Father Lucie

September 18, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Hello. I’m Father Lucie and I’m a man of faith. I’m a man of the clergy and I believe in right and wrong, and nothing in between. I believe that a man’s soul is a precious thing; a fragile thing; and I’m self-employed in upholding that belief. I work in a private sector of the church; a sector founded and run solely by myself. The work I do is not unlike a legal conciliation service. I’m an arbitrator; I settle disputes of the soul.
I’m a SOUL man. And I’ve got a passion that burns for the job.

I’m here to share Jake Avery’s story with you, my most recent subject, for educational purposes. Everyone at some point in their life will cross paths with me or my work so it’s best learn about it now and save yourself the trouble of asking who I am, or what I’m doing barging in on your life at such an unexpected moment.
I’ll be there to help you, so remember to shut up and listen to what I have to say.
It’s probably going to be important.

Mine and Jake Avery’s story begins a while back in Jake’s hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. What happened was that Jake Avery killed somebody.
That’s the short version.
It was an accident, we all understand that, but honestly, it’s irrelevant. Jake avoided all consequences related to the accident, and this bothered people; important people. They were upset by how it all played out. And I’m not talking about the families torn up and destroyed by his mistake, God no, people a lot more important than that. When I say that Jake avoided all consequences related to the accident, I don’t mean he was found innocent in a court of law.
No, nothing that official.
Jake ran. He was scared, granted, but the upset parties I deal with weren’t concerned with his reasons, or personal qualms. They wanted justice. That’s where I came in. It was my job to help Jake to help himself. It was my job to smooth things out between him and the upset parties, as best as I could.

I’ll skip ahead a bit. Jake Avery eventually found himself in a 5×5 windowless concrete room, orange glowing in around the door, sat at a metal table on a metal chair. There’s a stink that wafts in when the letter box slot on the door slides open to deliver his food.
But we don’t talk about that.
On the metal table was a wax-sealed envelope, which he had opened, and in that envelope was a note. On the note, in decorative script, someone had written:
“Like a man, and on your own, work it out; I’ll send you home.”
I should tell you: I knew who wrote that note, but I can’t tell you why I couldn’t tell Jake that just yet. There were also two photographs that accompanied the envelope, but I’ll get into that in a moment too. It was my job to speak with Jake Avery every so often, to ask him why he was there in that room; to ask him why he was taken. He was angry at first that I couldn’t give him any clues; very angry, and would refuse to speak to me at all. He knew why he was there, he just didn’t want to admit it. Understandable, I suppose. He hadn’t even been given the chance to change out of his torn up clothes.

The first of the two photographs found in the envelope was a Mr Eric Luf’s passport photo. He was a Norwegian student living in Richmond with friends.
Jake killed him.
He was driving home from his parents’ house one misty night when he swerved to miss a Rottweiler standing in the middle of the road. The Rottweiler seemed to appear at the last moment and showed no signs of moving. Eric Luf was cycling in the opposite direction and was hit by Jake’s car; an unfortunate event no doubt.
Jake got out of his car to check on Eric only to find that Eric had been killed on impact. He was scared, understandably. Who wouldn’t have been?
The morticians report even shocked me.
What Jake did next though, is extremely vital to our story. He got back in his car and drove away. Now, Jake Avery was never caught for what he did; he hadn’t even known Eric’s name until he saw it written on the bottom of the passport photo in the envelope. The man honestly hadn’t slept a good night’s sleep since it happened.
Those terrible dreams. The ones that throw us out of our bed sticky with sweat and piss.
Eric’s shattered face with brain showing in the eye sockets visits Jake every night. But once again, my associates aren’t interested.

I would visit his 5×5 concrete room once a day. He sat at the desk with his back to the door and he always held Eric Luf’s photo in one hand, the note in the other; eyes flitting between them. My job was to approach him, and ask him the same thing every day:
“Why are you here Jake?”
He’d throw down the photo and note and respond something along the lines of “I don’t know goddammit, I already told you I don’t know! You tell me!”
At that point I’d leave the room and wait to ask him again the next day. My job wasn’t to force it out of him.
He had to figure it out on his own. He had to admit it.
‘Like a man, and on your own, work it out; I’ll send you home.’
On the fourth day however, when I visited Jake Avery’s stinking 5×5 cell, he was holding the second photograph in his hand; the one I haven’t explained to you yet. I had not yet seen him pay any attention to it. I’ll go through it quickly so I can get back to telling you what he said to me on that fourth day.

The second photograph was of a man called Eli Curf, a Romanian they think. The name was written below his face on the photo, just like Eric’s. Nobody really knows who he was, to be honest, and the body was never claimed.
I however, did know who he was.
It was on that same road that Eric died that Eli followed Jake to one cold Sunday night. Eli had bad intentions.
Very bad intentions.
Eli had been tailing Jake for about twenty minutes when Jake pulled into a gas station. Eli didn’t follow him and kept driving. He did a U-turn further up along the road and stopped under a street light on the shoulder.
Eli sat in his car facing towards the gas station and waited for the headlights of Jakes car to appear coming towards him. When they did he floored it and took off back down the road directly for Jake. Jake had no room to avoid the crash once he realized he was in trouble.
And so they crashed; man to man.
Metal to metal.
Face to pavement.
Jake survived and Eli died. It’s kind of funny when you think about it; in a tragic sort of way. Jake again, suffered little to no injury, except for a bad concussion, while Eli lay dead on the concrete at the end of a trail of his own face. Jake was lucky to be alive, really.
He stuck around for emergency services that time. I guess it was because it wasn’t his fault, technically. The men took him into the back of the ambulance, but he knew immediately that they weren’t doctors. I can tell you personally that that was obvious. I think it goes without saying that they didn’t bring him to a hospital; they brought him to me.

And now we’re back to the 5×5 concrete room that smelled like charred bodies, and back to Jake looking at the second photo; Eli’s photo; and me about to ask him the same question I’ve asked him once a day for the past four days:
“Why are you here, Jake”. But this time was different.
He dropped the photo and looked up at me, “Who are you?”
Really he wasn’t allowed to ask questions, but I decided to humour him in hope of getting an answer for my own question to come.
“I can’t tell you who we are.”
Jake brought his fist down on the desk in anger. I told him politely that if he did it again I wouldn’t hold myself back from slapping him. He regained his composure.“No. I meant who are you?”
“My name is Fr. Lucie. I’ve told you that before, Jake,” I replied. I knew that Jake knew my name; he had asked me before when he first arrived; he was asking because he thought I’d have a different answer, but I didn’t. Not right now.
With that out of the way I asked him:
“Why are you here, Jake?”
He seemed to have come to the end, and I was glad.
“Why do you want me to admit it? You know I know why I’m here, I wouldn’t be here otherwise, so why do I have to admit it to YOU!?”
I was getting somewhere now. I could feel it.
“You see Jake; your soul is in trouble. I’m here to help you. What you did to Eric Luf is inexcusable, and your confession is required by some very powerful people for you to be able to return home.”
I pointed to the note that read “Like a man, and on your own, work it out; I’ll send you home.” He looked at it for a moment and considered his options.
I wished he’d hurry up, to be honest. I wasn’t expecting him to take so long and I had others to visit.
After processing the note for a moment he came to a crossroad in his own head. He asked me:
“What do I have to do to go home?”
So I told him what he had to do.
I told him, “Jake, you need to let me into your soul to save you. I’m here to help you, I’m here to make things right for you, and the only way to do that is for you to grant me permission to your soul so I can mend what’s been broken.”
It’s mostly bullshit, but it sounds convincing and if I had told him that he needed to eat my shit he’d be lying under me — mouth open wide — before I could even squat.
All he could think about was getting out of that place at that point, and so he said without a second thought:
“Of course, just tell me what to say.”
So I told him, and he repeated almost word for word: “Fr. Lucie I killed Eric Luf. I grant you permission to my soul; to make me better and to make me a good person again.”
That was all I needed to hear. It was about time too. The hard part was over and done with and it was time to have some fun. I’d been waiting for that moment for four whole days, and boy had I been waiting. It was some good work I did on Jake too, some of my best. I deserved some leisure time.
A sort of ‘work hard; play hard’ kind of thing.
It’s what I live for.

As soon as he said the words I knew I could relax. I knew we’d worked our problem out and all parties would be happy.
“Jesus Christ, Jake, you took it out of me!”
He seemed confused, they usually do.
He said: “Do I get to go home?” Goddamn they ask the same thing every time!
“No, not just yet”, I replied; pointing at the note sitting on top of Eric Luf’s not yet collapsed face.
I dragged a chair over beside Jake; “Read it, what does it say?”
Now he seemed very confused, and he made me very angry with that stupid look on his face when he was. He picked it up with both hands, as he wouldn’t have been able to manage one, and replied.
“Like a man, and on your own, work it out; I’ll send you home.”
“Very good Jake,” I said, standing up and throwing my chair against the wall in one swift motion, “So work it out!”
I was standing over him now watching him fumble with the photos and note on the desk.
I had scared him.
I could see he was getting very stressed.
I watched him rearranging the photos pointlessly for a moment – he was afraid I would be angry if he asked me what to do – before grabbing them off of him and rearranging them as follows: Eric Luf’s name and photo to the left, the note in the middle and Eli Curf to the right of them. I stood back and folded my arms, excited to see what he’d do next.
“Work it out, Jake.”
He sat hunched over them for a moment before looking up at me like the pathetic monkey he was.
He frantically said “I don’t know what to d-”
Before he could finish I had flipped the table and everything on it across the room.
Jake Avery stayed sitting on the chair by himself and watched me jump onto the ground in front of the overturned table and photos.
He was a piece of work, I’m telling you.
I rearranged the notes and photos again on the ground in the corner of the smelly 5×5 room.
“Jake, get over here.”

Reluctantly, a clearly terrified Jake made a noise a child would make and came over to where I was kneeling. He got down on all-fours and again, stared at the photos without a clue of what he was doing. I knelt there beside him for a minute before he went to rearrange them again for no reason; just to look like he was doing something.
I slapped his hand away and picked up the first photo; Eric Luf’s photo.
I held it up in front of us and said “Now, what does it mean, Jake. Look at the letters”
He wasn’t comfortable being so close to me, I could tell. My patience wearing thin, I thought I’d help him out a bit.
“Look at the letters!” I said, before proceeding to announce each character in Eric’s name out of order.
“See Jake, look at this: E – R – I – C – L – U – F. Now, watch: L – U – C – I – F – E – R.”
He looked at me like he knew, but he didn’t.
Not yet.
I picked up the second photo, Eli the Romanian’s photo, and I did what I did with the last.
Holding it up in front of myself and Jake I started reciting the letters.
“E – L – I – C – U – R – F, see how that works Jake? Now watch what I do with them:
“L – U – C – I – F – E – R.”
Jake sat back against the wall with this puzzled look on his face, scanning the two photos, as if it couldn’t be true.
“What does you mean?” he asked.
I got to my feet, delighted we’d eventually gotten past that part, and took a deep breath.
“Now, do me,” I said.
As if it couldn’t have gotten any worse.

He looked at me in bewilderment. “What do you me-”
I interrupted him before he could say something stupid again; “Do my name, like the other two.”
When he didn’t get the message I grabbed Eric’s photo from his hand and with my pen I wrote on the back my name:
‘Fr. Lucie’.
I gave it back and slowly he began reciting the letters; “F – R –”
“No,” I interrupted, “Skip that and go straight to the next part.”
I waited with my arms folded for him to begin, and then he did.
He recited my name: “L – U – C – I – F – E – R.”
The look on Jake’s face was priceless; hilarious. But the best was yet to come. He still had no idea. Sure he had worked out the names, but he didn’t fully understand what it meant yet.
“Well done Jake, you got it!” I said.
Still terribly confused, but happy I was not angry with him anymore, he replied:
“Do I get to go home now?”
At this point I was in stitches! I couldn’t contain myself! Jake – still terribly confused and not knowing what to do – started laughing with me. Wiping a tear from my eye I told him:
“Of course not!”
His expression changed suddenly, he was doing that face that he does. The stupid one I was telling you about
“What’s the matter, Jake?” He looked at me for a moment, waiting for me to break character and start cracking up again.
But I didn’t.
When he realized I was serious, he scrambled for the note I had written for him four days previously. He held it out and started reading:
“Like a man, and on your own, work it out; I’ll send you home.”
It’s good, isn’t it?
After reading it he looked up at me again; “You said I could go home.”
“Yes,” I replied. “I did say that.”
He thought very carefully about what he would say next, and then he attempted to read me the note again. I interrupted him halfway and finished the rhyme:
“… that’s right Jake, I’m a liar AND a poet!”

Exhausted by our conversation I had picked Jake’s chair up from where I’d thrown it against the wall and sat down on it facing him. I found my deck at the bottom of my pocket and lit a cigarette. Now he was shouting nonsense and insults at me from where he was sitting on the ground:
“What do you mean you’re a liar?! You said I could go home! I figured your damn puzzle out, just like you said!”
Jake had a whiney voice.
And yes, you’re dead right, the poor guy still didn’t get it!
I smiled at him throwing his little tantrum and waited for him to give me an opportunity to speak. I figured it would be better to let him get it all out of his system now; bottling up that kind of anger is bad for the soul.
I know.
When he quieted down for a second I told him:
“You can’t go home Jake. You don’t have one.”
That response didn’t go down well.
“What do you mean I don’t have a home?!” he demanded.
I thought about how I’d tell him, but I decided I’d just be completely blunt with him. I leaned back and got comfortable, getting ready to savour his reaction, and then I told him:
“You’re dead!”
In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn’t have told him like that. It’s a hard thing for anyone to swallow.
In retrospect, maybe I should have broken it to him slowly; eased him into it a little. God, I can be so rash sometimes. People are always telling me and I’m only starting to see it!
But oh well.
What’s said was said.

Now, my dear reader; as your humble narrator I should probably explain something to you all; in case you’re as God awfully dull as Jake Avery and haven’t caught on to what’s going on yet.
There never was an Eric Luf.
He doesn’t exist.
Never did.
Although don’t get too confused; Jake did actually kill someone with his car on that fateful night, it just wasn’t Mr Luf. I created Mr Luf for our story; an anagram of my own name for dramatic effect! It did work though, didn’t it? It gave a certain ‘oomph’ to the delivery, I thought.
Anyways; on that night, Jake did swerve to miss a dog and he did mow down a man on his bike. The difference is that in the real story, Jake Avery didn’t stop.
He ploughed straight through body and bike and into a ditch. A piece of fencing splintered and broke off into his chest, and that was the end of Jake.
He died.
He’s dead.
He went somewhere else that night when reality split into what happened, and what I allowed to happen.
Just for fun!
He was carried away with a sheet over his body; dead and blood still slipping out past the fence in his chest.
But he also drove home unharmed in his car.
So, basically I allowed Jake Avery some time to think about what he had done, to see what he’d do; like a test! The past couple of weeks he’s been living in an alternate reality. Kind of like purgatory, except purgatory’s just a silly myth. During this time I was judging him; weighing his soul.
Do you see what I’m saying?
Because I can’t just take anybody’s soul, there has to be a good reason.
I like to think that taking a soul is like cooking a steak. See God, as patient as he his, likes his steaks rare. He likes his steaks pure, quick off the pan without incident.
He likes them to be as close to what they were like coming off the cow as possible.
I like mine burnt to a crisp.

Now you’re probably starting to connect the dots.
Don’t do that.
You should never do that.
You’re probably thinking that Eli Curf wasn’t real, just like Eric.
Right?
Wrong.
I was Eli Curf. When I had finished cooking Jake’s soul, and decided it was ready to take off the pan, I drove head first into Mr Avery, along that same road where he had killed ‘Eric Luf’. In the alternate reality where Jake was dead, they had lowered his body into his grave just that morning.
I didn’t really need to do that, to be honest; it wasn’t entirely necessary. I could have just come to him in the middle of the night and dragged him by his hair into hell, but where’s the fun in that?
You’ve all probably guessed by now too, that my real name isn’t Fr. Lucie, and I’m not a priest.
Sorry about that.
It’s just another anagram for my real name; it’s just for show. An interesting way to tell Jake. To add a bit of depth to our story. Because that’s all it is really, isn’t it. A story?
Was Jake real, or was he just another character? Am I real, or am I just a quirky story-telling device?
Am I just a fairy-tale?
I have sleepless nights thinking about that sort of thing; honestly! Someone once said that the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist. But I didn’t convince anyone that I didn’t exist.
You all convinced yourselves.

I digress. When I explained all these details to Jake Avery he still didn’t believe me. Can you imagine? Jake didn’t want to believe me, but deep down I think he did. You notice when your soul is gone; it’s a feeling that’s hard to ignore. You can feel that something is missing.
I felt it. Jake felt it, even if he didn’t know it.
He was very distraught at this point in our conversation. I got up off my chair and went over to where he was sitting against the wall crying. I sat down in front of him and told him how much fun we were going to have together.
He wasn’t interested.
He spat in my face, and with that I smiled and picked him up off the floor by his throat. Two of my employees entered and I handed him over to them. They dragged him to the door, but before they left for the furnace I called to the now kicking and screaming Jake Avery.

Before I tell you what I said, I would bet your life that there was one thing that you missed; one detail you overlooked in our story.
I was so excited to tell Jake.
From the moment I met him I couldn’t wait. I could barely control myself from just blurting it out, being as rash as I am. Oh you’re going to love it too, I swear!
Eric Luf, Eli Curf, Fr Lucie, the note. It was all build-up; pawns to my joke.
Do you understand?
The build-up to the greatest punch line; the ultimate gag!
Possibly the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled? I don’t think so.
My employees held Jake at the door where I had called to him. He could feel the heat coming from the cracks now. The smell of burning flesh getting stronger. The smell of eternity.
He knew he was close.
He cried to me: “Where am I going, take me home! Who the fuck are you people!? Tell me who you are!”
He set it up perfectly! It couldn’t have been any better, not even if I had done it myself. I leaned into Jake’s ear.
I whispered to him:
“Jake, I’m the dog in the street.”

Credit To – Coffeey

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Mould

August 31, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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My best friend was in Pompeii.

I wasn’t, of course, or I wouldn’t be standing here staring down at a museum display titled “A BLAST FROM THE PAST!!!” A kitsch red LED volcano flickering gently in the background, flinging deep shadows across expressions of abject misery behind a velvet rope for the small children to point sticky fingers at. Speakers rumble in the distance. One little girl bursts into inconsolable howling at the sight; or perhaps it’s the ruddy glowering threat that the same’s imminent to be visited on us. I like her immensely. Her father carries her out.

In fact, some years before Pompeii’s last days came about I had found myself dutifully lugging my scant possessions down the road with tail tucked between my legs; off to marry, of all things. That’s what you did back then when your family saw fit to offload you; and should be the match be prestigious enough “poof!” you were magically absolved of the past to boot – not even the neighbours could sneer behind closed doors anymore. Far away and footsore, then. Out of sour, miserably small mind and all that.

The distance didn’t matter, of course; my best friend and I were soul mates. I never ventured far before I could feel the line drawing me back in, calling me home. Our simpatico a secret treasure; far too precious to sport on your sleeve because so rare, as much then as now. Women don’t ever seem to connect, not truly. They’ve sharp noses for challenge, and too readily recognise and condemn what lurks within. How are you expected to place faith in a mysterious threatening other when personal trust barely stretches so far as you could throw yourself?

But we had somehow weathered that giggly, prickly rivalry of youth when any second double-edged friendship can slide into outright envious warfare, sparking bitter feuds to last the ages. I’d no reason on earth to disbelieve we would hobble on together into our decline, achieving that comfortable state where it no longer matters what hell your crumbling shell resembles or how it’s dressed.

And then at last two alike minds could tentatively reach out and clasp hands; honouring other, recognising self.

And she … she helped me. My best friend helped me when nobody else could. There’d not been another soul under all the wide skies like her: the natural outcast, the outsider; none other to so much as recognise my peril. Even I ascertained the threat only vaguely. To me it was no more than a dim line of smoke barely noticed, way off in the distance. Who could see harm in the tiny cough of a newly arrived baby?

Afterward, there were never any accusations of crime: where’s the point when it burns in every eye until the very air ignites? For decency’s sake I had to abandon home and trudge into the unknown to join some fat bastard I’d never met in holy matrimony.

Thus I escaped Pompeii, and so my name has changed over and again along with the multitudes of the living, heaving world. But not so those who were there, left mute and encysted. Not her. And it grieves me deeply to recall how pertly she’d once turned up her nose at donning a nicer dress, at playing along, her flat refusal in short to be any damn thing but herself; because now she never will be.

But she remains my best friend. Our hold is firm. Every time I am squeezed into life, thrust out into the world through blood and muck she is the very first thing I feel: before light, before air. And that’s when I remember Pompeii. I even used to hear her murmuring, sealed away down there. So I guess in a way I’m no more than myself, either.

They went and dug up the town – many many years later, of course. Avid for knowledge, sick enough for sensation to go grubbing around in the dirt. They mixed buckets of cold plaster on site, their improvised wooden paddles going round and round in the thin early Mediterranean light. It would have been hard messy work; arm muscles already burning, shoulders stuffed with ache and complaint. Shoes splattered for the wife to shriek at when they got home.

With long thin tools they drilled down to Pompeii’s lost people, who cried out with joy at that first hint of sunlight and air. Finally after all this crushing immobile time there came to the buried hope of rescue, of freedom. I heard my best friend, as the drill whined its way through pumice and compressed ash. While flakes of burned building sifted down onto her. Everyone and their lives were down there: my family, all those sullen despised neighbours; and in fact I’ve recognised familiar contortions in the frozen grimaces at the museum; but I’ve never heard any of the others. What do I care for them, anyhow? None of them ever helped me.

I heard my friend weeping, too overburdened to bear it.

But those who had not yet managed to go mad sealed down in the dark had another thing coming, for in went the plaster. The merest golden hint of the wild free sky gleaming in – oh sweet heaven yes, deliver us! Do you remember birds? I remember birds – but then a deluge of thick icy cold clotted down the tube and salvation was blotted out. Thrashing in the dark, screams turning to heavy choked gurgles as the narrow space filled.

The cold was so intense that my breath frosted out of my lungs in a rush, painfully colder than the surrounding air. I was sped to hospital where conscientious staff irrigated my abdominal cavity with warm saline and, when I shuddered and flailed awake, rather gleefully announced that I’d been dead for four whole minutes. Gathered excitedly about my bed they were so very proud of resuscitating me, and didn’t at all understand why I wept.

I think I tried to rush to my friend and gather her in my arms, straining to pull her from her prison. But four minutes was just not long enough. I still heard her shrieking hysterically for succour, as they all must have screamed; those who waited so long in the dark and ought to have been saved. As the frigid killing cold consumed them. Not only a new sensation but a final one, filling up everything until cold was all there was left, and it went on forever.

As the plaster stiffened so did they; and although I still feel her drawing me home I have heard my best friend’s voice no more. She inhabits a hard, silent place in my mind now. And she’s so profoundly cold.

And I, who deserved it so much less; I have lived my quiet times over and over. Always plagued with poor circulation, chill at the fingertips, at risk of losing them, I gravitate to warmer climes. Never too close to anybody. I have borne children. I’ve sat blissfully in the sunlight. I visit the museum countless times, to stand and look on my friend’s horror-stricken face.

All I dare hope is that I might well be unto my best friend as she has been to me. And so the unchanging frozen scar on my soul which is forever entombed may, in her, bloom.

Credit To – BP Gregory

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The Wicker House

August 30, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Of course everyone claiming residence in Arthur’s Wake knows tales associated with the Wicker House. It seems that every small province plays host to some structure of ill repute which, as if by supernatural magnetism, draws rumor of ghosts and bogies, wrapping the timber and stone of its foundation in a shroud of darkness and horror. In Arthur’s Wake, the Wicker House fills this odious task.

Scant days after arriving in town, while taking the time to familiarize myself with the local watering hole and its residents, I became introduced to the well known superstitions surrounding the Wicker House. As a man of science, I knew any truths to be found in these outlandish stories were likely embellished to points unrecognizable. Nothing was first hand; all experiences were from a friend who knew a fellow who may have seen something. It is the provincial mind which transforms wild dogs into wolves that walk like men and interprets astronomical phenomena as harbingers of certain doom. Still, my curiosity sufficiently piqued, I endeavored to better inform myself upon the subject through more objective means. To my great surprise, while failing to confirm the more supernatural claims of the tales, the town records in the basement of the local library did provide aspect to a most sinister reality all their own.

The house was built in 1920 by the millionaire Tomas Wicker who, in addition to being both a successful oil prospector and fishing magnate, was by all accounts completely insane. No one knows what first drew Wicker to Arthur’s Wake. Some speculate this as the first outward sign of his impending madness. What is known was that the foundations of the house which would come to assume his name were poured almost immediately upon his arrival.

The structure was supremely modest for a man of Wicker’s means, rising a mere two stories in height and composed of scarcely a dozen rooms plus cellar and attic for storage. The house was built on Blackwood Drive, a major tributary of the town’s main street, and close to the industrial center, such as it was. The plot itself consisted of about a quarter acre, the yard home to a few blossoming trees and a small garden, the whole of which was surrounded by a high wrought iron fence accessed by a similar gate. The posts of this formidable perimeter were topped by wicked spikes to discourage would-be trespassers. Construction concluded rapidly and the autumn of 1920 saw Wicker take up residence in the house accompanied by a maid, groundsman, and his wife.

The lady of the house quickly became the subject of gossip among the townsfolk. During the construction Wicker had boarded his wife in parts unknown. None could recall when she arrived at the house; one day she was simply there. As the groundskeeper cared for the exterior yard and garden and the maid handled all domestic chores including trips to market, the lady was herself never seen to exit the house. Due to this complete lack of socialization, the townsfolk did not learn so much about the woman as her Christian name. The servants themselves shed no light upon the subject. The man hailed from a remote part of the Dark Continent and the woman appeared to be a mixed-breed, vaguely of the Orient. Wicker had acquired the service of each while abroad for business dealings and neither spoke a word of English. Naturally, the Lady Wicker was the object of most persistent rumor.

Early speculation was she suffered from some exotic malady which left her drawn and bedridden. These theories were repudiated by those few who would occasionally spy her from the street. In each case she was seen exclusively at night, staring forlornly through the second story window of what was assumed to be her bedchamber, lit only by candlelight from within and to all appearances the picture of health. Additionally, there was little chance the typically damp and sunless climate of the Wake would be prescribed to improve one’s constitution by even the most inept of physicians. As common folk are wont to do, with a logical explanation absent more fantastic theories were crafted. Some began to speculate the woman was a witch, others an enslaved angel won by Wicker whilst dicing with Satan. What all who observed her agreed upon was her singular beauty.

I gleaned much of this information from archives of the local paper, especially one curiosity piece which was accompanied by a photograph of the lady in question. The scene was just as I had heard described, the single lonely prisoner peering through the window and across that terrible iron fence into the darkness of the night. The photograph was muddled due to the quality of the prehistoric equipment and the lack of natural light, effectively obscuring the lady’s features. Indeed it was difficult to distinguish whether the blurred form was in fact human, though it did project an impression of unmistakable femininity. And yet, even through that grayish haze I could perceive a certain piercing, almost hypnotic quality of her eyes.

Wicker himself was something of a mystery though considerably less so than his bride. An attractive man, tall, dark haired and well featured, many a young woman found herself unequivocally jealous of the seldom observed Lady Wicker. Though often away for long periods on business excursions, at home Wicker would frequent the only drinking establishment in the Wake, an illicit locale consistently ignored by the well-bribed police force charged with upholding Prohibition. Although he had no one in town that might be explicitly named ‘friend’ Wicker was known to purchase drinks for the house on his occasions of patronage and was as such engaged in conversation by no few number of fellow revelers.
It never took long for Wicker’s tongue to be sufficiently loosened at which time he would regale his latest passel of hangers-on with fantastic stories of his journeys abroad; forbidden hoodoo rights in the Caribbean, strange tribal sacrifices in the heart of Africa, dead men who walked in Eastern Europe, and countless others, each one stranger and blacker than the last. Though Wicker never spoke of his wife directly, these tales only served to expound upon the rumors of her origins.

Things progressed much in this way for some five years. Wicker would travel and carouse upon his return. The servants went about their business without comment or complaint. The townsfolk gossiped. The lady remained a shut-in. The horror occurred without warning.
The events that took place on the eve of Samhain, nineteen hundred and twenty-five have gone down in the history of Arthur’s Wake as unembellished fact. Among the town records I discovered the report of the patrolmen dispatched to respond to the disturbance at the Wicker House. I will summarize its contents directly.

Tomas Wicker returned from his latest trip abroad on the thirty-first of October. Having stopped briefly at home, he arrived at the aforementioned drinking establishment in a clearly agitated state. The always impeccably dressed Wicker was sloppily garbed, one shirt tail hanging out of his trousers, shoes scuffed beyond repair. It was obvious he had not recently bathed or shaved, his well-groomed hair was mussed, and his eyes were bloodshot and wild. Approaching the bar he apprehended an entire bottle of liquor, took several long swallows without use of a glass, and ignored all attempts of other patrons to engage him in conversation. Taking a final drink from the bottle he placed his wallet and the entirety of its contents on the bar, smashed the now almost empty receptacle upon the ground and exited with the astonished eyes of all present following him. That this entire portion of the episode occurred within a completely illegal establishment is not lost on me, although it apparently was on the investigating patrolmen. As I have said, they were well bribed.

That no mortal eye remains which observed what happened next is surely proof of a merciful God. The two patrolmen who first came upon the scene were summoned by terrified reports of shrill cries and demonic cackles. Long-term veterans and hard men both they were nevertheless ill prepared for what they would soon find at the Wicker House. Armed with a lantern and clubs in hand the men carefully approached the dwelling now ominously quiet.

The great iron gate was open askew as was the oaken door at the top of the steps leading to the interior of the house. Receiving no response to their shouted inquiries, the patrolmen cautiously entered the foyer and proceeded to search the ground floor. They found the first horror in the kitchen. The maid had been tied with thick hemp rope to a large table, limbs spread and secured to each of the four legs. She was naked, the butcher knife which had been used to slit her throat permanently sheathed in her heart. Glistening blood dripped from the cruel altar, slowly pooling on the floor while tell-tale splatters painted the walls like macabre decoration. The patrolmen shared a glance of mutual, unbelieving dread, tightened their grips upon their clubs and continued to search the premises in complete, terrified silence.

Having determined the cellar empty through a brief yet understandably taut examination, they exited the back door to the yard and discovered the groundsman’s body. A thick wooden stake had been erected in the center of the garden and crossed by a perpendicular beam. The man hung naked, suspended from the crossbeam by spikes harshly driven through his wrists and ankles in a grotesque simulacrum of Christ’s crucifixion. He had been disemboweled, ropey innards pouring out of his belly dripping blood and excrement.

Horrified, the patrolmen reluctantly agreed that a premature conclusion of their search to summon reinforcements would provide a very dangerous murderer a chance at escape. The men reentered the house and agonizingly proceeded up the winding stair to the second floor. Systematically they searched each room, uncovering nothing until only one remained; the bedchamber of the elusive Lady Wicker.

Eyes wide, heart pounding wildly the lead man slowly eased the latch. Raising their clubs the men burst through the door and stopped dumbfounded. The room was completely dark and empty, devoid of trappings or furniture of any kind. By the thin beam of their lantern light the men saw that strange occult symbols had been scrawled on every surface of the room though those on the far wall had been somehow marred. Of the murderous Tomas Wicker or his mysterious wife there was no sign.

A noise from above alerted the men to their quarry’s location. Returning to the hall, they spied a trap door operated by a string which, when pulled, revealed a ladder leading up into the lightless storage space of the attic. The two patrolmen stared at the entrance yawning black and wide as the maw of some infernal creature, beckoning fools to wander to their doom. Unable to decide who would proceed first, the men threw evens. The unlucky loser took the lantern and ascended the ladder.

He stopped halfway through the aperture, lantern held high to better diffuse its light and ready to beat a hasty retreat to the relative safety of the hallway below. The attic was in a state of disorder, strange souvenirs of Wicker’s trips abroad stacked haphazardly throughout. The constable slowly played his beam about, gradually revealing each disjointed mound of clutter. At last the light fell upon the attic’s far corner revealing the huddled gibbering mass of the man they sought.

Or what had been the man. Indeed whatever reason serves to separate man from beast had, sensing it was no longer a suitable dwelling place, fled the form of Tomas Wicker. The handsome features were gone, replaced by deeply sunken cheeks and a hideous grin. As the patrolman stared terrified, he could see the creature was covered in the blood of his victims left below. Hands about his knees, Wicker slowly rocked, babbling to himself.

Joined by his fellow, the constables steadily advanced. Arms outstretched they readied to seize the thing that had been Tomas Wicker when his mad eyes shifted upon them and the muttering stopped. In a moment of seeming clarity he whispered, “She’s gone,” before emitting a maniacal howl and leaping to his feet. Taken aback, the patrolmen hesitated, affording the lunatic room to bound past them to the window and hurl himself through the glass. His desperate shriek gave way to a sickening thud.

The men rushed to the broken window. Far below by the light of the moon they saw the body of Tomas Wicker jerk spastically, impaled by the wicked spikes atop the iron wall. By the time the patrolmen descended from the attic, the hideous motion had mercifully stopped.

The remainder of the report is, compared to the extraordinary events that had thus far taken place, remarkably mundane. Determining that the murderer was indeed dead the patrolmen called for reinforcements. The house was searched in detail and much speculation was made regarding the fantastic totems and fetishes populating every nook and cranny. All who set foot on the premises were in unanimous agreement that Tomas Wicker was unequivocally mad. Most confounding of all, there was no sign to what fate befell the mysterious Lady Wicker. Taking the lunatic’s final utterance as related by the patrolmen, the investigators deduced that the lady, tired of being regularly abandoned, had fled to parts unknown during Wicker’s latest trip abroad. Upon his return the shock had been enough to push the man into a murderous rage. Since virtually nothing was known of the woman, neither whence she came nor even her proper name, no search was mounted and the case dismissed.

It is from this point that the tale departs from the realm of logical reason to instead delve into the twisted byways of urban legend. About a month after the death of Tomas Wicker was when the disappearances began, the investigation of which ultimately lead to my arrival in Arthur’s Wake.

Parents would put their children to bed at night and find them gone the next morning. Exhaustive searches of the Wake uncovered nothing. Strangers new to the town were accosted, imprisoned and, in one instance, lynched by a frightened mob. Some questionable “evidence” was found on the man’s body after the fact, and the police happily declared the case closed with the suspect too dead to proclaim his innocence. That the pattern of disappearances has continued for more than sixty years would suggest they were mistaken.

I have been unable to identify the first to claim seeing a strange light emitted from the long abandoned window of the Lady Wicker’s bedchamber, nor the one who swore he heard the sound of children playing as he hurriedly passed the accursed house. I do know that the tales have spread and grown to the point they are not so easily dismissed. Shortly, I will ascertain any truth to them that may be.

Slender tendrils of fog quest hungrily between my feet like living things as I approach the ruins of the Wicker House. Pushing through the rusted iron gate, a trick of the moonlight suggests a soft glow emanating from the second story window as if from a candle lit within and, were it not impossible, the visage of a beautiful woman stares down and smiles at me approvingly. My hand tightens on the knob as children’s laughter reaches my ears. I open the door.

Credit To – Shadowswimmer77

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Remember Smith

August 18, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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Hours have gone by, with nothing. I’ve typed the same shit over and over, which is getting me nowhere. It’s time to get something done…

Smith, before I go further with this, I want to establish how much I hate you. Although, in a sense, I’m proud of you. This trap is rather elaborate, and even uses my own idea against me. You’ve thought around every corner to ensure my suicidal demise in the end, and for that, I commend you.

How long you’ll go on is lost to me. I’m not sure how, but perhaps this log will be recovered, and someone else will want to dent your face in. You may have gone years without being caught, but you won’t continue much longer, not like this. I’ll try to be sure of it.

Now, with my personal message out of the way, I’m not sure where to begin. I have what feels to be all the time in the world, yet that’s not something I can be sure of. For some time, I’ve been oblivious to the loss of blood from my wrist. It wasn’t apparent until the pain began to set in, but its been slow. I’m hoping I can at least keep alive until this is finished, wherever it may be going. I apologize for any blatant typos or unfixed errors. A perfect paper isn’t my highest objective at the moment.

I’ll start by talking about him, I suppose. Smith. We worked for a time, but we never shared a friendship. Our relationship was strictly business. We never met outside our work, and left much of our personal lives undisclosed. Knowing of his past could’ve surely prevented this, at least this outcome.

I work(ed) at Massachusetts General Hospital, by the way. My occupation is a general researcher, but I had a bit of a side interest, which Smith apparently shared. As I delved into the medical research field, I began a fascination with technological enhancements. It was more of a fantasy to me, a strange world that I dreamed of and sketched throughout the day. For Smith, it was essential, to say the least. It was his pursuit.

It was his obsession.

The first day Smith confronted me was while I was on break. At the time, I believed he was actually working at Mass. General. However he sneaks about, he must be good at it.

Smith was drawn in by a sketch of mine. It was a undeveloped, spur-of-the-moment idea: a wrist device, similar to a watch, that could regulate areas of the body by injecting various chemicals into the bloodstream. In theory, it could adjust body heat, maintain blood sugar levels, keep its user alert and awake, or vice versa. It was another fantasy to me, as I would never have the time or resources to construct such a piece. Smith, on the other hand, saw potential in it.

Him and I chatted for a while, about are similar views on the concept. Its hard for me to say this now, but at the time, I found him to be quite an engaging man to speak with. His insights into this world of technology were beyond any that I had heard. He’s the only individual I’ve ever spoken to who looks at tech enhancements as a real use and possibility.

From that day, we scheduled various dates in which we worked on the prototype device. Smith was rather paranoid of ideas being stolen, so we kept our location and progress quiet from other researchers. We worked at his apartment, which was secluded enough.

Throughout the project, Smith never stopped encouraging me, if “encouraging” would be an appropriate word. It appeared to be the only matter he focused on, annoyed that I didn’t feel the same. Yes, I thought the project had potential, but I still had a job to keep, at the very least. This frustrated him, for sure.

It was clear that Smith knew far more on the subject than myself. He constantly spoke about how he’s worked with tech for years. After only a week’s worth of collaborating, I wanted out, but was unsure of how to go about telling him. After all, he grew angry if I even questioned him. Abandoning him wouldn’t be much more promising.

Goddamn. The pain’s worse now, for sure. Maybe the wound’s worse than I thoughtt.

I’ll state that I had one major interest outside of tech enhancements. Over the years, I’ve developed an interest for writing. When I think about it, my interest in the latter came from my writing, as the ideas started out just story notes. I never explained this to Smith, for reasons that I hope I’ve made apparent.

Naturally, the project with Smith had taken up most (if not all) of my time outside work. Smith practically forced me to meet with him whenever I could. If I began to refuse, he would interrogate me, asking me about my life, what I could possibly be doing in place of our progress. I’ll admit, he frightened me. I’m not sure what exactly about him was unsettling, but he seemed capable of pushing to the end, meeting his goals at whatever costs.

I’ll leave out the time in between, but before I left the project, we had made progress. Though we still were nowhere close in finishing the prototype device, we had made much ground in getting its basic functions working. The only reason I stayed was because of the device itself, that my fantasy sketch might just become a real, working tool.

Then, all our progress was shattered.

Unsurprisingly, Smith grew impatient. Despite our progress, he wasn’t yet satisfied. He wanted the device fully operational, right away. He began to tamper with at the delicate piece. His hands were shaking, jolting with various screws and micro-sized vials. He began screwing with the device’s code, ultimately erasing hours of work, and rendering the technology near useless.

He blamed me for our failure, of course. I tried to argue how it was his own fault, but this only sent him off more.

“What have you fucking done?!”, he screamed. “You’ve never cared about this from the start, have you?! This was just some fucking drawing that you made, that I wanted to see for real! THIS is the stuff I live for! I’ve done this before! I’ve created my own inventions, and tested them! What have you done?!”

He grew violent, making threats and throwing objects about. Needless to say, I didn’t want any part of him anymore. I left on the spot.

I continued with my regular job, and found a peace of mind again. Smith’s threats continued to echo in memory, however, as they were too sinister to be passed off.

Four days after I abandoned the project, I was approached by two men. Where they came from, I didn’t know, but they were investigators. They asked if I’d see Smith, as they’d been tracking him for a long time. I told them a bit of what I knew, and what followed was a long, tedious interrogation.

Eventually, when they knew they’d been told everything, they told me the truth about Smith.

Smith Alexander wasn’t lying when he said he’d “done this before”. Despite meeting me in the hospital, and describing his job, he’s never worked there in his life. He’s never worked in any hospital, or any medical or science profession. He’s slid and faked his way about the systems for years, with almost no one catching on. As unsettling as it is for an impersonator to be creeping his way about a medical facility, it was his reasons for being there that set me off.

He was looking for live subjects; injured individuals for him to test his “designs”. He’s scanned businesses, schools, and public areas to find a wide array of experimental material.

In short, he used people as human test dummies.

What he did with his captives ranged from lethal to vomit-inducing. The investigators told me some reports, as well as showed me some photos. He loved to tamper with the heart, resulting with some of his less-brutal murders. However, his psychotic designs had no limits. Some of the photos showed a man with both his arms sawed off, with metal rods replacing the limbs. Another photo showed a woman with her back flayed open, syringes lining her spine, which had turned a sickly black color. He didn’t discriminate when it came to his victims. I stopped looking at the photos when they started included children.

I’m getting drowsy now….fuck. I should at least get to my own predicament, before I end.

Last night, I was working on a novel of mine, right inside my apartment. It was still unfinished, but I was closing in on its conclusion. Despite the confidence, a lack of rest got the better of me, and I drifted into sleep right at the desk.

Fuck. I just realized that I may’ve been knocked out by the water I was drinking at the desk. It had an interesting taste to it, but my focus was devoted to writing. Smith must’ve slipped in here before and drugged the glasses.

I need to keep on subject. I awoke this morning, right in my apartment, at my desk. The computer screen blared in front of my eyes, which showed a blank page. My ears were greeted with two words:
“Start typing.”

A cold, narrow shaft bumped against my head. The voice was familiar, but given that I woke up seconds before, my mind was still dazed and unfocused.

“Start typing, dammit!”, the voice shouted, with a cold surface being pressed against me.

The voice was Smith, and he was holding a pistol to my skull.

“Smith”, I said, beginning to wake. “What the hell ar-“

“Type, or your face will be smeared on the monitor”.

I listened, despite my confusion. Slews of letters appeared on the screen, as I was only complying for my life.

“There”, he said. “This is what you wanted, correct? You wanted to write? I knew it was your hobby. I’ve seen you work like this a number of times. Now that you’re out of the project, you have all the time in the world write.”

Smith reached over my shoulder, towards my right arm. He pressed a small button on a watch, which was secured on my wrist. I hadn’t noticed it until he reached for it.

“Don’t stop now”, he said. “I’ll explain your situation: That’s it, by the way. Your design. I made it possible, all without your help. It’s a prototype, as it only has one feature. It’s connected to the keyboard that you’re using now. More importantly, its needle is connected to your bloodstream. Fiddle with it, or stop typing for more than ten seconds, then it will send a small dose of lethal poison into your system. Your heart, along with everything else, will die in less than a minute. All you have to do to prevent that, is just keep typing. Keep typing to your heart’s desire….”

“You’re fucking crazy!”, I screamed, smashing the keyboard with a fist.

“Don’t type too aggressive, now. That keyboard breaks, then so do you. Before you get any clever exploits in mind, I’ve wired the keyboard to the watch in specific ways. Tricks such as weighing down the keys or holding down one letter won’t work. Don’t bother with trying to get up, either. I’ve removed all the phones from this room, and there’s no inhabited room nearby in the building. Help is unreachable, unless you run out of this room. If you wish to attempt a suicidal escape, by all means, go ahead.”

“You won’t get away with this, you sick fuck. Someone will come for me eventually, and I’ll tell them everything.”

“Perhaps they will, but will you go on that long? I guess that’s up for you to find out. Now please, continue to write. I won’t distract you any longer. Enjoy your session, David.”

And with that, the bastard walked out. If I had to guess, he’s still been uncaught

That was about six hours ago, if I’ve been keeping track of time right. He’s right when he said there’s no way out of this. I’ve been here continuously writing and deleting the same shit, trying to think of a plan. He’s left every crack sealed, as far as escape goes. Despite his warning, I actually did try screaming for help earlier, and no one’s shown since then.

After hours of useless plans, I knew the best (and only) course of action would be to write my own, final chronicle. I’ve explained a story, and the trap, so I suppose the only part left is the warning. God DAmmit! My wrist is fucking killing me at this point, and the pain’s moved up towards my shoulder. It’s painful to lift my right fingers, let alone my arm. Smith’s rushed most of his prototypes, and this oen was no exception. Even if I keep going, I’m sure I’ll die from blood loss soon.

Over the course of typing this, I’ve found the best loophole available:

The computer’s locked on this text program, but I can still send out the document directly from it. I’m going to think of every address I can remember, even one’s of those I don’t know personally.

My name is David Mallory. Smith Alexander is most likely still out there, wherever he may be. He probably skipped this town right after trapping me here. He’s dangerous, to say the least. He uses random people as test material in his terrible, rush “ideas”.. He’s created devices to kill, like the one clasped to my wrist right now. I don’t know what his end goal is, but he’s had no problem murdering so far.

End goal…that needds to be said. He must be stoppped.

Despite Smith’s impatience, arrogance, and outright insanity, he has a plan. Over the course of working with him, he’s made hints to something bigger, morE significant than his regular, brutal enhancements. He talked about how he planned to “bless society” with a grand technology, a modification that would be to all, for all.

He even talked about how he would sneak it into circulation.

Whether it’s a virus, nano-sized tech, a fucked up drug, I don’t know. But whatever twisted vision it is, Smith’s capable of it. He’s been capable of all the violence he’s committed so far, and he’s a danger to aNyone at this point. If he’s got away with his crimes so far, what’s to stop him now?

That’s it,, for me. I’ve gotten out all I can in this little time. Fuck you, Smith. Goddammit, fuckk you…

6he pain’s moving towards my chest now, my heaart. I guess this watch didn’tt work as well as SMith thought. By the time I put in the addresses and send this out, I’ll be close to keeling over. I’ll let the poison take me, then. SHouljd be less painful, I hoep.

Forget about mE, my lifee. Remember Smith, though. Remember his atrocities that I’ve detailed, that he’s still out there…

…and he’s still working.

Credit To – Emeryy (Richard S.)

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The Sleeping Town of Saluzar

August 17, 2014 at 12:00 AM
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The town of Saluzar, Arizona existed in its own world, and its citizens liked it that way. The town was accessible only by way of a little dirt path, and if anyone had ever stumbled upon it by accident, they probably would have turned back, unaware that anything lurked behind the row of elm trees. And had anyone somehow come across the town, they probably would have felt uneasy, as if they were disrupting some sort of enchanted burial ground. They would have felt unwelcome. This isn’t to say that the people of Saluzar, Arizona weren’t friendly. It’s just that everyone in the small town knew each other, and their ancestors knew everyone else’s ancestors too. And in a town like that, where you know everything, when someone or something comes along that people know nothing about, it can be unsettling. But the people of Saluzar were as nice as you’d find any other place— they were just shy to the idea of any change visiting their humble town

The town, it was readily accepted, started at the giant church building, which doubled as a town hall, and which was the very first building built in Saluzar. And, fittingly, the town’s boundaries ended at the cemetery in the fields beyond the schoolhouse. Every person who’d ever lived in Saluzar was buried in the cemetery, as there was no other area in which to bury them. And while cremations sometimes occurred, it was uncommon. Even after death, the citizens of Saluzar wanted to be a part of their town. Why, they wondered, would anyone want to end up in an urn? The burials were always conducted by the Thade family, who ran the Saluzar funeral home. The current chief undertaker, Evan Thade, had learned all the secrets of embalming that had been passed down from father to son for generations. Evan Thade looked like an undertaker. He had a brow that was permanently furrowed, and his spine was perpetually in the shape of a question mark, the result of years of hunching. His hair was brown, but anyone would have sworn it was black; not because the hair was dark, but simply because it felt like it should be black. His eyes, likewise, were overshadowed by the blackness of his pupils, although if one were to look closely, they would have noticed that his eyes were actually a piercing, vibrant green. It was among Evan’s duties as town undertaker to conduct the autopsies on the dead, since the town did not possess a licensed mortician, but Evan had never been trained in that practice. Embarrassed, Evan had never told anyone, and so the cause of death was always listed as “natural causes.” But, whatever skill he may have lacked in performing autopsies, Evan made up for in terms of embalming. Evan Thade was a true master of preservation. The Thade’s were artists, and their canvas was the dead.

Between the church and the cemetery, were a variety of small homes, and enough shops to keep people occupied. Mildred Snipes, now 82 years old, had a clothing business which she ran out of her little cottage– the same house she’d grown up in as a little girl. Mildred, despite, several strokes, and a healthy dose of arthritis, had managed to maintain her good looks. She aged as one with wisdom might, not as one who had given up. A gifted seamstress, Mildred had spent since the age of 16 sewing clothes for the various townspeople. Be it socks, hats, shirts, dresses– whatever someone needed, they went to Mildred and she’d make it for them. Her favorite garment to make was suits. Something about the fitting of suits exhilarated Mildred. She felt alive when making them. The smooth lines of the pinstripe as they run down the jacket or the pant leg, the crisp formation of the collar. Her father had been a button maker, and so each suit had a different custom set of buttons. Some were metal, some were wood, some bone. As she had studied violin as a young girl, she was the only member of the town who could read music, and therefore had been chosen as the town organist each Sunday. When not playing, she’d stare out at all the men sitting in the pews, admiring her handiwork on each of their Sunday suits.

The church was the closest thing to a town hall. Despite Saluzar’s intimate setting, those Sunday church sessions were the only times the whole town would gather together. Although most members of the town were religious, even those who did not consider themselves so would go weekly, in an attempt to fulfill their social obligations to the town. For two years now, Father Todd Luger had been the town’s only priest. And while serving an entire town of parishioners alone seems a daunting task, Father Luger hadn’t given a sermon for the past ten months. He accomplished this through a program where he’d invite the members of the town to be what he called “guest priests.” It was an attempt to make church a more interactive and enriching experience, he said. Some of the older generation, such as old Mildred at the organ, though, felt that Father Luger was simply shirking off his priestly duties, and longed for the days of Luger’s predecessor, who had staunchly followed all of the parochial rules to the very letter. But, the “guest priest” sermons did at least serve to enhance that social feeling that church seemed to provide the people of Saluzar.

“These days, you can be ordained in an instant. On these computers. Why can’t ordinary folks be allowed to give sermons as well?” thought Father Luger one Sunday morning, as he slept through Egan Ammon’s impassioned speech concerning the Gospel of John.

The only person in Saluzar who was never in attendance at Sunday services was Martin Glinser. From the time Martin had shown up for the first day of kindergarten wearing aviator goggles, he had been pegged as the weird kid. Perhaps because of that label, Martin’s readily apparent genius was ignored. By the age of seven, he’d constructed blueprints to create a flying bicycle. At ten, he’d developed a unique and, to his knowledge, undiscovered fungus culture. And by the time he was twelve, he’d created an effective and non-toxic deer repellant for folks to spray on their gardens. But even if someone had recognized the brilliance that Martin Glinser possessed, it would have been greeted with the same response.

“Kid, you’re from Saluzar, Arizona. And no one from Saluzar, Arizona ever goes anywhere or does anything.”

As such, the days where Martin should have been at MIT were spent huddled in a small broom closet which he referred to as his lab. His hair had gone grey early in his twenties, a trait he inherited from his father, and he felt so cheated by this fact, that he’d allowed his hair to go into complete disrepair. Never combed, it had gone past the point of being unruly, and was now permanently matted to the spot. The aviator goggles he wore in his youth had now been replaced by thick glasses. They were much thicker than he actually needed, but he liked the feel of the extra weight the lenses provided, and so he’d worn the overlarge glasses for some time until he got used to it. He had denounced God completely, and so found church unnecessary. So, despite the distinct impression he inevitably left on those he met, there was no one in the town who he ever considered a friend. The one person Martin had gotten to know well of late was Evan Thade, the reclusive undertaker. Martin had recently seemed to have developed a profound curiosity for Evan’s line of work, and the ordinarily shy undertaker had been more than happy to talk about the subject he was so familiar with, and which no one else seemed eager to talk about. And while they could never prove anything, some of the older schoolchildren had even mockingly commented on the relationship between the two bachelors, upon seeing them walking in the cemetery during school hours. When they shared this with their parents, the response was generally quietly encouraging.

“Good for them. Everyone deserves to have someone in their lives,” people would say. It was indicative of the overall mentality of Saluzar. The town liked to think of itself as open-minded, and filled with open-minded and good people.

Aside from menial errands and his daily walks and conversations with Evan, the only other times Martin emerged were when he came to present one of his inventions to the town council. The council was made up of the most prominent citizens of Saluzar, Arizona, and were in charge of allocating the small budget the town had. Despite having meetings in the church every Tuesday from 3:00-4:15, no one ever attended. The only time the council had anything to actually do at the meetings was when Martin had an invention, hoping to get funding to mass produce it. And while Martin’s inventions ranged from good to not so good, the town’s response was always the same.

“Kid, you’re from Saluzar, Arizona. And no one from Saluzar, Arizona ever goes anywhere or does anything.”

But, whether through obliviousness or blind optimism, Martin was feeling assured on this day as he approached the altar to begin the presentation on his latest invention. It was a good one, he was sure of it. With any invention, Martin brought it to the council with the confidence of a child whose watercolor is hung on the refrigerator, sure that one day they’ll be a great painter and that the work will sell for hundreds of dollars. This time, however, was different. The product simply called out, ringing like a siren in Martin’s ears, and there was no way it could be ignored. Surely the town council would hear the importance of this one, surely they too would hear that ringing.

“Hello, everyone. I’ve um…I’m glad you could all make it.” Martin paused to carefully wipe the sweat from his knuckles. His palms, amazingly, were dry, but his knuckles were the ones glistening under the bright lights. “It should only take a minute.”

“Yes, well, weekly meeting. Meetings are open for all to come. Share ideas,” said Saul Moon, mayor of Saluzar. Mayor Moon had always been a fair man. He felt strongly that the town should be able to weigh in on all of the town’s decisions, even if they weren’t part of the esteemed council. It was level thinking like this which made him so popular amongst his constituents, and which had allowed him to run unopposed for the past thirty odd years.

“No one comes anyway,” laughed Egan Ammon, hitting Moon in the side. Ammon, a retired traveling string salesman, was the most recent member of the council. When not in the surrounding towns, pitching various strands of twine to housewives, he had claimed his own bench outside the barber shop, where he would wax poetic about the world. His job meant that he’d seen the whole state, and so was among the more cultured members of the town. Each day, Egan would sit on his bench and talk. Even if no one was there to listen, his voice kept himself company, reciting and inventing proverbs and mantras by which he’d live out his coming week. And if anyone felt that he was an unbearable bore, those opinions were never shared.

“Well, Martin’s here, right? That’s someone,” replied the mayor.

“Yes, and when Martin’s here, it’s the only time we have anything to talk about!”

“So, we should give him a chance, shouldn’t we, Egan?” said Mildred Snipes, nodding to Martin with grandmotherly eyes. “What do you have for us today, Martin?”

“Well, I think this is a big one. I think that this could, well, change the way that we live.”

“Hrrumph,” snorted R.C. Goose, a local businessman and the richest man in all of Saluzar.

“What was that?” asked the startled inventor.

“I said Hrrumph!”

“Hrrumph?”

“Yes. Hrrumph. I mean, really Martin, this whole ‘changing the way we live’ thing. You say this each time.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“It’s a charade!” growled Goose. “Every new invention, you claim it’ll be the biggest thing since non-iron shirts. It never is. What was that last one- a solar powered lamp.”

“Well, yes, I…that was energy efficient.”

“But, if you need sunlight to power it, then why would you need the lamp?” asked Goose. The portly man checked the time (he had a pocket watch, of course) and, once again, let out a resounding “Hrrumph!”

“I know you’re a busy man, R.C., but I can’t see the harm in letting him speak,” said Father Luger. Luger and Goose had never really seen eye to eye. Luger was constantly looking for more money to be allotted for the church. Goose felt that, since he owned the only lucrative business in the town, and brought in most of the town’s revenue, it should be his business which received a bigger share. And yet, both found common ground in that neither felt that Martin Glinser or any of his inventions should get anything.

“Thank you, Father.” Martin wiped his knuckles on his pant leg. “Um, well…I was thinking that for every disease, there is a cure. For every ailment. You have a headache, we can cure that. You have the flu, we can cure that. I mean, you have a broken bone, we can even fix that. Anything that our bodies do to us, we can, well, we can fix it.”

“So, is this some sort of medicine?” asked Mildred. R.C. Goose yawned.

“Not, well, not exactly. See, we can’t actually fix everything. There’s one thing we can’t ever fix, we can’t ever reverse. Once it happens, there’s no way of treating it.” A small bead of perspiration fell from his right knuckle, hit the stone floor and melted under the hot, orange light coming in from the stained glass window. “The one thing we cannot ever treat, we cannot ever fix…this one thing that our body does to us, is, well…we cannot fix death.” The council’s eyes were blank. “But, now, well, I’ve fixed death. I’ve cured death. This potion, it can bring the dead back to life.”

Everyone instinctively stared at Cameron Ward, the final member of the town council, who sat at the end of the pew. Ward had been a soldier in the Vietnam War, where he lost three of his toes at the age of seventeen. Once back in Saluzar, he’d cared for his mother, Cecilia Ward. Mrs. Ward had raised Cameron alone, as her husband Oliver had died when Cameron was two. Upon Cameron being drafted, Cecilia had descended into insanity, fearing she’d lose her son as she’d lost her husband. The past forty years, Cameron had kept her inside as much as he could, in an attempt to avoid embarrassment. Every Sunday, he and his mother would carefully go into the church, sit in the back row, and leave. Cameron was the perfectly dedicated son. And Martin’s news was especially welcoming to Cameron. Cecilia Ward had died only a month ago, making her Saluzar’s most recent casualty, and still fresh on everyone’s mind. Cameron felt the gazes of his council members, and chose to be silent. After a while, Mayor Moon felt the need to respond.

“You can fix death?”

“Revive the dead, yes.” Martin stared at them. “I mean, I really…I think, and I don’t believe I’m mistaken, but I think it will change the way we live.” The silence echoed through the church, bouncing off the organ pipes, the stained glass windows, the high ceilings. Finally, it was Egan Ammon who spoke.

“Any dead person?”

“Any recently dead person,” corrected Martin. “As long as they were properly embalmed and are still preserved, this potion will bring them back.” There was silence. “And Evan Thade ensures me that all of the dead have been properly embalmed,” he added. It was Egan Ammon who spoke first.

“You mean, with this potion, I would be able to bring Chloe back?” Chloe Ammon had died the previous year, just one week after her and Egan’s fifteenth anniversary.

“Well, this is preposterous!” exclaimed R.C. Goose. “You don’t really expect us to believe that you can revive the dead. That you’ve CURED death?”

“But, I have. It’s this potion right here,” said Martin, reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out a little glass vial, filled with a viscous vermillion liquid.

“That, why that looks exactly like cherry cough syrup!” cried Goose.

“I know it doesn’t look like much, but it truly is a miracle potion,” insisted Martin.

“It’s black magic. Witchcraft!” hissed Father Luger. “I’ll have no part in it!”

“If it even works at all,” scoffed R.C. Goose.

“Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” reasoned the mayor. “If what Martin tells us is true, this would certainly be a remarkable invention, one that we shouldn’t just discount.

“The devil’s work,” crowed Father Luger.

“But, perhaps, perhaps we should see if it works. Just see. We don’t have to use it, but just see if it works,” said Mildred. Cameron Ward cleared his throat, and then nodded in agreement.

“I’m with Mildred,” said Egan Ammon. “We don’t have to use it, just see. What do you say, mister mayor?” The five other town council members immediately turned to stare at Mayor Moon. He looked at Martin.

“You, uh, you say this works? This potion as you call it, it revives the dead?”

“It does.”

“Do, you mind if we, well, if we experiment before we attempt this?” asked the Mayor. Martin shook his head.

“I promise, you won’t be disappointed.” said Martin. “I believe, if you want proof, I know where we can go.”

***

“Yes, do come in. All of you, all of you. My, there are a lot of you, aren’t there? Watch for that!” Evan Thade jumped to stop the fall of a glass jar. The jar, containing a hand suspended in green liquid, had been disrupted when the rotund frame of Egan Ammon bumped into a cupboard.

“Formaldehyde,” continued Thade “you can never get it out.” Ammon mumbled something in apology. “Besides,” lamented Thade “this hand has sentimental value to me.”

“Please forgive us for barging in like this, Evan. We know you’re probably busy. This should only take a minute” said Mayor Moon, eyeing an unenbalmed corpse lying on the table. It was not anyone from the town. “Might I ask who…”

“It’s for practice,” interrupted Thade, hurriedly covering the corpse with a sheet. Thade’s lab was situated in a dimly lit stone cellar. The space had been used by the Thades to brew their own ale during prohibition. From that time, two large copper vats remained, pushed into the corner. For several years, the Thade family had tried to remove the now useless vats, but they were too large to get out of any of the doors or windows in the space. Which raised the question of how the vats were first brought to the basement in the first place. Thade had built two crude wooden cabinets. In one he kept his various chemicals, sorted by color and purpose. All the preservatives on one shelf, the sanitizers on another. In the second, he kept his utensils. Various syringes, pumps, and a treasured Mary Kay makeup kit, used to dress up the bodies for open casket funerals. Lining the cabinet tops were various morbid objects: books on death, assorted dark wooden boxes, mummy figurines, and the stuffed body of a raccoon. With the town council distracted by these objects, only Cameron Ward noticed what appeared to be a pile of small mouse bones piled up in the far corner of the room.

“Yes, thank you, Evan, for letting me, um, use your space.” Martin Glinser shook Evan Thade’s hand. “Could you please get me the specimen.” Evan Thade went atop one of his cabinets, and removed a small mahogany-paneled box. Evan put the box on the table. The six council members peered to view the box, as if by arching their necks, they would see what was inside. The box, however, was closed, and all they could see was the lid. On the lid, written in Evan’s scraggled handwriting, was the name “Edgar.”

“Open the box, Mr. Thade” said Martin, smiling with the feeling of someone who had practiced the line countless times in front of the mirror. Evan Thade did so. The box was lined with a rippling dark blue velvet. On the inside lay the lifeless body of a rat. The sleek fur was impossibly white, as if it had been completely untouched by anything. As if fingerprints would leave a blemish. It’s eyes were closed, peacefully, but the red cornea was peeking through an almost imperceptible slit– a tiny, morbid sliver of ruby.

“Mr. Thade, is this rat dead?”

“Yes, Martin. He’s most dead.” At this point, the ceremony had to pause. Egan Ammon insisted on testing the rat’s heartbeat for himself, and he ultimately concurred with Evan Thade’s assessment.

“All good. That’s one dead mouse,” announced Ammon, after his examination.

“His name is Edgar,” muttered the undertaker.

“Yes, so, as we have determined, the rat is dead,” chirped Martin. “But, as you can see…” he picked up the vial, and inserted into it an eye dropper. With Evan’s assistance, they opened up the dead rodent’s mouth, and carefully applied three drops of the potion.

“Now that we’ve applied the medicine, you wait just one second…” said Martin. The rat was still. Then, after a moment, the nose twitched slightly. Then its right hind leg. In almost no time, the rat had turned over and scampered over to Evan, as he always used to do before his passing. Evan reached into his pocket and gave the rat a piece of cheese. Edgar, happily and harmlessly, nibbled on the square of cheddar. Evan stroked its head with his pinky finger.

The council was silent, the exception being Egan Ammon who gasped.

“Chloe…Chloe can come back,” Egan gaped.

“It’s a miracle,” whispered Mildred Snipes. Cameron Ward was speechless. R.C. Goose looked at Father Todd Luger.

“I don’t believe it,” said Goose. “I just don’t believe it. Is it witchcraft, father?”

“Well, I…hmmm…” Father Todd Luger knew deep down that such a thing went against God’s plan. You live, you die, and then you were supposed to go into the afterlife. To bring people back would go against everything God had planned. And yet, there was no denying this curiosity. A potion to bring back the dead was, no doubt, remarkable. And Father Todd Luger felt that perhaps it would be best if the church remained silent on this specific issue. “It is intriguing,” he finally concluded.

“And you believe this same potion can be used on people?” asked the mayor.

“Absolutely. It’s the same process. A life is a life. If it works for a rat, why not a human?” replied Martin, who looked at his shoes.

“Well, could we, say, test this out?” The mayor eyed the corpse under the sheet.

“You don’t want to bring this one back,” warned Thade with a grim chuckle. “He killed four people a few counties over. Death penalty. I’m…well, I use him for practice.”

“I see,” said the mayor, quickly looking away from the sheet. “No, we wouldn’t want to bring him back.”

“Perhaps,” chimed Martin, “well, perhaps…perhaps if we were to bring just a few people back. A few that we would want to bring back. If it works on them, on this, well, this test sample, then we can always do more.”

“But, who are these few people? Who would they be?” asked the mayor.

“Well, we have all of you. All of you here. The town council.” said Thade. Martin Glinser agreed.

“Each of you could bring someone back. And, Mayor Moon, you could decide if it’s a success.” Martin glanced at the townspeople. The mayor considered this.

“Yes, yes, we could. Egan, you would bring back Chloe I’m guessing.

“And Cameron’ll bring back his crazy old mother,” exclaimed Ammon. Cameron Ward said nothing.

“I could bring back Father Shanley,” piped in Luger, referring to his predecessor at the church. R.C. Goose stared at the priest in amazement.

“You’re on board with this?”

“Well, it is intriguing, R.C. And, when one thinks of it, is it really so terrible? If God has given Martin this potion, then perhaps he intends for us to use it. And, besides, wouldn’t you like to see Mark again? You were such a good team.”

R.C. Goose considered it. For years, he and Mark Leyman had been partners. Goose & Leyman was the most lucrative business to have come out of Saluzar in its entire history. The town’s only export, coal, had been outdated for some time, being replaced by fancier forms of fuel. Yet Goose & Leyman had a near monopoly on all of the coal in the state, so while business was slow, the pair did well enough to make by. Goose dealt with the personnel part of it. Making sure they had willing customers, figuring out what was the lowest they could charge and still make a profit (then he’d double that number.) Leyman dealt with the books. The two would split the profit 50/50, until Mark’s untimely death last July. The business partners had been inseparable, each owing their success to the other. The sign on the door still read “Goose & Leyman,” and not a church service went by where R.C. Goose did not at some point think of Mark.

“But, I have nobody. Who could I bring back?” asked Mildred. Mildred Snipes had never been married, although there had been offers. For one reason or another, none of the offers had ever come to fruition. Mildred, instead of a husband, kept cats. Many cats. She used to always take in the strays, care for them. Whenever anyone had a sick animal, they took it to Mildred. She was the closest the town came to having a veterinarian. Mayor Moon pointed out that if the potion could bring back a rat or, as Martin claimed, a human, why not a cat? And so it was decided that Mildred would bring back her most recently deceased pet, a tabby named William.

“Tomorrow, then. We will meet in the cemetery and bring back our friends and family,” said the mayor.

“Even my Chloe?” offered Egan.

“Yes, Egan, of course. Your Chloe.”

***

Cameron Ward sat at home and stared at his vial of potion. He ran a freckled hand through his straw-blonde hair. He sighed.

“Here, take this, watch after it, it’s yours, and be sure to bring it with you tomorrow,” Martin had said down in the Thade cellar. Cameron removed his left sock and applied some topical ointment to the stumps where his three toes used to be. Blown off by a shotgun. The wound had mostly healed after all these years, but Cameron didn’t care. He was still fearful of contracting gangrene on the foot, and besides, the ointment felt nice. It soothed any pain, massaged all of the tension out. The vial was on the table.

“Oh, ma,” he said to the empty room.

According to Martin, each body that came back had full memory of its past life. In fact, memories would be more vivid. It would be as if the body came back reborn, refreshed, a brand new mind full of the same old memories. Cameron’s heart had seized. His mother, if the potion worked, might no longer be insane.

Cameron went to the refrigerator and took out a beer. He always kept beer in the house in case there was company, as he himself rarely drank. He had always felt that if he were to drink, he’d become an alcoholic like his father, Oliver. All Cameron had ever known about his father was his name (he could never forget it, his father’s first name was his own middle one) and that his dad had drunk himself to death, as his mother put it. When Cameron was a boy, his mother had instilled in him that even a drop of alcohol would eventually lead to an untimely death. But, as he grew up, he learned this to not be true, that alcohol in moderation would not kill you, but he still felt an obligation to his mother not to drink.

“Such a dutiful son,” everyone always said about Cameron Ward. And, it was true, Cameron Ward had cared for his mother well after the breakdown. And while he gladly would have continued, the vial which held the magical potion to bring her back seemed to be taunting him. What if his mother came back and was not insane? And what if she remembered what had caused her mental breakdown? And what if she told people? Cameron felt his neck go clammy. He couldn’t let this happen.

Perhaps it was growing up with no father figure, as his mother had often reasoned, but Cameron had never been strong. And when he received the notice that his lottery number had come up in the draft, Cameron didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t go to war. The draft was an all-consuming entity, swarming through Cameron’s life in his peaceful childhood town. But more importantly, there was his mother. With his father having died, he was the only man in his mother’s life. Were he to die in the war, she’d have no one at all. It was with this reasoning that he had gone out back, picked up his dad’s old shotgun, said a prayer, and blew off three of his own toes.

When his mother heard the gunshot, she ran out into the yard, weeping. She screamed and hugged her son. Cameron did not cry.

“It’s okay, mom. It’s going to be okay. They can’t make me go to war now.”

Cecilia Ward looked down. She saw the smoke still trailing out of the wound, saw the shotgun in her son’s hand, and Cameron’s ever stoic expression.

“I see,” she finally said.

Cameron expected relief, perhaps even praise. After all, by sacrificing three toes, toes he didn’t even use anyway, he had insured his own perfect safety. He would not abandon his mother as his father had done. But, he could not have anticipated the look of shame and anguish in her eyes. A fly flew towards her and she twitched to avoid it. And in that twitch, Cameron could see something within his mother snap.

“No son of mine’s a coward!” she calmly seethed, and then walked into the house.

Cecilia locked herself in her room, refusing all of the food and water Cameron attempted to bring her. Despite his best efforts, Cameron couldn’t save his mother. He watched her wither away. Her mind, deprived of nourishment, shut down. Cameron found her one night, violently writhing on the bed, near to death. He phoned the doctor, then fled, vowing not to return until the war had ended.

When he finally did return to Saluzar, he was surprised to find that he was greeted with a hero’s welcome. Cecilia Ward told everyone her son had been dutifully serving in Vietnam. The doctors claimed she’d been so worried about him that she’d stopped eating causing her to lose her mind. And so, she’d told everyone that her son was in the war, bravely fighting for the cause. She had forgotten the incident, and it was Cameron’s belief that the story she had concocted was her mind protecting itself, her one solace once her mind had shut down. From what the doctors said, it would be best not to upset her, and so Cameron shyly went along, always shrugging off the praise, agreeing to his mother’s story. In that way, he felt he could perhaps meet her expectations.

And yet, Cameron Ward still felt guilty. Guilty enough to care for her for nearly forty years. When she’d died, he’d thought he could breathe easy, his secret would never be out. But, if she were to come back…what if she were to tell everyone? If she were to reveal Cameron’s secret shame? This town, the people that Cameron had come to know, would they shun him as his own mother had? If the whole town rose up against him, Cameron even feared for his life. The vial taunted him. The red liquid looked just like the color of the lipstick Cecilia used to wear every Sunday when they went to church.

Cameron took a sip of beer. In less than a minute, he’d finished the whole can.

***

R.C. Goose, meanwhile, sat in the office of Goose & Leyman. Business was done for the day, and had been for a while, but the stout businessman felt like it was where he needed to be at the moment. It had only been a year ago that R.C. Goose last sat in the same office with Mark Leyman. The men had been business partners for fifteen years at that point. It was evening, the curtains were drawn, and the only phone in the building was situated on the table in front of them. Leyman yawned and glanced at his partner.

“You’re welcome to go home, you know,” he told Goose, smiling wearily.

“Not at all. You probably get lonely sitting here all alone each night.”

“True. But I’m used to it at this point. You never stay this late.”

“I thought that my company would be a welcome change,” Goose taunted, using his index finger to pick some stray chicken breast from between his bottom teeth.

“Not at all! You know I enjoy your company.” Leyman nibbled on his fingernail. Goose stared at him for awhile, then let out a guffaw.

“I know, I’m just teasing you, Mark. Are they normally this late?”

“No, no. I don’t know what’s happened. The shipment normally gets in an hour ago.”

The pair certainly made a strange picture. Compared to Goose’s plump figure, Leyman’s figure was incredibly gawky and angular. His gaunt face was accentuated by a pair of copper wire glasses which framed his eyes to look irate at any moment, and which harshly left red footsteps on the trunk of his nose. The Arizona humidity chapped his slender lips, and so his mouth was constantly covered in bits of dead skin. It was Leyman’s unofficial job to sit and wait for their customers to call and say the shipments had arrived. It required very little attention, simply the ability to pick up a phone. The train would get in, the distributor would pick up the coal, and call the office. Leyman would warmly thank them for their business, and go home for the night. Most shipments got in at around six. This one was nearly an hour late.

“It’s bad weather I suspect,” croaked Leyman.

“What was that?”

“Sometimes, if there’s bad weather, then the shipment is delayed slightly.”

“Hm. Is there bad weather often?” asked Goose.

“Sometimes. Sometimes the tracks get icy, the train can’t get there in time.”

“Does that affect it? Ice on the tracks. It can make the train go slower?”

“Yeah, it happens sometimes.”

“Mmh. Maybe that’s what happened, then.”

“Yes, maybe.” Leyman seemed to be willing the phone to ring with his mind. His partner got up, strode to the pantry and got two pieces of shortbread. He wolfed one down, and gave the other to Leyman, who tried to wave it away. Goose put it on the table anyway.

“Eat it. You like shortbread.”

“No thank you. Really, I’m fine.” The truth was that Leyman was hungry. And he did like shortbread. He just didn’t like eating in front of people. And he was very conscious of Goose’s eyes. Leyman shook slightly. He picked up the shortbread and began to eat it.

“You know, Mark, I don’t know if it’s ice on the tracks,” said Goose, after Leyman had finished.

“Why not?”

“Well, it just seems odd for there to be ice on the tracks in the middle of July is all. And this being Arizona, where we don’t even get ice in winter usually. It doesn’t seem like there’d be too much ice present, on train tracks of otherwise. Seems to me.”

“But, the shipment was heading to Pennsylvania. And they do get ice on the track there sometimes.”

“It’s possible, Mark, but, it’s still July. I don’t think Pennsylvania gets ice on the track in July.”

“I guess not, R.C.”

“No. And, since the shipment’s so late, and it couldn’t have been delayed because of ice on the track, it seems to me more likely that the order was never going to arrive. As if someone may have cancelled the order.” Leyman was quiet for a moment, refusing to meet Goose’s glare.

“What? R.C., you…you cancelled the order? R.C. you should’ve…”

“No, no, I don’t think you understand me. I didn’t cancel the order, Mark. But it seems to me that one partner would make more of a profit than two. That if someone cancelled the order and then shipped it off independently, they would keep all the profit. Not have to split it. You see what I mean?”

“Not really, R.C.”

“Did you cancel the order, Mark?” Mark Leyman wiped some crumbs from the side of his mouth.

“R.C., I don’t know what you’re talking about. Really, I don’t. It’s just delayed for some reason, there’s…”

“Because it seems odd to me that they’ve not called yet, unless they’re calling a different number. Like your home number. Like you told them to.” Goose had gotten up and walked to the fireplace.

“R.C., where is this coming from? You know I’d never…”

“I don’t like it when people double cross me. The profits have been a bit light this month.”

“Times are hard, R.C.”

“Which is the reason someone might try to do something like this.” He grabbed a fire poker and walked towards Leyman.

“No, R.C., I can explain. They’ll call! I know they’ll call!” Leyman put his hands out to stop his advancing partner. “I’ve never cancelled any order. Granted, it had occurred to me, but I’d never…never for more than a second did I think about it. Never more than just one second.”

“But, I can’t believe that, Mark.”

“No, please, I didn’t…please let me explain!” The blunt end of the poker collided with Leyman’s temple. He dropped impossibly fast, slumped over the coffee table, shortbread crumbs just barely visible on his unshaven face. Right in the spot, his head began to swell.

Goose returned the poker to the fireplace, dragged his partner up the staircase, not an easy task to do given that neither of the businessmen were in the best of shape. Once at the top, Goose let his partner fall. And that would be how R.C. Goose would tell everyone he found the lifeless body of Mark Leyman the next day when he came in for work.

But, that night, as he was about to leave the building, the phone began to ring. He picked it up, listened to the voice on the other line, and then thanked them confirming that the coal order had come in. The man on the other end apologized for the delay. Goose put the phone down, uttered an apology of his own to the man at the bottom of the stairs, went home, and made a cup of tea.

Now, Goose sipped his cup of tea in that office, the vial in his pocket. He grasped it, angrily. Tomorrow, he was supposed to bring Mark back. His grasp tightened, willing the glass to disintegrate at his touch. It did not.

***

The next morning, Father Luger walked to the cemetery, glass vial in hand. He hadn’t slept, thinking about the potion had kept him up.

The potion left him more than a little confused. He had no idea how he was meant to respond to the whole thing. The whole thing was so biblical. The walking dead, who wouldn’t think of Jesus Christ? And how he would respond worried him. He knew himself to not be a smart man. He liked his routines, his unchanging habits of daily life.

He had never been the most steadfast priest. In truth, he had his doubts about the whole Catholicism thing. As a boy, being a priest had felt natural to him. He loved the church building itself. The way the light was refracted by the stained glass windows, how the organ echoed in your eardrums. But, as Todd Luger had become more vested in his occupation, he found more and more inconsistencies. When he’d mentioned this to Father Shanley, he’d been told that all priests experienced doubts, but that one day, they’d pass. Todd Luger was still waiting for them to.

And now Martin Glinser’s potion concerned him. Sure, he’d been intrigued at first, who wouldn’t have been? But what if these corpses came back and said that there was nothing? Nothing in the afterlife. That would cement his doubts. It would be proof that his whole life, not to mention his livelihood, was a sham. This would be bad enough. But, even more worrying than that was the possibility that the dead would come back and say that God did exist. And that there was a heaven. Or a hell.

It was the hell part that worried the priest. If this potion proved that hell existed, he knew he would end up there. Certain things, he felt, cannot be atoned, and stealing periodically from the church’s collection plate was one of those things. At first, it had been just a couple of dollars here and there, and only when he needed the money to get by. But as Father Luger’s frustration with his religion grew, he began stealing larger and larger sums. It became a compulsion, and while he never kept track of the full amount taken, taking money from an entire town of people, every week, for two years…he couldn’t bring himself to imagine how much he had amassed. The only way he could live with himself was in trusting his doubts. Trusting that he’d not end up in damnation for his crimes. But, if those dead bodies came back and confirmed everything he’d once believed, then what would he do? It was weighing him down.

“Morning, Father,” called the jovial voice of Egan Ammon “I’m guessing you’re going to the same place I am.”

“Yes, Egan. I would imagine we are.” Father Luger let the rose-cheeked man catch up. Ammon was slightly out of breath.

“I’m glad I caught you, Father. I was wanting to say…this potion, it would be something, wouldn’t it?” The priest grunted in agreement. “Yes, well, last night, as wonderful as it would be to see my Chloe again, and it would of course be wonderful, I kept thinking that maybe the dead should be dead after all. Would it be so much harm to let Chloe rest?” Ammon looked at Father Luger hopefully. The priest stopped walking and stared at the retired string salesman.

“You won’t give her the potion?”

“No. I mean, if this works, I suppose that someone would get the potion to her eventually, and I don’t want to hurt Martin’s feelings. That poor kid hasn’t a friend in the world, and he worked hard on his potion and, well, I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t grateful for the favor.” Ammon reached into his pocket and took out his vial. “So, last night, I switched my potion out for some cough syrup in the medicine cabinet. The color, it’s almost identical.” Ammon smiled broadly. He’d had the idea the night before, and had immediately poured his actual potion on some dead plants he’d not gotten around to throwing away (the plants looked lovely now). It had not been a difficult decision to make. Although maintaining good public appearances, the Ammon’s had had a tumultuous and abusive relationship. Egan Ammon felt constantly berated. Chloe had called him a “boorish git,” “bland as toast pig,” and much worse. Chloe’s death had been the greatest thing to have ever happened to the retired string salesman.

Father Luger held Egan’s vial. The color and texture inside were the same as his own. This is because that night, when Father Luger couldn’t get to sleep, he too had gone to his medicine chest and replaced the potion with cherry cough syrup. As had Cameron Ward, and R.C. Goose. And as too had Mildred Snipes, who realized that bringing back one of her cats might show what Evan Thade had missed in his poorly conducted autopsy: that pieces of each of her cats’ fur and bone were missing, used to make yarn and buttons for her thriving clothing business.

“I doubt the potion would have worked anyway,” Todd Luger finally said as he and Egan approached the top of the hill.

***

“I don’t…I don’t understand why.” Martin Glinser heaved as his shovel scattered another pile of dirt into the ground. It had only been an hour ago when he had finally conceded that the townsfolk could all go home, that none of the dead of Saluzar would be reawakened that day. Now, Martin was helping Evan Thade put the coffins back in the ground. Taking the coffins out had been an ordeal, but Evan was adamant that all the dead be returned to their resting places before nightfall. The last thing he wanted was for someone to unwittingly fall into an open grave. Safety first; that had always been rule number one in the undertaker’s household.

“No one will mind, Martin. They’ll all forget about it in time. These are good people. Simple townsfolk.” Evan took a break from shoveling and wiped some sweat from his brow. Mayor Moon had denied Martin the funding needed to mass produce the potion, citing that no one would want a potion that could only resurrect rats. At first, Martin had been distraught, pleading, but he had calmed down now. Standing over the open grave, listening to the rustling of dirt as it collided with the coffin top was peaceful– almost therapeutic.

“Well, maybe you could sell it to science labs. Bring their rats back from the dead,” Evan offered. “Or market it as fertilizer.”

“But it works. We know it works.”

“I know, Martin.”

Martin Glinser absently brought his hand to his head and felt the sore wound. He winced, and looked at his shovel. The shovel was caked in dirt, but the specks of burgundy were still more than visible on the metal spade. Evan had mentioned that the blood never had fully come out. ‘You owe me a new shovel,’ he’d said, but Martin had not realized the full extent of the stain. It wasn’t even that the stain was massive, it was just that the color was so intoxicating, so hypnotic, that one could not help but look at it. He stared at the red flecks, amazed to be staring at his own blood. To test the potion, he’d known he’d need to revive a human being. But he didn’t want to endanger anyone’s life, in case the potion didn’t work. So, one week earlier, he’d had Evan Thade kill him, hit him on the head with shovel, then feed him the potion.

“But, why, Evan? I mean, why didn’t it work? It worked on the rat. Every time, it worked on the rat. And, I mean, it, it worked on me.”

“A good thing too.”

Martin looked at the undertaker beside him. The inventor had never had many friends, and certainly not any close ones. But the bond that he and Evan had was unlike any other. Certainly Evan felt it too. Their friendship had grown considerably since that day when Martin had first approached Evan, telling him about the potion. And when Martin had him conduct that final experiment, the first thing Martin had felt when he’d been revived and looked into Evan Thade’s face was that they had just shared the experience of Martin’s death. And a connection like that couldn’t be broken.

“Maybe they weren’t meant to come back. You, it wasn’t your time, so the potion worked on you. But, the others…maybe, Martin, there’s a reason they needed to stay dead.”

The two men were silent for a moment.

“The corpses were perfect, Evan. Really, even after so much time, they looked as if they could have gotten up and walked around.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re an artist, you know that.”

The undertaker thanked Martin and shoveled another heap of dirt into the grave.

“Everyone was so nice about it. Told me it was okay, that they didn’t mind,” Martin continued. “‘Mistakes are made, chap,’ Egan said.” Evan laughed. Martin did a spot on impression of Egan Ammon

“Like I said, these are good, simple townsfolk. You can’t find any better people.”

“Salt of the earth,” agreed Martin.

They continued filling the hole with dirt, the sun slowly setting over Saluzar, as the church bell struck eleven. And when they were done, the simple country folk rested easy, comfortable in the fact that the dead would remain buried.

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A Walk in the Dark

July 31, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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Anna Hamilton didn’t see herself as a suspicious person but when someone’s been following her for quite awhile she gets a queasy feeling in her stomach. Guaranteed she was out late but she was strong and from taking the new karate classes she knew she couldn’t (and wouldn’t) be defeated. Anna picked up the pace, her legs and arms pumping as she turned her walk into a brisk one, looking back to see that the dark silhouette was still following her.
Anna had the strongest urge to spin around and smack the strangers face and demand them to answer why the hell they are following her at this time of night. But her mind argued with her, saying how just maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe the stranger was just going the same way as her. A few more minutes and she had came to the entrance of her cookie-cutter home. She hated it but she wanted to humor her mother and to make it seem as if she actually cared about the presence of the house so she had put flower pots randomly. This neighborhood had no history of crimes but Anna has seen th news and people seem to get crazier by the second. She turned at a ninety degree angle up her drive way and what now seemed to look like a man, slowed his step, making Anna grow even more concerned.
“Look, can I help you with something? Are you lost or did you just want to follow me for the hell of it?” Anna finally confronted the man but all the man did was look up at her with haunted eyes and moved his head forward once again. It was almost robotic, “Well, I’m going inside now,” Anna unlocked the door and with suspicions she locked it up quickly behind her, watching as the man walked into the foggy night.

The next day and Anna had almost forgotten about the whole ordeal. But looking out her bedroom window she could see the shape of a man standing right outside her property, toes barely touching the curb of her yard. Turning around, she turned on the light and to make sure she wasn’t crazy she turned back to her window, only to see the mysterious man had gone.
Walking with her purse across of her shoulder she headed to her place of work, which so happened to be the library. If someone would ask she would say she loved her job, the smell of books and the hushed laughter of the school kids. Everyone loved Anna too, she was known to be the ‘cool librarian’, as she let the kids sneak in food and drinks or let them be a little too rambunctious.
As always her fellow librarian and friend, Katy, sat on one of the desks behind the tall counter. But instead of the latest Cosmo issue, she had a newspaper in hand, “My dear Katy! Is that actually a newspaper in your hands? I never knew I would be alive the day that Katy Pryce would read it,” Anna joked and Katy stuck her tongue out in response. Anna put her bag in the crew room and went to sit next to her friend. Peeking over her shoulder, Anna’s eyes furrowed and she pointed to a picture of a man that looked very similar, “Hey, I know him!”
Katy looked interested and set the newspaper down an inch, “You do? How?”
Anna shrugged, “He’s weird, he followed me home yesterday and I think I saw him outside my lawn this morning.”
“Are you sure Anna?”
Anna looked at her friend in confusion, “Yes of course, why?”
“He was murdered two weeks ago.”

Credit To – Kiah Johnson

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