“That’s your salad fork, Elizabeth,” Alexandra hissed at her sister, who all but dropped the offending utensil and seized the correct one for her mackerel.
Cheeks burning, the younger sibling lowered her eyes to the tastefully charred fish before her and wished to the heavens they could switch places. The little dead thing had no idea how lucky it was.
An inquiry directed her way made her glance up and blush anew. Reginald, her pompous cousin, was looking expectantly at her with eyebrows raised.
Panic surged through her.
“F-forgive me cousin, I fear I was distracted,” she answered, eyes wide and voice shaking. “Pray, please repeat your question.”
A ripple of derision ran through the company like a fast-acting ailment.
The table held a good dozen people each dressed luxuriously in fine gowns or crisp, red uniforms with well-polished boots and brass buckles. Each female was the picture of affluent civility; hair was done up in elegant piles and jewelry glittered on throats and fingers. To them conversation came easily, as apparently did the knowledge of which fork to use for their fish.
In this part of the country etiquette and tradition were put before all else and was of the strictest importance. Anything that strayed even slightly from the preordained path of politeness and purity was considered strange, and asking someone to repeat a well-articulated question was a near insult.
“We were discussing the ball tomorrow week,” Reginald replied stiffly, “and my query was with whom you will be attending.”
Of course, they could be talking of nothing but bane of her existence, the dreaded ball. As if she could forget. It had been the single topic of discussion within her family’s social circle since it had been announced nearly four months ago.
The annual event where an individual’s status and prestige was flaunted openly like a prized animal held a place of utmost terror in her heart. Unlike every other maiden who deemed balls as the very pinnacle of existence, Elizabeth recoiled at the very thought of them. Crowds of any sort - including ones gathered around dinner tables – made her anxious and the added pressure of dancing in the midst of one while expected to look perfect was positively petrifying.
“I, ah, am not engaged of yet,” she answered with as much nonchalance as possible although she did not fail to miss the second round of disapproval that passed through the group at her response. Her heart began to pound with mortification.
Not having a partner so close to the date of the ball was unbecoming at best; Alexandra had been secured for weeks by the captain of the regiment, Sir Harrowsby, an honor that had made her the delight of the house. Indeed, they had been inseparable since and had spent a good portion of the night indulged in gossip. The man seemed unable to pry his eyes from Alexandra’s golden curls and sky blue eyes as if amazed he had snared himself such a fine trophy.
Elizabeth had known she would not be so lucky. With her uncharacteristic black hair, dark eyes, and tendency for solitude she knew her company was not readily sought. Her appearance alone categorized her as strange and her love for literature and isolation further singled her out, which in this particular household was definitely not a good thing.
“Perhaps a book shall be accompanying her instead,” her brother Edward chimed in. The jab earned him a disapproving look from their father, who sat at the head of the table like a great silent owl, but the damage had been done. Suppressed snickers and smirks ricocheted around the party.
“It is no surprise she has not been asked if the candidates are anything like you lot,” Alexandra defended, which quieted most of the chirruping but Elizabeth knew they had a point.
To attend a ball without a partner was highly improper. Only widowers and young people being introduced into society were allowed to go unaccompanied; being alone for the reason that no one made the effort to ask you was downright humiliating. She would not want to bother showing her face at that point, although ignoring the invitation would be seen as a slight to the hosting family and the height of discourtesy.
There was no way out – she was trapped by tradition and bound by protocol.
She somehow made it through the rest of dinner without incident, although it took effort to remain composed. A bubble of fear and anxiety was expanding behind her ribs and growing larger with every disapproving glance cast her way. The bone corset cinched around her waist amplified the sensation until breathing became difficult. Why couldn’t she just do what she wanted and be left alone?
By the time dessert was over (some kind of glazed sponge cake that she barely touched), Elizabeth could barely restrain the shaking in her hands. The conversation around her sounded distorted and she no longer knew nor cared whether or not any of it was directed at her.
Scenarios were flying through her head unbidden, all of which revolved around becoming a prisoner within her own body, forced to become society’s doll. Dress like this, behave like that, dance flawlessly when asked and always look beautiful. Marry well and have copious amounts of children. No free will, always under the watchful eye of someone else to make sure she knew which utensil to use. (In this case, the small dessert fork.)
As soon she felt it was acceptable to leave she excused herself. One moment further spent in this room and she was liable to go mad. Stumbling from the area with the grace of a peasant, she managed to gather her skirts before she tripped and made a further fool of herself. Modeling a black eye would do nothing for her already shredded reputation. With that happy thought, she hurried to her bed chambers. All she wanted around her was four walls full of silence. No more talking, no more being judged.
The labyrinth of corridors and stairways of her family’s estate flew by in a blur as she fled to the familiar wing where her sanctuary was located. Once inside, she only dared let out a sob when the door was securely shut and locked behind her. The servants had lit the candles and prepared the fire in the hearth as usual and she caught sight of her flickering reflection in the dark glass of the windows opposite her.
Fear and distress had transformed her into a different person. A few strands of her black hair had fallen in her face, stark contrast to the whiteness of her skin, and her cheeks and eyes held a hollowness that had nothing to do with being tired. The colorless gown she wore further fed the image of an apparition and the tight binding around her middle served just as well as chains. One thought of the bloody ball and it constricted a little further.
The only silver lining to the cursed evening made it bearable – there would be ample finger food.
The invader quietly moved through the dark kitchen. Dressed head-to-toe in black with a matching ski mask, they blended in with the shadows and kept close to the walls.
The house was grand, with vaulting ceilings and expensive furniture. Tasteful paintings (not prints), extravagant mirrors, and ornamental rugs filled the rooms. Sculptures of all different media littered the area, some made of hardened clay, others glass. Far from an artist’s studio it was only a place of collection, storage for pretty things, not for creation. It was a home replete with wealth but deprived of any real feeling. No children ran through these halls or played in the many rooms; the décor was too fragile.
The intruder knew their way around. In slants of silent moonlight they made their way through an elegant dining room, pausing at the large oak table to withdraw a short, sharp knife from the small bag at their back.
A beautiful silk runner, deep crimson, ran along the length of the table. Its smooth, supple surface almost shone in the light of a large bay window from the south wall. With almost revered concentration they dragged the blade through the soft fabric, splitting it in half lengthwise all the way down to the other end, careful to move the ornamental bowl of woven balls in the process. Satisfied, and checking to make sure the blade had scratched the smooth wood underneath, they replaced the bowl and moved on.
The same care was put into quietly slashing the overstuffed pillows and cushions of the luxurious furniture. The stuffing was lovingly pulled out and spread around the rooms, looking like a sudden snowfall had magically appeared indoors. Nothing was left untouched.
Standing on tiptoe the intruder went from painting to priceless painting, slicing them to ribbons. As they drew the tip of the knife across delicate landscapes and portraits of people who really weren’t that attractive, they had to cover their mouth to suppress snorts of helpless laughter.
The impressive staircase was carpeted in white and flanked on either side by carved wooden railings. It curved slightly at the top, arching gracefully from the ground to the second floor in an eye-catching display of architecture.
At its feet they withdrew a small container and unscrewed the cap. Making their way up they tapped the bottle behind them, leaving fat drops of black ink that stained the carpet below. It trailed all the way to the top and as they reached the upper hallway they looked back down at their work with satisfaction. The ink was a long blight on the purity of the stairs like a stream of gore.
And they were just getting started.
The master bedroom was a ridiculously overlarge area that could have been comfortably split into two with room to spare. Sneaking through the half-opened door without a sound, the invader padded across the thick carpet, grimacing at the heavy scent of perfume in the air.
Shrouded in shadows, the hazy outline of a huge four-poster sat against the west wall where soft snoring could be heard amid the dark mass of blankets. Ignoring this for a moment, they turned to the small cage beside the bed.
A tiny dog sat on a thin blanket wearing a muzzle. Upon seeing the intruder it perked up its ears and began wagging its tail enthusiastically.
“Hey Ricki, shhh,” they whispered, crouching down and poking a gloved finger through the bars to give the dog a pet. “Don’t worry, we’re almost out.”
Ricki whimpered and licked their fingers in response.
Straightening up, they moved to the closet. The doors slid open effortlessly, revealing a generous walk-in that was full to the brim with clothes. More specifically, a dozen fur coats, several pairs of fur-lined boots, full-fox scarves, mink hats, lambskin gloves, and a rabbit-fur shawl.
The intruder scowled as they stepped inside. As if it wasn’t bad enough being skinned alive, your flesh was worn by heartless, soulless people only looking to add to their evening outfit. As they removed another larger bottle from the bag, they thought of them and the grim victory that their fur would never be worn again.
Going from rack to rack, they spouted the fake blood over each garment, rationing as there wasn’t a lot to work with. It was enough to render the items useless however, and that was enough.
After everything had been soiled appropriately and the bottle emptied, they left the container in the closet and walked calmly to the bed.
A mess of hair could just be seen above the puffy comforter and the intruder looked down at the shapeless form with disdain. She had always been a heavy sleeper; wouldn’t have known if a hurricane just passed through. Gingerly they pulled back the blanket, revealing her sleeping figure swathed in a thick leopard print robe. Her jaw was wide open, sucking in air with a rattling drawl and letting it out in a rough exhale. Sleeping beauty indeed. How did he ever live with her?
Derision quickly turned to mirth as he withdrew a container of honey from the bag. She hated honey.
Popping the cap he carefully squeezed it down her arms and over her fingers, trying to get it as far into the sleeves as possible. Streams of sticky gold zig-zagged across her torso and down each leg, pooling around her toes. Finally, biting his lip to stop from laughing, he delicately dribbled it into her long hair and around her face.
The comforter was replaced without a hitch in her loud breathing, and the empty bear-shaped container of honey was left beside the bed where its happy face would greet her in the morning.
Turning to the cage, he freed Ricki and removed the muzzle. The small terrier was ecstatic at seeing him and squirmed in his grip happily.
“I’ve gotcha, boy, don’t worry. She’s not gonna hurt you anymore. Let’s get outta here.”
Walking down the expansive lawn of the house brought with it a righteous sense of satisfaction. The moon was bright and victory was sweet; but more importantly, Ricki was safe. A quiet sense of happiness stole over him and his only regret as he strode to his car was that he wasn’t going to be there when his miserable ex-wife woke up.
It was a Thursday and the old man stared daggers into the paper cup sitting before him. In black sharpie it read ‘Harold’ in jagged, uneven letters.
Four cozy walls of the small café shielded its patrons from the howling blizzard outside, offering warm lighting, a faux fireplace for ambiance, and endless coffee that filled the place with its pleasant aroma. Live, Laugh, Love, & Drink Coffee was printed in neat cursive above the door. It was the kind of place you could take your kids to after a fun snow day, or the perfect setting for a first date. Its clientele were dispersed about, an assortment of individuals seeking sanctuary in its inviting depths.
A pair of older gentleman occupied the overstuffed armchairs by the fireplace, enthusiastically debating about something in a different language as they wielded tiny cups of espresso. A woman chatted on her phone by the large front window, gently trying to persuade the tiny dog in her purse to accept a bit of scone. Nearby, two children in matching pink coats chased each other with chocolate doughnuts clenched in their fists. Their mother sat with a girlfriend, keeping a casual eye on them as she sipped a steaming latte.
It was a familiar place. Harold had been visiting it every day for the past few years, usually in the mornings when his energy was at its highest and the pain in his knee hadn’t kicked in yet. At sixty-seven, tiredness was creeping up on him earlier and earlier. At 7:15am his choice was usually a coffee and muffin - blueberry was his favorite but they only made them on Tuesdays and Thursdays - and sometimes he would throw in a cookie if he was feeling adventurous.
The staff was different each day but as it was a pleasant, laid-back shop the turnover was relatively infrequent and Harold soon worked out a rough schedule.
On weekends a pair of guileless high-school girls named Sarah and Danielle ran the counter and helped to make coffee. Their nails were always painted different colors and their hairstyles changed on a seemingly weekly basis; they even brought in their own sparkly markers to write customer’s names on their cups. He liked them well enough although they tended to chat loudly about their intimate relationships which got a little embarrassing at times.
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays had Chester and Scott working. They were roommates in college with approximately a hundred and fifty pounds between them both. Being avid gamers they were constantly discussing the intricacies of what they were currently playing. Harold once heard Scott say “Yeah man remember last night when we got level-six ganked like, so hard, but then I finally built Warmogs and then we just destroyed our lane?!” upon which Chester made a high pitched noise that sounded somewhat like ‘Yee man!’ and they both high-fived. As far as Harold was concerned they had just spoken fluent Chinese and he wasn’t even going to ask.
They also smelled often of cannabis and pretty much everyone, even the shop familiars like Harold, knew they were stoners. Their fun personalities and sweet natures made it easy to overlook though and many times they had given him free coffee for ‘just bein’ super cool and stuff.’
Tuesdays and Thursdays were his favorite days though, because those were the days when Olivia worked.
Olivia was a middle-aged single mother with a pretty face and a laugh that could light a candle. Her quick wit and harmless jabs made them instant friends from the moment he bought his first cup. His first visit to the shop was a little unnerving as it was busy, and he had been gruff in ordering his coffee. She had given him a sassy look, put a hand on her hip and declared, “you want fries with that shake, honey?” in an accent that Harold would never forget. He had cracked a smile and her resulting laugh had picked his sagging spirit off the ground, brushed it off, and given it a hug. She wrote his name in beautiful, elegant cursive on the side of his cup and that was that.
During each Tuesday and Thursday after that he only had to walk into the shop before Olivia would smile, wave him to his seat, and bring his coffee to him so he could avoid the lines. Once he realized she was the only one who made blueberry muffins, he ordered them twice a week.
As the days passed they shared more and more of their lives with each other. He knew that she was struggling with her youngest son’s mental illness and she knew the sad tale of how his knee was injured. Harold found himself going to bed on Monday and Wednesday nights looking forward to the next morning, an old man enjoying the simple pleasure of talking with a lovely friend.
Now, sitting in his favorite booth by the side window, he was fuming. His cup sat on the scrubbed table like a lame dog refusing to cooperate. Nothing was particularly wrong with the coffee, exactly; it was a generic dark roast sugarcoated with an eccentric name to make it sound more interesting, Twilight Blend, and had his usual packet of raw sugar sprinkled in.
Anger and confusion stormed within him as he eyed the innocent object. His name was scrawled on the side in unfamiliar, informal chicken scratch. He wanted to take it back and have his name written like it was supposed to, in flowing script that made him look special. That wouldn’t work though, because Olivia wasn’t there.
She had quit.
Harold wanted to smash his fists into the table. They had been friends for almost four years, had shared vulnerable parts of themselves with each other and now she chooses to leave without saying anything? He could hardly bear it. Everything was wrong. There weren’t even any blueberry muffins.
Before he knew it he found himself getting up and moving to the counter. Only a few people were in the shop and there wasn’t a line. A tired looking kid Harold didn’t recognize was wiping the counter half-heartedly as he approached. His nametag read ‘Stuart’.
“Hey!” Harold said loudly, smacking his palm on the glass countertop. It made the boy jump near clean out of his pants. “Who’s going to make the blueberry muffins?”
The boy blanched and looked around as if searching for help. He was alone.
Harold sighed, running his hand over his face in frustration.
“The blueberry muffins. Olivia is the only one who makes them and she works – used to work – every Tuesday and Thursday. It’s Thursday today and she’s not here, so who’s going to make them?”
He couldn’t keep his voice from rising. The few patrons of the shop looked up questioningly.
“I’m sorry sir, I-I don’t - ”
“Just tell me!”
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” another worker he didn’t know came out of the back room and eyed him warily. Harold couldn’t believe it. He was being kicked out of the shop he had come to for years, like some kind of rowdy teenager or aggressive homeless person. Huffing, he left the café, abandoning his coffee on the table.
Each day he returned, hoping to see Olivia. Each day he was disappointed. She had left like a breath, quickly and silently, and Harold didn’t know how to handle it. He kept hoping she would show up and apologize; her hair would be nice as usual and she would laugh that laugh of hers that sounded like bells chiming and all would be forgiven. It would be like some silly romantic-comedy where everything seems so hopeless but at the last moment it all comes together. The guy gets the girl and everyone gets a happy ending, all that.
But as the days passed he realized that was never going to happen. He watched people go in and out of the café, some coming back another day, some leaving forever. The knowledge that sometimes people show up in your life, serve you coffee, and then disappear was a bitter cup indeed.
Then one day, a new girl arrived. She wore a clean white apron and had a nametag that read ‘Judy.’ She spied the unhappy man in the booth and disappeared into the kitchen. After a while she came out with a muffin on a plate and walked it over to him.
He looked up in surprise as she set it down in front of him, as it he couldn’t quite believe it.
“I haven’t mastered pastries yet but I hear my raspberry muffins are quite tasty,” she said sweetly.
Sharon awoke abruptly to the sound of ‘Girls Like You’ by Maroon 5, one clumsy hand reaching up to slap the bedside table in the hopes of finding her buzzing phone in the dark. It took about five tries. Finally succeeding in silencing the catchy tune, she sat up slowly with a jaw-cracking yawn.
Mondays were the toughest.
She felt like some kind of automatic robot as she showered and brushed her teeth as usual. Facing herself naked in the bathroom brought on the usual routine of self-doubt mixed with small bursts of hope that maybe she might just pass as pretty. Beautiful was a reach (she always thought her eyes were too close together and her mouth was just a little too thin) but pretty she could get away with.
Dragging some mascara across her lashes and patting on some soft lipstick made her feel a little better and she gave herself a hesitant smile before heading to the kitchen.
What to have for lunch? She had a peanut and spinach salad yesterday but this morning she was feeling something else. Something new, something…exciting. She quickly summoned a recipe from the abundance of the internet and whipped up some rice noodles and half a pound of ground beef. Pouring a basic tomato sauce over the lot, she allowed a quiet satisfaction to seep through. Most of her lunches consisted of hastily thrown-together salads or a handful of granola bars; she wasn’t the most motivated of individuals. Today she had something special and delicious that didn’t take long at all to prepare. She collected it into a Tupperware container with a smile.
Work clothes were nothing special and as she dressed she found herself wishing she could throw on something a little more fun. She already had an atypical meal; might as well go on a roll. Coveralls and bland shirts day after day tended to get a little boring but she couldn’t really complain. The benefits were great and it paid the bills. She had also met her best friend Carol there, who was giving her a ride this morning.
Compromising, she threw on a simple purple shirt instead of her usual white one and kept the coveralls.
On their way to work, the pair’s favorite topic of conversation was men and relationships. They chatted about loves both hated and cherished, what type they preferred (Carol’s was the tall, tanned type, toned but not too toned), and of course, their exact opinions about size over function. This erupted into girlish giggling and they were both breathless by the time they stepped into their building.
“Meet you for break? I made pasta,” Sharon said as they were about to part ways. Carol pushed her glasses further up her nose and grinned.
“No wheat right?”
“You know it,” Sharon smiled before they bumped fists and departed down different hallways.
Grabbing her goggles, hair net, and face mask from her locker, Sharon made her way down to through the processing plant. Many smells assaulted her as she went along but she was used to them. A few other workers joined her, arriving for their shift as she was.
They walked as a group down a small hallway until they reached the main processing area, a huge warehouse filled with conveyor belts. Sighing in preparation for a long shift, she pressed headphone buds into her ears and cranked her tunes, choosing “I Like It” by Cardi B.
Joining the assembly line she stepped up in front of the conveyor that was already running and fully loaded.
Yeah baby, I like it like that
You gotta believe me when I tell you
I said I like it like that
The day-old chicks were packed wall-to-wall on each belt. Creamy yellow and tiny, they peered up at her and around curiously as they moved along the line. Looking more like soft balls of fluff rather than downy feathers, their numbers spanned in the tens of thousands. Barely able to move, many were piled on top of others with nowhere to go.
Now I like dollars, I like diamonds
I like stuntin’, I like shinin’
I like million dollar deals, where’s my pen?
Bitch, I’m signin’
Humming, Sharon spied those that were male and with a practiced hand began tossing them casually into a large whirring grinder that sat on the other side of the belt.
Diamond district in the Jag (I said I like it like that)
Certified, you know I’m gang (I said I like it like that)
Drop the top and blow the brains (I said I like it like that)
Oh he’s so handsome, what’s his name? (I said I like it like that)
Joining the dozens of other workers with her in the facility, she began her daily routine of slaughter. Roughly 130,000 animals were going to die today.
As easy as separating socks from the rest of the laundry, one after the other she threw them in. Still alive and breathing they were torn apart and ground up by the machine’s many cruel blades. If one were to look deeper into it they would see the smears of blood and feathers clinging to the moving parts. This has been the primary method of disposing of unwanted ‘product’ in the US for decades, with each year butchering over 7 billion unwanted chicks.
After about an hour Sharon’s eyes glazed over and she became less gentle. Grabbing wings and feet alike she lobbed them to their deaths, not caring if she broke their delicate bones in the process. It became a blur after a while, as had each day for over three years. Small black eyes and pink, peeping mouths would turn up to her right before she seized them only to disappear into a different mouth that gaped with churning metal teeth. The song drowned out the sounds of the machine and endless chirping.
Told that bitch I’m sorry though
’Bout my coins like Mario
Yeah they call me Cardi B
I run this shit like cardio
1:15, time for lunch. She was really looking forward to that pasta.
As she changed out of her safety equipment, she thought again about starting something new. The lunch and clothes were small things and welcomed to be sure, but perhaps a larger adjustment was in order…
Just not the job, though.
Born in Blood
Victoria Jane Spinner awoke groggily to a dull ache in her shoulders and the smell of cows. They were the first thing she heard. Large, gentle bodies adjusted quietly in their pens or thudded slowly over to a salt lick where the sound of rubbing sandpaper followed. Every so often one would pause its chewing to let out a low noise of content and give its head a shake.
Sunlight streaming in from a square window at the top of a soaring barn ceiling caught her waking eye. For such a small opening it filled the huge area with orange light that made the many stacks of hay look as though they were ablaze. They were piled everywhere and filled almost the entire upper section, saturating the air with their sweet smell. Ladders stood on either side of the piles, reaching all the way up. Birds chattered and swooped above, tending to their nests in the rafters while a pair of barn cats eyed them balefully from the straw-strewn floor.
For such a peaceful scene, to Victoria it was anything but.
Consciousness began to grip her in ever-tightening fingers. She realized she was gagged with cloth. Rough twine secured her arms tightly to a wooden post behind her back and her ankles were duct-taped together. A deep ache in her shoulders told her she had been in this position for a while.
Panic rolled through her body like a wave of nausea and she understood that she was in serious trouble.
Oh my god.
Uttering a frightened moan she struggled against her bonds. Fear and adrenaline made the pain seem distant and unreal. The odor of the cows and hay stung her nostrils but they hardly seemed to exist. All that mattered was getting out. She tried to reason where she could be was but it was difficult to think; she had a wicked headache that felt like an ice pick had been driven into her brain.
Something more troubling was the blankness in her memory and the grogginess that pressed heavily on her shoulders, making her escape attempts feeble. She had been at a bar; that much she knew. The events of the night were a void fragmented with hazy images and feelings that felt more than being simply intoxicated; she was beginning to suspect that she had been drugged.
A flash of her friends dancing under purple neon lights surfaced in her mind along with doing back-to-back shots. She could still feel the burn in her throat. The rawness reminded her of why she had been there as another cry of fear fled her lips, muffled by the gag. Mid-terms had finally ended and they were celebrating by doing what any wholesome college students would be doing – getting trashed.
Faces swam before her in a sea of faint pounding music, mostly of her friends but the rest were strangers. What had happened…?
The sound of a sliding door being opened made her balk and tears of fear almost blinded her. Her heart struck up a hard rhythm inside her chest and sweat pinpricked her temples. A man in a large jacket hurried into the barn, carrying a bucket full of something. He seemed to be muttering to himself. More sunlight flooded into the area and covered her in its warmth, making the man’s form no more detailed than a silhouette’s. She only had moments to enjoy it before he slid the door shut again and turned towards her.
Terror rose like bile. Thinking that this man was quite possibly about to murder her, Victoria began struggling again as the tears rolled down her face. She was never going to see her friends or family again, not her little brother or her dad or their sweet shepherd Daisy with the bad back leg –
Without hesitation the man walked up in several large strides and she barely got a glimpse of his determined face and plaid jacket before he doused her with the contents of the bucket. Victoria gasped in shock as the warm liquid coated her. It smelled metallic and tangy like copper and her stomach plummeted as she realized that it was blood. It dripped down her face and over her eyes and seeped through her clothes. The disgusted, horrified scream she issued was kept quiet by the gag.
“I-I didn’t mean to let them escape,” he stammered, tossing the bucket aside. His voice was high and shaky. “I thought if I brought them here no one would know. But I was wrong…they’re much stronger than I th- ”
A banging sounded from the other side of the barn, coming from outside. It made them jump and through the dripping blood Victoria saw that he had paled and his eyes had gone wide, showing the whites all the way around.
“I’m sorry,” he said, although he didn’t look at her. “I never meant for this to go so far…but they won’t go after cows. All of it’s going to be my fault,” he whispered, reaching up and grasping fistfuls of hair. A sob burst from his throat and his face twisted into one of grief and panic. He backed up slowly towards the barn door while tears of his own tracked down gaunt cheeks and Victoria realized he was terrified. “All my fault.”
As he reached the door he turned and threw it open, once again letting the light inside. Victoria, shaking and blinded by both the blood and the sun, saw him turn in the entranceway and look at something outside. He froze.
Startled, she followed his gaze. The wooden slats of the barn let in sunlight from outside in intervals and something was blocking the light just a few yards from the door. For one brief moment she was illuminated with hope; it was someone else! Maybe they could help her!
Her kidnapper jolted to his senses and fled in the opposite direction without another word. He didn’t close the door behind him.
An uncertainty that rivaled fear took the place of relief as the figure outside let out a strange moan that wavered in the air like the call of a wounded animal. It bled into her bones and made her feel something she had never felt before. Small and helpless, like prey.
A scream built in her lungs as it began to move towards the barn door with slow, dragging steps.
You Left the Door Unlocked
You’re not alone.
Someone’s in the tub, behind the curtain.
You can hear them breathing.
You yank back the curtain,
see a knife - !
Margaret bit enthusiastically into her burger, eyes almost rolling as the smoky flavor of the meat filled her mouth. Lines of red juice ran down her chin and dripped to the picnic table below but she was too absorbed to notice. She barely managed to stifle a groan at what was possibly the best burger she had ever eaten before she swallowed eagerly and continued her assault.
Charles Graymore, or Chuck, as his friends liked to call him, peered over the lid of his steaming BBQ with satisfaction. The sunny lawn was filled with people devouring his food; fat hot dogs and sausages, burgers, dripping ribs, and thick-cut steaks were in the hands of almost all his guests. Dark pleasure washed through him at the sight and a crooked smile tugged at his lips. His friends, neighbors, and co-workers were blissfully wolfing his deepest secret without a care in the world. The evidence was dribbling down their chins and smearing clean hands.
His smug contemplation was broken by his friend Tom who cuffed him on the shoulder while wielding a hotdog.
“I knew you were a great butcher, Chuck, but this takes the cake,” he said, the last few words disappearing around a huge bite. His face crumpled in a moan of enjoyment. “Where do you get your meat from again? It’s really something else.” The words came out a little thick.
“Here and there,” Chuck replied lightly, flipping a steak and listening to the hiss of juices. “But I can’t give too much away.”
Tom adopted a sobering expression.
“It’s hard to believe that just last week Annie and Harold were here. I feel so sorry for her. I guess the police haven’t been able to find any new leads on where Harold disappeared to, it’s the strangest thing.”
Chuck turned his head slightly so his friend wouldn’t see the unnerving smile that flashed for a moment. He knew exactly where Harold was. Turning back with a look of contrived dejection, he shrugged a shoulder.
“It is awful. I honestly didn’t know him too well; Annie introduced me last week. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but I remember he kept complaining about the food.”
Tom looked uncomfortable.
“He wasn’t the most flattering of people, but –”
He was abruptly shoved out of the way by Margaret, who was brandishing her burger with an expression close to that of betrayal.
“A fingernail,” she hissed, shoving the half-eaten sandwich towards Chuck’s face. “Everyone spoke so highly of your cooking, Charles, but this is…this is…” in her indignation she seemed to be at a loss for words. Looking like a child having a tantrum, she threw the food at Chuck’s feet and stormed off, red-faced.
Chuck turned to Tom, who was looking bewildered at the exchange.
“A bit of gristle and this is how she behaves?” the butcher said, frowning at the woman’s rudeness.
It looked like he found the ingredients for next week’s BBQ.
The New Day
The council made a unanimous sound of exasperation. Some threw their hands up in defeat while others merely shook their heads, muttering under their breath from behind coarse white beards. One councilman had not even bothered to pay attention and was snoozing on his arm at the end of the long polished table. Jacob shrugged.
“I thought it was a good idea.”
“Jacob, as new Ruler of the World you have duties, responsibilities. You have the power to change anything, to fix anything,” Head Councilwoman Wistern advised from her seat to Jacob’s right. “Don’t you think you should choose to do something more…important?” An older lady, she was slightly wilted but still had a zest about her which was probably what kept her at the head of the council for so long. Blue eyes wrinkled with age and wisdom looked keenly at the younger man.
Jacob gave another half-shrug, looking unconcerned.
“Lyonel already solved world hunger with his 3D printers back in 2033,” he began. “David abolished war not long after that, Sharon bridged the equality gap between genders, and Angela is saving more animals and ecosystems than ever with her Wild Earth program. Jim is still working on a non-glitchy version of iTunes but that’s his baby. I dunno, it just seems like all of our major problems are solved. Why not have one day where everyone can just enjoy a free taco?”
The council shared dubious looks.
“Every Tuesday?” Councilwoman Erin asked doubtfully, sipping at her glass of wine.
Jacob ran a hand through his dark curly hair.
“Well, yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Every Tuesday there would be free tacos. You don’t have to have any if you don’t want to; it’s just for people who like tacos.”
“Can they be fish tacos?” Councilman Bayer called out from down the table.
“Sure. I mean, I guess so. There can be all kinds of tacos. Whatever you want.”
The council leaned in to whisper together. Some shot him furtive glances that made him think they still weren’t overly convinced of his proposal. A withered councilman sitting close to Jacob even blocked his face with his hand so the younger man wouldn’t be able to tell what he was saying. A few moments passed in this manner before Councilwoman Wistern straightened in her seat and cleared her throat.
“After much deliberation,” she exclaimed after the group had joined her in facing Jacob, “we have deemed that Taco Tuesdays will come into effect immediately under the pretense that they will be free, be of every sort and variety, and occur every Tuesday from now on until the end of time or until the next Ruler of the World withdraws the decree. All in favor say aye.”
A resounding call of ‘aye’ sounded around the table.
Jacob smiled, content with the verdict. Ruling the world really wasn’t as bad as he thought.
Lust (Dream of the Succubus) [EXPLICIT]
She slinks down from the shadows without a sound, yellow eyes alight, and climbs up onto his chest like a predator guarding a fresh kill. Rippling raven hair tumbles past bare breasts to the silk sheets below, glistening in the light of the flickering candles on the bedside table. Hunger is bright on her face.
The man groans softly in response to the sudden weight but doesn’t open his eyes; sleep is still cradling him in its warm embrace. To her, he is beautiful, a deep pool of bliss to dive into and her yearning heart soars. She is a succubus, an enchanter and seducer of men. Native to the realms of nightmares, they were ancient demons that waited for slumber to claim their victims before reaping their bodies of energy through sensual acts.
Eager to begin, she tightens her naked thighs around his hips and arches her back languidly, hands splayed on his sternum, feeling the heat of his body. Her head falls back, opening her jaw from which a primal growl is uttered. Anticipation flows through her as it always did before a feed and she revels in the pinpricks of pleasure it brings. Rolling her shoulders, translucent, ethereal wings open and stretch behind her as if from a monstrous creature and she knows it is time.
Leaning down swiftly, erect nipples brushing his chest, she parts his lips with a forked tongue. It flicks in and out of his mouth, tasting him as a butterfly might taste the sweet nectar of a ripe blossom. The inside is deliciously wet and warm. His body responds by arching up against her, rolling his hips into hers, unconsciously wanting more. Delectable heat from the contact fills her with satisfaction and she feels the familiar coil of desire unwind behind her navel.
The increased drumming of his heart is music to her ears as it pounds against his ribs, his hasted breath as charming as a fine wine. Her glowing eyes roll as the heady scent of his want envelopes her and she sucks his bottom lip into her mouth where she holds it fast with her teeth. It is rewarded by a throaty moan from him that makes her smile.
Reaching down between her legs where an exquisite slickness weeps, she slides the silken sheet away from their bodies where it pools on the floor like blood. They are skin to skin now, flesh to hot flesh and she revels in the sensation, lives for it. Still asleep, he shivers at the contact.
The she-demon straightens from his bruised lips and turns her face to the dark ceiling to murmur an incantation of sacred ritual. The words flow from her like smoke and charge the air with crackling energy. It brings forth the beast within, a creature born of lust and carnal pleasure. Fangs elongate in her mouth and the skin of her forehead splits as twin curved horns extend from her skull. The true form of the succubus is both hellish and heavenly; fingers curl into talons and a serpentine tail snakes its way across the bedspread. Fiendish yellow eyes lower to hold her victim in their fiery grip; under her spell, he is still doused in a deep slumber.
The moment had come. Her chest heaves as she raises her hips and finally makes connection, the yearning for pleasure and power bursting in her veins. It is more than flesh meeting flesh. It is the thrill of it, the intensity, and the transformation of two beings becoming one. She laughs in satisfaction. The man responds as if he is awake and she takes what she needs greedily. Like drawing poison from a wound she pulls the energy out of his body and imbues it with her own until her laughter turns to ragged breathing. For her the peak moment of pleasure was more spiritual than physical. It was surrendering to oneself, letting the moment hang in the air like a pulsing orb of light before melting away back to darkness. Nothing mattered. She became one with him, the room, the shimmering moon floating just outside the window. It was a reminder of human mortality, her only reminder, as she would never experience anything else like it.
It was the only time she truly felt alive.
A Dragging, Groaning Love
Andy gazed over at the crouched figure across the abandoned parking lot. His milky eyes focused with interest and his fingers twitched, hanging by his side like waiting spiders.
Vehicles were strewn around the area like toys but he could still see her clearly. The sun was high and bright and displayed her proudly beside a red minivan with shattered windows. She was facing him, hunched over an unrecognizable corpse and eagerly shoving handfuls of bloody flesh into her mouth. A gore spattered cardigan that used to be yellow flapped around her in the breeze as she ate. From this distance he could see dark streams running down her face and front and heard her frequent grunts of satisfaction.
She was picturesque against the backdrop of the deserted shopping mall and endless blue sky. He had never seen anything more beautiful.
Could he approach her? He shuffled his feet nervously on the hot asphalt.
Introducing himself to girls really wasn’t his strong point, even when he was human. He tended to mumble and blush. Not that he really remembered – ever since he woke up as a drooling zombie his memories were few and far between, scattered like old photographs in the wind. He was sure of two things; his name was Andy, and he was dead.
In the beginning the only thing that had scared him more than his own slowly decomposing body was his terrible desire for fresh human flesh. Brains in particular held an uncanny hold over him. They were all he thought about, at least before he learned to control himself. They practically danced in his head like bloody sugar plums. Until that time he was falling upon everything he came across, living or dead, and cracking heads like melons. It took a few weeks to get used to that - transitioning from burgers to brains was a pretty big leap.
After the city cleared out of living survivors, there wasn’t much left to do but amble around. Andy travelled aimlessly through empty suburbs until he had found her one day in a dumpster, drawn to the thuds within. She was gnawing on a dismembered arm and didn’t even notice him peering over the edge at her. His first thought was that she looked like sunlight streaming out from behind a dark cloud, pure and lovely. Sure, part of her skull was exposed and garbage was sticking out of her hair but Andy had been smitten. Her glazed blue eyes weren’t full of life exactly, but still held a vigor that he appreciated. She was just like him, alone and purposeless. From that day on he followed her like a lost dog.
Doubt and insecurity kept him at bay, though. Days of stumbling around the streets wearing the same faded t-shirt and jeans were unforgiving. The remains of his own previous meals were smeared down his chest and the smell coming off him was quite potent. However unlike most of the other undead around here he still had most of his skin and all of his limbs, which was a definite bonus. Actually his pretty pursuit didn’t seem to care about much at all. He had been following her for weeks and she had barely glanced at him. Her gait was as lackluster as his was, slow and dragging unless a human strayed in front of her or she came across something dead. Then she would become a little more animated.
Was it love? Andy didn’t think he could ever fall in love in the state he was in. All he did was shuffle around, tailing this girl like some kind of creep. Not exactly dating material. As he watched her chewing happily on those intestines from across the lot however, he began to have second thoughts. Maybe this was meant to be.
Without fully planning on what he was going to do, he clenched his fists and began moving forward. This was it. His split chucks dragged on the baking asphalt and he gritted his teeth. All he had to do was greet her in a non-threatening way and indicate he did not want to steal her corpse. Nothing was worse than having someone come up and try to drag your meal away. Andy wasn’t that kind of guy.
All ways of introducing oneself was flying through his maggot-riddled head. Name first, joke later? Or should he open with a funny one-liner and hope for the best? Maybe she wasn’t the kind of person who liked jokes. He just didn’t know. The sun suddenly seemed too hot and his collar felt tight. She now seemed to be at the far end of a tunnel that was steadily constricting.
As if she sensed his hesitation she suddenly jerked her head up. Strings of innards dangled from her chin and her eyes narrowed suspiciously. A feral whine rose from her throat.
Crap, she’s onto me, Andy thought wildly. Knowing he had nothing to lose now, he quickened his pace. His previous dragging gait turned into a clumsy sprint. This was about as romantic as he could get, throwing himself at a girl he had been shuffling after for days and he didn’t even know her name. He tried to make himself appear friendlier by smiling as he ran.
Alarm filled the girl’s face and she leapt up from the bloody pile. To Andy she was the picture of perfection; up to her elbows in blood, skin graying, bit of skull showing on one side, looking like some kind of gorgeous siren.
Her body was poised to flee.
Andy had almost reached her, bony arms outstretching happily, when she darted away with uncanny speed like a deer regaining its senses. She disappeared in a flash of faded yellow around a corner of the mall and Andy lumbered to a stop beside the body on the pavement.
Dismay filled him. His body was no longer affected by labor or activity; he could run for miles and feel nothing but hunger but his heart wasn’t so lucky. This had been his first real attempt at introducing himself and he had blown it. Possible mistakes flew through his mind; maybe he was too abrupt, or really should have opened with a joke. The defeat was bitter and he felt it sinking in his chest.
Without realizing it he had squatted beside the dead body and begun to eat from it. Maybe he would try again tomorrow if he could find her. His nerves and pride would probably have recovered by then and it gave him time to think of a better approach. He also had high hopes that after sleeping on it she would be forgiving and willing to hear him out. There was also the mall; if he could get in he might be able to clean himself up a bit and maybe find her a present. He wasn’t a total monster.
As he chewed thoughtfully on a nameless organ the sun began to set. It alighted on the tips of the trees that lined the perimeter of the parking lot, making them look like bright coals. Majestic rays filled the dying orange sky, giving just a glimpse of the immense breadth of it. Andy’s chest ached with disappointment but burned with hope for tomorrow. It was also being spattered with blood.
Unbeknownst to him as he gazed at the orange flare of last light, a familiar face peered around the corner of the mall. Her blue eyes were wary but curious as she saw Andy feasting on her corpse. She didn’t really mind. He was kind of cute.