouth. Must leave now or the desire will overtake him. Stomach rumbles in hunger.

She whispers, “I feel like your hiding something from me.”

“I’m not hiding anything,” he finally replies, wrenching his arm free. The hairs under his shirt press on the cloth, growing longer.

“We all have secrets.” Griselda says. “Even I have a little secret.”

He can barely understand what she’s saying. Something about secrets. She thinks she understand secrets. The whiskers are about to plunge out from his cheeks, nose about to push forward. And he’s ravenous, the starvation wanting to jam all of Griselda into his mouth. Bite off her nipples. Tear into her breasts, lap at the milk ducts. Chew his way down to her hole and climb up inside to her uterus.

His Makar-self tells Rat-self, don’t do it. You love her. You can’t live without her.

But Rat-self says, eat her and have her all to yourself, forever, with you, inside you forever. Isn’t that better? Digest her, make her apart of you.

I don’t want her in me, Makar-self says. I want to be in her.

He grabs the door, opening it. Outside, the eastern sky is garbage bag-black.

“Don’t go out there!” she shouts. “It’s coming.”

“But I must get a weapon to protect us,” he lies. His voice squeaks raspy and high pitched. Maybe it’s too late. Maybe she already suspects. Why’d he ever start going to the cafe every morning to see her? Why’d he accept her extra fried pies? Why’d he have sex with her in his Volvo in the back lot after her shift?

“Be careful. Be quick,” she says. “It’s coming soon.”

The front door slams. It’s harder to walk on two feet, he wants to run on all fours. His tail presses against his pants, tears at the seams. The car keys fall on the pavement. He stoops to pick them up but his clawed hands have difficulty in attempts to act fast. If anyone sees a man-sized rat out their window, surely they’ll shoot him.

With his pink wet nose, he pushes the unlock button to his Volvo. He hears a car down the road, knows the motor, a 1998 Ford Escort, with an engine mount loose. A man laughs, he sounds forty years old, balding in the middle, flabby around the belly. A dog barks, a retriever, about four years old, the really blond kind.

He crawls into his car, clothes ripping as his shape shifts. On the driver’s seat, he sits on his haunches, his tail dipping down to press the gas and break pedals. He ducks as the car passes, the headlights flashing through the windshield as it passes on.

Only his adoptive moms know. Shortly after bringing him to the United States, they woke up to find an infant sized rat in their room and no baby. At first, they thought the rat ate their baby, and they tried to catch it in order to kill it. But when the first glow of dawn came through the bedroom window, the rat began to change back into a baby. After that, they took turns staying up nights to watch the baby and figured out he changed only once a month on the moonless nights. Since then they only locked him up on these nights. When he was four they explained his condition.

After that he’s been diligent to lock himself up once a month. Except these past five months. He wanted to see what would happen. The first time he didn’t recall anything and awoke in a dump outside the city with trash and bits of fried chicken, BBQ rib bones, chow mien and pizza crust clinging to his body. He never felt so rejuvenated, as though he’d just flown to the moon and back; thus he continued his rat rendezvous’ until last month. He awoke out in the forest, not remembering anything, but this time there was blood all over his mouth, down his chest, clumps in his hair and a fingernail jammed in his teeth, which he worked out with a steak knife once back in the confines of his apartment. Later on the news, a man was found in the woods, evidently attacked by a mountain lion, his body mutilated, brain and eyes eaten out of the skull, heart torn and sucked dry. Claw and teeth marks all over his body. Arms and legs chewed down to the bones.

You should do it again. Rat-self urges.

I never did that. Makar-self insists.

So hungry, Rat-self says. Nothing better than human flesh. Must eat.

Indeed he’s starving, crammed in between the driver seat and steering wheel, his stomach an insatiable pit, growling to be fed. He stills smells Griselda, her cocoanut mango aroma. He slides out of the car and stealthily creeps across the lawn. His sleek black coat blends well with the night.

In front, his night vision can make out a dark square form in the dark. A garage. And beyond the garage, Griselda’s smell. Movement scuttles beyond the garage walls. Pings of tin, many pieces of metal clashing together, a band of only cymbals quivering in a windy tunnel. He doesn’t understand the sounds, but he must get to her smell.

He searches for a way to get in and finds glass. Crashing through the window, he lands on all fours onto a cement floor of a garage. No car, no bikes or storage boxes or tools. Another smell overwhelms him, musk and piss. The rattle of metal increases. A hum of life quivers about him. Rats. Thousands of rats running about in metal cages. Their beady eyes glow from the lamp light that lashes in through the broken window. Their whiskers tremble out from the bars, their pink pole tails stick straight out as they run this way and that, their little clawed feet ticking across the tin wired cages.

Along one wall is a large freezer, beside it a table with dark blotches staining its surface. A magnetic strip above the table holds several sharp knives of different sizes along it, their tips all pointing down. Under the table are several clear plastic bins. One full of rat feet and tails in various states of decay. Some feet smell freshly severed and some dried and shriveled with age. Clumps of intestine and organs lay in lumps about the floor.
His stomach roars. He grabs one of the cages with four rats inside and unlatches the door, tipping the cage upside down and into his mouth. He clamps his sharp front teeth into their tiny skulls. Brain gushes into his mouth, delectably satisfying, and into his belly to fill him up.

He knocks down more cages with his tail and is about to open another latch when he detects footsteps. Very near. A door opens and light floods in. Shards of red glint out from cages. Flashes of tail. Clicks of nail.

Griselda’s silhouette holds a long sharp pointed object as she moves toward him. She screams, “What’ve you done to Makar? You monster, you’ll pay.”

Her voice is low and horrifying. Her fragrance overpowers him. He leaps out at her, gnashing his elongated front teeth, but a sharp peg hits him in the chest, chainsawing its way through hair and flesh and bone. He cries out. Pain shreds his insides. Griselda falls over, is underneath him, stabbing into his stomach. The woman rolls out from under him, acid and blood smeared all over her face and in her hair. He collapses to the floor, stomach even more empty than before and emptiness hurts, hurts so bad he can’t move. It’s ending. It’s all ending.

Flickers of Makar-self come back. Her voice, Griselda, his love.

“You will make many dolbladas,” Griselda says, mouth twisted upward, eyes blinking out of a mask of shiny red. She ties up his limbs, long toes with ivory nails jutting up toward the ceiling as she wraps the feet. He squeaks and squeals, trying to say, it’s me, Makar. See my eyes. I’m sorry I didn’t stay to tell you.

But his voice is fading, his eye sight dimming. She doesn’t seem to understand him, begins to bind his jaw shut.  He pictures the sun rising in the morning. She will enter the garage to butcher a large rat, but instead finds a dead man tied up with his stomach gutted.  And he hopes when she sees his face, she will fall across his body, consume him, until no evidence is left.


J Saler Drees lives in San Diego CA. She works as a nanny and writes during her free time.

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