Ravaged,
like meat picked from the bone—
he was never like you.

Watching him now,
he’s barely a man.
Not the look.
He could be a fucking catalog model,
Oxford button-down and goddamn khakis.
His mind, rather,
is a twisted landscape of wretchedness.

He drives slowly—
he can’t afford to be pulled over.
Precious cargo.

In the trunk,
blood seeps.
Warm and wet and coppery,
its power a form of fuel
as much as the unleaded in the tank.

It’s enough to carry him through the night.
This night.
By tomorrow,
he’ll need a top off.

God,
he loves it when they scream.

I like to revisit characters, even in super-short form. This is one of those times.

James Kinter remains, for me, an epic villain. There’s nothing particularly original about him. He’s like so many other killers, a disturbing mix of sophistication and psychopathy. But that’s part of why I like him.

Well, not HIM. Stories that feature him. He’s deplorable, but you can’t have horror without a good villain.

This one was especially fun as the closing line echoes the title of the first story I wrote about him, back when I wasn’t sure how I felt about being able to go so dark. Now I delight in it. Ain’t that a kick in the head?

If you like this little thing, be sure to check out the much longer original series, The Kinter House. It’s classic American horror.

Oh, and the piece below was written based on a prompt from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘lone’, ‘sanguine’, and ‘splay’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

rhapsody

He was sanguine, even as sirens sounded in the distance. They were a pack of rabid dogs on the hunt, but he didn’t care. He just smiled, depositing his tools on the table and taking off the heavy butcher’s apron.

His work was splayed across the room. “Rhapsody In Red” played on a lone speaker. “Love to feel it flood down to my soul…,” Garcia sang.

His soul felt light, sanctified by the sacrifice.

They would come, ready to dissect his masterpiece. But it didn’t matter.

He would simply wrap himself in the comfort of the memory of those screams.

I can’t say much about this story without spoiling it, so I’m not going to say anything.

Instead, I’m just going to invite you into it. I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know what you think in the comments. I’d very much like to hear your thoughts on this one.

condolences

“For you,” he said.

The color caught her eye first. Deep, rich pinks fanned out along the petals, outlined in white. The color gave the appearance of veins, the way it spider-crawled along the delicate flesh. At the middle was a burst of red mingled with gold. The center looked like a tiny angel, wings extended to the sides to hold it aloft. An angel surrounded by beauty.

“It’s an orchid,” he said. “A Phalaenopsis.”

She smiled. “It’s lovely.”

He nodded agreement. “I thought you might appreciate it. Do you have a vase? I’d like to get it in some water so you can enjoy it for as long as possible.”

She opened the door wider and invited him in. He was older. Probably 25 years her senior. She didn’t know him well at all, but he seemed nice enough. His smile made the corners of his eyes wrinkle, and she took that as a very good sign.

She led him to the kitchen where she retrieved a simple glass vase from the cabinet beside the fridge. He took it from her hand, his fingers gently caressing hers as they made the exchange. There was nothing sexual or sensual about it. It was a comforting gesture, and she appreciated it more than she let him know.

“I didn’t think I’d want to see another flower ever again,” she said.

He frowned. “Oh, no. I’ve reminded you of unpleasant days.”

She shook her head. “No, no. It’s okay. I mean, all the arrangements. There were so many flowers. Most of them were fake, though, and none was as lovely as this. What did you call it?”

“A Phalaenopsis orchid.”

“Well, it’s far prettier than any of the others. All those plastic flowers and sympathy bouquets. Those things are so fucking depressing.”

She heard the word coming out of her mouth, but didn’t quite catch it. Immediately, her eyes went wide. She wondered if she’d offended him. He looked just old enough to believe a proper young lady shouldn’t use such language.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have used that word.”

He chuckled. “It’s only a word. In my experience, they’re not worth getting upset over. Besides, you’ve been through an ordeal. If the occasional verbal indulgence brings peace, swear all you want.” He smiled conspiratorially. “All you fucking want.”

She laughed at that. She laughed hard. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so light, and all of this over a flower.

“Are these hard to grow?” she asked as he slipped the vase under the facet, turning on the water.

“Nothing is really all that difficult to grow,” he said. “This flower wants to grow. It wants to bloom. This is what it was meant for. The challenge is to avoid getting in its way. One has to know the ideal conditions and then replicate them. Phals can’t be overly watered. They don’t care for direct sunlight. Extreme temperatures are also detrimental. And, of course, I believe firmly in fertilizer of the highest quality.”

He sat the vase on the counter top and took a small pair of garden sheers from his coat pocket. He snipped one-fourth an inch from the bottom of the stem and gently lowered it into the vase.

“There,” he said. “I would suggest keeping it away from the windows. It won’t last forever, but perhaps it will give you a few days of beauty.”

She felt the tears in the corners of her eyes before he saw them. They slipped the bonds of her eyes and made twin trails down her cheeks. She didn’t know why she was crying. Perhaps it was just his kindness. Such a simple act, but he seemed to understand the abiding nature of her pain and the emptiness she would feel for some time. She wondered who he had lost. A wife, perhaps. Maybe that was why he waited to bring her this gift. To comfort her. Maybe he knew it would mean more now.

“Thank you,” she said.

✦          ✦          ✦

He was genuinely moved by her tears. After all, she was young. He knew it had been hard, these last few months. He’d been watching from a distance. She put up a strong front, but he could see it–the pain she wore like a heavy shawl, its weight pressing down on her shoulders all hours of the day.

The flower was a gift, something beautiful he wanted to share with her. But it was more for him than her. He wanted this moment. When she saw her crying, he felt he’d played his part to completion.

✦          ✦          ✦

He wrapped her in his arms, hugging her tight. So many people had offered condolences, but that hug beat every cheap word, every Hallmark sentiment, every stupid Bible verse someone had quote. She leaned into him, weirdly comfortable with the affection from someone who was, in so many ways, a stranger.

He kissed her forehead. It reminded her of what her father might have done if he’d still been alive. She was grateful for it, that magical, unexpected moment.

Then, without a word he patted her on the shoulder and made his way to the door. There he paused.

“If you ever need to talk,” he said.

“Thank you,” she said again.

As he made his way across her lawn, she realized she couldn’t even remember his name. Embarrassed to call out to him, she made a mental note to ask a neighbor. She knew she knew it, but it was caught somewhere in her subconscious. Just out of reach.

No matter. Even if she couldn’t remember his name, she would never forget his kindness. She sat down at her kitchen table and sighed at the sight of the orchid. It was truly beautiful. The pain was still there, the sense of loss, but in that moment she felt only one thing. In a word, gratitude.

✦          ✦          ✦

As he made his way across her yard back toward his house, he smiled.

She wasn’t as far removed from her dead husband as she thought. Not now. In a way, he was right there on the kitchen table. For a few precious days, he would grace her life once more. And then the flower would wilt and, none the wiser, she would most likely throw it out. She would never know how close she’d been.

And that was why he’d done it. It was an act of poetry, bringing the entire affair full circle. He really had outdone himself.

Fertilizer of the highest quality, James Kinter thought with a chortle. Indeed.

Yesterday was busy for me. I’ve not missed a weekly fiction post in years, though I have missed the occasional Friday. This week I’m late, and that’s only half the bad news. The second half is that this is not an episode of The Dark Calling.

But, to make it up to you, something brief and grim from a while back. A side story. A snapshot.

This is also ‘proper flash fiction’. Though late, I used this week’s prompt from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘colony’, ‘pastry’ and ‘increments’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

Enjoy.

pretty, pretty

He works in increments, like he had with the ant colony. No swift kicks. He went insect by insect, savoring each.

The cat mews.

His fingers reach for his face. It did scratch him. He feels the ridge of the wound, puckered flesh crusting at the edges like a pastry made of skin.

But this isn’t justice. This isn’t payback. This isn’t revenge.

This is a young man on a journey. This is a monster finding himself. This is fun, pure and simple.

He clips off the tail. Jessica watches.

James, only 11, grins. “Pretty, huh?”

“So pretty,” she says.

This scene played out earlier today:

Vye looked at me from across my study. Her arms were crossed. “I don’t care.”

“But all the others have been based on prompts,” I tried to explain.

“I don’t care.”

“But what about the continuity of the series?”

“I don’t care.”

“What about consistency?”

“I don’t care.”

“What about my word? I said all the stories in this series would be based on prompts!”

She narrowed her eyes. “I. Don’t. Care.”

“Fine,” I said in frustration. “What do you care about?!”

She never faltered. Never dropped eye-contact. Never hesitated. “The story,” she said. “I care about the story.”

Vye and I don’t have it out often, but when we do one of two things happens. Either she wins and the story plays out the way it was meant to, or I win and the story suffers for it. I’ve learned the hard way, it’s best to do what your muse demands.

That said, this week’s story, the final piece of the Kinter house series, is not based on a prompt. I knew how the story needed to end, how it wanted to end, and the prompts this week simply didn’t work. They were way too specific or just too out of place in the insanity that is the Kinter basement. So I didn’t use one. I just wrote. 

If you’ve been keeping up with the series all along, I hope this is an ending you can, ahem, live with. Please let me know what you think of it in the comments. If you haven’t read the rest of these stories, please click here, and be sure to start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.

into the blinding light

Kinter responded to Carrie’s growl with a grunt of his own. His eyes were all whites and pupils. Blood cascaded down his leg. The torch had burn him badly but failed to cauterize the wound. It was a wonder he was able to stand at all.

Carrie charged forward, her knife hand leading. Kinter opened his arms in a come-to-papa gesture. He smiled at her in a way that was obscene. She let out another war cry just as she was about to collide with him, and then threw her weight to the left, toward the stairs. Kinter didn’t see the change-up coming. He’d been prepared with a counter-lunge and was already in mid-swing when Carrie disappeared on him. He stumbled forward, unable to recover his balance.

He was headed right for Mr. Baker.

Carrie looked down at the knife. It looked unlike any knife she’d held before. It looked like something from a movie about Navy Seals and Delta Force guys, not something you’d expect to see in an old man’s basement. It was heavy, though, and it felt good in her hand. And, of course, it was all she had.

She had never thrown a knife before, so she knew nothing about technique. Still, Kinter’s burnt leg was toward her and he made for a decent-sized target. If she could make contact with the raw, ruined flesh of his leg, even with the dull end, Kinter would forget all about Mr. Baker and chase after her, like a mad hound chasing a rabbit.

Yeah, she thought. Chase me, you fucking bastard.

She gripped the knife by the blade–that’s how they do it in movies–and chucked it at Kinter. It flung end over end toward the charred flesh that used to be his leg and, unbelievably, made contact. More than that. The blade caught on his muscle and easily slid in. Carrie heard it hit the bone. She ran forward and wrapped her fingers around the handle while Kinter thrashed, obscenities flowing from his lips like he was speaking a language made only of curse words.

She had to pull hard.

When the knife popped free, blood spewed from the wound with more force and in greater volume than Carrie would have thought possible. He was an O+ piñata.

Clutching his leg, Kinter dropped the knife he’d been holding and crumpled to the ground. He was mewing now, incoherent sobs that reminded Carrie of Kevin. She kicked Kinter’s fallen knife away from his body and took Mr. Baker’s hand.

“Come on. We need to get outta here! Now!”

When she turned back to the stairs, there was Jessica.

“The sister. Fuck my life.”

“What?” Mr. Baker asked.

“The fucking sister. She’s between us and the stairs now.”

Jessica had ribbons of blood across her scarred face. The bright scarlet shining in the dim light was the only attractive thing about her. She looked to Carrie and said, “Don’t you want to be pretty?” She posed the question with mild indignation, the same way Carrie’s 3 year-old sister might ask, “Don’t you want to play with my dollie?”

“No thanks, crazy,” Carrie said. “I’m just fine the way I am.”

Jessica clearly didn’t understand. “You don’t want to be pretty? I thought everyone wanted to be pretty. Like me…” She stared into the middle distance trying to wrap her mind around Carrie’s preference for plain looks. “I’ve never made anyone pretty,” Jessica muttered. “I’ve just watched all these years…”

That’s when Carrie saw Jessica’s hands. In one hand, she held a pair of yard sheers. In the other, something wet and red and small. Carrie could not help but stare at it, horrified. She had to know what it was, but she was afraid to look at Max. She had intentionally avoided even a glance in that direction. Pragmatically, she reasoned that Max was likely as good as dead. He’d lost a lot of blood–so much she could smell it–and even if he lived, he’d never be the same. Her friend was already gone.

In spite of herself, she looked at Max now. His body was ragged, sagging in the chair they’d tied him to. The stump where his right hand should have been was black and, God help her, gooey. But it was his face that made her gag. His cheeks had been sliced open at the corners of his mouth. His lower jaw hung open, unnaturally wide, allowing for a too-full view of the interior of his mouth.

Jessica had been playing. She held Max’s tongue in her hand, her fingers rubbing it like it was a good luck charm.

Mercifully, Max was passed out from shock or already dead. At least, that’s what Carrie told herself.

Carrie looked back to Jessica. There was a twinkle in her demented eyes. Come and let me make you pretty, it said. Carrie had never been one for make-overs. She hated slumber parties because someone was always making her try different kinds of make-up, just for fun. Maybe one day she’d grow into it. Maybe when her breasts came in and her hips acquired curves. Maybe then she’d paint her face and select her clothes strategically. Maybe then she’d want with all her heart to be pretty, but not today.

Today, she didn’t give a flying fuck about being pretty.

Unlike her brother, Jessica wasn’t sporting a severe burn down the length of one whole leg. And Carrie doubted she could taunt her into a charge. She’d be harder to get past.

Mr. Baker squeezed Carrie’s hand. “What’s going on?”

“Mexican stand-off,” Carrie said.

“The sister?”

“Yeah. She’s in our way. How are your legs?”

Mr. Baker’s face twisted in confusion. “Fine, I think.”

“I mean, you aren’t hurt, right? You could run or kick, couldn’t you?”

“I guess so.”

“Good.”

Carrie turned back to Jessica who stood swaying in a breeze only she felt. She seemed entirely unconcerned about the two human beings intent on leaving the basement, even if they had to kill her to get out. Carrie did a quick visual search for Kevin. He was behind her, still sobbing silently, sucking his thumb.

“You wanna make me pretty?” Carrie asked.

Jessica smiled. “Yes.”

“Like…my friend?” Carrie gestured toward Max.

“Oh, no,” Jessica said. “Much prettier.”

“Come and get me, then.”

Jessica chuckled. “Child. You have a knife. I’m not as foolish as you think I am.”

“Fine.” Carrie tossed the knife toward Max. It slid to a stop at his feet in a puddle of crimson. “Now I don’t have a knife.”

Jessica nodded. “And I will make you pretty.”

She began to walk forward. When she was about 3 feet away, Carrie slipped her hand from Mr. Baker’s and dove at Jessica’s legs. She was fast, too fast for Jessica to see it coming. Jessica dropped her sheers and the tongue. Carrie hit her at the ankles, wrapping her arms around Jessica’s legs and throwing all her weight into the lowest possible point. Jessica had been walking quickly, eager to begin the make-over, and the momentum of her body carried her forward still.

She was falling–over Carrie, toward Mr. Baker.

“Mr. Baker!” Carrie shouted. “Kick now! Hard!

Mr. Baker didn’t hesitate. His right leg swung forward with as much force as he could muster, his foot making contact with Jessica’s chin. Even with sight, he could not have hoped for a better hit. Jessica’s head snapped back and her body flung over Carrie, landing in a heap where she’d been standing only seconds before. Blood flowed freely from her mouth. She’d bitten her own tongue off and it lay on the floor next to Max’s, tips touching like some kind of sick, sadistic kiss.

“Let’s go!” Carrie declared.

Mr. Baker held a hand out and Carrie took it. She pulled him around Jessica and toward the stairs. “Kevin! Move it!”

Behind her, she could hear Kevin trudging forward.

When she reached the stairs, she said, “Steps.” Mr. Baker nodded and they started up.

They burst through the door at the top of the stairs into the kitchen. The sunlight was blinding, even late in the day. Had it been that dark down there? She navigated Mr. Baker toward the front door. Once in the yard, they would be more or less safe.

When she opened the door, a warm breeze greeted her. It seemed to caress her face, bringing with it the smells of newly mowed grass and hot dogs on a grill and hints of late blooming flowers. It was the sweetest thing she’d ever smelled.

Mr. Baker felt the sunlight, too, and exhaled. Had he been holding his breath? “Is the boy with us?” he asked.

Kevin. Damn it, where is he?

“He’s slow,” she said. “I’ll make sure he made it out.”

She trotted back into the house cautiously, expecting to see Kevin headed toward the front door. But no one was there. She crossed the living room. No one in the kitchen. She looked to the door leading down to the basement.

No, she thought.

Kinter appeared at the top of the stairs. His arm twitched and he was still bleeding, but he wore a smile nonetheless. Carrie searched the kitchen counters for a knife or something, anything, to use as a weapon.

“Go, girl,” he said. “We’ll not make you pretty. You’ve beaten us, an old man and his sister. Go. Tell the authorities and bring an end to the beauty of  the pain.”

Carrie eyed him with suspicion. Was it a trap?

“But go knowing this: we have one offering yet to make.”

Carrie heard Kevin then, crying from somewhere down in the dark. There was another noise, too. A gargled sound, like someone laughing and choking at the same time.

“Oh yes,” he said, his eyes alight. “We will make him pretty.”

And then he closed the basement door. When Carrie heard the lock engage, she ran. When she heard the first scream, before she’d even made it to the yard, a tear traced her face.

Out into the blinding sun she ran, looking for help, but the only help Max and Kevin were to receive would come on the other side of the pain.

We’re almost at the conclusion of The Kinter House. This post is the second to last. I think I see how it’s going to end, but the prompts may yet dictate a sudden change. We’ll have to see.

Speaking of the prompt, it was particularly hard to adapt this installment to one this week. This piece of flash fiction marks one of the most liberal interpretations I’ve made of a prompt. Metaphorically, I’ve fulfilled it, for what that’s worth, but you have to squint and tilt your head to the left to see it.

Still, I feel it’s a nice addition to the series. I’m happy with how it turned out. 

The prompt, supplied by Flash Fiction Friday, is this:

Prompt: Use the picture above as your inspiration. [The picture is the interior of a large cave.] This is the view as you and your guide close your eyes for the night. When you wake up however, you’re alone. Your guide’s gear is there, but he is nowhere to be found. You hear a sound that sends a chill down your spine. Is there someone, or something, down there with you? What do you do now? And, what happened to your guide?

Genre: Horror

Word Count: 1,500

If you aren’t familiar with the series, this story may not make much sense. I encourage you to read the other installments, first. Click here to get to them, and be sure to start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.

in the dark

When I was a kid, my parents took me and my sister on a short vacation to Carlsbad to see the caverns. The Carlsbad Caverns are a wonder to behold. They are, in a word, huge. We hiked in from the surface. The world faded from warm, summer air and dry heat to the cool, musty smells of the caves. Rock formations hung above and rose from the ground all around us. It felt alien, that place, and magical. I was captivated by the other-worldliness of it.

When we arrived at the bottom we took one of the guided tours. About half way through the tour, the guide instructed our group to sit and be still. He explained that he was going to turn off all the lights, leaving the cave in its natural state of total darkness. He asked that we not take pictures or even talk, but just look and listen.

When the lights went out, we were lost in an utter void. I remember holding my hand before my face and seeing nothing. Absolutely nothing. When you’re a kid, you think of any dimly lit room as “dark”, but this was true darkness. There was no light at all. It was the most dark place I’ve ever been.

Until the day I woke in Mr. Kinter’s basement.

The ear-cutting had concluded and he proceeded, from the sounds of it, to flay someone’s fingers and then cut off the entire hand. I heard him light the torch, presumably a hand-held blow torch. I could smell the gas its blue flame produced. He cauterized the wound. He announced this before he began, but I would have known what he was doing without his commentary. I could smell the burning flesh. I’d never smelled charred skin before and, sickeningly, I recognized the scent immediately anyway. It wasn’t foul smelling as much as it was unnerving. It was knowing, I think, what the smell represented that turned my stomach more than the actual scent.

I heard him invite someone named Jessica to “kiss” the burn victim with the flame. She sounded gleeful.

Then a collision of sounds happened in fast succession. The hiss of more skin under the flame, the sounds of scuffling, her screamed apology, the metal canister of the torch hitting the concrete of the basement floor, a male voice crying out in pain and, finally, a muffled pummel, like someone hitting a pillow. Hard.

Shortly thereafter, there was a voice in my ear. It was female and young.

“You can’t see, can you?”

I mumbled into the ball gag. She unlatched it and my jaws were free. It was the most wonderful ache I’ve ever felt, opening and closing my mouth to make sure it still worked.  I spit, tasting blood in the spittle, and answered her. “No, he blinded me. Some drug or something.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “He’s down and hurt and his sister looks like she’s knocked out. We don’t have much time, though. We have to get outta here.”

As she spoke, I could feel her small fingers furiously working on the knots that bound my hands. When my arms were free, she moved to the front of the chair and set to work on my feet.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Carrie Wilson. I live down the block from you, Mr. Baker.”

The image of a young girl came to mind. A tom boy who’s friends were mostly male. She played little league and ran with the guys, but there was a spark of something beautiful in her face, even at age twelve. I remember thinking, when I met her, this one is going to be a heartbreaker. I hoped she still would be.

I pumped my hands, opening and closing my fists to get the blood flowing again. When my legs were free, I flexed them, as well. I was afraid to stand. I knew all of my limbs had been asleep. I could very well topple right over, falling onto God knows what.

“Stay here a sec,” she said. I heard her scurry away and return seconds later. “Got a knife.”

Good, I thought. Stab the fucker. She was only a kid, for God’s sake, but I wanted to urge her to kill nonetheless. However, getting out was more important than getting even, so instead I just said, “You’ll have to lead me.”

“Kevin, get up! We’re going!”

There was sobbing to my left. It had been such a constant sound that I must of tuned it out, but the crier, presumably Kevin, mumbled something in response and she gave him a stern, “Now!”

She took my hand and I stood. The world spun. If I could have seen, I’m certain I would have experienced vertigo. Bile rose in the back of my throat and my head was immediately dizzy. I would like to claim that I felt firm resolve in that moment. That I had taken stock of my life and that I was ready to fight to keep alive, blind or not. That adrenaline kicked in and I could have torn through walls to escape, if necessary. But the truth is, I questioned if I could take even one step.

I feared I was dead already.

She pulled my arm and I stepped forward. Right foot. The world tumbled and I sucked in air. Left foot. The world tilted in the opposite direction like the entire basement was a huge teeter totter. Right foot. Left foot. Right. Left.

“Come on, Kevin,” she urged again. “Let’s get out of here!”

“Leaving…so soon?” The voice was Kinter’s. It was in front of us, blocking our way. He sounded labored. His breathing was ragged and his voice marked with pain.

“I have a knife!” Carrie announced.

Kinter laughed. “As do I, girl.”

Shit. It sounded like the challenge was energizing him. His voice grew stronger, his will set.

Carrie’s small hand slipped from mine. I wanted to hold it, to hold her back. What could a girl do against that monster? But my palm was sweaty, as was hers, and her fingers slid right out of my grip.

Kinter laughed. “The cub wants to play!” he announced with elation. “Very well. Come on, little one. Let’s see how spirited you truly are!”

Carrie made a sound from deep in her throat. A feral growl. She sounded like a wild animal and I remembered, once again, the look I’d seen in her eyes. She was a tigress, this one, and the smallest sliver of hope leapt within me.

“Get him,” I said.

She screamed like a seasoned she-warrior and charged forward.

For anyone who is wondering, I see The Kinter House coming to a close in the next couple of weeks. I think there will be two more installments. I have a loose idea of what I think (and hope) will happen, but until I see the prompts, I just won’t know. Oh, and if you haven’t read the other stories in this series, click here to read them before getting into this week’s installment. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

This week’s prompt is brought to us by the gang over at the 500 Club:

Write the moment a character finally gets something they’ve wanted for a long time. Was it worth the wanting? Can you show emotion without going over the top or going with what’s been overdone? 

I think this short piece satisfies the prompt nicely, though you might have to be familiar with the entire series to really see it. Jessica is a simple creature. Okay, simple and twisted, but simple nevertheless. I believe this is something she’s wanted for a long, long time.

Thanks for all the comments on last week’s story. It’s encouraging to hear that folks are reading them and finding them to be scary. As I said in one of the comments, they scare me, too. Kinter and Jessica are, in many ways, my own personal fears at a very basic level. They remind me of people I know…

But enough of that. On to this week’s story. We’ve come this far–only a little further ’til the end.

the kiss

It was a beautiful kiss.

The torch hissed and the skin pulled back, crackling and turning dark the way it does. Every time James gives someone a kiss, it’s like it’s the first time. I always feel like I’m watching something magical.

When we were little and Momma took us to church, the preacher used to talk about sacred things. I remember him saying that when a thing is sacred, it’s holy, and he said that holy means “set apart”, like the good china we only use on Christmas. It’s special. It’s just for certain times.

That’s how James’ kisses are.

I used to hate that James didn’t tell me he loved me more. After he showed Momma the pain, I wanted him to hold me. I was scared. But it made him angry. I think he thought I was sad for her, but I was sad for us. I didn’t know he was planning to show other people the pain, too. I thought when Momma died, that would be it and I didn’t want it to end.

James has kissed me a few times. I have pretty marks to prove it. They are all over. James says I’m the prettiest girl he’s ever seen. He says that’s why I can’t leave the house–everyone would want to know who I was and why I was there. He says it’s like how they follow celebrities around, taking pictures and talking about everything they do. He says he’s protecting me from that, so I have to stay hidden. But I have him, and that’s all I really need. Him and his kisses.

After he kissed the boy’s cheek, he turned to me. “Would you like to…?” he asked, holding out the torch.

My heart beat so hard, then. James has never let me kiss anyone. Sometimes he lets me cut things. Small things, like fingers and toes. One time he even let me dissect one, but she was already dead. It looks like more fun when James does it. They’re still moving and screaming then.

But a kiss. I’ve never given anyone a kiss. It’s a sacred thing, a kiss. Holy. Set apart.

He handed me the torch and my hands shook.

“Be careful with it. The end is very hot. Point the flames toward his skin and only hold it there for a short bit.”

James had kissed the right cheek, so I decided to kiss the left. I leaned forward with the torch, but there was so much blood on the floor. My feet slid and I fell into the boy. The torch pushed into his face hard and he passed out or died. His body just stopped moving.

James tried to help me up, but the torch was so hot. I spun and dropped it. He caught it as it fell, but the flame was twisted toward him. It kissed his arm and lit his shirt on fire.

“I’m sorry, James!” I cried.

And then something hit my legs from behind.

Things are coming to a head in the Kinter house basement. If you haven’t read the other stories in this series, click here to read them before getting into this week’s installment. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

I feel the series drawing to a close. It won’t be long before we know who lives and who does not. Just a few more weeks, I think, but between now and then I hope there are a few more twists and turns in the mix–for me and for you. (After all, writing all of this based on prompts, I really have no idea what will happen week-to-week.)

The prompt I’ve chosen for this week could have easily led to the end of the series, but it did not. It leads, rather, to the end of something else. The prompt comes from Flash Fiction Friday. Here it is:

Prompt: Tell us a story about a character facing the end of something–a job, a relationship, their sanity… What is actually ending can be whatever your imagination dreams up, but also let us know how it turns out for him or her. Give us some type of ending (pun intended).

Word Limit: 1,500 words.

I’ve gotten some positive feedback from a few friends about this series, dark and demented though it is. If you have any thoughts, critical or complimentary, feel free to share them in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading.

la fine

The boy’s screams were delicious.

There was a brief intermission following the removal of the ear. It was understandable. The boy had exhausted himself during the process, thrashing to and fro and making a hard task that much harder. Ears are small compared to other appendages, and of irregular shape. Even if you have a firm grasp on the cartilage, as soon as the first cut is made there is blood everywhere. It gushes. It spurts, it spews, it sprays. It makes the skin slippery and the ear a difficult things to manage.

The first time James removed an ear it was from a cat. That was easier than a human ear, and he still nearly cut off one of his own fingers in the process. Jessica had done a poor job of holding the cat down. In frustration, he ended up driving the X-Acto knife directly into the animal’s eye socket. He finished the ear after the cat stopped twitching, and then he dealt with Jessica.

He was confident she remembered the lesson well. She still bore the evidence of it.

But the boy’s ear–that had been a chore well worth undertaking. It was delicate work, lifting and slicing just so. The boy was left with a dark, wet hole where his ear should have been. He was hoarse from the screams. It was all so breath-taking.

To James’ delight, the flaying had gone well, too. Flaying sounds hard until one has done it a few times. It’s not so difficult. The boy found new air in his lungs and the screams came again. They were intermingled with cries for his mommy and begging pleas to make the pain stop.

“No, no, my boy,” James said to him, running a bloodied hand across his forehead. “We welcome the pain.”

The girl was still knocked out on the floor, and Mr. Baker was as good as dead. In James’ considerable experience, the newly blind are helpless. Jack Baker’s world had been reduced to sound, smell and touch. But he was tied up and could not touch anything. If he was awake he could certainly hear things–the boy screaming most of all–but that would only serve to indicate his future. And the predominant smell in the basement was the metallic odor of blood mixed with the fowl scent of urine, courtesy of the other boy writhing and crying on the floor.

The situation was well in hand. James had not planned for four guests. Truth be told, he was concerned when he drugged Mr. Baker that perhaps he should have waited. It wasn’t so long ago that Scottie Peterson had been in this same basement, his screams filling the holes James and Jessica had in their hearts. It was as if fate had delivered Jack Baker to him. It could not have been easier. Furthermore, it was unlikely that anyone would associate the Peterson boy with a grown man. No one would think the same person had abducted both.

Easy, peasy, he had told Jessica.

But now, with these nosy children in the mix, well, what could be done? Each must meet the pain. Each must be dealt with. Each must learn what his beautiful sister already knew, and more. That James Kinter is not a man to be trifled with, and that the pain is powerful. It can change the shape of your whole world.

When he finished with the left hand, he stood. The boy was losing a lot of blood and James didn’t want him to pass out. Not yet. The time would come for that and then he could move to one of the others, but he wanted a little more time with this lad, first. He was so energetic and enthusiastic. Just a few more screams.

He made a decision. He looked back to Jessica and said, “The hatchet.” She nodded, his faithful sister, and pulled a small camp axe from its place on the tool wall. “The wood block, too.”

“Of course,” Jessica said, her eyes alight.

She tucked the hatchet under an arm and scooped up a large, round wooden block. Its top surface was chipped and ridged and stained dark with crimson. James had used it in the past for all sorts of amputations. It was easier to cut or chop with a solid surface below. The wood block was actually a cross section of a tree trunk. It stood about 2 feet tall and had a diameter of roughly 18 inches.

James sawed it, himself, from a tree in the yard he’d grown up in. He used it as a chopping block with his mother, when he showed her what he and Jessica had discovered. When he taught her about the pain. Her blood was still there, his mother’s, deep in the grain of the wood. Like a first offering.

The first of many.

Jessica set the wooden block next to the boy and James placed his skinless hand on top. “Hold his arm,” he told Jessica, but the boy, now moaning again, made no effort to pull his ruined hand back. Perhaps he wants to be rid of it, James thought. A welcome end.

And that was when he saw it.

He’d spent years ducking and dodging, building an identity so he could explore the pain again. These four guests were bringing a swift end to his time in this small town before he’d even gotten started. He had hoped to dance the blood dance with a dozen or more before picking up and moving on, and he’d hoped to do that without having to go into hiding again. Life is too short to spend in fear. He wanted to live, and he wanted to do it on his terms.

But he could see this was la fine of that dream. He could see the house lights coming up. He could see the credits rolling, the cast so much smaller than he’d hoped. And he could see that he and Jessica would need to go back to a life of hiding so much sooner than he’d planned.

This was the end, these four. At least for a while. It pained him to realize it. Not a pain to be worshiped, but rather an aching pain. An emotional pain. The kind of pain he’d spent his life trying to outpace.

He shook his head. Enough of that melancholy non-sense, he told himself. What’s done is done. I’ll make the best of it, as I always do.

Jessica was still holding the boy’s arm, his hand on the wooden block. James could feel the familiar weight of the hatchet in his hand. Perhaps this is the end, he thought, but what an end it will be!

“Sweet Jessica,” he said, “when I’ve removed the hand, I’ll need you to fetch the gas torch. You’ll have to be quick. I want to cauterize the wound without the boy slipping from consciousness. To do that, we must move fast.”

She nodded with solomen reverence.

“You’ll need to light the torch. When you hand it to me, be mindful of the flame. If you wish, you may stay close by. When I’m done with his hand, I intend to kiss his cheek with it. You’ll want to watch that.”

She smiled. “Yes, James. Thank you.”

James Kinter looked down at his sister, her hands wrapped around the boy’s arm. Blood dripped onto the wooden surface of the stump and ran along its length to the floor. Jessica’s scarred, twisted face contorted to form her smile. It was a lunatic’s smile, James knew that. The smile of a sweet psychopath, but he loved it. In that moment, knowing the end drew near, knowing he might not be able to worship the pain again for some time, he was happy. His heart felt whole. He had all he needed to feel fulfilled and content.

What more could a man want?

He returned Jessica’s smile and winked at her. She smiled wider, the braided flesh of her cheeks pulling her lips back from her yellowed teeth. It was beautiful.

He heaved the axe over his head and brought it down on the boy’s wrist. The hand, as though it had a life of its own, toppled from the wooden block and skid across the room coming to a stop before the crying boy. He pulled back from it, the stupid child, as though it might bite him. And then, believe it or not, he wet himself again.

Oh, that one will be fun, James thought. Fun all the way to the end.

For this week’s flash fiction, we head back to the basement of the Kinter house. But first, a disclaimer: If you haven’t read the other stories in this series, click here to read them before getting into this week’s installment. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

The prompts were tough this week. They were good prompts, don’t get me wrong, but very specific, making it difficult for me to select one that I could weave into the fabric of this series. Fortunately, the prompt from Flash Fiction Friday was written with a lot of wiggle room, and I was able to find a way to make it work. (I’ll admit, though, that I really, really wanted to keep the Kinter house stories on pause for another week and just write a straightforward vampire story. But, since I was out of town last week I felt it best to get back to the series. I mean, I’m not heartless. I can’t just leave those kids down in that basement forever. At least, not alive.)

Here’s the prompt:

Prompt: Craft us a tale about a vamp, but forget all the stereotypes. Be scary, be wild, be hilarious, be touching. Paint us a picture of one of them that we’d never expect.

Word Limit: 1,500 words.

James Kinter is unquestionably wicked. Is he a monster, too? Read on to find out…

blood sucker

Carrie wasn’t supposed to watch rated-R movies. Her mom strictly forbid it. “Why would you want to fill your mind with that filth?” her mother asked when she said she wanted to see The Lost Boys. She tried explaining that it’s an old movie, tame by modern standards. That she could see far worse on TV. That, truth be told, it should be PG-13 at the worst. It had Corey Haim and Corey Feldman in it, for crying out loud. How graphic could it be?

Her mother narrowed her eyes. “I know all I need to know about it from the rating. No.”

That had been that. Or, at least that’s what Carrie’s mom thought. Carrie wasn’t truly a bad girl. She had too much integrity for that. She did what good girls do–she asked permission. But, getting an answer that didn’t please her and feeling that her mother’s reasoning was insanely stupid, she did what proactive girls do, be they good or bad. She found a way to watch what she wanted to watch. It hadn’t even been hard.

The movie failed to fascinate her, though. She had no idea what her friend, Heather, who recommended it highly, found so frightening about it. The monsters weren’t real, that much was obvious, and the Corey’s were over-rated. Granted, Kiefer Sutherland had been fun to watch for two hours, but she could look at pictures of him in his younger years without having to listen to all that drivel about head vampires and not turning until your first kill.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Besides, she didn’t believe in monsters, anyway. Until, that is, she found herself lying on Mr. Kinter’s basement floor.

Her collision with the stairs had been brutal. Her head was bleeding. She could feel the warm fluid dripping down long strands of her hair and pooling beneath her face. Her skull hurt like a motherfucker. In fact, had she chosen to say anything at the moment, that’s exactly what she would have said. “My skull hurts like a motherfucker.” Under normal circumstances she would have verbalized just such obscenities. It was fun to watch Kevin and Max squirm when she cursed.

But Mr. Kinter was clearly a nutbag, and she decided just shortly after her cranium made acquaintance with the stairs that it would be best to play dead for a bit. It would buy her some time to think.

She’d been lucky in the way she fell for two reasons. One, her body slouched forward and to the right, leaving her head lying on its right side, facing the room. Her hair had fallen over her face. She discovered that she could open her eyes and see most of the room quite clearly without anyone noticing that she wasn’t dead or passed out. Her hair formed a veil. Like a two way mirror, she could see out, but others couldn’t see in. The second reason she was lucky was because she couldn’t see all of the room. Behind her and to the right an entire corner was a huge blind spot.

Thank God. That was the corner where Mr. Kinter had Max.

The screams were like nothing she’d ever heard before. Far worse than even the best lungs she’d experienced when watching horror films. She heard Mr. Kinter’s movements and ripping sounds and the sound of blood splattering across the floor, but none of these compared to the screams. And while Max screamed, Mr. Kinter laughed.

In fact, the bastard giggled.

She decided then and there what he was. She didn’t know if he had any special powers or if he drank blood. She had seen him in sunlight and doubted that garlic would have any repellent effect on him at all. No matter. She decided that Mr. Kinter was, without question, a vampire. He was draining life out of Max and something about the process fueled him. If that didn’t make him a vampire, nothing would. He wasn’t human. He was a monster.

She didn’t know how long he would toy with Max or what he might cut off after he was done with the ear, but she was sure when he finished with Max he’d move on to Kevin, or Mr. Baker.

Or her. She needed to find a way out.

She could see clearly that Kevin would be no help. He’d pissed his pants. Again. He was crying and sucking his thumb. She felt no anger or judgment about it, though. It was a shitty situation. She wished she could revert to baby behavior, herself, but if she did, who would get them the hell out of there? Kinter was distracted with Max. Maybe she could work that to her advantage.

Of course, there was another adult captor in the basement. The woman with the scars.

She looked like Freddy Krueger but worse because it wasn’t makeup. It was real. Kinter called her his sister, Jessica, but it was the first Carrie had heard of another person living in the house. Having seen her when the kids first came down to the basement, she knew why Kinter wasn’t parading her around town. The woman was a walking freak show. Her face was a twisted map of scars and burns, cuts and crud stitching. It almost looked like her face had been cut off her skull at some point, cooked, and then sown back on. She was horrifying, sitting there on the stool with that dumb-ass, lopsided smile, watching Mr. Baker breathe.

But ugly or not, she could prove to be a huge problem. And Mr. Baker–well, he looked worse for wear. He was tied to a chair, his hands behind his back and his ankles bound. His head drooped to the side. He was breathing, but he was not awake. She had no idea what had been done to him so far, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

When Max’s screams reached a deafening crescendo, Jessica stood and walked forward several steps. She was smiling and the bitch even licked her lips. Kevin had snot streaming from his nose. He was on the floor rocking himself back and forth, still crying and sucking his thumb. But Mr. Baker moved. His head cocked to the side and he opened his eyes. They were blank, his eyes, rolling to and fro without settling on anything. At first Carrie thought he was drugged, but then she remembered where she’d seen the same thing before. Her uncle, Harold. His eyes sometimes did that if he wasn’t wearing his dark glasses.

Like Harold, Mr. Baker appeared to be blind.

Just as she realized this, Mr. Baker closed his eyes. Damn. He was awake, but how much good would he be to her if he couldn’t see?

“Would you like a look, my sweet sister?” Mr. Kinter asked Jessica. Jessica nodded and moved forward, cupping her hands to catch the ear that had, minutes ago, been attached to Max’s head. Max moaned in the corner, his voice hoarse from too much screaming. After passing the ear off to his sister, Mr. Kinter kicked Carrie’s leg, probably to see if she was still out. Carrie let him, hoping for at least a few minutes more time to formulate a plan.

“Show the ear to his friend,” Mr. Kinter said. And Jessica did. Holding it like a mouse, she shuttled it across the room to Kevin who blew fresh snot bubbles from his nose at the sight of it. Mr. Kinter sighed with contentment. He was standing in the middle of the room, in Carrie’s sight, looking from one of his “guests” to another. Finally he turned back to Max. “It seems, young man, that you are to remain the focus of my attention for the immediate future.” He wore a chilling smile, ear to ear. Carrie knew it was her mind, the stress or the trauma or the fear, but she would have sworn in that moment that he had fangs, as well.

Mr. Kinter spun on the balls of his feet and walked to the far wall, away from Max. Behind Kevin there were all kinds of tools hung on hooks. He reached for a chisel, a small hammer, a utility knife and a cordless drill. Carrie had to hold her breath to keep from screaming.

It evidently took a moment for Max to see Kinter walking back toward him, but Carrie knew the moment Kinter was in Max’s sight. Max began to beg. It was the saddest, most desperate thing Carrie had ever heard, and in response Kinter merely chuckled.

“Do you know what the word ‘flay’ means, young man?” he asked.

Max began to sob.

“Here, let me show you. Your left hand, please.”

First, a disclaimer: If you haven’t read the other stories in this series, click here to read them before getting into this week’s flash fiction. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)

The prompt this week (from the 500 Club) is a perfect example of how unpredictable the development of this series can be, even for me. This prompt was, I assure you, the easiest one to weave into the fabric of this series available this week, and it was no easy thing to fit it in. (Feel free to let me know in the comments if it feels forced or if it works for you.) And yet, I loved writing it…because I had to be creative and work to make it fit. (It helped that Vye was definitely by my side today. She’s a helpful girl when she wants to be.)

While I’m talking about the series, another thing I’ve enjoyed about writing it is that the point of view changes with each installment. That makes each piece feel totally different to me, and allows me to capitalize on the knowledge, experience and ignorance of different characters. (Also, since it’s what Stoker did when writing Dracula, it makes me feel just a little bit–a teeny, tiny bit–like I’m following in the footsteps of one of the greats.)

Okay, the prompt was:

Luck Would Have It: Pick a common lucky item, good (horse shoe, penny on heads, rabbit’s foot) or bad (black cat, monkey’s paw, cracked mirror) , and give it an uncommon story. In 500 words, turn luck on its ear.

the wishing stone

It’s a little thing–something I’ve never even told anyone about for fear of embarrassment. A couple of years ago I was out on a walk, thinking about life and some big decisions I had coming up. I was worried and anxious. I knew what I wanted to have happen, but I felt like it was a long shot. All the stars would have to align, that kind of thing. While I was walking, I found this small, round stone on the street near the curb. It looked like the kind of stone that should be on a beach somewhere, having been worn smooth by the constant churning of water. And yet, it was on my street, less than half a mile from my house, nowhere near a beach of any kind.

I picked it up and, without realizing I was doing it, began to rub my thumb against it as I walked and thought. I thought about what I wanted to have happen, how I wanted the turbulence in my life to settle, and made those quiet, secret wishes we all make but pretend we don’t. When I got home, I set the stone on my dresser.

Within days I knew the outcome of the issues I’d been fretting over. Everything came out just as I’d hoped it would. The superstitious side of me attributed my good fortune to the stone, which I decided must have granted my wishes that day on my walk. Since then, more days than not, I carry the stone in my pocket. It’s small–only about the size of a silver dollar–and I remain convinced it somehow helps. Call it my rabbit’s foot. My lucky pair of socks.

It’s my personal talisman.

As I came to, the first thing I felt was that stone in my pocket. I should have felt my hands, still bound to the chair, or the ball gag, still stuffed securely in my mouth. I should have felt the drool running off my chin or even the tears I’d cried earlier, now dried on my face and leaving crusty reside around my useless eyes. But no. I felt the stone, it’s meager weight reminding me that it was still in my pocket.

I hear steps and sobbing. There were more people in the basement now. I heard a child’s whimper and Mr. Kinter announce that he intended to teach someone how to remove a human ear with a pair of scissors. Then I heard sounds. Horrible sounds. No screams, but cutting sounds mixed with sploshes, splats and hacks.

I closed my mind to the sounds and focused on the stone. Maybe it was just a stone. Maybe it had no power at all, no magic to it. Maybe it was silly or stupid or desperate of me, but I started wishing. I called on it to hear me again. I wished to be out of that basement and somewhere safe.

And as crazy as it sounds, the stone heard my wish.