What a Lovely War

July 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I hate it here.

It seems redundant to say so, I realize this. Everyone hates it here… well actually I don’t know. Maybe except Len, but he’s a freak so whatever. Shit… where are we? I keep forgetting. France? We’re still here? Shit, have we made no fuckin’ ground since last year? Why are we here? Why am I here? I haven’t seen a German in weeks. They should at least put us where we’re needed. But no I’m stuck here in my own shit and everyone else’s shit ‘cause everyone keeps shitting in the holes ‘stead of a lavatory! I really hate it here. And now I’m stuck crouching like a jackass waiting for one kraut head to pop out ‘cause we’re supposed to be on watch or somethin’ and I haven’t seen one fuckin’ German in weeks! My back hurts my feet hurt my head hurts and it smells like shit! I just wanna-

“Yo Fisher shut the fuck up!”

“Huh?”

Shit… Len.

“I know you think you’re havin’ your cute little inner monologue there, but we can hear every fuckin’ word. Jesus Christ you’re loud!”

“Oh uhh sorry Len”

He laughs, “I’m a freak huh?”

“Uhh sorry”

“Well ‘scuse me for tryin’ to enjoy my little vacation here! Y’know you should be grateful, everyone dreams of seeing Europe once in their lives”

“Real funny Len”

He suddenly becomes stern, “Hey… Fisher, asshole, look at me!”

“Some of us have to keep watch Len”

“Krauts ain’t comin’ for a thousand years now look at me!”

Reluctantly, I actually do. There he was, little freak, just sitting in the shit-filled trench supposed to be keepin’ watch. But instead all day he sits by his little cave – we’ve been in this one particular trench for the better part of two months, stuck in a stalemate with a kraut platoon several hundred yards ‘cross the no man’s land. Not a single one has been even heard from in weeks, meanwhile we’ve been yelling our asses off givin’ them every fuckin’ scrap of a plan we’ve been able to piece together. We haven’t even heard from Pershing or the main force ‘round two weeks now… orders to “maintain position” without once considering we’re low on troops, ammo, and a place to shit! Nevertheless we’ve cozied up our trench here complete with little caves carved out of the mud for each soldier. Shit, are we that low on troops that we can fit in a cave for every one? Even then lot of these caves are empty… been empty a long time.

“Hey, yo asshole! Finished bitching?”

Now I was certain I was just thinking that.

“Fisher, asshole, listen to me. Callin’ me a freak is like callin’ the Germans our fuckin’ enemy. Guess what? No fuckin’ shit. I take what I am with stride, and I encourage you kids to say it straight, ‘cause if you say it any other way, it’s bullshit. What I’m really insulted at is that you called me a freak in the same breath as your adorable little rant there. We all know, it smells like shit, we feel like shit, Germans haven’t been here for weeks. That’s shit. Believe me I’m more hurt by that than anyone, see my initial desire was to apply my unique talents in liberating the European oppression for the sake of the free world, but the reluctance of both sides to actually do something has robbed me of that luxury. In that respect I hold Pershing in the same light as I do our kraut neighbors, the fuckin’ enemy-“

As much as I despised Len with every fiber of my being and knew everything he said and ever will say is absolute bullshit, I couldn’t deny that he was one of the best soldiers I had ever fought with. Most of our platoon was just kids, sorry little brats who shot up at their chance for their fifteen minutes of fame; I at least had the luxury to be above the twenty mark. But for people like Len, you knew they were meant to be soldiers from their first whining breath. People who fight with no compassion or mercy, pitiless for their adversaries, unrelenting, and above all else unconcerned for their own well-being; the day his balls first dropped and he held a knife in one hand, a pistol in the other, he knew – always knew – what he was going to do with himself, and jumped right when the shells started flying ‘cross the borders. Shit, he probably started the war himself.

Len continued, “We all have the same concerns Fisher, but the fact that you have to remind us of it every single day is not exactly appreciated. And I especially don’t appreciate the fact my name was held in the same light as your whiny little bitching. So some advice-“

After eight straight hours of crouching in this same fucking position since two a.m., I was in no fucking mood for a pep talk, “I never asked for your advice Len, so shut the fuck up”

“Stand attention!”

Our sergeant was walking through. I and the rest of the company – who were rather awkwardly watching our little altercation – stood straight despite our cringed and deformed figures, courtesy of the rather uncomfortable positions involved with keeping watch. Three, however, did not stand. Two we’re Pvt. Laurel and Pvt. Harding, who understandably so had feet enlarged three times due to waterlogged bacterial infections. The other was of course Len, asshole as he was just continued to sit with his pristine collection of German helmets, always somehow managing to fit in some sort of faux drum recital at the most inappropriate of moments.

“Quiet Fisher, we can hear you”, the sergeant said, just as exhausted as we were. He then noticed Len, “Private Lye!”

Len stood up with a smirk grin, “Yessum Sergeant Sassoon?”

“Why are you not keeping watch?”

“I was just chattin’ with my friends here”

Sergeant looked at me, “Sounded more like a fight, save it for the krauts”

Len smirked wider, “Sir I didn’t mean Fisher there I meant chattin’ with my real friends”

Asshole as he was, gestured to his helmets. The sergeant sighed, exasperated; aside from me I believe serge was the only one who disliked Len, though he did clearly respect his combat expertise, something that has – I will reluctantly admit – saved both his and my ass. Rest of the company were in love, really, by my guess jerked off to him every night more than their own special someone’s they left behind. I don’t understand what it is about kids that make them flock to absolute douchebags… common heritage I suppose. ‘Course I can’t blame them, they’re good kids, but stuck in the shit – literally – for too long now; can’t have everyone be depressing and cryptic and overall unpleasant to talk to, something this war makes out of a lot of people. But something about Len, he crosses the line. Not just for the sake of clear lack of boundaries for his manner and vulgarity, but just in how he leeches into people and doesn’t let go. Keeps hammering ‘till they snap, and eagerly so; it just comes with people like Len. I’m just not going to drool over it, if these kids want to, let them be. Whatever gets them through this… anything to get them through this.

Serge then went on with his report, “Pershing has ordered the 5th Riflemen Battalion to assault the German positions at the Somme River, aided by a joint coalition of the US II Corps, Canadian and Australian Corps, and the British Third and Fourth Army!”

“Hey serge want to say that louder for the krauts to hear?”

“Don’t complain Private Lye, I’ve heard you bitching for some kills for weeks now”

He smirked rather deviously, “You know me serge, I can’t live a day without a kill”

“Since we’re closest to the basin we’ll be spearheading the charge with several Canadian battalions”

“Can Maple Leafs even fight?”

“Let’s hope so. We’re moving at 1400 hours!”

At that he marched back to his cave and we followed to our own, packing any and all of our few essentials into these shitty knapsacks that can hardly hold a lunch. Time for the breakdown, same inventory check I’ve been making every day. Canteen, check, ration, check, disinfectant, check, flask, check, extra clips, check, knife, check, pipe grenade, check, mustard gas, check. Feather … funny. I almost counted the feather. I couldn’t help staring at it for the better part of a minute.

… Wait a minute. It’s-it’s supposed to be right under it. Right here… where-where is it? Jenny, Jenny where are you? Where the fuck are you! Shit shit shit… okay, okay think. Where could it have gone… who could’ve…

At that I ran out of my cave, shouting, screaming, “Len! Len you sonofabitch!”

I stormed into his little alcove; there he was on his cot. Just staring at the picture, staring at her. Smiling.

“Y’know Fisher I got to hand it to you, she ain’t bad”

He laughs while licking his lips.

I never considered myself an angry man, never had a temper, never made a threat, never even really got into a fight (besides the obvious). But at this moment, a hollow disk stood where my eyes were, veins bulged out of my head, and something inside broke through-

“Give that back in three seconds or I’m going to take it off your corpse”

“Nice titties too. Bet you sampled that, eh?”

I could hardly hold myself back, “Now”

“Aww look at this, ‘To my dashing sergeant’”, he chuckled, “what bullshit have you been writing her?”

“One… two…”

“I just feel bad she got stuck with you eh? Where does she live I think she needs a real man”

At that I clocked him in the face with the fist I unknowingly made; it was without a doubt the hardest punch I ever threw. He fell backwards and straight into a disgusting puddle of mud lingering in the middle of his cave; sporting a large welt where I decked him. Unfazed – in fact amused – he simply kept laughing and looking at the picture, still licking his lips. I grabbed him on the ground, but he would have none of it.

“You shouldn’t have done that Fisher”

In a split-second (and I do not exaggerate, a literal fraction of a second) he shot up and twisted my wrist, with me completely off-guard and incapacitated he threw me to the wall; swiftly meeting me there, he grabbed my throat before I could even react. From what I’ve seen of Len in combat, I knew he was near-unstoppable, unashamedly far more adept than I’ll ever be. But this was… supernatural, almost. I at least should’ve been able to sport a small sidestep, maybe even a clumsy swing; but he was moving faster than my brain could comprehend and react to. In fact, the moment he pinned me to the wall was the moment my brain told my body to throw a punch, believing it was the moment he first got up from the ground. After a few seconds stuck to the wall, meeting Len’s admittedly horrifying stare, I finally recovered from my daze and slowly began to realize the mess I just got myself into. Managing to break my eyes away from his, I finally noticed the axe he held to my head. Not some hatchet, a legitimate war axe straight from medieval days; I wouldn’t be surprised actually to find it was from that time. I knew of it, and I knew Len had the uncanny ability to produce it at the most convenient and unexpected moments in less than a flash, but never would I have guessed it would be held up in the direction of my pathetically soft skull. I remained there, incapacitated, weak, defenseless, completely at the mercy of the man I hated the most.

At that moment I had one of those moments of… premonition or enlightenment or whatever you call it. Took me back to a few months ago; just after we occupied this particular trench from the German positions, one of our first significant advances since we got our orders to advance towards the Somme. Krauts were pissed to a number and didn’t wait long for a counterattack, and they rushed us fairly unexpectedly. Due to part exhaustion-part laziness, not all the guns were situated precisely at our most vulnerable points, and since it was the German’s trench they knew exactly where to strike. They swarmed us and into our ranks with a vengeance, even worse, they were smart about it. Our first relief wave was absolutely torn apart by well-placed and well-timed grenades, shredded by rusted shrapnel of what I assume were nails and scrap. It seemed almost too well-timed; I suppose after several run-ins they recognized our general placement strategies. Me, Pvt. Owen, and about a dozen others were the second wave. We were gearing for a charge; same routine, fly in the shrapnel, then charge in the riflemen with the machine gunners offering cover from behind. ‘Course we were delayed; somehow the Germans not only recognized the exact timing and placement of our first wave, but the relief positions of the second. Instead of slicing us apart with the generic shrapnel, they were cruel… several canisters of mustard gas – or possibly phosgene, I’m not entirely sure – were thrown in. After several seconds of listening to the demented orchestra of the sizzling of gas seeping out of their containers, the men scrambled in a display of near-psychotic hysteria. Much like the guns, our masks weren’t properly lined up either – in that case due to pure laziness, as gas masks don’t weigh nearly the better part of two-hundred pounds – instead strewn about the general area like clothes scattered among the floor of a seventeen-year-old’s bedroom. It was pathetic, really, the state we as men in a split-second managed to devolve into, instead becoming the kids we were at heart. The krauts were no longer the enemy; the new enemy were the several hands reaching out to the same mask several feet away. The new enemy were the men those hands belonged to. What a fucking sight it must’ve been; the crudest of unarmed combat between kids desperate for their next breath, reaching for their salvation, for their possible means of returning to their mothers, kissing their loved ones. At least that’s what I liked to believe were the thoughts racing through their heads as they psychotically bashed in each other’s bodies, tore at each other’s eyes, and screamed as they squeezed the life of each other’s necks.

Ironically only four of the masks were actually reached in time; me and Owen were the few lucky ones, managing to store our masks in a safe place in the event of the worst-case… well, this. Just in time we got on our masks, even then my eyes were burning up a little, but I could manage. One of our mates, Lt. Spiegel, was not so fortunate. It was a fucking sight, his eyes seemed like they were rolling to the back of his head, foam was gurgling out of his throat; the sound he made was… well let’s just say a sound like that sticks to you. A half-scream half-guttering, like he was drowning in air. I never saw mustard gas with this kind of effect, and phosgene wasn’t visible, so I’m still not entirely sure what exactly the krauts dropped on us; however it’s safe to say it did the job well. In desperation and half-insanity Spiegel charged at one of our boys, Boyle I think. Spiegel tackled him to the ground and with all his remaining strength tried to pry off Boyle’s mask. He succeeded, but it was too late to get it on. Both men succumbed as their eyes – almost literally – melted out of their sockets and the foam in their mouths turned into a stream of blood. Owen and I couldn’t spare the bullets to put them out of their misery.

All that was left of the second-wave was me, Owen, and Martinez. Len was supposed to be with us, so I just assumed he was a goner. I fucking wish. As it appeared to be the end for us, we mutually agreed it would be better to die fighting than crouching in the fetal position, and at that we charged into the cloud of gas towards the German positions. It appeared the Germans flooded the entirety of the trench complex with gas, although it would seem odd every single kraut was equipped with an individual mask; unless this was such a well-coordinated assault that they prepared for every single scenario that somehow perfectly impeded our own defense at every level. Of course we never considered it then, as we were charging through the mist prepared to die fighting, take in a barrage of machinegun fire at any moment… but it never came. Looking back at it I realize there should’ve been more shots in the background, there were hardly any, no evidence a battle was even commencing. Even stranger I realize the Germans never charged where my platoon was. Normally gas is thrown as a prequel to a charge, but this time they just let us go to them. In fact they only stayed concentrated in one area of the trench throughout the entire attack, like they were after something specific. Guess it didn’t matter then, we were just fighting for our next breath (if breathing through a mask counted).

We three stormed through the thick of the cloud, didn’t seem like it was subsiding yet. Just as well, there wasn’t any wind that day. By this time me, Owen, and Martinez were at a slow pace, looking in every direction, listening for even the slightest footstep. It was so bizarre; there were no more gunshots, no more shells. Just silence. Like this godforsaken war killed every last human being on this fucking planet, except for us three. In those few seconds I entertained many scenarios through my head of what occurred. Among them were: the flu, mass suicide, rapture, divine judgment, and simultaneous masturbation; the last at least made me smirk. Eventually we all stared at each other in a daze, puzzled on how exactly this sudden peace came to be. At least for a moment serenity lasted.

The next moment two Germans jumped at us from above the trench walls. One landed right on top of Martinez and stabbed him through the neck. The other landed right next to me and bashed me to the ground with his rifle. Still holding onto my gun I reacted quickly and shot the kraut through the leg. He fell to the ground and began tackling me; both pinned we kept rolling in a stalemate. The other was already in a knife-fight with Owen, his gun jammed (of course). Looking back it probably looked fairly comical; Owen and his adversary simply posed at each other waiting for the other to make a faulty move, whereas me and my new friend rolled on the ground in a half violent-half homoerotic embrace, all the while cheered on by a gurgling Martinez seizuring on the floor. Eventually me and my kraut rolled close enough to be in reach of his rifle; we both grabbed for it, he reached it first. As he was about to turn the barrel towards my head, I played dirty and swiftly pulled off his mask, suffering him the same fate as my squad. I stared and witnessed his agony for a few moments, sadistically smiling as his eyes bulged out of their sockets like a Jim Crow. Quickly I got up and looked towards Owen; he already had his knife up the kraut’s neck. We continued onward leaving Martinez to rot, not once looking back at him to even scavenge his precious equipment. Without any more incentive to do anything else but slaughter Germans, Owen and I marched through the gas cloud up to the other side.

Expecting a fight, we found nothing. Not a body, not a shot, not a single German. The cloud dissipated enough that we could partially see across out of the trench. Looking above the walls out to no man’s land we saw it; the entire German battalion retreating, legitimately sprinting back to the other side, like they were scared. Looking at Owen and me it couldn’t have been us they were scared of, as much as we liked to entertain that notion.

Suddenly another kraut charged from one of the caves; I suppose he didn’t get the memo to leave us the fuck alone. Just as well though, we were all dead men anyway. Unfortunately for Owen he was a dead man long before I was, and with the element of surprise the kraut made quick work of turning Owen into Swiss cheese. I was next; he aimed his barrel at me, I couldn’t run away or charge. Like a deer in the headlights, I was beat with no way out.

What happened next I’m still not sure of, I don’t know why either. It was just so surreal, a moment in itself so abstract I couldn’t fully comprehend it at the moment it occurred… still can’t. The kraut aimed his rifle at me for what seemed like an eternity. I’m not sure if it was either reluctance on his part or an absolute breakdown on mine. It was as if time froze in itself; I was trapped in my own eternal purgatory of looking down the barrel of a Gewehr 98, reflecting on what little life I had left and the even smaller life I had before. But the strange thing is, I didn’t think of the entire usual flowery bullshit people associate with life. I didn’t think of my home in Springfield, Vermont, I didn’t think of my ma, baking me and my neighbor Suzy another batch of chocolate chips, or my pa, coming home late again drunk to violent drool. I didn’t think of those nights when my ma told me to hide in my room, and not come out, even when it sounded like things were breaking and my pa was yelling and my ma was crying. Not in 1905, Suzy giving me my first kiss after I won her a stuffed elephant at the annual block party. Not the time I was with Charlie and the boys and for the first time laid eyes on Suzy’s ma and her perfect pair of D-cup breasts. Not my first car, a shitty recycled Ford my pa gave me the day after my ma died; didn’t get me as many girls as I thought it would. Not that time when I was eight and I hit that softball right out of the park, the only time pa ever said he was proud of me. Not my first date with Suzy, out to the Roaster’s across town, bought the most inexpensive meal in Vermont; still managed to get me five minutes under the bra. I didn’t think of August 4, 1912, the day I first laid eyes on the greatest girl I ever knew. I didn’t recall our first conversation; she was reading a Tale of Two Cities, her favorite book, I pretended it was mine as well. I didn’t remember that first time we… I didn’t think of Jenny. Why didn’t I think of Jenny? Why didn’t I?

None of my life seemed significant to me at that crucial moment. The only thing I thought about – the only thing I deemed significant – was why I came here, to this piece of shit continent in flames. To fight a war that wasn’t mine to fight. To save people I didn’t know and never would. Why did I come here? Why can’t I remember…?

Needless to say the kraut didn’t fire, at least didn’t fire in time before Len charged at him from behind armed with nothing but his prized axe. His axe… soaked in blood. His uniform… splattered with enough crimson to fill ten men. Still in a frozen daze I could hardly make out as Len swung the German at his gut and let his entrails spill out. He was so fast I could hardly make out his movements. I blinked once; the kraut’s head was off. Twice, both arms. No man could go that fast; at least I thought it was just Len. Maybe it was me; maybe the gas was getting to my head. I don’t know, I don’t fucking care. By the time the German was on the ground he was already in pieces; Len didn’t stop swinging. He kept chopping and chopping until the corpse was mash and bone. Not one day did he go anywhere without his axe; it never dulled, never failed.

And now his axe was on my head.

“Fisher, asshole, I tried to tell you before. I was going to give you some advice, you didn’t want it. Trust me… you did. But just to be nice, I’ll say it again, more clearly this time. Some advice-”

“F-fuck you”

“Some advice, Fisher, asshole. You listen to every… single… fuckin’… word I say,” he flashed Jenny’s picture in my face, “When I say I want to know where she lives, you tell me. When I say I killed every single one of those krauts I said I did, you believe me. And when I say to shut the fuck up, you shut the fuck up. Comprende?”

“Fuck you Len”

Suddenly we heard the distant sound of an artillery shell. Then we heard it again, closer. And another, closer. Then the sound of dozens of voices wailing at the top of their lungs.

We heard Pvt. Laurel, “Krauts movin’ in three o’clock!”

I panicked. I tried to move or run or get my gun but Len was still holding onto my throat.

“Len, let go! Let me go!”

His eyes were stern and cold, “No, we’re not done”

“Len! Jesus Christ Len get offa me we need to fight!”

“Not yet Fisher, asshole. We still got this to finish”

The relentless sounds of our machineguns were drowning out our voices. I heard Sgt. Sassoon screaming out orders from the top of his lungs. I heard our boys crying out in terror while unloading their clips and belts on the approaching enemy, whose cries were now more distinct, more numerous.

“Very poetic Fisher”

Despite the ear-numbing noises on the outside, Len spoke the same volume, a near-whisper. Yet I could hear every word, as if it was coming from inside my own head.

“Let me show you somethin’ asshole”

He threw me to the ground flat on my face. He then turned my head to look under his cot, and stepped on my head so I stayed there. There I saw under his cot was a massive ditch, filled to the brim with heads. Rotted, skeletal, months old. The most recent however still had their flesh, they were fresh. A week old, max. Bile filled up to my throat, I’ve seen some fucked up things but the entire nature of the situation hit me at once; the smell, the sight, I nearly vomited. How could I have not have smelled this? Am I that accustomed to the smell of death? After a few moments of analyzing I noticed something; I thought it strange he had such fresh heads, as we hadn’t seen a German in weeks until now. Slowly it came to me as my mind was clearing up. I finally realized. Every head, every single one, had our helmets. Ours, not German.

Us.

Len was no longer stepping on my head; he was no longer holding me down. I just couldn’t move. I simply kept staring and staring; dozens of them, more. I never realized until now how small our current ranks were, I never wondered where they went, or how they were. I never ceased staring out to no man’s land, simply reasoning they died on the front. That they for some reason just up and left our trench walking to the German fronts, never to return. None of us thought different; it’s been a year now. We stopped caring what happened. We’ve seen every possible death a man could possibly endure. Men we knew for minutes, men we knew for years… gone in the same instant. To say they simply died on the front is just the easiest way to think now, never once considering what really happened.

Len then spoke directly into my ear, “I get what I want. No matter what. When I want a kill… I get a kill. I always did at home, it was easier at home. Funny right? It’s harder to kill here, because they pay attention to who’s missing. But me, I don’t care who, even if it’s you”

He grabbed my head and plunged it straight into the mud puddle in the middle of his cave. I didn’t fight back, I don’t know why. But right as I went under, I started to think; a thought that’s been beating at my brain for the last several hours and, indeed, the last few months. Why did I come here? Why the fuck did I honestly come here?

Suddenly, however, Len unexpectedly let me go; I heard gunshots. Immediately I picked up my head, breathing heavily and coughing up pieces of mud and shit. I looked at what stopped him.

There in the entryway was a sight I’d never forget. Those words in particular have a major significance, as I’d seen just about every variation of “fucked up” in the one godforsaken year I’ve been trapped here; enough terrifying images to fill ten thousand photo albums, able to make even the most hardened civilian Joe shit his pants. But this sight in particular, it’s to be expected – even embellished – in a combat setting… a dead enemy.

Two, in fact; one dead kraut, and another standing right above him. He looked no older than sixteen, probably younger. He had his gun aimed high, smoking from the barrel, shaking. He was shaking. His eyes, they were, wide, tearing. Afraid. I never saw fear so distinct, so… traumatized. I turned around to whatever reckoning he sowed. He was looking straight at Len. Len had a bullet wound in his arm where he was still holding his axe, the other arm aiming his prized Lugar at the German; another weapon he always managed to produce at a moment’s whim. Len was breathing heavily, his sleeve gradually becoming saturated in red. But he maintained a stare. What a stare; brow ruffled to near-vertical stance, mouth contorted to the most twisted of positions, eyes pure malice. If there was an official look for evil, that’d about take the title. I honestly think I pissed myself; I didn’t know it then but I was as frightened as the kid was.

Len simply said, in the most malicious but retained of tones, “Leave”

The German kid seemed to be trying to say something. He kept stammering, unable to keep a straight face. It looked as if he was trying to stutter a surrender, or an apology. Or something. I don’t know.

“I… said… leave”

With actual tears in his eyes, the kid quickly nodded and ran off. Len maintained his stare, remained looking through the opening of the cave. Suddenly I could hear the kid shouting, screaming really. Something in German I couldn’t understand. But as he screamed, something happened I never thought would happen again since that fight in the trenches… the gunfire ceased. Gradually, rifle by rifle, each and every gun became silent; and all at once the shooting stopped. Everything stopped.

It was strange, even a photograph of the silhouette of a couple dancing in the moonlight, surrounded by a majestic myriad of glistening stars, wasn’t quite so serene. To this day I will never recall a more peaceful moment. I will forever be haunted by the piercing wail of oncoming shells, the popping and stuttering of a machinegun barrage, the gurgling of a suffocating comrade. Not once will those horrific sounds ever leave my head, not ever again will I have a silent night or a peaceful sleep, as long as I live, as little as I live. But that one moment, that last moment, was perfect silence. Serenity, purgatory, peace. I don’t know what silence is anymore, but every time I look back to that memory (if it even is one, if I even have a life ahead of me that warrants me to “look back” at all, I don’t know anymore)… not a shot, not a shell, not one shout of terror or carnage. Not one sound of suffering and decay. The last time I ever heard nothing.

It was over quickly. I could hear dozens of footsteps, walking away. Not a sprint, just walking. In no unison or uniformly fashion, in a simple casual moseying back from whence they came; satisfied, their mission complete. It was obviously the Germans, we have nowhere near that many. They simply kept walking away, I could hear them climbing back out of the trenches, out to no man’s land. Then gone.

Len kept staring at the entryway. As soon as the last of the footsteps ceased and were gone, never to return, Len merely stopped staring. He blinked, then smirked, then laughed. Just kept laughing, asshole that he was. He then looked at me again, still on the ground.

“Now… where were we?”

As he slowly approached to plunge me back under the mud, I didn’t resist. Not one bit. I still don’t know why. But I kept thinking, the same fucking thought that’s been knocking and beating and shitting at my head for weeks and months and almost a year. Why was I here? Why the fuck was I stuck in this mud puddle, fighting a hopeless cause? Why… why?

Then I remembered. I finally remembered.

It was morning, October 15, 1917. One year ago. Jenny and I were eating a modest breakfast of cornflakes and bananas, following a night of casual drink and sexual charades. It was only, I don’t know, half a year since Wilson declared war. By then practically every able-bodied Joe in Springfield enlisted, said it was for the good of mankind or some bullshit. I never bought into it. Not sure why, I was just never inspired, didn’t see much point in traveling to the other side of the world, risking my life in a shit-filled trench for no reason whatsoever. Apparently I was a “non-conformist” for being satisfied with my already-existing life, not eager to drop all things I loved for a canteen and a trench knife. I decided it was a more worthwhile investment to be with the person I love, so I guess I’m just a selfish prick. I didn’t fucking care. Long as I was with Jenny, we could manage the distant shouts of “coward!” and the occasional rock through the window.

But one day there was a knock on the door, nothing malicious or deliberate about it, just a simple friendly knock. Usually the neighborhood kids liked to have fun by banging the sides of the non-conformist’s house few times a week, and at an ungodly hour. But no, it was a neighborhood knock. Even then I reluctantly went to answer it; I figured it’d be another priest telling me to repent of my sins of standing idly by as evildoers took over the free world. I suppose it is my fault; after all I am benefitting from the double-standard of American freedom by choosing the way I want to live. What scum I am!

Fortunately no such figure was at my door… in fact no figure at all. Not a soul answered the hollow doorway. Just as well, I thought to myself. However looking down I noticed something.
A feather. A white feather. Wrapped in the most beautifully colored ribbons and glistening with sprinkled glitter. It was neatly placed in the smallest of toy chests, with sparkling paint and a piece of paper. Sure, I’ve gotten white feathers. Dozens, all of them either soaked in spit or accompanied by an obscene remark. But this one was different. It had no sign of malice, no ill-will, no obscenity to be found. It was… beautiful in fact. Sure, the quality of a fourth-grade art project, but beautiful nonetheless. Reminded me of something I would’ve made in my early days; I always had a habit of making something unremarkable and plain into a sight to behold. It was much easier, thinking unremarkability – and in that respect, simplicity – to be a blank canvas of sorts. Unfortunately I was never any good as an artist, little imaginative ingenuity I suppose; therefore I applied the canvas into a lifetime philosophy of sorts, even if I never really followed it.

Though not really a sight to behold, it was, in comparison to some of the other packages I’ve received, quite a beautiful gift. Of course I wasn’t exactly sure if it was a gift, a message, or anything. I stared at it for a long while, not quite sure what to do with it. Eventually I crouched down to it for a closer look; I noticed the piece of paper was actually a note. I picked it up, it read,
…“Life is too beautiful to waste with those who don’t want to live it”
Handwriting unrecognizable. Signed only,
…”-a friend”

I had no friends. They were all at the front or dead. I mused over the note for a long while, entranced really. In a daze, I must’ve been out there for at least twenty minutes crouching down looking at that tiny slip of paper; what a sight that must’ve been. Jenny calling me back into the house plunged me back to reality. I took the feather inside; questioned Jenny about it, she predictably had no earthly idea who it could’ve been from. Literally, as practically no one in Springfield would give us something so nice. Who could it have been from? The entire afternoon I sat at the table, musing over the plume. I looked and I thought and I looked and thought again. I don’t even know what I was thinking of; but I think the point was to make me think. It was at moments like that I thought of my life; my baker ma, drunken pa, Suzy, first car, second base, D-cups, Charles Dickens, all that generic shit. In fact I do believe most of my life has been spent thinking, musing, and apparently saying it aloud for everyone to hear. Jenny was, at this point, accustomed to my stoic habits, and gem as she was let me be. When I looked up those few times, she seemed to have some moments of concern; she always knew just what I was thinking – even when I myself didn’t know – and always knew when it troubled me. It always troubled me. But this particular catalyst for my reflections was as disturbing as it was pretty. A single white feather, with all the amenities complete with dried up glue.

If the plan was to guilt-trip me into enlisting, it worked. Sometime during my restless night I figured I was the one wasting my life, like the note said. And upon looking into the mirror for the seventeenth time, I realized I myself was the one not wanting to live life, and thus I myself the one wasting it on. At least that was the only bit of sense I was able to grasp from the note, if any. Early the next morning I was loading my gear, essentials, to be off to the nearest recruitment station. I wanted to leave before Jenny woke up; I didn’t want that talk to happen. But she caught me. Heh, she never let anything slip her by.

“So you’re off then”

“I don’t have a choice, Jen, I-“

“Course you have a choice! We talked about this Marc, remember? We said no matter what… no matter what we wouldn’t let them”

“It doesn’t matter anymore! I-I can’t just keep living like I have a choice”

“You do!”

“I don’t! We don’t. This is what was decided our lives would take, the day the war started this-“

“The war will be fine without you!”

“It’s not about the fucking war! I couldn’t give a bigger shit about this fucking war. But we can’t survive assuming promises will be kept, assuming people would just understand. It’s bullshit! Complete fucking bullshit! We’ve got to get our heads out of the clouds”

At this point I had no fucking clue what nonsense bullshit I was saying, but Jenny did.

“There is nothing wrong with living life the way you want to. Our lives are our own to live, and you chose to live it with me!”

“Life is not something we can give or take! It’s something we’re part of, and witness! We have to play with the cards we’re dealt”

“There’s no shame in choosing your own way! To get a new hand”

“Jenny… p-please. I have to do this-“

“You don’t”

“I do! Please… please…”

She knew I was resolute. Determined to be a part of a life I didn’t want to live, no matter how much I wanted to believe I did. She wanted me to figure that out for myself. We kissed, one last time, and I went off to the nearest recruitment station. Left to this, a godforsaken fucking rock they call Europe. And all because… because one person told me to go. It wasn’t all the others, spewing their hate and their spite. It was that one, who took the time to make me a pretty little plume and a pretty little note. I fought this war to please that one person, that one mind intent on getting me here. Here… in this shit-filled cave with this fucking psychopath and several dozen human heads. All of them smirking, laughing at me.

Who? Who could it have been?

“You really haven’t figured it out Fisher?”

I wanted Len to hear it all.

“That dramatic moment of climactic realization hasn’t dawned on you yet?”

I stared at Len for a long while, matching his twisted grin.

“You’re such a freak Len”

He seemed to chuckle at that, “Oh?”

“Don’t ask questions you already know the answer to, Len… asshole. When you say you want to know where she lives, I don’t answer assholes who ask rhetorical questions”

He smiled wider than ever, “Is that so?”

I matched it, “Who could it have fucking been, Len?”

“Don’t be like me Fisher,” he chuckled, “don’t ask rhetorical questions”

He began to step towards me again. I didn’t look at him. I only looked straight down, down the shit-filled mud puddle at my own face, looking back at me. Smiling, content. Because floating right beside it… was Jenny. My beautiful Jenny. Her picture wrinkled and smudged from saturation in excrement and mud. You could no longer make out the note in ink, not even most of her body. Only her face… her beautiful face. Still the same from the day I left it, always will be the same. She and I, next to each other, smiling, content at last… inside a shit-filled mud puddle.

Then down the puddle I went.

Credit To – Len Lye

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Kite-Flying

July 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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“Look at it go, sweetie!” the loving father joyfully called out to his little girl, pointing upward toward the kite flying high above the secluded beach. “Here baby, you try.”

The little girl stood there shy, timid and melancholy as she stared skyward at the pale, flapping kite. This particular kite always reminded the girl of her missing mother; each of them, the mother and the kite, seemed to share the exact same colorful tattoos.

Credit To – StupidDialUp

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Best Friends

July 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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When I was a kid, my family and I lived in a modest house in West Virginia. As I said, it was quite small and there was a large forest behind my house. I was pretty curious, as any small child is and so I’d always find myself asking to go into the woods. My parents would consent but I was never allowed to go near the river that was located deep in the forest. At first, I was slightly disappointed but I never gave it a second thought and decided not to question what they said. Being an only child at 8-years-old, things could get pretty lonely. I was a recluse of sorts but had a big imagination so I always created a multitude of friends to play with me in the woods but they never left the wilderness so I ended up going back home to discuss the adventures I had with my parents over dinner.

One day, after my dad left for his classes at the seminary (he wanted to be a pastor at our local church), I decided to go on a short walk in the woods considering it was an Act 80 Day and I was off from school. I put on my jacket and found my shoes with the help of my mom and quickly rushed out into my imaginary kingdom within the confines of the forest. When I reached the point of the woods that I never went past, my mind became particularly curious. I got tired of limiting myself to just having a small amount woods to play in so I slowly made my way past gnarled tree roots and low hanging branches, thorny underbrush and overgrown weeds until I finally ended up finding the oh-so-infamous river my parents told me to stay away from. It had a strong current. Looked like pretty rough waters. I peered across the river to where the forest seemed to thicken substantially. Through the thin trunks and massive amount of branches, I saw something moving. A shadow of some sort? Whatever it was seemed to be advancing closer and closer to the other side of the river until finally, the shadow came out into the clearing. It was a man. Emaciated, lanky, and over 6 feet tall, he silently watched me from across the river. Being a lonely little girl, my first thought was that he could be a friend. I smiled and waved but I got no reaction. On closer inspection, I realized that the man had a small grin on his face. For some reason, the grin scared me a little but I was intrigued so I decided to leave. The next day after school, I went back. Then it became a daily thing. I didn’t mind his grin after a while. I thought it was cute. He never crossed the river but we still found a way to play and somehow, we created a bond with each other. One day my father asked me what I actually did in the woods. I mean, I guess it did seem a little weird; a little girl going into the woods by herself on a daily basis…there can’t be that much to do. I told him I had made a friend. He laughed.

“Oh, really? What’s his name?”

“Well, he can’t talk. Or, at least I don’t think he can.”

Thinking nothing of it, he let it go and I visited my friend everyday, per usual.

One day, he finally told me his name.

I ran to the river, smiling out of anticipation. It was like any other day; he was on the other side of the river but instead of his normal half grin, he was smiling. Teeth showing. It wouldn’t seem like that big of a deal except for the fact that his teeth were pointed. All of them. Every once in a while, a forked tongue would sniff the air through his slimy yellow fangs. I gasped. My friend once again became a figure of slight terror. I wanted to turn and run but my feet were stuck. I wanted to look away but I couldn’t avert my eyes. After I collected myself a little, I turned to run. As soon as I took my first step back however, he spoke for the first time.

“What is your name, child?”

“…C-cassie. My name is..my name is Cassie Littman.”

His smile widened.

“My name is Levi.”

I ran. The way he said it. His voice. I knew I never wanted to visit him ever again. It was awful. It was like he was whispering in my ear even though the river was crashing loudly against itself and even though he was standing across the river. It wasn’t like any voice I’ve ever heard before. It was unearthly. As I turned and started to run I heard him call to me.

“Please don’t leave me, Cassie.”

But I couldn’t stay. I had to get out of there. I think I might’ve been crying. I can’t remember. I ran home and practically attacked my father.

“Gosh, sweetheart. What’s the matter?”

“My friend. My friend in the woods, he has pointy teeth! He’s scary!”

“Oh sweetie, it’s just your imagination. Don’t get too worked up over it. If your “friend” bothers you that much, don’t go in the woods anymore.”

It made sense. And I never wanted to see that…thing again. So I didn’t go back for months. I actually became kind of a recluse. I was scared to leave my house. I felt like he’d be there…waiting for me.

I was sleeping when I heard it. Crying. I jumped a little and tiptoed to my window. I got a clear view of the woods but I didn’t see anything. I heard someone speak through the tears but I couldn’t put a face to the muffled, contorted voice and I didn’t know where the voice was coming from so I went downstairs to try to get away from it but it just got louder.

“I miss you. Please come to me Cassie. I love you. I miss you so much.”

I didn’t want to follow the voice. I really didn’t. But something told me to follow it. Something in me told me to console whatever or whoever was in pain because of me. So I went outside. I didn’t know where I was going but I knew exactly where to go. I headed toward the woods. I walked a while until I got to the river and then everything clicked. I panicked. I started to cry and I looked around watching out for Levithis or whatever the hell his name was. I heard rustling. The talking was now replaced with horrid, inhuman screams of agony and pain.

I couldn’t see him but I heard him speak.

“WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME. I NEEDED YOU. YOU WERE MY ONLY FRIEND AND YOU ABANDONED ME.”

He appeared at the other side of the river a few minutes later. I was too terrified to speak. He wiped his tears away.

“I’m sorry Cassie. I just love you so much. You’re my only friend. Please come play with me across the river. Please, cross the river for me.”

I considered it. He was lonely…like me.

Then I remembered what my mother had told me during the months that I wouldn’t leave the house.

“I can’t say I’m happy with the fact that you don’t go outside anymore but I am glad that you’re steering clear of the woods. That river has a notorious reputation. So many children have drown. It’s…odd.”

I made the connection. I screamed. I wouldn’t let him into my head. I had to get out. I told him I had to go but he kept coaxing me. He promised me happiness and games and fruit and a nice long life forever, with him. All I had to do was cross the river. All I had to do was take the plunge.

Despite what my mother had said, I took a step closer. I was so incredibly lonely. I just wanted a friend…

In June of 2004, Cassie Littman’s body was found lying gutted on the far side of the Shaver’s Fork River. There were bite marks covering almost every inch of her body.

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The Chirp

July 9, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Another chirp drifted into the room from outside. The window was open again. It hadn’t been ten minutes since Jacob had slammed it closed. He stared at it, into the front yard beyond where the grass had become an ugly orange-brown, and thought of how exposed he was. Anything could get in once the latch and been swiveled open. The thought made his bones tighten. Sniffling and hacking, he got up from his chair to close it again. He was getting sick.

It was the tail end of Fall, and all of the leaves that had been in the trees were on the ground; golden and deceased. In the mornings, frost had started to form on the roofs and hoods of cars and the grass had become brittle. It crunched underfoot at every step; the only sound Jacob focused on as he tramped across his back yard, checking for signs of the intruder.

But he hadn’t been outside to check in three days. For him, it was no longer safe to do so.

Two weeks earlier, he had been a normal high school kid. He did everything one would expect of a lively senior: weekend boozing, class skipping, and the occasional after-school slice at Yucca Steve’s Pizza Palace. Everything seemed to be just as it should have been on a perfectly sunny Wednesday morning.

That day, Jacob had slept through his alarm and lay in bed as his parents engaged in their usual coffee ritual in the kitchen. They poured it, steaming and black, into their enamel mugs and grimaced as they took it in. Shrugging on their coats, they roared off in their respective vehicles, leaving the boy alone in the house.

They worked in the city, and wouldn’t be home until late, so when he finally woke up and found that it was past noon, he decided to shirk school and take his time getting ready to cruise out to the strip mall.

He slipped out of bed and walked over the cold wood floor to his bathroom where he brushed his teeth for nearly ten minutes. As he did so, he stared at his eyes. They looked vapid, like a twin set of opaque swamps with swirling bog bubbles at their centers. He spat a bloody soup of toothpaste and plaque into the sink and dried his mouth with a towel.

There were no clean shirts in his closet, so he plunged a hand into a mountain of worn clothes next to the footboard of his bed and retrieved a shirt and his favorite pair of jeans. Once dressed, he proceeded through the hallway and the living room into the kitchen and whipped the freezer door open.

Raspberry tarts were his favorite, and he was in luck. There were five, so he took them all out and stood in front of the toaster, heating them in cycles until they were in a steaming stack on his plate. He filled a glass of milk to compliment them and brought his bounty, teetering, to the coffee table in the living room. With a latent finger, he pressed the power button on a remote sitting on the table. The television crackled to life, howling sports. He was disheartened to learn that his favorite football team had lost.

It was a very important thing to him. Like most sports fans, he didn’t realize that he was volunteering his heart to be torn in two with each ignoble defeat his idols encountered.

Jacob sneered, flipped to the music channel, and wolfed down his tarts. If he had been more aware, he might have heard the tap that occurred at each window in the room, one after the other, every two seconds. And the chirp.

Thirty minutes later, his stomach was full. He slipped into his shoes, grabbed his board, and left through the front door, kicking it closed behind him. It was only two-fifteen, but it seemed unusually dark. The few shredded-cotton-ball clouds didn’t account for the deepness of it.

He jogged out into his front yard and almost threw his board down to roll away, but some dark crouching thing at the far end of the street caught his eye as he neared the curb. It was standing behind a sycamore in the Jamesons’ yard. It looked like pure shadow, head indeterminable. A light wind was ruffling a row of hedges just behind it, which appeared to agitate the figure. When it wasn’t looking over its shoulders or back down its side of the street, it seemed to be focused on Jacob.

“Hey!”, he said.

The shadow didn’t react, but he thought he could hear a chattering rasp coming from somewhere deep in the thing’s throat. He didn’t like the sound one bit.

“The fuck’re you looking at?”

His question went unanswered. The dark creature started moving back and forth as if it were the native inhabitant of some far flung island, doing a dance to invoke its gods. Jacob could feel sweat slick on his temples and the hollow throb of his heart. He was getting the jim-jams in a serious way. Suddenly, he wanted to beat it. To kill it before it could do something horrible to him. He took a few quick steps off of the curb and started yelling.

“Answer me, you little bastard, or I swear to god I’ll—“

But suddenly, the shadow was gone. It was like it had melted into the grass. Spilled like a towering column of India ink.

Utterly perplexed, Jacob could think of nothing else to do but jump onto his skateboard and light off down the street, leaving the shadow behind, odd and unexplained. He’d always thought better of following the whims of curiosity. He had seen too many scenes in horror movies end badly because of such indulgences.

The wind blew his hair back into a rippling raven flag. He kick-flipped up onto a stairway railing on his way through the neighborhood park and grinded down into a manual at the bottom, screeching to a stop after landing it and yanking his fist down to his chest in celebration. A nearby kid whose face had been invaded by a spore-like smattering acne gave him a thumbs-up. He returned it graciously, beaming, and sped off down another hill.

The whole time he rode through the streets, he consistently peered over his shoulder, just in case there was some black gaping nightmare sprinting at his heels. He had the distinct sensation of being followed. The feeling was leaching the joy from his bones.

Fifteen minutes later, he arrived at the strip mall. Leaves were drifting around lazily in the parking lot, skidding against the concrete, rasping out a symphony. The air had grown slightly colder, and there was no one to be seen mulling about the storefronts or cars. In fact, every store appeared deserted. Jake felt uneasy, and approached his final destination: Ceekiante Arcade.

Dropping his skateboard by the door, he shielded his eyes to counteract the obscuring reflection of the parking lot and peered in through the glass. He couldn’t see any of his friends tapping furiously at plastic keys or yanking on joysticks. There was no cashier at the counter. All that he saw was an inky dimness and a few specks of complacent dust that hung immobile in the air. Something was wrong. The arcade was always bustling with activity.

He tried the handle. At first it wouldn’t budge, but on his fifth tug, Jake wrenched it open with unexpected ease. It swung past him and smacked into the adjacent wall. He stepped inside, peering cautiously down aisles of game cabinets and growing all the more anxious as he worked his way toward the back. He figured he might at least find Mid-day Fred, the day janitor. He was always in the back, afternoons, chewing on his dirty beard as he toiled betwixt slimy, desperate teens.

But to Jake’s surprise, there was not a single sweep of a broom or rustle of a garbage bag when he neared the rear corner. Even after pushing on the lever to the maintenance room door, he encountered nothing but a continuation of solitude. He was utterly alone and each step he took became louder than its prior as the seconds of realization passed. It was unnatural for it to be that quiet at the strip mall, where everyone came to skip school and enjoy the days of their youth to the last drop.

In a panic, he called out, “Hello?! Is anyone here? At all?” But silence was his only answer.

He felt the sudden urge to leave. To go straight back home, to his warm room. His safe, comfortable bed, thronged with comic books and stiff socks. He started back toward the front door at a quickened pace, but after passing the restrooms halfway to the exit, he heard a squeaking and stopped, supposing that he had stepped in water. The noise continued, though. It wasn’t quite a squeak.

It was fundamentally different, but recognizable to him. Images were conjured in his mind of childhood, chasing butterflies through a park.

Chirp.

“Blue jays? Definitely not in here”, he said to the darkness. “Where do I recognize that sound from?”

Chirp…

Dread was coiling up in the pit of his stomach like a lead boa constrictor. He knew, suddenly, that something had been stalking him from the moment he’d walked in. Whatever it was, it continued to emit the queer chirp, just a row over from where he stood.

“That’s fuckin’ it”, he said, and sprinted for the door.

He refused to look back, but he could hear the sound of hard, narrow feet beating against the threadbare carpet, mere feet behind him. Broomsticks on ceramic tile. His stalker’s chirp had turned into a low whirring whistle that might have sounded like a cat purring after having eaten one of those small, plastic Casio pianos he used to play with when he was younger. The thing, whatever it was, was closing the distance between them. He could feel something like whiskers or antennae lightly grazing his shirt.

When he reached the door handle, he jammed it forward, burst out into the open parking lot, and continued to run for several yards. He could no longer hear the thing’s horrifying tone at his back, so he slowed to a jog and then walked in circles for a few moments. He stopped and doubled over, panting. It had gotten even darker outside and great viscous clouds, pregnant with rain and winking lightning had come rolling in from the South.

He didn’t see any cars in the road. The parking lot was still bereft of any sign of life. He scanned the broad, black street from end to end, rubbing his neck and sniffing snot back into his nostrils. It had grown quite cold. Freezing specks of rain began to stipple his scalp. He turned around to face the buildings.

Horrified, Jake remembered that his skateboard was still on the sidewalk. He’d have to go back and retrieve it before he could leave (and sure as shit, I’m getting the fuck out of here, he thought to himself), but the cost of such a feat caused his heart to quicken. He wasn’t sure he could make himself do it.

Keeping low, he slinked toward a nearby car and stared over its hood at the arcade. Everything seemed lethally still. It was a trap, waiting just for him. He stayed frozen, observing the prospect of returning for nearly fifteen minutes before deciding that he just couldn’t do it. Sighing deeply, he turned his back on his board and left. His lips were trembling.

Hardly able to take a step without surveying his entire panorama, he traversed the streets back to his house, but avoided the park. It seemed to him that passing through there was a death wish; that it was the perfect place to become prey. He didn’t allow himself to blink until he stepped foot on the wilted grass of his lawn.

Once inside, he locked every window and bolted every door. He didn’t grasp the entire gravity of his situation then and there, but that would be the last time he left the boundaries of his home.

The following weeks were a nightmare. The horror wasn’t caused by being constantly under siege, but because nothing happened though the threat remained palpable. He could feel aerated poison sinking into his lungs.

The furthest he would travel from his refuge was the curb at the street and the boundaries of his yard. His parents never came home. Even though he rarely saw his neighbors to begin with, they were most definitely out of the picture after the chirping had started. He wanted desperately to know what was happening to him, but the simple fact was, if he left in search of answers, he would surely die.

Sometimes, just as he was falling asleep, one of his favorite CDs playing silently through the stereo by his bed, he would hear a rising chorus of chirps in the distance. The din wasn’t loud enough to bring him out of his hypnagogic state, but his skin grew lousy with goose bumps. It sounded like a continuous, muffled shriek. Like a beautiful by-product of mass torture.

Then, one day, it came for him.

He woke up, and the window was ajar. Cold wind was funneled into his room and rushing across his body. It was six in the morning, during that strange interim between night and day where the entire world is a flat wash of gray and, if a person hasn’t slept, horribly alien thoughts come to mind.

Chirp…

Jacob heard it unmistakably, just outside of his room under the window sill. Something was there and all that kept them apart was half a foot of sheetrock, wood, and vinyl siding. He couldn’t breathe. The follicles of his scalp were tightening. It seemed like the external world was being sucked away through the hole in his wall.

Getting up slowly, he slid his legs across the sheets and placed them carefully on the floor. He rose and, every three seconds, stepped closer to the noise. There was no retreating into the hallway or the bathroom. He knew that to turn his back on the thing outside was to perish without knowing.

The gusts of wind that spewed in at him as he drew closer caused his nipples to harden and shrink. He held himself tightly in his bare arms, his teeth chattering, and squinted against the cold. It took him five minutes to reach the window.

The suspense was pulling his skin taut over his bones as if it were a civil war drum hide. He stuck his head out and there was nothing there.

Ducking back inside, he whirled around to make sure nothing was standing at his back and slammed the window closed. With the whisper of the lock sliding back on its groove into the clasp, the portal was closed.

He had a coughing fit. He was in a tomb.

Jacob stormed into the living room, lashing the walls of the hallway with the belt of his robe as he went. The chirp was becoming more frequent. He couldn’t escape it and the fact was beginning to eat away at him.

He walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. It was nearly empty. He had expended the last of the sandwich supplies two days before. Staring at the barren, chilled shelves, he wished that his parents had gone to the grocery store before blinking out of existence. He would have liked a couple of tasty snacks before facing his doom.

He settled for a meal of six frozen “Nuggie Kids” chicken nuggets.

And he knew that it was only a matter of time before his end came to him. Whatever was outside had started to follow him around the house, no matter where he went. It would chirp sometimes in the midst of absolute silence, just to make him jump. He hadn’t taken a shower in a week for fear that the stalker might take such an opportunity to waltz inside and get a peek at him before sinking its teeth into his supple flesh and making a meal of him.

The dining room table was gleaming from the overhead chandelier as Jacob sat at its head and stared at a dated newspaper from the morning of The Sixteenth. There was a tap on the window. Just behind him. He turned dubiously in the chair, rolling his eyes and shifting his body so that he could see what had made the noise. As soon as the wooden frame entered his peripheral vision, however, there was an implosion of glass shards. The thing was upon him.

It had Jacob pinned onto the table. He stared into its crystalline black eyes. They were lidless orbs set deep into a doughy white head, if a head it could even be considered. More like a malformed sculpture from a kindergarten art class. A scripture, direct from Hell. It had seven appendages: six of them seemed to be its legs. The seventh extruded from its back through a crop of fungal air sacs (they inflated and deflated intermittently to no obvious rhythm). It was tipped with a terrifically sharp barb that seemed to be leaking a dark purple liquid down its shaft.

The creature had a ragged maw, just below its eyes. It imposed its putrid breath all over his face. He tried to speak to it, but before his words could amount to much more than a weak rattle in his throat, a shrill chirp blasted out of it and slammed his skull down onto the wood. Its legs began to rattle in their joints. The barb jutting out of its back was curling around its neck and arching. The creature was deciding whether or not to impale him with it.

Jacob tilted his head to look around for something to beat it off of him. Just inches from his head was a fallen jag of crystal from the chandelier that had hung above the table minutes before. The thing was leaning in close for some sort of death kiss when Jacob snatched the glimmering fragment and sank it deep into the nape of its neck.

It belched a screech that made Jacob’s head feel smaller, as if it had begun fold in on itself like possessed origami. He was close to passing out, but the survivalist in him realized the momentary reprieve for what it was: a chance to wriggle free and fortify himself in his bedroom. He had a solid pine Louisville slugger propped in the corner just to the left of his door. He was imagining just how good it would be for pulverizing the gooey bastard’s skull.

He slid out from beneath the trilling horror and rolled off the side of the table. Even as he slammed against the dining room hardwood, he could sense a tension at his rear. The thing was regaining its poise and reacquainting itself with its target. Jacob pawed at the floor while pushing himself forward with a few clumsy lunges. He was deafened with the buzzing din of insect wings. The creature was already at his heels.

Within a few horribly distorted seconds (the million threads of each second forming a weave which pulsated and churned back and forth), Jacob crossed the threshold of his bedroom. He swiveled on his heels and rammed the door into its jamb with his shoulder. Shortly after, he could hear a solid, violent impact on the other side. The thing had flown headlong into a sudden dead end and was likely dazed. Taking a chance on it, Jacob grabbed the baseball bat and whipped the door open.

The creature’s legs had given out and splayed at its sides. The shrill tones it had been emitting were replaced by a confused whirring coming from deep inside of its body. It was a writhing black mass of twitches, its white play-dough head bobbing merrily. Jacob took no time to study its ghastly form, however. He simply brought the bat down onto it. Repeatedly.

Fifty swings later, there wasn’t much of the thing left for him to observe. He released the bat and knelt, panting. Immediately, the smell of the thing’s fluids assaulted his nostrils and made him fall dumbly back into his room on his ass. He scrambled up onto his feet, enraged, and skirted the abomination to make his way to the kitchen.

Digging around under the sink, he found a box of scouring powder. He rejoined the deceased creature and dumped a crystalline white mountain on top of it, then edged his way back into his room and collapsed onto his bed, letting out a shuddering, horrified sigh.

Exhausted, drained, Jacob prayed in garbled whispers, anointing the ceiling with wasted breath. The air draped the scent of extraterrestrial decay over every surface. Sleep found him.

It was hours later when he awoke. The world beyond his window had become orange with the cant of the sun. He noticed with disquieted clarity that he could no longer hear the blue jays singing as he had only a week before. When he sat up, he heard a sickly squelch and, looking down, observed lengthening tendrils of clear slime oozing off of his back.

Panicked, he leapt up and ran into his bathroom. At the mirror, he beheld the worst image of his short, miserable life. There were colonies of pustules expanding and collapsing rhythmically on his cheeks and forehead. He opened his mouth to scream, but the moment his lips parted, a green, chunky mess delivered itself from the captor cavity into the porcelain. With a dawning delirium, Jacob recognized the fetid gruel as his tongue, disintegrated and sedimentary in his head. It had rotted while he slept.

Instead of a screaming himself hoarse, he had a sneezing fit, but with each violent “ah-CHOO”, a bold crimson jet misted the porcelain bowl. The blood that hadn’t evacuated itself was running down his throat and when vomited it out, most of his teeth wrenched free in the downpour. They were floating in the piss-smelling water of the toilet among chunks of the chicken nuggets that he had nuked and eaten that very morning.

“Oh god!” he screamed. “Why?! What made me sick?”

Five hours later, Jacob was cringing like a shrimp on the floor of his parents’ bedroom. His skin was a gruesome shade of green, glinting with ichor as some inner slime pushed its way through his pores. He was rotting, alive.

He had staggered around the house during those hours, searching for medicine. There was nothing that he thought might help him, but even so, he swallowed six different kinds of vitamins and every cold & flu capsule he could find.

After the doom settled in, he contented himself with moaning and beating his fists on the walls. The skin on the sides of his hands had been flayed, revealing the hamburger meat gristle beneath.

Entering one room, his eyes flickered over the furniture with gut-wrenching familiarity. He’d run a circuit of the place at least twenty times before stumbling into his parents’ room and collapsing. The muscle fibers in his legs began to liquefy.

There were jagged puddles of dark green and orange fluids crowded around his laboring form, soaked into the carpet. His body spewed them out of various newly formed holes in his chest and back. His mental faculties were beginning to slip away when the door to the hallway opened.

A dark humanoid midget stepped in. Dark, actually, wasn’t quite precise. It was beyond darkness. It was like a howling body-shaped hole in mid-air that was sucking light into it; a walking singularity. It chattered to itself, taking infinitesimal steps toward Jacob as he stared up at it.

A vague thought rose to the top of his brain like a bubble in a glass of water. That was the thing hiding behind the sycamore in the Jamesons’ yard the day this all started. Ever so slightly his eyes began to widen. He tried to wrench his body across the carpet, to create distance between himself and the whistling anomaly from beyond, but the moment he squirmed he could feel his spinal cord separate from itself like a saturated strand of toilet paper. He screamed, and literally coughed up part of his lung.

The dark being approached him and crouched, tilting its head in an almost loving way, as if it cared. Then Jacob saw one of the last and most horrifying sights of his life: multiple tentacles leered out of its back and began to form balloon-like spheres at their tips. The spheres then began morphing into recognizable faces – all of his friends, his parents. They gaped down at him and moved their mouths open and closed, but produced no words.

Tears were spilling down his cheeks as he looked on. The thing bent over him, planted its hands on Jacob’s head and pulled him closer. He could feel the skin on his face loosening itself from his skull and fluttering away in sail-like flaps.
His scalp was splitting and the bone beneath was criss-crossed with jaunty, scribbling cracks as it ruptured from the force. He was all but gone. A goofy smile crossed his face. He began to slobber, but tears still welled in his lower eyelids.

What a strange way to die, he thought, giving the thing a humorous wink. When he reopened his eye, it burst, and its insides sluiced out of the socket onto his collarbone.

The being embraced Jacob and sucked his skeleton clean with its vacuum skin. Moments later, his face sprouted out of its back on another one of its black, writhing stalks. It had a wan but jubilant expression as it bobbed.

The Jacob simulation’s eyes gazed out of a window on the west wall and watched as the sun disappeared below the horizon, leaving the sky with a shimmer of bloody dusk-shine. A few chirps sounded out, then many more, rising into a shrill opera in the distance.

Credit To – Charlie T. Smith

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I.C.U.

July 5, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I looked too long. My eyes frozen onto hers, still open, but just beginning to become milky. I guess I should start at the most logical place; the beginning. I suppose it’s the least I can do. I mean, people are going to go through all of my shit to find out why I did it. It of course being, me putting the barrel of a thirty-eight snub nose revolver (God bless America and its easy access to firearms) into my eye and pulling the trigger. I can only hope that the extensive damage obliterates me or at least obliterates the images of what I had seen. However, I get ahead of myself. I should start at the beginning and not the end, my end.

It all started with a length of rope, a girl from my village, and a mango tree. If that sounds sinister, it was. She hung herself from a tree outside of my room a month ago. I should explain that I was a Peace Corps volunteer in a small village in Nicaragua. I signed up to open my eyes up to the world. (Oh God!) The village was small and in truth I was a mediocre volunteer that preferred listening to music and reading to interacting with the locals. However this is not about my service (If you are reading this to understand why I was a poor volunteer all I can say is fuck you. We have slightly bigger things to focus on at the moment.), this is to help you piece together why I am writing this with a loaded .38 revolver sitting by the computer.

She had done it during the night and her death had not been instantaneous. She had writhed and swung in the mango tree outside my house for hours before finally dying. I, of course, heard nothing. I came out in the morning to find her hanging a few feet away from my door. Her eyes were wide open and just beginning to cloud and a soft breeze shifted her corpse like she was still struggling with her decision to hang herself. If I knew then what I knew now, I would have never done what I did. I stared at her in shock. She was wearing a cheap knock-off sweater that read “SpongeBill Rectangle Pants.” Her black hair was cascading around her face like a halo. My eyes were locked onto hers. What had they seen in those last moments before the light was stolen from them? I couldn’t look away from those opaque eyes seeing everything and nothing. That was how it all started.

The police came and cut the rope that had hung her from the tree. She collapsed to the ground like a sack of bones probably breaking a few of them in the process. The chisme/gossip around my village was that it was unrequited love. She had eyes (Sweet Jesus!) only for me and couldn’t bear to live without me. The story was spread through-out my community before she was even in the ground. I don’t necessarily believe that as we had literally only shared one conversation in which we talked about beans. I have another explanation for all this, but I rather keep it to myself. She was buried within two days and I just wanted to move on.

It started with chills whenever I passed by the mango tree that she had done herself in by. I would sometimes catch glimpses of something in the branches like a small child or animal. (Volunteers will concur that children can climb trees like monkeys and strip fruits within hours as well as roosting chickens.) When I turned my head to get a better view, I would find nothing there. I brushed it all off as heebie-jeebies. I was dealing with PTSD after all. I thought I would just wake up one day and sit under the tree and read a book like the old days and not even think of the girl clawing at her cyanotic neck with black and red nails…

It all started to unravel one day when I sat down to eat a bowl of hot soup, which coincidentally was only given on the hottest day of the year. I spooned mouthfuls while giving the usual platitudes. “Que rica!” “Que saborosa!” (“Que mierda!”) Until I fished the black hair out of my soup. This was odd as the only cook that day was my abuela whose hair was grey. This was not from the cook and due to the caustic nature of my host grandmother, neither was this a visitor. I ignored it and went on with my day as best I could, but the thought was already haunting me.

That night was the first time I saw it, but not the last time. I was lying in bed and looking at the passing night sky through the wooden boards that composed my house. The wind was rustling through the leaves and I caught a glimpse of something in the aforementioned mango tree. It was larger than before and my skin prickled. I brushed it off once again as nerves until I saw something through the slat that consisted of my shanty house just as I was drifting off. I saw it peering through the cracks. They were milky white and they were looking at me.

At the end of that sleepless night which I spent with my eyes darting to the cracks in my wall and my heart jumping at every creak in my ancient dilapidated room, I went into the nearest city and called my girlfriend, Iris, to come down and visit for a few days. I told her nothing about my state of mind. (Because seriously, who wants to know their significant other is going bananas?) I only told her that I needed her. (And I guess that part was true enough.) She traveled to my site within a day and was by my side the next day.

I tried to fuck my way out of my problem. (As I always seem to do.) My girlfriend was more than willing to accommodate. I buried those thoughts and memories into her body and drew back comfort and peace. The chisme that Iris heard only mentioned a woman committing suicide in my village and nothing else. The people were now more focused on my status as a picaflor which wasn’t necessarily true as I only had one girlfriend, but the sound of us making love and me losing myself in her only spread the gossip. She was blissfully unaware of how I was coming apart and I drew whatever strength I could from her.

That strength left me a few days later. Iris left me a day before that, but once again I get ahead of myself. The cause should always precede the effect. We had just finished making love and I had just winced my eyes shut as I reached the pinnacle and gave myself over to her. I relaxed in the blissful afterglow and wrapped my arms around her. I drifted off. When I came to it was still dark and my arms were wrapped around Iris, feeling her skin pressed against mine. It was one of those moments in which I wish I could freeze in amber and preserve before it all went wrong. Everything soured when the door to my room opened and Iris walked in, complaining of the distance of the latrine. Who was in my bed?

My eyes shot open revealing… Nothing. My bed was empty which I soon remedied for the fourth time that weekend. I focused on Iris, but my mind shifted and drifted to eyes. The hazel eyes that were now milk-white and saw through me. Those glassy eyes staring at me from inside my head killed the mood as well as other parts of me. I sealed myself off from Iris after that point and became distant. I wasn’t surprised when the relationship imploded within days. Iris was gone in three days, but she’d left me one day earlier after crying and the words ‘cold and heartless’ being thrown at me. I was alone… Or rather I wished I was alone.

I tried my best to ignore the sensations of being watched, but to no avail. My community looked at me and my haggard expression with interest. There was clearly gossip to be had here, but they knew little to nothing. I ignored them, but continued to feel them stalking me with their eyes. Even worse, I felt her watching me. I could tell it was her when I found myself throwing furtive glances at shadowy corners. I tried my best, my God, I tried my best! It was the next day that I became completely undone and drank myself into the hospital and then drank myself out of my service.

I woke up to an unfamiliar sound in my room. This wasn’t a rat scurrying around. This was the slow deliberate sound of a rope grinding into the main support beam of my room. I winced my eyes shut. I knew what that was. It was her. She was swinging in my room, feet away from my bed, clawing at her throat. I acted like a child, as if not looking at her would make the hanging shade go away. My eyes snapped open when I heard the rope snap and a sickening sound like bones breaking on the floor inches away from my head. She was gone, but some part of me knew she would never leave.

I’ll gloss over how I came to bi expelled from the Peace Corps. I’ll just allude to a cheap bottle of moonshine and mi drunken raving about eyes in the darkness to all that had ears. I found myself in Amirica amongst my friends who did not know how close I’d come to complete madness. I wrapped myself up in their lives like a shield and visited with them to the point of uncomfortableness. None of that mattered. I was safe. I was wrapped up in that security net of family and friends.

That safety net was cut last night when I woke up with the unmistakable feeling of hair on my face. I felt clammy palms pressing into my cheeks and holding my head in place. She was on top of me, her face inches from mine. I cringed my eyes shut, but she persisted. I waited for hours until I knew that she wasn’t going to leave. I opened my eyes and stared into her milky white eyes. It was in her eyes that I saw it. I saw what she had seen. Oh God! Oh sweet Jesus! I would shoot myself a hundred times over to erase what I had seen.

This is why I’m typing this. I know she will persist and I know why she must. I have only one option left. I cannot face what I saw last night again. I realize why she is watching (Mother Mary!) me. I couldn’t look away from her eyes in grotesque fascination when she was in the tree. My eyes locked onto hers. I saw what she saw and she saw what she had desperately wanted to see again. That’s why she stalks me so. She wanted to see the life in my eyes, but what I saw in exchange… Holy Heaven, I can’t bear to see that again. I’m going to do it now. I have to. I’m sorry.

Eye couldn’t do it. The eyes were there. At the bottom of the barrel, looking into me once again and bringing all the terrors of what she had seen at the end of her life as she tried to claw the rope from her neck. Eye watched frozen as my soul was hallowed out by her insistent gaze. I know now what is waiting for us at the end of it all. Oh Crucified Christ I know! She had caught a glimpse of life, a momentary reprieve from what she now sees and now nothing would stop her from experiencing that again. She’s watching me through the gun, her eyes are on me from the shadows. Oh God! Her eyes are on me from the computer screen! She doesn’t care who! She just wants the sight she’s lost. The gun! THE gun! THE GUN!
Eye See You

Credit To – Empyrean

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What is Dead

June 29, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I write this as an apology to those who are affected by my mistakes. I hope that you can find it in your hearts to forgive me, though I will understand if you can’t.

My wife was terminally ill and, a few month ago, she died. I was very sad at the loss as she was a marvellous, caring woman. She was kind, and everyone that met her said their lives were better for it. I couldn’t bear the pain though, so I did something terrible.

I will not tell you how I did it or how I learned to, for enough damage has been done, but I found a way to … bring her back. To raise her from the dead. I could no longer bear to be alone, and I made a terrible mistake in my loneliness.

When I finished the ritual, nothing happened. Not at first, anyway. I was about to re-bury her when I first started to hear breathing. With an understandable measure of joy, I realised that the sound was emanating from her mouth. I had done it. At the time I could not fully understand what ‘it’ was, but, in my blissful ignorance, I carried her home.

She was not the same. She was no longer caring, but a primal, instinctive beast. She howled and screamed, snarled at me whenever I passed. I was worried, nt for my own sake but for hers. SHe could escape. She could go out and do something to get hurt.

Let the record show that it was for her own good that I locked her in my basement. I never meant to keep her that way. I never knew that my actions would set a chain reaction of unfathomable horrors into action.

I kept her there for as long as I could, but her screams grew more and more desperate. I was chilled to my very core by the screams of my betrothed, and before long I stood on the rain slick precipice of insanity. I needed to do something.

As it so happened, I was not the only one to hear the screams. My neighbours began to show interest, eventually sneaking onto my estate to snoop around. I caught them in the act, and as I had no explanation for what they may have seen, I attacked them. I didn’t kill them, but they were unable to leave of their own accord and, as I feared the consequences of letting them go, I locked them in the basement with my wife.

This was my second mistake. The first, of course, being that I raised her in the first place.

That night I knew the sound of crunching bone.

Upon my awakening in the morning, I went down to check on the neighbours. One was gone, the other was wide eyed, cowering in the corner and covered in blood. Something else was off, too, though at first I did not know what. Then it hit me. The screams had subsided. My wife was asleep.

She had fed, and now she slumbered. All this time, the screams were of hunger. I shut the door, and went to lie down.

She lasted a few more days, obviously feasting on the other neighbour. It seemed that she only needed to eat once every few days.

Now, I’m not proud of what I did next, but I didn’t know what else to do.

I went out at night every few days, around the time that only a few people would still be around. I stalked the streets and attacked people who walked alone. I would take them back to my wife and leave them in the basement. I would often wake from my slumber to hear their screams, cries for help. This would always rouse the beast and would never last longer than a minute or so. 10 minutes of crunching and gurgling pleas later the deed would be done and I could rest easy for another few days.

Although I did now kill anyone, I may as well have. It was my actions that brought about the deaths of so many, and my actions that robbed so many of loved ones, of closure. How many torn and bloodied rags did I have to burn? How many personal affects were destroyed by my hands? I lost track of the numbers, but surely even one is too high a number!

I was kept awake the its screams – and it shall henceforth be referred to as ‘it’, for I have come to the conclusion that this monster is NOT my beloved – so I fed it. A night of rest for the lives of so many.

Day by day it grew stronger, its strength either increasing or returning, for I know not what horrible beast is now in possession of my wife’s body, and as time went on I was forced to bring home more food. Bigger people. Men. 2 women. A woman and a man. Eventually it was eating a full grown man every day.

I knew, in some dark corner of my mind I knew that this could not go on forever. I could not keep taking people. I was in danger of being caught, and, though I deserved to be, fear took hold of me and that, I suppose, is why I let that charade go on for as long as it did. So I decided to flee.

I had just packed my bags when I heard a knock on my door. The police had found a trail of blood leading through the woods up to my estate and were inquiring as to whether I’d seen or heard anything suspicious. I managed to keep a cool head and talk my way out of what could have potentially been a very unpleasant situation.

I know not why, only that I deserved it. It began to scream. It screamed louder than I had ever heard it scream before, and it sounded mad. The police instantly drew their guns and went in, thinking perhaps some horrific predatory beast had made its way into my home. They eventually found my basement door and threw it open. Slowly, ever so slowly, they descended the stairs. I was at a loss for what to do, so I did the only thing I could think of in the heat of the moment.

I shut the door.

Throwing the bolt across, I ran to my quarters and grabbed my bags, making for the door. The screams of the police haunt me to this very day.

I heard the sound of splintering wood as that … thing … burst out of its cell. It was now loose in the house.

I ran as fast as my legs could carry me out of there, out into the streets of the town I had stalked, into a train and I left that place far behind.

My old home is a ghost town now. Splashed with blood, yet no bodies remain. How I long to return to my estate, to gather up all of my research and burn it so that this might never happen again. I have made many an attempt to do so, in fact, though every time I get near I hear that beast’s wild howls, screaming for flesh.

I know it haunts my home now. I know it wears my wife’s skin, but the worst part of all this?

I let it happen.

Credit To – Braden Powell

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