My Horror Short Story, ‘Bone Cabin,’ In the November Issue of ‘Terror Tract’

I’m thrilled to announce that I have another horror short story of mine to be published in next month’s issue of Terror Tract. The name of my story is “Bone Cabin.” I don’t want to go into any detail as to what the story is about, but let’s just say that when it comes to any place you stay for a vacation, be sure that you won’t be too cramped in…

Other talented writers included in this November 2019 issue are Theresa Scott-Matthews, Cody W. Higgins, John Palisano, Scott Deegan, Howard Carlyle, Dusty Davis, Edmund Stone, David B. Harrington, Andy Rausch, David Niall Wilson, Timothy A. Wiseman, Ryan Woods, Charles Lynne, and Thomas S. Gunther.

Here’s a pre-order link.

So, go out and get a copy of these scary stories. I want to give a great big thank you to Becky Narron for including my story this month. Hugs and kisses to you! 🙂

‘Branches,’ a Horror Short Story

The visitor promised the people in town that he wouldn’t go into the forest. The warning they gave, that whoever went in never came out, because of a demonic presence left there by a witch centuries ago, was a silly tale; but to make them feel better, he promised he’d stay away from the trees.

He walked along a trail with bushes to his left and a fence of jagged wood to his right, with lush, tall grasses of yellow and green jutting out from behind it. The sky was a greyish-blue, but still, overall the scenery was too idyllic to pass up enjoying. Fresh air all around him was a balm to his skin.

He approached the shady entrance to the woods, then stopped. It’s the end of the line, he thought. I guess I’d better turn around and go back.

But he didn’t.

How stupid, he thought. It’s just a forest, no magic. What could possibly happen to me in there besides getting lost? The owner of the diner had said, ‘You die in there…yet at the same time, you don’t.’ What’s that even supposed to mean? 

“Forget it. I don’t have time anyway.” He turned around.

He took no more than one step away when he saw a flurry of dollar bills blown past him in the direction of the entry. A few bills flew into his hands…hundred dollar bills.

“Holy shit!” he whispered, then looked back at all the others being blown into the forest. Without thinking, he ran after them.

As he entered the darkness, he managed to grab a few more flying bills. He stuffed them in his pockets and went in further, reaching blindly for more, unable to see. Enveloped in black…His hands managed to find three more bills, then he groped about in the air in all futility, coming up empty.

The wind blew around him, caressing his skin, sounding almost like a whisper. “Oh…no…don’t…”

After reaching and reaching for more bills with no success, he finally gave up. He turned the way he had entered to leave.

Black. Everywhere.

“OK, what the f–”

Something whacked him in the ass, hard. It felt like a thick piece of wood. Not a plank. A branch.

Now he was shaking.

He stood there, rooted in the spot for about ten seconds. His heavy breathing drowned out any intelligibility in the whispering wind he still heard.

What felt like the roughness of bark rubbed against his arm.

“God!” he screamed, then ran in the direction of the way he’d come in, even though he now saw as black a void there as he saw everywhere else. He kept running and running, in the exact same trajectory as the curve of the path into the woods, but he ran at least three times the distance he’d come in from the original point of entry. Still, he kept running that way, in total darkness.

Until a thick tree branch ran him through like a sword.

It entered his gut, level with and to the left of his navel, then out his back to the right of his spine. He shook all over and coughed out blood. The branch lifted him two feet off the ground.

But he never passed out.

Wiry thin branches coiled around his wrists and ankles, tightened their grips, and stretched his limbs out to the point of his shoulders and thighs hurting.

Then the screaming began.

Not his screaming…the wailing of what seemed a million souls trapped in Hell surrounded him, impaling his eardrums.

His arms and legs were being pulled more and more…the pain was unbearable…yet he never lost consciousness!

He’d surely lost enough blood by now to die…yet he was wide awake! He felt a sharp, almost popping pain in his shoulders and femora/pelvis, which had just been dislocated!

Still, he didn’t pass out.

Then he remembered what the owner of the diner said: “You die in there…yet, you don’t.”

His arms and legs were torn off. Piercing screams all around…not his screams, though: he had too much blood clogging his throat to vocalize at all.

What felt like about a dozen thin but strong branches stabbed through his chest and guts, one through his heart.

A vine coiled around his neck, choking him tighter and tighter until it crushed his windpipe. It was torture not being able to breathe, and in his thoughts he begged to die…at least to pass out.

But he wouldn’t.

The vine was pulling his head up, pulling…pulling…until his neck-bone cracked, the flesh there tore, and his head came off.

He didn’t stop feeling the pain all over his body, though, even with his head removed…he was conscious of the pain everywhere.

Branches slashed and stabbed through his severed arms and legs, even making multiple stigmatas, as it were, through his hands and feet.

And he felt it all.

Branches stabbed into his face: two from the top-back poked his eyeballs out. A thick one went in his mouth, punched out most of his teeth, and went through the lower back of his head. Thin branches went up his nostrils, tore up his nose, and stabbed his brain. One branch stabbed into his right ear and went out his left.

Yet he never stopped hearing the screaming.

A branch rammed deep into his rectum and tore his intestines apart. All these impaling branches now moved in diverging directions and tore his head, torso, arms, and legs into pieces.

This was not the end of the tearing…

…and fantastically, he was still as conscious as if he’d been unharmed.

His shattered body parts could ‘see’ as if he had millions of eyes, and ‘hear’ with millions of ears, all the screams of previous victims. All the mutilated pieces of his body were themselves tearing and dividing into smaller and smaller fragments, by some kind of magical power that proved the townspeople right.

He felt his scattered drops of blood divide…painfully. He felt his cells being torn apart…were his atoms splitting apart? His body felt as if it were a nuclear bomb going off.

The only things unbroken were his continued consciousness…and his excruciating pain. The only coming together he felt was that between him and his fellow screaming sufferers, a solidarity of souls in a Hades of pain, endless waves of an ongoing throbbing.

Still, he remained so aware of his surroundings that he and the battalion of the damned he’d joined noticed those hundred dollar bills fluttering yet again into the forest from the once-again sunlit entry. A young woman came in trying to grab those bills. All he and his kindred sufferers could do, with their infinitesimally soft chorus of voices, was whisper, “Oh…no…don’t…”

‘Bloom,’ a Horror Short Story

Muir Cantell stared at the new flower he found in his greenhouse late that night. How did it get there? If his wife, Paula, had brought it in, surely she would have told him about it.

It was a beautiful, but unique flower. He’d never seen this kind of flower ever before, in all his years of gardening. It had silvery-gold, shining petals, with touches of bright red along some of the edges. A silvery gold that made wealth seem like poverty, a red like freshly-shed blood.

The flower seemed to stare back at him as it emerged from the black shadows; the bright petals were a chiaroscuro contrast to their home in the darkness. The petals seemed to speak to him.

Their language was their scent, an alien, dirty smell, but a smell that made him want to stay by the flower more and more, the longer he smelled it.

He watered it lovingly, then left to go to bed in his house beside the greenhouse, wanting to stay with the flower, but also afraid to stay.

***************

The next morning, he and Paula went into the greenhouse to begin the business day of selling flowers. He hurried over to the new flower, while his wife stayed at the other end of the greenhouse, as if trying to avoid the flower. When he reached the corner of the greenhouse where the flower was, he noticed an odd thing.

There were now two flowers.

The second was an identical twin of the first. The smell of the flowers was, as would be expected, twice as powerful as it had been the night before.

“It’s a…miracle,” Muir sighed, and stood before the flowers, almost as if in a trance. “They’re magical.”

He picked up his watering can and poured water on the two flowers, grinning at their glowing beauty.

The petals opened wider to receive the water. The flowers were like mouths that were opening not only to drink the water, but to thank their loving gardener. 

Tiny black seeds, ones as small as sesame seeds, flew out of the centre of both flowers and landed in the soil surrounding them.

“Does this mean I’ll get two more beautiful flowers by the end of the day?” he whispered to the flowers, imagining they could hear his words.

“Hey, Muir!” Paula called from the other side of the greenhouse. “We have customers here! Come on!”

“You handle it, honey,” he said, gazing at his flowers. “I’m busy here.”

“You bastard,” she whispered, then turned her frown upside down to meet the customers. “So, Helen, what can I do for you today?”

“What are those flowers your husband is so interested in?” Helen asked. “He looks as if he’s under a spell.”

“Something we got recently. They sure are pretty, but–I don’t know, there’s something about them…”

Muir pulled himself away from the flowers and rushed over to where Paula and Helen were.

Wow, he thought, I mustn’t let myself be around those two beauties for too long. They have some kind of hold on me. He went past the two women without saying a word.

“Good,” Paula said, assuming he was going to serve the other customer there, a man in his thirties looking at some orchids. “It’s about time you did your jo–hey, where ya goin’?”

Muir ran out of the greenhouse.

“What?” the male customer said. “I thought he was going to–”

“So did I,” Paula said. “Maybe he needs to use the bathroom. Well, I guess I have to take care of you both myself. Do you want some orchids today, Mr. Gadd?” 

“Yes, Mrs. Cantell,” he said. “But what about those flowers your husband was obsessing over?”

“Yeah, what about them?” Paula asked, then all three of them went over to those two flowers.

When they came within smelling distance, the dirty reek was overwhelming. The three tilted their heads back and said, “Whoa!” at the same time.

“They are pretty flowers, but that smell,” Helen said. “It kind of pulls you in and pushes you away at the same time.” She held her nose, but kept looking at them.

“All they do is push me away,” Mr. Gadd said, squinting and holding his nose. “They’re a dangerous beautiful. It feels like they’re pulling you in to destroy you.”

“I agree,” Paula said, frowning and looking askance at them. “I remember just one flower. Muir seems to have sneaked another flower in here.” She looked closer before wincing. “And what’s that little stem in the…”

“What are you doing?” Muir shouted as he rushed back to the flowers, pushing his wife and Mr. Gadd to the side to get back to his darlings. “Don’t touch them!”

“Muir, what’s the matter with you?” Paula asked.

“Well, they are lovely,” Helen said. “You just have to get used to the smell. I’d like to buy one.”

“They aren’t for sale,” Muir said. “They’re mine.”

“Honey,” Paula said. “You and I are going to have a talk about those flowers later.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” he said, gesturing to them to go away. He looked down at the soil in anticipation. He was practically salivating.

Paula and Mr. Gadd walked away with furrows of worry on their brows. Helen followed, but was looking back at the flowers from time to time.

“Paula?” she asked. “Before I go, could I please borrow your purple hat? I’d like to take it to the haberdasher to have him help design a copy for me. Your hat is so unique, and so pretty. May I copy it, please?”

“Sure,” Paula said. “As soon as we’re done here with Mr. Gadd, I’ll take you over to the house and give it to you.”

“Thanks,” Helen said.

Muir just kept grinning and staring at his flowers, and at the soil where the seeds had fallen and sunk into.

On either side of the two flowers, he saw two little thin stalks growing.

******************

As soon as the greenhouse was empty of customers, which was a mere twenty minutes after Helen and Mr. Gadd left, Paula walked over to Muir, who was still watching the flowers. He was gazing at them in his usual, grinning daze.

“OK, Muir, what’s with you and those flow–” she began, then froze with widened eyes.

There were now four fully-grown flowers.

“Muir, where did you get that flower, the first one, I mean?”

“I didn’t,” he said, finally looking away from them. “I thought you got it.”

I thought you got it,” she said. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know.” He stepped back from the flowers, and turned his smile upside-down. “Who gave them to us, or rather, what did?”

“Let’s get away from them,” she said, taking him by the arm and pulling him back. “The smell is awful. That flower–those flowers–are giving me the creeps. How could two new flowers have grown out of nowhere so quickly?”

“Three new flowers. The second grew late last night.”

“My God. I’ve never seen that kind of flower in my life.”

“Nor have I. They’re a gift from heaven.”

“Or a curse from hell. In any case, they’re something completely alien. They’re…scary. Let’s throw them away. Let’s kill them.”

“No!” he shouted, picking up a trowel and aiming it at her heart. He scowled at her like a vicious dog, baring a few teeth like fangs; the hand holding the trowel was shaking.

Her whole body was now shaking.

The whites of almost all her eyeballs, it seemed, were showing as she stared at that trowel, then at his own wild eyes. Her eyes didn’t see her husband anymore, for his eyes weren’t the eyes of her husband–she was sure of that.

“Who…are you?” she almost sobbed, then ran out of the greenhouse and back home.

He looked down at the trowel he’d just threatened his wife with. “Indeed,” he gasped. Tears were soaking his eyes. He ran out after her, wanting to scream out an apology, but too ashamed to speak.

*****************

He’d been lying in bed, shaking, for the rest of the day. He was pale. An itch made him want to go back to the flowers…to see if they were safe and healthy, but he didn’t dare, for he sensed what they were doing to him, and making him like what they were doing.

Paula had been sitting on the sofa all day, rocking back and forth, but relieved that at least he understood he’d flipped his lid, and was staying away from the flowers. By the evening, she was finally starting to calm down.

Then Helen knocked on the front door. Paula answered the door.

“Yes, Helen,” she said with a smile to hide her fear. “Are you finished with my hat?”

“No, not yet,” Helen said. “It’s about those flowers. I know your husband doesn’t want to sell any of them, but I just must have one. I’ll pay you any amount he wants.”

“Well…they’re rather dang–I mean, I have a bad feeling about…” She looked up to the second-floor bedroom and thought about Muir, who, for all she knew, was much better now. “Well, maybe we can spare one flower and see what happens.”

Paula led Helen out to the greenhouse. When they reached the far corner where the new flowers were, they saw eight of them. The smell was overpowering.

“Are you sure you want one?” Paula asked Helen. “They smell awful. Oh!

“Oh, it’s not so bad,” Helen said. “If I grow only one, I should be able to tolerate the smell. They’re just so pretty and colourful.”

“OK, but you may find yourself with more than one flower, and sooner than you know. There’s something spooky about…”

“Oh, they’re just flowers. I can kill them if I don’t like them. But I must have one. I’ll give you $20 for one.” Helen held out a $20 bill for Paula, who took it.

“Well, OK,” Paula said. “Pick whichever one you like, not that there’s any variation between–”

Helen had already snatched one and run out of the greenhouse without even saying good night to Paula.

Well, Paula thought, at least we got rid of one of them. Muir won’t miss a flower he never saw grow, surely.

*****************

The next morning, Muir felt unable to stand staying away from his precious flowers anymore, so he ran out to the greenhouse to check up on them.

I saw four seeds fly out of my flowers after I last watered them, he thought as he approached them. I should see eight now. “What?” he shouted. “Only seven?”

He watered the remaining seven with feverish speed, watched seven little black seeds fly out and land in the surrounding soil, then ran back to the house. He found an axe in the basement, then looked up to the ground floor. He was gritting his teeth.

“Paula?” he called up to her. “Come down here.”

“What is it?” she said in a shaky voice as she began descending the stairs. He held the axe behind him as she continued down to the basement. “Are you feeling any better?”

“You sold one of my flowers, didn’t you?”

“No, I didn’t,” she said with a twitch.

“Don’t you lie to me! There should have been at least eight flowers in that corner of the greenhouse, where I reserved all that extra soil for my flowers. There are only seven there now. You sold one. It’s the only explanation.”

“Muir, if you can replace the flowers so easily with new ones, what do you care if you give up one or two? We could make a lot of money with them. Helen gave us twenty dollars for the one I sold her. She was as crazy about them as you are.” Tears were rolling down her cheeks as she presented the money in a trembling hand. “Here, I’ll give you her money. Every one of those flowers that we sell, you can have all the money made from them. I won’t take a cent of it.”

He clenched his bared teeth and brought the axe out front. He started walking towards her.

“Muir…what are you doing?” She stepped back with spastic legs. “I-I think, you’re losing your…you need to see a…doctor. The flowers are doing this to you.”

“You sold my flower,” he growled, raising the axe over his head. “Now I have to get it back from her, and that won’t be easy. It’s your fault.”

“Muir, my God! Don’t! No!

He brought the axe down on her head, chopping it right down the middle, separating her cerebral hemispheres and spraying her blood everywhere.

****************

After showering and changing his clothes, Muir drove over to Helen’s house down the street. He had a small knife in his jacket pocket.

Her husband was at work, and their kids were all at school. She was at home alone. He rang the doorbell.

“Mr. Cantell,” she said as she approached the door. She opened the screen door and let him in. “Are you here about the flower, or Paula’s hat? I know you didn’t want to part with any of them, but I loved them so much that I just had to have one.” 

“Oh, that’s OK,” he lied. “I’d just like to see it one last time, if you don’t mind.”

She led him to the back of the house, where she had the flower.

“There it is,” he sighed, his heartbeat slowing down.

“Yes,” she said with a grin as wide as his. “It is so beautiful, and if you look…” she stepped in front and pointed at the surrounding soil with a trowel, “…a new flower is beginning to grow. See the thin, green stem?”

“Yes, I do,” he said as he pulled the knife out of his pocket. He slowly brought it over to her neck.

“These flowers are a gift that keeps on giving, aren’t they?” she said, still gawking at the flower with dazed eyes and a toothy smile as his knife reached a centimetre or two from her throat.

“Yes, but only one person can have them,” he said.

“You’re right,” she said. Me!

She spun around and stabbed him in the gut with the trowel. He’d only managed to slice a shallow, thin red line along the back of her neck.

He fell to the floor with a thud; only the handle of the trowel was sticking out of his stomach. A pool of blood surrounded his body in a growing circle.

She grabbed a nearby tissue and pressed it against her neck to stop the blood. Then she squatted down. “I knew you’d kill your wife for selling me the flower, and that you’d want to kill me for taking it from you,” she said. “Such is the power those flowers have over us. But now that you Cantells are gone, I can take over the greenhouse, and have all the flowers to myself. Oh, don’t worry: I won’t sell any of them.”

She cleaned up the basement, wrapped his body in old, dirty blankets, then took it out to his car, checking to make sure no one was around in the neighbourhood: everyone was either at work or at school, and the only other housewife of their area, a gossipy middle-aged woman named Mrs. Granville, lived far off on the other end of the street, to the far side of the greenhouse; so Helen figured she was safe from being seen.

She had his car keys, put on Paula’s hat, then drove away to a forest out of town to bury the body there. She drove back the Cantells’ house and found Paula’s body in the basement. 

Showing no emotion at the gory sight of the body (for owning those flowers was infinitely more important to her), Helen disposed of it near Muir’s.

Now the greenhouse was hers.

*****************

When the neighbours wondered why Helen was running the Cantells’ greenhouse business, her excuse was that Muir and Paula had suddenly decided to take a vacation, since they’d been stressed lately. The neighbours were suspicious of Helen running the business in place of the Cantells, since she had no experience in gardening or selling flowers. What’s more, Helen was more interested in watching over those new flowers, which by now numbered over thirty, than selling the others, which were dying from neglect. 

When the customers realized Helen had no intention of selling any of the new flowers, which soon became the vast majority of those in the greenhouse, they all left with frowns.

Mr. Gadd stopped by a week after the murders, and found himself concerned not so much from the change from the Cantells’ to Helen’s management, but about how identical her attitude was to Muir’s.

And the smell of that greenhouse, now with only the identical-looking flowers, put him in a staggering daze once he’d entered.

As he walked back to his car, his staggering changing into normal walking after about ten seconds from exiting the greenhouse, he saw Mrs. Granville sitting on her porch, her mouth in a permanent pout and her eyes and ears out like antennae. 

“Good afternoon, Mr. Gadd,” she called out to him.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Granville,” he said, then put a small plastic bag in his glove compartment.

“Why didn’t you buy any flowers today?” she asked.

“None to buy that are of interest to me,” he said.

“What about all those pretty new flowers they have, the ones that all look like clones of each other?”

“You mean the silvery-gold-red ones? That’s all they have now. Over fifty of them, I’d say.”

“Well, why not buy one of those?”

“Nah. I don’t like them.”

“I don’t blame you. They all stink. They’re evil, too.”

“That’s the feeling I’ve always had of them. They have an evil charm.”

“C’mere, Mr. Gadd,” she said with a sly smirk and squinted eyes. “I’ll bet I know something you don’t about what’s going on over there.”

“What’s that?” he asked as he approached her porch.

“Y’know how Helen’s supposed to be watching over the greenhouse while the Cantells are in Florida?”

“Yeah, I heard. There’s no way they can afford a two-week vacation in Miami Beach.”

“Well, I remember seeing Helen buy one of those evil flowers, when none of ‘em were supposed to be for sale. She also borrowed one of Paula’s hats, her purple one, the day before she bought that flower. I saw Helen twice driving the Cantells’ car wearing that hat. She’d dragged something big and heavy into the car from the Cantells’ house. Big and heavy enough to be a body.”

“Are you sure?” Gadd asked.

“Yes. I think Helen killed the Cantells to get at those flowers. They’re supposed to return from their ‘vacation’ at the end of next week. I’ll make a million-dollar bet that Helen will still be running the greenhouse business, saying she doesn’t know what happened to the Cantells, then eventually make us believe they were murdered in Miami Beach instead of here.”

“Could be. There’s something about those flowers. Something in the smell. A smell of…covetousness.”

“I agree. That’s what I smelled, and I recoiled instantly upon smelling it. A smell honest people could never stand. You watch Helen over the next week. I sure will.”

“Yes, we should watch her.”

But Helen was watching them from the greenhouse, noting their scowling looks at her.

*****************

Two days later, Mrs. Granville went over to the greenhouse to see what was going on over there. She stood just outside, looking through the glass to see, but not smell, the goings-on inside. 

She gasped at what she saw.

Helen, pale, was swinging a knife at men and women who were trying to take her flowers; worse, the men and women had knives of their own, and stabbed not only at her, but at each other. Helen would need a larger bandage than the one along the back of her neck to cover the bloody gash along her left forearm.

A woman she’d stabbed in the back was lying dead on the floor between her and the other fighting customers, all of whom had cuts and gashes on their arms or legs. All of them ignored the pain, so focused were they on getting control of all the flowers. Some jealously held flowerpots in the arms that weren’t brandishing knives.

Mrs. Granville backed away from the window of the greenhouse when she saw Helen’s scowling eyes aiming murderously at hers. With a shaky hand, she took her cellphone out of her handbag and tried tapping a phone number, grunting in nervous annoyance whenever she tapped any wrong numbers. Finally, she finished dialling.

“Hello?” Mr. Gadd said.

“This is Mrs. Granville,” she said. “The situation with Helen and the flowers is much worse now.”

“How many are there now? In the hundreds?”

“Yes, but that’s not the worst part. She and several customers are swinging knives at each other, trying to take over the greenhouse and have all the flowers to themselves. One woman’s lying on the floor dead…Oh! I just saw a man stabbed and falling–he must be dead, too. All the others, including Helen, are cut and wounded, but still fighting as if they hadn’t a spot of blood on them.”

“They’re swinging knives at each other in broad daylight?” Gadd asked. “They aren’t worried about cops coming to stop them?”

“Of course not. The flowers have driven them all mad.”

“I’m coming over there.”

“Why? It’s dangerous. I should call the police.”

“No! Not yet. They won’t understand what needs to be done. The flowers must all be destroyed.” He sighed, then continued. “Arresting a few people won’t end this problem. As long as there are flowers, people will fight to have them. I’m on my way. Bye.”

He hung up.

Mrs. Granville watched in helpless horror as the fighting continued. She kept backing up slowly, without noticing the curb as her feet neared it.

A man swung his knife in an arc from right to left, slicing Helen across the guts and tearing them open. Shc buckled and fell to the floor, with parts of her intestines snaking out of the wound, coated in blood.

The man reached for the flowerpot she was holding and caught it before she hit the floor, but a woman stabbed him in the back and snatched the flower from him.

“Aah!” Mrs. Granville screamed not only from the violence, but also from tripping over the curb and hitting the road, hurting her right elbow.

A car raced over and was about to hit her in the face. She screamed, but the car stopped, the bumper just a few inches away from her nose. Mr. Gadd got out of the car and ran over to the greenhouse. He had a container of gasoline. 

He began running around the greenhouse, pouring gasoline all along the perimeter. Once he’d finished his tour around the greenhouse, he flicked a cigarette lighter and reached down to the ground.

“Oh, my God!” she said, moaning in pain as she fought to get back on her feet. She limped back to her house, saying, “Still, if those people are mad enough to kill each other over that devil of a flower, maybe they should all burn in the hell of their greed.”

She reached her porch. By the time she’d sat down, rubbing her elbow, she saw a rectangle of fire surrounding the greenhouse. Gadd raced back to his car and drove off.

One woman, the one who’d stabbed Helen’s killer in the back, was the sole survivor of the knife fight…though she wouldn’t survive much longer. 

The flowers by the glass were bursting into flame. As they burned, they made a chorus of squeals so shrill and ear-piercing, they made the screeching violins of horror movie soundtracks seem soothing.

More and more flowers burned and screamed. The woman joined in the screaming as the flames moved further and further inside, inching closer to her and the three flowerpots she was squeezing to her chest in a futile effort to protect them.

“No!” she screamed. “My flowers! They’re dying!”

By the time a fire truck and police cars had arrived, she and all the flowers had burned to a crisp.

Still on her porch and watching everything, Mrs. Granville called Mr. Gadd on her cellphone again.

“Are all the flowers dead?” he asked her.

“Every last one of them, thank God,” she said. “The last surviving woman in that fight perished, too. So awful.”

“Yeah. I feel bad about having caused such a loss of life, but you know as well as I do that those flowers had to be killed, to stop the cycle of human violence. Sometimes you have to make difficult sacrifices to avoid worse suffering.”

“I agree. She was a killer for those evil flowers, so I don’t feel much sympathy for her. Honest people like you and me would never allow ourselves to covet those flowers. Don’t worry, Mr. Gadd, I won’t tell the police what you did.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Granville,” he said. “Well, I have a few things to do, so if you’ll excuse me, we can discuss the rest of this later, OK?”

“Yes, of course,” she said. “We both need a rest from all of this violence. Goodbye, Mr. Gadd.” They hung up.

Mr. Gadd took the little bag out of the glove compartment of his car and went over to his garden.

Now that there aren’t any more of those flowers around elsewhere, I’ll feel safe doing this, he thought. I hated having to kill all of them, but sometimes you have to make great sacrifices to avoid worse violence.

He opened the bag and sprinkled little black seeds on the soil.

My Short Story, ‘Violation,’ in the Horror Anthology, ‘Dig Two Graves, Vol. II’

Dig Two Graves: An Anthology Vol. II–Kindle edition by Death’s Head Press is now published! I have an erotic horror short story, ‘Violation,’ included in it. It’s about a group of young men who gang rape and murder a woman in the woods (or so they think), then realize they’ve gotten themselves into something supernatural and surreal, and a revenge ensues to make I Spit On Your Grave seem mild in comparison. That’s all I’m telling for now; you’ll have to read for yourself to find out how they get what’s coming to them.

Other great stories included in the anthology were written by Wesley Southard, Cameron Trost, Gerri R. Gray, Gary Power, Delphine Quinn, M. Ennenbach, Jack Bantry, Charlotte Platt, Cameron Kirk, Susan E. Abramski, Mark Lumby, Lucas Milliron, David L. Tamarin, Lori Tiron-Pandit, Pete Mesling, G. Allen Wilbanks, Thomas Vaughn, Sergio “ente per ente” Palumbo, Duane Bradley, David Owain Hughes, and Betty Rocksteady.

I want to show my appreciation to Death’s Head Press for including my story in their new anthology! If you love horror fiction, Dear Reader, I hope you’ll go out and get your hands on this collection of scary stories!

A Horror Short Story of Mine Published in ‘The Devil’s Hour’

The Devil’s Hour is an anthology of horror short stories recently published by HellBound Books. I have a short story included in it, one called “The Pet.” I don’t want to tell you too much about it, since I’d rather you got a copy of the anthology and found out for yourself; let’s just say that the pet is always hungry, and he’s a growing boy…

The other sixteen writers in the anthology are these talented people: M.U.Nib, Nick Manzolillo, Richard Raven, Pamela Scott, Thomas S. Gunther, Tim V. Decker, Marc L. Rissmann, Ken McGrath, Brandon Cracraft, James R. Gardner, Lex H Jones, Sergio ‘ente per ente’ Palumbo & Ernesto Canepa, Jim Towns, Sarah Cannavo, Feind Gottes, and J.N. Cameron. 

Above all, I want to thank Xtina Marie and James Longmore for accepting my story. You two rock…and…roll!

‘Heavy Splash,’ a Horror Short Story

[Trigger Warning: some sexual content of a disturbing nature.]

Ayumi Suzuki shouldn’t have been driving. She was about to peak on a combination of ecstasy, ketamine, and acid as she, naked, drove out of the front yard of the country home where the party was still in full swing that summer night. The other partiers, her associates in the porn industry, were too wasted themselves to notice her having sneaked out after a trip to the bathroom…not that they cared. ‘Yummy Sucky’— her stage name—was important to them only insofar as she made money for them. The waves of her thoughts rose and fell like this:

I’ve got to get out of there! I’m just too high. I love to party, but they just don’t know when to stop. All those pills. All that snorting. All that fucking. I’ll die if I keep doing drugs in there. I washed the come off my face and left immediately after. I didn’t even bother to get my clothes. I’m surprised—and lucky—none of Phil’s musclemen stopped me from leaving. I may be naked and stoned, but at least I got away from them. It’s safer to leave now, and to risk it on the road, than to stay, and risk letting them just get crazier and crazier with me, till they kill me. Gotta escape…escape…Drive, drive far away…just keep driving…

She was driving alone down a gravel road lined with trees on both sides. Besides what little light the half moon and stars were giving overhead, her high beams were augmented by the dazzle the drugs were flashing in her eyes.

Are those trees I’m driving past…or are they people, blacks with their hair dyed green? They all look like punk rocker clones of Leon, one of the porno studs who were just fucking me in that bedroom. Man, am I ever stoned!

Her little car was swaying left to right, but mostly staying on the gravel. The tires crushed the bordering grass during the extremes of three sways. Her head was swaying all the more from the mental massage of the high she was now peaking on.

Great party! A way-too-crazy one, but a great one! I’m really fucking high. Now that I’m away from all those fuckers, I can just relax and enjoy my high. Leaving them was kinda like leaving home in Sacramento. I’m so glad I left my parents’ home to live this party life, here in Washington State. I don’t always know which way I’m going, but I’m glad I left that hell of a house back in California last year. Escape…the great escape…I just drove and drove…got far, far away from them…I just kept on driving…

Going through the forest, she took a wrong turn to the right, and then went down an inclining dirt road. She thought she was still on the right path, even though it was a bumpy, downhill one. The descent made her want to slow down, which of course was a good thing. If only she’d been willing to stop.

The road doesn’t seem level anymore. I don’t remember going up or down any hills on the way to Phil’s house. Must be the drugs making me think I’m going downhill.

She was tingling all over from the ecstasy, and the drugs made her vision too blurry to see the difference in roads. The tingles cancelled out the bumpy feel of the road so well that she hadn’t noticed the end of the smoothness beneath her tires, either; the drugs she was on were better than the best of shock absorbers. The darkness of the overhanging trees was beginning to envelope her. There was a small spot of light at the bottom of the incline, where the dirt road was leading to God-knew-what, a kind of light at the end of the tunnel.

Is this a straw I’m looking through, with pure, white cocaine at the bottom, waiting to be sniffed up my lucky nose, or am I driving through a tunnel? Yes, it’s a tunnel! How did I get from the forest to a tunnel? I don’t remember there being a tunnel anywhere on the road from my place to Phil’s house.

Indeed, her high was making her think she was driving through a tunnel at the moment, with a grey glow at the far end. The trees—or the greenish-brown curved tunnel walls, as they looked to her—were rippling like the waves of a serene lake, a peaceful escape from the smut business.

So I’m doing porn now: so what? As a twenty-year-old who didn’t finish college (I’m so glad I dropped out—I’m sick of school!), I didn’t have many other options after running away from home; but even if I had, why should I be ashamed of fucking in front of a camera? I’m freely exploring my sexuality: what’s wrong with a girl doing that? At least I’m not chained to a desk anymore, always pressured to get next-to-perfect grades for my parents. I do whatever I want now. I get high whenever I want. I escaped from home…I just need to escape from the partying and the sex, for a while…Just keep on driving, far, far away…

She drove down to where that light was, and came out from the trees. Dots of blurry light flashed in her eyes: was it the stars, or was it the drugs? Still peaking on her high, every inch of her body sizzling with pleasure, she didn’t notice how the road had ended, and she was now driving slowly on a long wooden pier, one wide and sturdy enough to support the weight of her car, but leading into the middle of a lake—one with as many cans, plastic bags, and chocolate bar wrappers as there were dead fish. For a moment, she stared at the dark spaces between the planks of wood on the pier. The spaces were going straight ahead, in the direction she was driving.

The dirt road looks different. Why are there straight, black lines on the light brown dirt? Are they lines of black cocaine, all chopped up for me to snort on a wooden table? Is there such a thing as black cocaine? I’ll bet black blow gives a freaky buzz. Still, no way! No more drugs for me, thank you. Is that dirt I’m driving on, or is it wood? The sides are black and wavy: where’s the grass? Wait a minute: everything is wavy. Where’s the road?

The car swayed left and right, almost going off the side at one point. To her eyes, that sturdy pier seemed to be as wobbly as the waves of the lake, as did the swaying trees. Everything seemed to be an ocean, as if she were underwater: there was no sense of separation or distinction between her and her environment, or between anything around her…it was almost primordial Chaos, a dark world of death, before the creation of the universe, before the pain of life had even begun, as waste and void as her mind was wasted and void. It was beautiful. Her spirit was about to hover over the face of the waters. No, everything already was water, and she was in it, Ayumi, a drop of water mixed in with her surroundings, indistinct from them.

I’m free now, I’m out of the darkness and into the light: it’s like having found Jesus, and dying with Him on the wooden rood, the Word at the beginning of time; unlike in Mom’s and Dad’s church, those hypocrites and their phoney, conniving pastors. The family preacher never helped me when I complained about Mommy’s and Daddy’s coldness when I was a child, always pushing me to slave away at school, and never letting me have any fun.

Though she was driving slower and slower, she was too stoned to notice how the edge of that pier was getting close.

Well, I’m twenty years old now, and I can go wherever I want, do whatever I want. Neither Mom nor Dad can stop me. No one can stop me. I hate the family’s posing as ‘respectable’ Japanese-Americans, the way they carry on the social lie about us as the good, Christian, Suzuki family, with their religion, a drug for the masses, and my only drug to ease my suffering when I was still living with them. Oh, what bullshit! But I got far, far away from them. I have much better drugs now. I just need a break from Phil and the porn moviemakers, and from the sex, for the moment. I just have to keep driving, driving to safety…

She didn’t even notice herself drive off the end of the pier: it was as if she were going down another dirt road incline. Her car plunged into the lake. The water, fanning out in all directions around the front of her car, was like a great flash of light blinding her. Because everything had been waves in front of her eyes, the sight of undulating water outside her car wasn’t a surprise to her.

Am I being baptized? Yes! I’m being bathed in holiness and redemption.

The car sank diagonally into the water as if it were quicksand, for there was such a mountain of junk dumped into the lake, it managed to slow the car down. The window to her car door, to the left of the driver’s seat, was open by an inch or so. As the dirty water poured through and splashed all over her, she turned her head towards it, letting it splash all over her face. She smirked as she got soaked.

It’s like my last bukkake film. I had so much come all over my face, my mouth, my nose, it was hard to breathe. My director, Phil, got so mad at me for ruining the scene when I asked for help, instead of giggling like the little slut he wanted me to act like. Why couldn’t he just help me? Nobody helped me. I thought I was going to die!

She moved her head back to the front to face the windshield, and took a breath while looking through it. It was so dark out there. She couldn’t see any kind of road. Instead, the outside looked like a forest of giant fungi, dark green mushrooms the size of trees, swaying left to right. She blinked her eyes, still too dazed to be thinking about the water filling up in her car, already a pool with her feet submerged.

What are those orange things floating about? They look like…are they dead fish? No, they can’t be. This is one intense high. Am I no longer driving? Am I dreaming? Am I in an aquarium? I sure am far, far away now. My head is swimming: is my body swimming? What’s with all this water? Why is it so dark outside?

The car thudded against something and stopped moving. Her head jerked forward, almost hitting the dashboard. It was a good thing she had her seatbelt on.

Did I hit something? What is that in front of me?

Some dark, thick mass had bumped against the windshield, cracking the glass slightly. For a second, the thick mass looked like a giant, fidgeting, black octopus, about to wrap its swaying tentacles all over her.

Are those Leon’s hands on my arms? Are we filming another fuck scene? No!

Then she looked again, and saw what looked like a large tree stump. Actually, it was a thick branch, and another, thicker and stronger branch, one parallel to the first, was under the car, holding it in its diagonal position. More dead fish, and the corpses of one or two frogs, were floating by the ajar window, through the top of which the water was pouring in like a waterfall. The water in the car had risen to her knees now.

I’m cold. Now I wish I’d grabbed my dress. Why am I so wet?

She looked to her left, and felt the dirty water splashing on her face again. As it went all over her nose and mouth, she looked out the ajar window and saw a frog’s corpse almost slipping in: its front limbs, having slipped past the glass, were fluttering at her, as if wanting to touch her face. The limbs were inches away from her nose. She could see the frog’s face seeming to stare right into her eyes. She blinked her eyes, and for a second she thought she saw…

Are those my father’s hands reaching out to slap me, the way they did whenever he saw me not studying?

She jerked her head away, shook it for a few seconds, and looked back at the windshield.

No, that can’t be Daddy. I’m far away from him now. This trip is getting just too intense for me. I’m seeing things.

She looked back at the window, blinked and tried to focus. She saw the frog. She sighed with relief, swatted at it to make it float away, and looked back to her front.

I knew it. It wasn’t Daddy. When will that bastard get out of my head? Can’t I just enjoy my high in peace?

The water was a swirling mix of turquoise, brown, orange, and yellow. The face of a large, grey, dead fish approached the windshield, its wide-open mouth kissing the glass. For a second, it looked like a shark about to attack: she saw huge, sharp teeth shining from its widening jaws. She jerked her head, looked again, and saw just the fish. She let out a heavy sigh, and waited for her pounding heart to slow down. As she calmed down, she focused on the waves of pleasure her high’s massage was giving her brain.

Please, no more scary sights. Just let me enjoy my high.

Indeed, her whole body was vibrating, undulating with her high. Had it not been for the scary surroundings, it would have been the best feeling she’d ever had in her life. It was as if she were at one with the water: the boundary between her and her soaking surroundings was as blurred as her vision. It was like death, an annihilation of her ego, but it was also a beautiful oneness. It was peaceful, an end to her suffering. She was one with the waves of the world.

Am I taking a shower? This is like that time three months ago, when we did that film and I fucked that white stud, Jim Johnson, in the shower. I was on really good ecstasy the day we filmed that scene, too, almost as good as the ecstasy I’m on now.

She saw that fish head again, and for a second, it looked like her father’s face. She shook at the sight of it.

Oh! Wait, no, it isn’t Dad yelling at me. That reminds me of when Mom and Dad caught me with a small bag of marijuana in my purse, which my nosy aunt found. I’m so glad I don’t live with my family anymore. I’m safe now, far away from them. It’s good to drive away, to escape from the pain.

The pressure against the windshield caused it to crack into longer crooked lines. The crack was like a giant, emaciated, white spider, wanting to crawl inside the car and onto her face. She thought she saw glowing eyes in the center of the crack, the ‘head’ of the spider.

Ooh! That isn’t a spider, is it? I hate spiders, especially big ones.

Her mind was taken off of the ‘spider’ when a set of six-pack rings, whose plastic had disintegrated somewhat, leaving only two distinct rings, darkened by dirt, slipped through the window crack and landed on her hands. She looked down at them. They looked like grey handcuffs.

Am I doing another bondage film? Phil promised me he’d never make me do that again! Well, he makes a lot of promises he doesn’t keep…bastard. He—Phil Sakamoto—kind of looks like my Dad.

The six-pack rings were washed off her hands by the continuous influx of filthy water, which she was way too stoned to give serious thought to. She looked back down at her hands.

Oh? The handcuffs are gone. Good. Wow, I guess Phil does keep his promises sometimes. Hey, what’s that slapping me?

A few skinny dead black fish slipped through the opening in the side window and slapped against her left cheek as the water continued to pour in. She was up to her waist in water now.

Is that a tree branch in front of me? Where am I? What keeps swatting my left cheek? Something long and black. Is it Leon’s dick slapping my face after I blew him? It sure feels that way. He was doing that at the party tonight, wasn’t he? I hate it when he does that during filming, but when Phil tells us to do a scene a certain way, we have to do as we’re told. I’ll bet Leon likes swatting my face with his cock. Asshole!

The windshield cracked again. That ‘spider’ was growing into a monster, looking like a nuclear mutation. The acid she was peaking on made the ‘spider’ seem to move. For a second or two, the spider seemed to be crawling a bit, then stopping and watching her. Those glowing grey eyes she saw seemed to be staring right into her soul. She jumped at the sight of them, then looked again, and realized the ‘spider’ was just a crack in the glass. The relief wasn’t reassuring, though, for the darkness and freaky visuals were ruining what could have been an amazing buzz.

Oh, shit! I hate spiders. I really didn’t need that hallucination.

The water was up to her belly now. Was she vibrating from her high, or shivering from the cold? The dead black fish were floating in a circle around her, almost touching her skin. She looked down at them, and thought she was wearing some kind of chain around her waist, links of black rotating around her.

Has Phil chained me to a wall? I guess I’m doing a bondage film again, after all. I hate him. What’s that pouring on my head? Is he having someone piss on me again?

She looked back up at the windshield, then back down at her waist. The black fish had floated away.

Oh, wait, I’m not chained up—good. But what’s that smell? Piss? Dead animals? I’m really fuckin’ high, like that time I was snorting cocaine at that other party last week, and I heard Phil and Jim talking about climate change. Jim was warning about the dangers of pollution and shit like that. Phil ignored him, said it’s a liberal myth made up so the government can tax us and interfere with our lives more. I tend to agree with Phil. My dad never believed what the environmentalists say: I hate Phil and Daddy, but I agree with them about that.

Some of the filthy water got in her mouth. She spat it out and coughed.

Did Jim just piss in my mouth?

She looked to her left, but didn’t see Jim’s dick.

No, it isn’t him; but fuck him and his green politics, anyway. Fuck Mother Nature. She’s a whore, like the whore my misfortunes made me into. My mother’s nature was never any kinder to me than Daddy was; she always ignored my childhood need for hugs and love, instead barking at me to finish my homework. Fuck Mother Nature. Fuck everything. We’re all going to die one day, anyway. Death is beautiful. Death is escape. Getting away, far away. Finding peace of mind. We’re all polluted, and we can never un-pollute ourselves. There’s no hope for redemption. Just die, and escape from it all.

The windshield cracked again, making a small hole through which water sprayed like a shower nozzle on her face.

What’s that? More bukkake? Or another shower fuck scene we’re filming? Damn, why am I so wet? This is such good ketamine! It’s as if something terrible is happening to me, but I feel perfectly safe from it. It’s like I’m shielded in armor, or in an electric field of energy, or something. Flashing rays of light are shooting out in all directions around my eyes. Nothing can hurt me, though everything is trying to. I see horrors before my eyes, death everywhere, but a bubble of protection will keep me safe. I’m too high to care, anyway.

The water level was up to her breasts now. Her nipples were freezing and erect.

Am I in a swimming pool? I did a porno shoot in a swimming pool a month ago. I was swimming around, then Leon walked by the poolside naked, his big black dick pointing at me, then I came out of the pool, as naked as he was. Then we fucked. His dick is too big, but I was high on ketamine, so I didn’t feel the pain during the filming. I sure was sore afterwards. Still, I’m not complaining. Fun times!

The water was up to her neck now.

As bad and Phil and his boys get, at least it’s not like life at home in Sacramento, being repressed by my parents after they’d taken me to church services, when the preacher warned of the kind of sins that led to the Great Flood, sinning that Daddy ignored in himself–with his hands on me–even as he punished me for my imperfections, and the pastors ignored my cries for help. Bastards! And when I complained to the preachers about my parents’ strictness, they said that potheads deserve to be treated with strictness! And they all talk of God’s love and forgiveness. Hypocrites, all of them!

The glass of the windshield finally broke. Shattered pieces of glass flew at her face, cutting tiny holes in her cheeks. Tiny pieces of plastic, like scattered rice, but glowing because of the drugs, were flying at her face, too. The tree branch’s jagged front hit her in the face like a fist, giving her a nosebleed. All her blood got diluted in the water that was enveloping her, swirling about her face like fumes from marijuana cigarettes, only they were red.

Who punched me? Was it Daddy, after he caught me in my room smoking pot, the day before I left home? Was it Leon, after I finished blowing him? I remember Phil wanting him to do that, but I refused to let him. Phil is such an asshole sometimes. My jaw gets so sore from blowing Leon’s big cock. Speaking of blow, is this cocaine going up my nose, or is it more bukkake? Sometimes it feels like a glass powder, sometimes it feels like…water…water turned to red wine by Jesus…

She blacked out. Deep black. A far, far away kind of black. It was a bottomless pit of black, like Jonah going into the mouth of the great fish. She phased into unconsciousness, a place where the border between unconsciousness and death was blurred…a peaceful place, beyond the pairs of opposites, those of life and death…shifting back and forth between those opposites…like…waves…

Am I awake? Am I…dreaming? I can’t breathe. The water…is beautiful. Red. Is it wine? Are those…dead, pink fish…floating about me, or are they…severed cocks, Jim’s and Leon’s, after I…bit them off, with their blood…flowing everywhere? I’d sure…like to bite them off. Phil’s, too. I had to…get away from them, far away. Too many drugs, too much fucking, too much sucking, too much partying. It was fun, but it was…dangerous fun. I ran out…of the house, completely naked, with…only my car keys…I had to…get out…of there. I thought I’d…die there.

The line between life and death was, for her, like the surface of the ocean, rippling up and down, up and down…

But out here, dying is better. It’s beautiful…to die. It’s like sleeping. Dreaming. Escaping. No more abuse. No more being…exploited by Phil. No more pain, no more filth…polluting my body. No more drugs…to fuck my head up. If my…body isn’t…getting fucked…my mind is…This is better…Just sleeping, forever. Escaping the world. Getting away…from the filth. The Great Flood, washing away…the sin of the world. With the end…comes a new beginning…a new creation. I’ve found…redemption…through blood…Christ’s blood. Peace. Feeding me…with fish, the Jesus fish. All I’ve…ever wanted…to do…is to get away…to drive away, far away from all the…

‘Biohackers,’ a Science Fiction Short Story

Max Henderson, a young man in a red uniform, smashed through a first-floor window, escaping from the InterCorp building. Only some of his injuries were from the fragments of shattered glass that chipped into his skin: others were bruises from security officers’ batons that had hit him on the head, back, and arms.

Then, there was one bruise in particular—the one on his forearm, just below his wrist. It was a huge spot of purple and blue, in which tiny dots of flashing orange could be seen.

This bruise was self-inflicted.

Before he’d pounded his arm, a blue dot would sometimes flash. A green one, too. And a yellow one, whenever he was disobedient…he was given electrical shocks when that one flashed.

He ran, staggering down the sidewalk. Five men in black uniforms with yellow stripes ran after him; they all had batons in their hands, ready to beat him again.

Within a minute, they’d caught up with him. One officer grabbed his arm; the slave picked him up and threw him ten feet away, where the officer’s body struck a tree. The other four men started beating the slave, clubbing him on the head, chest, and arms. Many blows hit him in the face, breaking his nose and knocking out a few teeth. Though he was receiving new bruises, the bloody cuts from the chips of broken glass were already healing, and the original purple-blue spots were shrinking in diameter, even the one he gave himself.

Still, this new, concentrated beating he was getting was not one he could heal from quickly enough to survive; his healing app wasn’t that effective. Those batons just kept slamming down on his body. After about twenty hard blows to the head, his skull cracked, and he lost consciousness.

The flashing orange dots were no longer visible on his arm. He lay there, lifeless. No quick healing from his microchip implant would save him now.

His body had been taken offline.

***********

Lineups of Lumps, men and women in red, green, orange, and blue uniforms were waiting to have their microchip implants tested. Nora Lee, teary-eyed, stood in line with the green-uniformed Lumps, behind a man being tested by an officer in the same uniform as those who’d beaten Max to death.

“OK,” the officer said, handing the slave, or Lump, a handful of nails. “Look at that stack of wood to your left. With the nails, use your implant to make the wood into a bookshelf.”

The Lump raised his right arm and pointed his fingers in the direction of the wood. A white dot began to flash just under the skin on his wrist. The wood was raised up in the air by a signal from his implant, then shaped in the form of a bookshelf, the shape being determined by the Lump’s thoughts, which were transferred through his nerves into the implant. It was as if the Lump had the power of telekinesis, hence the name ‘telekinesis app’ put into his implant.

The hand that held the nails now flattened. A pink dot flashed to the right of the white dot. The nails flew out of his hand, like a shot from a gun, and over to exact points where they were to be nailed to the wood, only it was as if invisible hammers were nailing them in place. The officer examined the bookshelf.

“Excellent,” he said. “Your implants are fully functional. You will do carpentry for Amy Millhouse, starting today,…” then the officer checked his computer to type in the date, “…April 5th, 2037. The blue dot will guide you to her home. Go now.”

The Lump stepped out of line and left. Nora, still sobbing, stepped forward.

“Ms. Nora Lee, former journalist,” the officer said as he checked her information on his computer implant, with a few taps on his wrist. “Made a Lump as punishment for writing op-eds critical of InterCorp. Of all the stupid ways to lose your freedom. Well, that explains your tears. Give me your arm.”

She reached over to him. He tapped her wrist where a yellow dot could be seen. “Ah!” she screamed as she felt an electric jolt shoot through her body.

“Good,” the officer said. “The restraining app is functional. Can’t have you crying and running away on the job, eh?”

She stopped sobbing, but lowered her eyes and frowned.

“Now,” he said. “Your job will be to wash dishes, make beds, take out garbage, do laundry…domestic chores in general…for George and Tasha Jonson, who bought you earlier today. OK, look at the pile of plates on my desk, and the dishrags beside them.” She did. “Use the pink-dotted app, and make like you’re cleaning them.”

By thinking of it, she made the pink dot flash, then raised her hands and pointed her fingers at the dishes and rags. Each dish hovered in the air with a rag, which then rubbed in circles on the dish. The officer smiled to see five floating dishes being ‘cleaned’ by five floating rags.

“Good,” he said. She made the dishes and rags come back down gently on the desk. “You will go to the Jonsons immediate…”

A disturbance was heard from three desks away, to Nora’s right. A large black Lump in a red uniform had lifted a car over his head with the help of his ‘strength app’, and was about to throw it at the officer testing him. The yellow dot was made to flash on his arm by the officer; the electrical shock forced the Lump to drop the car. The fender hit his leg, making him shout in pain and fall to the floor.

“Whatever injuries he has will heal quickly enough, thanks to his healing app,” Nora’s officer said, then looked at her. “See what happens when you don’t obey?”

***************

Carl Fredericks was walking down the street when he saw Nora in a green uniform. She avoided his widened eyes in shame, her own teary.

She was his girlfriend.

“Nora!” he said. “They got you, too?”

She could answer only in sobs.

“It was for that last op-ed you wrote, wasn’t it?”

She nodded.

“Oh, I warned you not to publish any more of those! How long must you be a slave?”

“You know,” she sobbed. “For life.”

“I’ve got to free you,” he said.

“You can’t. I have to go. They’ll use the yellow app on me if I take too long getting to the Jonson family.”

“You’re working for George and Tasha?”

She nodded. “We can’t see each other anymore. Goodbye.” She walked away, always sobbing.

Now Carl felt like sobbing. George and Tasha hate each other, he thought; Will handsome George and my pretty Nora like each other? I won’t be able to bear it.

*************

A computer programmer, Carl came up with an idea to free Nora. He tapped on his wrist to connect with the central computer, which had control over all the Lumps around the world…though his interest was solely in freeing her.

He knew how to hack through firewalls, and though he was aware of the danger of being caught, his love for Nora compelled him to take the risk. He found his way to the implant that was controlling her, and he put in a virus to free her of her masters’ control as soon as they dismissed her for the day. He knew that slaves’ masters tap a ‘dismissal’ function on their wrist implants to send their Lumps off to sleep. Once that function had been tapped, she would receive a message from Carl, letting her know she’d been freed, and that she should meet him outside of Toronto, in his aunt’s home in Mississauga.

Though she sneaked out of the Jonsons’ house without being seen by anyone in the family, Carl’s implanting of the virus immediately caught the attention of George Jonson, whose own implant was flashing a green ‘alert’ dot.

George had taken a liking to Nora as soon as she entered his home, not just for her brunette beauty, but for the tears in her eyes. The Jonsons were black, and so the father of the house had an instinctive hatred for slavery, though his wife insisted on buying Nora, as Tasha hated having to do housework. He’d fought with his wife over having a Lump at home, but his wife always won their many fights. Their son wept almost every night from the sound of his parents’ yelling.

Should I let her go, or should I get her back? he thought; I’d rather have her than Tasha, that’s for sure. After ruminating over what to do for an hour or so after her having left his house, he tapped his wrist implant, alerting a squad of officers to find her and Carl.

**************

The next morning, officers took Carl and Nora to George’s house. George removed the virus and, curious about it, stored it in his implant.

“Nora,” he said. “Go make our breakfast.” She immediately went over to the kitchen. He smiled as he watched her walk by.

“Nora is mine!” Carl protested, his eyes squinting at how George had looked at her. He tried to run over and stop her, but he got a shock from the new apps added to his microchip implant.

“Have him fitted with a blue uniform,” George said to the officers. “That was a clever virus you made, Mr. Fredericks. Your intellectual abilities, enhanced with mental apps, will be a great asset to InterCorp. Take him away.”

“No!” Carl shouted as the officers were dragging him out of the house. “Nora! Jonson, don’t you touch my girl! I know what you want to do with her!”

*************

In a blue uniform and with a bluer face, Carl was taken into the office of Brent McDonald, CEO of InterCorp.

“So, this must be Carl Fredericks,” McDonald said, getting up from his desk. “You may go,” he said to the officers who brought Carl in. They left. “I understand that you, originally a software engineer who worked on the fifth floor under Mr. Jonson, attempted to liberate your girlfriend, a Nora Lee, by putting a virus into the programming in her implant. Naughty, but clever. Your obvious aptitudes can be put to good use by doing data analysis and data mining for InterCorp.”

“But I have no experience in those fields,” Carl said.

“The apps we’ve added to your implants will enhance your intelligence to the point that you’ll learn quickly,” Brent said. “And since you’ve been reduced to the status of Lump, as Nora was, for crimes against InterCorp, I can get this normally high-paying work from you for free.”

“I’ve always wondered why slaves are known as ‘Lumps’,” Carl said. “Why, if I may, are…we…called that?”

“You are entitled to know, Carl,” Brent said, smiling. “You’re Lumps because you’re lumps of shit, for daring to challenge the new order established by the Free Market Revolution of 2022! No government will protect your so-called ‘rights,’ because the corporations of the world’s Jurisdictions are the state. L’état, c’est le marché! Now, go to your office and get to work. Your apps will give you all the training you’ll need. Off you go.”

Carl left the office, a blue dot on his wrist guiding him to his new office.

**************

That evening, in George Jonson’s house, Nora hid in the kitchen as she heard the yelling in the living room.

“I see the way you look at that Lump scum!” Tasha shouted at George. “If you think that white girl’s so much prettier and shapelier than I am, go fuck her! I’m going!” She stormed out the front door and slammed it.

George let out a big sigh, then ran his hands over his face. He saw Nora standing by the entrance to the dining room from the kitchen.

“Could you go upstairs and make the bed, please, Nora?” he asked. Timidly, she went up to the bedroom. She could hear his son sobbing in his bedroom as she walked by. She wished she had the freedom to hold him, a fellow sufferer.

Standing at the foot of the bed, she pointed her hand at it. The pink dot on her wrist flashed. The messed-up blankets rose up a few feet over the bed, flattened out so the edges would be lined up with the sides, head, and foot of the bed, and then the blankets came down on the bed perfectly.

Knowing what was on George’s mind, she had planned to spin around and leave his and Tasha’s bedroom. But before she could even turn, she felt his hands on her shoulders. “Ah!” she screamed.

“Nora, relax,” he said. She turned to face him, the terror of soon being raped in her eyes. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to…”

The pink dot on her wrist flashed, and a big, hardcover dictionary flew off a bookshelf to his left and hit him on the head. “Oof!” He fell to the floor.

Before she could run out of the room, the yellow dot on her wrist flashed. “Ah!” she felt a shock, and fell to the floor beside him. She looked in his eyes, shaking all over.

“OK, I get it,” he said, rubbing his head. “You don’t like me. You still love Carl. I don’t blame you.” They both got up. “Don’t be afraid. I won’t force myself on you, or use our implants to keep you in my control. I’m not that kind of man. I was just hoping that maybe you’d like me, unlike my wife, who stopped loving me years ago. I understand how you feel about slavery, being a ‘Lump.’ But there’s nothing I can do about it.” He paused and looked at her. “You can go to bed.”

She saw the flash of the brown ‘dismissal’ app on her wrist. She left for her room.

Then, George remembered Carl’s virus, and how he’d saved the program in his implant’s memory.

I wonder if I can improve on it, he thought.

**************

The afternoon of the next day, Carl was in Brent McDonald’s office showing him and Gord Hoskins, CFO of InterCorp, some data mining he’d been doing from the morning until then, assessments of spikes in demand for weapons to be sold for use in wars in the ‘Disputed Areas,’ namely, the developing world.

“Good work, Carl,” Brent said as he looked at Carl’s printouts. “I told you those apps would get your mind working faster. In a mere day, you’ve made huge strides. Go back to your office and get some more for us. We need assessments on the acquisition of fossil fuels in the Disputed Areas.”

“Shouldn’t I be allowed some break time?” Carl asked. “I’ve been at this for ten hours now.”

“You don’t feel tired, do you?” Brent asked, glaring at him.

“No, not at all,” Carl said. “But surely, I should be…”

“Then get back to work,” Brent said in an almost angry tone. “You know full well that the apps implanted in you give you boosts of strength and energy sufficient to work twenty hours a day, seven days a week. A food app gives you nutrients without you even needing to chew on anything. Now, get going.”

Carl left for his office, a permanent frown etched on his face.

“I still can’t help worrying about those performance-enhancing apps in the Lumps’ implants,” Hoskins said. “What if they figure out a way to disable the restraining app permanently, through a virus, like the one that very Carl lost his Petty status for, just to save his girlfriend? We could have strongman, red-uniformed Lumps beating us to death one day, throwing us out of windows to our deaths.”

“Gord, you worry too much,” Brent said, laughing. “We’ve been controlling millions of Lumps globally for over ten years now, with only minor, individual acts of defiance here and there. Remember that we members of the Grande class, as well as those of the Petty class, have apps of our own, secret enhancers to surprise the Lumps should we ever have to fight them.”

“The number of defiant Lumps has been increasing in recent months,” Gord said. “Some in the Petty class have secret sympathies for the Lumps, too. Remember Nora Lee?” Gord gestured with his head in the direction of Carl’s office.

“Yes, but she was caught quickly, her op-ed deleted within hours of publication, before too many people could have read it,” Brent said. “Remember Max Henderson, who bruised his arm to damage his restraining app, a common Lump tactic of rebellion, then broke through our window and tried to run to freedom? Our officers chased him, and managed to beat him to death with their normal strength, and neither Max’s strength app nor his healing app could do enough to save him. We could have killed him by simply activating the death app, but we wanted to let the officers enjoy beating Max to death with their own strength. We also did it to test them—to see if their natural strength alone could kill Max.”

“I hope your confidence is justified,” Gord said.

**************

Carl was finally released from work at 10:00 that night. As he walked down the street to his apartment, he passed by Nora, whose eyes avoided his.

“Nora?” he said. She ignored him and kept walking past, then entered a 24/7 convenience store to buy groceries for Tasha.

“Mr. Jonson’s had her,” Carl whispered. Whether seduced or raped, she let him have her, I’m sure of it.

**************

Back in the Jonsons’ home, husband and wife were having another argument.

“You were hoping to screw pretty Nora, weren’t you?” Tasha said to George with taunting eyes. “I see the guilt in your eyes. She resisted you, though. I see the failure in your eyes.”

George just stared away from her, scowling. “Tasha…”

“She doesn’t like you, because no woman ever would,” Tasha taunted further. “You didn’t use the restraining app on her to rape her, for the same reason you didn’t do her with her consent: you’re not man enough to!”

“Tasha!” he shouted, raising his hand to slap her, but stopping.

“See?” she said with a grin. “You’re not man enough to fight back.” She laughed and walked out of the bedroom. “Go to bed, Ryan!” she shouted at their frowning son, who’d been listening to the arguing in the hall.

I’m man enough to set her free, George thought, remembering Carl’s virus, saved on George’s implant. He left the bedroom and entered his study.

He sat at his desk and went through some notes he’d written about modifications he was about to make to the virus.

Stuck in a shitty marriage, he thought while modifying the malware in his implant. He logged into the central computer, connecting the virus with all Lumps, Petties, and Grandes worldwide. I have to protect Ryan from Tasha. Like Carl and Nora, I’m in a trap. They love each other, but being Lumps means they can’t be together. We’re all slaves to the Free Market Revolution, in one form or another. If I can free them, Carl can love Nora for me. She cares for Ryan; I’ve seen her smile at him. Maybe she’ll kill me and Tasha, who’s the one who wanted to buy her, then take Ryan to safety when the Lumps kill everyone else.

He sent the virus into the central computer. It was 2:00 AM. The virus woke every Lump up. They read a message on their forearms: NOT YET. WAIT.

***************

Carl checked the functioning of his apps, suspecting correctly that the message hinted that the Lumps’ electronic shackles, as it were, had been broken.

All the other Lumps came to the same conclusion, but many assumed ‘NOT YET. WAIT.’ to mean, ‘Get what little sleep you’re allowed (four hours, thanks to their energy-enhancing apps); revolt the next morning.’ And indeed, many Lumps did.

***************

Brent looked through his office window and saw, in the building across the street, a man thrown out of a ninth floor window, shattering the glass in an explosion, him screaming all the way down till his skull’s bloody cracking on the pavement silenced him. “What the hell?” Brent shouted.

Gord watched video on Brent’s computer monitor showing one of the InterCorp manufactories having been set afire, the whole structure burning to the ground. “I foresaw this years ago, Brent,” he said.

“Security will handle it, don’t worry,” Brent said. He checked his computer for video of the rebellion: he frowned as he saw Lumps assaulting Petties and Grandes, even killing some with knives that flew spinning in the air telekinetically. Then he switched to video of another area, where officers were beating and shooting Lumps, killing scores of them. Now he was smiling.

Carl and Nora were among the smarter Lumps. They never let on that they were free. In fact, amid the chaos and confusion around noon, Carl slipped away and tapped his wrist, making further modifications to the new programming, and stopped all the rioting Lumps’ violence immediately.

Grandes and Petties used their restraining apps on the now-still Lumps, and grinned as they saw the men and women in red, green, orange, and blue shaking from their electric shocks.

**************

Back in Brent’s office that afternoon, Gord had been tracing the setup of the virus. “Carl set it up!” he told Brent. “His digital footprint is all over the virus. I told you these enhanced Lumps were dangerous, Brent! He should be executed at once.”

“Wait, no,” Brent said as he scrutinized the digital footprints. “Carl originally used this virus to free Nora, but he also used it to regain control over the Lumps. Look carefully.”

Gord looked again, then said, “OK, but why would he want to help us?”

“I don’t know,” Brent said, “but if you look here, in the middle of the programming, you’ll see the digital footprint of George Jonson, assistant manager of sales, and Nora’s owner.”

“Why would George, one of our managers, want to help Lumps?” Gord asked. “Perhaps he prefers that pretty girl to his overweight wife?”

“We’ll find out the reason,” Brent said. “Then, we’ll kill him.”

**************

Back in the Jonsons’ home…

“Now that the Lumps are all under control again, the officers are going to catch me, and kill me, since they’ll know I spread the virus,” George told Nora. “All I ask of you is to protect Ryan in any way you can. Protect him from Tasha. You’ve seen her hit him. I’d hoped the Lumps would plan a more careful revolution…”

They heard a knock on the door.

“Maybe Carl can find a way to modify the…”

The door was kicked open. Three armed officers walked in the house.

“Mr. Jonson, come with us,” one of them said.

As George left his house with them, he looked back at her and said, “Protect Ryan. Please.”

***************

“So, that was your reason?” Brent McDonald asked George after a mere five minutes of interrogation in the CEO’s office. George nodded. “A black man, who bought a slave, sympathizes with slaves now? Of course!”

“My wife bought Nora,” George said. “I didn’t want her.”

“But you wanted her back, after Carl here tried to free her,” Gord said. “I hear that Nora’s a pretty one, and that your wife is insufferable.”

Carl, showing Brent more data printouts, those of profits made from InterCorp’s dealings in the Disputed Areas, tried to pretend he wasn’t listening to the conversation. George remained impassive.

“Nora means nothing to me,” George said. Carl saw an actor’s eyes in George. “I just can’t tolerate slavery. My wife insisted that I get Nora back, that’s all.”

“Very well,” Brent said, then tapped on his wrist. “If you really don’t love Nora, who Tasha brought here, by the way, and if all the Lumps are as well under control as they seem to be, we’ll put it to a test.”

Nora, frowning, entered the office. She was holding a large meat cleaver. Her arms were trembling with it in her grasp.

“Nora,” Brent said. “Send that cleaver flying so it cuts off George’s head. Tasha won’t miss him, and he knows it. In fact, he’ll recognize the cleaver from his own kitchen, since his not-so-devoted wife gave it to you to use on him. Indeed, Tasha got a few bruises from the Lump rebellion, and she was furious to know her husband was behind it. Go on, Nora: you know how to make the telekinesis app work.”

Nora was shaking all over now. Tears were forming in her eyes. The app, connected to her nerve endings as all the implants were, sent a signal into the cleaver, raising it in the air a few feet in front of her face. It rotated there, like a horizontal propeller, level with George’s neck.

“Do it, Nora,” Gord commanded, “or do you need a shock?”

Tears ran down her cheeks.

“Remember,” Gord added, “if you’re thinking of using it on yourself, we can shock you so quickly, you won’t be able to kill yourself with it.”

“It’s OK, Nora,” George said. “I don’t want to live anymore, anyway. I can’t face Tasha after what happened. Remember Ryan.”

She made eye contact with Carl, whose blank face made it impossible for her to intuit his thoughts.

“Nora!” Brent shouted.

The knife spun at George. His head tumbled into a corner of the room, and blood sprayed from the stump of a neck all over the floor. The others in the room dodged the red.

“Good work, Nora,” Gord said. “Now, clean up the mess.”

Worldwide, TV screens showed George Jonson’s headless body hanging from the top of InterCorp headquarters, with his head on a spike beside the body. A universal shudder was felt, the Lumps shaking the most.

****************

That evening, Carl and Gord were in Brent’s office.

“I must convey my appreciation to you, Carl, for stopping the Lump rebellion,” Brent said. “In fact, as a token of my gratitude, I’m considering restoring you to the Petty class, or maybe even raising you up to our Grande class.”

Gord’s eyes widened. “You can’t be…”

“I’m considering it,” Brent said, “provided Carl…passes certain tests…in order to prove his loyalty to InterCorp. I wonder, though, what motivated you, Carl, to put the online restraints back on the Lumps. Were you anticipating a promotion of the sort that I just described?”

“The thought crossed my mind, I must confess,” Carl said.

“Was there any other motive?” Gord asked.

“Yes,” Carl said. “I wanted George Jonson dead.”

“Why?” Gord asked. “Was it because he had your pretty Nora?”

“Yes,” Carl said with a sigh. “I saw the way he looked at my love—my former love. She’s shown me no affection since she became the Jonsons’ servant. When I’d escaped with her, she resisted; she claimed she didn’t want me to get in danger, but it was already too late to worry about that—she liked her handsome master. Didn’t you see how she wept when she was made to kill him? All proof that not only had he had her, but she’d fallen for him. I gave up my freedom for that disloyal bitch. I don’t care about Lumps; and my life—free or not—has lost all of its happiness. Let the Lumps suffer, even if I stay one of them.”

“And ending the rebellion would facilitate our execution of Jonson,” Gord said.

“Yes,” Carl said. “That’s happiness enough for me, regardless of whether you keep me a Lump, or free me.”

“Interesting,” Brent said. “Still, I’d like to see if you’re worthy of a promotion to Grande. Gord, let’s take Carl and Nora down to Basement Two.”

“Yes, Mr. McDonald,” Gord said. He tapped his wrist to summon Nora.

**************

Outside of Basement Two, no one would see or hear what Brent and Gord were doing with Carl and Nora.

“The program modification Carl made to tame the Lumps isn’t exactly the same as that of the original restraints, but it seems close enough,” Brent said. “We just have to test it, as we have to test the death of his love for Nora…which will be a test, also, of his loyalty.”

“What do you want me to do?” Carl asked.

“Use the electrocution app on her,” Brent said. “The one we use in brief zaps to discipline the Lumps. But,…set it to maximum.”

“You mean, you want me to kill her?” Carl asked, and saw a nod from Brent.

Nora, slouching and hanging her head low, as if she were already dying, seemed acquiescent. “In killing George,” she said, “I’d killed myself right then. Killing me now would just be a formality.”

I knew she loved him, Carl thought, then looked deep into her eyes for a few seconds, as if his eyes were talking mouths.

“Well?” Gord said. “Do it!”

Carl tapped his wrist. She did nothing at first, surprised at not feeling anything.

Then…her whole body alternated between shaking and stiffness. She let out staccato screams. She fell to the floor, still shaking and screaming. Finally, she lay still.

A tear ran down Carl’s cheek, beside which was the bitterest of scowls, as he stared at her motionless body. He tapped something on his wrist—‘Juliet’—as Gord approached the body.

After several seconds of checking, he said, “She’s dead.”

“Good work, Carl,” Brent said. “I’d say you’re a Grande already.”

Two Lumps were recruited to pick up Nora’s body and take it away to be buried. Brent, Gord, and Carl got in the elevator to go back up to the executives’ floor.

“Let me take you to your new office, Carl,” Brent said, tapping his app to free the new Grande from his servitude.

“Thank you, Mr. McDonald, but not right now,” Carl said. “I’m exhausted, both physically and emotionally, after all that’s happened today.” He pressed the first floor button. “I’d just like to get off here, on the first floor, and go home to sleep. I can see my new office tomorrow, if that’s alright with you.” The elevator stopped at the ground floor, and he got off.

“Very well, Mr. Fredericks,” Brent said. “I understand how you feel. In fact, we’ll let you enjoy an extra-long sleep—at least ten hours. Hell, you’ve earned it.”

“Thank you, but seven or eight hours should suffice,” Carl said, then walked off. “Goodnight, gentlemen.”

“Goodnight,” Brent and Gord said.

“Extraordinary man,” Gord said as the elevator continued up. “Killed his own girl for InterCorp. She must have really broken his heart.”

“What matters for our purposes is that he’s firmly in our trust,” Brent said as the elevator stopped at their floor. “Who cares what his personal reasons were for doing our…”

A red light started flashing on Brent’s and Gord’s wrists. The men rushed out of the elevator and into Brent’s office, where he switched on his computer. The monitor showed a mob of red-uniformed Lumps running through the streets, a few with knives and a baseball bat or two. They were attacking Petties and Grandes!

“What the hell?” Brent said. “Was Carl’s program deficient?”

“Was it deliberately set up to fail?” Gord asked.

“He killed his own girlfriend for us, didn’t he?” Brent said. “You’re too distrustful, Gord.”

“I’m distrustful because things like this keep happening!”

“Calm down. The officers are already on them—see? The Lumps are getting cut down by machine gun fire.”

“A few of the green-uniformed Lumps are also using the telekinesis apps to throw knives at the officers—see?” Gord pointed at a corner of the monitor.

“A few knives and baseball bats are no match for guns,” Brent said. “I’m gonna contact Carl and…wait a minute.”

“What is it? Carl’s with the rebellion, isn’t he?”

“No. According to the messenger app on my implant, Carl’s life readings are blank. He’s dead, offline. Somebody must’ve killed him.”

“Was it the Lumps? No, he’s still in a blue uniform. He’s still a Lump, as far as they know; why would they kill one of their own?”

“I don’t know,” Brent said. “Maybe he removed the outer blue vest on the way home, and the Lumps saw him in only black, and thought—correctly—that he’s one of us. Maybe they checked his digital blueprint, and saw I’d freed him.”

“That’s a stretch, Brent.”

“Maybe he got hit by a car! Maybe an officer confused him with one of the rebelling Lumps amid the rioting and shot him? Who knows?”

“Wait, yeah, an officer must have shot him by mistake.”

“Anyway, forget about Carl, and let’s focus on finding out what went wrong with their restraints. Let’s analyze the modified program.”

The two men looked through the coding of the program: virtually nothing looked different from before.

“I don’t understand!” Brent said. “The Lumps should be as secure as always.”

“It must be a virus so subtle, our eyes have missed the differences,” Gord said. “Let’s look again.”

****************

A group of red-uniformed Lumps broke into a weapons storage area. After breaking down the doors and fighting off the guards with their enhanced strength, they rushed at the officers inside. The officers weren’t fast enough with their guns to stop the rush of Lumps, who practically flew at them.

Though a few Lumps were shot, most of them got on the officers, beating them to death with their bare fists, choking them and crushing their windpipes, or picking them up and throwing them across the room, their backbones breaking against the walls.

The Lumps that didn’t take the guns from the dead officers broke through the glass coverings of racks of rifles. They took those and small boxes of ammo, loaded the rifles, then ran out of the building, shooting anyone who got in their way.

A group of green-uniformed Lumps—racing through the streets under cover of night, the dull green of their uniforms being difficult for the officers to spot in the shadows—were headed for the InterCorp headquarters.

****************

Brent looked out the window and down onto the street. He saw the fighting of the officers, the killing of many unarmed, red-uniformed Lumps. He smiled.

“Good,” he said. “It looks as though we’re winning.”

“I’ve been analyzing this code,” Gord said. “I’m starting to notice the modifications. There’s source code, too. Messages like, ‘NOT YET. WAIT.’ Then, next to a modification, ‘TOGETHER. STOP.’ Then, ‘TOGETHER. GO.’ But Carl was killed before the time of this change, wasn’t he? If you check the times given.”

“Yes,” Brent said. “The modification of his life readings switching off –at 9:23—are definitely before the time of that ‘TOGETHER. GO’ modification, which was at 9:29.”

“It couldn’t have been Carl who started this rebellion,” Gord said. “Now we just have to focus on…”

Suddenly, they heard a storm of gunfire and broken glass.

“What the hell?” Brent growled. Both men ran to the window and looked down onto the street. “The Lumps don’t have guns, do they?”

They went back to the computer monitor to get close-up visuals of the fighting, the monitor being linked to video cameras on the streets.

They saw red-uniformed Lumps gunning down officers.

“What?” Brent said. “They’re armed! How did the Lumps get their hands on guns?

“They’re organized, too,” Gord said. “I was afraid this would happen. I knew that implanted tech would be used against us one day. Giving Lumps superhuman strength, telekinetic powers, enhanced intelligence—it was a stupid idea!”

“It saves money,” Brent said. “Unpaid slave labour to build things, lift things, move things about instead of paying for the building and maintenance of machines. We just need to fix the programming, to get the Lumps under control again.”

“Until the next virus?” Gord said.

“The restraints were working well for years, Gord!”

“Who is their leader? It’s too dark to see their faces.”

**************

The fighting in the streets raged on. The bloodied bodies of men and women in uniforms of red, green, orange, blue, and black and yellow were sprawled about the roads and sidewalks.

Their leader wore a green uniform, racing out in front with an automatic firearm set to burst mode and filling officers’ chests and bellies with bullets. Still, the darkness of night made the faces of all the Lumps difficult, if not impossible, to identify.

Some green-uniformed Lumps held pairs of knives, one in each hand, and used their telepathy apps to make them fly in the air like propellers at the officers’ chests or faces; as soon as the blades dug into the skin, they were made to fly back, the handles coming back into their throwers’ hands. As soon as they were caught, the knives spun in the air to stab into officers’ guts once again.

Red-uniformed Lumps used their enhanced strength to jump as high as ten feet into the air, dodging officers’ bullets and landing with their feet on officers’ heads or chests. Then they took the officers’ rifles and shot at those behind the ones they’d jumped on.

When the Lumps had beaten back most of the officers, and were standing in a mob in front of the InterCorp building, two red-uniformed Lumps each picked up an officer and hurled him, screaming, through the glass. The army of Lumps stormed the building.

****************

“The Lumps are inside!” Gord said.

“Haven’t you made any progress in finding out what’s wrong with the restraints?” Brent shouted.

“No. Whoever set up this virus did a clever job of keeping it untreatable.”

“For God sakes! They’re going to kill us!”

“That’s why I’m opposed to this tech we gave them.”

“We’ll have to use our own,” Brent said, tapping his wrist and getting ready. “Get away from that computer, Gord, and get ready to fight! We’re running out of security officers.”

Gord tapped his wrist implant to get ready.

“Attention: everyone in the building,” Brent said into an intercom. “Weaponize your microchip implants. The Lump rebels are inside the building. Our officers have not been able to fend them off. Kill every Lump in sight.”

Gunshots and fighting could be heard on the lower floors. Screams were also heard, screams that suggested Brent’s employees, unaccustomed to fighting, were losing.

“I can’t believe this!” Brent shouted.

“I can,” Gord said, scowling at Brent. “I saw it coming.”

The men could hear the trampling of feet on their floor, stomping growing louder, approaching their office.

“Are you ready?” Brent asked, then gulped.

“Let’s take as many of them with us as we can,” Gord said.

The windows to Brent’s office shattered into pieces as tiny as the microchips in everyone’s forearms, as red-uniformed Lumps jumped in. Brent and Gord tapped black dots on their wrists.

A swarm of tiny, invisible projectiles flew from Brent’s hand, causing the chests of the first row of Lumps to burst with blood. Then the next row of red-uniformed Lumps entered the office through the huge holes where the windows had been.

Gord’s hand sprayed out a toxic, invisible mist. The Lumps clasped their throats, squinted, coughed, and fell dead on the floor. The next row of Lumps was in green uniforms. Brent and Gord were about to fire on them, but two knives flew in the air, spinning at their upraised hands. The tips of the blades stabbed into the men’s forearms, disabling their implants. They screamed in pain, clutched their bloody arms, and fell to the floor. The crowd of Lumps approached, knives held up high and ready to come down in stabs on the two men.

“No!” a female voice called out from behind the mob. “Don’t kill them. Bring them outside, for all to see our victory.”

Brent and Gord were dragged to the elevator; dripping blood in two red paths, and taken down to the ground floor, then dragged outside. The Lump who’d just spoken approached them and showed her face.

“Nora!” the wounded men gasped together. “But…we watched…you die!” Brent said.

“Just an acting job,” she said. “As was our return to submission. The solidarity app just made us act under one will, and the Juliet app helped me play dead by keeping me still, as well as making my heartbeat, pulse, and breathing undetectable.”

“But you two wanted me to kill her!” a familiar male voice called out from the mob of Lumps, then showed himself, in a blue uniform, to Brent and Gord.

“Carl!” Brent groaned.

“Just as I suspected,” Gord panted. “The message of your death was faked.”

“We were going…to bring you…into the Grande caste,” Brent said. “You two still love each other?”

“The love between Nora and me is no more,” Carl said as he scowled at her. “And I blame our coming apart on you, on your slave system. But this is not the worst thing. I learned, through all that data mining and data analysis, that InterCorp’s plan was to invade more and more land in the Disputed Areas—Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia—to profit off their lands, just as the competing multinationals, who’ve replaced all nation states as Jurisdictions and promised a peace they never delivered, but kept their wars a secret from the public. The tyranny of the Free Market Revolution is about to come to an end…with worldwide revolutions going on as we speak, and with the deaths of these two murderers, right now!” He stared at them with murderous malice pouring out of his eyes.

“No!” Nora screamed. “I want no part in any more of this bloodshed. If even a fragment of you still loves me, Carl, turn off the solidarity app, so we no longer act on your will alone. Those Lumps who still want revenge may do so freely, but I promised George’s son I’d protect him.”

“Very well,” Carl said with a sneer as he tapped his wrist to free all the Lumps. “Do your will, you whore. You slept with George, you loved him; go be a mother to his son after we kill his wife.”

“I never slept with George! He made a move on me, but I resisted, and he respected my wishes!” she protested.

“You expect me to believe that? Pfft. Who cares, either way? Go. You can leave.”

She ran away, sobbing. What happened to you, Carl? she wondered; I’m wishing I had let George have his way with me. I’ve got to find Ryan before those maniacs kill him along with Tasha.

“Now, as for the rest of you,” Carl said to all the red- and green-uniformed Lumps who were surrounding Brent and Gord, their knives and rifle butts raised up high and ready to beat and stab their two oppressors to death. “Are you ready to do this thing we have to do? Are any of you as soft-hearted as Nora? If so, you may leave.”

A handful of Lumps walked away, mostly those in orange and blue uniforms; but the rest, scores of furious Lumps, ready to carry on the revolution, stayed, though some had hesitation in their eyes as for further killing.

Brent looked up at Carl. “The heads of the Jurisdictions will stop you, Carl.”

Carl sneered at him. “What’s happening here is being repeated all over the world,” he said. “All the heads of the Jurisdictions will die!”

Carl looked at the continued hesitation in the eyes of the Lumps. 

“Need I remind you of the suffering you all were subjected to?” Carl said. “Working ceaselessly, without pay, with a mere four hours of sleep every night, kept awake by the energy enhancements in our implants, enhancements that would have lead us all to early deaths from accumulated sleep deprivation, had we not revolted!

“Of course the Grande class can always replace us by breeding new Lumps, by raping women in the Disputed Areas, and conditioning the resulting offspring, from the beginning of their lives, to accept their lot as slaves, for they’ll have no knowledge of even the notion of life as free people.

“But we are free now, thanks to this Lump Revolution. And to ensure no return of the Grandes, we’ll slay them all, them and their families. We’ll do the same to those of the Petty class if they resist us. For by violence did they acquire power, and by violence is how we shall achieve our new society, our freedom, our destiny!”

Carl looked out on the crowd of rapt Lumps, who all stared back at their godlike leader and liberator, ready for their next command.

“So,” he said, “how shall we dispose of Mr. McDonald and Mr. Hoskins here? Shall I reset the electrocution app and fry them to death, as they’d have had me kill Nora? Or shall you kill them the way they had Max Henderson killed, beaten to death by these men’s security officers? Shall McDonald and Hoskins die Henderson’s death? I leave that up to you, my red- and green-uniformed brothers and sisters.”

Still, the Lumps held their rifle butts and knives up high, ready to strike. Brent and Gord, lying on the ground with bloody hands, looked up at the men and women in red and green surrounding them. The two men looked up in the eyes of the rebels with defiant frowns, wanting them all to see the eyes of the men they were about to murder.

Carl looked on the scene with a smirk. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Nora sneaking off with Ryan. He huffed at the perceived treason of his one-time lover. Then he looked back at the hesitant, but loyal rebels.

A few of them looked over at Carl, their eyes asking his for permission to kill Brent and Gord. The scowl Carl had given Nora seemed to be an answer.

As soon as one Lump brought his rifle crashing down on Gord’s head, cracking his skull and splashing blood in his killer’s face; all the other rifle butts, and all the knives, swung down on his and Brent’s bodies, spraying blood everywhere, spotting them all over with bruises, breaking their bones, and squeezing screams out of them to compete with the joyous yells of their killers.

Carl looked down on the bloodbath, and smiled.

‘Spaz’, a horror short story

Giorgio Bianchi was playing dodgeball in PE class. None of his classmates understood why he chose to continue taking PE all the way to grade twelve instead of stopping as soon as he had his one compulsory PE credit; after all, he was clumsy and spastic in the extreme, always embarrassing himself in front of them. Taking elective PE classes made perfect sense to him, though: he’d hoped all that sports practice would improve his coordination. 

But it didn’t. 

At one point in the game, he dodged the ball, but bumped into Ben Davis, one of the most popular jocks in St. John’s Catholic High School. 

“Watch it, spaz!” Ben shouted. 

“Sorry,” Giorgio said. He dodged the ball again, but tripped over the leg of Karen Schultz, Ben’s pretty girlfriend. She ended up falling, too, and right in the trajectory of the ball.  

She got hit on the head with the ball, and was out of the game. 

“Eat shit, Bianchi!” she shouted at him as she walked out of the playing area. 

“Language, Karen!” the coach said. 

Again, a guy on the other team was aiming at Giorgio, who dodged a feint throw, but ended up bumping into Ben again; the thrower, seeing Ben’s disorientation, now threw at him and hit him in the shoulder. Ben was out. 

“I’m gonna kill you, Giorgio Bianchi—Jar Jar Binks, more like it!” he said before walking off to the outer circle, where Karen and the other players stood, out of the game. 

Towards the end of the game, there were only Giorgio and two girls on his team, and an Asian girl and the boy who hit Ben on the other team. That boy had the ball again.  

Giorgio was nervous; he was also at the side of the play area, not at all aware that he was standing just in front of Ben. 

That boy with the ball was getting ready to hit Giorgio. Before he even knew what was going on, Ben had already pulled Giorgio’s gym shorts and underwear down. 

The chorus of laughter, especially the piercing, shrill cackles of the girls at the sight of his exposed penis, made him almost not notice the impact of the ball pounding him in the face. 

“It’s so small!” shouted Karen, who was on the other side from Ben in the outer circle, and thus facing exposed Giorgio, as was the Asian girl, Sophie Chang, who covered her eyes. 

As Giorgio lay there on the floor, he scrambled to pull up his shorts and underwear. The laughter was hurting his ears. He didn’t dare look in anyone’s eyes. 

“Way to go, Jar Jar Binks!” shouted Ben.  

Now everyone was chanting Giorgio’s nickname, one he’d had to put up with for four high school years: “Jar Jar Binks! Jar Jar Binks! Jar Jar Binks!” 

Sophie, the only one who didn’t chant, just stood there with a frown, for she felt his humiliation. 

*********** 

In his bedroom that evening, Giorgio was at his computer, reading for the tenth time about Reddit user Lumpawarroo’s theory that Jar Jar Binks was originally intended by George Lucas to be a villain skilled with the Dark Side of the Force, and only pretending to be a bumbling fool deserving of universal contempt. 

“If only I could come out and surprise people with a hidden kung fu ability,” he said to himself as he watched the video comparisons of Jar Jar’s clumsy, yet uncanny luck in fighting battle droids at the climax of The Phantom Menace with the staggering, pretend clumsiness of the zuiquan wushu masters. “If only my bad coordination was really ‘drunken fist’ kung fu.” 

*********** 

Sophie was eating dinner with her parents that same evening. 

“You look unhappy about something, Sophie,” her mother said. 

“I saw a boy get publicly humiliated in gym class today,” Sophie said. “Somebody pulled down his shorts and underwear in front of everybody. Poor guy.” 

“Ooh!” her mother said. “You didn’t look, did you?” 

“No,” Sophie said in Mandarin. 

“Good,” her mother said. “I was worried you were interested in him based on what you saw.” 

“Who is he?” her father asked in Mandarin. 

“A rather clumsy boy named Giorgio Bianchi, but I think he’s cute, and I feel sorry for him, because he always gets bullied,” she said. “Instead of calling him ‘Giorgio Bianchi’, they always call him ‘Jar Jar Binks’.” 

“Man, that’s mean,” her father said. 

“I wish I could help him somehow,” Sophie said. 

“Is he Chinese?” her mother asked in Mandarin. 

“Is he Catholic?” her father asked. 

“Of course, he’s Catholic, Dad,” Sophie said. “He goes to my school.” 

“I mean, is he a practicing Catholic,” he said. “‘Cause if he is, maybe he’ll get you out of that silly talking-to-spirits nonsense.” 

“The spirits help me with my homework and studying for tests,” Sophie said. “That’s how I get such good grades without having to spend so much time studying.” 

“Whatever,” he said. “I just wish you’d study the normal way.” 

“Also, it’s dangerous to tamper with the spirit world,” her mother said. “Is this boy Chinese, though?” 

“No,” Sophie said in Mandarin. “Does the name ‘Giorgio Bianchi’ sound Chinese?” 

“No,” her mother said.  

“With a name like ‘Giorgio Bianchi’, he’s obviously Italian,” her father said. 

“Anyway, nobody’s perfect,” her mom said. 

“What does he want to do for a job, though?” her father asked. “Does he want to be an engineer?” 

“I don’t know,” Sophie said in Mandarin. “I don’t think so. He doesn’t take any classes at school that would lead up to studying engineering.” 

“What about computers?” her dad asked. Sophie shook her head. “Business? Economics? Law? Medicine?” She kept shaking her head. 

“I doubt it,” Sophie said. Then she said in Mandarin, “He doesn’t seem the type.” 

“Well, he doesn’t sound like he’s worth your time,” her dad said. “Let alone worth your worries. Probably just some lazy kid who just wants to play a guitar and smoke dope.” 

“Daddy!” Sophie shouted. “I like him!” 

“He sounds like a loser,” her dad said.  

“Well, excuse me for not having tastes worthy of your high standards, Daddy! Donut-eating policemen like you are all high-class types, aren’t they?”  

“Hey, don’t take that tone with me, young lady,” he said. “You should respect us cops. We do a hard, dangerous job, and we’re not appreciated much these days!” 

Sophie sighed. “I’m finished my dinner.” Then she asked in Mandarin, “May I be excused?” 

“Yes,” her mother said in Mandarin. 

Sophie got up and left. I hate you two sometimes, she thought. 

She went into her bedroom and locked the door. She stripped down to her underwear, then took out twelve small candles and laid them out in a circle around her, over a black silk blanket with a white pentagram on it. She lit the candles, turned off the light, and got naked. She sat cross-legged in the middle. 

I’ve succeeded at summoning spirits to help me with my homework and tests, so I don’t have to study so hard, she thought. I wonder if I can summon one to help Giorgio. 

She closed her eyes and took several slow, deep breaths. She chanted a triad of words in Mandarin, over and over again. As she got more and more relaxed, she ‘listened’ for any spirits who may have been approaching her. She ‘felt’ their energies touching her bare skin. 

“Oh, all you guardians of the world between spirit and matter,” she whispered, hoping her parents wouldn’t hear, “release one of your kind to rid Giorgio Bianchi of his tormentors. I speak to all the spirits in the entire spirit world, from all times, all nations, and all traditions. O Lady and Lord, yin and yang, Mother Goddess and Horned God, hear my prayer.” 

Just then, her parents walked past her bedroom, speaking in Chinese. 

Sophie heard a spirit say, in Mandarin, I hear you, and I’ll help you. 

Sophie smiled. 

*********** 

Giorgio lay in bed that night, never able to forget his humiliation from that afternoon. Crying himself to sleep, he thought, over and over, I wish I could kill Ben and Karen… 

He had the following dream: 

He found himself in a dark room, what looked to him like a basement or boiler room. An Asian man of about forty years of age, wearing a fedora and red wool sweater, appeared before him. His face was glowing gold. He reminded Giorgio of Freddy Krueger. 

“Hello, Giorgio,” he said to the boy in a husky voice. “My name is Di. I have been summoned to protect you from all your enemies. You’ll have your revenge on your tormentors, as well as protection from any reprisals, starting tomorrow morning.” 

“How can that be?” Giorgio asked. “What can you do?” 

“I can cause your body to work miracles. I am a spirit from ancient China; don’t let my modern clothesor my fluency in English, deceive you. We in the spirit world transcend all time and cultures. I know many kinds of kung fu, though I won’t really be using them to help you. You’ll get your revenge through ‘accidents’. You’ll see.” 

Giorgio wanted revenge for his many humiliations, no doubt, but he didn’t like the grin he saw on Di’s shining face. 

“I’m still not sure of this,” he told Di. “What kind of ‘accidents’ will be used as revenge on people like Karen and Ben?” 

“You’ll see,” Di said, the evil grin never leaving his face. “Your protection is assured. All I ask is your appreciation for what I’m about to do for you. Your soul and mine are one.” 

“This revenge will be in proportion to what they’ve done to me?” 

“The pain they feel will be in proportion to the pain they’ve given you. You’ll see.” 

“How do you define that ‘proportion’? You’re not going to kill them, are you? I don’t want anyone’s blood on my conscience. I mean, after what happened yesterday, a part of me wanted them dead, but–“ 

“I am that part of you. You’ll see, because you’ll do it. Your soul is mine.” He began cackling maniacally, his laughing echoing throughout the boiler room. 

Giorgio woke up, his upper torso shooting up from his pillow. He was shaking. 

I’d like to kill Ben and Karen, he thought, but only in my dreams, my fantasies. 

He fell asleep again after ten minutes of trembling. 

He was in that boiler room again. A knife in his hand, he was staggering about for a few seconds, then he flung it at a mirror, cracking the glass. In the reflection, he saw himself in Di’s fedora and sweater. His face had Di’s yellow glow…and his grin. He saw himself laughing as Di had before. 

*********** 

The next morning, he was in biology class. Ben and Karen were sitting at the table behind his group’s, chuckling. 

“Mesa Jar Jar Binks,” Ben said in the character’s annoying falsetto. 

“Mesa pi-pi so tiny,” Karen said in the same voice. Giorgio’s heart was pounding, almost in pain, at the sound of their laughing. 

At each table, where trios of students were teamed, lay a carcass of a cat in the middle. Each student had a scalpel for dissecting the cat. Giorgio held his with a trembling hand. 

“Don’t you cut me with that knife, you spaz,” a girl at his table said to him. 

Di’s face appeared before his eyes in a split-second, flashing light. 

Karen stepped over to the other side of her table, putting her immediately beside Giorgio. He began staggering. 

She turned to him with her scalpel. “Mesa cut your pi-pi off, Jar Jar,” she said, then giggled. “Mesa make–“ 

With a sudden jerk of his hand while staggering, Giorgio swiped his scalpel in an arc across her throat, cutting her off mid-sentence because he’d sliced the blade clean through her throat! Her blood sprayed in all directions, several small dots of red splashing on Giorgio’s face. She fell to the floor. 

Everyone screamed, not least of all him. 

“What’s going on?” the teacher shouted. 

“That little dork, Giorgio, just cut Karen’s throat with his knife,” the female student next to Giorgio said while backing away from him. 

“Oh, my God!” The teacher said, taking out his cellphone to call 9-1-1 as he saw Karen’s blood surrounding her body in a growing lake of red. “You didn’t do it on purpose, did you, Giorgio? I mean, after what happened yesterday?” 

“Of course, I didn’t!” the shaking, sobbing boy said. “It was an accident, I swear to God!” He began staggering again. 

“You spastic idiot!” Ben shouted, stepping around his table, with his hands in fists, to get at Giorgio, who saw Di’s face flash before his eyes again. The teacher was calling an ambulance. “You killed my girlfriend, and I’m gonna kill y–“ 

Staggering Giorgio slipped on Karen’s blood and lunged at Ben with the scalpel, stabbing him deep in the gut. Ben buckled, coughed blood, and fell on top of Karen. 

Again, the students screamed deafening, piercing cries that made everyone’s hands cover his ears, and in the confusion, Giorgio ran out of the classroom without anyone stopping him. As he ran down the hall, he passed Sophie, who shuddered at the bloody knife in his hand, the spots of blood on his face, and his bloody footprints on the floor. 

“Oh, shit,” she said. “What have I done?” 

When she saw a mob of students running out of the biology classroom to chase Giorgio, she knew exactly where to look to find out what had happened. When she poked her head in the doorway, already full of anticipatory dread, and then saw Ben’s and Karen’s bloody bodies, she retched. She was as frozen in shock as the biology teacher was. 

A minute later, she heard sirens. 

“Wow,” the teacher said. “The cops sure got here fast. Must’ve been nearby.” 

“Oh, fuck,” she said, then ran down the hall. 

“Get that little bastard!” shouted a student from the biology class as she and Giorgio’s other chasers saw him go for the stairs. “He killed my best friend!” 

He ran up the stairs, not tripping over even one, to his amazement: he’d tripped over steps so often in the past, it was as if he’d taken fewer successful ascending steps than tripping, even when walking up them with perfect calm. It was as if…someone…was helping him get away. He saw a flash of Di’s face again. 

He reached the roof of the school, opened a door, and was outside. The students had him cornered at the edge of the building. He looked down four floors to the pavement. He shook as he saw the students closing in on him. He started staggering again. 

“You’re gonna pay for what you did today, you little spaz,” one boy said, his face tensed in a malicious pout. 

More sirens could be heard, as could footsteps up the stairs to the roof. 

“Jar Jar never died in the Star Wars prequels,” another boy said. “His death would’ve almost redeemed them. We can make this Jar Jar die, though.” 

“No, you won’t,” said a female cop coming out onto the roof with two others, all of them pointing guns at Giorgio. “C’mon, kid. Let’s not make this any more difficult than it already is. Come in the car with us.” 

“OK,” he said, still staggering. He dropped the scalpel and held his hands out to be handcuffed. The female officer approached him with cuffs. 

Another one of the cops, Sophie’s father, noted Giorgio’s staggering. “What’s wrong with you, kid?” He said. “Are you drunk?” 

“No,” Giorgio said. “I just feel…woozy.” Di’s face flashed before his eyes again. 

Just when the cop with the cuffs was about to put them on him, Giorgio slid his foot on a pebble, swiping his leg in front of hers and making her trip. She fell off the roof, screaming till her head cracked open on the pavement below. A growing circle of red surrounded her head. 

Immediately after her tripping and falling, Giorgio saw Di’s face in another flash. The third cop aimed at Giorgio’s chest and was about to fire, but the boy’s foot slipped on another pebble, kicking a larger rock that flew at the cop’s gun, knocking it to point up at the man’s face. When in a knee-jerk reaction he pulled the trigger, he shot a bullet up just behind his chin, up through the center of his head, through his brain, and out the top of his head. 

Blood sprayed everywhere, like a gushing fountain. Screaming from all directions was hurting Giorgio ears. 

Sophie’s father cocked his gun. That can’t be mere clumsiness, he thought. No one’s that clumsy…and that lucky at the same time. 

Giorgio looked down to the pavement beside the dead female cop and saw Sophie’s car, a distinct one with black paint and large white pentacles painted on the sides. Its roof was also removed. She looked up at him; she felt…someone…making her drive over there. 

Jump, Di’s voice whispered in Giorgio’s ears. 

He saw Officer Chang coming closer, with that gun pointed at him. “C’mon, kid,” the cop said. “Let’s end this. No more people have to get hurt.” 

“I agree,” Giorgio said. “Let’s end this.” Then he jumped. 

As he fell screaming, he saw Di’s face flash several times in his eyes. The spirit also took over his body, carrying him in midair and placing him neatly into the passenger seat next to Sophie. He landed with his ass hitting the seat, and his feet dodging the glove compartment to land on the floor with no pain. 

“Oof!” he grunted. “How the fuck did I do that?” 

“A spirit made all this happen,” Sophie said. “We’re outta here.” 

She sped off in her car, past her father’s squad car (in which his female partner was sitting), off the school campus, and down a road in a direction that would take them out of town. Both of them were shaking. 

“I…just killed…four people…including two cops…in the past…fifteen minutes,” he said, tears soaking his face. “What the fuck’s going on?” 

“I’ll explain later,” she said, turning a corner with screeching tires. “Right now, we’ve just gotta get you away from my dad and his cops.” 

“How do you know what’s going on?” Giorgio asked. 

“Because I’m the one who summoned the spirit that’s making you kill all your enemies.” 

“How do you know I won’t kill you? 

“Because I’m not one of your enemies, of course.” 

*********** 

Officer Chang got into his car, as did other cops in two cars behind his. They all raced down the road after Sophie and Giorgio. 

“I’m pretty sure he’s in my daughter’s car,” Chang said to the female cop in the passenger seat beside him. 

“How do you know that?” she asked. 

“Because during dinner last night, I had a conversation with her about the boy, identified by his classmates as Giorgio Bianchi,” Chang said. “My daughter feels sorry for him because he’s been bullied at school. She wants to help him. I saw the car they raced off in: I bought it for her last year. From the roof, I could tell by the pentagrams she later had painted on the sides. Only she’d be strange enough to paint pentagrams on her car. She believes in weird ideas, like communication with spirits. It’s a phase she’s going through.” 

“OK, but how was this Giorgio able to survive that jump?” his partner asked. 

“Good question. Anyway, I talked to the biology teacher, who told me the two kids the boy killed had been bullying him. Sophie, my daughter, told me that Ben, the second of the victims, humiliated the boy yesterday by pulling down his shorts and underwear in gym class, right in front of everybody.” 

“Humiliation enough to make him want to kill?” 

“Seems that way to me. Funny thing, though: he has a reputation for being clumsy, and the killing of Ben and the female victim looked like accidents, just the kid being spastic again; but what I saw on the roof, Giorgio staggering for a moment before ‘accidentally’ killing Officers Denny and Howard, looked a lot more like zuiquan than clumsiness.” 

“Sorry. Zuiquan?” 

“It’s a form of kung fu. It means ‘drunken fist’. You see Jackie Chan do it in a few martial arts movies. The fighter tricks his opponent by making him think he’s drunk or clumsy, then he throws a surprise punch or kick. I’m guessing that Giorgio secretly learned zuiquan, and was hoping to kill his enemies by making their deaths look like an accident. If so, his plan didn’t work.” 

“Still, I saw, from this car, him fall and land in her car,” the female cop said. “He didn’t even look injured. They drove off chatting with each other, as if he’d just walked over and gotten in. How could he have done that?” 

“I know, it’s crazy. I’m a practicing Catholic, but I believe God causes miracles to save only the lives of the good. Sophie believes in weird things like the ghosts of our Chinese ancestors, but come on! There must be a scientific explanation. I’m gonna call her.” He took out his cellphone and dialed Sophie’s number. 

“Hello?” Sophie said. 

“Honey, where are you?” her dad asked. 

“Sorry, Daddy. I can’t tell you.” 

“You have that boy, Giorgio Bianchi, in your car, don’t you?” 

“Sorry, Daddy, I can’t let you have him. He didn’t kill those people on purpose.” 

“What makes you think you’re an authority on this issue?” 

“Because I raised the spirit that took over Giorgio’s body and made him kill those people.” 

“Well, I suppose that might explain his miraculous jump off the school roof and into your car without even an injury, as it seems…” 

“That’s right,” Sophie said. “He didn’t even get a scratch.” 

“But I don’t think a supernatural explanation will hold up in court,” her father said. 

“Can you explain it any other way? Can you explain how a guy with a reputation for clumsiness could have performed all those feats with such precision?” 

“I can’t explain the jump, but ask him if he ever studied zuiquan, you know, the martial art.” 

Sophie looked over at Giorgio. “Do you know zuiquan? You know, a kind of kung fu called ‘drunken fist’.” (She pronounced it ‘dzway-chüen’.) 

Giorgio thought for a second. “Huh?” he said. “Wait. Do you mean ‘zooey quahn? Like, a kung fu guy pretends to be clumsy or drunk, staggers a bit, then he lands a surprise punch or kick?” 

“Yeah, that’s right,” she said. 

“I’ve read about it a bit, but I’ve never learned it,” he said loud enough for her father to hear on the phone. 

“Did you hear that, Daddy?” 

“Yes,” her father said. “And that’s proof enough for me. As far as I’m concerned, he’s lying about having no training. Come on, honey, be a good girl and get him to turn himself in. I don’t want you to be charged with aiding and abetting a felon.” 

“Daddy, if I let you take him in, the demon inside him will kill you! Giorgio just told me about the two cops on the roof who he killed. Please stay away, for your safety!” 

She hung up. 

“Oh, Goddammit, Sophie!” her father said, then tried to call her again. “Oh, she’s turned off her phone. Fuck!” 

“So, what do we do now?” the female cop asked. 

“What do you think? We’ve gotta find them. And it’s gonna break my heart, but I’ll have to bring my daughter up on charges, too.” Di’s face flashed before Chang’s eyes. “What the…?” 

Suddenly, a kind of fog came over all the cops’ heads. 

All three cop cars came to a halt. The drivers and passengers in each car looked at each other in confusion. 

“Wait…w-what were we just doing?” the driver of one police car asked his partner. There was an awkward pause. 

“I-I forget,” the partner said. “We were pursuing a perp, weren’t we?” Another awkward pause. “Wh-who were we pursuing?” 

The driver used his radio to call Officer Chang. 

“S-sir?” He said. “I feel really embarrassed to ask, but–?” 

“What are we doing?” Chang said, anticipating the question. “We’re feeling the same confusion in this car, as are the officers in the other car. Just give me a few minutes to think, OK?” He got out of his car and looked around the roads and buildings, hoping in vain to see something that might help him snap out of his oblivion. 

*********** 

As Sophie kept driving, she was checking her rearview mirror with paranoid eyes: were any police cars trailing her? She heard no sirens; were her followers being furtive about it, waiting for a chance to pounce on them when she least expected it? 

Then, both she and Giorgio heard Di’s gravelly voice: You lost them. 

As if no proof were needed to verify the spirit’s words, Giorgio and Sophie believed Di with perfect faith. She slowed her driving, and both of them heaved a huge sigh of relief. 

“Hey, over there,” she said, pointing to an abandoned old building she sometimes visited to get away from the world. “We can hide in there. Nobody will bother us in there.” 

“But it’s so filthy and awful-looking,” Giorgio said. 

“Exactly,” she said. “No one else will be there. Not even squatters, winos, or derelicts.” She parked behind the building, hiding her car between two tall piles of garbage. They got out. 

“Oh, God, it stinks,” he said, then plugged his nose. 

“We don’t have a lot of options, Giorgio,” she said, also covering her face. 

They walked into the building and across to the other side, where the stench wasn’t so bad. She pointed to a corner. 

“Here,” she said. “Let’s sit here and think this through.” 

They sat, and he asked, “OK, what’s all this about a spirit?” 

“Last night, I thought about what happened to you in gym class, and I felt sorry for you,” she said. “I wanted to protect you from more bullying. I also know a few things about tampering in the spirit world, so I summoned a spirit to protect you. I didn’t mean for it to kill your enemies, though! This has all been my fault. Don’t blame yourself.” 

“So, whenever I see the shiny, golden face of an Asian wearing a fedora, right when one of these freaky things happen, that’s the spirit that’s caused all this trouble?” Giorgio asked. 

“Wait a minute,” she said with her mouth and eyes agape. “An Asian with shiny, golden skin? That voice I heard, saying we lost my dad and the cops. That husky, gravelly baritone voice. And he made you move like someone who knows zuiquan…” 

“You know which spirit he is?” 

“Di,” she said. Her whole body looked as if it would drop. 

“He said his name was ‘Di’, in my dream last night.” 

“Oh, no!” She fell to her knees. “When Di is summoned, he doesn’t go away. If he leaves you, he’ll just enter someone else. The best we can hope is he’ll enter someone far away, someone neither of us knows or cares about…not that I’d wish Di on my worst enemy.” 

“Well, what are we going to do?” Giorgio asked, his voice rising in a crescendo of panic. “I don’t wanna be possessed of a demon for the rest of my life! I don’t want any more blood on my hands! You have any idea what it’s like, having no control over your own body? It was bad for me before, but not like this! I’m scared just to move! Look, Sophie, you got me in this mess, you’ve gotta get me out of it!” He grabbed and shook her. 

“Calm down!” she shouted, slapping him. “I need to communicate with Di. Maybe I can make a deal with him.” 

“How do you ‘communicate’ with him?” 

“There’s a ritual we can do with him, to get his full attention. But you have to do it with me, and…we both have to get naked…and sit together.” 

He blushed and shrank away. 

“Giorgio, I won’t see anything I didn’t see yesterday. We have to be naked so our bodies’ energy won’t be blocked from receiving the energies surrounding us. That’s part of how we can communicate with the spirit world.” 

He didn’t stop blushing. “You OK with me seeing you?” 

“Sure, why not? I have a good body, even if I do say so myself. What can I say? I hope you like what you see.” She took off her blouse right in front of him, then unbuttoned her skirt. 

“Wh-why do you hope that?” He unbuttoned his school uniform shirt. 

“Because I’ve always liked you.” She dropped her skirt, revealing her white bra and panties. “You’re cute…and your ass is cute. You’re eighteen, aren’t you?” 

“Yeah,” he said, blushing again while pulling down his pants. 

“I’m eighteen, too, so don’t worry about anything. We’re grown up enough to be doing this.” She took out some candles from her bag, arranged them in a circle around herself and Giorgio, and lit them. She got a piece of white chalk from her bag, then drew a pentacle on the ground, just inside the circle of candles, getting the sides of the five-pointed star as straight as she could, and the circle around it as symmetrical as she could. Then she and Giorgio took off their underwear, she in all insouciance, and he with trembling hands and a purple-red face. 

They sat cross-legged, facing each other. His hands were covering his crotch. 

“Giorgio, you have to be open. I saw it. It isn’t small. Karen was just being mean.” 

He moved his hands away, but he avoided her eyes. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a smirk of pleasure on her face, her eyes looking down at him, and it encouraged him to look straight at her. 

“Don’t be so shy,” she said. “I’d do you.” 

“This is so embarrassing.” 

“You don’t need to feel that way. It’s just the human body.” 

“But I’m getting a boner from seeing you.” 

“Thanks.” She grinned, looking down and noticing the growth. 

“One thing I don’t get,” he said, trying to refrain from looking between her legs. “If we’re summoning a Chinese spirit, why are you incorporating Western pagan symbols into your ritual? I don’t mean to be racist or anything, but the two don’t seem to go together.” 

“Oh, there’s where you’re wrong,” she said. “I find my rituals work a lot better by mixing ideas from different traditions. The Moon Goddess and the Horned God of Wicca, they’re just like yin and yang, as I see it. These opposites are archetypes that manifest themselves in all things, in all traditions, and they’re the basis for contacting the spirit world.” 

“Oh, OK. So, what are we going to do?” 

“Summon Di, and talk to him. I’ll be speaking in Chinese. That should draw him in better. Let’s close our eyes and take some deep breaths.” They closed their eyes. “Breathe in slowly, a long, deep breath.” They both did, grimacing at the foul odor around them. “Hold your breath for a moment.” They did. “And…let it out slowly.” They did. “Let’s do it again, two more times. Just relax. Breathe in slowly…hold it…and let it out slowly.” They did this one more time. 

Sophie started chanting something in Mandarin, repeating the three-word mantra of the previous summoning, saying it several times in a rhythmic way. She and Giorgio started feeling a vibration all around their bodies, between each other, and in front of themselves, where they sensed a presence. 

Suddenly, they heard Di speaking in Mandarin. Sophie replied, and the two began a conversation Giorgio wished he could participate in, for he couldn’t speak a word of Chinese. Sophie and Di kept talking and talking, their voices getting louder, more and more emotional, and with more tension, more agitation. Finally, they ended with Sophie fighting back tears. 

“W-well, what is it?” Giorgio asked. “What did Di say?” 

All you need to know, Di said in Giorgio’s and Sophie’s minds, is that I find you a most ungrateful host, Giorgio. I rid you of those two tormentors of yours—Ben and Karen—I helped you elude the authorities, and now you want to throw me away, like some object that’s exhausted all of its usefulness to you. You’ll be rid of me, boy, but not in a way you’ll like. You’ll see. 

Di laughed in his portentous way, then Sophie and Giorgio sensed he’d left them. 

“Well, what are we going to do?” Giorgio asked. 

“We’re going to make love,” she said, a tear rolling down her cheek. 

She reached forward and kissed him on the lips. She crawled on top of him as they continued kissing. 

“But what…are we…gonna do…about Di?” He asked in between kisses. “What did you…say to…each other…in Chinese?” 

“That doesn’t matter,” she said, then kissed him. “Di will…leave you. That’s all…that matters.” 

“But Di said…I won’t like…how he’ll…” Giorgio began. 

“Shut up and fuck me,” she said. “I don’t wanna d–, be a virgin. Put it in me.” He did. She winced as she bounced on him. “Ow! That hurts! Oh!” The pain in her heart made the pain between her legs seem trivial. Her pain was love for him, just as he was loving her more and more. She was the only person in that whole school who’d ever been kind to him. 

He pulled out and made a mess on the ground. “Ooh!” he grunted. 

“Eww, that’s gross,” she said, noting also her blood, which was mixing with his come. 

“I didn’t want to get you pregnant,” he panted. 

“What difference would that have made?” She got a tissue and wiped herself clean. 

“What?” Noting she looked away from him and wouldn’t answer, he then yawned. “I feel worn out. I gotta sleep for a bit.” 

“Me, too.” They put their clothes back on, lay side by side, and fell asleep in each other’s arms. 

Giorgio, this time, had pleasant dreams…unlike Sophie. 

*********** 

The other two police cars, in their confusion and oblivion, were allowed to drive back to the police station. Chang and the female cop were about to turn around and go back, too; he had vague misgivings that he was urgently needed somewhere and didn’t want to turn around. He let the other two cars go because cops were needed elsewhere in the city. Chang just kept hoping he’d remember again what they’d just been doing.  

Just then, Di’s golden face flashed before the eyes of Officer Chang and his partner; the fog of forgetfulness lifted from their minds. When they finally remembered who they’d been chasing, they wanted to kick themselves for letting the other police cars go. 

“Shit!” he shouted, then started the car. “Let’s go.” 

“I’ll call backup,” she said, picking up the two-way radio. 

As she was calling for backup, Chang was thinking about the series of supernatural events that had occurred. He was merely assuming that boy knew zuiquan. He’d made a miraculous jump of four floors without any injury. And suddenly, conveniently for him and Sophie, all the cops had forgotten who they were chasing. Sophie often talked about summoning spirits who helped her with her homework and tests…and she routinely got excellent grades, without much studying. 

Could she have really involved the supernatural in this? 

“I don’t believe it!” the female cop said. “They said they have nobody available right now to send to help us, and nobody at the police station remembers the killings at St. John’s. How could that have happened?” 

“Spirits,” Chang said. 

“Sir, you can’t really believe what your daughter…” 

“Do you have any other explanation?” Chang said, getting no answer from his partner. “Look, whatever’s going on, we’re getting no help. We’re on our own. The point is, that crazy kid’s with my daughter, and I’ve got to get her away from him. I have a hunch I know where she’s hiding, too. A dilapidated old building on Mason St. She often goes there, and it’s near here, too. If the station has any back-up available to send us, call them and tell them where we’ll be.” 

*********** 

A half hour later, Giorgio and Sophie woke up to the sound of footsteps and talking. They scrambled to their feet, their hypervigilant eyes darting around in all directions. 

“Who’s that?” Giorgio whispered. “The cops?” 

“Shh!” she said. “How should I know?” 

They hid in a corner, behind a stack of crates, and eavesdropped through the wall between them and the approaching voices. 

“Oh!” the female cop whispered. “I’m glad the worst of that stink is behind us.” 

“Shh!” Chang said. “If they’re here, they’ll hear you.” 

“Oh, no,” Sophie said. “That’s my dad’s voice.” She took out a switchblade from her purse. “There’s something I’ve gotta do. You’re not gonna like it, Giorgio. Neither will I, and that’s because…I…I love you.” 

“I love you, too,” he said. They kissed. “But what do you have to do that’s so awful?” He shuddered at the knife, the blade of which she was holding against her wrist. 

“I can’t say,” she said. “You’ll try to stop me.” 

“Oh, God, Sophie, you’re not thinking of…” 

The two cops turned the corner. 

“And here they are,” the female cop said. She took out her cellphone to call the station. 

“Come on, Sophie,” her father said. “Let’s just go home and forget this ever happened.” Then he looked at Giorgio. “Son, for some strange reason, maybe it’s this…demon…my daughter was talking about on the phone, all the cops have forgotten the crimes you committed today. I’m gonna make this real easy for you: just let Sophie go, and you’ll walk.” 

“But, I want to be with her,” Giorgio said. “I love her.” 

“I love him, too, Daddy,” Sophie said, hugging Giorgio. 

“Oh, fuck me,” Chang said. “C’mon, honey. He’s dangerous.” 

“Not anymore,” Sophie said, then let go of Giorgio and began staggering, the switchblade hidden behind her hand. 

“What’s wrong, honey?” her father asked, walking toward her. 

“No, Daddy,” she said. “Stay away!” She saw a split-second flash of gold. 

“Back-up should be here in a few minutes,” Chang’s partner said, putting her phone away. Giorgio shook at Sophie’s staggering. Her father came closer to her. 

“Sophie,” he said, grabbing her free arm, “I just want to…” 

She slipped and lunged forward, stabbing him deep in the gut. 

“Unh!” he grunted, buckling and coughing out blood.  

“Daddy!” Sophie screamed, then pulled the bloody knife out of him. 

He fell on his face on the ground before her, his blood soaking the ground. The female cop pulled out her gun. Sirens could be heard outside. Giorgio backed off, the whites of his teary eyes showing. Sobbing Sophie staggered a bit on the pebbly ground. Di’s face flashed before her eyes again. 

“Sophie,” the cop said, cocking her pistol. “Let go of the knife. I don’t wanna hurt you.” 

Sophie’s right foot slipped on some pebbles, and the knife flew from her hand and into the cop’s neck…but not before she put a bullet in Sophie’s forehead. 

“Sophie!” Giorgio screamed as he saw both of their bodies fall to the ground. 

He fell to his knees sobbing and put his arms around Sophie’s lifeless body. 

Five cops entered the area, guns pointing at him, their faces grimacing from the stink. 

“This is the kid who killed all those people at the school,” one of the cops said. “I’ll bet he killed these people, too. How did we forget about the school, then remember again? Weird.” 

Don’t worry, Di said in shaking Giorgio’s ear. I’ll never trouble you again. The echo of his laughing voice bounced off the stony walls, then faded out. 

Infamous Hearts

Infamous Hearts Full Wrap.jpg

Though I sometimes write erotica (to be found on the Literotica website) and erotic horror, my own writing isn’t to be found at all in this dark romance anthology. I wish to promote it, nonetheless, in order to help out a friend and fellow writer, Emery LeeAnn, as well as help out all the other writers whose works grace this volume.

So if you like dark romance writing, you might be interested in the following:

#NewRelease #InfamousHearts

The Infamous Hearts Anthology is #LIVE!! One click your copy of this twisted historical anthology today!

 

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Amazon Universal Link: myBook.to/infamoushearts

 

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https://www.facebook.com/groups/darkndirtyromancebookclub/

 

  • •••••Goodreads••••••

http://bit.ly/Infamous_

 

  • •••••Synopsis••••••

Thirteen authors come together to provide a glimpse at notorious couples through history. When finding love in the arms of Hades must be escaped before dawn. Where the secret of the outlaw’s bride is found only in a place between heaven and hell. Where the wrath of Rosaline swings ominously like a pendulum and rapture can be found in the most iniquitous of times. When the secret of hieroglyphic hearts are drawn by daddy’s toy to overcome the feeling of being a darling little pet. When the blonde bombshell thrives high above the world in a tower made up of wanton lust and lies. When becoming a Kray is the only way to survive the mean streets of London. Time becomes frozen in each moment and secrets are told in whispers only to the most coveted.

 

Infamous Hearts: A Match Made in History.

 

 

Author pages:

Ashleigh Giannoccaro: https://www.facebook.com/Colourmyugly/?ref=br_rs

Avery Reigns: https://www.facebook.com/Avery-Reigns-Author-552254841785731/

C.A. Bell: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorC.A.BELL/

Dani René: https://www.facebook.com/DaniReneAuthor/

Destiny Hawkins: https://www.facebook.com/authordhawkins/

Elizabeth Cash: https://www.facebook.com/ElizabethCashAuthor/

Ellie Midwood: https://www.facebook.com/EllieMidwood/

Emery LeeAnn: https://www.facebook.com/EmeryLeeAnn/

Julia Clare: https://www.facebook.com/authorjuliaclare/

Natalie Bennett: https://www.facebook.com/NatalieBennettWriter/

Rose Devereux: https://www.facebook.com/rosedevereuxbooks/

Virginia Johnson: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorVirginiaJohnson/

Yolanda Olson: https://www.facebook.com/yolandasendlesswords/

 

  • •••••What Early Readers Are Saying••••••

“Wow, this collection completely blew my mind away! Not only it combined my two favorite genres – historical romance and dark fiction – but each pair in each story was written absolutely incredibly!”
“A different take on famous or infamous characters that spin a different tale on romance. Each author propels the need to keep reading, a different way of thinking in every mini-story, a different level of consuming darkness.”

So, go and check out this awesome collection of writing!

‘Bloodsuckers’, a Surreal Horror Short Story

My name is Samir. I am ten years old, and I don’t know how many days it’s been since the last time I ate.

I do remember the bombs, though.

When they hit our house, I was with my parents and sister, trying to celebrate her sixth birthday.

I haven’t seen any of them since.

I haven’t eaten since then, either.

I don’t know how many days I’ve been in this hospital. I just lie on a bed, and the nurses have no food to give me. I have dirty bandages on my half-naked body. The blood from my wounds has stopped flowing, but other spots of blood, little red spots, drip blood from new wounds.

They are from the bites of the purple, flying insects.

They’re like mosquitoes: I’ve never seen such bugs before. They bite me, and suck out a little of my blood each time.

Do they put something in my body, too? I think they do.

I lie on my back, my head swinging left to right—not so much left, anymore, since I don’t like what I see in the mirror to my left.

My upper head has blown up into the shape of a giant, green-yellow ball. Much of my hair is gone. My skin is green-yellow, too. I look like an alien, or a monster. I’m like a skeleton with skin.

Did the bombs do this to my skin and head? When they hit our house, I remember something burning in my nose, eyes, and mouth. I was coughing, desperate to suck some pure air into my lungs—then everything went black; then I woke up here. Did I inhale a chemical from the bombs?

Or are the purple flies doing this to me, squirting some kind of poison into my body while they suck out my blood? I think that’s what it is.

I’m not sure if I’m awake or dreaming, but I see a TV, I think, on the ceiling. What a TV is doing up there, of all places, I don’t know; maybe I’m seeing and hearing things, because I think I’m awake.

Anyway, a white man in a dark blue suit is talking to me on the TV. He is in his fifties or sixties, I think, because he has lines of silver in his combed-back hair. He smiles and speaks with a gentle, kind voice, but his words don’t comfort me. They confuse me.

My stomach is grumbling. It hurts so much. Could someone please give me some food? Was I a bad boy? Am I being punished for eating too much at my sister’s birthday party? I’ll be good next time, I promise!

“You are being a very good boy,” the man says to me in Arabic (Wow! I didn’t know white people could speak my language!) “My name is Brian Oates, Samir, and I want to tell you that your sacrifice is bringing happiness to a number of worthy people in my country. You should be proud of your selflessness!”

“Am I…giving them something?” I ask Brian, who seems to be able to hear me. (Is this TV that thing they call ‘Skype’?) “I have…nothing to give. I’m just a…poor Yemeni boy. I only feel…as if someone is…taking everything…from me.” I begin to sob. “Where is my family? I want my mother! I’m so hungry.” My tears are the only wet my face has felt in so long.

“Well, some people would say you’ve had everything taken from you, but it’s only a point of view,” he says, grinning like a friend. “There are other ways of understanding what is happening to you. Alternative interpretations, other facts that are equally valid, if not better, explanations of what you’re doing.”

“There are?” I ask, hoping his alternative facts will ease my pain. I stop crying. I almost smile as I listen.

“Yes, of course there are. It is possible for many different realities to coexist, in the same place and at the same time. One reality says you’re starving and dying on a hospital bed, being bitten by insects. Another says you’re giving qapita, your life-force, so others may live better.”

Qapita? My ‘life-force’?” (Is that an Arabic word? I’ve never heard it before. His Arabic must be really good.)

“Yes, qapita, your life-force. Yemen isn’t the only country in the world that’s dying, Samir. Even we in the richer countries are running out of food and other needed things. Some people say that Big Business destroyed the environment, but that’s just their facts. Our facts say that too much government caused the problem. Too many rules took away people’s freedoms.

“Anyway, the fewer and fewer resources in the world are why we invented the purple bloodsuckers, which are taking out little bits of your life-force at a time, then we’re having them all flown back to Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, where we have the technology to turn your life-force, as well as that of millions of other poor people in countries like yours, into food and other necessities for us.”

“You can…turn blood into…food?” I look around the hospital room. The other patients on the beds all have purple flies biting them, too. I don’t see anyone from my family among them, though.

“Yes, we can transform qapita into food, with the help of machines we have over here! It’s amazing what modern technology can do in the 2030s. We need you to stay alive as long as you can, though. As the bugs suck out your blood, they also inject a greenish-yellow blood substitute, to keep you from dying, so we can get as much life-force out of you as we can, before you finally die. By keeping you alive as long as we can, we are showing you how much we love you and care about you. You’re very important to us, Samir!”

“I am?” My stomach just keeps on growling. I feel as if my belly is eating me up from the inside.

“Yes, of course you are!” His smile reminds me of my mother’s: oh, how much more comforting she would be to me now! She would have her legs cut off to feed me! “Some say we’re using you and your people; but that’s only one reality. There are so many others to consider. We would say that you, Samir, are a hero, generously giving of yourself to people here that you don’t even know, as if they were your own family.”

A memory is flashing by my eyes at this moment: my mother, father, and me giving toys to my sister, and the wide-eyed joy on her face when she saw them. Two seconds later, we heard bombs falling.

“Why believe in sad truths when you can accept alternative ones, happy ones?” the white man goes on. The video on the ceiling TV shows happy white people laughing, dancing, drinking, and…eating! They are handsome young men, beautiful young women, enjoying a large banquet of food, delicious dishes covering a long table from one end to the other: chicken, vegetables, fruit, breads, noodles, rice, wine, juice, eggs, and so many others! A small drop of spit falls out of my mouth, the only wet it’s felt in a while. I reach up at the screen, hoping at least to touch it. My failing strength, and the pain in my arms from trying to move, means my arms keep falling back down on the bed with each two-second try.

“Can I…have some?” I say in a rough whisper. “I’m so…hungry.”

“Now, Samir, if you had some, there would be less for all the people in that party, wouldn’t there?”

“I guess so.”

Remember, you’re a selfless hero. You don’t want your own desires to spoil their happiness, do you?”

“No, I shouldn’t…be selfish.”

“That’s right. As I said before, happy realities are better to think about than sad ones. That’s why we in the West show only happy things on TV and in movies, to help people forget the troubles of the world. We never show our people the reality of places like Yemen—it would make them unhappy. Similarly, you should forget your sorrows and think of the happiness you’re giving people on the other side of the world, so I’ll leave you with this video of the banquet, and all the happy Americans here enjoying food converted from the life-force of the blood of heroes like you. Alternative truths, Samir! They will give you comfort. Watch, and enjoy!”

I’ve been getting light-headed. The purple flies are buzzing around my face. I’m too weak to swat at them, and the pain from moving my body is greater than the pain of their bites, so I mostly just let them bite me.

Their purple is glowing: is my vision getting blurry? Am I dreaming? I see purple balls of light floating in the air above me, then rising up to the ceiling TV screen. The purple balls seem to be changing into new food on the banquet table, when they touch the TV screen.

I feel bites, then I see the purple, glowing balls rise up to feed the white people. I see my shining life-force being taken up to the TV.

My stomach is growling louder now. It’s making my body shake. I look down at my chest: red spots of blood are everywhere. The purple bugs keep biting and flying up to the ceiling-TV. I can’t see my legs.

I look to my left and see myself in the mirror again: I’m all green now. I look like a rotting corpse! Also…where are my legs?

My bald, swollen head looks like a giant melon. Before the bombs, Mother, Father, my sister, my friends, and my neighbours all used to say how cute I was. What an adorable little boy, they’d say! What would they say if they saw me now?

I look down at my growling belly. I no longer have legs or a pelvic region. Am I dreaming? What I see can’t be real! There is a huge mouth where my belly should be. The mouth is like a huge navel. With the teeth of a tiger, or some wild beast, it is eating at my flesh above. Am I eating myself?

Below is too painful to watch, so instead I look above, a much happier place to be. The glowing purple balls are floating up to the banquet on the ceiling. They flash when they touch the TV screen, then turn into meat, bread, fish, and other delicious dishes.

The white people sitting at the table are smiling, laughing, and talking to each other as they bite into the food that was once my blood. The love they reflect to each other on their grinning faces, it’s like a big, happy family. Is my family up there, eating with them in Allah’s paradise? I hope they are, but I don’t see them anywhere: I see only white people, dozens of white people.

They’re young, handsome, and beautiful. They’re wearing nice clothes, unlike the filthy rags that covered the private parts I once had, or the bandages I have on my arms, or those I had on the legs I used to have.

Well, if I cannot have food, let the white people have it for me.

If I cannot have a family, let them be the family I’ve lost forever.

If I must be naked, let them wear clothes for me.

If I cannot have a body, let them have bodies instead.

If I cannot live, let me die so they can live.

I don’t want to be selfish. Let them be selfish instead. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.

I feel numb, even where I still have a body. I look down at myself, to see what is left of me. I have only a head and neck now, a longer neck, almost like that of a giraffe; that mouth is still eating, chewing at the base of my neck with loud chomps. The mouth’s bloody, beast-like teeth seem to be grinning at me as they bite their way up my neck. There is very little blood, apart from the tiny dots of red that splash in all directions with each bite; the mouth must be drinking the rest of it up.

I don’t care. Let me die. Numbness means no more pain. I don’t feel hungry or thirsty anymore. My mouth is dry; everywhere I feel dry, if I feel anything.

I don’t want anything anymore. Let the white people do the wanting. The fight in me is over now. I accept my lot, my place in the world. It is the will of Allah.

There are truths other than mine here in Yemen. Happy truths in the West. Believe the happy truths. Forget the bad ones.

Two tears are running down my nose. It’s all right, though, everything is alright.

I love my white brothers.

I’m happy for them. Losing my family and my life doesn’t ma…