Uncensored, unedited, unsettling…
Slightly later than usual, here’s this weeks Stitched Flash Fiction results – You may remember than Aiden Leingod presented us with a number of pictures last week, all based around the theme of music. This week we have three tales from the theme – Instrument of Destruction by yours truly, Mother Stamper’s Gramophone’s Got the Blues by Mike L Lane and Ditty by Aiden Leingod himself. And then for the icing on this horror cake, we have Part 7 of Nick Paschall’s Child of the Apocalypse: The Harvest.
For the next Stitched Saturday, we’re going to try something a little different. Not only will you have slightly longer than usual this time round – We’ll give you until the 22nd of July to get your stories in – but there won’t be a picture theme. Your goal is to write a story of any length, but it has to start with the following sentence…
“Tina pressed her foot down on the accelerator and didn’t look back.”
See you in two weeks – until then, Stay Stitched!
Instrument of Destruction – David Court
Colin Johnson had many qualities, but as he slipped effortlessly into his twilight years, he was quickly coming to terms with the fact that patience was not one of them.
For the eighth time in as many minutes his eyes flicked from the display on his digital watch to the old dusty clock that hung from the wall of the village hall. Both still showed the same time, which meant that the Lower Boresham Line Dancing Society were, once again, late finishing.
Seven minutes past eight in the evening. Seven minutes past. Tex Coltrane, the Societies Chairman, had reassured Colin that the group would finished by eight precisely but here they were, still gathering up their hay bales and discarded Stetsons. What added insult to injury is that Tex Coltrane wasn’t even his real name – just something that Bernard Smethwick had insisted he be known as since he’d formed that stupid dosey-doh-your-partners dance group.
Of course, Colin didn’t complain. It wasn’t British. He just let the anger seethe and build up within him, smiling politely as Bernard – sorry, Tex – gave some half-hearted apology as he led out the last of his would-be cowboy codgers.
One by one Colin’s society filed in. Mrs. Grantham was, as ever, first in line. She smiled nervously at Colin and made a bee-line for the tea caddy. Doris and Irene, the two widows, were next. Colin was somewhat buoyed to see that they were both carrying trays of Fairy cakes. Mr. Raynard came hurtling in next – he often claimed that he’d been a racing driver in his youth, which, given his lack of control over his mobility scooter, Colin sincerely doubted.
Young Jason was next, trying, as ever to get Colin’s attention. Colin hadn’t seen the young lad as excited since the Flying Scotsman had passed through Boresham Train Station.
“Mr. Johnson – would it be possible to speak to you before the meeting?”
Colin shook his head.
“You know the rules, son. After we’ve been through the agenda.”
Colin went to speak again but Mrs. Rogers took him by the arm and escorted him to his seat. She mothered that young lad – heaven knows, he needed it.
Within five minutes they were all seated, the only noise being the sound of the general gossip one expects from small town life – who’s married who, who’s died – the usual. Mr. Bridger, standing by the door, nodded at Colin who smiled and nodded back. Colin looked at the clock and waited until the clock had hit precisely Eight-thirty. A sense of order was important.
He cleared his throat loudly, and the room fell into silence. Sixteen sets of eyes – thirty one actual, and one glass – stared back at him.
“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. I’d like to call to order this monthly meeting of the Lower Boresham Satanists Society.”
Even as Colin went through the motions of the agenda, his eyes kept being drawn back to young Jason. The lad looked visibly agitated, as though he was struggling to remain silent. The boy would just love Colin to break with tradition, but he wasn’t going to give him the benefit. Societies have rules for a reason, and they’re not to be broken willy-nilly at the whim of an over-excitable child.
To be fair though, the agenda was dull. Very little of any excitement ever happened in Boresham, and this was reflected in their thrill-a-minute schedule.
The annual fundraising drive was approaching, where the society would be given a couple of tables and stalls at the Vicarage local fête. Of course, the local vicar didn’t know that they were a society dedicated to Lucifer, Angel of the Bottomless Pit – at such events they went under the name of the Lower Boresham Gilbert and Sullivan Choral society. By running the typical “Guess the number of sweets in the jar” and “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” events, they’d be kept in enough petty cash to keep them in tea, scones, Sulphur and Black Candles for the rest of the financial year.
Eric and Susan Frampton were, sadly, moving to pastures new. They were leaving for Tainton-on-sea to look after Susan’s elderly mother. Luckily, Susan’s mother was a High Priestess in the local coven so it wasn’t like they were losing any of the flock, merely shifting them about.
The final item of the agenda was to discuss whether any of the congregation wished to relieve Colin of his High Warlock role. As this would involve a trial by combat and Colin had recently put his back out tending to a particularly virulent strain of Japanese Knot-weed that had appeared in his allotment, he was relieved that his position was safe for yet another year.
He couldn’t placate the boy any longer. The very instant the Colin placed the typewritten agenda onto the desk in front of him, the boy’s hand shot up like that of a schoolboy desperate to go to the toilet.
“Jason”, said Colin, carefully sitting down on his chair, “You have the floor.”
Jason got to his feet, looking nervously about himself. Come on, lad. we haven’t got all night. The Boresham Table-top Gaming Society have the room at half nine.
“As… erm… the ladies and gentlemen of the Lower Boresham Satanists Society might well remember,” he spat out, muttering almost too quietly to hear over the hissing of the tea-caddy.
Dissenting murmurs hinted that the boy might really want to speak up.
“As you may remember from last month, our Great Lord Leviathan, Lord of the Flies, spoke to me in a dream and gave me the tablature for the fabled Black Chord of Abaddon.”
Colin remembered well. The legendary Black Chord of Abaddon had been spoken of in Satanic circles for hundreds of years. A sequence of notes which, when played, would unleash Hell upon the Earth. Jason claimed at the last meeting that he’d been visited by the Dark Goat one fateful night. According to him, the Dark Lord of All had seen fit to bestow this wisdom upon the gormless Jason who had written it out in precise detail.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that Jason was occasionally given to flights of fancy. He’d once claimed to have been visited by the spirit of Jermaine Jackson and given the lyrics to a series of unrecorded Jackson Five singles. It had taken quite a few other Satanists armed with Google to point out to the lad that Jermaine Jackson was very much still alive.
“Aye, I remember, Jason. We all sat around expectantly whilst you played it on your Bontempi Eclipse HB 535, remember? And as I recall, nothing happened. Not even when you tried it with the Jazz Waltz percussion setting.”
Jason nodded blankly.
“That’s right. If you remember, Belial, our Lord and General In the Forthcoming And Eternal War Against the Lightbringer, had said that the choice of instrument was as important as the Chord itself. It needed to be an instrument of evil, a dark medium for the unholiest of anthems.”
Colin was shuffling uncomfortably now. The Table-top Gaming Society didn’t like to be kept waiting.
“And I got to thinking – maybe the Bontempi Eclipse HB 535, versatile and portable as it is, didn’t quite fit into the category of blasphemous instrumentation.”
“Get to the point, lad.”
“I got to thinking – what’s the unholiest instrument you can think of? Something that could only have been dreamed up by the darkest of minds? Something which, when played, can threaten the very fabric of reality itself? A truly inhuman noise, fit for The Beast?”
“You don’t mean….”
“I do, Colin. I’ve made the necessary arrangements. Our day is nigh.”
A handwritten package sits in the letterbox of Boresham Primary School. A package which, when opened, holds several identical photocopied pieces of sheet music, all bearing a proud header typed in 14-point Comic Sans, that most innocuous of fonts.
SHEET MUSIC – FOR THE RECORDER
Mother Stamper’s Gramophone’s Got the Blues – Mike L Lane
Frank Stamper let out a heavy sigh, climbed the crowded, narrow stairwell to the door and inserted the skeleton key into his mother’s locked attic. He hadn’t been in this room since he was a small boy and even now, forty years later, the idea of going into the dusty space filled him with dread. He had nearly died in this room and still had the scars to prove it. The memory was vague, a clouded vision that was cluttered with his mom’s retelling of the event more than his own actual account. Thinking of that day was like looking into murky swamp waters and imagining a patient, hungry alligator lurking near the surface where a cypress log lay rotting instead. He absentmindedly scratched at the scars beneath his beard. There was nothing in the attic for him to be afraid of, but it didn’t keep his nerves from standing guard, just in case.
“I have no idea what we’re going to find in here,” he said, turning back to face his wife with his usual grimace. Bev smiled at him with wide, eager jubilance and squeezed his wrist. She was always bright eyed and bushy tailed, even on the worst of days. For Frank, she was too upbeat for her own good; a trait he had grown to loathe. He had doubts about letting her come inside. “Maybe it would be better if I handled the attic and you take care of mother’s bedroom?”
“No way, Mister Man!” Bev exclaimed in her shrill voice, bobbing in place like a balloon on the lake. “Mother Stamper was so adamant about no one going in this room I have to see what all she was hiding from us. I bet there are some real finds in there.”
Frank muttered under his breath and turned back to the door. This was a personally private matter to him and Bev was too stupid to take the hint. He had postponed the trip to the attic all afternoon, hoping she would be too tired from sorting his mom’s belongings to bother with the attic. He should have known better. To her, this was like opening the vault at the bank. He slowly twisted the groaning key in the lock. Rust crumbled within, resisting unwelcomed entry into his mom’s private shrine of abandoned relics. Agitated, Frank jiggled the key until he felt the teeth sink into place with a metallic crack. The knob turned and the door creaked open on angry hinges like baby birds stirred from sleep.
The dank smell hit them at once and sent a shiver up Bev’s arms, but didn’t keep her from trying to look around Frank in the doorway. The moldy aroma lightly singed his nostrils, accompanied by the thick smell of dust and hint of charred wood. He stood still within the doorframe, his feet refusing to cross the threshold. His brain associated that smell with death and his mother’s attic was a crypt; a final resting place for his family’s departed memories, stowed away and left to rot. Bev squeezed past him and rushed into the room, overly anxious to discover what fortunes hid inside.
“Oh, Frankie,” she said as she took in the full view. “This is a gold mine! I can feel it.”
Frank didn’t feel that way at all. He felt dread. It was a near choking sensation that clogged up his airways and lightened the space in his head. Before entering, he had imagined what he would see, mostly in the cloud-filled memory of what his eight year old mind could recall was in the room. The area would be cramped and dark. Boxes would be stacked neatly in piles, marked as to what they were or who they might belong to. Perhaps one of the top boxes would be opened and an item of clothing would drape over the side. Furniture would be positioned in a way to save space tucked away in a far corner and covered in bedsheets. The planked floor would have a dull gray appearance and the lightbulb overhead would be burnt out and lifeless, its service terminated long ago. Cobwebs would cling to everything including a built up layer of dust that covered the entire landscape. He flipped on the light.
The vision was completely wrong. He should have known. A place for everything and everything in its place, his mom had been fond of saying. The attic was set up like his mother’s living room, immaculate in every way. The room might have smelled of mold and dust, but he couldn’t see any. It looked like a staged setting from the sales floor of Regal’s Furniture. The furniture shined on par with the hardwood floor. A large, antique loveseat was accompanied by a matching high back chair. Its plush cushions were a bold crimson. Mahogany bookshelves lined the back wall filled with hardbound books, an array of ceramic collectables and various other knickknacks. Each item had been meticulously dusted and cared for like valuable museum pieces proudly on display. There were no boxes in the room at all. An old steamer trunk sat in the far corner, polished and shined. End tables sat on opposite sides of it, both holding antique lamps untouched by dust or cobwebs. Four framed portraits hung on the walls and looked over everything like sentries. The first portrait he recognized was his mother’s. From the looks of it, she had commissioned this piece just before her death. The frame next to her was empty and blacked out. The people in the other two paintings looked vaguely familiar even though he had never met them. He was familiar enough with the names beneath. They were ancestors of his, dead long before he was a horny gleam in his father’s eyes.
“I can’t believe how clean everything is,” Bev marvelled, running her finger across a shelf. She scanned the small library of books and gasped. She pulled a book from the shelf and carefully opened it. She sat the book down and pulled out her iPhone. “I have to look this up, Frankie! We could be looking at some very rare, pristine first editions here!”
Frank didn’t care. His eyes were drawn to the stand resting silently beside the chair. It was an ornate piece of furniture that stood waist high with four cabinet doors in a narrow body. On its top was an old gramophone.
“Did you see this?” Frank asked. Bev placed the book she was inspecting back on the shelf and rushed over to where Frank was standing. “It’s an early model record player.”
“This could be worth something,” Bev mused. She dropped to one knee to get a better look at the label on the front of the wooden housing. “It’s a Victrola. Manufactured in 1906. This could definitely be worth something. It even has the Nipper dog on it!”
Frank looked at the iconic dog cocking his ear towards the machine’s horn puzzled by his master’s voice coming from within. The brass engraving was polished and bright without a hint of tarnish. Had mom spent so much time in this room she felt the urge to clean everything? He supposed he would never know.
“The real question is whether it works or not,” Bev said. She looked up at Frank, her eyes twinkling with pure excitement as she opened one of the cabinet doors. Four records leaned against one another within the cabinet. Bev pulled a record from the far left and removed the thin, protective sleeve. “Even these could fetch a buck or two. Let’s see how she sounds.”
She handed the record up to Frank. He wasn’t in the mood for music, but he was curious to see if the old Victrola still worked. He took a glance at the record label before setting it on the turntable. A slight grin crept across his face and Bev smiled up at him. His mom had always loved the blues and it was the first time since they had entered the attic that he didn’t feel that impending doom weighing heavy on his chest.
“Skip James,” he said with a nostalgic tone. “Devil Got My Woman.”
“Sounds like a winner to me,” Bev exclaimed. She crossed over to the loveseat and plopped down, her back against the armrest and her feet on the plush red cushions. There seemed to be no end to her childlike enthusiasm. Normally this would have annoyed Frank, but his mind was fixed on the record. He was vaguely familiar with the song, but the full rhythm teased his memory urging him to play it to get the sound just right in his head.
He wound up the side crank to create enough tension to turn the table. Lifting the stylus, he marvelled at how shiny the needle was. Even it had been kept immaculate and looked like a shard straight from the diamond ring his mother had left to Bev in the will. The first few seconds of play were little more than crackles and pops before the 78 rpm record spun into life.
The melancholy guitar plucked the bluesy tune through the horn and filled the old abandoned attic with haunting emotion. Out of the corner of his eye, Frank could see Bev’s foot tap up and down out of sync with the music, but he tuned her out. His mind was filled with bittersweet memories of his mother humming the sad tune and for a moment he closed his eyes, breathing in the music like sweet honeysuckle. The feelings of love and loss washed over him, one plucked guitar string at a time.
The light above him flickered and he groaned, opening his eyes. Of course the bulb would choose this particular moment to burn out! Right as he felt comfortable in this room of dead memories. He glared up at the ancient bulb and waited for it to pop, anger burning within his chest. Instead, it flashed brighter than before, forcing him to look away. He felt Bev’s hand tug at his arm, pulling him away from the Victrola while his burnt retinas adjusted.
“Holy moly mother may I, what the heck is that?” Bev whispered in a panicked voice, clutching so tightly to Frank’s arm her fingernails left half crescent smiley faces in his skin. A cool breeze flowed through the room and raised goosebumps across his flesh. Frank pulled his arm away from her and rubbed the stinging tears from his eyes to clear his vision.
“I’d rather be the devil,” Skip sang on the old Victrola, “than be that woman man.”
The room had completely changed around the gramophone and Frank rubbed at his eyes again in disbelief. The Victrola stand and player was the same, but now a rocking chair sat beside it and a fuzzy, translucent figure cradled a baby in her arms. The vision flickered with every crackle from the record like an old television set with poor reception. The young woman smiled down on her child with an eerie glow, humming the blues tune softly. Stunned, Frank recognized her face and looked to one of the portraits to verify. The spirit figure and the painting were nearly exact. It was his great grandmother.
“I’d rather be the devil than be that woman man.”
“Is there some sort of projector working with that thing, too?” Bev asked. Her hushed voice was evidence she didn’t believe the question she was asking. The figure looked over in their direction and Frank clamped his hand over Bev’s mouth. She fought him for a brief second before submitting to his grip. He lowered his hand and shook his head in answer to the question, never taking his eyes from the apparition.
The woman looked at the diamond ring on her finger… the exact same ring his mother had willed to Bev… and run its jagged edges across her thumb, wincing from the cut it made. With a sickening smile, she placed her bleeding thumb in the infant’s mouth.
“Oh, my G…” Bev began, but Frank clamped his hand across her mouth again before she could finish.
The woman in the rocker suddenly stood to her feet and Frank pulled Bev behind the trunk, fearful that they had been spotted by this otherworldly specter. She ran to the back of the room, placed the baby in a crib and turned back towards them, her eyes glaring. From out of thin air, a tall, muscular man appeared. He charged the terrified woman and seized her by the throat. Frank and Bev watched in horror as this new apparition strangled her until her lifeless body collapsed on the floor.
“Oh, Frankie,” Bev whispered, turning her head away from the sight of his great grandmother’s glazed eyes and lolling tongue.
“Woman I loved, took her from my best friend. But he got lucky, stoled her back again,” Skip moaned. The ghost man marched to the Victrola, snatched the record from the turntable and flung it across the room. It sailed like a Frisbee and shattered against the wall above their heads. In that instant, the room reverted back to its former state; the lifeless body of his great grandmother on the floor burning a bright orange before dissolving away to nothing.
“Holy… shit!” Bev screeched, struggling to let a swear word fly from her lips but unable to hold it back.
Frankie searched the floor around them certain he would find shards of the broken record at their feet. The hardwood floor was bare. He ran to the Victrola and found the record still spinning, the song having reached its end. The record was completely intact. He picked up the stylus and returned it to the off position.
“It had to be a projection, right?” Bev asked, slowly coming to her feet. Her voice was shaky and her knees wobbled beneath her.
“If it was a projection it would have played on the wall,” Frank said, irritation sharpening his voice. “Have you ever heard of a gramophone as a slide projector? That’s just stupid.”
“Don’t get upset with me, Mister Man,” she snapped back. Even when she was angry she sounded cheery, he thought fueling his disgust for her. She had always had a chipper personality, but it irked him now more than ever. He had just lost his mother, but still Bev smiled on like they had just won the lottery. An unsettling silence stood between them before she decided to venture further. “So, we’re thinking ghost right?”
Frank stared at the record, unable to look at her. That was exactly what it had been. He was sure of it, but to say it out loud wasn’t something he was ready to do. On impulse, he cranked the handle again and set the record spinning. He bit down on his lower lip and placed the needle near the middle of the song.
“My mind got to ramblin’, like a wild geese,” Skip James belted from the horn. The lightbulb glowed bright. The temperature in the room dropped and the vision flickered back into existence. The angry man shook the woman by the throat, her feet kicking above the floor and her eyes bulging from her face. Bev let out a soft, groaning cry of terror and Frank quickly snatched up the stylus. The vision blinked out of existence.
“I’m thinking maybe so,” Frank said. “I’m certain that was the ghost of my great grandmother.”
Bev looked at him like he had lost his mind, but he simply pointed at the portrait on the wall. There was no question about it. The painting and the ghost were one and the same.
“What was she doing with the ring?” Bev asked. She absentmindedly rolled her thumb over the ring his mother had given her. “It looked like she was having that baby suckle her bleeding thumb.”
“That’s what it looked like,” Frank grumbled. There was no denying that ghastly bit of information either. In fact, he thought that might have been why the man- his great grandfather- had strangled her. His mother had never said much about her family and from the looks of it, he now knew why. Hoodoo blood rituals and murder were not the type of conversations brought up around the Thanksgiving table.
“Do you know what this means?” Bev asked. By the excitement in her voice, Frank had a sneaking suspicion he didn’t want to know. She pointed at the Victrola with a wide-eyed smile. “We could make millions with that thing!”
“What?” Frank asked. His threshold for stupidity was reaching its limits.
“People would pay good money to witness what just happened here,” she explained, rushing over to the gramophone. “The ghosts of your family are caught in a loop and they must be triggered by that record. It makes perfect sense! You placed the needle in the middle of the song and the vision picked up right in the middle of the action.”
He couldn’t argue with that. The vision hadn’t just started over from the beginning like he had expected it to. Great grandmother was gasping her last breath the second time he had played the old blues tune.
“Let’s try another one,” she suggested, already reaching into the stand and pulling the next record out. Frank grabbed her by the wrist.
“Hold on!” he said. He didn’t like what he had seen so far and the thought of another scene unfolding before him made his stomach knot up. “I don’t know if we should be doing this. I’ve got a bad feeling here.”
“Don’t be such a scardey cat,” she grinned. She wrapped her arms around him and nuzzled her head against his chest. “What will it hurt to try? We’re talking about a load of cash to be made, Frankie.”
He gazed down at her and sighed. It probably wouldn’t work anyway and as long as he didn’t have to see his great grandmother get strangled again, he supposed it wouldn’t hurt to put on another record. He took the record from her hand and read the label. The name of the song did little to calm his nerves.
“You Was Born to Die,” Frank shuddered. “Blind Willie McTell.”
“Oh, this is going to be a good one!” Bev exclaimed, jumping up and down like a little girl who was about to take her first pony ride. Frank didn’t think so. In fact, Frank fought the urge to break the record in half to keep from playing it. Everything always boiled down to money with Bev, but this was his family they were talking about. He might not have known them personally, but watching old forgotten history and scandal play out in front of him like a Siskel and Ebert viewing made him uneasy. Some things were better of buried. He looked thoughtfully at the far wall were the ghost record had shattered and contemplated a repeat performance of that particular scene. Instead, he placed the record on the table, dropped the needle and quickly moved away from the gramophone as if a snake had slithered out of the horn.
The crackled silence turned to a toe-tapping guitar melody and a long dead voice spoke into the room to “play that thing boy- I know you’re blue.” The light bulb gradually increased in brightness and Frank made it a point not to look up this time, hiding with Bev behind the old steamer trunk. A swirling frigid draft rushed passed them as if someone had left the window wide open on a cold January night. The dreamlike vision flickered into view like clips from an old reel-to-reel and Frank watched as two figures danced to Blind Willie’s soulful tune.
“Don’t want no woman that run around,” Blind Willie sang as the two lovers danced in a slow, sweaty embrace. “Stay out in the street and like a badfoot clown…”
The man and the woman pulled back from one another just far enough to be face to face and sang the next lines in harmony with Willie and the female vocals that accompanied him on the record.
“You made me love you and you made me cry,” they sang looking deeply into each other’s eyes. The woman’s hand rested on the back of the man’s broad shoulders and Frank immediately recognized the diamond ring glistening on her finger. The guitar whined through a bluesy riff and the lyrics picked up again. “You should remember that you were born to die.”
The man gave the woman a quick spin and she whirled back into his arms with a laugh. Frank looked at the next portrait on the wall and realized he was looking at his grandmother, young and beautiful. The vision stirred up emotion deep within him and he couldn’t help but think of how things ended in the last vision the gramophone had produced. He started to jump up from their hiding place when Bev caught his arm and stopped him.
“Let it play out,” she whispered. The two dancers looked in their direction as if they had heard her, but quickly shrugged it off and continued their dance. Frank relaxed. Not because of Bev, but because he had known his grandmother. She had lived many years past this moment in time and he smiled. Perhaps this was just a fond memory loop these two ghosts were trapped in. Nothing to worry about at all.
The couple swayed around the room as Blind Willie played his tune and nothing out of the ordinary happened. The man, his grandfather he supposed, dipped his love and twirled her about. She glided across the hardwood floor as light as a feather and some of her moves were a bit more sexual than he cared to see from a woman who had baked cookies for him and crocheted multicolored Afghans for a hobby. In her prime, grandmother was a pistol, shaking her hips and tugging the edge of her skirt up so grandfather could catch a glimpse of her bare thigh. Frank was on the verge of blushing when the man spun her out towards the coffee table. She reached down in one smooth motion, snatched up the pair of scissors and delivered the sharp end into her partner’s neck as he pulled her back. The shock on his face matched Frank’s and a stream of blood splashed the ceiling above them.
“You should remember that you were born to die,” Willie moaned and the expression on his grandfather’s face let Frank know that the man had indeed forgotten. He slowly crumpled to the ground, his hands gripped tight around the wound in his neck. His grandmother stood over him, dripping scissors in hand. She was smiling.
Content that he was down for the count, she reached down with both hands and grabbed his feet. She started dragging him towards Frank and Bev. They froze in panic, certain that she would drop the dead body at their feet like a cat dragging a dead bird to the doorstep, proud and licking its chops. As she reached them, she flipped the latch on the trunk, the song ended, and both her and her murdered husband went up in a sizzling fire before vanishing completely.
“That was awesome!” Bev shouted. Her giddiness got the best of her and she jumped up and down clapping like Steph Curry had just sunk a game winning three. “Play the next one, Frankie!”
“Screw this!” he shouted, his face scrunched up like a dark red loofah. “That was my grandmother!”
“It’s like watching a movie,” she said, ignoring him and rushing to the gramophone. She had removed the Blind Willie record and was reaching for the next one when he stopped her. “You should check the trunk!”
“I don’t want to see anymore,” he said firmly, squeezing her wrist so tight she nearly dropped the record. There was no way in hell he was about to open the old trunk. “How would you like it if it were your family getting butchered before your eyes?”
“Let go of my hand,” she demanded. Frank did as he was told, unaware of how hard he had held her. She rubbed at her wrist and looked at him scornfully. “You need to grow up, Mister Man! Whatever this thing is doing, these events have already happened. Your great grandmother- who you didn’t even know I might add, was strangled to death after she put some sort of voodoo hex on your grandmother. Your grandmother killed that man and looked pretty hunky-dory doing it. She was sick! And she must have gotten away with it, too, but all of that happened in the past, Frankie. You can’t change it. So why not use it for what it’s worth and quit crying over the things you can’t change?”
“I don’t know!” he said angrily, and that was the truth of the matter. He didn’t know why he should care one way or the other. What’s done was done and all of these people were dead now anyway, including his grandmother. Still, it didn’t feel right. He felt like he was betraying his family just by watching, much less toying with the notion of making a quick buck on it. He rubbed his beard in aggravation and realized the scars beneath were itching. He couldn’t remember how he had earned those scars, but he knew it had something to do with this room in some way and it unnerved him. “Something bad happened to me up here when I was a boy. I had snuck up here after grandmother’s funeral, wanting to hide away from everyone. It was my first experience with death and I suppose I felt the need to distance myself from the people I loved. Hell, I was just a kid. Anyway, I hid in this room and from there my memory is a blur. The next thing I knew I was being rushed to the hospital for third degree burns on my cheeks. My mother always said it was something I got into up here… some acid or something, but I’m not so sure. I think maybe these ghosts have something to do with it, Bev. I know you want to sell this stuff off and make a fortune and that’s fine by me, but I really think we should leave that record player alone.”
“Just one more,” Bev said, unsheathing the next record. It was clear to Frank that she didn’t care how he felt about it. Her eyes looked just as crazed as the ghost of his grandmother burying the scissors into grandfather. “I’m telling you, we’ll turn this into the biggest paranormal attraction in the world!”
“You do whatever the hell you want,” he muttered, turning his back and heading towards the door. He couldn’t reach her in this excited state and he was tired of trying. “I’m going down stairs.”
He heard the crackling record before he reached the door and felt the mixed sensation of the warm light overhead and the cold draft hit him all at once. He immediately recognized the song. It was his mother’s favorite. Death Don’t Have No Mercy by Reverend Gary Davis. He couldn’t help but turn around.
The attic scene had changed again, but this time the room was one he knew well. It was his mother’s bedroom. The vision wasn’t as cloudy as the other two had been. The soft white outlines were sharp and crisp, like a fresh vision as opposed to the glimpses of history he had witnessed before. This scene was fairly new. The attic had shifted into a bedroom. A queen-sized bed sat in the center of the room accompanied by bedside night stands. The lamp was off, but the MP3 alarm clock played the tune, its blue neon numbers reading 3:33 a.m. The figure in the bed stirred for a moment, pulled the floral comforter snug around her chin and drifted further into peaceful sleep. The elderly woman was Frank’s recently deceased mother.
“Y’know death don’t have no mercy in this land,” the Reverend sang, his deep voice mournful. “Death don’t have no mercy in this land …”
“What is this?” Bev asked. The excitement faded from her face like sink water from an open drain. Terrified, she backed away from the bed. A dark figure emerged at the foot of the bed, startling them both. “Turn it off! Frankie, turn the damn record off!!!”
Frank rushed to the gramophone, instinctively acting on Bev’s demands, but as he came closer to the machine he caught a glimpse of the figure’s face. Bile churned within the pit of his stomach and he stopped, mesmerized by the scene unfolding before him.
“Come to your house, you know he won’t stay long. You’ll look in the bed and your mother’ll be gone,” the record cried out as the dark figure placed a pillow over his mother’s sleeping face and pressed down. “I said death don’t have no mercy in this land.”
“TURN IT OFF!!!” Bev screamed, knocking Frank back into reality. The figure reacted to Bev’s screech, jerking her head around and glaring at where she stood. Bev began to sob as she looked into her own eyes while Frank’s mother struggled beneath the pillow.
“Beverly?” Frank asked, his voice wounded. He shook his head in disbelief, refusing to acknowledge what his heart knew to be true. His wife had killed his mother. Hurt and confusion bled into boiling anger. “You worthless bitch!”
“I did it for us!” Bev said backing up against the wall. “For you and me, Frankie! She was old and all this money was just sitting here! She didn’t need it, but we do!”
Frank grabbed her by the shirt and jammed her against the wall, hate seeping from his pores. This woman he trusted had murdered the one good thing in his life. He felt the uncontrollable urge to return the favor. He considered wrapping his hands around her throat and squeezing until his own bones snapped under the pressure. He wondered what it would be like to see the life fade from her eyes and wipe that ever cheerful expression from her face once and for all. From the looks of it, murder ran in the Stamper family, so why not toss one more body on the pile? One more song for the encore. Tears streaked hot runners down his face and the veins in his temples threatened to explode. His fists clenched tightly around her shirt collar, pressing beneath her clavicles and he gasped for air, drowning in his thoughts.
He let go and crumpled to the floor. He hated her, there was no question of that, but he couldn’t bring himself to kill her.
“It’ll be okay, Frankie,” she said, kneeling down and wrapping an arm around her sobbing husband. He jerked away from her embrace, sickened by her cold touch. Her impulse was to scold him, but she bit her tongue and stood instead. “Just think of how nice we’ll have it now. Mother Stamper would have wanted it that way.”
The record stopped playing. The Reverend’s song had finished and with it, the ghastly scene evaporated in a sunburnt burst of flame, but the cold air in the room only intensified. Bev’s teeth began to chatter as the last record floated out of the cabinet and onto the turntable. An invisible hand cranked the gramophone and set the stylus in place.
“Frankie?” Bev asked in astonishment, but her husband’s face was buried in his palms, mourning the loss of his mother and his marriage. “Something is happening, Frankie!”
Light fingers danced across the ivory keys accompanied with a low bass beat in a haunting tune. Gooseflesh rose on Frank’s arms and he lifted his face to the heart wrenching voice of Big Mamma Thornton.
“So you left me, I’ll never know. I hate to tell our friends wherever I go,” Big Momma’s raw voice sang. “I played a losing game, but life goes on just the same.”
Apparitions materialized throughout the attic, their shimmering presence flickering in one by one as the sorrowful tune filled the closed room. His ancestors, murderers and victims alike, circled around Bev, swaying from side to side under the power of Big Momma Thornton’s voice. His great grandmother approached her from behind, her tongue draping across her chin and her eyes bulging from their sockets. His great grandfather walked with her, anger and hate permanently chiseled in his dark face. His grandmother did a slinky, catlike walk towards her, her painted red lips an evil grin across her face. His grandfather stumbled forward, blood gushing from the pair of scissors planted in his neck. His mother stood behind Bev, her blue face filled with shock and her arms reaching out to embrace her murdering daughter-in-law. Frank’s family reunion was in full swing.
“Maybe someday you’ll tell me why. Why you had to hurt me and leave me here to cry,” Big Mamma sang as the specters locked arms around Bev in a fiery embrace. She screamed, her skin sizzling as the circle of ghosts drew tighter, but her voice was drowned out by the gramophone’s final record. She looked to Frank for help, but he only shook his head and backed away. Her skin bubbled and melted as Mother Stamper kissed her on the forehead and the other’s drug her down to the floor, writhing and screaming in agony. “I played a losing game, but life goes on and on just the same.”
As she burned to dust and the smell of burnt pork filled the room, Frank’s mom sifted through the ashes and picked up her diamond ring. She drifted over to him and placed the ring in his hand.
“Give this to one who deserves it,” she said in a soothing tone. “There is so much more music to make, dear.”
She took her baby boy’s face in her hands and he noticed the empty frame on the wall now held a portrait of Bev. He barely acknowledged his singed beard and the bubbling blisters on his cheeks.
Ditty – Aiden Leingod
Amongst the discordant symphony of giggling schoolchildren, twittering birds and gossiping adults, the lone schoolgirl heard her unmistakable nickname on the other side of the busting playground, loud and clear as the deafening morning bell.
Most adults headed for the wrought iron gates before going their separate ways, high heels and heavy boots clapping rhythmically in time to countless idiosyncratic tunes of pitter-patter on the rain-slicked concrete.
Pale sunlight concealed behind the drawn curtains of an overcast sky glinted faintly in the blunt tips of tarnished spear finials and shallow puddles arranged chaotically across the chipped surface; the latter’s unsuspecting loll rudely interrupted by continuous waves of reverberation.
The movement en masse lightly splashed stray droplets of murky rainwater onto cheerfully crude chalk impressions superimposed on the washed-out slab like a thin membranous layer. Blurred beneath torrential weather and repetitive footfall, its endless colour permutations faded in the overrun, comprehensive of all the schoolchildren had learned thus far.
Most schoolchildren headed for the red double doors in the opposite direction, under the watchful eye of the lone adult whom remained. Though the flow was thick and fast, stragglers at the very back of the grumbling crowd dragged their feet, accompanied by the straining echoes of vehicle doors slamming shut in the near distance.
“Harmony. It’s not that bad. Promise.”
The lone schoolgirl did not move, save to mindlessly shuffle her soaking rubber soles. Whilst backfiring engines spluttered into tenuous life and the final three schoolchildren before her sauntered into the dimly-lit foyer, glancing back over their burdened shoulders and giggling once more as a single entity, she stared intently at the latest scrawl.
An unfinished game of hangman all in yellow. The emaciated stick figure sprouted short, straw-like hair from its tightly-noosed head. Uneven rows of jagged, bestial teeth and two large pupils nested in-between the irregular shape. Smeared letters below the sallow illustration spelt ‘Ditty’.
The erroneous form lacked proper punctuation; i and t’s merged into one elongated, tapered streak diluted through a potent combination of railing nature and wayward nurture. Its meaning understood innately nonetheless.
Averting her gaze, the lone schoolgirl followed the lead of her peers and walked slowly inside. The lone adult closed the double doors behind them, abruptly cutting off the high-pitched screeching of worn tires in the process.
Harsh fluorescent strip lights illuminated the recently buffed wooden floor. The resulting sickly lemon glow similar to the pungent odour of industrial-grade bleach polluting the otherwise musty atmosphere. Well-worn, riddled cork boards lined the narrow corridor.
Handmade posters made from multi-coloured, crumpled craft paper nestled within their overflowing dull-white notices advertised the annual musical production. The first had been defaced. So had the second. The third, and so on. Each in a different way, yet the manner was the exact same, almost surgically so.
Variants of decapitation; the central figure, wearing a pale blue dress and sporting dark pigtails, crossed out by a back-and-forth swathe of shaded pencil. The lone schoolgirl pressed on.
Outside her homeroom, the lone schoolgirl motioned behind to the lone adult stood waiting, the former’s slanted thumb at ninety degrees met with an open palm, digits spread.
The large scar which stretched ear to ear on the lone schoolgirl’s irritated throat did not agree with her, and seemingly neither the other schoolchildren nor adults. As she studied her reflection in the blemished mirror, her eyes stinging from residual bleach, freezing globules dribbling intermittently out of the hot water tap rung sharply on the cracked enamel.
Overhearing approaching laughter, she darted into an empty cubicle and locked the monolithic panel door behind her with a panicked turn of the rusty dial in one swift movement. She flicked down the toilet lid and sat cowering, head in hands.
Suddenly swinging open, the weighted main door thudded damply against the grimy plastic doorstop. The three schoolchildren sauntered inside, still giggling raucously as the level of regurgitated hearsay they espoused without a shred of refrain.
Every bitter comment caused the lone schoolgirl to recoil in muted violence. In the throes of one pointed convulsion she inadvertently caught a brief glimpse of the cubicle walls and the sliver of an iridescent rainbow seeping through the open window in the far corner that moved steadily across.
The phenomena’s blossoming spectrum punctuated indelible stains daubed over the nauseous pea-green scheme and accentuated the bubbling crimson ink, nib glistening. She shakily held the retractable biro in her closed hand, the taut grip groaning resolutely as it tensed within dry skin.
It’s a cutthroat business.
Child of the Apocalypse: The Harvest Part 7 – Nick Paschall
Fighting for a moment with herself, Jaime looked up as the bull clicked in a long series of trills and clacks, helping the new zombie to his feet after pawing at him. The new ghoul twitched every few moments, his body adapting to the new way it would interact with the world for the rest of its future. The older man was gone, now it was the blind dead with nesting bugs in his chest. Blood dribbled from his arm, slowly turning a dark brown. His neck had stopped draining, the infection taking hold there quite well; the flesh was already turning a rancid gray that was unnatural, unlike what you would see in someone who passed from natural means. Pallid and greasy, like they were perpetually damp from moisture in the air sticking to them, zombies were always disturbing to behold.
These plant-hybrids are just a new crop that were proving to be even more unsettling, that’s all, Jaime thought, raising her bow slightly, arrow still in hand. The three ghouls, plus the new one, would be a problem… but nowhere as near a nuisance as large as the bull, should it survive her initial attempt at saving the girl. Should I even be doing this? I have a mission here, and this kid is just going to weigh me down!
Jaime looked down at the girl and, without deciding, mouthed “stay silent, stay still, understand?”
The girl nodded minutely, breathing in small rapid bursts as she crossed her arms over her sweater. The chill in the air was enough to make Jaime almost see her own breath, and she knew that if that was the case than the ghouls would soon resort to tracking via scent. The cold messed with their sense of hearing somehow, especially when it froze. She had no idea why, but she’d encountered it a few times over the years. The post-Darkness years were colder than the those that came before them. Nights lasted longer and winters were a little meaner, every survivor could agree. Jaime could remember winters were there was never any snow, now she prayed for winters where there weren’t blizzards.
Okay, Jaime thought, if I can’t finish this mission I might get stuck here for a winter before I can wheedle my way free. Might as well get into someone’s good graces and save a life!
Jaime nocked her arrow and sighted the right temple of the bull, who was busy clicking away in the rapid-fire speech of the dead. When she loosed the arrow, she was almost surprised at how cleanly it pierced the monster’s skull, sliding through to break through on the other side with blackened gore. It continued “speaking” for two seconds before its jaw locked up and, with a panicked twitch, it fell over, forever locked in the prison of flesh as the body was ruined for the diseased beast to use.
The ghouls all began clicking at once, the three older ones louder than the fresh one, who still seemed groggy. Jaime pulled another arrow and fired it into the one with the wasp nest inhabiting its upper body. Piercing through the cranium with a crunch, the ghoul crumpled fell forward, prompting the three remaining ghouls to bolt in three different directions with a hurried snap of teeth.
Jaime remained standing still, not disturbing the various twigs and rocks around her feet, instead pivoting her torso as she drew another arrow and firing after the wood-roach zombie, a spray of the vitriolic beetles flying from its arm as the arrow pierced its neck. It clicked and wheezed. One hand reached up to wrap around the shaft as if exploring what had struck it, like a curious child would. Jaime fired another arrow at the ghoul, this time planting a shaft through the nasal passages and brain stem, sending it toppling backward over and out of the parking lot.
Eyes scanning the horizon, Jaime fought the urge to go and dispatch the five rotten that were feasting. Yes, they were making noise in this delicate situation. But were they worth revealing her location?
No, Jaime thought, pulling another homemade arrow, not at fucking all.
A low key clicking came from behind her, forcing Jaime to twist to look. Cursing inwardly, she saw that Centipede was leading two new rotten, weather beaten creatures bereft of clothes and skin, towards the parking lot. He was walking low, on all fours, with the rotten sloping around in a shambling sort of manner that showed off the flowering vegetation that’d taken hold of them in their upper cavities; roses, it looked like, that were thriving on the vine. Centipede swiveled its head back and forth and croaked out long and low, three centipedes crawling from its opened mouth and up its face into greasy hair or down into holes in its chest. The rotten clicked back and stepped around it, holding out arms as the began walking forward, clicking with every step, closing the gap slowly.
Shit, Jaime thought, they’re going to find me. This is what I get for playing hero!
Bursting from her spot, Jaime lashed out with one leg and kicked the rotten on the left ion the chest, sending it in a tumble of limbs and flower petals back onto Centipede, who practically roared in anger. The sound of five more rotten came from the bushes while the other rotten took an arrow to the head. Jaime dropped to the ground and checked over the girl, patting her down. Looking into her eyes, she gave her a serious look.
“No bites?” Jaime asked.
“No bites, they just hit me!” She replied with a sob, “grandpa… they killed him…”
“Shit, no time for this kid… can you run?” Jaime said as the girl began to weep.
Crying still, the girl looked up and nodded. Jaime looked over at Centipede, who was ripping the rotten to pieces with his bare hands. “He looks pissed,” Jaime said.
“Yeah,” the girl said, “we should move.”
“Okay, now I like you,” Jaime said, standing up, pulling a curved knife from her belt as she did so. Tossing it to the girl, she smiled, “what’s your name kid?”
“Kale,” she replied, handling the knife with well-trained hands, “
where are we headed?”
“We’re getting some supplies, then heading back to this place I’m staying. Just until things calm down for a while,” Jaime said.
Centipede howled, clicking through the screech that caused Jaime’s bones to shiver from the flint-like strikes of teeth sliding against each other.
“Okay,” Jaime said, taking off at a gentle trot, “time to go. Keep up Kale!”