There wasn’t an inspirational picture last week, but we are honoured to host the third part of the excellent In Dire Straits by Alisha Jordon, and the chilling second part of Born of a Witch by Nick Paschall.
If you’re a fan of narrated horror, my own story Let It Cry is one of the featured stories on this week’s Tales to Terrify podcast. Give it a listen here. Let It Cry is one of the many stories that’ll feature in Scenes of Mild Peril – my next anthology collection to be published by Stitched Smile Publications.
I’m setting two weeks for the next writing challenge, so you’ll have until the 26th of August to get them sent in (by posting them as comments to this blog post). Like the other week, no picture this time – just a prompt.
With tensions rising around the world at the moment, it’s to be expected to be a little fearful. Excise those fears in horror form by writing a short piece of fiction with the theme of Armageddon. A fiery nuclear holocaust, a zombie plague, a cataclysmic plague released accidentally from a lab – the (irradiated) sky is the limit.
The trick is – and here’s the catch – I don’t want any submission to be longer than two hundred words. I want my apocalyptic visions to be brief and succinct.
If you’ve never tried writing something so short before, give it a go. Trying to write to such a tight word count can be quite a challenge, but also incredibly rewarding.
I’m looking forward to seeing how you all end the world – submit one or many tales, poems, journals or short fiction, but please do submit…!
Until next time… Stay Stitched!
In Dire Straits Part 3 – Alisha Jordan
“You should be trying to find a way to escape.” Ivy hissed.
“You don’t think I haven’t tried? This place is locked up tighter than Fort Knox. And besides, he ain’t ever leave long enough for me to have enough time to get out. Even if I knew how.” She decided to abandon her boil and lay back on to the floor spreading her arms out and running her fingertips along the crusty, stained carpet.
“Maybe there’s a loose board blocking one of them windows?” Ivy echoed all around her.
She had looked over the heavy pallets barricading the windows before, when she saw fingernails embedded she decided she would save herself the added torture and agony.
Curiosity got the best of her and she started with the first window, each board was tightly fitted to the next. There was no room for her to wedge more than the tips of her fingers in between. The nails were planted in the wood. She checked the next window and found one board where the nail head was slightly bent.
“You got a hammer in that rotting carcass of yours Ivy?” she flicked her nail against the edge of the protruding nail head.
“I just might if you use your imagination, Sweetkins.” Ivy exhaled in a low moan.
She looked to the closet where Ivy lay, looking like a soggy, bloated mannequin melting into the floor. She tried her best to keep her distance from the corpse, the sour stench intensifying with each passing hot and humid day. She walked to the closet and stood over Ivy grimacing. Stepping in the puddle drained from Ivy’s arm, she noticed remnants of the drainage was still damp and sticky. She winced and threw her hands to the upper shelf in the closet, searching for anything, but all she found was thick layers of greasy dust transferred to her hand. She reached further, standing on the tips of her toes, when her knee pushed into the soft exterior of Ivy’s petrified decomposing body. She looked down and noticed something red peeking out beneath Ivy between her backside and the wall of the closet.
She was nervous to touch the corpse. Even though she spoke to Ivy’s spirit often, the body in the room with her was nothing more than a terrifying, inanimate object now. A constant reminder of the fate she was likely to meet.
“Not unless you take your fate into your own hands” Ivy interrupted her thoughts.
“Yeah, because you did such a good job with that.” She hissed leaning in, sheepishly pushing Ivy’s hair aside to reveal a picture.
She pulled the crumpled photo out and brought it to a ray of light streaming in between the boards of the window. The photo was of her when she was a child on Christmas morning clutching a porcelain doll. Bloody fingerprints smeared the surface, her insides twisted and she could taste the dog chow coming up with her bile. The photo she held in her hands was the same photo her mama kept on her dresser at home.
Her hands began to shake and the room began to spin. Had Boone been to her house? Had he hurt Mama or Daddy? She hugged the photo to her chest and sank to her knees releasing silent tears. She was forced to acknowledge all her decisions in life led her to exactly where she was at this moment. She had told Boone all about her childhood home, which backroad to get to the trail leading to the farm – exactly how to find them.
She ran to the door, beating her fists against the wood screaming, “You monster! You sonofabitch! Where are my parents?!”
Beth barked aggressively and scratched from the other side of the door, then she heard the heavy footsteps making their way down the stairs. She didn’t care, he could beat her, she wanted him to kill her.
“Boone!” She shrieked pounding and kicking the door as hard as she could.
She heard him walk up to the door, and Beth continued to bark at her cries, but he did not enter. Instead, when her knuckles were bloodied and her toenails bruised, she sank to the floor and wept into the carpet.
“You done havin’ a tantrum?” she could hear the flick of a lighter, “all that hootin’ n’ hollerin’, I have half a mind to burn this house to the ground with you in it.”
“Please” she sobbed, “Please just tell me if my parents are okay.”
“They haven’t been okay since the moment you decided to smoke them drugs and sell your body and soul to the devil.”
“Where did you get this picture?!” she bent the photo in her fist.
“Yer Mama practically shoved it in my pocket.” He chuckled.
“Liar!” She screamed as loud as she could, her voice cracking making her choke and cough.
“You’re not being a very good girl, Sweetkins.” He taunted from behind the door.
“Kill me! I don’t care! Kill me!!” She spat at the door.
He laughed for a while as she wept, then walked away. She heard his boots thud slowly from step to step back up the stairs.
She cried herself to sleep clutching to the photograph and when she awoke the room was dark. Her throat was dry and her stomach twisted and gurgled. She ignored the hunger pains and prayed for God, or the Devil, to take her. Anything to relieve her from being present in this horrific earthly plain burdening her existence.
By the second day she was choking from dehydration. Her throat was dry in such a way it cut her esophagus to swallow air. She considered drinking her own urine, she had heard about people doing that to survive. She reminded herself she didn’t want to survive, and she deserved to suffer if any harm had come to her parents. She rolled across the carpet until she was facing Ivy from a foot away.
“Why aren’t you talking to me” she stared at her blackening flesh.
“You’ve given up Sweetkins, what’s there to say?”
She stared at Ivy’s lips half expecting her jutting tongue to suck back in between her lips and start speaking, but instead it was the same hoarse whisper echoing around her.
“Don’t you think you should try and find out if your parents are okay? Maybe they need help, maybe you’re the only one who can save them.” Ivy’s voice was soothing.
She thought about Ivy’s words and sighed, “tell me what to do.”
“Creek is risin’ honey. Time to work with what you got.”
“I ain’t got nothin’!” her voice quivered, on the verge of tears once more.
“Can’t never could.” Ivy replicated Mama’s voice, speaking a phrase Mama used often.
She sat up and squinted at the body, it must have been a rainy day because no sunrays streamed between the boards.
She looked to the wound she had inflicted which drained Ivy’s arm. The skin had curled back and dried up revealing the bone in her forearm. A bone was a sturdy product. Her mind became active, she could try using a bone to pry off a couple of boards, heck it could probably break the window too. Prying the boards would be too loud, she would need to get the nails out, that way she could lightly put them in without raising suspicion with Boone.
He would notice if she took the bone from Ivy’s arm, he had already made a comment of the mess she was making, specifically saying, “Ya best be more careful with your roommate there, you’ll be livin’ with her filth for a while. The same way the rest of society has been livin’ with yours.”
“Ribs are easily broken, not so easily seen.” Ivy’s voice raised the hairs on the back of her neck and arms.
“He’d know, he’d know for sure.” She whispered to the corpse, imagining her guts spilling all over the rug in front of her in an attempt to retrieve a rib.
She looked at her childhood photo and thought for a moment. She knew what she needed to do. She took her shirt off and tied it around her face like a bandana only leaving from her eyes above exposed. She crouched over Ivy and leaned in over the body’s backside. Even with her shirt pressed against her nostrils, her eyes watered. She carefully lifted Ivy’s shirt exposing her puffy, mottled back. “Jesus, help me.” She muttered under her breath as she pushed her fingertips into the skin of her back.
The muscles were stiff from the rigor mortis, but she found she could move them around beneath the skin easy enough. Like stones beneath a blanket. When she pushed one of the back muscles down with considerable force it tore loose taking skin with it. It peeled open like a grape being split, dark sludge liquid oozed from the wound and a putrid smell made her jump back gasping. She pushed her shirt firmly over her face closing both nostrils panting heavily and mildly gagging.
Born of a Witch Part 2 – Nick Paschall
Staring at her digital clock as the numbers flashed from eleven fifty-nine to midnight, Esther breathed in a quick gulp of chilled air, surprised at how cold her room had become over the last half hour. Putting down her treatise on demon summoning of the fourteenth century, she sighed.
“Now’s the time,” Esther said, steeling herself for her confrontation with her new servant, “Sin…”
The sound of the traffic outside, of the faucet dripping in her bathroom, of the apartment shifting in the middle of the night… all of it began to peter off and die out, sputtering away like the dying whistle of a teapot taken off a burner. She was plunged into a world of silence as her bedroom door edged closed with a silent click. Once she was sealed in the room, the light flickered and died, the world being plunged into penumbra darkness with a few burning motes of light sparking to life to float around in the eerie silence, like faeries of old.
One light sprang to life next to the face of a young boy, jaundiced and weak. Yellow eyes and greasy hair with opened sores, the child twitched and flickered in spot as it stared at Esther with the appearance of a dying street urchin. In its chest were a pair of knives, both stabbed into the hollows beneath its clavicles. A series of tattoos in an ancient script circled its body, the symbols appearing to bleed as it moved in a stiff gait, taking slight steps closer towards Esther, one arm pulled up close to its chest as it drew closer.
“You came,” Esther said with reverence.
“You called,” the child croaked with the voice of a bullfrog.
“You are bound to serve me for the rest of my mortal days, am I right?” Esther asked.
“Correct,” The child, Sin, nodded, drool dribbling from its scowl.
“And you’re suited for what I want you to do, correct?” Esther asked, pressing for details.
“During the heat of the ritual, yes.” Sin replied.
“Then you must have an idea of what I want you to do?” Esther asked.
The boy, Sin, frowned, his sickened features growing fouler as he seemed to commune with something greater than he. His eyes rattled in his sweat-slicked skull while his body seized and shook. Esther stared at the boy, who shook so fast he almost looked like an animation from the computer or from a horror movie rather than a person.
Then, he stopped and was smiling.
“The master says he knows what you plan, and approves,” Sin said.
“The master? You mean Lucifer?” Esther asked.
“Yes,” the boy drawled.
“I thought I was your master?” Esther asked.
“You are, but you serve Lucifer, do you not?” Sin asked.
“Of course, why would you even ask?” Esther demanded.
“Because I can only serve the faithful,” Sin replied, “I lay claim to the souls of those that cross my path that aren’t devout, or are in my way.”
“And you can do what I need you to do? Without me getting caught?” Esther asked.
“It should be a simple enough task at first, but the longer it takes the more difficult it will be,” Sin said, “what would you suggest?”
“I have an idea,” Esther said, having though long on this, “chime in should you have something you think could make the plan better.”
And so, Esther launched into detail her plan to expand her power-base, garnering the attention of the townsfolk while raking in wealth at the same time. If she played her cards right, she thought, then it would be a simple enough task. Sin remained silent the entire time, sloped over like an ape with unblinking eyes fixated on Esther as she spoke, taking in her every word. By the time her clock struck one thirty in the morning, she’d finished her initial plans with her bound spirit, and looked on with anticipation.
Sin bobbed his head up and down belching forth his answer after several moments worth of consideration, “very simple. Lots of moving parts, true, which can be a problem, but they can be removed with little effect on the result; each one just adds to your overall benefit.”
“So, you can make it happen? All of it?” Esther asked, hugging a pillow to her chest.
Sin nodded, crossing his arms, “I’ll need fuel. To exist here in the over world is difficult and taxing, so sacrifices must be made.”
“I thought we did what we had to already?” Esther asked.
Sin sneered, “you gave me a form to hold while here in the mortal realm, true, and a soul to feast on for the first few weeks. But I’ll need more sustenance to stay strong, to do as you bid.”
“What do you eat,” Esther asked, dreading the answer.
“Souls,” Sin replied, rolling his sickened eyes, “honestly, what witch doesn’t know that?”
“Sorry,” Esther said, looking down at her hands. She’d have to sacrifice living beings to her personal demon to keep it fueled. Why hadn’t the girls mentioned this?
“Don’t worry,” Sin said after a few moments of tense silence, “the boy’s suffering is sufficient for now.”
“Good,” Esther said, mostly to comfort herself, “I guess we’ll cross that bridge when you need to feed.”
“That we will,” Sin said, “now do you want me to go scouting for prospective matches?”
Esther perked up at that. One of the things she’d asked for was a man that was handsome, smart, and comfortable with her powers. She wanted companionship desperately, and would be willing to almost pay for it. Hell, in a way, she already was.
“Yes,” Esther said, “yes, go hunting for a prospective match. How long should it take?”
“In this town, it may take some time,” Sin said, “I can feel the sinners plaguing La Reeves, but most of them are run of the mill liars, thieves, and adulterers. Not many are keen on witchcraft. Add to the fact I can’t sense inside hallowed ground and it makes it difficult for me to properly map out the city.”
“There’s a lot of hallowed ground here?” Esther asked.
Sin nodded. “We’re actually close to some, which is making me uncomfortable. Start looking for a new lair for us.”
“Oh,” Esther said, looking around her apartment, “I’ll find something.”
“Good,” Sin said, “now stand up and walk closer to me, I’ll show you how to contact me.”
“Okay,” Esther said, standing from the bed. Her dimly lit room did little to provide her the best perception of her new servant, but she could tell that he was beginning to smolder, his skin cracking, falling into himself.
“I fade away when not needed, or when off doing tasks. I can only appear to you through your shadow. That is where I will rest and recover, as well as digest my meals.”
To illustrate, Sin crouched to Esther’s feet, where her shadow stretched out towards the far wall, and gripped the edges of her leg’s shadow. Somehow, the demon stretched the darkness wide, and began to slither in like a serpent into a burrow. As it wriggled in, she could hear his voice in her head.
If you need me, Sin echoed from the back of her mind, just call to me mentally. Try not to call me before mortals you like, as I’ll be forced to kill them. That is one way to feed me, though it can be gruesome to see.
“Thank you,” Esther said to the empty room, and she felt a warm curling around her heart, like the purring of a cat. With that, a flickering of the lights occurred and they all returned to normal, the dancing fairy’s now gone without a thought, like a forgotten dream.
Walking over to a shelf, she put her book up and began to get ready for sleep, now giddy as a schoolgirl. Her dreams would finally be coming true! A handsome young rogue to come sweep her off her feet, while she gained financial independence and authority over those that had mocked her before in life. Why, she could barely contain herself knowing how good the next few weeks would be.
“I should really start considering a suitable sacrifice for Sin though,” she hummed, padding over to her bed. Slipping under the covers, she reached out and turned off her lamp, still noting how odd everything sounded to her. Her voice sounded as if she were underwater, and while nothing was muted, she could still detect a slight softening of sounds, as if she were wearing headphones.
“I’ll ask the girls about it later,” Esther promised herself, snuggling into her bed, ready to doze off to sleep.
It didn’t take long, even when she noticed her shadow stretched high onto the wall, further than it could have gone, with two eye holes staring at her. She giggled and waved at the shade, which waved back, before fading into the darkness, a black rock sinking into a lake of oil.