On my broken back I carry the world: hungry children
drinking the minerals from my exposed bone; battered
women prickling me with needles, yet even they,
adept at the art of patching things up, defeated
by my tectonic fissures and split vertebrae;
men who—for lack of softness to scar—destroy
themselves, fashioning bandages out of my peeling skin.
And those who are neither man nor woman,
dangling from my ragged clumps of fur,
clinging tooth and nail to the forces trying
to forsake them.
Rotten roots attempt to trip me, birds made
of pure keratin and spite, swooping down.
Carnivorous bracken find no flesh left to nibble.
The tears of my passengers, acid rain over ravaged earth.
I run quadrupedal, leaping over fermented fords of ichor,
bounding through woods of my fellow skeletons
growing into trees, limbs into boughs. But I have
many more journeys left inside me before I fall apart
and my passengers do too, before we are all dust
and ghosts, feeding this broken-backed world.
Avra Margariti is a queer author, Greek sea monster, and Pushcart-nominated poet with a fondness for the dark and the darling. Avra’s work haunts publications such as Vastarien, Asimov’s, Liminality, Arsenika, The Future Fire, Space and Time, Eye to the Telescope, and Glittership. “The Saint of Witches”, Avra’s debut collection of horror poetry, is forthcoming from Weasel Press. You can find Avra on Twitter (@avramargariti).
The funeral parlor smells of potpourri and faux beauty. There's itchy chairs with floral upholstery that almost match the wallpaper and green carpet. The body of Our Father lays in a cherry wood casket at the front of the main room.
We're all wearing our ceremonial cloaks to honor Him who left before His time. Brother Coleford stands by the casket with a lit candelabra, whispering and begging Him to give us words of wisdom from beyond the grave.
Brother James asks the funeral manager if he could step outside and give us a few minutes alone with the one we lost. The manager is hesitant at first. I can tell by the way he studies Brother James’ face, but he agrees to give us a little time. A little time is all we need. Brother James and I walk him out. I prop one of the chairs under the handle of the door and turn the deadbolt while Brother James shades the windows with the blinds and chintzy curtains.
Some of the other Brothers pull jars of sacramental oil from their cloaks, and we all circle around the casket to hear the final words Brother Coleford has to say about the Great Man Himself. Without Him, we Brothers are lost. Without His leadership, the meaning of life, our existence, and who we are is dismantled. He was great for His ideals. Great for everything He did for us, for mankind. He left before His time, so not many in this terrible world heard the pure words or message He tried to spread.
Not many followed Him. But those of us who did, we know the truth. We believe His message. We know what it will take to cleanse the world of its disease. We’re ready to begin.
The funeral manager must’ve changed his mind about letting us be here alone. He tries the door, and when he finds it won’t open, he starts beating on it, his shouting muffled by the thick oak doors.
We ignore the distraction. Brother Coleford reads a passage from Our Father’s own diary. A message about the Great Cleansing of the world. About peace. We bow our heads while we listen and repeat The Cantos as a group.
The wicks in Brother Coleford’s candles are diminishing. We’re almost out of time.
The Brothers with sacramental oil pass the jars around the circle. We each take turns spreading some of the oil on our cloaks. It’s putrid but potent. It won’t take much for the flames to lick and take. We douse the ugly carpet around us, the casket, and Our Father Himself.
We loved this man. We loved His wisdom, His teachings. And we know that death will have no hold on us. We know we will rise again, stronger. Equipped to cleanse the world of its souls. To be the hand of damnation to unite the living with the dead.
We are Brothers of the Sacred Order. And so we have no fear when Brother Coleford starts the flames to our cloaks.
We will return.
Eric Fomley’s work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Galaxy’s Edge, and Inferno! Volume 6: Tales from the Worlds of Warhammer. You can read more of his stories on his website ericfomley.com, follow him on Twitter @PrinceGrimdark, or support him on patreon.com/Fomley.
"Brain Worms" by James McCann
Jo had been suffering from a dull ache behind her left eye most of the day, but driving home from work had made it considerably worse. Every sound seemed to be magnified to an excruciating level, whether it be road works or car horns or police sirens. Everything caused pain. Twice she pulled over because of the gnawing she felt in her brain, and the journey wasn't more than fifteen minutes. By the time she parked the car outside of her home, the dull ache had become a full-on pounding, as though war drums were being played inside her skull.
She sat in the car, eyes closed with her head on the steering wheel, and breathed trying to black out the outside world.
That night brought no rest, no solace. Jo had taken a handful of painkillers and placed a damp cloth over her eyes, and laid down in a totally dark room. If anything, the lack of distraction just made the pain worse as it was all she could focus on.
Sitting up, she told herself that she was going to the doctor first thing in the morning and get this sorted out, whatever it was. Naturally, Jo thought of the absolute worst, that it might be a tumour of some sort. But she pushed those thoughts away as soon as they came, or at least tried to.
Jo was up and moving about, albeit very slowly, as soon as the sun was, due largely to having been awake all night. She showered, got dressed, finished off the painkillers that she had despite them not making any difference, and headed out. Deciding driving probably wasn't the best idea, she took a taxi, only hoping that the driver didn't want to have a conversation with her because talking was certainly not an option.
Luckily Jo was able to walk right in to see the doctor as the 9 am appointment hadn't shown up. The doctor was a slender man with a complete lack of people skills, but he knew his profession well. He asked perfunctory questions:
Have you taken any medication?
All of them.
As he began his examination. He stuck a light in Jo's ears. He pulled her lids down and shone a light in her eyes.
”I can't find anything wrong with you,” the doctor said, scribbling notes.
”Well there is,” Jo protested, the anguish clear on her face.
”I believe you,” the doctor replied, putting his pen down. “I'm going to send you for a-”
Jo screamed out in terrible pain; it was a howl of agony. Her hands clawed at her skull, the nails causing rivulets of blood to trickle down her face. Her eyes were clenched tightly closed, feeling as though they were going to explode from their sockets.
The left eye was slowly pried open from the inside, revealing a small yellow worm crawling, wiggling, thrashing about in the open air. Jo's eyelids sprang apart, revealing the worm had drilled its way dead-centre through the pupil.
The front of her head exploded then, revealing several longer, bigger yellow worms crawling over each other in a lazy orgy. Blood poured from the open wound, as it did, revealing tiny white-yellow buds. The doctor immediately knew these were unborn babies.
Jo stood there, her mouth hung open like a stupid, wide cavern. Her eyes were wide open, the one still in-tact glassy like a marble and slicked in blood. She twitched once, then fell to the floor, dead. The worms continued to spill out from the head wound.
The doctor stood back, watching on in horror-induced numbness. He carefully stepped around the twitching, fresh corpse with the worms slithering over each other, now bathed in blood, and exited the office.
The waiting room was filled with people holding their heads in pain.
James has been writing for the past 20 years. His professional writing career includes feature-length and short screenplays, novels, short stories, and lyrics. Away from writing, he owns and runs a successful self-defence club, Reality Based Urban Defence (rbud.co.uk), is a director of the production company Happy Buzz Entertainment Ltd, and is currently studying for his degree in Marketing.
He considers Stephen King a personal idol.