Hello, you conflicted creature.
I’m sorry you’ve got to be in this position. Really, I am. It’s never easy to choose, especially when there’s precious little to be sure of either way. But before you do, be absolutely certain it’s what you want, because…
This week’s writing group prompt is:
Better the Devil You Know
RULES AND GUIDELINES BELOW!
Make sure you scroll down and read them if you haven’t! You may not be eligible if you don’t!
This one had me stumped for a hot second, there. I assumed at first that it was just going to be about difficult decisions and conflicting stakes. But there’s a little more wrapped up in it…
Better the devil you know.
Not just choosing between devils.
There’s a statement of value in there.
So it seems that the game we’re playing here is one that involves a tantalizing unknown setup against an undesirable known. And in that unknown, there is danger.
This seems to me a tragic advocacy for safe places and familiar grounds, however flawed they may be. It’s getting an unnecessary cosmetic surgery that messes up your face for the rest of your life, because you didn’t like the shape of your smile. It’s leaving the comfort of home unprepared and ending up on the street because your parents are a little too strict. It’s taking the oily hand of the creature who lives in your vent, because it says the world inside is so much lovelier than your drab little townhouse.
Break our hearts with a greedy decision.
Set up a beautiful catch-22.
Send us off into the thorn patch we never knew was there.
Remember, this is part of our weekly Writing Group stream! Submit a little piece following the rules and guidelines below, and there’s a chance your entry will be read live on stream! In addition, we’ll discuss it for a minute and give you some feedback.
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Fear Makes People Do Stupid Things
“Please Dale,” Egard begged. “You know the path you’re on is wrong.”
Leaona chimed in, “We know you’re scared but Malacom isn’t the answer.”
Firelight danced in Dale’s tangerine eyes.
Leona cautiously stepped towards Dale and reached for the bloody knife in her hand.
“It’s not to late. Come back home and let us help you.” Egard continued.
Leona’s fingers were inches from the blade when Dale whipped the knife around slashing Leona’s arm then slammed her with incredible force into the cobblestone wall.
Leona gasped as Dale’s knee pressed hard against her ribs. Egard was about to run forward but stopped. Intervening would only get them both killed.
“You already tried to help me and it got a farmer and his family killed!” Dale shouted shoving her leg into Leona’s chest. A sickening crack came from Leona’s ribs.
Then Dale’s shaky voice said. “Stay away, or I’ll kill you. That’s not a threat, it’s a warning.”
Dale regained her composure and let Leona go.
“I’ve chosen my path and I’m not going back. It’s time you accept that.”
Leona was on the ground clutching her ribs and Egard was right beside her.
“I’m so sorry.” Dale said before morphing into a majestic dark wolf.
Egard looked up and watched Dale disappear into the night.
“We have to go after her.” Leona struggled to stand.
Egard put a hand on her shoulder. “Lay still, Le. There’s nothing more we can do tonight.”
“I can’t just let her go! We searched half the planet to find her!” Leona snapped. “Gods. She’s so stupid sometimes! Why did she even go with Malacom at all?!”
Egard sighed. “She was scared and people do stupid things when they’re scared.”
“She should’ve stayed with us. We’re her family not that sadistic psychopath.”
“I know, and Dale knows it too even if fear and guilt have blinded her.” Egard replied calmly. Leona exhaled and let Egard help her up.
“Lets get you back to Uncle Alarick. Then we’ll go find that idiot and bring her home.”
Home Is Where The Heat Is
Kat sat looking at the artifact in her hand.
She’d spent the majority of her life in Hell. Born and raised.
The only thing she’d wanted was to leave, for her mother to take her to the mortal plane, and destroy the ones responsible for their living torment.
And eventually, their having actual bodies and not being mere souls, combined with her mother’s immense psychic abilities and her own powers(ignited and fueled by the energies of Hell), they accomplished it.
However she barely had enough time to enjoy a breath of air that wasn’t on fire, or the clear sky and the sun and stars above before they were moving towards their next goal.
Tracking their targets down wasn’t as hard as she’d thought it would be, but once they’d caught up to them she learned that her mother wasn’t really her mother. That the people she’d been training to destroy for trapping them in Hell were her actual parents. Her Mother didn’t even pretend to deny it. She’d gloated that yes, it was their daughter, stolen from them, that was going to kill them.
And then the man who fathered her killed the woman who raised her.
Full of rage and confusion she fled her birth parents. She wandered the world after that, feeling lost and purposeless.
After a few years she met a man who was able to show her the many joys of the world, and she thought she might have found that mythical thing called “love”. But that had been taken from her as well. And while it left her wealthy, she cared little for the inheritance. Though it gave her a means to an end.
She didn’t care for this world any longer. It was cold and cruel.
She slipped the artifact into a pouch on her hip and leapt from the museum roof to the next and off into the distance, leaving the alarms and sirens behind her.
She couldn’t go to Hell, but with the complete set of artifacts she could bring Hell to her.
Familiar Roots (Reposted from private)
By L. L. Marco
“How could you do this to me…?”
My voice quivered. The porch steps were freezing beneath my bare feet and my hands trembled as they clutched the cellphone close. It was so cold out here and my pj’s did nothing to fight off the coming winter. But I couldn’t go back inside; what if someone woke up and heard? They already thought I was so stupid…
“I… I don’t know.” It was the first honest thing he’d said to me in a long time but it still cut through me.
What had I expected him to say? What excuse could he have mustered that would make it all go away? My toes were already beginning to numb from the cold but I was glad for that and silently wished that it would spread through all of me. I didn’t want to feel this pain. Not again. I choked back a sob, trying desperately to silence it before he could hear but to no avail. He sighed.
“I didn’t mean to. We were just friends, and then before I knew it, I…” He didn’t need to say what happened next. We knew. “You deserve better. I… I should let you go.”
My heart leapt into my throat. The sorrow that had planted seeds in my chest suddenly burst into vines that wound around my lungs, my spine, up my throat until I felt I couldn’t breathe. Despair gave away to loneliness that loomed just around the corner. If he left… what would happen? I would be consumed by it. Terror seized me. No… anything but the loneliness! I couldn’t face it!
“W-Wait…!” I whispered frantically. I forced a smile into my voice. “N-No, I’m okay. W-We can work through this! I love you. You mean more to me than a d-dumb mistake. D-Dont leave… please.”
Silence filled the space between us. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears; tears blurred my vision. I’d rather freeze out there on the front porch than be abandoned…
And then, finally, he spoke.
“Okay. But don’t forget hun… this was your choice.”
BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW…
Smoke rose from the crevasse. Flames spat across the expanse. Lava flowed down the walls like a mystical tapestry. Two demons looked at each other. Their diabolical schemes had defined the nature of evil. Together they’d redefined the boundaries of iniquity. The taller one, Marlboro, was always carrying his dreadful box around with him. No one knew how he acquired the box. Its surface was darker than dark, blacker than black. Its presence tinged the air like a salt spray. Marlboro had come into the world old, but he didn’t age much past this point. Nor was he even the slightest bit infirm, demons never were. He simply knew more than most. He had certain dark wisdom. A malevolence of thought which placed him in the inner circle.
Winston, the junior demon, whispered in his ear. His tone was conspiratorial. “Why don’t you use the power of the box?”
Like the grinding of teeth, Marlboro’s voiced echoed in reply. “Because it would change everything.”
“Do you not want to rule?”
He glanced back at Winston reproachfully. “I want what is mine by right. But if I use the box, the universe will belong to others. If I give this to the dark one, our form of evil will soon become a distant memory.”
Winston’s blood-red eyes glowed. “It will give him that much power?”
“No, it will take his power away. It will take all our power away.”
“But we know about it… and knowledge is the ultimate power.”
Marlboro sneered. “You have no idea. This is beyond devils’ work… it’s… it’s… a distraction. It will occupy all his time. It will one day occupy everyone’s time. Until one day, time will cease to exist. ” Without saying another word he placed the box on a dark, unholy stone altar. He simply walked off, leaving Winston alone in the room with it.
Winston watched in awe as the box came to life. Blue runes glowed on its surface. They pulsed with a malicious light.
It read PlayStation.
I Hate Plan L
I scratched the back of my head, closed my eyes and counted to ten. I felt something slimy stroke my face and a low whinnie in my ear. My jaw tightened as I held out the grilled cheese.
“Alright Slep, lunch is on.” I hissed through clenched teeth. The horse lapped up the sandwich and downed it in one bite then galloped through the wall, slipping through it like jello. I heard a muffled crash a moment later. Calm down. Just have dinner.
I sat down to a plate carrying a few taunting crumbs. A low growl and a brushing of warm fur past my legs answered my question.
“Dammit Fen!!” I screamed as the wolf jumped through the window of the backdoor, the shattered glass reforming behind his entry.
My phone buzzed. It was from Sera.
“How are things on your end?” the text read.
“Well the kids are fed at least.” I replied. “You?”
“The attic’s full to bursting with nutella and ice giants are having a civil war in the freezer.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose and exhaled. “Well…I guess I’ll go talk to him.”
Sera read my mind and shot over a follow-up text, “Don’t be rash. We need him if we’re going to deal with those eidolon things.”
I scowled and spat. I hate it when she’s right.
I made my way to the basement and found him laying on the couch with a bag of chips in his hand watching television.
“You know what, Tom Hiddleston isn’t half bad, but why do they always have to make my brother a blonde?” He commented, straightening up in his seat to acknowledge me.
“Loki…we have to talk.” I said delicately. “About the whole deal we had? The living situation? Cuz daddy threw you out?”
“Ah yes, what about it?” The trickster replied with a cheerful grin.
I heard a crash behind me as Sera spilled on to the floor covered in brown goo.
“Going great!” she coughed.
“Death”[Aleph null sci fi]
They are all fools. They think that their lives are better with death. They are so worried about going beyond our natural lifespan that they won’t fund research that will even give us the option to go past it. Even though that would be objectively good. Worst comes to worst, you can just stop using it.
So closed minded. The fools. At least they’re better than the religious types. Telling me I’ll go to hell for saving lives. Fuck it. If the cost of improving our lives is me going to hell, I’ll take it. I’m not sure I want to be in the realm of a god who would oppose us saving lives.
I guess I’ll have to do without their funding. Unless…
I know how to do it. I have a plan. I thought this meeting would be useless, but it could work out…
I walk up to the podium.
“Hello, my friends. As you know, I am working on biological immortality. I would like to tell you I have already secured a bit of funding, potentially more to come…”
A little lie, but I let them fill in the rest. Maybe they would think I was working with the Chinese, or maybe a private corporation. Either way, they couldn’t let this go to the competition.
“Progress is good, even though it is slow. The protein folding is working as expected, though delivery is a little ways off. By the end of the year phase 1 trials should begin, if required funding is obtained”
The audience was stunned. I’m confident I’ll have plenty of funding from the US government in a few days. I’m ready to build a better world.
The Devil Within
By NocteVesania (Public Group Repost)
Elias stands in the middle of the plaza, his bright blue eyes trained on the demon standing across. A bead of sweat rolls down his cheek as he feels the heat of the burning village around him. He tightens his grip on his sword, pointed at the demon, ready to strike at any moment.
“Give up, young one,” the demon orders, its raspy voice akin to the crackling flames around them, “you’re only delaying the inevitable.”
A familiar voice echoes in Elias’ head. “He stands in our way. Let me eradicate him!”
Elias feels his right arm start to tremble. He grasps it with his left hand, trying to calm it down. The black veins that run down his arm start to feel warm to the touch.
“Just give yourself up. I will lift this curse from you. You know your control over it will not last much longer.” The demon offers his hand.
Elias grits his teeth. “And let you have the power? Let you take over the world?”
“Once the demon inside you takes control, you will have doomed everyone!” The demon shouts out, his voice booming over the roaring blaze. “The world will burn and no mortal will survive!”
Elias pauses for a moment, waiting for a response from the voice within. Nothing. He lowers his head and sheathes his blade.
“Maybe you’re right,” Elias sighs as he closes his eyes, “maybe it would be better to give it up.”
The demon smirks, that is until Elias opens his eyes again, the bright blue now scarlet like blood.
“But I’d rather take the risk than leave everything in your hands!” Elias screams in defiance, his right arm tensing up, ready to rip his enemy to shreds.
Laughter from the voice within echoes in Elias’ head as the black veins on his arm glow a sinister purple.
“The Turning of Mechanical Men” [Fantasy Setting]
By Aaron Fleming
We confronted Balthus, and a blue bolt of energy roared past us.
“Arith, I thought you said he wasn’t a wizard!” Adara shouted over the din of the clanking machinery while taking cover behind one of the massive gears.
“He’s not!” I shouted back diving for cover, “He’s got a damn aetheric rifle!” Balthus’s weapon made a high-pitched rising hum as it charged up for the next shot.
Another bolt of blue energy roared between myself and Adara striking the metal plated flooring. I looked back at our companion Kerik, his bronze plated face and empty mechanical eyes showed neither fear nor any other emotion, and he looked on with seeming indifference. I didn’t want to send our mechanical friend into the fray like this, but I felt I had no choice.
“Kerik! Hit him hard!” I shouted.
With stunning swiftness for a man-sized automaton, he moved to close the distance while dodging bolts of aetheric energy with mechanical precision. Kerik had timed his movements just right to close the final yards while Balthus’s weapon was charging between shots. The mechanical man’s fist connected with Balthus’s face with a loud crack and the man went down like a stone. I moved out from cover looking at Balthus’s slumped over form noticing several teeth now scattered across the floor. Before I could walk up to the fallen figure, Kerik bent over and picked up the aetheric rifle.
The automaton turned to us and with mechanical precision leveled the rifle. He began firing on us, and I dove for cover a second time. His sudden betrayal as inscrutable as his expressionless face.
Mrs. Danvers Eats Children
“Who’s getting it?”
Keeley clutched the bat to her chest and starred up at the hole punched into the dirty attic window.
“Are you nuts, Josh? That’s Danvers’ house!”
“My brother told me his friend’s sister saw her eat a finger once.”
“Well, I’m not going!”
The boys all turned to her with the same expectant look.
“…Alone?” Keeley squeaked.
“Ugh, fine. Take the new kid.”
The new kid’s name was Dean. He’d moved in the week before.
Keeley hid behind him as he raised the big brass knocker and dropped it with a thump. They waited for footsteps.
Instead, the door yawned open.
Keeley tried to bolt, but Dean caught her hand.
“If you run now, they’re gonna make fun of you. She’s just an old lady.”
They crept into the living room, the floor groaning under them. Dusty light filtered in through the paisley curtains. An old, musty smell hung in the air.
There were no severed fingers, no boiling pot of children’s blood soup.
Keeley followed Dean to the second floor, then the third. By the time they reached the attic, she felt bold enough to go in first.
“You see it?”
Keeley glanced back at him. Dean was doubled over, shaking. He’d been so calm earlier. She’d thought he wasn’t scared.
The top half of his body turned to her.
But it didn’t stop.
It twisted upwards and fell open in fleshy strips lined with teeth.
Keeley screamed and clamped her eyes shut. Something big whiffed passed her face. There was a sharp crack, then a bang as something heavy hit the floor.
“She’s mine!” The Thing That Was Not Dean rasped.
“Now you listen to me, young man! I’ve eaten well here for sixty years and I don’t intend to stop now!”
There was a crunch.
A wet pop.
“Here you are, dear.”
Something passed into her palms. Keeley pried her eyes open.
“And if those boys give you more trouble, you send them to me. I’ll straighten them right out.”
To Extinguish a Sun
I donned the protective mask as the Sun Machine’s rays grew in intensity. “How much further?” I asked.
“Only a short climb,” Alia answered.
“What do your reckon will happen once we stop it?”
Alia shrugged. “Anything’s better than being forced to hide like vermin.”
“Yeah… ” I had seen what UV-exposure could do to a man. I reassured myself by placing a hand upon the orb hanging from my belt. It was cool, smooth, and radiated power. It was the key to a new world.
From the mountain path, I saw crop fields covered with automated shaders, windowless pyramid homes, and sand-swept caravan paths. It was beautiful, but there was only one way forward, a way without the Machine.
Through my tinted glasses, I could see the Machine in all its glory. A huge bronze sphere, circular holes covering its surface and revealing the inferno within.
“It’s time,” Alia said when we came within distance. “A new era begins.”
I heard her praying under her breath as I loosened the orb from my belt. Recalling all my training I took aim and threw. A wheezing sound came from the Machine as the orb made contact with the inner heat. Everything turned black. Within seconds the unbearable heat faded. A harsh cold replacing it.
“Alia? Are you all right?” I called out through chattering teeth.
“We did it… ”
I lit a torch and took her hand in mine. “Come on, let’s go home.”
“We’re heroes.” Her eyes were wide with excitement.
“I know,” I said.
We had to be careful during our descent, for my torch only illuminated a small area around us. I found myself recalling the beautiful sights we had seen. It was all still there, of course, but never again to be seen. I could only hope that I’d made the right choice.
A light at Tunnel’s End
Deep in the underground, within the damp tunnels of despair stood a man. His body stained with scars and eyes greyed from hopelessness, he cried.
Finally, after all the long years of torment, he found a way out. A path to freedom laid before him. One that did not echo with screams or flow with blood. This one was clean. Clean of the death that surrounded him, free of the daggers that stabbed him, a path that shone, and so he cried.
But these were not the tears of joy.
They were of woe.
For in that escape he now saw, was a poison. Dripping from the walls and oozing in puddles upon the ground, it seeped into all things.
He knew not of this poison. Perhaps it would be a fairer fate than to endure that which he had escaped. But he could not evade the feeling of dread. It might truly be a final well of agony before the sweet release of the morning sun, but he could not be sure.
If he stepped into the depths of the poisoned path and not find that release, then the anguish of his body would be all the more sour. It would take centuries to accustom his wounds to the new pain.
But if he returned…
Returned to the place that rent his flesh and tore his bones, then he would know of his agony. He would understand through his years of experience his pain. He might harness that knowledge to endure just a little bit longer.
That is what he must do. Return to his former captors and suffer their ways. But even still the light of the path ahead entranced him. Maybe he could risk escape? Maybe the poison was instead a cure? Something to heal the scars upon his flesh?
His mind searched for an excuse to tread that path, but none were of certain logic. All conclusions risked greater, unknowable pain. And so, crying, he turned and walked into the darkness, away from the light.
Abandoning forever his one fleeting chance at peace.
Settingstuck (UNIVERSE_ID NOT FOUND)
By Calliope Rannis
On a grey, rainy day, at the topmost floor of an old boarding school that was now sliced into houses, a girl sat on her bed. She’d been woken up at exactly 10am by her forlorn daily alarm, but it could take an hour to become capable of anything but staring into space and contemplating.
It was usually of a fictional nature – daydreaming about her worlds and her monsters, or about one of the original characters that she fondly thought of as her daughters. (A somewhat ironic bond, considering the cruelties her writing would inflict upon them. She wondered if this is how the God of her universe sees their creations as they make them suffer?) But this time was different. This was not about the content of her worlds, but rather of their creation. And the thought dominating her mind today was:
“I don’t want to write a Corespace story today, do I?”
It had taken her days to come to that conclusion. But ultimately it was how she felt. She did genuinely love writing for that setting – it was so full of Stuff and Things and Characters that she could make any writing prompt work for it! Lately however, that had been all she was writing. It had become a habit, a rigidity upon her creative process, the thing she best knew how to write.
She could have written a story to fit this prompt too. Frankly it would have been easy. Her Void Lords could take on the role of a ‘devil’, or maybe a prisoner of a Shellskin? But she just…didn’t want to.
The girl wanted to do something else instead. Something unbound from her well-trodden setting, unbound from her genre of preference, something barely fictional if she was going to be quite honest with herself. Something she had never tried to write before. It may be in some ways the exact opposite of the prompt, but that was okay. She didn’t even need to write up to the max word count for this one!
(But she did anyway. Because some things apparently never change.)
“You aren’t real”, whispered Tabitha desperate to believe her own words,”You’re just some delusion of my broken brain!”
“You’re brain isn’t broken Tabitha”, said the source-less deep female voice,”I know, I’m looking at it right now, its perfectly healthy, and obsessed with dogs.”
Tabitha reached up and grabbed the sides of her head,”Okay, say I believe you. Why should I trust you over my parents?”
The voice was silent for a moment,”Let me put it to you this way, girl. When that priest walks back in here he’s going to be holding a very ornate knife, and he fully intends to use it on you. So you can let me give you my power or, you can live the rest of your days as a pain wracked vegetable.”
“He’s a holy man he wouldn’t do that”, argued Tabitha.
“And everyone who went to the crusades were saints”, said the voice. Tabitha heard the handle begin to turn,”Choose, girl”,ordered the voice.
“I choose…”, whispered Tabitha, as she saw the priest standing in the doorway holding a strange black and silver knife,”I…I choose you.”
Tabitha’s world exploded in pain, it felt like her body was on fire, but in an instant she knew what she could do. She put out her hand, and then the ends of her fingers extended out 6 inches, sharpening into claws. She looked to the priest then to her hand, and then in one motion she grabbed the bed she was sitting on and threw it across the room feeling new muscles erupting into being beneath her skin, before diving towards the window and out into the front yard.
She began running, the pain of her body shifting so suddenly bringing tears to her eyes. She tore across the yard into the treeline and into the forest, she ran, and ran, and when her legs finally gave out from under her she didn’t know where she was. As her mind was fading the voice returned,”For what its worth Tabitha Jones, I am sorry”, and then Tabitha’s world went black.
Soldiers follow orders. And Laila was a soldier. It was literally what she was created for. And it was a job she’d had longer than time itself, as with all other warrior angels.
So when she was given the order, there was never any question of whether she’d do it. She worked for the very definition of what is good and right in the world and she had every faith in Heaven’s system.
Not since the birth of Death had there been a child of an angel and a demon. In Death’s case, both sides agreed to it. But the child that Laila was currently watching was an unplanned instance. No one knew where he came from. It was too much power to exist without a plan. Laila knew what she had to do.
Wrapping herself in disguise, she took the form of a child the same age as the boy. New human emotions immediately assaulted her. She’d been through this before. A few moments of acclimation was all it took.
Luckily, the boy was already in a secluded part of the park. She just had to seal the deal. She walked up, immediately feeling a tug at her heart. A squirrel. He’d used his powers for the first time and it was to heal a mortally injured squirrel. Joyful tears were still rolling down his cheeks.
Potentially unlimited power used on such a small creature. A creature he didn’t even know and yet she could feel how deeply he cared for it. This was wrong. He was an innocent. But she had orders.
He noticed her approach, hiding the squirrel behind him. “Did…you see?”
“Please…don’t tell anyone…” He pleaded earnestly.
“Promise?” He urged, reaching out with his pinky.
Laila knew this human custom, and as she looked at the boy’s tear streaked face, she made a decision. A very bad decision. And she didn’t know why she made it. She was a soldier. She followed orders. But not this time. Wrapping her pinky around his, she smiled. “I’m Laila.”
“I’m Matt.” He replied, returning the smile.
By The Man Himself
“Whaaaat is happening? Why are they just…”
Damien was frozen, glancing awkwardly at his friends, who were also unmoving, gazes fixed intently on the standoff happening just ahead.
“I think they’re sizing each other up? Usually he’d have finished by now.”
Frank replied in hushed tones without so much as a look. He was focused on the monster in their service and the second that faced it.
Bac, the masked, hooded figure with its back to the group lazily reached down with his left hand, dragging his sword out of its sheath, apparently uncaring whether his opponent saw him drawing. His right arm hung by his side, bronze fish scales covering him from the elbow down. Damien wasn’t sure if that was armour or natural.
Looking at the two of them, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were human.
“Is he… worried?” Gabriella sounded concerned.
“Dunno, can’t see his face.” Being his owner or whatever, Frank was the default authority on what was happening inside Bac’s head.
“I mean, wouldn’t matter if you could, he doesn’t even have a mouth.”
“What?” Frank took a half-second to glance at Damien incredulously.”That’s a mask, idiot! You know there’s a dude under there, right?”
Damien didn’t need to blink to miss it. He couldn’t even tell how many steps Bac took to reach his target.
The eyeless man, a red pendant bright against his green barista’s apron casually lifted a foot to avoid a low slash, the black rod in his hand batted aside by Bac’s armoured arm, the glass ball in his left flickering with light.
Though there was nothing in his empty sockets, he squinted at Bac. “Ben Costello? Seriously? You’re still around?”
Apparently exasperated, the second monster darted backwards. “I guess you were the only one left to get all that power, huh? I can’t believe I have to deal with you all over again.”
Dragging up old memories, Bac tilted his head and remembered those first fights.
The shell inhabited by the thing in the pendant grinned at the two hundred year old swordsman.
By Liz C.
He had found Delilah in a cheesy motel just south of downtown Denver, a hundred miles away from the settlement, frightened and delirious and alone. She had left on Sunday, she was spotted by one of the several scouts Randall had dispersed across the state on Monday morning, and that evening he had allowed himself into her room. She was in the bathtub with the shower curtain drawn, curled up in the position you learn in school to take during a tornado warning. He took pity on her. He had seen the empty bottles and the scratches on the coffee table on his way in, but he knew there was more to it: no one else’s thoughts were as loud as hers.
“Delilah…” He rested a hand on her back.
Her voice was muffled against the floor of the tub. “Go away.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, sweet girl. I promised Esther I would have you home by tonight.”
“I don’t want to.” After a long moment, she sat up on her haunches. Her eyes were red and puffy, and there were bruises on her neck. She shifted down to sit Indian-style and crossed her arms tight against her chest. “I don’t want to go home ever again.”
“Roman did that to you?” He eyed her bruises. The thought of any man trying to hurt his girl would have enraged him… but he knew that boy would no longer be an obstacle. He had handled him before finding Delilah. “What did Roman tell you, baby?”
She spoke through the tears rolling down her face. “He said that The Promised Land wasn’t my home, and I don’t belong there. And he told me you and Esther are hurting people. He said it would be better if I went back to Philly to live with him.”
Randall leaned forward and gently thumbed her tears away. “And do you believe any of that?”
She shook her head.
“That’s what I thought.” He smiled, kissed her forehead. “Look at what happens when you leave, pretty girl. Better you stay with folks you know.”
The Ugly Truth
By Michael Case
Sweat was rolling down Franks face as he held the pistol to the kid’s head. He had a million thoughts about what to do next.
“Religion and me don’t mix, but at a time like this you’re asking me to choose?” Frank mumbled to apparently no one in the room.
“The kid gleefully told Frank, “I guess you’ll have to pull the trigger, or the priest will die.”
This damn kid was the cause of so many problems, so many lives taken, so many lives destroyed. Killing him would not only save this priest but might help everyone this kid has messed with.
“Help us, help us all, or at least help yourself.” The priest spitefully declared while laid out on the floor like a marionette with its strings cut. “You must kill the boy.”
“I really hate religion sometimes” Frank said out loud while watching the priest age before his eyes. “Get out of here kid, I don’t have time for your games.”
Frank watched, as what was the kid in front of him turn into a maelstrom of gnats, then flew off out of the chapel.
“You doomed us all you stupid fool.” The priest’s body aged to the point that it was turning into ash. Those last words out of the priest’s mouth made Frank laugh to himself.
Looking up at the cross above the pulpit, Frank spoke out loud to no one, “If I had killed the Devil due to malice wouldn’t it have made him stronger?” Frank paused as if waiting for a reply. He then continued, “I let him go through compassion, so shouldn’t that have weakened him?”
Frank walked outside of the chapel knowing that he did the right thing. As He began to mumble something a dove flew down from the Heavens and landed on Franks shoulder. Was this a sign of agreement in his decision, a symbol of hope, or was this… it needed to poop.
Frank mumbled to himself again, “I really hate religion.”
(cw: body horror)
The shock was so great, that Marshall could only understand what he was seeing in parts: the clean surgical table, the stained floor drain, the tray of sharp instruments laid out on a napkin, the rows upon rows of brains suspended in jars full of stinking alcohol. It was only when he felt something wet fall onto his cheek that he was able to understand the full picture; Fiona had always seemed so quiet, and yet their romance was so rapid and passionate.
He ran, out the door, through the corridor and out of the house.
Behind him, he heard Fiona yell, “Come back, it’s not safe out there.”
Did he hear a hint of a chuckle in her voice?
Marshall had no time to think about it, as he ran down the road.
He ran and he ran, and then feeling his lungs begin to revolt against the exertion, Marshall used the last of his energy to clear a ditch and run headlong into the forest. He had maybe a few more seconds of running in him, but he used every second to get away, thankful for the thick fog that encircled him.
He stopped to catch his breath against a tree, suddenly hyper aware of the rough bark beneath his fingers, and how it was flaking off under his palm. How had he never noticed simple things like that before?
Perhaps it was that moment of introspection, that kept him from noticing the burning sensation across his body, until he took his hand off the tree, and noticed a gluey handprint where his hand had been. He turned his hand over, and saw the glistening muscle, as the pain finally erupted in his brain.
He screamed, but then clamped his mouth shut as the caustic fog entered his lungs.
Not too far away, he heard, “Come here, Marshall. These woods are dangerous for your lot. Come back to where it will be painless.”
By Flora Longtail
“You know this. I need you. The tribe needs you,” the golden-furred cat implored of her black-furred relative. “You can’t just go running off again. You have responsibilities now. The tribe -”
“Yeah, yeah. I know what mom’s said. She’s said it a million times,” the other offers, though her voice suggests she ought to be rolling her eyes right about now. Truth be told, Kat’d much rather be anywhere but here. That little stint in the big cities down south, chasing Flora down had really changed her perspectives on a lot of things. Among other things, it’d shown her how little she’d actually cared for the tribe. She’d been a star. And now, she’s back here, in this dump in the middle of nowhere.
Another sigh from the younger of the two. After all, if she can’t even convince Kat, then what hope is there for her as chieftess? For them.
If anyone, Kat had to be the one person she should be able to convince that things were better elsewhere, not just for her, but for everyone. If only she could get Kat to sit still and listen. Sometimes, it was better to stick with the devil you knew. Even if she didn’t care, Kat would know how to convince people something needs to change. She had a way with words. Together, they’d make a half-decent chieftess. If they left, who knows who’d wind up leading the tribe?
Silence falls, save for the sounds of the snowstorm raging across the tundra… The weather’d grown worse over the years, and more and more people had been getting sick from unknown causes.
“You know, if you managed to convince them, you’d be able to go back.” That seemed to bring a smile to Kat’s muzzle.
And sometimes, it’s better to brave the unknown… Together, they’d lead the tribe to greener pastures.
You Peaked at Sixteen
By Fredrick Hoagland
Before James stood what seemed to be a man holding a hypodermic needle. He had just gotten done with freshman orientation and couldn’t believe the deal he was being made.
“So my full legacy will be what I achieve in High School.”
“Correct. Which is no small potatoes as you’ve already achieved varsity on your school’s football team with a good chance of achieving similar results in basketball and baseball.”
“So how does this work?”
“This is an extremely slow-acting toxin,” the man replied indicating the needle, “your death will occur on the day of your graduation. As such, you will go with all your glory and never have to face the horrors of adulthood.”
“Where do you need to jab me?”
“Your arm will suffice.”
With a quick pinch the figure vanished, and then James spent the next four years in glory.
That man was correct in his predictions. He managed to make varsity in all the sports he went out for. As a result, he could get any girl he wanted, so, naturally, he wanted them all.
Spending his days fulfilling his base desires drove his coming doom far from his mind. So far, in fact, that he forgot it was coming at all. So instead he began to prepare for a future that was never coming.
Fortunately, his athletic ability was only enhanced by his intellect and he managed to get a 4.0 GPA and a 36 on his ACT. He chose Bucknell University for the “culture”.
On graduation day he gave a speech that pulled upon the heartstrings.
Then he stepped outside looked across the parking lot at Tiffany with the intent of taking her home to “celebrate”. Suddenly his chest tightened and his vision darkened as an old friend stepped out from between the cars and approached.
“Your time has come.”
“No, I still have so much more to accomplish.”
“You chose this.”
“I was just a child.”
“But you were old enough to make your own bed. Now, lie in it.”
Aaron sat on the grass in the humid, mid-July heat. It was shortly after his eighteenth birthday and he couldn’t believe the luck- enough money to get his own place and get him and Felix the hell away from his parents. They weren’t pleased, but he couldn’t care less.
He looked over to Koshivek, his and his brother’s housemate, picking apart the deer he’d taken down earlier. It had taken Aaron a little time to get used to the idea of Vek’s hunting, but he ultimately agreed it was better than the meat industry and besides, between him and Vek, they could make use of every part.
“Hey, Vek…” He hesitated, knowing he was unlikely to get anywhere with the ensuing line of questioning, but he was never one to give up.
The demon looked up from his handiwork, meeting Aaron’s gaze in a silent question.
“You never really talk about your past. Who you were before… y’know, before we met.”
He rumbled in thought and resumed sorting cuts on a tarp. “Don’t you think that’s a little personal?”
Aaron chuckled. “We’ve been friends for years, now, though, and we’re sharing a house. I mean, that’s pretty personal.”
Vek sighed, looking off to the woods behind the house in thought. “You know, I don’t think you do want to know about my past.”
Aaron raised an eyebrow. “And why is that?”
“I’ve done awful, awful things, and I doubt you’d forgive me.”
“Try me.” He crossed his arms.
“Believe me, Aaron- better the devil you know,” He made eye contact, his pupils reflecting gold and green back at the human, “than the one he killed.”
I wish I could forget
By Alex Nightingale
Many people wondered, why Sparrow drank after and during her shift. It wasn’t for pleasure. It certainly wasn’t to appease her fellow police officers. No. There was a different reason for her drinking.
Detective Sparrow Morrigan didn’t just drink to forget, like many others. She went a step further. She drank to obliterate herself. She wanted to end her memories, her persona and destroy her very own being in this booze-ridden oblivion.
She’d seen devils. She didn’t care what everyone else said, that there were ‘real’ monsters out there. Daniel, Lilith, everyone. What did they know? Heck, Daniel never even shared his last name.
No, she had seen the tracks a true abomination left. She downed whatever alcohol was in front of her and kept on, trying to distract herself. She thought about that night in the alleyway, with the random shooting. Or that rhyming thing in the warehouse.
Yes. Those were good things to focus on. Nice crimes, which she could remember. Some might have gone unsolved, but at least they were… what’s the word? She’d come back to it later.
There was a reason she drank. She wanted to forget Forest Nick.
It all came back to her. Sparrow cursed and ordered another bottle. Even to her the words sounded slurred. The barkeeper shook his head and said something she couldn’t understand. Then a hand took hold of her and lifted her up.
“Come on, Sparrow,” it was her partner, Tim Kessel: “Let’s get you home.”
“No”, she protested feebly: “I want to forget.”
“There is no forgetting,” Tim replied: “Look, I know Forest Nick is still haunting you, but the case is over. It’s closed. We lost. I’m sorry. It’s better to remember cases like this. There are many demons and devils out there and it’s good to at least know them.”
“Bullshit,” Sparrow spat: “Knowing devils is like looking at oncoming headlights. They destroy you, through memory alone. They shouldn’t be known.”
“Then who’ll stop them?”
Not me, Sparrow thought. My devil got away and yet he is still here. I wish I could forget.
Demons are way easier to deal with
By: Larissa (Lari.B.Haven)
Killian knew that a possessed teacher causing havoc in the gym just before E.D, would stir too much attention. He needed to think quick, and banish it before the other students came.
A thick curtain of sulfur rose from the wooden floor.
“A demon?” Eddie looked at him.
“You’re going down, demon hunter!” The demon responded, his sharpened claws ripping through the teacher’s skin. “Get ready, Killian Cole!”
“I… can explain, just not now, Eddie!” He gestured at him to hide.
“I’m not going!” He responded in ASL.
“How do you mean you’re not going! That thing is dangerous!”
“You kept that hidden from me, all this time?”
The demonic entity let go a tired sigh.
“Will the two lovebirds argue for much longer?”
“Shut up, V’ilonté!” Killian lowered the bat. “I’m dealing with serious shit here!”
“How do you know my true name?” The demon blinked his eyes.
“Someone etched that in your forehead in elderspeak.” Killian said brushing off and taking the blond boy by the arm. “Now baby, can you please go back to safety?”
“Dammit you, E’ienv! I will kill you when I get home!” The evil fiend tried to clean his forehead while Killian and Eddie argued more.
“So if you die, I’m just supposed to watch and wait for your chewed corpse outside?” Eddie amped up the angry signaling. “And why keep it secret from me, of all people?”
Killian rolled his eyes.
“How about I beat this dumbass now and then I tell you about banishing demons later?”
The blond one thought for a while, still mad at him.
“Fine, I go! But you HAVE to tell me everything later!”
Killian smiled and kissed Eddie’s lips, and the boy ran away.
“Now… where were we?”
“Only Mom can call me a dumbass!” The demon protested.
“How about I send you straight to her lap?”
Killian then ran in the demon’s direction, like he was supposed to. That would be easier than dealing with Eddie’s wrath later.
“Better the devil you know.” He thought.
“An Old Friend”
“Hey, you comin’ to the bar tonight, mate?” I asked over the phone.
“Of course I am.” my friend’s voice replied. “We got the whole gang together, and I’m not missin’ old Harry’s shenanigans this time!”
“A’ight, see ya then!” I said before we hung up. He’d been away for university all Spring, not even coming home for his break, and I was itchin’ to go out on the town. With the whole crew together, the kind of mischief we’d get up to would be legendary, just like the good old days.
Back then, if you saw some lewd graffiti on an office building, or if some running joke seemed to crop up from nowhere, or a whole bar got stuck in for a brawl when no one seemed up for fightin’, you could make a safe bet that we had somethin’ to do with it. You’d never get the proof of it, of course, but you would know, and so would just about everyone else with a lick of sense.
So I got on my lucky jeans and my favorite jacket, hopped in my truck, which we call “the Rally Wagon,” and drove off to pick up the rest of the lads.
We’d been sitting at the bar for roughly an hour, and he hadn’t showed up. He was coming on his own. Wanted to show off some sporty car he’d got. As if responding to my thoughts, the door swung open.
There he was, that smug jackass. I’d know that face as I’d know my own mother’s. My whole life, I had known him.
Betre Desmonde Tefyl.
“Expectations and Needs” (Tales of Marow)
By Connor A.
Selene paced the room. Her hands were close to bleeding from all her scratching, but she failed to notice that.
“Selene, your hands look worse than they did when we first met.”
Selene looked up and saw Medrash standing in the doorframe with bandages and some tea. She directed her attention to her hands and swore to herself. Medrash motioned for her to sit at the table, which Selene did as Medrash walked into the room.
“Are your parents this bad?” He placed the tea on the table and started wrapping Selene’s hands.
“They’re not bad, just… demanding.”
“Demanding enough to make you draw blood?”
Selene sighed and answered the unspoken question, “We started arguing when they found out I dropped out of the cleric program.”
Medrash paused for a moment, then started bandaging the other hand. “I almost forgot about that. Can I ask how that argument ended?”
“They gave me two options. Either I go back into the program, or… or they disown me.”
“They would disown you for changing your profession?”
“Ever since I showed interest in magic, they pushed me to be a cleric. ‘Keep out evil influences,’ and all that.”
“And since your power does not come from a god, they consider you a threat to their supposed purity.”
“That’s their reasoning.”
Medrash finished bandaging Selene’s hands and pushed the tea in front of her.
“It should be obvious what I should do.” Selene held the cup in both hands. “I just… I’m the only person they would even consider listening to. If they cut me off, I’m scared they’ll end up doing things they’ll regret.”
“…I cannot tell you the best course of action. My own experiences make me… biased.” Medrash brushed a hand over his neck scar. “But I have no doubt that you will choose what’s best for you, my friend.”
Selene gave a small smile before drinking her tea. In between sips, she commented, “Your tea tastes better than your coffee.”
“Hilarious. Now, can you help me study for Professor Killia’s exam?”