Seeking Literary Submissions from Around the World

Seeking Literary Submissions from Around the World

The Chamber Magazine would like to publish more writers from around the world, regardless of your country of origin.

I am seeking short stories, poems, non-fiction articles of a dark nature. I am open to almost all genres such as fantasy, science-fiction, horror, mainstream, literary, romance, etc, so long as they can be considered dark in some way.

Your work must be in English. It can a translation from your native language, but it must be in English, which is spoken around the globe and gives the work and author substantial worldwide exposure.

For more information on what I am accepting and on the submissions guidelines, please go to The Chamber’s submissions page.

Please note that there is no pay for this other than a publication credit and exposure to the American and English markets. However, all rights remain with the author.

Currently, The Chamber is publishing material within a few weeks of acceptance, though this may vary depending on the number of submissions.

Please share this announcement to give it maximum exposure.

Carmina Burana and a Small Request for a Link to The Chamber

A little gift for you from the playlists on The Chamber’s nascent YouTube channel.

If you enjoy The Chamber Magazine, please support us by linking to us. Backlinks are important to any website and especially for one that is growing. If you have a story or poem published here, please link to it. If not, please link to any story, poem, or page that you like. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

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Microsoft Surface Book 3
Links to The Chamber Magazine Pages

Seeking Literary Submissions from Around the World

Seeking Literary Submissions from Around the World

The Chamber Magazine would like to publish more writers from around the world, regardless of your country of origin.

I am seeking short stories, poems, non-fiction articles of a dark nature. I am open to almost all genres such as fantasy, science-fiction, horror, mainstream, literary, romance, etc, so long as they can be considered dark in some way.

Your work must be in English. It can a translation from your native language, but it must be in English, which is spoken around the globe and gives the work and author substantial worldwide exposure.

For more information on what I am accepting and on the submissions guidelines, please go to The Chamber’s submissions page.

Please note that there is no pay for this other than a publication credit and exposure to the American and English markets. However, all rights remain with the author.

Currently, The Chamber is publishing material within a few weeks of acceptance, though this may vary depending on the number of submissions.

Please share this announcement to give it maximum exposure.

Vivaldi Storm and a Small Request for a Link to The Chamber

A little gift for you from the playlists on The Chamber’s nascent YouTube channel

If you enjoy The Chamber Magazine, please do us a small favor and link to us. Backlinks are important to any website and especially for one that is growing. If you have a story or poem published here, please link to it. If not, please link to any story, poem, or page that you like. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

Go to our blog to find out about upcoming issues and more.

Support The Chamber by buying merchandise from one of our sponsors or by donating to us through Buy Me a Coffee.

Microsoft Surface Book 3
Links to The Chamber Magazine Pages

Seeking Literary Submissions from Around the World

Seeking Literary Submissions from Around the World

The Chamber Magazine would like to publish more writers from around the world, regardless of your country of origin.

I am seeking short stories, poems, non-fiction articles of a dark nature. I am open to almost all genres such as fantasy, science-fiction, horror, mainstream, literary, romance, etc, so long as they can be considered dark in some way.

Your work must be in English. It can a translation from your native language, but it must be in English, which is spoken around the globe and gives the work and author substantial worldwide exposure.

For more information on what I am accepting and on the submissions guidelines, please go to The Chamber’s submissions page.

Please note that there is no pay for this other than a publication credit and exposure to the American and English markets. However, all rights remain with the author.

Currently, The Chamber is publishing material within a few weeks of acceptance, though this may vary depending on the number of submissions.

Please share this announcement to give it maximum exposure.

“Vampires in Training” Dark Poem by LindaAnn LoSchiavo

"Vampires in Training" Dark Poem by LindaAnn LoSchiavo: Native New Yorker LindaAnn LoSchiavo (she/her), a four time nominee for The Pushcart Prize, is a member of SFPA, British Fantasy Society, and Dramatists Guild. Her books include: "Women Who Were Warned," "Messengers of the Macabre," "Apprenticed to the Night," and "Vampire Ventures" (Alien Buddha Press). Forthcoming in 2024: "Cancer Courts My Mother."

Native New Yorker LindaAnn LoSchiavo (she/her), a four time nominee for The Pushcart Prize, is a member of SFPA, British Fantasy Society, and Dramatists Guild. Her books include: “Women Who Were Warned,” “Messengers of the Macabre,” “Apprenticed to the Night,” and “Vampire Ventures” (Alien Buddha Press). Forthcoming in 2024: “Cancer Courts My Mother.”

Please share this to give it maximum distribution. Our contributors’ only pay is exposure.

If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream stories and poems with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine

Dark Fur Elise and a Small Request for a Link to The Chamber

If you enjoy The Chamber Magazine, please do us a small favor and link to us. Backlinks are important to any website and especially for one that is growing. If you have a story or poem published here, please link to it. If not, please link to any story, poem, or page that you like. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

Go to our blog to find out about upcoming issues and more.

Support The Chamber by buying merchandise from one of our sponsors or by donating to us through Buy Me a Coffee.

Microsoft Surface Book 3
Links to The Chamber Magazine Pages

“Voices from the Walls” Psychological Horror by Patrick Malka

Patrick Malka (he/him) is a high school science teacher from Montreal, Quebec, where he lives with his partner and two kids. His fiction can be found in Five South's The Weekly, Nocturne magazine, The Raven Review, Sky Island Journal and most recently at On The Run. He can be found online @PatrickMalka on Twitter and @malkapatrick on Instagram.

It seemed like a good idea.

A punk band performing a live original score to a silent film.

On October 31st no less.

I mean, I don’t really do Halloween anymore, it’s so much work and the pay off hasn’t been there in years. This seemed like a good middle ground. No need to dress up, live music, a horror film. Jon asked if I’d be interested a month ago and I said sure. Mostly, I wanted the excuse to see an old friend but the whole thing seemed cool as shit.

After Jon called, I looked up the band and the movie. I knew of the 1923 German film Voices from the Walls, but it wasn’t one I had seen. Wasn’t exactly an easy one to find either. Same for the band performing the live score, Domain Archaea, a local experimental punk band I vaguely knew from back when I was an active part of my local scene, going to shows every other night. I just never saw them live. The whole thing was happening at a new venue called The Plateau, an abandoned theatre, recently renovated by some intrepid punks to put on shows.

Jon and I used to go to shows like this all the time, the more outlandish and esoteric the better, but we hadn’t seen each other in almost a year. It wasn’t for lack of trying. We worked nights. Jon was a short order cook at a diner. The kind of place people gathered in after the bars closed. I worked in a factory producing processed foods, doing quality testing in the lab, testing samples of each batch for salt content, acidity, viscosity, basically every quality the consumer might recognize as being slightly off and think the product was no good. Lowest seniority meant that I worked the graveyard shift. Those kinds of hours left me with an okay paycheck but absolutely no social life. This show would be a relief. A conscious effort to not retreat. I was alone a lot.


I met Jon outside The Plateau thirty minutes before the start of the show. He had our tickets.

Jon looked great. Dressed in a grey three-piece suit, white shirt, and burgundy tie with a wide full Windsor knot and, my favourite, a pair of brown Chelsea boots with a two inch heal. He looked like a man going out on the town in the 1920s to see a film. I was in skinny black jeans, a white button-down shirt, and a ratty black cardigan I had worn to shreds, all on top of scuffed Doc Martins. I looked perfectly appropriate but if we hadn’t greeted each other with a tight hug, you wouldn’t have guessed we were meeting to go into The Plateau together.

Jon is that guy I always looked up to. I’m actually a few months older but that never mattered. He was always the one who knew the best bands, wore the coolest clothes, knew where to eat and drink with the people who knew all about eating and drinking. When he leant you a book, it came with a lecture on why this was worth your time and instead of coming off as pretentious or self-important, you actually wanted to read the god damn book by the end of it. So much of my cache during our teen years was due to my proximity to this guy and I missed that as much as I missed the guy himself.

While still half in a hug, Jon said, “I’m excited to see what they’ve done with this place.”

I said, “I swear I’ve walked down this street a thousand times and never really noticed it before.”

“The place has been closed since the 50s and they’ve never tried to do anything with the building. But nobody’s knocked it down either.” Jon stepped back to look at me. “Shit, you look great. So good to see you.”

Jon could make you feel that good, that easily.

“Thanks. And thanks for the ticket. You’ll let me buy you a drink?”

“If you insist.”

We walked into The Plateau.


The Plateau could not hide the fact that it was an old theatre. You entered the main room from the side. The shallow stage lined the width of the room to your left. The seats in front of the stage had been ripped out decades ago, leaving an open floor plan all the way to the bar at the back, hidden in the shadow of the first of two balconies. On that night, the balconies were closed, and the ground floor was littered with evenly spaced, mismatched tables, each with a decorative jack o’ lantern spilling sharp toothed candlelight onto their scuffed, stained surfaces. There was no escaping that this was Halloween programming after all.

Jon and I had our choice of several tables and settled on one located right in the center of the room, equidistant from the stage and bar. I sat down hard on the folding chair and felt the legs dig into the soft wooden flooring as I handed Jon a beer and took a sip of my own.

“I don’t suppose the people who opened this place up again have been able to bring it up to code?” I asked, expecting Jon would know.

“Not likely. I’d say we’ve had a successful evening if we’ve only inhaled asbestos and mold. It’s the guys from Domain Archaea doing it.”

“The band we’re seeing tonight?”

“Yeah. Do you remember them? Not a lot of people do. They’ve been quiet the last few years. Their guitarist was hit by a car stumbling out of The Fairmont after a show. Died on the spot and the band kind of just stopped performing. I had a couple of their early CD-R releases. Great artwork on handmade cardboard sleeves. Punk aesthetic with the noise and layers of shoegaze. They had a niche. I wouldn’t be able to name another band like them.”

Jon reached into his jacket and pulled out one of the band’s cardboard sleeves because of course he would.

“What do you notice?” Jon said, handing me the sleeve.

I leaned in close to the little bit of light thrown by the concealed candle on our table and was surprised to see that the cover art was a painting of our current view of the stage at The Plateau. It was unmistakeable. On stage, there was the vague impression of a single person, dark and hunched over, but it was small and hard to make out in the painting.

“So what do you think made them want to start up again? And to do all this?” I asked, pointing to our surroundings and the white sheet taking up most of the stage’s back wall, ready to project the film.

“I really don’t know. But clearly, they know their shit and love this place. The movie they chose is interesting too.”

“All I know about it is the when and where.”

“I’ve only ever seen it described as a hard to find but important silent film. Gothic ghost story, castles, gaunt German women fainting at the unexpected and uncanny for ninety minutes. Should be a good time.”

“I’m excited to see it. But I worked last night and couldn’t sleep today so, between the beer, silent film and ambient distorted soundtrack, there’s almost no chance I don’t fall asleep for part of it.”

“Same. I closed the diner last night, then went over to one of the waitresses for drinks with a few friends. I’m running on four hours of sleep in the last two days.”

“I can only imagine what this table is going to look like in a half hour.”

“Yeah, but I’m still happy to be here.”


As we continued to catch up, having a second, then third round of beers, about two thirds of the tables filled with costumed punks, small groups of hipsters, and a few solitary film nerds, notebooks at the ready. Looking around, Jon and I fit the interdisciplinary bill just fine.

When the already weak and diffuse house lights went out, every table looked like its own island, outfitted with a single pumpkin shaped lighthouse. The people in the room were reduced to smeared shadows, swaying in front of the candlelight. The overall effect was nice.

The band took the stage, grabbing hold of instruments I hadn’t taken the time to notice were already laid out. They were only three: two guys on guitar and bass, and a woman at a laptop. One of the guys walked up to a mic set up on the side of the stage and said, “good evening.”

Polite applause all around.

“We’re Domain Archaea. We’re doing something we’ve never done. We’re going to perform a live score. The movie is Voices from the walls. I fucking love this film. It’s probably the single biggest influence on everything we’ve ever done, and it still scares the shit out of me so it seemed appropriate.”

“So we’re going to get started in a minute. If you like what we’re doing here, tell some friends. We’re trying to program punk and alternative shows here at The Plateau, bringing the venue back a little bit at a time. It’s got some history, some of it fucked up. We’ll see if we can live up to that.”

Jon could see my raised eyebrows in the darkness but all he had for me was a shrug. We’d have to do some research later.

“So if you want another drink now’s the time because seriously, don’t miss any part of this movie. It’s fucking gorgeous. Okay, enjoy.”

More polite applause. Jon and I were good for beer, so we stayed put in comfortable silence waiting for the projector to illuminate the back wall.

The band started in darkness before anything was shown. A slow build to a wall of distortion with a sludgy, galloping beat. Then suddenly, enough to make me jump, the opening image of the film burst onto the back wall, accompanied by faster downstrokes from the guitar and bass. It was a castle on a cliff, seen from a distance. The lighting suggested evening. The flickering light of fires burned in several windows. It obviously looked like a beautifully shot miniature. I was so sure in fact that my stomach dropped when a slender shadow clearly crossed one of the windows. Fuck, these silent film directors were the God damn best. So much creativity with what I assume was so little. This was going to be special.

Voices from the Walls is about a young woman named Gretta. She’s been institutionalized since childhood but has been deemed cured, returning home for the first time in years. She doesn’t recognize her family and they barely recognize her. You get the impression her existence and perceived psychological weakness was a source of shame for her parents, and to her younger twin siblings, she’s a stranger, entering their lives and privilege as though she belongs. They disagree. All of this is established in the first twenty minutes. Her voyage through the countryside, arriving at the castle, the awkward greeting from her parents, the cold aggression of her twin brothers. Her first night at home, alone in such a large space, she’s nervous and sweaty. Despite her palatial room, everything is shot in close up. The room does not matter, she’s trapped in the confines of her mind, holding a tenuous grasp on reality.

Then she hears the voices.

At that moment, about a half hour into the movie, the distorted and disjointed music continued to plod along with unchecked aggression but with high frequency squeals piercing through the noise, perfectly timed to Gretta’s every flinch, almost as if to make us ask ourselves, did we hear something? Was that a scream? A voice? It was truly excellent.

I looked over to Jon. His eyes were closed but he was nodding to the music. As much as I was enjoying the film, the music, I was having a hard time staying conscious. I was drawing out my third beer, taking small sips, using it to try to keep me awake. It wasn’t working. And to make matters even worse, the temperature in the room had shot up. Drops of sweat streaked down my back, soaking through my shirt. The smell of the theatre had changed. When we walked in, the room smelled like burning incense, the fragrant wood smoke I associate with a lot of the shops in the neighbourhood but now, I got repeated wafts of an acrid, metallic smell. Like spoiled raw liver. Or, and this is really what came to mind, the sweat of a person fighting some kind of infection. Salty decomposition. It was distracting but did nothing to help keep me awake. No one else seemed to notice.

The second act of the film put on a clinic in building tension. Gretta continued to hear voices but was now followed by a shadowy presence. A human shape with large antlers, sometimes upright, sometimes acrobatically on all fours. It first appeared to her in a wooded area near the castle. The scene took my breath away. As she stared down the overgrown path, we follow her POV and see the shape seemingly detach itself from a tree. Even if you know to expect it, it’s shocking to see this dark presence, almost absorbing light, open its luminescent white eyes in a dramatic close up. The music reached its first pinnacle at that point. Like getting hit by a wave. Then everything stopped, abruptly, perfectly in time with Gretta fainting.

The room remained dark and quiet for a minute. Many of the jack o’ lanterns had gone out. It was darker than before. More waves of heat and that awful smell. Then the music started up again but instead of coming from the amplifier stacks on stage, the distortion seemed to be coming up through the floor. It continued to grow in volume. I was uncomfortable, cut off from so many senses. I put my hands flat on the table to make sure I could still orient myself in space.

The projector came back on. The image, a burning fireplace, Gretta asleep in front of it. It illuminated the room so suddenly that I had to close my eyes. When I opened them, the scene remained, but The Plateau had changed. Filling every bit of available standing room were perfectly still, quiet bodies. People who appeared in that brief moment of darkness and disorientation. I couldn’t move. I didn’t understand what was happening. This wasn’t possible. Jon was still asleep. And the music was so loud it hurt, vibrating my chest to the point where it confused my breathing. I couldn’t take a deep enough breath.

Was this part of the show?

Some of the bodies, because that’s all they were to me, vague impressions of humanity, turned around, orienting themselves towards our table. From their shaking, open mouths, came awful, thunderous crackling. There was no message, just cataclysmic sound added to the distortion from below. The person closest to us lifted the pumpkin from the center of our table and poured the hot candle wax from the jack o’ lantern’s mouth directly into their open eyes, blinding themselves. Their eyes disappeared through the slowly hardening wax, but I could tell they could still see me. Like a signal, that act of self harm triggered the crowd of bodies to move in rippling waves of moshing, but it was more than that, their collisions were violent. They were tearing each other apart. Ripping out hair, catching arms and bending them at unnatural angles, fingers piercing holes into flesh as easily as shoving sticks into rotten gourds. Breathing hard and unable to move from my seat, I tried to look past the convulsing, disintegrating bodies. The film had moved on. Gretta stood at the cliff, her family’s castle filled the background. She’s distraught, she’s crying. In her face is the misery of thinking she had succeeded in battling her demons, that she could begin to live but really, she would never be allowed to. Slowly approaching behind her are two of the antlered creatures. Just like the one she first saw appear in the woods. They bring their mouths close to either side of Gretta’s head and scream. Their voices no longer just emanating from the walls, it breaks something in Gretta. The Plateau shook at that moment and a calm came over Gretta’s eyes. She steps off the cliff. I felt the vertigo of her free fall. Not imagined but felt it. The scene changes to that same miniature that opened the film. In the distance, we see Gretta fall to the rocks below. Back on the cliff, the antlered creatures turn and face Gretta’s parents watching from the window. The creatures remove their hoods, revealing the twin boys. They gleefully followed their parents’ instructions. They rid themselves of their family’s shame. No one would ever even ask what happened to poor Gretta.

The final scene is a pull away from the castle, backing into the woods. The music in the room grew to a final, shattering climax. The convulsing bodies in the room, bleeding, some torn to ribbons, continued to mosh in figure eights around the tables. I couldn’t take it anymore. In the remaining flickering light of the projector, the movement was disjointed and inhuman. The same person who poured the wax onto their eyes was now spinning fast around our table, their lower jaw was missing but I could still see the edges of what remained of their face turned upwards in the most hideous smile. The noise they made. I needed to leave, I needed to stand.

The screen went dark.

The music stopped.

The noise stopped.

A moment later, the house lights came on.


The room was as it was.

Jon, who looked as pristine as when we arrived, leaned in and said “Fuck, that was fantastic.”

I frantically looked around, turning in my chair. What happened?

Jon asked, “Are you okay?”

“No.” I said, a bit too loud, a bit too fast.

“You were asleep for a minute, didn’t want to wake you, I can fill you in on what you missed.”

“I didn’t sleep. I was awake the whole time.”

“Okay. It’s no big deal, you drifted off for a bit.”

“No, I’m fucking telling you, I was awake, I saw everything.”

“Shit. Okay, you were awake.”

Silence. People walked past our table, noticing my panic, noticing Jon’s concern.

“Why don’t we get out of here?”

“Yeah. Yeah, let’s do that.”

Standing outside, I began to breathe again. Drunken partiers stumbled past, their costumes in various states of ruin.

Jon said, “A friend of mine is having a party right now. She says we wouldn’t need to dress up or anything.”

“I don’t think I’d be good company right now. Hey, did you? Was there? How do you feel right now, after watching that movie?”

“Good. I really liked it. The ending messed with my head.”

“Yeah?” Maybe he did see something.

“Yeah. That she would kill her brothers with the antlers from her bedroom, thinking they were playing tricks on her, that they were the voices. And that we don’t really know in the end if it was them. It’s a lot.”

What was he talking about? That’s not what happened.

“And Domain Archaea showed beautiful restraint.”


“Hey seriously, is everything okay?”

I had to think about it. I decided to nod yes and blame it on fatigue. I was embarrassed. Jon hadn’t seen any of it.

Jon and I parted ways in front of the theatre. We would see each other again eventually. He gave me a tight hug which I held onto a moment too long, taking in his smell and the feel of him, how much he cared. I walked away fast, unable to look back at Jon, or The Plateau.   

Patrick Malka (he/him) is a high school science teacher from Montreal, Quebec, where he lives with his partner and two kids. His fiction can be found in Five South’s The Weekly, Nocturne magazine, The Raven Review, Sky Island Journal and most recently at On The Run. He can be found online @PatrickMalka on Twitter and @malkapatrick on Instagram.

Please repost this to give it maximum distribution.

If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream fiction and poetry with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine.

Two Dark Poems by Sarah Das Gupta

Two Dark Poems by Sarah Das Gupta: "The Beast" and "Post Stoker":  Sarah Das Gupta is a school teacher from near Cambridge, UK who has also lived and taught in India and Tanzania. She has had work published in over 70 magazines/journals from many different countries, including US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Romania, Croatia, India, Nigeria and others.
The Beast
Post Stoker

Sarah Das Gupta is a school teacher from near Cambridge, UK who has also lived and taught in India and Tanzania. She has had work published in over 70 magazines/journals from many different countries, including US, UK, Canada,
Australia, Germany, Romania, Croatia, India, Nigeria  and others.

“Appropriation as The Villain in Candyman & Get Out” Essay by Jack Schembri

"Appropriation as The Villain in Candyman & Get Out" Essay by Jack Schembri:  Jack Schembri, a budding horror scholar, is a student at Kutztown University double majoring in English and psychology with minors in professional writing and women’s gender and sexuality studies. He has published work in the Keystone Newspaper. Originally from the small town of Harleysville, Pennsylvania, Jack is a huge fan of horror films and novels. He also loves to bake.

Appropriation is nothing new. Mainstream culture— more specifically white mainstream culture— has used the ideas and traditions of less fortunate communities for their own benefit. While this practice is not new, the representation of the phenomenon is. The 1992 film Candyman by Bernard Rose explores appropriation through an earlier lens than Jordan Peele’s Get Out which was produced in 2017. Candyman is a film that follows Helen Lyle— a white woman—who is writing her doctoral thesis on urban legends. She decides to pick something a bit academically spicey and chooses the urban legend of Candyman which is a specifically Black urban legend through origin and retelling. She is then turned mad by her obsession. She dies saving a child Candyman was going to kill. Helen is then the epitome of a “white savior” who returns from the dead— with the exact powers and weapon of Candyman— to exact revenge on her husband and anyone unfortunate enough to say her name in a mirror five times. Get Out is a film that explicitly talks about appropriation when Chris, a Black man, goes on a trip with his girlfriend Rose to visit her family, all of whom are white. He then finds out they kidnap Black people in order to steal their bodies to inhabit. As bell hooks speaks about in her article, “ Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance” racial discourse is becoming a commodification: “Within current debates about race and difference, mass culture is the contemporary location that both publicly declares and perpetuates the idea that there is a pleasure to be found in the acknowledgment and enjoyment of racial difference” (hooks 21). Both Get Out and Candyman have white characters that find pleasure in racial differences. The entire premise of Get Out is that black culture is now popular and attractive which hooks would explain: “Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture. Cultural taboos around sexuality and desire are transgressed and made explicit” (hooks 21). The main protagonist Chris is targeted because of his blackness and his aggressors are evil by virtue of their appropriation. The Armitage family is only one part of the order of the coagula. Not much is known about the order in order to demonstrate the unknown extent of white privilege and its overreaching access to every aspect of the Black experience.

Just as the fear of the unknown nature of the predominantly white order of coagula makes appropriation villainous, the known nature of Candyman does the opposite. Helen knows the truth about Candyman and despite that she continues to discover more because as hooks would put it: “The commodification of Otherness has been so successful because it is offered as a new delight, more intense, more satisfying than normal ways of doing and feeling” (hooks 21). Helen is so enticed by Candyman and his otherness in her predominantly white environment she is willing to die— and at the end of the film kill.

Whitetopias and the Struggles of Redlining

The first and possibly most important thing to unpack in any racial divide is location. In Candyman, the main protagonist comes from Cabrini Green which all of the characters collectively call, “the ghetto” which Bernadette— Helen’s token black friend— claims to be “overtaken by hoodlums.” As stated in Joan Hawkins, “Vanilla Nightmares and Urban Legends: The Racial Politics of Candyman (1992)” This is where Candyman gets his power and his true origin story that is often overshadowed by Helen: “Helen’s face appears in a close-up, behind the skyline, linking her to the geography and to the love story that is vital to the film” (Hawkins 252-253). While Helen is trying to get the true story as compared to her white male colleagues she is still unaware of her privilege. She feels as though her uncovering the story is more important than the people actually living in Cabrini Green as seen when Jake is begging her to stop just so she can ignore his warnings. She is also out of place in Cabrini Green as when she tries to enter the building she is told to leave and even when she ignores that strong request they shout up the stairs: “The police are coming up the back”. They had already chased her away from the elevator but even with their reservations, Helen was still able to enter their space safely. This is because of Helen’s whiteness: “In part, this is due to the interracial love story, but in large part, it is due to the hidden history of redlining, of the freeway system, and of what one documentary calls the ‘Jim Crow of the North’—the hidden apartheid of legal restrictive covenants that governed the construction of most Northern American cities” (Hawkins 260). Helen discovers her apartment was actually supposed to be a part of the “ghetto” but since there was no train to separate her building they decided to upmarket it. The buildings are identical with the only difference being one is redlined to keep black people in one part of the city and keep white people in the “nicer” parts. Even though Helen is encouraged to stay on her side of the tracks she is still allowed to enter their space without consequence. On the other hand, when her only Black friend Bernadette is at Helen’s apartment in broad daylight she is killed by a fear that quite literally turns her white. It was okay when her friend was there late and was giving her expertise on the ghetto, yet when she came over to a white space to be a good friend she was “whitened” to death. Her skin tone was turned white as she lay on the ground dead as if the change in her color is what killed her rather than the stab marks. Bernadette as a character herself follows respectability politics in that even though she is not as affluent as Helen she is above those living in Cabrini Green who she deems “hoodlums.” For this, it seems a death by converting to whiteness seems fitting and especially so because of the double standard. When Helen appropriates the story of Candyman she is seen as an academic and even powerful when she replaces Candyman; however, when a black woman does it she is punished and in a way that dictates her appearance. Appropriation is presented to be fine when it is a white person taking something for white people but it is proposed as a problem when the shoe is on the other foot.

In Get Out there is less of a focus on the city and more on what Notivny Lawrence coins as, “Whitopias” in his article “ A Peaceful Place Denied: Horror Film’s Whitetopias.” A whitetopias is the inverse of redlining. While redling focuses on keeping black people in one place a whitetopias focuses on keeping white people together— both accomplishing segregation in different ways. The introduction of the film follows the discomfort of Andre, a Black man, who is looking for his white girlfriend in her white neighborhood. The audience is meant to see him as an outsider who is being pushed out of this environment before Jeremy Armitage can even “extract” him from the neighborhood. The song in the background is, “Run, Rabbit, Run!” by Flanagan and Allen. This adds to this effect of making Andre an outsider since the line: “run rabbit, run, run, run, rabbit” is repeated as if the record is stuck and once Andre is removed the song can finally finish as if his mere presence was harming the “whitetopias”.

As Helen is free in her movement in Candyman Chris is not: “Once Chris crosses the threshold of the Armitage home, he will have entered spatial, cultural, and emotional territory that he may not be able to traverse safely” (Lawrence 77). Chris enters a whitetopias which has much more space since it is in a “suburrrb” while Helen only had to enter an already crowded apartment building. Since Chris is already psychologically vulnerable— and is in a space where no one looks like him— he is a sitting duck for Missy Armitage’s mind games. That and Jeremy Armitage’s physical capability, father Dean Armitage’s surgical and cultish capabilities, and Rose’s twisted love game show the audience that Chris’s environment is out to get him.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

The opening to Get Out shows the audience the relationship between Rose and Chris in a  unique way. After the abduction and the spiritual music, the movie cuts to a song titled: “Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It)” by Kool and the Gang. This shift is immediate as if their love was overlapping the serious nature of a song about the adversity of slavery. This song is also playing while Rose is picking out baked goods from a bakery and Chris is coming out from a steamy shower to shave. This is clear foreshadowing that Rose has hand-picked Chris for his physicality but also speaks to interracial relationships as a whole. From the perspective of the audience, we are told to see Rose picking a baked good the same way she picked Chris only she gets more say in his life. When they are in the car together she throws out his cigarette and we discover she is making him quit cold turkey. We are meant to believe she wants the best for him but we learn her true intention was to make sure he was a “good” product for her family. In that same car ride, Rod takes the phone and begs the question: “Why are you going to meet a white girl’s parents? Is she licking your balls or something?” While this may be oversexualized comedic relief there is truth in humor. Rod is truly concerned about Chris being introduced to a white family because of racial bias and even uses sex as something that may be in play. This is in part because of the larger stigma of fetishization of black men that he believes to be the reason he and Rose are dating— which is exactly the case— and Rod keeps this belief the entire film. This appropriation is what makes Rose villainous and how Chris even falls into her trap. This is a large development compared to Candyman.

The “love” story in Candyman is much different as Jordan Peele— director of get out— said “Candyman is the black boogeyman in pursuit of this blonde white woman” as stated in the documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. This is a much more problematic stereotype of an interracial relationship but it is the entire premise of Candyman’s origin. The story that white Professor Phillips—who never even stepped foot into Cabrini Green— claims is that Candyman was the son of a slave who was raised with “all the right schools” in polite society. He had a talent as an artist and he simply fell in love while painting a white woman. She became pregnant and for that his arm was cut off, his body smothered with honey, and was eventually stung to death and burned. His ashes were spread over Cabrini Green which swings everything back around to location while stressing the importance of his interracial attraction being deadly. As Helen hears this story she is not so much scared as she is curious. At no point in this gruesome story does she ask him to stop even with its gruesome nature and the fact they just ate. Helen knows Professor Phillip is claiming the story almost as his own and decides that appropriating its true origin will give her his platform and power. Helen is intrigued by this challenge and with the fire in her eye the scene fades out with her taking more pictures at Cabrini Green.

The love story of Helen and Candyman themselves is unique. Even though it may seem that Candyman is chasing after Helen at certain points it is the other way around. Helen refuses to let anyone tell her no when they have any information about Candyman. When the young boy Jake tells her he is scared for his life if anyone found out that he said anything Helen disregarded his warning which ultimately led her into the hospital. Even when she was still wounded and had a swollen eye she was still going back to Cabrini Green to get as much information as she possibly could. Near the end of the film, Candyman tries to trap Helen to make her his for all eternity. Even though she clearly escapes with the child and is a hero to all who live in Cabrini Green she still comes back. When her husband is staring at the mirror he is extremely displeased. He says Helen’s name out of despair for what he lost and gave up for his student who will never be Helen. When he says her name for the fifth and last time she uses Candyman’s hook to brutally murder him only to let his girlfriend survive to tell the tale and grow her power just as the same as Candyman. One of the most deadly forms of appropriation next to the Coagula procedure in Get Out.

The clean ending of Get Out and the sticky finales of Candyman

The ending of Get Out is much more progressive as Manuela Lazic points out: “Get Out was much less compromising: it lets its black lead not only survive but kill the emissaries of the racist myth” as she stated in her article “Before ‘Get Out,’ There Was ‘Candyman’”. Chris is able to take out the Armitage family while surviving as compared to Candyman who is not only killed but replaced by Helen (the white woman who killed him). After Chris is able to defeat the Armitage family – and lastly his “toxic” ex Rose– he drives away with Rod in an airport security car that appears to just be a normal cop car. Peel prepares the audience to see the frightening image of a black man towering over a dead white woman. This plays into the harmful stereotype that black men are a threat to society, especially white women. Rose gasps for help and Chris throws his arms to the air as we see the blue and red lights. The audience anticipates Chris’s arrest; However, Rod’s presence settles the audience and as Chris gets in the front seat it demonstrates Chris’s complete victory.

Candyman is a film that seemingly has four endings. The first when Candyman himself is defeated by Helen refusing to be an urban legend. He trapped her in the Cabrini Green campfire with the baby everyone thinks she kidnapped. She then throws him off of her and escapes with the baby in her arms. Refusing his power; which itself has two interpretations. The first being she refuses his power and demonstrates to the audience her white savior complex was somewhat genuine and she only had Cabrini Green’s best interest at heart. Or the more realistic is that she did not want to be an urban legend connected to Candyman. This makes the most sense considering that the final shot of the film is her killing her husband as an entirely new urban legend, although still using Candyman’s hook. The second “ending” is at Helen’s funeral. At first the audience only sees her husband, his mistress, and the professor she wished to reign superior over. The shot then pans out to all of Cabrini Green led by Jake and the mother of the baby she saved. The two throw Candyman’s signature hook in the grave with Helen and let all of Cabrini Green pay their respects to their “savior”. The third ending is a panoramic shot of the inside of Cabrini Green where murals of Candyman are now covered with Helen. In a once black space has now been quite literally and figuratively been whitewashed with Helen’s image. The film ends with Helen appearing in the mirror like Candyman as stated before. These multiple conclusions leave the audience with a variety of mixed feelings and interpretations, but what is clear through all of this is the fact Helen’s appropriation of the urban legend Candyman is the driving force behind the evil in the film.

Since Candyman was written and directed by white men, it makes sense the representation is focused on the white perspective. Helen is supposed to be the character the audience focuses on and even replaces the villain at the end. Get Out is directed by a Black director—Jordan Peele— whose work has most commonly been centered around race. The time difference also adds to the ability to even mention race as a part of the films. Get Out constantly points out the race of the characters while Candyman only hints at race when they use terms such as “hoodlum” and those from the “ghetto”. Between the directors being able to represent their own perspective and the sadly small advancements for Black Americans it is clear Get Out has a more progressive story than Candyman. Both these films demonstrate appropriation as villainous and do so through entirely unique ways.


Keetley, Dawn, ed. Jordan Peele’s Get Out: Political Horror. 1st ed., Ohio State University Press, 2020.

Hawkins, Joan. “Vanilla Nightmares and Urban Legends: The Racial Politics of    Candyman (1992).” Black Camera: The New Series, vol. 14, no. 2, Spring 2023, pp. 252–74. EBSCOhost,

hooks, bell.  Black Looks: Race and Representation, South End Press, 1992.

Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. Dir. Xavier Burgin. Distributor: Icarus Films,       2019. Docuseek2. Web. 23 Mar 2023.

Lazic, Manuela. “Before ‘Get out,‘ There Was ‘Candyman’.” The Ringer, The Ringer, 4 Oct. 2018,

Peele, Jordan. Get Out. Universal Pictures, 2017.

Rose, Bernard. Candyman. TriStar Pictures, 1992.

Jack Schembri, a budding horror scholar, is a student at Kutztown University double majoring in English and psychology with minors in professional writing and women’s gender and sexuality studies. He has published work in the Keystone Newspaper. Originally from the small town of Harleysville, Pennsylvania, Jack is a huge fan of horror films and novels. He also loves to bake.

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“Dermatophagia” Horror by R.J. Morgan

"Dermatophagia" Horror by R.J. Morgan:  R. J. Morgan is a dedicated writer who loves reading – and watching – horror. She is a graduate of the University of Glasgow where she studied English Literature & History. While her focus is on writing short stories, she is currently working on her debut novel: Where They Take Us.

Another biting rip (it hurt that time).

Usually, the skin peeled as effortlessly as string from rotten fruit.


Locked onto the edge of his throbbing thumb, his eyes traced the deep paths of old and new lacerations. His skin split like fissures in the earth: every wound as delicately sculpted as the last. Using the dirt-lodged nail of his middle finger, the boy continued to scrape away the flaking skin which travelled down to the curve of his hand and up his index finger. Each greying follicle fell like frost onto the empty plate in front of him.

Sitting alone at the kitchen table, he fought the hollow twang which echoed through the chambers of his empty stomach. Ignoring its contemptuous calls, the boy only admired the new bloodied crevice carved into his thumb which glistened with a crimson complexion. The brightness of the red contradicted with the deathly-pale outskirts of his flesh which clung to life. To appease the rumbling which erupted from his stomach – a sound which often antagonised his parents – he sank his front teeth into a fresh piece of skin and chewed the slice between his molars. He was starving.


Wailing warily, the extractor fan above the oven spun with his mother’s worry while she methodically stirred the boiling pot on the stove. He struggled to hear anything over it; not that it mattered much. Dinners had become a quiet affair: consisting of cutlery clinking, chairs creaking, words whispered. To put it simply, dinner had become torturous for the boy.  

That was, apart from the odd night his father decided to arrive in one of his ‘good moods’ which often came and went as quickly as the mealtimes the boy dreaded. However, in recent months, these occasions had become somewhat of a rarity in the household. So, he waited wishfully with his pacing mother who also considered which version of her husband she would be greeted by today. It was difficult not to pity her. Yet, the boy had always held a soft spot for his mother: always more consistent, more kind, more patient.

Always more tolerant of his ‘challenges’.

Unlike his father.


Glancing through his thick fringe, the boy frowned at the passing time: 6.47pm. Far past their usual mealtime. While the pangs of hunger still tweaked in his insides, the delay of his father’s arrival sparked a small flame of hope that he would bring something edible home.  Not another heaped plate of bland food which mirrored the room around him.

Everything in the deteriorating kitchen was the same moulding colour of beige – apart from the faintly green cupboards which faded from their once-vibrant colour like bruises.  Grime coated the walls and congealed itself into every nook the kitchen dared to have.  Patches of rust flourished like stubborn warts and embellished the exposed pipes like spiralling ivy. On the side of the sink, dishes lay abandoned (some splattered in stains, some chipped and cracked, others merely forgotten). Half-full take-away boxes sprawled over the counters and attracted tiny insistent flies which doubled each day. Their bumbling and lurching movements mocked his parents who danced around each other – using the fat-filled food as a bargaining tool. It was the home that made him sick.

Between his teeth, he held a fragile piece of skin he noticed sticking up like a broken nail in wood from his finger and tugged it backwards – revealing the scarlet flesh beneath. It took a second before the pain kicked in. His nerves pulsed with persistent pleas before numbing to the intensity of the raw pain. Accustomed to this ritual, the boy barely reacted to the feeling. It was his body that pled; not him. There were worse things going on.


A whimper.

His mother heard it too.

Even the fan struggled to mute the sound.

Instinctively, the boy’s eyes fell on the basement door which always sat on the other side of the room to him (where he liked it). He wanted to keep watch on it. Its allusiveness seemed to loom over the mother and son as they waited for his father. What lay behind the door pounded with the same intensity as the pain in the boy’s fingers. It beckoned the boy to open it – something he had still not had the courage to do. Regardless of how much he wanted to, he knew the punishment from his father would trump his curiosity. He swallowed the lump in his throat which slid down to create a tight knot in his stomach.


Breaking his stare, he looked for reassurance from his mother who seemed to either be waiting for another noise, or in a hypnotic trance. The yellowing fabric acting as curtains floated around her like spectres from the open window. With a bolt-tight jaw which highlighted the stiffness throughout the rest of her body, she gazed out into the garden. Eyes haunted and somewhere else. Both mother and son knew what that noise meant.

His father would join them soon.


Removing another layer of ghostly skin, the boy winced as the flesh fought against his pull. With one more tug, it released its stubborn grasp and landed on the table in front of him. In triumph, he almost smiled as the red liquid began to flood the empty space his skin once situated. Wrapping his parted lips around the wound, he devoured the metallic taste which reminded him of old coins, copper, and the end of pencils he chewed at school.


More quickly than expected, the scraping of a rusted bolt bounced the boy’s gaze back to the basement door. A chain rattled against the old wooden door (the splinters dug into his skin just thinking about it). As the final lock clicked open, either anxiety or excitement dropped deeply in the boy’s stomach. It felt as though the floor had been pulled from under his feet.  There was no way to be sure of which version of his father he would get today. He crossed his nipping fingers beneath the table.

As the door creaked open with a wince, only his father’s face exited the basement.

Feeling his shoulders drop, his father looked skinnier than the boy had noticed before, his cheeks curved into his skull. Exhaustion nestled deeply into the layers of his skin, making him look permanently bruised. Avoiding the boy’s stare completely, his father searched for the comfort of his wife’s eyes. Turning her head over her shoulder, she met her husband’s purposeful gaze and a silent word passed between them. The boy thought that this may have been the only thing he had in common with his father – they both preferred his mother.  As his brow softened, fragments of pale skin accentuated the outline of his frown which he almost permanently wore.

Sliding out the door to deter the watchful eyes of his son, the man’s body appeared section by section as he shut the door behind him. Locking the door with his key (that he always kept in his front pocket), his hand shook as he tried to remove it from the starving mouth of the lock. Finally ripping it from the lock’s teeth, he steadied his breathing while shifting the rattling chains to fully secure the door. Clearing his throat before he turned to face his family, he forced a fabricated smile on the bottom half of his face which didn’t reach his eyes.  Hanging from him like cobwebs, his white sleeveless shirt seemed more tattered than usual.  Bringing the back of his wrist to his forehead, he only smeared the charcoal dirt which clumped on his face where his sweat gathered.

“Son,” he nodded to the boy and greeted him with a ruffle of his hair before he turned to kiss his wife on the shoulder while she cooked.

A waft of air carried a sweet staleness which permanently exuded from his father after he had been down in the basement. In the beginning, he would quickly excuse himself for a shower to cleanse himself of the stench, but as the visits became more regular, he quickly gave this ritual up. Mostly, the boy had become accustomed to this, and it was still better than the scent of the food being cooked.

The sulfuric smell of broccoli was beginning to make the boy feel ill imaging the cold, watery vegetable that would no doubt be overcooked into a deflated mush. Soon, it would be splattered on his plate by a harsh spoon and would ruin his pile of frosted skin. He swallowed the warm saliva that gathered in the sides of his cheeks in preparation for him to vomit.

Opening the fridge door with a stubborn slurp, his father was illuminated by a mustard light and pulled out a lukewarm beer. Without a flinch, he opened it with his teeth and the glass bottle hissed against him. Holding the neck of the bottle by his index and middle finger, he took a seat at the opposite side of the table from his son. In doing so, he blocked the boy’s view of the basement door which made him divert his gaze back to his plate. Observing him carefully, his father lifted a napkin from the table and opened it to lay neatly on his lap. He always made this kind of show when preparing to eat – and yet, this performance had still never encouraged him to stomach his food.

Leaning over them, his mother plated each of their dinners in front of them. Despite his father’s encouraging hum which indicated his excitement for the meal – all the boy saw was slop. The watery gravy infiltrated the zones where his vegetables and potatoes were positioned. Ruining them before he even had the chance to refuse the food. The boy noticed that at school, the other children watched the steam dance from their inviting plates with wide eyes, but at home, the heavy air of the kitchen only seemed to oppress it.

“He’s not eaten anything today – or spoken.  I think it’s getting worse,” his mother informed her husband like it was a bad school report.

While he could feel the thunderous frown of his father above him, he did not remove his inquisitive stare from his thumb which he hid beneath the table. Sitting beside them, the boy could tell his mother was silently pressing his father to say something to fix the situation.  Having such a miniscule success rate, the boy wondered why she bothered. Letting out a defeated sigh, his father put down his fork and knife and finished his mouthful.

Each loud chew made the boy’s stomach churn.

“Look at me, son,” his father managed.

Forcing his eyes up, he waited. Rubbing the protruding spikes of his beard, it was obvious the conversation made him uncomfortable. His grey eyes rounder and more worried.  

“Is it the dreams again?  The ones with the basement?”

The word made the boy’s hands tingle.

He wanted to


but he couldn’t.  

Not in front of his father.

The emptiness in his stomach had started to make him feel light-headed – a wave of nausea vibrated through him. Around him, the room started to spin slightly. Beads of sweat began to form around his neck and shoulders and roll down his back.

Moving closer to her son, his mother lifted the fringe from his eyes to feel his clammy forehead. Panic already in her eyes, she looked to her husband for his aid. She held his face between her two hands to make him focus on her turned up eyebrows and wide eyes.

“Does he look okay to you, David? Look at him – he’s starving himself sick. Please, son, why don’t you just try to have a bit of your dinner? Like your dad says.”

Forcing himself out of his dizziness, the boy sipped the water in front of him and shook his head of the spell he was under. Whilst he did not answer, he looked towards his father who was framed by the basement door. The boy knew he was starving, and so did his father.

To appease his parents who watched contentiously, he planted a fork into his mash potatoes. Butter escaped like blood from a stab wound. Inserting the fork into his mouth, it did not take long for it to make the boy physically wretch as the texture hit the back of his throat. The amalgamation of his harsh coughs, his teary eyes, and his hand to his throat caused his mother to jump up from her seat to his aid. He spat the food out onto a napkin.

“Oh David, can’t we please just get him something he’ll eat? Look at him!”

As the father and son locked eyes, his father swelled with rage at the disobedience which danced across his son’s eyes.

“God damn it, no!” He slammed his fist on the table which made the two bounce simultaneously.  “He will eat what we make him. He cannot control this whole house!”

A scratching interrupted his father’s outburst.

Despite trying not to, he watched as his mother darted her eyes towards the basement door.

The three paused – breaths held tightly.

It was light, but it was still there.

Looking down at his hands which had made their own way back onto the table, the boy realised that the sound was his. His fingers dug deeply into his skin, scraping vigorously like mice in the walls.

Before he had the chance to stop, he caught the burning stare of his father who scowled at the boy’s thumb which was as red as a stop light. He had tried everything: plasters, gloves, tape, coating his fingers in a clear liquid that tasted like nail polish remover. Nothing worked.

A tight fist found itself around his wrist.

The boy looked at it as if it was completely alien to him.

His father had never done this before.

“That hurts.”

“That hurts?” His father’s eyes became overwhelmed by a thick wave of tears that he gulped down – the whites of his eyes gaining a pink glow. He tightened his grip. “That hurts?”


His glare turned on his wife – the hair on his eyebrows now hackles.

The laboured breaths in his chest caused his whole to expand and deflate. As if she had pressed a button, he unclasped his grip and let his hand linger over his son’s delicate wrist.  Feeling the painful ring that was left, the boy fought the urge to hold onto his wrist and sooth himself.

“I’m just hungry, Dad.”

The words hung like black clouds.

A beat passed between his mother and father.

“We don’t have enough left,” his father spoke to his mother, his voice meek. 

“He’s not eaten in days, David.”

“We promised we would try,” his father hissed. “Like I said, we don’t have enough. Look – son – this is fine.”

He shovelled a loaded mouthful from his fork and swallowed despite the lump that was even evident through his throat. His Adam’s apple bobbed.  

“Try some,” his father swerved the fork around to his son’s face. The mountainous slop that jiggled made him recoil. He was going to be sick.

He was going to be sick.

Before he had the chance to think, his hand – with more strength that he realised – batted the fork away from him. It flew across the air and to the opposite side of the room.

Clattering with a cacophonous crash, the fork skipped across the tile flooring as if it was running for its escape.

His father’s eyes did not leave the fork that eventually lay as silent as a corpse.

He would regret that.

He knew he was going to regret that.


His mother gave out a deep exhale. Plucking the napkin from her lap and throwing it onto the table, she leaned back in her seat and rubbed her face with her palms.

“You need to get more, David” she said plainly.

Bringing his jaw around to look at her directly, his father sat back down from the previously large stance he took over his son. He watched his throat vibrate with the same intensity as his hands. Running his fingers through his once jet-black hair that had now receded and aged to a speckled grey, the father gripped it with such strength he felt his scalp pull painfully. It was his eyes that made the boy realise he was close.

“I’m hungry,” The boy looked at him with onyx black eyes that glistened with betrayal.  His father gazed back as if he was in some kind of trance. He couldn’t help but notice the way his son’s cheeks dipped in like his to show the outline of his skull.

“You can’t let me die.”

Another beat that was louder than the last – without the extractor fan, they were left with only the three pathways of thought between them. Watching intently, the boy smiled slightly as his mother wrapped her fingers around his father’s decimated, working hands.

Forcing the edges of his mouth back up from their shaking pout, his father nodded.  

There was no hope in fighting.

He was only waiting for the words which were catching up on him.

“We can use the last of her,” his mother prompted. “Then we can get another one. Like the last time.”

Wiping his mouth with disgust, his father scraped each of the four legs on his seat along the kitchen tiles which screamed with the friction.

“God help us,” he forced from his throat as he lifted the key from his pocket and dragged his feet across the kitchen to the basement door.

Instead of shifting in shyly, his father left the door wide open.

Light flooded the stairs down into the room – a white leg appeared from the darkness.

He licked his lips. So did his mother. 

The boy had always liked his mother better.

R. J. Morgan is a dedicated writer who loves reading – and watching – horror. She is a graduate of the University of Glasgow where she studied English Literature & History. While her focus is on writing short stories, she is currently working on her debut novel: Where They Take Us.

Please share this to give it maximum distribution. Our contributors’ only pay is exposure.

If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream stories and poems with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine

“An Anorexic Analyst” Antiphrastic Short Story by Antoine Bargel

"An Anorexic Analyst" Antiphrastic Short Story by Antoine Bargel:  Antoine Bargel writes poetry and fiction in English and in French. His stories have been published in Easy Street, Jellyfish Review, Harpang, and elsewhere. His first novel, Ma vie parfaite, is currently being translated into English. He has a Ph.D. in Romance Languages from the University of Oregon and has translated over 30 novels from English to French.

I had noticed that she was thin, but as we had started dating in the season of padded coats and woolen sweaters, wasn’t prepared for what appeared when sitting on my bed, after a fair amount of kissing and listening to Chopin, she enjoined me to undress her. Slender as they were, and most vertically inclined, her bones were all that supplied any shape; everything else was retreating indefinitely within, withholding her existence to an extent that challenged the mind. I didn’t know that there could be so little flesh between two hip bones, so much void above skin tense and curved like a ship’s sail; nor that an adult woman’s shoulder blades could look fully like the ungrown wings of an angel. Well, I had seen pictures of Auschwitz detainees, but not expected to find one in my bed, quiveringly eager to copulate! Her warm, wet hole, swollen as it was by desire, was all I had to chew on, like one steamed wonton at the tip of long ivory chopsticks. As the spare rest of her shook and rattled in ecstasy, I felt closer than ever to necrophilia or acting in a Tim Burton porno.

But I am not a picky eater, and accepted the menu as it came. Moreover, I really like Chopin and was not a little pleased to have found a person for whom a dozen piano studies constitute, as they do for me, ideal preliminaries to intercourse. In short, I was in love, and as such much disposed to bending my tastes and ideas in order to fit the declared object of my imagination. I renounced wholeheartedly any previous inclination for tits and ass, and focused instead on the countless freckles that dotted her pale skin like so many constellations, whose shapes and names I soon began to record, and revisit each time she granted me the opportunity. (Did I consider whether they would make nice lampshades?) She did not offer much to grab or hold on to, but pivoted gingerly around the axis of my pride, and bent easily, and was light to lift and carry, so much so that it felt like making love to the wind, hearing only, to stave off a daunting sense of aloneness, the faint moan of a ghost crossing my path here and there as I twirled and danced in the night, the ghost, judging by its vocal patterns, of a woman being repeatedly stabbed.

Laura, that was her name, was a psychotherapist working with terminal cancer patients. She had studied philosophy at an elite Parisian school that will remain unidentified, in order to allow me a free rein in commenting that I have never seen, although this was an extreme case, a healthy body on its grounds (excluding janitorial staff). The pressures of a selective admission process, over a period of three or more years, maybe coupled with the subsequent realization that being best of the best meant absolutely zero career prospects outside of teaching, resulted in many a shriveled cunt or cock, many a bent spine and tipping spectacles, before the age of twenty-five. But Laura had rebelled: she had wanted to do something practical with her talents, and through a further course of study, qualified herself to attend to the mental health of others. She went fast, she went big: her terminal cancer patients were children, and she worked with them and their parents to… ease their sense of doom? Regardless, I liked her character: she was my kind of gal, a maverick and a trailblazer, and this budding affection only began to preoccupy me when she revealed that, barring a rapid change in her eating habits, she was also going to die soon.

Not that dying is a bad thing, everybody does it, but when you are enamored or otherwise attached to somebody, the prospect of their imminent demise can appear in a dramatic light. I immediately resolved to act and, regarding myself a creative thinker, commenced looking for unexplored solutions or cures to that not uncommon condition: anorexia. Laura, since her early teens, could hardly eat a meal without making herself vomit afterwards. Every known treatment had been attempted, and over a decade of psychoanalysis had borne its fruits in the form of many an insight about her deep, unconscious tendencies, but not quite of a practical method for encouraging digestion. I myself was not a medical professional, only the holder of one of the lesser doctorates, those that actually require the production of original research but do not lead the general public to call you “doctor”, yet that did not in my view constitute a hindrance in completing my self-assigned mission: on the contrary, I judged that nothing but an entirely novel approach could succeed, and that I was therefore ideally qualified to break new scientific ground while also saving the life of my true love. It may be relevant to mention that I am a doctor of fiction.

I looked at the problem as a story that cannot reach its end, and retreats miserably to its starting point, leaving only bitterness and unprocessed chunks of text in its circular and ephemeral wake. Laura, it seemed to me, was not accepting that she had a bottom, occupied as she had been all these years in developing the functions and qualities of her higher body parts, the brain, conceivably the heart, but anything lower, how horrid! How base! How ignoble. She refused to let God’s creation go through her, expressing a limited if useful value, and come out at the other end, reduced to sordid waste. Everything had to come back up, directed at the sky, at the enlightened spheres of knowledge and art, philosophy and the aspiration to a perfection of thought that discarded all physical comforts. Consequently, she was nearing the end of all spiritual quests, the ultimate liberation from the problem of human existence: but she didn’t seem stoked about it, and I definitely wasn’t, having only recently initiated a rather pleasant usage of her bodily being.

So it was clear: I had to make her feel her butt. I had to impose on her consciousness, by any means necessary, the fact that the breath of life comes out at both ends, and elevates the soul equally by either process, or at least that neither impedes whatever aspirations one might have of accessing real, or imaginary, but inherently glorious, realms of abstraction and ideality. I had to therapeutically spank her, in vigorous and recurring sessions, had to make her butt cheeks burn and bleed, smitten and outraged, until she connected that sensation with what happened in her head, and progressively acquired an acceptance of the parts of her that lay between. It would be arduous and time consuming, would require the sacrifice of whatever shame and modesty either of us had left, and would inevitably bind us for ever in the cataclysmic apocalypse of her individual neuroses, and a conjoined ascension to a fully accomplished togetherness as a healthy, committed couple. And we would not stop there.

Sufficient as this course of treatment may be, we had to ensure its efficacy and confirm the cure by pragmatic and empirical means, thereby guaranteeing not only her future and continuous well-being, but also the complete expression of all feelings and desires that our maieutic, soteriological, and I daresay, romantic sinapisms may have arisen in either of us. What I proposed, analytically, was to penetrate her, anally, following which, in the required position of a four-legged animal, she would reach directly with her mouth into a plate of various foodstuffs, prepared and conveniently arranged at appropriate height, and chew and swallow while I remained, moving moderately so as not to impede her deglutition, but innocent of retreating, a constant and firm reminder of whither must needs her efforts lead. Probably she would, despite her hands being otherwise occupied and unable to perform the usual trickery, vomit the first few times her full repast, but we would not allow it to break our resolve, nor our conjunction, and I would not concede the diminishment of my presence within her inner sanctum until the conclusion of our daily session. Thus repeating till she would, not only ingurgitate, but contain throughout the preponderant completion of the gastric phase, i.e. about two hours, a consequent plateful, we would further our union to unprecedented acmes, inscribing my therapeutical contribution into the depths of her newly integrated incarnation, and only then would I relinquish my post and give way to the promise of proximate and solidly sculpted successors.

When I exposed my project to Laura, adorned with full theoretical apparatus and bibliographical support, its expression dynamized by a mixture of scientific enthusiasm and of the most ardent, pure and romantic love that I had ever felt, she blanched. I cannot say whether she disagreed on principle or lacked the intellectual flexibility to appropriate an admittedly audacious approach on such short notice (as I had indeed gathered the necessary materials to engage in our initial session immediately), but the fact is that she stated her desire to repair to her own quarters in order to consider with suitable thoroughness all the implications of my genius (she didn’t say “genius”, but something similar) idea, and I never heard from her again. It was therefore with immense regret, both that our encounter had come too late to attain operativeness in her case, and that her illness had deprived her of the opportunity to communicate her indubitable gratitude, if not in her name, in that of science and the cohort of her congeners, for my discovery once she had been able to properly evaluate its import, that I learned a few weeks thereafter of her death.

Antoine Bargel writes poetry and fiction in English and in French. His stories have been published in Easy StreetJellyfish ReviewHarpang, and elsewhere. His first novel, Ma vie parfaite, is currently being translated into English. He has a Ph.D. in Romance Languages from the University of Oregon, and has translated over 30 novels from English to French.

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“Cleanse” Flash Suspense/Thriller by Kira Blake

"Cleanse" Flash Suspense/Thriller by Kira Blake:  Kira Blake resides in Northern California and is currently working her way towards a BA degree in creative writing. She can be reached through her email

Her distorted face merged with the streaks of soapy foam and the stained purple jacket, until it was just one melting pot of color. Even her own muddy brown eyes were lost in the cycle. The hum of the washer filled the corners of the desolate laundromat. She continued to watch her reflection dissolve and twist with the water. Ten minutes remained on the timer.

The humidity of the laundromat stuck to her skin, weighing her body down to the stiff bench she sat on. She wanted to stand under a running faucet and scrub at her skin until it was pink and raw of any faults. For a moment, she considered climbing into the washer so the floral disinfectant soap would fill her mouth and clean her insides.

A warm hand reached out and rested on her shoulder. It firmly pressed against her body, anchoring her to the seat. She stared straight ahead, the long white talons of her mother’s nails in her peripheral vision.

Eight minutes.

“It’ll be alright, Samantha.” Her tenacious grip grew tighter against her shoulder.

Samantha glanced over her mother’s nails and noticed the flecks of red as small as a needle point against the stark white paint. It stood out like a coffee stain on a t-shirt to her but would be unnoticeable to any other eye. She whipped her head back around to face the washer door.

Her mother reluctantly loosened her grip and dropped her hand back to her side.

Samantha clasped her hands together as if in prayer and watched as the clothes fell over one another. A pair of jeans. A blue blouse adorned with sleek black buttons on the front. Then the purple jacket broke through, the red stains peeking out before being overshadowed by another article of clothing. Her Dad had bought it for her, three years before the local mall closed. She had worn it every day to school and wore out the zipper so fast he had to replace it with a new one.

She didn’t think she could wear it ever again now. The stains would never wash out, even if she scrubbed at it with a sponge. His blood would still be on it.

She had tried to convince herself it was just paint, a spill from a silly art project. When she blinked, the still image of bodies intertwined on a mattress proved otherwise. She would never forget the lady’s blonde hair splayed out on the bed, like golden silk. And the glint of the knife in her dad’s back, with her mother’s nails wrapped around the handle. The image of their slack-jawed expressions pressed against the bed was forever stuck behind her eyelids.

The shrill sound of sirens could be heard off in the distance, just beyond the deserted parking lot. Samantha unlocked her hands from their death grip on each other and hung her head forward. Her mother’s unshakeable hand reached out and grasped onto her shoulder again. She looked toward the washer door, at the blinking orange light. The buzzer had gone off amidst the sound of the sirens.

The load was finished.

Kira Blake resides in Northern California and is currently working her way towards a BA degree in creative writing. She can be reached through her email

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“Reservoir” Dark Short Story by Paul O. Jenkins

Paul O. Jenkins lives in New Hampshire and increasingly in the past. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Avalon Literary Review, BarBar, and Straylight. 

As I think back on it now, I’m sure I did the right thing. Who was I to deny him his chosen exit?

The terrible thing about life, Michael used to say, is that it’s occasionally rewarding. I believe he first uttered this gloomy credo one evening in 1981 as we stood on the shore of the reservoir, trying to identify bird songs. Cardinals and chickadees were easy, but every other species remained elusive. Michael mimicked some of their calls on his harmonica, an instrument he always carried in his pocket.

“How deep do you think it is?” Michael asked me that night. I wasn’t sure how to take his question, so I simply swallowed, keeping my own counsel.

As you might have guessed, we were quite young at the time. Callow one might even say. Young women existed only as we imagined them, and so our world effectively began and ended with music and literature. I was smitten with the Beatles and Dickens. Michael’s tastes ran more to Irish folk songs and Goethe.

The reservoir we contemplated that evening had been created a decade previously as the result of a gift by an alumnus of our little college. Though man-made, the body of water looked entirely natural and was popular with undergraduates and other wildlife. One sometimes saw herons there, for instance, and I remember comparing their tenuous legs with various dream girls I conjured in my bed at night.

The object of Michael’s affection was scarcely more obtainable. Siobhan O’Sullivan was an Irish folk singer whose obscurity in America had less to do with the quality of her voice–a gentle contralto–than the fact that she sang only in Gaelic. For a few weeks one summer break Michael had earnestly set about learning the language, but he was the first to admit that his desire outpaced his capacity. And anyway I believe he enjoyed

the mystery of her music as much as anything else. He rarely bothered with a translation, preferring instead to summon up his own meanings for her songs based on their emotional tenor.

O’Sullivan’s recordings were very difficult to obtain, but Michael’s passion and resourcefulness had enabled him to amass an extensive collection of her LPs. Most of the album covers featured dramatic painted landscapes–often craggy Irish trees sagging under the weight of English oppression–but her first recording, released in 1970, portrayed the singer’s face in black and white, and it was this photo which had helped to fire my friend’s devotion.

Her curly hair was fair and cut short, almost like a boy’s. Her nose was small and narrow, almost sharp. It was her eyes, though, that dominated her appearance. In the photo you couldn’t tell their color, but we both imagined they must be blue. I was a bit smitten, too, you see, especially since this debut recording included her own translation into Gaelic of the Beatles’ “Mother Nature’s Son.”

Though none of her songs featured the instrument, Michael had worked out harmonica accompaniments to many of the tracks, including his favorite, the incomprehensibly titled and impossibly beautiful “Ar Éirinn ni Neosfainn Cé Hi.” We just called it “Ar” for short. Michael had unearthed a translation, and told me that in English its title might be rendered as something like “For Ireland, I’d Not Tell Her Name.” Birds featured in the song, as did waves, and, rather inevitably, the narrator longs for the light of his beloved’s smile. One account Michael found speculated that the lover in the story is a priest, doomed to celibacy, longing for a woman he knows he can never love as man was meant to love woman.

Disciples of Judah’s second son, Michael and I were unfamiliar with love except as it was expressed in the arts. My friend, for example, was fond of speculating what Goethe meant when he expressed that love does not dominate, it cultivates. Michael took it to mean that together, and through their affection, lovers were able to create something new that neither might be capable of experiencing individually. “Or something like that,” he added. Michael’s world was built on such vagaries. He believed that few possessed the talent needed to truly master a skill. The rest of us must be content with our dilettantism and plod along as best we could.

His ability to play the harmonica was but one example. The rudiments of the instrument, he told me, were simple enough to learn, but to truly master it would take years of practice, a sacrifice he was not willing to make. On the diatonic model he favored, it was not possible to produce certain notes without learning a difficult technique called overblowing. Fortunately, there were plenty of tunes, including “Ar,” that did not require this knowledge.

Our senior year had been trying for both of us. Returning from a year abroad in the UK, the small Wisconsin town that housed our college struck me as newly limited and–I was trying out the word–provincial. After seeing Dickens’s London and Strawberry Field in Liverpool, the gentle beauty of sights like the reservoir had begun to pale.

If I suffered from a vague lack or want of something, though, Michael had succumbed to ennui that bordered on despair. Nothing and no one, except for Siobhan, seemed satisfactory or worth his while. His natural ability and a sense of duty to his parents enabled him to earn B’s, but the prospect of graduation was daunting. “I don’t know how to do anything,” he was fond of saying. The fact that this realization stood in bold contradiction to his espoused belief in genial inaptitude apparently made no difference to him.

The simplest manual tasks were quite beyond him. He couldn’t swim, hunted and pecked at the keyboard, had never learned to drive, and couldn’t even change flat tires on his bicycle. Graduate programs struck him as disturbingly esoteric and were, he felt, sure to confirm his view that academe was a recipe for tedium, pursued only by those who were unwilling to confront real life.

I thought it sounded perfect for him.

That year he had decided to reread Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther, the embodiment of romanticism that had encouraged a wave of suicides across Europe in the eighteenth century. Taking one’s own life, Michael believed, was not the selfish act many regarded it as, but rather a legitimate choice that one had every right to make. What is the point, he once asked me, of living on aimlessly, merely repeating the tedium of daily life, once an apotheosis has been achieved? Far from being the act of a coward, he continued, suicide was the bravest choice a human could make. Why continue to swim on against the waves once some joyous flood had returned us to the shore? “Or something like that,” he added, with a little smile that momentarily reassured me. In the face of such determined logic, I held my tongue, pondered eternal silence, and reminded myself that all things must pass.

With early April came news that seemed to confirm Michael’s belief that existence sometimes has its rewards. Siobhan O’Sullivan would give a concert at the Conservatory in mid-May, just before Commencement. Our Joyce scholar, Dr. Schaeffer, had convinced Dean Bloom that O’Sullivan’s brand of folk music would contribute “diversity” and prove a stimulating complement to the usual fare of string quartets and chamber orchestras the head of the conservatory favored.

Michael was beside himself. He dusted off his Gaelic grammar books, began an exercise regimen, and invested in a new set of harmonicas that included every major key. Finally, he determined that he would secure a girlfriend who would accompany him to the concert. When he told me his plan, my mien must have betrayed doubt, for he instantly reminded me that Goethe admired those who yearned for the impossible.

And, impossibly, my friend managed to secure a young lady’s consent to go to dinner with him. Mistaking me for someone who might provide useful experience or knowledge, Michael pumped me for advice. Where should they go? In what direction should he steer the conversation? What should he wear? All I managed to tell him was to scratch out the mustard stain on the favorite pair of jeans I knew he would wear. After all, I knew nothing about the girl, not even her name, for he refused to tell me.

For the next several weeks I saw little of Michael. At first I was pleased for him and thought his success might indicate that, I, too was far from a hopeless case. Emboldened, I composed a brief letter that introduced myself and my aims. I contemplated slipping it under the door of the current object of my affection, a fellow senior. I had been observing her for some weeks now, imagining where we might walk, what I might do to secure her regard. Each time I folded the paper, slipped it in my pocket and headed for the door, however, I found sound reasons to delay.

I hugged myself at night, hoarded secret inclinations, and began to take long walks around the reservoir. I think that deep within me I knew how ill-prepared I was for adult life. Michael’s company and our jocular rejection of the norms of college life had kept me buoyant, but now that he had actually embarked on a relationship, I realized how much work lay ahead of me if I wanted to avoid a solitary existence. What did I lack that Michael did not? The question puzzled me, but instead of seeking answers I took familiar refuge in fiction and satisfied my desires à la Portnoy.

The night of the Siobhan O’Sullivan concert I found myself sitting alone in the third row of the subordinate recital hall Dean Bloom had granted for what he deemed Schaeffer’s folly. Sure enough, ten minutes before the event was scheduled to begin, scarcely more than a dozen undergraduates and faculty filled the seats. I was beginning to wonder if Michael’s new experience with flesh and blood had banished his obsession with Siobhan, when in he walked, alone. In one hand he carried his harmonica case. In the other, a canvas bag that threatened to weigh him down. He took a seat next to me but said nothing.

The silence between us was unaccustomed and uncomfortable. I found myself wondering if Michael’s brief excursion into the realm of the living had rendered him newly unfit for my company. His expression of defeat barely changed as Siobhan O’Sullivan took the stage to scattered, polite applause. Though I realized the pettiness of my thought, I couldn’t help but think to myself that the years had not been particularly kind to her. Or perhaps it was merely that the picture of her we had both lingered over had been the result of clever photographic magic. In the flesh, she appeared plain, and already looked tired. Without saying a word of introduction, she began to strum a few chords aimlessly.

As soon as she opened her mouth to sing, however, her face lit up, and I believe Michael and I both recognized that dreams were still worth dreaming, even if, or perhaps precisely because they were merely that. The Irish words she sang were meaningless to us, yet their tone and the story they implied returned us safely to a world of faith. Her voice rose and fell in perfect tune to her guitar, and to say that I was transported does not do justice to the term.

I suddenly found myself thinking of Michael’s friend. Had she declined to come? Was the music not to her taste? Or had she broken up with Michael? I tried to summon a face I might one day love, some similarly detained girl waiting to join life as we all one day surely must. Nothing appeared in my mind’s eye, however, except the barren trees from the singer’s album covers, stripped of leaves and enduring in the face of a tormenting wind.

Lovely song followed lovely song, but still Michael betrayed no emotion and said nothing to me. The performer’s fifth number was “Ar.” As the first familiar chords sounded, Michael opened his harmonica case and took a moment to identify the properly-keyed instrument. He then rose from his seat and walked to the edge of the stage, canvas bag in one hand, harmonica in the other. Raising the instrument to his lips, he began to play. Siobhan O’Sullivan’s head turned toward him, and for a moment I detected anger in her face. Her eyes seemed to will him into silence, and her nose looked newly pointed.

Yet Michael persisted. His first few notes had been tentative, but now he was finding his feet, increasing his tone and asserting his right to join the act. The singer’s face gradually betokened acceptance, and when she turned to face my friend, I knew he had gained her trust. His harmonica

matched her phrasing seamlessly, and aptly reflected the anguish of the piece. As the second verse ended, Siobhan O’Sullivan inclined her head towards Michael, inviting him to take a solo. Taken off guard, he flatted the first note but then began to improvise away from the melody line, playing outside himself and even, I think, including a few overblows.

As the solo ended, and the Irish woman embarked on the final verse of the song, a few members of the audience contributed spontaneous applause. Instead of acknowledging his triumph, however, Michael left the stage, gathered the canvas bag and headed for the exit. At first I thought he might be preparing some additional surprise and allowed myself a smile. My friend had realized some kind of vision, conjured an active triumph so unexpected and total that it beggared the imagination.


After a few moments passed without Michael’s return, however, I began to grow fearful. I knew his tendencies and wondered at the potentially destructive power of life’s zeniths. I left the hall and instinctively headed for the reservoir. As I quickened my pace, I listened for owls and other harbingers of doom, but heard only the distant sounds of thumping stereo woofers and an occasional peel of laughter.

When I found him, he was in up to his neck, still standing, and I knew the weight he carried. I wondered if I should shout something to him but found myself incapable of action. I was waiting for him to take the next step, strangely certain that this was what he would have expected of me and that he would approve of my decision. In that moment I capitulated to his right to do as he chose.

A few frogs were croaking. Their voices were so different from Siobhan O’Sullivan’s, but, I decided, no less powerful in their own way. She was on stage, singing songs both beautiful and incomprehensible, as I listened to notes more ancient still. Or something like that. The frogs croaked, I swallowed hard, and watched as Michael took his next step.

Paul O. Jenkins lives in New Hampshire and increasingly in the past. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Avalon Literary Review, BarBar, and Straylight. 

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“Everything Is How She Left It” Dark Poem by Isabel Grey

Isabel Grey is receiving her MFA in Genre Fiction and Poetry at Western Colorado University. Her work has contributed to Black Poppy Review, WordCrafter Press, the upcoming Dear America series at, and elsewhere. 

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If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream stories and poems with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine

The Doppelganger and a Request for a Link to The Chamber

A horrifying little gift for you from the playlists on The Chamber’s nascent YouTube channel.

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“Bamboo Girl” Horror by Tim Hoelscher

"Bamboo Girl" Horror by Tim Hoelscher:  Tim Hoelscher is a lifelong resident of the Washington, DC area. His short fiction has appeared in works from Dread Stone (Tenebrous) Press and The Horror Tree, among others. Tim can most often be found in the Threads writing community at @TimothyHoelscherX.
Content/Trigger Warning: Murder, Blood

She’s sitting on an old Jersey barrier on the side of New York Avenue when I first see her. Her tennis shoes are dirty and stained; one’s resting on the reflector embedded in the concrete and the other one’s busy rearranging the garbage at her feet. Her jeans and black T-shirt have seen better days, too. Eighteen or nineteen, I’m guessing. One of those girls nobody cares about and nobody notices when they go missing, at least not for a few days. They’re like bamboo: you cut one stalk down and three more grow to replace it. Just not that valuable. An invasive species.

I double park my beat up blue F150 next to her and roll down the passenger window. She looks at me sideways and tries out a smile. It fades quickly, but then comes back like a shy puppy that has to make sure you’re nice before it lets you pet it.

“You want to get high?” I ask her, and her smile collapses to a frown.

“I’m not gonna blow you if that’s what you’re looking for.”

“No, I’m just looking for somebody cool to get high with. You want to party or not? I got wine, too.”

Car horns are beeping behind me; drivers are shouting, “Go, God damn it, go!” All of them full of hate. Finally she relents, hops down from her perch and gets in. Off we go, and the horns stop beeping and the people stop screaming.


We drive out New York Avenue and New York Avenue turns into 50; we’re leaving the city behind and going past the Arboretum and the shitty hotels. She starts getting nervous because we’re heading out farther than she expected, but I pat her on the knee, letting her know I care and I’m not afraid to touch her.

“We’re definitely going to party. You can smoke some now if you want,” I say. I’m in a good mood, laughing and joking, putting her at ease again. There’s a battered tin box on the seat between us. With the thumb and index finger of my right hand I flip the catch and pull out a joint and a lighter. She sparks it. Ten minutes later she’s as mellow as can be. She offers me a hit, but I decline.

“Nah, I’m driving on a suspended license. I’ll smoke up when we get where we’re going.”

She says, “Where’s that at?”

“Out closer towards Annapolis, I got a cool place on the water.”

She nods and says, “Okay. All right,” and smiles, turning unfocused eyes on the scenery outside.

She’s really looking forward to it, I’m thinking.

“I got to get gas,” I say, and turn into this abandoned gas station where I do a lot of my work; it’s about halfway between my place and the DC line. I make like I’m surprised that the pumps are gone and the windows dirty and dark.

“Shit, this place isn’t open anymore? Oh, damn. The tank’s really low, but it’ll be okay.”

Of course it’s not going to be okay. I mean, okay for me, but definitely not okay for her. I park the pickup in the side parking lot and I kill her right there between the locked bathrooms and padlocked ice chest and the woods. I squeeze her neck until the little bones crack and her eyes are bloodshot as hell and her tongue sticks out like a cartoon. Then boom! Pull her out onto the broken asphalt and weeds and drag her to the bed of the truck. Slide the tonneau cover shut and we’re back on the road without even losing fifteen minutes.


Where I live isn’t Annapolis, and it’s not waterfront. I don’t like to lie, but no way am I telling some whore where I live before she’s neutralized. I head a little farther down 50. I’m spooked for a minute when a state trooper comes up behind me, lights flashing. I pull over to the side like a good citizen and he speeds past. I watch him go, my mouth dry and sticky, then continue on to my exit. Down about a mile I turn right onto a gravel road. That’s my driveway. We take that for about a mile and come out at the old homestead. I can’t keep it in very good repair anymore. The roof on the farmhouse leaks and a lot of the sheds are falling down. I unloaded most of the farm equipment piecemeal and I sold a chunk of the south field to a real estate developer in 2018. The entire north field, right up to the north side of the house, is bamboo. Dad planted it just before he died. Thought it’d be good money, I guess. That was thirty years ago, when I was a kid. It’s a thick forest now except for the trails I clear and the little glades I cut for the girls when I’m finished with them. I have to be diligent about clearing the main path, and I can only bury the girls far out on the north edge because the bamboo stalks are too thick otherwise. I’d need the chainsaw to get through most of them and I’m not breaking out the chainsaw and wasting gas for some whore from DC.

I open the tailgate and she’s all the way at the front of the bed right behind the cab. I heard her hit the wall behind the driver’s seat when I braked too fast coming off the exit. And I guess I drove bad in some other places too because her face is pretty messed up. There’s blood in the truck, too, and that’s definitely some amateur hour shit. But a whore’s a whore, fucked up face or not. So I take her into the house. I promised her we’d party and I don’t like to lie.


After we finish up, I go out to cut a new trail in the bamboo. I leave her in the tub with five bags of ice packed over her. It’s hot—pushing a hundred degrees—and I know from experience when I bring girls home in the summertime it doesn’t take long for them to start to stink like hell. It’ll take me a couple of hours to get the new trail cut and the hole dug, and even with the ice it doesn’t do to procrastinate. I fetch the machete from the tool shed and take a minute to get a good edge on it with the whetstone, grab the hand saw and the shovel, and head out to the bamboo.

There’s a gap in the stalks just past the east side of the house. It’s discreet. It has to be. If anybody shows up, I don’t want them taking a stroll back here. Though I probably don’t need to worry too much: I run the brush cutter over the main trail once a week or so. The bamboo grows so fast, if I wait any longer the job is twice as hard and takes twice as long. Most of the little trails branching from the main trunk are almost entirely grown over now. It makes me laugh to think I’ll probably lose track of where the girls are buried. Once I forget them, they’ll really be gone. The bamboo roots will weave through their bones like new veins and arteries in place of the old ones. But I’m getting sentimental. I’ve got a dead girl rotting and a grave to dig.

Near the north perimeter of the forest the bamboo is younger and more pliable: easier to cut. Of course, to call it the perimeter isn’t quite right. It’s today’s perimeter, if anything. The forest grows a little more every day; sometimes it seems you’ll notice a stump or an old fencepost two or three feet behind the bamboo line that was in the clear just the day before. It’s a hungry kind of weed, bamboo. Or maybe “starving” is a better way to describe it. Bamboo wants to grow like a starving animal in a cage wants to eat: with an angry hunger; a blind ravenousness that won’t rest until it’s satisfied.

I cut the trail easy enough; thirty feet down into the woods and then a circular clearing about six feet in diameter. I prefer to put the girls in the ground in a fetal position. It’s easier that way; digging a grave big enough for a body to stretch out in is hard work for anyone, let alone somebody like me, getting up there in years. I’m not going to do it for these whores.

Half an hour later I’m only about three feet down. The bamboo roots grow thick, thicker than you’d expect from these juvenile plants, and they’re all connected in one big spaghetti nervous system. They’re hampering the shovel’s movement and sapping my strength. And it’s so God damn hot.

Another thirty minutes and it’s deep enough and about four feet in diameter with the ring of removed dirt piled around the edge. I’m sweating so hard it’s like I just stepped out of a swimming pool. My head is pounding and my skin is red. I’m guessing if I had a mirror my face would be the color of a steamed crab. But it’s God damn deep enough. I clamber out of the hole, gather the tools up and set them on the edge of the pit, then turn back toward the main trail. But the new cut is gone. Every direction I turn, it’s all bamboo, encroaching up to the edge of the pit. I can almost feel it growing even as I stand here, rank upon rank like an advancing army, pushing me closer to the hole.

I’m a little bit spooked; I don’t like to lie. I’ve never seen the bamboo grow this quickly before. But it has been raining almost every day and it is hot as hell and those are two things bamboo loves. So I get control of myself and grab the machete to hack a new path back to the main trunk-trail. I sigh with relief that the main trail is still passable and set the shovel by the entrance to mark it: it has a bright red blade—scratched up and dirty, but I’ll be able to spot it when I return. When I’m halfway to the house I look back, sure the stalks I just cut will be regrown. But it’s too far to see anything except the shovel.

“Okay, that’s okay,” I say to the early evening sky, and continue my shuffle back.


“You ready to start your all-dirt diet, girl?” I say when I walk through the door. I expect her to laugh, but of course that’s not something that’s going to happen. It’s hot in the house and I fear the worst, but when I open the bathroom door I don’t smell anything except the mustiness of old leaks and rotting plaster. The ice did a nice job. I pull the plug in the cast iron tub, porcelain all chipped down to rusty spots, and the melt glugs down with hungry sucking noises into the stained drain hole. I have to pluck out the plastic grocery bags I’d used for the ice because they’re clogging the flow, but it’s done emptying pretty quickly. She’s wet, but I’m still not dry from all the sweat, so I don’t really give a damn. I heft her slippery, naked dead weight from the tub and throw her over my shoulder. I get a little excited, but it’s not the time and I’m exhausted anyway. No matter what, my back is going to ache tonight; tonight’s going to be a Motrin night for sure.

 We slosh down the hallway and out onto the porch and down the creaking, weathered steps. She fits in the old wheelbarrow—the one with the big tire that goes easily over the soft ground on the main bamboo cut—with some coaxing. I use a bungee to secure one leg that won’t cooperate. We set out on the trail with the sun starting to sink down below the western treeline. The bamboo trail is in deep shadow; a wind picks up and the leaves whisper their secrets to the dusk. I can almost understand their words: We eat the soil now, but we are always hungry. We find no satisfaction in the soil. And I think maybe it’s not the trees—not the bamboo—saying that. It’s the girls underneath; the forgotten girls, forgotten before anyone even noticed them missing. My shirt, damp with the corpse water and my own sweat, reeking of death and life, clings to me and sucks the warmth from my body despite the close heat. I look down at the inert form in the wheelbarrow and think, We got to carry on and get this done with. And I do. It’s dark, but the main trunk-trail beckons.

It’s not hard getting down there. The tire’s good and broad; sometimes one of the bigger stumps of cropped bamboo impedes the wheel and I have to go left or right a few inches. But mainly it’s an easy trek back to the shovel and the new trail. And it’s wide open; it hasn’t grown back in the hour or so I’ve been gone.

We make the left onto the grave-trail; I grab the shovel on the way and nestle the blade into the space between the bowl of the barrow and the girl’s mottled back. It’s easy going; there’s just annoying stubble on the path and then we’re at the edge of the pit. I pivot the barrow on its thick wheel and I dump the girl in. That sound: the dull thud of lifeless meat on soil; the first time a man hears it it becomes part of his soul forever. He either learns to love it or he learns to hate it, and whichever one he does decides a lot about how his life proceeds.

The bamboo on the edge of the trail rustles against my legs and back. The machete’s close by, teetering on the edge of the grave, and I grab for it to cut a little more around the perimeter to give myself some room. But my snatch is clumsy and the blade topples into the pit; I jump in to fetch it. Despite the work I put in earlier, the hole isn’t too deep. I reach under the girl to grab the machete and thrust it into my belt and I catch sight of her face: it’s turned toward me, and her eyes are open. They’re glassy and they’re dead, but they’re open. It happens. For a second I consider closing the lids the way they do in movies, a single hand stroking both eyes at once to a peaceful slumber. But the idea of doing that makes me want to puke. I’m not easily spooked, but the idea of touching her—here, now, in this grave—fills me with dread. I put my arms over the edge of the pit and start to pull myself up, but I’m stuck on something: her arm. Somehow my boot’s gotten caught in the crook of that rigid limb. The dread fills me again, and I use my other boot as leverage to pull my ankle out of her grip. The maneuver unbalances me, and I fall backward onto her; I’m all caught up, my left wrist between her legs and my other ankle caught now.

I’m breathing too fast, so I close my eyes and concentrate, willing myself to inhale nice and slow and exhale the same way, just like they taught me in the Army. Calmer and more in control of myself, I get my feet free, pull my arms loose and move to the side of the pit farthest from her. I catch the top edge of the hole with my elbows and lift myself out backwards, keeping my eyes on her dull brown peepers the whole time. It’s an awkward exit, and something snaps in my right arm. The pain is excruciating. But I’m out. Away from her face.

The bamboo is thick now around the edge of the pit, way thicker than just a few minutes ago. I slither in amongst the new growth because there’s nowhere else to go: the grave is ringed with it right to the edge. The fresh stalks press around me and they’re getting tighter. I reach out and pull myself farther away from the pit and it’s obvious they’re not getting tighter; they’re growing: the new shoots were only an eighth of an inch in diameter at first; maybe a quarter. Now they’re three or four inches: thick and woody and tightly packed. They’re pressing against my face and chest, making it hard to breathe. I’m on the ground and they’re crowding me, crushing me as they grow; there’s only one place to go: up. I grip the trunks of the two crushing my chest and heave myself upward. My feet find purchase on the canes and I’m climbing—actually climbing—this bamboo. The higher I get, the more pliable the stalks: it’s harder to hold onto them, but at least I can breathe again.

But the reprieve is brief.

The limbs overhead interlace and overlap; I reach up to pull myself higher, but my hands catch in the grasping branches. Their movement is chaotic, binding my wrists and releasing, only for another three or four branches to take over: greedy wooden hands with a strength like iron. The hot wind has grown wild and the grasping branches undulate me through the bamboo forest like food through an intestine. And then it stops. My injured arm is screaming bloody murder. I’m as high as I can go, ankles and wrists trapped in lattices of overlapping limbs; my weight is too much for them: they bend and I sink toward the earth. There’s a smell down there: the girl. She’s started to stink. It was only a matter of time. I descend on the springy, bending stalks through the lower branches, and there she is: no longer in a fetal position. The bamboo has grown around her, lifted her, and it springs from her limbs as though she and the grass are one. Her mouth and eye sockets are filled with the wiry roots. She seems to be beckoning, arms raised to my approaching form. I hear the whispering of the bamboo in the wind, the hissing voices from across the grassy forest: all those grave-trails; all those graves, connected by subterranean coils of bamboo roots.

We eat the soil now, but we are always hungry.

I come to rest against her dead form, my face a few inches from hers. There’s corruption there but an earthy smell, too: a plant smell. The stalks of her arms and legs embrace me; they expand, squeezing my limbs and chest. I can breathe, but barely. I’m bound to this dead thing, and the bamboo is slowly crushing. It’s growing, and it will continue to grow all night. Binding me tighter to the dead girl. My breath is a little shallower with each inhale. The bamboo is crueler with each passing second.

I try to scream but the serpentine grass tightens, and all I can manage is a gasp. All around me the hissing emerald is darkening to black; the bamboo girl stares sightlessly into my eyes. The greed of the forest has infected her; I can feel her hunger in the stabbing shoots and crushing stalks.

They are hungry for more than soil, I think. They find no satisfaction in soil. The whispers grow louder, frenzied, on the hot wind as the last light fades, and the blackness becomes complete.

Tim Hoelscher is a lifelong resident of the Washington, DC area. His short fiction has appeared in works from Dread Stone (Tenebrous) Press and The Horror Tree, among others. Tim can most often be found in the Threads writing community at @TimothyHoelscherX.

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“The Wake” Dark Fantasy by Zyra Cabugayan

"The Wake" Dark Fantasy by Zyra Cabugayan: Zyra Cabugayan lives in a small coastal city in the Philippines and spends her time complaining about the weather. She can be found online @notactuallyzyra on Instagram.

The town-folk had found out that Alma was the last person the old coffin-maker had spoken to before taking his own life. As she stood looking over his wake, her name jumped from one mouth to another, the clamor condensing into a thick, oscillating echo at the heart of the chapel. “She admitted it to the police! She said they spoke about his plan to kill himself!” “And she never said anything to anyone before then? What an evil girl!” “She has no right to call herself a Christian.” “The nerve of her to come here! She might just burst into flames!”

She’d decided not to feel guilty about it. They were lies, after all. The coffin-maker had been tending to his collection of potted plants when she had come to his yard, humming a lovely tune which tempted even the birds and the breeze to listen and sing along. He’d welcomed her with a laugh, offered her a glass of water to ease her exhaustion from her walk, and vehemently refused any payment she had offered for crafting her mother’s coffin just two weeks prior.

“Keep it for yourself,” he had said. “You’ll need it. I hear you’ll be off to college soon. You have your whole life ahead of you now. You haven’t much left to do here except make a home for your grief and leave it behind.”

“Thank you,” Alma had said quietly. “But the truth is it hasn’t gotten easier over the past several days.”

“You haven’t been feeling too lonely, have you?”

“It comes and goes. What I have trouble with most are the nightmares.”

“About your mother?”

Alma had nodded. “She’s lost, I feel. I see her struggling every night in this ravaging hole shaped like water. It’s the strangest ocean I’ve ever seen–if the absence of both light and darkness were a liquid. So suffocating, so gloomy yet so utterly shadowless. It tosses her about, crushes her, pulls her apart, enters her, and bursts out of her. And she screams and screams, and the sound wakes me up and lingers in my room. What do you think that means?”

The craftsman had nearly betrayed a laugh when he turned away. His house, which sat alone a few yards shy of the rocks strung along the bay, directly faced the ocean. The death and destruction brought by many floods in the past had prompted half the town to move to uphill, tightening the neighborhoods wedged between the farmlands across the hills, but no matter how much the local authorities had tried to persuade the coffin-maker to leave his home, his obstinance chained him to the shore. The old man had gazed upon the waves like they shared a secret, and the sea mirrored the calm on his face, its blue distinguished from the morning sky only by the light shimmering on its surface. No boats had sailed that day. The tides had risen unusually high at an unusual time of year, and the town’s fishermen, giving into superstitions, feared what the waters may have brought with it.

“She’s not lost, my dear,” he’d said finally. “Your mother is in the waters of a great womb. You mustn’t worry. She may struggle now but she will eventually be reborn as a part of nature.”

“Nature? You mean the circle of life?”

The old craftsman had stretched his arms out wide, gesturing towards the whole bay. “Don’t you think it’s lovely out here, Alma? This is where I wish to die. Nature is its own creator, you know. One day–and I daresay soon–it’ll take back all that it has made and start something new. I have lived the last few years of my life according to its rules, and when I die, I shall be granted the privilege of joining it in its mission.” He’d then paused for thought. “Would you like to see the coffin I’ve made for myself?”

Leaving Alma no room to refuse, he had taken her wrist and guided her eagerly to his backyard. The craftsman’s workshop, a pale, windowless shed drowning amongst tall grass, had resembled a tombstone around which the wind stilled. Alma had quickly found herself sweating as she stepped towards it, and the discomfort of the old man’s grasp had petrified her voice. Its doors opened with a gentle sigh, a kiss from the shadows inside, and curiously, there’d been no tools, a table, or even a light within–only a bier and the gloomy box atop. At the foot of it, the lid bore a small carving of a circle with a strange flower inside, one with petals like tense, stout muscles and a center painted red.

“My mother’s coffin had the same flower on it,” Alma had remarked.

“Its something like an artist’s signature.”

The craftsman had taken the lid off and gestured for Alma to peer inside. Anxious, she’d stepped closer, took a peek, then ripped her gaze away and, clutching her chest, hastened to the door. What the hell was that? Once outside, a sharp glare had pounced on her eyes. She’d squinted. The highest peak of the hills had loomed directly above the coffin-maker’s yard, peppered all over with a maze of mossy tombs and headstones, and at the top sat the town chapel, its spire shining like a second sun. Alma turned back inside.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” the old craftsman had remarked. “The best one I ever made.”

“Are you ill, Mr. Magal?”

The old craftsman had chuckled. “Not at all. It’s a reasonable thing to prepare for considering my age, don’t you think?”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“Would you like to try lying in it?”

This time, the words had sprung eagerly from her tongue. “No, thanks.”

But peering over old coffin-maker’s lifeless body now, she wondered what it would’ve felt like. That dense, magnetic black within the coffin, a black like a thousand-foot fall into a tight embrace. A monstrous color that breathed, that could eat a man alive. It looked like water, like linen, like smoke all at the once. Was it a special paint? An effect of the light? Or were Alma’s grief and exhaustion the ones supplying these fantasies?

A heavy hand latched onto her shoulder. When she turned, the crumpled, brooding face of the priest startled her.

“Father Galva. Is something wrong?” she asked.

The priest let out something between a scoff and a sigh. He looked over the deceased sternly. “This is the first time this chapel has ever held a wake for someone who committed suicide.”

“Are you against it?”

“This town is so insufferable I wonder how no one’s done it before,” he said gravely. “But I always thought Samuel was better than that. I’m deeply disappointed in him. True, he was never quite the same after his wife and son drowned many years ago, but I never imagined it would come to this. Absolutely shameful.”

Alma chose not to respond, but unexpectedly a flash of lightning struck the chapel blind as if to speak on her behalf. Thunder rumbled in the distance. The sun streaming from the windows quickly dimmed as a carpet of gray clouds surged over the town. The voices in the pews rattled louder. “What’s all this! The news never mentioned any rain!” “Oh, no, I didn’t bring an umbrella!” “Damn clouds! I hope they aren’t too harsh on the crops!” “It’s just lightning, children. Stop crying!” “The laundry! I’ve got to get them inside!” “Excuse me! Excuse! I’ve got to hammer my roof down! Excuse me!”

“I hope you’re doing okay,” the priest asked. “It must be difficult to be here having dealt with a loss not too long ago.”

Alma looked at the old craftsman’s face intently, noting the amusement remaining in the corner of his mouth. “My mother would envy Mr. Magal.”

“What on earth do you mean?”

She pictured her mother struggling in those somber waters of her sleep, wondering if her soul would ever again find peace as marvelous as that which tucked the coffin-maker snuggly in the arms of a dense, abysmal color. Regardless of how he’d died, Alma thought, he surely hadn’t died in anguish.


The debris of the coffin-maker’s workshop had buried Alma. She grabbed hold of the wooden plank pressing against her back, shoved it aside, and pulled herself out, quickly finding her balance on the shore. The sand, as sheer and blinding as light that had been frozen then shattered, stretched to and from all ends of her vision, the whole horizon burning under towering funnels of white fire. Above her–what is that? Waste? Fire? Electricity? Alma couldn’t tell. A bloodred cataclysm swirled and exploded ceaselessly in the sky, and beneath it, as dark as a hole that had folded into itself a million times over, the sea raged and roared.

“Alma!” someone called. 

Recognizing the voice immediately, Alma’s heart raced. She looked around. A woman struggled to free herself from amongst the rocks peppered along the shore. “Alma,” she called again. “Help me, my child!”


Spinting her way towards her, Alma climbed the rocks with explosive strength which melted away immediately upon seeing her mother, thin and pale, trapped between the rocks. The wreckage of her passenger boat scattered along the shore. She marveled at her mother’s incredible resolve–how she’d struggled for so long in the clutches of these harsh waves, how she must have wrung every drop of power from her whole body just to wrench herself away and make it home! She held onto her mother’s fingers sobbing. “Don’t worry, mama. I’ll find you a nice place to rest, okay? I promise!”

Despite her pain, her mother laughed. “My sweet Alma, it’s alright. I’m glad you’re–”

A shrill cry cut her words.

“Mama! What’s wrong?” Alma cried. 

A man had appeared behind her mother, hands like shackles around her feet. The coffin-maker’s tongue hung out of his mouth. His eyes, red and bleary, bulged out of his face. A noose hung from his neck like a gold chain, and the sound of choking clawed incessantly out of his throat. He pulled on the poor woman as he inched slowly back into the ocean.

“What are you doing?” Alma cried. “Let go of her!”

The frustration in her voice seemed to fuel his strength, and with one swift motion he ripped her mother away from her grip and ran, dragging the poor woman with him into the ocean, disappearing quickly within the waves.

Desperate, Alma plunged into the water after them. The stark, raging cold of the water dug into her flesh and clmaped down on her bones, and she felt as though the whole universe were collapsing into her. A pulse of force moved through the water, a billow of pure energy emerging from the depths, and broke the surface into a herd of jagged, mountainous waves. Alma struggled to stay above the surface, but her limbs quickly surrendered to exhaustion. The darkness swallowed her. The next moment, the grip of the water warmed and loosened around her body. Thunder clapped intimately close to her ear. Flashes of light pierced through her eyelids. She dared flutter them open. She found herself floating in the midst of a lightning storm, sandwiched between lengths of total darkness and bursts of blinding light. And the whole space swayed and convulsed such that even the lightning bended and curved, and the thunder warped and bounced in all directions. Shock compelled Alma to gasp, but the air felt like water.

Alma began clawing her way upwards, hoping to find the surface, but the thing before her arrested her panic. A ball–a massive, fluid-filled sac–floating gracefully in place despite the chaos around it, stared back, equaling her fear with dignity. The lightning pierced its thick membrane and briefly created a halo around an amalgamation slumbering within it–Alma wondered frightfully if those were truly human hands and legs and faces she discerned, all crumpled and tangled together like a ball of clay. They shifted from one place to another, snapping and disintegrating as they slithered over each other.

Alma longed to call for her mother. Mama! Mama! Are you inside there? Mama, I’m coming! But how, she wondered, could she get her out? What was this thing in front of her? What if it took her too if she drew close to it? She rummaged her brain for a solution, but her heart boomed in her chest. Her lungs burning with pain, she screamed and water rushed into her.


The storm poured well past dusk and further towards midnight, growing exponentially stronger after each hour. A clap of thunder wrenched Alma away from stupor and towards the cold suspended in the room. She wiped the tears from her eyes, glanced at the clock on the wall–a quarter before twelve in the evening. Damn nightmares. When will you end? The storm hammering down on the roof echoed the migraine beating against her thoughts. The wind outside whistled. After a few moments, briefly surmounting the thunder rumbling above, an urgent banging came from her door. Flashlight beams raced across her windows. A long, muffled commotion trudged slowly past her house.

Opening the door, Alma recognized the chief of the town watchmen, his face like a dilapidated house beneath the hood of his raincoat. “Pack your bags right now so we can get you to higher ground. The waves have ripped the seawall apart and this whole place is at risk for a massive landslide.”

Alma looked past him towards the dirt path which had now turned into mud. Almost every family in the neighborhood had already been gathered. Drenched and shaking, small children sobbed as they passed, while their mothers, holding them close, struggled to hold back their own tears. Several men had gathered around a cart full of bags, helping each other push it forward, and others burdened themselves with as much as they could to lessen the weight. Cows, horses, and pigs, all tired and agitated, treaded behind their owners as well, many with their own wagons to pull.

“Where are we headed?” Alma asked the captain.

“The school gymnasium is already full. I’m thinking this group heads for the chapel. Father Galva has already been informed.”

Alma nodded gravely and marched to the closet to collect a handful of clothes along with some food, shoving them all into a backpack. After putting on a hooded jacket and locking the door behind her, she walked out just as some of her next-door neighbors with their own weary and frightened faces stepped into the crowd. The rain felt sharp, a torrent of needles against Alma’s face. The wind pushed against her. Roofs from around the neighborhood rattled like a band of mad drummers. The trees shook. Branches broke and flew past them. Trash and debris–pieces of steel, nails, and wood–swirled about.

The ground grew softer and softer as time passed. Over the course of their journey, several of the town-folk dared to turn back. “Listen! Listen! You don’t understand! I have to go back to watch the house! I’ll lose everything otherwise!” “Idiot! You’ll lose your life! All of the lower neighborhoods are already under ten feet of seawater!” “I’ll lose my business! How do you expect me to feed my family when all this is over?” “My husband is a very good swimmer, sir.” “Surely, the flood won’t rise any higher than this.” “Papa, don’t go! Stay with us!”  “Please, for the love of God, will you take care of my child for me while I go back?”“I thought you all had us move up here to avoid all this!” “You think I control the weather?” “Why don’t you deploy some of the other watchmen to go back in our place?” 

The crowd tensed at the clamor. Alma kept her eyes on her feet, her sympathy arrested by the sound of crying children. Eventually, the beams of the watchmen’s flashlights hovered over the creaking, rattling gates of the cemetery. A wide, blinding net of current whipped the sky. A groan rolled over the town-folk and a brief panic seized the animals. Here, the lightning struck more intensely and in successive volleys. Each flash revealed a foggy, white-washed snapshot of the gloomy park. Someone screamed.

Beneath the debris peppered all over the cemetery, murky, pitch-black puddles scattered across the cemetery–that deep, marvelous liquid emptiness Alma had seen in the old-craftsman’s coffin and in her dreams–flooding graves which appeared to have been dug up, pouring from stacked tombs which appeared to have been ransacked. Gasps and shrill cries broke out from around Alma as more people saw. Wrought with worry, she tore herself away from the crowd and dove into the somber maze, searching for her mother’s grave. Her foot caught on a fallen branch, and as she plummeted, her head nearly bounced against her mother’s tombstone. Luckily, she put her arms across her face in time. Heaving, she lifted herself from the ground and peered down at the spot where, two weeks ago, her knees had buckled under the weight of her grief and she had sobbed, wrapped around the stench of half-hearted sympathy, in front of the whole town.

The ground had been broken as if with an explosion, and in the hollow beneath, in and around the coffin where her mother should’ve been, stark black waters pooled and stared back at her. It had raged in her dreams but now it laid still against the storm, swallowing each raindrop without a hint of a ripple–a puddle like an open jaw.

“No,” Alma muttered in disbelief. “It was just a dream! You can’t have taken her!”

She jumped into the pool, dipping her hands into its darkness in search for any sign of her mother. The water, which felt as harrowingly cold as it had in her dreams, ate away at her flesh, and soon her feet and fingers numbed into nought. Alarmed, she lifted her hands to check if they’d indeed ceased to exist as her mind believed. They had shriveled to the bone, pale and crumbling from within, but they trembled back to life under her breath. She hastened to pull herself out of the pool, but her feet have lost their strength. A beam of a flashlight ran across the grave and a moment later a watchman took hold of Alma’s arm. “Come now. You have to get inside.”

The sight of the watchman undid her resolve, and against the rain and the breeze, her tears felt like boiling water slicing through her cheek. As they made their way out of the cemetery, they passed many others who’ve found their loved ones’ tombs destroyed and now prostrated by their stones, wailing away into the night.

“What happened here?” Alma asked.

“We don’t know yet–”

“Why my mother?” Alma begged. “What had she done to deserve this? Who did this?”

“Our priority right now is to get everyone to safety. We’ll deal with this incident later, alright?”

The captain of the watchmen, who stood by the chapel gates, yelled directions for everyone to fall in line before they entered, but suddenly, a wide-eyed man, his mouth stretched back to his ears and a guttural screech emerging from deep within him, came running out of the nave. “Go back! Go back! You, all of you! I’m not staying there! You can’t make me! My children! Where are my children! Come, kids! We’ll go somewhere else! I’d rather drown than spend another second within three meters of that horrid, evil display!”

A crowd tumbled after him. Some appeared stunned and dazed, lacking focus in the eyes. Others scurried out huddled into themselves, sobbing and praying into their chests. More ran out screaming. The stern, booming voice of the priest echoed from within the nave, a raging bass beneath the thunder.

The families gathering by the gates grew louder and uneasy. The chaos pulled Alma out of shock and into confusion. The watchman by her side let go and, along with the rest of his crew, scrambled to calm the people down. Alma put herself out of the way of the panic but she grabbed the shoulders of a woman who staggered closely by her. “Hey! Hey! You’ll slip! Calm down this minute!” she demanded. “Tell me what’s happening in there.”

The woman had scrunched her eyes closed with all her strength, her veins straining beneath her flushed temples, but upon hearing Alma’s voice, she opened them wide, two milky moons on a pool of mud, and looked past Alma’s head towards the sky as though the lightning was divining to her some vision. She reached for Alma’s collar and through gritted teeth exclaimed, “The coffin-maker! It’s the coffin-maker! He did this! The devil! We must burn him! We must burn everything! We must get rid of him before it’s too late!”

The woman wrenched herself away from her grip. Alma pondered her words. The coffin-maker…the coffin-maker who took my mother away from me in my dreams.

Alma plunged into the crowd pouring out of the chapel, forcing her way inside. A swell of heat, cries, and cold vapor suffocated her immediately. A flickering row of candles at the altar struggled to light the nave. A number of people had remained, shivering and muttering among the pews, now all in disarray. A few sat utterly still with tears gushing from their eyes. And the rest, apart from the frantic watchmen and town officials, knelt together before the dais at the feet of the coffin-maker’s bier, hands together in prayer. The priest, in a fit of rage, struck them repeatedly with a switch.

“Imbeciles!” the priest cried. “Do not kneel to it, you fools! Do not pray to it!”

A chill from the pit of her stomach weakened Alma’s whole body. The backpack she had carried fell at her feet. She approached the bier slowly, cautious of the cracks splitting the pillars of her mind at each step she took.

From beneath the still, dark waters that now filled the coffin to the brim, the old craftsman’s hands had risen. His fingers, spread like the rim of a chalice, reached forward as if inviting the sky for an embrace. The muscles of his arms, now made of some iridescent, leather-like, crinkled flesh, had bulged and ripped through his clothes. Its wrinkles mimicked flowers and faces and serpents. A rotten, metallic smell hung beneath the cold surrounding the wake.

All at once, the noise around Alma disintegrated. What have you done? she wished to ask the coffin-maker. Is it really true? My mother…this town…what have you done?

“Alma!” the priest’s voice cut through to her. “What are you doing? Don’t come any closer, or it’ll be you at the end of this crop! Go on! Leave!”

All the noise rushed back into Alma’s ears, all the air back into her lungs, and all her blood through her heart. Fresh tears springing in her eyes, she turned and shoved herself into the crowd rushing outside.


Alma nuzzled into the small space she’d been allotted within the classroom. To accommodate everyone, the watchmen had packed nearly sixty people in each one, while the rest slept in the hallways. Using her backpack as a backrest, she leaned against one of the chairs that had been piled to one corner of the room. She wished her mother was with her, or at least, something with which she could distract herself. The walls hardly muffled the thunder. The curtains hardly shielded the lightning. Candlelight flickering amidst murmurs, sobs, and shaky breaths cast a sloppy orange on the faces of the people around her. A few tried fruitlessly to sleep. Others prayed quietly or sang to their young ones. Some time after everyone had settled, a watchman came in with news of people who’d drowned or had been buried under landslides, and the room burst with agitation.

“Those stubborn fools! This wouldn’t have happened if they’d just come along!” someone exclaimed.

“Isn’t it weird that there were no reports of a storm headed this way?”

“There was no news of anything at all! You know TV people only care about the traffic in the big cities! No fodder for us here at the fringes of this island!”

“Surely, there must have been something!”

“If there was anything at all, someone would have heard it and we would’ve been better prepared, see?”

“You’re both wrong!” A familiar voice this time. Alma craned her neck at the people gathered near the chalkboard and found the wide-eyed woman she had grabbed earlier amongst them. “This is the coffin-maker’s doing! The coffin-maker, I tell you!”

Silence rolled over the whole room.

“Why do you say that?” someone asked.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? Killing himself was all part of his plan! He’s turning himself into the devil as we speak!”

“‘The devil,’ you say? How dare you speak of him that way! Be careful or his mighty hands will smite you!”

“Dimwit! You mustn’t worship that thing! In fact, if we want to end this storm, we have to burn it! And the chapel along with it! The whole cemetery! Everything!”

“You’ll only anger him! Besides, no fire will stand a chance against this rain.”

“You’re all idiots! It’s a trick! A prank! Coincidence!”

“How do you explain the cemetery then? They say the only tombs that have been ruined were those for whom he made coffins for! Is that coincidence?”

“And those strange puddles! What sort of acid was that? It nearly tore my arms off!”

“Obviously, this is some sort of large-scale, well-orchestrated joke.”

“This is no joke, my friend. This is the coffin-maker’s will. I see him in my dreams. Every night since his death he rips my late daughter from within my arms and drowns her in dark waters! Now, look what’s happened to her grave!”

“Why, I’ve had those same dreams about my father, too!”

“So have I, of my brother!”

“You don’t think it was him who killed them, do you?”

“What are you saying? My brother died at sea.”

“As did my son!”

“He must’ve cast a spell or something! He must’ve willed it to happen!”

“So this is what they call a mass psychosis! You’re all out of your minds!”

“And you’re in denial! It’s perfectly clear what’s happening to this town but you refuse to believe it because you’re scared!”

“You’re saying that the coffin-maker was some sort of witch? A sorcerer? Do you hear yourself?”

“Power like this doesn’t have to be understood, only obeyed.”

“Nonsense! It should be destroyed! If fire doesn’t work, we’ll cut him up!”

“What did Father Galva make of all of this? Didn’t he warn us not to approach it? He’s had the chapel closed off, I hear.”

“Father Galva is scared. This is beyond his or his faith’s power.”

“Then what is this power? Where does it come from? What did an old coffin-maker have to do with it? Why did he do all this?”

Alma had long lost track of who was speaking, the voices like an anxious tangle of serpents floating in the air. So there had been other people who’ve had nightmares, she noted. As the town-folk rattled away, she couldn’t help but reflect upon her last conversation with the coffin-maker. He had mentioned a womb…rebirth…something about nature…a desire to join in its mission. To her, it’d been nothing more than a synopsis of an eccentric old man’s personal spirituality. It was hard to believe that the coffin-maker had caused all this, but she had now seen the black waters–they were real! Indeed, how could that be explained? Her mother’s corpse was gone, too. What evil pig, if there was one, would play such an elaborate joke?

“You know, don’t you?” A voice tickled Alma’s ear.

She jerked in her seat. “Father Galva! You startled me.”

She wondered how she hadn’t noticed him before, but the old priest had thinned drastically in the span of a couple hours, his thick white hair half-gone. Dark splotches painted his robes. He shivered under his blanket, but the wrath broiling in his eyes outclassed even the sun. “You’re his accomplice, aren’t you?”


“Don’t lie to me, young lady. You were the last person Samuel ever spoke to. Both of you planned this.”

“Planned what?”

“This storm! This punishment! Undo it all, you wretch!” As he spoke, he rose to his feet. Fearing the switch, Alma scrambled upright, too, but she barely fended off the attack with her arms. Her hands and cheeks burned with cuts.

“Tell me! Tell us all why you’ve done this?” the priest demanded.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”


The priest reeled the switch back once again, but several people behind him seized his arms and attempted to calm him down. Alma looked furtively around. People whispered among themselves, the suspicion in their eyes as clear as a red stain on a white canvas. The women beside her inched away. An old man with a decided look on his face approached her cautiously and said, “Alma, my child, perhaps it’ll give us a clue what to do if you tell us about that day.”

“I told people already. I was only there to pay him for my mother’s coffin–”

“She would never admit it if we ask her just like that! We ought to restrain her, not the priest!”

“There’s no need for that! Her own mother’s grave was ruined, you know!”

“We ought to set her on fire now!”

The room fell into argument. Alma determined she should run. Spectators from the halls blocked the classroom door. Her only option was the window behind her. After taking a breath to harden her resolve, she took a chair, smashed the window open, and jumped out.

The rain weighed her down immediately. The lightning blinded her. The thunder reverberated in her heart. Voices chased her. “Get her! Get her!” “Alma, come back! It’s not safe out there!” “You will pay for this, young lady! You’ll be punished for your sins!” “Alma, tell us the secrets! Tell us where this power comes from! How to pray to it!”

A longing for her home redoubled her strength. Reaching the edge of the school grounds, she scaled the locked gates and jumped onto a downhill path towards the lower neighborhoods. She veered left into a grove to keep herself hidden but ran unexpectedly into water.

Alma gasped. Her heart ached, panic like glass shards in her blood. She strained her eyes. It was not darkness before her–it was the waters and the nightsky, now combined into one omnipresent hole closing in slowly to the earth. The sea, now a deep, stark black flood, had completely swallowed the town, extending from beneath Alma’s feet all the way to nought, and inched closer and closer to the school with each volley of waves. The sky, an oppressive expanse of nonexistence condensed into a giant black slab, sunk slowly to the ground, impervious to the lightning. The weight of its descent crippled the trees and the soil. Alma’s head roared with pain. Her core all at once felt heavy and slowed her down. The air pressed against her whole body. The smell of iron caught her off-guard. Swiping her arm over her face, she realized her nose had started bleeding.

Footsteps and voices neared. Her mind raced. Shelter…shelter…where do I go? The chapel? Nobody would dare follow me there!

“Alma!” A call, loud and close, halted her footsteps. She recognized it clearly but was unsure from which direction it came. She lifted a nearby rock and braced herself. A moment later, Father Galva emerged from behind the trees, stumbling and breathing heavily. Blood trickled from his eyes. Alma poised herself to run, but as the thunder clapped the priest pounced at her, and with an explosive swing of her arms, she hit him across the head with the rock. He fell face-up on the ground. The rain pouring over his body slowly turned black and buried him in darkness. Again, Alma gasped. She briefly held out her palms. Each drop, now as dark as ink, felt much colder than a few moments ago, and her fingers immediately started aching.

The flood quickly consumed the priest, and as Alma switched directions and headed for the hilltop, the waters followed her closely at the ankles. She clung to the shivering trunks of the trees to keep herself steady above the quaking ground. She’d held on to the rock in case more of her assailants appeared, but she passed by them with no struggle as they writhed breathlessly on their backs. The school trembled from the pressure of the sky. Cracks spread across the pillars. The people poured out of the windows and doors, moaning and tumbling over one another.

Alma pushed them out of her mind and hurried forward. The thick, dark rain slowly erased the world, and her sense of direction began to escape her. She relied only on the lightning to guide her, which now seemed to bundle together from different parts of the atmosphere to strike a single point. The chapel’s spire, Alma thought. Having found her beacon, Alma quickened her pace. She scaled the gates easily but the doors had been locked. She went round and threw her rock at one of the stained glass windows. After it shattered, Alma pushed herself inside, eager to finally welcome shelter, but upon falling to the floor she screamed.

The coffin-maker had a visitor. A shimmering coagulation of broken matter extending from the nightsky had broken through the ceiling, with a human-shaped appendage slowly descending, its wrinkled, bulbous arms stretched wide, into the coffin-maker’s waiting embrace. The lightning clung to its brilliant, opal flesh, a tangle of explosions which it wore like jewelry. And from its core a steady and powerful pulse of heat, like the heartbeat of the sun, surged outward. Alma remembered her dream–the floating sac beneath the ravaging waves of that somber ocean. Had the darkness closing in delivered it? She shut her eyes, unable to bear the light. The heat within the chapel and the cold of the rain on her skin tore her apart. Outside, the flood roared and smashed the chapel’s doors. The walls crumbled under the weight of the sky, the rubble disappearing into the waters. Alma realized she was standing at the edge of a collision. A bubble of space around the bier quivered–the point where she surmised the sky and the flood would unite.

Alma gradually felt lighter as the flood rose to her waist, half of her disintegrating beneath the waters. At the same moment, her body collapsed from within, a searing warmth spreading throughout her like the tentacles of a beast and pulling her inward as they coiled. Her thoughts crumbled in their clutches. How pretty you are. Who are you? Take me. Let me join you.

As the pain lulled her to sleep, and blood poured from her eyes, nose and mouth, the sight of her mother’s face arrested her consciousness. On the visitor’s shoulder–her mother’s visage, made of glittering, leathery folds, frozen mid-scream. Many other familiar faces adorned the visitor’s back, and Alma remembered all the tombs that had been ruined and all the corpses that had disappeared.

Maddened, she lunged forward with renewed vigor and pushed the bier over. The coffin with its glass cover shattered as it fell, and the old craftsman’s body thudded alongside it on the dais with the altar overlooking the smile, so gentle and so loving, carved onto his face. Alma screamed in her rage. She grabbed a shard from the wreckage, set upon tearing the coffin-maker’s body apart, until a warm finger tapped her nape. When she turned, she equaled gazes with a face shaped like a mouth in which swirled a long, thick muscle, unraveling like a blooming flower. A bright red aperture within it sighed, and all of Alma’s atoms cried and burst.

Zyra Cabugayan lives in a small coastal city in the Philippines and spends her time complaining about the weather. She can be found online @notactuallyzyra on Instagram.

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“A Finger in the Stream of Time” Science-Fiction by Mike Lee

"A Finger in the Stream of Time" Science-Fiction by Mike Lee:  Mike Lee is a writer and editor in New York City. Work published and upcoming in several journalist and anthologies. A short story collection, The Northern Line, is available on Amazon.

Forty-two years ago, I was in love.

I live in Brooklyn and occasionally publish book and music reviews for magazines and blogs, but I primarily just blog these days. I have a fine reputation and decent checking accounts, but I survive.

Compared to my old buddies, I might as well have been shooting smack and hustling change at the Port Authority bus terminal. It does not kill you, but it all manages to strip flesh from you slowly, one strip at a time and infrequently, depending on how I feel. I wonder if I can stand it without jumping in front of the subway train, but I manage.

I worked for a weekly newspaper in Texas for several years, snuck into a couple of New York music monthlies. Emboldened, I made my move up here.

After all these years, I still spin in the gravel.

I am working on a novel about this long-dead relationship. I average two sentences a week. One moves slowly when burdened with a sundered heart. I will get the first draft finished by the time I turn 60.

For some reason, I cannot break out of this truck. Each session with this book has precluded all other fictional activities. Sure, I wrote some decent stories, but I wanted this novel out of the way first, so I remain a third-rate freelancer

While riding on the F train home from a freelance copy-editing shift on a Sunday afternoon, it finally struck me. I was reading the New York Times book review and came across the assessment of a novel by my rival in Texas.

Something in my mind snapped.

I cannot really explain how it happened. All I knew was that everything went blank, and I faded out. Then, as I grasped the pole before me, I knew I was getting a second chance at something. I remembered smiling.

I looked out the shuttle bus window and felt like my heart had jumped out of my throat. I was back all right, just like in the movies. It may be a second chance at a beautiful life, but unfortunately, no guardian angel was by my side. I was on my own for this drama.

I pulled the cord and got off at Guadalupe and 24th Street. Judging by the weather, I knew it was early October—the time from when we met. Autumn in Texas is so short that you miss it if you do not pay attention, and I knew from the breeze that this was the first north of the season rolling in. The massive cold fronts are coming down from the Canadian prairies, and with them, the temperature suddenly drops—without warning. I unzipped my black leather jacket open, anyway. The cold is never wrong, and the wind is not too harsh.

I reached into my pocket to light a cigarette, attempting to figure things out. The mural on the wall of the varsity theater was still unfinished. Reynolds Penland still existed, and from looking down the street, I could spot Swenson’s ice cream parlor sign. I worked there once.

I close my eyes and blink out all thoughts in my mind. When I opened them, nothing had changed; I could not believe people still wore flares in 1979. I didn’t rub my chin and look at my clothes. I’m not seventeen in this place, which certainly threw a complication into this affair.

Suddenly, it came to me that I had been illuminated. I was hoping for a more complicated Thomas, for some waggish gadfly to help me along in this situation, or at least receive some realization that this was a sick fantasy stemming from reading the book review. But, sorry, I was out on my own and without a real plan in my head.

I checked my wallet, and all the bills were recent. So much for that and the credit cards I had been useless. But then, I realized my way out.

At the pinball parlor, I jammed every single into the change machine. I wound up with $15 in quarters, which is better than nothing. I figured, just in case, I would change the twenty at a bar tonight. The bartender would never look at the series number in the darkness.

I cashed the quarters in at the bank down the street without fuss. This was a strange feeling, scraping for change again, just as I did when I was seventeen. After leaving the bank, I walked up Lavaca Street toward Guadalupe, feeling the breeze lift me with each step.

The situation I got myself thrown into required a lot of thinking. First, I went into the Cuban deli that would close in two years for a cup of coffee. Sitting in the booth, I figured out a reasonable facsimile of a plan and mulled over my options. Along with the singles and the spare change from my coffee, I had $200 in the twenties from the last check I cashed, though with the inaccurate series numbers, worthless credit cards, and a weird sense of knowing everything yet truly knowing nothing.

I knew that I had to find a younger version of myself. How I was going to approach myself was the question. Somehow, I will sell myself as a long-lost brother or cousin. No, I would not fall for it, and it would’ve been disastrous if I had met myself. I was never that stupid.

Whatever I had to do, I knew I had to break them up initially, and now was a perfect time. So I paid for the coffee across the street and headed down 24th to Inner Sanctum Records, the store I used to hang out at and where we first met.

I flipped my leather jacket lapels when I passed Shannon and me in the atrium. I recognized the shirt before I saw his face. Today was our first date, and I knew they were going to the Clash that evening, skipping school to hang out before Shannon got dressed.

I entered the record store, bought the remaining ticket for The Clash, and walked out. I thought about flipping through the stacks of albums, but in my mood, I felt like I did not want to wax nostalgic, a concept ironic in these circumstances. It was tempting, however. I figured PIL would not bring that copy of the metal box back with me to my time with no cash. Damn.

At least I will get to see the Clash again. Remember the band? Rock n roll’s last great hope, remembering the critics at the time–the only band that matters, they wrote.

I found them painfully pretentious. As for myself, I will take Johnny Thunders, the Buzzcocks, and even The Adverts. But maybe a second crack at seeing them perform again will change my mind. Then again, perhaps not.

I watched them pass by me as I went outside. I was such a geek and so damn thin. I looked like I ate out of garbage cans. No wonder I wasn’t getting laid back then. Shannon did not look much better. Coke bottle glasses and an oversized pair of overalls. If a couple deserved each other back then, we or they. In this situation, I am often confused.

I decided to bide my time and catch my younger self later at the concert. So, I began to walk down Guadalupe Street. Thinking about them or us. I had met Shannon through the Ratman, someone I had met a few weeks before and a classmate of hers at her high school. He gave me her number. I recalled nervously calling her up that night. What was it I was tossing in my hand? Oh yes, a can of Georgia peaches. I hate peaches. In retrospect, this was not a good omen.

I remember meeting Shannon in the stairway behind the record store. No matter her looks, I instantly fell in love with her.

I walked by the Gulf station, where I worked briefly two years later. I sauntered over to the Coke machine and got a thirty-five-cent Dr. Pepper. Even in 1979, it was about $.15 below the price elsewhere, so I could not resist because it was the old taste—they still used cane sugar in those days. The first taste as the soda entered my mouth took me back to less complicated times at the moment when complications ruled my life. Also, I bought two packs of Marlboros inside for .55 each. I might as well play tourist and take advantage.

This was fantastic. I wish I could figure out how to spend two hundred bucks in what was essentially future tender. I bit my lip at the second thought. It would be a lousy plot for some late-night movie, or as if my life was nothing more than a loosely threaded-together series of plot complications. Also, if I return to my time, I would be broke.

It was a sad situation to be clinging to second chances. Too narrow are the parameters of action. Empowered, though powerless, I felt insecure about the entire situation. Something about it did not sit right with me. I walked into Half-Price Books and wandered along with the musty stacks. I found a few things were fine, walked upstairs, and pitched the books out the window.

Jesus, this was so easy, just like the old days. I walked into the alley, collected the volumes beside the dumpster, and walked away, carrying my books down Lavaca Street and heading to the bridge over Town Lake. Unfortunately, the clouds obscured the sun, and it was only 6:30. Another hour or so to kill before the doors opened for the concert.

I walked around, thinking about what had happened on this day. But first, I got a ride from my mother.

I waited for her for over an hour, fidgeting madly in front of the stage. My heart was pounding, and I constantly wanted to go to the bathroom. I don’t believe I was ever excited about anything like those few minutes at the concert hall while waiting for Shannon.

Then, I realized that my memory was incorrect or the situation had already changed. Shannon and I were together before the Clash concert. I did get a ride from Mom, not Clay, and I met Shannon at the door before the opening act, Joe Ely took the stage. However, I had just passed them at the record store, but I knew it was that day.

I looked at my watch again to check the date. It was the day of the concert.

I do not know why, but today is the correct day. The circumstances were becoming all very strange, and the incongruities disturbed me to no end.

A few years before they sandblasted the façade, I had forgotten what a dreary building this was. Better, I forgot what a gloomy city Austin was at the time. The capital was nothing more than an ersatz Greek nesting place for pigeons. I walked by, thinking about all the times I would hang out on the balcony, throwing cigarette butts at unsuspecting tourists and legislators in session down on the floor below. I never got caught. I walked down Congress Avenue and entered Aaron’s, a bookstore with old paperbacks and rotting record albums as dull as I remembered it, but it gave me time to kill. It was no wonder Aaron’s went out of business several years later.

I managed to spend an hour there, and then I crossed the bridge and turned the right corner to Barton Springs Road. The air hangar that was the Armadillo World Headquarters was on the next corner.

I was surprised by my lack of sentimentality; as much of a history buff, I have little use for the good details in the core of my life. This comes from being a nascent Marxist, I guess. I have no idealistic attitude. So, sentimentality leaves a cold spot on my heart. It’s even applied to Shannon, though I felt a bit different.

I handed my ticket to the biker working the booth, and I headed straight for the bar. It was dark enough for me to dare to spend one of the twenties, so I bought a Shiner Beer, and afterward, I felt that maybe I could get caught. Perhaps the bartender would look to see the series number on the note. The whole situation worried the hell out of me. But I saw the crowd at the bar and felt comfortable that I would get away with this.

I leaned back and debated going to the front to see if I had arrived. Looked at my watch before deciding to wait until 8:30. I had plenty of time.

People were streaming in, and I saw a few I knew. Roger Paul walked by. I hesitated. Should I warn him that he would die in an awful accident at the 7-Eleven on Lamar Boulevard? I smirked instead. I love having this kind of power.

David McCall came in with Sharon Walker. The last time I saw Dave, he was fried out and bumming spare change on the Drag. Sharon ended up hanging around with skate punks.

Clay and I arrived. Perhaps my mother did not drive me to the Armadillo, I thought. That was disconcerting. My teenage memory was turning out to be rather piss-poor. But as I watched them, I had an idea.

When they paused by the pool table, I walked over and put a quarter on it.

“You up for a game, boys?”

Clay touched my teenage shoulder and stepped back as he saw me. However, I felt confident that my hairstyle, the goatee, and horned-rim glasses would not be recognized. Maybe it was my voice. Adult, though still me. Perhaps there was a sense of recognition, but that boy was nervous. Strangers don’t just put the quarter on the pool table and ask if you want to play a game.

“Sure,” he said.

I pushed the cue ball across the table and picked a warped stick. I watched that petite teenager like another one and stepped slowly back. I glanced at Clay, pointing to myself, saying he felt like getting out of this. Then, I saw myself taking nervous glances toward the front door. I saw my chance.

“I want to play you,” I said, pointing at myself.

“I’ll rack,” said Clay. I reached down, and I put the quarter in the slot. The relationship between Clay and me constantly pushed me to take chances, minor instead of significant. Still, it reached a totality that comprised a large part of my personality as time passed. Finally, I put my head down, confident enough to crack an unseen smile.

We played the game of losers, eight balls. At the break, I popped the three in. I had every intention of beating myself, defeating this boy, and doing it as slowly as possible.

Before my next shot, I looked at my watch and estimated I had 15 minutes to drive this game out before Shannon arrived. And I intended to make him play again. I knew myself from the time, understanding that I would not give up. Instead, I would try to play this punk rocker again.

In the process, I would then throw up every bit of this small talk I could get those two boys to fall for, and knowing me, he would lap the whole monologue up like vomit. Finally, I would have those two boys so entranced by my intellectual bullshit that though Shannon would not be forgotten, she would at least feel like she was being stood up. I certainly knew Shannon; by the time I would break away, she would be in the front seat of her ugly white Plymouth, crying over this scumbag, standing her up. Shannon was mercurial enough to cut the boy off. She would find someone else soon enough, just now, not later, when I had most needed her.

It would be over. I knew that boy would be depressed for a while, but he would get over it. I would be saved.

I shot an excellent double bank and sized up an easy way to choke on the next shot. Her eyes were burning the back of my head, watching me when I carefully booted the seven just slightly off the corner pocket.

“Shit,” I said. “I hit it too hard.”

I watch the boy lean over, slipping this stick over the knuckles to aim. I saw that my hands were shaking. I knew the boy did not have a bean’s worth of a chance. But, within a minute, he knocked four in a row, each shot as accurate and clean as I had never done except on rare occasions when I was angry. That boy was furious.

I closed my eyes. My memory of myself was more inaccurate than I had assumed.

The game was over in less than ten minutes. I fell behind after that streak and spent the remainder of the match grasping at straws. That was really throwing off the intensity of that teenager. When my teenage self knocked the nine-ball in the left corner with English, he threw the cue stick on the table, and he and Clay walked away with a thank you before I could ask if they wanted another game.

I put the stick back on the rack and saw they had disappeared into the crowd. Suddenly, I flinched. I saw Shannon, and I walked toward the stage. I had failed.

I thought about it. I figured, what the hell? Why should I change anything? Even so, I nevertheless made a mild interference. My seventeen-year-old self had just won his first pool game right before Clay, an outstanding player who eventually became a professional competitor.

Perhaps I added just a tiny mark of confidence to my younger self; maybe this was enough to put me over the top, or I became even more unbearably arrogant. I do not know. I guess I will find out soon.

I returned to the bar and got another Shiner. I turned and watched in amazement as Shannon and I walked past me as the Clash came onto the stage. This was not supposed to happen. However, I leaned back on my stool and enjoyed another sip of beer as Joe Strummer struck out the first cords to London Calling.

Afterward, I went out to the parking lot. Shannon’s white Plymouth was gone. I was not about to guess how the evening for them turned out, but I figured I would not know if that was where I was eventually returning until I got back on the F train.

I sat down on the curb and lit another cigarette. I closed my eyes and pulled my jacket close. When I opened them, I was back in Brooklyn, sitting in my chair before my typewriter.

I am reading these words on the page that I have typed. A sense of unreality washed over me.

Things looked the same, but there were subtle differences. I had lived alone, but I realized this was no longer the case, judging by what I saw.

I gave him just a little bit too much confidence, didn’t I? However, I felt a sense of foreboding. It is never wise to dip a finger into the streams of time.

Now, I have to face those consequences. I rise from my chair and walk into the bedroom. As I look down at the empty bed, I feel my soul descend as fresh memories of the previous decades sweep aside to replace the events of my life that had been there before.

I feel overwhelmed by this change when I press my palm against the bedding. Yes, while circumstances are different, I have remained the same. I forget that the final epiphany is erased when the thought is completed.

Thoughts of suicide begin to cross my mind, lingering. For a moment, I do not understand why I feel this way until the reason becomes clear, striking with unyielding brutality the moment as I forget everything, including Brooklyn.

Mike Lee is a writer and editor in New York City. Work published and upcoming in several journalist and anthologies. A short story collection, The Northern Line, is available on Amazon.

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If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream stories and poems with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine

“The Mood Changed After That” Dark Short Story by Morgan Phaneuf

"The Mood Changed After That" Dark Short Story by Morgan Phaneuf:  Morgan Phaneuf is an aspiring poet and author from the Quiet Corner of Connecticut. A proud mother, wilderness enthusiast, and karaoke queen, she strives to bring consolation to those who relate to the uncomfortability expressed in her writing. Focusing on authentic experiences, she re-creates trauma into words of empowerment.

She was stuck somewhere between purgatory and a dream. “I am not my trauma”, she whispered to herself. “I am not my trauma”. “I am not my trauma” she repeated, until she was jolted by a deafening knock on the door. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. Each knock pulsated like a mangled heartbeat beating itself to a pulp. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. Shooting up her veins and draining down into her throat. “GET UP!’, a male officer shouted. “GET UP YOUNG LADY!” GET UP!” Declining and in his mid-thirties, he was overweight and miserable, complete with a rape stash and treacherous breath. “Let’s go Amber, it’s time for court”, he hollered again, as tiny droplets of spit pranced through the lines engraved on the floor. 

Amber leaped up like a frog trying to release its hind legs from the jaws of a fisher cat. 

“Yes, Sir”, she stuttered as she stood up and wiped away the sleepies from the corners of her bright green eyes. She yawned and tossed her black oversized hoodie up and over her head, then nestled it down over her rounded bottom. With only her sweatshirt as a pillow and a cold metal cot to rest on, Amber awoke more unruly than usual. Using her fingers as a comb, she carefully untangled the tiny knots created from tossing back and forth throughout the night.  

Amber had just turned seventeen and was arrested for the assault the night before. When she first arrived at the station, three police officers removed her black laced boots and confiscated her off-brand eyeglasses. Leaving her unable to see anything besides the striped cotton candy pink, and baby blue toe socks that were covering her feet. 

“Protocol” one officer said, when Amber asked why she wasn’t allowed to have her glasses back. This was also the reason she was told; they removed and kept the strings from her sweatshirt. “Protocol”, they said. Protocol.

“Let’s get these cuffs back on ya, kid!”. “Put your hands through here”, another officer said, as he pointed towards the middle of the doorway. Amber sluggishly moved her feet forward and placed her youthful hands directly through the small opening located in the center of the doorframe. She felt one cold metal cuff slide gently under her left wrist, then swiftly SNAP together. She heard a key firmly lock it into place. 

The same thing happened on the other hand. One cold metal cuff slid under her wrist, and SNAP! Only the right side was much, much tighter. 

When Amber asked the officer if he would “please” loosen her cuff, he let out a Joker type laugh and blatantly ignored her request. He then hollered at her, “Step back while I open the door!”. She obeyed and immediately took three steps back. 




She stepped back and watched as the officer opened the door to her holding cell and directed her outwards. 

Amber’s feet jiggled like Jell-O, as they trudged heavily underneath her body. Heavier than the anchor her grandfather used to have on his pontoon boat when she was growing up. They dragged her dead-weighted body through the doorway and out into the hallway.

 Her grandfather taught her how to drive his pontoon boat when she was just over 8 years old. He sat Amber down in the captain’s chair and placed her tiny hands at “one and two” upon the red and blue steering wheel. He was educated and spoke loudly and confidently with a strong Boston accent. “Look ova at tha dock, right in between those two houzes. That’s straight. Got it?”. “Keep ya eyes on that and go!” “Ya got this!”.

Amber watched nervously as he proudly released his strong, wrinkled hands from her smooth youthened ones, and compelled her to drive. She was scared shitless and desperately tried to quit, but he wouldn’t let her quit. He never did. 

“Go Amber” “GO, GO, GO!” he cheered triumphantly, as she drove them perfectly towards the tiny wooden dock. Strategically placed between two homely little lake houses, she continued straight until the boat claimed the dockside.   

“See, ya did it!” Oh, Amber I am so proud of ya girl!”, her grandfather boasted. Gleaming with pride, he swooped her frail body up into the air and gave her the type of hug only a father could give. She felt loved that day. She accomplished something. She was proud of herself and most importantly, Grampa was proud too. 

She wondered if he would be proud of her now. Escorted without shoes on, handcuffed on her way to court in the same town he lived for most of his life? Would he be proud of her constant panic attacks in high school, that caused her to sneak out of any door and every window she could find? Would he be proud that she had no plans for her future and that she secretly wanted to slice her wrists open? 

As she rode in the back of the police cruiser, Amber kept sliding back and forth along the hard, plastic seat. A seatbelt was nonexistent, and she lacked the physical ability to do anything, with handcuffs vehemently securing her hands behind her back. A female officer with gorgeous Disney princess-like blonde hair, drove in complete silence until they entered an underground parking lot, this one belonging to the city courthouse.

 Everything was gloomy and the smell of the air was hauntingly unfamiliar.

The cold penetrated her bones while it licked the sweat off her neck. 

Misery saturated her flesh, as her eyelids blackened.  

“I am not my trauma”, she whispered to herself as she noticed the cruiser door open and finally heard the voice of the attractive policewoman. Her words were direct but gentle. “Come on Honey, it’s time to get out now”. Amber’s green eyes finally connected with someone else’s. Her beautiful baby blues were soothing. Amber nodded a silent “OK” and stepped out of the vehicle. 

The kind officer led Amber down a narrow hallway to a large holding area. 

She noticed all different types of men awaiting their trials. Most of them looked to be in their 20s or 30s and they all spew “cat calls” at her as she walked by. “Damn, Mami, look at that ass!”, “Mmmm mmm mmm, she looks good!”. Amber stared blankly at the floor while men old enough to be her father, whistled as she walked by. 

One man specifically yelled, “Hey Baby!”, while flicking his tongue up and down, in between a V shape over his mouth. This not only petrified Amber, but it simultaneously infuriated her and made her want to vomit, at the exact same time. 

The holding area for men, was stationed directly across the hall from where Amber was expected to stay… the holding area for women. A place where the women were much more experienced and much more terrifying than she could ever be.  

The women’s holding area was much different than the men’s holding area. Amber wasn’t welcomed by any obnoxious cat calls or extended friendly gestures. Instead, she was given the finger as each one of them stared her up and down.  Not one of the women offered up a seat next to them or asked Amber her name. 

She claimed a seat next to the least intimidating woman. A tall, youthful, and quiet brunette with badly stained teeth. Amber inhaled a long, deep breath in through her nose, and forcefully out her mouth as she repeated to herself, “I am not my trauma”.

“I am not my trauma”.

 “I am not my trauma”.

“I am not my trauma”.

  Both the men and women’s holding areas were extremely filthy and unsanitary. The units were enclosed with long metal bars, replacing the large blue doors used at the local police station. There was only one toilet in each holding area with little to no privacy. The wall used to shelter the toilet was pre-pubescent and left everyone’s business fully exposed. 

Certain men enjoyed watching women use the bathroom and would howl out the most sickening sexual remarks. An attention deprived dirty girl was watching a man jerk off as she finger banged herself on the jailhouse throne. 

She’d “Houdini” the guards by pretending to use the bathroom. Perfectly positioned on the pooper, ready to give the perverts across the hall a prison peep show. 

The rest of the women, Amber included, were mortified by the “Pooper Peeper”. But not one of them said or did anything.  

That’s the thing in prison. Even junkies, hookers, killers and especially drug dealers, understand when the fun is over and when it’s time to take the game seriously. 

It was an unspoken rule that Amber immediately appreciated, understood, and respected. This wasn’t the time to have an opinion and she realized it immediately.

It was crucial to her survival and to her freedom, to be on her very best behavior.

Men would relentlessly banter to the women’s holding area and vise versa. A woman in her late twenties with more track marks and scabs than Amber could count, knew a few of the guys that were detained. When she noticed Amber being cat-called by the same men, she squealed at her like a half-sliced pig, calling her a whore, slut and cunt. 

Amber was an easy target, with her 17-year-old baby face and terrorized green eyes, that were instantly spray painted onto the concrete floor. 

Those words, whore, slut and cunt did something different to her. They pierced through her gut like a shimmering new knife, ripping through the flesh of a baby buck.  

Truthfully, Amber never stood a chance. 

At 12 years old, her mother started calling her names like slut and cunt. A virgin and still inexperienced with her period, Amber was labeled as a whore. Trapped with a living corpse, poorly disguised as her mother. A miserable, rotting skin pole, that seeked pleasure in hurting others, as her one and only caretaker.  

Although raised by happy, educated and exceptionally nurturing parents, her mother never learned how to love. She resented Amber and held her responsible for everything she could never achieve. Amber was constantly bullied by her mother and was countlessly told she was a “mistake”. Eternally referred to as the “abortion child”. “Should’ve had that abortion”, her mother squawked as her pale blue eyes bulged out of their boned sockets. 

Her discolored yellow teeth thumped together like an angry rabbit.  

“I am not my trauma”, Amber tried to convince herself.

“I am not my trauma”.

“I am not my trauma”.

 But in reality, she was lost in her trauma.

 Always “stuck in a fog”, as she often called it. 

Caught in a tainted memory, that she constantly floated through and never found her way out of.  

“Alright ladies, you four are up next”, a small woman with a round face shouted, as she pointed towards Amber and the three women sitting next to her. One of the women had short black hair and a huge gap between what she had left of her front teeth. She reeked of homemade “rollie” cigarettes. The kind you roll up yourself, with a big ole bag of stale tobacco you copped from Chippy’s corner store, a cheap rolling machine, and some paper tubes. Or if you were a real pro like Mama Sue and Dougie Bounds you said, “Fuck that piece of shit machine” and rolled them all by hand. Amber discovered that the real O. G’s never used a rolling machine. They just pinched the dry tobacco in between two fingers and perfectly caressed it into the center of the rolling tube. They repeated the process while lightly tapping the filter down onto a table or sturdy unit to “pack” the tobacco into place. The opened, exposed tip is then twisted together tightly, enclosing the tip of the cigarette, allowing it be lit and smoked. 

Linda sat on the right side farthest from Amber. She was in her mid to late forties and bragged about having been HIV positive for the past decade. She was an alcoholic and pissed her pants when she was caught shoplifting from Cumberland Farms. She was still wearing the same piss-stained blue jeans she was arrested in and stank up the entire unit. 

Amber and the other women stood up simultaneously and started moving towards the front of the holding area. Like the first day of preschool, they stood perfectly one behind the other and watched nervously as the guard unlocked the metal lock box and released the long metal poles that were used to restrain them. 

“This way”. That’s it”. “Right down here”. The guard casually directed, as she led them down another long and incredibly gloomy hallway. Every wall was painted from top to bottom, in the most depressing shade of navy blue. There wasn’t any artwork or framed photos of respectable officials to admire. There wasn’t a soft, clean mat to carpet their footsteps. The lights above them were so miniscule and dimly lit, Amber could hardly tell if they were even working. Each light had been sluggishly fixated onto a large heap of concrete that hung directly above their heads. She noticed tiny specks of dust fall upon their hair, as the ceiling laid much lower than health violations would have legally permitted. 

The officer halted the inmates, as they neared another holding cell. They watched as the guard took a different key out of her pocket and pressed it into the keypad. Instead of long metal poles, this lock was attached to a large metal door. The lights were enormous and oddly bright, compared to the lights in the blue hallway. Although, much smaller than the previous holding cell, the new cell comfortably fit the four of them. 

Technically, five of them, since one of the inmates was visibly pregnant.

 Her name was Marg, and she was truly breathtaking. Blessed with natural blonde ringlets that bounced perfectly off the tips of her shoulders. A full, voluptuous chest and plump rosemary lips mixed with the most beautiful, chocolate eyes. She couldn’t have been a day over 25 and was at least 25 weeks into her pregnancy.

 They spent over an hour in complete silence, until Amber nestled up the courage to strike up a conversation with the expectant prisoner. She took a deep breath, in through her nose and forcefully out of her mouth as she playfully asked Marg if she was having a boy or a girl. Marge aggressively replied, “WHO CARES? I CAN’T KEEP IT ANYWAYS”, as she defensively turned her pregnant body away from Amber and the other inmates. 

Marg, busy readjusting her position again, didn’t notice that a large portion of her shirt had accidentally lifted up, exposing most of her massive belly. She struggled to stretch her hot pink tank top, over her protruding uterus before the other girls noticed. 

Before they noticed the infected track marks on Marg’s pregnant body. 

Amber and most of the inmates tried to look past the infections debilitating throughout Marg’s body. They pretended not to see the self-inflicted wounds that were festering outside of Marg’s body, served directly to the body of her unborn child. 

Amber wasn’t sure why she didn’t say anything to Marg or why she pretended like those track marks weren’t on a pregnant woman’s body. Could it be because Amber was still a baby herself? That she still needed her mother? That she too, lost her mother to drugs, disease, and sheer selfishness? According to her young and inexperienced mind, it wasn’t real. People just don’t shoot drugs into their pregnant bodies for their underdeveloped fetuses to feast upon. 

The mood changed after that, and they didn’t talk about Marg’s pregnancy anymore.

Morgan Phaneuf is an aspiring poet and author from the Quiet Corner of Connecticut. A proud mother, wilderness enthusiast, and karaoke queen, she strives to bring consolation to those who relate to the uncomfortability expressed in her writing. Focusing on authentic experiences, she re-creates trauma into words of empowerment.

Please share this to give it maximum distribution. Our contributors’ only pay is exposure.

If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream stories and poems with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine

“Small Talk with the Enemy” Dark Short Story by Rudolfo San Miguel

"Small Talk with the Enemy" Dark Short Story by Rudolfo San Miguel:  Rudolfo San Miguel earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University.  He has written fiction for ten years and continues to develop as a writer, drafting stories that amuse him. He hopes they amuse you as well. The following story was previously published in Teleport Magazine.

The first time I spoke with the Devil, I found him surprisingly down-to-earth. He offered me a seat and explained it was a long time since he had a simple conversation. He spoke casually and, I’ll be honest, he was easy to talk to. I always pictured him as synonymous with the eternal, a creature of ethereal existence with enigmatic words and ominous tonality. In reality, the Devil was quite plain-spoken and interested in more mundane matters—especially regarding donuts.

He held high regard to old-fashioned chocolates and confessed he felt that Crispy Creams were the real evil in this world.

He wasn’t boorish or vulgar but had a dash of modesty in his narcissism and wantonness. Frankly, and he told me once himself, he was bored with God and the whole “Eternal Conflict with Divinity” thing. It gave him little comfort from his torpid existence. The donuts helped—that and the rare opportunity for small talk.

During our first conversation, I was actually talking to a young boy whose interest in donuts seemed to give away any pretense of demonic possession. I thought he must have mental health issues or a wicked sense of humor. Being a 25-year-old priest a couple of years out of seminary, I didn’t understand what was meant by pure evil.

The boy lived with his mother in a small house in Pacifica, around fifteen miles south of San Francisco. He’d been in the possession of the Enemy for several months, and his mother had successfully petitioned the Church to have the unwanted guest removed.

While I was doing prayers before Father Bill arrived to perform the sacrament, the little boy introduced himself by asking whether I knew who he was. Being unconvinced that evil manifested in possession, my answer was Emanuel Lopez, though his mom referred to him as Manito. He introduced himself as Lucifer, then asked me about my favorite donut.

I tried not to laugh and instantly was sure that Manito’s mom wasn’t brilliant. Nonetheless, I answered—powdered donuts. He admired my choice but insisted that powdered donuts made a mess and, therefore, he lessened in his ranking.

This began our conversation. We chatted for twenty minutes about the nature of pleasure and how it sometimes became more prominent in life than one’s relationships with friends and family. At the time, I thought I understood better how Manito, both charming and articulate, could fool so many. Father Bill walked in on our conversation and politely asked me to leave the room.

The next day, Father Bill and I had breakfast at a diner next to our motel. The place reeked of the beguiling aroma of fried bacon and cheap coffee. He was a little frustrated and felt it was necessary to debrief me and offer feedback.

“Frankly, Father Jones,” he said after sipping his coffee, “I don’t know if your too young or just plain stupid. Why work with me if you’re unwilling to believe that the Enemy was in possession of that boy?”

“But the boy showed no signs outside of his story that he was in the enemies’ possession.”

“Father,” he said, placing his cup on the table, “Do you expect crap flying all over the room? This isn’t Hollywood. This is Pacifica. And the Devil doesn’t do special effects. He is not belligerent or cruel, nor is he vulgar. His weapons are flattery and charm.”

“Father, I wasn’t convinced….”

“You don’t have to be convinced. We already had our people conduct an investigation and background check. They certified the possession.”

I wasn’t sure if this argument should continue. At the time, I wasn’t ready to admit the direct influence of evil in this world. It was more plausible that the Enemy inspired the little boy to play a trick on everyone. Yet, Father Bill’s zealotry on the subject left small room for an argument. There was little chance of convincing him otherwise.

“Of course, Father Taylor. Please, excuse my naiveté.”

He wasn’t buying it and grinned. “Father Jones, you’re a nice guy, and so I’m going to give you some advice. When someone’s words are as convincing as their smile, watch out. I’m not telling you not to believe them or take them as false but think about their intentions. I’m sorry, Father, but I can’t have you work with me. I am going to have you reassigned to a parish. You’re a good man and will make a good priest.”

“Father, this was my first day. I haven’t had a chance to learn and grow….” 

“William, you don’t believe a devil was in that boy, and I’m not sure why you want to be part of this work. It’s time for you to do the will of God instead of your own. I’m sorry.”

“But it was just small talk. I wasn’t interfering with your sacrament or acting outside your authority.”

“You weren’t supposed to have the conversation in the first place,” he said while moving his Denver Omelet with his fork. “And frankly, you weren’t supposed to enter the house until I arrived. Crap, Father Jones, what did you two talk about anyways? He didn’t start talking about breakfast pastries? Did he?”

The Oatmeal rose toward my esophagus. This was the first time that I considered the Devil was real. I had just spoken with him through a small Nicaraguan boy in Pacifica.

*    *    *

Five years later, I worked for a parish in San Antonio close to the University of the Incarnate Word and decided that my encounter with the Devil was a mishap. I found the root of evil not in possession but the Enemy’s dark suggestions to the human heart—confessions were revealing. At least three affairs were going on, several unwanted pregnancies, alcoholic/drug abuse, horrendous amounts of domestic violence, countless petty thefts, wanton sexual behavior, and at least a dozen fantasied murders, and a cornucopia of foul language.

At the same time, the parish offered a peaceful, simple life. Saint Peter Prince of The Apostles was a small church with a warm congregation. But of course, it didn’t last.

It was a Tuesday in the middle of summer when all of this changed. Father Zamora asked me to meet with him in his office. There was a problem with Patrick Lamott’s mother. She was 76 years old and had been living with her son and daughter-in-law for around three years. Something was wrong with her. I agreed to speak with her and came over the following Monday, around three o’clock. 

Mrs. Lamott lived in a small in-law connected to her son’s house. It was a moderately sized room built on top of the house with a view of the university. The room was about the size of a studio with a bed, a small couch, seats surrounding a coffee table, a cage with a half dozen canaries, and of course, a 50″ Samsung flat-screen television. She later told me she occasionally watched the Cowboys, mainly if they played against the 49ers.

She also had two bookcases filled with volumes of philosophy and literature. She had a thing for Cervantes and Flannery O’Connor. Coffee and donuts were waiting for me. 

We talked for a while about living in San Antonio and gossiped. She told me about her time growing up in Corpus Christi and her years in Houston before moving in with her son to San Antonio. After all this, she admitted that we had spoken before and was surprised I didn’t recognize her.

“It was a while ago, Father Jones,” she said while stirring creamer into her coffee, “I’m surprised you wouldn’t remember. I’ve traveled quite a bit, and so far, you are one of the most legitimate priests I have encountered. Tell me, have you always been in the ministry? Did you have a wife and family before? You know, so many of these priests only take the cloth after enjoying life; before, of course, they give it up to make good with their God. Is that the case, father? From your experience?”

These odd questions helped me realize why her son was concerned. Of course, I responded with some placating humor, which she smiled at before excusing herself for the afternoon.

*     *     *

This was the beginning of my frequent conversations with Mrs. Lamott, which increasingly became more intense. We discussed poverty and wealth, the value and the nature of strength, the history of Southern wines, when it’s best to lie for the good of the community, Japanese Kabuki theater, slavery, lust versus love, the futility of marriage, French pastries, and of course politics. Mrs. Lamott was a libertarian. 

“You know, William, I’m surprised you still haven’t recognized me?”

“Mrs. Lamott, I cannot remember meeting you in the past.” I was sipping my coffee.

“Well, William, never mind then.” she then paused to slowly pick up her donut and sink her teeth into it.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Lamott, maybe you could remind me where we had met?”

She ignored that and picked up her tea and sipped it gently; then, putting it down, she wiped her lip with a napkin. “Really, think nothing of it, William. It was a little while ago, and I was quite a different person.”

I smiled, considering if I should offer an apologetic platitude.

“Let’s talk about something else. Shall we?” she said, “You spent your life wondering how God works in this world. Have you ever thought about how the Devil works also?”

“Uh, no”

“I’m surprised, William! Well, have you considered that, as you say, if there is inherent good in people, an instinctual desire to live under God’s will that has to be encouraged to grow in their hearts, then there is also an inherent dissidence to be free of this will and harness a liberated consciousness?”

“Ah, no.”

“And if God works through people to enforce his will, then, it goes without saying that the Devil also works through people to resist it.”

I was speechless but smiled to at least demonstrate I was still listening.

She smiled weakly and leaned back in her rocking chair, belching. “Please excuse me, William. I get a little ahead of myself. Back to my original point, have you ever considered that the Devil and his disciples may use possession of the living as a means of working through people? Furthermore, have you considered that God does the same thing?”

At that moment, I was sure of two things: Mrs. Lamott needed a more clinical-based therapist, and I needed to leave. I excused myself and left.

*     *     *

Later, I made sure to volunteer as much as possible in the parish. I explained to Mother Rossi that Patrick Lamott’s mother needed professional counseling. I focused my attention on helping Mother Jimenez with the catechism and running errands for Father Zamora. As the weeks passed, Mrs. Lamott was notably missing at mass. My curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to talk with her the following week. 

We had just had some tea and talked about mundane yet pleasant topics. 

“Mrs. Lamott,” I asked after a while, “I have to ask, as it has come to mind over the last couple of weeks, but I would appreciate knowing when we had met previously.”

“Oh, William, I’m surprised. You seemed so put out when I kept bringing that up that I felt I was a pain. Do you need to know?”

“Yes, Mrs. Lamott, I apologize for my behavior, but I would like to know.”

“Well, William, you don’t want to believe in me, do you?”

 “I’m sorry, Mrs. Lamott, I don’t understand what you mean?” I smiled warmly to mollify any of her possible frustration or hurt feelings.

She leaned forward on her knees while offering a toothy grin. “Well, William, I’m the Devil, of course.”

I kept my warm smile as if frozen on my face. I was sure Mrs. Lamott was crazy this time.

“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” she said before biting into her donut.

I picked my words carefully as not to hurt her feelings while maintaining a warm tone of voice. “Mrs. Lamott, I’m sorry, but I wasn’t expecting that.”

“You have an amazing capacity, William, to repress anything you don’t want to hear. I would be careful if I were you. Someone might use that against you.”

I considered what to say while scratching the side of my face and sitting back in my chair before she continued.

“Remember back in California in the coastal community by San Francisco? You were with the old priest, and I was residing in the small Latino boy?”

I kept smiling, processing what she was saying. She began rocking in her chair while starting to eat another donut. It finally sank in. I felt a burning, hostile feeling in my stomach. 

The Devil began coughing harshly. “Uh, I think the old bat is coming down with the flu.”

“I’m sorry?” I murmured, not entirely aware of what the Devil said.

“Please excuse me, William,” the Devil apologized, resting Mrs. Lamott’s head against the back of her chair, “I didn’t mean to be crude. Could you be a dear and hand me that box of tissue on the table next to you?”

I looked over at the end table beside me and passed across the tissue. The Devil blew Mrs. Lamott’s nose and excused himself.

I then left, thanking the Devil for his time. The Devil graciously understood and asked me to ask Mrs. Lamott’s son if he could bring up some Tylenol and chamomile tea. 

*     *     *

While processing everything, I reflected on the Devil expressing the idea of possession as a means of enforcing the Enemy’s plans and challenging God’s will, which was both frightening and paranoia-inducing. But the insinuation that God was participating in this strategy seemed absurdly sensible—how else would he work through us? 

My anxiety grew as the idea sank in about the Devil using possession as a means to employ people like pawns on a Chessboard. I began seeing the Devil everywhere and quickly began to seclude myself. I avoided both Father Mendoza and Moore, under the suspicion of demonic espionage, and lost touch with the Aguilars. 

I began to wonder about Mrs. Lamott. Did the Devil still possess her? Was he still driving her son crazy with his dark and peculiar pontifications? Or was the Devil wasting his time binge-watching Netflix and HBO?

I decided to visit Mother Rossi and ask. It was a busy time. The spring confirmation mass for the parish children occurred in around a week, and the parish office was bustling. Getting to the point, I expressed my fears about Mrs. Lamott’s mental health—it was the best excuse I could think of—and wanted to know how she was doing. Mother Rossi expressed her confusion about why I didn’t pop in and check in on her myself. For lacking anything better to say, I simply said I didn’t think of it. 

“What?” Mother Rossi mutters, “Mrs. Lamott’s health, unfortunately, has deteriorated. She has had the flu for some time, and from what I heard, she now has pneumonia. I suggest you visit her, William.”

“Oh, that is sad news. Yes, I should visit surely.”

Mother Rossi smiled warmly and patted my folded hands, which were resting on her table. “Alright then, have a pleasant day, Father.”

Unsatisfied with the Mother’s response, I felt compelled to linger, not knowing what to expect and feeling the Enemy wasn’t through with me. “Mother, if I may ask, what is your opinion of the Devil?”

She answered while scratching her neck and stretching in her seat. She tried to smile but avoided eye contact. “Well, I don’t like him since you asked.”

“Have you considered the Devil’s hand in Mrs. Lamott’s state of mind?” 

She tried to smile softly. “Well, William, I do believe the Devil works in our lives just as God does, only as a malign influence, of course.”

I looked into Mother Rossi’s eyes. “How about possession?”

She didn’t say anything for several seconds but look at me politely. 

I felt incredibly nervous. No one but Father Zamora knew of my past work with Father Taylor, so I felt safe asking. I realized after asking that the Mother would probably bring it up with Father Zamora. And what if the Devil was telling the truth?

She finally said. “We’re all possessed of some evil in our hearts, William. That is why we pray to God to enter our hearts and possess us instead.”

“Oh, of course,” I muttered.

The Mother smiled, and I excused myself. 

*     *     *

Later, I visited Mrs. Lamott. She was in her bed. Her health indeed had collapsed as sores and jaundice marked her skin. Her hair was beginning to thin. Her lips were arid and chapped. She breathed unearthly with gasps and phlegm. She looked up at me, akin to an animated corpse. Her eyes were a dirty yellow. 

“Hello, William,” the Devil said, “Please excuse me for Mrs. Lamott’s ill-begotten condition. I’m afraid that she may pass away soon between her flu and my over-extended visit to her body. Be encouraged, though, that she will not feel a thing and will pass peacefully.”

Anxious, I sat down and kept calm. “Very reassuring, and, if I may ask, what of her soul? Will you free it, or shall it be consumed?”

The Devil laughed at this with Mrs. Lamott’s harsh, infected voice and sat up in her bed. Her eyes were bulging. “Hardly, first of all, I do not consume souls; I recruit them. Secondly, my possession of Mrs. Lamott served a purpose, which is now concluded. Unfortunately, prematurely due to her health.”

I shook my head gently, crossing my legs and leaning back while looking around. 

“I have a question, William, why did you not inform your superiors of my presence? It seems the proper thing for a man of the cloth.”

“Who would believe me? Father Zamora is fully aware of my past experiences. I’m afraid it is notorious among some circles in the clergy. Also, I was considering saying something but wasn’t sure how to go about it with any success.”

“That makes sense.”

“You believe me? Don’t you?”

The Devil turned up a full and disfigured smile on Mrs. Lamott’s rotted teeth. “Of course, I do.”

I left briskly and returned to the parish. 

*     *     *

It was soon after that I left the clergy. I found myself on my own with some money to get by while searching for a new vocation. I moved to Dallas, deciding it was too uncomfortable living in San Antonio as a failed priest. I kept to myself, driving freight trucks. I made friends and slowly became another person. About six years later, I partnered with a friend, opened a small delivery company, and bought a house. Life was completely different, and so was I. 

It was in the middle of the holiday, right after Thanksgiving. My partner and I were extremely busy. An old flame named Fran called asking for help. She was brief. She was having trouble with her daughter, Ruth, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Because they were Christian and had a vague knowledge of my former life in the clergy, Fran called to see if I could offer my opinion. Fran was frightened of being alone with her daughter, whose behavior changed in ways she couldn’t understand. 

When I walked into Ruth’s room, she laid on her bed staring at a wasp nest hanging outside her windowsill. She wore a pair of gray sweatpants and a Cowboys T-shirt. Ruth turned to look at me with jaundiced eyes and putrid teeth. 

“Is it you?” I murmured.

Ruth grinned while sitting up in the bed, resting her head against the backboard. 

“You have no idea how hard it was to find you,” he said in Mrs. Lamott’s voice.

“How did you know I was here?” I said, unnerved to hear the old woman’s voice coming from this teenage girl.

“You have done a remarkable job of getting lost. I hadn’t had this much trouble tracking someone down in a very long time. Please excuse me for this spectacle, but I didn’t know what else to do. My imagination is waning in my old age.”

“Will you leave?” 

“In time. How are you? I could imagine things are a little crazy during the Holidays. Your friend had mentioned you had your own local delivery business. It must be busy with the holidays. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity for profit, though I understand that Dallas’s traffic is challenging. The cost of gas must be killing your profits.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Well, William, I wanted to finish our conversation. There were still some more we had to discuss, and you left so abruptly.”

“Why are you talking to me with that voice?”

“The voice? I just wanted to make sure you knew it was me. Excuse me for the theatrics. I couldn’t imagine how startling that could be. Regardless, there are one or two things we needed to discuss.” 

“Like what?” I leaned against the wall. 

Ruth, aside from the aforementioned eyes and teeth, looked somewhat in good health for a teenager. As usual, the Devil maintained a clean-living space. This had been a significant tip-off for Fran. She explained Ruth was a chronic slob.

The Enemy sat Ruth up with her legs crossed. He took a pillow that he hugged against her chest and leaned forward, smiling. “I know it was years ago, but during our last conversation, I had asked you why you had concealed my possession from your superiors. You, of course, said something like you were embarrassed and worried about your position. Then, suddenly, you left.”

“Yes, it was startling, and those were my concerns.”

Discarding the pillow, he laid Ruth’s belly on the bed facing me. Her hands were supporting the chin. “I understand your argument, but you never allowed me to respond. Let’s face it. You were lying. I know a lot about deceit, and yours was obvious.”

I squatted against the wall, feeling weak. “What do you want to say to me?” 

The Devil was now playfully kicking the bed with Ruth’s legs as if it was some kind of gossip session. “Nothing too exciting, but I just wanted to remind you, of all people, would know you don’t converse with anyone possessed. It’s in your church’s rules. They’re very concise and direct. So, I can’t help but believe that you wanted to talk to me, get a taste of what evil sounds like. That’s why I asked for you after discovering you were a part of Mrs. Lamott’s parish.”

“That was a long time ago.”

“So it was. Have you spoken with the old priest recently?”

“No, I assumed he’s dead by now.”

The Devil laughed, rolling Ruth over on her back and staring at the wall. “He wasn’t that old, and, yes, he is still alive. He’s been getting into my business again.”


“And I need you to convince him and his people to leave me and mine alone.”

“Why me?”

“Because,” the Devil replied, slapping Ruth’s palms against the mattress in exasperation, “You can get close to him. And believe it or not, he likes you.”

“How am I to get him to stop?”

“That is up to you, but you will know what to do.”

“Why would I? What are you going to do?”

The Devil then sat Ruth up and looked me directly in the eyes, grinning with her rotten teeth. “Nothing, I understand your reservations, especially now. It seems you became remarkably successful after our last conversation. And your departure from God. Why would you want to ruin that?”

I didn’t respond to the Devil’s insinuation. 

“I don’t want to do anything, I can still get to the old priest, but this would be a lot less trouble for everyone. It would be a favor for me. Think about it.” The Devil cocked Ruth’s head to one side and continued looking me in the eyes.

“In time,” he said, “You may decide that helping me would be for your best interests. Think of our fellowship over the years. And what has the old priest done for you? Think about it. You’ll know what to do.”

I didn’t know what to do but wasn’t seriously considering anything. “But, really, what if he won’t listen?

“Kill him.”


“The old priest, I want you to kill him. But only if he won’t listen. When the time comes, you will know what to do. Trust me. I know how these things work.”

I left immediately. Fran and I talked days later. Ruth’s behavior returned to normal. I never told Fran anything nor anyone else. 

*     *     *

Soon after that, I sold my part of the trucking business and moved to San Francisco, and my decline began soon afterward. Everything started fine. I started driving a truck and got a room with a couple of other drivers off Geary and Larkin. Soon, my roommates’ behavior began to seem suspicious. No longer attending church, I spent my free time watching TV and drinking myself into a blackout. In the end, I lived in a shelter run by the Catholic Church between moments of sober time. I began volunteering with the local parish, never mentioning my past life as a priest. 

It was there that I had a run-in with Father Borromeo, who I had known while a priest when I was in the Bay area. I was suspicious of him until he spoke of Father Bill. 

“The father moved here a couple of months ago. I heard he was retiring and would be living with the monks at St. Dominick’s. He seemed like Father Bill for a while. I went and visited a couple of times. I heard he had become maudlin and isolated. He would remain in his bed most of the week and barely ate.”

“It must be hard after fighting the Devil for so many years.”

“That’s not a problem, William. After a couple of weeks of isolation, many others in the community began to have strange thoughts enter their minds. By then, the Father could be heard talking to himself in his room. Eventually, the conversations began to get louder. There were also reports of bizarre accidents and objects moving on their own. Whatever was wrong, the father was in a very dire condition. Your name has come up repeatedly during this time.”

Borromeo wanted me to meet with Father Rizzo, the exorcist, after his arrival. A day beforehand, I decided to see Father Bill and sneaked into his room.

Father Bill was in horrible condition. His skin was dry and cracked, covered in sores and bruises. His hair had begun to fall out. He shook like a drunk drying out and smelled of a sewer pipe. His breathing was shrill and guttural. He spoke with the voice of the little boy he had possessed. 

“Hello, William! Sorry for the condition of this room. My associates have been busy.”

I started laughing—full-body belly howls with the smell of Bacardi on my breath. I had to keep my pants from falling while snot rolled down the side of my face.

And then the Devil said unto me, “Are you drunk?”

I had, of course, been drinking. I tried to stay sober but found it impossible. “Yes, so what? Is that a problem?”

“Don’t you think that’s a bit rude?” 


We were both quiet for a moment. I could see that the Devil was feeling a little awkward because of my condition. He rubbed Father Bill’s head and lay against the backboard of the bed.

“Well,” he finally said, “My associates have decided to take matters into their own hands and punish the old priest before he dies….”

“I thought you wanted me to take care of it. Why would you let this happen?”

“What am I supposed to do?” the Devil bellowed in an unholy tone I had never heard nor wish to hear ever again. 

There was another moment of awkward silence. Soon, though, the Enemy offered a smile from Father Bill’s emaciated complexion, somewhat embarrassed at his outburst. “It’s their will and desire, and this priest has wronged us. Who am I to hold them back? They do as they want. That is our way.”

“You’re lying,” I said while trying not to fall over, “Why are you here? Did you know that I would be here?”

It was then that the parish Pastor walked in with several others. This was so frightening I thought I was going to pass out. The Devil kept his composure, if not feeling a little embarrassed for me.

“Sir,” the pastor demanded, “You must leave now! Father Taylor isn’t feeling well.”

“Well, William,” the Devil said in Father Bill’s voice, “This is embarrassing. I’m sorry that this seems to have turned into a spectacle. I have to admit I knew you were coming. I was going to surprise you. You see, my request was just a little joke.”

There was another moment of silence—aside from the pastor murmuring to his associates. I just shook my head and tried to keep myself upright. The pastor paid attention to our conversation and used language that I found highly creative, making the Devil scoff offended. The pastor then, with a lot of masculine theatrics, gave a direct order to one of his associates to call the police while the Enemy and I looked on. 

“Joke?” I said while the pastor attempted to lecture me on sober living and a good life, “What joke?”

“Well, I didn’t want you to do anything. I just wanted to surprise you when you finally confronted the old priest. I mean, both of you would be surprised. It was supposed to be a joke. You know, like a practical joke. I didn’t realize my associates were preparing to get even with the grimy old fool. Please forgive me, William.”

“You’re lying! Everything you say is a lie! Do you know how much I lost because of your bullshit!”

The Devil looked at me, pained. I knew it was nonsense. After so many years running from his words, I finally realized it was all a joke to him. Maybe he considered me as a friend, and perhaps he didn’t. What does friendship look like to the Devil?

“I rebuke you!” I screamed, “I rebuke you, Satan. In the name of all that is holy and good, and through the grace and eternal love of the one true God, I rebuke you.”

“Okay,” the pastor said, grabbing me, “Enough is enough. Let’s go, buddy!”

The whole ordeal had left me spent. The liquor was starting to fade. My realization was beginning to affect me on an emotional level. I had thrown away so many friendships and half of my life because of this one toxic relationship. And yet, evil maintained his innocence and, frankly, could have been sincere. How does he truly experience eternity? 

And then the Devil uttered the last words he would say unto me. “Oh William,” he murmured, “Boring. Very, very boring.”

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If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream stories and poems with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine

“Feral Passions” Dark Short Story by Nagee Powell

"Feral Passions" Dark Short Story by Nagee Powell: Nagee Powell is a creative type from North Carolina. A jack of all trades when it comes to work. In his downtime he enjoys video games, anime, art, reading, drawing, food, mother nature, and good friends to help keep him upbeat through the roller coaster called life.

There are no limits to what we are willing to do for those we love. At the sketchy Motel 8, there sat a man and a woman contemplating that very statement.

Previous guests, left mementos by the smell of smoke in the air, set piss stains in the sheets, and long abandoned needles left around the room. The half-made beds and cockroaches possibly as old as the hotel itself greeting the current guests in passing, scurrying from one corner of the room to the next. Grace and Aidan sat on their perspective twin sides beds facing one another in contemplation, while the clock on the wall ticked with strength more daunting than the summer heat they felt even indoors. The payout will leave one of them and their family set for life if they play their cards right.

“The scar on your face it’s… interesting. where did you get that from?” Grace asked.

“I earned that oversees fighting for our country. My wife Eileen had a reaction like yours when I finished my time with the army and came home. Your finger has a red ring around it, but I don’t see a ring. Are you married as well?” Aiden asked.

“I was. My husband died last year in a hit and run incident, the driver was never caught, but my son Jace and I have been surviving as best as we can ever since. He’s only five years old, too young to understand the ways of the world, but old enough to know pain and sorrow. Sometimes I wear it on my hand, other times I leave it on my necklace, but I always keep it and my memory of him close.”

“I can’t imagine what that was like for him. I’m sorry. My wife is three months pregnant, expecting a boy of our own in January. We planned on waiting until she was in the last month to name him. We lost our previous child six months in. We are both confident that this one will make it.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I can only imagine the turmoil that left both of you in in the aftermath. I pray your wife and child survive and thrive.”

Once again, the tense silence sat between them the clock still ticking in the background reminding them both that this hour would lead to the hardest decision of their life. Grace checked the burner phone they were given sitting on the nightstand between them. They had already been sitting there for almost thirty minutes.

“We have thirty-three minutes left. I almost regret not buying some wine. Wine always makes things a little easier for me to deal with.” Grace said. They both laughed, but there was no joy behind it, only remorse over what was to come.

The clock continued to tick in the background, fifteen minutes until nine pm. They stared at each other, Graces eyes red, Aidan’s face unreadable.

“I’m sorry” he said.

“I’m sorry too.”

In one swift motion he reached for the knife he carried in his back pocket and lunged at her. Grace just barely dodged and pulled the gun from her pocket. He slapped the gun out of her hand and decked her in the face. She fell to the floor. He advanced to stab her on the ground, she kicked him in the groin before he could. She crawled on the floor to reach the gun. He grabbed her foot and yanked her towards him. He went to stab her in the back, but she turned swiftly carrying a syringe on the floor and stabbed him in the chest. He yelped and she again went for the gun.

“You don’t have it in you to pull the trigger, let me end this and I promise to take care of your son.” He said advancing again.

She fired and the first shot hit the wall. The second, straight in his heart. They both stared at one another adrenaline rushing, shock set in. He dropped to the floor dead. With two minutes to spare she picked up the phone.

“it’s done.” Was all she said.

“3 million dollars will be transferred to you as promised, well done.” Said the distorted voice on the other end of the line.

Grace shook uncontrollably and cried. She felt relief for her family, and sorrow for Aidan’s. She swore she would use half of the money to help his family, like she hoped he would have done for hers.

Nagee Powell is a creative type from North Carolina. A jack of all trades when it comes to work. In his downtime he enjoys video games, anime, art, reading, drawing, food, mother nature, and good friends to help keep him upbeat through the roller coaster called life.

Please share this to give it maximum distribution. Our contributors’ only pay is exposure.

If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream stories and poems with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine

Seeking Literary Submissions from Around the World

Seeking Literary Submissions from Around the World

The Chamber Magazine would like to publish more writers from around the world, regardless of your country of origin.

I am seeking short stories, poems, non-fiction articles of a dark nature. I am open to almost all genres such as fantasy, science-fiction, horror, mainstream, literary, romance, etc, so long as they can be considered dark in some way.

Your work must be in English. It can a translation from your native language, but it must be in English, which is spoken around the globe and gives the work and author substantial worldwide exposure.

For more information on what I am accepting and on the submissions guidelines, please go to The Chamber’s submissions page.

Please note that there is no pay for this other than a publication credit and exposure to the American and English markets. However, all rights remain with the author.

Currently, The Chamber is publishing material within a few weeks of acceptance, though this may vary depending on the number of submissions.

Please share this announcement to give it maximum exposure.

“Dueling Dragons” Dark Fantasy/Literary Horror” by Ron Boyer

"Dueling Dragons" Dark Fantasy/Literary Horror" by Ron Boyer: Ron Boyer is an award-winning poet, screenwriter, and author of short stories. His story, “The Curse of Black Wolf Lake,” was published in the horror anthology, America, the Horrific. Boyer is a two-time winner in literature from the John E. Profant Foundation for the Arts, including the prestigious McGwire Family Award for first place in literature. He lives in Northern California.

He gazed, transfixed, at the dancing star-filled vault above that crowned these barren cornfields. It was just past midnight on All Hallows Eve and the stars sparkled with urgent brilliance, as if trying to tell him something.

“I shouldn’t have taken that second hit,” Robby heard himself say. The voice seemed to come from somewhere else. As the acid rush overwhelmed him, the whole world began to breathe, shimmer, and dance. The cosmos seemed so vast tonight—so mysterious and alive.

“There are so many stars,” he heard the voice say. It seemed as if he’d never truly seen a night sky before. “And they are so much closer now.”

As he looked at the night-sky, he realized he was peering into infinite space. He recalled that scene in The Misfits where Eli Wallach’s character tells Gable and Monroe that the stars are so far away that their light may have died thousands of years before it ever reaches our eyes. “Are you even out there anymore?” Robby wondered aloud, suddenly realizing what Eli Wallach’s character meant. It was possible that every star in the sky had vanished before Robby was even born, before the first humans stood upright, before the dinosaurs roamed the earth—that the stars were so far away that their dying light was still traveling through the void of outer space to bid us farewell.

Suddenly, his reverie was broken. Somewhere in the dark unlit yard behind him, his friends were yelling excitedly, taking standing positions far from each other in the near-pitch darkness. Robby thought it strange that they were “going to play baseball” in the front yard so late at night. Then he felt a great blast of heat and a bright light flashed behind him, accompanied by a loud whooshing sound as if someone had ignited a giant blowtorch. He turned to look.

His teenage friend and host, Heiki Stevenson, a slim but powerfully built young Swede with blonde shoulder-length hair, stood at the far corner of the front yard of his mother’s home. Heiki and his mother, a widow, had immigrated to America from Sweden a few years before and he still spoke with a pronounced European accent. Girls especially found this charming. He was a painter and guitar player of no small talent, and one of the first hippies Robby had ever known. But more than anything else, his friends knew Heiki as a world-class prankster, and there was no telling what an evening partying with him might lead to. 

Across the yard from the mischievous host, about 30 feet away, Robby noticed their friend Bruce in the shadows, screaming at the top of his lungs.

“Shit man!” cried Bruce at Heiki. “You almost scorched me! Now it’s your turn— idiot!”

Robby noticed the can of lighter fluid in Bruce’s hand and realized immediately what was going on. They were playing a favorite game called Dueling Dragons that Heiki had invented the last time they all tripped together on acid like tonight. The game was simple: two opponents stood back-to-back and walked off 10 paces in the opposite direction, just like an old-fashioned duel. Then the duelists turned to face each other, a can of lighter fluid and a lighter, their only weapons. Filling their mouths with volatile fluid, each opponent took turns holding a flame to his lips and blowing hard in the other’s direction.

Bruce leaned forward targeting Heiki, held his cigarette lighter to his mouth and blew as hard as he could. A huge blast of flame arched in Heiki’s direction, nearly reaching him across the dark yard.

“This is crazy!” thought Robby as he watched. “These idiots are going to set someone on fire if they keep this up.” Every few minutes, they blew roaring flames at each other like dragons in combat. But his friends were laughing and dancing about the yard, obviously enjoying themselves.  Robby was reluctant to rain on their parade.

“They’re just having fun,” he told himself. “I better cross the yard while I can.”  Stooping low to duck under the line of fire, he raced across the yard between the adversaries. A blast of flame erupted from Heiki’s mouth that arched over him as he ran, singe-ing Robby’s hair.

“Heiki, you stupid jerk!” he yelled, now safely beyond the fire on the front steps of the house. Robby could smell the foul odor of his own slightly singed hair. He found it nauseating. Heiki just laughed.

“Too hot fer yeew?!” shouted Heiki. “Den yeew get out of da kitchen. Yah?” Heiki filled his mouth with another shot of fluid, blew a huge flame into the sky, and began prancing about the yard imitating a giant bird, flapping his arms as if they were wings.


With the thought of kitchen planted foremost in his mind, Robby opened the front door, crossed the living room, and entered Heiki’s kitchen. His curiosity gave way to a ravenous hunger as the aroma of freshly baked bread filled the room. Robby opened the oven door and noticed a large loaf of bread sitting there. It was hot to the touch.

He wondered briefly who might have baked the bread, but the delightful aroma distracted him. He barely noticed several of his friends race past him through the kitchen. They disappeared inside the house as Robby lifted the bread gingerly from the oven. He tore off a piece of the rump, at first too hot to hold. His fingers blistering, he tore the loaf quickly into smaller chunks, placed them side by side on the kitchen counter, and blew on them to cool them off. While doing this, he lost track of time.

The next thing Robby knew, he was choking on a loaf of bread. He didn’t recall how it happened. But while coughing up huge chunks of partially chewed dough, he realized that he’d tried to swallow the entire loaf at once. He couldn’t believe he’d been so stupid. At least it hadn’t stuck in his windpipe and choked him to death.  

At the sink, his burned and thirsty mouth held open under the running tap, he began to laugh. Robby laughed at how stupid he’d been to attempt this. He laughed at how near he’d come to catching fire when crossing the yard between his friends, the “Dueling Dragons.” Then his laughter was interrupted when he heard a strange voice coming from the front living room.

Curious, he entered the dimly lit room, but it was empty except for the furnishings. He was surprised to find no one there. Robby swore to himself he’d heard someone speaking. He glanced out at the dark front yard through the large plate glass window. The Dueling Dragons were nowhere to be seen. He was completely alone.

“Suzie, Suzie Creamcheese … This is the voice of your conscience speaking” he heard the room say. He glanced about quickly in all directions but couldn’t locate the voice. Was it inside his head? Or was the room itself speaking to him as if it shared his own inmost thoughts? As if it were his conscience.

He surveyed the room, slowly this time. The walls themselves began to breathe in rhythm with Robby’s breathing. In. Out. In. Out. The entire room had come alive, attuned to his breath, as if he and the room were one being. Then the voice continued and bizarre music he’d never heard before began playing. It seemed, somehow, strangely familiar.

Then, in the soft light at the far end of the room, he noticed a revolving turntable. Someone had put a record on. Robby approached the turntable and found the album jacket, a new record by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention.

“Wow,” he spoke aloud. “This is very strange music.”

A sound behind him raised the hairs on the back of Robby’s neck. Something shuffled in the darkness as he turned to face the room. Staring at the far end of the room, his eyes were drawn to the dark central hallway, filled with thick shadows. He turned off the record player.

“Is anyone there?” asked Robby, hyper-alert, his ears straining against the sudden silence. “Where is everybody?” he wondered, wishing someone would make a sound or come into the house so he wouldn’t be so alone.

An ominous hissing sound erupted from the dark hallway, striking terror in Robby’s heart.

“Hey, who’s there?” he demanded. His question was answered with another loud hiss, like that of an angry cat. “Hey, this is really freaking me out!” Robby protested to the hissing darkness. The rhythmic breathing of the room and walls had lost their charm and only added to his mounting dread.

Robby spotted something moving within the dark hallway—a shadow shifting within a shadow. He heard almost silent footsteps creeping forward, approaching him, nearly drowned out by the sound of his own heartbeat, the blood thumping now in his ears. Then a hand reached slowly out of the shadows into the dim light of the living room. Robby instinctively moved back as far as he could until he felt his back bump against a wall.

“At least it can’t get behind me,” he thought, his mind racing to protect himself. “What can I do?”

The hand pointed a threatening finger at Robby and came forward. At first an arm became visible, then a foot … Then the entire front of Heiki’s body slithered forward into the dull light. His appearance had changed. His long blonde hair looked mussed up like the mane of some wild beast. But it was the look in his eyes that frightened Robby most: glowing red like burning coals.

Heiki stepped slowly into the room. He seemed much larger and more muscular than Robby remembered him. Slouching forward, his gnarled hands – held high, revealing sharp claw-like fingernails – threatened as Heiki crept closer.

“Come on man, this isn’t funny,” Robby heard himself plead.

Heiki opened his mouth and hissed in reply. Robby noticed two sharp fangs in his friend’s mouth – a mouth that, on second glance, appeared covered with fresh blood that dripped thickly down Heiki’s chin. Robby’s heart leapt in his throat. He noticed himself trembling.

He struggled to breathe now; his breath released with a shudder. He searched the room quickly for some kind of weapon as Heiki approached. Instinctively, Robby crossed his extended index fingers in the form of a make-shift crucifix, and stretched his arms in Heiki’s direction, straining to hold his finger-cross out in front of himself as far as he possibly could.  

Heiki recoiled slightly, covering his eyes, and emitted a loud hiss, angered by the intrusion of the cross. Robby sighed, relieved that his instinctive resourcefulness had worked, that he was no longer completely unarmed and might keep his host at bay.

But the vampire did not give up. Shielding his eyes with a forearm, Heiki edged forward once again. In response, Robby crept slightly forward, extending the faux cross in Heiki’s direction. The vampire hissed angrily, but hesitated.

One step back, one step forward. In this manner, the young man and the creature danced back and forth in a shadowy tug of war, the power subtly shifting moment by seemingly endless moment between them. On and on went the struggle through the long and silent night. Hours passed.  Robby’s arms grew heavy. The muscles in his shoulders burned from holding his arms aloft.

“What if I run out of strength and can’t hold my hands up?” Robby fretted. Growing desperate, he considered his options, which were few. It was the middle of the night. Heiki had picked him up earlier and driven him to the party, so he didn’t have his car. If he fled, he’d be out there in the darkness in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by forests and cornfields. He’d be alone, tripping on acid. Easy prey.

In his mind, Robby ran through the stories he recalled from the movies about warding off vampires. There might be garlic somewhere in the kitchen, but he’d have to get past Heiki to find it. He couldn’t count on finding holy water here, or a real crucifix. He knew the Stevenson’s weren’t a Catholic family. That left a stake in the heart, but again, the closest thing to such a weapon was a kitchen knife. He’d still have to get past his vampire friend to find one.

Options narrowing, Robby grew more desperate. His shoulders ached and he struggled to hold his make-shift crucifix up in front of him. Soon his hands grew as heavy as concrete blocks. As the weight of Robby’s hands became more than he could bear, they began to lower slowly of their own accord, despite his struggling efforts to raise them.

Emboldened by his intended victim’s weariness, the nosferatu crept forward again, hissing loudly, baring its fangs.

“Shit!” Robby scolded himself, at a loss for a way out. “What the hell can I do?”

“I’ll have to go for the knife,” he heard himself reply, “while I still can.”

But it was already too late. As his arm strength gave out, Robby shouted: “Heiki! For God’s sake! Enough is enough! I’m not going to do this anymore.”

His plea made no difference.

In the weak light Heiki’s features had slowly grown more ominous. His face had been utterly transformed and had now become monstrous and ugly. His fangs were longer and sharper than before. He resembled that horrifying screen vampire in one of Robby’s favorite but traumatizing childhood B-movies, The Vampire and the Ballerina.

The walls and furnishings of the once familiar home transformed into trees. Where the ceiling had been Robby now saw a black starless sky. From what had been the living room floor now arose a thick malevolent mist. And before him, in the same room, stood the most horrifying creature he had ever imagined, its energy and power growing even as his own diminished.

His last ounce of strength gone, Robby dropped his arms helplessly to his sides.

“Heiki, I’m finished,” he said, his voice weary. “Let’s do something else.”

In reply, the monster leapt forward, landing only a few feet away. With a second great lunge, Heiki fell upon him, holding prey now with crushing, super-human strength. The last thing Robby noticed as the room began to spin was the hot breath on his neck. He felt himself swoon and fall.

Then, unexpectedly, the vampire abruptly released him.

Hissing and shielding his eyes, step by step, Heiki crept backwards across the room towards the dark hallway from which he’d come. Robby opened his eyes and, from the floor, watched in terror and wonderment as the hissing fiend stepped back into the shadows and disappeared. From the hallway’s thick shadows, he heard a final hiss.


Robby listened intensely to the silence with his heartbeat pounding in his ears. He waited for what seemed like eternity. Then he realized that the room had grown familiar once again. There in the far corner, to the left of the hallway, a corner of the dining room table reappeared. He could even see some chairs. On the wall to the other side of the hallway the living room mirror was now visible. The mist on the floor slowly evaporated.

Exhausted, Robby struggled to his feet and glanced to his right. Outside, through the front room window, a bright red sliver of sun crept above the horizon of the late-Autumn cornfields, reduced now to dry dead stalks. Robby knew, then, that the newborn red dawn had saved him—the rising sun, our closest star.

With a parting glance at the hallway, he noticed the shadows had receded to the end — where Heiki’s bedroom lay. For an instant, he felt tempted to enter. But as Robby listened in the dense silence, he was startled by a sudden rustling that sounded like giant wings. The sound seemed to come from Heiki’s room.

Robby bolted through the front door, out into the yard and the safe refuge of daylight. He was still alone in the silent gray dawn with not a living thing in view. He wondered where all his friends had gone as he jogged down the lonely dirt road while the sun crept gradually higher. He wondered if Heiki had killed everyone but him.

Robby glanced behind him at the house receding in the distance. His friends’ cars were still parked in the driveway. “It was just the acid,” he told himself as he turned to face the road in front of him.

“They’re probably all inside sleeping it off,” he concluded, now smiling. “Heiki was just messing with my head.” Then an afterthought arose: “Wow, that was probably a total hallucination!”

Yet Robby ran faster now.  His vision was still distorted by the LSD’s lingering affects. He saw trails and after-images as he ran and felt a relentless gnawing dread twisting in his guts. But despite these distorted perceptions, and the curiously alienating gray dawn, the late October landscape seemed comfortingly familiar.

After all, it was daylight now—the early morning of Autumn solstice, when the veil between the worlds grows thinnest—and only a mile or so down the road to reach the refuge of a neighbor’s home. In a few minutes, he thought, his living nightmare would be over.

His relief growing with each stride, Robby smiled now recalling his friend’s cruel but clever trick. And wondered: “Did that really happen?”

He smiled, relieved, in either event, that the ordeal was nearly finished. His smile grew wider as he imagined the comfort and safety of his family home where a warm bed beckoned with the sweet promise of sleep.

Robby barely heard the flap of wings, behind him, as he turned.

Ron Boyer is an award-winning poet, screenwriter, and author of short stories. His story, “The Curse of Black Wolf Lake,” was published in the horror anthology, America, the Horrific. Boyer is a two-time winner in literature from the John E. Profant Foundation for the Arts, including the prestigious McGwire Family Award for first place in literature. He lives in Northern California.

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“Dead Man’s Lake” Science-Fiction by JB Polk

"Dead Man's Lake" Science-Fiction by JB Polk
Salar de Uyuni [Uyuni Salt Flats], Bolivia. Original photo by Chechevere. Distributed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Denis Burbank double-checked his canvas rucksack embellished with what seemed like a zillion zippers to make sure he had everything he’d need for the trip to the Uyuni salt flats. The rock hammer- check. The reactive strips to measure the levels of salinity in the lake – check. The Ziploc bags and glass tubes to put samples in – all there. The pincers to pick up salt crystals without damaging their snowflake structure were also in place. So was his Canon EOS camera and the notepad with the silver Cross pen Sandra, his wife, had given him for his 50th birthday.

Burbank knew that the Bolivian government routinely barred foreign geologists from collecting lithium samples, a mineral protected by the country’s constitution. So when a group of La Paz academics invited him to speak on the mineral’s potential and offered to pay for his ticket, he booked a Boliviana de Aviación flight that would give him less than 24 hours on the salt flats.

When the airport official asked him about the purpose of his visit, Burbank swallowed, held his breath for a full minute, and then stammered, tourism. He could feel a shiver run down his spine, but the Bolivian officer smiled, handed him back the passport, and shouted, Next! 

For the last few decades, lithium had been the scientific and industrial communities’ darling child: researchers talked about it and examined it, but most of the time, the mineral bore the brunt of speculations about its benefits, in which Burbank was an expert. He knew all there was to know about it. It was present in seawater, spodumene, petalite rocks, and brine all over the world but in such small quantities that its extraction was impractical. Only in one area of the so-called Lithium Triangle, where trillions of gallons of brine sloshed beneath the Altiplano, was it abundant enough to be mined at a low cost.  All it took was to drill a hole, let the brine sit in ponds for a year, evaporate the water, and then process the sparkling salts, which were subsequently used in batteries of various sizes and capacities.

So there he was, a professor of applied geohydrology and potential future chief of the US Geological Survey, ready to examine the massive salt lake nine times the size of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he’d only have time to investigate a plot the size of a tiny residential garden, like the one behind his house in Colorado.

He looked out the window of the jeep transporting him to the lake and reflected on the stark contrast between the poverty of the surroundings and the luxury of the Salt Palace, where he was staying. As the off-roader lumbered along the dirt track, decaying adobe structures covered with zinc and weighted down by stones flashed before his eyes like a slow-motion movie. Everything was eerily quiet —no music blasting from transistor radios, no car horns honking, no human conversations—as if time didn’t exist here or as if clocks measured it differently. Only some Quechua women, proudly flaunting their black braids topped by stiff bowler hats, silently cooked steaming concoctions in tin pots on open fires.

Burbank was startled out of his trance when the Jeep came to a halt, the gears grinding. He could see the enormous Salar, as it was known among scientists in front of him, melting into the sky’s cobalt blue.

The driver, a cheerful middle-aged Bolivian with a weathered face and a gold tooth that flashed when he grinned, looked over his shoulder and stated in bad English:

“We here. You stay two hour. I pick up at twelve. Not go far! You get lost or worse….”

His cheerful expression became solemn; he crossed himself and spat out the open window as if releasing a bitter-tasting curse.

“Strange thing happen here, so no cross other side. Strange and terrible. People dead,” he made a sign of slashing the throat, “or missing. So no cross fence. Stay this side road,” he warned.

Burbank nodded repeatedly, mimicking the renowned head-bobbing velvet bulldogs, one of which his father used to keep on the dashboard of his Mustang when Denis was a teenager learning to drive.

The driver was not the first person to warn him to stay away from the part of the lake fenced off by barbed wire suspended between wooden stakes and decorated with bright blue, green, and red ribbons flapping furiously in the wind like prophetic crows.

“Make sure you stay away from Dead Man’s Lake,” the pretty receptionist in the hotel told him in the morning after she’d heard he was going to the Salar.

The badge on her moss-green uniform said her name was Aracely.

“What’s Dead Man’s Lake?” he’d asked, handing her the old-fashioned key dangling from a piece of wood shaped like a flamingo.

“It’s part of the flats no one is allowed to go to,” she smiled sweetly. Burbank noticed that, like most Bolivians, old and young, rich or poor, she sported a gold incrustation between the left canine and the first premolar.

“Weird stuff happens there,” she whispered.

“People either never come back or they come completely changed. Crazy like,”  she replied, widening her own eyes wide to demonstrate the lunacy that gripped those who ignored the warnings.

“How do they say it in your movies?” she thought for a while, searching for the right word.

“Waco!” she laughed without joy and shuddered as if a sudden cold draft wrapped around her slim shoulders.

“Wacky,” Burbank corrected.

“Ok, wacky. But make sure to stay on the right side of the road. We want you back safe and sound!” She smiled again and hung the key on a hook behind her.

Burbank was a scientist who didn’t believe in old wives’ tales. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard locals spread rumors to keep tourists away from locations they weren’t supposed to visit. Sometimes, because they were indigenous burial grounds. Occasionally, it contributed to the mystery of the site. At times, the opposite was true— it was meant to attract more tourists. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a good mystery? He saw no harm in such stories and ignored the warnings. 


Someone or something was moving. At first, the movement was very weak, but it was clear that something was happening. Yes. It came again. An echo. The sound of an engine. Tires screeching. Voices. Human voices. Something smelled like burned petrol. And something else smelled like fresh blood and plasma. 

“Two of them,” U thought with a shiver of excitement.

“I can feel them as clearly as if they were right next to me!” But… will they get closer? Will they cross the fence? Will they??!!

U’s excitement grew as he heard the noises getting louder.

He hoped they’d get close enough for him to move. That was all he needed.  Get them close enough for one move! He could move fast. He could do it because others had done it before. X had done it. And so had G.

U would be free then! On his way back home. 


Burbank saw the jeep drive away, leaving behind a cloud of red dust like a sandstorm in the Sahara. Even though the sun shone brightly, it was only about 5 degrees Celsius at this early hour. He set the backpack down and looked around.

Salt as white as snow and indigo water (or was it already the sky?) winked at him. The place was so big that he was sure it could be seen from space. He saw why it was called the World’s Largest Mirror. The few rolling clouds in the sky reflected in the water, making it look like an enormous looking glass with no apparent limits. 

“It could be a landing site for intergalactic spaceships,” he chuckled, then took three steps toward the edge of the Salar. He only had two hours, and he was anxious to get started.

 Crack…crack…crack … The salt crunched under his steel-toed work boots. It was like walking on freshly frozen water in his native Colorado.

He walked slowly. At an altitude of more than 3,600 meters above sea level, every step was twice as hard as it would have been at sea level. He took a deep breath, trying to fill his lungs with the thin air, and headed toward a small brine pond that sparkled in the whiteness.

“My first sampling spot,” he decided.

The brine was thick and light blue. It had a lot of salt and possibly also potash, borax, and halite. There was also some red dust from the road that cars driving by stirred up and left there.

Burbank unzipped a pocket on his backpack and took out a rock chisel and two tubes with rubber caps. He would break off a few pieces, collect two samples, and then move on to the next pool that looked bigger and brighter.

“It must have come out with the mist from last night.”

He put the salt water into a syringe and pumped it into a  tube.

He couldn’t wait to spend the next two hours in a place he’d heard about but never thought he’d see in person. He would never get this chance again, so he had to grab it with both hands.


U was disappointed. After the initial thrill of hearing voices and sensing human warmth, he realized the sounds had retreated. Even the engine sounds and gear clatter faded as the car moved away. U was not only frustrated but also angry! How long had it been since he last had the chance to leave this place? He could not tell because human time was not something he’d ever learned or cared to evaluate.

U thrashed in anguish. He didn’t want to spend another moment in this damn salt lake where nothing ever happened. He was also aware that his energy was shrinking. If no adequate host appeared, he’d expire like the ship’s engine that had brought him here. That happened to P and K. They just went out like old batteries with no juice.

U couldn’t let that happen! U wanted to live! U wanted to go back home! 


Burbank could tell it was nearing noon by the tilt of the sun. The cab driver would be back soon to pick him up. He had 19 samples from different pools neatly arranged in a metal holder. There was still one empty tube teasing him as he considered quitting.

He looked across the Salar and noted the next puddle was about 200 meters away. In this oxygen-depleted environment, it was pretty far. He had time to walk there, get the sample, and return to the road before the vehicle arrived. He was slightly out of breath but confident he could make it. His heart raced as he gazed at the fence with the flapping ribbons. For a moment, he sensed something or someone beckoning to him. Someone was trying to convey a message to him.

“And what if…” a thought flashed through his mind.

“You are a scientist, Denis. A man of facts, so act like one.  You don’t believe in that mumbo jumbo about Dead Man’s Lake, do you? You might find something you’ve never seen before. Perhaps this is why locals warn tourists to stay away. All you have to do is go behind the wire and take a sample!”

He zipped up the side pocket of the knapsack and threw it over his shoulder.  


There it was again! The vibrato of footsteps. The crunch of the salt. The tantalizing aroma of sweat and human plasma. As the steps approached steadily, U’s exhilaration returned. Without a doubt… They were on their way to him, whoever they were!

“Come on! Come on! “U urged the human, leading him to where he’d spent the last millennium. Or more. Initially, with those who were on the ship when it crashed.

 He could still recall X and W, but not T, Q, or Y. They eventually found a host and were able to go. U was the last one in the area known as Dead Man’s Lake.

It could be his last opportunity! U concentrated hard on conveying positive vibrations and sending an invitation to the person who might, just might, become his host and take him out from this damn lake!


“Damn it!” Burbank swore as his khaki shirt snagged on the barbed wire as he went beneath it.

He wriggled his way free, then threw the backpack to the opposite side, where it fell with a bang.

“Holy crap!” he yelled again.

“I hope the tubes are OK!”

The wind picked up, making the ribbons flap frantically as if warning him to reconsider and return to the road.

“Come on, Denis! “You should know better than that!” he chastised himself.

“Legends. Nothing but local folklore. Like the one about the Guatemalan volcano god who craves human flesh. Or the one about Mexican cenote skulls.”

He scanned the horizon for the red dust cloud, signaling the arrival of the Jeep. There wasn’t any.


“A clear sign that I should get a sample!”

To his left, he noticed a shallow pool with exceptionally clear water. It looked more like spring water than brine.

“Interesting,” he muttered, moving closer. 

“Low to no saline content.” There is also no cross-contamination. I wonder why.”

He removed the last glass tube, removed the rubber stopper, and then did a double take as he noticed something stirring in the water. Something resembling a little fishtail or a tadpole. He rubbed his temples.

“A trick of the light,” he muttered.

“No living organism could possibly survive in this environment!”

He knelt, extracted the syringe, and prepared the tube.

“I have a feeling this is going to be the discovery of the century,” he said as he whistled David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

That was the last conscious action he took. 


He was so close that his smell made U dizzy with want. The aroma was spicy, laced with the iron atoms coursing through his veins. He was the ideal host for him to recharge before deciding what to do next. Attempt to find a landing spot, of which he knew there were many nearby, and return home or continue masquerading as another human. It made no difference now. He’d think about it later.

The ground crackled as the human approached. Only three steps away.  Two…one…jump! 


The Bolivian driver’s name was Carlos Mamani, a surname so common in Uyuni that it seemed like everyone here was connected. As he got closer, he saw a figure in the middle of the road. He stepped on the gas, revving the engine, which roared with a shriek of straining metal.

“Looks like the guy paid attention to the warning. When they don’t, it usually ends up in tears,” he muttered, then drove the last three hundred meters at a steady rhythm.

The American stood out against the crimson background of the road like a salt statue. He was staring straight ahead, past the Jeep and beyond the horizon. Mamani could see he was hatless; the knapsack was open, spilling its contents. His limbs were stiff, his khaki shirt was missing a button at the collar, and his left sleeve was ripped at the elbow. He didn’t seem to notice the trickle of blood flowing from a shallow flesh wound on his cheek. He just stood there with his eyes glazed over. Blank. Or maybe scared.

Mamani ground to a halt, his fingers firmly gripping the steering wheel. He tried but failed to shift them to the gear stick. The American’s stare enslaved him.

Mamani’s jaw trembled, and saliva dribbled from his lips, but he couldn’t lift his arm to wipe it away. Like the salt in the lake, his muscles had solidified. He could only watch as the foreigner approached and effortlessly yanked him from the car seat through the open window, flinging him onto the red dust.

He didn’t fight back. He knew the man had discovered something in Dead Man’s Lake, like many others before him. He had no desire to find out what it was. He sighed as he watched the Jeep careen down the road towards Uyuni. He was sure it was the last time he’d see the jeep.  And then the American. And he was relieved.

Polish by birth, a citizen of the world by choice. JB Polk’s first story was short-listed for the Hennessy Awards, Ireland 1996. She regularly contributed to Women’s Quality Fiction, Books Ireland, and IncoGnito. She was also the co-founder of   Virginia House Writers, Dublin, and helped establish the OKI Literary Awards.   Her creative writing was interrupted when she moved to Latin America, started contributing to magazines and newspapers, and then wrote textbooks for  Latin American Ministries of Education. Since she went back to writing fiction in 2020, 53 of her stories have been accepted for publication.

Please share this to give it maximum distribution. Our contributors’ only pay is exposure.

If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream stories and poems with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine.