#NGHW Winner of the Poetry Challenge!

Julianne Snow and I were fortunate to be invited on as guest judges for the fifth challenge of The Next Great Horror Writer Contest hosted by HorrorAddicts.com. Here is a sampling of the wining poem by Jonathan Fortin – A Warning on Wings.

HorrorAddicts.net

This is just a taste of Jonathan’s poem that will be featured in an
upcoming issue of Sirens Call Magazine.

A Warning on Wings by Jonathan Fortin

His prayer was drawn in blood, the circle like a door

He sat beside the threshold, book open on the floor

This will never work, to himself he sighed

But he was so lonely that every night he cried

He was a somber man, not blessed with good looks

Hated by his village, he found solace in books

Tonight he stripped naked, legs crossed, arms spread

He whispered the words that from the pages bled:

“For you I’d be the greatest that I could ever be

I would do it all, anything you ask of me.”

The circle was no prison; he did not seek a slave

Nor mindless copulation, which would bore him to the grave

No, he sought the thing…

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Serpentine Willow

A beautifully written tale of devotion and horror by Lee A. Forman. ‘Serpentine Willow’ on Pen of the Damned.

Rebecca’s toes curled in her boots when her feet touched the unholy earth. Ancient trees populated the forest ahead, pale fog twisting between their trunks with serpentine grace. Gnarled limbs formed an impenetrable canopy above, coloring all with a nocturnal hue. Tendrils of mist slithered around her legs, and her knees ached to buckle, but she forced herself on; she knew fear would bring demise.

She thought of Oliver. His shining face cast iron rods into her bones. It kept her from succumbing to the black moss which grabbed at her feet. His smile, the way he always wanted his sandwiches without the crust, his unending questions—memories that powered her will.

Movement in the brush clenched her jaw. But her eyes never averted the path; they stared forward, glazed with determination, intent only on reaching the end. After that it wouldn’t matter.

A clearing opened ahead. Rebecca stopped and…

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Crying, by Jon Olson on @PenoftheDamned @JonOlsonAuthor

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Crying

by Jon Olson

The house was silent.

James’ wife Kate was in bed, no longer nagging him while his son slept quietly in his room. His cries had a way of penetrating deep into James’ head.

Sitting on the shitty brown couch his in-laws had given them as a wedding present, James enjoyed the silence.

Then his father spoke.

“Is that kid of yours going to cry tonight?”

James talked to his father every night, whether he wanted to or not; he always told James how to live his life.

The old man was more overbearing now than when he was alive.

“No, he’s not,” James replied.

“Yes, he will.”

Ignoring his father, he tried to find something decent to watch until Kate called from their bedroom.

“Honey, the air conditioner cut out again! Can you come take a look at it?”

“Tell her to suck it up,” the old man spat. His lifeless eyes blinked at his son as his crooked lips spread into a grin. “Or are you going to give in to her again?”

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The Box, by Mark Steinwachs on @PenoftheDamned @AuthorMarkStein

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The Box

by Mark Steinwachs

The buzzing invades your brain. Why is the alarm clock going off? You begin to open your eyes and realize it’s not the alarm, but the doorbell. Who the hell is at my door at— rolling over, the clock finishes your thought by flashing 3:10 a.m.

You slide out of bed. As your feet touch the floor, the buzzing stops. You get up anyway and walk through the empty house to the front door to see if someone is there. There’s no one on the porch when you look through the peephole. You unlock the door, open it. On the ground in front of you is a small cardboard box. Stepping over it, you look around the front yard and glance up and down the street. Everything is quiet. You scoop the package up and walk into the house, kicking the door shut behind you.

Something solid moves inside the box as you walk to the couch and set it on the coffee table. It’s a perfect square about a foot tall, and meticulously taped. You pick it up again. Whatever is inside shifts slightly, like there’s not quite enough packing material holding it in place. Turning the box over in your hands, you see no markings of any kind.

You set the box down not sure which side is up.

Well, the box will be there in the morning.

Getting up from the couch, you head to your bedroom for a few more hours of sleep. But it doesn’t come. Lying there with your eyes closed, the image of the box fills your thoughts. Your eyes open, and once again, you turn to the clock.

3:50 a.m.

This is ridiculous. It’s a box. And it’s probably not even meant for me.

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Cleaning House, by John Potts Jr on @PenoftheDamned @JohnLPottsJr

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Cleaning House

by John Potts Jr

The blinds were shut, and that meant it was Thursday.

It was the only day of the week when Brent would remove himself from the floor. He’d lock his door, turn off the fluorescent lights, and play seventies rock; usually Zeppelin or Sabbath. This was his office time, the time he dedicated to monotonous managerial duties that ate away at him, bit by bit, and Brent would eventually get to them before he went home. But he’d first lean back in his chair, close his eyes, and spend hours daydreaming. He never cast lustful strings of fantasies nor did he muse over troves of impossible wealth. What Brent wanted was simple, and at the very least, fair.

In his haze was Jimmy Nelson, tall and amiable, complimenting the residents of his sober living home while he passed their medication, and he’d notice Selma Ashton, who finally forced a smile, playing checkers or interacting with the residents with anything but her nasty, resentful glare. Even Marco pitched in. Instead of sneaking off to the bathroom to rail stimulants, Marco was cooking dinner and preaching the steps of sobriety like the recovering addict he claimed to be.

“Not like it used to be. I remember when it was okay to send someone home for loafing around more than a few minutes. Shit, I can’t even have a stern conversation to the lazy pricks without H.R.’s approval, you know that?”

He’d tell himself this once a week, and when his morale cowered like a tail-tucked beast, Brent would fold and vent to his subordinates.

“Sorry you’re stressed, Brent. Anything else you need?”

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Devil Is In The Details, by Joseph A. Pinto on @PenoftheDamned @JosephAPinto

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Devil Is In The Details

by Joseph A. Pinto

Her eyes speak volumes, assuring him it will be as it was; it will be alright. He knows it won’t be—it can’t be.

Nothing escapes the scrutiny of the incandescent lighting above their heads. No dark space exists for him in which to hide. He scrubs the stubble along his chin. “It’s coming out amazing, honey.”

He watches the artist deliver life to his daughter with thoughtful strokes, imbuing pallid skin with a fresh blush. He pushes a smile to his lips, watching his little girl watch him. She knows his nuances; the flutter of his lashes gives him away every time. She is his blood, after all.

Statuesque, she sits quietly for her portrait. It crushes his heart. Her beautiful lips, once so full like those of her mother, stretch like crinkled strips of weathered jerky now, the music silenced from her dancing eyes. She is tired, so tired, draining slowly from the inside. He scrubs his chin, weary as well, weary and broken witnessing the erosion of his child.

The artist half speaks, half clears this throat. “Sir… Sir?”

“Yes, I’m sorry,” he croaks.

The artist nods politely, aware he has trespassed across guarded domain. Brush hovering atop the canvas, he motions to a specific area of the portrait, then repositions himself atop his stool, respectfully waiting.

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Holomorphs, by Brian Moreland on @PenoftheDamned @BrianMoreland

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Holomorphs

by Brian Moreland

Eager with excitement, I downloaded the new app. It asked to connect with my friends and followers on social media, and I accepted. I filled out the detailed profile, answered a questionnaire that recorded my voice, and linked my Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Within minutes of completing my profile, my first holomorph friend appeared! I stood speechless in my living room as light beamed from the ceiling. Swirling particles formed into my best friend, Dane, from Seattle. Not the real him, but a vivid, life-sized hologram. He was partially transparent, like a Technicolor ghost, but somehow the illusion felt real.

“Oh, my God, this is incredible!” I said.

“I know, right? Like the Starship Enterprise beamed me here.”

We half-embraced, bro-style. There was actually a supple texture to his three-dimensional form, like hugging someone made of thin rubber. Dane was shorter than expected. I’d never actually seen him in person. We’d met on Facebook and became instant friends in a group that discussed sci-fi horror movies. For years, I’d only known Dane through typed-word conversations on a screen, along with his stagnant profile photo—a plump face with a beard.

“The hologram you looks different from your photo,” I said.

“I kinda lied about my weight on my profile,” he chuckled. “I like the holo-me better.”

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Double Feature, by Hunter Shea on @PenoftheDamned @HunterShea1

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Double Feature

by Hunter Shea

The moment he stepped through the door, Diana’s guts went sub-zero. His hair was matted down and wet and he smelled like pencil lead laced with a badly wiped ass.

Today he wore his stupidest grin, the one where he looked mentally challenged (though Diana knew full well he wasn’t), along with dirty jeans that could probably stand up on their own and a Texas Chainsaw Massacre T-shirt.

“Big night tonight,” he said, breathing heavily. Something was wrong with his lungs. He always sounded as if he’d run a mile, even if he’d just been sitting around for hours staring at the TV. She kept hoping it was something fatal, yet here he still was, labored breath expelling tuna and gingivitis in her face.

Diana eyed him coolly.

He lifted a plastic yellow shopping bag.

“It’s double feature night,” he said, chest puffing up.

God, he loved double feature nights.

“I even got popcorn and Mild Duds.”

Diana stared hard into his stupid, anxious face, wishing she could be like one of those people in that movie he loved. She thought it was called Scanners. The one where they could blow your fucking head up with just a thought. Now that was a super power she’d give both legs for. She might even thrown in one of her arms just to know she could splatter his greasy, bowling ball head all over the wall.

His shoulders sagged, the bag dropping onto the coffee table that had more rings than twenty Saturns.

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Honored Guest, by Christopher Liccardi on @PenoftheDamned @CLiccardiAuthor

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Honored Guest

by Christopher Liccardi

The light hurt and his head swam. He wanted to cover his eyes.

A hand floated in the corner of his view; it belonged to a woman.

“Nobody ever hears about us, the quiet ones; the little ones. The slight ones.” The owner of the voice caressed his neck. He shivered and tried to crawl back into the darkness that kept all the bright pain away. The voice and the hand moved off to his right.

The blackness crept up, this time without much of a fight. He faded away to the sound of her voice going on about being invisible in society.

***

“Awake again? I’m pleased to see you’re back. Can I get you something, water perhaps?” The voice purred with conviviality that wasn’t quite real.

He heard a sound so distinct that it couldn’t be anything other than what it was; a set of high heels walking across wood. She kept talking to him but it was nothing more than background noise.

“You’re going to be groggy for a bit longer I’m afraid.” The voice was close now. Something cold caressed his lips. She rubbed it around his mouth, and when he opened she slid the ice chip in. Too numb to miss the bitter cold on his tongue, his thirst was as painful as the ache that was developing around his chest and gut.

He was fading again, spittle drooled out of his mouth and into his lap.

“Oops.” She said.

Blackness…

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Death Should Be Remembered, by A.F. Stewart on @PenoftheDamned @scribe77

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Death Should Be Remembered

by A.F. Stewart

When I arrived, the gate to the graveyard was open, wrought iron swinging on its hinges. I hesitated. I didn’t like company when I visited. I preferred to be alone, to stand at the headstones in the silence.

Should I go in?

I looked over my shoulder, back down the road.

I could go home. Come back another day.

No. I needed this. Needed to remember death, relive what happened, hear the screams again. It would help ease the pressure until…

Yeah. Take a chance. Could be someone just forgot to fasten the latch properly. You can always lie if you meet someone.

I passed through the gate, shutting it behind me. I decided to visit Patricia today. Her family buried her in a secluded spot on the east side of the graveyard.

Less chance of being seen.

A silence settled on the place, and the crunch of my feet on the gravel roadway sound like the crack of bone. A familiar sound, but I shivered. It unnerved me for some reason and I was glad when I turned off onto the dirt path. Nothing but the crunch of the occasional leaf there. Not even the chirping of the birds, or the swish of the wind.

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