The Flipside

Welcome to my reading room. The works showcased here will most likely be first draft. Red pencils are most certainly welcome.

The 500 concept story begins here.

These works may have shocking content, whether it be sexual, graphic or otherwise twisted. That said, if you aren't much of a horror fan, Carrie Clevenger's Reading Room is probably not for you.

All of these works are copyright, all rights reserved by Carrie Clevenger. I will electrocute. Promise.

Enjoy your stay.

"500" WIP Installments in Order:


Magdalena - A Vampire's Lament

Allowing someone to think you’re dead is a positive thrill, especially if you hated him or her in the first place. But if you loved them, as you always tend to do with potential victims, it hurts beyond compare to that of any thinkable physical pain.

I speak of my Magdalena: a delicate, rare dark beauty from my motherland. With skin the color of finely spun caramel and thick deep chocolate curls. Her brown eyes so dark, they were almost black. And yes indeed, I loved her.

Magdalena and I met one night as she sat upon the narrow boardwalk, fishing in the moonlight, wearing only her petticoat and bloomers, her feet bare and hanging freely over the pounding breakers far below us.

I smiled at her, tight-lipped, for I intended to drink from her Italian vein. I was in the light of mood for that particular vintage; though I did not feed often in Italy for fear that I might be killing a distant cousin of my family.

I sat beside her then, my eyes scanning the depths of the sea beneath us.

Magdalena laid her pole to the side, hoping I would speak, for she was very frightened of me at that moment; her heart beat quickly, like a little cornered rabbit’s.

But I did not speak. No. I turned my head to look at her and licked my lips before I kissed her forehead. I could see the immediate softening of her expression. That’s what happens when you’ve the face of an angel; too innocent for evil deeds. But this one was different.

“Speak to me, I beg of you,” she said softly, looking past me.

I probed her thoughts gently and did not see my face regarded with love as I did most. She had no picture of me in her mind, only this overwhelming darkness. Her mother, her father, nothing.

I realized that she was sightless.

She raised her delicate hands and spread her slender fingers, searching for me there, and I graciously leaned forward, allowing her to touch my features. Slowly, little dots of data began to filter into her mind of my appearance, and I could clearly see that she knew that I was beautiful.

“Are you real?” She asked me in a soft voice; her fingers probed my silken lips, seeking my teeth.

I turned my head away from her, not wanting her to find the deadly lupine fangs.

“I am real Magdalena. Real enough.”

Her small mouth fell open at the sound of my voice, and she began to pray to her god that her prayers had been answered. I knew them well enough, and that was why I wanted to take her.

But as I spoke to her, I could clearly see that her wish for death was only a fa├žade. She wanted love. Love I could not give her.

Her soft hands found my manhood, struggling to maintain demeanor underneath my breeches. I gasped and bit my lip, drawing blood. I had not expected her to touch me so intently.

“Please signore, touch me there.”

So urgent and skilled were her fingers at unlacing me that I was astonished to discover she was still a virgin.

How had she discerned me to be a man so far away? I asked her.

“Your footsteps were too heavy to be a woman’s.”

“And how did you get out here, lovely one?”

She smiled, and her eyes closed.

“My brothers bring me out here to fish. I enjoy it."
Her touch became more insistent; demanding.
"They will return for me soon.”

I knew what she wanted, but I played the part of the fool.

“Why would you touch a stranger there, Magdalena?”

She never asked me how I knew her name. She opened her sightless eyes and from my point of view, appeared to be stargazing. But there were no stars in her sky. I smiled. I could give her those stars, if only for a moment.

“Lean forward, little one,” I asked of her. She did .

Slowly I touched her face, stroked her cheek and pressed my thumbs against her eyes. She cried out in surprise.

“What are these things you show me?"
She rose her hands up to feel for my face again.
"Are you an angel?”

I laughed, a little too hard. Angel I was not.

“Something not quite as grand. But here I show you the stars.”

“The stars? These beautiful things are the stars?” Her voice cracked in her euphoria. I knew I had done the right thing.

“Yes. The source of all life everywhere.”

She fell against me, knocking me back as she continued to unlace my breeches. I tried to stop her, but my efforts of resistance were not strong-willed. Her little hands snaked down inside my breeches to touch me directly, starting a desperate flame that I knew could not end well…

“Magdalena…you mustn’t.”

Every mortal woman I had bedded, had died. I killed them. I did not wish to do the same to her. I backed away from her, hurting her feelings.

“Is it wrong to think as I do?” She asked me, her eyes closed, but there were tears sliding from beneath her dark lashes…

“No, little one.”

“Then allow me to please you.”

I allowed her to touch me then, threading my fingers through her wild mane of dark curls, inhaling her cinnamon scent. Magdalena. A spirited beauty.

“What is your name, signore?”

I hesitated for a moment. I’d been so thoughtless.

“My name doesn't matter”

“You are a beautiful man, I can tell. But you are cold, and I know that you aren’t like me…”

She kissed me then, silencing us both.

I did not want this treatment; I wanted to do the pleasing, but her insistence paid off. I soon relaxed, enjoying the sensation.

“Are all men this large, signore?”

I laid my hands over hers, staying them.

“No, little one, they are not,” I sighed, gently prying her away from me.

“I know that the sex goes somewhere,” she said, child-like in her manner, even though she was a woman already of perhaps twenty years or more.

“You have not laid with another man,” I said, “And furthermore, your cycle has not yet begun.”

Her eyes clouded suddenly. I could see the pain in her eyes. Slowly, she revealed to me her center, only it was mutilated. I narrowed my eyes, and looked in hers, even though she couldn’t see me.

“Who did this to you, Magdalena?”

“When it was discovered I could not see, they took out the child-bearing part of me, so I could not spread my plague.”

Now I understood why she was a virgin. Her people thought her blindness contagious.

I pressed her thighs apart wider, and her soft gasping soon deepened into womanly moans of desire. She reached for me. She wanted me to lay with her.

I slid into her, deep, until I was hilted, nearly seizing up at the incredibly tight muscles that surrounded me, gripping me with a ferocity as I had never known before. I resisted the urge to ravage her, as I do all mortal bed-partners.

My blond hair surrounded us like a wild net as I made Magdalena my own, her tawny skin shimmering in the moonlight.

“Magda,” I asked her softly, just before I sank my teeth into her neck, as was my duty as a blood drinker to do...

Would you die now? That you know what you do now?

My thoughts transmitted directly to her mortal mind, even as I drained her of her blood, taking her life in careful draughts.

“No,” she said softly at first, but it was soon replaced by a more definitive ‘No!’ followed by a firm push as I climaxed inside her, bringing her to, and casting her over, a climatic tidal wave of emotion and sensations.

As soon as it were through, I backed away from her groping hands, knowing that I’d done a terrible, terrible thing.

I’d allowed her to know my fatal bite and live. But I could not kill her. She had the will to live. So I did the only thing I could do for my mortal mistress. I took her hand and allowed her to touch my face again, as if to tell me goodbye.

A wave came, and I was ready. I clung to her grip, but knew that if I clung too hard to her, I would certainly kill her in the water. She would drown. My fingers slipped.


My last view of her was her sightless brown eyes, and her delicate hands reaching out, as the great wave took me under.



A white room. Static.

Stein woke slowly—heavy like a hangover after a wild party. Booze, beer, weed and man those girls…those girls had it going on. He shook his head and pushed up off the floor. There was nothing, but there was pure light and—


His face was grimy. He needed a shower and a shave. The dead didn’t need showers and they didn’t shave. Laughter.

His eyes clung to the polished walls, following the angle to a door. Seamless, it opened. Sounds filtered in through the static. Beeping. Squeak of footsteps on a freshly waxed tile floor.

Stein stood, swaying on his feet. He was in a hospital gown. Two ID tags brushed against each other around his wrist. He walked through the door.

Nurses brushed past him, around him, and through him. He coughed at the taste of her Winterfresh stick gum. Her name was—

It didn’t matter. Focus. He had to focus.

He padded down the hall on bare feet. His toes pressed against the tile. Cold air wavered around him. Somewhere, a woman cried. An old man changed the channel. A teen girl took a bite of cafeteria mashed potatoes. Stein gritted his teeth.

Too many.

He pressed on, curious of his location. He arrived at a T-intersection. Two choices: Prenatal/OB Ward or The Morgue. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He turned right and went through the double doors into the OB Ward. Ahead of him were delivery rooms.

The ward was silent to the point that whispers were easily interpreted. He inhaled sharply through his nose. His chest throbbed, a needle of searing pain that laced through his shoulders up into the base of his skull. He glanced at his ID tags.

They were blank.

A cry broke the stillness and he quickened his pace. It was the only sound here. The only presence here, this individual and she was in pain. His walk broke into a slow run. His feet slapped the tile in long strides. He stopped in front of a door. The room was completely dark. He slipped his hand into that almost tangible darkness to feel for a switch. His fingers brushed the plastic toggle and yanked up.

The room was flooded in light.

Marisol lay there, belly swollen and tight. She was in labor. A black mist swirled around the wheels of the gurney. She raised wide, wild eyes to Stein and screamed again.

It was like he was watching a scene on stage. The viscous inky fog divided and drew upwards to form a solid shape. Stein’s mouth fell open. He recognized the figure but couldn’t come up with a name for it. He couldn’t describe it. He could only look on in abject horror as Marisol pushed and gasped, white-knuckled to cling to the gurney’s steel tubing.

The dark thing blocked his view of the delivery. Stein wanted to run to her side, to pull her off the stretcher and get her out of there but his feet remained rooted where he stood. He opened his mouth to call her name but he had no voice. Tears fled his eyes, mirroring hers, only hers were of blood. Blood seeped from every orifice in her face. Red tinted her teeth as she screamed in agony. The dark thing turned. In its clutches, a set of keys. They flashed in the light. In the light of…

Stein opened his eyes. He was face down and rolled over on his back on the highway, under the watchful headlit gaze of Isobel.

The moon was a bone chip in the starless sky, frozen in orbit.

Roger straddled Stein, peering down at him to fill his view.

“What was that?” Stein croaked and slid out from under him. He hugged his knees.

“You can’t really be there Stein. You’re here.”

“Where is here?”

“You know the answer.”

Stein snorted into his jeans. He raised his head to look at Roger. “If I knew, I wouldn’t ask.”

“So why are you asking?” Roger laughed. His smile was predatorial and pointed. His black tongue licked multiple fangs. Stein blinked hard. Roger was Roger again.

“We should move,” Roger said casually, but his pitch gave an ominous tone. “They’ll sniff you out soon enough.”

“It’s quiet here,” Stein said and lay his head back on his knees.

“Not out there it isn’t,” Roger said, and extended an arm. His hand disappeared inch by inch. At the same time, the unearthly howl of the damned in limbo violated Stein’s headspace.

“What the fuck?” Stein stood up too quickly and fell against Isobel’s grille and hood. The heat reminded him not to linger.

“Seems she’s protecting you.” Roger’s eyes cut to the car. “We’re invisible to the eyes of the dead.”

“Where’s Marisol?”

“The angel died a mortal death,” Roger said, “Seems she couldn’t undo her mistake.”

“How can she be dead? She wasn’t over thirty!” Stein felt his breast pocket and fished a cigarette out of his soft pack. Roger produced a flame out of thin air to light it. The smoke filled his lungs, thick and pungent, aromatic and calming at the same time. In Hell he never ran out of cigarettes.

“You’ve been out for awhile then,” Roger said with a shrug. His hands went to his pockets. He was back in the priest’s cassock. Behind them, Isobel’s engine started and the veil of silence dropped. Roger and Stein exchanged glances.

“Time to go,” Roger said with a sneer.


Reality Maybe

Skipping ahead. Just a hair. You'll be okay once the meds kick in, I promise. - C.C.

As soon as they passed through the barrier, Isobel lost power. The jazz dulled inside the car, relieving Stein's ears. He fought with the controls and pulled the long car into the first dark alley he could find. He smiled. Somehow, Isobel had brought him right back to New York. To reality. When the vehicle came to a halt he opened the door, his boot crunching on broken glass as he got out. A shattered beer bottle. He was home.

A wind was blowing over the city, swirling around his head with no sound. It was his hearing. The jazz finally made him deaf. He snorted and heard that, but then again, deaf people could hear themselves, right? He'd gladly make that trade, just to get the fuck away from Roger.

Shadowy forms huddled in corners of the building as he made his way through the alley, headed for the lit street beyond. A reddish hue permeated everything, crumbling his hope. It had to be reality. He'd broken through the barrier. He'd gone the dreaded 500 again. He glanced back at Isobel with her softly glowing headlights, amber and sentient. It was damned creepy how he was beginning to think of the car as a she, not a machine. One that brought him here only to watch him walk away again. Her mistake, he decided with a mental shrug.

The shadowy shapes were people, but somehow not. They had no smell, but he could sense color coming from them: purples and greens, yellows and blues. Their eyes reflected and gleamed like felines.

“Fuck,” Stein growled under his breath and quickened his step. When he reached the main thorough-way, he looked left and right. His hopes sank faster than a fully laden oil tanker in an even blacker sea.

The streetlights, the glow from shops, even the flicker of pocket lighters—all red, dotted with twisted dried tendrils of paper in the silent wind. He wasn't back, not in the normal sense. Just as he was determining that fact on his own, a woman walked right through him and jumped, letting out a sharp cry. He turned to see her struggle to carry on, as if her bag was suddenly so heavy she didn't know if she'd make it back to the apartment without passing out. She'd been drinking Chardonnay. Her lipstick tasted like blackberry. Her name was Gina. She wasn't important, but he knew all of that in an instant. It was like her memories were partially uploaded to his mind, in that small block of time where they shared the same space. Stein shook his head to clear the abrupt recollections from another person's mind. She was dying too, he knew. A festering cancer cluster, deep in her larynx. She'd smoked for years and didn't know—he gritted his teeth.

“Jesus. Shut up!” He said to himself on the sidewalk, but no one as much even glanced in his direction. His nose perked. The scent of fresh-brewed coffee. He sniffed the air and followed the trail around the corner to a cafe by the same time: Around the Corner. Catchy. He ducked inside as a man held the door open for a distracted woman. Everywhere—bodies. All over—the sound of life. The teem and gusto of a thriving civilization and the gentle saw of subdued electric guitar, tuned for blues.

He didn't know what touching other people meant, or why he'd had those hallucinations about the dying woman that passed through his form as if he were air. He may as well been, for no one acknowledged him, asked him what time it was, or discussed what the Yankees were doing this year. The waitress never stopped for him, to ask him what he would like to order. His mouth was salivating at the smell of coffee, newspapers, and cigarette smoke. It was impossible to have one without the other. Coffee and aggression, tea and Zen, and there. A newspaper, left unattended. He read the date.

It was the exact day of his death.

The artist on stage with the blues guitar stood and the small crowd clapped politely. Said his name was Ringo Johnson, and if anyone wanted to buy an album, they could have the entire thing at 25% off if they mentioned this show.

A sight from the corner of his eye drew his attention and he paid it tribute when he saw her. She was of caramel complexion; one of those fresh faces, perhaps Hispanic, perhaps Italian, Greek—she could have been a number of things. Her hair was almost black except for the mahogany highlights. Natural. Curls descended over her shoulders and trailed down her back like wild grapevine. But what really caught his eye was the raw and bleeding stumps of gristle and bone protruding from her back, right around her shoulder blades. They were there one minute and gone the next, and then back again. A flicker of image, or a memory. Stein rubbed his eyes.


She clutched a paper cup of steaming coffee, slowing her step to take a tentative sip and then resumed her pace. The tables were tiny. The chair across from her remained vacant until a gentleman leaned down to say something into her ear over the music. She nodded, and he whisked the free chair away to another table.

She seemed different from the others in the place; a calm surrounded her as if a wind were blowing in dizzying circles but not a hair strayed out of place on her head. The Blues stopped, jolting Stein. Dead quiet, and then the gradual build up of conversational hum again, swelling to encompass all trains of thought. So many hearts beating in one place. Stein wanted to clamp his hands over his ears, but it wouldn't do any good.

Her gaze drifted up and locked with his, causing her to jump up from her seat. She backed up, bumping into a smoker standing by the door, his cigarette trickling ashes to the floor. His coffee sloshed in the cup. Stein heard that too. The woman breezed under the arm of an astonished man holding the door and out into the street. Stein followed, carefully brushing through the crowd, making each and every person he touched erupt in instant chills.

When he reached the curb, she was standing out there, fumbling with keys. She had to see him. Her reaction to his presence was far too anxious to be coincidental. He closed his eyes and melted through the solid door of the Honda to re-emerge in her passenger seat. It was a nasty, creepy feeling. He imagined a metallic taste and made a face.

"Can you see me?" He asked, but she was busy with starting the car to burn out from the curbside parking spot. She glanced back, made a little sound and switched on the heater. "C'mon lady, you looked at me."

Her cellphone was in the console. Stein nudged it, jostling it loud enough for her to hear. She gasped and covered it with her hand. All he accomplished was scaring her more, so he relaxed and lay back in the seat, watching the road ahead of them. The radio played softly under the full blast of the heater. It wasn't Jazz, and that was alright with him.


The White Line

It was night. A red glow on the horizon. Stein was behind the wheel and they were in Isobel.

“You gotta stop zapping me around. I could get us killed.”

Roger laughed and waved his hand. “I wanted to see what you would do in a situation like that. That was a vital turn in history you disrupted. On top of that, you could see and take her soul. Much more than I expected. Much more than I was prepared for.”

“What happened to her soul Roger?” Stein's fingers tightened on the steering wheel despite the rising heat radiating from the engine compartment. Isobel's speedometer danced dangerously close to the dreaded 500.

“You ate it. Like a roast beef sandwich.”

Stein jammed on the brake pedal to no effect. The car continued forward, the desert roadside landscape whizzing by at astonishing blurriness. He slapped the steering wheel.

“Why in the fuck am I even driving at all?”

“You're not,” Roger said with a smug smile. He turned his head to look out the window, his arm up on the windowsill. “You're commanding it.”

“Bullshit,” Stein snapped. “If I was commanding it, we'd be stopped.”

“You want to know more. You want that soul to be safe. You want away.” He glanced out the windshield. “This is away.”

“I stole her soul, didn't I.”

“Did you?”

Stein leaned forward, resting his forehead on the steering wheel. He could feel the vibrations of the road. “It felt like I had no choice.”

“Now you are learning.”

A band of Aurora Borealis waved across the strange, starless black overhead.

Just...push him out.
I can't do that. That would fuck stuff up worse.
Why's that? Do you feel that unsure of yourself?
Who the fuck are you now?
It's easy. I'

The sound of the erratic jazz startled him from sleep. The vibrations were lulling, like a lover's touch. Roger sat in the passenger seat, unaware of the internal conversation. A dream.

Maybe this was all a dream.

Stein lifted off the steering wheel and looked out the dark glass. Reflections of the dash interrupted the exterior scenery, but God, it was amazing. Planes stabbed nose-first into the dirt like winged arrows. Smoke curled towards the malevolent boiling red sky and through it all, wandering figures. Skeletons of dead cattle lay strewn about like a pre-schooler's toys. Explosions beyond the horizon gave a little nudge to Isobel's navigation now and then. Bony arms rose to the skies. Stein squeezed his eyes shut.

I can't look at this. So much misery.

“Fascinating, isn't it?” Roger rustled garments behind him. Stein shook his head.

“It's horrible, is what it is. Are these all dead souls?”

“So many that they've been forced in this place of Limbo.”

“Limbo.” Stein sighed. "Neither here nor there."

“Perhaps,” Roger said, the corners of his lips twitching into a smile when Stein turned to glance back.

“Where are we going?”

“For a ride.”

The jazz swelled and receded in the cabin of the car, the dashboard illumination pulsating to the notes thrilling through unseen speakers. Stein clamped his hands over his ears, gritting his teeth.

“Can we listen to something else, for fuck's sake?”

Roger snorted. As if.

“Right, well at least turn it down. It's about to split my skull open.”

“Cristein—I'm not sure how to further impress upon you that this is not a vacation. Those fools outside the glass? They'd tear you apart with their teeth to be in your shoes. You have a ride. You have Isobel.”

“Nice. I'm the guy left with the only running vehicle. I think I've seen this movie before.”

Roger chuckled softly. “Stop the car and find out how wrong you are.”

As if in response to Roger's request, the speedometer needle began to fall by gradual degrees.

Stein jerked his view from the speedometer, to the road ahead of them, to the scene outside. Out there?

“Okay, you win. I don't want to know. I'm fine with not knowing.”

“I don't think you really are,” Roger said, leaning forward with that fucking grin on his face. Stein stomped the gas pedal—a lot of good either pedal did—the car continued to slow.


“Okay, okay. I don't care about them, I don't want to know about out there. Make the car go. Make it fucking go!” Stein slapped the steering wheel, as if that would convey his displeasure with Isobel's actions.

“Tear you apart with their teeth,” Roger said again and laughed over the insane jazz.


“This is fucked up.” Stein said, stamping the gas pedal again. “This is fucked up!

“You'll see just how 'fucked-up' it can be, Cristein. Be the man you think you are. When this vehicle stops, you'll get your chance to make their acquaintance.”

“They'll fucking kill me!”

Roger sniffed. “As I've mentioned—many, many, many times at that—there is no release after you are already dead. But there is pain, and there is—deletion.”

“Like Ramona,” Stein said, his body growing still. “Deleted.”


The car creeped along the highway, and the creatures outside took notice. Dead things slithered, walked, and ran alongside the car, unwilling to step foot on the blacktop. Stein noted the one delicious little detail. A single strand of hope forming into a ball in his chest the size of a wad of chewing gum found under a desk in forth grade.

Isobel came to a halt.

The jazz cut off without warning, and a resounding howl of wicked and tormented things reached his ears through the glass. The very sound of the thousands upon thousands of tortured souls caused him to gasp and his ears to bleed.

Roger smirked. “Hence the jazz.” He nodded toward the door. “Open it.”

“I'd rather not.”

“Open it and get out or I will throw you out,” Roger growled.

Stein opened the door and stepped out into a soundless wind, only the wails of the tormented filtering through. Roger appeared on the other side of the car over the roofline.

“And here they come.”

The largest, most formidable army in history could not match the sheer presence of this compilation of souls, ragged, bleeding, decapitated. Dressed in finery shredded to rags or nothing at all. Eyeless, hairless, naked, and screaming, they rushed to the car.

Their tormented wails colored to red, blazing anger when they reached the blacktop.

Like bacon-ash. One daring creature threw itself upon the highway, Isobel and the two men (loosely defined) sitting square in the middle and flared up like those funny little firecrackers you buy that don't pop, just snake out into coils of ash—that soul did just that, coiled and writhed and screamed and poof.

“Deleted,” Stein whispered, like the thing had never been a man or woman and never, ever existed. No redemption. No reincarnation. Just poof.

“I thought you might like that little detail,” Roger said, sauntering to his side of the car. The numberless army stood angry and wailing and tearing one another's hair and eyes out. Teeth. Red, jagged teeth, gnashing like rabid wolves.

“These are the displaced ones. In line of course. For that final call. Their place is guaranteed. Forever.”

He toed the coiled ash dispersing across the Styx. “Except for this pathetic fool.”

Roger turned to address the masses, raising his arms.


The response was less than savory and the stench of decay made itself known to Stein for the first time, making him gag. The calls of the Displaced were carving bloody furrows in his ears. He licked his lips. Looked back at Isobel.

I hope what Roger said holds true, bitch.

He charged Roger's back, throwing his shoulder into the natural curve of Roger's spine, catching him wholly offguard and unable to resist the inertia. Roger stumbled forward, dug his heels in and then was over The White Line of the highway.

The Displaced fell on him like starving wolves, and Stein turned his face away.


Like Heroin

Roger laughed—a hollow, grating sound—and leered at Stein.

“It doesn't matter now, but just wait.”

Stein pressed the heel of his palm against his forehead, over his left eye. “Fuck,” he growled. His head was throbbing, like a bad drug-induced trip, and the wave took him completely by surprise, knocking him flat on his back before the sky fell in. Undulations of red bloody falls and crushed blue velvet dropped into view and a mad rush of sound, like air escaping a hatch, enveloped his senses. It was a vacuum, and he felt the breath sucked from his useless lungs. He couldn't speak or move. His body visibly vibrated with the sudden onslaught (such power) like Heroin, like horse, and chocolate martinis and lipstick-stained champagne glasses. A banner of blasting rays, so blazingly light he felt as if the skin would simply slide down his skull, and reveal gaping hollowed eye sockets.

Like Marquez.

Wait. Who the fuck was Marquez?

“Marq,” Roger said, echoing his thoughts. Stein clenched his fists so tight his fingernails dug bloody grooves into his (glass covered) palms.

It was exhilaration, like none he'd ever experienced, a sticky residue of cocaine trapped at the bottom of a jar of buzzing flies. A dead carcass, and Ramona's body lay in among the slaughtered cattle.

Who was she?

“It doesn't matter,” Roger said. Stein opened his eyes. He felt he could run a million miles in any given direction and never stop. He felt like flying and diving and swooping on a deep downdraft, over mountains and valleys and streams...

I'm babbling. Jibberish. Who the fuck was Ramona? Where did she go? Why did she disappear?

His mouth gave no speech but Roger smirked.

“She's gone Cristein. Inside you. Gone forever. Can't you feel the power? Can't you just imagine your energy lighting a metropolitan city at this very moment?”

“I feel like a million bucks,” Stein said hoarsely and rose to hunch over pointed knees. He hugged his legs and pressed his cheek there. His mouth was dry. Crunchy.

“The glass again? So soon,” Roger said, almost apologetically.

“What happened to Ramona?”

Roger sighed through his nose. “Get up. You'll find no answers there sitting on the ground.”

Stein rose to his feet and rolled his head back on his shoulders. He looked at his hands, unmarked by blood or glass.

“You took her into you. Her energy became yours.”

“Bullshit,” Stein said, pushing Roger away from him. Roger was hotter than hot, but he didn't care. He wanted to be alone. To understand and digest what had just happened. “I didn't eat her.”

“Just her soul,” Roger said, that same sardonic grin on his face. His sharp teeth glittered in the dying sun.

“I can’t eat souls.”

“It would seem you are mistaken Cristein.”

“If I ate her soul, that would make her—“

“Gone,” Roger finished, “Yes. Gone. Food for you. Too bad for her. Hers was an innocent soul.”

“Stop saying that,” Stein said, “I don't eat souls. I'm not one of your damn minions or what the fuck ever you call them.”

“You are a soul eater.”

“Fuck you Roger.”

“It's time to tell you some things I only suspected up until now. Yours is not a human soul. Yours is not of the living world. You are a soul-eater, and that is that. You feed on the dead souls.”

“I'm human goddamnit.”

“Oh I love the way you believe in a God.”

“There is a God.”

“Is there Cristein?” Roger extended an arm to indicate the barren landscape. The house was gone, reduced to smoldering ashes. “Not here. There is no God here in this place.”

“I don't eat souls. I was a living man.”

“You know very well now that there is something different about you. You stole your sister's life, damning her soul forever.”

Stein pressed his lips so hard together; he felt they would spurt blood. His hands unclenched to press the heel of his palm into his left eye.

“I am human. I had a life. My name was Cristein Chamberlain.”

“Your body is human. You, Cristein, are not. You never were. You never will be. Accept this and we'll move on.”

“Mother. Fucker,” Stein snarled and shoved Roger down, pouncing on his chest afterwards. He held his scalding wrists high over his head.

“I am human.”

“You are not.”

With a roar of defiance, Stein punched Roger in the jaw.

“You can't hurt me Cristein.”

“Fuck you!”

Isobel sat sentient at the edge of the clearing, her silent headlights giving no acknowledgment.


Dead Souls

A thunderstorm rumbled in the distance with the promise of rain. Woods loomed nearby and the dead grass crunched underfoot. Like glass, Stein thought.

“I thought there wasn't weather in hell,” Stein said, glancing upwards.

Roger followed his gaze. “Everything is always changing in this Purgatory of yours.”

“Purgatory? All this is made by other people?”

“Memories, yes. Lives. Essences.” Roger said and walked on, with Stein following. There was no other alternative.

Smoke rolled over the tree line. Roger melded into the forest and Stein stumbled after, smacking away the sharp branches that snapped back in his face in Roger's wake.

“Where are we going?”

“Seems there's a new bunch coming in,” Roger said, without stopping, just pulling the branches hard to let them pop in Stein's eyes. He chuckled.

“Maybe you should go first,” he said and looked back at Stein. His eyes were filled with fire.

A building blazed—a cabin of sorts, set back in a clearing. Stein could hear the quiet roar of the flames as they licked the thick pine beams. A rocking chair swayed back and forth with tongues of fire taking residence in the seat. Above, the sky rolled red and virulent, with cracks of lightning and thunder, and every so often, a body or three would drop right in.

“War,” Roger said, stopping to admire the event, “always has a healthy bounty.”

Stein stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the strange spirit, because that's what he was. Demon, or something like that. Maybe.

“The dead in battle,” Stein said. It wasn't a question, but Roger nodded, his hair slicked back and that sharp grin emerging on his stone-white features. “So they just kinda fall in? Just like hamburger?”

“Just. Like. That.” Roger said, and approached the blazing cabin.

“Why is this thing on fire?”

“Because they aren't supposed to stay here. They aren't even supposed to be here.”

Stein frowned and looked at Roger. “What do you mean, not supposed to be here?”

“They go to the way-station.”

“Weigh-station? Like a trucker's?”

Roger gritted his teeth. “This was a place before for incoming shipments. But the place, I won't tell you that. Now they go to the waiting room. Hell's Kitchen. Where you started all of this.”

“It's a weigh station?”

“No,” Roger growled and watched the drifting, shimmering shapes of the souls materialize into solid shapes.

Their souls are weighed?”

Roger shook his hair and rubbed a blister appearing over his right eye.

“Why do you do that?” Stein asked, cocking his head to the side to inspect Roger's wound.

“Why do I do what?”

“Blister like you can't stand it.”

“Because,” Roger hissed and started walking again. “This is human thought. Human dream, and I am not a part of it.”

“But you're Death.”

“Am I?” Roger asked and turned to face Stein while walking backwards, “what made you think such a thing?'

“Because,” Stein said and threw his hands up. “Fine. Fuck it. Whatever.”

“If you think I am simply Death, you are very, very wrong Cristein.”


“I am a stand-in.” Roger's black eyes locked with Stein's. “We await the coming of the Reaper.”

“There's a fucking Reaper?”

Roger smirked and waggled a finger. “You worry about what Stein has done. All of this will come to you in time.”

“Why am I here?” Stein asked.

“Because I must know everything I can about you before offering a job.”

“I'm dead. As if it matters if I fuck up.”

“It's an important position,” Roger said and turned to face the incoming wave of piled-up souls. That's what they were, shimmering and vacant, without eyes or ears, just holes where the functional organs had once been.

“Why do they look like that?” Stein asked and walked up to a deflating soul, fizzling on the hot sand.

“It's a hard ride over,” Roger said. “They always look like that.”

“Why don't I look like that?”

“Because.” Roger bent to reach out for the soul who recoiled and squeaked in terror. It got up and scurried across the sand like a wild thing, all shadows and plasma. Roger grumbled and waved a hand at the retreating figure.
“It'll learn not to run away.”

“Because why?” Stein asked, ignoring the diversion.

“Why don't you look like that?” Roger smiled, and it was not pleasant at all. “In due time.”

“How about now?”

Roger nodded at another soul laying on the sand like discarded pantyhose. “Try to pick it up.”

“You mean touch that thing?”

“Yes. Try it.”

Stein frowned but reached out for the shaded form. It came towards his fingers like a lonely stray dog.

“Well, this is interesting,” Roger said, obviously amused, “Go on. Touch it. Grab onto it.”

Stein crept towards the thing, meeting it halfway in the space between them. It was cold, but not bitterly. A cool breeze. An autumn breeze. Soft, like leaves. The form began to solidify, features becoming prominent in the gray shadow. Lips, nose and finally, a sensuous full mouth.

“I believe she likes you,” Roger said and leaned down towards her. Her attributes dissolved like a sand castle in the waves.

“They sure don't like you at all,” Stein said, and closed his fingers around hers. She materialized into a recognizable female again.

The longer he held onto her, the more solid she became, until her flesh gleamed in the dying sun on the horizon. Always on the horizon in the In-Between, as he was beginning to think it was.

Roger smiled weakly and bowed his head to the frightened soul. “Time's up.”

A scream resounded from inside Stein's head, so much that he held a hand to his eyes as if that would stop anything. The pain was internal, and she was pulling to get away from him.

“Welcome to your destiny,” Roger said, grinning his piranha grin as Stein felt the soul turn to ash in his hand, and a cold stroke pass through his center.

“Ramona,” Stein said with a sharp intake of breath. “Her name was Ramona.”


Watered Down

His eyes opened in water. Blue wavered in his vision before he realized where he was. He turned his head to see Roger with his shark-teeth grinning in the nocturnal lighting. A red ribbon twisted and curled in on itself in the pool's movement. He felt himself pulled back and out of the icy water.

“Stein! Man! Speak to me man!” Turned over. A face in his. His words tried to come, but there was water in his mouth. In his lungs. A thrust to his sternum and a lukewarm rush of acidic water rushing up from his throat.

“It's fucking January, what the hell are you doing?”

“He was always so caring, wasn't he Cristein?” Roger stood behind the man and opened a pad of paper. “Let's see, this would be—oh no, seems that page has been torn out...”

“Orlando,” Stein said, his freezing lips twitching uncontrollably as the big black man went inside the lodge for blankets.

“Yes. Yes, that was what I was thinking.” Roger put the pad away and clasped his hands behind his back. He scowled; it looked out of place on those pale features. “You can get up now.”


“Don't be foolish,” Roger snorted. “You're already dead. This isn't going to hurt you anymore than it would hurt me.”

Stein ground his hair into the poolside concrete as he looked back and forth. High above, a gradient, gray to black with swirling snowflakes.

“Orlando never died,” he said finally, biting his lip as he rose from the ground.

“Later he did. You gave him the idea how.”

“You can't pin a suicide on me!”

His voice rang out into a rolling echo, as if he were standing on the brink of a cliff, shouting out across the crevasse.

Crevasse! Had to be a foreign word—

Roger grinned again, his tongue black and forked. “I can do as I like.”

“What about the job you have? Just offer it already.”

Stein felt naked. Steam rolled in around him, hot and humid. He looked down and gave a little yelp.

“Oh come now, not as if I can't see all of you anyway,” Roger said, standing next to him in a towel. His sunken white chest had weeping sores dotted across it, like crying eyes. Stein recoiled when they blinked in unison.

“What the fuck?”

“Seems to be your favorite statement come lately,” Roger scoffed and rolled his head back on his neck.
“Know where you are?”

“Gym,” Stein said flatly. His hair was soapy. He turned to the water spray to rise the shampoo out. “Kevin.”

He switched the water off and Roger handed him a towel. Or at least—fuck. That caught him by surprise. Kevin Cordoba stood there in a towel himself. His face was red and he stammered. Even though Stein knew exactly what he was going to say, his face worked into a mask of surprise.

“Do I know you?”

Kevin managed a small smile and clung loosely to the towel when Stein moved to snatch it out of his hands.

“Jesus,” Stein said to Roger, outside himself, seeing everything as it occurred. “I was fucking seventeen man! I don't want to see this—“

“You did very horrible things, didn't you Stein? What was it that you did immediately after you told him to get the fuck away from you?”

“I don't want to talk about it.”

“No?” Roger said, “Because I can show you what your friends did to him—“

“Fuck you.”

“They had to identify him by his teeth, Cristein. He was tied down in the bed of a pickup truck like an animal. No one ever knew young boys could be such—monsters.” His grin wavered, “But not you Stein. No. You came off smelling like a rose. Seems Angel and Jason did time in the big house. Jason was stabbed in the throat with a sharpened spoon. He died at the scene, and no one knew where or how that inmate was able to keep a weapon like that. They found out when Armando died a day later from internal bleeding.”

He jerked the towel from Kevin's paused hand and blotted Stein's face.

“Three for the price of one. You've been quite the commodity during your time.”

“I didn't know goddamnit,” Stein said, gritting his teeth. The shower faded, and so did Kevin's hopeful smile.