Steven M. Nedeau and Shameless Plugs Podcast are excited to present the
We all started in the same place, now let's see where we ended. The stories are in!
Each author selected 8 of the 10 prompts below.
Prompt 1 - These are not my pants.
Prompt 2 - There's a strange woman at the window.
Prompt 3 - Air, precious air.
Prompt 4 - Hero finds a bloody knife in significant other's home.
Prompt 5 - Hero's significant other is missing.
Prompt 6 - He pulled the sword free, then dropped it as it screamed in pain.
Prompt 7 - The door opens on the last person you want to see.
Prompt 8 - My accordion isn't possessed. It always sounds like that.
Prompt 9 - Character wakes bound, gagged & with enemy looking at them holding a knife/dagger.
Prompt 10 - Main character receives news that he/she did not anticipate.
Here are stories from the authors being featured in the April 29th episode.
Marla's Message - Steven M Nedeau
Erin looked down at the knife in his hand. The blood coating the handle ran between his fingers and lined the ridges of his fingerprints, leaving his mark on the wood. On the floor, bloody footprints walked toward and away from the table where the knife had been placed.
He didn’t recognize the species of the prints. There were so many onboard. He scoured his memory, searching out clues to the owner of the trail. The species was bipedal. The blood from the prints bled into the traction grooves of the stainless steel floor, dispersing them, making them harder to identify.
The rest of Marla’s room appeared undisturbed. Her clothing from that morning lay on the bed. The sheets were strewn about as usual in her morning routine. The cup of tea sat on the table next to the bloody knife, half drunk. Marla had been here, alright. But, where was she now? Did the owner of those footprints drag her away? Erin looked at the prints again. There did not appear to be any sign of a struggle.
He returned his attention to the clothing on the bed, picking them up. Under Marla’s morning clothes was a strange pair of pants. They were slim, much too slim for Marla. He looked at the pattern and matched it to his own. He held them up to his hips. They could fit him if he went on a significant diet but there was no way these were his pants. He could add one more clue to the owner of the footprints, whatever species it was wore clothing.
Erin followed the bloody trail, not the trail leaving the room, but the trail entering. They had come from another room in the ship, probably from the specimen containment area. Had this being injured itself escaping its confinement? To his surprise the footprints led not toward containment but to his own room. He pressed the button on the panel and the doors slid away from the opening into the walls.
What awaited inside horrified Erin and he fell to his knees at the doorway. Inside was Marla, or what was left of Marla. Her face lay near the bed, pulled away from her skull. Her skin and portions of her musculature lay in a pool of blood in the center of the room. Her bones were absent, all of them. Whatever demon had left those prints had dismantled the love of his life like she were no more than cattle.
Rising to his knees and pulling the sword-like key out of the wall, Erin sounded the alarm. The sword screamed in his hand emitting a piercing tone that reverberated around the ship, communicating the location of the alarm to the other crew members. In his mind the wail of the key became a scream of pain and he dropped it. A dizziness had overcome him. Was he in shock?
Disorientation gripped him and he found he could not get back to his feet after his initial fall at the doorway. He rolled out of his room and the door slid shut. He shook his head fighting the loss of control he seemed to be experiencing. Help should be coming. Boots should be thundering down the halls of the ship to answer the alarm.
There was silence.
Lifting his eyes to the end of the hall, to the door there, to the closed door, Erin saw a slender being on the other side of the glass, naked, hands pressed against the glass, watching him. Bathed in the blood of Marla the being had hair well past its shoulders. Erin could see because of its nudity that the being was a female but he still couldn’t place the species. There were so many.
Behind her the vacuum of space framed her image in the glass. She held the bridge. She was in control of the ship, of the crew, of the specimen containment units, of the life support. The realization of his predicament struck Erin. She had turned off the oxygen.
When Erin woke he tried to sit up but something held him down. Straps, yellow and black, crisscrossed his chest, arms, and legs. The air had returned to the cabin. Looking around he recognized Marla’s room again and upon further visual inspection noticed that he was covered in blood. He tried to scream through the gag as he pressed against the straps. All he managed was a, “Harumphg!”
“Ah, you’re awake.” The female from the bridge walked out of the shower stall drying her hair with a towel. She wore the pants Erin had found on the bed and she was otherwise naked. Erin glanced at her bare feet and surmised that it was she who had left the prints. She walked to the table and picked up the knife with the tips of her grotesquely slender fingers so as not to dirty herself again with the blood she had just washed away.
“It took me quite a while to get everything I needed but I think this is all going to work out fine.”
“Harrumg,” Erin said through the gag.
“Oh, yeah,” she said and ran into the bathroom with the knife, dropping the towel. When she returned the knife was clean of Marla’s blood. Straddling Erin’s prone form she slid the tip of the blade inside the gag against Erin’s cheek and cut it away. “You were saying?”
“You killed Marla.”
“Yes, I guess you could say that.”
“And my crew?”
“Yeah, them too.”
“How did you escape containment? Where did you get the knife?”
She laughed, a hideous lilting screech, and said, “You gave me the knife.”
“No, I don’t think so. What do you know of the species in containment?”
Erin disliked the lightness of her weight on him. Her knees rested on his arms held down by the straps.
“Did you cut me?”
“She laughed again. “That’s not your blood. It’s Marla’s. I was still pretty gory when I dragged you in here.”
Erin struggled again but the straps held firm.
“What do you know of the species in containment?” She asked again.
Erin relented, hoping she would lower her guard and an opportunity to escape would present itself. “They’re simple. None so far advanced as we.”
“And the lack of advanced technologies means they are inferior and can therefore be corralled like sheep whenever the need arises?”
“The creator made us and gave us the universe to do with as we see fit.”
“Can you clone beings?”
“Why would one?”
She slid the knife along his nose. “If I were to cut this off, could you grow another one to take its place?”
“Of course we can. We’ve had that technology for more than a century.”
“Oh, no, completely possible. We can grow more than our own flesh. We can grow yours now, too.”
“You’re trying to bargain with me, a captain?” Erin felt disgusted at the thought of an alliance with any other races, no matter what planet they originated from.
“Sometimes,” she mused, playing with the knife against his neck, “we can be very original. In fact, the last thing we grew was a costume.”
“And you snore,” she spat back. She waited for him to understand the comment and seeing the truth revealed in his eyes she continued.
She winked at him, resting the knife edge against Erin’s neck and said, “We’re using you and this ship as an example.”
With all of her strength she clamped a hand over his mouth and drove the knife into the grey skin of his neck, watching the terror in his eyes as he struggled against her and the restraints.
As his body relaxed to his fate she brought her lips close to his ear and whispered, “You should have thought twice about visiting Earth.”
Cold Vengence - Stephen Coghlan
There's a strange woman at the window, waving, knocking, rap-tap-tap.
I look away, out the other door's glass, and into the infinite vacuum of space. The stars, innumerable, incalculable.
The timer's count is loud in my ears.
"EXPLOSIVE DECOMPRESSION IN T-MINUS--"
I ignore it and reach for the closest space suit, and begin to struggle my way into them. These are not my pants, but they will fit. These are not my boots, but I manage to squeeze them on.
Where is my wife? She had been missing since we were invaded, since I awoke, bound and gagged, facing a mysterious foe and their bloodied knife.
My gloves lock in place, and I pull my helmet on-
The last vowel is drowned out by the violent explosion of air rushing past, sucking me into the void. My helmet is not locked in place, and the atmosphere within is sucked away.
Air, precious air. How I miss it. Panic begins but I shove it away. Panic will kill me. I must remain calm. Must remain sane.
Twist into place. Lock collar. Sounds simple, but my fingers are thick and numb and clumsy and
I feel, but do not hear the seal being made. My suit, recognizing that it is safe, allows its tanks to work, and I gulp greedily.
Collecting my bearings I turn back towards the ship. It is time to find my wife. It is time to take revenge. It is time to plunge knives into flesh and pull them free when my foes have screamed. They have invaded my home, tried to kill me, and they have failed. That is their mistake. I know the ship, as I am its head mechanic.
Do not piss off the person who knows every nook and cranny. Who knows every door, every maintenance hatch.
I cling to one, punch in my code, watch it open, and scream into my helmet as the door blows open, and sucks my beloved into the vacuum. I had not anticipated her hiding in that hatch. It is not whom I want to see, gagging, thrashing.
My decision is instant. A tether on my belt, its grapple, sharp, pierces her leg, draws taught, halts her escape.
I draw her inside the hatch.
Fill it with air.
Remove my helmet.
Place my ear to cold and frozen breast.
And hear a heart beat. She had exhaled, closed her eyes.
Survived, like me. That is why I love her. Why I dress her wound. Why, when she comes to, I hand her a shiv.
Time enough has passed. It is time to make our invaders pay.
Frank and Ted - Garon Whited
Frank woke up to the wails of the damned and the screaming of tormented souls. He struggled up through blankets, swimming through the blackness of sleep, seeking air, precious air. Gasping, he rolled bodily from the mattress to the floor and fought his way free. All the while, the screaming noise stabbed his ears, penetrated his brain, and turned his hangover into an adventure filled with laughing demons.
Frank sat up, finally, and pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. Bright flashes arced through his vision. After a moment of sincere groaning and some insincere promises to change, he searched for clothes. Socks, yes. Underwear, yes, in various states of cleanliness. A shirt or six, all black, all alike. But the pants? Frank had them halfway on before realizing, These are not my pants. They were several sizes too small and oddly cut. The legs were far too skinny and short—
Wait a minute. These are women’s pants. Why do I have a woman’s pants in my bedroom? More importantly, what woman?
And what is that damned wailing?
Frank searched again, discovered jeans that fit, and shortly thereafter emerged from the darkness of his bedroom.
The living room was a scene of alcohol-fueled debauchery—or the aftermath. Overflowing ashtrays, litter, empty bottles, scattered dishes, and Ted. Ted was wide awake and smiling as Frank staggered against the corner. The hellish noise stopped as Ted raised a hand in greeting.
“Morning! Well, morning-ish. I thought you were going to sleep all day.”
“Why,” Frank asked, rasping a bit, “do you have a harpy-infested accordion screeching in my living room?”
“It doesn’t have a harpy in it.”
“Possessed by the spirits of the justly damned?”
“My accordion isn’t possessed!” Ted insisted, defensively. “It always sounds like that!”
“Even when I purify it by fire?”
Ted hurriedly put the accordion in its case.
“You’re cranky today.”
“Last week, you ate all my cereal and came back from the dead. Today I have a hangover and you’re playing the—according to you—not-possessed accordion in my living room.”
“I was only waiting for you to wake up.”
Frank shuffled to the kitchen and checked for cereal. Gone. Again. Along with the milk. A bowl with the remnants of both sat on top of the pile of dishes in the sink.
“Remind me why we’re friends, again?”
“Because we’ve been through so much together. And we party!”
“So I see.”
Frank opened cupboards and searched some more. Bread? Toast. Butter? Yes. Three-day-old fried chicken? Frozen waffles. Jelly? Raspberry.
Why do I even have this? I hate raspberry jelly.
“Where’s my peanut butter?”
“In the pantry.”
Frank opened the pantry and found a desiccated corpse nailed to the back wall. An ornate hilt protruded from the chest. He moved one of the arms out of the way and recovered the peanut butter.
Frank sighed and turned to the corpse.
“Aren’t you going to get me out of here?”
“You’re not going to like it.”
“I don’t want to be bound to a pantry forever, either!”
Frank pulled the sword free, then dropped it as it screamed in pain. A crackle of energy rippled along the blade as it emerged from the corpse. The soul of the dead man, imprisoned in the blade, came loose and disappeared into whatever afterlife wanted it.
“You shouldn’t leave the sword lying there.”
“First off, I haven’t had my breakfast. I don’t do dead people until after breakfast. Second, it’s an Inquisition Blade, not really a sword, and it’s mine. I’ll leave it in the television if it suits me. And, third, I still have a hangover. You are not helping.”
“I’ll shut up,” Ted assured him. Frank set about making a rudimentary breakfast, heavy on the medication. Ted said nothing until Frank swept an area clear on the kitchen table and sat down with the food.
“One more thing, though. There’s a strange woman at the window. Any idea what she wants?”
“Probably her pants,” Frank grumbled around a mouthful of buttered toast. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on eating. It helped the pills go down.
Ted opened the door. Frank opened his eyes and turned to look. Framed in it was Mrs. Penlod, the last person he wanted to see. She towered at nearly six and a half feet, all of it slender and smooth and perfect, even to the large eyes, the pointed ears, and the elegant hair.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Penlod,” Ted offered. “Won’t you come in?”
“I think not,” she sniffed. “I only came to deliver a message. I would have called, but your phone is out of order. As is your doorbell, I might add.” She sneered around the room. “Among other things.”
Frank ignored this and continued to eat.
“Well, Mrs. Penlod,” Ted continued, “I’m glad you could stop by. What’s the message?”
“My daughter, Lilly, will not be seeing that man,” she pointed at Frank, to leave no doubt as to which human she meant, “ever again. Not after what he did last night!”
“What was that, Mrs. Penlod?”
“He knows!” She turned on a heel and huffed away like an indignant cloud. Ted shut the door.
“Yeah. Gotta say, did not see this news coming.”
“Me, either. You were here all night, and I didn’t see Lilly. Think she heard you were fooling around?”
“You said something about a lady looking for her pants.”
“Found ’em in the bedroom.”
“Reasonable. What’re we going to do?” Ted asked.
“Well, you’re supposed to be dead, so it’s tricky for you to show your face.”
“I’ve got a new identity!” Ted insisted.
“Does that mean Von Leidermann doesn’t want to peel the skin off you?”
“Uh…” Ted trailed off, embarrassed. “Yeah, well, he kind of does.”
“Thought so. He’s got one hell of a long memory. Now, shut up and stay shut up until I get out of the shower.”
Frank leaned down, made a long arm, and fetched the Inquisition Blade from the floor. He slapped the flat of it down on the kitchen table, breaking a plate and rattling everything else.
Ted shut up and waited.
After a scratch breakfast, plenty of medication, hot and cold running showers, a bit of screaming, and a change of clothes, Frank felt much more human. He emerged from the bathroom with slightly more optimism than before.
“Can I talk, now?” Ted asked. Frank’s lips thinned but he nodded. “What’s on for today?”
“I was thinking I’d burn the place down and start over, but I decided on recruiting you to clean it.”
“Aww. I hate cleaning. Besides, the place just looks lived-in.”
“It look died from a drug overdose in,” Frank corrected.
“It has character.”
“Fix that. I’m going over to Lilly’s to see what the deal is.”
“Can I come?”
“Don’t. Just don’t. My hangover is at least one-third your fault and the disaster area in my living room is nine-tenths. Put it in order.”
Frank made a growling sound, deep in his chest. Ted shut up and started gathering up trash.
Outside, Frank fished out his keys. At least his car was still where he left it. He drove to Lilly’s house, heading into the much more upscale neighborhood of Kortirion Heights. The man on guard duty at the gate recognized him and let him into the community with a wave.
Frank parked on the circle drive and got out. The white horse, lightly cropping at the grass, ignored him as per their agreement. Frank returned the favor and headed up to the front door. He pushed it inward and called out. No one answered. He called out again as he moved through the house, boots soundless on the thick carpet. Living room, parlor, game room, television room, dining room, kitchen, back porch… Upstairs, he called again, heading for Lilly’s bedroom.
The door stood open, revealing a bloody knife stuck in the frame. From the angle, it looked as though someone threw it there. Knowing Lilly, she threw it as someone ducked aside. If the frame hadn’t been there, it would be in someone’s head.
Frank, recognizing the potential danger to his own head, stood aside and pushed the door all the way open with one hand. Nothing came out.
“Lilly? It’s me! It’s Frank!”
No answer. Frank bobbed his head around the frame, only for an instant.
The room was a shambles. Everything was in disarray, thrown about, slashed, or bloody. Frank took a longer look before entering. No one was there, not even under the canopied bed or in the attached bathroom.
Lilly was gone.
Frank pondered for a moment. If Mrs. Penlod thought Frank did something, then she would doubtless make trouble. Calling the police would get her involved instantly. They would have to be notified, nevertheless. On the other hand, there might be a narrow window of time…
Frank picked up the house phone and dialed. A moment later, there was a click.
“Gideon Frost, private investigator.”
“Gideon? It’s Frank.”
“Hey, Frank! Long time to see.”
“I know. Sorry. Been something of a lone wolf for a while.”
“I understand. I don’t have anything at the moment that needs your talents—”
“I didn’t call about a job, Gideon. Not about getting one. I think I have one needing your talents.”
“Oh do you, now? Tell me more.”
“You know the lady I’m dating?”
“Lilly? Six-three, thin, pointed ears, amber-colored eyes?”
“That’s her. She’s missing. I’m in her place and there’s signs of a struggle.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Shooting Stars - J.A. George
Delph warned me not to get involved with Cassie. He told me she’d get me locked up in an Ursan prison, or stranded on some lifeless rock staring so far down the business end of a venatici I’d be looking at its kidneys. Doomsday Delph’s best case scenario was she’d stick me with a needle full of lupus and leave me heaving out my own vulpecula. I didn’t bother arguing; we both knew I wasn’t gonna listen. Also, why bother arguing with Overweight Eeyore when I could be coming up with a logo for my next-band, Needle Full of Lupus?
So three months later when I got locked up in an Ursan jail cell, the absolute last person I wanted to call was Daddy Delph. But this far out in the Berenices, the only other people who’d be willing to saddle up when I yelled “Geronimo” wouldn’t be coughing up bail money. After I got my stuff back, I stepped out into the lobby to find Delph waiting for me with his midsection straddling a bench and his hands folded over his immense front-stomach. Two of his eyes were closed, but the third swiveled around on its stalk, monitoring its surroundings like a meth addict with a welfare check.
When it spotted me, his front legs loped forward. His middle belly slopped free from the bench and swayed beneath him as all four hind legs skittered over the bench. “Did they harm you?" he asked as his food hole came within an inch of my mouth. I swear, I will never get used to Antlian etiquette.
"Nah," I replied as I took a step back. "None of those ursies had ever seen a human before. Too scared of catching man-germs to come anywhere near me."
"That is good. But you did not listen. You would not have been incarcerated if you had listened."
“But this is done. Cassie is now deceased. She cannot beguile you again.”
“Cassie’s not dead. C’mon, Delph, you know her better than that.”
Delph’s upper torso bent into an "S" as his face pulled away from me, classic Antlian body language for confusion. “You were arrested for murder. I know that you would not do this thing and I would not provide the money to liberate you if I believed otherwise, but you would not have been arrested if she remained alive.”
“Nah, she faked it,” I replied.
“There was no body?”
“Nah, she faked it,” I repeated.
At this point, Delph’s antennae started twitching, as frantic as I’d ever seen them. Delph’s got his flaws, one of them being his soft spot for me. “They cannot arrest you without significant proof! The legal system will collapse if beings face incarceration without substantial evidence of their guilt.”
I grabbed him by the top half of one of his upper pair of arms and started guiding him to the exit before he stormed the intake guard and tried to force him to fix the system all by himself. “She set me up, Delph.”
“Why would she do this? Did you try to pawn her belongings too? Is she now unhinged?”
“Now unhinged? That bitch had more issues than a publishing company the day I met her.”
“I do not understand you, Leo. Why do you seek to become entangled with one you believe is not sane?”
We were outside now. All three suns had lined up for some giant asshole kid's magnifying glass so the four of them could see how long it would take me to burst into flames. “You bring your ship? I need to get gone.”
“You must stay within atmospheric boundaries until the tribunal reviews your case. It is one of the terms of your release.”
“Delph, I just need a drink or something. Food. Take me anywhere that isn’t south of Hell in August, right now.”
Delph inclined his torso toward the parking lot. “My ship is this way. You will tell me what happened.” I knew he meant it as a statement of fact, not a command, but goddammit I will never get used to Antlian etiquette.
Antlians aren’t built like humans, and neither are their ships. I won't get used to that, either. I wasn’t about to plop down on a bench with my knees jacked into my chin, so I opted to hunch over and stay on my feet. “So two days ago, I stumbled home from the best lyran night of my life, ended up winning like 800 serpens, so I was feeling pretty good. Walked in the front door, found a trail of Cassie’s clothes, all the way down to the underdrawers. I figured she was feeling pretty good too, and my night was about to get a lot better.”
“You expected to have intercourse.”
I groaned audibly. “Yes, Delph, I expected to have intercourse. Until I saw the spots on the floor. Light blue, so now I’m starting to freak out a little bit. It looked like blood, and it was still wet.”
“Where did the blood trail lead you?”
“The kitchen. Shit’s all out of sorts in there. Utensils on the floor, pantry doors flung open. Bloody knife on the counter, all that shit. The place looks like a goddamn murder scene. And that’s when I notice it. There was a sword – I shit you not, a fucking sword – stuck in the wall.”
“I still do not understand how you know Cassie is not deceased.”
“Goddammit, Delph, let me tell the story! I’m getting there. So I pull the damn thing out of the wall, and it starts screaming its head off. And, of course, that’s when the door opens.”
“Ah, Cassie. That is how you know.”
“No, it wasn’t Cassie! It was Detective Draco Dipshit. How do you not know by now it was gonna be Detective Dipshit? Every damn story I tell ends with Detective Dipshit anymore.”
“There is no Detective Dipshit within the Ursan system. Do you mean Detective First Class Draco Eridanus?”
“Yeah, like I said, Detective Dipshit. You gonna keep interrupting with questions you already know the answer to, or are you gonna let me finish my story?”
“I wish to hear the conclusion of the story. I still do not know how you can be sure Cassie is not deceased.”
By this point we were whizzing through the Auriga district. “Go faster,” I said. “Anyway, so Dipshit tells me to drop the weapon and get my hands up, so I do. And as soon as I drop the sword, it starts yelling for help.”
“Officer, get me away from him! He killed her! He tried to use me to kill her!”
“The sword was confused,” Delph said.
“No, the sword was a liar,” I replied. “What do expect from a singblade? Every last one of ‘ems an asshole. Guarantee you Cassie put the little bastard up to it.”
“You cannot generalize like this, Leo. No whole race is made up entirely of assholes. If I had listened to Antlian opinions of humans, I would have left you for dead when I found you.”
“Yeah, so, yeah, whatever, so Dipshit hears this, and he’s as happy as a Doberman munching on top sirloin. Tells the goon squad to cuff me. Tells me I’m under arrest for the murder of Cassendory Camelopardalis. I tell him I just got there and found the room like that. He pulls a pair of pants out from behind his back, covered in blood. He says they got to them before I could finish burning the evidence, and sure enough the goddamn things are still smoldering.”
“But you told him of the lyran parlor. You gave him your alibi.”
“Of course I didn't. Nobody in that place was gonna vouch for me. No way they’d risk getting arrested or give up the location of a lyran parlor run by the Octans. Not for my pink ass. But I did tell him no way those were my pants. You could fit three of me in those things. They were Fornax-sized for god's sake.”
“But you were still arrested. Surely this was enough evidence to free you,” Delph said, his antennae twitching again.
“Not for Dipshit. ‘You’re finally going to prison,’ he said. ‘I’ve got you this time. Five years, at least.’” By the way, for any humans listening to this story who are thinking five years and bail sounds pretty light for murder, you have to understand that for a society centered completely around reincarnation, murder isn’t nearly as serious a crime to them as it is to us.
Delph’s eye stalk swung back and forth solemnly. “Five years. In five years, you would be as withered as your people’s raisins. A veritable lifetime.”
“Yeah, not really,” I replied. “Please," I said. "No way you pin this on me." At that point, Dipshit got right in my face. His suckers were actually touching my lips. So I held my breath.
And he just kept talking, taking his victory lap. “You think you’re a genius. You think I can’t touch you. But I’ve got you. No wriggling your slimy little self free this time. I have your pants. I have the weapon."
He pulled his face away from mine and picked up the knife from the counter. I took the opportunity to gulp in as much precious air as I could. Cassie’s hair was on the knife.
“All the evidence you have provided thus far indicates she is deceased.”
“Goddammit, Delph, shit, I am telling you, she’s alive. Let me finish!” Delph was setting the ship down by Triangulum Entangulum now. Good choice. I could practically taste their horologium, and moved closer to the door. “So Dipshit asks me, ‘You know what that makes you look like?’ So I responded with, 'No, but it's gotta be better than what you got going on. You look like your face got fucked by a knife.' He didn’t like that. My stomach didn’t like any of the four fists that ended up in it next.”
“He assaulted you?” Delph asked. “That is an unwarranted use of physical force!”
“Calm down,” I replied. “I’m fine. Anyway, so he loads me in the back of his transport, and as we’re taking off, I look up at the window, I don't know, like three floors up or something, and there was a woman standing there, Octans, I figured, since no part of her was exposed. But then I noticed her headcover. It was stained. It was still wet. It was actually dripping, in fact. It was blood. And it was blue blood.”
“You must be mistaken, Leo. Octans do not have blue blood.”
“Exactly, Delph! It was Cassie. That's how I know she's alive. That’s how I know she set me up. She wanted to make sure I got caught, but she couldn’t afford to be seen. Pretending to be an Octans was the perfect disguise. No cop was gonna ask her to remove her headcover. Not a chance.”
“She is cunning. But your trial will find you innocent, and you will go on, free from her influence.”
“Nah. I, I gotta find her.”
"Because she tried to ruin my life. She wanted them to lock me up for murder. Now, I'm gonna give 'em a reason to."
Here are stories from the authors being featured in the May 6th episode.
The Devouring Beast - Mark Dubovec
I awoke to darkness, feeling like the world was pressed against my face. I struggled to tear myself free, but I only twisted further into the mess of black oblivion. I tried to scream but could not find my mouth. My lungs begged for release and my heart nearly erupted.
Finally, I pulled free from my blanket and sat up in bed, relieved I wouldn’t miss work because I suffocated in my sleep. The cracked-open window brought in a cool, gentle breeze that kissed my bare skin.
“Air, precious air,” I said. It tasted better than the coffee and orange juice waiting in the kitchen.
I remained half-asleep, my eyes still sensitive to the morning sun pouring in. I spun my feet off the bed and planted them on a pile of hastily discarded clothes on the carpet. Without looking, I reached down, pulled on a wrinkled t-shirt, and followed that by grabbing a pair of jeans. As I struggled to yank them up, the denim cutting into the back of my thighs, I realized something.
“These aren’t my pants,” I said, standing up as I slid out of the jeans.
I looked around. This wasn’t my room. This wasn’t my bed.
I had never seen this room before. Instead of a tan curtain, a colorful, flowery spread hung open at the window. My various movie posters were gone, leaving only blank walls and the occasional photograph of mountains and oceans. The bed was new, soft, and comfortable. The thick maroon comforter didn’t resemble my thin, patched brown blanket in the slightest.
“What’s going on here?” I asked. I was in a room I had never been in before with clothes that didn’t fit me. Was I going crazy? Was I dead, trapped in some weird purgatory? Or Hell? It definitely wasn’t Heaven.
I clasped my face in both hands and rubbed my cheeks and eyes, feeling the warmth sprout over me. When I took my hands away and opened my eyes, I saw her: the strange woman in the window.
She looked at me the way a scientist looks at a mouse, as if I was something small and useful. I couldn’t tell how old she was. She could have been 30 or 60 or 200 for all I knew. Her red hair was long and dark; it hung past her shoulders and was completely straight.
She wore thick, black-rimmed glasses, which enlarged her eyes. I wasn’t sure, but her eyes, instead of white, looked acid yellow, the pupils solid purple.
The woman smiled when she noticed me looking at her and waved me over. I didn’t want to go to her. Something felt off, but my muscles obeyed her and carried me over. She rattled the glass with a long, bony finger, the nail painted bright green, and I opened the window the rest of the way. She leaned through the threshold.
“About time you woke up, Mr. Livingston,” she said as if greeting an old friend.
“That’s not my name,” I said.
She cocked her head to the side, like a curious puppy. “Oh really? Then, pray, tell me. What is your name?”
“It’s…” I began but could not finish. I couldn’t remember. I just knew it wasn’t Livingston. Like the pants from before, it didn’t fit. “I don’t know.”
“Well,” she continued,” you seem certain about that. I’ll take your word for it, even though you look an awfully lot like Mr. Livingston, and you are in his house.”
She nodded. “Oh yes. He’s lived here ever since he was a little boy.” She looked me over, from my bare feet to my shaggy-haired head and unshaven face. “Were you ever a little boy, Mr. I’m-not-Mr.-Livingston, or did you just sprout fully grown from the ground as you are?”
I stared at her, dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to say, unsure whether she was being serious or pulling my leg.
Before I could do anything else, she pulled something from deep within her brown outfit and presented it with both hands. I couldn’t tell what it was, some strange contraption, flexible and soft in some places, hard and square in others. It looked like an oversized typewriter with an air chute in the middle
“Recognize this?” she asked. I shook my head. “It’s my accordion, my favorite musical instrument. I play dozens of instruments: drums, guitar, flute, xylophone, trumpet, triangle, but I prefer the accordion above all else.”
She played it, and I collapsed to my knees, my hands clamped over my ears. Never have I heard so painfully unholy of sound. I thought for sure my ears were going to bleed. The sound practically attacked me, drilling into my skull and stabbing my brain.
“Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” I begged, and the noise ceased. The strange woman looked at me curiously.
“You really aren’t Mr. Livingston. He enjoyed my playing.”
“What was that god awful sound?” I asked.
She rolled her eyes and put the instrument away. “Don’t worry. My accordion isn’t possessed. It always sounds like that.” She said that as if it was the most normal thing in the world and I was the crazy person for questioning her.
“I can’t imagine it sounding any worse that.”
“Don’t worry. I get it inspected every seven months. Only been occupied by a demon twice in the last five years. The last one, Beezlemouth, was such a pain to get rid of.”
“You mean Beelzebub?”
She glared at me as if I was stupid. “No, Beezlemouth. Beezlebub knows better than to mess around with my accordion.”
“Oh yeah, right,” I said. In my mind, I wanted to scream.
“Well,” she continued, “I best introduce myself. I’m Mary Proudfoot de la Alderaan, and you are? Oh, silly me, I forgot. You can’t recall your own name. Well, then, I best give you a moniker. Otherwise, it will be very awkward to keep having to call you You or something like that.
“Any name you prefer? This is quite the golden opportunity for such a strapping young man like you. You can pick any name you want. Any name. Any name. Any time now.”
Before I could think of a name, she cut me off. “Fine, I’ll give you one if you aren’t in a hurry to give yourself one.” Again, she looked me over, licking her lips as she did so and rubbing her chin with two fingers.
“I dub thee….”
She paused for dramatic effect.
“Justin Busterton. What do you think?”
I didn’t know what to think. Justin was OK, I supposed, but Busterton, did anyone have a name like that?
“Well,” she continued, “it doesn’t matter what you think. It’s what I’m going to call you, Justin.”
I shrugged. It was best to go along with her for the time being. I still felt lost and disoriented, and Mary Proudfoot seemed friendly if kooky.
“I have news for you, Justin,” she said. “This is serious business.”
“What is it?”
“You and I are going to save the world.”
That was not the news I anticipated.
“What?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “If we don’t do something, the world will be destroyed, everyone in it dead, and I will never again know the joys of a good foot scraping.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Well, you should, Justin. When you’re as old as me, you’ll learn to appreciate the joy of taking off your shoes as the end of the day, combing off the dead skin on the bottom, and then soaking your feet in warm, soothing water. Believe me, that’s the only reason I want to save this crummy world.
“Surely, you have a reason you want to save the world, don’t you, Justin?”
“Well, I like being alive.”
Mary snorted. “Whatever. I think it’s overrated. Being dead is quite the thrill. That’s why I’ve died three times, and I’m always annoyed with every resurrection, but hey, it’s your reason, not mine. It’s good enough if you’re willing to help me.”
“Sure, I guess.”
She smiled, and I felt uneasy. She looked like she had more teeth than should have been able to fit into her mouth, and I couldn’t help but wonder what she needed so many teeth for. I know, it’s a dumb thing to wonder, but I wasn’t thinking straight.
“Then follow me, Justin.” I turned toward the door. “No,” she said. She beckoned. “Through the window. We have to do this right. Through the window.”
I shrugged, no longer questioning what was happening. As I straddled through the frame, I thought of something. “Shouldn’t I be dressed?” I slid out and fell, rolling until I landed at her feet. “Something more appropriate for like a battle or…”
She turned and looked down at me. “But you’re already dressed for battle, Justin. Stand up and see.”
I obeyed. I was no longer clad in a t-shirt and boxers. I wore a suit of armor and chainmail vest. My boots were iron and clomped with every step. I felt like I was wearing a washing machine.
“Whoa,” I said. “I don’t remember putting this on.”
“Of course you don’t,” Mary said. “You’re the hero. Heroes don’t have time for those silly things. Now come along and we will get you a weapon.”
The suburban neighborhood of single-story houses and on-street parking evaporated. We were in a forest. A light mist coated the ground. In the distance, I heard the baying of wolves and the rumbling thunder of an unseen storm.
“Stick close, Justin,” Mary said. “If you get lost, there’s no telling what you’ll be transformed into.”
“A giant skeleton perhaps. Maybe a nest of spider eggs. Maybe even a dung beetle. Staying in my aura will keep you safe?”
“I keep it up to strength with whole grains, regular exercise, and coating my skin in egg yolks.”
“Does that really help?”
“Well, I can’t be certain about the exercise, but it helps to keep the cardiovascular system strong in case we need to run. Like now. Run!”
Mary dashed ahead without giving me the chance to ask why, so I followed suit, running as fast as I could. It wasn’t easy. The armor weighed a ton and clamped tightly on my knees and elbows.
Mary yelled something to me, but I couldn’t tell what. I struggled to catch up with her. Again, she yelled something indistinct. I pressed on harder, my suit filling up with sweat.
She yelled again. This time, I noticed she wasn’t turning to yell, which explained why it was so hard to hear her. I caught some of the words and waited for her to yell again. She obliged.
“Don’t look back no matter what!”
Was something chasing us? A twinge in my neck commanded me to turn. It shouldn’t have been difficult to catch a quick glance…
“DON’T DO IT!” Mary screamed.
She hadn’t turned, but somehow, she knew I was about to look.
We reached a clearing in the woods, a round opening free of trees and brush. In the center, a pedestal jutted out of the ground. From it, the handle of a sword extended toward the sky. I knew it was a sword. I had never seen one in real life, but I recognized the blue hilt and yellow triangles. It had to have been…
“Yes,” Mary said. “It is the Master Sword the legends speak of.” She wrapped herself in a cloak, sweating and breathing hard. She shivered. “Don’t worry. We’re safe in this domain. We’re protected.” She started toward the pedestal. “It’s safe to look now. It’s gone.”
“What’s gone?” I looked back the way we came. All I saw were trees.
“We don’t have a name for that dreadful horror. If you had gazed upon it, you would have been frozen with terror, and it would have claimed you, and that would have been no good. I need you.”
I followed her. “The world needs a hero, Justin,” she continued. “I think it’s you.”
“Because you’re the only human left in the world.”
She nodded. “Everyone else died or fled the planet while you were sleeping. As you might have guessed, I am not of mortal origin. It was amazing luck I found you when I did. If I hadn’t found you, it would gotten you.”
“The unnamable dreadful horror?”
“No, don’t be ridiculous. That only lives in the forest. The Devouring Beast would have gotten you.”
“It’s a beast that eats all life in its path.”
“Yeah,” I said. “The name kind of gave that part away.”
We reached the sword. It glowed in the misty sunlight. I swear I could hear the sound of distant singing as I approached it. It sounded like a faint church choir. The sword beckoned me.
“Claim the sword, Justin,” Mary said. “Take it, and slay the Devouring Beast, and we will save the world.”
I shrugged. “Ok.”
I clasped the hilt and pulled. Power flowed up the blade and through my arms, through my entire being. It felt almost electric. Every muscle in my body swelled with raw energy. I could conquer the world with this mighty weapon. I held the sword above my head, posed as the mighty warrior.
The sword screamed. I dropped it and backed away. It landed in the dirt but still it screamed, blood-curdling and shrill.
“What the …?”
“It seems I was wrong,” Mary said behind me. “You are not the hero I sought.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You are not worthy.” Her voice sounded different: deeper, distorted, rumbling, gurgling.
If I didn’t look, nothing bad will happen, I thought. No look, nothing bad..
I twisted around slowly, as if pulled by a wire. Mary stood there, wrapped and huddled in her cloak. I leaned closer.
“Mary, I’m sorry?”
She leapt from her cloak, no longer Mary, transformed into something hideous and hungry. I couldn’t move, her claws and fangs inches from my throat.
I woke up, again encased in darkness. My head throbbed. I wanted to throw up, but something was shoved in my mouth. I tried to touch my face, but my arms were bound behind my back. I looked around.
I was hogtied and dangling from a hook in the ceiling. The only light in the room came from the fireplace. Some unknown meat roasted in it. Everything else was pitch black.
The orange light bathed me in a warm glow. Beyond the reach of the light, in the shadows, was nothing. No room. No Mary. No forest. No Devouring Beast. This was my world, my universe.
Someone held a blade to my throat.
“If you won’t save the world,” the person said, “we are going to eat you.”
I tried to scream but couldn’t. I was paralyzed, the cold metal against my skin. I heard the sound of something being dragged and looked. A basin, to collect my blood, rested underneath.
“Now it’s time,” the voice said. “Prepare your throat.”
I woke up again. I was in my bed, my own bed, the bed I recognized.
I looked around. It was my room. I looked at the window. No strange woman beckoning me through to fetch a sword and go on a quest to save the world.
I climbed out of bed and pulled on my pants. They fit, and I almost cried with joy. I went to the kitchen and poured myself a glass of orange juice. It tasted sweet and pulpy. I was still drinking it when I heard a knock at the door. I was still holding it when I answered. I dropped it when I opened the door. The glass shattered into a million pieces.
It was the last person I wanted to see standing on my front porch.
Mary smiled when she saw me. “About time you woke up, Justin.”
The Psychic Hours - Viola Dawn
Three a.m. Also known as the beginning of the psychic hours. Those last few hours before dawn. Forget the witching hour of midnight. The psychic hours are ones I’d rather be sleeping through. I fell asleep to the soft tapping of an ASMR video. I dig the deep spiritualist stuff, anything with tapping, freaky Reiki magic type videos that are supposed to open up one’s ability to lucid dream.
I can’t exactly prescribe ASMR to my clients, despite being a sleep therapist. But for my own issues, I love it. It’s my full intention to be fresh as a daisy tomorrow.
I’ve got plans with Jimmy. He’s really straight laced so I’m holding back. I don’t wanna scare him by diving in for that first kiss. I don’t want to make him feel like a sex object. He’s a good guy. All the same, it’s left me a bit insecure. He seems to like me but, how much exactly? So I do what any normal person would do when they’re insecure.
I burn dragon blood incense, chant, put my ear buds in and fall asleep to an ASMR video. Hell, it’s better than getting a flower and plucking petals saying “he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not.”
Tap…tap…tap. Yes, tapping on glass always makes me drowsy. So you can imagine my alarm when I open my eyes, ear buds still in and The Woman in Black’s doppelganger is at my bedroom window. Musty lace and Victorian death culture were not what I was hoping for. And why the hell is the tapping sound in the ear buds?
I’m too scared to move and a cold breeze blows across my exposed feet. I’m looking right at her. A vision of black nails scraping across my feet plays in my mind. It’s too chilly, like I’m hollow inside with thin skin and an ice cold breeze is blowing right through me.
Behind the black lace, she smiles and her mouth comes apart. She’s about to speak. I wince, yank out my ear buds but when my eyes are open she isn’t there.
Just crickets. And it’s three am. I’m wide awake and the thing I do to get myself to relax doesn’t seem like such a good idea right now. Freaking psychic hours.
I’m not sure how long I lay there staring at the window, wondering if she’s in my house. I fall asleep to the sound of chirping birds.
There’s a banging sound on the window and I shoot up. It’s Jimmy. He looks worried. I turn, disorientated and hold one finger up at him. “Hold on…Jimmy…hold on.” I mouth the words. He places his hand on his heart, rolling his eyes like he’s so relieved I finally woke up.
I open the door, telling him to come in and he’s through before the words leave my dry lips. He’s wearing his running gear.
“I’ve been calling you for like…an hour. We were going to go for a run, remember? I got worried. Then I knew where your bedroom window is…tapped on it. You looked dead. I mean, white as can be. I could see your phone ringing when tapping didn’t work. You were just…out cold…so I had to bang on the window.”
Oh…running. I’d set my alarm for like 5. Crap.
“Sorry, Jimmy. I haven’t been able to sleep very well lately. I keep waking up at 3 and not being able to go back to sleep. It’s…”
“Clare…I thought you were dead.”
“Yeah, jeez. You’d think I’d have been drinking or something. I even went to sleep in my jogging bottoms…”
Then we both look down at my attire. I’m in my comfy sports bra and off the shoulder sport top but…
“Those are not my pants.”
I’m wearing a pair of sweat pants that look as though they are straight out of an eighties movie. Not like modern, trendy versions or purposefully “stressed” or “vintage” eighties style bottoms….but old. Like they’ve been buried under some moth eaten garments for a of couple decades. They’re ripped in places….as though by sharp nails.
“I need to get out of my house. Can I come to your place?”
“I….uh…yeah….come on.” He agrees.
Jimmy only lives a few houses down. This relationship might not go anywhere but I don’t want him to think I’m crazy. I’d like to still get along with my neighbors. Right now though, I’d rather be anywhere other than my house.
Jimmy opens the door, his brows furrowed, fumbling with his keys. He finally manages to get his own door open. I’m tired. So much so that I’m tempted to ask if I could lie down. But we’ve only been out a couple of times and this would be the first time I’d ever been inside his house.
“Coffee?” He asks.
“Yes…yes please.” I answer.
“You look like you need perking up.”
“Yeah. Wow…your place is…nice.”
It’s tidy & unique. All Jimmy. He’s got a collection of German beer steins. I know Jimmy plays the accordion and he’s a member of a German-American folk band. I should imagine if I opened his closet, I’d find freshly ironed shirts and lederhosen ready for all the local folk festivals. Not the most every day of hobbies but, he says it keeps him out of trouble.
It dawns on me that I haven’t as of yet taken care of that human need most people have upon waking up. “I’m… sorry to ask you this but,”
“It’s down the hall, first door on the left. It’s cool… you can pee at my house.”
I leave Jimmy to start brewing as I walk down his hallway. I notice he has photos of famous accordion players along the wall. I go into his bathroom. It’s a horrible shade of olive green, but clean. Even the bathroom rug looks freshly shaken out & aired, and the cream colored shower curtain doesn’t betray a hint of use.
It’s like I’ve been transported to a nineteen sixties bachelor’s pad. Jimmy even has a crew cut. He’s so cute.
I wash my hands with his no nonsense soap and check my face in the mirror. I jump back, nearly knocking down Jimmy’s perfect shower curtain. My hand is firmly over my mouth and I stayed silent. It was more of an internal scream.
It’s the lady with the black veil. She’s staring at me from the mirror. I can’t move. She starts to speak and all I can do is widen my eyes.
Her voice is almost sing song, yet has a jarring affect as the mirror’s glass vibrates alongside it. “Bound to my realm now, dear Claire. I suppose you didn’t mean to call me.”
“Dragon blood incense. It’s…one of my favorites. I’m Phobetor, or Ikelos to some, god of nightmares, at your pleasure as it were. So lucid your dreams and thoughts, now reality is the land that time forgot. Solve this subconscious riddle with an honest kiss. Else safety from harm, you’ll dearly miss.”
There’s a demonic edge to Phobetor’s voice, filtered through the Lady in Black form. “What does that mean?”
I’m no stranger to mythology. Phobetor is one of the Oneroi, winged deities, of which Morpheus leads and they work the world of human dreams. Of course Phobetor is where the word “phobia” comes from…you get the idea. He’s the least fun of the Oneroi.
I walk past all Jimmy’s accordion pictures and the smell of coffee hits me. Jimmy is still in the kitchen, in front of the small television atop the breakfast counter, with his accordion in hand. I take a good swig of the coffee. At this point I wish there was booze in it.
He starts playing. It’s a lovely tune at first. Then it changes into something…different.
The music is like a jovial polka but there’s animal noises.
Jimmy’s face snaps up and he looks at me as though he forgot I was there. “Claire. Will you come see me play at the festival? We’re doing a set near the “Little Germany” section. It’s gonna be a real hoot and holler.”
Hoot and holler? I swear sometimes Jimmy is straight out of a nineteen fifties suburb.
He starts playing again and it sounds like a wounded beast groaning along with the chords. Something injured and held against its will. Jimmy closes his eyes and shakes his head in that mad musician style. The type where they look like enraptured but if non musical people try to mimic it they look ridiculous. It’s endearing and nauseating at the same time.
What is that groaning beast noise? The little television appears to be on mute….it couldn’t be that.
“Jimmy?” His head snaps up and he looks at me with wide eyes again.
“Why does your accordion sound possessed?”
He wraps his arms around it like it’s his baby and he needs to protect it.
“My accordion isn’t possessed. It always sounds like that.”
He tilts his head at me. I glance at the television screen. It isn’t on mute. There’s a crow, cawing and flapping its wings on some nature show…I guess. But the crow is looking at me.
Jimmy starts to speak but his voice is muffled & slow. I’m not sure if he’s drunk or I am. My eyes feel dry & heavy. Like they’ve been watering and all the residue of whatever irritated them still clings to my lids and coats my eyeballs.
The crow is still cawing, sounding more distressed. I wearily look to the counter top next to the tv.
There’s a knife. It covered in blood. It’s like the crow is trying to warn me. I look to Jimmy. He smiles, all friendly & wholesome and sets his accordion down next to the knife on the counter. Then he turns, blocking my view of the bloody knife.
“What the….” I start to say. Maybe he’s been meal prepping? The doorbell rings and suddenly everything goes silent.
“Would you please get that?” Jimmy says, his back to me.
“Sure…sure.” I’m too tired to question anything. I’m obviously delirious from lack of rest. I’ll let Jimmy’s guest in and then make my excuses and head home. There’s no creepy Greek god of nightmares in drag hanging at my house…I’m not scared. “Psshhhht” I say, then cover my mouth as I answer the door.
I struggle to adjust to the light, blinking, trying not to appear like I’m on sedatives or half a bottle of vodka.
“Claire…” a voice answered with raised brows.
“Shit…oh sorry, Father.” I slap a hand over my mouth and wince. Idiot. It’s Father Larson. The first priest I ever gave confession to. I was a really good Catholic back in second grade. So, good I was determined to even show myself to the priest. I didn’t do the kneeling behind the curtain thing. I wanted to be punished for my sins.
Bless me father for I have sinned. This is my first confession. I’ve done a lot of naughty things in my time but the worst is how often I’ve thought about Ryan Giovanni kissing me. I struggle to think about other things. I also devised a torture chamber for my Barbies and mother said it wasn’t the sort of thing a little girl should be doing. And I put glitter on my dog. He didn’t seem to care and his fur sparkled but I feel worst about that for some reason.
It had all the makings of a brilliant conversation. Sadly he scowled at me, told me kissing stuff was for grown-ups and prescribed the appropriate number of Hail Marys.
Father Larson clears his throat and says “Claire…haven’t seen you in church since Christmas.”
“Yeah, I go with my folks and sister for Christmas and Easter. I’m on a spiritual…ummm…journey at the moment.” Father Larson raises an eyebrow and I keep talking before he has a chance to question anything.
“Are you here to see Jimmy?”
“Yes, I’m helping organize the festival, so I wanted to come over and go over some details. Are you…helping with the festival too?”
He might as well have added “Jezebel” after that. I should really get out of here. I open my mouth to respond but Jimmy is behind me. “Hello, Father Larson.” He reaches out and pumps the priest’s hand, all business.
Elephant ears and polka aren’t going to organize themselves, I guess. “I’ll leave you to it. Thanks for…playing for me, Jimmy. Sorry we missed our ru-“
“Claire you should stay and finish your coffee.” Jimmy interrupts me.
“Ah…yes…yes stay Claire. It’s good to be involved with the community. The devil makes work for idle thumbs.” Father Larson adds.
“I’d love to but, I really didn’t sleep well last night, I don’t know how much help I’ll be.”
The kitchen television is off. For some reason I miss the crow. I feel like that bird was on my side. Jeez, I’m tired.
Where’d that bloody knife go? I take another sip of coffee.
My knees find the floor seconds before my head. Everything turns black.
Phobetor, god of nightmares summons you to his service, you’d damn well better turn up because he knows where you live. Or she. Or they. Or it. It literally doesn’t matter. Phobetor can make the nightmares go away, or he can make them worse.
Damn…what am I supposed to do? Do I get to kiss Jimmy?
I’m not sure how long I’m out but when I wake up I can’t move. Or talk. My head’s pounding. And there’s something in my mouth.
Inaudible grunting escapes the gag and when my vision comes into focus, it’s Jimmy’s face I see. And the edge of a knife. Behind him is Father Larson, sitting in a chair against the wall. Jimmy, it would seem, has some sort of torture chamber in his basement.
What the even fuck!
“Ssshhhh…Claire, relax. It’s just sleep paralysis. That’s why you can’t move.”
No, I can’t move because you have me bound to a table.
Then, Father Larson pipes up, “Oh, yes. It’s science actually. If we could move while we dream, we’d surely injure ourselves. That’s why sleep walking is so dangerous.” He sounds almost childish. Not the seasoned priest who took my first confession a couple of decades ago.
I am able to turn my head and try to give him a look that says,
Are you serious? Do you seriously think I don’t know that? I studied sleep. I live for sleep. I’m a therapist who specializes in helping insomniacs for goodness sake.
I don’t think Father Larson takes much notice of my look.
Jimmy turns from his knife pointing duties and addresses the old priest, “Are you sure this will work?”
“Yes, I’m sure. You made the sacrifice of a crow and played a tune for him. And you said yourself, Phobetor has a liking for her.”
He’s not always a him. Depends what mood she’s in. The deity of nightmares is rather flexible as far as identity is concerned. Human. Not human. Dead. Undead. Boy, girl. Whatever.
“So, Claire…it’s dawned on me that you never asked what I do for work, outside of my accordion gigs and the folk festival circuit.” Jimmy says.
Yeah…he can do the whole German slap dancing thing too. He might have a knife pointed in my direction but damn does he rock a pair of lederhosen. Jeez, if he was wearing them now and with Father Larson nowhere near, this could whole deal could be a hell of a good time.
Almost as if Jimmy has caught on to my thoughts, he removes my gag. “Okay, Jimmy…why me? Did you only start dating me to use me in some weird ritual?”
He smiles. “Yes and no. Let me explain. I’m a demonologist. You know all the gods and goddesses people used to worship? Well…they are actually demons. I get paid by…varying religious organizations to harness them. You’re the sleep counselor. On the outside you’re all sleep hygiene, no tv before bed. But really you do hocus pocus and all that occult stuff. He likes you. I’ve…got a gift.”
He pauses, waiting for me to express my awe. Suddenly my kinky lederhosen fantasy isn’t as appealing. “Well, first of all congratulations on your gift. Second of all, the ancient Greeks referred to certain demons but the term means something different to them. Phobetor is a deity…he’s not a demon in the churchy sense.”
“I’ve heard enough of this!” Father Larson jumps up now. “We need to go through with this. Harness Phobetor so he’ll inflict nightmares upon this witch, with all her questionable practices. We need to see if this works! If we can turn this one back to Faith then we can turn anyone.”
“So…I’m bait…and a guinea pig?” I look at Jimmy.
“Oh…Claire. He was gonna be visiting you anyway. Look at this as a much more controlled environment than your bedroom. We can protect you from it.”
“Awesome. And by the way, Jimmy….bad move sacrificing the crow. First of all, animal cruelty is horrible. Second of all, Phobetor loves crows and ravens. Killing one will only piss him off.”
A shadow of doubt crosses Jimmy’s face but he shakes it away. He turns and takes a different knife from a drawer next to Father Larson. It’s got the congealed crow blood on it from before. He puts the gag back in my mouth.
This is not going to be fun.
My arm are bound, elbows down on the table so he has easy access to my veins. I don’t look. But it’s instant stinging and warm liquid flows down my flesh.
I scream against the gag. Accordion music plays in the background but I hardly hear it. The priest must be playing…it isn’t as awesome as Jimmy’s playing. This truly feels like a nightmare. I want to wake up. Please, please let me wake up? If anyone can hear me? I’ll do anything.
Then, a cool hand touches my other arm and the pain stops. Father Larson starts shouting “Demonness! Foul Creature! We summon you to put fear in the minds of the godless.”
Jimmy makes a shushing sound and says, “Shut up, Father. This isn’t an exorcism. We want her here and we don’t need to use that tone. This is a negotiation. Right?”
Jimmy seems in his element now. Phobetor raises a brow. Her veil is lifted and her black gown is unbuttoned at the chest, rolled at the sleeves. Like she’s ready to work. If I could compare her to anyone I would say she’s more like Monica Belucci than a…corpse. She looks down at me and one corner of her mouth lifts. She strokes my face & removes the gag.
I’m not necessarily scared of her. She’s….saving me.
Then, she speaks. “You can’t keep me here, I have ways to escape. You’d better give me my crow back.”
“I’ll resurrect your pet when you’ve done our bidding. It takes a…” Jimmy stops and clears his throat.
“Yes, I need a virgin to perform the resurrection ritual. Male. Pure of heart. Though…your pure of heart status is fading fast. Your intentions were good once, Jimmy, when you noticed your gift. But you’ve focused on the virginity bit a lot more than the pure of heart bit.”
Jimmy is a virgin? Wow. That makes so much sense.
Jimmy loses it. “I’m not like you! I won’t just do THAT with anyone!”
Phobetor keeps her cool and responds “Shush, child. There is nothing wrong with you or your preferences. Nothing at all. As there is nothing wrong with mine. Or hers. His though…” she gestures to Father Larson before continuing “…there might be a few things wrong with his. Now then…a nightmare you say?”
Father Larson’s usual ruddy color drains from his face.
“Yes.” Jimmy says through grit teeth. Father Larson stays silent, wringing his hands and keeping his seat. He wants to speak. But I think this is his first dealing with an actual deity.
“You wanted to get to know Claire…see where things went. Then this job came along. Lots of money.”
As Phobetor speaks, she strokes my right arm with her nails. It brings a familiar tingling sensation.
“Stop. Just begin.” Jimmy says, though his voice wavers. He doesn’t want to see me hurt, but he feels by trapping this demon, he’s doing a good thing.
“Very well. Pick up your knife.”
Jimmy swallows, his Adams Apple bobs. Reckon he thought this was going to be more of an internal thing. Like she’d just screw with my head. Rather than him having to get involved.
Phobetor lowers her face down to mine. Her tongue brushes my lips and she leans to whisper in my ear, “He’s going to take your heart. I could have him cut off your fingers. But let’s start with exorcising your demons…and getting me out of this trap.”
Father Larson is above me, his sausage fingers spread out as he carries on with himself “Lord! We beseech you to bring this child back to your service. Rid her of wicked thoughts…that she’s always had. Her wanton appetites….”
Father Larson starts listing all the things I’ve done wrong. Some are not what you’d call, bad girl cool. More are just dumb.
“When she took her ken doll with her to school and told all the children he would turn real for her one day and be her loving husband and they all laughed.”
Oh god…this is embarrassing. That thing with Ken was so temporary.
“Or the time she got locked in the bathroom & ate a multi pack of candy bars thinking she’d starve so she might as well go out happy then threw up and was rescued within five minutes of being locked in the bathroom.”
“Or on a school camping trip, so envious was she of Stacy Bolster and Simon Bayliss, sleeping in one another’s embrace….she dropped her fork and knife near them on purpose.”
It goes on…my deadly sins. When is Jimmy going to start removing my fingers? The worst is anger. I punched my sister Jenny on the nose, pulled her hair and screamed in her face when she taped over Dark Shadows. Dad had to step in or I might have really hurt her. I’ve always had a temper but that was not my finest hour. Jenny has called me Psycho Claire ever since. Also, I’m glad entertainment technology has moved on.
Jimmy looks down on me like he’s disgusted. And….a little turned on. He swallows back that expression. “We’ve got her…she’ll stay…”
My eyes glance at Phobetor. The lady in black form shifts to something else. She turns into Jimmy. Neither Jimmy nor Father Larson seem to notice this change. Jimmy’s actual voice is in my head.
“I need help, Claire. I’m in over my head with all this demon rustling business. Things I used to think were right I’m not sure about anymore. Things I thought were wrong, I think might be right. I’m a little scared, Claire, but I want you. And I need your help.”
Phobetor’s, in Jimmy form, tongue slips into my mouth and I’m lost. He…she knows everything about me. Like, everything. Yet still kisses me like I’m okay. Despite my violent rages, my perverse imagination, my obsessions, my weaknesses and insecurities. Phobetor likes me. Wants me. Jimmy likes me. Real Jimmy doesn’t cut me again, but I feel his hand on my wounded arm. It doesn’t hurt anymore. I feel his eyes on my heart. He wants it. Shit, is he going to cut it out? This is the weirdest and possibly best make-out session ever. I wholeheartedly surrender to it.
Then, it’s Father Larson who jumps up, shouting “No! We had a deal! We’ll do this my way!”
I’m helpless…I can’t move as he picks up a sword and runs it through Jimmy, across into Phobetor, who had snapped up at the priest’s outburst.
Then, the most horrible screaming rings out into the air. Like someone in total agony. It’s the sword. It’s screaming in pain.
Jimmy and Phobetor are fine…not a scratch. Words echo in my head,
Solve this subconscious riddle with an honest kiss. Else safety from harm, you’ll dearly miss.
Tap, tap, tap. I wake up. Jimmy is tapping on my window. We smile at one another through the glass and I rush to the door to let him in.
Finding Rose: The Session - Michael Nadeau
Rose McAlister relaxed on her couch and tried to calm her breathing. She was of average height, with long black hair and blue eyes. She looked over at her therapist again and smiled. "You're sure these dream sessions are helping me, doctor?" she asked, unsure of what this was really going to do.
"Yes, Mrs. McAlister, just lay back and let me put you under. I assure you that they will get to the root cause of your delusion that you are possessed; it's the reason I like to do these sessions in your own home," the therapist said.
Rose sighed and lay back, trying to control her breathing. Her therapist, Janice Black, was highly recommended and was supposed to be the best in her field. The woman had long blond hair and deep hazel eyes, which seemed to bore into her soul. Within moments she was drifting into a dreamlike state, hearing the woman's voice as if from a great distance.
Now tell me what you see Rose.
"I'm in my house, but I'm dressed funny; these are not my pants," she said as she looked down at the oddly-colored pants she was wearing. They were a light brown and seemed to be skin tight on her.
Focus Rose, look around. What else is there?
"There is a strange woman at the window," Rose said, walking closer. "She seems to be pointing to something outside."
Is this the spirit you think is possessing you? Can you see what she is pointing to? Are you able to get outside, or are you stuck in the house?
Rose closed her eyes, and in the next heartbeat she was outside, staring at a man. "I'm outside. She is pointing at a man," she explained, as she walked closer. "He is pulling at a sword, stuck in a tree." Rose watched, as the man pulled the sword free, then dropped it as it screamed in pain. "Oh my God, he got it out; the sword is screaming, like it is in pain from being pulled free!"
Calm down Rose, it's all in your mind. Nothing in there can hurt you. Focus, what else is there?
"I can hear someone playing my accordion," Rose said, as she closed her eyes and willed herself back in the house. She was getting the hang of this.
Can you see who is playing it? What does it sound like?
"It's my husband. He is playing a warped version of the wedding march, all out of tune."
Is the instrument different? Why is it warped? Is it possessed?
"My accordion isn't possessed. It always sounds like that," she said, smiling at the sight of her husband. Before she could think of anything else, pain shot through her arms, from the wrist to the elbow. "My arms!" she called out, seeing nothing around her that could be causing the pain. “They feel like I've been sliced."
Calm down Rose, find a chair and sit down. Try to close your eyes, and relax...it will be over soon.
Rose felt a panic rise in her as she started to weaken. Wake up...wake up! she thought to herself, as the darkness started to creep in, absorbing first the walls, then furniture of her house. Rose got up, trying to ignore the pain in her arms, and ran for the back door. Her arms felt so light, almost numb. She closed her eyes and tried to will herself out of the dream, but
nothing happened. Her last thought before the enveloping darkness reached her was for Harrison. She wouldn't see her beloved husband again, and that was the worst feeling of all.
Don't worry Rose; I won't let her hurt you, a voice said, as if all around her. Then she was engulfed in the blackness of her mind.
He sat behind his desk, stacks of papers on either side, working furiously. Harrison McAlister was just a regular guy, working a boring job, stressed out to the point of breaking. He had black hair, cropped close to the collar of his cheap suit, and silver-rimmed glasses. He stamped another set of papers, moving them from one stack to the other, and sighed. He was trying to concentrate, but something was off today; a feeling he couldn't put a finger on, or a name to. The phone trilled, breaking his routine, snapping him out of his funk. "Harrison speaking," he said, trying not to sound annoyed.
"Mr. McAlister? This is Detective Harn, Florence PD," the gruff voice said over the phone.
"The Police? What can I do for you?" he said, trying to think of what the Colorado police could want with him.
“We would like to ask you a couple questions about your wife's therapist."
"Janice Black? Is there a problem?” he asked, the feeling in his stomach getting worse. He had suggested that his wife go to her after she started saying that she was possessed. Not that he didn't trust his wife, but...possession? When he started his day, this was something that he couldn't have anticipated. Great, he thought, more stress.
"We just want to talk, Mr. McAlister. Can you, and maybe your wife, come down to the station around two?" Harn asked, sounding frustrated.
"Yes sir, my wife has a session until noon, and I can try to leave soon. We might be able to stop by, together, around one," he said, looking at the clock. Twelve fifteen.
"See you then Mr. McAlister." The phone clicked as the man hung up.
Harrison sighed, laying his head down on the desk. I just wanted my life to be easy, he thought. He got up and went to his boss's office, knocking lightly on the door and waiting for the voice he dreaded hearing.
"Come in Harrison," she called, her husky tone seeming pleasant for once.
Harrison opened the door to Rebecca's office, marveling at how she always knew it was him, and sat down. He was nervous every time he had to talk to her. "Miss Jones, may I leave a little early today?" he asked, trying not to make direct eye contact. If he didn't look her in the eye, then he might not get yelled at.
"What's the emergency, Harrison?" Rebecca asked, leaning forward on her desk. She had short red hair and freckles, along with a smile that would stop a charging train. She might be pretty, but she was always so angry that it just didn't matter.
Her voice sent shivers down his spine. To say he was intimidated by her was a severe understatement. "The police want me and my wife to come in, to ask us a few questions. Something about her therapist."
"Well that's fine. You can always finish tomorrow," she said, folding her arms on the desk. "You know Harrison, you may be the smartest guy I have ever met, but you still can't talk to others without looking at your feet. Someday you will need to grow a spine, and I just hope you live through it."
"Thank you Rebecca, I'll finish my work tomorrow," he said, ignoring her last statement. He closed the door behind him, grabbed his things and walked to the elevator. He pushed the button and the door opened. A smiling man was staring right at him. Marcus Owens was the last person he wanted to see right now. Owens was tall, built, and extremely arrogant; never mind talkative.
"Harry! Where you going?" Marcus asked, jabbing his finger into Harrison's sternum. "Does Rebecca know you're skipping out?"
Harrison wasn't in the mood. He slapped Marcus's arm aside and slipped by him into the elevator. "Yes, she does," Harrison said, pushing the big man back out so the doors could close. He hit the G and headed down to the parking garage, the feeling of dread increasing. A short drive later he pulled into his driveway and his life changed forever.
Alive for Now
Rose awoke, bound and gagged, as Janice looked down at her. The woman was holding a knife and humming softly. Rose tried to ask what was going on, forgetting that she was gagged, and then struggled in a panic. She could see that they were in her basement, the washer and dryer standing out among the dark atmosphere of the rafters and cement walls.
"Easy there Rose, you will only hurt yourself," Janice said, standing up and straightening her clothes. "You are a mystery to me, dear Rose. You should be dead, yet when I checked you, you still had a pulse. Even with both arms opened up, lying in a pool of blood, you clung to life. Impossible, I assure you. So, what is keeping you alive?" her therapist asked, clearly irritated.
Rose looked down at her arms; a weak cry escaped her throat as she saw the deep cuts. Janice didn't even bother to bandage her up. Her arms were open, like some bizarre science project, from wrist to elbow; the skin was severed neatly. She could feel herself wanting to throw up; the gag somewhat suppressed it.
Relax Rose, we will get through this. Harrison will be here soon. The odd voice said, this time more in her head.
"Ah!" Janice said, turning to the stairs behind her. "Sounds like your husband is home. I'll just go see if he needs anything, then I'll be right back," Janice said, malice gleaming in her eyes.
Harrison opened the front door to his house with trepidation. Not only was Rose's car still here, but Janice's car was as well. He probably wouldn't have thought twice about that, if detective Harn hadn't asked about her therapist. Now, the sight of both cars, well past her scheduled time just seemed wrong. He pushed open the door slowly, looking for signs of intruders as he scanned the room. Nothing was upturned or knocked over. No struggle, that's a good thing, he thought to himself, as he went from the foyer towards the living room. He crept in, seeing no sign of either his wife or Janice. He went through the rest of the house, room by room, and found only a bloody knife. All right, that's not good, he thought, not picking it up; he knew that the police would want to get the prints off of it.
His wife was missing, her therapist's car was still here, the police wanted to question them about said therapist, and there was a bloody knife. Think Harrison, think. Where would you take a victim if you were a psycho? he thought, his right hand held up, shaking as he walked. It was a sign that he was lost in thought, despite the horrible feeling of loss that was creeping up his spine. The basement!
Janice opened the basement door without a sound, her footfalls light as she crept into the kitchen. She could hear him coming this way and cursed the fact that she had dropped her favorite knife. She had grabbed another from the kitchen when she had brought Rose downstairs, needing to stash the body since it apparently would not die. I will take care of that once the husband is dead, pretty sure if the head is gone, she will die, she thought, as his footsteps came ever closer. She ducked behind the refrigerator as the kitchen door opened from the dining room, slinking down into the shadows as he passed her. She swiped out, aiming for his Achilles heel to cripple him, but missed, slicing high on his calf instead. She cursed as he spun towards her, screaming in shock as much from pain, and kicked out. He caught her square in the chest, slamming her back against the wall and momentarily knocking the wind out of her.
Janice watched him flee down the basement stairs as she struggled for breath, gasping uselessly for six long seconds; then she dragged in a large gulp of breath. "Air, precious air,"
she said, aloud, as she crawled to her feet. She stumbled to the stairs, finding the door barred, and pounded on it, her anger twisting her face. "I will kill you both!" she cried, looking around for something to bash the door in.
Harrison limped down the stairs, knowing that the door would hold for a little bit at least. "Rose!" he called, desperate to find his wife alive. She had to be alive, please God she had to. He heard a mumble then, an answering cry muffled in the dark. He hobbled as fast as he could, tripping on the last step of the staircase, and fell in front of her. He crawled back in horror at the sight of her arms; the mangled mess of blood and veins opened up to the world. "Oh Rose! Hang on honey, we'll get you to a hospital," he said, unsure on how he was going to do that with a killer waiting for them upstairs. He could hear her bashing the door with something heavy and looked around for something to fight with while taking off the gag on his wife.
"Harrison, oh thank God, but you're hurt," Rose cried.
"It's nothing. We have to get you out of here; oh God look at what she did to you!" He couldn't believe what was happening. He touched his wife's face then, a tender touch meant to convey love and trust, yet her eyes rolled backwards and her body went rigid.
"Harrison, untie Rose and get her to her feet. I can take care of the rest, but you have to trust me...trust your wife," the voice, that was certainly not his wife said, staring at him.
"I am Katrin. I possessed your wife in order to get my revenge on the one that killed me. I was Janice's first kill and I have been chasing her for a long time. Rose is the first one that has had the will not to break under my influence," Katrin said, using Rose's body.
He just stared dumbly at his wife....at Katrin. "She was telling the truth." It was a statement, not a question. "I didn't know, couldn't have known..."
Katrin/Rose smiled as Harrison cut the bonds and helped her up to her feet, just as the loud crash signaled the door giving way.
"There isn't a way out of the basement, I sealed the bulkhead from the outside before you arrived. Give up now and I will kill you quickly," Janice said, stalking down the stairs, brandishing the kitchen knife. She dropped a dented fire extinguisher, the canister bouncing fitfully down the stairs ahead of her.
Harrison stepped aside as Katrin/Rose waved him back, the devastated arms making his wife look like a ghoul from some horror movie. Janice was staring at his wife now, and stopped on the last stair, as if sensing something was different.
"Hello Janice, I've been looking for you for a long time," Katrin said, shambling a little closer to Janice with Rose's body. "Do you remember me? Your first kill?"
"Katrin? It can't be..."
Rose's eyes went back to normal as she staggered towards the stairs. "She's all yours now, bitch," Rose said, gasping for breath.
Janice wailed, fighting something invisible, her knife slashing the air wildly. "No, get back. You can't...NO!" she screamed, falling off the last step and landing on her knife, the blade sinking all the way into her heart.
Harrison rushed to his wife, grabbing her and cradling her in his arms. He was crying now, worried that he wouldn't be able to save her. "Hold on Rose, I'll call the ambulance..." he started to say as his eyes were drawn down to her ruined arms. They were slowly closing on their own, healing bit by bit. "How?"
"I think it was Katrin, her way of saying thank you," Rose said, wrapping those same arms around her husband. "I never knew her name until today, never knew who or what it was."
"I'm sorry I didn't believe you, love."
"How could you?"
"Well, I will from now on. No matter what you say, I will always believe you," Harrison said, as he carried her up the stairs.
Detective Harn shook his head at the two sitting across from him. "So what you're saying is that this other woman, this Katrin, possessed you and kept you alive?" he asked, knowing that they would say yes. It was the fourth time he had asked, trying to get them to change their story; even in the slightest bit.
"Yes, and I know how crazy it sounds," Rose said, smiling at him. She had one of those apple pie smiles that he adored secretly.
"And yes, Detective, we realize that the lack of scars on my wife's arms don't help our story at all," Harrison said, backing up his wife.
"Well, I can't put that in a report, but at least forensics backs up the 'falling on the blade' part," he said, sitting back in his chair. He was getting a headache just thinking about what he was going to say to his superiors. "Oh, and since the knife was yours, your prints were inadmissible."
"Then we're all set here?" Harrison asked, rising to his feet and holding his arm out to his wife.
"Yes. I'll let you know if any cold cases with the name Katrin pop up. That will make for an interesting talk with the detectives over there for sure," he said, standing and shaking their hands, watching them leave. He wouldn't tell them that he already had the file for Katrin Harn on his desk, or, that it was the reason he wanted to ask them about Janice in the first place. "Rest in peace, mother," Detective Harn said, as he stamped the file and placed it in the solved bin with a sad smile.
You, Growing Up - Samantha the Writer
Sometimes you grow up with a father who has a brain tumor.
She, the tumor, sneaks up on you, staring through the window. You scream, first because you are scared and then a second time because you are slowly realizing that she’s going to come around to the door and invite herself in and take up residence in your home and she’s not going anywhere, ever.
That’s what inoperable means.
It’s news you never expect to receive. Not at sixty, not at twenty-nine, not at four. How do you explain to a four-year-old what inoperable brain tumor means? “Daddy has something in his head and it’s not going away and it may make him act a little stranger for a while. But everything is going to be okay.” That’s how you explain it.
But even at four you realize that things are about to change and you immediately grow up and you know that you breathed your last precious breath yesterday.
Sometimes you grow up because your father has a brain tumor.
You choose books. Your dad loves reading and since that is something he can still do the two of you read together. He lets you read things that are probably to old for you and you learn big words and you use them to impress your friends and alienate everyone else because kids are mean.
But you read everything, the two of you sitting on the back porch eating up donuts and books. You read about magical musical instruments that can talk and swords that can talk and animals that can talk because sometimes you forget you have a voice.
You are especially drawn to stories about people gone missing: siblings, grandparents, moms and dads. Your too young, even grown up now, to understand adult relationships and what they mean but you notice the way your mom looks at your dad and you understand that sometimes people can be right in front of you and still be missing. You wonder if you should be sad or not because isn’t this just normal? You, growing up.