By Christopher Shultz
1. The Lion's Head
Our flock was dead. We
gathered their tithings and split.
I-40 west, the stench of Texas cowshit
choked me and Joan less than
the scene we left behind:
Solo cups streaked and beaded in red;
the cleansing explosions and fragments of
remorse; the lifeless bodies of our congregation.
In the wake of their death,
our new life was born.
The outside world burned wet against
our windshield, evening showers
turning stop lights into
distorted red orbs.
Like the Devil's eyes, Joan felt.
He kept his distance from us.
From her, the Divine One,
leader and killer of men.
"Did you hear that?" she whispered.
I had, but I didn't let on.
The silence resumed.
We had distance yet to travel
and the Ghost was growing impatient.
2. The Goat's Body
Our hosts didn't have much to eat,
but we made do with leftover chicken
and flat soda from the fridge. We ate,
we pet their cat, we slept in their beds.
We had troubled sleep, forced to listen
as the wind wailed outside,
both of us knowing
it was not the wind.
In the morning,
we awoke to a snowstorm.
"It's because of us," Joan said.
"Because of what we did."
"Because of what you did," I countered.
"You helped, Jim."
"I was along for the ride. Still am."
"We shouldn't have done it."
"You can leave some money. Right here."
I pounded my fist on the coffee table,
frightening the cat. "It'll pay for
"It doesn't matter," Joan insisted,
though her mind (I could tell)
wandered back to the master bedroom,
where the corpses lay.
After two days, the flurries stopped,
so we set out again.
We were close...
There were no other cars,
no other people.
The world was empty.
Just me, Joan and the Ghost,
who squirmed in the backseat,
pestering, perpetually hungry.
It was our child,
though I felt,
he looked more like me.
Hart met us near the Mexico border.
"Two thousand each," he said,
and held out his hand.
She paid the man, and he drove
the three of us—Joan, the Ghost,
and me—to the place people like us
invariably end up.
Some called it El Rey, but we knew better
than to let names get mixed up in this thing.
"I'm going to paint again," Joan said.
"When we get there."
Hart said nothing.
The Ghost and me, we just laughed.
She didn't say another word
the rest of the way.
3. The Serpent's Tail
I slept some, dreamt even less,
though one vision lingered like a word
on the tip of my tongue.
I didn't let on,
and before long, we'd arrived.
Rough terrain, rougher people.
Beautiful in an ugly sort of way...
A single room, a twin mattress.
Space enough for one person.
"It's going to be cramped," Joan said.
Hart just frowned at her.
There was distance behind us.
There was distance between us.
One day, sitting in our small room,
I realized the Ghost was gone.
Joan, drunk, still not painting,
looked at me and said,
it's still here."
She was right, and I knew it.
So I told her about the dream I'd had
on the way to our new, nameless home.
It wasn't a dream at all, but a memory;
"Fourth of July. I'm six years old.
I slip below the rippling surface
of my grandparents' swimming pool
and nearly drown.
My grandfather pulls me to safety,
and later we go to the fireworks show.
I watch the explosions, vibrant and fiery,
against the black summer sky.
And I know then, as I know now
I never really left that pool..."
There was only silence then.
We didn't speak to each other again.
I was gone.
But I lingered on at the periphery
of Joan's consciousness,
no longer a man
with a history and a name,
just a piece of her that died
a long time ago;
the Entity, the Ghost, the Thing
that made her do the things she did.
She was fine with it,
and so was I.
- - -
Christopher Shultz grew up watching old Universal monster movies and reading Stephen King, and he hasn't left the shadows since. His stories have appeared in MicroHorror and the Anthology Another 100 Horrors, among other places.
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