“Gaps” Dark, Speculative Fiction by Ethan Maiden

For the longest time I have contemplated the reality we find ourselves in.

A peculiar notion of course, that’s how my mind works, watching and observing this world as it continues to move forward at rapid pacing.

Throughout days and nights, I find myself glaring up at the stars, dumfounded by the infinite abyss that we shall never be able to fully explore or even begin to comprehend, it’s both exciting and the terrifying in equal measure.

My mother always said: ‘Katherine, you’re so caught up in tomorrow that you’re not living today.’

I guess mother was right. I’d never married or had any kids of my own. Instead I’d ploughed myself into an existence of solitude. I’d never have to be hurt by a doomed relationship, never have to worry about anyone else; I’d not have to live by anyone else’s timetable.

I was free to do what I wanted.

‘But one day all that we will recall are those memories we hang onto for dear life.’

Another one of mother’s thoughtful lines, only this one was near the end of her time. The illness consuming her mind had now become too powerful to fight, a monster of monumental evil that cannot be seen. Its purpose was to destroy a once gleeful soul.

Heartbreakingly, mother died not remembering my name or face.

As I sat there watching the last intakes of breath pass from her withered mouth, I understood that none of the hurtful things she said or did towards the end was her fault, it was just a disease that prayed on the old; prayed on the weak. 

It is to that understanding that brings me to the age-old conundrum – what happens when we leave this consciousness, and what lies beyond?

It’s this question that is ingrained in our primitive nature. We search for answers in this amazing existence of ours. Unfortunately we shall never know the answer until our time is up. 

And then to the point of processing reality and those things that fall outside what we perceive as normal.

And the reasoning behind me debating such reality is because of what happened on the Monday of last week.

As any other day, I’d woken to the familiar sight of the sun peeking through my half-drawn curtains. As the smell of the sea ventured its salty fragrance through the house, I showered and got ready for another day at the office. 

Per normal routine, I made coffee and put on the morning national news. I’d tuned in mid-story as a shaking camera followed the pretty reporter, who scurried down the tight city alley-side street. 

The reporter was approaching a large group of people in the distance, gathering and yelling as they would seeing a celebrity. 

Attempting to keep her composure as she spoke, the reporter said: ‘At dawn this morning, the report came in about the strange find here in the city.’ 

Barging her way through the spectators, the reporter continued as the camera rocked and blurred around the scene. 

‘The crowds have been gathering as soon as this was discovered.’

I was anticipating some fantastic wall art or perhaps a bucket of treasure.

Finally, the reporter reached it.

It was a single door stood in the middle of the alleyway. 

Why was a door so newsworthy?

Well …

The simple door stood perfectly upright in the middle of the street with nothing else on either side. There were no hinges or frame I could make out, nothing to hold it up. 

A freestanding door perfectly out of place.

‘Here it is, the door to nowhere.’

The reporter and cameraman moved behind the door and as she said – it went nowhere, to the back of the door was just the continuous murky and dank street.

The bystanders of the large crowd stood filming the door on their mobile phones in tandem.

‘As we can see, there is nothing supporting the door. It can’t be moved by physical force and ….’

The reporter pulled on the silver handle, which didn’t move.

‘It’s locked.’

The reporter moved away from the door, focussing on the large crowd of people that

appeared to be growing by the second.

‘The crowds of people have been gathering all morning to try and open the door. We’ve had axes and sledgehammers trying their luck, but nothing has made a dint or scratch.’ 

Shaking my head, I turned the TV off. I must have tuned in to some prank show by mistake.

When I arrived at work, my boss – Mark, was pacing the office floor. Sitting at the desk I asked Lisa: ‘What’s with him?’

Lisa leaned forward, ‘didn’t you see the news this morning?’

‘I saw some prank about a door.’

‘You mean doors?’ Lisa said emphasising on the s. ‘They’ve appeared all over the world, Kat. All of them locked, not supported by anything and in the most random of places.’

Scrunching my mouth, I asked: ‘What do you mean, all over the world?’

‘They’re everywhere … even here.’

‘Here?’

Lisa nodded, ‘at the beach.’

Laughing I held my hand on my forehead, ‘the beach?’

Again, Lisa nodded.

‘Mark wants to go down there, to take a look.’

‘It’s a door,’ I whispered. ‘Nothing special, just a door.’

With that, Mark came over to our desk. His mop of brown hair was beaded with sweat and to be honest, he looked like shit.

‘So, works cancelled today girls. I’m going down to the beach to see what’s going on with these doors.’

‘Are you serious?’ I asked.

He was.

‘Listen, I’ll give you a full day’s pay for the inconvenience, under one condition.’

‘What’s that?’ Lisa asked.

‘You come to the beach with me.’

‘Sold,’ Lisa said without hesitation.

  As feelings go, the only thing I could recall is trepidation, there was an underlying reluctance to go. 

‘I’m not interested,’ I said.

Lisa rolled her eyes, ‘oh c’mon, Kat. Isn’t there something inside you that isn’t just a little curious?’

For all my sins, everyone knew that I would be curious, and Inquisitiveness can be quite the bitch when you’re a person like me.

It still didn’t stop me from being fearful and I kept telling myself that there would be a rational explanation behind this prank.

As we arrived at the beach, it was to no surprise that the whole town there. The entire coastal community had congregated on the sands and under the view of the ocean to look at the door.

And there it was, stood in what I would say the direct centre of the beach with the tide sweeping past, curling back and forth around the bottom of the wood before retreating with haste.

Everyone was here, the shopkeepers, the police and emergency services, the old, the young. Everyone.

We made our way to the commotion. And laying eyes on the door made my legs weak. How was it stood so perfectly? Who put it there? And if these doors have appeared all over the world then … what was their purpose?

As I watched everyone open-mouthed and shocked regarding this new phenomenon, a sound came hurtling from behind.

A cry of sorts.

It was a woman moving through the crowd.

‘Please, let me through … it’s mine … it’s my door. Please, let me through.’

It was Mrs Harkness from the town. She was small, frail with grey hair and wrinkled skin. I’d known her for a while as she always could be found amongst the shops on a daily basis talking scandal and gossip.

The police officers parted the crowd to allow Mrs Harkness to come to the front.

‘What did you say, ma’am?’ the officer asked.

Reaching the front, Mrs Harkness said: ‘That door, it’s mine!’

‘What do you mean, it’s yours?’

The crowd quietened as Mrs Harkness softly said: ‘It’s … it’s identical to my home. The white colour, the silver handle … it’s exactly the same.’

The police officer scratched his head and sighed. ‘I think you’re mistaken; this is just some prank-,’

‘I’m telling you it’s mine!’

‘Well, it doesn’t matter anyway ma’am, as you can see …’ The officer walked over and tried pulling down on the handle. ‘It’s locked.’

‘Let me try,’ Mrs Harkness said.

The officer along with some of the crowd sniggered and laughed.

‘Be my guest,’ the officer said standing aside.

I watched the frail old woman move to the door. She placed her shaking hand on the handle, pulled down with minimal effort and to everyone’s amazement, it opened.

Now, as I retrace what was beyond the door in my mind, I must admit that at the time I thought that I must have been dreaming.  

Perhaps I was partaking in one long lucid trip of the subconscious, in a world where everything is vivid and feels so real, but it couldn’t be.

You see, me along with everyone else expected to see the sea behind the door in all its waving and crashing beauty. 

Instead, what we saw was just a black canvas. 

The police officer rushed to investigate the abyss and Mrs Harkness stood mesmerised. 

Everyone in the crowd had been stunned to silence, questioning what their eyes and brains were attempting to compute.

It was a Salvador Dali picturesque view. A simple door in the middle of a beach, leading to literal nothing.

Mrs Harkness stepped forward. 

‘Ma’am, what are you doing?’ the officer said. ‘If you think I’m letting you go in there, then you’re mistaken.’

‘I’m not scared,’ Mrs Harkness said. ‘Look, he’s waiting for me,’ she pointed.

The officer walked to the door, looked in, frowned and attempted to close it. It didn’t move. He tried again and again without success, even asking others to help with the same result. 

Standing in front of the door, the officer took a deep breath and moved his palm to reach inside. 

His hand flattened against the solid wall of blackness, unable to progress or protrude.

‘See, nothing more than a dead end,’ the officer said. ‘A trick, made by some imbecile.’

Mrs Harkness moved side by side to the officer. The old woman reached in, but this time her hand pierced the blackness and went straight through.

‘Impossible!’ the police officer said. He ran round the back of the door and saw no hand protruding, nothing but a blank white canvass. ‘This can’t be … it can’t be!’

As the crowd and I gasped in shock, Mrs Harkness stepped fully into the void, vanishing instantly. The door swung shut without assistance. 

A few of the spectators from the front of the group joined the police officer yanking on the door, which again wouldn’t budge.

Mrs Harkness was gone.

Safe to say I didn’t get any sleep that night. Anyone who saw that old lady walk into a black nothingness would have to be induced with copious amounts of narcotics to forget. 

As I laid in bed listening to the faint sound of traffic and wildlife, I asked myself one question.

How does anything go back to the way it was now?

As the sun rose the following day, I tried my best to stick to routine. Everything but the news, as I didn’t want to see any of that today.

Heading to the office, the streets were silent, no soul in sight; it didn’t take a genius to figure out where everyone was.

When I arrived at the office, I found the building locked. It was never locked. Mark had worked six, sometimes seven days a week to keep his business surviving.

As I knocked on the door, my phone chimed in the back pocket of my trousers. Taking it out I saw a message from Lisa – Come Beach.

Rolling my eyes, I set off.

As per yesterday, the entire town was stood before the door. Only I had to second glance noticing the change of colour. It was now painted red with a different looking silver handle. There was a silver letter box and small square window at the top.

For a moment I stood motionless trying to fathom how all this was happening.

‘Kat!’ Lisa cried from the beach. 

I walked over and said: ‘What’s happening?’

‘It … it has changed this morning. You see the news? It’s happening everywhere. The doors … they’ve all changed. And it gets weirder. Someone from every town and village stepped in those doors yesterday, disappearing into thin air, just like Mrs Harkness.’

‘Jesus Christ, what’s happening?’

Lisa pointed to a middle-aged man and woman, standing next to the door.

‘See that couple? Apparently, they say this is their door, they’ve tried the handle but it won’t open. Which means their talking bullshit.’

Suddenly the door opened on its own and out stepped Mrs Harkness. Well I thought it was Mrs Harkness. She wore the same clothes, had the same hair and walked with that same frail tenacity. Only her face … it was different.

I was used to seeing the old woman with the sort of look that maybe she had a chip on her shoulder, a bee in her bonnet, that kind of look.

But out she came with the broadest smile and distant look in her eyes.

The same police officer who watched her enter came and took her warmly by the shoulders.

‘Are you all right? Where have you been?’ he asked. ‘What’s in there?’

‘I’ve seen the gaps,’ she said ecstatically. ‘He showed them me and now I can see all the gaps.’

‘What does that mean?’ the officer asked.

Without noticing, the middle-aged couple walked through their door and it closed behind them.

Mrs Harkness, totally oblivious to anyone else skipped off down the beach laughing uncontrollably

‘Kat … what the hell is going on?’ Lisa asked.

The same routine happened the following day. I met with Lisa at the beach and the door had changed again, now it was black with copper handle. A family of four waited outside the door. The mum and dad stood hand in hand with the toddler children waiting patiently as though in some queue for a rollercoaster. 

When the door opened, the young middle-aged couple exited with the same brimming smiles as Mrs Harkness.

Again, without any logical answer they strolled up the beach distant and laughing.

As the young family entered with the door closing firmly, there was a piercing scream to my right. My neck jolted round to see three or four people running toward the sea. Floating face down was a body … Mrs Harkness’ body.

The townsfolk dragged her out and laid her on the sand. Her face was blue as ice, her body limp like that of a dead fish.

It became apparent that this was no coincidence. Around the globe, the first people to enter the doors had all been found dead. Some had leapt from buildings, others stepping in front of traffic. Stories emerged of people taking a gunshot to the head, some had washed a bottle of pills down with liquor.

In every case they had committed suicide one way or another.

For the remainder of the day, the town searched for the young couple without success. I even joined in the search, helping check their house and work. The family members called their mobiles, which were now turned off. They’d disappeared.

Then the next day, the family of four stepped out of the door as another entered. The door now white again with huge crack down its right-hand side. 

And then, in came the lifeless floating bodies of the middle-aged couple, washing up on the beach face down.

The crowd stopped the young family from leaving the beach. 

‘You’re not going anywhere!’ the officer said. ‘We’re going to keep you safe.’

I don’t think in all my days on this earth have I been more freaked out than seeing those two young children with huge otherworldly grins spread across their faces.

‘We’re going to keep you safe,’ the police officer reiterated. ‘Don’t let them leave!’

‘We see the gaps,’ the father said. ‘Those beautiful gaps.’

It was agreed that the police would keep the family company at their house, making sure they were never left out of sight. Suffice to say that everyone in town had become quite concerned for their own safety, because who knew when their door would be waiting in the morning. 

I decided to stay home the following day. Last thing I needed was going back to the beach to see someone else enter the black void. 

Retracing the mundane life I used to have, I actually craved it back, the inquisitiveness in me had drained away.

When the phone rang, I knew instantly it was Lisa. 

‘Kat, you’re not at the beach?’

‘No, I decided to stay home.’

Lisa was stumbling with her breathing, stammering as she tried to release her words.

‘T … the family … they washed up this morning,’ Lisa said.

‘Oh Christ,’ I said holding my head.

The smiles of those two boys, a haunting vision I’d struggle to shake.

‘But the police were watching them, how did all four of them leave without being seen?’ I asked.

Lisa sighed: ‘I … I don’t know. The same thing is happening everywhere, the same cycle over and over again. Kat, there’s something else …’

I sat up sensing the tone, ‘Lisa, what is it?’

‘The door … today it’s Mark’s,’ Lisa said.

‘He went in?’ I asked, fearing the worst.

‘With Charlotte,’ Lisa confirmed.

I didn’t know what to do but hang up and head down to Lisa. When I arrived, she was sat on the stone situated at the entrance to the sand. The crowds had dwindled to maybe a dozen or so, people either losing interest or scared witless over this otherworldly event. I surmised it was the latter.

Sitting next to Lisa, I looked at the door in the distance, which indeed was Mark’s, painted in a grey colour with diamond shaped window. 

‘We’ll stay with him when he gets back,’ I said.

Lisa huffed, ‘it won’t make a difference, Kat. We’re all going to suffer the same fate, when our door arrives, it’s our time to depart.’

‘Don’t talk like that!’ I said. ‘We make our own decisions, and no one has to walk through that door.’

Lisa glanced up at me with those big deep brown eyes of hers and said: ‘But aren’t you curious what’s in there?’

‘No,’ I lied. ‘I tell you what, let’s go for a drink.’

‘But I wanna stay.’

Standing, I reached out my hand, which Lisa gracefully took, and I heaved her up.

The bar on the beachfront was quiet. We sat sipping our cocktails as Lisa couldn’t help but keep looking out the window at the door.

‘Is this how we’re supposed to act during something like this?’ Lisa said. ‘Sitting here drinking, waiting for our turn?’

Something like this?’ I questioned. ‘When has this ever happened? Is there a manual on how were supposed to act? Lisa, I said that none of us have to go in that door, we’re masters of our own destiny,’ I said with a sly smile.

‘And like I asked, are you not curious?’

I sipped the mojito through the straw and scrunched my lips deep in thought. ‘A little,’ I finally said. ‘But I’m more curious about what happens if someone doesn’t go in.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean that if someone restrains and chooses not to enter then I don’t know, it might break the cycle.’

Lisa pondered.

‘So, I have no idea what we’re supposed to do in this situation,’ I said raising the glass.

And then came the bright morning, along with an alcohol induced headache. 

I’d agreed to meet Lisa at the beach for when Mark and his wife came out the door. Lisa was waiting at the gate which led to the beach steps. 

‘Why haven’t you been answering your phone?’ she asked, shaking.

‘Because I was meeting you here, what’s wrong?’

‘Nothing … nothing, let’s get out of here,’ Lisa said, grabbing my arm.

I yelped, ‘hey, what’s wrong with you?’

From above Lisa’s head, I glanced to the sands and saw what had freaked her out. The door. It was composite, black with silver handle. The window above was a small square with silver trimming.

It wasn’t just any door.

It was my door.

Yanking free from Lisa’s grasp I headed down to the beach. Lisa followed in pursuit and calling for me to stop. The crowd on the beach was now less than double figures, most of which were made up of the police.

‘Is this your door maam?’ the officer asked exhausted.

I nodded.

I’d be lying if I wasn’t scared. But I was also determined to end this cycle.

The officer scratched his head and said: ‘Now, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I can’t watch anymore good people go in there and end up like that.’ The officer pointed to the sea where the bodies were floating. ‘You see, if you go in there, that’s where you’re gonna end up, face down in the water.’

‘I understand. But I have no intention of going in there.’

The door suddenly creaked open and out walked Mark and Charlotte, both with those wide grins on their faces. 

‘Mark … Mark,’ I said. ‘Are you all right?’ 

His eyes looked distantly out to the sea. ‘We’re great, we’ve seen the gaps. They showed us them and now we get to see them over and over again.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘Look,’ Mark whispered.

In the door, the blackness had gone, replaced with something I found much more homely. It was my mother smiling, stood before our old family home. Her face was warm, young and vibrant, the face I remembered before she passed away. 

Of course, I knew that this vision could not be real, it was something the door had manifested, somehow breaking into my subconscious memories.

But the fear washed away.

‘Are you coming, Katherine?’

Only mother called me Katherine.

As I stepped forward, I heard distant voices and cries, somehow blocked out by the silent drawing of mother’s face. My feet moved forward with overpowering acquiesce as I felt some hands grab hold of my shoulders and body. Even they couldn’t restrain me as I burst through them like old rusty shackles.

Entering through the door I heard it slam shut behind. When I looked it had vanished all together and I was stood in the sunshine outside our old home.

‘Katherine, I asked if you are coming?’ mother shouted.

Just as I was about to reply, I saw a little girl no older than ten-years-old run past my legs and into the gate. It was me, all those years ago when life had been nothing but picking flowers and chasing butterflies. Memories that were locked in a safe, deep within a mature mind now. 

I followed the path down to my old front door and pushed it open.

Suddenly everything switched to black as though a light had been turned off. Bright flickers and flashes like having a full body X-ray hit my eyes. There were quick flashes of images, I saw myself as a baby, a child, a teenager … I felt like I was being scanned. 

Then came the bright light of the house.

Inside, the walls were infested with mould. The wallpaper was fraying, dust particles danced in the sunlight and echoes bounced from the interior. 

The house was derelict, abandoned like a discarded piece of scrap. 

‘Mum?’ I called out.

I walked through the murk of the kitchen and into the old living room where I saw Mother sat in her old armchair. She looked asleep, just as frail as she did when she had died, her young vibrant energy evaporated, being replaced by nothing but an empty shell. Her clothes were woollen to keep the cold from her skin, her lips tired and crusty. 

In front, the TV was static. 

‘Hello, Katherine,’ mother suddenly spoke.

I jolted, ‘mum?’

‘You came.’

‘What is this place?’ I asked.

Mother never moved, keeping her face on the TV as though intrigued by some intense drama series.

‘The gaps,’ she said

‘The gaps?’

‘A place where you can remember all those memories you have lost, Katherine. I lost them, but now I can relive them … look.’

The television tuned in to an old family holiday. My father was building sandcastles with me patting along as a baby, mother was sunbathing next to us. I could smell the sea, the fish and chip stalls and the candyfloss. 

The television again changed as though flicking through channels and it was now my first day at school. Mother had dressed me in my uniform and was holding my face with a warm palm, pride bursting from her face.

I felt it, the warm feel of her touch.

Mother picked up the remote from her armchair and switched off the television.

‘Is there more?’ I asked, a tear dripping down my cheek.

‘There’s everything,’ mother replied. ‘Every single moment of your life … the gaps of memory. But now, you have to go back.’

I shook my head, ‘but I just got here.’

I thought I saw a faint smile across mother’s mouth. 

‘My dear Katherine; my sweet Katherine, you’re still trying to analyse everything. Time isn’t what you think it is. You’ll go back with these memories … all the memories, these gaps … they’ll make you happy, you’ll be able to run these in your mind at will … the good times.’

‘And the bad times?’ I asked, thinking about mother on her deathbed not knowing my name anymore, the way her warmth had turned to cold cruelty, the stranger I’d come to care for. ‘What about all the bad times?’ 

Mother never answered.

‘Why did those doors appear?’ I asked.

‘Our lives are endless corridors, sweet Katherine, doors to our endless memories. Relive those moments, be happy and smile.’

‘What about the bad times, mum?’

The front door opened behind me. I saw the beach, saw Lisa waiting in the distance.

‘Mum, what about the bad times?! Will I see them? will it make me-’

Kill yourself?

The old family home started to collapse on itself like paper being folded. 

Mum was folded away with the rest of it as I stepped back, retreating from the shadows.

Everything was turning black behind me as I walked back onto the beach.

Euphoria suddenly hit me. Mum was telling the truth, I could somehow instantly playback those sweet family moments in my head. It was like rewinding a favourite show to the best bits. 

I could remember everything.

I could see the gaps at will.

‘Kat … Kat!’ Lisa shouted. ‘Kat, are you all right?’

For once in a long time I did feel all right, in fact I felt great as I sat with dad on the beach building that sandcastle.

What about the bad times?

I’ll push them away, no need to focus on the bad, just think about the happy times. 

‘I can see the gaps,’ I said to Lisa. 

I think she started to cry, but I didn’t care, I was reliving the best times of my life, they were flashing before my eyes.

I can see the gaps and to be honest, I can’t stop smiling.


Ethan Maiden works for a utilities company in South Yorkshire. Currently he is editing his first novel that he hopes to be completed this year. The works of Stephen King and H.P Lovecraft are influences behind his fiction.


“The Haunting of Piedras Blancas” Dark Supernatural Fiction by DC Diamondopolous

There is no end to my love for Jemjasee. I pace the ragged cliffs, searching the sea for her ship. My longing will not cease until I am entwined in her marble wash of lavender and green arms. 

It’s dawn. The sunlight’s red varnish stretches across the Santa Lucia Mountains. The mist from the sea floats through the Monterey Cypress. Backlit in pink stands the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.  

The waves caress my vestige feet. The foam licks my revenant face. The damp never  seeps into my gossamer bones. My long silk robe opens, my breasts exposed to the witless wind. It hisses, jeers, but I am invincible, adrift in my chariot of grief. 

The gulls perch in conference on the white rock. Beyond is the blue empty sky, the vast sea without sails, no horizon. Blue. Come, Jemjasee. Am I to roam this rugged coastline for eternity, this journey without distance? I feel doomed, my struggle invisible. You must come, Jemjasee. Save me from my weariness. 

I skim the jagged bluff. The elephant seals raise their massive heads when they see me then fall back to sleep.           

Along the winding path, I float unnoticed by gardeners and groundskeepers. I glide over the pebbled lane, past stone cottages, a gift shop, the bell and tower. 

Slipping through the walls of the lighthouse, I float to the stairs. Tourists gasp when I appear. “The website didn’t say anything about a magic show,” someone says. “It’s like Disneyland!” cries a child. Their zeal echos around the cylindrical walls. I nod, playing along with the charade. It’s not always like this. Some days, people are thick with fear. They flee from my presence. When the sun shines, I’m an act. If the fog veils the coast, I’m a phantom. Most days, they don’t see me at all.

“Ah, that’s my wench.”  I recognize the guide’s garbled, liquored voice, his gnarled laugh. A salty ex-sailor, he sometimes comes alone, drinking, running after me, catching air. 

On the step, I look into his weather-beaten face. His sunken eyes leer. 

Damn foolish scoundrel.

Turning, gliding over the wrought-iron stairs to the deck, I let my robe fall. Naked. “This isn’t for kids!” Offended, parents usher their children outside, then turn for one last glimpse at my beautiful body.

I continue. Invulnerable. My feet sail over spiral wrought-iron stairs, my fingers sweep above the narrow curving rail. 

Everyone has gone, except for the guide, who looks up at me and says, “You elusive lass, I relish the day I grab your long red hair and make you mine.” 

He’ll  never get the chance. 

Inside the lantern room, the beacon has no purpose. Still, it shines for those who live along the coast and the tourists driving by. I glide outside to the widow’s walk. From the empty skies to the ocean’s bed, nothing rises or descends. 

Jemjasee, if you love me, come.  

Not long past, her ship rose out of the sea, and beams of lights pranced above the waves. Particles rearranged themselves, silver, glittered. The mirage shimmied into form. A shape malleable to Jemjasee’s thoughts, horizontal, then vertical, a kaleidoscope of color reflecting the terrain, the craft visible only when she wanted. 

Jemjasee was too good for me, too advanced. Not only did I fall in love with her, but the idea of what I, too, might become. She couldn’t suffer the stench of violence that infused my planet. If exposed too long, her breath ceased. I had to go with her, or not.  

But how could I journey outside of my own world? Fear ransacked my mind. It stuffed my schooling, programming, upbringing into a box that, god forbid, I break out and beyond until I’m unfettered by the lies I’ve been taught—crammed it down my cranium, and just to be sure, set a lid, a square hat with a tassel on top, to keep it all in. 

My decision to leave Earth was as ragged and split as the cliffs of my homeland.

After anguishing in my cottage, gazing on memories, touching knickknacks, holding friendships in picture frames, I pondered all I would lose. The future—too elusive, too great a change, my past—something I clung to. 

I can’t leave.

Jemjasee held me, the feeling of sadness so great no words would comfort. My heart was shrouded in sorrow. She walked the waters as her ship ascended from the sea.

The vessel hovered above the waves, a silver triangle. Sleek, like Jemjasee. It rolled on its side, morphed into a vertical tower, with a fissure, and she entered. A thousand lights, curved and colored, sparked, flashed, then disappeared. 

The instant she left, I knew my mistake. 

And so it began, the tears of regret and self-loathing. I missed the woman who was so full of love, that she knew nothing of its opposite. 

One day, while my mind slipped down around my ankles, I sat in my cottage, staring at a collage of empty food cartons, magazines, dust bunnies, paint chips, shattered wine glasses, a broken window from where the wind whispered, Go ahead. Do it.

On that day, I chose to end my suffering. With clarity restored and a mission in sight, I tossed a rope over the living room beam and tied a hoop large enough for my head, but small enough for my neck. From the kitchen, I dragged a chair and placed it underneath the shaft. 

I climbed on the seat, put the noose over my neck, and kicked out the chair. 

I dangled. Minutes went by, and still I was alive. Then my neck broke and life ebbed. Somewhere I drifted, first as a dark cloud, then into a gauzy realm where I was still—me. Oh, my outrage to discover that I could kill my body but never my Self!

A shadowy reflection of the woman Jemjasee loved, I roamed the rim of the bluff for another chance to leave, hoping she’d return.

I saw her. In my rapture I wailed, Jemjasee!

She walked the shore, shouting,  Astrid! I’m here for the last time. Come, before your planet strikes back for the harm done to it.

I ran down the cliff. My kisses lingered deep in her neck. My hands seized her stalks of short black hair. 

Jemjasee looked through me even as my mouth covered hers, my fingertips drunk from the touch of her. 

Nothing, not my cries or kisses could rouse her.

Sobbing, I screamed, Can’t you see me—don’t you know I’m here! 

Then she saw me and backed away. I saw the horror there in her golden eyes. Her shock pierced my translucent heart.

Please forgive me.

Her kind never sheds tears. Jemjasee had told me that on her island in the universe, there were no reasons to cry, but looking into her perfect lavender and green marble colored face, I saw a tear on the threshold of falling.

I was ashamed.

She left by way of the ocean as her ship rose out of the sea.

Condemned, I pace the ragged cliffs, the gulls in flight, the lighthouse behind me, on an endless quest to be with my beloved, forever adrift, because I hadn’t the daring to journey past my sphere.


“The Haunting of Piedras Blancas” was previously published by Coffin Bell Press


DC Diamondopolous is an award-winning short story, and flash fiction writer with hundreds of stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. DC’s short story collection Stepping Up is published by Impspired. She lives on the California coast with her wife and animals. dcdiamondopolous.com


“Manny” Dark, Supernatural Suspense by Jacob Moon

I guess you could say it all happened because of the pothole.  

I’m referring to the same one that went un-repaired for months, requiring those walking down the busy uptown street to make wide detours around it to avoid potentially snapping an ankle or breaking a heel. On the day that changed my life forever, the city had finally chosen to repair the pothole—resulting in the cordoning off of the entire corner of sidewalk behind it.  Pedestrians had to either cross to the other side of the street or detour down a block and go around. For some reason, maybe because I’d had a bad day at work and needed to be away from people, I chose to take the longer but less-traveled detour. Halfway down the side street, and for reasons I couldn’t say, I decided to cut through the alley to get back on track. It was just a whim, I suppose. Even by day, that part of the city can be a bit sketchy, but when you’ve already had a miserable day at work, coupled with a splitting headache, thoughts of homeless men huddled in refrigerator boxes or groups of shady-looking characters seem a bit less intimidating. 

I’d just entered the alley when I saw him in a garbage dumpster. Well, a part of him anyway. One leg. It was sticking up at an unnatural angle, the waxy skin and joined toes foretelling of anything but someone taking a late-afternoon dinner dive. I froze in my tracks, staring at it for a full minute without knowing what to do. I considered going back the way I’d come; the street with its safety net of pedestrians was only half a block to the right, with the less traveled but much safer detour street the same distance to the left. Standing there in my knee-length business skirt and high heels, I didn’t fit the picture of an investigator. Yet, as I stared at the leg, transfixed almost, I couldn’t help but wonder who it belonged to.   

A bum, his luck having run out? A murder victim hastily stashed?  

Those little hairs on the back of my neck stood on end—a vestige of some primal instinct that told me to either get the hell out of there or call the police. I did neither. Instead, I removed my heels (they’d been bothering me since lunch anyway, being a new pair that rubbed the outside of my toes in a weird way), and I planted a bare foot in a recessed notch halfway up the side of the dumpster. Grasping the top edge, I hoisted myself up so that I could see directly inside. I can’t really say what I’d expected to find. Eyes open or closed? Body bloodied or in pristine condition? I’d assumed the leg belonged to a female due to the lack of hair covering it, but I was surprised to find the opposite. Two other things surprised me, too—the guy was completely naked, and the guy wasn’t really a guy at all. 

Confusing, I know. Imagine how I felt at the time, balanced on bare feet on the side of a filthy dumpster, looking down at the upturned face of what appeared to be a man—quite a handsome one, at that—with a perfectly bald head and large, expressive eyes that stared up into the late-afternoon sky. With a physique so chiseled that the lines separating his abdominal muscles seemed carved into the flesh, he could have been a triathlete or a professional model.  With his other leg extended slightly behind him and half-buried in the mound of trash, he had the appearance of being in the process of either walking or running up the side of the dumpster.  Frowning, I looked closer and was shocked to find that he lacked genitals of any kind.   

Only after staring hard for another few seconds did it hit me. 

A dummy. Or mannequin, whichever you prefer. I suppose the word ‘dummy’ constitutes a denigration of sorts. Political incorrectness and all that. Either way, I breathed a sigh of relief and hopped down to put my heels back on. I’d taken three steps when a strange feeling made me stop. Like that sense you get when inspiration hits you out of nowhere, commanding you to take a course you haven’t yet considered. It seemed crazy to me then, just as it does now. Why a young woman, alone in that situation, would fish a mannequin out of a dumpster, wrap it in a discarded roll of carpet, and carry it home like some prized find in a garage sale, I cannot explain. 

But that’s exactly what I did. 

Twenty minutes later, I stood in my apartment’s living room, hands on hips and biting my lip. I’d set him up on the near living room wall, positioning his left hand up near his collarbone, his right arm at his side, and canting his head in a way that had him looking out the window. An urban David. Deciding it gaudy to leave him naked, I threw one of my oversized t-shirts over him, figuring I’d find something more appropriate later. That done, I took a hot bath and then plopped down on the couch to watch one of my favorite Netflix shows. My headache had worsened since I’d gotten home, but it was something the bath and half a bottle of leftover Rose helped ease. I turned in early and woke the next day feeling refreshed and newly energized. 

It being the weekend, I slid down to my favorite coffee shop around the corner and then bought some fresh veggies from a nearby farmer’s stand. On my way home, I passed an old consignment shop, which reminded me to grab some guy clothes for the mannequin. It felt fun shopping for a man who had no choice but to wear whatever I bought him. As I perused the racks, I was reminded of an ex of mine who I’d once bought an expensive shirt for. I remembered it taking me an hour to choose between several options, finally deciding on his favorite color (blue) and fabric (Egyptian cotton). Pulling it from the gift bag, he’d frowned and cast it aside without so much as a thank you. I’d never bought him another article of clothing again. And I’d promised myself to consider—very carefully—the prospect of buying clothes for a man in the future. 

Technically speaking, this didn’t count.   

I settled on a Hawaiian button-down and a pair of khakis. I decided to leave him bald and barefooted. I liked the casual flair that sort of look gave him, as if he’d be ready to step into a beach-side eatery and order the calamari and a beer. Seeing as how my apartment’s austere look hadn’t changed much since I’d moved in six months before, the addition of the mannequin gave it instant personality. A conversation piece if nothing else.  

Standing there looking him over, inspiration struck me again. He needed a name.  Searching my mind for something appropriate, I settled on the obvious—Manny. It suited him.  Chiseled, high cheek bones. A prominent jawline. The muscles in his arms forever flexed and the relation of his upper body to his waist retaining that perfect V-shape. I sighed. If only real men came this way. I thought back to my list of exes and fought to recall if any of them had even remotely resembled Manny. Adding to this wish, I attributed all their best attributes into him, from sweetness, to being a good listener, to possessing a great sense of humor. But that only made me realize I was being guilty of what many people do at some point of their lives—putting into practice the useless exercise of expecting perfection.   

The following day, my mother came over to visit. As soon as she saw Manny, she laid into me good. 

“What on earth is that?” she asked before even sitting down. Rolling my eyes, I told her the story. 

“Well, I don’t like it,” she said, giving Manny a wary eye as she set her purse down on the kitchen table. “It’s creepy. Why don’t you try bringing a real man in here for once? I doubt that thing will be giving you any orgasms.” 

There it was. Always one to take her shots, she apparently hadn’t needed her usual warm-up today. 

“If you must know, I’m talking to someone,” I lied. “Not that I need to report my love life to you.” I could already feel my anxiety creeping in, bringing out the hives over my arms.  “Besides, it’s harmless. It’s like art.” 

Mom scoffed. “I’m telling you, it’s creepy. It gives you the impression it’s always looking at you. I can only imagine standing with my back to it, alone in here! God.” 

I made us some tea and sat down on the couch beside her. Sipping the soothing liquid, I changed the subject. Soon, however, she brought up my love life again, and I was forced into my usual self-defense stance. Arms and legs crossed as I slumped into the couch cushions, face set, my foot fidgeting in an unconscious attempt to deflate my own rising aggravation. “Why are you so interested in who’s sharing my bed?” I asked her, already knowing her answer. 

“Life is short. I won’t be around forever,” she said, placing a hand on my knee. “It’s not like you have to get married. Times are different. I married your father—Lord rest his soul—because society said I had to. If I’d been born into your generation, I’d have asked him to impregnate me on our first date and then never talked to him again!” She laughed at her own joke, giving off that high-pitched, staccato cackle that sounded more animal than human.  Rolling my eyes again, I wondered why I hadn’t told her I was busy all weekend washing my hair, or plucking my eyebrows, or even getting a Brazilian wax.

Mothers.

*  *  *

The next week went by uneventfully. Cramps that found me right on time retreated for their three-week sabbatical, and work got better. I’d been stressed over getting prepared for an important marketing meeting to be held that Friday, and once it was finished without a hitch, I gladly accepted an invite from a group of co-workers to go out for cocktails at a hip new bar I’d been wanting to try. Our group included three girls and a pair of guys, one of whom worked in a different department than us. As we all talked, I noticed the guy I didn’t know making eye contact with me. Not creepily, but in a way that spoke of quiet confidence—and suggested that he probably knew how to fuck. I considered myself just this side of pretty, had my shit together, and owned the opinion that my personality was fairly normal. I took tremendous pride in my sense of humor. Always one to joke and not be offended easily, I laughed as the group and I enjoyed a conversation that had become increasingly lubricated by alcohol. One of the girls joked that our boss was secretly a cross-dresser, eliciting guffaws all around. The guy I knew well added his own joke, saying he was currently wearing a pair of crotchless panties that allowed his balls to breathe easier. The table exploded into laughter. The whole time, the other guy kept glancing at me above the rim of his beer glass.  

Later, as we all left the bar, he took me aside and asked if he could call me sometime.  Not text or DM  Call. It was refreshing to be hit on by a normal guy who didn’t seem averse to regular conversation. I said ‘sure’ and gave him my number. What the hell—maybe my mom had been right for a change. 

He called me five minutes later. Normally, I’d have seen that as a red flag. Too needy or too horny. But I hadn’t gotten that impression. When I picked up the call, he had me laughing right away, and before I knew it, I was at a different bar with him having another drink. As we left, he pulled me close and kissed me. Later, I’d remember the taste of scotch and bubblegum on his mouth. He was a great kisser, which was no surprise since I can usually tell those things just from looking at a guy. He asked to come back to my place, but I told him no. That normally would have been a red flag also, a guy asking that so soon, but not this time and not this guy.  My place was a mess, and I hadn’t shaved in several days. It wasn’t as if I planned on screwing him, but two people alone in an apartment while under the influence of alcohol have been known to knock the boots once or twice before. I did agree, however, to lunch the following day, and then I floated back to my apartment on a cloud. 

As soon as I locked the door behind me, I collapsed on the couch and found myself staring at Manny. I’d adjusted his arms and head the day before, just to change things up. Light from the hallway cast him in partial shadow, giving him a slightly eerie appearance. Standing to turn on the overhead light, I paused in front of him and looked into his glassy, darkly large eyes.  “I kissed someone tonight,” I confessed, and was surprised to feel better at having articulated it.  Like he could be the personification of a diary. I sat back down and began speaking to him about my entire week. Before I knew it, an hour had gone by and I’d recounted most everything that had happened during that time. And I went to bed feeling emotionally recharged, as if I’d just spoken to a good friend who listened more than they spoke. As long as I had Manny, I wondered if I would ever need counseling. 

The calendar turned, and life went by as normal. I went on a few more dates with the new guy. Eric. He didn’t over-pursue, which I liked. We learned more and more about each other, including our similar backgrounds and many shared passions. After each date, I came home and told Manny about it. With a glass of wine in hand, I would sprawl on the couch and talk to him, recounting where Eric and I had gone and what we’d done. It didn’t seem weird at all. People often talked to themselves, I figured, just like they talked to their plants and pets. I didn’t have a large collection of friends, and the ones I did have were largely superficial or preferred to communicate with their smartphone keyboards. Among the guy friends I had, most either wanted to sleep with me or couldn’t hold a conversation for longer than five minutes. But as I’d begun to realize, talking with Manny about my life was cathartic. He’d become my sounding board, my never-complaining confidant.  

One evening, after I’d just ended an exasperating phone conversation with my mother, I turned to Manny and said, “You’re the only one who really understands me.”  I felt shocked saying the words. Here I was, a grown woman with a college degree, confiding in a doll. If anyone else had been present, I may have been embarrassed. But I felt good saying it and discovered a level of comfort I hadn’t known in quite some time. Standing there resolutely, frozen in his own masculinity, Manny projected everything I sought in a man…save for his lack of a brain, heartbeat, and most importantly, a dick. I found it maddening in a way to constantly pass this model of my perfect guy, one who listened without fail and never judged me, but not being able to actually have him in flesh and blood. But I soon resigned myself to the fact that, although it felt nice to be around a breathing male sometimes, the unalienable truth remained that no man had ever made me feel the way Manny did. As I turned in for the night, I warned myself against becoming too idealistic. I did that a lot. It was easily my worst flaw. 

Two nights later, I finally brought Eric back to my place after having dinner at a nice place by the river. Plopping onto the couch, we began to kiss heavily. I’d even let him finger me beneath my dress—something that had driven me wild with passion and challenged my resolve to wait to sleep with him. Neither of us owed anything to the other, of course, and I don’t think either of us had any expectations other than having fun together in an increasingly insane world. It reminded me of a story I’d recently read about the Battle of Britain, when the Germans had indiscriminately bombed London and relative strangers had engaged in spontaneous love affairs in the underground shelters. But for my own reasons, mostly because I really liked him, I’d set the decision in my mind to take a bit longer with him. Looking for the slow burn versus the quick fuse. 

As we sat together on the couch, I quickly realized Eric expected more. With a movie playing on the TV and our second bottle of wine empty, things started to heat up. I’d let him wander to second base, but when he rounded toward third, I put on the brakes.   

“Is it me?” he asked with a wounded look in his eye. 

I told him no, that it was just my wish to proceed more slowly. I reassured him that I liked him a lot, but that sex wasn’t on the forefront of my mind that night. 

“Is it because that thing is looking at us?” he asked, indicating Manny standing on the opposite side of the room. 

I laughed. “The mannequin? Of course not. I told you, it’s just a personal thing with me.” I suggested we get back to the movie, but he didn’t seem interested. His mood had changed. He seemed perturbed, almost pouty. I felt the air becoming heavy with an oncoming argument. 

“How about we go into the bedroom where it’s not looking at us?” he suggested. “It’s sort of weirding me out.” 

I smiled in the way a woman smiles at a man who just doesn’t get it. “Maybe we should just—” 

And then, he was on me like a maniac. He laid across me, pinning me against the couch while pawing at the snap of my jeans with one hand and pulling up my shirt with the other. He kissed me so hard our teeth clinked together, and when I tasted blood, I wasn’t sure if it was his or mine. Struggling beneath him, I fought to push him off me, but he outweighed me by at least seventy pounds. He worked out a lot, he’d said, and it showed. 

“Get the fuck off me!” I yelled, still struggling to squeeze out from beneath him. He’d managed to unsnap my jeans and was busy with the zipper when he whispered drunkenly in my ear, “Relax, it’s just sex.” 

I’d played sports in high school and currently worked out at a local gym. Even though I’d grown a bit softer than I would have liked, I felt confident that, in a pinch, I could hold my own.  Feeling the situation approaching desperate, I summoned every bit of strength I had and pushed upward with both my knees and elbows. An involuntary grunt escaped him as he rolled off me, striking the coffee table and then crashing to the floor. I wasted no time in getting to my feet and snapping up my jeans. Glaring down at him, I extended one finger toward the door and told him to get out of my apartment. He looked up at me with an amused look on his face. I wasn’t sure what infuriated me more—what he’d tried to do, or the look he was giving me.

“Whatever,” he said, standing and re-tucking his shirt. He bumped me on purpose on his way out, telling me to have fun fucking my doll.   

Good riddance. 

*  *  *

The next day, I paid for two security cameras to be installed, each one showing the interior of my apartment from opposing angles. My apartment manager refused to allow me to install them outside my front door, citing ownership rules, but allowed me to have them inside. It made me feel better knowing I’d have a record of what went on inside my place in case something like this ever happened again. The installer taught me how to download the app so that I could review the cameras on my phone. It cost me five hundred bucks and half a day of missed work, but even though things were a bit tense when I eventually did show up to work and saw Eric, I resolved to stay as professional as I could. I felt okay with not reporting him to the police since I felt I’d handled it, promising myself to confront him if he as much as looked cross-eyed at me.  

As I was getting ready for work the next morning, I heard a knock at my apartment door.  Opening it, I saw a stern-looking police detective standing in the hall. He asked if he could speak with me about a case he was working, and because I knew I hadn’t done anything to be concerned about, I invited him in. As he sat down on the couch, he eyed Manny with a mixed expression of humor and pity. 

A murder. Eric’s. A couple taking a midnight stroll had found his body about five blocks from my place just after midnight. My jaw hit the floor. 

“We got a warrant for his cell phone records,” the detective said. “That’s how we found you. Text messages indicate he came here the night before he was killed. You two communicated right up until he got here, and then there’s nothing afterward. Care to elaborate?” 

I didn’t like the insinuation, but told him the whole story truthfully, from start to finish.  When I stopped talking, he gave me a look that said this was probably not the last time he’d ask to speak with me. 

“Can I ask how he died?” I asked, feeling somehow guilty for having thrown Eric out the way I had.  

“Not nicely,” the detective said, stone-faced. 

It wasn’t until a week later, when I came home to find a bunch of freshly picked flowers on the kitchen table, that I knew someone had broken in. I’d noticed strange things before, but nothing to arouse hard suspicion. Just an item here or there being in a different place than where I remembered leaving it. Once, I’d left for the gym and turned around upon realizing I’d forgotten my towel. Walking back inside my apartment, I’d been surprised to find it on the floor at Manny’s feet, instead of on the foyer credenza where I remembered leaving it. 

On a different day, I’d come home from having drinks with a girlfriend and drawn myself a bath, thinking to relax in my scented bubbles while listening to Pandora. I always left my bubble bath in the same place; this time should have been no different. Except, when I’d opened the vanity, the bottle had been nowhere to be seen. Looking everywhere for it, I’d happened upon it sitting on, of all places, the kitchen counter. Rewinding time, I’d tried to remember if I’d misplaced it by accident, perhaps while chatting on the phone or engaged in one of my usual talk-out-loud sessions. But I was sure I hadn’t misplaced it. Adding to this certainty was the fact that I’d found the bottle open, the cap set beside it as if someone had smelled it and forgotten to screw the lid back on.  

I also remembered coming home one day to find my underwear drawer open, feeling sure someone had entered my apartment to rummage through my things. I recalled the apartment maintenance man recently stopping by to fix a clogged sink, and while leaning over to show him the problem I’d caught him leering at me. This last episode with the flowers sealed the deal, obviously. But without solid proof, I’d be shooting in the dark. That’s when it hit me.  

My cameras. 

I began from the beginning—the day after Eric had tried to force himself on me.  Uncorking a bottle of merlot, I poured myself a glass and sat down to watch the first day on fast-forward. Nothing other than me coming and going as usual… until I turned in for the night. The installer had told me the cameras had special night filters that illuminated my living room in low light. He wasn’t kidding—on video, my place lit up like a Christmas tree at night. As the time counter sped toward midnight, I poured myself another glass of wine and prepared for an uneventful viewing session, knowing I’d slept solidly until the following morning. At just after midnight, though, I saw something that nearly made me choke on my wine. Not believing what I’d seen, I rewound the footage and watched it three more times, amazement and confusion swimming through me.  

There it was—direct, irrefutable evidence proving someone had indeed been rummaging through my apartment. 

Manny.   

Let me explain. 

At 12:03 a.m. that night, while I was fast asleep in bed, Manny walked across the living room and quietly let himself out the front door. Fifty-four minutes later, he re-entered, locking the door behind him and assuming his previous position against the wall. The detective had said Eric had been killed sometime between midnight and 1 a.m. Each time I re-watched the footage, I pinched myself to ensure I hadn’t been dreaming. But there it was in black and white. The mannequin I’d hauled out of a garbage dumpster and carried home, the same one I had cheekily bought clothes for and divulged my deepest thoughts to on numerous occasions, had miraculously and inexplicably moved on his own, out then back into my apartment while I’d slept unaware in the next room. 

I went over the next several days’ worth of tape and confirmed what I already suspected.  Manny had moved my gym towel, ostensibly to wipe himself down in a similar manner how I did after doing yoga in my living room. As I’d reentered the apartment, he’d hastily dropped it at his feet, not having time to put it back where I’d left it. As the video footage kept going, I saw him move several other things around, as well. Watching him, it seemed as though he was merely been curious—sniffing this, touching that—until I saw something that both touched my heart and terrified me. While I’d been at work just that day, he’d slipped out of the apartment again, only to return shortly thereafter with the flowers. Transfixed, I watched him glide effortlessly across the tiled floor, dancing with the flowers extended in his outstretched arm as he went, until he placed them atop the kitchen table, exactly where I’d found them. So much for my creepy maintenance man theory. Then, Manny had done something else, something that caused a chill to run down my spine. He’d stood in front of the blown-up photo of my father and me—the one my father had framed for me just a week before he’d died—and raised one hand to my portrait-face and held it there, lovingly almost, except I knew that to be crazy because he was a fucking doll, for Christ’s sake, and I wasn’t playing around anymore.  

Slamming the lid to my laptop closed, I stormed over to where Manny stood and faced him toe-to-toe. 

“Did you kill him?” I demanded, surprised at the evenness in my voice. 

Nothing in response. Only his steadfast stillness. And my pounding heart. 

“I saw you moving around. I saw you touching my things.” 

Still nothing. I stood there staring into his soulless eyes for a full five minutes. I had it in my mind not to move until he did, deciding that the first one of us to break would lose this little battle which had formed between us. But I knew he would outlast me. I could stand there for a week and he wouldn’t move. He had that on me. I would grow weary, thirsty, and would need to go to the bathroom. He, on the other hand, could stand there until I’d turned to dust, were it necessary. But it wasn’t, because I threw my hands up and stormed my way to the kitchen, yanking open the squeaky drawer where I kept the corkscrew and assorted knife ware, and then proceeding to open another bottle of wine. I chugged a full glass to get my courage up and then went back to where Manny stood. 

“I know it was you. Nod if I’m right.” 

Nothing. 

“You owe me, dammit. I saved you.” 

His eyes stared black and vacant toward the twinkling city beyond the window. 

“Fine!” I said, and stomped to my bedroom, slamming the door and locking it. I was tired, and it had already been a long enough day. I wasn’t in the mood to argue with anyone, much less a doll.  

I awoke the next morning nursing a cruel hangover. I shuffled to Manny and cupped the rigid contour of his chin in one hand. “I’m sorry I yelled at you,” I said, meaning it. Then, I drank the leftover wine for breakfast. 

*  *  *

Winter came and went, and Spring budded anew. My talk with Manny seemed to have stemmed his indiscretions. At least from what I could tell. If he slipped away while I was at work or out with friends, I was never the wiser. I’d told him I would trust him and never look at the cameras again, but part of that promise had been due to my uncertainty if my sanity could withstand any more unexpected shenanigans. But after an initial period of coolness where we existed as distant roommates, we slowly became close again. When I got promoted at work (a senior marketer!), I burst through the front door and told him right away. Once, the detective who had told me about Eric’s murder dropped by to tell me they were moving the case over to being considered a cold file. No leads. If I had any further information to give them, he asked that I please drop them a line. I never would, of course.   

My mother kept up her weekly visits, passing Manny and giving him an indignant look each time, as if his continued presence somehow reduced her own importance. She’d long given up the suggestion of me disposing of him. I wouldn’t have it, and she knew it. I suppose some deep-seeded sympathy for me having lost my father (hers was still alive) at such a young age must have kept her from browbeating me too harshly. Who cared anyway? In her mind, I’m sure Manny was relegated to being a harmless adornment of sorts. A novelty. I even think his presence helped reduce her ceaseless nagging on my relationship status. I’d gone out on a handful of dates since Eric, but there’d been nothing serious to speak of—and certainly nothing that necessitated informing my mother about it.  

But that all changed on the day I met Michael. 

If you’ve ever fallen in love at first sight, maybe you know what I mean. I’d been picking out zucchinis at my local produce stand when a bunch of them tumbled from their pyramid stack. Seemingly out of nowhere, a pair of hands appeared and caught them before they hit the floor. The hands’ owner straightened and smiled, a vegetable knight in shining armor. Six-three, well-built, and with a smile that could melt the polar ice caps. “They say if you save a zucchini, you have to eat it that day or you’ll have bad luck,” he said with a smirk. Laughing, I watched him place all five of them into my basket. 

“That’s a lot of zucchinis to eat in one day,” I said, blushing.   

“Not if you’re sharing them,” he said. 

On impulse, I invited him over for dinner that night. 

*  *  *

I made my homemade Bolognese, incorporating shaved zucchini lengths as the pasta equivalent for a lasagna dish. Delicious, if I say so myself. Michael brought a caprese salad and a bottle of cabernet that tasted of oak and berries. We talked over candlelight about everything and nothing. I quickly became lost in a dream-like state; never had I bonded so effortlessly with another person, let alone a man. He was a teacher at a local private school and dreamed of becoming a painter. Divorced with no kids. I could tell he was the type of guy who didn’t have a problem getting dates, and yet he managed to come across as never needing a woman’s attention.  I felt completely comfortable in my skin around him, but the sexual tension was palpable. At one point, I dripped some wine on my finger while pouring us fresh glasses, and imagined him taking my finger into his mouth and sucking it clean. Jesus. I wasn’t myself. I had to excuse myself to the bathroom just to stare at myself in the mirror and calm down.  

Hold it together, now. Act like you’ve done this before.  

After dinner, we retired to the couch. I hadn’t had a man of any sort sit there since Eric, but that had already been four months past, so I figured it was about time I got over the shock of what had happened. Michael reminded me of what it meant to be alive. My nerve endings were electrified. The air sizzled, and even my feet seemed to float above the floor as I breezed barefoot across the kitchen tile. At one point, I passed by Manny and thought for a moment that I’d detected movement from his eyes, as if he’d been watching my progress across the floor.  Having recently consigned our relationship to one of muted friendship, I’d failed to discern anything amiss from him until that moment. Something seemed different with him then. Even Michael commented on the undercurrent of tension in the room. 

“Tell me about the mannequin.” 

So, I did. The entire story, save for what I’d seen on the videotape. He listened with genuine interest, nodding here and there, giving an occasional uh-huh in all the right places. He mentioned that he owned a shirt much like the one I’d dressed Manny in (I’d since given him a new wardrobe with the changing seasons—it was a trendy, V-neck t-shirt worn with linen shorts), and never once questioned my sanity for having fished him from the dumpster. It was nice to just talk to a real man and receive an organic response. Which is probably why I leaned over while he was in mid-sentence and did something even I hadn’t expected. 

Taking his face in my hands, I kissed him hard on the mouth. It had all been so much lately, with everything having taken place in my life over the past year. A move from the suburban home I’d grown up in into the city, a demanding new job, the death of my father, and finally the drama with Eric all hanging over me. There we were, Michael and I, two human beings brought together in a moment in time, and it was a moment that would never be re-produced because, just like snowflakes, moments were special, unique. The culmination of my hardest year yet and the undeniable sexual electricity between us resulted in the inevitable, I suppose. Recovering from the unexpected advance, he stood and hoisted me up. Like a gymnast, I wrapped my legs around his toned mid-section, my arms around his neck. Our faces still locked together, he carried me into the bedroom. I’d already lit a candle there, by some forethought or hope that the night would go just as it had. Laying me down atop the bedcovers, he kissed down my neck to the swell of my breasts, removing my shirt and unhooking my bra with one hand. I watched the shadows dance on the ceiling and wondered how long it had been since I had felt this way. How many nights alone I had spent recalling a collection of failed relationships, my father’s death, even questioning my move here into the city? It was all just so heavy, so much so that as Michael undid my jeans and slid them free of me, a new thought entered my mind. I thought about how exhilarating it was to be alive. To finally be free of that heaviness. Our snowflake moment in time, never before seen and never to be repeated. He kissed down the length of my body, and then he was inside me, suddenly, eye-openingly, and we threw our bodies together with abandon. 

Afterward, we slept like gods. 

*  *  * 

I woke sometime later to the sound of Michael leaving the bed for the hallway bathroom.  Rolling over in the sheets, I had just begun to doze off again when I heard what sounded like a commotion in the living room. Michael had probably become lost in the dark and tripped over the ottoman, as I had done countless times myself. The sound of footsteps could be heard then, going into the kitchen. He must have been in search of something to drink. Half-awake, I waited for the sound of the refrigerator opening. But instead of the recognizable noise of the door seals separating, I heard something else altogether. Something curious. 

The sound of the squeaky kitchen drawer opening, followed by metal being drawn across metal. 

Frowning, I turned my head so that I had use of both ears. Had I heard a groan coming from the living room, from where I’d heard the commotion? Then those same footsteps sounded again, followed by what sounded like someone choking—or being choked—before I heard the sound of something heavy being dragged from the hallway into the bathroom. The casting aside of the shower curtain; those metal clasps raking against the likewise metal rod. My curiosity rising, I lifted myself to my elbows and turned my head in the direction of the partially open bedroom door. Had I really heard that same heavy object being lifted and dropped into the tub?  Nothing could be heard for several moments, until my heart thudded still in my chest as the worst sound of all came.   

The sound of cutting.  

It went on for minutes—hours, it seemed. Hacking and sawing, pausing now and then for the dropping of slightly less-heavy objects into doubled plastic garbage bags that must have been fished from beneath the sink. When it was over, there was the rinsing of the tub, followed by the shower and the sound of someone stepping inside of it to wash themselves off. I listened to all this while biting the corner of my pillow, and watching the last bit of candle burn away, its light creating dancing ghosts on the ceiling until finally it fizzled out in one final gasp. 

I laid there in the dark, my heart in my throat, waiting for what would come next. And then it did, the other side of the bed depressing as a figure laid down beside me, drawing its plastic fingers across the skin of by bare back in a way that both thrilled and chilled me all at once.


Jacob Moon lives, works and writes out of Clearwater, Florida. He is an insufferable sports fan of teams that both thrill and depress him, and he enjoys good food and cold beer equally. His first novel, ‘Furlough,’ was self-published in December 2020. Learn more at writerjake.com


Interview with Author and Poet Alan Catlin

Bio:

Named after grade B movie actor. Phantom Lady. Male lead. Mother’s Secret life as. Divorce year of 1953. Spent as Stranger in Paradise. Home as found. The Snake Pit. Visiting Days on Psychiatric Ward. High school as Hell. College as Ice Hell. Grad school a Lower circle of. Work as Cocktail. Living below the poverty line. A brief Walk in the Sun becomes Interviews with Hideous People. More Cocktail. Show me the way to the next whiskey. The Long Goodbye. The Book Lover. Sober as a judge in a tank full of Drunks. What I am today

What is your greatest accomplishment as a writer so far?

Longevity.

Why do you write?

Writers write because they have to. I know I do. There is no such thing as a writer who stops writing. There are writers who quit but the essence is still the word. You never stop writing, either writing stops you, or something else does. Like disability. Death.

What is your writing process? (Any favorite places to write? Any interesting quirks, traditions, or rituals you may have? How many times might you revise something before being satisfied with it? Besides you, does anyone else edit your work? Etc.)

Once upon a time, when I worked nights and I drank a lot, I used to write only at night. Often that would be at 2 or 3 in the morning until I couldn’t see straight any longer.  When I started working days, I still wrote at night though not as late.  Then I stopped drinking and could write any time, anywhere.  Doesn’t matter where I write or when. I’m not one of those professionals that sits down a desk or with an open note book and crank out a required number of words or pages.  I write when I have an actual inspiration to write. If I don’t, I take notes and come back to the notes for inspiration

 One place that always inspires me is Block Island a tiny island off the coast of Rhode Island (though on a clear day you can see Montauk Point so you could equally say just North of Long Island as the sea gull flies.) Offseason, when we go there, it is quiet and satisfyingly picaresque as it rarely is the same in one place from day to day no matter how often you go to a particular place and we have been going there for thirty years. And the sea air. There is nothing like sea air.

 Quirky? I write my poems by hand on actual paper so I will be forced to do close revisions. When I mentioned this to a college English class I was talking in front of, they thoguht that was hilarious.  Prose usually directly into the computer as my handwriting sucks and there is more editing to do.

As for outside editing, it depends upon the project. I have a friend now who is a professional editor/ghostwriter and a compulsive editor so when I send her something to look at for a reaction, she sends it back with comments. And edits, though I hadn’t expected her to.  It is enormously helpful as I seem to have slept through grammar lessons in high school and it is only recently that I have mastered most of the rudiments of spelling. And I am among the world’s worst two fingered typists. Touch typing ha! I have been known to destroy computer keyboards.  My first typewriter was a Smith Corona “portable” that weighed about fifty pounds.

My wife has helped me greatly with various projects. She’s a good editor but the process is painful. Tact is not her strong point.

How did you come up with the idea for your poem “Past the Point of No Return”?

Years prior to that piece, I wrote a long enjambed poem called “Marching North “which begins as soldiers in a place like Vietnam walking North through the jungle. Along the way they encounter the desolation of a ravaged land that becomes, elementally, increasingly hostile until they are in an Arctic like setting.  There is no reason given why they are marching north and no one appears to be compelling them or leading them, they are just marching because that is what they have to do.  It’s like a Beckett play in that respect.  After 9-11, I thoguht of using that concept only now it was marching to the city.  It is an urban dystopia we can all relate to perhaps inspired by McCarthy’s The Road, but not consciously so.

You could read the piece as a sharp story or as along poem.  Once at writer’s workshop at State University of New York at Albany, the visiting writer, Irishman John Montague said I wrote prosy poetry and poetic prose so take your pick.

What is your background in literature? How much reading do you do? How necessary do you feel it is necessary for an author to read?

 I studied English in college and have a BA.  I am an ABD for an MA that I completed the course work for at Albany but blew off the last steps once I got my draft deferment and I got full time work in my unchosen profession as a barman.

I have always been a voracious reader. I can’t remember not being able to read. Generally speaking, I read 300 plus books and chapbooks a year. I can say this with confidence as I keep track of the titles. I am what has been called an eclectic reader which means I will read just about anything not Romance, Cowboy or fantasy related.  My favorite used book purveyor says no one reads like you do and no one brings in more off the wall books to sell than you do.  I consider that a compliment. I read roughly the same amount of fiction as poetry in a year, though recently I have been upping my non-fiction totals. And I edit a poetry journal on line.  If you check out the review section you can get an idea of what I like to read. I am proponent f reading is essential to a writer. That’s how you learn stuff that might be useful later on.

Could you give us an idea of your upcoming works without spoiling anything?

I spent good deal of the Summer revising old work, most of it prose.  One good thing to come out of the year of reclusive living during a plague, is that I organized, well weeded would be a better description, my personal writing archives.  I literally found whole books of fiction I had completely forgotten about that were never published.  Apparently, I envisioned myself as a prose writer and novelist who occasionally wrote poetry up until I was around 30. I quite my “best job” (as in respected) as a bar manager in a supper club and wrote a half-decent novel that would best be described as speculative fiction/revised history. It was never published, and I sent I to the Brautigan Library of unpublished novels for safe keeping where, appropriately, it disappeared.  I have a certificate sayig that received it once upon a time anyway. Luckily, I have copies. Anyway, one of the first projects was to rewrite a chapbook that is a follow up (companion) to my poetry book Sunshine Superman (Cyberwit). Superman was about my college years in Ice Hell where I majored in English, Intellectual History and Substance Abuse with a minor in card playing.  The premise is a young poet, who just got a fatal diagnosis, writing his friends one last letter as a prose poem, not mentioning that by the time they get it he will be dead. It’s called Dead Letter Office and Cyberwit will be doing it later this year.

Next, I tackled my novel about my nightclub job which I bill as a fictional memoir, called Chaos Management which Alien Buddha printed a couple of months ago and is available on Amazon.  It only took me 14 years to get around to revising it and it took me about 4 hours to get a text together.  I have one last book of Noir movie poems to send out soon. I have published most of the others already under the working title Hollyweird, two as chapbooks Hollyweird (Night Ballet Press) and Blue Velvet (Slipstream winner of the 2017 Slipstream Chapbook contest). The full-length books of three chapbook each are Lessons in Darkness (Luchador Press) and The Road to Perdition (Alien Buddha/Amazon).  The last set for three is Desolation Angels.

I have a complete pair of Memories books ready to go that I am looking for a publisher for. These are abstract, fragmentary prose poems in the manner of the bio above.  I think of them as my unpublishable poems The first book, Memories, of 140 poems, was published by Alien Buddha and the second, Memories Too was published by Dos Madreswas published earlier this year.

Do you have any writing events coming up? For example: something being published/released? A reading of one of your works? Interviews? Any speeches or talks?

Alas no. I used to be fairly active in the area (Tri-city area upstate NY) which and literally dozens of opportunities but the trump Plague shuttered down and most have not reopened. I have done one live streaming at legendary Caffe Lena on Insurrection Day which should still be available through their archived U-Tube app. I did one live reading in the Spring but other than that nada.  Doesn’t look promising going forward either.

What do you hope to achieve as a writer?

I think all writers want to be read. I have had modest success doing that. As I have several books archived in various libraries, research and rare books like Buffalo and Harvard so my books may outlive me.

What do you think of bad reviews? Are they helpful or harmful to you?

The most scathing review I ever had was a rejection letter for Chaos Management which it took me about a decade to realize was, substantively, correct.  I rather wished she had been a little less forthcoming with the diatribes contained within it.  I think her judgment was somewhat prejudice by her intense dislike of the sample she read.

In general, bad reviews and sometimes good ones, just don’t get it and all they do is show how ignorant the reviewer really is. I have been guilty of this myself.

What advice do you have for novice writers?

Persevere. No one ever got anywhere giving up.

What do you feel are the most important resources a writer can use?

Your own imagination.  I think true creativity is in synthesizing what other people have done, prior to your writing, into a form that works or you and is entirely your own.  I credit Bernadette Mayer for the origin of my Memories series but as I went along with other influences equally as important, like David Markson, Carol Maso, helped shape poems and provide direction.  Still others occur as I work, too numerous to mention, though right now I am giving the project a rest after a huge outpouring of work. It’s important to know that every idea you could conceive of, every plot, every device, has been done by someone previously and probably better, though maybe not quite as uniquely as you have. There are no purely original ideas.  So read a lot and adapt.

Where can people find out more about you and your writing? (websites, social media, etc.)

I am editor of the online poetry journal Misfit Magazine. I write an essay for each of the most recent issues (there are 33 so far) and have done so for roughly six years.  I write most of the reviews so you can get an idea of where I am coming from that way. Any of the standard search engines will yield all kinds of leads though, I haven’t searched myself in years and I wonder what I might find now. The mind reels at the horrors such a search may reveal

How many collections of poetry and novels do you have to your credit? Do you have an agent? How hard is it for you to find a publisher?

I honestly have no idea how many collections, chapbooks anyway, that I have published since early 80’s.  A lot. Several dozen easily.  Most of my books are poetry and a good deal of them are out of print and totally unavailable.  The subjects of these vary from highly personal books about a schizophrenic parent, to a series of drink recipe poems, to bar wars, alien nations, and lately the more noir based Hollyweird series.  I wrote a novella called From the Waters of Oblivion loosely based on my last bar job that I self-published and I have some copies left. Also a group of stories called Death Angels.  And Chaos Management is the novel is easily attainable.  I am trying to decide where to send a loosely related series for stories after Chaos including a novella based on a real life, local serial killer. I’m spinning off a character from that novella in another novella about that character in and out of blackout drunk, fugue states in which he may be killing young women. Even he doesn’t know for sure. I know I don’t know if he did or not.

No agent. It was a bitch finding first publishers. I hit three after years of trying but had to wait years for two of them. My selected poems, Drunk and Disorderly took about five years after the guy who was going to do them literally walked off the street into the bar I was working and proposed a book. After you get to know people, establish a kind of reputation, or establish a relationship, it may get easier.  I have had a rich history of publishers either doing my book and the process failing or dying before they could do the book.

How did you find out about The Chamber Magazine?

A post in a call for manuscripts in a group listing on Facebook. One of the only ones I followed up on from there. I read your guidelines, and some stories, and I liked what I saw plus the layout is good. The site looked like someone was invested in the project and cared about it. I submitted despite not being a writer of horror or anything close to it though I can and will do darkness. Actually, if I were to say name on theme I do best or am most interested in, it would be darkness.

###

“Night” Dark Poetry by Robert Ronnow

Whereas last night the full moon made the night resemble a cold day
Today clouds give the night its old shrouded, crowding demeanor.
Ghosts stalk the forest gleaming (at me) from just beyond the circle
      of light thrown by the fire.
You, old night, I wish to make my peace with.
Eventually I know even I (I think, I’m told) must enter naked, a cold
      north wind in winter or a gentle September breeze instructing my
      sole spirit . . . . 

There exist powers overwhelming for the human body and mind.
The aborigine’s untold night of meditation on the mountain, coming
      away with his life-long totem and power.
The mountains tonight are alive with benevolence that could (for one
      lacking humility and respect or the hunter’s perspicacity) flame up
      into insane malevolence.
You, old complete night, I wish to make my peace with
Being utterly a creature of the water and the light.

Night on the mountain, the human animal alone, without cohorts,
      speech and music inane without other ears to listen
Yet blasting, blasting against the night
Even after fire dies, its skin still the halo beacon to nothing in nothing,
Mind pouring on the electricity, outward to friends back in the cities
Receiving in return only strange sounds.

The ear must differentiate and protect.
Just as fluids within keep the body balanced so must the ear when the
      eyes are blinded by night
Balance the mind. Eyes, heroes of the day, enjoying orgiastically
      autumnal delights
Are now slaves to every primeval passion of the mind.
But the ears:  it is a sound they have heard before and can identify.

Night, old strange night (were we once acquainted?), I wish to be at
      peace with you by becoming  knowledgeable.
Fear like fire clings to its fuel.
I wish to dampen passionate fears by attuning the five senses to all
      that is normal dark and day.
To know the habits and cycles of everything I live beside
And my inner spirit become a silent tide attuned to nature’s lunacy.


Robert Ronnow’s most recent poetry collections are New & Selected Poems: 1975-2005 (Barnwood Press, 2007) and Communicating the Bird (Broken Publications, 2012). Visit his web site at www.ronnowpoetry.com.


Two Dark Poems by Katrenia Busch

The Origin of Baal 
 
Mother of Demonic spirits  
Diabolical powers held—  
For the soule— who then visits  
A foreign world when expelled—  
 
Tossed out from within—  
A demon is said to be bourne—  
The mind— its mirror, a twin  
To thoughts that had warned—  
 
Executioner of will and thought  
Combined and then reflected  
Manifested— when fear is fought  
And the body— is made timid 
The Crow 
  
Mournfully dark, black you are 
As you sat up well—so high 
Perfect as you imitated from afar 
The image held in prophecy 
  
The image that was held 
So close and dear to me 
Was that— of one that spelled 
What was already a known decree 
  
A decree— to which 
You may know— 
“As you may switch— 
Places to show” 
  
That what’s within the darkness known 
Was nothing more than my shadow alone 

Katrenia G. Busch ORCID ID:  0000-0002-7377-4571 and Web of Science Researcher ID AAU-4227-2021is a Journal Reviewer for The American Psychological Association, you can find her on Publons. 

She also serves as a Film Critic for Hollywood Weekly Magazine, a Celebrity Interviewer and writer for Heart of Hollywood Magazine, a Journal Reviewer for the American Psychological Association, as well as a Reviewer for Prospectus: A Literary Offering and has worked as an Editor and journalist. Some of her published works can be found in The Screeched Owl, IO Magazine, The Chamber Magazine, Literature Today, Westward Quarterly, Trouvaille Review, Riverrun, Police Writers, Senior Care Quest among others.  


Appearing in The Chamber October 8

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).

Two Dark Poems by Katrenia Busch

Katrenia G. Busch ORCID ID:  0000-0002-7377-4571 and Web of Science Researcher ID AAU-4227-2021is a Journal Reviewer for The American Psychological Association, you can find her on Publons. 

She also serves as a Film Critic for Hollywood Weekly Magazine, a Celebrity Interviewer and writer for Heart of Hollywood Magazine, a Journal Reviewer for the American Psychological Association, as well as a Reviewer for Prospectus: A Literary Offering and has worked as an Editor and journalist. Some of her published works can be found in The Screeched Owl, IO Magazine, The Chamber Magazine, Literature Today, Westward Quarterly, Trouvaille Review, Riverrun, Police Writers, Senior Care Quest among others.  

“Night” Dark Poetry by Robert Ronnow

Robert Ronnow’s most recent poetry collections are New & Selected Poems: 1975-2005 (Barnwood Press, 2007) and Communicating the Bird (Broken Publications, 2012). Visit his web site at www.ronnowpoetry.com.

Interview with Author and Poet Alan Catlin

Alan Catlin is primarily known for poetry but that doesn’t prevent him for mixing and matching prose and poetry as the subject allows.  He has published dozens of full length book and chapbooks, mostly poetry, over the years. Although he is not a genre writer he has somehow managed three Rhysling Prize nominations and a Bram Stoker Award nomination.

“Manny” Dark, Supernatural Suspense by Jacob Moon

Jacob Moon lives, works and writes out of Clearwater, Florida. He is an insufferable sports fan of teams that both thrill and depress him, and he enjoys good food and cold beer equally. His first novel, ‘Furlough,’ was self-published in December 2020. Learn more at writerjake.com

“The Haunting of Piedras Blancas” by DC Diamondopolous

DC Diamondopolous is an award-winning short story, and flash fiction writer with hundreds of stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. DC’s short story collection Stepping Up is published by Impspired. She lives on the California coast with her wife and animals. dcdiamondopolous.com

“Gaps” Dark Speculative Fiction by Ethan Maiden

Ethan Maiden works for a utilities company in South Yorkshire. Currently he is editing his first novel that he hopes to be completed this year. The works of Stephen King and H.P Lovecraft are influences behind his fiction.

Next Issue: October 15