Aphelion Issue 281, Volume 27
March 2023
Long Fiction and Serials
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These Dreaded Hours

by Lori R. Lopez

She knew when that ball of fire in the sky
was gone, slipping out of sight, carrying
warmth and protection with it…nobody
was safe, on the streets or in their homes.

Vulnerable to the treachery of Night —
to shadows and everything that walked
or crawled or flew in the dark, hidden
from Day; reaching forth with icy hands.

Straining to clutch warmth from cold
decaying corners painted by mildew, rot,
grime. Denizens devoid of identities…
their place in Society removed, expired.

No coming back. No restoring what
was stolen. They occupied the lowest
rung on Humanity's ladder. A sordid lot;
a pack of wretches at the very last fringe.

Nowhere could guard from eerie howls;
the shiftings; the bangs and uncertain
rattles, scrapes, creaks, thumps, groans.
It was almost always Them: Undead.

Lifeless corpses that slept and arose —
crept from coffin and grave; dirty, feral.
Why were they glamorous in Fiction?
Mina knew the varmints as Bleeders.

Maybe some retained remnants from
the past, prior to the tomb. Like ghosts,
clinging to details, lost lives, the world
left behind. Preyed upon, infected…

They succumbed. Many returned before
they could be laid to rest. Like revenants.
If they bore twin marks, the bodies might
be staked or burned, and buried deeper.

She knew they were out there, watching,
waiting, having vacated the ground mere
hours before, if not weeks or years even.
Finding cover in caves, dens, old houses.

Abandoned, or they killed the occupants.
They might dress up, pretend to have
manners, like children playing games.
Far more frightening their wild habits!

Depraved, sick, roaming the countryside.
Or taking refuge. Collecting in covens
like Corvuses along stone fences, walls,
roofs; windows of condemned structures.

Recognizable from their crimson orbs,
wizened aspects and gray lips; lengthy
black nails much like talons. Pasty flesh,
inken veins, scraggly manes. Unkempt.

Young or old, the fiends were decrepit.
Mina's mother would advise her to view
the bright side, even if skies were dark.
She anxiously eyed dense Thunderheads.

Forming midday. If clouds blocked the light,
Night would descend early. Shadows at any
hour could contain the worst. Footsteps and
pulse quickened, needing to get to her tower!

Once the Sun went down they were freed
to travel: hunting, prowling, seeking…
It was a disease shared by individuals,
not communities; a cruel virulent mania.

Spread by direct contact, through bites,
it reduced men and women to beasts —
horrendous creatures who craved blood.
Vampires. That name inspired a shudder.

Yet they also feasted on tissue in fits of
revelry, gluttony, voracious vicious hunger.
Mina gripped the hilt of her father's dagger;
the shaft of her mother's strong oak club.

She aimed for a sturdy refuge nearby.
Battened against the vile Bloodhounds.
Her kind were as confined by darkness
as the Vamps at the gleam of Sunrise…

Until the final rays of Day extinguished.
Wails of anticipation echoed. Sprinting,
Mina raced the storm and other perils.
A wolf-wind assailing; the heavens dim.

Pursuit. The cretins could hear beats
of a heart from afar. She jumped over
roots, rocks, fallen branches. A placid
forest transformed to hazards, obstacles.

The woman evaded forms plunging
out of bushes beside the trail. Chest
about to burst, she turned to slash her
blade, swing a stick. Yelps of pain.

An iron mitt seized her arm. Yanked
to a stop, she cudgeled mean features,
a misshapen skull with her mother's
staff. Both parents had been devoured.

Her boots pounded earth, knotted soil.
Leaping, spinning, she struck at sinew
and flesh with sharp edges. Cutting.
Squeals and angered growls erupted.

"Grab her! Don't let her escape!"
Grunted statements — difficult to
discern. Mina dove toward a metal
door. A local fortress: The Bunker.

She hammered the blunt end of her
knife. "Please! Let me in! Open up!"
And endured suspenseful seconds…
listening to harsh cries approach.

The portal budged — she was tugged.
Wood slammed. Sinking to knees,
gasping words of relief and gratitude,
Mina drew a breath. Still alive…

Still human. Perspiring, shaking,
smiling just a bit. The brutes outside
panted, circling, lunging, crashing.
Surrounding the shelter in a horde.

Inspecting defenses, testing for gaps,
accessible spots. Perhaps examining,
learning. Poised at opposite intervals,
contrasting phases of Dusk or Dawn.

A child who had cherished the dark,
treasured its tranquility and quiet,
embraced the calm rapture of Night —
now feared these dreaded hours grown.

© 2023 Lori R. Lopez

Author photoLori R. Lopez is a peculiar author, poet, illustrator, and wearer of hats. Verse and stories have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies including The Sirens Call, Spectral Realms, Weirdbook, The Horror Zine, Space & Time, HWA Poetry Showcases, JOURN-E, Impspired, Aphelion, Altered Reality, Dead Harvest, and California Screamin (Foreword Poem). Books include The Dark Mister Snark, Leery Lane, An Ill Wind Blows, The Witchunt, The Fairy Fly, and Darkverse: The Shadow Hours (nominated for an Elgin Award). Some of Lori's poems have been nominated for Rhysling Awards. You can learn more about her at the website shared with two talented sons: https://www.fairyflyentertainment.com

Find more by Lori R. Lopez in the Author Index.