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A New Short Story: Invited and Minor Update on War In Flesh

So I wrote a little short horror story based upon some heavy fictionalization of time I spent in a fundamentalist church. It’s called Invited. Of course all of the characters are fictional and any resemblance to persons living or dead is completely coincidental. I’m really enjoying the short story format. It is as follows:

Invited
By K. L. Zolnoski

Things had been going well, very well. The host had been growing ever more paranoid, fearful and best of all, hateful as Shpofuge slid his narrow, peg-like fingers deeper into her brain. Shpofuge was a demon of the shadows. No one in this world could see him. If they could they would see his ghostly form hunched over her like a miasma, his incorporeal arms curved around and his long, fingers sliding easily through her head into her brain.
Shpofuge fed on malignant emotions. Her fear was fine wine to him but her hate, which grew out of that fear, was ambrosia. Invariably self-righteousness, hypocrisy and pride followed and such were his hors d’oeuvres.
Lies were the best though and did Shelly ever lie. Her whole life was a lie. She was so afraid of getting hurt, thanks to a father who abandoned her and a mother who, as a result, had to work two jobs to provide for her that she had closed herself off from everyone.
Over the years, through Shpofuge’s careful manipulation, she had carried these hurts and held them close to her. She never forgave and never forgot. This gave Shpofuge a permanent pathway into her psyche. No matter how she tried to shake him off or escape his vile influence, he could always count on resentment and bitterness from these injustices to provide access back into the deepest parts of her soul.
Every Sunday Shelly went to church. She dressed modestly and behaved properly. Shpofuge loved the church. Shpofuge especially loved it when the preacher shouted about how all of their works of righteousness were as filthy rags to the most holy. This would throw Shelly into a feedback loop of self-flagellation and self-loathing that fed Shpofuge very well. He would run his long peg fingers over her brain, delicately sensing for the darkest knots of her self-hatred and grow fat.
Shpofuge often silently applauded the preacher, especially when he expounded the evils of questioning, of thinking, of seeking. Those things most reliably led to people escaping the clutches of their demons. That was the last thing Shpofuge wanted.
There was danger though, for Shelly’s husband had died just the day before. Family was gathering for the funeral. That meant the Mystic was coming. Shpofuge would have to be careful lest the Mystic discover him.
Shpofuge spent the night filling Shelly’s dreams with fear. Fear that the Mystic would talk about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Shelly’s husband. It was a dirty secret that Shelly had groomed the Mystic to keep when she was a young child. It was something Shelly felt guilty about and Shpofuge feasted on her guilt and the fear that her secret would be told.
Shpofuge also filled Shelly’s mind with dread that the Mystic, whom Shelly knew saw her for who she truly was, would tell everyone that her whole life was an empty lie. Appearances were everything to Shelly. Appearances always had been everything to Shelly. From the time her father had abandoned her, through her abusive marriage she had sacrificed everything to maintain the appearance of a normal life.
The emptiness of a life built entirely on appearances had consumed Shelly utterly. The emptiness gave Shpofuge plenty of room to hide.
The family came from all corners of the country to support Shelly. Normally the outpouring of love would make Shpofuge leave but this family was different. Many had demons of their own. Some were so filled with hate that Shpofuge could feed on it too, not that he needed to.

Then the Mystic entered the room. To those assembled the Mystic appeared short and a little dumpy. The other demons pounced on the thoughts of, “fat,” and “lazy,” that flickered through their host’s minds. They amplified and fed on the sense of superiority that accompanied them.
To Shpofuge the Mystic shone like the morning sun, the force of her undampened personality causing him to flinch back. Reacting, Shpofuge had Shelly make the first move. A classic manipulative opening gambit, “You can’t play the victim card and expect people to think you are strong.”
This would shut down any potential revelations of the abuse the Mystic suffered. She looked over at Shelly, puzzled. As if she honestly didn’t know why Shelly would say such a thing.
Congratulating himself on catching her off guard, Shpofuge shifted his fingers in Shelly’s brain and pressed the attack. If he could get the Mystic to say something resentful, something accusing, anything that would threaten Shelly’s already destroyed sense of self, he would win.
Instead the Mystic said, “It’s ok. It will be alright.”
Shpofuge hissed. It was as if the Mystic had spoken to the deeper issue, completely ignoring Shelly’s words. Then Shpofuge froze.
The Mystic looked at Shelly, canting her head to one side as if confused. Then understanding telegraphed itself over her expressive face.
The Mystic stepped up to Shelly, barely as tall, and breathed right into her third eye, “Begone.”
Shpofuge shrieked, for one terrible moment his shadowy, disfigured form became visible to all. They would forget, but now they recoiled in horror.
How? How was it possible? Shpofuge had used Shelly’s lies to torment the Mystic for her whole life. The constant gas lighting had nearly driven her insane before she vanished for several years. How could she love Shelly so openly and fearlessly?
It was that love that had driven Shpofuge out. Helpless he watched as the Mystic held out her hand in welcome, offering unconditional love, offering no recriminations, only acceptance. Making herself vulnerable. This would be the end, Shpofuge’s ultimate failure.
Then it happened. Shelly looked full in the face of love and turned to reach out a hand to Shpofuge. He had been invited in of Shelly’s own free will. She was more afraid of being vulnerable to hurt, than his possession. No power would ever be able to banish him. Shpofuge pounced, nearly punching his incorporeal fingers through her in his indecent haste.

**The End**

Also I’ve gotten back to work on War In Flesh and I’m pleased with the direction it is going.

(originally appeared on m31publishing.com)

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K.L. Zolnoski

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