SNOWFALL IN THE MORNING: By Gwendolyn Kiste

The attack was over before Colin could so much as flail. His body rested on the chilled concrete for a long time, and when he awoke at dawn, the creature was gone.

Blood saturating his crisp white dress shirt, he staggered home.

“Drunk again?” his lover asked as he collapsed at her bedside.

Then she saw the puncture wounds.

“You won’t die,” she said in the bathroom, patting the lesions with a warm washcloth. “It’ll be worse than that.”

Colin wretched into the sink. “Why didn’t it finish me?”

“Because you’ll be more useful to them this way.”

The words took awhile to sink in, and when they did, all he could manage was to wobble back to the bed.

“You can’t sleep.” His lover leaned over him. “Sleep will hasten the process.”

“But that’s the only thing I can think about.”

She grasped his arm. “Get up. Let’s take a walk. Like we used to.”

Outside, the weather was colder than he remembered, but Colin didn’t shiver.

His lover tucked her hands into her pockets. “Is there anywhere you want to go?”

“Do you want to see where it happened?”

“I’d rather not.”

“But you’d know what street to avoid,” he said.

“They could be anywhere. Seeing a spot where they’ve attacked once won’t make me any safer.”

A thick layer of snow encrusted the ground, but it had rained overnight, rained while Colin reclined on the back alley pavement. He might have died of exposure if not for his wound insulating him. Though it spread deliberately, one cell at a time, the infection knew how to preserve life until life was no longer needed.

Now hours later, the night rain had frozen atop the snow, and the ground cracked beneath their feet as they started across the nearby game land.

“Aren’t you going to ask why I was out so late?”

“I doubt it matters now,” she said.

The trees enveloped them, and they plodded along the trail they both knew by heart.

He gazed at her, the smoke of her breath snaking through the air. “What would you do?”

“It’s your choice, not mine.”

Though the worst weather was over, the storm wasn’t quite finished. Bits of ice toppled onto the treetops. Overhead, the branches chimed, and Colin listened to each mournful note.

“It’s like an elegy on Sunday morning,” he said.

Through the canopy, sunlight reflected off the snowfall, and he squinted into the searing white. His lover’s wide eyes weren’t so sensitive as his.

“I’ve never known anyone it’s happened to.”

“I knew someone once,” she said. “And I saw him afterwards. What was left anyhow.”

They reached a clearing in the woods, the one where she had always skipped ahead, giggling.

“Witches and pixies live here,” she would whisper to Colin.

But neither of them said anything this time. Instead, they gawked at something up ahead in the center of the pasture.

He inched closer. “What is that?”

Awaiting them like a sacrificial altar was a mountain of gore.

His lover shrugged. “A field dressing. Must be deer season.”

Streams of scarlet seeped into the snow, and every curve of the intestines glistened back at Colin.

He struggled to swallow. “Why does it shimmer like that?”

“It’s cold. Things freeze in the cold.”

“We should leave,” he said. “A hunter might not see us, might fire his gun this way.”

“Or her gun,” she said.

The couple backtracked through the forest with the symphony overhead, eager to play its dirges for only Colin and his lover to hear.

“How would you stop it?” he asked.

“There are different ways. Easier ones. Messier ones.”

“Have you seen it done?”

She nodded. “Never in person though. Only in videos they showed in health class.”

“We never watched any videos like that,” Colin said.

“That’s because you’re older. By the time I reached high school, they knew more about it.”

He removed his coat. “What’s an easier way to do it?”

“This time tomorrow, we take a walk,” she said. “A walk just like this one.”

“And a messier way?”

“Well, there are a hundred of those. I probably couldn’t even think of them all.”

“What if I don’t want it easy? Would you help, even if it’s untidy?”

“If that’s what you want,” she said.

They crossed the field where their walk had begun a half hour earlier.

Colin stepped on each of his previous footprints in the snow. “Do you love me?”

She sighed. “Of course, I do. If I didn’t, we wouldn’t be talking about this. I’d just go away and wait for it to be over.”

“Why don’t you? It makes more sense.”

“Because I love you. That’s what I’m saying.”

They reached the front door.

“Maybe you could join me.”

“No,” she said. “And if you try to force me, it won’t be so hard for me to decide. I’m not like you. I know what I want. I’d rather die with open eyes than stay alive with closed ones.”

Inside, Colin followed his own blood splatter back to the bedroom where he turned off the light and collapsed on the bed.

“Will it happen while I sleep?”

His lover sat next to him. “It might.”

“Then maybe I shouldn’t wake up at all.”

“Is that what you want?”

“I’ll let you decide,” he said.

Colin rolled over and closed his eyes. Resting against the headboard, his lover peered at him through the darkness. For the next twelve hours, she waited patiently for nightfall.

_________________

©2015 Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste is a Pennsylvania-based horror and fantasy writer. Her fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including LampLight, Electric Spec, Danse Macabre, and Sanitarium Magazine among others. She also contributes genre editorials to Horror-Movies.ca and serves as the resident “weird wanderer” for the travel-centric Wanderlust and Lipstick. You can find her at www.gwendolynkiste.com and on Twitter (@GwendolynKiste).

 

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THE NOWHERE MAN: By Graeme Reynolds

The old man sat alone in the bar and watched the people around him going about their lives. A young couple, sitting at the table across from him spoke to each other in whispers, intent only on each other.  The girl’s clothes and makeup were immaculate, despite the hour. Seven in the evening, which meant that she’d gone straight home from work and gotten herself ready. Her eyes shone as her partner, a good-looking man with a carefully disheveled appearance, spoke to her in a low voice. The old man watched as the strings of their lives streamed out into the future, intersecting with other bright blue lines of possibly in bright bomb-bursts that created new lines of life in trails of orange, green and scarlet, each extending off into their own infinite possibilities.

He smiled to himself.  A small, sad expression.  Gratified to witness the potential futures unfolding before the young couple that contrasted the fading, lonely line of his own existence – stretching out for a few short years until it faded to nothing. His own line brushed against others; a brief brightening that created a few vague, quickly forgotten interactions on the futures of those that he came into contact with. A smile. A couple of choice words, or a phrase uttered in passing conversation that would be remembered at some point in the future, without the person remembering where they had heard those words before, or who had spoken them. Small, meaningless intersections with other lives that had little effect beyond the immediate future.

It had not always been that way. In his youth, the man’s life had been filled with possibilities. A spider web of interactions that had affected the lives of those around him. Chance introductions between acquaintances that had blossomed into love, marriage and children that blazed their own bright lines upon the future. Random meetings and discussions that had erupted in a cascade of potential futures, where the world had belonged to him and those he met. All of that was in the past now, though. He’d made a decision, years ago, that the small bubble of reality that he’d created with her would be enough. That he needed nothing else. He’d moved away from those who knew and loved him, holding their shared reality close as they chased a dream. Until that dream had faded and he found himself alone in a prison of his own making, the interactions with others reduced to little more than fleeting illumination along a progressively darker future.

He sighed and made his way to the bar for another drink. Another small dose of oblivion to numb his breaking heart and pass the empty hours. To dim the awareness of the lives extending around him. He smiled at the young girl behind the bar, aware of the shy, veiled glance that she gave to her colleague and the intertwining dance of the lifelines – a dance that in seven or eight months would have another partner – the child in her stomach hardly the size of a pea at this stage but already coloring their combined futures with an incandescent golden glow.

The shove came from behind. Unintentional but still with sufficient force to make him stagger, sloshing the contents of his glass across his shirt. A young man in grey tracksuit bottoms and a faded baseball cap, stumbling forward and forcing his way to the bar. He did not even apologise. Hardly even seemed aware of the contact. The barmaid frowned at him and shook her head. “Go home, Billy. You’ve had too many. I’m not serving you.”

Billy snarled, and the vinegar stench of his unwashed clothing assailed the man’s nostrils. A few slurred insults hurled before he staggered off towards the exit, watched by the barmaid and her partner, who now stood beside her with his arms folded.

The man saw the lifeline of the drunk stream out before him. A diseased, sickly thing, filled with undirected anger and bitterness tainting it and everything it came into contact with. An intersection with the young couple in the corner. Three lines coming together in a dark eruption. Only one line continuing on.

The door to the bar slammed against the wall as the drunk left. The young couple in the corner’s hands touch. They smile and finish their drinks, then retrieve their jackets from the chair beside them.

The man was barely aware of the barmaids voice as he stepped away from the bar, leaving a crumpled ten pound note behind him. The possibilities drained away before him – his vision narrowing until only a single path remained. One last choice. One last mark he could leave on the world.

He reached the door at the same time as the young couple. He smiled at the woman, then said “Is that your mobile phone underneath the table?”. They paused, instinctively patting their pockets. That second was all the time he needed. All the time he had left.

The man stepped from the pub into the dark car park. Felt, rather than saw the glare of the headlights. The pain was agonizing, but mercifully brief as the car impacted his body, shattering bone until fragments carved their way through nerve and muscle. For the briefest of moments he was flying – all pain forgotten – defying gravity until it regained its hold and drew him close once more in a final crushing embrace.

The young couple stood at the door to the bar, their lifelines blazing. The drunk leaving his car, slurring “I never saw him. He just came out of nowhere.”

As the light faded from his eyes and his body grew cold, the man smiled then breathed his last.

_______________

©2015 Graeme Reynolds

Graeme Reynolds is the author of the critically acclaimed High Moor series of werewolf novels and owner of Horrific Tales Publishing. By day he breaks computers for money but when the night descends he hunches over a laptop and searches for new ways to offend those with delicate sensibilities.
You can find Graeme at http://www.graemereynolds.com http://www.horrifictales.co.uk and the websites of anywhere that sells novels.
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