Bill poorly mimics the drum blast of Metallica’s ‘One’ against the steering wheel of his 1991 Ford Ranger as his daughter, Lily, giggles at his exaggerated enthusiasm. It’s mid April and they’re on the 202 headed west towards Winthrop after a nostalgic morning of strawberry chocolate chip pancakes at the Augusta House of Pancakes. Not the catchiest title for a diner, but nonetheless, it’s the finest kind of breakfast food in Kennebec County; heck, maybe even all of Maine. Bill smiles back at his daughter, then continues to sing along to the breakdown before the song’s lengthy guitar solo. Lily turns toward the window admiring the seemingly endless rows of pines as they turn onto the camp road. Those from away are usually baffled by highways that lack advertisement billboards selling the latest fast food or even bible verses pointed at teens who are considering abortion. Mainers find comfort in driving, outside of winter of course. They’re able to embrace the full beauty in which the snow blankets the forests, then gently melts weeping into the streets as mud season begins. From there, they witness the green grass peek from the earth’s surface, and maybe just a bit more snow just because. As it reads, or read, crossing the state line, “Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be”.

Bill pulls onto the entrance road underneath a giant log that reads ‘True Cove Camp for Boys’. He’s the groundskeeper and gardener during the offseason for this boys sports camp. Their headquarters are in New York, as are most of these hoity toity New England summer camps, however this camp holds values close to his own. Brotherhood. Faith. Tradition. Bill shifts the truck into neutral, turns the radio down, and looks to Lily.

“You ready?” he asks, playfully nudging her shoulder with a key ring.

“To pull weeds for the next six to eight hours? You betcha,” Lily sarcastically replies.

Lily snags the key ring from her father and exits the truck approaching the locked gate blocking the way avoiding puddles of mud. As she inserts the key into the well weathered padlock, a Monmouth police officer pulls into the drive. Bill exits his truck, right hand gripping the pistol tucked in the driver side dash. Lily eyes the car, pulling her hands away from the lock. Everyone’s still. A loon calls from the lake adjacent to the road as Bill tightens his grasp eagerly waiting for the officer to make a move. Suddenly, the car door opens and the officer steps out.

“Gary?” Bill says to himself as the police officer steps out.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Bill questions, walking towards him.

Lily sighs in relief, then continues to fumble with the rusted lock. Pulling the wrapped chain, the gate creaks as she swings it open.

“Just checking in. Wicked muddy out here, your truck gonna make it up the hill?” Gary asks.

“Yeah, Gar. We should be just fine,” Bill says, moving Gary along.

Gary eyes the bed of Bill’s truck. There’s a large blue tarp covering most of the contents with a few shovels and other miscellaneous gardening equipment sticking out.

“Alright,” Gary starts, readjusting his waist.

“Have at it, give me a shout if you run into any trouble. One must be so careful these days afterall,” he advises.

“Will do, Gar. Thanks,” Bill waves him along.

Gary drives off while Lily jumps back into the truck as Bill continues on the entrance road. The truck wobbles a bit as it attempts to navigate the deep wells of mud. Bill eases off the gas pedal looking over his shoulder out the drivers side window. Suddenly, he slams on the gas just making it past the slippery entrance at the bottom of the hill.

“Every time,” he smirks.

As they pass the first set of sports fields, Bill reminisces about the day Lily was born. She’s sick of the same story year after year but knows her father loves to tell it, especially since her mom passed. He talks about how that spring was wetter than most and while they were churning the old soil with new fertilizer the only sign of life was a Tiger Lily beginning to bloom amongst the natural debri of the baron garden beds. The sun peeked through the overcast skies illuminating the morning dew as if the gods themselves were weeping tears of joy for the birth of an angel. As fate would have it, the first sun shower of spring coincided with her mothers water breaking.

“You’re disgusting. You know that, right?” Lily responds.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Bill smiles, pulling the key from the ignition.

Parking adjacent to the dining hall, the garden is home to a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs used right next door inside the camp kitchen providing organically grown meal options with fresh ingredients. Also, a few times throughout the summer, Bill comes out to teach a handful of campers about proper garden maintenance and the best times to harvest. He believes the next generation is falling behind on the importance and benefits of an agricultural education.

Lily throws her water bottle to the side of one of the baron beds along with a shovel and a rake. Bill releases the tie downs over the truck’s bed, then grabs some equipment from the back. They both proceed to put on some work gloves.

“Alright, let’s get to it,” Bill begins, gripping one end of the blue tarp. 

“Hooray for us,” Lily adds.

Bill pulls the tarp revealing a morbid collection of limbs. The amount, along with the aroma, is unsettling to say the least, as if they were the rejected pieces of Frankenstein’s monster. Lily grabs the arm of what seems to have been a child.

“Well, shit. Poor little guy,” she starts, pulling their flesh closer to her nostrils.

After an inflated, and uncomfortably enjoyable, inhalation of the rotting appendage Lily sinks her teeth into the meatiest part of the forearm.

“Hey, we just ate breakfast,” Bill shouts.

“My bad, it’s been a year for me too, remember?” Lily replies, tossing the remains aside.

“That’s why we kept our chosen offerings at home. We wait for the Dark Prince—”

“To reveal himself underneath the crescent moon. I’m aware,” Lily recites.

Bill reaches out to Lily, they clasp hands and bow their heads collectively towards the garden.

“Dark Prince,” Bill starts.

“We offer to you that which has been taken from your enemy,” he continues. Lily joins in.

“The false gods sheep; stripped, tortured, and slaughtered. May your darkness spread from our words to their blood within this soil. Turn their ignorant minds to rubble, and their hearts to darkness through the earth’s growth, their sustenance, and your nourishment,” they chant.

“Praise be to you, Dark Prince,” they finish.

END.

Written and submitted for Cemetery Gates Media April 2021 theme ‘The Burial of the Dead’

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Father Matthews impatiently scrolls through last year’s Christmas concert photos on his phone. The blue light from his device reflects off his clerical collar, dimly illuminating the confined confessional closet walls. Light rainfall can be heard trickling off the church roof onto the sidewalk outside. A collection of altar boys change the pace of his scrolling as he nervously pauses listening for the presence of another. Not a peep from the pews, he eagerly zooms in while his pupils dilate against the brightness like a reflecting pool at the shallowest depth of an abandoned wishing well. Abruptly, the church doors open. Father Matthews fumbles his phone to the ground; it audibly bounces on one corner eventually landing flat, screen down. Embarrassed, he twiddles his thumbs awaiting the first confession penitent. As the door closes behind them, drops of water crash onto the service room floor. They’re still. Father Matthews stool creaks as he readjusts his seating position. Finally, the footsteps slog forward bit by bit. Eventually making their way to the confession booth, Father Matthews can barely make out what seems to be a small child’s bare feet outside the red curtain draped over the parishioner’s entrance. They wait; wet and cold, sporting and a pale blue complexion. Drops of water fall from their shivering chin echoing through the vacant chapel. They enter.

Silence resides from both parties as Father Matthews awaits the child’s plea for forgiveness. There’s nothing. The quiet hovers overhead, it’s deafening; unfair even. Father Matthews starts to take a breath about to address the child as they promptly begin sobbing.

“Speak, child,” Father Matthews starts.

“Forgive me Father,” he whimpers in pain.

“Proverbs 28:13 tells us whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy,” Father Matthew recites.

“Confess, and you’ll find mercy,” he commands.

“You first,” the boy’s tone shifts as he begins to snicker.

A thick bubbling mixture of blood and fecal matter begin to ooze between the cracks of the confessional partition. The boiling excretion eats through the faded wood panelling underneath Father Matthews feet as his phone vibrates wildly. Reaching for his mobile device the boy on the screen menacingly cackles as he warps into that of demonic proportions. His screen shatters, shooting glass shards into his eye sockets and neck.

An overwhelming sense of panic takes over Father Matthews while he pulls his feet up from the vanishing floorboards. Reaching blindly around him, the vulgar concoction singes his hand and continues devouring the flesh making its way slowly up his arm as he begins to beg for help.

“Help! Somebody,” he screams.

In aims to stay alive, he carefully lowers one foot towards the floor. Immediately, the rubber sole of his shoe smolders adding the stench of burnt rubber to the already unbearable aroma.

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” he begins to pray.

His stool creaks as the structure begins to crumble around him. He quickly shuffles to the furthest edge of the booth bringing his knees to his chest and resting his head against the wall.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” he continues between spouts of crying.

The boy continues to heckle the priest’s anguish and sorrow laughing at his despair.

“Enough!” Father Matthews shouts.

Barreling both feet through the remaining wall of the booth he crashes through the other side hastily pulling himself through. Landing face first onto the cobblestone service room floor he turns in pain underneath the stained glass portrait of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

Outside, the storm passes and although Father Matthews has been blinded, he can feel the warmth from the sun shimmering off the blood dawned upon his cheeks. The antagonizing simmer of flesh eating sludge fades as it descends into Hell through the pit it created. Grateful to be shown mercy, he takes a breath in coughing as he exhales. The phone from his office begins to ring.

Picking himself up, he wraps the remainder of his sleeve around the open ended limb that once was his right arm. The insufferable pain brings him to his knees as the wound squelches against the gritty fiber and rotted flesh. Nauseous, he rests his forehead on a pew bench vomiting profusely onto the floor. The answering machine from his office picks up.

“Father Matthews?” a woman questions, seemingly distraught.

“It’s Diane, Samuel’s mother,” she states.

Father Matthews lifts his chin in terror.

“He killed himself last night,” she says, barely keeping herself together.

Father Matthews acknowledges the irreversible damage he has done as his tears pool alongside his chunder in a pattern that imitates the evil and ugliness of an early painting by Adolf Hitler.

“Did he say anything to you during choir practice last night? Please, give me a call when you can. Bless you Father,” she concludes.

“I’m sorry,” he begins to apologize.

“Forgive me, Father,” he pleads.

His office phone rings once more. Each ring pokes further into him as he continues a blubbering mess surrounded by unoccupied pews. Voicemail picks up.

“Hi, Father Matthews? This is Father Jefferies from Second Light Ministries, I’m calling to let you know that your transfer request has been accepted. Let us know when you can start, I know moving can be quite the task but it seems by now you must be a professional. Eight different congregations in the last decade alone? Impressive. We’re eager to serve beside you, blessings to you Father,” he finishes.

Written and submitted for Cemetery Gates Media March 2021 theme ‘Haunted Church Confessional’

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

“Quiet,” they bark at the boy chained to the corner of the room.

His face dawns blood, dried upon his cheeks, welled from his recently emptied eye sockets.

“Momma,” he cries.

“I said quiet, boy,” they demand once more.

“You don’t want me to kill her, do you?” they threaten, hovering a peculiar knife over a corpse.

Their hinged blade punctures through the vessel’s torso, the blood collects along the edges of the observation table trickling down into two separate oak barrels. Wax melts onto the cold concrete floor as candles dimly illuminate arcane symbols hastily scribbled on the cracked stone walls. Poorly secured shelves present mason jars like trophies containing a variety of liquids and herbs preserving indistinguishable monstrosities. Thin twine hangs severed fingers over the boy’s head accompanied by chimes made with empty bottles filled with teeth like some sort of nightmarish crib mobile. A gust rushes through the corroded steel barred cellar window. The witch is still, they place the blade aside admiring the crescent moon’s pleasant shift from a calming cool blue to a warm orange hue. Revealing themselves from the darkness, their flesh is torn almost down to the bone, their face is mostly burned making their jaw the only distinguishable feature, and their figure is as fragile as the crystal glassware scattered amongst the cellar tabletops.

“It’s time,” they say.

The witch gathers a candle, their spellbook, and a copper goblet reforged by thirteen generations of blacksmiths belonging to the Paladins of Criafar. Placing the candle in front of the boy, they kneel lighting it ceremoniously. The boy quivers, whimpering before the presence of the witch who mockingly smirks at him turning through their spellbook with intent, and pleasure, to harm him.

“Please,” the boy starts.

“I just want to see momma,” he pleads.

“Don’t worry,” they scoff.

“You will,” the witch whispers into his ear.

Rising, they grasp the goblet with purpose, presenting its copper casing towards the moonlight revealing a hidden text that glows a similar orange tinge. The text is illegible however symbols throughout match those drafted amongst the walls. The witch submerges the goblet in one of the oak barrels, filling its contents with blood. The blood bubbles for a moment, further highlighting the goblet’s engravings. The witch indulges themselves by inhaling the steam as if it’s a warm cup of cider on a gloomy fall afternoon. The bubbles settle and the glow fades as the witch again approaches the boy. The boy continues to whine as the witch begins to gently caress his cheek.

“Shhh….there, there, boy,” the witch consoles him.

“Where’s momma? Is she alright?” he stammers.

“Momma’s resting, dear,” the witch answers glancing over at the corpse on the table.

“Momma, momma please,” he continues.

As the boy continues to call out, the witch forcibly tightens their grip on his jaw. Mouth agape, he pulls against the steel restraints, pleading for freedom. The witch ignores his requests, raises the goblet to his lips and looks towards the moon.

“Under the moon, that’s been set ablaze. Over the boy, with a stolen gaze. Consume the blood of this bastard’s creator, for life will be restored near death, but no later,” they read aloud.

The witch pours the boys’ mothers blood into his mouth, he quickly begins to choke on its thick consistency. Coughing up blood onto himself, the witch tosses the goblet aside and proceeds to close the boy’s mouth and clasp his nostrils shut.

“Swallow it boy,” the witch commands.

“Don’t you want to see momma?” they ridicule as the boy’s limbs writhe within the shackles.

Unwillingly, the boy swallows his mother’s blood. The witch holds him a bit longer enjoying his struggle, eventually tossing him back to the corner. On his hands and knees, the boy gasps for air in between dry heaves. The witch waits, staring attentively. Suddenly, the boy releases an otherworldly screech, stretching his limbs as far as the restraints will allow. He collapses. The witch draws nearer, optimistic. Immobile, the boy’s body lays lifeless on the cellar floor amongst a puddle of his blood and urine.

Anxiety overcomes the witch as they straddle the boy’s corpse. Eyeing the window, the moon begins to slowly return to its original temperate blue color. Rushing towards their spellbook, the witch begins to doubt themselves frantically sifting through the pages, carefully reviewing the ritual once more. Shackles begin to rustle behind them, relieved they grin turning towards the boy who gradually awakes. Stretching his arms out, he rubs his eyes, immediately realizing his vision has been restored and his wounds have been healed.

“It worked!” the witch exclaims.

Now aware of his surroundings, the boy’s quick session of relief swiftly shifts to panic as he witnesses his mother’s body sliced open on the table presenting her organs to the nauseating, musty cellar room.

“Momma,” he shrieks.

“Momma, wake up. Momma, please,” his cries fade as he’s brought to his knees in exhaustion.

The witch makes haste as the moons shift is imminent. Retrieving the tossed goblet, they submerge its now empty basin into the other oak barrel presenting it to the night sky. The boy sobs as the witch knocks back a glass of his genealogy. After the final drop passes down their esophagus, the witch drops to their knees, raising their arms to the stars, presenting their whole being to the changing night sky.

“Yes, yes, yes,” the witch moans as pain passes through their body.

The boy watches in terror and confusion as the witch’s empty flesh pockets fill with white skin that shines against the stars, lushes dark brown locks flow from their once rotting scalp, and their eyes become once more, filled with life. As if a pig is being massacred, the witch expels a hellacious screech. The boy covers his ears before the witch eventually collapses and begins to convulse.

Reaching for the candle still lit in front of him, the boy leans in for a closer look as the witch’s convulsing starts to seize. The boy’s panicked breathing gently pushes against the candle’s flame. Their body is still as the crickets accompany the winds whispering through the chimes above his head. Suddenly, the witch awakes forcefully grabbing the boy by his throat, then pleasurably inhales through their restored anatomy as the boy begins to gasp desperately.

“Mmm, you have your mothers eyes,” the witch mocks, tightening their grip.

Hot wax drips between the boys loose grip of the candle. Singing the edge of his palms, he releases the open flame onto the witches tattered robes; it ignites. Unaware they’ve been set ablaze, the witch cackles as their fingernails dig into the boy’s skin. His blood runs down their hands, his eyes wide; they kiss the boy on his forehead tossing his defeated corpse back into the dark corner of the cellar.

The witch turns towards their spellbook salaciously licking the boy’s blood from their fingers. Kicking another lit candle over, the flames begin to travel up their robes quickly disintegrating the worn fabrics. Sprinting towards the well, the witch leans over the cobblestone casing, pulling the rope to retrieve the bucket from below. The witch is able to douse themselves as infernos consume the tapestry, the bodies, eventually reaching potion vials filled with flammable contents. The witch turns and makes haste for their spellbook however the flames envelop any viable path. Escaping with their life, the witch hastily makes their way up the cellar stairs. Smoke rises to the night sky while ashes scatter amongst the desolate woods. 

First light approaches, as hikers come across the warm embers and debri.

“Look,” one says sifting through the ashes.

“What is that?” the other questions as they uncover a textbook.

The spellbook and copper goblet present themselves…unharmed.

Cover Art: Joy Marino (@joymarinoclicks)

© John Marrows Some Rights Reserved

Frigid winds whip by branches mocking the silence surrounding this enormous farmhouse. It’s a frozen evening accompanied by heavy snowfall. Harrison reads a book quietly on a worn, stained mattress that’s placed conveniently in the corner out of everyone’s way. Snuggling up with as many blankets he can find, he flips through each page intent on finding answers. Headlights flood through the thin bedsheet curtains accompanied by obnoxious hair metal and the revving of a classic American pickup truck. Harrison stands, looking out the window, he immediately begins to panic. Sprinting down the hallway avoiding puddles of blood and defiled animal carcasses, he begins to slam on his aunt’s bedroom door.

KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.

“Aunt Lynn? Aunt Lynn, George’s here! Get out, he’s coming!” he warns.

Scurrying back to his mattress, Harrison attempts to hide under a plethora of blankets and sheets. The music cuts along with the engine as the headlights fade amongst the desolate snow-covered field. Lynn runs into the living room frantically searching for Harrison. George’s truck door slams followed by his vomit hitting the cold, concrete walkway.

“Get out here, boy!” George demands seemingly inebriated.

“Harrison? Harrison, where are you?” Lynn whispers.

Harrison peaks his head out from underneath his blanket.

“Do you have the book?” she asks.

He doesn’t answer.

“Do you have the book?” she eagerly persists.

He nods in fear presenting the book.

“Good boy. You can’t hide here, go…go outside,” she continues.

“But I don’t have shoes on…” he returns.

“Shhh…just go,” she insists, holding her hand over his mouth.

BANG. BANG. BANG.

They both jump as George slams violently on the door.

“I know you’re in there, boy!” he continues.

Unwilling to move, Harrison tears up in fear. Hoisting him up by his forearm, Lynn drags him towards the back door continuing to silence him. Opening it, she aggressively pushes him outside into the bitter winter evening closing the door in his mortified face as he grips the book close to his chest. George continues to beat on the front door.

BANG. BANG. CRASH.

Obliterating the frail door structure, George makes his way in, wielding a malt liquor bottle by the neck. Lynn makes her presence known hoping Harrison will make his escape. Marching toward Lynn, George forcefully grabs her by the neck pinning her against the wall.

“Where is the boy? Where is the book?” he demands reeking of brown liquor and cheap cigarillos.

“We’ll die! We’ll all fucking die if I don’t get that book! Where is he? George warns.

Refusing to respond, Lynn braces for a hit. Gripping her neck tighter in frustration, he then releases her to the floor smashing the bottle across her temple. Flailing on the floor, the convulsing eventually stops as her blood empties onto the carpet.

Harrisons innocent eyes watch from the window as George frantically tears the room apart. He exits the living room to search the rest of the house. Snow continues to fall around Harrison’s nearly frost-bitten toes. His feet begin to ache in pain, so he peeks cautiously into the empty door frame, holding back tears as he leans his head low against the door frame. With a deep breath and the book tucked under his arm, he gently steps back inside. Sneakily making his way down the hallway, he finds the warmth from the animal blood oddly relieving on his icy feet. George’s boots stomp each step as he comes stampeding down the stairs. Sprinting into the living room, Harrison trips over his aunt’s corpse. Holding his own mouth, he backs up into the corner scanning the room for something to defend himself with. Following the boy’s bloody footprints, George struts confidently into the living room towering over Harrison. Curled up, Harrison hugs the book close to him as his tears mix into his aunts’ blood on the carpet.

“Couldn’t hide forever, boy. It’s over. Give me the book. Give it to me!” George barks.

Defeated, Harrison sits up handing the book to George who snatches it promptly. Beginning to sift through the literature manically, Harrison secretly folds up a page he had torn out placing it in his pocket.

“C’mon. C’mon! Where is it?” George says to himself becoming increasingly more irritated.

“It’s gone. Where is it? Where is it!” he concludes looking to Harrison.

Charging Harrison, lifting from under his arms he slams the boy against the wall.

“Where is it, boy? Tell me. Tell me!” George insists continuing to bash the boys head against the wall.

Conquered, Harrison smirks, glaring comfortably over George’s shoulder. Children with hair as white as the snow on the mountain caps and pastel blue skin, like the frozen waters of the lake, chuckle wildly as they begin to devour him from the tips of each limb.

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved