Deadly Ever After

Archive for the tag “nightmare before christmas”

Plan B: The Best Christmas Ever by Kristen and Julie

TODAY’S BREW:  Mimosas! Merry Christmas everyone!

 

Here is the next segment of the short story, apparently series, that we started way back, called The Plan.  Thought we would use our good ol’ fashioned technique of passing a notebook back and forth and writing another one together.  Kristen did the opening, I did the end.  See if you can figure out who did what for the rest! Have fun! There is no prize.

seedy_motel_by_soileddude-d4buy29

Plan B:  The Best Christmas Ever

by Julie Hutchings and Kristen Strassel

I snapped off the TV.  I had enough of the over made up bitch on the news pretending to care about a string of victims, senseless violence, blah, blah, blah before switching back to her regularly scheduled goodwill to men.  I rolled on my side facing Jeff, who laid half awake on the scratchy hotel bedspread.  This place was disgusting.  He kissed me roughly, cupping my ass against his side.  The old fashioned Christmas lights flashed red and green onto his face.

He curled his finger into my hair the way he always did now, making me groan and lean into him.  He murmured into my ear while he sucked on my earlobe. “You know, we’re gonna get caught sooner or later if we don’t mix things up a little.”

“What makes you say that?  Because Muffy Newsreader is hot on our trail?”  I ran my finger down the middle of Jeff’s chest, my fingernail leaving a mark on its way down to his jeans.  “We’ve covered our tracks.  We’ve been creative.  They’ll never catch us.”  I kissed him again before he had time to protest.

“Baby, we are still amateurs.  We can still get caught.”

I pulled away from him, confused.  “Amateurs?”  I smiled, but my teeth were gritted.  “We have mutilated, maimed and killed six people, and always find new ways to make it fun.”  I was getting really hot now, but angry too.

“I didn’t say it wasn’t fun.  But it’s not like we’re CSI or anything.”

“We can kill them too, if they come too close.”  I pulled myself up on to Jeff, straddling him.  I leaned close to his face.  “They can’t catch us if they’re dead.”

He was getting hard, but looked a little scared.  “That’s an awful lot of people to kill, armed people, Kendall.”

I jumped off of him, running my fingers through my hair and pacing with the excitement of it.  “It is!  But we can’t get ahead of ourselves, not yet, we need to think about the present, not what could happen, not about the what ifs!  If we keep doing it new ways, keep offing these fuckers different, nobody will ever think it was the same murderer!  So we need new ideas, we gotta get creative!”  My toes dug into the nasty carpet to hold me still.

Jeff sighed.  “What do you have in mind, babe?”

“Lots of things!  I mean, we can strangle them, we can beat them with baseball bats.”  I pranced back over to the bed, leaning over to Jeff so he got an eyeful of cleavage hanging out of my party dress. “We can skin them alive.”

“You really took to this, didn’t you?”

“I learned from the best.  Amateur my ass.”

He jumped up and started pacing on his own, but he was nervous, scared like those girls, and it made me angry.  “We have been together on this every step of the way.”  He moved toward me, ready to plead with me.  I knew that look.  “Since we were kids, I have been with you every step of the way.  But you are getting out of control here.”  He held my arms.  I pulled away.

“You just can’t come up with any good ideas, and now you’re scared.  But I have more.”

Jeff started to breathe heavy, anger sending flames to his eyes, making him shake.  “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!  I can do this as well as you can!  We should burn the next one.  Burn her alive.”

“See, now you’re thinking!  We haven’t even scratched the surface.  There’s so much we can do with this, Jeff.  This is the best Christmas ever.  By the time we get to the next city, we will have those idiots so far off the trail, they’ll never be able to keep up with us.  Our biggest problem will be which one we should do first.”

He had a faraway look, his wheels were spinning.  “I want to kill the next one myself.  Lots of people kill themselves at Christmas, make it look like a suicide.  Maybe not burn this one, but something a little more subtle.”

“Subtle?! Why the fuck subtle?!”

“Because I want more time, and we can’t go big with every one, or it will bring the cops on us quicker, and it will take the punch away from the really good kills!”  He was pissed now, and happy about it.

“I want to make them all really good kills!  Flaying! The next one gets flayed!”

“Fuck, Kendall!  This one is mine, and I say we go subtle!”

“Subtle is for pussies.”

Jeff’s lips tightened like they always did when he was ready to explode.  He let out an aggravated growl as he spun to the girl on the floor.  I had forgotten she was there, crucified to the filthy maroon carpet with two railroad spikes through her hands, one through her left foot.  We through a little garland around her, just for Christmas spirit. My dagger pinned the other foot down, improv work when the bitch had tried to get away.   He knew she couldn’t talk through her smashed in teeth, but Jeff asked her anyway.

“Well, what do you think?”

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Crud by Phil Monroe

Crud by Phil Monroe

The Crud was a tiny bit of cosmic dust.  It came out of nowhere, sailing along on the wind, borne through the tall pines of Pebble Beach.  The Crud was similar in form, to a number of other retroviruses.  It was composed of two strands, made of ribonucleic acid, which held its genes.  Somehow, these viral genes stored its hereditary history.  These RNA strands also boasted a capacity for other wondrous powers.  Some of these powers included a potential, which seemed to resemble an ability to think and plan.   And it had a very nice covering shell, which also included a number of astonishing features.  What exactly was it?  This topic had, for years, caused a heated debate within the scientific community of Earth.  One segment of the scientific community asserted that viruses were not alive.  Those researchers held that viruses did not fit the definition of life.   The other side was adamant that viruses were obviously alive, as these germs could reproduce, spread, and cause infinite numbers of infection and death.  It seemed insanely preposterous to these doctors, that an innate object could seize control of a cell’s nucleus, fire out copies of itself using the mechanisms of the invaded cell, and then perform ordered havoc upon their host.  The debate had reached a relative stalemate, about the time that The Crud came along.  Most scientists had more or less agreed, that the definition of life would have to be changed.  The new paradigm suggested that the very definition of life could be summarized by a simple definition:  An object is alive, if it can replicate.

All this meant nothing to The Crud.  In its own way, the virus was quite proud of itself.  It had evolved spectacularly, and was the ultimate achievement of its family.  Its genetic history allowed it to examine all that had made it what it was.  It had originated from the great pandemic of bird influenza, which had made the jump to human beings.  It came from the scourge of swine flu, which had also jumped to humans.  It could further trace its origins to dog flu, which had also infected humans.  However, The Crud was the one and only of its kind–an evolutionary combination of all three deadly influenzas.  In their own primordial way, its ancestors had been seeking their favorite food–which was human beings.  However, in its own way, The Crud’s top priority was a need for family.

Joseph Wurst was putting up Christmas tree lights on the eves of his home.  The northwest wind was blowing from the direction of Santa Cruz, icy and strong.   Nonetheless, Joe was sweating.  “These blasted things are such a pain in the butt,” he murmured, as the stepladder tilted once again.  He wobbled on, groping for the next colored bulb, and pulling a tangle of wires along with him.  Then Joe heard the baby starting to wail, from her large playpen in the front room.

“All right.  All right,” said Joe exasperatedly.  “I’m coming.  I’m coming.  Cripes.  Another diaper change, I suppose.”  Joe climbed down carefully, step-by-step, until his feet met the grass.  “Got to watch the old knees with these deals,” he said.  Joe headed to the front door, pushed it open, and stood eyeing baby Tamatha.  At that exact moment, The Crud lofted in on a gust of wind, passed over Joe’s shoulder, and by dumb luck, landed square on the baby’s face.  Baby Tamatha was crying, and her tears washed The Crud down onto her lip.  When Joe walked up and brushed her tears away, The Crud went into baby Tamatha’s mouth.

Joe lifted the little girl from her wood and cloth enclosure.  “Oh, that’s a good baby,” he purred to the unhappy child.  “Let’s get you changed, so that we don’t stink old Santa right out of the house tonight.”  Joe thought that was a pretty funny remark.  He laughed a bit at his own joke.  But, oh gawds, he thought, turning his face distastefully to the side.  The smell of that damned baby poop.

While Joe was changing baby Tamatha on the couch, The Crud was sliding down her tongue in a stream of saliva.  The virus brushed against a throat cell, and a strange apparatus popped out of its shell.  The apparatus looked like little feet, which grabbed hold of the cell, and began boring into it.  The Crud was on its way.  Within seconds, the boring feet had penetrated the cell’s membrane.  Then, its little feet proceeded to pull The Crud right into the nucleus of the cell.  The Crud’s RNA strands took over from there.  The host cell now belonged to The Crud, and it began forcing the nucleus, to blast out replicates of the virus, by the tens of thousands.

Each replicate took hold of the first cell it encountered.  The invaded cells began churning out Crud by the millions–then billions.  Even as Joe closed baby Tamatha’s clean diaper, he noticed that she had stopped crying, and that her eyes were staring blankly at the ceiling.  As he noticed this, baby Tamatha began to turn greenish in his hands.  The Crud was moving so fast now, that its replicates were near to owning all of the baby’s skin.  Joe put the baby into her crib, and stepped back a pace .  He went for his cell phone, but before he could even dial for help, his disbelieving eyes watched in horror, as his beloved baby melted into a writhing mass of greenish mucus, mottled with brown, and buzzing like an insect swarm.

“Oh Jesus!  Oh God!” he yelled.  “What the flipping hell is going on here?  This freaking can’t be happening.”  He rushed toward what had been his little girl.  But, suddenly, he felt violently ill.  The overpowering waves of nausea, were not from the monstrosity which he had just beheld.  He was sick.  Really sick.  And he wasn’t dreaming.  It was happening to HIM!  Joe fell onto the carpet.  His weakening hand dialed 911.  Even as he hit Call, Joe was staring at a hand growing greenish.  And then he was swallowed up, more or less, as The Crud took all his cells, and reduced him to a mound of mottled mucus just like baby Tamatha.

The two mounds of ugly muck began creeping together.  They melded, to become one greater mass.  The Crud began to crawl across the floor, buzzing and churning.  It was enjoying what was left of Joe and baby Tamatha.  It crept under the Christmas tree, among the many presents, so gaily wrapped with colored paper and ribbons, to dwell in dormancy beneath the green branches.

Two sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the 911 call.  When they saw the open door, both sheriffs flipped the leather from their holsters, and drew their guns.  They positioned themselves on either side of the entryway.  One deputy bolted inside, followed by his partner.  They went through the house, room by room, until the home was cleared.   They had noticed the open cell phone on the carpet, but had not disturbed it.  That was probably a matter for forensics.  Nothing else was out of the ordinary, so they searched the woods outside.  They came up empty.  There was no one hiding in the trees, there was no path where a hasty perp might have made a getaway.  Nor did they hear any suspicious noises.  They met again at the door.

“What do you make of this?” asked one deputy.  “An abduction?  When‘s the last time we had a felony in golf city?”  Pebble Beach was privately owned, and considered an unincorporated area.  It was therefore under the jurisdiction of the County Sheriff’s Department, though its company employed private guards.  The place was double-patrolled, and inhabited largely by well-to-do families

“Something is really off here,” said the first deputy.  “Obviously.  Whoever was holding that phone, dropped it without saying a word to the dispatcher.”

The two sheriffs went back into the front room.  They were ready to call for backup, but one deputy knelt, to quickly check for bloodstains.  The other carefully picked his way to the empty crib.  He looked closer, and made an observation.  “There was a baby here.  There’s a dirty diaper on the sofa, and it looks plenty fresh.”  He looked into the crib.  “Jesus,” he said in partial-bewilderment.  “There’s a new diaper lying in there.  And it’s closed”  He knelt for a closer look, and his hand briefly brushed the cloth of the crib.  “This may be the work of a goddamned pedophile,” he was able to say.  “Or pedophiles.”  Then The Crud got him.  He’d touched the baby’s enclosure.  Bits of Crud which had shed from the baby, were mopping up bacteria on the cloth.  When the deputy touched them, he was good for a better meal.  Within seconds, the officer began to wheeze and gag.

“Oh my God,” he choked.  “I feel really, really bad.”  He fell to the floor, and his startled partner turned to assist him.  But, the main mass of Crud under the Christmas tree, came out of dormancy, and jumped the deputy before he could take a step.  He was immediately enveloped by the ghastly mass of mucus, and disappeared, screaming, “No!”  The other deputy went green.  He too, was dissolved and engulfed.  The creeping crawling Crud, was taking over the world.

When the two deputies failed to respond to calls from their dispatcher, a virtual brigade of police descended on the house in Pebble Beach.  They did not report back to  headquarters.  Another, bigger detachment of cops was sent in.  They were not heard from again.  Now, the Governor of the State was notified.  There were suspicions of terrorism, perhaps gangsters–no one could be certain.  The Governor called the National Guard and the FBI.  As an afterthought, he put in a call to the Center for Disease Control in Georgia.  Whoever took the call, had a hunch, and sent in biochemical units, equipped with the latest, cutting-edged equipment.

When these health workers arrived, they found empty military and police vehicles at the gates to Pebble Beach.  They went in, yellow-suited figures with plasticized visors, ready for the worst.  Incredibly, despite their protective suits, the first line went down.  The virus was so small, that it worked through the molecules of their suits, and got them.  The second wave of CDC workers fell back, but had the sense to take a soil sample into a glass jar, before they ran.  The sample was rushed by jet to Atlanta.  The contents were first tested robotically and behind thick glass, by placing a small amount of the soil sample with a lab rat.  The rat disappeared before their eyes, turning into a rodent-sized glob of Crud.  The scientists took another sample, and deep beneath the ground, examined the virus under an electron microscope.  There was nothing to see.  The Crud was smaller than the bandwidth of light.  When the researchers realized this, they could only look around in stunned horror.  It was the beginning of the end.  The nightmare of nightmares was upon them.  They wished each other a “Merry Christmas,” and said goodbye.

The creeping crawling Crud spread out very quickly after it gobbled up Pebble Beach.  Next to go, was the Monterey Peninsula.  Television and newspapers immediately picked up the story.  Videos of it went viral on the Internet.  The President spoke through all media outlets, and tried to calm the panicking millions.  All to no avail.  It ate the forests.  It ate the fields.  It spread out over the waters, and over the land.  The viral mass sank to the bottom of the sea.  It penetrated every nook and cranny of the bottom, infecting and assimilating every organism in its path.  It killed other viruses, it killed bacteria, it killed the fish.  The Crud spread out, multiplying exponentially in size and virulence.  With every kill, the viral family assumed the genetic makeup of its victim.  It absorbed all diseases in the world, and thus became more deadly with every passing second.  It went into every underground bunker, even those designed against any attack.  It slipped through the molecules of seals on any door or window–seals which had been so carefully constructed against such a scourge.  It killed the President, and conquered America.  Its victory was unlike that of The Beatles, and it killed the remaining two of them.  It enveloped everyone, and every living thing.  It completely covered the surface and seas of the world, with thick oozing muck.  When every plane or jet ran out of fuel, it got them too.  It went through the molecules of every can and jar of food on the planet.  There was nothing of organic composition left.  Even the astronauts in the space station, eventually starved to death, or committed suicide.  When nothing was left alive, Earth looked like a giant dripping ball of emerald sputum, glistening in the sunlight of deep space.  The Crud was master of the world.  There was no life left, except for the great communal family it had created.  The Crud was many, yet one.  The scourge of scourges rose up in humongous triumph, rejoicing in its power.

And then it died.

Hurdy Gurdy GypsyI was an organ grinder man, with up to six trained monkeys. This show started out at Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. Through many strange twists, the show ened up a concession with the California Dept. of Parks and Recreation. We advanced, and ended up holding the ground in front of California State’s Monument Number One – The Custom House. I’m not in the Salinas area. I’m in the Monterey Peninsula area. I didn’t graduate from Humboldt State University. I graduated from University of California at Santa Cruz. I’m a “Banana Slug,” and I’ve got a T-Shirt right out of “Pulp Fiction.” LOL. My website still offers various off-beat exotic animal connections, and odd treasures for sale. You can watch one of my former monkeys, picking a guy’s head, to barrel organ music. This is without-a-doubt, a must-see item. I’m still around, giving Milt Iskra indigestion, and generally just working on short stories, and The Great American Novel. That 36-year run as a California concessionaire–“Jack Tar–The Seagoing Organ Grinder with a Monkey–was pretty rugged. It ended in July of 2006. The three remaining monkeys, Goldie, Wendy, and Harpo, were given to a PET-approved sanctuary near San Antonio, Texas. Harpo lived 13 months, but died from cancer. Wendy died from old age. My beloved Goldie, a brown capuchin–the nicest little guy–was my last and best job of training. He is still alive, and doesn’t seem to have forgotten me. After the show was over, it didn’t seem fair for the monkeys to remain in their confined area. So, they got their retirement. It’s not a perfect world, but some of us try to do our best. That was one, long run, friends.

I’m a published writer. I have three or four articles with major fishing magazines. A screenplay I wrote, placed in the top five, of an annual contest offered by the Monterey County Film Commission. I’m doing short stories at this time, under the pseudonym, “H. Gurdy”, and struggling with The Great American Novel.

livE Spirits by Randy Dutton

livE Spirits – by Randy Dutton

“Mommy, I want!” Little Jillian excitedly pointed at the glittering teen model on TV.

“Baby girl, you’re too young for make-up,” her mother cooed, stroking her child’s tresses while her eyes focused on the livE Spirits’ illusory effect. “But you’re right, I’ve never seen such beautiful face painting!”

“Plleeeaaassseee?” Her wide eyes begged for the extravagance. “For Christmas? I want shiny rainbows.”

The young mother smiled. “Well…they are giving away a free sample. And you’re so pretty, who knows, you could win their Christmas Eve face painting photo contest.” She kissed her child’s cheek. “Why not?! It couldn’t hurt and it’ll help make this Christmas unforgettable.” She wrote down the 1-800 number.

The livE Spirits LLC security camera watched the slaughterhouse tanker pull up to the nondescript warehouse. The driver connected the truck’s hose to an exterior feed line. He gave the camera a quick two-finger salute while the truck’s contents flowed. ‘It’s odd,’ he thought. ‘I’ve never seen a single employee.’

Coordinator turned away from the monitor. “Good. The last delivery.” He grinned at the automated answering machine’s digital counter, which tallied orders for free samples, then walked through a security door into the hermetically sealed lab.

“Production, walk with me,” he instructed a white exposure suit clad man. He pointed to the large stainless steel vats. “You’ll have one day to sterilize them.” His finger traced the production line. “Don’t neglect the piping, the centrifuges, separators, or dehydrators…and be careful!”

“Got it,” Production said. “Wouldn’t want to look like Number 23—”

“Forget she existed!” Coordinator commanded, then pointed beyond a glass wall to plastic trays being automatically filled with iridescent powdered paints. “The filling room is where mistakes could happen. Flood it with disinfectant for at least 12 hours.” Coordinator picked up a sample box wrapped in clear shrinkfilm. “Same for the packaging line, up to the disinfectant bath.”

“Nice packaging design. Simple,” Production observed.

“Yes. Marketing’s idea to put ‘A Christmas to Remember’ on a boxtop printed to look like a present, with the mix-with-water application instructions and livE Spirits Christmas Eve contest rules on bottom…nothing more.”

“No sense in giving investigators more information.”

Dozens of workers were stacking boxes in the large warehouse. It nearly overflowed with thousands of pallets of individually packaged product waiting for delivery to the post office hub.

Production and Coordinator sat down along a long folding table. They were joined by Shipping, Marketing, and Legal.

“Okay. Give me a quick update,” Coordinator prodded. “Shipping, you first.”

“We start shipping to Alaska and Hawaii tomorrow, the east and west coasts two days later, the Midwest and mountain states in three.”

“Good. Ninety percent should arrive the day before Christmas Eve.”

“Don’t want someone to jump the gun and apply the makeup too early,” Production added sarcastically.

“Marketing, how about the TV ads?”

“We’re dropping another $50 million into national marketing through Christmas Eve to encourage contest participation”

“Not Christmas Day?” Production asked.

“The contest submissions are specific. Besides, I don’t want anyone here in case someone jumps the gun,” Legal clarified.

“We have over 23 million orders filled, and probably another 7 million by tomorrow,” Production said.

Marketing snorted. “Free stuff! Public can’t get enough of it. That’s what Christmas has become.”

Legal chuckled. “That’ll certainly change come Christmas morning!”

“Thirty million children and adults playing with our livE paint. It’ll ruin Christmas forever!” Marketing added.

Coordinator said, “That’s the intent…. Production, have you disposed of the non-affected makeup we used for promos?”

“We’ll do that tomorrow.”

“With this job nearly done, can you give us a hint who’s funding this?” Shipping asked.

Coordinator glared. “There’s a reason we don’t use names here. Where the money comes from is none of your business! As Atheist Society members, you signed on to this project to destroy Christmas. Besides, you’re getting a million dollars each.”

“We put the last of the orders into the postal system this morning,” Shipping announced to the group three days before Christmas.

“Okay guys, good job! Now close it down!” Coordinator ordered. “Sterilize everything. Give the workers their separation pay. Leave no evidence!”

“The patients started coming in around noon, detective,” the ER doctor stammered. “It’s been nonstop ever since. Wherever the paint was applied, their faces are…” He choked. “…microscopic worms are eating their faces.”

A whimpering child, her face covered with a wet towel, was being carried by a tearful mother through the overcrowded hospital corridor. “Momma, my face itches!”

“I know honey. You must be allergic to the face paint,” the woman said as she approached the physician, her pleading eyes streaming with tears.

“What the hell?” the FBI agent exclaimed as the towel was momentarily lifted. The doctor pointed her to an examination room.

After she passed, the doctor said quietly, “Worm eggs saturate the paints. Once hydrated, they burrow into the skin. They’re exuding dyes…matching the paint color they came in.”

“Can you kill the worms?”

The doctor stammered, “Well, yes, with a laser, but the flesh will be scarred…and….”

“And what?!”

“The dyes are permanent.”

“This is a cruel joke. How widespread it is?”

“The CDC is flooded with calls from across the country. They said millions are affected.”

“What’s the name of the company that gave this out?”

The doctor handed a baggie with the box and paint tray. “One of the patients mother’s brought this in…livE Spirits.”

The detective’s brow furrowed, then his brows lifted. “It isn’t livE…it’s Evil.”

“Mommy, you promised! It almost midnight!” the little girl exclaimed while sitting at her mother’s makeup table.

“I know, baby girl,” the young mother said cheerfully. “I’m mixing the paint now. We still have an hour to paint your face and submit the photo.”

Randy is another participant of the Linked In Short Story Group that I write for every month.  He’s ex military, so he’s helped me out with details for my novella and I helped him out with gothic makeup.  Check out his blog to see more of his writing!

The Wind and the Damned by Michael D. Matula

 The Wind and the Damned

by Michael David Matula

These days, I don’t go out much.  No one does, as far as I can tell.  What’s the point, really?  What’s even out there anymore?  Is anything alive?  I can’t even remember the last time I heard a bird’s buoyant chirp or the neighborhood dogs’ throaty barks.

Not that I really listen all that much for them.  I mostly just sleep, drink what’s left of the booze I scrounged up from Mr. Sarven’s place down the street, and daydream about the so-called “good old days.”  You know the ones: The days when the world wasn’t royally fucked; the days when a man could step outside his humble home without clutching a weapon in his fists; and the days when life was worth living.

Those days are long gone, though.  Only the daydreams remain.

Daydreams, and a whole bunch of empty bottles.

“Shit.”

Oh.  And Joan.  Joan remains.  Daydreams, empty bottles, and Joan.

She mostly just sits around and swears, though.

“What now?” I ask, watching the wiry redhead face-palm as she continues to rock back and forth in her lime-green easy chair, swaying to a rhythm only she can hear.

She doesn’t look at me.  She never does.  I’ve heard a few girls tell me “Not if you were the last man on Earth” before.  I’d just always assumed they were bluffing.

Not Joan, though.  She’s sticking to her guns.

I sigh miserably as I watch her.

I may not be in the best shape of my life, and sure, my hair might be thinning a tad at the back, and, you know, I’ve currently got a few Cheeto dust stains on my green and white stripey shirt, but hell…

…I might really be the last man on Earth, and that should count for something, shouldn’t it?

“You heard it, right?” Joan asks, still not glancing at me, still rocking back and forth.

“Heard what?” I ask right back, ever the conversationalist.

“The wailing outside.  You heard the wailing outside, right?”

“That’s the wind,” I inform her, even as I wonder why she feels the need to do this.  My nerves are already frayed enough as is, I don’t really need my platonic new housemate to constantly remind me we’re up a certain creek without a certain paddle.

“It’s not the wind,” she insists.  “They always say it’s the wind.  They always say it’s the wind, and they’re always wrong.  It’s them.  It’s the wailing, and it means we’re both dead.  We’re dead, Stanley.”

“Would it kill you to look at me?” I want to ask.

I don’t, though.  I just listen again.  I hate to admit it, but Joan’s got me spooked.

But I only hear the wind.  That was all it was.  The wind.  Rushing and whistling to its blustery heart’s content.

“There it is again,” Joan says.

I shake my head.  “Would you please stop trying to freak me out?  Things are bad enough as it is without–”

That’s when I finally hear it.  My breath caught in my throat, my heart practicing cartwheels in my chest, I hear the high-pitched shriek cutting through the sound of the heavy gusts.

It was them, after all.

The banshee wail of the hunting party’s spotter.  The telltale scream of the herald of the damned.  The spearhead of an army of monsters that had blanketed the Earth and torn most of humanity asunder.

I really hate that wail.

I set my hands on my knees and push myself up off my cot, heft up my pruning shears and my UV flashlight, and glance over at Joan.

She just keeps rocking.

The wailing just keeps growing louder.

“Might as well let ’em all eat me now,” I mutter under my breath as my feet clomp up the  stairs of the musty cellar towards the doorway.

I place my hand on the doorknob, preparing to enter the house and await the coming of the damned, and possibly meet my maker as well.

“See you later, Joan,” I tell her, shooting what may be my last glimpse at what may be the last woman in the world.

She doesn’t respond.

I shrug and flip on the UV light.

I hear glass shatter as the damned burst into the house beyond the cellar door.  I hear the claws at the ends of their twisted limbs clattering across the tile floor of the kitchen.

The wailing stops.

The damned like it to be quiet when they feed.

Michael’s first horror novel, Try Not to Burn, was just published by Post Mortem Press in September 2012.  It’s also currently included in the holiday sale on their website as one of their top sixteen best-selling books.  Check it out here.   If you’re looking for even more Michael, read his blog. 

Simple Arithmetic

Simple Arithmetic

The teacher turned to her class and smiled. She felt a bead of sweat sliding down the back of her neck but tried her best to ignore it. Any small distraction would be her life. She gazed just over their heads, avoiding all eye contact.

“Does anyone know the answer?” she asked as calmly as she could. Soothing voice, sweet and relaxed. I can get through this without a scratch.

When no one answered, she gave a quick glance at the three small children in the front row, who immediately tried to lock eyes with her. She turned back to the chalkboard, her heart pounding. “It’s simple arithmetic. I’m sure, if you thought long and hard, you can all figure it out.”

That was the wrong thing to say and she immediately knew it, as thirty-three children all tried to latch onto her thoughts at once. She fell against the chalkboard, a wave of revulsion slamming into her.

The crackle of the overhead speakers broke the contact. “Miss Dickson, if you can’t teach the class we’ll need to find a substitute. Is that understood?”

She smiled. She could do this. It was better than the alternative. She found the piece of chalk on the floor where she’d dropped it and tapped the chalkboard with her finger. “Alright, back to our math problem. If you have sixteen apples and your friend Susie gives you three more apples, how many apples do you have?”

“I can’t eat apples,” one of the boys said and the class laughed.

She kept her focus on the math problem on the board, willing herself to not look at them. Any of them. It would be over soon. Twenty more minutes until the bell rang.

Her training as a school teacher returned and she smiled. She once again turned and looked over the kids, at a small drawing one of them had done the other day with crayons, a night setting with a family rising from their coffins and a big moon in the background. “How about this? You have sixteen, um, pints of blood and your Maker gives you three more pints of blood. How many pints do you have?”

“What’s the blood in?” someone asked.

“In two people. One has sixteen pints and the other has three.”

“A male can have between ten and twelve pints, and a female between eight and ten. Your question makes no sense.”

She almost looked at the boy asking the question but smiled and looked at the ceiling. When she saw the dried blood from Misses Rathburn, the last teacher, she looked back to the drawings. “Alright, then what if you had a man with twelve pints of blood and another with three pints?”

“That’s not the question.”

Now she wanted to scream, and she could feel the sweat beading on her forehead. She knew she wasn’t allowed to deviate from the planner, but she had. Maybe they hadn’t heard her or noticed.

The static crackle of the speakers came back on. “Miss Dickson? I’m afraid we won’t be needing you anymore.” There was a pause. “Children, take an early lunch.”

ArmandArmand Rosamilia is a New Jersey boy currently living in sunny Florida, where he writes when he’s not watching zombie movies, the Boston Red Sox and listening to Heavy Metal music…

The “Dying Days” extreme zombie series is growing all the time, and he currently has over 50 releases on Amazon. His “Miami Spy Games” series by Hobbes End Publishing and “Tool Shed” horror novella from Angelic Knight Press are his most recent releases.

You can find him at http://armandrosamilia.com

and e-mail him to talk about zombies, baseball and Metal: armandrosamilia@gmail.com

 

The Undead Metaphor

The Undead Metaphor

My girlfriend picked me up from the train station and took me back to her house so I could drop my stuff off before we went to dinner. I’d been gone for two weeks, visiting relatives in California for the holidays. She’d lost some weight since I had seen her last and was looking more confident and gorgeous than ever. I couldn’t wait to get her into the bedroom. And when we arrived at her place and she said, “I’ve done something different in the bedroom. Can I show you?” with a mischievous glint in her eye, I figured she must’ve been thinking the same thing. I followed her in, watching her hips sway and her bottom move. She stopped and pointed to the bed, which now had a headboard.

“What do you think?” she asked. That’s when I caught movement in the corner.

“HA!” I said, jumping back and assuming a defensive position. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a zombie, at least seven and a half or eight feet tall, all grey skin and buggy eyes and hunched over. It was slack-jawed, drooling, and completely naked. I could see its wang dangling between its legs. Surprisingly large and functional-looking for a zombie’s wang. “What the fuck?!” I said.

“Oh, that’s just Bill, my pet zombie,” said my girlfriend. “He’s new too.” She walked over to it and patted it on the arm. It looked down at her, its lips twitching in what I guessed was its version of a smile.

“A pet zombie?” I said. “Are you nuts?” I was pretty sure she was.

“Poor Bill,” she said. “Everybody misunderstands you, don’t they.” She turned to me. “I found him in an alley. He was all alone and didn’t have anywhere to go. I couldn’t just leave him there.” She wrinkled her forehead at me. I could see I was going to have to play this one carefully.

“Well…shit,” I said. “But what does it—I mean, he—eat? I mean, don’t zombies eat brains?” The zombie’s head swiveled in my direction and a string of saliva detached itself from its lower lip and dripped onto the carpet.

“Actually he eats cats,” she said. “I help him catch them. He’s not very fast, you know.” She smiled. “It’s like a public service.” She never had liked cats.

“What happens when you run out of cats?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. I suppose he could always follow me into dark alleys and eat the people who try to attack me. That would be another good public service, don’t you think?” She grinned up fondly at Bill, whose buggy eyes continued to stare blankly at me.

“And when you run out of bad guys in alleys?” She just gave me this look, like she couldn’t believe what a dummy I am.

“I’m hungry,” she said, leaving the room. “You ready to go to dinner?” I glanced at the zombie as I left the bedroom. I could almost swear it winked at me, but when I did a double-take it was just standing there, head and arms limp, eyes glazed, drool sliding from its chin onto the floor. That huge, pale wang hanging down.

 

S. H. Aeschliman lived for a time in Bend, Oregon, a place of tumbleweeds and junipers, of empty back roads and long winters. On snowy nights the sky glowed orange and the world was wrapped in muffled silence. After everyone was asleep, she’d lay on her back in the yard, reveling in the strangeness. Early the next morning she’d walk through the misty woods toward school, hoping against odds that she’d emerge from the fog in a fairy tale land, a European countryside, or anywhere, really, other than the baseball diamond. She’s now a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon.  Follow her on Twitter: @writelearndream

Thief

Today’s Brew:  Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting.  It was calling to me from the cupboard.  What was I to do?
Thief–Mari Wells
“She’ll hurt herself.” They both looked up at the ceiling, “Stop her. Whatever she’s doing.”  He stood up and went up the stairs to his bedroom. Cara was pushing the crib across the room until it pushed against the bed. The baby inside wailed.     “What are you doing?” He pulled the crib slowly a small ways from the side of the bed.

“I need him close to me.” He wrapped his arm around her and led her to the bed.

“You’re going to get hurt. You aren’t ready to exert yourself like that.” He sat her down and tucked the blankets around her legs. “The baby was fine where he was.”

He bent and picked the crying bundle up out of the bed. She opened her arms to him.

“She’s coming for him. I have to keep him close or she’ll take him.”

He reached his hand out to caress her cheek. “Cara, no one is coming for him.”

She looked up at him with tears welling in her eyes. “I’ve seen her Rick, she tries to take him.”

“You’re tired, Cara, you’ve been through a lot in a few days. No one wants him.”

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she held the baby tighter to her chest. She rubbed her chin on his soft head. “I won’t let her have him. If you won’t keep her away, I will,” her eyes focused on him, before her vision focused on the large mirror in the dresser. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. He rubbed the baby’s cheek with his index finger.

“I’ll bring you some water and something to eat,” he stood up, “and your medicines,” he said under his breath.

“I will protect you little one,” she cooed rubbing her cheek softly against his. “She won’t take you.”

She laid the baby in front of her and began to undress him. “I see her and you see her,” she reached for a new diaper, “it doesn’t matter if he can’t see her.” She redressed him and held him close to her body.  “I don’t need him to protect you. I can.” She looked up into the mirror. A smiled played at the corner of her lips. She looked tired. She held the small bundle in one arm as she patted the right side of her golden hair. “I need a shower, little one.”

The reflection in the mirror blurred. A woman with wild black hair, and dark circles under her eyes appeared. She held her arms out, her long white sleeves swayed. She moved closer. “Come.”

The baby began to wail.

“No!” Cara screamed. She picked up the empty baby bottle on the nightstand and threw it at the woman. She continued to scream, “No, he’s mine. You can’t have him. No!” It landed on the dresser top with a thud.

“What is it? Cara?” Rick sat down beside her. He tried to pry the baby out of her arms. “Cara!”

Her eyes filled with tears. “I won’t let you have him.” She squeezed the baby closer. Rick placed his hand on her cheek. “Rick, please! She’s going to take him.”

Her shoulders heaved as she sobbed. He took the baby from her arms and handed him to his mother who had been standing in the doorway. She tenderly rocked the newborn and offered it a bottle.

“Cara, I don’t understand what’s happening.”

Cara wrapped her arms around him as she sobbed into his chest. “She’s coming for him. Rick, she wants my baby.”

He patted her on the back. “There isn’t anyone here who wants your baby, Cara.” He looked at his mother.

“It’s the hormones, or Post partum depression,” she whispered to him.

“She will take our child, and you can’t even see her.” Cara cried into his shoulder.

“Cara, you need to rest. Here take your medication.” He pried her arms from his shoulders and picked up the bottle of medicine the doctor had given her, he held the cup for her. She swallowed the pills and lay down. “Please sleep. I will keep him with me. I won’t let her get him.”

Cara closed her eyes, “She comes from the mirror,” she picked her trembling hand up and pointed towards the mirror.

“I won’t let her get close to him,” he whispered. This is crazy. Is she going insane, he thought. When he was sure she was asleep, he got up and looked into the mirror. His hand ran across it. He shook his head at his reflection and chuckled. He spent the rest of the evening downstairs with his mother and the baby.

He laid the baby in the crib and walked around to his side of the bed. He kissed Cara on the forehead. She would be better tomorrow, she had needed rest, and today she finally got it. He heard the baby whimper, the floorboard creaked. He opened his eyes. The room was much colder than it should be.  A woman in a long white nightgown walked toward the crib. He watched for a moment as she bent and picked up the baby. Her black hair whipped around her face even though there wasn’t a breeze inside. He sat up.

“Put him down.”

Her face twisted into a horrific smile as she sat on the dresser top. “Come get him,” she cackled. She slid into the mirror. She beckoned him with her finger on the other side of the glass.

He jumped from the bed. He paused for a split second before pushing his arms through the glass. She cackled again. The glass shattered. He fell backwards as the shards of glass landed on the floor beside him. The world spun as he tried to get up. He couldn’t stand, when he looked down at his body his arms, his hands were missing.

“Cara!” he screamed.

His mother ran into the room. She screamed when she saw him. She shook Cara, but she wouldn’t wake up.

She felt her pulse, “Cara’s dead!”

Bio: Mari Wells a homeschooling mom four children and homemaker steals hours or forces moments from her hectic day to write. She has been known to wake at dawn to write and continues into the late hours of night. She keeps a notebook and flashlight on her nightstand for the words that come to her in the wee hours.
She can be found at www.mariwells.wordpress.com where she blogs about vampires, witches, and writing.
She spends unreal amounts of time on Twitter. @Mari_Wells4 or http://on.fb.me/YPQ50R

Our First Holiday Gathering

Today’s Brew:  Woodchuck Limited Edition Winter Cider

Our First Holiday Gathering--Kristen Strassel

We closed the door behind the last of our guests to leave the party.  Dylan pressed me against the closed door, kissing me deeply as we listened to the car start and back out of the driveway over the snowy gravel on their way back into town.

“You were great tonight, babe.  Everyone loved you.”

“I loved them too.  Your mom is great, and I love the people you work with.” I’d been seeing Dylan for two months now.  I met him on the dating site The Ocean, and neither my girlfriends or I couldn’t believe someone like him was available on there.  Early thirties, high powered banking job, hot as hell, no kids, no baggage.  Guys like this weren’t for the taking on free dating sites.

He led me back to the living room, and he sat on the arm of the chair.  I climbed into his lap and rested my forehead against his.  It was slightly clammy with sweat from drinking too much brandy.  He pulled me in closer, his hand running up my thigh slowly.

“Look at this place.  Let me start cleaning things up.”  Half empty drinks, plates of forgotten food, wrapping paper, and beer bottles littered Dylan’s usually cozy and neat country living room.  The fire still roared in the fireplace, peaceful against the party carnage. I started to get up to tidy up before we continued our celebration.

“Leave it, Melanie.  It can wait.”  He pulled me back on to his lap, nuzzling my chest.  He looked up at me and smiled wickedly.  “I have something I want to show you.”

“What is it?” I played with the collar of his shirt.

“It’s a surprise.”

“Oooh, I love surprises!  What did you get me?” I nipped playfully on his bottom lip in appreciation.

“Come with me,” He led me out of the living room and down the hallway towards the kitchen.  He stopped halfway through, next to a doorway.  He pushed me against the wall, kissing me roughly, running his hand under my skirt and wrapping his fingers around the strap of my underwear.  I didn’t understand what was so special about this spot that he wanted to take me right there, but I had no complaints.

He stopped abruptly.  I gasped in protest.  He kissed me again.  “You are so beautiful.”  He pulled a key out of his pocket and unlocked the hallway door.  “Go ahead.” He said softly.

I peered into the darkness.  “Where’s the light?”

“It’s right here.”  Dylan reached from behind me and shoved me hard in the middle of the back into the black abyss.

I bounced hard off of what felt like stairs.  Hard, pointy, just tumbling into blackness.  I landed in a heap.  I tried to steady myself to stand up on the uneven dirt floor, but my head swam and my body screamed.

“What the fuck, Dylan!  What the fuck did you just do?”

“Surprise.”

“Are you fucking drunk?  This isn’t funny.  Turn the fucking light on and help me up.  I think something is broken.”

The light rose slow and dim in the old dirt cellar as he made his way down the stairs at me.  His entire demeanor had changed.  His pupils were dilated, his hair standing on end from sweat and anticipation, his mouth slack with need.  Everything about him now screamed predator.

My stomach churned from fear and alcohol.  He was nothing short of frightening, I peeled my eyes away and looked for the exit.  When I saw the rest of the room, I couldn’t stop screaming.

Bodies in various stages of decomposure were shackled all around the room.  I wasn’t even sure some of them were dead, their heads moved slightly in acknowledgement that I saw them.  I screamed until my raw throat bled, and when I had no more voice, I vomited.

Dylan stood over me, smiling.  “Do you like them?  I only keep my favorites down here.  The minute I met you—“

“No. Dylan, please.”

“You’re so fucking sexy when you beg.”

“You’re sick.”

“Aren’t I?”  He grabbed my hands and pulled me to my feet roughly.  I wavered in and out of consciousness from the pain.  He backed me up against the wall, my ankles turning in my heels as I sobbed.

Dylan kicked a pile of bones and filth out of the way.  Still holding my arms over my head, he pushed me roughly against the wall by his hips.  I could feel his hardness against my stomach.  Pulling my arms apart, he slipped one wrist and then the other into the medieval looking cuffs bolted to the wall.  He worked at my neck, biting, sucking.  I squirmed under his body.  He pushed me against the wall harder.  He reached around me, unzipping my strapless dress and pulling it down to the floor, then peeled off my underwear.  The cold air slapped my body.  I gasped for putrid, stale air.

“I like these.  I’m leaving them on.” He softly touched my ankles above my heels.  I attempted to kick him in the face but he caught my foot and placed it in the shackle and then did the same with the other.

“There.  You look like an angel, Melanie.”  He stroked my thigh as I cried.  “You’re going to love it here, and the rest of my angels are going to love you too, just like everyone at the party did.  Right, Amy?”

Oh my God.  They had names.  Amy, bruised and dirty, moaned.  They were alive.  Some of them, anyway.

Dylan circled the room, admiring his collection.  He stopped at a lump of a former lover, what was left of her body splayed out just like mine, still wearing her party shoes.  He ripped a piece of her flesh off her body and shoved it in his mouth like a piece of Thanksgiving turkey.  His eyes rolled back in his head in ecstasy.  I screamed.

“Shhh, Melanie.  It will be your turn soon enough.”  He forced his tongue inside my mouth. It tasted of rotting flesh.  His clammy hands groped my breasts roughly as I choked down bile, still bawling.

“Once you get to know the girls, you’ll love it here.  I’ll be back.  I need to go find you a new friend.”

If you’re new to Deadly Ever After, you may not know that Kristen is one of the co hosts of this blog.  When she’s not writing stories and tweeting up a storm, she can be found at various television, film, and commercial sets in the Boston area keeping America beautiful as a makeup artist. Kristen is the author of paranormal romance Immortal Dilemma and is represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Larsen Pomada Literary Agency.  Her work will also be included in an upcoming anthology.  She loves hairbands, watching football, decorating her house, and hanging out with her awesome cockatiel, McGee.

Happy Horrordays

Today’s Brew:  Ginger Ale right now.

Happy HorrorDays

Steve Bridger

‘Hey mom, listen to this!’

“You are cordially invited on the night before Christmas – to the Salem Gallery of Art for an exclusive viewing of ‘Hell on Earth – A depiction of gruesome art through the ages’.  Students in my high school History of Art class will gain extra marks.  Seasonal refreshments will be served.  The viewing begins at midnight.  Don’t be late – be dead on time (Sorry! Couldn’t resist that, just getting into the spirit)

Signed:  Professor Eric Luf – Head of Art.”

‘Can I go Momma, can I? It sounds like a blast! Timmy can drive me and we’ll be back before you know it for Christmas Day with the family’. Sally put on her most beseeching face.

‘Well, I suppose you’ll have done all your chores by then and the tree has been decorated and the presents are wrapped.  And let’s face it – you should have a bit of fun with your friends on Christmas Eve. And, it is that lovely Mr Luf, who’s helped the whole class improve their grades this year.  Okay – but call me if there’s any problems or if you need picking up’.  Her mother had that loving twinkle in her eyes.  A look for the last time.

Eric Luf was full of seasonal goodwill.  At school it took a little while for staff and students to accept his eccentric way of dressing.  It was as if he was living his living, in as much he’d adopted a very ‘arty’ persona mirroring his idol Salvador Dali.  Flamboyant clothes, a highly colored waistcoat, a long crimson velvet smoking jacket, cravat with inset sparkling sapphires, a lovingly waxed and upturned mustache, piercing blue eyes of polished glass all topped off with a raspberry beret.  No surprises that the kids called him ‘The Prince’.  He was not tall of stature but you knew when he was in the room.  He exuded presence, a kind of magnetic charisma that demanded attention and obedience without a single word needing to be said. He was a fantastic teacher and everyone admired him.

Eric greeted his students with beaming smiles and mulled wine.  The cinnamon and fruit zinging and tickling as the warmth caressed the throats of twelve eager students. They were gathered in the reception area waiting for the exhibition to begin. Sally gripped Timmy’s hand, high on expectation, excitingly scared.

Ever the showman, at three minutes and fifty three seconds to midnight, Eric pressed ‘play’ and AC/DCs ‘Highway to Hell’ blasted an opening of the exhibition.  Double doors flew open, dry ice floated like cemetery mist, spotlights shone down upon six of the most evil artistic creations known to mankind, paintings blown up ten foot tall and arranged in an overlapping circle of malice.  The students whooped and stomped their feet, laughing, clapping at the over-the-top theatrics.  Realization had yet to dawn that a tincture of psychotropic drug had been syringed into the mulled wine.  Sally and Tim never felt so relaxed and carefree.

Eric let the noise die down before taking the mic.

‘Welcome everyone!  As you see, there are 6 masterpieces to admire tonight and 6 girls and 6 boys – 666, my favourite number. You’ll be working in pairs.  I hope you’ve brought your notebooks and pens.  I look forward to reading insightful comments and critiques.   The first and earliest painting is by Hans Memling, dated circa 1485 and simply named ‘Hell’.  The second is the ‘Flaying of Marsyas’ by Titian and painted in the period 1570 to 1575.  The third is ‘The Nightmare’ by Henry Fuseli 1781, the fourth is ‘Saturn devouring his son’ by Paul Rubens, the fifth and sixth are by Heironymous Bosch, who captures my idea of hell. The first being ‘The Temptation of St Anthony’ and the sixth and in my opinion the scariest of them all,  ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. Now, please choose your partner and adopt a painting of your choice.  Use the headphones to hear my voice with a description of each – enjoy!’

Clutching their workbooks the Sally and Tim stood enveloped by the living nightmare that is ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’.  Mankind had fallen prey to all temptations and was perpetually reaping the punishment of the devil with eternal damnation. Tiny figures are tortured, sliced, cut, degraded in a never-ending cycle of agonizing horror, death and debauchery.  The soothing, rhythmic, hypnotic voice of the Prince began to ooze through the headphones like liquid tranquilizer into their pliable brains and to those of their friends.

‘To enter the mind of the artist, to embrace the vision, you must step inside the painting to gain true enlightenment.  To be as one with the creator, take one step forward and touch the canvas.  Lay both hands against the painting and gently push. Open the door to the other side. Step inside – do it now.’

Six boys and six girls obeyed. They moved as silent automatons to be absorbed by the paintings. Each canvas molding to their bodies sucked, then spat them inside as fresh meat and lost souls.  There was a fleeting second, but only a second, when they could turn back and see through the canvas and into the gallery.  Only a second to realize they were engulfed, trapped in hell for ever and witness the hideously triumphant face of Satan, the Prince of Darkness, glorying in their panic and distress. His horns, sprouting and piercing the raspberry beret like daggers, eyes of killer-red laser beams, his dandy clothes shredded and torn, his cloven hooves tapping and dancing an exultant, insane jig of delight.

Christmas Day.  The whole town was searching and searching. The found Timmy’s car under a foot of snow parked outside a ramshackle shop front.  No sign of the Salem Gallery of Art.  The snowfall had covered all trace of footsteps.  The shop floor was covered in dust and dirty floorboards. A single notebook lay open with Timmy’s scribbles and a deciphered anagram. Eric luf is LUCIFER!

Steve comes to us from my Linked In Short Story writing group.  In his first entry into our monthly contest, he won.  Way to kick things off!  Check out more of his stuff here.

The Northern Fright

Today’s Brew:  Dunkin Donuts (gag) and hotel coffee (actually better).  Just got home from a road trip.

A slight variation to our Holiday Horror posting schedule.  We got a special request from a good friend of the Undead Duo to post their story today, so we did it.  Now don’t think you can all go calling your own days.  It will make Kristen’s sense of order go haywire.  It’s enough for her to deal with wildcard Julie as a writing partner.

The Northern Fright.

Written by: Bobby Salomons (Severed Limb Movement)

It’s not that long ago, in fact it’s much too fresh, but I’ll write to you anyway – because you need to know. Christmas isn’t non-committal, it’s not about gifts, trying to be sweet to family you actually hate or forgiving the neighbor for letting his dog pee on your newspaper. I wish it was, I really wish it was…

About a year ago, I had studied for a double major in anthropology and history for way too long, I was about to suffer a major burn out. I spoke to my parents, spoke to my college girlfriend and spoke to my dean. None of them wanted me to drop out, so they made me an offer: spend Christmas in Europe, as part of a study program in Norway. Instead of spending my time, here in good ole’ ‘Merica trying to “imagine” old cultures from books, I’d get the opportunity to actually go out there and help decipher and understand old Norse runes. They had recently uncovered some sites on the Norwegian-Swedish border, some of the oldest runes to date who could perhaps even help understand all the other texts throughout Europe. Even National Geographic was interested in running an article on it. Imagine that: “Burned out student from Maine helps break code on Norse runes, girlfriend wants his babies.” So, of course, I said yes. What was there to lose, right? Wrong.

I flew out to Oslo a week later, the city was alright – it wasn’t London, Paris or Amsterdam but it was something fresh and new for a New England-hipster such as myself. The Norwegians were friendly and easy going, I had a tour around the faculty and was updated on the latest findings – the next day we’d fly out and make the rest of the journey by snowmobile.
We’d arrive on Christmas, so the current expedition team could take our plane back home and be with their family during the holidays. The two hour ride by said snowmobiles was unforgiving and cold, but riding the back of the vehicle hugging a beautiful, strawberry blonde, Norwegian girl that smelled like lavender made things worth it. She was a decent rider too, never noticed a bump in the snow, though that may have been due to me trying to focus on the fact that I had a girlfriend back home. And that hitching a ride with a cute Scandinavian girl didn’t necessarily mean she’d want to get with me.
After we finally arrived at the camp it turned out their work ethics were different, back home any field trip or expedition somehow involved tacos, burgers, debates on iPhones and posing for Facebook pictures. But the Europeans actually went to work, they introduced themselves to the Swedish team that had worked on the site before us and was now leaving, we unpacked our kits and set out to uncover new things.

Later that day we said goodbye to the team we were replacing, they informed us of what they had found so far. The runes were in reference to “the Wild Hunt” – an ancient folk myth that speaks of spectral huntsmen terrorizing the night sky, ghosts of lost souls lead by Odin, looking to kidnap anyone who witnesses or mocks them, dragging them to hell. Hogwash to any educated American.

Of course it was just one day before Christmas and the departing Swedes had left some gifts and a warning: “the Wild Hunt” was said to happen the shortest day of the year, around Christmas Eve, we’d better watch ourselves. At the time it seemed like the corniest campfire story I ever did hear.

Of course we didn’t wait till Christmas to open our presents, though the Norwegians worked hard they still drank like Vikings in the evening. Our presents consisted of necklaces made from beer bottle caps, dirty poetry and a slice of old bread and a piece of steel. Being a fan of beer and a master of vulgar poetry I was content with my gifts, but wasn’t sure about the bread and piece of steel. The Norwegians informed me that the Swedes believed that if one was confronted with the wild hunters of the sky there were only two options – if facing Odin and the human ghosts one should throw their piece of steel before their feet for them to use for their weapons, when confronted with their demonic hell hounds the only way to distract them was by dropping the piece of bread for them to eat. Then just divert ones eyes and run. Far away.

Apparently, despite their politeness, the Norwegians and Swedes weren’t devoid of competitive feelings towards each other. My Norwegian friends told me hour long stories about how silly the Swedes were, with their Ikea and Abba, their neutral policy on everything and their strange language. I took it for what it was.
As the evening progressed my expeditionary partners became increasingly drunk, pretending to be Swedes working for Ikea, dancing around the room and eventually outside. It wasn’t before long they had found their way into the dark towards the site of the runes, they insisted I’d join them and peer-pressure being what it is I participated in their amusing folk dances. Eventually, we all grew tired and sat around the site in the bitter cold looking at the Aurora Borealis: the Northern Light dancing in the sky. With it’s eerie green light I could see how the people of old could see scenes unfolding before their eyes.

After their drunken activities my Scandinavian colleagues were both hungry and mischievous enough to eat their slices of bread and throw away the pieces of steel. I kindly refrained from doing so, I would take them home with me as peculiar souvenirs to tell my family and friends of the traditions of Scandinavia and the Germanic tribes that once ruled so much of Europe.
They wobbled back inside to warm themselves on the fire, meanwhile mocking Odin and his Wild Hunt, laughing loudly and making noises. I sat for a while watching the night sky dance in a sea of ghastly green, trying to imagine Old Norse gods like Odin and his warriors riding before my eyes. An amusing thought but the cold quickly won me over to go back inside. Besides a pack of clouds was slowly forming, soon the Aurora Borealis would dissipate.

I went back in to find most of my expeditionary partners to be sleeping in front of the fire, on the couch and a lucky few had been able to jump into their bed as they waited for it to circle by again in their drunken dizziness. The Norwegian girl I fancied was sound asleep in her bed in the same room as mine, suppose that still gave me bragging rights of claiming to have “slept with her”.
Just for fun I stuffed my Christmas gifts into one of my thick, thermal socks, like a Christmas stocking, to surprise myself on Christmas morning.
I laid my head down and went to sleep, surely Christmas day would be a blast with a bunch of hard partying Viking-descendants.

Somewhere during the night, I woke up. The strawberry blonde girl of my dreams was snoring like a bear, I looked around and it was quiet except for rain bouncing off the roof of the small cabin, I figured I had woken up because I wasn’t sleeping in my own bed. Just as I lay my head down again, the whole room lighted up, a thunder crack made the little house and the soil it stood on rumble.

I nearly let go of a girly scream but realized that as an adult male thunder shouldn’t scare me.

So once again, I rested my head, pulled my pillow over my face and closed my eyes. In the distance the thunder continued to roar over the taiga forests of these old lands. I tried to remember and relive some of the happier Christmases I had had as a child and slowly began dozing off again. I could almost smell my mother’s Christmas cake when suddenly I was interrupted in my dreams, my eyes wide open as I lay underneath my pillow like a scared child.
In the distance, the far distance, mixing with the noise of the thunder and the rain I thought I could hear it… A war-horn, echoing through the night and over the forests. A sound so distinctive, it rolls through the air like no other. I gasped, sat up straight and dropped my pillow onto the floor. Trembling like a leaf.

Faintly the sound was coming closer, suddenly I smiled and realized – those mischievous Norwegians were pulling a prank on the gullible American kid. Of course that had to be it, what else could it be?

I turned around to look at the girl, she was still tight asleep, if it was a prank she wasn’t in it. I sneaked out of bed and opened the door to the living room, to catch them red handed. But as I looked inside all the others were still sound asleep. None of them were missing. In the distance I heard it again, the horn wailing through the cold, dark sky. I could feel my heart drop in my chest.

Some of the others began waking up, they heard it too. They spoke panicky in their native tongue, I couldn’t understand them but I knew what they were saying. What is that? Where is it coming from? Did you hear it?

“It’s coming from outside! It’s been coming this way!” I yelled with shivering voice, my teammates looking at me with disbelieve – they were as suspicious of me as I was of them.
“I’m not kidding! I swear to God it’s not me!” I said, trembling and confused. They realized I was speaking the truth.
I ran back into my room and jumped into my thick clothing, running outside into breathtaking cold. The others were still feeling the effects of their hard drinking just a few hours before, stumbling around and arguing over who was putting on who’s clothing.

As I rushed out, I could see it in the night sky, goosebumps formed on my skin like they never had before, all courage I had ever given myself credit for evaporated as I looked up at what could only be described as a Vortex. The Aurora Borealis had merged with the thunder storm, spinning like a maelstrom. From inside of it came the echoing, haunting sound of a horn once more. For a moment I feared fainting as I couldn’t believe what I saw.

Right before my eyes, from inside the ghastly storm, rode the Huntsmen into the sky. Translucent like the light of the Aurora Borealis itself, glowing as they started coming near.

Behind me I heard my Norwegian friends scream in terror, they finally had made it outside but were now scrambling to get back in. I couldn’t blame them, my heart beat inside my throat so hard I feared coughing it up.

Closer and closer they came, there were no doubts of who and what they were, Odin and his men had arrived, and this was it. He rode up front, Odin – a thick beard, a sharp spear, his clothes ripped and torn, yet he stood proud and fierce upon his eight legged horse, blowing the horn with thunderous noise. Just faintly I could see through him, his skeleton shining through his skin. Behind him rode the vengeful spirits of fierce Viking warriors, out for souls. Wild hounds ran with them, letting go of howls that would even scare away the fiercest pack of wolves that ever lived.

I fell backwards into the snow as the hunting party stopped just above the ground, floating in mid-air and the ghastly beings stepped down. As they calmly approached the house they all looked at me  as if their eyes could look into the deepest depths of my being. I could only witness them in fear and awe.

These Viking men, their glowing, battle scared bodies, shredded clothing and their bloodied weapons ready – these haunted warriors were here for a reason.

The hounds bolted ahead of Odin and his men, scratching the door of the cabin, growling like lions. Odin opened the door and the cries of my panic struck friends filled the air. I could see it through the windows, it was worse than murder.

Odin and his men grabbed them as they begged and pleaded, I could see it all, as their ethereal doubles were torn from their now lifeless bodies. Even their souls cried as they faced the ghostly, tormented warriors, but they showed them no mercy. With pleasure they cut their swords and spears into their helpless apparitions, the hounds feasting on their still wailing souls, ripping them apart and devouring them like animals as Odin and his men stood watching.
Suddenly I realized that the girl that slept in the room with me was perhaps not yet lost and with all the adrenaline in my body I rushed through the snow, around the house, and ran for the window of our room. I looked inside and saw her trembling on the bed, frozen like a deer in headlights, I bashed against the glass and gestured her to open the window. Almost like a zombie she did, I grabbed her and pulled her outside into the freezing cold. As she stepped out I noticed the sock I had put my gifts in, grabbed it, and ran after her towards the tree line. Behind me I could hear the hounds ripping the doomed souls of my friends, the ghostly warriors speaking with dark, deep voices.

I ran after her as fast as I could, the cold was affecting her and I could tell she could not make it on her own. I picked her up and tried to make a desperate dash towards the trees, but I got caught on a tree root beneath the snow and dropped flat with her in my arms. Behind me I heard the swift and rhythmic thuds of dog’s feet in the snow, I knew they were gaining on us and in what I thought were my dying moments I managed to jump between some trees and shrubbery.
I heard her scream, as the hounds ripped her spirit from her body, and dragged her to hell. I sat behind the leafs and branches like a coward. I cried and I shivered.

I heard Odin and his men approach, their heavy footsteps and the growling of the beasts. They knew where I was. I closed my eyes, it would be over soon.

But they didn’t chase me, they stood right before me and watched me, they knew I had no place to go.
I stood up and faced them, if I was to be killed by a Viking I might as well die like a Viking.

For a moment it was quiet, everywhere as if the world stood still and ceased to exist. The hounds were growling but stood their ground, Odin and his men staring into my soul as if they were trying to make a point. Suddenly I realized what I was holding in my hands, still. The sock with the slice of bread and a piece of steel. They were waiting for me.
“Is this what you want?!” I said with trembling voice, the ghouls kept silent, Odin raised his arm with the palm of his hand up as if telling me to give it to him.

I was shaking so badly I could hardly open the frozen sock, I took out the piece of bread and threw it before the hounds. They sniffed on it, one of the creatures respectfully picked it up and stepped back before the feet of its owner with the others.
“I have more…” I pointed at the sock, tears and mucus freezing solid onto my face. I realized that Odin and his men surely did not speak my language, but he nodded – he understood the point.
With all the courage I had I stepped forward to the ghosts before me, taking out the piece of steel and placing it in Odin’s hand. As I touched his fingers they felt electric yet oddly solid, for a moment everything flashed before my eyes and I felt the presence of a thousand lost souls, a thousand battles fought and a history long forgotten. All these haunting memories grabbed me by the throat.

Odin calmly closed his hand and the images stopped, I fell upon my knees feeling gutted. He placed the piece of steel onto his spear, melting it into it. He began to speak, though I couldn’t understand the words he was saying I knew what he meant. He would spare my life, just this once, because I did not disrespect him or his men and that I kept with traditions. Now that I had seen what they were capable of, had felt their pain and suffering, I knew better. But never should I show myself again, that much was clear, and never forget what I had seen. I nodded and diverted my gaze, as the story of the Wild Hunt dictated. Calmly the men and their hounds strolled off towards the cabin where they stepped back onto their horses, faintly I could still hear the cries of my friends. With a blow of Odin’s horn they rode off into the sky, disappearing into the maelstrom and taking with them my colleagues to suffer for eternity in the Underworld. The portal in the sky faded away and ceased to exist, becoming the Northern Light once again.
I ran back to the cabin and called for help on the radio, the police arrived the following morning. I tried to explain to them what happened but none believed me. They took me to a hospital and ran tests on me to see if I was crazy, but none could prove I was. They ruled the deaths to most likely be carbon monoxide poisoning, assuming that the girl I had tried to rescue was overcome by the cold and that I had hallucinated the whole event due to oxygen lack. The fact that the electrical generator wasn’t faulty nor that there were no other devices that could cause it was overlooked or simply ignored. I still hear the cries of me expeditionary partners, every night and I’m haunted by the thought of what happened to them and where they are now.

But I remember Odin’s message and I wish to share it with you.
Christmas isn’t about Santa, about gifts for the greedy or remembering God once per year. It’s about paying respect to those that earned it, if you won’t give it to them they’ll come and take it from you. If you ever saw the Northern Light, if it ever thunders on Christmas Eve, if you know who Odin and his men are, if you dare mocking them remember… Sleep with a piece of bread and a piece of steel – and maybe, just maybe they will spare your life if they come for you.

bobbyBorn and raised in Amsterdam, Bobby Salomons’ works are as authentic and distinguishing as the city itself. A tense and mysterious atmosphere combined with a vivid and capturing writing style make his stories a pleasure to read and hard to forget.
From a young age he was drawn to creative and inspiring works, striking up a true passion for writing in college. Ever since he has steadily developed himself as a writer, working as a script doctor and faithfully penning down his soon to be released debut series: “DEATH 2 DEATH”.
With a background in Art-Direction (advertising) and Copy Writing, Bobby is boldly undertaking the effort of establishing himself amongst his writing peers with the humor and sober-headedness expected from a Dutchman.
More information about his work and efforts can be found at: http://www.d2d-books.com  Twitter:@d2dbooks

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