SUCKFACE

SUCKFACE

 

     It was October 31, 1917.  All Saints’ Eve.  We were the 37th Infantry of the First Division.  We had been ferociously attacked that day near the French town of Citrouille.

     I regained consciousness.  I was lying on the ravaged battlefield in the desecrated farmland.  It had become night.  I smelled the churned soil and then the stench of the dead.

     Now permeating the darkness was a fog from the damp field plowed by artillery shells and from the smoke of fires across the battlefield.  The fires shivered a ghastly illumination.

     I hesitated to cry for help.  I did not know who now controlled this farmland or the nearby town of Citrouille.  For three years Citrouille had been the center of a no-man’s-land washed over back and forth with blood.

     I rose on my elbow slowly and peered around.  I tried to sit up but I could not feel my legs.  I stared into the night of fog and smoke and watched nervously the shifting shapes, trying to discern a person.

     Then I descried a figure meandering slowly over the mounds of carnage, coming towards me.

     I lowered myself.  The figure carried a pail.  And a long knife!  It was just a boy!

     He stopped and knelt.  I saw him set the pail down and he began to cut something with his knife.

     A fire flared nearby and for a minute I clearly saw the boy cutting flesh from the face of a dead soldier!

     He nibbled it and then dropped the grisly repast into his pail.  The boy repeated this horrifying action again and again.

     I thought that I would faint.  Then terror gave me a jolt of adrenaline.  I felt for my pistol.  It was gone.

     I looked down at my legs.  They were splayed at an unnatural angle.

     I whimpered.  The boy turned and looked in my direction.  He stood up and began to walk toward me holding his knife out in front of himself.

     When the boy was a few feet away I could discern his dark face.  It looked like the middle of his face was sucked into his skull!  Monstrous! Where a mouth should have been there were teeth exposed up to what would have been his nose.

     Was I delirious?!

     No!  This was real!

     The Suckface Boy stood facing me.  Where his eyes would have been there was an overhanging brow of what I could only think was scar tissue.

     The Suckface Boy pointed his knife at me and he nodded.  I yelled, “Stay away from me!”, and I shook my fist at him.

     I saw that the Suckface Boy was wearing a tattered American uniform, cut to roughly hang on his body.

     I yelled, “Go away!”, and I threw a clod of dirt at him, ineffectively.

     Suckface waved his knife at me and then turned and hopped away on the mounds of debris.  He picked up his gory pail and continued on away from me.

     Beyond the receding monster boy I saw the silhouette of a distant farm house.  Beyond that structure I could see the jagged horizon of the ruins of Citrouille.

     Suckface approached the farm house and he seemed to vanish into the silhouette.

     I then didn’t care if I became a prisoner of war.  I was yelling for help.  From anyone!  I quickly became exhausted.  I laid my head back on the dirt.  I became very cold.

     I must have passed out because I remember my mother tucking me snuggly into my childhood bed.  I said, “Mommy, my legs hurt”, and she began to rub my legs.  My bed began to move up and down and my mother drew away from me and I couldn’t see her face anymore.  I began to cry.

     I awoke suddenly.  I was wrapped in coarse cloth and I was being carried!  I was tied tightly onto a stretcher borne by a group of ragged children.  I cried out.

     I turned my head side to side.  They were all disfigured and monstrous, with missing flesh and distorted features.  They each wore a tattered uniform, from French, German, British, or American soldiers.

     They were taking me to the farm house.  I was yelling for help until one boy pushed a foul rag into my mouth.  I gagged.  I started to shiver.

     The farm house was a house-barn.  There were two large spaces, one for people and one for animals.  There was a small fire in a great stone fireplace, weakly illuminating the house.  They set me on a bench in the barn area, still bound on the stretcher.  One of the children yanked the rag out of my mouth.

     I saw another soldier unbound upon another bench.  He looked dead.  I realized he had no arms or legs.  Then I saw his profile.  The flesh had been cut from his skull.

     Suddenly, the dismembered soldier turned his head toward me!

     I yelled in terror.

     His unlidded eyes stared at me.  They quivered and glistened but I could not imagine him being conscious, that it must be reflexes.  It was ghastly.

     A young woman in a soiled white dress appeared next to the mutilated soldier.  Her long unkempt hair hid her face in shadow.  She had red crosses smeared by blood on her sleeves and back.  She adjusted a bloody tube that coiled from the soldiers chest to a pail on the floor beneath that bench.

     The young woman then turned toward me.  Her face was ravaged and raw below her nose but her smooth upper face peered over the carnage of her lower face.  She came and stood over me.  I was terrified.

     Then she spoke something in French to me.  She had an incongruous voice that was soothing like honey but I couldn’t understand her.  She must have realized that I didn’t speak French.  She made what would have been a smile.  I stared into her eggshell blue eyes.  She stroked my hair.

     Suckface came and stood beside her.  He asked her a question in French.  She answered no.  Suckface stared at me.  He asked another question.  She nodded ok.  Suckface held out something in his hand and made an “eat, eat” gesture.  I almost vomited.

     Then Suckface laid what proved to be a slice of vegetable on my lips.  It was a piece of pumpkin.  I bit it and chewed.  I hadn’t realized how hungry I was.

     I stared at him as I chewed.  For a moment he didn’t seem threatening.  Then I remembered the soldier on the other bench.  I stared at the other soldier and I was disheartened again.  His eyes no longer glistened.  Yet I felt a terrible relief.

     The young woman turned and looked at the dismembered soldier and said something to Suckface.  They both went beside the soldier and the young woman extracted the tubing from his chest.  Suckface took away the pail of blood.  The young woman covered the soldier with a shroud of burlap.

     I yelled anxiously, “Who are you?!”

     The young woman looked at me over her shoulder and she calmly said, “Eloise.”

     She then spoke and gestured over to a group of children .  They brought another stretcher and then they slid the shrouded remains of the mutilated soldier onto the stretcher.

     As the children took away his corpse I became aware of a great pile of uniforms in the corner of the barn.

     I lifted my head and saw Suckface now piercing strips of flesh onto sharpened sticks and handing them to the other children.  The children took their portions and went over to the small fire in the great stone fireplace.  They held the skewered meats near the flames.

     The room filled with greasy smoke and the charring human flesh emanated a nauseating, sweet odor so thick it became a taste in my mouth.

     The children then took turns drinking from the pail of blood.  I was physically revolted.

     I laid my head back in despair and I realized that the young woman Eloise was standing over me.

     She touched her breast and said sweetly again, “Eloise”, then she touched my chest and shrugged her shoulders.

     I answered her gesture, saying, “Jack.  Jack Lanthorn.”

     She repeated, “Jacques, Jacques.”  She nodded and her cheeks stretched in a remnant of a smile.  Her exposed teeth and gums were a hideous contrast.   Her clear blue eyes trembled on the precipice of a bleak countenance.

     My feelings of an empathy and a horror together were unbearable.  I was thinking, “We die alone in the dark”.  I said, “Well, Eloise, at least I am not alone,” and I started to laugh nervously, uncontrollably, and then maniacally.  I was losing my sanity.  If I had my pistol I would have shot myself in the head.

     I laughed, “I will taste very bitter to you.”

     Eloise put her hand on my head.

     The children started to gather around me.

     I thought, “This is it.”

     Eloise began to rub my chest as if I were a child.  She began to sing softly the French nursery song “Alouette”.

Alouette, gentille Alouette

Alouette je te plumerai

Je te plumerai la tete

Je te plumerai la tete

Allouete,Allouette

O-o-o-o-oh

Alouette, gentille Alouette

Alouette je te plumerai

     It was sweet and soothing but then I remembered what the song was about.  The song was about plucking a bird!

     …I shall pluck your head…your beak…and your neck…and your eyes…and your back…and your wings…and your feet…and your tail…I shall pluck you.

     The children joined the song softly.  They sang as well as they could with their deformed mouths.  It sounded so innocent but they were so monstrous.

     A boy at the door suddenly whispered harshly, “Pierrot!”

     Everyone turned toward the door.

     An old, short, stocky man entered carrying a rifle.  He was not deformed even though his weathered face resembled a potato.  He wore suspenders over the ill-fitting remains of a French soldier’s uniform.  I thought he must be a farmer and maybe this place was his home.  I instinctively cried to him, “Help!”

     The man glanced at me and then he addressed Eloise.  Eloise spoke at length and the man glanced at me repeatedly.  I lost heart by the minute.  The old man seemed to be part of this nightmare.

     Eloise gestured toward me.  The old man nodded and came toward me.  Eloise said behind him, “Jacques.”

     The old man looked me over and then addressed me in rough-hewn English but I could understand him!

     He said, “I am Pierrot.  You are Jacques, yes?”

     I said, “Help me.”

     Pierrot continued, “Americans come.  You be Okee Dokee,” he said as he looked at my legs.

     I beseeched him fearfully, “What is this place?  Who are these people?”

     Pierrot said contemptuously, “You safe.  They save you.  Hide you.  You afraid of them?”

     I cried defensively, “Who are they?  Why are they here?  I saw terrible things!  They are cannibals!”

     Pierrot spit on the dirt floor.  He said, “You same everybody.  They…,” and he gestured expansively toward the children, “They born syphilis.  Babies!  Born syphilis.  They mothers syphilis.  They mothers fucking dead.  They have nobody.  Maybe die soon.  They have no place.  Live here my farm.  Nobody like!  Nobody help!  Soldiers afraid.  Two years no food.  No water.  You ‘cannibal’ like them two years no food no water!  Fucking war!  Fucking syphilis!  You see?  They help you.  You see?”  He spat again, “You see nothing!”

     I was stupefied.  I looked at the boy that I had called Suckface.  I said, “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.”

     I looked at Eloise, “Forgive me.  I couldn’t know.”

     Neither the boy nor Eloise understood me.  I think they must have felt that I was only showing gratitude to them for helping me.

     Pierrot said curtly, “I bring Americans now,” and he turned and went outside.

     I was the real monster.

     It was not long before several astonished and horrified comrades of mine carried me away from that place.

     It was over for me, yet the Great War was never done with me.  From then on I walked with braces on both legs and a cane in each fist.

     My mind never left that farmhouse.

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THE FOGDOGS

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THE FOGDOGS

        Emileeannalee was an impish muundog. She flitted in the forest freely at night.

        This Halloween night brought ground fog and with it fear, for the fogdogs may follow. Fogdogs hunted the muundogs mercilessly. Fogdogs appeared in the fog as an enticing glow drawing muundogs, like a flame draws a moth, away from Truuluuv the moon.

        What fogdogs did with captured muundogs, no muundog had returned to tell.

        Halloween night in the forest was a festival of many colored lights as fairies, imps, gnomes, pixies, muundogs, and even trolls sparkled.

        Emileeannalee sat upon a branch doing her best to enjoy the festival. Emileeannalee would glance apprehensively at the ground fog below. Truuluuv the moon caressed her and seduced her to remain.

        Then Emileeannalee saw below in the slowly dancing ground fog the glow of her two dear muundog friends Bethesaadzsaad and Dilaanaad.

        Bethesaadzsaad said, “Hello, Emileeannalee. Can you help us to carry all this candeedeew up to you?”

        Emileeannalee and all muundogs loved candeedeew. She broke from the embrace of Truuluuv the moon and descended to the side of her two dear friends.

        Emileeannalee said, “I cannot see the candeedeew beside you because of the ground fog. Where exactly did you set it?”

        Bethesaadzsaad and Dilaanaad vanished and there stood two fogdogs.

        Before Emileeannalee could flit away the two fogdogs lunged and each took hold of an arm of hers. The teeth of the fogdogs felt like moss but still Emileeannalee could not free herself.

        Emileeannalee cried out as she was dragged away into the fog but there was nothing her friends of light could do.

        They never saw her again.

        A baby girl named Emily is born to Beth and Dilan Caleb this Halloween night.

        Emily shrieks and cries in horror.

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FALL OF THE SPARROW

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FALL OF THE SPARROW

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        I had a great idea for Halloween night.

        It was going to be a beautiful clear night, not really spooky, but there was going to be a total eclipse of the full moon to set the festive Halloween mood. The “blue moon” this October would turn into a “blood moon”.

        I was going to fly my new Carlson Aircraft Sparrow Ultra-LTA around all night, cloaking the Sparrow with gossamer fabric to make it look like a bat.

        The new Sparrow Ultra- LTA was designed as a low-altitude personal conveyance. You could fly it to work but you couldn’t shop with it, not yet anyway (because of the added weight and all). It was more like… sky surfing.

        The Sparrow resembled a hang-glider. The big wing and the suspended mini-fuselage below were made of ultra-thin neoplastic containing the Helium-Honeycomb technology. The suspended mini-fuselage was mainly a place for me to stand and guide the Sparrow. The Sparrow basically worked like any lighter-than-air (LTA) craft. “Heavy” atmospheric air was taken into special cells and so the weight of the craft was increased for descent and landing; expelling the “heavy” atmospheric air allowed the pure helium in their special cells to lift the craft. The Sparrow was propelled forward by Push Technology ultra-light ultra-fast thruster compression cells along the big wing. Of course it was solar powered but you could charge the compression cells for night flying.

        When the full moon came up so did I. I was thinking that it was too bad I couldn’t carry candy to drop from the sky but then I thought I’d probably knock out some little kid. Puncture his little pumpkin. Jack his lantern.

        Of course, some drone hobbyist kid was probably going to send up a drone to demand a treat from me.

        The Sparrow rose slowly and silently up to 100 feet. I leveled off there and proceeded to “surf” the evening atmosphere. I was once again “Luke Skylicker”. Except that tonight I was disguised as a giant bat for the people below. “Bat Mensch”, maybe?

        Actually, my fellow engineers called me “Mary Poppins”.

        The evening below me was beautiful with the constellations of streetlights and houselights. The full moon continued her regal promenade above the eastern horizon.

        As I surfed high over the local neighborhoods I started to notice faint squeals from the trick-or-treaters below.

        The eclipse of the moon began. The bright moon began to molder in the corner as the earth’s shadow crept upon her.

        I began to notice patches of mist passing me but there was no breeze to speak of.

        I continued to surf airspace. I had enough “wing” stored to stay up three hours and witness the entire progression of the moon’s eclipse.

        So far no drones had harassed me.

        Hmmm, I wondered if I could order a pizza to be delivered by a drone to me up here.

        The earth’s devouring shadow upon the moon turned to a russet color like dried blood.

        I noticed the moving patches of mist with increasing frequency. I figured it must be some mild condensation phenomenon at this height. But I tried to hypothesize what could be moving them. Differences in density?

        The patches of mist appeared to be in a vortex around me. What the hell? Suddenly I was engulfed in mist, in a fog. I got nervous. I couldn’t see any lights besides the orb of the moon that was being bitten by the shadow of the earth. It was time to descend slowly and safely below this weird fog. Talk about trick-or-treat!

        As I slowly descended the fog appeared to stay around me. Was this fog all the way to the ground? Where the hell had it come from? Was it a toxic cloud?

        I could not see so I had to descend hoping that I would finally touch earth and not some tree or chimney or power line… I was truly frightened.

        I touched grass, thank God.

        Just as I was about to disembark my little fuselage I heard a squeal, then a growl, then a roar! There were shadows racing around me in the fog. Did I land in a zoo? There was no zoo near where I lived!

        I shouted out, “Hey! Where am I?!”

        Something was running towards me!

        Suddenly a pig fled past me, squealing and grunting.

        My mouth fell open.

        I thought I saw a dog approaching but as it passed me chasing the pig I saw that it was a black jaguar!! I fell back against the fuselage in shock.

        Then I heard the rumbling and the ground shuddered and there came a horrifying scream.

        I was the scream!

        I swear a huge hideous dragon undulated past me. A monstrous scaly scraggly dragon like dragons you have seen a hundred times in fantasy pictures.

        I had collapsed in the narrow fuselage. I had soiled myself.

        I looked up. The moon was in total eclipse and entirely the color of dried blood.

        I came to what was left of my senses and I initiated lift-off of the Sparrow to slowly rise straight upwards. I just wanted to be away from that nightmare. I thought that perhaps the fog was a toxic expulsion after all and that it must have affected my brain chemistry. I had to have been hallucinating! Yes, my mind must have tricked me!

        I thought with sobriety, “So now I’m going to be a hundred feet in the air and hallucinating…”

        What had I done? What could I do?

        And then within that fog still somehow swirling around me I began to see figures…and… oh, God, faces! Men and women and children with mournful faces and open mouths. They were trying to tell me something but I couldn’t hear them or understand them.

        And who tries to understand a hallucination?!

        I heard myself screaming again.

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        They find my body roasted hanging in the power lines above the fallen charred Sparrow. There is a gathering of appalled men and women and children dressed in their festive costumes, looking and pointing up at me. The power company engineers and the firemen and the police are trying to retrieve my smoldering corpse.

        I am up here, above my death, a patch of swirling mist, a miasma, sucking upward into the blood moon.

        I see that I am not drawn alone.

        So how was your death?

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TEMPEST

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TEMPEST

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        Patricia was such a cute little girl.

        Patricia’s father had killed her mother and then he had killed himself. A neighbor rescued her.

        Patricia had no family remaining who would or could take her in. She became a ward of the state.

        My wife Domenica and I took Patricia in as a foster child. We needed the money.

        I felt so sorry for Patricia. She was so sweet after all she had been through. I could only imagine the therapy she would need in later life.

        My little half-breed Pitt Bull named Napoleon seemed charmed by Patricia but when Patricia played with her imaginary friend, Napoleon would bark. And whenever Napoleon barked, Domenica would say, “Get rid of that dog!”

        I asked Patricia, “What is your friend’s name?” And she answered so sweetly and matter-of-factly, “Tempest.”

        I said, “What a nice name. Where did you learn that name?”

        Patricia replied, “From my mommy and my daddy.”

        I asked, “Did they have a friend named Tempest?”

        Patricia answered, “Tempest is my sister.”

        I asked, “Sister? I didn’t know you had a sister. What happened to her?”

        Patricia replied, “She’s here.”

        I said, “I mean: where is she really?”

        Patricia answered, “She is dead.”

        I asked, “Dead? Oh, Patty. What happened?”

        Patricia recited, “She was sick. My mommy and daddy said we were twins. Patricia and Tempest. My mommy and my daddy knew Tempest had to die. She died when mommy borned us.”

        I said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, Patty. Tempest would have been nice, right? A good sister. You would have been a good sister to her, too.”

        Patricia said, “Tempest knew she was sick. She knew they were not going to let her be alive. She told me to help her. She said she would make me sick if I didn’t help her. She hurt me.”

        I didn’t know what to say, except, “That wasn’t nice. Sometimes a sister can be mean,” thinking of my own sister.

        When I told all this to Domenica she said, “Great. Now we have the plot for a horror movie.”

        I said, “Oh, come on. It’s a miracle she isn’t more traumatized after all she has been through.”

        We soon found out that Patricia walked in her sleep.

        One night little Napoleon woke us up with frantic barking. We stumbled downstairs to find Patricia in the kitchen in front of the stove. The oven was turned on!

        Napoleon was hopping excitedly. Domenica turned off the oven and then she opened the oven door. She looked inside.

        Domenica sighed with relief.

        Then Domenica turned her head and looked at me as if daring me to dismiss her worry. I just pursed my lips in concurrence.

        As we gently guided Patricia back upstairs she suddenly turned toward little Napoleon and she called down, “Hot dog!” and Napoleon yelped and whined and ran.

        Napoleon would not come into the kitchen after that. And after that I could see that Domenica had distanced herself from little Patricia.

        Domenica was conflicted and she felt so guilty but she asked me at the breakfast table, “What have we gotten ourselves into? I’m sorry for Patty but we don’t need the money that badly.”

        Then Patricia came into the kitchen for breakfast and she said, “I washed my hands. Did you, mommy?”“

        I whispered aside to Domenica, “See? She called you mommy.”

        Domenica answered Patricia, saying, “I was trying to wash my hands,” and then she hissed to me, “I’m taking a shower,” and she left the kitchen.

        I smiled at Patricia.

        Patricia said, “Mommy doesn’t like Tempest.”

        I said quickly, “But we both love you, sweetie.”

        I returned to my coffee with renewed interest. Patricia stared at me for several minutes. I made a silly nervous face at her. Then I remembered, “Hey! Tomorrow is your birthday and its Halloween, too! What do you want? What are you going to be?”

        Patricia said, “Tempest.”

        Domenica screamed from upstairs. I heard a loud thud.

        I dashed up the stairs and into the bathroom. Domenica was writhing on the floor outside of the shower doors, naked, wet, and crying in pain.

        Domenica had been scalded. She cried, “The water turned boiling!”

        I told little Patricia to be good and to remain at the house while I drove Domenica to the emergency room.

        As doctors salved and bandaged Domenica’s blisters I mumbled in a daze “Something went wrong with the water heater…”

        One doctor asked, “What kind of water heater do you have? These are like burns from a boiler!”

        On the way back home Domenica wept even though she was sedated, “If you love me you’ll take Patty back to Social Services…!”

        I pleaded, “Are you listening to yourself? Why are you blaming that poor little girl? Please don’t be hysterical. I’ll find out what happened with the damn water heater. OK? Domenica? OK?”

        Domenica became coldly silent and she said softly, “OK. Dear.”

        I sighed because I knew I was in for “the treatment” as only a Latina can give it.

        And of course I couldn’t find anything wrong with the water heater.

        I couldn’t sleep that night. I was crap at work the next day and my co-workers were especially steeped in assholery. I was almost glad to go home to face Domenica’s retribution.

        But when I got home I smelled carne asada grilling. To my surprise, Patricia was helping Domenica in the kitchen. They were both smiling. There was a birthday cake on the counter with orange frosting. I said thankfully, “There are my girls.”

        We ate dinner together pleasantly. I complimented Domenica, “This is great carne asada. Different. What did you use for marinade?”

        Domenica held up a dog-food can. Patricia giggled.

        I suddenly realized that Napoleon hadn’t greeted me when I got home.

        I looked around and asked, “Where is Napoleon, anyway?”

        Domenica smiled with her teeth. She frightened me. Patricia giggled.

        I yelled, “Where is my dog?!”

        Domenica replied coldly, “Near to your heart.”

        I stood up in loathing and fury. I had a sickening premonition of horror that this was no practical joke!

        I screamed, “What have you done with my dog?!”

        I was holding the big steak knife. I was shaking. I felt dizzy, nauseas. I was in a nightmare. I couldn’t wake up.

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        When I woke up, Domenica was lying twisted on the floor, dead. She had been stabbed repeatedly. I was sitting beside her.

        I was crying over Domenica’s slashed body.

        I was sawing at my wrists with the bloody steak knife.

        I heard Patricia singing softly behind me.

“See-saw,

Teeter-totter,

Baby’s Breath

For daughter Patty

Teeter-totter,

See-saw,

Tempest holds

The Devil’s Claw.”

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PATRICK BUTCHER’S HAUNTED THEATER

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PATRICK BUTCHER’S HAUNTED THEATER

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        Patrick Butcher had been a child star on “an American television sitcom depicting the home life of a family of benign monsters”. He had played the precocious kid vampire named Ruddy.

        He was now physically a middle-aged adult sitting on a couch, leaning over the coffee table, and talking with his new agent, Konrad Phillips of Rad Productions.

        Patrick exclaimed, “We tied Bowling For Soup in the television ratings!”

        Konrad Phillips nodded sympathetically to Patrick, saying, “Yes, yes, that was an amazing decade. But now you are making some decent money again with the ‘nostalgia’ appearances that I am arranging. And our CD (What Ever Happened To Ruddy?) gets decent airplay during Halloween. But, Patrick, you need to diversify so that you can hold-on to the money this time.”

        Patrick removed the rolled-up hundred-dollar bill from his nose and he asked hesitantly, “What did you have in mind, Konrad?”

        Konrad raised both of his hands to Patrick, saying, “Just hear me out, OK? Anybody knows: you can’t go wrong with real estate. And I’ve been looking into a property that is right up your alley.”

        Patrick snorted, “Too many shysters have gone up my alley already.”

        Konrad countered, “And Moby Dick still blows in your nose. But just hear me out.”

        Patrick asked, “Ahab was a Jew wasn’t he, Konrad?”

        Konrad replied, “Captain Ahab, no, Patty-Boy, but King Ahab, yes, and yes, dogs licked his blood for worshipping Baal.”

        Patrick smiled, “You like it when bitches lick your ball, don’t you?”

        Konrad said, “Will you listen to me? I’m serious. Otherwise you can just chase Moby Dick until you’re sunk again.”

        Patrick laid back and beckoned Konrad, “Fine. Come on, come on. So tell me already.”

        Konrad explained, “I found you a theater for sale…”

        Patrick sat up, interrupting, “A fucking theater? Are you out of your belfry? Theaters don’t make any money!”

        Konrad continued, “Listen: it’s a bargain. And theaters make their money at the concession stands. Besides, this one is perfect for you and your career!”

        Patrick asked, “How the hell…”

        Konrad said, “It’s haunted.”

        Patrick asked, “Who the hell…”

        Konrad said, “Imagine: Patrick Butcher’s Haunted Theater.”

        Patrick asked, “Why the hell…”

        Konrad said, “We own the rights to your character Ruddy, remember. You can play Ruddy as an adult now, the host, the mascot of the Patrick Butcher’s Haunted Theater.”

        Patrick asked, “What the hell…”

        Konrad said, “We…You’ll feature classic horror films.”

        Patrick asked, “Where the hell…”

        Konrad said, “It’s a bargain! The costs will be minimal. The concession stand will be a gold-mine! Paranormal paraphernalia: the merchandising will be a gold-mine!”

        Patrick asked, “When the hell do we start?” but then he suddenly soberly remembered and asked, “What makes it ‘haunted’?”

        Konrad sat back and cleared his throat. Then he shrugged and smiled and leaned forward, saying, “In 1903 six-hundred men, women, and children died there trapped in a fire.”

        Patrick, wide-eyed, asked, “How the hell…”

        Konrad answered, “Design fuck-up: all the doors opened inward. The place was packed with families there for an afternoon variety show. When the fire broke-out the fleeing people inside were pressed against the closed doors by all the others in a panic behind them.”

        Patrick moaned.

        Konrad, now in a reverie, continued, “Not even the smoke could get out of the theater. Finally, someone saw smoke in the alley-way and called the Firemen. But Firemen couldn’t get the doors open by then because of the piles of bodies. When they finally opened the doors a little they had to hook the charred corpses out the doors before they could push the doors open all the way.”

        Patrick said, “Oh, gawd…”

        Konrad continued, “It was too late for everyone. Afterward, the burned bodies of men, women, and children had to be stacked like lumber in the alley-way.”

        Patrick sarcastically asked, “And you think I should own that?”

        Konrad snapped out of his nightmare reverie and shook his head, saying, “They rebuilt it after that. With all the safety features that were missing. Missing because the former owners had been in such a hurry to open the theater.”

        Patrick made a sour face, “I’m so glad.”

        Konrad said, “People have said that they can still hear cries for help in the alley-way and sometimes they smell smoke and sometimes they see ghosts circulating lost in the theater.”

        Konrad concluded, “It’s perfect!”

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        Konrad Phillips of Rad Productions really knew how to do his job. The Halloween opening of Patrick Butcher’s Haunted Theater was sold-out online in a matter of hours. The (almost incidental) feature was “Night of the Living Chainsaw Massacre”. Patrick Butcher was there on the blood-red carpet in his Ruddy the Vampire attire. The Channel 66 “News at Six” camera crew was set-up.

        The Channel 66 “News at Six” news babe, dressed like a slutty witch, asked in exasperation, “So where is the ‘sold-out’ crowd of movie-goers? Looks like you sold us out, Ruddy. Trick or fuckin’ Trick, asshole?”

        Patrick stuttered, “I don’t… I don’t get it!” and he turned to Konrad who now was covering his face from the cameras, “What the fuck, Konrad?”

        Konrad ran into the theater.

        The Channel 66 “News at Six” news babe ordered her camera crew, “Let’s fly. This is crap. I’ll get you for this, Cruddy. You really do suck… vampire ass,” and the Channel 66 “News at Six” team drove away with a squeal.

        Patrick covered his face with both hands and screamed, “I’m finished! Konrad, you have fucked me for the last time!”

        Suddenly, Konrad was back beside Patrick and he hissed to Patrick’s face, “Get a grip, you loser! I know how we can turn this around.”

        Patrick was suddenly aware of the smell of smoke. He turned toward the theater. Smoke was indeed beginning to billow from the lobby doors.

        Patrick screamed at Konrad, “What have you done? Are you insane? You think we’re going to collect any insurance money?! I’m not going to jail!” and Patrick ran into the theater followed by Konrad who was yelling, “Wait! Wait! Wait!”

        Patrick ran down the darkened aisle toward the movie-screen stage from which the smoke appeared to be emerging. The smoke suddenly ceased. Patrick yelled, “What the hell…”

        Konrad arrived next to Patrick, gasping, “You idiot! I didn’t do this! I didn’t do anything!”

        Suddenly the theater doors slammed shut one by one in rapid succession. Patrick and Konrad followed the sound of each slamming door with a jerk of their head.

        Konrad then turned around toward the towering movie-screen and blanched. He cried to Patrick, “Look! Oh, Jesus, Jesus…”

        Patrick screamed.

        On the silver screen was a scene as if it were a mirror image of the theater but the scene was crowded with translucent apparitions of men, women, and children.

        Patrick and Konrad whirled around and gazed wide-eyed at the empty theater seats. Then they turned back around and the apparitions in the scene on the screen applauded, and they could hear the applause!

        Suddenly a flickering blood-red light immersed the theater. Shadows raced along the walls. A great concert of wailing and crying arose all around. Acrid vapor filled the theater.

        Patrick thought he was going to faint.

        Konrad thought he was going to vomit.

        Patrick and Konrad grabbed each other in a desperate hug of terror.

        They closed their eyes forever.

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        On television What Ever Happened To Ruddy was playing behind the Channel 66 “News at Six” news babe as she recounted, “It was a pathetic Halloween hoax by a washed-up former child star and his shameless agent. We’ve seen it so many times. Now Patrick Butcher and his agent, Konrad Phillips, have been unavailable for comment, apparently vanishing after being exposed as media ghouls.”

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THE DEVOURED HEART

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THE DEVOURED HEART

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        It was nearly midnight as I hiked up the trail into Coyote Hills.

        It was going to be October 16th, my mother’s birthday had she still been alive.

        During my climb I stepped aside for only one traveler, a whirring night-bicyclist, her bright light beaming as if she were a falling star descending past me.

        A fog had begun to engulf the lower Coyote Hills.

        The fog luminescent in the moonlight, the peaks of the higher hills still visible darkly, the stars sparking above, I arrived at the crest of the trail where the great Weeping Willow tree spread.

        The great Weeping Willow was often a campsite for homeless people but I never saw the same person there twice. Or ever again. This night there was no one; only the debris of previous habitation.

        I stood beneath the great Weeping Willow and sighed at the unbroken view. I inhaled deeply the perfume of sage brush.

        Then I caught the scent of wild onion. I thought, “This is odd. Wild onion grows near streams.”

        I turned and I chilled with a shock.

        There stood a young woman, her long pale hair like fog cascading over her shoulders, her pale skin pearlescent in the moonlight, her eyes eclipsed beneath long dark lashes, and just as dark were her lips. She wore a short pale dress that might have been satin.

        I said, shaken, with a nervous laugh, “You startled me.”

        The young woman’s expression was of indifference.

        I offered, “It is beautiful up here, isn’t it?”

        The young woman did not reply. I felt that she was studying me. She raised her slender arm and with her fingertips she delicately wiped her dark lips.

        I offered, “My name is Adam.”

        The young woman then softly said, “I am Jannah.”

        I asked, “You aren’t really dressed for hiking, are you? I mean, it’s a great dress… You know… Just, uh… Not typical.”

        Jannah said, “I am not hiking.”

        I asked, “I’m not ruining your night here, am I? I won’t be long. I just came up here to say a prayer for my mom.”

        Jannah seemed to shudder imperceptibly. Then she said softly, “Then don’t leave because of me. I don’t mind.”

        Jannah stepped lightly toward me. I was mesmerized by her manner, her voice, her truly haunting presence.

        I thought to my imagination, “Down, hound.”

        Jannah stood now not far from me, looking out at the moon. I still could not discern her eyes under her long lashes and averted gaze. I thought her dark lips looked more… more wine-stained than made-up. She was an unnatural beauty. I smelled wild onions again and I liked it. I felt myself flush.

        Jannah smiled and she asked, “Should we talk the moon down?”

        I laughed, “I’d like that.” I suddenly wanted to howl at the moon like a coyote.

        I said, “So what brings you up here tonight, Jannah? You could be dressed for dinner.”

        Jannah answered after a moment, “I did dress for a late dinner. And I often appear here on nights like this.”

        I said, “Yeah. It is a unique place. That is so cool that you think so too.”

        We both watched the creeping fog below.

        I finally asked, “Are you up here alone, really? Are you meeting your boyfriend?”

        Jannah whispered, “Yes. And no.”

        I joked with intent, “You do have a boyfriend, right?”

        Jannah delicately wiped her lips as she answered, “I have had many men. And women.”

        I laughed in astonishment.

        I said, “Jannah, you are totally something else.”

        Jannah suddenly seemed sad.

        I quickly added, “But in a good way. I’ve just never met anyone like you.”

        Jannah smiled again, “Obviously, you would only meet such a person as I once in a lifetime. Ordinarily.”

        Once in a lifetime. She was right, I thought: Love at first sight. I felt giddy.

        I ventured, “Would you like to go out together some time?”

        The scent of wild onions became overwhelming. Jannah answered, “We are out together now.”

        I took that with perplexed encouragement and I asked, “Well then… Again, some time… Again?”

        Jannah tilted her head as if pondering a great conundrum.

        Had I been presumptuous? Had I misinterpreted her friendliness? I suddenly felt foolish.

        Jannah then said softly, “No.”

        I fell inside myself and I blurted, “But why?”

        Jannah replied, “Because… I have a… feeling for you…”

        My heart leapt. I quickly affirmed, “And I have feelings for you.”

        Jannah turned and took a step toward me and she raised her face.

        I gasped.

        Jannah’s eyes were sewn shut.

        I glimpsed moonlight sparking off of tears.

        I gasped again and again in anguish as Jannah turned slowly and left me alone on that peak.

        She had devoured my heart.

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A TASTE FOR LIFE

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A TASTE FOR LIFE

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        Trotty Wilde rides her bicycle (named) Kardashian up and down the slopes of the Coyote Hills trails at night. In these wee hours, Trotty enjoys being the only bicyclist, illuminating her own path with that 400-lumen LED headlight.

        Trotty swoops out of the trail head and onto the public street that circumvents Coyote Hills. She pedals furiously up the incline in a triumphant finale to her workout, focusing only ahead, savoring the deep muscle burn, the rapidly chilling sweat, and the bicyclist’s endorphin high.

        Suddenly a large dark automobile, without headlights, comes up from behind Trotty and side-swipes her. Trotty is flung away sideways onto the sidewalk, bouncing off of her helmeted head and rolling like a rag doll.

        Trotty can feel as she impacts and tumbles but the sensation is not yet pain, only knowledge of what pain must come.

        She faints as the deluge of pain now quickly engulfs her.

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        Trotty awakens. The pain closes upon her consciousness like water upon a hole in water. She sees a blurry figure above herself.

        Trotty hears a man saying down to her, “I have called for an ambulance. Can you hear me? You’re going to be fine.”

        Trotty faints again.

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        When she again awakens, her first conscious thoughts are of dread at being conscious. Her jagged world is pulsing with a red light. She realizes there are now other figures above her.

        Another voice is saying, close to her face, “We’re going to lift you into the ambulance. We’ll give you something for the pain when we stabilize you.”

        Trotty faints as she is lifted onto a gurney.

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        She awakens laying inside an ambulance with two medical technicians moving around her, touching her, prodding her, pulling her, saying, “We’re leaving your helmet on for a little while longer, just in case….”

        Trotty cries out from the pain. One technician says, “OK, here you go. You’re going to feel something in one second…”

        The pain now falls away like a robe. Trotty exhales. Her vision is still blurry as if under water. She watches the two pale young technicians.

        One of the technicians says to her, soothingly, “Welcome back. You were a hit.”

        Trotty giggles at the bad joke.

        The other technician says, “She’ll be marinating in happy juice now.”

        Trotty is sentient enough to realize that she is now strapped naked under a blanket. She drawls with effort, “Where are my clothes?”

        One technician says, “He knocked the shit out of you. Understand?”

        Trotty mumbles, “Yessir.”

        The technician continues, “We’re leaving your helmet on until we are sure.”

        His partner mutters, “These bicyclists. How stupid are they to insist on sharing the road with automobiles? That’s like swimming with sharks.”

        Trotty begins to mouth the movie JAWS’ ominous theme music, “Dun-dun-Dun-dun-Dun-dun…” and she splutters, giggling.

        One of the technicians says, “Don’t marinate her too much. She’ll be bitter.”

        The ambulance stops. The technicians throw the back doors open.

        They are not at a hospital.

        As they lift Trotty out of the ambulance she has a disconnected observation that they are in a dark park. Her gurney is bumping over uneven grass.

        Trotty becomes aware of a small crowd around her. She tries to focus on them. They seem to be a mix of young and old.

        One of the ambulance technicians lifts her head tenderly and removes her helmet. At that moment she realizes that all of the different people seem to have the same pale face with sunken eyes.

        The ambulance technician snatches Trotty’s blanket away. The cold night air is sobering upon her nakedness. The pain medication is diluted with a fierce shock of adrenaline but she can’t make her throat scream. She squirms desperately in her straps upon the gurney.

        The ghouls now surround her closely and begin to press their hands and lips upon her flesh, murmuring with lust and craving.

        For all ghouls have a taste for life.

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