Three Dark Poems Written and Translated from the Russian by Ivan de Monbrison

Время - это круг. 
Мы в центре, марионетки из плоти.
Ваша мысль как воздуху, 
ваш череп полон облаков.
Вчера я нарисовал твой мозг зеленым, 
а сегодня он снова красный.
Я окунаю в нее ручку 
и пишу красными чернилами слова, 
которые не имеют смысла.


Time is a circle. 
We’re in the center, puppets of flesh.
Your thoughts are  like air, your skull is full of clouds.
Yesterday I painted your brain in green, and today it’s red again.
I dip my pen into it 
and write with red ink 
words which don’t make any sense.
Открытый угол забвения.
Тишина в кармане.
Тень скользит по стене и льется в бокал, как черное вино.
Я пью этот бокал.
Тень входит в меня как мысль.
Завтра я пойду идти всю ночь, 
чтобы увидеть, как звезды одна за другой 
падают в море и медленно тонут.


An open corner of oblivion.
Silence in your pocket.
The shadow slides along the wall 
and pours into a glass like black wine.
I drink this glass.
A shadow goes inside me like a thought.
Tomorrow I will go all night to see the stars 
fall one by one into the sea and slowly sink.
Небо - зеркало.
Кто-то говорит.
Это не ты.
Ваша открытая рука пуста. 
Внутри есть дыра, из которой вылезают мухи.
Ваш мозг потный, 
он много работает.
Он похоже на мясо, которое вам дают на обед.
 


The sky is a mirror.
Someone speaks. 
That’s not you.
Your open hand is empty.
There is a hole inside, from which flies crawl out.
Your brain is sweaty
It works a lot.
It looks like the meat that you get for your lunch.

Ivan de Monbrison is a poet, novelist and artist born in 1969 in Paris. He has studied oriental languages in Paris, and then worked for the Picasso Museum, before dedicating himself to his own creativity. He has been published in literary magazines globally. His last poetry book in English and Russian без лица / Faceless has just been released in Canada. He does not believe that his art is of any real significance. He does it as some kind of a tribal ritual. He is fully aware that vanity is one of the worse enemy of most poets and artists, and tries to stay away from it as much as possible. 

https://sites.google.com/view/ivan-de-monbrison/home


“Posies” Post-Apocalyptic Fiction by Jason Kahler

As she walked down the park’s long driveway, the air grabbed Francesca Hamilton by the shoulders with thick dark yellow tendrils that still seemed, even after some seven months, as if they had discontented consciousness, malingering heavy in the low spots, tasting of rotten meat. The Ocher slickened every surface, discolored everything it touched. Hamilton knew that she’d not be able to stay long before her breathing mask—even this good one found in that ransacked Army surplus store—was clogged to uselessness. There was little risk in staying here too long: everything in the park was dead. Or close enough, anyway, she thought as parking lot gravel crunched beneath her boots. The park was built along a river, low and on a flood plain, and the Ocher always settled thickest in the deepest places. But the hope of a water source made braving the fog and near-zero visibility worthwhile. Maybe a breeze would move through some of the haze. The world couldn’t go seven full months without wind, could it? Hamilton tightened her scarf and re-tightened her gloves. The Ocher wasn’t deadly, not immediately, but repeated exposure caused gruesome effects. It was like some terrible movie cliche. Even thinking that it was like a movie had become cliche. She cleared her throat. Scratchy.

Her throat was always scratchy, everyone’s was. Francesca’s group had secured food pretty easily. Their group was small—just six adults and two children—and canned goods were plentiful across these suburbs. People had left in a hurry, presumably for their northern vacation cottages where they hoped the Ocher wouldn’t reach. She wasn’t sure how far north the disaster had drifted, but Francesca appreciated these neighborhoods’ affluence, and their absent-minded rush and panic. Pantries were often still full of canned goods. Tom had even found a closet full of prepper food in backpacks that someone must’ve bought off the Internet before things went bad.

But water: water was far harder to come by. For starters, most people didn’t keep jugs of water around the same way they stored canned goods. Gallons of water took up a lot of space, but a few extra cans of cream of chicken went almost unnoticed. The Ocher ruined plumbing when it got into the municipal water systems, and no one who drank tainted water lived more than a week. That made securing clean water sources was paramount. Still water absorbed the Ocher enough to make it unusable. Francesca’s people had sent her out in the hopes of finding a stream or a river they could return to as a steady source of water. Then, maybe their throats wouldn’t be so scratchy all the time.

Up ahead the fog swallowed the tree limbs she knew were bare. Across the flat vastness of the park, nylon soccer nets hung ragged from decaying metal frames. Before, Saturdays here would have been full of suburban spectacle, soccer kids and cheering parents. Sometimes, a bright hot air balloon floated in the park’s low open spaces, advertising a real estate company. When the bordering river swelled, its waters carried away volleyball court sand and tipped over the blue plastic portable toilets. One rested now, in the corner of the parking lot, on its door. Hamilton hoped no one was inside, but she knew better than to look.

Beyond the parking lot and past a twisted rusting metal rail, the gravel turned to grass, brown at its tips and losing the fight against hardier weeds. A cluster of picnic tables stacked leaning upright stood beneath a wooden pavilion, all going soft and mossy. A merry-go-round, splotchy silver where its red paint flaked off, leaned askew, but spun around its axis with a high screech when Hamilton gave it a nudge. She disliked foraging in parks. The quiet of parks highlighted the quiet everywhere else. But despite the ghosts she imagined in the park’s open places the Ocher filled, Hamilton’s least favorite foraging sites remained schools. The scale of the furniture among all the desolation, too small to fit even within such sadness, and the lonely wind chimes each building seemed to have, silenced in the stagnant air. Schools reminded her of the days before the toxic fog, before everyone knew the name of the ugliest crayon in the box.

Hamilton more closely inspected the upended picnic tables. Something about their arrangement spoke of more than mere storage. They were set in a circle, like a failing wooden wigwam. The cement floor underneath the pavilion was caked with mud and dust, but here and there, the dirt was worn as if from traffic. No footprints but shuffling or maybe even sweeping. The tables’ stacking created a space inside, and she now saw a collection of sad fading blankets making a carpet between the tables.

Overhead within the wigwam, sticks and scavenged trinkets hung from strings and yarn. A box of crackers, empty and overturned, rested nearby. Hamilton knelt on the blankets. Crumbs across the makeshift carpet.

Sometimes, in her foraging, she encountered people. They were mostly just passing by, their eyes distant, their lips thin from thirst or the Ocher’s effects. Usually, the encounters were silent, like ships or icebergs sliding by each other. The ocean and the world had space enough to give way, even though fate and chance had brought their paths within view of each other. The Ocher hadn’t built an apocalypse of diesel buggies and prepper crazies. Instead, Hamilton’s experience revealed an End times of lost motivation. Death came slowly. Oblivion creeped home on the backs of the defeated and hopeless. Hamilton had nearly completely avoided violence. People in her group speculated that the fog repressed desperation, of at least the logical kind. Or maybe everyone was still in shock, too stunned to be aggressive. Or, perhaps, Hamilton had cultivated a countenance that told strangers she was not be messed with. That was her favorite explanation because it was clearly ridiculous.

When she rose, her head bumped on an old soda can hanging by red yarn. Ridiculous was always the name of the game these days, and since she didn’t take chances beyond her mission and her curiosity, she withdrew from her thigh pocket the collapsible metal baton she kept for defense. With a wrist flick the baton snapped to full length. This shelter, small and shabby as it was, wasn’t big enough to harbor many people. Hamilton was quick enough, she knew, to run away from small parties, or hide. Large groups were loud enough to give plenty of warning, and singles might be reasoned with, or avoided. And there was always her baton. She’d grown comfortable with at least looking like she was trained in self-defense. The guy she’d cracked over the head would have assumed she’d taken all sorts of classes. You learned things in the Ocher, she’d said in her report upon her return, and if you didn’t, sometimes you could fake it to good effect.

The park was quiet. Whoever stayed under the pavilion wasn’t home. Hamilton listened for voices. The eerie emptiness of the missing birds was broken only by the trickle of the nearby river. She left the pavilion, a little wearier than before, baton in hand.

At the river’s edge, the Ocher was thickest, mustard yellow old and settled on the water. But the river still flowed, Hamilton was relieved to find, so she removed the test tubes from the pack at her waist and knelt on the muddy ground. She scooped water with one tube, then poured it into the other tube. The water remained clear. Drinkable water. Finally, they had caught a break. They could return with trucks and jugs and one worry was abated. She filled her canteen and stood, pulled her mask below her chin, and drank deeply. The water was cool and fresh on her tongue. Behind her, the merry-go-round screeched again.

When Hamilton turned to look, the merry-go-round was spinning slowly, lopsided, and beside it stood three children. Maybe they were ten years old, their clothes, whatever color they’d been before, all stained yellow. The two girls had long dark hair that crept down their heads in tangles, and the boy, a bit shorter than the girls, had filthy brown hair matted stiffly to his head. Each child looked thin, with sunken eyes and jaundiced skin. None wore shoes. They stood with arms at their sides, unblinking. Hamilton dropped her canteen in shock. She’d never seen children loose within the Ocher. The fog swallowed up youth. Kids aged quickly or didn’t age at all.

If she’d been beside herself, she would have warned her about not taking anything for granted. About how even children were susceptible to whatever was making society. . . well, whatever it had become. She would have reminded herself again about stupid characters in stupid movies, those cliches again, running up the stairs when clearly the front door was a better option. She was smarter than that. But these were just kids, after all. After all.

Hamilton struggled to speak.

“Who?” she asked. The kids didn’t move. Hamilton realized how frightening her appearance must seem. She knelt slowly, placed her baton on the ground and stood, open-palmed. “I’m not going to hurt—”

The children were on her before she could move or speak. The girls pulled her feet from under her and Hamilton landed on the soft ground with a thud. They clawed at her face, ripping off her mask and scarf. She booted one of the children in the belly, sending the girl cartwheeling into the river. The remaining two kids punched madly at every part of her body. One of the children kicked her fiercely in the side. Hamilton felt the crack of a shifting rib in her teeth. The children chanted something, or sang, rhyming. Through the blur Hamilton tasted blood. Each breath icy pain.

The two remaining children stopped punching and instead pinned her outstretched arms to the ground painfully with their knees. The third crawled out from the river and stood over Hamilton, dripping cold water. Hamilton blinked away the pain, through rasping breaths, and looked up to see the girl’s teeth, ragged and yellow, lips lined with noxious blisters. The girl’s Ocher-tinted eyes stared impassively. Over the girl’s shoulder Hamilton could now see into the trees. The limbs looked bony in the chalky yellow sky, and now she could see figures, people, in the trees, held fast by ropes, or maybe nails or even pierced through by the branches, clothing thread bare and filthy as torn as their straining flesh, most of them unmoving, but here and there some of them reached feebly, through the fog. She would have screamed, but the pain and the blood wouldn’t allow it. And Hamilton recognized the children’s nursery rhyme now, as the girl still dripping river water finished it.

“We all fall down,” said the child, small-voiced like a cartoon mouse, and brought a large flat river rock down across Hamilton’s nose. Hamilton was thinking about that nursery rhyme when she regained consciousness, tied among the branches of the park’s dead trees. She saw now, too, the soda cans, hung with frayed thin string, limp within the treetop. Hamilton remembered through the pain those schools, those small innocent desks, and those silent wind chimes. Other bodies dangled nearby, here and there staring with yellow glazed eyes or blinking through their shared defeat, some slowly flexing sagging jaws in a silent rhythm, but only Hamilton still had enough voice left to sing.


Jason Kahler is a teacher, writer, and scholar from Southeast Michigan. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKahler3.


“Asexuals of the Cosmos, Unite!” Dark Sci-fi/ Horror by Thomas White

Hard core, soft core, the most sensual, tasteful erotica: porn in all its varieties once aroused Howard Foker. Now he only saw cartoonish figures clumsily and mechanically acting out their crude lusts.  No doubt about it. Sex, for Howard, had become a vast wasteland, both disgusting and tedious.

Howard clicked off the video’s remote control, terminating one rather histrionic orgasm in mid-moan. Tossing the CD into a pile with its ilk, he yawned and gazed distractedly out the window at the dead, gray, asexual sky.

Two of the locust-like horde of annoying, cutesy, cuddling couples strolled by, a sure sign that Valentine’s Day–” VD Day,” Howard sarcastically dubbed it–was in the offing. A powerful urge to sleep hit him. The merest hint of sexual desire–his or anyone else’s–now literally exhausted him like an adrenalin shot in reverse.

Married for thirty-five years, he had been appalled when he had returned to the mating game after divorcing Rita two years ago. Gone were the days when you could casually meet a lover or future spouse in a public place, such as at the laundromat, as he had met Rita in the 1980s. 

Despite these depressing thoughts, Howard nevertheless smiled with satisfaction at his smart decision to bail out of the vapid game known as the modern singles scene.  Sexual coupling was now a highly professional, convoluted, Internet-based process: online relationship coaches, introduction websites (and their hotshot teams of marketing reps pretending to be ‘counselors’), chatrooms, dating apps, and, last but not least, the racket of Singles Events, where patrons were suckered into attending expensive personal development seminars–a mix of gossip and group therapy–while thinking they were going to meet their ‘soulmate’ and ‘dance the romantic night away.’ 

Nevertheless, Howard still fretted about his future love life. What would be his next moves in the chess game of romance?  How was he going to meet that special someone…? After two years, sleeping alone was getting tiresome, even if interrupted occasionally by a one-night stand.

His iPhone chimed. It was a text message from Robert Shivers:

Happy Valentine’s Day, Howard! Let’s go to the singles dance tonight at Club Cool. It could be hot! Meet me there at 8pm.

Bless mobile phones, thought Howard as he grinned at his device’s mindless face. It had saved him from a personal visit by Robert Shivers, with his annoying, endlessly upbeat manner that he had cultivated through too many personal self-development workshops.

 Shivers! What a misnomer. The only people who shivered in his presence were the women he asked for dances and/or dates at local single events. In fact, the only reason he had ever socialized with this clown in the past was that it made Howard look good in front of women.

Still, even if he had to hang out with Shivers tonight, and tolerate his pal’s childish, squealing noises that sounded like a little kid asking to be taken to McDonald’s, it could be a nice diversion from being alone with this foul mood. And since women were quickly bored by Robert’s vacuous chit-chat, they might turn to Howard for a more interesting conversation that could ultimately even lead to a few dates, offering a refreshing break from his sexual despair.  

Howard texted Robert back:

Okay, Robert, you are on. You drive ahead. I will meet you there at 8 sharp.

                                                        ***

Howard arrived 20 minutes later than he had promised, but oddly, though the club’s carpark was full, the building itself was dark–apparently shuttered. The VD dance should have begun by now.

As he looked at the blackness surrounding him, a vague fragment of a line from a story read years ago in college flashed back to Howard: “Oh, what is the object of this darkness that has come over me…has someone buried me when I was not looking.” Was it Dorothy Parker or Dorothy Porter or another writer?  Hell, if he could remember, but it sure summed up his feelings tonight. Howard lit a cigarette to try to chase away this fresh mood of gloom. This anti-sex obsession was really starting to eat at him.                  

Finishing his smoke, Howard rang the club’s number but only got a voicemail that clicked off without a specific recorded message. The Mystery of the Missing VD Dance had deepened. Where was the club’s manager, Zappa Jones, a florid-faced little control freak perpetually strutting about in a shiny-reptilian 1980s tuxedo, who always personally answered the phone? Howard decided to go check it out. Had there been some crisis that had caused the patrons and staff to flee the premises and move the dance to another venue? The nosey security guards, who always lurked around the Club Cool’s grounds to keep the building from being vandalized, would surely know.

Despite his cynicism about the dating game scene, Howard hoped that tonight’s dance was still on; he had actually started to look forward to it, if nothing else but to laugh at the clumsy efforts of washed-up, overweight middle-aged playboys and playgirls trying to relive their glory days of smooth pickup lines and hot disco dance moves, despite the occasional twinges of arthritic knee pain.

Howard started to scramble out of his car, only to be yanked back in by the tangled web of safety belts. The straps squeezed and griped his chest like muscular tentacles, pinning him to his seat, while his car’s electric doors clicked, automatically locking him in.  Thick clouds of bright smoke billowed up around his car’s windows, sealing the trapped, struggling Howard inside his cushy Mercedes.

Just then, a large pulpy slab of wet, pink flesh, oozing slimy drool, smacked against the windshield, nosily sucking the glass. It was followed by another and another until Howard could hear loud squishing sounds bombarding his entire car, which began to jiggle, shake, and lift. Howard, already missing the peace of his earlier, quieter gloomy moments, grabbed his suddenly violently nauseous stomach with one hand while quickly punching in 9-11 on his mobile with his other. Instead of a quietly confident police operator answering, a rough, booming voice thundered: “Asexuals of the Cosmos, Unite!” 

Disgusted and gagging at the sight of the drooling hunk of pink flesh battened to his windshield – and on the cusp of vomiting up his dinner – all a desperate Howard could think of was to call the most annoying person in the world, Robert Shivers, and ask him to dial 9-11 as soon as possible. As Howard started to tap in Shivers’ numbers on his mobile, he could smell the pleasant, perfumy odor of the bright smoke now seeping into his car’s interior. Howard got no further than punching in the first three digits of his friend’s number when he began to comfortably drowse, his phone finger going slack as peace descended on his mind and stomach…

                                                              ***

If Howard had been asked a week earlier what his expectations would have been if he had known he was going to be abducted by an alien space ship, Howard, who had seen his fair share of sci-fi films, would have surmised a craft brimming with gleaming technological devices unknown to human science. Howard was, however, in for a rude shock.

There was no shiny operating room with an unconscious Howard stretched out on a smooth, metallic gurney awaiting a scan of his organs and brain by alien doctors wielding silent, blinking-red sensors. Instead, his automobile was parked in a massive, greasy open cargo bay, the size of a mall’s car lot, ringed by dilapidated pubs and 1950s-style movie theatres with fading blue paint peeling off the walls. Overhead, long strings of high-intensity incandescent lamps like the Friday Night football lights at the local high school stadium gave the scene the look and feel of a ghostly, half-constructed movie set.

 A non-tentacled, baldheaded humanoid, skin the prickly texture and color of a kumquat, a face with no eyelids, stone-dead gray pupils, a little clenched mouth, and wearing a neatly-pressed, khaki-colored flight suit, opened the car door and freed Howard–now well-rested after his snooze–from his seat belts.

The humanoid led Howard by the arm to the front of one of the crumbling movie theatres. The marquee’s message read in dirty, chipped-plastic block letters: OPENING TONIGHT: THE SAVING OF CIVILIZATION!  A GREAT ADVENTURE BEGINS!

As Howard and his alien host walked up the threadbare, faded-flowery carpet leading from the theatre’s shabby lobby to the cinema’s main auditorium fronting a small screen, a dome-shaped servo-robot, with a dispenser like a square mouth, two short rubber arms ending in claws, and limping on one rusty wheel, rolled up to Howard and the humanoid.

 The robot whirred; then handed each of them a small cup of popcorn, which had dropped from its dispenser. Howard seated himself in the back row, while the humanoid slid into a seat two rows down. The popcorn was unsalted, stale, and dry without butter. Howard discreetly spat out his first mouthful, while dumping the few remaining kernels behind his seat.

The film began.  Silent, without opening credits, it was a low-quality animated production with crudely drawn cartoonish figures bodily resembling department store manikins: naked, pink, asexual, with herky-jerky, quasi-robotic motions and the facial images of famous actors and actresses from the history of cinema: Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, and many other Hollywood sex symbols.

The various figures staggered toward each other in a confused, halting way. The Marilyn Monroe-figure suddenly, but not without hesitation, tried to kiss the Cary Grant-figure, who just stared at her with a puzzled look, mixed with disgust, and then turned away. Others also stumbled around like broken windup toys, first pressing close to each other, then, faces scowling with revulsion and confusion, rushing in the opposite direction. Brad Pitt turned and ran, his face pale and sickly, when he stared at Sophia Loren, who stood cold and stony, while Gary Cooper mechanically marched away from the weak, fumbling embraces of Jean Harlow.

Then, giving up all pretense of even the feeblest sexual interest, the figures began to fight each other–a brawl rather than an orgy. With one punch, the Greta Garbo-figure sent Burt Lancaster’s herky-jerky body sprawling, while Ava Gardner was busy strangling Clark Gable, whose bobble head shook wildly.

Howard immediately thought of his feelings earlier in the day: his growing revulsion at the sight of porn, as well as his general alienation from the singles game and all matters sexual. This film was brilliantly expressing those emotions, with the ‘actors,’ instead of coupling, running away from their conventionally desirable partners and/or physically attacking them.  His alien abductors were showing him an anti-porn film whose performers’ normal lascivious desires had been muddled and deformed, rendering them anti-sexual if not asexual.

Just then, the film abruptly and noisily sputtered, without closing credits, to a halt, like the crude 35-milimeter porn films that Howard’s college dorm mates used to show on their Retro-Stag Nights. As Howard mulled over his opinions about the film, he noted that the prickly-skinned alien had turned and was watching him intently, a peculiar sparkle in his previously stony eyes.                     

                                                             ***         

After declining another offer of popcorn from the little robot with the one gimpy, rusty wheel, his alien host grabbed Howard again by the arm–more aggressively this time, Howard noted– and led him to the pub next door. Howard was seated in an empty bar area surrounded by softly glowing, grungy neon walls, which reminded him of a shabby pizza joint where he used to hang out in college.

Another dome-shaped servo-robot appeared and offered Howard a cup of wine. Howard winced at its bitter, chemical taste, but–as there was no place to spit–he reluctantly swallowed the ill-tasting liquid.

The baldheaded humanoid spoke excellent English, with an American accent, though his voice came from the general vicinity of his head, not from the little zipper of his mouth, which remained clenched.

 “My name is Archie, though my real name is codified in a language which earthlings could never understand. I am a colleague of Circulas Gittoo, the tentacled being that captured you. Gittoo, who communicates only by exhaling a vocabulary of odors rather than expressing words, can obviously not have a conversation with you. But he wants to assure you that you will be compensated for any damage to your car caused by his suckers.”

“That is very generous of Circulas Gittoo,” said Howard, not sure if his sarcastic tone would be noted in a conversation with an alien species, “but why was I abducted? If you are holding me hostage for money or sex, I can provide neither.”

“Our Federation has no desire for the laughable toy paper you call your ‘money’, but the issue of sex is of interest, though not,” Archie’s slit of a mouth puckered primly like an old-fashioned puritanical dowager’s, “in the way you think…”

“In other words, none of your Federation members are in love with me,” said Howard, laughing, feeling more lighthearted after surmising that these aliens seem to have no nefarious intent, a realization which also helped further soothe his unsettled stomach. His gloomy mood was lifting. This abduction adventure was exactly the diversion he had needed. Far better than mingling with the pathetic but dreary victims of the singles scene at Club Cool.

Ignoring Howard’s joke–or not getting it–Archie continued. “I hope you enjoyed your orientation film. It sums up our Federation’s ideology of asexuality. You heard the message we sent you when we intercepted your call to the police. Unlike earthlings, we don’t waste our time and resources sending space probes to investigate dead hunks of rock.  We are on a far more important cosmic mission: to unite civilizations throughout the universe to join us in the cause of a glorious asexual future. Sexuality is a primitive desire shared by many societies throughout the cosmos that eventually leads to their violent disintegration. Only by freeing them from its yoke can true happiness, peace, and stability–civilization itself–be found… which is where you come in, Howard.”

“So, obviously you are not here to watch and enjoy human porn, including my collection, if sex is of no interest,” Howard replied, feeling a twinge of his earlier disgust at those images.

Archie’s hard eyes glittered fiercely. “Our aerial surveillance teams–what you humans now call ‘UAP’– that routinely monitor human thoughts and feelings just happened to be hovering over your neighborhood when they picked up the transmission of your feelings of revulsion toward sex and the human ‘mating game,’ as you label it.  Howard, we want to help you save the earth’s future–your future–from the misery and violence that always follows in the aftermath of sex.”

Before he could quiz Archie for further details, Howard’s body and legs went rubbery and began to sway uncontrollably from side to side as if he were being tossed by a rough sea. Archie’s face wobbled, blurred, dissolved. The wine’s lingering, odd tangy-chemical aftertaste faded as Howard lost consciousness.

                                                               ***

Howard felt the cool, pleasant sensation of air-conditioned metal against his neck.  Awakening, wriggling, trying to stir, he found himself flat on his back, strapped tightly to a large gurney. Above him, a wide flat-screen, two-way monitor displayed the face of Archie.

“Well, Howard I hope you are excited because you are beginning a new chapter of your life…” giggled the Archie-image delightedly, though his mouth’s little slit did not smile, “… discovering the joy and peace that  artificially-induced asexuality brings… courtesy of a bold, innovative procedure implemented by genius aliens from the other side of the cosmos…Not quite, I am sure, what your pundits and scientists meant when they spoke of ‘First Contact’– or Steven Spielberg envisioned when he produced Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Archie’s prim little mouth exploded into a vast, pink, quivering orifice, hurling waves of uproarious laughter that quickly collapsed into little snorts that squished exactly like Circulus Gittoo’s tentacled sucker.

Before Howard could ask Archie if these squishy little chuckles meant that Archie was somehow related to whatever species Gittoo belonged to, a familiar voice nearby called out to him. It was Robert Shivers.

How do you like the singles scene now, Howard? You are there, single, alone, and about to lose your sexual desires–and hence your love life–forever.” His voice was no longer whiny and childish, but metallic and vicious.

Shivers’ face edged into Howard’s line of vision and stared angrily down at him. Robert’s hitherto weak, wandering eyes now had a focused, hard-edged gaze. There was more than a bit of steel in that look, worried Howard–inklings of a new and dangerous version of Robert Shivers.

Shivers continued. “I was abducted, like you, a few months ago but now work for Archie and the Federation. I am fully on board with their plan to destroy the sex lives of all those selfish bastards out there, who, like you, have mocked me behind my back to women, as well as sabotaged my love life by disrupting my efforts to chat up women at singles events. And, yeah: their surveillance team showed me a recent transcript read-out of your private thoughts about me. You are a hypocrite, a psychopath, a sorry excuse for a human being… and just because you are burned out on sex and the mating game? … so what?… no one feels sorry for you, always wallowing in self-pity…”

Howard listened, stunned and speechless, as Robert raged at him. Howard always thought Shivers had no better than a primitive 200-word vocabulary at best, but this new, articulate Shivers was a revelation. As Robert unleashed his tirade, his heretofore flabby jowls did not jiggle and droop but were hard and clenched as if made of stone like a blunt instrument ready to clobber Howard.

 “So, Howard, how do you like the new, more assertive Robert Shivers now?” asked the Archie-face from the monitor screen. “Being an abductee of ours is the best personal self-development experience you can find. We take good care of our captives, helping them find happy, satisfying lives back among other earthlings.”

“But what about me? How can making me asexual help me find happiness and satisfaction?” asked Howard, instantly regretting his earlier bitter feelings about sex and the singles scene that had attracted these aliens to him.

“Not that long ago,” Archie replied in an annoyed tone as if scolding a naughty child, “you were moaning and groaning about how you were burnt out on ‘all matters sexual’, as well as on the earthling ‘mating game,’ as you call it…. We are going to now free you from those useless desires, which will lighten your recent gloomy moods…”

Just then, the Archie-persona vanished as the screen dissolved into blankness. Seconds later, row after row of people appeared like a TV studio audience staring into the cameras. Howard recognized some familiar faces: Mary Harris, John Ditter, Sally Jason, and others, who were regular attendees at Club Cool singles events and who often used to open up to Howard about their unhappy love lives, cheating partners, and domestic abuse.

Then, it suddenly dawned on Howard: these were the attendees at the Club Cool VD dance that had earlier vanished, a conclusion cinched as soon as Howard noticed the cheesy little valentine hearts pasted on their nametags which they still wore.  They had been abducted, too.

“Yes, Howard.” This time the voice was not from Robert Shivers or Archie, but from the Club Cool manager and singles event impresario, Mr. Zappa Jones, who rose from the front row, still garbed in his sleazy black 1980s-style tuxedo and showing the same florid face, albeit now bloated and purple with fury. Howard despised this fool, who had once thrown a drunken Howard out of a previous Club Cool singles dance for groping a female patron – an allegation that Howard had bitterly denied.

Furious, that this glorified bouncer seemed to be reading his mind, Howard opened his mouth to rage at Zappa Jones, but the slimy drool cut him short. “Get over it, Howard…you are under our control–my control—now. “

Your…control…? Howard stammered.

“Yeah, Archie, Gittoo, and their Federation have delegated your procedure to us as they figure that earthlings are best a-sexed by other earthlings since we all communicate on the same wavelength.  Don’t worry…we have been professionally trained by the Federation in the details. It is not difficult, and is painless and noninvasive…but our Club Cool team,” Zappa Jones dramatically swept his hand in an arc over the audience of dance patrons”, has decided to make some changes in the Federation’s agenda. Whatever the ambitions of the Federation to a-sex the human race, let along other aliens throughout the cosmos, our team, including Robert Shivers, has voted not to a-sex ourselves, but to a-sex only you. And while the decision has been ratified by the entire club’s membership, Robert Shivers has been specifically delegated to perform the procedure on you because he is your best friend whom you trust.”

“But will the Federation be pleased with that decision…? Howard asked.  “I saw the orientation film and had my chat with Archie. They want to save entire civilizations, not just individuals, by eradicating sexual desire as a threat to…”

 “I know…to the universe’s ‘happiness, peace, and stability’…I had the same orientation as you did,” Zappa Jones rudely snapped.  “But the Federation is practical, too. It is still trying to understand the psychological consequences of mass asexuality on humans; the Federation members realize that if they a-sex everybody right away, humans might become uncomfortable, if not annoyed, or even hostile. One day, the Federation wants to meet earth’s leaders to explain the need to promote asexuality as a public health benefit, so maintaining some good will toward humanity in general is necessary. For now, only a select elite has been chosen by the Federation, in complete agreement with Club Cool, to receive the procedure. And you, Howard, are among the lucky few. No more sexual desire means no more compulsion to date…so no more singles scene for you.  We are doing you a big favor, pal, by ridding you of your torments. “

 “I know what your real game is,” Howard fumed. “You, Robert, and the other male scum at the Club Cool are trying to push me out…trying to corner the market and eliminate me because I get all of the dates.”

Female laughter burst from the audience.

“Hey, Howard,” yelled Melissa Randall, “remember me…?

I turned down your offer of a date because you are so boring.”

 Other women chimed in:

“Yeah, boring in bed, too,” Mary Arnold said, snickering.

“Took me to a greasy spoon to eat on our first night out, got drunk, then

groped me…”  Sandra Baker shouted angrily.

Annoyed, Zappa Jones waved for everyone to be quiet. “Ok team, we get the point. Howard Foker is a miserable failure, not only as a human being but as a date. But it is now time for action, not talk…”

 The monitor screen abruptly went blank, cutting off Zappa Jones’ impending tirade.  Looming up again over Howard, Shivers’ face was now transformed into a fiendish hoggish-like creature, Porky Pig pasted with demonic, reddish-purple slobbering lips grafted onto his cheeks and jowls.

Brandishing a long, gleaming metal wand, studded with blinking red sensors like Christmas tree lights, Robert nosily smacked his blubbery lips and threw a sarcastic air kiss at Howard:

“Sorry, Howard, about my face, which you probably consider downright repulsive, but it actually expresses a mix of joy and victorious pride among certain members of the Federation…the Whoofians who have generously loaned it to me via a temporary mask implant to celebrate this glorious moment of your a-sexing.”

“You shameless bastard, flunky ally of creepy aliens, you tricked me into coming to the Club Cool VD dance so I would be trapped, abducted, and a-sexed!” screamed Howard.

Shivers’ Porky Pig persona relaxed into a soft pile of reddish-purple flesh. His voice was kind. “Howard, my friend, it is pointless to dwell on the past. You should look forward to a glorious future where you are free of the emotional stress caused by sex and the singles scene.”

At that, Robert Shivers began to wave the blinking wand over Howard’s body.  Warm currents of air wafted blissfully over his skin; that same perfumy odor from the Gittoo abduction event rose to his nostrils. Howard felt a peace he had never known; he started to drift in and out of consciousness as if pleasantly delirious.

After a few more minutes, Robert Shivers switched off the wand and rudely thrust his hoggish face three inches from Howard’s nose.

 “Howard, one last thing,” Shivers’ voice was still kind, “this is our final goodbye, old pal. That device I waved over your body was actually designed by the Federation to painlessly and humanely execute their alien colleagues who have been convicted of serious criminal offenses against their laws. However, the Federation, in complete accord with the Club Cool’s team consensus, has decided to use it as   an alternative to the regular a-sexing procedure, which is unfortunately offline due to technical glitches.”

Struggling to remain conscious, but his mind drifting toward darkness and oblivion, Howard muttered thickly: “You mean I am going to die… like a stupid alien who has been convicted of some crime that only aliens can commit…I thought I was only going to be a-sexed…?”

 “Dead people,” Robert Shivers replied in a perfectly calm voice, “don’t have a sex life.”


Thomas White has a triple identity: speculative fiction writer, poet, and essayist. His poems, fiction, and essays have appeared in online and print literary journals and magazines in Australia, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. He is also a Wiley-Blackwell Journal author who has contributed essays to various nonliterary journals on topics ranging from atheism, the meaning of Evil, Elon Musk, Plato, The Matrix, and reality as a computer simulation. In addition, he has presented three of his essays to the West Chester University Poetry Conference (West Chester, Pennsylvania), as well as read his poetry on Australian radio.


“Banquet of Fortune” Dark Fiction by Jake Sheff

He often couldn’t tell if he had killed his brother, or hadn’t; if he’d dreamed it, willed it, superseded it – the murder – with his own suicide. You see, Jeremiah Pudlowsky wasn’t mentally ill, deranged in anyway, or out of time. He simply was more in tune with possibilities, those Granata of incongruent otherworlds as they crisscrossed with ours.

Jeremiah’s brother was named Kolfin – the most interesting thing about him according to authoritative figures, like his high school principal and secretary at Nieman Marcus. But there was more to him, and Jeremiah knew it, though not right away. When their mother brought Kolfin home from the nursery, Jeremiah’s ear drums perforated. His father said, “Ouch! Goddammit…” Tilted his head sideways and reached up toward his ear. “What the hell?” Then mother noticed the discharge from Jeremiah’s ear canal, the inner ear fluid. Both Jeremiah and his father went to the hospital by taxi, where they found nothing wrong with Jeremiah’s dad, but did send him home with some pain pills.

So it went the next 30 years: when Jeremiah got sick, his father felt the pain: the broken bones, the muscle aches of influenza, the burning voids of UTIs, the broken hearts. And Jeremiah seemed more injury prone around Kolfin; the 9 years prior to his birth, Jeremiah had never even had a common cold. Against their mother’s wishes, their father had no choice, due to disability and missed work (without any doctor’s consent: “I can’t explain it.”), but to send one of the boys away; he gave mother the choice.

So when Jeremiah was ten and Kolfin one, mother said goodbye to their father, who moved to New Mexico, “to be around the other indigents suffering their mystery ailments in the dry, Indian air.”

When Jeremiah started growing hair on his scrotum, he began transiently dissociating from our world – his teachers called it ADHD or absence seizures. But he was slipping in and out of other possibilities as they collided, or more like passed through, our happening; think of Earth passing through the debris of a comet or asteroid annually, and the meteor showers that ensue. This refined inner sense must’ve come, Jeremiah would later think, from a childhood free of pain, something no living thing could ever claim previous to him.

Kolfin was bright. He didn’t read some Russian novel or solve an ancient riddle of philosophy or math at some absurdly young age. Despite his cerebral palsy, he possessed an astute emotional intelligence with a political animal’s social acumen. Early on, he detected Jeremiah’s “gifts” of being chronically ill and dissonant with reality.

Their mother smoked Camel Lights and drank Bourbon, not exactly the Ave Maria one would expect with her two exceptional youngsters. She wore sundresses that’d compliment a woman 5 inches taller with her waist halved, with less be-stubbled cellulite and varicose veins. Kolfin assumed somehow he was responsible for the homely changes that befell his mother’s appearance, and Jeremiah became acutely aware that in all possibilities for a universe his mother was an ogre-like wench but still loving, always, so he accepted her surface unpleasantness without any crying foul at fate or God. The fact is, she had been beautiful once, but that’s another story.

Present Day

“Brother.”

“I thought I’d killed you! Or at least, I knew I might’ve; I’m pretty sure I did somewhere.”

“Brother, that’s all in the past. I know where father is.”

“Kolfin. Mirabile dictu! You were too young to know father – a real constable of hardship, and ornery never.”

“Right, and he let me live. I want to know him.”

“But infanticide is shameful, revenge is too ra loo.”

“He wouldn’t kill me now. I’ve never left this town, he could’ve always came and found me.”

They stood in front of the doctor’s office on Limb Street, where the glass shards of a green beer bottle intermingled with the shattered passenger-side window specked with a car thief’s blood. The weather was uneventful – maybe late fall, maybe early spring; the trees didn’t help. The year had the morass of present time; history was wafting above, a tracer of forgeries, awaiting the artist’s Finis!

“Where is he?”

“He’s here. He’s come for you.”

“Come for me? That’s…”

“Preposterous? Because if he kills you, he dies?”

“No, it’s mellifluous, because I think I’ve learned to harness my physical being, to hold fast my atomic mudra, as my soul transmigrates between possibilities and anti-nulls.”

“What is an anti-null?”

“A place without space or points; where dad can go and be safe.”

Kolfin was used to impossible scenarios in even polite conversations with Jeremiah, but he knew impossible meant only for here and now.

“You can transport material objects to your other possibilities?”

Kolfin spent the next three seconds swimming in liquid diamond, perceiving his environment chiefly by smell and the way it relaxed his gravity while contracting his magnetic orb.

Back in front of the doctor’s office, he noticed the jism in his pants.

“What was that?! Where was I?”

“That was here and now, alive, with nearly identical constants.”

“An anti-null?”

“No. Only I can come back from anti-nulls.”

And so Kolfin and Jeremiah took a walk. By the costume shop an oblivious Jeremiah was stung by a hornet, unbeknownst to all except Mr. Pudlowsky, his father. Kolfin was unsure of Jeremiah’s plan for their father’s deliverance from pain. The anti-nulls seemed too dense for pleasure, or memories, according to Jeremiah’s riveting descriptions, riveting in their ineffable, maybe unknowable, dynamics. Kolfin worried, unable to wonder much further, if it was even life.

“Clever, clever Kolfin. You are right: the anti-nulls are another possibility for death.”

Kolfin measured his emotions against what he considered a rational reaction. He deliberated, at a maddening speed, on the ramifications of this non-sense coalescing with rumor and belief (delusion?), in a race against the decisive moment accelerating toward their crux of human will and God’s.

“First of all, Jeremiah: is that murder? Second of all, take me instead. I’m a lonely underachiever, and getting rid of me will reverse the hex I brought on our family.”

Jeremiah wasn’t big on ruminating. He acted more on intuition, fearless in his lack of bellicosity that he’d ever with foreknowledge bring harm upon another. Of course, unintended consequences can stripe a good act with a heel-upon of misdeed.

“It’s more like disappearing for a while. The body sort of sublimates, and the estate of consciousness is thus diffused, enlarged…thinner. His essence won’t rot, or thinking decompose. Volition, choice…I suppose it’s a bit more passive. Perhaps you see a finality I simply do not.”

“You say ‘for a while,’ and that it isn’t final. Are we talking about reincarnation? As in father could come back at some point, later on?”

Jeremiah could not comprehend reincarnation, having witnessed the interior flux and counter-entropy of their reality from outside its margins.

“Kolfin, a man can step into the same river twice. It requires synchrony, the gift I’d like to bestow upon our father.”

“What do you mean synchrony? Like if he does it several times at once?”

“Hmm…In the anti-null, you live in time and measure space as it passes.”

Kolfin had to stop and think. His mind and body ached from the contractures of his world, presently, and his skeletal muscle, ever present, respectively. The idea of disappearing for a while appealed to Kolfin. Plus his brother seemed content but not superior, despite his inhuman experiences; somehow more human.

Jeremiah walked on, after they agreed to meet again tomorrow near the bistro where their mother worked. Kolfin had it in his mind they should tell her everything: father’s recent proximity and Jeremiah’s plan. But then Kolfin, not Jeremiah, hedged; there was so much uncertainty.

∞   ∞   ∞

Mrs. Pudlowsky was a divining rod in the guise of a distempered single mom. Her days’ banality and tenuous plucks of ennui’s catgut encroached derivative’s territory; but Mrs. Pudlowsky, impudent and custom eschewing (or as she called it, “culture delousing”), was, in every sense of the word, a tad avian. She flit about from task to task, major to menial, and vice versa, like a bird-boned wanderlust inflicting her adventure on the calmness of her cage; today she scrubs the tile floors, yesterday she kept the books, tomorrow: maybe CEO, or possibly advisership, to the owners or board of trustees.

“My boys, my handsome boys! Why I haven’t seen the two of you together since Inauguration Day three years ago. We was celebratin’ nothin’ in particula’, just Jeremiah bein’ back in town. But then Kolfin, you got that call from Boein’, about acceptin’ some design o’ yours, and we was celebratin’ somethin’ after that! Oh lord, that was a fine time.”

Mrs. Pudlowsky took a 15 minute break, and Jeremiah spelled it all out for her, serene and serendipitous in countenance. Kolfin vacillated between stewing a bit, half-expecting his mother to reject the plan outright, which she didn’t, and waiting politely for a chance to interject, and request again…

“Jeremiah, why don’t you take me instead? Yesterday you said it isn’t killing me, it isn’t murder. Sounds like you’d just be removing me, then things would go back to how they were. Dad could come back…I mean stay.”

“Heavens to Betsy! Son, your daddy and I have been separated 29 years. I hope you don’t think we’d get back together. And now he’s here for Jeremiah, with some vague, malicious soundin’ intentions? You wan’ ta sacrifice ya self for this man? I’m still not clear why he’s here? How you know he didn’t come for some of your money?”

“It isn’t a sacrifice, Mom; he isn’t…” Jeremiah began. Then his eyes rolled back and he face-planted, nose first, onto their table.

And nobody noticed the man outside looking in, rubbing his nose and cursing.

∞   ∞   ∞

At the urgent care in the outskirts of Beckford, Jeremiah sat on the doctor’s table saying he felt fine, with a tampon string hanging out his nostril. Of course, his mother and Kolfin knew he felt fine, but Mrs. Pudlowsky, as usual, thought it was best he get looked at nonetheless. The nurse had just stepped out after recording the vital signs. The resting heart rate of 35 had alarmed her, but Jeremiah seemed stable. She planned on recommending an EKG and IV fluids to the moonlighting intern when she found him.

The intern had wandered toward the waiting room and heard a man groaning from the corner.

“Sir, what seems to be the problem? Are you okay?”

Mr. Pudlowsky chuckled with the menace of a deep fryer, palm on his furrowed brow with eyes downcast.

“Am I okay? Doctor, you ever hear of a man coming in with all kinds of somatic complaints but no injuries or illness to justify their being? What do you call that?”

“Well, umm…if there’s some secondary gain, like money or narcotics, we call it…malingering. Do you need me to look at you? Are you in pain?”

“What about voodoo? Those dolls that witches stick needles in, or hold a match under. You’ve heard of that?”

“In movies, yes. Is that what you think is going on with you?” The intern was starting to consider diagnoses, schizophrenia and / or drug abuse chief among them.

In a predatorial flash, Mr. Pudlowsky turned his gaze up to the intern’s eyes, as if a tit mouse streaked across the prairie of his purview, that sudden bolt of fear in the young doctor’s iris. 

“No, young man, that isn’t it at all. I know what troubles me: he’s back there right now with a broken nose and his broken brother. Goddammit, I don’t believe in Satan or demons, but there was some kind of hex on my testicles, like an external cancer eating away at me, invisible to any microscope or blood test.”

“Sir, I don’t understand.”

“I didn’t think you would.”

Mr. Pudlowsky got up, and walked toward the back examination room where Jeremiah lay in wait.

∞   ∞   ∞

Jeremiah recognized the genius of all living things, like the alley cat; not just its calico against the heavy-duty dumpster’s steel, but the refinement of its leap, the balance of its intellect with instinct as it crept between the steaming sewers and putty rain. He watched it outside the window.

“What are you doing here? Oh, God, whose blood is that? Don’t hurt him, please don’t hurt him!”

“Renee, this goddamn son of ours has ruined my life! Made it a goddamn hell! I’m gonna…”

“Dad?” Kolfin couldn’t believe the man who’d sent him postcards from Paraguay and Venezuela was capable of violence.

“Jeremiah!”

Renee Pudlowsky sat alone in the doctor’s office, fast asleep and dreaming of her days in Ireland, when she was beautiful.

∞   ∞   ∞

There was music. A whisper of music; a sinuous movement, a cresting of birdsong, percussion and murmur of exotic strings. Kolfin knew by some foreign, brand new and crystal clear sense that he, Jeremiah and their father, Dubin Pudlowsky, were no longer in their home existence; they’d been transported.

[What follows is not the text of speech delivered by the characters’ mouths and received by their ears; it’s rather a translation of their communication across the field of solid fire that stretches between their bodies’ silicone and sulfur gas.]

“You both should remain calm. Nobody here can be hurt.”

Dubin felt for his gun, then felt for his hand, then realized this moment was his first without pain in three decades. And he was terrified, relieved, aware again of grace.

“Jeremiah, where have you taken us? Is this a possibility or an anti-null?”

“Kolfin, I could never take you to the anti-null. Only I could come back as I, which would mean for me a life, for the first time, with pain.”

“You selfish asshole!”

“Wait. Father, Kolfin: I want you to both imagine closing your eyes.”

Dubin closed his eyes, or did what felt like that. He suddenly could see the three of them in that alley outside the urgent care examination room, standing naked and expressionless across from each other in a triangle; three soulless bodies.

“I’ve got your gun.”

In the alley, the body of Jeremiah raised its right arm and pointed the revolver at its right temple and a bit to the back.

The arms of Kolfin raised slowly, stiffly, in a heavy-limbed, nearly lifeless “Stop” motion; the leaden extremities of fight or flight that one despairs in a nightmare.

The blast awoke Renee Pudlowsky, who was startled to see Kolfin sitting up on the doctor’s table. And Kolfin stared in awe at Dubin Pudlowsky standing by the door, blood on his hands, along with his gown as it trickled from his nose.

There was a knock behind Dubin. In came the intern, smiling.

“Hello? Whoa, I think I see the problem here.” He directed Mr. Pudlowsky toward the table. “Maybe you should have this seat for now.”

The three Pudlowskys remained speechless.

“Anyone mind telling me how this happened?” The doctor asked, in good humor. He turned toward Mrs. Pudlowsky in front of the window.

“Looks like you’ve got him worried?”

“Excuse me, sir?” said Mrs. Pudlowsky

“I’m talking about that cat staring in here.”

They all turned to look.

“It sure is beautiful.”


Jake Sheff is a pediatrician and veteran of the US Air Force. He’s married with a daughter and six pets. Poems and short stories of Jake’s have been published widely. Some have even been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and the Pushcart Prize. His chapbook is “Looting Versailles” (Alabaster Leaves Publishing). A full-length collection of formal poetry, “A Kiss to Betray the Universe,” is available from White Violet Press.


“Fugue” Dark Fiction by Alan Catlin

The woman to my right at the bar hands me a party hat, a metal noise maker with a short wooden handle, and a shredded bright colored paper pennant.

“What’s this for?” I ask.

“It’s almost time.”

“Time for what?”

“Time.”

I look at the bartender. His party hat is tilted to one side, loosely held in out-of-place, by a thin piece of stretched elastic.  I want to ask him what is going on but I am hesitant to speak.  He looks away as I begin to address my question to him.

“What’s the occasion?”

Either he doesn’t hear me, or he won’t answer my question.  I watch as he works in the smoke congested darkness of the bar.  He is making something with his hands but I can’t see what it is.  A waitress stands by a service station tightly gripping the chrome bars that delineate her space from the rest of the bar.  Her mouth is moving but there are no words.

A man next to me says, “Smoke?”

I begin to say, “No…” but he isn’t talking to me.  He isn’t talking to anyone.

He says, “The answer is, ‘There is no occasion.’”

“For what?”

“For anything. Your question.  Your life.  For being here.  Or not.”

I turn to question him more closely, but no one is sitting there.  Nothing moving but the gray fog of the smoke.  A silence now that is almost tactile.  I can almost feel what I cannot see.  I drink what is put in front of me. The concoction is carefully aligned on a neatly folded cocktail napkin: a half-empty glass of something amber with ice cubes. I don’t know what it is, only that it must be mine.  Drinking, I feel an uncommon sense of warmth inside.  I carefully replace the glass on the napkin and wait. I can see nothing moving.  But my glass is filled once again.  I reach for it and drink.

Somewhere in the darkness to my left, near where the end of the bar might be, a footlight flashes on what must be a stage.  Followed by another, and another, in a long line of brightly colored filtered lights.  No sound is heard but shadowy figures, outlined by the eerie suddenness of the light are slapping their hands together in a motion that could be clapping.     Just as abruptly as the footlights had come on, they are switched off, a jolting shock worse than the suddenness of their unannounced presence. Then, without warning, an overhead light, the ghost light is switched on.

I can hear a greatly amplified, scratched vinyl record begins to play, the solo voice of a unaccompanied female singer.  I can’t make out the words, as they’re in a foreign language I am unfamiliar with. Her tone, though, is a universal: one of lost love and yearning, intimate yet distant.  Her voice is as distant as the mime on the stage, holding a microphone with no cord attached, pretending to sing. The outline in black of painted teardrops on the white grease painted cheeks, the red painted broken heart on the mime’s white shirt leaking large drops of imitation blood.  The blood, the tears and the unpainted lips in the ghost lighted stage.

And then, the reanimation of the room.  The noise of the crowd, the clattering of glassware, and ice, and meandering conversation.  The occasional sound of a noise maker, a tin whistle, rustling pennants, jester’s bells and cat of nine tails whip like cracks in the subdued lighting. Nothing moving on the stage. The jukebox plays. A September Song. Seven versions in succession by seven different artists.

The bartender’s hat is no longer askew.  He wears a cheap black eye mask as if he were the Lone Ranger with a shot glass instead of a six gun.  Glass tumblers disappear into his hands.  Ice explodes where alcohol meets ice.

I drink my tall drink.  A woman is standing next to me, wearing a long red evening gown, low cut in the back and front. Whenever she moved her head to speak, her green felt fool’s cap bells jungle, and the elastic of her white eye mask slips, covering one of her eyes. One eye is blue and the other is green.  I can’t hear what she is saying, but it appears by her gestures, that she wishes me to light the cigarette in the long black filter she holds between white gloved hands. 

I turn to the bar to retrieve the pack of matches that had been lying near the half-filled drink at my place.  As I turn to her, with the lighted match, there is no one there.  I hold the flickering match as it burns down toward my fingers, waiting for the sudden intake of breath, and the quick release of smoke that always follows after the lighting. I wait, and the match burns, but nothing happens.

Nothing happens until the sound of laughter around me begins.  I wonder what the joke is, who is laughing, and at what?  Or is it, whom are they laughing at?  At what? Nothing at all.

The bald man, at my left, is dressed as a clown, except for his face; a face is covered by a rubber mask   His voice is muffled as he tries to speak. I can see the area where the mouth should be, sense the movement of lips, but nothing resembling speech comes out.  When I do begin to hear, the sound is distorted as if he were speaking from under a vast body of standing water. The laughter that follows his speech also sounds far away. Indistinct, but, real nonetheless. I imagine him on a stage, dressed in an all-white suit, painted the way mimes are painted, but I cannot imagine the noise.  Noise and music, laughter and the sound of coins falling in the jukebox. 

I am drinking.  The more I drink the hotter I feel.  I gesture towards the man with the black eye mask and the party hat, but no one responds.  

I call out, “Hey, tarbendner.  I’m hot and thirsty.  Give me one of your finest coldest beverages.”   

All noise in the room ceases.  Motion is suspended.  A thousand pairs of mismatched eyes stare at me.  I can feel the heat inside.  The increasing urgency of it.  The closeness of the room, the smoke and the heat lamps intense, concentrated glow.  I drink what is placed in front of me.  Drink it and the next without asking or wondering where and why or how.  A Beer Barrel Polka plays.  Everyone laughs.  Even me.

“Try your noise maker now, sonny.” 

A disembodied voice is speaking to me in the darkness.  The voice sounds as if it could belong to an older woman.  A much older woman.  One who has never worn a long evening gown or a party dress in her life.

“Don’t ask questions.  Just do it.”

“Now?”

 “Of course, now, it’s almost time.”

“Time for what?”

“Time for the noisemakers. You’ll be sorry if you don’t have one that works.”

I retrieve my noisemaker from the bar next to my drink and crank the handle. It makes a loud, annoying sound in the otherwise silent room.

“Seems to work fine,” I say.

“Now don’t you feel better?”

The room is no longer silent. Drinks are being consumed, glasses clinking together, soda is swishing into glasses filled to the rim with alcohol and mixers. Laughter and conversation.  I do feel better.  Much, much better.

I say so. 

Everyone laughs.

Loudly as the house lights come all the way up. All the noisemakers come alive at once. Everyone screams in unison

It’s time.

I know better than to ask what it is time for.


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 He didn’t win either award.


Appearing in The Chamber November 19

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).

“Fugue” Dark Fiction by 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 He didn’t win either award.

“Banquet of Fortune” Dark Fiction by Jake Sheff

Jake Sheff is a pediatrician and veteran of the US Air Force. He’s married with a daughter and six pets. Poems and short stories of Jake’s have been published widely. Some have even been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and the Pushcart Prize. His chapbook is “Looting Versailles” (Alabaster Leaves Publishing). A full-length collection of formal poetry, “A Kiss to Betray the Universe,” is available from White Violet Press.

“Asexuals of the Cosmos, Unite!” Dark Sci-fi/Horror by Thomas White

Thomas White has a triple identity: speculative fiction writer, poet, and essayist. His poems, fiction, and essays have appeared in online and print literary journals and magazines in Australia, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. He is also a Wiley-Blackwell Journal author who has contributed essays to various nonliterary journals on topics ranging from atheism, the meaning of Evil, Elon Musk, Plato, The Matrix, and reality as a computer simulation. In addition, he has presented three of his essays to the West Chester University Poetry Conference (West Chester, Pennsylvania), as well as read his poetry on Australian radio.

“Poesies” Dark Post-Apocalyptic Fiction by Jason Kahler

Jason Kahler is a teacher, writer, and scholar from Southeast Michigan. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKahler3.

Three Dark Poems Written and Translated from the Russian by Ivan de Monbrison

Ivan de Monbrison is a poet, novelist and artist born in 1969 in Paris. He has studied oriental languages in Paris, and then worked for the Picasso Museum, before dedicating himself to his own creativity. He has been published in literary magazines globally. His last poetry book in English and Russian без лица / Faceless has just been released in Canada. He does not believe that his art is of any real significance. He does it as some kind of a tribal ritual. He is fully aware that vanity is one of the worse enemy of most poets and artists, and tries to stay away from it as much as possible. 

“The Swamp Rat” Dark Spy Thriller by Philip Ivory

Philip Ivory studied literature at Columbia University. He teaches creative writing with The Writers Studio in Tucson, Arizona. His fiction has appeared in Menacing Hedge, Two Cities Review, Ghost Parachute, The AirgonautLiterally Stories and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His blog is writeyourselfsane.com.

“Reverie” Dark Science Fiction by Aaron Simon

Aaron Simon lives in Portland, Oregon with his dog, Barry, and a really nice window that looks out on a really nice tree. When he’s not being distracted by that tree, he writes, reads, and develops crippling addictions to things like collecting records.

“The Estate” Twisted Gothic Horror by Ciaran Doran

Ciaran Doran is a former museum curator and ancient music archivist who has been fortunate enough to work on a number of international projects. He has contributed on occasion to British newspapers and written short pieces for the WWF For Nature. 

Next Issue: November 26

Appearing in The Chamber November 19

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).

“Fugue” Dark Fiction by 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 He didn’t win either award.

“Banquet of Fortune” Dark Fiction by Jake Sheff

Jake Sheff is a pediatrician and veteran of the US Air Force. He’s married with a daughter and six pets. Poems and short stories of Jake’s have been published widely. Some have even been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and the Pushcart Prize. His chapbook is “Looting Versailles” (Alabaster Leaves Publishing). A full-length collection of formal poetry, “A Kiss to Betray the Universe,” is available from White Violet Press.

“Asexuals of the Cosmos, Unite!” Dark Sci-fi/Horror by Thomas White

Thomas White has a triple identity: speculative fiction writer, poet, and essayist. His poems, fiction, and essays have appeared in online and print literary journals and magazines in Australia, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. He is also a Wiley-Blackwell Journal author who has contributed essays to various nonliterary journals on topics ranging from atheism, the meaning of Evil, Elon Musk, Plato, The Matrix, and reality as a computer simulation. In addition, he has presented three of his essays to the West Chester University Poetry Conference (West Chester, Pennsylvania), as well as read his poetry on Australian radio.

“Poesies” Dark Post-Apocalyptic Fiction by Jason Kahler

Jason Kahler is a teacher, writer, and scholar from Southeast Michigan. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKahler3.

Three Dark Poems Written and Translated from the Russian by Ivan de Monbrison

Ivan de Monbrison is a poet, novelist and artist born in 1969 in Paris. He has studied oriental languages in Paris, and then worked for the Picasso Museum, before dedicating himself to his own creativity. He has been published in literary magazines globally. His last poetry book in English and Russian без лица / Faceless has just been released in Canada. He does not believe that his art is of any real significance. He does it as some kind of a tribal ritual. He is fully aware that vanity is one of the worse enemy of most poets and artists, and tries to stay away from it as much as possible. 

“The Swamp Rat” Dark Spy Thriller by Philip Ivory

Philip Ivory studied literature at Columbia University. He teaches creative writing with The Writers Studio in Tucson, Arizona. His fiction has appeared in Menacing Hedge, Two Cities Review, Ghost Parachute, The AirgonautLiterally Stories and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His blog is writeyourselfsane.com.

“Reverie” Dark Science Fiction by Aaron Simon

Aaron Simon lives in Portland, Oregon with his dog, Barry, and a really nice window that looks out on a really nice tree. When he’s not being distracted by that tree, he writes, reads, and develops crippling addictions to things like collecting records.

“The Estate” Twisted Gothic Horror by Ciaran Doran

Ciaran Doran is a former museum curator and ancient music archivist who has been fortunate enough to work on a number of international projects. He has contributed on occasion to British newspapers and written short pieces for the WWF For Nature. 

Next Issue: November 26