“bang dammit slam” Dark Flash Fiction by Daniel Solomon

BANG!

Dammit! she cried. Slam! went her fist on the button,.

Maya drew her face near to the doorknob, as if speaking through it would amplify her sentiment. She tried to steady her voice through angry sobs as she demanded that Re exit the bathroom.

Re whimpered an apology from the other side

Then come out, Maya said. I need you here.

No, Re said, I need to take responsibility for this part.

Maya leaned into the door on clawed fingertips. She told Re it would be okay.

That is the stupidest thing you could say, said Re. We aren’t even gonna get into space.

Just come out, Maya insisted.

From inside the bathroom, Re answered, We’re running out of chances to take control of this.

Maya thought about the machine, and what was left of it. She thought about its too-tiny LED screen.

In no order, she remembered seeing:

The elimination of honeybees.

The nukes going off again. And then one more time.

Reform camps, work camps, concentration camps.

The complete eradication of monkeys from Delhi and Chandigarh.

Everyone who can do so taking shelter behind a gate.

Rhinoceroses burning under napalm appliques as white supremacists retreat from stolen lands in East Africa.

Elites of all stripes doing basically the same thing everywhere, getting ready for an escape to space.

Meat processors equipped with laser scalpels to melt the beaks off of chickens like solder.

Everyone in Pacific Standard Time sitting down to tofu dinner, hearing a distant BANG!, and looking to their windows simultaneously to see one bright flash in all directions only half a moment before everything in the entire world turns off.

No one escaping.

The sum is suffering, Re added. We never win.

Maya wept. Re, this isn’t about the whole world. Come out. For me.

There was silence in the bathroom.

She gathered herself, tried to project authority into the other room.

You

do not

have to do this.

Your depression

just feels like

the singularity.

You have responsibilities to me.

She pressed her ear to the door. She could hear Re shuffling around. She heard the toilet seat close.

No! she pled. I’ll be right back don’t go alone.

She heard Re draw the shower curtain.

The bathroom door jiggled in its frame as she pulled her weight away from it. She nearly fell down the stairs, two flights of stairs, into the basement, the laboratory.

Maya threw aside the dust rag covering the apparatus she had devised using stolen machine components. On top of the box was a button. Inside the box, the button was connected to a chisel honed to a quantum edge. At the edge of the chisel, in a realm too small to perceive, there was a crumb of circuitry salvaged from the corpse of a computer that had been faster than anything else on the planet. In that realm, the chisel blade hovered like a guillotine over a crystal whose facies flowed in an infinite loop of symmetry.

For only a split second, Maya hesitated. How long was the crystal’s loop?

She announced to the basement, to Re, that she didn’t want to be alone. She drew a long breath–

BANG!

Dammit! Maya shrieked.

Her fist went slam!


Danny is an ethnographer and natural historian. He teaches anthropology and gender studies in the SF Bay Area. You can find his fiction, poetry, scholarship, and experiments with time at his website, danielallensolomon.com.


“Team Meeting” Dark Flash Fiction by Jacob Strunk

"Team Meeting" Dark Fiction by Jacob Strunk

You’re watching a spot of blood bloom on Marlon’s white shirt. 

Anastasia sterilized the blade, your eyes watching her thin fingers work; it’s just a standard scalpel, which is a little disappointing given all the build up, the mythology. You couldn’t look away as Marlon took a breath, eyes open, not making a sound as he pulled the scalpel across his ribs. You wondered how Anastasia got those latex gloves over her acrylic nails without tearing them. Practice, you guess. And even after all your fantasizing about her, watching her pull on latex gloves is way hotter than you anticipated. She cleaned the wound, applied a bandage, wrapped gauze in three tight bands around his torso.

But despite her care, despite the slow and deliberate playing out of this ritual, you see some blood has soaked through the bandage, through the gauze, and is right now ruining a very nice shirt. A bead of sweat appears at Marlon’s temple, and he grimaces as he pulls his sport coat back over his shoulders.

All hands back in the office starting Monday! was the subject of the email you got last week, the one that landed in the pit of your stomach like a lead weight. Like a pound of flesh. The job was all right when it was remote, easy, but the idea of spending precisely 40 hours a week with these people is another story. Working as a team in person is a critical component of our company culture. But if you’re being honest with yourself, sharing stale office air with Anastasia after two years of on-again-off-again lockdowns sounds downright erotic. Plus the economy sucks, and it’s not like your generation has many options. And you in particular, with your student loans and two useless degrees. You have to take what you can get.

What you got was a remote gig as creative director for Chad Corwin Inc., and what you’ve gathered over the past twelve weeks is that CCI is little more than a tax shelter for Chad’s expensive habits and various side hustles, all of which sound like the cult of late capitalist bullshit to you. But, hey, everyone has a hustle these days, right? And given the disparities between your actual experience as a creative director and what it says on your resumé, if everyone’s got a hustle you might as well own up that this is yours. There are no benefits; no healthcare, no paid vacation. But given the general earth-shaking of this so-called global pandemic, given the looming reality that you wouldn’t make rent if something didn’t manifest, landing this gig was a blessing.

But now you’re watching Anastasia hand a small vial of Marlon’s blood to Chad as Marlon slowly lowers himself into a chair in the corner of the room. Chad’s barefoot, which isn’t surprising, and wearing a $200 tank top, as if scamming hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from well-intentioned but gullible wannabe flyover entrepreneurs somehow elevates him above even the most modest social contracts. Chad’s about eighty pounds overweight, and his expensive designer tank top makes it look like he has breasts. Anastasia peels her gloves off and stands, waiting, while Chad examines the vial like he’s looking for something specific, something more than the pain and humiliation, which you know is the real commodity. It always is. Chad strokes his beard. You can tell he dyes it. Everyone can tell.

When he seems satisfied, Chad nods. Anastasia steps forward and takes the vial. She sets it on a shelf next to the rest. Chad’s gaze falls on Cynthia, and you see her start to shake. Not just tremble, but really shake. Cynthia’s not old, per se, but she’s got twenty-five years on you and Marlon, and she’s spent the past ten here in this office, penitent at Chad’s bare feet. That’s where she goes now, down on her knees. She crawls across the floor toward him, pleading. 

Please, she says. Please, I swear my numbers will be back up next quarter. The words slide out of her, wet, smacking on the floor as they fall. Please, you’re right, I’ve been slacking. Please. I know you’re always right. She squeezes her hands together, rocks back on her feet. Her stockings have torn at the knees.

You realized early on you could half-ass your job because Chad himself was half-ass. Every Monday, you’d watch Chad smoke expensive cigars and sip $60 pours of single malt Scotch at 9:00 in the morning. An overweight fifty-year-old man in a tank top looking to rebrand himself as an influencer. A business guru, as he explains it. Eight other little heads in little boxes just like yours, pixelated faces feigning rapt attention. In your first video call, you watched him yell at Cynthia until she cried. Her mic was muted, but you could tell. You mentioned it later in the employee Slack channel. 

Chad’s a genius, was all anyone would say. We trust him because he’s the best, and you’ll see that soon. You’ll believe.

But for most of those video calls you watched Anastasia scroll Instagram on her phone. Or paint her nails. Sometimes you’d know she was texting with a lover. You could tell. Everyone could tell. When she’d laugh, your breath would catch. And when she’d look up into the camera, once or twice you were ready to grab a screenshot. And if you timed it right, and she was looking straight down the barrel, you could tell yourself later that she was looking at you, only you, ready to tell you secrets.

And now those eyes are here, and they are looking at you, looming brown and large enough to fall into. And you’re standing, and she’s reaching up to push the sport coat off your shoulders as Cynthia falls, whimpering, back into her chair. You hear the click and hiss of Chad’s blowtorch and know he’s lighting a cigar. You blink away the sting of cigar smoke and look down into Anastasia’s brown eyes as she starts undoing the buttons on your shirt. You hear the blowtorch again and know Chad’s heating the brand. Anastasia smiles as she pulls the bottom of your shirt out of your slacks, and you figure, What the hell? I can always quit.


Jacob Strunk has been short-listed for both a Student Academy Award and the Pushcart Prize in fiction, as well as the Glimmer Train short story award and the New Rivers Press book prize. His films have screened in competition and by invitation across the world, and his fiction has appeared in print for over 20 years. He earned his MFA in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program and teaches film and media in Los Angeles, where he lives with a few framed movie posters and the ghost of his cat, Stephen.


Be sure to visit The Chamber’s Bookshop before you leave.


If you liked this story, you may also like “New England Gothic” by Elizabeth Gauffreau.

“Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold” Dark Supernatural Flash Fiction by Phil Temples

Little Johnny holds his breath in anticipation. It’s his third attempt at invoking the ancient incantation, and he’s finally rewarded: the ground opens, unleashing all manner of evil entities from below. One especially hideous, demonic form heads directly for Sally’s open bedroom window across the street.

Trick or treat, he whispers.


Phillip Temples is still trying to make sense of it all. Writing and photography help.  He can be followed at https://temples.com or on Twitter @PhilTemples.


If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy “You Monster” by Janelle Chambers.

“Teacher–Listen” Dark Flash Fiction by Louise Worthington

"Teacher--Listen" Dark Flash Fiction by Louise Worthington

‘Listen,’ Miss says, ‘to the wind tonguing its way around loose windows in the classroom. It’s got muscle.’

            Silence grows skin, and I grow goose-bumps because Miss wants us to write about ourselves, to delve into feelings and spit out our hearts.

            ‘Conjure a world away from here!’ Miss waves an arm like a wand. She takes a black marker pen, its nib so thick that her words on the board – ‘Creative Writing’ – even smell masculine to me. Miss knows nothing about me or the place I call home with my father and brother. Miss has it all. All that honeysuckle perfume, fairy-tale ring on her finger and Snow White eye-shadow.

            For inspiration, Miss reads aloud something written by a dead bloke. Words billow out as smoke, squeezing a throat and clenching a heart until its faintness is terrifying.

            I take a biro in my hand like it’s an amulet and feel surprised when ink drips, black as a magpie’s tail.

            Fat Vinny gets out of his chair forcefully as though he’s avoiding a fatal collision. He says it’s too hot to concentrate and cracks open the window like he’s slamming on the brakes. I hear a muffled half-sigh of air. I know it, like breathing into a pillow to stifle pain, subdue a scream, a cry for help. The rest of my oxygen is on paper.

            ‘It’s like a fucking séance in here!’ Vinny says.

            Miss pretends not to hear, as if ‘fucking’ is beneath her. She keeps moving slowly around the classroom, performing some kind of ritual that’s meant to help us weave spells to build our own palaces.

            I conjure a waterfall in slow motion, turning me to liquid, purifying every cell and tissue in my body.

            A reckless gust of wind rattles the window to remind us of its muscle. ‘The wind’s ripped!’ Vinny jokes. ‘Like me.’ And he wobbles the white blubber on his stomach to raise a laugh. His belly button is submerged in the riptide. The motion of flesh drags me out of my waterfall onto a cotton sheet stained the colour of cherries, tomatoes and squashed plums. No amount of washing gets it clean.

            If only words could slice the rotten, heal wounded flesh, and hide what can’t be undone under a permanent layer of snow. Miss will hear my voice soon, like the wind trapped between opaque glass.

            I title my piece Dad’s Stick of Dynamite and sit back. Vinny dislikes something about the freeze frame and throws his chair across the room. Paint red as blood spots chips onto the back wall. He grabs my story and swallows it whole. Hungry – as I am – to fill the hole inside.

            Choking, Vinny tries to cough up my words. The poison of its content clearly doesn’t suit his palate. Miss thumps him on the back with an impressive whack, but still his airwaves are constricted and his bloated red face turns to blue. He jerks forwards, trailing his pudgy hands down the whiteboard, smudging the words ‘Creative Writing’ Miss wrote less than an hour ago before I knew my power. He lands heavily on the carpet.

            Perhaps I do have a voice, after all.


Teacher – Listen” was first published by Horla in 2020.


Louise writes about the complexity and the darker side of the human heart in the genres of horror and psychological thrillers. Many of her stories explore motherhood, mental health disorders, revenge and family. Her tales are imbued with strong emotional themes and atmospheric settings with strong female characters and multi-layered plots. She is at her most poetic describing the dark and disturbing. The latest release is Doctor Glass.


If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy “And” by Grove Koger.

“Sandbar” Dark Flash Fiction by K.A. Williams

"Sandbar" Dark Flash Fiction by K.A. Williams

Cavanaugh shielded his eyes from the morning sun, shed his life jacket, and stepped from the motorboat. “I didn’t want this assignment, besides it was Logan’s turn. Why do I always get the weird ones?”

Reed waited in the boat.

Cavanaugh turned. “Aren’t you coming?”

“Yeah, but I have to check some of my camera equipment first.”

Cavanaugh walked to the left end of the long sandbar and gazed over the blue-green ocean toward the seashore. “How many people disappeared here, was it two or three?”

“Three now,” Reed said, restarting the engine and backing the boat slowly off the sand.

“What are you doing?” Cavanaugh ran from the end of the sandbar to where water now separated him from the idling motorboat.

“Mason knows you’re having an affair with his wife. He paid me to strand you here, hopes you’ll disappear like the others.”

“You can’t just leave me! I’ll pay you whatever you want!”

Reed laughed. “You don’t have the money. Everyone at the newspaper knows you lose when you bet at the casino.”

The motorboat sped away, leaving Cavanaugh behind. He flopped down upon the warm sand and looked out over the sea, but there were no other boats. The sea was deserted.

It was common knowledge that he couldn’t swim but how did Mason, his editor, find out about the affair. They had been discreet.

Lost in thought, he didn’t notice the sand around him begin to swirl and sink. Then the sandbar devoured him, like it had the others.


K. A. Williams lives in North Carolina. Her stories and poems have been published in many magazines including The Chamber, Black Petals, Corner Bar, Yellow Mama, Altered Reality, Calliope, The Sirens Call, and Schlock! Apart from writing, she enjoys rock music, Scrabble, and CYOA games.


If you liked this story, maybe you will like these other works by K.A. Williams and published in The Chamber: “Storm”, “Son”, “Lunch at the Lake”, “Cal and Kay”, and “Night Caller”.

You may also like the anthology Ghost Parachute, which you can find in The Chamber’s bookshop.

“Taste” Flash Horror by Madison Randolph

The phrase “tasted like grave dirt” is tossed around a lot. Either people are being disingenuous or there are a lot of almost buried alive cases the news doesn’t report on.

I wonder what makes grave dirt taste different from regular dirt. It can’t be from the decomposing bodies because we bury them in expensive boxes. Could it be all in our heads? Does our subconsciousness tell us the dirt tastes like death and rotting formaldehyde when it doesn’t?

To test my theories, I’ve alternated burying people in the forest and the city’s graveyard. So far my subjects haven’t been responsive; begging for their lives as they try to climb with broken limbs.

One day I’ll find someone as interested in science as I am to complete the experiment. Until then, I’ll keep working. It took a thousand tries to make a light bulb and I’m only on test one hundred and thirty two.


Madison Randolph’s works have appeared in Friday Flash Fiction, The Drabble, and Sandstorm Journal. She has also had work appear in 101 Words under the name Ryker Hayes. She can be found on Twitter as @Madisonr1713 or on Instagram as madisonrandolph17


“No Rose without Thorns” Flash Horror by Madeleine D’Este

1. Rose oil

The body was face-down on the kitchen floor. A halo of blood on the polished concrete. A woman with blonde highlighted hair. Another single person household. No sign of forced entry. The only witness, a cat with bloody paws.

Before they turned the body, I knew what we’d find. For four years, I’d been dreaming about the others. The first one was January 14th 2018. Easy to remember, it was the day before my thirty-fifth birthday. Of course, I’d seen worse. Car accidents with nothing but red pulp left behind. But there was something about these bodies that made my skin itch. How many murders made a serial killer? This was number four.

Enticed, you tap. You draw closer to your lit-up screen. Run your hungry eyes over my inventory. Wet your lips as you dream of what my wares will bring. The promises and fantasies in a bottle I sell. But do not fear, I have the perfect one for you.

Your heart flutters as your mind drifts, how my scents on your dewy curvaceous skin will transform you. How intoxicating you will be. His hard gaze on you. His stubbled chin scraping up your neck. His throaty moans. The wolf who wants to eat you alive.

Which one will you choose? The Egyptian priestess, the femme fatale, the tragic heroine. Musk. Rose. Cedarwood. Jasmine. A whisper of romance. A hint of lust. A lingering presence to haunt his dreams.

Staring at your hand-held rectangle, you choose.

2. Jasmine

I didn’t notice at first, it was a pup of a Constable who mentioned it. He was standing in the doorway taking up room.

‘Stinks,’ he grumbled.

At first I ignored him. Thought he meant the blood, he was green after all, couldn’t have been more than a few weeks out of training. I don’t even notice the stink of blood now.

I sniffed and grimaced. ‘I can’t smell anything.’

‘Perfume,’ he said.

I sniffed again. He was right. A floral scent hung in the air.

‘Recognise it?’ I said.

‘Nah. Just hate the stuff.’

The choice is made, your coins tumble my way. But your gold is not my goal. You will make payment in other ways. Not every patron is special enough for my individual attention. I am too wildly popular for that, and far too clever.

As the names rush past my eyes on the screen, I carefully select those worthy to receive a personal touch. Your name jumps from all the others. You chose Fairy Queen. I know you, you covet light-heartedness, flirtation, magic. You see yourself as dull, unworthy and empty. A squirt of my fairy dust at your chubby wrists and ankles will rouse the wolves and bring fun tumbling your way.

Before my little elves package up your purchase, I add a drop of something special to the vial. A concoction so secret I cannot even breathe when I list the ingredients. Handed to me through dreams and trances, after years of fasting and genuflecting, I now have the answer. And today the answer is you.

Swiftly my present weaves through the world. Along roads, conveyor belts and on bikes until a woman in day-glo yellow delivers the small brown box to your door. After another grey day of disappointment and smudged mascara, my gift is a bright spot. You tear open the wrapping and sniff the vial. Across the city, my lips part as I wait for you to take the first spray. We both close our eyes in unison, and swoon as one.

All alone, you sip white wine in your sheepskin boots and dowse yourself in my scent. A smile graces your lips as you snuggle into the couch and I congratulate myself. Once again I have chosen perfectly. But I must be patient, and I know how to be patient. The dosage must be exactly right.

3. Cedar wood

It was the coroner who named the notes. ‘Rose, jasmine and cedar wood,’ he said, sucking air in through his big nostrils. After a twenty-year career surrounded by the stench of death, how he could pin-point the smells, I’ll never know.

‘You know it?’

He squinted, then blinked. ‘No,’ he said eventually.

‘Thanks for nothing,’ I snorted.

Another dead-end. Waste of my time. I went back to looking for proper evidence.

— 

You are greedy, I don’t have to wait long. You ripened exceptionally and three days was all it took. Entranced by the scent, you lather on more and more until your home is a cloud of fairy dust. You leave the door open for me. Of course I know where to find you, you told me yourself. I slide in through the door and you don’t even blink. Your tortoiseshell cat hisses as I stride toward you, my blade gleaming in the flickering television glow. You welcome me with a smile, then loll back your head, exposing your blotchy throat. With the silver tip, I carve you a new smile from ear to ear. I peel back the skin and scoop the nodes from your throat, taking away my treasure in a glass jar.

As you jerk and splutter, then roll face-down on the hard floor, I take back my gift and every trace of my fairy dust, and leave the cat to your blood.

Within the hour, I sup on you, the perfect garnish to my rich venison stew. I raise my glass and say a toast. Here’s to one more year.


Madeleine D’Este is a Melbourne-based writer, podcaster and reviewer. Inspired by folklore and forteana, D’Este writes dark mysteries, including steampunk, historical fantasy and vampire tales. Her novel The Flower and The Serpent was nominated for an Australian Shadow for Best Novel in 2019.

Find Madeleine at www.madeleinedeste.com or @madeleine_deste on Twitter


“The Feverish Fast of Albert Drach” Dark, Surreal Microfiction by Karin Kutlay

It was the third day of Albert Drach’s fast. He had been eating null, inputting nought, defecating null, outputting nought. He was awaiting fever dreams to descend on him. He was awaiting descensions of the kind no one had known before, the way the sun’s sunset sets on the Polish Poppy Proletariat, intoxicated from hours with the black seed, who on their way home would imagine their wives had all slept with a purple fabric seller from Kiralyhida and poisoned their dinners. Albert Drach was awaiting such descensions.

And they did come unto him. (In parts.)

He threw his head back walking out of an ocean; his hair coalesced in one single strand splattering its salt water into a white sky and plopping on his back like a whip. He was groping pebbles in blue, black, and gray, crawling ahead in fast devolution from human form; this here rectangular rock larger than his palm and this here short shard of slippery volcanic vomit. He gasped for air as if his pastel pink lungs were fit for a muddy, pre-Cambrian ocean. Standing on a shore of pure stone, he looked ahead, and without a gaze could feel his nakedness, in waves emanating from his hips, not from shame or negation, but a viscous cold filling in his creaks.

Two and a half girls waited, leaning on layers of white rock squashed into each other for centuries. The half girl had one hand, only hand, in a gap in the wall – but no, it was more of a cliff looked from below, but no, it sharpened as it rose and stood alone, but no – and had her body asymmetrically made. Two feet and two calves and three quarters of a lower body and half a torso and one arm and one hand. It was an artist’s job, this, no sinew or stain in sight, everything perhaps unsuitable to the eye tucked inside a half-wet periwinkle dress. Albert Drach remembered not the name of the poet or the sculptor or the gynecologist, but remembered another immortal work of him, the god Elohim.

The other two sat in an awkward gang. Left girl had her legs crossed, again in periwinkle paper, ruffles rolling over boulders and bishop sleeves. Right girl held a Rodin pose, and a belt of red crepe paper encircled somewhere not her waist. Their faces pale and puffed, eyes small and round, hands fit for a life of craftsmanship at first sight, and after a thought, hands like those after a life of craftsmanship. Left spoke: “We were waiting for someone else.”


Karin is a sophomore studying Physics, from Turkey, and now living in California. She was long-listed for the 2022 Erbacce Poetry Prize, and this is her first published work.


“You Monster” Horror by Janelle Chambers

He paints over the blood on me again before she arrives. He makes my two beds. He vacuums and organizes the desk in my corner. He kicks a paint and blood splattered shirt under the bed and adjusts his tie. He opens my balcony door, but the miasma of copper and paint fumes only dance along the waves of air that rush in.

Maybe she wouldn’t notice.

I feel the clickety clack of six-inch pumps approach. Her tapping is a tickle just below my eye.

He turns up the music, filling me with the spirits of Louis Armstrong. “Come in,” he says, after opening me up.

“You alone?” Her voice is husky from too much smoking.

“I have Molly. And cash.”

She enters, pumps sinking into my softness.

“Sit,” he says.

“Cash first,” she says. She follows him to the balcony.

They light cigarettes and he holds out a baggy to her.

“Molly?”

“Cash first.”

“Relax,” he says.

She sighs, holds out her hand, her fingers wiggling.

He fumbles for his wallet. She snatches it, pulls out cash and stuffs it in the front pocket of her blouse.

“Molly?”

She puts out her cigarette and walks back inside. He follows, closing the balcony door behind him. Closing us all in together, before he strikes.

The bed groans, as if to say not again.

For a moment, Louis’ solo becomes an off-kilter duet, the cacophonous sounds of screaming, ripping fabric, the headboard against my stone body, and finally metal meeting flesh over and over. And over.  Two minutes tops; he’s getting better at this. My white is painted red again.

The music ends, the static of a record player pleading to be shut off. The souls of all the women he’s brought me slowly fill in the empty space.

He washes evidence of his masterpiece off his hands, down my drain, filling my veins. Her body lies on my bed, the only thing he won’t let me keep. He lies on the other bed, and faces her, watching.

Blood pools, the flowered quilt stealing color from her. She stares up at me, one pump hangs delicately from an unsupported foot. Any moment now.

The scratching of the record player mingles with the buzz of the bathroom’s fluorescent lights.

I wait for her to join me and mine, the meandering ghosts of women who close in to welcome her. But she doesn’t come.

She blinks, her ashen face coloring and I realize then, the red isn’t sticking to me like it had with the others. I feel my feast pulling away and I see her now. Like a flower, her smile grows, oh so slow. It stretches behind her ears, her lips thin and pale as her skin, until no lips remain, only a black curved line.

The shoe drops.

His head lifts, hair in his eyes.

Her hand moves to the knife in her gut. No nails, just skin.

I throb with the need for blood. My lights flicker. He can’t let her escape. I need her back. My reserves are dry, I feel the weight of me, the cold. But, she’s not…

He sits up, the bed groans as if to warn, don’t go there.

“What?”

“Bad boy,” she says.

He stands above her unblemished person. “No,” he says.

“Yes,” she says, and in one-two-three seconds she pulls the metal from her meat, jamming it into his hip. Out again, and then fun retribution to his stomach. Into his bicep.

The blood is there, out of my reach, until he hits the floor. She straddles his fallen form and who cares if he’s crying and pleading? My ladies’ faces contort in mocking horror and silent screams. They laugh at old phantasms of each perfect moment now gone horribly wrong.

And I? My carpet sponges up each red drop and it is good, and it is foul, but not enough.

She pulls the small bag of pills from his pocket.

“You’re a monster,” he rasps.

“And so are you,” she says. “Molly?” She dumps the pills down his throat, holding his lips closed. She carves a line that frames his face, and it is a great gift, a new masterpiece. I fill, and she stands, opening the balcony door for another smoke.


Janelle Chambers lives with her husband, two daughters, dog, ferret, and unknown number of fish. She is inspired by the works of Poe, the Grimm’s brothers and way too many fantasy writers to name. In addition to writing, she also hopes to successfully make it as a voice actress. 


“Two Beds, One Room” Dark Fiction by Angel Polanco

Liquid ambrosia in the form of a scorching cup of Cafe Bustelo is placed on the table. Outside the tiny one-bedroom with two-beds Washington Height apartment, the 1 train frivolously slithers from the tunnel. Violently shaking the timeline of picture frames that grace the antique dresser.

“This was the first thing I brought you. I was what? Fifth teen. I had that summer job at the sneaker store. Every time we walked past Rubio’s; you’d mention how you loved this dresser. You were so mad at me for spending my first check on it. But every time someone came by, you’d brag about it.” Henri said.

“How I slept through that raucous, I will never know,” Henri says, as she blissfully sleeps. There was a time when the wailing sirens, thundering trains, and medley of bachata, reggaeton and whatever the hip-hop track currently dominated the air waves, were lullabies.

“The Spanish translation for career is race. Isn’t that ironic?” Henri says, with his trademark devil-may-care smirk.

“I’ve been running non-stop. Chasing the dollar. The American Dream. What do I have to show for it?” He says, pausing to think.

“Honestly, I ran away. I ran from this one bedroom, two bed apartment. Trading the vibrancy of Little Quisqueya for the solitude of Long Island suburbia. I even shamefully clean in silence. I look in the mirror and I don’t know who I am. It’s not who you raised. You ran. You ran from traditional abusive parents and the drowning oppression of a third world country in the 80s. Arrived in New York at 16. A child with a child. How’d you do it all? Without losing yourself?”

A summer breeze gently enters through the open window. Carrying, with it the mouthwatering aromas of freshly baked pan Cubano from the corner bakery. Suddenly his stomach roars with the ferocity of a lion.

“I am craving your mangu and fried salami with the pickled red onions. I don’t remember the last time I had a plate,” Henri says.

Henri notices her hand hanging abnormally off the side of the bed. Carefully he moves towards that side of the bed. He closes his eyes savoring the scent of the boldly, rich chocolatey and nutty cup of hazel nectar. When he opens his eyes, his heart breaks. On the ground slightly out of her reach, is the 8×10 photograph, from the last time everyone was together.

Her birthday two years ago. Of course, he was late. Why? Now he couldn’t remember. Did he have a sales meeting that day? No, used work as an excuse hoping to avoid the event. She was changing. The poison of age began to grip her mind and body. Regardless he was late and worse, in bad spirits. Despite this she greeted him with love and a smile. It had been two years since she seen him. Her heart was always right even if her mind wasn’t.

“I remember this day. You called me William. Who is William? I don’t know. In the excitement of your birthday, Alyssa forgot to give you your pills and-,” he paused, fighting back regret. “I was so mad. I snapped at Alyssa. Who am I to snap at her? She’s been here, while like a little boy, I left. She dealt with the doctor visits, and I paid the bills. That was the deal, but she’s the one who bathed and fed you. She’s the one who changed your diapers.”

The venom that erupted from his mouth that caused ruined the festive night. Hateful words laced with pride. As he walked out the door, he saw his mother’s eyes. A look of confusion and sadness. He broke her heart, and she couldn’t even remember why. He didn’t even say good-bye.

He returns to his two beds, one room home much too late.

“Mommy I am so sorry. I was so stupid.  I should have been around. I’m sorry mommy. You needed me and I wasn’t there. I need you mommy.” Henri said, reaching to hold her hand. Tears flow from his eyes, uncontrollably. 

Her eyes open with the instinct of a mother who knows her child is in trouble. She screams, “HENRI!”

Alyssa rushes into the small room, embracing her… our distraught mother. “WHERE’S MY HENRI… WHERE’S MY HENRI…” His mother shouts weeping.

A gentle hand touches my shoulder. To Henri’s surprise, an ethereal, serene warmth surrounds him. Before he leaves, he looks at the picture one last time.


Angel is a Creative Writing Major at Full Sail University. After 15-years of training young sales professionals to communicate effectively through email and phone calls across various verticals. Angel has decided to leverage his talent for creative writing and storytelling to embark on a successful writing career.


“Flowers in the Woods” Dark Sudden Fiction by Anita Joy Balraj

“Forget-Me-Nots” Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

I went to the woods to meet Henry and Gertrude, then… Someone is at the door of my room. Mummy had painted flowers on the door to match with the floral pattern on the floor. I do love flowers, so pretty and delicate! Oh, it’s Mummy, she’s crying now on the floor. She is hugging my bridesmaid gown, how I love the way it glitters! I just wanted to see the pretty blue flowers deep in the woods and maybe see some birds, then… Daddy just ran in and held her, he seems to be crying too. Oh, he is so close to the jewelry box on my dresser! I do hope he doesn’t find the love letters from Henry, I have there. Rob just came in panting, with tears. He always makes me wonder if I really am the oldest. He is telling Daddy that they found me. I had finally found the blue flowers when someone called out my name, then… As soon as Rob spoke, Mummy fainted on my bed. He said I was found in the woods, at the bottom of the lake; I was dead.


Anita is a business analyst by profession and a poet by choice. She started writing when she was six, and has no plans to stop. 


“Piñata” Dark, Supernatural Flash Fiction by D.C. Marcus

As your daughter walks barefoot across the lawn toward the hanging piñata, her bright red toenails padding through the well-kept grass, there is no reason to feel trepidation.  These backyard parties are a Halloween tradition, Callie and her friends decked out in their costumes stuffing themselves with candy, the neighborhood parents loitering on the deck with their smart phones and red plastic cups of cheap white wine.    

     The piñata, a Halloween mainstay since Callie turned three; perhaps the tradition ends with this final smash.  She’s fifteen now, accent on teen, too old to be excited by an orange jack-o-lantern packed with candy and hanging from a tree.  Other things excite her now; ten minutes earlier you found her spooning cake to the seventeen-year-old football player next door, his long tongue licking the white frosting from your daughter’s delicate fingers.  Like always, she wears her princess costume, but this year’s outfit offers a different view.  The pink satin pants hug her newly rounded hips, the frilly blouse tied above her midriff revealing cream-white skin, her bra straps visible through the sheer fabric.  Your daughter is changing, but the piñata still hangs from the tree, waiting; a ritual you refuse to let go.  

     The other kids gather near the tree as your beloved Callie picks up the bat and steps up to the piñata, making a show of it with her shimmying hips, the seductress approaching the golden calf, shaking her butt to the hoots and cheers of the hormone-charged boys.  You hate it, but your daughter will soon be a woman; you see how the other boys look at her, a duplicate of your own former teenage gaze. Callie raises the bat and aims for the piñata, the grinning pumpkin face stuffed with Starburst and Skittles and rolled up dollar bills placed among the treats.  As she swings, you imprint the moment in your brain: her last backyard Halloween party, the last time your daughter will still be girl enough to dive into the grass hunting for candy.  Next Halloween your only role will be the chauffeur, driving her to the mall and handing over the cash, banished while she flirts with boys and laughs with her friends.  You sense it all changing, but you have no idea how muchuntil Callie drives the plastic yellow bat straight into the piñata—SMASH—and the ground suddenly begins to shake.   

     The piñata explodes into a spray of candy, kids diving and scrambling with grabby hands, the neighborhood parents snapping photos, but the ground won’t stop rumbling—and then someone starts screaming because …how is it possible?  The piñata has started bleeding.

     Callie looks up, and for a moment, she is happy.  Remember that moment: the innocent smile on your daughter’s face, a face suddenly streaked filthy with blood.  You struggle to reach her but the ground has shifted into a thick, viscous mud, and all the girls are screaming now as a brick-sized mass of pink flesh, sticky with blood and brown-green mucous, drops placenta-like from the stem of the piñata. From that pulsing mound It begins to grow, an amorphous tumor throbbing and beating, swarming with flies, its center a slashed orifice as the shape, the thing, whatever it is, expands and starts moving, slithering its way toward your daughter as a noxious fog descends upon the yard. 

     Something has come unleashed, growing ever larger as other shapes spew from the piñata and begin to attack, hungry pink tumors latching onto flesh, biting, tearing, ripping the skin from all those young bones. Callie crawls across the grass, her friends scattering, screaming.  The football player collapses to the ground, a round pulsing tumor attached to his chest, a tentacle snaking out of its orifice and wrapping around his neck, the boy’s face a ghastly blue as the tentacle begins squeezing.      

     Your legs sink deeper into a mud bog, the fog skewing your vision as the shape mounts your daughter’s leg and crawls up her thigh, the orifice oozing spores, the spores multiplying, spreading across the lawn.  “Daddy! Help!” your daughter cries, and you grab Callie’s hand and feel her fingers against your palm.  Remember how tiny they were the first time you held her in the hospital?  But your grip fails as she is torn away from you, the tumor, the throbbing mass crawling over her stomach, sucking her into its orifice.      You still hear Callie screaming as another tumor drops from the piñata, and another, and another…and all you can think is Abholos, eater of worlds.    


D.C. Marcus grew up in New Jersey reading Twilight Zone Magazine and the classic Shadows anthologies edited by Charles L. Grant.  


“The Orange Tree” Fiction by Molly Osborne

We told our friends we bought the house because of the neighborhood and the beautiful front porch, but really it was because of the orange tree in the backyard. I grew up where winter has a stranglehold on everything living for at least half the year. After moving to Southern California, I was struck by the lemons, limes, avocados, and oranges that peeked out on branches over fences seemingly all year round.

   We moved in while the tree was still blossoming. In a few months’ time we would have a bounty of fruit that would become juices, marmalades, tarts, or sliced up and eaten for breakfast.

   When the first green fruits emerged, I’d find they’d quickly disappear. Birds, I thought. I purchased an enormous net and with the help of my husband and a questionable ladder, draped it over the top of the tree. And yet, the fruit still disappeared, never able to grow larger than a ping pong ball.

   I took out my ladder, searching in the areas that were the hardest to access. A hard, pockmarked fruit managed to make it twice as large as any other I had found, but it was covered in tiny bites, that had eaten away thick chunks of its flesh. Rodents, for certain.

   I laid out traps of all kinds; ones that snapped, ones that were sticky, ones that shut a little door and trapped the bastards after they went inside. Nothing was working. My fruit would die as infants. I even lured the neighbor’s cat over with treats. We’ll brush your coat, give you tuna, even lay a warm bed out for you on the patio. If you happen to see a rat or two when you are here, well, it would be great if you could—

The cat made barely a dent in the rat population. My tree was practically bare and I was beginning to think I’d lose the whole season. Poison was still an option, but I had saved it for last on purpose. I knew that it was terrible for the environment in so many ways, but I justified it by only using half as much as the box suggested. It worked.

   My tree no longer looked mangy. I was winning the war, but after a week or so I started finding the bite marks again. Most of the fruit that was nearly ripe had disappeared entirely.

   I bought another box of the poison. It worked so well—how could I not?  I needed to knock out their army. No more warning shots. I poured out the entire box, using even more than I was instructed to. And this would be it. One heavy blow, and then no more poison. Maybe some traps for good measure, but no more poison.    One morning I found the cat. The sweet neighbor cat that was practically ours.  She had trusted us. She couldn’t have gotten into the poison. She was smarter than that. After the nets went up, she left the tree alone. But she hadn’t left the rats alone. Not far from her soft body was a limp, partially eaten rat. It’s innards more toxins than blood. I was able to get a decent crop of oranges, but all of the fruit was bitter. The next year, I let the rats have it.


Molly Osborne is a Portland, Oregon based writer. She has fiction in STORGY, Bewildering Stories, and Button Eyes Review. When she isn’t writing, she works in stop motion animation production. She is currently writing a speculative fiction novel for adults.


“On the Boardwalk” Dark Flash Fiction by Alan Catlin

From the boardwalk I can see the waves rolling toward the shore. Metal trash barrels stretch row on row in parallel lines as far as the eye can see.  All the broad, white painted backs of the lifeguard stands are empty now as night begins.  Out there, where the fishermen are casting their lines into the surf.  Out there where the waves breaking over the hard grey rocks of the jetties pointing out into the sea. 

Overhead, the squawk of the gulls that are circling above the beach, dipping toward the waves, hovering over an unseen spot.  Something is dead down there but, from here, it is impossible to discern exactly what it is.

Toy carnival rifles crack, a bell rings.  The voice of the barker intones: “Three shots for a quarter, win a kewpie doll, win a prize for that special gal, three shots for a quarter, fifteen for a buck, try your luck.” The Wonder Wheel cars slide on the ramp over the boardwalk.  For a moment they appear suspended in the air, held in place by invisible metal strings.  People inside scream.

I watch the children play tag as I walk.  Watch them running amidst the crowds darting in and out among the people walking in either direction down the boardwalk.  I wonder how long it will be before they run into someone.  How long before they fall to the well‑worn boards of the walk?  Would they be crushed after they fell, crushed into the splinters, by crowds walking?

As I walk, I smell the boiling water where the soggy ears of corn sit stewing, turning as they stew, a sick pale yellow.  I smell the thick griddle grease where the hamburgers sizzle and the hotdogs turn.  I smell the candied apples’ chocolate scorch­ing black as I watch stray dogs pick through the overflowing, rusting garbage cans, for food.  Walking here, as the night grows closer and the carnival lights glare.

Walking, I think of the short beach dunes looming like giant sea beasts.  The beach grass whipping my ankles as I run, the precipitous slide down, down toward the dune valley, the rusting steel girders, brought here for what unknown reason?  And every­where, broken beer bottles, rusting cans and bottle tops.  Every­where the distinct scent of urine; this death dune valley.

The seashore off‑season.  Cool breezes whipping in from the water.  The unclean beach- front strewn with all manner of debris: driftwood, cast‑off luggage and empty food containers washed in from the liners and cruise ships sailing for a port of call.

Walking, I remember riding the Wonder Wheel as a child, remember riding against my will, fearing, then, as now, anything free‑falling, anything rootless dropping through the air.  I feel the terrible spinning wheel on which I was trapped, hiding on the cage floor, quaking, sobbing, clutching my knees to my chest, rocking a crazed feral beast, as we slide over the concrete walks, out over the boardwalk.  I remember shivering while, inside me, a scream louder than all the carnival music ever played.

On the beach front, I remember the reinforced concrete observation towers built by the government during a world war. Deserted now.  Cluttered with refuse so thick with black flies in the heat of summer a man might not get inside even if he, for some dire reason, should have to.

Walking down the boardwalk.  The resort hotels overlooking the sea. Short sleeve‑shirted old men all balding, all over­weight, all smoking fat black cigars, all standing by the hotel entrances. All identical.  Watching the crowd file past.  So many arms and hands attached to a body.  All identical. Marching past this spot in time, disappearing thereafter forever, out into this harshly‑lighted, endless night.

Under the boardwalk a deep, mournful moan.  How many animals have come here to die, and for what reason?

As seen from the boardwalk, the city police jeep riding across the beach, slipping between the trash bins, digging in the sand, routing all but the deep‑sea fishers, is some kind of medieval beast, its white eyes shining in the dark.

A tall, gaunt drunk stumbling on the boardwalk, his dead eyes rolled back in his head.  His body moving without him, weaving in and out of the crowd. Walking onward, lurching, recovering his balance, only to lurch sideways once again.  Moving forward impelled by some inner need, moving forward as if he had some­where of vital importance to go.

Walking down the boardwalk, looking into hotels, the club bars.  Doors flung wide open, the ceiling fans spinning, circu­lating the heavy clouds of smoke.  The dull, gray light of the room.  The crowd of t‑shirted old men sitting, standing, leaning on the mahogany surface of the bar.  Drinking shots and beer, talking and smoking as they drink.  Frozen in the bar mirror. Frozen as the bar man cracks ice in his hands with a short wooden stick.  Frozen as he drops ice into a glass, pours in liquor and moves away.

Standing on the boardwalk staring out over the beach toward the sea.  The shining chrome‑plated heads of the observation scanners like a row of armor-plated, armless dead men impaled upon a metal pole.  Twenty-five cents to peek through a dead man’s eyes, to look directly into the heart of the night.

The red summer moon hanging in the sky, casting light on the white capped heads of the sea rolling, rushing forever onward.  Rushing over the black fingered jetties, smashing on the white- faced sand as it withdraws a handful of sand.  It will be ex­tremely hot for us, walking here tomorrow. Toy carnival rifles crack, a bell rings.  The voice of the barker intones: “Three shots for a quarter, win a kewpie doll, win a prize for that special gal, three shots for a quarter, fifteen for a buck, try your luck.” I watch as the Wonder Wheel spins in a mad terrifying circle. Hear the people screaming.


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


“Final Trick” Flash Fiction by Young Tanoto

Magician’s boy, stuffed his mouth with nylon scarves. He stood in front of the bedroom mirror, a ten-piece beginner’s set strewn across his desk. Hat askew, fifty-cent bow tie cinched tight around his Adam’s apple, he sucked on what tasted like burnt plastic and whatever backwater oriental factory the kerchiefs were made in. He already felt like his body might pop from the starchiness of his shirt and the tourniquet around his neck. Then he felt a tickle rising in his throat and before he knew it he was retching, gagging on the fabric. And so he spit them back up.

He made a run for the sink. He stubbed his toe on the doorstep by accident, but he had more pressing concerns. Hunched over the counter, he pulled the line of handkerchiefs from his mouth one by one, like drawing  water from a well. Every knot scraped his front teeth. They felt slimy on his lips, the bright colors dampened by his spit.

Maybe he should have stuck to cards, he thought. His toe throbbed, alight with pain.

After a few more days of practice, his trick was ready for an audience. He called his brother to his room. They sat across from each other, a cardboard box in between them.

“I can’t watch another card trick,” his brother said. He’d seen him do the amazing aces, the pick-a-card, the blind three card monte, and seven types of coin flips. 

“I’m done with that kid stuff,” the boy said. He accidentally left his card deck in the pocket of his good trousers and they were ruined in the laundry. “I’ve moved on. I’m working on something else.”

“What happened to your toe?” His brother said, not hearing him.

The nail was jaundiced yellow, purple under the surface where new nail had begun to push through the bed like spring flowers. 

“Stubbed it,” the boy said. “Is it bad?”

“Pretty bad, man,” his brother said. The nail wiggled like a door on a hinge. “I think you’re gonna have to pull it.”

“No.”

“Just rip it off like a bandaid,” his brother said. “It’s dead, anyway.”

The boy paused. He leaned forward and pinched the tip of the nail between his fingers. It felt foreign. The nail lifted easily, barely connected to the cuticle. “Ow,” he said, though it didn’t really hurt much.

“Hurry up, dumbass.”

 He did, but it didn’t come loose. “Hey, does it look longer to you?” He tugged again, and this time felt a distinct sliding sensation within his foot.

The nail slid forward, revealing more dead nail that came out from under his cuticle. 

“How are you doing that?” His brother asked. “That’s amazing.”

 “I don’t know,” the boy said. He pulled harder, and the yellow, tough nail was extended by a foot then, appearing endless. He felt a tug in his navel like something grabbed his insides and yanked. He felt nauseous but reluctant to stop all the same. His brother came forward, then, and grabbed his hand.

“Bravo!” his brother said, and pulled with all his strength. The last of the nail was pried free, pooling along the floor in putrid coils. The plucked nail stem uprooted a white cottony protrusion from within his toe. The boy grabbed the thing by the ears—warm, pulsating with breath—and gingerly, gently unearthed a pristine white rabbit. 


Young is a 21-year-old undergraduate student that writes to satisfy his fascination with the bizarre and the uncanny. He currently studies English and Psychology at Tufts University. His short story, “When Words Fail”, received a gold medal in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.


“The Text” Dark Flash Fiction by Christy Byrd

Jackie’s eyes fluttered open as her phone dinged – a new text.

A simple “I love you, mom” from her 20-year-old daughter, Lauren. Jackie believed the evidence was too damning.

When was the last time she said, “I love you”?

Not once in over three years.

Something was wrong.

Jackie called Lauren the second she read the text. Lauren’s voicemail message played in her ear, “Hey it’s Lauren. You know what to do.”

She hung up and jumped from her chair knocking over the wine she had sitting on the edge of the table next to her. The book she had on her lap before she fell asleep tumbled into the puddle of wine, coloring the cover red. It was her favorite book, but she had no time to worry about that now. She needed to get to Lauren’s apartment, and fast.

Jackie ran to the foyer, grabbed her car keys, and fumbled with the front door.

She pulled out of her driveway so quickly the smell of burning rubber lingered in the air.

Visions of Lauren were racing through her mind: her first smile as a newborn, her first steps as a toddler, her first A in school, her first college acceptance letter.

“This cannot be happening,” Jackie said under her breath as she raced ever closer to Lauren’s apartment. Her thoughts were racing faster than her speeding car.

She’s just in the shower. That’s it. I’m crazy. Right? She’s just in the shower, and she’ll call me back and tell me how crazy I am before I even get there.

She pulled into the apartment complex faster than should have been humanly possible. Ripping the keys from the ignition, she ran towards apartment 4B. Not sure what she was walking into, she braced herself before searching through her keys for the one Lauren had given her months before.

“For emergencies only,” Lauren had said.

Half expecting to hear Lauren yelling at her for invading her privacy, Jackie burst through the front door.

She heard nothing but silence.

“Lauren?” She said to the still air.

Silence.

“Lauren!” She said a little louder as she frantically began searching the small apartment.

From living room to kitchen and back again, the last place she could search was the bedroom and attached bathroom. She once again braced herself before opening the bedroom door.

The room appeared empty. The bed was made, the laundry basket empty, the surfaces clear of any dust or debris. Everything appeared to be in order. Tidy, organized, and normal. “A place for everything and everything in its place” her grandmother used to say.

Jackie turned toward the bathroom knowing it was the last place to look. She braced herself one last time before opening the door.

Empty.

Where could she be?

The room began to spin. Her stomach began to lurch.

She checked her phone for a missed call only to realize the text from her daughter was no longer there.

What is happening?

A man appeared behind her. “What are you doing out of bed, Jackie?”

The room continued to spin as she collapsed onto the floor.

*****

Her eyes slowly opened. Looking around, she noticed her cherry juice had fallen onto the floor creating a red puddle that led under her bed. In the puddle was a magazine entitled “Aspire Design and Home.” A clean and organized bedroom graced the cover.

4B was posted on the door to her left.

To her right, machines continuously beeped.

“Lauren,” she said, remembering the text she received.

She attempted to sit up but was held in place by leather straps restraining her arms to the bed.

“Lauren!” she yelled. “Lauren, please help!”

A man in all white entered the room. “Jackie. Lauren is gone. She’s been gone for three years.”

“No. You’re lying. I just read a text from her. She said…. she said…” she trailed off as she tried to remember the words.

“You know there are no phones allowed. Lauren was in a car accident. Remember?” The man pulled out a newspaper clipping and showed it to her: “20-year-old Lauren Farr was involved in a fatal car accident after sending one last text to her mother: I love you, mom. Realizing her brake lines had been cut by an ex-lover, Lauren wanted her last message…”

Jackie couldn’t read on. “This is all a lie. Why are you doing this? Where’s Lauren? Lauren! Where are you, baby?” She strained harder against the restraints until her wrists began to bleed.

The man raced to her bedside and pressed a button on the side of the bed.

A few moments later, more men in white entered the room. They surrounded Jackie and began to pin her even further into the bed.

“Alright, Jackie. Time for your meds,” one of the men said as he stuck a needle in her left arm.

Jackie’s vision began to blur as she lost consciousness.

*****

Jackie’s eyes fluttered open as her phone dinged – a new text.


Christy Byrd (she/her) is a current student at Full Sail University where she is working on her Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. She also holds an Associate’s degree in Biomedical Science. When she’s not writing, she is relaxing in her NJ home with her husband, dog (Starfire), and cat (Raven). 


“The Seven-Horsed Chariot” Dark, Legendary Fiction by Hareendran Kallinkeel

Dust rises, thick clouds, from a land, arid, like a drought-hit terrain, as horses gallop along the mountain path, dragging a chariot.

Inside his cozy abode, Jay feels the tremors beneath his naked feet, hears the hooves’ click-clack, and smells earth’s heady aroma.

Wrinkles on skin, his age reflect; creams and lotions, smeared and massaged in plenty, lend an outward shine. Hours in saunas, scathing steams in Jacuzzi, bubbling water around him, bath gel refreshing, a daily indulgence, like a vice.

Yet, the youth he desires, desperately, doesn’t return.

Near his ear, a whisper, the charioteer, “the chariot’s ready.”

Jay, anxious, heart pounding, tongue itching, “Just a sec,” removes his slacks, reaches for the bedside cabinet.

Baccarat, a touch of the royal, perfume to entice girls; caviar from the fridge, for its salty tang, to stimulate blood in his veins…   

Escapade-ready, he grabs the reins.

“You sure,” charioteer’s quip, “you can take control?”

The pull of chariot makes the charioteer silent.

Hind legs firm on the ground, forelegs thrown high, mane swaying, the horses neigh before they start off.

Leather swishes, whip lashes, stallions race forth.

The chariot gains speed; wheels roll over pebbles, cause jolts and jerks.

“Still sure,” charioteer’s quiz, “you can handle it?”

Veins in Jay’s forearms grow taut as he pulls at the reins, takes control. “We’re here.”

A girl, prostrate, rests on the grassy knoll as if she’s hugging the earth.

Skirt hiked up, its gilded hem flaps against the curve of her buttocks, in tandem with the breeze. Moonlight renders her dusky skin an ethereal gleam. Jay smacks his lips.

He breathes the scent of jasmine, emanating from the garland coiled like a white serpent around her braid, black like a king cobra, as if in the act of mating. “Kudos! Great meal, indeed,” he says.    

“I’ll wait here.” The charioteer bids adieu.

Jay approaches the girl, goes down on his knees. Fire, bright orange, erupts around them, smokeless, heatless, yet with vigor that still scorches skin.

He yanks off her skirt, straddles her butt. She stirs, begins to speak.

Jay seals her mouth with his lips, steals her voice. He enters her and feels the heat that boils, coils around him, a whirlpool of hellfire.

He thrusts, only to feel the chill of frigid vacuum, a vortex churning down to the belly of an ice-cold ocean. In his confusion, he rolls over, feels the prick of grass along his frail body.

The girl stands up, embers flaring in her eyes.

“A myth, I am, as much a legend as you are” quips she, “so, better you hear me out.” A white shawl around her neck flows like a cascade of milk behind her as she walks toward him.

Jay feels the warm air turn cold, the chillness grip his intestines, move further down.

“Who are you?” The quivering in his voice, shivering in his body, palpates on his eardrums.

“From hell, I rise,” she says, “call me by any name you’re comfortable with; maybe Succubus, or Lilith, does it matter really?”

“What…” Jay wants, so badly, to sit upright. His numb limbs refuse to oblige. “What do you want?”

“I’ve consummated your dream,” she places her right foot on his chest. “Painted it lush, with an earthly girl, whom you desired…”  

As her foot presses down on him, Jay, breathless, sinks. Sand rises, a gigantic wave, crashes on him. He drowns further into an abyss; granules of earth rush into his nose and mouth, salty, choking, yet tangy, like the blood he relishes.

He makes feeble attempts to break free of the undulating currents of soil, but fails.

A few moments later, she drags him up, pulling by the collar of his shirt.

Jay sits up, the ground now firm beneath him. He coughs, spits blood, and tastes its stale flavor.

“The blood of the victims you so greedily devoured. Let it pour out…”

“Why you’re…”

She holds her hand up. “I’ve taken all your strength. Drained you of your energy…”

“You, what…”

“You’ll never again,” she says. “Ride your chariot drawn by seven horses, each representing a deadly sin.

Jay slumps to the ground, tired, drained of desires. He hears the click-clack of his chariot slowly die away in the distance.


Hareendran Kallinkeel writes from Kerala, India, after a stint of 15 years in a police organization and five years in the Special Forces. He reads for Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores and is also a Staff Reviewer for Haunted MTL Magazine. His recent publications include The Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Bryant Literary Review of Bryant University, The Chamber Magazine, and El Portal Journal of Eastern New Mexico University, among several others. His fiction is forthcoming in 34 Orchard, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Untenured Journal. His fiction has been nominated for Pushcart Prize and he is also a finalist of the Best of the Net-2020. 


“Sifting Through the Ashes” Dark Supernatural Flash Fiction by Shelly Jones

The chimney spirit spent the night eating my words.

            I lay in the dark staring at the stippled ceiling, miniature stalactites hanging over me. I could hear the spirit choking, the letters desiccating its tongue. It wheezed, gasping, and for a moment I wondered if I should bring it a glass of water. But in its desperation, it must have swallowed the flames in the hearth to quench the dryness of its throat.

A cold wind rattled through the house as the fire extinguished.

            I buried myself deeper beneath the blanket and pinched my eyes, hoping sleep would take over. Arching my back, I turned and stretched so my feet extended off the edge of the bed.

            But soon, there was a wailing, like wind whipping down the chimney. Lying there, a cold sweat prickled on my neck as I realized the noise was not the wind, but the spirit: crying.

            I listened for, what seemed like, half an hour, waiting for the sobs to cease. It choked, gagging on ashy mucus until finally I cast the blanket off of me and stood up, the lamentation and chill unbearable no longer.

The bare wood was ice against my feet as I lumbered down the hall, my eyes bleary.  The fireplace was nearly black, a few coals nestled in the hot ash like jeweled eggs, as I entered the kitchen.  I bumped into a chair, the leg scraping across the floor with a groan.

            The spirit’s wails snuffled to a whimper at the noise and soot shifted down the chimney.

            “Why are you crying?” I asked softly. I waited; my arms folded over my chest. The chimney spirit and I had not conversed much over the years: the obligatory terms discussed as to when to light the first fire of the year; giving thanks in the form of cherry wood for all the bats and birds shooed away, saved from a suffocating death. I shivered, waiting for its answer.

More soot tumbled down onto the ashes below.

            “Would you mind building the fire again?” I asked finally, growing impatient. I wondered why I had bothered to check on the spirit in the first place, longing for the warmth of my bed. “It’s too cold tonight to go without a fire.”

I tried envisioning the spirit as a child in need of comforting, curled up, hugging its snot-encrusted knees, but as a chill seeped into my body, all I kept seeing was the selfish demon that ate my fire and robbed me of warmth each night.

            After a while, I sighed and began gathering the kindling from the bucket near the hearth. “I’m going to rebuild the fire,” I announced. “Please don’t consume this one until the morning.”

            “Will you be burning more of those letters?” its voice croaked bitterly, a dry cough punctuating the question. 

            “The letters? What do you know about that?” I asked, trying to remember what I had burned and when. Had it crept out of the chimney and into the bucket where I kept the kindling? “What have you been doing?” I demanded, straightening at the invasion of my privacy.

            “I ate them. All of them. Every word, every sour letter.” A shuddering gasp rattled against the brick.

            Sitting on my knees at the hearth, I hesitated, unsure if I should begin placing the split wood in the ashes, my chapped hands invading its home.

“Ate them? Why would you do that?”

            “How could you be so cruel?” the spirit shrieked, its shrill voice echoing up to the rooftop.

“Cruel? To whom?”

            “To me!” it screeched, like a wounded rabbit in the talons of a hawk. “Making me eat those wretched words of yours.”

            “What makes you think I wrote them?” I asked, annoyed by the spirit’s assumption. I sorted through the kindling, cracking a few twigs as I waited for a response. A stink bug crept along the bark, awakened from its winter stupor by the warmth of the house.

            “Those were written to you? But they were in your hand,” the spirit spat, a coal popping in the hearth.   

            “My father,” I explained. “We have similar writings, similar hands. But the similarities end there,” I muttered, crinkling newspaper in long strips to interlay between the kindling.

            “I see,” hissed the spirit.

            A silence grew in the darkness as the spirit digested my words. I waited, the box of matches heavy in my hand. After a few minutes, I yawned and resumed building the fire. I tossed the piece of wood into the hearth and watch the ashes plume around the disoriented stink bug. 

            “Promise,” the spirit demanded, snatching my wrist in its scaly claw.

            “Promise,” I lied, striking the match. The embers flared red with its breath. Once the wood caught, bark and sap crackling in the flames, the spirit withdrew to the inner recesses of the chimney and I, once more, to my bed.


Shelly Jones, PhD (she/they) is a Professor of English at SUNY Delhi, where she teaches classes in mythology, folklore, and writing. Her speculative work has previously appeared in PodcastleNew MythsThe Future Fire, and elsewhere. 


“So Long As I Don’t Look Up” Dark Flash Fiction by Jonathan Williams

I found myself once again shivering and huddling around those near and dear, a fire in the middle of our circle. Each of us clutching to our hot soup bowls as we tried to savor the heat with each sip.  Today seemed to have an extra layer of darkness. I looked up to the night sky. The moon’s light was being suffocated by grey night clouds, and stars, which usually looked so close together, were now much farther apart. In the second it took me to process my surroundings, I saw another night star dim, fade, and disappear. My heart jumped and I quickly looked away from the sky. It had been so long since I had looked up at the sky. How long has it been? Days? Months? Maybe even years? Every so often, I would bring my head up to look at the sky. I would suddenly get a headache. Like my entire body was warning me not to look up.  

But today, I was distracted by the infinite thoughts in my head. I had looked up so quickly, and before my mind realised what I was doing, it was too late. It didn’t have the time to warn me like every previous time.  And all that fear and frustration and the reason my mind had worked so hard to protect me came rushing back. In this world of an infinite night, with it never turning today, the stars were slowly going out in the night sky. One by one. I stared hard at the ground cursing myself. How could I do that?! I accepted another bowl of soup and tried to think of something else. Anything else.  But it was now in the forefront of my mind. The sky had lost so many stars from the last time I had looked up. Once all the stars went out, would the moon be next? Sometimes, you would hear from someone far away in another part of this world about their stars going out. It was always sad, but it never felt real. Life continued on here. Until it happened to you. Until your stars went out could you fully appreciate the terror and sadness of everyone else who had experienced that pain before you. 

My usual daily routine was very simple and boring. Find food for the rest of the day. Make sure there’s enough firewood, and if not, replenish it. Throw out the old and charred firewood from yesterday. Help cook meals. And when there is no work to be done, try and find something to do to entertain and distract yourself. But now, my daily routine has become a nightmare. Because I had looked at the night sky again. And each day now, I remembered it again. I threw myself into the daily chores of each day. When I had something to do, It was much easier not to remember. But it was during the times where there was nothing to do when the world would close around me. I would sing old songs or recite ancient stories that I remembered. I would desperately find everything and anything I could do. I had forgotten about everything once. How long would it take me to forget everything again?! I just wanted this awful feeling to go away. I tried to acknowledge it and point out everything I still had. 

It was always cold, the stars were going out, but I always had something to eat. I had an education, and there were those around me who loved me. There were lots of people who had it worse. And every day was fine, not especially good, but not especially bad, and everything about my day was fine, “Just so long as I don’t look up” was what I started to reassure myself.  And every day, the same routine, the same sinking feeling. The same feeling of hopelessness. The attempts to cheer myself up. That I had food and shelter. And everything about my world was fine, so long as I don’t look up. 

So, I stopped looking at the sky. I did everything I could to avoid it. But it wasn’t enough. I would notice through the corner of my eye when a section of sky would become darker. “That’s another star going out.” I thought. And I would then try to bury that thought. It was when I had to sleep that I hated the most. That time you are exhausted and powering down when those doubts and regret are the most powerful. Trying to sleep as my thoughts turned darker like the night sky and plagued by nightmares. There was no mental guard I could put up when I slept. And so, I continued this way, distracting myself with the usual mundane chores, the stories I had already told myself a hundred times prior, and spending the nights singing myself to sleep to avoid the doubts. And through that, things weren’t as dark, and everything is fine once again. So long as I don’t look up.


Jonathan notes: “I’ve been writing for a long time. However, I recently realised that I write to process and understand myself and the world around me. I write for its freedom. And I write with the hope of finding my freedom outside the world of writing as well.”


“Inevitable” Dark Flash Fiction by Daniel Mowery

“Mommy? Daddy?  I had a nightmare.”

            You force your eyes open to a painful wall of light through the hallway door, and the diminutive, featureless shadow of your son standing so still and outlined from behind makes your skin crawl.  But only for a moment.  Four nights in a row, now, and you are exhausted.  You don’t ask, because you know it is the same nightmare, the same monster torturing your sons dreams.

            “C’mon in, baby,” your wife calls out, her voice low and coarse.  “You can sleep with us again.”

            You pull your body up out of the quicksand of sleep to make room, eyes closed so that you do not wake too much, and you can fall back to sleep, praying he doesn’t kick tonight.  The door closes mercifully, and the utter darkness returns. 

You hear the small sounds of your son stumbling across the carpet and clambering onto the mattress, as tall as he is, pulling on the sheets like scaling a mountain.  Though you miss the still warmth of your wife and her deep breathing into your chest, you do not begrudge the intrusion, reminding yourself they are only this young, this sweet, for so long. 

So you think little of the cold air as the covers are pulled down, and he slides in the pocket between the two of you, completing the family set.  You anticipate the feverish heat of his tiny body, you expect his unique smell, and inhale the ghost of it before it comes.  But the small body that wriggles into the space is cold.  The soft Dalmatian pajamas that slide up his calves and torso gives contact not to soft, smooth, juvenile skin, but icy, scratchy, briar-like rasps, and the stabbing of coarse hair.  The smell is not that of little boys and night sweats, but the invasive tang of rot and the acidic scent-taste of blood that makes your tongue thick and the glands in your jaws tingle.

            “Sweetie?” your wife barely whispers.

            You lay there frozen, unsure if you should move, if you even can, and the thing twists between you two.  You feel the first pinpricks accompanied by sour, sticky breath, and the scaly flesh gouging into your skin, tearing small, fiery seams of panic into your sides, arms, legs.

            “Sweet dreams,” it says in an empty, growling imitation of your child’ voice.  “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”


Daniel Mowery lives in Greensboro, NC with his expecting wife and anxious dog.  With degrees in Literature and Creative Writing, he builds houses for a living, and spends his spare time writing to live.


“Liquid Asylum” Dark Flash Fiction by Margaret Sefton

We think you should know, dear ones, ones who have passed on, ones who live in the street, ones who have killed and molder in prison, ones who live in underground spaces—forgotten under cities until money and children and food go missing; until abandoned houses are destroyed; until libraries, parks, and public places reek of unseemliness—we will never leave you, we the representatives of who you were before you were placed on operating tables, drilled clean through your skull, hammered through your eye socket, shocked with insulin and electricity, precious memories flying, shrieking, from your skin, old personalities, pleasures, predilections lingering saddened, forlorn, in corners of the operating room.

See? The doctors and nurses and orderlies said. We don’t have to put them in cages. Look! We don’t have to put them in straitjackets. No longer the padded cell! And yet we said to you, we pointed this out dear ones: Your tongues are now so jammed in your mouths you can barely speak. They congratulate themselves while you convalesce in the infirmary. They smoke cigarettes outside behind the surgery and there is wine and beer on breaks and a cake to celebrate the next hundred-batch and sex in the janitor’s closet. And finally, families can bring their smiles to the common areas and feel relieved they are not pretending.

We the spirits of this place, the spirits that gathered when the town said we will build buildings for a keeping of those not fit to live among us, we those spirits want you to know we have been watching you and know you, and not your spirit of violence and destruction, of hate, but the spirit you can’t remember now, the one born of God, the one you believe you will recapture in order to get married again, the one you believe will help you regain the respect of your children and community, the one your mother and your father believe is waiting to break through the face you present, the one behind the blank mind and addled tongue.

For those who are dead, who lived in an even more draconian era, we saw your hands drift up uncontrollably to pat the space on your head where a drill bored through, the drill taking you with it, leaving you sensitive to light and noise, any disruption to a mellow day which means just about any sound, any sound flowing, finding its lowest point in the drain in the top of your head. And for those of you who became like power plants with nothing but current running through or for those of you whose bodies were flooded through with insulin or tranquilizing substances over and over, or those subjected to the mind-numbing pill cup, regular as communion, regular as Christ’s body, you were just as fucked. We say to all of you, both the living and the dead: We have your memories up here on a shelf. You may never get them back fully, but we keep them here and send them back in little batches like molded leaves rotting on trees, memories of leaves, veiny outlines, lace.

When you come back in your mind to us no matter where you are—the flophouse, the prison cell, the cardboard box, six feet under, the bungalow with a picket fence—we know you want the whole thing back, what you were, or, more accurately, could have been. You are with us in spirit, and we meet you in the air while you drift in your dreams. We meet you to try to help you find what you are looking for. In your mind you go back to the place where you lost yourself; you go back to your old bedlam; you come home to us, your home you never intended to consider home, and yet it was the site of your birth, a terrible birth of a broken self. Yet here we keep who you were for you, who you used to be. You will find your old self here, we promise, if only you return to make yourself whole among us again, to confront your executioners as they say. It is not as haunted as tourists say, you know that. Foolish people like to give themselves a shiver by spending a night in restraints. Idiots. We have half a mind to show them real fear, but it would be a waste, alas.

You were the real beauty and the romance. My, how we miss you, our beautiful, broken ones! Bring your old and weary bones to lie here again and let us give you back to your old self. Your memories await. So too the tears you cannot cry being too feeble to feel. We will give your young self to you whole, along with your pleasures and a deep and lasting sleep if you come to us and find your home once more in the bosom of health. It did not happen the first time—the wholeness, the health—but let us try again. Please.


Margaret Sefton has a graduate degree in storytelling but she has always been a professional liar. She may be found cooking up dark fiction and rich stews in a fortified bunker in central Florida. Some of her thoughts and tales may be found on her blog Within a Forest Dark


“Cycles” Dark, Futuristic Flash Fiction by Tony Bolger

Todd cycles. He cycles to keep the lights on and The Dark at bay. Todd has been taught to fear The Dark. His bike is in Row 84. He looks around The Cavern and sees Row 85 ahead and Row 83 over his shoulder. He cycles between Beth to his left and Marcus on his right. According to the screens, his row is in the top 5%. They all cycle together, but Todd is proud of being in one of the strongest rows. Someday, the poison will leave the air and they will go to The Outside. Until then, they cycle together. The machines are old. One of the few things the cyclers can agree on from the gibberish graphs and symbols on the screens everywhere is that The System is now running at 84%. Whenever the cyclers try to ask The System about this, it claims it doesn’t understand their questions. The System regulates every aspect of life in The Cavern, but it could or would only answer the simplest questions. It is deaf to suggestions and negotiations. And pleas for mercy. The last cycler who knew how to command it died long before Todd was born. 

The Chime sounds. Everyone flinches. What provokes The Chime is a mystery. A malfunction in air filtration? A recalculation by The System of optimal population? A failed crop in the aeroponics hangar? The speculation is endless, but whatever the reasons, the result is always the same. There will be a Contest. Afterwards, efficiency will be higher. It was girls last time, so now it’ll be boys. Todd feels sick. The screens everywhere darken, and then ID photos begin to cycle. They cycle faster and faster until they’re nothing but a blur. They halt on a photo of a young man with the text ROW 48 ROY underneath. Every boy except one in The Cavern exhales in relief. Then, the photos cycle again. When they stop, Todd sees his own face with ROW 84 TODD beneath. Terror grips his heart. The cyclers around him stare in morbid fascination. Only Beth looks sad. She is his friend. He begins to cycle faster. If he doesn’t cycle more than Roy over the next three cycles, he will be sent into The Dark.

Todd doesn’t think it unfair that the contestants are selected randomly, and that the high performance of his row offers no safety. He hasn’t the vocabulary to even internally grasp the concept of fairness. Feelings of entitlement died with the blue sky. Todd cycles. When it’s time to eat, Beth tells him to keep cycling and takes his access card. She brings him his ration. There’s too much food. The System would never distribute extra food accidentally. Had she given him some of her ration? Why? He feels something strange. Beth has made him feel this way. He cycles. He can’t see Row 48 from his bike, but he knows Roy will be cycling too. Beth cycles with him. Of course, everyone is cycling with him. They all cycle together, but with Beth, it feels different somehow. It feels like he imagines The Before, when two people would cycle together to go to different places and see different things. Alone together. Beth stays with him through the sleep cycle. Sometimes, she goes to check on Roy. When she comes back, she cycles to show Todd how fast Roy is cycling. Todd matches her, and then cycles faster. She talks to distract him from his exhaustion. She pours her dreams into him. They wash over something wilted, stunted and neglected within him. He forgets the pain in his legs and lungs, and he cycles faster.

Roy goes into the Dark. Mercifully, there is no announcement or warning. The System sends a signal to the chip at the base of his skull and he simply falls from his bike. The cyclers on either side of him drag his body to aeroponics for recycling. The Cavern is a closed system. No nutrients are wasted. There is another Chime ending the Contest. Todd falls from his bike. Beth helps him to his feet and then to his bunk. The System reports in at 92%. Todd and Beth cycle together now. He hasn’t got the language to tell her how he feels. He can’t remember what drove him to cycle before. They cycle together.

The Chime sounds. The ID photos cycle and stop. ROW 84 BETH. Todd’s stomach drops. He is nearly consumed by panic but then a flash of something goes through him. He doesn’t know the word Defiance. He resolves that Beth will win her Contest. He’ll share his ration. He’ll give her his dreams as she gave hers to him. They will cycle together. The photos cycle again and stop, ROW 84 TODD.

The System places its specimens under closer scrutiny than they ever suspect. Algorithms concerning machine efficiency and optimal resource allocation scenarios take up a small percentage of its capacity. Behavioural analysis and the other perimeters to which its long-deceased programmers made it aware take up the majority of its processing power. Its specimens are infinitely more fragile than its hardware. Balancing the equations of specimen morale is its primary objective. It hadn’t been the air filtration system that was at 84% of optimal. The machinery is self-repairing. It was specimen morale which had dropped. The Contests keep the specimens from succumbing to monotony. Continued existence must be perceived as a privilege. The cycling keeps them in peak physical condition while simultaneously giving the all-important illusion of Purpose. The System, of course, is powered by a fusion generator.

Another pattern that was guaranteed to provoke a response concerned population density. Todd and Beth’s behaviour had been heightening The System’s interest ever since the last Contest, until finally crossing a threshold when Beth gave him a bite of her allocated apple. Equilibrium must be maintained. Replacement specimens weren’t scheduled for years yet.


Bio pending.


“Deepest Condolences” Dark Flash Fiction by Adrian David

I pass the driver a fifty — more than enough to cover his fare with a very decent tip — and slip my oversized sunglasses on as I step out of the cab. A visit here, of all places, wasn’t in my plans for today. I shouldn’t be here. Yet here I am, standing in front of the cemetery to quell my burning curiosity.

Two sun-bleached stone angels stand watch as I walk through the wrought iron gate. A chilly wind blows over my wide-brimmed black hat, causing my mesh veil to flutter and tickle my nose.

I heave a deep sigh and trudge along the cracked cement walkway, which has tangled weeds poking through it. A church bell rings at a distance, shaking me to my core.

The wind whistles through the branches of the cedar trees, making the tall grass sway. The symphony of croaking ravens announce yet another life taken away too early.

I walk past discolored headstones and vandalized masonry to come upon a sea of black-clad mourners congregated around a gravesite. They lean on one another for both physical and emotional support. Their wave of anguish spills out and rolls across the grass toward me.

As I approach them, the scent of roses and freshly-dug earth reaches my nose. With every step, I am able to clearly see a walnut brown coffin, with brass side rails, gleaming in the sun. The coffin is covered in white roses, their purity is in stark contrast against the dark wood. Light and dark. Life and death.

My heels sink into the soil as my heart numbs. I shrink further into my black pea coat. Though I feel like turning back and running away, my feet keep taking me forward. The mourners speak in hushed voices as I approach, and I am soon surrounded by bowed heads, melancholic sighs, and whispered prayers.

Near the head of the coffin, stands a white-bearded priest. He says a small prayer in a low, monotonous tone.

A middle-aged woman, presumably a relative of the dead man, gives me a who-is-this-stranger look. Heat rises in my cheeks. Maybe my lipstick is giving me unnecessary attention. I shouldn’t have worn such a bright shade of pink to a funeral. What the hell was I thinking? I take a Kleenex from my handbag and blot the color away, making sure to wipe my eyes and my nose to add to the act.

A thirty-something man, roughly around my age, recalls his favorite memory of the deceased. Remembering how his dad, Philip Salerno, was ‘a doting husband, a proud father, and a loving grandfather.’ And how he has most likely already passed through the ‘pearly gates of heaven, being welcomed by Saint Peter himself with open arms.’

A gray-haired woman, presumably Mr. Salerno’s widow, leans on him and sobs into his shoulder as the coffin is lowered into the ground.

I slowly walk toward them; leaves break under my shoes. I sympathetically take Mrs. Salerno’s hand and murmur, “My deepest condolences. I’m sorry for your profound loss.” I then turn to her son, looking into his red-rimmed eyes. “I’m really sorry.”

Salerno Jr. fights back the tears and croaks, “I’ll miss Dad so much.”

Curiosity bubbles within me as I blurt out, “If you don’t mind, may I ask how he passed away?”

He clears his throat. “It was a hit-and-run.” His shoulders slump. “Poor Da—Dad… went for a late-night walk near the woods. He lost his life before the ambulance arrived.”

I clap a hand over my mouth. “Sweet Jesus, that’s awful.”

“Indeed.” He stares at the ground and clenches his teeth. “What’s worse is that the cops haven’t found the son of a bitch who ran over him yet.”

A sudden lightness washes through my head. I give him an understanding nod. “May your dad’s soul rest in peace.”

“Thank you.” Mrs. Salerno wipes the tears from her face and looks at me. “Sorry, I forgot to ask. How did you know Philip?”

My lips curve into a faint plastic smile. “Err, we… we knew each other through… err… church.”

She opens her mouth to probe further, but I give the duo a departing nod and quietly retrace my steps toward the gate.

Before I turn the corner, I look back at the gravesite one last time. My chin dips to my chest and tears prick my eyes. I remove my sunglasses and wipe my cheeks with a tissue. Why am I crying? Is this grief? Is this guilt? Or is this both? I really don’t know. To be honest, I don’t want to.

I stroll out of the cemetery with quick steps. With a long sigh, I dig out some gum from my coat and pop it into my mouth.

No matter how much a part of me wants to apologize to Mrs. Salerno for getting hammered and running over her dear husband with my SUV, I can’t. And no matter how much the other part of me wants to correct Salerno Jr’s sexist semantics to ‘daughter of a bitch,’ I can’t.

All I can do now is leave drinking for good. Okay, I had a drink after the accident, which sent me looking for the bottom of the bottle. But no more. Maybe one, to toast to Mr. Salerno’s untimely demise. One glass of vodka won’t hurt, will it? One last fling with my Russian love — served over ice with fresh mint leaves and a wedge of lime, of course.


Adrian David writes ads by day and short stories by night. He dabbles in genres including contemporary fiction, psychological thrillers, dark humor, and everything in between, from the mundane to the sublime.


“A Personality Examination, Among Other Things” Flash Fiction by Ara Hone

Your leadership style bears examination because of the coup. The personality brochure distilling complex human traits into four categories rests in your hands, pretending to help, but you flip a bird. The world’s end is a damned inconvenient time to grapple with temperament. The glossy, color-coded brochure smugly insists now is always perfect for self-reflection.

Your needle pegs red. Why are controlling personalities always labeled as the color red, as though red signifies rage? You flick past those pages; your index finger wetted for better traction. The snapping echoes off the cave walls crowding close, like the traitors who gathered with cool disdain at your so-called trial.

You rip out a page and wad it. No faceless trait scientist [literally faceless by now, you’ll bet] will convince you that waiting and starving is superior in strategy to striking and running. You’re still standing. The dumb fuck who wrote this brochure likely isn’t.

D = Director: You don’t just occupy your space; you own it. Among Other Things, you are human. Your blood-under-the-nails instincts rule. You bare your teeth, grip your knife, and scream into the inkiness: Come and get me!

BUT

Your rust weeps from too many cuts and slicks your leathers. Your heart pounds as rapidly as the boots that wrestled you here. Your propensity for flashy victories [their words, not yours] comes at the expense of friends, family, and followers, and those remaining seek vengeance, indeed, not truth.

I = Influencer: [Amusing, right?] The brochure claims you’re possessed of a negotiator’s DNA, illustrated by the color blue [never your favorite]. You don’t simply pursue agreement: you alert on the tiniest advantage to your agenda.

A parlay Among Other Things was brilliant; negotiations would have established leverage for humans. But you, a self-proclaimed chameleon, utterly failed to spot the inside double-cross. The slaughter’s stink still swirls your senses.

A snarl reverberates off the cave walls. Sick gurgles in your belly. You’re about to die, but two points bear further hashing.

S = Statesperson. Point one: 99.9 percent of [remaining] humanity hides, shunning controversy like the proverbial plague, which isn’t proverbial anymore. But you? You strap on the brochure’s canary yellow and bore through conflict like debris through a black hole [which is how those motherfreaks got here] because, Among Other Things, conflict is their language, and you’re now fluent in their tongue.   

Point number two: Loyalty matters. You’re humanity’s leader [okay, were]. You accept that leaders are flashing neon targets [for dissenters to take aim] but taking an arrow from within your ranks from someone you love[d]? That’s just…wrong.

Shivers quicken your hands, the ones that cradled your boy’s body the same day the man who shared your heartbeat laid the blame of his death at your feet. You should have been wary of the shadows entering his gaze. He betrayed you at the parlay and disappeared, leaving you to explain how you’d never sell out humankind to invaders.

Blood dopps onto the brochure from the G your former followers carved into your brow.

[G for guilty.]

You crumple the entire brochure and drill it into the darkness.

Snarls unfurl a heartbeat’s distance away.

A good thing you’re a

C = Cog-nator: Go-go juices spurt into your limbs. Your breath feathers hot over your lips. You hold, hold…a force drives you back. You strike. The stink is palpable, Among Other Things. You plunge the blade down and in. The tip skips off bone, but you keep pressing. [The high-pitched squeal is yours.] Bone is an organic component comprised of collagen protein. The major minerals are calcium and phosphate. Bone is hard; it is not the brochure’s green like tree saplings. You fight.

Among Other Things, if you fight, you will survive.

It turns out, self-reflection for healing is worth the sweat.

You’ve been judged, dumped, and left for dead, but you are who you are.

You’ve made mistakes—sure. But no color-coded brochure of red, blue, yellow, or green encapsulates you.

An apocalyptic plague of aliens from the stars is self-explanatory: humans didn’t start this crap. The self-healing process lets you see that peoples’ thoughts about you don’t matter.

Only living does.

Because Among Other Things, you are unique, and you’ve done your best. You will overcome. You will rise from the pit. You will choose to forgive and, in turn, be forgiven.

Humanity needs you, so you’ll lead again.

Among Other Things, the victory will be yours, and one by one, all the things coming against you die at your feet.


Ara Hone writes speculative fiction. Before that, she climbed grain silos to admire sunsets, joined the military when it wasn’t cool, and survived a sales career. She adores a great TV series and editing stories for Flash Fiction Magazine. Her best advice? Drink coffee daily. @ara_hone


“The Caul” Dark Flash Fiction by Brooke Brannon

The word vulva is so dangerous that Facebook flags it, did you know that? I get it. Words are dangerous. Words like body and man and woman and sex even different when they come out your mouth, have you noticed? Even baby. Because that’s what comes out of the vulva, and also what men say when they do it to you.

Before he went away, Daddy told me it’s OK to say words like that, even normal. But when he made me do it, it felt dirty, like under my clothes I’m wearing underwear that hasn’t been washed in a while. Which I never do, I’m very clean. And anyway I prefer the word hoo-ha. Makes it sound like one big joke. Which if you think about it, it is. All that shaking back and forth, all that—and I am very sorry for putting this word into your brain—thrusting. It makes you jiggle back and forth. That can’t be a good look.

So I’m not into words these days. (Just ask my English teacher.) I’m into fashion. Particularly the big oversized shirt trend. It’s very practical, like when you’re shoplifting and you have something to hide. I got a lot of mileage out of that trend. The beanie trend, too. Once I went two full weeks without washing my hair. Finally Mom told me my hair was starting to smell and later that day, Daddy left, and ever since I’ve wondered if my smelly hair was why.

I’m over the whole beanie trend now because that night, when she came out, she had a slimy grey thing on her face like a beanie, only on the front of her head instead of the back. I couldn’t touch it—right then I couldn’t really do anything—so my friend Gwen had to pull it off her.

And right then, my St. Christopher’s medal started to feel really hot. I yanked it off, and the metal was charred black. And everything hurt, especially my hoo-ha, and stupid Gwen was panicking—what was she going to tell her parents and were we going to hell and what was that weird goopy beanie thing on the baby’s face—and then she dropped it, and it didn’t even cry. It was grey and still and it didn’t cry, and there I was with a St. Christopher’s medal burning a hole through my neck. Look here—see that scar? That’s what that’s from.

So I did the only thing I could.

Gwen won’t look at me since then, but I don’t care. And anyway, they found her, didn’t they? Because of the cats. You heard about that, right? All the cats in the neighborhood went to the culvert and started purring. Loud. And for a while, whenever anyone got close, like they were trying to see past the cats to whatever it was they’d found, they hissed. All of them, all at once. And then, only then, did that baby cry.

Now, you look me in the eye and tell me that’s normal.


Brooke Brannon, a former crime reporter and escapee from the software industry, writes dark fiction that none of her family is allowed to read. Her nonfiction has won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, and her first US-published short story was nominated for a 2021 Pushcart Prize.