Archive for: June, 2012

Defense Pheromones by George S. Karagiannis

Jun 24 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

That music came from the stars.

Outer planes. The boy looked upward and forth toward the sea, beyond the distant horizon. Aloft, astral microparticles formed cupid-like figures, with pointed arrows against the galactic broth. Below, tiny waves carved spheroid projections of planetary aggregates around seashore tiles, resembling a grayscale terrazzo. Fornicating forces at the mid-sea generated a palisade of thrust against the spirit of the airstream, a slowly-vaporizing whirlwind, vacuumed out of the stardust. The ocean glaze was blanketed by the cobalt sky, mirroring the image of long-forgotten clouds in the middle.

Hypoechoic signals from resident underwater mammals travelled in the water, passed through the middle-atmosphere and beamed right onto the boy’s inner ear cortex. These transitions were intertwined with proximal sounds of unknown, incoming flight maneuvers from feline creatures preparing for landing. The resonance was translated as an alarm pheromone, evolving through the child’s brain.

The boy, then, rushed to the water to incept his foray. And not a moment too soon, he vanished underneath. Embraced in a familiar playground, the seaborne “brook” led him just towards the whalephant mouth, while the monster was osmotically balancing with the electrolytic constituent of the surface, somehow managing to maintain a façade of thirst. Deterministically, the small boy was swallowed from a whalephant, deeply ensnared in a nirvana state, during the passive process of electrolyte exchange. Trapped within the pitch black burrow, suddenly the boy felt the warmth of the interior mucosal steams, bubbling from the esophageal walling, beyond the whalephant pharynx. He felt the rejuvenating beat of the nearby arteries, hosting the dense, sweet bloodstream and pressed his palm on the tic-tac pulses, ejecting himself via inertia, deeper and deeper into the abyssal channel of the gastrointestinal tract. Orbiting in an almost astronautic pace, the boy intuitively closed his non-experienced eyes, released his muscular tension, and opened his heart to the creature, so that they could together become one.

And then he was lost, waiting to be born for a second time, at a future threat, since he was nothing more than an alarm pheromone.

***

 

Approaching the futile fight, against the dying? The prophet asked. He, then, performed an incision, bringing the scalpel beside the intervertebral disk, between the first two cervical spines. Avoiding the nerve endings from the posterior plexus, he kept moving underneath and downward to the white matter, aspiring to reach the pinnacle of his faultless technique. This gave RX242 the climax of pain, a soothing twinge.

“I am orbiting only a few trillion strings away from the time-target”, RX242 whispered and then fell unconscious. The nervous breakdown charged his spineless body, leaving a shade of exhalation, like final words of a long-forgotten poet. A lungful of secrets. Exhausted. Energy-depleted. Like pretending to live a life he has always been dreaming of, especially, during his docile and modest childhood.

He was merely a child before breeding this rasping feline progeny. His progeny…

His little army!

I’m going to fix you! You will thank me! The prophet reassured him, familiarizing RX242’s dream pictures with a subtle mid-tone in his voice. A welcoming apparition, it was. Once he had a mother! Was this song of hers, what he remembered now?

Or, maybe…

It sounded like that, but he could only remember the gist of it.

 

… to be a river!

… from another mother

…step aside

…you’re my lover!

 

***

The whalephants patterned in a war mode formation, together, directed by the small child which in fact served as a pure alarm pheromone, imminently released from their proximal jawbones. This allowed them to intellectually sense the co-occurrence of freshly-landed felines on the outland terra, providing an ample justification for the alarm.

The leading whalephant leaned forward; its enormous body tilted momentarily in the waterbed and initiated a formula of events towards the rest of the flock. The cohort crafted a net-shaped stride, rising from the back and moving forward, forming a rhombus-like parade, so as every single individual would have access to any incoming transition, by the leader at the core. Sooner or later, the leader whalephant would have digested the full information given from the child. As a logical sequence of events, the child would have become a thinking process for the whalephant memory; the memory would become an action potential, diffused in a sun-like manner at a vast velocity, and with avid concentration gradients along multiple axes around the creatures and then whalephants would have been capable of protecting the planet from the invading felines.

This process took, in fact, only a few seconds; by that time, the modus operandi was perfectly clear. Whalephants were granted with cognitive reasoning for a short period of time. Theoretically, this timeframe would be more than enough to dispose of the emerging threat. Subsequently, the nature of the threat was recognized; whalephants pictured clearly the alien felines wandering around in the vegetation, squeaking at coral bushes and being tamed by caressing forest zephyrs. The felines were mutually coordinating their transmitting growls in a concentric mode, screening the whole region, hoping to track down potential inconsistencies of the wavelengths that would betray the presence of the time-target. The felines remained in a close proximity to each other, to better amplify their signal and succeed in their mission, in the best possible way. The adjacent trees, eternal recyclers of the middle atmosphere, roared in a futile attempt to resist the powerful and authoritative feline aura.

Typically, after immunosurveillance was activated by the child, “soundantigen” presentation could be easily performed at the sites of antibody production within the whalephant marrow. The “police” pheromones were now under the procedure of massive production from the bodies of the entire whalephant flock. Given the nature of the threat, police pheromones would soon overflow the whalephant bloodstream, raising the systolic pressure to hazardous levels, those approaching a lethal stroke. But, the whalephants would be on the safe side, as long as they were keeping the defense formation, feeding each other with the protective film, decalcified from their upper jaws.

This process would allow them to simultaneously release huge amounts of energy against their enemies!

***

“Will you please take good care of my dismembered back?” RX242 squeezed, almost in panic, “I just felt that cut!”

It is indeed strange, this malignant tumor; trying to incorporate itself into the grey matter and stay attached there. A medical mystery! Sparse colonies, here and there. Hmmm… We might need to find another way through it… Get ready for another trip! I am going to stay close to your grey matter, for a while. I am going to try something innovative, in here.

“Not again!”

Com’ on. You like it. I know you like it! The prophet said, while injecting more anesthetic into RX242’s vein.

“How is that? How do you know?”

Once… once I was there, lying on the bed, too. Time was of the essence at that point. My progeny had just landed on a new, unknown planet. That planet was empty of life. Vacant. But, where there is nothing, there is always something to grow, right? Waiting for its own existence. It was a perfect chance, a perfect opportunity to build my empire! To find my place in the universe! You know, it’s very hard not knowing where you belong… After that moment, I knew! I knew where I belonged…

His hands were shaking. This was way too stressful for a pure memory! He stayed tuned for a moment, releasing the anesthetic beyond the safety valve, almost down to dangerous levels. To this extent, he realized, he was once a maker like RX242, himself. A multidimensional architect… struggling against handfuls of nervous system tumors, as well. This was the fine They had to pay! This was the weight They had to lift!

How lucky he was! His own procurator was a true catch; a demonic and remarkable prophet. He was always one step ahead, foretelling about incoming tumors, even before they bring out their symptoms. This is why he, himself, was able to live for so long and construct this entire circus of love and hatred, life and death! But now, he could not but wear the mask of frustration.  RX242’s chances for survival were scarce, and he could even file printed evidence for that. But the shame mainly came from the fact that this was his very first tumor; no matter the case was not medically fascinating, still… it was giving him a hard time. His own master was much more worthy than him… He was respected.

After I fully recovered from my first brain tumor… he whispered to RX242’s ear, I found so much creativity within my lungs, I wanted to breathe it out, I didn’t have the stomach for idleness anymore. I could witness striking colors and distinguish the most complex modifications in them, bearing sounds from animals that never existed, and probably never will. I could hear inner voices, howling for a desperate urge to be born, begging for a place to flourish, such a dreamy setting! That moment, I knew I could father everything! I was ready for that; I had been prepared for it…That was when my first progeny popped out, the whalephants! Beautiful and elegant creatures, oh God!

RX242… Are you listening?

He was sleeping there, comatose.

***

After the police pheromones were activated, the whalephants deployed a first-line mind attack, efficiently surpassing the external echoic barriers from the feline frontal lobe filters, causing severe bleeding out of their nostrils. The telepathic assault caught the felines by surprise, so several of them fell down, deep into lethargy, unable to endure the instant shock vibration. The rest of them rallied together, to produce an assembly awakening, and be better prepared for dodging the oncoming assaulting waves. The assembly awakening successfully stabilized the hemorrhagic state of the still-standing felines; yet, offering a defensive net around them, like a handcrafted, carefully-woven blanket. The leading felines growled stonily to produce a diversion net; thus giving some time for the group to reorient itself geographically, prepare physically and mentally and begin working out the nature and potential source of the threat.

It turned out to be a vascular war, between the two species.

The whalephants charged via a second line of echoic waves, similar to the first one, hoping to finish up the story, but this time it was completely absorbed by the diversion net. As soon as their echoic wave hit the net, a reactive reflection was diffused into the middle-atmosphere causing a chaotic retaliation pattern, wavering a myriad of baritone projections. Random stiff echoparticles returned to the whalephants in a boomerang fashion, consequently injuring and literally fragmenting most of the whalephant eardrums; the latter could not but fail to intercross their routes, and erroneously change their flexible formation into a non-stochastic nautilus-like shape. Even worse, some of the creatures got lost into the void of the ocean, and being unable to re-rail onto the predestinated course, they fell off route and got pushed deeper into less-oxygenized areas of the bottom of the sea, into trackless trip zones; these were condemned to lose their association to the whole and their communication with the main body, like synapse-deficient neurons. These misplaced whalephants had not only gone insane but furiously, they were navigating without any direction-based rationale towards an infinity sequence.

The leader whalephant realized that the flock was in jeopardy and would soon shatter into individuals, signifying the end of the war. As a reflex, the reasoned whalephants neared themselves to an urgent, social adherence and collectively decided as one mind, to release a “unifying” pheromone, readjusting as many of the cast-outs as possible, to their initial biostructure.

Soon, millions of naked divers appeared at the whalephant teeth, and started swimming away from the creatures’ mouths, forming curvy strings and body chains of variable length around them. Destined to search for the lost mates, assisted by the whalephant march, they pulled their muscles, in pacts, to reach deeper levels. The divers patterned as fractals that looked like frost crystals or streaming pixels, dots in a row, drained by a pressurized fountain. In moments, the parade was spread around and far beneath the visible stroma, targeting the furious whalephants that lacked their geographic array and sided away from the main core.

The divers approached as many lost whalephants as they could and swirled around them. The gargantuan creatures, which measured at least ten thousand times more than the human body, were covered on all sides by the diver fractals. Myriads of divers started caressing the infuriated whalephants, still going at no specific direction, left on their own fate. The whalephant skin, rigid as built cement, fortified by anti-plasticity cell layers, was totally immune to the human touch and the diver caress would have an effect only after surpassing the critical threshold. This is why numbers mattered in this case! At some point, multiple diver touches, like tiny needles stacked in a hardened skin, got to the threshold allowing the acupuncture effect to occur, so the whalephants could re-obtain social reasoning.

The divers managed to heal more than half of the whalephants from their madness! The whalephants, listening to the hypoechoic calls, were able to relocate their family and soon were welcomed again to their strategic positions. The divers circled the entire flock and made it disappear from vision. Infinite numbers of divers were now swimming on the side of the whalephants and created an amplifying filter around them.

The revenge impact lasted less than a second. The amplification was so strong, that the next round of echoic waves made the felines all fall down, among the flowers. Ashes and dust.

***

The prophet stood there motionless and with mouth open. Tears dropped from only his left eye; the right one did not have a functional tear-producing apparatus, it couldn’t produce any physical tears, since he once had a malignant, highly-invasive tumor infiltrating his eyeball, removed from that place. Following a slow motion head tilt, he first looked at his wrist; there he could relive his real name, carved eternally via a signet ring and fire charcoal, sealing his identity with his own connective tissue that gapped the old wound. RX185. This was him! Nothing more than two letters and three numbers. A code chip. Then he turned his look at RX242’s lifeless body, lying onto the surgical table; past and glorious moments of his own dignity were now about to be gone.

Now, that RX242 was down to an irreversible coma, he had to unplug all life-support medical equipment and file up his final diagnosis. On top of that, sooner or later the interstellar specialists from the bureau of ethical medicine would pay a visit and investigate the case, creating a bureaucratic landscape in the wing, spreading around responsibility ‘cherries’ to everyone that could bite.

He sat as conveniently as he could in the pit, and felt the freezing aura of death in his belly and back. He then pressed the recording option on the black box, attached at the surgery room to initiate his descent into the ground-state truth.

This is a remarkable case of a tumor, which has never been witnessed in our department, “interstellar medical case-reports” before. The planet, I had to deal with, had a very sophisticated form of communication developed among the creatures that guarded it. This form of communication soon evolved into a highly-sophisticated system to provide a robust and concrete defensive wall against the mind-bred felines that my patient attempted to use as entry point and build-up his own memorable universe. However, my unfortunate patient couldn’t comprehend the nature of the complex intertwining of life units in this unknown territory… and unfortunately died in a futile attempt to establish his dominance.

I decided to call the newly-developed form of communication between the whalephants, as pheromone signaling, since it astoundingly resembled ancient forms of communication, in planets that housed insectoid lifeforms; these insects, for instance the so-called ‘bees’ were communicating with chemical factors and specific types of dancing with each other, since they had developed specific genetic backgrounds and specific phenotypes to serve the higher cause of the beehive which was its own survival as a full organism. Alert pheromones and other types of pheromones have been detected and isolated by our scientists in these insect communities.

It is still not clear what the nature and source of pheromones in the community of whalephants is; I suspect the co-existence of a symbiotic organism, which in this planet is a species, which name itself as humans or terrans. These terrans serve as the mediating factor for the conversation of whalephants in groups and assist them in surviving in this semi-waterworld. What do the humans gain out of this symbiotic relationship remains to be elucidated, though. And how, and when did the humans start to exist in this odd planet is also a mystery, since our medical pioneers did not observe any shift in the parameter of intelligence on planet Earth. In any case, I think that, for sure, an addition or mild change in the definition of ‘pheromone’, as currently described in the textbook of interstellar medicine is required.

The definition now writes:  

A pheromone is a secreted or excreted chemical factor that triggers a social response in members of the same species. Pheromones are chemicals capable of acting outside the body of the secreting individual to impact the behavior of the receiving individual.

Since, I have concluded that humans are not simply chemical factors, but an intelligent multicellular life-form of unknown origin, the pheromone definition should be rebuilt upon a diverse set of fundamentals. I will leave this to my successors, which hopefully will do better work than I did.

In the case that my opinion still matters to you, I would definitely propose that a new medical unit should immediately start discussions and scientific research over this new type of imminent threat, the ‘pheromone-dependent tumors’. I know not of the whereabouts of this malignancy, but I know for sure, that it will be a real challenge in terms of therapeutic management. Brace for impact.

To this bitter end, I would like to apologize to you RX242! I failed you. I now am ready to face the consequences of my incapability to prove myself as a true doctor of our universe. I am sorry to you Enlightened Force! May my whalephants be destroyed at some point! May a new patient prove to be stronger than me in terms of self-esteem and creativity… So miracle it is that imagination of world-keepers is nothing more than a malignant spread! The whole universe is malignant! Our sick minds are malignant! Tumorous, it is!

Log out. My last thoughts.

The prophet stood up and kissed RX242 goodbye. He then moved out of the surgical wing, alone and gloomy. There, standing in the borderless tunnel of light, shadows of four-five entities, the ethics investigators, were unhurriedly approaching, like zombies balancing in sunbeams. Their ship had just landed at the rooftop stardrome, seconds after RX242 died and they were already en route towards the main corridor.

These damn bastards were pretty fast! The prophet thought and was paralyzed in his crude state of mind, the one he earlier adopted; but now had already accepted.

The ethics investigators had their typical blue aura, soon turning into a purple one, after it was mixed with the newly-produced red around their phosphorescent blue circlet. This pointed out that these faceless creatures did not consider RX185 as ethical and their motives were not apparently naive. RX185’s adrenal glands already started making him nervous, while seeing a ghost party approaching him with eyes flickering as dim lights; like Charon thriving for a soul.

He knew not of what was going to happen to him. He was only hearing rumors that the ethics investigators push you to your very limits, balancing between sanity and insanity in the mental prison, up to the point you become a vegetable and want to die.

That is quite a destiny! The prophet thought.

He then smiled in embarrassment and agony, whispering an old song at the same time to create a diversion in his dark thoughts. His voice, though, stopped just behind his teeth.

 

In memories that came, I want to be a river!

Be born again from another mother

Leave my previous one to step aside

And tell my newer one that you’re my lover!

 

And then, unlocking his heart and body, he waited to get arrested.

 

~END

***

 

Biological & Medical Terminology (alphabetic order)

 

Antigen Presentation: a process in the body’s immune system by which specific immune and immune-modulatory cells, capture antigens (specific substances from foreign bodies, e.g. intruder bacteria) and they are ‘presenting’ these antigens in lymphocytes (specialized types of cells that will produce antibodies and fight down the intruder). In this story adaptation, the term ‘soundantigen’ presentation is utilized, meaning that a same process is initiated but the intruder is a specific sound.

Bone Marrow: a flexible tissue found in the interior of the bones, a site where most of the immune reactions take place, such as antigen presentation.

Connective Tissue: Soft body tissue, whose main purpose is to heal wounds by producing collagen over traumatic areas.

Decalcification: A process by which most organisms liberate calcium from the bones. Calcium is essential for many metabolic reactions but also to transmit signals within the body. For this reason, decalcification is a mechanism occurring in all live organisms not only when there is calcium deficiency, but temporarily when an organism needs to transmit large pieces of biological information as signals. In the latter case rapid decalcification allows the signal to be amplified very quickly. In this story adaptation, calcium to initiate this process is obtained by the proximal jawbones, since it has been postulated through many scientific observations that underwater mammals (e.g. dolphins, whales) communicate with each other with transmitting sounds, originating from their jawbones.

Immunosurveillance: a process of the immune system, whereby specific immune cells reside in parts of the body that theoretically are not supported by the immune system (e.g. away from the bone marrow). Typically, these immune cells act as police cells, because they detect cancer cells and kill them.

Osmosis (osmotical balance): a passive process during which ions (or electrolytes), like sodium and potassium pass through semi-permeable membranes from high to low concentrations. Some water mammals actually exchange potassium and sodium with the sea when they need it for their tissue homeostasis.

Pheromone: a secreted or excreted chemical factor that triggers a social response in members of the same species. Pheromones are chemicals capable of acting outside the body of the secreting individual to impact the behavior of the receiving individual.

Signaling: a biochemical pathway which is deployed as a consecutive series of biological events, resulting in a specific outcome (e.g. to increase the levels of sugars in the blood, etc). In this story adaptation, pheromone signaling is a series of events, triggered from pheromones and resulting in a social-biological outcome (social reasoning).

Vascular: regarding blood vessels.

***

 

Short Bio:

George S. Karagiannis was born in Thessaloniki, Greece at 1984. He finished the School of Veterinary Medicine and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto in Canada, studying the molecular mechanisms of cancer metastasis. He enjoys writing science fiction, mainly in the sub-genres of (1) hard science fiction, (2) bizarro and horror sci-fi and (3) apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, but more often blending all those, together! His favorite science fiction author is Philip K. Dick, whom he has been reading since he was introduced in the field. He is also an abstractionist/surreal artist and his blog can be found here: http://abstractsur.blogspot.com/. He has a very short and recent publishing history and his personal site can be found here: http://karagiannis-sci-fi.blogspot.com/.

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Why by Tess Pfeifle

Jun 17 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

In the slammer, I can’t tell you how many people ask “how”.

Inmates can’t seem to get enough of those answers; how many times I plunged the knife into them, how they pleaded for their lives until the blood rested in their throats, how their eyes rolled back into their heads when it was all over.

Yes, they love “hows”.

Quite frankly, I am tired of “hows”. They are boring, trite and barely contain any humor at all. The “whys” are much more interesting, they are the hook of the song. I have begun to think that many of the murderers here don’t even have a real “why”. Their wife cheated on them, their mothers ignored them when they were little, their friends tried to sell them out for heroin. How charming. It’s endearing the way these miscreants beg and whine. It’s like they think they’re special. They didn’t even get away with it. I got away with a lot.

It all started with Lillian Howard in Middleborough High School. She had brown hair that cascaded down her narrow back. If you stared at her bright green eyes for too long, they began to look like cat eyes. Lillian was my high school crush, my unrequited love, my reason and my blood. Lillian was everything. I remember when I first fell in love with her, oh how those moments of my glittering youth rushes back to me in great, passionate waves crashing into the here and now. We were in biology; we had to dissect frogs. I was waiting for Lillian to pass out. I wanted to catch her. I think she noticed me hovering over her because her forehead beaded with sweat.

Lillian didn’t crumple to the ground though. She didn’t even squirm when she dug the blade into that frog’s belly. That’s when I knew I loved her. She wasn’t squeamish at all, just like me. I knew we could get along.

I followed her home one night. Lillian had to stay late for swim practice. She saw me as she clicked the lock on her front door open.

“What the hell are you doing?” Lillian asked, her jeering question cut me in worse ways than I could ever cut her. Even all these years later it makes me cringe.

“I was walking you home.” Looking into her eyes, my mouth fumbled over the words.

“Leave me alone Cameron” Lillian whispered harshly. It was all I needed. She knew my name, and I walked right up her steps and pushed my hand over her peach colored mouth. Lillian’s soft lips pressing savagely against my hand. I remember how her hair smelled of chlorine and her eyes were so weary. She screamed out fiercely when I first started. I remember lifting her in my car. Lillian’s still body heavy from the water she had taken on in the pool, her skin wrinkled yet still so beautiful. She was my first, in more ways then one.

Her dump was the messiest I ever made. Yet it was still better than many others.

I deftly cut off her fingers and yanked the teeth out of her mouth. Keeping the molar, a keepsake for our time together. I choked her, purple bruises latticed like a necklace on her delicate neck. I decided I couldn’t do anything about that, and moved on.

I stabbed her, forty times. Passionately, I was mad at her, mad at myself. Mad this wasn’t perfect. Because I was perfect, yet as the blood steeped into the drain of my bathtub, I begun to realize something. This was perfect, her warm blood mingling with my sweat and the gentle water leaking out through the faucet.

Cleaning her up was easy. Every thing was wet and every thing could be easily cleaned. I wrapped her up in a trash bag, black and unremarkable.

Driving a little past the main street in my sleepy little town. No one was on the road. People always have some place to be. They dither about like bugs caught in a trap. They don’t have a purpose. I have a purpose.

I pulled onto the shoulder, making sure my tires only hit pavement. I didn’t leave any tracks. I deposited her by the side of the road.

But, I wanted someone to find her. I wanted my masterpiece shown to the world. So I tied a big red ribbon on it and with gloved hands, exposed one lithe, white arm.

I followed this M.O for the rest of my career, and plan on following it once I get back on track.

The police didn’t even come near me. What idiots. That small town police force forgot to question their own people. Every time there is a murder, they call in the big guys; FBI, State Police. It’s just easier. I felt invigorated with what I had done. I did not consider it much of a crime at the time. It had been half accidental anyway. But I developed a taste for it. It was an itch that could only be scratched with screams, an insatiable hunger that demanded violence.

I thought Lillian was for me. Lillian seemed to be my equal, smart, quick-witted and not squeamish. I thought we could get along. But we couldn’t. The only thing I could do was to take the life of her. She didn’t deserve me. There was no way I could let her live with so much of myself invested with her. Lillian wasn’t worth my time.

The next was Angel, a few months later. Ironic how strippers always pick the sweetest names. She wanted me. I could understand why.

I was handsome; I came from a good family. I had a lot of money; money she could pay the rent with. Angel looked brightly at me, when I offered an invitation back to my place. Having her over was really the least I could do.

I threw her on the bed. I didn’t need force for this one, at least not for this part. Her glitter littered my bed; her black eyeliner soiled my white pillowcases. I began caressing her neck and still remember the “O” her devilishly red painted lips made when she finally realized what I was. Angel’s body was heavier than Lillian’s. But I got rid of it.

No one looks for dead strippers, too easy. I was almost embarrassed as I stood over her still warm body. She thought she was near me. I bet Angel though we “connected”. How could I let someone like her walk around thinking we were equals. We were far from equals. Her untimely end is proof of that.

Susan was the librarian at the local library. Her mousy looks couldn’t cover up her slutty, sleepy eyes that begged me to take her to bed. I was a real man now. I needed a real woman. Not a silly teenage girl or a gritty stripper. Her breathy voice was soon mixing with mine as I led her to the back, the deepest depths the library had to offer. It was an alarmingly easy place to get lost in. Susan went the quietest. She knew what was coming and she did not resist me. Perhaps she sensed my greatness.

Still thought, I thought Susan was at least as smart as I. She wasn’t, they never are. Susan paraded around with her knowledge of Orwell and Poe. But she didn’t know much at all. For a split second I think she thought she knew me. No one knows me.

So there is your “why”, I suppose there is more than one. There are three, to be exact. There were many more after Lillian, Angel and Susan, fourteen more. Their stories are more interesting. More interesting than how many times I stabbed Lillian post-mortem. Or how Angel’s little mouth screamed at me to save her. Even more interesting than how Susan succumbed so easily to me, to my hunger, that she let me stuff her with the ripped out pages of books she worked so hard to keep in tact. Yes. These all seem much more interesting to me then silly statistics.

I basked in the glow of the nightly news reports of another girl gone missing. An even stronger glow enveloped me when they found the girls dead. I couldn’t stop smiling, because it was always one of my girls.

In my opinion, cleanliness isn’t next to godliness. But it helps when I play god.

Hours spent watching them, getting know them, befriending them. With each of the girls, I always hope that the current one will be the one. Exalting in complete ecstasy that I have finally met my match only to be disappointed weeks, days or even hours after when she falls far beneath my standards.

I am not a Raskolnikov searching for his Sonya. My story isn’t that of Crime and Punishment, though hundreds of psychologists wrongly believe I am search for atonement. How wrong they are, how delusional they are. To think that they could ever comprehend what I do is laughable.

I am not in jail because I got caught. You don’t kill for eight years and then get “caught” you don’t “slip up”. Killers’ only slip up when they’re desire to kill overruns their desire not to get caught.

I did not want to get caught.

I did what I did for a much more noble reason, they caught the wrong guy. Those idiots were so quick to tell the city that they had caught me. But they didn’t catch me. They could never catch me.

The police had a very public trial for Dan Kellmer. They had connected him on a few, rudimentary points of evidence. Dan Kellmer was a killer, but he was not a serial killer. He was guilty of killing a girl he was dating, the sister of one of my girls. The police were more focused on calming the public than catching the right guy.

I walked into the trial, jingling the contents that rested in my pockets.

As Dan Kellmer’s lawyer was making his testimony I walked in. The court will never forget what I said.

“Heard the girls were missing some teeth”

The bailiff tensed, the judge looked confused, but he let me speak. I didn’t give him the gratification.

I emptied my pockets, and out fell fifteen molars.

You see, I cut the fingertips off the girls, as well as their teeth. Since I usually had a little fun with them before I cut them lose, I didn’t want the girls to be quickly traced. It gave me more time to clean up.

The whole city was up in arms that the police had made such a dire mistake. I perpetuated the destruction of the girls with the mistrust of the citizens. Mistrust for their own police force. People are so vapid. Jumping from one protest to the next.

Psychologists come see me, criminologists visit me often, and I even have my own fan club. They think I’ll be in jail for the rest of my life.

How daft people are. I’ll be leaving soon.

 

Bio: Tess Pfeifle is eighteen and enjoys good stories, long Velvet Underground songs and really bad horror movies. Despite her age, she has an ever-growing list of publications which can be found on her website, www.tesspfeifle.weebly.com Her goal is to show the world that, sometimes, words can just as much noise as actions.

 

 

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Conspiracy? by E. Cluff Elliott

Jun 10 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

Next to the stairs on the sixth floor in the Texas School Book Depository, bent at the waist with his arms outstretched, Lee Harvey Oswald beckoned to a stack of boxes in one corner. He looked as though he were coaxing a stray in out of the rain, waving with his left hand. The thumb on his right arched out as if Lee were playing marbles, using a cat’s eye croaker to win the game.

“Everyone’s gone,” he whispered, “You can come out,” and as if on cue, scuffling from what could have been a small animal pattered about behind the boxes, moving toward exposure.

From behind the boxes, walking on its hind legs, a black and white rodent stepped into view. He wore shorts colored red with twine wrapped around two white buttons at his waist. From the depths of hell, the rodent’s shoes, yellowed with age and coated with the dust of a million miles or more, created little puffs that hung in the air before coating the floor around him. The dust also coated the fluid, what could only be blood, left behind by his shorts, dripping with a never-ending supply of hideous intentions. His white gloves, perpetually glistening, saturated the air with a foul turpentine stench. Instantly, the demon’s smell overpowered the earthy odors coming from the surrounding books like rancid meat in a flower garden, the kind of smell that wrinkles the nose and tests the gag reflexes as your eyes drown in a flood of bleary tears. Ornias the Demon Rat, with eyes that swirled to their pits as if they were black holes from hell, stood two and a half feet tall and wore a grin that would make a madman giddy with delirium. The only thing different between him and a real rodent were the folded wings that gleamed with a snake-like quality that seemed slippery in the noonday light.

Lee grunted, feeling wet lips encircle his outstretched thumb, turning away from the rodent’s odorous presence and feeling the familiar draw, the draining sensation that fed the demon. Sweat tickled his forehead as it dripped to the floor. His stomach tickled in another way, however, threatening to disgorge its contents as it performed unpleasant little loop-de-loops. “Jesus Christ,” Erk! “Does your smell ever change or do I have to put up with your stink for the rest of my life?” Erk!

This demon, a messenger from the deep according to The Testament of Solomon, threatened Lee’s family in the most fundamental way, using their continued safety as trade for servitude. Ornias held him captive the same way a flytrap drains its victim, merciless, forcing Lee to succumb to the demons contorted malevolence.

Releasing Lee’s thumb, Ornias giggled. Maliciousness soaked his grin like oil on the surface of a lake, slick with contamination and deadly to everything below its abalone sheen. “Oh, Mr. Oswald, such a naughty boy, your mother would turn over in her grave if she heard you take the lord’s name in vain…old cow. And the next time you address my fine odor, take into account that I know where your son sleeps; I know where your wife sleeps. Now, is everything ready as planned? We wouldn’t want today’s festivities to be spoiled like last time, would you?”

Little more than seven months ago, the pair of them attempted an assassination of General Edwin Walker. At the last second, with the back of General Walker’s head firm in the crosshairs of his Carcano rifle, a twitch ran down the length of Lee’s left arm causing it to drop a fraction of an inch. The result, besides the severe lashing taken from Ornias later, was a drop in the bullets trajectory and a complete failure of their mission.

“No,” Lee agreed, “we wouldn’t.” His jaw was stiff with tension, resigning to hold his tongue against his blackmailer.

“Don’t sound so down, partner. I am Ornias, first of those fallen to Solomon, and the first released.” the demon said, laughing his pesky laugh as he used his wings to vault to Lee’s left arm, rebound, and land on Lee’s back with the flat of his feet. The precision was equal to that of a trained acrobat, delicate and decisive. Proving this point, he scrambled up Lee’s neck as if he were a gecko and straddled him as if he were an accessorized pony. Lee barely felt the movement as Ornias’s face lowered into view. “And if you forget it, Oswald, old friend, I’ll rip your tongue out and feed it to my hound. Nothing personal, I just know pain is a much better motivator than a simple friendly reminder, understand?” Lee nodded. “Good, I think we can move on then. Where did you hide the gun?”

Lee carried the rodent into the maze of boxes, heading toward a window at the southeast end of the room. Once there, Lee pointed out a brown gym bag and enough room for two behind the stack of boxes directly under the south facing window. Lee leaned and felt Ornias’s weight shift as he adjusted for balance. The two of them had spent a lot of time together in the past year; most of it was just as they are now, the demon perched on Lee’s shoulders as if he was a monkey instead of a rodent. Inside the bag, the rifle waited.

###

Moments before noon, with his Carcano in one hand and the demon sucking the thumb on the other, Lee and Ornias waited—one atop the other—at the open window on the sixth floor in the Texas School Book Depository.

“I can’t do it,” Lee said, glancing at the rodent straddling his neck.

Ornias spit Lee’s thumb clear of his greasy lips and tilted his head in amusement, smacking his forehead in disgust. “Jesus wept; don’t tell me you’re getting the pre-game heebie-jeebies. We’re this close to changing history, and now you want to back down?”

Lee stiffened, fear for his family rushing over him like an atomic heat wave, baking his shame and regret in self-conscious awareness, bringing to light his fatal desperation. “I’m not a coward, you walking pile of cat food, but I can’t do it. I mean, what happens afterward? What if we’re caught, what if we can’t be protected? What if missing the General was a bad omen? What if…”

Ornias’s balled up fist struck the right side of Lee’s head. The rifle wobbled, wordlessly threatening to ditch this insanity, while the demon swayed, agile as death on horseback, and as magnetic as chewing gum to bedposts nationwide.

“Stop asking questions, Oswald,” Ornias insisted. “Pay attention, or we’re gonna miss the party. Again! And you know what I’ll do if that happens; who I’ll hurt?”

Below, the first of the procession passed.

Lee saw what Ornias saw and froze. “I can do it, I can do it, I can do it…I can do it, I can do it, I can do it,” he chugged. His body moved into position, leading his target as trained and lending support to his arms, ensuring the shot. He felt cold, dark, and sickened by the situation Ornias had led him. He wanted to vomit, to feel release, to do something other than he’s done in the past.

The cursed rodent had tormented Lee since he was a young boy. A month before his sixth birthday, his first encounter took place at a local Halloween Carnival where Ornias blended with the costumed residents of Benbrook, Texas, waiting for his opportunity. When the demon found it, Lee was helpless to stop him and helpless to stop the kidnapping of Sara-Sue Staves, Lee’s grade-school crush.

Sara-Sue’s bewildering disappearance had only been the beginning. Afterward, Lee kept an eye out for Ornias. He knew the rat was out there, biding his time and waiting to seize another opportunity to strike. Again and again, he did, and when Lee returned from his military tour overseas, he had fended off the small demon half a dozen times or more. In the end, however, with his turpentine gloves, Ornias gained the upper hand and cornered Lee. He twisted Lee’s soul into a limp cord of submission and before long, pulled him apart one strand at a time. He suffered hallucinations of such ferocity their thought haunted Lee’s dreams with dark terrors and ill begotten atrocities.

Lee thought of his past, thought of the bloodshed, thought of the terror the small demon had injected in his life like poison in the bloodstream, and pushed to overcome it. The mantra changed, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.”

“Take the shot, Oswald,” Ornias admonished, trepidation seeping through his hidden seams like sap, thick and slow.

Lee panicked still mumbling in a melancholic state. All his life he struggled to leave his mark on the world, to make a difference. He thought the partnership between himself and Ornias would enable those ambitions. Since then; however, Lee felt himself abused as though he were nothing more than a pawn. Lee’s dreams of importance, dashing in delusional grandeur, couldn’t have been further from achievement. He knew that, now. And, as the knowing sank in, his mind cleared.

“I’m not doing it,” Lee asserted.

“You LITTLE…” Ornias’s balled up fist plowed into the right side of Lee’s head, this time knocking him from underneath the rodent who leapt into the air and plucked the rifle that had likewise been knocked free. He landed on the boxes with a light step, letting his wings carry him. “…I’ll deal with you later.”

On his side, Lee saw the demon-rat stand, aim, and fire three shots in rapid succession. Outside, screams pierced the early Dallas afternoon, a tornado of sirens shrieked dire urgency. There were no clouds overhead, yet a storm engulfed Dallas all the same.

“That’s how you do it, Oswald!” Ornias bragged as the rifle clattered to the floor. “Now, let’s do it again.”

Lee had been waiting for him. He laid flat on his back and caught Ornias in mid-air. Lee felt the rodent try to resist but now that his mental hold had faded, Lee suspected the demon-rat probably found humans could be quite strong if they need to be.

They wrestled, kicking and flailing, when Lee managed to find Ornias’s neck. Gripping it with both hands, he slammed the rodents head into the wall beside them. Moments later Ornias lay in Lee’s arms, unconscious.

Lee stuffed the small limp body into the rifle bag, zipped it shut, and slung its straps over his right shoulder.

Lee knew when the police found the weapon; it would only be a matter of time before they linked him to the scene. He need to get rid of the rat while he had a chance. But how? He had an idea, but it was a long shot.

###

Ditching the rifle in the opposite corner of the maze of boxes, Lee descended to the Depository’s ground floor. Sweat moistened his underarms and crotch.

At the front doors, a Police Officer checked and verified anyone coming in or out of the building. Lee got lucky. Once close enough to make the officers acquaintance, Lee’s superintendent intercepted the officer’s hand, vouching for him and ensuring his escape.

Outside, anxious to be away, Lee caught a bus hoping to make it home before the police caught him. But as it lurched forward, a slow acceleration at best, the driver hit the brakes and brought the bus to a stop. Heavy traffic—never what it should be—refused to work with Lee’s final plans.

Disembarking from the bus, Lee hailed a cab but the cab turned out to be as successful as the bus had been.

“Let me out here, I can walk the rest of the way!” Lee barked in frustration.

“All right buddy but you gotta pay the whole fare otherwise I’d be doing you a favor and I ain’t in this business for favors, you know what I mean?” The cabby joked.

Lee listened to his rehearsed bouts of laughter filling the inside of the taxi. They hung in the air for an awkward moment, lost their shape, and disappeared as quickly as they were conjured. Lee saw worry, and then recognized the fright for what it really was, cautious pacifism. If Lee had to guess, this was not the first time the cabby was going to lose money due to a backseat crazy.

“Hey, uh, you all right back there?”

“Just dandy.” Lee menaced. “Now, here’s what’s gonna happen, I’m gonna get out of your car and I’m gonna walk home. If I hear you try to follow or even make one word or protest, I’ll come back here and finish a very, very bad day for you, got it?” In the reflection Lee saw, sweat bead between the cabby’s eyes and drip down to the point of his nose. The cabby’s semblance said it all. Lee opened the cab door and climbed out, walking the rest of the distance.

Half an hour later, Lee reached his rental room and started packing items into his jacket pockets. First, he grabbed his revolver, a .38 Caliber, and checked its cylinder with a spin. Once the gun was stored in his jacket, he took a second to check on his demonic package before locating the thing that started this whole mess, a gold ring with the Star of David carved into its head, surrounded by symbols from the zodiac.

Ornias assumed he had gotten rid of the ring after a strict order to dispose of it, but switched it out with a fake at the last moment. And now, after all these years, he finally had a chance to use it the way God intended.

Lee thought about performing the task there in his rental room but the sound of sirens deflected the idea with vigor. Instead, he left the building in hopes of finding somewhere a little more private.

Back on the street, he tried to look calm and collected keeping the suspicions of passersby to a minimum when a Dallas City Police cruiser pulled along side him. Lee froze.

“Hey buddy, come here for a second. What you got in that bag of yours.” Officer Tippit spoke leaning over the passenger seat next to him and peering out the open window. Lee obliged him with a lie, but when the officer started to get out of the squad car, Lee knew what was going to have to happen.

Lee pulled his weapon and aimed the .38 Caliber. Tippit took an involuntary step backward, almost flattening himself by way of a passing Mack Truck. Lee watched the officer flail as he tried to maintain his balance. When he found it, the cop’s hands moving toward his weapon, Lee’s finger squeezed the trigger: once, twice, then a third.

On the ground, Tippit shivered and bled as darkness closed around him. Lee looked down at the cop as if he were no more than a lame animal. Tippit’s eyes, wide and disbelieving stared back.

“I’m sorry,” Lee said. “Someday I’ll tell the world why you had to die. I just hope the world will believe me.” The fourth shot scrambled Tippit’s brain.

###

Lee ran. Buildings, cars, and people rushed by as his vision blurred. He pushed, wanting his heart to explode, wanting his body to collapse, wanting God to reach down with his almighty finger and strike him dead. He wanted an escape. He had dealt with this curse for long enough. It was time to finish.

Lee came to a stop in front of the Texas Theater where Cry of Battle was showing. People gaped at his appearance and he heard a few people mutter, “Is that him? I think that’s the one. Someone call the cops.” But Lee paid them little attention as he darted inside carrying a gun in one hand and the brown bag holding Ornias in the other.

Pausing inside the door, Lee pulled open the flap on the bag to see how Ornias was doing. The little demon was unconscious and bleeding out of a cut on his head, but other than the occasional groan remained silent. All at once, Lee thought of doing the putrid nuisance right there in the lobby while he was incapacitated and harmless. Yet after a quick look around, seeing frightened on-lookers, a crying baby reaching for a mother who seemed entranced by Lee’s presence, he moved further into the theater.

Lee’s instincts led his to a thick curtain, maroon and emitting voice’s that echoed and pitched with the amplified sound of the theaters one o’clock showing. Eager for solitude, he pulled the curtain aside and moved into the darkness beyond.

Finding a seat a safe distance from the other patrons, Lee dropped the bag unceremoniously and heard a loud grunt as the bag hit the floor.

“So Hell’s finest is alive and well,” Lee scoffed, dropping to sit next to the open bag.

Ornias spoke, his voice weak and tiny in comparison to his earlier vengeance. “What ever you’re doing, it won’t work. I’ll be back, I’ll find you. You’ll see Oswald. You’ll see.”

“You can’t follow me if you’re in a cell, demon,” Lee said pulling Solomon’s ring from his jacket pocket, “at least this way you become someone else’s problem.”

Sitting up in the gym bag, Ornias laughed his pesky laugh, ending it with a cough that sprayed blood along the bag’s top. “So, do it! Throw me back to the pit with the others,” he challenged. “But before you do you should know you’re too late. Like everything else in your life, you’ve failed, Oswald.”

Noticing sirens above the movie, Lee realized what the demon-rat meant a second before impact and the weight of two armed men bearing down on him. He struggled against them, trying to tear his way through to freedom, but before he could retaliate, two armed men became four, and then four became eight. During the tussle, Lee felt his world shatter. The ring, once owned by King Solomon, slipped from his grasp and took his hope with it.

Outmanned, Lee let the officer’s escort him to the police cruisers parked in front of the theater. He never raved about Ornias and they never asked, but as a Dallas Police Officer pushed Lee into the backseat of his cruiser, his stomach flipped when he saw the pesky demon sitting in the seat next to him, undamaged, clean, and grinning.

“I told you that I’d find you, Oswald. Now, be a sport and let me see that right thumb of yours. I feel like lunch.”

 

Bio:

I was born on July 6th 1981 in Farmington, New Mexico. Five minutes later and my birthday would have had been on the 7th. I spent my early years between parents that cared for each other the way a cat cares for its litter box, but outside of that, in the world beyond, life was good. Years later, I used my parent’s misfortunes to write The Fatherless Trail, a memoir that earned an Honorable Mention in the 78th Writer’s Digest Annual Competition. Since then, I have focused on writing fiction and have several short stories that are in the re-writing process. Aside from my writing passions, I work for my grandfather in the family auto shop, and try to attend as many college classes as possible. At the end of the day, however, I always find myself in front of the keyboard, ready to pursue the tingle at the back of my imagination.

One response so far

208 Little Graves by Don Norum

Jun 03 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

The hospital sat back from the road behind a wrought-iron fence enmeshed in kudzu. Ivy led nature’s assault on architecture’s abandoned outpost, shattered windows paying homage to the efforts of the infiltrators – squirrels, rats, birds aplenty, all making sure that the edifice would be rotted out and hollow when it crumbled.

“What was this place?” Barrington asked as they hopped down from the Chevy floor mat draped over the spikes on the gate.

“A hospital,” Ann said. Her jeans had torn a snag over the fence and he watched her twisting her body in the moonlight, trying to finger the spot where night air tickled her skin.

“It doesn’t look like a hospital,” he said. The bricks sat heavy and gray, like a Lego castle come to life writ large. Narrow panes of glass stood far back in thin windows, spaced around the U-shaped building with the cold efficiency of monotony.

“It was a reformatory school until the Great Depression,” Gabe said, the last over the gate, stashing the floor mat in a bush. “When they couldn’t pay their bills, the state took it over into a children’s hospital.”

“Eesh. Still creepy.” Ann shivered.

“Oh, come on.”

Barry led them along the battered, fractured concrete walkway. Shivering waves rippled around them in the moonlight as a breeze caught the tasseled tops of the wild grass.

The doors gave way with a dusty snap – the metal locking pins at the top and bottom of the jamb breaking free of the splintered wood – and swung out onto the stone landing. Dust rose in gentle clouds, kicked up by the disturbance at the door and the scurrying feet of small nocturnal vermin. Their lights flicked on and illuminated the receptionist’s desk.

A squat semicircle of cinderblocks someone shellacked over into a medicinal off-white. A few panes of glass still hung from the slats between desk and ceiling, but even under three coats of heavy paint Gabe could still see the holes where thick mesh gratings had surrounded whoever sat behind the desk.

Balloons and fields of grass with cows and smiling woodland animals danced painted across the front of the imposing station. He was struck by an old Lon Chaney quote and shivered.

There was nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight, and, he realized, nothing comforting about a hospital by flashlight.

Barry gave Ann a little brush of his hand across the tear on her thigh and she squealed at him and slapped his hand away.

“Cut that out, will you?” She hissed. Barry held his hand to his mouth and let out a stage whimper.

“You want to explore out back? See if there’s a nice moonlit clearing?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Hey Gabe!” He turned to Ann. “Barry and I are going to go see if the old garden out back is still there.”

“You aren’t getting lost in here,” he said.

“No problem.” Barry pointed down a long hallway behind the receptionist’s desk. “It’s a straight shot.” They could see a small square of pale moonlight inset at the far end.

“Okay,” he sighed. “Meet back here in an hour, though, all right? I don’t want someone on their way home from graveyard shift to see us hopping the fence.”

The two waved assent and set off. Gabe pulled off a glove with his teeth and rubbed his eyes. Christ, if only he’d bothered to get his license over the summer, he wouldn’t’ve had to bring them along just to get a ride.

He turned right down the hallway, coming after a long dusty walk to another set of doors – larger, dogged at the top and bottom with heavy hasps, and made of solid oak at least two inches thick.

#

     Ann fell into the middle of the glade, pulling Barry down after her as she rolled. He let himself get dragged down on top of her and sent sprawling in the moonlit grass. The ground beneath their entwined bodies was cool and dry, cushioning their movements. She squirmed a bit as blades of grass tickled her through the rip in her jeans.

All around them cicadas and crickets chirped, small animals nestled, and green vines continued their assiduous choking of simple wooden crosses, white paint swallowed up in the darkened underbrush.

#

     The residence hall depressed Gabe just as much as he had imagined it would. Some of the doors hung loose, ajar out into the corridor, while others lay shut tight and latched from the outside. Gabe took a look through a small window, chiding himself as he cupped the light to the glass for half-expecting to see a child’s skeleton contorted on the floor, rats scuttling about the ribcage like a jungle gym.

Instead just a metal frame for a cot, a sink, and a ring of poles that once held curtains around a toilet. Changing this place into a hospital had just meant swapping out the grilles on the window for the screen around the loo.

He kept on walking – he remembered seeing what looked like an open room on the end of the hall coming over the fence. The rooms around him blended into a repeating pattern as the small box of light at the end of the hallway grew larger, and it wasn’t until he flicked the light off for a second and looked behind him that he realized just how many people must have been housed here.

The room at the end had probably been an exercise room at some point, although he doubted they could have fit more than a fraction of the floor in here at a time. From the bay window he could see the highway distant, and wondered what the sight of so many cars, horses, and people going by free and happy must have felt like for those trapped here.

Several plastic chairs stood against the walls; an empty book-case, a rotted, mildewed couch he kept well clear of, and a child’s writing desk. Gabe circled around a free-standing chess ‘n checkers board to search the desk and found nothing but dust and scraps of chewed paper.

Gabe gave the gameboard a quick once-over – little more than a box on a stand, the top inlaid with scrap squares of black and white shower-tile. It looked as if one of the guards or doctors had made it in a garage workshop.

He pulled open one of the drawers, hoping for the sight of some amateur hand-carved rooks, and found a wad of gum, two broken pencils, and an obscene proposition carved into the wooden bottom with helpful visual aids. The drawer on the other side held the same, the message reduced to a simple and comical “What the fuck are you looking at?” above a pair of cartoon googly eyes.

Gabe sighed and closed the drawer, and jumped back when a fluttery mass fell down from beneath the table to land with a soft whump in the dust at his feet. He flashed the light down and saw a folded-up sheaf of paper tied once around the middle with an old shoelace. Checking underneath the chessboard, he saw a small patch of dark wood where the bundle of papers had been wedged in between the two drawers.

Taking it to the window and sitting down, he started to untie, unfold, and read the dusty pages.

#

     Ann and Barry lay together, looking up at the moon and stars. Sweat had soaked into their clothes and they huddled together against the chill. Gone were the soft nighttime noises of the surrounding tangle. It was a serene, idyllic silence.

“Did you feel the earth move?” Barry asked.

“You ass,” Ann pulled away to punch him in the shoulder, “are you saying I’m fat?”

He grinned and pulled her closer.

Off in the brush, beneath the vine-choked crosses, the earth moved.

#

     Thick, blocky lettering scrawled across the first sheet of heavy construction paper. They had written the date in the upper right, winter of nineteen-thirty.

“I’m still stuck in this stupid joint – some good-damn Christmas this is. They don’t tell us dates but I seen the ministrators putting up decorations. If I could change things I’d go back n stop me from stealing that jacket.

Ain’t worth this – I guess that’s their point n all. Still ain’t fair though – no justice in this. This the sorta thing I’d write onna walls but I ain’t bout to stay here longer on that account. Maybe the next kid finds this put in another sheet, sayn what he’s about.

“Bobby ‘Bigger’ Conroy, age thirteen or thereabouts.”

Gabe shuffled through the brittle stack. He held dozens of these, from scraps with just a crude name and a date to two or three pages of tight, precise lettering covering both sides of the paper to the very edges.

The stack of children’s messages had somehow continued through the transition to a hospital. He wondered – had one of the reform school kids come back as an adult, as a patient or as staff? Or had the letters remained hidden through the construction and redecorating only for some sick kid to find them and carry on the tradition? Gabe set aside Bobby Conroy’s introduction and started reading through the rest of the pile.

A boy named Daniel Ferrari had written a short goodbye to a friend who’d been released. That made him smile a bit – it was good to know that some of the boys had gotten their lives together again.

The last entry caught his eye – this was the two pages of dense cursive dated from forty-nine, the most recent of the lot. The year the hospital closed, if he remembered correctly. He thanked the rigid wartime curricula for the neat, legible handwriting – he could only decipher his own cursive through heavy use of context and guesswork.

“I wonder how many of the children who wrote in here are still alive,” it began, and he blinked at the morbid wonderment in a young girl’s curtsying script, “not many, I’d suppose. After all, people die in hospitals all the time and the reformatory boys, well, they didn’t have anybody on the outside – that’s why they wound up here. Some of the graves looked at least twenty five years old. Some of them looked fresh.”

Gabe set the rest of the pages aside and adjusted the light to shine on the last entry. No name on this one.

“Jeanna and I were out back in the garden. I should have been in bed resting, but it was a beautiful day so the doctors let me wheel Jeanna outside. She wanted to listen to the birds, feel the wind, smell the flowers. Our windows don’t open that wide. One of the nurses took us down and made sure that we were all right, then she went back to her rounds.

“There weren’t any wildflowers in the garden yet, but Jeanna said that she could see them from her window in a little clearing in the woods not far distant. She really wanted them, and there was no way she could get them herself, so I told her to wait there (I felt bad at that, as if she could do anything else) while I went over and looked for them.

“They were deeper in the trees than I had thought – not far away; I could still hear Jeanna singing and talking to herself, but I couldn’t see the hospital through the leaves and branches. I picked bouquets of daffodils, spring crocuses, even a few strands of flowering honeysuckle. I turned the corner around a tree and saw white crosses. Scores of them. A hundred even, maybe more. Row after row, column by column.

“The ones in the back were faded and covered in vines of half-hidden in tall weeds. The last couple up front had patches of bare earth in front of them with a short fuzz of grass. I counted nine across and twenty or more back.”

He set it down and rubbed his eyes. This was the last of the entries, and the sick shriveling in his gut said there was a reason for that. Setting aside the first page, he turned to the second.

“Jeanna was calling to me then so I hurried back. It wasn’t until she thanked me for the flowers that I realized I still had them in my hand. I had forgotten all about them. She asked me what was the matter, and I told her that I just felt a little bit tired, that the walk had taken it out of me. Jeanna apologized for my having to exert myself so – she wasn’t being sarcastic or lying, she really was. That made me feel almost as bad as before.

“I didn’t tell anyone about it – how could I? – and I think that Jeanna must have just thought that I was still recovering. Until I found these papers, though. Not all of them left notes, or were even mentioned, but enough – more than enough. There was the legend of Jimmy Tell, who escaped from the reformatory but was eaten by a bear. Chucky Wilson, who killed himself one cold night and whose body was hustled out by morning.”

“Others were just mentioned as missing – released, but no one knows to whom, or paroled, but they were the rudest, rowdiest of the lot, or simply vanished.

“Nobody has vanished from the hospital, but they don’t need to, you know. People – children – die here all the time, and nobody bats an eyelash at it. That’s the nature of the beast.

“I don’t know who, or what, is doing this. Maybe an old guard now an orderly or a janitor, maybe an administrator kept over from the reform school. Maybe – and for this reason I dare not ask aloud – the graves are the building’s tradition, the adults’ tradition, handed down from one set of hands to another, each adding their own contribution, just like the bundle of papers this will soon be a part of.”

There was a short break in the text here, an extra half-line of spacing, and when it resumed the letters were a bit looser, shakier, a bit more rushed – or frightened.

“I can feel something, whether unease growing in me from the sight of the graves, or some unconscious sense of someone watching me. I arranged to call my parents and told them that I felt fine, and looked forward ever so much to coming home. Thus, if I don’t, I hope they will become suspicious. I can hardly tell them the flat truth of what I saw.

“I can’t say where that feeling just came from – I don’t know. It has occurred to me that the other children from the hospital must have had parents too. Why are they buried out back? Why not at home? Some of the graves are new enough to be filled since the hospital has been here, so why?”

The last line was chilling, and the worst thing to Gabe’s eyes was the sudden crispness to the words.

“I’ll put this with the others at two when we take our air, and then tonight, I will go out and find the graves again.”

The empty building settled down around his shoulders like a heavy wet towel. As he put the papers away into his jacket pocket, he glanced this way and that at the walls around him, floating red balloons and rainbows on the cold, sterile cinderblock.

His watch glinted in the moonlight and he started. A good deal more than an hour had passed since he’d left Ann and Barry.

On his way back down the hall, he paused at a window to look and listen. The car was still in place, hidden in the bushes on the other side of the fence. No lights shone in its interior, and no voices called his name. No sounds could be heard, in fact, except for a far off rustle of wind and the phlegmatic drafts through the corridors.

Gabe sprinted the last stretch down the hallway to arrive at the receptionist’s desk panting and wheezing. When he caught his breath and stood up from his knees, the hallway towards the back of the building loomed in front of him like an open mine shaft.

The path Ann and Barry had taken stretched out through the grass in front of him like a phosphorescent wake, the pale undersides of the blades turning their faces to catch the night sky. He jogged along the path calling out their names, winding his way through the trees until the grass gave way to low shrubs and saplings.

Here he flicked his flashlight on again, peering for any hint of their passage – scuffed leaves, snapped branches. Ahead, his light picked out a sliver of pale blue among a patch of short grass in a small clearing.

Barry’s jacket. Gabe picked it up, feeling the slight damp that had managed to seep into the corduroy, and saw the tunnel of turned leaves and twigs leading off into the woods. He dropped the jacket and ran after the trail calling their names again, louder.

After only a couple dozen yards, the trail vanished, if it had been there to begin with. Gabe took one glance back to the clearing and started walking in slow circles. His feet sank into the loamy ground a few inches with every other stride, and then his other foot caught on something.

Gabe turned the light to his feet and saw a single cross, two scraps of packing crate nailed together, flecks of white paint shiny under the halogen bulb. He looked to his left, and his right, then to his front and rear. Rows and columns of crosses were laid out around him in ordered ranks. He could see no trace of Ann or Barry.

The ground beneath his feet settled. He quick-stepped back and felt an unpleasant tremor run through his center, gut to gonads, when he saw that he’d been standing, turning in place on top of a freshly turned grave.

There was just enough time to form the question of why – how – the ground could still be so loose and heaped before a slight bulge appeared up between his feet and his mind started screaming, and his balls shrunk up like a turtle into his stomach.

Another pulse of dirt, and a small hand broke the surface, shedding damp clots of dirt. The hole spread as something sat up, earth falling away like afterbirth to reveal the decayed corpse of a child. Gabe stepped back and spun the light to see the floor of the forest opening up around him. Dozens of bodies pulled themselves up out of the ground.

Some had been buried for decades – they looked like cooked turkey skin stretched over armature wire – and some were just ugly tanned bones barely held together. Others – the ones closest to him – were puffed up with decay, flesh hanging like so much greasy meat from their naked arms and legs. Gabe stepped back until he ran into a tree, light shivering in his hand.

A grimy hand grabbed at the cuff of his jeans as he noticed that all of the children were walking, crawling, dragging themselves straight towards him.

Gabe’s throat erupted in a choking scream as he flailed his leg. The corpse’s grip broke on one swing, and the next sent the tip of his size ten Converse into its sternum with a rotten crack like plunging through a crust of ice into a mud puddle. The trees around him were smooth and wide, impossible to climb, and everywhere he turned the light, black eyes in sagging faces returned his gaze.

Deep down inside, something civilized went snap. He rushed three steps to the next nearest child and sent his toes up under its chin. There was a crack of whiplash as the skull bounced back to hang forward, spine shattered, and now he was smashing the barrel of the flashlight into the side of a girl’s skull where a small root from a hungering tree still stuck up out of her flesh.

Her eyeball went like a ketchup packet beneath a car tire, painting red-gray lines up his arm onto his chest. The only sounds were his panting breaths, occasional screams as he struck out, and the crackle of brush as hundreds more of them came towards him.

He kicked his foot through a ribcage that gave like waterlogged cardboard and tripped as it caught, sending him sliding from his feet atop meat and claws of bone grasping from all directions.

Gabe rolled and thrashed, flinging the corpses, crushing some underneath into mangled piles of ooze and bone. The lens to his flashlight shattered on a femur and he was in the dark, pale shadows of moonlight falling across the faces and gaping skulls around him.

He felt his sanity inch back, threatening to flee at any second if he allowed himself to realize or admit what was happening.

He pulled himself to his hands and knees. A dirt-filled mouth clamped down on his left arm and he smashed the skull behind it. A cry of pain escaped his lips as he followed through into his elbow with the battered metal tube. Struggling to keep his balance and falling into trees as he ran, Gabe made for the looming blackness of the hospital. He crashed through the doors, crushing an infant’s corpse against the cinderblocks and leaving a long black smear as he slid forward leaning into the wall. Still-grabbing arms and fragments of torso fell off of him as he careened down the passageway.

#

     “Where the fuck is that floor mat?”

“For the fifth time, I have no idea.”

Barry and Ann tramped around in the brush by the fence, casting their flashlights this way and that. On the other side – just a few yards away – the car stood cold and dark.

“I didn’t see where Gabe put it,” Barry continued, “and since he’s not here right nor, I don’t think asking me is going to help anything.”

“Ass.”

“Besides,” he said, patting his side, “he can’t leave without the keys, so he’ll have to show up – oh, fuck.”

“What is it now?”

He smacked his head with his free hand and grimaced.

“The keys, in my jacket. I must have left it out back.”

“Frankly,” she said, “that’s fucking fantastic.”

They sighed and turned back to the old hospital. They made it halfway up the front walk when Gabe burst out of the doors. Ann shrieked and jumped at Barry, arms latching on to him.

By the time Gabe was halfway down the steps, she realized it was him and relaxed.

By the time she could see him, at the bottom of the steps, she had started screaming again, Barry too.

###

Bio: I have had stories published in Sybil’s Garage #6 and Bull Spec #4, as well as online at places such as Cosmos and Pseudopod.

My story “Neap Tide” was a storySouth Million Writers Award Notable Story of 2009, and another story of mine, “About 77 Degrees, West of Nassau”, received an Honorable Mention in Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 2.

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