The Eliminating Angel

There is something different about Joseph, and I don’t like it. Knoxford is the kind of place that makes you think maybe God left it behind. And if you had the burden of dealing with Joseph, you might get a good idea as to why. Knoxford is a nasty, rural, mountainous area of loosely connected dwellings and the occasional coal mine. The people had the temperament of wolverines and the keen intellect of that quadrupeds stool. Among these corn-jack swilling salts of the earth, Joseph was the meanest and keenest of them all. Not that I had any choice in the matter when it came to dealing with him; he had the best moonshine around, all but forcing me to get it from him.

Well, at least he used to have the best. There has been something different about the brew and I suspect that it might correlate back to that devil himself. It doesn’t help that Joseph’s grandpa has been missing for awhile now and his excuses change every time I inquire. Not long after his disappearance was when I started getting reports that the liquor was different. Maybe that old pollock stuck his nose in something that didn’t belong. Now me, I am just a runner, but people are dying and I won’t have the axe fall on my head. This was the most reasonable explanation I had for myself as to why I was here at night spying on Joseph.

“Stupid old man. Sitting there screaming at me with words I can’t understand.” I froze in mid step. That was Joseph. I crept up to a hole in the wall and looked around. He was sitting on his porch with a pipe in his mouth yelling at the apple tree across the unkempt yard in an slurred, nasally voice. A blind man could see that he was beyond drunk.

“Now you’re silent, and I can finally relax!” He then formed a twisted toothy smile. “It’s a shame your old, sturdy bones put a chip in the head of my axe. I could have cut down that nosy bootlegger, asking about you.”

I was right, he did kill the old man. If he finds me then I will be next.

“Profit is profit. and no one gets in the way, of my money…” His ramble then came to a total halt before he spoke again with a completely changed demeanor.  “Nooo. No. Not again.” He muttered this to himself multiple times in a tone of disbelief. Even from about fifteen feet away I could see the fear mounting in his dirty brown eyes. I followed his line of sight across the yard to the old apple tree and barely managed to stifle my scream.

Standing over a patch of unusually dry dirt was a shadow shaped like a man covered in rags. It was darker than the night yet translucent, casting a murky gaze on everything behind it. I glanced back at Joseph who was looking at his bottle of gin before looking away and shaking his head. He sat there for a moment in silence, as if gathering what resolve the mere sight of that wraith had not snatched away from him. He then stood up, threw the bottle across the yard and screamed “It’s been almost a year you dusty bag of bones! It’s all my money, now!” He then stormed inside the house and upstairs to his bedroom.

With great apprehension I looked back to the tree to see that the shadow was still there standing hunched over what I now assume to be the unmarked grave of Joseph’s grandfather. I watched as its shrouded ‘head’ glanced up to me before slowly disappearing.

Coming to the conclusion that Joseph was in the comforting embrace of a liquor coma for the night, I lit the lantern I’d brought and finished snooping around the barn. Despite feeling like a chilled brick was lying in my stomach, I decided to finish what I came here for. This hovel of a barn was dingy, dirty, and neglected. The only thing that seemed to be given any habitual level of maintenance were his distilleries. I found myself surprised at how expedient my discovery of his compromised distillery’s alcohol were. Stupid hick was cutting good shine with anything he could find that would not arouse a stink. It was bathtub gin at best, diluted poison at worst. I also saw that one of the half dozen or so distilleries was damaged beyond repair.

Now I know why the old man had to go. It was at this point that if my foresight was as eagle eyed as my hindsight, I would have left that wretched barn. I would have went straight to my car hidden over the hill and drove as fast as what bits of reason I had left in possession would allow me to go. I continued wandering around the barn a bit more until I came across the murder weapon. Hanging on the wall was a rusty, stained axe with a split head. Located right in the break, was a chunk of molding bone. For some reason I felt compelled to reach out and grasp the only unburied fragment of the old man. When it was freed from the defective axe and in the palm of my hand, I began to feel a prickling of hairs across my body. Eyes felt like they were inspecting every aspect of my being. I could feel my legs telling me to leave, quickly and pleading with my head not to look back.

It is here. The shadow wraith of Joseph’s grandpa is here! The lightless areas around this corner of the barn took on a solid form and seemed to creep right up to the edge of my lantern. Despite my entire body being seized by the cold sweat of terror, I continued on this strange and abhorrent course I was on. I took the chunk of bone in my hand, walked out of the barn and on over towards the apple tree. All this time, the darkness stayed right on my heels, just outside of the lantern light. The dirt under the tree looked not to have been disturbed for almost a year, yet no life grew upon it. I could not conclude for certain, but I had the distinct thought that no worms or other lowly beasts crawled beneath it. It has been nearly a year. I sat the lantern down, and began digging through the dirt with my free hand, keeping a tight grip on the bone fragment. It felt unnaturally warm. Finally I touched a burlap sack and stopped digging instantly. My body sensing the threshold of what it should be allowed to know. I then took the bone fragment and dropped it in the small hole then covered it up again.

Maybe now the old man can rest in one piece. I found myself transfixed in morbid curiosity as the darkness seeped into the dead earth. I should have turned back. I should have left this cursed backwater of America and found work running shine elsewhere. Yet the same steadfastness in the face of apprehension that drives us all on unfortunately had me seeing this macabre spectacle to the end. A minute passed, then another, then a few more before the unthinkable began to occur. A solid black ichor began to bubble up from the grave, slowly at first but quickly gaining momentum. Before I was even completely aware of it, the shadow was standing once more over the grave. This time though, its form was as opaque as the oblivion it spawned from. No face, no features, just a raggedy misshapen form. Rationality finally taking hold, I began slowly backing away from this being. A deep, barely audible drone emanated outward from as it as it darted towards the house where Joseph slept. I felt compelled to follow it up the stairs where the door to his bedroom flung open with a bang, waking Joseph from his sleep. I heard him scream as he jumped from his bed, making a thud as he pressed himself against the wall opposite the shadow wraith.

Before either of us could react, it dashed straight towards Joseph and engulfed him. The last thing I – and Joseph, for that matter – heard was the sound of an old man laughing. In about the time it took for the wraith to engulf Joseph it had seemingly dissipated into the darkness of his unlit room. All that remained of Joseph was a pile of mangled, charred bones. In the following minute, there was nothing but absolute silence. My breath was caught in my chest. Then, the laughter returned. Deep, malicious cackling emanating outward in volumes that rose and fell with little rhythm. The shadow wraith started oozing out of the walls like molasses and pooling together over the remains of Joseph. Realizing how finite the time was in my situation, I turned, bolted down the stairs, through the house, and out the door. I ran unaware into the opaque embrace of the night, never returning from the cackling darkness.

Horror Writers 2016 Flash Fiction Contest Winner: “Christmas Blues”, by E. Reyes

Christmas Blues

by E. Reyes

 

Barry felt he had to do it, but he was scared to death about the deadline that would ensue. The man in the black suit told him to think about it for a minute or two and either walk away or make a deal. The sun had just fallen behind the woods’ skeletal arms that touched the cold, crisp air. The sky was a cool purple and blue. Stars were beginning to shimmer enough to say hello. Dusk was here.

This place was miles away from Barry’s home. He told his family he was going on a trip with his friend Mark to do some yard work for folks that lived in a mansion. He promised he would come back with money. He told his kids they’d get a Christmas tree and decorations for their home. It was a lie, but a small one. Well, not really. This lie would haunt him for the rest of his days if he decided to make the deal.

Barry closed his eyes outside of a small local bar in a rural area and paced back and forth. Christmas music played loudly for the drunkards inside.

Christmas. Christmas, he thought.

His wife, Erica, needed clothes, Tommy needed clothes, Beth needed things also. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. For the rich and upper middle class, it is indeed a wonderful time. Christmas trees, expensive gifts tucked underneath, honey hams, booze, egg nog, cookies, ugly sweaters, they can all afford to experience a wonderful time. Barry was far from that.

You’re thirty years-old. He will want to see you in twenty years. Twenty isn’t enough. You will miss out on your wife, your kids! Will they be okay? Of course they will. He said they will. And if things go as they should, they’ll be financially set.

Barry shook his head slowly and kept walking in front of the bar.

No one has called you for a job—it’s been three months! And besides that, your paintings aren’t selling, the rent will be due in three weeks, there’s barely any groceries…

Barry opened his eyes. He looked toward the path in front of the bar that led to the crossroads that famous jazz musicians and desperate men had walked before him. He saw the man in the black suit appear in the middle of the crossroads.

It was time.

Barry walked to him.

“Merry Christmas,” said Barry to himself.

E. Reyes is the author of Short Tales of Horror, available on Amazon. He lives in Arizona with his fiance and three children.

The Old Man…And His Wife

A cul de sac: a dead end street with only one way in and/or out.
A cul de sac community: everyone knows everyone, including their business.
It’s all a façade, at twenty years old, I see right past them.
At twenty years old, I learned that the only way in and/or out of this cul de sac was to face your neighbors, who were more like acquaintances that you only socialized with on July 4th Weekend over some burnt burgers and half-cooked hot dogs. Then, there were those who you became familiar with, the ones who caught you sneaking into your house at 4 in the morning, kicking over a potted plant, the sound echoing through the night. The neighbor who knows your secrets, but will never approach you to talk about.
I always thought coming back home from College after dropping out after one semester would kick me in the ass, and it did. Don’t get me wrong, living at home has an immense number of perks and a lot of free time, but I needed to get out of here, and that meant picking up more hours at the newest ‘it’ store.
The newest ‘it’ store was an athletic-meets-fashion store, and to my advantage, I fit the criteria for both. I was lucky to get a job when it was ‘low-season’; the assistant manager and I went to the same high school together, and thus she landed me the job.
It was an easy retail job; there wasn’t much to say about it. I usually took the shitty shifts given to me; I would sometimes pull twelve-hour days, or leave the mall at 10:30pm, and be back at the store for 9:30am. My social life was completely amiss, but this kept me busy, and that’s exactly what I needed right now.
I was just getting in my car, ready for my 3pm-9:30pm shift when I saw him in my rear view mirror, our neighbor, Clark Fields. He was an older gentleman, who was definitely handsome back in his day. His hair had turned gray, most likely from the stress of his recently deceased wife, Carol. His eyes were the real showstoppers; they were light blue, and piercing. When he looked at you, it was as if he was looking into your soul.
Right now, he was doing the upkeep of the flowers that his wife, Carol planted. Their garden resembled something out of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel. When I was younger, I would chase our puppy at the time, Bean, through that garden, cutting myself on the rose bushes, and encountering the odd bee. Those were simpler times.
I reversed out, turning the car around and looked at the garden once more, Mr. Fields back to me.
God, I hated those fucking flowers.
I had tossed and turned that night, my thoughts racing, like accelerated footsteps.
I could not get the foul smell out of my nose; it was like the stench was implanted up there permanently. Even after a week, it would not leave: it was a mixture of meat trapped in the back seat and left in the hot sun for a long time, with the putrid smell of decay.
Trying everything to get rid of the smell, it was something I was just going to have to live with now. I reached over to my nightstand and grabbed a fistful of coffee beans that were in a small cigarette plate. Bringing my hand to my nose, I inhaled deeply. The waft of coffee beans hit my nostrils and I smiled; but that was a temporary solution – I knew that putrid smell was going to come back.
Eventually, I had fallen asleep. I’m sure it wasn’t for long; the sound of Mr. Fields’ lawn mower jolted me from my sleep. For a man who should have been grieving his wife, he sure was keeping himself busy. I put the pillow over my head, hoping to block out the noise but there was no such luck.
I know that keeping busy helps in dealing with grievance, but c’mon old man. The lawnmower shut off just in time for me to get out of bed. I groaned.
I looked out the window, ready to throw some obscene hand gesture towards him when I noticed him mid-conversation with someone whom I couldn’t make out. Hopefully they were telling him to take it easy on Sunday mornings with his lawnmower.
Getting changed and ready, I made my way downstairs to the kitchen. The sun shined bright through the window, temporarily blinding me. I grabbed the travel mug from the cabinet, and poured coffee in it, watching Mr. Fields through the window. He was by himself, seemingly lost in thought. It was as if he sensed me; the old man’s piercing blue eyes found my own brown deer-in-headlights eyes and his facial expression went stone cold.
Suddenly I felt a desire to rush out of the house, and that is exactly what I did. I ran out of the house, neglecting to lock the door behind me, and dashed into my car.
Starting the car, I put it in reverse, my foot hovering over the pedal. A movement in my rear view mirror made me slam on the brakes mid-reverse.
There she was: standing tall and lean, her wedding ring glistening as sun rays hit it. She was waving at me, what was blonde hair at one point had now turned grey over the years, and it was tucked behind her ears. Her face was angular and structured, like a model’s.
I turned my body around, and gasped.
It wasn’t possible – it was Carol Fields.
I knew it wasn’t possible, because Carol was dead.
I should know; Mr. Field and I were the ones who buried her a week ago under those fucking flowers.

 

This story was originally on the subreddit r/nosleep. You can find it here

It is also on Vivian’s website, which you can find here

You can find Vivian on twitter here

Book Review: At The Cemetery Gates

At the Cemetery Gates: Year One, by John Brhel and Joseph Sullivan

I remember going to sleepovers as a kid, and staying up into the wee hours of the morning trading scary stories and urban legends in hushed tones with my friends. We’d swear up and down that we knew someone who knew someone who knew the girl whose boyfriend was murdered by the hook hand killer. We’d retell local legends, and stories we’d read in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.The tales were short and sweet, getting to the good stuff quickly and allowing for the storyteller to embellish for maximum effect. It spawned an entire generation of horror fans, including authors John Brhel and Joseph Sullivan, who paid homage to the Scary Stories collections with their newest book, At the Cemetery Gates: Year One.

The following aren’t short stories so much as they are digestible suburban fables.

Cemetery Gates Media presents a collection of fourteen twisted tales clocking in at 168 pages of consumable bites of horror and dark fiction, written in the very style that made Alvin Schwarz’s tales so popular two decades ago. Rather than setting everything up neatly like a regular short story, Brhel and Sullivan condense their stories into compact vignettes that are ready for retelling around a campfire, or in a bedroom late at night.

Favorites include:

Passion’s Paroxysm, a quick glimpse into a day in the life of a mistreated husband. The surprise ending make this tale destined to be an urban legend

The Girl With The Crooked Tooth, a thoroughly eerie homage to Edgar Allen Poe, complete with a creepy dude with an odd obsession with a woman. I don’t like dental stuff, so this one really got under my skin. The beautiful prose and unsettling imagery stuck with me.

New Year’s Eve, What A Gas!, about a simple mistake leading to catastrophic consequences. If you like the stories that play on fears of being killed at random, for no good reason, this is sure to titillate.

Considering that I couldn’t find a bad thing to say about this collection and found it to be even more enjoyable than their last anthology, I give this book the full 5 stars. Many of these stories are trope-heavy, but that’s how good lore works. It follows a basic template, and works as a means of expressing universal fears in American society. Anonymous murderers, poison in our food, and systematic conspiracies that affect the marginalized are all things that many of us worry about.  Urban legends synthesize those apprehensions into morsels of dread that serve to remind us that death awaits us everywhere, at all times. I’d heartily recommend At The Cemetery Gates to readers who want a little something to nibble on before bed each night, and to young horror fans who want something juicy to regale to their friends between classes. Find it on Amazon.

50+ Essential Subreddits for Horror Writers

Most folks today are at least aware of Reddit. “The front page of the Internet” is both an endless source of information, and a notorious time-waster. You can find whole communities dedicated to even the tiniest of niches, and it turns out that horror writers are no exception.

When we previously posted a list of 10 great online resources for horror writers, Reddit was originally at the top of that list. However, I found that it wasn’t enough to drop a link to the home page of the website; there are many, many nooks and crannies to search through. Some subreddits only have 4 subscribers, or haven’t posted anything new in months. Those places aren’t particularly helpful to those of us working on our latest story, so I’ve rounded up 63 subreddits that have a fair following and an active community.

Whether you’re looking for boogeyman inspiration or a good conversation on the common themes in Stephen King’s works, these horror havens are a great way to enhance the quality of your Reddit newsfeed.

 

*Note: Always check the sidebar in each subreddit for their posting guidelines, especially in the Places to Post Your Stories section. If you get banned for violating the rules, no one will see your literary masterpiece!*

Lit & Authors
r/StephenKing
r/Lovecraft
r/CliveBarker
r/HorrorLit

Art & Inspiration
r/ImaginaryHorrors
r/ImaginaryCarnage
r/ImaginaryDemons
r/ImaginaryBehemoths
r/ImaginaryBeasts
r/ImaginaryMonsters
r/ImaginaryWerewolves
r/ImaginaryLeviathans
r/creepy
r/UnresolvedMysteries
r/oldschoolcreepy
r/serialkillers
r/skulls
r/paranormal
r/CemeteryPorn
r/unnerving
r/EvilBuildings
r/TheDepthsBelow

Cinematic Horror
r/Horror
r/ClassicHorror
r/Horror_Filmmakers
r/UMCU (Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe)
Places To Post Your Stories
r/NoSleep
r/TheChills
r/TrueScaryStories
r/WritersOfHorror
r/Horror_Stories
r/Creepypasta
r/UrbanMyths
r/ScaredShitless
r/ShortHorror
r/ShortScaryStories
r/TheNightmareFactory
r/WelcomeToHell
r/DarkTales
r/OneParagraph
r/FlashFiction
Specific Monsters
r/Skinwalkers
r/Vampires
r/Werewolves
r/Demons
r/OuijaBoards
r/Ghosts
r/Zombies
r/Cthulhu

On Writing
r/Writing
r/WritingHub
r/Screenwriting
r/ShutupAndWrite
r/KeepWriting
r/WriterResearch
r/ShortStoriesCritique
r/LibraryOfShadows
r/WritersOfHorror
r/Fanfiction
r/HighSchoolWriters
r/WritingPrompts
r/Worldbuilding
r/SelfPublish