Resplandor de Gloria by Donald Glass

Victor stood just inside the door watching Rodriguez, not liking what he saw. He’d just come from O’Brien’s room and felt good about the fight, and then he watched Rodrigues warming up.

Same as at the horse track, Victor liked to look at his fighters before a match. Over the years he’d learned a lot watching his horses and their handlers. He could see inside them by watching them warm up, their posture, their stance, and attitude. He could look in their eyes and know how they would run on any given day.  He always stood in the background, not wanting to interrupt their routine.  He afforded his fighters the same courtesy, never talking to them only observing.

Michael ‘The Shamrock’ O’Brien was 26 years old, with a record of 19 and 0. He had recently beaten the 3rd ranked fighter in his weight class. He slipped a left hook and connected with a lucky right cross. He’d won by a knockout when his opponent couldn’t make the standing eight count.

He was quickly signed to fight the current title-holder for the championship. The bout was scheduled for September, 10 months away. It would be the biggest fight of the year and a huge pay day for everyone involved.

Miguel ‘Roddy’ Rodriguez glistened in sweat as he shadow boxed with himself. At age 34 he was 48 and 10, an old school fighter and a southpaw. Born and raised in the ring he could have been great. His father had died when he was young and the gym had become his home. He rose quickly in the amateur ranks and turned pro at 18.

“What do you know about Rodriguez?”  Victor’s man leaned close to ask him in a hushed voice.

“He killed a man, did 5 years.”

“Only five?”

“Self-defense but being a boxer… well you know.”

“Why’d he kill him?”

“Boyfriend was beating on his mom and he walked in on it.”

At the age of 26 Roddy walked in on a fight between his mother and her current boyfriend. The boyfriend had outweighed him by 50 pounds but it didn’t help him. Roddy flew into a rage and had beaten the man so bad he spent 5 days in intensive care and eventually died.

In prison he’d kept his head down and stayed in shape, but upon being released he realized that boxing had passed him by. He was no longer an up-and-comer, he wasn’t even a has-been – he was a never-was. No one even remembered his name. Having no other skills he kept fighting, taking whatever bouts he could. He fought with a chip on his shoulder and a fire in his belly.

The fight was a tune up match for O’Brien, a chance to showcase his talents before the ‘Big Fight’. Roddy had been chosen. With his years of experience, Roddy would be able to put on a good show and take a little beating, paid to take a dive in the fourth round.

But to Victor he didn’t look like a man who could lose on purpose. He looked like a man with something to prove. The smell of sweat and liniment, usually pleasant to Victor, tonight left a bitter taste in his throat and hung heavy in the air. With an hour until the scheduled bout, Victor and his man stepped out into the hall.

“This guy worries me,” Victor said.

“Why?”

“He’s got a look in his eyes… something I’ve only seen at the track.”

“He’s a bum, boss – he’s being paid 5 G’s to go down in the fourth. It’s probably the most money he’ll ever make fighting.”

“You see his tattoo, the one across his back?”

“Yeah, fucking spics and their tattoos. What’s it mean?”

“Resplandor de Gloria… Blaze of Glory.”

Victor glanced back into the room and he saw a man with the attitude and stance of a thoroughbred longshot who didn’t know he was supposed to lose, a horse that couldn’t help but win.  Hire a bum he’d told them, someone to make Shamrock look good. He knew in his soul, just like at the track, they’d hired the wrong guy.

“What are the odds?” Victor asked.

“50 to 1.”

Victor thought for a minute then said, “Put ten large on Rodriguez.”

“But boss he’s going down in the fourth. If you wanna make it look good put something on him. But don’t put ten G’s on him. It’s a losing bet.”

“Just shut the fuck up and do it. That fucker aint going down, it’s just not in him. By the look in his eyes I don’t think there’s enough money in the world for him to take a dive.”

“What will we do about it?”

“The only thing we can do, make a little money.”

“I mean after the fight.”

“He’ll be a dead man this time tomorrow, let him have his glory tonight.”

 

20150118_224425-cropBio:  Donald Glass lives in Altoona, PA. He writes mostly about the underside of life that dwells in every city … including yours. He’s had work published in all the usual places online, including Shotgun Honey, Yellow Mama, Near to the Knuckle, The Flash Fiction Offensive and Dead Guns Press. He has a story, No Place Like Home, in the Dead Guns Press anthology Hardboiled: Crime Scene.

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Hooked On A Feeling by Beau Johnson

She told me up front that she didn’t want children. I have to give her that. Even though it shouldn’t have happened the way it did, I was beyond thinking about such things. What caused this was my frustration towards the lack of understanding I’d found in the last six or seven women I’d dated. In my book this is the key ingredient to great relationships. Not the be all and end all, no, but building blocks at least. Much as I hate to admit it, this is how I ended up at the speed dating website and subsequent dining hall.

As my mother would have liked, I dressed to the nines that night, wearing both a suit and tie, and it’s only as I’m three ladies deep that I find my life changed forevermore.

She was heaven, pure and simple. All brown hair short and blue eyes wide.

All told, the very physical traits I’d come to look for in a face – ones that remind me of both my parents and what I might be able to re-create if I found just the right girl.

The body would always be part of it too, yes, as well as personality, but if that spark isn’t there from the get go then really, what the fuck’s the point? It needs to breathe, that initial attraction, inflating until it must combine or die, depending, of course, upon the other person involved. This goes without saying, and I wouldn’t want anyone to think otherwise. I say this not only because I’m priority focused, but because I’m the type of person who cares how their actions are viewed. That’s out there for me, and I know I am far from the only person who thinks this way, but my father always said it was best to tell the truth if you want to be taken seriously. I want to be taken seriously. It’s all I seem to dream of.

Sasha felt it too, that opening spark, there as we shook hands – what I’m told two weeks into our courtship. This is also when she reiterates that she doesn’t want kids. “I’m a very selfish person when it comes to certain types of scenarios, Jack. I think I should remind you of that before we continue on.”

What could I say? What could anyone say? She was beautiful and honest and the most fun of any of the women I’d been with. In truth, Sasha was everything I was looking for in a partner and someone I could seriously see spending the rest of my life with. Perhaps I was getting a bit ahead of myself, sure, but I’ll let you in on something I’ve come to realize: when a man knows, well, he just knows. I can say this no other way. It probably didn’t help that we were naked and in bed at the time, or that each of us was primed and ready for round two.

“If it still bothers you though, put it where we can’t make babies. I like it that way too. Or my mouth – just open up my throat.” Was it how nonchalant she was about it? Sometimes I think yes. Other times I’m not so sure. I mean, she had always been wild in bed, always, but soon’s I restate my desire of maybe wanting rug rats of my own, this is where things begin to change. Or fall apart. Either way, it’s followed by a decline I have truly come to dread. For one, it brought certain tendencies back into (out to?) play, ones I continue to struggle with despite my resolve: how many teeth is enough, how much bone? And second, it meant the entire process would have to repeat. In hindsight, it leads me to believe that this is where my detachment begins to form – when I finally understand I won’t be getting what I want. It’s the same thing that happened with my parents and the inheritance which had seemed so far off.

“All I want is what I had before, you know.” As with the others, the look comes slow at first, then fast, then all at once she understands.  “Seems to make the heart grow fonder is what it does. Gives me hope as well, seeing what’s possible. I mean that. I truly do. I mean, I am from them aren’t I? Now I’m trying to make them from me.”

And I know how selfish this appears, I really do, but it shouldn’t take away from the fact that I’ve been trying as best I can to hurdle particular themes apparent to my life; wanting what I want, when I want it being chief amongst them. It’s why Sasha and her departure hurts a little bit more than the others I suppose, happening exactly as I hoped it would not – Sasha ultimately displaying the same lack of understanding I’d spoken of earlier. When it comes time to begin anew, however, the methods I choose will be different. No more websites or subsequent dining halls.

My parents raised their son better than that.

october 2014, old camera 029Bio:  Beau Johnson has been published before, usually on the darker side of town.  Such establishments might include Shotgun Honey, the Molotov Cocktail and/or Out of the Gutter Online.  He lives in Canada with a wife who is well above his pay grade.  Unfotunately, she has bore unto him 3 below average children.  His fault clearly.  Genes and all.  They have decided to keep them though.  The neighbours would talk otherwise.

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Dare to Dream by David Barber…

Closing his book and switching off the bedside lamp, Brian Knowles shuffles down under the duvet. He turns and gently kisses his sleeping wife.

“I love you, Sonia,” he whispers, resting his head on the pillow.

He’s on the verge of sleep when his wife suddenly sits up. She lets out a frightened gasp and he reacts quickly, knocking his book off the bedside table as he fumbles to switch on the lamp.

“Sonia? What’s the matter?” he asks, gently rubbing her shoulder, careful not to cause alarm.

His wife just sits there staring at the curtains, her eyes unblinking.

She’s probably still asleep, Brian thinks.

He places his other hand on her shoulder and is about to gently lay her down when she speaks.

“You know that feeling when you wake up and think, ‘thank goodness it was only a dream’?”

“Err, well, kind of,” he says, knowing that she’s about to go off on another of her crazy stories.

“Well, this particular dream isn’t like any I’ve had before,” she starts telling him, pushing herself back up against the headboard.

“Oh, let’s see, you were alone in a log cabin surrounded by darkness…”

“How do you know?” she asks, turning to him. Her eyes are wide, searching his for answers.

He laughs. “You are crazy sometimes, you know?”

“Listen,” she says, playfully hitting him on the shoulder. “We’re up in the Highlands of Scotland, staying in a log cabin at the side of a loch. I can’t remember the name of the loch but it’s totally secluded. We don’t even have a car so I have no idea how we got there.”

“I know,” Brian says, spreading his arms wide and waving them up and down, “maybe we sprouted wings and flew.” Brian laughs at his addition to the story.

“Right, that’s it. I’m not telling you now.” Sonia folds her arms across her breasts and exhales through her nose. She pouts like a spoilt child, a smile sneaking into her expression.

“Aw, come on. I’m only messing.”

“Okay, but no more laughing. You promise?”

“I promise,” Brian answers.

“So, we’d just finished watching TV and you get up to turn it off.  I turn off the lamps and we head into the bedroom… ”

“Ooh, I like the sound of this,” he says, giving Sonia his full attention.

“Sorry mister, there’s none of that in this one. Where was I up to? Oh yeah, so we head into the bedroom and there’s a noise outside, but not a noise that you normally hear, like an owl or something. This sound is different – like a slapping noise.”

“A bit of bondage, interesting.”

“You really do have a one-track mind, Mr Knowles. No, not bondage. The sound is more like… well… steel against skin, like something metal being hit against a hand,” she says, staring at the curtains.

“Hey, are you OK? What’s wrong?” he asks.

Sonia’s expression has changed. Her brow furrows and it seems like her whole body tightens.

“Well, you decide to get out of bed to check what the noise is. You go to the window and throw open the curtains. You can’t really see very much because of the blackness outside and the lamplight inside so you lean closer to the window, cupping your hands around your face.”

She stops again and he notices a tear in her eye.

“Hey, don’t get upset, it’s only a dream.”

She turns to him and looks into his eyes. “I know, but it was just… just too real.”

“Oh, come on. Don’t be daft. You can tell me what happens.”

“No, I can’t tell you. It’s horrible.”

“It’s not real, Sonia. It’s just a dream and don’t people say that bad dreams normally mean the opposite. Go on, spill the beans. Tell me what happens,” he says, squeezing her hand.

“OK. So you’re staring through the window, shielding the light to get a better look, when we hear the sound again. You move your head slightly and mumble something like ‘I think I can see someone’ but then you turn around really fast and shout ‘BOO!’ You’re laughing and I’m telling you you’re out of order for scaring me and calling you names when suddenly the window implodes and this huge man hits you on the back of the head with an axe. There’s blood everywhere and… I’m screaming… and…”

“Hey, hey, calm down. It’s only a dream,” he says, sitting up and comforting her.

They sit embraced on the bed, his arms around her. The room is silent and the energy saving bulb in the bedside lamp is doing its best to brighten it up and lighten the mood.

A strange sound from outside the bedroom window alerts them both.  Not a usual nocturnal noise but something different.

Brian gets up from the bed and walks towards the window.

“No, Brian. Don’t open the curtains. Please,” Sonia says.

Brian laughs, but inside his nerves are biting. “Oh, it’ll be nothing. I think your dream is playing tricks on us.”

He gets to the window and opens the curtains, straining to look into the blackness. He leans closer, cupping his hands around his eyes to get a better look.

“I… I think… I… can see… someone.”

“Stop messing about. It’s not funny,” she says, pulling the quilt up around her, holding it tight under her chin.

Suddenly he spins around, ‘BOO!’  Brian laughs and looks at his wife just as the window implodes.  His eyes go wide as an axe is embedded in the back of his head.  Blood splashes onto the curtains and down the wall as his body goes limp. There’s a squelching sound as the axe is pulled out of his head and he crumples to the floor.  The huge man outside the window shouts into the night and starts climbing into the room.

Sonia just sits there and screams and screams and screams…

She wakes up with a start, sweating and panting for breath.

“Brian,” she mumbles and pats the bed next to her. It’s empty. She sits up and throws off the duvet. Her watch on the bedside table says 7:40 am.

Outside the bedroom the sound of a running shower drifts along the short hallway of the cabin. Sonia gets out of bed, opens the bedroom door and walks towards the bathroom, the dream dissipating into the far corners of her mind.

“Briiiaaannnn, do you fancy some company in there?” she says, opening the bathroom door and walking in.

The room is full of steam and Sonia’s skin tingles as she removes her bedclothes. Naked, she walks towards the shower and gently draws the curtain back. She freezes at the sight before her. The shower head has been snapped off the chrome pipe coming out of the wall and Brian has been impaled onto it. Blood is splashed over the tiles and water is gushing out of the ragged pipe protruding from his mouth.

Sonia screams and stumbles backwards, banging into something. She turns and stares up into the steam. A glint of silver flashes through the steam as an axe is brought down towards her face. Sonia screams again as the weapon closes in.

“NO… NO… NO!”

“Honey, honey. Wake up, you’re dreaming again,” Brian says, gently pushing at Sonia’s shoulder.

She shudders, taking in deep breaths and opens her eyes, a film of sweat covers her face. She sits up and looks at Brian.

“You won’t believe the dream I’ve just had,” she says.

“Oh, don’t tell me. I’ll bet it starts with us being in a log cabin surrounded by complete darkness…”

“How do you know?”

Brian gets up from the bed and walks over to the window, pulling open the curtains.

“Because we are, honey. We’re on holiday, remember?” he says. He turns to her, smiling.

Sonia smiles back. “Yes, I remember,” she says, her heart returning to its normal pace.

Behind Brian the bedroom window implodes, sending shards of glass flying across the room.  The look of shock on his face changes to a blank stare as an axe is embedded into the back of his head.

Sonia’s terrified scream echoes into the cold night air, lost in the mist that has descended onto the cabin.

B&W PhotoBio:  David Barber was born and bred in Manchester, England, but now lives in Crieff, Scotland with his wife and their two daughters.  He has been published in numerous online magazines, including Thriller, Killers ‘n’ Chillers, A Twist of Noir, Near to the Knuckle, The New Flesh and Blink Ink.  He is currently working on a few projects, including a novel, and he’s the editor of Thrills, Kills ‘n’ Chaos

Facebook – David Barber

Twitter – @thetwoblokes   @The TKnC

eBook – From A Crowded Mind

 

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Smiling Cyrus by Lily Childs’

Hurtling. He’s hurtling. Cyrus has a head the size of three balloons welded into one, rubber bumps in all the right places. Someone set him up, something stung him.

Trinkets and engraved goblets topple from overloaded shelves as the boy, nearly a man runs the length of the room and back again. His eyes are peas in the growing face. He tears as them, not knowing if they are about to sink forever into the burgeoning flesh or pop and burst. Salty old seadog, those tears that spill; they sting the stretch marks spreading and ripping at the child’s visage.

Blind, Cyrus throws himself to the floor. Screaming is impossible; the fattened mouth is full to suffocation with a tongue of weeping meatloaf. Who would hear him anyway?

They start with a jingle, the bells; whispering at Cyrus with their teasing voices. He slaps at the spaces his ears used to be, hearing only mosquito torture and fearing another assault. So they play a little louder. The boy shudders as the noise grows in volume. Tinkling, ding dong dinging, tolling and tolling and tolling until the sound is too much and the eardrums inside Cyrus’s attic-sized head explode. The roar that almost kills him is enough to wake Mr and Mrs Cleavage in their bedroom below.

It’s the same every night since their son disappeared. They hear him scream, always at the witching hour of 3:15am. Charlie Cleavage had stopped his wife Debonair from exploring the loft; that was over a year ago. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t wonder – still.

***

“Charlie?”

“What is it hun? Hey, are my eggs ready yet?”

Debbie flips them once, then back again without spilling a drop of bile-shaded yolk. Charlie doesn’t care for his wife’s allergies, or that eggs make her gag every morning. Charlie has needs.

“I want… I mean – can we have a yard sale?”

She slips the eggs onto a plate next to a pile of grits and chunks of fried bread. It’s casual, how she hands her husband his breakfast but he knows she’s up to something. He grabs her wrist. Debonair has long since learned not to give Charlie the satisfaction of a flinch. She sits down, ignoring the pain and smiles with red lips.

“I saw something you’d like.”

Charlie releases his grip, attacks the eggs in a spattering mess.

“What?” is all he can manage with a full mouth.

“Now honey that would ruin the surprise. You know how I like to please you.”

She runs her skinny hand over his knee, hating every moment.

“This is special. But I need a lidda bit of money, and I thought we could – you know, clear out the back-room, the attic, the garage…”

Charlie drops his fork on the plate.

“The attic?”

Debbie smoothes her skirt over knees made of sticks. They shake beneath the floral-patterned cotton.

“Yup. The attic. I decided you were right. Cyrus isn’t coming back.”

Cyrus isn’t coming back. She’s practised the line until it no longer shakes in her mouth. Charlie eyes her, his thick brows bristling like April caterpillars ready to spin a cold cocoon. Ain’t no butterflies in that bastard, Debbie thinks.

“OK.”

He pats Debonair’s leg, lingering at her thigh. She swallows the hate and claps her hands.

“Oh, goodie! I’ll make a start while you’re at the mill today.”

She stands, escaping before he can spread his hand wide enough to hurt.

***

The back-room, Charlie’s den that never was a den is the easiest. She’s done it already. Cleared out the artisanal tables made of maple and deer horn; they’ll fetch a good price. As will her mother-in-law’s “loada fucking’ crap” watercolours.

The garage will be last; Debbie doesn’t understand cars so will leave anything mechanical untouched. She drifts outside to check her pitch at the front of the house before contemplating the loft-space. From the dormer above Cyrus stares down at his mother, not quite understanding why she hasn’t been to see him in so long. At his side, the Tooth Fairy wipes dribble from her plastic chin and rings her bell. Time to eat.

***

Cyrus’s old toys get their kicks in the usual ways, fathering soulless rejects by dolls with no holes, getting high from licks of raindrops that occasionally creep through the rafters. They shake, rattle and roll as Cyrus gets into position. Splayed out with everything on display Cyrus squeezes his eyes shut and lets his friends do their thing. He doesn’t mind so much anymore; it still hurts like shit but as they’ve explained – they are hungry, and if they feed they can stay alive to keep Cyrus company. It all makes sense. No. He doesn’t mind.

***

Debbie sings “Could It Be Magic?”. She’s allowed to sing when Charlie’s not at home. She does a little Donna Summer wiggle and belts out the lyrics as the sale starts to seem like an even better idea than she’d planned. Neatly labelled boxes vie for space beside transparent pink crates crammed with magazines and dog-eared paperbacks. Debbie’s song fades to a hum, trails away to silence. She gathers herself before making the ascent, before looking for Cyrus one last time.

The memory of that day kicks Debbie in the gut harder than a punch from her husband. She grabs the only chair not laden with goods and pulls herself onto it, parking her backside before her legs give way. She doesn’t cry. “Crying’s weak, bitch.” For once she is grateful for Charlie’s uninvited lesson because today she needs more strength than she has ever summoned before. She thinks of Cyrus’s freckled face; how his nose had a permanent pink stripe on the bridge from squinting at the sun. Debbie reaches out her hand to stroke the hair that isn’t there. Pale, almost peach strands of fine, fine locks – like hers used to be before Charlie declared he would never consider marrying a ‘non-blond’. She draws back to pat at her own head, fingering the stiff tresses murdered by peroxide.

When Cyrus hadn’t come home from school Debbie instantly believed him dead; abducted by trailer-trash and dumped, lifeless somewhere in the forest – the very place Charlie spent his time killing trees for a living. Charlie hit her a good one for that outburst.

The cops did their bit, a few perfunctory searches and a poster campaign, but Debbie could see it their eyes – eyes that wouldn’t return her pleading stare – they knew Cyrus was dead too.

It had quickly transpired Cyrus had never even gone to school that day. He hadn’t got on the bus, didn’t turn up to meet his pals on the corner first. They assumed their friend was sick – that’s what they told the driver. The day’s relief teacher, being new to the role had accepted Cyrus Cleavage’s absence without contacting the parents. It turned out to be the last teaching job he’d ever have but that was no comfort to the Cleavages. Charlie had made sure the young man would never make a mistake like that again, and would likely never sire a child of his own. He thought Debbie didn’t know, but she knew a lot more than Charlie gave her credit for.

Once the pre-school disappearance became common knowledge suspicions did the rounds, coming squarely back to land on the Cleavages’ shoulders. Charlie’s temper was no secret and that stuck-up wife of his had to be complicit.

Debonair wipes a lonely, disobedient tear from her cheek.

“But we didn’t do it Cyrus, did we? Not even your Daddy with those filthy fists o’his. He never touched you.”

Upstairs, a glass breaks. Downstairs, Debbie gasps. She hears it, like she’s heard that scream every night. But this is louder still, and in broad daylight. She grabs the keys from the table, forcing her trembling legs to carry her into the hallway. If she could leap three steps at a time she would but dainty skips will have to do.

Another crash. From the very top of the house. Debbie’s heart is a throbbing casket, pounding in her ears, rushing blood through too-thin arteries.

“Mommy! It hurts. Help me.”

Debbie cannot open her mouth to call her son’s name but in her head she shouts in reply “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

She is at the top hallway. Muffled bell sounds tinkle through the ceiling, clashing with the jingle of keys in Debonair’s hands. She stares about, searching for the pole to pull the ladder down. It isn’t where she left it. Charlie must have moved it when he put the lock on the inner door to stop her going up there. She tries to calm herself though her nostrils flare and her chest palpitates. She’s seen it somewhere else over the last couple of days, hell she’s even seen it this morning.

“Think, woman,” she grinds her teeth as the noises above her rise in pitch.

The garage.

“Mommy…”

She wants to scream but tries to sound calm for Cyrus’s sake.

“I’ll be back in a sec honey. Wait. Don’t go anywhere.”

The comment doesn’t strike her as idiotic until she’s out the side door and standing on oil-stained concrete. Quickly scanning the room she spots the pull-pole hanging from Charlie’s neat tool board. The nail falls to the ground as Debbie yanks the pole down and heads back inside the house, leaving the garage door open. Charlie can beat her for that later; it won’t matter to her any more.

Her body speeds on adrenalin as she races back up the two flights of stairs.

“I’m here Cyrus! Mommy’s here.”

But now the world above her screams in overwhelming silence because Cyrus isn’t there. Even as Debbie drops the hatch and drags the ladder down she knows her son was never there. She ignores her own fear and mounts the steps regardless. Reaching the top she must crawl into the holding space to access the short door and is stalled by a moment of wonder that her hulk of a husband could have installed something so solid in such a cramped place.

It’s dark. She fumbles at the fob in her hand. Five keys of different sizes. She hadn’t asked Charlie which was the right one for the loft when he threw them at her but through trial and error is successful on the fourth attempt. Her fingers are sticky with sweat as she twists the lock and pushes the door open.

There is no broken glass. There are no bells chiming. Cyrus isn’t sitting cross-legged on the dusty floor waiting for his mom because Cyrus is hanging from the ceiling by his hair. He is dressed in a life-size teddy outfit sewn from smaller bears, ripped apart and rejoined. Blood drips from every clumsy stitch, wrought with the same thread that has sealed Cyrus’s mouth into a permanent smile.

Debonair Cleavage drops to her knees. She doesn’t flinch as the door clicks shut behind her though the sound drowns out her ears. Sunlight blares through the dormer window to create a halo around her swinging son.

“Cyrus, where have you been?”

It’s all she can manage to say.

To her sides, feet scuttle behind piles of ephemera. Clonking great wooden shoes and soft rubber pumps trip towards Debonair who is staring at her son’s face, his own eyes huge with warning. A migraine of sparks whirl in the periphery closing in on the desperate mother. She twists abruptly.

“What the…?”

They dance, not slowly but with violent lurches and spins as though reeling from coiled springs wound to the limit. The procession of toylife rushes at Debonair, teeth gnashing, ready to bite. Those with hands clasp the strangest of weapons – toenail scissors, broken electricals with buzzing exposed wires… Cyrus convulses. The golden locks tear from his scalp as he writhes. Debbie crawls towards him, raises her arms up to grab at his feet – all too late. The dolls attack Debonair from all directions and even as Cyrus’s body slumps to the ground beside her – so close, so close – he can see them feeding already. He loses consciousness as tiny fingers dip into the pouring lacerations in his skull.

***

Dusk falls and the Mill Bar has closed for the week, sending workers away until the Monday shift. Charlie guzzles the last of his personal supply and remarks on the state of the lawn as he pulls into the Cleavage driveway. Two trestle tables have fallen over in the wind; the old curtains his wife has used to cover them are strewn on the grass. Has she sold everything? Reluctantly impressed, Charlie starts to wonder what treat Debonair will be buying him with the proceeds. His pleasure is short-lived; he can clearly see light glaring into the garage as its door slowly peels backward. She’s left the inner-door wide open – how many times has he told her? Trust her to ruin everything. He storms into the house, his hand already raised for the slap.

“Debonair?”

She’s up in the attic; he can hear her dragging stuff about.

“Get your sorry ass down here and tell me what the hell’s going on.” Patience isn’t one of Charlie’s few virtues; when his wife fails to respond he bounds up the stairs two at a time.

“Debonaire! Dammit woman, you answer me when I’m talkin’ at ya.”

The thud from above is enough to stop Charlie in his tracks for all of a second. He rushes the remaining stairs toward the first floor landing and is up on the top level in moments. The step-ladder is still hanging from the loft. Charlie squeezes his bulk onto it and climbs, frowning at the whispering noises that twitter in the space beyond the hatch. If she’s stolen his radio she’s gonna pay. He hammers on the solid construction – a fine piece of work – and twists the key that his wife has left in the lock.

“I’m comin’ in Debonair. You’d better be…”

Charlie’s words are ripped from his mouth, along with the end of his tongue. Shrill laughter pierces his eardrum as the knife glints – it is snatched away by unseen hands and his mouth fills with hot blood. Choking, he spits on the floor. The flow won’t stop. He reaches for the light-pull but even as he tugs it stinging arrows fly at him from the corner of the room. Squinting with pain he spies the bow from his son’s old archery set waving about, but not who is firing at him. His legs give way and he has no time to feel shame. He lands hard on his butt, his fat cheeks crashing into a pile-up of metal automobiles – Cyrus’s collection of all things with wheels. Charlie had taken them from the boy the day he went missing, angry with the lad for answering him back. Now they are crushed. Grief hits Charlie unexpectedly; his son would never be able to play with them again. Even if he were still alive, the vehicles were probably broken beyond repair, all because of me. Charlie slams a fist into the hardwood floor. The shock resonates through his core, sparking his senses back to life.

“Who’th here?” he lisps, splattering rusted spittle down his plaid shirt. The only sound is his heart drumming in his ears. Outside the wind is rising; it howls though the rafters. The sky blackens with purple storm clouds that rage black against the dormer window. Charlie doesn’t see them because of the two life-size puppets that drop from the beam to obscure his view and stop his breath. They dance. Strings rise and fall to move the limbs, they flip and flap in broken symmetry. The bile in Charlie’s gut surges upward to burn his throat as he recognises the outlines of his wife and son. Behind him, a dull click as the string-pull is grabbed and the bodies are flooded with light.

“Jesus fuckin’ hell.”

Charlie pisses his pants at the scene before his eyes. The corpses of the only family he has left in the world are bloated and pulsing, the skin rippling. How can Cyrus be here? How long has he been here? The realisation that his son must have been alive all this time and living in the goddamn house – the god-damned house – hits Charlie with such force the angry, violent heart that’s been swelling and beating at an impossible rate finally breaks. He roars in agony, clutching at his left-arm – its flesh already torn from the arrow attack – and collapses. As Charlie Cleavage’s chest spasms the last sound he hears is that of bells; his last vision is his wife and son’s mouths dropping open and dolls and toys of all makes and sizes crawling out to drop to the ground. The man that didn’t kill his son but beat his wife dies at their feet as they empty out before him.

***

They have done with this family, these creatures made by human hands. They have fed – gorged themselves on Cleavage blood until the hosts became their playthings. They leave the crusts behind – paper-thin of skin and void of organs – and beat a strange retreat into the woods behind the house.

Tooth Fairy has collected her dues. She drags molars and incisors in a brown leather bag; they clink against each other, jingling in discord. As she closes the Cleavage back door she coughs a spark into the kitchen. It catches Debonair’s red and white chequered table-cloth, the cotton flares, flames rising to lick at papers and cardboard boxes. They burn fast. With no-one to dampen the fire’s enthusiasm it pulls the rafters into its maw.

No-one will care. The boy – long-gone – has already been grieved for. Not a single person will shed a tear for Charlie Cleavage. And Debonair – Debonair was already a shell – she left years ago.

***

If you go down to the woods today… beware the tiny bells. Sometimes they chime. And sometimes they bite.

Lily-Childs-PicBio:  Lily Childs… writes dark fiction, horror and chilling mysteries. She is currently completing her first novel, a supernatural asylum thriller set in the south of England. Her twisted fairytale, In Search of Silver Boughs will be published by KnightWatch Press in their subscriber chapbook series in 2016.

Lily’s work has appeared in many anthologies and collections; she has also published stand-alone short stories such as the recent Within Wet Walls and The House of Three (Ganglion Press). In 2015, Lily’s B-Movie tale Bite of the Horrorcane burst forth from KnightWatch Press’s Killer Bees from Outer Space and Jimson Jane seethed its way into The Grimorium Verum from Western Legends Publishing. She has also been published by James Ward Kirk Fiction and Soul Bay Press.

Cabaret of Dread: a Horror Compendium (2012) is a gathering of Lily’s terrifying tales. It includes her psychological crime thriller Carpaccio, nominated for a Spinetingler Award in 2011 and Smiling Cyrus, which is re-published here on TK’n’C. She is a member of The British Fantasy Society, former Horror Editor at Thrillers Killers ‘n’ Chillers e-zine and owner/editor/publisher of Ganglion Press.

Lily’s books on Amazon

Blog:  The Feardom

Twitter @LilyChilds and Facebook.com/LilyChildsFeardom

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Filed under Flash Fiction

The Writing on the Wall by Col Bury…

Sarah Brinkley was too timid for the Job and soon realised it wasn’t for her.  To be honest, deep down she had known all along.  She’d learned quickly that working Moss Side and Longsight certainly wasn’t for the faint-hearted.  Anyway, they’d frozen her pay, and upped the retirement age and her pension contributions, so there wasn’t much point in sticking around as she’d probably never get to see it.  And she certainly wouldn’t miss the goddamn paperwork, that’s for sure.

Mike was really understanding about her decision to quit the cops, and secretly relieved, she’d sensed.  He always used to back her up, even at the simplest of jobs, saying, those were the ones that could catch you out, when your guard was down.  The response sarge soon twigged and, due to lack of resources, Mike got a bollocking for unnecessarily tying himself up at her jobs.  Despite this, he’d still turn up to ensure she was safe, bless him.  Anyway, even though being a Bobby hadn’t suited her, at least she’d found her soul mate by joining up.

“You moving in this place then?”  The elderly woman, carrying a bag of groceries, didn’t make eye contact.

“Yes… yes we are… we have.”  Sarah couldn’t disguise the pride in her voice, at her and Mike having finally found their dream home, away from the noise, pollution and ‘fuckwittery of the city’, as Mike so eloquently put it.  Now they were beyond the outskirts of Manchester, just into Derbyshire.  “Do you live through the woods? I saw a little cottage earlier.”

“Sure. On my own now. It’s lonely out here… alone.”  Her voice was crackly, like sticks breaking underfoot.

Still no eye contact. Strange.  “Oh, Mike and I will pop over to see you. He could cook you a meal. Was a head chef in The Trafford Centre before he joined the police. He’s lovely is my Mike. Funny too, he’ll soon cheer you up.”

“We’ll see.”  She craned her neck upward at charcoal clouds.  “Best get going. It’s a different place at night, you know.”  She turned away and trudged off, unsteadily, using a wooden walking stick.

“Bye… er… do you have a name?”

She didn’t turn round.  “Sure.”

“Mine’s… Sar..ah…”

The old lady mumbled something, Sarah didn’t fully catch.

Very odd.  Sarah watched her go, slowly disappearing through a path of flattened foliage into the woods.  Sarah shrugged and went back inside the grand old house.  Their grand old house.  Smiling with pride, she grabbed the metal wallpaper scraper and busied herself in the huge living room.  Well, it was huge compared to their dingy end-terraced in Eccles.

She thought of the aged woman, as she laboriously stripped the walls.  Why was she so aloof?  Maybe her age.  Probably lost her husband.  Anyway, nothing could spoil this dream move for her and Mike.  They’d saved up, sold up and here they were, amid the beautiful scenery of the Peak District.  It was a bit of a drive for Mike, but beat the concrete jungle any time.

The house sale – damn cheap too for its size and location – went smoothly and Mike’s transfer would hopefully come through soon.  Sarah recalled her excitement as she checked on Google Maps how close this house was to his new prospective workplace.  “Ten miles and just half an hour’s drive,” she’d said excitedly.  They’d hugged because they both knew it could really happen.  Mike had joked that he couldn’t wait to be like Nick Berry in Heartbeat, him being so fed up with working the city.  They were just up the road from one of her favourite places too: The Peak District national Park.  It truly was meant to be.

Sarah stopped scraping as she saw a girl’s name scrawled on the wall.  It was faded, but she could just about make it out.  Lucinder.  Bet it’s when a kid who’d lived here had measured herself.  But there was no pencilled line, just the number beside it.  Aw, must be her age.  She scraped some more and saw Jennifer 9.  It reminded her of the fact they couldn’t have kids.  It wasn’t Mike’s fault, it was her.  It had been a dark day when the doctor had informed them, but Mike was the perfect gent about it – “It doesn’t change anything. I love you and always will, Sarah.”

Glancing again at the names, she shook thoughts of kids away.  This new house was their ‘baby’.  If it wasn’t for their… her… infertility, then they probably wouldn’t have self-indulged with the move.  Now though, nothing would spoil this for them.

Hearing a crunching sound, she paused and glanced through the bay window.  It was Mike pulling up on the drive, the four by four’s sidelights flicked off.  She ran to the front door, like a giggly school girl.

They embraced, a tingle of excitement shooting through her.

“Bloody’ell, darkness falls quick round here, dunnit?”

“It’s lovely though.”

“Certainly is, babe.”  They unhooked themselves.

“Drive home okay?”

Mike grinned.  “Stunning scenery… and I defo went the scenic route.”

They strolled down the hall into the living room.  “What do you mean?”

“I was driving round in circles for twenty minutes. Bloody Sat-Nav lost its signal.”

Sarah picked up the scraper again.  “Work okay?”

“Same shit, different day. Need I say more?”  He raised his eyebrows. “So, what’ve you been up to? Busy I see.”

“Talking to the neighbour.”  Her face contorted and she passed him a spare scraper.

“Hang on, let me get me bloody coat off, cheeky.”  He took it off, lay it on their new leather suite that was still covered in plastic while they decorated.  “What’s with the face? We’ve not moved close to weirdos have we? I get enough of them at work, and that’s just supervision!”  He grinned again.  “I knew things had gone too well.”

“Nah, just this old lady. She was a bit strange, but I’m sure she’ll come round, once she gets to know us.”

“Strange?”

“Wouldn’t look at me or tell me her name.”

“That’s cos yer a dodgy Mancunian.”

“Oy! Says the man arrested in his teens for joyriding.”

“I didn’t know the car was stolen, honest. And there was no charge.”  Mike regarded her, mischief dancing in his eyes.  “Anyhow, you calling me a scrote?”  He tickled her and they laughed and wriggled, then embraced and kissed.

Sarah broke free first.  “Here, I want to show you something.”  She passed him the spare scraper and this time he took it.  She pointed at the girls’ names.

“And?”

“And, nothing, it’s just… help me. Let’s see if there’s any more.”

Mike looked at the bay window and walked over, shutting the blinds.  Opposite, trees swayed and creaked in the wind.  He reached up and shut the top windows before peering out of the window.  “It’s pitch black out there. You can really see the stars. No light pollution here, eh?”

“Here’s another one…”  Abigail 4.

Mike studied the names.  “So the previous owners had three girls. Bet they’re grown up by now, judging by the style of this crappy old wallpaper.”

They both scraped away.

“Mike. Look.”

Sarah pointed at another name.  They stared agog.  Joanna 10  – screamer.  “What the hell does ‘screamer’ mean?”

“Dunno.”

Sarah heard a dull thud and jumped.  It came from below, in the bowels of the house.  “You hear that?”

“What? Hey, steady on, babe. Old houses make noises you know. Chill.”  He smiled reassuringly, smoothed a hand across her cheek.  “So do yer reckon the numbers are their ages?”

“Assume so.”  She was still looking through the open living room door into the hall.

They continued peeling off the paper with vigour.

Mike suddenly stopped.  “Bloody’ell, Sarah.”  He pointed.  “They’re not ages… they’re marks… marks out of ten. What the…?”

Sarah saw the name Layla 9 / 10.  She quickly scanned the other names and numbers.  Jennifer 9 also had  / 10, but it was somewhat faded.

“Jesus. What is this, hun?”

“Don’t worry. It’s probably nothing. Summat obvious, that we’re missing.”

They bounced looks, then continued.

Sarah stopped, leaned against the wall, arms up.

“What’s up, babe?”

“It was just something the old lady said as she walked off.”

“What? What did she say?”

“I thought she said, ‘They never caught him, you know’, or something like that.”

“Really?”  Mike looked stern, not his usual self, fuelling Sarah’s angst.

“I think so. Does your laptop get a signal here.”

“Er. Not sure. Not had chance to check yet, but I’m paying for it and the telly’s working, so it should do. I can give it a go.”  He walked into the dining room and grabbed his laptop from the drawer of the sideboard containing his football trophies.  Sarah joined him as he turned it on and placed it on the dining room table.  They both sat down and waited for Windows to fire up.

“Yes!”  The Web browser opened.  “Okay, what are we searching for exactly?”

Sarah hesitated, then said in a hushed voice.  “Missing girls in Derbyshire?”  Mike frowned at her, shook his head, and typed it in.

They stared as eight photos came up.  “Jesus Christ. Look at the names, Mike.”

Suddenly the lights and laptop went off.

Sarah felt ice shoot up her spine, and screamed.

“Shit. Okay, calm down. Give me your hand. It’s okay, babe. I’ve gotta torch on me phone.”  After a few seconds fumbling, he lit the immediate vicinity, shining the light around, causing shifting shapes of the furniture around them.

“Did you see that? The names… I’m really scared, Mike.”

“Come on. Get a grip. Please. I’ll go down to the cellar.”

“No, don’t leave me.”

“I won’t. We’ll both go. It’s probably just a blown fuse. The house hasn’t been lived in for a while. They did say that, remember? That’s why we got it so cheap. Needed a bit of work.”

They moved slowly out of the dining room, into the living room, through the hall and up to the door beneath the staircase.  Sarah felt a shudder as she peered into the kitchen to the rear, its dense blackness seemed to stare back at her.  She quickly looked away, holding Mike’s hand every step of the way.

Thankfully, the door to the cellar didn’t creak.  The phone torchlight wasn’t so bright, and Sarah felt jumpy, seeing dark, fluctuating shapes and shadows.  She’d not been down here before.  It smelled really musty.  The stairs were stone and their footsteps seemed amplified by the gloom.

“You okay?”

She didn’t answer.

“Right. The fuse-box is over here somewhere.”

“What’s that?”

“What?”

“There. Looks like another door.”

“Oh yeah. Not noticed that before.”

In the far corner was the shape of an old dark wooden door, somewhat camouflaged in the brown stone brickwork.  “We’ll take a look in a minute.”

“We don’t have to.”

“Here we go.”  He shone the torch at the fuse-box.  “You’ll have to just let go of my hand for a minute.”

Sarah released her grip, her hand clammy, her heartbeat audible.

“Yep, as I thought.”  A click later, and the lights came on, including the bare bulb just above them.

Mike grinned.  “You gonna relax now, babe?”

The wooden door burst open and a dark figure flew at them.  The sword swung at Mike before he could turn, and it cut through the air toward his head.

Sarah screamed and froze to the spot.  Everything funnelled in, like slow motion.  The bearded man wearing a long black cloak turned to her.  He leered, his manic eyes shining with glee.  She looked at Mike and he staggered.  His expression was fixed, wide-eyed.  His head slowly slid from his neck and fell off onto the stone floor.  It bounced, settled and he stared up at her, like a dead salmon.  His jerking body crumpled beside her, blood spurting onto her legs from the gaping neck.

Catatonic, she couldn’t scream.  Her legs wobbly, she turned to the stairs and clambered up.  She instantly heard throaty laughter and felt sturdy hands gripping her ankles, as her bladder gave way.  She was pulled back down, slowly, her chin buffeting the steps, one by one.  At the bottom, he grabbed her by the hair and an excruciating pain ripped through her scalp as she was dragged past Mike’s head, those eyes still staring, helplessly.

“I hope you’re a ten out of ten, like Joanna,” the man said gruffly, before slamming the door.

Col BuryBIO:  Col Bury is the former award-winning Crime Editor of Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers. His short stories have featured in many anthologies, most notably, THE MAMMOTH BOOKS OF BEST BRITISH CRIME 9, 10 & 11. Col is the author of two short stories collections, MANCHESTER 6 and THE COPS OF MANCHESTER and his debut novel, MY KIND OF JUSTICE will be out in June 2015 via Caffeine Nights Publishing.

Amazon UK http://amzn.to/1HjTSYo   Amazon US http://amzn.to/1KV3f1m

Website http://colburysnewcrimefiction.blogspot.co.uk/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Manchester-Series-by-Col-Bury/236941263032722

Twitter @ColBurywriter

 

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Filed under Flash Fiction

Suffering Succubi by Matt Hilton…

‘I am “freedom”.’

The woman stood on the penultimate step on the descent to the cellar. She had halted there, standing in silence, waiting for my bloodied eyes to register her presence, for my concussed brain to make sense of her.

Even with clots adhering to my lashes, my eyelids swollen from the repeated beatings, she was a vision of beauty.

An emerald green dress fit as closely as her musky scent to a body as perfect as any masterpiece designed by Michelangelo. Blazing red hair hung about her shoulders, curls bunching on the swellings of her breasts. Her dress was cut low and I watched the slow rise and fall of the pale orbs that it strained to contain. On her feet were satin slippers, as green as the dress, as green as her eyes as they surveyed me.

‘Have you come to let me go?’

‘I have come to set you free,’ she corrected in a voice as mellifluous as distant birdsong.

‘Then undo these chains and I’ll be gone from here.’ I was trussed to an upright beam, stripped naked as a baby.

‘You misunderstand me, Carter Bailey,’ she said, and this time her voice was every bit as sweet as before, but it was the sweetness of decay and rot.

‘Worth a try,’ I said.

She took the final step down and halted again. Her features appeared set in porcelain, her lips were the painted smile of a creepy pot doll, eyes as solid as their emerald twins. A dim bulb flickered in the stairwell above her, causing the shadows to jitter and shift. The woman’s shadow did not move, because she had none.

‘Who are you?’

‘I am the one you came looking for.’

‘You are Saoirse?’ I gave her name the modern Irish pronunciation: Sur-shuh.

‘Seer-sha,’ she corrected, in the singsong original Celtic tongue. ‘As I said, my name means “freedom”.’

I rattled my chains, thinking of my brother, Cassius, who regularly wore chains when I visited him in the deepest dungeon of my psyche. I could almost feel pity for the depraved lunatic now that I experienced a little of the discomfort he was eternally subjected to. Almost, but not quite. Cash deserved his torment; he could never atone for the suffering he put my wife and unborn child through, or the dozens of other women he raped and slaughtered before I killed the bastard.

Sticks and stones, Carter. Cash’s taunting voice scratched its way through the recesses of my mind. Just thinking of him was enough to wake him from slumber. He’d been conspicuous by his absence during my beating, when I needed his assistance most.

I ignored Cash and concentrated instead on Saoirse.

She moved without seeming to move. She didn’t walk, that was for sure, because I was eyeballing her long, long legs, imagining them wrapped around my back and they never once put as much as a ruffle in that form-hugging dress. The lustful thought clung on, even after I realised that it was more akin to something that Cash would voice, and I had to tear my attention back to her face. No, she hadn’t walked over, yet when I tilted my head up to meet her gaze, she was directly in front of me, so close I felt the exhalation of her breath on my skin.

‘Why did you seek me, Carter Bailey?’

‘Why do you think?’

‘You thought to kill me.’

‘Killing you was never an issue, I hoped only to stop any further killing.’

‘Yet you brought with you a gun.’ Saoirse lifted her right hand and something cold and hard-edged settled under my jaw. ‘And this.’

I couldn’t see what it was that she held to my throat, but I didn’t have to. I knew it was the knife handed to me by my friend and mentor, Paul Broom, Britain’s sixteenth bestselling horror author, when he heard of my latest fool mission.

‘It just might come in handy, Bailey,’ he had said as he handed over the intricately carved silver blade. The handle was bone and looked too much like the knobby end of a human fibular to be coincidence.

‘There might be nothing in the stories,’ I’d told him. ‘You know how urban legends grow out of folk tales and take on a life of their own: do you really think a succubus is alive and kicking and harvesting souls in bleakest Lancashire?’

‘I’ve heard crazier stories,’ he said with a pointed squint at me.

Broom was one of the few people who truly believed in my claim that the soul of my serial-killing sibling was trapped within me, and that the shared near death experience we’d experienced had made him my captive when the paramedics jump-started my heart again. Having discovered what he’d done to my wife and unborn child, my brother had almost murdered me too, but I’d turned the tables and took the fight back to him. Locked in brutal combat we’d both taken a fall from the dilapidated windmill on my property, and sank, still beating and tearing at each other into the stagnant waters of the canal below. Our bodies drowned, but our spirits had still been coiled together in battle when the intervention of well-meaning paramedics had snatched us both back to my mortal coil. It was a difficult claim to palate, but Broom took it even without the proverbial pinch of salt. Broom also believed in my proclaimed ability to read people’s auras, and to also feel the pull of dark energy, and he’d almost convinced me that I wasn’t totally bat shit crazy after all. Limping about on a walking stick, throwing back his mane of blond curls, he reminds me of an aging rock star or over the hill pro-wrestler. On his knuckles he’d had the letters WWDAD tattooed as a reminder of his constant fight against the supernatural denizens of his fevered author’s mind. What would Derek Acorah do? I wondered. I was pretty sure that the famed psychic medium wouldn’t have sought a soul-sucking succubus armed only with a tarnished silver knife and a handgun: at the very least he’d have had a camera crew and the backing of a major cable TV company behind him. Foolishly I’d come to this backstreet of Blackpool alone. And now I’d paid the price of my stupidity. I should have weighed in that knife at one of the many skanky stores that lined the neighbourhood promising ‘We Buy Your Scrap Gold and Silver’.

But I hadn’t been able to deny the tugging in my chest, the feeling within me that drew me like metal filings to a lodestone, whenever I sensed the presence of dark energy. Cash had to atone for his crimes; I had to atone for my failings. In failing to protect my wife and baby I had accepted my self-imposed punishment to root out and destroy evil wherever it reared its ugly head. I tried to think of it as an extreme form of community service, while Broom preferred that I was serving a higher court than human law.

Saoirse removed the knife from my throat. My relief was only momentary. She laid it between my legs.

Whoa! Hold on there, Red! Go ahead and cut Carter’s friggin’ throat but I’m going to need the old family jewels when I take claim of his body!

It was nice of Cash to express his concern for my well being. Yeah, right. In my head, I told him, “Cash, she’s not interested in taking my bollocks. She’s after souls and guess what? Here she gets the special BOGOF deal.”

Shit, Cash said, I never thought about it that way.

“Now would be a good time to loan me a few of those special skills you have in your arsenal, dear brother.”

When imprisoning Cash in the dungeon of my mind I’d to devise the most intricate methods of containment, because in life the son of a bitch had been as tricky as Harry Houdini, and simply locking him down with handcuffs and gaffer tape had never been enough.

‘What are you mumbling about?’ asked Saoirse.

‘Nothing important,’ I lied. ‘Just wondering if you really look like that or if you’re a fan of old Maureen O’Hara movies.’

‘You like the way I look?’

‘Of course. Who wouldn’t?’

Saoirse proved as vain as most other supernatural beings I’d met who used the weapon of sexual desire to deceive and enrapture before sucking your life force out of every orifice imaginable. To be fair I hadn’t met many. Actually, she was my first, but she was vain all right.

She was at once before me then at the bottom of the stairs again. She ran one hand through her fiery hair, the other on her propped hip. Then she turned away, turning her head to give me a smoky pout over one bared shoulder. The dress shimmered off her body as liquid as mercury, puddling around her finely turned ankles, and I was given a view of her in all her glory.

‘What about now?’ she teased.

“Yeah, now would be a good time,” I told Cash.

Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, bro.

“How about a nice Perspex cell with a view?”

How’s about you set me up on a barstool at Hooters?

“Take it or leave it, Cash. Agree, or your next prison will be inside the lovely Seer-sha’s gut.”

‘Do you find me comely?’ Saoirse turned with a dancer’s grace, and again was before me without any sign of apparent volition. I’d have got an eyeful of her main assets if she hadn’t looped her knife hand over her breasts. Her other hand, and my Glock, was artistically placed over the juncture of her thighs.

‘”Comely” isn’t a word used very often these days,’ I said. ‘Just how old are you?’

‘As old as Lilith’s children,’ she said with a smile.

‘It’s surprising what the odd nip and tuck can do for you these days, isn’t it?’ Despite myself I could feel the ardor rising in me. Ardor’s another word you don’t hear much and has kind of fallen out of usage except in poorly written bonk buster novels or the latest Paul Broom chiller. I’d learned a lot of old words since Broom had taken it upon himself to be my Professor X. I’d learned quite a few archaic names too, and understood that Lilith in some religious texts was recognised as the first female, even before Eve. If Saoirse wasn’t exaggerating it meant she’d been around a loooong time.

‘That can’t possibly be your own hair colour?’ I sneaked a peek down and the hand clutching the gun couldn’t cover everything. ‘You dye down there too?’

For the first time Saoirse frowned.

Unlike highly emotional humans this woman did not radiate the auric colours that I was used to. All that outlined her form was a hazy grey smoke. But I didn’t need the firework displays that emanated from my usual quarries to tell me she was growing angry.

‘You do not appreciate this form?’ she said. ‘Perhaps you would prefer I was an incubus instead?’

‘Strictly heterosexual,’ I reassured her. ‘It’s just that I don’t fancy every strumpet that drops her knickers in front of me.’

‘Strumpet?’

Another old word, but it was one she’d understand. Before leaving Broom’s place for Blackpool, my knowledgeable buddy had told me that the etymology of the name succubus came from the Late Latin succubare, or “to lie under”, later shortened to succuba and literally “strumpet”.

‘Old whore, if you’d prefer?’ I said.

Saoirse made a sound that should never have come from her enchantress form. She bubbled out a growl like a drunken hobo clearing his throat after a night on methylated spirits.

She raised Broom’s silver knife.

Go on, Red, cut his throat.

“Shut it, Cash. Concentrate on what you’re good at.”

Maybe you should let me take over, bro. I’ll show the hot little bitch a good time, all right.

“Just get us the fuck out of these chains!”

Saoirse said, ‘I can take your essence whether you wish to mate with me or not.’

‘Honestly, I’d rather you slit my throat. I hear that sexually penetrating a succubus is akin to entering a cavern of ice. Where’s the pleasure in that? And anyway, what’s this about you taking a man’s semen then passing it onto one of your incubus brothers so he can impregnate women with his demonic little offspring? What do you call them: Cambions aren’t they?’

‘You’ve researched well,’ Saoirse said, and my taunting had worked because she’d forgotten about sticking the blade in my neck and again moved away from me.

‘Everything I know you can find on Wikipedia,’ I told her. ‘Is that what you’re up to here? Breeding your own little crop of Cambions. Don’t bother, from the number of ugly inbred trolls I’ve seen out on the Golden Mile someone already beat you to it.’

‘You know little of my kind after all. And this know-it-all Wikipedia is as ill informed as the fools that write it. Too much faith has been placed in the Malleus Maleficarum as a source document, and your modern “Witches’ Hammer” – your Wikipedia – holds as many misinterpretations of the truth. My kind has no interest in your dishwater semen: it is your life essence that we desire. I’m coming now to set it free!’

Suddenly Saoirse wasn’t the enchanting vision of beauty of before.

Her looks fell from her in the shimmering river of mercury that had earlier shed her dress.

Her fiery mane shrivelled into a keeled skull, her almost translucent skin metamorphosing into warty grey hide. Her breasts shrivelled like dried out teabags left on the side of a saucer at one of those backstreet cafes. Her pubis went bare, and her labia hung like soiled rags. Horrible enough before I looked up again at her face and saw that her green eyes had sunk back into the skull and were now snot-coloured currants deep beneath a thick brow, and her mouth…Oh, Jesus. Think anus, puckered, hemorrhoid-ridden, with needle teeth.

I take back what I said before, Cash said. I wouldn’t even touch her with yours, bro.

Saoirse let out a keening hiss. Expelled urine and other foul liquids dripped down her upper thighs, but the sound had come from her awful mouth. Kind of a mating call, I guessed. Then she came for me.

‘Now would be a good time to do your thing, Cash!’

In my urgency I’d shouted out loud.

My odd words were enough to halt Saoirse in her tracks.

Her arms hung by her sides, my weapons still clutched in mitts that were boney and ended in ragged claws. Maybe she still thought she could get me up by threat of a bullet or knife slash: such foreplay never did it for me. But now she paused to contemplate just whom the hell I was shouting at.

From above filtered the clumping of footsteps. Saoirse had her lackeys on stand by; they were the same sons of bitches who’d grabbed me, kicked the shit out of me and then hung me here in the bitch’s cellar like a side of tenderized beef. They were an ugly bunch, and pitiless, so maybe there was something in the Cambion myth that Saoirse wasn’t letting on. Any second now and those brutes would come downstairs and hold me down while Saoirse had her wicked way with me.

‘Cash!’

Allez, hop! cried my demented brother, like he was some old time circus performer. Let’s go, bro.

For the last minute or so I’d been working my fingers and wrists, manipulating them without any conscious sense, really Cash working his wizardry through my hands without any assistance from me.

The chains fell from my wrists just as Saoirse puckered up for a kiss. I struggled to free my arms from the clinging links, and Saoirse just put my energetic thrashings down to one playing hard to get. Her needle teeth nipped into my lips and she clamped on tight. A slick, wriggling tongue invaded my mouth and I coughed in revulsion. It was colder than three days old polar bear shit, and tasted just as bad.

Earlier I’d imagined Saoirse’s long legs wrapped around my middle. Well, the dream became reality, and it was a nightmare. I felt the icy clamminess of her vagina as she tried to clamp on, her second puckered opening chewing its path up my left thigh towards my genitals. The only saving grace was that at least this one didn’t come with teeth. Let alone her trying to latch onto my penis, the invasion of my mouth was bad enough, and then the extraction of souls began.

Fuckin’ hell, Carter, she’s starting with me!

It wasn’t often my brother panicked. He was generally too sociopathic to care about anything, except when it was his own immortal soul. In all honesty I contemplated waiting for a while, allowing the soul-sucking demoness to gulp down Cash’s spirit – shit, I’d been looking for a way to expel his soul from mine for good, and now an unconventional opportunity had presented itself – but as much as I hated the murderous piece of shit, I hated Saoirse’s violation of my body more.

I wrenched loose from the chains and gripped hold of her right hand. A trick I’d learned during a self-defence class stripped the knife from her grip. More likely it was desperation that made the technique work than any skill but the knife was now in my hand and I reversed it just as Saoirse realised she’d been fooled. She snapped her tongue from my mouth and reared back, and the curve of her fangs almost tore my lips off before she’d fully disengaged.

I stood before her.

She looked down at my empty hands.

Then dawning realisation struck and she peered down at the only boner she’d get from me: the erect handle of the silver knife jutted from between her shrivelled breasts.

She was dead; she just didn’t know it yet.

I reached out, braced my palm against the knife handle and gave her a shove.

She fell flat on her back and didn’t move.

Broom would be happy to hear that the supposed magical knife had worked better than even he’d imagined. He swore that the blade had been forged by some vizier of the Zoharistic Kabbalah persuasion and was based upon a much earlier design. The first knife was made for none other than the Archangel Samael after he had a bit of a fling with Lilith and realised that he’d made a major faux pas when she wouldn’t return to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Samael’s way of getting rid of the bunny boiling temptress was to have a knife forged by Tubal Cain, the first metal worker, that could do Lilith and her kind in for good. I didn’t have the heart to tell my friend that you couldn’t rely on EBay as a source for genuine angelic weapons, but now I wouldn’t have to.

I left the knife jammed in the succubus’s breastbone. Maybe by extracting it she would rise up again like a vampire in a Hammer movie. I reached instead for the gun. It would be more effective than a blade against the group of Cambions now thumping down the stairs.

Naked, my mushy lips a match for my mushed up face, I greeted the fuckers as they stomped down and stood in a semi-circle behind their late mistress. Blazing auric colours sparked all around them. They were pissed. But then so was I.

‘Cash,’ I said. ‘Time for your special skills again.’

With pleasure, bro.

My gun hand came up. Truthfully, Cash, my murderous brother wasn’t the only one in control of my fingers this time.

mattbwBIO:  Matt Hilton is the bestselling author of the Joe Hunter thriller series, but also enjoys writing in other genres, one of which is horror. Matt has had ten Joe Hunter thrillers published to date, plus ebooks of Hunter short tales, with more to come. He has self-published four horror novels (Dominion, Darkest Hour, Preternatural and The Shadows Call) as eBooks and paperbacks and also edited and collected the terrific Action: Pulse Pounding Tales Vols 1 and 2 anthologies, and a number of his short stories have appeared in various collections and anthologies. He has a new thriller series featuring the characters Tess and Po debuting late in 2015.

Find out more about Matt at http://www.matthiltonbooks.com 

Matt was also the founder of Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers and the thriller editor.

Carter and Cash Bailey appear in the novel PRETERNATURAL by Matt Hilton and is available in ebook http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00IR9XS4G/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_2-rsvb1141PF4 and paperback formats http://www.amazon.co.uk/Preternatural-Matt-Hilton/dp/1499599919/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

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Upcoming…

To kick off the grand re-opening of the magazine, and as a mark of respect to Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers, I will be publishing stories from the editors of the original TKnC.

Up first will be best selling author and founder of Thrillers, Matt Hilton, followed by Col Bury, Lily Childs’ and (the one and only time I will do it) one from me. All stories were originally published as an Editors Special for TKnC 2 years ago.

I will then be publishing brand new stuff on a regular basis.

Please show your support and leave a comment or two. Words of encouragement/advice are what make us better writers.

Thanks…

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