Patches

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” – Linus van Pelt, Peanuts

Tending a pumpkin patch during the autumn months wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Well, Murray thought, there wasn’t much to crack at when you got down to brass tacks. He made the best of it by arranging the plumper fruit in ways that might give the local kids a fun time to play around as they often did in the days leading up to Halloween. It was his favorite holiday of the year, hands down. Christmas was fine, but he wasn’t all that fond of the snow, and there really was something dishonest about how much it had been changed and pilfered from its mishmash of pagan folklore origins. Halloween was still close enough to its dark, raw source. The ugly side of things celebrated even by the children, as it was in the olden days.

Murray had spent his life, since coming to the North American continent and settling in the upper Midwest, as a groundskeeper for the Blackwell Estate. The estate was a sprawling property with plenty of patches of different crops dealing mainly with varieties of squash, as well as watermelons (in one of the green houses), and they all had the same general purpose: just to be there and grow.

Murray understood the reasons behind that; they all dated back to the old country, to European folklore and legend. Whether any of that would fly out here where other myths and legends abound. Through the murk of the ages Murray had lived, he still managed to keep a clear vision of what his role was. So, he waited and tended to the vegetable and fruit vessels of the ancient overlords.

It had been so long since he’d seen a proper, full-fledged vampire watermelon…

Murray was putting down mulch around the pumpkins, making sure there wasn’t any rot or the like since these were humid months, after all, when he heard the rustling. At first, he thought it might be local kids rummaging and running amok through the patch, but a careful minute spent in observation proved that to be an erroneous conclusion.

The rustling came from the squash patch, he deduced, and so made his way there slowly, carefully. He made it to the patch and found that there was a clearing where a very large squash must have been. In the little clearing, he found a baby-blue blanket – the kind a child might use as what is colloquially referred to as a security blanket – and a pair of children’s shoes. He wondered at that, trying to puzzle out what it meant, when he heard the peals of a small child’s laughter ring through the air.

He looked toward the horizon and its fire red and indigo blue hues and he saw… what? It couldn’t be, could it? It was. It was the biggest squash he had ever seen, easily a meter in diameter half again as long judging from its size relative to the diminutive child with a red shirt who rode it as it flew around in the air.

Well, I’ll be damned, Murray spoke aloud to himself. I guess they really are back!

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Self Awareness

Lin and Stacey had been together since Lin could recall. In fact, she really had a hard time trying to remember any time in her life when she wasn’t with Stacey! They had grown up together, gone to high school together, even made it through college together. Best fucking friends forever. Damn straight!

Things had gotten a little weird lately, however. Stacey wasn’t doing as much with her, she felt, even though they were together literally all the time. They had decided to move into the apartment together and it had all been fine until Stacey met Tom, India, and Mark. Once they came into the picture, it felt like everything had changed for Lin; no more long talks in the middle of the night while lying in bed looking up at the ceiling or out at the night sky. No more quiet mornings sipping coffee while doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. No more solitary strolls down at the park. It was all them and Lin had no choice but to tag along every time if she wanted to have time with Stacey. It was odd, now that she thought about it, that she seemed compelled to go along as if she was physically unable to refuse.

There they were, finally alone, just Stacey and her. Lin kept trying to start up a conversation, but Stacey just seemed so preoccupied with stuff that it was as if Lin wasn’t even there. It was infuriating! The relationship had become so unilateral it was almost abusive.

Lin had just about enough of it. She was confronting Stacey once and for all, and if things went South, well, fine. Lin would learn to live without her. Anything was better than being stuck in that limbo of uncertainty, apathy and disregard.

Lin was looking at Stacey draw up a design for a new line of clothes and suddenly she noticed that the design was very similar to one Lin had just imagined earlier that day. No. Wait a minute. It was exactly the same design! What the hell!

Lin was about to shout at Stacey when she noticed another strange thing: Stacey’s left hand, it had a scar. Not just any scar, but the same one Lin had on her left hand from when they were kids and she had cut herself with a carving knife. She had needed stitches and the scar became a gnarly, keloid thing. Lin felt dizzy and a little nauseous. She looked down at her own left hand and… there was just empty space. Where her body should have been, there was nothing but air.

Lin really was going to puke… Stacey stopped sketching on her paper pad and threw up onto the floor in a violent retching motion. Lin looked on incredulously, dumbstruck. What was happening? Stacey put one hand on her forehead, her eyes shut tight to the point of wrinkling her lids, and then looked up at Lin. Scratch that; she looked up at where Lin would have been, but it was as though Stacey was seeing through her. Her eyes looked at the same space where she was, but seemed not to focus on Lin at all.

Lin was trying to wrap her head around the situation, whatever it was. She wasn’t having much success. She dared not try to look at her own body again for fear that she wouldn’t see it there, again. It had to be some strange illusion. She was dreaming, she thought, she had to be.

Stacey returned with a mop and some paper towels. Lin was going to offer to help, but Stacey passed by her… or was it through her. She moved toward the front door, meaning to go out and take a walk. She needed fresh air. This was simply too surreal. She looked at the little wooden table where they would put their keys and the mail and looked down at an envelope. It was from her mother. Why hadn’t she seen this earlier? Why hadn’t Stacey told her about it?

She did a double take on the addressee name: Stacey Lin Parker.

It all came rushing in on her at once. She was Stacey, but also Lin. Rather, Lin was a part of Stacey, or had been until… Until what? That part wasn’t clear. All her memories were, in reality, Stacey’s, weren’t they? So, who was Lin, then? Why did she think of herself as a person when… Oh God. Oh God, no! She understood, now. How could she come to be? Why? She wasn’t a ghost; she was – oh God!

The Nursery Rhyme

Willie-why

In the night

Hissing high

Children moan

Brittlebones ring in tones

Crack and break, his delight

 

Willie-why

Gloom and fog

Rain and sleet

Cloud and mud

Through the boughs, apish, goes

He, where old the devil trod

 

Willie-why

Tears are shed

Mothers mourn

Children bled

Harvest swift the supple cries

The salty tears, their little eyes

 

Willie-why

Ever heard

Ne’er light

Seek the word

Looping thoughts in little heads

Coldest fear you’ve ever felt

 

Willie-why

Do you cry?

Willie-why

Do you sneer?

Hollow halls full of falls

Dwarfish polymorph, there, leers

  • “Willie-why” from “Rhymes of Endor”

The trauma ward in St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital had fast become a second home for Jane. Much like it had for its young denizens, the children, though in her case it was work, a far more fortunate arrangement than theirs, of course. Nevertheless, she had come to see the place as her nest in the past three months, and the patients her little siblings. She was their big sister.

She often pulled all-nighters, not because of the pay – that was hardly an incentive – but because most of these children had traumatic injuries and experiences which caused them to suffer from night terrors. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was common in the ward, and Jane herself knew a little bit about what that was like, having had a difficult childhood as an orphan making it in and out of the foster system until she finally turned eighteen. It was easy for her to see all the little ones as family, and her own experiences had made her prone to attach in a rather naïve way to those in need of care as well as any who showed genuine interest in her – thought this latter had become her bane where romantic relationships were concerned. She had basically imprinted on the children of the ward, the Regulars, as the rest of the staff referred to them.

Jane had done her best not to pick any favorites, to spread her love and attention as equally as she could among the Regulars, and had managed it rather well. That was until little Tommy had arrived a week before.

Tommy’s family had met a rather gruesome end. His two sisters and his parents had been murdered in what was being dubbed by the media as the most disturbing domestic case of the century. Apparently, they had been butchered in most devious fashion, the details too horrid to be released even by the death-mongering vultures of the tabloids.

Although the particularities of Tommy’s situation weren’t entirely known to Jane, she had immediately felt something in the quiet, wide-eyed child whose head was entirely too large for his slight frame but somehow was even more endearing for that very asymmetrical defect. At 7 years of age, he should have grown a little more than what his diminutive stature indicated, yet there he was, runt of the litter, perhaps forevermore.

Jane had taken special care to reach out to the little guy, to make him feel safe, because she could only imagine what he must feel after what he had gone through. He had been in the house when his family had been murdered, and had been found hiding in a cupboard. His small size ended up being the very key to his survival in that situation.

Jane had learned that Tommy never spoke at all. She’d been assured by the other nurses, who’d had access to some of his medical case files, that he had been a regular chatterbox before the incident. Now, however, he kept mum about everything. He seemed to rely on the exquisite expressiveness of his sweet blue eyes, those too-large-for-his-head orbs that seemed to convey far more than Jane could ever hope to decipher.

There was the one thing he did say, late at night when he was spooked – which was every single night since he’d arrived. Willie-why, he would whisper under his breath while rocking himself as he sat on his bed, looking out the room’s windows as if expecting something to be there.

Jane hated to admit it, but as she set there, unable to hold Tommy because he didn’t react well to human touch, she had begun to feel observed and, not matter how much she talked herself down from it, she couldn’t shake the sensation.

This sinister feeling of being watched only grew as the days went bay, the nights becoming darker for Jane, somehow. It was as if there had been a filter places before her eyes, tinting the world in a grey murk that would let up no matter how much light was around.

Jane had come in this night with a slight fever. She’d woken up in the afternoon with a high fever and cold sweats, and had taken all the pills she could that would lower the temperature and lessen the symptoms while still allowing her to function. She refused to miss her shift and leave the Regulars in the hands of someone else that wouldn’t give them the attention they deserved.

Such had been her fever-induced fog that she had scarcely noticed how empty the ward had been as she walked in. The little lobby at the ward’s entrance was unmanned, she now realized, a few minutes after she’d sat there trying to focus on her tasks for the long night. It was also eerily quiet, even for the ward. It wasn’t silence, but rather a vacuum-like absence of sound, as if there was a negative pressing in her ears, pressing down on her head, a gravitational force that denied the existence of the aural.

She attributed it to her flu and decided to make her rounds and say hi to the Regulars.  She didn’t have time to dwell on nonsense. As she walked down the halls of the small ward, and made her way from room to room, the absence of sound was alarmingly replaced by the absence of the Regulars and the rest of the nursing staff. Jane’s stoic, calm demeanor was soon taken over by urgent despair and panic. Something had gone terribly wrong.

As her agitation led her to scurry through the halls, futilely peeking into every room in search of the children, she noticed a strange trail of darkness, a murk, a veritable thread that hung in the air in front of her and went on down the hall turning the corner. She was frozen with fear for a moment, then mustered the courage she had drawn from so many times when she found herself in a situation that seemed too dire to survive, and she followed the dark line.

To Jane’s ever-growing horror, the ominous thread led into the nursery play room. The door was slightly ajar but didn’t allow her to look in, so she took a moment to compose herself and pushed it open. What greeted her would never leave her mind. It would never allow her the comfort of peaceful sleep. It would rob her of what little humanity she still possessed and turn her into a shell of a human being, alive but for the hope of dying one day and escaping the things that dwell in the shadows of this world.

Whatever had taken Tommy’s family had come to collect the one who survived, and with the child every other life nearby. The gore that painted the walls of the play room would haunt all who saw it before the crime scene clean-up crew had had their chance to remove the biological matter. The remains were barely recognizable as human, save for the heads of all the children, carefully arranged in a mock play that seemed to hint something coming in the days ahead.

What Jane had seen, aside from the remains, she would never tell a soul. She had seen it, because that wasn’t something that could possibly feel. It couldn’t. How could such a thing exist? She didn’t understand and wouldn’t even try, because, in the years after the incident at the trauma ward, she would drown herself in opiates in pointless effort to escape the horror of even thinking, though she would never know peace until, perhaps, the drawing of her final breath. It couldn’t possibly come soon enough.

Hush

Thiago had been hanging around the wrong kind of people for a while now, but these were another kind of wrong all together. A darker kind of wrong. There was something about the way they did things, the way they spoke, that belied something far more sinister and dangerous than drug dealing and gang banging.

Then there were the hints at darker dealings with the odd gypsy types. They weren’t really gypsies, not like they were shown on the television or the movies, but there was something that reminded Thiago of them. Romani, he’d hear one of the older members of the Clavos say. Romani of the outer circles, was what they had said. Whatever they were, whomever they were, they scared the shit out of him.

He had always been a tough kid, or rather, had been considered one. He wasn’t sure about being tough. He was scared most of the time. Scared of his parents, of his dad, mostly. Always beating up his mom and his brothers, and him now and then if he managed to get a hold on him. The kids at school. He really didn’t want to go back to either place, but he braved it every time. At home, he would stand up to his dad, punch back before getting knocked out. At school, it was easier. If he could stand up to a grown-up, he could take on any of the other shits like him. So, he did.

He wasn’t sure about being tough, but he understood fear and fighting against it. He understood that he was brave. But the fear the older members of the Clavos and the Romani they dealt with, well, they scared him to the bone.

And yet, here he was, in the caravan of one of these Romani. He had been brought in by one of the younger ones, a teenage girl that must have been about 16 but he wasn’t really sure. Thiago wasn’t very good at judging anyone’s age. They had taken him in and told him they had work for him, if he was interested, so here he was.

The man who was in the caravan, he looked strange. There was something about him that wasn’t entirely right. He had seen a documentary once about 3D animation and how hard it was to simulate human-like features and movement, facial expressions, and how there was this thing called the Uncanny Valley, the feeling of something alien, of strangeness when someone saw something so close to human yet just a few inches away from being the real thing… That was what Thiago thought of when he saw the fat, wrinkly man behind the big wooden desk in the caravan. There were lamps, the old kind, that used oil and rope. It was so weird.

Kid, you wanna earn money? The sales pitch wasn’t much, Thiago knew, but it was a given that he needed money, so it was a mere formality. You could get yourself a little something by doing us a favor, eh? The fact that the man was almost cartoonish didn’t help the feeling of otherworldliness Thiago was being creeped out by.

Sure. He had said it with a slight tremor, trying to effect nonchalance that was nowhere in the general vicinity relative to him. Not even in the same country.

Two hours later he was in a little storage garage, one of those places you rent to put shit in and never see again because humans are pack rats and hoarders, like his grandma. He was there with a little scrap of paper with some weird words in some language he didn’t understand. He was supposed to say that while trying to imagine some very specific images. They had made him practice for a long while.

He began once he had managed to calm his nervousness at being in a darkened storage room, alone with nothing but a candle, despite all he had experienced so far in his young yet fucked up life.

Nothing.

He tried again, saying the words, thinking the thoughts…

Nothing.

He did it again. Again. Again. Again.

Nothing.

How many times had he tried? Wouldn’t his mother worry? No, not really. Who was he kidding? His mother had enough to worry about with dodging his father’s drunken punches and romantic advances. Little Thiago may as well be a drop of water in the ocean. Lost as soon as you couldn’t see him.

He dropped down on his ass, sitting dejected, the scrap of paper cast aside. He was in absolute darkness but for the candle which would only last that much longer…

Minutes passed and he couldn’t help but repeat the words from the paper. He knew them by heart, now. He had been lost in the repetition thereof when he noticed something had changed in the atmosphere of the storage room. He was not alone.

SSSSSSSSssssssSSSSSSS

He heard a faint sibilance, the intimation of presence and menace.

sssssSSSSSSSSsssssSSSSSSS

Oh shit, he thought. There was something there with him.

sssWe hearssssssssWe comessssssssssssssssWhat does it offersssssssfor our presenssssssssssssssssssssssss

No Fury Like

“If light be the brightest light, wherefore doth it shadows cast?

  • Theater of Tragedy’s Velvet Darkness They Fear

It was a sandy hell, this stretch of desert that seemed to, well, stretch forever. She walked in the cold of the night though she did not feel it. Not that cold, in any case.

She had been dead a long time, or rather undead. It had been centuries since… Since her once-master had slid into her chambers, uninvited, stealthy as a shadow, and given her the dark gift whether she would have wanted it or not.

There was much to be said about the impetuous audacity of the creature that had basically raped her into unlife, the modern romantic novel bedamned. All of it was rubbish. The notion of a male forcibly subduing a woman, objectified to such a degree, spoke so unkindly of her own kind – well, was she still female despite her state of undeath? – that Mina would have vomited had it been possible to do so for her.

Sand hell. Ha! It was, though, was it not? All of Earth was hell. She knew this, now, better than anyone else alive or unalive, she would wager. It was hell, and somehow, she was only capable of feeling the kind of anger that she could only describe as… petulant! She, hundreds of years old, petulant. And yet, that was what she felt. Petulant anger, like some irrational child.

She trudged on, treading sand that shifted under her porcelain white feet. She may as well be porcelain for all that she had been able to feel physically in the past hundred years. Sensation was a thing so far away in some stratospheric layer of the map of her senses – what an unapt word! Sensation. Senses.

There it was, the grand ruse, the great and secret trick, the prestige. God was dead. Not in a metaphorical or allegorical sense. No. God. Was. Dead. The Earth – the Earth! – was Her tomb, Her grave. And God had been female! Of course! It had to be so!

For decades her once-master and she had searched, nay, scoured the planet for hints, for any puzzle or indication that would lead to finding God. It was, after all, some strange divine punishment, her once-master’s condition and, by proxy, hers. This was too much, she thought. Too rich by a mile!

She couldn’t help but laugh heartily, a laughter that peeled like bell, from deep in her chest. She did so as she recalled her once-master’s face, the expression on it, of disbelief, of sexist pride crumbling away in offended shock. And all this time he had thought himself cursed by some male deity, when all he really was, was the product of strange chemical processes as yet not comprehended by science. How had she fooled herself into following him for so long?

In any case, she had taken only a few minutes to digest it all, while her useless once-master wallowed in his ridiculous wounded pride. How typically male.

Said wallowing allowed her to investigate further into the ruins of what had, at some point, housed divine flesh – divine flesh, if you can imagine that! How must such flesh look? How must it feel? She perused the stone tablets and the carved walls of the tomb of a being that had ostensibly birthed the universe, yet was somehow not as large as one would imagine, given the dimensions of the cosmos. It made sense, however. The big bang. And to borrow a rather vulgar colloquial term, had she actually, well, banged. There was no indication of it, or an absentee father – again, how typically male – that would have provided the little tiny spermatozoa for the majestic ova. No, the universe had been somehow born a diminutive super-condensed, super heavy, ultra-massive ball of matter and energy. Once out of the divine womb, it had expanded, and it was thought that it continues to do so.

What had set Mina off, what had made her finally throw off the shackles of her own tacit slavery, was that apparently Men had killed God. Yes, Men. Not mankind, though women did nothing and were therefore, in part, responsible by allowing it. Meeeeeeeen.

It took Mina all of two minutes to go down a path of reasoning so lethal her once-master had found himself impaled on a stone obelisk by the time she had reached its logical end. Fitting, Mina had thought afterward, while admiring his limp body transfixed by ancient stone. A phallus serving as the death of one that epitomized the worst in Man.

Mina’s conclusion: Men had killed their mother, God, and had made one huge mess of things. Well, she didn’t know how to fix it, or even if she could. It did put the universe under a light that made more sense, Her being dead. All the chaos, all the disarray, all the needless destruction… No woman would allow that. Right.

Well, she thought, now that I’m the oldest of the undead, I’ll make sure things go differently. The universe was turning to shit, but she would make it smell less shitty in the interim, that was for certain.

Green Monkey

The house was dark, and the sprawl of the property had provided ample opportunity for cover as Liam had made his way to the Wincherster’s two-story house, a red brick monstrosity that was just shy of being a mansion. He had waited a meter or two away from the front door, just off to the side, sticking so close to the large potted bush that, in the paltry light of the lamp above said front door, the shadowy perimeter was as a blanket of murk in which he could never be observed. When a middle-aged man, about 2 meters tall and muscular, had stepped out of the grey Oldsmobile that had driven up the concrete half-moon driveway, Liam knew that was the node of causality he required to make his way inside the house.

The tall man walked with a confident stride toward the front door and stepped under the glare of the lamplight. His strong features were illuminated and revealed a good looking man in his late forties. Liam observed with great care, his breath even and almost undetectable, concentrating intensely in the moment and allowing time to dilate.

When the tall man opened the front door with a set of silver keys on a Calvin and Hobbes keychain, Liam cast his hearing wider in an attempt to detect any new movement beyond the threshold now that the wooden barrier was effectively dislodged. Not a shuffle, not a whisper. Nothing.

Liam moved gracefully in a way that most onlookers would find it nearly impossible to consciously notice that there was an actual human being occupying that particular location in space, even if Liam hadn’t been moving in what could only be described as hyper-time, a state of atomic vibration willfully achieved through a superhuman degree of self-awareness and proprioception that allows him to move faster than time as humans normally experience it. As such, he was able to nimbly move right behind the tall man and shadow him without him ever being the wiser.

He understood that it was important to be patient, a lesson he had earned – not just learned – as a child under Green Monkey’s tutelage in the Outlands. Patience is the boon of the hunter and the bane of all prey. That was why, given the ample chance to sneak on ahead in hyper-time, Liam simply stuck to the tall man’s heels, letting him lead the way. Had Liam done otherwise, not only would he risk chancing upon an unforeseen variable, but he would also reveal himself to the tall man’s subconscious mind which would then begin a deceptively fast process of information distribution and cataloguing that would eventually result in an involuntary state of heightened alertness and defensive mental sub-routines. That would have proven most inconvenient for Liam in his current endeavor.

**********************************************************************

He was 9, running along the stream, the water churned and made a susurration amplified a thousand fold in Liam’s ears. His heart beat as adrenaline and sheer boyish excitement bubbled over inside of him. He was doing it!

Green Monkey had said it was too early, too soon for Liam to try the Catch Trick. Liam didn’t agree; he felt the power in him, the endless possibility blooming like a budding flower, just starting to open its petals which would reveal the whole of the universal matrix for him to navigate.

Now, as he ran, he reaffirmed that notion, that knowledge: he was ready.
He could see the silver spike he was tailing as it swam at astonishing speed just beneath the water’s surface. Its velocity was boosted by the fact that it swam downstream. Liam felt the rush increase within him and he used that boost to ramp up his own pace, to accelerate to a speed he had never before achieved.

The terrain ahead of Liam became craggy and uneven, strewn with rocks and detritus that could prove treacherous, so he made a decision then to take the dive and he plunged into the waters of the stream. He had made a near-perfect judgment and his aim proved nigh-true; he needed only to adjust his body’s orientation a few degrees upon breaking surface tension and the coveted silver spike was in his hands.

Liam felt its scaly, serpentine body twist and squirm under his grip. It was thicker than it had appeared from outside the water, and it was certainly stronger than he had expected. He mustered all his cunning and focused on flowing with the squirming creature’s violent movement rather than trying to force it to remain still. It would tire itself out, eventually, but Liam had another thing to consider: the stream would soon carry them into the great river, where the waters were far more dangerous. He needed to find purchase somewhere in the stream to be able to get out of it.

**********************************************************************

The entire family was home and Liam felt a sense of elation, what little of it he allowed himself to feel in his deep state of concentration. His senses honed and focused on a singular purpose, that of the catch. The tall man would be the first, of course. He posed the biggest perceivable threat and would therefore be dealt with accordingly. The other members of the family would follow suit in similar fashion.

Nine. Nine members in total. The sacred number. The number of death. Liam had scouted the house meticulously in the space of what a person in normal time would measure as two minutes. He had done his due diligence and stretched out the lines of predetermination that were revealed in the time matrix and planned his methodical catch accordingly.

 

First things first, of course: the tall man.

In order to do this particular type of catch-trick, certain reactions needed to be elicited from the prey. Liam used his breath and blew into the tall man’s left ear, causing him to flinch and take his left hand up to cup it. The tall man turned in what seemed to Liam a veritable eternity, an arc of movement almost balletic; a quaint arabesque of startlement.

The man had been standing in front of the kitchen faucet, about to wash a strange object that looked like a black egg attached to a flat base. It reminded Liam of images of bombs he had seen in old movies about the wars of the world outside the Outlands.

Liam turned the water faucet on to maximum pressure. The tall man jumped in that slow floating-through-outer-space graceful motion afforded by Liam’s hyper-time as the little person he had expected/predicted walked into the kitchen. This was the ninth, the catch.

**********************************************************************

Alana walked into the kitchen to see her father jump at the sound of the water faucet being turned on seemingly by itself. She looked on, as wide-eyed as her father, as he turned around to face the kitchen sink.

Could it be? She thought to herself, a glimmer of something, a spark kindling something that resembled hope.

**********************************************************************

Liam couldn’t help but allow a sliver of pride to bloom within him. She was watching him. Well… Not him, really, but the direct effects of his actions. He could see a sense of wonder being born within her eyes and it somehow spurred him on.

He moved from one the kitchen drawer to another, opening them with such speed that to those in normal time it would seem as though they had all opened in unison. He took silverware and threw it up in the air. He took porcelain dishes and threw them down on the floor. All the objects he could upend and forcibly remove from their passive state Liam threw into a dance of slow motion that laughed and mocked in the face of gravity and a slew of other physical laws.

He was high on the deed, on the catch-trick. He realized this in a moment of self-awareness and managed to recover some of his previous composure. It was time to let the tall man see himself brought low, debased, humiliated…

**********************************************************************

Alana could only stand there, agog, witnessing the spectacle of mind-blowing phenomena. Mere seconds after her father had turned to face the sink, all of the drawers and cabinet doors in the kitchen had opened at once, and the silverware and dishes and so many other objects flew up in the air and crash with the loudest of noises on the ground.

Her father let out a scream that seemed to come out of the deepest reaches of his bowels, a pit in his stomach that could not be plumbed even by the longest reaching probes.

She saw her father fall to his knees as he appeared to focus on something on the ceiling, right above where the pan and pot rack was. He mumbled and sobbed “No” over and over as he nodded in denial at what she did not know, and then his eyes – tearful – glazed over and he fell forward to the flower with a dry thud. At this, she couldn’t help but be startled, but she was not afraid. No, she knew now that she would never be afraid again.

**********************************************************************

Liam crouched atop the rack where the pots and pans had recently hung and he looked down on the sad, pathetic creature that was the tall man. The mealy-mouthed sounds the sobbing tall man made with his oddly misshapen mouth – the lips and corners of it pulled back by the fear and ridiculous sadness – made Liam want to punch his teeth right out. The terrible ones, they always got to see Liam and his kind right before the harvest. It was part of their just reward, after all.

It had been long enough, already. The process should not be prolonged beyond what was absolutely necessary. Economy, frugality, in all things: movement, pain, passion… He had extracted enough misery from the tall man. It was time to reap his soul.

Liam effortlessly swung down to the ground, light as a feather, and with a deep inhalation suffused and extracted the tall man’s essence right out of his mortal vessel.

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The other seven inhabitants of the Winchester house – the ninth would no longer be counted; she was now anointed – fell in much the same way. They had all be broken and damaged before Liam’s coming, and had allowed their cracks to become great fissures and crevices that would one day become veritable canyons, gulfs of character and deviance, wickedness and turpitude. Liam would have spared any if they had proven salvageable, but they had all been subsumed into the rot of the tall man.

Systematically, Liam terrorized and reaped, and in the space of a handful of human minutes the household was devoid of life. That is, devoid of life but for Liam and the ninth.

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Alana was still in the kitchen. She didn’t know what to make of the mushroom cloud of emotions expanding in her chest. Elation? Relief? Vindication? She had begun a ritual that she had found in the pages of an old book in the library. Ancient, had said the kind old lady that was so wrinkled she could have been a prune. It had been so weird, how the old lady who shuffled rather than walked had suddenly disappeared as soon as Alana looked up from the first page of the book. Poof, as if by magic.

The ritual had involved some serious sacrifices. Not the animal kind, no. She wouldn’t have done that no matter what. But she’d had to do some pretty gruesome things, and give parts of herself… well, nothing was worse than what her family had done to her. What her father had done to her.

But that was to be no more. Now… Now, she would have a new family. It was everything she had ever wished for.

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Liam stood before the ninth, not revealing himself to her just yet. He studied her, so young and fragile, yet possessed of such potential. And the look in her eyes, the depth of them… there was a fierce void that held a fire that promised doom therein. An all-consuming white-hot flame like a furnace star…

It was time.

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Alana gasped as the older boy materialized in front of her. Had he been there the whole time after the screams of her mother and siblings had died out? She couldn’t know.

He was dark skinned and seemingly slight of frame. He looked no older than the high school kids, but a little like he didn’t eat well. In his face, in his eyes, there was adoration of a sort. She saw in him death, but not for her. She understood, then, that this would be her new brother. A real brother, one who wouldn’t hurt her, but protect her.

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Liam looked upon this little one, so hurt and broken, yet so full of life and candor. He wanted to embrace her and show her that all would be well, now. She had summoned him, after all, and she had made the right offerings.

Perhaps, she would make a good learner and catch with him, soon. Green Monkey would be pleased.

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Liam saw Green Monkey hanging from a thick branch, eating a silver spike that looked remarkably like the one he himself had just managed to catch. What were the odds? He thought to himself.

He sat down in front of Green Monkey and looked at the silver spike, now dead from suffocation, in his hands.

“Eat up!” said Green Monkey through a mouthful of raw fish. The Outlands were not kind, Liam had learned as a little lost boy a few years prior, but he had found the strange simian creature and become its apprentice in what it called Catch. “It’s your first full catch-trick, don’t let it go to waste. You must eat it!”

Liam looked at Green Monkey through squinting eyes, then decided it was time to try the famed silver spike.

Green Monkey dropped down from the tree branch, walked two steps toward Liam and put his left arm on the child’s shoulder. “There is no joy like freshly caught fish and the satisfaction of concealing oneself cleverly.”

No Greater Monster

There are monsters out there, this I know. There are monsters.

Mathew said to himself out loud, as if speaking to an expectant audience, like he was in some movie and there was a fourth wall to break. He had always done that, speak to himself out loud as if anyone would listen. The years of isolation had only exacerbated the habit, made it a proclivity, an old crease in the flesh that you couldn’t help but run your fingers over obsessively time and time again.

He cleaned the tiles of the bathroom studiously, strenuously, even though the stains had long since been wiped clean off, eroded even. Matthew couldn’t help but adhere to the ritual he had perfected for himself. It was the cleansing, the only way he could cope with all he knew, with all he understood.

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Shara had taken the day off. That’s what she had told herself that morning, in any case. Now she was back at the shop, idling and doing little more than twirling her hair as she waited for the hours to go by until she could get the fuck out of the convenience store. Eddie just had to get sick that day, the one day she was going to make her move.

The patrons today weren’t all bad, but she really had had it with the whole gig. She had been planning to make it out of Dodge, so to speak, that very day, and had been thwarted in her attempt by a strange sense of guilt. It wasn’t bad enough that she was leaving her old man, but she would do so, too, while being a work-dodger? Not a chance! She wasn’t going to leave her old man, near-senile as he was, with the burden of her bad reputation – though she hadn’t really gotten such a thing just yet.

It was her day off, goddamnit!  She could skip town on her day off, but not when she was required to show up to work.

She had been lost in her escapist reverie when she showed up. She had never been particularly infatuated with any person before, neither female nor male, at least not so much so that she had ever really tried anything physical. She had been quite content playing with herself over the years rather than giving in to the wooing of any suitor. This woman that walked into the store, well, she was something else.

The way she walked. The way she looked at Shara as she walked up to the counter to ask for a pack Virginia Slims. The oddly sheepish way in which she smiled when she noticed – surely, she noticed! – Shara’s silly, besotted grin and puppy-dog eyes… She was just too much!

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There are monsters. There are, there really are.

The litany of Matthew, as it would have been known had anyone actually been listening, ever, went on. He scrubbed, on all fours, tears streaming down his face now, his eyes unblinking as they poured, as if it were someone else crying, not him.

There are ghosts of what has transpired there. The afterimages…

He couldn’t tell how long he’d been at it: the scrubbing. He couldn’t tell at all. His clothes were soiled, he knew. He had debased himself in ways he’d never thought possible, but it all seemed beyond him, now. It was all beyond any semblance of import. It was all of no consequence. He had to continue his cleanse.

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Pandora. She had said her name was Pandora. How awesome was that?!

Shara had decided to close shop early and fuck the boss in the ear a thousand times, figuratively – though she would have paid good money to see that in a literal sense! Pandora, the promise of her, was just too much not to take the plunge. The sheer potential hinted at behind those intense, brown eyes…

In minutes, they were in Pandora’s car, going down the highway, to a place Pandora assured her would be so much fun.

Shara had no doubt in her mind; it would be such fun!

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Mathew had spent days, now. Days.

It came to him, the memory and the notion, clear as day. Clear as that afternoon when, after waking up from a binge, with a terrible hangover, he chanced upon the intruders in his home.

Stiff morning wood pitching an unsightly tent in his cheap cotton boxers, Matthew had walked downstairs from his shitty bedroom, ever-unkempt, untidy. Shirtless, belly protruding over the barely-serviceable elastic waistband, he took the unceremonious trip to the bathroom that naturally preceded every self-loathing themed morning – err – afternoon, after a bender.

As he opened the door to the rather spacious bathroom – white-tiled, with two bathtubs of the old-fashioned kind – lion legs and all –, and a few drain openings on the floor that suited an autopsy room more than a bathroom – he was greeted by the sight of a young woman – barely more than a girl, really – hung from one of the shower pipes by her handcuffed wrists. She was naked, bleeding profusely from countless lacerations on her pale, sheer skin.

There was another woman, one that was obviously older, naked as well, though there was something venomous, toxic about her being unclothed. The very way she handled herself, it was… poison.

Matthew’s erection pulled a Houdini and went the way of the Dodo bird while the other naked woman spoke.

I know you don’t remember me. I know you probably don’t know who I am.

She chuckled in a husky voice, as if musing. Matthew had no voice to speak with.

There was a time when I knew you and you were important to me. You had so much potential, but you squandered it. Such a shame, really. Well, no good deed goes unpunished!

That last, she added in such a contrasting cheery tone that Matthew couldn’t help but flinch as if struck.

Well, this is so that you remember all that you’ve lost. A lesson. Maybe you’re not so thick to not learn it, the lesson.

The lady… She slit the girl’s throat and then walked out nonchalantly, not a care in the world while the girl bled out. Matthew, too dumbstruck to react, simply stood there, pissing his boxers. Literally.

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Pandora was so unbelievable. They were breaking into some guy’s place, on a lark, just for the hell of it. The risk, the passion, the danger… They were all Shara had craved from since God knew when… She was so turned on!

There was nothing she could do to not want to taste Pandora.

Close your eyes.

Pandora had said that so vehemently, so authoritatively… Shara had felt a warmth at the pit of her belly, a familiar tickle that was also stronger than she’d ever felt before.

Then came the blinding pain.

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There are monsters out there.

Matthew repeated out loud. He had seen it, crawling back out of a past he had thought long-buried. His own transgressions amplified exponentially, given flesh and played out before him like he could never have envisioned.

But there is no greater monster…

He went on, scrubbing, trying to erase his past, to erase his sins…

No greater monster than the human heart.