Upcoming Anthology: Running Wild Stories Volume 4

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Sometime in April, my friend and fellow Inkblotter, Erica Ruhe and I decided to pen a short story together. We figured that if we could join forces, using our strengths to collaborate then perhaps we could write a very compelling and moving story that both of us could be proud of. That’s how our short story, Fragile Fruit was born.

For some time I wanted to write a short story set in Sicily in the late 1960s. I had always been intrigued by how vastly different Sicily was to the rest of the world during that time when it came to women’s rights. 1968 was widely known as the “peak of the sexual revolution” and yet, in Sicily, it was very common for young men to kidnap girls they fancied and rape them, and then said girl was expected to marry their rapist in what was known as a “rehabilitation marriage.” The only way for a woman to regain her sense of worth and dignity from a rape would be to marry her rapist, which would make her an “honourable woman” again and thus automatically extinguish the crime for the man. Franca Viola was the first woman to stand up to her rapist and say NO. She refused to marry him and it made international news, as many women saw her as a pioneer for cultural progress and emancipation. While many men, on the other hand, saw her as a threat.

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Franca Viola, the Sicilian feminist icon that inspired Fragile Fruit

Inspired by Viola’s courage, we decided to pen a story about a girl, Marietta who too, refused to marry her rapist but instead of remaining in her hometown of Maletto, fled to New York in hopes of a new life. Four years later, Marietta is forced to return to Sicily when her mother is on her death bed. She soon finds that she’s going to have to find a way to make peace with her demons and her past before both threaten to overtake her.

But when her rapist Alfio turns up dead a few days after her return, all eyes are on Marietta. But did she really do it?

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So, since April I’ve been sending this short story to various literary journals and magazines and of course as the norm of any writing it was rejected by a lot of them, despite each of them stating that they had enjoyed the short story very much. Flash forward to last week when I receive an email from Running Wild Press that Fragile Fruit was selected to be in the upcoming anthology Running Wild Stories Volume 4. Of course, both Erica and I are thrilled about this opportunity and that our creative child finally found a home. I don’t know yet when the anthology will be released (sometime mid-2020), so keep your eyes peeled for that info!

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Flash Fiction: Catching Sunshine by Erica Ruhe

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It had been seven days since the cave in. Two thin and bloodied hands, fingers peeled raw from days of scratching at the immovable rock, protruded through a small crack above the boulder. Autumn sunshine warmed Camille’s battered palms. Her eyes closed to enjoy the sensation and she rested her head on her arm. Inside the abandoned mine, it was black and cold but just beyond two tons of fallen mountainside there was light. There was life.

“Camille…”

She turned to the weak call.

“I’m here, Ana,” she replied and climbed down the incline of loose gravel. She stepped over the rail tracks and knelt beside her friend, breathing hard from the small exertion. Anastasia did not move, as if the flat of her back had become rooted to the floor. Camille tucked Ana’s exposed arm back under her burgundy coat blanket.

“I caught you some sunshine,” she said and placed her palms on Ana’s cold, dirt-streaked cheeks. Her friend’s chapped lips closed, her throat squeezing down nothing more than dry, dusty air. Licking morning dew from the exposed rocks day after day had not been enough to sustain them.

“Warm…” Ana croaked.

Their breath rasped loud in their suffocating confines. They spoke barely above whispers, their vocal cords strained and silenced days ago from the endless hours of screaming for help.

Ana cracked open her eyes.

“Do you think they’ll…ever find us?”

A tear trembled on the ledge of her sharpened cheekbone. Her skin had shrunk around her already slender body. Camille moved a palm to Ana’s forehead and the other to her chest, absorbing fresh chill from her skin.

“Yes,” she gave a weak nod. “One day.”

Crevices of dirt around Ana’s eyes deepened in question and the tear plummeted to the waves of her matted braid. Camille lightened the weight of concern in her expression.

“One day, we’ll be someone’s archeological find. We’ll be a treasure unearthed in a thousand years. They’ll discover our bodies, arms embraced around each other, and they will mourn for our unknown lives. They’ll make up histories for us and give us pretty new names.”

Camille stroked her thumb along the blood caked on Ana’s brow.

“They’ll lovingly preserve our bones in a life-size diorama and we will become an exhibit in their museum of ancient history. We’ll be enshrined in glass and admired by millions. We’ll live forever, Ana.”

“You’re so…dramatic.”

A smile tinted Ana’s words but it was too weak to reach her lips. Camille coughed and lowered her head to Ana’s shoulder, snuggling under the torn coat. Ana sighed.

“At least you have…a sweetheart to mourn you, Camille. I’ve never even had my first kiss yet. I never…dreamed that I would die without my first kiss.”

“A first kiss can be a horrid thing, Ana,” Camille teased. “Peter nearly drowned me.”

The girls shared a frail giggle. Ana closed her eyes again.

“Oh, the people I would have loved. The places…I would have traveled to. Perhaps our spirits will escape from this tomb. One day…”

Camille nestled closer.

“Perhaps a small sparrow will find us first,” Camille continued, adrift on Ana’s thoughts. “Perhaps she’ll leave behind dandelions on our chests and as we decompose, the seeds will catch just enough sun and dew to sprout and flower out of us.”

She twisted a loose buckhorn button.

“Perhaps the wind will carry our fragmented bodies back out to the wild. It will be spring, warm and bright. We’ll float over the mountain meadows and along the rushing rivers of melted snow. We’ll float over our town and look down upon our aging families. And we will sweep past their ears and whisper “we love you so very much but we cannot stay” and somehow they’ll know it is us and it will bring them happiness.”

She sniffled.

“We’ll live on as memories. Then the wind will take us again and we’ll be free.”

Camille lifted her head.

“Ana?”

Only stillness.

“Ana?”

She shook her friend’s shoulder but Ana’s expression did not move. There was no breath in her mouth. Her chest did not rise. Camille tried to hold down the rising emotion in her throat but her grief, unlike everything else in the darkened mine, could not be contained. Soft sobs choked her. Tears carved deep ravines through the dirt on her face revealing clean, frigid skin beneath.

Exhausted, Camille watched the last ray of the afternoon seep across the toes of Ana’s boots. She lifted her hand to the sunlight and let the dust motes waltz and twirl between her flayed fingers.

“We’ll live forever, Ana.”

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Short Story: Errors of Grievance

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“I warned you!”

The old priestess pounded a weathered fist on the small dining table, her dingy blouse falling off of a dark, bony shoulder. “But you know more than Miss Beaulieu, eh?”
Across the small table, Momma dried a rivulet of shame from her cheek.
“I didn’t mean no harm,” her voice quivered. “I swear.”
From her cold, moonlight-washed perch atop the old bayou house, Adelaide shifted her attention to the agitated women below. Rolling her skinny frame onto her belly, she shivered under her thread-bear dress, setting her little doll beside her. He balanced on his round torso, head draped in a dry tangle of Spanish moss. Yellow lamplight sliced across his black button eyes and together they peered through a crack near the chimney overlooking the kitchen.
“I never took it out the house.” Momma insisted. “Someone done stole it.”
Miss Beaulieu planted a hand on her hip and took a long draw on a short cigar.
“Who done the spell? That jinx, Laronde?” Syllables of dark smoke puffed out of her mouth. Momma stroked her arm and looked away.
“Stupid girl.” Beaded bracelets criticized and chided on Miss Beaulieu’s thin wrist. “His bad voodoo gon’ come back to him and everyone he cast for.”
“You’ve cast for love before.” Momma’s eyes pleaded.
Miss Beaulieu jabbed a finger. “You know this ain’t the same.”
Adelaide’s heart ached. She didn’t like seeing Momma so upset, but she also didn’t like being only one in the house when Momma fell into one of her dark moods. So when her brothers escaped to the river to hunt gators, Adelaide took refuge on the rooftop. In a cigar box, tucked under a missing brick in the chimney top, was her trove of knick-knacks. Her new doll, dressed in cotton pants and a burlap overcoat, was her most valuable addition. It was bad to spoil surprises but Adelaide knew Momma had made this Christmas doll just for her.
“‘Sides,” Miss Beaulieu paced, “he got himself a faithful wife and a good job in Baton Rouge. You think all the Magick in the world gon’ make that man wanna leave that to take up wit’ you out here? Wit’ your five kids?”
Adelaide gave the little man a kiss to ease his troubled expression, the scent of cloves and musk wafting up from the crude stitching down his chest. She would replace him in his hiding spot under the floorboard tomorrow.
“Can you make him a gris-gris bag for protection?” Momma wiped her apron across her cheeks. “In case something happen to the doll?”
Adelaide froze.
“A good Christian like him won’t be caught dead with a necklace full of chicken’s feet and dove’s blood.”
Adelaide’s eyes fell upon the little man beside her. Dried grass protruded out of his stiff arms and legs. He suddenly appeared feeble and indisposed, like a paralyzed prisoner.
“Ain’t no spell on your lover can be reversed without that doll.” Miss Beaulieu dropped a large dollop of ash onto the floor. “Only the One Most High can help him if something happens to it.”
Nausea swallowed up Adelaide like the cold, wet mouth of a whale.
Miss Beaulieu leaned in. “Who you think done stole it?”
“Adelaide?”
Below, Adelaide’s brothers eased their rowboat up to the, rotting, crooked pier. The eldest, Francois, shielded his eyes from the bow lantern to see her better.
“Why you up there?”
Flushed from hiding, Adelaide leapt to her frozen bare feet, accidentally kicking her treasures down the slanted roof. The doll bounced over the ledge. Vertigo struck her numb. Her footing slipped and she tumbled down the sharp slats.
“Adelaide!” Francois’s voice broke as her footing slipped.
A screech leapt from her throat before she plunged into the river. Frigid water hit like glass on her stomach. It rushed up her nose, burning the brain lobes behind her eyes. Sound muted, heavy and low in her ears. Her mind jolted with panic. Adelaide’s eyes popped open but there was no light. Her heart pounded. Only the flash of a brass shoe buckle glittered as it somersaulted down into the watery shadows. She grasped but only caught emptiness. Lungs aching for air, she pulled her way up through the cold void and burst to the surface.
“Sweet Jesus!”
“Grab her!”
“The doll! The do—!” A wave of river water sloshed into Adelaide’s mouth.
“Adelaide, stop! Settle down!”
“No, no, no!” she cried. Strong hands gripped under her arms and slid her into the tiny boat. Violent coughs rattled her little bones. She gagged from a bellyful of the Mississippi and tried to writhe free a final time.
“I…I…didn’t know!” Adelaide sobbed. Warm arms wrapped around her and pinned her to the seat of the small wooden rowboat. “Momma, I didn’t know!”
“Adelaide?” Momma’s voice carried from the house.
“Settle yourself, girl.” Francois held her firm. “What are you carryin’ on about?”
Adelaide’s eyes darted beyond the bucking bow, searching for the voodoo, but it had sunk all the way to the bottom of the bayou.

By: Erica Ruhe

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Upcoming Books: Betty Bites Back – Horror Stories for Young Feminists

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I’m thrilled to announce that my short story, GOOD SISTER, BAD SISTER is going to be included in the upcoming anthology Betty Bites Back – Horror Stories for Young Feminists (coming out October 2019). This anthology is put together by award-winning badass authors, Demitria Lunetta, Mindy McGinnis, and Kate Karyus Quinn.

Here’s a little teaser of what my story is about:

GOOD SISTER, BAD SISTER by Azzurra Nox

Puberty comes with many changes, but after being bitten by a mysterious animal in the forest, Dilay finds out that some changes may just give her a certain edge she didn’t have before.

Until then, support me and the amazing authors that are going to be included in this awesome anthology by stopping by the Kickstarter Page for it (even if you can’t contribute monetarily, forward the link on your social media so we can spread the word!).

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Book Review: Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 2 – Amelia Kibbie Q & A

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Amelia Kibbie’s latest short story “Idylls of the King,” is one of the twenty short stories featured in the new Running Wild Anthology by Running Wild Press. Her short story features two young boys who have to leave their London homes due to Nazi bombings during WWII with their school teachers and classmates for the safety of the countryside. Both boys, James and Arthur are ruthlessly bullied by their peers, the first for having effeminate mannerisms and fancying boys, whilst the second for his weight. But when the two boys meet an aging Baroness, their lives will never be the same again.

What inspired you to write this short story?

Actually, it was for a totally separate anthology called “Heart of Steel.” The anthology called for happy ending LGBT love stories that contained knights of some sort. I didn’t want to do the typical fantasy thing, so my story takes place in England in WWII. I wanted to show that no matter how old you are, or what time period you live in, you can have a heart of steel — the heart of a knight that values love, friendship, honor, and protects those in need.

Your short story explores the theme of bullying—how important is it to have a story where the bullied triumph over their bullies?
Like pretty much everyone else, I’ve been bullied. I think everyone dreams of some kind of a sweet moment where you can go back in time and stand up to your bully. But in the real world, this usually doesn’t happen. So part of writing this story was wish fulfillment for me. I wish that anyone bullied for their sexuality would be able to stand up and fight back or have someone to protect them.
I’m definitely not the first person to depict this, but maybe the first person to have a suit of medieval armor involved!
What actually happens in, Idylls of the King is that James and Arthur stop being the bystanders to each other’s bullying. James sticks up for Arthur and risks a beating, only to be saved by the air raid siren. When Arthur sees this, it empowers him to stick up for James in return. In real life, empowering the bystanders is the most effective way to combat bullying. All of those other kids in the class were just standing there and watching all those years, just thankful it wasn’t them being targeted. They should have been banding together to stand up to Morgan and his friends to improve life for everyone in the class. I work with young people, and the anti-bullying research finds that empowering the bystanders is the most effective way to improve a school climate.

Why did you choose WII England as your setting?
This is going to sound super cheesy, but I was actually inspired by the ultra-crappy sequel to The Woman in Black. I liked the first movie quite a bit, and the second one was on Netflix. I was homesick, so I decided to watch it. It wasn’t a great movie, but it had some really interesting ideas to it — like the manor house being cut off by the tide at certain parts of the day. That reminded me of one of my favorite travel destinations, Mont Saint Michel. The part that obviously made it into Idylls of the King was the story of the children evacuated for Operation Pied Piper and moving into a mansion together.
Do you have any other upcoming writing projects?
I’m currently crafting Idylls of the King into a novel that picks up ten years after James and Arthur find one another. They’re still together, living in London, and find themselves on a cross-country adventure to fulfill a man’s dying wish.

You write across genres, which one is your favourite?
I would have to say horror. I just re-read The Shining, and it brought back so many memories of being in high school and reading Stephen King. He and Anne Rice were my big inspirations back in the day, and horror will forever hold my heart. I love writing in other genres and just telling a good story with characters I care about, but when I write a horror piece, I really get into it.

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You can purchase this book HERE or check out Amelia’s short story in MY AMERICAN NIGHTMARE – WOMEN IN HORROR ANTHOLOGY HERE.

Follow Amelia either on Facebook or her website.

By: Azzurra Nox

Short Story: Animortis Part III

zombie2Charlie turned his head and spotted the shotgun, rattling unattended in the farthest corner of the carriage floor. He still had one more shot. Gathering his strength, he twisted his shoulders, released his right hand on the girl’s throat and reached for the gun. It wobbled inches from his extended fingertips. He stretched further. The rear of the carriage lurched downward, the broken axel moments from failing. Feeling his left hold falter, Charlie abandoned his efforts and pushed back on her throat again. Desperation mounting, his eyes cut to Baumgart. The Earl remained incapacitated.

The girl wrapped her cold, palms around the back of Charlie’s neck, pulling him closer to her salivating mouth. Glassy, green eyes roved in their sockets. She screeched like a wild animal and snapped her broken, jagged teeth inches from his face. There was nothing human left in this shell of a girl. With a strike of dread in his heart, Charlie realized they were an even match of strength.

“Charles?”

Charlie looked down to his feet as Baumgart blinked back to life.
“My lord!” he strained against the girl.
Distracted, the girl whipped her head back to the Earl.

Charlie bent a leg between him and the girl and kicked her away. She fell back onto her minced knees. With all his force, Charlie brought up his right leg and delivered a smart boot to her face. Blood squirted out in all directions from under the sole of his shoe, accompanied by a chilling crack. The girl’s head recoiled and she grunted from the impact, arms spinning into wild wind-mills as she teetered backward. She fell, her spine bowed backward over carriage side, hands scratching for a hold. Charlie scooped up the shotgun just as the girl’s fingers caught the door latch release. The door flung open behind Baumgart and he tilted, wild-eyed, out of the landau.

“Charles!” Baumgart shouted. His arms sprang wide to either side of the opening, saving himself from a fatal tumble out the doorway.
“Hold fast!” Charlie doubled over and snagged Baumgart’s wrist. Bracing a foot on the side of the carriage, Charlie hauled him up and onto his feet.
“Are you hurt?” he breathed, steadying the Earl’s footing.
“I…” Baumgart’s pallid lips quivered. “I am alive.”

Beside him the maiden regained her balance. She blinked a moment in confusion, dark black blood gushing from her broken nose. Charlie maneuvered in front of the Earl and took aim a final time. The rear of the carriage shifted downward again and the bullet missed and ricocheted with a loud ‘ping’ on the iron carriage frame.

“Damn! C’mon!” he shouted, grabbing Baumgart by his vest lapels and forcing him up toward the coachman’s bench. “We haven’t much time.”

Baumgart scrambled up to the platform and swung over the guardrail. As Charlie pulled his torso up onto the railing, a final fierce shudder up the chassis signaled that the cracked axel had split completely. The back end lurched down with a heavy crash upon the road causing the rear wheels to tilt and spin free of the wood frame. Charlie’s footing slid off the railing and his body whiplashed against the front bench, cracking one of his ribs. He cried out at the sharp pain and hung from the guardrail by his underarms. Behind him, wood paneling scraped and splintered under the friction like a wooden sword put to a stone grinder.

“Take my hand, Charles!” Baumgart extended his arm. Charlie winced and clenched his teeth against the pain.

“Please,” he found a firm foothold, “Rein in the horses, if you can.”
Baumgart turned to the whip socket as Charlie struggled atop the coachman’s bench and planted his seat on the back of the guardrails.

“Oh no.” Baumgart’s mouth fell open and the last bit of color bled from his cheeks. His voice barely broke over the rumble of the pounding hooves. Charlie followed his line of sight up the road as the team cleared a bend in the forest path. His stomach dropped.

“Oh bloody hell.”

At the railway crossing in the distance ahead, a small horse-cart and its driver waited patiently behind the lowered level bar for an approaching train to pass. Charlie glanced to the whip socket. The leather straps were gone. Below, they lashed and slapped under the terrified horse hooves.

A horn blared off in the distance.

Baumgart shook his head and grabbed Charlie by the arm. “The team is lost, Charles,” he shouted over the roar. “We must jump carriage!”
The horses were inconsolable and the flesh-hungry girl was…Charlie felt a hand lock around his ankle. He looked down to see the maiden grinning back. With one hand on the guardrail and the other holding tight at his riding boot, she swayed like a drunk dancer in the disintegrating coach.

“Go, sir!” Charles unhanded himself from Baumgart.

“But—.”

Another loud crack split the air and the rear bench seat dislodged from the carriage, rolling away with a smash that left the maiden’s feet dangling above the speeding road. Charlie braced against the bench at the added weight of the girl. The horses would be dragging their tack in a few minutes more.
“Please, sir!” Charles begged. “Go now!”

His face tight with terror, Baumgart turned and steadied himself at the edge of the platform. He glanced back, “God bless you, Charles,” and threw himself out into the forest, disappearing behind the dark curtain of night before Charlie even saw him strike the ground. Charlie swiveled his head in search of another weapon but there was nothing left to defend himself. The whip was gone, the gun was lost. He had nothing.

Much louder now, the locomotive hailed its coming again. With the fire of pain searing his left rib, Charlie twisted and jerked his leg until he felt his muscles cramp but she would not let go. He never thought his life would end like this, killed on a mundane carriage ride to Coburg by a mad-girl cannibal. No one would believe the tale if he survived to tell it.

Beside him, hot oil from the swinging lanterns splashed onto the bench, setting the wood alight. Charlie’s eyes widened. His brain surged, jolting one last bit of hope into his heart.

Charlie fumbled for the oil lamp behind him.
“Burn in Hell, wretched devil!”

Charlie smashed the hot lamp down upon the girl. Glass shattered and burning oil splashed down over the maiden’s head, anointing her with bright orange fire. An unearthly shriek burst from her throat and her grip loosened. Charlie wormed free, swung his legs over the side of the platform and, with a quick prayer to the Almighty, jumped free of the carriage.

The ground hit him with a breath-stealing impact. Charlie rolled his shoulders with the bruising momentum until he slowed and flopped to a halt under a large tree, dizzy and gasping like a netted fish. He lay there a moment in disbelief until panic struck his gut. He jerked upright to see if he had truly escaped and watched, incredulous, as the disaster unfolded.

The train rounded a wide curve and barreled toward the crossing. Setting dry branches and brush alight as she passed, the maiden thrashed and screamed on the carriage, oblivious to her own fate. Hearing the commotion behind him, the old peddler scrambled down off his cart to rescue his pony. Realizing his goods could not be saved, he unhitched his mare and gave her a hearty slap on the hind quarter. The animal bolted to safety across the tracks and the poor man limped away as fast as he skinny legs would take him. The Greys were just meters from the intersection.

Up the tracks, a shout pierced through the cacophony. Sounds of metal on metal screeched through the forest as the train slammed down on its emergency brakes. The train blared the horn at its inevitable arrival.

Charlie’s beloved Greys, having seen the cart too late, squealed and skittered, their hooves gouging deep into the cold, soft earth as they struggled to veer left, away from the cart. Rigging clanged and wood creaked in protest but the impact was imminent. The wooden draft poles finally snapped under the strain, sending the carriage skidding sideways into the cart. The impact of the royal coach smashing into the back of the peddler’s cart sent it airborne, careening into a wild roll. Three of the horses broke free, galloping madly on toward Coburg. With a horrible crunching sound, the wheeler screamed and stumbled into the back of the cart creating a mass of broken slats. His neck whipped across a jagged board silencing him into instant death.

Forward momentum flung the blazing girl and landau side over side, directly into the path of the oncoming train. The locomotive engine wailed a final warning before crashing through the carriage, exploding it in mid-air with the speed and force of a giant bullet. Fiery splinters flew high into the tree canopies like a firework, the last oil lamp scattering flames up and over the sides of the railcars. The glissando of the train horn suddenly died. Metal squealed and scraped together under the protesting brakes accompanied by the solid, earthy rumble of heavy, iron wheels upon the tracks.

It was only when a small bit of wood struck Charlie’s leg that he remembered to breathe. He shook his head clear and clutched his chest, taking in large draws of air. Debris tumbled and bounced across the ground hundreds of meters in every direction. Bits of the carriage and carnage rained down all around him. Nearby, a delicate, dismembered hand flopped motionless onto the grass. Streams of dark blood oozed from the ends of the curled, claw-like fingers. From the depths of the forest, his name echoed down the road.

“Charles! Charles!”

The train continued to slow, chugging to a stop with labored effort. Surprised shouts from the crew could be heard in the distance. The peddler hobbled to meet him. Charlie tried to stand but his knees wavered like sheets in the wind. A throbbing pain swallowed his torso and seeped up his chest. Bewildered and numb, his mind faded into the cold, grey fog of shock. It was only when his knees gave out and Charlie plopped back down against the oak tree that he realized one of his legs was broken. He wheezed in disbelief at the fiery wreckage waiting for the flood of pain from his fractured femur to reach his brain. There was no movement near the horrific aftermath that lay scattered over the crossroad. Charlie was struck by the absurdity that the girl might have survived the crash. After all, she had survived everything else.

“Mein Gott, Charles!” Earl Baumgart reached his side, giving his cheek a few hearty slaps. “Keep awake now. We’ll have the doctors here, straightaway!” Charlie felt the familiar tide of nausea ebb up his stomach. It was an odd and uncomfortable reassurance that he was indeed still alive.

“God have mercy!” Earl Baumgart’s cry evaporated into the hollow shell of Charlie’s head. “God have mercy!”

THE END

READ PART I HERE

READ PART II HERE

By: Erica Ruhe

 

SHORT STORY: ANIMORTIS Part II

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Like a hunter who had flushed its prey from hiding, the gory maiden let out a horrid screech and burst into a run towards the carriage. The terrified Greys screamed and tossed their heads, bolting forward into the darkness. Charlie’s top hat took flight as the cold breeze turned to a freezing gust under the burst of horsepower.
“What in God’s sacred Creation was that creature?” Earl Baumgart shouted above the deafening rumble of the carriage as it bumped and rattled away at full speed down the rugged road. The spooked horses were at a full sprint now.
“I don’t know, sir,” Charlie replied, fighting to regain control of the petrified team. “But we’re safe away!”
Charlie twisted his head and looked down the path, seeking reassurance that the wild girl straggled far behind them in the growing distance. Earl Baumgart also turned round in his bench seat but the road behind them was nothing more than a gaping black void in the night.
“Yield, my lads!” Charlie pulled firm on the lines.
But the horses did not give.
Charlie arched his back and threw his whole body behind the reins once more. “Yield, boys! Yield, I say!” The team ignored his order and, instead, returned his efforts with a fresh burst of speed. A second flash of panic sparked in his gut.
“Verdammt!” Baumgart shouted.
Charlie’s head whipped around. The breath whooshed from his lungs. There was the girl, clinging one-handed to the wheel’s mudguard, scratching and clawing her way up the side. Her legs dragged limply over the speeding ground under her, shredding the skirts and skin into bloody, tattered swags of flesh. To his surprise, pain was not the expression on her face. It was hatred and hunger that burned from her gnashing teeth and mad eyes. She possessed a strength and voraciousness that he had never witnessed before. The true harm she might be capable of struck down on Charlie like a bell hammer. The Earl’s life was in jeopardy.
The girl’s slender, pale arm grappled over the back of the folded canvas cover, inches from Earl Baumgart’s head. Wrapping the reins around one hand, Charlie unhitched the shotgun from under his bench.
“My lord!” Charlie shouted, struggling to keep steady against the bucking carriage. “Move away!”
Baumgart caught sight of the weapon. “Charles! No! You can’t kill this girl!”
The maiden’s other hand slapped over the edge, her flayed fingers catching a firm hold of the Earl’s arm.
“Back!” Charlie ordered as he cocked the hammer.
“Miss, please!” The Earl struggled to free himself. The girl rose over the side, blood-streaked strands of blonde locks lashing and whipping about her lacerated face.
“I’m warning you!” Charlie narrowed his aim.
She opened her mouth wide and snapped her teeth inches from Baumgart’s forearm.
“Mein Gott!” Baumgart exclaimed. Then to Charlie, “Shoot her! Shoot her!”
Charlie sucked in a breath and pulled the trigger. The shot exploded the ridge of trapezius muscle between her throat and collarbone. Blood sprayed through the air, her shoulder bucking backward, arm flinging out behind her. Baumgart shouted in horror. The Greys screamed again.
But still she remained. Dumbfounded, Charlie paused, his aim wavering. That wound would have stopped even a battle-hardened soldier. The girl slopped her limp arm back over the seat and this time, grabbed Baumgart’s shoulder. Her shattered clavicle bristled bright white above the wash of fresh blood that poured down her chest. Charlie gritted against the violent rattle of the carriage. Tucking the butt of the gun under his tethered arm he ejected the spent cartridge.
Baumgart wriggled and squirmed, trying to slide out of his coat. “Let go, you demon!”
Returning the shotgun up to aim, Charlie braced himself for the kickback but paused and eased his finger off the trigger. The girl had slithered closer, her mouth agape and eyes flared. Red drool poured over her chin and onto Baumgart’s shoulder. A clean shot without harm to the Earl was impossible.
“Charles!”
Earl Baumgart struggled out of his overcoat, peeling his arm and shoulder free of her grasp. He dove to the front quarter seat behind the coachman’s bench at the same instant the front wheel struck a large rock, sending a violent impact crashing through the landau chassis. His footing slipped and he struck his temple on the edge of the carriage door. Baumgart crumpled into a heap. Charlie’s hand smashed against the cold guardrails. The gun clattered to the coach floor as the maiden pitched backward off the side of the landau.
“My lord!” Charlie called again. “Are you all right?”
Baumgart held his bleeding head and brought his back to rest against the carriage door, too dazed to reply. His eyes rolled back and his body melted under the weight of unconsciousness.
Charlie cradled his throbbing fist under his arm. Assured that such a sudden shock through the vehicle would have sent the girl tumbling onto the ground, he glanced back to the rear canvas cover. Instead, he saw a single bloodied hand firmly anchored over the same door that Earl Baumgart now lay slumped upon.
Then, with a lurch and snapping of wood, the rear axle cracked.
Calculating the risks, Charlie whirled back to the wild, squealing Greys. Frightened into a mindless lather, they dragged the coach without concern, bashing it over every pit and rock, like careless boys running with a toy wagon. Loosened, broken spokes flew from the wooden wheels like spears. In a last desperate attempt, Charlie wound his hands down the leather reins, braced his feet on the iron front-board and pulled with all the might he could muster.
“For the love of Mother Mary, yield, you bloody beasts!” he screamed. “Yield!”
The panic in his voice was all the team heard. Their alarm confirmed the horses thundered blindly onward. Shaking, Charlie’s arms drooped with exhaustion. His eyes darted back to the unconscious Earl sprawled on the floor of the carriage. Above him, the maiden had pulled her torso back onto the ledge side. She was nearly inside the coach.
Leaping to his feet, Charlie pulled in the reins, knotted them tight around the whip socket and snatched them up the long, leather switch. He swung a leg over and straddled the coachman’s seatback, one hand on the iron railings the other poised to deliver a firm lash of the whip.
“Oy!” Charlie shouted to avert her attention.
The girl’s head jostled violently but her eyes snapped up at his voice.
Charlie secured his balance and released a nasty crack of the whip against the girl’s arm. “Back, you devil!”
She flinched from the noise but was undaunted by the new wound on her purple skin.
Charlie raised the whip and gave her another swift, discouraging snap across the side of her neck. The thin flesh burst apart with a mist of blood but still, she continued. Charlie released a few more cracks across her arms and chest but the girl had now gained a leg over the side. He tried a final time, across her head. The whip slapped at the soft, fleshy cut on her cheek, enlarging the wound into a flap of skin that hung limply from her face. At this, she inhaled and let out an ear-splitting scream.
“C’mon then!” he challenged.
Charlie straightened, stepping down into the carriage when something hard struck his back, tossing him onto the back of the rear bench. In a blur, a low-hanging branch swept over the open carriage, just missing the maiden’s head. Charlie lolled low and dangerous over the ground. Dust and small pebbles kicked up from the broken rear wheels pelted his face. He yelped in pain, squeezed his eyes tight and forced his body back into the carriage.
Winded and blinded, Charlie realized the whip was no longer in his hand. Tears flooded his gritty, burning eyes. He swiped a coat sleeve over his face and rolled over just in time to catch the maiden as she launched herself onto him. They landed flat on the seat and she opened her mouth wide for a large bite of the soft pulsing flesh near Charlie’s jugular.
Charlie caught a handful of her blood-stiffened hair and yanked her head backward. With his other hand, he caught her shinning, red jaw at the throat, pinning her arm’s-length above him. The girl wriggled and thrashed with rage, nails raking at his hands. He blinked back his blurred sight as she gurgled, frustrated, her teeth working the air behind the exposed tendons in her jaw. Fatigue burned down his arms, the muscles yearning for release. Adrenaline flooded his brain as he deliberated.

By: Erica Ruhe

Check in next Thursday for the final installment!

READ PART ONE HERE.