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Paint It Black
by John McIlveen

free horror fiction

She dabbed her paintbrush against the palette and applied it to the canvas, blending and feathering with quick, bold strokes until she achieved the exact effect she desired. Stepping back, she appraised her work and returned to blend a spot with her thumb. A pleased smile spread across her tired yet regal face.

Her Masterpiece.

Eight feet wide and six feet tall, the painting was nearly as large as a garage door. A painstaking endeavor, more than four years in the making, she worked on it only during times of utter solitude—moments when she could forget that anything else existed, ignore the pulls of marriage, parenthood, and grandparenthood, and devote herself entirely to her art. She needed to be utterly focused, or the outcome of her work would be jeopardized. It was different from anything she had painted. It was for two people, for two very different purposes, and to accomplish this, every detail had to be perfect.

Justice, a name tagged by her overly patriotic Marine dad, removed her paint-dappled apron and wiped her hands on it. She then folded the cloth, wincing as an arthritic jolt lit her knuckles, and placed it on her workbench.


Using old rags as glides, she carefully slid the cumbersome painting across the floor of the huge basement. The canvas itself was light, but the painting was quite heavy due to the frame, which she had specially fabricated from a Russian hardwood. As heavy as it was, it was still lighter than it would have been if made of steel, yet just as hard, and could be finished to a high black luster. It shined like a brand new Lincoln. Covering it with a king-size blanket, she wrestled it up the basement stairway and into the den.

Vast and contemporary in mode, the den was a showcase of light oak furniture, pristine white walls, and gold-veined, white Grecian marble. Large windows, shrouded in elegant maroon and gold drapes, framed a view of well-kept gardens and expansive lawns to which an elaborate, side-lit doorway granted access. A lifetime of portraits and photographs telling the story of an accomplished man festooned the walls on either side of the majestic fireplace lined in marble—the same material of choice for the bar top at the opposite end of the room. A thick maroon carpet patterned with gold and three matching scatter rugs covered most of the oak parquet floor, so highly glossed, it shone as if it were under an inch of water.

Justice went out to the garage and brought back tools and hardware. She knocked along the wall trying to differentiate between studs and hollows. The painting, being taller than she was, would need the added support. Her first two tries missed either side of a stud, but on the third attempt, the screw gun drove firmly into wood.

Justice hefted the painting onto the wall, trying to ignore the pain that gnawed along her spine. She moved back to view her work.

Perfect.

Stepping lightly to the bar, Justice selected a bottle of Domaine Leflaive chardonnay from the rack. She opened the bottle, filled a wineglass with the mild golden liquid, and took a sip. A glorious blend of apple, pear, and lime, with an oaky underpinning enlivened her senses, as it should at $450 a bottle. Normally, she would feel guilty, but not tonight. She carried the glass upstairs to her bedroom and set it on the nightstand.

Propping her pillows against the headboard, she sat down and withdrew a small brown bottle from her nightstand drawer.

Justice was never fond of taking pills, finding them difficult to swallow, but tonight was special. Tonight she was celebrating two things; the completion of her masterpiece and her freedom.

Freedom and art.

Free art form, she thought.

Freedom and all for Justice! She chuckled.

She spilled the contents of the bottle onto the bed and pushed the little blue capsules around with a long index finger.

Thirty-seven, she counted.

She lifted three, placed them on her tongue, and swallowed them with a sip of chardonnay. She repeated this procedure eleven more times—thirty-six little blue pills.

She left the last pill on the nightstand, so her weapon of choice would be obvious. Justice did not like to create unnecessary work for others.

This brought up another thought. She walked to the bathroom, relieved herself as completely as possible, and then washed her nether-regions thoroughly with a Huggies wipe. She would leave this place with as much dignity as the situation allowed.

Returning to her bed, she could already feel a heaviness blanketing her and some tingling throughout her extremities. She lay down, took a deep but easy breath, and then faded into a sleep from which she would never wake.

###

Felix Henneman returned home to Seattle from San Diego late Wednesday evening. He pulled his Mercedes to a stop before one of three garage doors, but instead decided to park it outside. He looked up at the bedroom where a mellow glow seeped from the window shades. Justice, predictable as clockwork, was probably waiting for her husband’s return.

Felix flew to his offices in San Diego for three days every other week, with a quick stopover to his L.A. offices one day each month.

Henneman Systems, founded by Felix in 1991, was a statistical analysis software firm that had risen through the ranks of the industry with record speed and provided Felix with an unforeseen fortune. Due to sly and sometimes ruthless business practices and more than proficient programming experts, Henneman Systems prospered even through the meager years subsequent to the new millennium. Condominiums in both L.A. and San Diego allowed Felix the luxury of necessities and multiple wardrobes at all three dwellings. Felix carried no luggage, only his briefcase.

He stabbed a five-digit code into the keypad near the side entrance. The door lock released with a firm clack, and he pushed his way into his house.

The customary smell of acrylic paint, a smell he now regarded as almost synonymous with home, greeted him as he entered. He shuffled lazily up the hallway and into the den and dropped his briefcase onto a blond Corinthian leather recliner.

At the bar, he filled a small snifter with an expensive cognac. As he took his first sip, he noticed the new painting.

How could he have missed it—mounted on the wall like some billboard?

“What the Christ?” Felix said. He approached, transfixed.

It appeared to be just an array of black strokes, globs, and gobbets on canvas. Why the hell would Justice hang something like that?

Has the old bird finally lost her bearings? He wondered, though at sixty-eight, he was twelve years the “old bird’s” senior.

He moved a few steps to the left to view the picture from a different angle. Still nothing— just a flat field of black; it looked like the entrance to a cave. He decided to go upstairs and inquire into Justice’s latest cultural addition.

As Felix turned, something caught his eye. He quickly looked back at the painting but saw nothing. Turning away again, something shifted in the far corner of his vision. Felix looked at the painting yet again. Nothing. But there appeared to be a wave in the texture, a swath of a deeper black.

It moved.

Subtly, it shifted again, drawing him in. The black transformed into stygian pockets, now moving faster, beckoning him. Faster, pulling. The sound of slithering and rasping, the shifting of giant eel bodies moving against each other. More sounds, little gusts of wind, rapid writhing and tunneling and hissing voices and breaking glass.

Felix shook his head and tore his gaze from the painting. He looked down at his shattered glass on the parquet floor.

Terrified, his heart hammering, he backed away with averted eyes. He turned, nearly breaking into a run for fear that something mammoth and lethal would leap out of the frame and attack him.

He hurried upstairs to the bedroom, quickly closing the door behind him. Justice lay propped up on her pillows, eyes slightly open, which was not unusual for her, but never failed to creep Felix out a bit.

“You awake?” Felix asked softly.

No response.

Felix went into the master bathroom, brushed his teeth and gargled none too quietly. He returned to the bedside and felt a little growing indignation. She could at least stay awake to greet him.

Felix undressed to his boxers and draped his shed clothing over a straight-back chair near the bed. He cleared his throat loudly, to no avail.

Deciding to administer a full dose of rude awakening, he yanked back the covers and slid in, making sure to give Justice a jab with his big toe.

“What’s with the LaBrea Tar Pits at Midnight?” he asked gruffly.

He looked at Justice’s semi-opened eyes and still bosom. A sharp jolt seared the back of his neck and shot down his legs.

“Oh shit,” he whispered, moving away slowly as if she had become toxic. Rising, he rounded the bed and gingerly touched a finger to her pale cheek.

Cool, but not cold. Was she dead?

He lowered his hand to her neck and pressed an index finger to her throat.

No pulse. Dead, but not very long.

He looked at her eyelids, so odd a texture. They looked like a blending of rice paper and the petal of an iris—so soft. He wanted to touch them, but he knew he’d be disappointed.

He backed away again, spooked by this woman who had been soft-spoken and gentle in life and now terrified him in death. Or maybe it was simply death that terrified him.

Felix reached for the phone on the nightstand and saw the little blue capsule and empty wine glass.

Felix didn’t question why Justice took her own life; he wondered why she’d waited so long.

He called 911 and then dressed.

The paramedics and police arrived quickly, though Justice was beyond saving. Two police officers and two paramedics filed into Felix’s home pulling a stretcher and assorted paraphernalia in their wake. The EMTs attended to Justice, while in the den, the police officers listened to Felix’s retelling of the night’s events.

Felix kept his eyes averted from the painting, although it called to him, unrelenting, boiling in his peripheral vision—a swirling darkness accompanied by that damned sound, like white noise or dead air on the phone.

The police and paramedics passed by the painting several times, but only the one female paramedic kept glancing uneasily at it; the others didn’t seem to notice it or care.

They finally wheeled Justice to the ambulance, and to Felix’s relief, led him outside. Felix followed them to the hospital in his Mercedes.

###

It was nearly three-thirty in the morning. Felix sat inside his Mercedes, before one of the three garage doors. He dreaded entering his house, afraid to face the painting again. A man of controlled emotions, Felix had never really experienced fear before.

He didn’t like it.

He would have to call his daughter Rachel and her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was the only family he had left now.

He had to take the painting down. He’d go into the house with his eyes closed and rip the fucker right off the wall. Easy as that—problem solved!

With renewed resolve, Felix marched through the doorway, eyes fixed to the floor. He grabbed the frame and was instantly snared and pulled down into darkness. His muscles contracted, forcing his eyes wide, and causing him to grip the frame tighter, though every element of his being wanted, needed to release it.

He was forced to look into the painting. The swirling eels demanded his full attention, beckoned him—shifting wildly, converging and separating, forming, sloughing away and reforming.

A figure started to emerge amidst the churning shadows. Strands like hair, long and fibrous flowed within, revealing glimpses of an eye…a pair of eyes.

Dark eyes, haunted and terrified.

Asian eyes.

Felix remembered those eyes even forty years later.

A face emerges. Pretty, a young Korean woman, more like a girl, fetal on a dirt floor, sobbing desperately as three sailors advance on her, laughing riotously. A young Felix swings a belt, connecting sharply with her upper leg. The memories play out before him like a malevolent movie; only now, Felix feels the sting of the leather and the girl’s terror. It is now his torture. Her pain meshes with the fibers of his soul and feasts. The beating and repeated rapes, the desecration of a child-woman’s innocence, all to alleviate boredom.

“Having a good time,” the sailors had called it.

Felix felt the excruciating pain of her defilement so absolute that the girl’s eventual death was a welcome relief.

Her image was dragged away in tides of black, just as her body so many years ago was claimed by the midnight waters of the Yellow Sea.

To Felix’s right, another image materialized. He couldn’t look away.

Justice, twenty-two years old, her face tear-streaked, clutches a shrieking sixteen-month old Rachel protectively to her body. A hand grabs Justice’s hair and yanks her head backward. Felix feels the pain sear across the back of his head as a thirty-four year old Felix screams insanely, spittle flying into Justice’s face, “Shut that fucking kid up, or I will!”

Emotions flood Felix as Justice’s hopes dwindle. He feels her thoughts of bleak finality. There could be no more children. Protecting just one from this insane bastard will take all her energy.

Images began to emerge more quickly, a slideshow of years.

Justice gets her tubes tied; Rachel hides fearfully in the shadows while her father rants wildly. Rachel is sent off to spring camp, summer camp, ballet school, the grandparents’ house—Justice employs any means, and a healthy amount of cash, to keep her daughter away from Felix. Faster and faster the images flash by; Justice escapes to the basement, painting her landscapes, hiding in them. A staccato display, faster, swirling, throbbing, and finally, an exploding force drives Felix to the floor.

Retching and feeling like something thick and alive was thrusting up from his stomach, Felix rushed to the bathroom and vomited explosively.

###

“Hello?”

Rachel’s voice was rushed. About seven in the morning, probably hurrying to get the kids off to school before she left for work, Felix figured. Rachel was a psychology professor at Harvard, where she had studied.

He paused, unsure of what to say. He couldn’t recall the last time he had talked to his daughter. That was Justice’s arena.

“Hello?” Rachel repeated, sounding irritated now.

“Rachel,” he said.

“Hello? Who is this?” she asked, an edge of concern in her tone. “Father, is that you?”

“Yeah, it’s me,” he said.

“Is everything all right?” There was a growing thread of worry in her voice. Understandably so, Felix thought. Her father, who probably hasn’t said more than a dozen words to her in the last ten years, calls her out of the blue…doesn’t need a Ph.D. to figure that out, and she has one.

He took a sip of Evan Williams whiskey and said, “Rachel, your mother died last night.”

“Oh, my God!” Rachel’s voice cracked. “What happened? I just talked to her Tuesday.”

“Pills.”

“Pills?”

“Yes, pills. Barbiturates.”

“She took sleeping pills?” Rachel was nearing hysterics. “She killed herself?”

“Yes.”

Rachel said nothing for a few moments, but her silence roared. Felix knew she held him responsible. He listened as she pulled her rapid breaths and sobs under control.

“Why? Did she leave a note?” she asked. “She seemed all right when I spoke to her.”

“No note,” he told her. “The only thing different was a new painting.”

“How is that different? Mom’s always doing new paintings.”

“Not like this one.”

“Why?”

Felix took a long drink of whiskey before answering. “Because this one is…fucked, for lack of a better word. Huge, it takes up most of the den’s north wall, and disturbing, to say the least.”

“What did she paint?” Rachel asked. The need for answers, or at least a clue to her mother’s actions, was evident in her voice.

“Not a goddamn thing as far as I can tell. No landscapes, no people, just a bunch of black swirls and whorls. When I got home from San Diego last night, the ghastly thing was on the wall, and the bitch of it is, I can’t take my eyes off it. Have you ever known her to do this…abstracty kind of stuff before?” he asked.

Rachel was silent a while, then said, “Yeah, she painted some for me and the kids.”

“She did?” Felix asked, surprised that Justice would send something so horrendous their way.

“Did she sign it?” Rachel asked.

“I never knew your mother to sign her paintings,” he said. Justice refused to sign any of her paintings, even those she sold, despite protests from collectors. But each piece of work had her personal logo hidden within the scenery, a small symbol Justice had designed for herself that was evocative of both Celtic and Pagan. She would painstakingly hide them within her paintings, sometimes taking Rachel hours to find them. Sometimes she couldn’t.

“Her logo,” Rachel said.

Felix considered looking for it, but the thought of getting that close to the painting again was too disturbing. “I’ll have to check that out,” he said dismissively.

“Did she say anything before you left? Did mom say she was feeling down or anything like that?”

“I was in San Diego for a couple days, but last time we talked, she sounded fine.”

“Aw shit,” Rachel said, sniffed, and cleared her throat. “I’ll call Ben at work; we should be able to get there sometime tomorrow.”

Both ends of the line remained silent for a few moments.

“You need money?” Felix said.

“We’re all set. You should try to get some sleep,” said Rachel.

“I’ll do that,” Felix said.

###

Rachel hung up.

She sat on the couch, legs folded beneath her, phone still in her lap.

Mom’s gone…Mom’s gone…Mom’s gone!

The words flashed through her like a beacon. It didn’t seem real or possible. She couldn’t be gone.

And suicide? What’s with that? She was the strong, stoic one and an optimist to a fault.

Too many things did not make sense. Like her father, that unflinching, cold-spirited, selfish bastard being unnerved by a painting. Rachel couldn’t imagine something like that upsetting him.

She tried to envision the painting and could only conjure the paintings mother had given to her and her children. What was it, three years ago? About a third the size her father described, but similar by the sound of it—swirls and whorls without any definable subjects, though some shape always seemed about to emerge.

They were anything but ghastly, as her father had said, but he was right that they were magnetic. Rachel found them oddly comforting and supposed the kids did too, since she often found them staring intently at them.

Ben was neutral; though he didn’t find the art upsetting, he certainly felt they were odd. “What’s the sense?” he asked.

Unlike her standard paintings, Mother’s logo was not on the personal ones, at least obviously so, but what Justice did do was write the feeling or emotion she was trying to convey on the back of each picture. A landscape with a babbling stream would be “serenity” or “peace”, or a wild stallion might be “intensity” or “spirit”, but unlike the silly motivational posters these emotions often brought to mind, Justice’s work was true art.

Mother had been adamant about where the paintings should be hung. The lavender one labeled “Grace” was in Stephanie’s room. The blue one titled “Nobility” belonged in Daniel’s room, and the beige “Devotion” was in Rachel and Ben’s bedroom. It seemed they were prophetic or maybe a cause to the effect, because each child embodied the quality named in the painting, and Ben and she were very devoted to the children and to each other.

The colors complimented the labels, too, which made Rachel wonder, why black?

Anger?

Hatred?

She couldn’t picture her mother capable of either. What had she written on the back of the black painting?

Rachel lifted the phone from the cradle and punched in her parents’ number.

###

The trill of a phone burrowed into Felix’s sleep, pulling him from dreamless depths to the present. He opened his eyes and gasped, reaching out to keep from falling. He was standing with his face mere inches from the painting. The phone rang again and Felix turned for it, but he couldn’t tear his eyes from the undulating silhouettes pulsing before him. The phone rang on, but Felix no longer heard it.

Instead, he saw.

From the ebony field, a young man materializes. Nathan Rutledge sits at a barroom table directly across from Felix. They’re in The Rusty Bucket, a friendly little tavern that they frequented in the mid-eighties when they both worked at Logi-tel. Nathan worked in accounting, and Felix directed programming.

the Waliking Dead, amc

Nathan tells Felix that a large amount of money is being skimmed from the corporation. An inside job, but he’s sure he’ll nab the bastard soon. Nathan laughs and says something. Felix remembers the words.

“Once I bring this son of a bitch to light, I’ll get my big promotion, and I’ll get you a bigger office.” They laugh.

Nathan’s laughing visage dissolves. No longer laughing, his head is at an odd angle, wedged against a tire in the trunk of Felix’s Thunderbird; he barely fits.

Felix feels the pain—Nathan’s pain in his temple, huge and disorienting where the rock hit.

Then Nathan is tumbling down the embankment to the rocky depths below.

The vision fades, and Felix is standing in a cemetery, holding Nathan’s wife Rhonda, as her son Sammy stands nearby. Justice and Rachel stand toward the rear of the assembly of mourners, suspicion burning from Justice’s eyes.

Felix hadn’t noticed the look back then, but he was distracted by more important things. Rhonda and her son weep bitterly, sharing their utter anguish. Felix flounders in their pain and chokes on it.

“Who would do this?” she laments. “Why?”

Felix was never a suspect. Everybody knew they were best friends since childhood. Hell, they went fishing together most weekends. Felix’s grief was so convincing that everyone sympathized, telling him they understood how it must be like losing a brother.

Nathan’s face returns contorted with anger and hatred, comprehension in his eyes. His mouth opens in a silent scream as his image rockets towards Felix. Felix cowers and falls to his knees, hiding beneath raised arms as the power of Nathan’s need for vengeance rushes over him.

Terrified, but too afraid not to look, Felix raises his eyes to the painting again. Gone is Nathan, and gone are Rhonda and Sammy.

There is a shift in the blackness; a force glides across the painting, hissing like cardboard sliding on sand. Another shape appears, a woman’s back, naked and sultry. She sits on a bed, her hair pulled over one shoulder. She faces away from Felix. Hands wander across her back. Felix’s hands. He leans into her, and his hands reach lustfully around. The woman turns to look at Felix, and her face changes like slow moving film strip, like masks, another woman’s face…then another…then another—a slot machine of woman. More movement in the blackness, and Justice is standing to his left. As each new face surfaces, Justice flinches as if slapped. Felix feels the sting, the insult. Justice does not cry; she is beyond that, but the humiliation of the offense is still there.

All those trips to San Diego and L.A., he was never alone, and she knew. All the years, she said nothing to anyone, just buried it away with her pride.

Felix moves away from the woman on the bed. He watches Justice, who looks at him. She raises one arm and reaches for Felix, the sadness in her eyes is complete and a single black tear—one formed of thousands—falls from her eye.

Felix lifts his hand to her, compelled beyond his will. As their fingers touch, a searing coldness shoots up his arm, and he is hurtled from the past to the present.

He knelt on the floor before the painting. The phone rang again, and he knew he should answer it, but he couldn’t. The burning coldness in his arm hadn’t subsided, and he couldn’t shake it. He looked at the painting.

“Oh god,” he said. Whatever was going to happen next, he knew it would be more than he’d be able to handle.

From the ebony depths of the painting, a long and slender coal-black arm extended, the hand clamped firmly to Felix’s wrist. He tried freeing himself from the steely grip, but was forced to his feet. More of the figure emerged, a face rising as if from a pool of oil.

Justice, black as night, stepped to the floor and regarded him coldly. Felix pulled his arm from her grip, or more accurately, she released it.

She turned back to the painting to watch Nathan Rutlidge’s black form come forward, followed closely by the young Korean woman whose name Felix never knew. Her skin was shining onyx, as her hair had been in life.

Breaking his paralysis, Felix fled. Keening in terror, he ran past the incessant telephone, down the short hallway, past the guest bedroom, and into the bathroom. He slammed the door, and as he twisted the lock, he could hear the shuffle of approaching feet…then silence.

Felix’s heart slammed so hard it made breathing difficult; it felt as if something inside was trying to escape. His eyes stayed riveted to the door, expecting it to explode inward.

Five…ten…twenty minutes…the silence continued.

But then, something started slowly working its way in…a thrumming. A staccato, rhythmic fump-fump-fump.

His legs vibrating with fear, Felix slowly approached the door and leaned his head against it to listen. A frenzy of shadows shifted in the light beneath the door, as if his nearness excited them. Felix backed to the bathtub, when the banging started.

“Leave me alone,” he practically whispered.

A huge impact jarred the door as if a fullback had run headlong into it, and from its pearly white center, a pinpoint of blackness appeared and started oozing in a rivulet. Expanding from pinpoint to bullet hole and broadening until it was the size of a large fist, the rivulet became a waterfall. It pooled onto the floor and spread to cover all reaches of the bathroom. A liquid army, it advanced on Felix, lapping at his feet like the small waves of low tide. Cornered, Felix retreated in the only direction left and stepped backwards into the tub.

Jammed tightly against the back wall of the tub, Felix watched the oily pool shift on the bathroom floor as if agitated.

It can’t climb the porcelain, he thought, it’s too smooth. But then a black tongue appeared over the lip of the tub as if mocking Felix. It expanded to the full length of the white basin and cascaded over, slowly at first, then faster and faster. The liquid boiled over Felix’s feet, and he felt an intense pressure, like a large belt wrapped around his ankles. As the bathtub slowly filled and the force increased, bolts of pain shot up his legs, forcing him to his knees.

Felix fought to stand, but all his strength deserted him when arms, shining like black marble, rose from the surging pool. Six steely arms, smooth and so strong, seized him by his arms, his legs, around his shoulders, and drew him downward, finally pulling him under.

###

As luxurious as the house was, Rachel didn’t like it; she never had. Too many angles and glass made the house seem cold to her, not homey like the house she was brought up in, or the one she presently lived in.

She removed the code-card from her purse and entered the digits on the keypad. The Vaughn family filed into the house, through the foyer and into the den, where they dropped their luggage on the floor. The baggage laden taxi driver, whose English improved drastically when cursing other drivers, followed the Vaughn family into the house, stealing furtive impious glances at nine-year-old Stephanie.

“Dear god,” Ben breathed.

He was the first to see the painting. He approached it, appraising it from different angles. Painstaking work was involved; countless brush strokes swayed and curved over the canvas, forming definitive shapes so thick, the paint looked an inch deep and even deeper in some areas. “What was she thinking?” he asked.

“Why’d Grandma paint her wall black?” Daniel asked.

“It’s kind of spooky,” said Stephanie.


What Rachel saw spelled out in black and silver-toned 3-D was a tale of a terrible man with hideous secrets. The intricately painted images were presented across the great canvas in a clockwise spiral, starting in the top left corner with a youthful Felix Henneman in sailor’s garb brutalizing an Asian girl. Rachel followed the trail of years and horrors as her father, the man she never really knew, committed atrocities, crimes, and insult upon insult. Around the spiral she followed, until she reached the final two images. One presented Felix Henneman staring in rapt terror at this same painting, and the final showed Felix lying face down, half submerged in a bathtub. Rachel saw her mother, an Asian girl she didn’t know, and a man she thought looked familiar, standing over Felix’s prone body. Rachel backed away from the canvas as though she could back away from the truth about her father.

Beside her, the cab driver stood with his gaze locked on the painting, an expression of profound horror transforming his features.

“Are you all right?” Rachel asked him. His gaze shifted from Rachel to Ben to the painting as he staggered outside.

Ben and the children looked confused and alarmed by the cab driver’s reaction, but Rachel understood. There was power within the painting. For her, it was the truth. For her father, it was condemnation, and for the corrupt, it was revelation, and maybe—if they were lucky—a chance for redemption.

Rachel had little room for compassion or grief regarding her father. She knew she should, and it was that knowledge that grieved her, but not the death of Felix Henneman. He was found lying in an empty bathtub, with no explanation as to why. Massive heart attack was all anyone was sure of.

“He died of heartbreak,” the stuffed shirts at Henneman Systems said. But Rachel knew the truth. A heart attack requires a heart; heartbreak requires a soul.

horror shirts

“See if you can find a screwdriver,” she said to Ben. “This has to go.”

Fifteen minutes later, Justice Henneman’s grand finale was unsecured and ready to be moved into the garage.

Ben looked at the painting one last time, and a shiver wracked his body. “What the hell did she call this one,” he asked Rachel, “‘Despair’?” He moved behind it to see the title.

Rachel already knew without looking. Mother would have named the painting for what it was.

“Mother finally signed her name on a painting,” she told him.

Ben looked up from the boldly lettered word Justice, his surprised expression almost comical.

On a different day, Rachel would have laughed.

END

©John M. McIlveen
free horror fiction

John M. McIlveen

John M. McIlveen is the father of five gorgeous daughters and the O&M/FSD Liaison at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory,

He has written numerous stories, poems, and articles (primarily in the technical venue) and has been published in Borderlands 5 (a.k.a. From The Borderlands), Twisted Magazine, Deathrealm Magazine, The Monster’s Corner (2011 St. Martin’s), Epitaphs (2011 Shroud), Under the Bed (2012 Sirens Call), Metromoms Magazine, 21st Century Dead (2012 St. Martin’s), Horror on The Installment Plan, and forthcoming in Dark Side of the Womb (2013 Cruentus Libri). His novel Hannahwhere, and Novella Jerks will both be available soon. He is well into his second novel Going North. He lives in Haverhill, MA.

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free horror fiction