"Sometimes we see things others don't. Not because they can't, because they won't."

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Changed --Chapter Eight -- by Dee Caples


When Pericles rescues a human female from nomads he risks the wrath of his fellow genetic mutants who have done their best to avoid mankind. Worse yet, Danna has tripped the trigger of Dancy, the sociopath mayor of Dirty Town, by stealing from him. In this steampunk tale of revenge, there will be a duel in the desert and only one faction will come out the winner. 

The Mayor Of Dirty Town

Dancy flicked his hand to shoo away the young whore he’d just banged. It hadn’t been very good. She’d just laid there, her face to the wall the whole time. At least she hadn’t winced the way they did when JoJo wanted to get laid. He watched the girl’s narrow ass disappear into her dress. “Wash off before you go back down. No one likes sloppy seconds.”


The girl left the room and he rose to get dressed. He cleaned with soap and water from the basin, his lips curling at the stench of overripe pussy and wondered if they had any douche left in storage. The bitch needed one. His boots clunked on the creaking stairs as he made his way down to the bar. It wasn’t ship-shape and he went to the blackboard to check the chore list. Plain as fuckin’ day. “Steve! It’s your day to mop! Get your lazy ass in gear before I plant my boot up it.” He kicked a chair out of the way and glared at the mess he saw beneath its table. He drug the unfortunate teenager by his hair over to the dried puddle on the floor. “I don’t give you food and a room for nothing, dipshit! Next time someone pukes on the floor, clean it up before I see it.”

He shook the boy roughly. Dancy wasn’t a big man but he didn’t have to be. All you needed was the right kind of talk and more brains than the big fellas. He had JoJo for the scary shit. “If I ever see the floor like this again I’ll beat your ass, son.”

Ralph, at least, was on the ball. The top and sides of the bar had been wiped down, liquor lined up straight as soldiers reflected in the back mirror. A polished shot glass waited next to a bottle of his private stash of whiskey. He looked back to see the boy industriously scrubbing the floor. Steve had his reddish-brown hair and green eyes. The kid might even be his son. Who knew around here? Rape wasn’t a crime.

“You seen my brother?” Dancy asked Ralph.

“Not today.” He winced and put the cap back on after pouring the shot. “Uh, I didn’t want to disturb you earlier but I got some bad news.”

Dancy knocked back the liquor and put the glass down, pointing into it for another round. “How bad?”

“Bad enough.” Ralph was obviously reluctant to spit it out but he did anyway. “That punk, the new kid that’s been hanging around? I heard he stole one of your motorcycles.” His tongue fished back to a rotting molar and made a sucking sound. “Rumor is he took off with Danna.”

Hissing, Dancy ground his jaw. The little bitch’s singing attracted a lot of business. “And I’m just now hearing about this?”

Ralph turned a little green and held up his spread hands. “I only found out an hour ago. Like I said, I didn’t want to disturb you while you were, uh...”

“Right.” Dancy threw back the other shot and went to find Kick. He was at the motorcycle shop working on a piece of crap he hadn’t managed to get running yet and probably never would. He fingered his lips and tapped a toe until it registered in Kick’s thick skull that he had company.

“Oh, hey. What’s up, man?”

Dancy smiled in a not nice way. “Why didn’t you come tell me about that kid stealing a bike?”

Kick picked up a greasy rag, managing to only smear dirt and lubricant even worse on his already filthy palms. He wouldn’t meet Dancy’s eyes. “Well, I did tell JoJo. He and a couple others went last night to try and find them.”

“Are they back yet?”


If JoJo had returned he’d have come to him, to brag if nothing else. His gorilla of a brother loved to tell tales of gore and mayhem. He left Kick’s shop and took a stroll through his town. His town. God, how he loved the sound of that!

The brick and wood structures were well-maintained and he recruited the best talent he could find. They had water, gardeners, munitions makers and smart fuckers for the really complicated stuff. Every now and then, when they had the fuel to spare, he allowed them to burn the midnight oil and celebrate just for the hell of it. Who would want to live anywhere else? Danna and the kid, that’s who.

In spite of the fact he’d had sex not thirty minutes ago, Dancy felt his dick stir at the thought of Danna. She was a pretty, little piece but JoJo had claimed her first. Ralph tossed her now and then, too, so Dancy was content to fuck elsewhere. One cunt was just like the next. Well, almost. He made a mental note to instruct Amber to douche. Hopefully there was some Massengill left and he’d tell her to keep it to herself. Usually, he’d heard, the girls lavaged their twat and caught the water in a bucket to share with another girl. More than once he’d had to send them to Doc because they’d also split an STD between them doing that stupid shit. But who’d ever heard of an intelligent whore?

There in the middle of the street stood the gallows. A thief hung two days ago was still dangling at the end of the rope, covered in crows. Once he started to really stink he’d have him cut down and chucked in the dirt. This display of what happened to people that stole from him obviously hadn’t worked but it never occurred to Dancy that his control might be slipping. He reveled in the deference shown by nods and hellos he got as he patrolled the street. They all but bowed and scraped. And they should. He ran a town that was clean, orderly and only semi-violent. Long as he kept the collar buckled into the right hole he was assured of smooth sailing.

Ambling from store to store, he looked for news of his brother. No one had seen the numbskull. It didn’t worry him too much. JoJo and his buds would return. He was probably somewhere screwing Danna if he hadn’t already beaten her to death. Sooner or later he’d show up. 

Start at the beginning 

Previous Chapter 

Animalistic -- Chapter 3 -- by Chisto Healy


Chap One

Chap Two 

Lionel hung back when Sasha followed the giant, muscled man past the crowd into another room. She couldn’t understand why. He found her. They were together. Wouldn’t he want to keep her safe? Had she misread him? She didn’t misread what happened between them. She knew that much for sure. She could still taste him in her mouth. Thinking about it made a hunger rise in her that almost caused her to change forms right there. Sasha wasn’t aware that could happen and was startled by it, and more than a little embarrassed.

The new room was a library, and a magnificent one. It was all lavish purples, the carpet and drapes. There was gold trim and she thought to herself that everything looked like silk, aside form the books of course, and boy where there books; she had never seen so many. Sasha loved reading. It was her salvation for a long time. When you don’t fit in with the other people in your community, even if they don’t know you’re different, you still feel like an outsider. You just can’t relate, can’t express yourself. Isolation is inevitable. Books made her not feel alone.

“You’re welcome to read any of these you want, whenever you feel fit,” the enormous man told her and that made Sasha smile with delight. He mirrored the gesture and offered her a seat. The chair looked more like a throne to her, violet pillows and golden legs and back, real gold too, not gold painted wood. She ran her hand over it to make sure. The man watching her smiled again. “Yes. It’s real. There is much that has been passed down for generations. Some of our ancestors, yours included, lived quite luxurious lives.”

“How is this in here?” Sasha asked him. She was trying to focus on the beauty of the room instead of the beauty of the man. She wanted to remain faithful to Lionel, at least for now, and just looking at the man before her made her want to touch him. She could only imagine him in his true form. He had to be absolutely majestic. “The outside looks like a warehouse, but this is like something out of a mansion.”

The big man nodded his head. “It’s a facade, necessary to keep us from receiving unwanted attention. You have much to learn, and I’m afraid there’s not the luxury of time as some of the others have had in the past.”

“Why not?” Sasha almost sighed with relief when the behemoth of a man sat behind a desk nearby. “Wait. I don’t even know your name.”

The man took a deep breath. “My name is Martin. Lionel and his brother Theodore are my sons. I am the alpha of this pack, your pack.”

Sasha’s head was spinning. Things were going too fast. She was glad to find another like her, to even know there were others, but she didn’t want to be forced into a pack. She wanted to join one by choice, to be in control of her life. She felt like snapping on Martin and telling him just that, but she bit it back, wanting to hear what else he had to say.

“You knew my name and I just got here,” Sasha said out loud as she realized it. 

Martin gave another nod. “I found out about you recently. Well, Delia did technically. She’s quite the spy. You’ll meet her eventually. She is one of my scouters. There jobs are to find others, and then I devise a plan to bring them in. I sent Lionel to lure you back.”

Sasha was taken aback by this. She felt mortified, disgusted, enraged. She stood from her seat, shaking with adrenaline. “He knew? You sent him? Your son is an asshole. I thought we had something. He’s the first man like me that I ever met. He made love to me. It was all a ruse to bring me back here, to make me join your pack? Well I’m not. I’m leaving, right now.”

Martin jumped. He cleared the desk and her, sending a flurry of papers into the air. Then he landed in front of the door. “I’m afraid I can’t allow you to do that,” he told her. “I understand that you are upset, but if you sit back down, I will explain everything to you.”

Sasha knew that she couldn’t get past a man his size. She was also now painfully aware of how his size took nothing from his speed or agility. She could see why he was the Alpha. She was still angry, still bearing her teeth and showing her fangs to him. He waited patiently for her to relax and sit. Then he walked back to his own seat, picking up the fallen papers as he went.

“Lionel’s mission to retrieve you said nothing about mating, Sasha. He also doesn’t mate with everyone he recruits, at least not to my knowledge. Maybe the two of you do in fact have something. That is for you and him to discuss and figure out. It has nothing to do with why I wanted you here, however, and I need you to stay here with us, even if you want to castrate my son with your teeth.”

Sasha sighed. “You know, I have a home and a life. You want me to abandon all of it. Just like that. Go ahead, Martin. Explain to me why I should.”

“Our kind is in terrible danger, Sasha, and I don’t just mean wolves. I mean all shifters.”

“There are others?” Sasha asked, wide eyed.

“There are many,” Martin answered. “Cats, bear, boars, birds like hawks and eagles, even reptiles like crocodiles. Most shifters live in groups, packs like ours, but there those, like you, that live outside of the norm, unaware of the options that exist for them, the sense of community that awaits.”

Sasha started rubbing her face. A day ago, she thought she was lone in the world, a weirdo monster disgraced to live with this curse, hated by her own family. Now today she find out all of this. It felt insane, impossible, yet somehow she knew that every word of it was true. Well, everything except the parts about Lionel, but Martin was right, she would deal with him personally on that in her own time.

“What is the danger?” she asked.

“There are shifters we call the Dark Born. They have evil in their hearts. There has been several accounts of them over time but they were alone, one power hungry person that did their damage and then got taken down. Things are different now though. The Dark Born have found each other, formed a pack of their own. They are unimaginably dangerous.”

Sasha shook her head. She was an editor for a woman’s magazine. She worked from home and sipped coffee in the daylight and whiskey at night, with wine in the bathtub. Now she was part of a pack of wolves and there were other packs and other animals and some of them were evil and somehow a danger to her. This was all too much. She could barely wrap her head around it.

“Why are they so dangerous, Martin? The dark ones.”

“Dark Born,” he corrected. “They are shifters who have learned that if you eat the heart of a different shifter, you can then take their form. It takes a ritual and some very dark magic but it is true. So they aren’t satisfied with the two forms they already live in. They consider forms as currency, wealth, and they want to be the richest of all. Each one of them seeks to find one of every kind of shifter, so they can reach their maximum potential. Some of them have already began and can take multiple forms which makes them formidable adversaries to say the least. With people like them out there, no one can be alone. The Dark Born would have found you just like Delia did. You wouldn’t have stood a chance by yourself, but here we can stick together. We can keep you safe.”

Sasha sighed and leaned back in the chair. Even with everything, she still marveled at its comfort. “This is a lot to process,” was all she said.

“Of course it is,” Martin said, standing from the desk. “Just give it time. Everything will be okay in time.”

With that he walked around her and exited the room. If there was any moment Sasha had ever needed a drink, this was it. She imagined someone trying to rip her heart out and she shivered. How had her life turned so completely upside down?

The door to the library reopened and drew her attention. Sasha turned in her chair expecting to see Martin again. She intended to ask him if there was a bar in this covert mansion of his. It wasn’t Martin that had come in though.

There was a woman walking towards her with a sultry swagger. She was completely naked and entirely unashamed. Her flesh was the color of hot chocolate and glistened under the lights of the library. She was all curves with thick thighs and wide hips, accentuated by her small waist. Sasha didn’t know what to think. She just stared at the oncoming woman, blinking.

Sasha had never been with a woman before but allowing her eyes to drink up the female specimen before her, she couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like. She wondered if the woman could tell what she was thinking, how she was feeling, and suddenly she felt ashamed.

The woman’s thick full lips parted to display a smile of perfectly white teeth. When she spoke, her voice was a sensual hoarse whisper. “Don’t feel bad about it, honey. I’m all woman, and those fantasies of yours would probably actually pale in comparison to the real thing. I would rock your world.”

Sasha’s eyes went wide. Her mouth moved for a bit before remembering how to make words. “I wasn’t - I didn’t, I mean…I wouldn’t even know how to fantasize about that. I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

A pink tongue licked at that plump luscious lower lip. Then the woman smiled again. She stopped in her tracks before Sasha in all her nakedness, breasts at eye level. She saw and obviously took pleasure in Sasha’s gaze lingering on her erect nipples. Then she said, “I’m definitely going to have to give you a lesson on where to begin sweetheart, but first we need to talk, and we can’t do it here, so I need you to come with me.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

IT CAME FROM THE DARKNESS -- A Charity Anthology

From the publisher of Mandatory Midnight

My artwork has been selected for the cover of a horror anthology benefiting a very worthy charity fund. Below is the press release. I am asking you to PLEASE READ this and visit the site. This cause is to fight a VERY RARE form of CANCER that only affects toddlers. I am adamant about this cause and I will be sharing this post often. Once the book is available for pre-order I hope you will buy it to help fight this horrible cancer. No child should ever have to suffer.

Big thanks to my friend Chisto Healy who urged me to submit my work. 


Red Cape Publishing and Philip Rogers 101 PR are proud to announce the upcoming release of It Came From the Darkness, a collection of 100-word stories and poems, interspersed with exclusive artwork. The book has been put together to raise money for the Max the Brave Fund (www.maxthebravefund.org) and will be released on October 30th, with pre orders available from the 23rd.


It Came From the Darkness is a unique collection of drabbles (stories of 100 words exactly) and artwork, compiled by Red Cape Publishing and Philip Rogers 101 PR in aid of the Max the Brave Fund. A huge number of horror writers, poets, artists, and film makers have come together to support the cause and offer the reader something special. Each piece of writing begins with the same five words, but the stories themselves are all wonderfully varied. So dig in, take each tale one bloody bite at a time, and beware of what comes from the darkness.

Includes stories from David Owain Hughes, Matthew V. Brockmeyer, Tim Lebbon, Lou Yardley, Cortney Palm, Lee Franklin, MJ Dixon, Singh Lall, and many, many more.

Cover artwork by David Paul Harris (www.davidpaulharris.com)


Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Fresno Kid -- by Jane Nightshade

Thirteen-year-old Sandy is stuck with taking spoiled, bratty David to the annual County Fair. David, of course, wants to see the sideshow attractions— the Alligator woman, the Two-Headed Man, and others. But a strange sideshow manager named Mr. Magicola wants to show Sandy and David another, SPECIAL sideshow...


The Fresno Kid

an excerpt from the book The Drowning Game by Jane Nightshade

The Sutton County Fair arrived each year at the very end of June, with the Fourth of July hard on its heels. In mid-June, my little brother Todd and I sat on the front porch of our house and made plans for the glorious arrival of the Fair, and for all the fireworks we would buy for the Fourth. I was thirteen; it had been a year since the beginning of the previous summer, the terrible Summer of The Drowning Game. It wasn’t as hot this year as last, I told myself; there was no reason to find a pool. The rotating lawn sprinklers were good enough.

In between making plans for the Fair and the Fourth, Todd kept telling me stories about the Fresno Kid. The Fresno Kid was famous around our part of the world; whenever anyone wanted to do something that was the least bit forbidden or naughty or exciting, someone always told a story about a kid from Fresno who had come to a bad end by doing that exact thing. These stories were always taken as the gospel truth by children in towns all along the valley, from Modesto to Modoc, from Sacramento to Sutton.

“There was a kid from Fresno once who tried to climb the Sutton Buttes alone when it was rattlesnake season . . .” began Todd again, when my mother interrupted, and called us in to tell us about David Amodeo, a boy she’d agreed to sit that summer while his mother worked odd hours as a motel clerk in Bertha’s Town.

“I’ll probably need you guys to help me with David,” my mother began. “He can be quite a handful, his mother told me.”

Todd rolled his eyes and made a face; he knew David from school. “I’ve got my paper boy job, you know. Not sure how often I’ll be around this summer. Sandy can entertain David.”

Thanks, Todd, I mouthed sarcastically. Well, at least it’s something to keep my mind off the terrible anniversary, I reflected, nodding along with my mother’s words. I didn’t know David, but how much trouble could an eleven-year-old be, anyway? Todd was eleven and he was easy to control if you knew what buttons to push.

I always looked forward to both the County Fair and the Fourth of July; they were the high point of our childhood summers. They broke up the usual monotonous summer routines of sneaking into drive-in movie lots, fishing and picnicking beside the twin rivers in Sutton County, and tromping along the baking sidewalks with a mob of other kids to buy a Slurpee at the corner market, arguing all the way whether cherry-flavored was better than cola-flavored, or vice versa.

On the evening of the Fourth, there would be a big fireworks display over the man-made lake at the Sutton County Fair Grounds, administered by the Sutton County Volunteer Fire Department. Afterward, most families would go home and set off their own private boxes of home fireworks in their driveways, purchased at the temporary stands that would begin setting up in Sutton County in the last three weeks of June.

These stands were usually run by the local Lions’ Club, the Boy Scouts, or the Dad’s Club of a local school or church. They would sell you an assorted package of fireworks; but they also sold individual pieces for ten to fifty cents each, depending on the type. Sparklers, glow-worms, Roman Candles, Catherine Wheels, and conical creations called “fountains” that spurted gold, silver, red and green sparks—all were displayed in brilliantly colored heaps and rows on a wide front counter screened off about half-way with chicken-wire. They had irresistible names in addition to the lurid packaging: Dragon’s Breath, Silver Cascade, or Pirate’s Gold, or patriotic names like Battle of Ticonderoga or Star-Spangled Salute.

One of the most popular types of fireworks, at least among kids, was a tall tower called the Shrieky Pete. It was shaped like a long, thick cigar, with a cheap wooden base at the bottom, and the words “SHRIEKY PETE” printed vertically in block capital letters down the front of its paper wrapping. When the fuse was lit, the Shrieky Pete made a high-pitched shrieking sound that would be answered by a cacophony of the neighborhood’s dogs, while golden sparks flew out of the top.

It was well known among all the kids in our part of California that if you pinched the “Y” in the word “SHRIEKY” with a pliers, the Shrieky Pete would explode like a bomb, when the fuse burned down to the pinched part.

There was a Fresno Kid story about a Shrieky Pete, I remembered, as my brother and I later hiked to the fireworks stand that had just opened up in the parking lot of our local church. Our Dad had given us money to buy an assortment—with instructions to choose carefully for the best deal.

Todd knew that particular Shrieky Pete story well, of course.

“The Fresno Kid  pinched his Shrieky Pete way too hard,” he said. “It blew up before he expected it, and his arm came clean off. Then he died, and his ghost sometimes haunts fireworks stands up and down the Central Valley, looking for its missing arm.”

Todd reminded me of other well-worn Fresno Kid stories: the one, for example, about the Fresno Kid who supposedly had stood up in one of the cars of the Bobsled carnival ride just as it sped very fast through a tunnel, and had his head taken off as a result. And another one about a Fresno Kid who supposedly choked to death while stuffing hot dogs down his throat during a carnival hot-dog-eating contest—and one who gotten his face eaten off by a German Shepherd or some other animal, after poking it excessively with a stick.  

“Let’s get a Pirate’s Chest assortment,” I said, after Todd and I had lingered long and lovingly over every glow-worm and fountain on display at the fireworks stand. The Pirate’s Chest was not the cheapest box of fireworks, nor the most expensive; it was somewhere in the middle.  I respected my Dad for springing for the mid-priced package instead of the super-cheapie one, although every year I would sigh covetously over the 1776 Extravaganza, the top-of-the-line assortment that cost a small fortune.

The Pirate’s Chest came with several boxes of sparklers, a Roman Candle, a Catherine Wheel, five boxes of glow-worms, three cones, two large cascading towers, and two Shrieky Petes.

“We always get the Pirate’s Chest,” complained Todd. “Let’s buy the cheapest one this time, and spend the leftovers on extra Shrieky Petes . . .’’

“It’s the best buy,” I said sternly. ‘And we promised Dad we’d be prudent.”

Todd shrugged, and I bought the Pirate’s Chest assortment, and then we hurried home to pinch the “Y” on each Shrieky Pete with a pliers, taking care to do it exactly right, so that we would avoid the gruesome fate of the stupid and careless kid from Fresno who’d gotten his arm blown off. When finished, we put the Shrieky Petes back in the Pirate Chest box, and left it on the coffee table in the living room, a place of pride, where it would sit until the Glorious Fourth.

 * * *

I woke up in the very early hours of the next morning to the sound of a pterodactyl screeching into a steamy jungle mist. Then I realized there was no pterodactyl and certainly no steamy mist. It was a truck—an enormous one at that, I thought, to have such a loud, screechy horn attached to it. What’s more, the truck seemed to be working its way down our street. I could hear weighty rumbling and the occasional squeak of heavy, out-sized axles.

I threw off my covers and ran to the bedroom window, the one that faced the street. I parted the curtains and looked out into the street and saw not just one enormous truck, but several, slowly moving down our street, while a few men with flags tried to direct them. I glanced briefly at the Hollenbeck house, where my friend Paddy who had been lost last Summer to The Drowning Game had lived, and felt the familiar stab of pain. Thankfully, his family had gone on a long vacation trip to the Grand Canyon and their house was dark.

I turned my attention back to the unusual sight of the trucks crawling down our street. Some of the trailers they were hauling had glittery, shiny writing and figures painted on them, and then I realized: “It’s the Fair! The Fair is here!”

I tossed a look at my sister Karen, huddled up under the frilly pink coverlet she’d purchased with her babysitting money, sleeping like a tombstone. Karen wasn’t going to wake up for anything at this hour, I knew. Then I padded down the hall to Todd’s room, pushed the door open, and woke him up: “Come see! The Fair is here!”

Together we sat huddled on the front porch step in our pajamas, watching the trucks crawl on the street pavement like a giant centipede, bumper to bumper.

“Why are they here so early?” yawned Todd. “It’s not even four o’clock in the morning!”

“Carny people,” I shrugged. “They keep all sorts of strange hours. I don’t know why they are coming down our street—maybe there’s a detour somewhere.”

“Look there’s one of the freak show trucks!” Todd said, pointing to a trailer which was painted with a figure of a woman who looked to be half-alligator and one of a man with two heads.

“Don’t call them freaks—Mama doesn’t like it,” I said automatically.

“Whatever,” shrugged Todd. “They sure look bigger and better and newer this year. It’s gonna be a heckuva time at the Fair Grounds when everything gets set up!”


* * *

Our first day minding David Amodeo followed soon after the Fair arrived. I’d already gotten a handle on his character after only a day of exposure:  he acted prissy and angelic in front of adults, but would often turn sly, sneaky and troublesome when they weren’t around. I didn’t like him at all, but I felt I should help my mother out by hanging out with him and keeping him occupied. There were cut-backs at the Del Monte cannery where she usually worked part-time, and we needed the few dollars that the babysitting job brought in. I stuck around home to entertain David all through that summer, except for the few days a week when I worked as a volunteer for the Sutton County Historical Society Museum downtown, in the Stagecoach Plaza Shopping Center.

David was impressed with our Pirate’s Chest package of fireworks when he saw it on the coffee table.

He opened the lid, and his eyes lit upon the two Shrieky Petes.

 “You didn’t pinch those Shrieky Petes hard enough,” he said. “Those pinches are hardly enough to make any kind of explosion.”  

David was an inveterate trouble-maker. Not that I had anything on him in that department, but the trouble I made was usually in the pursuit of some wrong-headed adventure I considered noble, not because I wanted to make things difficult for other people.

David, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy creating trouble just for the heck of it, in order to make other people angry or upset.

 “The Shrieky Petes are fine,” I snapped back. “I don’t want to get my arm blown off by pinching them harder.”

“Oh, that lame story about the Fresno Kid,” he snickered. “You actually believe it, Miss Sandy?”

David wouldn’t stay quiet about the Shrieky Petes. He eventually threatened to tell his mother that we were being horrible to him if I didn’t go along with his plan to pinch them more than Todd and I had already done.

“She’ll get another babysitter and your mom will lose the income,” he boasted. “If I tell her I don’t like it here.”

I figured my mother couldn’t afford to lose even the few dollars she made from David’s mother, so I finally gave in. I found a set of pliers in my dad’s toolbox in the garage and watched while David used it to crimp the Shrieky Petes, so hard that the dent at the “Y” became a very definite gash, tearing the covering paper and looking fierce as heck.

“Bombs away, Sandy!” David laughed, a demonic look on his trouble-making face. I wanted to punch him, but restrained myself at the last moment. “When can we set them off? Now?”

“No, I said,” I said, and this time I was adamant. “They don’t go until the Fourth.”

David smirked. “We’ll see about it later,” he said.

I got stuck with taking him to the Fair, of course. Todd went with a kid from his school and his friend’s Mom; Karen went with one of her high school friends who had a car. My mother, who couldn’t drive, got a neighbor lady to take us all over to the fairgrounds, which was located on the outskirts of Bertha’s Town, across the river from downtown Sutton.

We arrived in the morning, only about a half-hour after the gates opened up, when there were hardly any fair-goers about, and some of the carnies were still setting up their attractions. In addition to the Midway, where the games of chance and thrill rides were always set up, the fairgrounds included a vast expanse of green lawns, livestock pens, exhibit halls, a big center stage where singing acts performed at night, and even a full-sized rodeo ring with bleachers.

My mother and her friend went over to the Home Economics building to look at the hand-sewn quilts and sample the prize-winning jars of homemade jam, while David and I headed for the livestock barns and pens. We planned to look at the horses, pigs, sheep, and cows until the Midway opened up at noon.

 “Don’t go on any of the really scary rides,” my mother had called after us, as David and I split apart from the two adults. “David’s mother says he has a very weak stomach.”

“Oh, don’t worry, we  won’t,” David had called back, oh-so-sweetly.

“Fat chance, Mom,” I thought grumpily. I knew that David would head for the scariest and most dangerous rides at the first opportunity he got, and that he would insist that I go with him too, even though I didn’t really like those kinds of rides.  

I dreaded taking David to the Midway, so I stalled as long as I could, insisting that we investigate every single prize-winning animal in the livestock barns and pens, and stopping especially long to pet all the horses.

David whined that the livestock exhibits smelled bad and complained that I was taking too much time with the horses. At one point, he even picked up a long, nasty-looking stick from somewhere and used it to poke through the slats in one of livestock pens and torment a prize-winning, Saddleback sow.

“Stop it!” I yelled, grabbing the stick away from him.

“Spoil sport,” he snapped back. “It’s just a big, stupid pig.”

Just then, the big clock above the center stage chimed loudly, and David cried out triumphantly and started to run toward the Midway, practically pushing people out of his way in his haste: “Noon! The Midway’s open! Gang way! Gang  way!” he screamed.

I followed behind as quickly as I could, apologizing for his rudeness to passers-by at every step of the way.

My heart leaped when we hit the center aisle of the Midway; I had to admit, it was a most exciting and wonderful place to be, especially for a kid: the noise, the smells, the color, the rides.

It was the true heart of the Fair:  the ubiquitous hurdy-gurdy music of the various carnival rides; the thousands of colored and flashing lights; the ride-takers squealing or screaming when the pace of the Bobsled train quickened or the Tilt-a-Whirl car took a particularly unexpected spin. And the luscious intermingled smells of human sweat, fresh cotton candy, stale Crackerjacks, sun-softened taffy, and the factory-chemical scent of the rows of new stuffed animals and dolls that hung as prizes at the coin toss and all the other games of chance.

David and I rode the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Hammerhead, and the Bobsleds in quick succession. At the Bobsleds, he tried to stand up in his car, even though he had been warned not to do so by a huge sign on a fence in front of the ride.

“Sit down,” I yelled, as our car hurled through the Bobsled tunnel, grabbing the bottom of his shirt and yanking him down into his seat as hard as I could. “Don’t you remember the story about the kid who got decapitated that way?”

“Oh, that old wives’ tale,” sneered David.  “You believe that?” I had to hold onto him throughout the rest of the ride, to make sure he stayed in his seat.

We rode many other rides as we worked our way down the Midway; and then, eventually, we came to the stretch that was full of the tents and trailers making up the side show attractions.

“Freaks!” yelled David delightedly. “Let’s get in line!”

I had mixed feelings about the side show “attractions.” Every Fair season, ever since I was old enough to roam the Midway without an adult, I had wanted to see the side shows. Many times, I had stood outside of the garishly illustrated tents and trailers, with their alluring depictions of the Dog-Faced Boy, the Alligator Girl, the Fat Lady,  the Human Pincushion, and the Bearded Woman, my twenty-five cents clutched in my sweaty fist, debating whether or not to go in. And always, always walking away after standing there and staring for ten or fifteen minutes.

My mother had lectured often that it was wrong to gawk at people who were handicapped or “different” in some way, and I had to admit, no matter how much I really, really wanted to see the Human Pincushion, that I agreed with her, deep down where it counted. A small voice inside of me, which whispered no, no, it’s wrong,  always won out in the end.

But this time, things were different. I wouldn’t be going in to see the freak shows because I wanted to, but only because David was kind of my charge, and I would be going along to look after him. Even my mother probably would have agreed to the difference, but just to be sure of a clean conscience, I tried to talk David out of it first.

“It’s not nice,” I said. “How would you feel if you were one of them, and had strange people coming in all day to stare at you and call you a freak?”

“They make money off of it,” replied David, with his customary smirk. “We’d be helping them make a living!”

I didn’t have an answer to that, so in the end, I gave in and stood in line with David to buy tickets.

I handed over our fifty cents to a swarthy-faced man in a Gypsy costume, standing in a gaily painted kiosk that was labeled, “Mr. Magicola,” in fancy gold lettering.

“I wonder if Mr. Magicola is a real Gypsy,” I whispered to David, as we walked into the largest of the tents.

“Of course not,” he sneered. “I bet he’s just some redneck in brown make-up and a fake golden earring! Probably comes from Fresno.”

We sat on a row of wooden bleachers with a few other people, facing a small, dark, temporary stage. I felt a pang of conscience as the lights came up.

“I shouldn’t be here,” I thought guiltily, as the lights went down. “Mom would die if she knew about it.”  

Music started playing over a public address system in the tent; it was a jaunty Southern banjo tune.

When the lights came back up and the music faded away, we saw the Alligator Girl sitting on a stool in the middle of the stage. She was wearing a green two-piece swimsuit. The rest of her body was uncovered, showing mottled green and black skin everywhere. A few members of the audience gasped as she came into full view.

“I was born in Louisiana with an unfortunate, rare disease,” she began, in a soft Southern accent, with the practiced air of someone who had recited a particular story hundreds, perhaps thousands of times before. “This disease was caused by my mother being bitten by an alligator just before I was born. Scientists and doctors believe that the alligator came from a bayou where the government was testing atomic bombs!”

I took a sideways look at David to see how he was taking it all in. To my surprise, he looked angry and upset, rather than impressed. He was craning his neck as far as he could to get a better look.

“She’s wearing circus tights all over!” he whispered loudly. “Circus tights that have been painted to look like an alligator’s skin! It’s a fake.”

“Shhhhh!” I whispered back. “You’ll get us thrown out.”

The Alligator Girl finished her tale of woe, and the lights went down again, while the PA system played a new song called Two For the Road.

When the lights came back up again, this time the stool on the stage was occupied by the Two-Headed Man.

“I was born with a large, thick lump of skin on my shoulder. After I was bitten by a radioactive spider, the lump of skin began to grow into the shape of a head. I have been examined by leading doctors all over the country, and in Europe, also. I have even provided a private viewing to the crowned heads of England, Sweden, and France.”

“It’s a dummy!” hissed David loudly, shaking his head. “It’s a dummy’s head strapped to the guy’s shoulder. And somebody should tell him that France doesn’t have a king anymore!”

“Maybe the next one will be better!” I hissed back. Some of the other audience members were glaring at us with open hostility. One man behind us leaned in and snapped, “Be quiet young man!”

“The Human Pincushion is up next,” I whispered softly to David. “Surely there is no way to fake a human pincushion?”

The PA system started to play a tune called Pins and Needles as the lights started to darken again. When they came back up, the Human Pincushion was revealed, sitting on the stool in the center of the stage.

He was a completely bald man with numerous rows of big, vicious-looking hatpins stuck head-first into his shiny, pink scalp.

David stood up, his fists balling up in fury. “It’s just a man in a rubber baldy cap with big, hatpins glued all over it! I want my money back,” he shouted loudly.

At that point, I got up and nervously shuffled David out of the tent, while everyone else glared at us either curiously or angrily.

“I demand to see Mr. Magicola immediately. I want my money back!” he said to me. “Everything’s F-A-K-E.”

“Okay, okay,” I said. He made such a fuss about it that I thought it was best to find Mr. Magicola and discreetly ask him for a refund. Anything, anything, I thought, to make David stop whining, demanding, and complaining.

“So you want a refund, young man?” Mr. Magicola said, after hearing David explain why he wanted his money back.  “I’m sorry, but it’s against our policy to give out refunds under any circumstances.”

“But you made the pictures of those freaks look real. And they’re not! It’s false advertising! It’s a fraud!”

“Policy is policy. . .” replied Mr. Magicola.

“If you don’t give me my money back, I’m going to tell everyone standing in line that everything is fake! I’m pretty sure I saw the Two-Headed Man on the Midway two hours ago, without his fake second head!”

Mr. Magicola considered the situation for a while, and then offered a concession.

“I can’t give you your money back, but I can offer you a private viewing at our other tent, where only our truly special acts appear. Normally, we charge extra for the other tent, but I can let you and your friend here go in free, on the house!”

“Why would I want to waste my time looking at more fake acts?” David demanded indignantly.

Mr. Magicola got a strange, almost feral glint in his eyes. “Oh, I assure you, these are not fake acts. It’s true, that for the general public’s viewing, some of our performers have had their unique charms enhanced by make-up, wigs, and the like. You are a very clever boy to notice. But the acts in the special tent are different, I assure you.”

David thought about it for a moment.

“Why not accept the man’s offer?” I said. “Even if you don’t like what you see, you can brag to other kids later about how you got into the special tent for free.”

I knew that David loved to brag to other kids about things like that; it was part of his trouble-making personality. He enjoyed feeling special and superior.

“Well, well. . .all right. Let’s go to the special tent.”

Mr. Magicola bowed to us politely, his golden earring bobbing against the side of his head.

“Right this way, young man. . .and er, young lady.”

Mr. Magicola led us to a smaller tent, that was somewhat hidden behind the big tent where we had just seen the other freak show acts, and then left us at the flapped opening.

“I hope you enjoy yourselves here very much,” he said before he left, again with the strange glint in his eyes. I also thought I detected a tiny hint of a smile around the corners of his dark, full lips.

David and I went into the tent, crunching on sawdust as we walked. The second tent was fixed up much like the first tent, except on a smaller scale. There was a temporary stage with a simple wooden stool set up in the center of it, and a few rows of wooden bleachers placed before the stage. David chose to sit in the very first row, craning his neck in that familiar way, as if he wanted to warn the performers that he was examining their every move with an eagle’s eye.

We were the only audience members in the tent. We waited for a few moments, wondering if the side-show operators had forgotten about us, and then, suddenly, the tent went dark as the lights went down.

There was an eerie sound effect over the PA system of some high-pitched shrieking, followed by a loud, startling explosion, and after that, the lights came up on the stage.

On the stool was sitting an ordinary-looking kid about David’s age, wrapped in a bulky black cape that obscured most of his body. Ordinary-looking, that was, except for his deathly pale face and bruised eye sockets.

“I was the kid from Fresno who made a bomb out of my Shrieky Pete on Fourth of July,” he said. “The Shrieky Pete blew my arm off and now I’m doomed to wander the planet forever, looking for a new arm. They tell me I can get my new arm from another kid who set off a Shrieky Pete bomb on the Fourth of July.” He shrugged off his cape with a sudden, sharp move of his shoulders, and revealed the bloody, mangled stump of his missing arm.

“Do you know a kid like that?” he asked, looking directly at David with his dark-rimmed, dead-looking eyes.

David stared at the kid from Fresno with saucer eyes. “No-o-o,” he whispered shakily. “N-o-o kid I know would do a thing like that.”

Then the lights went down.

“It can’t be real,” whispered David, shivering slightly. “It must be a trick—a fake, just like the Alligator Girl, and the others.”

“If it’s not real,” I whispered back, “it’s certainly a very good trick. That kid’s stump of an arm looked like it was dripping real blood.”

There was another eerie sound effect over the PA system; this time it sounded like the running motor of a carnival ride, mixed with the sound of hurdy-gurdy music, and then there was a loud, piercing scream.

The lights came up on the stage, to reveal another kid about David’s age, sitting on the stool.

“I was another kid from Fresno. I was the one who stood up on the Bobsled ride when it went through the tunnel, even though I was told to stay in my car, and my head came clean off.” He stood up and pulled his head off of his neck with his hands, crimson gore dripping down from both the severed head and the bloody, vacant stump of his neck.

 “I’m doomed to wander the earth every carnival season, looking for another head from a kid who stood up on the Bobsled,” mouthed the bloodied lips of the boy’s head, while the body held it in front of its chest with both hands. “Do you know a kid like that?”

David let out a small, frightened cry. “No!” he shouted back. “No, I don’t know anybody who would do a thing like that!”

The head smiled grimly, and then the boy’s body placed it back on its neck, adjusted it so that it fit, and sat down on the stool. The lights went down again.

After a few minutes, there was another strange and scary sound effect over the PA system: the sound of a dog barking fiercely and continuously, and then a lot of horrified screaming and shouting.

David stood up and cried out. “No! No! Stop! I don’t want the lights to come up! I don’t want to see the Fresno Kid who got his face torn off after he poked a dog with a sharp stick!”

Then he ran out of the tent, his sneakers making quick crunching noises on the sawdust-covered ground. I got up quickly and followed him out, just as the lights on the stage were coming up. I too, was afraid to turn around and look at the next Fresno Kid.

I followed David out onto the Midway, where the line was forming for the next viewing of the Alligator Girl and the other main side show acts. We looked for Mr. Magicola at the ticket booth, but he wasn’t there. There was just a very plain, red-headed young woman selling tickets at the booth. Strangely, there was also no gold-lettered sign on the booth advertising “Mr. Magicola,” as there had been before. 

“I want to leave!” David yelped, shuddering a bit as he stood, uncaring, in the middle aisle of the Midway, while other fair-goers moved around him, annoyed at the way he was blocking the flow of foot traffic. “I want to leave now!”

It was four-thirty in the afternoon, almost time to meet my mother and her neighbor friend anyway. We joined up with them at the Floral Exhibit Hall, where we found them oooh--ing and ahhh--ing over the arrangements in the tea rose section.

“David’s tired,” I said to my Mom. “He’s all tuckered out from the rides and the cotton candy.”

David said nothing. He had gotten uncharacteristically quiet ever since leaving the second side show tent. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

As we drove back over the river to Sutton, I asked David in a whisper if he still wanted to set off the heavily doctored Shrieky Pete bombs that evening, before his mother came to pick him up.

“No!” he said very quietly. “I never want to see a Shrieky Pete again, as long as I live.”

Read The Drowning Game by Jane Nightshade 

Saturday, September 5, 2020



The Changed -- Chapter Seven -- by Dee Caples


When Pericles rescues a human female from nomads he risks the wrath of his fellow genetic mutants who have done their best to avoid mankind. Worse yet, Danna has tripped the trigger of Dancy, the sociopath mayor of Dirty Town, by stealing from him. In this steampunk tale of revenge, there will be a duel in the desert and only one faction will come out the winner. 







Making Preparations

Pericles had once seen a sticker at the laboratory, a smiling, red-cheeked human boy wearing some sort of uniform, hand upright with three fingers extended. The words “Be Prepared” were underneath. It was fitting that he remembered this now.

He sorted through the spears they’d made and doubted their efficacy if humans came with guns. They had ends of sharpened wood only, hardened in fire. He took his knife and honed it until it was dangerous then worked to make the spears more deadly. He found the box that said X-Acto on it and took some of the little blades and added them to the end of the spears then set up a target outside to aim at. The little blade stayed fixed to the spear and when it landed with a satisfying ‘thunk’ he was relieved to see its accuracy and power was undiminished. If anything, it flew even better. Stuck better, too. When he retrieved the missile he saw the blade was bent, though.

A thought occurred to him and he stood debating with himself. His notion had merit but he didn’t know how it would be received. He went back into the warehouse to find Manda and Kellus. He was the war chief. Seldom though he was called upon to be, they took his advice on these things. He found Manda at work on one of the human skins, fletching fat and membranes. “Come with me to talk to Kellus.” She put down her knife and went with him.

They hunkered down together. “I want to ask Danna if she knows how to use a gun. If she does, it would be a great help in a fight against the humans.”

Manda looked at him as if he’d lost his mind but she waited for what else he would say. Kellus was a little more vocal. “Are you crazy? She’s human. Why would she fight her own kind? I don’t think it’s a good plan.”

Pericles patted the air with his hands. “Hear me out. She has no love for anyone coming to hunt the missing humans. They were going to kill her. I think she would join with us against them.”

“And what if she doesn’t?” Kellus asked, his eyes narrowed. “What if she turns the guns on us?”

Manda spoke up. “Why would she?”

What?” Kellus exclaimed. “Surely you’re not considering this.”

“I am.” She nodded, her face thoughtful.

“Just because she sang to the children doesn’t make her a friend.”

“It doesn’t make her an enemy, either. The humans will kill her, too, if they find her here. She has the right to defend herself and I’d bet she knows nothing about throwing a spear.”

Kellus was unconvinced but he nodded in a reluctant fashion. “Fine. Ask her. If she doesn’t know how to fire the weapons we can leave them where they are.”

Pericles went to where Danna was still having her hair combed out and waited until they were finished. The golden strands were almost dry and fanned out across her shoulders, halfway down her back. Her hair looked soft and smelled better. She looked at him solemnly and smiled at Te when she said, “I haven’t ever felt human hair before. Well, I have, but not like this.”

“You saved the hair of those people you skinned?” Danna asked.

Kaside, the other cat-woman rose and said, “We try to use every part of everything we kill.”

“Leg and arm bones are good weapons,” Pericles said.

“Skulls make fine bowls,” Te told her.

Kaside put her hands on hips, her face proud and a little amused. “Skins are good to wear.”

Danna looked at Pericles for any hint of amusement. It was hard to tell when these animal-people were kidding. “You’re joking, right?”

He didn’t have time for delicacy or soothing her nerves. Pericles got right down to business. “Do you know much about guns?”

Danna looked around her at Te, Kaside and himself. Her lips curled at one end. “Hell, yeah.”

Without further ado, Pericles rose and went into the desert and dug up the guns. He brought them back to where Danna and Te were standing at the entry to the warehouse. Handing her the pistol, he observed her every move closely. She kept her hand on the handle of it and pointed out the parts to him. “This is called the butt. It’s where you hold it. This is the trigger guard. And this is the trigger. Never put your finger on it until you’re ready to fire.” She pointed to a small thing that looked like a tiny latch lock. “This is the safety. Whatever fool owned it had the safety off.”

She flipped it up. “Now it can’t be fired. Get it?” Pushing another button made something come out of the end of the butt which she handed to him. She flipped the safety off, put her other hand on the top of the gun and pulled it back. It made a loud click and something flew out the right side of the gun. “He had a round chambered, which means it was ready to shoot somebody if the trigger was pulled.”

Danna held it up for him to see, looking behind her to note the gathering, curious crowd. Parents were shooing their children back. Once they turned around to watch the gun safety lesson the children crept back forward and hunkered down to avoid notice, their eyes bright and wondering. “This is the magazine. It feeds the bullets up to the firing mechanism.” She took it and fed the ejected bullet into it then held it up for his inspection. “See how full it is? There are seven rounds in here.”

She handed it back for him to hold, pulled back a little curved piece in front of what she called the barrel and squinted down into it. It’s name was Hammer and she held it cocked back and pulled the trigger. Another click sounded. Taking the rifle, she did the same inspection, spitting bullets everywhere that he retrieved. “Hang onto those. I need to get the sand off the guns. Do you have some clean cloth and a straight, skinny piece of metal a couple of feet long? I need some oil, too.”

Pericles looked at Te and she nodded, hurrying away. She came back with a few thin rags, a straight curtain rod with a hole in either end and a pot of fat. Kellus and Manda were front and center, watching as she took the weapons apart for cleaning and oiling then re-assembled them. She fed the bullets into the magazines and flipped the safeties on. Then she held the guns out to Pericles. “There ya go.”

He looked up at Kellus and Manda. The chief woman nodded, satisfied. Kellus spread his hands out as if to say, Who knew? “You know how to shoot them, too?” he asked Danna.

“Since I was a little girl.”

He looked her in the eye, employing everything he knew about detecting lies. “If the humans come here, can we trust you to use these guns against them and not us?”

He could tell the question irritated her. “Of course you can!” She huffed in exasperation but then controlled her pique. “Look, I know you don’t know me from Adam but I have nothing for Dancy or any of his thugs. I’d rather shoot myself than be taken back to Dirty Town. I’m with you,” she said, a finger going between them to indicate her solidarity.

Pericles felt a great relief. Now they could use the guns. They’d be far more effective than spears. “How many bullets are there? Eleven?”

“A full magazine in the nine mil. The rifle has four. So you have eleven shots.”

“No. You have eleven.” He saw her smile again. With all the dirt washed away the bruises on her face were more pronounced but they didn’t make her less appealing right at that moment. “Who is Adam?”

Instead of answering, she laughed and walked away. Getting no reply pissed him off. When he took notice of the gentle sway of her hips he forgot about being mad. Instead, he wondered how she’d looked rinsing off, naked under the sun.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Dinner Meeting by David V. Mammina


Waking up to an old rustic table with my head buzzing and wrists tied around the back of a chair probably meant that my business proposal wasn’t received well. That is if I even proposed anything. I can’t remember how I came to be here in such a dire situation. In fact, I don’t even know where here is. It could be due to my blurred vision, but I barely make out three silhouetted figures sitting about the table. Before I can even attempt to yank my hands free, one of them makes a snarky comment seemingly at my expense.

“He’s a lobster waking up in a pot of still water, isn’t he?” a feminine voice starts. “Shall we begin? I think we’ve waited long enough.”

“I hate shellfish. Don’t reference crustaceans, if you please,” says another.

With my eyesight improving, I can make out the bar to the far left, empty of patrons. Then, oddly, I catch a smell of some sort of wild animal emanating from the next seat. This whole thing is wrong. What have I gotten myself into this time? Am I a hostage?

“Mr. Howard, you, if you haven’t guessed, are in quite the proverbial pickle,” the same masculine voice proceeds with the hint of some sort of suave accent. “Tell me, how long have you been in the business of being a loser?”

I can only muster, “A what? Who the—”

“Someone who steals the identity of others. That’s who you are. A thief. A scoundrel that hides behind a virtual swamp,” he elucidates. “That’s how the world sees you. But, in this company, we see you as something far simpler than that. Do you know what that is?”

Adjusting my eyes, I ignore his cryptic question and perceive the grungy, hulking man to my immediate left. His tattered denim jacket and impatient scowl strikes a chord of terror within me. He glares on with a dark countenance, as if I was more than just reviled. It felt like I was his prey sitting helplessly with my hands bound. I then smell that animal scent again, something like a stray dog. And yet, the apparent leader of the trio snaps me back with a comment that drops me into an even deeper level of fear.

“To us, Mr. Howard, you are simply meat.” His piercing eyes reach across the table and into my soul when he says it. Despite his handsome features, there was a malevolence hiding in plain sight. Somehow, he appears to operate above the rules of the natural world, suppressing his baser instincts better than the other one closest to me. And while they exhibit grossly different demeanors, it suddenly makes perfect sense that I would be on a menu. But that couldn’t be.

Breaking the petrifying silence, I utter nervously, “Look—look, if this is some kind of prank, some sort of gag, you win. They win, okay? Whoever set this up, good for them, but I’m done. I’m done now, so let me go and have all your laughs!”

“Laughs? Well, this isn’t exactly a funny occasion, Mr. Howard. It’s more about business. Something you know quite a lot of nothing about,” he says with a progressive scowl. “You see, my partner Muncy here and I are familiar with the dark web, even more than you. If truth be told, we rely on it to post our fun little ‘dinner meatings’ as we’ve grown to call them. We’ll host at least thirty guests tonight and you’re the main course.”

“Main course? You’re not serious!” I cry out in terror of the prospect of being cooked and eaten by some sick cannibals of the underworld.

“Telling you this is just something of a courtesy we’ve come to do after all these years. It’s only right that you be permitted to say your last words or prayers or whatever,” he crosses his legs nonchalantly as if he is taking the time out of his busy day to let me plead for my life. He strokes his tailormade tie as he awaits my response.  

Suddenly, the animal-like Muncy grunts, “Well, do ya’?”

“Do I?”

“Have any last words, idiot?”

My heart was beating so fast I could hear the blood in my head. Breathing erratically, I try to say something but no words come out. Hell, I don’t even know what I was trying to mutter anyway. My very life starts to flash before my eyes. The eloquent maniac across the table smirks as I writhe in dread.

“Oh, Hector, let’s play the identity game. I mean, he can hardly breathe,” the woman with the librarian eyeglasses and pantsuit breaks in. “He’s an identity thief, right? It might be a fun challenge for him to guess ours.”

Muncy growls, “He’s a bumbling doofus. He can barely—”

“I’ll play! Whatever, sure, I’ll play it!” I call out frantically if only to live a bit longer – or for good with any hope.

After what feels like an eternity of the evil trio deliberating my fate, Hector finally declares chillingly, “Wanda never misses a good opportunity to play games with our meals. So, if you’re up for a little sport, we can fit in a lightning round. Only if you’re interested.”

“I’m game! I’m interested!” I beg them pathetically. “What do I have to do?”

Hector grins spiritedly while saying, “Mr. Howard, monsters have been a part of the human experience since the whole experience started. Except, the irony involved is often lost on every human being. For instance, let’s look at you. You’re a stealer of others’ identities. I called you a thief earlier and, with no mistake, you are. Yet, you’re really a shapeshifter, or a mimic in the monster world. And, in all honesty, this is the monster world, isn’t it? Humans have to create the very idea of monsters to hide the reality that they are the monsters.

“So, as to not diverge from the road to perdition, it’s your turn to label us for what we are in this world. And, as Wanda put it, you are the thief of identities after all. We’ve classified you as what you are. To save your life, use the skills of your predatory impulse and classify us for what we are. Do this successfully and we’ll let you live. You have our word.”

It’s the hope I need. Even if it’s just a sliver, it could be enough. My one chance of getting out of here alive will depend on their game. I can’t be the one to argue with them. So, I play along.

“You’ll let me go?” I ask. “If I win, you’ll just let me go?”

Muncy snappily barks, “We gave you our word! What else do you need?”

“No, no, Munce. It’s right for him to doubt us,” Hector interjects. “Such a monster isn’t used to dealing with others in its vulnerable state. Mr. Howard, if you win, we shall release you. You have no idea where you are. And, even if you can identify what we are at our deepest level, you’ll never see us again. Well, unless you cross us. Will you cross us, shapeshifter?”

“Never! I swear to God—”

“But you don’t believe in God, do you?” he replies. “Don’t try to live in the pretense of belief. You are a creature that relies on deceit. So, with that, you may guess what we are. But be careful. If one guess is wrong—”

“I die.” For some reason I don’t want them to be the one to say it. They’ve been in control up to now. Maybe, just maybe, I could come up with what they want. And just maybe I’ll get out of this alive.

“Well then,” Hector says while leaning back in a relaxed pose, “begin.”

Right off the bat, wasting no time, I turn to Muncy and say, “This guy right here is a werewolf. He smells like a wet dog and, yeah, he’s a werewolf. If this is the game we’re playing, then that’s my guess.”

Muncy glares straight at me, growling, which proves my point. Wanda, who seems to be more than just an amused spectator in all this, nods her head and smiles with admiration. “Well done, kid. You got him by the furry balls, though he’s the easy one. Sticks out like a mutt in kitty litter.”

The last thing I want is for him to get mad. He’s right near me and I can feel his stare. Apart from being right, it suddenly hits me. They’re not kidding around. This man is a werewolf – or he and the others think he is. As I gamble on him not reaching over to tear my throat out, Hector claps his hands once and leans forward in his seat.

“Splendid! But Wanda is right. Muncy’s an easy target,” he says. “What is your take on me?”

There is no way he’s another werewolf and even if he doesn’t have any visible fangs, he’s got white, pale skin. The old horror law of cliché beckons me to classify him as the only monster he could ever be in this cabal.

“You’re definitely a vampire of some kind. There’s no doubt about that.”

“Now, let’s not be so cocky, Mr. Howard!” He suddenly becomes genuinely offended. “I could have been a rich cannibal like Hannibal Lector! In fact, perhaps I am!”

Wanda interjects to keep the integrity of the flash game. “But you aren’t.”

“No, I’m a vampire. Dammit.” Hector takes a deep breath. “I’m like you, Munce. Just another horror stereotype.”

That’s two. Now, all that’s standing in my way of survival is this Wanda person – or monster. What is she? Keeps her composure and finds odd things fun, like putting a man’s life on the line all for a guessing game. She dresses well and is attractive. There’s a narcissistic aura that she wears like perfume. She isn’t afraid to hide it. For a werewolf and vampire to trust her, and even obey her, there must be something she has that they don’t. She could be a vampire like the psycho across the table, but that would be too easy. There’s maybe one thing she could be.

Wanda interrupts my thought, saying with a cheeky eagerness, “And last, but not close to least, there’s me. I’ll give you an unsolicited hint. I’m neither wolf nor vampire. Something very different than them. So? Whatcha got?”

Then, I had to be right. Whether she partakes in the eating of flesh or not, I’ve got the last character type of this sick, twisted clique.

“A witch!” I blurt out confidently, laying my fate in their sinister hands. “You’re a sorceress or a witch – someone who practices dark magic!”

Hanging on her every expression, my heart drops when she says with a chuckle, “Sorry, kid. I happen to be a different monster. I’m the lawyer.”

Frozen in disbelief, all that I can do is laugh. Like a deranged clown, it just comes out of me as something automatic. And I laugh all the way as their cultist minions drag me in my chair to the kitchen. I get a last look at the trio as the double doors close in front of me. Every evil cabal needs a lawyer. And every evil venture needs a human.