Marissa Romano slowly started waking up, and she was very confused. She didn't know what had happened to her. All she knew was that she was sitting in her car; she was in terrible pain and bleeding all over. She looked up and saw that the front windshield was shattered, and there was glass all over the car seats and floorboard. She realized her head must have hit the front windshield. She looked into the rearview mirror and was horrified by what she saw. Large shards of broken glass were embedded in her face and head! Blood was dripping down from her eyes! She must have covered her face with her hands when she had the wreck because there were huge splinters of glass in her hands too. Her hands were also bleeding from all of the cuts on them. The last thing she remembered was getting into her car after stopping to get gas along a deserted country road in the woods. She had missed her exit on the highway and ended up on a country road in the middle of nowhere. She had looked down and noticed that she was low on fuel. After driving for miles and miles, she had finally stopped when she saw a gas station ahead. She remembered she was on her way to meet some of her friends for the weekend at Lake Sardis in the mountains of southeastern Oklahoma. Everything after that was still a complete blank. She didn't even know her name or who she was!
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Sewer-rat children screamed obscenities at one another and laughed. Somewhere far away, a siren wailed. Late-afternoon faces gloated down at the spectacle and faded from my view. I felt her claw my hand and heard her weep. I never did learn her name. My breath whistled through red-stained nostrils. Warm blood lazily oozed out of holes somewhere in my chest. Useless arms and legs lazily stretched out to enjoy the last of the sidewalk’s heat. Death straddled me and hummed a playful tune. I half closed my eyes and smiled back. Everything was going to be OK.
■ ■ ■
Even in a Sarjeta (the Gutter), there is always somebody lower than you.
If you’re faster or stronger, someone else pays a price. Could be money. Or favors. Could be that someone weaker pays the ultimate price: his or her life. I’m better than most people stuck here because I dream big. And dreams will show me how to escape this shithole.
The wind scattered dirt and grit, biting my face and the window’s ledge that faced out at Canto do Diabo (Devil’s Corner). The streets of the Gutter dead-ended here, where wall graffiti and littered garbage stopped and the Prodigal Son resided. I was lucky to be this close to the charity’s main building.
Lank curtains hid the waiting room. Several coffee-colored men, coughing up throaty words and inhaling Turkish cigarettes, stood outside by a front door painted red, the dark color of worried eyes. One of them looked at me as I approached. I tried not to fidget with the waxy pouch in my hand. He signaled something, and I was quickly surrounded by four pairs of uncertain eyes.
“Você fala inglês?” the one man said. He grinned, and I spotted gold bordering three missing teeth.
“Yes, sure,” I said.
His greasy thumb gestured at the other three. “These clowns don’t. So you talk to me, OK?” His accent wasn’t Portuguese. Or English.
“Sure,” I said.
I glanced at his face, spotting a tattooed circle on his left cheek. Despite his smile, I sensed something darker hiding behind the mask he now wore.
“A delivery. For him.” I placed the pouch into the gold-toothed man’s hand. My fingers touched his slimy palm, causing me to shiver for a moment.
“Come back next week.”
“What about my money?” I asked.
“Next week. You’ll get another package and your money.”
All four men stared at me. I couldn’t read their alien faces. The tattooed guy jabbed his finger at me.
“You know, I see something in you. Maybe something great, huh?”
I didn’t ask what he saw and quickly left. I decided that Devil’s Corner was not a part of the Gutter where I wanted to be alone after sunset.
■ ■ ■
I stood on Amélia’s concrete balcony and gagged. Inside her apartment, sickly sweet beans, dumped out of dented cans, cooked on a hotplate. Two half-naked children with swollen bellies rubbed messy fingers on my sister’s worn-down apron as they cried for dinner. They didn’t know anything else. This was the same meal served at breakfast. At yesterday’s dinner. And the day before. But I’ve walked by the açougue (butcher shop) and seen real meat. I’ve smelled the bloody flesh. Steak and hamburger and food that people with money could buy. I don’t want to eat beans anymore.
Scraps of faded sunlight crawled down the balcony rails, exposing lag bolts desperately grabbing at the block wall. It was a miracle I didn’t fall into the darkened alley below. I could see someone down there licking at the emptied tins we’d thrown out with the rest of the garbage. I shouted at him to get some self-respect, but he just laughed. I kept shouting.
Amélia looked out at me with worried, dark eyes. “You don’t know that man out there. You don’t know what he could do to us. Come back inside.” Both children clung quietly to her, sensing their mother’s fear. My sister tightly gripped the plastic spoon she used to stir the beans. Her eyes pleaded, seeming to say, “At least we eat.”
“I don’t need to be afraid. I don’t need this shit,” I said.
“Please, the children.”
“I’ll be a famous artist. I’ll escape. And you’ll be forgotten.”
Amélia started to cry. I stormed back to my room and locked the door. An hour later, I ignored her knock when she came to ask if I was hungry. Sleep came soon, and I dreamed that the man in the alley chased me. Then my dreams went black, and I tossed and turned the rest of the night.
■ ■ ■
I didn’t know his real name, so I called him Ben. He didn’t mind. Ben dropped my money and this week’s package onto my sister’s flimsy coffee table. I tried to figure him out. I guessed that he was about ten, only two years younger than me. I asked him where he lived.
He didn’t answer my questions. Ben just looked nervously around.
How does someone so young become a collector?
“You alone?” Ben asked.
“My sister is sewing today. She takes the babies.”
Ben wiped his nose. “That’s good. I guess I’ll come back next week at the same time.”
I pointed at the waxy paper. “What’s inside?”
“Don’t ask. And don’t steal anything.”
He looked down at my drawing pad. I had been sketching from memory a park I once saw in the middle of Avenida da Liberdade. His wide eyes studied every penciled line, every cross-hatched tree as if it were the fucking Mona Lisa or something. Ben held his breath, and for a moment he seemed to have transported himself somewhere a million miles away from the Gutter. I bet he had never seen the avenue or anything else like it.
“I take art classes. The church gives them for free,” I said.
“I couldn’t do that.”
“How do you know? Have you tried?”
“I couldn’t do it.”
“I’ll take you. Come back tomorrow.”
Ben looked over the pad once more. He blinked his eyes and swallowed hard. “Don’t steal anything,” he said. And he left without saying good-bye.
Abe staggered along the old road, a shadow of what he had been. His hair was disheveled, his eyes were dull, and his gait suggested one much older than his thirty years. No signs existed to tell him if he was going the right direction, but according to the copy of the handmade map that he’d been given, he was heading toward Geddon, California. He couldn’t reach it soon enough. It was hot. It was dry. He had run out of the meager provisions of water that the Ra had given him. He was miserable.
Still, he was thankful. The Ra had left him alone on the road and he preferred it that way, regardless of how poorly they’d provisioned him. It was as if they didn’t care one way or the other if he survived his mission.
His mission: he shook every time he thought of it. He was to infiltrate the enemy where they were strong, in Geddon, and when the time was ripe, assassinate their leader. He disdained it. He was not a murderer. Sure, it had all been explained to him. This was war. He was a soldier following orders.
The description of the leader made his job even more distasteful. Their leader was a woman, a hundred-year-old woman. He would know her by her unusual brown eyes.
He hadn’t received the mark of the Ra, so he didn’t see how he could be in the army. He would receive it after his mission was complete. It was a mark he no longer wanted, yet one he saw no way of avoiding.
He wondered how he would be received at Geddon. He felt dirty, as if the stench of the Ra was upon him. Would the enemy notice the stench? Would they see him for who he was? A snake in the grass waiting to bite? But he was being fanciful. Of course they couldn’t smell the stench of the Ra. It was a stink only he could smell. It leached to him from within.
As he walked the desert road, he had time to plan. I’ll claim to be a defector, he decided. If they can tell I come from the Ra, I’ll claim to be a defector. He thought about it as he trudged along. He needed to make sure there were no holes in his strategy. He couldn’t think of any, but then, dehydration was hardly conducive to brain activity.
He stared ahead as far as he could see. He strained his eyes until they stung. As he gazed into the distance, the road seemed to take on a life all its own, shimmering and wiggling as if electrified. It was a result of the heat, he told himself; still in his dehydrated state, he wondered.
He wore denim jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. Despite the heat, he refused to remove his clothes. They were the only thing protecting him from the sun. Perhaps it was because the Ra were foreigners to Earth, or maybe they didn’t care about their human charges, but they also hadn’t provided him with a cover for his head. That, along with the lack of water, played havoc on his body.
He walked on. No, he trudged, his legs barely picking themselves up for the next step, and when they came down, landed haphazardly, chaotically.
With every yard, it became increasingly difficult to keep his path straight. He was unsure if he was unsteady or if the road itself wobbled and veered. Several times, he stumbled into the culvert that hugged either side of the deserted two-lane highway.
The highway itself was hard to follow. Sand dunes covered entire sections and it was clear no one had driven down it for years, maybe even decades. It made sense. Only an abandoned road would lead to a secret city like Geddon.
Something flickered above him. He glanced up, just for a moment. The sun above was too bright for staring. He could only see that something, some things, circled above him. Their shadows contrasted darkly against the bright sky. He couldn’t tell what they were. He kept walking.
A breeze blew, an unpleasant dry breeze. It blew away what remnants of moisture remained within him. He stumbled. He fell. He rolled into the bone-dry culvert and got a mouthful of sand. He spit out the wad, but a grainy coating stuck to his tongue and refused to leave.
Even when his body settled to a stop, his head continued to spin. His perception danced and wavered, as if he were drunk. He knew dehydration was the mastermind behind his state of being. However, basic thinking was now being trumped by the more primitive attributes indicative of a dying man.
He rolled onto his back, telling himself he would only rest a moment. He looked up into the sky and felt the desert rays bake him.
That strange flickering persisted. He stared hard, no longer caring if the sun burned out his retinas and realized what those strange dark bodies were. They were buzzards. The scavengers circled above him, effortlessly riding the hot-air currents that pushed up from the desert floor. He knew these creatures to be skittish. They would descend to him eventually, when they thought it safe, after he was dead. Lucky buzzards, he thought. They won’t be waiting long.
He would have shed tears at the thought of his impending death, but had no moisture for their creation. Still, he lamented his future which now appeared quite short. He heard a noise. He turned. He saw. Crap!
The reptilian face before him appeared larger than life. It flicked a forked tongue. Its eyes were like pearls with elliptical pupils. The image of it shimmered in the desert heat. It took a second for Abe’s dehydrated brain to register what he was looking at. At first, he thought it was Lucifer, but then he noticed the eyes were not as powerful. He was face to face with a rattlesnake. Its tail was vibrating, its rattle sounding.
In his delirium, he wondered if the snake really existed, or if it was just a byproduct of his altered state of thinking. He watched the pit viper levitate away from him arching into strike mode. It seemed real. A snakebite was the last thing he needed. Sure it would bring his death quicker, which was the only thing he had to look forward to, but it might make the process that much more painful, which he was not looking forward to at all.
The snake was poised, but did not strike. Again, Abe questioned the reality of what he was seeing. If it was real, what was it waiting for?
He couldn’t stand it any longer. He had to know if his predicament was real. Slowly, he reached out his hand knowing he would grasp empty air or get pierced by venom-dripping fangs.
As he reached out, the rattling intensified. The head of the snake retracted back almost to its tail. Abe stopped mid-reach. His tension was maxed. Everything froze. His hand, the snake; even the air around him felt still as if he existed within a hiccup of time. He didn’t know what to do. His moisture-deprived brain was unable to make a decision.
James 'Big Jim' Peck is a professional game hunter in Africa whose life has evolved from wartime encounters to hunting animals; but when a client is killed in a hunting expedition gone awry, he's forced to hang up his guns and retreat to his plantation in the face of an ongoing investigation.
When a rogue Cape buffalo whom villagers believe to be infused with an evil spirit terrorizes local natives, Big Jim is asked to track and kill the creature. With the help of his trusted friend and partner, Caesar Wilde, and American photo-journalist Mary Watkins, they embark on an adventurous journey through the African bush.
After a series of inexplicable deadly encounters the hunters soon realize they are up against a creature unlike any other they have hunted, and it will take all their combined experience and courage to destroy the beast...or be killed!
He hit it again and again. Each time he made contact, Ethan’s ears wished he could drown out the chilling, blood-curdling, cringing sound of each bone breaking, like snapping chicken legs with pliers, echoing in the pit. The cobra’s face was pulverized. Its blood spurted like a fountain, hitting Ethan in the chest and neck. The flesh on the cobra’s face had split, exposing its smashed in skull. The mouth had separated from its jaw. Its two fangs just dangled outward, bent at an awkward angle.
Dave’s eyes widened as he finally saw what remained of his wife. The worst part – the part that would keep him awake, screaming her name – was her eye plastered to her cheek in crusted coagulated blood. Painfully lifting his head up, he saw parts of Janet’s body littering the back lawn, sticking out of the ground like twisted creeping plants.
Drada Koehn is a fearless, formidable fighter ensnared in a presaged war against the northern humans. When the Speaker foretells their victory upon discovery of the name of death, she sets out to unravel the mysterious prophecy. Now, bound by duty and honor, Drada faces untold horrors with her companions, searching for what may never be found. In a story of unexpected twists, she soon finds that her resolve to see the quest done will be the fortune or doom of her people.
In 1901, an innocent child was cruelly tortured, and murdered by her vengeful mother.
Twisting her once beautiful soul into something evil and monstrous.
Her name was Maisie Whitmore.
Bound forever to Promised Land Lane, she will take her revenge on those foolish enough to cross her path.
If Maisie sees you. Run, for she will never forget.
“You just don’t understand. But you soon will Jake. I’ll not return here until everyone you know and love is long in the ground. My work was almost done. Now I must hope that I have done enough.” Jake noticed a faint blue outline appear behind Smeets as the wind kicked up around him.
The trees whistled and strained as a gust whipped up along the hillside. To Jake, it felt like his ears had just popped as he saw the blue glow strengthen into the shape of a doorway. The big man put his cases on the floor, bowing his head and removing his dark glasses. He spoke as he looked at the ground, the wind blowing his coat around his long legs.
“Do you know why you’re stood here, Jake? This very minute?”
Suddenly unsure of himself, Jake hesitated. “No, why?” he shouted over the roaring wind.
“Because I wanted you to be. You are my gift to a friend. Now I must leave you.” He looked up at Jake, his red eyes penetrating the night. Jake’s mouth fell open as he swayed on his feet.
Smeets took two steps back, turning his head to the blackness behind him. “Enjoy him, Anya, for he is fresh and very healthy.” He walked backwards until he vanished from sight, the blackness swallowing him whole.
Jake took a step forward, dumbfounded. His mind a whirling maelstrom. He stopped in his tracks when another figure emerged from the void. He stared in horror at the figure, dressed in a dirty grey gown that fell almost to her white bony ankles, dark mottled blotches covering her bare arms. Her yellow eyes are searching out and finding Jake, who felt like the earth was tilting at a strange angle.
She smiled at the sight of him, her dirty canines filling her blackened mouth as she moved closer. He tried to move backwards, tripping on a fallen log and crashing into the crook of a small tree. She sensed an advantage and moved to within ten feet of Jake, edging closer to him with shuffling feet. He wanted to turn and flee, back to his car, back to the safety of his house where he could bar the doors from all this. He then remembered his friend who lay dead on his lounge floor.
Not even his house would keep him safe from this. He was brought back to reality as two hands seized the lapels of his coat. He looked into the eyes of the woman as they bored into his. The yellow light seemed to dance like firefly’s, slowly taking away his fears. He welcomed the inevitable. He could almost see himself floating in a red river as her face filled his vision. He was at peace as her hands yanked apart the material of his clothing, exposing the flesh underneath.
Two things happened at that moment.
Firstly, his ears were filled with the deafening sound of her screams. Second, his eyes were blinded by a flash of light from below as he felt the hold on him released. The woman staggered backwards, her hands in front of her face, trying to fend off the piercing light that threatened to engulf her. Jake tried to rub his eyes and blink away the fuzzy shapes that floated in his vision as he suddenly felt a searing pain on his chest, followed by the smell of roasting flesh and burning hair.
He tried to grab at whatever it was that was causing the pain, his fingers touching the pendant that hung there. He pulled his hand away at the intense heat, flapping his fingers in the cold air. The bright light had dissipated enough for him to see that the woman had made it over to the glowing blue doorway between the two trees, one hand resting on the trunk as she tried to recover her resolve.
“Next time we meet, you’re mine,” she hissed before turning to trudge into the blackness.
Kenneth Platt drove his old 1995 pale-blue Ford pickup down the lonely stretch of highway 35 that connected Norfolk and Wayne Nebraska. He was going from the south, towards the north. His destination was Wayne. He drove with that lazy sort of confidence, the kind that comes from doing a mundane task over and over so many times that it could be done without even thinking. This was the way it was with the trip between Wayne and Norfolk; a task that he
had done so many times that he could do it with his eyes closed.
With the cruise control engaged, he hummed quietly to himself as he drove along. His fingers tapped upon the steering wheel as if his hands were a practiced team of sequin-studded Rockets doing their Vegas act for his sole entertainment. Likewise, his right foot, being denied the responsibility of depressing the accelerator, tapped up and down in rhythm to the tune. He drove through the darkness of night, humming and tapping, along that highway that resembled a giant serpent lying in the prairie grass, he watched the road magically appear in front of him. It seemed to grow out of the darkness as his headlights brought it into view.
He glanced in his rearview mirror. Behind him, he watched as the road disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared in front of him. It was as if the furnace-red glow of his taillights incinerated this giant prairie serpent into nothing but ash and blackened bones. He was alone on that road, but this was nothing unusual for that stretch of highway at that time of the evening on that day of the week.
This was a route without glamour and one that Kenneth had taken so many times before that he often arrived at his destination without remembering anything about the trip. In fact, he had been known to joke that a race of aliens routinely abducted him while he was traveling along this stretch of lonely rural highway. On Saturdays, Sundays, and Tuesdays, Kenneth made the trip from Wayne to Norfolk and back again. He lived in Wayne, attending the state-college there, but the town of Wayne was small and lacked job opportunity. So, on the weekends, he worked as a stock boy at a small discount store in Norfolk.
Compared to Wayne, Norfolk was a virtual metropolis, boasting a population of more than 20,000 souls. So, the potential for employment was equally boastful. This is why Kenneth did his lonely commute, at least as far as the Saturdays and Sundays were concerned. On Tuesdays however, he came to Norfolk for an altogether different reason. On that day, he came for lessons, guitar lessons to be precise. One would think that after taking on a full-time college credit load, and taking on a part-time job, extra lessons would be only an unwanted burden but such was not the case for Kenneth.
Like many his age, he had grandiose dreams of being something more than just another guy with a degree, destined for the stagnant grind of corporate life. No, Kenneth had bigger aspirations than that and it involved stardom. Wearing ties, butt kissing management, and working in a cube just wasn’t his thing. For him, this was plan “B”. Nobody knew that this was plan “B” except himself. He always felt that his parents would likely have simultaneous heart attacks if they found out that he was not interested in being the college grad, medium management schmuck that so many others seemed so keen to. No, he had a plan “A” and that plan was to rock!
He wanted to be a rock star and often dreamed of all the fame and glory that came with that lifestyle. Of course, he was not yet good enough for stardom. This was something he regretfully realized. Someday, he would be good enough. Currently, he could play a few Ramones songs, which meant that he knew exactly three chords. This was not sufficient to be the next American idol, but it was a start in the right direction. Everybody after all, had to start somewhere. Even B.B. King had that moment when he first picked up a guitar and strummed the strings and immediately fell in love with the instrument and the potential that could be unleashed from it.
As he rode the snake-like highway, he glanced affectionately at his passenger, the current love of his life. It was not a woman. With all of his activities, he had not found much time to meet women. In the passenger seat sat his guitar, a Gibson Les Paul. He didn’t love it quite the way he would have loved a woman, yet he had been intimate with it, telling it his deepest secrets and desires through lyrics that he wrote. They were only apart when he was in class or asleep. Actually, they were consistently apart only in class, and then only because the professors would not allow the instrument to take up a seat. He had actually been known, on occasion to sleep with it. He did not do this for sexual reasons. He did not do it out of obsession. It was mostly just to creep out his roommate
who objected that his hobby had sped past healthy levels long ago.
As far as his hobby being an obsession, what did his roommate know anyway? He would think on this and smirk. His roommate was a business major, destined for nothing more than days filled with cubicle life, gossip by the water fountain, and annual reviews for miniscule wage increases. That life was not for Kenneth.
The guitar’s polished white finish glistened from the pickup’s greenish dash-light as if it were winking at Kenneth, flirting with him. The flirting worked. Kenneth wished he were home right now, playing those silvery strings and pouring his heart out in song. But first, he had to get home. He didn’t have a case for his love, not even a cheap gig-bag.He did have a roll of black plastic trash bags under the truck’s passenger seat so he could avoid getting the instrument wet if it rained.
It wasn’t that he thought the guitar didn’t deserve a case; he loved it more than that. He simply couldn’t afford one on his college student, discount store stock boy paychecks. He had worked more than full-time at two jobs all summer and had saved every cent he could to get that instrument. After he purchased it and a small Peavey Rage 108 amplifier, which he had to get second hand from a cigarette smoking pawn shop owner that seemed to sweat far too much to be healthy, he just had nothing left for a case.
His humming grew into words and he began to serenade his love with touching lines from his Ramones library. It was a Ramones-medley, a little of Teenage Lobotomy, a bit from I wanna be Sedated, a line from We’re a Happy Family. Then he stopped mid-song, an action that would have probably put off
his love if she had been anything more than pieces of fine wood, bits of precisely formed metal and high-gloss enamel. He stared with eyes wide open out his front windshield and unconsciously slowed the car to about fifty miles per hour.
Ahead of him, a bolt of lightning had torn the night sky into fragments separated by white-blue rips. This didn’t make any sense to Kenneth. First, mere seconds ago, he had been singing and he had been driving under a starry sky. There had not been a cloud to be found from horizon to horizon. Second, although lightning is not unheard of in Nebraska during late September, it is not at all common. He never heard a clap of thunder. Then again, maybe his ears never had the chance to relay that sound to his brain.
Mere milliseconds after this odd phenomenon occurred, something slammed into the pickup’s front windshield so hard that it transformed it into a useless piece of junk.The thing was something like a snake without eyes and apparently with a head of steel. Kenneth only got the slightest of glimpses of this---this, whatever it was. He had just enough time to take his foot off the accelerator. He did not have time to brake.
As easily as the thing had penetrated the windshield, it plowed itself into Kenneth’s skull. It went through his left eye-socket, which was comparatively less solid than automotive glass. It sliced through that tissue like a knife through warm butter. It entered his brain.
Ashley remained under Sam’s mutilated leftovers, a fragment of skeleton with some tissue left in sporadic areas. The zombie dogs and human zombies wandered away. Where did they go? Ashley wondered as she slowly pushed Sam’s waste from her.
Getting to her feet, she walked down the middle of the street. A few hundred feet in, she came across another couple of zombie dogs. The hairs on her arms tried to prickle up, but they were glued down from all of Sam’s blood. She moved to the other side, quietly stepping over debris, and made her way past.
Suddenly, from the left side, one of them advanced toward her. Her heart thudded harder. Her legs felt like jelly and she crumpled to the concrete in a blubbering heap.
“I’m dead, this is it,” she said in a whisper.
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An Unbidden Visitor by Dianne Ascroft Narrator: Elizabeth Klett Published by Self-published on 11-21-17 Genres: Fiction , Historical Length: 32 mins Source: Audiobookworm Buy on
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