Two men stepped onto the scaffold.

“You want me to kill you?” the prisoner asked.
“To execute me in your place, yes.”

Both wore hoods, one black and menacing, the other a simple burlap sack.

“Then what happens?”
“You get to keep your head,” the grizzled older man replied. “Freedom within the jail and an indefinite postponement of your sentence, at least until you give the job to someone else. Don’t know how long it’s been, but way back someone decided that no righteous souls should be tarnished by killing, even for the sake of justice. Now only someone sentenced to death can carry out that sentence for someone else. Leave it to those already damned to ferry other foul souls off to hell.”

An axe blade rose, glinting in the sunlight.

“How long has it been for you?”
Eyes stare blankly at stone walls. “Thirty years.”
“And how many have you killed?”
“Enough,” he answered “to grow weary of death.”

The axe fell with a sickening thud.

“So what do you say? Free an old man from his torment?”
The prisoner looked into dark, weary eyes, saw a soul in agony. He answered, “No.”

Blood ran across the boards.


Story by Gregory M. Fox
from A Breath of Fiction’s archives

* * *

Mack was sitting quietly on the couch, sipping a glass of ice water in which the ice had already become tiny boats skimming the surface.  The couch leather stuck to his legs as he shifted.

He heard footsteps in the next room halt.  Then a shriek.

“What did you do?” Denise burst in shouting.


 “That mess in the kitchen is not nothing, Mackenzie Quigley.”

He sighed and rolled his eyes.  It was too hot to worry about something like this.  “It didn’t get on the carpet,” he said.

Denise was getting irritated.  She was a kettle on the stove getting ready to scream.  “That’s not the point.  It needs to be cleaned up.”

“I’ll do it later.”

“But how long’s it been there?”

“I don’t know … a couple hours maybe”

“And you just decided to leave it there?  Dripping and everything?”

He shrugged.  “I’ll clean it later.  I didn’t expect it to bother you this much.”

The kettle boiled.  “HOW COULD THIS NOT BOTHER ME?”

“Don’t worry.  I checked his pockets—found a fifty.  I figured dinner and a movie are on me.  Well, on him, I suppose.”

“Oh,” she said, suddenly becoming very calm.  “Where are we going?”

* * *

originally published December 23, 2010

Sacrifice: a parable

It was in the dark ancient days that the last king climbed to the hill in the center of the city. They were days of uncertainty, of fear, of death. There was only one white flower left in the grove on the hill, one bloom remaining with the power to heal. The king stood resolutely before it. Pale, flickering stars burned far above. Drawing his gilded sword, the king fell on the blade. The blood, the sacrifice, nourished the flower, and a dozen more grew in its place.

The people of the city saw. They would not forget that sacrifice, nor let the flowers that blessed their city perish. Each year on the anniversary of the king’s death. a procession marched to the top of the hill, and blood was shed. A few followed the dead king’s example, willingly giving of themselves so that others might live. But most years, they had to find the blood somewhere else. Beggars in the street, criminals filling the prison, but mostly people from the farms and villages of the surrounding countryside: the people of the field.

For year after year and generation after generation, laborers, migrants, and their children were hauled up to the hill and sacrificed with a gilded blade. Over time, things changed. A wall was built around the grove. Families of victims were offered a small recompensed. The people of the city appointed guardians for the hill to protect the flowers that grew there. Less blood was taken so that most of those sacrificed were able to live. And the hill was glutted with blood.

Then came a time of plague.

Across the land, people fell sick. They fell in the dirt and never got up. Remembering their long years of sacrifice, the people of the fields came to the hill. Calloused hands outstretched, they came begging for the healing that their blood had bought.

But within the walls of the grove, there was little to give. Blood had soaked the ground, and flowers had grown, but their petals were thin and brittle and mottled with red. What scarce healing those flowers had to offer, the guardians gave.

And the people of the city raged at the loss of the flowers their king had given. They smashed the gates. They stormed the hill. They set fire to the grove. Red flame. White smoke. Screams in the night. Cold, distant stars.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


The wolf was hungry. That was why it had come to the village. The blood of lambs was dripping from its jaws when the men found it. “Horrible,” they said, “monstrous, repulsive.” Razor sharp teeth cut through flesh.

“Perhaps,” one among them whispered, “we could use this beast.” The men were hungry too.

A wolf is an excellent hunter, savage and relentless. With this beast at their side, the men brought home wild boars and mighty stags. The village held bounteous feasts with these spoils, though the best portion always went to the wolf first. The wolf was hungry.

And winter came. The wild game grew scarce, and the wolf grew lean. The wolf grew vicious. They slaughtered livestock to keep the hungry beast from turning on them, but they couldn’t sacrifice it all. “Perhaps,” one among them whispered, “the village across the river.”

No one in the other town was prepared for an attack. For the wolf. Beasts don’t fight like men. A wolf goes for the throat. The men returned home victorious. They came home scared. They led the captured herds before them, following a hungry wolf – a beast with the blood of men dripping from its jaws.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Photo by Chris Ensminger on Unsplash


Lucy used the spare key hidden on the porch light to get into his house. What she found was a disaster. Smashed furniture, the smell of rot, a shape curled up in the darkness. A long, low moan. “Nooooo.” As she swung the door open, that shape began trying to drag itself away. Away from the light.

Away from her.

“William?” Lucy said, afraid of the answer.

“Go,” the voice hissed. Then, in a pitiable whisper, “Just . . . just go.”

She looked at the debris scattered around her, saw the broken chair leg with its jagged point next to where she had first seen him. He had stopped trying to crawl away. Instead, from that misshapen mass, two eyes stared back at her. Dark and beady, Lucy could only catch the smallest glint of light reflected in them. Gradually, as her eyes adjusted, she began to make out more details: bony hands, clawed fingers, back twisted into a hunch, papery skin, sparse white hair in lank clumps. Fangs. They caught the light too, vicious, dangerous things.

“What . . . happened to you?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

The vampire answered anyway. “No blood,” he said. “I promised . . . for you. No more blood.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox