“When Stanley Met Demon Fire” Fiction by Thomas White

The Chamber Magazine
thechambermagazine.com

Stanly had as a youth watched the bright orbs shift and glide above the desolate plains, known in the guide books as the Wastelands, near his home. Local gossip was always abuzz with claims that UFOs were in the area and about to land. But as Stanly found out what comes from the skies are not necessarily aliens in spaceships from the other side of the cosmos.

About a year ago, when Stanly had been unemployed, he had been approached by a little man at Stanly’s favorite café. The man had all of the appearances of a street person: frayed and stained overcoat, multiple layers of heavy sweaters smelling of rancid sweat and body odor, patched and torn trousers. A grey-grizzled face with a puckered mouth slightly dribbling tobacco completed the picture of a man down and out. But his teeth! Where there should have been a tramp’s dirty yellow, rotting stumps were glistening white rows of precision-crafted incisors. And instead of an overwhelming stinking whiskey breath, his mouth had a slight greasy smell as if the little man’s mouth was a car hood opened to reveal its engine. Then Stanly noticed the front of the odd man’s neck: leathery and flaming red.

At first Stanly thought the little man, sniffling and mumbling, was going to ask for a tissue or money.  Instead, he flashed a very professional business card that read:

      ‘Heaven is Hell traveling under false pretenses.’

       Interested in learning more?

       Talk to the Star Watchers

       If you want to earn some quick cash.

Offering to buy Stanly a coffee, the man said in a low, almost timid voice, “Excuse my trashy clothing, but when I am traveling on earth I like to keep a low profile. You see my name is Demon Fire, who lives amid the thunder and lightning in the Hell that humans call ‘Heaven’- aka the skies.”

The little man glanced at his grubby boots, then flashed a rigid grin like a corpse trying to be sociable. Noticing a puzzled Stanly starting intently at his face and neck, Demon Fire chattered and flexed his mechanical teeth while pointing to his leathery neck. “These teeth are not human but precision machined from junk parts from an old car engine… but the neck is … real.”

“Who are the Star Watchers?” asked Stanly

“That is what we need to talk about: your big chance to earn some quick cash,” Demon Fire said as he motioned to Stanly to leave the café with him.

                                                  ###

About two miles from the café was a sleazy strip joint, The All-Star Club. Stanly and Demon Fire took a taxi there and Demon paid the driver. (For a street person in shabby clothes, DF seemed to have plenty of ready cash, Stanly mulled, smiling to himself.) Both settled comfortably into a booth. A waiter in a bright red leotard took their drink orders.

Demon Fire got right to the point. “We want to hire a guide to take people out to the Wastelands. We have it all set up: it will by day be billed as an eco-excursion, but by night a star gazing tour. The website has already been created. The entire package is called The All-Star Watchers Experience. So Stanly how would you like a job as the guide? Training is included. We pay well.”

Stanly obviously thought the whole thing very weird. What was this eccentric claim to have teeth made of junk auto parts? What did that crazy story about traveling on earth in shabby clothes mean, as well as living in the sky?    Very bizarre marketing ploys to draw attention to their new tourist enterprise? It was, however, best to not ask any questions about this. Stanly needed a job badly, his rent was two months overdue, and any probing into that weirdness might personally offend Demon Fire and cause him to withdraw the job offer.

After relaxing over more drinks with Demon Fire, and reading the tour’s website on Demon Fire’s iPhone, Stanly signed an employment contract for a nice salary as a guide for the All-Star Watchers. Despite the wackiness of his new boss’s tales and his bedraggled appearance, he handled the hiring in a very thorough, professional manner.                                

                                                   ###

After his two-weeks paid training on the ecology of the Wastelands and basic facts about astronomy, Stanly was directed by Demon Fire to meet the first All-Star Watchers tour group in front of thestrip club. Stanly had expected the usual crowd: backpackers, retirees wearing long black socks and plaid shirts, perhaps some foreign tourists too, but instead the group was composed of five muscular men with clenched jaws in oil-stained overalls; their greasy t-shirts read: “Jones Junkyard. Body Parts: Just for You.” 

One who seemed to be their leader identified himself as Mr. Jones. He mumbled that they needed to stop first at the 7-Eleven near the entrance to the Wastelands to get some snacks as his team was hungry. Stanly was puzzled. These guys did not have cameras, and, in fact, obviously were locals. Jones Junkyard was a small buyer of wrecked cars and scrap metal on the outskirts of town not far from the Wastelands.  Very strange that Jones and his employees would be ‘touring’ literally in their own backyard. Yet once again Stanly did not question Demon Fire, who had arrived shortly after Stanly to greet the ‘tourist’ party, about this new oddness. None of Stanly’s business to question the motives of paying clients. The customer was always right, as his tour training facilitator had repeatedly emphasized.

Demon Fire spoke a few words to the men which Stanly did not hear, then drove off in a spiffy SUV. Stanly followed in the All-Star Watchers four-wheel drive van while the junkyard men fell asleep. DF quickly disappeared around a corner, while Stanly got stuck in traffic. Though Stanly thought the men would ask some questions about the tour’s itinerary and agenda, they just continued to sleep, snoring loudly. Stanly drove in silence not volunteering any information.

Stanly pulled up into the parking lot of the 7-Eleven so the men could buy their snacks, but he was surprised to see another four-wheel drive parked there, its front door also marked “All-Star Watchers Tours.” None other than Demon Fire jumped out of the driver’s side and yelled and waved at Stanly to come over and introduce himself to a second group of tourists who would also be going along today.

 Looking into the back of the van, Stanly saw bodies, unmoving and strangely quiet, tied up in rope, duct tape plastered on their mouths: stereotypical tourists dressed in plaid shirts and checked shorts, youth in pre-ripped jeans with backpacks, as well as other people in casual hiking clothes prepared for their big day out on the Wastelands. This time Stanly knew he needed to ask Demon Fire some questions, but the junkyard men bounded over like smooth cats and grabbed Stanly, slapped some duct tape on his mouth, hustled him into the van seat next to Demon Fire, and then piled into the back with the captive tourists.

Ten minutes later, they all arrived at a desolate spot on the Wastelands. Demon Fire sprang screaming hysterically from the van and stripped off his ragged, smelly clothes as if they were in flames. The sky darkened quickly as he waved wildly, storm clouds mushrooming on the horizon.  At a flick of Demon Fire’s wrist, bolts of lightning   rammed the heavens like angry spears.

The junkyard men dragged the bodies from the back of the van and dumped them like sacks on the grass. Knives flashed and the men went to work slaughtering them. Hands, feet, fingers, arms were, with great professionalism, neatly sliced off like skilled chefs working a large round of beef at Stanly’s favorite buffet at the Holiday Inn. Surprisingly, however, the tourists did not scream though even when these butchers worked their way into the guts with rotary saws. Hearts, intestines, livers flew through the air, torrents of blood rained, but not a sound. A slaughterhouse drenched in silence.

Demon Fire by now, having fully cast off his ‘little man’ ‘street-person’ identity, had sprouted into a tall muscular creature with horned feet, scarlet-red leathery skin, and a pointed nose.  Seeming to read Stanly’s thoughts, he growled smugly:

“When one is an evil demon one has ways of keeping people quiet even when they are being slaughtered… After all we don’t want to scare the neighbors,” he said, shushing quiet by a long, knobby-knuckled finger on his lips.   Before Stanly could reply, Demon Fire said, “You see stupid humans have thought for centuries that evil demons came from some kind of hot, underground smelly place called ‘Hell’, but, as I told you over coffee, ‘Heaven is Hell traveling under false pretenses’…and all those ‘UFOs’ humans have reported on for years?  They are actually our Fast Demon Modules –  FDMs -we use to get around in the sky and avoid repulsive humans.”

“Why are your junkyard savages butchering innocent tourists?” Stanly demanded.

“Well for a long time, we demons replaced our own body parts, knees, teeth, elbows, fingers, et cetera.  –  demons’ bodies wear out too like humans’- with reengineered metal scrap from various junkyards. But with all of the new industrial technology coming online, our workshops are having trouble with the complexities of the new recycling and manufacturing processes. It is now time to use the original, realhuman body parts, which are certainly more cost effective, too.  Jones Junkyard, one of our longtime suppliers, is developing a new, more simplified business model to accommodate our growing need for authentic anatomical components, hence the very professional demonstration you witnessed today.”

“And in case you think the disturbance,” Demon Fire’s red eyes glared like raw wounds and rolled toward the sky, “that I caused with the clouds and lightning was me doing a rite of worship in homage to some kind of ‘Sky God-Demon’ think again. Demons are independent operators who do what they want. I was just in the mood to create a gothic/scary atmosphere that was appropriate for our junkyard team’s excellent effort today… We demons are not all boring business…we like a little drama in our lives once and awhile.”

 One of the junkyard butcherers came over and whispered something to Demon Fire. “Excellent,” he proclaimed, “all the body parts have been collected.” Demon Fire flicked his wrist again: a larger bright orb popped out of nothing and then slowly lowered itself to the dark grass. It dimmed slightly to reveal a saucer-shaped, semi-translucent hull through which various shapes could be seen moving about.

Demon Fire flashed his frozen smile’s metal teeth again. “Well, Stanly we really need a reliable human to run errands for us on earth. I don’t want to dress up in trashy costumes to hide my identity anymore. I will double your salary and, as an added perk, you will get plenty of travel.” Demon Fire waved toward the FDM. “And besides,” his hot breath whispered, “you really don’t have much choice do you?  After all, I am sure you want to keep all of your body parts.”

As the Jones Junkyard guys slowly gathered around Stanly to escort him to the Fast Demon Module, Stanly could not have agreed more.


Thomas White’s poems, fiction, and essays have appeared in online and print magazines in Australia, the United States, and Canada. In addition, he is a Wiley-Blackwell Journal author, and contributor to various non-literary journals on topics ranging from the meaning of Evil to reality as a computer simulation.                                               


“Summer In Uummannaq” Fiction by Mark Mellon

The Chamber Magazine Contemporary Dark Literature

After we crossed the Northwest Passages, a vast expanse of gray sea, and were over Baffin Island, the Commodore allowed the barbot to serve me a martini.

            “Just one, Rome. Try to keep yourself together. After all, we have Claire to think about.”

            The Commodore said this in front of Claire, in fact, in front of everyone. We were on the bridge, admiring the Commodore as he steered AS Vanderbilt, jaunty in a white yacht cap and red blazer with a garish crest on the pocket. I ignored my father and gratefully sipped the ice cold cocktail infused with toad venom. The barbot knew my preferences.

            “Peyton, that tickles.”

            “That’s why I did it.”

            My older brother and his new wife tussled and giggled. Laurel, my mother, watched with an approving smile, faint like everything else about her. The Commodore chuckled, but then returned his attention to the wheel. I continued to drink. The bridge was in the bow. Encased in a transparent glaz canopy, we had a three hundred degree view of bright sky above and surging seascape below, an amazing prospect that once thrilled me as a child. We were over the Davis Strait by that point. Not long now. The Commodore turned the wheel hard to port.

            “Turbulence ahead. I don’t want anything upsetting Claire. For all I know, she may already be carrying my grandson.”

            “Commodore, how you talk.”

            As if Claire would get pregnant on her own, like a savage. I took another sip, tried to make the drink last. Only the first day and my family had already stretched my nerves to the breaking point. We all knew the Commodore was faking, that the giant airship was efficiently, continuously steered by AI with no need for human guidance or help. I’d figured it out at twelve and lost respect for him forever. But still, here I sat with my family, headed once again to our summer resort.

            “Wait until you see Uummannaq, Claire. I know Peyton has shown you holograms, but until you see it in person, you can’t appreciate it properly. It’s a very special place, full of happy family memories. And I know you’re going to add to them this summer, my dear.”

            Claire giggled. She was blonde, tall, and perfect, no surprise since her characteristics were specifically chosen by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gates, in close consultation with their personal biogenetic engineers.

            The conical, gray airship sailed in solitary grandeur through a blindingly blue sky over a black sea. Powerful electric motors drove long bladed propellers at four hundred kph. Midmorning sunlight poured into the bridge, softened by glaz filters. Laurel had a bowl of strawberries and cream. I finished my drink and blinked at the barbot.

            “I said one, Rome.”

            “Yes, Commodore.”

            Vanderbilt passed Disko Island, a lush, green dot fifteen kilometers below. Almost there. To our right, a vast, endless sward of tropical jungle spread before us, Greenland. The airship  descended. The Commodore vigorously spun the wheel.

            “Stand beside the canopy, Claire. I want you to be first to see Uummannaq.”

            Claire took Peyton’s hand. They went to the bridge’s edge and looked down at the white capped sea below.

            “Uummannaq straight ahead,” the Commodore cried. “Clear the decks and batten the hatches for fun and adventure.”

            I inwardly groaned and yearned for another drink. Claire wildly squealed in delight.

            “Oh, there it is. And it’s wonderful, just like you said, Commodore.”          

            Laurel went to look as well. Vanderbilt headed toward the broad, electric blue fjord carved from Greenland’s mass. A small island loomed ahead, capped by a towering crag, the most prominent peak in western Greenland, topped in turn by a half kilometer high structure of gleaming glaz and titanium steel, the Vanderbilt summer home, one of a half dozen Greenland private resorts.

            “Oh, look,” Laurel said. “It hasn’t changed.”

            “Why should it, dear?”

            A blazing fireball soared in a tight spiral around the airship, then flashed past in a shower of red and gold sparks. The airship pitched and yawed, a violent oscillation AI guided stabilizers desperately scrambled to overcome. The fireball streaked toward Uummannaq.

            “What’s that?” Claire shrieked.

            Peyton sighed. “Don’t worry, dear. That’s just Barton.”

            Indifferent to the terror my younger brother’s typical stunt inflicted upon Claire, the Commodore chuckled. “They broke the mold when they made Barton.”

            “Thank God for that too.”

            “Please, Eaton. Can’t you be pleasant?”

            “I’ll be pleasant, Laurel, if you don’t call me ‘Eaton.'”

            “That’s enough, Rome.”

            I fell into sullen silence. The Vanderbilt steered for the mansion’s apex. Propeller blades retracted into their housings that folded in turn into apertures in the airship’s horizontally ribbed hull. VTOL rotors steadily whirred the airship downward. Three massive clamps on an inline axle sprang open on the airship’s keel. Matching catches opened on the landing pod beneath. With a great hiss of helium, Vanderbilt slipped into the berth. The clamps slammed home. The Commodore tethered the wheel with a rope and dusted his hands, plainly pleased by yet another job well done.

            “Safe and sound, just as I promised. Now to disembark and begin our vacation.”

            The Commodore snapped his fingers. With gentle, hydraulic ease, the canopy split in two. An air saloon ascended from the landing pod. It hovered close, an electric rotor powered open coach with seats for eight upholstered in mammoth hide. A short ramp extended from the saloon and locked into place with the bridge. The Commodore needlessly assisted Laurel up the ramp. Claire and Peyton followed with goosing and giggling and other obligatory, young married nonsense. I went last, sat up front, and brooded.

            The ramp unlocked and retracted. The Commodore sat in the stern and put his hand to the tiller. The saloon lifted noiselessly away from the airship. Black maintenance drones swarmed over Vanderbilt like a horde of winged ants. A gap opened in the landing pod. The saloon descended into the mansion. Numerous, gargantuan floors passed by, endless, tastefully furnished spaces brightly lit by transparent glaz walls that opened onto blue panoramas of sea and sky.

            The saloon landed in garden niche T-37, a recessed, hundred hectare inset with an AI controlled microclimate. The Commodore intended to show off his collection. Hopefully, I could drink when lunch was served. Amid the broad green sward where lesser Cretaceous reptilians gamboled, bots laid out a feast fit for the gods upon a damask clad table. The centerpiece was an auroch’s gleaming, roasted haunch, clad in aspic, surrounded by broiled chickens, ducks, and pheasants.

            “Everyone must be famished after that long trip. Sit down and eat.”

            We took our places. The Commodore nodded. Wheeled, bow-tied waitbots trundled forward and served choice viands whether we wanted them or not, grilled filet of coelecanth, thick, juicy indricotherium chops, three kilo bats stripped of their wings and fricasseed in their skins.

            “Oh, what a nice meal. Don’t you think so, Claire?” Laurel said.

            A few meters away, a velociraptor tore out a duck billed hadrosaur’s throat with his sharp claws. Claire gasped. Peyton smiled.

            “Don’t worry, Claire. We’re all right behind the tension barrier.”

            “Don’t let a raptor eating lunch bother you. After all, you’re doing the same thing, just with less effort.”

            Barton strolled up. Another of his sneaky entrances. He must have used a tether.   

            “This is Claire, right? Say, Peyton got lucky. I got to congratulate you.”

            Barton slipped an arm around Claire’s shoulders and planted a kiss on her mouth more appropriate for a late night date than a new sister-in-law. Peyton just took it. But then again we all did, even the Commodore, but he thought Barton was cute.

            “Barton, enough horsing around. Sit next to your mother.”

            “Certainly, Commodore.”

            He sat down, pecked Laurel on the cheek, and ate with his huge appetite. I had a chicken wing and a large glass of white wine I frequently refilled.

            “So how is Galt’s Gulch, Barton?” the Commodore asked.

            “Dull. That’s why I came early. AI flashed the airship was only five K’s away. I decided to give you a real Uummannaq welcome, Claire.”

            She smiled. “I admit I was scared, but Peyton explained it to me. You certainly make an impression, Barton.”

            “You could get us killed with your stunts, Barton. Maybe someday we’ll get lucky and you’ll succeed.”

            Laurel’s mouth formed a small “o” of dismay. The Commodore gave his patented cold stare, but I was long immune. Peyton scowled. Barton just laughed. Used to rigidly maintained gentility, Claire’s eyes went wide in blank incomprehension. Two triceratops mated in the distance, reptile jaws gaped wide in carnal ecstasy. I continued to drink. It was just as good a time as any other for Claire to learn what the family was really like.

            “You’re overreacting and being gratuitously cruel, Eaton. You promised if I showed you the respect you claim I’ve denied you, you’d curb your sharp tongue and drinking in return. I see you’ve no intention of fulfilling your bargain. Try to be civil for a change.”

            I got up and walked away.

            “Eaton, you have not been dismissed from the table.”

            “The name is Rome,” I said over my shoulder.

            “You can always take a rocket pod home, Rome,” Barton said.

            I ignored him and continued to the terrace’s edge. As I surmised, a tether hung there. I winked. The tether recognized my retinal signature and came alive, crackling with energy. I slipped on a silicon glove, broke the invisible tension barrier, and grasped the tether.

            Bonded tight by the glove, I plummeted downward, twenty stories to my quarters at the mansion’s base, as far from my family as I could get. Once inside, I downed a stiff, straight shot of skullbustium and laid down on my bed, anxious for oblivion.

            I slipped into a deep, black sleep, devoid of dreams.

***

            It was almost 1800 when I came to, slightly groggy. I shook off the drug’s aftereffects, cursed my indestructible constitution, and got up. A wink turned a glaz wall transparent. The summer sun was pitched high in the northern latitudes. Hours of daylight remained. I decided to walk outside and filled my flask with brandy.

            I slipped through a side entrance to the two story high master portal. It was a balmy thirty degrees C. Uummannaq’s craggy flanks were fringed with tropical foliage, wine palms, teak, ebony, mahogany. Green lichen ate into the mountain, ever so slowly sapped the stones of nutrients.

            I put on a glove, and snapped my fingers with my other hand. A tether snaked from a wall to form a gentle arc downward to the plain. I grasped the tether and flew toward the ground, careful to look away (heading rapidly, inexorably toward an unyielding landscape makes me nauseous). At the last moment, the tether slowed my fall and I landed with a fair grace. The plain was thickly forested with wine palms and other fruit bearing trees.

            I took a path to the sea. A faint breeze tried to ruffle my hair, but it insistently stayed in place. Thick undergrowth restricted my vision. Waves crashed in the distance.

            “SSSSQQQQQUUUUUAAAAAWWWWKKKK.”

            A large, male dodo jumped onto the path before me, gray feathers ruffled and short wings spread wide in a full threat display. He snapped his powerful beak at me. His mate must be nursing an egg somewhere nearby. The dodo was ready to fight.

            “Here, pretty birdy.”

            The silicon googleplexchip ring on my right hand discharged low voltage into the bird. The dodo shrieked and ran into the brush. I resumed my walk. Two kilometers later, I reached the beach, a broad, flat stretch of sand that extended into the hazy distance. Dodoes hustled among nearby trees in search of fallen ripe fruit. This was where we swam, when Peyton and I were small, before Barton came along.

            I  arranged palm leaves into an improvised pallet in the shade, stretched out, and drank from my flask. Birds circled over the beach in uncountable numbers, common gulls and the great, white winged pelagornis, while black and white great auks clustered on worn rocks that jutted from the sea. In the distance, a plesiosaur’s long, sinuous neck and head reared forth from the sea only to submerge again. The vast, light blue sky was cloudless. There was nothing human around me. The waves’ susurrus and the steady heat combined with alcohol to lull me to sleep.

            “This is a pretty spot. Didn’t you try to drown me here when I was two?”

            Barton sat on the pallet’s edge, arms wrapped around his legs. I sighed, sat up, and took another drink.  

            “You know, it’s none of my business, but even a biologically engineered liver can only take so much punishment.”  

            “What do you want, Barton? You never see me unless you want something.”

            “Rome, that’s not true. You’re the only one besides me who can face facts. Laurel, Peyton, definitely Edgar, they’re not much different from bots.”

            “Then why do you kiss Edgar’s ass? It’s what I hate most about you.”

            Barton lightly slapped me on the knee. “You know I only do that so I get my fair share of the estate when Edgar hits one hundred twenty. That’s only seventeen years away.”

            “You’re counting every second aren’t you?”

            “No. I’m only forty-three.”

            “I hope Edgar leaves it to Peyton. That would serve you right.”

            Barton snorted. “Edgar favors me, not that slavebot Peyton. Take Claire. An excellent example of his inadequacy for any real, important task. She’s more woman than he can handle. Why should she be with him?”

            I looked Barton dead in the eye. “That’s why you’re bothering me. You’ve got some crazy idea about using Claire to hurt Peyton. Because it’s the worst, most completely inappropriate thing you can possibly do.”

            “You give me too much credit, Rome. Still, nice chatting with you. We should do it again.”

            He stood up to leave, but turned to look at me.

            “One thing puzzles me. Call yourself whatever you want, but why ‘Rome?’ Why not ‘Paris’ or London?'”

            “I like the place.”

            “It doesn’t exist anymore.”

            “Neither do the other cities you mentioned. That doesn’t mean I can’t miss them.”

            Barton shrugged. “I never will understand you, Eaton.”

            He strapped on his jet pack. Barton took off with a blast of flame as he soared toward the mansion’s peak. I lay back on my pallet and tried to forget the whole unpleasant interlude, but failed. Summers at Uummannaq had always been emotionally fraught affairs, but Claire represented a new source of tension and strain. Barton was plainly hell bent on mischief. And Barton always had his way, no matter what.

***

            Things seemed to calm down after that, at least on a superficial level, as the family settled into the holiday routine. We took the airship low over Greenland to view natives in their primitive huts. The Commodore promised to hold a party, to invite guests from other grand homes like the Rockefellers, Putins, and Dimons so Claire could meet everyone as Mrs. Peyton Vanderbilt. The Corsair was run out from dry dock, black, sleek, with a sharply raked hull and four 6000 hp electric motors.

            We took a cruise. Barton harpooned a megalodon outside the fjord. We watched him die from the bridge. The giant shark thrashed about and leaped from the sea, biting at the harpoon that pierced his side, but finally rolled over and lay still upon the surface.

            “Shark steaks tonight,” Barton crowed as powerful winches reeled the thirty-five ton monster toward the Corsair.

            I saw the admiring look in Claire’s eyes. She had to notice how active Barton was compared to Peyton. He shared my indolent, passive nature, although not my vices. Claire had a lively disposition herself. She liked to organize parlor games after dinner with everyone’s enthusiastic participation, myself excepted. I watched them laugh as the Commodore tried to act out a word. Barton roared along with the rest of them, but his eyes never left Claire.

            His attentions toward her steadily increased with invitations to play jet pack handball over the landing pad, to race one horned elasmotheriums across the island plain, goaded by laser prods, or just to hang motionless for hours in the bodywarp web, mutually lost in mindless limbic ecstasy.

            It was more than obvious what he wanted. Of course, the Commodore thought Barton was just being attentive, making Claire feel at home. If Laurel had any concerns, she kept them to herself. She stuck to her laser knitting, cutting and stitching various bits of DNA to make tiny, fanciful creatures she kept in plaz terrariums. Peyton just laughed it off. After all, Claire still slept with him every night. He’d don a holomask and return to supervising sandhogbots as they dug for rare earths and alien metals on our lunar mine, another task like steering the airship AI could handle perfectly well.

            I confronted Claire when she was alone and told her the truth.  “You should know Barton never does anything nice on purpose. He only wants to play a mean trick on you and Peyton. Stay away from him.”

            Claire gave me a sad, pitying look. “What the Commodore says about you is true, Rome. You drink too much and look at things all wrong because you’re drunk. From now on, Rome, until your attitude improves, I’d prefer that you left me alone, if it’s all the same to you.”

            “Just as you say.”

            The party was held soon after that. Airships hovered over the landing pad. Elegant saloons descended down to the Grand Ballroom, a square kilometer in size and three stories high. Music bots hummed a gentle, quiet welcoming drone. Men wore opaque suits that made them  walking cubist blocks while women were attired in flaming sundresses that hurt the naked eye so everyone had tinted masks. The Commodore was in his traditional sporran and kilt in the family tartan while Laurel wore a simple white gown adorned with living, writhing homunculi. He held his arms high in greeting.

            “My dear friends, let’s get another summer off to a good start with music, food, drink, and dancing.”

            Given their cue, the bots pumped out tek with a thumping beat. Guests danced, lively or sedate depending upon age and disposition. Barton took Claire’s hand, held her tight, and put her through the sinuous motions of the shameless, sordid Galt’s Gulch Grind. They couldn’t have been any closer if they were sutured together. Younger guests laughed and cheered them on. And Peyton took it with a dumb look on his face.

            The party went on by the sun’s light, a pale disc hovering just above the sea’s edge. Food and drink were consumed, megalodon steaks cooked in lemon juice and garnished with thyme, plesiosaur roe with sour cream on a fifty kilo baked potato, tender percopteris leaves with Roquefort dressing, washed down with champagne, beer, toad venom shots, and pineal gland bitters. Everyone ate and drank so heartily they were close to stupefaction. Peyton was particularly hangdog, slumped in his chair, eyes half closed, drumstick in one hand, empty glass in the other. He sat up, shook himself aware, and looked around him.

            “Where’s Claire?”

            I scanned the vast hall, but didn’t see Claire or Barton. Had they slipped out unnoticed in the party’s hubbub?

            Shortly afterward, Barton showed up. He sauntered slow and cool across the ballroom. No one seemed to notice, probably due to being stuffed and inebriated. I’d had as much alcohol as anyone else, but barely ate and was in my usual state of lucid drunkenness. I watched him approach Peyton. I knew we stood on the edge of an awful, unforgivable event, a ratcheting up of family ugliness to an unbearable level.

            Barton snapped his fingers and overrode the AI. The musicbots ceased. A woman’s sobs filled the air, soft, miserable, inconsolable. Claire’s.

            “Barton, how could you? I loved you and trusted you-“

            Barton laughed. “Peyton, I usually like to keep these as souvenirs, but it’s really your property for now, so here.”

            He threw a pair of mauve shamseen panties onto Peyton’s lap. He looked down and the flimsy undergarment’s meaning sank into his sozzled brain. Peyton threw his wine glass at Barton. He neatly sidestepped it.

            My brother’s unexpected show of anger surprised and pleased me. I hoped for more, but Peyton instead reverted to type and ran weeping from the room. Kilt a-flap, the Commodore went to the table.

            “What in the name of sweet plutocracy have you done, Barton? You seem to have upset Peyton terribly.”

            “He’s just angry, Commodore, because he knows Claire’s mine now.”

            “Come, come, Barton. You like to joke, but I went to a great deal of trouble to arrange Peyton’s marriage to Claire. You can’t upset that on a whim. We’ll find you an appropriate mate in due time.”

            “No, I want Claire. She needs a real man. Just tell the Gates you switched brothers.”

            I had to get away, from the guests, the mansion, and most of all, my family. I grabbed a bottle of champagne and ran to the ballroom’s rim where I broke the tension barrier and grabbed the nearest tether. Outside, I hustled quickly down the path, glad for once to be born athletic. The sun had slipped away and the weak gray night begun. Dodoes huddled in their nests, grateful for the brief rest.

            The long, curved beach was fringed by a delicate scroll of shifting, small, silver waves. I unsealed a hermetic pod with my ring and dragged out a long unused rowboat. I pulled the boat into the water, got in, and put the oars in their tholes. Out in the fjord, Barton couldn’t sneak up on me and I could drink in peace.

            Biologically engineered muscles easily adjusted to the unwonted exercise. I rowed until I was in the middle of the fjord with a clear view of Uummannaq, then shipped oars. The boat bobbed gently in the water. I uncorked the champagne. Foam arced into my lap. I drank deeply.

            At the mansion, the tek had resumed, loud enough to be heard in the fjord, along with occasional snatches of high pitched, feminine laughter. Order or what passed for it in our family had apparently been restored and the party had resumed. The Commodore liked to keep up appearances. I took another stiff pull from the bottle and wondered. How would things finally play out? Would the vicious fighting ever end or simply drag on for the rest of our lives?

            A giant fireball erupted from the mansion, a huge explosion that shattered glaz and steel and cast fragments in all directions. I held my arms before my face to shield myself from white hot steel scraps and razor sharp glaz fragments. Another explosion, even more massive and destructive than the first, snapped the mansion in two. The sundered top fell into the fjord, taking my family and most of Terra’s plutocrats with it. A huge wave swept toward me, but the cork like boat easily crested it. Wreckage was strewn all around me.

            My question was answered. Peyton had taken a coward’s revenge and blown up Barton, himself, Claire, our parents, and everyone else who had witnessed his cuckold’s shame. I’d only escaped by sheer accident. Always under strain, dysfunction had reached the point where the family cracked like a badly cast vase, the fault built in from the start.

            I laughed for a while and cried for a time. When I finished the bottle, I threw it into the water, and put the oars back in their tholes.

            I rowed westward, where the sea could swallow me and Terra would finally be done with Vanderbilts.


Mark notes:

“By way of background, I’m a novelist who supports his family by working as an attorney. I have four novels and over seventy short stories (many as reprints) published in the USA, UK, Ireland, and Denmark. Short fiction by me has recently appeared in Thriller MagazineTigersharkTall Tale TV, and Into The Ruins. A novella, Escape From Byzantium, won the 2010 Independent Publisher Silver Prize for SF/Fantasy. More information about my writing is available at: www.mellonwritesagain.com.

Mark says about this story: “You may be interested to know I wrote this yarn as an SF version of a John Cheever New Yorker piece, something I felt compelled to do after reading his collected short stories.”


“The Collector” Fiction by Andrew Hughes

The Chamber Magazine
thechambermagazine.com

Perculus knelt in the center of a patch of dense reeds, his trousers undone and Sophia’s bodice clutched in his fist, when he heard the rustling to his left. He dropped the lacy thing and reached for his belt. Yanking it far too tight, so it cinched slicing lines into his stomach, he stood and looked around. 

            “Hello?” His voice quivered with shame that teetered on fright. “Mr. Halopen?”

            Silence.

            He waited in the quiet, unsure that he could continue the act after a fright like that, but there was still a chance. Her scent clung to the garment, overpowering his senses, filling his chest with each inhalation, not even the repugnance of the swamp could cool his lust. Soon, he thought. Soon he would smell her again.

            Perculus knelt back down and began adjusting his belt, easing the tension that constricted his abdomen, when he heard it again. The crack of a branch, followed by something else. A slithering. It was behind him now. Thoughts of the noble girl were flushed from his mind, the vats of lust refilled with cool dread. Slowly, he adjusted his posture, straightening his back until his eyes peaked above the fluttering tips of the reeds.

            Sight of the swirling green stalks faded to the swampy landscape. Black barked trees, some standing, some fallen, all covered in flaky, parasitic moss. Ground absorbent and wet. The occasional rock or stump. As he scanned the swampland, Perculus passed a tree that seemed to be a few years from folding over upon itself under the weight of accumulated moss. He continued his searching when a shadow shifted. He looked back at the tree. His heart pulsed. Yes, there was something hiding behind there.

            Perculus kept his eyes trained on the trunk and felt amongst the soggy ground, searching for something to strike with. His fingers came across the bodice and the rock it rested upon to keep the marshy ground from staining the lace perfection. Perculus swore beneath his breath. He knelt down, snatched up the bodice, and hung it atop the patch of reeds. Then, he grabbed the rock, a fist sized chunk of limestone, and stood.

            Slowly, he eased his way through the reeds, trying to contain the noise of the shivering stalks, but when his boot met the muddy ground and gave a loud squelch, he abandoned the silent plan and darted forward as fast as his legs would go. He swung around the trunk, raised the rock, and brought it crashing down. The blow gouged an ugly chunk of dead wood and the tree groaned in protest. Perculus sucked in a deep breath. What was this foolishness consuming his heart? He, the son of a hero of the 3rd Comets War was afraid of things in the swamp?

            Perculus felt a soft tap on his hip and he spun with the rock raised. He brought it hurtling down and stopped inches from her face.

            “Oh by The Ancients Cassandra,” he said, tossing the stone. “What are you doing out here?”

            The blacksmith’s youngest daughter stared up at him. She flashed a wide toothy grin and waved her pudgy, muck stained fingers. Perculus looked out at the swamp. They were some two miles from the outskirts of the village. There was no footpath that led here, no old horse trail. This place was useless and empty. He choose it for that reason. Because if anyone were to find him here… He remembered the bodice. He could see it amongst the mess of reeds. What if someone went looking for Cassy? They would follow her tracks here. They would search for her and they would find it.

            “Okay,” he said, putting his hands on her shoulders. “I need you to do this for me Cassy. Put your hands over your eyes and don’t move until I come back. Understand?”

            Cassandra nodded and moved her hands to her face, leaving black smudges across her cheeks. That was fine, he could fix that on the walk back.

            “No peeking.”

            Perculus picked up the rock again and entered the reeds. He took the bodice, knelt down, and placed it upon the rock. Then, he pulled a handful of stalks from the patch and covered it best he could. It was an unconvincing disguise but it would do for now. They needed to get out of here before someone came looking.

            Perculus stood back up. Cassandra was where he’d left her, eyes still covered. Good. Now he just had to follow the tracks back home. As he exited the reeds, he looked at the footprints leading back towards the village. Cutting through the mud, he could see his as clear as the stars on a cloudless night, but there, next to them, a path of massive, three pronged impressions stained the mud, leading all the way back to where Cassandra stood, her hands now hanging down by her side.

            “Cassy?”

            Cassandra smiled and her face rippled inwards, the mask peeling away to the black thing beneath.             Perculus screamed and stumbled backward into the reeds, his head striking the rock. As the black thing filled his vision, he took in a final inhalation of Sophia.


Mr. Hughes notes that “The Collector” is part of a larger work in progress.

Andrew Hughes has been writing and publishing short stories for the past decade. One of these, The Crab Catcher, was recently reprinted in Brilliant Flash Fiction’s Best Of anthology. He currently lives in Arizona, working as a criminologist, and taking care of the world’s most adorable white husky.

“Clowns at the End of the World” Fiction by Thomas White

The Chamber Magazine
thechambermagazine.com

Billie Jay Radio never thought the End of the World would look like this. His grandmother, a member of a weird cult, had gloomily foretold something far more impressive: horned beasts rising from the sea, raging locust hoards, falling stars, cosmic torrents of blood, spectacular angelic – demonic air battles. Great scenarios for a new disaster flick, but the reality of the actual apocalypse, as it unfolded, was quite different. First, there was the breakdown of shopping mall culture.

Shoppers could no longer browse freely through malls without being obstructed by merchandise–computers, TVs, furniture, stacks of Nike running shoes–dumped into the commons areas by clerks with vacant eyes and odd mouths that seemed to both snarl and smile. Rampant looting appeared to be in progress. Billie Jay thought of those old newsreels of the 60s urban riots he had seen in his history class. However, here the store employees were stripping their own shelves.  Even the manager of the local Salvation Army outlet was seen cleaning out his used clothing bins and hurling green polyester pants into growing piles of designer suits and dresses. When confronted by a mall security guard, the disheveled man only mumbled incoherently about “the end being near.”

 Billie Jay, however, knew there was a real problem when Ashley Baker, the normally very efficient waitress at his favorite upscale mall café, refused to take his order for a double latté, instead calling him a “fuck head who is wasting my time.” Then unleashing a stream of obscenities against Billie Jay—sparked by nothing in particular— she finished with a roaring insult: “And no body is going to tell you to ‘have a nice day’ for the end of days is at hand!” Again, there was the same weird look that he had seen on the faces of other mall employees, a bizarre mask of cruelty and cheerfulness.

Day after day, week after week a race of (otherwise normal looking) weirdos was emerging, dangerous, unpredictable, no longer knowing how to wish customers a nice day or caring about the expensive products they marketed to the well-heeled consumers.

 Soon there was an even more alarming trend. Customers, Billie Jay observed, no longer rushed frantically through the malls looking for bargains. While they could have in fact easily carted away looted state-of-the-art electronic hardware or designer suits, these ex- consumers merely shoved the items aside. Entire mall areas were thus cleared of abandoned merchandise to make room for wrestling matches, Frisbee throwing, dice games, kickboxing, and skateboarding (an extreme version that sought to run down women pushing baby strollers). The security guard, who had confronted the Salvation Army outlet manager for dumping old trousers, was now acting just as strangely, first warmly embracing random passersby, and then violently grappling them to the floor. Others leaped into the fray, until bodies were writhing in heaps like rugby scrums or mass orgies. The old scripts guaranteeing the stability and predictability of life were being lost to rampant social amnesia. This trend was even surfacing in Billie Jay’s professional life. As a seller of gentrified properties, Billie Jay once could count on at least greed as an absolute. Yet even that was slipping away. One couple insisted on negotiating a higher price, and then excused themselves right in the middle of the open house viewing to use the bathroom together. Disgusted by the flushing, giggling, and grunting sounds, Billie Jay waited outside. At least they immediately signed the contract for twice the list price (though he barely shook their damp hands).

Then one day (to make matters worse) the circus came to town. Curiously, though the performers never really seemed to perform, they were instead aimlessly wandering through streets causing traffic jams. Men and women in tights, with the stereotypical appearance of graceful high wire trapeze artists, made obscene gestures at the furious, swearing motorists. Jugglers, aggressively accosting pedestrians, deliberately scattered their balls on street corners causing a hazard. Yet the performers still angrily demanded what they called “entertainment user fees.” Puzzled, Billie Jay searched the internet–even read the newspapers and called the local arts center—for performance information but could find no evidence of any scheduled performance dates. Apparently, the circus was no longer really the circus but had changed into something else. What that was Billie Jay Radio would soon find out.

One afternoon while shopping cross-town at another mall not yet stricken by the strange anti-consumer madness, he observed a gang of clowns roaming through the parking lot. Some thin (indeed borderline anorexic), a few portly, others almost dwarfish, the clowns, their makeup streaming profusely like sweat, and baggy costumes hanging in dirty tatters, bellowed, shook their fists and scattered flyers. Billie Jay picked one up one and read it: The End of Days is upon us. Forget your old scripts and narratives. Everything is changing including the End of Days itself.

Cautiously, at a discreet distance, Billie Jay followed them into the mall (avoiding the slippery, buttery trail of their red and white grease paint). Squatting behind a large pot plant in the atrium, he watched one of the clowns–nasty scowl, bloodshot eyes and stained, pointed teeth emerging from behind his thinning makeup–enter the administrative offices.  Loud scuffling sounds, shouts, and then the clown burst out, waving a pistol at the neck of a scrawny, trembling man–farting uncontrollably from fear. His nametag read, Harold Sorrow, Customer Care Specialist.

With military-like precision, the clowns then marched their hostage through the parting crowds of oddly silent shoppers to the mall’s central commons where a platform, microphone, podium, and chairs had been set up amid the piles of consumer goods. While the lead clown still aimed his pistol at the now crying, still farting, customer care representative, his clownish cohorts mingled casually, as if networking at a cocktail party, among the onlookers, distributing the same ominous flyers. Cranking an erect arm up like a Nazi’s salute, the lead clown strutted, prodding his hostage, followed by his colleagues, up onto the stage. From one baggy, ragged pocket, he pulled a sheaf of paper while carefully still aiming the gun at the whimpering hostage who had curled up in the fetal position on the stage. The clown read in a thunderous voice:

“We are the Clowns from another dimension of reality here to announce that the human race has entered into a new stage: no longer can you count on even the most ordinary desire, hunger or need. Nor can you predict–or hope—that people will behave in any ‘normal human manner.’ In fact, your lives, all societies, the entire globe, as I speak, are lapsing into a series of unscripted pratfalls, thoughtless stunts, clownish blunders, random absurd acts–a ‘circus’ of sorts but one that is funny and dangerous, comical and brutal. In other words, once you paid admission to laugh at me and my ilk… (The clown paused, and waved at the other clowns who clumsily danced, made silly faces, then bowed to the mildly tittering audience) …. however, you will now rage at me for what I am about to do, ‘unexpected behavior’ (clown flashes a smirking smile) from a person normally paid a low wage to amuse the jaded public.(The clown shoots the customer care representative who squeezes into an even tighter fetal ball, then unfurls limply, blood trickling from the back of his neck.   The clown’s red eyes blazed even more fiercely. He bares pointed teeth. Growls escape from his foaming, wrinkled lips).

Very theatrical manner, Billie Jay noted mentally, smiling to himself, again still watching from behind a nearby pot plant. In case the Seven O’ Clock news would interview him later, he mulled over possible sound bites.

As if on cue, there were shouts and sounds of people scrambling and running. CNN camera operators were rushing toward the stage, but gathering even more speed galloped by it, ignoring the bleeding customer service rep’s body and the mad clowns, who were now singing obscene songs at the top of their lungs while the crazed, laughing audience clapped along. Curious as well as bored with the meaningless scenes before him, Billie Jay dashed after the CNN crew, who by now were filming scantily clad models in front of the mall’s Victoria’s Secret outlet. Perhaps if he could tell the film crew what he had witnessed, he could cleverly work in some references to his real estate business. Finding more deranged customers who insisted on paying above market prices would be super. Maybe this new weird, apocalyptic world would not be so bad after all.


Thomas White’s poems, fiction, and essays have appeared in online and print magazines in Australia, the United States, and Canada. In addition, he is a Wiley-Blackwell Journal author, and contributor to various non-literary journals on topics ranging from the meaning of Evil to reality as a computer simulation.  

Fiction by Ethan Maiden: “Pulp”

Detail from photo by Anni Roenkae from Pexels
Detail from photo by Anni Roenkae from Pexels

A strange name given for such a strange find: Pulp.

The reason I call it this is because I have no other word in my limited vocabulary to explain it. It’s small, black and has the density of rough dough.

Then there’s the colours. Those beautiful and unique flickers of microscopic light in the thing that make noises, words of a language I’ve never heard before.

I’d been walking down the riverside like any other day, the route I take home from work. On the opposite side of the river beneath the bridge, a black patch no bigger than a football caught my eye. At first, I believed it to be some kind of stain, perhaps oil or tar embedded upon the weathered stone holding up the banking.

However, the angle of the sunlight made the patch sparkle with fizzling colour. It was attractive: calling.

My visceral instinct was to leave it alone, to hurry on past and forget about this peculiar patch hugging the waterline.

But then it moved.

It didn’t drip down the rocky surface with liquid texture as expected. Instead the stain slithered in the slowest of motions; changing shape and contracting with itself.

Safe to say the inquisitiveness (or naivety) got the better of me as I raced forward to the river crossing not thirty feet in front of my position.

I had to find out what this thing was.

Some inner conscience suggested that maybe some animal was in danger, overcome with a substance and needed help to be set free back to the wild.

Panic set in when the stain vanished from view. My strides turned into a full blown sprint as I rushed over the creaky wooden crossing and back down the graveled footpath.

I kept my head over the banking, watching the water splash against the rock with murky turbidity.

Still no sign of the stain; my heart raced ready to implode.

I’d suffered from anxiety since I lost my brother to a drug overdose almost eight months ago. He’d been two-years my elder and fallen into the wrong crowd, no matter how much we tried to help him it fell on deaf ears.

Not being able to find the insignificant blob brought all those anxieties flooding back in my body. Too much to bear. I stopped closing my eyes before I passed out. Oxygen intake was minimal as my legs turned to cigarette ash and I fell hitting the ground hard with my backside.

Trying hard to concentrate on my breathing, the world span in shuddering movements making the vomit swell in the pit of my stomach.

The flop made everything suddenly stop dead like a fairground ride coming to a sudden halt.

My senses returned.

Anxiety washed away with the flowing water; my breathing returned to normal as I saw the dough wiggle onto the path. Crouching over the thing I remained cautious; in my twenty-three years in this world I had never witnessed anything as surreal.

The shuffling black blob stopped moving and began to spread on the gravel, thinning out like a puddle, perfectly circular.

That’s when I saw the lights up close.

Blinking rainbows of colour. Colours I’d struggle to describe. Purple intertwined with green with flashes of orange. It was beautiful, like looking up at the night sky observing a fireworks display. The colours wrapped themselves around one another and I couldn’t help but become transfixed.

The voice from the black puddle spoke to me in a tongue not from any place on the earth, yet for some unconceivable reason I was able to understand.

‘I can show you things, secrets beyond this world,’ it said.

‘What are you?’ I asked, my eyes still invested in the lights.

‘Nothing that can be told, but can be shown if you take me.’

I asked, ‘take you, where?’

‘Take me with you, wherever you go and I will show you the places beyond.’

The lights on the black puddle flickered like a power failure slowly fading out. I was left blinking, still crouched over this thing with a severe headache. The black mass had now retracted itself back into the blobby dough – the pulp.

The lights, I wanted to see those gleeful lights again.

Reaching down, I took the black blob into my hands; its texture – smooth and bone-dry. Before anyone could see I rushed home with the putty squelching between my fingers.

I lived alone on the east side of town in a rundown block of apartments. A few girls had come and gone in my disastrous love life up to now, they usually leave when the realisation hits them that my ambition is non-existent and my overwhelming anxious needs take precedent. I’m the kind of person that enjoys routine; anything against the norm brings back that desire to wallow in a shell of self-pity.

Yet, here I am taking this otherworldly thing into my life, somehow against my wish, but it’s attractive … addictive.

I’ve come to see that I don’t need anyone. I have something that no other person has.

I have Pulp.

*

I’ve come to learn that I also don’t need food anymore, I haven’t eaten for over sixty hours and I still feel great. I don’t need so-called friends, Pulp told me that all they do is stab me in the back anyways, which I can believe. That’s why I smashed my mobile phone to smithereens, goodbye social media and good riddance to the backstabbers.

There has been a few knocks at my door wondering if I’m all right from certain people.

‘Hey, are you in there?’ Katy had asked from behind the door.

I replied pretending with a few coughs, ‘I’m fine, just the flu I think.’

Katy had been one of those girl’s I spoke about earlier. She ended the relationship, “friend-zoning” me because of different life aspirations, really I knew it was due to my skydiving psyche.

‘No one has heard from you in days,’ Katy said. ‘Your phone is off; you’re not posting anything online … are you sure you’re all right?’

Another cough, ‘I’m fine … like I said, just the flu.’

Those pesky folk, they think that they can just walk in and out of my life when it suits.

No thank you.

They seem to accept and leave without too much persuasion.

I’m a hindrance you see, Pulp told me that’s what they thought.

The same old question – ‘are you all right?’

I’m more than all right, if only they could see what I have been shown. If only they’d had their eyes opened to the true beauty that exists outside of our perceived reality.

They’re not ready to see my little friend just yet. It told me as much.

I speak with Pulp constantly; it’s all I need in my life now.

Asking its name, it just answers with something far too long for my lips to relay back. I’ll stick with Pulp, it doesn’t seem to mind.

Night and day I stare into the surface of the abyss, transported between the colours, the beautiful colours. I feel them, flashes of light from a distant world: a paradise beyond comprehension.

Everything is lost when I float in between the eternal space. Emotionless. I forget the anger, the anxiety, the need for love and sexual desires – everything.

Because in this void is freedom that I have never experienced.

Just me and the colours intertwining and embracing one another like passionate lovers.

Sleep has evaded me too. When I try to rest, I just think of staring back into Pulp. I just want  to forget everything in this world now I understand the truth of what is beyond.

‘There is much more that you are not ready to understand, child of the earth,’ Pulp said.

It was dead at night and I asked Pulp to take me back to the colours, to relax in the void.

‘I am ready,’ I replied. ‘Please, show me.’

‘If you wish to seek out the truth behind our existence, then you must take us back to where we met.’

‘The river?’ I asked. ‘It’s the middle of the night, but I can do that,’ I said, shaking my head erratically. ‘Sure … sure … sure … anything you ask.’

I stood, dropping the blanket that had been wrapped around my frail body to keep warm. I must’ve broken the record in weight loss over such a short period of time. My bones were visible through my skin, I could feel every solid lump. In the bathroom mirror, my face was no better, huge bags drooped below my distant eyes. The hair on my head had receded at rapid rate.

My teeth: yellow and fragile like a corpse.

‘The body is nothing more than a vessel,’ Pulp said feeding from my insecurities. ‘It’s the soul that will endure into the next phase of existence.

As I went to gather my coat from the floor, Pulp informed me that I wouldn’t be needing it.

When I questioned why I wouldn’t need clothes in the middle of the night, Pulp answered: ‘To see what is beyond, then you must come in the purest of forms. I shall keep you warm, child of the earth.’

My hands took hold of Pulp and it expanded, spreading and then wrapping its warm doughy body around me. It felt ecstatic. Loving.

Outside I set off, feeling the slight breeze hit my face. When we reached the riverbank I crouched down in the exact same place where I found Pulp.

How long had it been now since I met this savior of mine, three days? Two weeks? I couldn’t be sure anymore, time had become irrelevant as everything else. All that mattered now was seeing the truth of what was beyond; learning the secrets of this existence.

‘You have been a great host, child of the earth,’ Pulp said sliding off my body into an even puddle on the floor.

The cold hit me straight away, knifing my naked body.

Pulp started to flash its otherworldly colours.

I watched, mesmerized by the beauty.

‘You have fed me life with your soul, and in return I shall show you what lies beyond,’ Pulp said.

Pulp started to rise on the river’s edge, morphing from puddle to standing mirror.

I stood before it still gazing into the void of colour and ecstasy.

‘Come, child. Come and see!’

Raising my hand, I held my palm against the abyss, reaching out to touch the intertwining colours, to feel their love and warmth.

Tears spilled from my eyes due to all its magnificence.

‘Come with me … come and see what lies beyond.’

I stepped forward as all the colours suddenly vanished.

Losing my footing I fell forward as Pulp dropped to the banking in a heap of dough.

The water tore at my body with its icy blades.

I momentarily debated grappling against the cold and fighting my way back to the banking.  

But my weak and aged limbs made no such effort. As my head bobbed up and below the surface I saw Pulp shuffle its way down the banking and into shadow like a feral animal.

I’d been sucked dry.

Suddenly I realised I was the insignificant one; a pawn in a much grander universe. It was time to leave this world that I no longer understood behind and seek out what lies beyond.

Pulp promised me such things.

The body is just a vessel … It’s the soul …

I didn’t want to believe that it was all treachery on Pulp’s part; I wasn’t just some host to feed the thing before it sent me to death.

No, there’s more, I’m sure of it.

I was ready to see the truth – to awaken.

The body is just a vessel …

Falling to the bottom of the river I wondered if I would ever see those magnificent colours again as all other lights went out.


Bio:

Ethan works for a utilities company in South Yorkshire.
Writing fiction has become a hobby over the past couple of years and he hopes to one day publish a novel.
Ethan notes Stephen King and H.P Lovecraft as influences behind his work.


“Cthulhu and Me” Fiction by Jackk N. Killington

Illustration of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft, 1934

Sally was seven, and she liked seven-year-old things. She liked pink dresses, tea parties with her friends, or with her plushies when her friends couldn’t come out to play. She loved going to school and being surrounded by her friends. She also liked slugs, and bats. She kept a lizard skeleton, and snake fang collection in a shoe box under her bed. She even had a pet stuffed squirrel that she kept on her writing desk where she could skritch its head and ask it vocabulary questions when she was thinking her homework out loud. She had a full life, and now that she had the bestest friend in the whole world, Cthulhu, she just knew that her life was complete.

“Sally, you’ll be late for school, honey bear.” Sally heard her mother’s voice waft up the stairway, and into her room from the kitchen downstairs. She was busy filling her pink Care Bear backpack with her needed school things. This was very important to her. Nothing could be missed. Pencils, pens, and erasers in their zippered bag, check. Little sushi and alien erasers, check. Homework for Miss Caliendo, check. Spelling and arithmetic books, letters to Santa, and I love you notes from and to her mother, check. 

When Sally felt that that was all squared away, she gave herself one last appraising view of herself in the full-length mirror that she had leaning against her wall. She was wearing her favorite pink dress, white frilled socks, and pink Sketchers. Her cat skull hair clip to the side. “Ahh, perfection,” she sighed. She grabbed up her backpack, gave Aryclese a few more skritches on his dusty, stuffed head, and left the  room feeling confident about the start of her day.

“Lunch is on the counter Sally,” Sally’s mother said as she came into the kitchen. She was busying herself making pancakes and sausages, while her dad sat at the table, chewing on a piece of bacon while he sifted through the latest issue of Tome Magazine, the leading source for heretical thought, and the leading wealth of material for novice and professional warlocks alike. Her dad always said the Enochian Mysteries were best read at dawn, before he read something truly wicked like The New York Times.

“Thank you, Mom,” Sally looked out the window that led to the front yard where she could see the bus stop a little way down the street. The ten-year olds, buttheads that they were, had not showed up yet, so she would have a few minutes at least before they would show, and their ceaseless barrage of taunts would begin. Maggy, Alex, and Dookie head were standing at the stop. Dookie head’s real name was cliff, but she hated/liked him, so she called him Dookie head. She was excited to spend a few minutes with them before the advent of school. None of them were in the same class that she was. She had her friends in the classroom, but she would be happier if some of the kids that she hung out with outside of school were in her class.

“I gotta go,” she said to her parents as she grabbed her Bratz lunchbox off of the counter. “I love you mommy,” she said as her mom bent over and gave her a peck on the forehead. Then she ran over and jumped at her father, making him lose his grip on his magazine which almost flopped to splatter in his eggs.

“Whoa there little Lilitu.” He said as he fully placed the zine down next to his plate and gave Sally a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “You be a good girl at school today, okay?”

“Yes daddy, I will,” Sally said.

“Right home after school, okay?” her mom said. “The sitter will be here at four, it’ll be Karry tonight. Don’t you be late now, or she might be cross.” Karry Anne was a nice enough thirteen-year-old, but Sally’s parents liked to take stabs at her for being Christian. “Get it?” Sally’s mother asked.

“Carla, you’re incorrigible,” Sally’s father said.

Her mom winked. “You know it Daddy,” she said. Sally’s dad laughed and shifted in his seat, staring at her mother, a sly smile crossing his lips. “Hmmm, you better run off to school now, Sally,” her father said.

“Okay daddy,” Sally said as her father got up and went to stand behind her mom, giving her a hug and kissing her gently on the neck. Sally smoothed down her dress with her hands, and then with backpack on shoulder and lunchbox in tow, she turned from her parents and made her way to the front door. She flipped the deadbolt and the door lock, then turned the knob to let the door open to the outside world. She started to walk outside but then stopped for there was something in her path.

It was a someone actually. The little figure standing before her was about a foot shorter than she was. It was nearly naked and stocky, its arms, legs and torso were a mass of muscles. Its skin was a mixture of greenish gray, with small veins of sandy gold. It had a slick coat on its skin which looked like water, or clear slime. Barnacles peppered the creature’s arms and legs, and it wore a loincloth made out of seaweed. The creatures head was even more peculiar then its stubby, muscly body. Instead of a human skull, it looked to have an octopus where its head should have been. The tentacles of the octopus were flailing about as if they had a life of their own as the creature stared at Sally with four eyes planted on the body of the octopus where a human’s eyes would have been. Two stacked on top of the other.

Something told Sally that she should have been afraid. That she should have turned and fled from the little, angry looking creature that stood before her, ridged body and balled fists. As she looked at this new creature before her, however, she could not help but think about how adorable this little monster was.  

“Hi,” Sally said to the creature. It turned its seething eyes to glare at her. “I said hello. Don’t be rude,” Sally said in a stern voice, her brow furrowing. This seemed to catch the creature off guard, and its anger seemed to break in that moment. The creature stood there for a moment, as if it did not know how to proceed, but then it looked at one of its hands, held it in the air and waved to her. It’s octopus face, tentacles and all turned into the mimic of a human smile. Its little eyes squinted in happiness as if it was truly enjoying the interaction. “Oh my god, you are precious,” Sally said.

Sally looked back at the kitchen where she had last left her parents, and then to the bus stop. She wanted to tell her parents about the incredible new friend that she had discovered right outside their front door. She could see that the older kids had shown up, so she knew that she had very little time until the school bus showed up to take her away. She was in quite the quandary.

The squat figure seemed to understand what was going on and turned around to face the street, and the bus stop. Sally could just see the front of the school bus starting to come down the street as the little figure raised his arms and waved them wildly in the air. Sally felt herself jump a little bit with a crack of thunder that filled the morning air. The world outside of her house melted away all color, leaving only darkness. It was as if the thunder had scared the color away from the world. Leaving only whites, grays and a tint of blue that reminded Sally of the negative filters that her mother had showed her on Instagram.  

The world just stopped, frozen as if it were reduced to a picture. The only sound that she heard was the sound of her father moaning in the kitchen (maybe he was having one of his headaches) and the dead thrum of nothingness from outside of the door. Sally looked at her hands. At her dress. Everything on her was the same as before the world had gone dark. This negative fusion did not seem to affect her, the little man thing before her or her home. He is so cool, she thought as she looked at the creature before her in amazement. Then the creature spoke. Its voice was a warble of textures, as if he were speaking to her from under water. “Hello sally, I would like to speak with my alcol- I mean, I would like to speak with your parents please,” it said. Though she heard the creatures voice, it did not seem to be speaking to her. Rather it seemed as if the words were being broadcast into her brain.

Sally was excited about this. She smiled a huge smile as she reached forward and grabbed the little man creature by his hand. “C’mon, they are in the kitchen,” she said as she half led, half pulled him with her. She already considered the creature to be her new best friend. He was so different and new. She thought he was the most exciting thing to have ever happened to her in her entire short life. “Mommy, daddy,” she yelled as she made her way across the living room. She heard her father curse.

When she came into the kitchen, her father was zipping up his pants and pushing his shirt into the front of his pants. Her mother seemed to be getting up off the floor. An annoyed look filled both of their faces. “Sally, you are going to be late for-” her mother’s voice caught in her throat as she saw the little figure that Sally had been dragging behind her, and she and her father both froze in place.

“I made a new friend,” Sally said, smiling.

She did not understand as she watched both of her parents fall to their knees, bowing their heads, not to her, but to her new little companion. “Lord Cthulhu,” they both said.

Her new friend, The one that her parents called Cthulhu asked her to go out into the living room for a time while he spoke with her parents, promising her that everything would be fine and that she should not be scared of any of the noises that she would hear. He promised her that her parents would be fine. “Do not fear what you hear, my dear little Sally, only what needs to be done will be done.” She chose to believe him; he was her new best friend after all.

She did not really understand what was going on but she walked out into the living room. She crawled up onto the couch and turned on the TV with the remote control, turning on YouTube and watching an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.

The sounds of thunderclaps leapt from the kitchen. The sound of her parents screaming, and pleading filling the air, but she just turned the TV up louder. It did not last long, and before she knew it the thunderclaps started to die down, the sounds of pleading were reduced to light sobs. The sounds of electric sizzles faded and then disappeared until all that was left was quiet.

A few moments later, Cthulhu came out of the kitchen, his little stubbed wings flapping lazily behind him. Little tendrils of steam trickled into the air from spots on his skin. The barnacles and liquid had left him, replaced by clean, dry skin. The seaweed that he had been wearing was now replaced by a pair of carpenter jeans and a Danzig T-shirt, though she had no idea who Danzig was. A pair of black sneakers covered his feet as he made his way over and onto the couch, flopping down to sit next to Sally. “You do not fear me Sally?” Cthulhu asked.

“Nope, I think you’re cute,” Sally said.

“Your parents have made a grievous error Sally. One that they will be helping me to correct, but while they do so, I am going to be staying here. Would you like that?”

“Yes,” she beamed. “I would like that very much,” her smile widened. “Would you like to be my friend?” she asked.

“Yes,” the dark lord said. “I would like that very much.”

The End


Jackk N. Killington lives in Missouri where he writes, works, and hangs out with his beautiful muse. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and his website where he has a list of his published works and other things. Go to:  Fiction Writer | Jackk N. Killington.