Saturday, November 28, 2015

CD Review: HERIDA PROFUNDA/HELLBASTARD Picture disc split

HERIDA PROFUNDA/HELLBASTARD
Picture disc split
Vleesklak Records (Belgium)
Tercer Mundo (Chile)
Here And Now Records (Italy)
Incredible Noise Records (Germany)
Phobia Records (Czech Republic)
Grind Your Mind Records (Brazil)
NIC Records (Poland)
783 Landsberg Hardcore Crew (Poland)
Svoboda Records (France)
Civilisation-Records (Germany)
D.I.Y Kolo Records (Poland)
Mundo En Kaos Records (Mexico)
Pandora Records (Germany)
WOOAAARGH (Germany)
http://www.facebook.com/HeridaProfunda
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hellbastard/112520145429905
Piotr Kwiakek of Herida Profunda provided me a great deal of background information on this split release and both bands involved in it with the digital copy he sent me. The e-package was complete with cover artwork, lyric sheets, band merchandise, posters and release info. Herida Profunda is a crust/grind/metal band whose members are from the UK and Poland. Hellbastard is a punk/metal band from the UK. Together they contribute to a formidable split that’s bound to make significant waves in metal, punk and grindcore communities everywhere. As you see there is a tremendous effort to distribute this split in several countries around the world. Just from that you know they are confident in the material and have their act together (especially Hellbastard who have steadily released music since 1986). It’s a matter of time before they find US distribution to further spread the chaos. HP’s varying influences make for a post-apocalyptic style that is raw, experimental and adept at presenting imagery of man’s greed and lust for power finally being the downfall of civilization. Bands from Poland and England have distinctly differing mindsets when it comes to quality extreme music. In these songs you’ll hear what happens when musicians from both countries meet to share their ideas and spawn something original. Hellbastard is said to have pioneered crust punk around the time Amebix began playing anarcho-punk. Their demo Ripper Crust is credited as the archetype for what the genre would become. Disbanding in 2000 and reforming in 2007, they have amassed enough experience to record solid compositions that incorporate each era of underground music, especially the punk, hardcore and thrash eras. With said maturity comes energy that doesn’t lose sight of itself as their songs progress. Besides the diversity each member brings to their respective bands, their differing approaches to punk and metal gives you a broader view of extreme music. -Dave Wolff

Track list:
Herida Profunda
1.    Taniec Śmierci / Danse Macabre (intro)
2.    Zjedz zanim zgnije / Eat before rot
3.    1.3.1.2.
4.    Ostatnia chwila / Last moment
5.    Cyrk / Circus
6.    Szmal / Filthy Money
7.    Alerta 161!
8.    Pułapka / A Trap
9.    Hipokryzja / Hypocrisy (outro)

Hellbastard
1.    In praise of cats (feat. Andi A-Droid Wiggins)
2.    Engineering Human Consciousness
3.    Big Business Pighole
4.    Going Postal
5.    Wolfsong-To the Dead

CD Review: MERDARAHTA As The Dark Clouds Swept Away We Could See The Sunset

MERDARAHTA
As The Dark Clouds Swept Away We Could See The Sunset
Mass Salvation Recordings
http://www.facebook.com/merd.rahta
Noise doom. A pleasant surprise to the ears. The record keeps a sense of unease about it whilst playing with your worst fears and nightmares. Craftfully created, arranged and composed, Merdarahta deliver an experience that will keep you thirsting for more. Wounded is the stand out track for me here. It is everything you look for in a doom metal song. The guitars are sorrowful, the vocals full of that reverb filled creepiness, slow, sludgy and most importantly, doomy. This record is a good example of how to incorporate noise/harsh noise with doom and create an atmosphere of unease and certain death. I invite to step into this realm, and face your nightmares head on. You can thank me later. -Erik Martin

Track list:
1. Dirt Bodies
2. The Dark Clouds
3. Their Blank Stares
4. Wounded
5. Illusion
6. Poverty Will Spread


Friday, November 27, 2015

CD Review: MORTAL STRIKE For The Loud And The Aggressive

MORTAL STRIKE
For The Loud And The Aggressive
Independent
http://www.facebook.com/MortalStrikeOfficial
I almost immediately got impressions of a posse of metalheads going out into the street heading to a local show armed with beers and boisterous voices. Thus it was no surprise to learn Mortal Strike are from Austria as most Teutonic bands have that party vibe. It seems deeply ingrained in their songs, all the way to the molecular level (a reference to a remake of a classic 50s horror movie with Vincent Price - does anyone get it?) This band’s chosen moniker and the album title couldn’t be more appropriate for what to expect within. They go for the jugular from the first note onward, and make no uncertain terms about their intention to lead the thrash metal resurgence to complete and total world domination. Listening to the title cut, Against The Wall, Smash The Tyrants - Storm The Gates and One Against All only once is more than sufficient to convince you of their old school determination to be noticed in metal communities the world over. Butchered humans in the death metal universe will reassemble when exposed to those songs and long expired, corpses in the black metal universe will awaken from their eternal slumber. False metal wimps will simply wither as their bodies are reduced to viscous green slime, haha. Mortal Strike’s formula is an exquisite balance between thrash riffing and power metal style lead harmonies. The entire album is near perfection in terms of pure energy and enthusiasm; my only complaint is that the vocals sound a little too similar to Tom Araya’s in Slayer’s classic repertoire, but the musicianship makes up for that in spades. There are even blast beats to be heard here and there and that cover by Tankard at the end (if you get this on CD). An essential release for thrash enthusiasts everywhere. -Dave Wolff

Track list:
1. For The Loud And The Aggressive
2. Here Comes The Tank
3. Outburst Of Fury
4. Against The Wall
5. Mg 42
6. Smash The Tyrants - Storm The Gates
7. Strike
8. One Against All
9. The Tides Of War Arise #1
10. Unleash The Hounds Of War #2
11. Zombie Attack (Tankard Cover – CD bonus track)

CD Review: PHANTASMAL The Reaper’s Forge

PHANTASMAL
The Reaper’s Forge
Independent
http://www.facebook.com/phantasmalmetal
http://phantasmalmetal.bandcamp.com
phantasmalmetal@gmail.com
This U.S. band released this as a cassette demo in 2014; this release I’m reviewing is a CD reissue with two additional tracks. Since the release of the original demo Phantasmal made a few compilation appearances: Let's Start a War... Vol. I (War On All Fronts Prod.). Necrolust Vol. 5 (Metal Hammer) and Spring Offensive 2015 (Legion Canada Records). Founding member Psychopomp is touting Phantasmal as black metal; however the musicianship and production speaks more of a style of black/thrash metal similar to early recordings by Witchery and The Crown. I also perceive an old school theme reminiscent of Kreator and Destruction. The finest CDs to me always seem to be those that take me back and celebrate the past; The Reaper’s Forge does so with a vengeance. The mixing sounds relatively clean, without atmosphere and a slight flavoring of rawness. The guitar chops are tight and sharp which adds to the appeal of this CD. The lead vocals are another aspect that leans closer toward old school thrash; again the style reminds me of Kreator and Destruction in their heyday. I note the lyrical content here as summoning imagery that was prevalent in thrash in the mid 80s; lines often came to my attention and had me thinking of those old tales of wizards and sorcery in these songs, especially the two added for the reissue and Queen Nightshade. I can imagine the band generating an immense amount of energy playing these songs in front of an audience, inspiring headbanging and pit activity at an increasing level with each passing second. Psychopomp was recently interviewed for Hombre Rancio Underground Metal; a lint to this interview can be found on Phantasmal’s community page. -Dave Wolff

Track list:
1. The Reaper's Forge
2. The Eternal Campaign
3. Queen Nightshade
4. Specter Of Death
5. The Warlock

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

CD Review: PARRICIDE Sometimes It's Better To Be Blind And Deaf

PARRICIDE
Sometimes It's Better To Be Blind And Deaf
Mad Lion
http://www.facebook.com/Parricidepl
4 seconds of some clean guitar… and then the brutal extreme onslaught begins. Parricide deliver a brutal and grindy experience. There's so much going on and it's so heavy, you can't help but to get up and start breaking stuff. The vocals accentuate the music very well. The gutturals are demonic and the highs are like a piercing knife to the eardrums. Overall, this is a very solid album all the way through, standouts are "We'll Surely Meet" and "Talented", but it is very hard to find a single favorite as they all really standout. Prepare yourself before listening and make sure your wife's/mom's/grandmother's fine china and all your valuables are put somewhere safe, crank it… and break shit! -Erik Martin

Track list:
1. Old
2. We'll Surely Meet
3. Just Poland
4. Smuggler Jack
5. I Don't Change
6. Supermarket and Me
7. My Property
8. Real Patriots
9. Stunners
10. Dillemas of a Young Warrior
11. I Hate Tattoos
12. Talented
13. I Am the True Warrior




CD Review: DISTERROR Catharsis

DISTERROR
Catharsis
Akracia Records (CD)
Caligari Records (Cassette)
http://www.facebook.com/Disterror
A sonic assault blending hardcore and in your face heaviness. An album that showcases this bands skill at their instruments. This is one of those experiences that leaves you with the feeling that there is still originality and experimentation going on in the realms of the underground. Each song brings its own unique taste to the ears, the styles blend masterfully. It is a breath of fresh air in a place where there is a lot of hot air. The standout track here is "Gilgamesh"… eight minutes of pure joy. Do yourself a favor and get this in your playlist, it is definitely one of the better releases the underground has had to offer this year. -Erik Martin

Track list:
1. Viva la Muerte
2. Condemned to Survive
3. Out of Nothing
4. Raices
5. Gilgamesh
6. Labyrinth
7. Catharsis

CD Review: CEPHEIDE Respire

CEPHEIDE
Respire
Independent
http://www.facebook.com/cepheide
When listening, you have to completely immerse yourself in this. These two tracks are utterly captivating. The atmospherics in this release are spot on. when they want you to feel anger, pain, depression, and loneliness, you feel it. The atmosphere on the absolute must listen "La Chute d'une Ombre" is captivating, immense and will give you the chills, that song, is atmospheric black metal in top form. As a whole, this is well put together musically. Its raw and you can feel the pain in every second of this record. A must listen if the dark and foreboding is where you like to be. -Erik Martin

Track list:
1. I. Le souffle brûlant de l'immaculé   
2. II. La chute d'une ombre

CD Review: TORVER From Beyond The Abyss

TORVER
From Beyond The Abyss
Independent
http://www.facebook.com/Torver666
This is a raw, gritty and unapologetic release. Black metal in its most brutal form. Torver come with all out savagery and keep the intensity throughout. The compositions are well done... angry, sadistic... you almost get a feeling of wanting to run for your own life after listening to this. The vocals are on point for black metal. There is this haunting doom about them, like listening to your own eulogy. This is a must listen and buy if black metal makes you happy. Torver must have channeled the great north on this one, because they have created a very caustic assault on your senses. -Erik Martin

Track list:
1. Manifestation of the Perverse
2. From Beyond The Abyss
3. Torn Apart by Rats
4. Thy Maters of Old



CD Review: VSPOLOKH / VIKHR Amongst Mossy Stones

VSPOLOKH / VIKHR
Amongst Mossy Stones
Purity Through Fire
http://www.facebook.com/Purity-Through-Fire-171743799539940
Amongst Mossy Stones is a split release from two Russian black metal bands, Vspolokh and Vikhr, released in 2013 in a limited run of 75 copies. While I’ve been listening to Russian black metal since the late 90s I know little of Russian heathenism, with the exception of a few deities I read about in The Satanic Rituals. This being so, I can’t offer much insight into the bands’ viewpoints on the subject unless I found interviews with them. At Purity Through Fire’s official site I found more information about the first band: Vspolokh’s lyrical influence stems from Slavonic mythology, nature, mankind’s decadence, melancholy and personal despondency. For more information about Vikhr refer to Der Schwarze Tod, a Russian label dealing in black, folk and pagan black metal. The impressions of nature and heathenism are captured in traditional black metal fashion. I was reminded of early Satyricon (The Forest Is My Throne, Dark Medieval Times) besides rawer bands like Fimbulwinter and Vlad Tepes. Vspolokh establish the theme of nature from their intro onward, presenting visuals of a vast forest with cold winds blowing and ravens calling in the distance. Granted this approach has been done countless times in the last twenty years, but it still manages to sound effective here. Check out the pagan melodies of the guitars and the vocals which go a long way toward producing those mental images. Vikhr’s contributions are more straightforward, with higher pitched vocals and more abrasiveness to go with the harmonies. There is less atmosphere and more of an in-your-face attitude in the musicianship and production are, and similarities to Burzum and Darkthrone. The bass and drums are more prominent and upfront, and there is more of a garage/basement feel as if they recorded their songs live. Vikhr revisit the foreboding landscape established by Vspolokh, with flute and other instruments bringing the darkness closer to your soul. These vastly different interpretations of pagan black metal are delivered with equal conviction. -Dave Wolff

Track list:
1. Vspolokh - I (instrumental)
2. Vspolokh - II (re-recorded demo track)
3. Vspolokh - III
4. Vspolokh - IV ("Ritual" cover)
5. Vspolokh - V
6. Vikhr - VI
7. Vikhr - VII
8. Vikhr - VIII
9. Vikhr - IX
10. Vikhr - X (instrumental)

CD Review: VULTURE LOCUST Command Presence

VULTURE LOCUST
Command Presence
Independent
http://www.vulturelocust.com
http://www.bigshinyprison.com
Vulture Locust is the brainchild of musician/author Ryan Bartek. Bartek founded it in 2012 following his experience in A.K.A. Mabus and Sasquatch Agnostic. Bartek is also the author of The Big Shiny Prison and Fortress Europe which can be downloaded online at bigshinyprison.com (the indepth interview I did with him is also there). Completing VL’s lineup are bassist Max Snyder and drummer Nathan Pogue who previously worked in the band Self Murder. Vuture Locust’s debut EP Cold Civil War was released in 2013, followed by their debut full length We Need To Talk in 2014. 2015 saw the release of their current full length, a recording that shows no slowing down or lack of energy on their part. While I researched it I read a reviewer comment that the album in the vein of Napalm Death’s classic Scum. I am still a big fan of grindcore from the 80s-90s, so reading this enhanced my interest in this. Not for the sentimental value alone, but also to see how they compare to bands from that era without directly copying them. It’s obvious from the start that while the attitude is similar, Vulture Locust have their own sound and don’t try to follow anyone else. Furthermore they accomplish everything you hear organically, without drum programming, as they add elements of thrash, doom and death metal. Many bands have branched out similarly, but VL keeps things fresh with the punk-like conviction of their musicianship. The material feels as if any second things are going to degenerate into complete, utter chaos but the band remain consistent throughout the album. The lyrics are arguably the most punk quality Vulture Locust have to speak for, diving deep into conspiracy theory, Islamic fundamentalism and Monsanto so convincingly you’ll be inspired to look up the subject matter on the net. The 1988 science fiction movie They Live is a personal favorite (as are others by John Carpenter) and the reference in They Live We Sleep is a nice touch. Command Presence can be streamed on Youtube alongside selections from Bartek’s past projects. -Dave Wolff

Track list:
1. Resolution of a Conflict
2. Home Invasion
3. I Remember Building 7
4. Terror Alert Level
5. HAARPstrummer
6. Monsanto Is Gojira
7. Chemtrail
8. Audacity of Hoax
9. Sharia Law
10. Weaponized Morgellons
11. Minimum Wage
12. They Live We Sleep   
13. False Flag
14. Brandishing the Scalp of God
15. SowReaper

CD Review: SPELLBOUND Nothing But The Truth

SPELLBOUND
Nothing But The Truth
Bret Hard Records
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SX8d97rwnOE
http://www.facebook.com/spellboundalliance
Since the early 2000's Spellbound has released 2 full length albums. They took a break from 2009-2012 but still kept a little quiet till this year. Spellbound is back with a newly released album entitled "Nothing But The Truth". This German Thrash Metal band is currently signed to an independent label called Bret Hard Records.
Since making a return to the metal scene the new album has been intense and shows a lot of ambition. Despite waiting 8 years for a new album this one was worth the wait.
The riffs in this album are very strong riffs and accompanied by the vocals that go along with it. The band to me sounds like a modern Kreator, Destruction, Testament and Dark Angel all mixed together. A lot of the tracks are nicely paced but technical at the same time. Any old school Thrash fan would definitely like this release. The different kinds of blend they offer make them stand out from a lot of other bands and makes them unique but in a good way. On a side note credits to famous metal illustrator Ed Repka for the amazing cover art to this album.
Be sure to check out the album and check Spellbound out on Facebook for updates. -Michelle Liberati

Track list:
1. New World Puppet
2. Leave This Dream
3. Forgotten And Gone
4. Shapeshifter
5. Dying In The Dirt
6. Warkult Of Fire
7. Broken Hope Society
8. The Alliance Of Spellbound
9. Xecution Wave
10. Of Long Forgotten Wars
11. Invasion Blue Beam

CD Review: OCEAN CHIEF Universums Härd

OCEAN CHIEF
Universums Härd [“The Hearth of the Universe”]
I Hate Records
From the two tracks uploaded to I Hate’s Bandcamp:
http://ihate.bandcamp.com/album/universums-h-rd
Ocean Chief is a doom metal band from Sweden. They are heavy as hell; Slow, plodding, dark, and heavy, in the tradition of bands like early Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. There is even a little bit of St Vitus thrown in there, and a very clear Black Sabbath influence. 
The release starts out like a very slow burn, gradually increasing in volume until those massive buzzsaw guitars start cutting away at your ears. The drums are pounding, like a sledge hammer crushing your skull repeatedly. The vox remind me of like a darker 70’s classic rock band.  Really pin point, high quality stuff here. 
One thing that really jumps out at me is the bright, loud, powerful ride cymbal that just cuts through the mix like a knife. The drummer is really an excellent player and he chops up those slow heavy parts like a Japanese Hibachi chef. 
The song Urtiden is more up tempo, with the requisite tasteful, strong drumming and some interesting effects on the vocals. This one jumps out more than the title track, a 10 minute slow crawl through the mud that opens the release. Both songs feature exceptional song writing that could send a chill down your spine. These guys GET IT. They say more with less, make their point, and leave an impression on the listener. I also appreciate that their song titles are in their native tongue, further contributing to the arcane and mysterious vibe the band creates. 
Ocean Chief takes an oft used and abused concept of doom and adds a fresh originality to it, keeping you on your toes and accurately conveying a mood and an atmosphere that puts you right into the mindset of the musicians performing it.  Minimalist at its most complex, and a tortuous drag through the swamp at its simplest, Ocean Chief really takes you to a dark place.  I Hate records really has a gem here. 
Final Verdict: 
It is rare that I find something in the metal world lately that I am not totally scrutinizing and Ocean Chief’s Universums Hard is one release that is like a breath of fresh air. You people need to hear this, seriously, especially if you are into doom and slow heavy stuff. I look forward to hearing their future releases, and to see where this band takes their music to next. -Haniel Adhar
Track list:
1. Universums härd 10:18
2. Oändlighet 08:57
3. Färden 04:12
4. Urtiden 03:32
5. Frihet 02:22
6. Mörker 08:42
7. Vandringen 04:22

The short list:
Genre: Metal; Sub-genre: Doom Metal
For Fans of: Black Sabbath, heavy stoner doom
Production Value: Professional, clear, slightly raw
Musicianship: Moderate
Re-listen value: High
To Buy or Not to buy?:  BUY

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Article: To Believe...or Not To Believe...People... by Haniel Adhar

To Believe...or Not To Believe...People..
Article by Haniel Adhar

Believe IN people, but don't "believe" them.

What someone says to you is not always what they really mean, and their actions can be as misleading as their speech.  

This is so true in life, especially western civilization, that when someone comes along that is actually honest and sincere, the first and sometimes only reaction is to not believe a damned thing they say or do, and question and scrutinize every one of their actions as if they have some sort of ulterior motivation.  This, the failing of our society, to vilify the honest and to reward the illusionists who present a palatable picture that placates our deepest insecurities.  The Pied Piper's song is often sweeter and more pleasing to the ear than the warnings of the impending doom awaiting at the end of the cliff.  

What winds up happening is anything that is real, that has substance and flesh to it, is universally rejected ironically due to a deep rooted insecurity founds in many people as a result of being deceived.  Think about that for a second...the individuals who are presenting themselves and honest and honorable are rejected because of other people not being honest and honorable.  So, these individuals become scorned in favor of someone re-creating the same mistakes over and over, like some sort of habitual junkie not able to quit the "stuff", even if deep down inside he or she knows that the "stuff" is destroying them.  

There is something to be said about people who continue to doubt reality in favor of some carefully crafted illusion, or, worse, an extreme form of self preservation that limits any opportunity to get genuinely close to people.  This is a warped form of fear, similar to that of a stray cat terrified of a human as a result of conditioning; they unfairly but justifiably misjudge humans trying to feed them due to how they were mislead and harmed in the past by humans feigning care.  But, the issue here is that human beings are *supposed* to be self aware, intelligent, intellectually advanced beings that can tell the difference between a threat and a sincere gesture.  Apparently, my sentiment is wrong.  Humans do not have this innate sense of wise discernment where they can use logic and reasoning to understand what a real threat is.  We are, quite frankly, Pavlov's dogs, where anything that resembles a past traumatic experience becomes a trigger that sets off a reaction to relive that experience, subconsciously or consciously, which leads to an avulsion of the individual to that which triggered the reaction.  This is the crux of conditioning-through-life-experience without the intensive study and training in how to truly understand and come to grips with life experiences.  Instead, each experience that on the surface resembles a past one is lumped into one great, big category, without paying attention to the subtle nuances that clearly make some experiences distinctively different than others.  

However, when a "new" experience is presented, perhaps one that on the surface is "gleaming", the person would immediately be drawn to it.  Such an experience is soothing, calming, and immediately rewarding.  It has a warm, accepting feeling.  However, the prior conditioning of this new experience does not exist, so the individual accepts it without question.  This is why what one experiences must be carefully understood for what it really is, and to base one's judgments and assessments on a case-by-case basis.  Easier said than done, but this is called "wisdom".  Wisdom is understanding a situation and knowing what is the correct decision based on that understanding.  The "why" and the mechanics of a set of circumstances are infinitely more important than the circumstances themselves.  

So, the question is:  "Do I believe this person?"  This is what plagues many of us, as due to our own conditioning of our past experiences, relationships, and so on, we are constantly at war with what we have in front of us, and what we experienced behind us.  We don't want to make the same mistake twice.  So, it is like a game of "what is behind the door", where you choose door #1, which is something you are "used to" but may not exactly like, and the risk of choosing what is behind door number 2 is too great to risk the familiarity of door number 1.  The natural inclination is to stick with what you are familiar with, no matter how bad it may be; it is still better than the unknown.  This is what makes that Pied Piper's song so appealing:  while it is something that "sounds" new and fresh and presents the veneer of palatable change, it is really just something that the person's consciousness is used to, and it doesn't present the fearful "change" that repels people from new and risky experiences. He tells you what you want to hear, and wraps it in a blanket of familiar security, using words and phrases and tones that make you feel comfortable.  But really, in reality, all he is doing is lying through the gap in his teeth, telling you whatever he has to in order to get the desired result out of you.  I suppose this is the nature of "temptation" as spoken of in religious scripture.  

But how does one discern between what is right and true and what is the lie perpetuated by those who stand to gain from manipulating your perception?  If I had that answer, I could start a new religion that would take the place of all the world's religions.  Alas, this is not the case, because no one knows the answer.  It doesn't exist, because it is based purely on the individual situation, and the rules change with each new one.  So, only through training, contemplation, and self-actualization can one gain the understanding and ultimately wisdom to make that decision of discernment.  It is no easy task, and the average human being of the various cultures and creeds simply doesn't have the stillness of mind and spirit to do that.  It is a lifelong process, a dedication of the grand work that requires much sacrifice and pain.  A lot of the relative world must be given up by the individual in order to understand it, and the basic person whose instinct is self preservation, the sustaining biological functions, and the immediate gratification in the present moment has not the skill set nor the desire to learn such "secrets.  Instead, they cling hard to their mundane needs and shallow desires, abnegating any sacrifice that would jeopardize these precious material entities.  They have been conditioned to only accept that which provides immediate satisfaction, bucking and rejecting anything else that steers them away from it.  It is the fixation on the things that could be seen at the expense of those things that cannot be immediately perceived.  And, without knowing, ironically, the person is making the greatest sacrifice of their lives by rejecting the greatness that comes with deep understanding and wisdom, for simply earthly pleasures or the things that provide an immediate sense of security. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fiction: Trick Or Treat by M Teresa Clayton

TRICK OR TREAT

We stood in front of the gate to the house, daring each other to be the ‘first’ to approach the door and knock. Her porch light was always on but few ever braved up to the door to knock upon it, especially on a night of full moon, black cats, and a fog coming in from the east. Especially on All Hallows Eve. Especially on HALLOWEEN!
Bobby was not about to let an opportunity for more candy pass him by, regardless of the shutters moving in the breeze, occasionally pounding upon the side of the house itself. He took a step up onto the old wooden porch and slowly tiptoed toward the door while his friends taunted him from the street. He stopped long enough to note that there was no jack-o-lantern, no creepy store-bought Halloween decorations, and no indication at all that Old Widow Clayton was celebrating with bowls of candy for the trick-or-treaters behind that door.
Bobby’s heart pounded in his chest and he turned to face the door once more. With every step he took a creak would wince from the rotting wood planks. The layers of long abandoned spider webs were real and the knocker centered upon the old wooden door was the face of a ghoul with a ring in its mouth, its eyes watching… taunting… waiting…
Knock. Knock. Knock.
The brass ring was heavier than Bobby had expected. He waited and listened for someone behind the door when suddenly the door slowly creaked open, making that same haunting cry that seemed to come from the porch itself, as well as the bushes, the trees, and from his own throat. Bobby swallowed hard.
There she stood, a frail old woman with unkempt hair to her shoulders and wearing a black witch’s hat. She looked the part to perfection.
She looked down at him and studied him as if he were a science project. She did not speak right away. The silence seemed to freeze him to the spot and she smiled into his face, a sweet old-lady smile. Then….
“Trick... or Treat?” she asked.
Bobby was confused by the question… aren’t I suppose to be saying this? He thought to himself.
Again, she asked, “Trick? ... Or Treat?”
Bobby stared at her unable to speak, confused by the question posed to him.
“Most of the children who come to my door on a Halloween night, though there are only a few, would have demanded a treat and be on their way… but you, Bobby (she knows my name, he thought), you haven’t chosen yet… so, will it be Trick or Treat?”
Bobby swallowed hard again; there was something in the question that intrigued him. “What if I said trick instead of treat?” he asked the old Widow Clayton.
“Well then, Bobby, please come in and I’ll show you a trick.” Her face seemed to change from that of a sweet old woman into something a bit more ominous. Bobby looked back at the street where his friends were watching his every move. I can’t be a chicken now! I’ve come this far, I’ll prove to them just how brave I am and then we’ll see if any of them will knock on the door!
The old woman opened the door enough for Bobby to be able to enter in to the parlor of the house. There on the table was a deep bowl, most assuredly filled with all types of candies for the taking. All he had to do now was be nice to the old Widow Clayton, see the trick through, take her offering of candy treats and be on his way. His friends would have to follow suit and each take their turn knocking upon the door… but he was the first! He was the bravest one!
“What is your favorite treat, Bobby?” she asked as she guided him into the room. “I’ve made some cocoa and home-made chocolate drops; do you like chocolate, Bobby?”
“Yes, Mrs. Clayton, chocolate is my favorite.” Bobby answered looking around the eerie room with dark-shaded lamp and candles on every surface above the floor. The sofa looked and smelled of age, as did the sparse furnishings within the room. The only thing that interested him was the bowl of candy on the pedestal near the door.
Widow Clayton poured the warm chocolate drink from the pot into a delicate cup that had strange creatures etched upon it. Bobby held the cup up to examine it. The images of faces staring back at him made his skin crawl.
“These are commemorative pieces, Bobby. The etchings are the likenesses of family members that have passed on. We keep these cups in our family because they hold a sort of magic within them.” She stopped and beamed her huge smile at him once again before taking a sip from her own cup.
Bobby took a sip from his. This hot cocoa was nothing like he had every tasted and delightfully so! There was richness in the cocoa with a hint of vanilla and then something … bitter.
Before Bobby could react to the bitter after-taste, the Widow Clayton offered a dish of small chocolate drops. “Here, Bobby… this will help with the bittersweet taste of the cocoa. I’m sorry, I should have prepared you – it is an old family recipe and it does have a bit of a … bite.”
Bobby was happy to take a piece of chocolate drop from the plate and insert it into his mouth to reduce that awful aftertaste. He placed the cup back into its saucer and watched as the old woman stood up and faced him.
An odd sensation was coming over him but he wasn’t frightened… yet.
“Now, I believe I owe you a trick, Bobby.” She said as she lifted her left hand above her head and closed her eyes.
Bobby’s hands were frozen, folded in his lap, and his feet firmly held to the floor. Bobby realized he could not move, he could not blink his eyes nor could he make a sound – he could not speak, could not scream for help!
Her eyes rolled back into her head as she recited…

“Open the door
All hallows eve
Open his eyes
So he will believe”

Oh my god, she is putting a spell on me and I can’t move or yell out for her to stop!

“Trick the strong
Devour the weak
Chocolate your choice
When asked to speak”

The taste of the chocolate, the smell of chocolate, was overpowering. She has poisoned me; surely, she has poisoned me!

“Reward the brave
And reveal the trick,
Leave a treat for me, Bobby
And you’ll no longer be sick”

Bobby wiggled his fingers and his toes and slowly regained the feeling in his arms and legs. He blinked his eyes in disbelief and opened his mouth to speak… nothing.
Old Widow Clayton knelt down so she could see him face to face and instructed him, “You need to spit the chocolate out into the bowl on the pedestal by the door or you will grow sicker and sicker with it until it consumes you. You will say nothing of this to your friends. Send them to my door one at a time and pray that when I ask ‘Trick or Treat’ they reply ‘trick’ just as you did.”
Bobby nodded in agreement though he did not understand… yet.
Old Widow Clayton cleaned up the serving table that held the cups and saucers and the pot of hot cocoa along with the tray of chocolate drops, then she thanked Bobby for the visit and helped him to the door. She nodded at the bowl to remind him of what he had agreed to do.
Bobby leaned over the bowl and something at the back of his throat began to form and choke him. He cleared his throat once before coughing up a small chocolate form that looked frighteningly familiar – it was a small chocolate figure of him!
Bobby watched as the small chocolate effigy fell to the bottom along with other effigies, some familiar, some not. They were all screaming and wailing; flailing their little chocolate arms as if they knew what their fate could be…
…if the answer from the next child is “treat”

Fiction: Premonition by Susan Stiltner

Premonition
By Susan Stiltner

On board the Titanic I feel like the luckiest boy alive! I never imagined I'd see such an amazing sight in all my eight years of life. That is, until tonight...
We went to our room shortly after dinner, my mommy, my little sister Sarah, and me.
My daddy isn't here. Mommy says he's in heaven. All I know is that he went to work in the morning, and that evening instead of daddy coming home, it was his boss, and a policeman. I heard mommy crying and that's when she told me that he got hurt real bad, and now he's in heaven. That's what I was thinking about when I went to sleep. Suddenly "Jessup, Jessup! Wake up!" Mommy sounded so scared! I jumped up out of my bed and she grabbed my hand. I didn't even have time to properly wake myself up before we started running down the hallway. Mommy was yelling Sarah's name. I hadn't even noticed she wasn't with us before then. Mommy tried to explain what was going on as we ran through the halls. She would pause between sentences to yell for Sarah again. All I could make out of her screaming was that Sarah had gotten scared and ran out of our cabin, and something about the ship hitting something.
I asked "Mommy, how can we hit something? We're in the middle of the ocean!" "I don't know son” she answered. It was then that I noticed everyone else was yelling too. I didn't know there were so many people on this ship.
Even though I was still holding my mommy's hand I started to feel scared. I helped her call out for Sarah. I can remember the day she was born. Mommy and Daddy told me I have a new sister. I was four years old and all I could think about was how much I wanted a brother, not some dumb girl. I don't think about her like that now though. She's not just some dumb girl, she's my sister, and she's MISSING! I have to help mommy find her. Out of nowhere comes a big man into the hall, right in front of us. He keeps saying we can’t go any further. "The water is coming in" he says. I look toward the end of the corridor, and there she is! "SARAH!" mommy and me both yell out at the same time as we ran on past the man. Mommy's still holding my hand tight when she hugs Sarah. Her smile only lasts a moment though when all of a sudden we hear it. Water. It's coming right at us. We turn and run in the other direction. I didn't even remember coming down all these steps, but now here we are, running back up them. The second hallway looked empty, so did the third, which I guess is the top. Our room is up here. Our tickets said first class. I remember because mommy had let me hold mine and give it to the man that was walking around asking for them.
We pass on by our room though and go outside. It's so cold! "Mommy why are we outside?" Sarah asked in her tiny little voice. Mommy turns to her and says "we're in trouble." "Excuse me sir?" she called to the man standing at the edge of the deck. I couldn't help but giggle at the way he looked. He was waving his arms up and down like some kind of weird bird. He turns around and looks at us. He looks like he's about to cry. He says "I'm so sorry mum, but we've just set the last boat off, if only you'd gotten here sooner." Mommy starts to cry and she's hugging me and Sarah so tight. After a minute she pulls herself together and says "Alright children, let's get you two to bed then."
We walk back inside the ship to our room. When we get there we get another surprise, instead of us just crawling back into bed wearing our pajamas, which we already had on, mommy tells us to change our clothes. She told us to put on our best outfits, the ones we wore to dinner the night we boarded the ship. Sarah put on her favorite dress. Mommy fixed her curly blonde hair up in pigtails and pink ribbons to match. She looked like one of those dolls I had seen in the shop window the day we left London. I got dressed in my best suit. It was navy colored and had little grey pinstripes down the legs of my trousers and mommy pinned a little white flower to my jacket. I let her help me with the bow tie too. She calls it my big boy tie. I always smile when I hear her say it, even tonight. When I asked why we are getting so dressed up just so we can go to sleep she told me the best news ever! She says we are going to go see daddy! All three of us! That's why we have to look our very best, mommy says. Well, after hearing such great news I can't wait to lay down in that huge bed. Mommy has her arms around us. She tells us to just relax and go to sleep, and when we wake up we will be with daddy. I laid there in the dark, just listening to all the strange sounds. There were people screaming for some reason, but they were pretty far away from our door. I whisper to mommy and Sarah "I love you" Mommy answered back with the same, but Sarah was already asleep. Then, Bang! I jump, mommy holds me tighter. I can feel water all around me. Such cold water, like ice, and the pain it causes, it's like a million knives sticking me all at once. Lucky for me it only hurt for a minute. I must have fallen asleep after that. All I remember is waking up with the warm sun hitting my face. I can hear laughter and singing. I'm holding hands with my mommy and she's carrying Sarah. "All aboard!" a man yells as we step closer to the ship.

Fiction: Martyr by Lioness DeWinter

Martyr
By Lioness DeWinter (C) 2015
 
I didn't like you.
I wanted to swat you like a fly, but you kept circling my ear, whispering honey. It flowed like poison from your pillowed lips and burned my flesh like acid; it exposed bone and gristle and all that I wished to hide. I writhed in agony--a newborn shrinking from the sun, afraid of the light.
You stepped in and seized my hand from his.
He was my plan, the blueprint of my life, the future. He dealt in facts and figures, but your body was music in the darkness--bright notes of staccato, rich and shining glissando, drums and gentle ebbing breezes, silvery keys and bells...you were a church calling the weary sinner home again in the dry wilderness of my heart. You saw worth there and you nourished it until it could be reaped--a proud and shining golden bounty--where only dead earth had been before.
I didn't trust you.
I clung desperately to the shadow, which is all that I'd known. I reveled in the blood and the pain of the razor; I had death in my clutches and hung on with rigor-mortis determination to the romanticism of the final act of self-cruelty. It would be my greatest gift to myself. Oh, what a blessed relief!
But you came on like Jesus Christ with a sword, and knitted your flesh with mine, and blanketed me with your warm heart to abate the storm, and the thunder surrounded me as your fingers coaxed sparks of lightning from my hair and the rain fell around us like needles. You told me you loved me, that you wouldn't give up.
...I didn't believe you.
I strove to drive you away with the whip. I expected you to run, screaming. As the lashes striped your skin, the blood seeped to the surface and ran over; it puddled around your feet. You cried silently, each blow a strike to your tender heart. I drove you to your knees. I couldn't stop. I had to protect you from me. I wanted you to run from me!
...And when it was done, you raised your dark head and met my disbelieving gaze. Your eyes blazed, as your quaking hand reached for mine and drew me closer. I bent and embraced you; you touched my cheek and said,
"I want to give you my spirit."
The kiss was Wormwood. It tasted of old men's blood, death and decay. I tasted your famine. As always, you gave too much. I felt you dying, right there in my arms. Your head fell back, and I threw myself upon you, my tears hot and violent. With your crown of thorns, I opened my chest and nourished you with my blood, binding us forever in universal torment.
...And now...NOW.
I look to you, my Savior with the eternal eyes of sorrow, eternally young and beautiful. I look to you with imploring soul and grievous spirit, and I ask,
"Was I worth it?"

Fiction: Francis Redd by James Ward Kirk

FRANCIS REDD
By James Ward Kirk

Francis Redd breathed like a ghost, short and shallow intakes of ether, a spectral manifestation of his life.
Francis Redd resolved to discern who murdered him and exactly when, and why, even though he feared the resonance of the why part of the mystery.
Certification of death escaped him.
If murder described his true state of affairs, that is. Pinching hurt. Reality, and its thick blanket of confusion did not serve him well; however, he believed with some certainty suicide wasn’t the answer. Francis Redd’s parents, also dead and living near by, pious and Pentecostal, managed to instill in him before he could escape them a hard understanding that suicides went to Hell and he knew he didn’t want to be there, so—although he hadn’t ruled it out—suicide, that is--he’d place his money on murder.
His body, whole and clothed, did not hurt; no mangled limbs from a possible automobile accident or some other severe form of bodily trauma; no bullet holes gaped open. Perhaps in death, he thought, one’s body became whole once again. Or perhaps his apparently whole body obscured an internal thing—perhaps his brain had stopped working, or his heart, or a sly poison killed him.
Francis Redd first began to realize just a few weeks ago his death had come about.
On his way to work one morning, even though he knew it would make him late, Francis Redd stopped by the bank. He wasn’t sure why he wanted the money so badly, but he was sure he wanted some. He locked the door of his beige Escort and went inside.
The first customer of the day, he walked to the first teller in line. She was young and blond with blue eyes and a pert smile and pert breasts and a pert voice.
“My name is Francis Redd,” he wanted to say, but only got half of it out. He wanted to look at the teller’s breasts again, but she was keeping an eye on him to make sure he didn’t. The teller brought to mind a girl in his office with perky breasts, and Francis thought sometimes she didn’t seem to mind if he looked at them.
Reaching for his wallet, he pulled out a folded check he kept for emergencies and handed it to her. She became more pert as she counted out his money.
Francis Redd left the bank and got back into his car.
Francis always drove safely. Risking an accident and seeing his insurance go up, and not having his car while it was in the shop, therefore forced to rely on Darlene for a ride to work and back home again, or getting a ticket for speeding for some ungodly amount of money, prohibited careless driving. He never drove faster than the speed limit, even when people sped past him, slinging him sour looks of distaste and distrust for driving so slowly. He always kept both hands on the wheel.
This day, however, would be different. A sapphire cloak of some uncertain and unordinary emotion forbade the customary insipid morning drive. Francis felt it in his groin.
A particular memory from childhood had come to mind and he couldn’t shake it. He’d grown up in northern Indiana, surrounded by forests and gentle farms. There was a deer, approaching middle life; but at some point very early in the deer’s life he’d become domesticated. As the deer grew to maturity, the owners turned it back loose to the wild but had taken the care to tie a bright red handkerchief to the deer’s neck so hunters would know not to shoot. Francis learned to love the deer. The beautiful creature, unafraid and unlearned in fear, allowed Francis’ careful approach. Francis would follow the deer into the woods after filling his belly with fresh sweet corn from a farmer’s field. The deer knew Francis followed, but didn’t seem to mind and perhaps even enjoyed the camaraderie.
One spring morning, after Francis left the house with no lunch, because there was none to be had—he didn’t care though, he knew where the apple trees and mulberry trees and blackberry bushes could be found—he happened across the deer and the deer was gracious enough to take a fresh handful of blackberries right from Francis’ hand. His soft, gentle, and trusting eyes consoled Francis.
 Then one day down by the river under a mulberry tree, Francis found the deer dead. Someone shot the deer, point blank in the forehead. Since the deer remained untouched, not butchered for food, Francis figured the animal killed by one of the farmers; probably for eating from their fields.
Francis, trying to shake the memory, only worsened his headache.
About halfway to work he began crying.
 Francis always felt like, just under the surface of his skin, tears coursed in symphony with his blood, adding musical hysteria to the song of his life.
He’d seen a psychiatrist, but she told him there was nothing wrong with him that wasn’t wrong with any other 44-year-old man. Francis refused referral to a behavioral psychologist. The psychiatrist gave him a prescription for Xanax anyway and told him to make an appointment anytime he felt it necessary. She gave him an entire eleven months of refills, told him to take it religiously, but he never did. Darlene made him fill it each month, though, because she thought it was cool to have Xanax in the house. Francis wished she’d use the drug, but Darlene only drank vodka martinis “to take the edge off.”
But tears leave his poor corpse like fleas jumping from a dead dog. He howled. The long buried wails, the sorrow and horror, would frighten and distress anyone that might hear. The very force of his grief left spittle on the steering wheel and windshield. His chest and head hurt terribly.
In the parking lot for the social agency he dried his eyes using his power blue tie his brother gave him this past Christmas, glancing about, hoping no person lurking about the building noticed his creased and cracked face, and knowing no one would; he only a cog in the life machine, beyond repair but ready to break and bring it all down. He took the elevator to the second floor, keeping his gaze downward. He rarely met anyone’s look anyway, because he had a lazy eye and felt self-conscious about it.
 Over the next couple of days he began to notice peculiar expressions on the faces of his coworkers whenever he walked past them. Never in Francis’s life would someone have accused him of being verbose. He accepted as truth still waters run deep. Logically, then, when he did speak coworkers were more likely to value his words. The metaphor, he came to learn, never once solidified as an undeniable certification of reality; but people did look at him with colored expressions he couldn’t understand when he did speak. His voice was soft, like a black oil brush with no color moving around a white canvas.
Francis Redd worked disability. Every day he smothered himself in other people’s misery and lies. It was part of the job, and he one of the best. He left work each day believing it could always be worse.
One day soon after his crying spell, Francis closed up his cubicle, walked to the elevator, pressed 1, left the building, started his car, pulled out of the lot and began his drive home. It was an uninteresting mid-March morning, the sky’s dull gray pillow-casing the sun. Only when he was half way home did he realize that it was only two o’clock in the afternoon. He felt his heart lurch, and he pulled the car over. Half aloud he asked himself: how could I do that? He could go back to work, and hope no one noticed his absence. Or he could go home and play it off tomorrow as if he’d squared everything away regarding a doctor’s appointment or some family related task. He didn’t want to go back to work, so he drove home. There was an electric feeling in the center of his chest, just below the heart and hurting like anguish. He was afraid his chest might explode. He looked at himself in the rearview mirror and shuddered, his revulsion thick.
Francis Redd guided his car into the subdivision he lived in, the streets themed after all the different types of ducks. All of the houses were different and they all looked the same, with brick fronts, sides covered with different bland colors of vinyl; pale yellow and lackluster silver look surprisingly alike, he came to believe. Francis’ was one of the dull silver ones.
Francis always felt proud, at first, as he drew near his house. He worked so hard. But disappointment, an ever-present chameleon, changed him; turning him tan and as lackluster as the khaki pants he wore, as beige as the Escort he drove. His house, silver, at first glance, looked like the other silver houses dotting the landscape.
Francis walked in the hours after dinner, his wife on the phone, the children doing homework or playing favorite games. Walking around the neighborhoods and watching his neighbors, glowing silver because he understood their unawareness, their intellectual incapacity of belief inhibiting their ability to recognize the familiarity of their flavorless lives floating at the outer boundaries of their dreams, and out of reach of their competence to reconcile what they believed with what they lived.
Francis Redd, death blushing him, understood too well.
Dread unfulfilled, unfinished; in these precious moments of superiority he celebrated, because they, his neighbors, the people he shared the world with, he judged self-deficient in understanding their ignorance; lacking the necessary self-awareness of dreams.
Understanding his own existence as less than mediocre bled from his heart, the slow drip-drop of thick blood, in synchronization with his breathing and blinking. At times he envied their dull minds.
Darlene’s big green minivan sat in the driveway, clean and shiny.
Francis Redd opened the front door to his house and walked in. The house, decorated to suit Darlene’s tastes, painted a gypsy portrait, full of odd antiquities displayed on antique furniture, heirlooms from Darlene’s side of the family, paint unifying her color scheme of burgundy, cream and forest green. Francis liked the colors, at first, because he considered them relaxing but after a while he began to hate the colors as much as everything else about the house. The crimson and flesh yellow shaded walls turned on him over time, betraying him, suffocating him like moist bloody gauze.
Francis found the living room devoid of life, so he turned and walked down the hallway toward his bedroom. He almost called out, to announce his presence, but through the half-open bedroom door he witnessed Darlene naked, her legs straight up in the air and as far apart as possible, in the most open of human gestures. On top of her was a large black man, naked too, buttocks tight but beginning to relax as his orgasm lessened. Darlene called out, but Francis couldn’t understand what she said.
Francis stood frozen, watching his nightmare, his image reflected in large gold-gilded mirror he hated but Darlene loved, latticed with faded golden seraphs dancing like dolphins in the open ocean, decorating but drooping on the wall behind him, reminding him of his pale loose existence of hate.
He turned away from his reflection. Frightened, paralyzed, he didn’t know what to do: a tableau of self-pity.
Kicking the door fully open and shouting “Stop!” seemed a bit ridiculous, since they were finished anyway. He knew he didn’t want to confront Darlene with the man still in the room, as that would be awkward.
Denied essential tears rendered Francis into two halves. His necessary and basic weeping was remanded to an old and ancient dwelling carved under his heart long ago when he was nothing but a ravenous and unsatisfied infant, a-synchronic, dank with old blood. He needed and wanted to cry, but he didn’t want to cry in front of Darlene or, for that matter, the man. He stood there in his indecision, quivering, watching the man dress and Darlene light a cigarette. He trembled with such might that his head made a soft knocking on the wall behind him.
The man finished dressing and turned to Darlene; “I have to go.”
“Okay;” Darlene, stretching, her back to both men.
The man left the room quietly, pausing, nodding in Francis’ direction, but into the mirror, before continuing on. Francis heard the front door open and close. He decided this was not the moment to speak to Darlene. His mouth open, baring his teeth to form a mock smile, Francis retraced his steps.
He sat down in the cream-colored leather recliner in the living room. The fireplace loomed behind him. A large stand-alone mirror framed with gold cherubs blurred his peripheral vision just to his left. Darlene refused to move the mirror, even though Francis had nearly put his foot down about it. He hated the mirror.
Francis heard the screeching brakes of the school bus pulling to a stop in front of the house.
Francis understood the tears beginning to drain him once again, feeling them on his cheeks and chin until they disappeared into the dark fabric of his shirt, scented like rain too late to save a summer’s crops.
Caleb and Ruth May came through the doorway, quietly, as if unsure of what they might find. Francis expected a greeting from them, as he wasn’t supposed to be here yet, but instead they just glanced in his direction, focusing on the mirror beside him. They seemed, to Francis, hypnotized; perhaps by the sight of themselves in the mirror; or by their father’s reality. They turned away, in unison Francis thought, as if one was the pale reflection of the other, hurrying up the stairs two at a time toward their rooms.
Frances heard a car door shut outside in the driveway. It was Sue. “Sexy Sue,” as Darlene called her. Francis never liked her. He possessed a pretty nice collection of DVD movies, and he was proud of it, and he’d asked Darlene not to loan them out. Of course, she did, to Sue—she thought it funny that it bothered Francis so much—and Sue had yet to return them. She had his Collector’s Edition of Milos Forman’s best movie. He really admired Milos Foreman. Sometimes the common man won and sometimes he didn’t.
Francis heard the sliding glass door at the back of the house open and close. It occurred to Francis that Sue’s presence made her complicit in Darlene’s affair. He listened as she rustled down the hall toward his bedroom. Sue preferred to date black men because she admired their penises so much, and was happy to talk about it and often did with Darlene. Not that she limited herself, though.
One night on one of Darlene and Sue’s drinking bouts—Darlene was expert at making martinis—Francis joined in, listening to their conversation, laughing knowingly on occasion. He didn’t really join in, though, because he found the two of them confusing. Overwhelmed after her three martinis, Darlene walked to the bedroom and lay down on her bed, leaving Francis and Sue alone. Sue leaned over to him and mentioned just how much she truly enjoyed giving oral sex. Francis, also feeling overwhelmed by vodka and circumstance, stood and dropped his pants. Sue laughed at him while walking to the sofa and dropping off to sleep.
Disturbed, gingerly walking to the bedroom, he removed all of his clothing and fell into a listless sleep next to Darlene. The next morning when Francis arose, he left his bedroom and stumbled toward the kitchen. Darlene and Sue, already there, shared a knowing expression as Francis poured some orange juice. Darlene snorted. Francis, cold and numb, like a cube of ice still unused, returned to his bedroom.
Francis, back in the moment, and cold, in the recliner, listened to the voices in the house. In the bedroom, Darlene was on the phone with Sue. Sue must have said something funny because Darlene was laughing wholeheartedly. Francis heard Caleb and Ruth May upstairs arguing over a video game. Ruth May, two years older than Caleb, and stronger, whacked Caleb loudly. He heard Caleb’s cry but, unable to move in his new frozen environment, did nothing but wish his two children were more like the dolphins hanging from the ceiling in their shared bathroom. Francis loved dolphins. Two doors slammed shut upstairs. In Ruth May’s room, the thud of tank machine guns and jet fighter explosions battled through her door and down the stairs to Francis. The crashes and booms muffled Caleb’s cries.
Francis realized that of all of the rooms in his house, none were his. There was no room for him, no place for him to cry or laugh or make love. Life pushed him out: you don’t belong here. He thought about going upstairs and punishing June May and comforting Caleb. He thought about going to his bedroom and asking Darlene what was so damn funny.
Instead, he left the house through the front door and crossed over to the garage where inside he pulled down the stepladder leading up to the attic. He hit the light switch but the bulb had burned out a long time ago. Climbing back down to the garage, he found a flashlight, and paused; what am I doing?
Not waiting for an answer, he again ascended to the attic. Afraid, like a little boy lost in an unfamiliar place, but determinedly shining his light around the attic, he saw items poorly stacked around the space, leaning like bad memories. An old crib, his daughter’s, lay wasted against one wall. Pink at one time, dust and time painted it a jaundiced yellow. Somehow water leaked into the attic in spots and the thick scent of mildew and rotting clothing assaulted his brain. Sorting through a dank cardboard box, one item drew his attention; his wife’s wedding gown. Loaned to a relative, and upon return, the gown became discarded, without value.
He sat the flashlight on an old chest, and held the dress up with both hands in front of him. He tried to remember Darlene happy in the dress, now stained and ruined, but only remembered clumsily trying to take it off her on their wedding night. They were both very drunk and the night ended in failure. Francis dropped the dress and picked up the flashlight, again searching for an object to jog memories. In one corner of the attic where the light couldn’t reach, slept a bat. The bat, an adult male, slept alone because of new building in the area; tonight, he would search out his lost life.
Francis moved his light around, growing more desperate. His beam illuminated a trunk. Francis walked over and opened it, finding it full of photographs. Plunging his hand in, he happened to pull out a picture of Darlene in her wedding dress on their wedding day. She, excellently beautiful, he thought, and the smile on her face—the glow in her eyes—created a craving for her smile. But no more smiles existed. He sat down and studied the photo, crossing his legs Indian style like when he was a kid. Quite certain that she’d loved him truly and deeply on that day, he wondered, having done all that he could: what happened? He worked hard to provide for his family. He loved them as much as he possibly could, so much it hurt, so much it killed him.
Two futures battered each other in his mind. Images of his gray cubicle, all the paper, all the broken people, the drive to work, the tired silver siding on the house meant nothing to Francis.
Lost love stroking his consciousness with bitterly used work gloves, his future flashed jade, reptilian, painting his face red; teeth consumed this possible future. The other future, more comforting, addressed all of his desires.
Before descending from the attic, Francis noticed he still grasped the wedding photo; he let go and watched the picture butterfly its way to the floor. Francis left the attic, closing the door behind him
 Francis, moving quickly, determinably in the kitchen, adding a bit too much salt to the chicken, a smidgen too much salt to the vegetables, and he finished by adding a tad more salt to the gumbo. After pouring the milk into the sink, he made a large pitcher of lemonade. Then he crushed up three whole bottles of his medicine. He poured the fine powder into the lemonade, stirring well. After setting the table, and calling everyone to dinner, Frances left for a pack of cigarettes.
Francis, in the park, lit a cigarette, smoked it, flicked the butt out the window and lit another. He watched a family—father, mother, son, and daughter—playing on the swings. The little girl cried out for daddy to push her on the swing but he told her to be patient and he will push her but right now Mommy was busy loving Daddy.
Francis recalled a moment from his own childhood. He didn’t want to remember but the emotion arrived fiercely, unable to be tamed and quartered. He gave in, he folded, he cried and the memory burst through its mental wall, hard-shelled and faux-winged, so he gave up the ghost, he surrendered and remembered. Tiny, as tiny as a baby’s whisper, he cried out in unison with his baby brother wailing in his crib in this other room. Mommy and Daddy rushed in. Little Tony kicked and quivered at the water bug pinching and tearing at his big toe. Daddy squeezed the bug so it released. He flushed it down the toilet and told Mommy, while roaches skittered across the floor and dropped on them from the ceiling, they must leave this house. But it was too late for little Tony. Later, Francis remembered, a bit older and wiser, and weaker, perhaps 10 years of age, he used his pellet gun to chase the rats out of his bedroom. The rats didn’t leave, only burrowed into the shadows; only to return when sleep came, coarse whiskers itching inside his brain.
Francis shook his head and scratched his forehead until it bled. He’d shared some of these stories with Darlene, in the early years of their marriage, only regretting in these later years, wallowing in the unique and ugly remorse of telling a secret that should have remained a secret.
Darlene said: Why can’t you work harder, earn more, and love more?
He realized, then, that no one murdered him. After everything, he had killed himself. Even though he’d escaped his parents and their own brand of poverty, even though he’d managed to live through the drug years, the violent years, even though he’d gone to college and fell in love with literature and earned a Master’s degree, in the end, he’d still murdered himself. The fact stood as red and plain as the blood on his face, if anyone cared to look. Now the ghost of Francis Redd, he inhaled the dirty air and exhaled sorrow-like a memory of someone else’s nightmares.
Francis remembered: hard rain, inundating the earth. He stared across the grave of his mother. Darlene, Ruth May, and Caleb stood under an umbrella on the other side of the grave, looking at him, their thoughts searing and melting into his own: you loved this dead woman? Muddy water ran into the grave. Dear God, Francis prayed, my mother drowned. How could you let it rain today?
That night Francis dreamed of swimming in a deep blue ocean, dolphins playfully circling him, smiling and chortling hellos, and in a miracle he breathed the warm water with them; a most wonderful existence. He awoke with a smile and an erection, and he turned to share his dream with Darlene, but she wasn’t there. He walked down the long hallway toward the kitchen, and he heard Darlene and Sue in there laughing so he stopped. Darlene was telling Sue that maybe Ruth May ought to have been named Ginny and that Caleb should be Vernon-for-vermouth.
At home now, Francis carried Darlene into the bedroom. He laid her on the floor while he pulled the comforter back. Then he put her in the bed and tucked her in. She was just barely breathing. He went upstairs. June May laid in her bed already, a soft green comforter pulled to her chin, her stuffed chimp named Bananas laying lifelessly as she on the pillow beside her. June May no longer breathed. Francis turned the television off, and then walked to Caleb’s bedroom. He lay dead on the floor. Francis put him in bed, under his blue blanket. Francis returned to June May’s bedroom and retrieved the war game the two of them fought over earlier and placed it on the pillow next to Caleb’s head. Francis returned to his bedroom. Darlene was still breathing, quite shallowly, so he placed his pillow over her face. He walked into the bathroom and urinated. Looking into the mirror as he washed his hands, he noticed the dolphins on the wall behind him, splashing mirth and smiles. Francis took the dolphins off the wall and put them in his jacket pocket. Returning to his bedroom, he uncovered Darlene’s face. Darlene no longer breathed.
Francis parked his car on the side of the road near the bridge over Eagle Creek Reservoir. Francis powered down his car windows, about a half-inch for each window. Taking the dolphins out of his pocket, Francis placed them on the seat next to his. A silver minivan with a family inside drove by him, and then he was alone.
Francis Redd drove his car into the reservoir. The car slowly filled with water and, soon enough, the water picked up the dolphins. Francis smiled with the chortling dolphins floating around him, and he no longer breathed.

Fiction: Death Match by Heather Dawson

Death Match
By Heather Dawson

A about a year to the day on which my mother was diagnosed with the death, she was overcome with faintness and fell a hard fall and crushed her head and spirit and refused care and refused all my cajoling and needling and persuading, crying and pleading and screaming ... she could not be moved. A tall, strong Scotswoman never needs the physician's care, never trusts the medical field on the whole and so I screamed my last scream and for two weeks did not scream nor cry nor cajole nor plead nor needle nor persuade. And she stood firm too. And I remember, it was at Luca's performance, I saw her for the first time in many weeks. During our time of silence, my siblings had asked me to soften but I was as stern as she and had hardened my heart against her, until that night when it melted and all was forgiven and set right ... but not really.
After that she was never quite the same. Once so beautiful and chic, now her arms hung off her shoulders like dead tree limbs. She rarely smiled that knowing, silly smile,  she was often perplexed, cross with me, accusatory... and I ignored these new traits saying she's just getting on ...
But she wasn't, and time passed and the day came when she came to my home to help with Luca and Zoe and she said to me 'I'm tired - may I lay down for a bit?", a small infection of the upper respiratory system, she said,  nothing at all to worry about.
And weeks later, at her home, my father called me as she lay in bed for hours on end until I lay down next to her in the darkened room and she whispered 'heather, I woke and I knew not who I was - if my own mother was alive - or if I were a child or a grown woman - I thought I did not have children nor a husband nor grandchildren - I am frightened ...' And I was frightened in kind ..
And this time I was softer. I enlisted the help of others and found the care she was willing to accept and those who took her into their care, found the death laying deep within her chest and her head, her ribs and her root, in every place and in every cell they found the death and I tried to fight the death and she did too but it crept over her body as a fog.
And in the end from her hospital bed she asked me to take her home and I said yes ...
'Do you know what this means?'
'Yes.'
'Are you mad at me?'
'Never - let's go home.'

Fiction: Taliah's Reward by Corvo Obsidian Sahjaza

TALIAH'S REWARD
By Corvo Obsidian Sahjaza

Taliah waited naked on the bed for her Mistress who was still in the shower. In her hand was the new collar that Mistress had purchased for her. Taliah's mind was racing, her breath a bit shallow as she waited. Taliah was about 5'4" with straight brown hair, voluptuous and soft, large breasts and pale skin.
Mistress had told her to get out before her to dry off and wait for her on the bed. Tali's skin was still damp, her hair freshly combed and body slathered with vanilla scented lotion that Mistress loved. Taliah crawled over to the bed, and kneeled in the middle of it, her hand clutching the new collar. She spread her legs wide and placed her palms face up in Nadu. Her body trembled with tiny tremors.
As Mistress stepped out of the shower, Taliah listened intently to all the sounds around her. She heard her Mistress humming peacefully while slowly drying herself off, the creaking of the guest bed, which had seen better days, and the occasional comment from Mistress and a few giggles. Mistress was 5' 2", a curvy woman with curly black hair that cascaded down to her shoulders. While she might not have been tall, she was commanding and Taliah adored her.
Mistress hung up her towel and sauntered over naked to the bed.
"You're trembling my lambkins. You look so delicious and smell so nice tonight. Good enough to eat," she giggled. "Now is that special moment that we've been talking about for so long. I am now going to take off your training collar and replace it with the one I bought you. You will listen to these words intently I say them. Remember lamby, you're my slave, I am your Mistress and that's just the way we are."
"Yes, Mistress," Taliah whispered, the words barely audible.
Mistress gingerly removed the hemp-training collar, still a bit damp from the shower. In Taliah's hand, as commanded was the new collar. It was a silver tube collar, thin and delicate, that would warm to the touch after being on her neck. Mistress took the fragile collar out from Taliah's grasp and placed it around her neck. Taliah cooed.
"Pet, I want you to sit still and to listen very carefully to what I will be telling you. You need not say a word, and when we're all done, I have a special treat for you," Mistress spoke softly but firmly.
Taliah nodded, sitting as still as she could.
"My dearest lambkins, from this day forward until I release you, you are to be mine, and you are to obey me, honor me, and are loyal to me. You are my slave. You are for my pleasure. Your pleasure will be fulfilled in pleasing me."
And with that, Mistress secured the collar on Taliah's neck. Immediately Tali put her fingers to her throat to feel the tube of silver.
"It's growing warm Mistress..." she said, still quiet and dazed.
Mistress smiled and told Taliah to lie down on the bed. Mistress stretched out besides her smiling like a Cheshire cat.
"Lamby, I know you've been desirous, wanting to touch this body, my skin, to explore the way I taste and smell. Tonight you are free to touch me as you like."
Taliah was cautious. Such an open command, she thought. What to do first...
She took her fingers and gingerly traced Mistress' face, her neck. She savored each inch, moving slowly, her eyes half-closed, already moving into subspace. Mistress moaned blissfully, cooing and enjoying.
Tali was growing bolder, moving her fingers down the soft skin, down the belly, down to the thighs. Mistress spread her legs and said,
"Touch it, touch me, feel me, taste me lamby, I know you want to. You have permission."
Taliah moved down the bed, positioning herself between Mistress' legs. Gracefully she lowered her head and started to kiss the thighs, slow butterfly kisses. Mistress put her hands and arms above her head, stretching, spreading her legs wide open, purring.
The slave reached the source of Mistress' sweetness, the musky smell permeating her nostrils. With a flick of her agile tongue she began to lap at Mistress' pussy, tasting her, growing bolder.
"Mmmm.....yes little one, that's it...." Mistress moaned.
Her tongue traced the petal-like lips, pointed and then flat, lapping at the wetness that started to flow. Mistress pushed her slave's head deeper into her pussy. Tali started to use her fingers on the clit, feeling how it had engorged with blood, and the moans from Mistress making her own pussy moist and throbbing for attention.
Mistress' hips started to move up and down, using her slave's skillful tongue to start her on her way to cumming. Tali licked faster, rubbed harder knowing what pleased her Mistress. What a wonderful reward, she thought. Licking and slurping the little slave girl relished the sweet liquid oozing from her Mistress. Moaning louder Mistress held her head tight.
"Oh little one, don't stop....right there... oh yes! Make Mistress cum hard....uhhhhhnnnn yes!"
Tali lapped furiously, her tongue never tiring. Then she saw her owner's body stiffen and feel the great release that was her cumming. I have made her come, Tali thought.
"Oh god.....yes! Ohhh little one you please me sooooooo much....." Mistress was barely able to get her words out as she came hard on her slave's tongue.
Her body convulsed. Mistress let her slave's head go and took her shoulders and brought her mouth up to meet hers. Slowly she licked and kissed her slave's mouth, tasting her cum on her lips...cleaning it off with her own teasing tongue and positioned Taliah next to her on the bed.
"Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm little one that was sooooo nice," Mistress purred. "Come and cuddle with your Mistress...it is late and I am tired. You can still touch me as you like. I might fall asleep while talking to you, so if I do, know that I love you and that you please me very much."
"Yes, Mistress," Taliah responded pleased with herself in giving her Mistress so much pleasure.
Tali continued to rest in Mistress' arms the rest of the night, unable to sleep. She traced her owner's body as Mistress drifted off to sleep. She watched her as she rested, content, happy and whole for the first time.