OAK III: Red Flowers & Bone

Cut to the bone.

The Earth around The Oak was tangled with slender vines tipped with jagged red flowers. The buds pushed themselves up several inches above the soil, opening slowly with tendrils of sap glistening and dripping down the vines. The sap’s bioluminescence glowed a soft orange in the dark, their stamens poking upward from the centre of each bloom, swirling gently.

Cut down rather than across.

The sap released a pheromone that billowed into the air. Tiny carmine spores floated from the blooms, creating a heady dust designed to lure and intoxicate. A low hum reverberated from deep within The Earth, a vibration that sent a shiver through the area, casting the spores further afield. They drifted, some settling on leaves and moss, glowing faintly in the dark.

A guttural rumble tore the mossy soil apart around The Oak, the green folding back on itself and convulsing as if it were birthing something.

And birth something it did.

Cut to the bone.

Its fingers or what were supposed to look like fingers thrust upward from the ground, thrashing and hacking its way out as the blooms around it rose higher, releasing more spores and spitting sap. Its body was made entirely of nature, but this was not the type of nature that was kind. It was everything terrible nature could create.

When it finally broke free from The Oak, it stood at over ten feet tall and oozed the same sap and wafted the same spores as the flowers around it. It yanked its head forward, the blooms ripping out from inside the soil as they unfurled and gathered around its head in the mass of vines where its hair would be. Those red flowers floated and swirled around its head in a cloud of hazy poison. A low hum drifted around as a warning signal, but nobody would be clever enough to realise.

When it moved, sap trickled from its body leaving clumps of corrosive venom on the ground, yet it didn’t seem to eat away at it.

The creature opened its mouth and roared, the howl sending a shockwave that produced even more spores, the air around it now thick with them.

Cut down rather than across.

It buried its roots in the ground in front of The Oak, gorging on tiny crawling life from the Earth, but it wasn’t enough. It needed more.

Cut down rather than across.

It heard those words spoken with anger, spoken with the intent to hurt and cause pain, and it followed them slowly, unfurling its roots from the ground, creeping across it, the spores and vines drifting in slow fluid movements. The forest reached out for it, branches creaking and twisting to touch the red blooms, leaves uncurling, mosses pulsing against the ground as if the Earth’s heartbeat were heavier than usual.

This was not an it. This was a SHE. The embodiment of The Divine Feminine in her rawest form; RAGE.

She could hear the words cutting through the air, vicious and malignant. She recognised those words and remembered what she was before the shame hit, before she had given herself to the Earth via The Oak, she remembered;

Cut to the bone. Cut down rather then across otherwise it won’t work, cut down..

He was asleep. She saw through the gaps in the forest, over the gentle ripple of the water from the pond in the night, and around the landscape until she was stood over him. Her mouth fell open slowly in a quiet hiss, her jaw distended and cavernous. The vines and red blooms around her head shifted in one snake like movement, poised above his face, creeping closer. The glow from the flowers cast soft light over the shadows of his face, but revealed more than surface skin. Those words; the poison he released and couldn’t take back pulsated and coiled under his flesh like parasitic worms. She could see them moving and growing. His face was puffy and engorged, and every few seconds a blackened worm would flick from his lips and across his cheek, only to find its way back inside by slithering up his nose.

Cut to the bone.

The poisonous whispers were right there in front of her.

She lowered her head inches from his face, every bloom on her vines as close to his skin as could be without touching it, spores wafting and filling the room, that low hum that nobody would have taken as a warning sending ripples through the air.

She wanted him to see her before she took him. His eyes were forced open and he could see the vision of rage he’d help create, just as she coiled her vines around his throat and neck, across his gaping mouth as a strangled gurgling bubbled out. His eyes looked into what used to be hers, but they were glowing rings of blazing anger, and nothing like the ones he used to see. The soft bark of her once smooth skin unfolded so fresh vines could uncoil and pin him where he was. They stabbed through him like hot bolts, gleaming with corrosive sap that hissed and frothed though his flesh. The vines around his throat coiled tighter, slowly and deliberately so she could hear every crack, every break, and every pop as the life drained from him. The facial cavity that was once her mouth was so distended that it was wider than his head, and she was siphoning him into her core. He tried to struggle and writhe beneath her, but he was too weak as she tore the life from him. The place where her heart used to be glowed a bright red that flowed through every part of her right to the ends of each flower. Her belly grew rapidly as she consumed him.

A final crack from the thickest vines ended him, as it broke his neck. She paused over him, looking over the burned out husk of what he was. Her mouth shrank back into place, her vines recoiled and settled themselves softly. He was now as he had once left her, hollow, and empty, and cleft. The worm like words oozed and crawled out from inside what was left of him, because they always survive. She watched them trickle away into the dark, where they belonged.

The newly fed blooms on her vines puffed out a generous cloud of spores over his corpse, and settled over him, devouring the remains slowly. There would be nothing but red dust in the morning.

She withdrew back into heavy shadow, and crept back to The Oak. She was entirely satiated, her body swollen and pregnant with the life she had claimed as hers. The Earth around The Oak opened up to her, peeling itself back with a welcoming warmth with which she could merge. She sank down into it, its vines twisting and entwined with hers, a protective web crawling over her heavy belly. The Earth closed itself around her, and  drifted into a deep torpor, as they both fed on what she had taken.

Her red flowers slowly poked up out of the Earth, and swirled with their jagged petals in the night. Only when they began to fade would she rip through the Earth and feed again.

The Gory Hole

This was written as part of a writing challenge on another website, but since it’s horror, I’m posting it here too. 

Three lads. Early twenties. All perpetually horny and testosterone fuelled.

One text message, so easily led.

A Whatsapp group several seconds later.

“I just got a text from Mike saying the weirdest shit.”
“Yeah me too.”
“WTF i just got one!”

Various screenshots loaded in the chat, proving the same message thrice over.

Rumours of a gory hole in the old abandoned library toilets. gonna drive over if you’re coming, my place at 10-ish.

As you might imagine, the three assumed he meant glory hole, and didn’t have to be asked twice. Each one made their way to their mutual friend’s place, but when they got there, it was dark and nobody was to be found.

“Fucking wanker. He’s full of shit, it’s a wind-up”, Jack blurted out.
Noah just stood there looking dejected.
“Fuck it, let’s just walk to the library anyway, it’s not far”, Liam said, dropping his most recent rollup on the ground and stubbing it out with his boot.

It was raining lightly, and nobody had prepared for rain so their shirts and hoodies got damp pretty quickly, but they weren’t letting wet weather ruin the potential for getting a no strings blow job, plus they wanted to see what kind of other people might turn up. They were absolutely going to take photos and clips and upload them to facebook in an effort to shame any freaks they found.

These boys were not the smartest, especially when they were thinking with their testicles.

The library was on the other side of town, zero lighting and heavily dilapidated. The architecture was something out of the seventies, and the old decor was never updated. The glass doors were shattered and buckled, and the once bright orange foam filled seating inside was now ripped apart and covered in mould and dust. The bookcases had been dismantled in parts, and tipped over in others. They had to use the light from their phones to see where they were going, lest they walked into a fallen case or a broken beam. Any beams that had fallen were rusted and sharp in places, so they had to take care to avoid injury.

Noah was mashing a text message into his phone back to Mike, who was the original sender, telling him he was a fucking bell-end for the wind up and could fuck off. He didn’t get a response right away.

The lads were climbing over piles of abandoned books, their phone lights waving about in the darkness, and curtains of dust flying up the further they went in. A lot of coughing and sneezing happened, but nobody seemed to realise that aside from the noise they were making, the place was deathly silent for somewhere that supposedly held a glory hole in the depths of the basement toilets. They hadn’t noticed in the dark that there were no other footprints in the dust, no new pathways made by scattering those old dishevelled books, and no signs of anyone else being in the building for a very long time.

The reached the stairway, the large brown double doors held open by old bricks. Jack shined his phone light down to reveal they would have to go down three flights to reach the toilets. They weren’t even talking to one another at that point, they just scuffled down the steps, knocking any fallen books or debris out of their way.

Noah’s phone beeped loudly which made them all jump slightly and Liam swear under his breath. Mike had finally responded to his jabs, and said he didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about. He wasn’t at home, but he was in the middle of nowhere with his girlfriend and hasn’t sent any texts to anyone because he couldn’t keep a decent signal.

Noah shrugged it off as part of the wind-up and called him a fucking wanker out loud, and didn’t bother to respond.

They were finally down in the basement. The toilets were behind two huge grubby double doors, much like the ones at the top of the stairs but these were heavier and were painted a dark green colour. They had been damaged by folks using keys to scratch their names and various pieces of lewd commentary on them, and people using marker pens to sign their names as is tradition on entry to a public access toilet.

The two handles in the middle were held shut by a heavy chain, that upon inspection looked untouched for a very long time.

“Fucking Mike”, Noah spat. “It’s all been a fucking wind-up to get us in here, he was taking the piss. There’s nobody here, it’s a waste of time.”

The heavy chain unravelled and fell to the floor with a horrific clanging slam that echoed off the walls, sending fresh dust crumbling from the tiled ceiling. Jack covered his nose and mouth and coughed into the sleeve of his hoodie. A singular light flashed through the glass of the now unchained doors, and a faint giggle rang out from behind them.

“There’s someone in there!” Liam said excitedly, barreling through the doors with his full weight. The other two followed suit, but Noah was a little less enthusiastic. He knew something wasn’t right about this, but his boner cancelled out a lot of the apprehension and he carried on anyway. The same light that flashed through the window was jiggling about in the toilet cubicle right at the end. The door to the cubicle next to it was wide open, and the boys hurried over, ignoring their surroundings that if they had paid close attention to, they would have run out of there faster than they went in, but it was dark and all they could focus on was getting to the feminine giggling and flashing light.

It didn’t matter that nobody else was there.
It didn’t matter that the heavy double doors closed slowly behind them, and that the chains snaked up and coiled themselves around the metal handles, locking shut.
It didn’t matter that they’d missed the dessicated corpses in the dark corners of the toilet, piled up in the other cubicles out of sight behind their locked doors.
It didn’t matter that it wasn’t actually Mike that had sent the message.

A strangely soft light illuminated the cubicle, and compelled the boys to enter. It seemed larger somehow, that all of them would be able to go inside with no issues, when in reality a single cubicle would barely hold an adult and a child. They moved in slowly, silently but completely of their own accord. The same soft light above them also shone through a hole in the cubicle wall, and the softest of whispers and giggles wafted through it.

“I’m hungry”, it said. “I’m SO hungry and I’ve been alone here all night with nobody to play with. Play with me.”

The soft giggling turned into a more sinister cackle, and suddenly multiple whispers crept out around them, filled with harsh edges and sharp tongues. The voice turned into a wall rattling roar, an angry snarling brimming with hatred and ravenous hunger.

“PLAY WITH ME”, It demanded, turning into a shriek that made the boys cover their ears in terror.

They all tried to fight their way out of the cubicle yelling for help, but nobody was listening. The door was solid and no amount of battering it would open it. Jack was the first to be taken. He was grabbed and flattened against the side with the hole, and his clothes ripped and shredded, flying away from his body leaving him naked. He started to scream as the whispers around them grew louder, and stabbed at his skin, flaying him until he was a mass of dripping muscle and sinew. When his ability to scream was suppressed, all he could manage was a dull rasping noise as his organs were ripped from his skeleton, his eyes exploding with the pressure. He was consumed, sucked through the hole in the cubicle wall, whilst the whispers grew louder and groaned in satisfaction. His skinless bones collapsed to the floor just as Liam was pinned on the other side, his clothes tearing from his body, his phone flying out of his hand and smashing against the floor. Noah watched in wide eyed horror as his best friend’s flesh was ripped from him and whirled through the air and into the gaping maw that was significantly wider.

He tried to dial for help, but his phone was yanked away and flew down into the toilet bowl with a loud clatter, smashed to float in the water. The fingers on both of his hands were wrenched open from his palms, and broke simultaneously in wrong directions, leaving them looking like they’d been through a grinder. His screams previously high pitched, turned hoarse as an unseen grip circled itself around his throat. The last thing he saw was the slippery mess of Liam’s defleshed skeleton hunched over on the floor, as his own eyes exploded from the pressure of the hand around his throat.

Everything went dark. The pressure in his head was relentless, and then suddenly there was nothing as it exploded in much the same way a ketchup sachet would if you squeezed it hard enough.

Nobody was there to see the flesh rend from his body, or witness the pools of blood seeping across the cubicle floor, only to be sucked up through the hole in the wall. Nobody saw the harsh whispers suck the marrow out of their bones, or the way their sharp tongues licked the blood from them. Nobody was there to watch them dessicate and age, and crumble into the corner, dead to the world.
The library had closed down many years ago, before the boys had even been born. It was afflicted with a high staff turnover, dangerous conditions on the lower floors, and increasing levels of staff illness. People were often seen leaving the town as it seemed grim and miserable with no real prospects for anyone. The truth is that nobody ever left the area, and the staff were still very much there. It’s just they were piles of rotten old bones and forgotten memories.

OAK

She was broken with shame in a way that was irreparable.

Wandering into the woodlands over the moors near home, she found a gigantic Oak tree set deep in the Earth, surrounded by thick moss that hadn’t felt human touch for a long time. The air was thick and heavy with the scent of it, and her bare feet sank and left imprints in the soft green. She clawed her way through, ripping huge clomps away, upsetting the life underneath; worms and beetles flew as she clawed deeper, her fingernails filled with dirt that felt strangely warm for such a cold place. She didn’t want to feel anything anymore.

The Earth grew warmer and seemed to pull itself apart to let her in, almost as if it knew she felt such profound loss that it didn’t want to make this harder. She found a root that uncoiled slightly, and put her hand through it, feeling it tighten around her wrist but not so it hurt. The Earth opened a little more, sinking and rising softly as it breathed. She closed her eyes and slowly one by one, heavier roots reached out and coiled around her arms, around her body and finally around her thighs. She didn’t have to dig anymore, the Oak pulled her down into the warm soil, and closed around her like she was back in the womb.

The Earth above her settled again, worms and beetles as they were, the moss unbroken and untrodden.

Her eyes were the first to go. Tiny shoots from the roots that coiled around her wound themselves through her flesh. Her hair twisted into the ground, and held her head in place as the Oak took her. Two sharp branches shot through her eyes, piercing them until they found their way through her ears. Blood trickled from the jellied mess that used to be her eyes, and she screamed soundlessly as her mouth filled with soil.

Hundreds of barbarous shoots bore through her skin and into her bones, her entire body burning with pain. It had changed much in the last week, she was paler then usual, her frame felt weaker, merely something for her skin to hang from which felt heavy and oversized. She had been reduced to a barely breathing husk. The shoots settled into her body and left intricate twine on the surface of her skin.

The roots pulled huge armfuls of mossy Earth to pack her deeply into the ground, and wrapped themselves around her like a Mother would for a sick child.

The Oak drank her slowly, draining the life from her organs, the blood from her veins and the life from her skin. It took her heart next, gnarled and ruined as it was, hollowing it out before filling its shell with a viscous sap. One by one, it changed the configuration of her organs into a myriad of vines, moss, and worts, her skin replaced with a canvas of soft bark that would release spores as she ripened. Her hair twisted and coiled into hundreds of thin vines tipped with tiny red flowers that would burn to the touch.

The verdant moss and Oak grew slowly richer as they fed on her; she stayed buried there down in the warm Earth, nourishing it until she was dead to the world.

Whatever surfaced later wouldn’t come for a very long time.

THE NIGHTMARE SEQUENCE

NB: These are based on a set of recurring dreams experienced over the last ten years. 

FIRST SEQUENCE (PURGATORY)

The first sequence unfolds in a mist veiled field at dusk. The field is endless, I can’t see the gates clearly but I know they’re there. This place isn’t meant to be breached unless it opens itself up to you. Huge swirls of crows circle above, some tiny, some gigantic like dragons. The giants are heavily scarred and disfigured in ways that tell whispered tales about battles ripped open across time. Jagged and grotesque beaks cracked with gaping holes, some lost entirely and perhaps buried in the eye-socket of a particularly vicious opponent. Colossal wingspans that cause tremors when beat at full strength, torn and frayed but no less terrifying or effective. Barbarously keen talons buried on the end of gargantuan metatarsals decorated with wounds, old and new. The ones without the means to feed themselves are waited on by the smaller male birds, bringing the elders pieces of carrion as they roar across the field demanding to be satiated. They are not left to die, rather they are revered as titans. The tiny ones know they will find the same fate after millennia of shepherding lives over the edge as they rend them apart in battle to feed the elders.

The first time I saw that grisly picture through the mists, as impossible as it might seem, I felt like I’d been standing there forever. I thought I’d see myself torn apart as an offering for a giant, but that’s not what happens. Not even close. The mountainous one eyed behemoth that sits amongst the rest tilts her head at me as if to tell me to begin. She is the biggest one of them all, sage and ageless like she was there before the beginning of time. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t need to. Even the lower ranking elders do things for her, shredding prime carrion with their talons to make it easier for her to swallow. She is not defenceless, but she is a Queen. Queens do not tend to themselves.

Hundreds of tiny females flit around her feathers, picking away that which ought not to be there. One of her feathers alone would span the entire wing of the largest elder. She is a titan amongst titans, undefeatable, but will eventually crumble away to dust after her existence spans several aeons and she grows tired. When she fades, a brutal war will tear the female elders apart to determine who will replace her. She is nameless, the gravity of her presence infinitely more powerful than any name she could be given.  

Males are underlings here, regardless of their size they bow to the Matriarchs. Any dissent amongst the male ranks is met with ferocity, usually resulting in the offending male being feasted upon by the females. The Queen watches me intently when I appear, the roaring of the others dying down to silence before the slaughter begins. The mist sits thickly in the air, yet I can see through it perfectly. They’re all motionless, glassy corvid eyes watching my every move.   

I’m wearing layers of heavy black woollen robes with a hood that obscures most of my face, yet I can see clearly. My feet are swathed with the same wool over leather. The wool feels like I’m wearing lead, but I can move freely as if I’m wearing a paper robe. My physical strength seems fathomless here, yet I’m aware under normal circumstances I would buckle under the weight of the robes alone. Tattered trails of wool drag over the earth, collecting soil and the dampness from the air.

A platoon of heavily armed men appear through the mist, headed in my direction. They’re all clad in protective riot gear so I can’t see their faces, not that it matters, they’ll all be ripped to shreds soon. They don’t seem to acknowledge the crows, even the titans. I wonder if they can see them, or if they’re only for me to look upon. They loom closer, and I lift the impossible weapon I’m armed with. It’s impossible because I know I wouldn’t be able to carry it, let alone fire it in the waking world. It’s a freehand Gatling, and it feels like I’m carrying a kitten. It’s blemished and dented in places, but it’s fully loaded and primed for use. As the men edge closer with their rifles, I raise it and brace myself for the onslaught, but they don’t even get the chance, they don’t STAND a chance.  

I’m positioned in the very centre of the field, standing at the shattered and splintered door of a flat roofed dilapidated four storey building. It’s burned out with glassless window frames, and crumbling stone. Any shards of glass that remain are tinted with blood from the previous manifestation of this sequence. The men are closing in on me, and I start to fire the Gatling I know I wouldn’t be able to handle. A handful of them manage to return fire, but tiny male crows swoop down and catch the bullets and crush them to dust. I mow the men down like paper dolls, watching their flesh and bone pulverised in detail. Red mist sprays through the air as my bullets tear into them, shreds of flesh and riot gear flying around in a flurry of violence and diving crows. Their agony reaches a crescendo of deafening levels, the roar of the elders blasting a crushing bassline as if they’re wholly entertained by this frenzied display.  

The combination of screaming and roaring reaches supernova, creating an earth shattering shock-wave, blasting me into the building. I can’t hear a thing, everything is in slow motion as I blink and try to regain my composure. Another shock-wave cracks through, speeding everything up as I’m thrown against a wall, but I don’t feel any pain. I pick myself up and focus. I feel a syrupy warmth seeping through my robes, and realise I’m standing in around two feet of blood, the air thick with the scent of copper.

The interior is as grim as the outside. The walls are cracked and crumbling, painted crimson and trickling with decaying mould. The building shakes with aftershocks of the earlier blasts, leaving pockets of dust floating to settle wherever it wants, but I don’t lose my footing. Annihilated pieces of furniture float atop the blood, with once beautiful paintings splintered and torn, hanging askew. What remains of oxblood leather furniture is tipped over, ragged and utterly destroyed by fire and projectiles. It’s a fucking mess, but much worse waits in each room beyond.

I can hear the men screaming in agony as I wade through their blood. They’re crunched over and huddled in various states of fucked up. Mangled flesh torn open by jagged and splintered bones, glistening with blood amongst cartilage and shredded muscle. Organs spilling out over what’s left of their bodies, splayed and tattered beyond all repair, almost as if they’d already been put through an organ grinder. Partially bulging and dangling eyes stare at me, some blankly, some filled with pain, their contorted faces wanting it to end because as much as they should be dead, they are not. A murder of crows at various sizes filter in, cawing in a fevered attack to start eating them alive. Several men are dragged back into the field by the horde, only for a few of the titans to carry them off in their talons before dropping them from a great height. That’s how it ends for the lucky ones. For the rest, they are ripped and picked apart in a feeding frenzy.

Another flash puts me back out in the field, and all I can do is watch the ruthless onslaught before the Queen tilts her head at me once again. The elders roar across the field louder than ever before, and the ground fractures beneath me in reverberation. My legs fail me, and I fall endlessly into cracked earth.    

SECOND SEQUENCE (LIMBO)
My descent through cracked earth reaches its climax; I’m in the same field and building structure, except everything is serene, intact, and brilliant white. It’s in perfect condition; everything inside it is white, even the pictures are squares and rectangles of white in white frames. The windows are open and framed with softly billowing curtains that flow through the floors as I move through them. I foolishly thought this was a place of safety during my first visit here, a place of benign intent.

I’m dressed once again in layers of shrouded wool, except that this too is white, I’m not carrying a Gatling, and nothing is frayed or torn anywhere. I am aware of pain throughout my body, the same kind of pain you get when you’ve hit the gym too hard, and everything hurts the next day. I try to shrug it off, and assume it’s due to the weight of my shroud.

I drift around endlessly, climbing seemingly unending staircases and eventually wandering into whichever room sits at the top, but once I enter, each door closes behind me and melts into the wall. The pain in my body climbs slowly, leaving me breathless and clutching at the rails. Whilst I was strong and invulnerable in the previous sequence, I am sluggish and I can’t ever go back the way I came. I can only move forward, wandering through corridors that go on forever, and climbing staircases that make me think my legs will fall beneath me before I hit the last step, only for me to find myself at the next door. I become increasingly fatigued and a heavy ache reaches around my body, building in intensity the further I walk.

I get little respite in each room once the doors melt away. Some rooms are larger than others. When I’m afforded one the size of a ballroom, I know I can slip down to the floor and catch my breath as the surroundings shift and slide around me. The walls move inward, the items inside with me pushed ever closer, gradually robbing me of any space. It’s a slow process, and in a ballroom sized area I can have a few hours of rest. When the door behind me melts away, I see a new one open at the opposite end, the room around me closing and pushing me closer to it with every shift. When I am pushed out into another corridor, I am physically unable to keep from walking, even if my body feels like it’s on fire and heavy like lead. I sometimes wonder what would happen if my bones were to break, or I were to collapse, but I’ve never found out because I can’t stop, even though it’s exceptionally painful.

When I feel at my most exhausted, and the pain levels are excruciating, that is when the rooms are so small that I can reach out and touch each wall without needing to move. There is no blood, there are no screams of agony, there are no roaring crows, and there is no brutality; there is only silence, even as the building moves. Even without the savage landscape of the previous sequence, that does not make this limbo any less terrifying. I don’t know how long I am in there, and I have never been able to find my way down to the entrance. I am caught in a white web, almost like a toy at someone, or something else’s behest. I don’t know who or what that is, I’ve never seen anything to address my suspicions, but then this is limbo in every sense of the word. It is not meant for me to know. I exist here for a time, that’s all. I never know how I end up escaping this place, I simply blink and find myself in the next sequence.

THIRD SEQUENCE (APOCATASTASIS)

Blink.

I’m in an old airport, the kind you find in small cities with decor from the seventies that’s never been updated. Normally bright white displays holding flight information with rotating letters and digits have yellowed over time, clacking noisily as they revolve. Staff are present, but they’re not sentient; they have bodies but their faces are entirely blank and gaze at you as if they actually had eyes to see you at all. They’re dressed in the same era clothing as the airport projects, old seventies gear complete with appropriate hairstyles and accessories, draped over their blank faces. Their staring is continuous, it’s gone from casual gazing to halting their work with blatant ogling.

We don’t belong here. We’re all wearing modern clothing. By we, I mean the twenty children surrounding me. The faceless tilt their heads to one side as if they’re oddly curious, slowly edging closer as if we are some manner of freak-show.

The children range in ages from three to twelve years old. They’re all trying to cling to me, terrified and unsure of what’s going on. I’m dressed in plain clothes, there are no shrouded cloaks or firearms, and there are no crows or a mysterious building. I’m trying to touch the children in a reassuring manner to let them know that things are going to be okay, but it’s hard to give a part of yourself to twenty children all at once.

Two faceless security guards approach us, although they are unarmed. They don’t speak, but motion towards a tunnel hammered out in a wall, as if recently punched through by construction workers. They funnel us down a dark corridor lined with steaming pipes, and the kind of dim orange-yellow lights you find in bomb shelters. We are escorted to an old giant cargo plane that has been battered by weather with years of overuse. It looks like it might collapse at any moment, and yet their blank faces and body language insist we climb aboard. The children are crying now and I’m doing my best to keep them calm, but you know how it goes when a huddle of children get scared; it’s contagious. I start singing to them softly to try and set them at ease, but it only works for a little while before their cries escalate again. We all get situated, but because we are all individually strapped in, they start to scream loudly because they can’t touch me for comfort. I try and unbuckle my safety belt, but it won’t budge. I look down to see what I can do, but the metal is clamped shut and fuses completely before my eyes. The children claw at their own belts, but it’s futile; we are all trapped. The older ones appear terrified into silence, as if they know there’s nothing they can do. The babies are shrieking, and although I try to sing to them again, it is drowned out and nobody can hear me.

I feel the plane rumble into movement, loud, heavy, and rattling. I am amazed as we actually take off and make it off the ground, the pandaemonium not letting up for a second as we lift. I can hardly hear the children over the deep rumbling of the plane’s engines, but I can see every single one of their contorted faces, fighting to break free of the restraints albeit ineffectively. A vicious storm brews ominously through the skies. It’s so dark, and regular flashes of lightning show me that we are flying over a body of water as I crane my head around to look through the scratched window beside me. I might not be able to undo my restraints, but I have a little wiggle room. We navigate the storm with major turbulence, some of the babies passed out and exhausted from screaming for so long. The older ones are still wide awake and staring into nothing, their eyes glassy and faces streaked red and blotchy with tears. I wave my arms to try and shift their attention, but it’s like they don’t even see me. All I can hear is the shaking rumble of the gargantuan engines struggling through the storm, rippling through the entire plane. I keep trying to get them to focus on me, but it’s not working. The storm intensifies as we are hit by lightning, and we begin to plummet down into the angry body of water.

I watch their faces. It starts with the older ones. They close their eyes, and I am forced to see them sealing shut. Their noses seem to ripple and refocus, the shape still there but their nostrils are not. The last thing to go are their mouths. They simply close, and their lips fuse and disappear. I can’t see their ears, but I can only imagine they’re similarly blocked. All evidence of facial features begin to fade and flatten out, leaving blank canvases with nothing behind them. My hands fly up to my own face, expecting to meet the same fate, but I remain entirely intact. All I can do is watch them sit perfectly still, silent and upright like mannequins as we drop faster and faster.

There is nothing I can do, we’re going down into the water and I begin to fade out. I feel the impact crack through us, rending the plane apart like it was wet cardboard. I see metal bend and rip itself apart in slow motion, the body rupturing as it is torn into several parts, spiralling down into the dark. The seats holding what used to be the children seem to remain in place, nothing touching them at all. The door to the cockpit opens and I see one of the faceless nod at me before I black out.   

What seems like moments later, I wake up in the midst of the wreckage, except it’s filled with soft sunlight filtering in through broken windows. The water is calm, and I’m bobbing up and down in it along with plane debris, and the occasional flash of a beacon that went off as soon as we hit the water.

It’s warm and reassuring, except I’m the only one there. All the children have gone, and I don’t know where they are. It’s just me floating around the wreckage in the sun.

I wake from the sequence soon after that point, breathless and disorientated. My mind feels murky and heavy, and I’m hopelessly lost.

Text Me When You’re Dead

The first message came through at 00:42. I wasn’t one of those people who put their phone on silent or vibrate only at night. I was so accustomed to the various chimes and notifications that I could sleep through the majority of them. Most of the time folks used stuff like Signal or Telegram to reach me, or that fucking awful Facebook messenger with the annoying games and complete lack of privacy. Nobody really used SMS aside from my mother, and so when the default SMS notification shrieked off around an hour after I fell asleep, it cut straight through and startled me. I’d assumed the worst through bleary eyed panic, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes with one hand whilst unlocking the phone with the other.

 

It wasn’t my mother.

 

There was no number attached to the message, and it simply read “I NEED HELP PLEASE RESPOND.”

 

I was confused, but fired off a “WHO IS THIS?” in return. Before I’d even had chance to blink, another message pinged through. Rather than explain each message, you can see the conversation for yourself:

 

HER: IT’S DARK AND I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM. I NEED HELP PLEASE. I’M PREGNANT.

ME: WHO ARE YOU?

HER: I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM AND YOUR NUMBER IS THE ONLY ONE IN THIS PHONE.

ME: WHO ARE YOU? WHO’S PHONE?

HER: HELP ME!

 

Given the way that people scam and extort people via the internet and smart-phones now, my mind SCREAMED at me to ignore the situation as someone fucking about, turn my phone off and go back to sleep, but I didn’t, because that would make for a shit story, and you’re not here for a shit story.

 

ME: CAN YOU MOVE?

HER: YES I CAN MOVE BUT I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING.

ME: I CAN’T HELP YOU UNLESS I KNOW WHERE YOU ARE. HOW DO I KNOW THIS ISN’T A STUNT BY SOME TWISTED PRICK WITH AN OFFENSIVE WEAPON?

 

No I wasn’t fucking stupid, of course I called the police, for all the good that did. When I mentioned weird text messages asking for help from a hidden number after midnight? Block and ignore was all they gave me. How the fuck do you block a hidden number? They told me if they really needed help they’d have called the cops themselves. Fuck the police. I guess they were having a worse than usual night, but still, fuck the police.

 

It continued.

 

HER:  HELLO ARE YOU STILL THERE?

ME: YES I’M STILL HERE. I CALLED THE POLICE.

HER: IT’S TOO LATE FOR THAT. THEY WON’T HELP YOU.

ME: YOU’RE THE ONE WHO NEEDS HELP HERE NOT ME. FEEL AROUND, FIND A LIGHT SWITCH, ANYTHING?

HER: IT’S SO COLD. I CAN’T FEEL MY FEET.

ME: STICK WITH ME, FIND A WALL AND START FEELING AROUND FOR A LIGHT SOURCE.

 

I stumbled around in the dark to pull clothes on like some madwoman, as if I was actually prepared to go out looking for this person. It wasn’t my finest moment, fuck I wish I hadn’t.

 

HER: I FOUND A SWITCH BUT IT’S ONLY A TINY LIGHT IN THE CORNER OF THE ROOM AND THERE IS A BROKEN WINDOW, AND EVERYTHING IS BRICK WALLS AND COLD CONCRETE.

ME: IS THERE A DOOR?

HER: YES BUT IT’S LOCKED. I TRIED IT.

ME: LOOK OUT THE BROKEN WINDOW AND TELL ME WHAT YOU CAN SEE.

HER: IT’S TOO DARK TO SEE MUCH AND THE LIGHT IN THE ROOM IS MAKING IT HARD TO FOCUS BEYOND THE GLASS. I’M TURNING IT OFF FOR A SECOND. IT’S SO COLD AND EVERYTHING IS DEAD SILENT.

 

Curiosity killed the cat, right?

 

ME: I NEED YOU TO LOOK FOR LIGHTS. CAN YOU CALL ME?

HER: NO

ME: WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER I COULD CALL YOU?

HER: YOU CAN’T CALL ME.

ME: WHY?

HER: HE MIGHT HEAR US.

ME: HE?

HER: YES. HE’S NOT FAR.

ME: HAS HE HURT YOU?

HER: NOT YET.

ME: OKAY. LOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW. TELL ME IF YOU CAN SEE ANY LIGHTS, STREET LIGHTS, ANYTHING. WHAT SHOULD I CALL YOU?

 

She responded all too quickly for someone who should have spent a few minutes looking for any lights that might tell me where she was.

 

HER: I THINK I CAN SEE A CLOCK TOWER LIGHT. TWO STREET LIGHTS NEXT TO IT.

ME: IS THE WINDOW BIG ENOUGH TO CLIMB OUT OF IF YOU BROKE IT SOME MORE?

HER: NO. REMEMBER I’M PREGNANT I DON’T WANT TO RISK MY BABY.

ME: TURN THE LIGHT BACK ON AND TELL ME WHAT’S IN THE ROOM. I WANT TO KNOW IF THERE’S ANY WAY YOU CAN BREAK THE DOOR OPEN. I’M GETTING IN MY CAR NOW.

HER: PLEASE HURRY.

 

I was fairly certain she could see the clock tower light in the town square, surrounded by four shorter lights, seeing only two from her position. I could drive out to the clock tower without any problem, I mean the area was well lit and if I could find out where she was from there, maybe I could get the police to listen to me this time. As it turned out, she WAS local and yeah, I’m the idiot who went out in the small hours of the morning on her own with a half charged phone and a couple of maglites, but that’s because the police weren’t going to do a damned thing, and I wasn’t about to leave someone to freeze to death overnight when they needed help. It took me ten minutes to drive to the town square. I used voice to text to respond to her so she knew I was still there.

 

ME: I’M IN THE CAR. I KNOW YOU CAN SEE THE CLOCK TOWER, SO I’M GOING TO DRIVE THERE AND THEN SEE IF I CAN FIND YOU ON FOOT.

HER: PLEASE HURRY I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS. IT’S SO COLD. THE LIGHT IS DIMMING, AND I’M SO TIRED.

ME: I’M COMING. HOLD ON.

 

You’re not supposed to park in the square, hell you’re not supposed to drive anywhere close to it, but this was a scenario I wasn’t fucking about with. I launched the car onto the cobbles and screeched to a halt by the lamp-posts. Everything was silent save for the occasional screech of an owl from the town’s edge. I stupidly lost my footing on the wet cobbles from the untied laces on my boots, managing to land flat on the palms of my hands saving myself from broken teeth, but felt that horrible jarring sensation ricochet through my body with the impact. The heels of my hands were grazed with tiny pricks of oozing blood, but they weren’t that bad.

 

HER: HURRY. I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS. I’M SO COLD.

ME: I NEED YOU TO LOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW AGAIN.

HER: I’M STRUGGLING

ME: I’M GOING TO PUT MY LOADING LIGHTS ON AND I WANT YOU TO TELL ME IF YOU CAN SEE THEM FLASHING FROM THE WINDOW. I NEED TO KNOW WHICH DIRECTION YOU’RE IN.

 

I knew there were a couple of fields in either direction on the edges of town. If she was in a building in one of those, I could easily find her and get help. Sure my car lights might piss off some of the townsfolk, but if anyone came out to complain it would be extra sets of hands right? If only.

 

No fucker came out.

 

I let my lights flash in pulse, and I texted her again.

 

ME: CAN YOU SEE THE FLASHING?

HER: I THINK SO.

ME: WHICH DIRECTION ARE YOU SEEING THIS FROM?

HER: I’M LOOKING OUT OF MY WINDOW AND THE CLOCK TOWER IS TO MY LEFT. PLEASE HURRY.

 

Her left. My right.

 

ME: I THINK YOU’RE IN ONE OF THE FIELDS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN.

HER: PLEASE GET HERE SOON, I CAN’T STAND UP FOR MUCH LONGER, IT’S SO COLD. I CAN’T FEEL MY FACE NOW. PLEASE..

ME: I’M COMING.

 

I kept some emergency gear in my car, so I yanked open the boot and pulled out my tool box and the axe I kept underneath it. Yes I kept a fucking axe in the boot of my car, sometimes a knife isn’t going to cut it, not that the axe really cut it this time. I didn’t drag the entire toolbox with me, it was heavy as fuck but it had stuff inside it that I could use to get past a locked door if needs be, so I took some of that stuff with me. I might have been an idiot who went out on her own like that, but I was a moderately prepared idiot.

 

ME: TRY TO KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN, I’M CARRYING MAGLITES AND THEY’RE BRIGHT. YOU SHOULD SEE ME COMING THE CLOSER TO YOU I GET OVER THE FIELD.

HER: DON’T HAVE MUCH TIME

 

My ankle screamed at me with every step, pain shooting up my leg to my knee as I limped as fast I could go over the road, and towards the stile at the field gates. As my memory served me correctly, one of the fields had a small brick shed at the far end, and the other had a metal box enclosure. She mentioned seeing bricks earlier on, but I couldn’t recall which building was in which field, I was tired and in pain, and it was COLD, wind biting, hair whipping in your face kind of cold. I stopped for a moment to text her again, expecting to hear her call out or something, but there was nothing.

 

ME: ARE YOU STILL WITH ME

 

Nothing.

 

ME: CAN YOU SHOUT SOMETHING TO ME SO I CAN HEAR YOU.

 

Nothing.

 

My immediate worry was that she’d passed out and that she was in danger of not waking up again, so I crammed the phone in my pocket and moved as fast my burning ankle would let me, the pain ripping further and further up my leg to my hips to make me think I’d done something worse than twist it. I remember my hands being so cold that it made it hard to keep hold of the axe and my other gear, but I had to keep going, and I did until I saw a flash of red brick through the beam of my biggest maglite, and an open metal door.

 

The door was open. She said it was locked, she said she couldn’t open it. Where was she? Other questions flew around in my head, ones she’d never answered even when prompted. That was when a thick rancid stench pricked at my nostrils, making me fall back and retch violently. I grabbed the door-frame to steady myself, clamping my sleeve over my mouth and nose with my other hand, my larger maglite clattering to the floor in the process. The beam shone into the corner, where a maggot riddled decomposing bloated corpse was sprawled on its side. I lost my stomach then, heaving gobs of bile all over my boots until all that came was dry rasping and sobbing. I stooped to grab the maglite, edging closer to look at the corpse’s face, mangled and puffed up beyond recognition. Its head was almost completely severed from the neck, the spine visibly cut in a clean fashion. There were no hands or feet on the corpse, only burned stumps where they used to sit. One of its eyes was missing, the other one puffed up and swollen like the rest of its body. I couldn’t look away, it was putrid and foul, but I couldn’t look away. Getting in closer despite being overwhelmed by the stink, I could see its lips were gone, and its mouth was a mass of toothless rotting pulp.

 

When you’re clawing around for your phone in your pocket and can’t quite grasp it, you start to panic and THEN you start breathing heavily, but that rotting pile in the corner made me feel so physically ill that I couldn’t concentrate. All I could do was retch and claw, needing to breathe but not being able to because of the stench. I changed tack and looked for the light switch but the bulb was long since blown. I was shaking horribly, turning around on myself, pointing with my maglite wildly until something else caught my eye. I’d finally been able to get a hold on my OWN phone, but there was another one right there on the floor.

 

I tried to slide MY phone back in my pocket, but it didn’t connect and it tumbled to the floor, the screen cracking despite the supposedly protective case. Shining the light on the second phone, showed me it was identical to mine down to the same high gloss black case. The screen was cracked in the same way, and I turned it over to find the N7 logo in the centre. God, my head was REELING, everything was swimming with confusion, fear and revulsion. Of course I bloody tried to switch it on, why wouldn’t I? It was dead, OBVIOUSLY it was dead, why would it still work now? I wasn’t thinking straight remember? NOTHING about me was calm OR composed.

 

I groped around for my newly cracked phone, pressing the home button to try and bring it to life, but the screen only lit up and wouldn’t respond. I wished I still had my old fucking Blackberry with an ACTUAL keyboard so I might have stood a chance, but I didn’t because fuck my love of tech and a need for a touch-screen smart-phone. Even after turning back outside into the cold air, the rot still hung around me. I’d dropped all my gear outside the door before going in, which really wasn’t very clever in hindsight. I remember the way the damp ground felt when it seeped through the fabric of my cargo pants as I sank to my knees. I was doubled over, sobbing and not caring about the searing pain in my ankle.

 

It was cold, So fucking COLD.

 

I was so consumed with grief and fear that I didn’t hear him coming. The field was soft and damp you see, even despite the chilled air. He was slow and careful with the way he moved,  and naturally I didn’t hear him over the sound of my own wailing. If you’ve ever wondered what it might take to separate someone’s head from their spine, it would be as simple as a modified bolt cutter to the back of the neck. I think that’s how he did it anyway. He cut the life out of me, and left me to rot in the corner of that building in the field, with the cracked window and the locked metal door.

 

I’ve been watching myself decompose slowly over the last week or so. It’s weird seeing your own body bloat and change over time. Sometimes my touch-screen lights up and even lets me send texts, but only to one person. I’ve been reaching out for help, but all that happens is I watch myself come to find what’s left of me and the baby inside me. I have to watch as he brutalises me all over again. The way he cut my hands and feet from my body and took them away, and seared the stumps. The way he bit the lips from my face and spat them into a bag. The way he used pliers on my teeth to wrench them out one at a time, bagging them along with my lips, and the way he took one of my eyes, and swallowed it whole.  

 

Maybe eventually someone else will find me here, and do something with my bones. I didn’t realise I was pregnant until I died. I wonder if he knew. I wonder how long it took for that life to fade away inside me after I died.

 

It’s so cold. I can’t feel my face. I can’t feel anything, I can only text with my missing fingers and broken phone, and watch.  

v

Remember

What it felt like

When you clawed out my light

And held me under

Until I  d r o w n e d

Over and over

Before you let go and

Fed me to the wolves

Who set fire to my bones

R e m e m b e r.