“A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.” Percy Bysshe […]
Month: November 2018
It started a little over a year ago. Small, winged insects with compound eyes buzzed around fruit, bread, cups of tea and standing water. I shooed them away and crushed them with newspapers when I couldn’t. It never really did anything, but then again there […]
Raquelle adjusted her earpiece as she strode towards the Rotunda of Mosta. Its cross glistened under the Maltese sun. Perfect—she performed best in warm weather. “I’ve arrived. Whom shall I blast?”
“We’re uncertain. Minimal levels of suspicious activity are being detected. You might have to blend in and wait.” Lynn’s tone was poised throughout the transmission.
Raquelle huffed—blending in wasn’t her forte. As she marched towards the cafés, the rhythmic clinking of cups and saucers accompanied the resonating chatter. The rowdiness repulsed her, so she bought a pizza and a diet coke from a pastizzeria instead. She planted herself on an empty bench on the parvis.
An elderly couple emerged from the church. The man held his wife’s arm while she grasped a cane with her other trembling hand. These were the kind of civilians she was out here to protect.
“Rose, let’s sit next to the young lady.” The man nodded towards Raquelle.
“Yes, George.” Rose’s voice was as frail as her demeanour.
Raquelle forced a smile and scooted towards the edge of the bench.
George helped Rose lower onto the bench. Her pursed lips quivered.
“Are you from around here?” George’s accent was foreign.
Raquelle gestured to her mouthful, excusing herself for not responding and then nodded. She barely glanced at him.
“Oh, we love it here. We moved from England sixteen years ago, and we’re enjoying every moment.”
The man rambled on, but Raquelle stopped listening. Only her alertness could safeguard their peace. The fidgeting in her legs diffused some of the suspense. The church bells rang ten o’clock and churchgoers slowly dispersed across the square. She hoped the couple would leave too.
Her ear vibrated. “Raquelle, we’re detecting an evil activity growing at the parvis. It’s quite possible the Twin Shadows are behind this. Don’t do anything until backup arrives. Clear?”
Raquelle gulped the remainder of the diet coke, crushed the plastic bottle and tossed it into a nearby bin. Swish. She didn’t even smile at the minor accomplishment. Foul words piled at the tip of her tongue. Raquelle knew how notoriously dangerous the Twin Shadows were, but what was she expected to do? Sit idle alongside two elders awaiting their final breath? This was an opportunity to prove herself, and nobody was going to stop her.
She scanned the parvis. It was just her and the couple. Her heart leapt—were they the evil? Holding a breath, she turned her head. The man’s eyes locked with hers. His pupils dilated into huge red discs. He grew larger, towering over her. His stretched skin tore and dropped to the ground. A shadow emerged from its human shell, floating above with sharp claws.
Rose fell to her face as a second shadow ripped itself out of her hunched back. The agent was cornered. She tumbled onto the ground, dodging a slash that split the bench in half. She leapt to her feet and ran towards the centre, knowing she could not outrun the Twin Shadows. She placed her palms on the floor, casting a ring of fire around her. The shadows dashed into the circle just as the flames rose, entrapping them behind domed pillars of fire.
“Tough luck, losers.” In each of her palms, she held a fiery orb. The shadows distanced themselves from her and she slid out unscathed from the small space between the cage bars. She launched an orb at each shadow, but they morphed their torsos to dodge the attack.
The orbs blasted the church’s columns, burying the entrance with piles of rubble. Screams echoed from inside the Rotunda. She looked back at the shadows swirling around one another. Fire had always destroyed dark creatures, but she had never battled pure evil before. They couldn’t escape the dome, but she was clueless on how to defeat them.
Their red eyes settled onto Raquelle. If they killed her, the flames would die out. Shit! One shadow dug its claws into the ground, grabbed limestone bricks and launched them at her. She blasted one after another until the air was nothing but dust clouds.
Dark barbs darted at her. She tumbled, jolted, leapt—dodging one after the other. Behind her, people screamed, car alarms blared, glass shattered, and something exploded. But she couldn’t look back.
A projectile hit her midjump, slamming her into the stone fence. She pushed her feet against the ground; a barb had her shoulder pinned down.
The dust settled as the Twin Shadows conjured another array of barbs.
She turned her body sideways, her other shoulder curling in front of her torso. Her blouse ripped as a projectile grazed her back. The earth quaked with each hit, but she did not feel new pain. She lowered her arm to find herself covered by erected rocks.
“Backup has arrived.” She could recognise the dry voice anywhere. Agent Terra.
A tendril of ivy yanked the barb out of her shoulder; she groaned. Meredith rushed in to tend the wound.
Lynn, the puny agent from headquarters, walked up the steps and marched towards the dwindling firestorm.
“What the hell, Lynn? Back off. Your pathetic tech is useless against these demons!” Raquelle shouted as the medic held her down. Her powers were weakening.
Lynn deflected the pleas. “This is my battle—nobody else can defeat them.”
“I created this universe to escape my demons.” Lynn clenched her jaw. “But I’m not scared anymore.”
The fire dispersed against Raquelle’s will.
“After the assault, I couldn’t bear the memory. I tried forgetting everything.” She inhaled a deep breath as her nostrils flared.
“But the memories haunted me in wakefulness and dreams.”
Lynn lifted her head and faced the shadows as they merged into one. She was taller than her timid posture had always implied. “Raquelle, Terra, Meredith. I had created you to help me cope. I had gotten stuck in this world, but now I realise why. I must be the one to end this.”
The merged figure condensed into a middle-aged bald man. He was taller and more muscular, but her presence dwarfed him. Her words became louder. “I won’t forget what you did.”
She grabbed his neck with both hands. “But you don’t get to control my life anymore. Your spirit dies today.”
Her grip tightened, disintegrating his body into a pile of ashes. She spat over his remains.
Lynn looked back at her squad with a wide grin. Raquelle forced a flat-pitched cheer. She was useless now.
“I couldn’t have done this without you.” Lynn hugged her squad.
Raquelle averted her eyes. “You’re kidding me. You handled them all on your own, with your bare hands!”
“Look at me.” Lynn lifted Raquelle’s chin. “It’s your fearlessness that paved the way to that demon’s demise.”
Raquelle shrugged. “Is this goodbye?”
“Never. This was just one battle. Life is a never-ending war, so I’ll be needing you a whole lot more.”
It felt wrong to smile, but a warmth wrapped around Raquelle’s body. She had found her flame again.
About the Author: Jeremy Mifsud is a queer, autistic writer and poet, currently reading for a Masters in Cognitive Science at the University of Malta. He has published a poetry collection Welcome to the Sombre Days (2018). More of his poetry appears or is forthcoming in Isabelle Kenyon’s anthology, Please Hear What I’m Not Saying (2018) and Lucent Dreaming.
You don’t notice it, at first. It infiltrates your life slowly, measuredly, amalgamating with your life seamlessly. It’s only when it begins to dig into your brain with fingers of liquid darkness that you notice it for the first time, the chill dread of its […]
She knew what she was getting herself into. She always did. Into the black, into the dark unknown, unfathomed by all who see the light. A mind capable of standing out in the crowd, a deep crimson stain growing, eating the body alive, the monster […]
It wasn’t the most pleasant of murders. I’d like to say that I wasn’t taking it personally – Elijah and I had been trying to kill each other for years. But he was definitely crossing a line here, this was my home! I must’ve really pissed him off when I set that fire… I coughed, expelling the blood and broken teeth I’d been choking on. Elijah had petulantly demolished his way through my teeth with a pair of pliers, after I had stubbornly refused him access to my tongue. After such a drawn-out conflict, I was quite nonchalant about dying, but I refused to make it easy for him. I tried to spit as much as I could onto him, but in my weakened state, all I managed to do was coat my own face with the annoyingly warm, sticky substance. In my defence, being stapled to the floor by a spike through the left shoulder, the angle was against me. Plus, spitting without a tongue was hard. Elijah wordlessly jammed something blunt into my eye. I conceded him a short scream.
“You know,” he said, grunting as he plucked my eye out before walking back to his table of tools. “I’m almost sorry that you won’t be able to see the rest of what I’m going to do to you. But don’t worry!” He lifted something off the table and waved it, “This way you’ll get the best part of the show!”
I froze as my remaining eye focused on what he held. He was using my blood to paint on a white urn, copying symbols from his black book. He didn’t need to tell me my tongue and eye were in there. A cold knot settled in my stomach, and my bravado faded as I realised I wasn’t the only one involved in his plan. A real terror set in. I thrashed, but my broken, twisted limbs couldn’t muster the strength to dislodge the spike through my shoulder. He smirked as he saw my contempt and arrogance slip away, along with any possibility that I could make a good show of dying. He knew he’d won. He wielded the blunt object again, and I saw nothing but blackness for the short remainder of my life.
Sandra had always thought that being tired but happy was the best combination. It’s a combination that signifies a life that is busy, but busy with things that fulfil it. She’d had a great day at work, coming up with such a breakthrough on the project she was newly in charge of, that her boss insisted she take the afternoon off. Sandra sneakily suspected that Adrian’s good grace had at least a little to do with her gorgeous new business suit, but she was too proud of her work to let that get her down. She’d used the rest of her day to brush off errands she’d been saving for the weekend, meaning that for the first time in ages, she and Eric would have a completely free Saturday together.
She was always wary of putting relationships before her own needs, but she was terribly excited to make an exception just this once – it was, after all, the first weekend they’d have together since their engagement. Feeling too accomplished not to be cheeky, Sandra picked up an Indian from her favourite place on the way home, rather than the Chinese she knew Eric would’ve preferred. She never thought she’d have come to appreciate his messiness, but it seemed to have paid off today – he always left his clothes on the armchair rather than chucking them in the laundry, so she’d swiped his lucky tie to wear with her new suit. As far as she was concerned, the smell of his day-old cologne was more than enough luck, but that damn tie had really gone above and beyond today.
Linguini had a sixth sense for Indian food, and could be counted upon to be ready and waiting behind the door whenever she brought some home, unless an emergency came up, such as Next Door grilling a tuna. Seeing as she was not assaulted by a grey furball upon entering, she assumed it was a tuna night. No matter. She emptied an extra box of chicken onto the cleanest of the little plates near the cat flap. Tuna, with Indian for dessert – why should she be the only one who gets to indulge in a perfect day?
Or at least, almost perfect. Eric didn’t seem to be home yet. The lights weren’t on in the kitchen and she knew he’d never miss the football. But she’d seen his car outside, hadn’t she? Her lips curled into a frisky smile – the bedroom? Sandra bounded up the stairs, threw open the door and – empty. He must’ve gone shopping. She slunk back down, shoulders slumped. And the kitchen smelt like shit. Eric probably hadn’t cleaned up, honestly, one of these days she was going to – she flicked the light switch, and blanched.
The Indian fell to the floor, forgotten. Three tall wooden stakes kept Eric’s body upright – the outer ones each passing through a knee and elbow, the middle one bursting from his mouth. Sandra couldn’t tear her eyes away. She gasped for air as she stepped forward, each ragged inhalation peppered with a sob. She tried to scream his name, but her gulps drowned her words. The horror emanating from the grotesque totem seemed to pulse in physical waves that broke over her and forced her screams back down her throat.
Impossibly empty holes where his warm eyes once were. Ears – stumps, caked in dried blood. Face such a mess Sandra would never know that his nose had been removed too. Or that the skin from his fingertips had been flayed off. She saw more than enough though. A mutilated torso. The unnatural contortions of the limbs. The spikes through the limbs. A ravenous hole straight through the left shoulder.
Then, breaking the monotonous dripping of blood, she heard a whimper.
Sandra’s heart lurched with a unique mix of revulsion and hope. He couldn’t be alive, but….
“Eric! Don’t move! I’ll call someone!” She found her voice as she clutched his wrist. At her touch, Eric’s limbs went taut, and he groaned. The wood echoed his groan as he reached to take her hand in his, then crushed it with inhuman strength. Sandra screeched as, with a thunderous racket, the corpse ruptured the wood binding it and leapt upon her, driving her to the ground.
The urn ignited as Elijah’s spell took effect. Eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin burned, symbolising each of my senses, manifesting a spirit that could see, hear, and feel all. Elijah forced me to watch my own cursed, mutilated corpse tear my fiancé to pieces. The last things I saw on this earth were the fear, confusion and betrayal in her eyes as the man she loved rained down punches like bone-cracking thunder, before raking and ripping her to gore with his bare fingers. Ethereal as I was, I couldn’t pull the corpse off her. I tried with everything I had. There was no way. And when I failed, I held her hand while she died, trying to convince myself that she could sense me and take solace in her final moments. And after my corpse ripped the still-living hand off, I kept trying to cry, until everything in the urn fell to ash.
About the Author: Ian is an M.A. student, reading for a degree with the faculty of arts. Within his creative circle, he’s best known for squandering all his creativity on nightmarish puns.