FlashFic: The Gift

A man fighting for survival finds himself face to face with an other-worldly creature.

So cold.

He didn’t know how long he’d been walking. He started at first light. The last light was rapidly giving way to night, now. The skeletal trees stretched their bare limbs to the skies as if reaching for the last bit of warmth.

The snow was several inches deep, even in the wood. His legs burned with every step. His feet felt nothing. They grew numb hours ago. He paid it no heed. What good are warm feet if the rest of him is dead?

It was no good. He dropped to his knees. His hands sunk deep into the wet snow. It burned his fingers. The sensation served to help clear his dampened mind. Good.

Light began to creep back across the blanket of snow. He suddenly felt warmer than before. No… That’s not right. He sat back on his ankles and stuck his hands into his armpits.

His grandfather taught him long ago that the worst thing you could do is feel warm in such a situation. He’d told him that he’d seen men smiling at their new-found warmth even as they lay dying. But there was something else.

There was the light.

Grandfather had never mentioned this. Was he dying? Hallucinating? He looked up. Hallucinating, then. The most beautiful woman he had ever seen stood before him.

Her body glimmered in a vivid blue-white light. Her eyes shone pure white. An angel? “Yes, an angel.” The woman responded to his thought. “I’ve come to guide you.”

His father had warned him of false prophets, as well. “How can I trust you, spirit?” His voice was a ragged whisper. He coughed crimson onto the pure snow before him.

“How can you not?” The spirit raised an eyebrow and her right hand. She offered it to the fallen traveler. He reluctantly took it.

Half a day’s walk away, a young woman of similar beauty but normal radiance watched the events unfolding in an ornate scrying mirror. “He trusts her!”

The woman beside her, perhaps twenty years her senior, smiled gently as she held a gnarled wooden wand before the mirror. “Does he? Or does he trust that he’ll die otherwise?”

The man found it startlingly easy to stand. The warmth he felt was slowly worming its way into his body like tendrils. The sensation was both welcome and somehow disgusting to him.

The spirit woman’s eyes opened wide, the light within them bathing his face. He squinted his own. Cold tears ran from them. “Please guide me.”

“As you wish.” She gently placed her other hand on his cheek and caressed it. The last thing he saw was the white glow of her eyes turn blood red.

The serene look on her face turned to one of malice, contorting her features into a demonic mask. The hands holding him became twisted claws. The man did not resist even as she grasped his head and pulled him closer.

She closed her eyes and leaned forward, as if to kiss him. Instead, a thin white mist began to pour from his mouth. She drew it into her own, allowing his lifeless body to drop to the ground. Her features returned to normal as she stepped back.

“That was amazing.” The young woman looked at the witch with a mixture of awe and fear.

“It’s a gift.” She began to smile. “It’s one you possess. Would you like to learn how to wield it, child?”

Something dark and hungry laid just behind the woman’s widening eyes. “Yes, please.”

FlashFic: Dark Skies, Cold Hearts

A mysterious sight in the night sky takes a treacherous turn.

“What is it, grandpa?”

The old man stepped out onto the porch and looked up at the night sky. “Looks like a shooting star!” The bright blue object did not fade, though the man’s smile did. “No, that ain’t right…”

The boy’s father stepped out of the house. “What is it, Pop? Meteor shower?”

“I don’t know.” The object had tripled in size and brightness. The sky started to rumble. He shielded his eyes.

“Jesus…” The younger man squinted. “That’s not a meteor, is it?”

“No…” The grandfather took a step back. “That’s an aircraft, or something.”

“I bet it’s a space ship!” The boy ran off into the front yard.

“Danny, no!” His father ran after him.

A screaming sound accompanied the rumbling. The object gleamed in the sky. It was triangular, with three brilliant blue circles beneath it. “I told you! It’s a space ship!”

The boy began waving at the UFO. Danny’s father grabbed him and started pulling him backward. “No, Danny! We don’t know if they’re friendly…”

A beam of pure white energy zapped from the spacecraft and struck the father in the chest, knocking him backward. “GAH!” A brown scorch-mark graced his sky-blue dress-shirt. “I can’t move…”

A second beam, much wider and violet-white, engulfed the boy before he could run to his father. “Dad!” The man watched helplessly as his son lifted off the ground. “Dad! I feel…”

The boy disintegrated before the man’s eyes. The individual bits of matter pulled apart and shot up the beam into the ship. “DANNY! NOOO!”

The grandfather burst back out of the front door with an old service rifle just as the purple beam dissipated. “DON’T YOU TAKE MY GRANDSON, YOU SONS OF BITCHES!” The old man took aim and opened fire.

The shots plinked uselessly off of the spacecraft. The father turned his head towards the grandfather and shouted. “Dad, no!”

There were tears in the old man’s eyes. “Hell YES!” He emptied the gun into the spacecraft. The last round caused sparks to shoot out of the front of the UFO.

A third light beam, this one blood red, shot from the spacecraft and into the old man’s chest. “DAD!” The old man’s body was silhouetted in glowing orange light. It disintegrated like the boy’s body had, but the particulates fell to the ground, burning ash blown in the wind from the UFO’s wake.

The spacecraft turned. It rocketed up into the air at an impossible rate. A wash of blue energy blew backwards into the old farmhouse, setting it ablaze. The still-paralyzed father slipped into the cold black hole of unconsciousness.

He awoke sometime later. Several dark figures stood around him. He cried out and flailed his way backwards. “He’s awake.” The voice was distant and quiet to him.

“Shit,” another voice said. “Grab him.” Two pairs of strong hands grabbed the father’s arms and held him fast. They propped him up on his feet and let go.

One of the figures stepped forward, slowly coming into focus. It was a man in US Army fatigues. The father began to cry. “Please! My son…”

The Army man held up a hand. “We know what happened. Did you call anyone? Call for help?”

The father shook his head. “No… I didn’t have time. They took my…”

“We know.” The man took out a pistol. “Too bad they killed you and whoever that ash pile is.” He aimed it at the father’s head and pulled the trigger.

The father let out a single piercing screech and fell dead to the ground. The man put the gun away. “Secure the area.” He turned and walked back into the shadows.

Interlude: Chasing Shadows

A young adventurer tests his mettle in a castle full of deadly secrets.

Joseph exploded through the heavy oak door. He spun around and made to heave it back shut. The monstrous entity trailing him had other ideas. One of its muscular green arms shot through the gap, a black-clawed hand gripping the edge of the door tightly.

“I don’t… want… to play!” Joseph shoved repeatedly against the door, making little progress. He reached into his brown leather vest and produced a gleaming dagger. He jabbed it into the bulging green hand and twisted the blade back and forth.

The monster on the other side of the door howled in pain and anger. It retracted the hand, nearly taking the dagger with it. Joseph hurled himself against the door once again. It slammed shut with a resounding boom. He smiled, turning the knob below the handle to lock it shut.

He stood back, breathing heavily. He nearly wiped the dagger on his clean white shirt, but caught himself. He opted to clean the black ichor from the blade on his ragged trousers, instead.

Joseph tucked the dagger back into his vest and turned around. This room was filled with rows of shelves covered top to bottom with glass beakers, vials, and bottles holding liquids of every color and description. Unidentifiable animals, freshly vivisected, were stretched across a bloody operating table. Their mutilated bodies occasionally lit in vivid blue by a nearby Jacob’s ladder electrical device.

He walked slowly, cautiously past the shelves and around the operating table. He shuddered as he passed the still-twitching bodies. A bloodied head turned towards the sound of his footsteps, single eye pleading for death. He quickly looked away, swallowing hard.

He suddenly lurched to one side. The glass ball that had caught his eye went shooting past his head. It smashed into a million pieces on the wall behind him. He spun around to see thick smoke rising from the spilled liquid from within. The acid hissed as it ate at the stone floor and wall.

The cackles of an unhinged mind rang out from somewhere beyond the rows of shelves. Joseph reached back into his vest and found the dagger. He looked it over. It suddenly looked very small to him. He held it out before him as he proceeded past the operating table.

He passed into a narrow aisle separating two sets of wooden shelves. The close quarters and limited freedom made him uneasy. So too did the various specimen jars he observed as he crept quietly along. Some of the specimens appeared to be staring back.

Joseph hesitantly stepped out into the open past the end of the wooden shelves. He paused suddenly, his heart skipping a beat. A sound, surely a foot dragging on the dusty stone floor, echoed loudly through the room. He held his breath and listened intently.

First there was a blur, then a great set of powerful hands thrusting into Joseph’s shoulders. The blow forced him backwards into the end of one of the wooden shelves. It shuddered violently. Some of the woeful specimens found their way to the floor, their glass cages shattering. He cried out in pain and surprise.

Joseph lifted his dagger, poised to strike out at his attacker. The other man, a crazy-eyed scientist with white, untamed hair struck the blade from his hand with an arm forged from steel. Joseph cried out and slunk to the side. The mad scientist’s unhinged laughter chased him across the laboratory.

The young adventurer scanned the room for any type of weapon. His hand found a length of steel pipe. He grinned devilishly as he turned it on the mad scientist. He struck out at the man, who easily smacked the pipe away with his steel arm.

The resulting clank rang in Joseph’s ears, the strike sending waves of pain down both arms. The scientist cackled quietly. Joseph swung again, causing the scientist to hop backwards with a small growl. The Jacob’s ladder hummed and crackled somewhere behind him.

A smile slipped across Joseph’s face, a plan blooming in the back of his mind. He swatted at the mad scientist again and again, backing up after each jarring impact. He at last found himself close enough to the Jacob’s ladder to smell the burning ozone lingering in the air.

Joseph brought the pipe crashing down right into the metallic hand of the crazed scientist. The maniacal creature smiled smugly as he ripped the pipe from Joseph’s hands. The man reacted in mock horror, stepping backwards towards the crackling Jacob’s ladder.

The mad scientist’s smile became a grimace as he swung the metal pipe straight at Joseph’s head. The young adventurer deftly ducked. The pipe crashed into the Jacob’s ladder, just as he had hoped it would.

Jagged blue-white arcs of energy surged into the pipe, up the scientist’s arm, and into his chest. The monstrous man jerked violently, smoke curling up around his wild white hair. The Jacob’s ladder gave one final, large jolt before failing completely.

The mad scientist continued to stare at Joseph, his body trembling. The pipe slipped from his grip and fell to the floor, causing an ear-splitting cacophony. The light left the scientists eyes. He collapsed.

Joseph kept his place and watched the body intently for several moments. Steeling himself, he slowly rose to his feet. He crept past the still-smoking scientist. The smell of burnt flesh twisted into the young man’s nostrils and held fast.

His footfalls became quicker, more sure as he strode towards the door. They halted suddenly as he spotted a writing desk. More to the point, he spotted the pair of crossed rapiers hung above the desk.

He stretched to reach the handle of the left one. He smiled as his fingers wrapped around the seasoned leather grip and pulled gently. The sword slid away from its fastening. He was heartened to see that the weapon was not merely ornamental.

He held the rapier to one side and continued through the door on the far side of the room. He climbed the jagged stone stairs with care. He craned his neck as he turned each corner, half-expecting someone — or something — to be waiting for him on the other side.

Joseph soon found himself standing before a large wooden door at the top of the stairwell. He braced himself and kicked the door open. The old hinges cried in protest at the rough treatment. The heavy door slammed into the wall on the other side with a deafening boom.

Then there was silence.

On the other side of the door was an ornate resting room. Multiple couches and chairs were arranged artfully throughout the chamber. Large book shelves lined the far wall. A small sampling of the estate’s manuscripts were placed on various coffee tables and side tables throughout the room.

First appearances would suggest that a book club had just adjourned, but the thick dust on everything attested to a sadder truth. It had been some time since the living had tread the ornate carpet before him. And yet, there was a feeling…

There, on one of the coffee tables. A book moved. He stared at it, unsure of what he saw. He walked towards the table. He stopped as the book in question slowly lifted itself into the air.

Joseph approached it with a sense of awe and deep distrust. He stretched his free hand towards the book. It suddenly dropped back onto the table. He jerked his hand back in surprise.

An eerie, feminine laugh floated to him from nowhere and everywhere. He warily stepped back from the coffee table. He jumped and winced as something bounced painfully off his back. The taunting laugh echoed throughout the room again.

He whirled around to face his attacker. There was none to be found, save for another book resting on the floor at his feet. Vague whispers caressed his ears. He swung back around, eyes darting from spot to spot, seeking out his tormentor.

More laughter greeted him. “Show yourself, foul creature!” The laughing abruptly stopped. Multiple books throughout the room lifted from their resting places. Joseph started inching backwards.

His fears were validated as one book after the other threw itself at him. He dodged some, slashed at others with his scavenged rapier. The laughter returned as he jumped and flailed.

The activity stopped as suddenly as it had started. The sound of a dozen books crashing onto wood and stone filled the air. He winced at the cacophony. Joseph held the rapier before him, prepared for further attack.

The air before him shimmered ever so slightly, like a mirage. He heard a feminine giggle. Something shoved into his chest, forcing him back a couple of steps. There was more laughter.

Joseph slowly turned around. He strained his eyes for any glimpse of his attacker. The air rippled beside him. Something jabbed into his ribs. More giggles. He growled in frustration.

He turned about once again. This time he strained to look out of the corner of his eyes. Back and forth. Left to right. His vigilance was rewarded. The air to his right glimmered.

He snapped his rapier up and jabbed it to the right. The blade found its way into solid flesh. An ear-piercing scream filled his ears. He turned about to find himself facing a ghastly pale young woman.

Her wide, black eyes stared through his soul. Her mouth worked, but produced no words or sound. Her head dipped, her body pulled backwards off of the sword. She disappeared from sight just before hitting the floor.

Joseph stared at the spot where the woman should have lain. His eyes shifted to the rapier. Its blade was clean, save for a barely disturbed layer of dust.

Awe gave way to determination. He strode through the grand door at the far end of the study. He found himself in a large room that gave way to a balcony overlooking the land behind the castle. It was very dark here, save for the occasional flash of purple-tinged lightning in the distance.

A pair of yellow eyes formed in the darkness. The body they were attached to stepped forward out of the shadows. A demonic form eight feet high stood before Joseph. Impossibly large muscles writhed and rippled under grayish white skin. A filthy brown cloth was the only thing that preserved the demon’s modesty, such as it was.

“Daganon, we meet at last.”

The mighty demon’s laughter boomed louder than the thunder that surrounded them. “I have been watching your journey closely, human. I must say, you’ve survived longer than I thought you would.”

“I’ll survive longer than you!” Joseph broke into a run, sword held back and at the ready. Daganon crossed his arms, a sly smile playing out across his lips. Joseph swung the sword with all his might, crying in fury.

The demon disappeared in a flash of yellow light. Joseph threw his weight backwards in a bid to stop his momentum. The balcony outside loomed as he dropped the sword and pinwheeled his arms. He stopped with one foot resting on the shallow balcony.

More booming laughter came from behind him. Joseph reeled around to see Daganon standing with his arms still crossed on the far side of the room. “Are you finished, adventurer?”

“Never.” In one fluid movement, Joseph produced and threw another dagger from his vest. Lightning glinted off the blade as it sailed towards its mark. Daganon never shifted.

Instead he watched, amused as the dagger passed uselessly through his body and stuck in the door behind him. He looked up and grinned at Joseph. “You cannot win.”

Realization washed over the young man. “You’re not even here.”

“You are correct. And I promise you… You will never find me. Give up, fool.”

Joseph gritted his teeth. “I will see you dead.”

“Perhaps… but not tonight.” Thunder crashed. Daganon disappeared in a flash of yellow light, replaced by a small colony of screeching bats. Joseph ducked as the flying rodents rumbled past him into the night.

The demon’s fading laugh rode upon their wings, then scattered into the chilling wind outside. Joseph stood and stared into night. He silently renewed his vow to see the demon destroyed.

Interlude: Consumed

A man quickly figures out why he’s being pursued, leading him to realize he was already dead.

“There he is!” The man in the black suit pointed at the hapless businessman. Black Suit’s partner whistled shrilly. Three more agents emerged out of the crowds and moved towards the businessman.

“I don’t know what the hell I did!” The businessman put his hands in the air. One of the agents fired off two shots. The man screamed in fear and ran off into the alley behind him.

He pulled his tie loose as he ran. He was too old, or at least too fat, to be running like this. He slunk into an adjacent alley and hunkered down, breathing hard.

He wiped sweat from his brow and grimaced. He rolled up his right sleeve and scratched fervently at the raised red patch on his arm. “This fucking rash,” he said under his breath.

He whipped his head up at the sound of approaching footfalls. He struggled to his feet and threw himself down the side alley. Somebody yelled out behind him. “There he is!” Several shots zinged by on either side of him.

“I didn’t do anything! Leave me alone!” The agents answered with more bullets. “I’m gonna die.” He gritted his teeth and pushed the heel of his hand into his chest.

His throat was on fire, and so was his arm. He coughed violently. He spared a look behind him. The men in black were gone. He instinctively pushed himself up against one of the walls in the alley.

The businessman gasped as he stared at his arm. the red had spread across most of his forearm and was quickly creeping upwards. A blue-green substance was weeping from where he had scratched it earlier.

“FREEZE! Federal agents!” He turned about. They must have routed him. He stumbled backwards.

“Why are you trying to kill me!” One of the agents shot. The other cursed and followed suit. The businessman took off running the way he had came.

A car pulled into his view from the main alley. The driver laid on his horn at the gaggle of agents running from the opposite direction. The businessman leaped onto the hood and cleared the car with a second leap.

He turned around, eyes wide. “How in the hell…” More gunfire pushed the thought away. He turned and ran, coughing as he went.

The first agent turned to his partner. “We’re running out of time.”

The other man nodded. He pulled out a radio and squeezed the button on the side. “We’re gonna need that chopper after all.”

The businessman squinted at the rays coming from the lowering sun. It was getting harder to think clearly. He dashed out of the alley and into the middle of a busy street.

An SUV dug its nose into the ground, tires squealing indignantly. The businessman half-screamed, half-howled at the woman behind the wheel. She screamed at the sight of him.

He looked down. His shirt looked puffed out. Something lumpy underneath it pushed at the the sweat-soaked fabric. He tore the shirt open with red, cracked fingers. His chest was a mess of green sores and blue fungus.

The businessman slowly lifted his head. “Please. Help me.” The plea came out as more of a gurgle than anything intelligible.

The woman screamed again. She accelerated the SUV backwards, crashing into the car stopped behind her. He ran off into another alley, car horns blaring behind him.

He hid behind a dumpster. He looked at his deformed body and began to sob. He looked up at the sound of an approaching helicopter.

The aircraft loomed over the building he was leaning against. A blinding-white spotlight flooded the alley with daylight. It quickly found the crouching man.

He stood, his contorted face twisting further as he screamed out in rage. He turned and ran, much faster than he should have been able to. The twitching spotlight followed his progress. The nose of the helicopter dipped as the pilot pursued his target.

The businessmonster ran into a small, abandoned parking lot. He whipped his head around, looking for a place to hide away. A number of agents flooded in from two adjacent alleys.

“Holy shit! Shoot him! SHOOT HIM!” A hail of gunfire rained down on the hapless man. He gurgled, howling in pain as a number of rounds found their mark in his torso. He half-ran, half-shambled into a shed built against the wall on one side of the lot.

A dozen agents pressed in on the shed, guns drawn. Police sirens and roaring engines signaled the arrival of back-up. All eyes returned to the shed. A deep, shuddering growl came from within.

The walls of the shed shook as the man-turned-monster thrashed about inside. There came one final, inhuman scream. Silence settled over the scene as the newly-arrived police units came to a stop behind the agents.

BOOM. The door to the shed banged hard into the side of the building. It crunched to a stop, ripped halfway off of its hinges. Glowing green eyes stared menacingly out of the shadows that lay within. The creature inside growled lowly, menacingly.

The twisted monster leaped from his hiding place, screaming and gurgling. The agents and police officers responded by raining gunfire down on the hapless creature. Round after round dug into the ragged mixture of tortured skin, fungus, and infected tissue.

The monster took a few more sluggish steps before dropping to its knees. Its eyes found the first agent and stared at him with pain and sorrow. The green light slowly faded. The creature slumped to the ground.

Some of the agents started to approach it. The first agent cried out. “NO! Stay back! Get the hell back…”

It was too late. The body of the mutated man swelled and bloated. The carcass suddenly yielded to the pressure, sending out a dusty white cloud of spores.

The men fell back, shielding their eyes and coughing uncontrollably. They waved their hands in the air, eyes watering. They began to look from one to another with dread-filled faces as the reality of their situation set in.

“Bongo two-niner, containment failed. Contagion released.” The helicopter pilot slowly circled the scene below, shaking his head as he went.

“Roger, Bongo two-niner. Flee the area. Incoming military hardware.”

“Confirmed.” He looked away, raising the helicopter up and away from the area. “Poor bastards.”

The helicopter circled back around several blocks away and hovered. The sound of an approaching jet swept over the city. Moments later a surface-to-ground missile flared towards the contamination site.

An enormous explosion rocked the surrounding buildings. A chorus of car alarms raised their voices into the twilight as the detonation lit up the area. The military aircraft rocketed over the kill-zone a moment later.

The helicopter pilot steered his aircraft back over the area. A large crater had taken the place of the parking lot that had been there only moments before. The shaking spotlight zoomed about the destruction.

“Bongo two-niner, area is secured.”

“Roger, Bongo two-niner. Return to base for debrief.”

“Gladly.” The helicopter pilot lifted the aircraft high above the city and angled it towards the nearby military base.

A badly wounded agent watched it go with his one good eye. He spit out a wad of blood and started shuffling towards the alley from which the businessman had come. He scratched absently at the back of his neck as he went.

Interlude: And the Blind Will See

A man’s hopes for salvation fade as he reviews his life.

The old man tossed his keys on the table and rubbed the back of his neck. “God, but I feel like shit.” He pulled out a chair and sat roughly down. “Probably doesn’t help that I’m over seventy.”

He laughed, then began to cough. He doubled over from the effort. He sat back, breathing heavily. “Hoo, boy. I uh…” Then the moment he had always feared finally came.

It felt as if someone reached through his chest and grabbed hold of his heart. His left arm first burned, then went numb as the hand squeezed hard. “God, no! God, I…” He slumped off the chair.

He crawled towards the phone on the wall. He collapsed halfway to his goal, the hand squeezing harder and harder. The old man passed away on his kitchen floor.

He opened his eyes again after an indeterminate period of time. He was standing. He looked around in a blind panic. Where in the hell was he?

He was at a lake. A beautiful lake, on a gorgeous summer day. He squinted at the big, blue sky. Not a cloud to be seen. “Hey, Dennis! Well you’re looking mighty fine, ain’t ya?”

The old man stared in disbelief. “Bobby Jackson?” He looked down at himself. He was much slimmer, his hands much younger. “Well, I’ll be damned.”

Dennis looked back up at Bobby. “Is it really you, Bobby? You…”

“Died?” Bobby laughed. “Yep. I sure did. One of those V.C. bastards cut me down while I was taking a nap. At least I woke up here, huh?” He grinned, looking out over the lake.

Dennis nodded numbly. “Ayuh. I remember.” He followed Bobby’s gaze. “Wait a minute…” He turned to Bobby. “I’m dead, too!” He clutched his chest.

“Yeah, I imagine. Turned out alright, though. Didn’t it? You ended up at Elmore Lake instead of Hell Avenue.” He chuckled.

Dennis blanched. He laughed nervously. “Yeah! Sure…”

He turned back towards the lake. The gentle ripples suddenly went out of focus. He felt as if the world was spinning underneath him. His vision blurred and darkened. He tightly closed his eyes.

Dennis clutched his stomach as the spinning slowed. He waited a few beats before trying to open his eyes. When he did, he found himself standing a short distance from a big, red barn.

“Come to help me finish up plantin’ for the season?” A middle-aged gentleman smiled gently at Dennis. “Then again, looks like you might’ve started without me.” He pointed at Dennis’ clothes.

Dennis looked down. Sure enough, he looked somewhat sod bound. He looked worriedly at his outstretched hands. They looked less youthful than they had a moment earlier.

He looked back up at the farmer. “You’re Jack Demple! It’s been what, thirty years…”

“I reckon about so. Time passes funny here. So what tore you down, huh?”

“Oh! A heart attack, I think.” Dennis absently rubbed at his chest.

“Quick and easy, I guess. I gotta say, though… I wondered if you’d end up here the way you were heading…”

A sullen look passed over Dennis’ face. “Oh. Yeah, well…” He gazed off towards the barn. The clouds above it were slowly gathering.

Jack stared up at them. “Well, whatever’s the case, here ya are. I better get to droppin’ seed, though.” He winked at Jack. “Might be rain soon, looks like.”

“Sure, sure…” Dennis watched Jack walk off towards the barn. Both man and building became fuzzy. “Oh, shit…”

He squeezed his eyes shut as the world spun again. He stumbled about a moment later, trying to find his footing. Something was surrounding him, pressing in on his legs.

Dennis opened his eyes to find himself in a field of yellowed grass. The sky above him was gray. There was another person standing in the distance. It was his ex-wife. He grimaced. This was feeling less and less like heaven.

“YOU! You worthless piece of shit!” She pushed her way through the tall grass towards him, finger leading the way. “You look like it, too. How in the hell did you manage to live so long?”

Dennis looked down at himself again. His stomach had filled back in, straining against the waist of his soiled jeans. He brushed at his filthy tee shirt with liver-spotted hands.

He lifted his shaking head to meet his ex’s gaze. “I was young…”

She snorted. “Yeah, then you got old… and mean. You don’t belong here! You hurt me, Dennis! You’d get drunk, yell at me, hit me…”

Dennis snarled. “You made me do it! I worked my ass off, only to come home and there would be no dinner…”

I wasn’t your slave!” Tears spilled from her eyes. Thunder rippled in the distance. “I was so glad someone wizened me up, got me out of there. At least I got a few years of joy before God took me.”

She glared. “You’re a bad man, Dennis.” She jabbed her finger at him. “You’ll get yours. You’ll see. You got a stench on you, and it ain’t coming off!”

Lightning crashed close by. The bright-white light blinded him. His scream was lost in the resounding boom. He squeezed his eyes shut as his ears burned.

He blinked, rubbing his eyes. His vision slowly cleared. He was standing on a highway beside a wide-open field, now.

A short distance away from him was a car parked at a funny angle on the side of the road. Rain started to fall. He gasped as realization flooded his face. “Oh… Oh, GOD.”

He numbly walked towards the front of the car. He already knew what he’d find once he got up there. He wanted to turn and run in the opposite direction. Something pushed him against his will.

Lying on the ground before the car was a bloodied young woman. An ice-cold wind blew across the road, making him shiver. The steadily-falling rain soaked into the woman’s tattered clothing.

The body twitched. Dennis jumped, taking a step back. The woman suddenly sat up, screaming. A deep gash in her cheek made her gaping mouth unnaturally wide.

Dennis screamed in return, stumbling backwards. Lightning streaked through the air in the distance. “Stay… Stay away! I didn’t mean to…”

The dead woman stumbled after him. Her broken leg twisted at an odd angle with each step. “But you did! Drunk driver… Ran me down!” Her voice was a hellish screech.

He turned to run. The woman appeared right in front of him. He screamed. She screamed back. “Drunk! Wife-beater… Wino! Took my whole life away…”

Dennis walked backwards. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry! I’ll do anything…”

“You’ll do nothing!” The woman’s eyes turned jet-black. She began to laugh, blood pouring from her mouth. “You’ll just pay!” She shuffled towards him.

He fell backwards onto the slick road. He blinked at the specter through the driving rain. “No, please! God…”

The sick smile faded from the woman’s face. She slowly shook her head. “God turned his back on you a long time ago.” A pair of black forms loomed behind the woman.

“No… No! I repent! I have sinned! God, forgive me…”

Red, glaring eyes opened in the shadows behind the woman. “Too late, Dennis.”

The wraiths lifted up and over the woman. They descended on the old man. The shadowy figures took hold of each of his arms, holding him fast. The road beneath him began to shift and buckle.

The rain hissed off the rapidly heating tarmac. Dennis began to scream as it burned his flesh. The ground violently tore open. Orange light poured out of the fissure.

Dennis hung suspended above the entrance to an immense chamber. Eternal flames burned far below. The heat blistered his skin. Dennis continued to scream.

The wraiths let go. He slapped fruitlessly at the immaterial specters before slipping through the crack. He stared wild-eyed at the woman above before being lost to the fires below.