Appearing in The Chamber October 29

New issues appear Fridays at 10:00 a.m. CDT/ 4:00 p.m. BST/ 8:30 p.m. IST/ 1:00 a.m. AEST (Saturdays).

Five Horrific Poems by Emma Deimling

Emma Deimling currently works as a writing tutor at the Ohio State University’s writing center. She has been published in numerous magazines, the most recent being in With Confetti. She lives in Columbus, Ohio. You can find her on Twitter @EmmaDeimling. 

“Cleanse” Dark Poetry by Nancy Byrne Iannucci

Nancy Byrne Iannucci is the author of Temptation of Wood (Nixes Mate Review 2018) and Goblin Fruit (Impspired 2021). Her poems have appeared in numerous publications including Autumn Sky Poetry, Gargoyle, Bending Genres, Clementine UnboundDodging the Rain8 PoemsGlass: A Journal of Poetry (Poets Resist)Hobo Camp Review, and Typehouse Literary Magazine. Nancy is a Long Island, NY native who now resides in Troy, NY where she teaches history at the Emma Willard School. Web: https://www.nancybyrneiannucci.com/

“A Saturday at the Morgue” Dark Fiction by Marlin Bressli

Marlin Bressi is the author of five nonfiction books, including Hairy Men in Caves: True Stories of America’s Most Colorful Hermits (Sunbury Press, 2015) and Pennsylvania Oddities (Sunbury Press, 2018). His fiction has appeared in Suspense MagazineBlack Cat Mystery MagazineMystery Tribune, and other publications. He is also the host and creator of the Pennsylvania Oddities true crime and paranormal podcast.

“The Milk Toss” Dark Psychological Fiction by N.D. Coley

N.D. Coley (MA, English, University of Pittsburgh) is currently a college English composition instructor. His work has appeared in Shotgun Honey, Coffin Bell Journal, Close To the Bone, Bewildering Stories, Indiana Voice Journal, Corner Bar Magazine, The Mystic Blue Review, Teleport Magazine, Grotesque Quarterly, Jakob’s Horror Box, Massacre Magazine, Crack the Spine, and Funny In Five-Hundred. In his spare time, he laments the human condition, reads depressing literature, plays with his son and daughter, and irritates his wife.  You can irritate him at ndcoley1983@phil795

“After Impact” Dark Apocalyptic Fiction by Mark Antokas

Spending time equally between the Greek Islands of the Aegean in the summers, the author, Cap’t Mark Antokas, winters in the U.S. and is currently restoring a 1977 Nautor Swan 43 in the Cape Canaveral, Florida area. See him on Facebook at Mark Antokas. He has two published novels on Amazon, “The Odyssey According to Homer, 1967-69,” and, “Another Noel,” as well as a collection of short stories, “You Said We’d Be Friends Forever, and I believed You.” Among other places, he has had short stories published in 5thWallPress(wall#9), ScryofLust, Fleas on the Dog(issue 7, #17), and Transmundane Press(On Time), and short fiction in Red Fez. At the moment, the author is at work on more short stories and flash fiction pieces for publication, and is trying his hand at screenwriting in Piraeus, Port of Athens, Greece.

“The Silenced Child” Psychological Horror by Jeffrey Grimyser

Jeffrey Grimyser is a father, husband, attorney, and originally a “Sconnie” who now lives in rival Chicago. His work has appeared in Bright Flash Literary ReviewFree Radicals Magazine, and CommuterLit

Two Dark Works of Flash Fiction by Karen Watts

Karen Southall Watts teaches Humanities at Bellingham Technical College, and Business Soft Skills courses for Canadian College. Her flash fiction and poetry have been featured at Fairfield Scribes, Free Flash Fiction, The Drabble, 101Words, and soon at Sledgehammer Lit and Soren Lit. She is also the author of several business books and articles. Reach her at @askkaren on Twitter 

“Becoming a Black Hole” Dark Supernatural Fiction by Chelsea Thornton

Chelsea Thornton is a writer from Texas. She is an editor and staff contributor for The Aurora Journal and a reader for The Forge Literary Magazine. Her work has been published in Maudlin HouseBewildering StoriesIdle Ink, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @chelseactually or at chelseathornton.com.

“Twisted Sisters and Neighbouring Nasties” Dark Fiction by Sandra Arnold

Sandra Arnold lives in Canterbury, New Zealand. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia and is the author of five books including three novels, a non-fiction work and a collection of flash fiction.  Her work has been widely published internationally, placed and short-listed in various competitions and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfictions and The Best Small Fictions. www.sandraarnold.co.nz

Next Issue: November 5

“Twisted Sisters and Neighbouring Nasties” Dark Fiction by Sandra Arnold

Despite the blue sky, the sunlight on the leaves of the plum tree, the birdsong, the music, the photographs of Tessa mounted on a board showing all the decades of her ninety years of life, Liz was all too aware of the vibes emanating from Jeff’s family who looked as if they’d been dragged kicking and screaming to the memorial. Her daughter Serena and Jeff had not only worked hard in the two weeks since Tessa’s death to create this tribute, Liz reflected, they’d also worked hard for the whole of the previous year to help her remain independent. When Jeff’s mother Rachel died eighteen months ago the shock of losing her caused a rapid decline in Tessa’s health. Jeff and Serena took over responsibility for her. They drove her to medical appointments, organised a new hearing aid, glasses, cell phone, a cleaner, Meals on Wheels and a Driving Miss Daisy taxi service after she lost her license over a car crash. They visited her and made daily phone calls, trying to fill the gap that Rachel had left.

 “At least the stroke took her quickly,” Jeff said, his voice cracking. “At least she didn’t suffer.” He described the kind of person his Aunt Tessa had been, sharp-tongued, yes, but kind and generous; the adventures her life had taken her on ‒  cook for a gang of shearers in the Australian outback, conductress on a tram in Wellington, training as a milliner and creating beautiful hats. “Dad wanted me to work in his garage with him fixing engines, working with tools and oil cans, but I was happier with Aunt Tessa in her workroom playing with all the gorgeous fabrics,” he said.

Nigel, Jeff’s father, glared at the grass. When Jeff choked up Serena moved to his side and read from his speech until his breathing steadied. Nigel’s scowl sank deeper into his forehead.

Jeff read out tributes from friends and neighbours of Tessa who couldn’t attend the memorial. One of Jeff’s sisters, Bev, who’d flown down from Wellington, spoke about her memories of Aunt Tessa and ended with saying how much she had adored her. The other sister, Val,  rolled her eyes.

When the tributes were finished Liz  dragged her eyes away from  Jeff’s family and spoke to the assembled mourners. “Jeff and Serena wanted the memorial here in our garden because Tessa loved to come here. She joined us for our New Year celebration, just two weeks before she died. We sat here under the plum tree. She told me it made her happy to see  Serena and Jeff together. She said the reason she had never married was because she’d never found anyone she wanted to spend her whole life with, although she’d had plenty of offers. So she’d decided at the age of forty to work at two jobs to make enough money to buy a house and become independent. She talked about how much she missed Rachel and how Jeff and Serena made her feel that she still had  a family. The last thing she said to me out here in the garden was, ‘Liz, I can hear the birds singing.’ She had a big smile on her face. That is how I’ll remember her.”

Jeff then played Tessa’s favourite song I did it my way. While the song played there was surreptitious mopping of eyes, though not of Val’s eyes, Liz noted, remembering that  Tessa had told her Val hadn’t spoken to her since an angry phone call six months ago about an issue on which Val felt Tessa had no right to express an opinion. Something flashed at the side of Liz’s eye. She turned her head to see a glistening spider’s web strung between the branches of the plum tree. She noted the intricate patterns the spider had woven and thought how deceptively delicate the web looked in the sunlight. A fly flew straight into the centre and stuck fast, struggling uselessly. Liz watched until the buzzing grew fainter and stopped. When the song ended there was a collective sigh and everyone stood and moved over to the tables to get some food.

One of Tessa’s neighbours said to Liz, “I lived next door to Tessa for fifty years. I knew her very well. I was dreading this day, but it’s been  beautiful, funny and kind, just like Tessa.”  

Jeff’s  cousin, Tristan, piling food on his plate, told Liz how lucky she and Alan were to live in this place. “Life must be so tranquil here,” he said. “The city’s full of nutters.”

Liz said that rural villages had their share of odd individuals too. She told him about the man who’d threatened to shoot their dog if he chased his cats one more time, and the man who had videoed his young wife with hitchhikers he’d picked up and brought home for the purpose. “We offered her sanctuary at our house for the year we went overseas and we slapped a trespass notice on her husband,” she said. “However, she invalidated the notice after she phoned him to invite him over because she was lonely. She nursed him during his last illness when his family abandoned him and she slept with his corpse for three days until his funeral. She spent a whole night sleeping on his grave in the cemetery. She told us she had hoped to freeze to death there.”

Tristan’s mouth dropped open. “Nooo! You’re making this up!” 

“Oh, truth can be stranger than fiction,” Liz said.

Later in the afternoon Tristan went with Liz and Alan to the garden gate to wave goodbye to the departing guests. He was the last one to leave. As he got into his car a cyclist on the opposite side of the road suddenly veered across. He leapt off his bike and hurled it down in front of Tristan’s car and banged on the window yelling at Tristan to wind it down. Tristan asked why he should and the man screamed “You know why!” Tristan reversed and drove off at speed. The man chased him down the street on his bike before throwing himself on the grass verge and beating it with his fists.

“Who on earth …?” Liz said, horrified.

“A tranquil inhabitant,” said Alan.

“Not funny,” said Liz.

As they walked back into the garden they saw Jeff bailed up in a corner by Bev, Val and Nigel demanding to know what was in Tessa’s will. “She made you her executor,” Bev was saying, “so you must know.”

“I knew they’d pull something like this as soon as they got him on his own,” Liz said, moving towards the group, “Where’s Serena?”

Alan put a restraining hand on her arm. “It’s Jeff’s family,” he said. “Let him deal with them.”

Bev’s voice, shrill with annoyance, drowned out the birdsong. “Aunt Tessa said she was going to leave her house to you, but no matter what the will states you need to share everything with us. Val and I are leaving our partners so we need the money.”

Nigel added, “We all knew she had stashes of cash hidden around the house. That needs to go into the pot.”

Jeff told them this was not the time or place to discuss these things as Aunt Tessa had been dead only two weeks and they all needed time to grieve.

“She was a spiteful old bitch,” Val shot back. “I’ll bet she’s left all her money to the Cats Protection League.”

The following week the sisters got their copies of the will from Tessa’s lawyer. The contents of the house and the money in Tessa’s bank account had been left to them and the house had been left to Jeff. The fact they’d inherited a large sum of money should have kept them happy, Jeff told Serena. But it didn’t. Their fury was incendiary. Jeff repeated that they needed to abide by the terms of the will as these were Tessa’s wishes. A stream of angry emails from Bev followed and several visits from Nigel. Each time Serena spotted him coming up their drive she was glad they’d taken the precaution of keeping the blinds closed and that their front door had mirror glass in the panels.

Jeff emailed his sisters to ask them to let him know when they wanted to look through the house to claim any of the contents, after which he would donate the remaining items to the Salvation Army. Bev emailed that Jeff was not to be allowed in the house while she and Val  checked the contents. She supposed, she added, that he’d taken the stashes of cash for himself. Jeff’s response was to put a padlock on the garden gate of Aunt Tessa’s house and he changed the locks on the front and back doors. He and Serena sorted through all the drawers and cupboards and threw out shelves of mouldy and expired food and donated hundred of tins of food to the Salvation Army. Tessa had been a hoarder, but then often forgot what she’d hoarded. They donated her clothes to the Cats Protection League and weeded and watered the garden.

Tessa’s neighbour phoned Jeff one afternoon to say that Nigel and Val were at the gate of the house and were trying to break the padlock. The neighbours had warned them off, but Nigel told them to mind their own business. He left a message on Jeff’s phone to say if Jeff didn’t appear at the house with the key that afternoon he would break the padlock.

That night Serena dreamed of an old house where each of the rooms she entered burst into flames. The cause, in her dream, was the ancient heater Tessa had used to warm up her cold rooms. Jeff wrote to the lawyer asking him to remind his father and sisters that breaking in was illegal.

On Sunday Tessa’s neighbour rang Jeff to say Nigel and Val were back at Tessa’s house again and had taken the gate off its hinges. They were trying out keys at the front door. The neighbours called the police. When they arrived on the scene Val lied that it was her property and that she’d forgotten her key. The neighbour took the police inside her own house and informed them of the truth. They said it was a civil matter, not a police matter and advised her to tell Jeff and Serena to take out a trespass notice.

Liz and Alan told their neighbours about the man on the bike who’d threatened Tristan after the memorial. One of them said it was probably Marty who lived at the edge of the village and whose neighbours had placed a restraining order on him. “Nice guy when he’s on his meds,” he said. A week later their water tanks ran dry. Alan found the water valve at the top of their drive had been turned off. A call to the Council assured him they hadn’t done it. Alan told Liz there was no proof it was Marty, so they’d better let the matter drop for now. That night Liz dreamt that their house was on fire with no water available to extinguish the flames.

Val and Bev sent a letter to Jeff via their lawyer demanding entry to the house, but prohibiting Jeff from being present.

The man next door to Serena and Jeff’s house threw a bag of human faeces over the fence into their garden with a note: Have a happy life.They rang the police who went to see Mr Poo and warned him to behave. Serena did some sums and calculated that with the sale of their house and Tessa’s they could afford to move out of this neighbourhood. She filled out a trespass notice against Jeff’s sisters.

Next morning the lawyer told Serena and Jeff that Probate had been granted. He advised caution, given the sisters’ hostility, until it was determined whether or not they wanted to challenge the will.

On their way home Jeff said. “I don’t have a family anymore, do I?”

Serena thought of all the birthday and Christmas celebrations in Jeff’s family home when his mother had been alive.

That night she dreamed of a clock with its mechanism exposed. When all the cogs were revolving in the same direction it was easy to predict how the circle would keep turning, but when  one cog shifted from its axis it was no longer possible to determine the new trajectory. Next day she rang Liz to tell her about the dream. After the phone call with Serena, Liz took her cup of tea out onto the verandah. She sipped it slowly, watching the sun sink behind the mountains. The sky turned pink, the clouds tinged with gold, and the birds returned to their nests. A hawk began its slow circuit over the fields, gliding and dipping. Liz watched its sudden dive to the ground. It disappeared from view for a second and then made its swift upward trajectory. It held fast to whatever was in its claws.


Sandra Arnold lives in Canterbury, New Zealand. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia and is the author of five books including three novels, a non-fiction work and a collection of flash fiction.  Her work has been widely published internationally, placed and short-listed in various competitions and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfictions and The Best Small Fictions. www.sandraarnold.co.nz


“Becoming a Black Hole” Dark Supernatural Fiction by Chelsea Thornton

Tires squealing, then a crash, crunch. Five miles outside of town, no one heard the collision of the two vehicles at the darkened intersection of the county roads. There were no streetlights. Only the moon glistening off the shards of glass that were now littered across the asphalt. A million shimmering diamonds in a tragic sea of dark.

Stumbling from his wrecked car, Ben Harrington could feel the sticky blood dampening his hair and snaking rivers down the side of his face. Like a newborn fawn learning to walk, he couldn’t find his balance, having no idea which direction to go. The world spun around him. He was the sun, and a thousand years were passing on Earth. Rust and iron. Burnt rubber. Gasoline. Those were the only smells that pervaded the thick air around him. There was churning in his gut before its contents were spewed out onto the street.

Turning around, Ben took in the sight of the wreck. Both vehicles were crushed, mangled beyond recognition. Windows were broken. Tires were shredded. The front end of his SUV was caved in, smoke billowing from the engine bay like a ghost in the night. A reaper coming to claim departed souls. The silver sedan had taken the brunt of the damage, the driver side of the car smashed in, devastated. He could see blood. Even if he wanted to look into the face of the other driver, would he have been able to see it?

A deafening ringing in his ears pierced through the unsettling hush. Then the rev of an engine pierced through the ringing. Spinning around, nearly losing his balance, Ben could see this face, the face belonging to the driver of the car stopped on the street. Dark, vacant eyes stared back at him down a hooked nose with a prominent bridge like that of a Roman. Dark hair contrasted against skin as pale as alabaster.

“H—”

Ben wasn’t sure if he was going to say “hey” or “help.” His vocal cords made no sound. All that came out was a quiet noise as air passed through his dry, parted lips. Taking a step toward the stranger, he collapsed onto the road.

The last thing he remembered was the color red perfusing the night. Tail lights blinded him as though someone was shining a laser into his eyes, burning his retinas. The mysterious vehicle was driving away. Everything went numb, and he was sinking into the abyss.

#

Two days of his life had been lost to him by the time Ben awoke in the hospital. The incessant beeping of machines was the first thing his mind registered, the noise making his brain feel full. When his eyes finally fluttered open, all he saw was white. White walls. White sheets. White lights. It was a far cry from the blackness that had greeted him with the promise of his eternal fate.

Ben couldn’t remember much from the accident. And that’s exactly what he told the police officers when they came to his room to question him. He did, however, remember that there had been a third vehicle at the intersection. Even though he couldn’t tell them exactly what had happened, he was certain the wreck had been their fault. But when asked, he couldn’t recall what the car or the driver looked like. The doctor backed him up on this. Memory loss was common with the head injury he suffered.

The one thing Ben could remember was the look in the stranger’s eyes. Just his eyes. How dark and empty they had been. Devoid of feeling, thought, of anything. Two black holes in the face of a phantom. The memory caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand.

The officers seemed to agree with Ben’s statement that it was the fleeing third vehicle that caused the wreck. The driver had sped off in the midst of a catastrophe. It was clear he didn’t want to get caught at the scene.

Before they could leave, Ben couldn’t stop himself from asking, “What happened to the other driver?”

The men in uniform exchanged long, despondent looks before the one with a bushy, ungroomed mustache and receding hairline answered. “He didn’t make it. I’m sorry.”

Ben could see those black hole eyes again. They were devouring him, sucking him in, swallowing him whole. They continued to greedily consume his entire upside-down world.

For three more days he remained in the hospital, and all of them just kind of blurred together by the end. Physical therapy. Pain meds for his broken ribs. CT scans of his brain. A visit from his mother. Less than appetizing hospital food. Green Jell-O. Orange Jell-O. He allowed these memories to get lost in his memory bank along with the ones of the accident. Tossed them into the vault in the back of his mind and locked them up tight, threw away the key.

If he never remembered any of this until he was on his final deathbed, it would still be too soon.

#

After he was released from the hospital on what had to be the hottest day of the year, he took a couple of more days to recuperate at home. But then he got bored. He never would have imagined he’d be so relieved to return to work.

He couldn’t drive himself considering his car had been totaled. Of course it wasn’t worth the cost to repair it because it hadn’t been worth much to begin with. He showed up at Raven’s Bar and Billiards in an Uber, thanking the young college freshman with unintentional bitterness. How many grand had the fancy new Mustang set the kid’s parents back? At least it allowed him some kind of employment to earn his own beer money.

As his lift drove away, Ben was momentarily mesmerized by the red glow of its tail lights. He nearly succeeded in forgetting why they caused him to stop breathing. When he began to remember, he forced away the stubborn memories long enough to enter the building with its much more comforting dim, amber lighting. A classic rock track blared through speakers, fortunately drowning out his own thoughts and making him feel normal once again.

“Glad you’re not dead, Harrington,” was the first thing Raven said to him as he clocked in behind the bar. Then, as she shoved an empty tray in his hands, “Table five needs another round of Daiquiris.”

Table five was surrounded by a gaggle of females in their mid-twenties, all wearing skimpy shorts or skirts and brazenly showing off their considerably tanned and ample cleavage. He had wanted a distraction, and this is what he got. A pack of lionesses prepared to devour him whole. If he had to choose between the lions and two black holes ripping him in opposite directions, the lions won every time.

Whipping up the cocktails, he poured them into four chilled glasses straight from the shaker. Placing them each on the tray, he carried them cautiously over to the lions who appeared as hungry as they were thirsty.

“Thank you, Ben.” The woman with the darkest tan batted her heavily mascaraed eyelashes at him as she read his nametag with honey on her tongue.

Another not-so-accidentally grazed his hand as he sat a drink down in front of her.

These lions craved attention like oxygen.

Holding the empty tray under his arm, he smiled politely at them. As he turned to leave, the corner of his eye caught sight of a shrouded figure in the darkest recesses of the bar. Sitting alone at a clean table, the only part of him that the light reached was his nose. It was large, pale, and hooked.

Had all the oxygen in the bar been sucked out?

No, it was just those dreadful memories attempting to escape their prison again.

The tray clattered on the counter behind the bar when it slipped out of Ben’s grasp. He tried not to let his gaze wander over to the silhouette in the corner of the room, but his eyes were more obstinate than his memories.

“What’s up, Harrington?” Raven asked as she returned from serving another round of beer to a raucous group of guys playing pool. “You look like you just saw a ghost.”

“That man in the corner,” Ben started, turning to face her so as not to seem suspicious. “Do you know who he is? Has he come in here before?”

Raven didn’t bother looking. “You know there’s only a handful of regulars I know by name. And you know who those are just as well as I do.”

“Right.”

When Ben turned back around, the man was gone.

#

Ben took another Uber home after work. He had been so distracted during his shift that at one point he tripped over a barstool. Now he smelled like gin and tonic. He didn’t care what his driver thought. All he cared about was making sure he was plenty distracted by the light of his phone’s screen while they drove through that dreaded intersection.

Directing his ride to stop just outside of the gate that opened onto the ranch he lived on, Ben got out of the car, making sure to turn away before he could get lost in tail lights.

The metal gate had a horseshoe welded in the center. It was old and creaked as he opened it. Like nails on a chalkboard, the sound grated on his frayed nerves every time. Sterling Creek Ranch was owned by some family friends, and he rented a one-room cabin from them. It had a kitchenette and came fully furnished with a pull-out sofa that he never bothered to pull out.

Once home, he showered and changed into some clean clothes that didn’t reek of booze. Sitting down at the small dining table with a bowl of some off-brand cereal, he opened up the most recent newspaper he could find, flipping straight to the listings of vehicles for sale. He was getting a check from the insurance company, but even with it, he didn’t have a lot to spend.

As he circled one possibility with a red marker, he heard a noise come from outside. It was the familiar creaking of the metal gate.

It was well past two o’clock in the morning. Who would be opening the gate this late?

Stepping out onto the porch of the cabin, Ben looked east up to the main house where his landlords lived. All the lights were off. Gazing down the dirt road toward the entrance of the ranch, he saw nothing. Just darkness. Emptiness.

Shrugging it off as the wind or some mild hallucination caused by the late hour, Ben returned inside. The uneaten portion of his cereal had turned soggy in its milk bath, so he threw it down the drain. Turning on the faucet, he began to wash the bowl by hand. He didn’t have to wait for the water to heat up. There was no cold water in summer; it was always lukewarm.

There was another noise. This one was different than the last.

Nearly dropping the plastic bowl in the sink, Ben quickly shut off the tap. Everything went silent. All he could hear now was the pounding of his own heart beating in his ears. But he was sure he had heard something. Like metal being beat against metal. Hollow, sharp, and resounding. Not too close, but not too far off either.

Walking out on the porch again, he scouted out his surroundings. Once more, he saw nothing. Then something moved in his peripherals. A shadow.

“Who’s there?” he called out.

The only reply he received was the singing of cicadas.

Feeling foolish, he turned to go back inside. He stopped when he was facing the road outside of the ranch. Red light bled into the blackness of night. Tail lights, motionless in the distance. Growing brighter, still unmoving.

Brighter. Red. Bleeding.

#

The night was just another blur. He was on a roller coaster, spinning out of control in the solar system. Seeing black holes and red dwarfs. Being pulled apart by a gravitational force, he was close to a supernova ready to explode.

Ben couldn’t remember going to bed. What time had he even fallen asleep? He woke up on the couch to the afternoon sun peeking in through the blinds, dust dancing in the rays of light. It was already time to go to work.

“Hey, Harrington. That trash is overflowing.” Raven looked about ready to jump over the bar and wring his neck. “Take it out back, will ya?”

Nodding his head, Ben watched as she took a tray of margaritas and mugs of foamy beer from the other bartender and carried them over to two couples on a double date. He couldn’t blame her for the murder eyes. Once again, he had been distracted all night. The hairs on the back of his neck were permanently standing, unable to shake the feeling of being watched. Would he see Mr. Black-Hole-Eyes again? Had someone really been out there on the ranch last night or was his imagination running away with him?

Struggling with the trash bag, he finally managed to wiggle it out of the can. Picking up the couple of beer bottles and a lime wedge that had fallen out, he squeezed them into the bag and tied it up tight. Shuffling his way to the back door, he was forced to drag the heavy trash bag behind him.

The back door opened up into a darkened alleyway with only a flickering street lamp in the distance providing any light. As Ben heaved the bag outside and toward the dumpster, the sound of the door slamming shut reverberated off the walls with a deep boom. He dropped the bag a couple of times before he finally managed to hoist it up high enough to actually get it inside the dumpster.

When he went back to the door, he pulled on the handle. It wouldn’t budge. He pulled again. Same thing. Why was it locked? It was always unlocked when they were open. Wasn’t it?

“Hello, Ben.”

Spinning around so fast that he nearly lost his balance, Ben’s breath was stolen from him. He was no longer alone in the alley. A man, silhouetted against the flickering lamp post behind him, stood before him. He approached slowly with strobe-like movements.

“Who are you?”

“You know who I am.” The man’s voice was low, monotonous, and guttural.

Ben’s back was pressed against the door now as the stranger came closer, trapping him. His heart was hammering in his chest as though it was trying to flee without him. Close enough now so Ben could make out some of his features, the man undoubtedly sported an aquiline nose, like that of the curved beak of an eagle. His eyes were as dark as he remembered them. Time and space became warped. He couldn’t escape those black holes even if he tried.

“Why are you here?” Ben asked, his own voice shaking.

“You know why.”

“You were there that night. At the accident.”

“I was there.”

“You killed that man!”

In response to Ben’s outburst, his tormentor took another step forward. His complexion was void of color, the perfect shade of white. From beneath his dark hair, crimson blood began dripping down his face. It glistened like glitter where the light hit it.

“I was that man.”

Time stood still. Everything else began to move, spinning around him in a blur. It made him dizzy and sick. There was a lack of direction, and he was at the mercy of open space. It had forsaken him, thrusting him toward the menacing cosmic body. He was tumbling through the event horizon, and gravity was pulling him apart.

“No, that’s ridiculous!” Vigorously shaking his head, Ben turned around and began to beat on the door. “You’re crazy! Leave me the hell alone!”

“You killed me, Ben. You caused the wreck.”

The man’s voice sounded far away, echoing, disembodied. Ben felt hands on him, forcing him around. He shut his eyes, preparing for an attack. None came. Cowering against the door, he gradually opened his eyes. There was no one there. Once again, he was completely alone in the alleyway.

This time, the door swung open on the first pull. Bolting inside like a bullet out of a gun, Ben tore his apron off and threw it on the bar on his way toward the front door.

“Where do you think you’re going, Harrington?” Raven’s tone was annoyed, but her expression showed concern.

Ben didn’t answer her. He left the bar and called for a ride home.

#

There were newspapers everywhere, loose pages scattered all over the dining table and sprawled out on the floor. And yet Ben only remembered looking through one the night before. As he rummaged through the papers, leaving black smudges on his fingertips, he tried to get the image of that ghostly shadow out of his head. The one that had been standing by the intersection as his driver drove past while bringing him home. That foreboding spectre, Death, or the angel of it.

Finding another page of obituaries, Ben’s eyes scanned over it. Kneeling on the floor, he felt a blow to his gut that sent him backwards onto the ground. Sitting on the cool hardwood floor, he stared at the black and white photograph of a man who had recently passed away in a car accident. His hair and eyes were dark. His nose was like a hawk’s.

Ben was forced to suck in a ragged, painful breath when he realized he hadn’t been breathing, gasping and choking on air as it stung his lungs. Struggling to stand, he slipped a few times, newspapers scattering. Finally on his feet, he made a break for the front door that he had left wide open on his way in.

Not bothering to open the gate, he hopped over it instead. Barely breaking stride, he continued to run. The intersection was only a mile from the ranch, so he just went hell for leather.

The wind whipped through his hair. He could feel it tugging at the stitches still in the side of his head. It burned his eyes, but he couldn’t stop. Feet pounded on pavement, but it was gravity that pulled him forward.

As he neared the intersection, Ben could see it now. The harrowing scene played out in front of his eyes. Blue light from his phone screen illuminated his face as he barreled down the road in his SUV. He never even saw the silver sedan until he crashed into it. There was no third vehicle that had forced him to swerve. No stranger who caused the wreck and fled the scene. He had seen the face of the man he killed and willed him into existence as his scapegoat. Fresh, bright blood against an ashen face, distorting his features. His eyes wide open, dead and black.

Falling to his knees in the middle of the intersection, Ben’s vision was blurred by tears. He was a collapsing star surrounded by black holes. Now it was his turn.

The supernova came, exploding in the form of headlights.

They struck.

White. Then the void. Now he was the black hole.


Chelsea Thornton is a writer from Texas. She is an editor and staff contributor for The Aurora Journal and a reader for The Forge Literary Magazine. Her work has been published in Maudlin HouseBewildering StoriesIdle Ink, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @chelseactually or at chelseathornton.com.


“At the Museum of Art” and “Arriving at the Pearly Gates” Dark Flash Fiction by Karen Watts

At the Museum of Art

The top of her face is deeply lined and pasty, and the rest hidden beneath fabric. She looks old, and tired, and the crick in her spine gives her stance a defeated slouch.

The mob around her is restless and ragged. Their eyes are pale and searching, waiting, hoping, for a divine intervention, and some kind of meaning, to heal their wounds hidden and jagged.

They are the survivors of pestilence. A crowd of miserable souls, gathered to stare mindlessly at a world bathed in hellish fire and disease. They appear ready to move as one.

I move my gaze from the window pane to the Exhibition of Medieval Plague Art, and our tour group shuffles forward.

Arriving at the Pearly Gates

He’d fought the good fight. After many long years he was going to his reward. He was surrounded by his family, except for that whore of a granddaughter, and that son who could never stay clean and sober.

He’d always adhered to the right, quoting scripture for all to hear, sort of, when he could remember the words. His bible stayed in the glove compartment with his pistol, and some questionable beef jerky.

None of that mattered now, as the doctor signed on the dotted line, and the nurse shut down the machines.

There was no stately, robed saint guarding the door. A line of souls he almost remembered waited, and his chest began to burn as he saw their faces. Punches thrown to punish, spit hurled to degrade and shame, he didn’t know all their names, but he remembered their faces. Why were they here?

The woman from the clinic line, the gay guy he had fired, that bum he threw out of the church parking lot, his hippie neighbors, they sighed as one, turned and vanished in a cloud of yellow and blue light. The black and burning embers of his soul exploded, and a scream that would last for eternity began, as fiery angels feasted on his heart.


Karen Southall Watts teaches Humanities at Bellingham Technical College, and Business Soft Skills courses for Canadian College. Her flash fiction and poetry have been featured at Fairfield Scribes, Free Flash Fiction, The Drabble, 101Words, and soon at Sledgehammer Lit and Soren Lit. She is also the author of several business books and articles. Reach her at @askkaren on Twitter 


“The Silenced Child” Psychological Horror by Jeffrey Grimyser

Bruce Westburn had spent last night on Officer Leslie’s pull-out couch, not sleeping, but reading sheet music to stop the nightmares. When he pretended to wake up, Officer Leslie asked who else in Pleasantville he could stay with.

“Pastor Al,” Bruce said.

“He’s a good man,” Officer Leslie said, nodding. “He’ll know what to do. Only problem I can see is it’s Sunday morning, kiddo.”

After Bruce packed his suitcase again, Officer Leslie gave him a bag of crullers and a quart of 2% milk. They drove past the stores and schools on Main Street. So far Bruce hated his freshman year, especially lunch period when he would get teased for being small, shy, and a stutterer of the letter “m.” But he had a new plan. He’d mastered every singing drill from the library books. He’d practiced his favorite ballads. He felt ready for the Pleasantville Community Church choir auditions next week. Pastor Al can help me, Bruce thought. He’s not just the choir director, he’s an awesome public speaker. If I can stay with him for a few days, I’ll learn so much.

Bruce had never been to the Pleasantville Highlands. The streets weren’t rectangular, and there was no through-traffic, but every property had a long driveway going over a creek of rocks and flowing water. On this sunny morning, men in baseball caps were mowing their big lawns, and women in yoga pants were powerwalking in pairs.

From a cream brick mansion with a white birch tree in front, a woman called down, whooping, “Jeez, it’s been too long, Leslie!” The woman had on a soft pink sleeveless blouse and white pants, with a little girl in tights and pigtails grabbing her leg from behind. “Come on up here!”

Officer Leslie hollered back, “How ya doing?” She then told Bruce, “You let me do the talking. If I can get them to take you in, I’ll find your mom. I promise.”

Bruce was done talking. He’d already been spoken to by his aunt, a homeroom teacher, even a child psychologist, but none of them were willing to talk about his mom leaving for ice cream last night and not returning.

As Officer Leslie and the woman did the usual chitchat, the little girl played in her jungle gym, and Bruce sat beside the raised firepit. A minute later, Vicky came outside in a white V-neck cami, cut-off blue jean shorts, and thong sandals. When bored in church, Bruce had decided, after much thought, that she was both the coolest and hottest girl in town.

And then, unabashedly, Bruce began eavesdropping. He didn’t hear Officer Leslie, but he could hear Vicky. At first, he loved her high-pitched laugh, making everyone smile. But after going on and on, Bruce began to resent her cackling, cackling, cackling, like a hyena.

Instantly something towering from behind cast a shadow over Bruce.

Pastor Al was six-foot-six and a former basketball star. He was sweating in a black button up, blue jeans, and gray gym shoes. He was handsome, but with a shave and buzzcut for his brown hair long overdue, his head looked like an oversized coconut.

Bruce sprang up. After putting down a canoe, Pastor Al gave him a subtle fist bump, like they were part of a special club.

“Hey there!” Officer Leslie said.

“How’s it going, hon?” Pastor Al replied with a confident baritone. He lumbered over and pulled Officer Leslie in for a big hug. Bruce noticed his commanding presence, even around a police officer.

“I’m not sure you heard,” Officer Leslie said, “but Bruce here needs some help, and you were the first person we thought of.”

“Of course,” Pastor Al said. “That’s what I’m here for.”

Officer Leslie gave Bruce a slight push in the back and whispered, “Now’s your chance to talk to Vicky, all right?”

Bruce got stuck while saying “meet,” and then panicked as he thought there was no other word to replace it. When Vicky pulled out her phone, Bruce returned to his chair.

“I’m looking into the boy’s father,” Officer Leslie said. “His name is Ray, different last name. Big fella. Hasn’t been in town for a long time. But last night, Ms. Thompkins thinks she saw his mom in the back of a brown van at the gas station on 53rd. Guess who used to have a brown van?”

My father did, Bruce told himself. I know he did this. He’s the only person in Pleasantville who would hurt Mom.

“Oh no,” Pastor Al said. “Has anyone found him?”

“Not yet, but I will,” Officer Leslie replied.

“I’ll pray that you do. Such a cruel man from what I remember.”

“That’s why I’m here, Al. I can’t go find anybody if I have to keep watching over the boy. So I figured, because his father wasn’t a churchgoing man, he won’t suspect if the boy stays with you.”

“Sure,” Pastor Al said immediately, as if he’d suspected this request all along.Whatever you need.”

“Honey,” Pastor Al’s wife interrupted, “we have to go now. That poor boy can come too. Service is starting soon.”

“Oh, it’s only a five-minute drive,” Pastor Al said. “I’ll catch up with you guys once I speak to him one-on-one.”

“Don’t be late this time, Daddy,” the little girl begged.

“No, please do,” Vicky said, “that way we can actually sing something fun for once.”

The whole family cackled.

After a long goodbye to Officer Leslie, the wife, little girl, and Vicky drove away in a luxury SUV.

Officer Leslie knelt down beside Bruce. “Kiddo,” she said. “I gotta get to work, but if you get scared about anything, you find a phone and call me that instant, all right?”

“Okay,” Bruce said.

Officer Leslie gave him a hug. But as she left, she had that same pitiful smile as the aunt, teacher, and psychologist.

A breeze came. Birds chirped from a willow tree. “Son,” Pastor Al said, “you ready to see where you’ll be staying?”

“Yeah,” Bruce said.

Pastor Al picked up Bruce’s suitcase and held the front door open for him. Bruce thought he smelled like fish.

The living room was enormous. It had a shiny black grand piano. It had a fireplace mantle with gymnastic medals and cheerleading trophies, an old grandfather clock, a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf with Christian fiction and Bible studies, and dozens of photos of the family at charity events, all with Vicky smiling beautifully. There was no TV. What do they do for fun? Bruce wondered. Me and Mom always have on a musical.

“You need anything?” Pastor Al said.

“No,” Bruce replied.

“Want to talk about something?”

“No.”

“Okay.” Pastor Al scratched his forehead. “How about a soda and some of my wife’s hotdish? It’s got lots of cheese, ya know?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. But before we do that, I’m going to need you to take off your shoes, please.”

Bruce followed instructions before sitting on the couch. Pastor Al said a prayer for the boy. Once they started eating, a golden retriever came begging and got a few bites from Pastor Al, then Bruce too.

“You like it?” Pastor Al said.

“Yeah.”

“Us too. We always fight for the leftovers.”

After cleaning his plate, Bruce’s eyes and hands went up. “Can I have more, please?”

“Son, you can have as much you like.”

Why’s he being so nice to me? Bruce thought. I never talk in church. I guess it’s cause he feels bad about Mom.

Bruce frowned and Pastor Al smiled.

“Don’t give up on finding your mom,” Pastor Al said. “Let me tell you, a tough kid like you, after all you’ve been through, the last thing you ought to do is quit.”

“You think Officer Leslie will find her?”

“Oh, for sure. Everyone loves your mom. She’s an honest, pretty woman who never missed a single choir practice, ya know? If someone knows something, they’ll tell Officer Leslie. And you can bet I’ll do everything in my power to help too.”

Bruce nodded. Now I see why everyone trusts Pastor Al.

“I think my father did it,” Bruce said.

“Did what?”

“Took my mom.”

“Why do you say that?”

“She was always scared he’d come back.”

“Okay. Any other reason?”

“Only someone real strong like him could’ve done it.”

“How come?”

“Cause our front door got ripped off like a toy or something. It’s not even on the hinge anymore.”

“Listen, it sounds to me too like your father did it.” Pastor Al leaned closer. “But you sure it couldn’t have been someone else?

“Yeah,” Bruce said unwaveringly. He’d overheard Officer Leslie say there were no other suspects, no alternative theories, just his father. “He did it.”

“Well, how’s that make you feel?”

“I don’t know. Angry.”

“Have you ever met him?”

“No.”

“What do you want to happen to him?”

“After what he did, he’s got to pay.”

“That would be fitting. Isaiah 13:11 says, ‘I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.’”

Bruce looked down, hung his head low. Pastor Al pulled his face up, gently.

“I am so, so sorry,” Pastor Al said. “If you ever need to talk more about this, no matter what it’s about, I’m there for you, son.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“No, no. I mean it. In fact, I wish I could’ve been there sooner for ya. I was on my yacht last night until just now.”

“To catch bass?” Bruce said, feeling proud of himself for paying attention in church.

“That’s right. Would you believe I’ve been doing it for twenty-seven years?” Pastor Al closed his eyes and daydreamed. “It’s the only thing I ever do that’s just for me. Nothing but my yacht and the lake. Being alone like that helps clear the soul, ya know? You ever go fishing?”

“No, I don’t go in dark water. I get scared if I can’t see my feet.”

“Why’s that?”

“Cause of something bad that happened to m-m-m-me.”

Bruce paused for a moment.

“You don’t have to tell me, son.”

“No, I want to.” Bruce took a deep breath. “I almost drowned. It happened when I was little, maybe six or seven, at Lake Michigan. Mom was reading on the beach and I was playing in the water. I couldn’t swim that good but it was easy, so I went farther out. When the water was at my neck, I turned around to head back, but a big wave hit me. If that had happened earlier, I would’ve just kicked my feet around until I felt the bottom. But I was too deep. I couldn’t see anything except the dark waves. I tried screaming for Mom, but every time I opened my mouth, I swallowed water. I thought I was gonna die. But eventually Mom got me.

“I try not to think about it much now. But I still do. In pools, I don’t go in the deep end, but Mom makes sure she can always see me.

“She said it was the worst thing that ever happened to me and her. Sometimes she’d have nightmares. I’d hear her screaming and I’d rush into her room and tell her it was okay. But it didn’t help. Cause she just kept shaking and telling me to go back to bed. Mom never forgot.”

“Wow, I didn’t mean to bring you down even more, son,” Pastor Al said while shaking his head.

“It’s okay. It’s not your fault.”

Pastor Al nodded and looked around. Then he rested his heavy hand on Bruce’s shoulder and said, “Say, I got an idea. C’mon.”

Pastor Al led him into a basement storage room. He grabbed a baseball glove laying on a bucket.

“I bought this before my wife got pregnant,” Pastor Al said. “I was hoping for a boy, both times. But now it’s just collecting dust. Want to see if it fits you?”

Bruce didn’t take the glove.

“Or maybe there’s another sport you like?” Pastor Al said.

“No sports.”

“Okay, you’re not a fan. That’s fine. I can learn whatever hobby you’re into and then embarrass myself doing that. It’s what my girls enjoy the most about me, anyway.”

Bruce chuckled.

“That reminds me,” Pastor Al said, “Leslie said you’re thinking about trying out for choir. That true?”

Bruce nodded.

“Well, how about you show me what you got upstairs?”

“Yes! I mean, yes, please.”

“Good. Let me get the air mattress and stuff for ya first. It’ll only take a minute.”

Pastor Al gave Bruce a wink and went into another room.

He really likes me, Bruce thought. He’s obviously nice, but this is so awesome. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll stay friends with him after Mom returns.

While waiting Bruce browsed the industrial shelves storing old life jackets, flares, fire extinguishers, and first aid kits. Then he noticed something shiny, something that looked like it didn’t belong. He picked it up. It was a sterling silver necklace of a crescent moon singing.

It’s identical to Mom’s, he thought. But it can’t be. She never took it off.

Whenever Bruce stuttered, she would sing out of the corner of her mouth and gyrate the necklace back and forth, like it was the one singing. Sometimes it helped.

Bruce flipped the necklace over.

Oh god, no! It’s got my initials! And Pastor Al has it! What do I do?

“I’m all set,” Pastor Al announced.

“Great,” Bruce replied, as casually as he could, while sliding the necklace into his pocket.

“Ready for a trial run?” Pastor Al said.

“Ah, yeah.”

Pastor Al threw the air mattress onto his wide shoulder and turned off the lights. Bruce’s bare feet felt cold on the stone floor. On his walk upstairs, he shivered at every heavy footstep behind him.

In the living room, Bruce couldn’t see anyone through the window. He turned around and found Pastor Al looking down at him.

“Well, we don’t have all day, ya know?”

Pastor Al’s cheeks looked red, like he’d been sunburned. He sounded strange too. In church, he had preached with a booming monotone. But now his voice was deeper, more guttural, raw.

Pastor Al pointed at the piano bench. Bruce sat.

“Your mom could really belt one out, which you know, of course, considering she was in the choir,” Pastor Al said, and Bruce noticed he was speaking in past tense. “But over the years, I’d like to think I helped her with the mental side. You know what that means?”

Bruce shook his head.

“See,” Pastor Al said, “the most important thing to do during an audition, or life in general, is to be confident. It’s not the physical stuff that matters. You can have all the talent and know every song in the world, but if you don’t believe in yourself, your environment will crush you.”

Pastor Al sat on the bench. “For instance,” he said, “what if you get so nervous you lose your voice and it feels like you’re running out of air? Then what, hmm?”

Bruce felt Pastor Al’s breaths on his forearm.

Pastor Al scooted closer. “Sing as loudly as you can.”

Bruce started singing.

Pastor Al covered Bruce’s sternum with his right hand, planted his other hand on Bruce’s spine, and squeezed the two together.

Bruce paused.

“Don’t stop,” Pastor Al said. He then squeezed harder, even lifting Bruce’s torso up. “You need to stop slouching. It restricts your windpipe.”

Bruce’s eyes began to well up.

“Are you crying?”

While running out of breath, Bruce shook his head. A tear fell.

“You are crying,” Pastor Al said, while finally letting go.

Bruce wiped his eyes. “No, I’m not.”

“Well, I sure hope you aren’t. Otherwise, I don’t think you have what it takes to be on my team, son.”

The golden retriever approached curiously and rested its head on Bruce’s lap, begging, like before.

“No!” Pastor Al shouted. He grabbed the dog by the scruff of the neck, dragged it into the garage, and slammed the door.

Meanwhile Bruce had been rushing towards the front door. In a flash Pastor Al was there and seized Bruce’s right wrist, clutching his mom’s necklace.

“What have you got there?” Pastor Al demanded.

Bruce opened his hand.

Pastor Al glanced down and quickly answered, “Oh, I found that at the gas station last night.”

“It’s m-m-my m-m—”

“Your mom’s?” Pastor Al said. “You sure?”

“Yes,” Bruce said.

Pastor Al sneered. “It’s a different one.”

“No. She never took it off.”

Bruce tried turning the necklace over to show him the initials, but Pastor Al snatched it out of his hand.

“Okay, I’ll have to look at this later,” Pastor Al said with an upbeat voice. “But right, we need to get going now.” He clapped twice. “We’re already late.”

“Officer Leslie said someone saw M-M-M . . . her at the gas station last night.”

“Ope! I must have misspoke.” Pastor Al shook his head. “Not about me being at the gas station, that’s true, but about where I found it. See, I stopped at a sports bar for something to eat and that’s where I saw the necklace. I thought it looked pretty, so I brought it back home for my daughter, ya know?”

“You said gas station,” Bruce cried. “Gas station.”

“No, I didn’t.” Pastor Al’s entire chest expanded with a heavy breath. “Besides, think about it, son. If that was really your mom’s necklace, how did I get it?”

There was no doubt in Bruce’s mind anymore. And Pastor Al knew it too. He looked tense, tightly wound, angrier than hell, with his teeth gritting so hard his jaw jerked. Bruce stepped back but he bumped into the grandfather clock, causing the glass door to rattle. Pastor Al advanced forward. Bruce knew he wasn’t fast enough to run or strong enough to fight. There was only one thing he could do.

“Why?” he said weakly. “Why did you—”

“Shut it! Just shut your damn mouth! You got me all frazzled and now I can’t think straight!”

“I’ll tell Officer Leslie,” Bruce said, but immediately questioned whether he had the courage.

Then Bruce watched in horror as Pastor Al placed the necklace in the palm of his hand, strolled to the bathroom, and flushed it in the toilet. He came out grinning, with his hand empty.

Bruce tried begging. He tried promising to never tell anyone if he was let go, but an abrupt stutter overpowered him, choked the words in his throat, like a dog running for its life until the leash became taut. Bruce stopped trying.

“Oh, no,” Pastor Al said with a smile. “I can’t remember what the necklace looks like anymore. Can you explain it to me?”

Suddenly the doorbell rang.

Pastor Al got in Bruce’s face. “Get your ass upstairs,” he commanded. “Now!”

Bruce ran up the stairs. He rushed into the bathroom and shut the door, which didn’t have a lock. Through the walls, he heard Pastor Al warmly greeting his parishioners, asking why he was late.

Bruce told himself, Get out of here now. However you can.

Another stairway? None except the one to him. Call Officer Leslie? No phone was in sight. Use a weapon? Not with my trembling hands. Go out a window? No way I can jump down two stories and run away. A scream for help? Nothing I can say will make anyone downstairs believe me.

The front door creaked open. Out of options, Bruce ran into a bedroom and hid in a wicker chest at the foot of the bed. The front door shut loudly. Bruce curled into a ball and tried his best to stop from weeping, but he couldn’t. He was losing it.

Bruce peaked through a gap into the hallway, but nothing came. He listened but heard nothing, except his own breathing and heartbeat. He’s going to find me. He’ll find me and kill me.

“Brucey? Oh Brucey, where are you?” sang a deep voice.

In shock Bruce bumped his head into the lid of the chest. Don’t make another sound. Don’t breathe, don’t even blink.

For minutes there was only silence.

Eventually Pastor Al entered the master bedroom with his hands in his pockets, looking oddly content. Instead of opening the chest, or checking behind the door or under the bed, he stood in the center of the room.

“I know you were upset earlier, as was I,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is, this is all a misunderstanding. I was caught by surprise when, all of sudden, you’re in my house and Leslie is telling me your sweet mother has been kidnapped by your awful father. I got so worried that I mixed up one little detail. That’s all. But I am telling you, right now, I found that necklace outside the sports bar.”

Pastor Al glanced at himself in a mirror on the wall.

“So you might think you can tell someone about this, but you really shouldn’t. Ya know why?” Pastor Al sounded so calm, so confident, like he was in the middle of a sermon. “Because the necklace is gone. You clearly have been traumatized. And I’m the pastor of Pleasantville Community Church, who was asked to help you by a police officer. No one will ever believe you.”

Pastor Al tightened a white clergy collar around his neck.

“Besides, son, if you did”—he glared at the chest through the mirror—“I’ll always know where you are.”

Bruce shut his eyes. Not to stop from crying or seeing what would happen next, but to think of his mom.

Footsteps went down the stairs. The front door opened, then closed. An engine started, and a car drove away.

Before now all Bruce had wished for was to be stutter-free, to sing on the team, to make friends and talk to girls in school. He had wanted to become like Pastor Al, the gifted public speaker and choir director. Bruce had even planned and practiced how to tell off his father, after being caught red-handed, for abandoning him and committing such a horrible crime. But now Bruce would have to forget his family. Now he would have to carry this new secret alone. Now he would have to stay silent forever, just like his mom, buried in water so dark and deep no one would ever find her.


Jeffrey Grimyser is a father, husband, attorney, and originally a “Sconnie” who now lives in rival Chicago. His work has appeared in Bright Flash Literary ReviewFree Radicals Magazine, and CommuterLit