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:


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.


Cocktail (light graphic content)

The skyscape dropped into darkness, and the wind picked up in a protesting howl, setting the tattered remains of the burned American flag free into the air—a certain flurry, like black bits of paper. A charred stuffed bear lay face-down in Stein's path. Without knowing why, he bent to pick it up, dusting off the damp fur to inspect it.

A young girl's laughter resounded somewhere from between the tall, narrow buildings outside of the protective fence surrounding the disused basketball count. Stein's fingers tightened around the toy and he followed it. He was stopped by a clucking tongue.

“I don't think you're ready for that just yet,” Roger said, and Stein blinked.

He was holding a martini, not a teddy bear. It was Tempsey's old place—a modest thirty-five stories above the cracked pavement below. Rumors were that a man had jumped out of the window on the thirty-sixth floor, and that's how the pavement had gotten fucked up in such an expensive neighborhood.

“You're showing me shit out of order,” Stein growled to his ethereal companion who merely eyed the well-dressed guests with an appreciative smile. He licked his lips; a black, segmented and forked tongue to slither out of his mouth for a brief flicker, and then Stein was left not knowing if he'd seen it for real or not. One couldn't be too careful, especially with his drink, and there came the woman in the red dress, a complete cliché brunette bombshell but he remembered her name well: Ana Langier, supermodel. Her husband was a Japanese businessman, and so wasn't around much there in that lonely New York State. Word at the firm was she was alone most of the time. She certainly wasn't clinging to anyone here, only walking, defiant, as if she owned the place instead of Tempsey.

Roger sniffed the air with gusto, and Stein turned to find the specter dressed to the nines in a wine-colored tux. He favored his charge with a half-apologetic smile, his black beady eyes following the sway of those hips as Ana approached Stein, paused for dramatic result, her plush red lips mouthing the words that Stein would never forget and he was tugged along by his tie, led by the lovely lady. On the way out of the main gathering, Stein stumbled over a foot strategically placed, and his martini went flying. An explosion of Grey Goose and vermouth blossomed in the center of the room.

The olives, still stabbed on the small acrylic sword rolled once and stared up at him, like accusing eyes, with x's for pupils.

Ana was drunk, he could tell it and Sarah wouldn't be expecting him home for a few more hours. She pulled him up into a short hall, kissing him hard enough to bite into his bottom lip, her slender fingers working the offending garments out of the way.

“I want you,” she whispered in his ear, tonguing his earlobe to suck between her lips and pinch between her teeth. "I've always wanted you."

Stein looked around for Roger but it seemed his companion had gotten distracted by the craps table. Two glorious women clutched both of his elbows, and for the first time, Roger did not look menacing at all. Instead, his eyes were a lighter brown and his hair was combed back neatly, exposing a less than noticeable widow's peak part. No one noticed anything odd about him, or seemed to care. Ana was at his zipper now, her fingers cold against his prickling nutsack and he nearly stood on his toes.

A clattering sound interrupted her would-be invasion with her mouth. Someone'd spilled the cocktail peanuts. Stein closed his eyes, knowing what was about to happen. His mind screamed at him to push Ana away, but she 'd returned to her undeniable attraction to his helplessly exposed and bobbing manhood.

“She always gave good head,” Roger said, standing there in front of Stein with his two newest fans like he was waiting in line for the bathroom instead of watching Stein receive a blowjob from a gorgeous supermodel whom also happened to be married.

Stein squirmed a little as his libido overtook his recollection of the memory which Roger was obviously pushing him to relive.

“Rsaka Tonoshi,” Roger said, “You remember this part.” His white face turned, Stein noticed that he was blistering along the jaw. His nose was incredibly long, sharp, and appeared to have been broken at some juncture. Roger turned his face back to Stein.

“He's coming.” A peanut rolled through the opening, and an astonished Asian face peered into the hallway, followed by the blackest hole deep inside the muzzle of his pistol. Tears and sweat mingled on his lined features; Rsaka had to be at least seventy-years-old.

Ana was given only enough time to pop Stein's throbbing purple cock from her mouth and rise to her feet, her lips parting to offer something in the way of explanation. Stein wanted to throw an arm over his face to deflect the splattering blood and brains, but his arm remained cemented against the wall, just like the script of his past dictated.

It was over in a matter of seconds. Rivers of tears streamed down and over aged lines; Ana dropped to the floor after a red lotus blossomed in her face.

His pocket vibrated and he jumped-jerked away. Four men were tackling Rsaka to the ground, vainly attempting to wrestle the gun from his grip. Sarah cried into the phone on her end; whispered accusations. Stein heard himself say that no matter what, he would always place her ahead of anything else. He hung up and backed up and off the wall, letting Ana's little weight fall away from his legs.

She eyed him with the one eye not covered in a bloody mess.

“I'm so sorry.”

The four men scattered as Rsaka swung the aim of the gun in a wide arc.

"It's okay," Stein said, his mouth dry. His eyes climbed up the wall, where her husband leaned against it, shoulders slumped in defeat. The old businessman eyed the weapon as he turned it over and over in his hands. A dull, blued-steel, maybe a .38, Stein didn't know shit like that. Without another word, he bit the muzzle and pulled the trigger a second time. In the distance, Stein heard screaming. The faint wait of the ambulance.

"You know how he took his time? His was a good catch and a definite bonus in addition to Ms. Langier's. In the end, you are all meat."

Roger grinned his shark-tooth grin and bit one of the women's faces, and she moaned.

"They want it, Cristein. They need to be devoured. But this isn't what I wanted to show you. We're not done, but we're done here."



Secrets are like dust in a busy household—pushed from corner to corner and jabbed at in an attempt to eradicate, but the fact remains as long as there is life, there will be dust because we are of it.

The stars winked at him, and twisted in their deep sky-burrows. The moon scurried behind a copse of clouds like Eve in the trees after she'd eaten the infamous apple. The voice was strong, and his ribs rattled together as he shivered. Roger waited, hands behind his back. He was still smiling as if it were a pleasant tennis match and nothing more.

There will always be dust as long as we live. And when you look beneath your bed expecting to see nothing, it will be there. They will be there, reminding you that you haven't won yet.

“I did win, goddamnit!” Stein screamed to the sky and fell on his ass. “What the fuck is this?” He asked Roger again. “Just take me to Hell. Take me to Hell if all you plan on doing is torturing me anyway.”

“I'm sorry son,” he heard his father say. “She wasn't your mother really.”

“Not my mom?” Stein said in a ten-year-old's voice. “Where is my real mom?”

Benjamin Chamberlain did not answer, only closed his eyes. They were in the waiting room. Maggie Chamberlain was dead. She was found in the bathroom, overdosed on crack-cocaine.

“—shut up,” Stein said and stood again. He brushed past Roger and ran his hands through his hair. It felt wrong, like hair shouldn't feel. His hands were beginning to bleed again.

“It wears off after awhile, but soon I can make it stay away,” Roger said, grinning with those sharp teeth and the blood vanished from his palms.
“You put your hands out to block the incoming glass—“

Stein waved him off with a violent stroke of his hand. “I get it. I'm fucking dead.”

“Who was the voice Stein?”

Stein closed his eyes and shook his head. Over and over until his neck felt sore.

“That's not possible. Stop imposing limits on this form.”

Stein laughed and shrugged. Dust curled up around the soles of his shoes as he approached Isobel, quiet and watching. He could feel her mechanical ire, like a low hum under ten feet of concrete. Like an approaching train. Her disdain for him as a pathetic being. Her fender sagged under his gaze as if retreating. He snorted. Reality didn't have a snowball's chance in—well, there was definite truth in that statement. Heat wavered over her paint; a miniature atmosphere, black as squid ink. He shook from head to toe in absolute fear, but slapped his hand on the scalding metal. Steam hissed from beneath his palm immediately and he jerked his hand away again, leaving a thin layer of skin which melted away as he looked on in horror.


“Now now Stein...the thing is, you decided to touch the car.”

“Limits! You said I should stop fucking—oh my God this fucking hurts—imposing limits on this form.”

Roger laughed, a good hearty, belly-shuddering, teeth bared guffaw. A blister appeared on his brow above his left eye. He sighed and smoothed a hand back through his glossy-black hair. “You're killing me Stein. I thought you had more brains than that, unless you left them all across that highway.” He straightened his posture again, though the smile danced over his lips at interval. “You can't just do as you please here. There are some rules. Rule One: Don't touch the transport. You're lucky she didn't electrocute you.”

“Rules,” Stein said and opened his burned palm. The flesh was unmarked. Of course it was. He wasn't real. None of this was really real.

Roger walked towards the car. “Roll scene."

It was a hot day in Brooklyn. The sun stared the two of them down in a deserted basketball court with a burned-out American flag flying on a flagpole by the playground. The tattered remains were still smoking. Stein shielded his eyes and took in the desaturated surroundings. It was as if a holocaust had made them the last two—he glanced at Roger—well Stein was the last man on earth.

A menagerie of scents pricked his nose. Apples. Sunflowers. Pale red. She was walking towards them. He couldn't see her face yet, but he didn't want to see it. Not here, not after the fucked up shit he'd already seen.

Her strawberry-blonde hair whipped over her cheek and obscured the right side of her face. One ice-blue eye regarded him with a practiced casualty that no one could ever do better.

“I knew you'd be glad to see her again.” Roger said. Stein glanced at him and then a double-take.

“Lakers? Really?” Stein wrinkled his nose at the purple basketball jersey hanging off Roger's death-camp-survivor's bony frame.

“Seemed somehow appropriate. She's coming to say something Stein. Do you know what it is?”

Stein gritted his teeth and stepped back, hands held out in front of him. “I wasn't ready. That's all.”

“How can you say that to your wife?”

“Fuck you. This is some sick shit you're pulling man.”

Sarah Chamberlain stopped in front of him, her hand protective over her belly. The wind threatened to shift, but Stein couldn't look away. “She hated basketball. She wanted me to believe in a family. To be happy that she's—she'd gotten pregnant.”

“It was a red afternoon,” Roger said, the grin reintroduced. He blew in Sarah's direction. The wind shifted, and lifted her silky strawberry-blonde tresses to reveal a gaping socket where her right eye had once been. Maggots squirmed in the open space of her split cheek-flesh. Her tongue wriggled inside there, black and segmented.

“Anti-abortionists are such fun,” Roger said, offering his hand to her. She looked at him with her one eye and took it, her right hand useless, burned and dangling at her side. Stein squeezed his eyes shut again.

“You were supposed to accompany this sweet young lady to her first obstetrics appointment. Instead, she sought an abortion clinic. On the day of the massacre. With your daughter deep inside her.”

Stein made an inhuman mewling sound.

“Not yet,” Roger said, twirling Sarah around like a dance partner. “We're far from done. Día de los Muertos.”



Gaily-colored streamers tacked to the ceiling descended to the floor and balloons, each with a letter of Stein's name, stood proud and straight on their thin twined bunches. Maggie Chamberlain was in the kitchen, singing along to Buddy Holly while she watched the maid cut the cake.

“Barbara! Even slices. Don't want Cristein to get fat, like his father.” Her blonde hair was dyed pink in places with a black-glitter mesh bow. The maid, a squat woman herself, pursed her lips, her fingers tightening around the handle of the knife but said nothing in objection. The woman was a cocaine addict and her son had a freakish name, and that was punishment enough for this family. Instead, she finished the job of slicing the white-chocolate cake in neat little child-size squares and pushed through the French doors on the patio to tell the brand-new eight-year-old that he and his friends could come have cake in the parlor. She called him Stein, and he loved it. Better the boy grow up with an alternative; Cristein was an oblong name. She chuckled as she went to gather up the rest of the family.

Benjamin Chamberlain was in his home office on the phone. Barbara stood patiently outside his door, waiting a few moments to see if he'd turn around and catch sight of her. The conversation was tense, and after a few seconds, she stepped back from the doorway just to eavesdrop in spite of herself.

“I see...and you are sure it's Karen...” Ben propped the phone between his shoulder and ear momentarily while he extracted a small packet of white from his top desk drawer from the nesting of identicals, and locked the drawer with a small key. He held it up to the light of the window and set it down on his desk, turning to look to the doorway before refocusing on his conversation.

“She was found where? What about her mother, can't she—oh...oh I see. Several years ago.” He sucked his breath in through his teeth and loosened his tie, one that Maggie'd given him for the past Father's Day. It was navy blue, with little red polo-riders in a diagonal pattern all over it. His light-blue shirt was beginning to develop sweat stains, perhaps from the conversation, perhaps not.

“I can come identify her, but it's been years since I last saw her. I don't think she even knew I was her father.”

Wide-eyed, Barbara staggered backwards.


A bright light. Stein opened his eyes and immediately slitted them against the intrusion.

“A sister Cristein. Did you know?” Roger was close by. Very close, like a lover's voice.

Heat shimmered in the lights and Stein blinked a few times and nodded. “Dad told me. The day before he died. She was twenty-two.”

“Do you know how she died, Cristein?”

Stein grimaced. His collar felt tight. “No. That wasn't really fully disclosed. Some kind of wreck.”

“You tried to find out, didn't you?”

Stein nodded again. He tried to sit up but couldn't. His body felt immensely heavy and non-existent all at once. “Am I dead Roger? Did I die?”

Roger laughed and stepped into view. Stars winked behind his head and Stein was out on the highway again. The lights were headlights and he could feel the cracks in the blacktop under his back. He pressed his shoulders into the road, treasuring the sensation of something solid besides his breathing. In. Out. In. Out. In—

“Answer the question.”

“I went to the library—“

“Her name was Karen. Karen Mills.”

“I know that goddamnit,” Stein said, turning his head to Roger's voice, but it was just him and that bedeviled car again.

“Would you rather we go elsewhere?”

“Besides lying in the road in front of a demon car? Sure.”

Stein licked his lips and tasted sand. He was on a beach, looking out at nothing. No water. Just dead seabed. The moonlight drifted down in rivulets, as if afraid of the cursed place. The ground was spotted, as if it'd tried to rain, but thought better of it.


Stein sat up, and leaned over his knees, hugging his legs. “Yeah. Good as it gets, I guess.”

“She died of asphyxiation Stein.” Roger stepped into view but his face was unreadable and dark. Isobel sat sentient, silent and unlit. The moonbeams split over the roof of the hulking machine and dared not even reflect off the fenders. A dim glow resided in the ancient glass of the headlights.

“Choked to death with her own pantyhose.”

Stein shook his head. “Car accident,” he said incredulously. “The papers said it was an automobile accident...a flaming wreckage—fuck.” His eyes were bulging. “Isobel.”

Roger smiled not kindly. “She severed a man's penis while he was high on cocaine.”

“Was everyone on that shit in the eighties?”

Roger snorted. “It was a very busy decade for us.”

Stein exhaled hard and shook his head. “Fuck you. Whomever the fuck you and that goddamn car work for.”

“Karen was the original Chamberlain. You took that from her, didn't you?”

“I didn't know!” Stein roared and jumped to his feet, fists clenched at his sides. “What the fuck is this? A goddamn interrogation?”

Isobel's engine started and the headlights were there in Stein's face again. The accelerator raced, rocking the car violently.

“Careful. You don't want to piss off your partner,” Roger said, his smile fading from his ghastly illuminated features.



The lights flickered, and the windows rattled in their frames. The patrons went on about their business as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.

“What the fuck is wrong with you people?!” Stein shouted and turned around and around, glancing up at the ceiling as motes of plaster drifted lazily in the air. The woman eating the sandwich paused, her eyes meeting his for the remotest of seconds before diving back into her grotesque meal.

“What is this place?!”

The jukebox yanked the needle across the record sharply and everything just stopped.

The plaster particles hung motionless, the woman froze with sandwich in mouth, teeth clamped viciously around the macabre meat filling. The barista was caught in a blink, like someone snapped a picture with flash.

Outside the window: lights. Pale lights, drifting over the barren landscape, drawing closer. Dancing and entwining, only to split apart. They materialized at the drive to pull in as another one of those goddamn cars. Like the one he came in. Like—


Stein jumped at the abrupt voice behind him. Slowly, he cranked his neck to the side. Licked his lips. Tasted glass. Tiny bits of glass and realized his hands were covered in blood.

“That's right, now you're getting it.”

A man in front of him now. Priest's cassock, buttoned high on his neck. A black thatch of hair above sharp dark eyes. He carried a rosary, but the cross was missing. Stein crunched slivers of glass embedded in his tongue.

“What is this?”

The man smiled, and his teeth were sharp barracuda points. “It has many names, but in your time and place I believe the term is Purgatory.”

“How did I get here?” Stein asked, spitting out blood.

“I can restore the illusion if you like,” the man said. His gaze dropped to Stein's shoes. “You're getting it all over the nice, clean floor that Margaret here worked so hard to clean.”


“You're dead, Stein. Passed. Gone. Wormdirt, although I'd say what's left of you would fit in a matchbox at those speeds.”

“The car? I died in the car?”

“The car brought you here Stein,” he said with a flash in his dark eyes.


“Not hell, Purgatory. Consider it a waiting room for dead souls. Well, many waiting rooms. Places. The Styx leads to all of those.”

“You telling me,” Stein said, choking on the blood before spitting on the floor, “that the Styx is fucking real?”

The man raised an eyebrow and Stein sucked in a breath. The blood disappeared. The diner vanished, and they were standing in the middle of the highway. The one he’d come in on.

“Call me Roger,” the man offered and extended an arm to the darkness surrounding them on all sides. “This is the Styx. Not a river as many have been led to believe, but the conduit to every land beyond.”

Lights glowed on the red-lined horizon as if the sun had just set. They peeped as twin headlights, approaching at a breakneck speed. Roger just stood there with a smile of approval, his hands clasped behind his back. His shoes were absolutely immaculate. Stein swallowed.

“Isobel,” Roger whispered and the car drew closer without signs of slowing.

“It's going to hit us,” Stein said and stepped back but Roger snagged his wrist with a grip hot as a branding iron.

“Relax, Stein. She works for us.”

The car closed the distance between them in a blink of an eye. Five hundred yards. Three hundred, and a slight scuff as the brakes dug into the discs. The black car he'd paid an exorbitant price for sat in front of him, high beams staring him straight in the face.

“Isobel,” Stein said in the same whisper.

“Just one of many, although the odds of seeing more than a handful are extremely rare.”

Stein approached the car, shielding his face from the waves of heat radiating off the hood.

“She does get hot,” Roger said apologetically, his thin lips betraying his amusement. “Something to do with the speed.”

“I paid for this car,” Stein said, as if to convince himself.

“Oh yes. You did. Quite the price tag for a transport.”

“A what?”

“Isobel is of the Styx. And now, she is yours.”

“Cars don't have genders,” Stein said, creeping around to the rear end of the car. “Or minds of their own. This one... Isobel tried to kill me.”

Roger sighed and followed behind Stein, stopping to open the door. Stein flinched as if something was going to leap out of the driver's seat and shred his face off. Nothing came out. He craned his neck to see inside without getting closer.

Inside were the same icy-blue dials. Chrome accents. That smell again. Not unpleasant this time either. Black. The interior was black, and lit from above at the same time.

“What's the smell?” He asked, inching closer.

“Soul residue, or in your case, human skin.”

“What!” Any progress Stein'd made in getting closer was negated as he stumbled backwards.

“From a very, very long time ago, Stein, and you've already been in it. It's been against your own skin, and now it has your blood in it as well.”

A flash of light revealed the aftermath of the accident, with blood dripping off the lip of the driver's seat onto the tidy midnight carpeting. Another flash removed the grisly evidence.

“It's all a matter of perspective here, Stein.”

“Why am I here,” Stein said hoarsely, “Why are you showing me this fucked up shit?”

“You are here because you belong here, and I have a job for you.” Roger said and shoved the door to shut again. “But that is to be determined, since up until now you refuse to believe anything you've seen. I'll take you back to the diner now.”

“No!” Stein dropped to his knees, clutching at the strange man's garments. Something coiled beneath the scratchy wool and he fell back, tears threatening his eyes. “I just want to go home,” he said, his voice breaking like glass.

“I told you Stein. You are home.” Roger said. Stein was shrouded in absolute darkness.