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Tales From Hell's Gulf

We presume by now you've visited the gloriously backwards Hell's Gulf, wading through its murky waters before enjoying a drink at Large Marge's bar, and we trust you've avoided the questionable law enforcement. Now you can explore the Hell's Gulf literary universe through these short tales offered by Nick Carlson, even as he works on more horror novels for your delectation.

Tale #1: The Plague Ship

Jonah Daughtrey and his First Mate, Esteban, delight in marine salvage. But when they investigate a wreck on the shores of Hell's Gulf, it's their sanity that will be difficult to save. Following your reading, you are most heartily invited to listen to the excellent audio performance of this tale by Erik Peabody, produced by the team from the Chilling Tales For Dark Nights YouTube channel. You'll find the video at the end of the story below.

Tale #2: The Devil's in The Details

Ginevra Sinclaire, teacher and devout Christian, lives in the echoes of an abusive marriage, accompanied only by her loyal greyhound, Richter. But when children start going missing from her class, the horror she encounters is nothing short the scale. Following your reading, you are most heartily invited to listen to the excellent audio performance of this tale by Drew Blood, produced by the team from the Chilling Tales For Dark Nights YouTube channel. You'll find the video at the end of the story below.

#1: The Plague Ship

Jonah Daughtrey’s heart skipped a beat when the simulation played out in its entirety. Not only was he certain that the prize was there, tangibly, tantalizingly there…but that he would be able to get to it first.


Jonah scarcely saw breaks so fortuitous in his ten years of marine salvaging. Whenever a seagoing vessel ran aground or sank, it was almost always local salvagers that tracked it down first, leaving him with a mere cut of the profits, or the scraps, or nothing at all. Despite his years of experience and his technology, he often found himself on the tail end of a desperate hungry convoy converging on the spot: good to lend a hand, but rarely to claim first finder’s rights.


This time was different, though.


Jonah had earned the nickname “The Reaper” for his hawkish monitoring of vessels passing through the Gulf of Mexico. Sitting alone in his cabin, his radios all tuned to the proper frequencies, he would wait and listen out for distress calls from nearby boats. Whenever panicked SOSs came through, he would mark down their coordinates and inscribe all relevant details…and wait. By cross-examining their locations with currents and weather patterns in the area, and plugging them into a computer simulator, he could deduce where an abandoned ship would go down or float off to. It helped him in getting there, but almost never in getting there first.

Watching the simulation play out again, this time Jonah was more than confident he would get there first.

Recent legislation had rendered it more difficult to outsource traditional Mexican shrimpers on work visas, so Floridian shrimp trawlers have had to settle with inexperienced crewmates, sometimes far beyond their typical geographic reach, to fill in the gaps: a development Jonah had been monitoring closely. Inattentive workers in high-stress conditions could only lead to disaster, and the Job 2:7 was no exception. Berthed in Sarasota, Jonah had picked up the shrimp trawler’s distress calls as she drifted northwest up towards the armpit of Florida. Communication went dark around 29.3 north, 84.6 west. Jonah’s subsequent calculations showed that by now the ship would have drifted towards an obscure backwater town along Florida’s Forgotten Coast.

It was only twenty miles from his current location.

Jonah gunned the motors and banked his tugboat east, sharing a private laugh with himself regarding the town’s unfortunate name: Hell’s Gulf.


The Job 2:7 would have been impossible to miss, a white-and-red sixty-five-footer adorned with its signature outriggers. Morning light slowly bled over the sky as Jonah and his first mate, Esteban Chauvet, cruised south alongside the forested shores of Hell’s Gulf. The sun had scarcely risen but already there was an oppressive mugginess to the sea air. The mixed conifer-and-oak woods were silent, apart from the occasional passing seagull. Even over a hundred feet offshore, biting midges managed to find them, and the two men had to retreat to the cabin amid the invisible bloodsucking cloud.

Consulting a map, Jonah determined they had already scoured over a quarter of the area’s shoreline, yet there was no other vessel in sight…no sign of human presence anywhere at all.


“This place is weird,” Esteban commented, swatting at a stray no-see-um. “Feels like we just sailed back to the Jurassic period.”

“Hell’s Gulf is one of those ‘unincorporated communities,’ I read,” said Jonah, peering out at the horizon. “Got one hell of a reputation for itself too. Killings, hate crimes, disappearances…you know, the works.”

“Christ,” Esteban muttered, shaking his head. “Why don’t they just carpet-bomb the place?”

Jonah shrugged. “Guess no one cares about a bunch of murderous hicks as long as they keep to themselves.”

Esteban opened his mouth to respond, but instead grimaced and resumed his vigil.

The boat chugged along in silence until they found the trawler.

“There!” Esteban announced, pointing to his left at the shoreline. The Job 2:7’s stern stuck out from behind a sandy peninsula; Jonah cut the engines and they coasted to an idle speed, observing the beached vessel. The trawler’s outriggers had fully extended, resembling the broken ribs of a massive whale. Its nets hung torn and tattered like cobwebs entombing the boat to its nautical grave.

“No visible signs of hull damage,” said Jonah, looking at it through a pair of binoculars. “Seems like they deliberately ran aground.”

“See anyone?” Esteban asked.

Jonah left the cabin and inched towards the port railing, scoping it closer. “Nobody,” he finally said. “Maybe they went into town to look for help…”

“Well if they’re still alive, and barring some status report, we can’t just swoop right in and strip the boat,” said Estaban. “That’d make us looters.”

“We’ll anchor off here and wait to see if anyone shows up,” said Jonah. As morbid as it sounded, he’d have preferred a missing-in-action crew, to streamline the salvaging process. Living crewmates were nothing more than a nuisance, a brick wall in his path to getting paid. Even if the vessel in question were out of commission, arguments regarding where to take it, how to handle it, and even whether to salvage it at all were inevitable.

Jonah scanned the surrounding beach, its sand tombstone gray in the early morning light. “Huh,” he said. The tide was lowering, so any footsteps in the sand ought to have been preserved…yet none led away from the ship.

The sun blotted out for an instant, and Jonah lowered the binoculars to see a black vulture circling above. Like a haggard ghost it floated down and landed unsteadily atop the starboard outrigger, before hunching over and picking at something in the net.

Jonah repositioned the binoculars and focused on the vulture, jabbing its beak into a folded clump of netting. The material tore open, and something pale and limp flopped out.

He drew in a sharp breath, nearly dropping the binoculars.

“We’re going over there,” he announced. “There’s a dead body.”


Their skiff slid onto the beach with a hiss and the two men jumped out, dragging it up beyond the high tide line. Up close, the Job 2:7 was a daunting, shadowy colossus, reeking of spoiled shrimp and rust. They stared in repulsion at the vulture, indifferent to their presence, as it pecked at the human arm protruding from the net.

“Fucking hideous,” Esteban said lowly, shaking his head. Jonah grimaced; he had seen his share of dead bodies, mostly from ill-equipped vessels taken under by stormy weather. Rich, poor, experienced, novice…it didn’t matter to the sea, whose harsh postmortem cleanse stripped corpses of hair and bloated them with saltwater. The sea consumed all. It never gave quarter.

Still, he hadn’t quite gotten used to the sight.

“What if we find more bodies onboard?” Esteban asked, covering his nose.

“We’ll wrap them in shrouds,” Jonah answered. “We have to get up on deck first.” His standard procedure was to clear out a salvaged ship of any loose goods and transfer them to his own vessel before tugging it out. Loose ropes hung down from the port outrigger; he grabbed hold and rappelled up the side of the trawler. All that time in the Army paid off, I guess, he thought. Thankfully his first mate was no pushover physically either. Esteban rappelled up with him.

Apart from the smell, the vessel was pristine…no indication of any trouble, anything that would have forced the crew to abandon ship. The presence of a body was another kink in the confounding equation…were they attacked? Stricken down?

Walking up towards the bow, they found their next body. The man had apparently perished gripping onto the railing, as if trying in vain to hoist himself back up. Jonah donned a pair of work gloves and approached. The corpse appeared unbroken, nothing to suggest he couldn’t stand on his own. He reached over and grasped the man’s sodden shoulder, turning him face-up.

“Shit!” he cursed, jumping away. The victim’s nose and lips were charcoal black, two swollen lumps protruded in his neck, and his fingertips had similarly darkened. “Esteban,” he called out, “they were afflicted with something.”

“Like a disease? Jesus!” Esteban sputtered, looking around. “I don’t want them to infect me!”

“They won’t infect you unless you stick a finger in their mouths and suck on it,” said Jonah, turning his back on the body. “But be extremely careful if you see another body. They’re biohazards now…not under our purview.”

“What disease could wipe out an entire crew at once like this?” Esteban asked, peering up at the vulture.

“I don’t know,” Jonah replied. “Nor do I want to.” He paced about the deck, wringing his hands and thinking. Despite the calm, the ship felt like a bomb primed to go off beneath his feet. No salvage before this had instilled such an uneasy air of mystery…or of imminent danger. “Let’s make this quick,” he decided. “Keep the gathering of goods to a minimum and let’s focus on getting this thing winched up when the tide comes in. Continue scouring the deck. I’ll head down below.” Esteban nodded and hurried towards the stern. Jonah wrenched the cabin door open and found a hatch leading below decks.

There, the smell of shrimp was at its strongest. A few dim lamps mounted on the walls revealed a narrow corridor with two doors on each side, the fishhold at its far end. As he descended the steps, cockroaches scuttled away noisily, disappearing between doors or through cracks in the walls. “God,” Jonah whispered, closing his eyes and bracing himself. “Just look through the doors…see if there’s anything worth saving...”

He tried the first door on his left. It revealed rows of lifejackets and ring buoys, nothing he felt a need to save.

Jonah crossed the hall to the first door on the right. He opened it, took a glance inside - and immediately slammed it shut.

He escaped the worst of the odor, but it still smacked him before dissipating. The room, what he presumed to be a latrine, had been crusted over with dried fluids, resulting in a vile miasma with a hint of antiseptic. Jonah staggered back against the wall, breathing into the crook of his arm, willing the bile back down his throat. He felt dirty, polluted, having inhaled those spiteful fumes into his body…the old belief that disease was passed on through bad smells in the air suddenly seemed credible…

“No,” he told himself. “Just check the other doors and get a move on.”

Once he had succeeded in keeping his stomach contents down, Jonah moved onto the furthest door on the left. He sighed with relief: it was a storage closet packed with first aid kits, freeze-dried meals, laden oil cans…stuff that could be saved and resold. A few roaches clung to the walls, antennae slowly probing the air, but Jonah shooed them away and began pulling containers off their shelves.

Scritch scratch.

He paused. It had been less of a sound and more a feeling of a sound…of psychic sand trickling down the back of his neck.

Scritch scratch. No…he definitely heard it this time. Ship rats and other vermin were familiar presences on wrecks, but the Job 2:7 couldn’t have been beached for longer than several hours…could rats have made it their home in that short a span? Somehow Jonah doubted it.

Regardless, he wasn’t opening the final door, the source of the skin-crawling noises. Pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together; no reason to intentionally let potential plague rats out into the open. He glanced at the door to the fishhold; there was equally no reason to venture into its putrid depths.

He paused.

Had it always been cracked open?

He couldn’t remember, he hadn’t looked at it too closely upon his entering below decks. It wasn’t protocol to leave the door to a fishhold ajar. There had to have been a reason…someone strayed inside, or stored something deep within it…

Jonah hesitated, then with a reluctant groan, inched towards the fishhold and peeked through the crack.

The odor of rotten shrimp was a relentless assault, one that bitterly discolored the very air around him. Jonah procured a washcloth from his pocket and pressed it to his nose and mouth, pulling the door open and taking a step inside. It swung loosely on its hinges thanks to the trawler’s angle. Darkness swallowed the fishhold’s interior; Jonah pulled out his flashlight and switched it on. Discarded shrimp and fish littered the slippery floor, but otherwise the fishhold appeared empty. White insulated bins lined the side walls. It was only by tilting the light up did Jonah see the third body…he too had been ravaged by the swollen blackness. He had pressed himself against the far wall, as close to the ventilation fans as possible…presumably to temper the blistering fever that had overtaken him.

That’s when the door slammed shut.

“Fuck,” Jonah hissed, wheeling around and nearly slipping. He forced himself against the door, feeling around for a handle. No avail - he looked around the hinges for the emergency release. “Esteban!” he shouted, banging on the metal. “Hey! Open the door!”

The bins behind him began to rattle. Jonah turned around again, the beam of light trembling in his hands as they bucked back and forth as if rocked by a giant phantom hand…

The lids exploded and shrimp poured out - much more than they should have feasibly held - a lava surge of slimy reeking bodies, sliding over each other in a flowing heap, flooding the floor and rising quickly -

Panicking, the smell piercing his nose, Jonah fumbled around until he found what he was looking for - a rubber button the size of his fist - and punched it. The fishhold door burst open and he fell out into the corridor on an encroaching wave of shrimp. Cold shells and hairlike feelers clung to his skin as he scrambled to get up, the taste of brine and death in his mouth, stinging his eyes…

He lunged forward and pushed on the door. It jammed on a backlog of shrimp. Jonah forced it closed, crushing countless little bodies, their fleshy guts squeezing between the cracks…until the door clunked shut.

He sprung to his feet, wiping shell fragments and shrimp juice off his front. He cursed, realizing he had dropped his flashlight somewhere amid the crustaceous deluge behind the door.

“I’m done,” he gasped. “Esteban!” he shouted up the corridor. “Forget the salvage! This vessel’s fucked to high heaven! Ready the skiff and…”

He froze. Instead of a set of stairs, the front end of the corridor simply ended with a solid, inert wall.

Jonah strode up to it and felt across its metal surface, finding no hinges or locks. It was as if it had always been there.

“Esteban!” he yelled, pounding on the wall. It produced no reverb; his voice died immediately against its surface. He was essentially soundproofed.

Cold, scratchy nerves flared under his skin. He pivoted and paced the enclosed hallway, thinking in delirious circles. Something structural within the ship groaned. It was joined by the familiar sound of scratching.

Jonah regarded the far right door, the scratching seeming to beckon him.

“This is fucked up,” he whispered, heading for the door.

The noises became louder…more excited, the closer he drew.

The instant his hand touched the handle, the scratching stopped.

Jonah drew his tactical knife. He sighed before squeezing the handle and forcing it open.

The sight before him nearly made him laugh, a desperate laugh of misery and rising apprehension. Beyond the door was a carbon copy of the same corridor…the same four rooms, two on each side…the entrance to a fishhold sitting at its end.

“What is this?” Jonah lingered in the doorway, his vision tunneling. The dimensions were impossible…the duplicate corridor would have jutted from the trawler’s starboard side. He took a tentative step forward. His reverberating footsteps didn’t lie. It was all solid ground.

Trembling, Jonah pushed forward and examined the doors. Lifejackets and ring buoys. A horrific latrinal scene. A storage closet filled with things that could have been saved.

And once again, across from that room, a door harboring the mysterious scritch-scratch. With less hesitation this time, Jonah opened it.

He laughed again, at the second corridor clone sprawled out before him. It was a cyclic trap. One more like it and he’d go full-circle…doomed to wander the ever-repeating lower decks of a plague ship until madness or dehydration took him down.

“Think, man, think,” he whispered, slumping against the doorframe. If he completed the square loop and popped out into the original corridor he had first descended the stairs into, there’d truly be no turning back. He figured had to preserve the integrity of his starting point if he wanted any chance of leaving himself a potential out…

“Clues,” Jonah muttered to himself. “There’s gotta be something…”

The invisible scratching behind the one door had to hint at something…as much as he dreaded it, finding its source would be a change of pace, a step forward, if not a step in the right direction…

“Every time I open that door it just leads me back to the start of the corridor,” he recalled, pacing again. “There’s something I’m missing…another way to get through…”

Never in his life had he felt so small…so constricted and lost and confused, on the precipice of damnation if he made one misstep. He wondered what Esteban was up to, probably scouring the boat and shouting for him, wondering where the Hell his boss wound up. Really, though, Jonah could have just used the company…

He scowled. He wasn’t truly alone in the lower deck…the poor fevered sucker in the fishhold was the closest thing to a warm body he would find. He regarded the thick, insulated door at the end of the hallway. The smell of rotten shrimp in his clothes seemed to intensify, as if daring him to try it again. But in a morbid way, the corpse knew more about the Job 2:7 than Jonah did…if the trail had gone cold, it ought to have ended with him.

Jonah migrated to the storage closet and quickly found what he wanted first. The new flashlight gave him some comfort. He knew what to expect now…in and out, just like last time…

He squared up outside the fishhold. He took a deep breath. Switched the light on.

He pulled the door open.

Same reeking interior. Same white insulated bins on the sides. Same plague-ridden corpse prone against the far wall underneath the ventilation fans. Jonah wasted no time crossing over to the opposite end, scanning the body with his flashlight. Up close, his swollen glands were like inky pustules about to burst. The inside of his mouth was black, like he had imbibed a flagon of tar. But it was the object hooked to his belt loop that intrigued Jonah…a keyring the size of a tangerine, dangling with a collection of worn keys. Jonah drew his knife and cut through the fabric, lifting the jingling keys above him like some long-lost treasure.

A cold, stinking breeze blew through the fishhold, and the door slammed shut again. Jonah jumped, but he walked towards it, knowing he only had a few moments to find the emergency release before -

The bins blasted open, their lids crashing against the ceiling with a sound like a gunshot - and a billowing tornado of flies exploded from them, and suddenly the fishhold was a reverberating cacophony of buzzing and tiny scratchy bodies buffeting Jonah’s face and flesh…

He yelped, gagging at the handful of flies he had accidentally breathed in - he retched, stumbling towards the door, his flashlight beam swinging wildly about the enclosed space, the millions of passing insect shadows like a light show at a hellish rave…

Swatting and swinging his arms, Jonah pounded on the emergency release button and the door spat him out onto the floor. He kicked the door shut, but at least a hundred of the angry fuckers had made it out - they scattered in a discombobulated mess, disseminating and filling the empty space inside the corridor.

Jonah struggled onto all fours, gasping for breath, the keyring digging into his palm. Aside from the buzzing there was a new sensation…one much closer to home, one infinitely more troubling. Before his eyes, tiny red itchy bumps swelled up on his wrists and forearms. He instantly knew their source, the realization coinciding with images of rats and ghost ships and plague doctors.

“Fleas,” he hissed, scrubbing his flesh to dislodge the microscopic little germ-bags. But he knew it was too late. Their saliva was in his blood…blood that was now incubating bubonic plague.

Jonah rose to his feet, sorting through the keys with a trembling hand. “Swear to Christ if I get outta here I’m getting an office job,” he muttered. “But not before getting a fucking warehouse’s worth of shots.”

He turned to the final door, fidgeting against the rising itchiness, the scratching noises becoming anxious...

The third key he tried on the keyhole worked. It clunked, and the door shifted on its hinges slightly.

Once more, the scratching stopped.

His patience razor-thin, Jonah threw the door open.

The new room was much smaller than he’d anticipated. It was a sick bay, a simple cot and nightstand cramped in a room barely large enough to lie down in. Yet the cot was occupied by the fourth dead body Jonah had seen that day. This man had been dead a long while: he emitted no odor, and his blackened skin was dry and shriveled around his bones. Patient zero, Jonah realized. They’d stowed him away down in the sick bay too late, not realizing what they were dealing with before casting out…

The plague’s rare enough as it is, Jonah thought, scratching himself. He remembered the reports of shrimp trawlers having to reach beyond their usual worker pool to garner a full crew. Odds of them picking up a contagious man in their search were small…but devastatingly so…

Upon the nightstand sat a journal. Jonah picked it up and flipped through it, finding the most recent entry:

“Zero sign of improvement with Mr. Sullivan. His sleepwalking has worsened to the point of us having to lock the door to keep him isolated. I don’t suspect he’ll last the night. The bastard’s all but doomed us all. The disease, whatever it is, has spread among the crew in full. Sightings of ship rats continue. Suspect something viral spread among the vermin. Currently seeking to make port. Fever is unbearable. I’m having to take breaks in the fishhold with those glorious fans. Anywhere else is just too damn hot. Fingertips hurt, glands sore. But the shrimp must be preserved. They must.”

It sobered Jonah, knowing he was cradling the words of a dead man in his hands. The Job 2:7 was a brewing seaborne epidemic. In a way, Jonah was glad the trawler beached somewhere remote…god forbid if the plague ship with its fleas and rats and contaminated bodies ran aground anywhere else on the Florida coast…

But none of it explained the maze. Nor the impossible presence of creatures on the trawler. “There’s something more going on,” said Jonah. “I haven’t found shit.”

The door slammed shut behind him.

Jonah whipped around, startled but unsurprised at that point. He brandished the key and made to unlock it again - and stopped at the sight of long gash marks on the inside of the door. He raised his hand and lined up his fingertips with the gouges.

Dragging his nails down the gouges, it produced an all-too-familiar scratching.

“Shit,” he spat, fumbling with the keyring.

Behind him, leather cracked, cloth folded, and brittle bones produced twiglike snaps. Jonah felt eyes upon him. Dead, dry eyes that could see without seeing.

Jonah turned his head, granting the aberration only the slimmest corner of his vision. But even those optic scraps still told him the corpse, Patient Zero, Mr. Sullivan, was sitting up in his cot.

Jonah’s hand blindly swam about the door for the handle. The hinges had disappeared. The frame was gone. Everything about it was…gone.

All that remained was a solid wall.

“Pity,” the disembodied voice croaked, “that you must share this space with us now. We hate that for you.”

Jonah pounded on the wall with painful despair, but his prison was a vacuum of solidity. Nothing was ever getting out again.

“They locked us in here to rot,” it continued. “This is all we knew. How long have you pushed through our prison, wondering if you would ever see the light of day again?” Jonah could hear it smile. “Now you know our agony. Delicious, is it not?”

“Shut up,” Jonah whispered, throwing his weight against the wall. “Shut up…”

“This is where your journey ends,” it sneered, seeming to stand up. “But don’t think you have nothing left. We’ve been pining for something new…”

Gripped with dread, Jonah turned his head a bit more. The walking corpse was convulsing, its limbs spasming like an electrocuted frog. Its exposed flesh underneath its ragged clothes seemed to bulge…a dark cloud like a nanite swarm seemed to surround it…

“Communion,” it garbled, and Jonah suddenly realized it wasn’t one voice talking, but hundreds…

The body bloomed with dozens of black tumors that protruded up from the skin…the dark cloud intensified, spreading to fill the sick bay entirely, and the itchiness erupted on Jonah again as he knew the cloud was actually millions upon millions of fleas…the tumors emerged entirely, cascading and crawling down the crumpling corpse and he saw they weren’t tumors at all, but nightmare-black ship rats…

Whatever remained of Patient Zero Mr. Sullivan collapsed into a pathetic heap. The congregation of mangy rodents, surrounded by their miniature fogbank of fleas, stared up at Jonah with their beady eyes.

“Partake,” they said in chorus. “Communion. Partake.”

They converged.


It was late afternoon by the time Esteban had gathered enough men from the nearby town of Hell’s Gulf. The group of two dozen or so had arrived with their own watercraft and equipment, eager to take a piece of the Job 2:7 for themselves. Esteban had made it clear that his primary concern was finding his boss Jonah Daughtrey, but three subsequent searches of the trawler, from the outriggers to the cabin to every room in the lower decks, confirmed the only other people on the ship had been her original crew…all dead for days, at least. Those bodies were wrapped up in shrouds and shuttled off on the town sheriff’s boat.

As they milled through the ship like pillagers, Esteban sat by himself in a grim daze. Their skiff hadn’t been launched away, and no footprints led away from the wreck. And he was a hundred percent certain he hadn’t seen Jonah emerge from the cabin.

Over the next day, the Job 2:7 was slowly taken apart, her cargo salvaged and scrap metal torn away and shipped off. Esteban watched as the wreck became a rickety frame, then a pile of debris, and suddenly there was only a few bits of junk and a middling impression in the sand.

Their work done, the townsfolk departed from the secluded beach, leaving Esteban with nothing but dark thoughts and half-memories.

He tossed a seashell into the waves and meandered towards the skiff. He hadn’t the scantest idea where he would go next. But wherever that was, he prayed it wouldn’t be where Jonah was.

Now listen to the audio and immerse yourself in the true horror of 'The Plague Ship'

The Plague Ship

#2: The Devil's in The Details

The approaching summer break was a source of much excitement for the schoolchildren, but unbeknownst to them, none cherished it more than their teacher, Ginevra Sinclaire, known to them as Ms. Ginny. Soon would be gone the days of being cooped up in a stuffy classroom, sweating in a tweed dress under the impending heat. The afternoons became the worst as late spring dragged on, and by the end of Friday English she was fidgeting almost as much as her pupils.

The clock still read five minutes to go. She decided to show mercy.

“Boys and girls, your attention please.” The class set down their pencils and stared expectantly at her. “Remember, while you can’t take those study guides you’re working on into your exams next week, you’ll have all weekend and before class to look them over. I’m glad to see you all have made progress.”

“When’s the English final?” Jacob asked, raising his hand.

“Thursday, ten a.m.” She rapped the blackboard, dated May 24th, 1946, with her pointer. “As it says on the schedule right here.”

“You doin’ anything fun this summer?” said Jessica.

“Might see my family up in North Carolina,” Ms. Ginny replied. “But otherwise I’ll be planning for next semester’s lessons.”

Next semester?” Patrick piped up. “You’re already thinkin’ about next semester?” The class groaned and laughed in response.

“Enjoy your summers while you can,” Ms. Ginny said with a grin. “When you grow up, you’ll find there’s really no difference.”

“I ain’t comin’ back next semester,” John announced from the back of the room. “I’ll be hoein’ potatoes for the rest of my life!”

“Oh. Well, good for you then,” Ms. Ginny commented. “The world needs potato farmers, anyway.”

“Will our exams be hard?” Susan asked softly from the front.

“I’m afraid I can’t speak for them,” Ms. Ginny answered, shaking her head. “But to a bright bunch like you? As long as you know your study guides, I think they’ll be cakewalks.”

She offered them a smile. But the class merely gaped at her, quiet yet alert. “Well, if you’re still unsure, there’s a prayer I can teach you. One for the patron saint of exam-taking.”

“Golly, there’s a patron saint for everything!” Patrick quipped.

“Indeed. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve said this prayer before any big exam I had to take. It never fails.” And with that, Ms. Ginny turned to an empty space on the blackboard and wrote down the prayer from memory. “I’ll leave this up for everyone during the exams,” she declared. “Let’s go over it now.”

And as one, the class recited it:

“Oh great St. Joseph of Cupertino, who while on Earth did obtain from God the grace to be asked at your examination only the questions you knew, obtain for me a like favor in the examinations for which I am preparing. In return I promise to make you known and cause you to be invoked. Through Christ our Lord. St. Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us.”



The walk home in the North Florida heat was no less demanding, and by the time Ginevra crossed the threshold into her home, she was yearning for a cool bath. But the bath would have to wait. There was a birthday to celebrate, and she had promised Richter she would not keep him waiting.

Dressing into her old smock and an apron, she took out the steaks marinating in the refrigerator and set it on a platter of aluminum foil. Next came the green beans and the fingerling potatoes, seasoned with generous amounts of olive oil and salt.

As she laid the veggies upon a sheet, she glanced at the picture frame sitting on the kitchen windowsill. The man behind the glass was giving a cheeky smile, posed at an off angle, his head tilted downward. At one point, that face had swept Ginevra off her feet, made her promise that she would spend the rest of her life with him and do all she could to make him happy.

She turned the frame around. Now was not the time for grieving.

A half hour later, the table was set, and aromatic steam filled the entire house. Ginevra seated herself and, heart bursting with pride, gave a whistle.

A sleek black greyhound bounded into the room and jumped onto the opposite chair. His jaws found the steak before his eyes did, and he devoured the slab in two bites, leaving the ring of vegetables untouched.

“Happy birthday, Richter,” Ginevra crooned. The dog licked his chops and goggled at her, panting expectantly. “My special man’s turned four today,” she continued, reaching over the table to scratch under his chin. “You’ve always been there for me. So loyal, so undemanding…not like…well...” She pushed her late husband Aaron from her mind with a grimace. “You are the only one for me, dog. Don’t you ever leave me. You won’t ever leave me…will you?”

Richter cocked his head, but held his same silly grin. “I thought not,” said Ginevra. “Now come on, I think there’s some leftover cake in the fridge.”


After the birthday meal, Ginevra let Richter out to do his business, then wandered upstairs for early bed. The long spring evening slowly darkened outside her window, a chorus of mole crickets serenading her. Finals week was a stressful time for her as well as her pupils; she figured she’d take all the time she could the weekend before to rest up and prepare.

As she dozed off, Richter bounded into her room and sat by the edge of the mattress, giving her the puppy-dog eyes.

Ginevra grimaced at him. Richter wasn’t allowed up on the bed despite him begging every night. But the steak dinner still lingered in the air, and Ginevra reminded herself it was a special night indeed. “Up up,” she commanded, patting the empty space next to her. Richter jumped up, spraining the springs under his weight, before circling and curling up. His paws were muddy from being outside, but Ginevra didn’t care. It would wash out.

“Love you, boy,” she whispered, patting his head. “Don’t know what I’d do without you. Go mad, I suspect. You’re the only one for me…”

Her heart gave a twinge as she scooted closer to him. Inspiration overwhelmed her, and she turned her gaze to the crucifix on the opposite wall.

“I thank thee, Lord, for deliverance from my darkest times. I thank thee, Lord, for my greatest companion…the one and only of Your creations to love me unconditionally. I thank thee for making Richter more than just a pet…for making him my best friend. The one most worthy of my dedication. You above all know how much I have to give…bestow upon us many more memories, to many more years, together. In Christ our Lord, amen.”

Richter emitted a contented rumble. Ginevra dozed off, feeling the most at peace since before those darkest times.


The pressure of finals week fell upon her before she even arrived at the schoolhouse.

Ginevra was an early bird out of necessity; not just for school but ensuring Richter got his outside time before she left for the day. She had scarcely cracked the back door open before he jostled past her and bolted into the backyard, disappearing into the sandhill forest beyond. Ginevra was too tired and too rushed to call out to him. Richter always came back anyway.

An hour later, cleaned up and dressed for the day, she hurried out the front door - and immediately had to halt.

Sitting at the foot of the front steps was Richter, his mouth stuffed with a dead marsh rabbit. “Richter, drop it,” Ginevra said, unable to look at his kill. Richter was completely still, staring at her with his amber eyes. She noticed his legs and belly were coated in swamp mud. “Shoot, Richter, I can’t let you inside like this,” she groaned.

He cocked his head, the rabbit twitching limply in his jaws. Ginevra sighed and shut the door behind her. “I’d wipe you down if I weren’t running late,” she said, stepping past him. “You’re just gonna have to stay outside until I get back.”

She took off down the dirt road, the first traces of sunrise peering over the pines. Shuffling her papers in order, she glanced back at the house.

He had turned to face her, but Richter was still sitting in the same spot, prey still in his jaws, his eyes gold pinpricks against a black shadow. “Weirdo,” she muttered, refocusing on the road. As Ginevra got her papers in order, she thought about the way he had looked at her with those honey-yellow eyes that somehow lacked its warm sweetness.

She faltered a little. She thought Richter’s eyes were more of a light brown. Maybe it was just the light, like how flowers or sundresses seemed more vibrant in daylight, and she hadn’t noticed until now…or maybe she didn’t know her precious dog as well as she thought…

The schoolhouse was just around the corner. Ginevra pushed the morning aside and strode through the doors, ready to deliver the Monday morning math final.


The day was long and stuffy as expected, but other than little Jacob being absent, it went without a hitch. Jacob would have to report the next day with a signed excuse and retake the exam the following week, cutting into his summer vacation time. Ginevra smiled amusedly to herself as she left the schoolhouse and headed down the dirt road again; school in summertime was probably a fate worse than death for a fourth-grader.


But whatever amusement she felt died when she saw what was on the front steps to her home. Richter had apparently just left the dead rabbit there; its neck hung at an askew angle, and its blood-matted fur had attracted a veritable communion of blowflies.

“Disgusting,” she grimaced, grabbing a broom from the patio and sweeping it off the path. It was heavier than she expected; it rolled off onto the grass, its head almost dragging alongside it, and the flies scattered in a glittering haze. Swatting at them with the broom, Ginevra hurried up the steps and slipped through the front door.

Richter was inside the house, sitting at the end of the foyer, staring at her with those unseemly yellow eyes.

They looked at each other, deathly silent. A single stray fly flew against a windowpane, its buzz an aural aftertaste in the nothingness.

Wagging his tail, Richter trotted up to her, pressing his flank against her legs. Ginevra sighed with relief, bending down to pet him. The greeting was a welcome respite from the stress and unpleasantness of the earlier hours. As she looked around for his collar and leash, she reflected on the fact that she explicitly left him outside that morning on account of his dirty paws.

Perhaps I didn’t close the back door properly, she thought, as she led him on his walk. As he strode ahead of her, she noticed his paws and the fur on his legs were immaculate…a better cleaning job than she could have done.



Later that night, after a long evening of prepping for the Social Studies final, Ginevra collapsed atop her bed. She had barely closed her eyes when the mattress pitched and shook; Richter had jumped up in bed without permission.

“Hey!” Ginevra snapped, groggy from incipient sleep. “Did I say you could come up?” She shoved at his body; he simply stared at her, unmoved. But it only took a moment for Ginevra’s resolve to loosen. “Ah, heck,” she muttered, rolling back over. “You’re alright, dog.”

Richter stretched out and laid on his side, a paw pressed against Ginevra’s back. She closed her eyes. His presence was comforting, familiar…it almost reminded her of Aaron, his warm form a rock for her to latch onto, that husky voice of his promising he’d love her for the rest of their lives…

Life sure is inscrutable sometimes, she concluded, finally dozing off.

Richter’s paw slid further over her side.


At the Tuesday Social Studies final, Ms. Ginny realized she had two extra exams left over after passing them out. Jacob was still absent. Suddenly she realized that the front row seemed emptier than normal. Little Susan, soft-spoken yet smart as a whip, was missing as well.

“Class, does anyone know where Susan is today?” she asked.

They remained silent; some allowed her a noncommittal shrug. “Maybe she couldn’t take the pressure,” Patrick offered. “Social Studies was the only class she got Bs in!”

“That’s enough,” Ms. Ginny chided. “And how about Jacob? Anyone seen him since yesterday? Over the weekend?”

More shrugs and stares. Ms. Ginny sighed and wrung her hands nervously. “Okay…well…let’s get started then.”

As the pencils scritch-scratched through the rest of the morning, the two empty seats seemed to emit a bad smell…drawing her attention, forcing her to look at them. The twin screw caps in the chairs’ headrests were like eyes, blank silver eyes judging her with venom from beyond the grave.

Ms. Ginny forced herself to look out the window. Something was wrong…she just couldn’t piece together what.


That evening, Richter refused his dry kibble, instead gazing at Ginevra with those amber eyes of his. No, they’re definitely that color, she realized, now that they were inside with low lighting. I could have sworn they were brown before

“Well, what do you want then?” Ginevra said out loud. “I don’t have anything else for you.”

Richter bared his teeth and growled.

Ginevra’s heart sank as she backed up. He had never done that before…never given her a reason to think he’d act out. But before she could scold him, he pointed his muzzle at the refrigerator. Hesitantly, she opened it to reveal the Cornish hen still in its packaging. She looked at her dog to find him panting and wagging his tail, wearing that silly grin of his.

“I guess so then,” she said. “I was saving it for the weekend, but sure…”

She took the bird out of the fridge and set it on the counter - but Richter surged forth and snatched it, bringing it crashing to the floor and ripping into it.

“Richter!” she tried shouting, but her voice was lost among the dog’s snarling and wet chewing mouth. Eventually she threw her hands up and walked away. “Whatever, it’s fine, meat is meat. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it more than me...”

She sat at the table with a can of spam. Richter jumped up across from her, laying half the mangled chicken across the tabletop. She couldn’t help but smile. “Dig in, I guess,” she declared. “That’s a good boy…”

They both enjoyed their meals, happy and content with what they had.


Richter jumped into bed with her again that night, and Ginevra didn’t bother protesting. He nuzzled up close to her, his arm splaying over her shoulder again. She reached for it, for a moment sensing Aaron’s muscular arm…but instead felt coarse fur and clawed pads. Still, she could feel the dog heaving behind her, deep sleepy breaths syncing with hers. Relaxed, she finally closed her eyes and began to drift off.

“Thank you for letting me in.”

Ginevra’s eyes shot open with a gasp, and she sprung up, looking around wildly for the intruder. But the bedroom was empty, and Richter had barely moved from his spot. A heart-drumming moment later, she had to conclude they were alone.

But that failed to put her at ease. Instead she looked down at the canine form in bed next to her. Richter was still motionless, but his eyes had locked onto hers again. A wave of disillusion washed over Ginevra as she uttered her next words.

“Was…was that you?”

The dog continued staring. Ginevra scowled and shook her head. The stress and worry of the week was getting to her…

“I love you, Ginevra.”

Her hand drifted to her mouth. There was no other explanation…that voice, that hoarse, deep, sensual whisper, had come from...

Slowly, the dog rose to his haunches, sitting up in the bed, on eye level with Ginevra. His expression was flat, but those eyes burned with sickly golden fire.

“My pearl. My sweet dove. My doting mistress.” The voice seemed to emanate from the depths of the dog’s throat, sifting between the teeth in his unmoving jaws. “You let me in. You brought me to being. I am forever indebted to you.”

Ginevra’s voice was strangled and low. “...How?”

“You asked for me. And I delivered myself unto you.” Richter licked his chops. “By your invocation of the powers that be…you granted me the gift of voice. Now I grant you the gift of my unconditional committance.”

“I don’t…” Ginevra scrambled out of bed, trembling at the knees. “I don’t understand…I did this? I allowed you to talk?”

“There is power in prayer,” Richter whispered, lowering his neck. “And love has a way of unlocking one’s inhibitions.”

“My prayer did this?” Ginevra shook her head. “No…no, God would never…this is a dream, it has to be…”

Richter emitted a low sigh. “Very well. As you wish.”

The room went dark, and Ginevra keeled over, her skull thumping hard against the carpeted floor.

When she awoke, she was lying in bed, the covers pulled up to her chin, unruffled and undisturbed, as if she’d had the most peaceful sleep of her life.

“What a strange dream,” she grunted, rolling over, nuzzling Aaron’s arm around her. His fingertips curled, brushing the skin below her shoulder. Her hand drifted up to his, fingers interlocking and closing around each other, and she brought his hand up to her lips, kissing it softly…

The arm around her was black-haired and muscular, but very much human…

Her eyes sprung open. She shrieked and sprung out of bed again, throwing the cover off of her, revealing nobody but Richter laying next to her…just Richter, his canine features intact, who peered up at her with a blank expression…

Goosebumps erupted on Ginevra’s skin, the same spot where that nightmare hand had stroked…she wiped her mouth, trying to expel the taste on her lips, a taste that was earthen, yet somehow, bodily and sweet…

She fled to her bathroom, snapping the door shut and turning on the tub’s faucet. The noisy fluid rush filled her head with mundane static, all but washing the fear away.

“What are these visions?” she hissed, her voice lost amid the gushing water. For the first time that week, she was keen to get out of the house and hone her mind on the monotony of final exams.


Her troubles only escalated at the schoolhouse.

“Ms. Sinclair,” Principal Ketter said, standing in the doorway to her classroom. “A moment, please.” He beckoned her to follow him to his office.

“Ms. Sinclair,” he said once she sat across from him, “are you aware that two of your students have been missing the last two days?”

“Yes, I’ve marked them down as absent and they’ll have to make up their exams next week,” she replied.

“No, I mean, they’re reported missing,” Ketter said, narrowing his eyes. “Susan Cole’s parents said she left for school yesterday morning and that was the last they’d seen of her. Same deal with Jacob Barnes.”

“I had no idea,” said Ginevra, her eyes wide. “What are we going to do?”

“For now, we’re going to keep quiet,” said Ketter, leaning back in his chair. “The ‘thorities are doing all they can, and the rest of the school still has work to do. Best not to burden your pupils with bad news in the middle of this week.”

“I understand,” she answered, standing up. “I hope they find those kids safe and sound. I’ll pray for them. Please, keep me updated.”

“Will do.”

Ginevra strode down the empty, reverberating hallway and entered her classroom briskly. “Sorry I’m late, class,” she announced, readying the Science finals on her desk. “I’ll give you all extra time to make up for it.”

The class was quiet as they stared back at her. Ms. Ginny made a small noise through her nose. No comment from you, Patrick?

She looked up and her heart sank.

There were three empty chairs in the room now.


Every bone and joint ached in Ginevra’s body as she finally made it back to her place that afternoon. Predictably, Richter was waiting for her in the foyer.

“Welcome home,” the ethereal voice said.

Ginevra halted. Something sharp and acidic boiled in her chest. “So…so it wasn’t a dream...”

“Passion knows no time of day, my love…but I ought to have told you at a more…wakeful hour.” The dog’s ears perked. “Now there is no more doubt in your heart…is there?”

She shook her head. “No…no there isn’t.”

Richter walked up to her and pressed his flank against her legs. “Good. Now…I yearn for your touch.” As if in a trance, Ginevra leaned forward and scratched the base of his tail. “Come, let us break bread.”

A half-hour later, a pork dinner for two sat steaming at the dinner table. Richter, sitting across from her, devoured the meat in two bites, again leaving the vegetables untouched. Ginevra couldn’t help but smile as she took a small bite herself…for a moment it was Richter’s birthday again, and he was the same goofy lovable dog she had known for those four years…

“I don’t understand,” Ginevra finally said, breaking the silence. “My prayer made you able to talk? The one I said that night?”

“All the credit is yours,” said Richter.

“But…” She toiled over her next words. “I always learned that prayer was meant to show gratitude and to give yourself strength…it was never to make things happen. I love you, Richter, as my best friend…but I didn’t ask for this…”

“There is power you are unaware of,” said the dog, cocking his head. “Power and grace given to the most worthy of mankind. I am your miracle…your divine apparition.”

“‘The most worthy of mankind,’” Ginevra repeated. “...Me?”

Richter gave a nod. “God rewards. And I am your reward.”

Something warm, inexplicable, sense-stealing, rose in Ginevra’s stomach. It was unbridled, fluttering ecstasy…elation of the heart and soul. “I’ve been through a lot in my life,” she replied in a small voice. “Heartbreak…misery. But you’ve always been there…you…you are my blessing, Richter. I love you.”

Richter’s tail thumped like a drumbeat against the back of his chair. Ginevra stood up, overcome with mirth. “There’s still some leftover cake in the fridge, if you’re craving sweets…”

He barked, the chair practically shaking from his manic wagging.


That night, the two cuddled in bed again; Ginevra had finally relented and turned to face Richter for the first time. “It always seemed like science was hit-and-miss for my students,” she was saying. “Once you get into cellular biology and all that jazz, all those organelles, chromosomes…I think it’s just too much for kids that age. When I graded their papers today it was the widest grade distribution so far. I wonder how Susan would have done…”

Darkness settled inside her, and some of that infectious passion ebbed away. “Poor Susan Cole…I hope she’s okay, wherever she is…Jacob and Patrick too…they’re just kids, for God’s sake…if they’re lost and alone somewhere they won’t last long…but I hate to think that someone took them…or someone did something with them…oh God…”

Her throat constricted with impending tears; she took several shuddering breaths. “I do love those children…as if they were my own…”

The dog licked her face. “Cast your woes aside, woman. You take on enough troubles already.”

She sighed. “I suppose so…” She scratched behind the dog’s ears. He continued licking her cheeks, her throat. She closed her eyes, letting that electricity jolt through her.

Hands gently squeezed her shoulders.

She dared not open her eyes again, out of fear that what she might see would sully the illusion, would shatter the welling feelings inside her…

“No,” she said in a muffled tone. “This is wrong…” Despite seeing nothing but darkness she imagined the tiny figure nailed to the cross on the opposite wall, watching her with God’s eyes. “He’s watching us…I can’t.”

“You and I…are alone.” There was a bizarre scratching, rattling sound. “You and I…on top of the world.”

The solid-sounding thunk of an object falling to the floor. Ginevra suddenly felt shameless, uninhibited. Those holy eyes were now blind. She relaxed.

The hands gripped tighter…strong, dexterous, very much human. The form next to her shifted, and she could sense it over her now, casting a psychic shadow across her body.

And still that tongue licked…impossibly long, muscular, boiling like the tip of a molten spear.

It drifted. Exploring places left unattended amid years of loveless void.


Ginevra was late the next morning. She burst through the schoolhouse’s front doors, face greasy with sweat, dress rumpled and wrinkled. Her death grip on the stacks of English finals had left impressions in the papers. She almost ran straight into Principal Ketter, who again was stationed in the doorway to her room.

“Office. Now.” His expression was even more grave than the day before.

Her insides seemed to freeze up as she reluctantly followed him back to his office. He closed the door, but didn’t bother sitting down.

“Patrick Hudson has been reported missing too,” he said, not looking at her. “But there’s a development with him. His parents say one moment he was walking down the road, they looked away, and then he was just gone. He had just passed by a house.” He finally met her face. “Your house.”

“What are you implying?” she said.

I’m not implying anything,” he replied, holding his hands up. “But don’t be surprised if they start viewing you as a suspect.”

“They talked to you, didn’t they,” said Ginevra, her eyes narrowing.

“I told them I couldn’t imagine you doing anything so horrible,” he clarified. “Much less anything at all. I don’t have any reason to think you had something to do with this…but it’s in their hands now.”

“I didn’t do anything!” she asserted, her throat locking up again.

“I know you didn’t,” he said. “But this has to play out. Justice must be dispensed for the sake of those little ones.”

Shaking her head, she excused herself from Ketter’s office and hurried over to her room. “Sorry again, class,” she said breathlessly, nearly collapsing into her desk.

“Miss Ginny,” Katie said, raising her hand. “Where’s Susan and Jacob?”

“And Patrick?” another asked.

“They’re just absent,” said Ms. Ginny, the back of her neck prickling. “I’m sure you’ll see them again by next week. Let’s stay focused on today’s exam right now.”

But as the morning progressed, Ms. Ginny could tell schoolwork was the last thing on their minds. Eyes kept flitting towards the empty desks, and she had to tell off the class a handful of times.

She could only be thankful they hadn’t yet noticed the fourth vacancy, the desk that had once belonged to little Jessica.

Even as they left for the day, turning in their papers for her to grade, she could not concentrate. Not only was the grade distribution chaotic for this exam too, but her mind swam with the memories of the night before…the lascivious acts she had partaken in, unholy bonds that would have made God Himself blush, even if those bonds had been with an actual man…

Her sins were so massive, so encroaching and strangling, she couldn’t possibly articulate them…perhaps it was for the better, keeping them bottled up inside…the shame of admitting to such horridness might have killed her on the spot…

It was early evening when Ginevra finally left the schoolhouse, yet she had graded only three-quarters of the exams. The sunset glared upon her as she shambled down the dirt road back home.

Richter was sitting patiently in the foyer, watching her with pleasant bemusement.

She felt boxed in. Behind her, the looming, obscure tragedy that threatened to sweep her up in its incriminating tide…before her, the source of her unchristly transgressions.

Neither direction seemed particularly commendable.

But despair tugged at her soul.

She slammed the door shut. “Just take me, Richter.”

Ginevra glimpsed the dog standing on his hind legs and thrusting his paws for her shoulders…but she closed her eyes, and hairy humanlike arms encompassed her, and the body that pressed against hers bore the musculature of a man…yet the slithering organ that stroked and constricted her was still an inhumanly long tongue…

And right there in the foyer, he took her.


When Ginevra came around, everything was dark. The grandfather clock in the neighboring living room read well past midnight. She slowly rose to a stand, still weak at the knees. Despite the gloom, she could make out a dark red stain pooled underneath her. It formed a trail through the house, heading for the back door.

She followed it.

The droplets led outside. The full moon made it easy to determine them from the ghostly pale grass.

The trail stopped at the metal shed covering the entrance to the root cellar. Ginevra paused; she hadn’t been down there since Aaron was around. He had gone through a gardening kick, and he had yielded a meager crop of onions and potatoes which he had stored in the cellar, promising her one day when he had enough he’d make a delicious root vegetable medley for her. She never got to have that dish.

Still, the blood called to her, and she resumed following.

She wrenched open the trapdoor and climbed down the ladder, six feet underground. Everything smelled of dirt and decaying plant matter. Her feet touching the ground, she turned around and absorbed the sight before her.

Years of neglect had allowed tree roots to snake through the earthen walls, criss-crossing and tangling through the wooden support beams like the veins of some subterranean giant. But the path ahead was clear, illuminated by hellish red light. And at its end was the brunt of the procession. She recognized Patrick and Jacob at her right, their dead bodies stuck in standing positions through pikes, garbed in loose-fitting suits. At her left was Susan and Jessica, mounted in the same fashion, stuffed into flowing white dresses.

Presiding over them was the corpse of Principal Ketter, hung from the ceiling by a tree root noose, clad in a black cassock. The blood trail stopped with him.

The groom was sitting on his haunches, regarding Ginevra with his glowing yellow eyes.

“Here comes the briiiiide,” he sang. “Here comes the briiiiiide…”

Tears finally broke through as Ginevra proceeded down the aisle. She approached the children and saw they had all died the same way…the flesh around their necks was shredded, as if torn up by a dog. Jessica, the flower girl, held a cluster of nightshade in her lifeless grasp. Jacob delicately clutched an obsidian ring in his.

Susan and Patrick, the maid of honor and best man, wore contorted grins on their faces. Ginevra wondered if they had died smiling.

“My bride-to-be,” Richter cooed as Ginevra drew level with him. “I knew you would find your way here.” He addressed the dead people. “Dearly deceased, we are gathered here tonight, to join these two sinners in unholy matrimony.”

“I never wanted this,” Ginevra whispered. “Not at all.”

“By the time you summoned me, it was too late,” Richter admonished. “I found the perfect vessel. You gave yourself to me days ago. Your story ended before you knew it even began.”

“‘Perfect vessel’...” Ginevra echoed. “You mean…”

“Your beloved Richter has not been with us for some time,” the thing mocked. “Ever since that night you uttered your idolatrous creed. You tilled a ground most fertile. You let me in.”

Ginevra’s vision spun. She struggled to stay upright. Her voice was small and diminished. “Lucifer.”

“One name among many,” he confirmed, “but one of my more favored. The light-bringer…I brought light to your life, I set you ablaze.”

The dog stood on its hind legs again, and this time Ginevra forced herself to watch. Its front legs thickened. Its paws became wormlike fingers. Its chest and shoulders crunched with fresh burgeoning muscle. Its muzzle flattened…it became a man’s face, tainted with animal features, but handsome and full, nonetheless.

“You and I will properly consummate,” he assured, “and christen these lands with blood. This, I vow.”

Principal Ketter’s suspended corpse gave a twitch. His lips parted, and a handful of wriggling mealworms dropped from his mouth onto the ground.

The voice that emanated from him was grungy and low. “Do you take this woman to be your underworldly wedded wife?”

“I do,” Lucifer promised, brushing Ginevra’s cheek.

“Do you take this man to be your underworldly wedded husband?”

Ginevra shuddered at Lucifer’s touch. Her eyes flitted around. The corpses had all moved to look at her. Each one bore a smile.

Her pulse jumped in her neck. The whole week had been one maddening descent, culminating in the precipice of Hell’s maw. Carnal longing stirred inside her…shameful, yet insistent.

Why should she refuse?

“I do not,” she stated.

“No?” The entity before her almost sounded amused. “You would turn down the world? You would give up all the delicious satisfaction damnation has to offer…for the sake of your irredeemably condemned mortal soul?”

“I would,” said Ginevra, looking away. “If I’m to do one last good thing on this Earth…it’ll be telling you ‘no.’ That’s all I have left…all…all I can do.”

Lucifer cocked his head. “You know you loved it when I fucked you like that.”

Ginevra’s fist clenched. “No more.” She dipped her head. No more.

Lucifer spread his hands apart and backed away. “Very well. I am bound to your word.”

In a puff of black smoke, he vanished. Those golden eyes lingered for a split second longer.

And suddenly Principal Ketter’s corpse exploded. It showered the root cellar with blood, caking the dead corpses and Ginevra’s living body in salty, acrid red. The sour iron taste stung in her nose and mouth and she screamed, rushing for the ladder, stumbling and bouncing off the walls, finally wrapping her hands around the rungs. Her palms and feet were slippery with blood but she pulled herself up, gasping and crying and choking…

The trapdoor flew open before she could touch it. Flashlight beams pierced her eyes and she screamed again, shielding her face.

“Here!” a voice shouted. “She’s covered in it!”

Ironlike hands reached down and hauled Ginevra out from the cellar, and immediately forced her facedown into the grass.

“Ginevra Sinclaire, you’re under arrest for the murders of Jacob Barnes, Susan Cole…”

“It wasn’t me!” she shrieked as her wrists were bound behind her. “It was the dog! Richter! The dog did it!”

“...Patrick Hudson, Jessica Tremblay…”

“He’s the Devil! Please! He’s the Devil in disguise!”

“...and Dean Ketter. Are you of sound mind to understand these charges?”

“You have to listen to me! He’s down there now! Go and see!”

“There’s nothing down there but bodies, you scummy bitch. That, and the trail of blood you tracked this way.”

“Maybe the dog ate her homework, too.”

“You’re done, Ginevra.”

They hauled her up, still screaming her head off, and dragged her to the waiting police car. They left their sirens off, courtesy for those in the town of Hell’s Gulf still sleeping, but Ginevra’s screams carried through the night regardless all the way down to the station.


In the shadows, watching the chaos unfurl, was a black greyhound. As the convoy of police and bystanders eventually disbanded and left the scene, he slunk away into the depths of the woods.

“This world has no more left for you, my love,” he promised. “I think…I’ll be seeing you again soon.”

Now listen to the devilish audio and immerse yourself in the doggone darkness of 'The Devil's in The Details'

The Devil's in The Details
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