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


“After Impact” Dark, Apocalyptic Fiction by Mark Antokas

There are times in life when clarity comes to a man, when he realizes it is useless to struggle against the current, when it is easier to negotiate around his grunting compatriots and to follow a truer course–the path of least resistance. Moses is one man’s name. Birdy calls him The Jew.

He walks into the Robin’s Nest Bar and Grill, parting the accumulated atmospheres of body heat and smoke. The music is loud, and people inebriately speak of former times: those recent times when the seasons and the worth of a man could easily be delineated, when prospecting for the value of a soul unnecessary, when plumbing the meaning of your own existence is enough without attempting to fathom your neighbor’s. Moses slips past a perspirant drunk dancing with a reluctant farm girl. The farmhand is still dressed in his working clothes, still stinks of the barnyard, still has clumps of manure dried to his boots. She sports jeans well past their prime, a pilled pink sweater and cowboy boots. Morose, she relinquishes herself to the attention of the dance floor. It is a Saturday afternoon by rote, and the lunch hour.

The first cut haying is done, most likely it’s the only cutting to be done. The corn has yet to be harvested and won’t. Unripe ears, the promise of food and fuel for the winter, next year’s seed, hang on stilted stalks waiting for a sun which will not come. As farming people might, most take comfort in a wait-and-see attitude. The situation is of catastrophe. The sun has not appeared in many days, and an unseasonable chill has claims on August.

A few people say hello to Moses, whether they know him or not, with the friendly innocence that comes parceled in with the farm. Some turn at the opening of the door, at Moses, at the fresh clean breeze blowing the collective smoke from their faces. They awake to a foreign presence, turn back to their beer and talk of personal problems, common struggles with the environment, and new model threshing machines. The bar is the only one in town. It is on the farthest edge. Everyone knows everyone else by sight, by nickname, or by reputation. Moses is the foreigner.

He comes from a place where music, poetry, and the arts, flourish in a culture older, wiser, and more graceful. As a boy, others called him Pharaoh. His triangular face, olive complexion, brown and byzantine eyes stand him apart from most here.

He sits himself at an empty stool at the bar, trades glances here and there in hello, orders tomato juice and beer.

Barbara makes a face and pours it.

A few look on as she mixes the two together and go back to whatever they have been doing or not doing.

A riotous splash of sound and activity in an otherwise quiet pond, this bar is mostly empty by two. These boys work hard, sun or no sun.

Stanya Stanislavska, provocatively dressed, sits three seats down at the corner. She glances at the Jew. She sits alone. Every man in the bar wants her. Careful and controlled in every movement, she speaks only to the bartender.

Moses keeps one eye on her, and one on the televised news. It wages a losing war. More incoherent words about an inconceivable situation. For the moment, the jukebox, and the blare of country music win.

Moses has placed himself next to a suntanned man. Birdy is his name. He clears his throat and launches into what will be a long conversation. “Eighteen hundred acres, Jew,” Birdy says as if he’d already been on the subject, “eighteen hundred acres. All the land you could ever want. My father. He didn’t want anything done with it. After the old house burned”–his look is of arson and insurance.–“he told me, now you can’t bring no more girls here. He knew I was bringing them there when he was working nights at the mill and I was pounding them there. But the muck Jew, was so rich, with lime in it Jew-people were growing flowers”–he pronounces it ‘fla-waz’–“big like this.” His hands are far apart. They are like big, burled parts of tree stumps: knotted, torn out from the earth by flood, like driftwood smoothed by the tides.

Moses looks closer and assesses. Birdy isn’t a tall man. Dark-rimmed glass ashtrays owl his face and better his vision. His shoulders are tough and broad, and perennially slung with multicolored suspenders. Moses knows him as an out crier in the hammer business, a hawker and a crooner and someone who you know you better watch.

Birdy runs consignment auctions every other Saturday night. On auction nights, he accepts merchandise all day long. Through those halls run the hideous to the sublime. About four o’clock on those auction afternoons, ready for the show, he runs home and changes into a brown suit, several years old but in good shape, a fedora hat with a hint of peacock, and as always, the suspenders. At seven, in his serviceable black shoes, he begins the sale in a braying and unmelodic voice.

“Women, Jew,” he deviates for an instant.

The blonde Stanya rests untouchable at the end of the bar. “You think they ain’t got dicks? They got dicks this long.” He outstretches again just as he had done in his rendition of flowers. “They got dicks this long. Only you can’t see them because they’re invis-idible. Yeah. They’ll get you with them too.”

The American locker room. Moses smiles and considers his drink with eyes on Stanya, he motions to the barkeep. “Buy that lady a drink–And buy yourself one too.” He pushes some money forward on the bar.  What the hell. Money has become nothing. Just that morning he sold an old tanning lamp for the price of a used car. The human animal is a creature of the sun. “Yeah. So, what about the eighteen hundred acres of muck?” Moses asks, as it’s far better than talking about impacts and craters and descending clouds.

“I was getting seventy-five cents a bucket.” Birdy says. “Those people were buying it like crazy. Then, I started selling it to the town for a dollar. Then, my father found out. That’s when I broke the bridge, Jew. I was so overloaded in my truck, it just went. His bridge. He made me fix it, and he just sat in his truck with it running and the heater on. He had that smirk on his face, told me I’d have to pay him back for the buckets I’d sold to the town. But I didn’t. That’s when I went to live in the foster home. But the muck, Jew. Eighteen hundred acres of it. My god.” Shaking his head, he grins at Moses. An artistic scammer, he is an axe surgeon pirouetting through the nutcracker, sugarplums and gingerbread dances through his head. “The muck, all eighteen hundred acres of it.”

No problem, prosim Moses indicates silently with a flourish of the head taking in Stanya whole, her eyes almond-sweet, cobalt-blue, lashed to perfection. He drinks of her oval face–stoic, sedative, surrounded by a shining nimbus of hair now pulled back tight. She holds a sense of understated elegance, is a reticent Slavic beauty, has been schooled in the arts. All this, splat in the heart of a comic cartoon farming community. Moses feels it and everyone knows it, inside Stanya is a pure and simple animal warmth.

The Jew removes his gaze.

Birdy expands his audience. Central and correct in his place midpoint at the bar, he starts in with poor Julian Budd, a man who works for the town. “Women. I’ll tell you. They ain’t no good. Hey” Birdy says so all in the bar can hear. “I hear your wife is leaving you.” And he laughs.

Dumfounded, as sheepish as if he is covered in wool, he feels foolish when the road crew boss says yes, that it is true, that he couldn’t care less, that he’ll load his truck with his belongings and just take off. He has always wanted to see the ocean.

“Hey. I was just joking,” Birdy says contrite, “I didn’t know that.”

Julian goes on to say that seeing how there isn’t any children anymore, he can just get up and go whenever the spirit moves him. What with the end of the world and all that.

“Women,” Birdy says again. “You think they ain’t got dicks?”

Francis Teyssier, French-American, a Gaul, Frankish, sits in a far booth brooding before a bottle of whiskey. The doomsayers have been right. It is the day of retribution. Payback time. Everyone has sinned. The newspapers all say the end of the world is close at hand, weeks at most, only days perhaps.

In the days before the impact, life for Francis Teyssier was orderly, predictable, and boring. Get up in the morning to “Joey- The Bebop King Fossey” and his morning show on WKXZ, then coffee, then straight to the toilet. Read the front lawn newspaper. A quick shower and a shave before teaching applied science at the East Side School. He has worked here every school day since graduating sixteen years ago from State. After six classes and three breaks, he goes home. Clean the house on Saturdays, shop on Sundays when his choices are limited and the stores not crowded. Back to school on Monday.

In the days before the impact, Francis Teyssier took consolation and comfort in the fact that he was tenured, and that he’d need only four more years until retirement. Some joke now. Francis–or Frank as his closest friends were used to calling him–went from sneering sarcasm, to utter disbelief. The government is now in complete disarray. The ship of state is the only kind of ship that can leak from the top. The ship of relations–he looks over the back of his seat towards Stanya–is the only one that can leak from the heart. Straight from the bottle he gulps down another shot.

All of his neighbors, sedated in their cocoons, pink flamingos outside their Leavitt-like homes, his otherwise educated colleagues, oh, the sophisticated rationale on why it all was. The pastor of his church who has always wanted to drive a Porsche and has rented one yesterday for the whole month figuring what the hell, you only live once. In the cities, the looting by the common man in the streets. They were out there after the first day, sniffing around, testing the waters, pushing the limits of the envelope in full view of the police, whose only directive was to see no one of importance gets physically hurt. And that Stanya next door, oh how he’s wondered about her when her husband is not around and when he is swaying in masturbation side to side in the hammock of his front yard, or manicuring the grass in straight even lines. Those sunny days, she comes out in that lowcut braless, the one that fits so tight you can see the indentation of her navel, and her almost see-through skirt. She pretends to weed the flowerbed that separates their properties. He is a burning bag of repressed sexual shit just waiting to be thrown from a third-story window, and God help the one who happens to be passing by. The cruelty of it all. So, the poor man has decided for himself, to now go silently berserk.

The government has sold out the people. Has taken a powder and abdicated. They at first tried an impossible coverup. Then they foolishly admit there is very little hope. The meteorite struck the desert east of L.A. creating a crater that extends to the Pacific. Killing millions, a tidal wave took care of coastal British Columbia and Central America to the south. The Earth has taken on a new and evil wobble, and a thick and viscous shroud slowly descends upon the rest of the world. The green earth groups foolishly say that this is an environmental problem of enormous extent. Some folks think of it as an invader from the outer limits of space. Some believe it to be divine intervention, the second coming, and they are ready. Right now, all Francis Teyssier knows is he wants her, Stanya Stanislavska, sitting there in the corner of the bar, in the worst way. But he is petrified of Nicolai.  

No one in town ever sees Nicolai work. He is rumored to have connections with the Russian mob. Cars and boats appear periodically in the driveway then disappear. People say he launders money. No one can tell precisely what his views are, as he speaks little if no English. A curt, sharp-eyed, sizing-up and nod is all that can be expected in the mornings.

Stanya is another story. She has something Francis can-not characterize. For the two years she and Nicolai have been living next door, she bends over the low fence, her long fingers grasping the top in an earth-encrusted hold, and music pours from her body in a Hapsburg Empire conversation that Francis finds unnerving at best, given the eyes he always feels upon him from inside the house. That Nicolai frightens him, Francis reasons in the days and months before the impact, is normal. All in the neighborhood say the house is an arsenal of guns and ammunition and explosive devices.

At this point, it hardly matters. Come blow me up if you like. But Francis cannot move.

*

Three days ago, right after the impact, Francis Teyssier sits under a perpetual shade, perches on the edge of a hammock slung between two Mimosa trees. He waits for Stanya to come out. She has become the only excitement in his life, and he knows her schedule intimately. He doesn’t have to wait long.

Nicolai comes out first. He is unusually dressed in a long flowing black robe, black pants, a strangely shaped square hat, and a three-day beard. The massive gold cross gives away the intent and the guise. He hurries from the house and down the street.

“He thinks he is a priest,” Stanya says from her side of the flowerbed. She wears only a thin housedress, and Francis imagines, little underneath. “He’s going to the main terminal. He wants to preach. I suppose in these times, people should be allowed to do what they want.” Stanya plays with the first few buttons of her dress, awaiting reaction from her passive neighbor. Looking into Francis’ eyes she asks huskily, “Don’t you?”  

“Yes,” Francis says lowers his eyes from the crack of her bosom. “I suppose.”

“Frank, may I ask you a question?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever seen the mist rising in the mornings from the river Vltava?”

“What?” Francis does not know where that is.

Stanya pats back the buttons of her dress. “Oh, never mind.”

*

The only Jew in the bar orders another drink. He lipreads the news. Satellite radar shows in slow repetition, how the cloud has been drifting east upon the North American continent. You don’t need a satellite to see that. Fall would come early this year. Maybe an endless winter.

Moses has been visiting this rural town, feeding a city dealer antiques. They can be bought in this depressed area cheaply. Occasionally he buys from houses, direct and sometimes he runs pieces through Birdy’s auction if they aren’t quite right for his picky customers downstate, and to cover his expenses.

But in the recent months before impact, he has become tired of the auction game–the hustle, the back biting, the bidding up, the buying back, and the petty intrigues. Little matters. Everyone rushes to get rid of their belongings. They try to scrape up a little something for a last fling, psychotherapy, purification, or pilgrimage. The worth of things has shifted. Who wants antiques when a simple sunlamp is heaven?

Birdy picks at his nose, and burps out loud. He is thinking hard. What can he sell to the Jew? “Hey, Jew, I got a nice Coca-Cola machine in the auction house. It’s from the forties, real clean. Works, too.”

“Have to pass on that Birdy. Not warm enough lately for a Coke.”

*

The sign reads ROBIN’S NEST, pop. 238. Moses stops in at the auction house. He’s looking for a new place to buy. The dilapidated building in the center of town, right next to the Quick-Stop Gas Station, has been at one time a gem of a structure, with French doors inside, embossed metal ceilings and a hardwood floor. It is so ill maintained now you would hardly think piles of antique Victorian furniture and smalls are inside. A hand-painted ANTIQUES sign hangs skewed over the door, which is wide open with no one around. He checks the Quick-Stop. Someone says the owner is probably at the grill. Another suggests he’s in the hardware store. Birdy finally shows, an apparition, as if he’s been there all the time.

Moses says, “I wonder if I could get some prices.”

“Sure. “Whad’ya need?” He looks Moses over, notices the car, categorizes the shoes.

Moses knows he’s being catalogued. 

A careful Birdy sizes up new prey. This isn’t his regular crowd. This is an unknown commodity, not the occasional fat-cat from the city who can be taken for a ride. This guy is probably in the business.

“What about that Stickley piece over there?”

Birdy launches into an imagined history of the piece, incorrectly labels it as ‘Arts and Crafts,’ makes it out to be older than it is, insists that it is signed. It is Moses’ turn for assessment.

Some people operate by giving others absolutely no information about their affairs, keep them guessing all the time. Birdy’s approach is entirely the opposite. He offers too much information. Usually, this is of a conflicting nature. With just the right touch of secrecy, a hint of illegality, the information is always wordy, and inflated. This is his style, his mandate, it always works. Should people think of him as simple, they lower their guard.

“Oh. Yeah, Stickley,” Birdy says in understatement. “People collect that stuff. That’s real good. It’s signed on the back. I’ll take five hundred.” He drops his eyes toward the ground, shrugs broad shoulders in order not to intimidate.

The price is high. This guy might be illiterate but is no fool. “And how about that Icart print over there?”

“Oh. Yeah. That’s original. I got it out of a house. It’s signed too.”

Moses taps the frame with the point of a fingernail.  The numbered print is a good copy. The frame, Rococo, incorrect.

“A thousand,” Birdy says knowing it would only bring two hundred at auction. “But I’ll let it go for eight hundred.”

It is a good price if it had been real. “Yeah, well, thanks. I’ll be in touch.”

Birdy follows Moses out into the daytime sun, insisting that his prices are flexible.

*

Julian Budd, the road boss for the town, cantilevers at the bar near Birdy, beer in hand. Julian Budd is a plain man who likes to invent words in his speech, use old phrases, like, she took a tumble instead of she fell. He once told Birdy that as a boy, he sniffed gas tanks for fun, and then ate potted meat and cheese sandwiches. His father once said to him, “Take a look around you son, at all the assholes that you work with. They will all be your supervisors someday.” Beaten into intemperance by a life filled with nothing, he wants nothing other than to drink himself dumb.

*

One morning before the impact, with the previous night’s bottle empty and staring him in the face, Julian Budd arrives at the conclusion that he must go into the basement and kill himself. Not a good sleeper, he tosses and turns all night, giving himself ample opportunity to dream bits and pieces through the night. Around five this morning, he decides that suicide is the only way. Too many complications in his fifty -year -old life.

For months he’s been unhappy, listless, a malcontent, and black thoughts of his past life persist. Small snapshots appear in his consciousness, little carrier pigeon messages like a movie in reverse, he plods through his days. The woman he married thirty years ago sleeps like a rock on the outer recesses of their communal bed, immobile and distant, untouchable in spirit and mind. He is tired of it all–the arguments, misunderstandings, the rock-hard disagreements and the betrayals of marriage. He has tried everything to understand the woman, to accommodate her, to bend even more, and nothing seems to work. He has thought about divorce, but being delicate of heart, or perhaps just afraid of being alone, he returns to the hell that was his married life. So, cyanide, electrocution, a razorblade, killing himself in the basement is the only way to go.

Seven years ago he leaves the house, after they put his daughter into the ground. Karen Budd, the tombstone reads, aged nineteen. She’s gone to a better place everyone says. Pity, she hanged herself while in pantyhose and bra, from the rafters of her small apartment, used a pair of black nylons to do it. You’ll go on with your life, they say. The next Saturday night he’s helping at the auction, like he always has, like it never happened. A month later, Julian packs everything that he has into large Tupperware boxes with lids, and puts them into the barn.

Everything he needs, which isn’t much, he puts into an old Chevy wagon he’s bought cheap from Birdy. The whole process has taken two days. He heads west, makes it as far as Arizona where the car breaks down, and he sells it for parts. Plane fare back home.

His wife has taken up with another man in his absence–a retired policeman from Newark. He has a habit of getting drunk on port wine, then attempts to beat her, but she is a farm woman, bigger than him and tough. She has thrown out the cop after Julian has written her, asking forgiveness. Julian returns in the spring. Afterwards, most things are not discussed.

How would you like your eggs?

The garage needs another coat of paint.

Tuesday’s garbage day, isn’t it?

Life for Julian is a series of nothings. No conversation, no spirituality, no support. Head askew, eyes blunted, neck elongated like an animal, without comprehension. Yes, Julian thinks, killing oneself is better than living a nothing life. He should have done it right after Karen’s death.

*

Julian opens a newspaper at the bar. All over the front page is the news; the world is coming to an end. No hope, no succor, no time, and Julian Budd realizes he will, indeed, die, whether he goes to the basement or not.

“I saw your husband at the main terminal preaching the Lord this morning. He had a bunch of little girls around him,” the barkeep Barbara says to Stanya. Not one to keep any thought from her lips, before, during, or after impact, she always steers straight for the nerve.

“Yes, he preaches the gospel and takes them for a ride in the Lincoln, then they go somewhere more private. To pray. Since the meteorite hit, he’s found some kind of religion.” Stanya couldn’t care less. She has lived through the Communist era, when thoughts were repressed, free speech and the actions that followed, unthinkable. She could have wound up as so many innocent ones have. A prostitute. Nicolai yanked her from her homeland. Saved her. She will always defend him. Screwing little girls before God? Little matters, with an apocalyptic cloud bearing down and the sun drawing further away every day.

“That Frank has some eyes for you, though,” Barbara says.    

“Yes. The Franks of the world.”

He sits there with a mixture of rage and pain and desire, with confusion written all over his face.

“The poor man. Like a rabbit, he runs this way and that. He goes through life automatically. His life is an ancient catechism, afraid to act. He doesn’t know what he wants. Carpe Diem.”

“What?”

“Seize the day. It’s Latin. Go for it. Nicolai knows.”

“How about the Jew?”

“Mm. Yes,” Stanya says with care. “He’s another case.” She considers her glass, touches the inside of her thigh under the bar.

“Has he ever said anything to you? He doesn’t speak very often. No one really knows about him. So odd. And then he drinks those awful drinks. Just about the only one he speaks to is Birdy over there.”

“He’s seen the river Vltava in the mornings.”

“What?”

“It runs through Prague.”

Barbara does not know where Prague is, knows nothing of Stanya’s homeland, could care less about fancy Latin phrases. All she knows right now is Stanya Stanislavska is keeping something back. She is a saloonkeeper, an amateur psychologist, a behind-the-bar soothsayer “Well I guess the wild times have arrived.”

“Yes, well, we are all human animals.” Stanya watches Moses. He is listening to Birdy, his thoughts, she knows, are on her.

Birdy says, “You ever throw a discus Jew? I mean, being a foreigner yourself, I would think it.” After downing a shot of bourbon, daintily, he sips from his beer “When I was a kid, I remember seeing pictures in my younger brother’s schoolbook. He’s the educated one, made it all the way through high school. The Olympics. I always wanted to see it. The ancient times. Used to put myself to sleep when I was a kid throwing the discus in the Olympics. I told my father that once. He smacked me upside the head a good one, said he had no time for foolishness, and neither should I. Jesus, what a man. In those days he was ramming everything under the sun. My mother knew it. Didn’t do nothing about it. She was Italian. They don’t make women like that anymore. In the beginning she figured that was her husband and she married him, and had kids by him and she was stuck with it. So, what could she do other than make the best of it? That worked for her for a long time, Jew. But when the old man moved in some young tramp from over West Town, was banging her every night and we all could hear them, she kind of slowly started to drift away from us all, started losing it, wound up humming the same tune all day, day in and day out,” he sips some beer, his broad shoulders, the multi-colored suspenders for a moment hollow. “Ava Maria I think it was. My father didn’t give a shit about nothing but himself. My mother always said I was just like him. The day he died everybody in the whole town–the tramp first in line–was digging and digging for his buried money.” Birdy falls silent for a moment. He wants to tell Moses about his brother who disappeaed right after his mother went off kilter, and they took her away to the asylum. But he has one pressing question. “Moses, you’re from that part of the world.” Birdy confuses the Greeks with the Jews. “You ever throw the discus when you were a kid?”

The neglected jukebox is mute. Faces at the bar turn to the television, at center stage. The moderator interviews a panel of experts. How many days is the ultimate question. One expert, a physicist says the cloud formation is a result of the impact striking the Earth and that with it comes poisonous gasses. As the dust cloud spreads over the earth, the sun will ever increasingly be blotted out, and the natural photosynthesis of plant life will cease, and oxygen will become scarcer and scarcer. Another expert, a mathematician this time, calculates the odds of human survival. He says that more than ninety percent of the earth’s population faces extinction. Representing the federal government, an operative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation calls for order in society. A businessman insists increased global warming is the only solution and should be actively pursued. A clergyman suggests all make prayers and ask for salvation. 

“Jesus H. Christ, Jew.” Birdy rubs a hand across his lips. “Get a load of that. Don’t look like long to me.”

Except for that statement, the bar is momentarily hushed. The farm girl who was dancing with the cowhand weeps into his shoulder. She has only now told him she is pregnant. He carries her out into the chill of an August afternoon.

“My God,” Barbara drops a bomb into the empty space of the bar. “What has become of us?

“We are all going to die!” Frank blurts out, coming alive from the corner booth. “That’s what’s going to become of us. This is a stupid, stupid life. Tenure and retirement benefits? Ha.” He strikes his fists against the table hard, spills his whiskey. “And if anyone of you have any plans for the future, well, I guess you better put them on hold and then forget about them.”

“Shut up Frank,” Barbara says annoyed. “There’s no need in upsetting everybody more than we already are.”

“But I’m right! I’m right, I tell you. We are all heading for a permanent vacation in the promised land.” A mirthless whimper comes from him, and he glares at Stanya. Unfair, his eyes say, then he falls back into his silent cubicle, head in arms.

“Got any plans?” Barbara asks Stanya.

 “Oh, I suppose I’ll do what I did yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. Just live my life until it is my time to end it. I don’t have any regrets. I’ve lived my life, the good and the bad, and make no mistake, I haven’t been a saint. But you know what? I’d do it all over again, the good and the bad.”

She fixes on the Jew. They share a look. A faint smile softens his eyes.

Flushing and warm, she remembers when Nicolai put an ad in the Courier-Gazette, and Moses came to buy Deco jewelry. But Nicolai forgot, and was out of town on some business or another. Moses stood there at her door one spring afternoon in his blue jeans and boots and his black leather, and to her he was something different, something as foreign as home, something as exotic as your own navel in this white-bread American community in which she lived. She invited him in.

She smelled gentile Mediterranean breezes of oregano and thyme. She heard the sounds of the silvery undersides of olive trees as they blew in the wind, and of wild grasses standing to natures forces, bending as if showing the way, and delivering her from her madness. She felt as if he touched the water within her, thought lost, long ago, he swam the river of her homeland, the river Vlatava. Later, he poured Champagne into her every orifice and drank like it was nectar.

That was as good and as bad as it gets.

Reading her thoughts, Barbara asks, “Stanya, you ever cheat on your husband?”

Stanya, does not answer and drops her gaze from the Jew’s.

The door opens. A silhouette lurches through the smoke. The door slams shut with authority. Nicolai bursts in carrying a fireball in his hand and the word of God on his tongue. Inside his black robe is the bulge of a semi-automatic weapon. “You have sinned,” he pronounces with a purple tongue to the congregation.

They all take cover, think he’ll begin shooting.

“And for that there is retribution.” Clenching his teeth he searches for an appropriate reaction. “But divine intervention is at hand.” He points outside with Michelangelo hands.

Three teenage girls stand patiently waiting near the Lincoln, looking up at the sky. The sun momentarily bursts forth under the heavens like the truth comes to the heathens.

Most everyone in the bar brushes past Nicolai and once outside, they tilt their faces to the summits and the promise of another day.

Julian Budd extends his arms, hands open asking why. Face mangled in pain he shouts for his daughter, “Karen, Karen, Karen.”

“Oh, why are you doing this to me?” Francis Tessier prostates himself on top of a car sobbing. He murmurs about how he doesn’t want to die. He takes it all back, never meant to sin. He wants time enough to spend his retirement.

Birdy is laughing and laughing with delight. He picks up a square tile, a cement piece loosened from the sidewalk and hurls it discus-like, whooping through the windshield of his own truck.

Inside, two women hear the weatherman say that a cold front from the arctic pushes a wind which, for a moment, will clear the sky.

No need for optimism. The Jew orders a bottle of champagne, and takes in whole, Stanya.

And outside, the cloud comes back.


Previously published by Transmundane Press, 2019


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

The boy standing at the counter of the game, a ball toss where the contestant must throw softballs into large milk cans, has never made a fuss over possessions, and has never had many to fuss over. His jeans, a light gray denim that have faded over time, are the only pair he owns, and he is worried that his companion, the brown-haired, brown-eyed girl from study hall, will notice the smell. A hot wash cycle and a sample of expensive detergent have not gotten the stench out, and if she gets too close she will catch the smell of someone who goes home and sits on old sofas atop old carpets, and who pulls cheap food—pastas and off-brand snacks—out of cheap cabinets.

   The boy has wanted things before, of course, but not in a way that consumes people. He has always had a place to eat and a place to sleep, and he is ok with that. In the warm months his stomach becomes hungry when he walks down the street and catches the aroma of steaks and sausages, but he can live with boxed macaroni and processed meat and fish sticks. When he becomes hungry for more he thinks of the double shifts that his mother works, and he is ok again.

   But now he has, at the age of 15, been struck with something unusual, a desire for something silly and idle. Behind the display of milk containers there are rows upon rows of stuffed animals—purple hippos and green serpents and orange gorillas, and in the back, resting above all of the prizes, a giant teddy bear, stitched so that its face is in a smile, and its tongue is sticking out and to the side, resting on its cheek, as if the bear is trying to lick the last morsels of some treat. The bear holds a milkshake in one hand and a chocolate chip cookie in the other.

   The brown-haired girl from study hall slides her arms around the elbow of the boy and squeezes him. She can see herself holding the bear, squeezing it to herself and giggling. In her mind she is skipping away from the counter, the animal pressed under one arm, as she swings her cotton candy with the other. This is what the boy senses as she tugs at his arm, and he is glad that his yard work has put a few extra dollars in his pocket. He closes his eyes and sees himself throwing the ball, and on the first try it lands in the can perfectly, without even scraping the opening. It plops in the bottom with a dull, metallic thud, and the bear is in the girl’s arms, and her mouth is on his mouth and her tongue is on his tongue. He has never imagined such warmth before, but he can taste it. It is wet and salty, and it only seems fair to him that this should happen.

   The boy takes out three crumpled dollar bills and puts them on the counter, and as he does so a clerk appears from behind a white curtain. He does not take the money, but studies the boy. The clerk is tall, dressed in a tattered suit and a bowler hat. His face is thin and drawn in, with harsh lines on his cheeks and grey stubble on his neck. His eyes, an ocean blue, are set deep in puffy eyelids, like two marbles pressed into putty. He places his palms on the counter, and his hands are so thin and grey that the boy thinks that the hands are bones.

   I am sorry, the man says, but I have to close the game down now.

   The boy protests. He crosses his arms and says that he saw people playing at it only a few moments ago, as he and his date sat on a crooked bench and chewed on the opposite ends of a jumbo soft pretzel.
   I am sorry, the man says, but I have to close the game down.

   The boy, who has never wanted anything before, at least not in this way, is angry and confused. He snatches the bills and holds them close to the chest of the clerk, and he says that he just wants one try, and that if he misses he will cut his losses and leave.

   The dollar bills hang in the air for an eternity, and the boy can see nothing else around him but those pieces of paper, stinking of gasoline and motor oil and grass clippings. A breeze blows through the carnival. The bills flap,  and the boy tightens his grip, and he leans forward and mouths please, oh please, just one chance please.

   The man narrows his eyes and looks at the boy, through the boy, and the boy looks back and doesn’t see eyes but storms—two tiny typhoons trapped in white orbs. 

   He crosses his arms and, in a voice that sounds more like croaking than speech, says that he does not like the look of the youth in front of him, and that kids like him are not careful. The boy looks at the pile of softballs and the milk cans and asks how he would need to be careful for such a silly and harmless game. The man just stares harder and grunts.

   Before the boy pushes the dollars towards the man, he notices that the bills are gone. That they’ve been snatched up by the thin fingers, as if a skeleton had plucked fruit from a tree.  The boy looks down, and there are three softballs sitting on the counter, white but stained with black and brown smudges. He picks one up and studies it, and he thinks about how many hands have tossed this ball before, up and towards the container, hoping for the biggest score that one can get at a carnival.

   The girl from study hall pokes him in the arm and points to the display of prizes, her sights set on the teddy bear, and she steps aside and gives her companion space. The boy steps back, shifting the ball from one hand to another, his mind weighing the advantages of over and underhanded throws. He sees the ball move in a perfect arc, not flying but floating, every motion calculated against the breeze and the position of the destination.

   He realizes that, without his permission, the ball has left his hand, that it is barreling  towards the can without his intent. He hears a dull thud as the ball smacks against the side of the milk can, nowhere near the target.

   He is aware that he is sweating, that his face and neck are coated in cold perspiration, and as he reaches down for the second ball something occurs to him: his arms are limp. His hands have no feeling. No energy. The moment has put his fight or flight chemicals into motion, and his body has told him that he had better get away, get away, far far away.

   The boy places his fingers around the second ball, his eyes locked on the fingertips and knuckles that he can no longer feel. He pulls the ball up and into position. He is terrified that it will simply roll from his hand and onto the counter, where it will plop down and roll off at the feet of the clerk.

   He looks at the clerk, who is standing off to the side, arms crossed and with no expression, and he returns his gaze to the cans.  They seem so much further away now, as if something has stretched the space between the counter and the targets. The cans are far away and the holes in them look too small for the projectiles.

   He brings his arm down and back and up, letting the ball fly from an underhanded toss, and he is sure that he has come close this time. Perhaps very, very close. The ball lingers, almost pauses, and then smacks the lip of the container. It bangs against one side, and back against the other, much like a pin-ball between two bells, and it starts to spin around the top, round and round, so fast that the boy can hardly see it at all. He bites his lip, anticipating the moment where he can celebrate, but as he does so the ball spins  around the top of the can and flies up and out to the side, landing squarely in the palm of the clerk.

   There is no fancy motion for the final toss. No pause. The boy throws and watches the ball fly to the can, hit the side of the lid, and fall to the grass below. The boy looks to the girl from study hall, who has turned her head and pretends to pay attention to something off to the side, perhaps some commotion at the cotton candy cart, or the marquee lights on the Ferris wheel. He gently elbows her in the arm, gives a wink and says hey, no worries. It’s been a while since I’ve played a game like this but I’m just warming up.

   He produces more bills from his pocket, and instead of waving them he smacks them on the counter, confident that his currency is now good in this establishment. He closes his eyes and envisions success because that is what people have said about success, that if you just  push out negative thoughts with portraits of the right trophy or office space or bank account, that simply making the picture in your mind will be enough.

   When he opens his eyes there are three softballs in front of him again, and the clerk is standing to the side, and the girl from study hall is resting one hand on the counter and twirling a lock of her brown hair with the other, and it seems that in one motion his arms are drawing back, and then forward, and then back again, and in a single moment he sees all three tries go close, but fall short, and he hasn’t a moment to think before he’s reaching into his pocket again, producing more cash, and throwing again, and reaching in his pocket again, and throwing once more. He is in the moment, with no surroundings, and all he knows how to do is pay and try and pay again. His mouth is dry, and when he reaches into his pocket he realizes that he is down to his last funds.  His fingers, sore and stiff, fumble for the bills, and as he pulls them from his jean pocket he sees that things have changed.

   The wall of stuffed prizes is not an assortment of stuffed toys, but a congregation— a sea of spectators with tiny black eyes and grins that are wide and lined with sharp teeth. This is true for all of the prizes, for the snakes and hippos and gorillas, and for the giant Teddy Bear, which is no longer holding a milkshake and a cookie, but two open palms, hands coated in something goopy and red. The bear tilts its head back and, as the boy throws the first ball and misses, opens its mouth in laughter. The ball, missing its target, finds itself in the jaws of a snake. The ball slides down the throat and into the belly of the serpent. It settles and flattens and is gone.

   Two tries left.

   The boy pulls back and releases, and the ball sails wildly, worse than before, up and over the canister and into the eye of one of the hippos. The ball smacks the eye and squishes, sounding like a ripe watermelon splattered against pavement. The animal wails, tossing its limbs about, and in a moment the serpents are on it, slithering over the mangled eye and the trails of blood around the creature’s face, and there  are bites and chomps, over and over, right before one of the gorillas grabs the front arms of the victim and rips them, tears them off. There is one more cry, and then silence.

   The carnival prizes are as they were before: rows of purple hippos and green serpents and orange gorillas, though there is one less hippo in the display, and there is only one more ball on the counter. The boy’s pockets are empty. There are no more tries after the next one.

   He tosses his last shot, and it is perfect. He knows that it will sink into the can and it does, disappearing into the container without a sound. He hears it swish and whirl inside the cylinder, and he throws his arms up in celebration. He leaps on the counter, planting his shoes atop it, and in an instant his hands are around his love, his girl, his crush, and as he leans in for the kiss he hears a sound, a popping noise, a thump with a high pitched tone.

   He turns to see the ball shoot out from the canister, up and over the row of prizes and against the roof of the tent. It falls to the grass, where it is quickly scooped up by the clerk.

   The boy feels something that he has never felt, something that he does not know how to process: rage.

    He moves, but has no control of his new self. His shoulders and arms and legs have become another person, and they take him in a single motion, up and over the counter, until the boy tackles the clerk. His hands find the skinny neck of the bony man, and the two tumble over each other and disappear behind the curtain and outside the tent.

   The boy looks up and sees that it is just he and the man and the darkness and the thousands of stars that dot the sky. His hands grip the clerk’s neck. They squeeze it, and the parts of his mind that would shut off aggression have stopped turning. There is only pressure and instinct, and as his fingers squeeze around a neck that turns white, the boy takes joy in seeing the face above that neck turn red and blue and purple. The clerk’s eyes bulge more, and the boy thinks that he will scoop these orbs out, just as he might use a crust of bread to extract the yoke from a soft boiled egg.

   The boy feels his hands tighten further. The clerk spits and gurgles, and underneath these sounds the youth can hear something beneath the flesh buckle and crack. He is not sure if  he is really this angry at the clerk, or if he is just trapped in some dream, and in this state he constricts the neck further until there is a distinct, harsh snap. The clerk’s body goes limp, and his eyes, though still bulging from the sockets, are suddenly dim and without expression. It is as if someone has flipped a switch. The clerk is a doll and he has been turned off, and he will not turn on again, and if the boy looks for the panel in his back to change the batteries he will find the chamber useless and corroded.

   The clerk’s body, still warm in the moments after death, becomes warmer. The boy can feel it heating up, just like a skillet with fresh slabs of bacon. The body sizzles and smokes, and the boy leaps back in horror, checking to see if his own skin is cooking. It is not, and though he is alive his skin feels stiff and cold.

   The boy watches as smoke rises from the clerk’s clothing. From the victim’s eyes and nose and mouth. The sizzling is louder, and there are spitting noises. Popping noises, and in a moment there is too much smoke to see, but there is a smell, a deep and rich smell, one that might strike one as delicious, the boy thinks. Just like the fresh sausages on his walks in the warm months.

   The smoke clears, the sizzling stops, and there is no clerk anymore; only the impression of someone who might have taken rest in the grass, but nothing else. The smell lingers.

   The boy panics, and in a moment he envisions himself in pursuit by the police, and then in handcuffs, and then in a frogmarch to the courthouse, and then in an old transport van, followed by a prison hallway that smells of mildew, where he is processed and stripped and sprayed down and assigned a number as he is tossed into a ten by ten room with a concrete bed.

   He turns and dashes back into the tent. He thinks that he might see the clerk there, but he does not. What he does see is a line of customers at the game, and all of them look at him expectantly. At the front of the counter is a tall boy, perhaps his age or a year older, but much stronger and better groomed. He is wearing a tank-top with the logo of a local high school football team, and around his arm, the boy notices the girl, his girl, the brown-haired brown-eyed girl from study hall.

   At least it looks like her, but the marquee lighting on the booth and the neon signs at the fishing game across the lane and the lights from the Ferris wheel and the scrambler all blur together in something like time-lapse photography, and suddenly the boy is not sure if the girl at the counter is that girl. The lights fade and twinkle and flash, and each time they do he is sure, and then unsure, and then sure again.

   He finds that he is breathing heavily, so heavily that he cannot hear the youth at the counter say hey. Come on man I just want to play a round ok?

   The boy, thinking himself a killer, is confused. He looks down at this feet and runs his hands down his thighs, and he realizes that he is wearing the same outfit that the clerk had on moments ago, down to the shoes and socks, with the same bowler hat on his head.

   At this moment two carnival workers move behind the line of customers. They are carrying something rectangular, and it appears heavy. They strain under the weight of it, and as they pass the booth they look squarely at the boy, and he can see that they are short and impish, with scraggly limbs and hunched backs, and their eyes are red and they glare at the boy as he stares at their cargo. The cargo is a mirror, a warped mirror designed for the mazes of a funhouse, and in that mirror the boy sees not his own face, but the face of the clerk,  blackened from burns and sizzling, infected wounds spurting puss. Before the boy can scream the imps and the mirror have gone, disappearing into the thick of the carnival.

   The boy knows that there are sounds, but he does not hear them. He only sees the youth and his girl, or some girl, standing in front of him, and the youth is waving a clump of dollar bills. New ones. Crisp ones. As if by habit, as if from year’s worth of muscle memory, the boy takes the bills and pockets them and places three softballs on the counter. The boy steps to the side, and a single ball flies through the air, uneventfully, right into the center can. The ball makes a thud and rolls around the bottom of the container and stays.

   The boy does not think on things further as he hands over the giant teddy bear, the cute one with the milkshake in one hand and the cookie in the other, to the girl who might very well be the one from study hall with brown hair and brown eyes, who was very glad to say yes, please, I would love to go to the carnival. As she squeezes the bear and leaps away with the youth, he thinks on nothing as the next customer, a lanky kid with freckles and a thick pair of glasses, approaches. The kid looks up and, with a smile that is nervous and hopeful, asks how many throws he can get for a dollar.


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


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

A visit to the morgue in summertime is never a pleasant experience, but it is especially miserable whenever the death house in question resides in a small town, far removed from the sophistication of larger cities. I tried my best to give Gallagher, the morgue-keeper, the impression that I was as calm as the unfortunate customers he worked upon when I arrived to view, and hopefully identify, the body of a man who fit the description of my brother.

Gallagher was a short, bald fellow of an ornery disposition, with the sagging skin of a person who has lost too much weight in too short a period of time. He greeted me with an indifferent nod when I entered the red brick building, where my nostrils were immediately assaulted by the foul stench of decay. I thought there would be a vestibule or perhaps a lobby of some sort– a room that would serve as a buffer between the living and the dead– but I was wrong.

“You must be Newcomb,” said the morgue-keeper. “I’ve been expecting you.” At least that’s what I think he said; I can only recall my visceral reaction, the sheer disgust at the first sight of that dreadful place. Gallagher chuckled. “I see by your expression that the Adams County morgue has exceeded your expectations of excellence,” he said, gesturing grandly toward a row of marble slabs lining the far wall, each one occupied by stinking, bloated, discolored things that had once been living, breathing human beings. They had long since succumbed to the ravages of putrification and, to my surprise, appeared moist and glistening like bullfrogs just out of the pond. I immediately realized that Gallagher was being sarcastic. 

“They tell me you’re from Philadelphia,” mused the morgue-keeper. “A lovely morgue you’ve built yourselves there on Wood Street. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and it is quite true what they say, that the new Philadelphia morgue is no less grand that the death houses of Berlin or London. I wager that is the type of institution you were expecting, am I correct?”

“I’m not sure,” I finally replied, the words stumbling around my mouth like a drunkard, foreign and strange like the morgues of Europe to which Gallagher alluded. “My apologies, sir. One so quickly forgets that some modern marvels like refrigeration and electricity have yet to reach a town like this.”

“Death stops for no man. The Grim Reaper doesn’t give a fig about progress,” he stated gravely. “And I reckon I don’t care for it much myself.” 

My eyes finally adjusted to the dim interior of the gloomy building, which was illuminated by a handful of gas lamps, before falling upon a curious sight– several large peach baskets, precariously stacked atop each other, lined against the wall. Each basket was filled to the brim with gloves, hats, and scarves, and each item was marked with a paper tag, upon which was written a number in greasy black pencil. “Personal effects of the deceased,” explained Gallagher. “It is how relatives and friends identify the bodies of their loved ones. If they wait too long, that is.” Gallagher reached into one of the baskets and withdrew an expensive silk handkerchief, then nodded toward a glistening torso on the nearest slab whose arms and lower half had been removed, as if by some violent force. The head, thankfully, had been covered by a black sheet. 

“A trackwalker from the Reading Railroad brought him in on Thursday. Found him a little after midnight. A few of the trackwalkers went out again after sunrise, but they failed to locate the arms and legs. Probably still stuck on the cowcatcher. That’s usually what happens.”

“How ghastly!” I exclaimed, unable to suppress my horror, but the morgue-keeper couldn’t resist a smile; he was in his glory, reveling in his work and smug in the knowledge that few men had the constitution required for the gruesome position. It was likely Gallagher had few visitors to the morgue, and thus he relished each rare opportunity to interact with those who stumbled into his death house. My attention was then diverted to the long wooden trough that ran the length of the floor, elevated slightly at one end. The strange contraption carried a trickle of water across the room, which spilled through a cast iron grate at ground level. The trickle was coming from the corpses.

“It was the Phillipsburg express what did him in,” Gallagher explained, as he slowly massaged the fine fabric of the handkerchief between his thumb and forefinger like a purchaser of silk examining the wares of a merchant in an exotic market. “Well, go on then!” he finally barked, gesturing distastefully toward the shrouded torso. “Is he your brother or isn’t he? I haven’t got all day.” The morgue-keeper looked down at his pocket watch and grumbled something about having to catch the noon train to Lancaster.

Before I could answer there came a heavy knock at the door. Gallagher opened it and two brawny men barged into the morgue, with ghastly iron hooks dangling from their hands. Clenched like helpless prey between the metal claws were blocks of ice, each one coated with a light sprinkling of sawdust. The men shuffled past and deposited the blocks on the floor before beating a hasty, silent retreat from Gallagher’s morbid castle.

Meanwhile, I peered through the doorway into the blinding sunlight and observed an enormous black mare hitched to a wagon. The impatient animal snorted and pawed at the curbstone as it anxiously awaiting the return of the icemen. It seemed as if the horse recognized the stench of death wafting from the red brick building. Once the icemen departed Gallagher lifted the blocks, one in each hand, and emotionlessly placed them upon the bloated torsos of the unidentified dead. Eight-pound blocks of ice on the chest; this is how country morgues endeavor to delay the spoilage of their gruesome inventory. 

Gallagher’s waist-coat opened slightly as he lifted each block, and in the light of the gas lamp I saw that he was wearing my brother’s silver pocket watch. I was certain that it was William’s watch, for I had never seen another like it.

“I’d prefer not to look beneath the shroud,” I finally replied, somewhat sheepishly. Looking into the face of a dead family member, I realized, was a lot like executing a somersault– it is a task far easier to imagine than to actually perform. 

“You’ve come all the way from Philadelphia to identify the body!” bellowed the impatient morgue-keeper, who obviously had a keen distaste for dawdlers.

I explained to Gallagher there was another way I could identify the body, while at the same time being spared the horror of seeing William’s pallid face. “My brother possessed a most remarkable silver watch,” I explained. “He never went anywhere without it. Although the limbs are missing, the torso lying on the slab seems to be otherwise intact. Surely his pocket watch would’ve survived the accident.”

Gallagher harrumphed and then subconsciously tugged at his waist coat. He firmly declared, with no small measure of indignation in his voice, that no watch had been found on the body, only the silk handkerchief.

“Strange story about that watch,” I said, recalling the story I had once been told by William. “Back in Philadelphia it has been said that the timepiece is possessed by a hoodoo curse. My brother was something of a collector of curiosities, so naturally the item appealed to him when he came across it. The first owner was a fellow by the name of Dobbs, I believe. One day, many years ago, Dobbs glanced at his watch and saw to his utter consternation that it was seven minutes fast. He’d been meticulous when it came to winding the timepiece, which had never given him any prior trouble, and so he thought he must be late. Fearing that he would miss his train home, he sprinted out of his office and was run down by a carriage speeding down Broad Street.”

“Probably just a coincidence,” scoffed Gallagher, tugging at his waist coat once again.

“Perhaps,” I agreed, “but there are others who swore the watch kept perfect time– right up to the moment of tragedy. The widow Dobbs, for instance. Wishing to keep the timepiece as a memento, she took the watch to a jeweler on Lombard Street for repairs one January. When she returned home with the watch, she complained to her daughter that it was running seven minutes fast. Believing that she had been fleeced by the jeweler she scampered back to the shop for a refund, but in her haste she slipped on a patch of ice on the sidewalk, breaking her neck.”

“Stranger things have happened,” Gallagher replied, though I detected a note of nervousness in his voice. “Work for thirty years in a morgue and you will have seen things you hadn’t thought were possible.” 

“Possibly, Gallagher, but you may think otherwise when I tell you about the fate of the junk dealer.” The morgue-keeper shifted his weight from one foot to another, and once again I caught a glimpse of silver beneath his waist-coat.

“Continue, Newcomb, but make it quick,” he barked. “I really cannot afford to miss my train.”

“The daughter, who was quite convinced the watch was cursed, gave it to a junk dealer,” I continued. “He was found dead in his shop the following morning– a bullet through his brain and an antique revolver on the floor. The coroner said it was a suicide, precipitated by business troubles. At least that was the story my brother told me after he purchased the pocketwatch from a curio shop in Fishtown.”

“Sounds like the story is worth more than the watch,” laughed Gallagher. We stared at the limbless corpse for a painfully long and uncomfortable moment. 

“I don’t know if I believe in curses, either,” I finally admitted, “but William was always so careful. I just don’t understand how something like this could’ve happened.” 

Gallagher’s eyes flashed with alarm, and a sinister gleam in his pupils suggested that an idea had come to him. “Wait right here, Newcomb,” he said, ambling across the damp cement floor toward one of the peach baskets against the wall. Gallagher might’ve been an excellent morgue-keeper, but he would have been an abject failure as a magician. His sleight-of-hand wasn’t the least bit convincing; though his back was turned to me, I distinctly saw him withdraw the watch from his vest pocket and drop it into the basket as he knelt and pretended to rummage though its orphaned contents.

“As a matter of fact, I did recover a pocketwatch from one of the bodies,” he said with a warm smile. “I’d completely forgotten about it, but your unusual story jogged my memory. Would this happen to be the watch that belonged to your brother?”

I looked closely at the tarnished silver and examined the ancient glass and the parchment dial yellowed with age, and then I laughed. “No, thank goodness!” I proclaimed triumphantly. “That most certainly is not William’s watch.” Gallagher sighed with great relief and ushered me toward the door. I thanked the morgue-keeper for his time, shook his cold, clammy hand, and retreated from the Adams County death house just as the church bells chimed their noon song, and when I returned to Philadelphia I made the necessary arrangements to have my brother’s remains shipped home for burial.


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.


“Cleanse” Dark Poetry by Nancy Byrne Iannucci

I will summon Satan
to the center of my damaged self
that clings cold to me.
His horns will rise 
like a forklift and rake it 
away with you.

There are a multitude of mannequins
weathering in windows waiting 
to take my perdition.
He’ll devour their torsos and limbs,
make it snow fiberglass bones

down His belly like the slob
Giotto painted in Padua.
Think of the pleasure 
I’ll have to never see you drink again,
after this co-dependency slips down the shoot
towards hell right into His dirty mouth.

What will be left is me,
myself again, without you,
ready to begin again, 
sick, sick of me with you,
So sick I’ve become
that I’ve asked Satan to come
and cleanse me from you.


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/


Five Horrific Poems by Emma Deimling

The Silence of a Wood

Burned forest unraveling, 
One branch sparks and snaps, 
Nighttime thunderclouds tucked underneath 
The wings of crows, 
Cackling and cawing, 
Their blurry shadows contort into 
Monsters over the cornstalks. 
One by one, 
They dropped out of the sky
Wings bent onto the frozen ground. 
Feathers snapped, bones decayed
Bodies rot in heaps around me 
In an unburied mass grave of soared dreams. 
Dirt crusted fingernails,
Bare feet slipping over wood, wet and heavy,
Stumbling and shivering, tumbling 
Down into the frozen mud.  
Ice cuts into pale exposed skin, the wind 
Whispers, speaks, but she doesn’t understand.
Coldness seeps under her skin and burrows into
Her bones, and all that is left is 
Ice and dirt and loss and silence. 

Tree Nymph Unraveling

A tree is just a tree until it isn’t,
Until it is a girl 
With grief slipping off her
Like a second skin decomposed,
shredded away the dimness
Of the daylight. 
Pine needles stick out 
From underneath her skin,
Moss choked down her throat,
Crawling towards sunlight
She can never touch no matter
How far she reaches.

A tree is just a tree until it isn’t, 
Until it is a girl with 
Moonlight oozing through her veins,
Clumping up around the stars 
Jutting out of her heart.
A weak breeze trickles like blood
Out of her nose, out of her ears 
As the branches scratch at her eyes.
The forest is eating her alive, one
Heartbeat at a time. 

A tree is just a tree waiting until it isn’t,
Until a girl came along and  
Reimagined it into something else 
When her brothers told her 
To go play hide and seek. 
Another season, another year, another time, 
But no one remembers to dream under her bows 
And free the girl curled up inside. 
 

Anxiety

guilt-gnawing 
crawl-creeping 
down into a Summarization of piped-up thoughts
Spider-Skulking into my throat
ink Scrawling 
groping
Smattering my Spit with
laced-up ankle weights ballooning around my neck
Sloshing 
assimilating into a comfort of 
Self-hate as they marvel me 
Spider-Silking into my bones 
Sticky-Skeleton turning inside out 
Soft-Skin flaking and raw 
mauling
Strip-Shriveling in the dark
around the Shadow of my 
Sacrilege-clotted heart
 

Pumpkin Faces

a time for laughter
and freshly burnt cider,
apple bobbing—
biting, 
rich caramel to eat.

a time for hay bales,
corn mazes 
and carved out faces 
behind skeletal masks
while the actual skeletons dance
in their graves
as they suffocate
screaming to be let out 
shout, shout
ten feet 
underneath.

dulled orange and smoldering red, 
a time for death
running out the blessed,
haunting something sweet
children, please, 
no trespassing,
leaves drifting to and fro,
adults poisoned candy sweets,
he-he,
trick or treat,
and all the kitties drop dead

boo,
too late to hide,
the children locked in the morgue still alive
in their crypts screaming
oh, it’s halloween

Faded

You watch the woman weep 
Behind peeling strips of yellow
Wallpaper,
Curling, tearing, screaming—
Plastered in, 
Tightening, suffocating, drowning in the 
Splattered pigments bleached by her putrefying skin. 
Creaking, scratching, she tries fruitlessly 
To get out, to breathe.
You tuck your head with your 
Pillow, try to stifle her screams,
Pleading, begging, raging, seething with 
Unquenched revenge.
Her outline braces out of the walls
But is quickly swept back in,
Again and again. 
When everything dies back into silence,
You hesitantly walk over to the paper,
Reach out to touch the faded print.
Too late, recognition is all she needs. She
Free of her prison and writhes on the 
Floor. She whimpers, curls into a ball,
Chest heaving, breathing, free.
When you gently lift her face up 
To look into her eyes,
Your own face 
Stares back at you. 


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. 


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

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

“What the Water Brought” Dark, Apocalyptic Fiction by Keith Good

We were vampires at that riverbend, desperate to suck the blood from eternity. We drank and smoked, always headlight, never drunk, always one joint and six bottles. The sun before us never set. The willows behind us never swayed. Only the river moved. It roared around us, a world-serpent protecting our beach, our private eternity. I thought we’d bask in endless summer, forever seventeen.

I only really remember the end. I remember Maggie plucking that joint from behind her ear. The sun blazing her short-threshed hair. They would shear us like sheep in the group homes. Retribution for acting “unmannerly.” God, Maggie. My deeper stomach growled, imagining her bristles whrrshing my palm. The slow ease as the joint rolled between her fingertips.

“How long have we been here?” She said. My memories of that beach are an echo of an echo, scenes layered one atop the next like muslin.

Porky scooped white sand, watched it sift through his fingers. “Does it matter? …It matter? …Matter?”

Needles marched up my back. The running was my idea. The being, though. The being I never figured.

After the cataclysm, the light and heat that cracked our eggshell sky, we orphans swarmed to “Group Homes,” old libraries and bombed-out schoolhouses, cots stacked to infinity. The nights stretched for days. The wailing cries. The air choking with piss festering in corners. We couldn’t stay. Wouldn’t. Porky, head soft as his middle, took little convincing. Maggie overheard us, though, and wouldn’t be dissuaded. Without parents, she said, soon to be without childhood, anything beat conscription. Frozen dead running through fallout or fodder to an unwinnable war, we had nothing to lose. We gambled house money. The world was ending anyway. We may as well end with it.

The Truant Patrols, practically children themselves, lit on us almost instantly. Our careful plans unraveled to frayed improvisations. Hand in hand we ran through the forest, toward the crater where that first bomb fell. Snow and ash smothered us. Poison scorched our lungs. Sweat froze to our skin. But then, at the brink of all darkness…we remembered. I don’t know how else to explain. We remembered. Oh yes, the sun! And the feeling of a full belly. We remembered warmth and comfort. Like I said, I don’t quite remember how we found the riverbend. Only that, when we needed it, it found us.

Six beers sat in the sand. A joint appeared between Maggie’s fingers. Porky found the tangle of strawberry vines and no matter how fast we plucked them, there were always thousands more. We didn’t ask why until it was too late.

Maggie turned her gaze upstream. “What good is endless summer if we’re alone?”

I flung my empty beer to the water. The river, our insatiable serpent, snatched it. Another bottle sprouted in its place. Its iridescent stem broke sand, a glass rope twisting up. It glinted toward the sun, quivering for a heartbeat before flowering into another beer.  

“What good is endless summer if it ends?” These questions churned the earth of us, pushing forward what I tried to hold in stasis. Grime and guilt coated my insides. Coarse twine bit my waist, tied to these questions, always tugging.

“Maggie, if you’re such hot shit,” Porky pulled yet another beer from the sand and decapitated it with a violent twist, “then swim back.”

Maggie flicked the joint to the water. Gossamer threads precipitated from the sky, droplets of dewfall stretching and weaving behind Maggie’s ear, forming another half-smoke. Without regard to the umpteenth prestige of this magic, she put it to her lips, took an easy drag, and passed to me. I shivered to taste the salt of her mouth. Smoke curled up the back of my throat. I pulled a sigh, let the smoke smother, for a moment at least, the uneasiness which stood uneroded against eternity.

“Can we really stay forever?” Maggie said.

We’d had that conversation before. That exact conversation. Given enough time, words can only arrange themselves so many ways.

“Why would you want to leave?” Porky answered.

“Says the tubby virgin.”

“Fuck off, Maggie.” Porky’s shoulders lost their slouch. “The only dick you ever saw was your own.”

“At least I have a—”

“Guys!” I stepped between them, palms stretched, the stitch on a seam ready to pop. I remember the dizziness of it. My thrumming heart. At last, I thought, something new.  

“No, Gabe.” Maggie shouldered past, kicked sand to the tree line hemming our little riverbend, stomping the blood from our strawberries. “Porky’s right.”

“For the last fucking time!” Porky’s knuckles grazed my shoulder in wild swing toward Maggie’s back. “My name is Pablo! We’re not fucking children anymore, that shit isn’t funny.”

“We are, though,” Maggie shot back. “Kids.”

Stasis shifted. I felt the breaking, a lump high in my throat like looking at glass shards glittering over a wood floor. I reached, grasped Maggie’s wrist. Frost sliced my skin. Ahead, willows bowed to snow and ash. Behind, summer warmed by back. I straddled eternities, one foot damp and warm, the other permafrost.

“Let go.” Snow fluttered over Maggie’s hair, her face. Against her rose cheek, the flakes looked almost white again. She tugged my hand. “Or face it together.”

Her pulse raced rapids under my fingertips, skin throwing off tendrils of dusky heat. I breathed her, woozy from the smell, head swimming like that very first pull of beer. Like the relief of finally escaping the Group Home.

“Guys! Something coming!” Porky pulled me back toward stasis, voice whistling excitement. His hand in mine and mine in Maggie’s, we formed a chain binding worlds. I hesitated.

Given eternity, Maggie only needed the one moment. She twisted her wrist from mine. “It’s okay.”

“A boat.” Porky said.

“Maggie!”

Porky tugged and I relented. Black snow swallowed Maggie. Her faint smile, the one crooked tooth, a glimmer of hazel, always trouble in her eyes…then blackness.  

“Gabe!” Porky pulled me to sand. We crouched, hearts beating in step. The sun warmed trouble from my brow. Buzzed on beer, we imagined ourselves Hemingway’s banditos, couched in a mountain cave, preparing counterstrike to the generalissimo’s thunder.

The willows upriver swayed.

“A breeze…?” I said.

The leaves deformed to a point. A prow breached darkness like a finger pushing through plastic. The air soured, thick with the viscera and blood of the Group Home hospital wing. Orphans born to orphans. The swarming monsters forced to gnaw on afterbirth or starve. A mess of rust and rotted wood emerged, bobbing unsteady on the current.

“A boat,” I whispered. And then, so quiet, even Porky didn’t hear, hope dared escape my mouth: “Can we go back?”

“I never understood why you hang out with Maggie.”

“She’s my friend,” I said, “like you’re my friend.”

We held our breaths until we ached, until our chests were again full and another breath would pop us like balloons. We strained through silence. The boat examined each eddy and swirl, unhurried even in the swift current. After ages, eons, its metal nose sliced the shore. It stopped, stern quivering, ready to answer the water’s call.

“Smell that?” Porky snuffed up over our ridgelet. “Mom’s meatloaf.”

“You think everything smells like meatloaf.”

But the idea had already germinated. A vine of thought bound Porky’s ankles, pulled him over sand.

“Jesus, Porky,” I said, “it could be Truant Patrol! You’ll get us conscripted!”

Porky’s eyes bulged. He caressed the boat’s lip. And then I smelled it too, but warm and sugary: cookies. Cirrus memories drifted past: Mother’s gingham apron, the lingering warmth of the oven on a winter morning, raw dough heavy and sweet on my tongue. Before the snow, before the world turned under our feet.  

Porky jolted back.

I jolted too. “What?”

Porky’s face stretched grotesque with a joy I could not share. In the cross hatch of my eyelashes I saw black flakes falling from the sun. I saw our Group Home, all concrete and right angles, singing its ode to Brutalism. A feeling gnawed my insides, something terrible and grownup I had yet to name.

“Meatloaf,” he said.

“Porky.” A lump ached my throat. “They’re gone. The bomb killed them all.”

Porky stretched over the lip, tumbled into the boat. It slid free from sand.

“Porky!” I shot from our blind.

Sunlight slicked his plastic smile. His eyes devoured the upriver darkness. He tipped starboard, almost capsized, paddled against the current. “Gabe! We can go back.”

“Porky. We have all the time in the world here.”

“Time?”

I inched closer. Silt squished my toes. If I only could have grabbed Porky’s wrist… But he shoved. The bowl of sky tipped and spilled over me and I fell. Sand scraped my cheek, my elbows. Ironcold water filled my mouth. I stretched my neck to see Porky swept downriver. He slapped against the water’s pull, sapphires splashing from our serpent

Too late, much too late, he found the current would not be fought. “Gabe!” He thrashed, desperate and powerless. “Gabe!” Then he was gone. Not an echo or a ripple. One moment a scream and then stillness. The serpent roared into darkness, swift and unceasing.

I drank and smoked. I skipped stones which sank. Beer after beer after beer but the buzz was a photocopy of a picture I could not recall posing for. Cold crept in, displaced the light and heat. I searched the sky for hours, days, straining for some sign to bring them back. The path back to any of it. The blue curtain dissolved and black snow fell from the sun. I killed time that would not die.

“Wait, where’s Pork—er, Pablo?”

I turned. A shape emerged from the willows’ shadow, her face a puzzle of lines.

“Pablo said something about a boat?”

Memory came into focus.

“Maggie!” I threw my arms around her neck. She was real, solid, warm.

“Whoa, Gabe,” she stepped away, smiling. “Pablo said there’s a boat?”

“Pablo?” I couldn’t grasp it. It was steam. “Boat?”

“Everyone’s over here shouting about a boat.” Maggie cupped hands to her mouth. “Ollie ollie oxen free, Pablo! Sorry I called you a ‘tubby virgin!’”

Maggie surveyed the water, hands to hips. Her smile faded, lip sliding down over that one crooked tooth. “Where’s Porky.”

I could only look downriver.

“I stepped into the snow, but…I followed you back. Just a second.”

I shook my head. “Forever.”

“What is this place?” Maggie said.

I’d spent eternity trying to bury the thought. Drinking and smoking. Deflecting questions. But the river would hold our secrets no longer. “I think this is where lost things go.”

“I don’t want to be lost anymore.”

I plucked a beer from the silt. Even before I brought it to my lips, parching and bitter, I knew it was the last. The cold inside pushed out in a primal cry. No sun, no time could tamp it down. Eyes wet with tears, with unfairness, I launched the bottle to the damn river.

It hit not with a splash, but a clank.

Maggie squinted downstream. “Is that the boat?” She dared the river, water soaking her rolled pantcuffs. “Porky!”

I ran to her. Icy water shocked my body. I shivered, not from the cold, but from what the cold meant: where this water came from, where it must go. We yelled our friend’s return.

A length of knotty green board chopped the current. The willows parted. A boat resisted impossibility.

We stopped yelling.

Anguish in the shape of a man stood atop the rot. Kudzu rags clung to muscle. His skin was a threshed cornfield, uneven, brown, dying. Strings of hair fell over his forehead. He trained oil-black eyes on us as he approached, grunting against the current, each pull a cry.

“Leave!”

“Where’s Porky.” Damn Maggie, her head always harder than her heart.

“Porky.” The name came as a nauseous burp from the creature’s mouth.

His boat attacked the current, tail flicking, two inches sideways for every inch forward. Yet he persisted. With one last stretch, crying, his boat sliced shore. The three of us stood, hardly an arm’s length separate. Scars cross-hatched his chest. Black flakes fell from his skin. Bits of white showed through his chest, bone. Yet. The roundness of his face sparked memory.

“Porky.”

“Do you think this is a game?” Spit flung from the scars of his lips, foamed his chin. The boat rocked with his every shiver. “Cops and robbers—bang! bang! you’re dead—but we all go home at the dinner bell?”

“What else do we have?” I stepped forward. “The starving and snow? Guns and patrols? Here we have warmth. Stomachs that never growl. All the time in the world.”

The boatsman, swift as the water which bore him, curled his fingers around my neck. “Fool.”

Nails tore skin. Fire flooded my windpipe, rushed down my spine. My thrashing only stoked the pain hotter. I remember falling. I remember a faceful of sand. I remember the boat drifting, drifting, from the shore. I remember my blood eddying into the current, and the boat meandering toward darkness.

Only a child assumes a static world. Seventeen forever, I was no child. I saw sunlight trapped in glass, a comet diving from the heavens. It was Maggie. She brought the bottle down over the creature’s head. Foam exploded over our struggle, thick with sour yeast. The fires in me snuffed. I rolled onto my back, saw the creature pawing glass and beer and blood from his skull.

Maggie threw the broken bottle aside and wove her arms through mine. Together we stood. Another beer did not blossom from the sand. The joint fell from behind her ear and disappeared. She willed me toward the trees. Behind us, the creature crawled on all fours toward the departing boat.

“But…” My throat burned. I couldn’t form the words.

“There’s always choices. He made his. Now we make ours.”

Maggie tugged. I looked to Porky, then to her. The one crooked tooth. Trouble’s spark always glimmering her eyes. The dark and snow was uncertain but mine. I would hesitate no longer.

“The boat!” A cry echoed behind us. “Maggie! Gabe! Don’t leave me! We can still…” A body splashed water then silence. Only our footfalls and breaths.

We passed from sand to dirt. Wet and cold numbed our feet. We outran the river. We outran the creature. We outran time. Fat snowflakes pattered our arms and eyelashes. Harsh, brilliant life burned our lungs. When we could run no more, we walked, hand in hand, clothes jealous for the warmth of our backs, faces set to the cold ahead.


Keith Good lives in Ohio. A writer, library professional and father, he spends most of his time pretending to know more than he actually does. His work recently featured in “The SNES Omnibus, Vol.2” and “The Best of Penny Dread Tales”.


“The Monster Inside” Dark, Psychological Fiction by Mitchell Waldman

Sidney Hellman doesn’t remember who he was the last time around, if there was a last time. But how can he? None of us do. 

Still, there are clues. 

For instance, he starts seeing things. Images of events from another life. Terrible images.

He’ll be riding the elevated train to his office in the city, reading the paper, the windows of the old apartment buildings — some with the blurred faces and lives of their occupants — whizzing by, and this image will flash in his head for a second or two: piles of gaunt, decaying bodies with flies swarming around them and a voice going with it, saying “Excellent work, Field Marshal, excellent work.” He doesn’t see the face. Only hears the voice. And sees the brawny, pasty-faced Nazi soldier snapping his boots together and thrusting his arm forward, to the sky, in the standard Nazi salute, “Danke, Mein Fuhrer.”

Or throngs cheering, clapping, waving Nazi flags, as a deep guttural German voice speaks on and on, louder and louder. The funny thing is, he doesn’t understand the language, doesn’t even know what the words mean.

These flashes come at odd moments, totally without warning. Dozing in his chair, watching television, he’ll be brought terrifyingly back to wakefulness by a fat German face and voice, “Mein Fuhrer!,” or taking a walk with his dog, Arnold, down the street, it will sound like voices talking to him, or he’ll see the black smoking chimney stacks, even smell the sickly sweet smell of its output for a moment, only a second. Then, silence again, the odor gone, the visions vanished, as he’s back following Arnold, who sniffs a tree, paws the grass, searches for a place to do his business, the sun in orangish glow setting on the horizon, a sudden breeze cooling the sweat that has started trickling down his face, and the cars on the boulevard swish by in anonymity.

What is happening to me?, Sidney wonders, wiping the perspiration off his forehead. Is this a nervous breakdown? What did I do to deserve this?

He’s a Jew, a Jewish dentist. He’s had some problems (but who hasn’t!), some problems with his finances lately, namely the IRS, threatening to freeze his bank account for back taxes which he doesn’t think he owes, but hasn’t done anything about. And he has two grown sons who won’t even talk to him. Except when they need money. A lot of stress on him, a lot of pressure lately. He tends to like the scotch a little too much, and sometimes the horses. But, he’s fairly happy, has a fairly good life, a good marriage, a good business. He’s never committed a crime, has been an honest guy for the most part, would never screw someone over just for the hell of it, not like some of the other guys he knows. He’s a dentist, for God’s sakes, how much harm can he do? Break a tooth? Screw up a root canal? (Okay, guilty!)  He devotes his life to helping other people.

So what is this all about? Is he cracking up? Where are these strange images and sounds coming from? And why now, out of the blue, after forty-nine years of life? Or are they waking nightmares from old remembrances, stories told by his relatives of those awful days when so many of his relatives, ancestors perished in that darkest of dark wars? But why, he wonders, why does he seem to get these images in this particular way, from this particular viewpoint?

He hasn’t told anyone about this, not even Amy. He’s afraid they’ll, she’ll, think he’s off his rocker. She’s always said he has an active imagination. Like the time he came home early, the day the pipe broke at the office, and she came in from shopping and her lipstick looked smeared and she was blushing and said she hadn’t expected him to be home, and gave him a light hug and he smelled an unusual odor, an unusual cologne smell that he didn’t recognize. And when he questioned her, she replied, “Where do you think I’ve been?,” holding up the Macy’s bags, “off with my Latin lover?” And a little laugh then, a little forced sounding. “You have a very active imagination, Sidney Hellman,” she said then, and laughed again and, bags in hand, exited the room.

So, it comes down to this. As the occurrences of these flashes of…what…fantasy?… guilt?… memory?… increase to the point where he can no longer function, where they start occurring ten times a day, he goes to a shrink, a former classmate, Bernie Steinberg.

He’s sitting in Steinberg’s waiting room until his name is called, then shakes his old classmate’s hand in front of the receptionist’s window.

“Sid, Sid, how’ve you been, old man? It’s been a long long time.” Then Bernie — little Bernie Steinberg is how Sid remembers him, but little no longer, bearing a bit of a paunch and a halo at the top of his skull where some of his hair used to be — ushers him down the hall into an examining room. No  couch, just a straight black chair to sit in. Not what he thought. He’s never been to a shrink before.

“So,” Bernie says, rubbing his hands together, “What brings you in today, Sid? What’s going on?” He smiles a little as he says this, looking deeply into Sid’s eyes without blinking.

Sid doesn’t know what to say, where to begin. He turns his head for a moment, feels like fleeing for the door. Then he sighs, looks back at little Bernie (why does he keep thinking of him that way, the only way he’s ever known him, and thinks, “Well, maybe that will help.”)

“It’s like this, Bernie. I’ve started having these…well…visions…I don’t know what else to call them. Hallucinations? Visions? Messages from a past life? I don’t know for sure.” He stops talking, looks at this man who was a boy he knew but is now a man, a therapist he doesn’t know and wonders what he’s thinking. Not a trace of it is on his face.

A pause then, a thick silence until Bernie Steinberg makes an open-palmed gesture and says, “Go on, Sid. I’m listening.”

Sid can feel the sweat trickling down his forehead, dripping down to his cheek. “Well, well…” He laughs, self-conscious. “I know it sounds crazy, Bernie, but….”

Bernie makes a small wave and smiles again – “No judgments here, Sid, I assure you. It’s part of my job description.”

“Okay, well, it’s like this: I’ll be sitting on the train, working on a patient, sitting in my chair watching television—I never know when it’s going to happen—and all of a sudden I’ll hear something, a voice, see an image—not for more than a moment or so—just like a flash of sorts, and then it’s gone. It’s like it comes out of nowhere, out of somewhere, I don’t know…I don’t know where from. People, voices, scenes, and then, just like that, I’m back in the world like it never happened, like … I don’t know what just happened.”

Bernie looks at him with concern, puts his palms together as if in Christian prayer and and asks, “Have you ever heard voices inside your head before?”

“No, never.” Bernie is jotting things down on a pad of paper.

“And has there ever been this kind of thing that you know of in your family history? People hearing voices? Your mother, father, grandparents, brother, cousins. . . .”

“No,” he says too quickly, not wanting to tell the therapist how when he was young, very young, his mother told him and his brother that sometimes she heard angels, nor about when their father explained their mother’s extended absence from home once as time his mother was spending in a hospital to “take a much needed rest.” But after that, when she came back, nothing seemed different. Occasionally he saw her taking pills in the morning, which she said were to prevent migraines.

“And what exactly are these voices, these scenes, Sid? Are they of people or places you know?” “No, no, that’s the weird thing about them. They’re strangers all of them, strange places, and the

weirdest thing of all…now you’re really going to think I’m crazy….”

Bernie smiles again, wags his finger and says, “Unn unn uhhh, here we don’t use that word, it does nothing to help the problem, so….”

“Okay, okay. The point is, the answer is no, I don’t know these people. In fact, sometimes they don’t even speak a language I understand. They’re German, Bernie, do you understand? They address me as…how do I say this?…Mein Fuhrer!….I can’t believe I’m telling you this! And the images…I see the atrocities of the Holocaust…I see terrible terrible things. And not in my dreams, at night, but in the

middle of the day, in the daylight! I see the gas chambers, I see the piled bodies, it’s horrible, horrible! I feel like I’m losing my mind!”

Bernie is looking at Sid, not saying a word, a look of disbelief, a flush of color coming across his face for an instant, as if this professional adviser of souls, this dispassionate therapist has, for a moment, for just one moment, lost his cool. But he rebounds quickly, says “So, Sid, what do you think this means? Where do you think this is coming from?”

And this time it’s Sid who’s about to lose his cool. And he does: “Damn it, Bernie, that’s why I’m here, that’s why I came to see you! I have no damned idea where it’s coming from, what it’s about, if I’m just going off the deep edge or what! It is crazy, I don’t care what you say!”

“Now, Sid, Sid. Listen, calm down. These feelings, these images are coming from somewhere.

Somewhere inside of you I surmise. Maybe we should look into that. Tell me what’s going on in your life right now. What would cause such distressing images to be coming to your mind like this all of a sudden? Has some trauma occurred to you recently, something that you think might be setting this off?”

And there’s his childhood, Sid thinks. He can always ask me if I was beaten and abused as a

child.

So he says it, dares to say it: “What if, Bernie, it’s not that at all? What if it’s something outside of me, outside of my problems? What if it is, damn it, what if it is what it appears to be, voices from a prior life?”

Bernie, not little Bernie, but Bernie the therapist, smiles at him again. Is it condescension now, or does he think, this one, this one really is…you know…that word that we don’t use? CRAZY!

“Now, Sid, I have an open mind, but I’ve been doing this for quite a few years now, and it’s been my experience at least that there is usually a good, rational reason, an internal source for these kinds of occurrences. Traumas, buried conflicts never resolved, childhood events…those kinds of things. These are the kinds of things I would like to examine with you before we jump to … unlikely conclusions.”

So Sid talks about his childhood, his parents—they were good parents, his childhood was fairly good, living in a middle class existence, neither he nor his brother Stu were deprived or beaten as boys,

nor did they have more than the usual sibling rivalry–it was truly a good, loving family, overall, he thinks, his current home life–nothing out of the ordinary there with him and Amy, just the usual suburban life, he guesses, the children – Richie and Mitchell, both adopted, Amy couldn’t, they never could, have children, how they hadn’t talked to him in over a year, he isn’t even sure why, his job, the tax problems, etc.,  until the clock ticks down and Bernie says “This was good, a good start. We should continue more along this line next time. (Next time? Who said there was going to be a next time?) In any case, our time is up now, I’m afraid. Talk to Marilyn at the front desk about scheduling our next session in a week or so. What do you think?”

What does he think? What he thinks is Why did I even come here in the first place? What did I think this was going to resolve? A prior life, that is not an idea a psychiatrist could pretend to entertain. It’s beyond his training and skill sets. Maybe I should go to a psychic, a fortune teller, or something like that instead. But aren’t they all hacks, scam artists?

Taking the train home that evening he’s lost in his own thoughts. What if it is what he suspects it is? That he is the reincarnation of Hitler? But that’s absurd! How could that be? He never thought of himself as a bad person. Wouldn’t he, if he had Hitler’s soul, by definition have to be a bad person? And would his reincarnation as a Jew with knowledge of his past life make for Hitler’s (his??) ultimate punishment or lesson? That he has now become one of those he demonized and mercilessly murdered in a prior life on this planet? It’s insane, mind-boggling, too much to think about.

In the next few weeks, though, as the images, the flashes of the past, become more frequent and longer, he can’t get these questions, these thoughts out of his head. He has himself convinced that he’s either losing it or, yes, he is that monster reincarnated. What else could explain these things? Many of his ancestors, it’s true, did perish in the Holocaust, but what would explain the references in the flashes to him as “Mein Fuhrer” and the strange viewpoints he sees – standing on a stage as if he is looking at his admirers, a sea of Nazi-saluting people, many of them in brown shirts and many more waving the red and

white Nazi flag? He is even now, as he goes through his daily humdrum chores seeing flashes of and hearing Eva – he assumes it’s Eva Braun – talking to him, whispering in his ear. And the German he starts to understand even though he has never had a German lesson in his life!

What started as mere flashes become five minute, ten minute sessions now where he is in another world, another mind, a mind he does not want to be in, that he would give anything not to be in. But what can he do? Where can he turn? The psychiatrist would for sure think he’s losing his mind. Maybe even commit him, who knows? (Of course it would be for his own good, to get some rest, until he could sort thinks out, Sid is sure Bernie would tell him with that fucking comforting, sympathetic psychiatrist smile on his face at the time (all part of the job description!)

So it is, he’s sitting across the dinner from Amy one night, picking at the corners of his steak.

Amy is sipping her wine, looking across the table at him. She doesn’t say anything for a second, then gets it out: “What is it, Sid, what’s going on with you lately?”

“What, huh? What do you mean?” He looks at her for a moment, then down at his plate again, rubbing his forehead, feeling something like a monumental headache coming on.

“Come on, Sid. I wasn’t born yesterday. I know when something’s going on with you. It’s been going on for a while now, and I don’t know what it is. Something, something…I don’t know. You’re just not your old self. Sometimes I see you, it looks like you’re not even here anymore, that you’re off far far away somewhere.”

He doesn’t say anything, doesn’t know what to say. How can he tell her: It’s true. She doesn’t know how true.

“Hello? Earth to Sid, are you in there, Sid?” Then she gets up, grabs the plate from in front of him, even though he has barely touched his meal.

“If that’s how you’re going to be, that’s how you’re going to be.”

Her voice trails off as she heads toward the kitchen. “It’s something to do with that new receptionist, I bet, Martha, Marsha, what’s her name again?”

Shit, he thinks, here we go. He gets up slowly, pushes the chair back with a creak and follows her into the kitchen. She’s dumped the contents of his dinner – his entire steak, pretty much – into the trash, and is rinsing the plates off in the sink.

He stands behind her, within touching distance and says, softly, “No, Amy, it’s nothing like that.

Nothing to do with that.”

She reaches over, pulls the dishwasher open and puts the plates in their proper places.

“It’s just…it’s just that I haven’t been feeling well lately. It’s been a while now. I’m sorry I haven’t talked to you about it. It’s a little…a little hard to explain, really.”

She rinses the glasses, the silverware, and puts them all in the dishwasher, then closes it. She grabs the kitchen towel from the counter, wipes her hands, and turns to face him, the question on her face. “So, what, what is it, exactly, Sid? What’s so hard to explain to your wife of twenty-nine years? What is it that’s so hard to tell to me?”

His head has started throbbing now and, for once, just this once, he almost wishes that one of those surreal moments would come to him right now to help him escape this scene, this moment with his beloved wife in the kitchen, the light glaring above him, the pain pulsing in his frontal lobe, the demanding look on Amy’s face. But, of course, it doesn’t come—it isn’t something that can be called up—and he’s on his own with this.

He says it softly, looking her right in the eyes: “Amy, I think I’m losing my mind.”

She squeaks out a laugh. Then says, “What, this is some kind of joke, right? What’re you talkin’

about?”

He suggests they sit down in the living room. Amy starts to look concerned, like she’s going to cry. “Oh my God, Sid, what is it? You’re not dying, it’s not cancer…what, Sid, what?” She’s standing there, still holding the dish towel in her hands, staring at him.

He takes her by the hand and leads her to the couch.

“Sit,” he says. She just stands there, hands at her sides for a moment, then sits.

Sid starts pacing back and forth across the carpet in front of big screen TV which is usually on in the evening. He doesn’t know where to start.

“Stop, Sid, stop! Just tell me!”

He stops then and faces her, hands in front of his face.

He takes a deep breath and tells her, standing right in front of her. He tells her about the visions, all of them. The voices, the smells. How they seem to be getting longer and more frequent. How he’s being addressed as “Mein Fuhrer.” And he tells her about the trip to the psychiatrist. How he doesn’t know what’s happening to him, and then, softly in carefully measured words, tells her that maybe, just maybe he’s not going crazy, and there is a reason for what’s going on to him, that maybe he just might be who he thinks he is, or was, in a past life, it was all very confusing.

Amy looks at him with a blank stare. He doesn’t know what she’s thinking. Then it’s her turn to speak slowly and carefully, like he’s slow or hard of hearing: “Listen to me, Sid. You. Need. Help.

Serious. Help.”

He moves toward her to embrace her, but she moves away from him, says, “Don’t. Please don’t.

You scare me. I don’t know who you are.” Then she gets up and leaves the room.

That night she sleeps in the guest room, closing the door behind her.

Sid lies in bed that night, staring at the ceiling when a voice comes out of the darkness and says to him “Adolf, Adolf, ich liebe dich. Hast du mich gerne?” She loves me (him), do I love her? He hears another voice  – his own, in the deep guttural German. It’s an evasive answer. He puts his hands over his ears, wants to shout. He can’t take much more of this. It’s like he’s a character in a play he doesn’t want

to be in. Who is he, and why is this happening to him?

When the voices end, he is shaking. He gets out of bed, throws on his clothes, his jeans and a flannel shirt, then pulls on his sneakers.  He steps into the hallway, standing silent for a minute, listening to Amy’s snores from behind the guest room door. Then he goes to the kitchen and, he doesn’t know why, pulls a small kitchen knife out of the silverware drawer.  Even though this is the suburbs, this is the middle of the night, one o’clock in the morning. You don’t know what kind of crazies are out there now.

(Crazies, he’s thinking, ha! Imagine what someone who come across him with a kitchen knife shoved in his front pocket in the middle of the night would think!)

When he gets out the front door the cold air hits him. It feels good, breathing it in and out, watching the cold white cloud hitting the air.

He walks for he doesn’t know how long, expecting strange apparitions to appear in the night to attack him. But there’s nothing but quiet for the moment, and a sky full of shining stars. He walks for blocks, past Humphries closed liquor store, past the Corner Drug Store, the laundromat, and on and on, an ocean of quiet darkened houses on residential streets, until he turns around, a voice whispering in his head, a dribble of German words, and he hums softly at first, then louder to drown it out, faces of unknown men appearing, as he sits down on a stoop for a moment, tries to regain his balance, regain his mind. And then it’s gone. He gets up, walks back home, to his building, to his place in this, his current life.

In the morning he gets up, goes through his normal routine. A cup of coffee, a bowl of shredded wheat, and a look on his lap top at the latest news and at the list of horses running at the track this afternoon. No sign of Amy. She usually sleeps late. But he doesn’t hear a sound from the other bedroom. He takes a shower, dresses, and grabs his briefcase quietly, listening by the guest room door, but still there are no sounds. He makes his way out the door, and heads for work.

When he gets home that night after the usual day – his work, lunch, and six or seven surreal flashes later – he finds no sign of Amy. Instead what he finds is a note on the kitchen counter. He picks it up, stares at her neat penmanship and reads: She’s in love with another man, has been for quite a while, but didn’t know how to tell him. He hasn’t been there for her for a long time, he must know that. And now with this new “development” she couldn’t take it anymore. It’s too late for the two of them. There’s nothing he can do that will change her mind. She, or her lawyer, will contact him in a few days. He shouldn’t worry about her, she writes. She’ll be fine. She signs it simply “Amy.”

He stares, just stares at the note, not understanding the words, what this is all about. How could he have been so dumb?  He didn’t even know anything was wrong with their marriage. He’s been too absorbed with this other thing to even notice. He remembers when the two of them first met, in the park that day. He was sitting on a bench, feeding the birds. It was a warm spring day and she was walking by, then sat down beside him and gave him a great big smile. And that was it. He was done for. Six months later they were married.

Why is his life going this way?, he wonders. Well, maybe he knows why. It’s his punishment. But how can he be punished for someone else’s sins, even if they were his? … it makes no sense, none of this makes any sense at all.

Who can he talk to, a rabbi? No, he isn’t that kind of Jew. Not the religious kind. His brother? No, they haven’t spoken for some time now. Something Sid said about Lou’s German wife and the fact that he had pretty much gone along with Greta and become a Christian. How long has it been, two years now? And his father and mother were gone. An accident several years ago on the highway. A drunken driver – an elderly Holocaust survivor – driving the wrong way, had hit them head on. Somehow the driver had managed to survive, again. His parents hadn’t been so lucky. He missed them both, the long talks with his mother, and the one line witticisms and truths served up regularly by his father between innings of whatever ballgame he was watching. Yeah, that had been tough.  His sons?  No, he can’t put this kind of thing on them. And, in any case, he’s already on their shit lists for some reason or other.

Maybe it was refusing the “loans” the last time they asked. One wanted to open his own bookstore (who buys books in a store, anymore, in the age of Amazon, he’d glibly responded, with a laugh) and the other had settled in California and wanted money to start his own medical marijuana “business” – more like to buy him some weed was what Sid had thought at the time). Anyway, it made clear what his value is to them. He’s a damned ATM to both of those little shits. That’s his value. In their twenties, what do they know about anything, about the world, about shit?

So, he takes off work, tells his receptionist, Mary, to reschedule the day’s appointments, and goes to see his lifelong friend, Davie. The one who always has his back, although he doesn’t see him all that often. He has a jewelry store on the east side of town.

On the drive the voices are in his head, smokestacks appear, and he hears the crack of pistols. He keeps his hands firmly on the wheel, concentrating, keeping between the lines – it’s all he can do. It’s getting harder and harder to act normal, to live in this life with these constant bits of what seem like a movie playing in his head, before his eyes.

When he walks in the door, the bell tied to the handle jingles, and Davie steps out from behind the counter. “Oy Gutt, Sid, what gives? You look like hell!” He smiles and puts his hand on Sid’s shoulder. He ushers Sid into the backroom, getting a “Hi Sid” from Davie’s wife, Lorraine, who guards the counter as they go.

And in the back room, sitting in a folding chair in front of Davie’s desk piled with folders and papers and bills next to his ancient computer, Sid tells about it all. About the visions, about his fears, about Amy’s reaction and the bombshell she dumped on him.

“She left you? For another guy? Who the hell would leave my buddy Sid for some shtick drek?

It’s meshuga.”

Sid looks at his friend and the dam just bursts and suddenly he’s sobbing. Full on sobbing. Davie gets up from his chair and puts his big bear arms around Sid. Sid keeps crying for another five minutes or so, then gently pushes his friend off him, starts to pull himself together. He takes a deep breath and sighs, looking down at his hands. “What about that other thing?” he asks, looking up at Davie.

“What? That’s nothing!”  Davie is laughing now. “That’s nuts. You’re just going through a tough time right now, Sid, a rough patch. But who can blame you with all this shit with your wife, your kids, the IRS. It’s just that Sid. You’re making too much of it. You Adolf freakin’ Hitler? Come on, you gotta be kiddin’ me! You’re my loveable but slightly screwed up buddy Sid! I mean, come on, Sid, we’ve known each other since what…third grade?”

“Second, I think. Second, yeah. Back at Midland Grade School.”

“I stand corrected, my friend,” he says and smiles. “Maybe what you really need is a little rest.

Have you thought about taking a little time off, maybe take a little trip? Find some warm beach somewhere and just relax? Take in the warm air, wade in the ocean. Listen to the waves beating on the beach. Have a nice drink, a margarita or somethin’, take a load off, that’s what I think you need to do, Sid. Give yourself a little break from all this bullshit. Whattaya’ think?”

“I don’t know, Davie. I just don’t know. I haven’t even had time to let the Amy thing sink in yet, with all this other stuff . . . I just don’t know.”

“Just think about it, Bubbee.” “All right. I’ll think about it.”

“Okay, that’s my Sid.” He escorts Sid out of the store, Lorraine, with a look of concern, giving a slight wave.

So, in a week he finds himself headed for Cocoa Beach, by way of Orlando. Sitting on a 747 looking out the window, a German soldier with a swastika armband on his sleeve giving Sid a Nazi salute, with the clouds in the background. This time, thank God, Sid can’t hear what he’s saying. Sid stares at the man, hoping he might, by some chance, fall off the damned wing. But, of course, he won’t, Sid reminds himself, because that Nazi bastard isn’t really there. But the entire trip this tall, wide son of a bitch is standing there on the wing, holding his Mauser in front of him.

And all the way through the airport this crazy Nazi walks beside him. Nobody else, apparently, can see him. The soldier’s deference is obvious. “Mein Fuhrer,” he says, opening the door for Sid, walking slightly behind Sid the entire way.

And in the rental car, the soldier sits right next to Sid, watching carefully out the window for any signs of insurrection or attack. The perfect bodyguard. But, hell does he stink.

He can’t escape this guy, tries to at a gas station where he stops to take a whiz. The soldier follows Sid into the station, and Sid goes to the restroom, tells Franz – yes that’s his name, Sid is not sure how he knows, but he knows – that he’ll be right back, that Franz should go into the store and pick

something out. Then, opening the door of the stench-filled john, Sid stands there for a minute, watches Franz enter the store, then runs to his rental car. But before he can get there the soldier is sitting beside Sid in the passenger seat, chewing on a piece of beef jerky.

And at the hotel the soldier is right beside him the entire way. At the front desk as Sid checks in, as he walks to the room, unlocks the door. The soldier even brings the bags in for Sid, says quietly, in German, of course, “Where shall I place them, Mein Fuhrer?” Sid, distracted, annoyed, points, without words to the space beside the dresser in the front of the room.

In the days that follow, Franz follows Sid everywhere — to the beach, sitting upright in the sand as Sid lies on a towel, reading a self-help paperback that caught his eye at the airport entitled Create Your Future, Forget the Past!;  to the hotel restaurant where Sid drinks coffee and tries to read the newspaper, while the soldier sits beside him at attention, scouting the restaurant’s patrons for troublemakers; to the ATM, which tells Sid he has no money left in his bank accounts (thanks to Amy or the IRS, who the fuck even cares anymore! He’s tired, so tired) — and Sid says nothing, tries to ignore this specter, this vision, whatever he is.

Sid takes to downing whiskey (charged to the room) in large quantities, trying to shake the guy, but, whether Sid is drunk or not, the bastard is always still there. There’s no escape. This soldier from the past is, it seems, now a permanent part of Sid’s life.

But whose life is it anyway?, Sid wonders.

It’s the third night of the trip and Sid has hit a dead end, a wall, a deep pit that he can’t get out of.

What is left for him? Nothing, he’s got nothing at all. He can’t escape his future and, it seems, he can’t escape the past.

Sid drinks from the bottle as Franz sleeps, snores in the other bed. The TV is playing some old sitcom, the laugh track playing as witness to Sid’s own life. And he is weeping, remembering things from the past that are irretrievable. His marriage. His children. The happiness he once thought he had. His sanity. Slurping from the bottle, the scotch trickling from the corners of his mouth as he drinks, he is

getting sloppy. He is somewhat drunk right now, but also, he thinks, feeling particularly clear-headed. No visions from a prior life of horror bothering him at the moment. And he knows what he must do.

So, on this particular night, while Franz is asleep, Sid gets up, and leaves the room, closing the door as quietly as he can behind him.

He moves to the elevator and pushes the button to the lobby. As he descends, his mind is a whirling cloud of smokestacks, Nazi soldiers marching, German voices and gunshots. He is no longer in control of his life, this life, anymore. He sees the piles of naked bodies, the tanks, the explosions, and the starving children behind barbed wire. He sees a man shot in the head and placed in an underground bunker, sees himself standing by a ship’s railing, watching the European shoreline fading behind him, and finally, stepping out, with shaky legs, onto the shores of  a new, foreign land. With the chance for a new life, an old, discarded life, he thinks. And then he sees Amy on the park bench smiling at him, the two of them cutting the cake at their wedding, he sees Amy holding Mitchell in his blanket on the day they got him,  he sees Richie taking his first steps.

Now Sid can barely move, can barely function, as he walks slowly out of the elevator and out the hotel door, heading toward the darkened beach, where he steps gingerly, his bare feet sinking into the cool sand. He walks on, not looking behind him, knowing what he must do, moving steadily, tears running down his cheeks, the water calling to him, as he continues on, his feet touching the lapping water’s edge, as he hears a scream from behind him: “Mein Fuhrer, nein, nein!” But Sid continues to walk, feeling the coldness of the water enveloping him, walking until the water is past his knees, past his waist, the crazy bastard’s voice getting closer and closer, but the phantom, the soldier, whatever he is, is too late, as the water is up to Sid’s neck, past his lips, his eyes, as he dives into the darkness, opens his mouth, and swallows it all, the cloud of madness following him in, and he closes his eyes and waits for it all to end.


Mitchell Waldman’s fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous publications, including Alien Buddha Press, The MacGuffin, Fictive Dream, The Waterhouse Review, Crack the Spine, The Houston Literary Review, The Faircloth Review, Epiphany, Wilderness House Literary Magazine, The Battered Suitcase, and many other magazines and anthologies. He is also the author of the novel, A Face in the Moon, and the story collection, Petty Offenses and Crimes of the Heart, and serves as Fiction Editor for Blue Lake Review. A new story collection, Brothers, Fathers, and Other Strangers, is  due out from Adelaide Books soon. (For more info, see his website at http://mitchwaldman.homestead.com).


“Persona” Dark Science-Fiction by Tim Frank

The doorbell rang and it jolted Raymond out of his groggy stupor. He peeked out of his blackout blinds and was stung by a sharp arrow of light. Standing on the porch, dressed conservatively in a knee length skirt, a white blouse and a blazer with a hand ticked crest, was a young woman staring steadily into space.

When he met her at the door, she gave Raymond a professional smile and thrust out her hand, grabbing his firmly. He checked her out, eyeing her slim, athletic body.

In a deep baritone voice that Raymond immediately recognised as his boss, she said, “This is a recording, Raymond, to tell you that you’re a gifted man but you’ve been seriously slipping at work, so I’ve sent you Cindy here. She’s one of our newest AI lifestyle gurus, as you know, and she’ll whip you into shape in no time.”

Raymond worked for an AI company that specialised in downloading human memories and implanting them into AI robots. He knew models like Cindy well – he’d worked with them closely in their developmental stages.

Speaking in a woman’s voice now – calm and fluid – Cindy said, “May I come in? We have much work to do.”

In the kitchen, Cindy looked around at the cake crumbs scattered across the work surfaces, the crumpled beer cans littering the tile floor and the bin bulging with burger wrappers. Cindy’s face didn’t betray a flicker of emotion.

“You’re roughly seventy-seven pounds overweight.”

She emptied food from the fridge and cupboards into a fresh bin bag.

“Getting rid of carbohydrates and high fat foods is the first step towards a healthy lifestyle. We don’t want any temptation at home. I am ordering a delivery of nutritious food as we speak.”

Raymond lit a cigarette and felt the harsh nicotine slide through his throat, “Cindy, I know you mean well but I don’t want this, I’m not in the mood.”

Cindy snatched the cigarette from Raymond’s grasp and stubbed it out in the sink.

“Raymond,” Cindy said, “the diet is the easy part. What I am really here for is to heal your mind. So, after I fix you a meal we will discuss your parents. I have researched them in some detail and I believe in a relatively short space of time we can achieve great things.”

“Apparently,” Cindy said, after she’d cooked him some Cajun chicken breast and sliced greens, “your mother was a great beauty, and your father was a jealous man who couldn’t accept the attention she received. He lashed out at her and you were always caught in the middle, trying to pacify the situation. How does that make you feel, Raymond?”

Cindy had taken off her blazer by now and Raymond was trying to make out the outline of her breasts through her blouse.

“I feel like a cigarette. Look, Cindy, I’m aware I’ve got problems but I’d rather face them alone.”

“You’re having a nervous breakdown and I’m afraid your boss will fire you if we don’t complete the course of treatment. Let’s continue talking tomorrow. I need to recharge my system.”

In his room, Raymond tucked into some wagon wheels that he’d stashed under his bed, minimised seventeen pages of porn on his browser and surfed the dark web for alternative personality programs he could download into Cindy’s memory bank – preferably something as smutty as possible. Changing her persona would block her interfering ways and if he was able to have some fun while he freed himself from her control, so be it.

It didn’t take him long to find a website compatible with AIs like Cindy. There were dozens of personalities to download on the website but as his mouse cursor floated across images of slutty nurses, depraved nuns, and bawdy chambermaids the one that attracted Raymond’s attention most was the lascivious international model persona.

Raymond clicked on the icon and read the blurb. It said, “Virginia is wild. She’ll take you to the moon and back seducing you with her raw sexuality. The most popular and fully realised sex program you can find on the net; Virginia is a cut above the rest. Based on the characteristics of a real model, Virginia is a bombshell you won’t regret downloading. You are just one click away from utter bliss, so what are you waiting for?”

Maybe it was all in his mind but Raymond detected a vulnerability behind Virginia’s eyes, a weakness that Raymond wanted to punish. He had no idea why, but the persona felt familiar to him and he was convinced she was the one he wanted.

He downloaded the file onto a memory card and crept into the living room where Cindy was perched on the edge of the sofa – back straight, palms resting face up on her knees. She was lit by the flickering light of the television and her eyes moved with morphing colours. But she remained still, without breathing.

Raymond sat beside her and reached over to her blouse and unbuttoned the top button revealing the curve of her breasts. Raymond scooped her hair away from the nape of Cindy’s neck and inserted the memory card.

Her pupils dilated and goosebumps rippled across her cleavage. Cindy stood abruptly, and with a sly grin she switched off the TV and undressed in the centre of the living room.

Raymond had never had sex with an AI before but after that night he wondered why. She was passionate and filthy – everything the dark website had promised.

The next morning Raymond found Cindy slouched at the dining room table, naked, carving a line into her wrist with a kitchen knife. There was no blood but sticky pus dripped onto the table cloth from her wound. Raymond raced over and seized the knife from Cindy.

“Jesus, Cindy, what are you doing?”

“Would you like to take a bath with me? If not I can pleasure you in any way you please,” she said.

“No, no, just put some clothes on and tell me why you’re hurting yourself.”

“I can’t really say, other than it feels right.”

Raymond gathered a dressing gown from the bathroom and hung it gently over Cindy’s shoulders.

“This was all a big mistake, I’m sorry,” said Raymond.

“Don’t say that, remember I only want the best for you, I am your mother after all.”

“What? What did you say?”

Cindy stood, the dressing gown tumbling to the floor.

“I think it’s time I recharged; do you mind if I excuse myself for a couple of hours?”

“Of course, but Cindy, I don’t understand, why would you say you’re my mother?”

“Because I am and I’m so happy to be reunited with you.”

Raymond assumed her comments were the result of faulty coding. But her words were so disturbing he decided to investigate.

Clicking around the dark web again, Raymond discovered evidence there were substantial defects with the international model program that he’d downloaded. One comment on a message board said, “Watch out for this file people, all is not what it seems. There is a glitch where occasionally a self-destructive trait is triggered. I’ve yet to discover why this is so but this temperament has been noted by dozens of users.”

He couldn’t figure out why Cindy had become all motherly, however – maybe it was another aspect of the model’s persona bleeding through. Nevertheless, Raymond was unusually intrigued by the mystery and after scouring the net for several hours he believed he had made a significant breakthrough. He had discovered the address of the real-life woman that the international model persona was based on. She was named Elena, a former model who now worked in a brothel in Soho.

After booking a session online he took a long bus ride into town. He gazed at the vagrants huddled up on street corners and then traced the frantic footsteps of business workers making their way home on the underground. It reminded him of how he hadn’t been to work in weeks, only narrowly avoiding the sack because of his unique skills with AIs.

He waited in the brothel sitting on a tired leather sofa squeezed between two men both smelling of cheap deodorant and sweat. The man on Raymond’s left leafed through an edition of Razzle  

and the man to his right sipped bourbon intermittently from a hip flask.

Finally, Raymond was allowed to meet with Elena and as he stepped inside her room he saw a woman lying on her bed, legs folded beneath her alluringly, wearing stockings and a pink negligée exposing a floral bra underneath. Her face was cast in shadow. Raymond took a seat beside a table that had a laptop softly sighing and above it was dozens of yellow and pink post-it notes stuck to the wall, curled like autumn leaves. Elena leaned forward into the sombre light and Raymond saw that she was old, with lines slicing down towards her lips and wrinkles jutting out around her eyes.

“I don’t want to have sex with you,” said Raymond.

“That’s, ok,” she chuckled, “I won’t take it personally. We’ll just talk.”

A long silence ensued and then Raymond said, “What’s with the notes?”

“Scattered thoughts, quotes, lists. Anything really. I’ve been doing it since forever. I’m not happy unless I’ve filled most of the wall.”

Elena stood, walked over to Raymond and placed her hand tenderly on his cheek. He grabbed her arm and snapped, “I told you I don’t want to.”

He noticed a scar marking her wrist in the shape of the figure of eight. He let her go. She looked hurt then sat back down – her face shrouded again by the gloom.

Another long silence was broken by Raymond, saying, “D’you have family? Kids?”

“I’d rather not say…do I know you from somewhere? Have we been together before?”

“No. What’s with the scar?”

“Well, let’s just say I haven’t always been that stable.”

“But why the figure eight?”

“It’s actually to cover a suicide scar – look I really don’t like talking about this.”

“One last question: have you ever uploaded your memories to the net?”

“What, are you a cop?”

“No, not at all, but I’m looking for someone and I thought you could help. I’ll leave you a big tip.”

“I don’t know anything about the net except email I’m afraid, that’s why I have the post-it notes I guess. What about you, what’s your story?”

“I’m looking for someone, someone I miss a great deal and I thought you could help me find her.”

“Well, I don’t know you so I can’t help. I’m sorry.”

Raymond didn’t believe her, and on his way home he tried to think of a way that he could prove she was full of lies.

As he entered through his front door he could see through to the living room where Cindy was sitting on the floor, a knife resting on her lap. Raymond rushed over to her, sickened by the sight of her arms ravaged by scars, pus oozing from the wounds shaped in the figure of eight up and down each limb.

“How did you find the knife?” Raymond muttered to himself.

He rushed to the bathroom to fetch a cloth to clean up Cindy’s gashes but on his way he noticed something shocking in his bedroom.

Pages torn from a notebook were cello-taped to almost every space on the wall. On each piece of paper was the message, “Forgive me my sweet baby.”

Raymond rushed back into the living room to demand some answers from Cindy, so he could find a way to calm the manic thoughts plaguing his mind but he guessed her system must have been overloaded because her head was lolled to one side and she showed no signs of recognising him.

Raymond leaned in close to Cindy’s ear then screamed, “Who are you?!”

Cindy didn’t flinch.

“Ok, if you won’t play ball maybe I can find out the truth another way,” he said, and he attached a wire from his phone to the back of her skull. He typed in a few commands and finally accessed the faulty memories. He programmed Cindy to play the images of these memories on his phone.

The memories weren’t just defective downloads from a dodgy website, however, but were recollections of events personally connected to Raymond’s life. After forwarding and rewinding the images he isolated a pivotal scene.

Driving in a car, Raymond’s dad navigated the slick wet streets and he was on the verge of exploding with rage.

“Let’s not do this now,” he said, gripping the wheel until his fingers turned white.

“Why not? Raymond has as much right to know as anyone,” said Raymond’s mum, who then turned to her son in the back seat. He looked about eight years old, had a frizz of blonde hair and wore an oatmeal-coloured tracksuit with black plimsolls. Beside him was Halle the AI au pair who had looked after Raymond since he was very small. She was petite with big round eyes and she scrutinised the back of the passenger seat with a quiet intent.

“Tell me this,” Raymond’s mum said, looking back at his dad, her voice becoming shrill, “how do you even have sex with a robot?”

“It’s easy, and she’s better than you.”

Raymond’s mum seethed, “You bastard, you total bastard. Do you love her? I mean you can’t love her, right?”

Raymond skipped memories to another scene. His mum held his hand as she knelt before him in the kitchen – Halle rinsing some vegetables in the background.

“You promise to be good for Halle; it’s not her fault, okay? I can’t live with your dad anymore, I just can’t, but he is good to you, so I know you’ll be fine. And remember you’re such a techno whiz, promise me you’ll never give up on your dream.”

“Please, please don’t go,” Raymond said.

Raymond’s mum stroked his cheek with her thumb and hushed him as he fell into fits of tears.

His mum went to pack her bags in the bedroom but was interrupted when an abrupt shriek came from the living room. Raymond’s mum rushed next door and found Raymond straddling Halle, pummelling her head and body with his tiny fists. Raymond’s mum tried to pacify Raymond, but after she pulled his raging body off of Halle he flared up against his mum, his face flushed with fury.

“Just go!” said Raymond’s dad, appearing at the doorway.

Raymond’s mum whispered in Raymond’s ear, “Forgive me my sweet baby,” then strode into the bedroom, heaved her bags over her shoulders and left without turning back.

As Raymond recalled, it was only a few short weeks after his mum had left that his dad tied a noose around the pull-up bar in the exercise room and hanged himself. He remembered how Halle had tried her best to comfort him by constantly asking if he needed a hug. He would remember her fondly for that, but soon after his dad’s death she was taken away and Raymond was put up for foster care.

Raymond had seen enough of his mum’s memories and had enough of his own reflections too. For now, anyway.

He took one last look at Cindy’s body, her wounds and her passive countenance. Then he disconnected her memory and reinserted the lifestyle guru persona. Cindy’s face dissolved out of its tired, wan disposition and exhibited a new resolute aspect. She took a few seconds to assess her predicament then turned to Raymond.

“What has happened to me?”

Raymond slumped down on the floor beside her, “Long story, but I will tell it to you sometime I promise. I’ve treated you and those like you without conscience – like you were lifeless scum. So, what I need to say is, I want you to stay. I need help.”

As Raymond bandaged Cindy’s wounds, he thought about his mum. Maybe he would pay her a visit again sometime. He had so many questions about the life she’d led without him. He even wanted to fill in the gaps about his dad and Halle, no matter how traumatising the memories.

He thought about getting dressed, drinking some black coffee and going to work. But then he decided to leave that until tomorrow or maybe the day after that. Self-contemplation didn’t come easy for him but he believed someday soon he’d be ready to end the cycle of despair.


Tim Frank’s short stories have been published in Bourbon Penn, Menacing Hedge, Eunoia Review, Maudlin House and elsewhere. He is the associate fiction editor for Able Muse Literary Journal. 


“And” Dark Flash Fiction by Grove Koger

He was an evil little boy and he did evil things. Everybody was afraid of him and nobody could stop him.

Once he brought a dead crow back to life, watched it bounce on the roadway and sweep backward on a gust of wind that only it felt, listened to it caw angrily as it vanished in the leaden sky. That should have been a good thing, bringing that bird back to life, but somehow it wasn’t. Another time he made it rain real hard on the last day of school. The picnic had to be canceled and the mother of one of his classmates died in a flash flood. She had the cancer, and her death could have been a good thing, a blessing. But it wasn’t. Another time—

But there had been a lot of other times.

Now he walked down the middle of the road, confident that any drivers from around there would know enough to steer around him. And they did. The other boys walked a few steps behind, afraid to anger him by getting too close or hanging too far back. Then he stopped, right about where that damn crow had been lying, and looked around.

“I can make all this go away,” he said.

They stopped too, looked around too. Had they heard him right? All what? All this? There were fields of stubble, shacks here and there, stands of black locust. Just those and the dusty road. It was that kind of place.

“I can make all this go away,” he said again, more thoughtfully this time, turning back to say it. It was a terrible sight, the little boy’s face screwed up in thought, and it made the others even more nervous than they were already.

He looked down at his right hand, moved his fingers this way and that, feeling his way … back. As if he were remembering something, something he had known a long time ago. But that was impossible, he hadn’t been here a long time ago. Had he?

He touched his thumb to one finger and then another, feeling his way. No, not that one. Not that one, not that one. That one.

The evil little boy grinned, and that was a terrible sight too. He set his thumb back against his middle finger—that one—and clenched them together, and—


Grove Koger is the author of When the Going Was Good: A Guide to the 99 Best Narratives of Travel, Exploration, and Adventure, Assistant Editor of Deus Loci: The Lawrence Durrell Journal, and former Assistant Editor of Art Patron.


“The Morning After a Rainstorm” Dark Fiction by Hayden Sidun

On a morning in the last weeks of summer when fall began to conquer Earth, the sun rose ever so slowly above the horizon, and the wind rustled the leaves in the treetops and made the branches gently sway from side to side in the breeze. Some leaves fell on the grass below, disconnected from the roots of life, left to wither away and die alone. Those that had suffered the same fate simply blew around near the ground, falling helplessly but with grace nonetheless. The grass moved with the leaves, giving in to the silent breeze, the morning dew that coated it evaporating into the air. The scene was like crack for poets and painters and outdoorsmen and those who enjoy the gentle touch of Mother Nature.

To those who pay attention to the calendar, it was the first day of September. But nature does not go by a clock or a calendar, for time is but a human concept, a way to measure the movements of nature and prepare for its typical changes. To the grass and the trees and the leaves blowing about, the sun was rising above the horizon after a night of unforgiving rain. The birth of daylight was simply the continuation of an endless and repetitive routine, and at that moment, it was the only thing that mattered to the elements of nature.

Some liked to spend their mornings in the park. It was a nice break from the urban prison that surrounded the freedom of the outdoors, a little patch of fresh air and peace in a city trashed by pollution and hurry. People jogged and bicycled all along the dirt trails forged throughout the park. The trees and the ways of nature in the park were too familiar to those who frequented it, as though the park were another home for them. Likewise, there were always one or two homeless people sleeping in the park on any given night, for cold as the night may be among the trees, the sense of protection and comfort was all too good to pass up. The joggers seldom bothered the homeless, the homeless seldom bothered the joggers, and Mother Nature seldom bothered either.

And as the sun rose above the horizon to welcome September, a single line of tire tracks cut down the middle of one of the dirt trails. The serenity and silence of nature’s realm were interrupted by the buzz of a bicycle speeding down the trail, like a bee flying between flowers. The bicyclist pedaled as hard as he possibly could, barely taking time to slow down and enjoy his surroundings, for time and timeliness meant everything to him. He had only been gone for about twenty minutes, according to his watch—about halfway through his ride.

He was rather good at bicycling down the park’s many trails, and it had been his preferred morning exercise for years. He cared about money almost as much as he cared about time, for he had a lot, perhaps too much, of both. The trails were all too familiar to him, the terrain holding no surprises unless perhaps a storm should strike down a tree or two. No major surprises were in store for him that morning except that the ground was slightly damper and the leaves were a little bit browner. Few big rocks were present on the trail, the trees offered a blanket of protection from the blinding, squelching sunlight, and on occasion, he would pass by a black-tailed deer frolicking among the trees. That’s the way he liked it.

There was an old tree stump that he marked as the halfway point of his morning rides. It belonged to a Monterey cypress before it gave into a storm and fell a few years ago. The stump was slanted upward, just perfect for leaning against, and a little bit of moss layered the very top of it. He would often sit there for just long enough to catch his breath and hydrate, but he often just enjoyed the surroundings, the birds chirping, the trees swaying in the wind. And on that morning, he did just that—careful not to dampen his clothes as he leaned back on the rain-stricken stump, of course—before mounting on his bike once again and making his way back to the trailhead.

He wasn’t too far away from the trailhead—perhaps only three or four minutes—when he pushed down on the pedal with his foot and it refused to turn. The bicycle pedals revolved fluidly and flawlessly throughout the ride, and he bought it only the week before, so why would it break down? Whatever the reason, he pushed down on the pedal again and squeezed the hand brakes as hard as he could.

“Shit!” he yelled as gravity got the best of him. He fell as effortlessly as a leaf falling to the ground in the wind, his shoulder colliding with the ground, his bicycle landing on top of him.

He sat on the ground, the mud staining his clothes, the breeze blowing past his face like a paintbrush moving across a canvas. The trailhead was about ten minutes away by foot, but the sharp pain in his shoulder compelled him to simply sit in the mud and stare at his broken bicycle. He saw mud caked onto the chain and groaned as he rubbed his face with his dirty hands, the intense pain in his shoulder turning his groans into anguished screams. Perhaps someone will come along and help, he thought as he looked around the area, hoping to see a figure coming toward him or hear some rustling in the woods. He sighed and otherwise sat curled into a ball on the side of the dirt trail, turning his head from side to side every now and then, holding onto his shoulder with the opposite hand.

Not ten minutes passed before he heard footsteps coming from the direction of the trailhead. He turned his head and smiled as a young man wearing a black tracksuit emerged from around the bend, sprinting down the trail, kicking up dirt with each step. The young man looked at him and slammed the brakes on his legs, stopping dead in his tracks, his eyes wide as he looked down at him.

“You need any help?” the young man asked, pulling his earbuds out and stuffing them in his pocket.

The injured man could feel the young man’s eyes searching for something, his stare piercing his soul, having a look around as though he was an open house. But he nodded his head and explained, “My bike is broken. I think I dislocated my shoulder.”

The young man knelt in front of the man, reaching his hands toward him. “May I?” the young man asked. The injured man nodded and removed his hand from his shoulder as the young man pulled the injured man’s neckline over his shoulder, revealing a giant purple bruise, almost as dark as amethyst and with a small hill-like bump in the middle.

“Can you put it back?” the injured man asked.

The young man shook his head. “Looks to me like you broke it. We should get you to a hospital.”

Great, the injured man thought. Tons of hospitals in the city and none of them are any good. He sighed and said, “Well, if we’re going to move forward, I’d rather do it on a first-name basis. I’m Will.”

“I’m Dart.” The young man smiled as he covered Will’s shoulder with the shirt.

“Dart? Like the bar game?”

Nodding his head, Dart replied, with a tinge of annoyance in his voice, “Yes, like the bar game. It turns out my parents like to party; what can I say?”

Dart stood up and reached his hand out to Will. Will’s hand—chapped, scraped, and covered in dirt—met Dart’s, and he picked himself up and met Dart’s eyes. Dart had something in his eyes, an island of happiness slowly drowning in a sea of regret, like a weird smoothie that one cannot help but taste. The look in his eyes was coupled with a smile stricken with pity, lips without teeth, definitely forced. Alas, Will’s need for help was more important than his distrust of strangers, and he could fend for himself anyway.

Dart led Will off the trail and among the trees. The ground became rougher and rockier, and the openness of the park became crowded with trees. Will looked behind him, his eyes widening. The dirt trail was gone, blanketed by layers of wilderness, and he looked up, the sky only occasionally peeking through the cracks in the leaves. There was no one around except him and Dart, and the trees echoed that.

“Where are we going?” Will asked.

“We’re taking a shortcut.” Dart was focused in front of him and walked in a straight line, almost mindlessly and robot-like.

“What about the bike?”

“We’ll get it later.”

“That bike cost me five hundred dollars.”

“I said we’ll get it later.” There was a pang of frustration in his voice, as though Will were inconveniencing him. Dart sighed, a slight smile coming about his face. “Did you hear about those murders in the Headlands? Police found the bodies stabbed underneath some redwoods. I think one of them was bludgeoned too.”

Will stopped walking, a bead of sweat running down his face. “I really think we should head back to the trail.”

Dart laughed, his hand retreating to his pocket. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re going to a hospital, remember?”

“I’d really rather go back to the trail. I promise I can manage on my own.”

Dart spun around, rage striking his expression. “I said don’t be ridiculous!” he yelled, the trees absorbing his words. He withdrew something from his pocket, a blade about as big as his hand, and lunged toward Will, the blade raised in the air. In the blink of an eye, the blade pierced Will’s skin, tearing through his body, the blade’s serrated edge ripping open one of his lungs.

Will screamed, his voice broken and gargling, the taste of blood filling his mouth. He fell to the ground and looked up at the treetops of the Monterey cypresses he loved so much, his vision becoming lighter and blurrier. He could no longer see or hear Dart, but only some rustling nearby, and after a few agonizing moments, he saw Dart standing over him and bringing a heavy rock down on his face. Will flinched as the rock came closer, his eyes closing, a quick breath of woodland air entering his nose. It was not long before Dart was the only living and breathing person standing among those trees.

Dart retrieved the blade and dragged the corpse across the ground, propping it against a tree. The head, smashed-in and covered with fresh, strawberry-red blood, hung downward as though it were looking at the stab wound. He sprinkled some leaves on the corpse, and the trees helped him with that. Dart made his way back to the trail, the broken bicycle becoming visible not long after, the corpse probably already starting to rot away underneath the tree. On the trail and in the parking lot, he wore a toothy smile and greeted passersby, the gruesome murder utterly absent from his mind. Perhaps he would disappear into the Marin Headlands or make his way down to the Monterey Peninsula.

The trees and the leaves and the creatures who live among them were not concerned with time. They move with the wind and the weather and remain unbothered, silently awaiting all that was yet to come. By then, the sun was entirely above the horizon, and people outside the park were waking up and drinking their morning coffee, some of them already on their way to work, others coming home from a long night. Society had welcomed September on a gorgeous day after such a stormy night. On occasion, when the wind separated the leaves and let the clear blue sky slightly come into view, the sun shone down on the park and illuminated the remains of an innocent bicyclist.


Hayden Sidun is a high school student whose short fiction has appeared in The Dillydoun Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Literary Yard, Button Eye Review, The Chamber Magazine, and Potato Soup Journal. Outside of school and work and when not writing, he is involved in local politics and often finds himself sorting through his thoughts and surfing the Internet in the middle of the night. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, of which he is a proud native.


Three Dark Poems by Robert Beveridge

Door

In my nightmare, in the hallway,
there's a door. It is large,
wooden, locked.

There are keys. In the basement.
It is dark. The light's burnt out.
I cannot leave the hall.

Silence. Ghosts touch my shoulder.
Stillness. A hole
in the carpet.

The door. I watch it.
Wait for it to move.
It doesn't. 

In the Field After Dark

The heart
was in Bobby's jacket pocket
as he played ball
with his friends.

Now,
they've all gone home,
and Bobby, walking
from the field,
feels for the heart

it's gone
he turns, scampers
in sunset back
to the field, looking
for the heart

no luck,
and the sun's almost
down
he'll never find it now

he looks up
above a patch
of tall grass
barely five feet away

a pare of garnets
stare unblinking at him

he knows
somehow
just knows
the heart
is underneath them

he walks over,
looks up:
he thinks
he's seen those eyes before. 

	You're old miss Solebury, aren't you?


The eyes bob slowly.

	Do you want me
	to have your heart?

Bob.

He picks up the heart,
turns, walks
toward home.
All the way,
he feels a chill
on his shoulder,
as if a hand
were draped there.

That night, instead
of putting the heart
under his pillow as usual,
he clutches it tight
as he sleeps, smiling.

Is that a red gleam at the window?

Not Our Brother

“The demon,”
she said,
as she caressed my chest
with four-inch nails
as if she wanted
to even out the fertile furrows
she'd left before,
“we call him 'not our brother',
for he comes
in the form of woman
and steals the souls
of our men
leaves them hollow husks
who take no pride
in the fields they till.”

My plane, a week
from then, flashed
through my mind.
“Not our brother.”

She pulled me tighter to her
asked with an embrace
for the warmth
of a soul
however temporary.

“I must go back,” I said.

“I know,” she said.
“But for now
just hold me, brother,
love me
so your memory
can keep me warm.” 

I thought of her husband
dead these four months
victim of the demon
the death certificate read.

Not our brother.

Robert Beveridge (he/him) makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry in Akron, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in cattails, Ellipsis…, and Ample Remains, among others.


“Shadows Flowering” Dark Verse by Joseph A. Farina

continue to stare at shadows
curse the intrusive light
that grows them faint to die
leaving sharp shape and form

come to the dark kingdom
there your true self find
worlds immortal waiting
in silent shadows pulsing

peer into the abyss
unlike the skies
here there is cold fire
to warm your frozen soul

time has no dominion
in darkness no seasons turn
no bells toll mourning
here live without depth

silence within silence
where only you are sound
no longer voices baiting
like in the bitter light

Joseph A Farina is a retired lawyer and award winning poet, in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.His  poems have appeared in Philedelphia Poets,Tower Poetry, The Windsor Review, and Tamaracks: Canadian Poetry for the 21st Century. He has two books of poetry published ,The Cancer Chronicles and The Ghosts of Water Street.


Three Dark Poems by Jack D. Harvey

In the Morgue

The body on the tiles 
seems cold
as a block of ice;
all signs of life
have flown the coop.
For the living
the wailing wall
waits outside,
dark as oil;
time goes rolling on, 
steady as a wheel.

God’s will be done;
His word and deed
breaking all bounds,
including His own.
Death itself,
confronting His
absolute logic,
goes limp as a noodle.
God’s will is doom;
his extraordinary quirks
shy chaos
into the wilderness,
among the other outcasts.

By the same finger
that blasted the king’s wall,
the body is resurrected,
a brand-new loaf of bread,
the bread of life, the true bread,
the word of God.
Wondering, wandering,
embodied again,
the spirit asks no questions,
hove to in a sea of blood;

home is here.

Give us this day,
weighed one way,
our daily beef,
our sacred host.
Give us, O Lord,
no miracles, please,
light as flies,
to tip the scales.

God’s will be done,
but for eternity
can a universe be,
whirl within curly whirl,
steady complex
planetarium of eternal law,
carrack always on
an even keel?
Or can it come unstuck?
Can it become cracked
like an old china pot,
or perfectly and forever intact?
These are ores unfound
and unmined. 

The body is cold
as a mackerel,
feet, legs, trunk, head,
sunk forever,
bound to the rules
of a dark kingdom
and do we care?

We’re uncaring as bees,
busy about 
the best things in life,
buzzing around nectar,
trying to make things sweet,
trying to stay alive
in a nice way.

The body is cold,
a conductor of 
the unknown, 
a train of cold
going nowhere.
Morticians meander
in and out, 
doing the necessary;
it matters not
to the corpse,
cold and dead,
a stricken ferry 
sinking in a 
surfeited sea,
to the unfathomable deep.

Cold and dead,
the body lies,
a market offering,
glass-cased
among the legumes,
the fish and the lamb;
no way no how
to cheat the fates or
the laws of nature.
The corpse 
by no fell stroke,
by no hocus-pocus,
ever recalled 
from the back of beyond.

It lies there forever.

The body ain’t a body anymore;
it’s gone, 
diminished to a naught,
to less than nothing.

Human fate you say,
this is the way it is,
well, well,
alas and ho-hum,
like leaves of the passing year
we come and go; 
more windy talk
from the pulpit, at the gravesite
bottomless, meaningless;

but say it anyway.

Goodbye life, hello
portico of wealthy King Dis.
Your coin good here, mortal,
and will buy your passage
to a kingdom built on time
and money.
Two pennies for 
the fare, for a stay
that lasts forever,
where a day 
outlasts the gold,
the silver, the copper;
your coins cheap metal
for your reckoning
with the dim realm,
where all the glitters
are the eyes of the dead.

Have no fears, penny-wise;
step forth pound-foolish 
and assured
from the heaving ferry;
hell has no furies,
no denying spirits;
only the dead,
mile after mile of them
decked out and penitent
and hell will last, thank God,
among monuments, a monument
more durable than the sin of Adam,
than all our sins.

The body is cold, now
remote as the moon.
For the noble mourning kindred
noble love and death
go forth
hand in hand
and the rest of us struggle along;
illusions become elusive 
among our daily crusts 
and bumpkins 
and our dearest
bump us out of the park,
this dump called Paradise.
We struggle along,
bound for a rude awakening
in that last call to arms.

Body cold, body 
politic, fetch
the means of meaning;
of being here for a while
in some peace.
Puissant bird of dawn, 
take me, too, when it’s 
time to go.
Longer is too much;
still, the body is cold,
still,
even here in the land
of blood. 

Vlad the Impaler

           John Crow,
           royal by-blow,
Voivode of Transylvania,
take this ham, 
and eat it;
a pig died for you,
strung screaming on a wire.
Hung on a standard,
black and hairy,
Valeria Victrix
bores into Britain.

Sladnik,
take this golden hand  
and shake it;
Mehmet's dark warriors
wait for Byzantium
to tumble
at the little gate.
Bang, bang, Urban's cannons
break the walls,
the lavish halls, the streets;
defeat is here,
the retreat of Constantine
from the west,
penniless, is here;
here he is, dead on his feet;
here he is, facing the foe;
he dies here. 

Emperor of the east and beggar;
bargaining with a bad pope
a good king
does what he can.
The rosy shoes,
beloved Pharonic ikon,
fall broken
beneath Peter's ravening cross;
after ripe autumn, the 
storms of booted winter.

King Constantine 
on his feats,
by default rests;
lost in the east,
he struck wonders
out of his head,
calling argosies to the 
last of Byzantium.
Dim, fine, old,
the skin of
his golden likeness
through the dead and
bygone winters 
burns our minds still,
like bitter frost.

Black Tuesday, the burning city,
exquisite reliquary,
evolved centaur horrors;
ghosts aghast at helosis
floating from the tombs,
the ruined churches,
saw black Vlad, coffin-clad,
metamorphosed
between dog and wolf;
Vlad, Count Dracula,
a likely bat,
likable as the plague.

After centuries,
now and then,
a church bell or
something like it,
rings in the dawn;
a mystic freshening
calls up the day.
Night abides while
the sun sees all,
widening and widening 
his eye.

For the sake of Christ
take my hand,
prince, sever your ties; 
this kind land's not forever.

The Greater Ferry

Afric and Ind,
my souls,
are fastnesses,
are fantasies
buried in the sands
of the cartographer's desert;
green burials
hoarded up and treasuries
remote and golden
as Midas' child

stone cold in the palace.

No gift
where the head remembers
and the heart forgets;

valueless
Tiberius' bepimpled countenance
on Augustus' aureate trunk.

Passions, crimes are
pursued to the end;
tumors grow powerfully
in the gloomy jungles
of beginnings.
Afric and Ind,
friends, tissues of fragrance,
plasmas, rivers
stretched from 
hearth to hearth.

Queen Bess and her men
trod new-minted shores
it seemed
moonlings or troglodytes
inhabited;
tinkling cymbals
whining crumhorns:
soft Indian
and naked savage hooted
in bush and brake.

Precious scions
we amuse ourselves
with quaint voyages
to Muscovy or Ind;

simple hardships.

Africa and India,
my serfs,
are there.
Giants at bay
they push the sunrise
more and more to the east:
let our cowboys, our Ulysses,
our connoisseurs of simple rewards
take heed and,
move by move,
plant stock
on a safer shore. 

Jack D. Harvey’s poetry has appeared in Scrivener, The Comstock Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, The Chamber Magazine, Typishly Literary Magazine, The Antioch Review and elsewhere. The author has been a Pushcart nominee and over the years has been published in a few anthologies.

The author has been writing poetry since he was sixteen and lives in a small town near Albany, New York. He is retired from doing whatever he was doing before he retired.

His book, Mark the Dwarf is available on Kindle. https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Dwarf-Jack-D-Harvey-ebook/dp/B019KGW0F2


Appearing in The Chamber October 22

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).

Three Dark Poems by Jack D. Harvey

Jack D. Harvey’s poetry has appeared in Scrivener, The Comstock Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, The Chamber Magazine, Typishly Literary Magazine, The Antioch Review and elsewhere. The author has been a Pushcart nominee and over the years has been published in a few anthologies. The author has been writing poetry since he was sixteen and lives in a small town near Albany, New York. He is retired from doing whatever he was doing before he retired. His book, Mark the Dwarf is available on Kindle. https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Dwarf-Jack-D-Harvey-ebook/dp/B019KGW0F2

“Shadows Flowering” Dark Verse by Joseph A. Farina

Joseph A Farina is a retired lawyer and award winning poet, in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.His  poems have appeared in Philedelphia Poets, Tower Poetry, The Windsor Review, and Tamaracks: Canadian Poetry for the 21st Century. He has two books of poetry published ,The Cancer Chronicles and The Ghosts of Water Street.

Three Dark Poems by Robert Beveridge

Robert Beveridge (he/him) makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry in Akron, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in cattails, Ellipsis…, and Ample Remains, among others.

“The Morning After a Rainstorm” Dark Fiction by Hayden Sidum

Hayden Sidun is a high school student whose short fiction has appeared in The Dillydoun Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Literary Yard, Button Eye Review, The Chamber Magazine, and Potato Soup Journal. Outside of school and work and when not writing, he is involved in local politics and often finds himself sorting through his thoughts and surfing the Internet in the middle of the night. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, of which he is a proud native. 

“And” Dark Flash Fiction by Grove Koger

Grove Koger is the author of When the Going Was Good: A Guide to the 99 Best Narratives of Travel, Exploration, and Adventure, Assistant Editor of Deus Loci: The Lawrence Durrell Journal, and former Assistant Editor of Art Patron.

“Persona” Dark Science-Fiction by Tim Frank

Tim Frank’s short stories have been published in Bourbon Penn, Menacing Hedge, Eunoia Review, Maudlin House and elsewhere. He is the associate fiction editor for Able Muse Literary Journal. 

“The Monster Inside” Dark, Psychological Fiction by Mitchell Waldman

Mitchell Waldman’s fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous publications, including Alien Buddha Press, The MacGuffin, Fictive Dream, The Waterhouse Review, Crack the Spine, The Houston Literary Review, The Faircloth Review, Epiphany, Wilderness House Literary Magazine, The Battered Suitcase, and many other magazines and anthologies. He is also the author of the novel, A Face in the Moon, and the story collection, Petty Offenses and Crimes of the Heart, and serves as Fiction Editor for Blue Lake Review. A new story collection, Brothers, Fathers, and Other Strangers, is  due out from Adelaide Books soon. (For more info, see his website at http://mitchwaldman.homestead.com).

“What the Water Brought” Dark, Apocalyptic Fiction by Keith Good

Keith Good lives in Ohio. A writer, library professional and father, he spends most of his time pretending to know more than he actually does. His work recently featured in “The SNES Omnibus, Vol.2” and “The Best of Penny Dread Tales”.

Next Issue: October 29