Friday, September 27, 2013
I can’t help but wring my wrists over and over where the handcuffs used to be. The skin that was eaten away there is starting to scab over, but I keep rubbing them off. I don’t mean to, but the itching drives me insane. I pull my sleeves down to hide the marks, because no one needs to see that. It’s not important.
Being locked up in that dark room for two months was the worst hell I could ever imagine. No sunlight. No fresh air. Nothing but cold concrete under my legs, and black, stale air that tasted like steam off a swamp full of alligator crap.
I thought I was going to die in that hole. That’s what they told me when they threw me in there, and after about three days, I started to believe them. The desperate screeching sounds from the cells beside me were enough to make me want to end it myself. But all I had was a case of bottled water, a loaf of bread, and cuffs that were so tight they chewed my skin to pieces every time I so much as took a breath. Not much I could do with that.
I sat in my own filth for a good week before the first guard came back to check to see if I was still alive. That was the first time in my life that I’d ever begged for anything. Couldn’t he see I was fine? Couldn’t he tell I’m one of the ones who’s immune? But he didn’t say a word. He just pulled out his pistol and put a bullet into the head of the thing that was once a person in the cell next to mine. I can still feel the constriction of fear in my chest and the sound of his boots clanking on the concrete as he walked away, leaving me chained to the wall, alone. I begged for him to come back and shoot me too, but he left me there.
A door squeaks open behind me, pulling me from my memories. I immediately draw my dad’s gun and swing around with it aimed and ready to shoot. I always keep it loaded and tucked into the back of my pants now. It’s not like my dad can use it from the bottom of the six foot hole he’s been trapped in for the last six years.
At least he was already dead when they put him there.
My girlfriend, Carrie, gasps. She presses her back against the bedroom doorframe and raises her hands, wide-eyed.
“It’s… It’s just m—me…” she sputters. I can tell she’s trying not to burst into tears.
I shrug an apology and tuck the gun back into my waistband.
You can never be too safe these days.
“I just came to check on you,” she says, not dropping her hands. Her back is pressed so tightly against the side of the door, that I can imagine her shoulder blades turning white from the pressure. She watches me with a well-rehearsed calm face, but she never really looks me in the eyes.
I miss the way she used to look at me. I used to have to piece myself back together when she’d glance up at me through those long black eyelashes, and as soon as I thought I had my dignity back in check, she’d smile. She’d smile, and it would slice right through me, and I’d have to start the process all over again.
I never got tired of that.
Now she only looks at me with darting eyes, like she’s afraid I’m going to rip her throat out. She’s yet to actually look into my eyes since I came home. I don’t blame her, I guess. The bites hurt just as bad as you’d expect them to.
“I’ll be fine,” I say.
I run my fingers through my hair—a nervous tick that I picked up from my father—and Carrie’s eyes lock in on my wrist. I know she’s looking for the bite, trying to make sure that I’m still not infected. It was supposed to have either turned me or killed me weeks ago, yet here I am, still unintentionally scaring the shit out of everyone.
“It’s fine,” I mumble. She quickly drops her gaze to the floor, embarrassed that I caught her looking.
“I made you some lunch,” she says. “Why don’t you come eat it? And you can leave the gun.”
I nod and she scurries out of the room like a scared cockroach. I don’t blame her a bit for being freaked out, but a hug from someone—especially from my girlfriend—would be nice. At least she still cares enough about me to feed me. Maybe there’s still hope for us.
But there’s no way I’m leaving my gun.
I scratch an itching patch of skin on the back of my neck—probably a fungus I picked up in that disgusting hole—ignoring the handful of sticky scabs that fall off in my hand.
I follow her down the hallway to the kitchen, and we sit down at the table. She slides a paper towel-wrapped sandwich my way, and I nod in gratitude.
The day they finally let me out of the hole, she wasn’t there to take me home. They told her I died a few weeks before, I guess to ease her suffering. When I showed up at her front door, she didn’t think I was real. Apparently me being thrown into the hole for two months didn’t just screw me up.
Carrie lays her head down on the table and takes a shallow, shuddering breath. I take a bite of my sandwich and reach over to run my fingers through her hair. She used to like that, but she cringes away from me like I’m diseased.
“What?” I ask, a little too vehemently.
Carrie raises her eyes to meet mine, and for a split second, it feels like it used to. My lungs stop working. My heart stops beating. The entire world and everything in it freezes, controlled by her sapphire blue irises. But then she blinks all that away, and I feel dead again.
“I can’t let you stay here,” she whispers. “The guards… they told me they didn’t let you out…”
Shit. I sort of forgot about that. That day is hazy in my mind now. I vaguely remember the bodies littering the floor of the entrance of the hole, and wiping the blood from my chin as I climbed up the ladder to get out.
I couldn’t take the chance of something happening to Carrie. If I wasn’t going to die, I was going to get out of that hole. Something in me had snapped that day.
Carrie continues. “They were here a few minutes ago, looking for you. I told them you weren’t here, but they said they’re gonna come back with a warrant.”
Her blue eyes turn dark and her eyebrows crinkle in fear. “They said there is a mutation of the virus, and that you’re showing symptoms. They said I should be afraid to be alone with you.” Her voice drops to a whisper as she adds, “They said you’ve already killed some people. Tell me that’s not true.”
I can’t answer her because I can’t lie to her. I stare down at my hands. They’re not the same color they used to be. I compare them to Carrie’s and realize they’re not the same lively peach as hers. A grayish tint has started to leak through my veins and spread through my skin, like a bruise covering my entire hand.
No! I’m immune! That’s why I haven’t turned yet.
“I need you to leave, Aaron,” Carrie says, pushing herself up from the table. “Now.”
She crosses her arms over her chest and jerks her head towards the back door. The motion sends a rush of blood through her neck arteries, and for a split second, my mouth waters. Her skin smells so good. Delicious, almost.
I distract myself by scratching the itching patch of skin on my neck and come back with a palm full of scabs. Hmph. Maybe I’m not so “immune” after all.
“Carrie, that sandwich was disgusting,” I hear myself say as I inch towards her.
This isn’t me. What is happening to me? My vision is starting to blur and my skin feels like it’s going to crawl right off my bones and leave me a twitching skeleton on the kitchen floor. I stumble towards Carrie, reaching out for her to help me stand.
“I’m so sorry,” she sobs, as she pulls a small pistol out of the back of her pants. “It’s not him, it’s not him, it’s not him,” she chants to herself as she raises the gun and aims it at my head.
She meets my eyes one last time just before she pulls the trigger. And for the first time since I met her, I don’t even make the effort to piece myself back together.
Story by: Stefanie Marks
Picture by: George Hodan
Friday, September 20, 2013
I will not fail tonight.
I say these words to myself as I wrap the chain around my wrist five times, so tight that the fingers of my left hand start to tingle. I drop the padlock through the chain’s links and jump a little when it clicks into place. My keeper, the man assigned to watch me prepare, pulls on the chain and examines the lock. When he’s satisfied, he steps backwards and away. His face is expressionless. I didn’t expect any different, but still…I’d hoped for some sign of how he thinks tonight will play out.
“Clean kill, Jason,” he says over his shoulder which is both a farewell and a warning.
It’s still light out, but the long shadows our bodies keep casting over the grass make it clear that night is getting closer. Crickets chirp loudly all around me, safely hidden in the grass. The sound grates on me, makes the nervous flutter in my gut get faster. I have maybe another half hour tops before the daylight disappears completely and my Testing begins. I’m standing outside the thick glass-like domed structure that separates our town, from where I am now in the Boneyard. All around me are the remains of animals and people. I try not to look down at them, but the smell is a constant reminder. Inside the dome my family is lined up, their noses pressed to the transparent wall between us. All around them the rest of our town crowds in close, anxious to have a clear line of sight to me and to what’s about to happen. You’d think after so many Testing nights they’d be sick of it. I wave with my free hand and give them what I hope is a brave grin. I swear I’d rather bleed out right now than let them see how scared I really am.
I scratch at the short hair on my arm and try to smooth out the gooseflesh beneath it. My insides are quaking something fierce. I need to calm down and clear my head.
The sun sinks a little lower.
“I-eeeee!” An eager keening erupts from within the darkness of the trees just beyond the Boneyard. There’s a flurry of rustling movement in the shadows. The bushes and high weeds start shushing—a restless sound that saps the moisture from my mouth. I force a swallow, put my hand to my waist and pull out the slim knife hidden there.
The sun sinks lower still.
I adjust my grip on the knife. My hand is wet, slippery with sweat. Behind me I can hear the muffled thumping of my family. They’re pounding on the dome, urging me to be strong. I don’t have to turn around to know that my mother is crying. She hasn’t stopped since my sister turned.
The sun is a thin blade of orange resting on the trees, almost gone.
There was a time when I thought I wouldn’t have a Testing. My family was always careful—to stay inside the dome, to plug their ears with thick cotton every moonless night so they wouldn’t hear the Biter’s song. It’s hypnotic—and that alone is a curious thing—an almost irresistible need to hear that can’t always be denied, even if a person knows what might happen if they do hear it. They were strong and determined and I was glad even if I did want to be a slayer more than anything. The truth? I didn’t want to go through the Testing to be one. Family always meant more. Always.
But here I am.
And the sun is down to a pinprick.
I take a breath.
It’s gone. Darkness falls completely, like someone erased the whole world. There is no moon. There are no stars. Not on this night. Never on this night.
I pull the night vision goggles from around my neck and onto my eyes with my unchained hand. The world goes from black to green and I can see the trees and the Boneyard clearly again. I stare hard at the edge of the woods and wait. I’m not sure how I’ll feel when I see her, but I know that even if she was sister once, she isn’t now. She’s a Biter, what the elders used to call a vampire and she has to die.
“Jaaaaasoooon,” a voice sing songs from somewhere in front of me. I watch as she steps out from behind a tree. I’d expected it to take a little while for her to show herself. I’m not ready yet. I hold up the knife where she can see it. Behind me the pounding grows louder. I’m not supposed to let her know what I’m about to do. I’m supposed to look like easy prey—chained and smelling of the very blood that used to run through her veins too. We’re only supposed to bring out the knife when our Biter is close enough to kill.
“Broo-therrr,” she says softly, her voice tiny and high pitched and familiar yet distinctly other at the same time.
She sniffs at the air and her mouth splits into a wide grin. There is blood on her newly pointed teeth. I want to gag.
“Emily,” I say and even I can hear the quake in my voice. “I’ve missed you.”
She cocks her head, stares at the knife.
Behind me the pounding is loud, frantic. It seems to be synced to my heartbeat. The knife slips from my hand. Before I can lean down to retrieve it Emily closes the distance between us in a flash of white movement, her nightdress whipping out behind her even as she moves her face up close to mine. Oh good god, the smell of her. It’s death and blood and rot and my eyes tear up.
“Come with me, brother,” she practically sings, her voice taking on that lilting quality that all of their voices have. My brain goes fuzzy. I watch her hand come up to my face, her fingers working at the goggle straps on both my cheeks.
I hear screaming now and I’m not sure if it’s my family’s cries or my own.
Emily ignores it all and slips one sharp nail under the goggle strap beside my right eye. She jerks her finger upward and slices through the leather…and my cheek. The sting clears my head just a little, but it completely distracts Emily. I watch her eyes widen as she stares at my cheek. She lets out a little gasp and opens her mouth. Leans in.
Now! Now! Now!
I drop on all fours and grab the knife—a razor sharp blend of steel and hickory wood—and drive it upward before I can rethink it. I watch her with my left eye because the goggles are now sideways on my face and not covering my right eye at all. I expect her to drive backwards, hands to her chest, her nightdress drenched in the blackish blood still coursing through her, but instead she just stares at me.
And then my chest feels as if it’s caught fire. I bring my chained hand up to my heart. The links clink together as I move. The knife is sticking out of my own chest. Her speed was greater than I imagined. I never even saw her move. Now she hovers over me, her tongue peeking out between her closed lips the way it always used to when she was concentrating on something.
I’m going to fail. Heck, I’m going to die. I’m sort of shocked at how distanced I feel from this little revelation.
But then I look behind me and notice my parents on the other side of the glass. My mother is yelling at me to get up, I can see her mouth the words. She’s lost one child and unless I do something she’ll lose another. I can’t let her and then it will be up to her to finish us. I can’t let that happen. And so I turn back to Emily and pull the knife from my chest. She practically giggles when blood pours from the wound. I open my arms.
“I’m ready,” I say and she leaps at me as if she’s preparing to hug me extra hard. Her mouth drops open and I stare at her teeth, not her eyes or her face as I bring the knife up to her chest and plunge it into her heart.
***disclaimer: this story was written in one sitting and is not edited at all because well, I am away from home doing authorly type stuff and my to do list is massive right now. It is the unvarnished rough draft in all it's glory:-) And now I shall pass out!
Story by: Amy Christine Parker
Photo by: George Hodan
Friday, September 13, 2013
Adena’s fingers slipped through the blinds widening the view she had of the boy.
Still there, with his arm out, staring down at the chains linking him to the fence.
She squinted her eyes. With the sunlight fading it was getting harder to tell how he looked today. But he certainly wasn’t going anywhere.
Celeste had been the one to spy him coming up the road. Carrying a satchel and nothing else but a sorrowful mug. In truth, Celeste hadn’t actually seen him. Her vision was of this boy and Adena knew it would only be a matter of time.
Two days passed and the skittering of pebbles on ground brought Celeste’s vision to fruition.
The boy was skinny, too skinny. It was one of the first tell-tale signs for some, and for others it was evidence of not knowing how to stay fed. He was easy prey for anyone coming around but Celeste and Adena couldn’t be too careful.
“How long are you going to look at him?” Celeste asked from the couch. A quilt covered her up to her neck and her face looked paler than usual. Where Adena had the colors of her ancestors Celeste had been all but washed out. Fighting for survival took every ounce out of her and even at the age of eighteen it’d caught up with her. Adena, just a few years younger, still had the tenacity to get things done around their space. To keep it tidy but not quite clean. Clean would be noticeable. Clean would attract attention. Anything gleaming or shiny or smelling of life would bring interested parties the girls had no interest in meeting.
“Just making sure,” Adena replied.
“Yeah, well, don’t make too sure.” The taunt and warning were an undercurrent in Celeste’s voice. Adena knew what she meant. Those before this boy. The one that had been unchained and was almost their undoing had Celeste not had an ax and a great arm. But that was then. That was when Celeste still had energy and vibrancy to wipe sweat from her brow instead of Adena bending over her frail and patchy body to wipe her head for her.
“We can’t afford for him to get loose,” Adena said and she heard a huff behind her in agreement.
The sun set. The moon no longer hidden. The darkness surrounding the boy shrouding him and the only inkling that he was still there was the clumping of grass under his feet as he paced and his occasional tugs at the chain forming a melody Celeste hummed to.
“How long do you think?” Adena asked but got silence as an answer. When she turned back Celeste was fast asleep. Her jaw opened, her snores low but consistent. Sighing Adena slid the blinds shut. She peeked outside one more time. The boy knew better than to scream or draw attention to himself.
Feeling the pockets of her sweater for goods Adena closed the door as quietly as she could and stepped out to see him.
She smelled him, felt his presence as she got nearer. He smelled ripe. Filthy. She’d watched him go to the bathroom in the field and turned to give him some semblance of privacy.
“What do you want?” he said. It was one of the few things he did say whenever she got close enough. He didn’t lunge at her like the girl before him and he didn’t try to spit at her like the boy before that. His voice was guttural when he repeated his question.
What do I want? For Celeste not to be sick. For things to be the way they were. For us not to have to be who we’re not just to stay alive. For you to be a boy who wants to be with me instead of being forced to.
She held out the bread she’d made that morning. He scraped it off her palm and chewed. Mumbling a thanks is what hit Adena. Him having manners wouldn’t make things any easier.
“What’s your plan?”
“Take it day by day,” she said.
“You got a better plan?”
“No." He got silent for a bit before adding, "I guess not.”
She wanted to touch him. To trace her fingers along his lips and see if they were as cracked as they seemed when she last got a good look at him before knocking him out or if they were as smooth as the last boy who had kissed her.
“Do you even know what’s going on?”
Unable to answer or unwilling she nodded.
“Was that a yes?”
“It was,” she said.
“You know I don’t want to hurt anyone. I’m just trying to get by now. With the way things are.”
She nodded again and after not hearing anything he got huffed up a bit more. “You just going to stand there and not say anything?”
“Sorry. I know you don’t want to hurt me or anything. But we can’t take any chances.”
“It’s been a few weeks.” He started coughing. She couldn’t see what came out of his mouth but a dark stain mussed his front teeth. “I’m not a threat. You keep feeding me. Giving me stuff to keep me warm. By now you should know I’m fine. Just let me go. I’ll leave and won’t turn back.”
“Wish that I could.”
The chain rattled again. “Why can’t you!”
“Because…” she took a step back.
More rattling. “Well? You don’t know do you!”
“Please calm down.”
“I won’t! You expect me to die without a fight and that’s not going to happen. Let me go!” Ching. Ching.
Celeste’s visions were accurate. He’d change. They all changed. She just had to wait it out rather than be a victim when they did. She walked away knowing the symptoms and the rate at which expiry would start.
Story By: Jenn Baker
Photo By: George Hodan
Friday, September 6, 2013
She forgot to take the chains off. I always thought she would take them off eventually, but now that I think about it, I'm not sure she ever intended to let me go.
We met on a subway. I was heading home from the park, where I played my guitar on the weekends for tips. She wiggled up to me, and bold as brass, sat on top of my lap. I thought about protesting, but I was seventeen, and she was hot. She ran a red fingernail across the black leather of my guitar case and formed four letters. “Anna.” The word stayed there, imprinted into my case with red sparkles, long after she removed her hand. I should have known that day that anything she did was permanent. But at seventeen, permanent is measured in months.
The first cuff came in the form of a gift. Our one month anniversary. It was a leather strap cut with an intricate Celtic pattern, and it looked more like a tattoo than a bracelet. Whenever I would pay for something at a store or shake hands with someone, I would angle my wrist so they saw the strap. Nine times out of ten, the person would comment on it, ask where I got it. I'd cut my eyes over to Anna, who stood silently at my side, and she would smile. Each one of those smiles felt like an eternity in itself. We were the only two people in existence, and the universe spun around with us at its core. Whenever one of those smiles happened, we'd excuse ourselves from our present company and find some place to make out. It didn't have to be private, so long as no one stopped us.
I realize now that each one of those make out sessions added another link to the strap. Kind of like Jacob Marley and his chain of evil deeds, only I wanted mine. I didn't care if the chain was a hundred feet long and a thousand pounds. I would have carried any weight for that girl. And she knew it too. She probably planned it from the moment she sat on my lap. Or maybe she had seen me playing in the park and sensed that I could be bought. I certainly loved her currency.
She didn't ask much from me at first. “Climb that tree and pick the top flower.” “Dig up this root at midnight.” “Kill just one little lizard for me. Pretty please.”
I could say I didn't know what she was doing with those things, but the blood under her nails gave her away. That's why she always painted them red, to hide the other stuff. Why didn't I say something? Why didn't I stop her? Why didn't I stop myself? Well, I could blame the chains, but really it was my fault. By that time, I knew they were there. That cuff choked my wrist day and night, but when I mentioned taking it off, she cried like I was breaking her heart.
“You're my inspiration,” she whispered into my ear. I felt down deep in my bones that she was right. She needed something from me, and she needed me to give it willingly. I let the cuff stay.
By the time her last request came, I had tried to take the cuff off 142 times. And I had failed at every attempt.
“Meet me under the old oak tree during the full moon and sing to me while I make something.”
“What are you gonna do, Anna?” The question felt like a snake coiling in the air between us.
“You'll see.” She touched a red nail beneath my chin and smiled.
Of course I met her. Of course I brought my guitar. And of course I sang.
The night was silent, just the chords and my voice, softly filling the air.
She held the ceramic bowl in her hands, sloshing the ingredients in a circle. She squinted into the bowl. “Louder,” she commanded.
I sang louder, using words I had written especially for her. Combinations I had found on the internet and in old musty library books.
“It's not working. Fix it,” she said.
I changed to a different key and sang louder. At the change, the wind picked up. It listened to me, obeyed my commands. Power welled up inside my chest and forced my song out in primal rhythms. With the very elements pulsing through my veins, I understood why she did such awful things. But it didn't excuse her from doing them.
Anna looked up at me with evil in her eyes. The smile that I had craved for so long was no where in sight. “What are you doing?”
I sang louder.
Wind whipped her hair, slapping it across her face. “Stop it!” she cried. “Stop it! You're ruining everything.”
My fingers picked up the pace. My voice matched it.
“You don't know what you're doing!”
Oh, but I did. I knew the ingredients she had. I had found the spell she was casting. My song intensified. My fingers bled, but they played on.
The wind encircled her, like her own chain link fence. Dirt and debris flew around her, knocking the bowl from her hands. “No!” she cried. She dropped to her knees and fumbled on the ground. But it was too late. The liquid had seeped into the ground.
I stood up. My song filled the night, overpowering her screams as the tornado picked her up and carried her away. I'm not sure where she went. The spell books didn't go into that much detail.
When the night was silent once again, I dropped my guitar into its case and closed the lid. Her name still sparkled in red letters. I ripped the bracelet off, placed it on top of her name, and walked away.
Picture by: George Hodan
Sunday, September 1, 2013
September means almost fall and the start of school. Many may have mixed feelings about this. But it also means our new picture for the month!
This is from George Hodan. Hope it brings lots of great inspiration in your art.
Happy Labor Day weekend!