The hyenas came for my mother when I was ten years old. They took her in the middle of the night and gobbled up her eyes. When they dragged her carcass back the next morning, her dark, empty sockets swallowed up our lives.
On mother’s good days, we watched her fly above the earth and bounce around the planets. My sisters and I were never able join her for we were tethered by the ropes of reality. All we could do was watch her play with the moon and hope that she would find her way home.
On other days – the black days – she would lie at the bottom of the ocean, staring at unfathomable things with her black-hole eyes. The silence of her depths terrified us,
“Mummy,” we cried, “Mummy, swim upwards towards the light!”
But our mouths just filled with water and she let us drown a thousand times.
The intensity of her light spilled through the holes in her mind, blinding us all. We tried so hard to plug up the gaps but eventually she just emptied out. She was a paper woman, unable to fend off the blasted tempest that finally took her from us.
When the world and my sisters are sleeping, I hear the hyenas cackle. I look through the window and I see their bone-white teeth shining in the darkness. I know that one night they will come for me but, unlike my mother, I will be ready. I pluck out my eyes and, in the creeping darkness, I see everything.
Published in FormerCactus magazine 2017 and one of the winners of BR-Lit flash competition
by Donna L Greenwood
Lights out and the creeping starts. She pulls the sheets over her head as the air begins to whisper its insanities. From an unseen corner the wolf growls and she hears the clickety clack of its claws as it circles the room. In the middle of the night its mouth can widen and swallow you up in one gulp. Ask Grandma, her bones talk. At the end of her bed, the goblins are yacking in a low dark tone. Their bone white eyes shine in the murk as they look for her. Their tongues loll with appetite.
She stills her breath, trying not to alert them to her presence. Under the sheets, the witch sleeps beside her; crooked hands are entwined with the child’s hair and a hairy knee rests on her thigh. The child lies as still as death but she is not afraid, for this child is a child of the times and she knows about monsters. She closes her eyes and feels for her weapon, careful not to disturb the gnarly skin bag by her side.
Down her chimney climbs Blue with his sooty beard and bag full of bloody heads. She knows he comes for her family tonight and her hands tighten around Mama’s scissors. She must be brave; cry-babies die in the dark so she stifles her fear lest they smell it. Familiar with fighting for her life, she acts quickly – snip snap – she cuts off the witch’s tongue, rendering her filthy spells useless. Now she is just an old woman whom the child bucks off and pushes out of bed.
Next – stab stab – she pops out the goblins’ eyes; they writhe in pain and, like salted slugs, dissolve into muck.
Blue stands behind her. She falls to the ground and tumbles backwards through his legs. She has the advantage now. When he turns, a sickening smile tearing through his skin, she holds the scissors steadily in her hands and points them towards his belly. He raises his murderous axe ready to claim his prize but years of easy terrorising have made him fat. And slow. The child is quicker; she lurches forward and stabs the scissors into the monster’s gut. Streams of intestines splatter to the ground and Blue follows them, a puzzled, cheated look fastened to his face.
A growl behind her and claws rake her back. Even now she makes no noise though hot pain rips through her skin causing tears to erupt in her eyes. She falls to the ground and the wolf pounces. Its breath is warm and salty on her face. She brings the scissors up and through the jaws of the beast. It falls and joins its blue-bearded cousin on the floor.
Lights on and Mama appears.
It’s late. Go back to bed.
The child obeys. The lights go out.
Mama and Papa are safe for one more night. Beneath her sheets once more, the child licks her scissors like ice-cream.
People spoke of the witch in hurried whispers as though their words were spies all too willing to betray them. Snatches of their gossip were woven into the wind and carelessly dropped by her ears. Of course, she paid them no heed because, but for want of a friend, the witch was happy. The years had yawned a hole in her memory and she was no longer sure who she was but she knew that her cat’s name was Hecate and she remembered to water and feed her tomatoes most days. Best of all, she still had one good eye with which to watch the rising of the sun each day. She felt blessed and so the hard words of her neighbours did not take root in the softness of her heart.
One day, as often happens in these tales, a brave child walked past this garden that grew wild with tomatoes. They looked so juicy and so ripe that the child could not help himself; he hopped over the fence and plucked one from its vine.
The witch was sitting on her porch when she spied the small child with her one working eye. As quick as a snip-snap, she ran across her garden and yelled – for her ears were not what they used to be – Don’t eat the ones by the roadside, come and take one of the juicier ones further in.
Now this child had heard the tales carried by the wind and one look at this crooked crone with her sawn-up eye sent him running, all mouth and tears, to a neighbour’s house. And the adults knew by his screams that there were far worse enemies of innocence than witches.
This is the prologue to a future novel entitled ‘Blood’ written by Candise Mitton and Donna L Greenwood, under the pseudonym ‘Donna Candy’.
Breathe out. She forces herself to concentrate on each breath. In. Out. She is lying on a hard floor; her eyes are closed. All around her is motion whilst she is stasis. In her hands she holds a part of herself that should be in her stomach. The mass feels hot and slippery and she knows that she must keep pressing it back inside the hole in her abdomen or she will die. Why is she here? A few moments ago she’d been drinking cocktails, but now the smell of tequila has mingled with a metallic, faecal stench. The sound of screaming has diminished to a silver shrill; the noise of her own breath supersedes all else. In. Out. A single thought is circling her mind. Tommy. Tommy had been drinking Margaritas with her when the fireworks started – no, not fireworks, gunshots. She concentrates on controlling her breathing. In. Out. In. Out. She must open her eyes. She must find Tommy. Her eyelids flicker open and she stares at the flashing red sign of Bunnies nightclub. All around her, the panicked survivors are twisting a lunatic dance, strobing in and out of existence. In. Out. With a trance-like slowness, she turns her head and sees Tommy lying on the floor next to her. His head has opened up and he is lying in a red shallow pool. His eyes are black and filled with blood. She stares into the ragged hole blasted into the forehead of her husband of one day.
All I see is blood. It spills upon me tender but fulsome, splattering eyelids, cheeks and mouth. I taste it and I know her. I feel it slick between my hands, between my legs and I feel her. I breathe her in and drink up her incarnadine love and I regret nothing.
The first time I saw her she was behind bars. I was the special guest at the opening of ‘The Spirit of the Panther’ compound at Bowland Zoological Gardens. I was the person who cut the ribbon and then smiled graciously before making a quick getaway. However, before I left, I saw her, skulking behind the freshly planted foliage of her enclosure. After a fleeting glimpse of her black sinews twisting in the dying sunlight, I was bewitched. Money can buy you anything you desire. And I desired her.
After I’d paid out a ridiculous amount of cash to various people, both official and unofficial, she was mine. I could provide her with more than the zoo ever could. My house is surrounded by more than 10 000 acres of forest and, with an electric fence here and security camera there, I could give her the full run of the place.
I paid people to keep her happy, to clean her bedding, to keep her living areas filled with exotic greenery, to check her teeth and claws, but I was the one who fed her. I was the one who watched her tear apart the fresh carcasses and snuffle in the ribcages of her food. I smiled to see the blood run down her black fur, to see her lick away the little morsels of flesh stuck in between her incisors. After she had eaten, she would lie down under the shade of a large oak tree and sleep. Whilst she was sleeping, I liked to open the gate of the enclosing fence and walk towards her. Each day I got closer to her until one night, after I’d watched her for three long hours, she rolled over so that her back was facing me. I crept towards her. I knelt down quietly and lay beside her. Not quite touching her, but facing her back. I admired her strong limbs as they stretched out into the night. I knew then that I loved her. And I knew in my old heart what it was I most desired.
It would take some planning. Not many people would understand my desire, let alone enable it, so this was something that I needed to do alone. I set my plan in motion. First, I began to talk to her as I fed her. I wanted her to get used to the sound of my voice. I wanted her to associate my voice with pleasure. Secondly, I changed her food. The shoulders of goat and legs of lamb had been sufficient to keep her from being hungry, but I wanted her to enjoy her food. I wanted her to remember what it was like to draw blood and feel its fresh warmth spurt into her mouth.
The first time I watched her bring down a young goat and rip open its throat, I felt myself salivate. I could almost taste the tender, bloody flesh. As she tore the kid to pieces, I spoke to her, ‘That’s right, my love, rip it up, tear it up, feel its life gush down your throat.’ After her first live meal she looked up at me, her green eyes flashing a secret message of gratitude as she licked her lips.
The next meal was a calf. It was more difficult for her this time, she had to run faster and work harder. The calf kicked and did not go down easily, but go down it did. This time I moved out of my observation post and moved into her enclosure. I got as near as I dared, so near I could hear her teeth tearing into the muscles of the still moaning calf. My heart was racing, I moved a little closer. She picked up the calf by its neck and shook the remaining life out of it. I was splattered with its blood. I licked my lips and tasted the salty redness that splashed there. In all my sixty five years, I had never experienced a purer moment of bliss.
It has been over four weeks now and she knows me well enough to let me sit by her whilst she feasts. She knows that I love the blood, so she is especially vigorous when shaking her prey. Most nights I go home drenched in gore. Tonight will be different; tonight is the night when I will finally fulfil my desire. I take a look in the mirror in my bedroom. I look well for a man in his sixties and there is a special light in my eyes. I am naked but when I walk out of my expensive home, I know the servants will look the other way. I know that nobody will stop me because I am a wealthy and powerful man.
Tonight I will enter her enclosure and I will walk towards her with my arms open wide. I will kneel before her, close my eyes in supplication and I will wait for the blood to come.
For tonight my beautiful creature will have a much richer dish to feast upon.
The Walrus is snuffling in my ear and I am freaking out. I need to get out of here. I want to lift my prone body off the bed and make like a tree and leave. Except the goddamned cobwebs are twisting spinny-like around my ankles, and my arms appear to have turned into mangos. No, not mangos – I’m not insane – pineapples. The Walrus is trying to speak to me; its words are fluttering in the air around my head. I lift my pineapple arm and grasp one. With a quick snip-snap, I gobble it up and then instantly regret my foolish spontaneity. It was a lie and lies taste like metal and shit. Why would the Walrus lie to me? I vomit up the lie and it slithers under the bed.
The Walrus looks suitably ashamed and pulls a string of shiny truths from its gaping maw. The brightness of these little truth jewels blinds me for a moment. And then I see. The jewels are angels and they fly around, luminous in this liminal world of bedtime talk. But these angels of the Walrus have teeth and they fly into my face and nibble at my eyes and ears. Their teeth are small but they draw blood. I flap them away with my clunky fruits which are useless against the angels’ sprite-like agility. Their gnawing is unbearable and I plead with the Walrus to stop. It relents and the bedroom darkens as it eats up its sheeny-shiny angels one by one.
I turn my back on the Walrus and reach under the bed. I grab the lie and swallow it whole. It doesn’t taste too bad second time around.
No one can stop him tonight – not on his wedding night.
By Donna L Greenwood
The bride runs down the street, her wedding train glistening under the mad glare of the moon. She stumbles forward, trying not to fall or cut her feet on the hard, cold stones. Her mouth and eyes are wide with terror but another emotion is fastened to her face – anger. The bride knows she will find no sanctuary in this place – though curtains twitch and candles flicker – nobody will open their doors for her tonight.
He glides behind her – all polish and poise. His pale and delicate hands gesticulate in the night, conducting an orchestra only he can see. The Groom does not hurry for he knows his bride has nowhere to hide. He waves royally at the dark windows and smiles when huddled figures duck out of sight. No one can stop him tonight – not on his wedding night – it is his right to pursue what has been bound to him by the laws of God and man.
“Please!” screams the bride at the faceless houses, “For God’s sake, somebody help me!” A soft and distant echo of her own despair is the only answer to her plea.
Finally her strength bleeds out and she falls down defeated in the street. The Groom is upon her like lichen. He presses his face close to hers and he gulps down her breath and he licks off her skin and he drinks in her sweat and tears. He burrows inside her and he devours and devours until there is nothing left but bones and a blood-wet wedding dress.
As the early morning sun laces its insipid yellow fingers around the street, the townsfolk find a single red rose lying in the gutter where the bride’s body had been.
It isn’t long before some foolish girl, with dreams of romance in her heart, skips by and claims the red rose for her very own.