Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Family Curse

My #FridayFrights entry.

The Family Curse
By Lisa McCourt Hollar

Doctor Frank Stein looked down at the body that lay prone on his operating table. It belonged to Henry  Talbot, the town drunk. He had died only a few hours ago; his body was still warm and if it weren’t for the gaping wound in his neck, it would appear he was sleeping off the effects of his drink the night before.  In fact that’s what he was doing when the doctor stumbled over him , down by the pier. Frank had been looking for sailors that had recently come into port; preferably sick with scurvy and willing to come quietly for a few bucks. Someone that wouldn’t be missed.

Henry fit the bill. His disappearance would be noticed only in the sense that he would no longer be source of income to Tom’s Pub. He also would no longer be an unwanted aggravation for law enforcement. Frank Stein consoled himself with that knowledge when he slit the man’s throat. Not only was he doing a public service to the community, he had a perfect test subject for his latest experiment; Life Renewal.

Lifting the same knife he had used to cut the drunks throat, Dr. Stein poised his hand over Henry’s heart. His own heart beat in anticipation of the thing he was about to do. If he succeeded, his place in the medical community and history, would be secured. Placing the knife against Henry’s skin, he cut a thin line, opening the man and revealing the still organ inside.

“You ready to make history?” Frank asked, inserting electrical prongs into the lifeless organ, matching the spikes protruding from Henry’s head. Similar points jutted out of his neck and Frank had even stuck some in the man’s dick. Maybe Henry would benefit from this little experiment in more than one way. Frank chuckled at the thought. He was sure more than one ‘working lady’ would be grateful for anything that improved Henry’s performance.

 In the background Twisted Sister was playing, the beat pulsating, creating excitement in the air as the doctor reached for the switch. Holding his breath, Frank yanked down on the lever and waited for the body to react to the electricity. The body jumped, twitching on the table and then went still as the laboratory was bathed in darkness. The emergency generators kicked in almost immediately, bathing the room in faint, yellow light.

“Damn!” Frank slammed his fist against the wall, cursing his bad luck. The procedure needed to be done before the body went cold and became too stiff to regenerate. In the distance he heard the emergency siren sound. Looking out the window he stared down at the town, the buildings dark shadows against the moon.

“I must have caused a power surge,” Frank said. “I’ll need to make some adjustments before I try again.” Turning back towards his test subject, Dr. Stein froze; the surgical table was empty.

At first he was confused; dead bodies did not just get up and walk away, then he was excited. Dead bodies did not get up and walk away, but live bodies did, or in this case, reanimated bodies. His experiment had been a success!

“Henry?” Frank looked around the room, but he didn’t see his patient anywhere. “Henry?”  The light flickered a little as the generator started to fail and then stabilized. Frank turned slowly, his eyes searching out the entire room. In the corner the door was open. No, not open…gone, having been ripped out of the frame, creating a hole in the wall.

“Damn.”
***
The rest of the castle was dark. The generators only powered the laboratory, something that hadn’t worried Frank when he’d first made arrangements for the emergency power supply. His lab was the only room he could foresee needing the precaution, it was the only room he spent any time in, other than his bedroom, but even that was rarely used. Now, searching the family fortress with only the aid of candle light, he questioned the wisdom of his decision.

“Henry,” he called, as he made his way slowly down the hall, checking every room he came to. Since the doors were still in place, he thought it might be safe to assume they were empty, but he wasn’t about to take any chances, not when there was the Family Curse to consider.

It had all began with his relative, Dr. Frankenstein and that nasty little whore he’d shacked up with.  The woman was a gold digger, only after his fortune. By the time Frankenstein had woken up to what the harlot was doing, half the family fortune was gone. Heirlooms that had belonged to the Frankenstein clan for centuries had been stolen and sold to finance her spending habits.

The trollup had promptly been thrown out on her ass. The harlot though was not done with Victor Von Frankenstein. She fancied herself an author and wrote a book depicting his experiments in the castle.  She marketed it as fiction but that damn woman nearly destroyed him with her lies, the worst the fictional creation of the Frankenstein Monster.

It was true the doctor had been working on a way to reverse death, but he had been far from successful, but when that woman wrote her book, the town went on a witch hunt. There had been a series of grave robberies and they believed Victor was responsible for them. In fact he was, but it was all in the name of science. Greatness was not achieved without taking some risk. In this case, risk brought persecution. Doctor Frankenstein was driven out of town and the castle set on fire.

Several years later Victor’s son returned, but he had changed his name.  Restoring the castle to its original glory, Dr. Jeckle opened up shop, offering his services as a psychiatrist. Unfortunately a change in name did not vacate the curse that had befallen the family at the hands of the bitch, Mary Shelley. His new experiment, one to eliminate the darker side of his test subjects, failed with disastrous results. The castle was abandoned again, this time sitting empty until Frank came across the deed in his mother’s files.

Shelley Stein, (ironic when he thought of it,) had always been a bit eccentric, but once he found the deed and read the diary of one of his ancestors, he realized he had the chance to restore the family name. He didn’t believe in the curse anyway. Sure, he had been unlucky all his life, barely graduating medical school and always being a step behind his friends in success. But that was about to change.

Or about to get worse if he couldn’t find Henry.  Just how far could a recently, reanimated corpse go, Frank wondered. That question was answered as soon as he reached the ground floor and found the main doors ripped out of their frame.  Moving along the mountainside a dark figure could be seen making its way towards the town.

“And of course, I left the damn moat down,” Frank sighed, turning to pack his bags.


Monday, July 20, 2020

The Monster In The Woods





“There’s a monster in the woods.”

Claire whispered
this to her neighbor, Lily while they walked to school.

“There’s no such things as monsters,” Lily scoffed. She was older than Claire by nearly half a year. She sometimes thought maybe she should hang out with the older girls. Claire was such a baby sometimes, but her mother made her walk to school with her, especially since Danny Long had gone missing the other day, just 2 days after Mark Souza had disappeared. The whole town was out searching for them.

“I heard it,” Claire said. “When I walked down to the end of the lane to get the mail. It was just inside the woods. I heard it before I saw it. It was  cloudy that day and the thing was nearly hidden among the trees. It’s a noisy eater,” She added, mysteriously.

Lily rolled her eyes. Claire was a notorious storyteller. “So what was it eating?” She asked, deciding to play along.

“Danny Long. That’s why they can’t find him. It probably ate Mark, too.”

“Claire Darling, that’s a horrible thing to say!”

“Well it’s true. I just thought you should know… since you and Danny were friends.”

“We aren’t friends,” Lily said. “His dad is friends with my dad, that’s the only reason I talk to him.”

“You kissed him last week,” Claire said. “I saw you… behind Old Man Johnson’s shed.”

“That… that’s not true,” Lily sputtered. “Danny  Long is a spaz, everyone knows that and I would never kiss him. NEVER!” She had stopped walking and was facing Claire. Clenching her fist she shook it at the other girl for emphasis.

“Well, not anymore,” Claire said. “He’s dead. The monster ate him.”

“You are a horrid girl,” Lily screeched. “I don’t care what my mother says, I’m not walking to school with you.” Then she started walking ahead of Claire, increasing her pace so as to leave the other girl behind.

The police were at the school when the two girls arrived. All the other students were standing around, whispering nervously to each other. Lily approached Jane, who was the police chief's daughter. "What's up? Did they find Danny or Mark?"

"No," Jane said. "Tommy Jones is missing. His mom said he went to bed last night, and he wasn't there this morning."

"Did they ask Gary or Mike if they had seen him?" Claire asked.

"What do you know about Gary and Mike?" Chief Evans asked. Claire jumped, surprised to hear the officers voice behind her.

"Just that he had been planning to meet them somewhere yesterday. I don't know where, but heard them talking about it. They stopped talking when they realized I was listening."

"You hear a lot," Lily mumbled.

 Claire nodded her head, ignoring the sarcasm in the other girls voice. "People don't pay attention to the weird orphan girl."

"It's not because you're an orphan that you are weird," Lily said.

"Girls," Chief Evans said, "Gary and Mike ..."

"Gary and Mike Garrett," Jane said. "You remember them dad, they're the ones that played that Halloween prank last year."

"Oh yeah, those two. If I remember correctly, I told you to stay away from them."

"And I have! Claire's the one who brought them up."

"Because Tommy was going to meet them last night, after their parents went to bed."

Chief Evans shook his head. "What is wrong with these kids ... 2 boys missing, boys sneaking out after dark ... Jane, I hope you and your friends know better than that."

"Yes, sir," Jane and Lily said, while Claire nodded her head.

"All right," the Chief said. One of the Chief's officers approached him, a concerned look on his face.

"Sir ..." Chief Evans and the officer stepped a few feet away. While Jane and Lily talked about how scared they were about what may have happened to the three missing boys, Lily moved closer to the two officers, trying to hear what they were saying. Something about another missing boy, and one that was hurt."

***

Chief Evans looked the young boy in the eyes. He looked scared. But the story he was telling was impossible.

"You're telling me a monster attacked you and your brother. Half human ... Half bull."

"Yes. A minotaur. We learned about them in school. Greek Mythology."

"Myth's aren't real," Chief Evans said. "Monsters aren't real. At least not the non human kind."

Gary looked at his mom. She'd been crying, and she shook her head, not understanding the story her son had just told the Chief. It was the same story he had told her earlier and didn't make any more sense now than it has then.

"He's scared," Helen Garrett said. "He's hurt. Lucky to be alive. They gave him some pain medicine ..."

"Mom, I'm not high. I know what happened. Me, Mike, and Tommy were supposed to meet last night. Only Tommy didn't show up. We figured he chickened out, so we went ahead without him."

"To go play a prank on Claire Darling? Why would you do that?" Chief Evans asked.

"Have you ever met her? She's creepy. Always staring at people, listening in on their conversations. We caught her staring at Tommy. So we let it 'slip' that he liked her. Then we told her that Tommy wanted to meet her last night."

"So she thought Tommy was coming over? For what?"

"To make out. Mike and I were supposed to hide and use our phones to record it. He had a mask. He was going to tell her to close her eyes, and then put the mask on and scare her."


"GARISON BRADY GARROTT! Why would you do that to that poor girl."

"It was supposed to be a joke. But we didn't do it. We figured if Tommy had chickened out, we could go and tease her about how stupid she was to think Tommy would want to kiss her. But not only did Tommy not show up, Claire wasn't there either. She was supposed to meet Tommy outside the woods, but she wasn't there."

"Probably because she knew you were planning to humiliate her," Chief Evans said. "She overheard you and Mike talking about meeting Tommy."

 "And then we heard a noise inside the woods," Gary continued, ignoring the Officer.  "Itsounded like a girl giggling. We thought it was Claire and we went in. That's when we saw the monster."

"And then you ran?" Chief Evans asked.

"Yes. But something knocked me down and dragged me back into the woods. Damn near ripped my arm off. I think I passed out. I heard Mike screaming." Gary looked at his mom. "I'm sorry. I didn't know what to do. I just ran. I left Mike behind. I should have tried to save him."

"You did the right thing," his mom said, putting her arm around her son's good side. She hugged him, trying to avoid jarring his bad side. His arm  had been ripped out of its socker when her neighbor found him hiding in the back yard, delirious and rambling about a monster in the woods. Suddenly Gary looked at Chief Evans.

"Is Claire alright?"

"She's fine. Why wouldn't she be?"

"She was there. We hadn't thought she'd shown up, but she was there in the woods. She was talking to the monster."

***

The Principal had cancelled school for the day, and probably for the rest of the week. 4 boys missing and one who barely escaped with his life ... At least that was the rumor going around school ... It wasn't safe for the kids to be out.

Principal Reed had called and left messages for the parents, letting them know their kids would be coming home, but most of the parents were at work. Some of the kids, those that were old enough, had cars and could drive home. A few parents did come to pick their kids up. The rest were left to walk home. Groups of 3 or 4 kids could be seen from his window, as they left the school grounds.

He wondered if they would all make it. Maybe he shouldn't have let school out. Cancelled it at the end of the day, for the rest of the week. Give the parents a chance to make arrangements.  At least at the school they would be safe.

But Principal Reed's daughter was home sick today. And his wife was at work. He wanted to get home and check on her. It was boys who had gone missing, but if it was some pervert ... No, he was sure the kids would get home ok. But Tanya was home alone, and when he called to check on her, she hadn't answered the phone. She was probably sleeping, but he needed to get home and see for himself that she was ok.

Tanya was only 8. He hadn't liked the idea of leaving her home by herself, but Mrs. Townsend was out of town. His wife couldn't call off work. Tanya was a responsible child though. She was to stay in bed until her mother got home at noon. But 8 am and 4 kids missing, those 4 hours until noon seemed too long. He'd caught her sleepwalking last night. She said she'd heard someone singing in the woods.

"It was a pretty song, daddy," she had said. "A lady with a beautiful voice.  I could see her in my mind. She was so pretty. A mermaid."

"Honey, you were dreaming." He'd felt her forehead. She was warm with a fever. He'd given her a pain reliever and tucked her back in. But now he worried, what if she'd had another dream and tried to leave the house again? He'd locked the doors and they had special locks at the top of the door ... This wasn't the first time Tanya had sleptwalked ... But if she stood on a stool, she could unlock the door.

Pulling into the driveway, Ed Reed stumbled out of his car and ran for the door. It was standing wide open.
"TANYA!" He called for his daughter as he ran up the stairs, but he already knew his worst fears were realized. His daughter wasn't in the house.

***

"I head Gary Garrett's arm was ripped off," Frank said. "Blood. Everywhere." He said that part with emphasis, trying to freak out the girls as they all walked home together.

"His arm wasn't ripped off," Claire said.

"Like you would know," Frank said. "My mom's boyfriend is a cop, and he said it was gruesome. That Gary is lucky to be alive. He had a big gash in his throat too. That's what I heard anyway."

"Your mom's boyfriend didn't tell you this?" Jane said. "My dad wouldn't let them talk about what happened. They take an oath. They can't discuss ongoing cases with anyone."

"Well, I overheard him talking this morning."

"No you didn't," Claire said. "You're just trying to talk big because you want to impress Lily. I don't know why. She doesn't like you, she likes Danny."

"Claire," Lily hissed, "quit saying that. I don't like Danny."

"Well not anymore. He's dead. But you did like him."

"He is not dead!" Lily said. "He's missing. They will find him."

"He's probably dead," Frank said.

"Most likely taken by sex traffickers," Jane said. She shrugged her shoulders when the other kids stopped and stared at her. "My dad's a cop. I hear things."

"And that's what they think happened?" Lily asked.

"They think a lot of things. I just know that's one of the possible scenarios."

"So they'll probably find them," Lily said.

"Probably not," Jane said. "I hear things. The longer they're missing, the less likely they'll be found. Mark has been gone for a week. Danny for 3 days. Now Tommy and Mike last night. Probably a whole chain of people. Some to do the snatching, and then hand them off to someone to get them away from here.  Could even be someone local working with them, since no one new has been around."

"They haven't been sex trafficked," Claire said, "and they aren't going to find them. Not even their bodies. They've been eaten."

"Claire Darling, I really don't like you," Lily said. "You are a horrid girl."

"They were eaten?" Frank asked. He sounded like he thought that was cool. "How do you know?"

"A monster ate them. I saw it."

"If you saw something, you have to tell my dad," Jane said.

"Why? He wouldn't believe me. You guys don't."

"Because you are lying," Lily said. "There are no such things as monsters that eat people."

"I'm not lying," Claire said. "I can prove it."

"How?" Frank asked.

"I can take you to the woods and show you."

***

Chief Evans was on his way back to the school, to question Claire Darling about whether or not she'd been in the woods last night, when he got the call about Tanya Reed having gone missing. And she wasn't the only one. Frantic parents had been calling the station all morning.

 And it wasn't just kids who could walk away from their house who were missing. The nursery at the hospital was empty. Every child who had been born in the last few days was gone. Vanished. The nurses that worked the floor had all said they'd heard someone singing. They claimed they were put into some kind of a trance and when they came out of it, the infants were gone.

Chief Evans knew that wasn't possible, but then he got the call from Ed Evans who was babbling on about his daughter and a mermaid that had tried to lure her away in the middle of the night ... Well it was crazy. The whole town had lost their minds, with talk about mermaids and menotaurs. What was next, Unicorns? Centaurs? Maybe Rumplestiltkin would appear and demand the first born child of every one in town.

Whatever was going on didn't have anything to do with mythological creatures. Those things weren't real. But someone very real had taken off with all the missing kids. In his mind he pictures the Pied Piper, luring the children out of town. While he knew that wasn't the likely scenario, he wondered if some kind of a hallucinage was involved. That would explain this mass hysteria. Maybe in the water. Terrorists? Oh geeze, he hoped it wasn't that.

And if it was terrorists, how was Claire Darling involved? She was an orphan. At least she appeared to be. They really didn't know much about her. She'd been found wandering the town a few months ago. No parents and no memory of where she had come from. She just knew her name, Claire Darling. But she always said the last part,  like it was a per name. Claire, darling. Like honey, or dear.

Since the school had closed early, and he still needed to talk to Claire, Chief Evans changed his direction and headed toward the The Blessed Home for Orphans where Claire was the only child resident.  The orphanage was never full. They weren't a large town. Until Claire came along, the orphanage hadn't had any children in it for 12 years. Not long term anyway. The last child there for any length of time was Lily.

She'd shown up under strange conditions too. She wasn't an orphan, but her parents had left her in a basket, outside the church parish with nothing but a note. She didn't even have clothes.  Then when she was 3, she had been adopted by the Roberts. He heard she didn't even know she was adopted. Her parents didn't want her to know she'd been abandoned.

***

"I'm not going into the woods," Lily said.

"She's right," Jane said. "That's not a good idea. We're supposed to go home. Our parents will worry if we don't."

"It will only be a few minutes," Claire said, "but if you're afraid ..."

"I'm not afraid," Frank said. "Let's go."

"Well I am," Lily said. "I don't want to go."

"Then go home," Frank said. "We don't need you."

"If they're gonna go," Jane said, "we should go with them. We're safer together."

"I don't want to go," Lily said.

"I don't either, but if they go and something happens ..."

"Nothing's gonna happen," Frank said. "If there's something there, I'll take care of it." He flexed his arms, trying to show off muscles, though there weren't any to show. "Maybe we'll even find the other kids."

"There is safety in numbers." Jane said

"Yeah, tell that to Gary and Mike," Lily said, but since she didn't want to walk home alone, she followed the others.

***

"What do you mean she's not here?" Chief Evans asked.

"I'm sorry," Mrs Sanders said, "But Claire Darling hasn't been here for a few days. I thought you knew."

"Why would I know that? I brought her here three months ago. Put her in your care. I was never given an order to have her removed, and I never authorized you to have her removed."

"I've got the letter right here." She handed the Chief a piece of paper with the town seal on it. It said that Claire's mother had been found and she was to release Claire to her immediately.  It had the mayor's signature on it. He should recognize it ... The mayor was his wife.

This didn't make any sense to him. His wife had just taken some old clothes to the orphanage. She'd said that Claire should have some nice things, that it would help her fit in with the other kids, until they could find a permanent home for her. If her mother had been found, she would have told him. As he contemplated that,he stared,out the window. Across the road, he saw some movement in the woods.  What he saw didn't make sense, because what he saw was half man, half bull. A Minotaur. And then he saw Jane.

***

"This is where I saw the monster eat Danny." Claire said.

"That does look like blood on the ground," Jane said.

"And look there," Frank said, sounding nervous for the first time. "That's part of Mark's jacket on that tree branch. I recognize it, because we have matching jackets." He pointed to his jacket to show that it did match the material.

"So Mark had to be through here too. But what would he be doing in the woods?" Jane wondered.

"They were lured here. By the mermaid."

"The what?" Frank laughed. Mermaids aren't real. And if they were, they would live in water. There's no water around here."

"They can live for a while outside of water," Claire said, "and walk on land like a human. But only for a few months. Then they have to return. But they get awful hungry. So do Minotaurs. And Minotaura."

"Minotaur what?" Frank asked.

"I'm going to tell you a story," Claire said. "A long time ago, a Siren, also known as a Mermaid, and a Minotaur fell in love. Every year, when she was able to walk on land, she would come out of the water and spend her days with the Minotaur. And then she ended up pregnant. But her daughter was born human ... Or at least she appeared to be human.  She didn't have a fish tail, and she didn't have any bull body parts. So they weren't sure what to do with her.  The mermaid couldn't raise her under the water, and the Minotaur was not suited to raise a human child. So as the Mermaid's last fewdfew on land came to an end, she decided to leave her daughter in the care of the humans. She put her in a basket and left her at the Church orphanage.

"You are saying that was you?" Jane asked. "You only showed up a few weeks ago."

"No. It wasn't me. The Mermaid and the Minotaur were sad. They comforted each other and promised they would check on their daughter every year, because it was possible that as she got older, she could change.  Then, the very next year, they had another child ... Another daughter, and this one was a Mermaid. Mostly. And like her mother, once a year she could come up on land. And she would join her parents in watching her sister grow from afar. But then this year, something changed. Their human like child was changing."

"Changing? Like how?" Frank asked, completely enthralled with the story.

"She began to develop Minotaur features. Not all the time. At night. At first it was only a night here and there. And she didn't know what was happening to her, because she didn't know she wasn't human.  She was scared, because she would wake in the morning, covered with blood ..."

"With blood?" Frank asked.

"She had to hunt. She had to eat. At first, just chickens. A dog,n a cat. Every night she changed, she needed more. She needed the food of the Minotaur."

"What's that?" Frank asked.

"Young children. Boys. Girls.  Not adults. And she started turning more, no longer a night here or a night there, but every night. And before long, it may become permanent. Or not. We don't know."

"We?"

"My parents ... My sister ... Lily always forgot in the morning, but at night, she knows who she is. I've been trying to remind her ... She gets angry. Afraid of what she is.  And now. She's been remembering it. Here and there. She's becoming who she is. She's beginning to accept.  Isn't that right Lily?"

Frank turned to look at Lily, only instead of the girl he had walked into the woods with, he was looking at a girl who was half bull, half girl. Her face was mostly the same, but she had horns growing out of her head. Her legs and feet were those of a bull, and she even had a tail.

Behind her stood an even larger creature, a man whose features resembles a bull. He even had a bull's snout. His torso though was human, and his arms.

Jane was standing next to Lily. At least that was the first impression that Frank had. And then he realized Jane wasn't standing, she was being held up, by Lily. And she had stopped being alive sometime during Claire's story, and had become a buffet for Lily.

Frank's mouth moved. He wanted to scream, but a soft singing stopped him. He turned and stared at Claire, falling into a trance.

"Come with me," Claire sang, and he followed her, deeper into the woods. There was a pond there.

"My days on land have come to an end. I have to return to water, but I'm taking you with me.  There's an underwater stream that will take my mom and me back to the sea, it's a long trip. We'll get hungry.

Stepping into the water, her legs became find, and she slid under, pulling Frank with her. In his trance, he continued to see Claire as beautiful. When her mother came along side her, he only saw beauty in her as well. He never saw the sharp teeth that deformed their mouths, and he didn't flinch when Claire put her mouth over his, sealing his breath so he would survive under water ... At least until they decided to enjoy their meal.

Claire turned to her dad. "I'll see you next year dad. And you too Lily. I love you .,. Even if right now you don't much like me."

"I ... I love you too," Lily said. "Why wouldn't I?"

"She'll be ok," their mother said. "As she becomes more of who she is. She's Minotaura now. Fully so.

Then the two Sirens dove under water, their meal  in tow.

***

Chief Evans ran to the woods as fast as he could. He lost sight of the Minotaur and his daughter.  When he got there, he searched the woods, but there was nothing or no one to be found. For weeks, search parties would comb the woods, looking for some sign of the missing children. They were never found. And while no other kids went missing that year, a constant dread hung over the town, as if it were waiting for the monster in the woods to return.

The End







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.