Category Archives: Horror

The Stuff from Home

The Stuff from Home
by Stanton McCaffery

Every quarter-mile or so, they passed another tent. Jim had their own tent tied together and strapped to his back. Sheila had offered to carry it many times, but Jim refused, of course. “Homeless,” Sheila realized, was not a good word at all, but possibly better than “abused” or “victim” or “dead.”

They passed a tent with a crow sitting on top of it. Its eyes were balls of glass circled by thin outlines of dried blood. Its claws tore into the canvas.

“Shoo,” Jim said.

They walked on. The crow flapped its wings loudly and flew above them. It stayed nearby, circling within view.

“It’s too cold,” Sheila said. The cold was making her sick. A ball of unpassable mucus sat like a fist in her chest. When she coughed, her eyes watered and her insides burned.

Bare trees cracked in the wind. Their path was an abandoned rail line, a narrow corridor of vegetation and refuse packed between apartment complexes and the New Jersey Turnpike. Some houses stood off in the distance behind a thin line of trees and dead weeds. The telephone poles were covered in indecipherable graffiti tags, looking ominous, as if they would morph into hands, reach out, grab Sheila by the throat, and strangle her.

Continue reading The Stuff from Home

Fostering

Fostering
by Loren Eaton

Before Theresa even opened her eyes, she knew the rain had stopped. The air hung still and silent, devoid of the near-ceaseless pattering that skittered over her roof in the cold months. She knew that the gray dawn sky would soon be filled with gaggles of geese. She knew squirrels would stir from their winter nests.

She also knew that it wouldn’t let Richard lie still.

Theresa pushed an arm over to his side of the bed, felt the rumpled sheets, cold but still smelling faintly of Ivory soap, baby shampoo, a trace of male musk—his scent. He was scheduled to work today, but not this early. She threw back the covers, hoping against hope to find him enjoying another cup of coffee, running an iron over his Bochsler True Value polo, polishing a pair of loafers rather than lacing up those scarred old work boots …

But no. The door to the hall closet hung open, the Ruger .22 rifle and orange hunting vest that were normally inside were now missing. Glancing out the front window, she confirmed that the Chevy was gone too.

Later, as she scraped her plate clean of scraps of her bean-sprout omelet, she discovered an empty break-and-bake biscuit container in the trash, 8.4 grams of fat per serving. Disgusting.

“I know he’d never raise a hand against me,” Theresa told the sink, which held dirty dishes haphazardly stacked against a greasy cookie sheet. Yes, but he would also never allow prior obligations to come between himself and a romp through the woods on a clear day, even when it wasn’t hunting season, would he? She sighed. But honestly, why bother getting angry at his habits? She was certainly used to them.

Continue reading Fostering

Road Kill

Road Kill
by R. Y. Brockway

I’d been working with Leon for a week when I noticed he had a knack for identifying roadkill.

“’Possum,” he’d call 500 feet before we passed the carcass, or “’coon.” When business took us south, the occasional “’dillo” entered the mix. No matter what it was, he never missed.

I played along for a time, learning how to identify the tell-tale markings of matted fur. But after six months of spider-webbing our way across the map, my taste for the game and Leon’s company began to wane.

Leon’s peculiarities weren’t limited to just roadkill. He was anal about always having to drive—which was fine by me, because he chattered nonstop whenever his hands weren’t busy, complaining endlessly about the engineered decking company that employed us or the shoppers who frequented the big-box hardware stores where we set up displays. His grousing wasn’t limited to the car, either.

On more than one occasion, he’d stop working to lean over and whisper to me, “Hey, Ryan, you see that guy?”

I’d turn to find a man reading a can of weed killer, or a woman navigating a cart through the obstacle strewn aisles.

“Punk thinks he’s better than us.”

It was dumbfounding; those customers barely even registered our existence. But when I’d point that out to Leon, he would only sneer and remind me of the years he held over me both in life and on the road. He knew, he’d say, and in time, so would I.

Continue reading Road Kill

A Burden of Memories

A Burden of Memories
by Tamoha Sengupta

I was 16 when I was born. The cold of the table beneath my bare back was the first thing that touched my consciousness. And then a man clothed me in a dress whose color, he told me, was dark blue. I had no memories of my own, only those that belonged to Sheila, now dead.

For weeks, the wires were planted deep into my mind, and I soaked up Sheila’s memories like a sponge. I realized that the man was Sheila’s—my—father. I soaked up memories of the day her mother—my mother—died in a car accident. The picnics she attended became the ones I went to. I had never seen the hills, yet I already remembered seeing them, snow-capped, glittering in the sunlight.

I also had a capsule given to me by Father. It was inserted into me at around the same time he installed my heart.

“Now no diseases will snatch you away from me again,” he said to me, pulling me into a hug. The hug was nothing new in my memory, but the feel of his warm arms around me was.

I was officially Sheila now. When people I knew saw me for the first time, they asked how I had survived.

“Oh, the method’s not important. She’s alive; that’s all that matters,” Father said to them, with a laugh that was as hollow as his words.

Each night, Father tucked the blanket around me when I went to bed. I remembered how secure I felt when he kissed my forehead, but that’s all there was. I just remembered; I didn’t feel it now.

Continue reading A Burden of Memories

Kentucky Rush

Kentucky Rush
by Samuel Marzioli

Megan entered the grocery store looking every bit the part of a homeless woman tramping through to escape the broiling summer heat. The thought even occurred to her when she passed the glass doors of the frozen foods aisle and sneaked a glance at her reflection. There wasn’t much she could do about it, so she swept her hand through the tangles of her hair to break apart the greasy stiffness, and then shrugged and carried on.

She pulled a mangled slip of notebook paper from her purse and read her grocery list from top to bottom. Most of the items had been written down at home during a rare energetic fit, but the feeling had quickly passed and the majority were crossed out on the drive over. Only sandwich ingredients remained, and that suited her just fine. Sandwiches were easy: just a few slices of bread and a slather of something sweet or tart for flavor, and the meal was finished.

After gathering peanut butter, jelly, mayonnaise, and some lunchmeat, Megan rolled her cart to the last stop: the bread aisle. That was when she saw something framed between the darkness of the endcap’s empty shelves. From a distance, it looked almost like a face, peering at her from around the corner, utterly black but for the whites of its eyes. She squinted, trying to extract detail, to clarify it as something more than just a blur, but her eyesight wasn’t what it used to be.

“Hello?” she said, taking a step forward.

From the size of its head, she knew its owner couldn’t be much older than ten or twelve. She wondered if it was a child playing a game with her and whether it was lost and scared and waiting for a parent.

Continue reading Kentucky Rush

The Other End of the Lake

The Other End of the Lake
by Dara Marquardt

I don’t remember much about my death. I don’t even think of it very often. At first, it was all I could think of, but that only lasted a little while. Now, I know that I’m dead. There’s no sense rehashing it.

What I really recall is the white. Sometimes I think about it as I watch him sleep. I think of the blinding white light and wonder if that’s where heaven comes from. There were slices of light that night, and they remain sharp, like cut stone. The white of headlights dancing off the rim of the steering wheel. The scattered diamonds of rain on the windshield. The wipers as they scrape against glass. The chrome door handle shining as I put the key in the lock. The glow of the stereo as I turned the knob.

I remember looking at Jane. She was burning as she sat by the hospital bed. She was burning as she’d burned in a field of golden green the first time I saw her. Her mouth a clever smile, her eyes like two secrets, her skin like white honey. She was beautiful then, with her blonde hair down and tree shadows hiding the edges of her cheeks. And she was beautiful in that T-shirt she slept in, sweatpants on, our daughter on her lap.

She was beautiful when I died. I don’t think I’ll forget that.

It was hard at first, to look at things. Everything was very bright. Jane, maybe because I loved her, love her still, was the brightest. But our daughter was bright, too. I remember wanting, needing, to reach out and touch her cheek. To feel the fine strands of her brown hair. To be near her. To feel the warmth of the light burning through her.

Continue reading The Other End of the Lake

Little Cracks

Little Cracks
by Jesse Sprague

At the foot of the stairs, two steps away from the light switch, sits the doll. Cracks web her ancient porcelain face, and her hair is thinning in the wig over her carved scalp. A quirk of the house puts the light switch at the bottom and not the top of the wooden slat stairs. After I descend, I must frantically slap the light on. Before the bulb illuminates, her eyes are the only thing I can see—orange with tiny pinpoints of black at the center.


“Is this a joke?” Father yells. “This is how people get sick! Does this water feel hot enough to kill anything?” His grip on my wrist tightens as he drags me back to the sink and shoves my hand into the soapy water.

Silence is golden when he’s like this. I should know.

“They’re clean!” I say. “Leave me alone!”

He turns on the spout, still bellowing. The words strike my ears, but I don’t hear them. Steam begins pouring up as he tosses the dishes I just finished cleaning into the sink. Only the red handle is on. I take a few steps away from him as the last of the plates plunges into water so hot even Father thinks it kills germs. What does he think it will do to me?

Continue reading Little Cracks

The Woods

The Woods
by Jacob Stark

Tom took a long, slow pull on the joint, held the smoke for a ten count, and released it to the world through the open window of the pickup. He coughed long and hard before expertly flicking the excess ash from the tip, and passed the joint to the driver.

Shane took the half-burned joint between his thumb and index finger, lifted it to his lips and inhaled deeply. The cherry flared, spitting sparks that danced in the air like hellish fairies before getting sucked out of the window. Shane took two swallows of Budweiser before exhaling, grinning wolfishly at Tom.

“Not a bad way to end the fuckin’ day, eh, Tommy boy?”

Tom nodded in agreement, his own can of suds pressed to his lips, rendering him momentarily mute.

Shane and Tom had grown up together, attending the same schools, ball games, and church functions since they were in the third grade. After graduation, they’d both opted out of college and landed jobs in the pulp mill of the local paper mill. It was backbreaking work, but it paid 18 dollars an hour, practically a fortune to a twenty-something from rural Alabama.

“These damn woods seem like they go on forever, like they could just swallow you up and the world would just forget you ever existed,” Tom said. He stared out the window into the dense pine forest. At just past ten o’clock, the darkness was all-consuming. “Lookin’ in there makes you wonder what’s looking back at you.” The worst part, he thought, is not knowin’ what’s out there. Just that something’s there, always watching, biding its time.

Continue reading The Woods

Ashes

Ashes
by Marcus Church

By way of celebration, they took Scott’s ashes to the bluff at Barrett’s Point and let the wind take them. As the Pacific thundered and crashed on the sandstone below, the swirling motes twisted and twined as if struggling to find the form they used to hold. For a heartbeat, Izzy imagined a face in the cloud, and the shadowed pockets of its eyes seemed to regard her.

Her scalp tingled.

He knows.

Karl draped an arm about her shoulders and said, “At last, that fucker’s out of our lives.”

Izzy shrugged his arm away and watched the last of her husband disperse over the sea. “It seems so surreal. Like a dream …”

“I know,” said Karl. Izzy felt the abrasive rub of his stubbled chin against the nape of her neck. His arms snaked about her waist, pulling her tight against him. “Thanks to hubby’s life insurance, you’re a rich widow. A hot, rich widow.” He tongued her earlobe.

Continue reading Ashes

Tongue of the Unloved

This story contains sexually explicit material.

Tongue of the Unloved
by Charles Coffman

Alfie waddled through the depressing little alley behind the butcher shop. He always takes this route to the YMCA. As he stepped from pothole to pothole, he pinched his nose shut. The air really stank, like the underside of an infected toenail. Spoiled cuts of raw meat thrown out by the butcher had been strewn along the pavement by rats and stray cats, and were left to fester half-chewed in the sun. Alfie didn’t mind the smell as much as he minded the flies. They swirled about in lazy black clouds, and glittery purple clusters of them laid eggs in the most spoiled cuts of meat.

Alfie felt low today, lower than usual, as if a big iron fist had bashed his head into the saddest part of his body. He walked like he felt, with his weird slanted eyes downcast at his shuffling feet. Releasing a heartbroken sigh from his lungs every so often, he plucked at the fat and bolder flies that landed on his fish-lips.

He thought about his pear-shaped body and the discolored flabs of flesh that swing about on his chest that Meyer Smitts called “man boobs,” and wondered if he should swim with his shirt on again today. Then Alfie spotted a viscous-looking rat dragging a pink lump across the alley.

The rat looked at him. Alfie looked at the rat. A stalemate.

Continue reading Tongue of the Unloved