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BLACK ROSES

CABINET OF HENRI GAMUL

ANNIVERSARY

CURIOSITY PEDDLER: WEEP AND MOAN

COLD READS

HANGMAN'S DOZEN THEME

TRAILER WE WHO ARE HIS FOLLOWERS

HANGMAN'S DOZEN EP. 1

HANGMAN'S DOZEN EP. 2: THE DROWNED MAN

THE SWARM from THE BOOK OF WEIRD

THE HUNGRY FACE from THE BOOK OF WEIRD

AUDIO DRAMA: ATOMIC PLAYBOY

ELIXIR

SUNDOWNERS EP 2 SAM HILL DIED HERE

BLACKOUT CITY: DEATH RAIN

ELECTRIC CHAIR 37

RADIO PLAY: SEEING RED

HORROR ADDICTS 113

Saturday, December 8, 2012

KEEPERS OF THE INNER LIGHT copyright 2012 m.s.


Zola wasn't sure about the man who came into her shop an hour ago. He looked strange, with his black ruffled hair and pock-marked face, small screwed down eyes that danced around like a Mexican jumping beans. He was stout, more chubby than muscular, and wore an old tattered army jacket that was too small for him. He walked in between the narrow wooden bookshelves aimlessly, looking lost. He skimmed the pamphlet racks, racing fingers flipping through the flimsy card stock.

Every once in awhile he would lift his head up and his black beady eyes would meet Zola's large brown eyes. She had an odd sensation run through her bones. Almost....a connection.

Zola didn't want to approach him. Especially since April wasn't there. April had worked with her for five years, and twice in that time she was with Zola when the shop was robbed. April foiled one robbery by tossing her hot coffee in the mans face, then smacking him with a deluxe edition of the PICKWICK PAPERS. The second time didn't go so smoothly. April tried the same trick, but the robber only stood there with steaming hot coffee dripping from his scowling face. He smacked April across the face with his other hand, bloodying her lip. They gave him the forty-three dollars from the till and he ran down the street, never to be seen again. The police said that was an unsolved case.







So, yeah, Zola felt safe when April was around, only that day, April was off.

Zola had always wanted to run a book shop, just not a New age book shop. The previous owner, Delores Dean, Madame D, as her followers called her, sold the shop to Zola five years ago with one stipulation: Zola keep the name (SERENITY BOOKS), which was no problem. The second thing was readings. Zola never pretended to know how to do that crap, nor believe in that whole psychic stuff.

At first, it was okay, because Madame D did the reading for the first three months, teaching Zola and April what to say and how to read tea leaves. Then Madame D died suddenly in her sleep. Hell, she was eighty three, and claimed she was sixty-one. She was a very nice old woman, but, as Zola saw it, more than just a ditzy broad----she was crazy as shit.

Zola had been moving away from that New age tripe the past three years,making it more into a legitimate bookstore. And lately, only doing the occasional tea reading when one of Madame D's old weirdo clients would show up. Zola had not had one of them in at least a year.


She sat behind the register on her over-sized plush pillow, watching the strange man on the crappy security camera, hoping he was just a kook and not a shop lifter or worse.






When she looked away from the security camera to get her coffee, then back to it, the strange man was gone. Zola looked again and made a noise. She heard a grunt and the strange man was standing at the cash register, his dim eyes staring a hole through Zola. She jumped from her chair nervously, dropping her cup to the floor.

“I've got something for you,” The strange man said.

“What?” Zola said, fumbling her words. She swallowed hard.

“There's something I'm suppose to give you,” He said in a sing-song voice. He reached inside his army jacket. He took out a glowing oval shaped crystal. 'Here,” He offered.

Zola shook her head, dismayed a bit. “I don't want it.”

The strange man's upper lip curled. “Take it,” He growled and pushed it into her hands.
Zola almost dropped the glowing oval. Light spewed every which way, blinding Zola for a few seconds. When she recovered, she noticed the strange man was gone.









“Hey!” She called out. “Hey, look, I—I don't want this...whatever it is!”
There was no answer. No sound of his boots on the floorboards, or the slamming of the door of the shop. He just vanished.
Zola sat the glowing oval on the cash register. She sighed.
*******************************************************

“He just came right up to you and handed the glowing globe to you?” April said, took a sip from her beer.
They were in Zola's studio apartment and had tried to enjoy a movie and a few beers, but this incident had Zola's mind twisted like a pretzel.

“Forced it on me,” Zola came from the kitchen holding a bottle of vodka in her hands. She sat on the puke green sofa beside April. “He forced that damn thing on me. When I touched it, it began to pulsate.....like it was alive. Lights just....went everywhere....weird.”










Zola turned down the TV, The Searchers was on, which fit into their criteria of Western night. Every Wednesday was Western night, but lately since April began dating a cook from Gus' bar, the two of them hadn't spent much time together outside of work.

“I'm never going to see the ending to this movie,” April bit her lower lip. “Something always happens when we watch this movie.”

“If you hadn't been with that nutcase, he wouldn't have terrorized us. You could have already seen the ending.” Zola drank straight from the vodka bottle and gagged as it burned her throat.

“Yeah....you let me know about that every time we have Western night. I know, I know. He was crazy.”

“That's all that stupid thing does,” Zola tried to kick the glowing oval and missed. She fell over on April and quickly straightened herself. “It's like a forever flashlight. All evening...don't laugh..I heard a voice coming from that thing.”









April stiffened. Her dark eyes moved from side to side. “Listen,” She whispered.
They listened together. There was a scuffle coming from the bathroom. Zola breathed uneasy and April shushed her. They gripping each others hands way too tight, leaving red marks pale pink skin. The noise had turned into a sputter, then sounding like someone was scrubbing with a hard sponge on the sink.

They exchanged curious looks.

April stood, pulling Zola to a standing position. She began to walk, but Zola resisted. April pulled again as if she were tugging on a leash. Zola shook her head no. April grit her teeth and lowered her eyebrows. She was giving Zola her “cool Clint Eastwood” look when she was getting upset with her.

Zola sighed, relented.

April led Zola by the hand, slowly to the bathroom. The door was partially closed, only a nightlight provided a source of light. As they passed the closet, April swooped up a baseball bat that had belonged to Zola's brother when he played baseball in high school.








They heard a flutter of wings.
Again they exchanged curious looks.

April kicked the bathroom door open. A tall, winged man in a dark suit stood perched on the toilet
He was shuffling his wings, and had in the small darkness away from the nightlight, held his head close to his folded arms. He lift his head up to reveal a face resembling a vulture. He squawked angrily. Two large yellow eyes were glowing, and in mere moments, had turned to a scorching red.

Zola screamed. She turned April's hand loose and ran for cover. April swung the baseball bat wildly, missing the vulture by a mile. The bat took out the bottles of lotion and other assorted perfumes that were on a shelf above the vulture. It tried to take flight and at that time the bat caught the vulture on the beak.

There was a loud crunch. The vulture's beak split in half. It let out a cry reminiscent of an animal caught in a trap. Black liquid squirted from the wound and sprayed the sink and toilet. The vulture flapped its wings frantically, called out for help in a high pitched squeal. A wing clocked April on her forehead. She spun around and dropped the bat. The vulture fell first to the linoleum floor. April followed, face first in the black liquid the vulture was spewing.







April just lay there, stuck in the gooey black liquid. After a few minutes, Zola slowly made an appearance in the doorway. She gasped, reached down to help April to her feet. April steadied herself with a hand on Zola's shoulder.
She looked back, and the vulture had turned to black soot.

“What the hell, Zola?” April said wearily.

Zola just shrugged.

****************************************************

They arrived at the book shop just in time to open at nine. It mattered little for Zola and April to rush. There was only two customers waiting. A woman in bright green pants suit and an elderly gentleman, who asked a certain gentleman’s magazine that could only be purchased at an erotic goods shop down the street.

Neither was speaking to the other, concerning last nights misadventure. A lot of quick glances and chilly demeanor that would have iced over the floor they stood on. Zola fixed the til. April walked around in a huff, placing books on the shelves that were laying around.








April went to the stockroom to place her lunch in the small refrigerator. Seconds later, she Calmly reentered the sales floor.
“Zola?” She called out in an even tone.

“Yes?” Zola said in her best business voice.

“Could you please come into the stockroom?” April said, moved a few strands of blond hair from her eyes.

“I'm kind of busy, April,” Zola snapped.

“Oh, no you aren't. Not too busy to see this,” April said through clenched teeth.

'Fine!” Zola slammed the register shut. She stomped her way across the sales floor to the stockroom, eying April the whole time.

April stayed, folded her arms, leaned against a bookshelf containing Science fiction books. She counted to five, then heard Zola scream.






Zola backed out of the stockroom, her hand over mouth. She was shaking, holding a green army coat in the other hand. April touched Zola's shoulder, rubbed it gently.

“Was that the man that gave you the glowing globe?” April asked in a whisper.

Zola nodded slowly. “He's....he's just hanging there.”

“It's not all of him,” April walked into the stockroom. Zola followed reluctantly. “I don't know what's going on, Zola. But it's bad. Real bad.

The man was nothing more than an empty husk, naked skin, no bones, that make a human outline. He was hanging from the lowest rafter. Hanging a long metal rod attached to a hook that was embedded deep into the back of what was the man's neck.

Zola wouldn't look at it. She kept her head down, her eyes to her shoes.
“I don't know what to do?” She said, still shaking.









“We have to get him down. Dispose of him.” April pulled on the meaty husk's legs, tearing from the hook slightly. It made a deep ripping noise, and Zola shivered. She took a couple of steps back, averting her eyes from the slinking hanging body.

“What----what about the police?” Zola's voice broke. “They have to know---”

“Know what?” April screamed. “Think about it, Zola. Would you believe a giant vulture in a suit was perched on your toilet? How about a strange man giving out glowing balls and then shedding his skin? Screw the cops!”

April yanked at the man's legs and he came away from the hook, opening up his neck. Black liquid oozed out as the empty husk fell to the concrete floor with a loud thud.

“Oh, God....i'm going to be sick....” Zola cupped her mouth with both hands, pushed by April to the bathroom behind a row of back stock of paperback books.

“For fuck's sake, Zola!” April called out to her. “You need to be tougher than that in this world!
You can't be the fainting damsel in distress and some asshole comes to your rescue!”







The alleyways at two in the morning were not safe at all. April and Zola hadn't much choice, especially if they were discarding a body. Even if that body is only an empty vessel. People generally have issues with finding human remains in their trash cans.

The empty husk was easy to place into a trunk. They just rolled him into a meaty ball and pushed him inside. Of course Zola couldn't handle it. She dashed off to the bathroom to empty the contents of her stomach.

When the bookshop closed, April and Zola loaded the trunk on a dolly and rolled it to Zola's S-10 pickup. As they were struggling to lift the trunk on the bed of the truck, two men passing by, stopped and helped. One with curly black hair chatted April up, she excepted his cell phone number out of respect for his help. Zola, not really interested, had the other, muscle-bound, bald, man talk her ears off. He tried to give her his number, she declined, telling him she was married. He refused to believe it. He also forgot to remove his own wedding ring.










Getting the body and trunk out of the back of the pick-up truck was an entirely different farce. Argument after argument, and an hour later, the trunk was on the pavement. Zola had the lead, a hand gripping the trunk's handle,dragging it across the cobble pavement. April was in the back, pushing. They were headed toward the dumpsters behind a pizza carry-out. They stopped. They heard flapping of wings. Lowly, there was cooing.

The moon had just settled behind dark clouds in the night sky. A harsh darkness had over come them.

“Shit,” April said. “I can't even see my hand in front of face.”

“What is that noise....I'm scared, April.” Zola said.

April sighed. “Me too, Zola.” Somehow, in the darkness, they had found each others hands. April pulled Zola to her. They held each other close. Zola tried to stifle her sobs. The harder she tried, the louder they became. Soon, April chimed in with Zola, only a more raspy weeping.










Suddenly, as if a light had been switched on, a bright orange hue surrounded April and Zola. Seconds later the spotlight grew to show their guests.

It must have been fifty vultures in black suits in a long chain around April and Zola. All of them had their heads bowed, their arms folded across their chests. Their black silken wings were against their backs, flapping ever so gentle, like a cat swinging its tail playfully.

Zola drew in a breath. April cursed in a whisper.

“Don't move,” April ordered.

“I don't think I can,” Zola said. “I'm petrified.”

“Oh....my....God....” April gasped.

A hundred more vultures had joined the others. These were dressed differently. Most of them wore long flowing, multicolored robes. They carried staffs with glowing balls attached. others were dressed like they were from the sixteen hundreds, short cloaks—hip length---linen shirts with ruffs, doublets with long sleeves sewn in, and stockings with flat shoes.







They were marching down the pavement in a scuttle, all in a long line that resembled a conga line. They stopped and bowed their heads just like the other vultures in black suits. In the time it took those strange vulture people to convene, two more vultures in loin cloths and bare feet came jogging down the alley, holding two long bamboo sticks haphazardly nailed to a throne that would cause Henry 8th to turn green with envy. Upon that throne sat another, more regal dressed vulture, a flowing red robe and several golden chains around its feathered neck. The regal vulture held a staff in one hand and a glowing sphere in another, which the light from it blinded April and Zola when the regal vulture came closer. The conga line parted, the two vultures carrying the throne danced a zig zag, then sat the throne and its honor down gently.

All of the vultures knelt. They reared their heads backwards and a terrible screeching cry sounded from their black beaks.

“What the fuck is this?!” April yelled, holding her hands up to shield the light from the glowing sphere.

“Oh, God....” Zola fell to knees, clutching her chest and moaning like a wounded animal.









They were marching down the pavement in a scuttle, all in a long line that resembled a conga line. They stopped and bowed their heads just like the other vultures in black suits. In the time it took those strange vulture people to convene, two more vultures in loin cloths and bare feet came jogging down the alley, holding two long bamboo sticks haphazardly nailed to a throne that would cause Henry 8th to turn green with envy. Upon that throne sat another, more regal dressed vulture, a flowing red robe and several golden chains around its feathered neck. The regal vulture held a staff in one hand and a glowing sphere in another, which the light from it blinded April and Zola when the regal vulture came closer. The conga line parted, the two vultures carrying the throne danced a zig zag, then sat the throne and its honor down gently.

All of the vultures knelt. They reared their heads backwards and a terrible screeching cry sounded from their black beaks.

“What the fuck is this?!” April yelled, holding her hands up to shield the light from the glowing sphere.

“Oh, God....” Zola fell to knees, clutching her chest and moaning like a wounded animal.









April went to her friend. Weeping, she touched Zola on her back. “Zola, what is it? Please tell me what's going on....”

“She will be fine...as soon as she gives us what we have come for.” A voice floated to April's ears, like waves from a calm sea. April rose, dumbstruck. The voice came from the regal vulture. April couldn't place the voice. She thought about it, and clarity and realization came at once. It was the former bookshop owner, Madam D.

“You.....” April pointed. “Madam....D?” She let the name roll off her tongue like a taste of a bad milk.

“My human name....yes. It is I.” The regal vulture said.

April looked down at Zola writhing on the hard cobblestone, still moaning, calling out for help.

“Who are you?” April said.









“If I told you who we were, it would only confuse you. You could never grasp the concept of our nature, nor our reasoning for existence, nor the world we came from. What I will tell you, is that we are not of this world. We were trapped here a century ago, caught in a mystic time slip that hovers between your dimension and...ours. Zola had been chosen to carry the light which will take us home. She can help us in the final stage to carry us back to our world.

“The strange man that had given Zola the sphere of flight, was one of us. He had been a keeper of the inner light for nigh on a decade. He shed his human skin, as I did when the communion became apparent. He then became the protector of the inner light.

“The one who was murdered in Zola's house....”

April flinched, drew in a nervous breath. She remembered what she had done to one of their own.

“One you murdered.” The regal vulture turned loose the glowing sphere and it rose in the air, floated to Zola. It tapped the cobblestone with its staff. “If only you two had followed instructions, you could have accompanied us on our journey home.”







The vultures in black suits hummed menacingly in unison. They turned their gaze to April, yellow eyes turning fire red. From the middle of their gathering, a black suit clad brother levitated, and as if a fierce wind had picked it up and brought it face to face with April. The vulture growled.

April took a step backward, the vulture reached out, three elongated grimy fingers took hold of her face. She winced, fear exploded inside her. April shook violently, tried to speak, instead it was a low whine. The vulture moved its three fingers around her face to find her eyes, and then her open mouth, where those fingers found a home. The fingertips eased itself into her eye sockets, further exploring the two bloodied holes.

April screamed in agonizing pain.

The last finger drove itself deep into her mouth. A powerful light was extracted and entered the vulture's fingers. Electricity unbounded and became a wiry orange fence surrounding him. In a flash the light disappeared inside his chest. The vulture removed its long grimy fingers from April's face.

She fell, lifeless, to the cobblestone, a black ink dripped from her sightless eyes.








Zola hovered above the crowd of vultures in black suits and flowing robes. A ball of bright orange shot from her midsection and tore open the night sky. It peeled open like fingers pulling a grapefruit apart from the center. Still levitating, Zola felt as if she were dreaming. She was groggy, and all the muscles in her body tight, useless. She opened her droopy eyelids, saw the vultures below her disrobing. The regal vulture was first to remove all clothing, spread its wings and take flight. The action was like one long slow motion segment in a Sam Peckinpah film.

The rest of the vultures were soon in the night sky, a hundred or so of them, flying toward that orange light, disappearing into that black chasm.

*****************************************************


Zola awoke the next morning, lying on the cobblestone next to April's limp body. Trash men found her. One trash man stayed in his truck and called the police. The other one helped Zola to her feet, asked if she was all right.

She didn't answer his question. She looked up at the sky and said, “They're gone. All of them. They're gone.”







“You need to go to the hospital or something,” The trash man told her. “You hit your head or something.”

A vulture circled the trash truck a few times and landed on the back of it. Zola started to shake, gripped the trash man's hands.

“It's okay,” The trash man said. “Nothing to be afraid of. Can't get rid of those damn things.”

Zola swallowed hard. She shook her head. “They have to go back home,” She said, a wild shrieking laugh erupted from her. “They have to go home.”








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