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  Table of contents Third Issue THE SHRINE

by
STEFEN KUTCHEY
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Richard was never what his friends called a ‘Bible-Belcher’. Although he grew up in a Roman Catholic household with Roman Catholic parents in a Roman Catholic neighborhood, he could never make sense of God, Jesus, and the Golden Rule. But when his plane flew off-course and rocketed toward the earth, Richard, clutching the rosary his wife had snuck into his suitcase years ago, prayed. Around him, flight attendants formed circles with other passengers. They were crying, so was he.



“I’m sorry,” Richard said. He was staring up at the NO SMOKING light. “I want to see my wife. My daughter. Please, God, help me.”



As the plane’s nose dipped further down; a siren sounded. Lightning cracked around them. Wind shook the wings and snapped one off, causing them to spiral out of control, rip through the clouds, and pirouette toward a densely wooded island.



Before long, the plane hit the sand. Metal slammed into metal, crackling, crunching, screaming. Bits and pieces flew everywhere; the plane slid and came to a screeching halt at the foot of the tree line.



Above the wreckage a myriad of seagulls burst from foliage like pellets from a shotgun shell, shrieking and fluttering as they made their way to the other end of the island. Crows soon replaced them. They waited on the surrounding trees, gossiping amongst themselves.



A fire broke out in the cockpit, one that continued to burn late into the day, when the sun began its descent into the ocean. Its pink and orange rays flooded the darkening sky. The birds continued to chat as night fell, their raspy voices carrying the length of the forest behind them.



Caw, caw, caw!



The dimmer the fire burned, the more the birds salivated, until with a metallic clink, the side door of the airplane popped open and out staggered Richard, rosary still clenched in his fist. Blood stained his suit, his hair stuck out in every direction, and upon disembarking the plane, he started to cry.



Caw, caw, caw!



Richard looked up at the palm trees weighed down with hundreds of crows. They fought for their places one the branches and stood like sentries. Richard, a droplet of sweat quivering over his brow, came a few steps closer.



“Get away from me,” he said. “Go.”



The birds tittered. One took off from a high branch and soared toward the open plane. It landed inside, took a whiff, and shrilled: CAW, CAW! Suddenly, the other birds flew toward the plane at once. After moments of pandemonium, the majority had stuffed themselves inside and hushed.



Around midnight, the birds fled, and Richard climbed into the metal tomb to retrieve his luggage. Without warning, a putrid stench wafted into his nose.



“Jesus,” he said. Pressing his hands against his stomach, he gagged at the site of the corpses. The crows had ravaged them, their eyeballs either missing or half-eaten.



Grabbing his bag, he ran back outside. Unable to stop himself, he vomited onto the sand.



“Daddy,” said a faint, faraway voice.



“Must be the wind,” he whispered, washing his hands in the water. A small patch of gooseflesh rose on his arm as the water stung.



Looking out into the endless ocean, he perceived a minute yellow light glowing from just above the horizon. As the sun finished its descent and night overtook day, the light became more potent, and, Richard swore, nearer.



He cupped his hands around his mouth: “Hey,” he said, “I’m over here." But he knew the boat could neither see nor hear him. And so he continued to ponder it, alone on the dark island.



He unzipped his suitcase and withdrew a large bottle of whiskey. “Thank God for this,” he said, taking a drink. The liquid burned going down, but Richard smiled.



“Daddy,” said the voice again. It was closer, more immediate. It made him stop drinking, too—made him think a moment about where he had heard that voice before.



A cutting sound echoed through his mind. An “I love you, daddy…” followed.



“Teresa?” asked Richard. He took another swig. “Sweetie?”



Wind howled through the trees, sending a cool burst of air his way. He brought the ends of his jacket closer together, dipping his chin below the collar. Out at sea, the boat remained fixed in space, its light burning with starry intensity.



“Daddy, don’t you hear me?”



This time the voice came from Richard’s left, so he turned his head and scanned the beach ahead. But his eyes, instead of seeing his daughter, found a small cave set into a large cliff that jutted fifty feet out into the water. A mist hung around the entrance, and from inside came a sallow yellow light that caused the floating precipitation to sparkle. Pausing mid-sip, Richard began to saunter toward it.



“Please don’t,” the voice whispered. “Daddy, I didn’t do anything.”



“Leave me alone,” Richard said, breaking now into a full sprint. He burst into the cave, and was horrified to see two skeletons hanging from moldy rope at the far end of the antre, a statue between them.



“Get out of my fucking life,” this time a different, less diffident, voice bellowed in his brain. “You did nothing but hurt us, and now you expect things to just go back to normal?”



Richard began praying the rosary, his eyes moving from the crucifix to the statue, the skeletons, the bloodstained walls, and back again. Veins on his neck and forehead throbbed.



“God, help me. Please, just get me the hell away from here.”



“No!” screamed the two voices in unison.



A bright flash. Two shadows by the wall. Richard threw the whiskey bottle their way. Glass exploded in all directions; shards dug into his skin and the cloth of his pants. He buried his fingernails into his cheeks and broke flesh. Blood dripped to the floor.



Above him glowed the yellow eyes of the statue. Was there a grin on its face?



Richard dropped to his knees and prayed: “God, I need you.”



“Do you? Do you need Him? What about me when I needed you?" It was Teresa. “Remember that night when you came into my room, said how pretty I looked in my pink and white nightie, then ripped off the shirt? YOU did that, Daddy. Remember?”



“No, I don’t,” he said—a half-truth. “I don’t remember anything I do." He glanced at the broken whiskey bottle. “You and your mommy know that, sweetie.”



“No, you HAVE to remember I matter. I’m important. I didn’t deserve that. And then the pillow . . . You look shocked. You don’t remember the pillow? Of course you don’t. Life filled my lungs in one rapid gasp and you brought that damned thing down and choked it out of me. My arms flailed, fingers twisted; my body froze in pain. But you didn’t stop . . . well, you did once, to suck on a bottle of rum!”



Richard slammed his fist on the ground and looked again at the statue. This time he saw not only yellow eyes and a grinning face, but also its muscled body. Dried blood coated the shrine from head to foot. It watched him, goaded him, as if to say, “Come on and touch me. You know you want to." But the voice, whether fantasy or reality, wasn’t that of a man: it was a little girl’s, a girl naked from the waist up and who wailed for her father to let go.



The shrine held its gaze, and in a moment opened a portal that looked to Richard like a mirror. He stared into it, saw himself, and reached over to touch the glass. His finger hit, froze, and a single blast of energy rippled outward and boomed like a bass drum. Richard’s hair flew back, the skin on his finger peeled off, and blood poured from his ears. He pulled, loosed himself, and fell to the floor on his ass, his fingertip naked. He watched the mirror as it spun around at breakneck speed. It stopped. From a small crack in the center came a hand, then an arm, a head, a body, and two legs in the form of a black translucent figure. Another smaller figure followed. They stood before Richard holding hands, large knots of hair covering their faces.



“See yourself yet?” they asked in unison.



“Yes,” Richard said. In that moment, something in his head went off like an alarm. He screamed, then pressed his palms against his temple and squeezed. He stared at the statue behind the figures: its smile widened.



He fled the cave, away from the dark figures, and ran toward the ocean.



“Help!” he cried, but not a sound was heard. The darkness consumed all. Not a cloud hung in the sky; the stars darkled into nonexistence. Even the moon was gone.



“You did it! Nobody else, you worthless fuck!” the other voice said. It was his wife, Jezebel. She was standing by the airplane wreckage, using her soft glow to illuminate the words on the hull. BRITISH AIRWAYS. The flight number was 613, the date the flight took off from New York to London (where he had planned to escape penance for his crimes). At her side was the smaller figure—Teresa.



“What choice did I have?" The words spewed cold from his lips. “She—you—both of you wouldn’t take me back.”



Beside him, a tree rustled.



From somewhere, the sound of an axe striking flesh.



A large man emerged from the trees. He had yellow eyes, a grin, and a muscular body. He wore a tribal skirt. One hand held an axe, the other a bottle of rum.



“We knew you’d run away. How could you not, after what you did? It’s so . . . human.” Jezebel said. The woman and her daughter began to shrink in size until they were only two balls of light, floating toward the axe-wielding man, his stony face devoid of expression. Their forms merged with his, disappearing into his ribcage. The stone man jittered, stared directly into Richard’s eyes, and began running toward him.



Clutching the rosary, Richard recited The Lord’s Prayer as he ran toward the ocean, toward the dot of light still burning in the distance.



Richard waded through the water. The stone man, not much more than a few feet behind, swung the axe through the air, barley missing its target. Richard swam farther out, becoming more desirous of rescue with every stroke. As if knowing this, the light brightened, dimmed, and then extinguished. And in that moment, he slipped under. Water rushed into his lungs, but he kept swimming toward the image of the light burned into his mind, thrashing his arms, kicking his legs.



Please, God, he thought. I know what I did. I’m sorry. I am.



“We want to kill you Richard, but we can’t. Even after what you did to us we can’t!”



Please, Jesus, protect me.



“Protect yourself.”



From beneath, a ripple of water went past him. He couldn’t see it, himself submerged, but he felt it in his legs. And then, like a guillotine, the stone man’s axe buried into his legs, separating muscle from bone. Pain screamed within and without him; his mouth flew open and water flooded every crevice of his body. Then came blackness. Sweet. Heavenly. Blackness.



“But that’d be too easy, Richard,” said Jezebel. She was somewhere. Distant. She spoke as from beneath a blanket. Two years ago? Two years later? Hours? It was impossible to know.



He awoke later that night lying on the beach. The sun was beginning to poke out from the east; the seagulls returned to their daily routine. A foggy memory of what had happened floated somewhere in him, impossible to grab. Instinctively, he pulled out his rosary and began to Belch the Bible.



“Oh, God, thank you. Thank you for saving me.”



“Too easy, Richard.”



“Jezebel?”



He looked around for his wife, but couldn’t find her. What found were the remains of his legs, two bloody stumps, severed at the knee. Richard screamed and cried. He stunk of blood, sweat, and tears. He spent the entire day crying in that same spot.



He followed a similar routine the day after.



On the third day, Jezebel and Teresa appeared before him, their bodies less transparent than before. Their faces were warped, their mouths gone.



“Too easy, Daddy.”



“Teresa, darling, is that you?" Richard squinted and looked hard at the figure, but thirst made even this task difficult.



“Still have the rosary I gave you?”



Richard nodded.



“That’s all you need.”



They disappeared.



“Jezebel? Teresa?" He clenched his fists. “You are supposed to kill me. You can’t leave me like this.”



From afar: “Too easy. You have all you need.”



Richard waited until that night to see if the light would again burn on the horizon. It didn’t. He ran his fingers through his hair, peered at the crows still looming over the wreckage, at the cave now burning with the same sickly yellow light as before.



It took an hour for him to crawl to the cave. He trailed blood, which the crows flocked to. Beaks pecked his open wounds—Caw, caw, caw!—but he continued, each movement bringing him closer and closer to the cave.



When he reached the entrance, he realized that the crows would not follow. Richard moved in and leaned against the wall beside the shrine. His legs were still bleeding: new blood mixing with the old, separate but equal. He brought the crucifix up to the light, examined it a moment, and closed his eyes. The crucifix was long enough. It would have to do.



“I love you, Jezebel." He plunged the cross into his stomach.



Eyes still closed: “I love you, Teresa." He stabbed his heart.



He fell back and convulsed as blood sprayed and pooled on and around the shrine. In his dying moment, a faint blue mist rose from his lips, and a voice—not his own—said, “I know." It was Teresa’s.



The statue absorbed the blue mist; its eyes changed from yellow to azure, and a faint smile swept across its face. The crows burst into the cave and made short work of Richard’s body, consuming every last bit.



Above the island, a small plane was flying headfirst into a dense storm, and across the ocean a boat light burned. The shrine was ready for another.



   
   

 

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Stefen Kutchey is a writer living in Michigan. His first published piece appeared on Short Stories Café. He loves reading and writing horror fiction and is currently working on other short stories as well as a novel. You can find him on Twitter at @StefenKutchey.



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