Tag Archives: horror

Pandora

Elizabeth let out a ragged sigh of exhaustion as the men retired to the study. She backed out of her seat and began stacking plates. Reginald had just returned from India. She had not even gotten a chance to talk with him before he invited his friends over. The clatter of porcelain drowned out a roar of laughter from the dinner party. She paused in her duties for a moment and listened in. As much as Elizabeth hated that they were all at her house, hogging her husband, she as was curious about his adventures as they were.

“Elizabeth dear? Please come in here!” A voice echoed from down the hall.

She was shocked at the invitation. The men never asked her to join once talks started in the study. She cautiously strolled down the oaken hallway and swung the door open to a half circle of gentlemen around the fireplace. Her husband took a mighty puff from a cigar while tapping on a leather bound book.

“Do you know what this is darling?” Reginald inquired.

“No.” Elizabeth replied, looking around at the attentive men around her. “I have no idea.”

Reginald held the book by it’s spine and flipped it open to a random page. He took one more puff from his cigar before setting it down. He cleared his throat.

“My dear wife. I know you were classically educated, I am going to tell a story pertaining to that. Please bear with me.”

“Of course” She obliged.

“This book comes from a small mountain tribe on the border of India and Afghanistan. Now these tribesmen are a curious people. They claim to be related to Alexander the Great of Macedon. I trust you know of him?”

“Y-Yes, I do.” Elizabeth stammered. The mood of the room was darkening as her husband and his party stared at her intently. The fire crackled intensely in the background.

“Well. As you know Alexander the Great conquered everything from Egypt to India.” He continued. “What this tribe claims is that when Alexander was done conquering he visited the most remote village in his empire. It was then that he charged the tribe’s ancestors with a sacred duty.”

Reginald picked up his cigar nonchalantly and took a deep puff. His friends around him leaned in as the flickering flames illuminated half his face. He cleared his throat and lowered his voice.

“He told them that this here.” He shook the book in his hand softly. “This book- was Pandora’s Box. And that it should never be touched by a woman, else it would unleash a new wave of demons upon the world.”

Elizabeth stood there shaken. She glanced around at the men sitting around her for any traces of a practical joke. In their eyes, solely fixed on her, she saw only a solemn sincerity. She jumped at the touch of her husbands hand against hers.

“Dear?”

“Yes?”

“Will you open it?”

Elizabeth’s heart beat rapidly. Something inside her chest screamed for her to run, but she stood her ground against it. Her curiosity would not let her leave.

Reginald held the book out to Elizabeth with both hands. Her fingers trembled as she hovered them over the ancient binding. With a swift motion, she snatched the book from her husband. The party gasped. Only the fire broke the silence of expectation.

Nothing happened.

The men around her guffawed and laughed heartily, elbowing Reginald joyfully. He smiled and shrugged playfully. Elizabeth narrowed her eyes at her husband. It seemed she had been nothing but the night’s entertainment. Multiple conversations splintered off around her, but Elizabeth drowned them out in her head. She brushed her hand along the cover, and then thrust her fingers into the pages of the book.

She flipped it open.

Her eyes widened. She stared down at the page for a few seconds in a fear that paralyzed her entirely. Her body allowed her to shriek and she did so as loud as she could. The guests fell silent. Fat tears welled in her eyes, rolling down onto the pages of the ancient book. Onto the faces of demons writhing disturbingly on the pages in a frenzy.

The book shook violently with an otherworldly energy. Pages tore themselves out and flew onto the floor. Illustrations of eldritch creatures scrambled to life in the confines of the papers. Snapping, scratching, and gnawing viciously. While the men sat in their chairs, holding their feet up, Reginald took charge.

“We need to get out of here!!”

He scrambled out of his seat and raced for the door. In his haste, he stepped onto one of the pages carelessly.

A creature of pure black, with dull blue eyes wrapped it’s arms around the passing foot. In a blink, the thing had attached itself to Reginald’s shoe. Thrown off balance, he dropped onto the carpet. Close to more of the pages littered all over the floor.

He screamed in agony as the creatures crawled out of their ancient prisons and onto his pathetic body. He twisted with every latch, bite, and gouge. From every wound, a black bubbling ooze spilled from his contorting body onto the ground. Elizabeth and the party watched in horror as the things swarmed his face like insects. She was so utterly terrified that she could not muster a scream. Instead an icy chill rippled through her body, rendering her incapable of anything but watching as her husband squirmed wildly on the floor.

In his final seconds of life, Reginald thrust a pained finger past Elizabeth. Her heart sank as she followed his gesture to the fireplace.

The piercing sound of a final page ripping from the spine of the book stole the attention of the room. All eyes fixed on it as it floated lazily in the air, twisting peacefully before plunging itself into the embers.

With a rush of air, the light of the fire was extinguished. Elizabeth remained where she was in darkness. Standing with an empty, open book in her hand, surrounded by nightmares incarnate. She forced her eyes shut with all the might she could muster from within. Preparing for the same fate as her husband. Praying to God that her death would be quick.

Her pulse gradually slowed from it’s erratic beat, settling into its normal cadence. A soothing, crackling rhythm came to life somewhere in the room. And with a ragged breath, she opened her eyes.

The fire was back, and with it the unholy scene surrounding her seared itself into Elizabeth’s mind. The semicircle of cushioned chairs were plastered with the corpses of her husband’s friends. Backs arched, and mouths twisted. Frozen in their torment by a hardened black sludge. The pages once laid out on the carpet were returned to the book, now closed in her trembling hands. She let out a yelp as she dropped it unceremoniously and ran to escape the study.

Elizabeth caught one last glimpse of her husband’s blackened remains before slamming the door shut.

She felt a deep pang of guilt as she phoned for help. She hated that was not plagued by the death she had experienced. Instead while the dial tone rang she wondered selfishly, if the police would believe her when they arrived.

Leadfield, TX

This is a guest post I did on my friend’s blog a while back. I have included the link to the original post below. Please feel free to read on this site or the other. If you find yourself clicking the link to my friend’s blog please browse around! He has a lot of cool content-

https://butterfliesmachineguns.wordpress.com/2016/11/13/leadfield-tx/


Buzzards circled over Leadfield. Their forms silhouetted by the rising sun. The scent of death was heavy and ripe on our nostrils but we didn’t pay it much mind. We had already been hardened to the smell. The road to Leadfield was littered with the cold corpses of honest, hardworking folk. Only men. The bandit gang under Bill Duffy that had taken the town as their sanctuary only killed men. The women they took as hostages back to their lawless sanctuary. It had gone on long enough. A posse of more than fifty men gathered from all over Clearwater County to ride on Leadfield. Many of the group had lost wives and daughters. Myself included.

It was frigid morning like this one when Bill Duffy and his band of outlaws happened upon my ranch. They surprised me and my wife in bed. Made me watch with a gun to my head while they flogged her bloody and took turns with her in the shed. Her last words to me were cries for help as they shoved her into a cramped white Ford pickup. They shot me in the gut and left me for dead. Billy Duffy himself shot me a wink before they rode out over the horizon.

But I didn’t die. And I had nothing but the thought of revenge on my mind. The cops were no help. A string of biological terrorist attacks in Austin diverted all of their attention. The major cities were on the brink of revolution and because of that the land in between devolved into a lawless wasteland. It’s times like these that the people have to take the law into their own hands.

The horses fidgeted and whinnied softly as we took them off the dirt path toward a bluff overlooking the town. We dismounted and continued on foot through the frost coated sagebrush. We couldn’t risk giving away the element of surprise. A commanding voice broke the quiet tension.

“Alright men, form up on me.”

It was Thompson Yates. My little brother. The man who had helped me put this posse together. He came back from the war a changed man. I knew him as timid, outspoken. Now he was one to take charge of situations and speak his mind. He crouched down in a clearing and drew figures in the dirt with his finger. A few seconds later he had sketched out an overhead view of the buildings below. He brushed the dust out of his bushy red beard before continuing.

“Casey’s group will fan out and come in from the west. Butch and his boys’ll hold the ridge line here and shoot any of ’em out in the open.” He thrust a meaty finger into my face. “Cooper an’ me are going down to find where they’re keeping the women. Try to keep ’em off our backs. Once the hostages are out, we storm the place. Burn it all to the ground.”

I dropped the cigarette I had been smoking from my lips and crushed it under the heel of my boot. Then squinted up at the posse around me.

“Alright, you heard the man. Get into position. Keep your eyes open and heads down.”

My brother and I slid down the hillside and snuck through the maze of sagebrush. When the first building was within a few hundred feet we made a break for the door. I slammed into the wall and grunted audibly. Some concerned voices rose up inside.

“Goddamn it.”

I drew my colt revolver. It’s six cylindrical barrels glistened in the morning light. Tommy unsheathed a tarnished silver buck knife from his left boot. His prized souvenir from his time at war that he preferred to keep away from prying eyes. Putting his finger to his lips, he reminded me that we needed to keep quiet for the time being.

When the door flung open a stocky Mexican man with a great bushy mustache stepped out. He waved a beretta out at the sagebrush as he cautiously scanned his surroundings.

“Come on out amigo! I have something for you!”

He took another step out onto the dirt and kicked the door shut behind him. Big mistake. I sprung into action, grabbing the man by the scruff of his neck and kicking the gun out of his shaking arms. Tommy walked toward him calmly, wiping his knife on his shirt.

“Where are the women, amigo?” He scraped the glistening knife up the man’s adam’s apple.

The strangest thing happened next. The man cracked a yellow gap toothed grin and taunted us.

“When they catch you,” He paused for a moment to stare us down. “They’ll make you squeal like a pig”

One clean horizontal motion and the man’s neck lit up in a burst of bright red. I shot Tommy a nervous glance. What the hell was that? He shrugged and swung the door open slowly. It creaked loudly, opening up to a candlelit room. A television in the corner played saturday morning cartoons in technicolor and intermittent static. Staying behind the doorway, I peeked my head in for a better view.

The wooden frame splintered in a hot crackling pop. I recoiled at the quickness of it all. In the tense silence my ears perked up at a distinct metallic chk-chk followed by the sound of a hollow shell casing hitting the floor.

The universal sign for “Stay the fuck away”.

Tommy drew his pearl handled colt 1911 and gave me a reassuring nod. He signaled for me to hit the deck. I looked back up to the ridge to see Butch and his four sons ready to fire. I dropped to my stomach.

The whole wall lit up in a fury of wooden shards flying every which way. Inside the terrified screams of the bandits went quiet. For a few seconds it stayed that way until a bloodcurdling rebel yell sounded off on the other side of town. More joined in a call to arms and like wolves they gathered in a frenzied pack at the town square. A shot rang out from the ridge followed by a satisfying thupp and soon enough the cacophony of exchanging gunfire muffled the triumphant rebel yell and screams of agony.

“Now’s our chance, let’s go!” Tommy said.

I followed him through the rest of the building, looking in awe at the sheer destruction we had caused. Blood was strewn across the walls and pooled on the floors, but no sign of the women. The exchange of fire was dying down outside. I doubted that it was Butch that had prevailed.

A swift kick was enough to bust the door open. Tommy and I turned to find ourselves staring down the barrels of at least 10 rifles. I nervously chuckled and tossed my piece on the ground. The group cleared a path as a short scruffy man in a ratty sports coat made his way through. Bill Duffy. He stared at us intently before speaking.

“Put them with the others” Duffy smirked. “I think it’s time that we put our weapon to the test.”

A man promptly grabbed me by my shoulders and dragged me out of the shack. They shoved Tommy by the end of a gun to make sure he followed suit. The mob of men jeered at us from behind. As they pushed us through the town square I spied that white ford pickup that was burned into my memory parked in a shady alleyway. The women were here for sure.

We walked further and further through the town until we came to an old, run down sheriff’s office. The windows had been hastily barred and the walls were reinforced by whatever scrap that must have been lying around. The cast iron door with a lock from the outside screamed death. The man escorting me started chuckling wildly.

“Shouldn’t have come here man.”

He slid the heavy deadbolt on the door and swung it wide open. With a grunt Tommy and I were cast into the darkness. The man tossed in our guns before the door slammed behind us. Bill Duffy’s southern drawl crackled on an intercom system above us.

“You boys best use your guns on yourselves. He doesn’t eat the women ‘less he has to, and it’s been a while since he’s had competition. Good luck.”

The intercom clicked and silence resumed. My eyes adjusted to the darkness. The polka-dotted wallpaper was stained and peeling. The antique furnishings of the room were smashed to bits and strewn along the wooden floor. There was a stench that filled the stale air. It sent bitter shivers down my neck. I grabbed my revolver from its place on the ground.

“Hey Tommy, the women must be somewhere in this house. Let’s go room by room.”

“Sure thing bro.”

We got to our feet and slowly stepped toward the door to the next room. The floorboards creaked at the slightest application of pressure. I heard a feverish mumble from the other side of the wall and signaled Tommy to watch my back.

I squeezed the brass doorknob and pulled open the door. A beam of sunlight leaking in illuminated a deathly pale woman wearing nothing but an oversized tshirt sitting against the wall. She was terrifying to watch and wonderful to behold. I had found my wife. I ran over to her and held her head in my arms.

“Darling. What happened? Are you okay?”

“Coop?” She sounded delirious. “He bit me Coop, he bit me because he likes me.”

The sentence seemed to sap away what strength she had been saving as she went limp against the wall. Tommy peeked through the doorway.

“Jesus.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Look at her arm.”

A recently scabbed bite mark covered half her forearm. Two times larger than that of a normal mouth. What the fuck is going on?

An ear piercing squeal made me cringe. The sharp clopping of hooves down a narrow hallway stole my attention. A creature turned the corner. A.. A supernatural thing standing crooked like a malnourished man, covered head to toe in coarse black hair. Two ivory tusks protruded from it’s face and a big fleshy snout sat between its two beady black eyes. It snorted at us before breaking into a sprint.

I instinctually threw myself against the wall to shield my wife from the beast. He flew past me and crashed into Tommy. A thick tusk gored him through the ribs and pinned him between the beast and the drywall. The creature squealed and grunted, pushing deeper and deeper into the wall. Tommy wailed in an agony I could not begin to comprehend. I grabbed my revolver and pulled back the hammer in a fluid motion.

*Click*

My heart sank. I frantically checked the cylinders. Empty, those fuckers sent us in here without a fighting chance. Tommy screamed again amidst another round of heavy snorts. My mind raced for a way out.

“Hold on Tom!”

I dove against the wall, dodging a mad flurry of hooves from the creature. I stuck my hand into Tommy’s left boot and drew his knife. Without hesitation I thrust it up into the belly of the beast. It let out a gut wrenching squeal. I kept stabbing. The thing pushed it’s arms against the wall, trying desperately to dislodge itself. I sent another powerful thrust upward. The beast was struggling but it seemed to be slowing down. It grabbed at my face with its hairy palms, but I slashed them away. Again and again, I kept going. Between labored breaths it’s legs began to give out. I dropped the blade in a mess of blood and organs. Tommy was limp, propped up against the wall, still impaled through the side by a lifeless tusk.

“Tommy!” I slapped his cheek “Hey! Wake up man! Wake up!”

No response. His limp, clammy body swung slowly, still suspended above the ground.

A hot feeling from my forehead made me stumble backwards. Tears streamed down my bloodied face. Get ahold of yourself Coop!

I glanced down at my wife. Tommy was gone, at least I could save her. No time for the other women and no chance of getting them all out of here. I threw her over my shoulder and made my way back to the reinforced steel door. There was laughing on the other side.

“I heard the swine wreakin’ shit in there. NO WAY they’re still breathing. Our buddy’s feeding in there by now.”

“Duffy wants to be sure before we go charging in there. You wanna be pig chow?”

“I just want that pearl handled 1911 that one uptight bastard that dropped Ramirez was waving around. Just a peek man, it won’t hurt.”

I perched myself behind the door. When it cracked open I pried it from the man’s grasp. The heavy door flung open and I charged the confused guards. One slice along the jugular and another at the base of the neck. The guards fell, they tried to scream but only muffled gurgles came out as bubbles filtered their way through the blood filling their throats.

I made a break through the dusty town square. Running awkwardly with my wife bouncing on my shoulder. I made it about halfway across before they started shooting. The air cracked and ground exploding around me, spitting dry dirt into my eyes. I kept running. The truck was parked in the alley, it was my only option at this point. A whooping rebel yell from one of the buildings behind me gave me chills.

The rest was a blur. The gunshots stopped entirely. Replaced by more joining in a collective rebel yell. I ran into that alley, hopped in that white ford pickup, and threw my wife in the passengers seat. The key was still in the ignition so I drove out of there. Weaving through alleyways and buildings of Leadfield till I got to the road. I drove for what seemed like hours to the only hospital in Clearwater county.

I remember sitting with my wife in that crowded ER. She was conscious enough to sit on her own. She turned to kiss me but I callously turned away. A coat of thick black hair slowly moved up her arm.

Time

This is a guest post I made on my friend’s blog a while back. I have the original link below, please feel free to read either here or there. Also check out my friend’s blog he’s got some great content!

https://butterfliesmachineguns.wordpress.com/2016/10/15/time/


“You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun”

-Pink Floyd

The marshy ground of McFrilly’s Swamp was obscured by a layer of thick fog. That’s why I was so surprised when my foot sunk up to my knee. I struggled to free myself from the unrelenting mud. After a few minutes of pulling and grunting it proved a worthy opponent. I gave my boot to the earth and slogged through the ground with my sock.

It was the summer of 1971. Led Zeppelin IV was rocking the charts, cigarette ads were just banned from television, and the latest polls showed over 60% of Americans opposed the Vietnam War. I had just received my draft notice, guys my age were dropping like flies. That’s what first led me to McFrilly’s Swamp. I knew of the folklore surrounding the bayou. The kind of stories you only hear by growing up in rural Louisiana, hanging around the old gator hunters after an evening of heavy drinking. A lot of it was bull- but there was one legend that always caught my ear. Supposedly there was an old cabin deep in the swamp. They say there lived an old man who could make your wishes come true, for a price. It was my last option. I didn’t want to be some nameless casualty in some dark, secluded spit of jungle.

I trudged onward, my sock slapping the mud loudly with each step. The dull moonlight partially illuminated a pathway of mossy planks, elevated above the sludge of the swamp. I stepped onto it. The soft wood greeted me with an unsettling creak but I trusted it to hold. The planks weaved through the cypress trees and over bubbling mudpots. At the end was a tiny cabin held above the marsh by a few rotting posts. A candle flickered in the window. Someone was home.

I followed the path up to the door, then took a deep breath. Here we go.

*Knock**Knock**Knock*

I gave the door a few forceful taps with my knuckles. Its wood planks were soft to the touch.

A voice greeted from the other side of the door.

“Ah, come on in. I’ve been expecting a visitor.”

I opened the door to a humble, but cozy den. A long rectangular rug covered the wood planked floor and a small wood stove kept the temperature agreeable. Jim Croce played on vinyl in the background. Tending the fire and rocking in his chair was a elderly black man in a corduroy suit.

His aged face was unforgettable. Every dry wrinkle above his brow seemed to tell a story. Stories of a hard, unforgiving life. His hair was grey and curled into itself. Small brown freckles dotted his nose and cheeks. But the most memorable thing about him were his eyes. Milky and dull, looking at them was like seeing my reflection in a greasy spoon.

“Greetings there youngin’. What can I do ya for?” He smiled with pearly white teeth.

His eyes taken by cataracts, I had dismissed him as blind. Yet he looked straight into my eyes. But, more importantly, he just seemed like a normal old man. Nothing supernatural or satanic was going on here. The thought crossed my mind that in my desperation I had intruded in on the life of a hermit who simply wanted to live alone, in peace.

“I’m sorry, I think I made a mistake-”

“There aren’t too many cabins this far out in the bayou. You came here because you want something don’t you?” The old man chuckled to himself. “Well. Out with it boy!”

“I don’t want to go to Vietnam. I-I can’t. I can’t go to Vietnam.”

“Is that all?” The man burst into a boisterous cackle.

“Please?”

He threw his hand onto my shoulder and howled. Eventually he settled down and talked to me in a low voice.

“Time is a fickle thing. You see time is a linear thing from your perspective. You live your life confined to three dimensions. To you time is a nuisance, an obstacle. You run like water through a pipe. Would you like me to cap the pipe?”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m sayin’ that I can take the time off of your hands. Save you the hassle.”

“So, if I wanted to dodge the draft. What would I have to do?”

“I’ve already seen it. You’ll go to Vietnam, and you’ll die with a bullet in your back. No one will find your body. But hell, you’ll be a damn war hero!” The old man threw his head back and settled back into his hooting chuckle. “Let’s find our way around that nasty bit. You won’t have to die then if you just stay here with me a while longer. You see, time is a fickle thing. You have plenty of life to live. I can show you.

“Then what’s the problem? Let’s do it!”

His entire demeanor changed. The room went quiet except for the crackle of the fire. An icy shiver ran up my spine. The old man’s eyes opened to an otherworldly stare. They were blurry at first but I could see lifelike figures dancing in his dilated pupils. As I peered deeper the figures transformed to dancing lights. Every bounce told a story, a marvelous spectacle to behold.

“All you have to do is take my hand” The man extended his arm slowly.

In a daze, I slowly lifted my arm to clasp the outstretched palm. The lights were mesmerizing. I was about to grasp his hand when the lights went out.

Suddenly and entirely. It was terrifying.

I snapped out of my trance and immediately bolted for the door. He resumed rocking back and forth in his chair. I could hear his chilling howls of laughter echo through the moonlit cypress trees. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me from that cabin in McFrilly’s Swamp. At the last minute I had changed my mind. I’d rather risk my life fighting overseas.

After that my life went on.

I went to Vietnam. It was hell, but I made it through. Made some good friends along the way, lost some as well. After spending three years wallowing in the jungle I came home to a hero’s welcome, parade and all. I met my wife shortly after that and we had three well behaved children. Life went on.

 

“The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death”

I lived the American dream. I had two cars in the driveway, the ideal nuclear family, a stable job at the plant, and a predictable routine. My kids inevitably all grew up and moved far from home. My wife and I live alone in our big empty house in rural Louisiana.

 

“Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines”

It is now the fall of 2016. David Bowie is dead, ads for marijuana are on television, and 44% of Americans oppose the War on Terror. I am 63 years old and any minute now while I lay asleep in my bed tonight a man with a drug addiction will slit my throat and rob my house. I saw it in those dancing figures many years ago. I’ve seen my entire life unfold.

“Time is a fickle thing.” A voice rang in my head.

I opened my eyes – a sharp pain pierced through my chest as I gasped for breath. I regained focus in time for me to catch a glimpse of his milky eyes again.

“You can leave now,” he said as he released my aged hand.

The young black man leaned back in his rocking chair and flashed me a pearly white grin. The wrinkles on his brow had smoothed, his hair was slick and jet black. Everything had changed about him but his eyes. The cataracts slowly faded into black, but his eyes remained eerie and soulless.

I stumbled back in a blur. I looked down at my arms; they were frail and withered. Something deep in my gut screamed at me to get the hell out of that room.  I turned and stumbled down the old wooden path in the morning light. The planks creaked with every step but it paled in comparison to the sound of the joints in my legs grinding. I couldn’t get away fast enough. Beams of harsh light cut through the cypress branches. The blinding light sent me spinning. I slipped off the edge of the path into a bubbling pool of mud.

Who would find me in this secluded swamp? I thought as I sank below the surface.

 

“The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say”

-Pink Floyd

The Crop

This was a guest post I did on my friends blog a while back. I have included the link for the original post below. Please feel free to read it here or there. If you do click the link check out my friend’s blog, his content is great-

https://butterfliesmachineguns.wordpress.com/2016/09/18/the-crop/


I opened my eyes to the poorly lit interior of a canvas tent. A woman in a blood stained nurse’s uniform was standing over me with a clipboard in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The air was stale and unfamiliar. I sat up. My mind raced at the possibilities.

“Try to get some sleep” The nurse cooed, “There will be plenty of time for questions when the doctor is in.”

Her soothing voice put me at ease and I let her ease my head slowly back onto my pillow. my eyes shut once more.

I opened my eyes again and a harsh light assaulted them. I raised my hand in defense. Through the gaps between my fingers a blurry figure approached. I lowered my hands and soon the image sharpened into that of a man in a long white coat. A doctor. He set down his lantern and stroked his long grey beard thoughtfully before speaking.

“Do you know where you are?” He stared at me intent on getting an answer.

“N-No”

“Fine. That’s fine.” His voice was reassuring but his face looked troubled. “Do you know your name?”

I thought for a moment. I searched into the far reaches of my memory for an answer. Everything was too hazy. It was like staring into a black void. My forehead was getting unbearably hot and I could feel beads of sweat forming above my eyes.

“Stop.” The doctor raised his hand then gave his beard another stroke. “We’ve had a few cases like yours. Stress induced amnesia.”

He picked up a clipboard on a nearby table and flipped through a few pages. He gave yet another stroke before resuming.

“Your name is Franz. Senior lance corporal, 35th infantry division. It seems you and your unit were ambushed in Belgium. You took shrapnel to the knee. It seems the rest of your unit was… Not so fortunate. You were the only survivor.”

He looked back at me for a reaction. I had none to give. I didn’t know these men. I didn’t even know myself. Franz.. That sounded right. I didn’t have time to sort out the rest.

“Doctor! Doctor!” A man burst through the tent flaps with a flickering lantern in hand. “The Butcher has struck again! The man… He’s still alive!”

“My God!” The doctor dropped the clipboard on the ground and swiftly exited the tent.

I could hear the clamor of townsfolk gathering outside. A woman screamed and wailed. I needed to see what was going on.

It took all the strength my arms could muster to lift myself off the bed. I landed on my feet with a thud. In an instant my knees buckled and I collapsed face first onto the hard dirt floor. A sharp pain ran up my right foot to my hip. I couldn’t contain my yells of pain.

I winced a few more times as I struggled to my feet. I found my balance and limped to the illuminated tent flap, opening it to a truly medieval scene.

“Cut him down for God’s sake!” A gruff voice hollered from the crowd.

I pushed and limped my way through the mob. Every man, woman, and child was armed with a torch, holding them close with strong grips. Their absolute terror was visible. As I neared the center I was united in fear with my countrymen.

A pale, malnourished man hung from a frayed rope nailed to the doorway of a great brick building. He was suspended by a black, blood stained meat hook through his shoulder. Writhing in agony, only hoarse gasps for breath left his tortured expression. The doctor rose out of the mob onto a nearby barrel, brandishing a shining steel surgical knife. With a single stroke, the tension in the rope was relieved and the thin man fell into the outstretched arms of frightened townsfolk. The crowd went silent in anticipation for what would happen next.

“He lives in the forest..” The man spoke softly between labored breaths. “His eyes are black like the night. With teeth like knives and shattered bone, The Butcher is coming for us all..”

The silence was broken. Everywhere groups of people murmured amongst themselves.

“STOP!!”

The silence resumed. Everyone looked to the doctor, standing above them all like a voice of reason. He gave his beard a long stroke before continuing.

“We mustn’t succumb to fear. He lives in the forest. We’ve known this for a while now and done nothing out of fear. Fear for our lives, fear for our children’s lives. How many must die before we do what must be done? Tonight we strike at the heart of our fear. Tonight we go into the forest and come back with the Butcher’s head!”

The doctor’s speech was met with a roar of approval. The dynamic of the entire town had changed. They were out for blood. The doctor hopped off the barrel and made his way back to the tent.

“You, come with me.” He grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me through the canvas flaps of the tent. “All the other wounded men here are in urgent condition. It appears that you can walk. That means you’re coming with us. I have a feeling you’ll be useful to us later on.”

The doctor opened a footlocker under my bed and rummaged through it. He pulled out a neatly folded uniform and  dirty steel helmet and thrust them forcefully to my chest. The impact pushed me back a couple steps.

“These are the possessions you came in with. Put them on and meet us outside. You can’t go into the woods like that.”

I looked down and for the first time, noticed the lack of clothing on my body. I was draped in a light blue medical gown, my back was exposed to the elements as well as any prying eyes.

I donned my uniform and limped outside. My right leg was still painfully brittle. The mob was reforming. Swarming from their homes with whatever weapons they could find. Pitchforks, cleavers, and axes dotted the crowd. The doctor, along with a few others, stood at the front of the group with bayonetted rifles. He spotted me and gestured for me to join him. As I limped past the townspeople, I basked in their admiration. I imagine a uniformed German soldier joining their hunt instilled a sense of duty. A purpose to focus on. One much more preferable to fear.

As I neared the doctor he held out a wooden cane. I grabbed it and leaned my weight on it.

“It’s best for all of us if you can keep up.” The doctor stroked his beard and turned away.

We rallied the people and followed the tattered dirt road out of town and into the wilderness of the Black Forest.

About a half mile in the road disappeared, replaced by leaves and gnarled roots. Wolves howled in the distance, signaling our arrival into their domain.

“How much further?” A faceless voice called out.

“Not far” The doctor replied.

Over the next couple of hours the twisted roots and tall pines were replaced by sharp rocks and jagged cliff walls. A path revealed itself as the doctor led us closer. He skillfully dodged and turned through the maze of broken rock. We struggled to keep up. He waited for us at the mouth of a perfectly circular cave. We followed the doctor inside.

The cave opened up to a massive chamber. Everywhere the lanterns illuminated glimmered magnificently. The walls were lined with tiny crystals budding from the rock. The townsfolk were mesmerized by the shimmering lights. Something was strange about the way they stared. It was unnatural. We found blood soaked rags in a corner of the cave. No doubt this was where the butcher had made his unholy home. We heard crying from the next chamber. The doctor signaled for us to follow him before disappearing into the darkness. The mob nervously chattered amongst themselves.

On the floor was a man sobbing to himself. The tattered rags that draped his body were dripping wet. He had a great grey beard that had grown down to his chest. The man ran his fingers through the black sand of the cavern and stared up at us. His eyes were black like the darkness around us. As more people flooded in, the small room filled with light. The walls were adorned with frayed rope, hooks scattered throughout the sand.

“It’s him!”

“The Butcher!”

The people took turns expressing their disbelief. This pathetic man in front of us was the Butcher everyone seemed to fear so much?

“We’ve found the Butcher.” The doctor stood over the man and stroked his beard thoughtfully. “He will stand trial tomorrow at noon.”

“Fuck that!”

“Let’s kill him right here!”

“What of justice?!”

The mob argued amongst themselves causing the man to writhe on the ground at the sound echoing through the cavern. I wasted no time in taking control of the situation. I ripped one of lengths of rope from the walls and fashioned a noose around the Butcher’s throat. As I tightened it, he let out a low growl. I didn’t pay it much mind.

“Here’s what we’re doing!” I screamed at the crowd and they settled down. “We’re going back to town and giving this man a trial. Anyone who doesn’t like that can go back home and wait for justice to be served.”

The doctor nodded approvingly and handed me his firearm. I slung the rifle onto my shoulder and prodded the Butcher forward with my cane. The people cleared out of the way as the man stumbled into the next chamber.

“NO! NO!” The Butcher clawed at the rope around his neck. “NOT HERE!! I THOUGHT I WANTED THIS BUT I DON’T!! I DON’T!!! ANYWHERE BUT HERE!!”

What happened next was so fast I have trouble describing it. The crystals glowed with an otherworldly energy. The Butcher’s posture straightened and he shot me a confident smile with his sharpened teeth. What I saw in his eyes was pure insanity. A chill ran down my spine. Then the cave went dark.

“Hello?! Doctor?!” I called out to the darkness, but I somehow knew there would be no reply.

Feeling along the damp walls, I limped out of the cavern. I shredded my hands as they guided my way through the maze of jagged rocks, and I bruised my body tripping over the tangled roots covering the forest floor. It was well into the afternoon when I had finally left the Black Forest behind me and walked into town.

The streets were silent. Bodies suspended by rope and hook jostled in the breeze. I did not know their names, but I recognized their faces. All of them were dead. In the center of town a man in a white coat stood, staring at the setting sun. The doctor.

I limped over to his side, my cane breaking the silence with every slap against the cobblestone. When I glanced over he was stroking his beard uncontrollably.

“They’re all dead.” The doctor paused and took a long, shaky breath. “All except the children. I must go back to the cavern. That is my fate.

“Doctor, please. What are you talking about?” He ignored my interruption and continued.

“Lead the children, become someone they respect. But control them with fear. When the bodies start appearing blame me. ‘The Doctor'” He chuckled to himself. “When the time is right and they are grown, take them to the cavern. Leave their children behind to complete the next crop. That is how it has been, that is how it will always be.”

The doctor placed his hand on my shoulder and stared into my eyes. His were filling with a strange black liquid. He shot me one last glance before disappearing into the wilderness. Stroking his great beard as he walked.

I stood in the town square for what seemed like hours. Eventually the children gathered around me. They asked about their parents and I explained everything. A strange force compelled me to lead them. Many years later I led them to their deaths. Their children would know me as ‘The Soldier’ and the crop would be resown. That is how it has been, that is how it will always be.

 

Aleksei’s Bakery

Every day at 6:00 am, Aleksei would unlock the bakery and begin making bread. He was known as the best baker in all Moscow. Even when times were especially bad and there was more sawdust than flour, he could somehow manage to make delicious loaves that brought smiles to the faces of the customers. By 6:30 there would already be a line around the block of hungry people. The line would remain till the bakery closed at 10:00 pm or until he ran out of flour. Many people went home hungry and you could see the disappointment in Aleksei’s eyes as he locked up for the night and had to apologize to those he had let down. But the next day he would always be open by 6 am once again with warm bread and a friendly smile.

Since I was a boy I had always worked with my father on our farm in Sergiyev Posad. I learned a lot about how to grow wheat. And even more of the workings of the criminal underworld. Every year we would hide away a quarter of our grain in the woods. The state would take everything in our stores and we were free to sell what we had hidden on the black market. It was simple economics. It was what we had to do to survive.

Growing up, I had hoped to inherit the family business, but a week after I turned 22 a horse trampled my left leg. I remember the fear in my parent’s eyes as they scooped me off the ground. Fear for my future, but also fear for theirs. I have since been a cripple and a burden to the family. On my 25th birthday, my father suggested moving to the city and trying to make a living for myself.

“You know Dimitry, there is work in Moscow. Work that even a cripple can do.” He paused to take a half-breath and continued in a low voice. “I am not sure how much longer we can afford to feed a mouth that does not contribute.”

It was his way of pushing me out of the nest. Although he was now an old man, a lifetime of hard work left him still capable of tending to the fields on his own. But we both knew the day when he would no longer be able was coming soon. The sense of duty to provide for my parents was forever gnawing at my pride. My bum leg twitched at the thought of undertaking such a task.

I left for Moscow the next morning by freight train. Myself and several other stowaways hid in an empty red boxcar for several hours. We followed the lead of a well kempt man who claimed to take the train every other day. His name was Pyotr. And after listening to my story, instructed me to jump out at the 2nd stop after crossing the Moskva River and then head inward towards the shops district. This area, Pyotr claimed was where the least strenuous work could be found. When my stop came he bid me farewell. I managed a short nod before briskly hobbling further into the city. I must admit that the second I left the warehouse district, I was shocked by the sheer grandeur of urban life. Cars lined the sides of the road and sputtered down the streets. 18th century manors squashed between each other had been repurposed for public housing, but did not dim the magnificence of their architecture. People busily hustled up and down the sidewalks. Everyone walked with such a purpose that I felt very out of place, not having somewhere in particular to be. I followed a medium sized crowd of loud women for several blocks. They stopped, and ritualistically thinned into a single file. I stood behind them in line for hours, allowing my mind to wander in the absence of action.

What makes this city tick?

I imagined how wealthy the workers and owners of businesses must be. In my mind I reasoned that for a long line such as the one I was waiting in to form, the owner must withhold much of the goods he produces like we did back on the farm. The shortage produces the lines, and drives up the price on the black market.

Genius

When I got far enough in the line to see the storefront, a wave of bewilderment racked my brain. I spied a stocky man with a bushy red beard waving off those seeking to enter.

“Sorry my friends, the flour has run out early today.”

I could instantly tell by his tone that he was serious. But what took me by surprise was a sudden realization of the truth. In the countryside the state showed up to redistribute our crops to the city. Growing up, I always assumed that the people living in cities never worried about hunger like we did. But the papers never mentioned bread shortages.

An idea formed, occupying my thoughts. I quivered with excitement. Some may call it capitalism, but I justified it at the time as pragmatism. I saw a golden opportunity in Aleksei’s disappointment at the end of the day. There were so many people that wanted food, and I had a connection that would supply me with all the flour he could possibly need. Why get the black market involved at all if I could simply get the goods directly to those that demanded it? Aleksei could bake all the bread he wanted, and I would have a source of money to take care of my dear parents when they became too frail to work. I needed to set up a meeting.

That afternoon, Aleksei closed the door to his shop behind him then fumbled in his pockets until he pulled out a shiny brass key. I had been waiting in an alley across the street, and nearly jumped at the thrill of finally finding him alone. I limped out of the shadows and stepped onto the street.

“Comrade Aleksei!” I waved my hand above my head and continued hobbling towards him.

“Excuse my confusion friend, how do you know my name?”

He slowed to a stop and turned to face me. I gestured behind him at the hanging red sign with the words ‘Aleksei’s Bakery’ engraved into the painted wood. He suppressed a light chuckle and extended his hand. I hopped onto the sidewalk to meet his grip.

“My name is Dimitry, it is good to meet you.”

A look of grim sadness took hold of his expression.

“Look, I truly am sorry but there is no more bread. Please come back as early as you can tomorrow, famine is starting to grip the city once again.”

He slipped his hands into his pockets and began to shuffle away. But before he could get too far I twisted my fingers into the back of his coat. He froze.

“What if I told you I could get you 200 kilograms of flour by tomorrow morning.”

“I would call you a crook.” Aleksei spoke without turning around. “The flour must be stolen, how else would you have it?”

“My family owns a farm outside of Moscow, we sell flour on the black market. But always to a middleman. If I sold to you it will probably be mutually profitable.”

Aleksei put a calloused had on my wrist and forced my arm off his coat. As he walked away in silence, my heart sank. My leg twitched with nervous energy as he got further away. Suddenly he stopped and flashed a conflicted look behind his back.

“Where should I meet you?”

An uncontrollable grin crept onto my face. I leaned on my good leg a moment before waddling to catch up with my new business partner. We discussed many things before agreeing to meet tomorrow morning at the train station nearby. I left with a deal on my mind and hand beating from the compression of a very firm grip.

I woke my father when I knocked at the door of the family farm before dawn. When he cracked the door open and bulged out his left eye I hastily explained that I had taken the earliest train out to give him news. Without opening the door any further he replied with a groggy mumble.

“So you didn’t find work in the city like I asked of you?” He let out an audible groan. “What the hell Dimitry? I asked one simple task of you! I cannot take you back!”

He began to shut the door, but I threw my hand into the shrinking rift. I winced at the force crushing my hand, my father did not stop pushing it closed even with my hand jammed in the doorway. I held in my temper.

“Father! Listen to me! I have come back with a business proposition! I have a partner in Moscow! He runs a bakery!” I breathed out sharply awaiting a reply.

The pain running up my arm ceased. I heard the knob jiggle and swing open to reveal my father’s full body. He whipped a cloak to cover up his long underwear.

“What kind of proposition are we talking about?”

I explained the deal I had set up with Aleksei and asked him to loan me 200 kilograms of flour. He reluctantly agreed, and helped me to load the bags onto a handheld wagon. As we walked together past the property line, his demeanor began to change. He stopped where the farm met the main road and slapped his hand onto my shoulder.

“You know, I am proud of you Dimitry. I am glad you have found a trade you can succeed in. Maybe this is your calling.”

I spotted a twinkle in his eye. My father was a strong man, not one to cry. But it was infectious. I broke down in tears and swore to him that I would make him proud. That I would make mother proud as well. Before I could look up he had begun swiftly walking away. He was not a loving man, but I could still feel the burning feeling his words had left in my chest.

I caught the next freight train to Moscow while it was stopped for a herd of passing cattle. While the engineer dragged a splattered carcass off the tracks, I tossed my hefty baggage aboard one by one along with the wagon and attempted to pull myself aboard a rusty boxcar. I struggled at first having exhausted all of arm strength, thankfully a gloved hand stretched into view.

“Need a hand there comrade?”

It was Pyotr. He wore a blue business suit paired with a silky grey tie. His hair was slicked back and as greasy as his smile. I took his hand and hoisted myself aboard.

“Pyotr! Good to see a friendly face! I took your advice and now I am heading back to Moscow to start my career in business!”

“Careful comrade, those are dangerous words.” He chuckled playfully and slapped one of the bags of flour. “I assume that this is the people’s flour you are intent on selling?”

I nodded slowly. A nervous twitch shook my lame leg.

“You know, I could use some help unloading this. I feel like someone like you could help me move it through the city undetected. I need to make it to Aleksei’s Bakery.”

Pyotr grinned all the way to his left ear. His lips curling greedily at the prospect. He agreed on the condition that he would get a portion of the profits. So when the time came, and the train came to the second stop past the Moskva River he helped me pull my wagon stacked with bags of flour through the twisting alleyways of the city. I struggled to keep up as I limped behind Pyotr. We came out of the alley and onto the street to the familiar red sign posted above Aleksei’s Bakery. Pyotr and I shook hands. I agreed to meet him tomorrow morning on the train to make another delivery and pay him for his services.

I took hold of the wagon and wheeled it over to the steps of the bakery. Aleksei must have seen me crossing the street, because he opened the door before I reached the door.

“Dimitry! Good to see you! Is this the flour from your family farm?”

I did not understand the inflection in his voice, but I responded.

“Indeed friend. Let’s get these bags inside and talk about plans for future deliveries”

The thought of a trade empire nucleated in my mind. This deal was the start of my life’s work, I could feel it in my bones.

Aleksei invited me in to come and sit inside while he brought in the bags. When he dropped the last one he groaned silently and shot me a concerned glance.

“Come down to the basement with me, I wish to show you the secret to my business.”

He put a hand on his back and walked over to a door that had been propped open with a brick. I obliged and walked ahead of him onto the creaky wooden steps. When I hit the basement floor, I found myself in darkness. I heard the slam of the door at the top of the stairs and the striking of a match. Aleksei gracefully squeaked down the stairs holding a small candle.

“Dear friend, do you know what the heart of any business is?”

“No, please enlighten me.”

“Community.” He walked around the room lighting small lanterns atop shelves placed around the room. “You see, without a community there are no customers. No purpose whatsoever.”

“Ah I see.” My leg began twitching uncontrollably.

The lanterns began to reveal a workspace more akin to a carpenter’s shop than a bakery. The way Aleksei moved about so callously was unnerving.

“That’s why when a criminal shows up trying to peddle his stolen wares. I take it upon myself to get him to leave.” He set his candle on a nearby workbench and exchanged it for a wooden club which he clapped against his palm. “If he persists, I make sure he does not taint my community with illegal activity. I admit, it was difficult with you. I needed the flour and it rushed my decision. But I’ve dealt with your type enough to know scum when I see it.”

“Wh-what?” My leg was shaking so much that I fell to my knees. “I swear that this flour is from my family farm! Please! You must believe me!”

“Your lies fall on deaf ears. I will use your stolen flour to feed the community. You will not leave here alive.”

It happened so fast. Aleksei swung the club across my jaw. I heard a distinct snap followed by a white hot pain. It was so much that I collapsed onto my back in agony. My assailant stood above me and held the club against my forehead. He watched me squirm for a moment and then lifted his arm menacingly.

“Like with all degenerates I bring down here, I will allow you to atone to the community for your crime.”

My face burst with life. I was desperate, I racked my thoughts for the right words to say to this madman. My leg shook with stress.

“I-”

“No, no.” He shook his head and continued in a whisper. “I do this part. You see, in times of famine bones make better bread than sawdust.”

Disillusionment

I was but a bright eyed boy when my dear mother passed. Her throat slit while she slept. My father was sent to prison under suspicion of her death where he eventually fell ill and expired. Of course, he was entirely innocent of the crime.

It was a drifter that came to our door that day. He was soaked through his heavy wool coat. Bones rattling to a deathly rhythm, one that had shook the life from his eyes. I distinctly remember a dark presence burdening him, radiating like black steam. I begged my mother not to take pity. But she was a foolish woman. Too kind for her own good.

When the man had finished with her he rooted through our kitchen and stormed out the back. Not before giving a patronizing pat to the back of my head. It was at his touch that the darkness began to take root. The feeling was that of a hand crushing my skull, fingernails digging ever deeper into the depths of my mind. A madness that to this day has failed to cease.

Perhaps I should have stayed. With my testimony, my father surely would have avoided his unjust sentence. Instead he came home to a dead wife and policemen welcoming him with shackles in hand. The only witness had slipped out the door.

On the road life was less than pleasant. Every passing day was a testament to will and desperation.

Travelers would occasionally stop and offer whatever help they could. Though never enough to loosen the grip on my head. Once you have seen evil it becomes a part of you. A part that if not properly drowned, will pound electrifying spasms of torment into the chest. I think that is why I kept walking. Each step staved off the darkness, I knew nothing else.

I woke this morning unable to make it to my feet. Three weeks of hunger and exhaustion had taken its toll. I fear death will take me soon. But more than that, I fear the thoughts that encroach while I lay here.

Before it all goes black I will see true darkness.

Black Blood 146 B.C.

The screams of women and children echoed in the night as they ran for their lives through the puddles and narrow streets. They flooded past us into the dimly lit agora at the center of town. We stood our ground. Stands that once shelved aged wines and the finest silk lay in pieces strewn across the ground. We had stripped them to construct a small palisade there to shelter those unable to fight. We stood at the opening alongside a handful of the local militia as its only line of defense. Thunder boomed overhead. I could hear the vicious growls of the enemy as they approached us in the darkness. I grabbed the whistle around my neck and loosed its piercing shriek.

“Form up on me!”

My men moved into position in line with me at the gap in the wall. We lined up our tall red shields to plug the hole. There were only five of us left. Hopefully it would be enough to keep them from getting past. Behind us, the thin line of militia readied for battle. I could see the terror painted onto their faces. Most had never seen battle. It’s good we were here. Young children hastily ran down the line, distributing javelins and spears to them. I turned to Decimus, my second in command. His joyful face seemed out of place in the chaos that surrounded us.

“Hey Achaicus, if we die, I’m still going collect on those three denarii you owe me.” He joked, oblivious of the chaos around us.

“If we die, I’ll pay you back in Persian whores when we wake in Elysium.” I responded with a smile.

The wails of dying civilians grew louder. The enemy was close. I looked around at my men. Crassius and Marcus stood to my left. They were identical twins of large stature, they had been terrified by battle in the past but now they stood calm and collected. They had been calloused by our first encounter. Though their faces were void of expression, I could see a burning desire for revenge glimmering in their eyes.

Good, we’ll need that

Decimus and Quintus stood to my right. I had known Decimus for a long time and was honored to fight by his side. He possessed an indomitable spirit that had kept us sane this whole time. His confident grin assured me that there was a chance we might survive the night. Quintus was quite small for a Roman and extraordinarily meek in day to day life. But when backed in a corner, his energy and skill in battle were unmatched. Under his blood stained helmet he furrowed his brow and grit his teeth. He was ready for what was coming, and I trusted that he would fight with us to the death, should it come to that.

The screaming off in the distance suddenly and instantaneously ceased. Replaced by the curious patter of raindrops on steel. I unsheathed my sword and held it high above my head. The panicking civilians in the palisade went quiet. The militia raised their javelins, ready to hurl at my command. The only voice that could be heard was that of a lone infant crying among the refugees.

Moments later we could hear the unsettling mass of growls. A lone figure shambled into the light and stood still. His skin was grey. His open mouth, smothered with blood and overflowing with bubbling saliva. I recognized his mutilated face. I had killed him. The Greek breastplate he wore was punctured and stained with black blood. We had to be wary of his bite or embrace a frenzied existence after death. We had all seen it happen before. We called them the inferi. The dead.

A large group of corpses followed him into the light. A few wore the heavy steel armor of the Roman Army, they were crouched onto their hands from its weight and moved like four legged beasts. They barred their teeth and snarled furiously at us. It was disturbing to see our own transformed into such terrible creatures. If all went well, no more would be added to their ranks this night.

As the group continued to gather in front of us I sliced my sword forward through the air.

“Now!”

The militia unleashed a volley of javelins over our heads. Many struck home in the chests of the nonliving. They fell to the ground from the force of impact, only to rise moments later. Black blood pooled on the floor. Those impaled through the face went limp and collapsed. A sharp blow to the head seemed to be their only weakness.

The Greek soldier in front was impaled through the stomach, forcing him to stumble backwards. He paused for a moment before growling and sprinting straight for us, followed en mass by the horde. The Roman inferi resembled rabid wolves as they charged on all fours, mouths open with hunger and animalistic desire. We beat our swords against our shields in anticipation.

“Spears!”

The militia hastily picked up the bronze spears at their feet and rushed behind us forming two tightly packed rows of men. The first row crouched and stuck their spears through the gaps between our shields. The second stood and pointed their spears out at head level. It would be moments before they were upon us. I gritted my teeth.

“Brace for impact!”

As the inferi crashed into our line it took all of our strength to keep from staggering backwards. The Greek soldier had been stopped by a spear through his heart just a couple feet in front of my face. I could smell his wretched breath as he inched closer. Scraping his flesh along the wooden shaft of the spear, nothing seemed to distract him from the desire to sink his decaying teeth into my throat. I thrust my sword under his chin. Straight into the brain. The supernatural glow left his eyes as he went limp. I twisted my sword arm around in the internal mush of his skull for good measure before pulling it out. The spear he had been impaled upon kept him standing upright. I looked around to asses our situation.

Decimus was frantically kicking at a Roman corpse trying to gnaw at his exposed ankles. I came to his aid with a sharp kick to the corpse’s side. It flipped over and lay at Decimus’s feet. He brought his shield down swifly. The head was severed with ease and black blood squirted in every direction. Decimus shot me an appreciative grin. I smiled back and turned my attention to the other men.

Quintus was shielded from the rest of the inferi by a limp corpse that had been stabbed through the forehead in the initial charge. He slashed furiously at the husk of a body in vain.

Efutue!” He cursed. “It’s not fair Achaicus, this fellatrix is standing between me and the action!”

I nodded reassuringly. At least he was safe and holding the line. I looked to my left. Crassius and Marcus worked together like hunter and hound. Crassius kicked away the arms supporting a crawling Roman corpse. It quickly collapsed under the weight of its bulky steel armor. Without pause Marcus drove his sword home straight through the base of the neck. Three slain Roman inferi were piled at their feet.

I heard a loud snarl in front of me and turned my attention to my own share of the fight. A Roman corpse had attempted to crawl between the legs of suspended the Greek soldier and had gotten stuck just below the Greek’s groin. He snapped at me and I instinctively stabbed downward at the beast’s scalp. The blow merely glanced off his thick steel helmet. He moved his head wildly in an attempt to escape. I placed the bottom half of my shield under his chin and lifted his gaze upward. Once I could see the pure darkness in his eyes I stabbed again. This time the blade struck home between his eyes. His stare lost its urgency as black blood drained to the ground. I pulled my shield back to my body and he slunk to the blood stained floor under the Greek soldier.

We were starting to gain confidence that this night would end in victory until a deafening mass of growls gripped us with renewed fear. At least two full centuries of inferi stood at the edge of the light. Greek hoplites and Roman legionnaires side by side. Decimus sliced a standing inferi across the chest as it charged toward him. It spun around and turned to its fellow undead, snarling for aid. They let out an unnervingly human cry and charged.

“Brace yourselves!”

They smashed into us with the force of a rolling wave. I was knocked back into the militia behind me. They struggled to keep the inferi at bay, but their strength failed in a matter of seconds and the dead rushed into the palisade. Welcomed by a cacophony of screams from the old, the women and the children. They eagerly leapt over us at the opportunity for easy prey. I looked up at the Greek corpse I had killed. Black blood dripped down from his chin and spattered onto my forehead. The sound of Quintus’s voice snapped me out of my daze.

“Achaicus! If we don’t get out of here right now we’ll be inferi chow!” Quintus struggled to push aside the plump corpse pinning him to the ground. “Let’s go!”

We all wiggled around to free ourselves from the immobilizing weight of the corpses. Marcus easily shrugged off two large Roman bodies and frantically grasped my hand to lift me up. He nervously glanced over his shoulder at the ensuing chaos. I thanked him and scanned our surroundings to find a route of escape. To our rear, the militia scrambled out from under piles of corpses and ran to protect their loved ones. The refugees were being consumed in an inferi feeding frenzy. Thick spatters of blood and severed limbs flew through the air.

Their desperate screams as they were ripped apart shook my skull to its core.

Some of the militiamen realized the futility in fighting and simply fled out along the main road through town. Crassius and Marcus stared eagerly at the road. I could tell that they wanted to follow the militia through the most direct route through the city. My instincts urged me to run with the herd, but I knew that more inferni could be lying in wait. Breaking off from the main road was a narrow alleyway wedged between two extravagant villas.

“That way!” I pointed my sword its direction.

We bolted to the alleyway, careful not to give any more notice to the slaughter behind us. For the sake of our sanity we absolved ourselves of any responsibility for what had happened to the refugees at the hands of the inferni. When I reached the narrow alleyway I did look back once for good measure. The inferni were still occupied in the palisade and the bloodcurdling screams were ever present in the night. I disappeared into the darkness of the alleyway and my men followed suit.

By the time the sun was just beginning to crest over the craggy hills of the Greek landscape we had put significant distance between us and the doomed city. I sat down on a patch of grass underneath a large oak at the top of a hill and gestured for my men to join me. This was the first time we had stopped moving since our retreat from the city. The morning dew gave the ground a cool, seductive comfort. After a few silent minutes had passed I stood and urged my men forward. We needed to keep moving.

“We’ll head that way” I gestured to the West. “We should make progress towards camp. They need to hear our report before they send out any more-”

“And then what?” Marcus stood to face me. “Regroup with the legion? We fought a few hundred inferni back there, now you ask us to face thousands?”

“We need cohesion and discipline. Five men cannot survive on their own and I’m willing to bet the legion needs as many men as it can muster.”

“Achaicus! The legion is gone! All we know is that wherever there are people there are inferni! I say we go North along the coast, find a ship, and leave this forsaken place!”

“We have a duty to aid the Republic! I will not doom fellow Romans, MY men, to die! Not if I have yet to lend my aid! We can still win this war Marcus!”

“I don’t give a damn about your Republic or your precious war! I’m not looking to die! I’m going North! Anyone who wants to live can join me.”

Crassius stood behind his brother. Quintus and Decimus stood behind me and cautiously placed their hands over the hilts of their swords. I stared at Marcus. He was taken aback by the anger in my response.

“Come with us. We’re going West!”

Futete! Make me!” Marcus unsheathed his sword.

Everyone drew their weapons and raised their shields. The tension on the hill was amplified by a moment of silence.

“If you desert, I’m going to have to kill you.”

“You can try.”

Marcus threw a powerful swing at my head. I blocked the blow with my shield and thrust my blade at his chest with the intent to kill. Crassius parried my sword with his own and with a single kick, knocked me to the ground. Decimus and Quintus came to my aid. The distinct clamor of steel on steel echoed through the empty landscape. Quintus was a more than a match for Marcus, but Decimus struggled to fend off Crassius’s fury of blows. I scrambled to my feet. A stinging pain from my ribs was excruciating, but I managed to put it to the back of my mind. I held my shield high and charged Crassius. Decimus sensed my attack and sidestepped out of my way. Crassius’s face turned to shock as he instantly realized what was happening.

Just a moment too late my friend

I crashed into him, slamming him forcefully onto the ground. He gazed up at me with a dazed expression as I lifted the hilt of my sword and smashed it down onto his forehead. He flailed his arms against my armor. I did it over and over again, savagely beating the energy out of his large body. Blood poured off of his head and onto the dewy grass. Decimus watched in horror at the animal that had taken hold of me. His skull began to give way and the struggling ceased. Each successive blow resulted in a brittle snapping sound until my hilt had dug itself deep into his face. My attacks slowed as my rage began to fade. I looked down at my blood soaked hands. The pain returned to my ribcage. It felt good, like a twisted reward for a job well done.

Marcus, still fending off Quintus, was enraged by the death of his brother. His blows increased in frequency and strength. Quintus staggered back at every blocked attack. He soon found himself at the edge of a fairly steep portion of the hill. Decimus ran to Quintus’s aid. With both of them on the offensive, Marcus was quickly overwhelmed again. In an act of desperation, he cried out and slammed his body into Quintus. He screamed as he was thrown backward and down the steep edge of the hill. Decimus raised his sword to strike, but was dispatched by a swift kick from Marcus. He too was sent tumbling down the hill. Marcus breathed heavily and hit me with a smoldering glare.

“You killed my brother Achaicus.” He looked down at Quintus and Decimus. They were frantically climbing back up the hill. They would be here soon. “I’m going North. Don’t try to stop me. You kept one of us from leaving, I hope that pleases your damn Republic.”

I sat there, still on top of of Crassius’s lifeless body. I could see the burning rage in Marcus’s eyes. He spat at my feet and walked away. Quintus and Decimus finally made it to the top of the hill ready for a fight. Instead they found me standing, staring down at Crassius’s mutilated face. Was it worth it?

Decimus placed a firm hand on my shoulder.

“You know I’d follow you anywhere right?” The usual joyfulness in Decimus’s voice was replaced by a low, serious tone.

“I have trust in you Achaicus. You’ve kept us alive this long.” Quintus chimed in.

I flashed a weak smile at them. I pointed West with a blood soaked finger and began walking down the hill. Quintus and Decimus looked at each other with concern and then hurried to join me on the road back to camp.