Sitting in the meeting room staring out the window as someone droned on about deadlines, goals, and new branding Jake watched vultures circling above the office building halfway down the block.  As he watched their lazy circles, dark against the blue sky, a buzzing began in his left ear.  The meeting came to an end and walking back to his cubicle, the buzz became an annoying hum in both ears.  He asked a co-worker, “Do you hear that?”
“I don’t know, like  strange buzz or hum?”


For days Jake’s ears kept buzzing.  He thought he’d go crazy if it didn’t stop.  The doctor said there was nothing wrong, his hearing was fine, no sign of infection or other problems.  Riding his bike, commuting to and from work, he’d see the buzzards, too.  Circling over various buildings throughout the city and he started wondering if they were related to the buzzing in his ear.  He thought, maybe they’re the first signs of my psychotic break.  Wearing headphones covered the buzz a bit but he couldn’t avoid seeing all the buzzards.  No one else seemed to care, or notice, but Jake noticed there were more every day.  How did no one else notice?  They looked ready to consume the city.

On the corner near his home, he noticed a flyer taped to the light pole.  It said: If you notice them, too, hear the sound, send self-addressed postage page padded envelope.  The pull tag had the address listed.  Out of curiosity, Jake ripped a tag and stuck it in his pocket.  He stopped at the post office on the way home and sent an envelope, as requested, to the address.



A few days later, Jake opened the envelope carefully.  Inside was a thin blue vial, no longer than two inches, with a glass stopper.  The note read:

Do not drink until exactly nine minutes after midnight on September 9th, then turn over and read further instructions.  If you drink earlier or later or on a different date you must request another vial explaining why you did not drink at the exact time as instructed.  Upon review of request a new vial may be sent.

When he turned over the note it was blank.  He peered inside the envelope looking for another piece of paper but there was nothing else.  He was tempted to taste the contents of the vial but wasn’t sure that would constitute “drinking before 12:09 a.m.” or in some way invalidate the instructions so he waited.

At exactly nine minutes after midnight he pried the stopper, which gave a little pop, and drank the viscous, bitter fluid inside.  He didn’t feel anything and waited a moment expecting something to happen but nothing did.  He was pissed and turned the page over expecting it to be blank, feeling foolish.  To his surprise, in glowing bright green handwriting were further instructions.  It detailed exactly how he should walk from his apartment to the final destination ending with when destination reached you will know what to do next.

Reading over the directions before heading out he wondered why it gave such a circuitous route.  There was a much more direct route but he didn’t want to take a chance and did as instructed.  When he stepped out to the street he noticed a strange faint magenta light close to the ground leading the way.  The light was so faint he wasn’t sure he actually saw what he did.  It reminded him of the traces left on the back of his eyelids when he closed them after staring at the computer screen in the dark.

Finally, after twenty minutes weaving through the city streets, he reached the underpass of the pedestrian bridge with an old stone troll underneath.  He’d seen this same stone troll many times but now he looked larger, as if crushed under the bridge, and its arms were pushing up, it’s eyes blinking.  He stepped back nervously wondering what exactly was in that vial.  As he studied the troll he noticed a shimmering ray of light near a large stone pressed against his armpit and when he stepped closer to inspect it he had a strange taste of purple.  He didn’t know purple had a taste but that was all he thought, I taste purple.

He reached out to touch the shimmering ray and the stone boulder shifted.  There was just enough space for him to squeeze in.  He had to duck his head and he felt the walls pressed against his shoulders but there was a set of stairs leading upwards and as he climbed the space widened.  It was dark and he carefully felt for the next step with his foot.  He finally reached the top which opened to a room that looked carved into a giant stone boulder, with rounded ceiling and walls.

Various strange looking dried herbs and plants hung from wooden poles drilled into the stone.  He saw familiar dead animals hanging as well.  There were a couple of rabbits, a duck and squirrel, but there were other strange creatures he’d never seen before.  Creatures with oddly colored fur and strange hoofs or horns curling from their heads down along the length of their bodies.  Along the back wall was a shelf filled with jars and vials of all sizes.  He saw similar vials to the one he drank earlier and jars filled with unidentifiable things floating in strange liquids.  There was a jar filled with tiny slender bones that looked like finger bones and a jar with a large spider attempting to escape.

In the center was a round wooden table with a tiny woman sitting hunched over tracing blue powder with a black stick creating intricate patterns.   On the outer edges of the blue powder design were black candles, all the exact same length and width, burning blue flames.  The woman looked up, “Jake, little sick boy, about time you stopped believing all the lies they’ve made you swallow every morning.”  He didn’t know what she meant, “who are you?”
“You sought me out.”
“I wrote to an address on a flyer.  I thought it led to some party or something, it was vague.”
“You found what you needed.”

He was ready to leave this strange place and this strange woman but she had mesmerizing gray eyes.  They were silver-gray with a black ring around the iris and when she spoke the black ring bled down into the silver-gray and swirled like ink.  She was petite with delicate bones and looked fragile.  She bent over the table again, struck a long match, and gently blew across the flame.  It flared bright blue and struck the powder on the table causing the room to fill with the scent of fresh rain.  Above her head smoke circled, rising until it touched the stone, then popped into brilliant sparkling light like a firework.

When he looked down again, the blue powder appeared untouched and in the center was a clear crystal that glowed the same silver gray as her eyes.  The silver gray light inside the crystal pulsed like a heartbeat and he stepped closer.  “It is yours Jake,” she said so softly he wasn’t sure she actually spoke.  “It will rain for nine days then you will be clean.  Do not trust the vultures who want to pick your mind apart until you no longer think for yourself.  Nine days, at 9:09 a.m. and you will be free.”

He picked up the crystal expecting it to be cool but it was warm.  It pulsed brighter at his touch and he felt a pleasant vibration.  As he walked home holding the crystal, the vibration felt stronger, caressing up his arm and over his back.  When he slept he dreamed of water flowing and boulders walking the streets, of strange little witch women with gray eyes hanging in gibbets as vultures plucked their eyes.  In the morning he felt restless and calm.  The crystal sat on the coffee table pulsing softly.

Nine days later and 9:09 a.m. he was heading to the pharmacy when the rains stopped.  He felt his mind open and saw not only the sky but the universe beyond.  All the people rushing the through the streets, morning traffic crawling along the roads, the people in the gym windows running to nowhere on treadmills all seemed like the strange creatures in the jars at the little witch’s hollow.  The sky suddenly darkened as thousands of vultures descended, people scattering, screaming and he thought about her warning, do not trust the vultures but they paid him no mind.

At 9:18 a.m. he stood horrified on the street surrounded by bodies, torn apart by the vultures, blood running into the gutters, staining his shoes.  The vultures plucked their eyes out making strange crww sounds as if delighted by their meals.  He ran heading back to the underpass where the stone troll sat and the vultures all took flight.  He heard their wings beating overhead, felt a wingtip graze his arm, and his heart beating in his throat.  When he reached the troll there was no shimmering light, no boulder by its arm, and Jake didn’t know how to find the little witch, didn’t know what she did to him.

9:37 a.m. he sat panting on his sofa holding the pulsing crystal as if it would give him answers.  The vultures preened in the trees outside his window, sitting along the roof of the buildings all along his street, and he felt as if they were watching, waiting for him.  He stood up, angry, and threw the crystal across the room, smashing it against the wall and shattering it into tiny pieces.  The vultures took flight again and Jake collapsed.

Another nine days later at 9:09 a.m. Jake sat in the hospital as a nurse with gray eyes readied to give him a shot.  She held up a small vial filling the syringe with a strange viscous solution and telling him, “don’t worry, this will make you right as rain again.”


Photo Credit: George

Photo Credit: George

She walked among the dead with soft footsteps.  The moon shone bright, half swollen, with white petals blown from dogwoods fluttering in the breeze like her white gown.  She reached up to unpin her hair.

Death watched her soft steps along dew wet grass and resisted the urge to touch the black strands falling loose over her shoulders.

The dead souls parted, invisible hands reaching to touch her as she passed, singing with delight in her wake.  Her eyes, soft focused, reveled in the dancing lights surrounding her, her ears pricking with a song coming from an other-worldly realm.  When she began humming the tune, the dead smiled.

She reached the top of a small hill, under an old, gnarled crab apple tree, and lowered slowly to her knees.  She placed the palms of her hands flat against the earth to feel its pulse.  Her senses filled with the smells of flowers, and wet grass, and distant rain; she felt the earth pulse with death’s footsteps; she heard the voices of the dead; she saw the stars bright and muted colors illuminated by the swollen half-moon.  Her tongue expected to taste the saltiness of tears.

“Owl.”  She felt his breath whisper her name against the back of her neck.


She turned to face him, his hooded robe still covering his face, as he dropped his scythe.  It clattered to the ground when he reached out to touch her dark hair and a raven called from a tree branch above.  In the moonlight his bony fingers filled with muscle and flesh before entwining her hair.  She lowered his hood to look into his blue eyes and kissed the salty tears streaking his cheeks.

“Don’t cry Cillian, I’m here.”

“Only for tonight.”

“Always,” she whispered.  The dead began fading, stepping into shadows, falling silent among the grass petals, and the raven flew up towards the moon.  Wherever her hands reached, his flesh filled out, so all she felt was warmth.  His arms enveloped her, pulling her close, pressing her warm body against his.

She leaned back long enough to pull her dress over her head.  He kissed her collar-bone, kneading her breasts, and pushed her down on the grass.  Under the crab apple tree and moon they made love.  Slow as if time wasn’t counting the seconds before his flesh vanished and the dead returned.  As the moon arced the sky, edging closer to the horizon, she felt the familiar itch of pin feathers along her arms.

Cillian held her tighter, “Please.”  His pleas useless, knowing once the moon dropped, Owl would fly to the tree branches above.  His only solace was her cries in the night, signaling another death, until their next dalliance.  Until the next night when the curse separating them lifted, he would collect the souls and teach them to sing love songs to her from beyond the grave.


Photo Credit: Unknown

Photo Credit: Unknown

“Death, the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose pity and whose peace and whose refuge are for all — the soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved.” ~~ Mark Twain


He laid on his stomach, head on his hands, naked. She straddled his waist using his ass as a cushion, knees bent, naked.

In one hand she held an inkwell filled with deep indigo blue ink and in the other a feather quill with a gold nib.
Her hair cascaded down over her shoulders with rippling waves down her back. He felt the spring of her pubic hairs against his flesh.

“What should I write?”
“Whatever you feel.”
“No, that’s too dark. You tell me the story.”
“No, I want your words.”
“I can’t do it then.”

He felt the bed shift with her weight as she leaned over to put the ink and quill back on the nightstand.

“Yes you can. It doesn’t matter what you write, just write from your soul.”
“That’s even worse. No, definitely can’t.”

He sighed. She bent forward, he felt her hair caressing his back and light kisses over his shoulders. He didn’t move.

“You’re mad.”
“Not mad.”
“Annoyed then.”
“Frustrated. I want your words, it’s simple. What are you afraid of? I have your body.”

She sat back. He still didn’t move, only closed his eyes, feeling her breathing. A few heartbeats later, the bed shifted again. She leaned over to take up the quill and ink once more. She started slowly, tentatively, at his upper left shoulder, writing across his back to the other shoulder. He felt the quill, the nib a little rough, dragging across his skin. It was pleasurable, an odd sensation, the ink feeling like blood and the nib needle-like. As she fell into her thoughts, dragging the nib against his flesh, dipping the quill more often than for paper, her pace picked up. By the time she reached his mid-back her writing was frantic. He smiled.

He remained quiet, passive, allowing her to manipulate his body as she required. Quickly writing down his back and over his ass. She spread his legs so she could write on the inside of his thighs. The sensation of her touch, the intensity of her silence pouring thoughts through her ink onto his skin, her breath quickening as emotions crescendo within her, aroused him. If she noticed she made no effort to acknowledge his need.

When she reached the soles of his feet she began blowing across his skin like trying to cool a bowl of soup. She wanted to make sure the ink was dry before turning him over. He waited motionless until he felt one of her hands gently push at his hip, then he rolled over to his back. She began in reverse, starting at his feet, teasingly sitting on his stomach, his hard-on now aching. He resisted the urge to grab her ass or touch her in any way. Forcing himself to be content with the vision of her bent forward, hair, breath, ink and quill mingling across his skin as she worked her way around the rest of his body. He pressed his head back against the pillow, the agony becoming almost unbearable, when she reached his hips. She held his cock, not stroking it or licking it despite his mind willing her too, but holding it steady to write.

He thought he would explode with the unexpected as she continued to scrawl words around his cock, balls, over his hips and finally working his abdomen. She backed up, rising up, her pussy tantalizing near his face, and her scent made him dizzy. A moan escaped his lips. He closed his eyes. Remaining still becoming a heady, excruciating test of self-control.


She stood up, shy but proud of her creation.  He stood before the mirror, his skin stained blue, words gently cascading in swirls from her touch.  He touched her face.  She stood shivering, tears threatening to spill from her eyes.  Pouring her words across his flesh left her emotions roiling inside, the darkness coming alive, clawing its way up, choking her throat, spilling its tarry blackness through every internal crevice.  He watched her green eyes darken and took pleasure from her internal pain.  He owned her body, easily, taking it when he pleased, she gave it away without resistance.  Her soul, her inner self, her mind and emotions, however, she protected fiercely and forcing her to spill her words across his flesh opened the well within her.  Watching her struggle with the sorrow that danced inside, seeing her attempt to remain standing, to not fall to her knees, fulfilled a gluttonous desire.

He waited, wiping the tear that finally fell with his thumb, watching her crumble, slowly.  Her arms wrapped around herself like a child trying to self-comfort.  Her body trembling.  Silent tears and the struggle to keep the black dog from shredding her core apart.  He waited until she finally fell to her knees, sobbing, shaking uncontrollably, her strength finally breaking under the strain.  Her madness burst forth and he listened to her sobbing, drinking in her keening cries.  She began rocking herself and his self-control ended.  He kissed her breasts, licking her tears, made love to her there on the floor, in front of the mirror.  He felt her clinging, her tears dripping down his back mixing with her words causing blue streaks, and with each sob he felt blissful release.

Her breathing became ragged, gasping, feeding his arousal more than her moist pussy or stiff nipples.  He became rabid, insatiable, and she scratched his back creating a kaleidoscope of ink, tears and blood.  With each thrust she released more darkness, flowing out of her, smoke-filled intensity.  He tasted the salt on her cheeks, she clutched him tight, their chests pressed together and heaving, becoming like feral animals.  She keened.  He moaned.  When she felt like she was splitting open, her skin splitting like a cicada breaking free from its cocoon, she stiffened, holding her breath; he shattered with release and she breathed again.  Her mind spiraled into silence.

“Thanatos, when will you finally kill me?”
“Never, my love, without you I am nothing but a shadow on the edge of life.”


Photo Credit: Unknown

Photo Credit: Unknown

Her skin felt sticky with dried blood.  Her hip hurt.  Her vision blurred along the edges.  The quick, and rough, implant of her tracker left her dazed. She heard the judge speaking but her comprehension remained fuzzy.

“You are sentenced to runner.”

Runner.  Her thoughts slowly coalesced around the word.  Runner.  Her incision itched.  She is now a runner.  They opened the large walnut doors leading to the open courtyard and the birds preening in the barren trees stopped to watch her stand, confused, in the doorway.  On the other side of the courtyard the wrought iron gates swung open.  Someone shoved her shoulder.


She looked back hoping to understand, to find a familiar face, but stumbled farther as another shove across her back launched her across the threshold.  She felt unsteady.



She blinked trying to focus.  She felt a hard surface beneath her.  She heard muffled talking.  She smelled wood burning and heard a teapot whistle distantly.  Her stomach grumbled and she vaguely made out a slim figure in a black jacket with white shirt hanging loose over black pants.  She closed her eyes, rolled her head, opened again trying to gain focus and heard a voice say, I think she’s waking.

The familiar panic fluttered in her gut and she tried to swing her legs over and stand but she didn’t have the strength.  She felt a hand gently push her shoulder back.  “Don’t move.”

She struggled feebly, trying to get up, trying to focus, trying to gather thoughts enough to figure out where she was, what was happening, but in the end her head remained heavy against the cushion.  She felt a little unsteady while she dreamed of snow falling while being wrapped in a blanket of ice.

Everything remained unfamiliar.  The room warmed by wood burning in a large fireplace smelled inviting yet her mind raced to focus on escape.  Her hip ached.  Her legs felt rubbery.  Her thoughts swam and she desperately tried to hold on to something to steady herself.  The figure dressed in black with white shirt walked towards her.

He squat down to make eye contact with her while her pupils desperately tried to focus.  She wanted to grasp her surroundings, to understand what happened, where she was, who this man was, but she kept falling.  She felt drunk.  Unsteady.

Blue eyes stared at her.  Dark hair, day old stubble, black jacket.  She held onto these details hoping to lock her awareness onto something.  Smoky, soft voice.  Dark lashes.  Indigo eyes.  Short black hair.  White shirt.  Black jacket and white shirt repeated in her vision and mind.  A scent of cherry pipe tobacco filled her nostrils.  Pale skin, amber voice, vanilla touch.  She rolled her head trying to shake clarity back.  Her hip continued to throb.

“Relax.  You’re safe.” 

She struggled against the comforting words in distrust.  Desperately she fought the madness to remain still, to remain complacent.  Her vision remained devoid of color and focus.


Photo Credit: Nasser Osman

Photo Credit: Nasser Osman

A tall lone ash tree stood in the valley equidistant between the east and west mountains. No other trees or bush of any kind except for this lone ash tree and its shadow to eclipse the valley. Forks of red lightning splintered the indigo black sky, otherwise clear, as thunder rolled down the hillsides as if filling the valley solely to strengthen the ash tree. A woman walked towards the ash, across the valley from the north, with arms raised as if summoning the lightning herself.

She walked unhurriedly and when she stood under the ash, and the lightning struck once more, a dark cloud of ravens burst from every branch, cawing to each other. Rain finally fell, as if called by the ravens, even though visible stars still sprinkled the sky. The woman leaned against the ash, watching the lightning dance across the sky, and waited for the rains to fill the valley. As the rains dropped like big fat tears she felt the wind rise, first in gentle breezes then quickly swirling into gales strong enough to snap the strongest pirate sails.

She waited calmly feeling the water begin to trickle in small rivulets and streams until they joined together becoming one large river that sliced the valley, north to south, between the mountains, like a dagger ripping flesh. The waters roiled and swirled, with white peaks and an angry grumble almost louder than the thunder that continue to roll down the hills. The birds all disappeared, the crickets long stopped their song, leaving nothing but the ash tree, the woman, and the water that raged through the valley.

Her long hair wet, strands plastered to her face and shoulders, blew wild with the wind while her toes dug into the muddy soil at the base of the ash. She breathed deep, filling her lungs with the violent winds, tasting the tang of salt and soil in the water while the thunder vibrated in her heart. She kept her face upturned, eyes unblinking despite the bright flashes of lightning, feeling the electricity burn the air and raise the downy hair on her arms.

The water continued to rise and build, threatening to fill the valley and dwarf the mountains, but the ash tree remained as an island amid the turmoil with the woman at its base. Drops ran down her cheeks, rain mixed with tears or simply rain only she could say, but she remained with her face turned upwards. As the clouds moved overhead, dark and tumultuous, the thunder bellowed incessantly, filling her chest with a thrum and vibration that infused with her voice, slowly rising, a single note, strong and clear, deep and emotional, calling all the ravens back to roost.

The birds returned, slowly, like ink drops tossed on a roiling sea, their feathers wet and ruffled, finally gripping a branch in the midst of the storm. They eyed her, silently, with puffed chests, blinking with curiosity as she continued the one note. The valley was gone, now filled with water, the mountains peaks barely visible among the crashing waves but the ash tree remained untouched, barely a leaf blown out-of-place. As her voice crescendoed then fell silent, the thunder boomed to silence and the lightning flashed no more. The clouds squeezed the last few drops of rains before breaking apart and revealing the indigo black sky once more.

When the woman’s voice was silent and the river valley water calmed, an eery silence filled the void. The ravens shook their feathers, preening each one dry, then looked towards the sky as she raised her arms once more. They waited, watching, anxious and curious, but no sound or light flashed, no rains or thunder echoed, only an occasional splash in the distance occurred. The woman stood motionless, with arms raised, until the edges of the sky began to lighten. The sun rose in the west tainting the sky a strange bruised purple before fading to hints of lavender and blue. When the warmth of the sun touched the ravens feathers, the birds began to caw. Their voices rang out across the water, echoing and reverberating, like fish playing in the sea.

She lowered her arms and the birds rose up, filling the blue sky like dark gray smoke, diving and twirling in the doldrums air. They rose in columns of black feathers like soot, twisting and rising higher before falling, like stones, dropping as the rain had only hours before. When it looked like they would smash into the water, breaking the surface and drown, they opened their wings and sailed across the ocean before coming to rest on a mountain peak.

The woman then climbed to the uppermost branch of the ash and breathed deep once more. She let the sunlight dry and warm her skin and hair. Once dry and warmed she looked to each crow perched on the mountains ridge and blinked, slowly, before bowing. She bent at the waist, deep, folding in half, then stood again with a bright smile lifting her lips. The crows blinked and tilted their heads, watching, waiting. She slowly rose to her tiptoes, lifting her arms once more, then pushed off, arching over the edge of the ash tree’s island, and diving deep into the waters and disappearing.