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By C.M. Reeves
The fire burned low in the hearth. Tiny embers barely cast a glow on Grace’s face as she slept. Still crinkled in her favorite chair, she had lulled off while reading a book earlier that evening. All was quiet and soft.
A loud noise at the window jarred her awake. Though she had been sleeping peacefully, the sudden bang triggered a panic and a cold sweat. Her percussive heartbeat hammered on as she looked around for the source of the clatter.
She opened the front door. Nothing. She checked her bedroom. No one. Her apartment was small, and it did not take long to search every nook. Nothing made a movement outside except for the gentle March breeze.
Grace gathered her book and blanket and moved to the bedroom. As she turned to close her blinds, she saw the face.
A man. Grotesquely burned. One eye socket devoid of its orb. Teeth and gums exposed.
Whipping the blinds shut, Grace scrambled for her cell phone. It was nowhere to be found. She threw up the bedsheets, the cushions, and the pillows. When she looked in terror out the window, the man was gone.
Grace drew breath slowly and deeply, trying to collect her thoughts and calm her heart. She tried to recall the night before. In her horror, memories of the previous evening were ambiguous. All she could think about was that face. The man had been deformed, and yet, there was something memorable about him. Something sinister yet comforting.
After a half an hour, Grace fell into a shallow sleep. The hum of the fan and the ticking of the clock were the only faint sounds in the shadows. She turned on her left, clutching the cooler side of the pillow.
There, in the closet, was the man.
Grace sat up in bed. Her breath left her body. She braced herself but the man did not move. He merely stood in the shadows, beckoning her with an outstretched hand. He looked like a walking corpse, a burned body devoid of a soul. The shadows from the window danced inside the hole where his eye was missing.
Then he spoke. In spite of his deterioration, his words were clear.
“Grace,” he said. “Please come with me.”
She froze, so terrified that she couldn’t run.
“Grace, please,” he begged.
His fingers crumbled as he reached for her trembling hand.
She fled from the room and out the front door and ran down the dimly lit street. Her cheeks were hot. There was a flame inside her chest. After running half a mile, she turned and walked back. The light of the dawn was near. Surely the ghoul would vanish in the daylight. Surely the neighbor would be awake with a working phone.
Grace turned the corner to her apartment. The building was gone.
A pile of ashes lay flat on a scorched brown lot. The sun had not risen yet, but delicate slivers of light illuminated the burning pile of rubble. Grace’s eyes were hot but tears didn’t come. She understood.
Grace felt a warm pair of arms embrace her from behind.
“Grace,” a soft voice whispered. “Come with me, my darling.”
“Adam,” she whispered.
Grace held his decayed left hand, a silver wedding band still attached, burned but not destroyed. She turned her head up to kiss him.
“Let’s go home,” Adam said.
At the first full rays of morning light, they vanished.
The Grunting Boy
By Daniel Schmidt
Joe founded the Cedar Shoals High School Chess Team in the Fall of 1994, although the “team” existed only in the abstract. Joe’s lack of academic ambition or athletic skill was compensated by cunning creativity. He signed his friends up, got the team approved, received school funding, and organized “The First Annual CSHS Chess Team Retreat,” despite the fact that none of them had ever played chess before. Some team members didn’t even attend CSHS in the first place. Larry, for instance, was a 21 year old Locos waiter, beloved for his ability to provide beer and the stickiest of the icky.
But retreat they did. The Chess Team piled in Joe’s sweet ’87 Chevy Nova, popped in the latest Meat Loaf cassette, and drove to Sandy Creek Park.
At their campsite, Joe symbolically removed his inhibitions as he let the air out of his Reebok Pumps. Larry handed him an unripe beet packed with “Panama Madness,” and their weekend began. An early start on their revelry left the boys feeling sluggish and apprehensive by sunset. Every sound from the woods came through an unnerving filter as they built a campfire.
Once the fire was roaring and the drug-induced paranoia had set in, Larry told the tale of “The Grunting Boy.”
The lowly creature, something between a human and ungodly monster, lived on Laurie Drive near the high school. He never spoke; he could only grunt. The morbid details of the story drifted into Joe’s clouded mind:
“He moves like a silent shadow…”
“Furtive as a cat…”
“Before you know it, he’s right beside you…”
“Slits your tendons with his claw-like fingers, so you can’t run away…”
“Eats his victims’ tongues, hoping they will enable him to finally speak…”
When they hit the hay, Joe could swear he heard grunting in the woods. He assumed it was just the effects of mixing cheap beer, home grown weed, and Jolt Cola. He fell into a deep sleep, or, as a doctor might describe it: passed out.
Back at school, Joe forgot all about the grunting boy when he was called into the principal’s office. Someone had snitched. The photo the Chess Team submitted to the yearbook was actually a Domino’s pizza box with a checkerboard pattern drawn on with a sharpie. The final chess piece standing on the board was actually Joe’s unholy member, painted with whiteout, sticking boldly through a hole in the cardboard. At the bottom of the picture was the caption “CHECK MATE!” The principal was not happy.
A very depressed Joe walked home that evening, after serving the first of many afterschool detentions. A dark force weighed him down like the shoulder pads in a woman’s suit. His mind wandered. How would he recover his social life? The darkness engulfed him. Where was he? He sparked up his trusty Bic lighter. The small flame illuminated the nearby street sign . . . Laurie Drive.
The grunting boy story was suddenly fresh in his mind.
A sharp tug on his leg panicked him. He whirled around to see . . . a cat. A fat, fluffy, black cat. Joe erupted in relieved laughter and knelt to pet it. The cat purred. A second later, though, its ears twitched. It bolted in terror. Something had alerted the feline’s superb senses.
He started to stand, but something was pressing down against the back of his neck. Something wrapped around his neck. A long, claw-like finger slipped into the corner of his mouth, and something took hold of his tongue . . .
By Racheal Fulford
Before I stood in the rubble of Sanford Stadium, I never considered how a roadside attraction could have brought so much destruction.
The story of the Guidestones is what attracted us: A morally pompous secret society instructed an Elberton granite quarry to erect four massive slabs, with multilingual instructions including population control and a one world government. Some believed the Guidestones were to be a beacon for a world in chaos.
We found the stones in an unassuming field. A biker couple were reading something off of the placard next to the structure. I didn’t take much interest in them until I heard them quietly say, “Amen”. Curious, I made a sideways glance in their direction, watching them retreat to their motorcycle. As the couple drove off, another biker duo parked. They too headed for little placard. I was becoming curious about the sign.
When we made our way around to the little placard (the couple had finally stepped aside), I read through the spiel and found nothing that would have made any sense for the others to have said “Amen”. It was just the history of the stones and their location. Suddenly, I had the feeling of being watched. Looking around I saw the biker couple standing next to the monolith written in Spanish, staring in our direction, with wide smiles cut across their sun wizened faces. The wind suddenly picked up, making the hairs on my neck stand.
“Ready to go?” I asked my husband, trying not to convey my increasing paranoia. He nodded and we took one more walk around the monoliths. There was a hairline fracture running between the stones carved in Hebrew and Hindi. I ran my finger along it wondering if had been there for a while but the sharpness of the edge told me it was very recent.
The following days increased in strangeness. Reports of seismic activity in Athen occurred hourly. A slew of bikers rode into town; there was no unifying symbol or name for the masses that thundered into the area, save for the wide grins they all displayed as they walked about Broad Street.
The day after their arrival was the last.
We were all making due with the new arrangements: the earth continued to rumble and the bikers were slowly swarming the campus, day by day making their way closer to the stadium. It was such a peaceful takeover no one thought anything of it.
En route from the Tate Center I saw many running towards the stadium, screaming that “something was trying to break through”. I ran to the walkway and saw the same hairline fracture as before only vastly larger and steadily widening into a gaping hellmouth. All around me I heard screaming and another sound, frightfully triumphant, of chanting and wailing. Seated in the crumbling stadium were the bikers, applauding the pandemonium that surrounded them, some hurling themselves onto the field and disappearing into the maw of the great monstrosity emerging from the abyss.
I cannot fully describe the hideous behemoth that clawed its way from the bowels of the earth: multi-eyed, chthonic devil of long forgotten prophecy, its scaly, orange hide slithering across the broken earth. The surviving members of the biker gang sect stamped their feet and emitted an unearthly screech for their risen master. The beast rose to its fullest height, towering well over the stadium, stretched its membranous wings, taking flight. Wherever it glowered it emitted green fire, incinerating all in its path as it winged its way to its throne as the beacon for a world thrown into chaos.
By Patrick Allen
Halloween—my favorite day of the year. This year I had a feeling that it would be better than ever. I was dressed as the Grim Reaper and people were flinching when I walked past. I was going trick-or-treating with my friends and we were all really excited. I walked out the door of my house and my friends were waiting. We were trick-or-treating in Cobbham and I was ready to fill up on a lot of candy. We started at my neighbor’s house and went on and on getting more and more candy. At a few houses people were starting to creep me out. One man told me to run away if I could which disturbed me to a large measure. I did so very quickly and hid in a nearby bush with my friends to see what he said to others. A small child came along and he pulled her into his house. He came back five minutes later with a red stain on his jacket. The child didn’t come back. I was really scared at this point. If I didn’t do something more innocent people could be killed but if I did he could come after me and kill me. I decided to run for the police. My friends silently agreed and I counted to three and we ran. He didn’t seem to see us. We ran as hard as we could but it still took us a while to get into town. When we got to the station near Ben and Jerry’s it was later in the night. We burst in to see an Officer fighting with a guy who did not look quite right trying to eat him. I grabbed a taser off a table and zapped the guy with it. He fell on the floor and the Officer put handcuffs on him. “Sorry about that” said the Officer, “These guys are trying to get the Police everywhere.” I told him about the man and he said that people were infested everywhere. This station was the last stronghold against the infested and thirteen people were coming here for protection right now. They ran in and slammed the door. They told us that they were chased all the way here and that we should lock all the doors and put bars on the windows. The station already had bars so that wasn’t a problem. The waves then started to come. I didn’t know how to stop them so I asked the others if they knew what to do. Nobody had any ideas. Then someone suggested that we tried to electrocute them to kill whatever was inside of them. This idea seemed pretty good to me so we got to work. We put electric lines on the ground and on each lamppost I put a little charge so that if any of them touched it they would be electrocuted. We then got back inside and hid. We heard the signal from the officer and we turned on the electricity. We heard screams from outside and then cries of confusion. Then I realized that there were now normal people outside with the ones who had not yet been electrocuted. I smashed open the door with a taser in hand. I started to get people but still people were trying to lock themselves into buildings and running away. I yelled for the others to come out but they shook their heads and stayed inside. It was all up to me. I gathered up the ones who had been mildly electrocuted and told them to grab tasers. They did as I asked and we cleared up the last of the bad ones. They fell to the ground and asked us where they were and why they weren’t celebrating Halloween. We explained what happened and they started to walk back to their houses. When I got back to my house, we all drank a toast to Athens. That was a night to remember.
The Lady and the Tall Man
By Lillah Lawson
The kids got the old farmhouse in Winterville for a steal. As they ambled through the creaking screen door, dragging hand-me-down furniture over the hardwoods, staking claim to the various bedrooms, the lady of the house watched silently from the room with the red-painted walls.
The landlords warned them. “Might want to paint that room,” they’d said to one of the kids, a tall man who was never without his acoustic guitar and wore pearl-button shirts with pointed western collars. The lady liked him; he reminded her of her husband, buried just down the way, a few yards past the garden, which bore nothing now except shriveled, abandoned okra and a few maypops. “The last tenants liked it red. But they sure did move out in a hurry.” There were strange things in the house, they said, red walls being the least of them – the pagan altar out back, a clawfoot tub with a stain that might be rust, might not, the constant dusting of flour on the kitchen floor even when the house was vacant. The tall man nodded absently, paying no attention to these tales – nothing seemed weird to a seasoned Athens gutter punk – but the lady had noticed him look up at the foyer ceiling to see the black, smudgy smoke that lingered there, and smiled.
The tall man and his friends had dragged an out-of-tune piano into that spot, declaring it perfect.
Soon after, the kids had a house party. People milled out of the house into the cool night, cicadas mingling with the sound of singing saw music played from an iPhone. They clogged around the bonfire in dusty jackets, swigging blueberry wine from the bottle, clutching tropicalias and Nattys. The tall man’s guitar, old and bent with a peeling Wuxtry sticker, was being strummed in time. The lady watched, the room seeming to pulse, red walls breathing in and out, like her lungs had once done. Young people, she found, were so malleable, so vulnerable. They yearned to flirt with the abyss, to find meaning in mystery. And they all drank too much beer.
The eyes of the house peered out, and the rickety, splintered old steps seemed to smile.
The tall man was drunk. In the fire, shapes seemed to move, to beckon. He wiped his eyes with a clammy hand, drained his can and stood, staring out into the dark forest beyond. He looked so much like the lady’s husband. And she liked his music so very much. Clutching his guitar to his chest, the tall man took a step, then another, stumbling into the inky night. His friends, in the smoky haze, did not notice when he didn’t return.
Weeks later, the remaining roommates dragged the same hand-me-down furniture back out of the house. Their angry voices travelled through the walls. “He skipped out on us,” they complained. “He’s always been a grifter, a couch surfer. He’ll come back. He always does.”
And he did. It was only after the last had gone with a trash bag hoisted over her shoulder, that the tall man emerged from the trees in the dawn’s dew, his skin whispy pale, his shirt with the pearl buttons torn, his once-bright eyes dull. With his guitar clutched under an arm, he shuffled back to the house that wanted him and passed through the door. Swallowed up by the red-walled bedroom, he would play. On a cool fall morning, you can pass by and hear the strains of a sad tune echoing from the walls – guitar or piano, is the lady of the house’s choice.
The Midnight Drive
By Henry Rose
It was an early summer night in north Georgia, during those few precious weeks before the hellish humidity rolls itself in. I was at that strange chapter in life where your early 20s have arrived and nothing much seems to be in order. It’s a fierce point in time where one has to make sense of everything even though so much in life is still being figured out. After a particularly hectic week, I decided to take a late night cruise down Highway 15, just south of Athens. It’s a beautiful stretch of road that leads deep into rural territory. I’ve always found a sense of calm in driving down these lonely roads late at night, when traffic is nonexistent and the night sky illuminates the pines.
I had been driving down Highway 15 a good way, and was far from the city lights of Athens. I found myself in need of a cold drink, but knew there wouldn’t be any convenience store to swing by until I hit Greensboro. Just as I thought this, I saw a faint light shining a mile or so off the side of the road. I had no knowledge of any establishment on this stretch of road, and as I drove closer I noticed some gas pumps attached to a general store. I pulled over and found myself surprised. The place looked frozen in time, and my initial reaction was it might be part of some vintage-themed wedding venue.
Walking in, the sweet smell of pipe tobacco immediately hit my nostrils. I saw an old man slowly puffing on his corncob pipe as he flipped through the pages of an old Sears catalogue in a rocking chair. An elderly coon dog slept peacefully at his feet. Genuinely confused, I saw a general store stocked with goods from many years past. A 1920s Georgia flag hung from a balcony, and a glass case with service medals from the First World War was mounted on a wall. I interrupted the old man and asked him what this place was all about. “What’s it about? It’s about making money, I suppose. But I’m really here to keep this ole place in the family. My daddy handed her down to me when he got too old, and it’ll be time for my own son to fill my shoes before too long.” That explained the ownership of the store, but I was still confused at the antiquated atmosphere of the place. Not wanting to keep bothering the old timer, I grabbed a couple of glass Nehi Grape bottles and asked for a price.
“Take ‘em”, he said with a smile. “Your money’s no good here, and anyways, I’m always happy to supply a visiting traveler.” Immediately thankful for the old man’s kind gesture, I let him know how much I appreciated the free drinks. Before stepping out, I took one last look at the old man, thinking how rare that kind of selflessness is in this day in age.
I didn’t think too much of my experience for a few days. In fact, I didn’t bring it up until I was hanging out with a friend and his family on their front porch one evening. As soon as I shared my experience, my friend’s mother turned pale as a sheet. “That store, my granddaddy told me so many stories of the place when I was growing up. He had many memories made there during his childhood. I hope to God you’re just trying to spook me. That store burned down over seventy years ago.”
The Place You Call Your Home
By Jenny Denson
She made her way up the crumbling steps to the large doors, hunching her shoulders against the wind. It was starting to feel like fall.
Pulling a small key from her bag, she surveyed the notice plastered in duplicate over the boarded up entrance. She could have recited it by heart, and it always left her with a twinge of regret.
BY ORDER OF ATHENS-CLARKE COUNTY
The property at: 301 College Ave, Athens, GA 30601
HAS BEEN DEEMED DANGEROUS AND UNSAFE
Last time, old girl. She turned the key in the padlock and the chains fell open. She walked through the small foyer and past the second set of doors, which swung with creaking arcs behind her.
The old City Hall was scheduled for demolition tomorrow. As the Director of Building Permits & Inspections it was her job to do one last walkthrough and sign off that the building was unoccupied and ready for the wrecking ball. New City Hall, located on the West Athens Corridor in the spacious Nesmith Commons where the old mall once stood was a showcase of high tech modernism, making this old wreck feel anachronistic by comparison. But this is where she felt more at home. The bell, clock, and weathervane were now under plexiglass down the street at the Athens Hall of History in the Classic Center. Everything else was either in the UGA Russell Library archives, sold, or trashed.
Her job wasn’t too hard. She was lucky there was still a floor to walk on after the lawyers, historians, and salvagers had been through, let alone a place someone could hide. Starting in the basement and working up, she checked every corner, closet, and cubby with the sweep of her flashlight. A good variety of graffiti had appeared in the years the building sat empty, but the artists who painted it were long gone.
In the mayor’s office on the second floor, she swung her flashlight around and glimpsed a colorful spray of red across the wall. She paused and moved the light back. More graffiti. Large, awkward letters; S-T-A-Y. Wish I could, but I gotta run.
Her last stop was the meeting chambers by the main entrance. The seats, benches, and railing were long gone. Even the floors had been pried up and carried off. Only the comment podium remained, stubbornly anchored in the center of the room. She could almost hear the echoes of meetings gone by. The county wasn’t going to lose out on any profit they could squeeze from the old place. The land itself was most valuable. Several parties were interested, including a bid for Athens’ fourth amphitheater. More graffiti was clumsily lettered across the left wall. Y-O-U-B-E-L-O-N-G. Thanks for the vote of confidence.
Turning back toward the entrance, she jumped and caught her breath. She must not have noticed it on her way in. The same word repeated three times above the doorway.
A little uneasy now, she hurried to leave. She only had to sign the notice and paste it to the door on her way out. She made for the foyer, but the door didn’t budge. Bewildered, she tried the other. Nothing. A strange feeling of certainty came over her. Something doesn’t want me to leave.
When the demolition crew arrived in the morning the security guard confirmed that there’d been no activity all night. After checking the locks on all the doors, they confirmed that the notice had been signed off by the director.
Tessa J. Denson
They somehow did not hear the screams from inside.
By Nicole Oteyza
The time trickled by slowly in the quiet room. Mason loudly sighed and leaned against his chair. His roommate, Danny, didn’t seem to share his impatience. Instead, the college student sat across from him reading the Flagpole. The occasional crinkling of paper served to remind Mason how bored he was.
The food Mason had ordered wasn’t going to arrive for another half hour. Mason didn’t think he would be able to last that long without some kind of a distraction. It was this reasoning that led Mason to sigh again, louder this time.
His roommate finally looked up from his paper, a look of irritation on his face. “Mason, stop being annoying.”
“Then go elsewhere.”
Mason huffed. He didn’t feel like moving. “Danny, tell me one of your dumb urban legends,” he said.
“No, you only make fun of me.”
“Of course I do. Who calls themselves an ‘urban legend’ researcher and expects to be taken seriously,” he pointed out. “But I’m bored and we still have another half hour before dinner gets here.”
Danny rolled his eyes. “Okay, fine, I’ll tell you one. You know that place by Southeast Clarke Park? Where that old wooden playground used to be?”
“Yeah, I think it’s a dog park now.”
“Well, there’s a story about a mound of dirt there.”
“Seriously? An urban legend about a mound of dirt? That’s your hook?”
“I’m getting there. Don’t interrupt,” Danny snapped. He folded up the Flagpole and crossed his arms. “Anyways…there was always a suspicious mound next to the old playground. People assumed it was a large pile of dirt created when the playground was originally made, and, with time it was covered by grass.”
“However, shortly after the playground became a dog park, a little bulldog approached the mound and started to dig. To the owner’s surprise, a whole skeleton was found inside. The skeleton’s mouth was open in a silent scream, its clenched hands reaching upwards as if trying to claw itself from its grave. Immediately, the cops were called and an investigation was launched.”
“Long story short, they found out the killer was a longtime friend of the victim. When asked the reason why, the murderer simply stated that his friend had been part of a bigger plan. The killer wished to create hills upon hills filled with bones, and has since earned the nickname, The Barrow Man.”
“Oh, wow,” Mason mumbled sarcastically, not impressed. It was a super lame name. However, he didn’t say this outloud because Danny shot him a glare.
“As I was saying,” His roommate continued on, “Even though the Barrow Man is locked up, his story still terrorizes people. Nowadays whenever people see a mound in a field, they wonder if a body is hidden inside it, another victim of the Barrow Man.”
Mason scoffed. “I can’t believe you consider this dude to be urban legend status, Danny. Where’s the high body count or monster-ish characteristics? And only one victim? Ha! The Barrow Man probably killed his friend because he got on his nerves for being an urban legends expert or something stupid like that.”
Danny hummed in consideration. “You do have a point. After all, you would know all about that, wouldn’t you? I mean, you’re the one who killed me.”
Mason heard the sound of metal clanging and a buzzer. Had it really been half an hour? It looked like the guard was finally bringing dinner.
Mason laughed. “Damn right I did.”
By John Gaither
This was the night he would kill her, dark and wet under a drizzling sky. He wanted to taste her hot blood, to feel her still pulsing heart, to hold her liver warm in his hands. He loved her.
The deer he stalked was moving toward him. Her scent told him she was old, and he could hear the limp in her step. He culled the ones who were past their prime, who could no longer mate, who took up space and territory that belonged to the young and aggressive.
She came closer and closer, unaware. He felt close to the creatures he killed — they helped him to be the creature he was. To kill and to die was Nature’s Way, and this was what they shared.
He turned and leaped toward her. At the last moment, their eyes locked.
He tore out her throat with his teeth, lovingly. The Moon was the color of lead behind low clouds.
When the Moon was full, his real self woke up. It would have been cool if he grew fangs and got all hairy but that just didn’t happen. It was emotional, physical, hormonal. His senses, stamina, strength were all enhanced. His hair would bristle and his skin was electric, flashing hot at the smell of prey. It was easy to stay clear of people then. He could hear them, smell them.
When he was little he’d catch roaches and crunch them up or just swallow them whole, still struggling — he called it vitamin R. Older, his appetite grew, and by adolescence it was a monthly ritual. He’d hit the night, running for miles along the river valleys, snagging the occasional cat or opossum. Many’s the dead dog he’d munched on the side of the road, then climbed to higher ground for a good howl, answering the coyotes in the light of the silvery Moon.
The next month, it was different. He felt cranky, incomplete. He had searched for a mate, but it was hard to find someone as empty and brutish as himself. The deer had whetted his appetite for more, for better. He’d gotten slow and dull, feeding on pets and carrion.
It was risky to kill a person — a mutilated body always caused talk — but the reward was high. Human flesh nourished the body and soul. It was the highest sacrament for the kind of carnivore he was.
It was hours past midnight. He came into town up the North Oconee, passing under the bridges at College Station Road and the bypass on his way to Oconee Hill Cemetery. He rested there, letting the smell from the dormitories wash over him like so many voices, each scent with its own story to tell. He was hungry. The moonlight was like fire on his skin.
He let out a howl and ran through the Greenway, following the river past Oconee Street, Broad, North Avenue; but at College Avenue he caught a whiff of a young woman, alone. He tasted her scent — she was full of hormones, excited. He raced uphill between houses, across Pulaski, toward the sound of her footsteps on Barber Street.
He reached the sidewalk behind her and started his killing run, heart pounding. Her scent was overwhelming, full of passion and arousal. That was how he felt too. He let out a growl, and she turned. Their eyes locked.
She tore out his throat with her teeth, lovingly. The Moon was a ball of gold in a glittering sky.
There’s No Witch Under the Cleveland Avenue Bridge
By Michele Dross and Mike Young
“There isn’t any witch under the Cleveland Avenue Bridge!” Addie stomped her foot on the leaf covered porch.
“There is so!” Sam said back, matter-of-factly, leaning forward in his wicker rocking chair. “I know because I’ve seen her with my own two eyes. She’s got long, grey hair like spiderwebs, down to her waist. ” Addie rolled her eyes as Sam sat back, self-assured and smirking to his half-gone stump of a cigarette he rolled himself.
“You’re so full of it, Sam” In Addie’s mind, this was just par for the course—Sam was always spinning some kind of half-cocked story to get under her skin.
“Suit yourself,” said Sam, refusing to backdown. “But I’m telling you, I’ve seen her with my own two eyes—seen her hunched-over shadow crouched over in the darkness underneath the bridge. With her long gray hair tangling up amongst the fallen leaves… ”
Addie had just about enough. Sam was a good friend, but it was getting late and it was a long ride back down Ruth Street. She tightened down the straps of her backpack, hopped down the three porch steps and went to get her bike.
“Addie—seriously—Be careful. And whatever you do, if you hear the scraping of rocks and bones together underneath the bridge, look away immediately. Cuz if you look her in the eye…”
“If you look her in the eye then what?” Addie fired back.
“If you look her in the eye, then I’m sure going to miss you. She only comes out on pitch black nights like tonight, she hasn’t seen the light of day in over 400 years. She’s got these ink black, beady eyes, so you can’t see them at all unless the moonlight shines on them just right. But if you look her right in the eye, well… no one knows what happens. No one’s seen her eyes and told the tale.”
Addie breathed in the crisp fall air and smiled to herself at how perfectly quiet the town could be in the middle of the night. It was comforting, at first, but as she rode along every little rustle of the leaves made her imagination run wild. She whipped her head back after every house she passed to check the shadows for any sort of creature that would mean her harm.
Ruth Street seemed longer on the way home than it was this afternoon when she rode out to Sam’s house. She knew two things for sure: there wasn’t any witch under the Cleveland Avenue Bridge and, even still, she certainly wasn’t going to ride under it tonight—or so she thought until she heard the whistle of a train in the distance.
As she ascended Cleveland Avenue, Addie saw her two options before her. Either head up to Barber Street to wait for the train to pass or take her usual short-cut through the pitch black, narrow tunnel under the rickety, old, wooden bridge and straight home. Addie was more scared to stop peddling than to put Sam’s ghost story to the test, so at the last moment she jerked her handle bars to the left, heard the scraping of rocks and bones, looked to her right and saw the glimmer of moonlight on a pair of ink black, beady eyes.
All that was ever found of Addie was her bike politely leaned against a wooden support beam next to her well-worn, purple Doc Martens neatly placed side by side on the ground. All that is known of her disappearance is there isn’t any witch under the Cleveland Avenue Bridge and, even still, you shouldn’t ride under it tonight.
By Donna Smith Fee
Along the wet sandy banks of muddy Trail Creek, there sits a lime green crooked shotgun house with a porch that affords a soft passage through the screened door. Those with an engineer’s brain will notice both sides lean in while the roof needs no plumb line to prove its backbone. By the time you realize the screened door does not make a noise when you slam it, your visit will be over and you won’t be able to find the green shotgun again.
No one can remember how they heard about her. Her name simply comes to you when your heart is broken. It starts as a voice slightly louder than the pathetic bullshit that stinks up your brain because the gut can’t handle the myth of dying alone. Her voice sends you to the porch along the creek. You might wander there during lunch or find yourself there at 2 a.m. without your car.
Once you hear her name, you can be sure that your broken heart and the seedy rage that its fissures inspire are true and real. Bring her a glass jar of Dukes mayonnaise, white chunky crumbs from a Jesus Biscuit on Boulevard, and a tiny bit of body debris from the person that hurt you. Earwax, semen, and menstrual blood are particularly potent. Fingernails and passwords can work as well. The latter of which are slowly becoming part of our DNA.
Her voodoo tomato seeds originated from the Aztecs in 700 AD. They contain visions and magic of loves lost and loves gained. Those loves are fluid and plural through the centuries which is why she will scoff at you if you say the word “soulmate.”
She will take what you bring her and grow deeply red, four-chambered heart-shaped tomatoes with vines like arteries holding your lover’s essence. They grow from sand dredged from the creek and dirt cultivated from the base of water oaks with their buttress roots. She seeds at dawn and by Venus’ twilight the next day, the fruits are ripe and pulsing.
The tomato fruits begin sweet like your lover’s voice but within one lunar cycle, the offending party will have haunting hallucinations. For example, if your lover supports MAGA, then the hallucinations will be of Trump leaving the White House in diapers and a binky and clear lines of demarcation from where the orange stops and the fleshy paste begins. Were you unwittingly serving as a paramour? Those hallucinations will be of constantly getting hit by an electric car because you can’t hear them coming. Those Aztecs did not fuck around.
She will make anything you want out of the voodoo tomatoes: Salsa, marinara, ketchup, pizza sauce, and enchilada sauce. Tell her where and she’ll deliver. If the offender loves the salsa at Aqua Linda, then next time they eat there, the hallucinations will begin. Ketchup at the Varsity? Easily done.
It’s all delicious and it’s all life-changing. Even for you. If you eat it on her porch, then you will hallucinate too. You will believe you are a badass, give-no-fucks ruler of your universe. Eventually the hallucinations turn into truths and your heart will be stronger and untouchable by bad tomatoes.
By Erin Lovett
Patrick and I were nursing hangovers at Hi-Lo brunch when I saw it. I had been somewhat mindlessly thumbing through facebook and almost scrolled right past. After all, the article was standard fare for Flagpole, something about adding more bike lanes around town. It was the comment section that caught my eye.
“Jesus,” I muttered. “The comments on this Flagpole article are so mean. What’s wrong with these people?”
“You’re in the Flagpole comment section? Get out of there while you still can,” he said in a jokingly-ominous tone.
His smile fell away as he saw my thumbs whirring out a response.
“Seriously, Erin,” he said, his face suddenly pale. “Don’t take the bait. That comment section is toxic.”
“Done,” I said, putting my phone away. “Let’s get out of here. I think I’m getting a headache.”
We were leaving Hi-Lo when I felt my phone vibrate: A new comment.
“What the hell?” I spat. “Their response is even worse than the original post.”
Patrick tried to grab the phone from me but I pulled away. The motion was surprisingly painful. Why were my arms so sore? My heart was racing, but I knew the familiar adrenaline rush that came with fighting strangers online for no reason. I brushed it off. Angrily, I shot off a snarky response and hit send before he could stop me.
I almost didn’t notice the smear across my screen as I stuffed the phone back in my pocket.
“Was that blood?” Patrick asked.
I held out my hand and gasped. The skin was raw and peeling like it had just been dipped in a vat of acid.
“I think it’s just a sunburn,” I said, trying to sound calm as I felt my phone vibrate again. Then a second time. Then a third.
“We should call an ambulance,” Patrick said, pulling out his phone.
“I’ll do it,” I said before he could argue.
I slid my hand into my back pocket and a wave of nausea threatened to knock me outâ€’my raw flesh against the denim gave way as easily as a wet receipt. Trembling, I barely managed to hold my thumb against the home key.
Try again, the screen read.
I looked down at my thumb and understood: There was certainly no longer a recognizable thumbprint, because there was no longer a recognizable thumb. Only bone and muscle remained, bits of it pulsing, straining with the effort of holding the phone. While inwardly my body was numb with shock, my skin radiated pain.
Patrick reached out to steady me as I stumbled backward and his hands seared the surface of my skin. As I pulled away, bits of flesh gave like raw dough, sticking to his palms.
“What are you doing?” he cried as I frantically tried jabbing out my passcode with a stub of an index finger. I had fallen sideways against the glass storefront of the hardware store. The face reflected back at me amongst the garden shears and little Radio Flyer wagons was unrecognizably mutilated.
Patrick was too scared to stop me as I finally managed to unlock my phone.
“What did they say?” he asked, a shaky hesitation in his voice.
“They blocked me,” I said.
Patrick breathed a sigh of relief and let out a laugh.
“And you thought I couldn’t handle it!” I said, smiling.
My laugh turned into a cough, a spittle of blood landing on the sidewalk between us.
“I should have drank less last night,” I muttered. “That shit is so toxic.”
By Adam Fiddler
I followed a pair of glowing eyes into the woods off MLK Parkway. I didn’t know what the eyes were attached to, just that they weren’t human. They started low to the earth, but once they saw me, they rose to a towering height. They turned slowly into the night, staring into the dense wood, and then back to me. They beckoned me. And I followed.
A drunken night hung in the air. Sticky sweat, stale whiskey, and a hint of lavender perfumed the night as I followed the creature. Or perhaps it followed me. The cheap whiskey and beer took its effect, and I slipped on the wet leaves. My hand reached out to grab hold of the nearest object, and my fingers slipped along the soft bark, tearing the middle and ring finger nail away.
The bright pain brought sobriety, and with it, wisdom. The eyes were gone. The creature had clambered away, and I was left alone with no sense of how to get back. A gurgling noise drew me further into the woods, and I found a small creek. With a my mind reeling, I drove my throbbing fingers into the cool water to relieve them. No relief was given, and I sat defeated in the water and wept. I laid back and submitted to my pain. I looked up to the stars and two bulbs appeared. The creature had returned in its soaring form, and the eyes crept down ever closer to my face as I lie there frozen in terror. Something wet and warm slid across my face. The creature was tasting my tears. The tongue found its way to my fingers and drank in my pain. The raw ends grew hot until I felt nothing. I was numb. It was healing me. The warmth crept up my hand and around my wrist, its grip tighter. It snaked up my arm, and with one fast pressure, it bit down, and we became one. My ears rang with an internal scream which it would not let escape my mouth. Where the creature moved, I moved with it. It guided my hands, my my fingers. It squeezed, and I squeezed. Blood flowed, leaving a black current in the creek, and I could feel its heat as it ran along my leg. Only I realized it was not my blood that was causing the heat, but the creeping tongue wrapping its way up my body. The scream escaped this time. I pleaded. I begged. I begged. Then I woke.
I lie in the bed of a truck in a deserted lot downtown, an empty bottle of whiskey next to me. I stumble out of the truck and walk home. When I get to MLK Boulevard, I look behind me to where the eyes had been. There are two yellow globes, and for a moment I panic, but they are only street lights. As I turn back around, my drunken feet tangle, and I lose my balance, plummeting my body into the dense wood. I fall until the earth flattens next to a creek bed. Emerging from the water, already rotting with watery decay, is the body of a girl I met the night before. Two bloody scratches run across the length of her body. Bruises around her neck. A souring lavender scent. Stars flash in my eyes, and a dull throb pulses from my fingertips. Looking down, I see white bandages around my middle and ring finger. I feel the pulse pounding against the binds, and I tear at them. I catch the end and begin to unravel.
What Happened at Five Points
By Joana Russell
Spanish moss always looks different at night. I hate the yellow glow of the street lamps against the silver ringlets, like the curls of a lost lover. A memory of her flashes sharply on the back of my eyelids, but I force it down. I have a bit more time.
It’s just cold enough to be uncomfortable, now that the sun has set. I don’t remember how long I’ve been sitting here. The rocking chair creaks beneath my weight, more for a charming effect than from age. Nothing she made ever broke. This house has stood through three hurricanes and a fire. Mary-Louise Dupree next door said it was a dark magic. I didn’t correct her.
I close my eyes and feel my chest begin to tighten. I don’t know why I thought it would be easier as the time drew nearer. I was wrong. The clock tower is visible on the other side of the criss-cross of paved roads and power lines. She always spoke of how she hated the face of that clock, round and bright. Competing with the moon, she would say. Things haven’t changed much, I suppose. I try to really look around, at the details of things I’ve seen every day for so long, but it fades into a hazy familiarity, the past blurring into the present, indistinguishable.
The clock tower saw what happened that night. It heard her final request. It heard me agree.
I look down at the glint of the blade in my lap. It still smells like her. I shift my legs and feel the edge of the blade press against my thigh, not quite enough to draw blood. Would she know if I didn’t do it? Can she see me? The light on the clock face flickers. Or was it my eyes? Either way, I know she’s here and I feel the bumps on my skin rise in waves. The next minute strikes and I have two minutes left.
I spent my life paying for the sin I’m about to commit. I tried to be kind. I treated people around me with respect. I paid my bills on time. I recycled my milk jugs and fed Mary-Louise’s cat when she visited her son in Amsterdam.
She didn’t like Mary-Louise. But then, she didn’t like most things. She wasn’t exactly unfriendly, just odd. She loved wood-working and pearls… And me. More than anything, she would say. And I loved her back.
Is my love for her worth the taking of an innocent life? If she truly loved me, would she have asked me to do it? One minute now. I feel a silent prayer on my lips, the words long since memorized. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…
Leaves skitter past and my chimes rattle, but there is no wind. She’s here. Her eyes are in the clock tower, the bluish green glow. Her breath rolls along the ground, up my spine. I expect my heart to race, but I feel the world around me begin to slow. 30 seconds and blood pulses in my ears. I tell myself I can still back out, but I feel my fingers tighten around the hilt. I am not shaking, and I realize I never truly had a choice. All at once, something like a wail of fear and regret and mourning erupts from my throat and I feel the pin-prick tip press against the skin of my chest.
When the Sun Went Dark
By Adam Wynn
When the Sun went dark, we had lights for a short while longer. Electricity buzzed downtown a few more weeks, cities pretended the day would come again, and we acted like it was normal.
I lost contact with family not long after. Scattered towns all seemed to go dark before we did. When Athens first went dark, there were flashlights. And there were things that moved just beyond their reach.
Wandering Athens’ uneven streets in the dark is dangerous. At first, we met with strangers who traveled and scrounged like we did, the four of us who decided to make a go of it when the last lamp post blinked off. We hadn’t seen another group for many days, but we kept hearing something else. A scratching, slapping sound in the deep beyond the glow of hope. Screaming.
A week ago I tripped and broke my glasses. I had misjudged a step down an obscured flight of stairs, hearing the crinkling, crunching of glass underfoot a few steps later. My eyes have been useless ever since. All I can see are shadows when I have the luxury. Blurs and flashbulbs blinking out before me.
I lost the last of my companions a day ago. He abandoned me here, knowing I could neither search for him nor leave this spot without him. I had become dead weight to them since losing my glasses. Someone always had to wear a rope tied to my waist, someone always had to keep a hand on my shoulder. They were done with me, I suppose, long before. They just let Brandon lead me off alone where they wouldn’t hear my final breaths.
I am so hungry. I cannot see to grab my food. But it isn’t hunger that will kill me.
I dream of light. I dream of the sun. I dream of the days when my fears of the dark were simple paranoia, brought on by what my instinct insisted must be there. My throat is choking, closing up so my breaths will be soft. Unheard. Perhaps they will pass me by.
The last battery in my torch faded out a couple hours ago, leaving me hopeless and fully blind in this unseen place. My final home.
The screams slip closer and closer. I think one sounds familiar, coming from the direction that Brandon’s footsteps trailed off towards. Each truncated blast of agony tells me that they have found another. The reduced echo tells me that they are closer.
Nothing can be seen. Nothing is there to be seen. All is gone.
Except for my hearing. And them. God, how I wish it were one or the other. I hear them slumping along, sniffing for me. Their wretched gurgling tells me they know I am near.
I cannot move. I will not move. Each sound I make betrays my presence. Each little scuff of shoes on the frigid concrete is the remnant of my broken legacy.
There are more of them now than there were at first. All across the town, echoing through every hall of the steel and concrete catacombs we will leave behind, I hear the abyssal chuffing from their insatiable gullets. Can they somehow be more horrible than the shape I imagine groping me just on the edge of my minuscule periphery? Slurping movements on asphalt grow near, and I eagerly await the last touch my skin will know.
Where my eyes have failed, my ears still curse me. When they come for me, I pray that my ears are the first thing they take.
Who’s That Coming Down the Tracks
By Dustin Collier
Dogs. Dogs barking everywhere. I could hear them all around me as I hurried for my lunch in the heart of downtown Athens. There was something about the sound, I can hear them well enough to know there’s lots nearby, though just of sight. During fall in Athens you often hear the cult like chant between strangers “calling the dawgs.” This was different, more ominous but just as confusing. Was it coyotes or wolves or both? Did the dogs know something we didn’t? Was it a warning? Were they the harbinger of danger? The reports of a murderer on the loose set a very eerie tone for the sleepy summer version of Athens. I walked past The Globe, my favorite place to journal and was comforted by the memories I had made there. Something about the coolness of the leather chairs on a hot summer day like today relaxed me. I had always kept a journal, I’d die without it.
I made my way up Clayton for a sub at the Lay-Z Shopper. When I began to hear the rumors of more body parts being found in the downtown area. Some in alleys, others arranged on the grassy beds of North Campus. Was it a hoax? A cult? Sirens grew louder. We were suddenly ordered out of the building and away from downtown. This whole area was now an active police investigation zone. Tape and barricades materialized all around. The hysteria now at a fever pitch. Have more bodies been found? Was there a person of interest in the area? I ran home so fast under the rush of primal fear that I forgot about my backpack, my journal buried inside. Now there’s a curfew at sundown and I had less than an hour to walk, or run, up Lumpkin to my car and back before blackness swallowed me. I had so much in my mind that I needed to write, and the dogs incessant barking made my thinking unclear. I knew despite the warnings of the local news, I needed to make the trek. I had always kept a journal, I’d die without it.
I set out from the hollow safety of my apartment. Running fast as to get this foolish rescue mission completed with only minimal exposure in the dark. The chorus of canines seem to follow me but despite the disorienting effect, I found comfort in their familiarity. Local punk band Shehehe adorned the cover of the Flagpole, which several copies now lay scattered across the street. Each one bearing their signature skulls and pentagrams. Reminding me of the rumor I heard earlier. I paused to catch my breath in an alley around the corner from my car. Knowing this was the last leg of my journey, I needed all my wits before the final act. At least the dogs had stopped barking and I could finally think clearly. Until I noticed in the back of the alley, flood lights, perfectly illuminating a backpack. The rumors were all true. My bag sat open, journal on top. I knew then, I was the pig ushered head first towards slaughter. Suddenly, a shuffle behind the dumpster. A tall figure dressed in a hooded robe stepped in the light blocking my only way out. His face covered by a large mouthpiece like a World War 1 era gas-mask. He let out a moan, and as the sound grew and echoed, it became the distant and all-encompassing sound of coyotes or wolves or both. My heart sank, my breath left me, and my legs shook. The dizzying effect of the contraption at close range made me at once fall to the vomit stained alley floor. Before he and his tools fell upon me, I thought of only one item to clutch for comfort. But I knew even before I turned, that it was out of reach. I had always kept a journal, I’d die without it.
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