Serial Killers: I See the Lake. Part 1

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

I See the Lake. Part 1

I visited the lake many years ago and only once. I’ve lost many memories between that day and this one, can’t tell you what my ex-wife said for her wedding vows, don’t remember what those damn nurses fed me yesterday. But my summer in the ranges has a stick that won’t go slipping and when I close my eyes, I see the honey-baked colour across the sky. Close my eyes a little harder and I feel the desert’s hot breath on my neck. The lake remains firm in my thoughts but, boy-oh, I’ve tried hard to forget. I’ve tried.

I was fifteen and wasn’t too thrilled about our family vacation that year. “Why can’t we go to the beach-house at Salando like every summer? Why are we tenting in the desert like hicks? Why do you hate me?” You get the picture.

My folks ignored my bitching and off we went to the piss-hot California mountain ranges– ma, dad, my twin sisters and me. It was a long drive and I wasn’t mighty pleasant to be around, ma used to say I went five years straight without cracking a tooth. Funny to think about now, considering the ol’ fart box I’ve become. Oh ma, I do miss you.

Anyway. We arrived and I thought we’d parked on Mars. Seemed the ranges spread out forever, a sterile blanket of sand made lumpy by boulder fields and rolling dunes. In the distance I saw patches of forests scattered on the base of the mountain, each one half a mile long and looked like acne marks along the clay slopes. We set up camp besides a mini canyon of stacked rocks, a spot where the dirt winds whipped our necks with gusto and even the tumble weed looked thirsty. I whined about sand filling my socks until Dad turned purple.

“Enough Tom,” he slapped my backside. “This trip is our way of re-connecting with nature. You know, hippie shit.”

Remember, it was the sixties. My folks liked to believe they were members of the new age because they listened to Bob Dylan and allowed me to grow my hair to my shoulders.

Dad tried his hardest during those itchy summer days. He dragged my city ass on hikes, this way and that way over the dunes. We stopped for breaks between the patches of forest, the trees were our sanctuary from the brutal sunshine, but we never ventured far inside the greenery. I can’t rightly say why. Nearing the end of another day’s trudge, I slipped pass the rows of trees for a splice while dad sat out in the sand. That’s how I found the lake, one hand on my tool while dehydrated piss covered the tree bark. I noticed, past the shrivelled bushes, the forest just, well, it dropped. I poked my head over the edge and saw a second level, a lower forest hidden by rugged shelves of rock. And at the bottom, glistening at the centre of it all, and a little smaller than a football field, was the lake. There was no one around to see me crack a tooth.

We walked back to camp in silence. I considered telling dad about the lake and decided, no. To hell with my family. In my cruddy little head, the lake was a matter of finders’ keepers.

While Dad slept off the hike that evening and Ma read the twins ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ for the fiftieth time, I left camp.

I lit a joint on the walk there, tried to puff smoke rings and coughed my damn heart out. When I reached the forest and strolled through the opening in the trees, I was close to happy.
Strange little lairs, those forests. I’ll try explain best I can but keep in mind, I’m no grand storyteller. The trees wore that flaky type of bark that dropped brittle in the dirt, the branches arched high and looped together. No traces of sand either, the ground turned from desert floor to mud in a snap. It felt strange. After spending so many days amongst the single sand-tones of the mountain range, facing a thick greenery seemed wrong, like a bright smudge on a white shirt.

It’s hard to believe looking at me now- just look at this gut- but I was wide as a rope back then and moved like a grasshopper down the rock shelf, used overhung trees as a Tarzan swing. By the time I reached the bottom, the sky was blossoming.

I still think of that lake as one of the most beautiful sights of my life. You might’ve seen photos but the black and whites don’t compare, I promise you. I stood beside water so pure, I could see right to the bottom where long grass swayed like human hair. Diamonds of light sparkled the surface, in a sunken place where no light should rightly reach. The lake was a lord-mighty pool of flowing glass and no leaf or tree root or speck of mud touched it.

You may think I’m exaggerating, that the weed was working magic on me. I don’t think so. Suppose I got no way to prove it.

My shelf of rock— and I call it mine because it damn well was mine— was a lip hung over the water. I stopped there and stripped down to my whities before sucking out one last puff. I almost flicked the roach into the water but hesitated and aimed for a shrub instead. You know, I often wonder how everything would be different if I’d thrown that stub into the water instead. Best not to think about it.

I remember clearly that last childish moment, running fingers through my hair to keep bangs out my eyes. Then, without thinking, I did what every California kid does at Salando Beach; I tested the water. I planted my butt on the rock and, slowly, tapped my toe to the surface.

Slow wasn’t slow enough.

The searing cold took a bite and I yelped backward. I’d never felt a cold like that and never have since. It was a cold that burnt, seared my toes and jumped up my leg through to the bone. I was a jittered rat, scrambling on my butt away from the water. My hands shook so fierce that, when I grabbed my foot, my damaged toes rattled to a blur.

Three of my toes were glowing red, the skin shrivelled like they’d spent too long in the bath. My big toe bled and when I squeezed my foot tighter the blood oozed out in thick blobs. I tried wipe the blood away and, boy-oh, that stung to hell and back. See, the entire nail on my big toe was gone and I was wiping the fleshy under-part. I hissed at the gaping. My whole foot throbbed.

“What is wrong with you,” I yelled. I fancied yelling. Seemed like a good idea to yell.

I leant over expecting to see a snapping animal in the water. Instead, I saw a tiny leaf floating alone on the crystal surface. Except it was no leaf, but my toe nail.

I didn’t see a speck of blood, the nail was clean and it danced in circles on the water, moved by a breeze I couldn’t feel. I tried to stand, still watching my severed nail twirl, and fell on my knees.

“I hate this fucking place.”

I stood on the second try. My toenail made an abrupt stop, dead still for only a second, and then sailed out into the lake’s belly. The ripples around it pulsed and in a sudden rush of feeling, I wanted to swim. A mighty thirst dried my body and every stringy tweak of muscle screamed to be swallowed by water. A terrifying feeling, I’ve got no shame in saying, and I shivered in the evening heat, because even through the wanting — crave seems the better word — I knew the water meant pain. I scrunched my bleeding toe and winced at the reminder.

And then my toe nail caught fire.

I thought I’d lost my mind. I glanced away into the trees, blinked hard to clear my eyes, but when I turned back the nail was still on fire, a slim flame rising above the water. I squinted every which way and the flame stayed true. Pretty sure it was growing too, turning into a thin and flickering cylinder of fire.

I’ve spent fifty years with open-eyed dreams questioning that flame. I had no doubts back then. Back then my eyes were strong and my mind young, full of stone conviction, and as I watched the fire and nail float further, I knew the lake was to blame. I damn well knew the water was the culprit in the same way I knew my sisters apart. That lovely and putrid water destroyed my nail. How dare you touch me, that’s what I heard the water say and I wanted to run. But you know what? At the same time I wanted to swim. Damn right I was scared.

I didn’t run. I took a limped step forward and watched the sailing fire, no blinking allowed.

The sun completed its dive behind the trees. I’d been standing on my rock slack-jawed and half naked for several minutes, long enough to age me. Laughter snapped me awake. On the opposite side of the lake, where the water became a shore over hardened dirt, three women emerged from the trees. They draped their arms around each other, walked as if they shared the same footsteps. The fiery nail stopped its sail and I had a maddening idea that it heard the women too.

They stopped far too close to the water. I opened my mouth to yell and for the first time I noticed my feet. I’d been inching myself forward on the rock and now my blood-soaked foot hung over– try imagine meat dangling above a waiting shark. I jolted backwards on my heels, landed real hard on my good foot. I came this close to falling face-first-ass-last into the water. Thinking about it churns my insides.

I looked up and the women were a hopscotch jump away from the shore. An image flashed of each one diving into the water and skin falling off their faces, blood spreading and then dissolving into pristine blue water. I imagined the lake conquering their bodies, I imagined their bones being used as a dead raft for living flame.

“Don’t go in the water,” I called.

No one heard me. I was drained and frightened and thirsty for the lake, but inhaled deep to try again.

Ash Tudor

Ash Tudor is a horror writer from Perth, Australia who hides from the sunshine while she scribbles dark tales. She has a degree in ancient history and is a trained ancestry researcher, but now devotes her time to creating nightmares. Her debut short story released last year on Writer-Writer and her work has been shortlisted in several competitions. Currently Ash is writing a collection of short horror fiction and hording werewolf teeth in her attic.

Find Ash on Twitter @AshTudor888

Unholy Trinity: In the Beginning … by G. Allen Wilbanks

Our church worships at the altar of the Unholy Trinity. Its gospels are delivered as a trio of dark drabbles, linked so that Three become One. All hail the power of the Three.

IN THE BEGINNING

From the moment they achieved sentience, the creatures had been savage. Simple tools quickly evolved into simple weapons. While many managed to die on their own with the proper passage of time, there were always those who chose brutality and the sudden, violent end it brought with it.

Death flitted from location to location, harvesting the souls released in the mayhem as he had been bid. He knew the new animals were a mistake, but the creator favored these ‘humans’. So, he would make no complaints. 

Besides, at this rate, they would not be around to vex him much longer.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS

Five people were going to die. Each of them in a different location around the globe. The cowled specter sighed as he calculated where he needed to be, in what order, and how quickly he would need to travel.

He missed the good old days, when human beings hadn’t migrated so far yet. A time when great plagues would ravage the populations and he could wave his scythe to harvest hundreds, even thousands of souls without ever moving so much as a single step.

He signed again. It was time to move. People were so much less considerate these days.

A QUIET DAY

It was a quiet day for Death. His cloak hung on the wall, and his scythe leaned in the corner, neglected. Most disease had been defeated and no wars raged today that demanded his attention. It was a day for rest.

A noise startled him to alertness. With a bemused smile, he realized he had dozed off while waiting for the rival gang members to spot one another in the subway. They had found each other while he dozed on the filth encrusted bench.

Ah well, he lamented as he rose to his feet. It had been a nice dream.

G. Allen Wilbanks

G. Allen Wilbanks is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and has published over 60 short stories in various magazines and on-line venues. He is the author of two short story collections, and the novel, When Darkness Comes. For more information, visit www.gallenwilbanks.com, or check out his weekly blog at www.DeepDarkThoughts.com.

Taking Submissions: Midnight Echo – Things are not as they seem

Deadline: August 31st, 2019
Payment: Flash fiction (up to 1,000 words) $20, Short stories (1k to 5k words) $50, Novelettes (5k to 15k words) $100, Novellas (15k to 25k words max.) $150
Note: Only accept unsolicited submissions from writers in (or originally from) Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific Islands.

Midnight Echo 14 is upon us and the AHWA is proud to announce that Deb Sheldon is onboard to guest edit this representative of all things good about Australasian horror writing. Deb’s themed issued of Things are not as they seem will open to submissions from July 30 to August 31 and she is seeking only the best for this edition of Midnight Echo. To know more about the editor, we have a brief bio to introduce her and prepare you to make the most of the submissions window.

Deborah Sheldon is an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia. She writes short stories, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum. Her titles include the noir-horror novel Contrition, the bio-horror novella Thylacines, the collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories (Australian Shadows “Best Collected Work 2017”), and the creature-horror novel Devil Dragon. She has a novel, a collection, and a novella forthcoming in 2019. Her work has been shortlisted for numerous Aurealis Awards and Australian Shadows Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker, and included in “best of” anthologies. Other credits include TV scripts, feature articles, non-fiction books, and award-winning medical writing.

Thank you for considering ME14 for your submission and thank you to all who download the edition when it becomes available at the end of the year.

Submission Guidelines
Midnight Echo is the magazine of the Australasian Horror Writers Association. We seek original, previously unpublished horror fiction and non-fiction on horror-related subjects. As the AHWA’s goal is to support the genre in Australasia, we only accept unsolicited submissions from writers in (or originally from) Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific Islands.

Fiction: We accept all types of horror. Your story should unnerve, disturb, or inspire fear. We encourage you to be courageous with your subject matter, but above all else, tell an entertaining story that will linger with our readers. Local stories with distinctly Aussie, Kiwi, or Pacific settings, characters, dilemmas, monsters, or themes are especially welcome. Please read past issues of the magazine to get a feel for what we like to publish. One (1) submission per author (no multiple submissions).

We offer the following pay rates based on the length of your story:

Flash fiction (up to 1,000 words) $20
Short stories (1k to 5k words) $50
Novelettes (5k to 15k words) $100
Novellas (15k to 25k words max.) $150

Non-Fiction: We welcome articles, creative non-fiction, and interviews on horror-related subjects. Non-fiction that has an Australasian focus (such as an interview with a local author or article about a local book or film) is preferred, but we welcome a broad range of horror-related submissions. Please read past issues of the magazine to get a feel for what we like to publish. We offer the following pay rates based on the length of your article: Interview or short article (up to 1,000 words): $20 Article or essay (1k to 5k words): $50. One (1) submission per author (no multiple submissions).

Note about pay rates: While AHWA would like to pay writers more for their work, the organization is run by volunteers and has limited funds. Our goal is to develop emerging Australasian writers and give them experience working with editors, which we hope is a value above and beyond what we’re able to pay for their work. However, through more writers becoming AHWA members and more readers purchasing copies of Midnight Echo or the Dead of Night anthology, AHWA can strengthen its financial position and increase its rates.

Poetry: Authors may submit up to three (3) pieces for consideration but only the author’s best piece will be selected, if successful.  Payment for the accepted piece will be $20.

Cover Art: Evocative cover art has been a hallmark of Midnight Echo. We are always looking for art that is dark, sinister, or scary (but suitable for a general audience). We only use two covers per year, so our selection process is competitive. Artists from anywhere in the world are welcome to submit. We pay $100 for cover art.

Submissions should conform to standard manuscript formatting and be sent to: [email protected]. Please include the title of the work and a short author bio in your cover letter.

Submissions for Issue 14 will open on July 30 and close on August 31 2019. Acceptances and rejections will be sent by 30 September, 2018.

Rights: We pay for exclusive electronic rights for six months and non-exclusive print and electronic rights for a Midnight Echo anthology.

Via: Midnight Echo.

Serial Killers: Hey! Part 6

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

Hey! Part 6

It was Sunday. 

Marcy Houghton had been laid to rest for nearly twenty-four hours. Audrey, meanwhile, hadn’t seen any rest for twice as long.

She sat in the shadows of her apartment, her knees to her chest, arms around herself, hardly feeling her own touch or the couch beneath her. The place was taking on a bit of a musty smell, the air thickening and tickling at the throat. Her pens and pencils still lay scattered on the floor at her corner desk. She hadn’t even thought to pick them up, or any of the other items she’d recently bumped into or jostled from tables in her aimless spurts of wandering. In the kitchen, a bowl of chicken sat on the counter, turning and taking on a rotten smell. Audrey had meant to cook it up the other day. She’d abandoned the effort before she could even get a pan out. Everything else in the kitchen had stayed in its place; Audrey hadn’t been eating enough to disturb much of anything in there.

It was another dreary day outside. Rain was on its way again. But Audrey didn’t think she’d live to hear its patter against her window. 

She’d held off thinking about this for as long as she could, the idea only ever falling upon her mind like a quickly-passing shadow, up until yesterday. But now she let it cast itself in full. There seemed to be no other option. She’d had the opportunity to divulge her secret, to confess and perhaps have some of her guilt relieved. She’d failed at it, and she did not see herself finding the fortitude to go to anyone about it again. She simply could not do it. 

Nor could she continue on like she had this last week: feeling these feelings, seeing what she saw, whether it was “real” or not. She had no answer to that bit—of whether she was being haunted by her conscience or by some other essence. Either way, it was unbearable. The truth she thought she could shoulder had broken the bones of her resolve and brought her low, and she didn’t believe she would ever stand straight again.

So, there was really no other choice at hand. Besides, maybe this way she could get some rest of her own. And that was sounding rather nice. The only question was how to do it.

After some debate, the complex’s roof finally came to her. Six floors high; a hop and a quick fall, and that would surely be enough to do it. 

Audrey sat there for another half hour, feeling like she should be crying, and wondering if she should leave some note; but she was beyond tears now, and her suicide would be statement enough.

She rose on shaky legs and trudged out of her apartment, still in her pajamas. She didn’t bother to shut the door behind her.

She took the stairs up. Nobody else was around to see her, the stairway echoing with her slow and lonesome steps. The door that led out to the roof should have been locked, but everyone in the complex knew how the custodians loved to have a view with their smoke breaks. When she turned its knob it popped right open. 

Marcy Houghton was up there, waiting for her. She stood by a vent, staring right at the door as it swung open, her features expressionless. Her skin had taken on more of a bluish tint, to fit the grave.

Audrey stepped out into the chill of the afternoon, precursory winds kicking up and blowing her hair about. The gravel covering the rooftop crunched under her bare feet, sharp edges digging into her skin. It was no never-mind to her, though. She inched along, keeping her sight to Marcy.

“I’m so sorry,” Audrey said as she passed the girl. 

Marcy said nothing to this. She just slowly turned about, watching Audrey as she neared the edge of the roof. Audrey looked down, a harsh wind nearly toppling her before she could make the leap herself. The hard sidewalk leading up to the complex’s main entrance stretched out directly below.

She turned around, the balls of her feet no more than an inch from the edge. She looked at Marcy one last time. 

“I’m sorry,” she whispered again. And then she leaned back.

Dana Danvers switched her grip on the pot as she stepped through the sliding doors of Holloway Home. She didn’t know much about flowers or their meanings, or what have you, but these had looked awful pretty to her at the store, and she hoped that her sister would like them.

Crocuses, she thought they were called.

She checked in at the front desk, getting in a quick chat with Marta, the receptionist, and then she walked on down to suite 19. The halls of the assisted living home were quiet, as always. Horribly quiet. Dana still hadn’t gotten used to it. The place was incredibly nice, to be assured; it could have easily been confused with a well-off motel, what with its spacious rooms and its welcoming interior. And the care its residents received was top-notch, especially around an area like this, so there were far worse places for Audrey to be. But that damn silence was just too much. Granted, there was only so much noise people here could make, suffering from traumatic brain injuries or dementia, as most were; but still, the place could do with some bit of liveliness. The stillness seemed like resignation to Dana; a compliance to just let the residents be and get them by rather than to bring them back to some greater sense of normalcy.

After the accident (that’s what it had to have been, in Dana’s mind) there’d seemed to be plenty of people who were resigned to let Audrey stay in her sad state. Doctors had said that the damage to her sister’s mind had been too great; that she would never walk or talk again, and there was little hope to anticipate anything more from further therapies or surgeries. “Your sister, as you knew her, is gone,” one physician had bluntly told her. But Dana refused to believe that. Her sister could come back. That’s why she visited Holloway twice a week: to see her, to talk with her, to pull her out of herself, God willing.

Before she could step into suite 19, an orderly caught her attention. “Audrey’s in the Rec Room right now, Ms. Danvers.”

Dana thanked him and headed off for the Rec Room. There may not have been many recreational things that her sister could do, but Dana was glad to know they didn’t leave her tucked away in her room all the time.

She turned into the wide white room and saw her sister to the left, sitting in a wheelchair, across from a TV. 

“Hey, sweetie,” Dana said as she stepped over to her sister. She knelt down beside her and held up the pot of flowers. “How are you today? I thought I’d bring some pretty flowers for my pretty little sis.”

A pang hit Dana’s heart as she said that. Though Audrey had been very beautiful once, she didn’t exactly fit the convention much anymore. Even after the reconstructive surgery, her cranium sported noticeable bumps and dips, and her left eye had sunken down in an off-kilter slant. 

A greater pang hit as the memory of that day came back, swift and terrible. Dana had been there to see it, to witness exactly what had left her poor sister like this. She had just been getting out of her car—the crock pot she’d bought for Audrey in her hands—when she saw her sister falling through the air, smacking and cracking down into the ground of the complex’s entrance. Dana had screamed. The crock pot had shattered as she dropped it, and she’d ran over to the crumpled mass that was her sister, her head split open, red coming out like—

Dana forced herself back into the here and now before the tears could come. She sighed and set the flowers down. “Well, have I got some gossip to tell you.”

Dana went into it, every bit of her life’s stories and happenings that’d taken place since her last visit, saying everything and anything she could think of, hoping that something would spark some sort of reaction from Audrey. After an hour of one sided conversation, though, Dana was out of things to say, and Audrey still hadn’t made a move or a peep. She just sat there, staring across the coffee table in front of her and towards the television, only the faintest glimmer of life in her sad eyes.

“Well, I’d better get going now,” Dana finally said, feeling a little bit defeated as she rose to her feet. “I’ll put these flowers in your room for you.”

She leaned down and kissed her sister on the cheek. “I love you, Audrey.” 

If Dana could have given anything just to hear her sister return the affection, she would have gladly handed it over.

While it was true that there was very little of “Audrey Danvers” left in Audrey Danvers, there was just enough to comprehend her situation—to recognize her surroundings. To see.

And what she saw, day and night, was Marcy Houghton. The little dead girl would sit on the table across from her in the Rec Room by day and stand at her bedside by night. 

She never spoke a word; she just stared at Audrey. And that was more than enough to make Audrey scream for help, over and over again—but only ever in her head.

Patrick Winters

Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. He has been published in the likes of Sanitarium Magazine, The Sirens Call, Trysts of Fate, and other such titles.

You can find him at:

http://wintersauthor. azurewebsites.net/Pages/Home

https://m.facebook.com/ patrickwintersauthor/

https://twitter.com/Weird_Winters

Unholy Trinity: Pantry Stew

Our church worships at the altar of the Unholy Trinity. Its gospels are delivered as a trio of dark drabbles, linked so that Three become One. All hail the power of the Three.

(I)

“What’s in the stew, Marjorie? It’s delicious, and a little…exotic.”

“Glad you like it,” Marjorie responded. “Just used what I found in the pantry.”

“Well, thanks for the invite. Where’s John tonight?”

“I thought you’d know…since you’re sleeping together,” Marjorie smiled. “Yes, I know, you’ve been having sex with my husband.”

I choked. Reached for my wine glass. Empty.

“More wine, darling?” Marjorie asked. “Go grab another bottle from the pantry.”

I opened the pantry door. John’s head and torso stood upright on a plastic tarp.

I reeled backwards.

“Where’s John, you asked? Oh, he’s inside you, darling,” sighed Marjorie.

(II)

I gagged. I couldn’t believe I’d eaten John…his legs, his…parts…and I had enjoyed it.

I swiped my forearm across my mouth.

“I think there’s an Argentinian Malbec on the shelf,” called Marjorie from the kitchen. “It would be divine with the pantry stew.”

I crept into the pantry, mesmerized by the grotesque statue that had once been my lover…his stiffness, his head cocked at an odd angle, his throat slit with what was clearly a confident prowess. Marjorie’s work? And John said she wasn’t exciting enough.

I eyed the wine shelf. A Malbec. Yes. Rich and exotic, just like John.

(III)

“I don’t blame you, darling,” Marjorie explained as she ladled more stew. “My husband was a tomcat. He had one hell of a reputation.”

“I didn’t know,” I replied. “It was sex, but I thought he…loved me.” I swallowed another morsel of rich ragout.

“Were you careful? I mean, with John’s gonorrhea and all…and darling, you did see his warts, right?”

I spit the stew bits back into my bowl.

“Well, darling, I’m sorry…” Marjorie sighed. “That’s why we hadn’t had sex in years! But at least he was good in the kitchen…you have to admit, he makes remarkable stew.”

Catherine Kenwell

Catherine Kenwell is a writer, mediator and adjudicator living with a brain injury. Her work has appeared in Brainstorm Revolution and Chicken Soup for the Soul, and she is a contributor to Trembling with Fear. She’s currently writing a ‘real-life-horror-story’ comedy based on her experiences with PTSD and post-concussion syndrome. www.catherinekenwell.com

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