Her “friends from church” a no-show, she sat there alone at her table and Pat, feeling bad for her, picked up his coffee and sat down with the well-dressed and probably-crazy Irishwoman at Nellie’s in East Durham.
He cocked his ear toward her and over the band music and in a brogue she told him that as a young girl in Ireland, they had pigs. Her job was to go out to the pigsty when the pig had a litter and make sure the piglets – who are blind at birth – didn’t accidentally wander into the mother’s mouth while they were looking for an open teat. Because the mother pig would swallow them and eat them.
A week later, perched on a barstool at Chieftans, there sat Oliver McGovern. He was Pat’s age, but he looked like a kid. Pat could have sworn that Ollie McGovern was dead. Nevertheless, Pat told him the Irishwoman’s pig story. Like a good Irishman, Oliver in turn told his own pig story.
One of ten, Oliver said that when he was a kid they had a family get-together and all the kids and all the cousins and friends were in the barn. The adults hadn’t heard from the kids for a while, so they went to check on them. Turns out the kids had learned that pigs will eat live chickens, and by the time the adults got there, the kids had fed the pig like seven of them.
After Oliver finished his pig story, and then his Guinness, he slid down off his barstool and skipped off to the pisser and he never came back.
Sitting alone at the bar, Pat remembered the night that Little Ollie’s parents and aunts and uncles, highballs in hand, had stumbled out of the big house to the barn and to the pen where poor Little Ollie McGovern had perched himself, and to the pig that would eat anything that fell into its pen.
Pete Lindemann lives and works in Cobleskill, New York, USA.
The hypnotic way the clothes danced in the dryer and the clicking, hissing and spinning of the washers made me sleepy. I could tell the clothes were getting dry by the way they tumbled. When the wet clothes would reach the top of the dryer, they would fall hard to the bottom because of the weight they carried, but as the laundry got dry, they would float around like butterflies- Free.
“They ‘bout finished,” I announced, looking up at Momma’s sad face. She had a heaviness about her like wet laundry. After putting the last folded towel in the basket, we headed for the door. Daddy would be arriving any time to get us.
In walked Miss Ruby. My grandma, who always spoke in King James Version, told me that Miss Ruby was a woman of ill repute. I didn’t know what that meant. All I knew was Miss Ruby was nice to me and Daddy. Every time he would take me to her house, she would give me a coke and a coloring book to occupy my time while she and daddy went into the other room to talk. Always smiling and laughing, Miss Ruby looked like the porcelain dolls I saw in magazines, with painted blue eyelids, and lips and hair as red as her name. I liked her just fine and smiled when she walked in. Momma, on the other hand, wasn’t as happy.
Grandma once said about Momma, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” She talked about Daddy like an introduction from the Bible; Cain was the son of Adam, and my daddy was the son of Bitch. I never knew my dad’s mom and never knew her name until then.
One thing I knew for sure- this day, my momma was mad. Her sky-blue eyes turned dark as she dropped our freshly folded laundry on the floor. She cocked her hand back and like lightning, struck Miss Ruby’s cheek, making it blood red- redder than her lipstick. Miss Ruby called out the name of my dad’s mother and grabbed Momma’s golden curls and pulled her over to a washing machine. She crammed Momma’s head in and repeatedly slammed the lid. Someone belted out an eerie, high-pitched scream. I think it was me. Momma punched Miss Ruby’s stomach and while she was bent over holding her belly, Momma somehow regained her head and composure from the washing machine. Momma pulled Miss Ruby’s hair and oh my god, it came off in her hands. All of it! Miss Ruby put both hands on her head and screamed. My eyes were as big as dryer doors, staring at her fiery red hair in my momma’s hand, being held up in the air like a trophy. Momma was totally insane. She was foaming at the mouth and growling like a mad dog.
All my thoughts were in King James Version: Miss Ruby shalt not hurt Momma. Momma shalt not kill Miss Ruby. HELL- hath arrived at The Corner Laundromat. I shalt not puketh on the clean laundry. What does “ill repute” mean anyway?
I became fixated on Miss Ruby’s head for a minute. She had mousey brown hair all tightly pinned to her head with a million bobby pins. I was more confused now than ever, but I snapped back into reality when Momma’s clinched fist connected with Miss Ruby’s face, sending her head sideways and her body tumbling backwards into a washer. Miss Ruby slid down the washer and landed on the floor. Momma cocked her foot back to give Miss Ruby a final kick in the face when I screamed, “MOMMA!”
The world stopped spinning. My stomach did not. The scent of dirty socks, bleach and blood agitated my stomach like the final spin of a washing machine.
As I raised my head from spilling my guts on the floor and with a sour taste still in my mouth, Momma was kneeling by Miss Ruby. She was propped up against the washer. Momma retrieved one of our towels from the floor and gently pressed it on Miss Ruby’s bleeding face. She put Miss Ruby’s hair back on her head and smoothed it with both hands. As Momma gently touched Miss Ruby’s forehead, she whispered, “I’m sorry.”
Miss Ruby replied, with a nod, “Me too.”
The door of The Corner Laundromat chimed as Daddy walked in. Momma told me to sit with Miss Ruby. She floated to her feet, extended her hand to Daddy and gave a Come-Hither gesture. Momma said with a smile, “More Dirty Laundry.”
What a sight to see in The Corner Laundromat that day; Daddy, standing there with a puzzled look on his face, Miss Ruby propped against a washing machine like a rag doll and Momma looking like dry laundry.
Paula is from Shelby North Carolina. She is currently seeking her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Creative Writing. Paula is also in the process of writing a memoir of her life. When she’s not studying or writing, you may find her on a road trip adventure or spending time with her family and friends.
A twitch. Just a quick twitch. The slightest, imperceptible jerk of the right index finger. Unnoticeable. Subtle. A bit of movement from the left middle toe. Quick spams. Followed by the right eyebrow. Random. The body slowly, gradually, stirs one small muscle and involuntary shudder at a time. Sensations flutter, struggling to return. Awakening. Consciousness is blurred and inconsistent. Sporadic. Foggy. Weak.
Wuhh…? Uhh…? Confusion.
Breathing gradually strengthens, though retarded. Heavy and inconsistent. The pace quickens slowly. Fitfully. Incrementally. Deep, intermittent gasps for breath. Inhaling stale, earthy air. A stagnant quality. Occasionally choking and coughing with every attempted gulp. Trying to fill the lungs, but never quite enough. Urgency. Growing increasingly desperate. Strained.
The right hand begins to move with every ounce of strength available. Inching. Sensing. Inching gingerly centimeter by centimeter across the front of a pair of jeans, feeling the denim fabric. Something coarse. Gritty. Rough to the touch. Shivers. Shivering. The air is cold and musty. Dank. Malodorous.
Wha…? Whe…? Confusion.
Hard. Rigid. Uncomfortable. Sharply aware now of a stiff, unforgiving surface below. Left hand immobile. Stuck. Lying pinned underneath. Useless.
Hurting. Pain. A severe migraine. Becoming increasingly conscious of a dull, throbbing ache in several places. Discomfort. Bruising.
Trying, with a marginal increase of strength, to bend the left knee upward ever so slightly, propping it up with the foot. Tortuous. Scooting it back along the surface below, making a scratching, dull scraping sound. Then…thump. Thump.
Heart rate increasing. Intensifying. Fluttering. Beginning to race. Breathing becomes rushed, quick, and convulsive.
Joseph A. Schiller is a high school social studies in Houston, TX USA, where he lives with his wife. He has previously published a fantasy novel in addition to several poems and short stories. Joseph is currently working on a non-fiction historical investigation, a graphic novel, and sci-fi novel.
She was staring intensely, fascinated by the contours of his ears, the way they seemed to pout outwards, the fleshiness of the lobes. Of course, she couldn’t scientifically prove any of this, but she was convinced that the shape of one’s ears could provide wonderful insights into a person’s character.
The crisp December air chilled her to the bone. She tightened her feathered boa around her neck and buttoned up her velvet jacket. “Vincent, you’re not cold?” she asked. Her companion loosened his neckerchief and shook it out. It was yellowed and covered in grimy splotches of linseed oil and pigment and reeked of turpentine. He mopped his brow with the filthy rag then stuffed it in his threadbare pocket. She noticed with squeamishness that his fingernails were unkempt and stained with half moons of gritty black charcoal and paint.
“Let’s have some Absinthe,” Vincent said to the waiter, “and bring some fried sardines, too. Paula,” he said turning to his companion, “you’ll see we have the freshest fish here in Arles.”
“It’s the Absinthe I’m worried about,” she said. “Isn’t it a little strong?”
“Ah no, and yes—just a little bitter like wormwood. It transports me and brings me to celestial heights. See that sky up there—that starry night sky? In my eyes these are not just stars. They are eyes themselves, pulsating eyes, portals to the great mysteries behind this flimsy sheet of paper we call the heavenly vault. I can see God Himself behind those stars…”
Paula remembered how Vincent had boasted how he had once been a preacher a while ago. She looked around at the café interior. In the gaslit gaudily painted room were strung bold colored yellow and red Chinese paper lanterns swaying in the breeze escaping from the gaps in the glass door. In the background, a musician was lazily punching out a tune on his concertina that he was pulling in and out as if kneading a lump of bread dough. He looked up briefly from his accordion and grinned at Vincent. “Do you like that tune?” Vincent asked.
“My Darling Clementine?” Paula asked incredulously.
“I told him you’re my American friend. He wanted to please you.”
The waiter arrived and placed two fluted glasses filled with a greenish liquor before them. He affixed a slotted spoon at the top of each glass, placed a cube of sugar in the center and covered it with a few shards of ice. The fried sardines were wrapped in day-old newspaper that was seeping with darkened oil stains. “Bon Appetit,” he said with assurance.
“How do I drink this? I don’t know…”
“Like this,” Vincent said demonstratively removing the spoon and downing the vile looking glass of garish liquor in a few quick gulps. Paula stared in wonderment as his Adam’s apple seemed to flap up and down excitedly like a bobbing sparrow’s head. She reached in her cloth bag and pulled out a pair of calipers. “What the deuce is that?” he asked.
“Just a craniometric tool, that’s all. It’s my hobby,” she replied impassively. “Something’s not quite right here. Be quiet, I must measure your head.” She positioned the instrument against the top of his ear and gauged its length, then stretched the hinges from the top of his brow to his chin. “No, no, this isn’t right,” she remarked. “Your lobes are disproportionately long and narrow. And there is a suspiciously thick, fleshy fold running vertically to the tip. Petulance. And heart trouble.” Vincent stared at her with his steel-blue eyes, which were becoming more limpid and unfocused. “And your brow. It’s clearly vestigial, this jutting Cro-Magnon protuberance. There is an abnormality in the mounds of color and order…”
“But I am an artist!”
“They are misshapen. And your pointed, narrow chin…” How could she tell him that this was a sure indication of a weak, unstable personality? The overpowering smell of stale fish was beginning to upset her. She was now twisting uncomfortably in her seat. “I’m sorry, Vinnie, but your faculties of reasoning are clearly impaired…”
Vincent’s eyes were glazed over by now and his florid complexion was becoming unnaturally flushed with a network of angry broken capillaries. He sank precipitously to his knees and buried his ginger-colored head in her lap pinning her arms down with his trembling hands.
“Let me go!” Paula cried with revulsion.
“Can’t you see? I love you—what does it matter what my head looks like, or my ears or my forehead. I must have you. I w-want to m-marry you!” He began to stutter and slur his speech incoherently while his features began to look as brutal and desperate as a madman’s.
“We hardly know each other!” shouted Paula with mortification.
“But we w-went walking in the c-cornfields today. Here in France, in this region, once you agree to walk with someone alone—surely, you s-see we have an understanding?”
“Let me go—you are mistaken! Look at you. You’re flushed and feverish. You’re not in your right mind!” She pulled herself away forcibly, knocking the table with its contents onto the floor, and ran out the café down the dimly lit street to her hotel room across the town square leaving her companion sobbing hysterically and thrashing about like a quivering knot of worms.
In the dead of night a few hours later, the town was awakened by a series of blood-curdling, savage animal shrieks that echoed up and down the terrified square. Early the following morning as Paula prepared for breakfast, she heard a knock on her door. “For you, Mademoiselle,” said the messenger, a young street urchin. She examined the sealed paper bag covered in grubby fingerprints and opened it reluctantly. Inside a small glass jar filled with greenish liquid smelling of strong alcohol was swimming the tip of a creased earlobe, clean, pink and spongy and drained of all blood.
Paula dropped the gift, grabbed her belongings and left on the first train headed north.
Author of the critically applauded debut novel Twelfth House, and Shaded Pergola, a new work of short poetry that features her original illustrations, E.C. Traganas has published in a myriad of literary journals and enjoys a varied career as a Juilliard-trained concert pianist & composer. https://www.elenitraganas.com
Gooed cheddar blanketed runny eggs. Deirdre aligned waffles edge to edge and lined crisped bacon in rows. She heard the shuffle of rigid soles enter the room and took her assigned seat.
Charles surveyed the steaming plates.
“What’s with the spread?”
“It’s all your favorites. I just, well, I should know better. I’m really sorry.”
“I hope so.” His hand swung at his coffee mug and froth puddled over the table and floor.
“Why is this so full? Jesus, Dee.”
“I’ll get it.”
She wiped the table and bent down, sopping up foam with a clenched jaw. Deirdre displayed a mannequin face when she stood up and smiled at his forehead. He grunted and toreinto the eggs and meat.
Her eyes counted the bites he took with a mouth gnawing and slurping, never hesitating. Deirdre didn’t eat breakfast, but today, a twinge coiled in her stomach, a hunger that normally dared to crawl out when the house was empty.
Before she could pour her morning tea, his fork, heavy with the last bits of yolk and pork, fell to the floor. His chair screeched. His mouth parted, full of air fighting to scream.
Charles crashed. She studied his tainted belly and wilted legs expiring by the second and giggled, peering into eyes desperate to seethe. The ache within her expanded, a space howling to be filled, and she could wait no longer.
Pancakes. She would make pancakes.
Margaret is a neuropsychologist and consultant who resides in California. She writes informative assessment reports by day and has been published in The Journal of Head Trauma and Rehabilitation as well as the abstract issue in Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology.
As my grandmother cooked matzo ball soup, I played in the tall yellow field. She hummed, watching me from behind the window. I had been told by her before: Never go into those woods! When she turned around, I moved farther down the forbidden path. Trees, once on the horizon, grew over me. I lost myself in the sounds of a whistling brook and the deep hum of hornets. The summer leaves turned a golden crisp, glimmering against the sunlight. Captivated by beauty, I hardly noticed rocks protruding from the ground. I tripped and fell into a green mass covered with bright chicory. In the strange form, I found eyes and lips mangled in the earth. A man’s face and body had become a part of the woods. I screamed and dug, searching for his heart, but all I found was a rib cage filled with mud and grime. Why was he here? I asked him over and over again. But everything was quiet. I stayed, waiting for any sign of life, but the man never moved. My grandmother called in the distance, “Katarina! Katarina!” I didn’t want to leave and never find him again. “Katarina! Katarina!” Returning to the canary grass, I ran toward the familiar cottage door. Pausing only once to look back at the horizon, but the woods behind me had disappeared.
Jamie Seibel’s work is forthcoming in Versification Poetry Zine, Wingless Dreamer, The Tiger Moth Review, Plum Tree Tavern, and Poetry Pacific. Her poem “War Stone” was published in a previous issue of The Chamber Magazine. This story is her first published micro-fiction.
BAM! Something hard hits me on the side of my head and I’m out.
I float in a murky sea for what seems like an eternity. I have no sense of time or distance, no thoughts, no emotions, just the sensation of water flowing through me as I slowly sink.
Then I hear a voice, thin and far away, as if it someone were calling through a string telephone. I see the lighted surface above me and I desperately struggle towards it.
I regain consciousness with my face pressed against cold concrete, my ears ringing, my head pounding from the blow. I open my eyes slowly. My vision is blurred but I can see that it is night-time. Apparently, I’ve been unconscious for—I don’t know—five, six hours? I can’t recall exactly what time it was when I was hit. Or what I was doing there. Or even who I am.
I hear the voice clearly now, a woman who is bent over beside me.
“Viktor,” she says, “Can you hear me?”
I nod groggily and struggle to get to my feet. She grabs my arm. “Careful,” she says as she pulls me up, “Let’s just take it easy until you regain your balance.”
I stand still for a minute, my legs wobbling, looking around in the darkness. My vision is beginning to clear and I try to figure out where I am. But nothing is familiar.
Except her. She is slender, brown hair, unremarkable at a glance. Her face is soft, with blue-white skin and deep-set eyes that hint of sadness. I know her from somewhere and she obviously knows my name. But the complete memory refuses to ignite.
“Do you think you can walk now?” she asks.
“I’m sorry,” I answer, “Have we met?”
“You don’t remember me?” She shakes her head and laughs softly, “I’m not surprised. It must be hard keeping track of all of us.”
“I’m Elsa,” she continues in a matter-of-fact tone, not bothering to extend a handshake.
I give her a confused look. She seems amazed at my denseness.
“Elsa?” she says, “Berlin? 2008? Ring a bell?”
Berlin! Yes! Now I see her face, staring out at me from a black-and-white photograph. I remember that she’s a single mother with two small children and that she’s earning a living as a waitress.
And Karl. For some reason, Karl also begins emerging from the fog in my head. I don’t know his last name, or even if his real name is Karl. He has an accent, maybe Eastern European, maybe South African, who knows? He shows up when there’s a problem.
“You’re a solution,” Karl tells me, “That’s what I pay you for. I don’t care about right or wrong, fair or unfair, none of that crap. All I want is a solution. As long as that’s you, we’re good.”
“Let’s start walking, Viktor,” Elsa says as she takes me by the arm and begins leading me forward.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
She ignores my question and follows with one of her own. “I’m curious, Viktor. Are you a religious person?”
“No,” I scoff.
She frowns thoughtfully, then continues.
“I used to be,” she says, “I was a good Catholic, believed in heaven and hell. I believed you pay for your sins when you die. My girlfriend, Jana, on the other hand, was a Buddhist. She believed you pay for past sins in your present life.”
She sighs, shakes her head.
“They’re all wrong,” she continues, “All the theologians and philosophers. They scrape off a few crumbs from the edge of a world they cannot see. And from those few crumbs they think they can extrapolate the entire length and breadth of the spiritual universe.’ It’s all so absurdly naïve.”
She pauses as if she’s waiting for all of this to sink in, then she resumes with finality.
“There’s no heaven or hell, at least not the neatly packaged version that Christians believe in. And it’s not about paying for your sins. It’s about maintaining a cosmic balance between good and evil.”
As we continue walking, it dawns on me that I have yet to see any recognizable landmarks. No houses, trees, sidewalks. But now we’ve stopped and we’re standing in front of a large windowless building with a single door. She turns to face me.
“That’s where your case becomes relevant,” she says.
I study her face again and finally realize who she is. I see her walking out of her apartment in a waitress uniform, a smile on her face as if she had just kissed her children goodbye. I am on a rooftop across the street with a Russian SV-98 sniper rifle. I frame her face in the crosshairs of the scope. A single shot from 250 meters out.
She places her hand on the door and pushes it open.
“An evil act creates an imbalance that has to be restored. That’s what we’re here for,” she pauses for a second, then shoves me through the door.
“Restoration,” she says, walking in behind me and closing the door.
We are in a dimly lit room. A small group of people are gathered in the shadows along the back wall.
“You probably remember Alfredo. Miami 2019.”
She nudges me towards the group of people.
“And Sean, London, 2015,” she says, “They all want to meet you.”
Invisible hands reach out from the crowd. As they pull me towards them, I hear the voice of Karl from years ago.
“You’re good, kid,” he said, “You have no empathy. I like that. You’ll make a lot of money. But enjoy it now, because nobody gets old in this business. You start getting old, you start slipping, you start making mistakes. You become a problem instead of a solution. Then one day, you’re walking down the street, and out of nowhere—BAM!”
Louis Kummerer is a technical writer working and living in Phoenix, Arizona (USA).
One does not set fire to a world which is already lost.
“Shall I stay with you?”
“No, that won’t be necessary. Thank you. I’ll be fine.”
“I will be right outside the door. Just call if you need me.”
In one of the room’s corners, a man sits motionless, facing the wall, his hands resting on his knees.
The visitor sits down at a table in the center of the room. He takes a folder from his briefcase and puts it on the table. He sits in silence for a few minutes before speaking.
“Benjamin,” he says.
The man neither moves nor responds.
“Benjamin,” he calls again, this time a little louder.
The man turns his head and looks over his shoulder at the doctor.
“Please, come join me here at the table.”
Benjamin turns back to the wall. The doctor begins to hum a lullaby. Benjamin turns his head again and looks at the doctor.
“I know that,” he says.
“I know you do. Why don’t you come over here and sit with me?”
“I don’t want to.”
The doctor continues humming the tune and pretends to be reading Benjamin’s file.
“You shouldn’t do that,” he says. “It’s not right.”
“What’s not right? Come over here and sit with me and tell me what’s not right.”
Benjamin rises and walks to the table. The doctor pours two glasses of water and places one in front of his patient.
“Please, sit down.”
“Water puts out fire, you know.”
The doctor remains silent.
“But I like ice better.” The man leans forward. “I dream about it sometimes.”
“You do? What do you dream about ice?”
Benjamin sits still, looking at his glass of water.
“What do you dream about ice?”
He looks up at the doctor.
“I don’t have to tell you.”
“That’s true; you don’t have to tell me. It’s just that I’m curious.”
“Killed a cat once,” he says, pleased with himself.
The doctor smiles.
“Ah, but they say that satisfaction brought it back.”
“Do you know what an ice pick is?”
“An ice pick? Yes, I think so.”
“There was one in my dream, a long one with a very sharp point. It had a red handle. He kept stabbing a big block of ice with it, over and over and over again, but only very tiny pieces came off.”
“Benjamin, he who? Who was stabbing the block of ice?”
Benjamin does not respond.
“Do you know who was stabbing the ice?”
Benjamin repeatedly rubs his upper front teeth over his bottom lip.
“No, I don’t.”
“Are you sure? Was it you? Were you stabbing the block of ice?”
Benjamin bends forward and rests his head on his crossed hands on the table. He is quiet for several minutes.
“It was made of lace.”
“My mother’s dress, it was made of lace, beautiful, coffee-colored lace.”
He sits up and looks at the doctor.
“He burned it.”
“Who burned it?”
“How do you know he burned it?”
Benjamin begins to rub the top of the table with the fingers of his left hand.
“I was with him. He made me watch. He dug a shallow hole and put the dress in it and set it on fire. ‘Daddy,’ I said, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ But he would not let me leave.”
“Do you know why he burned your mother’s dress?”
“Can you tell me?”
“I think you will feel better if you tell me.”
“Benjamin, you can tell me. It’s all right to tell me. I won’t tell anyone else. It will be just our secret.”
Benjamin stands up and walks back to his chair in the corner of the room.
The doctor writes some notes, places Benjamin’s file back in his briefcase, rises, and leaves.
Benjamin begins to sway in his chair, rocking slowly back and forth to the rhythm of a lullaby buzzing inside his head.
Gershon Ben-Avraham writes short stories and poetry. His short story, “Yoineh Bodek” (Image), received “Special Mention” in the Pushcart Prize XLlV: Best of the Small Presses 2020 Edition. His short story “All’s Over, Then” appeared June 23, 2022, in The Chamber Magazine and was nominated for a Pushcart Award.
Jess slumps into her seat, pushing in her earbuds and pressing play. Loud music floods her mind and she closes her eyes, letting her head tip back as the train starts moving.
“What a day,” she mutters to herself as exhaustion sweeps through her, her limbs heavy and sore. It’s a forty-minute journey home and she’s tempted by the thought of a nap. She cracks open an eye and pops her head over the seat, scanning the rest of the carriage. Her head swivels.
It’s empty. Perfect.
Jess sits back and, after setting an alarm on her phone, closes her eyes again. Her heavy eyelids block out the harsh fluorescent lights on the train. She lets the gentle bob of the moving carriage sway her into sleep.
“Just a quick nap,” she whispers before letting herself tumble into darkness.
And then he appears, stepping through from the adjoining carriage. He spots her immediately, asleep and vulnerable. He did not come this way with any intentions at first but now, a dark impulse throbs inside his mind. An opportunity. There is a brief flicker of hesitation in his movements but… no. She should not have fallen asleep alone. Silly girl.
His mind set, the man slinks down the aisle, sliding himself onto the seat next to Jess without disturbing her. He looks at her a bit closer then; her mahogany skin is set against the inky black outside the window, her long hair tucked under the collar of her jacket, her mouth slightly parted as she snores gently. He sees her earbuds and knows she won’t hear him. She’s wearing a thick jacket with her arms crossed but he knows that some gentle manoeuvring will open her up to him.
He licks his lips in anticipation, casting one last look around the carriage to check they’re alone.
It’s empty. Perfect.
If she wakes up, he can just leave. No one is around to believe her. The thought emboldens him. The man reaches out, slowly, and starts unzipping her jacket.
Her eyes snap open. But it’s not Jess who’s awake.
She stands so suddenly that the man falls backwards, out of the chair and into the next set of seats.
He yelps and scrambles, trying to gather himself and his set of excuses at the ready. But when he looks at her again, all the words fall from his mind.
She draws herself up to her full height – she is tall, taller than Jess – and steps into the aisle. Her limbs stretch and her face warps into something else, something unnatural. The train lights flicker wildly above them while the carriage rocks on the tracks. The man is immobile, mouth open, eyes wide as he watches her lean forward. Before he can run, she slams her palm against his forehead and holds it there. His jaw hangs, his back arches, he spreads his arms. He could not pull away if he wanted to.
Words fall from her mouth, both in a whisper and a scream. He does not understand them, they are not of this world. She unfurls her wings, blacker than the night sky, blacker than anything he has ever seen; as though they absorb the light around them. But it is her eyes. Her eyes.
They pool with red until it overflows, spilling down her cheeks. A dark crimson, the colour of blood. Her eyelids are gone and she does not blink. She does not let him look away. He is transfixed. Terrified. The zipper of her jacket dangles from where he had pulled it down.
When she speaks again, he can understand her.
“You will feel everything you have put out into this world,” she says, her voice double-layered as though two people are speaking in tandem. And he does. He feels everything.
She releases him abruptly, dropping him onto the seat. She shrinks back to her regular size, back to Jess. Her face pulls itself back together, the whites of her eyes appearing again. She looks at him flatly.
“I’m sorry,” he whimpers, covering his mouth with one shaky hand. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”
He repeats himself even as he scrambles away, fleeing to the next carriage, or maybe the next after that. Jess watches him leave and picks up the earbuds that fell out of her ears. She settles back into her seat.
“What a creep,” she mutters, popping them back in.
“Agreed,” the demon housed inside her replies. Jess closes her eyes again and drifts off to sleep.
Storm has worked as a ghostwriter of romance stories and is currently writing her first full-length novel. She has a soft spot for horror and the ‘final girl’. In her spare time, she likes to write flash/micro fiction on her blog – http://www.stormlomax.wordpress.com.
A finger protrudes his mouth, nails claw around his elastic lips.
A new vegetable came out, they said it was made in a lab, somewhere in Nebraska. The color of fuchsias.
One fist emerges, small but bigger than the last I saw. Covered in saliva. And blood, the color of fuchsias.
They transported them out in masses, on planes, trucks and trains. Glittering with green stems, they rolled them out in grocery stores, Costcos, convenience stores, farmers markets.
The head pops out, it stretches and rips the corners of his mouth, screeching and kicking. People run away, as if it’s going to get them. We all know who it’s trying to get. I stay and call 911.
Tom Cruise was the vegetables’ first spokesperson. He came up on the tv screen and did some actiony stuff, when Netflix first started doing advertisements. They gave the vegetable a name, Turaples, bad marketing, I thought. But most people liked it.
Next is the body, naked torso, flailing and thrusting like a worm. It wedges its way through the man’s mouth. The paramedics arrive and sedate him. His eyes fall shut. Maybe they’ll save him. I think. I hope. I try not to look away.
Everyone told us the Turaples would relieve our stress. One bite and our worries would dissipate into the thick tainted air. Our anxiety would wash away with the acid rain. Parents packed them in our lunch bags. “A Turaple a day keeps the doctor away.”
It’s chewing on his face now. They all come out with teeth, it gnaws on his cheek. Paramedics get guns now, for instances like this. If they get there fast enough, it can be useful. A young man fumbles through his medical bag. His aim is weak and his hands are trembling. “Just do it…just do it,” I whisper.
The first case occurred somewhere on the East Coast. Initially, no link was made to the Turaples. It was ruled out as a freakish virus so we all quarantined ourselves until scientists sensed a pattern. My father, a religious Turaple eater, died 18 years after his first consumption.
The man with the gun shoots. I can tell he’s never shot a gun before. I’m pretty sure he did it with his eyes closed. He misses the creature and shoots the man right in the skull. The man is already limp from the sedation but his head jolts violently, blood with bits of brain spray the sidewalk. It looks like froot loops that have been left in milk for too long.
My friend Betsy got it prematurely. She ate a lot of Turaples. Luckily, she had symptoms so the doctors caught the parasite growing inside of her and gave her treatment. The treatment doesn’t always work and it’s a horrible process. Betsy spent her days hovered over the toilet bowl, puking out the parasite. When she wasn’t doing that she was in the hospital being studied for future treatment plans. She’s alive but she’s still eating Turaples. We don’t talk much anymore.
The police pull up.
“Who gave the rookie the gun?”
“We’re all rookies with the gun,” a paramedic is holding their hand to the man’s head, to catch the blood spilling from the bullet hole. He’s dead, I think. I walk away before the body bag.
Ten years ago they stopped the campaigns that told us to eat Turaples and started campaigns that told us to stop. The Turaples are addictive. I saw it in my parents and the way they itched. It’s hard to escape once you’re hooked. People tried hypnosis, ate other vegetables, and popped pills prescribed by their physicians.
I walk home through the quiet suburban streets. For a moment, I forget. I see the maple trees. I feel the autumn sun on my back. I spot a squirrel peeking around a white picket fence. Then I pass Carly James’ house and I remember that her wife died in the summer.
My mother still eats Turaples. She hasn’t cut down as much as she says. I know she eats them in the backyard at midnight, during her drive to work, on her way to pick me up from school.
She must be gardening because the screen door is propped open. I call for her and walk down the back hall to the bedrooms. There’s a Turaple on the carpet, a chunk bitten out from the side.
She’s lying on the bed with her parasite.
Chunks of her flesh, gone.
Chloe Lawrence is graduating in May with a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing from Montclair State University. In the fall, she will be attending the MFA in Creative Writing program at American University. She writes dark fiction and nonfiction for school and in her spare time. When she’s not writing, she will read anything she can get her hands on.
A drunk Falstaff lay upon the kitchen floor. Beside it, Angel’s father. Another dozen or so cans of beer scattered across the kitchen table, as if a battle had taken place, and the cans were the crumpled carcasses of soldiers emptied of their sprits. The body of the living man twisted in fractured ways. His face held both grimace and smile. A dribble of spit crept from the corner of his mouth and fastened onto the collar of his shirt. His snore droned like the throated chants of monks. His Angel watched him from the door.
She put her schoolbooks on the counter and righted a fallen chair. Each can clunked like a deadened bell as she dropped them into the trash. The dishrag gummed with the dried beer. Angel rinsed the cloth multiple times before the tabletop was clean. All through this, the man did not move. She wiped the spittle from his chin.
The kitchen in a new order, Angel took a beer from the refrigerator and sat at the table. She opened the beer and drank. Angel sagged in the chair, like old when sat in the sun, and left. Life moved around her. She was the immobile center.
Her father began to roll to one side. He moaned, almost as if he were the dead losing the last glimpse of light before the descent into the underworld, then he splayed, arms and legs askant, crucified upon the kitchen tile.
“Jesus,” Angel said.
She knelt beside her father.
“OK, old man,” she said, “let’s get up.”
The man’s head rested on his daughter’s lap for a moment as she worked her arms beneath him. With a heave, he sat up. Angel put his hands on the seat of the chair and coaxed him onto his knees, as if he were in prayer.
“On three,” Angel said. “One. Two.”
Her father stood on his own.
“I’m fine,” he said.
The young woman steadied him.
“I just need to some sleep.”
“I’m going to tell you about my day.”
The man and the woman tacked from the table to the counter to the doorframe to the hallway.
“I scored a perfect on my history test.”
Her father raised his hand to pause. He breathed heavily. Sweat matted his hair.
“I should make the honor roll again this semester.”
They continued to the bedroom door.
“I’m probably going to get elected to the May Day court. Maybe even the Queen.”
One step into the room, the drunk man’s knees buckled. Angel pushed him headlong onto the bed.
“The volleyball team should make it to the tournament.”
She laid him out, as if for a viewing.
“Your mom would have been proud.”
His breath labored. Angel smoothed his hair.
“I love you,” he said.
“I know. I love you, too.”
Angel kissed her father on the cheek.
Richard Stimac has published a full-length book of poetry Bricolage (Spartan Press), over forty poems in Michigan Quarterly Review, Faultline, and december, and others, nearly two-dozen flash fiction in Blue Mountain, Good Life, Typescript, and three scripts. He is a poetry reader for Ariel Publishing and a prose reader for The Maine Review.
Jeb Trahan slips his seventh card into his hand, fills his spade flush. Heated betting has taken out three cowboys. Now only Tag Donnelly, bully and bushwhacker, faces him.
“First, I’ll take his bankroll,” Trahan muses. “Then end his malignant life. For Medah. And all peaceful citizens in the territory.” He has high confidence from his long years of Army frontier patrols, and barracks gambling.
“Bet five.” Donnelly’s coin skitters over the table’s felt cloth.
“And… raise five,” Trahan responds. But how? A quick bullet to the head? Or slow and lingering hurt, stake him out in the desert sun?
Donnelly meets the raise. “Soldier boy’s bluffing.” Malicious grin. “Kin always see it in their eyes.”
Trahan hesitates. The blood stain on the floor beside him diverts his attention. Double armed, purplish, ingrained in the ash wood floorboards, the spatter mystifies onlookers. Some times it shows crusty or gauzy; other times iridescent under kerosene lighting. Irish Kate, abovestairs madam, swears one arm will indicate the gentle cowboys, where her girls can feel safe. Defrocked Reverend says it’s an omen of divine retribution. “Ain’t nobody can know its methods.”
Trahan knows the stain as a hard reminder of his present business: the blood of Medah. Mescalero Apache. Spirit walker, Army scout. His friend. Back-shot by the coward, Donnelly, and bled out here with noone to help him. Now to receive justice for his wandering soul.
A slow hanging from the oak tree near his shebang at the edge of town, Trahan decides. At home. Where he can keep eternal company with the monsters of his night dreams.
He spreads his winning hand.
Donnelly leans over his chair arm to spit. “Lotsa time ‘fore you leave – beat up or broke. I ain’t ‘customed to losing.”
Donnelly stiffens as the blotch shifts and sparks. A thick mist rises, binds his gun hand like a copper cable. Ropey tendrils enwrap his mouth and face. With a muffled scream he lurches onto the table, dead eyes staring.
Trahan eases the mounded winnings toward the saloon’s owner. “Fit in new flooring. I’ll carry the medicine board to Medah’s tribal hunting grounds for burial.”
Gary Thomson is retired in Ontario, where he still enjoys sitting back for a showing of a spaghetti western, or a John Ford classic. His flash / short fiction / commercial magazine articles have appeared in various outlets.
We shut the door behind us with haste, locking it, barricading it, and with a bit of my magic left I used my barrier spell to enhance the door so that the monsters won’t come in and kill us with deadly silence. As far as this room is concerned, across is one bed for two people, one shower at the end of the room, one tv next to the bed, and thankfully no windows. I sat down on the bed taking off my jacket, my shirt, and my pants only to reveal horrible wounds all over my body I winced trying to get comfortable in the bed. “Damn… Still have a lot to learn, don’t I August?”
“Of course you do, idiot!!!” said the white rabbit preparing a healing kit from his backpack. With a sigh, August breathed in and out, cooling off from his frustrations. “…Listen Luke, just because you have shield magic doesn’t mean you have to be oh so confident on striking our enemies, especially if we don’t know who’s our enemy.” With the med-kit set, the white rabbit prepped up the gauze, combining it with healing herbs and antidotes. “Now, I want you to turn back against me and lean forward. Don’t worry about your arms I’ll get them as soon as I’m done with your back. And before you ask about my quick healing, it’s all kaput thanks to your recklessness.”
“Thank you for being honest with me August. I’m real grateful.” I said, I winced again, cool and pain lighting up my senses. “Ack! God that hurt…!”
“Please hold still Luke!” August replied while stitching up my back wounds, his hands carefully treading over my back with one part being patched up after another. “Geez Luke… You really need to take care of yourself out there, you’re not a crash dummy! Besides, we were completely outnumbered and didn’t stood a chance you know? Honestly…” His bunny ears drooped down, “We couldn’t afford to lose you Luke, you’re too invaluable to us. We are your friends, best friends, friends since our folks took us to our favorite daycare center since we were kids. And for you to lose your life right now…” He says, closing his eyes thinking about the times he, Luke, and the others spend time together as well as thinking about what would happen if things goes horribly wrong in the future.
“Look August, you’re right about me reckless and everything…” I said, I can hear him crying a bit behind my back as it affected me a bit. “Never mind, you’re doing a good job by the way. If you keep this up, even Patru would be proud of you Augy.” Suddenly, August who’s been healing me hugged me from behind so tightly bursting out tears on end.
“I’m… I’m not gonna let anything happen to you Luke! Not Midorou, not Solson, not Hendric, not Carro, and not even my Patru! I’m gonna keep you all alive no matter what!!!” He says, it’s as though he’ keeping it all inside and now’s the right time to say whatever he’s got bottled up inside. “And I promise you, I will do everything I can to keep you all alive and safe so we can play games, eat yummy food, and make it to graduation day! You got that Luke? I don’t want you to be reckless again alright?”
I thought hard on what August said to me… “You’re not wrong… I know I want to protect everyone especially my friends and family, but even I have so much to learn from my powers. And with my state now I couldn’t even hold out an entire mob of those creepozoids. So in that case, I’ll try my best to keep an eye out before I act.” I said rubbing his floppy ears to comfort him. “Although, just make sure you keep an eye out for me as well ok?”
“Mmm, fair enough Luke.” August says, with my back completely patched up he gets out of bed as he walks towards the bathroom. “Give me a second Luke, let me wash my face and we’ll go to sleep alright?”
“Alright, I’ll just lay down and close my eyes and have beautiful nightmares.” I said, I laid on my back carefully while stretching my four patched up limbs which were treated like a chew toy. I stare at ceiling along with the fan that’s placed on top, I wouldn’t worry less if it’ll fall on top of me thanks to my shield magic. Slowly by the second I closed my eyes thinking about what do to when I get together with Midorou again. “My wolf in shiny green armor… I hope I get to hug you again…” I said, off I go drifting off to sleep. Bless this overnight sanctuary.
Mr. Soler-Ramirez writes: “I’m Jose Soler-Ramirez, and I aspire to be an indie horror novelist. When I was young, I’ve always been curious about horror and scary content like Creepypasta for example. However, I’m also fond of the 80s decades as well as anything that involves nostalgia and the music genre synthwave.
“Recently I have been seeing lots of analog horror stories which I find fascinating, thus gave me an inspiration to make “Nostamania” a novel series that takes place in the year 208X which involves a group of college students are solving a complex mystery while going face to face with monsters that are inspired by internet horror stories as well as mythos and real world objects.
“Throughout my life I’ve always been thinking about what to do next, what to make for lunch for work, what to wear after shower, what games should I play or what to think in my mind, etc. I always wonder what’s going on in my mind only to have myself drifting off to daydreams, but despite of that I always have one thing in mind which is my novel idea, and the more I think about it the more I can focus on my series.”
Heather walked on the road that passed the meadow, the one place she remembered the most from her time with Travis, the boy now laid down under in his family cemetery.
Gone in a week at Seaton South from a virus. Alone in the night.
The enormity of her tragedy, signified by Travis’s death, weighed on her mind. Today marked the second anniversary of his passing. He was the only tie she had to what existed before the hurricane transformation of her community. A change that was slowly breaking her. The pain in her chest after Travis was intense for weeks. Sleep was hard, dreamless, with rapid, usually unstoppable thoughts.
She researched broken heart syndrome and went into therapy. The therapist recommended she go to her GP. Unfortunately, she canceled the first appointment and missed the second. On the third, she struck a particular providence. The EKG was expected, and after a referral to a cardiologist for further testing, they found no abnormalities. Afterward, the physician recommended a follow-up in six months and for Heather to discuss dealing with her sleep disorder with the therapist.
His grave faces the outskirts of Kyle, the city that was only a little town thirty years ago. Situations change like the temperature when a blue norther blows down from the Canadian prairies. In the morning of life, one could wake to endless plains dotted with scrub brush and cedars; in the afternoon of existence, you wake from a nap to see the surroundings transformed into a labyrinth of concrete and corrugated steel.
She looked toward the solitary live oak at the crest of the hill overlooking the meadow. It stands now sick and fading.
She suspected poison again. The land was expensive, therefore, profitable. Although the tree was a historical landmark, it stood in the way of speculators and landowners wishing to embrace their offers.
Before Heather was born, the ranchers had already sold out. Now the horse farms were bailing out for the bucks. So now, the holdouts are under pressure to sell.
Heather awkwardly stepped through the rusting barbed wire fence, pulling her green knapsack behind her. She moved through the tangle of brambles to reach the meadow and walked toward the live oak.
She felt it was time to do the work here. The Hunter’s Moon was tonight, which burned brightly in the sky shortly after Autumn Equinox. For Heather, the Moon is vital in understanding its linkage with the past, one’s ancestors, and in particular, those close who were now gone. Heather spoke a little about it with her therapist, who had a sympathetic understanding of what Heather wanted to do to heal herself. Heather believed the time of this Moon was an opportunity for catharsis, a transformative experience that would help her recover from the loss of Travis. In so doing, they discussed change, rebirth, and the need to move on.
Heather felt that Laura was different and younger, perhaps a punk rocker or a Goth in an earlier time. However, Laura did have multiple ear piercings, and in a couple of sessions, Heather spotted a glimpse of tattoos exposed at the edge of Laura’s collar.
After initial hesitation by Heather, they got along very well. Laura asked the right questions—the kind parents and friends avoided, such as How are you feeling? Where do you see yourself in the future?
Everyone has a past, as now do I, Heather thought, believing finally heard.
Especially important was in asking: What is your day like tomorrow? Heather wanted to hear these questions during unbearable sorrow and loss, mainly when people did not listen to her. Still, though, Laura was sometimes not asking the right question for her to answer. But she was patient when she could unveil herself to the therapist.
She reached the oak, caressing the scaly texture of its grooves and ridges with tenderness. She grew sad when she saw the bark crumble to her touch, indicating that the oak was dying. Heather opened her knapsack to pull out what she needed for the night. She spread the white cotton sheet, tapering down the corners with stones, and brought out the things she needed for the night.
After settling down, she fanned herself with her grandmother’s fan. The weather is hot in October, although cool down enough to be comfortable in time for the Moon’s rising.
By nightfall, the temperature had dropped. In the meantime, Heather played music she and Travis liked. One song, in particular, was a country song by Jerry Jeff Walker, “About Her Eyes.” Her friend Billy played it often on his guitar, signing it to her late into the starry Central Texas night. Something magical about it was his voice, and playing the haywire background melody with his bottleneck took Heather to a different place.
In this time of sorrow and memory of loss, the song brought comfort, helping Heather narrow her focus to making an invocation.
To make this and achieve its intent was not anything elaborate. Heather wanted to say goodbye to Travis and for his spirit to hear her.
Starting with her mothers’ books on magic and searching for more information at the magical bookstores in Austin and Dripping Springs, Heather believed she had learned enough to get the ritual correctly. She feared opening the door to the malevolent, yet was willing to take the risk. As darkness began to fall while sitting under the live oak, Heather felt safe.
Heather chose rose quartz they found together on a trip to Arkansas to summon Travis and an Amethyst to protect her. The crystals lay in front of her on the sheet.
When the orange Moon rose above the horizon, Heather recited the memorized incantation and waited.
Heather received a response from Travis.
She screamed and ran from the meadow.
What Travis told Heather was not what she expected—and wanted—to hear.
Because the dead know to ask the right questions
Mike Lee is a writer and editor in New York City. Work published and upcoming in many journals and anthologies. His book, The Northern Line, is available on Amazon.
“How…?” My shaking fingertips grazed its coarse fibers. “How did I get down?”
Cool tiles pressed against the backs of my naked arms. My eyelids fluttered at the fluorescent light bulb swinging back and forth above my head, throwing shadows along the bathroom walls. A rope dangled from it, its end looking like it’d been chewed off by one of those giant New York City rats.
I swallowed. My throat didn’t hurt.
Blisteringly cold hands glided over my cheeks, my forehead. My skull rubbed along the tile’s grout lines as I tilted my head back, my neck arching–locking–at the pale face staring into mine.
Scars and bruises gilded their skin. Their short, cropped hair stood on spiky ends. Their lips were sewn shut with bleached thread, and their brown eyes were so deep, so liquid, I thought muddy droplets might pour from their tear ducts at any moment.
They were me, and I was them. I saw through them, my ghost.
Those scars had once been mine.
Those bruises; once mine, too.
I glanced down at my bare arms, my legs exposed by ripped jean shorts. I had none of those painful markings. Not from my abuser’s lashing tongue. Not from years of wrestling for her unquenchable approval. Not from my false conviction that her emotions rested on my broken shoulders. It was as if my old skin had molted away; fallen from a cocoon spun by another’s cruelty.
“Get up.” My ghost’s words sunk into my ears, though their sewn lips didn’t move. “Get up. You’re free.”
Free. I sucked a deep breath into my lungs.
Free. I clawed at the rope digging into my throat.
Free. A knife glinted in my ghost’s hand. They slid its teeth beneath the cord and cut it away.
Rubbing my throat, I lay on the floor in wonderment as my ghost faded into the air, sucked away into another space, another time, another life. I stood up, clutching the rope in one hand, and stumbled over to a cracked mirror hanging above a porcelain sink.
Into the shards I looked, no bruises on my neck, as I mouthed my answered prayer: “Butterfly.”
N.V. Devlin writes dark and speculative fiction to better make sense of the world. N.V. was the 1st Runner-Up for Indecent Magazine‘s 2022 Queer Quivers Contest and has had or will have work appear in the Creepy Podcast, Tales from the Moonlit Path, and Rebellion LIT’s The Start anthology. Some favorite authors include Edgar Allan Poe, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Joyce Carol Oates, Shirley Jackson, and Neil Gaiman, and N.V. aspires to someday write even a fraction as well as them. Find N.V. on Instagram (@nvdevlin).
Maybe you don’t have a place in your heart for this adorable (?) little fuzzball, but if you know anything about her (we think it’s a her), please contact us. We can’t figure out what she eats. You can see the teeth on her, but I’ve never seen her so much as nibble a donut.
Technically, she’s Mom’s. But Mom is dead and our place is “no pets”. She died on Thanksgiving, rest her soul. We swoop in for turkey (NOT politics) and then she keels over in the cranberry sauce, flips over and tangles with the bird. Cranberry sauce down her best dress—looked like somebody shot her. Last thing she ever said wasn’t about us, it was about the fuzzball, how it was almost “done with her”. Crazy.
Ma loved the thing, called it something that sounded like “Grinny”, but who knows since we could never-ever get my mom to wear her teeth. Grinny is still here and likes loud white noise. She hides by the AC, but likes AC/DC even better. Ma used to put on my old tapes at breakfast. The neighbors didn’t like that, but maybe yours won’t judge. Running the blender and dishwasher and microwave all at once works pretty okay too tho. (Pro tip.)
Don’t agitate Grinny. If things are too quiet, that’s what you get. Turns everything out and upside-down. Comes from behind the fridge and goes for the trash, couch cushions, potted plants. Juney saw her half lodged in the toilet bowl last week when we were in, cleaning the place. Seemed like she was looking for something but I don’t think she found it.
Sometimes Grinny disappears for as long as a week. When it happened to Ma, she said she missed the company, but she got sleep.
“Why would anyone want this monster around?” you’re asking. Well, that’s the thing. When you pet her you feel… good. Like anything is possible. Her fur isn’t soft the way it looks (it’s prickly like rows of Xactos), but you get used to that. And then it’s all good. Everything is really good. You could sit there, and sit there, just moving your arms rhythmically, never needing to be anywhere else, or do anything else. I don’t know how to explain it, but thinking thoughts and being places seems stupid when you have your hands in that fur.
We can’t get Grinny to eat anything out of a can. Not anything out of a bag either. We tried dog food. Chinese. Primanti’s. Mineo’s. We’ve done everything we know how to do and we’re starting to worry. She’s getting weird. Okay, weirder. Restless. Maybe she’s almost “done with” us too.
Anyway, call or text or whatever, and do it soon. We’re tired, and worn out, and I have to get back to work, and the estate’s not settled, and Juney doesn’t look so good. Like maybe she’s coming down with something. And right when it’s almost time for Christmas.
Douglas’s story “Poppy’s Poppy” is on the preliminary ballot for a Bram Stoker Award this year, and “Year Six” appeared on Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror #14 recommended reading list after making the preliminary ballot last year. He is co-editing The Midnight Zone’s upcoming first edition, Novus Monstrum, which is jam-packed with modern legends of weird fiction, but is also a showcase of new talent. Read his stories in Lucent Dreaming, LampLight, Penumbric, Diet Milk, and Tales from the Moonlit Path, or listen on Bloody Disgusting’s Creepy podcast or Tales to Terrify.
I took the VCR tape from his grey shaking hands, his nails clipped but chipped; yellow. Veins protruding, pumping proudly beneath the skin of his hands, lower arms, and neck. I studied his face; the sockets of his eyes were sunken and dark. His eyes were red, but not bloodshot red, they were more of a dull crimson. They looked dry and painful.
“How long have you got?” I asked more out of interest than concern; years of war reporting and hardnosed political journalism dulling and hardening my sensitivities toward death and mayhem.
“Not long,” he answered without emotion, “maybe a couple of days, a week max.”
“That’s a shame,” I said, “I’m sorry.”
Aldric nodded slightly. “Sailor Vee,” he said, immediately selling me a beaming smile, instantly transforming him from a dying old man into a charming, charismatic dandy.
He really would have been something in his day, I thought, somewhat alarmed and uncomfortable that even now, he still could turn on the charm, and draw people toward him.
“You mean, c’est la vie?” I corrected.
“Oh no,” Aldric answered with a thin smile, lisp, and twinkle. “Sailor Vee always asked how long I had. But he knew the answer well enough. He was such a lovely, lovely man, a Chief Warrant Officer at the naval base on Treasure Island. I used to call him my own personal Rear Admiral, lower half, of course. He’s gone now. Like all the others, all gone!”
Above his wounded smile, I could see a tear welling in the corner of his right eye. His eyes remained parched and sore. The tear was yellow, his liver playing one last indignity on the old man.
“This tape, this cassette,” I asked, “it tells your story?”
“Oh, yes, it tells my story. It tells all my friends’ stories, chronicling our demise, both here and in New York. I had friends and lovers in both San Francisco and New York. And before the 80s we had a blast. Lived the high life! The colour, the creativity, the gentle souls, and free love. Then AIDS came along and changed the world, ravaging the community we fed on. Then it ravaged us. It decimated us. One by one we expired; dried up, turned to dust.”
“So, what do you want me to do with this tape?” I asked.
Aldric looked at me, his face open and relaxed. “I want you to tell our story. I want you to play this tape on your television program. I want the world to know that vampires existed. That we lived, we killed, we loved, and we died. That we were not mythical! I have given my executor instructions that you are to be notified of my death. You are not permitted to play the tape before then—understand?”
“Yes, of course,” I reassured, “but Aldric, one thing I don’t understand is that HIV, is and was contained mainly within the gay and drug communities. How did you and your friends contract the disease?”
“Oh, come on, Lester,” Aldric scorned, “you are not that naive. We are, or at least were, creatures of opportunity. We were creatures of convenience. We targeted those who would not have been missed: the addicts, the young gay men who may have run away from home. And Lester my darling, I may be old and close to death, but only a moment ago, I sensed your loins stir! We are androgynous, we are bisexual, we are vampires, and we will be gone very soon.”
“There are highly effective treatments these days,” I responded, “drugs that suppress the virus, boost the immune system. Why don’t they work on you? Didn’t work on your friends?”
“I’m not a doctor, nor scientist, but the viral suppressants kill us quicker than the complications of HIV. Our choice was simple. Die almost immediately by taking the drugs—believe me, many chose this path. After I contracted AIDS, I had nothing to live for, except, that is, to tell our story. And this is where you come in, Lester.”
Aldric attempted to stand, his elbows struggling to lock as he pulled himself out of the chair. His arms shook, and he wobbled. I rushed over, bending over to support him. He leaned forward, his arms embracing me, pulling me close. I smelt his cologne; I felt his breath on my throat. I wasn’t afraid.
“You would have been easy,” Aldric whispered in my ear. “Very easy.”
Roly Andrews lives in Nelson, NZ, in his spare time he enjoys tramping. After many years of practicing, he is still trying to learn to play the trombone! A champion for everyone, he has mentored rough sleepers and supported people affected by suicide. He advocates for the rights of people living with disabilities.
Please be advised that while this content is entirely fictional, it contains graphic references to topics that some readers may find disturbing.
Our father runs a candy store. Ever since we were little, sister and I would leave our house, as ordinary as any other, to come back in the evening to a dazzling confectionary, instead. Nobody knew of this, except for us. It was our secret. Everything a child could dream of, far as the eye can see. Rows upon rows of polka striped candy canes, lollipops swirled in all colours of the rainbow, daintily sealed chocolates in small plastic bags, tied with a red or yellow ribbon. There’s even a cotton candy machine, tirelessly weaving pink clouds through the night. But most fantastical of all, must surely be the life-sized grandfather clock standing proudly in the very centre of the store, made purely out of confections, and sealed behind thick glass so as not to be ruined by a child’s curious hands. Another one of papa’s candy store secrets, is how it manages to tick just as a normal grandfather clock would. Does it have gears made of candy, too?
When papa was our age, his father ran the candy store, and prior to that, his father. It’s a family tradition, father explains, that must be kept a secret to the rest of the world in order for its magic to persist. A paradise loses its wonder once everybody finds out about it, he’d conclude, and sister and I would nod in understanding unison.
When night falls and the confectionary’s lights flare to life, the two of us, two peas in a pod, sneak in as papa locks the door, and as per family tradition, become candy, too.
Like lollipops, father unwraps us to get a taste of our sugar. Sister and I, identical since birth, must have pretty much the same flavour. Her always being mistaken for a boy and I for a girl, under his tongue, we fully become one and the same, and forget our names. The grandfather clock ticks on through the feast. Sister and I, too, fill our cheeks with candy, growing cloyingly sweet as the night goes on, growing hot, burning, syrup oozing down our throats into our sugar-filled bellies, and with thick honey marinating our bodies from father’s porcelain canteen swirling over us, its shadow jumping from her body to mine. When the sweetness burns so sickly it becomes bitter, he slurps away our tears, too. Wasting not a single part of us, papa eats us with kisses that leave sugary marks, his lips traveling from the whites of our eyes to the vertebrae between our spines. Love fills every cell just to the brink of explosion. But, if they did explode, father would surely fill us all up again. Lucky there’s two of us, sister had whispered once, or we’d already have burst like a balloon. Yet, if it’s affection that breaks you, is that really such a bad thing?
When father wraps us up at last, rolling plastic round our heads, we’ve grown thinner again. Eating us without eating us, papa then puts us to sleep. The grandfather clock stops its ticking, and the wonderfully dazzling candy store, filled with everything a child could dream of far as the eye can see, closes for another night.
Hanna states: “I am a Swedish university student with a passion for art and writing. I find it interesting to explore the clash between morbidity and sweetness, which most of my works focus on. My Instagram for dark poetry is @depressedkid.exe and I also am a member of Cosmofunnel, another place where I share my poetry, and go by the pseudonym Sad Girl. “
Mary was proud of her garden: it was lush, green, and magnificent. Mary had more than just a green thumb; she had an almost magical power to grow anything she planted and this power would be put to the test in a most unusual way.
She lived with her husband Elliot and they were both retired. Mary spent most of her time in the garden while Elliot liked to watch her from the front porch. They lived in the town as far back as people could remember and they kept to themselves. Their only regular visitor was their doctor, Mark Thompson, who came to treat Elliot for cancer. His condition was getting worse and worse.
Mary and Elliot went on daily walks through the town, usually in the evening. Mary liked finding plants that other people threw away. She had a knack for bringing plants back to life, and she could even just break off a stem or leaf from a plant and grow a whole new one in her garden.
Mary’s neighbors told others that they could hear Elliot groaning in pain at night while Mary tried to comfort him. They wouldn’t talk about it but the rumor was that Elliot didn’t have long to live.
One day, Mary went to the hardware store and bought a large chainsaw. When the manager asked her what she planned to do with it, she told him to mind his own business. People speculated that she would probably cut trees on her property, but they couldn’t see how a woman her age could do that on her own.
Sometime later, there was a terrible commotion of noise in Mary’s garage at night. Her neighbor heard that she was using the chainsaw, and Elliot was screaming. He called the police, but Mary would not let them on her property. She told them that she was cutting up fish heads to fertilize her garden and it was none of their business. After she agreed to keep the noise down, the police left.
Doctor Thompson came to check on Elliot the following day, but Mary stopped him at the gate. She told him that Elliot wouldn’t need him anymore. He pleaded with her to let him inside, but Mary assured him that Elliot was resting and comfortable. The doctor left with the promise that he would return in a few days.
Curiosity grew about what was really happening at Mary’s house. People saw her digging in her garden in the middle of the night, planting something. It was not unusual for Mary to be working in her garden, but why do work at night? And where was Elliot? Usually, he watched her from the front porch but he hadn’t been seen for days.
Doctor Thompson became increasingly concerned that he needed to see Elliot in person to check on his condition and he even threatened to take the police with him if Mary would not let him into their house. Rumors spread that Mary had done something to Elliot or that Elliot had died and Mary buried his body in their garden.
When Doctor Thompson arrived at Mary’s gate, a crowd of people had already gathered to see whether Elliot was alive or not. Mary came to the gate, and even though she was upset by the group of onlookers, she let them enter anyway, explaining that Elliot was resting comfortably in the garden. She led them across her front lawn and through the side gate of her backyard.
In the middle of the garden, there sat Elliot on a wooden bench seemingly alive and well, although a bit pale and dirty. Doctor Thompson was astonished to find him in good health, the cancer had gone away. The neighbors and people from the town were surprised as well. Some even felt embarrassed about their own thoughts about Mary and what she might have done.
As the small crowd huddled over Elliot, Mary quietly raked the last remaining piles of dirt into the hole she buried Elliot’s arm in just a few nights ago, happy for her green thumb, her new husband, and her garden of magic.
Tom is a freelance writer from Southern California. His most recent work appeared in ’50-Word Stories’, ‘Half Hour to Kill’ and ‘Three Line Poetry’. He can be reached at email@example.com
Their new roommate did not need to eat or sleep. Instead she told them to share their dreams. Her only rule was that she must not be asked to interpret the dream.
They abided. They loved sharing every detail, and soon everybody in the dorm did too. She explained that labyrinths were best. Endless corridors, doors to nowhere, stalkers that changed shape when one turned away. At night the woman sat on the roof and received tribute, framed by the moon.
“I am in a lake and can see my ex hosting a beach party with my friends. I am drowning and they try to save me without leaving the beach.”
This pleased her.
“A snake is wrapping around my legs and I know it wants my teeth. But I check my mouth and my teeth are already gone. I look down and the snake has a human grin.”
This pleased her immensely.
The last night before she was to move on to the next school, a student from another dorm came to her and shared his dream. In it, he became lost in a building. Though he was deep inside, the sun beamed through the walls, and he burned alive.
He could make out the woman’s smile, in the dark of the roof. She thanked him for sharing, then bid him farewell. But he didn’t budge.
“Can you explain it? Is it about my soul?”
Disappointment surged through her. The dream evaporated into meaning. But still, she’d consumed a portion.
The student was still babbling. “I think it’s about my childhood. If you could interpret it, that’d be really helpful.” He turned to stare at the yellow moon. “What does it mean?”
The woman wrapped around the student. As water pushed the air out of his lungs and his skin began burning away, she hissed into his pounding ear: “Nothing. Nothing.”
It is an hour until the duel. He thinks I will not kill him because I fear the law. But the law is made of men, and men will honour what I do today.
My wife’s scarf is around my arm, crusted with her blood. The arena will see it when the state observer checks us for hidden knives. He will give me the true blade. The true blade will make us equals. I will watch the market odds vibrate on the neon signs while their red light spills across us. The odds already say I will lose.
When we sign the final form together, I will spit on him. Everybody will begin to suspect. The odds will quiver.
If not for his capital friends, he would have been hanged. It would have millions of views by now. If not for his friends, he would have hanged.
But he couldn’t refuse the duel. He is a fool.
He won’t know until we bow and he sees my eyes. My wife and my son are resting in the bottom of my eyes, in the bottom of my heart. He will know. It will become hard for me to hide it. When I think about this moment, it becomes hard for me to hide it.
We will take the three steps. His will be dedicated to the scum that protect him. My first step for my wife. My second for my son. My third for the markets that make this possible. There is nothing else.
I will take a last look at the odds. They will tick up when the camera sees my face, hiding nothing. He will see the same odds on his side. He will become afraid, like an animal dreaming.
I will turn and throw in one motion, the way I have practiced. If I am lucky, he will fall and very slowly die. If I am unlucky, I will kill him with my hands. There is no fear in me. His blade will not pierce me because there is no place for death to enter me.
I will dip her scarf in his blood. It will free hers. The market will close. The crowd will cheer, many of them newly rich. The announcer will try to interview me before I am arrested. There will be no beauty left in the world.
Fifty minutes until the duel.
This is sacred sand. It was once a sacred temple that fell from the dream of the creator. I shall tell you how it came to be sand.
When the world was born, it was all one thing. Time was the same as space and you were the same as the light after a storm. But the words ‘time’ and ‘space’ and ‘you’ and ‘light’ did not make sense when the world was born. It was only and entirely form, without void, without withoutness.
Then God conceived of time as a separate thing. He did not know that he conceived emptiness as well. He gave birth to twins and then the world began to crack. Time let his brother Emptiness split many things. First the past split from the future, then the sky from the earth. Soon there was emptiness within all things. Things no longer simply were, they began and they ended. Because God does not begin and does not end, He was fascinated. He watched what happened in His creation.
God watched the day become night and said This is good. God watched the wolf kill the lamb and said This is good. God watched the fire eat the garden and said This is good.
Over time emptiness spread and wrapped tighter and tighter with form. Soon things were made of separate things. Soon everything was made of atoms.
Then God was truly pleased with his creation. He went to sleep. While He slept He dreamed new dreams. Everything He dreamed He added to the world. He dreamed the temple and He dreamed the altar. He dreamed Man to worship Him. Man was confused because Man was dreamed by something that is not empty, but Man was empty.
Man tried worshipping God but he was still empty. He tried not worshipping God but he was still empty. Man wandered the earth in rage for three years and learned many things. When he returned to the temple, he split its atoms apart. For a moment there was the radiance of a thousand suns and it was almost like the splendor of the creator. Then there was only sand. God saw it from His dream and said This is good.
Man saw the destruction he had brought and felt shame. He did not know it was good. He wandered the earth again for three years as penance. When he returned, he planted the sunflowers you see now across the sands of the temple. When they were grown, he laid down in them and died, and all of his matter spread across the field and the earth. God saw it from His dream and said This is good.
When the world is reduced to total emptiness, it will no longer be made of separate things. It will be only one thing again. Then God will wake up and bring Man back. He will take him over the waters and the deep darkness and will show him the empty and void world. He will say Do you see what we have done together? Do you see what we have created? Then God will sleep again, and Man will be steward over the nothingness, king of the void.
Conor Barnes is a Canadian writer living in Halifax. His fiction has been published in Literally Stories, the Metaworker, Shirley Magazine, and elsewhere. His poetry has been published in Modern Haiku, Frogpond, and Puddles of Sky Press.
I spend most of my time in the woods, especially since I retired and my wife died in the same month three winters ago. My remaining friends and my children are convinced that I am too old to live alone in the tiny, powerless, cabin two long miles from the nearest passable road. But I am not afraid here. I have been afraid on city streets, in hospitals, in airplanes, but never in the forest. Sure, one might fall, freeze, twist an ankle, or get lost, but an old man who has experience usually knows how to avoid these perils, usually. Modernity speaks of “safe spaces.” My safe space has always been here. Maybe that genuine lack of fear explains why what has been happening to me for the last fortnight is so troubling.
I stepped outside that first night in question to relieve myself and curse my swollen prostate for the second time that evening. The stars were fiercely bright, bright enough to light my path. The frozen ground cracked beneath my shoes, and my breath was visible for at least two feet. I suddenly felt very cold, a chill deeper than the climate could explain. I also felt somewhat unlike myself in a way I can’t define, perhaps a slight, quickly-dissipating headache and dizziness, and then clarity. I also inferred that I was not alone. Woodsmen often experience that feeling when a wary old buck is observing them from behind a large Yellow Pine, or when an old gobbler approaches the hunter’s calls unnoticed. I contemplated retrieving my bright spotlight and searching the hillsides for eyes, but the cold drove me back to my bed.
When I awoke the next morning, the cold had crept through the cracks in my cabin and I again could see my breath. After rousing the banked fire in the stove and warming a pot of tea in my blue-speckled pot, the cold seemed more bearable. After breakfast, I donned my thickest coat, my wool toboggan, loaded my ancient lever gun with six long, slim, flat-nosed cartridges and set out on my normal westerly route. I don’t particularly need the rifle; I carry it only because walking without would seem like so much absurdity. My people were hunters, and a man who walked in the forest without a gun on such a bitter morning would earn just derision. My tribe would have laughed at the mere notion of hiking as a rich man’s foolishment. So I carry a gun because I can justly claim productivity. I walked slowly along old trails and abandoned logging roads, along creek bottoms, and atop ridges. I frequently paused, surveyed the much-colder-than-usual wind, and proceeded. I continued till the light faded. It was, in many ways, so much like every other winter day since I came to live here full time, except that I never escaped the feeling from last night that I didn’t walk alone.
That night I dreamed I was once again back at our old home. It was Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Easter. I’m not sure which. There were faces of those who still walk the earth and faces of those long since gone. My wife prepared my plate, and the table and sideboard supported dish after dish of the foods that I loved most. There were three or four cuts of meats, soft breads, casseroles, and deserts too numerous to enumerate. It seemed as if I had been asked to bless the feast and I could feel many hands on my shoulders. I struggled to find the sacred words and felt as if everyone were waiting on me, and still no words came. I could still feel their hands when I awoke with a fright. Again, I was very cold.
And so it went. For two weeks I walked these hills in the unseasonable, almost unreasonable, cold, but the once familiar woods now seemed strange. I felt haunted, and maybe, finally, afraid. Each night I stood at the head of the dream table, the waiting hands again on my shoulders, and again, no prayer would come.
Early this morning I awoke again, wordless and chilled. I stepped outside, much as I had done fourteen nights ago. The stars were again fierce, and there in the darkness, I could discern a frozen form on the ground, my form, and then all became clear, and warm, and finally I knew what words to say.
Alan Caldwell is a veteran teacher and a new author. He has recently been published in Southern Gothic Creations, Deepsouth Magazine, The Backwoodsman Magazine, and oc87 Recovery Diaries.
This one is here, but it’s not alone; there are many others all over. Forget this minor thoroughfare, still enclosing Victorian gloom between shadowy carcasses of buildings venting sweet-and-sour steam over the vista of burger boxes, discarded Evening Standards and empty see-through plastic baggies. Elsewhere, beyond this area’s queasy combination of flashed-up bars owned by tag-teams of petty Albanian gangsters and petit-bourgeoisie, and the last remnants of the ‘massage parlour’ scene, there are wide high streets clogged with Ubers that see mile-long queues forming at the early-bird openings of the nightclubs. At closing, these same equivalents dutifully disgorge a hundreds-strong multitude of sweating, sneering, staggering bodies, all of them firmly and freshly stripped of their humanity, of care and concern, transformed into vessels of self-regard and base instinct, wordlessly calling for death because no-one seems willing to let them actually ever live (and what is living? What is it? Tell me, please. They’ve kept it a secret from me).
But none of those places have the purity of this one. Here they know there is nothing when the music stops; the crowd knows what ordinarily follows the cessation, and they react accordingly.
For much of the night, they sit around old tables that look fit still to receive deliveries of chicken-in-basket and beers no longer brewed. They don’t talk and don’t look at each other. They stare straight ahead, eyes locked on the sweat dripping on the walls of the humid room. Vast quantities of liquors are consumed in strange combinations. Blue, yellow, green and violet drinks are bought to the table by black-shirted spectres, the glasses and jugs festooned with the decorations of some clung-to fantasy island paradise. When finished, these are chased with hotter, burning drinks that turn stomachs into gargling bags of sludge and strip layers of protection from the inside of throats. Occasionally, white or scarlet powders from small glass vials are ingested.
The men all dress the same: they wear white t-shirts, black leather jackets and suede loafers without socks. Mirrored sunglasses hide their eyes, and the spectres bring them big cigars, which they pretend to know how to handle, emitting great lungfuls of sticky smoke that turn the environs into a shoebox of relentless asphyxiation. The women’s outfits are more distinct: skirts, catsuits, thin blouses and dresses of various lengths and cuts. Make-up drips as the temperature in the room rises; between deep gulps of liquid, the taste in mouths is often that of mascara and foundation, chemical and bitter.
The music comes several hours into the night. A DJ appears from the wings and walks across the high-mounted stage at the back of the room. He stands behind the decks, looking out from between the stacked speakers of the sound system, and begins bouncing up and down before even the first note sounds. He is full of exhilaration, riding a wave of excitement that seems to have sucked up every bit of apprehension and anticipation from the audience and left them listless. Then the drums sound with terrifying force, shaking the walls and roof, fully waking everyone trying to sleep through the whooping and whistling Soho noise within a mile radius. The crowd rises, pushing the tables to the walls, and awaits the uncanny flourish that signals to begin their bacchanalia. The DJ straps a hurdy-gurdy to himself, leaving the record spinning as synth stabs burst and ricochet between the ceiling and the matte floor, and steps to the stage’s lip. Somewhere within the tumult, the grating, whining noise of his lacklustre playing can be heard by an attuned ear; this is the flag going down, the curtain going up.
For four minutes- no less, no more- the crowd descends into a fury. Bodies convulse and crease with movement, jerking violently to either the thud of the bass or the distant whinnying of the master of ceremonies’ cranked instrument. Punters tear at each other’s clothes and bodies, ripping hair out at the root, drawing and sucking blood from thick nail-torn gashes across chests and arms and faces, shoving tongues down throats and pummelling those holding the short straws to within an inch of life, heads stomped against the floor. The dancers begin to vomit with the exhausting aggression of their performance; other bodies in their joy slip and slide and fall in this mess, this commingling of bodily fluids and unidentifiable alcohols. The hurdy-gurdy player becomes more frantic and somehow much louder, his tune forming a hideous counterpoint to the overriding rhythm, soaring and sailing against it like a boat kept under control against the odds on a sea annihilated by a storm. Every ounce of feeling, every experience which has haunted them for days, weeks, months, years is expelled by the crowd as they flail against each other, destroy each other, rely on each other to form the punchbag, the straw-man, the hunk of meat able to absorb the exorcising brutality of their blows. Where, in the other places, half-measures are drawn, and thus the life lived outside can continue safely ticking along when the big night out is finished, here there is no giving up, no compromise. All is lain to waste; everyone is driven out of the world; everyone loses themselves utterly and for good.
Finally, finally the music stops. The hurdy-gurdy DJ is nowhere to be seen. The crowd stands silently for a few seconds in the remnants of the chaos that they have created. Then every body falls to the floor, limp and lifeless, like marionettes without masters pulling the strings, like scarecrows whose supporting poles have been ripped away, like hand puppets with the controlling hand withdrawn. They lay and stay completely still until they are pulled to the dawn streets by the spectres. One week later, the ritual- always- begins again, old faces mixing with the new.
Billy Stanton is a young working-class writer and filmmaker based in London, and originally from Portsmouth. His story ‘Screwfix’ was recently published in ‘New Towns’ (Wild Pressed Books). His short fiction has also appeared in Horla and The Chamber magazines. His latest short film ‘Noli is currently in post-production. His blog can be found at: steelcathedrals.wordpress.com
If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy Billy Stanton’s work of legendary fiction, “Cruel.”
Most of my tribe assumed I would seek an early abortion. The others suggested, almost insisted, that I put Chip up for adoption. “There are a lot of people out there who would love him like their own,” they said.
The rape had left me so muddled that by the time I relized I was expecting, I didn’t even want to consider a procedure, any kind of proceedure. I didn’t want to be touched, by anyone. I know it sounds cliche, but the knowledge that he was growing inside me made me feel as if I were not alone. I’ve read that many thousands of women are impregnated by their attackers, and that many opt to keep their child. Others fear that they will see their assailant every time they look at his offspring, but I never saw the bastard’s face, only the shiny knife he held to my throat, the same knife he was holding when the police found him, the same knife he was holding when they sent him to Hell. Maybe his death made me feel secure. Maybe that’s why I ignored my tribe.
I know I made the right decision, and I’m not questioning that now, not really. I need Chip’s company. He’s momma’s little man. My female friends are all single … and busy, and I haven’t even touched a man in over five years. Chip has always been an almost-perfect child. Even as an infant, he rarely cried, even when he was teething. I don’t think he has ever been sick for more than a day or two. According to those who write books about child development, he reached all of his milestones early. He walked early, talked early. He could even carry on a pretty good conversation before his third birthday. He’s momma’s little man. He is the healthiest child I’ve ever seen. That’s why I wasn’t worried a few months back when he started sleep-walking.
The first time it happened, I heard him shifting around and mumbling. I rolled over and studied the monitor. He was just sitting on the edge of his bed. I went to him, of course. His eyes were open but not looking at me. I asked him if he was ok. He mumbled something incoherent, lay back down and closed his eyes. I covered him with his comforter and went back to bed. I didn’t mention it to him the next morning. To be honest, I didn’t even think about it again.
Then, about a week later, on a Sunday night, it happened a second time, but this time no sound from the monitor woke me up. I felt a touch on my leg. I sat up, well, jumped up, and Chip was standing next to me, his hand on my knee. Like before, his eyes were open but looking elsewhere. I picked him up and placed him in the bed with me. He went straight to sleep. I lay there awake till dawn, my arm around his shoulders.
Monday morning, while trying to look as if I were engaged in yet another Zoom meeting, I Googled my way to expert status on the subject of somnambulance.
“Just a phase,” Psychweb said.
The phase continued just about every third night. Usually, he mumbles just enough to wake me, and I watch on the monitor as he stumbles around his room for a minute or two and then lies back down.
Three nights ago I heard the unmistakable sound of running in the hall. When I sat up, I saw that Chip’s bed and room were empty. I picked up the monitor and saw him scramble back into his room and jump back in his bed, as if he were hurrying to return before being caught. He pulled the covers up to his chin. When I went to check on him, he was fast asleep … I think.
Last night it happened again, the running. It was 3am. I was already awake. I hadn’t even closed my eyes. I stepped out into the hall and saw Chip sprinting into the kitchen. By the time I got there behind him, he was opening the drawer next to the oven, the silverware drawer, the one with the knives. I stopped him. His eyes were open, but, again, looking elsewhere. I guided him back to his room and into his bed without waking him, just as the experts suggested. He mumbled a few times and then was silent. As I closed his door and turned toward my room I swear I heard him say the word “daddy.”
Alan Caldwell is a veteran teacher and a new author. He has recently been published in Southern Gothic Creations, Deepsouth Magazine, The Backwoodsman Magazine, and oc87 Recovery Diaries.