Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Portrait

By Lisa McCourt Hollar


Agnes Crumbottom looked up from the book she was reading as the bell above the front door chimed. “Can I help you?” She asked 
 the woman as she approached the desk.
“I hope so." The woman looked around the shop to see if they were alone. She was holding a large, frame in her hands. Agnes squinted, trying to see what the frame contained, but the woman shifted it, almost like she was embarrassed by the object. “My uncle recently passed away and I inherited some of his artwork.”
The way she said artwork and wrinkled her nose, Agnes got the impression the woman considered whatever art her uncle left her, distasteful.
“I am sorry for your loss.” Agnes said.
“Yeah, well I’m not. He was a horrid man. I’m quite honestly relieved to be rid of him.”
“Umm, congratulations then,” Agnes said, uncomfortably. She looked longingly at her book, wishing the woman would get to the point of her visit, so she could get back to it.
“I did some research on the internet. You are the only occult store in the area… at least the only one that seems legitimate.” Again, the woman’s voice left Agnes with the impression that she didn’t care much for those who practiced the dark arts.
“There are those who make claims they can’t back up,” Agnes said.
“My uncle, well, he claimed he was a vampire and, I know this is going to sound silly, but he had this made. He said it was so he could live on after his death.” The woman placed the portrait on the counter for Agnes to look at. “I know he was delusional, but it gives me the creeps. I would burn it, but… it seems to be flame proof.”
“What do you mean, flame proof?”
“I tried, it wouldn’t burn. I then put it in the trash… but it found its way back inside.”
Agnes looked at the portrait, curious. “Are you sure someone didn’t find it and bring it back inside? Another family member?”
“I’m his only living relative. I’ve never believed in the supernatural, but this picture scares the bejeebers out of me.”
“I’m still not understanding… why have you brought it to me?”
“I read the testimonials on your web page. People who claim you helped remove spirits from their homes.” 
T
Thewoman sounded desperate and Agnes almost laughed. She’d written all those testimonials herself. Some people would believe anything. She looked at the picture. It was horrible. Uncle Creepy had applied some kind of black gel to his hair and had it slicked back. His face was painted white and his lips were blood red.
“My fee is rather high,” Agnes said, noncommittally.
“My uncle was rich. He left me very wealthy.”
This time Agnes let her smile show. “I think we can work something out.”
***
Agnes finished locking up the shop, turned the sign to close and shut off the lights. Climbing the stairs to her apartment, she chuckled as she thought about the money she’d taken from the woman earlier. Her name, it had turned out, was Elaine Hightower, her uncle had been Darren Hightower. He’d once been a big political figure in the town. Then he’d taken ill and disappeared from sight. He was still wealthy though and Agnes had just taken a huge portion of his worth. She didn’t feel guilty though. Elaine Hightower, though stupid enough to part with some of her inheritance, was still a wealthy woman.
Kicking off her shoes, Agnes set her book down next to her favorite chair and then headed to her bedroom to change into something more comfortable. When she returned to the living room, she passed the chair and her book, intent on grabbing a snack in the kitchen. She had just opened the refrigerator, when she realized that something had been different about the living room. She turned and looked in. Hanging on the wall was the portrait of Darren Hightower.
“Now how did you get there?”
She looked around. Someone had to come in and put it there. Perhaps his niece? Agnes quickly dismissed that idea though. She walked over to the portrait and studied the image. He was really very good looking, despite the absurd costume. She imagined what it might be like to feel his lips on her neck. For a moment she lost herself in the fantasy, running her hands over her breasts. Then she shook the fantasy off and chuckled.
“I’ve been reading too many romances. Still, you are here instead of in the storeroom downstairs, so maybe there is something to Elaine’s story.”
Agnes took the picture down and stuck it in the hall closet. Then she locked the door, just to be sure. Sitting down in her chair, she glanced towards the closet, making sure it was still shut and then picked up her book and began reading. Before long, her eyes began to droop. Her head sagged a few times. Each time she would jerk her head up and try to focus on the book. Eventually she lost the battle and she nodded off to sleep. Just before dozing off, she thought she heard the closet door open, but was too tired to care.
“Agnes…  Agnes. Wake up.”
Agnes opened her eyes. Darren Hightower was standing over her. She smiled, thinking now she would find out how his lips felt on her neck. She pulled him to her, welcoming his embrace. Then a sharp pain pierced her neck and she screamed.
***
Elaine Hightower stomped her foot, venting her frustration. Uncle Darren’s picture was back above the fireplace and the stack of money she’d paid the fortune teller was on the mantle, reminding her that this was still his house and his fortune, despite the stake she had put through his cold, dead heart.
“This isn’t over with yet, Uncle.”
She scooped up the money and put it back in the safe, trying to ignore the laugh she heard inside of her head.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Old Flames

by Lisa McCourt Hollar

Emma read the text message again. It hadn’t changed. Things were still over between her and Steve. She squeezed her phone, stopping short of cracking the screen. Who the hell did he think he was?  It’s not you, it’s me. Damn straight it was him. She was awesome, he was dirt. She’d even let him stick his pathetic prick in her and now he was dumping her… for Jessica Kidwell.  Well to hell with him. He wanted to burn bridges, she’d help him out.


Steve flung his arm over Jessica’s sleeping body. God, she was hot. And sane. He really dodged a bullet with Emma, all that talk about marriage. Then he’d heard what she’d done to her last boyfriend. Time to say adios… but from a distance. Slowly he became aware that something was burning. He sat up and looked around. Was that smoke slipping in through the window?


Word Count: 150

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Circle Of Life



The Circle Of Life
by Lisa McCourt Hollar

The fly buzzed around the body, depositing its eggs. The rotting flesh of the cadaver was the perfect place to feed and the fly’s offspring would do well with this feast. Soon the body, decomposed, became the home of maggots and other living creepy crawlies that made the corpse their home.

The smell attracted animals that ate the meat. Carrion birds landed, plucking up bits of flesh. A raven plucked out the grand prize, an eye that was filmy, no longer the bright blue it used to be.
The sun too ravaged the body, heating it and baking the organs beneath its hot rays. Hank, or at least what was left of Hank, didn’t mind too much. He was dead after all; why not nourish what was left on this planet?
But if he was dead, why did he feel pain when the wolf bit into his stomach, disemboweling him and taking off with his large intestines, whilst his mate snatched the small ones? If he was dead, why was he even aware of this at all?
Suddenly his legs jerked and Hank sat up, scaring off a few of the birds and a fox. One bird, the one with his eye, was busy eating his meal and didn’t notice the corpse buffet sit up. Why would he have even thought to look? Dead is dead and they don’t move. He’s had plenty of meals to know that when the meat starts to rot, it’s not going to complain. So it came as quite a shock to him when his food grabbed him from behind and bit his head off.
Hank straightened his neck, chewing the tasty bird and looking around. In the distance he saw the smoldering city that had once been his home. Around him, others that had been dead sat up. Hank recognized his little girl, her skin hanging from her face in strips, the meat and muscle exposed. She was holding a rabbit, the creature’s blood dripping from her lips. Her name, Lily, came to his mind and he remembered her chasing butterflies in the field. That was before the earth started shaking. Bombs from aircraft were being pummeled at their city. There had been no notice, no warning from their government, just bombs, screaming and then death.
‘But I’m not dead’, Hank thought, absentmindedly chewing the rest of the raven. ‘None of us are.’ All around him the members of his church were rising, some feasting on the animals that had been too slow to move. One, a young mother, looked at her baby who had only been born a few months before. The infant too was alive, though her arms and legs were gone, torn off and consumed by scavengers. The young mother assessed her baby’s condition, shrugged and took a bite out of what was left of the child’s neck. Hank watched, his mouth watering. He wondered if the baby tasted good.
‘What manner of hell is this,’ Hank wondered, rational thought returning, if only for a moment. ‘What happened to the rapture? Weren’t we promised not to be left behind? Why were we returned from the dead?’
Hank’s mind clouded again and a sweet scent drifted to him. It stirred a desire deep in his belly. Looking around he saw the others smelled it too. His daughter dropped the rabbit. The creatures bones were all that was left. She smiled, revealing organs and meat sticking between blood coated teeth. Hank tried to say something. Nothing came out except a series of grunts and moans. He had forgotten how to speak!
The smell came again. It was so sweet and his stomach growled, commanding that he find the source of the tantalizing scent. He moved towards the city, his steps slow and painful. The need to find the smell though was more important than his comfort. He needed to eat and there was something in the city he wanted more than anything. Behind him the other members of his congregation followed, as always, allowing their pastor to take the lead in all things.
Inside the city more doors opened, survivors of the attack crawling from bomb shelters and storm cellars. On their minds, food, water and shelter, some even worried about the effects of radiation. They weren’t worried about the dead, except for whether or not their loved ones were among the casualty. It never crossed their mind that when the CDC put out an advisory on how to prepare for a Zombie Apocalypse that there was ever anything more to it other than someone having a sense of humor. They certainly never dreamed that before long they would have more to worry about than food, water and shelter and that foremost on their mind would be how to avoid being eaten by the dead.



Ravenous

Maggie stood outside the door, heart heavy. In hand, the gun she was going to use to end her husband’s life weighed even more. But what was the choice? Better her than someone else.

 Behind, Samuel cleared his throat. 

“Maggie, no one would blame you if you couldn’t …”

“I said I would do it and I will.” Straightening her shoulders, she opened the door and stepped inside.

Jake looked confused when she entered the room. He knew someone would be coming, but he didn’t expect this. 

“Maggie, what are you doing?” Then, seeing the gun, he fell silent. His eyes, at first confused, turned to anger. “They can’t honestly expect it to be you?” 

Setting the gun on the table beside the bed, Maggie wrapped her arms around her husband. “I volunteered,” she choked, fighting back tears. 

“Why?”

“Because I love you.” She kissed his forehead. “It needs to be me.” 

Jake laughed. “Babe, you’re strong, but this is a bit much—even for you.” 

Pushing him back, she lifted his shirt. Thick, blood-soaked bandages wrapped his abdomen. “I want to look at your wound.”

“Maggie?”

“If you’re going to die, I want to see the reason.” 

Sighing, Jake carefully unwrapped the wound in his side, revealing a large portion of flesh torn away by one of the monsters stalking their world. A similar wound was higher on his shoulder blade, and Maggie knew from the way his coat hung, slightly skewed, that his shoulder and arm were gone. She tried to remove the jacket but he wouldn’t let her. 

“Billy should’ve let ’em finish the job.”

“How can you say that?” Maggie snapped. “How could you expect him to leave you there and let them eat you?”

“I don’t want this … to be your last memory of me.”

“It won’t,” she whispered. Kissing his neck, she let her hand graze across his belly before curling her fingers into the thick hair trailing down his chest.

 “Maggie, what’re you doing?”

“We only have a little time before you change …” 

Groping at his jeans, she worked to unfasten the button. 

“Maggie!” Jake pushed her away with the arm he had left. “What the hell—?”

“If I’m going to shoot my husband before he turns into a zombie, the least I can do is make his last moments … pleasurable.”

“You’re insane.”

 Chuckling, Maggie leaned her head against her husband’s good shoulder and breathed in his scent. He smelled good, despite the blood seeping through the bandages. Stifling a sob, she kissed his neck, working her fingers into his hair as she pulled him closer.

 “What if I turn?”

“You won’t.”

“I might.”

“Then I’ll shoot you.”

Maggie guided Jake to bed and pushed him on the mattress before helping him struggle out of the jacket. Jake resisted at first, but Maggie always persuaded him to see things her way. Pressing her lips firmly against his, she tugged off the jacket, revealing the damaged stub. 

“I’m surprised they even bandaged it,”he said. “A waste of needed medical equipment.”

“Maybe you’re immune.”

“Right. You get bit, you turn into a biter.”

“Well, you haven’t yet.”Pulling her shirt off, Maggie reached for her husband’s hand, placing it against her right breast. 

“Maggie, I don’t think—”

“Shhh …don’t think. Right now I need you.”

Despite his protests, she felt the swell bulging against his zipper and grinned. He never could refuse. She tugged his jeans off, then settled back down as she took his cock into her hand. Stroking him, she felt his erection grow and guided him inside of her. Closing her eyes, she tried to pretend the world hadn’t gone to hell around them. 

They were newlyweds again, living in a small cramped apartment where the water was never warm enough for bathing and the neighbors argued until three in the morning …but they were happy. The dead didn’t come back to life and try to eat you. Jake wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her against him, thrusting hard. Maggie moaned with pleasure, his breath teasing her neck. 

“I love you,”she panted, tears mingling with sweat and blood oozing from the bandage. He moaned his pleasure in tune with her own, continuing to thrust up and into her. Pain shot through him as Maggie’s knee dug in his side. 

“I’m sorry,”Maggie cried, moving to let him up. Jake stopped her, pulling her back down. “Don’t be. I never want this moment to end.”

Groping at her breast, he squeezed her nipple. Maggie thrilled at his touch, gasping as she moved against him, this time trying to be more careful. Flicking his tongue across the taut nub, Jake pulled her nipple in his mouth. He cupped his hand around her breast and let go, taking hold of her ass and guiding her movements. 

Maggie stiffened as the orgasm seized her. She felt Jake stiffen, too, releasing his seed. His nose was pressed against her neck, his breathing labored. Then it changed, his pants coming more ragged. 

 He sniffed her ear, his fingers grasping her hair as a new hunger took hold. Suppressing the scream building inside, Maggie lifted the gun off the table and placed the barrel against his head. 

“I love you,”she whispered, and pulled the trigger.   

****   

She stayed with him for an hour, holding him. Sensing her need for privacy, no one came in to check. Finally, she dressed and opened the door. Samuel was waiting, along with three of the others. They would burn the body. There would be no chance of him coming back.

 “Are you alright?”

Maggie looked at Samuel. “I’ll be okay. I just need some time.”

“Take what you need. We’ll be moving on tomorrow. Chris says there’s a large horde heading this way. We should be okay until morning; they aren’t moving very fast. Unless the wind changes, they won’t pick up our scent.”

“I’ll be ready.”

Maggie took one last look at Jake’s body, and headed to the room she shared with two other women. It was empty …they sensed she needed to be alone. Curling up on the bed, she slept, dreaming about happier times and a baby. When she woke up she felt her stomach. She didn’t know how, but she knew. She was pregnant.

   ****  

 It had been a week since the farmhouse. Everyone was used to picking up and leaving on a moment’s notice. She wasn’t used to the strange swell in her belly. The baby grew fast. She wore baggie clothes, but she worried she might not be able to hide her condition much longer. She sat next to the camp fire, fighting nausea. 

“You okay?”

“I’m fine,”Maggie said, smiling. Barbara had been henpecking ever since Jake, and she wished the woman would leave her alone. 

“You look a little under the weather. I can talk to Sam …see if there’s any medicine.”

“I just need some quiet,”Maggie snapped, and regretted her tone when she saw the hurt in the older woman’s eyes. “I’m sorry …it’s just been …difficult.”

“That’s okay, honey. I do tend to mother a person to death …I mean—”

Maggie stood and glanced around. “I think I’m going to go for a walk.”Seeing Barbara about to protest, she held up a hand. “Don’t worry, I won’t go far.” 
Stepping in the woods, Maggie moved behind a tree and watched the others, making sure no one was going to come and check on her. Barbara surveyed the tree line, worried, but didn’t move. Samuel was talking to Billy about something and hadn’t noticed she’d left …some observant leader. 

She blamed Samuel for Jake’s death. He’d sent him scouting with only a boy for backup. That Billy had managed to kill the zombies attacking Jake, without getting bit himself, was a miracle. 

A breeze blew her way, carrying a scent that made her stomach rumble. She’d stopped eating the rations two days ago. Her baby craved something else. This worried her, but she wasn’t about to tell Samuel. If he knew, he would force her to terminate. This child was all she had left of Jake. She would do what she had to. 

She followed the scent to a rabbit hiding in the brush. It leaped into the open when she approached, but Maggie was quick, tackling the animal before it could escape.

 She ripped its throat open with her teeth, swallowing whole chunks of meat. When done, she followed a narrow path to a stream, and washed off the blood. Removing her shirt, she soaked it in the water, scrubbing at the stains, hoping in the dark, no one would notice the wetness.

 “Well, what have we here?”

Maggie froze at Samuel’s voice. “Ummm …washing up.”

“I can see that. But you shouldn’t be out here alone.”

“It’s safe. Chris and Bradley secured the area before they let us set up camp.”

“Rules are rules. Wouldn’t want what happened to Jake happen to you, too.”

“No, we wouldn’t want that,”she said, fighting back anger. She suspected he’d been hoping something would happen to Jake. He never made it a secret he wanted Maggie. Now she didn’t have a husband standing in his way. 

Looking over her shoulder at Samuel, her stomach growled. Baby was hungry. And she felt another desire building too. She’d never been with any man besides her husband but as her appetite for raw meat increased, so did her craving for sex. She wondered if the two were related. 

Turning to him she smiled, dropping her arms and leaving her breasts exposed. “Of course with you here, nothing is going to happen.”

“Well, well …”Samuel’s hand strayed towards his zipper. Maggie made quick work of his jeans, dropping them around his ankles as she fell to her knees. Inspecting his manhood, she was impressed. She pulled him into her mouth, sucking on his cock while she dug her fingers into his ass. 

Bobbing her head back and forth, she took him in deeper, fighting the hunger. Best to take him at the height of his orgasm. When he let loose his seed, she closed her teeth, biting off his cock in one swift chomp. Samuel tried to scream but nothing came. Maggie spit the severed member from her mouth and leaped on him, ripping his throat open before a scream found its way out of his lungs. 

She ate until full. This time, she didn’t bother washing herself off. The blood could be explained. She ran back to camp screaming zombies attacked her and Samuel. 

Barbara held her while the men searched the woods. There were a few undead not far from the stream; the dead were always around. They killed them, and in the morning moved on. Barbara refused to let Maggie out of her sight.
Maggie was okay with that. The baby was growing rapidly and she wouldn’t be able to hide her pregnancy much longer.

 That was okay, too. The little tyke liked Barbara’s smell …and he’d be needing some food.


Saturday, April 4, 2020

Mine


By Lisa McCourt Hollar


Marissa sung to the baby, a lullaby her mother had sung to her as a child. The words rose and fell in tone as the young nanny crooned and the baby’s eyes slowly closed. While she sang, Marissa made sweeping motions over the child’s body, rubbing the skin lightly with an object concealed within her hand. Finishing the tune, she lay the baby in her crib and tucked the blanket around her. “Sleep well, my Lucia.” Then she bent and placed the object in her hand under the crib.
***
“Marissa?”

“Yes ma’am?” Marissa turned, smiling at her employer. Amanda Walker didn’t look happy. Marissa’s smile waned when she saw what she was holding.

“I went in to check on Lucy and found this under her bed. Did you put it there?”

“Yes, ma’am, I did.”

“Why would you put an egg under my baby’s bed?”

“She’s been congested lately. I know the doctor said the antibiotics would help, but she’s not getting better and she hasn’t been sleeping well. I thought maybe it might help…”

“I swear I will never understand your people and their superstitions. What if it broke? Then the nursery would smell like rotten egg… that’s a hard odor to get out, not to mention the bacteria could make Lucy sick. Get rid of it.”

Marissa took the egg, bowing her head in deference to her mistress. “Of course. I’m sorry.”

“She wasn’t hurting anyone,”Mr. Walker said later that night. “She cares about Lucy.”

“I know that,” Amanda said, joining her husband in bed. “Sometimes I think a little too much. Do you know I have heard her call the baby my Lucia?”

“So? That’s Spanish for Lucy.”

“It’s just strange, the way she says my, like she believes the baby is hers.”

Fred Walker laughed. “That’s… a bit reaching.”

"Is it? We don't know anything about Lucy's birth parents."

"Well, that's what a closed adoption means. Honey, relax. No one is going to come and take Lucy away from us. 

“I just don’t feel comfortable having her here in my house. That thing with the egg, well it’s weird and when I talk to her, there’s something, I don’t know, in her eyes. The way she looks at me. It scares me.”

“Maybe it’s the way you talk to her. I love you, dear, but you can be overbearing. Referring to her people… that can be taken the wrong way you know.”

“What are you saying? Are you calling me racist?”

“Never dear. I know better, as does anyone that knows you… but when you feel threatened, you can be a bit bitchy, and you know it.”

“I don’t feel threatened.”

Fred kissed his wife on the cheek. “If you say so, dear.” Then he turned off the light.

Amanda lay in the dark, her eyes on the ceiling. Shadows leaped across the room, flickering along the walls and creeping toward her bed. She closed her eyes, defiantly vanquishing the demons. “I don’t feel threatened.”
***
Marissa waited until she was sure they were asleep. Stopping at their door, she listened. Mr. Walker was snoring loudly, with an occasional raspy cough. He didn’t sound well. Slipping past their room, she entered the nursery. She used to sleep in the adjoining room, but Mrs. Walker had suddenly insisted that she sleep in the guest bedroom on the other side of the house. Lucia was making small sobbing sounds, not loudly, but she was certainly having a disturbing sleep. Marissa picked her up and began to sing. When the baby had stopped crying, Marissa put her back in the crib. This time she tucked the egg further under the bed. If Amanda got up in the night to check on Lucy, she wouldn’t see it unless she got down on the floor and stuck her head underneath.
***
Marrissa looked concerned as Amanda stumbled into the kitchen. She didn’t look like she’d slept well and her skin appeared. sallow.

“Are you feeling well, ma’am?” She put down the bottle she was warming and put her hand to the woman’s forehead. Amanda waved her off.

“Just a bit under the weather.” She reached into the refrigerator and pulled out some orange juice. “I’m probably getting the crud Lucy had.” She sighed. “At least she seems to be getting over it. I looked in on her and she’s sleeping peacefully.”

“I know you’ve been worried about her.”

“I have… I think it’s been making me grumpy. Marissa, I need to apologize for how I spoke to you yesterday.”

This time Marissa waved her off. “I’ve already forgotten it.”

“It’s just that you are so close to Lucy, sometimes I get jealous.”

Marissa laughed. “Mrs. Walker, that’s silly. You are her mama.”

“Well thank you for being understanding.” Amanda looked at her watch. “My goodness, I need to get ready for work.”

“Go ahead, Mrs. Walker. I’ll take care of things out here.”
***

Marissa retrieved the egg while Amanda was in the shower. Looking into the crib, she smiled. Lucia grinned back at her. Mrs. Walker was right, she was looking better. Her skin was a healthy shade and she seemed to be breathing better. Picking her up, she whispered into her ear, humming another tune her mother had taught her. It was a happy song, celebrating the Mother’s healing power. “It’s not over with yet though,” she said. “We have to finish it. Until we do, you won’t be safe.”

Taking Lucy with her, she tiptoed into the Walker’s bedroom. Bending she placed the egg with the others she had concealed under their bed. They shells were beginning to blacken as the curse she’d placed inside of them grew. She heard Mrs. Walker coughing in the bathroom. She sounded nearly as bad as Mr. Walker had when he’d left for work this morning. Tonight would be the night, she knew it.

The baby began to fuss. Marissa quickly left the room before Amanda heard her. Outside the room she whispered softly, “Don’t worry, Lucia, soon it will be just me and you and no one will ever again be able to take you from me.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Neverland Express


By Lisa McCourt Hollar



“Second star to the right and straight on towards morning.”

Johnny stared into the one good eye of the Traveler. He’d met the man in the pub the night before. He’d regaled him with stories of adventures in faraway places. Different worlds.

“Your pulling my leg,” Johnny had hiccupped. “No one has been any farther than the moon and then only astronauts. You aint no astronaut.”

“No, I’m more than those limited thinkers and so are you. You have the gift. I can see it in your eyes.”

Now, standing outside the man’s ship, Johnny wondered. It didn’t look like much, but it was parked in the harbor.

“I’m ready to retire. She’s all yours…”

“I don’ have no money.” Johnny barely mumbled the words loud enough to be heard but the man cackled, his eyes twinkling with amusement.

“I’m not selling you the ol’ girl. I’m givin’ her to ya.”

“Why?”

“Because someone has to continue the adventure.”

“Second star to the right,” Johnny repeated.

“And straight on till morning.”

Johnny looked at the man, his one eye and then the hook that replaced a missing hand. He shook his head. It couldn’t be.

“Your crew is awaiting you.” He motioned with his good hand towards the deck. Johnny could see activity on board he hadn’t noticed before. “Her name is The Jolly Roger.”

“I have responsibilities… a wife…”

“Who you were trying to forget just last night; isn’t she the reason you avoid going home?”

“My mother…”

“Is the reason you have failed at everything. She never believed in you. She squashed your dreams that day you told her you wanted to be a pirate. Now you can be. And she can’t stop you.”

Johnny swallowed. This man knew everything about him, his fears, his regrets and his dreams. The Traveler motioned towards the ship. Johnny took his first step up the gangway and his new life.

“With all due respect,” Smee said, glaring at Johnny, “you were told to take the second star to the right, not the left.”

“I signed on for adventure. I know where the star on the right goes.”

“That’s always been your problem. You never listen to a thing anyone says. Always have to try and do it your way.”

Johnny turned and stared at his wife. “What are you doing here?” He complained. “This is supposed to be my new start.”

“For better or worse until death do us part. That was the vow you took. You can’t sneak away from me that easy.”

Now he saw that Heather… a pretty name for someone that turned out to be such a shrew, had a red stain on her white blouse. He puzzled on it for a moment while his wife barked orders to the crew.

“Stop it!” Johnny said. “This is my adventure, my crew. I tell them what to do.”

His wife laughed. He covered his ears to block it while looking around for something to make her stop. He saw the hook that had belonged to the Traveler and picked it up. It felt right. Raising it he brought it down against his wife’s chest. It sunk in catching hold of her heart. Then she vanished.

“I’ve done this before,” he thought. “At the house before I went to the bar.”

“Murderer.”

It was his mother’s voice. She came out of the Captains Galley, swinging her rolling pin at him. Johnny lifted the hook to block the blow. Her face was rotting, flesh falling off. A maggot wiggled in the corner of her lips and she slipped out a tongue and pulled it into her mouth.

“I killed you,” he said. “I buried you in the back yard.”

“But you still collect my social security checks.”

“NO! This isn’t happening, it’s not real.” Johnny swung the hook again, vanquishing his mother to the bowels of hell. He noticed that the weapon had now become a part of his hand.

“Captain,” Smee said, “Crocodile ahead at three O’clock.”

“Crocodile? In space?”

“The Galax Sea is large. You would be surprised at what you will find here.”

“Little boys that never grow up?”

“Oh but they do, Peter. Eventually.”

“My name is not Peter, it’s Johnny.”

“Whatever you say, Captain.”

The crock had two heads and made tick tock sounds. Johnny wondered if it had eaten a clock. When it opened its huge maw, taking a chunk out of the boats side, he saw his wife’s face looking back at him.

“What is this madness?” He asked.

“No one ever really leaves Neverland,” Smee said. “Isn’t that right, Peter?”

“I told you, I’m not Peter.”

“You thought you could escape, but old Hook, he found you. Trapped you in your own nightmare.”

“Peter, wake up.”

“Tink, is that you?”

Johnny/Peter looked around. He could see her fairy light, far off in the distance.

“The second star to the right,” he whispered. He turned the wheel, steering the ship back towards Neverland.”

“It’s too late,” Hook said. “You chose the left. You cannot alter your coarse.”

A black hole opened in front of him. Johnny tried to steer away but the ship was caught in the currents. Around him he heard the voices of the Lost Boys, his friends. He had killed them, attempting to escape Neverland. Wendy became his mother. Then he killed her. Heather reminded him of Tink. Only she’d done nothing but bitch. Growing up wasn’t what he had thought. Drinking, he could go back in his mind, but it never lasted. Why couldn’t it last? He closed his eyes and wished for the magic of Neverland again.

“Peter, wake up.” He opened his eyes.

“Tink.”

She smiled down at him, her blond hair falling into her eyes. He should have stayed.

Her eyes changed, becoming dark. They reminded him of the black hole. He smile was now savage, her teeth jagged and sharp. Behind her he heard Cubby. He said he was tired of imaginary food.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Santa Is Coming



Santa Is Coming


     “Santa Claus is coming tonight.”

     Those were the last words Bree’s mother said to her before she turned off the lights and shut the door. There was no light in the room. None. Then a little sliver of light appeared under the door. Her mother had turned on the Christmas tree lights. Bree whimpered. She slipped her hand under her mattress and felt a calm come over her as her small hand wrapped around the knife she’d hidden there. She wouldn’t let the fat fuck hurt her this year.

     “I’ll kill him Trey,” she whispered. “I’ll kill him for you.”

     The light came on in her room and she pulled her hand back. Her mother stood in the door, her dark eyes searching the room.

     “Did I hear you talking to someone?”

     “No mama.”

     “You be good, darling. You hear me Bree. You don’t want to end up on the naughty list. Not like…” Her mother’s eyes drifted off and her mouth fell slack as she tried to remember the name she was going to say.

     “Not like Trey,” Bree finished for her.

     Her mother’s eyes cleared and she looked at Bree. “Who?”

     “Trey. Your son. My brother.”

     “Are you back to that nonsense again. You’re my only child. Always have been.”

      “No,” Bree said. “Trey was older than me. Nine last year… when Santa took him away.”

     Her mother laughed, nervously. “Santa doesn’t kidnap little boys and girls. Go to sleep Bree. Dream of sugar plums and when you wake up, there will be presents under the tree with your name on them.”

     “If I’m here in the morning,” Bree said, “because he might just take me. I’m nine now and last year…” Her voice cut off and she let out a sob. She couldn’t bring herself to say what he had told her when he took Trey. He’d been slack jawed, standing there next to the Santa Claus, as though he didn’t have a will of his own. He was scared though, Bree saw the puddle on the floor and the wet spot that went down his leg. She’d been paralyzed when the Santa had spoken.

     “Next year, Bree. I’ll be coming for you next year, whether your naughty or nice.”

     She’d screamed, once he was gone and her parents came running, but they didn’t understand what she was talking about.

     “He took Trey! Santa took Trey!”

     “Honey, who’s Trey?”

     After Christmas break ended and Bree went back to school, there were other kids missing. The students that were there all had a different look in their eyes. They were afraid. All except for Billy. He didn’t have any brothers or sisters. He raised his hand and  asked where Donny was.

     “Who?” The teacher asked.

     “Donny? And Jenny. She’s not here either. Did they move?”

     “I don’t know what you are talking about, Billy Crumb.”

     Fenton had tried to get his attention, but Billy didn’t notice. He was too intent on trying to remind his teacher who Donny and Jenny were.

     “You can’t have forgotten who Donny is,” he said, genuinely confused. “He had red hair and freckles.”

     Miss Stephanie put her book down that she was preparing to teach out of and opened up her attendance book. “I don’t have a Donny on the list, nor a Jenny.”

     Billy turned around and looked at Bree. “You know who I’m talking about, don’t you?”

     Bree shook her head no. One by one, Billy asked the other kids if they didn’t remember who Donny and Jenny were. One by one the other students shook their head.

     “Have you all lost your minds?” He screamed.

     “That’s quite enough, Billy,” the teacher said. “I think maybe you’d better go see the principle.”

      He never came back. On the playground, Bree and some of the other kids discussed what had happened, traded stories. Seth Johnson’s sister was taken and now his parents acted like she’d never existed. It was the same with everyone.

     “Why don’t they remember, but we do?” Betty Sawyer asked.

     “I think he wants us to remember,” Seth said. “He wants us to be afraid.”

     When they went back to their classroom, Billy’s desk was gone. The student’s exchanged looks with each other, but no one said a word.

     Now it was a year later and he was coming for her. Her mother stood at her door and shut the light back off. “Sweet dreams,” she said and then shut the door.

     As soon as she was alone again, Bree pulled the knife out from under her mattress and put it under her pillow. She closed her eyes and pretended to sleep. Everyone knew the fat man didn’t come unless you were asleep.

     She opened her eyes. Her door had opened. The hinges squeaked. She saw him silhouetted inside the frame.

     “You’ve been naughty, Bree.”

     She slipped her hand under the pillow. “I want my brother back,” she hissed.

     “You don’t have a brother.” He moved and stood over her and then reached out to pull her from the bed. Bree pulled the knife from under the pillow and slashed his hand. He didn’t bleed. Bree had expected blood, but the only thing she saw were wires. Then the Santa’s hand healed over, new skin growing as she watched, filling in the opening until there was no evidence she’d ever cut him.

     “What are you?”

     He didn’t answer her, he just lifted her up and threw her over his shoulder. Then he dropped her into his bag. It was crowded in there. She felt someone’s leg push into her ribs.

     “Bree, is that you?”

     She recognized Seth’s voice. “Yes.”

     “Did you cut him?”

     They had all agreed to kill the Santa. They didn’t know whose house he would visit first.

     “Yes. What is he?”

     “A Vambot.”

     Bree thought about it. She had never heard the term before, but she instinctively knew what it was. Santa was a vampiric robot.

     “What’s going to happen to us?” Another kid asked.

     Bree recognized Richard’s voice, but she didn’t answer him. She knew when she saw the Santa’s eyes. They were Trey’s eyes. And she recognized the shock of red hair that stuck out from under his hat. But she didn’t tell Richard. He had a deep voice… his was the first in their class to change, and she’d heard how the Santa’s voice sounded scratchy. He needed new lungs. But she didn’t tell Richard this. He would find out soon enough.