Monthly Archives: June 2015

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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