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Chapter 11 of Sins of the Father: The Devil's Intern
Written by Harry_Situation in portal Fiction

The Devil's Intern Part 11

The elevator finally screeched to a halt, slamming hard at the bottom of the shaft. Joshua exited alone amidst a chamber of imprisoned fiends. He felt the darkness of the chamber coming to swallow him whole. Only one source of light in the whole chamber and it was at the far end, where one demon sat alone behind a desk. 

It didn't seem that far, Joshua thought, Just walk right down the hallway and that's it.

The boy gripped both hands around his booklet, where his treasured cross was tucked between the pages. His shaking feet took their first steps outside. 

WHAM!

It wasn't even a foot out of the elevator and something made their presence known to Joshua. The boy jumped where he stood and faced the greatest nightmares of this realm. 

There were three of them, trapped behind a thick sheet of unbreakable glass. They looked almost human. Hairless, freakishly thin enough that their pale, leathery skin exposed every bone connected in their shriveled, naked bodies. These were the demons that Joshua's mother had warned him about. The scavengers of the damned. Horrid creatures that stalked through the shadows and kill everything on sight. Joshua heard the many grisly stories of these monsters, both from the demons and his friend Rosemary. How these creatures can swarm around a whole platoon of Doomsguard soldiers and overpower them. How they are capable of destroying an entire village over night, leaving no survivors in the wake. Often they were told to demon children as a way to scare them into good behavior, but they served as a warning that their homeland wasn't always safe. Suppose even demons had their own demons to fight.

The vile monsters slapped their bare, eyeless heads against the glass barrier, barely leaving a scratch. Their rotted, toothy maws bit at the air as they were desperate for a meal. The aching shrieks they emitted was haunting like nails across the chalkboard.

Sure am glad there kept in there and not out here, Joshua thought to himself. But he couldn't help but wonder why scavengers were kept underneath the tower. Were they souls once and they kept them here for research? Research into what? A cure? Extermination?

Joshua kept walking by. He proceeded to walk by from one disturbing cell to the next. One cell contained a prisoner with slimy tentacles extending from the bars, trying to grasp around him but Joshua was too quick. Another cell where he saw dozens of basketball sized eyes poking from inside the dark space, watching closely without blinking a single one. The oddest of the bunch was when he saw a small cage. With it was an even smaller vase. The vase then bounced from its spot and unleashed a horrible, blood curdling roar, forcing Joshua to jump back into another cage door. 

The only thing that helped the boy to continue his task was whispering a passage from the Bible. It was something that he memorized to heart, to help give him the courage he desperately needed. 

At last, Joshua finally reached the end of the corridor. He approached the demon at the front desk. The pits of Joshua's polo and his brows were caked with sweat.

"Um, excuse me," he piped, "I'm here to pick up something for Lu. The boss."

The sole guard glanced up, tossing aside a magazine he was reading. "Ah yes. I got it right-" 

The desk phone rang. "Hold on a sec." the guard answered the call. "Yeah? Now? Alright, I'm be there soon."

He laid the phone down and looked to Joshua, "Sorry. Something I gotta take care of at this moment. Wait right here."

"You're leaving me alone here?" Joshua gulped. His heart raced faster.

"No worries, kid," the guard assured, "Nobody's getting outta those cages. I'll be back in 5 minutes."

The guard got up and left into the backdoor of the containment chamber. Again, Joshua was alone amidst a chamber of imprisoned fiends. He tried reaching for his cross inside his booklet. 

He felt nothing. His hands held nothing. His booklet. His cross. They were gone. 

All Joshua could do was recite his Lord's words. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." he whispered, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth-

"He leadeth me beside the still waters." another voice spoke from the dark hallway. Joshua jumped again of the sound of his cold, monotone call as it too quoted the passage. "He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake."

Joshua followed the voice, who continued reciting. A several feet away from the desk he found the source. It was him. The man, or demon or thing, in the dark. The prisoner Lu showed to Joshua a couple days ago. His unusual silhouette sat on top of a ratty mattress. He held something in his hands, a thin book by what Joshua could tell.  

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalm 23. King James Version, correct?"

Joshua had no words. The hairs on his neck stood frozen. His throat dry up like a pond under the sun.

"When someone asks another a question, it is usually proper to answer them." the figure calmly berated, "Let me repeat, is that not the correct passage?"

"Y-yes sir." Joshua stammered, finally finding his words. "It is."

"That's better. I'm familiar with that passage. Must have read that a hundred times. A little off putting since the original translation was butchered."

The figure's head turned, facing the boy. His face still masked by the shadows. "I know you, boy. I never forget a face. You were with Lucifer and the others. You're human too, correct?"

"Y-yes sir." the boy answered again. "I am."

"Tell me, boy, what is a human doing among demons? Are you related some way? Any ties with those Gravelys." The last word came out more like a distasteful growl.

"I'm an intern."

"Intern? How interesting. Come closer into the light. So I can see you better."

Joshua didn't want to, yet curiosity possessed him. He stepped a little closer to the bars, but not too close. He was still afraid of the figure. 

The figure in the dark stood up, lumbering his way towards the cell door. Joshua heard the rattling of chains each step the figure took. In the light Joshua saw his true appearance.

He was a tall figure, standing over seven feet. His body was that of a muscular man but his head was that of a mountain goat, long and narrow with a rounded muzzle. Dark grey and black fur covered much of his body while his face, hands, and feet were all bare. His ears were long and pointy like a goat's too, and even a the back of his head crowned a pair of long horns.

The figure was dressed in a dark blue prisoner's jumpsuit with shackles and chains linked around his wrists and ankles. His eyes were dark as coal, all three of them. The third eye that hung in the middle of his long forehead frightened Joshua the most, how it continually stared at him without blinking.

The demonic satyr pulled something out of his deep pockets. He held out a round, red fruit before him. "Apple?" he offered.

The figure tossed the fruit through the bars to the boy, which Joshua caught with both hands. Joshua studied it carefully. It looked like an ordinary apple. Was it hexed?

"Oh don't worry. I didn't poison it or anything." the prisoner raised his hand, showing off the chains and shackles. "These negate all my powers." he pulled out a second apple and took a bite. "If there's one thing I'm grateful for is that those fools continue to give me two things I enjoy in life: a couple books to read and a bushel of apples."

"Who..." Joshua muttered, "who are you?"

"Introductions, I see. In case you're having trouble with pronunciation—or you are illiterate—my name is as it is etched into that wall. I am Mephistopheles, the Master of the Deal and, I suppose, former owner of Babylon too. I was once Lucifer's majordomo—a right-hand man, in case you're not up to par with polysyllables. But now I reside here."

"How long have you been here?"

"Let's see..." Mephistopheles scratched his chin as he pondered. "How long has been Lucifer been married now? Few months? Probably around that time. I didn't even get to see pictures of that wedding."

"Why are you in here?"

The satyr grimaced. "I tried to show our king reason. He refused. And here I am." The demon then smiled, showing an uncomfortable friendly side to him. "I shared some things about myself, now you. What do you have to share with me? What is your name, young lad."

The boy didn't want to answer but he did. "Joshua Wordsworth."

"You share the name of a poet."

"My mother claims were related to him somehow."

"And what of your mother?"

"She's the principal of my school."

"A Christian too?"

"Yes sir."

"And what of your father?"

Joshua bent his head down. He gave the excuse his mother would give. "He's on vacation."

"I see." Mephistopheles realized the truth. "Both my parents are dead."

"I'm sorry."

"I'm not. I killed them."

Joshua's phone buzzed. It always surprised him how well cell services were down in the Inferno. He slipped it out of his pocket. It was a text from Rosemary.

ROSEMARY: Yo! What Lu got you doing?

"Your mother?" Mephistopheles asked, feeling rather annoyed by the interruption.

"Um yeah," Joshua lied. "She constantly worries about me."

"Sounds a bit clingy to me." the three-eyed satyr groaned. "You said you were an intern. I assume he taught you much of our world."

"Uh huh." the boy mumbled. He started texting away at his phone.

JOSHUA: Stuff.

                 What u know of Mephistopheles?

"What have you learned so far?" the demon said.

"Just what Lu does. What he and his friends do. Lots of stuff."

"Did he show you the souls?"

"He did." Joshua signed. Thinking of those poor, mistreated souls saddened him. Even if he believed that they didn't obey God, he believed deep down they didn't deserve this fate. 

"And why do you think he would show you just things?"

"I don't know." Joshua shrugged. "Because its his duty and its for my grade."

Joshua's phone buzzed again. Rosie's messages returned more sporadic.

ROSEMARY: DONT TRUST HIM!!!

                      PURE EVIL!!!

                      TRIED TO KILL US!!!

Joshua's eyes widened. He then glared back at the demon, who's grin was far more sinister than Lucifer's.

"Answer me this: do you really believe you are here because of a coincidence?"

"What do you mean?" Joshua said, a rage was boiling inside.

"Come on boy, I think you know why your here. It isn't by chance, or fate, and it certainly isn't by the will of God. You know the truth, boy. Lu rigged it, right from the very start."

"You're lying!" Joshua fired back. 

"And he's not?" Mephistopheles' smug grin grew larger. "What is the devil if not a liar? Come now, boy, you're smarter than that. You don't trust Lu. That's why you carried all that holy water in your bag."

Joshua gasped. His heart skipped a beat. How did he know?

The demonic satyr continued, "Don't think I didn't hear that stuff sloshing around in those vials with every step you made. What do you intend to use that for?"

"It can't hurt you! If crosses can't..."

"Sure about that? He might have shared somethings, but he certainly didn't share everything." All three eyes locked on Joshua. His grin grew more grim. "Did the king tell you what it can do to demons? Did, sometime during the tour, he mention that some souls can get out of their punishments and become full fledged demons, like Balthazar for example? Or how about you why he betrayed the angels in the first place? Or what about his real intentions were for your world once he got hitched?

"Ask him next time. Ask him if he didn't intend for you to be under his wing or he did. See if he'll give the answer you want, or the answer he can scheme up."

Joshua finally heard the backdoor open again with the single guard exiting out. He ran back to the front desk, as far as he could from the deranged prisoner. 

"Sorry about that," the guard said. "but thanks for being patient. Here you go."

The demon guard handed a small box, no bigger than a baseball, to the young human. Joshua thanked the guard and made his way back to the elevator. The farther away from the prison level the better.

As Joshua hurried along back, he heard Mephistopheles call for him again. "Oh Joshua." His chilling tone made the boy shudder. "I believe you've dropped this." 

A small, black booklet slipped between the satyr's cell bars. Joshua's art booklet. 

Joshua crept over toward the cell and snatched back his book. He tried not to look directly at the imprisoned demon. But that eye. That spiteful third eye on the demon's forehead. That eye that looked as though it was staring deep into Joshua's soul, caught the him in a petrified gaze.

"Quite a talent you have there. It's been a pleasure talking to you, Joshua. Take care now. And do tell Lu's family I said hello."

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Chapter 11 of Sins of the Father: The Devil's Intern
Written by Harry_Situation in portal Fiction
The Devil's Intern Part 11
The elevator finally screeched to a halt, slamming hard at the bottom of the shaft. Joshua exited alone amidst a chamber of imprisoned fiends. He felt the darkness of the chamber coming to swallow him whole. Only one source of light in the whole chamber and it was at the far end, where one demon sat alone behind a desk. 

It didn't seem that far, Joshua thought, Just walk right down the hallway and that's it.

The boy gripped both hands around his booklet, where his treasured cross was tucked between the pages. His shaking feet took their first steps outside. 

WHAM!

It wasn't even a foot out of the elevator and something made their presence known to Joshua. The boy jumped where he stood and faced the greatest nightmares of this realm. 

There were three of them, trapped behind a thick sheet of unbreakable glass. They looked almost human. Hairless, freakishly thin enough that their pale, leathery skin exposed every bone connected in their shriveled, naked bodies. These were the demons that Joshua's mother had warned him about. The scavengers of the damned. Horrid creatures that stalked through the shadows and kill everything on sight. Joshua heard the many grisly stories of these monsters, both from the demons and his friend Rosemary. How these creatures can swarm around a whole platoon of Doomsguard soldiers and overpower them. How they are capable of destroying an entire village over night, leaving no survivors in the wake. Often they were told to demon children as a way to scare them into good behavior, but they served as a warning that their homeland wasn't always safe. Suppose even demons had their own demons to fight.

The vile monsters slapped their bare, eyeless heads against the glass barrier, barely leaving a scratch. Their rotted, toothy maws bit at the air as they were desperate for a meal. The aching shrieks they emitted was haunting like nails across the chalkboard.

Sure am glad there kept in there and not out here, Joshua thought to himself. But he couldn't help but wonder why scavengers were kept underneath the tower. Were they souls once and they kept them here for research? Research into what? A cure? Extermination?

Joshua kept walking by. He proceeded to walk by from one disturbing cell to the next. One cell contained a prisoner with slimy tentacles extending from the bars, trying to grasp around him but Joshua was too quick. Another cell where he saw dozens of basketball sized eyes poking from inside the dark space, watching closely without blinking a single one. The oddest of the bunch was when he saw a small cage. With it was an even smaller vase. The vase then bounced from its spot and unleashed a horrible, blood curdling roar, forcing Joshua to jump back into another cage door. 

The only thing that helped the boy to continue his task was whispering a passage from the Bible. It was something that he memorized to heart, to help give him the courage he desperately needed. 

At last, Joshua finally reached the end of the corridor. He approached the demon at the front desk. The pits of Joshua's polo and his brows were caked with sweat.

"Um, excuse me," he piped, "I'm here to pick up something for Lu. The boss."

The sole guard glanced up, tossing aside a magazine he was reading. "Ah yes. I got it right-" 

The desk phone rang. "Hold on a sec." the guard answered the call. "Yeah? Now? Alright, I'm be there soon."

He laid the phone down and looked to Joshua, "Sorry. Something I gotta take care of at this moment. Wait right here."

"You're leaving me alone here?" Joshua gulped. His heart raced faster.

"No worries, kid," the guard assured, "Nobody's getting outta those cages. I'll be back in 5 minutes."

The guard got up and left into the backdoor of the containment chamber. Again, Joshua was alone amidst a chamber of imprisoned fiends. He tried reaching for his cross inside his booklet. 

He felt nothing. His hands held nothing. His booklet. His cross. They were gone. 

All Joshua could do was recite his Lord's words. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." he whispered, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth-

"He leadeth me beside the still waters." another voice spoke from the dark hallway. Joshua jumped again of the sound of his cold, monotone call as it too quoted the passage. "He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake."

Joshua followed the voice, who continued reciting. A several feet away from the desk he found the source. It was him. The man, or demon or thing, in the dark. The prisoner Lu showed to Joshua a couple days ago. His unusual silhouette sat on top of a ratty mattress. He held something in his hands, a thin book by what Joshua could tell.  

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalm 23. King James Version, correct?"

Joshua had no words. The hairs on his neck stood frozen. His throat dry up like a pond under the sun.

"When someone asks another a question, it is usually proper to answer them." the figure calmly berated, "Let me repeat, is that not the correct passage?"

"Y-yes sir." Joshua stammered, finally finding his words. "It is."

"That's better. I'm familiar with that passage. Must have read that a hundred times. A little off putting since the original translation was butchered."

The figure's head turned, facing the boy. His face still masked by the shadows. "I know you, boy. I never forget a face. You were with Lucifer and the others. You're human too, correct?"

"Y-yes sir." the boy answered again. "I am."

"Tell me, boy, what is a human doing among demons? Are you related some way? Any ties with those Gravelys." The last word came out more like a distasteful growl.

"I'm an intern."

"Intern? How interesting. Come closer into the light. So I can see you better."

Joshua didn't want to, yet curiosity possessed him. He stepped a little closer to the bars, but not too close. He was still afraid of the figure. 

The figure in the dark stood up, lumbering his way towards the cell door. Joshua heard the rattling of chains each step the figure took. In the light Joshua saw his true appearance.

He was a tall figure, standing over seven feet. His body was that of a muscular man but his head was that of a mountain goat, long and narrow with a rounded muzzle. Dark grey and black fur covered much of his body while his face, hands, and feet were all bare. His ears were long and pointy like a goat's too, and even a the back of his head crowned a pair of long horns.

The figure was dressed in a dark blue prisoner's jumpsuit with shackles and chains linked around his wrists and ankles. His eyes were dark as coal, all three of them. The third eye that hung in the middle of his long forehead frightened Joshua the most, how it continually stared at him without blinking.

The demonic satyr pulled something out of his deep pockets. He held out a round, red fruit before him. "Apple?" he offered.

The figure tossed the fruit through the bars to the boy, which Joshua caught with both hands. Joshua studied it carefully. It looked like an ordinary apple. Was it hexed?

"Oh don't worry. I didn't poison it or anything." the prisoner raised his hand, showing off the chains and shackles. "These negate all my powers." he pulled out a second apple and took a bite. "If there's one thing I'm grateful for is that those fools continue to give me two things I enjoy in life: a couple books to read and a bushel of apples."

"Who..." Joshua muttered, "who are you?"

"Introductions, I see. In case you're having trouble with pronunciation—or you are illiterate—my name is as it is etched into that wall. I am Mephistopheles, the Master of the Deal and, I suppose, former owner of Babylon too. I was once Lucifer's majordomo—a right-hand man, in case you're not up to par with polysyllables. But now I reside here."

"How long have you been here?"

"Let's see..." Mephistopheles scratched his chin as he pondered. "How long has been Lucifer been married now? Few months? Probably around that time. I didn't even get to see pictures of that wedding."

"Why are you in here?"

The satyr grimaced. "I tried to show our king reason. He refused. And here I am." The demon then smiled, showing an uncomfortable friendly side to him. "I shared some things about myself, now you. What do you have to share with me? What is your name, young lad."

The boy didn't want to answer but he did. "Joshua Wordsworth."

"You share the name of a poet."

"My mother claims were related to him somehow."

"And what of your mother?"

"She's the principal of my school."

"A Christian too?"

"Yes sir."

"And what of your father?"

Joshua bent his head down. He gave the excuse his mother would give. "He's on vacation."

"I see." Mephistopheles realized the truth. "Both my parents are dead."

"I'm sorry."

"I'm not. I killed them."

Joshua's phone buzzed. It always surprised him how well cell services were down in the Inferno. He slipped it out of his pocket. It was a text from Rosemary.

ROSEMARY: Yo! What Lu got you doing?

"Your mother?" Mephistopheles asked, feeling rather annoyed by the interruption.

"Um yeah," Joshua lied. "She constantly worries about me."

"Sounds a bit clingy to me." the three-eyed satyr groaned. "You said you were an intern. I assume he taught you much of our world."

"Uh huh." the boy mumbled. He started texting away at his phone.

JOSHUA: Stuff.
                 What u know of Mephistopheles?

"What have you learned so far?" the demon said.

"Just what Lu does. What he and his friends do. Lots of stuff."

"Did he show you the souls?"

"He did." Joshua signed. Thinking of those poor, mistreated souls saddened him. Even if he believed that they didn't obey God, he believed deep down they didn't deserve this fate. 

"And why do you think he would show you just things?"

"I don't know." Joshua shrugged. "Because its his duty and its for my grade."

Joshua's phone buzzed again. Rosie's messages returned more sporadic.

ROSEMARY: DONT TRUST HIM!!!
                      PURE EVIL!!!
                      TRIED TO KILL US!!!

Joshua's eyes widened. He then glared back at the demon, who's grin was far more sinister than Lucifer's.

"Answer me this: do you really believe you are here because of a coincidence?"

"What do you mean?" Joshua said, a rage was boiling inside.

"Come on boy, I think you know why your here. It isn't by chance, or fate, and it certainly isn't by the will of God. You know the truth, boy. Lu rigged it, right from the very start."

"You're lying!" Joshua fired back. 

"And he's not?" Mephistopheles' smug grin grew larger. "What is the devil if not a liar? Come now, boy, you're smarter than that. You don't trust Lu. That's why you carried all that holy water in your bag."

Joshua gasped. His heart skipped a beat. How did he know?

The demonic satyr continued, "Don't think I didn't hear that stuff sloshing around in those vials with every step you made. What do you intend to use that for?"

"It can't hurt you! If crosses can't..."

"Sure about that? He might have shared somethings, but he certainly didn't share everything." All three eyes locked on Joshua. His grin grew more grim. "Did the king tell you what it can do to demons? Did, sometime during the tour, he mention that some souls can get out of their punishments and become full fledged demons, like Balthazar for example? Or how about you why he betrayed the angels in the first place? Or what about his real intentions were for your world once he got hitched?

"Ask him next time. Ask him if he didn't intend for you to be under his wing or he did. See if he'll give the answer you want, or the answer he can scheme up."

Joshua finally heard the backdoor open again with the single guard exiting out. He ran back to the front desk, as far as he could from the deranged prisoner. 

"Sorry about that," the guard said. "but thanks for being patient. Here you go."

The demon guard handed a small box, no bigger than a baseball, to the young human. Joshua thanked the guard and made his way back to the elevator. The farther away from the prison level the better.

As Joshua hurried along back, he heard Mephistopheles call for him again. "Oh Joshua." His chilling tone made the boy shudder. "I believe you've dropped this." 

A small, black booklet slipped between the satyr's cell bars. Joshua's art booklet. 

Joshua crept over toward the cell and snatched back his book. He tried not to look directly at the imprisoned demon. But that eye. That spiteful third eye on the demon's forehead. That eye that looked as though it was staring deep into Joshua's soul, caught the him in a petrified gaze.

"Quite a talent you have there. It's been a pleasure talking to you, Joshua. Take care now. And do tell Lu's family I said hello."
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Chapter 10 of Sins of the Father: The Devil's Intern
Written by Harry_Situation in portal Fiction

The Devil's Intern Part 10

Day four of Internship Week was nothing too hectic (all things considered). Joshua was sitting inside Lu's office, listening to the boss negotiate a bargain with a potential client. Another lesson that Joshua had to learn was that while there are demons that make deals with most humans, some wish to speak directly to the source. 

While the negotiations seemed to go on forever, Joshua was lucky that he brought his prized notebook along so he draw more action-packed doodles. His little cross was placed comfortably between the pages, serving as a marker for when he wishes to continue his work. His pencil as mighty as a sword obeyed him as he etched out new figures and characters in his ongoing artistic crusade.

The client didn't seem too interesting. Just another young, up-and-coming athlete looking for a way to boost his reputation. He heard from a buddy of where he can summon a demon that can grant him his greatest desires, with a cost of course. The specifics of the cost was not disclosed but the young man found himself within one of Inferno Tower's office spaces; and then he was talking to the man in charge.

"Just sign on the dotted line," the devil persuaded. His smirk sinister as ever. "and your success shall come to you—give or take a few days. But you'll be the biggest MVP this north of the states!"

The client smiled and shrugged, taking the pen and ready to sign the mystic paper contract. When he pressed on the ball-point, he felt a quick pinch like a needle tapped through his thumb. The vial inside pen filled itself with the client's blood. Blood was far more permanent than ink.

The athlete signed the paper and the deal was sealed. He was then transported back to where he had came through the enchanted elevator that transported anyone of Joshua's world to the demon world.

"Another day, another sucker," Lu flinched and then looked back to Joshua, "I mean, another satisfied customer!" He nervously smiled.

BLEEP! BLEEP! Saved by the intercom. Lilith's voiced echoed through, "Boss, you got a call from the President."

Lu pressed the button to answer. "President of what?"

"America."

"Must be asking for another extension on his deal. Hey Joshie, could you run a quick errand for me?"

"Sure," Joshua replied, closing his notebook, "What do you need?"

"I need you to pick up something from the front desk on the ninth floor."

"The n-ninth floor?" Joshua stammered, "W-where all the prisoners are?"

"They're in the secure cages designed by the best." Lu assured. "You'll be just fine. Just don't interact with any of the prisoners. Now hurry along, and don't keep me waiting."

Joshua was afraid but he still obeyed. He walked out of Lu's office, waved at Lilith when he walked by her desk, and entered in the lengthy hallway filled with detailed history. Painted in the walls were all the names of the devils before. Each had a short poem depicting their reign. 

Joshua stopped, gazing up at the horrific but stunning paintwork of each of the seven kings. The first one he saw was that of a demon with a man's body and the head of a dragon. Different hues of red, yellow, and orange wrapped around the body like it was bathing in a pool of fire. The scripture read:

             Satan, the first of our kin 

             To unite the World of Sin

            He sought to conquer the souls up high

            His wrath bled his enemies dry

            Death came sudden on the darkest day

           In his honor, his name, for eternal, we pray

  

The next one Joshua say he thought it looked disgusting. It depicted of a large, blob-like mass much like a snail or slug with the head and limbs of a fly, or maybe a cockroach. What kind of demon looked like that? In its foreground was mountains of food that the ancient demon seemed to be stuffing into its mandibles. This one read:

          When our King fell in flame

          Beelzebub, The Glutton, took His name

          He left no spoils or waste

         For his gluttonous taste

         He wished to be forever fed

         Until he ate himself dead

The third looked more humanoid compared to the others, with the exception of his massive horns above the brows and lion-like main around his neck. Naked men and women seemed to dangle around his arms like drunken monkeys on tree branches. It read:

          Asmodeus, The Lustful King

         Fathered many bastardsthe Lecherous Offspring

         This would sing his claim

         Forever of his self-righteous fame

        The name of every lover, lady and lad

        Boasting about the best he ever gave and had

The fourth one was another humanoid creature with big fangs, hoofed feet, large eyes like an owl, and even a bird's beak for a mouth. Like the second king before him, there was a mountain in the foreground. But this mountain was made of gold. Even the small throne he sat in was gold too. The paint was sure enough to make sure the gold looked genuine—or maybe it was real gold they used. The scripture for this king read:

       Mammon, The Accountant

       Give him all the treasures, he'd rant

       Locked forever in this keep

       Locked forever away in the deep

       Mountains of Silver and Gold

       Forever hidden within his stronghold

Joshua was astound by all the paintings. As he walked further down the hall he saw the fifth king. A rather fat demon with a long mouth and large horns above his ears. This one seemed the least interesting because it depicted him sleeping on a wide bed. Even his scripture seemed dull:

      Malbolgia, had the shortest reign

      By birthright his throne claim

      The sloth would lay in his lair

      Letting others carry his affair

      He'd lie cozily in the Abysmal Deep

      Until killed by his Brother in his sleep

The next one gave Joshua chills. The detailed artistry of dead angels at the feet of this demon. The demon looked to be covered head to toe in armor as black as tar. It was difficult to tell if there was a man or monster underneath; but the piercing gave of its hellish red eyes and fiery, gaping maw was enough to scare anyone. 

It looked as though every one seemed to be afraid of this one. He noticed that some worker demons and a few souls refused to look or glanced away from this one. Its scripture read:

      Baracrus, the one who craved power

      Ruled Inferno the long, dark hour

      Feared by angel and demon alike 

      Slayed enemies through sword and pike

     The cruelty and malice he ordered in each breath

      Finally silenced, the War ended, with his death

Finally he had come to the current king, Lucifer. Not much was depicted other than he looked as he does now, but he wore a crimson armor instead of his red suit. But something in the background caught Joshua's eye. It looked as some monstrous dragon-dinosaur hybrid was shadowed by Lu. Lu's scripture read as it was:

      Our king, Lucifer, once God's angel

      Once was of the Heavens, cast into Hell

      He rules our realm with justly pride

      Yet beware, The Beast, locked inside

      The blood of the First Devil in his vein

      He'll carry with him until his last reign

The Beast. He had remembered the warnings of the Beast from his church sessions. But what did this mean? He had remembered that Rosie once told him that he saw another side to Lu. A side so menacing that it had once frightened her. But she said it, or he, saved her. Yet another tale was told about how it had attack his brother in a predatory rage. Joshua wasn't sure what to believe.

More history was graphed into the walls. A large, black mass crashing into a field of green. A heart forged in a sea of fire. Then there was one where demons were battling against some winged people on top of city in the clouds, and another where demons were dissolving in a large body of water where in the distant background some sort of boat or box was floating on top. The most disturbing Joshua saw was the graphic depiction of a burned man being transfigured into the hideous monster he saw inside Lu's painting.

"Quite marvelous, isn't it?" a low, haunting voice bellowed, forcing Joshua to jump. He turned to find Lu's adviser Legion was also looking upon the artwork. "Such craftsmanship. Such defined detail."

"These were all kings?" Joshua muttered nervously. "They were all devils?"

"Indeed." the ancient one answered. "Some were good kings, others not so much. He was the worst of them." Legion tapped his old staff on the painting of the sixth king, Baracrus. "We had many disagreements, him and I. What was to be done with prisoners of war. What was to be done with souls. His spiteful experiments."

"You served them all?"

"I did. I was also involved in some of the history depicted here."

Joshua looked around the mural some more. Then he spotted something that seemed off from the others. "What's the history behind that one?" he asked, pointing at a corner of the wall.

One of Legion's six eyes blinked at stared in the direction the boy pointed toward. "I believe Lord Lucifer has given you a task, Master Wordsworth." he bellowed. "It would be wise not to procrastinate so long on it."

Joshua hesitantly agreed. He walked away from the old demon sorcerer and entered inside the elevator down the end of the hall. He pressed the button that would ascend him to the ninth floor and the doors close behind.

The mortal boy was gone. Legion was now alone with the ancient history painted all over the hall. His round, hidden head rotated to way Joshua was pointing at earlier. It wasn't anything secret to the demons, but it was not something that a mere mortal needed to know. Legion looked and saw the piece of history he would never forget. A small patch where a cloaked spider-demon, extending a decrepit hand to three individuals with light surrounding them. The light seemed to be attached to the backs of the three figures like wings of bird—or wings of an angel.

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Chapter 10 of Sins of the Father: The Devil's Intern
Written by Harry_Situation in portal Fiction
The Devil's Intern Part 10
Day four of Internship Week was nothing too hectic (all things considered). Joshua was sitting inside Lu's office, listening to the boss negotiate a bargain with a potential client. Another lesson that Joshua had to learn was that while there are demons that make deals with most humans, some wish to speak directly to the source. 

While the negotiations seemed to go on forever, Joshua was lucky that he brought his prized notebook along so he draw more action-packed doodles. His little cross was placed comfortably between the pages, serving as a marker for when he wishes to continue his work. His pencil as mighty as a sword obeyed him as he etched out new figures and characters in his ongoing artistic crusade.

The client didn't seem too interesting. Just another young, up-and-coming athlete looking for a way to boost his reputation. He heard from a buddy of where he can summon a demon that can grant him his greatest desires, with a cost of course. The specifics of the cost was not disclosed but the young man found himself within one of Inferno Tower's office spaces; and then he was talking to the man in charge.

"Just sign on the dotted line," the devil persuaded. His smirk sinister as ever. "and your success shall come to you—give or take a few days. But you'll be the biggest MVP this north of the states!"

The client smiled and shrugged, taking the pen and ready to sign the mystic paper contract. When he pressed on the ball-point, he felt a quick pinch like a needle tapped through his thumb. The vial inside pen filled itself with the client's blood. Blood was far more permanent than ink.

The athlete signed the paper and the deal was sealed. He was then transported back to where he had came through the enchanted elevator that transported anyone of Joshua's world to the demon world.

"Another day, another sucker," Lu flinched and then looked back to Joshua, "I mean, another satisfied customer!" He nervously smiled.

BLEEP! BLEEP! Saved by the intercom. Lilith's voiced echoed through, "Boss, you got a call from the President."

Lu pressed the button to answer. "President of what?"

"America."

"Must be asking for another extension on his deal. Hey Joshie, could you run a quick errand for me?"

"Sure," Joshua replied, closing his notebook, "What do you need?"

"I need you to pick up something from the front desk on the ninth floor."

"The n-ninth floor?" Joshua stammered, "W-where all the prisoners are?"

"They're in the secure cages designed by the best." Lu assured. "You'll be just fine. Just don't interact with any of the prisoners. Now hurry along, and don't keep me waiting."

Joshua was afraid but he still obeyed. He walked out of Lu's office, waved at Lilith when he walked by her desk, and entered in the lengthy hallway filled with detailed history. Painted in the walls were all the names of the devils before. Each had a short poem depicting their reign. 

Joshua stopped, gazing up at the horrific but stunning paintwork of each of the seven kings. The first one he saw was that of a demon with a man's body and the head of a dragon. Different hues of red, yellow, and orange wrapped around the body like it was bathing in a pool of fire. The scripture read:

             Satan, the first of our kin 
             To unite the World of Sin
            He sought to conquer the souls up high
            His wrath bled his enemies dry
            Death came sudden on the darkest day
           In his honor, his name, for eternal, we pray
  
The next one Joshua say he thought it looked disgusting. It depicted of a large, blob-like mass much like a snail or slug with the head and limbs of a fly, or maybe a cockroach. What kind of demon looked like that? In its foreground was mountains of food that the ancient demon seemed to be stuffing into its mandibles. This one read:

          When our King fell in flame
          Beelzebub, The Glutton, took His name
          He left no spoils or waste
         For his gluttonous taste
         He wished to be forever fed
         Until he ate himself dead

The third looked more humanoid compared to the others, with the exception of his massive horns above the brows and lion-like main around his neck. Naked men and women seemed to dangle around his arms like drunken monkeys on tree branches. It read:

          Asmodeus, The Lustful King
         Fathered many bastardsthe Lecherous Offspring
         This would sing his claim
         Forever of his self-righteous fame
        The name of every lover, lady and lad
        Boasting about the best he ever gave and had

The fourth one was another humanoid creature with big fangs, hoofed feet, large eyes like an owl, and even a bird's beak for a mouth. Like the second king before him, there was a mountain in the foreground. But this mountain was made of gold. Even the small throne he sat in was gold too. The paint was sure enough to make sure the gold looked genuine—or maybe it was real gold they used. The scripture for this king read:

       Mammon, The Accountant
       Give him all the treasures, he'd rant
       Locked forever in this keep
       Locked forever away in the deep
       Mountains of Silver and Gold
       Forever hidden within his stronghold

Joshua was astound by all the paintings. As he walked further down the hall he saw the fifth king. A rather fat demon with a long mouth and large horns above his ears. This one seemed the least interesting because it depicted him sleeping on a wide bed. Even his scripture seemed dull:

      Malbolgia, had the shortest reign
      By birthright his throne claim
      The sloth would lay in his lair
      Letting others carry his affair
      He'd lie cozily in the Abysmal Deep
      Until killed by his Brother in his sleep

The next one gave Joshua chills. The detailed artistry of dead angels at the feet of this demon. The demon looked to be covered head to toe in armor as black as tar. It was difficult to tell if there was a man or monster underneath; but the piercing gave of its hellish red eyes and fiery, gaping maw was enough to scare anyone. 

It looked as though every one seemed to be afraid of this one. He noticed that some worker demons and a few souls refused to look or glanced away from this one. Its scripture read:

      Baracrus, the one who craved power
      Ruled Inferno the long, dark hour
      Feared by angel and demon alike 
      Slayed enemies through sword and pike
     The cruelty and malice he ordered in each breath
      Finally silenced, the War ended, with his death

Finally he had come to the current king, Lucifer. Not much was depicted other than he looked as he does now, but he wore a crimson armor instead of his red suit. But something in the background caught Joshua's eye. It looked as some monstrous dragon-dinosaur hybrid was shadowed by Lu. Lu's scripture read as it was:

      Our king, Lucifer, once God's angel
      Once was of the Heavens, cast into Hell
      He rules our realm with justly pride
      Yet beware, The Beast, locked inside
      The blood of the First Devil in his vein
      He'll carry with him until his last reign

The Beast. He had remembered the warnings of the Beast from his church sessions. But what did this mean? He had remembered that Rosie once told him that he saw another side to Lu. A side so menacing that it had once frightened her. But she said it, or he, saved her. Yet another tale was told about how it had attack his brother in a predatory rage. Joshua wasn't sure what to believe.

More history was graphed into the walls. A large, black mass crashing into a field of green. A heart forged in a sea of fire. Then there was one where demons were battling against some winged people on top of city in the clouds, and another where demons were dissolving in a large body of water where in the distant background some sort of boat or box was floating on top. The most disturbing Joshua saw was the graphic depiction of a burned man being transfigured into the hideous monster he saw inside Lu's painting.

"Quite marvelous, isn't it?" a low, haunting voice bellowed, forcing Joshua to jump. He turned to find Lu's adviser Legion was also looking upon the artwork. "Such craftsmanship. Such defined detail."

"These were all kings?" Joshua muttered nervously. "They were all devils?"

"Indeed." the ancient one answered. "Some were good kings, others not so much. He was the worst of them." Legion tapped his old staff on the painting of the sixth king, Baracrus. "We had many disagreements, him and I. What was to be done with prisoners of war. What was to be done with souls. His spiteful experiments."

"You served them all?"

"I did. I was also involved in some of the history depicted here."

Joshua looked around the mural some more. Then he spotted something that seemed off from the others. "What's the history behind that one?" he asked, pointing at a corner of the wall.

One of Legion's six eyes blinked at stared in the direction the boy pointed toward. "I believe Lord Lucifer has given you a task, Master Wordsworth." he bellowed. "It would be wise not to procrastinate so long on it."

Joshua hesitantly agreed. He walked away from the old demon sorcerer and entered inside the elevator down the end of the hall. He pressed the button that would ascend him to the ninth floor and the doors close behind.

The mortal boy was gone. Legion was now alone with the ancient history painted all over the hall. His round, hidden head rotated to way Joshua was pointing at earlier. It wasn't anything secret to the demons, but it was not something that a mere mortal needed to know. Legion looked and saw the piece of history he would never forget. A small patch where a cloaked spider-demon, extending a decrepit hand to three individuals with light surrounding them. The light seemed to be attached to the backs of the three figures like wings of bird—or wings of an angel.
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Write a story with the phrase "There's got to be more to life than this" in it somewhere. Don't forget to tag me @chainedinshadow
Written by Harry_Situation in portal Fiction

Little Slice of Paradise

There's got to be more to life than this. A phrase thrown around a lot by mortal folks. Never used by those who dwell in the heavens—home of the privileged, the pure, and the just. In his long life, Mike, one of the archangels of God, had never used this phrase... until now.

There's got to be more to life than this. There had to be more to life than this. More than being an angel, an archangel, and a child of God. For the first time he had questioned his existence, his position, and even his faith. He felt lost. This was unbecoming of an angel. What he was doing now—seeing his disowned brother, interacting with mortals, engaging a relationship with a mortal—was a transgression against Heaven and its angels. If the Council found out about his deeds, he knew that he would have to stand trial. So many thoughts. So much conflict.

His conflicting thoughts kept Mike distracted enough that he walked onto the crosswalk.

"LOOK OUT!" A voice snapped him out of it.

He glanced up and jumped back in time as the car barely clipped him. The car honked at the archangel, the driver wasn't too friendly.

"You know that can't technically hurt me, right?" he informed his girlfriend, Malaika Katan, or known as Ms. Kat to her kindergarten students.

"Well it doesn't mean that you should try to get run over," Ms. Kat corrected him.

The two then carried on once the crosswalk light flashed go. They were on their way to the elementary school where a Muslim cultural expo was being held. Ms. Kat carried a tray full of delicious light tan, cubic treats, all neatly wrapped under a plastic sheet. "I can't thank you enough for your help, Mike."

"It's no trouble at all." Mike replied. He carried in his hands a large crock pot filled with some sort of liquid. The contents inside sloshed around each step and the steam fogged up the glass cover. "So what exactly do you have in your hands?"

"It's called basbousa. A tasty treat from my culture. My mother would always bake these, and my siblings and I would always gobble them up as fast as we could."

"And I've got...?"

"Just some vegetable and beef stew. Nothing too special."

"Man, what'd I would give to have a cheeseburger with bacon slapped on top."

"That does sound so good. Too bad I can't have the bacon."

"Oh, because of your culture?"

"An allergy, actually," she corrected him again, which she seemed to enjoy so much. Mike didn't mind being corrected by her.

At last the couple had arrived at the front doors of Brimstone Elementary. Mike quickly grabbed the handle, balancing the pot with his other hand and body. The door was open for his lady. Ms. Kat smiled, proceeding inside as the archangel followed. Quite the gentleman, she thought to her self.

Mike and Malaika made their way into the gymnasium, where the expo was being held. Malaika had a helping hand in preparations with the nearby mosque. It was a chance for the local people to get a good experience of Muslim culture through their art, fashion, and food. But most importantly, to her, it was a way to educate people, to help understand that not all Muslims are terrorists. They too are like any other family trying to make a living.

All her life, since her parents moved across the world to settle in America, Ms. Kat and her people had been in the crosshairs of judgement and ridicule. She has met good people and made many friends, but there were always those who despised her because of her culture. Yet she refused to let the mocking from others stop her from achieving peace and friendship, one of the reasons she wanted to become a school teacher in the first place. 

The doors to the gymnasium were ajar. Upon entering, the couples happy expressions turned to utter shock. "Oh no!" Ms. Kat muttered sadly.

The expo, the gymnasium, was trashed. Tables knocked over, banners ripped, and racial slurs spray painted over the walls. Some people that were suppose to help run the expo were instead trying to clean up what was left of it. This was a mess. Hard work was reduced to wreckage.

A short, bearded man dressed in black approached the couple. His greeted them with grave sadness. "Pir Abdullah," Ms. Kat spoke to him. "What happened?"

"Ah Sister Malaika, it's terrible." said the spiritual leader, "Vandals broke in last night and did all this. Everything is ruined."

Mike tried to reassured them. "This isn't too bad. We can fix this."

"I don't think so, stranger." the disheartened Pir replied. "I'm afraid we'll have to cancel the expo."

"We can't, we just can't." Malaika pleaded. "This is a chance to show everyone that not every Muslim is some extremist terrorist. That we are a people who seek love and peace just as every person. We must take a stand against oppression, so that others who have been persecuted in some manner can take a stand too. This is how one achieves peace and acceptance."

The members all looked to Ms. Kat as she gave her grand speech. It was brief, but it was enough to touch their spirits, even Michael's too. An enlightened smile formulated around his lips the more he looked upon the woman he developed feelings for.

Even the Pir smiled from her words, "A noble thought, my dear." But the smile faded. "But with the expo suppose to open in half an hour, there just isn't enough time to clean and prepare. It would take a miracle."

A miracle, he said. Mike knew he had the power to grant such a miracle. But he couldn't, he knew he couldn't. It was not allowed, not in the presence of mortals. The Council forbade it after such miracles led to so many holy wars against their species. 

But then he thought, screw it.

There was a great flash of light in the gymnasium. Ms. Kat, the Pir, and the other Muslims watched in dazzle as the archangel disappeared into a streak of gold lightning. The streak spun around in the air like an electric funnel before blasting around the gymnasium.

Wherever the streak zipped it managed to clean up all vandalism inside. The streak flew through the knocked tables and stood them back up. Food trays and educational posters were then placed on top of the tables by the speeding ball of lightning. It then whipped by the torn banners and hung them high, restitching the lettering too. The insensitive graffiti was scrubbed right off as if it was never there. The music instruments and activities for children were placed on the other end of the gymnasium.

Everyone inside gasped of how their expo was quickly being set up by this magical, moving ball of light. Finally finished, the lightning ball impacted into the polished floor and the archangel appeared.

Mike smirked to the crowd. "How's that for a miracle?" 

The members of the expo all cheered. Their expo was back on track. Pir Abdullah graciously thanked Mike and shook his hand wild with excitement. Ms. Kat approached her angelic boyfriend, planting a small, warm kiss on his cheek. 

Everything was ready now.

The expo was open. There was a large gathering of people from all over Brimstone. They were people of many races and faiths that all had come to explore a new culture. There were friends and there were strangers, and they all have come together in one location.

The local news channel interviewed Pir Abdullah, which he was more than happy to answer their questions and explain the decor. Ms. Kat and Mike welcomed everybody that walked through the main doors. They welcomed families of all sizes and customs. Mike then noticed that his step-niece, Rosemary Gravely, entered the expo with her diverse group of friends: the young rich heiress Krystal; the African American daughter of a same-sex couple Kayleigh; the devoted Christian Joshua; the silent but expressive Ashley; and even the young imp from the Inferno Dominic. They were all warmly greeted by both Ms. Kat and Mike. The children's mouths gaped in awe to the wonder and amazement that was set up. They all hurried off to try the different food and activities of the Muslim cultures.

As the cultural expo continued, Ms. Kat's hand slipped into Mike's. Mike gently wrapped his fingers around hers, to which both adults smiled and blushed at one another. 

Mike felt he was a peace with himself for once. Yet he knows that the Council will likely have a word with him about his actions. And what about Malaika? He knew that there was so much he wanted to tell her but he knew he couldn't. He can't. Not now. Not at this moment. She was happy, and that's all that mattered to him.

Let the Council chew him out, he thought to himself. What could they really do to him? Tried for exposure? Most likely. Punished? Probably. He knows what he'll say and what he'll have to do when that time came. But for now, who cares. He didn't. Right now he had found something—or found someone—more to this life.

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Write a story with the phrase "There's got to be more to life than this" in it somewhere. Don't forget to tag me @chainedinshadow
Written by Harry_Situation in portal Fiction
Little Slice of Paradise
There's got to be more to life than this. A phrase thrown around a lot by mortal folks. Never used by those who dwell in the heavens—home of the privileged, the pure, and the just. In his long life, Mike, one of the archangels of God, had never used this phrase... until now.

There's got to be more to life than this. There had to be more to life than this. More than being an angel, an archangel, and a child of God. For the first time he had questioned his existence, his position, and even his faith. He felt lost. This was unbecoming of an angel. What he was doing now—seeing his disowned brother, interacting with mortals, engaging a relationship with a mortal—was a transgression against Heaven and its angels. If the Council found out about his deeds, he knew that he would have to stand trial. So many thoughts. So much conflict.

His conflicting thoughts kept Mike distracted enough that he walked onto the crosswalk.

"LOOK OUT!" A voice snapped him out of it.

He glanced up and jumped back in time as the car barely clipped him. The car honked at the archangel, the driver wasn't too friendly.

"You know that can't technically hurt me, right?" he informed his girlfriend, Malaika Katan, or known as Ms. Kat to her kindergarten students.

"Well it doesn't mean that you should try to get run over," Ms. Kat corrected him.

The two then carried on once the crosswalk light flashed go. They were on their way to the elementary school where a Muslim cultural expo was being held. Ms. Kat carried a tray full of delicious light tan, cubic treats, all neatly wrapped under a plastic sheet. "I can't thank you enough for your help, Mike."

"It's no trouble at all." Mike replied. He carried in his hands a large crock pot filled with some sort of liquid. The contents inside sloshed around each step and the steam fogged up the glass cover. "So what exactly do you have in your hands?"

"It's called basbousa. A tasty treat from my culture. My mother would always bake these, and my siblings and I would always gobble them up as fast as we could."

"And I've got...?"

"Just some vegetable and beef stew. Nothing too special."

"Man, what'd I would give to have a cheeseburger with bacon slapped on top."

"That does sound so good. Too bad I can't have the bacon."

"Oh, because of your culture?"

"An allergy, actually," she corrected him again, which she seemed to enjoy so much. Mike didn't mind being corrected by her.

At last the couple had arrived at the front doors of Brimstone Elementary. Mike quickly grabbed the handle, balancing the pot with his other hand and body. The door was open for his lady. Ms. Kat smiled, proceeding inside as the archangel followed. Quite the gentleman, she thought to her self.

Mike and Malaika made their way into the gymnasium, where the expo was being held. Malaika had a helping hand in preparations with the nearby mosque. It was a chance for the local people to get a good experience of Muslim culture through their art, fashion, and food. But most importantly, to her, it was a way to educate people, to help understand that not all Muslims are terrorists. They too are like any other family trying to make a living.

All her life, since her parents moved across the world to settle in America, Ms. Kat and her people had been in the crosshairs of judgement and ridicule. She has met good people and made many friends, but there were always those who despised her because of her culture. Yet she refused to let the mocking from others stop her from achieving peace and friendship, one of the reasons she wanted to become a school teacher in the first place. 

The doors to the gymnasium were ajar. Upon entering, the couples happy expressions turned to utter shock. "Oh no!" Ms. Kat muttered sadly.

The expo, the gymnasium, was trashed. Tables knocked over, banners ripped, and racial slurs spray painted over the walls. Some people that were suppose to help run the expo were instead trying to clean up what was left of it. This was a mess. Hard work was reduced to wreckage.

A short, bearded man dressed in black approached the couple. His greeted them with grave sadness. "Pir Abdullah," Ms. Kat spoke to him. "What happened?"

"Ah Sister Malaika, it's terrible." said the spiritual leader, "Vandals broke in last night and did all this. Everything is ruined."

Mike tried to reassured them. "This isn't too bad. We can fix this."

"I don't think so, stranger." the disheartened Pir replied. "I'm afraid we'll have to cancel the expo."

"We can't, we just can't." Malaika pleaded. "This is a chance to show everyone that not every Muslim is some extremist terrorist. That we are a people who seek love and peace just as every person. We must take a stand against oppression, so that others who have been persecuted in some manner can take a stand too. This is how one achieves peace and acceptance."

The members all looked to Ms. Kat as she gave her grand speech. It was brief, but it was enough to touch their spirits, even Michael's too. An enlightened smile formulated around his lips the more he looked upon the woman he developed feelings for.

Even the Pir smiled from her words, "A noble thought, my dear." But the smile faded. "But with the expo suppose to open in half an hour, there just isn't enough time to clean and prepare. It would take a miracle."

A miracle, he said. Mike knew he had the power to grant such a miracle. But he couldn't, he knew he couldn't. It was not allowed, not in the presence of mortals. The Council forbade it after such miracles led to so many holy wars against their species. 

But then he thought, screw it.

There was a great flash of light in the gymnasium. Ms. Kat, the Pir, and the other Muslims watched in dazzle as the archangel disappeared into a streak of gold lightning. The streak spun around in the air like an electric funnel before blasting around the gymnasium.

Wherever the streak zipped it managed to clean up all vandalism inside. The streak flew through the knocked tables and stood them back up. Food trays and educational posters were then placed on top of the tables by the speeding ball of lightning. It then whipped by the torn banners and hung them high, restitching the lettering too. The insensitive graffiti was scrubbed right off as if it was never there. The music instruments and activities for children were placed on the other end of the gymnasium.

Everyone inside gasped of how their expo was quickly being set up by this magical, moving ball of light. Finally finished, the lightning ball impacted into the polished floor and the archangel appeared.

Mike smirked to the crowd. "How's that for a miracle?" 

The members of the expo all cheered. Their expo was back on track. Pir Abdullah graciously thanked Mike and shook his hand wild with excitement. Ms. Kat approached her angelic boyfriend, planting a small, warm kiss on his cheek. 

Everything was ready now.

The expo was open. There was a large gathering of people from all over Brimstone. They were people of many races and faiths that all had come to explore a new culture. There were friends and there were strangers, and they all have come together in one location.

The local news channel interviewed Pir Abdullah, which he was more than happy to answer their questions and explain the decor. Ms. Kat and Mike welcomed everybody that walked through the main doors. They welcomed families of all sizes and customs. Mike then noticed that his step-niece, Rosemary Gravely, entered the expo with her diverse group of friends: the young rich heiress Krystal; the African American daughter of a same-sex couple Kayleigh; the devoted Christian Joshua; the silent but expressive Ashley; and even the young imp from the Inferno Dominic. They were all warmly greeted by both Ms. Kat and Mike. The children's mouths gaped in awe to the wonder and amazement that was set up. They all hurried off to try the different food and activities of the Muslim cultures.

As the cultural expo continued, Ms. Kat's hand slipped into Mike's. Mike gently wrapped his fingers around hers, to which both adults smiled and blushed at one another. 

Mike felt he was a peace with himself for once. Yet he knows that the Council will likely have a word with him about his actions. And what about Malaika? He knew that there was so much he wanted to tell her but he knew he couldn't. He can't. Not now. Not at this moment. She was happy, and that's all that mattered to him.

Let the Council chew him out, he thought to himself. What could they really do to him? Tried for exposure? Most likely. Punished? Probably. He knows what he'll say and what he'll have to do when that time came. But for now, who cares. He didn't. Right now he had found something—or found someone—more to this life.
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Written by desmondwrite in portal Fiction

"The Artist's Wife" (Lovecraft Mimicry)

Sluice Warrington was growing more and more annoyed with Rez, especially the man's side-street studio with its clitter clatter of canvases and layers upon layers of dust and paint-pocked floors as mindless as a Jackson Pollock. But worse, he hated how the man's oil canvases would sell for upwards of five grand; how entropy spawned celebrity. It seemed the more Rez became a mess of a human being, the more potent the paintings he pushed into galleries and living rooms and furniture stores and government buildings, while Sluice kept a tidy space—white and rounded as an Apple Store, clean and clinical as a nurse's ass—debarring his passion only on canvas, releasing himself like a frothing inmate given knife and vein—and made nothing. Not a quarter on skulls biting into moons, not a dime on robed figures biting into babies, not a nickel on statues wearing human skin, not a penny on nude women exhaling trails of beetles down their necks. But no one wanted truth anymore. No one wanted darkness. They wanted lazy pleasures that took a heartbeat to decipher. Rez's slurred landscapes, his blotted horses, the slop he called wildflowers and slabs of meat he called people, that sold.

But no longer! thought Sluice as he nailed up a shelf in his studio. Onto this shelf, Sluice piled the most obscure books he could find—travelogues of strange seas, manuscripts by madmen, maps, codices, scrolls, books of lost alphabets, ideas, and animals, illustrated stories about historical monsters, portents, prophecies, addendums to the Bible and Koran, alchemic recipes, pamphlets from an English secret society called the White Cloak, the lost diaries of Turriciano, Alan Moore's Providence (it was a good read), and heaps and heaps of spellbooks—any Sluice could find—from scratched out equations on toilet rolls to black blood volumes with poison green titles to crackling leather barely protecting crinkling vellum slips. It was in this search that he finally found what he was looking for: an edge.

The time was opportune, too, for Rez had reached a new tier of nuisance. The Bed Springs Fine Arts Museum was exhibiting a collection entitled: “Rez, Resurrected,” featuring his series of graveyards that looked like gray teeth on green lips. During the opening ceremony, Rez had attributed little depth to his works, describing them as: “Pretty, aren’t they?” and focusing instead on process. This was the worst of it, that someone with such talent would be an idiot. Only Sluice recognized “Rez, Resurrected” for having all the subtly of ape excrement.

But finally, inspiration. In a manuscript made from animal skin—the pages scrubbed so thinly they were translucent—Sluice found a text black as burns and slashing wildly as knife strokes. The manuscript's language had been lost in the loams of Persia, but he could read it legibly, although this induced migraines. Into these petrified layers of Sign and Sorcery, he peered. Most of it was murky as a cauldron, but here and there surfaced insights into the nature of magic, and the entire work seemed to promise to end the reader's sterility and that half-abominated world of near-but-never fame. Instead, the reader would be elevated to Subcreator, to really shape a Work from the materia, to make art that lives and pumps. Every artist before had been a neanderthal, grunting through the rubbish of language, smearing shadow people and spears on ill-lit caves.

So Sluice read and read, and read all over again. His day job at an IT firm assisted his mediation; the dull, tedious investigation of a computer’s interior workings and those codes which can bring configured metal to life helped him understand how script might Signify; how language could lunge from petty black symbols into systems of reality. He read through swollen eyes and a thunderous cavern of bone and finally he was ready and went to his wife and said: “It’s time we had a child.”


He did it. There were certain preparations. The candles were bloodmeal; the paste between the mattresses a viscosity of crushed raven, frog bile, and peaseblossom. He drew sigils in notebooks which he carefully placed about the room—the diagrams’ energies not deterred by the roofs of their binding. The Endless Words were uttered under his breath, and in the throes of passion, when the muttering would have discouraged the mood, he thought the Endless Words articulately, repetitively. The process gave him headaches, prolonging the creative process and letting him dive deeper and deeper into her folds. When he was done, he laid lustily in perfumed sheets as she sat on her back, legs in the air.

The early days of her pregnancy were normal. He read the book often. It stayed, this manuscript, by the bed, and he consulted the text as if it were a child-rearing guide. The words were less legible now, revealing only glimpses of truth which devolved into blaring, world-tearing headaches. Sometimes he felt the thinness in the air, or the quiet sound of movement, or a gonging noise like the heartbeat of some alien pressing its chest against his ears. But the reading wasn’t as helpful anymore. The process had been completed: the canvas had been her, the paint the black text, the brush his tongue slapping against teeth. The Great Work, hidden beneath her bump, needed to ferment like alcohol.

His wife was always hungry—she would eat loaves of bread in the check-out aisle and could never keep a stocked fridge. She also felt impressions of the art within her. She complained of dreams that there was a parasite in her belly—sometimes it appeared like a squid thing with the face of a spider, or a plated beetle coated in slimy horns, or a bundle of worms whose heads ended in an array of needle-roots piercing the womb lining. Did all pregnant women feel this way? Feel slowly eaten alive from within? Her stomach swelled larger and larger but her legs, butt, neck, etc., all remained thin. The baby was gorging itself on her—sipping her nutrients through the straw in its belly. Sometimes it pressed against the womb, and the impression pushing out of her skin wasn’t a foot, but something like a sliding eel. But Sluice didn’t want an ultrasound. “We can’t afford it,” he said. “You lost your healthcare and most of our income is going toward student loans and I’m afraid in three months we’ll be out on the streets or moving in with your parents.” But Sluice said this with a gleeful intensity and his eyes didn’t match the sour news. Instead, the narrow bands of blue around his engorged pupils glittered in anticipation and she thought—he’s excited about the baby.

But she was worried about Sluice and the darkness of his appetite. Sluice avoided his friends, especially Rez. His nights were spent at home, dozing, or reading the crumbles of paper he called “the Manuscript.” There was a smugness there despite the black bags bordering his eyes and the strained, rashy complexion of his skin. And a patience, too, which exceeded all compassion and bordered on the stoicism of a scientist cultivating a petri dish. They did not have sex—he didn’t feel comfortable pressing against the bulge too harshly.

Sluice kept reading, and the book kept revealing new layers of text until he thought he must be at the organs of the thing, or digging against the bones. The further he pressed his face into the Manuscript, the more Signs he uncovered, until he realized this book was an autopsy of sorts—an unraveling of the corpse of the cosmos.

The day came when he was dreaming about ruins that a text buzzed on his phone: [Hurry. Now. Having contractions.] Sluice rushed out his cubicle past confused glances, his phone pressed to his ear. “Sluice,” she moaned over the phone while he stood in the elevator. “This doesn’t feel right.” “There’s blood, Sluice,” she said as he pulled his car from the lot. “And—And something else.” The exit by the toll booth was accompanied by a series of moans, almost in pleasure. By the freeway they’d curdled into fulsome screams.

When Sluice pulled up to his driveway, the house was like an egg cracked open and poured into a pan. The wall to the living room had shattered into tufts of concrete and insulation foam and the veins of electrical wires. Coating it all were smears of what could have been jelly, only they stank of umbilical fluids and maggots. Sluice examined a series of craters on the driveway and, with the satisfaction of an artist who, masterpiece complete, must put away the tools, went inside to put away his wife.

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Write a parody! Or even fan-fiction!
Written by desmondwrite in portal Fiction
"The Artist's Wife" (Lovecraft Mimicry)
Sluice Warrington was growing more and more annoyed with Rez, especially the man's side-street studio with its clitter clatter of canvases and layers upon layers of dust and paint-pocked floors as mindless as a Jackson Pollock. But worse, he hated how the man's oil canvases would sell for upwards of five grand; how entropy spawned celebrity. It seemed the more Rez became a mess of a human being, the more potent the paintings he pushed into galleries and living rooms and furniture stores and government buildings, while Sluice kept a tidy space—white and rounded as an Apple Store, clean and clinical as a nurse's ass—debarring his passion only on canvas, releasing himself like a frothing inmate given knife and vein—and made nothing. Not a quarter on skulls biting into moons, not a dime on robed figures biting into babies, not a nickel on statues wearing human skin, not a penny on nude women exhaling trails of beetles down their necks. But no one wanted truth anymore. No one wanted darkness. They wanted lazy pleasures that took a heartbeat to decipher. Rez's slurred landscapes, his blotted horses, the slop he called wildflowers and slabs of meat he called people, that sold.

But no longer! thought Sluice as he nailed up a shelf in his studio. Onto this shelf, Sluice piled the most obscure books he could find—travelogues of strange seas, manuscripts by madmen, maps, codices, scrolls, books of lost alphabets, ideas, and animals, illustrated stories about historical monsters, portents, prophecies, addendums to the Bible and Koran, alchemic recipes, pamphlets from an English secret society called the White Cloak, the lost diaries of Turriciano, Alan Moore's Providence (it was a good read), and heaps and heaps of spellbooks—any Sluice could find—from scratched out equations on toilet rolls to black blood volumes with poison green titles to crackling leather barely protecting crinkling vellum slips. It was in this search that he finally found what he was looking for: an edge.

The time was opportune, too, for Rez had reached a new tier of nuisance. The Bed Springs Fine Arts Museum was exhibiting a collection entitled: “Rez, Resurrected,” featuring his series of graveyards that looked like gray teeth on green lips. During the opening ceremony, Rez had attributed little depth to his works, describing them as: “Pretty, aren’t they?” and focusing instead on process. This was the worst of it, that someone with such talent would be an idiot. Only Sluice recognized “Rez, Resurrected” for having all the subtly of ape excrement.

But finally, inspiration. In a manuscript made from animal skin—the pages scrubbed so thinly they were translucent—Sluice found a text black as burns and slashing wildly as knife strokes. The manuscript's language had been lost in the loams of Persia, but he could read it legibly, although this induced migraines. Into these petrified layers of Sign and Sorcery, he peered. Most of it was murky as a cauldron, but here and there surfaced insights into the nature of magic, and the entire work seemed to promise to end the reader's sterility and that half-abominated world of near-but-never fame. Instead, the reader would be elevated to Subcreator, to really shape a Work from the materia, to make art that lives and pumps. Every artist before had been a neanderthal, grunting through the rubbish of language, smearing shadow people and spears on ill-lit caves.

So Sluice read and read, and read all over again. His day job at an IT firm assisted his mediation; the dull, tedious investigation of a computer’s interior workings and those codes which can bring configured metal to life helped him understand how script might Signify; how language could lunge from petty black symbols into systems of reality. He read through swollen eyes and a thunderous cavern of bone and finally he was ready and went to his wife and said: “It’s time we had a child.”


He did it. There were certain preparations. The candles were bloodmeal; the paste between the mattresses a viscosity of crushed raven, frog bile, and peaseblossom. He drew sigils in notebooks which he carefully placed about the room—the diagrams’ energies not deterred by the roofs of their binding. The Endless Words were uttered under his breath, and in the throes of passion, when the muttering would have discouraged the mood, he thought the Endless Words articulately, repetitively. The process gave him headaches, prolonging the creative process and letting him dive deeper and deeper into her folds. When he was done, he laid lustily in perfumed sheets as she sat on her back, legs in the air.

The early days of her pregnancy were normal. He read the book often. It stayed, this manuscript, by the bed, and he consulted the text as if it were a child-rearing guide. The words were less legible now, revealing only glimpses of truth which devolved into blaring, world-tearing headaches. Sometimes he felt the thinness in the air, or the quiet sound of movement, or a gonging noise like the heartbeat of some alien pressing its chest against his ears. But the reading wasn’t as helpful anymore. The process had been completed: the canvas had been her, the paint the black text, the brush his tongue slapping against teeth. The Great Work, hidden beneath her bump, needed to ferment like alcohol.

His wife was always hungry—she would eat loaves of bread in the check-out aisle and could never keep a stocked fridge. She also felt impressions of the art within her. She complained of dreams that there was a parasite in her belly—sometimes it appeared like a squid thing with the face of a spider, or a plated beetle coated in slimy horns, or a bundle of worms whose heads ended in an array of needle-roots piercing the womb lining. Did all pregnant women feel this way? Feel slowly eaten alive from within? Her stomach swelled larger and larger but her legs, butt, neck, etc., all remained thin. The baby was gorging itself on her—sipping her nutrients through the straw in its belly. Sometimes it pressed against the womb, and the impression pushing out of her skin wasn’t a foot, but something like a sliding eel. But Sluice didn’t want an ultrasound. “We can’t afford it,” he said. “You lost your healthcare and most of our income is going toward student loans and I’m afraid in three months we’ll be out on the streets or moving in with your parents.” But Sluice said this with a gleeful intensity and his eyes didn’t match the sour news. Instead, the narrow bands of blue around his engorged pupils glittered in anticipation and she thought—he’s excited about the baby.

But she was worried about Sluice and the darkness of his appetite. Sluice avoided his friends, especially Rez. His nights were spent at home, dozing, or reading the crumbles of paper he called “the Manuscript.” There was a smugness there despite the black bags bordering his eyes and the strained, rashy complexion of his skin. And a patience, too, which exceeded all compassion and bordered on the stoicism of a scientist cultivating a petri dish. They did not have sex—he didn’t feel comfortable pressing against the bulge too harshly.

Sluice kept reading, and the book kept revealing new layers of text until he thought he must be at the organs of the thing, or digging against the bones. The further he pressed his face into the Manuscript, the more Signs he uncovered, until he realized this book was an autopsy of sorts—an unraveling of the corpse of the cosmos.

The day came when he was dreaming about ruins that a text buzzed on his phone: [Hurry. Now. Having contractions.] Sluice rushed out his cubicle past confused glances, his phone pressed to his ear. “Sluice,” she moaned over the phone while he stood in the elevator. “This doesn’t feel right.” “There’s blood, Sluice,” she said as he pulled his car from the lot. “And—And something else.” The exit by the toll booth was accompanied by a series of moans, almost in pleasure. By the freeway they’d curdled into fulsome screams.

When Sluice pulled up to his driveway, the house was like an egg cracked open and poured into a pan. The wall to the living room had shattered into tufts of concrete and insulation foam and the veins of electrical wires. Coating it all were smears of what could have been jelly, only they stank of umbilical fluids and maggots. Sluice examined a series of craters on the driveway and, with the satisfaction of an artist who, masterpiece complete, must put away the tools, went inside to put away his wife.
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Hey there, random proser. I have a question for you which varies based on your genetalia (you'll understand why in a moment; I promise I'm not sexist.) If you are biologically female, describe what a period cramp feels like. Or, if you have given birth, describe the pain. If you are biologically male, describe what it feels like when someone hits etc your family jewels. I understand this will likely make people uncomfortable. But I feel like many people have trouble describing pain and also, as writers, we write about tons of gory topics or *crude* things and thus are used to this kind of stuff (at least I think we are and I know I am.) Thanks for reading this and good luck.
Written by WistfulThinker

Challenge

Hey there, random proser. I have a question for you, which varies based on your genetalia (you'll understand why in a moment; I promise I'm not sexist.)

If you are biologically female, describe what a period cramp feels like. Or, if you have given birth, describe the pain.

If you are biologically male, describe what it feels like when someone hits etc your family jewels.

I understand this will likely make people uncomfortable. But I feel like many people have trouble describing pain and also, as writers, we write about tons of gory topics or *crude* things and thus are used to this kind of stuff (at least I think we are and I know I am.)

Thanks for reading this and good luck.

And plz tag me in the comments so I may see :)

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Juice
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Hey there, random proser. I have a question for you which varies based on your genetalia (you'll understand why in a moment; I promise I'm not sexist.) If you are biologically female, describe what a period cramp feels like. Or, if you have given birth, describe the pain. If you are biologically male, describe what it feels like when someone hits etc your family jewels. I understand this will likely make people uncomfortable. But I feel like many people have trouble describing pain and also, as writers, we write about tons of gory topics or *crude* things and thus are used to this kind of stuff (at least I think we are and I know I am.) Thanks for reading this and good luck.
Written by WistfulThinker
Challenge
Hey there, random proser. I have a question for you, which varies based on your genetalia (you'll understand why in a moment; I promise I'm not sexist.)

If you are biologically female, describe what a period cramp feels like. Or, if you have given birth, describe the pain.

If you are biologically male, describe what it feels like when someone hits etc your family jewels.

I understand this will likely make people uncomfortable. But I feel like many people have trouble describing pain and also, as writers, we write about tons of gory topics or *crude* things and thus are used to this kind of stuff (at least I think we are and I know I am.)

Thanks for reading this and good luck.


And plz tag me in the comments so I may see :)
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Write an R-rated short story.
Written by janelscarlett in portal Fiction

A Bed of Knives

The night was at it's peak when the intruder snuck in with the breath of winter emanating from the open glass door. I gasped awake as his shadow briefly interrupted the moonlight streaming in through my balcony. The transcendence of time slowed down for me as he lunged onto of my bed as my line of sight fell upon him.

“Please keep your home secure as we search for this deadly killer.” A cop's voice warbles in my memory from when they stopped by earlier in the evening to warn me.

The trespasser's left arm restrained me as his right arm arched back and his knife caught a glint of the moonlight.

“Please.” I said softly, with no signs of resistance as I lightly wrapped my hands around his. He flinched slightly from my touch as surprise etched into his body language. “I want to make love once more before I die.”

The darkness watched us as we stayed like that for a while. His composure was unbroken by his contemplation and I could feel his eyes searching my face for the truth of my intentions as his body still loomed over mine. His hold on me started to tremble as desire began to tempt him. I slowly traced my hands up his arm, to his shoulder and felt his veins pulse with adrenaline as I reached his neck. The blade clattering onto my floor was the only sound against our ragged breath as his lips whispered into mine. His deep kiss was unnervingly soft and reminded me of the shudder of a butterfly's wings that I once caged in my hands.

His curiosity explored my physique as I pulled off his shirt to reveal his bare chest that was still sticky with the warm blood of his last victim. I traced his jawline with my fingertips the same way the first snowfall of winter touches the earth-- delicately and with innocence. A small sigh escaped him and dissipated against the cold as our skin touched each other, as if he hadn't felt compassion in a long time. As if he had almost forgotten.

Sleep had eventually found me in his embrace after the eloquence of our passion and he snuck out through the balcony before dawn scorched the sky. As I awoke to solitude, I wondered if it was all a dream as the white curtains fluttered against the open morning air that was still inviting itself in. The mystery ceased as I discovered his weapon resting at my bedside.

The thought of him engulfed my mind all day as I held the curved knife that felt so heavy in my hands. The rhythm of his breath against my face from the night before plagued my recollection persistently as my fingers traced the sharp edges. The consequence of the choices he made during his visit was like a viper in the snow—strange and out of place. The weapon made a loud “thud” as I placed it on my night table and I found myself hoping he would return.

It had just begun to rain after sundown when he stole into my room for the second time. The downpour drenched him and nipped at his heels as the wind whooshed from the open door behind him. He began to encircle me like a prey after I rose to greet him. As he neared closer, it was as if his dance of hesitation was wordlessly asking me, “Shall we, once more?”

He stopped inches from my face and as I felt his breath on my cheek, lightning frolicked across the atmosphere and lit up his features entirely for a moment. In that instant that I finally saw his face completely for the first time, I thought back to a rose garden I had visited last summer and how it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, until now. He slowly raised his hand and lightly dragged his touch across my shoulder to my neck to serve as encouragement to his lingering question. A tremor squeezed my heartbeat as we finally embraced in the torrent of the storm. As his presence lulled me to the bed, the night cascaded around us again as the yearning we felt for each other disappeared in between us with every touch we exchanged.

The knife on the table was a silent agreement that neither of us questioned. I wanted him to feel calm in knowing the option was there in case at any moment, he changed his mind, yet he never gave it a second glance during our time together. As the signs of morning began to lighten the sky, he nestled his face above my breast and kissed my torso, right where my heart was pounding.

“I swore to myself I was going to do it this time.” He whispered as I cradled his head in my arms.

I sighed at the rarity of hearing his voice.

“What happened?” I asked softly while moving the hair from his eyes as he looked up at me.

“I saw so much life come back into your eyes when you saw me again.” We stayed like that and I held him as the night's many shades of blue were rapidly dissolving. “I wasn't always like this, you know.” He said as my hands whispered across his shoulder and to his back. He smiled at me as my touch was unwavering as he continued his story, and I felt his grin burn into my memory forever. “I remember a specific incident, gardening with my father as a child. A sparrow had gotten caught in the chain of our bird feeder and had somehow torn its wing in the process. As I rushed over to free it from it's desperate struggle, my dad stopped me. 'Don't you see?' He said to me after he screamed at me to stop. 'Mercy is the greatest compassion you can give in this life of so much suffering.' His voice wavered as he told me the sparrow died shortly after as he moved his body fully on top of mine. I breathed in the crisp scent of him as his breath trickled down my neck. I wanted to bring him into my dreams as tiredness beckoned to me. I reached for his hand and our fingers intertwining initiated the infliction of our endearment.

“Why are you not afraid of me?” He whispered to my closed eyes as my mind was on the cusp of the dreamworld. “Why are you not afraid of death?” How could I tell him that until we met, my life was like a flower-- that my hope had been discouraged and snuffed out before I had even bloomed? As the warm sunlight trickled in through the windows, I felt the weight of him lift before I surrendered entirely to sleep and was powerless to stop him from leaving my embrace. Before I heard the closing of the balcony door, I heard his footfalls at the edge of my bed. Just when I thought he had changed his mind, I felt him squeeze my hand.

On the third night, as I awaited his return, police sirens greeted me instead.

“Ma'm we caught the killer in the woods just outside your home.” An officer informed me after I had opened my door and they swarmed my living room.

My heart contracted out of pure agony and I raised my hand to my mouth to stop myself from getting sick. He was coming to see me and it was the cause of his downfall.

“It's okay,” Another cop says while draping an arm around me. “He was gunned down when he tried to resist.”

Hot tears involuntarily spilled from my eyes as the noise of my heart breaking echoed in my ears and bile crept up my throat. I couldn't imagine my life without the intruder and every breath I took without him was too much to bear. I buried my head into the crook of the officer's arm. “You don't have to be scared anymore.” He said while patting my back, oblivious to the true pain that him and his fleet had caused me.

Hours after they had finally evacuated my home, one cop's question lingered in my mind along with a constant replay of the visitor's smile while he was still alive.

“You know what I don't understand?” The officer's voice reverberated in my head from the past as I turned the knob of the bath and tried to drown out his inquiry while listening to the pounding water fill the tub. “We found muddy footprints along the side of your house.” The young man paused before continuing, weary of my expected reaction at the time. “How come he didn't kill you, but yet all your neighbors were brutally murdered?”

A heavy sigh escaped me as I placed the intruder's knife on the sink and slid into the overflowing water.

“Perhaps, because,” I began to think to myself as I reached for the blade and traced it's dangerous, yet inviting curve. “We both quietly knew that love is the greatest serial killer of all.”

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Write an R-rated short story.
Written by janelscarlett in portal Fiction
A Bed of Knives
The night was at it's peak when the intruder snuck in with the breath of winter emanating from the open glass door. I gasped awake as his shadow briefly interrupted the moonlight streaming in through my balcony. The transcendence of time slowed down for me as he lunged onto of my bed as my line of sight fell upon him.

“Please keep your home secure as we search for this deadly killer.” A cop's voice warbles in my memory from when they stopped by earlier in the evening to warn me.

The trespasser's left arm restrained me as his right arm arched back and his knife caught a glint of the moonlight.
“Please.” I said softly, with no signs of resistance as I lightly wrapped my hands around his. He flinched slightly from my touch as surprise etched into his body language. “I want to make love once more before I die.”

The darkness watched us as we stayed like that for a while. His composure was unbroken by his contemplation and I could feel his eyes searching my face for the truth of my intentions as his body still loomed over mine. His hold on me started to tremble as desire began to tempt him. I slowly traced my hands up his arm, to his shoulder and felt his veins pulse with adrenaline as I reached his neck. The blade clattering onto my floor was the only sound against our ragged breath as his lips whispered into mine. His deep kiss was unnervingly soft and reminded me of the shudder of a butterfly's wings that I once caged in my hands.

His curiosity explored my physique as I pulled off his shirt to reveal his bare chest that was still sticky with the warm blood of his last victim. I traced his jawline with my fingertips the same way the first snowfall of winter touches the earth-- delicately and with innocence. A small sigh escaped him and dissipated against the cold as our skin touched each other, as if he hadn't felt compassion in a long time. As if he had almost forgotten.
Sleep had eventually found me in his embrace after the eloquence of our passion and he snuck out through the balcony before dawn scorched the sky. As I awoke to solitude, I wondered if it was all a dream as the white curtains fluttered against the open morning air that was still inviting itself in. The mystery ceased as I discovered his weapon resting at my bedside.

The thought of him engulfed my mind all day as I held the curved knife that felt so heavy in my hands. The rhythm of his breath against my face from the night before plagued my recollection persistently as my fingers traced the sharp edges. The consequence of the choices he made during his visit was like a viper in the snow—strange and out of place. The weapon made a loud “thud” as I placed it on my night table and I found myself hoping he would return.

It had just begun to rain after sundown when he stole into my room for the second time. The downpour drenched him and nipped at his heels as the wind whooshed from the open door behind him. He began to encircle me like a prey after I rose to greet him. As he neared closer, it was as if his dance of hesitation was wordlessly asking me, “Shall we, once more?”

He stopped inches from my face and as I felt his breath on my cheek, lightning frolicked across the atmosphere and lit up his features entirely for a moment. In that instant that I finally saw his face completely for the first time, I thought back to a rose garden I had visited last summer and how it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, until now. He slowly raised his hand and lightly dragged his touch across my shoulder to my neck to serve as encouragement to his lingering question. A tremor squeezed my heartbeat as we finally embraced in the torrent of the storm. As his presence lulled me to the bed, the night cascaded around us again as the yearning we felt for each other disappeared in between us with every touch we exchanged.

The knife on the table was a silent agreement that neither of us questioned. I wanted him to feel calm in knowing the option was there in case at any moment, he changed his mind, yet he never gave it a second glance during our time together. As the signs of morning began to lighten the sky, he nestled his face above my breast and kissed my torso, right where my heart was pounding.

“I swore to myself I was going to do it this time.” He whispered as I cradled his head in my arms.
I sighed at the rarity of hearing his voice.
“What happened?” I asked softly while moving the hair from his eyes as he looked up at me.
“I saw so much life come back into your eyes when you saw me again.” We stayed like that and I held him as the night's many shades of blue were rapidly dissolving. “I wasn't always like this, you know.” He said as my hands whispered across his shoulder and to his back. He smiled at me as my touch was unwavering as he continued his story, and I felt his grin burn into my memory forever. “I remember a specific incident, gardening with my father as a child. A sparrow had gotten caught in the chain of our bird feeder and had somehow torn its wing in the process. As I rushed over to free it from it's desperate struggle, my dad stopped me. 'Don't you see?' He said to me after he screamed at me to stop. 'Mercy is the greatest compassion you can give in this life of so much suffering.' His voice wavered as he told me the sparrow died shortly after as he moved his body fully on top of mine. I breathed in the crisp scent of him as his breath trickled down my neck. I wanted to bring him into my dreams as tiredness beckoned to me. I reached for his hand and our fingers intertwining initiated the infliction of our endearment.

“Why are you not afraid of me?” He whispered to my closed eyes as my mind was on the cusp of the dreamworld. “Why are you not afraid of death?” How could I tell him that until we met, my life was like a flower-- that my hope had been discouraged and snuffed out before I had even bloomed? As the warm sunlight trickled in through the windows, I felt the weight of him lift before I surrendered entirely to sleep and was powerless to stop him from leaving my embrace. Before I heard the closing of the balcony door, I heard his footfalls at the edge of my bed. Just when I thought he had changed his mind, I felt him squeeze my hand.

On the third night, as I awaited his return, police sirens greeted me instead.
“Ma'm we caught the killer in the woods just outside your home.” An officer informed me after I had opened my door and they swarmed my living room.

My heart contracted out of pure agony and I raised my hand to my mouth to stop myself from getting sick. He was coming to see me and it was the cause of his downfall.
“It's okay,” Another cop says while draping an arm around me. “He was gunned down when he tried to resist.”

Hot tears involuntarily spilled from my eyes as the noise of my heart breaking echoed in my ears and bile crept up my throat. I couldn't imagine my life without the intruder and every breath I took without him was too much to bear. I buried my head into the crook of the officer's arm. “You don't have to be scared anymore.” He said while patting my back, oblivious to the true pain that him and his fleet had caused me.

Hours after they had finally evacuated my home, one cop's question lingered in my mind along with a constant replay of the visitor's smile while he was still alive.
“You know what I don't understand?” The officer's voice reverberated in my head from the past as I turned the knob of the bath and tried to drown out his inquiry while listening to the pounding water fill the tub. “We found muddy footprints along the side of your house.” The young man paused before continuing, weary of my expected reaction at the time. “How come he didn't kill you, but yet all your neighbors were brutally murdered?”
A heavy sigh escaped me as I placed the intruder's knife on the sink and slid into the overflowing water.
“Perhaps, because,” I began to think to myself as I reached for the blade and traced it's dangerous, yet inviting curve. “We both quietly knew that love is the greatest serial killer of all.”
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Chapter 17 of The Culling of Casimir
Written by Harlequin in portal Horror & Thriller

Chapter 17: Of Masks and Mendacities

    I had stumbled into a vibrant castle as a shadow of the world’s callousness.

    I had ascended gilded towers and secured a high seat of delusion, and having learned from the best, mastered deception as my common tongue.

    I wore masks belonging to none truly, but some god of greater consequence whom exists purely through the guises shared and stolen by all, and found their inner stitchings most comfortable on faces conscious of their potential for treachery.

    I had found companionship in a man bred to be the symbol of my abhorrence.

    In killing him, I’d constructed a staircase of bones, to usurp a throne and crown of bitter morrow, symbols visible to none besides their creator. In that same stroke, I’d fallen from all heights previously ascended, landing with little but memories of a past meant to satiate a lifetime, yet finding myself feeling hollow.

    In the right moments, we are fortunate if we manage to feel nothing, if only to avoid a darker despair.

     The self-perpetuated obligation of patrolling graveyards of past regrets and recollections is a burden that men have sought to forget for centuries, through every conceivable medium of addictions—some honorable, others less. The artist drowns himself in his work, the drunk in his drink, the devout in their prayer, but one way or another, the only differentiation is whether we face or run from ourselves.

    But you don’t care for all that, do you?

     You’re here to see how a dead man speaks. Curious, isn’t it, that you’ve been listening to one’s thoughts this entire time?

    Sarkana’s mouth hung agape with the last of her incantations deafened by the throbbing in my body, a heartbeat’s pulse magnified to fleshy quakes.

    “I thought you might never see,” she breathed through a wearied and relieved sigh, before slumping over slightly from the exertion of her casting. “You haven’t the faintest idea how I worried, how I feared you might despise me. I can hardly believe that you … that you,” she shook her head, a tear of joy about to fall from her eye. “But it’s finally over, now.”

    “Yes, I understand,” I repeated, shaking. The walls of the room dismantled, crumbs of stone falling like flakes of dust, crashing against the floor with what was left of my mental stability. “I understand, I do. Truly.”

    “Yes?” she echoed with a soft confusion.

    “I understand you.”

    When I got to my feet, it felt as if every fiber of my body had been satiated, strengthened, bolstered. But now, molten waves of revelation and animosity were beating against it. In the last glimpse I’d seen of myself from the mirror, I’d watched the pallor of my skin slowly fade to healthier hues. A corpse temporarily taking on the appearance of a living body.

    My corpse. A mask of the living, and only that.

    But not a moment could be afforded to process that. “I understand that you led me here under illusions of heroism. That you showered me with pleasant falsities, day by day, threading my trust through your needle, all so you could suture me with it.”

    “No Casimir, nothing false. I lied only because—”

    “There! That’s all I needed to hear,” I growled and closed the distance between us.

    “You’re confused, exhausted. Your body is still learning—”

    “Oh, I am anything but exhausted. I might be dead, but I’m more myself than I’ve ever felt since the first time I stepped foot on this damned cemetery you call a home. You played on my weakness until I was little more than a puppet beneath your fingers. Another body amongst your collection, a disgusting, revolting, pitiless representation of your obsession with death because you cannot bring yourself to reconcile a life amongst the living.”

    Her whispers drowned under my shouts. “Please don’t. Please don’t say such things.” Every word spat was another dagger, her excited expression shrinking to pain. “I only—”

    “You were alone. You had nobody. So you created someone who would be damned to you, to your life of feeding from the deceased, forever. Is that it? Is that why?!” I screamed.

    “No, no, no. Nothing like that.” She stumbled herself into a corner, with my teeth closing the finger’s width between hers.

    “You killed me, not so that I might live, but so that you could. You can’t bear the thought that the world finds you repulsive. You found the first person who had any scrap of empathy for you so you thought you’d keep them chained to you for eternity.”

    “I thought you would—”

    “What? ‘Enjoy’ it? Is that what you were going to say? As if this is a gift?!” I laughed. I laughed and I gripped her shoulders until my knuckles paled. “Just which delusion finally pushed you to do it? Or had you been planning this all along? Whether I died at the crossroads or at your doorstep, it hardly mattered. My life was an inconvenience to you, just another—look at me!— just another process in your ploy.” 

    My venom came stuttering, as I was surprised to find hateful tears spilling down my cheeks, not just for her betrayal, but for my stupidity. “And I … I let Fahim’s last words go wasted. Because he was right, that’s what I hate most about all this. That he got to die so you could carve my skin to ribbons. You were never to be trusted. You took something that can’t be fixed; you took my mortality. And that’s what you don’t understand, Sarkana. Death isn’t a disservice, an end for us all to ignore. It’s a part of living. Life is only beautiful because it ends, and somehow, we have to find a way to make our own eternity out of nothing. Don’t think just because you meddle with death that you don’t fear it. You’re too much a coward to face the notion that you fear death a great deal more than most. Why else would you hide away for a lifetime, never to live, never to love, if only to know protection from the one thing that should have pushed you to love and live in the first place?”

    And there, I watched her shatter. If ever I held doubts for words’ potential to afflict irreparable wounds, all of it was dispelled there. Despite her joy at seeing the success of me—the culmination of her experiments—my words had rent deeper than her obsession, deeper than her fears, to do precisely what any blade would do. It spilled them out for both of us to see.

    After the last word had been drawn, I felt her blood in the silence, palpable as the frost in the air. I almost regretted some of it. It wasn’t her her life practices I abhorred, it was that she made me a victim of them.

    “I …” I began a quiet apology, but fell silent instead.

    She sank to the floor between whimpers and stifled sobs.

    “I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I’m not a monster. You aren’t either. We aren’t. I only wanted to make you beautiful. I didn’t … I didn’t …” She was cracking at my feet, the years of solitude being cast in white, blinding scrutiny. “It is a gift. I promise you,” she whispered. “Please understand. I see you. Why can’t you see me? Why are you doing this to me?”

    I smeared a hand across the markings carved into my chest, before spreading the chilled blood across her cheek. My palm found a grip on her jaw, and I pushed her into my chest, uncertain if I wanted to embrace or suffocate her. I resisted the urge to apologize, then stifled the instinct to hurt her. She deserved one of those things, but of which, I couldn’t be certain, and from me specifically, it was impossible to decide.

    And didn’t I deserve precisely what she did to me? Wasn’t this fortune’s retribution for all the time’s I’d abused her?

    “What does this mean, what you’ve turned me into …” I continued. “Will I even need to breathe?”

    “Yes, as you always have.”

    “Must I rest?”

    “If you desire it.”

    “Only if I desire?”

    “Mostly.”

    “Should I eat?”

    “Rarely, if ever.”

    “Then how should I … ‘eat’?”

    “You won’t. You’ll take what nobody else uses. The dead. You’ll use what’s left.”

I saw Fahim's face frozen and bloodied in the road. A tear slid down and salted my tongue. “And how long do I have to live, now?”

    “As long as you can … eat.” She continued to repress her sobs, the staccato convulsions of her chest and body like a confused heartbeat in my arms. I pitied her. I hated her. I wanted her to die. I needed her to live, to show me how to survive.

    How would Zakora find this music? I wondered. If bloodshed and fighting was the epitome of humanity’s carnal heart, didn’t this make me the art and not the artist, to be swept into a maelstrom of devastation, to be one of Sarkana’s victims? I regarded her face. There was no triumph on her snot and tear-covered expression. I struggled to understand who was the victor and who was the fallen.

    “How am I supposed to live, now, like this?”

    “You were perfect for it, Casimir. You still are. That is why I chose you,” she wept as she squeezed herself further into the corner. “I thought you were the only one who might appreciate it, someone who could make the gods envious. I thought you would be grateful.”

    I never wanted to make gods envious. I wanted to disappoint them with how little I groveled at the feet of their imposed tragedies. Yet here I was at one of them. No hat, no laughter, no smiles. But I couldn’t see myself as a victim, not after all I’d done. How could I? “There is another … lingering question. Why the false affection? The long nights together? If you had planned this all along, why not kill me the first moment you saw me?”

    “It was not false. I had …” She shook her head. “Go. I can see I overestimated your intelligence. I cannot undo any of this, but if you are so eager to have your mortality back, wander off, die somewhere. Go on then. You are not beyond death, even now. If that’s how far you must go to be rid of me, I won’t stop you. I’ll even pretend like I never cared, either.”

    “You’re pitying yourself now? You made drawing parchment of my body and you are the one weeping? You owe me this,” I seethed.

    “Leave.”

    “You do. I didn’t pass into the realm of the dead just to keel over now. I had no intention of dying when I was alive and I have no intention now.”

    Somehow, she found it in herself to meet my eyes, her rims wet and scarlet as she must’ve found a indecipherable gaze of choked affection and malice staring back from mine. “You’re right.” She nodded and cleaned her face. I buttoned up my tunic, wincing as the wounds caught on loose threads of wool.

    “No lies. No half-truths.”

    “Not anymore,” she replied and got to her feet, leading me through one of the doors. “I’ll show you more. I’ll show you whatever you wish. What you think can’t change anything, now.”

    And that was more terrifying than anything else, that I was no longer an observer of her craft, but a piece of it. I might’ve imagined myself years later, neglecting these memories at the bottom of a glass in a tavern or in the sheets of a bed before greeting the morning light.

    But that had faded, I suppose you could say, with my life.

    At our entrance in another chamber of her catacombs, more torches spluttered to life, illuminating a room lined with bookshelves, parchment, countless quills and inkwells, half a dozen desks, and on their surfaces, jagged stones the color of a deepened twilight sky. Amongst them were contraptions whose purposes could not be deciphered by look alone.

    We continued through another door, another blaze of light, and into a hall of corpses affixed to stone beds behind panes of glass, the grey tongue of the stretching walkway hypnotic with its exceeding number of silent inhabitants.

    “When I first saw you, I saw somebody who looked into death’s eyes and wondered what more was there. You seemed to have a grip on yourself, like you could laugh at anything. Only fools think that death is the final mystery. And,” she added with spite, “only fools do not fear it. Even if there is so, so much more beyond it,” she said as some tears still squeezed from her eyes, tears that I liked to think had been waiting for decades. “But you were more timid than I thought, when we first met. After the killing at the crossroads and your reactions to my practices,” she paused and shook her head sadly, “I thought I had made a mistake in choosing you.”

    “So you never did save me, did you? My plan had been sound all along. The water would never have crushed my body.”


    “Yes,” she admitted. “That was my first lie, the first of three.”

    We walked through another door, this time in the left face of a wall, where we turned into a chamber that was filled with dozens of forest critters, many of them not wholly themselves. Their petrified, shriveled bodies beneath the curved glass of various-sized display cases, all showcased Sarkana’s talent of stitching limb from limb, eye to eye; their mismatching parts the only similarity between them all.

    “Must you force me to goad you on?”

    “This is not easy for me, Casimir.”

    "Good. It shouldn’t be.”

    “No, I suppose not.”

    “Then go on.”

    “The day you lost your eye, I thought better on that favor you promised me. I thought, perhaps, you would not be so agreeable with what it would ask of you.”

    “You mean to say that this is not the favor?” I boiled again. “What more could you expect?”

    “No, it is only one part of it,” she replied, ignoring the rest.

    She pushed on another door, into a room similar to the last, only this one’s subjects were not animals. They were humans. Their incongruous limbs as telling as a doll after it’s been sutured beyond recognition of its original state. We paced around them, each of us choosing opposite sides to observe, before we both lingered back to the center of the room, and ceased moving.

    “But then you had a willingness to take Fahim’s eye despite the ramifications, something that confused as much as excited me. You were grateful. I hoped, then, that you might still accept the task. I imagined that you would feel obliged, perhaps even enthusiastic.”

    I paused, only because her subtle manipulation and analysis rang all too familiar to the processes in my own mind. “And if I didn’t?” I asked.

    “Precisely.”

    “Precisely?”

    She held another pause, evidently pained by my slow grasp. “After our first meeting, I truly hoped we would be companions. I did. Your life was never an inconvenience to me, even if there was a time when all I saw you as was a means to an end. After everything, I had hoped our time together would not come to this.”

    “Come to what, mutilation?”

    “No,” she scoffed, “your alteration was never meant to be avoided. I had hoped you would be willing to help me, of your own accord.”

    “Well,” I laughed, “there is little chance of that.”

    “Yet here you are. You should know by now that I am not one to play with chances.”

    “I don’t think you understand. Why would I help you now? Why should I?”

    “No, Casimir. It’s you who’s misunderstood.”

    “How?”


    “I’m afraid you’re caught. ‘Should’ is the only reason you need.”

    I laughed. “After all this, you still boil down to petty threats? You’ll kill me, so to speak?”

    “No. I don’t have to, because I know you’d never let yourself die.”

    The pieces fell. Past frustration and hatred, I had said all I needed to, and what remained was a stale, unendurable silence.

    “Tell me, are you familiar with the Mancer’s Stone?”

    “All too well.”

    “I am sorry to admit—truly sorry—now that things have settled the way they have, but I have no means by which to replenish your life other than the slate. Of course, I am under no delusion that you wish to stay with me any longer, or that you even wish for me to remain in your life as soon as you can survive on your own.”

    I could see it in the flickers of her eyes, how she had imagined the splitting or conjoining of our paths. In one instance, I awoke in wonder to find myself changed, and in the other, so horrified that I attempted to kill her, only to be caged by her ultimatum. How terribly surprising it must have been, I realized, for her to find me in a confused and softened state somewhere between, where what affection there was between us was forced to be tortured in excruciating lengths, rather than severed or swelled by one fatal realization. “Survive on my own?”

    “At this moment, I have no device capable of transcribing energy from one vessel to yours. There must always be a median, but the only thing capable of that is the weight of a small castle, and is permanently affixed to this home. I need something of a stronger material if I am to craft something more … lightweight.

    “Previously,” she continued after bending close to one of her cadavers, “I could never dream of reducing something so intricate as the slate’s glyphs into a smaller device, until, well, until I did.”

    “The Mancer’s Stone.”

    She nodded. “There are perhaps other materials like it, but their existence or location isn’t certain, and if they are, they’ll be worth no small fortune. The Mancer’s Stone, however, is no gamble, and it’s been in hiding long enough for its protectors to grow careless. Retrieve it for me, and I’ll make you a fork only you can eat from. Until then … ” she flicked her head back towards the winding hallways, “I’m afraid you are rather dependent on me.”

    “You are horrifically crafty, Sarkana,” I relented. “There’s no doubt in my mind that you are not ‘afraid’ of my dependency anymore than you were afraid to drive your knives into my chest.”

    But even when she grinned, I could tell she was not convinced of her own heartlessness. There was a telling twitch that made me wonder how she’d managed to do any of this at all. “ ‘Horrifically crafty.’ I could only expect my favorite compliment to come from you. You understand why I did what I did, don’t you? Why I had to?”

    Fahim was right. Many people see life as a monotonous cycle of disappointments, habits, failures, with only a few rare moments of achievement and true bliss to brighten that bleary fog. Try as we might to make peace with it, there is nothing more intoxicating than seizing that bliss through our own indulgences, our own happiness and thrill, even if that means, sometimes, that it is found at the disadvantage of another. Perhaps, for some, that only makes it better. I recollected the burst of emotions as I killed the guards in Foxfeather Castle, the thugs in the alleyway. Although I had not waited decades, nor had any prediction of such invigorating rushes of blood, I had tasted what she had: an unparalleled gratification in one’s own peculiar and taboo choice of expression.

    “Yes. I do. This time, I mean it.” I was only disheartened to find myself on the wrong end of it. I switched the lens covering my left eye, and found myself being clung to by the stretching arms of the deceased, every one of them recoiling from Sarkana as if she was a torch and they were wary moths, all too conscious of being cast into oblivion by her touch.

    “This was your second lie,” I observed aloud. “Their spirits aren’t freed once they die. You’ve kept them here, to drain them.”

    “Yes,” she admitted. “And my third.”

    “Your third lie?”

    “I told you that I was no murderer.”

    “Did you really think I believed you?”

    “Would it have made a difference if you had?”

    “No.”

    She stared at me through the flowing ether of a dispersing phantom.

    “But you’re still hiding something.”

    “Do you think someone like me is ever in lack of skeletons for her closet?”

    “Fahim wasn’t just an infant somewhere in your distant memory. You knew him very well. He was one of your pupils, wasn’t he?”

    “Impressive deduction,” she said. “He was no brilliant child, but he had his father’s propensities for study.”

    “And his father, well, he had been your colleague for many, many years, not just for a handful. He had more than enough time to realize the danger behind your studies. In all likelihood, it must have been difficult for him to have you exiled from the Academy.”

    “Aha,” Sarkana hummed sadly. “So my stories are not as cryptic as I thought.”

    “And yet you told them to me.”


    “Lies are not so satisfying once they become the truth.”

    “How old are you?”

    “Eighty-seven or eighty-eight. I’m beginning to lose count,” she said with the carelessness of an adolescent.

    I swallowed my nausea. “One final question. If you had the power to transfer life into your own body using the slate, why put me through this? Why kill me?”

    “Do you know how many lives it takes to reverse one year of aging? Too many,” she answered before I could guess. “As I said before, it’s a matter of ice into water, that’s all. Souls resist living vessels, irritatingly enough. But a body only mimicking the mechanisms of one, well, that’s quite a different matter.”

    “Mimicking?”

    “Your body’s a clock, now. A more efficient skeleton of all the functions it used to perform. Those souls, think of them as the key to winding your spring.”

I leaned closer to one of the coffin-shaped panes of glass. Inside, I recognized the silversmith’s apprentice who had gone missing just a few days before William’s birthday. He was the apprentice to the man who’d crafted my feather ring. One of his eyes, incidentally, seemed to have been replaced.

    The boy’s spirit sloughed out from his skin, met my gaze briefly, then went to roam the catacombs.

    “It’s strange. I feel … only slightly different than before,” I admitted.

    “The years will tell the difference. But even I can’t answer how or when, or to what extent.”

    “And yet I am dead. You’ve killed me.”

    “Most would say so. But killing only begins with the body; it ends with the soul. You are far from dead. Trust me.”

    “And yet, I’m not truly living, am I?”

    Sarkana shrugged. “You never struck me as the type to have these kind of questions answered for you.”

    “No, I suppose I’m not.”

    “Then tell me, what’s changed?”

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Chapter 17 of The Culling of Casimir
Written by Harlequin in portal Horror & Thriller
Chapter 17: Of Masks and Mendacities
    I had stumbled into a vibrant castle as a shadow of the world’s callousness.
    I had ascended gilded towers and secured a high seat of delusion, and having learned from the best, mastered deception as my common tongue.
    I wore masks belonging to none truly, but some god of greater consequence whom exists purely through the guises shared and stolen by all, and found their inner stitchings most comfortable on faces conscious of their potential for treachery.
    I had found companionship in a man bred to be the symbol of my abhorrence.
    In killing him, I’d constructed a staircase of bones, to usurp a throne and crown of bitter morrow, symbols visible to none besides their creator. In that same stroke, I’d fallen from all heights previously ascended, landing with little but memories of a past meant to satiate a lifetime, yet finding myself feeling hollow.
    In the right moments, we are fortunate if we manage to feel nothing, if only to avoid a darker despair.
     The self-perpetuated obligation of patrolling graveyards of past regrets and recollections is a burden that men have sought to forget for centuries, through every conceivable medium of addictions—some honorable, others less. The artist drowns himself in his work, the drunk in his drink, the devout in their prayer, but one way or another, the only differentiation is whether we face or run from ourselves.
    But you don’t care for all that, do you?
     You’re here to see how a dead man speaks. Curious, isn’t it, that you’ve been listening to one’s thoughts this entire time?

    Sarkana’s mouth hung agape with the last of her incantations deafened by the throbbing in my body, a heartbeat’s pulse magnified to fleshy quakes.
    “I thought you might never see,” she breathed through a wearied and relieved sigh, before slumping over slightly from the exertion of her casting. “You haven’t the faintest idea how I worried, how I feared you might despise me. I can hardly believe that you … that you,” she shook her head, a tear of joy about to fall from her eye. “But it’s finally over, now.”
    “Yes, I understand,” I repeated, shaking. The walls of the room dismantled, crumbs of stone falling like flakes of dust, crashing against the floor with what was left of my mental stability. “I understand, I do. Truly.”
    “Yes?” she echoed with a soft confusion.
    “I understand you.”
    When I got to my feet, it felt as if every fiber of my body had been satiated, strengthened, bolstered. But now, molten waves of revelation and animosity were beating against it. In the last glimpse I’d seen of myself from the mirror, I’d watched the pallor of my skin slowly fade to healthier hues. A corpse temporarily taking on the appearance of a living body.
    My corpse. A mask of the living, and only that.
    But not a moment could be afforded to process that. “I understand that you led me here under illusions of heroism. That you showered me with pleasant falsities, day by day, threading my trust through your needle, all so you could suture me with it.”
    “No Casimir, nothing false. I lied only because—”
    “There! That’s all I needed to hear,” I growled and closed the distance between us.
    “You’re confused, exhausted. Your body is still learning—”
    “Oh, I am anything but exhausted. I might be dead, but I’m more myself than I’ve ever felt since the first time I stepped foot on this damned cemetery you call a home. You played on my weakness until I was little more than a puppet beneath your fingers. Another body amongst your collection, a disgusting, revolting, pitiless representation of your obsession with death because you cannot bring yourself to reconcile a life amongst the living.”
    Her whispers drowned under my shouts. “Please don’t. Please don’t say such things.” Every word spat was another dagger, her excited expression shrinking to pain. “I only—”
    “You were alone. You had nobody. So you created someone who would be damned to you, to your life of feeding from the deceased, forever. Is that it? Is that why?!” I screamed.
    “No, no, no. Nothing like that.” She stumbled herself into a corner, with my teeth closing the finger’s width between hers.
    “You killed me, not so that I might live, but so that you could. You can’t bear the thought that the world finds you repulsive. You found the first person who had any scrap of empathy for you so you thought you’d keep them chained to you for eternity.”
    “I thought you would—”
    “What? ‘Enjoy’ it? Is that what you were going to say? As if this is a gift?!” I laughed. I laughed and I gripped her shoulders until my knuckles paled. “Just which delusion finally pushed you to do it? Or had you been planning this all along? Whether I died at the crossroads or at your doorstep, it hardly mattered. My life was an inconvenience to you, just another—look at me!— just another process in your ploy.” 
    My venom came stuttering, as I was surprised to find hateful tears spilling down my cheeks, not just for her betrayal, but for my stupidity. “And I … I let Fahim’s last words go wasted. Because he was right, that’s what I hate most about all this. That he got to die so you could carve my skin to ribbons. You were never to be trusted. You took something that can’t be fixed; you took my mortality. And that’s what you don’t understand, Sarkana. Death isn’t a disservice, an end for us all to ignore. It’s a part of living. Life is only beautiful because it ends, and somehow, we have to find a way to make our own eternity out of nothing. Don’t think just because you meddle with death that you don’t fear it. You’re too much a coward to face the notion that you fear death a great deal more than most. Why else would you hide away for a lifetime, never to live, never to love, if only to know protection from the one thing that should have pushed you to love and live in the first place?”
    And there, I watched her shatter. If ever I held doubts for words’ potential to afflict irreparable wounds, all of it was dispelled there. Despite her joy at seeing the success of me—the culmination of her experiments—my words had rent deeper than her obsession, deeper than her fears, to do precisely what any blade would do. It spilled them out for both of us to see.
    After the last word had been drawn, I felt her blood in the silence, palpable as the frost in the air. I almost regretted some of it. It wasn’t her her life practices I abhorred, it was that she made me a victim of them.
    “I …” I began a quiet apology, but fell silent instead.
    She sank to the floor between whimpers and stifled sobs.
    “I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I’m not a monster. You aren’t either. We aren’t. I only wanted to make you beautiful. I didn’t … I didn’t …” She was cracking at my feet, the years of solitude being cast in white, blinding scrutiny. “It is a gift. I promise you,” she whispered. “Please understand. I see you. Why can’t you see me? Why are you doing this to me?”
    I smeared a hand across the markings carved into my chest, before spreading the chilled blood across her cheek. My palm found a grip on her jaw, and I pushed her into my chest, uncertain if I wanted to embrace or suffocate her. I resisted the urge to apologize, then stifled the instinct to hurt her. She deserved one of those things, but of which, I couldn’t be certain, and from me specifically, it was impossible to decide.
    And didn’t I deserve precisely what she did to me? Wasn’t this fortune’s retribution for all the time’s I’d abused her?
    “What does this mean, what you’ve turned me into …” I continued. “Will I even need to breathe?”
    “Yes, as you always have.”
    “Must I rest?”
    “If you desire it.”
    “Only if I desire?”
    “Mostly.”
    “Should I eat?”
    “Rarely, if ever.”
    “Then how should I … ‘eat’?”
    “You won’t. You’ll take what nobody else uses. The dead. You’ll use what’s left.”
I saw Fahim's face frozen and bloodied in the road. A tear slid down and salted my tongue. “And how long do I have to live, now?”
    “As long as you can … eat.” She continued to repress her sobs, the staccato convulsions of her chest and body like a confused heartbeat in my arms. I pitied her. I hated her. I wanted her to die. I needed her to live, to show me how to survive.
    How would Zakora find this music? I wondered. If bloodshed and fighting was the epitome of humanity’s carnal heart, didn’t this make me the art and not the artist, to be swept into a maelstrom of devastation, to be one of Sarkana’s victims? I regarded her face. There was no triumph on her snot and tear-covered expression. I struggled to understand who was the victor and who was the fallen.
    “How am I supposed to live, now, like this?”
    “You were perfect for it, Casimir. You still are. That is why I chose you,” she wept as she squeezed herself further into the corner. “I thought you were the only one who might appreciate it, someone who could make the gods envious. I thought you would be grateful.”
    I never wanted to make gods envious. I wanted to disappoint them with how little I groveled at the feet of their imposed tragedies. Yet here I was at one of them. No hat, no laughter, no smiles. But I couldn’t see myself as a victim, not after all I’d done. How could I? “There is another … lingering question. Why the false affection? The long nights together? If you had planned this all along, why not kill me the first moment you saw me?”
    “It was not false. I had …” She shook her head. “Go. I can see I overestimated your intelligence. I cannot undo any of this, but if you are so eager to have your mortality back, wander off, die somewhere. Go on then. You are not beyond death, even now. If that’s how far you must go to be rid of me, I won’t stop you. I’ll even pretend like I never cared, either.”
    “You’re pitying yourself now? You made drawing parchment of my body and you are the one weeping? You owe me this,” I seethed.
    “Leave.”
    “You do. I didn’t pass into the realm of the dead just to keel over now. I had no intention of dying when I was alive and I have no intention now.”
    Somehow, she found it in herself to meet my eyes, her rims wet and scarlet as she must’ve found a indecipherable gaze of choked affection and malice staring back from mine. “You’re right.” She nodded and cleaned her face. I buttoned up my tunic, wincing as the wounds caught on loose threads of wool.
    “No lies. No half-truths.”
    “Not anymore,” she replied and got to her feet, leading me through one of the doors. “I’ll show you more. I’ll show you whatever you wish. What you think can’t change anything, now.”
    And that was more terrifying than anything else, that I was no longer an observer of her craft, but a piece of it. I might’ve imagined myself years later, neglecting these memories at the bottom of a glass in a tavern or in the sheets of a bed before greeting the morning light.
    But that had faded, I suppose you could say, with my life.
    At our entrance in another chamber of her catacombs, more torches spluttered to life, illuminating a room lined with bookshelves, parchment, countless quills and inkwells, half a dozen desks, and on their surfaces, jagged stones the color of a deepened twilight sky. Amongst them were contraptions whose purposes could not be deciphered by look alone.
    We continued through another door, another blaze of light, and into a hall of corpses affixed to stone beds behind panes of glass, the grey tongue of the stretching walkway hypnotic with its exceeding number of silent inhabitants.
    “When I first saw you, I saw somebody who looked into death’s eyes and wondered what more was there. You seemed to have a grip on yourself, like you could laugh at anything. Only fools think that death is the final mystery. And,” she added with spite, “only fools do not fear it. Even if there is so, so much more beyond it,” she said as some tears still squeezed from her eyes, tears that I liked to think had been waiting for decades. “But you were more timid than I thought, when we first met. After the killing at the crossroads and your reactions to my practices,” she paused and shook her head sadly, “I thought I had made a mistake in choosing you.”
    “So you never did save me, did you? My plan had been sound all along. The water would never have crushed my body.”

    “Yes,” she admitted. “That was my first lie, the first of three.”
    We walked through another door, this time in the left face of a wall, where we turned into a chamber that was filled with dozens of forest critters, many of them not wholly themselves. Their petrified, shriveled bodies beneath the curved glass of various-sized display cases, all showcased Sarkana’s talent of stitching limb from limb, eye to eye; their mismatching parts the only similarity between them all.
    “Must you force me to goad you on?”
    “This is not easy for me, Casimir.”
    "Good. It shouldn’t be.”
    “No, I suppose not.”
    “Then go on.”
    “The day you lost your eye, I thought better on that favor you promised me. I thought, perhaps, you would not be so agreeable with what it would ask of you.”
    “You mean to say that this is not the favor?” I boiled again. “What more could you expect?”
    “No, it is only one part of it,” she replied, ignoring the rest.
    She pushed on another door, into a room similar to the last, only this one’s subjects were not animals. They were humans. Their incongruous limbs as telling as a doll after it’s been sutured beyond recognition of its original state. We paced around them, each of us choosing opposite sides to observe, before we both lingered back to the center of the room, and ceased moving.
    “But then you had a willingness to take Fahim’s eye despite the ramifications, something that confused as much as excited me. You were grateful. I hoped, then, that you might still accept the task. I imagined that you would feel obliged, perhaps even enthusiastic.”
    I paused, only because her subtle manipulation and analysis rang all too familiar to the processes in my own mind. “And if I didn’t?” I asked.
    “Precisely.”
    “Precisely?”
    She held another pause, evidently pained by my slow grasp. “After our first meeting, I truly hoped we would be companions. I did. Your life was never an inconvenience to me, even if there was a time when all I saw you as was a means to an end. After everything, I had hoped our time together would not come to this.”
    “Come to what, mutilation?”
    “No,” she scoffed, “your alteration was never meant to be avoided. I had hoped you would be willing to help me, of your own accord.”
    “Well,” I laughed, “there is little chance of that.”
    “Yet here you are. You should know by now that I am not one to play with chances.”
    “I don’t think you understand. Why would I help you now? Why should I?”
    “No, Casimir. It’s you who’s misunderstood.”
    “How?”

    “I’m afraid you’re caught. ‘Should’ is the only reason you need.”
    I laughed. “After all this, you still boil down to petty threats? You’ll kill me, so to speak?”
    “No. I don’t have to, because I know you’d never let yourself die.”
    The pieces fell. Past frustration and hatred, I had said all I needed to, and what remained was a stale, unendurable silence.
    “Tell me, are you familiar with the Mancer’s Stone?”
    “All too well.”
    “I am sorry to admit—truly sorry—now that things have settled the way they have, but I have no means by which to replenish your life other than the slate. Of course, I am under no delusion that you wish to stay with me any longer, or that you even wish for me to remain in your life as soon as you can survive on your own.”
    I could see it in the flickers of her eyes, how she had imagined the splitting or conjoining of our paths. In one instance, I awoke in wonder to find myself changed, and in the other, so horrified that I attempted to kill her, only to be caged by her ultimatum. How terribly surprising it must have been, I realized, for her to find me in a confused and softened state somewhere between, where what affection there was between us was forced to be tortured in excruciating lengths, rather than severed or swelled by one fatal realization. “Survive on my own?”
    “At this moment, I have no device capable of transcribing energy from one vessel to yours. There must always be a median, but the only thing capable of that is the weight of a small castle, and is permanently affixed to this home. I need something of a stronger material if I am to craft something more … lightweight.
    “Previously,” she continued after bending close to one of her cadavers, “I could never dream of reducing something so intricate as the slate’s glyphs into a smaller device, until, well, until I did.”
    “The Mancer’s Stone.”
    She nodded. “There are perhaps other materials like it, but their existence or location isn’t certain, and if they are, they’ll be worth no small fortune. The Mancer’s Stone, however, is no gamble, and it’s been in hiding long enough for its protectors to grow careless. Retrieve it for me, and I’ll make you a fork only you can eat from. Until then … ” she flicked her head back towards the winding hallways, “I’m afraid you are rather dependent on me.”
    “You are horrifically crafty, Sarkana,” I relented. “There’s no doubt in my mind that you are not ‘afraid’ of my dependency anymore than you were afraid to drive your knives into my chest.”
    But even when she grinned, I could tell she was not convinced of her own heartlessness. There was a telling twitch that made me wonder how she’d managed to do any of this at all. “ ‘Horrifically crafty.’ I could only expect my favorite compliment to come from you. You understand why I did what I did, don’t you? Why I had to?”
    Fahim was right. Many people see life as a monotonous cycle of disappointments, habits, failures, with only a few rare moments of achievement and true bliss to brighten that bleary fog. Try as we might to make peace with it, there is nothing more intoxicating than seizing that bliss through our own indulgences, our own happiness and thrill, even if that means, sometimes, that it is found at the disadvantage of another. Perhaps, for some, that only makes it better. I recollected the burst of emotions as I killed the guards in Foxfeather Castle, the thugs in the alleyway. Although I had not waited decades, nor had any prediction of such invigorating rushes of blood, I had tasted what she had: an unparalleled gratification in one’s own peculiar and taboo choice of expression.
    “Yes. I do. This time, I mean it.” I was only disheartened to find myself on the wrong end of it. I switched the lens covering my left eye, and found myself being clung to by the stretching arms of the deceased, every one of them recoiling from Sarkana as if she was a torch and they were wary moths, all too conscious of being cast into oblivion by her touch.
    “This was your second lie,” I observed aloud. “Their spirits aren’t freed once they die. You’ve kept them here, to drain them.”
    “Yes,” she admitted. “And my third.”
    “Your third lie?”
    “I told you that I was no murderer.”
    “Did you really think I believed you?”
    “Would it have made a difference if you had?”
    “No.”
    She stared at me through the flowing ether of a dispersing phantom.
    “But you’re still hiding something.”
    “Do you think someone like me is ever in lack of skeletons for her closet?”
    “Fahim wasn’t just an infant somewhere in your distant memory. You knew him very well. He was one of your pupils, wasn’t he?”
    “Impressive deduction,” she said. “He was no brilliant child, but he had his father’s propensities for study.”
    “And his father, well, he had been your colleague for many, many years, not just for a handful. He had more than enough time to realize the danger behind your studies. In all likelihood, it must have been difficult for him to have you exiled from the Academy.”
    “Aha,” Sarkana hummed sadly. “So my stories are not as cryptic as I thought.”
    “And yet you told them to me.”

    “Lies are not so satisfying once they become the truth.”
    “How old are you?”
    “Eighty-seven or eighty-eight. I’m beginning to lose count,” she said with the carelessness of an adolescent.
    I swallowed my nausea. “One final question. If you had the power to transfer life into your own body using the slate, why put me through this? Why kill me?”
    “Do you know how many lives it takes to reverse one year of aging? Too many,” she answered before I could guess. “As I said before, it’s a matter of ice into water, that’s all. Souls resist living vessels, irritatingly enough. But a body only mimicking the mechanisms of one, well, that’s quite a different matter.”
    “Mimicking?”
    “Your body’s a clock, now. A more efficient skeleton of all the functions it used to perform. Those souls, think of them as the key to winding your spring.”
I leaned closer to one of the coffin-shaped panes of glass. Inside, I recognized the silversmith’s apprentice who had gone missing just a few days before William’s birthday. He was the apprentice to the man who’d crafted my feather ring. One of his eyes, incidentally, seemed to have been replaced.
    The boy’s spirit sloughed out from his skin, met my gaze briefly, then went to roam the catacombs.
    “It’s strange. I feel … only slightly different than before,” I admitted.
    “The years will tell the difference. But even I can’t answer how or when, or to what extent.”
    “And yet I am dead. You’ve killed me.”
    “Most would say so. But killing only begins with the body; it ends with the soul. You are far from dead. Trust me.”
    “And yet, I’m not truly living, am I?”
    Sarkana shrugged. “You never struck me as the type to have these kind of questions answered for you.”
    “No, I suppose I’m not.”
    “Then tell me, what’s changed?”
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You've been invited for dinner by the new odd neighbors who like to go hunting. You only accept the invitation to find out more about them and what it is they could/might be hiding from the rest of the community. Have fun. Go crazy with imagination. Don't forget to add mystery, riddles, and your story characters can be human, aliens or/& monsters. Enjoy!
Written by ChanelleJoy in portal Horror & Thriller

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

“They say a stitch in time saves nine. Come around and we shall dine, show you how one stich saves nine. Will you be the one? Will you still be standing when we are done? Will you once again see the sun? So come around and we’ll have a great time, play a game of mime or even rhyme.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Jack muttered to himself as he read the note that had been left in his letter box. A date, time and address had been written at the bottom as well, along with the names, Edgar and Deirdre Winnifred. That it was a dinner invitation was all he could discern. It was from the new neighbors who had moved in next door about a month ago and this was probably a way for them to get to know everybody. Jack shuddered. He hadn’t seen or heard much from them but, they were weird; weird and creepy. Jack had seen the woman of the house staring out their front window on numerous occasions, just watching the street. If you were unlucky enough to catch her eye, she would give you this smile that reminded Jack of an evil clown. Something told him they were up to no good, but he didn’t have enough proof to warrant calling the cops. For reasons he couldn’t explain, or understand, part of him was curious about what they were hiding. The logical part of him flashed a thousand warning signs, cautioning him to stay away. If I go, maybe I can get some clues, he thought. Maybe I can get some solid evidence to show the police, get them arrested and out of our street.

See, Jack had a wife, Audrey, and two children; a boy named Benny and girl named Lilly. It was the perfect family. They had family vacations, family dinners, family movie nights, family game nights; everything was wonderfully cozy in their little world however, while these people were living next door, he couldn’t help worrying about their safety. The perfect little world they had built for themselves was under threat. He knew he wasn’t the only one concerned either. I wonder if anyone else was invited. Audrey and the kids had gone over to Audrey’s parents’ place and wouldn’t be back till the following day. Jack would have gone himself if he didn’t have to go to work. Anyway, it was good that they were gone. He would never have taken them to this dinner. It was time he stepped up as husband, father and man to protect his people. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to protect his family and if that meant going to some creepy couple’s house for dinner, then that was exactly what he would do. Glancing at his watch, he realized he’d better start getting ready. It was 5:30pm and the dinner invitations said to be there by 6:00pm.

Despite rushing, he was still late. Great way to draw attention to yourself, idiot. He pressed the doorbell and heard it echo through the house like the tolling of a giant bell. The bell of death. The thought startled him and he shook his head, trying to clear the sudden and intense fear that had come creeping up to catch him unawares. His heart raced and he could feel his palms growing sweaty. This was a bad idea. He wanted to run as far away from this house as he could but the thought of his family kept him there, standing on the front doorstep, bottle of wine in hand, waiting to be invited into whatever hell lay within.

The lady of the house answered, smiling broadly when she saw him. “Ah, our final guest has arrived. You must be Jack. I am Deirdre. Please, do come in,” she said warmly and perhaps a little too eagerly. 

He blinked. She was an older woman, possibly in her sixties, though it was hard to determine through her immaculate make-up. Her white hair was styled just right beneath a cream hat and her brocaded cream skirt with matching jacket were the perfect fit. The only colours in her outfit were the ruby-red court shoes and a red rose broach on her right lapel. She was certainly not what Jack had been expecting.

“Ah, thank you,” he replied hesitantly as he stepped across the thresh hold. “Ah, this is for you.”

“Why, how kind,” Deirdre exclaimed as she took the offered bottle of wine. “This will go nicely with dinner. Thank you.” She took his arm and ushered him further to the house. “Everyone is in the dining room.”

“Everyone?” Jack queried. He wasn’t left wondering long for, as they turned a corner, he found himself facing a table filled with nine of his other neighbours.

“Hey, Jack,” greeted Sullivan – Sully for short – with his easy smile. He lived on the other side of Jack with his wife and youngest daughter, but he was there alone tonight too. In fact, he noted, all of them were there on their own. Clara, the young mother, was there without husband and newborn; Brandon, the flamboyantly energetic homosexual, was without his partner; Gracie, recently retired from nursing, had come without her husband; Rachel, the always over-worked mother of four was there without her children and husband – a rare occurrence; Travis, the laid back, middle aged, single dad to a teenage son and daughter, also there alone; Jacinta, the blond newlywed, without her handsome groom; Scott, the fitness freak, there without his girlfriend and finally, Natasha, a clever university student who still lived at home. As Jack studied them, he realized something else. In their own unique way, every, single one of them was attractive. Okay. This is weird. Just what are you walking into Jackie Boy. Jackie Boy was his wife’s pet name for him. Audrey had started calling him that from the moment they’d met and he had taken to calling himself that also; at least in his own head anyway. Thinking of her gave him strength. With determination, he took one of the last empty chairs next to Jacinta. He was committed now, resolved to see this through.

Deidre moved to stand beside another empty chair to the right of the chair at the head of the table. “Wonderful!” she beamed. “We’re all here. Edgar? Would you like to join us?”

Everyone stood as a robust elderly gentleman entered. “Oh, please, there’s no need to stand on my account,” Edgar said with a wave and a smile. 

Like his wife, his appearance was impeccable, not a thing out of place. He wore a neatly ironed, brown pin-striped suit with crisp creases down the centre of each leg, a plain brown waist coat and a gold pocket watch. His thick, silver hair was combed as was the mustache covering his top lip. Stereotypical eccentric, rich old couple, Jack couldn’t help thinking. They were like something out of a movie.

At the ring of a bell, entrees were served swiftly and silently by a couple of meek wait staff. One was a young man and the other a young woman. Both were stunning to look at. Neither spoke. They kept their eyes downcast the entire time and once everything was in place on the mahogany table, they disappeared as quietly and quickly as they had come. Jack watched them with suspicion. Something definitely smells fishy here, and it isn’t the salmon. Although, he added as he scrutinized the entree, it really does look good. He waited until the hosts invited them to eat, picked up his sterling silver knife and fork and took a bite. It was indeed delicious.

The rest of dinner was served in the same fashion and the elderly couple proved to be entertaining hosts. Of course they are, Jack said snidely to himself. Deidre had everyone talking about their families while Edgar enquired about their jobs. For all intents and purposes, it was just a normal, get to know you, formal dinner. But Jack couldn’t shake his uneasiness and he could tell everyone else was feeling the same way by their furtive glances and seemingly constant itches. Despite this, they all made short work of the three-course meal and by the end, everyone seemed much more at ease. Except for Jack. When the last dishes had been cleared away, Deidre and Edgar announced that they had taken the liberty of organizing a little game for them.

“I’m sure the invitation we left you raised many questions,” Deidre said with an elegant chuckle.

“We wanted to add to the fun,” Edgar explained with a shrug, seemingly apologetic about their attempt at mischief.

“What’s the game?” Scott inquired, never missing an opportunity to compete.

“Glad you asked, lad,” replied Edgar, pleased with Scott’s enthusiasm. “Come with us and we will show you.”

The group followed them through the house to a door in the laundry room. Edgar opened the it to reveal a set of steps leading down into almost complete blackness.

“Um,” Jacinta piped up with a toss of her blond mane, “I don’t really like games and I should be getting back. My husband will be home now. Thank you for the lovely dinner. I’m sure…”

“Nonsense!” Deidre exclaimed. “I’ve been so looking forward to playing with you.” She brushed Jacinta’s hair back, stroking it almost lovingly. “You must stay. It would be such a shame to miss this opportunity. Wouldn’t it, Edgar?” There was sinister gleam in her eyes as she turned to look at her husband.

“Why, absolutely!” he agreed, drawing Jacinta to his side. “Come, come. It will be fun, I promise.” A sly tone had crept into his voice.

Jack swallowed the lump in his throat. This was it. He was about to find out just what these freaks were all about.

“We’re collectors, you see,” Deidre informed them all. “We like to collect things of great beauty, things that appeal to the eye in most delicious way and we thought, well, we hoped, that our beautiful neighbours would be able to help us.”

They all glanced at each other, some of the anxiety and restless returning.

“We won’t take no for an answer,” insisted Edgar. “It took a lot of planning and organizing and we would hate for it to go to waste, so please, indulge us old folk for a couple more hours.”

Not wanting to upset their hosts after they had, after all, given them such a wonderful dinner, everyone agreed, albeit reluctantly.

Deidre clapped her hands in excitement. “Excellent. Now, come and see what we have so far.” She started the decent down the dark and narrow stairs and one by one, the others followed suit with Edgar bringing up the rear. 

There was a dim glow coming from the room at the bottom. Rachel, who was just in front of Edgar, swallowed back a squeal when she heard the door being closed and locked behind them. She reached out to Travis, catching his sleeve and leant close to whisper, “He locked the door.”

Travis patted her hand. “I’m sure it’s all part of the game,” he whispered back, trying to sound reassuring.

The room they came down into was surprising. It wasn’t the dingy basement they had all been expecting. Instead, they saw a quaint little sitting room with large objects positioned against the walls at various points; large objects hidden behind curtains hanging from a wrack attached to the ceiling. Jack wanted to ask what they were but refrained. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Judging from the size, they could easily be big enough to hold a human.

“Please, make yourselves comfortable,” Deidre invited, turning the lights up. “Help yourselves to tea or coffee,” she offered, indicating a tray on the coffee table.

Edgar took something from a shelf along the back wall, next to another door. Jack noted the door as another possible escape route.

When Edgar rejoined them, he was holding a small box. “Here are your instructions,” he said, placing the box on the coffee table. “Now, we shall leave you to it but, we will be watching.” It sounded like a warning. “So, have fun!”

“Wait,” Jacinta said, annoyed. “You aren’t even going to play?”

“Oh, not just yet, dear. We will watch the first few rounds and then we will be back at the end,” Deidre told her. “Enjoy!”

With a wave and two, creepy-clown smiles, they took their leave. As soon as he heard the door close, Jack raced back up the stairs. As he had suspected, the door was locked. Everyone was waiting for him as he made his way back down and nine sets of eyes questioned him.

“Locked,” he told them. Immediate panic followed.

“What the hell is going on?”

“What are we supposed to do now?”

“We’re in trouble, aren’t we?”

“I knew I should never have come!”

Clara started crying. Gracie patted her hand, trying to console her. They all looked like they wanted to vomit.

“Calm down, guys,” Jack said, trying to appear calm himself. “Let’s just see what this game is. Once we finish it, I’m sure we will be able to leave.”

Brandon was fidgeting with a ring on his left hand, showing his agitation. “And what if we can’t?” He spoke softly, but everyone heard.

Scott picked up the box. On the lid was the phrase, “A stitch in time saves nine.” He glanced up at everyone, almost waiting for permission to open it. Gracie gave him a nod and, hesitantly, he opened it. The first thing he pulled out was a card with the same riddle on it that had been on their invitations. “What does this stupid riddle mean, anyway?”

“I think that’s what we’re meant to find out,” Sully guessed. “What else is in there.”

Scott pursed his lips as he studied the contents. “It looks like some sort of trivia game.” 

He took out a pile of cards with questions written on them and a blank score card. It didn’t look like a game that had been bought. “They must have made it,” Scott surmised. Underneath all the cards were ten straws; all the same length except for one. “What do we need straws for?”

Sully shrugged. “Guess we’ll find that out as well.”

“So how are we supposed to play,” asked Natasha, surprisingly unruffled. Jack couldn’t help but admire her strength. She had babysat his kids a few times over the years for a bit of extra cash. He knew she was studying psychology so maybe that explained her ability to keep her composure.

Scott studied another card. “Okay, well, it looks like we go around and each take a turn asking a question to the person next to us. If they can’t answer it, it moves on to the next person and so on until someone gets it right. If no one gets it right we go on to the next question. We keep score using the score card here and keep playing till we’ve gone through all the cards. The answers are on the back of the cards but they have a sticker over them. We can’t peel it off until someone has attempted to answer it and only the person asking the question can see it but, if no one knows then the answer can be revealed.”

“Sounds easy enough,” commented Travis.

“Should we get started, then?” suggested Gracie, who still had hold of Clara’s hand.

“We don’t really have a choice,” sighed Jack. “Go ahead, Scott. You have the cards so you may as well ask the first question."

Scott cleared his throat. “Um, alright. It moves clockwise so, Rachel, this question is for you.”

The questions started out simple enough and everyone started to relax a little bit. About half way through, the questions changed, some even requiring physical actions using objects around the room. Then, they became downright disturbing.

“At what temperature does water burn skin?” Clara turned pale as she read out the question. Her eyes went wide as she turned to Jack.

Jack frowned. “I have no idea.”

“There’s more,” Clara said, barely above a whisper.

“What does it say?”

“I… I can’t… it’s… I can’t,” she stammered.

Jack’s frown deepened as he took the card gently from her hand. What he read set his heart racing.

“If no one knows, use stove and saucepan provided to determine answer. The question must be answered. If you refuse, gas will slowly be leaked into the room until you comply.”

He stared at it for several seconds, unable to comprehend it.

“Well,” prompted Sully, “what does it say?”

Suddenly, they heard a low hissing sound coming from vents high up on the walls.

“Wh… What is that noise?” Jacinta demanded.

Wasting no more time, Jack quickly read out the instructions.

“They can’t be serious,” Brandon screeched.

“They are. That’s definitely gas coming through those vents,” Travis said grimly. “Does anyone know the answer? Gracie, ever learn anything about it in nursing?”

“We may have but,” she put her hands to her head in frustration, “I can’t remember.”

“Does anybody know?” inquired Natasha.

No one spoke. No one knew. Clara started crying again and this time, Jacinta joined her.

“I’ll do it,” volunteered Sully. “I’m a welder. Burns happen all the time.”

“Sully…” Rachel began but Sully cut her off.

“I’ll be fine. Jack? Give me a hand?”

Jack drew in a steadying breath. “Are you sure?”

“Yeh, it’s just a burn. Nothing to worry about.”

They set to and got a pot of water heating on the stove. Jack held a thermometer, the tip dipping into the liquid. As they worked, the hissing stopped. Sully glanced meaningfully at Jack. They both knew the seriousness of the situation but by unspoken agreement, they knew they had to play it cool so as not to frighten everyone else.

“Okay, attempt number one.” Sully plunged his hand into the water. “It’s hot, but not enough to burn yet.” They waited until the temperature rose a few more degrees and Sully tried again. “Almost but not quite.” The third time he tried he yelped. “Son of a bitch!”

Gracie came running over. “Are you alright?”

“Yeh, yeh. Got me that time. What was the temperature?”

Jack checked the thermometer. “Seventy degrees. Clara? Is that right?”

They looked back at Clara who had asked the question. She was staring blankly, chewing rapidly on her bottom lip. Her face was pale and her eyes glistened as though she were about to cry. She jumped when they said her name. “Huh?”

“Is the answer seventy degrees?”

“Oh, right.” Her hands shook as she tried to peel the sticker. No body rushed her. Finally, she managed to get it off and breathed a sigh of relief. “It says between sixty and seventy degrees.”

“We need to keep going,” said Sully. “How many cards are left?”

“Not too many,” replied Travis.

With that, they moved on, hoping the questions would take a better turn. They didn’t.

“How long does it take someone to pass out from lack of oxygen?”

“How much blood do you need to fill a film canister?”

“How many mouthfuls of semen does it take to fill a bowl?”

As each question went by, the next was always worse. Sully, Travis and Jack tried to volunteer for most of them. They felt that, as the older men in the group, it was their duty to protect the rest and so they had the most injuries.

Then, they came to the last question, read out between sobs by Natasha.

“Which of you will be the ultimate hero and save the rest? One must stay and receive their fate, while the other nine can walk away. Now has come the time to see, to learn how a stitch in time saves nine. Look behind the curtains to see where your duty lies then play the final game of straws; winner draws the short.”

By this time, everyone was in a state of terrified resignation and tears stained nearly every cheek. They all knew there was no way out until they completed the game. Now, they’ve realized a terrible truth; one of them probably wouldn’t be leaving at all and it would all be decided on who drew the shortest straw. They all stared at the curtains. No one wanted to know what was behind them. The low hissing from the vents started up again.

“FUCKS SAKE!” Jack roared. He jumped up, raced to one of the sets of curtains and threw them back. When he did, he almost vomited. Gracie, Brandon, Natasha and Rachel screamed. Clara and Jacinta passed out. Scott, Travis and Sully stared in horror.

Behind the curtains was a tall, glass case. Inside the glass case was a chair. On the chair was a woman. She was completely naked. Her mouth and eyes had been sewn shut and her arms were tied behind the back of the chair while her legs were each tied to a leg of the chair. This was the fate of whoever chose the short straw. Each set of curtains hid the same. There were eight all up. Four men and four women, sitting behind glass like some grotesque display. Their heads were slumped slightly forward, prevented from falling completely by a collar attached to a metal ring in the wall behind.

“We’re collectors, you see…” Jack recalled Deidre saying. This was what she meant. They collected pretty humans and displayed them like dolls. Living dolls. Living dolls that they kept drugged and tied up so they could admire them whenever they wanted.

“NO!” cried Travis. “ENOUGH! We’re not playing your game anymore!”

A voice crackled to life from hidden speaker. “Either one stays or you all die so, best hurry up, darlings or you will force our hand and it would be such a waste to lose you all.”

“Fuck you!” yelled Scott, spurred on by Travis’ outrage.

The hissing increased as more gas was flooded into the room.

“We have to do this. We have no choice. If we work together maybe we can all still get out of this. They will probably come down once we finish the game. There is ten of us and two of them. We can take them out.” Sully somehow kept his voice steady as he laid out his plan. He grabbed the straws, mixed them around and held them out. Jack could see sense in what he was saying so he was the first to take one, praying it would not be short. It wasn’t. Around they went until it came to Natasha. Her brave demeanor had cracked and she was trembling uncontrollably. When her hand drew out the short straw, she blinked, refusing to believe it. Everyone was staring her. They didn’t even notice that the gas had stopped. As she stared at the straw, the reality slowly dawned on her and she heaved, throwing up all over the table.

“It’s alright, love,” reassured Sully. “We won’t let them do this. We have a plan, remember.”

Natasha nodded weakly.

They heard the door open and braced themselves, ready to put their plan into action, except, they were greeted by two guns. Travis, fueled by fear and anger, dove for them. Edgar’s gun fired and Travis was disabled, the bullet lodging into his leg.

“Dear me,” tutted Deidre. “Is that any way to act? We don’t want to kill anyone, but we will if we must. Now, quick as a rabbit, everyone hop into a line.”

Edgar held the gun to them as they formed a hasty line. Deidre walked over to Natasha and stroked her face. “Our little winner,” she crooned. “Oh yes, I shall enjoy looking at you.”

Scott, Travis and Jack tried to lunge at their kidnappers again. Once more, Edgar’s gun fired, hitting Scott in the leg this time. They fell back. It was hopeless. There was nothing they could do. 

One at a time, Deidre walked them up the stairs and to the front door, sending them home with a threat. “If you tell anyone what happened here tonight, someone you love will die. You don’t want that now, do you?” she said, smiling sweetly.

Each of them knew the old couple were completely capable of carrying out their threat. And so, no one ever spoke of it. They each went their separate ways, some of them moving away while others stayed but rarely left their house. But it didn’t matter where they were, the face of Natasha haunted them wherever they went.

Jack was never the same after that. He grew distant from his family yet became overbearingly protective. When Audrey would ask him what happened that night, he would just stare out the window. He had nightmares where he was chased by a stitched-up Natasha and took to mumbling the phrase, “a stitch in time saves nine,” while sitting in a chair by the window, watching the street like a hawk. His wife grew so concerned she ended up calling the mental home. She was at her wits end and didn't know what else to do. Men in white coats came to take him away but he fought them.

“No!” He screamed. “I have to stay here! I have to keep watch! You don’t understand! I’m not crazy. A stitch in time saves nine! Don’t you see?”

The men injected him with a sedative and he slumped back onto the stretcher. Audrey watched them take away the man she loved, having no idea just what he had been trying to protect them from. She sighed. All she could do was hope the doctors were able to cure him. The next day, Audrey checked the mail box and found a strange note. It was a dinner invitation. It read;

“They say a stitch in time saves nine. Come around and we shall dine, show you how one stich saves nine. Will you be the one? Will you still be standing when we are done? Will you once again see the sun? So come around and we’ll have a great time, play a game of mime or even rhyme.

Sincerely,

E & D Winnifred”

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You've been invited for dinner by the new odd neighbors who like to go hunting. You only accept the invitation to find out more about them and what it is they could/might be hiding from the rest of the community. Have fun. Go crazy with imagination. Don't forget to add mystery, riddles, and your story characters can be human, aliens or/& monsters. Enjoy!
Written by ChanelleJoy in portal Horror & Thriller
A Stitch in Time Saves Nine
“They say a stitch in time saves nine. Come around and we shall dine, show you how one stich saves nine. Will you be the one? Will you still be standing when we are done? Will you once again see the sun? So come around and we’ll have a great time, play a game of mime or even rhyme.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Jack muttered to himself as he read the note that had been left in his letter box. A date, time and address had been written at the bottom as well, along with the names, Edgar and Deirdre Winnifred. That it was a dinner invitation was all he could discern. It was from the new neighbors who had moved in next door about a month ago and this was probably a way for them to get to know everybody. Jack shuddered. He hadn’t seen or heard much from them but, they were weird; weird and creepy. Jack had seen the woman of the house staring out their front window on numerous occasions, just watching the street. If you were unlucky enough to catch her eye, she would give you this smile that reminded Jack of an evil clown. Something told him they were up to no good, but he didn’t have enough proof to warrant calling the cops. For reasons he couldn’t explain, or understand, part of him was curious about what they were hiding. The logical part of him flashed a thousand warning signs, cautioning him to stay away. If I go, maybe I can get some clues, he thought. Maybe I can get some solid evidence to show the police, get them arrested and out of our street.

See, Jack had a wife, Audrey, and two children; a boy named Benny and girl named Lilly. It was the perfect family. They had family vacations, family dinners, family movie nights, family game nights; everything was wonderfully cozy in their little world however, while these people were living next door, he couldn’t help worrying about their safety. The perfect little world they had built for themselves was under threat. He knew he wasn’t the only one concerned either. I wonder if anyone else was invited. Audrey and the kids had gone over to Audrey’s parents’ place and wouldn’t be back till the following day. Jack would have gone himself if he didn’t have to go to work. Anyway, it was good that they were gone. He would never have taken them to this dinner. It was time he stepped up as husband, father and man to protect his people. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to protect his family and if that meant going to some creepy couple’s house for dinner, then that was exactly what he would do. Glancing at his watch, he realized he’d better start getting ready. It was 5:30pm and the dinner invitations said to be there by 6:00pm.

Despite rushing, he was still late. Great way to draw attention to yourself, idiot. He pressed the doorbell and heard it echo through the house like the tolling of a giant bell. The bell of death. The thought startled him and he shook his head, trying to clear the sudden and intense fear that had come creeping up to catch him unawares. His heart raced and he could feel his palms growing sweaty. This was a bad idea. He wanted to run as far away from this house as he could but the thought of his family kept him there, standing on the front doorstep, bottle of wine in hand, waiting to be invited into whatever hell lay within.

The lady of the house answered, smiling broadly when she saw him. “Ah, our final guest has arrived. You must be Jack. I am Deirdre. Please, do come in,” she said warmly and perhaps a little too eagerly. 

He blinked. She was an older woman, possibly in her sixties, though it was hard to determine through her immaculate make-up. Her white hair was styled just right beneath a cream hat and her brocaded cream skirt with matching jacket were the perfect fit. The only colours in her outfit were the ruby-red court shoes and a red rose broach on her right lapel. She was certainly not what Jack had been expecting.

“Ah, thank you,” he replied hesitantly as he stepped across the thresh hold. “Ah, this is for you.”

“Why, how kind,” Deirdre exclaimed as she took the offered bottle of wine. “This will go nicely with dinner. Thank you.” She took his arm and ushered him further to the house. “Everyone is in the dining room.”

“Everyone?” Jack queried. He wasn’t left wondering long for, as they turned a corner, he found himself facing a table filled with nine of his other neighbours.

“Hey, Jack,” greeted Sullivan – Sully for short – with his easy smile. He lived on the other side of Jack with his wife and youngest daughter, but he was there alone tonight too. In fact, he noted, all of them were there on their own. Clara, the young mother, was there without husband and newborn; Brandon, the flamboyantly energetic homosexual, was without his partner; Gracie, recently retired from nursing, had come without her husband; Rachel, the always over-worked mother of four was there without her children and husband – a rare occurrence; Travis, the laid back, middle aged, single dad to a teenage son and daughter, also there alone; Jacinta, the blond newlywed, without her handsome groom; Scott, the fitness freak, there without his girlfriend and finally, Natasha, a clever university student who still lived at home. As Jack studied them, he realized something else. In their own unique way, every, single one of them was attractive. Okay. This is weird. Just what are you walking into Jackie Boy. Jackie Boy was his wife’s pet name for him. Audrey had started calling him that from the moment they’d met and he had taken to calling himself that also; at least in his own head anyway. Thinking of her gave him strength. With determination, he took one of the last empty chairs next to Jacinta. He was committed now, resolved to see this through.

Deidre moved to stand beside another empty chair to the right of the chair at the head of the table. “Wonderful!” she beamed. “We’re all here. Edgar? Would you like to join us?”

Everyone stood as a robust elderly gentleman entered. “Oh, please, there’s no need to stand on my account,” Edgar said with a wave and a smile. 

Like his wife, his appearance was impeccable, not a thing out of place. He wore a neatly ironed, brown pin-striped suit with crisp creases down the centre of each leg, a plain brown waist coat and a gold pocket watch. His thick, silver hair was combed as was the mustache covering his top lip. Stereotypical eccentric, rich old couple, Jack couldn’t help thinking. They were like something out of a movie.

At the ring of a bell, entrees were served swiftly and silently by a couple of meek wait staff. One was a young man and the other a young woman. Both were stunning to look at. Neither spoke. They kept their eyes downcast the entire time and once everything was in place on the mahogany table, they disappeared as quietly and quickly as they had come. Jack watched them with suspicion. Something definitely smells fishy here, and it isn’t the salmon. Although, he added as he scrutinized the entree, it really does look good. He waited until the hosts invited them to eat, picked up his sterling silver knife and fork and took a bite. It was indeed delicious.

The rest of dinner was served in the same fashion and the elderly couple proved to be entertaining hosts. Of course they are, Jack said snidely to himself. Deidre had everyone talking about their families while Edgar enquired about their jobs. For all intents and purposes, it was just a normal, get to know you, formal dinner. But Jack couldn’t shake his uneasiness and he could tell everyone else was feeling the same way by their furtive glances and seemingly constant itches. Despite this, they all made short work of the three-course meal and by the end, everyone seemed much more at ease. Except for Jack. When the last dishes had been cleared away, Deidre and Edgar announced that they had taken the liberty of organizing a little game for them.

“I’m sure the invitation we left you raised many questions,” Deidre said with an elegant chuckle.

“We wanted to add to the fun,” Edgar explained with a shrug, seemingly apologetic about their attempt at mischief.

“What’s the game?” Scott inquired, never missing an opportunity to compete.

“Glad you asked, lad,” replied Edgar, pleased with Scott’s enthusiasm. “Come with us and we will show you.”

The group followed them through the house to a door in the laundry room. Edgar opened the it to reveal a set of steps leading down into almost complete blackness.

“Um,” Jacinta piped up with a toss of her blond mane, “I don’t really like games and I should be getting back. My husband will be home now. Thank you for the lovely dinner. I’m sure…”

“Nonsense!” Deidre exclaimed. “I’ve been so looking forward to playing with you.” She brushed Jacinta’s hair back, stroking it almost lovingly. “You must stay. It would be such a shame to miss this opportunity. Wouldn’t it, Edgar?” There was sinister gleam in her eyes as she turned to look at her husband.

“Why, absolutely!” he agreed, drawing Jacinta to his side. “Come, come. It will be fun, I promise.” A sly tone had crept into his voice.

Jack swallowed the lump in his throat. This was it. He was about to find out just what these freaks were all about.

“We’re collectors, you see,” Deidre informed them all. “We like to collect things of great beauty, things that appeal to the eye in most delicious way and we thought, well, we hoped, that our beautiful neighbours would be able to help us.”

They all glanced at each other, some of the anxiety and restless returning.

“We won’t take no for an answer,” insisted Edgar. “It took a lot of planning and organizing and we would hate for it to go to waste, so please, indulge us old folk for a couple more hours.”

Not wanting to upset their hosts after they had, after all, given them such a wonderful dinner, everyone agreed, albeit reluctantly.

Deidre clapped her hands in excitement. “Excellent. Now, come and see what we have so far.” She started the decent down the dark and narrow stairs and one by one, the others followed suit with Edgar bringing up the rear. 

There was a dim glow coming from the room at the bottom. Rachel, who was just in front of Edgar, swallowed back a squeal when she heard the door being closed and locked behind them. She reached out to Travis, catching his sleeve and leant close to whisper, “He locked the door.”

Travis patted her hand. “I’m sure it’s all part of the game,” he whispered back, trying to sound reassuring.

The room they came down into was surprising. It wasn’t the dingy basement they had all been expecting. Instead, they saw a quaint little sitting room with large objects positioned against the walls at various points; large objects hidden behind curtains hanging from a wrack attached to the ceiling. Jack wanted to ask what they were but refrained. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Judging from the size, they could easily be big enough to hold a human.

“Please, make yourselves comfortable,” Deidre invited, turning the lights up. “Help yourselves to tea or coffee,” she offered, indicating a tray on the coffee table.

Edgar took something from a shelf along the back wall, next to another door. Jack noted the door as another possible escape route.

When Edgar rejoined them, he was holding a small box. “Here are your instructions,” he said, placing the box on the coffee table. “Now, we shall leave you to it but, we will be watching.” It sounded like a warning. “So, have fun!”

“Wait,” Jacinta said, annoyed. “You aren’t even going to play?”

“Oh, not just yet, dear. We will watch the first few rounds and then we will be back at the end,” Deidre told her. “Enjoy!”

With a wave and two, creepy-clown smiles, they took their leave. As soon as he heard the door close, Jack raced back up the stairs. As he had suspected, the door was locked. Everyone was waiting for him as he made his way back down and nine sets of eyes questioned him.

“Locked,” he told them. Immediate panic followed.

“What the hell is going on?”

“What are we supposed to do now?”

“We’re in trouble, aren’t we?”

“I knew I should never have come!”

Clara started crying. Gracie patted her hand, trying to console her. They all looked like they wanted to vomit.

“Calm down, guys,” Jack said, trying to appear calm himself. “Let’s just see what this game is. Once we finish it, I’m sure we will be able to leave.”

Brandon was fidgeting with a ring on his left hand, showing his agitation. “And what if we can’t?” He spoke softly, but everyone heard.

Scott picked up the box. On the lid was the phrase, “A stitch in time saves nine.” He glanced up at everyone, almost waiting for permission to open it. Gracie gave him a nod and, hesitantly, he opened it. The first thing he pulled out was a card with the same riddle on it that had been on their invitations. “What does this stupid riddle mean, anyway?”

“I think that’s what we’re meant to find out,” Sully guessed. “What else is in there.”

Scott pursed his lips as he studied the contents. “It looks like some sort of trivia game.” 

He took out a pile of cards with questions written on them and a blank score card. It didn’t look like a game that had been bought. “They must have made it,” Scott surmised. Underneath all the cards were ten straws; all the same length except for one. “What do we need straws for?”

Sully shrugged. “Guess we’ll find that out as well.”

“So how are we supposed to play,” asked Natasha, surprisingly unruffled. Jack couldn’t help but admire her strength. She had babysat his kids a few times over the years for a bit of extra cash. He knew she was studying psychology so maybe that explained her ability to keep her composure.

Scott studied another card. “Okay, well, it looks like we go around and each take a turn asking a question to the person next to us. If they can’t answer it, it moves on to the next person and so on until someone gets it right. If no one gets it right we go on to the next question. We keep score using the score card here and keep playing till we’ve gone through all the cards. The answers are on the back of the cards but they have a sticker over them. We can’t peel it off until someone has attempted to answer it and only the person asking the question can see it but, if no one knows then the answer can be revealed.”

“Sounds easy enough,” commented Travis.

“Should we get started, then?” suggested Gracie, who still had hold of Clara’s hand.

“We don’t really have a choice,” sighed Jack. “Go ahead, Scott. You have the cards so you may as well ask the first question."

Scott cleared his throat. “Um, alright. It moves clockwise so, Rachel, this question is for you.”

The questions started out simple enough and everyone started to relax a little bit. About half way through, the questions changed, some even requiring physical actions using objects around the room. Then, they became downright disturbing.

“At what temperature does water burn skin?” Clara turned pale as she read out the question. Her eyes went wide as she turned to Jack.

Jack frowned. “I have no idea.”

“There’s more,” Clara said, barely above a whisper.

“What does it say?”

“I… I can’t… it’s… I can’t,” she stammered.

Jack’s frown deepened as he took the card gently from her hand. What he read set his heart racing.

“If no one knows, use stove and saucepan provided to determine answer. The question must be answered. If you refuse, gas will slowly be leaked into the room until you comply.”

He stared at it for several seconds, unable to comprehend it.

“Well,” prompted Sully, “what does it say?”

Suddenly, they heard a low hissing sound coming from vents high up on the walls.

“Wh… What is that noise?” Jacinta demanded.

Wasting no more time, Jack quickly read out the instructions.

“They can’t be serious,” Brandon screeched.

“They are. That’s definitely gas coming through those vents,” Travis said grimly. “Does anyone know the answer? Gracie, ever learn anything about it in nursing?”

“We may have but,” she put her hands to her head in frustration, “I can’t remember.”

“Does anybody know?” inquired Natasha.

No one spoke. No one knew. Clara started crying again and this time, Jacinta joined her.

“I’ll do it,” volunteered Sully. “I’m a welder. Burns happen all the time.”

“Sully…” Rachel began but Sully cut her off.

“I’ll be fine. Jack? Give me a hand?”

Jack drew in a steadying breath. “Are you sure?”

“Yeh, it’s just a burn. Nothing to worry about.”

They set to and got a pot of water heating on the stove. Jack held a thermometer, the tip dipping into the liquid. As they worked, the hissing stopped. Sully glanced meaningfully at Jack. They both knew the seriousness of the situation but by unspoken agreement, they knew they had to play it cool so as not to frighten everyone else.

“Okay, attempt number one.” Sully plunged his hand into the water. “It’s hot, but not enough to burn yet.” They waited until the temperature rose a few more degrees and Sully tried again. “Almost but not quite.” The third time he tried he yelped. “Son of a bitch!”

Gracie came running over. “Are you alright?”

“Yeh, yeh. Got me that time. What was the temperature?”

Jack checked the thermometer. “Seventy degrees. Clara? Is that right?”

They looked back at Clara who had asked the question. She was staring blankly, chewing rapidly on her bottom lip. Her face was pale and her eyes glistened as though she were about to cry. She jumped when they said her name. “Huh?”

“Is the answer seventy degrees?”

“Oh, right.” Her hands shook as she tried to peel the sticker. No body rushed her. Finally, she managed to get it off and breathed a sigh of relief. “It says between sixty and seventy degrees.”

“We need to keep going,” said Sully. “How many cards are left?”

“Not too many,” replied Travis.

With that, they moved on, hoping the questions would take a better turn. They didn’t.

“How long does it take someone to pass out from lack of oxygen?”

“How much blood do you need to fill a film canister?”

“How many mouthfuls of semen does it take to fill a bowl?”

As each question went by, the next was always worse. Sully, Travis and Jack tried to volunteer for most of them. They felt that, as the older men in the group, it was their duty to protect the rest and so they had the most injuries.

Then, they came to the last question, read out between sobs by Natasha.

“Which of you will be the ultimate hero and save the rest? One must stay and receive their fate, while the other nine can walk away. Now has come the time to see, to learn how a stitch in time saves nine. Look behind the curtains to see where your duty lies then play the final game of straws; winner draws the short.”

By this time, everyone was in a state of terrified resignation and tears stained nearly every cheek. They all knew there was no way out until they completed the game. Now, they’ve realized a terrible truth; one of them probably wouldn’t be leaving at all and it would all be decided on who drew the shortest straw. They all stared at the curtains. No one wanted to know what was behind them. The low hissing from the vents started up again.

“FUCKS SAKE!” Jack roared. He jumped up, raced to one of the sets of curtains and threw them back. When he did, he almost vomited. Gracie, Brandon, Natasha and Rachel screamed. Clara and Jacinta passed out. Scott, Travis and Sully stared in horror.

Behind the curtains was a tall, glass case. Inside the glass case was a chair. On the chair was a woman. She was completely naked. Her mouth and eyes had been sewn shut and her arms were tied behind the back of the chair while her legs were each tied to a leg of the chair. This was the fate of whoever chose the short straw. Each set of curtains hid the same. There were eight all up. Four men and four women, sitting behind glass like some grotesque display. Their heads were slumped slightly forward, prevented from falling completely by a collar attached to a metal ring in the wall behind.

“We’re collectors, you see…” Jack recalled Deidre saying. This was what she meant. They collected pretty humans and displayed them like dolls. Living dolls. Living dolls that they kept drugged and tied up so they could admire them whenever they wanted.

“NO!” cried Travis. “ENOUGH! We’re not playing your game anymore!”

A voice crackled to life from hidden speaker. “Either one stays or you all die so, best hurry up, darlings or you will force our hand and it would be such a waste to lose you all.”

“Fuck you!” yelled Scott, spurred on by Travis’ outrage.

The hissing increased as more gas was flooded into the room.

“We have to do this. We have no choice. If we work together maybe we can all still get out of this. They will probably come down once we finish the game. There is ten of us and two of them. We can take them out.” Sully somehow kept his voice steady as he laid out his plan. He grabbed the straws, mixed them around and held them out. Jack could see sense in what he was saying so he was the first to take one, praying it would not be short. It wasn’t. Around they went until it came to Natasha. Her brave demeanor had cracked and she was trembling uncontrollably. When her hand drew out the short straw, she blinked, refusing to believe it. Everyone was staring her. They didn’t even notice that the gas had stopped. As she stared at the straw, the reality slowly dawned on her and she heaved, throwing up all over the table.

“It’s alright, love,” reassured Sully. “We won’t let them do this. We have a plan, remember.”

Natasha nodded weakly.

They heard the door open and braced themselves, ready to put their plan into action, except, they were greeted by two guns. Travis, fueled by fear and anger, dove for them. Edgar’s gun fired and Travis was disabled, the bullet lodging into his leg.

“Dear me,” tutted Deidre. “Is that any way to act? We don’t want to kill anyone, but we will if we must. Now, quick as a rabbit, everyone hop into a line.”

Edgar held the gun to them as they formed a hasty line. Deidre walked over to Natasha and stroked her face. “Our little winner,” she crooned. “Oh yes, I shall enjoy looking at you.”

Scott, Travis and Jack tried to lunge at their kidnappers again. Once more, Edgar’s gun fired, hitting Scott in the leg this time. They fell back. It was hopeless. There was nothing they could do. 

One at a time, Deidre walked them up the stairs and to the front door, sending them home with a threat. “If you tell anyone what happened here tonight, someone you love will die. You don’t want that now, do you?” she said, smiling sweetly.

Each of them knew the old couple were completely capable of carrying out their threat. And so, no one ever spoke of it. They each went their separate ways, some of them moving away while others stayed but rarely left their house. But it didn’t matter where they were, the face of Natasha haunted them wherever they went.

Jack was never the same after that. He grew distant from his family yet became overbearingly protective. When Audrey would ask him what happened that night, he would just stare out the window. He had nightmares where he was chased by a stitched-up Natasha and took to mumbling the phrase, “a stitch in time saves nine,” while sitting in a chair by the window, watching the street like a hawk. His wife grew so concerned she ended up calling the mental home. She was at her wits end and didn't know what else to do. Men in white coats came to take him away but he fought them.

“No!” He screamed. “I have to stay here! I have to keep watch! You don’t understand! I’m not crazy. A stitch in time saves nine! Don’t you see?”

The men injected him with a sedative and he slumped back onto the stretcher. Audrey watched them take away the man she loved, having no idea just what he had been trying to protect them from. She sighed. All she could do was hope the doctors were able to cure him. The next day, Audrey checked the mail box and found a strange note. It was a dinner invitation. It read;

“They say a stitch in time saves nine. Come around and we shall dine, show you how one stich saves nine. Will you be the one? Will you still be standing when we are done? Will you once again see the sun? So come around and we’ll have a great time, play a game of mime or even rhyme.

Sincerely,
E & D Winnifred”
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Chapter 9 of Sins of the Father: The Devil's Intern
Written by Harry_Situation in portal Fiction

The Devil's Intern Part 9

The third day for Internship Week was on the way, and Joshua was off to learn about the next lesson as the devil's intern: serving as commander-in-chief for a whole army. Lucifer led Joshua to this training facility located outside Inferno Tower, all the way down its crooked road. There Joshua met those that guard the damned, the Doomsguard. Like any army the demons—young and old—signed on to be soldiers for the Inferno. Their motto, 'Dum inferno exsurgit, dicendo'. Latin translation: "When Hell rises, we raise it."

Lu left Joshua under the care of one of the young demon soldiers of the outpost. "No worries. I'll treat him like my kid brother." Those his exact words to his king as he led Joshua through the wreck rooms. "Welcome to the Doomsguard, kid. Outpost 13."

The soldiers were young. Their ages varied different centuries but they all looked and sounded like they were in their twenties. Like Babylon and the Tower, he saw a different assortment of demons. Some looked reptilian, some looked like goats or satyrs, and some were the humanoid incubi and succubi. There were even a couple that were hybrids like his friend Dominic, part demon and part succubi or incubi.

Joshua got to know several of the young recruits. At first they joked about eating him—which made Joshua very nervous—but they liked his company. They even introduced him to the personal friend of the guard: the FyreBlast-23. An automatic assault rifle, flamethrower, and grenade launcher all in one. Each clip loaded with a .300 Winchester Magnum bullet casing, powerful enough to tear a scavenger and soul to meaty pieces.

The pleasantries and jokes ended quickly when a loud whistle signaled them all to attention. In rows of two they stood. Joshua stood among them too. The recruits hoped the kid would meet their drill instructor, a demon that was harsh but laid back, yet someone worse arrived.

CLUNK! CLUNK! CLUNK!

Another succubus marched inside the barracks. This one had skin was light blue like the ocean. Her hair, or what's left, trimmed short to the skin. She wore a pitch black tank top and dark camo pants. Large, thick dark sunglasses, that looked like an eclipsed sun, hid her savage eyes. Her face was stern, not at all friendly like Lilith or Sitri.

All of the Inferno knew her by name and reputation: General Belial. The first succubus to reach the rank of general, and to become the supreme commander of the Doomsguard. A rumor floated that she yanked the wings off an archangel once with her bare hands, long ago during the Heaven-Hell War. Didn't even scorch her.

CLUNK! CLUNK! CLUNK!

The metallic peg that replaced her left leg tapped across the cold floor with each step. As she walked down the rows the recruits tried their hardest to stand still and not flinch when she darted them. They dared not breathe or sweat with the general present. Punishment from her was similar to how the condemned souls were treated.

"This is for all you new faces here in my beloved guard." she hollered. Joshua made himself not jump when the general spoke, "My name is General Belial. Yet the only thing I want to hear out of your pie holes is 'ma'am' or 'general'. Is that clear?"

"Yes ma'am." the recruits uttered in unison. 

"Bullcrap! Make it sound convincing!"

"YES MA'AM!" they all shouted louder.

"Unfortunately your drill instructor is out sick today. But lucky for you maggots, I volunteered to give you some serious P.T. We're gonna P.T. until your legs pop right off. Doesn't that sound good?"

"YES MA'AM!"

"We are the Doomsguard. Nothing in the Inferno gets in or out without our say so. We are born from hellfire and we crap hot coal. We shoot for kills and for thrills. We're lean, mean, killing machines that smashed open the gates of Heaven and march through the fields of Eden. And we did so as one superior unit.

"I don't care what you are or who you were. I don't look down on purebloods, half-breeds, succubi, or incubi. I don't care if you're endowed with magical abilities or not. I don't care if you were born from Hell or reborn from a soul. To me, you're all equally worthless, and you'll all receive the same amount of treatment. Do you maggots understand me?"

They answered. "YES MA'AM!"

She cocked her head to the left. "You!" Her eyes locked with one of the recruits.

"Yes ma'am!" he answered. The recruit looked a lot like Moloch. Not in physique or appearance, but he had his horns, red skin, and dark eyes. 

"You're one of Moloch's boys, ain't ya?" the general moved a couple feet closer to Moloch's eldest son.

"Yes ma'am!" he answered again.

"Are you the scrawny little maggot that died at childbirth?"

"No ma'am! That was one of my younger brothers. And he's not dead now, ma'am!"

"Your daddy was a war hero. He ever talk about the war?"

"Just once, ma'am."

"Good. Then he wasn't lying about it. Now you better live up to his reputation, or he's gonna wish you'd died so he wouldn't be embarrassed by your existence!"

Moloch's son gave the general his final answer. "YES MA'AM!" 

The succubus general carried on. She waltzed a few feet down the line until she sized up to another recruit. This one looked like a toad with his pudgy body and blank, round eyes. 

"What's your excuse?" Belial asked him.

"Excuse for what, sir?" her next victim responded.

Belial's hand slapped around the recruit's meaty throat. "SIR?" she berated. "YOUR MOTHER IS A SIR! Do I look masculine to you, soldier?"

"No, ma'am!" the recruit choked. "Just a slip-up."

"Slip-ups getcha killed, private!"

"Sorry."

"Sorry what?"

"Sorry, general."

"Oh, so I'm a sorry general now, that it?"

"No ma'am!"

Acknowledging his mistake, the general released her grasp. The toad-like recruit cough some fresh air back into his lungs but remained at attention. General Belial continued her onslaught. "Tell me, why did you join my beloved guard?"

"To shoot scavengers, ma'am!"

"Scavengers were souls once. Do you have sympathy for them?"

"No ma'am!"

"Were you a soul once?"

"No ma'am!"

"I bet you were once a scroungy little soul that got damned down here because he liked fondling little boy pee-pees! You can bet your ass I'll be watching you!"

General Belial moved back down the line. Her march then led her to another recruit. This one a doe satyr with small eyes, pale skin, brown fur, and a pair of small, nubby horns on the back of her head.

The general eyed the small female. Her gaze then concentrated on a tattoo, on her right shoulder. "What is that?" She demanded an answer. Her brows scrunched into her sunglasses.

"A tattoo, ma'am!" the doe answered.

"Are tattoos allowed in my barracks, private?" 

"No ma'am!" 

"Then why the hell do you have one on your skin, private?"

"It's brand new, ma'am!"

"Is it now?" Belial's struck against the fresh tattoo. The doe felt the sting but she dared not flinch in front of the general. "Where should that tattoo be next time?"

"Apologies, ma'am." the recruit gasped. "I'll have it covered next time."

"Damn right you will."

Their conversation ended when Belial marched off again. A couple feet down then she paused. She felt something off in her guard. Her neck curved to the right. There was a gap between two other recruits. If there was one thing she despised it was gaps in her beloved guard.

Her neck tilted down. There's the problem. Joshua Wordsworth, standing in the row and staring at the general. The general whipped off her sunglasses to get a better look at this new face. For the first time Joshua saw the succubus' eyes. Clear blue, like her skin and hair.

General Belial approached the human boy. Her shadow engulfed the boy's small body. "Well, what do we got here?" she said, her tone a little calmer. A grin groomed on her lips. "A human among demons. What brings you down here?"

"I'm here as an intern for-"

"SPEAK UP, KID!" the general snapped. "Or am I talking to a mouse?"

"Internship for the devil, ma'am!" Joshua answered anxiously. His words nearly jumbled together.

"What's your name, son?"

"Joshua Wordsworth."

"What's that around your neck?" A blue finger pointed at the cross that Joshua carried on him.

"My cross, uh ma'am." Joshua answered, trying to avoid being yelled again.

"So you're a Christian?"

"Yes ma'am."

"What kind? Catholic? Protestant? Lutheran?"

"Evangelical."

"Ah, the fun kind."

Josh's eyes couldn't help but stare at the general's leg. Just a stump attached to a long metal shaft that stretched into half her humerus. Josh tried not to stare too long at it, but the general already noticed. 

"What are you eyeballing at, boy?" Her hand slapped against the metal, taunting the poor human boy. "You like this? You got a prosthetic fetish I should know about?"

"Uh, no ma'am." 

Belial's calm demeanor reverted back to her aggressive nature. "You don't think I look pretty with this leg on, kid? You don't think I look attractive?"

Joshua gulped. "Wha? N-no that's not-"

"Oh so you're gay then. That why you don't find me attractive?"

"No! No! I'm not gay-"

"Then why are you in my beloved guard then?"

"I don't know! To do what you tell me to do?" Joshua shouted. It echoed through the barracks.

The general's smile returned. "To do what I tell you to do. I like that answer. Well done, son." 

She turned from him and addressed the recruits. "Take note from this boy, maggots. If you do what I say, when I say it, if you follow my directions and proceed with my training, you will survive. You will live at the end, until the end. We are the Doomsguard! When Hell rises, we raise it!

"Now all of you! Drop and give me twenty!"

The recruits obeyed. The dropped to the icy floors, hands and legs spread out. They all pushed themselves up and down, counting the number of push-ups their general wanted. Joshua even joined in with the recruits.

Belial marched down to the entrance where her king, Lu, watched them all. "How's my intern holding up, Bel?" he asked his loyal general.

"Sir, your intern seems to be doing fine," she answered. "Boy's got brains and guts, and that's good enough for me. If he was really part of my guard, I'd give him a metal."

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Chapter 9 of Sins of the Father: The Devil's Intern
Written by Harry_Situation in portal Fiction
The Devil's Intern Part 9
The third day for Internship Week was on the way, and Joshua was off to learn about the next lesson as the devil's intern: serving as commander-in-chief for a whole army. Lucifer led Joshua to this training facility located outside Inferno Tower, all the way down its crooked road. There Joshua met those that guard the damned, the Doomsguard. Like any army the demons—young and old—signed on to be soldiers for the Inferno. Their motto, 'Dum inferno exsurgit, dicendo'. Latin translation: "When Hell rises, we raise it."

Lu left Joshua under the care of one of the young demon soldiers of the outpost. "No worries. I'll treat him like my kid brother." Those his exact words to his king as he led Joshua through the wreck rooms. "Welcome to the Doomsguard, kid. Outpost 13."

The soldiers were young. Their ages varied different centuries but they all looked and sounded like they were in their twenties. Like Babylon and the Tower, he saw a different assortment of demons. Some looked reptilian, some looked like goats or satyrs, and some were the humanoid incubi and succubi. There were even a couple that were hybrids like his friend Dominic, part demon and part succubi or incubi.

Joshua got to know several of the young recruits. At first they joked about eating him—which made Joshua very nervous—but they liked his company. They even introduced him to the personal friend of the guard: the FyreBlast-23. An automatic assault rifle, flamethrower, and grenade launcher all in one. Each clip loaded with a .300 Winchester Magnum bullet casing, powerful enough to tear a scavenger and soul to meaty pieces.

The pleasantries and jokes ended quickly when a loud whistle signaled them all to attention. In rows of two they stood. Joshua stood among them too. The recruits hoped the kid would meet their drill instructor, a demon that was harsh but laid back, yet someone worse arrived.

CLUNK! CLUNK! CLUNK!

Another succubus marched inside the barracks. This one had skin was light blue like the ocean. Her hair, or what's left, trimmed short to the skin. She wore a pitch black tank top and dark camo pants. Large, thick dark sunglasses, that looked like an eclipsed sun, hid her savage eyes. Her face was stern, not at all friendly like Lilith or Sitri.

All of the Inferno knew her by name and reputation: General Belial. The first succubus to reach the rank of general, and to become the supreme commander of the Doomsguard. A rumor floated that she yanked the wings off an archangel once with her bare hands, long ago during the Heaven-Hell War. Didn't even scorch her.

CLUNK! CLUNK! CLUNK!

The metallic peg that replaced her left leg tapped across the cold floor with each step. As she walked down the rows the recruits tried their hardest to stand still and not flinch when she darted them. They dared not breathe or sweat with the general present. Punishment from her was similar to how the condemned souls were treated.

"This is for all you new faces here in my beloved guard." she hollered. Joshua made himself not jump when the general spoke, "My name is General Belial. Yet the only thing I want to hear out of your pie holes is 'ma'am' or 'general'. Is that clear?"

"Yes ma'am." the recruits uttered in unison. 

"Bullcrap! Make it sound convincing!"

"YES MA'AM!" they all shouted louder.

"Unfortunately your drill instructor is out sick today. But lucky for you maggots, I volunteered to give you some serious P.T. We're gonna P.T. until your legs pop right off. Doesn't that sound good?"

"YES MA'AM!"

"We are the Doomsguard. Nothing in the Inferno gets in or out without our say so. We are born from hellfire and we crap hot coal. We shoot for kills and for thrills. We're lean, mean, killing machines that smashed open the gates of Heaven and march through the fields of Eden. And we did so as one superior unit.

"I don't care what you are or who you were. I don't look down on purebloods, half-breeds, succubi, or incubi. I don't care if you're endowed with magical abilities or not. I don't care if you were born from Hell or reborn from a soul. To me, you're all equally worthless, and you'll all receive the same amount of treatment. Do you maggots understand me?"

They answered. "YES MA'AM!"

She cocked her head to the left. "You!" Her eyes locked with one of the recruits.

"Yes ma'am!" he answered. The recruit looked a lot like Moloch. Not in physique or appearance, but he had his horns, red skin, and dark eyes. 

"You're one of Moloch's boys, ain't ya?" the general moved a couple feet closer to Moloch's eldest son.

"Yes ma'am!" he answered again.

"Are you the scrawny little maggot that died at childbirth?"

"No ma'am! That was one of my younger brothers. And he's not dead now, ma'am!"

"Your daddy was a war hero. He ever talk about the war?"

"Just once, ma'am."

"Good. Then he wasn't lying about it. Now you better live up to his reputation, or he's gonna wish you'd died so he wouldn't be embarrassed by your existence!"

Moloch's son gave the general his final answer. "YES MA'AM!" 

The succubus general carried on. She waltzed a few feet down the line until she sized up to another recruit. This one looked like a toad with his pudgy body and blank, round eyes. 

"What's your excuse?" Belial asked him.

"Excuse for what, sir?" her next victim responded.

Belial's hand slapped around the recruit's meaty throat. "SIR?" she berated. "YOUR MOTHER IS A SIR! Do I look masculine to you, soldier?"

"No, ma'am!" the recruit choked. "Just a slip-up."

"Slip-ups getcha killed, private!"

"Sorry."

"Sorry what?"

"Sorry, general."

"Oh, so I'm a sorry general now, that it?"

"No ma'am!"

Acknowledging his mistake, the general released her grasp. The toad-like recruit cough some fresh air back into his lungs but remained at attention. General Belial continued her onslaught. "Tell me, why did you join my beloved guard?"

"To shoot scavengers, ma'am!"

"Scavengers were souls once. Do you have sympathy for them?"

"No ma'am!"

"Were you a soul once?"

"No ma'am!"

"I bet you were once a scroungy little soul that got damned down here because he liked fondling little boy pee-pees! You can bet your ass I'll be watching you!"

General Belial moved back down the line. Her march then led her to another recruit. This one a doe satyr with small eyes, pale skin, brown fur, and a pair of small, nubby horns on the back of her head.

The general eyed the small female. Her gaze then concentrated on a tattoo, on her right shoulder. "What is that?" She demanded an answer. Her brows scrunched into her sunglasses.

"A tattoo, ma'am!" the doe answered.

"Are tattoos allowed in my barracks, private?" 

"No ma'am!" 

"Then why the hell do you have one on your skin, private?"

"It's brand new, ma'am!"

"Is it now?" Belial's struck against the fresh tattoo. The doe felt the sting but she dared not flinch in front of the general. "Where should that tattoo be next time?"

"Apologies, ma'am." the recruit gasped. "I'll have it covered next time."

"Damn right you will."

Their conversation ended when Belial marched off again. A couple feet down then she paused. She felt something off in her guard. Her neck curved to the right. There was a gap between two other recruits. If there was one thing she despised it was gaps in her beloved guard.

Her neck tilted down. There's the problem. Joshua Wordsworth, standing in the row and staring at the general. The general whipped off her sunglasses to get a better look at this new face. For the first time Joshua saw the succubus' eyes. Clear blue, like her skin and hair.

General Belial approached the human boy. Her shadow engulfed the boy's small body. "Well, what do we got here?" she said, her tone a little calmer. A grin groomed on her lips. "A human among demons. What brings you down here?"

"I'm here as an intern for-"

"SPEAK UP, KID!" the general snapped. "Or am I talking to a mouse?"

"Internship for the devil, ma'am!" Joshua answered anxiously. His words nearly jumbled together.

"What's your name, son?"

"Joshua Wordsworth."

"What's that around your neck?" A blue finger pointed at the cross that Joshua carried on him.

"My cross, uh ma'am." Joshua answered, trying to avoid being yelled again.

"So you're a Christian?"

"Yes ma'am."

"What kind? Catholic? Protestant? Lutheran?"

"Evangelical."

"Ah, the fun kind."

Josh's eyes couldn't help but stare at the general's leg. Just a stump attached to a long metal shaft that stretched into half her humerus. Josh tried not to stare too long at it, but the general already noticed. 

"What are you eyeballing at, boy?" Her hand slapped against the metal, taunting the poor human boy. "You like this? You got a prosthetic fetish I should know about?"

"Uh, no ma'am." 

Belial's calm demeanor reverted back to her aggressive nature. "You don't think I look pretty with this leg on, kid? You don't think I look attractive?"

Joshua gulped. "Wha? N-no that's not-"

"Oh so you're gay then. That why you don't find me attractive?"

"No! No! I'm not gay-"

"Then why are you in my beloved guard then?"

"I don't know! To do what you tell me to do?" Joshua shouted. It echoed through the barracks.

The general's smile returned. "To do what I tell you to do. I like that answer. Well done, son." 

She turned from him and addressed the recruits. "Take note from this boy, maggots. If you do what I say, when I say it, if you follow my directions and proceed with my training, you will survive. You will live at the end, until the end. We are the Doomsguard! When Hell rises, we raise it!

"Now all of you! Drop and give me twenty!"

The recruits obeyed. The dropped to the icy floors, hands and legs spread out. They all pushed themselves up and down, counting the number of push-ups their general wanted. Joshua even joined in with the recruits.

Belial marched down to the entrance where her king, Lu, watched them all. "How's my intern holding up, Bel?" he asked his loyal general.

"Sir, your intern seems to be doing fine," she answered. "Boy's got brains and guts, and that's good enough for me. If he was really part of my guard, I'd give him a metal."
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Written by LisaZWilton in portal Flash Fiction

In Times Of Apocalypse

Laura had always loved animals. She used to joke that she preferred animals to people. She had remembered grumbling, back when things were normal, that there were never any pets in those zombie TV shows. How could anybody leave Fido or Felix behind? Heartless bastards! All they ever cared about were themselves. We had a duty to care for our pets! Laura's brow furrowed in disgust.

Heartless. How ironic.

She gazed lovingly at her cats and dogs, chomping dutifully at the dark red chunks of meat she had just prepared for them. Too bad the days of shops and currency were in the past.

One of the dogs, a white shepherd, stopped eating for a moment and raised his head, his ears standing to attention.

"What's that Thor? Is somebody outside? What a good boy!"

The dog lowered his head once again and refocused his attention on his meal as Laura picked up an axe from the table and wiped it clean.

"I guess today is our lucky day!" she said, giving the dog a pat on the head as she walked past him on the way to the door.

She opened the door a crack and peered carefully out into the street. Of course Thor was right. Weren't animals just so amazing? Laura smiled at the thought gripping her axe tightly. A lucky day indeed.

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Written by LisaZWilton in portal Flash Fiction
In Times Of Apocalypse
Laura had always loved animals. She used to joke that she preferred animals to people. She had remembered grumbling, back when things were normal, that there were never any pets in those zombie TV shows. How could anybody leave Fido or Felix behind? Heartless bastards! All they ever cared about were themselves. We had a duty to care for our pets! Laura's brow furrowed in disgust.

Heartless. How ironic.

She gazed lovingly at her cats and dogs, chomping dutifully at the dark red chunks of meat she had just prepared for them. Too bad the days of shops and currency were in the past.

One of the dogs, a white shepherd, stopped eating for a moment and raised his head, his ears standing to attention.

"What's that Thor? Is somebody outside? What a good boy!"

The dog lowered his head once again and refocused his attention on his meal as Laura picked up an axe from the table and wiped it clean.

"I guess today is our lucky day!" she said, giving the dog a pat on the head as she walked past him on the way to the door.

She opened the door a crack and peered carefully out into the street. Of course Thor was right. Weren't animals just so amazing? Laura smiled at the thought gripping her axe tightly. A lucky day indeed.
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