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When The Night Falls, The Creatures Come Calling

Jane couldn’t get used to the dark. In the old days, lights never went off; something flickered somewhere all hours  – a smart phone screen, TV, a night-light to guide your way to the bathroom at 3 a.m. Now, when the sun set, that was it – impenetrable darkness tangible as a wall before her eyes. There was no escaping it until the sun rose.

But the world these days was never quiet, and it wasn’t just the crickets, or the owls hooting, or the river eternally rushing outside her window. As she lay in bed, she concentrated on those sounds; they floated in through the window on a breeze of humid air. She kicked aside her blanket to cool off. That was another thing she missed – air conditioning.

Jane wanted to close the window, but she wouldn’t be able to breathe otherwise. The sound of them was louder than the crickets, the owls, the river. Their voices  swallowed those sounds like the traffic, and the radio, and the humming electronics used to do.

Photo Courtesy April Killingsworth, Flickr Creative Commons

Photo Courtesy April Killingsworth, Flickr Creative Commons

The Infected. Whooping and howling like animals. They’d been at it for an hour now and weren’t far from town. Every night after midnight they gathered on the edge of the woods and began their hungry battle cry. Jane counted twelve separate voices, men and women alike. Voices that used to share gossip on the phone, say “good morning” at the start of a workday, bid their children good night.

Their voices were wild, hoarse, violent and cried for blood, food, life. Jane could hear the bloodthirsty desire and shivered despite the sticky heat.

An owl hooted again, but its song was cut off by one excited holler; more followed in response. They were coming closer. The space between the woods and the town fence was only a few hundred feet. The Infected would cross it in mere minutes; she pictured them running.

A couple minutes later, the fences rattled. The Infected banged their sticks and clubs and fists against it, trying to shake it loose. One day, she feared they would. It only took one of them to sneak in, and it was all over.

Jane closed her eyes. Once she fell asleep to hum of a fan that drowned out the traffic. Now she fell asleep to the sound of the Infected, calling out into the night for her to join them.

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Don’t Look Behind The Curtain

Today’s bit of mini-fiction is not from my sordid imagination, but the disturbing annals of American history. Ever hear of the Bloody Benders? I learned about them this week, and if you like terrifying tales, I’d check this out. Enjoy my little dramatization of their murderous behavior.

A wagon pulled up to the cabin at twilight, barely in time for supper. From their voices I guessed there were two men out there and one horse; the horse neighed and the men talked in low mumbles about where to hitch him.

Two men – that could prove difficult, but with pa’s help we could manage. I closed my eyes and pictured their faces. One man was blond, with a thick mustache and yellow teeth. The other was more strapping, his hair a wavy chestnut, his face clean-shaven. I wanted the brunette for myself.

At the table, pa set down his fork, wiped his mouth and crossed to the door. He met the men outside. Ma went to the window and pulled back the shutter just enough so she could see. A minute later, she closed it and glanced at me.

“Two of them.” The hearth fire glinted in her eyes and she smiled; the same rush surged through my blood.

Bloody Benders

Pa came back in with both of them. Ma put on her sweet voice.

“Have seat and we’ll get you fed.”

She caught my eye. I bowed my head and gazed up at the men – one was ginger-haired with a small mustache, but the other was indeed a handsome brunette. I gently took his forearm, stroking the muscle with my thumb. His eyes sparkled like a smitten man’s often do.

“You can take the place of honor, Mr…”

“Northrup. Jeremy Northrup.” He took off his hat and bowed his head with a flirtatious smile. I returned it.

He took the place of honor – the seat on the far end of the table, right in front of the curtain that divided our cabin. Best seat in the house. His friend – who named himself Marcus Jennings, sat next to pa.

Ma came back to the table with two plates of food. I retreated to the corner and watched as Misters Northrup and Jennings tucked in. Pa talked jovially – where are you headed, where are you from – but I watched the curtain. Feet shuffled on the other side – too lightly to hear, but I was waiting for them. Electricity crackled through my veins and my skin flushed hot; Mister Northrup peeked over his meal at me as pa talked to Mister Jennings. Poor Jeremy probably though I was flushing for him.

He was in just the right spot. Zeke had gotten good at this over the years – he was swift and silent – and in a matter of seconds, my brother’s arm poked from between the curtain, blade in hand, and drew it across Jeremy’s neck as his eyes smiled at me. Blood gushed over his meat and potatoes.

Mr. Jennings’s eyes flashed wide and his fist closed on his fork, but pa was quick, too. His own blade sunk into the man’s heart.

I kept smiling, but not at Jeremy. I was smiling at Zeke.

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Long Ago, When Men Flew Among The Stars

When Eugenia was a child, her grandfather told stories about the stars and taught her the names of the constellations. In the summer and on autumn nights before it got too cold, he’d take her out to the yard and make her point them out in the night sky.

All these years later, she still remembered the names, but could only wonder which was which.

Orion. Ursa major. Perseus. Draco. Cassiopeia. That one was her favorite.

Eugenia then flew through those constellations, grazing the stars with the tips of her fingers as she passed. She was glad to see they weren’t dead after all, but shining bright as diamonds. Under her breath, she spoke the name of each as if saying hello to old friends, and this time, she knew which was which as if she’d never forgotten.

stars

Next minute, she’d landed back on Earth and was sprawled on the thick grass next to Charlie on a summer night. She was nine and he was five and they were naming the stars and wondering about Grandpa Joe’s stories. Charlie raised his hand so it floated above their heads, bodiless against the night sky. Charlie wanted to touch one of the stars like Eugenia did her dream.

“Do you think it’s true?”

Eugenia only nodded. She wanted to believe the stories, but father said Grandpa Joe was a dumb old fool.

And like things go in dreams, Eugenia was suddenly in the house and it was daylight and winter. The windows glowed sharply white from the snow outside. And she was sitting Indian style on the braided rug in the living room, Charlie now on her other side and lying on his belly. Grandpa Joe sat in his rocking chair, his favorite spot for telling stories.

The story was Eugenia and Charlie’s favorite, about a man who lived 300 years ago. Back in those days, Grandpa Joe said, man wasn’t just content to live on Earth, but wanted to explore the stars. So one day, he built a powerful rocket to get him there.

“What’s a rocket?” Charlie would ask.

Grandpa Joe’s answer was too incredible to believe. “It’s an enormous plane,” and he’d spread his hands wide to show just how big, “that was thrust into the sky by a great explosion.”

“And where did it take them?”

Charlie didn’t blink. His mouth hung open and he licked his lips, a smile already starting at the corners. Grandpa Joe paused at this part, because it was the best and he liked making them wait a bit longer to hear it. He smiled wide, too, revealing soft pink gums.

“To a great red planet thousands and thousands of miles from Earth – called Mars,” he answered, pointing an arthritic finger to the ceiling. “Men and women flew there to build new homes in the middle of a cold, black, endless space. They knew when they left that they’d never come home to Earth again. They were very brave.”

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Crimson Lips & White Fangs

I was inspired to write this after reading this article on a scientist who did a study on vampires in New Orleans and Buffalo. Of course, he wasn’t studying the vampires of Ann Rice novels, but people who practice vampirism as a way to deal with their problems. I wondered – what if one of their test subjects turned out to be the real thing?


It’s 3:25 p.m. The subject is due to arrive in five minutes. She may be late – after all, her type doesn’t like to get out during the day. They’re night owls. But I must remain open-minded and unbiased. Polite. That is the point of scientific inquiry, is it not?

I straighten my legal pad, nestle my ballpoint pen in parallel half an inch from its side. I clear my throat, take a sip of water. The clock ticks by another couple minutes. There’s one window in the examination room and it glows with weak winter light. Maybe that makes getting out easier – less taxing on their pale skin. How ridiculous. I talk about them like they’re real vampires. They’re not, of course.

It’s 3:29 when the doorknob softly turns.  The subject opens the door tentatively and she tiptoes in. She looks stranger than I would have imagined. But never mind that; be open-minded, curious, polite.

“Good afternoon,” I say, rising from the table.

Heather Phillips, Flickr Creative Commons

Heather Phillips, Flickr Creative Commons

Oil-black eyes gaze up at me from under pale, almost white lashes. She nods aristocratically, lowering a velvet hood from her head to reveal white-blond hair and skin the color of milk. Her lips are a deep crimson. I stare at them, trying to discern if it’s lipstick or bloodstains that colors the delicate skin. I clear my throat again, sit, motion for her to do the same and take another sip of water. My mouth is suddenly dry.

When she joins me at the table her graceful movements remind me of a bat fluttering down onto its perch. Which is also ridiculous. Maybe it’s how her cape flows flows and falls as she takes a seat. Because she couldn’t possibly be a bat.

I clear my throat again. Be open-minded. I smile. She doesn’t smile back. Then I notice something poking out from between her crimson lips. Is that fangs?

“Ms. St. Valentine…” My voice cracks and I flush. “Are you ready to begin?”

She shrugs apathetically. “What kind of questions will you be asking me?” Her voice is soft and light, but not like a sensual whisper or sweet-nothing would be. It’s somehow sharp and hissing, like a tea-kettle.

I avoid her oil-black eyes – they haven’t yet stopped studying my face. As she waits for me to answer, I think they graze to the curve of my neck.

“Well, your medical history. Sleeping patterns. How you meet other,” I can’t help but clear my throat again, “vampires. How you obtain … the blood.”

Her crimson lips curl into a smile. It doesn’t ease my discomfort. As her lips part, my earlier question is answered.

Fangs. Glistening, sharp as needles.

“Let’s begin…” I croak.

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An Endless Dark

The darkness is oppressive.

It closes in on me as if it carries the weight of the Earth in its dense shadow. My eyes can no longer see the limits of my limestone tomb and I could be suspended in space, a consciousness floating in the dark, my body invisible around me.

The metallic tinge of water pricks my nostrils like silverware drawn across metal. Everywhere echoes the rhythmic plunk of falling water and I feel the eternity of time as I listen. Those droplets will form dragon tooth stalactites and stalagmites, eventually; this cave is patient. I, on the other hand, feel the urgency of claustrophobia settling in. My chest grows tight, letting no breath escape.

A noise startles me. All my senses sharpen and I am an animal, wary and waiting for the predator, intent on surviving. The noise comes again and this time, the hot flush of panic creeps into my chest and creeps into every part of my body.

Caves of Drach

This sound is not dripping water. It is sinister and strange, but perhaps fear distracts my senses and paints pictures in my mind. Maybe nothing is there at all.

My breath comes quicker, shallow, and makes my head swim. I will die here, no doubt. And it will be slow and lonely and narrated by those drops, echoing forever, building dragon teeth next to my bones.

My headlamp flickers to life. The tunnel finds form around me and I can see the way back. I urge myself forward, not daring to stall and let my headlamp die again, and inch closer to the end of the tunnel.

I am almost there. I see hope in the light streaming through an opening far in the distance across a giant lake.

And then I see it.

A solid mass moves forward to block the light. I hear heavy, lustful, hungry breathing, and the breath blows through the tunnel like the wind before a storm. It smells sour and is so hot I think I feel my skin cook.

The shaft of light on my headlamp shines into an eye and the pupil contracts. The last thing I see are rows of teeth.

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Suck It Up, Buttercup

Somewhere in the distant, dark woods, Dana heard a chorus of voices scream in terror. Her skin prickled at the sound. Soon, she would be in the woods, too – screaming.

It was too late to go back now. She’d stood in line, with her friends and 500 others, for two hours, as 20 firemen dressed as zombies and executioners tried their best to scare everyone. Up ahead was the Haunted Trail and Dana didn’t want to go anymore. But if she told her friends she’d chickened out, they’d make fun of her.

You’ll be fine, you’ll be fine. It’s just pretend…

Except she heard they pulled people off the trail and dragged them into the woods. But it was just pretend. No one really got hurt. She nodded to herself, to bring the point home.

Trail post

They were finally at the front of the line. A few dozen people stood between Dana and the white tent at the head of the trail, where groups entered and then popped out the other side and into the woods.

“You know what I heard?” Dana’s boyfriend, Todd, began. “That there’s a guy who comes here every year, dressed up, and wanders around the trail. But no one knows who he is. He isn’t a fireman. And he just leaves at the end of the night.”

Todd bulged out his eyes and peered down at Dana with a grotesque smile. Why was he telling her this? He knew she was nervous.

Dana’s chest tightened and she took deep breaths to slow her heart down. Then the people in front of her were ushered forward by a fireman dressed as a bloodied clown, and they disappeared into the tent. Her chest tightened more.

I can’t do this, I can’t do this.

“Don’t tell me that! Right before we go in!” Dana’s friend Amy said, hitting Todd in the arm. “Jesus, what’s wrong with you?”

“Next group!” the bloodied clown called a couple minutes later.

Dana moved forward with her friends, her eyes squeezed shut; Todd’s arm was around her shoulders. When she opened them, she was inside the tent; it glowed faintly blue with a camp light. The tent quickly filled to its edges with people, all of them chattering excitedly. Standing above all of them, a young fireman with rosy cheeks gave them instructions.

“… if you get scared along the way and can’t go on –” Dana’s heart gave a lurch of hope —  “suck it up buttercup! We’re not coming for you!”

Everyone laughed, but Dana didn’t. When everyone quieted, the fireman began again.

“And be aware – my guys will pull on you, poke you, push you –” he held up a finger — “do not hit them back. They’re not going to hurt you. And stick close to your group – don’t go wandering off.”

With that he motioned them forward with the sweep of a beefy arm. Dana grabbed for Todd’s hand as they stepped out into the woods. It was pitch black.

I can’t do this, I can’t do this.


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Everything Is Lost

Sam sat just outside the light of the camp’s fire, her knees drawn up to her chest. She didn’t watch her friends, gathered for supper and conversation, but stared into the black woods.

“What’s up with her?” one of them asked Roger.

When they’d left that morning, Sam had been her usual self – talkative and bossy. When they returned to camp, there was nothing he could say to erase what she’d seen.

“We found her old house today,” he told his companion as a spark broke away from the fire. He breathed through his teeth and shook his head. He had nothing to say either.

Roger told her not to go in – that it would only begin a torrent of pain that would drive her mad.

Simon Li. Flickr Creative Commons

Simon Li. Flickr Creative Commons

But she walked through her old front door anyway and toured every dark and dusty inch. She sat on her couch, stood before her fridge, sat at the dinner table and stared at the space above her husband’s seat. In the bedroom, the bed was still unmade from their last night before the world came apart. The sheets were still strewn back as if he’d just risen from bed, his ghostly form now wandering the house.

Before Roger could stop her, she buried her face in his pillow, crying “I can still smell him” and wailed like a dying animal.

Roger could still hear it now, hours later. He watched the profile of her empty, hard face – lost in memory. That was all any of them had now.


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Welcome To The Compound

Consciousness came gradually. He first became aware of a loud whirring sound – a sound he knew was unfamiliar, even though he couldn’t remember his name. That realization alone made him shoot upright in bed.

And, he now saw, he didn’t know where he was either.

The room was small – no bigger than a bathroom – its walls made of cinderblock painted white. He couldn’t see a window, but the room was awash in natural light. He twisted in bed and found its source – a long, narrow window high on the wall and set with bars.

Bars. Why am I in a room with bars?

Danny Bradury, Flickr Creative Commons

Danny Bradury, Flickr Creative Commons

As his gaze moved to a heavy steel door to his left, his eye caught something on a bedside table – a small book. It fit wholly within his palm. On the cover – typed in official, old-fashioned type – was the following: WELCOME TO THE COMPOUND.

With a shaking hand, he opened the soft paper cover. The first page began, “WE ARE VERY HAPPY TO HAVE YOU WITH US, XAVIER.”

Is that my name?

He thumbed through the remaining pages – they were filled with widely-spaced, tiny letters, organized in numbered lists.

Rules. Dozens of them.

Before he could read the first one, someone knocked on the door and its knob creaked as it turned.


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Horror On A Lovely Day

Ben didn’t care much for hiking. He hated the bugs, the sweating, the exertion. It was the city life for him. He came for his friends – they loved adventure. Ben usually got hurt. “Live a little!” they’d say, slapping his back.

This isn’t living, Ben thought as he slapped another bug dead on his arm. He groaned away the cramps in his legs and lungs.

“Keep moving, old man!” Seth hollered. He was a fair distance ahead and Ben fell back, losing sight of both his friends among the trees.

Of course he panicked like a lost child. He scanned the thick woods as he climbed the widening trail but they were gone. “Seth? Dave?” He reached a flat spot where the trail wound through thinning woods and there was a clear view for a hundred feet. No sign of them.

Nicholas A. Tonelli, Flickr Creative Commons

Nicholas A. Tonelli, Flickr Creative Commons

But there was movement. A flicker, like a light flashing, pulled his attention on the right. It flashed again. Ben lost his common sense and followed. He found the light hovering under a small outcrop of rock. It grew brighter with every step.

Suddenly, Ben couldn’t breathe, his eyes blanketed with blackness and a heavy rhythmic hush like in a seashell. When it passed, Ben flung forward and fell on top of Seth and Dave.

They were alive but lifeless. And they weren’t in the woods.


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Mini-Fiction: By Contest Winner, Lance Hendrickson

And now for the second winner of my first-ever mini-fiction contest – Lance Hendrickson. Like the other winner, T.J. Laverne (read her story here), he’ll get a nifty little Etsy prize in the mail and a free copy of my short story collection “The Daily Lives of Monsters” when it comes out. A little about Lance – he has been published three times for poetry and three kids who inspire his writing. You can visit Lance on Facebook by clicking here.

So, without further ado, try not to scream when you read this bit of terror. 

Annabelle wakes up from a deep sleep and sits on the side of her bed, feet dangling inches from the floor. She opens her eyes slowly and there beside her sits Elliot Smith. She rubs her eyes a bit and looks down and sees a large butchers knife between them. Annabelle grabs it and walks out her door with Elliot only a few steps behind.

She slowly unlatches the door and opens it, trying not to make a sound. Annabelle peeks in the door and sees Elliot standing next to her mom’s bed. Annabelle enters the room, clutching the knife even tighter, as she gingerly climbs up onto her mom’s bed and positions herself to strike.

Photo Courtesy  Steven Depolo Flickr Creative Commons

Photo Courtesy Steven Depolo Flickr Creative Commons

“MOMMY! Wake up!” Annabelle says, sounding a bit panicked and causing her mom to sit up quickly. As she does Annabelle sinks the blade of the knife into her chest. With each strike of the blade into her mom’s chest Annabelle is covered more in her blood. As Annabelle delivers the final blow and her mom’s life leaves her body, Annabelle pulls the knife out and kisses her mom on the forehead.

“Goodnight Mommy….” Annabelle says with a sinister tone in her voice and a smile on her face. She looks at the knife as the the moon causes a gleam to catch her eye. Within the blade, between the smears of blood, she sees Elliot. She turns her head quickly but Elliot is not there. She looks back in to the blade and there he is, sinister smile and all.